Best of 2017: 20-16

20. SUCCUMB, self-titled (The Flenser): I can’t think of many records that were this hold-you-at-arm’s-length when it comes to its appeal to listeners, even those who swim in death metal’s more dangerous pools. This band’s debut record, a seven-track, 33-minute affair, could just about tear all the hair off your arms and leave you with bruising and rashes due to its abrasiveness. The album is chock full of violence, blood, perversity, and other dark shadows, and taking on the music is akin to facing off with a rabid animal whose only intent is to attack to survive. This band is the frothing mouth waiting to inject you with disease.

One of Succumb’s main factors is their intense vocalist Cheri Musrasrik, whose disarming delivery and blunt assault is enough to make you sit up and take notice. She takes these warped, destructive death metal puzzles and wails, cries, and shrieks over them, making you worry about her safety and sanity. “Destroyer II” is a full-throttle attack with a tempo that devastates and creates smoke so thick, you’ll choke. “Bedchambers” has blunt force and voices spilling into tornadic winds. The madness is filled with aggravation and perversity, driven hard by Musrasnik’s suffering. Closer “The Flood” starts with pianos trickling before a hole is torn into the body of the song. Bloody growls and pained yells leave their final blistering, while the song comes to a monstrous climax. This is frightening stuff, and it’s some of the most inventive death metal of the year. (May 5)

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

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

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

19. DREADNOUGHT, “A Wake in Sacred Waves” (Sailor): There are plenty of different ways to play heavy metal, despite what some of the more rigid listeners would have you think. Colorado’s Dreadnought long ago threw convention to the wind, adding to their fury notes of jazz, folk, and indie rock, making something that’s high drama befitting larger rooms. Yeah, there’s a definite blackness to what they do, and they can get nasty and violent when the need arises. But on “A Wake in Sacred Waves,” they’re more concerned with moving your spirit than tearing at your flesh. And they do an awfully great job at making big adventures.

The band—Kelly Schilling (clean and harsh vocals, guitar, flute), Lauren Vieira (keys, clean vocals), Jordan Clancy (drums, saxophone), and Kevin Handlon (bass, mandolin, lyrics)—pours so many different sounds and curves into these songs, that taking just one listen won’t allow you to absorb it all. Most of the tracks are epic in length, but to pay off that attention they demand, you’re rewarded with songs that go anywhere and everywhere, landing somewhere among woods inhabited by Wolves in the Throne Room and Kate Bush. Jethro Tull are nearby neighbors. On this album, the band imagines the life cycle of a sea monster that rises to dominant status only to fade as life disappears forever. They tell that story over 17:22 opener “Vacant Sea”; “Within Chanting Waters” that’s gnarly and New Age; and “A Drifting Reign” that ruptures like a rain storm, as keys and a progressive push move forward. The singing floats while the music brims with emotion, and a period of lush vocals heads right into a caterwaul that gushes with power. (Oct. 6)

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

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

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

18. COUCH SLUT, “Contempt” (Gilead Media): Have you ever heard a record that makes you feel dirty and impure inside, music that you’re not sure is healthy to consume, but you do anyway? That’s what you get with NYC noise scrapers Couch Slut, and on their second record “Contempt,” they take things even further and smoosh your face deep into their pile of filth. Funny enough, you’ll enjoy the shit out of it, because the band also is a pretty goddamn rousing group, with singer Megan Osztrosits out front, taking you through bouts of psychosis, anger, violence, and trauma. You can’t ignore her, and if you try, she’ll blast you into submission.

“Funeral Dyke,” the song that greets you at the door, has the band bulldozing over you, and Osztrosits jabs, “You’re getting excited!” Sax barrels in and blasts over the chaos, but then things get oddly melodic and palpable for anyone cowering in fear. It’s a track that, if you’re not frightened away, then you’re in for the panic-inducing ride of your life. The rest of the band— guitarist Kevin Wunderlich, bassist Kevin Hall, drummer Theo Nobel—adds more muscle to the proceedings, and they and Osztrosits pummel you on cuts such as “Penalty Scar” that has guitars stabbing and a catchy tempo heading off, though Osztrosits’ stalking voice pulls you back into the danger zone; noise-piercing “Snakes in the Grass”; and dark closer “Won’t Come,” one of the band’s most painful and vulnerable songs, showing you a different side to this group’s psyche. (July 28)

