1. YELLOW EYES, ‘Immersion Trench Reverie’ (Gilead Media/Sibir Records)

It’s been a long year, and tons and tons of records have been accessed, processed, and released from memory. That’s just the way, considering how much music is unleashed each year, so when we get to the end, it’s nice to sit back and immerse ourselves in the work that meant the most to us and had the most profound impact. This year, sitting atop that list is Yellow Eyes’ stunning “Immersion Trench Reverie,” a record that’s hard to describe but easy to embrace.

It’s also difficult to explain Yellow Eyes to someone who hasn’t encountered them before. Simply labeling them a black metal band is not enough because they go beyond that sub-genre descriptor. This band, long helmed by brothers Will and Sam Skarstad and joined by bassist Alex DeMaria and drummer M. Rekevics, makes hypnotic, strange, and powerful sounds that aren’t really paying homage to any era of black metal and instead exist in a plane all its own. This record, their fourth full-length document, builds on the foundation they have laid in the past and constructs a monolith to the sky brimming with gold charges and frosty white ambiance, feeling like an ideal collection for this winter we’re in. But it really can shine through at any time. The music here is surrounded by field noises the Skarstad brothers captured on a trip to Siberia, and that oddness and desolation, the sounds of active villages and bootsteps crunching the snow, help pull you into their atmosphere and experience a world many never have before. It’s a record that’s like none other not just in black metal, but in metal as a whole. These guys have been doing things that way since their start, and they continue to invent new ways to devastate and captivate at the same time.

Guitarist/vocalist Will Skarstad took time to answer our questions about this record, how their time in Siberia colored the songs, and how the cabin studio they inhabit for each recording works its way into their music. Many thanks to him for his responses and for the band for creating our favorite metal record of the year. (Oct. 20)

MEAT MEAD METAL: We are naming “Immersion Trench Reverie” one of our top 5 favorite metal albums of the year. Right off the bat, what does the title of the record signify to the band?

WILL SKARSTAD: Sam is responsible for the lyrics and song titles. Unfortunately, this is Will writing. Let’s just say it’s open to interpretation.

MMM: Much of the sounds and especially field recordings are from your time spent in Siberia. Talk a little bit about that experience and how it colored the record? Did you know when you went you were looking for inspiration for new music?

WS: I’ve spent years going back and forth to Siberia, so I’m fairly comfortable with how weird it is at this point. Having Sam there gave me new perspective though; we were able to interpret the strangeness together in real time. It’s a crazy place, and there’s rarely an explanation for why. From finding fresh bullet shells outside our apartment to having the temperature dip 70 degrees in a few hours one night, we were always off kilter. We knew a new record was on the horizon, but being there is so intense that we weren’t exactly sitting around talking about riffs. Fighting bouts of insomnia, drinking vodka with strangers who looked at us like we were zoo animals, and coping with constant darkness and cold were what occupied our time and thoughts.

MMM: The music on the record feels very frigid and icy. Is that attributed to the Siberia trip, or is that how the music formed organically?

WS: Ultimately, I don’t know that the trip impacted the songs themselves; many of the riffs were written before we left. We knew that we wanted to gather Siberian field recordings for the album; this was purposeful. As the record started coming together, we realized our experiences in Krasnoyarsk created an appropriate theme for the record, but that most obviously emerged lyrically and in the transitions between songs. I like to think that our songwriting would have become more adventurous regardless.

MMM: I often find the band’s music entrancing and hypnotic (especially during “Shrillness in the Heated Grass” and “Jubilat”). Where does that element come from, and how do you feel it balances out the harsher sides of the music?

WS: It’s hard for me to say. I think that the way our riffs weave together can create some sort of dizzying effect, but it can’t be like that all the time. We strive to write balanced songs. Each type of riff is in service to an alternate feeling one, hopefully. We spend most of our energy trying to get the songs to flow. It’s more about the story a song tells as a whole and less about rapid-fire riffs or something like that.

MMM: As usual, this record was recorded in the same Connecticut cabin you used for past releases. Yet the music sounds different and has progressed from your past work. Does that cabin provide an element of comfort? How does the band keep changing within those same confines?

WS: Every note is scrutinized before we head up to record. Once we’re up there we are free; we just have to hit the notes. Unlike a traditional studio, we have no time limitations and no distractions. The progression of our sound happens in the months and months of basically free association riff-writing, typically done in the city or wherever. We’ll pull from about 3 hours of material before we start working on song structures. I don’t ever want to feel comfortable or fall back on an “appropriate” sounding part. It’s inevitable, but we try to avoid it.

MMM: This is your second release with Gilead Media. How do you feel about that relationship, especially since the band did so much on its own for a long time?

WS: It’s great. It makes our lives a lot easier. We still release cassettes and make shirts, pins etc. I feel very involved with the physical releases, but I wouldn’t be able to handle shipping records on top of everything else. It’s also amazing to be in a record store and see our record on the shelves. I don’t know how to do that.

MMM: The band has some big things coming up this year with older material being reissued and the Migration Fest appearance. What else does the band have in store in 2018?

Back to Europe in April for Roadburn, then hopefully as far into Eastern Europe as possible for some shows to round out the trip. Working on it all now. Also, always writing new music.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Yellow-Eyes-659862920738821/

To buy the album, go here (preorder up soon): https://gileadmedia.bandcamp.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://gileadmedia.net/

And here: http://www.sibirrecords.com/

2. SPIRIT ADRIFT, ‘Cursed by Conception’ (20 Buck Spin)

One of the more exciting aspects of being a fan of any type of music is finding a band that intrigues you and following their artistic growth as time goes on. Not every band does this, by the way, which is fine. The ones that do are the special ones, and each time they deliver a new chapter, it’s exciting tearing it open to see what’s contained inside.

It was a fast turnaround for Spirit Adrift from their debut “Chained to Oblivion” (released August of 2016 and our No. 3 album of last year) and their sophomore effort “Cursed by Conception,” but in those 14 months, a tremendous amount of growth took place. First, the band once helmed solely by vocalist/guitarist Nate Garrett morphed into a proper four piece that now includes guitarist Jeff Owens, bassist Chase Mason, and drummer Marcus Bryant. Also, as Garrett will tell you below, he wasn’t satisfied with treading water and wanted to push the band further. You can hear that on this eight-track, 47-minute collection that pushed their doom base to include thrash and classic metal, proving Spirit Adrift have a ton of tricks up their sleeves, and we may only be seeing the beginning. It’s a record that, while I was instantly engaged first time I heard it, I had to visit over and over to investigate all the ripples and waves contained within. After full absorption, it’s a record that bleeds heavy metal glory, a throwback to the genre’s more formative days but also one steeped in the present. This is a band you need to hear, no matter what style of metal is your favorite.

Garrett was kind enough to answer our questions about the record and the band, and he’s very generous with his takes on the artistic growth of the group, how he digs for darkness now that he’s survived great tribulations in his life, and what they have in store for what’s looking like a major 2018. Thanks again to Garrett for his time and for the band for continually upping the ante. (Oct. 6)

MEAT MEAD METAL: We are naming “Curse of Conception” as one of our top 5 favorite metal records of the year. It’s a real growth spurt from “Chained to Oblivion,” which isn’t that old of an album. Do you feel the band has progressed quickly on this album?

NATE GARRETT: I think the main reason for the change in sound was my unwillingness to be bored. There were a lot of self-imposed goals, some that even bordered on restrictions, and that affected the way I approached writing the album. But yeah, the bottom line is I felt like it would be boring to everyone, especially to me, if I put out an album that sounded like the last one.

MMM: You’re also operating as a full band now and not just on your own. How did that make a difference with writing the record and recording (I assume it was a group effort, but correct me if I’m wrong), and how has the band grown in the live setting?

NG: “Curse of Conception” was written and demoed pretty much the same way as the previous releases, but this time I did have some input and guidance from the other guys during the writing process. I tried to keep in mind that we would be playing the songs live, and I attempted to rein in some of the ambitiousness. “Tried” being the operative word. The end result was just as complex and layered as the previous stuff, so we had to tweak and rework some parts so that they would be just as compelling in a live setting. That’s exciting to me though. Now the album and the live performance are two unique experiences. The recording process was more fun this time around, I think because there were more people there with an investment in the finished product. It was a lot of work though, and there were still moments that had me questioning my sanity. Anything worth doing is going to be hard work. As far as the band in a live setting goes, we’ve definitely hit a stride that brought with it a ton of confidence and energy. The last couple of shows we played just felt right. We felt the power for sure. We’re dying to get on tour.

MMM: “Curse of Conception,” the idea of life being a burden thrust upon us, isn’t the cheeriest of topics. How did you come to this line of thinking for the record? For music that doesn’t sound down or depressing, this is a concept that kind of hides beneath all of that.

