Mark Z’s and L. Saunder’s Top Ten(ish of 2017

Mark Z.

Well, there it went. Another year, another… blah blah blah. Let’s be honest: you’re not here to listen to me drone on about how 2017 was, you’re here to scour my list for stuff you might not have heard, confirm your own good taste by seeing how many of your favorites match up with my own, and chime in with your own take on my admittedly questionable choices.

And we’ll get there. But first, I’d like to extend a heartfelt “thank you” to you as our loyal readers, as well as the editors and fellow writers that make Angry Metal Guy possible. Writing here is truly a pleasure, and while I’m far from the wittiest, smartest, or most eloquent reviewer here, I can only hope my contributions add just a little bit of character to help make this site the terrific place it is.

Once again this year, writing for AMG served as my anchor through a great deal of personal change. 2017 saw me starting a new job, moving across the country, and moving in with my amazing girlfriend. Through it all, I had AMG to provide me with a deluge of new music, along with a creative outlet for my overwrought descriptions and dick jokes (mostly dick jokes). But amidst the mediocre metalcore and country metal disasters, I did manage to find a few true gems while mining the metal underground, and I’m happy to share those with you today. Without further ado…

(Ish) While She Sleeps // You Are We – There’s something oddly ‘hip’ about this new school of metalcore, and this English quintet manage to embody that and so much more on third full-length You Are We. With technical riffing combined with fresh songwriting, jumpy rhythms, and some of the most memorable melodies I heard this year, Sleeps channel the best of later This or the Apocalypse while remaining steadfast in their own identity. Yeah, a lot of people will scoff at the metalcore tag, but this is easily the best album I’ve heard from the style in years, not to mention living proof that great riffs and choruses don’t give a damn about genre labels.

#10. Dyscarnate // With All Their Might – If this list were titled “Mark Z‘s Most Crushing Albums of 2017,” Might would easily come in on top. With their third full-length and first since 2012, this British trio once again slam together a brutal fusion of Misery IndexBehemoth, and Dying Fetus that’s sure to find its way onto the gym playlists of any self-respecting metalhead. It stomps, it pounds, it grooves, and together with some successful experimentation in tracks like “This Is Fire!,” Might featured some of the best modern death metal 2017 had to offer.

#9. Sorrow Plagues // Homecoming – If ‘symphonic atmospheric black metal’ were to ever catch on as a major genre, Homecoming would be remembered as its Master of Puppets. Helmed by U.K.-based multi-instrumentalist David Lovejoy, Plagues‘ sophomore album feels at once lush, melodic, and extravagant, conjuring a timeless fantasy realm that sounds like what would happen if Woods of Desolation raided Wintersun‘s sauna for a day. Rounded out by Lovejoy’s ability to channel the classic rock of Eric Clapton with his sleek sustained leads, Homecoming is the sound of a band tapping Ghost Bath on the shoulder and saying: “No, no, no, like this.”

#8. Woe // Hope Attrition – I’ve always thought of Woe as a more grounded and aggressive version of Krallice, but unlike them I’ve never been totally floored by a Woe release. Hope Attrition, however, is where this American act finally nailed it for me, with a matured sense of songwriting to complement the stomach-twisting riffs, piercing chords, and crusty bellows of band leader Chris Griggs. Add in the lively drumming of Anicon‘s Lev Weinstein, a suitably gray atmosphere, and a few wistful moments of respite, and you have a damn compelling black metal album that serves as a fitting representation of our modern times.

#7. Power Trip // Nightmare Logic – How the sophomore LP of a little-known Texas thrash quintet became one of the most critically acclaimed metal albums of 2017 seems like a huge mystery until you actually listen to it, at which point it becomes obvious: these songs just plain kick ass. There are no gimmicks or retro bullshit on Logic, just a bunch of killer riffs, fist-pumping choruses, and crossover breakdowns that channel the spirit of Cro-Mags and Exodus whilst maintaining a wholly modern feel. Logic is proof that all you really need for a terrific metal album is great songwriting and truckloads of inspiration, and with it Power Trip have cemented themselves as one of the most exciting and promising acts in the current scene.

