‘Tis the season for lists, and there is no shortage of them. Since it’s impossible to uncover every gem — those who feel they came close are surely bullshitting themselves — this is merely a list of what my year sounded like. Higher quality, less quantity. My only regret is that I didn’t make the time to write about more albums I truly loved throughout the year, but such is the case for someone who has to listen to 95% of their music on-the-go. The positive aspect of rarely sitting at a desk? My red cells choose my music, not my grey matter. While grey matter just hangs out upstairs and thinks, the red cells are circulating my bloodstream. They thrive off of the air that comes into my nostrils and fills my lungs. They are pumped through my heart. They change color as they require oxygen. They know what the score is.
If there is one central motif I internalized this year, it is the attempt to find the answer to the following question: What is native? When humans analyze art from a safe distance, they do it a bit of a disservice, don’t they? Is Candlemass best received under the comfort of your own roof, or drunkenly leaning over a second story railing and belting out lyrics alongside ten of your best friends? Exhumed sounds fun as hell on vinyl, but can you truly experience the music without being wrapped up in plastic intestines as you run around in circles with a bunch of sweaty strangers? If one was to take a glimpse of metal, say, six thousand years from now, they would have so little attachment to the issues / struggles of our time, that they would be able to view it unemotionally and in its purest state. No different than if one were to fly through the past and watch the Yellow Emperor’s defeat of the Flame Emperor in the ancient Battle of Banquan, there would be no bias toward one party or another, as the onlooker would simply see the struggles, conflicts and violence unemotionally, and for what they were. Now, envision the headbang, the circle pit, the slam dance, the headwalk, the devil horns, and the stage dive and accept these as a small aspect of our culture. We may be separated by oceans, or flags, or wars, or silly internet arguments; But one day a very long time from now, I’d like to think metalheads are seen as one tribe, and anyone taking a glimpse into this culture would give up a kidney if it meant they could dance the fucking Mamushka with us just one time, if only to feel what we do the moment the music possesses us and takes control over our bodies as we do whatever it is we do when that happens. Red cells. No thinking. Just dancing the dance.
Unfortunately for now, humans still think predominantly in language, and since I’m incapable of writing you all musical notes that tell the tale tale of music that has possessed me in 2017, I’m going to give you feeble descriptions that you don’t need to read. Just do yourselves a favor and listen. Let your body feel it. Stand up from your comfortable computer chair or couch and bang your head. Play that air guitar while widening your stance as far as your bathtub allows. Let those eyes roll into the back of your head. Throw those horns in the air as you’re walking down the street or running in the park. And for the love of all that is unholy, stop talking so much. Humans learn more when they listen. Native cultures throughout time have loved this little green planet, and modern cultures have raped it. Is there not a better time to emulate what came before us?
SKELETONS OF THE UNDERBRUSH
20. Pyrrhon – What Passes for Survival
This may not be a popular comparison, but Pyrrhon oftentimes feels a lot like death metal’s answer to Deathspell Omega. Aesthetically, that statement couldn’t be further from the truth, as Pyrrhon tends to out-Gore even the Gorgutsiest of Gorgutsians, but structurally, Pyrrhon and Deathspell tend to push the boundaries of what can even be considered music to new levels with each release. That being said, no band in metal utilizes vocals quite like Doug Moore, and as a result, What Passes for Survival is equipped with an extra layer of instrumentation that adds to the band’s arsenal of superb musicianship coupled with some of the most adventurous songwriting of the year.
• Last Rites review
19. Elder – Reflections of a Floating World
Stoner doom is rarely overburdened by flat-out awful music, but more often than not seems to embrace the painfully generic. At times, it’s a bit difficult for anyone to wade through the allure of soaring vocals, pretty guitar solos, and catchy blues riffs, but Elder completely cuts through the bullshit with layers upon layers of dense atmosphere and genius songwriting. Reflections is a perfect follow up to the nearly flawless Lore, and solidifies the band’s top-tier status in a sub-genre that’s approachable to even the most peripheral fan of metal.
18. Tomb Mold – Primordial Malignity
Death metal comprises nearly half (!) of this list, but perhaps the most insane thing about that statistic is that three of the nine death metal albums mentioned are all debuts. Ontario’s Tomb Mold is heavy as fuck, groovy as fuck and p-u-n-i-s-h-i-n-g as fuck. The bass lines alone are enough for veterans to start studying in hopes that they can keep up with the resurgence of which we have only seen the tip of death’s dreaded iceberg.
