Friday, March 9, 2018

The Best LPs of 2017

Whether you've been on board for the past six years or even just six weeks, you probably know that Black Metal & Brews loves music and hates deadlines. We're already two months into 2018 and the internet's already full of rhetoric surrounding albums that are surely going to be impossible to top this year. I've done it before myself and I've been wrong more often than I've been right. Point being, this list is arriving right on time or my own schedule: long after anybody cares to read it but exactly when I find it within myself to share it. I've got forty albums that ruled in some way that I'll be linking alphabetically and ten that are the real premiums, which will be in their own little grouping. I hope I can shine some light on something you haven't heard, or at least I'll validate your superiority by leaving off the things that mattered most to you (although I'm always up for a recommendation if you've got one).

I spent most of 2017 in a sort of "time out" on extreme metal and this list reflects it. Much of it was because 95% of my listening was done via speakers in a workplace environment that wouldn't tolerate loud sounds (I get it) and it had an impact on the selections I made. I'm about to make a career change that will allow me to listen to music in privacy, so expect more of a return to form with my selections in 2018. There's a lot to listen to, so grab a nice drink or bookmark this page to casually visit at your own pace. If something looks unfamiliar, all the more reason to check it out. Enjoy!

Atriarch- Dead as Truth
Azar Swan- Savage Exile
Bootblacks- Fragments
Circle- Terminal
Cormorant- Diaspora
Dead Neanderthals- The Depths
Depeche Mode- Spirit
Drab Majesty- The Demonstration
Emptiness- Not for Music
Evilfeast- Elegies of the Stellar Wind
Expander- Endless Computer
Eye of Nix- Black Somnia
Faceless Entity- In Via Ad Nusquam
Gold- Optimist
Golden Donna- Carousel Hold
Hell- Hell
Internazionale- The Pale and the Colorful
Jon Edifice- Jon Edifice
King Woman- Created in the Image of Suffering
Korean Jade- Exotics
Laster- Ons vrije fatum
Lingua Ignota- All Bitches Die
Lussuria- Standstill
Malokarpatan- Nordkarpatenland
Mastodon- Emperor of Sand
Monarch!- Never Forever
Nemorensis- The Fae Queen
Nidingr- The High Heat Licks Against Heaven
Old Tower- The Rise of the Specter
Planning for Burial- Below the House
Raising Holy Sparks- Search for the Vanished Heaven
Roman Master- Roman Master
The Ruins of Beverast- Exuvia
Sanguine Relic- Bitter Reflection in Luminous Shadows
Snapped Ankles- Come Play the Trees
Spectral Voice- Eroded Corridors of Unbeing
TALSounds- Love Sick
Tchornobog- Tchornobog
Utzalu- The Loins of Repentance
Rick Weaver- The Secular Arm


Black Cilice- Banished from Time
Black Cilice was covered on Pitchfork a few years ago with the release of Mysteries. For many, this means the band is no longer relevant. For me, it means that serious underground talent need not put on a front or change to suit a perceived timid audience. Black Cilice continues to produce some of the most ripping black metal out there and they're even doing the occasional live gig now. That may be why this is just a bit more easily examined than its predecessors, although it still contains all of the dangerous spirit that the project has long embodied. Fingers firmly crossed that we'll all get to witness the spectacle one day.

Cathode Ray EyesHow We Lost the 21st Century
I discovered Cathode Ray Eyes by accident shortly after the release of How We Lost the 21st Century and this unreal fusion of garage rock, psych and post-punk (with a little bit of a lot of other good stuff) has been a constant listen ever since. 2017 was, for me, the year where garage rock and psych stuff really clicked (hence the Snapped Ankles album up above and the Oh Sees album below) and this was probably the first new release to really hammer it home for me. The newness of this sound means I lack a bit of the vocabulary necessary to explain how the fuzz and reverb all come together to tickle my ears in just the right way, but I'll be damned if this doesn't run circles around a lot of bands out there who are merely treading water.

Fleurety- The White Death
True masters of black metal weirdness have returned! Along with Ved Buens Ende and Arcturus, Fleurety were instrumental in luring me out from my Danny Elfman and John Zorn obsessions and towards the darker side of zany when I was still a teenager. After a collection of odds and ends, I didn't really expect the band to lunge forth with something as cohesive and jarring as The White Death, but I now can't imagine my year really feeling the same without it. No gimmicks or goofs here, just a truly progressive take on black metal without any of the negative context that "prog" and its offshoots may hold for some of us. No limitations of genre can be thrown at this, yet it embodies so much of the freedom and excitement that define black metal to me without losing its precision.