#6. Looking For An Answer // Dios Carne – You like some extra death in your grind? Looking For An Answer is your answer. This Spanish group’s fourth album shows them stepping things up immensely, returning after six years with some of the riffiest and most punishing deathgrind put to tape since Death Toll 80k‘s debut. Add in some downtuned yet melodic tremolos, bludgeoning doom crawls, and monolithic chugs that would make Bolt Thrower tremble, and you have a record that will grind your ass into chorizo.

#5. Sinister // Syncretism – Between Vader, Morbid Angel, and Suffocation, there seems to be a trend lately of old school death metal bands recruiting younger members to stay fresh and remain active in the touring circuit. Yet almost none have made this new blood work as well as Sinister. With a hellish atmosphere, pulverizing riffs, and absurdly guttural vocals, the classic band’s thirteenth full-length sounds meaner and hungrier than groups decades younger, and growl-along bangers like “Neurophobic” and “Blood-Soaked Domain” only add to the fun. Factor in a sound that combines the dominating force of mid-period Behemoth, the sweaty riffing of 90s Florida, and the fiery blasting of Vital Remains, and you have what was easily one of my favorite death metal records of 2017.

#4. Converge // The Dusk in UsConverge is a weird band for me in that I love a lot of bands that sound like them, but I’ve never really loved Converge themselves. That all changed, however, with the legendary Salem act’s ninth full-length The Dusk in Us. Though hardly a huge departure, Dusk manages to retain the group’s wild edge while somehow feeling more accessible and less dissonant, delivering excellent standouts in moments like the frantic intervals of opener “A Single Tear” and the loping sludge of closer “Reptilian.” Meanwhile the expansive title track and late highlight “Thousands of Miles Between Us” feature that same gripping emotion fans have loved since the Jane Doe days, showing once again this veteran band know all too well the best music is that which hits hard and cuts deep.

#3. Jordablod // Upon My Cremation Pyre – There’s precious little information about this Swedish trio available anywhere, and after listening to debut Upon My Cremation Pyre this mystery only adds to their enthralling aura. Imagine a blackened-death version of Tribulation‘s The Formulas of Death and you’re on the right track. Hazy, long-form compositions ride on rockslide riffs, slithering basslines, wispy clean chords, and cosmic leads, all of which work together to generate both psychedelic texture and a sense of existential drama. Jordablod are the rare band which effectively combine a haunting atmosphere with equally exciting music, and moments like the Primordial-esque riffing of “A Sculptor of the Future” solidified Pyre‘s place as the biggest and most rewarding surprise of the year. In other words, this is the Tchornobog everyone should have been excited about.

#2. Pestifer // Execration Diatribes – If you need proof today’s metal scene is alive and well, look no further than the debut of this Portuguese death metal trio. I saw someone on another site describe this as “Angelcorpse with better songwriting,” and while that’s an excellent description of the sound, even that doesn’t do justice to the way these riffs just mop the fucking floor with everything released in the last decade. Possessing both maniacal thrashiness and a melodic undercurrent reminiscent of early Bölzer, Diatribes is one of the only modern albums I’ve heard that outshines many of the classics, with songs like “Enslavement of God” and “Riding the Storms of Hate MMXVI” battering listeners with a warlike feel that sounds like Altars-era Morbid Angel with rabies. Though destined to be confused with Pesifere (not to mention the Belgian tech death band of the same name), Pestifer have entered the hall in the grandest fashion, releasing not just the best death metal album of the year, but possibly the decade.

