I'm having flashbacks to this time last year, as once again I was half-tempted to skip writing a year-end list because I just haven't been feelin' it lately. I've been buying and listening to a ton of music—new and old—I'm just not terribly inspired to "write" much. By the time mid-December rolled around, I had barely given this list much thought, but... my preferences tend to skew away from the same ol' higher-profile releases oft-covered elsewhere, so... I suppose I might as well give these well-deserving artists a shout. Here are some of my favorites from 2017 (in alphabetical order)...
Cosmonaut, The Late Great Cosmonaut (Self-Released)
(The late great) Cosmonaut alphabetically topped my 2015 list, and here we are again with more alt.-rockin' post-hardcore/emo/indie/all-of-the-above greatness that will have you playing the air instrument of your choice and singing along in no time. I hate to see such top-shelf material relegated to a digital-only release—P.S. It's fuckin' free!—but not nearly as much as I hate the fact that this will be the band's final output. I can promise you that I will be proudly and enthusiastically jamming these tunes for many years to come, however, and so should you. Find 'em on Spotify, Bandcamp, etc.
P.P.S. Have I mentioned that Cosmonaut SHOULD'VE BEEN HUGE? Cool. Just making sure.
Cruelty of the Heavens, Somewhere Between Paranoia & Depression (Self-Released)
Freshly released on December 16th, this is precisely why I never post my year-end lists until the absolute last weekday of the year. Just because the year's almost over doesn't mean another best-of-the-year release isn't gonna hit the streets. As I've been repeatedly shouting since late-2016, Cruelty of the Heavens is one of the absolute best and most underrated new bands out there, and their outstanding debut full-length, Grow Up and See, has already become one of my all-time favorite albums. This EP finds the group branching out from their emo-tinged shoegaze mastery by adding in a pair of country-tinged acoustic ballads. I'm telling you, this is one of those bands that's so good, you'll find that even their "slightly less excellent songs" will end up stuck in your head at some point. Grab this one from Bandcamp, Spotify, and so on...
The real battle here was between my two personal favorite Divebomb releases of the year: discography CDs for should-be legendary Boston thrashers Temporary Insanity and unsung Swiss groove metal greats Clockwork—the latter featuring drummer Peter Haas (Calhoun Conquer, Mekong Delta, Poltergeist, etc.) and guitarist Tommy Vetterli (Coroner, Kreator, etc.). But 2017 may well have been Divebomb's most impressive year to date. I mean, holy shit, just looking at reissues alone you've got a couple of mind-blowing offerings from Cyclone Temple; extremely recommended discs from Terminus, Degradation, Suspiria, Bugzy, and Triphammer; kickass outings from Autumn Silence, Deadly Blessing, Arbitrater, Millenium, Visitör, and Picture; PLUS they even cranked out long-overdue reissues of both albums from uniquely jazzy progressive metal outfit Fatal Opera—featuring former Megadeth drummer Gar Samuelson (R.I.P.). And that's just the reissues! There were also a number of releases from up-and-coming contemporary artists, amongst which my personal favorite was undoubtedly Lunar's Theogony. There's a reason I've been championing Divebomb Records as my favorite label for around seven years now, and why I own no less than 114 CDs from this one label alone! Get crackin' via Bandcamp and their webstore, where you'll easily find enough assorted heavy metal listening to keep you busy!
Firesuite, Outlive Your Body (Self-Released)
Please listen to this album. PLEASE. It's truly something special, and I know I'm right about that because I've gotten more feedback from posting about Outlive Your Body than anything else I've written about all year. When I was lucky enough to premiere the album last month, I referred to it as "a beautiful fusion of Aereogramme meets Coldplay—the latter's soaringly ambitious hooks and mainstream appeal counterbalanced by the former's harder-edged diversity and more 'credible' emotional sensibilities." I don't really believe in "fate" or whatever, but mere days after this album crossed my path and immediately blew me away, real-life events transpired that assigned the aesthetic weight of the material even more power and relevance to me—to the point where I'll very likely forever associate this music with a tragedy that I'll never forget. All the more frustrating, then, that—like Cosmonaut above—this is a (free) digital-only release, as well as Firesuite's final output. I hope that one day, somehow, that may change...
This is the best album of 2017. Without question. Unfortunately, it's also an album that most people are not going to hear. So hear it. And share it with someone. Anyone. Maybe they'll do the same. And maybe together, we can all help this masterpiece gain even a fraction of the appreciation that it deserves (Bandcamp, Spotify).
Integrity, Howling, for the Nightmare Shall Consume (Relapse)
A number of long-standing, higher-profile acts such as the almighty Integrity released fairly adequate new albums this year, but Howling, for the Nightmare Shall Consume was the only one that crossed my path and actually delivered in full—musically, lyrically, conceptually, and through what was hands down the most beautifully-packaged release that I laid eyes on all year. To quote my track-by-track initial reaction from the summer, "Integrity has crafted an album that reflects bits and pieces of everything accomplished throughout the band's nearly 30-year discography, and still extends beyond." I can't wait to see where 2018 takes them. Pick this up physically or digitally, or stream it on Spotify, etc.
