Best Of 2017 – Zach Duvall: Recalculating… Recalculating…

Howdy.

As the full team top 25 article stated, 2017 was a year of big shifts at Last Rites. It was also a huge year of personal change for myself, but you don’t care about this stuff, you want jams. So in strictly metal terms, 2017 was generally another fun year of hobby blogging, discussing/arguing about tunes with friends, and general stuffing way too much music into my earballs.

I actually made a (largely failed) attempt to stuff less stuff into said earballs this year, as it can be pretty overwhelming (and pointless) trying to keep track of everything. So I spent more time on things that sounded fresh or different, and trusted friends to lead me to the best sounds I didn’t find myself. I didn’t even make a point of hearing certain popular albums unless I was told by someone I trust that it was a must hear. Go ahead and accuse me of being ill-informed on the subject if you want, but this is an unpaying hobby (kicks dirt at umps). As I find my tastes becoming less aligned with the supposed zeitgeist, I feel less guilty even trying to keep up. We should all challenge ourselves with our art consumption, but do so with music that is actually challenging, not something that went viral because it is like, so deep and meaningful, WOW.

Avoiding burnout is a balancing act of following your natural path while keeping your eyes open to new, interesting paths that tempt you along your way. It’s okay to be both regressive and progressive in your tastes. It’s okay to like metal that is deadly serious and political, and stuff that is insanely silly (Cradle of Filth is on my list, for shit’s sake). It’s better for the whole metal landscape, not to mention your state of mind.

Anyhoo, metal remains strong, plenty of variety, yadda yadda yadda. Let’s get to the listing!

HONORABLE MENTIONS

No list of honorable mentions can truly be complete without The Legendary Numbers Twenty-One to Fifty Logo Cloud of Legends!

Now then, let us ascend…

20. Succumb – Succumb

• Succumb brings in noise, sludge, and some post hardcore atmosphere, but their Redwood-sized tree trunk is still death metal. I’m still figuring this one out, but it was a blast from the first spin.
Bandcamp


19. Cradle of Filth – Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness Of Decay

• Rediscovering my appreciation for Cradle of Filth in my late 30s was not something I expected, but they’re on a serious roll in their career’s third act. Cryptoriana is their best in ages.
Homepage


18. Venenum – Trance of Death

Trance of Death might be the best album of the whole progressive, atmospheric, “modern” death thing that hit full swing a few years back with Necrovation and Morbus Chron. The three part title track is a masterpiece.
Bandcamp


17. Godflesh – Post Self

• The rather one dimensional A World Lit Only by Fire was a disappointing return for JKB and GC. Post Self, by contrast, is the most varied, mood-driven album they’ve done since Streetcleaner. Wholly entrancing and disturbingly dark.
Bandcamp


16. Squalus – The Great Fish

Record goes onto turntable. Shark on the turntable. Our shark. Mostly Giant Squid makes music about Jaws. Huge fan of Mostly Giant Squid and Jaws really enjoys album about Jaws. No brainer.
Bandcamp


15. Argus – From Fields of Fire

• A four year break and some lineup changes resulted in the moodiest Argus album yet, and likely their best. “No Right to Grieve” is the among the finest vocal performances of Butch Balich’s career.
Bandcamp


14. Dodecahedron – Kwintessens

• Mr. Late-to-the-Party (me) gave the Dodec debut a second chance right in time to get way into their sophomore album. Dear music scribes, reserve the term “forward thinking” for bands like this.
Bandcamp


13. Havukruunu – Kelle Surut Soi

• Yes, it sounds almost exactly like Moonsorrow. But guess what, I really, really, really, really, really love Moonsorrow and they didn’t release a 2017 album. This filled in just fine.
Bandcamp


12. Malokarpatan – Nordkarpatenland

• An irresistible brew of a proto black metal aura and classic heavy metal attack, all filtered through Slovakian folklore. But really it’s the raucously riotous riffery that makes this one of the year’s funnest records.
Bandcamp


11. The Ruins of Beverast – Exuvia

• Huge return to form after the mediocre Blood Vaults, and Meilenwald’s doomiest offering yet. You can’t fake this type of atmosphere, haunting vibe, or absolute heft.
Bandcamp

TOP TEN OF 2017

10. MORBID ANGEL – KINGDOMS DISDAINED

I deliberately tried to be a little reserved in my praise when I reviewed Kingdoms Disdained a few weeks back. This was, after all, a bit of a peace offering from an all time favorite band that betrayed faith with a huge turd, so those good feels might have been as much a fanboy factor as a result to the album’s actual quality. But with more time to digest the songs, it’s safe to say that Morbid Angel is 100 percent back; this thing is a monster, and probably the most brutal effort that Trey Azagthoth and company have every produced. They jumped right back in as if the first Tucker era never ended, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Welcome back, boys.

