I may well have listened to more music in 2017 than any other of my now 44 years on this planet. At the same time, though, the scope of my listening has narrowed considerably. Unlike my 2016 year-end list, which included a little bit of everything, this year’s list is predominantly black metal. I don’t know what accounts for that shift in listening—if there’s something about the grimness of black metal that seems apt given the current state of the world, or if I just get more of the black stuff in my inbox than anything else—but there was no shortage of stellar black and blackened albums released this year. Of course, there were a number of excellent releases from all across the metallic spectrum, several of which appear here as well. For me, though, this year was all about the black stuff.
So without any further ado, here are my twenty favorite albums of 2017…
#20 Euphrasia | Woeful Silence – Split Cruel Bones
In years past, I haven’t included splits on my year-end lists. I’m not sure I can really explain why, aside from the very generic excuse that I’ve always felt like splits were kind of a tease – the best ones give you just enough to get you interested and then bug out. For some reason, though, this was the year that I finally embraced the split. It might have something to do with the fact that 2017 was also the year that I finally (re)embraced the cassette format, where splits (at least to me) seem to make a lot more sense. This Euphrasia/Woeful Silence split introduced me to a pair of Swiss black metal bands that likely wouldn’t have ended up on my radar otherwise. The French (read: Neige) influence is strong with both bands, but neither feel the least bit derivative. If (like me) you know fuck-all about the black metal scene in Switzerland, this split is an excellent place to start.
#19 Délétère – Per Aspera ad Pestilentiam Sepulchral Productions
When it comes to Quebec black metal, Forteresse may get the majority of the love, but for my money Délétère is the superior band. When I reviewed Per Aspera ad Pestilentiam back in March, I said “the EP is fucking stunning – it’s a damn near perfect 25 minutes of hyper-melodic, second wave-leaning atmospheric black metal that falls somewhere between Bergtatt-era Ulver and Woods of Desolation, complete with memorable hooks and actual vocal melodies.” Nine months later, that assessment still holds – Per Aspera ad Pestilentiam is still basically perfect, and it’s the ideal entry point for anyone who’s curious about the burgeoning Québécois black metal scene.
#18 Lóstregos – Lendas Baixo o Luar Fólkvangr Records | Darkwoods | Damnatio Ad Bestias
The thing that impresses me the most about Lóstregos is how fast and loose they play with the so-called conventions of black metal. More than anything else, Lóstregos are a guitar band, which isn’t exactly the norm in that genre. If you’ve ever listened to Agalloch or Wolves in the Throne Room and thought “this needs more guitar solos,” then Lóstregos might be your new favorite band. Our guy Lyle had a chance to talk to the band shortly before the album came out – if you missed it the first time around, you can check it out here.
#17 Black Vice | Haunter – Split Red River Family Records
When it comes to discussions of regional USBM scenes, Texas doesn’t get quite the love that it should, and two of the very best from the Lone Star State right now are Black Vice and Haunter. Black Vice are sort of a who’s who of Texas black metal, featuring members of several other Red River Family bands like Uruk, Ninhursag, Necrocaine, Form Healer, and Ravnblood, as well as the excellent Dead to a Dying World. Their half of the split feels a bit moodier to me, with more mid-paced and cleaner-sounding guitar figures and Dane Vineyard’s dynamic vocals. As for Haunter, I’d go so far as to call them the best American black metal band that not enough people have heard of – if they were from Brooklyn or the Pacific Northwest, they’d be getting mentioned in the same breath as bands like Sanguine Eagle and Predatory Light. Their side leans in a slightly more progressive/borderline psychedelic direction, somehow managing to sound equal parts woozy and suffocating.
