Best of 2017: 20-16

20. SUCCUMB, self-titled (The Flenser): I can’t think of many records that were this hold-you-at-arm’s-length when it comes to its appeal to listeners, even those who swim in death metal’s more dangerous pools. This band’s debut record, a seven-track, 33-minute affair, could just about tear all the hair off your arms and leave you with bruising and rashes due to its abrasiveness. The album is chock full of violence, blood, perversity, and other dark shadows, and taking on the music is akin to facing off with a rabid animal whose only intent is to attack to survive. This band is the frothing mouth waiting to inject you with disease.

One of Succumb’s main factors is their intense vocalist Cheri Musrasrik, whose disarming delivery and blunt assault is enough to make you sit up and take notice. She takes these warped, destructive death metal puzzles and wails, cries, and shrieks over them, making you worry about her safety and sanity. “Destroyer II” is a full-throttle attack with a tempo that devastates and creates smoke so thick, you’ll choke. “Bedchambers” has blunt force and voices spilling into tornadic winds. The madness is filled with aggravation and perversity, driven hard by Musrasnik’s suffering. Closer “The Flood” starts with pianos trickling before a hole is torn into the body of the song. Bloody growls and pained yells leave their final blistering, while the song comes to a monstrous climax. This is frightening stuff, and it’s some of the most inventive death metal of the year. (May 5)

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

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

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

19. DREADNOUGHT, “A Wake in Sacred Waves” (Sailor): There are plenty of different ways to play heavy metal, despite what some of the more rigid listeners would have you think. Colorado’s Dreadnought long ago threw convention to the wind, adding to their fury notes of jazz, folk, and indie rock, making something that’s high drama befitting larger rooms. Yeah, there’s a definite blackness to what they do, and they can get nasty and violent when the need arises. But on “A Wake in Sacred Waves,” they’re more concerned with moving your spirit than tearing at your flesh. And they do an awfully great job at making big adventures.

The band—Kelly Schilling (clean and harsh vocals, guitar, flute), Lauren Vieira (keys, clean vocals), Jordan Clancy (drums, saxophone), and Kevin Handlon (bass, mandolin, lyrics)—pours so many different sounds and curves into these songs, that taking just one listen won’t allow you to absorb it all. Most of the tracks are epic in length, but to pay off that attention they demand, you’re rewarded with songs that go anywhere and everywhere, landing somewhere among woods inhabited by Wolves in the Throne Room and Kate Bush. Jethro Tull are nearby neighbors. On this album, the band imagines the life cycle of a sea monster that rises to dominant status only to fade as life disappears forever. They tell that story over 17:22 opener “Vacant Sea”; “Within Chanting Waters” that’s gnarly and New Age; and “A Drifting Reign” that ruptures like a rain storm, as keys and a progressive push move forward. The singing floats while the music brims with emotion, and a period of lush vocals heads right into a caterwaul that gushes with power. (Oct. 6)

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

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

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

18. COUCH SLUT, “Contempt” (Gilead Media): Have you ever heard a record that makes you feel dirty and impure inside, music that you’re not sure is healthy to consume, but you do anyway? That’s what you get with NYC noise scrapers Couch Slut, and on their second record “Contempt,” they take things even further and smoosh your face deep into their pile of filth. Funny enough, you’ll enjoy the shit out of it, because the band also is a pretty goddamn rousing group, with singer Megan Osztrosits out front, taking you through bouts of psychosis, anger, violence, and trauma. You can’t ignore her, and if you try, she’ll blast you into submission.