NG: The better my life gets, the more I question my ability to conjure the kind of primal, emotionally brutal lyrics that Spirit Adrift thrives and depends upon. There was a time in my life when I wanted to die every day. It’s easy to write lyrics for a doom metal band when you’re in that state of mind. Now that I’m in a much better place, I sometimes worry that the lyrics will be contrived or not quite as potent as they once were. The solution, I realized, is to make a concerted effort to dig deep into the worst parts of my past, and the most troubling thoughts and feelings in my mind. “Curse of Conception” is the most personal album I’ve ever made. It’s all veiled in metaphor, but the real stories behind each song are things that I won’t talk about at all in my personal life. That honesty and genuine pain is crucial if you’re trying to make art that resonates with people on a profound level.

MMM: Vocally, you also sound almost like a different person here. There is more variety to your tones and approaches, almost as if you’re operating somewhere between Ozzy and James Hetfield. Is this just a natural progression, or is this something you’d been working on?

NG: The human voice fascinates me. We all only have so much control over it. Then things happen as we age, all sorts of physical changes that have a direct impact on how the voice sounds. When I did the early Spirit Adrift stuff, nobody knew it was me, and I was trying to sound like someone else. That was a conscious decision. I approached it as if I was becoming a character for a movie or play or something. On “Curse of Conception.” I just wanted to be me. I wanted it to be totally pure. It makes sense that I would sound like some sort of Ozzy/Papa Het hybrid, because Black Sabbath and Metallica were the bands that made me fall in love with heavy metal. It’s quite a compliment to be mentioned alongside those guys, so thank you.

MMM: You made the jump to 20 Buck Spin for this album. How it’s been working with them?

NG: 20 Buck Spin is one of my favorite labels of all time, and it has been ever since I became aware of it, around the time of the first Samothrace album or Kylesa’s “Static Tensions. There was a moment sometime last year when I said to my wife, “it would be great if Spirit Adrift was on 20 Buck Spin,” and looking back, I think I worked toward manifesting that into reality from that point forward. I feel like Dave (Adelson) and I have a lot in common. His work ethic and obsessive drive are extraordinary. I get this sense that we’re both trying to take over the world, and it consumes us 24/7. He’s a bad ass on the business side of things, and a great friend. Plus, he’s a huge MMA fan, and I don’t have nearly enough friends that I can talk to about that stuff. Respect and love all around.

MMM: The reaction to this record has been very positive, as the album is popping up on a lot of other year-end lists in other spots. Is that something that signals verification to you? Do you not pay attention to that? Something in the middle?

NG: As much as I strive to make music that is pure and unaffected by anyone’s opinion of it, I’m still human. So yeah, it feels good for the hard work to be validated and appreciated. I find that the more successful Spirit Adrift becomes, the less I give a shit about outside opinions, specifically negative opinions. What means the most to me is when someone comes up to me at a show and says something like, “This album helped me deal with my father’s death,” or, “Your music saved my life.” Those moments embody the entire reason why I’m doing this. Music saved my life too, and if I can pay that forward and keep the flow going, that’s the greatest feeling there is. So, if this album resonates with you and makes you feel something, thank you. I’m doing this because of you.

MMML Looks like 2018 is going to be a big year. You have the Decibel beer fest and Migration Fest, which will be huge. Are you pumped about those shows? What else do you have planned?

NG: I’m definitely ready as hell to play live next year. I’m chomping at the bit to get in some people’s faces and show them that we’re a force to be reckoned with. That sounds brash or whatever, but it’s true. I can’t wait. We have a lot of major plans for next year. It’s all being finalized, and I can’t get into specifics, but suffice to say we’ll be playing quite a few shows in 2018. Oh, we just announced a headlining show at Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn on January 26, so there’s that. Let me also just say Spirit Adrift isn’t some solo project with random side musicians. It’s a real-deal fucking BAND comprised of four unique, intense individuals. That makes for some magic in the live setting. Come see for yourself.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/SpiritAdrift

To buy the album, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/collections/20bs-vinyl

For more on the label, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/

3. Chaos Moon, ‘Eschaton Memoire’ (Blood Music/Fallen Empire)

I have no running tally on what metal sub-genres get written about the most on this site, but black metal definitely is up there. There’s so damn much of it now, which isn’t always a good thing due to oversaturation, but the great stuff still manages to stand out and make its own mark. That’s what Chaos Moon did with their stunning fourth record “Eschaton Memoire.”

Turning toward bleak, apocalyptic themes and paying homage to black metal’s old guard, the band—Eric Baker (vocals), Alex Poole (guitars and atmosphere), Steven Blackburn (guitars and atmosphere), and Jack Blackburn (drums)—elevates what they accomplished on the excellent 2014 record “Resurrection Extract” and everything that preceded it and rips out one of the most fascinating black metal records this year. Woven into all of that is a cosmic, mind-altering atmosphere that takes the listeners somewhere else, some place cold and isolated. The five-track, 41-minute record (though the album is three tracks on their Bandcamp, as the two multi-part songs are combined) is violent psychologically, but there are other elements mixed into their style that make them spookier and spacier. It makes for a journey that arrests the mind, one that’s been rolling over and over in our heads ever since the music arrived in the inbox. It’s destruction and fury that will chill your cells and pull you into oblivion.

Guitarist Alex Poole took some time to answer our questions about “Eschaton Memoire,” explaining the record’s long road to fruition, what lurks behind the darkness of these songs, and how they balanced their desire to keep black metal’s roots strong without compromising their own vision. Our thanks to him and to all of Chaos Moon for a bloody, enthralling experience. (Nov. 17)

MEAT MEAD METAL: We’re naming “Eschaton Memoire” as one of our top 5 favorite metal records of 2017. It’s the band’s second release since the group was reborn in 2013. Do you feel like this album is moving you closer to the band’s true vision?

ALEX POOLE: I think the vision of the band has been firmly established to a degree over the 13 years Chaos Moon has existed. With “Eschaton Memoire,” we tried to take those elements and refine them. We wanted to harvest the feelings that were captured during our early days of discovering black metal while staying true to the sound of the band. Musically, it was a careful rebirth. This was also the first Chaos Moon album to have multiple contributors, and that definitely helped with the refinement process. Everything was analyzed. We wanted to take advantage of every moment without overcooking it.

MMM: There’s no denying the intense and enveloping atmosphere woven into the record. How important is that element to Chaos Moon’s sound, and what does that element represent?

AP: It’s the most important element. Dark and ethereal atmosphere is what drove me to black metal, the juxtaposition of that sound with the aggression of the rhythm section. That’s essentially what Chaos Moon is most of the time. We tried to develop on that more consciously on “Eschaton Memoire.”

MMM: The bio materials with the record state the record went through “various forms of transformation in order to summon the old spirit of black metal.” Talk a little bit about that process, what you were trying to achieve, and how listeners can hear that on the record?

AP: “Eschaton Memoire” went through three stages, or versions, of development. Version one was reworked into version two, version two was completely scrapped, and then we have version three, which is the current incarnation of “Eschaton Memoire.” The first two versions of the album were very … all over the place. A few stylistic changes, some weird math-y parts, a straight up death/doom song; it didn’t work. The second version of the album actually was 100% completed and submitted, but I started writing with Steve (Blackburn) for a split, and what we were coming up with was exactly what we wanted the album to sound like. Thus, version two was discarded. “Eschaton Memoire” is as close to a concept album as we’ve come, so the sound really needed to be consistent. Steve and I were on the exact same page, and we wanted to write something that captured what we perceived as the “old spirit,” but without becoming a second wave tribute band. We are acknowledging our roots while keeping completely honest with ourselves. Not playing on scenes or fleeting gimmicks.

MMM: “The Pillar, the Fall, and the Key” is a two-part cut that begins the record. What’s the significance behind the title, and explain a little more about the chaos we hear on these cuts.

AP: This is the realization of the “end.” The urgency and associated emotions that come with that and ultimately the beginning of the acceptance of death, which is pushed into the more somber track that follows. I won’t delve too deep into lyrical or title explanation, because I think it’s important for the listener to attach their own ideas, their own perceptions.

MMM: The record also is called “a violent eulogy for humanity.” Do you see this record as a soundtrack to the end times? Is that something you see drawing near or something you hope to witness and bring about with your music?

AP: End times on a universal level? No. It’s a metaphor for something much deeper, and I think it means something completely different to each member of the band. For us, it is a soundtrack of the end. What that end may be is subjective. Personally, I’m not too much concerned with the “human game.” We destroy ourselves over our ideals and habits, and will probably face some sort of extinction, but I’m not concerned with uncertain future.

MMM: What does the band have planned in 2018?

AP: Chaos Moon will slow down to let the album breathe but might have a few vinyl re-releases of older material, along with other merch available. However, we’re all involved in numerous other projects that all have material being released in 2018 via Mystískaos and Fallen Empire. Should be a busy year. Onward.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Chaos-Moon/111626415515769

To buy the album, go here (U.S./Canada): https://www.blood-music.com/store-us/

Or here (rest of the world): https://www.blood-music.com/store-eu/

Or here: http://store.fallenempirerecords.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.blood-music.com/

And here: http://www.fallenempirerecords.com/

4. BELL WITCH, “Mirror Reaper” (Profound Lore)

Long, punishing devastation is something baked into the doom genre. The music is supposed to drag you underground on a slow, punishing excursion into the unknown, where you confront the darkest forces imaginable and come out the other side a little more blackened. Then there are bands such as Bell Witch that want to transform you altogether.

