And so we hit the mid-way point in a ridiculous year. Ridiculous in a lot of ways – not all of the positive – but the music has been flowing and the quality has been high once again. A few of our writers wanted to enthuse about some albums they’ve been enjoying – maybe reviewed here, maybe for personal pleasure, maybe both. Have a browse through their eclectic tastes – maybe you’ll discover or rediscover something you missed.
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As always – keep listening to good music.
Mastodon’s seventh studio album is their most personal yet and shows their enormous versatility. The band have turned a cataclysm of tragic events in their lives into an explosion of creativity. Emperor of Sand is a concept album in which the protagonist is cursed to wander the desert facing his mortality, in a series of metaphors for battling cancer.
It’s accessible and catchy, with ‘Show Yourself’ and ‘Precious Stones’ approaching a boogie-rock vibe, the epic ‘Jaguar God’ experimenting with prog, and a range of clean vocal approaches throughout. But it’s still plenty heavy enough- crushing riffs and impeccable drumming give this album a classic metal feel, and ‘Emperor of the Sand’ is destined to be a classic.
Old school thrash with a modern punk twist on Nightmare Logic; I love Texans Power Trip‘s relentless chugging riffs which are ever-so-slightly tongue-in-cheek.
German thrash metal gods Kreator prove they are still relevant with this magnificent 14th (!) album, Gods of Violence, filled with accomplished playing.
Brutal, technical hardcore provided by Employed to Serve, which exemplifies the thriving state of modern metal. The Warmth of a Dying Sun provides a perfect soundtrack to this year.
Old-school death metal with a proud Bolt Thrower heritage and a very British sound – Memoriam‘s For the Fallen is filled with crushing mid-tempo riffs and Karl Willetts’ legendary vocals.
I tend to come back for symphonic metal for nostalgic reasons and considering the slew of bands in that genre, I am picky with what bands I decide to follow. In the case of Xandria, they are one of the first bands I looked into when I started listening to metal many years ago, and I still follow them to this day. Theatre of Dimensions surpassed my expectations in regards to their last effort. This album was more cohesive than their last album; everything was on par with what they created. Dianne van Giersbergen’s vocals were definitely on display on this album, and it showed that this album was written with her in mind. I was impressed with this effort and, up until my burnout, Theatre of Dimensions was getting played at least once a day.
In no particular order:
Arjen Lucassen can do no wrong in my eyes when it comes to continuing Ayreon, filled with both fantastic musicians and fantastic singers. From the return of Floor Jansen and Hansi Kürsch as the soon-to-be-transformed Forever to the addition of Mike Mills as the eventual catalyst of 01011001, The Source is an album that will leave you in shambles and will make you question all of the characters’ decisions that led them to kill their entire race.
If you enjoyed Doubt [review here], King Woman‘s EP released in 2014, you are going to love Created in the Image of Suffering. Kristina Esfandiari’s vocals are haunting and filled with pain, and, by the end of the album, it offers no apology for its existence. It scorches you with lament and scorn.
I am still catching up with releases that I wanted to get to, but couldn’t listen to in 2016. King, released in 2016, has become one of my favorite albums this year: it has all of the symphonic metal elements I enjoy and it shows a testament to Fleshgod Apocalypse‘s evolution as a band. I can’t get enough of this album.
One of the only EPs to catch my attention thus far, Lo-Pan sounds like a band you have heard before but can’t place. In Tensions offers an uplifting vibe reminiscent of classic rock, but gets its character from the stoner metal elements it brings.
My taste in music has veered at times toward more introspective, multi-layered releases over the past handful of years, but with the UK sun shining fortuitously down upon us at the moment I’m drawn to one of the more conspicuous albums of 2017 – Power Trip’s inescapable blast of unequivocal heavy metal extremity that is the emphatic Nightmare Logic. Melding the old school and the new with equal aplomb, this latest offering is, for my money, one of the strongest straight-up metal releases of recent times. Songs like ‘Ruination’ and ‘Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Axe)’ are hulking leviathans of crossover metal with gigantic hooks to boot, while ‘Firing Squad’ and ‘Waiting Around to Die’ are unadulterated hardcore-infused thrash ragers that pull entirely no punches. Nightmare Logic is a brilliantly-delivered slab of punked-up metal extremity with a humble running time that suits Power Trip’s ‘get in / destroy / get out’ ethos perfectly.
