Many writers with pen names (not only AMG writers) use their voice as an outlet—living through a character they’ve always wanted to be but could never be. For the longest time, that was me. The Dok Tor with the bloody hands was just for fun. But, lately, I’ve come to realize that this “writer” is stuck with Dr. A.N. Grier. It’s been five years since I created this monster and, boy, has he evolved. If you look to the early days of the moniker, my passion and sense-of-humor—if you will—were there. The two constants of the Grier character. Bad jokes, crude innuendos, and a shitload of bad language. There was something silly and childish about the Doc in the old days. He felt safe being a goof. He enjoyed passing on dick jokes and clickbait to any adolescent hoodlum that would lend her/his ear to it. Then something happened. The man behind the character realized he wrote for a website that accepted him for what he was; flaws and all. And I’m not just talking about the staff—the most supportive group of people I have ever known. No, not just them. I’m also talking about you, the reader. Name another site out there with writers hiding behind silly monikers whom you know better than your best friends. Name a site you dared to lean on, pouring your heart out in the comments, getting positive and uplifting responses when you needed them most. Name a site you’ve spent as much time debating, loving, and sharing music as you have on AMG. You can’t.
And, because of this, the care for one another is contagious. In previous years, I’ve thanked one and all for bringing me aboard, letting me contribute, letting me edit, letting me be grumpy, and letting me be me from one review to the next. I’ve spent years trying to feel the band more than listen to them. Understand their musical direction, rather than assume it. Judging a band for who they are and what they believe, instead of telling you who they are and what they believe. I’ve always thanked you all because it was the right thing to do. Because those whom I thanked were deserving of it. So, what do I do now? When thanking isn’t enough? For all the words I’ve written across five years and over three-hundred reviews, I don’t have one for you now. If I could pick such a word, it’d be between thank and love. So, thank you and I love you all.
Sorry for the banter and emotion. As many of you know, this has been quite a year for me. So, I had to say what had to be said.1 It’s also been one hell of a year for the reviewer side of the Grier character. Like a father seeing his children grow up, one looks back to old memories, comparing them to the newest stages of development. The past proved growth for bands like Sorxe, Rimfrost, Stormhammer, Black Sites, War Curse, Reign of Fury, and more. But the present may prove different. Over-exertion, uncontrollable delays, heinous lineup changes, or a combination of all the above have taken a toll on some of my musical spawn. That said, the easiest way to Grier‘s heart is writing an album he can enjoy over and over again. And many of them achieved that. Below is a list of the albums I haven’t stopped listening to all year.
(ish) Stormhammer // Seven Seals – Everyone names their hammers. No, that isn’t a sexual innuendo. I own four hammers that do as much for me as my pillow does for my cat. From smallest to largest, there’s Pinhead, Mjölnir, Hercules, and Thumper. Each serves a purpose and each is perfect for smashing shit. Or throwing at innocent people. Like pets, I’ve never been much for naming my hammers based on the obvious. For instance, naming your fluffy one Jack-kitty or Sledge-cat is pathetically bland. That’s like naming your hammers Jack-hammer or Sledge-hammer. See? Lame. That’s why I respect Stormhammer. I mean, seriously, what the fuck is a Stormhammer? I’ll tell you. It’s Dream Evil with the upbeatness of Sabaton, the sappiness of Evergrey, and the epicness of Blind Guardian. It’s a hammer whose vocals (no matter how many vocalists the band has employed) are the blunt-end of the tool/weapon. But, this time around, Stormhammer wrote songs as strong as any hammer handle. Not to mention the fact that they tied every track of Seven Seals together with needle and thread until it became the strongest eleven-link chain the band has ever crafted. It’s lathered in the Mighty Cheez Whiz, but it’s too much fun not to include in my top ten(ish).
