Top Albums of 2017 – Aaron Maltz
Leading up to 2017, music came to fill the space between meandering employment, endless traffic (think Godard’s Weekend), and a growing spiritual vacuum. I consumed it fervently to balance out the stress bubbling subcutaneously and spent many nights staying up far too late enjoying good music and beer, only to wake the next morning struggling to understand why longing for freedom entailed such self-loathing. Through a long list of circumstances, my wife and I bucked these frustrations, selling our possessions in the process, and we spent the year volunteering on organic farms around the world.
We strove to eliminate the noise that distracted us from what we loved and find new perspective in the process, and music followed on that tour. Krallice’s Prelapsarian guided me cleaning out horse stalls in Herning, Denmark, and Urraca by Sunless eased the pain spreading wheelbarrows of compost in Scotland. Music no longer served as a crutch to a impotent life but a soundtrack to new adventures.
I don’t know whether this year produced fantastic music or I simply had a larger capacity for appreciation, but I feel as connected to the scene as a teenager. My continued work with From The Bandcamp Vaults has provided several entries on this list, including some non-metal albums found in the Honorable Mentions, and I’ll certainly discover more over the coming months that deserved praise. Feel free to agree, disagree, or remain indifferent with my aesthetic, but hopefully something strikes a chord.
Wode – Servants of the Countercosmos (Avantgarde Music, UK)
Immolation – Atonement (Nuclear Blast, USA)
Propagandhi – Victory Lap (Epitaph, Canada)
Blood Sun Circle – Distorted Forms (Drops Of Us, USA)
Shroud Ritual – Five Sons (self-released, USA)
And So I Watch You From Afar – The Endless Shimmering (Sargent House, Northern Ireland)
Loincloth – Psalm of the Morbid Whore (Southern Lord, USA)
LITE – Cubic (Topshelf, Japan)
Everything Everything – A Fever Dream (Sony, UK)
Mermaidens – Perfect Body (Flying Nun, New Zealand)
(I, Voidhanger, Italy)
There’s no question of Lorn’s black metal influence, but I hesitate to place them exclusively in the genre (perhaps out of personal bias). Arrayed Claws blends high dissonance and atonal melodies with classic thrash riffing, a combination that constructs a frigid and inviting decor. They carve plenty of room for reflection amid claustrophobic and hypnotic tones and, best of all, they know when to sit on a good riff.
(Gilead Media, USA)
Like every Krallice release, Loüm demands concentration, and it sits high on this list solely because of its relatively late release date. After only a handful of listens, it shreds the unfocused Prelapsarian and hits harder than anything post-Years Past Matter. While Dave Edwardson fits in nicely, I believe Krallice would have released the same album regardless as they continue to define their tech-death leanings and post-black metal trajectory. If you felt confused by their path, Loüm resets the course.
Urraca plays like one long track of endlessly dense death metal that would have fit in wonderfully on a bill with Death around the Individual Thought Patterns era. Sunless choke the air in their composition, but for all its noise, they squeeze an amazing amount of melody from constant dissonance. They pull back on riffs when needed and form timeless micro-environments in the process that bodes well for future releases.
(Sargent House, USA)
Mutoid Man stand on the fine line between cock-rock and killer math metal, and thankfully their chops adequately restrain their histrionic side (although “Date With The Devil” treads dangerously close). War Moans comes professionally polished in a package that asks to be taken with a grain of salt, aided by God City production that puts hair on your chest. You can enjoy the tunes in private reflection or public intoxication, as long as you sing along. Steve Brodsky can compose just about anything convincingly, and Ben Koller delivers a predictably amazing performance. “Bandages” is the centerpiece, which may be the first legitimate rock ballad of the 21st century.
(New Core Music, Canada)
How would you like to have your head kicked-in for 30 minutes by an instrumental tech-death masterpiece? Confining Teramobil to a singular genre serves them no justice. In addition to their mind-bending sounds reminiscent of Gorguts, they offer comprehensible elements of funk, psych, jazz, surf, classic and hard rock that adds up to what I like to call "jam tech-death" (patent pending). Magnitude of Thoughts swings when you need a reminder of the limitless talent of the human imagination.
(Music Fear Satan, France)
Horns in heavy metal has seen increasing use in the experimental realm, but their implementation in Bagarre Générale heads the committee. If Mahler penned the melodies for a Stormtrooper brass section while a troupe of James Bond villains played sludge, it would sound something like this. Doom metal takes a lot of punches, but Tohu-Bohu delivers them.
(Season of Mist, Netherlands)
Dodecahedron gets unfortunately lumped in with Deathspell Omega worship, but a thoughtful listen to Kwintessens should dispel the connection. While they excel in dissonance, their predilection for hooks and melody lift the album above a tritone bukkake. Wed those ingredients with convincingly terrifying vocals, and harrowing metal emerges.
(Skin Graft, USA)
Have you ever shown a dog a card trick? You’ll be met with head tilts and a strong desire to understand the message but end with little transfer of information between parties. Yowie have a similar effect upon the listener after an initial listen. They wrench an unusual blend of funk and math rock out of their instruments that finds melody somewhere between micro and atonal on the library shelf. Synchromysticism sounds dense but becomes logical with repeated listens, at which point conventional notation seems old-fashioned.
What Passes For Survival distills chaos and vents frustration better than any therapy session. It adheres to an intensity that sounds as much rooted in free jazz than death metal, with Doug Moore’s vocals at the heart. Every riff and growl gives the impression of spontaneous creation formed around his adherence to cathartic expression. Pyrrhon has created a mess in the best terms possible that hacks more than carves a new avenue in chaotic death metal.
(Metal Blade, France)
Igorrr envisions and executes on every permutation of every riff relating to every theme within a song, and I don’t hesitate to call him a musical genius. His dedication to his craft has developed new understandings of how melody, harmony, and structure fit together and earns him a solid place as artist of the year. With a master at the helm, the transitions from klezmer to black metal to jungle cohere into a ride that supersedes most of our thoughts and talent. He has fully realized himself as a singular entity with limitless creativity on Savage Sinusoid.