Blocland’s Best Metal Albums of 2017
Around the Halfway Point
A Necessary Post
Now that we at Blocland have posted our list of our favorite music, it’s time for a token metal list. The other half a Blocland got together and compiled a list of the truest and kvlt-iest metal out there. Just kidding! We don’t actually talk like that. Though, there may be some truth to that first part. I mean, did the rest of the staff even listen to Venenum? I don’t know… But, it’s fine. Believe me! We’re totally cool with it. We got to make this sweet list. Anywho, here are the best metal albums 2017 has offered up so far. Stick them in your earholes and enjoy. < 3
– lobster man
10 Planning For Burial
Below the House
There’s a sense of isolation that looms heavily over Below the House. In order for the third Planning For Burial album to come into being, Thom Wasluck uprooted from New Jersey and landed in his childhood home in the mountains of Pennsylvania. That sense of loneliness cultivates in something that happens far too infrequently in metal. With Below the House, Wasluck’s attention to detail and craft results in nothing short of a headphones album. The album is constructed and held together with four walls and a ceiling of doomed architecture only to be torn down at a moments notice to make way for delicate intimacy. Whether Wasluck is working in massive impenetrable reverb roars, danceable new wave, or fragile slowcore, Below the House is a meditation and search for human connection.
– lobster man
Read our interview with Planning For Burial here.
09 Falls of Rauros
My second favorite live moment of the half-year was geeking out next to an equally geeked out Austin Lunn of Panopticon while Falls of Rauros burned the house down with their woodsy take on American atmospheric black metal. Vigilance Perennial, the Mainahs fourth full-length (and advisable mission statement for these times), rolls, boils and cascades like a mountain river, encouraging you to admire it’s pastoral beauty and hypnotizing elegance before the raging waters overwhelm, the rocks pulverize any remaining light, and the falls plummet you into the depths of its still black waters with terrifying indifference. Upping their game in every way, this stream has sprouted endless overflowing rivulets that beg for exploration. Jump in the kayak and point that shit downstream. Then do it again. You will not come out unscathed, but the trip will be exhilarating.
“The circle” refers to the lifecycle. The Circle is the best atmospheric black metal album I’ve heard in a long time (and I listen to A LOT of atmospheric black metal). This is precision-tooled German ABM, because of course it is. Meticulously crafted and expertly sequenced, not at the expense of, but in service of raw, gut-wrenching catharsis. For my money, “Fading With the Grey” and the semi-title track, “The Circle (Omega)” is the penultimate/last track combo to beat this year, as evidenced by this resigned yet triumphant closing couplet, delivered with snarling defiance (and just listen to that dancing cymbal work): “Take my ears/ I’ve heard everything that’s left to hear/ Take my mouth/ I’ve said everything that’s worth to say/ Take my wooden mask of soul… to be free again” Ugh. Dead. Oh yeah, Alcest mastermind Niege contributes vocals on the penultimate track. A can’t-miss seal-of-approval.
Trance of Death
It has been said in many a European travelogue that traditional German food is awful. I don’t know how this is reflected nationally but certainly during my time in Berlin most residents I spoke to concurred that yes, it was shit. And the less said about the incident when my absurdly inflated sense of stoicism, fuelled by too much St Vitus beer, led me to consume more pinkelwurst and sauerkraut than was healthy, probably the better. Almost as a riposte to this culinary mockery, and with typical German efficiency, Berlin restaurants went about making everyone else’s national cuisines to an incredibly high standard. Pinkelwurst aside, some of the very best food I’ve ever eaten was at Indian, Italian and Japanese restaurants smack in the heart of Berlin.
So where am I going with this over lengthy lead in? Well Venenum are (tenuously) like those Berlin restaurants. Over the course of six years this band meticulously engineered a beautiful, metallic Chimera, folding in flavours of thrash, black and death metal with equal aplomb. They repeatedly pull focus from one genre to the next, mid song, shifting gears with an almost nonchalant ease. On first listen though it doesn’t immediately impress yet this is largely down to how masterfully the transitions between genres occur. By the fifth listen you know this one is for keeps.
Their nearest contemporaries are probably Tribulation circa The Formulas of Death. I also stumbled across a review which drew a few parallels with prime Coroner that I’m not gonna argue against either. The only bands I can think of genre hoping at this level are Inter Arma and Nux Vomica. That’s a pretty heavy weight set of comparisons; though Venenum build their Lego sets very much to their own design. Vorsprung indeed, this is wide screen extreme metal without recourse to dreaded ‘symphonic’ tendencies or constipated prog. Long may they reign, just don’t expect a follow up anytime soon.
