El Cuervo and Diabolus in Muzaka’s Top Ten(ish) of 2017

El Cuervo

I wrote 12 months ago of a shitty, transitional year. I write now that while that transition continued for much of it, I found 2017 far more satisfying. As if to demonstrate this point, it saw me meet 4 more AMG folk on the stinkier side of The Pond1, taking my tally up to a 7 which includes both Angry Metal Guy and Steel Druhm. This makes me the most well-traveled individual here and the de facto spokesperson and representative for the blog2. It is therefore logical that my opinion matters the most despite the lies which may be spread by those I’m diligently representing3. I’ve been struck by how awesome they all are and it reminds me that I really hit gold when I stumbled upon this Avantasia review back in 2011. I’ve had to retreat to a certain degree from my writing responsibilities given my newfound employment but I still love being a part of this community and writing whenever possible.

It’s on this note that I submit to you, dear reader, this list of excellence. 2017 was an enjoyable year for me musically and my top 2 here exceed anything from 2016. It’s honestly my thrashy selections in the middle which surprised me the most given my utter ambivalence to much of the genre. The remainder of my list isn’t all that shocking; past favorites feature once more while my preference for dynamic metal is strongly expressed. It was also a great year for past discoveries as I estimate that I spent more time on older music, particularly in my deeper plundering of 70s rock. It’s unfortunate that this can’t be reflected in this list but there is at least a nod to this development I’ve experienced at number 7.

I bid you all a very fond holiday period and look forward to spending more time with you more next year.

(ish). Æther Realm // Tarot Dr. Wvrm advised me that this record should be further up my list, not just because it’s further up his but because I demonstrated intricate awareness of its finer details during an impassioned discussion4 about the year’s best records. I retorted that while the quality reached is absolutely stellar there’s an easy 15 minutes that I’d ideally cut5 outside of those heights. What remains is a flawed record which nonetheless contains an hour of exciting, creative melodeath. Extra kudos for writing a worthwhile 19-minute track too.

10. Threshold // Legends of the Shire – For consistent, hook-oriented song-writing, Threshold have thrown down quite the gauntlet within the prog-power genre over their past couple of albums. Despite this success Legends of the Shire made me nervous, first through the loss of vocalist extraordinaire Damian Wilson and second through its 83-minute duration. Rest assured that neither are hindrances; the writing is as sharp as ever on bangers like “Small Dark Lines” and “Stars and Satellites” while the scope granted by 2 tracks of over 10 minutes and the eponymous 3-piece suite flexes their progressive muscles in ways we’ve not heard since much earlier in their discography. It’s tough to deny these guys.

9. Hallatar // No Stars Upon the Bridge – Confession: I wasn’t actually a huge fan of Aleah Starbridge’s final album and only release under the Trees of Eternity name before her tragic death. It’s a cruel twist of fate but her bereft partner Juha Raivio hits me far more heavily; No Stars Upon the Bridge is an amazing, plaintive and heartfelt ode to her using the brutal tools of doom and death metal. It’s a physically and emotionally crushing album which treads the fine line between ethereal beauty and horrendous hopelessness, aided in no small part by a career-best performance from Tomi Joutsen of Amorphis. Despite its desperately sad subject matter, Juha can go forward knowing he crafted something magical out of such darkness.

8. Wormwood // Ghostlands: Wounds from a Bleeding Earth – Not every selection for such a list requires profundity. Releases like Ghostlands can be boiled down to a simple hunger for that basic duality of melody and aggression, the same duality which goes to the heart of metalcore’s popularity in the 2000s. That’s not to say this sounds like metalcore; it’s melodic black metal with excellent riffs and addictive song-writing which emphasizes the back-loading of tracks with the best moments. The peppering of acoustic moments and supremely imitable lyrics only sustain this addictive trait and I’ve not shaken the record for the best part of an entire year. “To Worship” deserves a special mention as my favorite metal track from 2017.

