Best of 2017: Zyklonius’ List

9C 2017 EOY Header Image

Another trip around the sun, another stellar year for metal, with a wealth of riveting riffage, pulverizing beats, blood-curdling growls and blazing tremolos. Verily, this is an era of abundance, where it is impossible to stay on top of the deluge of top-shelf metal released every week. Best of all, quality seems to go hand in hand with quantity. If there ever was an antithesis to the contemporary temptation for instant gratification and disposability, every album I included in my mid-year stocktaking exercise ended up on my end-of-year list, having continued to impress and astonish me as time went by, testament to the spectacular songwriting, boundless creativity and killer riff delivery of the bands that conjured up these stunning works of art. And just when I thought things could not get any better, both seasoned veterans and hungry newcomers arrived, bearing gifts of seismic impact. I hope the following releases enrich your life, even if only with a fraction of the effect they had on me. Now, dig in!

25. Rosetta – Utopioid

Rosetta – Utopioid

Utopioid was without doubt written and performed by a close-knit collective of musicians linked through a Vulcan mind meld. It resonates with ethereal beauty and stunning soundscapes, flowing and breathing with beautiful cohesion while expanding to every direction and delivering colossal crescendos when called for.

24. Ex Eye – Ex Eye

Ex Eye - Ex Eye

When it comes to describing Ex Eye’s feverish, mesmerizing debut, our very own Chris said it best: “There’s a power to naming things. Labeling, categorizing, putting things into some kind of identifiable framework helps us to make sense of our thoughts and feelings.  When something defies easy categorization it can challenge us to reconfigure that framework; putting the work in yields a greater pleasure than what came before. […] Some of the best music is that which draws you without opening its heart, showing its secrets, and this is an album that continues to elude me even as it never ceases to beckon.”

23. Ufomammut – 8

Ufomammut - 8

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Ufomammut delivered a pummeling cosmic journey replete with hypnotic grooves, divine fuzz and rib cage-crushing heaviness. For an intoxicating, planet-smashing ride through solar systems, climb aboard this spaceship.

22. Viscera/// – 3: Release Yourself Through Desperate Rituals

Viscera - 3 Release Yourself Through Desperate Rituals

Viscera///’s roiling blast furnace of blackened sludge, crust and post-metal continuously shifts gears and provides space for swirling ambiance and wistfulness, without feeling contrived or detached. Despite the length of songs and the myriad atmospheric contemplative passages therein, they are imbued with a vital urgency and an almost chaotic energy. It all sounds as if possessed by something that works in enigmatic ways with a grand plan and mission objective, with exciting ideas bursting at the seams.

21. Subetroth – Agnozia

Subetroth - Agnozia

Subetroth’s self-described “hooker party doom from the West” tastes, smells and sounds like a warped version of the American Dream daydreamed by malaria-stricken Hunter S. Thompson who passed out drunk and high while reading Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s The Preacher. To borrow the lyrics of the closer “Rubber Band Moan,” Subetroth “mine, bore, gouge, gut, and maim”, painting a vivid, feverish and sweaty picture of the human condition.

20. Usnea – Portals into Futility

usnea portals into futility cover

Rather than wallow in misery and despondency, Portals into Futility channels rage and determined forward-momentum with a view to confronting the eponymous futility with wrathful intensity. And what majestic artillery shells it discharges, embellishing the craters it stalwartly creates with such magnificent tapestry.

19. Circle – Terminal

circle terminal

Histrionic spandex-clad arena metal infused with a cornucopia of psychedelics and the cocksure swagger of glam rock. Rarely is metal this fun, unhinged and mercurial, with a band so adept at constantly shedding its skin and implementing chameleon-like changes in its sonic color palette.

18. Execration – Return to the Void

Execration - Return to the Void

What a wild ride through the horrors of the uncaring cosmos Return to the Void is. The alien psychedelics have already kicked in and Euclidian reference frames are evaporating, but Execration’s punches keep on landing with amazing vigor and accuracy. As an added bonus, Return to the Void is a masterclass example of how to match an album cover with the aesthetics and bludgeon of the music contained within.

17. Inferno – Gnosis Kardias (of Transcension and Involution)

Inferno - Gnosis Kardias (of Transcension and Involution)

Gnosis Kardias forms a portal into the warm bosom of a transcendental realm of rapturous revelation and ecstasy. Other black metal bands might riff harder and faster, but Inferno outshines its peers in conjuring a gorgeous otherworldly ceremony full of intricate arcane texture to marvel at and study to unravel.

