Friday 12 January 2018

A YEAR IN REVIEW: Mark Ambrose's Top 25 Albums of 2017

By: Mark Ambrose
Couch Slut
This year unleashed an absolute deluge of essential, or at least noteworthy, releases that I still find myself behind on major contributions, including: Enslaved’sE”, Morbid Angel’sKingdoms Disdained”, Immolation’sAtonement”, Converge’sThe Dusk in Us”, and practically every major label release of 2017.  On top of that, there were essential reissues, live sets, rarities collections, and genre adjacent releases that continue to pop up on my radar.  There are some major omissions in my top 25, but each of these records stuck with me enough to remain in near-constant rotation.

Honorable Mentions: Everything I chose this for 2017’s top 25 ended up being a full-length, but these EPs were just too good to overlook entirely. 

Dutchguts/Chained to the Dead – “Split”

NJ locals that delivered some rocking, nasty riffs – what’s not to love when you have roadhouse speed metal and old school death on one disc.  I want full lengths from each of these guys in the next year.

Birdflesh/Organ Dealer“Split”

Grind splits are some of my favorite releases – in under half an hour you can get half a dozen bands.  In this case, Birdflesh and Organ Dealer serve as ideal complements.  Organ Dealer was a great discovery this year, with a robust catalog and, of course, even more releases lined up for 2018.

Night Raids – “Servants of the Scab Lord”

Working class lo-fi grind punks keep putting out solid releases – time for a full-length.

25. Rosetta – “Utopioid”

Post-metal, post-rock, post-whatever – “Utopioid” was a late addition in 2017 that struck me with its raw emotion and beautiful guitar work.  Once again I feel late to the game on these guys but I’m planning on diving into the back catalogue in 2018.

24.  Electric Wizard – “Wizard Bloody Wizard”

Practically everything Jus and company do at this point will bring out a chorus of boos and naysayers to counteract the true ‘Wizard cultists who believe the man can do no wrong.  The reality is that EW are never going to be the same group that delivered “Dopethrone”, and that’s probably for the best.  On this album the rhythm really shines, the analog production is killer, and Jus’ vocals sound great.  When you have plenty of folks ripping off early ‘Wizard, it’s cool to hear the original master push beyond fan expectations and deliver an old school heavy rock record.

23.  Chepang – “Dadhelo”

This Nepalese grind collective sings overtly political screeds in a language I don’t understand at all – but the invective transcends linguistic boundaries.  2017 was their second year as a band and it could just have well been their second decade.  “Dadhelo” is powerful and may be the most overlooked genre release of 2017.

22.  Fister/CHRCH – “Split”

Funereal, unholy, and transcendently heavy – heavy enough that I ruminated on the very term in my original review.  I stand by every word of that and hope to hear solo releases from both these powerhouses in the near future.

21.  Pyrrhon – “What Passes for Survival”

I don’t give tech death a ton of coverage in my writing but when it’s done right, it’s impressive as hell.  With drummer Stephen Schwegler behind the kit, these guys delivered one of the most rhythmically furious missives of controlled chaos in 2017.

20.  Boris – “Dear”

Last album?  The beginning of the end?   Whatever the case, Dear is a masterpiece for a band with releases numbering in the high double digits.  Begs to be played loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss.

19.  Nightbringer – “Terra Damnata”

US Black Metal with a distinctly European edge, Nightbringer’s latest had all the demonic flair notably absent from the critical darlings of the USBM scenes.  Maybe it’s all that mountain living, but Nightbringer tapped into something primal and unholy.

18.  Dodecahedron – “Kwintessens”

Not just a Deathspell Omega homage, but a personal, painful album of deceptively compact compositions.  “Kwintessens” should lay any doubts to rest – Dodecahedron is the real deal and, hopefully, their latest lineup change won’t sideline all the progress they’ve made.

17.  Toke – “Orange”

Swaggering, ballsy, blues riffy metal.  I know thrash gets all the party cred, but the latest LP from this southern trio is the go-to choice for that first big BBQ of the year, especially if you want someone to call the cops at 3 AM.

16.  Dead Quiet – “Grand Rites”

A step so monumental, it’s practically a second debut for this Canadian ensemble.  With poppy hooks, serious guitar chops, and powerful, clean vocals, Dead Quiet is a lock for potential breakthrough metal act in 2018.

15.  Bell Witch – “Mirror Reaper”

Song as album as funeral elegy.  The sheer magnitude of the duo’s latest is commendable, though a challenging listen even for funeral doom obsessives.  I found it primally moving, and a balance of despair and hope.  I doubt it’ll get as much play in my rotation as their prior or subsequent releases, but that doesn’t diminish the sheer power of this record.

14.  Yellow Eyes – “Immersion Trench Reverie”

Lo-fi black metal with a Russo-folk influence, the Brooklyn based Skarstad brothers weave a complex guitar fueled trek through Siberian monasteries and haunted woodlands.  It’s menacing, dark, and occasionally beautiful.

