2018 is winding down, but I’m just now getting around to posting my best metal of 2017 list. A combination of procrastination, a serious consideration of just shutting down the feature all together (due to my taste in metal narrowing to the point of implosion), and hesitation over publishing half the album covers has pushed this list back month after month. But, fuck it, a feature is a feature, and this website wouldn’t be complete if I did not continue my yearly tradition of ignoring actual, good albums in favor of barely listenable and ideologically sketchy demo bullshit.
Black metal has pretty much been played out since the late 90s, and yet I keep listening to new bands year after year. Therefore, for a band to catch my attention they’ve really got to have a unique mixture of epic sorrow, venomous hate, and, most importantly, totally lo-fi amateurish charm. Mix those together and you come close to capturing some of the thrill I experienced back in the 90s as I was discovering black metal for the first time. Will I still listen to that 2015 Jugra demo in 10 years? Maybe not, but that bootleg cdr of Absurd demos I got in a tape trade with DJ Goat back in 1998 is still going strong, so who knows!
This year I ended up skipping a lot of underground favorites–I am sure you are all screaming “Where are Krolok’s Flying Above Ancient Battle Ruins, and Malokarpatan’s Nordkarpatenland???” Where indeed!? I don’t have any concrete reason for leaving them off–it is just that despite both of those albums being right up my alley (De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas worship and a cross between Master’s Hammer and Iron Maiden respectively), the more I listened to them, the more I found myself wishing I was listening to something else. Fine albums, but they wore out their welcome with me. Also, while Goatpenis (always, with me) gets a pass, Midnight, Pagan Altar, Goatmoon, and Wolfnacht all failed to find the inspiration to break away from their back catalogs enough to quite make the list. Finally, that Wampyrinacht album probably deserves a shot at the top ten, but I just can’t get past all the guitar noodling.
Anyway, despite 90% of these bands probably having views that would get their asses blocked on Facebook were they my relatives, here are my favorite albums of 2017:
Honorable Mention: Paysage d’Hiver/Nordlicht split
I’m still not sure how I want to treat split albums on these year end lists, and it gets especially murky when the split albums feature songs that are almost as long as some of the “full lengths” on my actual list. Either way, Paysage d’Hiver has released one of their greatest songs, and Nordlicht almost manages to match them with their all time best material as well (the other split with Drudkh was great too, but the Nordlicht split was the real gem this year). Releases like this have given me hope that Wintherr might just have another classic album in him in the coming years.
Seriously though, that riff around 5:40 in “Schnee III” (the most easy listening song Paysage has ever recorded) is just about everything I love in black metal and is pretty much the only thing this year that managed to raise the hairs on the back of my neck:
10. Azaxul – The Saints Impaled
Azaxul is now fully leaning into the fact that it is just Gaamalzagoth from Moonblood doing Moonblood “covers” due to the fact that 6 of the 8 songs here were previously released by Moonblood. Now, I fucking love Moonblood, but something about rerecording old songs just feels a little cheap and ill-advised. Also, I’m not sure that the clean production improves all the old songs–some (“Worshippers of the Grim Sepulchral Moon”) are welcome improvements due to the wretched sound quality of the originals, but others (“Templar’s Penitence”) definitely suffer a bit from the new clean production. Still, “new” Moonblood is welcome, and, to be honest, I’d probably rather pull this out than dig out some of Moonblood’s most grimly recorded rehearsals, so this is still a worthwhile addition to the Moonblood oeuvre.
It’s the classic Moonblood material that puts all the impaled saints in the yard, but the two original songs aren’t bad, especially the title track:
9. Front Beast – Third Scourge from Darkness
I never understand why Front Beast doesn’t get more press. Actually, I guess I do, like a few of my other underappreciated favorites, they have a certain amateurish quality that just barely separates their music from the A-list stuff. However, the music Front Beast makes is EXACTLY what I look for in black metal. Raw, epic, and with just a touch of folk to push it over the edge. Their latest album is another solid effort from this prolific band, if perhaps not quite as impressive as their previous full length, Demon Ways of Sorcery! Still, for a 50+ minute album to hold my attention, it better be good, and Front Beast delivers on that…front…too.