17. Blaze of Perdition – Conscious Darkness
In recent years, black metal has been bogged down by bands that attempt to be the following: mysterious, scary, evil, esoteric, hooded, veiled, etc. While this tactic may increase album sales at Hot Topic, the imagery is absolutely useless to those who can easily see through marketing and into the worthiness / unworthiness of the almighty riff. However, Agonia Records’ most important album this year wears its heart right on its sleeve — particularly its latter half — leaving behind Azarath, Svartsyn, and Aosoth in its refreshingly honest and emotionally devastating wake.
16. Ascended Dead – Abhorrent Manifestation
Grotesque is rarely a synonym for grandiose, but in the world of death metal, it can be the highest of compliments. Suffocating is rarely a synonym for serene, but when referencing Abhorrent Manifestation’s production, it can be the highest of compliments. Detestable is rarely a synonym for delicioso, but San Diego’s Ascended Dead is all of those things and a whole lot more. If this is only the warm-up I think it might be, we’re in for a ride so wild, Mr. Toad will have shat himself before takeoff.
15. Bezmir – Void
“Space” black metal newcomer Bezmir’s lone member Severoth is currently reminiscent of Midnight Odyssey’s Dis Pater when he was in the most creative time of his career. Both musicians, being experts at every instrument and tackling nearly all musical accomplishments without ever working with outsiders, utilized different solo projects as outlets for songwriting that covered different areas of black metal. Although filling the void for Darkspace and Alrakis quite effectively, Bezmir adds a layer of crustiness to the style that only the most wicked of Reaver fleets could fully appreciate.
14. Incantation – Profane Nexus
Johnstown veterans may have slowed down a tad since sifting through the rivers of Hades to bring us Vanquish in Vengeance and Dirges of Elysium in a span of less than two years, but not by much. In a year where death metal newcomers and veterans were battling for top spots, Incantation certainly made a case for the old guard. Profane Nexus is as ugly as you’d ever want it to be and then some.
• Last Rites review
13. Morbid Angel – Kingdoms Disdained
When Steve Tucker took the stage at Maryland Deathfest this year, the band could have played nearly anything to redeem itself from the dreaded Illud Divinum Insanus. Along with Tucker’s second time replacing David Vincent came a much needed facelift, and had Kingdoms been released sooner, there’s a damn good chance it could have ended up higher on this list. Now, it would be really cool if the band would still play offerings from its first four albums live, but settling for Tucker albums only is perfectly fine so long as tracks from Kingdoms Disdained are included.
• Last Rites review
12. Godflesh – Post Self
Just when I thought I had my top five Godflesh albums permanently ranked, Post Self comes out from a hidden bomb shelter buried five hundred feet beneath left field and nearly jumps to the top of this list. For a band that bases itself primarily on beats, rhythm and very high decibel levels, it has knocked all of those attributes out of the park and landed itself near the top-end of its already timeless and uniquely influential body of work.
• Last Rites review
11. Argus – From Fields of Fire
There are eight bands named Argus in the world of heavy metal, but only one band named Argus that matters, and that is Cruz del Sur’s insanely talented five piece from Franklin Pennsylvania. To put it simply, the first time I played this album, Mucio and Watson’s leads paired with Butch Balich’s soaring vocals made me cry while folding fucking laundry, and I’m talking about that 1-2 punch of “Hour of Longing” and “No Right to Grieve.” Fields’ vocals are perfect enough grace the ears of deities, and the guitar leads were constructed for a lifetime of enjoyment and then some. Absolutely the best thing Cruz has released over the last couple of years, and given the label’s spectacular roster, that statement should speak volumes. Also, does’t Butch look a little bit like a grown up version of the cute, toothless kid in Stranger Things?
• Last Rites review
TOP TEN OF 2017 – BEASTS OF THE MOUNTAINS
10. Slow – V-Oceans
Whoever first said that love was the most powerful force in the universe failed to realize there is one thing that will destroy even that, and it is the same very thing occupying the majority of the Earth’s surface: Water, the ultimate life bringer and destroyer. Things tend to get very serious when it comes to music attempting to portray, worship, glorify, or personify the ocean. Slow’s singular instrumentalist, Déhà, who plays in more bands than everyone else in Belgium combined, has done the best job honoring the fathomless depths since Ahab’s The Divinity of Oceans, even though he has chosen his own way of doing so. Oceans is enriched with operatic vocals and guitars production so lush it pushes the boundaries of the genre. But the album’s reverence for our planet’s uncharted territory is unmistakably sincere, and comes into full effect during the track Déluge. Slow, with its fifth release, has defied a genre that usually benefits more from the stripped down works of Thergothon and Skepticism rather than production pumped full of steroids. Not surprisingly, loneliness and death remain the central themes throughout the hour long ride, and it is a trip worth taking time and time again.
9. Shaarimoth – Temple of the Adversarial Fire
Norwegian death metal from World Terror Committee that explores Sumerian Chaos-Gnosticism? I’ll take two tickets for front row seats and a giant bag of fake-buttered popcorn, please! For those unaware, Shaarimoth’s refreshing take on Morbid Angel worship schools even the masters themselves. In fact, one could argue Polish veterans Behemoth and Azarath haven’t quite figured out how to construct death metal while inserting so much black atmosphere as well as W.T.C.’s no-longer rookies have on only their sophomore release. Hanging out with all of the “dark and mysterious hooded evil people” certainly did a bit of good for Shaarimoth here, as the German-based label succeeded in disappointing me with its black metal releases this year, particularly the rushed Acherontas, which was one of yours truly’s most highly anticipated albums of the year. I recant. Temple of the Adversarial Fire both scratches the itch of those worshiping the chaotic darkness and adds to the delightfully dirty cauldron of death metal in a year so bountiful, any band competing with the genre’s head-honchos deserves a lot of credit, especially when it sounds this good. Just one listen to “The Fires of Molok” and you’ll be a believer.
8. The Chasm – A Conscious Creation from the Isolated Domain – Phase I
7. Leprous – Malina
“Leprous is the most conflicted I’ve felt about a band in a really long time. One minute I’m super into it, and the next, I’m having flashbacks to the Christian rock of my childhood.”
-A Good Friend of Mine
Perhaps no statement is more accurate for the polarizing and often unrecognized backing band for all of Ihsahn’s live performances. While Telemark’s progressive geniuses have written an album that often steps into prog-rock territory more than it has on its other four albums, Malina has finally completed the task of bridging the gap between Radiohead and progressive metal (one that I believe Porcupine Tree and Between The Buried And Me’s Tommy Giles came awful close to figuring out how to tighten, but never fully succeeded). Einar Solberg’s high range, Suhrke and Ognedal’s minimalist guitar approach, and Borven and Kolstad’s off-kilter percussion and bass patterns make for the most unique and perhaps challenging listening experiences the year had to offer.
6. Grima – Tales of the Enchanted Forest
If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that one of the most emotionally uplifting moments over course of the next twelve months was going to come from two, twenty three year old twin brothers from Krasnoyarsk Russia writing folk black metal with a drum machine, I’d have bet everything I own against that being the case. Since this was one of the few albums I took the time to review this year, I’m having a hard time saying anything I haven’t already said. Simply put, the first half of this album is spectacular. The second half, is downright masterful. Keep playing in whatever woods you grew up around boys, because this is too damn good to be human. This is the sound of nature taking over through pure inspiration. Never get off the fucking trail.
5. Immolation – Atonement
So God and Satan are sitting in a bar. One is drinking the finest dry Riesling the Rhine has to offer, and the other Oaxaca’s smokiest Tepextate. They hadn’t placed a bet since ol’ Job, but Satan is feeling lucky and drunkenly confident enough to finally get back at God. The bet? Pinch harmonics, baby. Fucking useless, most of the time, aren’t they?
S: “Hey, God. I’ll bet you Immolation fucking hates you enough to actually make pinch harmonics sound heavy and evil. I’m so certain of Immolation’s devotion to me, I’ll even guarantee they include pesky little pinch harmonics in nearly every single song on the new album, which is consequently going to be called Atonement.”
G: “No band is capable of such a thing, not even Immolation. What good has ever come out of Yonkers, anyway?”
S: “So it seems we have a deal. If I win, I drink for free, forever.”
G: “Your haughtiness does not impress me, but there is still no way I can lose this bet. In fact, I’m pissed that you were too cowardly to put money on the Falcons last year. You really lucked out on that one, didn’t you?”
S: “We have a deal, then. I’m going to blow your fucking eardrums out with pinch harmonics, and it’s still going to sound good. You’ll enjoy it, and then you will cease to be God.”
G: “As it is written, so shall it come to pass.”
