2018 Mid-Year Extravaganza

2018 has been an ugly, mean, sweaty bitch of a year for just about everyone around the world, so thank Satan that we’ve at least had some fantastic metal to help ease the pain of these last six months. While a lot can change over the course of the next 6 months (and judging from some of the releases we have lined up for the fall, I fully expect some quantum shifts in my thoughts), here’s the best of the best, and some of the worst of the worst, of 2018.

Metal Album of the Mid-Year:

Rivers of Nihil – Where Owls Know My Name

While a lot can change over the course of 6 months, it is going to take an all-time great metal record to knock Where Owls Know My Name off this perch. This album is an absolute masterpiece, and probably the finest progressive Rivers of Nihiltechnical death metal album I’ve ever heard (granted, that’s a pretty specific genre mostly occupied by RON and The Faceless, but still). There is not a weak track on this album, with even the mostly spoken word opener and the instrumental intermission serving a vital purpose in the framework of the album. In my review earlier this year, the ONLY complaint I could scrounge up about this album was that I wished they utilized the saxophone a little bit more. That still stands, but it just goes to show how wonderful of a record this is.

Album of the Mid-Year: The other contenders

While the Number One spot seems all but sewn up, here are the other records that fill out my current Top 10 (plus one extra, because I just can’t stand to leave one of these off):

The Atlas Moth – Coma Noir

The Body – I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer

The Crown – Cobra Speed Venom

Ghost – Prequelle

Judas Priest – FIREPOWER

Khemmis – Desolation

Panopticon – The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness

A Perfect Circle – Eat the Elephant

YOB – Our Raw Heart

Zeal and Ardor – Stranger Fruit

Song of the Mid-Year: ¯\_()_/¯

A while back I was lamenting that there weren’t a lot of standout metal songs back in 2017, but had hopes that this year would be better. Well, right now that’s still up in the air. Whereas I knew right away in 2015 (Cattle Decapitation – “Manufactured Extinct”) and 2016 (Nails – “You Will Never Be One Of Us”) what my song of the year would be right after I heard the track, that didn’t happen last year, and it hasn’t happened this year, either. So instead of nominating a track that is unlikely to stay at the top of the list, here’s a bunch of the contenders, which are all great in their own way:

Alien Weaponry – “Kai Tangata”

At the Gates – “To Drink from the Night Itself”

The Atlas Moth – “Galactic Brain”

Between the Buried and Me – “Condemned to the Gallows”

Burn the Priest – “Kerosene”

Clutch – “Gimme the Keys”

The Crown – “In the Name of Death”

Deafheaven – “Canary Yellow” or “Honeycomb”

Ghost – “Rats” or “Dance Macabre”

Harakiri for the Sky – “Fire, Walk with Me”

Judas Priest – “Rising from Ruins”

Khemmis – “From Ruin” or “Isolation”

Long Distance Calling – “In the Clouds”

Pallbearer – “Dropout”

A Perfect Circle – “So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish”

Primordial – “To Hell or the Hangman”

Rivers of Nihil – “The Silent Life”

Skeletonwitch – “Fen of Shadows”

Slugdge – “War Squids”

TesseracT – “King”

Twitching Tongues – “AWOL (State of the Union)

VEXES – “Helion”

Wolf King – “Hail the Ash”

YOB – “Beauty in Falling Leaves”

Zeal and Ardor – “Row Row”

Video of the Mid-Year: Ghost – “Rats”

You don’t see a whole lot of attention payed to choreography in metal video these days outside of synchronized head banging, but “Rats” easily takes the cake for the best video of the year by showcasing the wonderful dance moves of Cardinal Copia, all over the eerie backdrop of a potentially plague-ridden gothic city. The video matches the aesthetic of the album and song perfectly, and Ghost knows how to have fun, even in the face of death.

Runner-Up Video of the Mid-Year:

Nekrogoblikon – “Dressed as Goblins”

Some other publication referred to this video as The Royal Tenenbaums, but with Goblins. That’s a pitch-perfect description of this mind-bending video from Nekrogoblikon, the preeminent goblincore band in metal today. Directed by Brendan Small of Metalocalypse fame (or Home Movies fame if you’re like me), the video tells a fantastic, winding tale all without the benefit of supporting lyrics (about 70% of the song is the line “Dressed as Goblins”, so there’s not a ton of exposition throughout). One of the more ambitious metal videos in recent memory, and also one of the most fun.

3rd Best Video of the Mid-Year:

Alien Weaponry – “Kai Tangata”

If there’s anything that New Zealanders know, it’s getting people fired the fuck up for…basically anything (if that’s news to you, check out any number of videos of athletes performing a traditional Haka before an event. It’s probably the greatest thing ever). Serving as part history lesson, part cautionary tale, and all rock anthem, this video had me primed and ready to go and take down those damn colonists before the first note hit. And these kids aren’t even 20 yet. Un-fucking-believable.

