Welp. You’ve seen it. You’ve debated it. You’ve cried over it. But what’s done is done: Our list of the best albums of the year is behind us, and there is much rejoicing. But what about the albums we loved that didn’t make the cut? For those of you who read Noyan’s column regarding the methodology behind our list, it’s pretty obvious that not every album in our personal year-end selections made our aggregate list. Amidst the clamor, general consternation, and calls for Nick’s head, we decided to create a space for our writers to choose an album from their personal year-end lists to highlight. With this spirit in tow, welcome to Outliers! Please enjoy this selection of albums that we loved that did not receive the consensus votes to be included as one of our collective albums of the year. If you have yet to do so, include your own year-end lists in the comments so we can laugh at how terrible your taste is. I kid. We love you with our whole hearts, and that’s a promise.
Let the parade of the beautiful rejects commence!
The Body and Full of Hell – Ascending a Mountain of Heavy Light
AOTY SPOILER ALERT: As you’ve seen by now with our official album of the year countdown posted earlier this week, Full of Hell’s new record Trumpeting Ecstasy was voted our number one using an aggregate voting method delineated by Noyan using some algorithmic stuff that’s way over my head. All I know is that math is science and science says Full of Hell are the best. Case closed.(?)
But despite their second collaborative record with The Body being absent from our main list, it doesn’t mean we didn’t adore it. In fact, this bizarro jazz-doom-industrial-noise-grind thing just b a r e l y missed out on being a main dish, landing at a respectable number 26 after the votes were counted, and we had to lob it off. Personally, it was a top five album for this writer.
The Body and Full of Hell have proved that lightning does in fact strike twice, and the well of inspiration running between these two acts runs deep as evidenced by the enthralling vignettes and soundscapes that they’ve weaved together on Ascending. Here’s to hoping lightning strikes a third time in 2018/2019.
Contrarian – To Perceive is to Suffer
What began as a palate cleanser for my doom-addled brain quickly became one of my top ten albums of 2017 in To Perceive is to Suffer. In their second full length, jazz deathers Contrarian delivered a perfect collection of old school, avant garde death metal tunes that both revere the past and also seek to bring the sound into the modern era. This year throwback albums were a dime a dozen (including accomplished efforts like Nightmare Logic and Blood Offerings that deservedly landed on many AOTY lists), but To Perceive is to Suffer continues to stand out even within those ranks for its unique sound and passion-on-the-sleeve dedication to the jazz-tech genre.
As if the 25 or so years since Unquestionable Presence and Individual Thought Patterns never happened, Contrarian bring jazzy riffs, off-kilter drumming, and truly organic-feeling production to the tight, 9 song album. In an era where overproduction, mechanical drum triggers, and compressed, inhuman guitar tones are the norm, the naturally warm tones of the guitars and audible bass here are a delight. Even the vocals, grating and potentially off-putting at first, reveal to be pitch-perfect and delightfully authentic to the sound once digested. And, all importantly, the songwriting is outstanding throughout: the full-throttle raging moments in “Ripped from the Void” and “Transcend the Mundane” are always paired with an airy atmospheric breather just around the corner.
To Perceive is to Suffer can fairly be described as a “grower,” but in the best way. Every listen seems to reveal a previously-unheard musical detail, the songs continuously cohere into a grand unified statement, and, significantly, I don’t think there has been a single time when I’ve finished the album and I didn’t want to immediately start it over again. There’s been a lot of outstanding death metal this year, but I haven’t heard an album quite this distinct and refreshing, even as it mines sounds from nearly thirty years ago.
Dauþuz – Die Grubenmähre
Die Grubenmähre is precisely the kind of black metal I love. It’s raw and aggressive, but it’s not mindlessly violent like, say, Tsjuder. Instead, every wailing scream, every distorted riff, is in service of the peculiarly hypnotic and treacherous soundscapes that emerge when atmospheric black metal and depressive black metal collide.
Although the overall sound on Die Grubenmähre hardly differs from the first track to the last, Dauþuz makes clever use of their strengths to vary the songwriting. Sometimes the bereaved shrieks dominate the music; often the tremolo rides the hypnotic melodies; and at times the obliterating percussion (particularly the cymbals) take center stage. And sometimes all three work at full capacity, all cylinders firing, to extraordinary effect, like in the first moments of “Extero Metallum”. The cumulative effect is a stellar all-around performance that allows Dauþuz the songwriting flexibility to hand the reins off to whichever instrument will transmit the mesmerizing melodies best.
There’s something magical in good depressive/suicidal black metal. I’ve written about it before — and Die Grubenmähre has that enigmatic quality of transforming grief into catharsis. It’s not going to make you jump for joy; but if you let yourself get lost in the maze, you’ll come out feeling OK, if only for the time you spent wandering in Die Grubenmähre.