7. Hällas // Excerpts from a Future Past – I didn’t know how much I needed Wishbone Ash and Uriah Heep in my life until earlier this year. This sort of 70s rock with a huge guitar focus and progressive touches has hit me in a big way and Hällas follow in the mold of these aforementioned greats. The dual guitar leads are immaculate and the vocals are emotive, but most importantly, the production aesthetic is warm, organic and pulls me out of a funk whenever I’m in one. I’ll conclude by quoting myself: “Excerpts exemplifies feel-good music for me; it’s so far up my alley it’s rubbing my prostate.”6

6. Power Trip // Nightmare Logic – Some music makes you question. Some makes you feel. Some takes you on a journey. Nightmare Logic does none of these things. Instead, it riffs. It riffs hard. That’s the short version of why it’s on this list. The longer version is that the guitars are razor-sharp, the tracks are concise and it strongly reminds me of Kill ’em All which is a great thing. I would usually signify mind-numbing simplicity by using the word ‘Neanderthal’ in a musical context but here it’s not just a positive but actually entirely appropriate. Power Trip aren’t pushing boundaries and they won’t change your life but they’re rocking, old-school and too much fun. This and #5 would be interchangeable but for the brick-walling present on this one which consigns it to this inferior position.

5. Hellripper // Coagulating Darkness – If you’d told me at the start of the year that not one, but two, thrashy albums would be in my top 6 o’ the year I would probably have told you to fuck off. I spend more time than I care to admit conceding that thrash is my least favorite of the core metal sub-genres. While Hellripper falls closer to the early intersection of thrash, black and speed metal than thoroughbred thrash, its riffs absolutely rip and the vocals boast a gravelly urgency which I find irresistible. This is the kind of release which would have excited so many people in the early 80s and paved the way for the future; it’s full and final evidence that metal is not “dead” despite the best efforts of every mainstream publication to tell us so when they refuse to look past 1986 while summarizing the genre.

4. Ne Obliviscaris // Urn – I’m bored of defending my love for Ne Obliviscaris; they’re an eminently talented group of musicians whose music draws together my predilections for extreme metal, progressive rock and combinations thereof. Urn represents a honing of their song-writing with catchier moments and greater directness but rest assured that the expansiveness which so ensnared my imagination years ago on Portal of I remains intact. The brick-walled master is a frustrating drawback but it speaks to the quality exuded by these Aussies that they still find themselves at 4 on my list. Old haters will find little more to like but newcomers or fence-sitters may appreciate the slicker songs this time around.

3. Asira // Efference Efference is a testament to the deficiencies of attempting to articulate accurate feelings of music after a short week or two with it. I already publicly amended my review and I’ve now reached the end of the year with few other albums superseding this fantastic effort. I love dynamic music and this record demonstrates this characteristic in abundance; deftly dancing around the fine line dividing its core black metal and progressive rock elements, Asira belie a much older and mature group in their careful yet utterly engaging crescendos. They have an other-worldly quality which elevates their material and leaves me sincerely excited to hear how this sound is utilized in their future releases.

2. The Night Flight Orchestra // Amber Galactic – I could attempt to document exactly what it is that The Night Flight Orchestra gets so right. I could mention the awesome instrumental leads. Or the outrageously contagious choruses. Or the lesbian space women music videos. But I think all I need to write is Toto. And Van Halen. Billy Joel. Steely Dan. Journey. Maybe Whitesnake. If such an amalgamation of words doesn’t get you excited you shouldn’t bother with Amber Galactic. If, like me, you’re approaching climax then hit play and repeatedly ejaculate for nearly an hour.

1. Akercocke // Renaissance in Extremis – As I gathered my thoughts for this list I was struggling to articulate exactly why Renaissance in Extremis definitely deserves to top it. It’s undoubtedly one of the tightest releases of the year instrumentally with each band member flawlessly executing their part and all those strands drawing together marvelously. The rhythm section, particularly, is amazing. It also sounds exactly how Akercocke should after a 10 year gap; recognizably the same death metal but more progressive and zany than ever. And while the record is entirely cohesive, the creativity and diversity on display is unmatched for 2017 and features exemplary moments on every track. But on reflection I think it ultimately boils down to my emotional reaction. I hit play and I smile. The Night Flight Orchestra came close but no other record elicited such a visceral response from me this year and it’s this quality which confers Akercocke’s peerless success.