Still to come in 2018

DevilDriver – Outlaws ‘Til The End (July 6)

Immortal – Northern Chaos Gods (July 6)

Between The Buried And Me – Automata II (July 13)

Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love (July 13)

Daron Malakian and Scars On Broadway – Dictator (July 20)

Skeletonwitch – Devouring Radiant Light (July 20)

Omnium Gatherum – The Burning Cold (August 31)

Steve ‘n’ Seagulls – Grainsville (August 31)

Sumac – Love In Shadow (September 21)

The Black Queen – Infinite Games (September 28)

Worst Album of the Mid-Year:

Machine Head – Catharsis

What a shitty way to start the 2018 metal release calendar. I wasn’t exactly a huge fan of 2014’s Bloodstone & Diamonds, but Machine Head has proven that they’re capable of putting out fun, accessible, and quality metal material in the past, so I was hoping for a bit of a return to form on Catharsis. What I got instead was far and away the worst album of their career (including their early nu-metal material) full of tracks that are at best forgettable, and at worst downright awful. I love the meaning behind “Bastards”, but it may be the single-worst metal track of this decade (non-Attila division).

Revisiting the best albums of 2016

Barely a day will go by after I’ve finished my “Best Albums of the Year” list when I begin to second guess myself. I put a lot of hours into those lists, and yet there’s never enough time to truly pit each album against the other and decide where they all fit together. So with some downtime before the next crop of yearly best metal albums begin to drop, I decided to take a look back at my 2016 list and decide, with an extra year of time to think about it, what the five best records of the year were.

  1. Khemmis – Hunted

Chalk this one up to me discovering the album too late into the year. I didn’t really sit down and spend some time this record until December, well after I’d already begun Khemmisranking albums. While I admittedly loved it at the time, I put my guard up against overrating an album that I’d only been able to listen to in full a couple of times.

In hindsight, I should have trusted my gut, as Hunted has the potential to be a career-defining album for the doom band out of Colorado. Over just five songs the band produce some of the most mesmerizing, enthralling, and darkly beautiful doom that has ever been made. My fears of rating the album too highly were unfounded, as this is the only 2016 record that stayed in my Spotify rotation for all of 2017.

PREVIOUS RANK: #5

  1. Gojira – Magma

While still unable to claim the top spot, Gojira has nothing to be ashamed with earning Gojirathe second spot on my redo of 2016. Magma is an amazing album, especially considering it is Gojira’s first foray into the realm of melody and clean vocals. Far too many bands have attempted this and failed, but recently there have been some notable success stories (Mastodon and Opeth in particular). Gojira may be the most shocking band to attempt the shift considering how insanely brutal their early work (and even this record) is, but Magma is an amazing achievement in songwriting.

PREVIOUS RANK: #2

  1. Every Time I Die – Low Teens

I have a hard time remembering what I was thinking last December (hell, I have a hard time remembering what I was thinking last week), so I can’t explain why I ratedETID Low Teens as low as I did. It makes no sense, especially considering I clearly remember how impressed I was with Keith Buckley’s lyrics (they’ve only gotten better with time) and the catchy, hard-hitting, groove-laden sound of the record. So why was it 13th? I honestly have no fucking clue.

Low Teens is a lyrical achievement, holding perhaps the best collection of metal lyrics I’ve ever seen written. They are clever, they are witty, the are infuriating, and they are heart breaking, all occasionally within the same track. Do yourself a favor and check out the backstory behind the music if you want the album to take on an extra level of heaviness on your next listen.

PREVIOUS RANK: #13

  1. Alcest – Kodama

Kodama hasn’t fallen out of favor with me in any way, but over the course of 2017 I’ve Alcestjust found myself going back to albums 1-3 far more than I did with the French quartet’s amazing post-metal achievement. Kodama is still a stunning album, full of wonderful and complex musicianship that is accessible at first listen but better and better with each subsequent spin. I don’t regret making Kodama my #1 record of 2016 originally, as it isn’t far off from the albums that have passed it in the year since.

PREVIOUS RANK: #1

  1. Cult of Luna with Julie Christmas – Mariner

I mean, I’m trying not to be a too much a jerk to myself, but seriously, what the fuck wasCult of Luna I thinking? There is no way that there were 19 better albums than this fantastic collaboration between Sweden’s Cult of Luna and Julie Christmas in 2016. I think I may have been hung up on the lead single, “A Greater Call”, which is a great, but not life-changing song. What I missed is that there are three other tracks on Mariner that surpass “A Greater Call”, and that the album as a whole is one of the most complete pieces of art that 2016 had to offer.

