If you could only count the number of times I deleted this here intro… I’ve gone back and forth as to what to say here, or how to encompass what 2017 meant for me in a few paragraphs, or how good/shitty the music was. Maybe it’s because a lot happened in my life away from the hallowed halls of Angry Metal Guy. When life changes happen, good or bad, they take a lot out of you. When they’re thrown at you one after another in a short time span, well… burnout does indeed happen, and it hit yours truly at spots during the year. You can sense it a bit in some of my writing, but even then, I tried to give as much energy as I could to whatever I was writing about at the time.
But just a few weeks ago, something happened that made me reevaluate things considerably. Without getting too personal, let’s just say it’s humbling when I can create something but don’t due to burnout or whatever, and there’s a few people I once knew who want to create art, but now can’t (which I’m hoping is only temporary in their cases). One of the things that I always enjoyed doing as a teenager was subjecting my friends and others to music that I love in hopes that they spread the word and do the same for others. Some twenty-odd years later, I’m doing exactly that on a much grander, wider scale with the best metal review site ever. It’s a gift I have that is unique to me and my fellow writers here at AMG, and I try to use my powers for the greater good whenever possible. If that gift were to be taken away from me, I don’t know how I would cope. So I can only imagine what they are going through right now in their situations.
If you’re able to create, do it. If you’re able to forgive, do so because regret is a horrible, shitty feeling to carry with you. Above all, though, take care of yourselves and each other. You, and the people you love, mean a helluva lot more than any wealth, status symbols, or other comparatively meaningless shit you can possibly amass. If you lose something, it can be replaced. If you lose someone, very rarely will you get that back.1
Big thanks to my fellow writers at Angry Metal Guy for continuously killing it (and turning me on to new favorites day-in and day-out)2 and to the editors (Dr. A.N. Grier, Madam X, and Steel Druhm) for proofreading and fixing my insanity, and Sentynel for his tireless ability to keep things running smoothly behind the scenes. Hails to Angry Metal Guy himself for giving me advice and support (as well as a means to use my voice). And love to my friends and family, and especially to my partner of 8 years of unwavering love and support. And finally to you, the reader, for the comments, questions, suggestions, hilarious memes, and continued patronage… you are our lifeblood, and you make this worth it for all of us here, and for that I am eternally grateful.
Finally, a new year is upon us soon, and rest assured, I’m not going anywhere.
(Ish) Lör // In Forgotten Sleep – The only reason this hasn’t scored higher is that I just got around to listening to this over the past week. Watch by this time next year that I will regret not scoring this higher. It takes a lot of skill to merge prog, traditional, power, death, and even bits of black metal into captivating songs, but to do so this early on in the game is outright frightening. If there is any justice in the world, this will be Lör‘s final album as an unsigned band, as overlooking these talented gents would be downright criminal.
#10. Pallbearer // Heartless – Following up my personal 2014 Album o’ the Year top pick is no easy feat, and while it doesn’t quite hit the same raw emotional nerve with me as Foundations of Burden does, Heartless is no slouch itself. “A Plea for Understanding” and “Dancing With Madness” stand firm as some of Pallbearer‘s best tracks ever, and Brett Campbell’s voice continues to strengthen and soar. I’m excited to see where their love of prog metal takes them from here on out.
#9. Hallatar // No Stars Upon the Bridge – Juha Raivio (Swallow the Sun)’s heartwrenching tribute to his late partner, Tree of Eternity‘s Aleah Stanbridge, No Stars Upon the Bridge never once lets up on the heartache of one’s loss of a loved one. With powerful vocals provided by Amorphis‘s mulitfaceted Tomi Joutsen and H.I.M.‘s Gas Lipstick laying a solid foundation with his drums, Raivio’s final goodbye is a raw, emotional, and captivating one. And speaking of goodbyes…
#8. Bell Witch // Mirror Reaper – It takes something special to get me to listen to an enormously long song, let alone one that’s 84 minutes. And yet, Bell Witch paid tribute to fallen former drummer Adrian Guerra with grace and heft. Like Hallatar, Mirror Reaper is far from an easy listen, and I don’t mean just in terms of song length. But push through, and Mirror Reaper‘s journey will reward you.
