Saturday, December 30, 2017


As always, you can check out a much broader list over at my RYM pages. My sample size this year was enormous to the point that I stopped counting once it exceeded the 2015 record by a couple of hundred demos, EPs, singles and albums. In fact, because there were so many shorter releases that I encountered this year, I decided to split them off into their own list. The numbers in parentheses are what I either scored them, or would have scored them if I had written an actual review.

My Top 17 Metallurgical Albums of 2017

01. Vulture (De) - The Guillotine (97)
02. Ritualization (Fr) - Sacraments to the Sons of the Abyss (95)
03. Vassafor (NZ) - Malediction (95)
04. Tomb Mold (CA) - Primordial Malignity (95)
05. Antichrist (Se) - Sinful Birth (95)
06. Obnoxious Youth (Inter) - Disturbing the Graves (93)
07. Malokarpatan (Sk) - Nordkarpatenland (93)
08. Sólstafir (Is) - Berdreyminn (93)
09. Enslaved - E (93)
10. Emptiness - Not for Music (92)
11. Demon Eye - Prophecies and Lies (92)
12. Beastiality (Se) - Worshippers of Unearthly Perversions (92)
13. Selcouth (Fi) - Heart is the Star of Chaos (92)
14. Drug Honkey (US) - Cloak of Skies (92)
15. Air Raid (Se) - Across the Line (92)
16. Firespawn (Se) - The Reprobate (92)
17. Portrait (Se) - Burn the World (92)

My Top 17 Metallurgical EPs, Splits and Demos of 2017

01. The Swill (US) - Master of Delusion (93)
02. Thantifaxath (Ca) - Ocean of Screaming Spheres (92)
03. Howls of Ebb (US)/Khthoniik Cerviiks (De) - With Gangrene Edges/Voiidwarp (90)
04. Arkhon Infaustus (Fr) - Passing the Nekromanteion (87)
05. Cult of Eibon (Gr) - Lycan Twilight Sorcery (85)
06. Daeva (US) - Pulsing Dark Absorptions (85)
07. The Wakedead Gathering (US)/Ecferus (US) - Split (85)
08. Expulsion (US) - Nightmare Future (83)
09. Loud Night (US) - Loud Night (83)
10. ColdWorld (De) - Wolves and Sheep (82)
11. Mastodon (US) - Cold Dark Place (82)
12. Fever Nest (US) - Black Carrion Fowl (82)
13. Qayin Regis (Es) - Blackthorn (82)
14. Devouring Star (Fi) - Antihedron (82)
15. Nordjevel (No) - Krigmakt (80)
16. Sinmara (Is) - Within the Weaves of Infinity (80)
17. Autopsy (US) - Puncturing the Grotesque (80)

And here below are my favorite albums from other genres, ranging from pop and video game scores to occult and nostalgia rock, Gothic, electronica, punk, whatever.

My Top 17 Non-Metal Albums of 2017

01. Dool (Nl) - Here Now, There Then (97)
02. Keiichi Okabe & Keigo Hoashi (Jp) - NieR: Automata OST (95)
03. Zola Jesus (US) - Okovi (95)
04. Old Sorcery (Fi) - Realms of Magickal Sorrow (95)
05. Grave Pleasures (Fi) - Motherblood (95)
06. Shoji Meguro (Jp) - Persona 5 OST (93)
07. Chelsea Wolfe (US) - Hiss Spun (93)
08. Slimy Member (US) - Ugly Songs for Ugly People (92)
09. The Birthday Massacre (Ca) - Under Your Spell (92)
10. Rope Sect (De) - Personae Ingratae/Proselytes (92)
11. Horisont (Se) - About Time (90)
12. 1476 (US) - Our Season Draws Near (90)
13. Carnifexian (Ru) - Age of Spiked Mace (90)
14. Alec Holowka (Ca) - Night in the Woods OST (90)
15. The Night Flight Orchestra (Se) - Amber Galactic (90)
16. Wucan (De) - Reap the Storm (88)
17. Grendel (Nl) - Age of the Disposable Body (88)

Thanks for reading, and I'll see you bright and early in 2018!

