Man, this has been a crazy year. Not only did I lose the place I was renting at the beginning of it, but I purchased a new home in the nick of time before being kicked out. The icing on the cake was that I had to move in a fucking snowstorm. Because that’s normal in late April. As you can imagine, all this made for one hell of a semester. Not to mention that I had to pick up an extra class halfway through and juggle close to 100 extra students. Then, being short of money to afford the new house I bought, I picked up a job writing an instructor’s guide for a textbook. “Oh, that’s cool,” I bet you’re saying. Remember that scene in Ghostbusters (the real Ghostbusters…) where Winston tells Ray, “If someone asks you if you are a god, you say yes!” Well, if someone asks you if you want to write a guide for teaching organic chemistry, you say hellafuckingno. I’m serious. Do yourself, and everyone around you, a favor. So, yeah, this year’s been nuts. Thankfully, there’s Angry Metal Guy—a solace for all metalheads to come together and be verbally abused and cat-tailed in the company basement1.
There’s also been plenty of great albums this year to help me get through. Not only from one genre but across the entire metal stratosphere. The result is one of the oddest top tens I have ever had. I’ve got three bands that I’d consider the most-improved picks of the year: a power metal, a black metal, and a doom metal outfit. I’ve got debut albums, sophomore records, and the umpteenth release of seasoned vets. There’re death, black/post-black, black/Viking, progressive, sludge, accessible avant-garde, and one-man and two-man outfits. And you’ll find them all in America, Canada, France, Finland, Germany, Holland, Norway, Slovakia, and South Africa. On this list, you’ll find everything from soothing to shredding to downright depressing.
Like all my lists, my top picks happen to be the albums I can’t put down—no matter the score or who agrees with me. And, like each year before, this year’s list represents the Grier of 2017. The same Grier that thanks AMG, Steel, and Madam X for bringing me on board, the Grier that thanks staff (young and old) for their patience and for not taking my demeaning comments during the editing process to hard, and—as always—the Grier that thanks all YOU for your continued support. Yes, even those that think Jari is a god.
(ish) Attic // Sanctimonious – Alright, hold down your booing and hissing. You knew this was coming. Like I did in 2016, I’ve gone with another record for my “Ish” pick that wouldn’t normally make my top ten. It’s a record that I enjoyed as a palette cleanser between the more intense and involved albums on my list. It’s also another King Diamond wannabe! Which means it speaks to me like Satan to a crooked nun. Not only that, but Sanctimonious turned out to be a pretty decent disc. It has that great King Diamond vibe (full of organs and creepy atmospheres), a killer nun-themed concept, and all the falsettos you could ever want. It’s fun, it’s creepy, and it’s packed with genre-appropriate riffage and addictive choruses. It may never touch anything King has ever done (and, honestly, it has me pining more than ever for a new record from the master), but it’s the best Attic has to offer. Yes, the King is King, but fans of his style might get a kick out of this.
#10. Frostreich // Join the Wind – Until a few months ago, I had no idea Frostreich existed. I didn’t know this Germany outfit consisted of sole member Wynthar, I didn’t know he had three albums to his name, and I didn’t know I missed Frostreich‘s newest release back in January. But, thanks to our vigilante readers, I present to you Join the Wind. If you’re a fan of post-black metal—its riffs, atmospheres, and the traditional angry, depressing, misanthropic lyrical content—Join the Wind might be for you. For many, that might be the greatest turn off of the century. But Wynthar’s take on post-black metal maintains the character of the genre without all the pretentiousness. Short songs, powerful vocals, lifting atmospheres, and subtle hints of Woods of Ypres melancholy make this one of my favorite releases of the year. Not only that but of the entire genre.
