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.

 

Still from AFI's "White Offerings" music video, with vocalist Davey Havok looking deeply into the camera.

Gorgonna’s Playlist, Vol. I: AFI, Power Trip, The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)

It was only a matter of time before all the lullabies and nursery rhymes gave way to actual music.

Gorgonna’s going through a daily state of self-discovery. Along with picking up favorite food preferences, vexing behaviors to challenge us with, and other assorted yet endearing quirks, she has acquired an affinity for songs from Mommy and Daddy’s music libraries. I’m thinking that, since both the wife and I are music lovers (albeit on different, often opposing sonic spectrums), this isn’t going to be a rare occurrence. And naturally, I saw the inevitable outcome of making a recurring series out of it. So here we are.

Presenting Gorgonna’s Playlist: Vol. 1.

AFI – “White Offerings”

Currently, this is far and away Gorgonna’s favorite song. She requests it every time we get in the car, so much so it’s become synonymous with on-the-road travel.  I have to keep the CD in my car and have had to download it to my phone — just for the anywhere, anytime flexibility. She was first subjected to its emo/rock programming via a Sunday afternoon of repeated YouTube viewings — I think she likes the song as much, if not more so, for the enthused rock-out session I perform for her whenever it plays.

I’ve only recently developed a deep appreciation for AFI . I’d listen to a few tracks here and there during high school (what should have been my angsty golden years with them, I know), but they’ve largely been off my radar until now. I can attribute this excellent podcast for my current adoration (both for the podcast’s hosts and for their journey through the band’s discography), but it’s really the timeless quality of AFI’s music that has (ahem) ignited my passion for their songs. It does become a bit tiresome to play “White Offerings” every time we hit the road, but we follow it up with other favorite Blood Album tracks to keep things fresh for my sake.

Status: An Appealing Audio Offering

Power Trip – “Soul Sacrifice”

It seems so counter-intuitive, the way Gorgonna “happened” to like this song. This is metal, a style of music that wants to dominate, to make other genres bend the knee and swear fealty. More than that, it’s thrash — not exactly one of the more accessible subgenres. It’s noisy. But leave it to vocalist Riley Gale’s endlessly appealing charisma and delivery to win over the tykes as well as the die-hards. Gorgonna loves mimicking the opening “WAH!” and more deathly “Owwww!” that occur throughout the song; next thing you know, we’ll be enacting our own gang chants on “Firing Squad.”

My love for “Pow’ Trip” is well-documented. That Gorgonna mirrors even a fraction of the enthusiasm I feel toward this song in particular makes me a very proud papa indeed.

Status: Diaper Thrash

Ylvis – “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)”

Surely you remember the YouTube sensation that swept the world in — what was it, 2011? 2013? The one that had suburban grandmas, tech-illiterate uncles, and junior high schoolers all in a tizzy? Allow me to refresh your memory with a few of the lyrics:

“Ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding!
Gering-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding!
Gering-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding!”

Who could forget?

I’ll be honest — we bought the book-version of the song long before Gorgonna began turning paper pages, even going so far as to inscribe it with the first “Merry Christmas from Mommy and Daddy!” By then it had acquired too much sentiment to simply hide away, and so her exposure to it was assured; “The Fox” will forever go down in the Annals of History as the first “song” she ever liked. Although, to this day, Gorgonna has only seen the video a single time (at our house, anyway; I can’t vouch for the grandmas). But you only need to have heard the song a couple times to have its melodies entrenched in your deepest cranial pits forever.

At the very least, repeating the gibberish that makes up the majority of the song’s lyrics was (and still probably is) a serviceable way to distract Gorgonna from flipping out at the dinner table or on the diaper-changing pad.

Status: Situationally and Functionally Tolerable

Album Review: Power Trip – Nightmare Logic

At first listen, Power Trip’s Nightmare Logic sounds for all the world like your typical thrash throwback — a pandering, nostalgia-laden love-letter to a decades-saturated genre. So why the fuck am I enjoying it so much?

It proudly wears common thrash trappings like whammy bar-wankery, retro reverb, time-twisting tempo changes, and syncopated percussive punching ripped right from Ride the Lightning and other damned-obvious source material. And after multiple listens, I still can’t pinpoint any effort Power Trip has made to modernize what they’re doing on Nightmare Logic. Therefore, I have to conclude that this Texas quintet has written an honest-to-God goddamned good thrash album.

Album art for Power Trip's Nightmare Logic.

“Soul Sacrifice” riffs with Exodus-esque enthusiasm before breaking into a Slayer-like sprint. “Executioner’s Tax” rolls like thunder toward a passage of Ulrich-ian tom pounding, building up tension to return to a lightning-crack chorus. “Waiting Around to Die” — with its palm-muted to open-note picking pattern and hazy production — could fit right at home on So Far, So Good… So What! (and even fits better, if you remember that “502” exists). It’s all stuff we’ve heard before, but even Power Trip’s previous effort, 2013’s Manifest Decimation, didn’t get it this right.

What Nightmare Logic does so well is harness the infectious energy — the no-nonsense, fluff-free, often-imitated intensity — of the primordial Big Four and Co. and injects it full to bursting into nine solid songs.

Aside from a few lo-fi, analog-sounding synth intros and outros, there’s barely a wasted second on the entire thing. Each song flows seamlessly between vicious verses, killer choruses, headbanging bridges, and dynamic breaks. Certain riffs occasionally get milked (the outro of “If Not Us Then Who” comes to mind), but it never takes too much of our time before we’re tearing into another track. Even the tacked-on second-verse solos — their inclusion more a regretful courtesy to the genre than anything truly noteworthy — serve the higher purpose of stoking the reignited flames and keeping the old-school metal momentum going. Strange, then, that for all their efforts in recreating the past, Power Trip’s tunes are so good at moving us relentlessly forward.

Above all, the thing that would sell any Bay Area ‘banger on Nightmare Logic (and Power Trip as a whole) is the vocalist. We’ve endured thrash singers for years, we know what to expect: sharp, rapid barks, accenting the attack of the guitars. And although lyrically it’s nothing special, Riley Gale’s vocal delivery would have stood out even in ‘85. His brazen hardcore howls, occasionally dragging deliciously behind the beat, are pulled off with charisma and confidence. He’s not carrying the band by any means, but he’s a hurricane force to be sure.

Power Trip does seem to favor their 75-85 BPM backbeat-banger riffs, but given the nostalgic context these sections never feel out of place — they’re practically made to be played live and get the circle pit brewin’. I can perfectly picture the bridge from “Firing Squad” eliciting the kind of impromptu mosh pit camaraderie that makes you sling an arm around the slippery, sweaty shoulder of the hesher next to you — and him to you — and headbang in unison until both your goddamn heads rattle off.

Nightmare Logic doesn’t surge with unrestrained electricity, or seek to impress us with phenomenal fret- or feet-work (the drummer doesn’t have a double bass pedal). Power Trip wears their influences on their sleeves, and they don’t spend a second trying to convince us they’re anything more than what they are. Instead, Nightmare Logic hits hard and plunges deep, an IV needle pumping us full of magical, time-traveling fluid, miraculously bringing what was once thought dead back to life. This concise, carefully executed package is the real deal.

If you’ve ever argued over whether Metallica or Megadeth was the better band, I can’t imagine you not liking Nightmare Logic.

Support Power Trip and buy Nightmare Logic in the link located above.