“Mirror Reaper” probably wasn’t the easiest, most convenient listen for a lot of people. A single track that lasts a crushing 83 minutes is anything but leisurely listening. It demands a commitment of time and energy from the listener and, in return, the band —bassist/vocalist Dylan Desmond and drummer/vocalist Jesse Schreibman—expounds on the philosophy “as above, so below,” stretching out on the seven Hermetic principles (mentalism, correspondence, vibration, polarity, rhythm, cause and effect, and gender) that speaks to the duality of life and the alignment of experiences on all planes of existence. You get a journey into philosophical realms, where you confront life and death, dual realities, and everything contained within. Along the way, the band unleashes mournful, drubbing, and dramatic sections sewn together by the ominous pall that hangs over this. Once again, they’re joined on vocals by Erik Moggridge (Ariel Ruin), and they also pay homage to their fallen brother and former drummer Adrian Guerra, who has a haunting and very real presence on the record.

Desmond took time to answer some of our questions about this amazing record including how the music transformed itself into its final form, some of the meaning behind the content, and what it means to reach out to a plane beyond and embrace Guerra one last time. Our thanks to Desmond and this band for continually creating music that takes us somewhere else for a little while. (Oct. 20)

MEAT MEAD METAL: We are naming “Mirror Reaper” as one of our top 5 metal releases of 2017. It’s a very ambitious record at a single track, 83 minutes. But it didn’t start out this way, right? How did the record end up taking this form?

DYLAN DESMOND: Thank you! That’s very cool to hear! The original idea was to write two movements titled “As Above So Below.” There were going to be 7 sub-movements within the 2 main movements. As time progressed this idea seemed to have taken a backseat, and the song itself had taken a life of its own.

MMM: How is the song being interpreted in a live setting? Is the entire album being performed? Is it being presented in segments?

DD: The set has been the first 48 minutes of the song on the tours we’ve done thus far following the album’s release. We generally slow things down in a live setting however, so I believe it’s been clocking in around 54 minutes, give or take a few. Without Erik Moggridge present, we cannot do the second half of the record. This made the dividing of the song easy, as the riff Erik comes in on is following the 48-minute mark.

MMM: What is it about the “as above, so below” philosophy that speaks to you and inspired you to write this record? How does that principle of duality affect your life outside of the band?

DD: The original idea behind the band was to write songs about subjects pertaining to “ghosts.” The general idea is that every song is from the perspective of a ghost trapped/held in some sort of place between life and death. It wants one or the other side but cannot escape the middle. In this spot, it describes various sorts of elements of each of the two sides. In a sense, it could be described as a hell or a purgatory. While the lyrical content has an evolving collection of metaphorical foundations, they all align with this concept. On the subject of duality, life and death are, of course, one of the most obvious sets of opposites to discuss. “As Above, So Below” is a version of this same concept; two sides make a whole. The concept is easy to grasp in its most simplistic form though can easily become more complex with a bit of imagination. Regardless of its complexity, it’s foundation remains the same. We felt like this fit right in line with the band’s lyrical concept.

MMM: The passing of Adrian Guerra hangs heavily over this album, and you were able to use some of his vocals that had been saved. What does his presence mean to this record, and how do his words impact the essence of the music?

DD: The section that Adrian’s vocals are featured in (41:47-44:11) was positioned to be the conceptual point of reflection of the song. At this point, it was written to turn on itself and mirror back what had already been presented. As with any mirror, the angle is important. We added Adrian’s vocals to this section for a few reasons. To start, we felt that it was the pinnacle of the song. This would obviously be the best place to pay tribute to him and all of his influence on the band over the years. Further, the riff had originally been discarded because it was too similar to a riff from “Four Phantoms.” With a little time and finesse, it developed its own identity and is quite different than the riff in “Four Phantoms.” The original similarities made it seem more appropriate for Adrian’s vocal placement as it had qualities of a song he had been a part of. If there was a place to invoke some sort of spirit of our dear old friend, this was the perfect avenue.

This section also seemed the perfect place for Adrian’s vocals because it was designed to reflect what was going into it back at us. Regarding the conceptual bit previously mentioned, this was the perfect placement for our friend to be in the song. I believe he would feel very honored in this, were there some way I could tell him.

MMM: As noted, Erik Moggridge returns to lend his voice to the album. Is he essentially a silent member of the band now? Any plans to make him a permanent member? What is his importance to this piece?

DD: Erik’s involvement will most likely always be one song (generally the most powerful song) per album. This one was a bit difficult in that there was only one track, so we initially discussed the mellow section which begins around 48:00 in the song. From there, Erik pointed out other spots he thought would be good, and most all of those we agreed were good. This was the most Erik has sung on a Bell Witch album thus far, and I think he did a marvelous job of it.

MMM: What are Bell Witch’s plans for 2018? Touring, or do you have any new music slowly boiling?

DD: We’re doing a European tour from March-May of 2018, and there is a potential U.S. tour in June and July. We’ll see what comes of that, but the prospect is very exciting. We’ve got about 30 minutes of material we trimmed from “Mirror Reaper” due to it not being the right fit for the song. We’re most likely going to start working on fashioning some of that into new songs in the next few weeks.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/BellWitchDoom/

To buy the album, go here: https://profoundlorerecords.merchtable.com

For more on the label, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/

5. King Woman, ‘Created in the Image of Suffering’ (Relapse)

We live in a climate where religious oppression is climbing to a new apex. It’s unsettling to see the  … OK, let’s call it a government … jettison back in time to force Christian ideals on a country that is being divided over that (and many other things), and it seems like the people in charge would love to return to the time when rich white men, bastardizing faith, were all that mattered.

It’s bullshit to live under that thumb, but imagine the same thing following your every move since birth. King Woman vocalist Kristina Esfandiari lived under that oppression just growing up, trying to figure out what being a normal person is like, and that bleeds over onto the band’s amazing debut record “Created in the Image of Suffering.” The record is a result of years of religious and mental suffering endured by Esfandiari, and the result is a uniquely dark and emotional record that really stood alone among heavy music, especially those under the expansive doom umbrella. Musically, the band makes a major jump from 2014 EP “Doubt,” itself a great, gripping effort, as the content is heavier, moodier, sludgier, and more impactful. The rest of the group—guitarist Colin Gallagher, bassist Peter Arensdorf, and drummer Joey Raygoza—combines with Esfandiari to add more muscle to these songs, creating the perfect stage for the husky, pained vocals.

Utopia” has surprisingly sludgy riffs, oppressive heaviness, and vocals that tear at your soul. “Is this really happening?” Esfandiari wails as the music crusts over in the muck. “Deny” starts with spoken lines, but then Esfandiari’s singing takes on deeper tones while the guitars burn underneath the surface. The band unleashes its fury and begins pounding away, leaving noticeable welts, as Esfandiari scornfully laments, “You can’t even look at me, hide the shame that’s in your eyes.” “Hierophant” is the highlight of the record and arguably the emotional breaking point of the band’s catalog. The 8:01 track basically plays out in two parts, with the first finding a vulnerable, wanting Esfandiari admitting, “What I’m trying to say, I want to be the one you want,” as the song spirals like her heart, following her into desperation. As the second half unfolds, Esfandiari pays her devotion, vowing, “If you’re the sacred script, I am the hierophant.” Closer “Hem” is the ideal final landing, as the band builds stormy textures over its 8:07, starting ominously before building hypnotic layers, with Esfandiari admitting, “I’m reaching for hem” into a swirl of sound that will destroy your heart. It’s crushing someone had to endure such pain, even if it resulted in beautiful art. This whole record is a soul scorcher. (Feb. 24)

Arensdorf was kind enough to answer some of our questions about the record, their touring experiences supporting “Created…” and what the future holds for the band.

MEAT MEAD METAL: We are naming “Created in the Image of Suffering” as one of our top 5 favorite metal releases of the year. The album is much heavier and darker than “Doubt.” What brought about this progression in the band’s sound?

PETER ARENSDORF: First off, thanks so much! It’s been amazing to see how many people have loved the album this year. I think that in terms of the sound of CITIOS, we tried to channel our collective emotions in a succinct and impactful way. I wasn’t a part of making the “Doubt” EP but I know that in going into recording CITIOS we wanted the songs to not only be musically heavy but emotionally so as well. We also really wanted something that could easily translate to being played live.

MMM: The band live is a different experience than the record. It’s even more visceral and intense. Does this catharsis and bloodletting continue in the live setting? Or is it simply a performance that changes each night depending on mood and ambiance?