#9. Helheim // landawarijaR – And the black metal continues on Grier‘s top ten. This time with an early-2017 surprise: Helheim‘s massive landawarijaR. OK, so it’s not a surprise that this album is so good, considering these Norwegians are some of the best out there. Helheim plays the kind of metal made popular by Enslaved (even though Helheim and Kampfar have been here the whole time). But the biggest difference between landawarijaR and Enslaved‘s newest record, E, is that landawarijaR doesn’t suck. It’s got those progressive song structures, those powerful layers of intertwined rasps and cleans, and those big Viking horns and tympanis the band has been using for years. Though not a single one of its seven songs are shorter than five minutes, its continuity and fluidity from one track to the next, make this fifty-five-minute record feel half as long. landawarijaR captures all the textures of its surroundings as it takes a raven’s flight through fjords, valleys, and mountains of the frigid north. A flight that is achieved with a blissful warmth that encapsulates some of the best parts of the band’s discography into this one release.
#8. Sinister // Syncretism – Rarely do you see a death metal pick show up on a Grier list. But here we are. It’s not because I hate the genre. It’s because I’m picky as fuck when it comes to death metal. But Sinister have what I need and Syncretism blows my fucking mind. These Netherlanders ain’t new to the scene, nor is their skill at removing hair, peeling skin, and polishing bone. These guys are pros and, boy, do they have a drink for you. So, go to your kitchen and pull out the blender. Open the top and toss in a healthy portion of Vader and Malevolent Creation, add a pinch of Behemoth and Dismember, and finish it off with some Cryptopsy and Vital Remains. Throw that shit back and let it fuck you up.
#7. Igorrr // Savage Sinusoid – Man, there’re so many ways to get fucked up these days. You can shoot, snort, huff, and drink heroine, cocaine, ether, and booze to your heart’s content (or lack thereof). You can shoot back some denatured alcohol (filtered through day-old sourdough) or, hell, you can even dip your cigarettes in formaldehyde and suck those motherfuckers down. But, dude, there’s another high for you. The cocktail requires you to fuck off a week’s worth of sleep, fire back six straight shots of espresso, and crank Igorrr‘s Savage Sinusoid. Savage Sinusoid is this year’s fad—the acid trip of the year. Sure, it might have a plethora of sharp vocal shrieks, operatic female cleans, piano, accordion, saxophone, and mind-raping Nintendo effects, but it’s the band’s most accessible yet. Savage Sinusoid is an impressive record that’ll get you high every time.
#6. Havukruunu // Kelle surut soi – In the last few years, as Bathory remains a distant memory and Immortal fades from the scene, Rimfrost and Havukruunu have been regular substitutes for me. Not to say these two behemoths are copycat outfits. Far from it. Both bands have their own unique take on the aggressive black/folky character of their forefathers. But, between the two, Finland’s Havukruunu leans harder on I, Bathory, and Immortal than their Swedish counterpart. For the most part, this two-man outfit prefers the fast, loud, and iciness of Immortal—dropping riff-after-riff of thrashy black metal on a defenseless listener. But Havukruunu ain’t afraid of the folky/Viking stylings of Bathory (especially when delivered in their native tongue). The result is a well-rounded, headbangeable listen from the start to finish of Kelle surut soi. Though I yearn for Quorthon to rise from his grave and give us one more, Havukruunu is a more than capable substitute.
#5. Malokarpatan // Nodkarpatenland – Dr. Fisting said it best when describing the new Malokarpatan record, Nordkarpatenland: “I’m not even sure how to describe this, but it’s awesome.” And being one of Chicago’s greatest proctologists, the man knows a thing or two about being awesome. And, like myself, Fisting discovered this gem in time to make it known before 2017 concluded. I remember considering the band’s debut, Stridžie dni, for review in 2015, but passed on it for lack of interest. When I saw their second release come up in the promo bin back in October, I passed on it without even a listen. What a tragic blunder that was, considering this epic, folky, black metal band is the closest I’ve come to Mercyful Fate riffs since, well… Mercyful Fate. And, boy, does this sumbitch have riffs. Nordkarpatenland is a Slovakian mutt, bread with the likes of Bathory, Immortal, Iron Maiden, and Mercyful Fate. All topped with the old-school croonings of Nocturno Culto. Yet, there’s so much more. While Spirit Adrift and Unleash the Archers both deserve awards for 2017’s Most-Improved Bands, Malokarpatan takes the top prize. Don’t be like us doctors and let this one pass you by.
