Following on from the first ten of my A-Z 2017 favourites, here is the second part. As the title says, this is my favourites – not necessarily the best records of the year, but the ones I enjoy or connected with the most. Feel free to tell me what I missed, why I’m wrong, or whatever else. There’s only so many hours in the day, and not all of them can be spent listening to records, sadly.
One Master – Lycanthropic Burrowing (Eternal Death)
Consistently underrated, One Master are one of USBM’s hidden treasures. A supremely confident display of misanthropic power, Lycanthropic Burrowing sees One Master reach even greater heights of USBM mastery (no pun intended). Yet as difficult to grasp as it can be, the album has much to offer persistent listeners, revealing itself to be deeply rewarding on repeated listens.
“It is atmospheric without any of the lightness of sparsity that tired description often implies; instead, this is the sound of absolute blackness, of midnight rituals in forgotten places, of offerings to things best left unknown, of the forbidden and impossible made real… As dark and unsettling as the album can be, Lycanthropic Burrowing is a distinctly rewarding listen (enjoyable is not quite the right word for something this dark). There is more than enough here to keep listeners coming back for more, and if this album is not recognised as one of 2017’s best, it would be a genuine shame.” – Full review
Pallbearer – Heartless (Profound Lore)
Pallbearer‘s last few albums have been great, being exceptional journeys of sorrowful doom metal; but on Heartless they took their music to another level entirely, with each track possessing such emotional power that many bands reach for, but few attain. Wedded to accessible, heart-felt lyrics and a sense of immediacy in the riffs, this all made Heartless one of the year’s most moving, yet addictive records.
Paradise Lost – Medusa (Nuclear Blast)
This could easily have been in my top 5 albums of the year. After almost 30 years, Medusa saw Paradise Lost record some of their strongest songs to date – a considerably achievement, when one takes in to account their back-catalogue. And yet, a disjointed running order sees Medusa rob those songs of some of their power, as the album never flows quite as well as the strength of the songs might suggest. Still, that it finds a place on this list is testament to just how great those songs, and Paradise Lost, are.
“Medusa is a relatively varied album for death-doom, meaning that even if the tone and sound is of soul-crushing despair and heaviness, Medusa moves with the kind of confidence that only experience can bring.” – Full review at Broken Amp
Pink Mass – Necrosexual (self-released)
A lot can be made of the supposedly transgressive nature of black metal; yet it can take a band like Pink Mass to demonstrate just how conservative a genre it can be. Blended black, death, and grind in to one head-spinning whirlwind, Necrosexual is a fist to the face of every genre and societal norm there is, celebrating liberation and freedom in the most hedonistic manner possible. This is one of the most dangerous-sounding records of the year, and a total thrill from start to finish.
Even though it’s pulling from familiar sources, Necrosexual manages to make music that sounds fresh and genuinely dangerous, challenging not just the norms of wider society but also those of the metal underground, especially those dark corners where fascist ideologies and imagery are taken as par for the course, but ideas such as female equality or welcoming people who identify as LGBTI+ is somehow unacceptable – as the title of ‘FOAD NSBM’ should make clear. For those who feel there is no space for them in underground metal, Necrosexual says otherwise. It is one of the most vital, thrilling, aggressive albums I’ve heard this year, and much like the album cover, it is impossible to ignore. This deserves to be huge.” – Full review
夢遊病者 (Sleepwalker) – 5772
A fairly late addition to the list, 5772 by 夢遊病者 (Sleepwalker) is a fearlessly inventive record, pulling from all sorts of influences, including – but hardly limited to – black metal, jazz, krautrock, and noise. Yet as impressive as the various influences and styles displayed are, what makes the album a real success is how well all these different aspects come together in to a cohesive, relatively accessible whole. Chaotic, yet never out of control, 5772 is a remarkable work.
“All of which would suggest an album full of contrary forces – which is, to some extent, correct. Yet it’s to Sleepwalker’s credit that they maintain full control over all these aspects, and that 5772 never sounds like an album that is slipping away from the control of its creators. Added to all of this is a very real emotional catharsis, that transcends the bleakness which grounds the album. Despite running for only 21 minutes, 5772 is packed with such depth and power that it feels much longer, and it is easy to lose hours at a time exploring the maze it conjures. On every level, it is a work of incredible vision, and one of the highlights of black metal for 2017.” – Full review
Suffocation – …Of The Dark Light (Nuclear Blast)
Considerable line-up changes for death metal veterans Suffocation could have seen …Of The Dark Light become a bit of an unfocused disaster, yet somehow, it has ended up feeling (to this writer, at least) like the strongest of their post-reformation albums. There’s no real changes in style or focus, just a commitment to technical brutality, all delivered with merciless force.
“It may not be ground-breaking anymore, but Suffocation’s sound still has plenty of capacity to thrill, and …Of The Dark Light is arguably their best album since Pierced From Within. Death metal may have changed considerably since Suffocation first came on to the scene, but this album is further proof that, even if they don’t change much themselves, they are far from being left behind.” – Full review at Broken Amp
Suicide Wraith – Suicide is the Path of Ghosts (Blackened Death Records)
Of all the projects of Pope Richard, Suicide is the Path of Ghosts – the first album as Suicide Wraith – felt like the most personal. An album of furious DSBM, this saw the Blackened Death Records mainman spit hatred in all directions. whilst also maintaining that melodic, accessible edge that arguably defines DSBM. It’s being given a tape reissue through Death Kvlt Productions, which is no surprise – this is a highlight of underground DSBM in 2017.
Twilight Fauna – The Year the Stars Fell (Self-released)
The Appalachian black metal/folk of Twilight Fauna has always felt like a very personal project, and that feeling was at its strongest on The Year the Stars Fell. By featuring contributions from Slaves B.C. drummer Josh Thieler, main member Paul Ravenwood was able to add new textures to what was already a rich sound, with tracks such as ‘Falling Portraits’ showcasing a more vicious edge than on previous releases. The ultimate feeling is that Paul was letting us in on a hidden side of him, journeying through the darkness with him as our guide, to a place both incredibly personal, but instantly familiar. A remarkable achievement.
Ulver – The Assassination of Julius Ceaser (House of Mythology)
Ulver’s continuing evolution should come as no surprise, but that the writers of possibly the most influential black metal record of our times, judging by the amount of raw, atmospheric releases being uploaded on to Bandcamp on a daily basis (that’s Nattens Madrigal, just so we’re clear), could go on to produce a near-perfect 80’s pop record is quite bewildering. And yet, that’s just what The Assassination of Julius Ceaser is. High points abound, but the chorus of second track ‘Rolling Stone’ deserves highlighting, as it is possibly the catchiest thing written all year.
World Controller – Fiery The Angels Fell (Blackened Death Records)
The second album from Pope Richard to make this list, Fiery The Angels Fell is a sci-fi death-doom tour de force, much angrier than previous World Controller releases and better for it. Taking in a host of literary and pop culture inspirations, the result is a musically crushing journey, merging Bathory-esque grandeur with doom heaviness, that manages to still raise a smile with the provocative ‘Pigfucker’.
“In terms of both lyrical themes and music, this is one of the most eclectic records that Pope Richard has put his name to. It’s a brave move, to include such varied topics and styles on a single 50 minute record; and yet, it’s an undoubted success, moving with a sense of confidence and determination that helps keep everything hanging together. Pope Richard’s vocals also deserve praise, whether it be his powerful growls or cleans, both of which are used intelligently, and neither style is over-used. It’s another great album from one of the most active musicians in the underground.” – Full review