Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages: Jørn proudly brings to you the hall door swingin’, poser metal slingin’, the not brvtal enough, not even once, the Great Old Weenie, Eldritch Elitist, the Basic Bitch, Dr. Wvrm, the Shame of Angry Metal Guy. That’s right, reading the market like the Ray Dalio-wannabes that they are, The Powers That Be saw fit to give the people what they want and carved out a special place for the worst tastes on the site1, lest we infect everyone else’s trveness.
It’s been a year, and what a year it’s been. The world tried its damnedest to consume itself, I got hitched2, and everyone can now somehow look forward to a Galactus-villained Marvel Team-Up Movie(tm) ten years from now. Like Marvel’s cinematic Trapper Keeper, the metal scene keeps growing out of control. Despite stuffing my fat face full of metal pie for the last decade, new acts keep crawling out from the woodwork to nuke my socks into a pile of fuzz and smithereens. Of the thirteen bands under my name, only two blipped my radar before this year. Never let anyone tell you Imposter Syndrome is in your head.
With the running of these lists and site-sponsored seppuku looming shortly after, indulge me for a moment. Any one of us could churn out 700 words about whatever bounty has tickled their pickle that week. Not one of us could do this without the people around them, inexplicably buying the piece we’re selling. So thank you: to Madam X, Steel Druhm, and Dr. A.N. Grier for sifting through my drivel every week; to the Slack folks, particularly El Cuervo, Sentynel, and my bro Eldritch, for humoring my pathetic rants; but especially to you readers, for stopping by every day, for polluting our comment section with unicorn photoshops and bold(ed) takes and stupid ass puns that never fail to make me laugh, and for inspiring the same effort in each 2.0/5.0 as each 4.5/5.0. I look forward to another year of gratuitous namedrops and chronic overrating with you.
(ish) Hellripper // Coagulating Darkness – I’ve yet to meet a soul who won’t air-riff to this blackened take on Metallica. James McBain’s solo project is one to to watch, as Coagulating Darkness relegates the rest of the blackened thrash n’ roll genre to the kiddie table. A touch of originality could only help, as the Kill ‘Em All worship tends too close to imitation at times, but these riffs will stop your heart if taken in incorrect doses. With some time and seasoning, Hellripper could easily top one of these lists someday.
#10. Lör // In Forgotten Sleep – For the weenie, what’s not to like? The Blind Guardian power juice? The progressive Wilderun compositions or the fantastic moments of elemental wonder? The classical doses of Symphony X or the acoustic Santana passages? In Forgotten Sleep is unabashed in its ambition and a band this green should feel ashamed of making the rest of the field look so bad. There’s length issues, but I’ll be damned if this masterpiece isn’t one of the purest shots of power metal adrenaline of the year.
#9. Power Trip // Nightmare Logic – Nightmare Logic will forever live as the album Grier got wrong. I knew this bad boy was cemented in my Top Ten one drunken summer night when Alex-Fi and I shit all over our dear professor for his deficient taste. I don’t regret it. As Havok is to Megadeth, so too is Power Trip to Metallica. Thick, beefy, and oh so catchy, Nightmare Logic boils swaggering panache and a touch of evil into thrash romps incapable of doing anything but stomping faces into the mud. Don’t be surprised to see them hang around the forefront of thrash for years to come.
#8. Phrenelith // Desolate Endscape – I could say Phrenelith produced the best pure death metal of the year. I could list a bevy of releases that they easily bested this year. I could throw a hundred words at you extolling Desolate Endscape‘s inimitable qualities, its predilection for annihilation, brutalization, decimation and demolition and desecration. None would offer a fair glimpse into the aural nightmare within its bounds. So bluntly, take a peek at the album cover. If this merciless, choking wasteland looks like a place you might own a summer home, you should buy what Phrenelith are selling.
#7. Replacire // Do Not Deviate – Evan Berry strikes again. Seemingly everything Boston’s patron saint of metal touches makes the AMG staff weak at the knees, and Replacire is no different. Infectious rhythms, spine-tingling technicality, crushing vocals: check, check check. But Do Not Deviate doesn’t relentlessly flatten so much as using their strengths in progressive composition and melodic riffcraft to create a balanced experience that sets it apart from the field. As far as I’m concerned, the happy medium between charisma and brutality makes Do Not Deviate the most replayable death album in a year chock full of them.