PREVIOUS RANK: #20

THE BIGGEST MISS

It really pains me to say this (but it shouldn’t since I’ve written nothing but effusive Dillinger Dissociationpraise for the band the past few weeks), but the Dillinger Escape Plan’s Dissociation was not the third-best album of 2016. If I’m being honest, it is probably the weakest record of the band’s storied career, falling short of the career-defining record that I was hoping it would be (that would actually be their penultimate record, One of Us is the Killer). It is still a great album, but looking back I realize that I was projecting quite a bit when I ranked it #3 (and it took everything in my power to not put it at #1).

The Best Metal Songs of 2017

In my not so humble opinion, 2017 left a lot to be desired as far as metal albums go (my Top Album of 2017, Amenra’s Mass VI, would have had a hard time cracking the Top 5 in 2016). However, the year’s strength came in the form of single songs, where it was much more difficult for me to trim this list down to 20 than it was last year.

20. Igorrr – ieuD

There may be songs that I enjoyed more than “ieuD” in 2017, but it felt wrong to not recognize what may be the most fun & most bizarre tracks of the year. Part metal, part opera, and part trip-hop (whatever the fuck that is), the only thing I can definitively say about this track is that it’s awesome.

19. Septicflesh – Martyr

Low on theatrics, high on brutality, “Martyr” is the heaviest track on Septicflesh’s 2017 masterpiece Codex Omega. The symphonic elements provide the body of the song, but the band steps to forefront on this track, showing just how heavy and brutal symphonic death metal can be.

18. Myrkur – Crown

It’s debatable as to whether this song is really “metal”, but you can’t argue that this track is HEAVY. The emotional weight behind Amalie Bruun’s voice is just soul-crushing, and the emotional burden of the track is only offset by the beautiful songwriting.

17. Lorna Shore – Flesh Coffin

My favorite deathcore track of 2017 (narrowly edging out Thy Art is Murder’s “No Absolution”), “Flesh Coffin” highlights Lorna Shore’s ability to put their own twist on the best parts of deathcore. Sure, there are crazy gutturals and some anthemic chanting, but the haunting guitar tones takes the track to a different plane of existence than most deathcore.

16. Darkest Hour – Knife in the Safe Room

Darkest Hour have always had the unique ability to make catchy metal without resorting to clean vocals, but their newest album stepped away from that formula, with their metalcore roots taking a backseat to the band’s punk influences. “Knife in the Safe Room” is the angriest the band has sounded since 2007’s Deliver Us, screaming by at hypersonic speeds unlike anything I’ve ever heard from the band.

15. Queens of the Stone Age – Feet Don’t Fail Me

Now this is how you open an album. All the rumors of how Villains would be less gloomy and more upbeat than the album’s predecessor, …Like Clockwork, are confirmed in the opening guitar riff of “Feet Don’t Fail Me”, a modern arena-rocker if I’ve ever heard one. Put on your dancing shoes for this one (and if you don’t have dancing shoes, go buy some dancing shoes, dammit).

14. Caligula’s Horse – Songs for No One

“Songs for No One” is simultaneously the heaviest and prettiest track on Caligula’s Horse’s latest offering, a case-study in how to keep prog interesting. The first half is shockingly heavy for a band that relies solely on clean vocals, and the closing of the track with have you singing along with some of the most positive, uplifting lyrics written this year.

13. All Pigs Must Die – A Caustic Vision

Of all the angry hardcore punk bands out there today, All Pigs Must Die might be the angriest (did you expect anything less with that name?). The first three quarters of the track are textbook punk, full of hatred and venom and spit and fury. But it’s the closing of the track that earned it a spot on this list, replacing the song’s punk sound with a groovy gallop reminiscent of Iron Maiden on PCP.

12. The Body & Full of Hell – Didn’t the Night End

Sounding like the disfigured, deranged, maladjusted cousin to hip-hop, “Didn’t the Night End” is the best mixture of The Body and Full of Hell’s sounds, with a devastating, lurching drum part laying cover to Full of Hell’s pained, blood-curdling screams. This song is nightmare fuel.

11. Gone is Gone – Ornament

While the band’s most recent offering, Echolocation, sticks closer to the fuzzy sludge sound of vocalist Troy Sanders’ day-band, Mastodon, Ornament is an upbeat rocker unlike anything else on the album. Sanders’ vocals sound downright positive compared to his usual work, and the infectious guitars and drums with have you playing along on the steering wheel/desk/puppy/whatever is next to you on each listen.

10. The Contortionist – Return to Earth

Few bands have been as successful embracing clean vocals and melodic tones like The Contortionist. They’ve quickly become one of the better prog bands in metal today, and “Return to Earth” shows why. The song is melodic yet heavy, carrying an emotional weight that is more powerful than any amount of screaming would be able to deliver.

9. Pallbearer – I Saw the End

There isn’t a weak track on Pallbearer’s Heartless, one of the best records of 2017. But it’s the album opener, “I Saw the End”, that stands out from the rest, being both wholly accessible yet expertly complex. The track is great at first listen and gets better with each subsequent spin.

