Best of 2017: Mark’s List

9C 2017 EOY Header Image

It was an honor joining the Nice Circles team this year. I started a series of posts called A Headbanger’s Journey that I hope to continue into 2018.  Late to the party,  I bought an absurd amount of music at the end of the year, much of it from the excellent Nine Circles coverage and I’m just now coming up for breath. In 2016 I went back in time to investigate the early death metal classics of the late 80’s/early 90’s and this year, I did the same with classic punk and hardcore. Both of those genres inform my current listening and are reflected in this list. So, let’s see where the rubber hits the road.  

25. Triumvir Foul – Spiritual Bloodshed

The Vrasubatlat label caught my attention last year with Uškumgallu and they specialize in oppressive, schizophrenic hellscapes. Spiritual Bloodshed is the kind of warped extreme metal that I often gravitate to: dark, heavy, confrontational, chaotic but not without craft. It’s unsettling, paranoid, filthy and aggressive which all combine to create an overwhelming feeling of civilization collapsing. One of my favorite death metal releases of the year.  (Read the review)

24. Ben Frost – The Centre Cannot Hold

Ben Frost is an experimental electronic artist influenced by black metal and drone, among other things. He spent the last year involved in activism related to global war and this is his manifesto to our bleak times. Explosive and extreme electronic music featuring reverberating waves of distorted bass interspersed with moments of melody, ambient passages and all manner of avant-garde sounds. Unlike anything I’ve heard, it’s not metal, but it is.

23. Converge – The Dusk In Us

Axe to Fall was pretty much my introduction to metallic hardcore and I’ve been a huge Converge fan ever since. More ink has been spilled over this album than I ever could try to replicate.  Even though it was a late year sleeper for me, it gets better with every listen.

22. Black Anvil – As Was

There’s something amazingly refreshing and majestic about the mixture of styles on this album but also, one of the more effective examples of mixing melodic cleans with extreme vocals. I really shouldn’t have slept on this one for so long either. Black Anvil create epic, progressive bangers that use black metal as a starting point. (Read the review)

21. Immolation – Atonement

I came in on Majesty and Decay in 2010 and still love that album. After digging into their discography a little more last year, it’s clear that Atonement holds its own with their best work and is mandatory listening in 2017.

20. Venenum – Trance of Death

An early favorite and an album that, try as I might, I cannot place on the back burner. I don’t know where death metal is going, but forward thinking bands like Venenum are finding exciting, mind bending places explore.

19. Boris – Dear

Boris was one of the first bands I fell in love with in the early 2000’s bridging stoner, experimental metal, and sunno))) styled drone. Those early Boris albums are still some of my favorites in all of heavy music: Amplifier Worship, Boris at last: Feedbacker. The mixture of styles–including their older droning lava flows of distortion and psyche doom mixed with moments of shoegaze make Dear a unique listen. Oh, did I mention they’re one of my favorite bands? I do love me some Boris and this is their strongest album since Pink.

18. Phrenelith – Desolate Landscape

I had Desolate Landscape in my Bandcamp wishlist most of the year. For some stupid reason, I listened to a few tracks and never went back. I listened again at the end of the year and now I’m converted. Phrenelith managed to debut with one of the best produced extreme metal releases of the year and Desolate Landscape manages the trick of offering a massive sounding slab of old school cavernous death while still sounding fresh.

17. Amenra – Mass VI

Post-metal just keeps reinventing itself. This album has a way of building and enveloping me with its compositions that gets deep in my cranium. Compelling, melancholic, depressive, post-metal. I’m all in!