Check out the almost heavy metal (or Grand Belial’s Key) sounding “Swallowed by Night” to see if Front Beast is something you could, as the kids say, fuck with:
8. Holocausto – War Metal Massacre
I’ll admit, I had always heard that Holocausto’s stuff after their brilliant debut was lame nu-metal and never checked out anything past Campo de Extermínio. A cursory exploration of their back catalog seems to confirm that I wasn’t missing out on anything–which only made the quality of War Metal Massacre that much more surprising. I didn’t think it was possible for a bunch of old farts in 2017 to be able to recapture both the sound AND the energy of their early output. THIS is the followup to Campo that we all wanted, with the skittering drums and frenetic riffing once again just barely holding together to glorious effect! Sure, 3 of these songs were written in the 80s, but the 3 new songs integrate seamlessly and give me high hopes for their next album!
Just check out “Eu Sou a Guerra” to see what kind of stuff a bunch of old Brazilian’s in their 50s can still crank out:
7. Krüel Kömmando – Synagoga Satanæ
I like my black metal to sound “necro,” but I don’t usually go for stuff that is this ridiculously noisy and raw. However, this one has quite a lot of meat under all the high end static, and ended up being an unforeseen breath of foul air in a raw black metal scene that was in need of a new stench.
“Babylon Greate” is actually one of the more listenable songs on the album, but you can hear how it takes VERY simple elements and constructs them in a way that adds a great deal of interest beyond the immediate atmosphere:
6. Circle of Dawn – Northern Savonian Black Metal
Circle of Dawn’s demo last year marked them as a band to watch out for, and their first full length did not disappoint! Some of the melodies can feel a tad samey, but for the album length I think they stay their welcome just long enough. This is brilliantly produced, epic shit, and, provided they learn a few new melodies, I’ve got high hopes that their followup will be just as exhilarating as this one!
5. Wulkanaz – Paralys
Wulkanaz rarely disappoints (despite my lukehot feelings on HaglaNaudizEisaz), and Paralys is a strong album, marred only by its short length (a third of the album is just intro shit) and a slightly unfavorable comparison to the previous full length Paúrpura Fræovíbôkôs. Still, there are some real ragers on here, and the fact remains that NO one is doing this kind of raw black metal meets punk-infused folk as brilliantly as Mr. Ödegård, and Paralys shows he’s still got a few more tricks up his sleeve.
“Hof I” finds Wulkanaz doing their usual thing (with a new and improved actual live drummer), and, as usual, I rather love it:
4. Runespell – Unhallowed Blood Oath
Depending on my mood, Unhallowed Blood Oath is either the best album of the year, or just a damn good black metal album. Either way this deserves more than a few listens as the prolific Blood Stronghold/Eternum/Necrostrigis guy turns in an album that is one hell of a polished piece of classic black metal. I’ve heard people claim this sounds like Agalloch, but I’ve never been able to get past more than 5 minutes of Agalloch, so I can’t confirm, but I do know that this unassuming album shot to the top of my list and stayed in the upper end all year. Which, for an album that sounds as traditional as this one, that is one impressive feat.
Like the rest of the album, the song “All Thrones Perish” is classic black metal (complete with an acoustic breakdown in the middle) done so well it actually sounds almost sawft and beautiful (or, depending on my mood, (antisceptic and monotonous):
3. Ungfell – Tôtbringære
There’s a lot of Peste Noire worship out there, and it’s starting to get a little tiresome. Still, when it’s done well (or even when it’s not done well considering how much I enjoy Baise Ma Hache), the Peste Noire style is right up there with “classic Greek synths” for “shit I love in the black metal underground.” And Ungfell is REALLY done well–so well that it passed a lot of heavy hitters to move to the upper end of my list here.
The song “Trommler Tod” shows that it isn’t entirely fair to call them Peste Noire worship, as it shows a certain spark that is all Ungfell’s own (at least until the Peste Noire worship of the solo):
2. Goatpenis – Anesthetic Vapor
I wish I could quit Goatpenis, but I can’t. Actually, I don’t wish I could quit them at all, but considering they basically put out the same album year after year, I’m always astonished how much I love their latest release, and Anestheic Vapor might just be their best yet. Anesthetic Vapor combines the melodic sensibilities of Biochemterrorism with what has to be their best production yet (seriously, last year’s Apocalypse War definitely suffers in comparison) to create an album that can only be called peak Goatpenis. Like I always say, Goatpenis technically is “warmetal,” but they have a real maturity to their songwriting that makes them stand heads and [goat]penises above the blasting noise of their contemporaries.
