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Metal Stuff’s 2017 Review: The Year in Metal

The Good

It was a good year for metal releases.

I think the metal community got spoiled after last year’s “metal bubble” and the Thrash revival. Compared to the incredible amount of good music that got dumped on us anything is going to seem lackluster, but 2017 was a good fucking year for heavy music (once you accept that 2016 was a happy fluke).

Metal Stuff Top 15 albums of 2017

15) Suffer in Paradise – Ephemere

Suffer in Paradise - Ephemere

Quality Funeral Doom from Russia, this album was my “October surprise” for 2017. The synth is a little weird at first, but the contrast lends to the overall atmosphere of the album.

 

14) Loss – Horizonless

Loss - Horizonless

I actually didn’t like this album the first time I listened to it. Glad I gave it another chance – guess it’s more of a grower than a shower. Not necessarily a bad thing, albums like that tend to stand the test of time.

 

13) Nortt – Endeligt

Nortt - Endeligt

Holy fuck. This solo Funeral Doom project from Denmark never disappoints. His last album (Galgenfrist) was released 10 years ago, and the decade long wait for the new album was more than worth it. Dark, gloomy, cold, and most importantly heavy as fuck.

 

12) Belphegor – Totenritual

Belphegor = Totenritual

I’ve been stoked for this album since Belphegor released the video for “Totenkult – Exegesis of Deterioration” 2 years ago. Another album that was well worth the wait.

 

 

11) Akercocke – Renaissance in Extremis

Akercocke - Renaissance in Extremis

A lot of people didn’t like the clean vocals on the album. I’ll admit, Jason isn’t getting any younger – and time has taken a bit of a toll on his vocal chords. But as a whole, that doesn’t really take away from the album for me. The band is as sharp as they’ve ever been, and while the cleans in some sections seem a bit strained, I almost wonder if that’s intentional – because if you listen to other tracks (like the one below), the cleans are pretty fucking good. I dunno, judge for yourself.

 

10) Tie (Cannibal Corpse – Red Before Black and Morbid Angel – Kingdoms Disdained)

I couldn’t choose, both bands released some quality material this year (in both cases, also significantly better than the previous release). Straightforward, in your face death metal with no bells or whistles.

 

9) Kreator – Gods of Violence

Kreator_-_Gods_of_Violence

Right on the tail end of the Thrash resurgence, Kreator dropped an excellentalbum that (like most albums released in the first half of the year) seems to have been left out of people’s top albums of the year. Why/How is beyond me, this album is quintessential thrash.

8) Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper

Bell Witch - Mirror Reaper

Probably the Funeral Doom release that received the most hype this year (for good fucking reason), the album has lived up to and surpassed any expectations I had. Mirror Reaper seemed to dance on that “invisible line” in the doom metal spectrum between Funeral Doom and Drone (not a bad thing)

 

7) Eluveitie – Evocation II

Eluveitie-Evocation-II-Pantheon

I know, I know. It’s a fucking acoustic album on a top metal albums of the year list. Since recruiting like 20 new members, it’s cool to see these guys bouncing back stronger than ever.

The band already has a full-on folk metal album in the works, and I’m as excited as a pig in shit. If the entire album holds up to the teaser single below, we’re in for a treat next year.

 

6) Mesmur – S

Mesmur-S

These guys need to cough up some merchandise so I can throw more money at them. This was another album that caught me completely off guard this year. Pure sonic embodiment of despair.

 

5) Funeris – Dismal Shapes

Funeris - Dismal Shapes

Argentinian Funeral Doom mastermind Alejandro Sabransky delivers another masterpiece. This guy just writes riffs that satisfy my addiction to heavy music. Punishingly heavy – this really is an album you need to lay down, turn off the lights, and let wash over you.

 

4) Frowning – Extinct

frowning - extinct

The sophomore release from German solo Funeral Doom act Frowning was one of the two albums I was most excited to hear this year. I’ll tell you something, Val doesn’t disappoint. This is pure Funeral Doom that doesn’t sacrifice the residual aggression and heaviness of Death Doom. I really can’t say enough good about this album, or this artist. This is what Funeral Doom is supposed to sound like.

