Top 20 Albums of 2017

20: Orgy of Carrion – Blood Washed Away the Grave Purity

 

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Upon initial inspection, the Perverse Homage label can seem like one that artificially builds hype and mystique through extreme limitations, and for the most part that statement is true, as uninspired drum machine raw black metal is at the forefront of the label’s identity. Orgy of Carrion have always risen above the others in these murky depths, way before the frenzy surrounding its respective label.

What sets this release apart from other Orgy material is that this album is comprised of just two tracks – 18 and 21 minutes – that showcase mastermind Voyeur’s disgusting ability to merge his swampy, otherworldly riffs into a noble exhibition of epic raw black metal. With his previous material, shorter songs were the method of choice, and the drum machine (Slavehammer) can feel impersonal and jarring when the tracks are constantly changing. These longer songs allow a true glimpse into the mind of Voyeur, and hopefully Orgy of Carrion continues with this formula, because this album is a pure descent into rabid darkness.

 

19. Slagmaur – Thill Smitts Terror

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With its long awaited comeback, Slagmaur delivered another heaping dose of perverted, cinematic, and modern black metal, with their drummer, Lt. Wardr, turning in one of the absolute best drumming performances of the year by always providing unique and fitting fills that gives worth to sticking around for the longer songs. Slagmaur have achieved an incredible sound on this record, but listening to the entire album in one sitting can be an exercise in patience.

The songs plod on with might, and the riffs balance well with the drums throughout all the tracks. By the end of the album, the feeling of the same grandiose plodding grows a bit tiring, and as mentioned earlier this has nothing to do with their lack of songwriting chops, rather a lack of variation in their formula. Listening to this album in snippets is strongly recommended, as its power cannot be denied.

 

18. Förgjord – Uhripuu

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If this list were titled ‘Craziest Albums of the Year’, this would be in the top 2. The vocals are unbelievably menacing, with the throat shredding never ceasing throughout the album. This band does a great job combining the raw sound with a penchant for songwriting that is just barely on the edge of melodic. Guitar solos fly in and out without warning like ravens circling a winter kill, and the drummer remains tasteful about the blasting, letting the songs ebb and flow as they were meant to.

Lyrically, this album is a mystery to me, but the music gives off vibes like no other album to be experienced this year. Pagan undertones, acoustic sections, and overwhelming fierceness combine with the off-kilter album artwork in the booklet to form a creation that, while very unique, is absolutely Finnish. “Vahvempi Kuin Kostaan” is one of the best tracks of the year, with strange orchestral interludes, memorable and melodic riffs, insane vocals and varied drumming, all factors that make this song a microcosm of what is to be experienced throughout the album. Uhripuu begins and ends with the same acoustic piece, a minor detail that adds to the mystique of this otherworldly emanation.  

17. Valhalla Bound – Hail the Warrior

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This album must be the culmination of Ride for Revenge mastermind Harald Mentor listening to Ildjarn for a week straight in his basement, then wanting to record a tribute album with his own flair. Most songs revolve around one or two riffs, meaning they can be monotonous, and the drum machine has a blown out sound that combines perfectly with the low, raw sound of the guitars. Weird synth interludes pepper the album, creating a trademark Bestial Burst classic. The songs are pretty lengthy for the style, but strangely they never seem to drag on, as there is just enough tempo variation to keep everything as fresh as it could possibly be for an album like this.

Looking at the cover art and the track titles, there is a sense of yearning for the old days in the true north. Casual Viking romanticism is matched with pure, unadulterated anger for a feeling that something urgent is spreading in regards to the old warrior mentality. I would not want to be the societal factor(s) standing in its way.

 

16. Monstraat – Scythe & Sceptre

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Monstraat storm out of their past mediocrity with an energetic blast of lo-fi black metal. The guitar tone definitely works in their favor here, sounding straight from a black thrash release. If they had tried the buzzsaw tone on this album, like most black metal bands of this ilk seem to do, then the result would have been quite different for the worse. Instead we are graced with audible, rambunctious riffing, some psychedelic intros, and a drum sound pulled straight from the early 1990’s Norwegian albums.

This album could have been a bit longer, but there is no need in wishing for what will never come. The vocalist probably could not pull off any more songs in this session. His performance here sounds chaotic and drug-fueled, never losing any intensity throughout the album. He always ends songs after the instruments, trailing off into a spiral of hatred and coughing fits, a characteristic of some vocalists that I have grown to love. This album is in no way groundbreaking, but Monstraat have succeeded on both performance and production fronts in creating an unhinged black metal album with a timeless feel.