“Funeral Dyke,” the song that greets you at the door, has the band bulldozing over you, and Osztrosits jabs, “You’re getting excited!” Sax barrels in and blasts over the chaos, but then things get oddly melodic and palpable for anyone cowering in fear. It’s a track that, if you’re not frightened away, then you’re in for the panic-inducing ride of your life. The rest of the band— guitarist Kevin Wunderlich, bassist Kevin Hall, drummer Theo Nobel—adds more muscle to the proceedings, and they and Osztrosits pummel you on cuts such as “Penalty Scar” that has guitars stabbing and a catchy tempo heading off, though Osztrosits’ stalking voice pulls you back into the danger zone; noise-piercing “Snakes in the Grass”; and dark closer “Won’t Come,” one of the band’s most painful and vulnerable songs, showing you a different side to this group’s psyche. (July 28)

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

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

For more on the label, go here: http://www.gileadmedia.net/

17. SARCASM, “Within the Sphere of Ethereal Minds” (Dark Descent): It’s not like Swedish death metal needed another muscular representative to remind people of the land’s might when it comes to unleashing furious, punishing music. Yet, Sarcasm answered the bell anyway with their second album (and second within two years even though “Burial Dimensions” sat on the shelf for years) “Within the Sphere of Ethereal Minds.” While the band’s roots date back to 1990, they didn’t unleash their first record until last year, and this new one is even more thunderous, a true throwback to eras past, and a really exciting, devastating collection of songs. I’ve had this music for nearly a year now, and this slim, trim, eight-track, nearly 36-minute record never disappoints.

Punishing riffs and massive screams and growls are the vital elements, and the way the band plays the music has an exuberance usually reserved for those younger than they are. But they’re here to smash you, and they do that often on cuts including “From the Crimson Fog They Emerged” that sounds like an adventure from its title, as speedy mauling and a raspy chorus lead the way; “In the Grip of Awakening Times” that has riffs awakening and meeting up with glorious melodies, giving it a tasty vintage feel that glimmers. “A Black Veil for Earth,” the longest track at 8:37, a moodier, darker cut that has a slow-driving pace that brings the band closer to smothering doom than death; and closer “The Drowning Light at the Edge of Dawn” that’s a wild, punchy fury that leaves you with bruising all over. It took them a while to get here, but now that they are, Sarcasm can take their rightful place among Swedish death’s finest. (April 28)

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

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

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

16. CAVERNLIGHT, “As We Cup Our Hands and Drink From the Stream of Our Ache” (Gilead Media): Pain and suffering are not just physical. They are mental as well, and sometimes those are the wounds that are the hardest to heal. Problem is, people still have a hard time realizing they’re hurt, and there are people in society who would just assume write them off for being weak. It’s infuriating, especially as I suffer from some of the very things Cavernlight explore on their massive debut full-length album, one that has stuck with me and gnawed away at my mind ever since it arrived earlier this year. This isn’t just music that conveys darkness. It literally hurts as it spills from the speaker, and yes, I’m using that word right. Every drop hurts. Every bit scars. And you know that the people behind this band have lived through some harrowing experiences they’re lucky to have survived. This isn’t feel-good stuff.

The band—Scott Zuwadzhi (vocals, guitars, noise), Patrick Crawford (guitars), Brandon Pleshek (bass, synth) and Adam Bartlett (drums, vocals)—has existed since 2006, but only recently did their vision start coming through with their music. This five-track, 36-minute record opens with “Lay Your Woes Upon the Ground and Know That the End Will Swallow You” that has noise charging and a slightly gothic feel before it mauls viciously, and the vocals lay waste. “Constructing a Spire to Pierce and Poison the Infinite” has cold guitars, a rumbling rhythm section, and sheets of hurt delivered by the monstrous growls; “To Wallow in the Filth That Dwells Where Despair Is Born” has some brighter spots, but they’re soon marred by horrible darkness and bleeding doom that is squeezed from the guts; and closer “A Shell of One’s Former Self” features singer Sarah Green, FALSE vocalist Rachel, and Mike Paparo of Bastard Sapling and Inter Arma who add their voices to this final salvo that should leave you a heaving mess. This is doom that remembers that depression and despair are as much a part of the sub-genre’s DNA as riffs. (June 16)

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

To buy the album, go here: gileadmedia.bandcamp.com

For more on the label, go here: http://www.gileadmedia.net/

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