While I've got a really cracking set of long-players to share with you at some point in the near future, I can't properly begin my end of 2017 coverage without acknowledging the stuff I loved the most that falls outside of the album format. Split albums, demos, EPs, and reissues are often vital territory for those of us in underground communities. The "best albums" format simply doesn't make the proper room for these crucial releases. Thankfully, I'm a nerd with a blog and not somebody with a demanding boss to appease, so I can share whatever the hell I want. That's why, before we get distracted by the (very amazing) albums that won me over last year, I want to highlight some real gems that arrived in other forms.
Noteworthy Reissues in 2017
Apokrifna Realnost- Na Rekah Vavilonskih (Annapurna)
Glad this got a reissue because I'd have never heard of it otherwise. Liturgical resonance and industrial collage sensibilities from an era when Current 93 and their peers were delving into many of the same waters. This has serious heart and is well worth a perusal.
Midori Takada- Through the Looking Glass (WRWTFWW/Palto Flats)
If you're anything like me, you've stumbled upon this album on YouTube while just clicking things that are "recommended" or look interesting. Fans of ambient music that didn't notice this or haven't heard it yet are in for a treat. Playful and full of life, this is far more vibrant than the average droning, mellow release. If you've got an imagination, you'll fall in love with it. I haven't picked up a record (yet) but I'm just so glad this is available on a larger scale and out of the realm of discogs obscurity.
Coil- Time Machines (Dais Records)
On the other end of the spectrum from that Midori Takada release is, well, something that is so droning it transcends conventional musical terminology. Again, I don't own this myself (sold out so fast during a poorer spot for me) but I'm glad it's out there again in some way. I'm biased here, but I trust it was very lovingly handled.
Boris Dzaneck- In His Own Words (Danger Records)
Seems this Dutch post-punk group of non-Borises named after some fictional character of their own creation are in good company here as beneficiaries of YouTube's algorithms bringing unsung gems to greater popularity. In His Own Words is delightfully tense and somewhat dance-ready music of the highest order. Glad to see this on vinyl for the first time ever.
Solid Space- Space Museum (Dark Entries)
This is one of my favorite albums by anybody. Ever. Finally got an official release on vinyl with bonus tracks. As with everything before this, it's not in my personal collection yet, but I'm just so damn glad it's out there and not going for hundreds on discogs. Quirky drum-machine driven post-punk and minimal synth from an era when neither of those terms was in circulation.
Secret Stairways- Enchantment of the Ring (Ancient Recollections)
Genres are weird. This is just beautiful and fantastic, although it falls under the general realm of dungeon synth. Peaceful, pure, ambient sounds that truly do feel like a path to somewhere unknown. The tape reissue of this is simple, but it needs little in the way of presentation. The bandcamp download is free, as the artist has passed on, but if you elect to pay they're making donations to animal shelters, his surviving family, and a cemetery in which the musician often wandered when he was alive. Beautiful atmospheres that you deserve to enjoy.
Mortiis- Era One Cassette Box (Children of the Night/Foreign Sounds)
The master himself has made a return to the dark dungeon music he pioneered in the '90s. Before he began doing all these special Era One performances, he worked with Children of the Night to reissue these classics on cassette. This special box is one of the few nostalgia-based purchases I made in 2017 and I have no regrets whatsoever. Bow before the king of dungeon synth. Extremely sold out, but each of the albums can be purchased or streamed directly from the artist's bandcamp. Do it.
Best Splits of 2017
Angelo Harmsworth/Theodore Schafer- Japanese Whisper (Angoisse)
This isn't really conventional music, but I still listened to it a hell of a lot. Field recordings are something of a bizarre obsession of mine and these compositions centered around two separate experiences in Japan are oddly calming to me. Check it out if you're into that sort of thing. I know I am.
Blood Tyrant/Departure Chandelier- (Nuclear War Now!)
I'll be real honest here. I think the Blood Tyrant track is damn good, but I'm a diehard Departure Chandelier fan and they're the reason this even appeared on my radar. Yeah, I know they've only released one demo. It's still a high water mark for nowadays black metal, and I'm totally here for this new output. Hopefully this means we'll finally get a proper LP from these guys. Please?
Altered Form/Sacramence (Everswallower Recordings/Funeral Party Records)
The cool thing about splits is that, in many cases, they allow fans of one artist to find something new and enjoyable. Sacramence has been a fixture in my listening habits since it was a black metal project, but Altered Form is new to these ears. The brilliant, dark synth work offered by both artists here makes this well worth a listen.
Det Svarta Landet/Dantefever- Our Ancient Lore (Self-Released)
Neither Det Svarta Landet nor fellow French dungeon synth and fantasy ambient artist Dantefever are well known yet, but both deserve serious attention. I profiled the former for my first bandcamp feature and have kept an eager eye out for more from the latter. This is alternately serene, playful, and otherworldly. Charming stuff from two fresh faces.
Sinmara/Misthyrming (Terratur Possessions)
In 2017 the buzz surrounding Icelandic black metal quieted down just a bit. I love most of the bands in the community, but sometimes it seems others struggle to take good art seriously if it gets too much attention. Amid the silence of the imaginary hivemind others seem to see, two of the scene's current heavyweights dropped a split that leaves no doubts: this is all teeth and no tongue. Hype, in this case, is warranted.
Whitehorse/Upyr (Vendetta Records)
Whitehorse is a band of many splits. Their work with The Body was the first thing I ever wrote about on this site, although that article is lost to time and expired domains. They continue the tradition of being unnaturally fierce and good at finding like-minded freaks with whom to work on this massive split. I veer far less towards the sludgy these days, but both artists here are so disgusting that I can't help but love this.