8. Moonspell – Todos Os Santos

I don’t need to speak Portuguese to understand that this is one of the best tracks of the year. The music, screams, and operatic chorus tell a story all by themselves, creating a horrifying atmosphere worthy of the earthquake the album describes.

7. Full of Hell – Trumpeting Ecstasy

While most of their amazing 2017 album Trumpeting Ecstasy shows the band at their nosiest and grindiest, the album really hits its stride when it slows things down on the final two tracks of the record. “Trumpeting Ecstasy” is dark, unsettling, and unlike anything I’ve ever heard from Full of Hell, sounding much more like one of their collaborative tracks with The Body than a solo outing. But by slowing down and spacing out their typical otherworldly speed, “Trumpeting Ecstasy” manages to be one of their heaviest songs to date.

6. The Black Dahlia Murder – Nightbringers

Nightbringers was one of my top albums of the year, and the title track off the record shows The Black Dahlia Murder at their best, somehow writing one of the catchiest metal tracks of the year despite never setting foot in the same continent as a clean vocal. Trevor Strnad is one of the finest vocalists in metal, getting my blood boiling from the first scream of the track and never backing down.

5. Soen – Secretarian

Much to my chagrin, Soen’s 2017 album Lykaia was a disappointment of the grandest variety, largely because the first single, “Secretarian”, was so unbelievably good. The infectious guitar rhythms and memorable chorus were more than enough to tide over anyone left waiting yet another year for a new Tool album.

4. Paradise Lost – The Longest Winter

While I never quite understood the love for their 2017 album Medusa (Decibel named it their #1 album of the year, after all), “The Longest Winter” stood out from the rest of the record, showing the incredible balance that the band can achieve when their Type-O Negative-like clean vocals are working in tandem with vocalist Nick Holmes’ crushing screams. A haunting masterpiece.

3. Code Orange – Forever

Metal’s breakout star of 2017, Code Orange announced their presence with authority on “Forever”, a crushing hardcore jam that leans heavily into the genre’s hip-hop tendencies to create a groovy, pissed off anthem. Despite their best efforts to remain completely oblivious to all the great songs and bands in metal, the Grammy’s were unable to ignore this track’s greatness, nominating it for the Best Metal Performance of 2017.

2. Toothgrinder – The Shadow

While I was disappointed with their album Phantom Amour, the same can’t be said for the lead single, “The Shadow”. Blending metal, prog, and even a little hip-hop, the track is one of the catchiest of the 2017. If you aren’t wandering around your home or office screaming “BEFORE! YOU LEAVE! THE DARK TAKES OVER!!!!” after your first few listens, then you might want to get your pulse checked.

1. Converge – I Can Tell You About Pain/Eve

Alright, so I’m cheating on this one. When you get your own metal site, you can enforce whatever Draconian rules you want about what is and is not “one song”. Somewhat forgotten after the stellar reception of their amazing LP The Dusk in Us, their two-song EP I Can Tell You About Pain showcased everything that is great about Converge. “I Can Tell You About Pain” is wall-to-wall energy, mixing Converge’s trademark ferocity with one of the most memorable hooks in the band’s catalog to create a monster of a track. “Eve”, on the other hand, is a slow-burning masterpiece, gradually building momentum before unleashing hell in the chorus. During the span of 10 minutes, these two tracks paint a vivid picture of Converge’s legendary career.

Albums of the Year – The Best of the Rest

Because I can’t just call it a day and rank my 15 favorite metal records of the year, here are the other contenders that could easily have earned a spot had I been driven (crazy?) enough to extend my “Best of 2017” list by a few more records (in alphabetical order, because I categorically refuse to rank anything else until December 2018. I’m done) :

3TEETH – SHUTDOWN.EXE

Have you been dying to bust out an old pair of JNCO’s recently? Do you feel a sense of pride at those stupid goth dreadlocks you wore for one week when you were 15 solely 3Teethbecause Munkey (or maybe Fieldy? Possibly Head?) from Korn were rocking them? Now well into at least your 30’s, do you still like mom and dad “just don’t get” your lifestyle? Well then do I have a record for you!

Enter 3TEETH, the stupidly named band that put out possibly the best industrial album of the last 2 decades. With vocals echoing early Marilyn Manson and music that is halfway between White Zombie and early Nine Inch Nails, 3TEETH’s sound is definitely a throwback for all of us who came of age thinking that Limp Bizkit, Korn and Linkin Park were the definition of heavy metal. But surprisingly enough, there really is nothing cheesy about their sound. Shutdown.exe’s sound is very familiar, yet fresh.

With the heavy industrial/electronic focus, this album was never going to be considered one of the year’s absolute best. But Shutdown.exe is for more than a nostalgia trip, and 3TEETH appear to be much more than a novelty act.

