Abhorrent cliché though it may be to begin an end-of-year list with talk of annual quality, it can’t be denied that 2017 has provided a deluge of strong, if not exemplary, metal. Conversely, 2017 has also been a turbulent year for me personally, but in a serendipitous dalliance with destiny, the contrast has given rise to a most memorable metal experience. Having weighed my soul against Anubis’ feather, I appear to have been found worthy of compiling a list of said albums that have so sculpted my year in music. At some point, the notion of making this collection as diverse as possible crossed my mind, solely in an attempt to represent just how rich the general output has been. However, when down to the most brass of tacks, and after a cosmos of consternation, the ensuing catalog quite simply represents the records that have truly gone the distance in berating my ears and narrating this transitional 12 months.
To the editors, co-contributors and, most importantly, the readers, thank you for further sculpting the features of the many-headed entity that is Angry Metal Guy – it’s nothing short of a privilege to continue to count myself amongst our exceptional community, and I trust the new year will engender even more beautiful brutality. Without further ado, lest my preamble turn to ramble, feast your eyes on what passes for taste…
(ish) Fit for an Autopsy // The Great Collapse – Having spent years skimming stones across the often tepid waters of deathcore, and ever to little avail, 2017 finally saw fit to furnish me with a prime example of the genre’s potential. While The Great Collapse‘s grandeur is clearly the result of a Gojira-gasm monstrous enough to topple Tokyo, the fantastic songwriting and impassioned delivery made this album absolutely undeniable, whatever the influence. A substance over style to be reckoned with.
#10. The King is Blind // We Are the Parasite, We Are the Cancer – I’m always on the lookout for great British bands to wax lyrical about. The King is Blind have graciously indulged me by releasing an album full of grind-infused death metal that slavishly betters its predecessor with a horde of great riffs and a palpable rejection of the world’s vacuous veneer. The blunt rhythms, punk attitude and vocal venom combine to make one of the year’s most genuinely aggressive records, all wrapped up in a gestalt concept. Repeat plays revealed this to be necessary listening, while the theme of societal decay somehow seems more vital than ever.
#9. Benighted // Necrobreed – Easily one of the most vicious albums to release this year and possibly Benighted‘s best, Necrobreed has spent so much time molesting my frontal lobe, I’m surprised it never bought me dinner. The vocal acrobatics of frontman, Julien Truchan, combine with the band’s new blood for a septic brew of sadistic deathgrind that has absolutely no business being as memorable as it is. Bookends, “Reptillian” and “Mass Grave,” are already enough to recommend this album, let alone the feral monstrosity that comprises its body. It’s impossible not to indulge this record if you have even a passing interest in extreme metal.
#8. Temple of Void // Lords of Death – Despite the limits of the genre, Temple of Void managed to release an album not only startlingly heavy, but always musical in its capacity to push its own boundaries. The riffing on Lords of Death is vast, and tracks like “Wretched Banquet” and “A Watery Interment” have persisted by my side like the death-doom juggernauts they are. Mike Erdody’s vocals impress with their subterranean depth and surprising variety, which only serves to embolden a guitar tone thick enough to choke on – and that’s exactly what Temple of Void want: to resolutely doom you to death.
#7. Integrity // Howling, for the Nightmare Shall Consume – I will freely admit to having underrated this album. Integrity‘s metallic hardcore has always hit hard and straight between the eyes, but Howling… took the paradigm that vocalist, Dwid Hellion, himself helped create, and re-faced it with a toolkit comprised of myriad genre influences. Black metal signatures, doom motifs and even a touch of classic rock infiltrate the senses in what is easily one of the year’s most well-conceived albums, with each song gasping with exhaustive creativity and Domenic Romeo’s excellent leads. This album has revealed so much more of its character over the months, that to consider it anything less than great, is lunacy.
#6. Archspire // Relentless Mutation – Perhaps some of the most kinetic and rhythmic death metal I have ever heard, Relentless Mutation utterly caught me off guard, not simply due to its immense heaviness, but because of an unbridled mania, that despite all odds, is horrifically addictive. This is percussive not just by nature, but by bludgeoning intent, and though technical and achingly brutal, Archspire never ply proficiency for the sake of it, but more for the sheer hell of it. A beautiful abomination, this band’s idiosyncrasies have proved unshakeable, so if you are even remotely interested in the progression of the genre, be sure not to miss out.