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16. Thantifaxath – Void Masquerading as Matter

Thantifaxath - Void Masquerading as Matter

Void Masquerading as Matter brims with compositional brilliance and artistic maturity. It is testament to Thantifaxath’s excellence in weaponizing despair and misery. By refining its existing strengths and adding new elements to its eccentric and idiosyncratic sonic palette, Thantifaxath solidifies its position in the vanguard of contemporary black metal and continues its march towards apotheosis.

15. Fen – Winter

Fen - Winter

On paper, Winter should be a depressing affair, a stark reminder of one’s mortality and of a life cut short, devoid of meaning and purpose, but in the hands of Fen, the bleakness transcends despondency and reaches a triumphant zenith of acceptance and celebration of fading memories and the final lungful of air before succumbing to darkness. Winter however stays with you, as your mortal coil’s companion, with its larger-than-life beauty providing comfort and, paradoxically, a cathartic sense of purpose.

14. Black Anvil – As Was

Black Anvil - As Was

With As Was, Black Anvil finally breaks through and accomplishes the vision and excellence its previous albums promised. You can hear the air around the progressive compositions crackle, bursting with ideas and surprising turns. Bold use of soaring melodies and clean vocals beautifully complements the underlying black/thrash attack and grit, culminating in the stunning devotional coda of “Ultra” which ranks among the most majestic and catchiest metal songs in recent memory. Ever the connoisseur, Chris provided beautiful poetry about the album early in the year.

13. Foscor – Les Irreals Visions

Foscor – Les Irreals Visions

Having jettisoned most of the signifiers of its black metal past, Les Irreals Visions manifests a yearning, a longing for liberation and never-ending joy, in the throes of aching melancholy and desire. This exercise in restraint builds tension and constantly threatens to release it. When it finally happens, it is a thing of beauty, an amplitude of vibrant colors bursting and blossoming, ringing ethereal guitars swirling above blast beats (particular praise goes to Jordi Farré’s passionate, towering and multifaceted drumming that and Fiar’s lush, evocative vocals, both incredible highlights in their own right). This is the work of a band at the height of its power, comfortable in its new skin while also acknowledging the aching vulnerability and ephemeral nature of life.

12. Venenum – Trance of Death

venenum - trance of death

Adventurous yet cohesive, full of vicious stabs of death metal penetrating through a haze of psychedelia, Venenum launched a spiraling tornado of delicious riffing coupled with an unnerving atmosphere of bottomless depth and strange breadth where anything is possible. Trance of Death is a work of wonder and magick, meticulous in execution with ever-flowing rampant creativity.

11. White Ward – Futility Report

White Ward – Futility Report

In the case of a lesser band, saxophone would have been a sad gimmick or an afterthought, but White Ward knows how to write captivating, triumphant songs and elevates those with the brass. Saxophone forms an integral part of White Ward and a central element of Futility Report’s enticing charm and soul. Whether running wild and alternating with melodic guitar leads during frantic black metal assaults or taking the lead in soothing noir jazz sections, Alexey Iskimzhi’s sultry saxophone evokes a sense of intimacy and passion rarely heard in the realm of metal.

10. Lör – In Forgotten Sleep

Lör - In Forgotten Sleep

And the day finally came when a power metal album hit me like a ten-ton hammer. Lör’s debut album is a breathtaking odyssey bubbling with vibrant energy and overflowing with ideas and grandiose prog sensibilities without a hint of cheese. Epic in scope, execution and musicianship, In Forgotten Sleep is an awe-inducing glory ride for the ages.

9. Propagandhi – Victory Lap

Propagandhi - Victory Lap

Clearly in specific response to the humble wish I made in the beginning of the year, my all-time favorite band made a triumphant return with Victory Lap. As always, Propagandhi brings the catchy riffage and righteous fury, and provide a channel for the voices of the oppressed and marginalized. Chris Hannah and Todd Kowalski remain the greatest lyricists metal ever saw and will see, with scathing socio-political criticism and devastating stories from the trenches of resistance. Case in point: experience how “Adventures in Zoochosis” transitions from children’s laughter to the rage-inducing locker-room bragging of the analphabet, simpleton pussy-grabber, leading to a touching tale of our collective complacency and shortcoming in preventing the descent to vulgarity and hatred, before concluding with resounding optimism and defiance.

8. Archspire – Relentless Mutation

archspire - relentless mutation

I often wonder about the physical limits of virtuosity, the maximum fleetness feasible for a guitarist’s fingers, how the arms and feet of a drummer become a frantic windmill, what is the physiological brick wall imposing limits on the rapid-fire delivery of venom-spewing vocals. On Relentless Mutation, Archspire’s technical prowess reaches ludicrous heights, pummeling ear drums and shattering minds with lightspeed velocity and surgical precision. Most importantly, the band excels in deploying all this into captivating songs and inventive arrangements.