16. Junius – Eternal Rituals for the Accretions of Light

The Nine Circles mid-year report yielded some great discoveries including Eternal Rituals for the Accretion of Light. All hail the great hard rock album, even if Junius are oft tagged with the post-rock moniker. Really, they just use post rock as a starting point in the same way Black Anvil use black metal. What I hear though, is a fantastic rock album full of great songs that have a euphoric, synth-heavy production that’s wide in its scale and epically cinematic. ERAL begs to be cranked on big speakers. But, a more dynamic master would help their grandiose songs breathe in my opinion. But, pick your battles right? (Read the review)

15. All Pigs Must Die – Hostage Animal

Metallic death metal-influenced hardcore that perfectly captures my moments of pure rage. This is throat shredding metal with lyrical content to match the visceral mood of the music. Pure testosterone and adrenaline, APMD add some needed variety by mixing-up the pace with a few slower atmospheric tracks without losing their bludgeoning sonic footprint. One of the most satisfying, sever the jugular-albums of the year for me.  (Read the review)

14. Ufomammut – 8

Stoner & doom were gateway drugs for me; Electric Wizard, YOB, Boris, The Melvins, Kyuss, Fu Manchu, Nebula and Ufomammut! Psychedelic, cosmic doom is what I’m talking about. A lot of stoner doom is boring, repetitive and a snooze fest, but 8 combines Ufomammut’s various styles into one of their best albums. Massive reefer fueled Hammer-of-Thor riffs with all the distinctive, swirling sound experiments they do make for a new cult classic of stoner doom. Plus, it’s pretty darn dynamic with killer production. How’s that for a hard sell?!  (Read the review)

13. Incantation – Profane Nexus

OSDM is one of my favorite genres. Profane Nexus takes the raw morphine of Onward to Golgotha, cleans it up and distills a highly potent, pure form of unpretentious death metal that retains enough of the dirt and grime of death-doom while lacking the wankery of technical death metal, and gives me a great, highly addictive fix.

12. Kohti Tuhoa – Pelon Neljäs Valtakunta

Chris wrote a review that made me perk up and pick up this Finnish d-beat crusty piece of hardcore. Seething, frothing-at-the-mouth, aggressive, irresistible and catchy as hell.  The band’s vocalist could easily kick both of our asses with her left pinkie. She’s pissed off about her country’s politics of which I know absolutely nothing of other than she’s railing against some kind of right wing political shit. Sounds like my life. Plus, it’s a short album for a quick intense infusion of punk, hardcore and metal. And it kills. (Read the review)

11. Ophiuchi – Bifurcaria Bifurcata

I often gravitate to long, sludgy soundscapes that defy genre, like Cavernlight who made my honorable mentions. But South Africa’s Ophiuchi were the shape-shifters that grabbed my attention the most.  Bifurcaria Bifurcata boasts a dynamic master (dynamic range: 10), and an adventurous album working within the confines of blackened sludge. It’s more of an ethereal experience in the way it produces a sense of wonder than it is an album of raw power. It has been haunting my dreams all year.

My Top Ten: Personal Favorites of Noise, Doom, Black, Hardcore, and Death

Looking at the Top Ten, I’m further reminded what a dark place 2017 has been. In the end, quality metal nearly always finds its way to the front of the line.

10. Aosoth – V: The Inside Scriptures

This jumps to the top of the HAF black metal pack. Indeed, this scratches a certain black metal itch, you know: that bleeding red meat, crushing, atmospheric black metal fix. And, it’s menacing, intense and as good as anything in this slice of the genre I’ve heard in some time. There’s a kind of dark, mercurial alchemy to this kind of music.

9. Tombs – The Grand Annihilation

Working with Erik Rutan over the last couple of albums Tombs have de-emphasized their post-metal influences, crafting a harder-edged sound in the process as well as sharpening their black metal edge. This album includes obvious post-punk influences, but maybe it’s all the Joy Division I’ve been listening to. Either way, I personally love this experimentation. I believe The Grand Annihilation is the strongest Tombs album yet. I’ve always liked Mike Hill’s Neurosis meets Bladerunner-esque lyrics by way of a particularly cryptic episode of the Twilight Zone. Songs like “Shadows at the End of the World” and “Black Sun Horizon” leave me wondering if he’s writing about the twilight space between life and death or about the current state of affairs on planet earth.