GAS- Narkopop
2017 was the year I first became acquainted with Wolfgang Voigt's long-running project GAS, which released its first album in over sixteen years. Narkopop is pure atmosphere, fusing elements of minimalist techno and ambient with a sensibility more akin to modern classical composition than dancefloor jams. The lush photographs of the forest make perfect sense with this album, which feels far more organic and intuitive than many of its companions in the electronic music world. Ambient music is often a salve for sleep or "background music" yet Narkopop remains intriguing and oddly alluring even at its sparsest moments.

Human Leather- Lazy Karaoke
I saw a lot of rhetoric in 2017 likening Ulver's newest to Depeche Mode, but if anybody wore the crown of 80's pop perfection, it was newcomers Human Leather. The innocence of youth and the pain of loss and betrayal shine through in equal parts on this emotionally rich LP in a way that few bands have managed since "Shake the Disease" was released before the members of Human Leather were even born. I've spent a lot of time talking about this album publicly and in my conversations with friends and the impact still remains. "Ugly Sister" is still the most heartbreaking song I've heard in ages and the entire flow of this album leaves me aching and enthralled. As with any good pop music, this is memorable just as much for its sadness as it is for the hooks.

Integrity- Howling, for the Nightmare Shall Consume
This came out of nowhere. I've long been on the fence with Integrity, whose music always holds the right energy but hasn't always connected with me on any deeper level. Perhaps I was finally ready, because Howling, for the Nightmare Shall Consume kicked me in the teeth right out of the gate and hasn't lost an ounce of its vitality over the last several months. These are some of the most downright feral songs in extreme music to come out in 2017 and are more memorable than things of such intensity usually are. Integrity doesn't just have hooks, it has fucking teeth.

(Thee) Oh Sees- Orc
Songs with nods to fantastical beasts, dungeons, and swordplay are all familiar turf for fans of black metal, so to find a band like Oh Sees (recently shorn of their "Thee") playing with such notions in a new genre felt like comfort in a strange new land. I fell deeply in love with Orc on my first listen and have only grown fonder of it (and the band's massive existing catalog) ever since. These songs range from spastic, explosive garage rock to quirky, funky punk and even the massive sprawling space doom of "Drowned Beast" (video above). Fans of the band may find my take on this perhaps a bit weak, but I'm still so blinded by its brilliance that I can't quite place all the elements that make it so enjoyable.

Oxbow- Thin Black Duke
Oxbow's been threatening to release Thin Black Duke since shortly after 2007's Narcotic Story. Few albums are worth such a wait, but thankfully Oxbow didn't give us a Chinese Democracy, they gave us an album of such quality that most bands never release anything like it in their career. Oxbow's already touched that mark a few times, and this offering of noisy rock is alternately cinematic and angular, keeping the listener alert and always attentive. I had the good fortune of catching Oxbow live twice supporting this and these songs are vicious on their own onstage, yet somehow even more haunting on wax. We don't deserve this, but we're all so lucky it exists.

Ulver- The Assassination of Julius Caesar
Ulver is, aside from long-running classics Coil and The Cure, my favorite band. They aren't on my list as a matter of mere favoritism. They're my favorite because they can switch gears and directions a seemingly limitless number of times and remain honest and compelling. The Assassination of Julius Caesar brought together so many beautiful paths the band has walked in such a cohesive way that the end result was simultaneously familiar and entirely new. To call this "pop" would be slightly inaccurate, yet the infectious melodies and singalong sensibility elevate these songs to the highest echelon of rock music happening right now. This is timelessness captured in a moment.

Yellow Eyes- Immersion Trench Reverie
Brooklyn black metallers Yellow Eyes have fully hit their stride. On Sick With Bloom, the band fully realized its best strengths. With Immersion Trench Reverie, they highlighted them and played to them while making the most of their potent rhythm section's capacities. I've been gushing over these guys since 2012 and I feel as though I've run out of good ways to describe what they do. It's simply exhilarating to hear such nimble and evocative guitar work, and Will's voice has never been more tortured sounding than on these songs. My favorite song changes almost daily, but that's only indicative of how unified and forceful this album is. If you want to hear how rawness and potency can be retained in intricate, complex black metal, there is no other band on earth I could recommend as highly.

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