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Pit of Fire”, “Shutdown”

BELL WITCH – MIRROR REAPER

If only there were a few more weeks in 2017 (and if only I had listened to this album when it was first released back in October), I guarantee you it would have earned a spot in my Top 15 (and probably Top 10…maybe 5). As such, I’ve listened to the whole recordBell witch three times in the last week (which is no small task with a run-time over 80 minutes) and had to crank out a last-minute review to honor what is undoubtedly one of the most moving records of not only 2017, but of recent memory.

Borne out of the sudden and unexpected passing of founding member Adrian Guerra, Mirror Reaper is a truly somber experience, with large swaths of the record populated by nothing more than the sparse pluckings of piano wire and hushed bass tones. When the album gets heavy (and I mean musically, because GOOD LORD is this record heavy in the truest sense of the word), it is one of the finest doom works around. It is nearly impossible to break this album up into sections or movements, as the transformation from one sound to the next happens at a glacial pace, requiring this album to be judged as a whole. While this brings its own challenges (the lack of identifiable movements means recalling specific parts of the album, even after just finishing a listen, is nearly impossible), Mirror Reaper may be the most moving record of the year.

BISON – YOU ARE NOT THE OCEAN YOU ARE THE PATIENT

Fun story about how I discovered Bison: I have absolutely no idea how I discovered this band. Nobody told me about them, I don’t remember reading any album reviews, I honestly don’t know anything about them (a quick Wikipedia search just unveiled that Bisonthey are apparently Canadian. So that’s neat). Consider it the happiest of accidents that I stumbled upon this gem of an album, a bizarre hybrid of stripped down sludge and some hardcore punk that hits heavy while making you think.

Further reading their Wikipedia page, apparently they have toured at points with both High on Fire and Baroness, which now that I think about it are the 2 best comps that I could imagine for their sound (although neither is perfect. Bison is less melodic than Baroness but much proggier than High on Fire). The short 7-song track length doesn’t detract here, as 6 of the 7 tracks are magnificent (and the 7th, an instrumental jam, isn’t too shabby in its own right).

I still know next to nothing about this band (although their name used to be Bison B.C. Thanks Wikipedia!), but I do know that they’re firmly on my radar now after this release.

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Until the Earth is Empty”, “Anti War”, “Tantrum”

CODE ORANGE – FOREVER

Gritty, fuzzy, and pissed off, Forever attacks you with non-stop fury and endless aggression right up until the moment it decides to completely reverse course and drop some groovy melody on you.

These kids (I call them kids because A) their name used to be the Code Orange Kids, and Code OrangeB) there is a prevalent “fuck the man” attitude on this record that just sounds youthful. I have no idea how old they actually are) lean heavily into the hardcore side of metalcore, with their hissing screams having an overt rap sound to them and the guitars serving almost as an alternative percussion source. What results is pure viciousness, an aura of pure hate just oozing with anger strewn across every track…well, nearly every track.

You’ll be listening along to Forever, ready to put your fist through the Great Wall of China after the first three tracks, when suddenly you get a chilling blast in the face with “Bleeding in the Blur”, which is just a minor downturn in distortion away from being the alt-rock jam of the year. I don’t need my metal bands to be able to go soft, but I can certainly appreciate those that do it well. And Code Orange definitely can.

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Forever”, “Kill the Creator”, “Bleeding in the Blur”, “Spy”

ELDER – REFLECTIONS OF A FLOATING WORLD

Here’s a pro tip for all of you yunggins’ out there thinking about starting up a rock band (and I was in one for close to 3 weeks, so you know you can trust me): If every song on your album is going to be 13 minutes long, you better be pretty fucking good and pretty Elderfucking interesting. Otherwise these kids and their ADD just aren’t going to stick around to finish your record.

Luckily, Boston’s Elder doesn’t have to worry about that on Reflections of a Floating World. With the shortest track clocking in at 8:40 (and only 2 of the 6 tracks under 10 minutes), the album isn’t for anyone in the mood for some fast and furious action. The record is, however, and absolute clinic on how to avoid stagnation on tracks that last longer than most of my relationships. Their sound is fuzzy and yet clinical, giving of the stoner vibe while maintaining proggy precision. Reflections of a Floating World is a record completely worth getting lost in. You’ll never know what you’ll find in this fuzzy madness.

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Sanctuary”, “Blind”

FULL OF HELL – TRUMPETING ECSTASY

2017’s winner for Best Album Artwork, Full of Hell are true to their name on Trumpeting Ecstasy. Seriously, I imagine this is what they play on loop at Starbucks in hell. PushingFull of Hell noise to its most extreme extreme, this album will have you questioning where music stops and chaos begins. But for those of you willing to give it a few spins, you’ll see that this is some of the mostly tightly organized, technical, fun chaos around.

For all there is to be said about the insane pace at which this album comes at you, Full of Hell truly hit their groove on the last 2 tracks, which coincidentally are the 2 slowest tracks on the record (and I use the term “slowest” VERY loosely). Rather than napalming the entire landscape, “Trumpeting Ecstasy” is a small blaze that slowly burns out of control, with “At the Cauldron’s Bottom” serving as the point when it all spins out of control.

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Crawling Back to God”, “Trumpeting Ecstasy”, “At the Cauldron’s Bottom”

GHOST BATH – STARMOURNER

Rather than ignoring it and losing all credibility that I have with all of you out in internet land (and really, what else do I have in life?), lets deal with that big old elephant in the Ghost Bathroom right off the bat. Can I understand a single word said (shrieked?) on this album? No, no I cannot. Do I enjoy the vocals (screeches?) on this record? No, no I do not. My first experience with Starmourner lasted all of 30 seconds after the vocals kick in on the second track. At first, they are rather unbearable, unintelligible and distracting from the music.

But while checking out Fallujah and Thy Art is Murder on tour this year I was able to experience these guys live. And you know what? The vocalist isn’t too bad. He is leaps and bounds (and a jet ride to Tokyo) better live than he is on this record. It is with that new knowledge that I was able to revisit Starmourner and discover that behind the shrill cries of the lead singer lies one of the instrumentally strong albums of the year.

One of the easiest ways to earn points with me is to do something different within a firmly established genre (like Khemmis and Pallbearer in Doom). Starmourner is black metal unlike anything I’ve ever heard, and quite possibly anything that has existed before. I have never heard black metal that sounds so…happy? The thrumming guitars are played at an unbelievably fast pace, and yet the result is something bizarrely fun and groovy.

So yes, gripe away at the vocals. I won’t blame you. But if you try to approach this as an instrumental record (that a drunk buzzard that wouldn’t shut up happened to be in studio for), then this is one of the finest records of the year.

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Seraphic”, “Celestial”, “Luminescence”

GOD MOTHER – VILSELEDD

The band hasn’t even officially broken up yet and I’m already having Dillinger Escape Plan withdrawal. What am I supposed to do with my life without their mathy insaneGod Mother goodness? Well fear not fellow Dillies (I just made up that nickname. It is not very good), for Sweden’s God Mother are here to rescue us from (or perhaps drive us deeper into) the darkness.

Combining the unbridled chaos of early DEP with the grooves of Every Time I die (with a healthy splash of hardcore and sludge to boot), Vilseledd comes at you like a freight train of aggression, barreling at you with quick hitting tracks with no interludes, no clean vocals, and no intros to give you a chance to breathe.

While it’s too much to put on their plate at such an early stage of the band’s existence, Vilseledd shows that God Mother are the worthiest contenders to DEP’s throne right now. And that may be the single-highest praise that I can bestow upon a band.

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“By the Millions”, “No Return”, “De Ovälkomna”

IGORRR – SAVAGE SINUSOID

Hands-down the winner for the Most Ambitious Album of 2017, Savage Sinusoid is a bizarre combination of metal, jazz, classical baroque, and something called “Trip-Hop”, Igorrrthat I’m sure all the kids are crazy about. The resulting album stretches the definitions of not only what can be considered “metal”, but music in general. While vacillating frequently between “incredible” and “unlistenable”, the album is nonetheless one of the more interesting, if not fun, records of the year.

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Viande”, “ieuD”, “Opus Brain”

LENG TCH’E – RAZORGRIND

Seriously, what the fuck is in the water (or chocolate?) in Belgium right now? Because it seems like every couple of weeks the tiny European waffle factory keeps popping out Leng T'cheanother great metal record. Between Oathbreaker in 2016 and Leng Tch’e and Amenra this year, that is three fantastic records from a place slight bigger than Massachusetts.

Few albums in recent memory encompass their title more than Razorgrind, a sharp, piercing exercise in grindcore the doesn’t let up from the moment you hit play. Vocalist Serge Kasongo’s varied delivery throughout the records keeps things interesting, as I’m not sure any single one of his vocal styles (he has at least 4 distinct styles that I count on the record) would be strong enough the carry an entire album. But his multitude of screams and the punk-tinged terror of the music create a terrifying hellscape on Razorgrind, one very much befitting the band’s name (fun fact: Leng Tch’e is the name of an ancient Chinese torture method, roughly translated to “Death by a thousand cuts”. So that’s fun!).

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Gundog Allegiance”, “Commitment Fail”, “The Red Pill”

LORNA SHORE – FLESH COFFIN

It is a dirty word, spoken only in hushed tones in dark alleyways late at night. Look carefully at your surroundings before speaking it, for to be heard speaking the dark Lorna Shoreword will lead to the life of an outcast. Your loved ones and strangers alike will banish you from their thoughts, for you are lesser than them. You are tainted. The word? Deathcore.

I’m being a BIT melodramatic here, but even I cringe at the thought of deathcore. The breakdowns. The hardcore kids doing cartwheels and rhythmic gymnastics across the pit while trying to accidentally elbow someone in the face. The awful, cheesy, laughable gutturals that seem to only find footing in this one subsection of metal. And with that being said, I’m ashamed to admit that 2017 was a GREAT year for deathcore.

Case in point is New Jersey’s Lorna Shore, who serve you a hearty helping of death on Flesh Coffin with just a splash of core to keep the fanbase happy. The breakdowns are few and far between, the gutturals fit in with the natural flow of the album, and the funeral doom-y guitar tones create an atmosphere that I’ve never heard on any deathcore album. This album is phrenetic and haunting, menacing and yet sorrowful. And it absolutely rips.

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Offering of Fire”, “Denounce the Light”, “Flesh Coffin”

MOONSPELL – 1755

My only regret with 1755, which is one of the most haunting and enthralling listens of 2017, is that it’s a concept album that I can’t understand because I forgot to learn how to Moonspellspeak Portuguese before diving into the record. But even with the slight (and I mean SLIGHT) handicap, 1755 is a sonic journey, taking you right into the heart of the 1755 earthquake that levelled Lisbon and the aftermath.

Their first full-length record in their native tongue, Moonspell have created a haunting listen on 1755 that is still surprisingly accessible right from the start. While many concept albums require a block of your day to prepare, listen, react and contemplate, every track on 1755 stands on its own.

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Desastre”, “Todos Os Santos”

MYRKUR – MARERIDT

Half metal and half Scandinavian folk, Mareridt is one of the most atmospherically rich albums of 2017, jumping back and forth between piercing black metal and sorrowful folkMyrkur while somehow maintaining a consistent aesthetic between the two. Mareridt tiptoes the line between metal and not throughout the record, but even its lighter moments come with a crushing weight that most metal bands can only dream of achieving.

Frontwoman (and sole band member) Amalie Bruun succeeds at both ends of the spectrum on this record, with her beautiful voice shining through the darkness of the music in her clean segments, while her screams add a level of darkness on top of the black metal tracks.

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Maneblot”, “The Serpent”, “Crown”

THY ART IS MURDER – DEAR DESOLATION

A great man once surmised many years ago that if you removed every single stupid love scene in which Kelly Preston appeared from the movie “For Love of the Game”, what Thy Art is Murderwould be left is one of the best baseball movies ever (this man is so great that I have, in fact, forgotten who he is). Listening through Dear Desolation leaves you with that similar sense of what could have been had the band not included A STUPID HOKEY TERRIBLE MIND-BOGGLINGLY BAD DEATHCORE BREAKDOWN IN EVERY SINGLE FUCKING SONG!!! Oh, what could have been.

90% of Dear Desolation is a master work in death metal from an unexpected source. The aussies, never exactly known for their technicality or craft, wrote some of the best death metal of the year on this record, and then (possibly to satisfy their previous fan base) threw in just a hint of deathcore on every track with a literal grimace-inducing breakdown. It’s like if someone put googly eyes on the Mona Lisa. God I’m getting upset just thinking about it again.

If you can deal with there being a giant pimple right on the forehead of every song, Dear Desolation is one of the best death metal records of the year, and hopefully the steppingstone for the band leaving their deathcore roots behind and going full death metal in the future.

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Slaves Beyond Death”, “The Son of Misery”, “Puppet Master”, “Death Dealer”

WEAR YOUR WOUNDS – WYW

Seriously, somebody needs to find Jacob Bannon and give that guy a hug, because it sounds like he needs one. Prior to releasing what is inarguably one of the angriest Wear Your Woundsalbums of the year (Converge’s The Dusk in Us), he dropped WYW, the debut from his side project Wear Your Wounds. The sound could not be more different than Converge, as gone are all the screams and angry guitar tones, replaced with a piano and Bannon’s timid, mournful singing voice.

The one thing the two records do have in common is that they are two of the most emotionally charged albums of the year. WYW is packed full of sorrow and sadness, replacing Converge’s anger and aggression with an equally powerful, albeit wholly different emotional state.

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Wear Your Wounds”, “Iron Rose”, “Shine”

WINTERSUN – THE FOREST SEASONS

Despite how over and misused the term may be, few bands are quite as EPIC as Wintersun. Every sprawling track transporting you to a long-forgotten time and place, Wintersunwhere brave men ride their steeds into battles against a vast dragon army, all to win the fair princess’ heart. But there can be a cost to said epicness, and Wintersun unfortunately pay it on The Forest Seasons.

If your album is going to only be four songs long, each song better be fantastic, and it pains me to say that this is only true of the first two tracks of The Forest Seasons. “Awaken from the Dark Slumber (Spring)” and “The Forest that Weeps (Summer)” are everything you could ever want from Wintersun and more. Powerful, complex, moving, and heavy, I was convinced that this would be an album of the year contender after I first heard the opening 2 tracks. The last 2 tracks, however, are the one thing that a metal song should never, EVER be. Boring.

“Eternal Darkness (Autumn)” sounds like a very half-assed attempt at black metal by a band that doesn’t fully understand what is good about the genre, and I can’t even think of anything snarky to say about “Loneliness (Winter)” because I’ve already forgotten it (despite finishing the song about 2 minutes ago).

So what does that leave us with? A deeply flawed, but still worthwhile listen. Few bands can match the sheer awesomeness of the 2 opening tracks, so much so that Wintersun still earns a spot on this list despite half of their album being the sonic equivalent of dog shit.

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Awaken from the Dark Slumber (Spring)”, “The Forest that Weeps (Summer)”

Albums of the Year – #1

AMENRA – MASS VI

I’m not gonna sit here and pretend like I’m the world’s longest-running Amenra fan. I saw them open up for Converge & Neurosis in August having never heard of them before, and in a whirlwind romance over the fall they’ve quickly become one of myAmenra favorite bands. So you can imagine how excited I was to discover that Mass VI was coming out this winter. My expectations LITERALLY could not have been higher for this release. If my Spotify versions of Mass III and IV were actual records I would have worn them out in the months leading up to this release. So did it live up to my own hype?

You better fucking believe it. Mass VI isn’t the best album ever. It probably even isn’t Amenra’ best work (god Mass III is good, isn’t it?), but this is an incredible album. Mass VI is a case study in how metal doesn’t have to rely on technical wizardly and sheer speed to be heavy. Never much for guitar wankery, Amenra have slowed things down on Mass VI, creating a crushingly dark sound that hits with the force of thunder on every beat. The song writing is so good, and the musicianship so spot on, and just about every little thing about this album is perfect.

The biggest departure from the previous Mass albums is the expansion of clean vocals, which were previously almost non-existent. They work out to be the perfect juxtaposition to his hellish screams, providing a perfect counterbalance while still instilling a sense of dread and unease throughout. There are quite a few metal bands that have achieved success recently by embracing clean vocals (Mastodon, Opeth and Gojira spring to mind), but Amenra are the unlikeliest success story of the bunch.

If I was nit-picking (and who doesn’t love picking nits), I would say that the only drawback is that on an album with four true tracks on it, 2 of the four fall merely into the “really, really good” category (“Children of the Eye” & “Plus Pres De Toi”), rather than the “great” category (“A Solitary Reign” & “Diaken”). But even so, the closing tracks are so strong (and the other tracks certainly strong enough) that Mass VI is a relatively easy pick for my Album of the Year.

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“A Solitary Reign”, “Diaken”

Albums of the Year – #2

THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER – NIGHTBRINGERS

2017’s preeminent death metal record, Nightbringers is a master class in tightly controlled chaos, combining frenzied guitar riffs and violent drumming into some of the catchiest metal that you’ll ever hear. Trevor Strnad’s consistently wild vocals shine, Black Dahlia Murdernever letting the album grow stale despite never coming within a light year of anything approaching “clean” vocals. This record is a furious and frenetic whirlwind, stomping at the gas pedal from the word Go and never letting up.

What is perhaps most impressive about Nightbringers is that while there may not be a top-10 track of the year on the album, nearly every song on this album deserves a spot on the shortlist for the top 25. Not one of the 33 minutes on this album is dull, with each song fully capable of squirming its way into your brain. For a record so brutal, so angry, so fucking VIOLENT, Nightbringers is still somehow one of the most fun records of the year.

While I’ve always enjoyed the work of the band, it’s always been a song here, and a song there, and never a complete album. No longer. Nightbringers might be the most tightly orchestrated metal album of 2017, with incredible musicianship and amazing arrangement tucked away neatly behind a curtain of violence and viscera. You can dig deep and discover that this is an amazingly written record, or you can just enjoy the fury and head bang your head off. Your choice.

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Widowmaker”, “Nightbringers”, “Kings of the Nightworld”

Albums of the Year – #3

MUTOID MAN – WAR MOANS

No band, through sound or attitude, seems more primed to carry the torch left after Lemmy’s passing than these guys. Another “supergroup”, Mutoid Man have an energetic,Mutoid Man driving sound that can only be compared (although still markedly different) to Motorhead.

Previously only really known for one hit (Gnarcissist), War Moans is packed full of fast paced, energetic rockers that prove these guys are not just one-hit wonders. Ben Koller’s (of Converge fame) drums and Nick Cageao’s bass are the backbone of the record, propelling each and every track forward at breakneck speed, providing an amazing counterpart to the softer, gentler vocals.

My friend Steve gave this album a listen and told me that it did nothing for him. Which just goes to show you that Steve has no fucking idea what he is talking about. This album is fantastic.

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Melt Your Mind”, “Bone Chain”, “Headrush”, “Irons in the Fire”