My Top 10 Metal Albums of 2017

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.

Lettuce begin.

Album art for Gateway Specter by Ancalagon.

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.

Album art for Furnace by Ancst.

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.

Album art for Infrared Horizon by Artificial Brain.

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.

Album art for Buioingola's Il Nuovo Mare.

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.

Album art for Cosmic Horror II by Cult Cinema.

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.

Album art for The Haunting Fear of Inevitability by The Drip.

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).

Album art for Cognitive Erosion by Glacial Tomb.

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.

Album art for The Blackest Volume by Sunlight's Bane.

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.

Album art for Time Lurker.

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.

Hodorable Munitions

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.

 

Women in Metal (2017)

My daughter is total frontman material. She’s begun that timeless tradition of microphone mimicry, holding an assortment of implements up to her mouth and singing in front of the mirror. All imitation aside, she’s got a mean creative streak too, spinning her own lyrics to “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” (I’m partial to the one that goes, “Daddy, daddy, daddy, da…”).

Although Gorgonna’s musical tastes are only just now developing in earnest, I’ve begun to curate a wealth of material she can reference when she’s fully ready to step into the spotlight and accept the cold embrace of female-fronted metal music. Here are but a few of the noteworthy women in metal I listened to in 2017:

Arch Enemy's Alissa White-Gluz.

 

Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy)

Let’s not fool ourselves — Arch Enemy brought female-fronted screams to the mainstream, proving that ladies could growl gutturally as well as any man. And although Will to Power doesn’t do much musically that diverges from Arch Enemy’s now well-worn formula, the diverse vocal talents of Alissa White-Gluz (now three years into the gig after filling the formidable shoes of her trailblazing predecessor), shows they still have areas they can explore. Time will tell whether they’ll go full Agonist in the future, but Gorgonna had better start exploring those territories now if she has any hope of inheriting Alissa’s mantle. (Hey, if you’re gonna dream, dream big.)

Michelle Nocon of Bathsheba.
(Photo credit: No Clean Singing)

Michelle Nocon (Bathsheba)

Most doom metal makes me want to willingly enter an everlasting coma. But if every doom album had a vocal performance as entrancing as Michelle Nocon’s on Servus, my frail consciousness just might be up to the task. Nocon’s voice floats wraith-like above the rest of the band’s bone-crunching sound, but it’s her harsh vocals — a dry, necromantic rasp, full of venom yet still very female-sounding — that offer a refreshing take on the typical monstrously macho vocal style. I promise I’ll hide my initial cringing if Gorgonna’s serious musical attempts start slowing to doom-like tempos because I’ll know there’s a chance it could be like Bathsheba.

Cheri Musrasrik and the rest of Succumb.

Cheri Musrasrik (Succumb)

Speaking of atypical vocal styles — what the fuck, Cheri? Your band is already playing a type of dizzying, dissonant death metal that I can’t quite categorize, thanks in no small part to your unorthodox (for death metal, anyway) vocal style. But damned if I’m not impressed how your hoarse, reverb-heavy shouts add abyssal new dimensions to what’s already a chaos-fueled ride. If this is what madness sounds like, I need more of it.

Kelly Schilling, Lauren Vieira, and Dreadnought.

Kelly Schilling and Lauren Vieira (Dreadnought)

Like the mighty tides themselves, the entirety of A Wake in Sacred Waves ebbs and flows between sublime crushing heaviness and startling moments of beauty. I can’t help but credit much of that to the vocal performances of Kelly Schilling and Lauren Vieira (who also handle keys and guitar duties respectively, earning them a double dose of kudos). While both musicians lend their gorgeous voices, Schilling’s fearsome screams are among the best I’ve heard in all folk and black metal. Sometimes talent comes in spades — I can only hope the same for Gorgonna someday.

Brittney Slayes from Unleash the Archers.
(Photo credit: Metal Archives)

Brittney Slayes (Unleash the Archers)

My current music-listening habits leave little room for power metal. Between all things black, death, and dissonant, I’ve all-but forsaken the uplifting genre of my youth. I’ve hung my sword and artifacts of power on the mantle. And yet somehow, magically — miraculously — I have heard the summons sent by Unleash the Archers and the powerful pipes of Brittney Slayes. She inflects so much charisma, energy, and, yes, power into her performance on Apex that I’ve once again taken up my sword in the name of all things good and just and glorious. It is a legacy worth passing down.

Linnéa Olsson (Maggot Heart)

Linnéa Olsson (Maggot Heart)

Step aside, Kelly Clarkson — woman empowerment now comes in the form of Maggot Heart AKA Linnéa Olsson. Loud, gothy rock jams have only recently begun popping up on my radar, and of all of them this one-woman singer, guitarist, songwriter, and all-around badass is leaving the biggest impression. I don’t want to know the kind of hurt that inspired the music behind City Girls, but it’s got enough grit and heart for me to want to hand Gorgonna a guitar and just start recording.

Obviously, there were plenty of talented ladies with teh methulz flowing through their veins who didn’t make this list, and, with one notable exception, they’re no less deserving than the ones who did (sorry, Amelie Brunn — Islamophobia isn’t becoming of you or anyone else). But I want to ensure Gorgonna has no shortage of metal role models to look up to — if you know a killer act I missed here, feel free to make mention and I’ll add her to the list.

An array of Thomas the Tank Engine toys lies spread out across the floor.

Crazy Train

Friends, let me tell you how madness starts.