#5. Unleash the Archers // Apex – Power metal and I have a tenuous relationship at best, but abject quality can’t be denied, and Apex, with its heady fusion of classic metal technique and power metal bombast, has invaded my headphones on an almost weekly basis since its release. Duel harmonies, impenetrable song-craft and Brittney Slayes’ huge vocals impact with a wave of deceptively heavy songs (“Cleanse the Bloodlines” anyone?) that immediately burrow into the subconscious with zero intention of ever letting go. This is absolutely the band’s finest work with a gravity-defying leap in quality infinitely capable of bridging the gap in tastes.
#4. Sorcerer // The Crowning of the Fire King – The mere mention of Candlemass or Solitude Aeturnus elicits an almost Pavlovian response from me, so I can’t say I was particularly surprised to discover how awesome this record is. Traditional doom riffs resound with exemplary soloing – each aspect designed to compliment Anders Engberg’s pristine voice, making the Rainbow inspired melodies on “Sirens” and “Abandoned by the Gods” simply irresistible. This is doom on an epic scale and instantly memorable. Some records just exude class, and The Crowning of the Fire King demands nothing less than immediate replay – a request I’m all too happy to indulge.
#3. Venenum // Trance of Death – Progressing the blueprint of old-school death metal in a way I haven’t truly seen since Nocturnus, Venenum appeared, entirely unheralded, to promulgate their Trance of Death – an album that boasts plenty of inter-genre fluidity amidst its compositional prowess. Emotive, heavy and often distinctly unsettling, this is surely required listening for anyone with an ear for the indefinable. One of the most refreshing and unexpected extreme entities to drop in recent memory, and one I surely haven’t been alone in insistently revisiting. A band to closely observe.
#2. Desolate Shrine // Deliverance From the Godless Void – While some albums crush with the weight of their dense content, Desolate Shrine devastates with mere presence alone. Although one of the latest albums to release on this list, the band have constantly succeeded in captivating me with an alternatively furious and atmospheric seduction of black and death metal. One of the heaviest albums of the year, yet boasting doom riffs that dared to commit themselves to memory, Deliverance... persistently pulled me under, cementing another great year for Dark Descent Records and assuring me with every listen, that no light can reach these depths.
#1. Immolation // Atonement – Without wanting to labor the pun, I’m not exactly sure what Immolation think they are atoning for, but whatever their misplaced guilt, it gave me a record I fell in love with instantly. Without a doubt, there have been more creative and boundary-defying releases this year – some of which are on this list – but no other album has striven to not only exemplify its creator’s legacy, but to do so with such nuance and drive. You should all know what Immolation sound like by now, and uniquely, that familiar quality is the record’s greatest success – at no point does Atonement try to be anything other than consummate Immolation, yet somehow manages to never tread water, wielding those signature compelling riffs, off-kilter leads and an interesting investment in oriental melodies. The New York staple sound remains intact, but Rob Vigna’s immediately recognizable riff structures sound revitalized; primed and ready to instruct yet another generation as to what death metal should sound like in 2017.
- Hallatar // No Stars Upon the Bridge – Born of a broken heart and destined to crush an ocean more. Eternally compelling doom for departed dreamers.
- Persefone // Aathma – Hyper-progressive, emotive Cynic-core.
- Lantern // II: Morphosis – Unique, blackened death-thrash greatness.
- Amenra // Mass VI – Soul swallowing post-metal, relentless and absolute.
- Dying Fetus // Wrong One to Fuck With – I fucked with it, and I’d do it again.
- Zornheym // Where Hatred Dwells and Darkness Reigns – Top tier symphonic black/death with a killer horror theme…
- Loss // Horizonless – The protracted peels of perdition.
- Hideous Divinity // Adveniens – Crushing Italian death metal.
- Sicarius Serenade of Slitting Throats // – A sable shot to the Nathrakhs.
- Acephalix // Decreation – Because I’m right, and Diabolus is wrong.
Disappointments of the Year
- Realizing that Max Cavalera has finally released an album actually worthy of praise, only to then promptly realize that he made me wait over 20 fucking years to do so.
- Suffocation // … of the Dark Light – Because it was shit and it shouldn’t have been.
