2017 was a year of discovery. I dove deep into genres I’d only previously scratched the surface of, uncovering glittering gems among the mounds of musical possibilities. But every treasure has its price — the sheer amount of material I sifted through made me feel less familiar with my musical choices this year than any other; I feel less… I don’t know, attached to them? As such, I don’t have a de facto Album of the Year, and I can’t confidently arrange the nine preceding ones in any sort of order either. The result is a list that’s more like my Top 10 Listened-to Albums of the Year, and if that doesn’t sit well with you, well… you can always Ctrl + Shift + W.
Ancalagon – Gateway Specter
Black metal as a cross-genre — as an adjective — has become my favorite damn thing. I couldn’t get enough of it this year (blackened hardcore, blackened grind, blackened ahi…) but the most surprising instance of cross-pollination, and perhaps the most gratifying, was Ancalagon’s deft mix of BM and melodic death metal. Think The Gallery’s masterclass melodies spread all buttery-like on a blackened, toasty base. No soulless tremolollygagging here — Gateway Specter riffs with substance 99% of the time (which is more than most bands from any genre can muster), boasting some of the most memorable earworm riffs this year. I don’t think the chorus melody from “The Order of Pharazon the Cruel” will ever leave my head. Yum.
Ancst – Furnace
This is the first release of 2017 I really fell in love with. The wombo-combo of nihilistic black metal and vicious hardcore resonated so deeply with me that I’d actively seek out more in that vein throughout the entire rest of the year. I even forgive them for using a drum machine on Furnace. This wasn’t the only mini-offering Ancst released this year, but it was by far the most impactful for me. We’ll be hearing from them again in 2018, and I am very much looking forward to it.
Artificial Brain – Infrared Horizon
From the very first teaser track, Artificial Brain sunk neural needles into my actual, organic brain, compelling me to become their slave. The single wasn’t just some sci-fi fluke — the entirety of Infrared Horizon completely overtook me with its skronky, tech-death goodness as well as the surprising amount of feeling and texture injected into its ten concise songs. In terms of sheer enthusiasm this year, I was practically frothing at the mouth talking about this release, and probably will continue to do so until their next.
Buioingola – Il Nuovo Mare
I may not know how to pronounce this band’s name, but I do know that I like what I hear. A heap of different ingredients went into Il Nuovo Mare — bleak industrial, grinding black metal, and droning… uh, drone. Like a goulash of everything dark and depressive, it comes together so potently that, if it were food, your dinner guests would be knocking each other over, clutching their stomachs, to make it to the bathroom first. Thankfully, it’s music, and it sounds fucking sweet.
Cult Cinema – Cosmic Horror II
Chalk up another win for the evil influence of those crusty, blackened, punky subgenres. Cult Cinema’s Cosmic Horror II is perhaps the pinnacle of my findings in that space. Crispy, crunchy crust with delectable blackened bits spread throughout that had me dipping my hand in the cookie jar again and again.
The Drip – The Haunting Fear of Inevitability
What a shocker, huh? Who could have guessed that The Drip would serve as the gateway to greater horizons of grind (that sounds like a PS1-era skating sim)? Though I had no shortage of great grind albums to listen to, few of them were as enjoyable as The Haunting Fear of Inevitability. Something about this Washington quintet’s sophomore release captured the pure, unbridled, grinding aggression better than anybody else. And with tight songwriting to boot, I couldn’t help but return to this one again and again. Now if only I could see them live (c’mon, boys, you’re two measly states away, GET THE FUCK DOWN HERE).
Glacial Tomb – Cognitive Erosion
I’m ashamed to have lumped two EPs together on last year’s list. I now recognize the fallacy in thinking that because something is shorter makes it less deserving of accolades, especially when Cognitive Erosion probably got more listens than any full-length album for me this year. Four tracks of ball-crushing riffs and seething, sand-in-your-teeth grittiness — just listen to the bridge of “Black Hole White Teeth” and tell me that doesn’t get your goat.
Power Trip – Nightmare Logic
Sure, I had other reasons for listening to so much Power Trip this year, but I had it marked for my top 10 only after only a few listens. Providing just enough throwbacky goodness without feeling cheap, Nightmare Logic’s eight tracks tapped into the nostalgic parts of my subconscious that I’d thought had been eroded by adult cynicism long ago. A fist-pumping, headbanging good time.
Sunlight’s Bane – The Blackest Volume: Like All the Earth was Buried
On the surface, another crusty, blackened grind act on my list might point to a one-dimensional infatuation with a new, appealing genre mashup. But Sunlight’s Bane does a lot more within those genres than they get credit for. The Blackest Volume makes full use of the experimental frontier that is black metal while setting an electrifying pace thanks to slamming grind dynamics.
Time Lurker – Time Lurker
As far as I’m concerned, this is the best atmospheric black metal album that came out this year. No other release evoked the kind of swirling, abyssal atmosphere that I look for in that genre quite like Time Lurker did. The inventive drumming and awe-striking vocal performances set this one so far above Time Lurker’s peers.
Here goes all the stuff that didn’t quite get as much ear-time as the above ten releases, but got regularly routine spins on my phone or Zune. That’s right, I have a Zune — it’s from 2007 and it still works. Fuck your iPod.
Moribundo – Raíz Amarga – What’s this? A doom album? Just whose list is this?! To be fair, this is a death-doom album, emphasis on the death. The low gutturals aren’t anything new within the genre — neither are the somber pianos, synth choirs, or occasional female soprano vocals. But Moribundo ties everything together with an uncanny knack for damn good songwriting. “I wasn’t bored” might seem like a facetious way to critique a doom album, but coming from me, that means quite a bit. I wasn’t only not bored (double negative, ew) with Raíz Amarga‘s four tracks, I was invested the whole way through.
Pure Wrath – Ascetic Eventide – We got lots of quality atmospheric black metal this year. But no one had such a sublime grasp of melody than Pure Wrath from Indonesia. I already used my best language in my review earlier this year, saving me precious minutes of time in the future (thanks, me!): “If Pure Wrath channels the raw, indifferent force of Mother Nature’s fury, then Ascetic Eventide captures its essence and puts it in terms we can understand — driving purpose, thundering rhythms, and breathtaking melody.”
Bathsheba – Servus – Wait, there are TWO doom albums listed here?! You better fuggin’ believe it, Jimmy. While everyone was slobbering the knob of other doom acts throughout the year, I had already quite made up my mind about this one. Again, un-boring songs seem to be at the heart of what I consider to be quality doom, but Servus also had compelling vocals. And a saxophone.
Well, how badly did I blow it? Oh, well. There’s always next year.