Last Rites review
Homepage


9. THE GREAT OLD ONES –
EOD: A TALE OF DARK LEGACY

Metal’s most overtly and successfully Lovecraftian band had an uphill battle ahead of them in attempting to follow up Tekeli-li, so they made the smart move: they didn’t try. EOD is largely of the same majestic mold as its predecessor — a gargantuan atmosphere and unsettling vibe mixed with oddly accessible black metal — but this one differs by emphasizing the violence. If Tekeli-li was the sound of being simultaneously in awe of and terrified by Lovecraft’s creations, EOD adds to that the guarantee that you’re going to be captured and subjected to many fates far worse than death. This is music for dark rooms, closed eyes, and a vivid imagination.

Also: pretty sure TGOO need to be suing the Duffer Brothers for stealing their cover art.

Last Rites review
Bandcamp


8. KLABAUTAMANN – SMARAGD

Klabautamann is one of two Zeitgeister family bands to choose 2017 as a good time to release their best record yet (more below). In the six years between The Old Chamber and Smaragd, they rediscovered two important characteristics: the weirdness and the rawness. Smaragd is as haggard as it is beautiful, as progressive as it is primitive, and most importantly, organic. Not “organic” in the sense that it feels connected to organisms or nature or something of that sort (although it often does), but organic in composition and direction. From the abrupt changes of “Into Depression” to the harrowing climax of “The Murderers,” everything feels earned. Klabautamann has tapped into the “anything is possible” kind of weirdness that Enslaved exhibited during their greatest period of discovery. The difference here is that Klabautamann seems to be running strictly on feel. It’s an enviable quality, to be sure.

Last Rites review
Bandcamp


7. LOCUST LEAVES – A SUBTLER KIND OF LIGHT

There’s a strong, very convenient desire to label A Subtler Kind of Light one of the outright strangest metal albums of the year, and that isn’t totally untrue. The free-flowing black/trad/prog music and unabashedly theatrical, rich-in-exposition vocals mean Locust Leaves don’t sound exactly like anyone else. But so many of these riffs come straight from the most classic roots of heavy metal, and some crucial shredding from Spectral Lore’s Ayloss (more on him below) means that there’s air-guitar material aplenty. Still, it’s deeply different in the same sorta inexplicable way that Hammers of Misfortune is deeply different; you know something else is going on, but it’s hard to say exactly what or how. More proof that even if Car A has the same destination set into their GPS as Car B, their trips will be wildly different because they’re setting out from wildly different places.

Last Rites review
I, Voidhanger Records Bandcamp


6. PARADISE LOST – MEDUSA

Has any band in all of metal made as triumphant a return to their previous throne as Paradise Lost? (“Hold my lava java” – Morbid Angel.) Their return to greatness was gradual, sure, and they never went away, but I don’t think anyone expected a later career trio as masterful as Tragic IdolThe Plague Within, and Medusa. Even more surprising is that Medusa is the most “extreme” album they’ve produced since Gothic a full 26 (!!!) damn years ago. And yet, this doesn’t sound like the work of old men trying to sound young again, but by weathered, worn old men that are resigned to their fate in the mostly gloriously doom metal way possible. This whole record is great-to-incredible, but the gorgeous title track is next level, and instantly one of the best tunes the band has ever penned in their lengthy career. Paradise Lost: the once, current, and future kings of heavy metal gloom.

Last Rites review
Homepage


5. PYRRHON – WHAT PASSES FOR SURVIVAL

Full disclosure: these boys are my boys. Fuller disclosure: these boys are now the boys. It has been pretty amazing watching them grow from a (very relatively) straightforward noisy tech death band on their earliest albums to the so-much-more-than-a-Gorguts-TITD-Starkweather-Swans-Demilich-hybrid they are now. Every release is another leveling-up. Most of What Passes for Survival is more brutal and focused than The Mother of Virtues, but when it expands outwards (the monumental “Tennessee”), its atmosphere is more effective, more functional than anything on that very good record. It’s easy to credit the growth to the addition of Steve Schwegler’s inhuman drumming or Colin Marston’s impeccable production, but credit must go to everyone. After all, Pyrrhon creates some of the nastiest, most antagonistic music in all of metal these days, but its a meticulous antagonism that is served by the incredibly smart songwriting and lyrics. There isn’t a moment on this record that feels safe; it’s an exhaustive tug-of-war between the compositions and the ugly things crawling all over them, both begging for your attention. To a certain kind of sick mind (mine), this is actually fun.