#4. Ophiuchi // Bifurcaria Bifurcata – I’m gonna level with you: I don’t know exactly how to pronounce Ophiuchi. But this fun, little black metal outfit, whose name rolls off the tongue like a Pokemon character, has got me hooked. If you’ve heard this one-man band’s four-track, forty-minute debut, you know there is nothing “fun” about it. If you haven’t yet, you’ll discover Bifurcaria Bifurcata to be South Africa’s answer to Tool and Cobalt. All the while, Ophiuchi tantalizes the songwriting with the heaviness and emotion of Primordial and Woods of Ypres. Bifurcaria Bifurcata is one of those records whose tracks appear too long, yet not a single one drags on longer than it should. When you need a riff change, it comes. When you need a mood swing, it happens. When you need more umph, it’s around the corner. There’re are doomy passages and expansive black metal atmospheres, there’re folky transitions and moody moments, and there’re builds-a-plenty. Bifurcaria Bifurcata is dark and brooding, with a unique character that makes it special. Of all the bands listed in my picks, Ophiuchi is the one I’ll be looking out for the most.
#3. Amenra // Mass VI – There are few bands capable of dragging me down into the sort of places Amenra does. And few Amenra albums do it with the kind of ease that Mass VI does. No joke, when I first heard “Plus Près de Toi,” my knees almost gave out on my walk to work. The entire day I taught classes with a smile on my face and answered questions cheerfully and without confusion. But, I was anxious. Anxious for my nighttime walk back to my car, knowing full well I’d finish Mass VI before I reached it. By the time I got to my trusty mom-mobile, “Daiken” was coming to an end. I sat behind the wheel of my cold, lifeless car for the next two minutes until it concluded. Then for another thirty, almost in tears. I haven’t been this struck by an album in a long time and, while I wish it wouldn’t happen again, I crave it. With an album capable of fucking this much with my emotions, there’s no way in hell I can’t put it on my top ten.
#2. Spirit Adrift // Curse of Conception – Well, it seems 2017 is the year of emotional picks for chipper ol’ Grier, as you’ll see soon enough. But, this one’s no ordinary Debbie Downer. Spirit Adrift‘s Curse of Conception is special for a variety of reasons: Nate Garrett can play the guitar, Nate Garrett can write songs, Nate Garrett is a badass, and what you hear on Spirit Adrift‘s Curse of Conception is Nate Garrett. While Curse of Conception has plenty of heartwrenching moments (like the closing minutes of “Onward, Inward”), it’s also a perfectly balanced meal of Pentagram, Trouble, and Black Sabbath. Everything a growing metalhead could need. The guitars are superb, the solos are otherworldly, and the songwriting is full and rich. The result is one of the tightest and best-conceived records of the year. It’s doom, it’s gloom, and it’s fucking good.
#1. Unleash the Archers // Apex – Of all the candidates for the AMG Power Metal Weenie title, I’m probably not your first choice. Though I dig me plenty o’ power metal classics, from many o’ power metal greats, my taste is almost exclusive to the German variety (with sprinklings of the American and Swedish kind). But Canadian power metal? I don’t think so. Hell, when I got the chance to review Unleash the Archers‘ 2015 release, Time Stands Still, I couldn’t help but snicker at the goldmine I stumbled upon. Their whole gimmick was the perfect topping for nachos and I was going in face first. But the nachos fought back. “Am I actually enjoying this?” I thought. Time Stands Still never took home 2015’s Album o’ the Year, but the band showed massive potential. But, I had no idea the true potential this little power metal from Canada had. Apex floored me back in June and it hasn’t left regular rotation since then. It’s a powerful record, an impressive concept, and it blows everything the band has ever done clear out of the water. Not only do I love this album enough to make it my top pick but I’m honored to make it so.
