(This is the second part of DGR’s massive year-end list feature. Part 1 (here) included Honorable Mentions and albums ranked 30-21. Today he presents the next 10 selections for the album list, ranked 20-11. Tomorrow we’ll have the concluding segment.)
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.
The Grand Tome Of 2017 Albums (Part 2)
20) Aether Realm – Tarot
Three albums up from here I wrote about Persefone’s Aahtma, a disc I felt left absolutely nothing behind and used every resource the band had available to it. Despite the groups being of different genre stock, Aether Realm do the same thing on their sophomore album Tarot. Clocking in at well over an hour, the eleven tracks on Tarot see this North Carolina-based folk-melodeath band basically swinging for the fences, calling in numerous reinforcements and jumping across a variety of spectrae within their chosen genre.
Most of the songs on Tarot differ from one another, emphasizing the concept behind each song as an embodiment of a specific tarot card (side note: criminal how the single “The Magician” got left out of the mix on this one), and the last song on Tarot is a combination of three for a nearly twenty-minute runtime. That means Tarot has a lot to offer in terms of music.
“The Tower” has a shameless two-step riff that is immensely fun. “The Chariot” verges damned close to being a really bouncy Children Of Bodom song. The numerous cameos spread throughout the disc, including Eric W. Brown (Vale Of Pnath, Rainbowdragoneyes) on the three-part song and Christopher Bowes reprising his Alestorm vocal role for the sea-shanty-esque “King Of Cups”, are fun, and those are just two of several different musicians making their presence felt throughout Tarot.
There’s some classic, lengthier, keyboard-heavy melodeath songs in the mix as well, with opener “The Fool” clocking in at seven minutes as the obligatory huge barrier to entry on discs like this one, and “The Devil” comes in as a weightier eight-minute epic just to keep things interesting six songs later.
Aether Realm cover a ton of ground on Tarot — displaying a clear determination to not just repeat themselves after 2013’s One Chosen By The Gods — and it works out, keeping the group varied and exciting for the whole ride.
19) The Fevered – I Have Seen Death
The Fevered’s I Have Seen Death is one of the earliest-released albums on this collection of discs. They, alongside Mechina, were at opposing ends of January but have together been holding strong to make the year-end category list.
I Have Seen Death was released on January 27th, coming in nearly five years after the group’s last album Blackout — a record that signaled a shift in sound for the formerly melodeath band that was displayed on their EP Vestige, moving it on to something more reflective of a burgeoning d-beat punk scene in the group’s hometown of Brisbane, Australia. I Have Seen Death takes that one step further, going for the full power-violence-punk level of destruction, meaning that every song is almost a reverb-fueled mess with a drummer gone mad in the background.
I Have Seen Death is thirty minutes of neatly packed destruction, most songs staying at a trim three minutes of dynamite mayhem, and the handful that aren’t are the one-minute-thirty-second blasts like “Pigs”. “Epicentre” — an excellent song that had previously been part of a benefit compilation — appears again at track two, keeping its heavy-handed atom-bomb-dropping comparisons in full force. “Frantic” and “I Am Become Death” are both great as well, with “Frantic” serving as a bookend to the slower-moving “Panic” that precedes it.
There was a large gap between Fevered discs but I Have Seen Death made the wait worth it, showing that the group have found a sound and are really excelling at it. The half hour they spend with you on the album is one that will leave you exhausted from constant head-nodding by the time it wraps up.
18) A Hill To Die Upon – Via Artis Via Mortis
The blackened death metal crew of the midwest’s A Hill To Die Upon have been able to stick to a pretty consistent every-three-years album release schedule since 2011’s Omens. 2014 brought us Holy Despair, which at least two of us here in the currently-totally-not-on-fire NCS offices enjoy, and 2017 brought us the band’s latest ruminations, Via Artis Via Mortis.
Less classic black metal blastbeat heavy than Holy Despair, Via Artis Via Mortis finds the band embracing a darkened groove within their music, giving themselves over to massive guitar riffs and strong mid-tempo double-bass segments built for the group to howl over. It has the band going for less of the fiery epic and mores so the classic frostbitten grim sound, containing shades of hefty Immortal influence dabbed throughout the work.
They start Via Artis with a showstopper in “Jubal and Syrinx”, which is one of the many anthemic songs spread throughout the album, and part of a similar vein of tracks that see the group really hammering home the chorus aspects of their song, slowing down to really emphasize the main lyrical focal point. “St. Cocaine” — the album’s closer — does something similar, and “I Was there when you went under the water” all have a way of working their way into your skull and not letting go.
If A Hill To Die Upon accomplished anything notable on Via Artis besides making a great record, it was mastering the art of sticking key phrases into the listeners head like a chef’s knife and leaving them stuck there for months. I find myself constantly humming the main segments of “Great Is Artemis of the Ephesians”, which boils down to exactly what you’d expect, them yelling “Great Is Artemis of the Ephesians!”. Via Artis Via Mortis proved to be one of the better surprises throughout the year.