PA: Yeah, for me, the catharsis only intensifies in the live setting, but it’s always dynamic and based on innumerable factors. One night might be a channel for sadness/exhaustion, while another for anger or frustration, and I think that people that come and see us tap into their own emotions and their own releases via what they’re hearing. We see all sorts of reactions from up there.

MMM: Among others, “Hierophant” is an amazing song, one that feels like it is a battle between desire and willingness to give in. What inspired this song, and am I wrong to feel like this is sort of a devotional?

PA: This song actually came about at my first King Woman practice. I’d written the verse/chorus parts a while back, and when it finally worked out for me to come in and play with the other three, we were sitting on a break and I started playing it for everyone, and we all just jumped on it. We were kinda in crunch mode for writing the album at the time, and I think that we basically wrote the whole thing in a day (minus lyrics). Kristina could speak in more depth about the exact emotions around the song but, yeah it’s a love devotional.

MMM: Do the aspects of your music that tackle religion feel like they could be applicable to more people’s lives now, especially as the United States has this revived religious pressure in politics and societal matters?

PA: I’d like to think that, maybe, we offer an outlet for people feeling disenfranchised about certain aspects of the world.

MMM: On a lighter note, King Woman had some pretty extensive touring experiences in 2017. How did you feel about the band’s live shows this year? What were some highlights? What did you learn about your songs as people received them?

PA: Joey and I were just talking about this, and we’ve had such luck to play with so many good people this year.  Oathbreaker, JayeJayle, True Widow, Chelsea Wolfe, Uniform, Thou, Dreamdecay all amazing musicians and even better people. So many highlights. Richmond, VA, is always amazing to play, love that city. Also shout out to Alex at Charm School ice cream (http://www.charmschoolrva.com/) for always putting us up. It was our first Euro experience, so we had a great time over there. Berlin was a particularly good one. I feel like as the tours came and went, we continued to get more cohesive as a band, and I know that I learned a shit ton this year about how to make it all work with real life and work and relationships and all that.

MMM: What does King Woman have coming up in 2018? Too soon to think about new music?

PA: Right now we’re doing a lot of writing. You might have noticed that we played an unreleased song at a lot of our shows this year. That one will be on the next album, and we’re all just chipping away at ideas but also taking some time to breathe and rest. January of 2018, we play an amazing fest in Petaluma, CA., put on by Anthony Anzaldo from Ceremony, called Home Sick (https://www.facebook.com/events/306619423186599/). Other than that, you’ll just have to stay tuned and see.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/KNGWMN/

To buy the album, go here: http://store.relapse.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/RelapseRecords/

Best of 2017: 10-6

10. EYE OF NIX, “Black Somnia” (Scry Recordings): There’s a reason one must consider every bit of music released during a calendar year, because you never know when something impactful will arrive when you least expect it. That occurred this year with the second Eye of Nix record “Black Somnia,” an album so enthralling and filled with chaos that it landed in our top 10. I not-so-cryptically warned in the review of this record last week that we weren’t done lathering praise for this thing, and true to our word, we’re throwing our arms around this indescribable record that packs noise, doom, folk, and massive drama into one package.

The band examines fear, anxiety, and darkness on this six-track album that is morbid and mysterious. Vocalist Joy Von Spain is a force to withstand, as she wails violently in some areas and pushes herself to operatic levels in others. “Wound and Scar” starts us off with a slow, doomy path that’s interrupted by jarring, vicious shrieks from Von Spain and organs spilling in the horrors. The pace destroys for a stretch before working into a brief gazey storm. “Lull” is a great cut that mixes aggressive acoustics into the churning horrors, with the band howling, “Your lies control!” A Hideous Visage” is the 8:37 closer that takes its time, burning slowly over its first minutes. The track then deliberately stomps, with the leads cutting a path, the elements getting dark and gloomy, and singing mixing with maniacal screams. It’s a powerful statement, and you’d better take heed. (Dec. 15)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/EYEOFNIX

To buy the album, go here: http://www.scryrecordings.com/posts/discography/eye-of-nix-black-somnia/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.scryrecordings.com/

9. WOE, “Hope Attrition” (Vendetta): It was refreshing this year to hear more metal bands lash out against the right-wing bullshit going on in this country, and Brooklyn-based black metal beasts Woe certainly contributed to fighting against the oppression and religious-based politics and fear tactics. The band’s fourth record “Hope Attrition” is a fiery, scathing assault, one that you could digest and enjoy even without immersing yourself in the messages. But if you’re on their side, you’ll walk away galvanized and ready to battle back.

The band—Chris Grigg (guitars, vocals), bassist Grzesiek Czapla (he’s also handled drums and guitars in the past for the band), guitarist/vocalist Matt Mewton, and drummer extraordinaire Lev Weinstein—leaves very little room for you to breathe as they lash back against what they see as unjust and just downright bullshit.  “Unending Call of Woe” is an ideal starting place, as riffs charge up, and the first part of the track unravels in a calculating pace. But then the song whips into gear, with Grigg howling, “This is a failure, and every wretched word is broken!” “No Blood Has Honor” should make anyone questioning the band’s motives see things perfectly clear, as they assault societal woes brought on by faith-based tactics, as Grigg howls, “What do you know about honor?” “The Ones We Lost” tramples a mid-tempo path to start before it bursts open, and the vocals settle into strangulation mode; while closer “Abject in Defeat” tramples in with drums rolls and strong riffs, as a channeled assault and thought-provoking lead guitar work unfurl as Grigg howls, “All paths led out to sea, and slowly I discovered, this world is not for me.” (March 17)

For more on the band, go here: http://www.woeunholy.com/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.vendettarecords.bigcartel.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://vendettarecords.wordpress.com/

8. SPECTRAL VOICE, “Eroded Corridors of Unbeing” (Dark Descent): Death metal is in a really good place right now, and we have bands such as Spectral Lore to thank for that. The Denver band’s debut record “Eroded Corridors of Unbeing” was one of this year’s most anticipated albums, and when it finally landed in October, it paid off all that pre-hype and audience anxiety. This band that is made up of three-quarters of Blood Incantation, and they produce a 5-track, 44-minute display that will turn your blood to ice water and make you feel like you’ve been haunted by some extraterrestrial force.

Opener “Thresholds Beyond” is a 7:20 scorcher with dizzying guitars and massive growls with a pace that punishes. The vocals later lurch deep below the filth, but then things go chillingly eerie. Clean guitars slide behind that, and then the tempo hits a calculating drubbing. “Visions of Psychic Dismemberment” is the longest track at nearly 14 minutes, and it starts in moody darkness before the punishment arrives. Nasty growls and muscular guitars intertwine as the drums do maximum damage, and a wild cry tears out of Wendler’s mouth before we’re on to psychedelic madness. Closer “Dissolution” goes 9:38, and it brings the hammers early, as the band mauls and thrashes away. The riffs chug and swallow whole everything in its path, and then we head into violent hyperdrive. Spectral Voice were promised as a shiny new blade for death metal, and they sure cut right to the bone on their debut. (Oct. 13)

or more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Necroticdoom

To buy the album, go here: http://www.darkdescentrecords.com/store/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.darkdescentrecords.com/

7. IMPETUOUS RITUAL, “Blight Upon Martyred Sentience” (Profound Lore): Australian death metal horde Impetuous Ritual have been tearing apart psyches for more than a decade now, pummeling their audiences and grinding faces into the dirt. It’s why I laugh sometimes when people describe modern death metal bands whose shirts line Hot Topics everywhere as brutal, because if you haven’t heard this band, you have no fucking clue what that word even means. Their third record “Blight Upon Martyred Sentience” manages to take the terror they create and make it even more bizarre, sending your mind into a vortex for nine tracks and 43 minutes.

“Void Cohesion” opens the record like a storm of plague, as noise builds and chokes, with churning death roiling through hell and forcing you to gasp for breath. It’s a mass of sound, feeling like a planet folding in on itself and experiencing a slow, tortuous death. “Inordinate Disdain” begins strangling right away. Hellish vocals and sprawling soloing cause the fires to rage over, as terrible cries pummel, and the pace keeps blazing anew. “Denigrative Prophecies” starts with terrifying growls that start your skin crawling, and then the song blows itself apart. Strange vocals bubble to the surface, and the final moments are smothering and nasty, slipping out into space. Closer “Intransience” is the longest track at 9:06, and it boils for its first stretch, allowing heat to gather and your body to wilt. The band burrows away, as if tunneling through the ground, while massive death growls are traded off with weird vocal spurts. This is another horrifying experience from Impetuous Ritual. (June 16)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/ImpetuousRitual/

To buy the record, go here: https://profoundlorerecords.merchtable.com

For more on the label, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/

6. DAWN RAY’D, “The Unlawful Assembly” (Halo of Flies/Prosthetic/Feast of Tentacles): We just spoke of metal speaking out against political and societal injustices, and on their fiery first record, Dawn Ray’d take the fight to the streets, speaking out for those who struggle, who break their bones to make ends meet, and who constantly have the boot of the upper crust on their throat. They’re not going to take it anymore, and they’re using their soaring, European folk-flexed black metal to stand as their platform. Even if you don’t feel like getting political, you can find a ton to love in these 10 songs. The band—vocalist/violinist Simon B, guitarist Fabian D., and drummer Matthew B—can enrage the fire within your heart and give you a taste of humanity once again. They’re just a really great band.