The opening title track showcases the typical Goatpenis sound quite well–chugging riffs, skittering drums, just the right side of silly vocals, and a melodic backbone to bring it all together:
1. Satan’s Hallow – Satan’s Hallow
And here we are again, after a whole list full of black metal of dubious quality, my number one pick is a traditional heavy metal band that has some actual chops (and, to be honest, I could have tried harder delving into the traditional heavy metal underground this year). But holy shit is Satan’s Hallow the real deal! People tend to make too big a deal out of female vocalists in metal, but this frontwoman has some serious pipes! Apparently the band has broken up due to members moving away, which may be for the best as (if I had to find a complaint) this debut album already stretches the limits of their riff library. However, for a debut one-off, I have a feeling this album will be remembered for quite a while to come!
Just check out the opener, “Reaching for the Night” and soak up all the delightful Oz “Search Lights” (or, more accurately, Warlock “Signs of Satan”) vibes:
I try my best to keep up with every new release, but that’s an undertaking doomed to failure for even the heartiest of metal nerds. Still, the following albums are worth a listen, but just failed to quite impress enough to make the top ten…still plenty more good stuff that didn’t get mentioned here, but, I got tired of writing about good not great albums:
Losung krieg – ORSbV: Each year, Winter Solace Productions puts out at least one primitive (often barely listenable) album full of genuinely energetic and interesting black metal. Last year was Grond and the Balmug split, 2015 was Jugra’s adorable bit of Malaysian Absurd worship, and this year Losung Krieg was the highlight. I seriously don’t remember the last time I heard black metal this fucking visceral and hateful, and I’ve ended up listening to this album far more than it probably deserves. The song titles and random clips are, of course, reprehensible, and about half of the album fails to maintain the insane level of venomous energy, but despite all that, it still very nearly made my list this year.
Pagan Altar – Room of Shadows: First off, even the worst Pagan Altar song is well worth a listen. That said, I couldn’t help being a bit disappointed by this album–enough so that it didn’t quite make my list. It was just a little too slow, a little too samey, a little too lyrically reliant on the phrase “clarion call” to really wow me, especially in light of their godlike past catalog. I know they’ve always been heavily doom influenced, but, damnit, play faster Altar!
Cult of Eibon – Lycan Twilight Sorcery: Every year there is another classic Greece ripoff/homage album, and every year it either makes my list or doesn’t depending on my mood at the time of publishing. This one just feels like a slight step down from Caedes Cruentia/Ithaqua and thus didn’t quite make the cut.
Clandestine Blaze – City of Slaughter: I had gotten Clandestine Blaze’s middling debut straight from www.blackmetal.com back in the 90s and subsequently wrote them off for the next two decades. Not only did they get a LOT better, but they are apparently still turning out brilliant albums based on this one! Honestly, the only things keeping this from ending up on my list are the Celtic Frost worship that brings the middle third to a standstill (my usual refrain: “play faster!”), the fact that this is fairly standard black metal, and the fact that Clandestine Blaze is a reasonably popular band and kind of don’t feel all that kvlt anymore.
Perverted Ceremony/Moenen of Xezbeth: This stuff is GREAT, but at the end of the day Beherit/early Samael is just a little too atonal and doomy for my tastes, and I don’t care if saying that makes me a false.
Ostots – Ezer ezaren araztasuna: Ostots has been leading the Basque black metal scene (I assume there is a Basque scene) for the last decade, but their releases always fall just short of greatness for me. Perhaps on further listens this can crack the top ten, but it’s still well worth checking out (even if it is their most accessible album to date).
Nuit Noire – Sa Majesté la Nuit: If you push me, I might admit that I’m getting a little tired of Nuit Noire. And due to Sa Majesté la Nuit being released in 50 copies, I suspect maybe the rest of the blasting faerical punk black metal underground is too. But, there is still no one doing this kind of punk meets folk riffing (Wulkanaz works in the same territory, but with wildly different results) quite as well as the cape and tighty whitey clad Tenebras. Great stuff, even if it is functionally identical to their past few (and even if the yelps are no less easy to digest).
Possible New Inclusions
Wehrhammer – Der Weg (I am almost certain this will go on the list…as soon as I get ahold of the music which doesn’t appear to have made it online yet)
Evilfeast – Elegies of the Stellar Wind (I don’t normally fuck with atmospheric black metal that isn’t Paysage d’Hiver, but this actually drew me in. I could see it making the list at some point…but who has time to listen to an 80 minute album more than once?)
Finally, here is this year’s list in convenient playlist form: