Is it just me, or are these lists getting harder to write? Last year was tough, too, but before that, I seem to remember having a firm grip on what worked for me and what didn’t over the past twelve months. Now it seems like a crapshoot, with a dozen different worthy albums released for every one that I actually have time to hear. Cannibal Corpse, Converge and Kreator were no-brainers, but who was ready for that Cloak record? Or the way that Oxbow joint was so runaway awesome? Then there’s Dutch Pearce, Shane Mehling and Jeff Treppel muddying up the margins with equally killer bands working below even the underground’s radar… It feels like the heavy music scene is uncannily healthy in 2017, so we’ve cleared a little space here to bring you the five records that tied for #41 on our Top 40 Albums of 2017.
#41. Black Anvil – As Was (Relapse)
You know you should have been listening to this for the last fifty weeks, right? NYC’s Black Anvil released their fourth extraordinary collection of coarse, corrosive carols just two weeks into 2017, and the album really should have ruled your speakers for just about every day between then and now. It’s been about ten years since the band was confused/dismissed for a hardcore offshoot, and they’re only getting better. As Was is anthemic in ways that most black metal bands can’t imagine. It’s unabashedly huge, the heavy music equivalent of that cartoon snowball that picks up speed and mass along the way. As Was finds melody and massive riffage and stuffs it all into the band’s growing musical language. If you didn’t get on this record in 2017, that’s cool: 2018 is a great time to get hooked.
#41. Vallenfyre – Fear Those Who Fear Him (Century Media)
When death/doom royalty gather to play cathartic, emotionally brazen/bracing death metal, we take note. Gregor Mackintosh’s crushing configuration of Vallenfyre lent their fire to the Decibel Magazine Tour fourth iteration in 2015, on the strength of their two full-lengths, A Fragile King and Splinters, and the band only ratcheted up their relevance with this summer’s fearsome new entry. Old school sounds collide with new artistic intent, creating a roiling broth of putrid possibilities. Fear those who don’t listen to this; they shall inherit none of this scorched earth.
#41. Forgotten Tomb – We Owe You Nothing (Agonia)
If sludgy black metal crossed with groove was a thing, Forgotten Tomb’s ninth record would be that thing. Closing their third trilogy, Forgotten Tomb crawl across these six songs like some kind of flayed horror movie monstrosity with six-and-a-half limbs, several mouths and no (discernible) eyes. We Owe You Nothing is the kind of album that leaves you wondering why you don’t hate yourself more, then rededicating yourself to the pursuit of self-hatred with more serious purpose. Very little music drips with this much rancid gore and but still feels this good.
#41. Grave Pleasures – Motherblood (Century Media)
Several years ago, Finland’s Beastmilk hit a post-punk sweet spot and found a rabidly appreciative audience, just before splitting and disappointing that same audience. Grave Pleasures rose quickly from the ashes with Dreamcrash and hit an admirable stride with this year’s Motherblood. It’s the kind of music that can take dark sounds far beyond the scope of ear-searing death or black metal, focused mainly on clean melodies and clever lyrics and less on abject destruction. It’s a tantalizing brew. Drink deep.
#41. Suffering Hour – In Passing Ascension (Blood Harvest)
Suffering Hour sound nothing like Meatloaf or his baroquely odd Bat Out of Hell II, but I keep hearing Jim Steinman’s horrified father figure from that album’s “Wasted Youth”: “Stop! Wait a minute! Stop it, boy! What do you think you’re doing? That’s no way to treat an expensive musical instrument!” Suffering Hour twist death metal into convoluted new shapes that disdain Euclidean geometry and any scales ever played by humans. It’s evil guitar music for the cruelest alien overlords you’ve ever imagined. In Passing Ascension is a powerful document of terror. The whole record seems to echo the rebuttal to dads everywhere: “Goddamn it, Daddy! You know I love you. But you’ve got a helluva lot to learn about ROCK. AND. ROLL!”