8. Necroblood – Collapse of the Human Race

2017 was also a year for blackened death. The goat lords at Metal-Fi turned me on to a lot of barbaric, primitive death metal. Necroblood was my favorite offering of this refined blackened bestiality. This French wrecking crew takes me back to all those OSDM albums I bought in 2016 (looking at you, Funebre, and the Finnish death scene). Dirty, filthy metal with pulverizing riffs, distinctive songs, and a raw yet crushing production that allows you to actually hear the music. Necroblood satisfied like no other when I wanted the most vile, putrid, war metal bastard of a thing I could find. And, I wanted that a lot!

7. Ragana – You Take Nothing

Big props to Chris for bringing another band to my attention with his 2017 mid-year reportYou Take Nothing sunk its teeth into me immediately as something really special. There’s a point of view that can only be authentically conveyed by women. I read an interview where “Maria,” one half of Ragana, discusses the frustration of being in a “constant state of power struggle – especially for queer women.” Ragana play emotional music on You Take Nothing that doesn’t require deep analysis: ferocious music voicing the resistance from a band playing gender and genre bending witchy, crusty, atmospheric black metal with neofolk and sludge/doom influences. This feels a lot like a social protest album aimed squarely at the eyes of the power structure. I hope I’m not part of the problem, but regardless, and irrespective of feminist politics, this is an inspired album of brilliant songs in my view. I want to hear more from Ragana.

6. Integrity – Howling, for the Nightmare Shall Consume

Finally some fun, armageddon baby! This album gave me some of the most intoxicating, pure headbanging of the entire year. A rabid hardcore love letter to classic metal, Howling… floored me from the moment I pushed play. Despite the hardcore genre tag, Howling, for the Nightmare Shall Consume is classic-sounding, fist pumping metal and it simply kicks ass. “Die With Your Boots On” is one of the best songs of the year and the fact that it’s also the name of one of my favorite Iron Maiden songs must be more than a coincidence. Or maybe I’m falling prey to Dwid Hellion’s conspiracy theories.

5. Couch Slut – Contempt

Big thanks to the Nice Circles staff for turning me on to Couch Slut’s latest album with their Audio Thing. Since discovering them this year, I’ve probably listened to Contempt more than any other album. I just can’t resist the blend of pain, anguish, hardcore, noise, sludge and metal. Despite it all, there are some actual hooks contained and the guitar work is terrifically abrasive, memorable and constantly entertaining. In the year of #MeToo, Couch Slut shows us the underbelly of society and Contempt is the graphic middle finger shoving sexual and psychic trauma in our faces. It’s cathartic and dirty. So, why do I keep coming back for more? It’s a great record, that’s why.

4. Chelsea Wolfe – Hiss Spun

Yeah, she’s on everybody’s list, but I love me some Chelsea. I think she’s the most gifted rock artist today, straddling various lines of neofolk songwriter and metal. At this point, we all know this is her sludge rock album and the songwriting combined with her perfect execution begs for repeat listens. I agree that it’s not as good as The Abyss. But we can argue all day whether Abbey Road is better than Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band? Or if Revolver bests them all?  If a great album can be defined as an album I will revisit in five years, this one is it. A classic.

3. Loss – Horizonless

How can funeral doom be beautiful? The craft and level of detail in this album blows me away every time I listen to the mixture of morose, hard funeral doom and clean, nearly acoustic sounding guitar lines. After two albums, Loss have crafted a distinct sound that’s instantly recognizable as being uniquely their own. At this point, I have to count Loss as one of the best bands in the world and they have, quite frankly, written their masterpiece here. Classy funeral doom and an amazing album.

2. The Ruins of Beverast – Exuvia

Exuvia is a grower with each listen, revealing more and more layers. Essentially Exuvia revealed herself to me as an extended spiritual ritual with Indian motifs that increase in intensity until the last track which I envision as a meditation on death, moving from the world of the living to the dying, into a nightmarish spiritual dimension. If Exuvia is meant to sound like an epiphanic out of body experience, The Ruins of Beverast nail that objective. (Read the review)

The mystical, epic power of Exuvia is undeniable and this was supposed to be my AOTY. Then, this happened……..