Out of Body, Voiceless (Coin Toss)
I was pretty blown away by Out of Body's debut full-length when I first heard it back in June. I'm always a sucker for memorable songs, and their top-notch take on '90s-influenced emo-tinged post-hardcore/alt.-rock really hits the mark by remaining truer to its roots than most such contemporary groups would tread. Any band that can release an album in 2017 that brings to mind Shift's Spacesuit (and classic Quicksand, too, of course) is A-OK in my book, so I'd quite recommend Voiceless for fans of that niche. Grab a copy on CD, vinyl, or cassette; through Bandcamp; or hear it via Spotify and all that jazz...
Row of Ashes, Let the Long Night Fade (Third I Rex/The Braves)
Let the Long Night Fade is the only item on this list that I've not written about earlier in the year, and that's a significant error on my part. Having started promoting the album many months before its eventual release, Row of Ashes had already impressed me enough to where I had that rare feeling that this was going to be an authentically unique album of note. Unfortunately, the timing never lined up for me to be in a position to chase after setting something up or giving the album a proper mention, because, well... sometimes I kinda suck. Nonetheless, this is one of the most interesting and atypical "metal" releases of the year—and one that would absolutely make sense amidst the Neurot Recordings roster, reminding me a good bit of Bee and Flower channeled through (or amplified by) the dark density of, say, Swans (or Neurosis). I'd love to believe that such demonstrably high-quality artistry will grant Row of Ashes some wider-reaching opportunities in the years to come. Fingers crossed! Certainly give this one a listen through Bandcamp, Spotify, etc.
I wrote about Shinobi three times this year and just couldn't choose between their demo or the two digital singles that followed. Their brand of raw, grunge-infused alternative/indie rock boasts so much potential with its morose chord progressions and earworm choruses that I truly hope they'll open some doors in 2018. Shinobi was also the band that I corresponded with the most in 2017, and that always means a great deal to me as well. Their pace seems to have slowed later in the year, but I know they're up to something, 'cause I recently got to hear a snippet of an in-progress recording from a legit studio and—needless to say—I'm excited. Grab their recordings to date—all for free—via Bandcamp. A few demo tapes still remain over at Negate Everything.
Vain, Rolling With the Punches (Jackie Rainbow)
As much as I love '80s hard rock, 99% of the time I hear that a "hair metal" band from the '80s is releasing a new album at present, I'm simply not interested. Vain, however, is the exception. 2011's Enough Rope completely kicked my ass when I finally gave it a chance, so I'm back on board. Fully. No hesitation. Good songs are good songs, and Vain is still crankin' 'em out to an almost shocking degree. Listen to "Long Gone" (above), "Deliver the Passion" (a resurrected demo cut from 1988), "Dark City," or "Inside Out"—among others—and tell me I'm wrong. You can't. 'Cause I'm not. The CD is expensive if you don't snag one from Amazon, unfortunately, but... if you're a cheap bastard, that's what Spotify's for, I guess.
The Wraith, Shadow Flag (Death Shadow/Poison Cult/Symphony of Destruction)
When it comes to goth- or deathrock-tinged post-punk, I cannot fathom another contemporary act nailing the classic aesthetic better than The Wraith has; and their catchy, harder-edged energy is just the icing on the cold, black cake. I'm more or less a novice when it comes to the breadth of this genre, but I can fucking assure you that this EP is a mandatory listen for any fan of this style. You won't be disappointed. They released another amazing single back in October, too, so I'm eagerly awaiting whatever comes next. Pick up Shadow Flag digitally or on a variety of physical formats directly from the band.
- Affasia issued an amazing EP called Adrift in Remorse for about five minutes before (rightfully) getting scooped up by Transcending Records and pulling it down in lieu of a physical release in 2018. This teaser does not do it justice, but keep an eye out. Perfect for fans of October Tide, etc.
- Listen to Annihilust's "Wake Ashes to Pain" and try not to set yourself on fire and run screaming through the streets.
- I've gotta give another nod to Hungarian groove metal guru Gergő Hájer. He released his first "solo" outing as Audionerve this year, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Looking forward to hearing what his primary band, Omega Diatribe, puts forth with their third full-length in 2018.
- I'm quite interested in hearing the anarcho post-punk greatness that Broken Spirit is going to be releasing very early next year, too...
- Built for Battle released one hell of a bruising metalcore banger a few months back, and it puts to shame quite a few of their more popular contemporaries, so... check that shit out!
- I was a tad skeptical of Cold as Life sans Jeff Gunnells, but hot damn, that 7" they dropped on Demons Run Amok delivers the goods! That feedback that opens both "Suffer" and "For the Few" will be giving you Born to Land Hard-style chills right off the bat!
- The Mantle and Soften the Glare both released killer instrumental albums in 2017 that got a fair share of spins from me. The former (featuring the son of freakin' Kenny G!) with a contemporary youngsters' take on prog-metal Dream Theater shreddery; the latter (featuring the bassist from Mudvayne) with a slickly badass jazz-funk assault on progressive rock.
- For no real reason, I lost interest in Mastodon years ago, and have not yet heard Emperor of Sand. That being said, I've heard enough bits and pieces to think, "Shit... that actually sounds pretty damn good," so I'll be binge-purchasing the last few Mastodon releases sometime in the coming weeks!
- I've loved Propagandhi since my teens, and Victory Lap is quite good, but it hasn't immediately floored me the way their past efforts have. For me, it's a grower, and it's just not there yet. This will be discussed in slightly greater detail in the next installment of the Mystery Grab Bag.
- Roy Batty released a cool-as-fuck demo of Voïvod-ian math punk the likes of which you won't find anywhere else. Check 'em out.