Hello there, online metal community. How you holding up? List fatigue setting in yet? If so sorry: this is in no way going to help. My first year writing for Nine Circles resulted in listening to over 500 albums – I won’t even begin to pretend they all got a fair shake, but they all got at least one listen. The sheer glut of music that passed through my ears was like an awakening, helping me to better understand what it was music did for me, what I needed it to do for me. I found albums that mesmerized on first listen only to fade quickly, and albums I initially dismissed only to find their hooks in me months later, and it’s these surprise revelations that keep me listening, keep me writing, and keep me so engaged with this beast we call metal.
You’d think doing a Top 25 would be sufficient to cover all the bases, but it feels like it doesn’t even make a dent into the great music that sustained me over the course of the year. And so, if you’ll indulge me, here’s an extra 15 albums that warrant honorable mention. Think of them as #26-40 (hey, if Decibel can do it…), in any order you like, though they’re alphabetical below. Let’s dig in… —
The Outer Circle
Honorable Mentions (aka #26-40)
Acephalix – Decreation: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: 2017 was a barn-busting year for death metal. And Acephalix epitomized the best of what the genre had to offer this year. Our own Vincent said it best in his Evcharest review of the record: Decreation offers the best in old school groove and technicality as well as the snarling crust many of the modern bands bring to the sound. Listening to it now I have no idea why it’s not on my proper list – the crushing power of “Suffer (Life in Fragments)” has a tone that reeks of rotting death, and the killer production is neither too glossy nor so covered in shit you can’t make out any of the superb musicianship on display (something that plagues far too many modern death metal albums). Acephalix have crafted a true classic in Decreation – let’s hope it’s not another five years before they do it again. (Spotify/Apple Music/Google Play)
Artificial Brain – Infrared Horizon: Before Infrared Horizon Artificial Brain was a band I wanted to like more than I actually did. Their mix of Voivod and Gorguts angularity with crushing death metal seemed good on paper, but debut Labyrinth Constellation – despite having an amazing album cover – left me cold. So it was with trepidation I picked up Infrared Horizon to review back in April. This time something clicked: the production was a massive improvement, allowing the spaces between the notes and riffs to sink in a little deeper before barreling off into another idea. The massive amount of technicality was still on display, but this time in service to the songwriting, something I still think the previous album lacked. When I reviewed it in April it was all about “Synthesized Instinct” and “Mists of Mercury” but listening again tonight it’s the constant pull of “Static Shattering” making me wonder why this isn’t on the list proper…(Spotify/Apple Music/Google Play)
Belus – Apophenia: Having the opportunity to see both Anicon and Belus play in Brooklyn about month ago convinced me that soon the NY burrough will need to be spoken in the same breath as the Pacific Northwest and, dare I say it, Scandinavia for essential black metal. Belus’s debut Apophenia positively roils with influences ranging from second wave progenitors up to post punk and the latest avant-garde offerings without sacrificing a unique identity. So much of that is thanks to the insane rhythm section of Jaques on drums and Lesley (from the righteously kick-ass Mortals) on bass who manage to lock in simultaneously be elastic through each tune. Handling vocals and guitar Matt Mewton covers so much ground on tracks like the crushing opener “Chasm” and dissonant mindfuck of “Avarice” you being to wonder what it all mean. Then you read that Apophenia is “the human tendency to seek patterns in random information and assign unnecessary meaningfulness or importance to them” and you realize you just need to sit back and luxuriate in the enveloping blackness and shudder to think why this isn’t on the main list. (Spotify/Apple Music/Google Play).