Friday, December 29, 2017

Impiedoso - Reign in Darkness (2017)

It's a little rare to see an album like Reign in Darkness these days, because clearly this hearkens back to a time when the theatrics of black metal were more openly embraced, in the heart of the 90s when the genre was still the shock rock of extremity. You think back on bands like Immortal, or Marduk, Maniac Butcher, or Lord Belial, corpse painted warriors who, while seemingly dead serious through their lyrical choices and themes, might just know how to offer the audience a bit more of a lighthearted duality which endears them. There's nothing 'cute' or funny about what Brazilians Impiedoso throw out there musically, though, but instead a very stripped down and primal form of black metal which also dates them back to that same visual era, albeit with a couple of tweaks that ensure they don't just come across as a shameless knockoff of those I named dropped earlier.

This record does possess its share of blasted abandon, where the frantic beats accompany melodic, classic Swedish-style picking passages into a blitzing maneuver, but there are just as many if not more moments in which the stuff is played slower or mid-paced, with very simple chord patterns that, if not nuanced or unique, at least aim at being catchy enough to carry the listener through. In fact, on tunes like "Domination", the jagged little guitar melodies and the way rhythm licks are constructed remind me a lot of Hellenic staples like earlier Rotting Christ or Varathron, but they also utilize darker harmonies which seem like they'd be better off glazing a doom metal trick, yet are present in some build-up to another of the straight ahead charging sections, where as some of the pure melodies which ride over mid-paced fare often recall sulky atmospheric black or death like another Greek band in their heyday, Septic Flesh. Despite that, the band never really transforms into any form of pure or obvious 'death' metal whatsoever, just an occult proto-black metal style that likes to pace itself out and provide some variation rather than just endlessly looping blasts.

The vocals are a rasped, raunchy style which sounds fiendish if not highly unique, and offers up a caustic and nihilistic contrast against the much warmer notes and chords being fleshed out of the guitars in tunes like "Eu Vejo o Fim". The guitars sound a little bit dingy for this style, where they might benefit from a little more muscle, and I also felt the production on the rhythm section could have been a little better, the drums more powerful and refined, where here they seem a little too brash against the melodies, not the fault of the beats themselves. Bass lines often just traipse along with the guitars, which is old hat for this genre but could be varied up a little more. Overall, I actually like the sincere, raw aesthetic of the recording, it's just minor nitpicks on particular pieces of the kit or guitar riffs that don't quite gel together as they might in a more seasoned, balanced mix. But at no time does the music get obstructed, it's always pretty clear and I think they have a well-rounded approach to their style which you never really heard on bands which committed more fully to dissonance and speed.

Reign in Darkness isn't going to blow your mind, but I think it serves well enough as a slice of nostalgic early occult/black metal which might have appeal for fans of those early Greek years of 1993-1995, balanced with some Scandinavian aesthetics and then even a fraction of the low fi and melodic atmospheres pioneered by Czech legends like Root and Master's Hammer, or even the Italian cult horror metallers Mortuary Drape. If you're seeking out more of a onesided brand of extreme black, there's not much here to offer you beyond a few wholesome bars of blasting, but if you wanna be drawn back about 22 years to the emergence of second wave acts who paid heed to as much Mercyful Fate and NWOBHM as they did Mayhem and Bathory, then Impiedoso has latched on to a style here that through further refinement could grace many a black altar at midnight.

