Best of 2017: 30-21

30. SONS OF CROM, “The Black Tower” (Bindrune Recordings/Nordvis Produktion): Finnish duo Sons of Crom have that rare ability to deliver heavy shit but also get your blood boiling for an adventure. On their second record “The Black Tower,” these guys channel something between Bathory and Iron Maiden as they gallop into you on this eight-track, 43-minute bruiser that follows up 2014’s “Riddle of Steel. Here, vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Janne Posti and drummer/vocalist Iiro Sarkki light the fires early and keep the intensity rushing through “In Fire Reborn,” a track that reeks of Viking metal at its finest, reminding a bit of Enslaved; “Fall of Pandemonium” that mixes classic metal riffs with powerful singing; “Legacy,” a dark, folk-fed acoustic-led ballad that scrapes at past wounds; and “Black Wings Up High” that is a soaring triumph. This is so much fun. (Aug. 18)

For more on the band, go here: https://sonsofcrom.com/

To buy the album, go here: http://bindrunerecordings.com/

Or here: https://www.nordvis.com/sons-of-crom-a-21

For more on the label, go here: https://shop.bindrunerecordings.com/

And here: https://www.nordvis.com/

29. FALLS OF RAUROS, “Vigilance Perennial” (Bindrune Recordings/Nordvis Produktion): Falls of Rauros have an excellent formula going with their rustic black metal, obviously a product of their Maine surroundings. But they decided not to take it easy and deliver something expected and instead headed toward prog terrain and spacey brilliance. Anyone who has been along for the ride on the band’s previous three records certainly were not left out in the cold on “Vigilance Perennial.” Instead, they got an expanded view of the band’s sound and a promise that the path would continue to take twists and turns down the path into the future. “White Granite” hints at serenity, before the track rips open, and feral howls punish, pouring atmosphere into their blaze; “Arrow and Kiln” is the longest track at 12:03, and it revels is synth fog, damaged growls, and great guitar work; while closer “Impermanence Streak Through Marble” pulls it all together, bringing the record to a rousing, soul-lifting conclusion. (March 31)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/fallsofraurosOfficial/

To buy the album, go here: https://shop.bindrunerecordings.com/

Or here: https://www.nordvis.com/new_products

For more on the label, go here: http://bindrunerecordings.com/

And here: https://www.nordvis.com/

28. KLABAUTAMANN, “Smaragd” (Zeitgeister Music): This was a really good year for weird music, and German black metal progressives Klabautamann upped the ante a million times over with their bizarre fourth record “Smaragd.” At first, I didn’t know what to think of this record, and I (foolishly) kept wondering if they hadn’t fallen victim to their own ambitions. But, no! This record is so immersive and addictive, and each listen unraveled the onion even more and showed a band totally disinterested in convention. “Into Depression” is the opener and sinks its teeth into similar territory that early Enslaved mined, showing you there’s brutality to their style. Then something like “In My Shadow” drops, and it shows sharp, bloody teeth at one moment and, in an instant, it turns into a 1960s-style vocal pop song where melody and harmony push the psychosis. You won’t hear another moment in metal like it, and that’s what makes this band such a treasure. (June 6)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Klabautamann/

To buy the album, go here: https://klabautamann.bandcamp.com/album/smaragd

For more on the label, go here: http://www.zeitgeistermusic.com/

27. TCHORNOBOG, self-titled (Fallen Empire/I, Voidhanger): Wow, what a fucked-up album. You want a black metal record with no boundaries and artistic danger at every turn, and you get that with the first Tchornobog album. The band, the creation of Markov Soroka, who has visited us in the past with other vessels such as Aureole and Slow, channels a black Slavic deity of the same name (there are 10 million spellings for it) by examining the grossness and vile existence of this very, uh, thing? Like, OK, opener “I. The Vomiting Tchornobog (Slithering Gods of Cognitive Dissonance)” runs 20 minutes where your brain and senses are beaten to shit, and the whole thing ends with an extended period of the tchornobog puking out its vile guts. “II. Hallucinatory Black Breath of Possession (Mountain-Eye Amalgamation)” starts with Soroka wailing, “Tchornobog of 6,000 tongues! Is there a limp vein into which you have not vomited?” Yeah, it goes on and on, and after 64 minutes, your body has been beaten to a pulp by a force you cannot possibly understand. (July 21)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Tchornobog/

To buy the album, go here: http://i-voidhanger.com/shop/

Or here (vinyl, due in September): https://markovsoroka.bandcamp.com/album/tchornobog

For more on the label, go here: http://i-voidhanger.com/

And here: http://www.fallenempirerecords.com/

26. VACIVUS, “Temple of the Abyss” (Profound Lore): Vacivus means void, the epitome of nothing, the absolute absence of existence. This UK death metal band certainly makes the case for a quick, painless demise and retreat into a plane of no existence on their awesome second record “Temple of the Abyss.” So many bands each year get lathered and lubed by the online media, but I feel like everyone missed the ball on this band that can remind you of their countrymates Cruciamentum and Grave Miasma. This record is a total punisher, an album that, when death metal fans whine that they don’t get anything pure or true anymore, should shut up and devour this as a whole. This eight-track, 39-minute effort is a huge warning call to the entire metal underground that this band is coming for them, and for the people who didn’t pay proper attention, one day you’re going to feel really dumb that you missed out. (Sept. 22)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/vacivus/