Song o’ the Year
Bell Witch – “Mirror Reaper” – While I may be pushing the boat out on my selection a tad here, Bell Witch released a disparate, challenging, but always beautiful ode to departure in Mirror Reaper, and it’s massive in absolutely every sense.
2017 has come and gone like a wet fart on the wind, leaving only sweaty stank behind. In what other year has the populace had so many things to get angry about? With its bevy of celebrity deaths, 2016 was the year of sadness, but between politics, rape allegations, and Ajit Pai (neck-and-neck with Martin Shkreli for the most punchable face of the decade), 2017 was the year of rage. Thankfully, the amount of fury-boners in my personal life has remained low. I got engaged, went to more concerts than the 6 years before taken together, and my job security got a boost this fall, leaving me with little else to complain about than the weather, good old fallback of every Dutchman in need of a subject to grumble about.
Without sustained rage, it’s not a surprise I’ve gravitated towards bright and fun records on average this year, with progressive metal featuring extensively in the higher regions of the list, and several records making the cut simply on account of being so gosh-darned flat-out entertaining! My only regrets are the inevitable change of heart I’ll have about my current selection, as I hear more records I’ve missed this year and curse myself for not listening to them sooner (written a month later, last year’s list would have had Madder Mortem in the #1 spot, along with Song of the Year for “Underdogs”). As such, think of this only as a snapshot, as I’m sure I could be taught a thing or two with the mandatory “but what about this one” comments (no King Fleshgod Apocalypse!).
Speaking of comments, this is always the best moment for a word of thanks, and I wouldn’t be typing this on my phone on an 8 AM bus without a few people here. AMG, Steel and Madam, thank you for having me aboard this crazy train. You and the other writers form the friendliest, most welcoming lunatic asylum I’ve yet been incarcerated in. I’m still in awe of the eloquence of most of you, and just trying to live up to it has honed my own wordcraft. A special thanks to the tireless Sentynel, whom I had the pleasure to meet in the flesh earlier this year and who continues to vigilantly ward off the demons of the internet. And of course, dear readers, hearty thanks to all of you. Your endless banter and disagreements are what brings life to this website and makes it more than just a collection of words dying down in an echo chamber. Even the silent majority, who only come here to read instead of interact, give us a reason to get out of bed and tap out another 600 words on a record deserving only 6. Now, with the sap out of the way, let’s get this party started!
#10. Alestorm // No Grave but the Sea – Fun is an underrated aspect among the preposterous prancing proselytizers of pretense, and boy, is Alestorm a cargo full of fun! The band has fully embraced their folk metal aesthetics now, and they’re all the better for it. With more hooks than an actual pirate ship and sing-along lyrics on booty and rum, No Grave but the Sea is a guaranteed party with every spin. The band is solid and confident, and there’s not a weak track to be found on this album. From the Wild Rover shanty “Bar und Imbiss,” the ridiculously fun “Mexico” and the riff-crammed “Rage of the Pentahook” to the legendary curse-word laden “Fucked With an Anchor,” these pirates make it hard to sit still instead of running for the cupboard and pouring a rum, a beer, or a pint of mead. Yarr!
#9. Unleash the Archers // Apex – Female fronted power metal usually alludes to Nightwishcore, so when AMG rallies around an entry in this niche and even declares it Record o’ the Month, you know you have something special. Apex sees frontwoman Britney blasting out a ballsy badass persona, backed by a talented outfit that demonstrates power metal doesn’t have to mean flighty keyboards all the time. “Cleanse the Bloodlines” is an absolute banger, and my neck still hurts from the thunderous “Thousand Against One.” The well-executed concept about an immortal empress awakening from sleep and seeking to extend her power is just icing on the cake. Full of fist-pumping hooks and attitude, Unleash the Archers brought girl power back to 2017.
#8. Troldhaugen // Idio+syncrasies – How does one even begin to describe this album? The genre-hopping insanity of a sinister cartoon, the neck-snapping changes in tempo, instruments and vocal approach of a mental institution for musicians, yet as catchy as syphilis and as addictive as sugar-laced cocaine. Sitting still is impossible as Troldhaugen bounces through idiotic tracks about bike-riding robots, mutation facilities, and chicken politicians. Although the tail holds a few duds, “BMX Terminator” came dangerously close to being crowned Song o’ the Year, as few tracks this year make me so ridiculously joyful. If you want something both humorous and utterly unique, Troldhaugen is not an act to be missed.