#1. Counterparts // You’re Not You Anymore – Yeah, I get it’s weird putting a melodic hardcore album at the top of a year-end list on a metal site, but when something is this incredible it deserves all the recognition it can get. The first time I listened to You, I unplugged my headphones, stared forward in disbelief, and announced “The new Counterparts album is amazing” to a group of people who had no idea what the fuck I was talking about. Sure, this Canadian quintet have always been rich on the melody and emotion, but You shows them progressing even further, shaving the runtime down to a tight 28 minutes that results in a pounding stream of shout-along choruses, shimmering melodies, swift rhythms, and whiplash technicality. Beyond all that, You lays its heart bare in a way virtually unseen since Misery Signals gave us Of Malice and the Magnum Heart over a decade ago, channeling a sense of longing that culminates in the emotionally crushing screams of the title track. From the charging beats of “Swim Beneath My Skin” to the instant classic that is “Bouquet,” there isn’t a measure wasted here, and each one complements the next in a way that makes the whole thing feel that much more powerful. You is one of the best melodic hardcore albums since It PrevailsCapture & Embrace eight years ago, an immediate addition to my all-time favorites list, and the greatest record I heard in 2017 of any genre. Take a chance – don’t sleep on this just because it’s ‘not metal enough.’

Honorable Mentions

  • Here Lies Man // Here Lies Man – I don’t know how combining Afrobeat and Black Sabbath works, but boy does it ever. The fuzzy licks and lively beats of this California project’s debut inspired more table-drumming and head-bobbing than anything else this year, and every time I listened to it I felt like a fucking African warlord counting diamonds and smoking a cigar in a ramshackle outpost.
  • Endon // Through the Mirror – If grindcore, noise, and Deafheaven combined to form something shockingly listenable, it would sound a lot like this Japanese quintet. Listening to Endon isn’t something you do, it’s something you experience.
  • Dying Fetus // Wrong One to Fuck With – Mah Maryland bois are back with Fuck With, their first new album in five years and what L. Saunders rightfully proclaimed as their best since 2000’s Destroy The Opposition.
  • Disperse // Foreword – This is the Cynic record I always wanted. Airy, poppy, progressive, and heartfelt, this Polish quartet offered the same ‘happy metal’ fix that Astronoid won me over with last year.

Song o’ the Year

Counterparts – “You’re Not You Anymore” – Yeah, I picked the title track of my Album o’ the Year, but not just by default: “You” was hands down the most powerful thing I heard in 2017. From the acoustic opening to the chorus’s subtle clean vocal flourishes to the soft mid-song interlude, the whole track (and indeed, the whole album) finally builds into an absolutely devastating conclusion, in which vocalist Brendan Murphy delivers the last verses with a scream so desperate it sounds like he’s trying to make the subject of the song hear him from a thousand miles away. In an interesting twist, the final lyrics reveal that the seemingly negative album title was actually a message of hope all along: “I couldn’t love who you were/But you’re not you anymore.” In less skilled hands it may have been melodramatic, in Counterparts‘ hands I’m still getting chills twenty listens later.

Song o’ the Year – Runner-Up

Pallbearer – “A Plea for Understanding” – Those heart-wrenching doom riffs combined with the forlorn wails of the conclusion pulled my heartstrings harder than almost anything else this year. I didn’t love the full album, but it was hard to deny the power of Heartless‘ closing track.

Song o’ the Year – Miss Congeniality

Hällas – “Star Rider” – This song is so earnest, so diffident, so downright fucking nerdy and lovable, it would have been a crime not to include it. Every time I hear it I picture four guys in hippie attire jamming in a studio circa 1974 with not a care in the world (nor a shred of awareness) how dorky they sound. I think it’s impossible to listen to “Star Rider” without cracking a smile, and at the end of 2017 I think that’s something we all could use in our lives.


L. Saunders

As both a reader and contributor, Angry Metal Guy was my rock during a year where I experienced my share of hurdles and transitions. After all, I’m a creature of habit, so navigating the familiar pages of Angry Metal Guy on virtually a daily basis brought about a welcome sense of normalcy as life changes were afoot.

