(We present NCS contributor Grant Skelton’s excellent 2017 year-end list, curated to present dark releases that haven’t gotten as much attention as they deserve.)
Greetings friends! Regrettably, I’ve been more absent from NCS this year than I would have liked. My spouse and I have been unburdening ourselves of student loan debts, which meant more overtime, which then meant less free time for writing. We’ve a good way to go yet, but we’re much further along than we were. But, I digress. Onward to the list
I went for a bit of a different approach this year. Rather than breaking down the genres (and subsequently driving our editor-in-chief further into mental instability than he already is) I made a single list representing a variety of genres. A caveat: these albums are certainly not ALL of what I think deserves the title of “best” of this year’s releases. Below, you’ll see my criteria.
I work third shift. There’s a certain beautiful melancholy about nighttime (about which I could wax poetic, but nay!) that shaped my musical tastes this year. And while 2017 did give us some outstanding thrash and death metal albums, my musical palate was otherwise satiated. Since night yields itself to slowing one’s pace, I was drawn to albums of a slower gait. Ergo, these are albums that are (at least to me) slower and evocative of the night.
I’ve made an effort to shy away from albums I saw getting lots of mentions on other lists. This was probably the most difficult aspect of thinning down my list. Some of the albums I chose have definitely appeared other places. Likewise, there were some releases I greatly enjoyed that I opted to leave off simply because I saw them, perhaps deservedly, on many other year-end lists.
These albums haunted me. By that I mean that, for whatever reason, I felt compelled to listen to them repeatedly. I did not like some of these releases upon first listening to them. But I was drawn back to them after a few days, weeks, or even months. And then, after more listens, I found myself genuinely invested in the music.
My list is “late” on purpose. December releases often receive something of a cold shoulder because we’re all trying to get our year-end lists in before the year’s end! And there are a few entries in my list that I was deliberately waiting to listen to before I decided to add them.
Frowning – Extinct
2017 was awash in top-tier funeral doom. Frowning’s second album Extinct is but one example. This album was released back in February, and NCS alum Gorger called it, “the number one funeral doom album of 2017. Surpassing this level of awesome will be difficult.” I had the pleasure of reviewing Extinct, which you can read here if you desire.
Did I mention that the last track on the album is a cover of “Marché Funebré” by Frédéric Chopin?
Old Night – Pale Cold Irrelevance
A diadem I discovered while surfing through Bandcamp. Very proggy doom with glorious spaced-out ’80s production. The amount of vocal melody on this album is staggering. Comrade Aleks also featured Old Night in part 4 of his A Doomed Descent series. Point being, don’t sleep on this band. I expect great things from their future output.
Orthodox – Supreme
Spanish duo Marco Serrato Gallardo (bass, vocals) and Borja Diaz Vera (drums), along with saxophonist Achilleas Polychronidis, composed an erratic poltergeist of a jazz album entitled Supreme. Actually that’s not a fair statement. Supreme isn’t a jazz album. It’s the kind of record all the other jazz records have nightmares about. A fiery display of improvisational prowess at work. If you like this album, you’ll be pleased to know that Orthodox were busy in 2017. They contributed a cover of the Neil Young track “War Of Man” (with vocals) to a split, as well as releasing an EP.
Primitive Man – Fear/A Life Of Turmoil
By now I’m sure you’re thinking, “What the hell is this?” I’m intimately aware of the scabrous sounds of Primitive Man’s new album Caustic. It’s a phenomenal album and has earned every bit of attention it’s received this year. Caustic is easily one of my favorite releases. Refer back to list criterion #2 for why it’s not here. Not heard it? Go here.
In an interview with Ethan McCarthy, I learned that “Fear/A Life Of Turmoil” is a noise/dark ambient album that he had composed for his Many Blessings side project. It was instead released under the Primitive Man monicker. If you like the malicious and unrepentant noise featured in PM’s previous ambient material, you must get into this release. It’s basically schizophrenia on tape.
Woe Unto Me – Among The Lightened Skies The Voidness Flashed
Probably the most ambitious and forward-thinking album to come out of the doom landscape this year. The first 6 tracks are spirit-suffocating, flesh-flogging, heart-hemorrhaging, emotion-eviscerating atmospheric doom. The second 6 tracks are acoustic dirges that recall Alice In Chains’ immortal MTV Unplugged album. I generally despise comparing bands to other bands to describe their sound, but I mean that as sincerely as possible. Acoustic performances are raw and unfiltered glimpses into the realities behind the artists that perform them. This is the album that Woe Unto Me will be remembered for. The one that all their subsequent output will be compared to.
Suffocated By Misery – Heartache Unresolved, All Questions Unanswered
One of the December releases I wanted to include. I knew nothing of this band before listening to this album. Beheld the stark album art on Bandcamp, gave it a listen, and purchased without regret. Slow, sombre, blackened minimalism wherein the vocals are claustrophobically crushed by the morose music. If you need an escape from the crushing drear of the holiday season, look no further. The best news? This is Suffocated By Misery’s second album, so you get to brush up on their older stuff once you’re done! Buy this album. Right now. It’s only $3 USD.
