I continue to feel very fortunate to have a place at Metal Injection and other media outlets to share what I believe to be the best music in the world. It seems like each year, this task gets harder and harder to achieve as I find myself further entrenched in metal's culture. I am continually finding new bands and labels, meeting new people who do a world of good for the music I love. While holistically 2017 was quite taxing, I was able to find solace in much of the music I listened to and covered throughout the year—which was quite a lot. I think I did more premieres and Funeral Doom Friday entries than I can count at the moment.
Nevertheless, I took it upon myself to really sit down and pick out what I liked the most this year. I have already written up my five favorite funeral doom records for my weekly column—it is independent of the list below. Of course, this list is subjective. This is purely what I enjoyed this year, not a be all end all list of metal in 2017—although it comes close if you ask me. I hope that if your favorite album from this year isn't on mine, then let me know in the comments that I need to check it out. I am certainly always interested to hear what you all are listening to. There is undoubtedly something I missed this year. I also implore you all to check out my fellow colleagues' lists and continue to find new, exciting metal.
Additionally, there were many albums that came out in the last couple of months that I wish I had more time to sit with. With the exception of two albums in my top 10—which I had a little longer than others and was able to really enjoy—there were some records that could have made this list if given more time. Mainly, the new Morbid Angel as well as the debut of Entheogen and the return of The Clearing Path. All three could reasonably show up in next year's albums of the year though. Now, without further ado, my top 10-ish albums of the year.
10. Krallice – Loüm/Go Be Forgotten
Krallice has never missed on an album, in my opinion, and their latest two albums certainly continue that trend. The experimental black metal band released two new full-length albums in a rather quick succession, Loüm in late October and Go Be Forgotten in the middle of November, which they introduced with only a couple of terse social media posts. The band brought in Dave Edwardson of Neurosis and essentially handed him the reins for the record. Edwardson’s contributions fit seamlessly into Krallice’s efforts. His punk background and politically charged lyrics brought a different edge to Krallice’s oddball black metal, but his intensity and commitment to the band’s sound matched that of Krallice.
Go Be Forgotten on the other hand calls to an earlier Krallice sound. The band had leftover material from a time up until Hyperion that they couldn't let go to waste. Their decision to use it comes at a time when Krallice is arguably at their most experimental. On Go Be Forgotten particularly, there exists a heavy emphasis on keyboards and synths throughout the album. Colin Marston doesn't even play guitar on the title track, actually. He plays the keyboard for the whole song. Both Loüm and Go Be Forgotten fit incredibly well into Krallice's spectrum of music. It is always exciting to hear what this band comes up with. All I wish is that I had more time to sit with these records—it takes me a while to fully process their music—there's a good chance these albums would be much higher on my list!
9. Tchornobog – Tchornobog
Markov Soroka is a bit of a wunderkind of sorts. At just 21, the Ukrainian musician has been making music as various bands since he was a teenager. The self-titled debut of his genre-blurring Tchornobog rewards the time investment of his listeners with a captivating, hour-long composition. Not to slight Markov's other projects, but, personally, Tchornobog represents his most complete work to date. The densely layered guitars almost blur together once they mix with saxophones, trumpets, cellos, and pianos. At times, it becomes a swirling, chaotic mass of chords. At other times, it becomes a crawling display of death-doom.
It is as much Abyssal or Portal as it is disEMBOWELMENT. Soroka has an immense prowess when it comes to metal, even for his relatively young age. He rivals many great up-and-coming talents in death metal with this debut of his self-reflective project. The self-devouring and disemboweling cycles of Tchornobog plant themselves amongst the best examples of death metal this year.
8. Botanist – Collective: The Shape of He to Come/Collective: Setlist 2017
Botanist has always been an intriguing concept that challenges a lot of the norms for genres like black metal. Otrebor has long operated on his own to make this music, but the Collective… releases present Botanist as the name suggests—a full band. Otrebor brought in unique talents, like Balan from Palace of Worms and Bezaelith of Lotus Thief, to give a different spin on Botanist's already unique music. The same instrumentation from his prior works remains, but there are different hands on them this time around. The additional vocals make for an incredibly expansive experience—Otrebor challenged himself to do clean vocals. The result of all this experimenting is breathtaking. "Upon Veltheim's Throne Shall I Wait" on its own was one of my favorite highlights of the year.
The second release from Botanist showed just as much vivid imagination. The Collective: Setlist 2017 took 14 of Otrebor's previous releases and captured them in a live setting with another full band. As much as I love to listen to Botanist's music through my headphones, I have desperately wanted to see the band perform live. This tape affords the rare chance to hear the band's live sound in the comfort of your own home.
7. Vanum – Burning Arrow
K. Morgan and M. Rekevics simply get black metal. They have long been pivotal members in some of the United States’ most forward-thinking metal acts. Now, the duo’s project called Vanum returns in 2017 trimmed, direct, and forceful. Their Burning Arrow EP channels early Rotting Christ and Master’s Hammer into a triumphant, three-song effort. The triumphs of this project's music mirror the triumphs of both K. and M. in their musical conquests. This powerful duo has found a sharp and exacting sound through Burning Arrow. Should this blazing path continue to be a part of Vanum's repertoire, then they are methodically crafting a dynamic and formidable sound for the future.