Once again, the wonderfully colorful and diverse world of metal offered a broad, overwhelming but thoroughly enticing smorgasbord of delights to wrap my ears and brain around. Yet strangely, as I hopelessly navigated the endless stream of releases in hope of making sense of it all and absorbing as much good metal as possible, 2017 didn’t quite wow me like the past couple of years. Sure, there were stacks of quality releases, many very good, some great, but not as many as expected truly floored me or made it easy to put a lock on the coveted number one spot.

Death metal reigned supreme again and I could have easily made an extended list purely based around the genre. My only regret was not getting around to properly appreciating a number of albums that I’m gradually uncovering. In the end I unintentionally neglected challenging and acclaimed albums from Pyrrhon and Dodecehedron, despite enjoying their previous work, while I lent heavily on couple of old favorites in consolidating my top 10. In the name of variety and to stave off the dreaded metal burnout, 2017 also delivered some great music of the non-metal persuasion, highlighted by fine albums from Algiers, Julien Baker, St Vincent and The War on Drugs among many other strong releases.

I’d like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the incredible readership that keeps AMG trucking along and swiftly going from strength-to-strength in the minefield of metal blogging, and to my colleagues for their ongoing hard work, support and inspiration. Special thanks to the higher powers for their tireless work behind the scenes to make this all possible. I’m still very humbled to be a part of the Angry Metal Guy juggernaut and can’t wait to freshen up and plunge into the unknown of 2018. Anywho, enough rambling, time to get down to business.

(Ish) Venenum // Trance of Death – This German acts inventive approach to death metal traverses the kind of imaginative terrain of Morbus Chron’s Sweven and Tribulation’s The Formulas of Death. Unfortunately I didn’t get to this one until late in the year otherwise it most probably would have ranked higher. Still, fans of raw but incredibly skilled and innovative death with a mind-boggling dose of psychedelic prog should not pass this up.

#10. Artificial Brain // Infrared HorizonLabyrinth Constellation was an astonishing debut, so the pressure was on Artificial Brain to follow through with the goods on their highly anticipated sophomore album. Infrared Horizon continued the band’s warped form of techy brutal death, but on this occasion they cranked up the spacey atmospherics and added a blackened bite to the equation. The resulting mind-fuck pushed all the right buttons, even if it fell slightly short of the mastery of their debut. Still, Artificial Brain are a rare and fiercely unique entity in the crowded fields of brutal death and Infrared Horizon is further evidence of this.

#9. Spirit Adrift // Curse of Conception – Nate Garrett returned after the impressive Chained to Oblivion with a whole band in tow and proceeded to out-Pallbearer their highly regarded doom peers. Shoehorning ripping dual guitar harmonies and classic metal influences into their riffy combo of trad and modern doom sensibilities, without discarding the powerful emotional heft, worked wonders for the band.

 #8. Redemptor // ArthaneumAnother late list contender, Poland’s Redemptor smashed out a refreshingly unique take on technical death metal. Arthaneum is as knotty and complex as fans of the genre should expect, but instead of absurd wankery they take a more measured, controlled approach, letting odd chords and discordant melodies shimmer amid the crushing grooves, otherworldly vibes, and punchy blasts. Archspire may have written the most ridiculously over-the-top tech death album of the year, and an entertaining one to boot, but Redemptor released a truly special album that is likely to grow in stature over time.

#7. Soen // LykaiaTellurian was always going to be a tough act to follow, an album that found Sweden’s Soen shed the derivative Tool influences to create a truly magnificent, melancholy masterwork of progressive metal. Lykaia took a while to fully appreciate but fleeting pangs of initial disappointment dissipated over time and my appreciation grew considerably. Lykaia is a fine collection of songs that comfortably stand on their own. Although a little too heavy on the mournful ballads and not featuring as many stunning peaks as Tellurian, Lykaia is still a thoroughly engaging and moving prog metal album, with an improved but still frustrating master, and loads of complex rhythms, crunchy riffs and forlorn vocal melodies to sink your teeth into.