 

15. Jordablod – Upon My Cremation Pyre

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The main standout for this album is the face melting guitar wizardry that is present here. The sound is wholly unique for a black metal release, and while these clean guitar leads are definitely Jordablod’s bread and butter, they never become a crutch because these guys happen to be gifted songwriters to boot. The tracks are mostly on the longer side, and the fresh riffs keep on coming throughout each song. Sometimes a song constantly explores new themes until the end, and sometimes they return back to a certain riff after a few minutes, always keeping the listener on their heels.

My favorite characteristic of this album is that Jordablod play with tempo changes better than most bands I have ever heard, which validates the lengthiness of the songs. For example, the instrumental track Hin Håle slightly speeds up in the second half, creating an orgasmic finale to one of the best tracks of the year. In my opinion, the drummer receives the most credit during these tempo changes, as his performance is absolutely seamless throughout all the twists and turns to be found on this wonderful album. They accomplish this on more songs than just this one, leading to the conclusion that these men are totally in sync with each other as a band. This album is a product that can only be achieved by countless hours of practice and a bond forged with each other that extends beyond the physical realm.

 

14. Rienaus – Saatanalle

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Not sparing you one second, Rienaus eagerly greet you with one of the heaviest guitar tones you will find on a black metal album this year. As with most Finnish black metal releases, the riffs are melodic yet melancholic, aided by the album cover to plunge the listener into that indescribable sensation as you brace for a snowstorm. This album never strives for a breakneck pace, allowing the heaviness to conjure up the negativity, and this formula works well for Rienaus.

The performances are all solid, and on the standout track “Polku”, the vocalist sounds especially tortured as he switches to higher pitches throughout the song, with the riffs and blasts matching the intensity, creating genuine excitement and headbanging opportunities. Sadly, this track is an exception on this album, and while every track is solid, Saatanalle would benefit from formulas seen on “Polku” to add a sense of unpredictability and triumph to an album that can seem to overstay its welcome depending on your mood. Its ranking should inform you of how powerful this track is.

 

13. Black Cilice – Banished From Time

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Black Cilice’s previous releases never quite resonated with me. It takes something truly special within the caverns of raw black metal to stand out and become memorable, and Black Cilice has finally achieved this with Banished From Time. There is real beauty hiding in the confines of this dark chamber, with plenty of variation in tempos and riffs, backed by a genuinely emotional and distraught vocal performance.

You must experience this album alone and free of distractions. The sounds and emotions conjured up by Black Cilice expel many demons from within you, and once you are free from your own reigns, the album is a euphoric experience like no other. The final few minutes of “On the Verge of Madness” showcase the genius of the songwriting. The flow of the song feels natural, and whether moving slow or blasting, it never loses the momentum of the main riff. The guitar tone is one of a kind, and is just audible enough to pick out minute details that set this apart from the countless pretenders in the genre of raw black metal.

 

12. Riivaus – Lyöden Taudein ja Kirouksin

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Riivaus is all about the riffs. He adds nothing new to the tome of Finnish black metal, but shows what you can create when completely dedicated to mastering a single style of music. The riffs furiously drive each track forward, with the blasting following shortly behind. Rather than put forth an ebb and flow style of songwriting, Riivaus never lets his foot off the gas, and the album is the perfect length for this experiment. The album cover is profound, as if to combat the 90’s black and white trademark with color saturation instead, proudly showing off the majesty of Finnish forests.

The fourth track “Alkemisti” is the highlight of the album, and coincidentally it is also the longest song. It contains a wealth of riffs, plenty of variance, and even a demented solo. The main riff on the last track “Tukhasade” is fantastic, and it is reintroduced frequently throughout the song. A guitar solo is eventually built on a variation of this riff, providing unparalleled melodicism that carries through the conclusion of the song. Upon first listens, this album sounds like a monotonous slog through just another Finnish black metal record, but is the nuances such as these that keeps one coming back to visit this album. I look forward for Riivaus to expand his vocal range in the near future.

 

11. Ostots – Ezer Ezaren Araztasuna

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A unique ancient energy is brought forth on this special album. All the instruments have a washed out sound to them, with the vocals and keyboards bringing the whole package out of the grave and into space. The first time listening to Ostots, you may wish for the instruments to be presented with a touch more clarity, but on repeated listens, the atmosphere is appreciated as whole, as if a massive cloud has descended upon the instruments and you are separated from the sounds by a thick veil. The synths stay constant, and the songs revolve around them, especially on the title track. The intensity builds and crashes multiple times while the same medieval siren wails unwaveringly, creating something majestic for being so raw.

