Another year, another annual post by yours truly! I keep looking back at the running list that I’ve kept since January of this year of albums that I’ve enjoyed and said, “I can’t believe that came out this year!” This year has felt long perhaps, but it also feels like I was living a completely different life for the first 8 months of the year compared to the last 4 months, and I think that’s what makes it feel like such a long year. I went from being a graduate student to teaching English at a university in Japan.
Disappointedly, I have only gone to one heavy show here in Japan, but it was well worth it. The Dillinger Escape Plan has been one of my favorite bands for around 17 years, and I saw them for the first time last year. I was lucky enough to catch them in Tokyo a year later playing one of their final shows. It was definitely a little bittersweet.
On that note, if there is anything I’ve learned in the last couple of years, it’s this: as we get older, we have to say goodbye to things we love: lifestyles, bands, loved ones…you name it. Seems obvious and a bit cliche, but I think it’s an aspect of life that becomes more real as we become older. Loss can be devastating, but it’s ultimately the natural order of things. If we don’t accept the reality of it, then we’ll be forever stuck in the past. Instead, we should accept the past and present as it will make us stronger as we move forward into the future. Not to say that the past isn’t important, and good memories should be cherished, but we need a healthy relationship with those memories and not a form a dependency on them that forces us to live in the past. That’s my two-bit life advice for 2018!
10. Death Revenge, Exhumed
Exhumed has always produced consistently good albums, and they have continued to do so since they returned from their hiatus with 2011’s All Guts, No Glory. However, I think Death Revenge is by far their best since their return. This feels like the album that Carcass would have released between their two genre-defining albums, Necrotism: Descanting the Insalubrious and Heartwork. Death Revenge is a total riff fest like Necrotism…, but it also has some of the melody and songwriting of Heartwork. Death Revenge is Exhumed’s first concept album, and it’s based on a series of murders that took place in Scotland in the 1820s. It’s also worth noting that this is Exhumed’s first album with legendary bassist Ross Sewage since 1999. I’m not sure if this is Exhumed’s best album, but I think it’s their best since they came out of hiatus!
9. Iaton, Haive
As far as my favorite metal subgenres are concerned, folk metal is pretty far down the list (but above power and progressive metal), but every once in a while I find a folk metal band/album that really strikes me the right way (2017 releases by Nokturnal Mortum andHavukruunu also totally kicked ass). There are a couple reasons why. For one, there is the nostalgic factor because this reminds me of old In Flames. Second, I think the guitar sound combined with the warm production has a sort of 70s rock feel that definitely sets it apart from most folk metal. Third, those melodies, man! Finally, these are just good, catchy songs!
8. Retrocausal, Cleric
I think generally metal fans have a very high tolerance for challenging listens. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t hold up bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan or Gorguts in such high regard. However, I must say that some bands and albums are just too much for me. I would say Retrocausal is very close to being too much for me, but it’s musically such a compelling album that I can’t help but confront it head on to try and mentally dissect it. Imagine what it would sound like to combine Mr. Bungle (or Mike Patton’s projects in general), John Zorn, and the Dillinger Escape Plan and you would be getting close to the sound that Cleric is going for on this album. It’s musically adventurous, jumping from hardcore to metal to jazz to complete noise freakouts, and totally worth the mental bludgeoning.
7. Eschaton Memoire, Chaos Moon
Over the last few years, I have moved away from black metal quite a bit. I don’t listen to it nearly as much as I used to. I don’t know if it’s partly the nostalgic sound or the emotional connection I seem to have with this album, but Escahton Memoire is easily my favorite black metal album of the year. It’s a riveting and poignant black metal journey with enough symphonic elements to make me recall early Emperor like In the Nightside Eclipse and Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk (thus, the nostalgia). A lot of black metal focuses on being the most “ritualistic”, “kvlt”, or “evil”, but there is something emotionally appealing about Eschaton Memoire that brings it to a whole new level for me.
6. Larga Sombra, Khmer
I’m not exactly sure how Larga Sombra went so unnoticed. I only saw this reviewed once in the venerable Cvlt Nation. Khmer is a Spanish band that merges crust and black metal. While the combination of these two subgenres has been trendy the last few years, Khmer is a step above the rest in terms of songcraft and memorable riffs. I don’t know much about the band, and I can’t find much information, so I’ll just leave it at that!
5. Last Bastion of Cowardice, Northless
As far as the slower, sludgier side of metal is concerned, I think this was a hugely underrated album this year. For some reason, people were obsessed with the new Amenra album, but I think this album blows that album out of the fucking water. Before this album, I was only marginally familiar with Northless although I had liked the material of theirs that I had heard. But now I’m a true believer! Whereas Northless has been known for being a punishing sludge band, this album introduces melodic elements and some faster tempos. The melodic sections of the songs really pull at the heartstrings in a way that is reminiscent of Thou: melancholic and tragic, but not exactly in a doom metal sort of way. The chorus of “Godsend” is a great example of this. It’s melodic and melancholic but sort of angular and dissonant at the same time. In terms of faster tempos, “The Devil In Exile” not only features some great fast-paced Coalesce riffing, but it also has some clean singing that doesn’t sound out of place at all. In a subgenre that can be repetitive and lack ingenuity, Northless is where it’s at.
4. Below The House, Planning for a Burial
It’s hard to describe the sound on Below The House. The closest reference I have is Jesu and a band called Have A Nice Life which combines elements of post-punk, shoegaze, gothic rock, and industrial among others (check’em out!). So imagine all that but with more metal and you basically get Below The House (cheap comparison, I know). Some people have referred to this as “doomgaze”, and I guess that makes sense. The album cover of Below The House depicts houses covered in snow under a dark sky and the songs really conjure the feeling of winter isolation that this image evokes. Just like winter itself, this album is at times dark, claustrophobic, and repressive, but at other times it’s wistful and even elegant. A great example of metal being pushed in new and interesting directions!