#7. Chelsea Wolfe // Hiss Spun – I am very sorry for hopping on the Chelsea Wolfe bandwagon this late in the game. Equal parts vulnerable and seething, Wolfe showcased once again why she’s a force to be reckoned with, all while being instantly accessible without compromise of integrity. “The Culling” alone is worth the asking price, but that’s just once glimpse of an impressive album.
#6. Hell // Hell (2017) – Again, how I missed this band before is beyond me, but Oregon’s Hell more than lived up to their name in terms of sheer heft, disturbing songwriting, and the most diseased howls, shrieks, and nonsensical, indecipherable vocals put to record. Crushing, hopeless, foul, and depraved, and I loved every goddamned second of it. Also, sickest. Bass. Tone. EVER.
#5. The Great Old Ones // EOD – A Tale of Dark Legacy – Production woes aside, few do Lovecraft quite like The Great Old Ones. Sure, lyrically the concept has been done to death, but the French quintet nail the ichor, the squelch, and the vibe of his works with ease, and on EOD, you can mentally picture yourself laying eyes on any of his grotesque creations. Those last two minutes of “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” always leaves me wanting a cigarette after they finish, and I don’t even smoke.
#4. Unleash the Archers // Apex – Unleash the Archers had the distinction of being a good power metal band, but they were missing that intangible something that kept them from being great. Well, on Apex, the band found it. MAN, did they ever find it. By drastically reducing the cheese factor and tightening up the songs, Apex is a beast from beginning to end, with some of Brittney Slayes’ best vocals yet. And if the chorus of “Cleanse the Bloodlines” doesn’t move you in some way, then we can’t be friends. Sorry.
#3. Spirit Adrift // Curse of Conception – Releasing an album only one year after your debut can be a risky proposition, but Nate Garrett knew what he was doing with Curse of Conception. With incredible soloing and powerful songwriting that pays tributes to the greats while still being distinctly Spirit Adrift, Curse took the promise of Chained to Oblivion, and not only expanded upon it, but eclipsed it by several miles. Crushing, yet beautiful.
#2. Converge // The Dusk in Us – It’s perfectly okay for a band to start sucking or becoming old hat after being around for over 25 years. Apparently, Converge never got that memo, as every subsequent release sees the Massachusetts quartet brimming with anger and vitality, even after a five-year layoff. Sometimes visceral, sometimes somber, but always passionate and honest, Converge proved once again why they are in a class all their own.
#1. Impure Wilhelmina // Radiation – With no prior experience with Swiss quartet Impure Wilhelmina, I had absolutely no expectations going into my first listen of Radiation. By the end of the first playthrough, not only was I won over, but I made sure everyone I knew at least heard about the album. From the powerful opening riffs of “Great Falls Beyond Death” to the heartbreaking final moments of “Meaningless Memories” to the sing-along chorus of “Bones and Heart,” Radiation lingers and grows like a great classic album should. While not the most “metal” of albums the year produced, it is easily the most powerful in terms of memorability and heartfelt songwriting.
- Wrath of Belial // Bloodstained Rebellion – An ode to classic melodic death metal with a modern punch. I see great things in store for this young Danish act.
- Night Flight Orchestra // Amber Galactic – I wish more bands who look back to the 80s for musical inspiration could pull off that era as well as these guys do.
- Demon Eye // Prophecies and Lies – The amount of boogie and groove that North Carolina’s Demon Eye crafted on here is astounding. And “Vagabond” would get radio airplay in a just world.
Disappointments o’ the Year
- Arch Enemy // Will to Power – When word got out that ex-Nevermore seven-stringer Jeff Loomis joined Arch Enemy a couple years back, I was more than intrigued to hear what a Michael Amott/Jeff Loomis shredfest/songwriting powerhouse combo would produce. Sadly, here we are. While the solos are blistering (as should be expected when you have two guitar gods in one band), the songwriting is painfully milquetoast, with pedestrian riffs, some of the most clichéd lyrics, and a distinct lack of energy. I was expecting to be floored and amazed, but instead, I got stock Arch Enemy.
- Wintersun // The Forest Seasons – Where do I even begin… Ignoring the fact that Jari Mäenpää’s cash-grabby crowdfunding campaign practically pissed all over the heart of what crowdfunding is all about, or the fact that he took an already completed album and used it as ransom to fund a studio (with sauna) to complete an album that should have been released a long-ass time ago, The Forest Seasons stumbles gloriously. The riffs were fairly lackluster, the keyboard parts are overly dramatic, there’s exactly one solo, the songs stretch on forever to the point of banality, and Jari’s voice, a sticking point for me with Wintersun‘s music, is mixed too loud and upfront. Also, it’s gotta be said, anyone who has the gall to call a 7.5/10 review “bad” needs to dial down the narcissism a hair or three.
Song o’ the Year
“I need to forget and to move on.
I need to feel loss to cherish love.
I need to face fear without a pause.
I need to fall to learn to stand up.”
Granted, those words alone might not mean much on their own. Hell, you could argue that they seem pretty childish or pedestrian3 if you so choose. However, no other song this year can capture the myriad of emotions that this year brought to me quite like Converge‘s “Eve” encapsulated with frightening ease. So when bassist Nate Newton howls those words over a noisy backdrop punctuated by Ben Koller’s primal drum fills and pummeling heft, those words were heard and felt. Not only is “Eve” a highlight of not only 2016 or of Converge‘s career to date, but it became a personal call-to-arms to throw myself back into the wolves, so to speak, and I couldn’t be happier that this came at the right time in my life.
What a beautiful season it is. As the days grow short and my home slowly becomes more doggedly lethal, I’m contractually obligated to dispense wisdom upon you, reader, and tell you what you should have been listening to all year. As a critic, I’m by nature an extremely critical person (funny how that works out) and would much rather dispense witty4 derision than praise. The following list is made up primarily of albums that quite rudely denied me the chance to do so.
This is my fifth time in the year-end list game, and though I’m still stunned that the clerical error resulting in my hire here at AMG has never been fixed, I have become comfortable enough with this happy (for me) accident that I can reflect on an almost half-decade of criticism with some degree of clarity. While there’s not an album in my collective top tens that I wouldn’t still heartily recommend, I may have been too generous over these past years. In fact, I know I have because after handing out on hundred and fifty some scores my average rating hangs just under 3.0. Looking back through my decisions, I’d say a good half of those albums should have been a half point lower, and I promise to either be more brutal or listen to worse music in the future. Consider that my “Contrite Metal Guy” piece.
All of this experience has also afforded me a degree of “defocused temporal perception” which allows me to predict with some accuracy what the comments on this list will look like. A good deal of them will come in the form of “What about X album?” or “You forgot to mention Y band.” or even “Why No King Fleshgod Apocalypse?” I will now take the time to preemptively respond to your concerns; that album is shit, that band is crappy, and the power of Christ compels you, foul poltergeist, respectively. Now on to the list.
Dedicated readers of this here blog will have no trouble predicting my #1 pick below, but even the completionists out there will come across some surprises in this list. For the readers just stopping through in the annual list typhoon, I hope you find something you love. Hearing from readers that connect with albums – or even reconnect with music in itself – because of my writing here makes it all worthwhile5. May you all endure the hegemonic “holiday” season and embark upon a suitably brutal new year.
(ish) Bufihimat // I – It should be clear now that Gorguts are the new Meshuggah and metal guitarists across the world are rapidly unlearning how to play in key. I consider this a wonderful thing because it produces albums like I; a contorted sort of deathgrind LP that’s the best Obscura-core to come out this year. This Russian quartet put together one hell of a package for their debut, from the Girardi art to the gritty production, and the music more than matches. Check out “Splitted” for one of the year’s coolest riffs.