The album cover precisely fits the sounds and moods being conjured here. Are you looking up at an approaching storm, or are you experiencing the end of a torrential downpour? Ostots gives you but a few seconds of serene contemplation in “Ahaztutako Haiseak” before enshrouding you once again. Every once in a while, the guitar leads do take to the forefront, creating a melancholic vibe all their own, before being met with the synths to propel you to places unknown. This is an album to bring your imagination to, for you can get lost in the world of Ostots. 

 

10. Holy Money – The Language Machine

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Psychedelic and crushing; my two favorite words to describe music, and I find that rarely to both of them equally collide to create something appalling. Holy Money mixes suffocating doom and an eerie psychedelic drone background, interspersed with audio clips from Terence McKenna discussing the role of language in the developed world. I actively avoid name-dropping other bands to describe a band’s sound, but one cannot help to draw similarities with the formula that Dragged Into Sunlight uses with both their serial killer cameos and extreme vocal ranges, and these similarities are a major reason why this album works so well. While Holy Money is on the tripped out consciousness end of things, instead of the violent end, they still bring the devastation in every song.

An important thing to note is that these extras would not amount to much success if the band did not write interesting music, and I firmly believe that Holy Money’s brand of doom could stand on its own. The vocalist expertly experiments with multiple ranges, switching between low grunts and high shrieks often from one line to the next. The guitar tone sounds like an armada of giant wooden ships barreling towards the shore during the monsoon of the century, sometimes plodding but always advancing. Albums that encourage the listener to explore potentially unfamiliar themes are sadly few and far between, and Holy Money is eager to send you down yet another Terence McKenna rabbit hole, one which you will emerge with important knowledge gained.

9. Odour of Death – In Search of Eternal Darkness

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This album is a wonderful example of minimalistic black metal pulled off expertly. The drumming is very unique in its lack of blasting, and the guy behind the kit has some serious skills in providing enjoyable fills without being too flashy. The guitar work will not wow you in its expertise, but the man knows how to write catchy riffs that compliment the bizarre drum performance. There is no production trickery, no samples or fancy intros, just an honest black metal attack.

This album worms its way into your brain thanks to the heaping melodicism that often comes unexpectedly, such as in the third track “Ritual Suicide”. A low rumbling riff begins the track, and then two minutes in this squealing riff comes blasting forth, and the momentum is carried on throughout the rest of the track, with the drummer pulling off some faster sections with ease. The way that these elements come together to make this album rated so highly is very difficult to describe, but its all contained within the opening track “Pain”. The triumphant guitar tone, pained vocals, and tasteful drumming are swirling around in the opening minutes, and the tempo changes make sure nothing becomes stale. This is an album that came out of nowhere but it is not to be missed.

 

8. Hell – Hell

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When listening to the Holy Money album for the hundredth time and recognizing that they may rely on a gimmick, albeit a great one, remind yourself that Hell does not and never has needed anything else but their humble instruments to create a suffocating inferno of destruction. Vocals like golden eagles fighting over a dead body clash with the titanic monstrosity of guitars to stop the most minute feeling of positivity in its tracks. On a lot of doom albums of this magnitude, the drumming is an afterthought, with absolutely no creativity being sought, and its sole purpose is just to move the song forward. For Hell’s drummer, the purpose is to constantly evolve the song, which is not easy to accomplish when you are buried a million miles under the earth’s surface. On the last minute of “SubOdin”, the moment that double bass kicks in makes the most sadistic listener grin with sinful joy. “Machitikos” is another winner, with the fast drumming and that insane guitar solo creating such an overwhelming intensity that headbanging is your only source of salvation.

A few posts back, I commended a band for changing their formula from short songs to long, but here, Hell has done the exact opposite and it has resulted in by far the best album of their career. The shorter tracks have made it so they can explore multiple themes in the span of one album, rather than a few long horrifying slogs. That is what they became known for, but I tip my hat to Hell for not resting on their laurels. They could have hung up their instruments after the trilogy and they would have gone down as one of the best American doom bands, but they took years and honed in on a different energy, yet equally as mighty with conviction and perhaps even more crushing.