Akercocke - Renaissance in Extremis

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):

  • Dodecahedron // Kwintessens – An illustration that warped, savage art can also be beautiful.
  • Pyrrhon // What Passes for Survival – If the opening moments to “The Happy Victim’s Creed” don’t make you want to punch stuff you should probably check yourself into your local morgue.
  • Voyager // Ghost Mile – This record has definite low-lights but the best moments reach crazy, soaring heights.

Disappointments o’ the Year (in no particular order):

  • That Marius Strand still hasn’t released another The Fall of Every Season record.
  • Pallbearer // Heartless – When March came I was floored by the stratospheric heights hit by Heartless. And it very much remains the case that certain tracks are of an unbelievable standard: “Lie of Survival” was high on my Song o’ the Year shortlist and “A Plea for Understanding” is utterly heart-wrenching. It’s just a shame that so much of the record fell off for me. I’m ambivalent towards a further 2 tracks while the remaining 3 are actively skippable – notably “Dancing in Madness” which particularly stings given its 12-minute duration. Such a patchy release following the supreme Foundation of Burden is nothing if not a disappointment.

Song o’ the Year

The Night Flight Orchestra “Jennie” – There are literally 5 tracks from Amber Galactic which could have taken my Song o’ the Year. But it was clear to me both on first full listen and now 7 months later that “Jennie” would hold a special place in my heart. I have exactly zero shame awarding this accolade to a cheesy ballad because it has not left my head since I first heard it. I don’t even care a little bit that The Night Flight Orchestra are derivative; a great song is a great song and “Jennie” is a song which I’ll never forget.

Diabolus in Muzaka

Making a successful and popular Top Ten list involves a series of complex calculations, comprised of, but not limited to the following: a tallying of recorded scores, estimated scene cred, a precise proportion of big and underground bands, a spot for that one record universally praised during the year, and a pathological need to seem like one has not missed anything. Lucky for me, then, that I care not a whit about making a successful Top Ten list. This list is no more than a personal reflection of the year in music, an attempt to quantify what has come to represent the year for me in the best light and what’s stuck around for the long haul. Essentially, I’m doing what all of you in the AMG community do on a daily basis in the comments section, except I get my own post.

If not for you reading and commenting, we’d all be writing for the void; much better, then, to be writing for thousands of sharp, funny, insightful, and interesting people. If not for you reading and commenting, AMG wouldn’t have had our best year yet, which I’m humbled and proud to have played a part in. A sincere thank you is in order, so thanks for all you’ve done. I speak for everyone here when I say that we truly, greatly appreciate it.

Another thank you goes to our editors, who have done innumerable hours of thankless work in order to make each review a pleasure to read and occasionally lambaste us in the footnotes. Finally, thank you to all of my colleagues here, both new and old; it’s been a pleasure to work with you throughout the year. Without procrastinating further, here are the ten-ish records that I’ve taken the most away from in 2017.

(Ish) Kreator // Gods of ViolenceThe seminal Teutonic thrashers have changed in a massive way since Pleasure to Kill, but are still making quality music. Mille Petrozza has a great ear for melody, and applies this to what sounds more like speed metal than old violent thrash and creates simple yet captivating music that often crosses into anthemic territory. Clearly not resting on their laurels, Gods of Violence shows a Kreator fully invested in their current direction and succeeding mightily at it; a “play loud and often” staple.

#10. Evocation // The Shadow Archetype – I cannot make the case that The Shadow Archetype is a great record. Evocation have crafted a record here which is exciting on a more personal level, as I had a great time exploring its well-crafted nooks and crannies, enjoying it not in spite but because of its flaws, and appreciating it for what it is: a quality, standby melodic death metal record. It doesn’t have the aura of a legendary record that everyone needs to hear or a genre-defining moment, but I couldn’t care less. The Shadow Archetype has a certain charm about it, one which drove me to listen again and again, and it’s a good record that I thoroughly enjoy.

#9. Blaze of Perdition // Conscious Darkness – No record this year so accurately captures the privation that animates ideologies such as atheism and Satanism than Conscious Darkness. Blaze of Perdition’s latest distills into music the exhausting nature of trying to find meaning in the absolute ideal of demolishing any absolute ideals, in trying to find the truth by holding to the assertion that there is no truth but truth’s non-existence. Albert Camus asserted that we must imagine Sisyphus happy; Blaze of Perdition show us the something in nothing with their music, and have made a daunting and enduring record due to that.

