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 that show some moxy when it comes to sounding different and pushing boundaries while still creating an engaging listening experience. Be sure to also check out the lists for Musicianship and Enjoyability this week.
From the band: "Exuvia is a vessel of constipated lethal bacteria, loading an atonic fluid, a venomous substance of colours, a marsh of florescence. It is a fortress against a siege machine of spiritless organisms and so much a yell to nature's cleansing spirits." A powerful, atmospheric, and ecclectic experience that could serve some niche yoga studio just as well as a smokey concert venue. Arguably Ruins of Beverast's finest album to date. FULL REVIEW
Czech black metal cult Inferno have significantly stepped up their game with Gnosis Kardias; an album that arguably rivals Cult of Fire's. मृत्यु का तापसी अनुध्यान or Schammasch's Triangle. There is a seemingly effortless balance of doom-laden black metal riffs and vocals and creepy soundscapes reminiscent of both Skinny Puppy and Emptiness. I could just as easily bring this to a yoga session as jam it in my room at night. FULL REVIEW
Groovy drum and bass meet strings on a short but sweet release from unique Verona band Le Maschere Di Clara. Think MoRkObOt meets those string quartet metal cover albums. The distorted bass crunches out rebellious domination to some killer beats, but this is offset by the class and sorrow of violin and sometimes piano. The result doesn't seem like it should work, but this trio have made it happen in a big way. All four of these tracks have a different experience to offer, and the compositions are both accomplished and highly engaging. An emotive, distinctive album that draws you in instantly; allowing space both to bang your head and get lost in your thoughts. FULL REVIEW
I have always appreciated Tengger Cavalry for having a fresh spin on the folk metal genre. While most bands toy with Northern European imagery and instruments, this is pure historic China. With Die On My Ride, Nature's now New York-based band continues the band's trajectory from harsh vocals and black metal leanings towards a more atmospheric sound. Much like Blood Sacrifice Shaman, much more focus is places on the regional instruments and throat singing; along with a few other surprises along the way. A higly rewarding listen FULL REVIEW
I don't think I can sum this one up better than I did previously: This is that bluesy, drifter doom. Sludge played under a bridge by a campfire. Whether amassing a wailing wall of distortion with the hypnotic "Middle Pillar" or going full acoustic with "Limitless Nothingness," these guys know how to create a haunting atmosphere. The melodies are soaked in Jack Daniels and caked with dirt, and carry the endless sorrows of a forgotten Hooverville. Grant Netzorg has a gritty, yet soulful, voice reminiscent of Tom Waits, but can also raise it to a violent wail shared by heavier peers like Northless and The Lion's Daughter.. FULL REVIEW
Marc Bourgon (Fuck the Facts, Greber) delivers his experimental solo project, Cancelled, with the help of Kurt Ballou. The result is something like Radiohead meets The Lion's Daughter. Funky, laid back bass grooves and head-bobbing drums make love to aggressive, sludgy vocals while the synthesizer adds an extra layer of pyschodelia. It's a post-metal acid trip that deserves music video treatment by Anthony Francisco Schepperd. FULL REVIEW
I keep saying this, but I'll say it again: for those willing to step over boundaries, black metal is the genre most ripe for innovation. There are some that will argue that BM should remain kvlt and retread familiar ground for all eternity, but I can think of nothing less counterculture and "black metal" than towing such a line. Enter Wreche. Not only is this band willing to abandon convention, they abandon guitar altogether. With only the power of John's classical piano performance and righteous howls backed by Barrett's powerful drumming, Wreche proves that ravishing grimness has little to do with distortion. FULL REVIEW
Ukraine has nabbed some serious spots on these lists, and I continue to be fascinated by the groups that come out of this region. As I mentioned in my album review, this is more than a metal album that features saxophone; this is a saxophone driven, progressive journey that just happens to fall on the metal spectrum. I feel that White Ward didn't even necessarily set out to make a "metal album." They simply write intensely moody compositions and are focused on one thing above all else: creating interesting music that doesn't fit the status quo. FULL REVIEW
Igorrr could have easily topped this list in terms of sheer weirdness, but my top pick one out for being a little more balanced between ratings. In any case, this is a project influenced by equal parts metal, electronic music, and baroque. I stand by my concise description of Aphex Twin + Gogol Bordello + Fantomas. Savage Sinusoid is nightmarish fever dreams of dark electronica, frenetic gypsy folk aesthetic, and schizophrenic, avant-garde song structures and Patton-esque screeches. Accordian, horns, harpsichord, dub-steppy skipping effects...you'd have better luck predicting the next episode of Twin Peaks. FULL REVIEW.
Not For Music may go down as album of the year. That's a hard position to hold for an album that came out so early in the year, but I have yet to hear something so inventive in 2017. Emptiness already blew me away with their unique take on blackened death metal with Nothing But The Whole. I didn't think that they could possibly top that album. Lucky for us all, they most certainly have. Not For Music may not be as overtly heavy as its predecessor, but has stepped up the creativity and songwriting skills to 11. I am fascinated by the oustide-or-the-box thinking that led to this album. Keep up the good work, forget about convention. FULL REVIEW