(Andy Synn’s annual week-long look-back at the year in metal comes to an end today with his “Personal Top 10“, and if you’re puzzled about how this list compares to yesterday’s Top 10 list, read on.)
Well, now that we’ve got all the serious, semi-professional stuff out of the way, I can relax a little bit and focus on the ten albums that have made the biggest mark, or had the biggest impact, on my listening habits over the last twelve months.
This time around it appears my tastes have been largely dominated by Death Metal, with surprisingly little Black Metal sneaking its way into my favourite releases of the year. There’s also quite a bit of melody, particularly towards the top half of my list.
But overall I’d say that the key factor uniting pretty much all my selections here is… riffs. Big, ballsy, heavy as hell riffs, bang-your-head-until-it-bleeds riffs, brimming with red-hot hooks and electrifying power.
I decided not to include any “Honourable Mentions” this time around, mainly because there were just too many names (Satyricon, Hideous Divinity, Fell Ruin, Blaze of Perdition, to name but a few) to choose from and, instead, elected to focus solely on the ten records that have left the deepest and most lasting impression on my eardrums this year.
- A HILL TO DIE UPON – VIA ARTIS VIA MORTIS
A Hill To Die Upon have been one of my favourite bands ever since I stumbled upon their debut, Infinite Titanic Immortal, way back in 2009, and nothing they’ve released since has ever let me down.
This time around it definitely feels like the band (now expanded to a proper four-piece) focussed in much more on the Black Metal side of their influences, in particular the menacing swagger of Immortal – although there are also touches of Satyricon, Rotting Christ, and even Old Man’s Child to be found throughout the album.
And though I’m still not entirely certain where it stands in my personal ranking of the band’s catalogue so far, I’m damn sure that songs like “Artifice Intelligence” and “Great Is Artemis of the Ephesians” are some of the best tracks they’ve ever written.
- REDEMPTOR – ARTHAENEUM
A late addition to this list, and one which caused some major last-minute revisions and reordering, Arthaneum is the third album by Polish Death Metallers Redemptor, and sees them expanding their already impressively technical and groovesome sound in some subtly progressive and atmospheric directions.
Recalling, in places, the many-angled brutality of Morbid Angel and Immolation, as well as the anxiety-inducing dynamism of Decapitated and Soreption, tracks like attention-grabbing opener “Eminence Grise” and the massive “Illusory Fountain” (just two of the album’s many highlights) blend blasting fury and ballistic riffage with flashes of atmospheric dissonance and exotic melody, as the band twist and contort the standard Death Metal template into something quite distinctive, yet instantly recognisable.
I’ll be putting together a Synn Report on these guys very soon, and (hopefully) hooking them up with a few interview questions too, so keep your eyes open for more coverage on Redemptor in 2018!
- ABSCISSION – VACUITY
The multi-faceted metallic fury of Abscission, whose debut album, Vacuity, blends together technical riff work, proggy bass lines, and gloomy, ashen melody, was another of my big discoveries this year.
Layered with blackened textures and subtly proggy touches, these ten tracks employ all the very best tools and tricks of the trade – from high-velocity blasting to moody melodic introspection, from twisted technicality to brain-nagging hooks – with all the élan of a much older and much more experienced act, resulting in an album that not only instantly impresses, but that goes on to get better and better every time you listen to it.
- DYSCARNATE – WITH ALL THEIR MIGHT
One of my most anticipated releases of the year, the new album by the resurrected Dyscarnate didn’t just live up to my lofty expectations, it smashed them into smithereens through the pinpoint application of carefully calculated brute force and primal aggression.
Hefting some of the biggest riffs and heaviest grooves of the year, With All Their Might is an absolute tour de force of potent metallic might – “Of Mice and Mountains” is an absolute monster of an opener, “This Is Fire!” is a propulsive pulveriser that hits you right in the cerebellum, “Iron Strengthens Iron” is a gigantic, Misery Index style anthem, “Traitors In The Palace” is a looming colossus of doomy belligerence, “Backbreaker” is a relentless barrage of pure heaviness… I could go on and on.
Simultaneously immensely catchy and utterly crushing, I haven’t been able to stop blasting this one since it arrived.
- BLACK ANVIL – AS WAS
Having quietly become one of my favourite Black Metal bands with their steady release of quality album after quality album, Black Anvil struck gold (or maybe obsidian) this year with eight tracks of their most melodic, menacing, and morbidly infectious material yet.