#6. Serenity in Murder // The Eclipse – The Eclipse should be labeled “FFO: sublime symphonic melodeath, going deaf,” because I’ll be damned if this isn’t one of the worst masters of the decade. And yet, the music itself more than makes up for the rivulets of blood trickling from your ear canal. Its curious and intoxicating blend of orchestral Japanese folk, surging power metal, and undeniably catchy melodeath captivates with little time wasted. From the majestic drum swell of “A Torch for Avengers,” to the dazzling piano backbone of “Dancing Flames,” to the wind-swept peaks of “Land of the Rising Sun,” Serenity in Murder pen an stunner that both transcends the bounds of its awful production and leaves you wondering how high they might have flown with a lighter touch.
#5. Caligula’s Horse // In Contact – Finding progressive acts willing to bypass technical wizardry and reach for the heart isn’t hard nowadays. But while acts like Steven Wilson and Leprous recently stumbled, Caligula’s Horse suffered no such fate. In Contact borrow aspects from genre luminaries like Haken, Soen, and Leprous, but always remains its own beautiful beast. Deeply affecting lyrics pair off perfectly with songs as catchy as they are well-rounded. “Songs for No One” stands out as the album’s singularly excellent masterclass, but dismissing the irresistible “The Hands Are the Hardest” or the poignant “Fill My Heart” or the momentous climax of “Graves” as any less compelling is a mistake. There are few acts that could blend so many disparate components into a performance this balanced and effective, and this year, Caligula’s Horse topped them all.
#4. The Night Flight Orchestra // Amber Galactic – With such diverging taste among the staff, it’s fun to see which albums bridge the most gaps. The Night Flight Orchestra might just be the winner of staff grab bag, because Amber Galactic transcends all genre affiliations. This sure as shit ain’t metal, but just try slagging off its incredible mixture of 80’s pop-rock flair. Do you want a classic jam? “Gemini” is the total package, a Song o’ the Year shoo-in. Are sing-along choruses your thing? Everybody is playing “Jennie.” Hankering for something different? How about the piano rock of “Josephine” or the Toto-themed “Domino” or Meat Loafy “Saturn in Velvet”? And the crazy thing is that nearly every track, no matter how audacious, works. It’s the rare album that can get my whole carload of 20-something hip-hop heads, prog snobs, and pop lovers to jam out equally, but Amber Galactic‘s cross-species appeal is quite unlike anything I’ve ever heard.
#3. Elder // Reflections of a Floating World – Somehow, Elder‘s style of filling every breath of air with layer upon layer of guitar hasn’t won every critic. I can understand why in theory – an album made up of 99% riff and 1% space between songs is not necessarily for everyone – but not in practice. Reflections accomplishes everything it sets its mind to. Its meticulous construction manages near-constant engagement that never grows stale, thanks to its disregard for a conventional playbook. It flows unlike any record in recent memory, a life-sized tapestry unfurled in every direction that suits Elder‘s fancy. The riff-worship is so full of vitality that it proclaims the band’s aimlessness as adventurousness and casts its overabundance as generosity, not gluttony. Reflections of a Floating World is the embodiment of the unbridled joy that the guitar can bring to a soul. Want to know what the scary thing is? These guys haven’t even peaked yet.
#2. The Black Dahlia Murder // Nightbringers – My half of the Nightbringers double review was an unabashed love letter to one of my favorite bands. Of that I have no regrets. But as I’ve compiled this list, sifting through 80-minute heart-wrender after oh-so-serious face-melter, I realized that Nightbringers has something no other top-flight record this year has: the ability to turn one spin into three. Two months later, Nightbringers is no closer to having that “repeat” button unchecked than it was on Day 1. I’ve never listened to a The Black Dahlia Murder record as obsessively as this, not even Nocturnal. Is this The Black Dahlia Murder‘s best release? I find I can make more of a case for that every day. It’s certainly their most charismatic. Only time will tell where the record actually slots in, but today, right now, it’s nearly impossible to top what The Black Dahlia Murder offer here.