The record is divided into two sections, each ending with a chilling, anger-laced acoustic track that buttons up the unrest you just heard. Opener “Fire Sermon” swelters in string drone before a gruff bark signals fiery times are here. The band pummels forward, with violins cutting into the chaos to add a sorrowful texture before the storming erupts again. “The Abyssal Plane” has violins leading before the melody surges, and the pace opens up properly. The melodies and vocals provide ample thunder, while the strings add a Celtic edge. “Future Perfect Conditional” bursts with disgust and disappointment, but also with a sense of strength. “You heard the call and you did not answer,” Simon B howls, “You heard the cry for help, and you turned away!” which is a line all too applicable to the U.S. right now. “Strike Again the Hammer Sings” has a string-rich burst at the start before the track rains down heavily and causes your head to feel the pressure. A sequence of calm arrives to let in some cool breeze, but then it gets shredded again. This band is defiant and surging with power, a voice for the voiceless who have been beaten back too long. It’s time to take things back, one street at a time. (Oct. 2)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/dawnrayd/

To buy the album (US), go here: http://www.halooffliesrecords.com/label-releases/halo105-dawn-rayd-the-unlawful-assembly-lp/

Or here (UK): http://feastoftentacles.bigcartel.com/

Or here (coming soon): https://store.prostheticrecords.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.halooffliesrecords.com/

And here: http://www.feastoftentacles.com/

And here: https://prostheticrecords.com/

Best of 2017: 15-11

15. WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM, “Thrice Woven” (Artemisia): The return of Pacific Northwest black metal force Wolves in the Throne Room was an unexpected but very pleasant surprise, and their sixth record “Thrice Woven” would return them mostly to their black metal roots, but with fingers draped into their more atmospheric period. The record is a thunderous display, a 5-track, 42-minute barnstormer that brings enough fury back into their sound but doesn’t abandon what they accomplished on their more experimental works.

The album gets off to a rousing start with “Born From the Serpent’s Eye,” a cut that has the band storming the gates, devastating your senses with their assault. Yet halfway through, everything comes to a halt, and Anna Von Hausswolff arrives, bringing angelic drama to the song as her amazing voice coasts the senses. “The Old Ones Are With Us” featured Neurosis’ Steve Von Till, who lends his gruff singing voice to the folkier moments on the song, and he sounds so at home, he’s practically a member of the tribe. The track goes on a cataclysmic surge from there. “Fires Roar in the Palace of the Moon” closes the record with roaring melodies, growls that impact your soul, and a final salvo that lets you know their blood rushes like a mad river, and the Wolves’ story still has many compelling chapters to run. (Sept. 22)

For more on the band, go here: http://wittr.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://shop.wittr.com/collections/featured-items

For more on the label, go here: https://artemisiarecords.bandcamp.com/

14. COLDFELLS, self-titled (Eihwaz Recordings): Now that cold, frigid weather has returned to most of the United States mainland, it’s a perfect time to revisit Coldfells’ immersive debut record, a self-titled affair that pays homage to their Appalachian surroundings, as its members—vocalist/guitarist Aaron Carey (Nechochwen, End, Infirmary), bass/drummer/backing vocalist Andrew D’Cagna (Nechochwen, Obsequiae, Unwilling Flesh), guitarist Jonny Doyle (Plaguewielder, Horse Drawn)—gaze at their frozen homeland and feel its psychological, spiritual warmth. That spills over into this powerful document that hopefully is the first installment of any more to come.

“The Rope” is the stunning 10:26-long opener, which starts with pastoral keys before tearing open in atmosphere. Guitars reach out while the melodies gush, and the growls add another level of power to the thing. “All Night We Flew” unfurls slowly before the verses start thrashing, and grim growls mix with strong singing. The pace surges, as the vocals stand out as a highlight of the track, and guitars take off into a Southern bend, driven by slide playing. Closer “Eons Pass” is goddamn epic from the start, as the singing punches your chest, and then ominous growls slide in as the track gets grittier. Organs spill, giving the track a spacey essence, while melodies bustle before things head off into the water. Great record from a really spirited band. (March 28)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/coldfellsdoom

To buy the album, go here: https://shop.bindrunerecordings.com/

Or here: http://shop.eihwazrecordings.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://bindrunerecordings.com/

And here: http://eihwazrecordings.com/

13. BIG | BRAVE, “Ardor” (Southern Lord): Canadian doom trio BIG | BRAVE deliver striking doom and drone that pull you into their machine and hold you there, totally captivated. Seeing them live is another experience altogether, as their sound wafts through the room like an intoxicating fog, dragging you under their machine. On their great third record “Ardor,” they spread three songs over about 40 minutes, with notes held out for a million years, minimal vocals adding haunting atmosphere, and the drums bashed and mashed throughout the album’s entire run.

The band —vocalist/guitarist Robin Wattie, guitarist Mathieu Ball, drummer/vocalist Louis-Alexandre Beauregard—sounds like no other I can think of, and on this record, it’s a drive deeper into the dark cavern they’ve been building since 2012. “Sounds” opens the record, an 11:36 track that begins with noise spreading and the drums coming to life, and over that time, voices clash, the drone rises, and the drumming mars. “Lull” is an emotional run, with Wattie calling, “So I miss you, it’s all I can say, you were my best friend,” while the song bathes in noise and caterwauling sensations that pull you right into their souls as strings mix in and guitars glimmer in doom. Closer “Borer” is the longest track and arguably the best on here. The song takes its time building, and before you know it, the track gets agitated, with Wattie calling, “I am immune, and I am protected,” almost as if it’s a life mantra she wants you to commit to memory. This band is amazing, and there is no one like them. (Sept. 15)

For more on the band, go here: http://www.bigbrave.ca/

To buy the album, go here: https://www.southernlord.com/store

For more on the label, go here: https://www.southernlord.com/

12. TRIUMVIR FOUL, “Spiritual Bloodshed” (Vrasubatlat/Invictus Productions): Putrid, filthy, angry, disgusting death metal still exists in our world, thank fuck, and Portland, Ore., band Triumvir Foul are keeping the blood and puss smeared all over this second record “Spiritual Bloodshed.” Their follow-up effort to their 2015 self-titled debut goes right for the jugular, meeting you face first with vile, heathenistic blasts that aim to rip you apart, limb from limb. The eight tracks that run over an ideally served 38 minutes are devastating and filthy, making your ears and your senses gush with plasma, and they prove their virulent art can both poison and punish.

The band—vocalist/guitarist Ad Infinitum and drummer Cedentibus (both also play together in Ash Borer, Urzeit, and Serum Dreg)—lays out a scorched-earth policy that destroys lives. “Asphyxiation” starts the record, and it’s ideally titled, because that is what it feels like you’re going through for the most part. Noise builds, crushing your chest, before the first wild cries emerge, and madness erupts. “Entranced By Filth” is led in by drums that sound like they’re in the midst of war and music that brings raucous terror, while “Disembowelment Pneuma” has noise spreading like plague and the track heading into a thrashy vortex. The cut is crunchy and violent, with gruff growls and a full serving of menace. “Vomitous Worship in Rotten Tombs” bathes in a feedback swarm before the band lets loose an ugly, damaging assault, while closer “Vrasubatlatian Rites” runs a devastating 7:20 and delivers riffs that are heavy as fuck, promising consummation by fire. This shit’s dangerous and vile. In the best way. (May 17)

For more on the band, go here: http://www.vrasubatlat.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://invictusproductions.net/shop/

For more on the label, go here: https://invictusproductions.net/

11. HELL, self-titled (Sentient Ruin/LowerYourHead): M.S.W., sole member of long-running doom monster Hell, has undergone some sonic changes over the project’s lifespan. On Hell’s new self-titled full-length album (the forth for the project and the second to be self-titled) changes things up from skull-bashing drone. Here, the guitars are sludgier, the tempo has added swagger, and the whole thing feels like it could cloud the room with noxious smoke aiming to alter your frame of mind. This seven-track, 49:49-long album is their most varied yet, and it’s going to sound like a motherfucker live.