#6. Exhumed // Death Revenge – The ever-reliable Exhumed keep getting better with age and Death Revenge reinforced this fact. Matt Harvey and company went down the concept path surrounding a series of brutal murders and grave robberies in Scotland during the 1820’s. Quite the fitting subject matter for the masters of gore to explore. And the results were compelling, from their Carcass-inspired trademarks, a blistering mix of old school death and cutting-edge brutal melodeath, and ghoulish dual vocals, right down to the surprisingly effective orchestral interludes, Death Revenge is a triumph of heart-on-sleeve deathly brilliance and songcraft.

#5. Caligula’s Horse // In Contact – Firmly establishing their status as part of Australia’s progressive metal elite, Caligula’s Horse cashed in on their enormous potential with their most impressive, emotive and accomplished album to date. Lush, punchy production, complex but ridiculously hooky songwriting, and deeply heartfelt and soaring vocals combined to create a cohesive, dynamic and frequently brilliant prog opus. By extension of his excellent In Contact review, Kronos also enlightened me to the brilliance of Arrows and Anchors. Win, win.

#4. Dying Fetus // Wrong One to Fuck With – An old favorite returned after five years, bringing with them their finest batch of tunes since their classic Destroy the Opposition album from way back in 2000. I was fully prepared to enjoy Wrong One to Fuck With, but not to this degree. John Gallagher and his fiendishly talented cohorts are operating in top form here, wielding bludgeoning riff after bludgeoning riff, tightly wound technical wizardry, and a masterful mix of unchained brutality and boulder smashing grooves. It may be a little long in the tooth in places, but such a nitpick is easily forgiven in the wake of the controlled destruction and infectious song-writing Dying Fetus delivered in spades.

#3. Mutoid Man // War Moans –  Mutoid Man, the super-group featuring members of Converge and Cave-In, smashed it out of the fucking park on War Moans. I simply haven’t being able to get enough of War Moans throughout the year, constantly craving the album’s offbeat charms and crafty mix of prog, sludge, grungy rock, thrash and even some traditional metal influences. The hooks are undeniable, lodging themselves in my brain for days on end. War Moans features giddy amounts of energy and is a consistently varied, addictive and exhilarating experience. Steven Brodsky’s shreddy guitar work and pop-infected vocal hooks lead the way, but the trio are a tight-as-fuck unit, with Ben Koller impressing with a creative and destructive performance on drums. I like how the poppy nature of the song-writing is offset by the aggressive musicianship and no-frills, unvarnished production. Closer “Bandages” demonstrated a surprisingly heartfelt and affecting side to Mutoid Man’s zany, riff-driven lunacy. War Moans was the most fun I had with an album all year.

#2. Chelsea Wolfe // Hiss Spun – Over the course of her last three albums especially, I have rapidly transitioned into a Chelsea Wolfe fanboy. She has really hit her stride since the addictive gothic darkwave of 2013’s Pain is Beauty. However, 2015’s Abyss proved a career high point, a crippling emotional journey and wildly inventive, experimental masterwork of doom, folk, electronica and harsh industrial soundscapes. In comparison, Hiss Spun is a more straightforward album, leaning heavily on rock and doom influences, and taking a more organic, riff-based approach. In the end, Wolfe’s song-writing still retained the variety and innovation we have come to expect from her. For all its tender and crushing moments, and overall greatness, Hiss Spun isn’t quite at the level of Abyss, but it’s another towering effort that was as good a follow-up to its untouchable predecessor as I could have hoped for.

