5 great 2017 metal albums you may have missed
It's officially November, which means the year is soon coming to an end, the album-release schedule is slowing down a bit, and it's a good time to catch up on some music from the year that you haven't heard yet. For that reason, I'm taking a break from Notable Releases this week and using the opportunity to shine a light on five great 2017 metal albums that we haven't had a chance to talk about on BrooklynVegan yet. (I did review one new album out this week, the great new Converge album, and you can read that review HERE.)
Maybe they'll be new to you too, or maybe not. Either way, they're all worth listening to and you can check them all out below.
For even more metal, keep up with Invisible Oranges' Upcoming Metal Releases column each week.
When heavy riffage was first getting introduced in rock, it blended with folk music all the time. Think about Led Zeppelin duetting with Fairport Convention's Sandy Denny on "The Battle of Evermore," or Black Sabbath diving into psych-folk with "Planet Caravan," or most of early/mid-period Jethro Tull. Those sounds separated a bit as doom metal emerged as a subgenre and bands zeroed in on the heavy riffage, but lately there's been a resurgence of bands that mix them. There's SubRosa (whose For This We Fought the Battle of Ages was my fourth favorite metal album of 2016), and there's also Colorado's Dreadnought, whose third album, A Wake In Sacred Waves, was recorded and mixed by SubRosa drummer Andy Patterson. Dreadnought carry the weight of doom metal in their riffs, but their folky side is as delicate as anything from the Laurel Canyon. They have soaring, clean vocals courtesy of Kelly Schilling and Lauren Vieira, and mandolin, flute, piano, and saxophone all factor into their sound. They also separate themselves from similar folk-doom bands by balancing out the clean vocals with Kelly Schilling's raw, harsh screams that are rooted in black metal. In the album description on Dreadnought's Bandcamp, they write, "think Joni Mitchell guesting with Wolves in the Throne Room," and that pretty much nails it. A Wake In Sacred Waves has just four songs, all of which pass the 10-minute mark and one of which passes the 17-song minute mark, and the lengthy songs really give them room to experiment. They rarely fall into a repetitive or predictable routine; instead they find different ways to toy with their folk/black/doom formula on each song, coming out with an album that perks your ears up again and again.
Just when it feels like there are way too many "post-black metal" bands all doing the same thing, along comes a band like Ukraine's White Ward, who take the meaning of "post-" far beyond reverb and tremolo picking. Most notably, they make good use of a sax. I mentioned above that Dreadnought have sax too (2017 = year of sax metal?), but Dreadnought's sax is subtle compared to White Ward. On opening song "Deviant Shapes," after an onslaught of blast beats and harsh screams, White Ward cut the distortion and go into a chilled-out jazzy section where the sax becomes the lead instrument. Jazz and metal have blended before, but it's still not every day you hear a band do it as seamlessly as White Ward do. And they don't just do it that one time; they do it on most songs on Futility Report, and it always works.
Futility Report also reaches far beyond "jazz and black metal." White Ward work in electronics that at various times have elements of glitch, future garage, trip-hop, industrial, and breakbeat, and even their heavy parts aren't just pulling from traditional black metal. Second song "Stillborn Knowledge" has a part where glitchy electronics and clean guitars make way for sax-aided NeurIsis post-metal, and then that part makes way for some metalcore chugs. And compared to the atmospheric vocal approach a lot of their peers take, White Ward's screams are in your face and rooted in hardcore. On paper, it can sound like White Ward are trying to do too much. Plenty of bands try to bring a zillion different styles of music together and the results are often more impressive than they are enjoyable. What's so astounding about White Ward is that they make it sound so incredibly natural. If you don't believe it from reading about it, just one listen to the album should change your mind.
UK black metal band Wode picked up some buzz with last year's self-titled debut, and they quickly followed it with this year's Servants of the Countercosmos. They have some of the post-rocky pretty parts that have been en vogue in recent years, but Servants of the Countercosmos is more interested in channelling the darkness and aggression of traditional black metal than sticking to trends. The vocals are dripping with venom, the riffs are evil (plus there's some real shredding solos in there), and the drumming is bulldozing when it needs to be but not afraid to calm down when appropriate. The music is aided by production that's just a bit more crisp than that of their debut, allowing for each subtle intricacy to shine without ever sounding overpolished. The result of all of this is something that's not entirely unfamiliar sounding, but done with just enough ambition and singularity that it stands out against similar albums by Wode's peers. It's more brutal than the popular crossover black metal acts, but more approachable than the raw, obscure lo-fi acts. I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up appealing to fans of both.
Vol 1: Solar is Earth Electric's first album but they're no rookies. Guitarist Rune "Blasphemer" Eriksen played in Mayhem for 13 years and he's been in Aura Noir since the mid-'90s. He also played in Ava Inferi with singer Carmen Simões, and the two of them formed Earth Electric after Ava Inferi broke up in 2013. Ava Inferi sorta had a doomy, goth metal vibe, but Earth Electric have a foot firmly planted in boozy, leather jacket-wearing hard rock. From the album's opening riff, you could mistake Earth Electric for a Van Halen cover band, and throughout the album they break out a handful of other riffs that recall the rock behemoths of the late '70s and early '80s. That said, they avoid coming off as purely retro by retaining some of the darkness that Ava Inferi and Blasphemer in general were known for, and also because of Carmen's haunting, ethereal wail that would've sounded at home on darkwave-era 4AD. It’s an endlessly thrilling mix, with Blasphemer showing off an arsenal of riffs that plenty of bands would die for, and Carmen really proving to be a standout vocalist of not just metal but underground rock in general. She shows off serious chops on songs like "Set Sail (Towards the Sun)," where she harmonizes with herself in an operatic falsetto, or on the brief closer "Sweet Soul Gathering," which is the kind of psychedelic tribal chant you might expect from a Doors record. After an album that mostly sticks to one approach, that closer hints that Earth Electric are capable of taking their sound in all kinds of directions. Considering this album is called Vol 1, it feels safe to assume that this is only the beginning.
Though we talked about Amenra earlier this year when they went on the awesomely-billed tour with Neurosis and Converge, we never got around to writing about their great new album Mass VI, their first in five years and the followup to Mass V, which landed at #25 on BV's top metal albums of 2012. The Belgian band's sound has basically gone untouched in those five years -- they're still making colossal-sounding sludge with just the right amount of post-rocky atmosphere and a punk edge, aka the perfect band to be touring with Neurosis and also signed to their label -- but they're in top form on Mass VI. They might even be in better form than on their last album. 12-minute opener "Children of the Eye" trudges along at a sleepy pace, aided by screams full of genuine pain and desperation, before evolving into something soft and delicate with gorgeously whispered vocals. That song alone says this album means business and Mass VI never lets up. It sounds great, thanks in part to recording once again with legendary metal producer Billy Anderson, and the band just play and scream their hearts out. (The US version was also mixed by Billy Anderson, but the EU version of the album was mixed by Jack Shirley, who's worked with Amenra guitarist Lennart Bossu's other band Oathbreaker, and Deafheaven.) Like the opener, "Plus Près De Toi" and closer "Diaken" are more fine examples of Amenra's ability to go from the dirtiest, loudest parts to the quietest, most beautiful ones. On "A Solitary Reign," they get both of those sounds going at once, with soft clean vocals and agony-ridden screams delivered in call-and-response style with each other, over a soaring post-rock backdrop. Their sound is so refined on this album, and if the album has gone a little underrated, maybe that's because we take for granted when consistently great bands "just" refine their sound, rather than pulling an unexpected 180. Well, if that's the case, Mass VI is too powerful to be taken for granted.