It begins with an Amazon wish list…

Wait — too close. Let’s zoom out a bit.

It begins with a desire to make my child happy…

Sounds like a reasonable enough request, yes? As parents who have brought new lives into the world, we see them evolve from mindless, fleshy blobs into functional, mostly bipedal organisms with thoughts, feelings, and desires of their own…

But once those desires are projected toward objects of questionable motives, we’ve a right to become wary. Because deadly are the outcomes where our progeny obsess after those objects, and deadlier still when they consume us as well.

The head of Percy stares up from below an exercise bike.
He sees everything…

Toy Train Crazy, You Know

I saw it coming — I saw the signs, and I even foretold my own doom. I knew I had a predisposition to collecting — physical and digital music libraries, Magic cards, even hotel soaps and ticket stubs — and I foolishly thought that that foreknowledge would shield me from the fate that awaited me. But I was weak, worn, broken. I found the allure of the deceiver, Thomas, and his fell Friends too powerful to resist. And now my wallet pays the price.

The Thomas & Friends series of wooden toys has got me by the throat. There’s nary a body of water in the entire Wooden Railway, yet I’m drowning in it. From the very first purchase, it seduced me like forbidden fruit from a serpent. What started with only a few of Gorgonna’s favorite engines exploded into an intense yearning — mine, not hers — for more of them.

A period of weeks (I’m ashamed to say) passed where I attuned my every antennae toward the various heretical bazaars that would purvey these idols of wood, magnets, and metal. Amazon, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, thrift shops, garage sales… the possibilities for uncovering caches of rare rail-bound prizes seemed endless. And, so it seemed, would the resulting joy following their purchase.

But I knew from the beginning it was a problem — my typical idle time-wasters of checking email and dead-silent social media accounts buckled before the powerful hunger for sick deals and swelling lots of rare engines, tracks, and trucks.

The worn face of a Gordon sticker stares up from the bathtub floor.
Nowhere is safe…

The Divine Land

The obsession reached a boiling point at perhaps the greatest discovery yet — Totally Thomas, a specialty toy store with a dedicated rewards system meant to encourage (or in my case, assuage) the intense, burning infatuation for all things related to the Cheeky One.

On our first visit we unearthed an unopened two-pack of Giggling Troublesome Trucks (the 2013 out-of-manufacture model by Learning Curve, $42.50 on Amazon at the time of purchase) for half the price. We also splurged for an older, open-box trackset at a 20% discount, quenching my desire for not only more trains but for retired (and therefore exclusive) products in a single transaction. It was like stumbling into my local record store and finding the non-remastered version of Rust in Peace — I’d found the holy grail.

The decked-out Thomas train table at Barnes & Noble.
One day…

For Lack of a Legacy

Like Philip II of Macedon, father to Alexander the Great, I aspired to grant unto Gorgonna a kingdom of her own, for that which I left was… well, nonexistent. I hadn’t been into Thomas growing up, and so I didn’t have any well-worn trains to pass onto her. More importantly, I didn’t feel like I was projecting my own likes and dislikes onto her — these were her interests I was supporting, not the usual impositions we mostly metal parents usually struggle with.

Of course, I’ve been blathering on about all this in past tense — as if I’ve somehow magically moved on from eyeballing the fluctuating prices of Rocky (the medium-sized crane engine, currently $21.55 on Amazon) or Tidmouth Shed (the engines’ resting place after a long day of Hard Work and being Really Useful; the $76.80 version with deluxe spinning turntable). Such items must be carefully monitored if I’m to relinquish my hard-earned funds upon even more wooden manifestations of my love and devotion.

And the worst part? Whenever we do break down and buy another piece of our ever-expanding Thomas-verse, as soon as those tracks are carefully set into their secure (and smartly universal) positions, I’m suddenly filled with an urge for more. Assembling the world one piece at a time is granting me a vision of what could be, a utopia where Thomas is prophet, Lord and Savior and burning bush. And because I’ve become invested in the lore, the fucking cartography of the Island of Sodor, I’m even more compelled to “fill out the map,” as it were. I’m well on my way to becoming a Thomas junkie, ever in search of my next hit.

I am proud, however: we are withholding a few engines (Marion, the railway steam shovel, $8.13 off Amazon, as well as the Stanley that came with the trackset) to serve as future holiday gifts. Don’t want her getting spoiled, right? Besides, there isn’t enough room on Gorgonna’s current number of tracks to support any more engines — and that’s the real problem isn’t it?

“I know that things are going wrong for me /

You gotta listen to my words.”

– “Crazy Train”, Ozzy Osbourne

Twilight of the Idols

As parents, I think we have a natural inclination to become invested in our children’s interests. We want them to know that we’re paying attention, we want to encourage their developing emotions in the hopes of one day applying them to something constructive (maybe even constructing real train tracks someday).

But this can’t go on. If there’s anything I’ve learned about parenting in the last two years, it’s that no era lasts forever. She’ll lose interest eventually, so there’s no reason to go so hard, as if it’s a defining part of her identity (or our parent-child relationship).

Then again, she might be establishing a life-long passion; she might go on to become an honest-to-Gordon railway engineer. Maybe she’ll be able to trace her love for trains all the way back to these first few possessions; by that time, they won’t be considered investments — they’ll be inspiration. There’s just no fucking knowing!

One thing’s for sure — if I’m going to make it through Gorgonna’s third year of life with her college fund intact, I’ve got to slow my roll. This is a hype train I have to hop off of.