#10. Pectora // Untaken – Steel dropped this on me out of the fucking blue.”Dude, you’ll like this,” he said. But, what he meant was, “Dude, prepare to get no work done and be late on every review for the rest of the year.” Because that’s what happened. This hopelessly addictive record that, at times, feels like Iron Maiden with James Hetfield at the mic or Dio with, well… Hetfield at the mic is the most fun I’ve had all year. From the epic build and heavy metal riffs of the opening title track to the Dio-ish “Haunted Memory” to the drawn-out closer, “The Arrival,” I can’t get enough of this little record. If I only had it on cassette (or owned a cassette player, for that matter), it would be even more fitting than it already is. This ’80s metal gem is more than welcome to shred and ruin my truck’s imaginary tape deck any time it wants. Without a doubt, this is my Debut Record o’ the Year.
#9. Gatecreeper // Deserted – Sharing duties between Gatecreeper and Spirit Adrift, this has been a huge year for Chase Mason and Nate Garrett. And a successful year, at that. Vocals for one and bass for the other. Vocals/guitars for the latter and guitars for the former. These guys are busy. Not to mention, one band is a combination of heavy and progressive, while the other is Arizona’s Swedeath secret. Like the debut, Deserted is full of crushing riffs and to-the-point song structures taken straight from the annals of Asphyx, Grave, and Entombed. But, this time around, Gatecreeper stretched out it’s bloody wings in hopes of grasping more than the typical sounds of ’90s Swedish metal. Instead of the expected balls-to-the-walls nature of Sonoran Deprivation, the band explores the darker, slower side of the genre. Even dropping bonus nuggets of the tank-battering Bolt Thrower and the melodies of Amon Amarth and Dark Tranquillity into the mix. Deserted joins the other records on my list as an album that pushes past comfort zones and reinvents a band’s sound.
#8. Ars Moriendi // La solitude du pieux scélérat – One of the two French black metal releases on my top ten list, Ars Moriendi is no stranger to how difficult it is to please Grier. This one-man outfit first graced my lists some three years ago. Pulling a black veil of my head and filling my ears with the saxy psychedelics of Sigh and the grandiose symphonics of Dimmu Borgir, 2016’s Sepelitur Alleluia was a blindside to the temples of my cranium. The black ferocity that lives within that album also lives in this year’s La solitude du pieux scélérat. Centering more on the melodic atmospheres of the band’s arsenal, Arsonist digs deep. Be it his variation in screams, shrieks, and cleans, or his perfect execution of acoustic or distorted guitar work. La solitude du pieux scélérat is a faultless addition to the Ars Moriendi catalog, with each song growing bigger and stronger as the album progresses. Mixing raw, black metal riffage, heartbreaking acoustic passages with Sigh-like horns/orchestrations, and builds that even Jesus would kneel to. It’s a mountainside ascension and the album finale is at the top.
#7. Second to Sun // Legacy – My list this year seems riddled with French-oriented black metal. Solo and duo outfits that either Sigh into your ears or have you praying to the Hand o’ Death. But, like last year’s list, no top ten is complete without my go-to Russian compatriots, Second to Sun. Kings of releasing vocal and instrumental versions of their albums, Legacy is no different. On release date, any new or old fan of the band could experience these seven gems with or without Gleb Sysoev’s gnarly throat work. To me, it’s not a matter of preference when choosing one of the versions of the disc. It’s an experience. Songs, like “Devil,” “Pages for a Manuscript,” and “Once Upon a Time in Russia,” are a different journey, regardless of the version. The instrumental journey is as strong as the vocal version but with a depth I can’t explain. Again, it’s something you have to experience. And experience you should. And experience you will.
#6. Black Sites // Exile – Like chums, Spirit Adrift, Black Sites‘ newest opus left me shell-shocked. Expecting one thing and getting another can be a negative thing, depending on the outcome. In this case, the unexpected outcome is a positive shock that kept me on my toes and coming back for more. Upon first listen, each song from Exile had me thinking, “Oh shit, this is better than the last song!” It’s a continuous climb, with surprises over every ridge and around every corner. Not a single song is filler, resulting in an album that seamlessly combines what you’ll expect with what you won’t. “Feral Child” and “The Night They Came For You” are what you’d expect. The clean emotion and fist-pumping aggression of “Coal City” and closer “Dwell Upon the End”2 being something you won’t. The latter two doing everything they can to lift you up to the heavens before dropping you into the Cellar of Sadness. Toss in the Type O Negative vocal approach to “Dream Long Dead” and the mighty Motörhead attack of “Focused Totality – The Psychic Knife,” and you’ve found the Most-Diverse Record o’ the Year.