#8. Morbid Angel // Kingdoms Disdained – This has been incorrectly touted as a return to form for the embattled death metal institution after the disastrous-to-mediocre (“Blades for Baal” excepted) Illud Divinum Insanus. Morbid Angel has rarely sounded so willingly constrained, and their wish to make “a death metal album” (according to Steve Tucker) came true. Like any Morbid Angel record, Kingdoms Disdained can and will only happen once; Trey Azagthoth’s inimitable composition style is applied to death metal that doesn’t step outside the box but instead creates chaos within it. The band’s experimental side isn’t absent, just less obvious; instead of blatant, salient weirdness, Azagthoth crafts riffs that wind and slither – often at lightning speed – in a way totally unique to him. Nobody but Morbid Angel could have written these songs, and for all their faults each one is distinct and at least better than good.

#7. Demon Hunter // Outlive – Worship music comes in many forms. The Blessed Resistance, Demon Hunter’s core fanbase, finds solace and strength in the worship music here, which is modern and melodic American metal. We know what is worshiped here, but what is to be resisted? Hopelessness, atheism, nihilism, and the enervation of the soul, by the sounds of Outlive. This is not the soft and joyful worship of lesser modern apologetics or the bland yet saccharine modern pop praise. Rather, this is the worship of Pope Pius XI’s indispensable Divini Redemptoris: clear-eyed and sober strength through faith, and the will to keep that faith through all adversity. This spirit, captured in music on Outlive, deserves high praise.

#6. Alestorm // No Grave but the Sea – While I stand by my rating unreservedly, No Grave but the Sea has seen a noticeable decline in rotation since around the end of August. This does not detract from the absurdly high quality of this collection of folk songs played by a fun-loving power metal band, but rather makes Alestorm’s follow-up to their magnum opus a highly-ranked great record amongst great records that, for one reason or another, have slightly higher staying power. Still highly recommended, still excellent, just not as representative of the year in music as I had anticipated it would be.

#5. Decaying Days // The Fire of a Thousand Suns – The bittersweet in music has an undeniable draw. By merging the general influences of Insomnium and Dark Tranquility with specific influences of Paradise Lost’s Tragic Idol and The Haunted’s The Dead Eye, Decaying Days tap into a melancholy that is not despairing but is beginning to wither in the face of perseverance. The German melodic death-doom act’s incredible debut spends all of its emotional time and effort in that moment where the man downed begins to rise again, with wounds still fresh but eyes and spirit alight. This is a place we’re all familiar with, and one that spurs on change for the better. Decaying Days rekindles the flames which made one stand up and dust themselves off, and while dreariness is the order of the day it never once enervates the spirit. This is a nostalgia trip, but not in the genre sense; instead, it’s a trip down one’s personal memory lane to the place where they decided to improve their life.

#4. Sicarius // Serenade of Slitting Throats – With myriad black metal bands bringing in different musical elements from every conceivable corner of music and pushing boundaries they don’t seem to understand, it’s refreshing and crucial to have a record like Serenade of Slitting Throats be conceived of and released. Sicarius knows that they’re a modern band, and as such don’t try to emulate the old Norwegians slavishly in a facsimile of a classic sound. Instead, Sicarius focuses on the strange allure of aural violence, using every modern tool at their disposal to produce black metal as they understand it. Making music to represent, as the band says, evils from war to pornography, Serenade is an ode to Hobbes’s state of nature detailed in Leviathan. This is the recesses of the soul brought forth into the blinding light, an exercise in catharsis instead of repression. This is unsettling because it’s relatable, and this truly excellent exploration of a human-all-too-human fact is the most valuable contribution to black metal this year.

#3. Dawn of Disease // Ascension Gate – This was a huge step up from Worship the Grave by every conceivable measure. Dawn of Disease have constructed something so subtly brilliant, so easily missed, that at first blush Ascension Gate sounds like garden-variety melo-death. What Dawn of Disease has done here is understand each of their ideas to their fullest potential, invite the listener to imagine this potential, and then actualize it before their ears. Drum patterns, harmonies, guitar leads, vocal phrasing, transitions; each of these are exactly what they should be, each is given a varying degree of time to develop into its peak form, and each time Dawn of Disease absolutely nails it. This is a record that not only invites endless replays but makes them downright exciting.