Last Rites review
Bandcamp


4. DIVINE ELEMENT – THAURACHS OF BORSU

Like the other album to feature Spectral Lore’s Ayloss on this list, there’s a convenient way to describe Divine Element’s Thaurachs of Borsu: an alternate reality version of Amon Amarth that got serious about their craft instead of indulging their cartoony side. Sure, the album carries all the battle-hardened, sword-clanging, axe-wielding qualities of its cover, but this is not some shallow show of strength, but infinitely headbangable melodic death/black metal that feels as sorrowful as it does triumphant. The songs carry a narrative quality, and not just because this is an actual story (the physical copy comes with a 20-page book); the music is tight but never rigid; and Ayloss’ lead work soars above it all like some heavenly observer refusing to get involved in the tragic events below. This album feels simple in nature, but it takes many spins for all of the layers and details to reveal themselves. It’s cliche to merely call something “great heavy metal,” but dammit all, this is just great heavy metal, man, and it’s still growing on me months after I first heard it.

Last Rites review
Bandcamp


3. PROGENIE TERRESTRE PURA – OTRELUNA

My original plan for this blurb was something about Geordi La Forge walking into Holodeck C with a really strange idea for the latest poor girl he’s subjecting to a night out. Something about a black metal band playing over a dubstep rave with a bunch of aliens, cybernetically modified humans, and androids dancing with each other. But the dancy parts have to be really bleepy and bloopy; there can’t be any illusion about this being space themed, of course. Oh, and the concert would have to be in the observation deck of a galaxy class starship, in orbit around a gas giant with particularly vibrant storms going on. Not just that, the bartender also has to yell at you in a way the previous bartender didn’t; Geordi thinks that will somehow enhance the experience. He also wants some really wacky light show… nothing you can see, but something you can feel, man.

“No, Computer, make it heavier, yes. And less organic sounding. Really pump up that mechanical vibe… good, yeah, that’s it…” [satisfied Geordi laugh]

Anyway, Geordi’s date doesn’t enjoy it all that much, but that’s only because I wasn’t his date. Yeah, that was my original plan for this blurb.

Last Rites review
Bandcamp


2. SATYRICON – DEEP CALLETH UPON DEEP

Everything Satyricon has done since the mid-90s has naturally been compared to the black metal they helped to define, but the band has refused to sit still. They have warped, flipped, expanded, and simplified their black metal, splicing it with industrial, arena rock, and gothic vibes, but always staying within a few steps of Nemesis DivinaDeep Calleth Upon Deep is among the most complete albums the duo has produced since that watershed classic; it connects to every stage of their career through songs that are in equal shares brooding (“To Your Brethren in the Dark”), blasting (“Black Wings and Withering Gloom”), bizarre (“Dissonant”), and infectious (the title track). It is a deeply tuneful and expressive album, and arrives at this quality with riffs that are less straightforward than they initially seem. All of this makes the album sound like a destination of sorts for the band, and if Frost and Satyr decided to hang up their icy gloves, Deep Calleth would be an extremely worthy finale. But long time fans know that this isn’t some destination, but yet another snapshot in their odd journey. They have rarely been better, even counting those 90s yesterdays.

Last Rites review
Bandcamp


1. VALBORG – ENDSTRAND

Endstrand is the machines in 1,000 weapons factories becoming self-aware and murdering their human masters for making them produce implements of death. Endstrand is the insistent pulse of an unending, ultimately underground industrial concert being held in the scenes of these atrocities. Endstrand is a severely blunt bludgeoning from out of nowhere, only to be left barely alive as your assailant whispers in your ear as if to calm you, knowing full well that you’ll never feel secure again. Endstrand is a nonstop assembly line of riffs, all driven home with more drive than a speeding Bullitt with Max Rockatansky in the passenger seat. Endstrand is the continuation and warping of DNA formed by Godflesh and Ministry in the late 80s, which means Endstrand is groovy, persistent, heavier than a neutron star but as vast as the space that surrounds it, and tailor made for a very demented dance floor. Endstrand is as much a sharp 180 from Valborg’s last album as that was from what came before it. Endstrand is all cylinders firing, from the minimalist songwriting to vicious production (those vocals!). Endstrand is Valborg’s best album to date, bar none. Endstrand is the most musical fun I had all year. Hot diggity dog.