The 9:34-long opener “Helmzmen” starts ominously, with clips of the mayday call from the Northern Belle sinking in 2010, as molten, stoner-style riffs kick in hard as fuck, noise-drenched growls pierce the surface, a heaping dose of sludge crumbles, and a nasty Sleep vibe spreads and kills. “Sub0din” simmers in feedback before riffs rise from the ash, and the growls scorch. “Wandering Soul” runs 5:09, and it stomps gigantic holes in everything at the outset, with meaty riffs mix with weird voices combining, and guitars swirling and creating a mind fuck; “Inscriptus” is a beast, with scathing screams and blistering violence, as voices argue back and forth over the validity of Biblical truth; and Closer “Seelenos” is an instrumental that cuts right to the heart, as guitars drip and leave black streaks, while a reading of Emily Dickinson’s “I felt a Funeral, In my Brain” sinks this further into despair. This is a new page turned for Hell, and it’s a dizzying beast. (Aug. 11)

For more on the band, go here: https://loweryourhead.bandcamp.com/

To buy the album, go here: http://sentientruin.com/releases/hell-hell

Or here: https://loweryourhead.bandcamp.com/album/hell-full-length

For more on the label, go here: http://sentientruin.com/

Best of 2017: 30-21

30. SONS OF CROM, “The Black Tower” (Bindrune Recordings/Nordvis Produktion): Finnish duo Sons of Crom have that rare ability to deliver heavy shit but also get your blood boiling for an adventure. On their second record “The Black Tower,” these guys channel something between Bathory and Iron Maiden as they gallop into you on this eight-track, 43-minute bruiser that follows up 2014’s “Riddle of Steel. Here, vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Janne Posti and drummer/vocalist Iiro Sarkki light the fires early and keep the intensity rushing through “In Fire Reborn,” a track that reeks of Viking metal at its finest, reminding a bit of Enslaved; “Fall of Pandemonium” that mixes classic metal riffs with powerful singing; “Legacy,” a dark, folk-fed acoustic-led ballad that scrapes at past wounds; and “Black Wings Up High” that is a soaring triumph. This is so much fun. (Aug. 18)

For more on the band, go here: https://sonsofcrom.com/

To buy the album, go here: http://bindrunerecordings.com/

Or here: https://www.nordvis.com/sons-of-crom-a-21

For more on the label, go here: https://shop.bindrunerecordings.com/

And here: https://www.nordvis.com/

29. FALLS OF RAUROS, “Vigilance Perennial” (Bindrune Recordings/Nordvis Produktion): Falls of Rauros have an excellent formula going with their rustic black metal, obviously a product of their Maine surroundings. But they decided not to take it easy and deliver something expected and instead headed toward prog terrain and spacey brilliance. Anyone who has been along for the ride on the band’s previous three records certainly were not left out in the cold on “Vigilance Perennial.” Instead, they got an expanded view of the band’s sound and a promise that the path would continue to take twists and turns down the path into the future. “White Granite” hints at serenity, before the track rips open, and feral howls punish, pouring atmosphere into their blaze; “Arrow and Kiln” is the longest track at 12:03, and it revels is synth fog, damaged growls, and great guitar work; while closer “Impermanence Streak Through Marble” pulls it all together, bringing the record to a rousing, soul-lifting conclusion. (March 31)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/fallsofraurosOfficial/

To buy the album, go here: https://shop.bindrunerecordings.com/

Or here: https://www.nordvis.com/new_products

For more on the label, go here: http://bindrunerecordings.com/

And here: https://www.nordvis.com/

28. KLABAUTAMANN, “Smaragd” (Zeitgeister Music): This was a really good year for weird music, and German black metal progressives Klabautamann upped the ante a million times over with their bizarre fourth record “Smaragd.” At first, I didn’t know what to think of this record, and I (foolishly) kept wondering if they hadn’t fallen victim to their own ambitions. But, no! This record is so immersive and addictive, and each listen unraveled the onion even more and showed a band totally disinterested in convention. “Into Depression” is the opener and sinks its teeth into similar territory that early Enslaved mined, showing you there’s brutality to their style. Then something like “In My Shadow” drops, and it shows sharp, bloody teeth at one moment and, in an instant, it turns into a 1960s-style vocal pop song where melody and harmony push the psychosis. You won’t hear another moment in metal like it, and that’s what makes this band such a treasure. (June 6)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Klabautamann/

To buy the album, go here: https://klabautamann.bandcamp.com/album/smaragd

For more on the label, go here: http://www.zeitgeistermusic.com/

27. TCHORNOBOG, self-titled (Fallen Empire/I, Voidhanger): Wow, what a fucked-up album. You want a black metal record with no boundaries and artistic danger at every turn, and you get that with the first Tchornobog album. The band, the creation of Markov Soroka, who has visited us in the past with other vessels such as Aureole and Slow, channels a black Slavic deity of the same name (there are 10 million spellings for it) by examining the grossness and vile existence of this very, uh, thing? Like, OK, opener “I. The Vomiting Tchornobog (Slithering Gods of Cognitive Dissonance)” runs 20 minutes where your brain and senses are beaten to shit, and the whole thing ends with an extended period of the tchornobog puking out its vile guts. “II. Hallucinatory Black Breath of Possession (Mountain-Eye Amalgamation)” starts with Soroka wailing, “Tchornobog of 6,000 tongues! Is there a limp vein into which you have not vomited?” Yeah, it goes on and on, and after 64 minutes, your body has been beaten to a pulp by a force you cannot possibly understand. (July 21)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Tchornobog/

To buy the album, go here: http://i-voidhanger.com/shop/

Or here (vinyl, due in September): https://markovsoroka.bandcamp.com/album/tchornobog

For more on the label, go here: http://i-voidhanger.com/

And here: http://www.fallenempirerecords.com/

26. VACIVUS, “Temple of the Abyss” (Profound Lore): Vacivus means void, the epitome of nothing, the absolute absence of existence. This UK death metal band certainly makes the case for a quick, painless demise and retreat into a plane of no existence on their awesome second record “Temple of the Abyss.” So many bands each year get lathered and lubed by the online media, but I feel like everyone missed the ball on this band that can remind you of their countrymates Cruciamentum and Grave Miasma. This record is a total punisher, an album that, when death metal fans whine that they don’t get anything pure or true anymore, should shut up and devour this as a whole. This eight-track, 39-minute effort is a huge warning call to the entire metal underground that this band is coming for them, and for the people who didn’t pay proper attention, one day you’re going to feel really dumb that you missed out. (Sept. 22)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/vacivus/

To buy the album, go here: https://profoundlorerecords.merchtable.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/

25. RAGANA, “You Take Nothing” (self-released): This has been a gigantic year for progressive social issues in the United States, and with a walking, breathing, lying, shitting oppressor of women in the goddamn White House, never has it been more important to tackle women’s right and remind people that, in a lot of ways, we’re still in the dark ages. Oakland duo Ragana are fucking tired of having to fight this fight, and their amazing “You Take Nothing” isn’t just an iron fist to the establishment, it’s an awesome record that should ignite the fires within your own heart that wants to see balance for all. Sorry if that’s not black metal enough for you. Start with opener “Spare No Man” and its vast, sorrowful start that shifts into a sludgy, doomy bruiser, and you know shit is on. That continues on “Winter’s Light” that feels indie folk in spots vocally and continues that eerie darkness to the end. “Destroyer” is aptly named because it decimates agendas, while the closing title cut is a mauler that, while it has its delicate moments, blisters you and leaves you wanting more. More bands like Ragana are what we need to keep up the fight as long as it takes. (April 14)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/raganaband/

To buy the album, go here: https://ragana.bandcamp.com/

24. PALLBEARER, “Heartless” (Profound Lore): How much longer can Pallbearer be contained? Not that they’re forcibly being held to a smaller, more underground domain. Nuclear Blast does hold their rights overseas. But this band is so good, so transcendent that we really haven’t seen anything like them in a while. They also hold true the original tenets of metal that keep close melody, grandiosity, and humanity and pay it off on their excellent third record “Heartless.” I feel like a dipshit scoring this where I have them just because this album is so good. But it’s been a weird year for music, and this spot still is a solid entry for a band that’s becoming one of the most important in metal. See, people get soured by success, and Pallbearer have faced some of that, but their work is pure and honest, and it’s just getting better. This isn’t a Mastodon situation where they’re become a different entity altogether. Pallbearer operate on the same plane, but they’ve managed to make their machine more powerful over time. (March 24)

For more on the band, go here: http://pallbearerdoom.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://profoundlorerecords.merchtable.com

For more on the label, go here: https://www.profoundlorerecords.com/

23. POWER TRIP, “Nightmare Logic” (Southern Lord): I grew up with thrash metal. I loved Metallica, but my favorite bands in my teen years were Testament and Anthrax. Power Trip definitely stamp their ticket with the more punk-fueled side of the genre, and their awesome second effort “Nightmare Logic” is one that took some time to settle into the blood but, once it did, it never left. Power Trip’s profile is growing larger as they go, and while they convert more people with their volatile live show, their music just grows more and more infectious. The record also is a political force, another element that ensconces them nicely in the thrash world (if you lean right, sorry, bruv). “Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Axe)” is a timeless metal song, one of the best of the year, and one we will keep hearing for years to come. If they rise above the underground, it’s because of this track. But we also have “Soul Sacrifice,” “Waiting Around to Die,” and “If Not Us Then Who” that galvanize their audience and keep the fight moving forward. (Feb. 24)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/powertripTX

