(Our annual LISTMANIA series includes re-posts of lists from “big platform” music sites and selected print zines, but we usually don’t re-post lists from other metal blogs because that truly would make this long series virtually endless. But we’ve again made an exception for Brutalitopia, because through a variety of MDF hijinks over the years, the NCS crew has become fast friends with the miscreants behind Brutalitopia — Tom, Mick, and Durf. The following is a Top 10 synthesis they compiled of their individual lists originally published at their site.)
Hello No Clean Singing! Brutalitöpia is back again to bombard you with more lists; assuming you can take any more since Andy Synn, DGR, and many others have scorched your eyeballs with enough of them recently. All that petty nonsense aside, we think we have some different opinions about different albums than you probably do, because you know that’s, well… different!
We again did our own lists here, here and here but if you want an aggregate of 3 dudes that benefit from the 2 best cities in the country (Chicago and NYC for those not from THIS country), then you are in luck because we’ll do the work because this is the USA in 2017 after all and research (read: clicking) is for the weak. Facts don’t matter, only opinions. Read on for some takes hotter than Tomi Lahren’s on snowflakes!
10.) The Ditch and the Delta – Hives in Decline (Durf # 4)
Durf: Hives in Decline is sludgy, abrasive fun from first note to last, an adrenaline-pumping ride on an empty highway in a convertible. Opening with the title track, the album waits just a minute before completely kicking things off, and once it does, it doesn’t quit. Bass lines rumble underneath massive riffs and dizzying solos, and the electrifying “Fuck on Asphalt” is one of the most fun songs I’ve heard, this year or otherwise.
Hives in Decline is a tremendous first album, and I look forward to seeing what the guys in Ditch and the Delta have up their sleeves next.
9.) Tchornobog – Tchornobog (Mick #4)
Mick: The one-man project of Markov Soroka, Tchornobog crafts a hellish soundscape for the listener, one that constantly evolves and dives deeper into madness. With four tracks running the distance of just over an hour, this is an album that’s best enjoyed as a whole. Each track has a unique structure unto itself but also fits the bigger picture of the album too.
Tchornobog primarily knows two gears. The album either hits like a ton of bricks or is building tension. The opening of the album starts out of the gate with the former, but the music soon reveals itself to be much more layered and complex than your standard pummeling death metal.
High guitar notes are often sustained to ring in the background, creating an ever-present peril that feels like it’s just around the bend. Every pounding of the drums echoes without end, further defining the vastness of the album’s infernal expanse. The deep guttural vocals also share this type of reverb but emanate more that they’re emerging from the abyssal depths. Sections of saxophone are even implemented in order to establish that nothing is off limits. It comes across as a more experimental version of a band like Gorguts, but Tchornobog has carved out its own niche.
With great structure, relentless heaviness, and nightmarish interludes, Tchornobog is a “full-album experience” in every sense of the term.
8.) Power Trip – Nightmare Logic (Tom #2)
Tom: The angriest album of the year has had a long time to be usurped by albums from All Pigs Must Die, Converge, Pyrrhon, and even Full of Hell; it was a February release after all. Riley Gale and his titanic Texan thrash troop have barely left the tour cycle this year; touring with fellow crossover thrashers, Iron Reagan and with Gatecreeper and Cannibal Corpse; Nightmare Logic is getting heard more and more, as it should.
This is the thrash metal album we all needed in 2017 with the political machine rolling along near a swamp that is now overfilled, not drained. I even had a lovely chat with Riley during a stop at Webster Hall earlier this year. One listen of ‘Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Axe’ or ‘Firing Squad’ should get you really pissed off, and that is by design.
7.) Elder – Reflections of a Floating World (Durf #2)
Durf: Impressively progressive, with a stoner groove, Elder’s Reflections of a Floating World is one of the best albums I’ve ever heard. Every song on the album breaks the eight-minute mark, but none of that time is wasted, as Elder takes listeners on a sonic journey that falls somewhere in between King Crimson and Sleep.
From the intensely catchy opening riff of “Sanctuary” to the relatively straightforward rockout ending to “Thousand Hands,” Reflections of a Floating World is an immersive delight of an album that transcends genres and should be listened to by any and all fans of music.