#1. Æther Realm // Tarot – On the heels on my TYMHM, what’s left to say? That Tarot is a bonafide 5.0, a genre-defining opus that will be spoken of fondly for years to come? That Æther Realm lives up to all of the dreams that we had for Wintersun a decade ago? That with such ease, the North Carolinians could become the next kings of melodeath? This album is what it’s all about. Tarot is more than just metal; it is all that metal can be. The quickened pulse of a harried flight through the forest. The shitfaced euphoria, grinning toothless with a mug of ale spilled down its front. The chest-beating bravado and gnawing despair. The unexpected depth of a quiet moment with an old friend. The young man’s disgust at the prospect of life unspent. The old man’s ache, racked to his limit by the regret of a life misspent. Æther Realm treat every note, every breath as an opportunity to convey a wealth of meaning. After nearly a year, I can definitively call Tarot my favorite album. In another few years, I truly hope to call Æther Realm melodeath’s best band. All remaining is the journey. I hope they can make it mean something.
- Lich King // The Omniclasm – The most fun you will have complaining about your kids and colleagues all year.
- Blazon Stone // Down in the Dark – The most fun you will have sailing the seven seas all year.
Disappointment o’ the Year
Ensiferum // Two Paths – While most big name releases I eyeballed on January 1 delivered the goods, this one did not deliver the goods. Tepid, uneven, and at times downright awkward, Two Paths replicated barely a quarter of the romping charm and juicy leads that made predecessor One Man Army so appealing. With two rocky releases in three tries, this is not the final nail in Ensiferum‘s coffin, but if the Finns can’t right the ship soon, this might be the first.
Song(s) o’ the Year
The Night Flight Orchestra “Gemini” – Incredibly catchy, centered around the Riff o’ the Year, with an orgasmic solo that is pure bliss.
Æther Realm “King of Cups” – Incredibly catchy, centered around the Riff o’ the Year, with an orgasmic guest spot by Chris Bowes that is pure bliss.
I’m pretty happy that I graduated to a big boy list this year, yet despite my eternal love for “best-of” lists as a means of both discovery and personal expression, I’m not wild about year-end lists. I still read them out of fear of missing out on bonafide gems, of course, but the concept seems silly in the grand scope of a person’s musical history; compiling albums relative to a specific number of days means that at least some of those albums won’t stand the test of time, all but forgotten by the time our planet concludes its next trip or two around the sun. This admittedly cynical outlook softened, though, as I compiled the eleven albums below.
I may not listen to all of these albums forever. But for the time being, at least, every single one of them is special. These are not just great records; they’re reminders of my excitement at long-awaited album announcements; of moments when a particular album or track first hit home, yanking me out of reality in a state of slack-jawed amazement; of brilliant reviews my colleagues wrote and the subsequent inside jokes that were born; of quips in comment sections made by a fucking talking concrete box. Thinking back on the past year, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that being entrenched in the Angry Metal Guy community has enriched my experiences and interactions with metal music in a way that I’ve never felt in years past, and I can’t wait to see what the coming year brings. I hope that all of you reading this feel the same, because HR isn’t getting rid of me that easily.
Now, strap in for a shitshow of questionable taste.
(ish) Serenity in Murder // The Eclipse — I Can’t Believe It’s Not Finnish! The Eclipse is basically everything I could ask for in a Finnish melodeath album plus a little, except it happens to come from Japan. A great record from toe to tip, Serenity in Murder’s third album loves throwing weird little curveballs like splashes of hardcore and traditional Japanese music into its meat ‘n’ taters compositions to keep things interesting. It’s begging for breathing room in the production department, but its condensed length and varied songs make this beast a difficult album to put down once it hooks you.
#10. Ghost Bath // Starmourner — Ghost Bath? In my top 10 list? It’s more likely than you’d think. I don’t even particularly like Ghost Bath, but I dig the hell out of Starmourner. It’s a shame that GB is pigeonholed as a blackgaze act, because Starmourner’s one-of-a-kind mashup – consisting of power metal, post-rock, summery alt-rock, and, of course, black metal – has a dormant audience out there that will likely never discover it. It’s a bit of a clusterfuck, with areas that easily could have been trimmed back during the writing process, but its sweeping, nostalgic melodies and bombastic, blastbeating peaks make for some of the most memorable and unique tracks I’ve heard this year. I can’t blame anyone for hating it (especially with those vocals), but for those who like it, there’s a lot to love. TL;DR: Fuck you, I like it.