- Black Sites // In Monochrome – Dr. Fisting and I have been good friends ever since I started writing for AMG. Does that give this mention less weight than the others? Notafuckingchance. Why? Because, regardless of my friendship with the man, he’s still one hell of a songwriter and In Monochrome is fucking spectacular.
- Jarun // Sporyzs – Unfortunately, coming so late as it did in the year, I didn’t quite have the time to stack Jarun‘s Sporysz up against the others on my list. That said, it had to make an appearance here. Even though they missed out on my top ten, don’t miss out on Sporysz.
- Vulture Industries // Stranger Times – Of all my 2017 picks, Vulture Industries has to be the most accessible and laid back. These vets of Arcturus-like avant-garde have been at it for a decade now—refining, stripping-down, and making their brand of metal sleeker with each release. It may be simple but that’s what makes it so special to me.
- Sorcerer // The Crowning of the Fire King – You can’t go wrong with a band whose lineup borrows from the likes of Tiamat, Therion, and Lion’s Share. Especially when said troop of musicians delivers this much quality Kamelot-meets-Candlemass-meets-Black Sabbath in one doomy place. The Crowning of the Fire King is big, it’s epic, and it’s devastating on the dry brush.
- Vintersorg // Till fjälls, del II – Vintersorg are one of my all-time favorite bands. And Vintersorg (the man) is one of my favorite singers. So, to no one’s surprise, I’ve been anticipating the much-hyped sequel to the band’s classic debut. Though there was a lot of worry going into it, Vintersorg came through and delivered an epic (and epically long) album.
Mutoid Man // War Moans – It’s funny. I don’t get Ben Koller’s Converge at all. Never have and never will. But, somehow, I get Mutoid Man. Definitely not as strange as Igorrr‘s Savage Sinusoid but War Moans is still hard to describe. It’s heavy one moment, gentle another, and weird when you least expect it. In the end, it’s catchy-as-hell and one smooth, slick ride.
- Witherfall // Nocturnes and Requiems – It’s crazy to think Nocturnes and Requiems almost didn’t see the light of day after drummer Adam Sagan (Into Eternity) passed away. Thankfully, Witherfall‘s debut album emerged, engulfing us in the greatest of Nevermore, Savatage, and Symphony X-isms. This is wanking without the wank and the songwriting too full to ignore.
- Chelsea Wolfe // Hiss Spun – I honestly didn’t know how dark a mood I’ve been in until I started working on my 2017 Top Ten(ish). But here I am putting Chelsea Wolfe on my list. You want dark? You want simple? You want passionate? Do you want one of the creepiest album covers of 2017? Then, take a dose of Hiss Spun.
- Power Trip // Nightmare Logic – I’ve been lucky enough to see Power Trip destroy a couple stages this year. And, goddamn, are they good at it. With an album like Nightmare Logic as the fuel to their thrash war machine, it’s no wonder the destruction is so massive. Like all great thrash albums, this one has a couple classics (in the form of “Executioner’s Tax” and “Firing Squad”). And, when their choruses hit your ears, you better watch the fuck out.
Disappointment o’ the Year
Wintersun // The Forest Seasons – If you know me, you won’t find my Disappointment o’ the Year a surprise in the least. Like so many others, I’ve been waiting (rather patiently, I’d say) for the follow-up to 2012’s Time I — an album I rather enjoyed and was excited to see concluded. Instead, to my (and most everyone else’s) dismay, we got The Forest Seasons. After all the crowdfunding nonsense and all the shit that came spewing from Jari Mäenpää’s mouth, I still had hope that something spectacular would come out of it. That might very well happen in the future but it sure as hell didn’t happen this year. As a parting gift: If I wrote a Contrite Metal Guy – Mistakes Were Made article right now, The Forest Seasons would get a 2.0/5.0.
Song o’ the Year
Amenra “Diaken” – Goddamn this song. I’m serious. This fucking song devastates me and I hate it for doing so. But, I’m going to give it one more try. This time, though, I’m going to the fill the bath, climb in, hit play, lower my head into the water, and see what happens.