US black metal of the highest calibre, Woe’s latest full-length is superlative in its direct and confrontational approach, and with the band’s strength of song-writing at a career-high in 2017, Hope Attrition will hopefully catapult Woe to the levels occupied by their peers. Read our review here.
In a world where everything that Alex Bradshaw (Fall of Efrafa, Light Bearer, Anopheli, and various other projects) touches is laced with gold, Archivist’s second full-length Construct is once again steeped in atmosphere and wonder, with the creative sextet all contributing to a sophomore release equal in ambition and artistic integrity to its self-titled predecessor. Whilst once again clocking in well over the sixty-minute mark, patient listeners are rewarded with a stunningly-crafted combination of post-hardcore and atmospheric black metal.
The Great Old Ones – EOD: A Tale of Dark Legacy
As a huge fan of the works of H.P. Lovecraft, any band that references his stories in their sonic and lyrical themes, let alone allows their entire existence to revolve around them, is likely to draw my attention. It is all the more fortuitous that The Great Old Ones peddle the kind of atmospheric black metal that I’m so drawn to. EOD: A Tale of Dark Legacy is another step up for the French quintet, and captures the rich sense of unease, claustrophobia and terror that the cosmic horror master himself so expertly created.
Rooted deeply within the realms of Bathory and Moonsorrow yet with enough individual identity to stand tall by itself, Kelle Surut Soi is a triumph of grandiose folk atmosphere and black metal savagery. Havukruunu’s infectious, rousing song-writing stands out particularly well on their second full-length.
Album of the year lists are so often fraught with difficulty. How to choose from the myriad brilliant releases? Taking stock of 2017 so far is proving similarly difficult.
For me, the strongest album released in 2017’s first few months is undoubtedly Berdreyminn by Sólstafir. You can read my full review here, but for now, it is just as good as its predecessor Ótta. The compositions are strong, and well-layered, the musicianship second-to-none, and the emotions it evokes are incredibly potent. Check out the choral section on ‘Hula’ and the bass riff/drum fill of ‘Ísafold’ in particular.
In at a close second is Made of Breath Only by Australian post-rock outfit sleepmakeswaves. Again, I wrote an effusive review for this site, but coming back to it later only deepens my appreciation of the album. Of particular note is the joyous ‘Worlds Away’, and the great ambience the band manage to capture in the album as a whole.
Crystal Fairy may eschew the notion of being a ‘supergroup’, but boast the stellar talents of Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover of Melvins, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez of At the Drive-In and Teri Gender-Bender of Le Butcherettes. Their self-titled release is a little like listening to a lightning bolt. It’s a riot of riffs, furious vocals from Teri, and some of the most imaginative musical output this year. Opening track ‘Chiseler’, the title track, and ‘Secret Agent Rat’ are the album’s key highlights, for those exact reasons.
Finland’s Havukruunu have dropped an absolute storm in the shape of Kelle Surut Soi. Ferocious riffs, fearsome vocals clean and otherwise, and blistering drums come together to make one of the most intriguing black metal albums this year. The album is worth checking out for the solo on opening track ‘Jo Näkyvi Pohjan Portit’ alone, but is best taken as a whole.
Finally, Witchbanger by Duel is a cracking stoner-blues romp in the style of XII Boar and Clutch. The titular track rockets at a serious pace, led by hefty guitar riffs that swagger along in style. One to enjoy on summer evenings with a beer in hand and a freshly grilled hot-dog in the other. Read Toby’s review of it here.
Woe – Hope Attrition
It’s been a long time since an album struck me as immediately as Hope Attrition did, and for that initial thrill to still be maintained several months later. From start to finish, this is modern USBM of the highest standard, with each band member in top form. One of the most remarkable things about Hope Attrition is that it doesn’t mark a vast departure from the sound Woe had previously established on albums like Quietly, Undramatically. It’s just that here, everything slots in to place perfectly. The song-writing is better, the musicianship of a higher quality, and Chris Grigg’s vocals more powerful and passionate. The album covers vast ground without ever losing focus or direction, with songs veering from the deeply personal (as on ‘The Ones We Lost’) to one of the most powerful anti-fascist statements ever delivered in any form of metal with ‘No Blood Has Honor’. I’ve always felt that Woe never got the credit and recognition their previous albums deserves, but hopefully Hope Attrition will change that. This is a masterful piece of black metal fury, that makes most other albums in the genre seem tame and emotionally vapid.