#5. War Curse // Eradication – My first exposure to Cincinnati’s War Curse was 2015’s Final Days. Considered an EP by some and an LP by others, this short six-track disc of Slayer-meets-Metallica brutality impressed me so much I had to write a TYMHM piece for it. And I’ve never forgotten War Curse—waiting patiently for that day when the band would follow-up their lonesome debut. After trading vocalist Tarek Puska for Blaine Gordon, the band spent some time crafting their sound around the powerful voice of their new singer. The result was nothing less than spectacular. With a sound as old as the Testaments of thrash, Slay
ering beasts with Metallic a steel. Eradication is a tribute to the past with a touch of the modern. It’s a killer record with thick licks, soaring solos, and riff changes a-plenty. Not to mention it houses two of my favorite thrash pieces of the year: “Polluted Minds” and “Sands of Fate.”
#4. Spirit Adrift // Divided by Darkness – After 2017’s Curse of Conception, I figured it would be difficult for Spirit Adrift to top it. And, sure enough, it was. It took me a few spins to realize that a dead-on attack on Curse of Conception, in hopes of one-upping it, would have been disappointing. That’s why Spirit Adrift did what they did. If you’re expecting Curse, Part II, the only song that resembles Divided by Darkness‘ predecessor is the opening track, “We Will Not Die.” After that, the band gives the ole middle finger to your expectations. Sure, there’re plenty of Curse-oriented vox, harmonized guitar work, and progressive builds on Divided, but there are even more surprises than familiarities here. While “Hear Her,” “Living Light,” and “Born into Fire” stab forth with more gun-happy, ripping riffs than anything Garrett and company have done before, the Sabbathy front-half and classic ’80s back-half of “Angels and Abyss” is more than anyone could expect. And, when they close it out with the psychedelic, Pink Floyd-ish woo-ings of “The Way of Return,” you’ll learn, next time, to expect the unexpected.
#3. Exhorder // Mourn the Southern Skies – Reviewing an album like Exhorder‘s Mourn the Southern Skies is an impossible feat. Releasing a new album after over twenty-five years means every metalhead on Earth has a fucking opinion. “It’s worse than Slaughter in the Vatican and The Law. *sad face* “It’s better than Slaughter and Law!” *yayayayayaya* “It’s better than Law but worse than Vatican.” Blah blah blah. Any way you spin it, you’re going to be wrong in someone else’s eyes. But the review for Mourn the Southern Skies was Grier‘s review and this is Grier‘s top ten. Which makes Grier the Law. Not a single person here could make a comeback as good as Exhorder did. Almost thirty years later, Kyle Thomas continues to write lyrics without anyone having a hand in editing, unleashing his no-fucks-given attitude on the world. And the band continues to write thrash as thick as the musty air of a Louisiana tomb. Mourn the Southern Skies is more NOLA than Down, every bit as compelling as Pantera, and boiling over with an energy that few bands can carry over in a couple of years, much less twenty-seven. Love or hate the style,3 Exhorder is back and I’m here to fuck shit up with them.
#2. Vous Autres // Champ du Sang – It’s funny and a little scary to think that if I had Vous Autres‘ debut record a year ago, it might have been the soundtrack to my death. Though that dark place I inhabited twelve months ago is no longer my home, it’s a shack that dwells in the trees a hundred yards from here. No matter if it’s day or night, I can still see it. No lights illuminate it’s broken-shuddered windows and no smoke curls from its collapsed chimney. But, while it appears abandoned, I can still hear my labored breathing within its crumbling walls. Unfortunately, every time I listen to Champ du Sang, it holds my hand and leads me to the very doorstep of my nightmares—trapped, once again, within the walls of that shack-like tomb. Never to escape and left alone to die at my own hands. That’s the power of Vous Autres‘ Champ du Sang. It’s a strange predicament because, while I want you to feel what I feel when I listen to it, I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. That said, Champ du Sang is up there with Amenra‘s Mass VI as one of the most depressing albums I’ve ever heard. And, for that, it deserves a top spot on my list.