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

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

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

17. SARCASM, “Within the Sphere of Ethereal Minds” (Dark Descent): It’s not like Swedish death metal needed another muscular representative to remind people of the land’s might when it comes to unleashing furious, punishing music. Yet, Sarcasm answered the bell anyway with their second album (and second within two years even though “Burial Dimensions” sat on the shelf for years) “Within the Sphere of Ethereal Minds.” While the band’s roots date back to 1990, they didn’t unleash their first record until last year, and this new one is even more thunderous, a true throwback to eras past, and a really exciting, devastating collection of songs. I’ve had this music for nearly a year now, and this slim, trim, eight-track, nearly 36-minute record never disappoints.

Punishing riffs and massive screams and growls are the vital elements, and the way the band plays the music has an exuberance usually reserved for those younger than they are. But they’re here to smash you, and they do that often on cuts including “From the Crimson Fog They Emerged” that sounds like an adventure from its title, as speedy mauling and a raspy chorus lead the way; “In the Grip of Awakening Times” that has riffs awakening and meeting up with glorious melodies, giving it a tasty vintage feel that glimmers. “A Black Veil for Earth,” the longest track at 8:37, a moodier, darker cut that has a slow-driving pace that brings the band closer to smothering doom than death; and closer “The Drowning Light at the Edge of Dawn” that’s a wild, punchy fury that leaves you with bruising all over. It took them a while to get here, but now that they are, Sarcasm can take their rightful place among Swedish death’s finest. (April 28)

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

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

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

16. CAVERNLIGHT, “As We Cup Our Hands and Drink From the Stream of Our Ache” (Gilead Media): Pain and suffering are not just physical. They are mental as well, and sometimes those are the wounds that are the hardest to heal. Problem is, people still have a hard time realizing they’re hurt, and there are people in society who would just assume write them off for being weak. It’s infuriating, especially as I suffer from some of the very things Cavernlight explore on their massive debut full-length album, one that has stuck with me and gnawed away at my mind ever since it arrived earlier this year. This isn’t just music that conveys darkness. It literally hurts as it spills from the speaker, and yes, I’m using that word right. Every drop hurts. Every bit scars. And you know that the people behind this band have lived through some harrowing experiences they’re lucky to have survived. This isn’t feel-good stuff.

The band—Scott Zuwadzhi (vocals, guitars, noise), Patrick Crawford (guitars), Brandon Pleshek (bass, synth) and Adam Bartlett (drums, vocals)—has existed since 2006, but only recently did their vision start coming through with their music. This five-track, 36-minute record opens with “Lay Your Woes Upon the Ground and Know That the End Will Swallow You” that has noise charging and a slightly gothic feel before it mauls viciously, and the vocals lay waste. “Constructing a Spire to Pierce and Poison the Infinite” has cold guitars, a rumbling rhythm section, and sheets of hurt delivered by the monstrous growls; “To Wallow in the Filth That Dwells Where Despair Is Born” has some brighter spots, but they’re soon marred by horrible darkness and bleeding doom that is squeezed from the guts; and closer “A Shell of One’s Former Self” features singer Sarah Green, FALSE vocalist Rachel, and Mike Paparo of Bastard Sapling and Inter Arma who add their voices to this final salvo that should leave you a heaving mess. This is doom that remembers that depression and despair are as much a part of the sub-genre’s DNA as riffs. (June 16)

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

To buy the album, go here: gileadmedia.bandcamp.com

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

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/

Best of 2017: Non-metal records

Julie Byrne (Photo by Jonathan Bouknight)

We’re a metal site. In case you hadn’t noticed. We write about it all year long, and we’re about to launch into the rest of the month celebrating the best the genre had to offer us. But we’re not barbarians. Or I’m not. I don’t know why I always use we. Anyway, there’s lot more to what makes up a week of music other than heavy metal.

I did that silly Spotify thing where it shows you your most listened-to artists and gives you the top 100 songs you listened to all year long. My top 5 artists contain zero metal bands. Pretty sure my top 100 has only one metal song. That’s because I retreat to Spotify to get away from the metallic world and immerse myself in other sounds. I love all types of bands, and since I don’t have an outlet to explore those, here are some of my favorite non-metal releases of 2017.