13.  Catapult the Dead – “A Universal Emptiness”

A record I found thrilling and nihilistic, with some remarkable extremes in techniques and styles.  Psychedelic, exhilarating, and painful in the best way.

12.  Shroud Eater – “Strike the Sun”

These sludge metallers from Florida really get to the essence of their home state’s oppressive heat and deep rot.  The clean vocals never lack power, while the filthy tone never obscures intricate harmonies.

11. God Root – “Salt and Rot”

Philadelphia noise-doom shamans work through jazzy freakouts, primal scream therapy sessions, and earthy riffing.  The sheer textural complexity is mind-bending, but the cacophony is always measured by precise musicianship and steady, chantlike vocals.

10. Path of Might – “Hallowed Gate Style”

Like the prime era of Mastodon, Path of Might is heavy and catchy.  This is a big step forward from their first release, embracing melodic vocals and higher production values.  I predict big things in their future but will spin this one many, many more times in 2018.

9.  Primitive Man – “Caustic”

The year marked some new lows for contemptible human behavior, and “Caustic” served as an antinatalist soundtrack.  This is some bleak, end-times music that was also ineffably uplifting in its sheer hopelessness.  With the massive amount of EP and split releases from the band, you might expect their songwriting to be stretched thin, but they put out one of the year’s best releases, top to bottom, genre or otherwise.

8.  Belus – “Apophenia”

Psychedelic black metal didn’t die with Nachtmystium (or whatever the hell status that band has in 2018), and Belus came to prove it.  The cover art alone denotes a trippy experience, and “Apophenia” did not disappoint.  The vocals, in particular, had me fascinated with every listen.

7.  Woe – “Hope Attrition”

Another “practically a new band” release, “Hope Attrition” is Woe’s best record yet.  Like black metal fused with hardcore, it is an eminently re-listenable release and one of my most frequently “recommended for anyone who remotely enjoys metal” albums. Lev Weinstein achieved god tier in 2017 for drumming on this, the two Krallice records I didn’t even absorb yet, and possibly every other album recorded in Brooklyn.

6.  Godflesh – “Post-Self”

Far more industrial than anyone expected, “Post-Self” was the Godflesh album we needed this year and exactly the punishment we deserve.  It’s uniquely harrowing, depressing, and amazing.  It managed to alienate a lot more people than I expected on first listen, only to pull a lot of them back in.  With Broadrick and Green pushing beyond their comfort zone, there is no reason any “legends” should be putting out rehash records with a straight face.  I’m not naming names, but Godflesh is putting some contemporaries to shame.

5.  Heavy Temple – “Chassit”

Holy shit this came out in 2017!  It was such an early release that I nearly left it off the list and that would have been a crime.  “Chassit” was one of my most frequently listened albums – like an ideal combination of 70s stoner prog and proto-metal.  Between Psycho Las Vegas and Shadow Woods, the power trio proved they’re the real deal in a live setting as well.  Either way, they made a stunner of an album with “Chassit”, another one of those releases that redefines your expectations of a band.

4.  Owlcrusher – “Owlcrusher”

I’d say this came out of nowhere but these Irish lads have been crafting their debut for nearly a decade – and you can hear every weathered second.  This is beyond doom – creating spaces so vast you can feel palpable dread in every riff.  Plus the vocals are agonizing and sinister as hell.  They earned a year off after this monster, but I’m hoping for another album before 2027.

3.  Sunrot – “Sunnata”

Talk about a stunner – Sunrot ‘s debut has been in motion for what feels like an eternity, but the promise of earlier releases didn’t prepare me for how confident, how moving, how BIG the whole thing sounded.  “Sunnata” is a rare release that confidently embraces noise and melody, uses guest musicians for more than just recognition factor, and doesn’t confuse intensity with volume.  There are quiet moments here, but no easy ones.  Kim Kelly approved, SLUDGELORD endorsed NJ metal.

2.  King Woman – “Created In the Image of Suffering”

I didn’t know a thing about King Woman or primary songwriter Kristina Esfandiari when I went to see them open for Thou – before the set wrapped I was texting my fellow metal fans I’d seen something really special and that sleeping on King Woman’s debut would be practically criminal.  Haunting, doom-drenched, melodic, genre defying – “Created…” has everything you could ask for in a breakout metal album.  Most importantly, despite Esfandiari’s pipes and considerable charisma as a performer, her assembled performers are all masters of their respective instruments, creating massive soundscapes for King Woman to reign.

1.       Couch Slut – “Contempt”

2017 was a good year for music but a piss poor year for a lot of other people.  “Contempt” was the perfect release for everyone so tired of asking “How did things get this bad?”   Rather than collapse in misery, Couch Slut screamed a defiant “FUCK YOU” to every repugnant misogynist, homophobe, racist and plain scumbag that polluted the world in 2017.  Their debut full-length encapsulated millennia of rage in a 45 minute burst of aggression that is dripping with rage, with pain, with hatred and accusations and well-earned disgust.  Doomy, sludgy, but not afraid to shred, the Brooklyn punk-metal-hardcore-noise artists distilled a year of misery into a perfect album that belongs on any year end list, regardless of genre.