#1. Æther Realm // TarotIt may have taken a while to figure out my number one pick this year, but after too much thought and consideration, Æther Realm’s dazzling second LP landed as the most fitting choice. Tarot demanded regular rotation with its scything, technically precise and always thrilling take on the often beaten to death melodic death genre. Tasteful symphonic, blackened and folk elements complimented the year’s standout production and songs that sizzled with adrenaline, sensational guitar work and hooks for days. Even the drunken shenanigans of “King of Cups” won me over eventually, while the sublime “Death”  pleasantly and regularly haunted my thoughts. A glorious album through and through.

Honorable Mentions

  • Steven Wilson // To the BoneEven a slightly lesser Steven Wilson album is a triumph of sorts. To the Bone didn’t crush me with the kind of mesmerizing song-writing and crushing emotional weight of Hand. Cannot. Erase. but this poppy gem still proved an infectious, curious career detour with a few particularly supreme additions to Wilson’s ever-growing repertoire. Still not sure about “Permanating” though.
  • Sunless // UrracaI underrated this one earlier in the year, its greatness coming through extended listens over numerous months. Over time their unorthodox approach made more and more sense and unlocking the subtle nuances of the dense, complex compositions, and accessing the off-kilter charms and abstract melodies within were half the fun.
  • Laser Flames on the Great Big News // Laser Flames on the Great Big News A late player that proceeded to kick my arse. Laser Flames take a fresh approach to the stoner/retro rock formula, skillfully incorporating progressive, sludge and doom elements into their dynamic and emotionally resonant concoction.
  • Akercocke // Renaissance In Extremis A strong return from the stylish Satanic gentleman and trailblazers. Not quite on par with the band’s best work but a totally respectful and unique blend of the weird and wonderful, from bizarro prog, to brutal bouts of blackened death, and inventive extreme metal curiosities in-between.
  • Tetrafusion // Dreaming of Sleep – An underrated debut LP that punched above its low profile, Dreaming of Sleep featured all the intricate musicianship, soaring hooks and chunky riffage one would expect from a high-quality modern prog metal album.
  • Pallbearer // HeartlessInitially, Heartless was everything I hoped for by Pallbearer, captivating me early on and sporadically since. But the chinks in the album’s armor began to show and I simply haven’t invested as much time during the latter part of the year as I would have expected.
  • Hellripper // Coagulating Darkness – A passionate, fresh and heartfelt examination of ’80’s speed metal and old school blackened thrash, crafted by one man Scottish wrecking ball, James McBain. Packed to the hilt, or perhaps kilt, with fiery and infectious leads, riffs and scorching solos, Hellripper brought tons of energy, shout-a-long choruses and ripping hooks to succinct and finely crafted songs.
  • Voyager // Ghost Mile – I felt rather silly, as both an Australian and prog metal fan, that Ghost Mile was my first taste of Voyager. I’ve still got some catching up to do, but Ghost Mile proved a mighty fine introduction of pop-infused and muscular prog metal from a veteran band in the zone.
  • Wormwood // Ghostlands: Wounds From a Bleeding Earth An early year highlight buried under a slew of releases but not easily forgotten. An icy and enchanting mix of melodic black, folk and deathly groove.

Disappointment o’ the Year

Xanthochroid // Of Erthe and Axen: Act I & II As much as I tried, I just couldn’t wholeheartedly get behind the ambitious symphonic metal double album from California’s Xanthochroid. Easily one of my most anticipated projects of the year, Of Erthe and Axen, both Acts I & II, failed to captivate or consistently engage my interest. Perhaps it’s as much me not being on board with the band’s change of songwriting tact since their Blessed He With Boils album, as much as anything is fundamentally wrong with either album. Clearly, there was a heap of consideration, effort and craftsmanship put into this obvious labor of love. But the cheesy and excessive balladry, lack of bite, and overload of melodrama overshadowed the handful of inspired songs featured.

Song o’ the Year

Caligula’s Horse – “Songs For No One” – A stunning seven minute plus journey of soaring positivity, poetic lyricism, and the most infectious hook of the year. In Contact was one hell of an album and “Songs For No One” was its towering centerpiece.

« »