 

3) Temple of Void – Lords of Death

Temple of Void - Lords of Death

This was the third album that caught me completely off guard and blew me out of the water this year. Dark, crushing riffs – if a “holy shit” level of heavy is what you’re looking for then look no further.

 

2) Dying Fetus – Wrong One to Fuck With

DF - Wrong one

This is another album that got a lot of beaming reviews, but failed to make most people’s end of year lists. Odd, considering the hype leading up to the album – and how well the band delivered.

1) Unleash the Archers – Apex

UTA - Apex

Favorite album of the year hands down. Hands fucking down. There’s literally nothing I can say about this album that hasn’t already been said. The musicianship is solid, and they’ve managed to capture that “American Metal” production delivering a crystal clear sonic assault directly to your ears. Brittney Slayes vocal chords are simply amazing, I’m a rather big fan of the layered harmonies on a lot of the songs. Even the concept of the album (yes, I’m a sucker for concept albums) is fucking awesome – a stone giant sleeping in a mountain is summoned by an evil sorceress to gather her sons from around the world so she can sacrifice them and gain immortality – told from the viewpoint of the stone giant. Catchy and fun while undeniably heavy and metallic, this is an album you shouldn’t miss.

Honorable Mentions:

Alestorm – No Grave but the Sea, Pallbearer – Heartless, Septicflesh – Codex Omega, Obituary – Self Titled, Myrkur – Mareridt, Electric Wizard – Wizard Bloody Wizard, Skyclad – Forward into the Past, Decapitated – Anticult, Suffocation – …of the Dark Light, Code Orange – Forever, Æther Realm – Tarot

The Year of OSDM

As predicted last year, metal moved forward from a year of thrash to a year of old-school death metal. It’s not some ground breaking revelation, that’s the order extreme metal evolved in organically.

Once you accept the fact that everything is cyclical, it makes perfect sense that the next phase of metal releases would include the original death metal pioneers.

I’d say releases by Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, Obituary, Decapitated, Six Feet Under, Suffocation, and Autopsy certainly support my ongoing theory that extreme metal movements will mirror the original evolution of the sub-genres.

At this point I would like to predict a major swath of Black Metal releases next year. Dark Fortress, Isahn, Immortal, Shining, Watain, Dimmu Borgir, and Nachmystium all have material in the studio and are all expected to release albums next year – so we’ll see.

Other cool shit

There’s a new fucking Demons and Wizards album coming out next year. New Eluveitie as well.

Be excited.

Be very excited.

I don’t think there was a single bad Funeral Doom release this year. Obviously, the big story here was Bell Witch’s new album – I think there was better FD released this year, but I gotta hand it to these guys – Mirror Reaper was an excellent fucking album.

 

The Mediocre

There were bands that, by all rights, should have released some groundbreaking fucking material that just decided to coast this year.

Arch Enemy released “War Eternal Part II”, but decided to call it “Will to Power”. For fucks sake, they’ve got Jeff Loomis and this is the best thing they could come up with? Oh, and that thing when Amott said there’d never be clean vocals on an Arch Enemy album? Yeah, that’s gone. Goddamn it. I love every fucking member of this band, which is why I’m probably a little over critical, I just hate to see a super group of this magnitude cashing out so soon.

Empire of Sand by Mastodon was another one that really bugged me. “Show Yourself” was utter garbage.

Also disappointingly mediocre – TBDM, Dragonforce, GWAR, and Trivium.

 

The Bad, the Really Bad, and the Ugly

Shit went down when #rapegate hit heavy metal. Decapitated, Suicide Silence, Inanimate Existence, Twiggy (Marilyn Manson’s guitarist), Anthrax’s old guitarist Dan Spitz, Shining. I’m sure there was more. Oh yeah, Gene Simmons – that one caught me totally off guard.

Deaths:

  • 1/28 – Geoff Nicholls (Black Sabbath)
  • 2/13 – Trish Doan (Kittie)
  • 4/5 – Paul O’Neill (Trans-Siberian Orchestra)
  • 5/17 – Chris Cornell (Soundgarden)
  • 7/14 – David Zablidowsky (Trans-Siberian Orchestra)
  • 7/20 – Chester Bennington (Linkin Logs Park)
  • 9/22 – Eric Eycke (Corrosion of Conformity)
  • 10/21 – Martin Eric Ain (Celtic Frost)
  • 10/22 – Daisy Berkowitz (Marilyn Manson)
  • 11/1 – Scott Wily (Vital Remains)
  • 11/7 – Whitey Glan (Alice Cooper)
  • 11/9 – Chuck Mosley (Faith No More)
  • 12/13 – Warrel fucking Dane (Sanctuary, Nevermore)

 

Black Sabbath disbanded too.