1. Primitive Man – Caustic

I listened to Primitive Man and knew right away I was going to have to reorder things.  Primitive Man flattened the playing field by scorching the earth with pure black ash. Now, I’m not going to say this is the heaviest album I’ve ever heard in absolute terms because “heavy” is relative. But, it is certainly one of the most grim, barbaric and punishing albums I have ever heard. After one listen, I declared I must bend a knee and kiss the ring to an album so pure and uncompromising in its vision. Literally, I’m stunned.

I think we all have moments where we question existence, where we look at our world in disgust. Now, enter Primitive Man. So pessimistic without an ounce of daylight, yet it’s a cleanse or a purge if you will. Put plainly, it washed the dirt off my soul. Maybe Caustic reminds me that life is not so bad; it makes me feel fortunate. There are actual dynamics on display here, the hint of something approaching–but not quite being–melody and all manner of compelling noise beyond the brutality that grabbed me by the short hairs and slapped me around like a rag doll. This album summarizes the way I feel about 2017. (Read the review)

Honorable Mentions

Impetuous Ritual – Blight Upon Martryed Sentience:  I feel like these guys are trying to push death metal into another sphere. When I can commit and listen to the nuances in the cracks of their cavernous backwards-inhaled black hole sounds, the rewards are great. The melting of the universe? Sunn0))) makes a death metal album? I’m at a loss. This is the sound of hell. The sound of the universe imploding. My mind is too puny.

Profane Order – Tightened Noose of Sanctimony EP:  Over the top, unhinged metal. Underground is an overused word, but this EP reeks of the essence of that word. Getting extreme metal vocals right is an art and they get it absolutely right with their crazy distorted, bestial vocals. And those grinding, thrashing guitars! This is thrilling “underground” music.

Dead Cross – S/T:  Another grower that has worn well late in the year. I actually haven’t listened to the Mad Hatter, aka Mike Patton, a tremendous amount other than some Faith No More tracks in the late 80s. At first, this just hit me as fun and frivolous ear candy but the more I hear it, the more my appreciation increases. It shows potential to be a hardcore/alt metal classic and will stay in my rotation indefinitely.

Cavernlight – As We Cup Our Hands and Drink from the Stream of Our Ache: Sometimes you just gotta embrace what you like and I like funeral doom, sludge and noise. I’m a fan of what often gets the tag “soundscape” no matter where it falls in any of the aforementioned genres. This is an album with some very compelling, long developing songs that have a vague relationship to sludge and doom but don’t exactly fit within those parameters. Cavernlight was another band that I revisited in December that impressed me and frankly, I forgot how good it really was. (Read the review)

Sun of the Sleepless – To the Elements: One of the guys from Vision Bleak (among other projects) has been toiling for years on this solo black metal project and To the Elements is the first full length. There’s a moss covered, babbling brook, neo-folk, atmospheric black metal thing going on here. But, there’s also an authentic, classic second wave sound that I wouldn’t call vicious, but certainly hard hitting.

The Obsessed – Sacred: I like having one comeback/reunion album that distinguishes itself. Sacred is one of a handful of albums that satisfied me as being a strong contender. I’m a fan of Wino from his days with Saint Vitus and especially Spirit Caravan and here, he returns with one of the best albums of his career chocked full of old school doom, biker metal, hard rock, and just a little punk. An excellent and traditional album front to back. (Read the review)

Pyrrhon – What Passes for Survival:  Ah yes, the mighty Pyrrhon and I’m not worthy. At this point, I’d just say I respect this album that clearly is out of my comfort zone. Best handled in short bursts, What Passes for Survival has so many things going on that when I’m up for some schizophrenic punishment I can nearly always find something to grasp onto and enjoy. I respect this album immensely, but on any given day, I may or may not want to invest the mental energy. Then again, I might say the same thing about a performance of King Lear.

Emptiness – Not For Music: I would’ve loved this album to have cracked my top twenty-five. The best thing about Not for Music is that literally, there’s nothing else like it. The blackened (ever so slightly), unsettling goth soundscapes made for a very cool experience.

– Mark

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