(As usual, DGR created a year-end list of great length, devoting a great many words to each listed item. Whereas your humble editor continues to fear that the site may collapse beneath this great leviathan of words if it its bulk were caged in a single post, this year we have split it up into only three parts instead of last year’s six. This part includes Honorable Mentions and the albums ranked 30-21.)
There are few things that I enjoy each year more than the yearly list roundup here at NCS — including taking the time to write out my own personal favorites. This is a post that I spend a large part of the year dreading, knowing that my penchant for massive verbiage in the face of all things common sense will turn around and bite me in the ass, and the stress implied therein of the constant re-reading and editing that goes into the joy of crushing one’s website editor under the sheer weight of text. Were the yearly list allowed to be a book, I would deeply enjoy witnessing the ever increasing size of the roll of toilet paper mine would have to be printed on throughout the year. Maybe one year I’ll actually be able to spring for two-ply and at least have some effect.
2017 on this end, was an oddly paced year that moved in massive fits and starts. It seemed like there would be a tremendous flood of music and then radio silence, save for the occasional spark of life that would illuminate an ever-darkening cosmos — a new star birthed just in time to realize that it can’t see any of its neighbors anymore. Believe it or not, there was actually one point at which I thought I’d be able to keep this thing down to a nice and trim twenty albums without falling off the deep end. But as the yearly crawl back through our review archives causes one to do, there was a whole lot of “oh fuck, that actually came out this year” uttered — which is a pretty good sign, as many of these albums have slotted into the constant-play role, alongside the many other discs that I’ve dedicated words to over the years.
I’ve done my best to break these apart, category-wise, with the main meat of this list sitting dead center of the whole shebang, all neatly numbered and pretend “ranked” so that everyone can feel validated by some yahoo in California’s opinion on what music was pretty good this year.
There will also be the obligatory list of EPs — though I broke that rule for one since I liked it so damned much — and the small collective of non-metal sing-song crap that the normies all listen to that managed to pierce this armored bubble of utter kvltness.
The stuff what I enjoyed that almost made the list but didn’t quite make the list yet I still want them in the presence of my list because they are stuff that I would absolutely not begrudge anyone else for listing on their list, AKA The Honorable Mentions
I say this up-front, that a lot of these hurt to cut from the main grouping. They are still present in my big 2017 roundup playlist I have on my mp3 player, but that is a small victory in the grand scheme. I listened to these albums a lot and many of them, were the stars aligned and the mood right, might’ve slotted into the main collective. But as it stands, this is the group that made a damned good impression throughout the year but were just not quite what I was looking for.
You had bands like Arkaik in their sphere of the tech-death circle putting out some of the best music in their careers so far, Hollow World from Australia just screeching in with an absolutely relentless blast of more melodically minded tech-death, Darkest Hour kicking out some of their heaviest material as well — which also translates exceedingly well live — and that wasn’t even the start.
Decrepit Birth shredded up and down their instruments with Axis Mundi (fun fact: death metal band Ogotay has a fantastic song also called Axis Mundi that I highly recommend), somehow managing to keep things just weird and off-kilter enough to keep from falling end-over-end into the death metal jerking-off tropes, and The Kennedy Veil managed to kick out a surprisingly dense eight songs of chug-heavy death metal crashing headlong into the -core circles of the world.
The Faceless put out an album that is a spectacle at least, further playing into their influences and their desire to just throw off-the-wall curveballs whenever they can, which (I can only reason) is how you wind up with the middle of “Cup Of Mephistopheles”. Nick Barker’s drum-fill grind album known as the new Lock Up disc was also great.
And the most painful cut from the main list surprisingly enough turned out to be the gothic romanticism of long-running act Novembers Doom, whose album Hamartia stood toe-to-toe with its predecessor, Bled White, yet still managed to contain some surprises within it. No lie, Novembers Doom going full death ‘n’ roll on the song “Apostasy” is a whole fucking lot of fun.
Alas, there were other discs that just barely managed to eke there way in — because as always the parts of these you have to debate the most are your last three and your top three.
The Faceless – In Becoming A Ghost
The Kennedy Veil – Imperium
Arkaik – Nemethea
Hollow World – Exanimate
Darkest Hour – Godless Prophets And The Migrant Flora
Decrepit Birth – Axis Mundi
Lock Up – Demonization
November’s Doom – Hamartia
The Grand Tome Of 2017 Albums
30) The Lurking Fear – Out Of The Voiceless Grave
Placing The Lurking Fear’s debut album Out Of The Voiceless Grave at number thirty out of a list of thirty discs felt like the perfect maneuver, especially once you recognize what the At The Gates-adjacent supergroup actually were doing, which is basically making a red-meat-as-all-hell, early days of melo-death/Swededeath album. It is beyond shameless in its influence worship and, honestly, sometimes you don’t need everything to be cutting-edge. When you have the perfectly polished round sphere of The Lurking Fear, the only edge comes from the headbanging metal contained within.