#7. The Night Flight Orchestra // Amber Galactic – If you hadn’t noticed yet, I like great hooks and catchy tunes in my metal, and few are more addictive than NFO. With a range of homages to 80’s AOR, Amber Galactic transports you right back to a bygone era where melody reigned supreme and berets were still cool. Anchoring the immediate joy of the classic hooks is the brilliant performance by Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid, from soulful crooning to ball-busting highs. Rather than avoiding clichés, NFO leans into them, pumping out infectious hooks left and right, channeling anything from Toto to Boston, yet never losing their own identity. Amber Galactic is retro done right.
#6. Archspire // Relentless Mutation – I tend to stay away from technical death metal, finding it too distant and cold for my liking. I’m a simple guy, and I like a good gut feeling more than an expose on higher mathematics: if I can’t follow, I zone out. So for a tech death platter to wind up on my top 10, something special must have happened. Yes, Archspire has the technical chops and then some, including dazzling fretwork and blistering drums, and a rapid-fire growl that fits like a gauntlet. But what truly sets Relentless Mutation apart is the immense groove, crushing and pulverizing, never losing me in the technical prowess but only drawing me further in. The excellent structure and songwriting consolidates bursts of complexity with momentary breathers, creating that much needed variety many tech death albums lack.
#5. Hallatar // No Stars Upon The Bridge – Not much doom stuck with me this year. Some lacked variation (Sorcerer), some were too extreme for me (Bell Witch and Loss), and others I need to give more time (Spirit Adrift). But Hallatar tore out my heart from the first note. Juhi Raivio’s memorial to Aleah Stanbridge, the singer for Trees of Eternity who passed away from cancer, is soulcrushing, weaving through anger and despair with disarming honesty. The passion in this project can be felt in every note, with Tomi Joutsen’s performance among the best he has ever released, screaming and growling with tears in his throat while Juhi’s Warning-like funeral guitars drag your heart through the mud. Bleak but beautiful, Hallatar leaves you sobbing on the floor, and afterwards you want to call all your loved ones while you still can.
#4. Dvne // Asheran – Stoner metal is usually known for its crushing riffs and straightforward approach to songwriting. Well, Dvne does have riffs in excess, and they will pelt you with them from every direction. But it’s their songwriting that’s anything but straightforward, and it elevates Asheran far above the average stoner platter. With its tremendous flow, Asheran picks you up and drowns you in waves of hooks, emotional vocals, thundering drums and otherworldly reverberation. The progressive structure leads you by the hand through a dense album that nonetheless never feels overly complex or technical. “Descent of the Asheran” is especially stirring, with shimmering echoes over a roaring ocean, but none of the tracks here are weak. Few bands manage to make every moment of an album engaging. Heavy, varied, and entirely satisfying, Asheran is among the best debuts of the year.
#3. Voyager // Ghost Mile-Voyager came along with Ghost Mile earlier in the year, and for a while I thought it was going to top my list altogether. With gorgeous melodies and highly dynamic songwriting, the ebb and flow of Ghost Mile is a wondrous experience, a bright and colorful album full of excellent performances and powerful vocals. Daniel Estrin possesses a warm bronzed voice that complements the music perfectly. The sound is often euphoric, such as the beautiful interlude “To the Riverside” and the upbeat “This Gentle Earth,” but there’s a dark undercurrent to tracks like “Lifeline” and “The Fragile Serene” that underlines the depth of the music. The album treads the line between progressive structure and straight, infectious hooks, and any of these tracks are likely to get stuck in your craw for days. It’s a terrific record, one of the three that have been fighting for the top spot throughout the year.
#2. Lör // In Forgotten Sleep Asheran is among the best debuts of the year, but Lör takes the crown with the gargantuan In Forgotten Sleep. The songwriting on this album is close to perfection: intricate, diverse, flowing wonderfully one moment, then slamming down with powerful riffs and dazzling solos the next. Though the production has some issues (the sound is a bit flat, particularly the drums,) the sheer strength of the writing and performances more than compensate. “Eidolon” and “Song for the Lost” could justifiably be songs of the year, both examples of the band’s ability to bookend the tracks but take off on a wild journey throughout the middle, following progressive threads without losing its central heart. Lör came out of nowhere with guns blazing and released an amazing monolith of progressive power.