– Black Antlers
06Full of Hell
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where Full of Hell are headed. After two full lengths of punishing grindcore and countless splits and EPs, the young band landed themselves a collaboration with Japanese noise godhead, Merzbow. Last year’s followup, One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache, found the band working with the great metal experimenters The Body, which yielded a particularly prickly Leonard Cohen cover. It would have been perfectly reasonable to expect them to double down on the experimentation and become a full on noise metal unit. Instead, Full of Hell returned with a back-to-basics record full of wild-eyed grindcore savagery.
Take “back-to-basics” with a grain of salt. This is still Full of Hell, after all. The noise elements of their past collaborations are hinted at and their explorative tendencies manifest in the Nicole Dollengager assisted title track. Full of Hell is still forward thinking, but in ways that elevate their genre of choice. More attention is placed on pure song craft. These songs are bursting at the seams with punk melodicism and enough memorable riffs to sustain them for longer than their minute and a half run time. But, that’s all the time Full of Hell needs to fully realize their tribute to an ailing world. The rage felt in these songs perfectly encapsulates the nihilism of 2017. In extreme times like these, there is no band more of the moment than Full of Hell.
– lobster man
05The Ruins of Beverast
There’s something special about one man bands. They’re often the most singular and purest expression of a musician’s ego. Self-indulgence writ large. When it succeeds they can reach places few bands are able to touch. The risk though is great for when it fails it can expose the limits of an individual’s talent far more starkly, after all the buck stops with you and you alone, no matter how many session musicians are stacked on the pyre. The Ruins Of Beverast however sit amongst the most exalted one man metal bands out there, with the limits of sole member Alexander Von Meilenwald’s talents sitting comfortably somewhere over the horizon.
Every 3 to 4 years sees the release of a new TRoB album, and whilst these are all built upon a chassis of black metal and doom, each record possess its own unique character; you simply can’t mistake one TRoB album for another. Of late Meilenwald seemed to be dialling back the black, this reaching an apex on 2013’s divisive Blood Vaults which is to all intents and purposes a doom record. A bloody good doom record in my opinion but a doom record nevertheless. So when the Takitum Tootem! EP appeared earlier this year, eager fans clamoured to hear it, hoping it would yield some clue for the future. By presenting an 8 min tribal excursion and an 11 min cover of Pink Floyd’s “Set The Controls For The Heart of The Sun”, this simply raised more questions. It almost appeared as if Meilenwald was trolling his audience.
Exuvia however is Meilenwald’s bold, glorious answer. For over 67 minutes he has crafted one of the most atmospheric releases you will hear all year. Yeah, it’s an oft used word but here I do not apply it casually. Psychedelic guitar flourishes rub up against near industrial electronics and crippling doom riffs. Keyboard surges lap against furious black metal tremolo riffs which in turn burst into tribalesque war dance. Yes the black is back, although not in the form of the ‘bee in a biscuit tin’ variety as on Rain Upon the Impure; this is a more obsidian strain. There’s even what appears to be some bagpipes on here. I’ve used the words tribal and tribalesque and this flavour really is the key, with the whole record being cloaked in an almost shamanistic fervour. Suddenly that EP starts to make sense.
When artists continually release great records it’s all too easy to play the game of placing one’s own expectations on where they will go next. By defiantly wrong footing everyone with Takitum Tootem! Meilenwald was actually laying the groundwork for possibly his best record yet.
– Black Antlers
As We Cup Our Hands and Drink From the Stream of Our Ache
Wisconsin’s gnarled sludge metallers, Cavernlight, describe their debut album as, “five movements detailing a life that is lived suffering through severe, crippling anxiety and the burden of mental illness”. The band envelops you in their world by making you not only hear, but feel every drop of that pain through Scott Zuwadzhi and Adam Bartlett’s feral vocals. As a unit, Cavernlight cast a mournful back drop that is rich with brooding melancholy and haunting catharsis.
– lobster man
Pallbearer are one of those rare bands that were able to strike gold right from the jump. 2011’s Sorrow & Extinction not only cemented them as a band to watch in an already crowded subgenre, but a band to anticipate. Even the most talented young band can easily be cut down by such lofty pressures. In 2014, Pallbearer pulled off the even rarer feat of surpassing those expectations. Foundations of Burden improved on nearly all fronts presenting a more mature and focused band. Pallbearer spent those three years away refining their sound and adding new and unexpected elements to their doom palette. Here we are again three years later and that upward trajectory continues. This time we’ve found Pallbearer at dizzying heights that none of us could have predicted.