17) Profanity – The Art Of Sickness
In the absolute on-rush of brutal death metal that washed over us in 2017, one that has felt unfairly overlooked is Profanity’s The Art Of Sickness. The German three-piece band created a massively thick album of death metal this year — three years after their equally lengthy EP Hatred Hell Within — blurring the voracious technicality and rock-stupid songwriting of a band like Dying Fetus with an odd taste for adventurous song changes that sometimes serve solely to blindside you over the incredibly long journey each song takes.
At six tracks, you would assume that The Art Of Sickness is almost an EP but it’s one of those albums that goes places, continually slamming out new riffs and drum sections to the point of overwhelming the listener. The shortest song on here, for instance, comes in just two seconds shy of six minutes, and most stay in the high-six-low-seven range. The Art Of Sickness is definitely one of those bang-for-your-buck discs. “Mouth Of Nepotism” and “Recreating Bliss” both toss the listener back and forth with absolute ferocity. and “Who Leaves Stays” proved to be one of the standout tracks amongst its breathren. “Specific Souls” manages to pack a ton into its six and a half minutes as well.
Profanity basically put out a bulldozer disguised as a CD this year, and if you’re looking for something to just blindside you with part-after-part-after-part…after part, then The Art Of Sickness has you covered in spades.
16) Kartikeya – Samudra
Samudra, the third full-length album by Russia’s Hindu-ethnic-inspired groove metal band Kartikeya, has been a long time coming. The group’s previous full-length, Mahayuga, was released way back in 2011. Since then, the six-man project had been slowly forging their new album, keeping themselves alive with a steady drip of singles that would eventually find their way onto Samudra, and the occasional cover song. The full release of Samudra finally happened in October of 2017, coming in at a weighty fourteen tracks and an hour and thirteen minutes.
Samudra covers a vast swath of ground. Kartikeya pack every song with a billion different grooving riffs, and the war-drum nature of a lot of the songs means that they’re already tailor-made to rock out to. The group travel through a variety of mythoi for subject matter and work in some cultural music highlights as well, fusing themes seamlessly with the band’s quick-moving nature.
“Tunnels Of Naraka” is still a great song, even though we breathlessly posted about it way back in 2013. Album closer “Dharma Pt. 2 – Into The Tranquil Skies” (the Dharma Songs bookend the album as a whole) is a thirteen minute journey through everything the band has on offer, making itself one of a few songs on the disc where the concept behind Kartikeya shows up in full force. Another, more condensed version is the song “Mask Of The Blind” — which proved to be one of the best on the disc, glorious ‘GO!’ mosh-call included and all. “We Shall Never Die” also has the band cranking out multiple, massive guitar segments — especially in its intro — that are impossible to deny.
Samudra, despite its muted album cover, reveals a band absolutely giving their all this time around, and the long wait proved worth it.
15) Fleshkiller – Awaken
Fleshkiller are one of a small group of newer bands on his list, arriving right at the center of this here tome with their debut album Awaken. Fleshkiller contains the DNA of groups like Extol and The Burial and it shows across Awaken’s listening session, with most of the tracks sounding like a fusion of the two, alongside some quicker-moving bits that have Fleshkiller almost channeling Revocation at times.
One of the things I enjoy about this branch of metal is the angular guitar approach, pulling in elements of progressive and fusing them into death metal. It usually means that the songs at times can sound alien, full of bent angles and off-kilter rhythms that get jabbed in alongside the more traditional songwritng that lets Fleshkiller break out the occasional power-chorus whenever they need to. Because of that, Awaken found itself getting spun constantly on this end from its release.
It is more than just a melodically minded death metal disc. The band consistently find new ground and new ways to keep things interesting over its ten-song duration. They can be relentlessly heavy, as on the songs “Wisdom” and “Warfare”, and then just as easily go full-on melodic, as in the opener of the album, “Parallel Kingdom”. It is that sort of approach that has kept Awaken fresh and relevant for me in 2017 and has kept me coming back to it.
14) The Black Dahlia Murder – Nightbringers
The Black Dahlia Murder returned in 2017 with Nightbringers, their strongest collection of material since Nocturnal. Sticking to a pretty consistent every two years no matter what schedule, The Black Dahlia Murder have developed a distinct sound that makes them one of the ultimate shuffle bands out there. While each disc has displayed minor differences from others, the group really settled into a groove with Ritual and have hammered away at different aspects of that sound since then. The two albums after that one were good to great, with Everblack taking a slight edge over Abysmal, yet at that point in their career it seemed like Black Dahlia had finally settled into just doing what they do best.
Nightbringers washes away some of that feeling, seeing the band at their most adventurous in some time and even packing in some glorious guitar leads that have been woefully underrepresented in the largely groove-focused hyper-fast death metal the band usually plays. There’s still a couple of pretty stock BDM songs in the mix here, but there are just as many interesting diversions as well.