So yeah, there’s all of that. I probably missed something.

Weird fucking year.

 

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Musical Fission and Fusion: A Response

First and foremost, I feel the need to thank a peer and comrade at arms in the ongoing quest for intellectual discourse and discussion in the arena of metal and heavy music. Hornsofaradia wrote an excellent article detailing arguments for the inclusion of rock music in the metal family tree. Thank you very much for the kind words – I hope to continue to live up to them.

Rock v.s. Metal

So, this is a rather large topic to tackle – and I guess the best place to start is the beginning. I don’t believe there is a way to accurately include all of rock and roll into the metal family tree because of the incredible amount of diversity between the two genres.

They’re unique and distinct, with some areas that overlap. For example – it’s a genre that includes bands like Ghost, Rob Zombie, Godsmack, and Disturbed. Every single one of these bands has been referred to as a “metal” band at some point in their career – in fact the latter three self identified as metal until what is commonly referred to as the “New Wave of American Heavy Metal”. At this point there was a mass shift in the collective mainstream musical consciousness, and these bands were “relabeled” as hard rock. It was a slow process – and if you weren’t really paying attention it was easy to miss. An argument can be made, at the very least, that they all (to some degree or another) play what could be referred to as “metallic hard rock” or “hard rock with metal influences” – this is an area where the relative fluidity of genre labels can be a bit frustrating. Whatever you want to call them, there is at least a little bit of metal in the DNA of these bands.

On the flip-side you’ve got bands like Coldplay, Radio Head, Nickelback, The White Stripes, and other bands that have exactly zero overlap with metal – culturally or sonically. These are bands and cultures that are completely dependent on the music industry, and are more akin to pop (and other artificial art forms) than they are to metal.

Then there’s Metallica’s “Black Album”. If we were to include rock into the heavy metal family – it would negate the premise that Metallica sold out when they made that album. The big problem people had with that album is that Metallica was playing hard rock (and had abandoned metal). This, by itself, to me illustrates the relative difficulty of accepting rock into the metal fold. Actually, this scenario would perfectly illustrate the analogy of fission v.s. fusion. With fission – a large amount of energy is released – but it’s nothing compared to the destructive force of fission. The amount of negative energy released just in the realm of Metallica discussions would probably break the internet.

Regarding the Current State of Rock Music

You know, it’s funny. Hornsofaradia actually broached a few topics I’ve been mulling over in my head for a while now (with the intent of blogging my thoughts on them in the indefinite future). The current lack of a market in the rock category (specifically hard rock) and the reasons for it is a major one, as well as related topics (i.e. what caused it, what will happen to rock culture moving forward, etc).

Essentially, I think what made rock so huge ended up being it’s downfall. The relative simplicity coupled with incredible marketability made it a staple of the music industry. The inherent bureaucracy of the industry essentially slit the throat of rock and roll and slowly bled it out for all it was worth. This combined with the current trend of the “indie” rock bands playing feeble, weak, boring music and labeling it as rock are – in my opinion – why you don’t see a lot of “up and comers” playing straightforward, hard hitting rock music.

Metal Culture’s Silent Support of Rock

There are a number of reason I think that there shouldn’t be too much concern about the current state of rock.

First and foremost – as I outlined in my post about the two faces of metal, there is a certain vein of the metal community that already considers “mainstream” metal nothing more than hard rock. There is a lot of validity to this argument – especially when you look at it in terms of generations of music listeners.

Today’s “mainstream” metal is tomorrow’s rock and roll. Hair Metal, Grunge and Alternative, and a lot of Nu-Metal bands (including but not limited to Disturbed, Godsmack, The Deftones, and Linkin Park) were considered heavy metal while the scenes were active. However, in retrospect these are the bands currently on rotation on mainstream hard rock radio stations. I contend that these patterns will hold true in the future – and bands like Avenged Sevenfold, Deafheaven, Liturgy, and the like will be relegated to the “rock” category as time passes.