#9. Cellador // Off the Grid — Cellador!! God, it feels good to say that again. A decade’s absence and a totally revamped lineup isn’t even a patch on Off the Grid, a careful selection of tracks that brings out the very best that melodic, speed-oriented power metal has to offer. It’s also the genre’s riffiest riff fest this side of the Atlantic, owing almost as much to thrash as it does to power metal as it tears through ten tracks faster than you can say “DragonForce who?” If you like power metal in any capacity, you have no excuse not to listen to this.
#8. Voyager // Ghost Mile — Ghost Mile is like the prog metal equivalent of your chill-ass, new age-loving uncle who’s known to dabble in djent on the weekends. Okay, so maybe no one has an uncle like that, but Voyager has you covered. Voyager’s sixth LP may be a far cry from their fan favorite material, but its mellowed out, pop-oriented approach to complex metal is utterly engrossing all the same, and I’m always eager to throw it on whether I’m craving something atmospheric and relaxing or rhythmically engaging and instrumentally nuanced. It’s rare to hear an album with an aesthetic as unique and fully realized as this one, and for that reason alone it’s a must-listen, although there are certainly more reasons to invest time in it.
#7. Shadow of Intent // Reclaimer — A deathcore album themed around the Halo series sounds like something fifteen-year-old Eldritch would have conceived following a five-hour horde mode session fueled by Winds of Plague and Monster energy drinks. In practice, Reclaimer sounds like something I would have dreamed up yesterday. Shadow of Intent’s hyper-addictive concoction of breakneck bombast plays something like Winds of Plague’s neanderthalish masculinity spliced with Fleshgod Apocalypse’s sweeping orchestrations and The Black Dahlia Murder‘s whiplashing instrumental arrangements. The result is so excellently executed that it probably would have nabbed a higher slot if I hadn’t discovered it just this month, and I’ll be listening to it long into 2018.
#6. Unleash the Archers // Apex — What a weird bunch of canuck cheeselords these folks were in their early days. And yet here they are, holding a very respectable spot on my 2017 list. I don’t think any album this year hooked me as hard and fast as the opening riffs and refrain of “Awakening,” and Apex hardly lets up from there as a prime example of brawny, ballsy power metal that never sacrifices riffcraft to reach melodic, grandiose heights, bolstered by melodeath aggression and incredible vocal work. This is good enough to almost make me forget that 3 Inches of Blood is fucking dead. Not that it matters, because Apex surpasses damn near everything they ever did.
#5. Der Weg einer Freiheit // Finisterre — Stumbling upon Der Weg einer Freiheit made for my favorite musical discovery of the year, and their fourth record Finisterre was an excellent way to cement my newfound fandom. Not just because it’s another great addition to a brilliant catalog, mind you, but also because it’s a prime example of a band learning how to craft a totally new experience inside their established framework that, by all rights, had no reason to be tinkered with. Yet Finisterre’s brilliant handling of modern and classic black metal tropes, coupled with its tendency to repress heartwrenching emotion until it rapidly surfaces in explosive crescendos, is unforgettable even if it doesn’t hit home quite as hard as the epic melancholy of Stellar. If you’re not already worshipping DWeF as one of modern black metal’s choicest establishments, the time to act is now.
#4. Boris // Dear — The Eldritch musical diet allows for one or so doom metal records to fall into regular rotation each year. Dear is that record, and it fell into that rotation hard. Originally conceived as Boris’ farewell album (it’s not hard to imagine the title as the introduction of a permanent farewell message), Dear feels like a love letter to their entire fanbase, exploring nearly every style they’ve ever touched from a doom-centric perspective while unearthing experimental realms that feel entirely new. As doomy as it is shoegazey, unsettling as it is cathartic, reserved as it is grandiose, Dear is a sixty-nine3 minute exercise of incredible duality that every fan of experimental metal should hear at least once.