#2. Ex Deo // The Immortal Wars – The Roman ethos was one of practicality, and what influence they took from the more cerebral Greeks was virtually always applied to an exact worldly purpose. Aristotle’s work on rhetoric was about an art generally and for its own sake (directly contrary to the Sophists), while Cicero’s ruminations on the same were about making convincing political arguments. Ex Deo captures this practicality in music, which expertly stirs those Roman sentiments in the listener: action, perseverance, a drive to victory. Strength is emphasized, with Marcus Aurelius’ logos informing the rigid and martial song structures instead of any type of experimentation or deviation. The orchestral accompaniment is the Faustian addition, meaning that The Immortal Wars expresses the Classical spirit in our terms; this is not a history lesson or an accurate representation but an enthralling legend, a story told through music, and Ex Deo are the year’s best storytellers by a mile.

#1. Slaughterer // The Conjurer of Realities – This was the year that death-thrash was made excellent again. There’s no quantifiable measure of the feeling of a classic record, but The Conjurer of Realities has “it” in spades. A timeless record that just so happened to come out in 2017, nothing dates or dampens Slaughterer’s sophomore extravaganza. A record of new classics instead of rehashes, it’s hard to care which particular riffs sound most similar to this or that Merciless, Massacra, or Morbid Saint classics; Slaughterer owns these songs, and their legendary forebears serve as mere reference points in sound. The new classic takes clear influence, as everything does, but hits different notes than the old guard and even surpasses them in places. I’m nowhere near arrogant enough to think that I alone can lift Slaughterer to their rightful place in the death-thrash pantheon. It is my hope, however, that I can help give them a leg up in their climb to the place they completely and unreservedly deserve to be.

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):

  • Immolation // Atonement – A stronger offering than both Majesty and Decay and Kingdom of Conspiracy, Atonement sees Immolation in typically fine form, crafting their tightly controlled chaos as expected.
  • Incantation // Profane Nexus – Not their strongest offering of their latest records (that title goes to Vanquish in Vengeance), but still better than legions of imitators; Incantation still taps into the essence of their sound.
  • Crazy Lixx // Ruff Justice – Big, loud, slick, and dumb 80s-style hard rock anthems aplenty. It’s hard not to crack a smile during a spin of Crazy Lixx’s latest.
  • Hellripper // Coagulating Darkness – If described in a word: fun. Hellripper play the speed metal of old, with the rough edges of classic Venom and Celtic Frost mixed with a clear appreciation for Metallica’s Kill ’em All.
  • SepticFlesh // Codex Omega – The classical elements are entertaining and well-implemented. What holds this back is SepticFlesh’s need to constrain them to regular length songs. Codex Omega can too often sound like a near-constant crescendo, but it’s a lively one. Very good, but a hare’s hair short of great.
  • God Dethroned // The World Ablaze – A fitting and worthwhile end to a rock-solid trilogy of WWI-themed melodic death metal. This excites me as a history buff and a fan of the genre.
  • Kraanium/Analepsy // The Kraanialepsy Split – A short dose of great slam from two of the genre’s better bands. Just enough to satisfy and encourage replays, but not too much as to drag on.

Disappointments o’ the Year (in no particular order):

  • Not Spending Enough Time in the Comments Section – 2017 has been productive and excellent, but at the cost of most of my spare time. I’ve been lurking more than participating, but don’t think anything you all (writers and audience alike) have posted has gone unappreciated in the slightest.
  • Not Getting Around to that Phrenelith Record Yet – This is something at the front of my “to hear” list. I’ve secured a copy thanks to Kronos, other staffers, and you commenters singing its praises, and can’t wait to sit down with it fully and explore the music.

Song o’ the Year

  • Ex Deo “The Roman”

Show 6 footnotes

  1. If you have to ask which side this is you’re probably also there.
  2. El Cuervo‘s views do not represent those of AMG and at no point has he been authorized or encouraged to speak on behalf of the site, the management or its staff. – Steel “Voice o’ the Blog” Druhm
  3. Id.
  4. The sort of passion which can only be induced by beer.
  5. I may not have been quite so articulate at the time.
  6. I should warn you that this is not the first reference to orgasms in this post.
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