 

7. Runespell – Unhallowed Blood Oath

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Turn back the clock and allow yourself to be immersed in the ancient, mystic world of Runespell. Melodic guitar riffs and stunning acoustic passages create an aura of yearning for the past, and there is a sense of urgency to the songwriting. The ambient sections conjure sheer beauty but are not the focal point of the album, as they are always quickly replaced with ferocious yet catchy black metal assault. With song titles such as “Bloodlust & Vengeance” and “As Old Gates Unfurl”, there is an awakening being realized within the soul of Nightwolf, and it is majestically being brought forth into this album. Combined with that prior urgency, Runespell has no time to waste in its waged war on modernity and human weakness.

The penultimate track “As Thrones Perish” highlights all the strengths this album contains. Dual vocals and a subdued riff begin the song in a haze, only to break free in a ray of triumph that builds and builds, with the drums steadfast in its blasting resiliency. After a brief ambient slowdown, two riffs are later built on top of one another for a stunning conclusion to this brilliant track. The production matches the timelessness of the music, with not one instrument overtaking another and nothing sounding artificial. Nightwolf is highly skilled at both the electric and acoustic guitar, and the acoustic interludes are some of the most peaceful musical passages you will hear this year, regardless of genre. Once the last note ends on “And Wolves Guide Me Home”, allow yourself to be spellbound by the silence that overtakes you as a reaction to the glory that you have just witnessed.

 

6. Frozen Graves – Frozen Graves

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Any project with LSA from Cosmic Church involved is sure to get a listen from me. On this album, he is in charge of the drums and synth, of which both are masterfully executed. One of the best qualities of his musicianship in Cosmic Church is the way the unorthodox fills compliment the multitude of speedy riffs time and time again, and in Frozen Graves he adds another dimension to the depth of the album with the synths. On standout track “Eye on the Flame”, he uses the bass drum to match the synth to create a majestic punch that vibrates throughout the track, with the synth almost sounding like another vocal layer. The vibe created here is one of fierce beauty, like exploring an unknown scenic place that you know can be filled with danger at any turn.

These slower sections showcase the great songwriting between the members of this band, as the riffs churn constantly within CSA’s barrage, but the fast sections are not to be overlooked, musically. CSA can blast with the best of them, and the thin production makes itself evident here, similar to his past work. The formula seems simple, and you would think it would grow tiring, but Frozen Graves have managed a masterful 40 minutes of this concoction, and when the album stops spinning, I find myself instantly going back for another round.

 

5. Irae – Crimes Against Humanity

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Recently we have been speaking about black metal albums that are majestic, filled with an ancient energy, acoustic guitars, and synths. Irae barges in with an album that is all about aggression and hatred, and it is quite a powerful statement. Irae has a habit of transforming his tracks just at the point where you think that things can’t possibly get any more brutal, making this album unbelievably compelling. “Genocide Journey” is a great embodiment of this feat, as the first few minutes are mired in a chaotic maelstrom, only to be uplifted from hell with a sudden melodic outburst in one of the catchiest riffs on the album and some extra enthusiastic vocals. Most other bands would have stayed with the first formula for the entire track, but Irae is never satisfied with any sense of complacency.

The vocal performance here is superb. You can tell something has been brewing inside this man for a long time, and he has spared nothing to deliver a sermon so powerful. “The Wildest Existence” cannot go unmentioned when discussing standout moments on a flawless album. The riffs are not technically challenging, but they are creative and they work seamlessly within the flow of the track. The amount of ideas packed into this one song is staggering, and every song on the album features a wealth of variance. Considering not one of these songs breaks the seven minute mark, it shows the passion and pride that Irae brings to his music.

 

4. Wulkanaz – Paralys

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Bookended by two lengthy ambient tracks, the return, and maybe finale, of Wulkanaz is kept to a brief, energetic statement. With a “professional” drummer in tow, Kvmvlonimbvs takes advantage of the added to speed to create a whirlwind of riffs with a more orthodox black metal feel as compared to his previous output. The hyper intensity that is pulled off on the instruments is incredible to witness, and for this reason the album is an appropriate length, with plenty of time lent to prepare and decompress. The opening and closing tracks are all performed by K, drums included, which harkens back to the old days of psychedelic inconsistency and flaws in the tape recording when he handled everything himself.