3. Degeneracy of Nostalgia, Sleep White Winter
The SLEEPer hit of the year (wah wah). But seriously, this album combines three of my favorite styles of music: shoegaze, space rock, and metal (of the black and doom variety). Some might call this “doomgaze”, but Mark of the Beast would lump this into his made-up subgenre Graduation Day Metal™ for its bittersweet sound. This album really struck me differently than a lot of the other Graduation Day Metal™ that’s been coming out in the last few years. This album has a lot in common with Lantlos’ last album, Melting Sun, in that they have a huge, melodic wall of sound that carries the listener to ethereal highs. However, it’s the My-Bloody-Valentine-esque guitar bends by both Bradley Tiffin and Gabe Gomez (both members share guitar duties) that really add a unique character Sleep White Winter’s newest. I hope these dudes get more recognition in the near future!
2. The Dusk In Us, Converge
Converge has been one of my favorite heavy bands for a while now, and it’s amazing how they can continue to make such incredible music after almost 30 years of being a band. Converge expands their sound ever so slightly from album to album, which is just enough to keep long-term fans while keeping things somewhat fresh. Converge’s characteristic mania is still there on songs like “A Single Tear”, “Cannibals”, and “Broken By The Light”, but they take a lighter and slower approach with songs like “The Dusk In Us” and “Thousands of Miles Between Us”. They also take a noise rock approach on the song “Trigger”, which I’m surprised they haven’t really done before (at least as far as I can recall) since they were heavily influenced by 90s noise rock. If it takes 5 years between albums for Converge to produce albums this good, then so be it!
1. Kwintessens, Dodecahedron
Dodecahedron’s last album, 2012’s Dodecahedron, was my favorite of that year. A labyrinthine and psychologically complex album, both conceptually and musically, if there ever was one. Kwintessens continues down this path while expanding Dodecahedron’s sound by adding more melodic elements in songs like “Dodecahedron – An Ill-Defined Air of Otherness” and “Icosahedron – The Death of Your Body” that recall Devin Townsend’s wall of melodic sound. I think one of the best things that Dodecahedron has going for them is their somewhat unorthodox style of playing black metal. While their guitar playing can definitely sound reminiscent of Naas Alcameth’s projects, I think there is a much more complicated interplay between Dodecahedron’s guitarists, which I think is an influence of Exivious, a progressive metal band that a couple of the members were in prior to joining Dodecahedron. Kwintessens is another excellent album from what one black metal’s most forward-thinking bands.
Honorable Mentions (in no specific order)
I had a lot of trouble narrowing this down, so here’s the whole damn thing:
Hell, by MSW
Kelle Surut Soi, Havukruunu
Істина, Nokturnal Mortum
You’re Not You Anymore, Counterparts
Vision Wallows in Symphonies of Light, Ingurgitating Oblivion
Finisterre, Der Weg einer Freiheit
Hostile Animal, All Pigs Must Die
The Heads Are Zeroes, The Heads Are Zeroes
Blood Offerings, Necrot
Age of Self, Anthesis
Vilseledd, God Mother
Thrice Woven, Wolves In The Throne Room
A Stirring in the Noose, John Frum
Through the Mirror, Endon
Reflections of a Floating World, Elder
Contempt, Couch Slut
In Passing Ascension, Suffering Hour
What Passes for Survival, Pyrrhon
The Scourge of Ages, Moss Upon The Skull
Makerna bortom, Saiva
From the Unforgiving Arms of God, END
Non-Metal Top 11 (in no specific order)
The Demonstration, Drab Majesty
Not Even Happiness, Julie Byrne
The Yunahon Mixtape, Oso Oso
Aromanticism, Moses Sumney
Take Me Apart, Kelela
Too Real, Giraffage
Phantom Brickworks, Bibio
Rot, Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys
Stranger in the Alps, Phoebe Bridges
Turn Out The Lights, Julien Baker
Here is a complete list of my favorite non-metal releases by genre:
Several Shades of the Same Color, Patricia
Lenticular, Nadia Struiwigh
Ariadna, Kedr Livanskiy
Dust, Laurel Halo
Death Valley Oasis, D33J
Neo Wax Bloom, Iglooghost
New Energy, Four Tet
Experiencing the Deposit Faith, Yves Tumor
Proceed to the Root, John Barera
Third Law, Roly Porter
No Future, Moire
From the Heart, It’s a Start, A Work of Art, Shinichi Atobe
Death Peak, Clark
Kelly Lee Owens, Kelly Lee Owens
Real Death, Mount Eerie
Madonnawhore, Toby Driver
Wintres Woma, James Elkington
The Weather Station, The Weather Station
Joan Shelly, Joan Shelley
Spades and Roses, Caroline Spence
Hitchhiker, Neil Young
Prisoner, Ryan Adams
Anything Could Happen, Bash & Pop
The World’s Best American Band, White Reaper
Fortune Selector, Other Houses
Time Well, Cloakroom
Strangled Light, Less Art
american dream, LCD Soundsystem
Vision, Pet Symmetry
Ghosts, Jeremy Enigk
Standing at the Edge of the World, Death Bells
Verse, People Like You
Trash Generator, Tera Melos
Apollo, Soror Dolorosa
Undestroyed, Free Salamander Exhibit
To Deaf and Day, Glaare
Okovi, Zola Jesus