And so to the end; here, after a few hundred records, and lots of thought, are the five records I consider to be the best released this year. It’s interesting to note that, whilst 2017 has generally been considered a strong year for death metal, it’s black metal which dominates my list – there were lots of good death metal releases, but none I felt that matched these five. Feel free to disagree, and there’s some strong albums that didn’t make the final cut, but this is a rock-sold five that have, in large part, defined 2017 for me. Enjoy!
5 – Power Trip – Nightmare Logic (Southern Lord)
It feels like Nightmare Logic has been around for a long, long time – much longer than its February release date suggests. Yet the second album from Power Trip feels as if it tapped in to something that was always waiting to be discovered, hitting so many of the requisite crossover and thrash metal notes that it can be held up as an exemplar of what the genre is all about, both musically and politically. ‘Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Axe)’ is, without doubt, one of the songs of the year, and this is one band for whom politics are more than just words, as anyone who has come across their social media accounts will know. Nightmare Logic is an intense energy rush, with a whole lot to say.
4 – Wiegedood – De Doden Hebben het Goed II (Consouling Sounds)
2017 has been an excellent year for Church of Ra affiliates Wiegedood. The release of De Doden Hebben het Goed II saw them pick up where their previous, superb album left off, unleashing a maelstrom of uncomfortably intense atmospheric black metal, all possessed of a singular vision. Whilst most atmospheric black metal may look to the woodlands or mountain peaks for inspiration, this is black metal of pure chaos, of nature as a primeval, destructive force, full of rage and unthinking violence, and the only way to survive it is to submit.
“it is a difficult listen because it is so unflinching in the face of the void and malevolence it conjures, and feels as if it is asking hard, deeply important questions of the listener. As such, it fits in perfectly with the general ethos and nature of fellow Church Of Ra bands, whatever their sound. There will be those who wither under its gaze; but those who can stand tall in the face of its soul-searching, uncompromising nature will be well rewarded. This proves that the debut was no fluke; in Wiegedood, we are witnessing one of modern black metal’s best bands staking their claim, and making their presence impossible to ignore.” – Full review
3 – Grave Pleasures – Motherblood (Century Media Records)
Whilst previous album Dreamcrash was good, it almost inevitably felt like something of an anticlimax after the Beastmilk debut, Climax. The band’s reincarnation as Grave Pleasures was bound to have some growing pains, but with Motherblood any such concerns have well and truly been put to rest. This is an album that belongs in the dark, embracing all the possibilities death can offer – and yet it does so with a definite sense of fun, and a lustful look in its eye. One of the catchiest albums of the year, Motherblood is filled with songs that are as at home in small, dimly lit bars as they would be filling stadiums.
“The pop hooks evident on both Dreamcrash and Climax are even stronger here, with almost every song feeling as if it could take pride of place on a mix-tape specially curated for late-night cruising, or playing over the speakers in some smoke-filled underground bar, where strangers with dyed black hair and leather jackets cast longing glances at one another. As this implies, there’s a lot of darkness at play too, with plenty of gothic post-punk darkness that draws upon nihility and our deepest fears – nuclear war, a futile death, a life of loneliness – and combines these aspects with the aforementioned pop hooks to result in an album that is bristling with cathartic energy, dancing and making love even as the atom bombs fall.” – Full review at Broken Amp
2 – Woe – Hope Attrition (Vendetta Records)
After the relative disappointment of the self-conscious Withdrawl, undersung USBM heroes Woe really stepped up their game with Hope Attrition; an album that, until the last few months of the year, was looking a sure bet for being the best album of 2017. Wedding the personal, nihilistic themes of previous albums from furiously anti-fascist sentiments, Hope Attrition saw the band reach heights they had previously only hinted at. Part of that is down to the way they simultaneously embrace and reject the core tenets of black metal; for all the blasting drums and tremolo-picked leads, there are no stage names, no corpsepaint, no songs about Satan. Instead, Hope Attrition is a nakedly honest album, that draws its strengths from its embrace of human weaknesses, and places them at the fore-front of the ever-fertile modern USBM scene.
“There is something quite subversive about Woe’s take on black metal, and they continue that trend on Hope Attrition. The embracing of futility as a positive; the riffs that owe as much to punk rock as they do to Horna or Weakling; and the rejection of many of the ‘props’ of black metal (no stage names; no corpse paint; no songs about Satan). As much as they may fit in with modern USBM, there’s still the feeling that they’re gently pushing at the boundaries and questioning the core concepts of the genre as much as they embrace them. It all adds up to a band who have a clear sense of their own identity; on Hope Attrition, they sound more comfortable and confident than on any of their previous recordings.” – Full review at Broken Amp
1 – Dawn Ray’d – The Unlawful Assembly (Prosthetic Records)
It was going to take something truly special to become the best album of 2017, but the debut full-length of Anarchist black metal trio Dawn Ray’d is the album to do it. The Unlawful Assembly is like little else in black metal at present. Expectations for the album were high, based on previous EP A Thorn, A Blight and some superb live shows; but the album more than met them. Furiously, passionately anti-fascist in outlook, with a singular musical vision rooted as much in screamo and traditional folk music as it is black metal, this is the album hat 2017 needed. Yet as angry and mournful as it is, it is also an album of intelligence, both lyrically and in terms of songcraft, serving as an example of how to bring together diverse influences in to something cohesive; and also how to put across a unique sound in the over-crowded scene of modern black metal. It’s this mixture of intelligence, passion, and originality that makes The Unlawful Assembly the best album of 2017, and Dawn Ray’d one of – if not the – most vital and important bands in black metal today.
“The Unlawful Assembly is probably one of the most important black metal records of our time. It is blazing a fearless path, musically distinct and unafraid to say things that will upset some in the underground (and, depressingly, the political mainstream). At a time when black metal, and the world as a whole, seems to drown under a rising tide of racism, sexism, and resurgent fascism, a band like Dawn Ray’d could not feel more relevant or inspiring. The Unlawful Assembly is phenomenal, and Dawn Ray’d deserve to be huge.” – Full review at Broken Amp