Heartless isn’t so much an improvement as it is a reinvention. This is unmistakably Pallbearer, but with a full embrace of the prog ambitions they only hinted at before. These songs are constant forward motion. Pallbearer never dwell on one moment and instead continue their journey to their conclusion. Guitar harmonies are constantly slithering around each other and single melodies barely last longer than a measure. Through it all, what I found most impressive is Pallbearer’s ability to craft such a towering doom monolith and still present an eloquent and moving depiction of very human emotions.
– lobster man
Creeping Americana, stomping stoner metal, thick and humid southern rock, soulful blues, expansive post-rock atmospherics. And that’s just the first four minutes of Bask’s spectacular sophomore release, Ramble Beyond. Instantly familiar yet wholly unique, it’s the kind of album that used to make bands world-conquering rock stars. Soulful, chest-swelling vocals that find the perfect mid-point between Jim James and Ozzy provide the perfect accompaniment to the roiling soundtrack below, and the soundtrack reciprocates. Thunderous riffs coalesce out of gently picked guitars and a barely-there rhythm section. Smoky tendrils of clean, melodic leads come and go, peeking into the maelstrom like an anxious sun. When the storm breaks, and it breaks often, the results are fucking glorious.
A few years ago I was driving through Stephen’s Pass in the Pacific Northwest, a stunningly beautiful passage. There was a terrible thunderstorm. High winds, driving rain, frequent bursts of lightning. Deer were all over the road. I couldn’t see much but it was still gorgeous. A bubbling brook, restless from the storm and spotted with waterfalls, ran to my left. A seemingly endless chasm plunged downward to my right and extended for miles in the northwest direction I was driving. It was a harrowing drive. A mistake in either direction would be disastrous. I then climbed a particularly steep incline which curved perfectly to the left and out of sight at the peak. As I rounded the bend, the storm broke and I was awash in green and gold. I gasped as I was confronted with the most beautiful vista I have ever seen. Overwhelmed, I pulled over, got out of my car and walked to the edge of the chasm. Staring out over a gorgeous sea of green, a tear ran down my cheek. It was so fucking beautiful. Then I thought, “Welp, it’s all downhill from here”. That’s this album. A dozen times.
Read our interview with Bask here.
Despite the industrial strength superlatives being flung around at the time of their debut album, I slept on Artificial Brain. Really slept on them. This probably had more to do with my prejudice against Tech-Death, and these guys play fucking sci-fi Tech-Death, no less. You see, in the 90s Tech-Death was a vibrant, exciting sub set of Death Metal where its disciples were trying to marry the brutality of Massacre to the technical insanity of King Crimson. By the 00s however it had become little more than a technical arms race of who could play the most notes or densest polyrhythms. This led to fewer songs and many, many crushingly dull records. They also often featured sci-fi themes but unfortunately these tended to be less Philip K. Dick and more L. Ron Hubbard.
So initially the new Artificial Brain album was about as welcome in the Black Antlers household as the electronic Typhoid Mary that is Amazon’s Skynet wannabe, Alexa. More. Fool. Me.
On Infrared Horizon, Artificial Brain render most of their Tech contemporaries as archaic as Robbie The Robot. I was originally going to follow this with a comparison to the T1000 and say how this record flows like liquid mercury but even that feels too dated and sluggish. No, this record is more akin to having a swarm of nanobots pour themselves into a defibulator and repeatedly zap you with barely disguised murderous glee.
Give the track ‘Estranged from Orbit’ a listen. The song barrels along at an increasingly chaotic rate, tethering riffs to its orbit like the sonic equivalent of a gas giant. Until that is at around the 4:20 mark where the music folds in on itself and disappears down a wormhole, before exploding into life again, reborn a few seconds later. It’s a pure studio effect but its audacity made me laugh out loud on my first listen. Importantly, it’s one of many moments that show just how much attention Artificial Brain pay to the composition of their ‘songs’. How the inhuman blur of sound they can create is enlivened when allowed to stutter, malfunction and collapse.
I’ve probably over done it on the nonsensical robot references but fuck it, they called themselves Artificial Brain, and it’s not like a new release from Shit Robot is gonna beg me for a review any time soon. Every year since 2004 at least one record released by Profound Lore made it onto my ‘best of’ list; 2017 will continue that unbroken run thanks to this stunningly vital beast.
– Black Antlers
Read our interview with Artificial Brain here.