Yes, everything The Lurking Fear do is recognizable, but they execute it well enough to create a solid tracklisting of heavy songs, including my personal favorite “With Death Engraved Upon Their Bones”. In a metal world where throwbacks to the ’90s era of death metal can feasibly exist and do well for themselves, The Lurking Fear did a good job putting a flag down. Out Of The Voiceless Grave is one that I’ll toss on as a kind of default, when, amongst the absolute wall of music that is contained within this list, I can’t find anything that suits my taste.
A little over forty minutes later of blasts, guitars, and Tomas Lindberg yelling at me, whatever taste I had was likely satiated. Most of the time you just need a band to dispense with the bullshit and get down to brass tacks.
29) Goatwhore – Vengeful Ascension
Speaking of bands that have become exceedingly good at cutting through bullshit over the years, Goatwhore hammered out a new album in 2017 with the release of Vengeful Ascension — likely the most Goatwhore-sounding Goatwhore disc to date.
Placing Goatwhore here basically does two things for me: One is that although I didn’t immediately take a shine to it like previous Goatwhore albums, it still winds up winning me over from time to time. Goatwhore are masters of the thrashy, arena-black-metal riff with just enough cocky swagger to it that you can’t help but nod in appreciation.
The other is it sends up a signal flare so I can get my yearly pulse-check to see how byrd36 is doing.
Vengeful Ascension is a meaner disc than its immediate predeccesor Constricting Rage of The Merciless but, overall, Goatwhore have found themselves a groove and settled into it. The last few Goatwhore releases have all felt like variations upon a specific, teeth-baring core and basically bounce between groovier and thrashier. Vengeful Ascension leans toward that second half, on the backs of songs like “Chaos Arcane”, the title track, and album closer “Those Who Denied God’s Will”. If Goatwhore, at this point in their career, just want to become the black metal pit-riff band and every concert devolves into a gigantic circular whirlpool maestroed by Ben Falgoust, then I am all for it.
28) Anomalie – Visions
We now take a turn to the more naval-gazy works on the list for a bit. Austria’s Anomalie returned in 2017 with their latest disc Visions, ending a three-year gap since their last album. Our own Andy Synn did a deep dive retrospective on the band’s career as a whole up to this point, including his own take on Visions, which is a lot better than what little I can dedicate here for the sake of brevity, so be sure to read that.
The album — a journey through several visions — is one of those discs that while not a constant play for me, remained a fascinating one every time I did put it on. Anomalie is comprised of multi-instrumentalist Marrok and a handful of musicians who have also found themselves part of the Harakiri For The Sky lineup, and it’s easy to see why. Visions is a hybrid of the post-black metal tag with a heavy melodic influence that could be described as pulling from equal parts doom and melodeath. But whatever genre-salad you credit Visions to, its walk through the shamanistic visions it describes is a journey worth taking.
“Towards The Sun” is a strong opening track and makes eight minutes disappear in the blink of an eye, and album closer “One With The Soil” largely travels in the same circles. However, Visions is one of those discs that has to be treated as a full album; breaking out specific singles works fine but it is most enjoyable as a whole fifty-minute work. It lulls the listener in and traverses the realms of the beatifully layered and absolutely heavy for that time, taking the semi-conceptual work and making one large worthy vision out of it.
27) Unbeheld – Dust
A lot of the groups that appear on this list are ones whose releases I had the joy of reviewing this year and Canada’s Unbeheld are amongst the honored group. They came out of nowhere for me this year, and if I were to hand out “most pleasant surprise” rewards in this 2017 list, Unbeheld would be one of those recipients. I previously reviewed their last release, a self-titled album put out in 2014, but Dust completely blew that album out of the water for me.
For Dust the group took their tech-death proficiency and steered it right into the realm of nihilistic death metal, alongside the heavy-as-hell hammering that they had already proven they could deliver. Dust is absolutely seething with anger and, outside of the obligatory intro track, has six killer songs packed into it from front-to-back. The four-pack songs consisting of “Desecrated Ground”, “Lamentation”, “Destroyer”, and “Vultures” make for a crushingly brutal set that more than pulls its weight for Dust as a whole. Everything else contained within feels like icing on a delicious cake, including the title song “Dust” and closer “Nothing”.