JULIE BYRNE, “Not Even Happiness” (Ba Da Bing): Something weird happened this year with Julie Byrne’s excellent second record “Not Even Happiness,” in that a lot of folks I follow on Twitter who also are metal fans happened to sing her praises. The music is dark, lonely, and sensitive, and despite the hard-outer armor we often try to show, we’re vulnerable at heart. And that’s OK because we’re not afraid to explore that side. Byrne’s haunting voice and tender expressions get inside of you and take you along her rustic, quiet folk journey. This record peaks on opener “Follow My Voice,” “Sleepwalker,” and gorgeous “Natural Blue.” This is a perfect companion for a cold winter night. (Jan. 13)

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

To buy the album, go here: https://grapefruitrecordclub.com/t/ba-da-bing-records

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

CHELSEA WOLFE, “Hiss Spun” (Sargent House): This is almost cheating as this is a borderline metal album. This is the heaviest material of Wolfe’s rich career, and while it initially took some time to warm up fully to the material, I’m now deliriously hooked. Wolfe has a way of mixing metallic edges, haunting passages, and stuff out of fever dream nightmares as she teases you on “16 Psyche,” “The Culling,” “Twin Fawn,” and “Static Hum.” I’ll never not be enraptured by Wolfe’s music and playing, and she keeps getting better as her career progresses. (Sept. 22)

For more on the band, go here: http://www.chelseawolfe.net/

To buy the album, go here: https://www.hellomerch.com/collections/chelsea-wolfe

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

ULVER, “The Assassination of Julius Caesar”/“Sic Transit Gloria Mundi” (self-released): It’s pretty strange putting Ulver on a non-metal list, but this band has long since pushed past those boundaries. This year, they put out two captivating releases that are Euro-flavored pop records, and they are awfully good. “The Assassination of Julius Caesar” arrived back in the spring, and it delivered songs that felt like they were meant to be enjoyed after a hazy late night when your brain is cloudy, and you want release. It also mixes the parallels of the death of Princess Diana and the myth of Greek goddess Artemis, to add even more wonder. Then, a few weeks ago, they delivered the “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi” EP, consisting of songs developed during the same sessions, including a disarming cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “The Power of Love.” (April 7/Nov. 11)

For more on the band, go here: http://www.jester-records.com/ulver/

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

CHERRY GLAZERR, “Apocalipstick” (Secretly Canadian): Good pop records are timeless, and Cherry Glazerr certainly feel like a group that could have arrived at any time the past 20 years. With Clementine Creevy out front (you also may have seen her on Amazon series “Transparent”) and absolutely ruling, the band puts together punk-fueled, noisy, alluring, psychedelic-tinged rock that gets inside your head and never, ever leaves. Songs such as “Nuclear Bomb,” “Lucid Dreams,” “Trash People,” and abrasive “Sip O’ Poison” are so much fun and absolutely melt your ears and brain with their exuberant energy and sugary madness. Go get this and bliss the fuck out. (Jan. 20)

For more on the band, go here: http://cherry-glazerr.com/

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

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

HARVESTMAN, “Music for Monoliths” (Neurot): Steve Von Till’s influence on metal is unquestionable, considering his work with the mighty Neurosis. But on the side, he delves more toward folk regions with some of his work, including his Harvestman banner. This seven-track effort returned to nature and what’s pure about humankind, as he pays homage to his roots on these songs. This is music that is perfect for a campfire, even if you’re alone with some trusted spirits and your thoughts. Gaze into the cosmos and get in touch with your emotions while visiting “The Forest Is Our Temple,” “Ring of Sentinels,” “Levitation,” and “Sundown.” Von Till can devastate with you decibels or his spiritual journeys. (May 19)

For more on the band, go here: http://www.vontill.org/

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

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

LAND OF TALK, “Life After Youth” (Saddle Creek): I missed Elizabeth Powell so hard. Land of Talk is a band that was criminally underappreciated during their first run that ended seven years ago. I wasn’t even expecting Powell to return, but when she did, I just hoped for a decent record from Land of Talk. Instead, we got an amazing album that picked right up where “Cloak & Cipher” left off and even pushed further. Powell is in great voice here, and songs such as “Loving,” “This Time,” “Heartcore,” and “What Was I Thinking?” are vintage Land of Talk material. This album gives hope that this is just the beginning of Powell’s second wind. (May 19)

