Nine Circles ov…2017: A Mid-Year Report

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Do we even do mid year lists around here?  I debated with myself (eeewww) for hours about doing one, but having just run the tally of albums I checked out this year I realized 1) now was as good a time as any to sit down and stock of what stuck in my ears so far in 2017 and 2) I needed a topic for the next Nine Circles ov… anyway, so why not kill two birds with one stone and highlight some of the great releases from the first half of the year?

And let’s be clear: there’s a lot to check out.  I have 251 albums sitting in my 2017 folder right now and I’ll be the first to admit there’s no way in Hell I devoted the attention some of these releases deserved, which is probably why mid year lists change so much by the time the end of the year rolls around.  What didn’t stick now may stick later, the chemical makeup in your brain undergoes a subtle shift and HOLY SHIT THIS IS THE GREATEST ALBUM OF ALL TIME…you get the picture.  So consider this a snapshot: if the quality of these nine releases are anything to go by, metal is having another great year – so great I have an album on here you all will cry our isn’t even remotely metal – and will only get get better as the year moves along.  Let’s do this.

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emptiness-not-for-music

Emptiness – Not for Music:  My first exposure to this Belgian experimental band came with this album close to the beginning of the year (fitting it’s first on the list, then), and their brand of gothic, alternative doom immediately grabbed me, as did the provocative cover.  Having dived further back in their discography you can still see the seeds of dread that permeate Not for Music but here it’s distilled in a menacing dark that moves through a Lynchian dreamscape on tracks like “It Might Be” and “Let it Fall” which shifts through metal and avant-garde experimentation with a sinister ease.  It even pairs nicely with beer.

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Farsot – FAIL-LURE:  Six years after the under appreciated Insects the German black metal collective return with their best album yet, a crushing and diverse plate of harshness and melody.  FAIL-LURE hews closely to the modern, diverse black metal bands like Woe have been excelling at lately, and taking as inspiration the Barney Greenaway film Drowning by Numbers.  The press packet tags the music as “dense and cryptic” and this time I’m inclined to agree; however, there’s a layer of melody in the melancholy on tracks like “Circular Stains” and “Undercurrents” that make FAIL-LURE stand out as one of my favorite black metal releases of the year.

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full of hell - trumpeting ecstasy

Full of Hell – Trumpeting Ecstasy:  I didn’t know what more I can say after raving about this piercing blast of insanity in my review; if there’s a band out there who is better at synthesizing grind, sludge and noise in such a compact package please sound off in the comments.  Full of Hell’s ability to effortlessly move through so many styles while keeping everything cohesive is a marvel, never sacrificing their ridiculous amount of rage and vitriol on tracks like “Crawling Back to God” for something more pedestrian and  ultimately meaningless.  This was another band I really only got into this year, and after hearing the assault of Trumpeting Ecstasy I immediately became a disciple.

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Junius – Eternal Rituals for the Accretion of Light:  Can we call this a favorite among the Nine Circles staff?  I raved about it for a Sepulchral Saturday back in March; Josh, aka hardcorejoe took some space in his Mulligan’s Stew to rave about the album as well.  And with good reason: Eternal Rituals for the Accretion of Light is gorgeous in its use of space to define a level of darkness in its shimmering, gothic shoegaze blend of metal and rock.  having written and recorded the entire album solo, Joseph Martinez uses his voice and keyboards to recall the best work of Joy Division even as he brings back the snarling metal or earlier releases on tracks like “Clean the Beast.”  Right now this is the album to beat come end of year.

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Lock Up - Demonization

Lock Up – Demonization:  As I mentioned in my review, it took some time, but Lock Up finally feels like they’re no longer paying homage to the bands they adored as youths, nor do they sound like a band finding its footing after the loss of Jesse Pintado.  Kevin Sharp brings his vocal A game to the proceedings, and everyone is on fire to match him.  Barker in particular is a joy on Demonization: the percussion shifts on “The Decay Within the Abyss” feel insane, triggering almost cinematic moments between the flurry of blasts.  Months later when I was reviewing what would go on my I honestly wasn’t expecting the album to hold up well.  I should have known better with the players involved.  One more time: “REJOICE!  REBIRTH!”

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Lo Pan - In Tensions

Lo-Pan – In Tensions:  Yup.  Six months later I still love everything about In Tensions: the insanely catchy hooks, the low end rumble, the soaring lead vocals of Jeff Martin, who channels everything in hard rock I love and lets it soak in the stoner sludge goodness his comrades in arms bring to each track off this mammoth EP.   There’s a callback to the essential Only Living Witness (and if you’ve never heard this unsung band, do yourself a favor and rectify that immediately) in the way the songs are constructed, at once classic and timeless in their passion.  Why Lo-Pan isn’t one of the biggest rock acts in the world is a mystery for the ages, but based on the way In Tensions affects my brain it’s only a matter of time.

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ragana-you take nothing

Ragana – You Take Nothing:  From the opening notes of “Take No Man” there’s a space that imbues all of Ragana’s new album You Take Nothing.  Inside that space is a pain and anguish that is haunting and raw and exposed in a way few albums can lay claim to.  The duo of Maria and Nicole have crafted an album that hurts and rages and is truth in a way few can stand, let alone accept.  The black metal that permeates “To Leave” is beautifully juxtaposed next to the quiet doom that opens “Winter’s Light” while the closing title track is a powerful juggernaut of nerve and anger, the words “YOU TAKE NOTHING!” shouted over and over again, its repetition a rallying cry for those systemically abused and ignored, put down, or made to feel less than what they are.  With so much focus o the Northwest black metal scene, any discussion that doesn’t put Ragana squarely in the forefront hasn’t been listening.

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ulver - assassination of julius caesar

Ulver – The Assassination of Julius Caesar: OK, there’s no way I can call this a metal record.  I won’t even try.  But again, it taps something deeply personal in me, especially Gam’s vocals.  There are times when you are helpless to the pull of something, and The Assassination of Julius Caesar does it musically.  I can’t even comment on the lyrics – I literally don’t hear them except as tonal imprints on my soul. As Ulver veers more and more away from the expected (and it’s alarming to think of how varied what we consider “expected” for Ulver is) they get better and better, like Anathema, the impact they have on my life has little to nothing to do with the “metal” albums they’ve released.  Let this one sink into your soul on a dark night as you lay awake, sweating i the heat.  You’ll find it…

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Unleash the Archers - Apex

Unleash the Archers – Apex:  Hey, I’m just as surprised as you that I have a power metal record on this list.  But holy crap Unleash the Archers have upped the amperage ten fold on Apex: it’s the heaviest, grooviest, raise your fist and yell album they’ve done to date.  Nine Circle’s Frank sang their praises to the heavens when it came out, and he wasn’t wrong: Brittnet Slayes delivers a remarkable vocal performance, one that is equalled by the absolutely pummeling guitars of Grant Truesdell and Andrew Kingsley.  Nothing feels slight or tinny or overly saturated in reverb and shimmery keys.  This is power metal with the emphasis firmly on the “metal” and not a single note disappoints.

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I traded out at least 5-6 albums over the course of writing this article…there’s so much incredible music coming out right now you can’t help but feel overwhelmed.  And that’s a good thing: I’ll take the flood over the drought, and drown willingly in so much quality.  And sure in six months who know if any of these will still be there, but as I wrap this up just after midnight I feel pretty good.

What say you?  What did I get right?  Wrong?  What did I miss?  Later this week I’ll be running another list of “shit why didn’t I put THIS on the list” but in the meantime sound off in the comments.

-Chris


 

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