Verdict: Win [7/10] (this is our world and we want it)

Friday, December 15, 2017

Enslaved - E (2017)

I wanted desperately not to like this album, if only because I believe Enslaved has achieved a monopoly on taste and craftsmanship that places them among the greatest musical acts in the world. Thus, I wanted to bring them down a few notches in my estimation; to prove Ivar and Grutle and company were human like the rest of us. At first, my plan was working. I picked up the record during its October release, nodded along to a listen or two, and then shelved it as I was so heavily immersed into my whole annual Halloween media marathon of horror flicks, creepy reads, gaming and relevant metal reviews to my favorite season. I padded out my ignorance for as long as I could, until it came time to start organizing my year's end lists, revisiting all the material I'd enjoyed throughout the months prior, and making sure I'd heard everything under the son from the CD pile, the digital promo folders, and cruising through various forums, YouTube channels and other recommendation spaces.

Inevitably, the CD called out to me once more, its simple, scratchy cover runes confidently requesting that I take another chance, since I was being so stubborn the first couple runs. I failed whatever Saving Throw it is that I fail so often when experiencing the creations of these Norwegians, and then found myself listening to it again. And again. And six more times after that...

Gods. Damn. It. I was hooked by another Enslaved record.

E is not an effort that will surprise any of the band's following over these last 17 years since the band took a significant leap in nuance and originality with Mardraum: Beyond the Within. Many of their hallmarks remain: a hybrid of triumphant melodic black metal, progressive and psychedelic rock elements, bright tints of post-metal or 'blackgaze', gnarled and clean vocals. They've gotten so well trained on this blend that these traits are distributed quite evenly among the tracks, all spun up into a heavily varied rhythmic stew which, while not offering any specific nuances that you'd feel stand out from the rest of their 21st century discography, still seem like they have a lot of stones unturned, so the precise melodies, percussion patterns, atmospherics and vocal patterns here remain fresh and memorable, hardly doppelgangers of what they've already produced over the last 4-5 albums. Add to that what is, alongside In Times, some of their cleanest production yet, and you've got another effort which transcends the boundaries of their initial genre, with seamless integration of its musical ideas into not only one another, but also the philosophical application of folklore and ethnic Scandinavian religion which they use to manifest timeless, interesting lyrics and imagery.

You'll hear a few straightforward, driving pieces here redolent of an Isa or Ruun, where they were first adopting this brighter, accessible brand of modern Viking, but despite the consonant, shining and warm vibes carried through a lot of the soaring backup vocals or the glint of upper range guitars, they also maintain a subtle air of dissonance that keeps the listener just on the edge of lapsing into a truly safe space. "Axis of the Worlds", a personal favorite here, just rocks itself out with a mesmerizing and evil rhythm guitar slathered and harmonized by wonky, wailing, eerie leads. "Hiindsiight" spits out horns into a comfortable, numbing flow of prog that it feels almost Rush-like, but riding on the fjord-waters out to sea with a shifting sun bearing down on the guitars from over the horizon. What truly surprised me, though, is the band's cover of "What Else is There?" from the 2005 album The Understanding by electronic countrymen Röyksopp. They manage to transform the original into this organic wall of chords, clean and growled vocals which is entirely their own, paying tribute to a cool band and song while not interrupting the natural progression of originals that led up to it, just a really great closer that I would never have expected going into this...

There are euphoric moments on this record where it lives up the drug that shares its namesake, and then heavier passages which remind us that they haven't, for one fucking second, forgotten where it is that they came from, and it's this 'eternal cool' factor, an eternal relevance, which is one of the most attractive aspects of their existence. Enslaved is one band that I know I can trust, that I can always take seriously, that doesn't ever seem to put out a record for the sake of it, and yet has enough professionalism to keep the content flowing along at a normal pace. There are those that will forever denounce anything this band has written since Frost as high brow intellectual pap for neckbeards and progsnobs, and their opinion is very unlikely to change with this 14th full-length, but yet again I've got an album here that I feel I can share with those who lounge on the periphery, or outside the den of extremity, an easy recommendation for anyone that just likes good music, that you can either chill out to or rage alongside in equal measures. And I predict it won't be the last. Thank the nine realms for plans that backfire.