#3. Wormwood // Ghostlands: Wounds from a Bleeding Earth — Ghostlands is an album I put on the backburner for much of 2017 after having it in heavy rotation upon its release. It marinated in the back of my mind all year, and when I returned to it this month to see if it would make a spot on my list, it blew me the fuck away. Wormwood tries so much with this album, examining traditional, melodic, and pagan varieties of black metal spliced with folk elements and hard rock grooves, and nails everything they attempt with microscopic accuracy and the force of an orbital cannon. Totally cohesive and utterly gripping, this is the best black metal I’ve heard all year, and it has great production to boot. Special mention goes to guest vocalist Alexandra Moqvist, who delivers my favorite clean singing performances of the year. Her contributions are nothing short of breathtaking.
#2. Æther Realm // Tarot — Did you know that you can get your fix of new Wintersun this year without being fucking scammed and without walking away reeking of chlorine and shame? It’s true! And it is all thanks to Æther Realm, joining Serenity in Murder in the “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Finnish!” camp. From the impeccable, slow-building atmosphere of “The Fool” to the expertly crafted twenty-minute epic “The Sun, the Moon, the Stars,” every track on Tarot is bursting with surprises. It overflows with vibrant melody, breakneck adrenaline, and impressive variety, while also packing in moments of contemplative melancholy and searing emotion that… shut up, I’m not crying, you’re crying! I honestly can’t say enough good things about this record. In any other year this would be my AotY, no question.
#1. Lör // In Forgotten Sleep — Wilderun; Blind Guardian; Sonata Arctica; these are a few of my favorite things. You might think that chucking these influences into a blender on the “puree” setting would spawn a distasteful hodgepodge; in Lör‘s case, it resulted in what I now consider to be this decade’s holy grail of progressive metal records. I’m convinced that there are songwriting and instrumental depths to this album that I’ll still be uncovering five years from now; the ways that certain melodies allude to past and future movements, and the buried nuances of the bass and guitar performances, is nothing short of sublime. On a macro level, even the shortest tracks are so remarkably expansive in scope as to feel like exhaustive, epic journeys, and Lör’s thrashing rhythmic nature makes each one a helluva ride. Put together, In Forgotten Sleep feels more special that any record I’ve heard in years; everything it does comes across feeling intrinsically “right.” It feels like it was made for me. If my review and AMG’s Record o’ the Month award hadn’t clued you in yet, this is nothing short of a masterpiece.
- Replacire // Do Not Deviate — If you attend a Wilderun or Replacire show anytime soon, make sure to bring some useless junk to rub all over Evan Berry, because everything the dude touches apparently turns to gold. Excellent progressive and theatrical death metal that very nearly nabbed my (ish) slot.
- Galneryus // Ultimate Sacrifice — I’m only mildly disappointed in this because it comes from a band that’s made some of my favorite power metal albums ever. Still solid, but it feels a bit like a diluted variant of their last record.
- Sun of the Sleepless // To the Elements — Melodic, atmospheric and emotionally driven black metal, perfect listening as we enter the winter months.
- The Great Old Ones // EOD: A Tale of Dark Legacy — The best album yet from one of the best Lovecraft-themed bands on the planet.
- Havukruunu // Kelle surut soi — Immortal riffs in a Bathory framework? Sign. Me. Up.
- Dodecahedron // Kwintessens — This is one I intend to return to often in 2018. Easily one of this year’s most complex and ambitious works of metal music.
- Secret Sphere // The Nature of Time — Top shelf power metal held back by a few too many ballads.
- Mahakala // The Second Fall — An ambitious, genre-splicing doom/power metal abum that’s a must-hear, even if it stumbles a bit on its last couple of tracks.
Song o’ the Year
Æther Realm “The Sun, the Moon, the Star” — There are people in this world who will tell you that this track is too long. Those people are fucking crazy – you don’t mess with perfection. For all intents and purposes, this is basically my favorite Wintersun track ever, a monolithic collection of authentically icy riffs and folky, melodic leads that build toward one of the most emotionally satisfying climaxes to any song I’ve heard in ages, plus a smart conclusion that reprises the album’s opening notes. There was really no contest; this is the single best composition I’ve heard this year.