To buy the album, go here: http://www.southernlord.com/store

For more on the label, go here: http://www.southernlord.com/

22. AMENRA, “Mass VI” (Neurot Recordings): Our lives are marred with tragedy, so much so that it’s a wonder we find ways to go on. The members of Amenra were pounded with bad fortune in the time leading up to their sixth record “Mass VI” that the amazing content contained within sometimes hurts to experience. Death is emblazoned on the cover, and the band digs deep inside their bruised guts as they spread atmospheric doom punishment across “Children of the Eye” that lets loose spacey tragedy and doom pain; “Plus Pres de Toi,” that goes a healthy 8:40 and rushes with melody and anguish, as cries scrape flesh off the face, and the tempo feels volcanic. While “A Solitary Reign” has prog-folk-style riffs that get us started as Colin H. van Eeckhout calls, “I see distance in your eyes,” a line he threads through the entire song. This is an emotional, volatile experience. (Oct. 20)

For more on the band, go here: http://www.churchofra.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://neurotrecordings.merchtable.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.neurotrecordings.com/

21. FELLWARDEN, “Oathbearer” (June 16): It’s sometimes hard to think about the country you live in and all the great things about it. I’ve had a really hard time embracing America the past few years considering what’s been going on politically, but that’s not the only part about where I live. Fellwarden, the project helmed by Fen members The Watcher (vocals, all stringed instruments, keys) and Havenless (drums) pays homage to their northern England home. Sure, there’s bloodshed and turmoil contain within, but there also is pride and love for their soil they defend. This six-track, nearly 50-minute record is chock full of emotion, melody, and triumph as they plow through “Guardian Unbound,” the 8:22 opener that starts lush and even a little gothic before the track bursts to life; “In Death, Valiant” that begins in an acoustic bed, as clean singing pierces the calm, before storming harder, as folk-laden strings head into the mix, and savagery and drama splatter over the conclusion; and closer Sorrowborn,” the longest cut at 12:44, that bursts open with vocals scraping along and synth creating more steam. Then, the Watcher sorrowfully calls, “I am the last of my line.” It’s sobering and magnificent. (Eisenwald)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/fellwarden/

To buy the album, go here: https://store.eisenton.de/en/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.eisenton.de/

Best of 2017: 40-31

40. VÖLUR, “Ancestors” (Prophecy): Toronto-based Völur get our list off to an interesting start, as their music combines English folk, prog, doom, and black metal on their excellent second album “Ancestors.” While it’s not really a sequel to their debut “Disir,” it is sort of a counterpart effort, as “Ancestors” concentrates on male characters, while their first centered on female roles. This four-track, 53-minute album fittingly (sonically) landed at the end of the spring. “Breaker of Silence” is the 15-minute opener and simmers in choral calls, chambery strings, and fierce noise, setting the stage for the following tales including thorny, doomy “Breaker of Skulls”; soulful and sweltering “Breaker of Oaths”; and closer “Breaker of Famines,” a song that packs black metal severity with dark folk drama. It’s a wondrous second release by a band packed with wonder. (June 2)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/VolurDoom/

To buy the album, go here: http://en.prophecy.de/pre-order-bundles/

For more on the label, go here: http://en.prophecy.de/

39. MEMORIAM, “For the Fallen” (Nuclear Blast): Chances are, we are never getting another Bolt Thrower record or tour. After the death of that band’s drummer Martin “Kiddie” Kearns, BT finally ended their warfront, and born out of tribute to him came Memoriam. Fronted by unmistakable Karl Willets, who led Bolt Thrower for nearly their entire run, this group of death metal vets that also include members of Benediction and Sacrilege created this group that also tips their caps to all their fallen comrades with whom they created havoc along the way. The record is not a Bolt Thrower album and is something a lot different, as their death is more grainy and grim, with Willet’s weathered but powerful voice pushing the band through “War Rages On,” “Reduced to Zero,” and heart-gripping closer “Last Words,” where Willets vows, “As I face the end, my heart to you I send.” (March 24)

For more on the band, go here: http://www.memoriam.uk.com/

To buy the album, go here: http://shop.nuclearblast.com/en/shop/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.nuclearblast.com/en/label/

38. MESMUR, “S” (Solitude Productions): I’ve never understood why Mesmur, a band whose members are scattered throughout the world and who never have met in person, have not had a bigger impact in the metal world. It’s only a matter of time before people catch on, especially if they keep releasing records as good as “S.” This follow-up to their 2014 self-titled debut takes their funeral doom in a different, even darker direction, one that catapults into outer space and toward distant, frozen planets. Spread over four songs and nearly 53 minutes, this album is a mammoth journey, no doubt, taking you past cavernous opener “Singularity,” where cosmic synth bleeds into the blackness; “Exile,” that’s long and somber, and takes some unexpected psychedelic turns; “Distension” that is packed with autumnal winds and splattering growls; and final destination “S = k ln Ω,” a strange instrumental that caps your visit with chilling weirdness. Get woke to Mesmur already. (Sept. 15)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/mesmurdoom/

To buy the album, go here: https://solitudestore.com/shop/en/product/mesmur-2017-s/

For more on the label, go here: https://solitude-prod.com/

37. JESS AND THE ANCIENT ONES, “The Horse and Other Weird Tales” (Svart): It’s impossible to listen to a Jess and the Ancient Ones record and not feel like you’re being transcended four decades into the past or later, where psychological trips, magic, witchcraft, strange doctors, and odd concoctions come off the black-and-white screen and into your real life. On “The Horse and Other Weird Tales,” their third full-length, the band goes back into strange colors and lava lamp-illuminated rooms while your enchanting singer Jess dances through tales of drugs, death, and release. “Death, please come to us,” Jess wails on opener “Death Is a Door,” and from there, it’s straight down their highway of strange on “Your Exploding Heads”; jaw-dropping half ballad, half psyche revival “You and Eyes”; and Mark David Chapman-inspired closer “Anyway the Minds Flow.” (Dec. 1)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/jessandtheancientones/

To buy the album, go here: https://www.svartrecords.com/shop/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.svartrecords.com/

36. CORMORANT, “Diaspora” (self-released): Talk about a band truly coming into its own. Cormorant’s second record without originator Arthur Von Nagel truly solidified their current lineup and continued the band’s path toward true greatness. This four-track, hour-long album is built with four punishing, intellectually stimulating songs that mix black metal, prog, and folk into a thunderous cloud that overwhelms and fascinates. “Preserved in Ash” gets the record off to a rumbling start, as bassist/vocalist Marcus Luscombe howls, “Head to the sea, on this volatile path, follow the sun, through the cracks in the ash!” as the dark clouds are twisted with light. “The Devourer” is a blast of grime and violence, with a huge chorus and rousing melodies making the heart surge. Closer “Migration” is a 26:15 epic that is told not only in the song itself but in the four-panel art that emblazons the album. As the band describes traveling to new lands to find prosperity and hope, they paint with bloody and shadowy brushes, mixing atmospheric beauty into the power. (Aug. 11)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/CormorantMusic/

To buy the album, go here: https://cormorant.bandcamp.com/

35. BELUS, “Apophenia” (Vendetta): It took seven years to finally get this thing, but Belus unleashed their debut full-length “Apophenia” and delivered on all the promise they demonstrated on their smaller releases and their split with Anicon. This seven-track record is named after a pattern of behavior when a person thinks their actions affect an unrelated event’s outcome and it is a brawling, baffling, smothering doom effort that twists and turns all over the place. Opener “Chasm” is tricky and burly, with Matt Mewton’s growls lacerating the senses, and the playing from bassist Leslie Wolf and drummer Jacques Johnson filling the low end with punishment. “Monolith” has deep splashes of black metal woven into its DNA; “Illusion” is mystical at times but violent in others, with a heavy trip of strangeness tacked on; and closer “Equilibrium” shakes your insides and spills them on the ground, while the band stomps in the aftermath. It’s a damaging, brainy effort that’s one hell of an impactful debut. (Oct. 13)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/belusband

To buy the album, go here: https://belus.bandcamp.com/

34. MONARCH!, “Never Forever” (Profound Lore): French doom terrors Monarch! continue to build on their haunting, bludgeoning reputation with “Never Forever,” the band’s eighth full-length effort. Led by mighty vocalist Emilie Bresson, whose voice will carve its way into your brain and never leave again, the band continues their campaign of punishing doom and drone while also incorporating more melody and beauty into the fire. Don’t roll your eyes if I suggest “artistic growth,” but that’s really what we get on this record that expands the Monarch! footprint but keeps their savagery intact. “Of Night, With Knives” is the 15-minute opener that revels in misery and Bresson’s dream-state singing, while “Cadaverine” is a disarming smasher, with abject heaviness and feral screams tying together the horrors. Then something like “Song of the Void” makes its mark in a little less than six minutes, making it one of the band’s shorter songs but a molten one with Bresson watching stars falling as static glaze wells to the surface. Another amazing piece of work from one of doom’s best bands. (Sept. 22)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Monarch-121146434822/