6.) The Great Old Ones – EOD: A tale of Dark Legacy (Durf # 1)
Durf: The Great Old Ones are a black metal band from France, and EOD: A Tale of Dark Legacy is based on the HP Lovecraft story The Shadow Over Innsmouth. You don’t need to know anything about the story to enjoy the album, because it will pull you in with roaring vocals, vicious blast beats, and enough atmosphere to keep life on earth alive after we block out the sun.
The album uses two spoken word tracks to establish the story, and the rest of the songs follow the structure set forth. There is a flow to EOD that necessitates it be listened to in full, as moments from song to song help to carry the weight of the album and its effect. The way the terror builds to the exceptional “Mare Infinitum,” before breaking into the eerie denouement of “My Love For the Stars (Cthulu Fhtagn)” is a masterpiece of atmosphere building.
Bleak, Lovecraftian black metal that manages to be completely engrossing narratively, The Great Old Ones’ EOD: A Tale of Dark Legacy is my Album of the Year.
5.) Spirit Adrift – Curse of Conception (Tom #1)
Tom: How does Nate Garrett release a powerful death metal album in Sonoran Deprivation a year ago and then put out a bona-fide classically styled traditional doom metal album only a year later? Granted they did release their debut in 2016 as well, but Curse of Conception really put the band on the collective map.
The opening riff sounds like something you would hear screaming from Psalm 9 to Run to the Light. The title track on this album could include the riff of the year, and that year might well be 1985. Critical comparisons to Khemmis and Pallbearer are likely out there so I am excited to see plenty of people hate on a talented band that somebody said something good about once, so kudos Nate. I hope to see you at Metal and Beer Fest on 3/31 in Philly.
Spirit Adrift is the time capsule I didn’t know I needed in 2017 but surely the one I’m glad I got.
4.) Der Weg Einer Freiheit – Finisterre (Mick #2, Durf #12)
Mick: Black metal can be punishing, catchy, grandiose, and even moving, but rarely is it all these things simultaneously. Germany’s Der Weg Einer Freiheit proves with their fourth full-length album, Finisterre, that this is not only attainable but also yields amazing results.
The album ultimately succeeds by thematically aligning both lyrically and sonically. Brooding over loss and mortality, the lyrics and music work together to craft an intense baring of one’s soul that’s so raw and deliberate, that it strikes a serious chord. With throaty vocals and speedy tremolo picking on the guitars backed by a constant flurry of double bass on the drums, the album’s black metal elements are fairly standard fare. However, there’s something about the mix of the album that makes everything sound strikingly audible, especially in the case of the drums. This clarity ends up making everything sound louder and thus more intense.
Finisterre knows how to slow things down though too. Each movement paces itself with spurts of black metal fury into slower sections of guitar chords deftly reverberating throughout. Both of these elements play off of each other and continually build anticipation either through melody or volume. Finisterre represents the best of what 2017 had to offer in terms of black metal and is an emotional powerhouse of an album.
Durf: I initially missed out on this album, until my friend/co-blogger/boss here Mick kept telling me about it and I was forced to relent. The moral of the story, as always, is that I am foolish. Der Weg Einer Freiheit have crafted an incredibly harsh, unrelenting onslaught of black metal on Finisterre. There is atmosphere and melody, to be sure, but all of that is buried beneath a tidal wave of blast beats and rapid-fire riffs. This is the most recent album on my list that I’ve discovered, but don’t be like me and wait around like an ass: go listen to Finisterre now.
3.) Cormorant – Diaspora (Tom #4, Durf #8)
Tom: Cormorant have been around for a while but things have been seemingly quiet since original frontman Arthur Von Nagel left following the critical acclaim for Dwellings. They did put out an album in between but I can’t remember much about it; however, Diaspora is quite something else.
It is quite possibly their magnum opus with 4 tracks, the last of which is a shade over 26 minutes; this album checks all of the boxes for a progressive death metal album and even throws in some riffs that feel like they were modeled around some Trouble songs, with progressive elements akin to Opeth and Enslaved. This album is a deep dive and quite complex, with many different movements and dynamics contained within. It’s hard in short form to describe the music; if I were to use one word it would be, epic.
Durf: Diaspora finds Cormorant excelling in their playground of death/black/doom/prog metal. The riffs are sharp, the changes in pace and tempo and genre feel necessary and fresh, and “Migration” is a twenty-six minute epic that fills each moment with tension, catharsis, and adventure. I feel like Cormorant should be a lot more well-known than they are (hell, I thought that after Dwellings), and hopefully Diaspora is what pushes them further into the metal mainstream.