IMMOLATION – 1, GOD – 0
4. Enslaved – E
I may be in the extreme minority here, but as far as post-Isa Enslaved goes, Vertebrae is my absolute favorite, with “Center” being among the top five songs the band has ever written. However, I’m in the majority when it comes to being thoroughly disappointed by In Times, as it may have been the weakest of all the band’s thirteen albums. (Unlucky number thirteen, indeed.) The solution largely rested upon the fingertips and vocal cords of the very young Håkon Vinje, who took over the keyboards and backing vocals like a champion. In fact, his performance on E closely resembles that of Herbrand Larsen’s on Vertebrae. Needless to say, the boys are back, and with very few surprises. Enslaved has always been a band that evolves very gradually over the course of a few albums, as opposed to forcing anything. It would be nice if more artists would pick up on this technique, so as not to come off as gimmicky or unoriginal. But not everyone can be masters of their trade. With the breath of youthfulness pumped into Enslaved, I wouldn’t be surprised if the band reinvented itself over the course of the next couple of albums, not unlike the way it did between Mardraum and Below the Lights.
3. Venenum – Trance of Death
Final Score in the battle of the young guns VS the immortals:
Rookies: 4 – Veterans: 4 (Pyrrhon was busy making fun of people for not knowing how to pronounce its name.)
The top death metal spot of the year, however, goes deservedly to Bavarian rooks, Venenum. Simply put, Venenum’s knowledge of the architectural groundwork that comprises death metal was crystal clear, and yet the band refused to use any known plays out of the textbook. Trance of Death is the most original yet accessible take on the genre the entire staff at Last Rites has heard in a long time, and is very deserving of the overall number one spot in our staff selection process. (I don’t even think it was close.) The three-song, titular centerpiece alone was death metal’s single greatest accomplishment this year. If staff unanimity is the sign of true greatness, then I believe I speak for nearly every member of the staff when I say Trance of Death will have us in a trance for years and years to come.
2. Havukruunu – Kelle Surut Soi
Kelle Surut Soi is utter Moonsorrow worship, and Moonsorrow worship is Hammerheart / Twilight of the Gods-era Bathory worship, and Bathory worship is the most pure level of worship that can exist in black metal. If you’ve ever listened to Finnish folk music, you will not be surprised when hearing all of the sky-high group vocals utilized by the entire slew of black metal bands that utilize choir vocals. Not being from Finland, but having a half brother who’s father is a full-blown Finn, I grew up with a lot of the melodies Moonsorrow so graciously mastered on Voimasta ja kunniasta and Kiventantaja, and the brevity of Havukruunu’s tracks on its second album demonstrate how effective this local adaptation can be when applied to viking-style metal. The acoustic guitars are yet another attribute that is so reminiscent of the genre when it was first forged in the flames of the Northern countries. Naturmacht Productions took some risks signing very young bands over the last couple of years, but boy oh boy the payoff must have been absolutely delightful in 2017. For as much homage Kelle Surut Soi pays to its musical ancestors, its sound is as fresh a take on the genre I’ve heard in ages, and even tops some releases written by the veterans from which the band learned.
1. The Ruins of Beverast – Exuvia
Red Moon Returns…
The Ruins of Beverast was formed out of the shedding of the snakeskin of Germany’s most important 90s metal band, Nagelfar (Note the “e”). Then came the near flawless and claustrophobic Unlock the Shrine followed by the full emergence of perfectly blended black and doom metal, Rain upon the Impure, an album that took black metal to territories so far, it never bothered to venture back. Since then, Alexander von Meilenwald’s offerings have both hit and missed, but it’s fair to say the sound he has been trying to fully actualize since Rain is now fully pounding at our front doors. We heard bits and pieces of it peeking out of Foulest Semen‘s “The Restless Mills,” and Blood Vaults’ “A Failed Exorcism,” but it hadn’t reached its full potential because it lacked a central theme. If you’ve heard Exuvia, you know that I’m talking about. Pure, musical tribalism through very dark, amplified music. Sounds impossible, right?
And now, we’ve reached the conclusion of the centralized theme upon which this smattering of words is based. What is native? Exuvia is native, and in the utmost respectful way. Containing samples of cultures from Asia, India, North America among others, Meilenwald has finally found an aspect of the past to which he can fully relate, and he has done so through meticulous research, practice, and precision. Now I’m not sure if I’m wise enough to make any sort of grand claim or statement about what this piece of music means to future generations, but I’d like to think the true accomplishment here is Meilenwald’s recognition of the fact that native cultures are closer to nature, and more aware of “the great picture” than we ever thought possible. The idea of Exuvia, at least the way I see it, is that the shedding of consciousness is a mandatory practice in understanding how native cultures are truly connected with the world. Clearly, it would be impossible for animals to become detached from sentience or even consciousness, but if we could just feel what it would be like for a split second… if we could just forget ourselves… we’d be one step closer to whatever it is this one man project was able to touch.