7. Impureza – La Caída de Tonatiuh

Impureza - La Caída de Tonatiuh

Brutality overwhelming, but with the grace of a butterfly, thanks to the nimble musicianship and striking flamenco guitars flawlessly integrated with extreme death metal firing on all cylinders. La Caída de Tonatiuh is the sonic equivalent of a swirling storm of sledgehammers, pulverizing with relentless flurries of blows of ever-increasing intensity. Just when you think Impureza reaches the limits of its impact and inventiveness, they swing into higher gear and leave you in a state of astonishment and marvel.

6. Sutrah – Dunes

Sutrah - Dunes

It takes a certain degree of vision and musicianship to write nearly 10-minute tech death songs that remain captivating and catchy, and are infused with a progressive spirit that makes your mind’s eye go wild. Sutrah’s debut album Dunes has all that in spades. Even at its heaviest, the album carries a regal buoyancy, gracefully fusing Eastern mysticism into spinning riffs that glide elegantly, like whiffs of smoke emanating from a funeral pyre, manifesting a cycle of death and rebirth that elevates the album to greater glorious heights, spin after spin. A truly transcendental experience.

5. Schammasch – The Maldoror Chants: Hermaphrodite

Schammasch - The Maldoror Chants - Hermaphrodite

It is nigh-unfathomable how Schammasch could produce another massive statement of artistic brilliance so soon after the universally lauded triple-headed monster Triangle. Although smaller in scale and length, Hermaphrodite is nonetheless further testament to Schammasch’s unrivalled vision in contemporary metal landscape, a grandiose display of how metal becomes atmospheric, riveting storytelling, taking the form of majestic sonic literature sans any pretentiousness.

4. Aversio Humanitatis – Longing for the Untold

Aversio Humanitatis – Longing for the Untold

Earlier this year, I called Longing for the Untold “the equivalent of the seventh mass extinction event on a planetary scale.” Ever since, countless spins of this colossal tour de force have served to further strengthen my conviction. Aversio Humanitatis has locked incendiary black metal fury and death metal muscle into a perfect ratio with a total control of dynamics and tension, unleashing crushing intensity that hits like a rail gun salvo. This band devours worlds.

3. Inconcessus Lux Lucis – The Crowning Quietus

Inconcessus Lux Lucis - The Crowning Quietus

Where some bands engage in an arms race of one-upping each other in the field of dissonance, atmospherics or kvlt cred, Inconcessus Lux Lucis focus on and excel at the most important thing: writing songs that are infectious, gripping and thrilling. The Crowning Quietus masterfully harnesses the feverish energy of black metal and stadium-ready riffage of trad metal, testament to how Inconcessus Lux Lucis subverts expectation by channeling glorious Saturnian black magick while simultaneously subscribing to the philosophy of having a good time all the time, with an endless barrage of wild, stomping riffs to die for.

2. The Ruins of Beverast – Exuvia

The Ruins of Beverast - Exuvia

When taking stock of 2016, I rejoiced how metal had gone truly cosmic and psychedelic during the year. Alexander von Meilenwald’s singular magnum opus increases the dosage and takes this development to the next level with its unique idiosyncratic artistic expression that branches out deep into the realm of ecstatic trance and altered states. Exuvia forms a visionary totem pole around which devotees, disciples and pretenders alike will congregate for worship and inspiration and a rare glimpse into what may await behind the veil, in the folds of the in-between.

1. Emptiness – Not for Music

Emptiness - Not for Music

Somehow Emptiness topped their 2014 mindbender Nothing but the Whole by slithering further into uncharted experimental territories. And what a genre-defying masterpiece Not for Music is, carving twisting paths through liminal space where the music engulfs the listener into a dreamlike state where time and space bend according to the band’s masterful vision. Not for Music oozes eerie ambiguity and channels an uncanny sense of danger and unease, where dread and desolation remain omnipresent, lurking between sparse notes, empty spaces and sinister soundscapes. Yet, at the same time, as if to enthrall further, it somehow feels warm and welcoming, and sounds outright seductive and sexy, akin to Altar of Plagues’ Teethed Glory & Injury. Such a sultry, spellbinding sonic companion punctures skin, invades the bloodstream and takes you on a one-way journey through desolate urban vistas and abandoned avenues, where you become one with the endless night.

– Zyklonius

5 thoughts on “Best of 2017: Zyklonius’ List

  1. katimavik86 January 2, 2018 / 1:05 pm

    There’s lots to like in this group. Venenum seems to be a popular pick for many, perhaps enough to be one the the MOST common. Interesting that ‘Au Champ des Morts’ did not appear here nor your mid-year list. It’s perhaps not the most ground-breaking stuff, but I thought there was enough to like that I would see it around more. Beginning to wonder if seen it on ANY list so far?

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