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

To buy the album, go here: https://saddle-creek.com/collections/all

For more on the label, go here: https://saddle-creek.com/

BIG THIEF, “Capacity” (Saddle Creek): I’m saving the best for last, because this is one of my favorite records of the year. That Spotify algorithm? It found a ton of Big Thief’s music, fueled by Adrianne Lenker’s amazing songwriting, emotive singing, and from-the-heart storytelling that tells you that she’s has seen some harrowing things (“Mythological Beauty” is a gem and a heart ripper). I’ve seen the band twice this year (neither time were they a full four piece and still owned the room), and they’re one of the best bands playing any type of music anywhere. Take on “Shark Smile” (that song is a disguised crusher), heart-destroying “Coma,” infectious “Haley,” and show-stopper “Mary,” where Lenker delivers some of the best vocal phrasing of the entire year. This band is a leviathan. (June 9)

For more on the band, go here: http://www.bigthief.net/

To buy the album, go here: https://saddle-creek.com/collections/all

For more on the label, go here: https://saddle-creek.com/

The worst of metal in 2017

A big ‘nope’ to Operation: Mindcrime

One of the questions we are most commonly asked is why we don’t run many negative record reviews. Answer is simple: There’s enough good stuff out there that we like to focus on who is making great records and pushing metal into stronger waters. Not that we don’t have records or incidents happen that piss us off. Happens all the time. But we like to shine light into the otherwise callous world.

Uh, except for today. This is the one time each year when we get the shit off our chest that has been piling up for 12 months. Get ready for some swears. Before we get into celebrating the best stuff of the year, we’ll unload on the bands and records and forces that have made us feel lousy and put us in worse moods. We have a government that’s slowly regressing this country into the Dark Ages. We need good stuff to combat that. Before that, here’s what we hated.

NO ONE NEEDED ANOTHER OPERATION: MINDCRIME ALBUM: Arguably, no one needed the first two, either. Geoff Tate used to be one of the great voices in metal. Used to. He hasn’t done anything worth anyone’s time since the “Empire” album, and ever since then, his voice and his decision making has embarrassingly eroded. Following his ouster from Queensryche, he released ungodly awful solo material, and now with his new band Operation: Mindcrime, he keeps wiping fresh feces all over his reputation. I interviewed Tate several years ago, by the way, and he couldn’t have been nicer. So, this gives me no pleasure. “The New Reality” is the final chapter of an artistically painful trilogy from this band that tried to resuscitate the darkness of the actual record “Operation: Mindcrime” and insert it here, where it should be as relevant as ever. There’s literally nothing good about this record. Tate croons and painfully delivers his words with his weathered voice that long since has abandoned him. Also, the fucking saxophone returns. Can we throw that thing into a volcano already? Look, the guy was lights out on classics such as “Rage for Order” and the record after which he named his band. But he’s a fading shell, and he’s only embarrassing himself. Please, stop.

NO ONE EVER LEARNS A LESSON (BLAKE JUDD VERSION): Nachtmystium are back. Try to remain calm. Apparently, you cannot kill your career in heavy metal because, if you could, guitarist/vocalist/thief Blake Judd would have been dead and buried long ago. His drug issues are well documented and sad, as are his practices of robbing his fans blind by taking their money and never responding with the goods and services ordered. His last label had to make good on a pre-order scam for an album that wasn’t even any good. There even was a situation where a girl he was dating died under very cloudy circumstances. How was that not it?! But he’s back. He’s making good now. Trust him. All that shit is behind him. You’ve heard this before, but no metal career truly dies. He’s even getting press every time he shits out an announcement, because we haven’t learned about the dangers of enabling. The revived project (they have a new record called “Resilient,” which just fucking pisses me off) even landed on Prophecy Productions. PROPHECY?! Are you kidding me? I hope the guy really is better now and never fucks over another fan again. I hope he stays clean. I hope Prophecy doesn’t regret this. But we know how this story likely ends, and if it does wind up that way, anyone left in this band’s wake must be considered a huge fool.