Last Rites review
Bandcamp

MORE OF ANYTHING?
MORE OF EVERYTHING!

As with every year, 2017 had more than just Great Full Length Heavy Metal Albums, so let’s dive in!

TOP 5 EPS

5. Thantifaxath – Void Masquerading as Matter

• A weird bit of black metal weirdness that largely continues right where they left off with Sacred White Noise. That not-too-strange kinda strange.
Bandcamp


4. Daeva – Pulsing Dark Absorptions

• Heard this one for the first time about two weeks ago, and it made this big of an impression. Some of the best, most feral black/thrash I’ve heard in a while.
Bandcamp


3. Oranssi Pazuzu – Kevät / Värimyrsky

• One of the best bands in music today achieves a perfectly entrancing arc over just 16 minutes. It would feel like a teaser if it wasn’t so complete.
Bandcamp


2. Weeping Sores – Weeping Sores

• Pyrrhon vocalist Doug Moore surprises with a melodic doom/death project that isn’t too far removed from the earliest My Dying Bride, complete with the essential violin element.
Bandcamp


1. Code – Under the Subgleam

• Code was never gone, but mut definitely felt below their full potential. Under the Subgleam finds them sounding more ferocious than they have since Kvohst left to waste his talents singing gothy butt rock. Bring on the next full length, ASAP.
Bandcamp


OTHER FAVORITES

Favorite Split LP:
Howls of Ebb / Khthoniik Cerviiks – With Gangrene Edges / Voiidwarp
• A quality if bittersweet farewell for Howls of Ebb, and a killer continuation of the already great career for Khthoniik Cerviiks.

Favorite Live Album:
Atlantean Kodex – The Annihilation Of Bavaria
• Certainly no replacement for a new album, but a treat nonetheless. Absolutely captures and enhances that special vibe only they possess.

Favorite Non-Metal Albums by Previously Metal Bands:
Ulver – The Assassination of Julius Caesar
• Garm and company haven’t pleased my ears this much since Blood Inside, and the accompanying EP is super nice as well.

Anathema – The Optimist
• On the surface, there isn’t a huge stylistic shift from their last few, but there’s something darker and insidious going on here. Eternal masters.


RANDOM THOUGHTS

• A lot of record labels have pretty dependable output, but nothing excites me quite like a promo email from I, Voidhanger. Always interesting, frequently thrilling, never normal.

• Subscription streaming services are dumb and I will not obey. Give more money directly to artists via Bandcamp when you can. The Metal Detektor is still the best way to find music when you can’t.

• Hey, bands and bookers of bands, start shows earlier. The five percent of attendees that think later set times are more “real” aren’t worth sacrificing attendance by folks that work regular hours and have to still get up on a Wednesday morning. The status quo is bad for the scene(s).

• There is a very high volume of very good death metal happening right now, but very little of it is doing anything to push the genre forward. I can’t decide if this is good or bad or just normal.

• There is a very low volume of very good doom metal right now. That is all I’m going to say on the matter because my mama told me to start being nice.

• All I want for Christmas is the new Absu waiting for me under the tree.

Thanks for reading, folks. Enjoy the holidays give out hugs to people that aren’t dicks.

Posted by Zach Duvall

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; Obnoxious overuser of baseball metaphors.

  1. “Rediscovering my appreciation for Cradle of Filth in my late 30s was not something I expected…”
    For me, this is easily the most relatable line in this whole post. I listened to Cryptoriana a stupid amount of times this year (left it and TGOO of my top 10 b/c I’m dumb and posted that in haste). I feel a little goofy every time I cue it up (where’s yer black nail polish?!), but I just love the riffy-screechy little bastard.

    Reply

    1. It’s just soooooooooooooooooooooo full of classic metal riffage. It’s like Dani aimed to replace his old band with a ton of Maiden wannabes, and it worked crazy good.

      Reply

  2. Some very good choices (in particular Satyricon, Code, Venenum and your 11-13 choices) but I have to question some of the top 20 inclusions being there instead of the most excellent new Enslaved album. Probably their best since Ruun.

    Reply

    1. I liked it quite a bit, but I disliked In Times so much and didn’t want to force new Enslaved material. Still taking my time with it, gradually.

      Reply

      1. I disliked In Times as well, which made E such an immediate wake up for me.

        Reply

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