Boris – Dear: Boris is and will always remain the eternal mystery to me. Forever accessible, forever unknowable, which is I suspect exactly how they like it. When I reviewed the album back in July I was taken by how well the album mixed back in much of the drone element from the earlier albums; it’s still a primary driver for my coming back to the Dear so much, but the band’s constant exploration of what “heavy” means in relation to music is even more striking now in the escalating feedback in “Deadsong” and the menacing chaos of the closing title track. But those experiments in noise wouldn’t be nearly as effective if they weren’t offset by the stomping mosh of “Absolutego” or Wata’s stunning solos that close out “Dystopia (Vanishing Point)”. And so Boris continues to leave us guessing, wanting more even as we suspect we don’t know half of what’s really going on as we think we do in the subsonic frequencies the band lives in. And still mystified why this isn’t in my top 25 for the year. (Spotify/Apple Music/Google Play)
Byzantine – The Cicada Tree: I hit PLAY and immediately I’m brought back to the moments I realized metal was so much more than erthe glam and hard rock I had always thought of before. The chorus kicks in on “New Ways to Bear Witness” and I’m hitting myself for not including The Cicada Tree on my top 25 list. That feeling only exacerbates when the first breakdown comes in, and then again on the brutality of “Vile Maxim” and the progressive alt-metal that kicks off the title track, the way Chris “OJ” Ojeda has only managed to get better as a singer, better as craftsman with each album, and how since reforming the band has captured the crown of American Metal previously held by Lamb of God. The Cicada Tree is a monster from start to glorious finish, helped by two of the best cover songs I’ve heard all year. Metal Blade knew exactly what they were doing picking Byzantine up, and this is hopefully the start of a long and fruitful second life for one of my favorite bands. (Spotify/Apple Music/Google Play)
Daxma – The Head Which Becomes the Skull: I’m still trying to parse what it is about The Head Which Becomes the Skull that won’t leave me alone. There’s a definite parallel to what bands like Subrosa have been doing, but embedded in the doom of Daxma is a lingering beauty within the melancholy I can’t shake…it’s a wonder why it’s not on my proper EOY list. Constructed in an almost classical style and bringing the listener through the cycle of life, the opening chapter “Birth” takes doom and shoegaze and warps it through a cinematic lens to provide a sensory feed that reflects back your own life and life’s choices. It’s an album I’ve turned to time and time again these past few weeks as I’ve dealt with my own medical problems, and I suspect The Head Which Becomes the Skull will be one of those touchstones I’ll be returning to throughout my life. (Spotify/Apple Music/Google Play)
Dumal – The Lesser God: Old school atmospheric black metal never sounded this good, did it? How is this not on my main EOY list?! Dumal, a trio from the evil environs of Pennsylvania craft some pretty radical black metal that doesn’t shy way from striking melody lines, moving in and out of a mid-paced violence that also calls home to bands like Mgla, Shining, and others who hold the torch for their forebears even as they trudge ever onward. At 52 minutes it’s stunning The Lesser God doesn’t have a weak moment, but that’s a testament to the execution in the songwriting. “Lost Caverns” burn with tremolo lines that rise and fall in dramatic waves, and the grim reverb-laden vocals bring to mind frost-bitten lands and crystallizing air. “The Wind Demon” takes things in a more synth-laden folk direction, only to kick back into the rage of “Ukrainia” with its solo guitar gradually transforming into a blackened doom march that explodes in musical violence before descending to violins and folk. The attention to detail Dumal brings to The Lesser God makes this an essential black metal release in 2017 or any other year. (Spotify/Apple Music/Google Play)
Emptiness – Not For Music: Nine Inch Nails may have featured on the revival of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, but this year it was Emptiness who brought the most Lynchian overtones to my head. Both myself and Zykolnius had Not For Music listed in our mid-year reviews, and with good reason: by moving away from the more straight-ahead black metal of their earlier records and doubling down on the promise made on 2014’s Nothing But The Whole Emptiness have found a fever dream of electronics, goth, and dread on tracks like “It Might Be” and “Your Skin Won’t Hide You,” seductively inviting even as its darkness enfolds you. Even on heavier tracks such as the closer “Let It Fall” the music embodies an otherworldly presence where guitar riffs sting against each other, and the vocals whisper/growl in a hypnotic rhythm. Why it’s not on the main list I can’t begin to say. (Spotify/Apple Music/Google Play)
Ever Circling Wolves – Of Woe, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Gloom: Now there’s a title for you. For that alone I’m shocked this January entry from Ever Circling Wolves didn’t make my main list. But the title provides a vital clue to why this album endured for me the entire year: by upending conventional doom with moments of outside influences, from noise to electronics to even some off-kilter rock and jazz it cuts through the standard, much like the Kubrick film its title plays off of. Of Woe… starts off proper with “Cœur” setting a prime template for the Finnish band’s sound, but that template slowly warps and re-arranges itself throughout the album. “Haunted” opens with a swelling bass that accompanied by the tight drum sounds desolate before the crunching power chords come in. “Challenger Deep” takes a detour into post-metal and “Lenore” breaks tradition with a beautiful off time jazzed up sequence that wouldn’t be out of place on an Opeth album. If your musical memory of 2017 doesn’t stretch back as far as January, do yourself a favor and dig into Of Woe… on a suitably cold day; you won’t regret it. (Spotify/Apple Music/Google Play)