Even though I came to Dust later in the year, it is one of those albums that has absolutely stuck with me. Don’t let Unbeheld fly under your radar.
26) Mechina – As Embers Turn To Dust
Every year I make the same joke about having to reserve a spot for Mechina on my year-end list so I can remember that they put out an album that year. For the past few years Mechina have managed to crank out a disc for a January 1st release and 2017 has been no different. If anything, the one thing I’ll be looking forward to next year is the fact that right now, there’s no planned January 1st release from the Mechina crew. Potential next-year release, maybe, but honestly if the crew wanted to take a year off and really work on an album at a slower pace I would be all for it. Between their current plans to basically combine all their works into one huge package (with remastering tweaks that they’ve been working on) and the hints of being in pre-pro for a disc after that, the pace has to be absolutely murderous. A January release also means the band have to basically earn their spot throughout the whole year, against a battering of albums that eventually and inevitably becomes a torrent.
As Embers Turn To Dust is the wrap-up package of their prequel series of albums, seeking to fill in the final bits of their story, and musically it hybrids both the prequal albums Acheron and Progenitor for its musical stylings. That means there’s a lot of recognizable and repeated motifs here, and the creeping sense of familiarity dwells ever at the edges. However, Mechina still manage to kick out some killer songs on Embers. “The Tellurian Pathos”, “Division Through Distance”, “Syneasthesia Signal”, and “Impact Proxy” are all the cinematic events you would expect from Mechina, and the whole album run for As Embers Turn To Dust is a fun trip in its own right. The album effectively bookends their series of discs and frees the band to really explore now — and I’m really looking forward to seeing where they take their story and music next.
25) Paradise Lost – Medusa
Before you question why the number one album of Decibel’s list managed to land out on the outskirts of the overall rankings in my own gloriously written list, especially considering that Paradise Lost are basically a band tailor-made for my listening tastes, just know that for some reason I found myself having some problems with Medusa.
It’s strange to say it, but Medusa felt a little too short on my first listen, and musically the album is the group iterating upon their return to the death, doom, and gloom of what they started on The Plague Within. Each song individually from Medusa is geniunely enjoyable and I have spun this album a ton anyway because, while I had my issues with it above, what Medusa does do well is work as a mood album.
Medusa was one of the go-to’s this year when I felt like getting some moody music into my system. It was then that songs like “Longest Winter” and “From The Gallows” were like a perfect injection of sound. The opening deathgrowls of “Fearless Sky” basically pick up right where The Plague Within left off and actually, later experiments of putting the two records together, one after the other, would confirm that they’re kind of fraternal twin albums. Minor differences, but similar in the same vein at almost every step.
“Blood And Chaos” would prove to be something of a standout after the many listens, though, as its uptempo nature just felt so different from Paradise Lost’s newfound respect for laboriously dragging themselves through the mud, so much so that the faster, light melo-death nature of that track came as a surprise. Medusa had its warts for sure, as my initial bitching up above should show, but overall I still found myself coming around to it a ton anyway and I couldn’t bear not to include it.
24) Antarktis – Ildlaante
Ildlaante is the long-awaited debut effort from Swedish group Antarktis, a post-metal/sludge hybrid project — slow grooves and atmosphere, mostly — composed of a circle of musicians who have swirled around each other’s projects for as long as we’ve been covering them, counting amongst their collective output In Mourning, Ikhon, and Necrosavant. Antarktis were previously known as Majalis in another life, and to that name had the atmospheric and gloomy Cathodic Black, and Ildlaante — despite the group’s name change — doesn’t stray too far.
The hazy artwork that Ildlaante bears is almost perfect for it, as the music itself is partially dreamlike, alongside some geniunely beautiful melodies and slight synth work that make songs like Part One of the two-part “Cape Meteor” suite immensely catchy. While a ton of my 2017 list leans on the hyper-fast death metal side, Antarktis are perfectly content to move slowly and quietly, creating a ton of atmosphere within their music. In fact, the only real quick-mover on Ildlaante is “Svalbard”, which is pretty quickly paced for the Antarktis crew but is a mid-tempo stomper that has a real fun, bouncing guitar part to it. It’s the song where Antarktis drift away from the painterly aspect of their music and go for a legit headbanger, and that groove is enough to subconciously get you moving before you notice it.
At six songs, Ildlaante is a densely packed album, but the relaxing drift that is a listening session with it is absolutely worth it.