And while the riffs are as riveting and razor-sharp as ever, and the band’s thrashy energy and blast-driven intensity remains entirely undimmed, the added melody and atmosphere which underpins songs like stunning opener “On Forgotten Ways”, the gorgeously proggy title-track, and phenomenal closer “Ultra”, serves to transform them into works of seductive satanic magic.
This is just one of those albums which I simply cannot stop listening to. And I don’t see that changing any time soon.
- BEREFT – LANDS
Describing quite how this album makes me feel is not the easiest task. Purged? Cleansed? Broken? I’m sure the Germans probably have a word for it.
Whatever you want to call it though, the four titanic tracks which make up Bereft’s sophomore album conjure up a squalling storm of emotions, with every gargantuan, gloomy riff, every aching, anguished vocal, and every doomy, dramatic drum roll coming together to form something far beyond the mere sum of its parts.
As it stands, very few albums this year struck this deep a chord with me.
- DVNE – ASHERAN
Another one of this year’s unexpected (and unexpectedly awesome) discoveries, these psychedelic sci-fi metallers produced a truly amazing, genre-spanning piece of work with their second album Asheran, one that’s absolutely tailor-made for fans of Mastodon, Intronaut, and Baroness, or anyone who loves a good bit of sprawlingly progressive, gorgeously melodic, shamelessly heroic sonic storytelling.
Easily one of the most daring and dynamic albums of the year, and one which only gets more involving and more immersive as you listen to it.
- AU-DESSUS – END OF CHAPTER
Even I was surprised by how quickly and easily this album clicked with me. As much as I enjoyed their debut EP (and I really did), I never would have expected that the follow-up would swiftly become one of my favourite and most listened-to albums of the year.
Every single one of these seven tracks is utterly hypnotic and unremittingly intense, and whether you want to call it “Post Black Metal”, “Atmospheric Black Metal”, or just straight up “Black Metal”, I can honestly say that End of Chapter is one album you won’t forget in a hurry, which rightly deserves to be put right up there alongside modern classics like Exercises in Futility (Mgła) and Ghost Chants (Outré).
- GLOSON – GRIMEN
“Mark my words, although it’s only February, I think I’ve already found one of my albums of the year.”
Even though these words were written over ten months ago, I clearly knew what I was talking about, as almost no other band this year has had as instant and as immense an impact on my listening as Gloson.
From start to finish the music on this album makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, my pulse begin to race, and my heart begin to beat along to its own gloriously grim and gloomy rhythm. And while every song here is more than capable of standing on its own, Grimen really is best experienced as a singular, captivating whole.
Ultimately there was very little separating this from the album which ended up being my number one pick and, on a different day, this might well have been my favourite album of the year. It really is that good.
- BYZANTINE – THE CICADA TREE
Like the Highlander, however, there can be only one, and while I wasn’t as big a fan of this band’s previous album, To Release Is To Resolve, as I’d hoped to be (though it’s still a solid effort), The Cicada Tree is everything I ever wanted from them, and shows the group’s new line-up not only coalescing into one lean, mean, riffing machine, but also coming together to push the proggier side of their sound even further, without losing that distinctive balance that makes their electric, eclectic, Prog-Thrash sound so exciting and invigorating.
From the explosive opening pairing of “New Ways to Bear Witness” and “Vile Maxim”, through to astounding closer “Verses of Violence”, via the sombre and intricate strains of “Dead As Autumn Leaves” and the doomy grandeur of “The Subjugated”, there’s not a moment here that doesn’t sound absolutely vital and completely and utterly essential to the entire experience.
Ambitious, artistic, infinitely infectious, and packed to the gills with more riffs than you could ever ask for, The Cicada Tree is a phenomenal album, and one which hammers home my belief that Byzantine deserve to be one of the biggest bands and most popular bands in Metal, as they’re unquestionably one of the best.
So there we have it. Ten albums that I’ve been listening to pretty much non-stop all year, and which I don’t intend to stop listening to any time soon.
I hope you’ve all enjoyed this year’s weekly Listravaganza, and uncovered some hidden gems in the process.
See you all next year, same time, same place!
(Actually, I’ll see you all next week, where I’ll be publishing some catch-up reviews of some albums and EPs which I didn’t get chance to feature prior to this, as well as making a start on some upcoming albums from 2018).