In regards to the cultural impact of rock music – I do agree that the position of societal rebellion formerly held by rock music has been usurped by metal. This, I think, is the greatest connection metal has to rock music. When compared to most metal, rock music seems rather tame – in large part because it has been tamed by embracing the music industry. Not entirely – but metal continues to push the envelope (musically, lyrically, etc) while rock and roll stands still and stagnates.

So, in regards to a lack of a viable pool of bands to be inducted into “rock royalty” – the model has changed since the 90’s. Most rock bands aren’t initially considered rock bands anymore. They’re referred to under the umbrella term of “hard rock and metal” put forth by the record industry.

Why is this? I don’t think there’s a simple answer. Partly because people from previous generations won’t accept newer “rock music” being categorized in the same group as Zepplin and Hendrix. Partly because mass perception of rock music (especially in the USA) is predominantly neutral to negative. People would rather identify as listening to metal than rock in most cases. I fucking hate it, personally.

Guns and Roses aren’t metal, Nirvana isn’t metal, Motley Crue barely makes the cut, Avenged Sevenfold aren’t metal, Disturbed and Godsmack aren’t metal, Rob Zombie kind of strides that line between rock and metal (but most of his stuff is just hard rock), KISS isn’t metal. These are all hard rock bands that were considered “metal” by the mainstream at the peak of their careers and their respective music scenes. Of course, my definition of metal is the music that, even 30 years later, won’t make it to mainstream radio. You’re never going to hear “Raining Blood” on KROCK, or any Slayer for that matter. So I’m not saying it to be mean, or an “elitist” in the derogatory sense that most people use it – I’m saying this because once a mainstream’s “metal” phase has panned out they get relegated to hard rock. This, as a rule, has held true since the fragmentation of metal culture in the 80’s (and in scattered instances beforehand – it’s hard to categorize metal bands before the thrash/glam split because they’re still very closely associated to hard rock).

So, in this sense, metal has been silently keeping rock and roll on life support for over 30 years. Every generation or so the “gateway bands” (mainstream metal) are used as an organ transplant to keep the hard rock machine alive and ticking (along with legions of new fans who never progress to the harder stuff) – while metal reaps the benefits of an ever expanding base.

Moving Forward – the Future of Rock and Metal

Also, kind of an interesting aside is metal artists who have hard rock side projects. This seems to be more of a European phenomenon (I notice they make much less distinction between rock and metal, or at very least embrace a ridiculous amount of diversity on a tour/festival ticket). Bands like the Gentleman Pistols (with Bill Steer from Carcass) or Spiritual Beggars (Michael Amott, ex-Carcass/currently in Arch Enemy) demonstrate metal artists love of rock. Labels like Nuclear Blast have a strong rock catalog, and continue to sign new rock artists from around the globe.

So, while I understand (and agree with) your concern regarding the apparent death of rock and roll – I think it might be helpful to take a step back and look at musical patterns throughout history. The industry has raped and pillaged hard rock for decades – so there is a necessary “incubation period” where rock and roll needs to go back underground and reform as an organic culture. It happened with metal – after the “thrash revolution” extreme metal went almost fully underground (with a few bands like Pantera carrying the flag through the 90’s) for nearly a decade. It re-emerged, slowly at first, with the “New Wave of American Metal” – which in turn sparked a metal revival. We’re still feeling the effects of this revival – with a lot of the classical forms (death, doom, black, classic, etc) experiencing revivals across the world. I hope rock will experience a similar pattern of revival – but even if it doesn’t, they get to draft a new swath of yesteryear’s mainstream “metal” bands into the fold with regularity.

Considering the often symbiotic relationship between hard rock and metal, I don’t think metal culture will ever allow rock to die out completely. Something a lot of people don’t talk about is the fact that becoming a metalhead is a multi-faceted process, not just a black and white event. You don’t just pick up a CD and suddenly become a metalhead – (almost) nobody starts off listening to Cannibal Corpse and Behemoth. You start off with rock, and eventually that doesn’t “do it” for you any more. Then you step up to hard rock, and get a taste of mainstream metal bands. I call this the “coffee drinker” model – you start off with a lot of sweetener and (generally) lower levels of caffeine, and then over time you adjust and start drinking stronger coffee – until eventually you’re drinking double-stuff black coffee with a shot of espresso.