NO ONE EVER LEARNS A LESSON (BOBBY LIEBLING VERSION): Speaking of drugs and liars, fuck Bobby Liebling. Let’s not waste any more time on him. Ever again.

METAL STILL HAS A PROBLEM WITH MYRKUR, BECAUSE PEOPLE ARE HUGE BABIES: Amalie Bruun committed a cardinal sin against metal a few years back by having a vagina and trying to play black metal. I can’t believe the world still rotates around the sun after this. Undeterred, Bruun kept working at her project Myrkur, and this year, she delivered her second full-length “Mareridt,” an album that has her working more toward European folk and New Age than black metal, though it definitely has its dark edges. It’s pretty damn good, too. But she has some blemishes that some people just can’t fucking get over. Yeah, the initial marketing campaign behind her debut 2014 EP was a pretty bad idea. Especially in metal, where honesty is the policy of every single member of the entire genre. No one ever has lied or exaggerated an image. It’s never been done until Bruun. More seriously, she leveled some criticism toward the Muslim faith and their further emergence into European society. She has since clarified that she’s troubled by the treatment of women under that religion. And we all know in metal that criticism can’t be levied toward any religion on Earth, especially the Abrahamic ones. Another thing to remember is religion is regarded with a great deal of respect in metal (especially the Abrahamic ones), and records that have hinted at (or outrighted threatened) violence toward Christianity is banned from the genre, as no one ever has ever recorded a song about that. I don’t defend Bruun’s stance at all, but it’s a fucking hoot watching black metal bros question her over this while likely owning a Marduk “Fuck Me Jesus” demo. Bruun never is going to win this battle, and dudes always are going to trip over each other to cry and whine about Myrkur, who must have a staggeringly profound effect on their lives. She’s not ruining heavy metal, and some people need to learn to ignore artists they don’t like (for whatever reason, but the vagina definitely plays a major role).

SPEAKING OF GIANT BABIES, REMEMBER THAT “NO MORE SAFE SPACE” TOUR?: Funny, but when comparing resumes, I would argue Shining frontman Niklas Kvarforth is a bigger blight to metal than Bruun. BUT HE’S TRUE BLACK METAL. I never met him before, but considering his antics, he seems like a dick. Is that harsh? I don’t know. His behavior before a Boise, Idaho, date on the silly-ass “No More Safe Space” tour with Revenge and Wolvhammer found him and his band using homophobic slurs, allegedly trying to grab women against their will, using the wonderful seig heil hand gesture (what a hardcore maniac!), and other bullshit that led them to being canceled a few nights later at their Portland, Ore., date. I can’t figure out why anyone deals with Kvarforth anymore, other than the people who still support this behavior because BLACK FUCKING METAL. This is childlike behavior. This is trying too hard to look like a metallic warrior when, really, you just come off as an immature loser. It’s sad because Kvarforth is an excellent vocalist, and Shining have made some really great records. But his behavior has come to the point where I don’t even want to be bothered with his music anymore. If you’re cool with him, that’s fine. You’re probably writing a misspelled comment to the site right now filled with similar homophobic slurs and lame insults anyway. Knock yourself out, champ.

ANOTHER YEAR, ANOTHER LIST OF WARRIORS WE LOST: Sadly, we lost some notable members of the metal community, some of whom possibly could have been saved. AC/DC rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young had suffered from dementia for years, and it’s even more tragic that he was only 64. He was the backbone of that band, the steady hand to his brother Angus’ crazy solos and ridiculous (in a good way) stage antics. It was nice to see so many people come forward and pay that respect to Malcolm. And it was utterly heartbreaking seeing Angus carry his brother’s guitar one final time at the funeral. Celtic Frost/Hellhammer bassist Martin Eric Ain died of a heart attack at the way-too-young age of 50. He was terrifying on record and on stage (I treasure the one time I got to see Celtic Frost live), one of the all-time greats who, in many ways, was unsung. It is only now we truly can close the book on Celtic Frost’s story. While not exactly metal, there’s no denying the impact Soundgarden have had on heavy music, and Chris Cornell’s suicide was a jarring loss that’s still felt to this day. Same with former Faith No More singer Chuck Mosely, who apparently fell victim to his vices. It’s truly sad we lost these great players, among many others who also passed. May they rest in power. And may anyone dealing with mental illness or substance issues find the help they need. Please reach out and talk to someone. It’s a hard thing to do, but it may save your life.

