Friday, December 22, 2017

The Top 10 Black Metal Albums of 2017

Black metal is one of my favorite sub-genres of music, metal or otherwise. But blast beats alone don't do it for me. Like most other forms of intense music my ears ingest I need it to be as heavy sonically as is it metal. Black metal is capable of doing this when it's done right. It's more emotionally expressive and dynamic than death metal. So the bar is held high. I don't want Darkthrone imitators. I don't want something that sounds like it was recorded inside a trash can. The albums that made this list gave me what I do want. Rather than torture myself trying to figure out which album should go where I defaulted to my Last Fm page and ranked them by what I actually listened to the most. I frequently say that I'll see how an album grows on me , well this is proof of that theory. In order to make sense of why one band beats out another I have included brief explanations. So here are my top 10 black metal albums of 2017.

10- Goatmoon-"Stella Polaris"

Capable of creating groove rather than just blast beats making this Finnish band is no stranger to Dissection records. There is a little more of a pagan metal folk swing to the gallop of the next song, but even though it is not as dark as prefer my black metal, it is refreshing they are not relying on momentum alone to numb you into submission. Folk metal melodies frolic over their Northern Euro stomp with an often brisk punk energy that shows this album has yet another color to it.

9-Taake - "Kong Vinter"

 Things are more polished in some ways.The vocals are what you call expect from Hoest who once again is also taking on every thing else in a way that makes this one man band sound very organic like it's four guys jamming in a room, which is a feat in and of itself. Like the other albums released in the past ten years there is some rock n roll influence mixed in with the trappings you now expect of black metal. This album show the kind of change you have come to expect from this project. It's this experimentation that gives this album more momentum than Goatmoon, who can get mired into the blast beats.


 Where these guys set them selves part from other Finnish black metal bands is how the hate sits over the more thoughtful gloom of the chords. Not the first thing I think of when it comes to Finnish black metal, but that is thankfully what these guys are bringing to the table. Now if Horna puts out a new album I'll review it , but I don't need other bands to sound like them. These guys care about the quality of their guitars the only thing that is lo-fi are the vocals which are mixed into the background which is the only Burzum like quality this music has. Aside from the fact it's black metal. They are also able to shift tempos , into riffs more languid and fluid as it flows gracefully over the cold landscape they paint with renewed atmosphere. This fluid nature to the sound is why they beat out Taake.

7-Buioingola-"Il nuovo mare"

This is an interesting project sometimes reminding me of Tombs older albums. They balance out the post rock parts rather than get lost in it. Some times the heaviness is done in a more typical blast beaten way and sometimes  they are handled with a darker creepiness. If you have read this blog before then you know which side I prefer. The vocals are more of a hoarse death metal roar. This band out of Italy does even on first listen get a few things right. The songs are fairly compact, though they could have turned into mammoth drone fests. It works really well and often finds itself entrenched in a very solid atmosphere. While black metal is one of the predominant metal ingredients this has a whole lot more going on.This is why it beat out Kval.

6-Pillorian- Obsidian Arc"

 Vocally it still has the trade mark sneer we heard in Agalloch though he might be screaming out with even more anguish here. I like the fact there is plenty of room to be melodic and they are not pounding you with blast beats. The drummer uses double bass to bring the thunder right from the opener. Its more bombastic drumming that was used in Agalloch. When the blast beats do come they are made more tolerable by the fact that the guitar doesn't feel the need to fall in line behind them.This is however more overtly metal than the bulk of what Agalloch did. This is not to say there is not clean vocals or guitar tones, they are just less frequent that what commonly comes to mind when I think of Agalloch.The polish of this album is why it trumps Buioingola.

5-Ragana- "You Take Nothing"

This two piece out of Oakland has returned with a moodier yet more feral vision of black metal mixed with crust. One thing they have going for them is their songs are very concise and streamlined never feeling like bloated drones. The two longest songs are six and a half minutes.These gals prove they are capable of hitting you with varied colors and tempos. Lyrically I had heard they were angry about the state of politics.This presented with a haze of metaphors rather than going the more punk route of shoving their bitching down your throat. There used to be more of a neo-folk element, that is gone though there are some clean vocals going into the song "Winter's Light". This is interrupted by a blast of black metal that races into the song.The heart put into these songs is why it trumps Pillorian.

4-Eye of Nix - "Black Somnia"

 They have returned, this time with an even thicker atmosphere of darkness coating what they do.The production is not as dense as the previous album creating more room for a melancholy atmosphere to permeate the songs. Their ritualistic creep reminds me of Diamanda Galas in the exotic explosion of chaotic sound.It's a darker, heavier and more confrontational feel. The paint the sky black with the apocalyptic tone of these songs that never fit neatly into one sub-genre. Where their previous album hooked you in on first listen this one grew on me with it's intense density, but continues to earn repeat listens which is why it beats Ragana.

3-Satyricon- "Deep Calleth Upon Deep"

 In the past I had not really taken these guys seriously, but they won me over with how this album throbs with darkness . It has a disdain more than an anger to it. There is a groove and hints of melody. The drums are less produced than I expected.When I get into the winding riffs of This album does have a rawer element than their more recent stuff. The guitar gets adventurous in their use of melody.The drumming begins to really take off in this song. Some of the more angular mathematical riffs clutter up the energy . The drums do work best in some of the more groove oriented sections of dissonance. The hooky riffs are why it beat Eye of Nix.

2-Wolves in the Throne Room- "Thrice Woven" 

 Wolves in the Throne Room is back to a more unabashed embracing of black metal. In doing so this doesn't mean that are being enslaved to blast beats or ignoring some of the things from their more experimental leanings that have made them who they are . Six albums and fourteen years invested in this , they have a clear understanding as to who they want to be in the present moment and continue to invoked the feeling of their surroundings.This album owes more to Ulver and Darkthrone than it does Godspeedyoublackemperor!,I think it's solid triumph in the band returning to old stomping grounds in a way that is not mired in nostalgia for what was 14 years ago while still giving their early fans what they have been wanting. The big sonic scope of this album is why it beat out Satyricon.

1- Tombs- the Grand Annihilation" 

 Any questions regarding Tombs legitimacy as black metal is cleared the fuck up right from the first few notes. The guitar tone peels your faces off and leaves you a bloody stain on the all behind you.  Mike Hill's growl has a Neurosis like rasp to it when they song slows down as the lyrics are articulated. The songs are all respectable lengths rarely venturing over the seven minute mark.This is a more metallic effort than "All Empires Fall". The chords sometimes dip into the shadows , but darkness is not as pervading. If you thought the more post-punk elements were diluting the more metallic properties the front end of the album is up in you as metal as it gets. Then if your tastes fall more on the dark side as mine do than you have to hang on and your get that too. I like both elements so in the end I am happy, it's the weight of the album's darkness that puts this at number one.

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