Verdict: Epic Win [9.25/10] (the mind-knot will hold)

Friday, December 8, 2017

Tongues - Hreilia (2017)

I listen to and enjoy droves of metal records each years, across a wide spread of the subgenres, but few and far between are those that can even for a few minutes deliver me some sort of a genuine creep factor. The full-length debut of Denmark's Tongues is one such case, a highly atmospheric black metal experience which effectively weaves in elements of doom and death metal to create an experience which alternates between haunting, paranoid and frenzied. While there are a lot of bands experimenting with hybrids of these stylistic niches, Hreilia succeeds where so many others falter or plane out because these gentlemen are masters of scripting simplistic but hypnotic guitars and bass grooves that bore down through your temples into your memory box.

I could tell you that I picked up fragments of Canadian alienists Antediluvian or Mitochondrion here, or perhaps scraps of the dissonant French masters Blut Aus Nord and Deathspell Omega, and all of that would be true; but the psychedelic submission and trauma of Finland's Oranssi Pazuzu is perhaps the closest equivalent, though Tongues don't rely strictly on such exotic walls of atonal sheen in terms of songwriting. Hreilia is intelligently set up by the slow, evil, subliminal grooving of the track "Perennial Waves", behind which you can make out all manner of scaling and falling ambiance that gives the impression you're in the wake of some midnight atrocity, the victims' remains cooling around you, bathing in the lunar rays, much like the cover. The album can grow much more savage, with faster blasted parts that rely on busier progressions of chords, but it's generally the rule that the material remains slower or mid-pace, extremely bewitching and atmospheric, and they play around more with the riffing structures and bass lines that actually matter, while using a guttural lead vocal as a constant that helps rein in and bind the material to a sense of bleak oppression.

Synthesizers are used tastefully throughout, whether in some of the shorter instrumental pieces or to accent the metal components with heightened, fell grace. They also use a saranji, an incredibly atmospheric Eastern stringed instrument which by itself can create all manner of depth and drama, and it balances off against the harsher sections of the albums smoothly. The mix is a fraction oblique, sacrificing polish for a more dingy and alien feel that better serves the blend of instruments, but this all works really well as a package alongside the crude, creepy colors of the artwork and the arcane symmetry of the band's logo, or the imagery of cosmic/weird horror and dread which permeates the lyrics. One of the strongest and most sinister new voices I've heard on both the Danish scene and the I, Voidhanger roster in some time, Hreilia is a record which is not immediately impenetrable, but still picks up accumulative value the more you listen through it, with its spooky and subduing licks that massage and violate your mind in equal measure. Euthanasia for happiness.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10] (seraphs become larvae)

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Bloodway - A Fragile Riddle Crypting Clues (2017)

The elephant always in the room with a Bloodway record is that the band is an auditory vehicle for one of the most unique, compelling visual artists in the entire metal medium, Costin Chioreanu. Hell, even on a bad day, this man's cover and graphic design work is more fascinating, abstract and eye-catching than nearly anyone else out there, so when A Fragile Riddle Crypting Clues arrived, or its predecessor Mapping the Moment with the Logic of Dreams, I must have spent ten minutes just looking at the things before even daring to explore the music itself. No pressure. Thankfully, ever since the first EP back in 2014, the Romanian three-piece has delivered an experience aurally that can rival its imagery, a hybrid of progression and extremity that circles the drain of its black metal ancestry but then runs off in rivulets in a myriad of directions without sacrificing a coherent musical narrative.

Hypnotic, atonal ambiance and poetry inaugurate this sophomore full-length before the tumultous chords erupt, coiled and dissonant but with a subtext of melody that creates a warmer feel than your garden variety newsprint black metal. Costin proscribes to the tortured soul, huffing style of snarled vocal which is slightly higher pitched than many of his peers, suicidal in shape, and very likely to drive half the potential audience mad within moments of hearing it. I am not in that half, because I appreciate the strange contrast it creates against the busier, roiling mold into which the riffs are formed. Organic rhythm guitars teeming with melancholic chords, whether configured into pure black metal chords or flights of thrashier picking, often with an alien feel reminiscent of a band like the mighty Voivod, though that is not always the rule. Nicely balanced bass lines that often hum just below the frenzied fretwork, but occasionally swell up to a more distinct, popping fervor with a few curious lines of their own. The drums are splashy, constantly attentive, and laced with the fills and footwork requisite to fulfill the demands of the eclectic riffing progressions.