#16 Triumvir Foul – Spiritual Bloodshed Vrasubatlat
Speaking of the Pacific Northwest, Triumvir Foul is one of a number of bands in the region (including the aforementioned Predatory Light, Vanum, Urzeit, and Adzalaan) featuring members of the mighty Ash Borer. Unlike most of those other bands, though, Triumvir Foul plays death metal in the same putrid vein as Teitanbood or early Morbid Angel. When I reviewed it in June, I called it “musically dense, atmospherically claustrophobic, and the sulfuric stench of occult magicks emanates from its every pore.” Throw on closer “Vrasubatlatian Rites” and sleep uneasily for a few nights.
#15 Belus – Apophenia Vendetta Records
And speaking of Brooklyn…Belus, whose lineup includes Matt Mewton of Woe and Lesley Wolf of Mortals, released their long-awaited first full-length in October, and it’s a stunner. Fluid, jazz-influenced drumming meets chameleonic riffing, resulting in what I called “music that sounds as prismatic as the art that adorns the cover, and that refracts just as vibrantly.” At a listener-friendly 45 minutes, it’s also remarkably accessible as far as progressive black metal albums go. Lyle had the chance to talk to Belus as well, which you can read here.
#14 Pyrrhon – What Passes For Survival Willowtip Records
More than any other band on this list, Pyrrhon are something of an…acquired taste. For my money, they’re one of the most willfully difficult bands on the planet. Their music is dense, fiercely anti-melodic, and incredibly challenging. It’s also surprisingly catchy despite the fact that it sounds like complete chaos from first note to last. I have no fucking clue how they do it, but I hope they keep doing it for a very long time to come. I had a chance to talk to vocalist Doug Moore a couple weeks before the album came out, the results of which you can read here.
#13 Unaussprechlichen Kulten – Keziah Lilith Medea (Chapter X) Iron Bonehead Productions
I’m not the biggest fan of “meat and potatoes” (for lack of a better term) death metal, but I can certainly appreciate the style when it’s done right. Chileans Unaussprechlichen Kulten definitely do it right, and Keziah Lilith Medea (Chapter X) currently stands as the high point of their now 20-year long careers. What makes it so fucking good? A solid foundation of technical-yet-catchy riffs, enough tempo changes to keep things from feeling too monotonous, and their inimitable lyrical mix of the Cthulhu Mythos and Satanism.
#12 At Dusk | Sacerdos – Split Pacific Threnodies
The third and final split on this year’s list is this gem from a pair of California-based bands: one-man project At Dusk and duo Sacerdos. Featuring one lengthy (13+ minute) track from each band, both of whom broadly fall in the ‘black metal but not really’ category, and even though the bands approach their craft differently, they end up complementing each other really well. At Dusk favor a moodier approach, including a clear My Dying Bride influence in places. Korihor also writes his lyrics in iambic pentameter like Shakespeare, which speaks to the English teacher in me on a very deep level. As for the Sacerdos side, back in August I described their sound as having a almost “Gothenburg influence—think Whoracle-era In Flames—filtered through some 90’s alt-rock. Wherever it comes from, the riffs are catchier than HPV on a porn set through the song’s ebullient-sounding first half, leading up to a very Agalloch-esque section of lead guitar.”
#11 Spectral Voice – Eroded Corridors of Unbeing Dark Descent Records
Color me surprised that Spectral Voice fell not only out of my top five, but out my top ten entirely. I attribute this to two things. First, this was a hell of a year for black metal. Second, I just don’t like this record as much as I did last year’s Blood Incantation record, which ended up being my album of the year for 2016. That might not be a very fair thing to say, but since it’s three-fourths the same lineup it’s difficult to not draw comparisons. It’s still an excellent album, chock full of killer death/doom riffs and guttural vocals that will make any dISEMBOWELMENT fan tumescent, and it’s easily the best death/doom album released in 2017. But as I said in the intro, 2017 ended up being all about the black stuff for me.