#10. Replacire // Do not Deviate – For all of its quirks, Do not Deviate follows its own advice and delivers a unique take on death metal that remains cohesive and comprehensible. Cuts like “Built Upon the Grave of He Who Bends” and “Cold Repeater” proved both propulsive, catchy, and memorable enough that I’m still spinning this album with regularity. If Replacire can follow this up with another good album, they’ll be well on their way to the top.
#9. Converge // The Dusk in Us – I adore Converge, and as far as I’m concerned, they more than deserve the honor of being Kuma‘s first vegan burger. Just like the puzzling pairing of sweet cherry tomato jam and bitter baby arugula, this album’s focus on Converge‘s punkier side and Jacob Bannon’s clean vocals originally put me off. Yet when you commit to more than a nibble, the contrast and complexities of Converge reveal themselves. It’s the same burger base, but catering to a more mature palate, one willing to stray from the tried and true.
#8. Shadow of Intent // Reclaimer – This is the kind of album that should be just a gigantic sprawling mess. And while gigantic and sprawling definitely apply, for the second time in two years, this band pulled together an embarrassingly good interpretation of deathcore as prog-power. Between the umpteen guttural guest vocalists and the flying melodeath riffs, this album just unloads into the center of the “fun” bullseye.
#7. Fit for an Autopsy // The Great Collapse – Now that Gojira write songs about their feelings instead of whaling and environmental degradation, dumpster-diving eco-brutalists such as myself have been forced to expand their record collections. Cattle Decapitation are doing a great job promulgating green extremity, and Fit for an Autopsy are right up there with them. I never saw The Great Collapse coming, but when it did, it bowled me over with its politically conscious lyrics, progressive touches, and suitably brutal deathcore base. On top of all of that, “Hydra” has to be the best pit fodder I’ve ever heard – and anti-capitalist to boot. Color me impressed.
#6. Dodecahedron // Kwintessens – Kwintessens couldn’t quite maintain its grip on me for the whole year, but the slippage has been minor. As always, I’m dumbfounded by Dodecahedron‘s ability to shape their avant-garde sensibilities into coherent and even kickass songs. In the same album, the bizarre musique-concrete “Finale” and thundering, SotY-runner-up “Hexahedron” seem equally at home.
#5. Bell Witch // Mirror Reaper – This is by far the slowest record to ever grace a Kronos listicle, both in pacing and in sheer tempo. But despite its monumental size, Mirror Reaper never feels bloated to me. A pensive and beautiful rumination on death and duality, it’s a great atmospheric doom album up until Eric Moggridge’s lilting clean vocals turn it into a transcendent musical experience. Who would guess that playing half-steps on a bass for an hour and a half could sound so good?
#4. Archspire // Relentless Mutation – The more I listen to this album, the more I realize that it’s the best tech death LP in years. In fact it might be the best since Incurso. And like Spawn of Possession‘s swan song, Relentless Mutation reaches into neoclassicism in order to get there. But in a way unlike any band before them, Archspire seem intent on molding technical death metal itself in their own image. In a subgenre that has been dispersing in the brutal and avant-garde directions since the beginning of the decade, this band is pushing forward and making music that’s still following the path that Necrophagist set out on. They’re just much further along.
#3. Phrenelith // Desolate Endscape – Anyone who tells you this album isn’t the best death metal record of the year either hasn’t heard it or is a massive poseur, and I grant you permission to tell them as much. This heretofore unheralded quartet out-Incantationed Incantation and threw some Nile and Suffocation into the mix for good measure. This record alone is proof that OSDM is still worth pursuing, 30 years after Scream Bloody Gore. Past readers have noted my year-end lists’ skew towards the experimental, but here’s an album that sounds like it came out in the mid-90s and still impresses me more than some of the year’s most forward-thinking experiments. Just goes to show that the death metal horse can take one hell of a beating before it keels over.