DANCE THE DANCE: TOP FIVE NON-METAL ALBUMS FOR THE DANCE FLOOR
5. DJ Sports – Modern Species
Ambient house and jungle music combine to form a very ethereal and well-layered mixture of two styles not often seen together. BPMs differ from track to track on this one, and the ebb and flow of styles is interwoven well enough to change pace without interrupting any of the delicate atmosphere delivered here.
4. Ricardo Villalobos – Empirical House
There isn’t another producer in the house scene that can take a simple house beat built only for nightclubs and add layers upon layers until the narrative is so strong that a clever story is being told. Fantastic dance music crafted for the most adventurous house lovers who still like to dance their asses off until the sun rises.
3. Talaboman – The Night Land
John Talabot’s fin is still my favorite house music release to come out since… well, since it came out. In The Night Land, Talabot teamed up with Axel Bowman to create a serene and trance-inducing album built for dancing outdoors, particularly around fire and water.
2. Jana Rush – Pariah
Jana Rush, a long-time member of Chicago’s inner footwork circle, started DJing at the age of ten, and was regularly billed as “The Youngest Female DJ” by the time she was fifteen. She took the time to pursue a non-musical career as a chemical engineer, but is back on the map… and not just in Chi-town this time around. The heavy acid influences on her debut, along with snare drums that hit at house music pace while kick drums go well over 220 BPM, make Pariah one of the most versatile footwork albums that’s ever come through a set of speakers.
1. Overlook – Smoke Signals
Since this is obviously a heavy metal site, no current genre is as attractive to percussion lovers as drum and bass. Overlook’s Smoke Signals is thick with dark, foggy atmosphere and creepy production that will make you want to keep looking over your shoulder when listening. The best live non-metal show I attended this year was LTJ Bukem, and it’s nice that artists continue to carry the torch of innovation through careful timing and full-album narratives.
LYRICS AND BARS: THE TOP FIVE UK GRIME TRACKS OF 2017.
#5 D Double E featuring Wiley – “Better Than The Rest”
D Double E made a big name for himself on Dirty Danger’s “Badman,” which was one of the hottest tracks of 2015, and he’s continued down the path of success with his spastic verses and unique voice. Think of him as the Danny Brown of Grime, he’s a lot more serious but just as committed to the unique style he brings to every track he lays down.
#4 Capo Lee & Sir Spyro – “Stop Talk”
The greatest radio station in the world is Rinse FM, and its channel easily contains the single greatest selection of electronic / dance mixes on Soundcloud. Sir Spyro hung up his spurs after years as the host of Rinse’s only weekly grime show. He’ll be sorely missed.
#3 Stormzy – “Big For Your Boots”
Stormzy is back with a track that represents the intensity of his debut full-length, Gang Signs & Prayer. Filled with dark and serious atmosphere Stormzy knows how to deliver, “Big For Your Boots” is both an album standout and also an indicator of how good Gang Signs is all the way through.
#2 Dizzee Rascal – “Space”
Bassline junkie Dizzee Rascal is back to show everyone how to do it solo, both on the track and on the screen. Rascal’s off-timed bars are placed strategically to allow listeners to three songs in one. “Space” easily one of the highlights of Dizzee’s six full-length, Raskit.
#1 Lady Leshurr – “#UNLEASHED 2”
Lady Leshurr released a fun EP entitled Mode this year, and it was difficult to choose between this video and the much more popular “Juice,” but either would be worthy of the number one selection. #UNLEASHED is a series of tracks cut out for the purpose of venting, and this one is furious. But the emotional surprise at the end is what makes it the greater of the two tracks, and is something that everyone should take the time to play through as they reflect on the lyrics that Leshurr unleashes.
Well there you have it. I spend one day in front of a desk to put together some simple lists, and you get rained on by about 4,500 words. I’ll probably recede back into the shadows of listening to all I missed this year, as well as all 2018 will have to offer, without saying very much until the year’s end. I’ll be popping in as much as I can, especially if it means helping stellar underground music receive a little spotlight.
Have a spectacular holiday and a safe new year. I wish you all the best.
Until next time,
-The True KK