#10 Black Cilice – Banished From Time Iron Bonehead Productions
Speaking of albums that I’m surprised fell so far down my list…If you’d have asked me in March what I thought my Album of the Year would be, I’d have said this album. In fact, in my review of it when it came out, I said, “Banished From Time is the sound of despondent wraiths and forlorn ghosts. The album is painful to listen to, it upsets me on an existential level, and there’s a very good chance it’s going to end up being my album of the year.” It’s still easily my favorite Portuguese black metal album of 2017, and Vault Hunters will know how much I’ve been loving the Portuguese scene this year, and by extension how much that statement actually means. For those who are curious as to what the whole Portuguese kvltness thing is about, this album is the ideal entry point.
#9 Knarkaren –…put uninspired title here… Cirsium Kollektivet
I feel like this list wouldn’t be complete without at least one super-kvlt entry. Knarkaren’s debut EP …put uninspired title here… is that super-kvlt entry. Swedish label Cirsium Kollektivet has generated a fair amount of buzz recently among the cassette-collecting black metal crowd, and for good reason. I know fuck-all about the label and the individual(s) who run it, but whomever he/she/it/they are, his/her/its/their taste in terms of what the label releases is unfuckwithable. Gothenburg’s Knarkeren (which translates to “ the drug addict”) was the best of a truly excellent lot this year. These five tracks of druggy (duh) atmospheric/post-black metal are difficult to describe, but very easy to fall in love with. Song titles like “Pissprisms” and “Throwing Up All These Sunny Sundays” certainly give a good indication of what’s inside, but they only tell part of the story. If you’re a black metal fan and don’t know Cirsium Kollektivet, Knarkaen is where you should start correcting the error of your ways.
#8 Jordablod – Upon My Cremation Pyre Iron Bonehead Productions
Upon My Cremation Pyre is one of the more difficult to pin down black metal albums in recent memory. When I reviewed it back in May, I used words like “expressionistic” and “inscrutable” to describe it. There’s a warm, almost jazzy feel to the instrument tones, and a wide variety of classical, Arabic, and even psychedelic-sounding influences that unfold across the album. As for the lyrics, at the time I said “titles like “Liberator of Eden” and “Chants for the Black One” certainly have that familiar sulfuric stench of Satan about them, but the devil on this album seems to be more of a philosophical construct that owes a larger debt to Faust than to anything written by Crowley or LeVay.”
#7 Violet Cold – Anomie Folkvangr Records | Tridroid Records
When I reviewed this album back in July, I said, “When it comes down to it, I am an absolute sucker for black metal that’s pretty and kind of sad. And given that preference, I could very easily review Violet Cold’s Anomie in just one word: Perfect.” Five months later, I feel the exact same way. The project of highly prolific Azerbaijani musician Emin Guliyev, the one thing that best characterizes Violet Cold is its unpredictability. No two full-lengths have sounded exactly the same, but the Violet Cold on Anomie is easily the one I like best, as it combines “black metal/blackgaze, but with a much wider range of influences including folk metal, some post-punk, and a whole lot of atmospheric indie/post-rock in the vein of Agalloch.” The bottom line? It’s flat-out fucking gorgeous and essential listening.
#6 L.O.R.E. – Litany of Ruinous Entities Red River Family Records
I was a bit late to the party with L.O.R.E Their debut full-length Litany of Ruinous Entities came out back in January, but it didn’t end up on my radar until a few months ago. I’ve certainly been making up for lost time, though, because I’ve had it on heavy rotation ever since – this is one of those rare sorts of black metal albums that affects me on a deep emotional level, even though I’m not sure I can explain quite why. A lot of it has to do with Nihilus Arcana’s vocals, though, which are some of the most upsetting things I’ve ever heard. Check back later today for a lengthy interview with the vocalist and guitarist/bassist Wormwood.
