Best of 2017: Vincent’s List

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Welcome back to part two of my best of 2017 series.  Last time I talked about my favorite shorter releases from the past year in an effort to shine light on some things that might have otherwise not gotten the respect they deserved.  Now comes the meat of the series: my favorite full-length albums.  Figuring out this list was a pretty exhausting process, not only because I listened to significantly more full-lengths than I did shorter releases this year, but because I wanted to make an effort to challenge myself when it came to thinking about what really stuck with me.  In 2016, my criteria for what I chose to include on my year-end list was more simplistic, and no disrespect is meant to anyone who writes 50 or 100 album lists of everything they thought was cool, but for this year, I wanted to really think about whether or not an album had a genuine impact on me versus just listening to it and thinking it was good.  As such, I ended up with a slightly shorter list this time around, and some albums and artists I liked did not end up making it on here, but I feel like this list is the most real representation of my “favorites” than ever.  Without further ado…

#15: Amenra – Mass VI

Amenra - Mass VI

I, being the utter fool that I am, had never listened to Amenra before Mass VI but after seeing our own Corey Butterworth name it his album of the year, I knew I had to at least give this album a shot.  Instantly, I knew Mass VI had given me the kind of emotional resonance I needed to include it on this list, and it was my constant companion on my travels home during the holidays.  As I look back on this list in the future, Mass VI might move higher up the ranking, but it is definitely one of the best things I heard all last year, even if I came into it in the last weeks of 2017.

#14: Laster – Ons Vrije Fatum

laster-ons-vrije-fatum

By contrast, this was one of the first albums I heard in 2017 and it stuck with me hard all throughout the year.  Ons Vrije Fatum takes Laster’s warm, romantic black metal and cuts it with everything from cabaret jazz to techno keyboards.  The band pull from all across the board when it comes to augmenting their sound, but the result is compelling, cohesive, and wholly unique, and it’s not just me that’s taking notice; Laster recently announced a new partnership with underground stalwarts Prophecy Productions, a well-deserved accolade for a band I’ve been championing for some time now.  Long live Obscure Dance Music.

#13: Boris – Dear

Boris - Dear

Boris are another band on this list that, I am ashamed to admit, I haven’t had much experience with prior to this year.  In Boris’ case, it was simply because of how massive in both size and scope their discography is.  My only experience with the band prior to Dear was their collaboration album with Sunn O))), so I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to get when I pressed play.  What Dear gave me is a Boris album that seems, to me at least, to incorporate all of the different aspects and eras of the Boris sound into one masterfully executed whole, from noise and drone, to shoegaze, post-rock, and sludge.  “Beyond” is still one of the most jaw dropping moments of music this last year gave me.

#12: Extremity – Extremely Fucking Dead

Extremity - Extremely Fucking Dead

I’m sure this joke has been done over and over, but Extremely Fucking Dead is Extremely Fucking Good (please clap).  Even if the pedigree of the musicians involved here wouldn’t already have you sold, what makes Extremely Fucking Dead a success for me is just the sheer amount of fun that exudes from every facet of this album.  Rather than a “too serious for you” attitude that can often pervade death metal, Extremity’s songs feel like you’re listening to a bunch of friends playing the music they love and having a blast doing so.  It doesn’t hurt that these riffs are solid either.

#11: Cavernlight – As We Cup Our Hands and Drink From the Stream of Our Ache

Cavernlight - As We Cup Our Hands and Drink From the Stream

Cavernlight’s album was one that I was hotly anticipating this year, and the first full-length from one of my favorite bands in doom metal didn’t let me down one bit.  While even more atmospheric and crushing than their demo, the true strength of As We Cup Our Hands… is the way it captures mental anguish and makes it viscerally tangible.  This album hurts, but there is also relief on the other side of it.  This stands as one of the best examples of “music as catharsis” that I can think of.

#10: Malsumis – Spirit Decay 

malsumis spirit decay

Malsumis’ debut offering. released on boutique Alaskan label Lycaean Triune, came completely out of nowhere and knocked the wind out of me.  Spirit Decay is thirty-eight solid minutes of extremely strong blackened death metal that is equally skilled at crafting pummeling riffs and triumphant melody.  You may be familiar with these elements individually, but the way that Malsumis mixes them together is awe-inspiring, and gives them a unique place among their peers.

#9: Pallbearer – Heartless

Pallbearer - Heartless

Pallbearer’s shift in tone from their previous albums into Heartless left some people cold, but the incorporation of prog-rock elements gave a new and interesting dynamic to their sound that hooked me in like never before.  What kept me coming back to Heartless time and time again, though, is the way the band cut straight to the core with the poignancy of these songs.  I’ve talked about a lot of music this year that I would describe as “emotionally charged” but nothing else even comes close to touching the sheer weight of songs like “A Plea for Understanding,” my favorite individual song of 2017 and one that I leaned on for support innumerable times during this trash fire of a year.