#2. Caligula’s Horse // In Contact – This was the year’s big surprise. While I fully expected to enjoy In Contact, I thought it was going to be another Bloom type album of djenty, easily digestible, but intelligent prog metal. Instead, it turned out to be a dazzling display of artistry, and easily one of the most moving and complex prog metal records I can recall. I even like the spoken word track, which is a sentence that I would never have predicted producing.
#1. Pyrrhon // What Passes For Survival – Yeah, big surprise, right? But honestly, this is the best record I’ve heard since Teethed Glory and Injury and I have no qualms whatsoever with it. Pyrrhon are the bleeding edge of extremity, but there’s so much focus and intent to their music that even when the guitar lines are so technical and atonal as to be incomprehensible, the message still gets across. Even when you can’t quite make out what Moore is screaming, you just know it’s a work of deeply pessimistic art. Going back, The Mother of Virtues seems so melodic and sensible in comparison to this album that I’m almost afraid to see what the band does next.
- Heathen Beast // $cam – This is what I want from a grind record and more.
- The Black Dahlia Murder // Nightbringers – It’s certainly not their best album ever, and I really miss Ryan Knight, but with a band as consistent as TBDM, every album is a winner.
- Lorna Shore // Flesh Coffin – This blackened, gothic take on deathcore is more than welcome and just barely missed proper listing here. Though three deathcore albums out of eleven would nearly have destroyed my trve kvlt cred.
- Tetrafusion // Dreaming of Sleep – Haken and BtBaM fans will find prog to love here, but I find that the band is strongest when playing understated, Riverside-like material.
- Jute Gyte // Oviri – Jute Gyte‘s utter disregard for self-promotion means that I rarely have a chance to write about how batshit-cohesive all of (his) music is. With cuts like “Yarinareth, Yarinareth, Yarinareth” and “Mice Eating Gold” Oviri might be the Adam Kalmbach’s best work yet.
- Black Sites // In Monochrome – Dr. Fisting‘s modern take on trad metal isn’t nearly as brutal as Trials, but it’s still a classy outing. Bonus points to this album for having my civilian name (a closely guarded secret) hidden somewhere on the back of it. Thanks, Dr. Fisting!
- Genevieve // Regressionism – This is a very bizarre album and one that’s unlikely to find much mass appeal. But Genevieve are exceptional songwriters, weaving tortured, chugging plods, agile acoustic work, and singular atmospherics into striking and cohesive cuts. Keep an eye on them.
Disappointment o’ the Year
Song o’ the Year
Genevieve “No for an Answer” – I rattled off song of the year contenders with regularity this year. While I’m usually one to get excited about whole albums instead of just snippets from them, there were actually plenty of great singles in the metal world in 2017, and I’m choosing to highlight one here that I wouldn’t get to write about otherwise. “No for an Answer” caught me immediately and wouldn’t let go – in fact, I listened to it several dozen times in the week before Regressionism actually came out and completely failed to tire of it. This song, like the rest of Regressionism aims to construct black metal around itself rather than to build new features into black metal. It sounds as if it was chamber music rearranged for an obtuse but still grimy black metal band. In a way it reminds me of Genghis Tron; a sound that’s extremely fresh and innovative, but one so bizarre that it’s unlikely to be emulated.
Anticipated Records o’ 2018
Because of the large granite object I use as my roof, I actually have no idea what records are supposed to come out next year and probably won’t know about them until I see them swirling in the AMG promo pit a month or so beforehand. So I’m just going to guess Frontierer and, let’s say… Abhorrent6? I want me some sophomore LPs. Chop chop, guitar wizards.
- Unless you practice necromancy, in which case, BAD-ASS! *HI-FIVE* ↩
- Yes, even you, El Cuervo. ↩
- Which they aren’t, but work with me here. ↩
- Or witless, if you’re less generous. ↩
- Or it would if my efforts were not already well-compensated by the universal reverence and legions of willing sexual partners that are concomitant with being a popular critic of brutal death metal. ↩
- As always, Fair to Midland, Genghis Tron, Altar of Plagues and now The Dillinger Escape Plan are free to regroup at any time. ↩