Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Durf's Töp 15 Albums of 2017

Why hello again!  It seems like it was just yesterday that we were all here, talking about my Töp Non-Metal Albums, EPs, and Songs of 2017.  What's that you say?  It WAS just yesterday? My, what a long day it felt like!  While I truly enjoy writing about genres other than metal, and love foisting songs onto people, today's list is the big to do.  When I started writing for Brutalitopia, my first post was a year end list.  We write for Brutalitopia because of our love of and passion for metal, and it's incredible to have the opportunity to get to listen to SO MUCH metal over the course of the year.  Some of it falls away after a listen or two, some of it sticks around for a bit longer, and even fewer stick with me for the whole year, bouncing into and out of my head at work, and entering regular rotation into my commute or gym soundtracks.  These are the albums I've listed here: fifteen metal albums that have remained a vital part of my year since the first (or, admittedly, second) time I listened to them.  I hope that you'll enjoy this list, that it will perhaps introduce you to a band or album that you haven't yet heard that you then grow to love, like I do.  So, without further ado, here are my Töp Fifteen Metal Albums of 2017.

 15. Battalions - Nothing to Lose

A rapid-fire assault of thrashy hardcore, the UK's Battalions really know how to bring the energy.  Nothing to Lose's eight tracks don't even break the half hour mark, but the entirety of its runtime is jam-packed with riffs and melodies that are sure to worm their way into your brain and trash the place like a frat house after homecoming.  "A Coward's Manifesto" starts the album off with a bang, and none the ensuing tracks do anything to slow down the party.  And "Shitstorm Troopers" even manages to fit a "Trailer Park Boys" vocal sample into the aural madness.  This one has been a go-to for everything from the gym to cleaning the bathroom at home; it's fucking perfect for that motivating kick in the ass you may find yourself needing.

Favorite Tracks: "Whiskey and Wine," "Blood Bed"

14. Wolves in the Throne Room - Thrice Woven
After a detour into ambient synthesizers/companion albums with 2014's Celestite, Wolves in the Throne Room return to their black metal roots with aplomb.  Thrice Woven still has the atmospheric moments that have defined previous WitTR releases, but it is perhaps their most diverse release, with folkier moments (some courtesy of Neurosis' Steve Von Till) coexisting alongside possibly the heaviest, most straightforward black metal the band has delivered in over a decade.  It may not be the band's best release (for my money: Celestial Lineage), but it's certainly their most diverse, and it sets the stage for further entries in the band's discography to branch out even more.

Favorite Tracks: "Angrboda," "Fires Roar in the Palace of the Moon"

13. Bell Witch - Mirror Reaper
Seattle doom duo Bell Witch has quickly become one of the more divisive bands working, due to their long-form funeral doom, and Mirror Reaper is certainly not going bring people together.  Clocking in at a whopping eighty-three minutes, all of it a single track, Mirror Reaper is certainly not for everyone.  However, genius is never appreciated by everyone, so Bell Witch is doing just fine.  Mirror Reaper is absolutely an intense time commitment, but it is also one of the richest, most emotionally rewarding albums I can remember listening to.  Written after/about the untimely passing of founding Bell Witch drummer Adrian Guerra, Mirror Reaper delves into tragedy and loss through mournful, ambient passages flowing into and out of crushing doom moments.  Each of Bell Witch's three albums have seen them explore and continue to fully realize their sound, and Mirror Reaper is an incredible step in that evolution that isn't to be missed.

Favorite Track: LOL

12. Der Weg Einer Freiheit - Finisterre
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.

Favorite Tracks: "Ein Iezter Tanz," "Skepsis Part II"

11. Mutoid Man - War Moans
Outside of their duties as the house band on the newly-resurrected Two Minutes to Late Night, I've more or less missed out on Mutoid Man throughout their career.  And holy shit was that an oversight on my part.  War Moans is a ludicrously fun album, chock full of lunatic riffs, frantically paced tempos, and songs about impregnating the devil's daughter.  Well, ok, a song about that; the rest are just some of the most demented-yet-sweet love songs I've ever heard, and I look forward to listening to Mutoid Man's back catalogue... just as soon as I finish listening to War Moans, that is.