Full of Hell – Trumpeting Ecstasy: Between this May release and last month’s collaborative album with The Body it’s safe to say Full of Hell had a hell of a year (sorry). When I reviewed Trumpeting Ecstasy for Nine Circles I was enamored of the band’s ability to consistently subvert the expectations of grind and sludge while continuing to move at astronomical speeds. That still holds true now, and the clarity of the production courtesy of Kurt Ballou and Godcity Studios perfectly captures the maelstrom of fury ripping through tracks like “Branches of Yew” and “Fractured Quartz.” Even when the average run time of the songs is around 2 minutes (excepting the mammoth “At the Cauldron’s Bottom”) nothing is ever straight ahead or complacent on Trumpeting Ecstasy. “Gnawed Flesh” takes the grind tone and slows it to a dirge, and “Crawling Back to God” is a master class in thrashy death, with a dozen riffs all fighting to tear your face off. Dear Lord, this album. Maybe it’s on the wrong list? (Spotify/Apple Music/Google Play)
Locust Leaves – A Subtler Kind of Light: Probably the newest entry on my lists in terms of my being exposed to it, something as wonderful and bizarre as the debut from Locust Leaves is the reason I love to read EOY lists – I don’t know if I would have caught A Subtler Kind of Light otherwise (so special thanks to Zach Duvall’s review at YLR for bringing this to my attention). And that would have been a damn shame, but this could definitely be on the primary list (by now I hope you’re detecting a pattern with these albums). Primarily the work of multi-instrumentalist Helm with a MASSIVE vocal performance Nick K. this duo out of Greece has some assistance crafting the prog/thrash/black metal/improve stew that is A Subtler Kind of Light from Spectral Lore’s Ayloss on guitars and Archon from Zemial on drums. There are moments when you think you’re listening to Mastodon before it goes full on black metal blizzard, reverting to swirling jams and exotic scales before restlessly looking for another corner of music to explore. “Pillars – Vraxos” constantly has the sense it could fall apart any second, and indeed most bands attempting this kind of tightrope walk would use that safety net way more often that Locust Leaves does. It’s not the kind of record you passively listen to: every moment is something new and striking, something the best metal this consistently did. (Spotify/Apple Music/Google Play)
Lock Up – Demonization: Similar to my feelings for Artificial Brain, I wasn’t too keen on much of Lock Up’s earlier releases, despite the pedigree involved. And while I can’t attribute my current love for Demonization purely to the inclusion of Kevin Sharp (Brutal Truth) on vocals, it does play a huge factor. There’s a catchiness to tracks like “The Decay Within the Abyss” and “Locust” and a emphasis on letting the riff do more of the heavy lifting than the blurring speed on past releases. The title track plays with a slower tempo and an almost death/doom feel before moving into classic Morbid Angel territory on follow-up “Demons Raging.” There’s not a weak link in the playing, but as I mentioned in my review, it feels like everyone, particularly Nick Barker and Anton Reisenegger, are vibrantly alive on every track, and it shows in the technicality of “Mind Fight” and the thrash attack of “Instruments of Armageddon.” Every time Demonization comes on I’m at a loss for why it’s not on my main list… (Spotify/Apple Music/Google Play)
Mutoid Man – War Moans: Copious melodies, solos, moans (war or otherwise) being orchestrated by Stephen Brodsky? Say no more: it’s a sin this isn’t on my primary list for 2017. Mutoid Man has always been a fun listen and leave it band, but over the past few weeks songs like “Micro Aggression” and “Kiss of Death” have refused to leave my head. The tone he gets on certain songs: the licks on “Date With the Devil” for instance, are incredible. Every tune has a crazed and dirty joy about it, it’s refreshing to just sit back and rock out without having to glower. War Moans perfects what the band strove for on Bleeder and Helium Head, and if this is what Brodsky wants to do instead of another Cave In, I’m all in on it. (Spotify/Apple Music/Google Play)
Spirit Adrift – Curse of Conception: Curse of Conception sounds like what would happen if Pallbearer hung out way more with Wino and Obsessed albums: it’s in the same universe, but the melancholy finds expression in a more loose, blues driven vibe that gives Spirit Adrift a unique space in the field. After re-acquainting myself with opener “Earthbound” I was shamed again for not including this on my final end of year list…live and learn, I guess. The sound is enormous thanks to recording and production duties being handled by Sanford Parker, but this is 100% Nate Garrett’s jam, and his voice, coupled with his songwriting have put together one of the most focused rock records of the year. I’ve been making the joke that every record on this list could easily be on the final list as well, but Curse of Conception is probably the one I’m going to regret the most NOT putting on. Not a weak moment on this thing, folks. (Spotify/Apple Music/Google Play)
Woe – Hope Attrition: It’s hard for me to add to what our own Vincent extolled when he covered Hope Attrition back when it came out in March. More fully incorporating punk and thrash into his black metal aesthetic, Chris Grigg’s latest album is a righteous blast of fury at the state of the world after the 2016 US presidential election, but it’s also a brilliantly dynamic, compositionally tight example of the best of USBM, and one of the few records where the lyrical content shines as much as the music. So much of this can be attributed to Grigg’s band: Matt Mewton (already covered on this list by Belus) works beautifully as a guitar foil, their lines intertwining and moving against each other when not blasting ahead. And the rhythm work of Grzesiek Czapla on bass and Lev Weinstein on drums locks everything down whether it’s going 10 or 100 miles per hour. “Unending Call of Woe” is one of the best kickoff tracks of 2017, and the rest of Hope Attrition, from the scorch of “No Blood Has Honor” to “Abject in Defeat” keeps that fire burning. (Spotify/Apple Music/Google Play)
Hopefully it should be obviously now that it’s not so much the ranking but the recognition, taking the time to understand why a piece of music means something to you. All of these albums, even thought not technically on my final end of year list are most definitely on my end of year list, if that makes sense. These are the albums I’ll be coming back to in 2018, 2019 and beyond. They’ve left their mark, fed me in my anger, my sorrow, and my pain. And in 2017 that’s exactly what I needed music to do.
See you next time for my Top 25 of 2017.
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