Given the impossible task of boiling down the hundreds of albums I reviewed this year down to just 10, I have opted to make 3 lists to cover our 3 ratings scales and also broken the year into two halves. This particular list is for albums in the second half of 2017 that show some moxy when it comes to sounding different and pushing boundaries while still creating an engaging listening experience. Check out Part One HERE. Be sure to also check out the lists for Musicianship and Enjoyability this week and pick up our latest Free Sampler.
So I kind of smuggled this album here from the Musicianship list. I was having a hell of a time whittling that one down. That is to say, major marks for the instrumentation on this album. However, there is enough interesting stuff happening on Fitting Through The Crawl Space Between Rhyme And Reason to warrant it making the tail-end of the list. First of all, it is a pretty massive leap forward from the project's previous material. Chris has seriously upped his game. But more importantly, between the oddball vocals and hilarious movie samples that pop up, The Sound That Ends Creation brings a lot of fresh personality to the table. It's not quite as quirky as II II II, but it's unlike many grind or math acts I have heard in the past few years. I'm definitely looking forward to hearing the next chapter.
Of the hundreds of bands I have listened to in 2017, II II II may very well have the most personality of them all. There's just something so endearingly nostalgic about their sound while simultaneously being ruthlessly innovative. Shake up the above The Number 12 Looks Like You, The Dillinger Escape Plan, and Sikth and add a spritz of These Arms Are Snakes and you get something close to II II II. Frequency Illusion is a chaotic, almost psychodelic mathcore gem characterized by trippy vocals, catchy grooves, and shifting time signatures. The variation in vox alone is worthy of note. I hear glimmers of Greg Puciato, Steve Snere, Jesse Korman, and occasionally even Mike Patton all from one set of pipes. When complimented with the curiously proggy songwriting approach, II II II become something truly larger than life.
This duo is cranking out some seriously interesting and convulsion-inducing music. The guitars are pure Meshuggah, but the drums have more of an industrial/electronic vibe. This latter element is particularly apparent on "Gatos," which has a breakbeat interlude that brought me back to good times listening to Pitchshifter in the 90's. But that's not all. Minipony get pretty experimental with the vocals. It sounds like Mike Pattonduring his tenure with Fantomas or The Dillinger Escape Plan in that the words are relatively inconsequential. The sounds that erupt from Emilia's throat are just another instrument. Be it screaming, speaking, or simply gibberish; it's all part of the larger composition.. Taken together, Imago is a groove-ridden, energetic thrill ride designed to keep you guessing without ever losing your undivided attention.
Trepaneringsritualen deliver dark and disturbing industrial metal. I didn't end up doing a full review of this album, but it needed to be included here. Kainskult is a dense and ominous listen with nightmares at every turn. Existing somewhere between Godflesh's Streetcleaner, a Silent Hill original soundtrack, and black metal atmosphere; it's a unique experience. As stated in the press release, "In their animalistic frenzy and emotional intensity, these nine songs immediately envelop the listener and threaten or promise to drive you to the brink of madness."
The music of The Clearing Path is something unique entirely. It is experimental and highly progressive, drawing parrallels at times to acts like Krallice and even Deathspell Omega, but with a sensational melodic backdrop of synth ambience. The guitars, bass, and drums are another grinding, meticulous, technical machine. They traverse soundscapes of both malignant dissonance and cathartic, blissful transcendance. Opening track "Ankhtkheperura in Thee," even on its own, is testament to this with its highly textured and concise runtime. Even at over 7 minutes, not a second is wasted. The post-metal elements seem to come from a depth that is beyond my own wheelhouse, and ultimately lead to impressive pacing and punctuation of key moments. And as for the black metal, the vocals and tone are undeniably grim.
I struggled with whether to include this album on the musicianship or innovation list. The case could easily be made for both, but ultimately it's better suited here. To group Cleric in with Car Bomb or TDEP would a minimization of their art. There is a similar focus on technicality and eclecticism, but Retrocausal applies these concepts to a completely different degree. Compositions feel absolutely sprawling whether they run 14 minutes or 4. Pressing play on any track is to cast yourself into a bottomless abyss of freeform creativity. I don't doubt that the songwriting on this album is actually highly structured, but there is an undeniable feeling of improvisation that makes the experience all the more lively. Retrocausal is a highly unique and powerful experience.
"Lüüp have a long history of excellence within the fields of chamber music, progressive folk and avant-garde." Take the droning strings of Innerwoud mixed with theatrical, avant-garde vocal performances and you have yourself one of the most intriguing and mysterious releases of the year. Listening to Canticles Of The Holy Scythe feels less like pressing play on a traditional album and more like stepping into an interpretive stage performance. As the album wears on, classical arrangments evolve beyond strings into brass and wind instruments. Various flutes and horns signal a variety of tonal shifts and an ever-growing sense of dread. Lüüp balances the listener on the razor's edge of tension and anxiety.
One of the most original albums of the year. German trio The Hirsch Effect play an avant-garde amalgam of progressive, mathcore, death metal, and indie rock that will constantly keep you guessing. Structurally, Eskapist is perhaps best understood within the context of groups like Sigh and Igorrr. The band members are clearly influenced by a number of disparate styles, and rather than choosing just one at the expense of the others concluded, "let's play ALL the things." The result is like The Mars Volta with giant, brass balls and even more of a DGAF attitude. The German experimental counterpart to BTBAM. This band fears nothing and is open to any and all challenges. Death growls? No problem. Jazzy math rock? Got it. Strings? Piano? Horns? Child's play. Are you listening yet?
Dreadnought is a band in the midst of an ongoing evolution. They have distanced themselves from the purely "metal" aspects of their sound since their debut, which resulted in mixed feelings from myself on their last record. While I appreciated the artistic integrity and unique vision of Bridging Realms, it felt somewhat unfocused. A Wake In Sacred Waves finds the band showing a higher confidence in both sides; resulting in what feels like a more cohesive experience that is still highly explorative. The jazz and 70's progressive rock elements are still an important aspect of the band's sound, so much so that I hesitate to call them a "doom metal" band at all. Saxophone, piano, impressive drumming, flute, and of course Kelly Schilling and Lauren Vieira's stirring clean vocals and occasional blackened shrieks form the bulk of the compositional direction of A Wake In Sacred Waves to a beautiful effect.
A delightfully eclectic release from Long Island's Cryptodira. Progressive metal, mathcore, post-hardcore, jazz, and a number of other styles all melded into one solid album. Just when I thought I wouldn't get any more truly original material this year, The Devil's Despair came crashing down. These guys not only possess impressive abilities within a number of styles, but also the knowhow to arrange them seamlessly a la Between The Buried and Me. There are certainly recurring themes and an overarching architecture, but one can never anticipate what will happen next. Must-listen for fans of Dillinger Escape Plan, Wrvth, Autocatytica.