#1. Rimfrost // Expedition: Darkness – *Inhales deeply* Finally, we are here. The history-making record that won’t leave my car, my phone, my work, my workouts, or my life. Rimfrost has been around for a while and, in all actuality, any one of their albums is as strong as Expedition: Darkness. Twenty-sixteen’s self-titled release was so good, it almost took top mark, landing in the #2 spot of that year’s list. It’s Immortal-isms, rich atmospheres, and the exhaustive number of riffs chained me to a rock, torturing me like anti-hero Loki. But, like the rest of my mind-numbing list, Rimfrost couldn’t settle with second best. While maintaining the Immortal-ish sound they’ve had since their start, the band split the belly open and stuffed it with more riffs, more solos, more melodeath, and more fun than they’ve ever done before. From “Rising of a Black Dawn,” the setup piece to “Damned Jaws,”4 to closer “At the Blessing of the Damned,” not a single song lacks the power of the one before it. Never before have I experienced an album that combines the fun (“Samhain” and “Voorhees”) and crushing (“Bloodnight,” “Dawnbreaker,” and “Damned Jaws”), with the moody (“Natten”) and epic (“Expedition: Darkness” and “At the Blessing of the Damned”), as seamlessly as Expedition: Darkness does. Here’s to a runner-up taking the gold. *drinks deeply*5
Abigail Williams // Walk Beyond the Dark – Well, fuck… this came out of nowhere and I missed it. Which is a shame because this might be the best album Ken Sorceron has ever written. The best I can do is place it at the top of my honorable mentions so it gets some of the recognition it deserves.6
Borknagar // True North – I spend a lot of time on the road these days. And True North is a perfect companion for the drives up north at sunrise—from cactus to pine trees, from the warm desert to the chilly forests. ICS Vortex is back to lend his voice to Lars Nedlund’s and the result is another outstanding release from a band that never disappoints. Icy, captivating, and well-rounded, there’s a lot to chew on here. And it only gets better with each spin.
Sorxe // The Ark Burner – It was a struggle-and-a-half to place The Ark Burner in my honorable mentions, rather than in my top ten. But, let’s not kid ourselves, this was a massive year for metal and my HM list is as strong as my top ten. And having Sorxe—and its thick, Arizona sludge—in its ranks proves that to be true.
Kampfar // Ofidians Manifest – If you were to ask me what my favorite part of Kampfar would be. I’d say the vocals. Those full-lunged bellows can’t be beaten by anyone. And they’re made even better and more powerful by the growing builds provided by the drums and guitars. When, on their game, the climactic, black/Viking atmospheres of Kampfar have no equal. The band has done it for years and, now, they do it again.
Istapp // The Insidious Star – Twenty-nineteen appears to be a year of a few bombastic black/folk/meloblack/Viking releases for ole Grier. On top of groups like Borknagar and Kampfar, Istapp released their own exquisite slab of folky blackness. The Insidious Star is only the band’s third release, but it beat the odds: surpassing a sophomore release and keeping with the strength and fortitude of the band’s unforgettable debut. Istapp has a bright future ahead of them and this year’s release is another insidious star.
Via Vengeance // Diestractions from the Truth – It’s true that I’m partial to the man and the sound behind this band. But that doesn’t mean that Diestractions from the Truth doesn’t come off as one of the best sludge records of the year. That said, don’t expect anything like Sorxe‘s The Ark Burner. There’re a lot more twists and turns than you’ll ever expect from this one-man sideshow.
Mayhem // Daemon – Every year that Mayhem releases something, a voice in my head says, “They’re back.” They never really left but few bands have to live up to the hype that Mayhem does; album-after-fucking-album. But this isn’t a typical Mayhem release. Daemon turns out to be one of their best. It combines every era and every element the band has created since their reign in the ’90s. So, I guess… maybe they are back?
Devourment // Obscene Majesty – This will be a shocker for many of you,7 but I love Devourment. They’ve never let me down in their quest to kick, kill, and slam you into the ground. I suppose you’d have to like this style of chaotic slam/death to appreciate it. But, if you do, Obscene Majesty won’t disappoint.