23) Persefone – Aathma
There were a handful of bands out there that trafficked in the “everything and the kitchen sink” method of songwriting this year. Persefone are amongst those, having made a career out of releasing immense concept discs — if you would like a retrospective up to the group’s 2013 disc Spiritual Migration you can read such a thing here — and 2017’s Aathma is the latest addition to them.
The Andorran band, now sporting a guitarist from the group Nami in their lineup, continued on their inward-looking, spritual philosphy concept journey this year, and the result is a thirteen-song affair containing an hour-plus worth of music, two intros, and a closing suite of four songs bearing the Aathma name that makes up nearly 20% of the overall CD. If that weren’t enough to pack into the prog-metallers wall of keyboards and heavy guitar work, the group even arranged an appearance by Cynic’s Paul Masvidal on the album, basically giving him full run of the opening-of-album highlight “Living Waves”. Former long-running Leprous guitarist Øystein Landsverk even makes an appearance on the disc.
To say Aathma is packed is putting it politely, and since we’re a little more crass in our writing than that, lets say this: Aathma is fucking stuffed. It’s a journey to listen to for sure, and one of those albums you have to be in a mood for, because there is so much within it that many months after release I’m still finding little things that pop up in songs that otherwise I was just treating as the Aathma experience. On top of the twenty-minute closing suite of songs, the excellent “Living Waves”, the band also have a killer track in “Stillness Is Timeless” — bouyed by a soaring chorus that is backed by a wall of blasts just to increase it on the epic scale. Aathma proved to be a blockbuster of an album this year.
22) Benighted – Necrobreed
Necrobreed saw France’s Benighted return to us with another heaping helping of mutated and manic brutal death metal, featuring plenty of ‘BREEEEEEEEEEE” to go along with the rapid-fire vocal approach of the band as a whole. Necrobreed is largely a moshier-iteration of the group’s previous disc Carnivore Sublime and it shows, with the band not only pulling from the blastbeat-fueled violence of the death metal scene but also packing plenty of proper deathgirnd riffs into the mix. The Black Dahlia Murder’s Trevor Strnad also contributes to the song “Forgive Me, Father”, turning in a remarkably impressive vocal performance that has him becoming the high shriek to vocalist Julien Truchan’s array of low, lower, and BREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.
Not every moment on Necrobreed is perfect — the Commando sample at the opening of “Leatherface” sticks out as awkward – – but there’s just as many hammering moments to wipe away that feeling. I’m a big fan of any disc that does the ‘heavy metal fading in on radio station’ intro, and Necrobreed has that on “Reeks Of Darkened Zoopsia”, and yes, I love it there. “Mass Grave” changes tempo and vocal stylings so many times it becomes like being tossed around in a tumble dryer of different death metal styles. There also remains a special place in my heart for “Reptilian”, which hits the ground running as the album’s official lead-off song and spells out that Necrobreed is aiming to just create an apocalyptic survival match of a concert atmosphere.
Benighted may be responsible for more than a handful of moments this year in which co-workers would hit the corner and find me rocking the hell out. As recognizable as the formula is this time around, Necrobreed pulled no punches and made for an excellent listen.
21) Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Wolfheart, which began initially as a solo project of prolific musician Tuomas Saukkonen as a mass consolodation of all of his projects into one singular act, are now on their second album as a full group. Tyhjyys, which hit at the beginning of March via Spinefarm Records, continues to march Wolfheart down the path of melodeath and folk metal — which starts to seem like fate, given that the Wolfheart bandmembers include guys pulled from Eternal Tears Of Sorrow and Tuomas‘ previous act, Before The Dawn.
Despite the name meaning “Emptiness” in Finnish, Tyhjyys has seven songs of fiery melodeath. Wolfheart’s previous album Shadow World is the one that really set them on that path, working in a healthy amount of fast guitar work and tons of quick leads to accompany Tuomas’ cold and doomier tendencies. The resulting hybrid has now become the standard for that band, and Tyhjyys is the album that refines upon it.
The opening few tracks of this disc, after its initial instrumental bit, move fast. The near seven-minute runtime of the first two songs feel like lies, because both “Boneyard” and “World On Fire” have glorious gallops within them that are perfect for the classic windmill headbang, and it makes Wolfheart into a wall of destruction mowing over the land, before the band give into their gloomier aspects on “The Flood”. On the back half of Tyhjyys is when Wolfheart go for the colder Euro-doom approach that the region has become known for. Nothing but frost and snowy fields — something that acoustic single “The Black Light” would expand upon when it was released later in the year — combining into some absolutely beautiful moments.
Wolfheart so far has become a standard bearer for the style, with three excellent albums under their belt, Tyhjyys being that third notch.