To buy the album, go here: https://profoundlorerecords.merchtable.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/

25. RAGANA, “You Take Nothing” (self-released): This has been a gigantic year for progressive social issues in the United States, and with a walking, breathing, lying, shitting oppressor of women in the goddamn White House, never has it been more important to tackle women’s right and remind people that, in a lot of ways, we’re still in the dark ages. Oakland duo Ragana are fucking tired of having to fight this fight, and their amazing “You Take Nothing” isn’t just an iron fist to the establishment, it’s an awesome record that should ignite the fires within your own heart that wants to see balance for all. Sorry if that’s not black metal enough for you. Start with opener “Spare No Man” and its vast, sorrowful start that shifts into a sludgy, doomy bruiser, and you know shit is on. That continues on “Winter’s Light” that feels indie folk in spots vocally and continues that eerie darkness to the end. “Destroyer” is aptly named because it decimates agendas, while the closing title cut is a mauler that, while it has its delicate moments, blisters you and leaves you wanting more. More bands like Ragana are what we need to keep up the fight as long as it takes. (April 14)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/raganaband/

To buy the album, go here: https://ragana.bandcamp.com/

24. PALLBEARER, “Heartless” (Profound Lore): How much longer can Pallbearer be contained? Not that they’re forcibly being held to a smaller, more underground domain. Nuclear Blast does hold their rights overseas. But this band is so good, so transcendent that we really haven’t seen anything like them in a while. They also hold true the original tenets of metal that keep close melody, grandiosity, and humanity and pay it off on their excellent third record “Heartless.” I feel like a dipshit scoring this where I have them just because this album is so good. But it’s been a weird year for music, and this spot still is a solid entry for a band that’s becoming one of the most important in metal. See, people get soured by success, and Pallbearer have faced some of that, but their work is pure and honest, and it’s just getting better. This isn’t a Mastodon situation where they’re become a different entity altogether. Pallbearer operate on the same plane, but they’ve managed to make their machine more powerful over time. (March 24)

For more on the band, go here: http://pallbearerdoom.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://profoundlorerecords.merchtable.com

For more on the label, go here: https://www.profoundlorerecords.com/

23. POWER TRIP, “Nightmare Logic” (Southern Lord): I grew up with thrash metal. I loved Metallica, but my favorite bands in my teen years were Testament and Anthrax. Power Trip definitely stamp their ticket with the more punk-fueled side of the genre, and their awesome second effort “Nightmare Logic” is one that took some time to settle into the blood but, once it did, it never left. Power Trip’s profile is growing larger as they go, and while they convert more people with their volatile live show, their music just grows more and more infectious. The record also is a political force, another element that ensconces them nicely in the thrash world (if you lean right, sorry, bruv). “Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Axe)” is a timeless metal song, one of the best of the year, and one we will keep hearing for years to come. If they rise above the underground, it’s because of this track. But we also have “Soul Sacrifice,” “Waiting Around to Die,” and “If Not Us Then Who” that galvanize their audience and keep the fight moving forward. (Feb. 24)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/powertripTX

To buy the album, go here: http://www.southernlord.com/store

For more on the label, go here: http://www.southernlord.com/

22. AMENRA, “Mass VI” (Neurot Recordings): Our lives are marred with tragedy, so much so that it’s a wonder we find ways to go on. The members of Amenra were pounded with bad fortune in the time leading up to their sixth record “Mass VI” that the amazing content contained within sometimes hurts to experience. Death is emblazoned on the cover, and the band digs deep inside their bruised guts as they spread atmospheric doom punishment across “Children of the Eye” that lets loose spacey tragedy and doom pain; “Plus Pres de Toi,” that goes a healthy 8:40 and rushes with melody and anguish, as cries scrape flesh off the face, and the tempo feels volcanic. While “A Solitary Reign” has prog-folk-style riffs that get us started as Colin H. van Eeckhout calls, “I see distance in your eyes,” a line he threads through the entire song. This is an emotional, volatile experience. (Oct. 20)

For more on the band, go here: http://www.churchofra.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://neurotrecordings.merchtable.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.neurotrecordings.com/

21. FELLWARDEN, “Oathbearer” (June 16): It’s sometimes hard to think about the country you live in and all the great things about it. I’ve had a really hard time embracing America the past few years considering what’s been going on politically, but that’s not the only part about where I live. Fellwarden, the project helmed by Fen members The Watcher (vocals, all stringed instruments, keys) and Havenless (drums) pays homage to their northern England home. Sure, there’s bloodshed and turmoil contain within, but there also is pride and love for their soil they defend. This six-track, nearly 50-minute record is chock full of emotion, melody, and triumph as they plow through “Guardian Unbound,” the 8:22 opener that starts lush and even a little gothic before the track bursts to life; “In Death, Valiant” that begins in an acoustic bed, as clean singing pierces the calm, before storming harder, as folk-laden strings head into the mix, and savagery and drama splatter over the conclusion; and closer Sorrowborn,” the longest cut at 12:44, that bursts open with vocals scraping along and synth creating more steam. Then, the Watcher sorrowfully calls, “I am the last of my line.” It’s sobering and magnificent. (Eisenwald)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/fellwarden/

To buy the album, go here: https://store.eisenton.de/en/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.eisenton.de/

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