Tanner Garza & Funeral Parlor- Dark Days (Aural Canyon)
This album is a collaborative effort rather than a split, but as the editor and author alike, I give myself permission to include it. Tanner Garza's name has been scrawled upon the walls of this website more times than I care to admit, yet he seems to know how to create drone that is interesting and so directly human that I cannot ignore it. This work with fellow depression sufferer Funeral Parlor serves as both Funeral Parlor's final release and as something that explores the nuances of mental health in pure sound. It's not easy or as gentle as the term "ambient" might lead one to believe, but it's one hell of a listen.
Fister/CHRCH (Crown & Throne Limited)
Again, I'm utterly shocked by my own inclusion of TWO doomy sludgy splits here, but this just takes the cake. Fister and CHRCH are both near the top of the heap in the sludge genre these days, and each of these songs is as fine as, if not better than anything either has released to date. I'm not kidding when I say I seldom have the patience for this shit, but I found myself just playing the digital promo on repeat as if it were a full-length. Check it out or live with your regret and guilt.
Best EPs & Demos of 2017
Moray- Temporal Majesty (Lion's Jawbone)
Who knew visual artist Christian Degn was as talented a musician as he is with pencil and paper? Seriously, this shreds in a way that confounds my feeble brain. I don't even have one skill, yet Degn's got talent oozing out in every direction and I'm convinced he's probably going to become a famous filmmaker next. This is an absurdly clever death/black/thrash metal demo from somebody I'd have never expected to drop an album at all. Well worth keeping an eye out.
Weeping Sores- Weeping Sores (Dullest Records)
I know it's an apples and oranges thing, but for as stellar as Pyrrhon's new record is, I was somehow even more impressed by the debut of related project Weeping Sores. This EP (which is nearly album-length anyway) is chock-full of doomy, grotesque death metal that's every bit as ugly as the album cover would make you expect. If these wild men haven't won you over with their other endeavors, this drops some of the tech-y stuff but keeps every ounce of the ferocity.
Solar Temple- Rays of Brilliance (Fallen Empire/Haresis Noviomagi)
How can something so brief capture so much atmosphere and spirit? I don't have an answer, but I have had a serious experience with this. It's hard to tell if this appeals more to the basest parts of human instinct or the most otherworldly, almost spiritual purposes. Perhaps the two are the same. If you have the passion for black metal that I do, you'll understand the importance of this tape.
Heart of Palm- Arecaceae Marina (Aught Void)
The No Coast/No Hope staple Heart of Palm lands firmly as one of my favorite noisy releases of 2017 thanks to its shimmering fragility. The beauty here is as damaged as it is warm, lending unease to otherwise harmonious atmospheres. I envision the now corrupted coastlines of the Hawaii I loved as a child, where the beaches I once frequented have likely long since been converted to private property for hotels and the debauchery of the wealthy. Aught Void never slips on the quality of its releases, but this was the crown jewel of their output last year.
Oranssi Pazuzu- Kevät/Värimirsky (20 Buck Spin)
These Finns are kind of on top of the world right now. Their anything-goes experimental black metal somehow hasn't spawned anything tacky or ill-advised despite their fearless approach. These two new additions to an already top-notch catalog aren't breaking new ground for Oranssi Pazuzu, but maintain their momentum in a brilliant way.
Vanum- Burning Arrow (Psychic Violence)
From my profile of Vanum for Noisey: "The lush works from Realm of Sacrifice are given a worthy companion here in the form of a leaner and more urgent beast. What is left when stripped to a purer core is something more ferocious and classic in sound, yet it still retains the atmospheric qualities and passionate, burning energetic pulse that unites all work created by Vanum's members in their many projects." Total spiritual warfare. You already know what this sounds like.
False- Hunger (Gilead Media)
Minneapolis black metal group False crafts a mean epic, yet on Hunger, the script is flipped. These two rippers aren't even half the length of the average False song yet they still pack all the shifts and thrills that have helped them win over both headphone junkies and live audiences. Brevity isn't always the answer, but it's clear that False can handle more than one approach to the same genre.
Profit Prison- Myra (Hospital Productions)
Profit Prison is proof that you can have it all. Some of the catchiest synthpop/darkwave since that Oppenheimer Analysis reissue a few years back is presented as things open up, but there's also cutting edge dark ambient here through some sort of wizardry. This debut EP is ripe with potential and I can't wait to hear even more.
Winds of Gladsheimr- Harvest (House of First Light)
This is viciously triumphant black metal at its finest. House of First Light has become something of the gold standard for raw black metal in the United States lately and this latest release from Winds of Gladsheimr only strengthens this fact. This isn't about perfection (although it sounds damn great), this is a victory and the exhausted revelry of survivors after the battle.
Spiritual Cramp- Mass Hysteria (REACT! Records)
Ending on the highest note I could pick, intentionally. Spiritual Cramp's vocalist is an old friend of mine, but there's no favoritism here because I hold my friends to a higher standard than strangers, with whom I'm gentle. Bay area hardcore punk veterans come together to create something a bit jerkier, with more soul and swagger and it goes fucking HARD. Vocalist Mike B told me they're really into bands like Blitz and other oi! stuff, but I haven't got the punk credibility to decipher influences, this just feels weird and wild in every way I want. Each of the songs here has its own personality and the lyrics are simple and honest snapshots of real life. If you're into honest rock'n'roll that's as playful as it is punchy, check this out and catch 'em on the road with American Nightmare next month.