To say it’s been a rough year would be an understatement. I don’t even have to dive deep into the current socio-political climate. This is about ME, goddamnit. Hell, I’ve been so self-involved that I was awake, aware, and online when news of Chris Cornell’s passing broke and I STILL didn’t find out until the next morning. My personal troubles were fairly well documented here via reviews, but there are some things you don’t know. Did you know I had a brief respite at the end of Summer, only to have it all come crashing down again? That one really sucked the wind out of my sails (and no, that isn’t a pun based on my attempted career as a professional pirate).
Friends, it is much harder than you think to critically listen to music when you have nothing to do. Focused on a goal – in my case, browsing job listings, filling out applications, etc. – albums can breeze by before you know it, and the question of “What the hell did I just listen to?” becomes quite literal – you can’t remember a damn thing!
Thankfully, relief came once again about a month ago, and now here we are. Even before that, I was determined to do a best-of list this year, but I knew even a blitz couldn’t be properly completed in less than a month. So I decided to limit my pool in a way that was a) reasonable, b) purposeful, and most importantly, c) faithful to my musical preferences.
I also stopped using Spotify so much, relying on promos and an HD-based filing system that… worked OK, but may not be sustainable with this kind of volume. In part due to that, I didn’t keep a running list this year, so you’ll just have to take me at my word when I say I listened to a bunch of stuff.
I started with a bunch of albums I had listened to over the course of 10+ months that I had made some sort of decision on, combined that with a partial list of recommendations from the staff, a few stragglers I’d picked up along the way, and went for it. Even then, a few dozen albums had to be chopped. If I didn’t have the promo, it got cut; if the tracks were too long, it got cut; if I had listened to it before and it hadn’t left a strong impression (I’m looking at you, Kreator, Overkill, and Iced Earth), I didn’t go back again.
“The one without Venenum?! Venenum is on ALL the lists! It was our number one album of the year!”
Yeah, well, I don’t like them. They wet their nests. Or something.
Anyway, here’s a bunch of stuff I liked assembled into an order that made sense to me.
20. Darkest Hour – Godless Prophets and the Migrant Flora
• I developed a strange relationship with this album that kept it on my radar pretty consistently from its release date forward. Considering the number of albums that popped up and disappeared throughout the year, that feat alone makes it worthy of a spot here.
19. Dodecahedron – Kwintessens
• Occasionally I will actually pay attention to the more outlandish things my colleagues here are listening to. In turn, one of those things occasionally will actually hit the spot.
• Last Rites review
18. Annihilator – For The Demented
• It was good to get some proper, quality Annihilator this year after the well-intentioned but ultimate face-plant of the acoustic Triple Threat. Despite some tracks initially hitting as painfully cringeworthy, that faded away after a few listens, leaving us with the band’s best effort in a decade.
17. The Chasm – A Conscious Creation from the Isolated Domain – Phase I
16. Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
• Maurizio Iacono’s Roman-themed death metal project is now threatening to eclipse Kataklysm for musical relevancy. Maybe it already has.
15. With The Dead – Love From With The Dead
• I seem to be the only bloke around these parts who is into the new Lee Dorrian project. Then again, I’m also a bit of a fan boy. Huge wall of sound on this one, giving me enough of a doom fix that I didn’t even bother to listen to the new Electric Wizard.
14. Alestorm – No Grave But the Sea
• Even before release, I was turned off by track titles like “Fucked With an Anchor” and “Treasure Island” (not a Running Wild Cover). They got me back, though, with a solid album of piratin’ and partyin’ that redeemed its lackluster predecessor.
• Last Rites review
13. Argus – From Fields of Fire
12. Paradise Lost – Medusa
• In some ways this is still a work-in-progress for me, but it just didn’t feel right at any other spot on the list. At least as good as The Plague Within, with the potential to be better.
• Last Rites review
11. Locust Leaves – A Subtler Kind of Light
TOP TEN OF 2017 – STUFF I REALLY DID LISTEN TO MORE THAN ONCE
10. Perkulatory – Chronic Caffeine Dependence
I never knew that I wanted coffee-themed death metal, until a random unrelated search unearthed this beauty. As energetic as the title implies, Chronic Caffeine Dependence is a Venti-sized shot of goodness with twice the kick. I’ll be interested to see if this is a one-and-done or if they have more in the pot.
9. Cradle of Filth – Cryptoriana: The Seductiveness of Decay
Hammer of the Witches got a mercy mention from me a couple of years ago. Cryptoriana is much more worthy of praise. Recalling the best parts of their turn of the century output, this is easily their best since 2010’s Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa. The track “Achingly Beautiful” may be their best single achievement in even longer.
8. Enslaved – E
While the rest of the staff was meticulously obsessing over Enslaved earlier this year, I was just getting back on track; I don’t remember what I was doing when they were obsessing two years ago. After spending some time with E, I think I’m at least starting to understand why they were obsessing.