Blood Red Throne // Fit to Kill – While the Tchort-era of Blood Red Throne is still my favorite, Fit to Kill—with its heavy Hypocrisy flavorings and intense brutality—feels oh-so good. The band has been around for some time and have come a long way, regardless if you’ve heard of them or not. Fit to Kill is a brutal, technical bruiser that’ll have you spitting up or pissing blood every time you go to the bathroom. Don’t forget to wash your hands, you filthy fuckers.
Darkthrone // Old Star – Take Mayhem, Enslaved, Gorgoroth, or Immortal‘s sound from the ’90s and give it the Sanford Parker touch. I bet it would enrich and heighten every nook and cranny of their songwriting styles. Unfortunately, for all these other bands, Darkthrone‘s Old Star did it first. Good luck trying to top that.
Reign of Fury // Exorcise Reality – Reign of Fury has been through a lot in the last few years. Juggling lineup changes and delays around Exorcise Reality, I can’t imagine their frustrations. When it finally hit, Exorcise Reality wasn’t up to the standards of Death Be Thy Shepherd. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t slay. It pushes on like that friend that’s had way more shit in her/his life than you. It never misses a beat, moves on like nothing’s wrong, and gives its all without complaint.
Aggressive Perfector // Havoc at the Midnight Hour – This album is so fun and absurd, that it can’t be ignored. If it hadn’t been for the roundedness of Stormhammer‘s Seven Seals, this Hellhammer-meets-King Diamond beast would have been this year’s Ish. If you like these name-drops, don’t miss out on this one.
Disappoints o’ the Year:
Crystal Viper // Tales of Fire and Ice – If you’re a longtime fan of Crystal Viper, you know them for their Iron Maiden-esque song structures and Marta Gabriel’s gruff vocals. What you get, instead, from Tales of Fire and Ice is an over-abundance of melodic ditties and Brittney Slayes-ish (Unleash the Archers) clean vox. I came here to hear Crystal Viper but, instead, I got an UtA ripoff. Between the musical direction and the artwork switcheroo,8 this record became too infuriating to review.
Suidakra // Echoes of Yore – I get it. Let’s give the fans something they want, right? I don’t know which Suidakra fans wanted a full release of re-recorded classics from the band’s first five albums, but I wasn’t one of them. After the fantastic Realms of Ordoric, I’ve been craving more original pieces from the band. Instead, we get a bland, emotion-less acoustic record (2016’s Cimbric Yarns) and this year’s Echoes of Yore. Unfortunately, the band is going to have to work twice as hard to get my attention in the future. But, again, it’s clear I’m not the type of fan they’ve been catering to.
Songs o’ the Year:
Sabaton “The Attack of the Dead Men” – This one is dedicated to my children. While I enjoy this song, they LOVE it. Always requesting it when we jump in the truck on our treks across the State. To me, this song signals adventures with my partners in crime. Be those adventures of the innocent or mischievous kind, it’s difficult to know for sure.
Reign of Fury “The World Belongs to Me” – This has been a SHIT year, as many of you know. And while Reign of Fury didn’t quite win me over as they did in 2016, this song sure did. In a world of endless bullshit and frustration, there’s no need to let it bury you. Trust me, I know this is easier said than done. Regardless, fuck it all. This is our anthem, good readers. And this is our world.
- One of the biggest thank yous going out to Bagel, maybe the greatest person in my life. ↩
- My favorite of the album. ↩
- Again, I don’t give a fuck what you think. I grew up with it and I love it. ↩
- Seriously, you sonsofbitches who commented on the review… ↩
- A week after finalizing and submitting my top for publication, Rimfrost announced that they were breaking up. While this is heartbreaking news, at least—in my opinion—they are leaving us with their greatest achievement. RIP Rimfrost. You will be missed. If you need something to fight the pain, check out some new tracks from Throllv and Khratos’ new band, Pandemonium, here. ↩
- Maybe a TYMHM will surface soon… ↩
- Kronos being one of them. ↩
- After fans laughed the original off the face of the planet. ↩