#5 Chaos Moon – Eschaton Mémoire Blood Music | Fallen Empire Records
Every year it seems like there’s one album that comes out in mid-to-late November, after I think I have my year-end list figured out, and fucks it all up. This year that record is Chaos Moon’s Eschaton Mémoire, which may well be the high water mark in Alex Poole’s long and varied discography. Since I just wrote 1,000+ words about the album last month, I don’t want to rehash too much of that here. Instead, check back later today for an interview with Chaos Moon vocalist/lyricist Eric Baker.
#4 Woe – Hope Attrition Vendetta Records
As far as I’m concerned, Woe is the best straight-up black metal band in the US. Their last album, 2013’s Withdrawal, was a damn-near perfect collection of blistering riffs and furious tempos. And while I’m not sure that Hope Attrition quite equals the standard set by their previous album, it still set the bar incredibly high for all other USBM in 2017. We’ll be posting an interview with band mastermind/human riff machine Chris Grigg later today as well.
#3 Falls of Rauros – Vigilance Perennial Bindrune Recordings
Since I know I’m not the first person to mention Falls of Rauros this week, I’ll suffice with just copying part the opening paragraph from my review of the album when it came out in March: “There’s a moment about a minute into “White Granite,” the opening track on Portland, Maine-based Falls of Rauros’s fourth full-length Vigilance Perennial, where the guitar sounds straight out Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s the Night.” And that’s why Falls of Rauros is probably my favorite band – there’s an adventurousness in their music that one doesn’t often hear in black/folk metal. In fact, with all due apologies to Metal Archives, black/folk might not even be the right tag for them anymore. Starting with their last album, 2014’s brilliant Believe in No Coming Shore (which ended up taking my Album of the Year honors), they started moving away from the more Agalloch-inspired sound of their first couple of records and a 70’s rock influence started becoming more prevalent, including some honest-to-goodness guitar solos. They’ve pushed even further in that direction on Vigilance Perennial, and the results are positively stunning.”
And if you missed it on Monday, you can read Reese’s interview with the band here.
#2 Daxma – The Head Which Becomes the Skull Independent
If I had to guess what album I actually spent the most time listening to this year, it would most likely be The Head Which Becomes the Skull – and since I hadn’t even heard of Daxma before this record landed in my inbox in early October, that means I’ve had it on very heavy rotation for the better part of the last two months. In the intro to a lengthy interview I had the pleasure of conducting with the band, I described them as “one of those bands that it’s probably a disservice to try to slot into any sort of category, but since metal people do tend to like their genres I’d say the band plays a richly textured progressive doom/post-rock hybrid that prominently features violin and contributions from three different vocalists.” They specialize in lengthy, dynamic compositions somehow never feel quite as long as they actually are, and pen thoughtful lyrics meant to inspire listeners to try to make some kind of difference in the world. The Head Which Becomes the Skull is a beautiful, brilliant record that deserves to reach a much wider audience. If you’re into bands like SubRosa or Godspeed You! Black Emperor, I strongly suggest giving Daxma a listen.
#1 Isenordal – Shores of Mourning Eternal Warfare Records
Seattle’s Isenordal is another band that defies easy classification. Metal Archives calls them “Pagan Black/Doom Metal,” which doesn’t seem too far off the mark. There’s plenty of both black and doom in their sound, but there’s also a heavy dark/neofolk influence. When I reviewed the album back in March, I said “Isenordal don’t necessarily sound all that much like Giant Squid—their take on doom is much blacker, and their mellower moments tend more towards folk than prog—but they certainly scratch many of the same itches on their debut full-length Shores of Mourning, thanks in no small part to the inclusion of both a cellist and a violist in their ranks. […] Shores of Mourning is an absolute monster of a record – it’s complex, it’s nuanced, and it deftly balances the aggressiveness of black metal with more pastoral acoustic passages. It’s also one of those rare albums that’s both immediately engaging and reveals itself slowly over the course of multiple listens.” Breathtaking in its scope and flawless in its execution, it’s easily my favorite record of 2017. And as an added bonus, we’ll also have an interview with the band up later today.