7. Exhumed – Death Revenge
This album had two things going for it: written and performed by perennial favorite Exhumed, and based on the exploits of 19th century murderous duo Burke and Hare. I’m mildly obsessed with one and fascinated by both. But it still had to earn a spot on it’s own, which it did by being on par with the band’s best work while having almost a completely different sound and feel.
6. Prong – Zero Days
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
OK, but this almost didn’t happen. I completely missed the press release that was sent out around the same time of my lay off; I was barely able to remedy that before the release date and only got a disappointing listen in before the shit hit the fan again. Once things got resolved and I was able to spend some time with it, it really started to click…even if I am starting to have some personal differences with Tommy Victor.
5. Morbid Angel – Kingdoms Disdained
You would have been hard-pressed to find a more indifferent person when Steve Tucker’s return was announced, or this album was announced, or this album was released. But I knew I owed it to… whomever to give it a chance in this expurgated blitz. Subsequently, you would have been hard-pressed to find a person more surprised at just how good this was.
4. Cannibal Corpse – Red Before Black
Huh. This landed higher than I thought it would. Guess we can’t always control where things fall when we start sorting them; sometimes they just find their own spot. It’s completely worthy, though. I haven’t enjoyed them this much since Kill. These guys WILL run out of ideas someday…won’t they? 30 years of death metal is not normal.
3. IAmFire – From Ashes
2017 did not quite go the way that neither I nor surely Peter Dolving expected. He abruptly announced his departure from the still-gestating Dress the Dead and followed that up by announcing his complete retirement from music. Thankfully he saw fit to bring the long-awaited debut from his IAmFire project to release before shifting his focus elsewhere. Shades of The Haunted are inevitable, but this is a completely different gargantua, and it shone a warm light during my darkest Spring and Summer days.
2. Ayreon – The Source
Arjen Luccason broke from his usual MO and brought back several guest vocalists for his latest adventure, including James LaBrie, Hansi Kursch, Tobias Sammet, and Russell Allen (I thought I heard Devin Townsend in there, too, but if so he’s uncredited). I’m still not too good at picking up on the finer points of concept albums, but that hardly matters when I’m sitting or standing in awe of what I’m listening to. I refuse to listen to any of the tracks as part of a shuffle, and I’ll rarely hit pause and come back later. The Source deserves – and is worthy of – full, uninterrupted attention.
1. Life of Agony – A Place Where There’s No More Pain
What can I say about this that I didn’t say in my review? Perfect in its imperfection, Life of Agony gave me exactly what I needed when I needed it the most. It’s quite possible that without A Place Where There’s No More Pain, I wouldn’t even be putting this list together.
“IT’S AN HONOR JUST TO BE CONSIDERED!”:
Havukrunuu – Kelle Surut Soi
Septicflesh – Codex Omega
Pyrrhon – What Passes For Survival
Succumb – S/T
Ensiferum – Two Paths
Incantation – Profane Nexus
Cannabis Corpse – Left Hand Pass
Niviane – The Druid King
Almanac – Kingslayer
Iron Monkey – 9-13
Jorn – Life on Death Road
Godflesh – Post Self
Blazon Stone – Down In The Dark
The Venting Machine – Shackles Be Gone
Satyricon – Deep Calleth Upon Deep
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Witchery – I Am Legion
All Pigs Must Die – Hostage Animal
Wind Rose – Stonehymn
Sentient Ignition – Enthroned in Gray
TOP FIVE EPS OF 2017:
5. Grinder – The Black EP
• One man. One coffee percolator. One French press. Five tracks of fine grind. Holy crap, COFFEE METAL is actually a thing?!
4. Scour – Red EP
• I’ll be honest: I’m not even sure I listened to this one all the way through. At worst, this is a compensatory selection for omitting last year’s EP which was great but completely slipped past me until it was too late.
3. Modern Day Outlaw – Day of Reckoning
• I listened to several bands/albums this year that claimed to be “southern metal”, but this is the only one that actually delivered.
2. Expulsion – Nightmare Future
• One might say my Matt Harvey bias is showing. I would tell you that I was blown away by this long after forgetting (and only recently being reminded) that he was involved.
• Last Rites Review
1. Bill + Phil – Songs of Darkness and Despair
• I guess this is a de facto selection for the top spot considering how much time I spent with it. I did enjoy it, which helped. Maybe *I’m” the bad donut at the bottom of the box.
• Last Rites Review
TEN NON-METAL ALBUMS THAT CAUGHT MY EAR
Cody Jinks – I’m Not the Devil
Blackfield – V
Tub Ring – A Choice of Catastrophes
Ulver – The Assassination of Julius Caesar
Willie Nelson – God’s Problem Child
Steven Wilson – To The Bone
Big Dumb Face – Where Is Duke Lion He’s Dead
Ghoultown – Ghost of the Southern Son
Steve Martin & Steep Canyon Rangers – “The Long-Awaited Album”
Primus – The Desaturating Seven
In closing, I would like to say: “Fuck you, 2017. I want my heroes (and my country) back.”