Alex’s Top 10 of 2017 Dec28


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Alex’s Top 10 of 2017

2017 was a so-so year for metal but an epic one for me.

Toward the beginning of this year, my wife gave birth to our first child, a baby boy. Consequently, Metal-Fi came to a screeching halt as I learned to change diapers in the wee hours of the morning, discovered the power of a good swaddle, and spent nights on end just checking to make sure he was still breathing. I also never thought hearing the word “Dada” could make a grown man cry – it can. My son and I are like two peas in a pod exploring the world together; him for the first time and me doing it all over again but acting as a co-pilot now. It is a strange yet wondrous feeling.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank my partner in crime for all of his hard work as Metal-Fi would not exist without him. I’d also like to throw my yearly shout out to the AMG staff for allowing Metal-Fi to soil the best metal review blog in the business from time to time [Pitchfork? -Dave Shut it! -Alex]. They are a generous and extremely intelligent bunch, and I’ve learned a lot from reading all of their reviews and interacting with them over the years. Finally, I’d like to thank all of our dedicated readers for making this place their home as well. You guys are clearly all psychopaths but lovable ones nevertheless. So thank you for making this neck of the Ether a great place to discuss metal and fidelity.

But now back to the metal at hand: Last year, I literally spent a week finalizing my year-end list since there were so many outstanding titles to choose from. This year, not so much. I had about dozen or so outliers and trimming them down to just ten turned out to be a very straightforward process. Despite all that, I do hope like all good lists, mine offers a few new gems that make it to your collection. Let us begin.

So what to you get when you combine stellar production and some of the catchiest melodeath of the year, Aether Realm’s Tarot of course. From its spellbinding concept (literally) to its perfectly executed Wintersun meets Ensiferum formula with a dash of whimsicality thrown in for good measure, Tarot embodies everything a melodeath record should. Yet for me what really sets this record apart is its production, which is simply put, fan-fucking-tastic, and makes it one of the best sounding metal records of the year to boot. If you really want to hear what high dynamic range coupled with a sensational mix brings to the table, listen to Tarot.

You know what makes or breaks tech death? Melody. If you listen to every great tech death metal band out there, the common thread between them is that they all use their combined technical acumen to demonstrate their firm grasp of melody. A band may accomplish it through the use of odd time signatures or a barrage of arpeggios, but without melody a tech death metal record devolves into at best, a short lived novelty, or at worse, an incoherent mess. Luckily, Archspire’s Relentless Mutation doesn’t fall into this trap as their seven song shock and awe campaign comes with numerous melodic olive branches to hold onto, while still maintaining an extremely high modicum of tech death-ery. If you’re already a tech death metal fiend, you already own this record. But if not, and you’re looking to get your ear’s wet, Archspire’s Relentless Mutation is a perfect place to start.

Desolate Shrine’s Deliverance from the Godless Void is the type of death metal that was designed to collapse under its own weight, taking you and probably everyone else in your general proximity along with it. And none of this could be accomplished if it weren’t for that wonderful Dan Lowndes master, clocking in at a healthy DR10. Like Tarot, Deliverance demonstrates that you can have ear busting brutality without giving up a single iota of fidelity, making it clearly one of the best metal records of the year.

Ungfell’s Tôtbringære is really the first black metal release of 2017 that grabbed my attention and has never let go since. It’s a mix of traditional black metal coupled with some very folksy instrumentation. But instead of sounding epic, it offers up a more medieval sound, as if it was the soundtrack of some ancient, horrific fairy tale of yore you tell children to scare the bejesus out of them. Regardless, the whole journey is spellbinding and an absolute must buy for any black metal connoisseur.

Speaking of folksy black metal, but now of the epic variety, Nokturnal Mortum’s Verity is as good as it gets from this subgenre. What’s even more impressive is the band took effectively an eight year hiatus before releasing this one, coming off their magnum opus, 2009’s The Voice of Steel. And between us girls, I’ve actually grown to appreciate Verity over Steel as I feel it weaves an aural tapestry that contains more nuance and harmonic complexity compared to its predecessor [I don’t think Steel would really argue with you. I mean the man does not “do” nuance. -Dave]. Regardless, Verity is yet another fine addition to their back catalog, and proves once again why Nokturnal Mortum still remain one of the greatest black metal acts of all-time. There, I said it.

I thought it would be a Cold Lake in Hell™ before I would put an instrumental record on my year-end list, but here we are. In many respects, Ex Eye’s self-titled debut does have a vocalist, and it’s a god damn saxophone. In all seriousness, experimental saxophonist Colin Stetson’s performance on this record is just downright mesmerizing, as is Greg Fox’s stick work too. Ex Eye’s fusion of jazz and metal is not only unique, but so well integrated that I believe their sound transcends both genres. Coupled all that with a dynamic DR8 production job, and you have a keeper.

Ingurgitating Oblivion’s Vision Wallows In Symphony Of Light is one of those records that you either get or you don’t. Put simply, it is this year’s Colored Sands. The album consists of just four tracks, with the second one clocking at just a hair over twenty-minutes, and offers up a barrage of sonic dissonance and rhythmic tomfoolery while still remaining highly accessible. I find IO’s music bizarrely addictive – almost like a strange brain teaser whose answer is on the tip of your tongue but you just can’t get it out. It will take you dozens of walkthroughs before both your mind and body make piece with this record – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Say Malokarpatan’s Nordkarpatenland three times fast. Great, you just named the hands down best black metal release of the year. And I mean hands fucking down. Think of Malokarpatan as a folksy Taake but more creative and less dedicated to staying trve. The ten tracks contained within are a very ambition undertaking, combining mostly black metal riffs with a dash of synth, doom, symphonic orchestration, and even straight up rock if we are being honest here. Now couple all that with a professionally done DR10 master to boot. Yeah, whoever mixed and mastered this knew exactly what they were doing, and used less limiting in order to bring out the expressiveness of all the instrumentation contained within. Oh, and DAT COVER! I mean, yeah, DAT COVER!

There has been so much said about this record that I feel there isn’t much for me to really add. Exuvia will no doubt go down as Alexander von Meilenwald’s masterwork, and it is the record I knew he could write and one I thought he was always capable of after each successive Beverast release. If you listen carefully, there are elements of almost every single Beverast album embedded in each track, but now all seamlessly integrated into the whole. And like all of Meilenwald’s music, there is something primeval to it as Exuvia’s gorgeous cover art clearly indicates. Warning: this one is a slow burner, unfolding itself through this sorta quasi-blackened funeral doom envelope, and it is not for everyone. But I for one love this record and believe many of you will too.

I would be lying to you and worse, myself, if I did not put Power Trip’s Nightmare Logic as my album of the year. This record is a downright thrasherpiece, and it has been on heavy rotation ever since it was released (and at this rate I suspect will continue to be so for many years to come). To be honest with you, this album did not click for me the first time I listened to it, and that’s because of its barely serviceable production job. However, once your ears adjust, this album just slays in so many ways. I would not change a single track, a single note, where each track is placed nor any of their lengths. It is a perfectly conceived thrash record through and through and does what all great thrash records do: you get in, it knocks your fucking socks off, and then gets out before you know what just hit you. That is Nightmare Logic in a nutshell and without a doubt my album of the year.