At The Drive-In – in•ter a•li•a
An incredible return from one of the best ever post-hardcore bands, in•ter a•li•a is very different from their previous records, but every bit as good. The tension between primal punk rock energy and more progressive tendencies ensures the album is never less than thrilling, and even if Cedric Bixler’s vocals are slightly more tempered, they’re still full of conviction – though quite what he’s singing about is wonderfully unclear.
Draugsól – Volaða Land
Iceland is leading the way in black metal in recent years, and the debut album from Draugsól only adds to the buzz surrounding the small underground scene. More melodic than many of their contemporaries, Draugsól conjure up epic, icy atmospheres than are accessible (in a good way) and highly captivating.
Endalok – Úr Draumheimi Viðurstyggðar
In contrast to Draugsól, Endalok represent the more primordial, chaotic side of Icelandic black metal. Cloaked in a roiling, uneasy atmosphere, this is not just black metal, but metal of utter blackness; hostile, unknown, and alien. A true treasure for those with the patience to dig deep. Read my review on The Sound Not The Word.
Wiegedood – De Doden Hebben het Goed II
Church Of Ra-affiliates Wiegedood made an instant impact on the scene with their debut album, and their follow-up demonstrates that it was no fluke. The second album doubles-down on all that was good about the debut, conjuring a maelstrom of black metal that is as majestic as it is violent. This band are truly one of the modern underground greats.
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Machine Messiah has a good chance of standing as the best of the year come December 31st. With the help of producer Jens Bogren, Sepultura added to their traditional thrash sound with a big and bold production that rivals the likes of Soilwork’s The Ride Majestic with its use of violins and even clean vocals. ‘Sworn Oath’, ‘Phantom Self’ and ‘Cyber God’ all show that Sepultura are developing and adding to their sound after 30 years. It’s a big, powerful beast of an album that should be owned by any self-respecting metal fan.
In my review of Machine Messiah for this very website I explained that:
Machine Messiah is a brutal, mesmerising album. The record twists and turns across its full duration, introducing unexpected elements to a band who have been going for over 30 years, such as clean vocals. This is an album that showcases all aspects of what fans have come to love about Sepultura over the years, too – their heaviness, their progressive nature, and their ability to throw in the unexpected effortlessly. Machine Messiah is a record that combines the best of thrash, progressive and death metal. It’s exciting and vibrant throughout.
Other highlights include:
Beastmaker – Inside the Skull
Have you ever been listening to doom and hoped that it was heavier and darker? If so, you’re in luck. Inside the Skull is a twisted masterpiece that will claw into your head thanks to its incredible riffs and horror-imbued lyrics. In my review of the record, I explained that the album easily deserves a place on your shelf. Read it here.
Loathe – The Cold Sun
Loathe’s debut record, experimental, dark and oh so catchy metalcore. Following a pair of survivors in a dystopian future, we are taken through bleak landscapes and tough situations aplenty. Standing in at only 35 minutes, however, you’ll be left wanting more. It’s great fun to listen to time and time again and you’ll be humming the likes of ‘It’s Yours’ for months. Loathe are going places based on this exceedingly exciting start to their journey.
Duel – Witchbanger
Featuring what’s quite possibly the best album title of all time, Witchbanger never lets up this sense of fun. It’s groovy, awesome stuff that demands to be played loud and proud from your car stereo. Featuring gleefully malicious lyrics that tell stories of nightmarish visions ranging from witches and the devil all the way to cats, Witchbanger will be stuck in your head for months. My review can be found here.
Below – Upon a Pale Horse
Imagine doom mixed with Iron Maiden and you’ll have some kind of understanding of Below’s sound. Upon a Pale Horse is stocked full of dark, dirty riffs all played towards the pace of classic thrash. ‘1000 Broken Bones’ is a brilliant track that should be on your playlists – a great summary of the record’s sound. I wrote a review for Pure Grain Audio here.