Loss – Horizonless
Crafting songs must be a meticulous affair for Loss. They initially formed in 2003 and didn’t release their debut until 2011. Demos for songs included on that album date back to 2004. It took 6 years for us to get this second funerary incantation from Loss. And the painstaking efforts have paid off many times over. Rather than simply giving us more albums, Loss give us better ones. Tragic, sorrowful, dejected, and stunningly beautiful. Bask and marinate in this album at length, because it may be aeons before we get another!
Palehorse/Palerider – Burial Songs
Another gem I stumbled across on Bandcamp. 40 Watt Sun’s Wider Than The Sky album last year left me longing for more music of a similar mood. Something on the fringe of what could even properly be termed “metal.” Enter Palehorse/Palerider. Their sound is misty and hypnotic, the ethereal vocals echoing in swirls in between layers of melodic gloom. It’s like what happens when you wake up from a dream and then try to understand said dream with your recently woken brain. You’re left with something like a nostalgia for the familiarity of a dream. That’s Palehorse/Palerider.
Isenordal – Shores Of Mourning
I’ve had something of an estranged relationship with black metal. It’s a genre I wish I liked more. I’ve understood its influence and heard from fans and fellow NCS writers on why it speaks to them. Even though I had several black metal(ish) releases in one of my 2016 lists, I still never felt very attached. Until I heard Shores Of Mourning by Isenordal (“ordeal by iron”). This album helped me to realize that the right way to listen to black metal is to stop being so busy and actually LISTEN TO THE DAMN MUSIC. I went into Shores Of Mourning with focus, undistracted by a computer monitor, or any of the cumbersome tasks that often go along with, well, being human.
Shores Of Mourning is a provocative, moving, emotive album. I even made a point to avoid reading the lyrics (an uphill battle for me, as I love lyrics) until I’d listened to the album several times. Hence, this album has become quite personal to me this year. I realize I haven’t told you much about the actual music…perhaps I should remain silent and allow you to listen for yourself.
PS: Also check out Isenordal’s Lughnasadh MMXVII demo to get a taste of their neofolk side.
Idre – Unforgiving Landscapes
One of the first elements that really struck me about Idre’s Unforgiving Landscapes was drummer Nicholas Wojcik. His wizardry behind the kit is a rhythmic muse that can at once soothe and entrance while also wounding. If you’re looking for an enchanting pale bleakness to befriend you and invite you into its gray haven, then listen to this album.
Night Of Suicide – Broken
I’d seen the name Night Of Suicide here and there. Broken is their fourth album, and was my first real introduction to them. This album gestated for 6 years, the same time frame as Loss’ Horizonless. According to Night Of Suicide’s Bandcamp page, “the album was made during 6 years of suffering, with every musical piece written in blood and performed with agony.” Listeners ought to heed that statement. I’ve not heard previous albums, but I can say that darkness and despair run deep on Broken. The symphonic harmony does not in any way detract from the weight. Rather, it makes the listener desire to lie down and be crushed.
Nortt – Endeligt
This album was so late (Dec. 29), it might as well count as a 2018 release. The hermit that is Nortt has risen from his stasis and offered a successor to 2007’s Galgenfrist, which I listened to via Amazon and had to have more.
Endeligt, which according to Google translates from Danish into “final, finally”, is a desolate, sparse, ruined wasteland. Just listening to a meager 30 seconds of a single track immediately brings to mind fields of yellow bones picked clean by an invisible predator. A barren, cragged, desert where the moon never sets and the sun never rises. Which is exactly why it fit perfectly in my list. Piano seems to figure more prominently into the songs on Endeligt than on Galgenfrist. But even after 10 years, this is still Nortt. No pretense, no trends, no genre meshing. Just depression enfleshed and given a face and a voice. The word “masterpiece” is frequently tossed about, but I have no qualms using that word precisely for Endeligt. Notice on Avantgarde Music’s label Bandcamp page that all of the Nortt merchandise is already sold out. People are paying attention. Listen and you’ll know why.
Profetus – Coronation Of The Black Sun/Saturnine
Like Night Of Suicide, Profetus are a funeral doom band whose name I’d read numerous times. Hex upon me that I never explored their music until this year. Fortunately for me, the languid lords and doomed deities saw fit to grace us by unearthing Profetus’ debut album Coronation Of The Black Sun as well as their 2007 demo Saturnine. This re-relase is a black churning well of woe for the listener. Profetus play low and lethargic. The kind of music you’d want played at your own funeral. It’s that good. Some previous social media posts indicate that Profetus may have a new album out soon. If you’re like me and need to brush up, by all means start here.
Slow – V – Oceans
Déhà is one of the busiest musicians in metal today. But he is also one of the most consistent. His ambient/funeral doom project Slow released its fifth album this year. It is best experienced if purchased, as the digital download comes with the album as a single track. Find some solitude, put on headphones, deluminate your surroundings, and drown. You will reap tides of sadness, and it will set you free.
PS: This album will see a physical release in January, so technically it could show up on 2018 best-of lists too!
None – None
I blame the album art for drawing me onto this one. My eyes took in the depicted glacial tomb and I yearned to be there. The music helped to satisfy that yearning. The part of the US where I live has weird winters. It can get cold, but it rarely gets cold and stays that way for the entire season. Albums like this one take me to a place where the silvery blankets of winter never melt. Bleakness is beautiful, friends, and None’s self-titled album proves that.
Thanks so much for reading!