#1. Caligula’s Horse // In Contact – it was a close call with Voyager and Lör, but In Contact is such an intricate monument of poetic prog metal I can only give the top spot to Caligula’s Horse. It’s a huge, profound album, a tapestry of diverging stories on love, life and death. No two songs sound the same, yet they feel bound together, pieces of the scenery most directly laid out on the terrific spoken word “Inertia and the Weapon on the Wall.” Never would I have thought I’d be ecstatic about spoken word on an album, yet here we are. Though “Capulet” is a small dip, it pales opposite the gargantuan “Graves,” a 15-minute behemoth that steers through dark alleys to wind up with trumpets blasting in the light. But it’s “Songs for No One” where the band truly achieves perfection. The songwriting is impeccable, weaving through emotions effortlessly, guided by Jim Grey’s fragile (and admittedly divisive) voice. I could praise this album for days, but our own Kronos said it best: “What are we to do in a broken world with a dead god? In Contact answers, with all the authority it can muster: love! create! share! sing!”
- The Thirteenth Sun // Stardust – A coarse blend of Pink Floydian space rock with Arcturus‘ cosmic progressive metal, this Romanian outfit blazed onto the scene with slowly building epics full of great instrumentation and excellent vocal work.
- Ufomammut // 8 – The riffs, the riffs, the riffs. Buzzing, churning and crushing, 8 is a continuous piledriver of an album. Possibly the fattest guitar tone on any album this year.
- Subterranean Masquerade // Vagabond – Though no match for their debut, Subterranean Masquerade hit it out of the park with the enchantingly oriental Vagabond, sporting a disarming sense of adventure and the skilled deployment of Middle-Eastern instrumentation.
- Aether Realm // Tarot – Once past the dreary opener “The Fool,” Tarot proves itself an addictive Wintersun / Children of Bodom spinoff. Full of catchy hooks, crazy guitar leads, and an insane, epic closer, there’s plenty to love for the most melodic of metalheads.
- Chelsea Wolfe // Hiss Spun – Chelsea went to town, fully committing to a gritty, industrial doom metal sound that gets under your skin and claws its way out again. It’s not quite as good as Abyss, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an excellent chunk of disquieting darkness.
- Sorcerer // The Crowning of the Fire King – This churning offspring of Candlemass crossed swords with a pensive power metal sound and returned from the fight as a grandiose record full of addictive riffs and with one of the best vocals of the year. This would have surely ended up higher if the songwriting was more diverse across the album.
- Diablo Swing Orchestra // Pacifisticuffs – Despite the absence of Annlouice, Pacifisticuffs is a fun, engaging and well-written album that lags a little in the tail, with the sugary sweet new vocalist Kristin Evegård giving a different flavor to the jazzy swing metal.
- The Atomic Bitchwax // Force Field – Getting crazy with some lunatic rock n roll at breakneck speed, flinging beer bottles at the pursuing police from the convertible sports car, that sounds like my kind of night.
Disappointment o’ the Year:
Until The Sky Dies // The Year Zero Blueprint – Yes, I’m fixating on this thing again. No, I’m not sorry. Now, disappointment usually implies having high expectations beforehand. While that was not the case here, at all, I still feel disappointed. I’m disappointed in mankind that this was ever recorded. I’m disappointed no one grabbed these two guys and said: “This is a bad idea. Don’t do it.” I’m disappointed they had such a lack of self-reflection, they thought it a solid idea to send it in for review. But most of all, I’m disappointed that with so many struggling talented bands self-releasing, Cimmerian Shade Records backed this turd. Fuck. This. Album. (Again).
Song of the Year:
Caligula’s Horse “Songs for No One” – Though a few other candidates reared their heads, “Songs for No One” proved to be unbeatable. Immediate and precious, the track starts by blazing out of the gates, and throughout the song perfectly matches grandiosity with brittleness. The flow is perfect, but when it cumulates into the fantastic chorus, the heavens open in life-affirming splendor. We sing to the weeping widow / We sing to the dying dirt / We sing to the day that we are old light falling to Earth, Jim Grey belts, and the passion bursts from every word sung and every note played. Bring me home again.