While we’re at it, we have a few musicians out there who still have a fighting chance, and hopefully the rest of this year and 2018 is kind to them. Vio-lence singer Sean Killian, who has one of the most unique voices in all of metal, is battling stage 4 cirrhosis of the liver. That’s a dire situation, as we wish him the very best that he comes out on top of his battle. Same goes for Warbeast’s Bruce Corbitt who is battling cancer though somehow found the strength to sing on the band’s final record “Enter the Arena.” Hopefully he keeps fighting and comes out on top of cancer, that piece-of-shit disease.

PICK OF THE WEEK: Eye of Nix look into the face of fear, anxiety on dramatic, violent ‘Black Somnia’

Eye of Nix in their current form (Photo by Briana Jones)

It’s a monumental day here at Meat Mead Metal, one that only comes once a year. It’s the final Pick of the Week and last review of the calendar year. Where the hell did 2017 go? Anyway, it used to be tough to find really strong material to cap off a year, but good shit comes out all through December, and this year is no different.

If you’re not yet familiar with Seattle’s Eye of Nix, see to it you change that soon, and you can start with their enthralling second record “Black Somnia.” It’s a shame we haven’t heard more from people about this record in the onslaught of year-end coverage we’ve already faced, because this six-track album is an absolute gem, a dark, morbid, mysterious piece that tackles fear, control, and anxiety in a way that’s enrapturing, heavy, and outright volcanic. The band’s 2015 album “Moros” was one of our favorites of that year, and, big hint here, this won’t be the last time you hear us going on about “Black Somnia” in 2017. Out front is vocalist/guitarist Joy Von Spain, an amazing singer who can go from operatic drama to guttural growls within the same song. She demands your attention and, instead of waiting for you to succumb, she seizes control. Alongside her on the record are guitarist Nicholas Martinez, bassist Gerald Hansen (he since has been replaced by Zach Wise), drummer Justin Straw (Luke Laplante now sits behind the kit), and effects wizard Masaaki Masao, who bring apocalyptic madness and breathtaking wonder musically, making this one of the most inventive bands in heavy music.

“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 that brings chaos on the other end. Wild cries increase the drama, while the band levels some massive thrashing to end this phase. “Fear’s Ascent” has an eerie beginning, as Von Spain lets loose her operatic range, letting the signing float before the bombs drop. Her singing belts you in the chest hard, while the sound wall builds, and after some relent, the song kicks back into high gear and goes to a high boil. “A Curse” is re-imagined from their 2013 demo, as noise wafts, whispers swirl in the air, and the song gains momentum. The music simmers as the singing swells, and the loose, mind-altering playing feels improvisational to an extent, as damaged rhythms and raw shrieks pave the way. Later, chaos erupts, the vocals stab, and the track comes to a traumatic end.

“Lull” starts with aggressive acoustic guitars rushing in, the singing going tornadic, and the band doing their best to haunt you. They delve into a prog corner, which is pretty interesting, and then the power explodes. Von Spain’s voice reaches for your lungs, while heavy acoustic lines sit underneath the thunder, with the band howling, “Your lies control!” It’s a killer track, arguably the best one on here. “Toll On” lets guitars wash in, as chilling calls make the flesh go cold, and Von Spain’s quiet, yet expansive singing gets into your head. The song goes echoey and moody before things rupture, and the volume reaches a new level. The drums rumble gloriously while the vocals let loose, and everything comes to a blasting end. “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. The tempo continues to kick hard, unleashing menace, as ominous riffs and bruising expressions bring the record to a mammoth close.

I know it’s late and you’re looking forward to a lot of good stuff in 2018, but don’t let Eye of Nix pass by you. “Black Somnia” is a heart-stopping experience, a record that combines all the shadowy forces we fear and delivers them in a moving, massive presentation. It’s not every day we get bands that truly stand on their own, but Eye of Nix is one of them, and they’re a force with which the world might not be fully ready to contend.

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/