The slowed-down groove of the title track is fun, “Widowmaker” does an excellent job opening up affairs and joining an increasingly long line of great opening tracks on Black Dahlia Murder albums, and “Jars” — despite the unassuming name — has come out as the top dog of Nightbringers in my opinion. The whole chorus is built for audience participation, yelling “Their heads in Jars!” as the band throw down another chugged-out guitar line; it’s a whole lot of fun.
At a slim eight songs, Nightbringers flies by fast but it also makes The Black Dahlia Murder sound newly rejuvinated and once again managing to remain up-front, ever-adapting this late into their career.
13) Hour Of Penance – Cast The First Stone
While we’re in the realm of the insanely fast bleastbeat death metal bands, let’s make a quick trip to Italy and give a tip of the hat to Hour Of Penance, whose latest album Cast The First Stone hit in early 2017. This new record continued the Hour Of Penance trademark of being one of the faster-paced brutal death metal releases out there, the drumwork treated more like automatic machinegun fire meant to mow listeners down. Even at only nine songs and a little over a half hour, the Cast The First Stone hurricane is near overwhelming. The Hour Of Penance crew even worked in some minor symphonic bits into Cast The First Stone to help make each song sound even bigger than the already gigantic blocks that they were.
Of course, it should be said that Cast The First Stone is also Hour Of Penance largely in their comfort zone, sticking firmly to their thematic choices of denial of god — focusing heavily on the sheer carnage of the Crusades for the subject material this time around. The band start the album with their feet on the accelerator and, in keeping with tradition, they keep it there for the entirety of the disc. The grooving and headbanging sections the band place into their songs are still leagues faster than bands of a similar ilk, and what little fat might’ve been left over from 2014’s Regicide has since been whittled away, meaning that you get an album that is closer in line with 2011’s Sedition.
A sleek, uncompromising, and quick-moving monster of an album that is all about sheer destruction and leaving the world razed behind it.
12) Archspire – Relentless Mutation
We would be remiss if we let a block of fast music go by in this list without mentioning tech-death wunderkinds Archspire, because nobody goes faster than Archspire.
The group’s 2017 album Relentless Mutation proved to be a worthy successor to their previous album, The Lucid Collective, and one that shows the band at their most focused to date. Archspire kick out seven songs of bleeding-edge-fast material, pulling off every trick that they know, and fusing all of them into some of their best material so far. On top of the usual head-spinning displays of tech-death insanity you also hear a band that has embraced the lyrical assault as well, and they also appear to have recognized that while they can get by on “holy fuck those dudes go quick”, they’ve made an attempt to differentiate things and keep the music varied.
“Remote Tumour Seeker” is a bona-fide earworm with a tailor-made-for-headbanging chorus that becomes a subconcious trigger, one that will have you grumbling “remote tumour seeker” long after the song has ended. The quiet bit that opens up the title song proves to be something of a surprise, before the group unleash the whirlwind of death metal contained within that song.
“The Mimic Well” runs in a vein similar to “Remote Tumour Seeker” in part, because you can’t help but find yourself chanting along each time the Mimic Well line pops up. The machine-gun fire of “Calamus Will Animate” is also both impressive and fun to listen to, and the militaristic march continues throughout much of that song in between each quickly hammered-out double-bass blast.
Relentless Mutation is Archspire honing in on what works for them, and in doing so the group managed to unleash another impressive and terrifying beast this year.
11) Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
You ever listen to an album and hear a part so good you wonder if from that, the rest of the disc was born? You get the sense that Ex Deo were supposed to be on hiatus much longer than this Roman-history-focused Kataklysm offshoot actually were, and yet when you hit the opening guitar line of “The Rise Of Hannibal” you have to wonder if there was a moment upon writing it where the words “Shit, I have to get the band back together” were uttered.
Ex Deo’s third album The Immortal Wars is a slimmer disc than its predecessors, seven full songs with one instrumental bit to help break up the symphonically enhanced death metal within. Yet the band’s brand of Hollywood-soundtrack-backing death metal works better here than it has on previous albums, suitably heavy and pyrotechnic when it needs to be and fast enough that nothing sticks around long enough to become noticeably mundane.
That means songs like “Hispania (The Siege of Saguntum)” become suitable headbangers as you hit that main guitar riff over and over, and the martial gallop of the song overtakes you. Yes, there are plenty of trademark lyrical declarations in order to push the narrative along, but what would an Ex Deo disc be without somebody yelling “On this day……!” at least once. “Cato Major: Carthago Delenda Est!” has a suitably epic drum intro, combining war-drum tempo with a descent into death metal blasts as Cato is summoned to the senate floor. I would deeply love to be summoned anywhere by a series of blasts with war drums behind it.
The Immortal Wars proved to be an early-year surprise and one of the albums close to this lists Top Ten that became an almost permanent fixtures in my headphones.