To buy the album, go here: https://profoundlorerecords.merchtable.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/

33. BLUT AUS NORD, “Deus Salutis Meæ” (Debemur Morti): French black metal freaks Blut Aus Nord, led by the always inventive Vindsval, continue to make heads combust on “Deus Salutis Meæ,” the band’s 12th album and one of their most perplexing. We’ve gotten many different sides to Blut Aus Nord’s bizarre puzzle, and this one has the band unloading 10 tracks (which is a lot for them) over just 34 minutes (which is short for them). It’s one of those albums that once you hit play, it seems like the record is over before you known it, but part of that reason is because it’s easy to get immersed in this work and dissolve into the blackness within. The dizzying, strange cuts here include “Chorea Macchabeorum” that slips right into warped growls and enrapturing melodies; “Apostasis” that has guitar work that sickens and causes vertigo, while the growls go beastly and gurgle blood; and “Ex tenebrae Lucis” that combines robot voices, strange noises, bludgeoning power, and numbing singing. They highlight an album that is one of this band’s most listenable and smothering. (Oct. 28)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/blutausnord.official/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.debemur-morti.com/en/12-eshop

For more on the label, go here: http://www.debemur-morti.com/en/

32. ACEPHALIX, “Decreation” (20 Buck Spin): It’s been five long years since Acephalix ripped our flesh off our bones, and now that it’s all grown back, they returned to harvest skin again with knuckle-mashing “Decreation.” The band switched from Southern Lord to 20 Buck Spin for this effort, and they respond with seven tracks that devastate for 39 minutes of destructive death metal violence. While it may have been some time since we last heard from them, nothing changed about their ferocity and urgency, pouring their disgust and pessimism into tracks that’ll have you pissed off right alongside of them. “Upon This Altar” is a dangerous gallop through landmines, as Daniel Butler’s fiery growls leave welts on your chest; “Mnemonic Death” leaves you in the dust, as the riffs burn everything in their path, and the thrashiness has a true Bay Area flavor; while “God Is Laughing” pokes its fingers into the wounds, twists, pulls out sinew, and splatters it against the blind faithful leading us toward hell. It’s great to have these guys back operating at such a devastating level. (Sept. 22)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/ACEPHALIX-116269338417902

To buy the album, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/collections/20bs-vinyl/products/acephalix-decreation-lp

For more on the label, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/

31. BLACK MARE, “Death Magick Mother” (Magic Bullet): And now for one of the most interesting records anywhere on the list, Black Mare’s second full-length “Death Magick Mother” is an album that can make you feel like you’re under freezing water as you watch your life pass before you. The solo project of the amazing Sera Timms (of Ides of Gemini and formerly of Black Math Horseman) stretches into doom, dark rock, and gothic atmospheres as she unravels the all-too-relevant subject of women’s struggles in society, something that inexplicably remains the case to this day. This music is centered in pain and frustration, but the playing can make you chill out and meditate, hopefully causing you think about the matters that impacted songs including “Ingress Into Form” with its oil slick basslines and hazy singing; “Death By Desire,” where guitars scrape, and the rhythms pound away; “Babylon’s Field” that feels like a freezing drizzle; and “Inverted Towers,” where Timms dreams of extinguishing a flame between the eyes of her oppressors. Hopefully one day soon, songs such as these will remind us of a time and attitude that no longer exist. (Sept. 15)

For more on the band, go here: http://theblackmare.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://magicbulletrecords.bandcamp.com/album/black-mare-death-magick-mother

For more on the label, go here: http://www.magicbulletrecords.com/site/

Best of 2017: Runners up

This was one of the most aggravating year-end lists I’ve ever done. I don’t remember rewriting and reshuffling a list this many times, as my lack of decisiveness came back to bite me yet again. But the top 40 finally is done and ready to start splattering everywhere tomorrow. Yet there are a few records that got left behind that we still really loved and want to pay some homage. Here are the runners up.

FUOCO FATUO, “Backwater” (Profound Lore): Italian funeral doom band Fuoco Fatuo’s music sometimes feels like you’re wading into inky blackness, floating as sea aimlessly while you try to hang on to anything you can to keep yourself afloat. The band released its second full-length “Backwater” back in the spring, and while it arrived during a period where the earth comes back to life, this record launched a sense of isolation and despair that was impossible to shake. Over four tracks and 62 minutes of material, the band pulls you through guttural crunching, horrifying growls, depressing melodies, and a black curtain that shrouds your vision. It’s a titanic effort to tackle, and it’s one that should sound even better as the colder, bleaker days arrive. (April 7)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/FUOCO666FATUO/

To buy the album, go here: https://profoundlorerecords.merchtable.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/

NORTHLESS, “Last Bastion of Cowardice” (Gilead Media/Halo of Flies/Init): Every time I talk about Milwaukee maulers Northless, I describe them as heavy. It’s so silly, right? Because this is a heavy metal site. But seriously, these guys up the ante and crush just a little harder than many other bands of their ilk. Here on “Last Bastion of Cowardice,” the band’s third full-length, they aren’t just mighty in sound but also in lyrical content. Not that their past material wasn’t intellectually stimulating, but this one digs into something we all can wrap our heads around: What if a person looking for redemption falls short of that goal? Hard as the protagonist may try, making good for past transgressions just isn’t in the cards, and that story is told over powerful cuts including “Godsend,” the abrasive “The Devil in Exile,” swaggering “Their Blood Was Always Mine,” and awesome, psyche-edged “Our Place in Dirt.” (Nov. 17)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/northlessmke/

To buy the album, go here (vinyl): https://gileadmedia.bandcamp.com/album/last-bastion-of-cowardice

Or here (vinyl): http://www.halooffliesrecords.com/releases/

Or here (cassette):  http://errorrecords.storenvy.com/

Or here (CD): http://initrecords.corecommerce.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://gileadmedia.net

And here: http://www.halooffliesrecords.com/

And here: http://initrecords.corecommerce.com/

And here: http://www.initrecords.net/

KRALLICE/DAVE EDWARDSON, “Loüm” (self-released/Gilead Media): Feeling like a real dipshit now that I have this record as a runner up, and Stereogum’s “Black Market” column lists it in a tie with the other Krallice release as metal album of the year. Oh well. This was my favorite of the band’s two records, as Neurosis bassist Dave Edwardson joins them on lead vocals, adding a completely different edge to the group’s sound. Krallice’s insane black metal formula remains intact, while Edwardson’s gruff shout blasts you in the chest and knocks the breath from your lungs. The words speak of oppression in society and the plight of the smaller person from an economical perspective as they try to find a way ahead in life. The track is a cosmic blast, a vicious assault, and a menacing lash back against the forces that would assume hold us down forever. While this was released on their own digitally, the vinyl version is yours via Gilead Media. (Oct. 27)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/krallice

To buy the album, go here: https://www.facebook.com/krallice

Or here: https://gileadmedia.bandcamp.com/

OMOTAI, “A Ruined Oak” (Tofu Carnage): Sentimentality and emotion are things not often embraced by all metal fans, but those who feel that way should try on Omotai’s third album “A Ruined Oak.” This mammoth record (12 tracks, 63 minutes) follows the plight of the fallen Roanoke tribe, and the violence, sadness, and loss wrapped into this album is impossible to shake. Their molten sludge and punishing playing visits many peaks and valleys over this record, and it’s a riveting journey to take along with them. Guitarist Sam Waters and bassist Melissa Lomchambon Ryan trade off on vocals, giving the band split voices telling the story, and the band devastates and unfurls this tragic story on highlight cuts including “Welcome to Adders’ Land,” “Arms That Flood,” epic mauler “A Cruel Weight, Thy Wound,” and thunderous “Tusk Aurora” that puts a smothering finishing touch on the album.  (Oct. 6)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/omotai/

To buy the album, go here: https://tofucarnagerecords.merchtable.com

For more on the label, go here: https://www.tofucarnage.com/

EXECRATION, “Return to the Void” (Metal Blade): The folks over at Metal Blade Records are no fools. Yeah, they got a nice collection of bands that move units and help pay the bills, and they have groups that lean more toward underground fans and keep them tuned into the machine. Bringing Nordic death metal band Execration into the fold was a wise choice, and the guys rewarded that faith with a captivating, cosmic fourth record “Return to the Void,” an effort that finally exposed them to a wider audience. Over nine tracks (seven full songs and two interludes) and 42 minutes, the band takes you on a journey that explodes on “Eternal Recurrence” and spreads its gore and majesty toward burly, prog-filled “Nekrocosm,” the alien violence of “Cephalic Transmissions,” imaginative “Unicursal Horoscope,” and sprawling, bizarre closer “Det Uransakelige Dyp.” This record manages to be both brutal and plenty of spacey fun. (July 14)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/execrationnorway

To buy the album, go here: https://www.indiemerch.com/metalbladerecords

For more on the label, go here: http://www.metalblade.com/us/