I want to say I'm reminded of high-brow progressive metal acts like Opeth or Cormorant, only with a lot more natural, less processed, less 'safe' tone and structure to the guitars and presentation, and capped off by vocals that are far more in the vein of bands like Weakling, Bethlehem or Burzum, but not copies. The album is super well rounded in terms of how harsher passages are countered off by gentler moments and then swung back around to a passionate, frenzied crescendo. You'll find differently structure riffs and harmonies in all the metal tracks, revealing that Chironeau is well-versed in a lot of metal beyond just the blackness at the core of the project, occasionally glazed with gloomy pure heavy-metal or progressive rock. The guy has been in a large number of other bands in the past, and you can tell he doesn't cast any of those aesthetics aside, instead inserting them whenever they flow a track in an interesting direction. There's a real treat, a novelty in listening to a Bloodway album that puts them easily into recommendation territory, especially if you're into eclectic stuff like Blut Aus Nord, Deathspell Omega, Enslaved, or other entrepreneurs in the medium. Never less than impressive, if you're willing to decode the nuances.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10] (a tongue for sonic leaks)

Monday, December 4, 2017

Drug Honkey - Hail Satan (2005)

It's important to note that I'm coming at Hail Satan in reverse, having already been smitten with both of Drug Honkey's latest albums Cloak of Skies and Ghost in the Fire, and also digging the record Death Dub prior to those, though that one took me several spins to really start to appreciate. This is actually the sophomore for the Chicago narco-doom fiends, and naturally a lot more raw than the aesthetics they'll continue to develop as they progress. That's not to say this doesn't share traits in common, or that the later efforts lose the sense of repulsive primacy established on the earlier pieces, but here it's not simply a disparity in composition but also in the more primitive production being exhibited. With an impending re-release through Hohlraum records, however, it was actually cool to travel back and experience this with the knowledge of how it would develop.

Hail Satan might have an overt, provocative title, but in truth is not thematically abstracted from other Drug Honkey efforts. Subjects like drug abuse, depression, and institutional rebellion are legion, and often represented with extremely minimalist lyrical patterns that care about little more than getting their point across (i.e. "Reject Religion"). These actually work to the benefit of the songs, because Honkey Head's performance here is positively manic, the true driving force of the disc, and these succinct and straightforward lines becomes mantras that he can repeat over the dissonant mire of the instruments, altering his pitch between barks, growls,  nasally cleans, and other tones that head even further out into the deeps, stretching at the outer membranes of sanity. Slathered in reverb and other effects, they definitely become the most pronounced feature on the disc, possibly a little loud in the mix on some sequences, but critical to narrating the tempest of emotional turmoil that the album is created to deal with. I stress this because for some listeners, they'll prove the make or break factor for immersion into the album as a whole, never shying away from an overload of eccentricity.

Musically, the album is also really simple, with dingy and distorted guitars splayed out in largely patterns of open notes, thinner and buzzing rather than dense and choking, and sometimes striking some hideous and disturbing dissonance, which creates a contrast against the more predictable notes ringing out. Bass-lines are leaden, almost industrial grooves, and the drums limp along in a drugged, hypnotic certainty that allows all these conflicts to crash above them and alongside them. Add to this a bevy of electronics, ambiance and mix effects, and depth is created even where there is an utter lack of complexity. Some tunes are less structured than others, or creep along at a funereal doom pace not unlike an Esoteric, where others revel in an archaic industrial metal framework redolent of Godflesh or Treponem Pal. The deeper into the album, when you hit on a tune like "Silver Lining", affairs become even stranger, like layers of thick and angry skin have been peeled back and you're entering another level of confusion. The whole experience has a live, improvisational backbone, perhaps with a few initial directions that are then left to mutate into bedlam.