You could argue that this album lacks the soul of previous Wulkanaz albums, as this is definitely the most straight-forward work he has released. To me, Paralys is incomparable to the others because it possesses a different spirit, one of urgency and mourning. The accordion passage littered throughout invoke a somber environ between the already pained vocals, which can be almost overwhelming on some tracks. This might be more of a case where this is not an album that he wanted to make, rather it is an album that he had no choice to make so Wulkanaz could return to its regularly scheduled activities. The EP, Blodwughe, that was released shortly after this album, possesses a triumphant vibe that I feel brings validity to this theory. Above all, you come to a Wulkanaz album for the eccentric, one of a kind riffs, and they arrive in heaps on Paralys.

 

3. Vrångbild – A Psyche Engaged to the Vortex

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To my knowledge, there are too few bands within the realm of psychedelic black/doom. Channeling Dark Buddha Rising and some Furze albums, Vrångbild emerges as a prominent force into this void, backed with serious songwriting skills and a mind trapped deep in the abyss. First track “Giving in to the Craving” is a perfect exercise in deconstruction then slow reconstruction of a song, as the track jumps off the deep end a few minutes in, leading to a trance and sung vocals to guide you through the labyrinth. Thing’s aren’t all tripping through the meadows, as “Spiritual Self-Flagellation” rapidly sends you descending to the darkest pits of the mind, reminding the listener that there are multiple facets to every journey, and they aren’t always utopian.

What I find to be most impressive about Vrångbild is that this titanic opus is the inner working of a single man. The production values make every instrument sound as a part of the whole conclusion, nothing too overpowering or lacking. He tastefully switches between the buzzsaw guitar and the laid back melodic guitar, sometimes overlaying them both for a tremendous cathartic effect. Every harsh moment seems to be matched with sections of pure psychedelic bliss, especially on the third track “Vortex-Messiah”. This is a complex album filled with nuances and a range of emotions to be enjoyed for years to come. Nothing sounds quite like this.

 

2. White Death – White Death

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White Death have one of the most insane vocalists in black metal at the helm, namely Vritrahn, who manages to spearhead an album that does more than its part to bring glory to the days of Pentagram and By the Blessing of Satan. You don’t hear too many bands attempting this insane throat shredding approach, partly because it is unsustainable, as the bands that have tried it have either lost those vocalists or changed their sound. So enjoy White Death while we have them. The vocals would be nothing without a great supporting cast, and the musicians in White Death take the Finnish black metal sound up to 11 with infectious riffs, powerful drumming, and a knack for memorable songwriting.

“Immortal Hunter of the Moon” is every bandmember’s shining moment. The vocals are absolutely torturous throughout, and the guitars are bringing powerful riffs throughout the first half of the song, backed by a constant barrage of blasting. Then the melodic section hits, showing great restraint by the drummer in order to let those sweet,sweet riffs shine through. There was no better album to listen to in the car this year, and this is one of those moments to push the pedal to the metal. There is not a weak track on this album, with all of them being an aggressive black metal assault, save for the last track. “White Death’s Power” is a RAC-inspired ode to a different side of the scene which makes for a perfect closing track. This is an album you will never want to take out of the player. Released back in February, White Death has never shown the slightest sign of staleness.

 

1. Havukruunu – Kelle Surut Soi

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Upon release, this album seemed slightly underwhelming compared to their debut. I wasn’t sure what to make of the group harmonic vocals, and the punch of the harsh vocal attack throughout the entire last album was missed. But after all, it is Havukruunu, and no way that initial impressions would define an album of theirs. After numerous listens, the pieces of this new puzzle began to merge together, and the result is the most tasteful way of not making the same album twice. Stefan is a wizard on the guitar, with riffs evoking every emotion on the spectrum, from melancholy to triumph and everything in between. The acoustic passages are not in abundance and performed in good taste to further the atmosphere. “Myrskynkutsuja” is the most varied and unique track on the album. Great vocal harmonies and riffs dominate, and then a solo leading to an emotional release around the 5:30 mark, just a powerful sequence that never grows tiresome.

The harmonic vocals are something new in the Havukruunu equation. They are performed with stunning power and resolve, and they are present on the entire album. The harsh vocals are not to be forgotten, as “Vainajain Valot” delivers an ear-shredding vocal performance alongside a tempo of near constant blasting. Describing everything to be loved about this album is impossibly difficult, because in a nutshell, it just makes you feel good. The moments of aggression clash perfectly with the moments of sublime vindication. Havukruunu have poured their souls into the creation of this album. I previously thought that their debut could not be topped, and yet somehow they did just that. There’s no possible way they can top this, right?

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