6. Primitive Man – Caustic
If you turned hate into something tangible that you could hurl at your enemies, it would be Primitive Man's Caustic. Ethan Lee McCarthy, Jonathan Campos, and Joe Linden comprise Primitive Man and are the conduits through which this hate flows. McCarthy's ridiculous howls and the trio's thunderous instrumentation are enough to shake the teeth right out of your head. Yet, digging beneath the dense surface; their noise-ridden, deadly sludge brings a sledgehammer down on issues like racism and capitalism. Officially their second full-length record, Caustic is a staggering listen at almost 80 minutes and it really stirs up the old existential dread through lyrics that peel away the horrifying truths of our society.
5. HELL – HELL
Few acts capture the unparalleled dread that Salem, Oregon's HELL does. For over a decade, M.S.W. has been crafting, without a doubt, some of the heaviest music in underground metal. He created HELL as a conduit for dealing with death surrounding his life. This has consequently brought a macabre sense of despair to his project's music. His oppressive form of extreme and droning doom has leveled speakers and caved in eardrums. The thick, trudging riffs throughout his newest, self-titled effort almost carry the physical weight to crush a listener. "Machitikos" and "Wandering Soul" showcase an undeniable groove while the 12 and a half minute slow-burner, "Victus", stands as one of the band's most radiant moments to date. It incorporates somber guitar chords and violins (courtesy of Gina Hendrika Eygenhuysen). As the song evolves, these strings are woven into the glacially-paced madness, resulting in Hell's most funerary moments.
4. Mastodon – Emperor of Sand/Cold Dark Place
Full disclosure: Mastodon will forever be my favorite band. Their eighth studio album, Emperor of Sand, and their four-song EP, Cold Dark Place, show Mastodon at their most diverse. The former sees the band dance between mainstream radio hits like "Show Yourself" and "Steambreather" then dip back into early Blood Mountain/Crack the Skye-era sounds on songs like "Andromeda" and "Jaguar God". The source material for much of Mastodon's music finds roots in the personal experiences and strife that the four members go through—Emperor of Sand is no different. The quartet built a captivating narrative to convey the pain felt with Bill Kelliher's mother and Troy Sanders' wife battling cancer. It is a breath of fresh air to see a band closing in on their second decade together continue to make exciting music.
With Cold Dark Place, Mastodon pushes into darker, more poignant folk and rock music. While the songs themselves were originally intended as material from previous records; the four offerings exist wonderfully on their own. Of course, it would be cool to see how and where these songs may have slotted into their originally intended album. Either way, these compositions show a relatively subdued and somber Mastodon. Some of this may come from a bigger spotlight on Brent Hinds during these four songs. The closing title track, in fact, quickly became one of my all-time favorite Mastodon songs. It's intriguing to think what Mastodon might choose to do going forward. If they continued along this path that these tracks set up, I would be all over it.
3. Cavernlight – As We Cup Our Hands and Drink From the Stream of Our Ache
The debut full-length album from Oshkosh, Wisconsin’s Cavernlight is undoubtedly one of the most stirring and profound pieces of music to be released this year. Through five cathartic odes to anxiety, depression, and other inner demons; the quartet rains droning doom metal among other metallic motifs that move listeners to visible emotion. Their beautiful sadness resonates on a similar level to that of Jason Molina’s works or England’s Warning. The album also features perfectly placed guest appearances from Inter Arma's Michael Paparo, False's Rachel N., and singer Sarah Green.
As We Cup Our Hands… does what many other albums are able to do—make listeners feel. Consequently, it displays the links between art and pain in a wonderful manner. The album personally allowed me to channel some of these feelings that are often hard to describe or convey. As We Cup Our Hands… delivers a much-desired reminder of the emotive properties that excellent doom metal should inherently possess.
2. Spirit Adrift – Curse of Conception
As a child of the early 90's, I was a little too young to witness the peak of bands like Metallica and Iron Maiden. I was also definitely too young to witness Black Sabbath at their zenith. However, Nate Garrett and Spirit Adrift grant a rare opportunity to feel that same energy that came with Master of Puppets and other classic albums. On the band's second album; Spirit Adrift shifts away from the Sabbathian vibes on Chained to Oblivion towards a doomed take on classic thrash metal. Like, say, Master of Puppets but at two thirds the speed. I actually catch myself subconsciously headbanging to "Graveside Invocation" regularly.
The album's soaring, triumphant sounds marry a concept that souls are gifted to bodies and ultimately beat down through physical existence. Yet, Garrett uses the album to weave in hope and positivity to create a vehicle for conviction. As these conflicting emotions sway back and forth; Curse of Conception gives a great lesson to those who continue to struggle even as humanity is beaten down by its various demons.
1. Yellow Eyes – Immersion Trench Reverie
Immersion Trench Reverie was, by far, my most anticipated and played album of this year. Their style of music has made them one of my personal favorites since I discovered them a few years ago. Yellow Eyes reestablished the bar for black metal in the United States in 2017. The first thing to note, Immersion Trench Reverie represents a bit of a new approach for the Brooklyn band. Much of the radiant qualities of their previous album Sick with Bloom still exist, but their new music comes with a greater sense of urgency. Their riffs are more succinct and much fiercer. They effortlessly fuse eastern European black metal with some of the more cerebral and introspective qualities the United States has its blackened edifice on.
The Skarstad brothers traveled to Siberia prior to recording their new album and returned with a collection of field recordings that made their way into Immersion Trench Reverie. Wild dogs, distant chimes, and more populate this exceptional record. I hate to use a word that's in the title of the album, but the record is simply an immersive experience. It is a combination that has certainly resulted in one of the most necessary displays of black metal this year and my favorite record from the band.