In this sense, rock and metal will always be linked – because you have to start somewhere.

Conclusion

In keeping with the elderly relative analogy – I completely understand the comparison to with rock and metal. And I agree wholeheartedly with the components of the analogy. Rock, for all intents and purposes, is the elderly parent of metal – and is in trouble right now. But I disagree with the concept of needing to adopt the parent on a few levels.

First, I think that the baggage that comes along with rock music (fanbase, relationship to mainstream media, etc) is more than metal will allow – in fact, it’s a big part of the reason they split off in the first place.

Secondly, I think it’s a disservice to the inherent dignity of rock music. Like a proud, accomplished parent – the inherent independence of rock music is one of the qualities that keep it going. And for metal to adopt it into the fold would be to remove this sense of independence and dignity, and in the process would accomplish the exact opposite of the original goal. It would make rock music completely dependent on metal culture.

Like relatives that don’t get along (mostly because they’re so similar) – I think metal and rock are akin to family members who occasionally badmouth each other in public, but maintain a subtle relationship. Rock keeps sending new fans to the metal scene, while metal silently supports rock in subtle ways that allow rock to save face and retain a semblance of independence. If rock needed an organ transplant, metal would be the mysterious “anonymous donor” – they’ll save rock and roll, but won’t take the credit for it. Thus, the relationship can be viewed as a form of mutualism – a symbiotic relationship that benefits both parties (as opposed to parasitism, which I feel would be likely to happen with the induction of rock into the metal family tree).

Clean Vocals: Partially Selling Out or Completely Selling Out?

Contrary to the title, I actually really like clean vocals in metal. As long as they’re not whiny and angst filled.  This does seem to be a major point of contention in the metal community.

Some people absolutely love it, and some people can’t stand it. Especially in sub-genres like Melodic Death Metal (and it’s American cousin Metalcore), clean vocals have become so commonplace it’s almost camp. Bands like In Flames, Soilwork, Scar Symmetry, Solution .45, Killswitch Engage, Shadows Fall, All that Remains, and the like have been using clean vocals for years – with great success. The list goes on.

And more recently bands like Lamb of God, Whitechapel, Hatebreed, and Amon Amarth have had clean vocals on at least one track of their albums.

The way I see it, there are two things you need to look at when evaluating a band using clean vocals.

  1. Why are they doing it? This should be pretty obvious. If a bands been playing pretty much the same thing for over a decade, sometimes they just want to switch things up. Which is cool, you have to respect artistic integrity and the willingness to branch out and try something new. If the band hasn’t gotten a lot of radio play, and suddenly they have a song with a clean chorus on your local rock station – then you know exactly why they did it. Not cool. I understand wanting to get popular, but if you’re even remotely familiar with heavy metal you should know that you aren’t getting into it for radio play.
  2. Do you like it? I’m actually talking about listening to the song objectively. Maybe this will be the song that makes things “clique” in your head and makes you enjoy a clean chorus now and then. Maybe you just absolutely hate them all, and this will only confirm it for you. If you don’t give it a chance and actually listen to it first before passing judgement – you’re just a fucktard.

Personally, I think there are certain vocalists who should never do clean vocals. I don’t see Karl Sanders from Nile or Corpsegrinder from Cannibal Corpse branching out and doing clean vocals just yet. And that’s cool – if they did I’d be more worried about the world ending.

But clean vocals are a pretty integral part of metal. Besides the obvious Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, guys like Phil Anselmo from Pantera and Warrel Dane from Nevermore have been incorporating clean vocals for years.

And if you have anything negative to say about Nevermore, you’re wrong and I hate you. Those guys fucking rule, and Jeff Loomis is a god.

In fact, even bands like Arch Enemy have been toying with the idea of incorporating clean singing. Alyssa White-Gluz did a lot of them in her prior band The Agonist (they’ve actually gotten a lot better since she left the band, Victoria is a much better fit with their sound).

Also, Manowar has clean vocals. And Manowar kills posers with steel. Your argument is invalid.

In summation, if you don’t like clean vocals pull up your big kid pants and don’t fucking listen to it.

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