It's cool. It's not Cloak of Skies cool, nor Ghost in the Fire cool, because there are added layers of exhilaration and texture on those records. But, being forewarned about what sorts of ugly and hallucinogenic aural hues the Chicago quarter tend to choose to paint with, I certainly connected with the aggravation and despair that swells up in every single track here. The album feels like you're being slowly dragged, at some heightened level of intoxication, through the streets of a filthy urban sprawl, possibly by someone who just mugged or drugged you, listening to the sounds of abuse, addiction and anxiety being shouted from the higher story windows of dank alleys, occasionally being nudged by street refuse, manhole covers half-ajar, or splashed through the piss and rain and whatever the fuck else has mixed in with them. Exhausting, entropic and effective.

Verdict: Win [7/10] (I found them down in flames)

Friday, December 1, 2017

Hooded Priest - The Hour Be None (2017)

In fairness, I'm going to state up front that doom metal is one of the subgenres in which I find it the most difficult to be impressed by a new record. This is partly because it operates on a slower and more limited riff palette, harder to innovate in, and party because a lot of bands seem to proxy tone and heaviness for actually composing good tunes that, you know, make you feel doomed. There are at least two ways around this. One is delving into a more progressive side of doom and sludge which uses a lot more instrumentation, a higher riff count and a more interesting sense of melody. Another, when you're going the straight, trad doom route, is that you've just got to be better than almost everyone else, and this is the much harder path to walk, the one that the Netherlands' Hooded Priest is walking for their sophomore effort The Hour Be None.

And while they certainly arrive at the end of that path, they unfortunately don't do so in such a timely matter. Perhaps the great intro this album, 'Dolen - Exiting the Real' raised my expectations a bit too high. It's a swelling, droning ambient piece that has little in common with the rest of the album, but damn is it ominous and really sets the anticipation level to have your soul crushed. Once the metal proper actually arrives, though, it's rather dry and predictable, which is not a great combination when you're moving along at this pace. That's not to say they pick the most generic riffs available, but when you're putting together 8-10 minute tracks as a rule, even having a few moments where the energy is lacking or the doom riffs don't sound that sad and evil can cripple the rest. Hoodest Priest are not a band lacking in dynamics, between mid-era Cathedral hustle of "These Skies May Break" or "Herod Within", to the more lurching mechanics which land somewhere between Candlemass and My Dying Bride, you get a good range here...they're not trying to endlessly repeat themselves or bore you at all, but once in awhile, like when faced with the intro riff to "Call for the Hearse", excitement was hard to come by.

Also not a huge fan of the vocals. They've got a wavering edginess to them, but sometimes this is obscured by a goofier, more conversational tone that he flexes between the mid and higher range, and it doesn't really live up to the music beneath it, even where that itself is mundane. I'm all for these sorts of 'honest' doom singers who use natural tones in the Ozzy tradition rather than just growling the whole time, but where it works in some cases (Blizarro, Reverend Bizarre, etc), it's a little inconsistent, also the more glaring when you've got such a long tune to cover. Nothing awful, mind you, but just awkward enough that it detracts from the overall quality. Now, with all this said, you might think I hated The Hour Be None, and that's not the case. It's competent enough, and even fairly cool throughout "These Skies May Break", my fave among these cuts, but there were points during tunes like "Call of the Hearse" and especially the 10 and a half minute "Locust Reaper" where I was phasing out completely from what was happening. If you're a true addict for the style, and dig a good cross-section of the bands I've name-dropped, or a few others like Solitude Aeternus, Dread Sovereign, Cardinal's Folly or Memory Garden, then check it out; you might get more from it than I did.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]