#8: Spectral Voice – Eroded Corridors of Unbeing

spectral voice eroded corridors of unbeing

Spectral Voice’s debut full-length album was a long time coming.  After so many splits and EP’s, the question of whether the band would live up to the hype they had built for themselves was shattered upon the first listen of “Visions of Psychic Dismemberment,” debuted on a Dark Descent Records compilation, and the rest of the album only gets better from there.  Eroded Corridors sees the Colorado crew perfecting their brand of crawling, slithering death-doom, blending together the perfect amount of unfathomably heavy riffs and cave-like atmosphere.  Easily the best death metal I’ve heard all year.

#7: Au-Dessus – End of Chapter

au-dessus end of chapter

Au-Dessus are another band that came completely out of nowhere to blow me away.  After watching an incredible live video for the song “XI”, I knew this was going to be an album to watch out for, and when I finally got the chance to listen to it in its entirety, it was better than I could have hoped for.  Thick, sludgy post-metal meets soaring atmospheric black metal in ways that are hypnotizing, heartfelt, and heavy as hell.  End of Chapter was a long time in the works, but the end result is something that perfectly shows all the effort the band put into it.

#6: Yellow Eyes – Immersion Trench Reverie

Yellow Eyes - Immersion Trench Reverie

If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again: no one makes black metal like Yellow Eyes.  The way they construct riffs and melodies is so otherworldly, yet so engrossing, that you can’t help but be swept up in where the songs take you.  On Immersion Trench Reverie, that place you end up is cold, harsh, but also full of its own kind of life, brought into being by field recordings of the native people and fauna of Siberia the Skarstad brothers met on their trip to that cold north.  Couple this atmosphere with the powerhouse rhythm section of bassist Alex De Maria and drummer Mike Rekevics and you’ve got the best album from this band yet.

#5: Skyeater – The Maw of Time

skyeater the maw of time

Who would have thought the chance to see this band open for a show would lead to me finding one of my favorite albums of this past year?  Of all the random musical discoveries I have talked about thus far, Skyeater are the most important to me.  In the short time I have known of them, they’ve grown to become my favorite local act, and with The Maw of Time, they have released one of the most impressive debut albums I’ve ever heard.  Expertly weaving atmospheric black metal and somber doom, The Maw of Time is monolithic and moving, a grand statement from a band poised to take over the world.

#4: Dawn Ray’d – The Unlawful Assembly

dawn ray'd the unlawful assembly

Serving as the highest of middle fingers to anyone who thinks politics and metal should never intersect (but who are also conveniently silent when bands show outright support for racism and fascism), the debut full-length from the UK’s Dawn Ray’d shows the band perfecting their brand of fierce and melodic black metal, replete with pastoral folk passages and haunting violin melodies. The Unlawful Assembly is as adept at tugging at the heart as it is to baring its teeth, all in service to the band’s credos of anti-fascism, anarchism, and an end to bigotry in the metal scene and abroad.  Dawn Ray’d are one of the most vital voices in metal right now, and hopefully an album this monumentally good will inspire more unashamedly outspoken works like it.

#3: Less Art – Strangled Light

Less Art - Strangled Light

I have to admit, even knowing the caliber of musicianship involved in this project, I did not think this would be the album out of Gilead Media’s 2017 releases to rank the highest on this list.  I certainly knew I was going to enjoy this album, but I had no idea how tightly it was going to grab me.  The expert level of musicianship to be found on these energetic post-hardcore anthems, coupled with Mike Minnick’s soul-baring lyricism left me speechless from the first minute I put this on, and seeing the band live (and getting to be a part of the show as Mike jammed the microphone in my mouth for the triumphant climax of the title track) only sealed the deal as this being one of my absolute favorites this year.

#2: Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper

Bell Witch - Mirror Reaper

Bell Witch are forever the exception, and never the rule.  It may seem odd to see an album that is a single, one hour and twenty-three minute track end up near the very top of my list considering how much I talk about my short attention span, but not every album this long is crafted this expertly.  Mirror Reaper, even in its most gentle moments, is engaging and emotive, and when it hits, it hits hard, both in the physicality of the music and rawness of the emotion contained within.  This is everything funeral doom should be, and it is without a doubt Bell Witch’s finest hour (and twenty-three minutes).

#1: Falls of Rauros – Vigilance Perennial 

Falls of Rauros - vigilance perennial

Finally, we end up here.  My number one album of 2017.  When I originally reviewed Vigilance Perennial in March, I said that I found it difficult to accurately describe the way this album makes me feel, and to some extent that’s still true.  Its easy to praise this album for the jaw-dropping instrumentation and songwriting skills presented here, but the sense of awe and wonder, of peace and quiet strength this album evokes in me is something that needs to be felt to be truly understood.  In a year that I would wholeheartedly categorize as the worst in my life, this album more than any other allowed me to sink myself into its depths and find a modicum of refuge, and this more than anything else is what made Vigilance Perennial so important to me.  Even now it is still as mesmerizing and emotive as the first time I got my ears around it.

Thank you to everyone that took time to read this, and to read any of the pieces I’ve posted in 2017 and beyond.  In the age of the internet, you have any number of excellent choices to get your music-related content from, and I’m very thankful for everyone that decides to check out what Nine Circles, and I myself, are doing out of all of those choices.  Now, onwards and upwards into a new year.

– Vincent


 

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