Favorite Tracks: "Bone Chain," "Date With the Devil," "Afterlife"

10. Bison - You Are Not the Ocean You Are the Patient
Another complete surprise of an album, BISON's You Are Not the Ocean You Are the Patient is a dense, muddy ride that sounds more like half-speed hardcore than a typical sludge album.  Nowhere is this more evident than in vocalists James Gnarwell and Dan And's howling, bellowing roars, although the thick, if slowed down, riffs underneath the vocals also have a bit of a hardcore lean to them as well.  Through and through, You Are Not the Ocean... is a breath of fresh air in a sludge genre that can sometimes feel staid and complacent.

Favorite Track: "Drunkard"

9. Dreadnought - A Wake in Sacred Waves
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 time 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.

Favorite Tracks: "Vacant Sea," "To Luminous Scale"

8. Cormorant - Diaspora
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.

Favorite Tracks: "Sentinel," "Migration"

7. Squalus - The Great Fish...
Born from the ashes of the late, lamented Giant Squid, Squalus arrives on the scene with their take on Jaws.  Simultaneously capturing the spirit of the novel and film that inspired The Great Fish... while adding their own take on it through their aquatic post-metal, Squalus manages to not only make a great album musically, but also an exceptional musical adaptation, which is absolutely something I would like to see explored more.  The decision to have the band members recite lines from the film instead of solely using vocal samples isn't always the best, but holy shit does Aaron Gregory nail Quint's USS Indianapolis speech in the song of the same name, and the inclusion of "Show Me the Way to Go Home" is an absolute delight.  An inventive, immersive debut album.

Favorite Tracks: "The USS Indianapolis," "He Ate the Light"

6. Mastodon - Emperor of Sand 
Mastodon has seemingly been treading water for their last two full-length releases, but Emperor of Sand finds the band more energized and engaged than they've been since Crack the Skye.  While Emperor doesn't quite hit the stratospheric heights of the band's Pantheon-level trilogy of Crack the Skye, Blood Mountain, and Leviathan, Emperor of Sand sees them stretch their songwriting to the max, moving from jaunty pop songs to acoustic ballads to all kinds of prog wonkery.  The music is as tight and accomplished as its ever been, and the decision to continue to grow drummer Brann Dailor's stake in vocal duties is a resounding success here.  I know that it has to be a pain in the ass and creatively draining, but maybe the dudes in Mastodon just need concepts to write around in order to do their best work?

Favorite Tracks: "Roots Remain," "Ancient Kingdom," "Clandestiny"

5. Falls of Rauros - Vigilance Perennial
To say that Falls of Rauros play atmospheric black metal is not technically inaccurate, but it does sell what they do a bit short.  Vigilance Perennial, the band's fourth album is a masterwork in building lush, beautiful soundscapes into the cold harshness of black metal.  The intricate guitar melodies that snake their way through the beginning of "White Granite" are delicate enough to be a lullaby, and  keeping that warmth and melody going when the real heavy shit kicks in gives Falls of Rauros a unique sound within black metal.  Hell, the band even manages to make a two minute interlude track, "Warm Quiet Centuries of Rains," sound vibrant and important and necessary, leading in to the joyous riffs of "Arrow & Kiln."  I've long felt Falls of Rauros are one of the top two or three American black metal bands, and Vigilance Perennial does nothing to sway that feeling.

Favorite Tracks: "Arrow & Kiln," "Impermanence Streakt Through Marble," "White Granite"

4. The Ditch and the Delta - Hives in Decline
I almost skipped over the promo for the debut album by Salt Lake City's The Ditch and the Delta, but thank Dio I gave it a listen.  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.

Favorite Tracks: "Fuck on Asphalt," "Sleeping Dogs"

3. Pallbearer - Heartless
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.

Favorite Tracks: "Dancing in Madness," "A Plea for Understanding"

2. Elder - Reflections of a Floating World
Honestly, 2 feels too low for this album; it's more like "1B."  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 to "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.

Favorite Tracks: "Sanctuary," "Blind," "Sonntag"

1. The Great Old Ones - EOD: A Tale of Dark Legacy
Which makes this one 1A.  For the first time since I've done these lists, my Album of the Year comes from a band I hadn't heard of before this release.  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 he 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.

Favorite Tracks: "The Ritual," "In Screams and Flames," "Mare Infinitum"

- Durf

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