Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Tom's Töp 15 Albums of 2017

2017 was a difficult year for the United States, in that it felt like it was in a constant flux and almost a battle for good and evil. Standing by the sidelines may be tough to do but getting distracted in your own life may be the best medicine for the darkest annals of an ever present society. Having a 2nd child is also a welcome distraction and hell there was music too; oh boy there was much music to be had.

2017 was markedly stronger overall next to 2016 both in quantity and in quality. Sincerely it felt that cutting an album from this list felt as though a piece of what made 2017 so unique went by the wayside. Alas that is the nature of this very arduous process which allotted exactly zero dollars in my pocket. Now in no particular order here are my honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions:

Immolation– Atonement (Nuclear Blast, USA)  

15. Jag Panzer – The Deviant Chord (SPV/Steamhammer, USA)
Jag Panzer’s American bred style of traditional/power metal has made it to album number ten with The Deviant Chord, their first album since The Scourge of Light back in 2011. It just helps to put The Deviant Chord in perspective. This is a bona fide classic metal album from any era and stands toe to toe with Jag Panzer’s back catalog. If you are looking for one traditional heavy metal album this year, it may well be this wonderful release.
14. Dying Fetus – Wrong One To Fuck With (Relapse, USA)
Dying Fetus' style of organized chaos is not for the faint of heart, but for those who have been following John Gallagher's crew, Wrong One To Fuck With is a continuation of some good ol' brutality. Right from the outset you are beaten over the head with a pipewrench and are asked to crawl through this aural gauntlet for almost an hour. Also a technical spectacle, Dying Fetus feature some of the best musicianship from the genre; this is arguably the best death metal album this year in that regard.

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13. Primitive Man – Caustic (Relapse, USA)
Speaking of uncomfortable music, Primitive Man's Caustic could very well be the heaviest album of the year with the sheer terror it provides from song to song and on each subsequent play through.  Ethan McCarthy and his Denver doom crew have next to no filler and almost all killer on this disc, especially if you have seen the 'Victim' music video. Seeing this live at Montclair, NJ's The Meatlocker was the epitome of a basement show gone off the rails; small room uncomfortable music. It was the best live set this year.

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12. Code Orange - Forever (Roadrunner, USA)
Pittsburgh's Code Orange were a revelation to me as a new wave of American metalcore. Making wave for any other metalcore band during a year when Converge is releasing a new album is a statement in and of itself, a Grammy nomination doesn't hurt them in this regard, although that can help the band get on the list of very many detractors too. The band separate themselves from the pack with various electronic elements which are expertly woven into the fabric of their songs. A fun and inspired listen.

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11. Unsane - Sterilize  (Southern Lord, USA)
New York noisemakers Unsane have returned with a modern day classic. Being an instrumental part of what modern day hardcore has become, it sure is nice to see Unsane set the bar higher for bands like the aforementioned Converge. Fans of their classic album Scattered, Smothered and Covered will find themselves in familiar territory. Also releasing this album on Southern Lord is a step in the right direction considering how many hardcore albums the label puts out annually. If you dig on some Helmet too this album brings back too many good memories to count.

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10. Unleash The Archers - Apex (Napalm Records, Canada)
Color me a bit surprised that this Canadian power metal was a relative unknown to me in 2017; coming from the metal hotbed of Vancouver, British Columbia where I cut my metal teeth on 3 Inches of Blood back in the day and more recently Anciients and the inimitable Archspire. Unleash the Archers are a well oiled machine that toes the line of cheesy power metal but really sounds like a female fronted Judas Priest or 3IOB; vocalist Brittney Slayes is an absolutely force to be reckoned with; that rhythm section is wonderful too. Fans of traditional metal would be hard pressed to miss this new classic.

9. Spectral Voice – Eroded Corridors of Unbeing (Dark Descent, USA)
Coming from one of the strongest scenes in the US today; Spectral Voice calls Denver Colorado home. Khemmis and Primitive Man have staked their claim here and half of this band is also in Blood Incantation but Spectral Voice trade in interstellar space for straight up death doom. The world really feels like it is going to crash into you at some point; there really haven’t been too many death doom albums that feel this genuine in quite a long time and that isn’t to say that Loss and Bell Witch didn’t put out quality albums of their own; however these Colorado crushers really brought the correct amount of oppressiveness to their doom within traditional death metal song structures. FFO Winter and Autopsy.

8. Royal Thunder – Wick (Spinefarm, USA)
Here are the wonderful Royal Thunder yet again gracing a list of mine. They just seem to mature with each release and they seemingly get better each and every time out. Mliny Parsons is a powerful vocalist who is surrounded by a hard rock and emotive atmosphere. Josh Weaver and Will Fiore’s guitars build the platform for Parsons to truly shine, much like how Fleetwood Mac did with Stevie Nicks. The band really seems primed to take more and more huge steps towards greatness and Wick will only garner more and more attention that this band well deserves.

7. Exhumed – Death Revenge (Relapse, USA)
Exhumed return with Death Revenge, their first album in four years. The band finds themselves in the cross between Carcass’ Necroticism and Heartwork as the mix of vile and virtuosity goes hand in hand. Matt Harvey and crew make this effort a fine one with bassist Ross Sewage making his presence felt here as he did with Ghoul’s latest effort; a veritable Bill Steer to Harvey’s Jeff Walker. This brand of self-proclaimed gore metal is all the more wrapped up in a delightful package which includes album artwork that would make Lucio Fulci blush. The album also follows a loose concept of a series of murders in Scotland during the 1820’s. Why not traverse history to find more inspiration? What more do you need to know? Exhumed have delivered during a year chock full of amazing death metal, showing their decomposing grip on the genre is as strong as ever.

6. Grave Pleasures – Motherblood (Century Media, Finland)
Certainly the album that feels like the real oddity on this list. A deathrock dystopia all the way from Finland with British vocalist Kvohst (also of Hexvessel). Grave Pleasures formed from the ashes of Beastmilk and also features powerful guitarist Juho Vanhanen of Oranssi Pazuzu who really finds himself being a driving force behind the haunting vocal performance at the forefront. Guitars chug and or play a few dissonant chords while the drums absolutely dance in perfect time with the rest of the rhythm. Just a real spooky rocker of an album that isn’t really metal, but who gives a shit; this flat out rocks and you need to hear it.

5. Full of Hell – Trumpeting Ecstasy (Profound Lore, USA)
At first glance, Full of Hell are nothing more than cacophonous noise. But upon deeper examination this under 25 minute dirge is a powerful statement to how concise an album can be in 2017 and still get their point across. Trumpeting Ecstasy is the first exclusively Full Of Hell full length (following collaborations with Merzbow in 2014 and The Body in 2016) in nearly four years and it feels like they have truly honed their craft. Whether it be the powerful opener “Deluminate,” scorcher “Crawling Back to God” or the particularly ominous guitar tone on the title track; the violence has variety and Full of Hell have delivered what is easily their best release yet and have set the bar very high for grind and powerviolence in 2017.

4. Cormorant – Diaspora (Independent, USA)
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 was to use one word it would be, epic.

3. Pallbearer – Heartless (Profound Lore, USA)
Pallbearer return with what is their most fully realized effort to date and 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 long form songs as the album is as short as 5 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 2 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.

2. Power Trip – Nightmare Logic (Southern Lord, USA)
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 the aforementioned 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 currently 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.

1. Spirit Adrift – Curse of Conception (20 Buck Spin, USA)
Speaking of Gatecreeper, how does Nate Garrett release a powerful death metal album in Sonoran Deprivation a year ago and then put out a bonafide classically styled traditional doom metal album out 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.

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- Tom

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