2.) Dreadnought – A Wake in Sacred Waves (Mick #1, Durf #9)
Mick: The third album from Denver’s Dreadnought will be the one that puts the exclamation point on them being a force in the progressive metal genre. When too many bands start sounding alike, you know the spirit of the term “progressive” has lost its way. A Wake in Sacred Waves breathes new life back into the genre by establishing a sound that is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. Granted, it uses many familiar elements, but the overall result is nothing short of stunning.
The album boasts four long-form tracks that allow a myriad of elements to saturate the tone. The more aggressive aspects of the music feature female black metal shrieks and grungier, almost doom-metal type guitar tones cascading around one another. On the other end of the spectrum, mellower progressions bridge these harder-hitting sections through the use of melodic vocal intonations, saxophones, and gradually climbing piano scales. On paper, it’s an odd mix, but this dichotomy establishes a symbiotic nature between these two extremes that ultimately makes the album, as a whole, stronger. Dreadnought has ambience, heaviness, and experimentation all wrapped into one captivating package with A Wake in Sacred Waves.
Durf: The third album from Denver’s Dreadnought, A Wake In Sacred Waves, finds the band honing the sound that made their sophomore Bridging Realms such a breath of fresh air. Engrossing melodies, often emanating from a keyboard and/or flute, and massively heavy passages ebb and flow through the album like the tide; it’s a little folky, but not like what comes to mind when you hear the word “folky.” Through it all, vocalist Kelly Schilling and Lauren Vieria move from vocals so delicate you’ll worry they’re about to float away to dynamic and raspy roars.
Dreadnought is a delight in extreme metal, a band that truly does their own thing while keeping you on your toes, not knowing what to expect next, while listening.
1.) Pallbearer – Heartless (Tom #3, Mick #3, Durf #3)
Tom: Pallbearer return with what is their most fully realized effort to date and a large improvement from Foundations of Burden. Their core love of a band like Solstice is very present in the grand scale of their music, and the heartfelt riffs hit harder on each successive listen. The music is heavy, riff-driven doom metal with songs ranging from one as short as five-and-a-half minutes to album closer ‘A Plea For Understanding’, which is nearly 13 itself. Heartless might seem more streamlined than previous Pallbearer efforts, and that is an understandable critique; you have seen bands like Mastodon and Baroness make similar moves; whether that comes in conjunction with critical praise is ultimately a band-to-band decision. This altered direction from their debut two albums ago is a welcome change and progression for this Arkansas band that helped put that scene on the map. Heartless is a beautiful album worthy of all the wonderful things that have been said about it.
Mick: It seems like Pallbearer forever has a spot locked in on my year-end list. Ever since their stellar 2012 debut of Sorrow and Extinction, each release has been a unique listen while staying true to their brand of doom. Heartless is no exception. This new album sees the band taking their stylings to their next logical step. The guitars remain heavy and down-driven, except this time around they mix in riffs and faster (comparitively) tempos that not only make the compositions more dynamic but also establishes an uplifting undercurrent not as fully embraced on previous efforts. Guitar feedback is even harnessed to accentuate the transitions in intensity from softer sections to heavier ones. Brett Campbell’s vocals also expand to new territories, particularly into unexpected high ranges that allow even more melodic hooks to come to the forefront. The heavenly sustain on the guitar tones on “Lie of Survival” will continue to ring in your head long after your first listen of it, the opening riff of “Thorns” hits fast and hard, creating a lot of power, and the softer passage in the title track with the vocals lingering like whispers will give you chills. Heartless goes through plenty of peaks and valleys, but Pallbearer manages to keep them even-keeled and thus gives us another album of material that won’t be leaving your daily playlist anytime soon.
Durf: On their third full-length, Pallbearer make the jump from up-and-coming doom band to all-around metal titans. Building off the arena-sized sound they introduced in 2014’s Foundations of Burden, while still managing to stay true to the sparse, ethereal doom from their debut Sorrow & Extinction, Heartless is the band’s best work to date. From the opening burners “I Saw the End” and “Thorns,” to the heartbreaking “A Plea For Understanding,” Pallbearer has considerably upped the ante across the board (and that guitar tone in “Dancing in Madness”!!!). Heartless is not only one of the best albums of the year, it’s a warning shot across the bow of metal: Pallbearer is here to stay as one of the most important bands in any genre, and could very well be in discussion for the top spot with another album as excellent as this.