DVNE – Asheran
Like Noyan, I largely subscribe to the view that slow, drawn-out music like drone, doom and stoner is boring. Whilst many may disagree, perhaps they wouldn’t if they were in the shoes of someone who adored fast, progressive and technical music. That being said, there are always a handful of albums from such genres which are exceptions to the rule – and this is certainly the case with DVNE’s Asheran. Best described as a progressive stoner concept album, the record continues the recent trend of fantastic metal albums diving deep into themes of science fiction. There is a good mixture of clean and harsh vocals, which sound exactly as you’d expect if you’re familiar with the genre, and each style takes the passages which best fit their sound – both lyrically and musically. And speaking of music, this record is simply stunning. Loud, fuzzy bass rumbles below monstrous riffs and thunderous drums, a cacophony of sound entirely befitting their subject material. Yet, what makes Asheran so special is that it’s not just about the power that DVNE bring to the fore, but the dynamics of the record and the sheer beauty they can conjure in one’s mind. I distinctly recall listening to the album upon reading Eden’s review. “This is pretty cool, I guess” I thought to myself as I gave it a cursory listen whilst going about other business. Then, halfway through “Thirst” the music suddenly mellowed. Soft guitars evoked a sense of morose beauty, before a stunning guitar transition brought the band’s full weight to bear. It was simultaneously heart-crushing and triumphant, the emotional expression of the guitars out of this world (ha) as they delivered one of my favourite musical moments of the year. That such fantastic music is accompanied by a thrilling and engaging concept dealing with a genocidal, planetary war (read Eden’s phenomenal *prognotes on it here) only solidifies Asheran as one of the best releases of the year, and one which should certainly have made our end-of-year list.
Employed To Serve – The Warmth Of A Dying Sun
One of my favourite albums of the year and easily the best UK release in 2017 (fight me), The Warmth Of a Dying Sun deserves all of the accolades thrown at it. It’s a record worth ten times the budget of the Forever push. The most chaotic of hardcore blitzes through sludge and post metals; the resulting sparks fiery enough to render bone into dust. Employed To Serve kick back against the tedious and deplorable on a record bursting with ability, skill and structure within the maelstrom. All of these lovely things and it’s fucking rammed full of neck breaking grooves and pit igniting riffs.
Just one of a slew of absorbing releases from Holy Roar this year, Greyer Than You Remember‘s follow up is a complete succession and evolution of the band’s already intricate style. Like any good horror sequel, the violence and body count from it’s gravity shifting impact have increased immensely. There’s no dip in energy or depth, far from it. That’s where that comparison ends. From a massive fan of their work up to this year’s release, a smile didn’t leave my face throughout every whiplash shift and turn throughout. The riffs are thicker than Gojira shit and the stabbing attacks more manic than a Pig Destroyer/Dillinger mashup.There’s no way this isn’t fun to play. I imagine a bunch of air instruments were (not) dusted off when a curious finger hit play for the first time.
Employed To Serve committed some of the best music of 2017 to tape and packaged it up nicely for fans of the brighter side of the depths of extreme music. It’s not long ’til the Woking genre wanderers take their rambunctious live show to lands anew. Whoever they end up sharing a stage with, that’s going to be a hot ticket. Don’t wear anything fancy if you’re going, maybe buy a shirt to change into after as well. It’ll be sweltering in there from riffs and sick dance moves inspired by The Warmth Of A Dying Sun.
The Flight of Sleipnir – Skadi
It should no longer be a secret that something is happening in Denver. There are just so many great bands that are making music there and The Flight of Sleipnir are among the best. Skadi, their 2017 release, is a progressive doom album with a real dedication to its folk and psychedelic rock elements. More than that, just like all the rest of their releases, its heavily steeped in an intelligent and knowledgeable approach to Norse mythology, which goes way beyond just the basic ideas and images usually associated with the style in popular culture.
The result is an expansive, intricate and alluring album which manages to create doom metal that’s both crushingly heavily but intrinsically interesting. Thus, tracks like “Falcon White” manage to be over eleven minutes long and strikingly heavy but also warmly intimate when needed. When it takes breaks from these styles, like on the amazing majority of “Earthen Shroud”, the album is able to dabble in lighter elements just as successfully. The thematic groundwork is sound and thus, everything flows well from there.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t also mention the incredible production work as a main contributor for the success of the album. The drums sounds are punchy and present as appropriate, the guitar tones are perfection and the vocals sound on point. All of this amplifies the fascinating composition and overall vibe, creating an album that’s a sweeping take on nature, strength and vitality. Look to Denver; the mountains are alive.
Grails – Chalice Hymnal
Of the many absolutely incredible albums to grace my personal end-of-year that didn’t make their way onto our aggregate staff list, I am disappointed the most by the absence of Grails’ Chalice Hymnal. It is an album that, while existing within the confines and familiar sounds of post-rock, psychedelic and stoner rock/metal, doom, retrowave, classic cinema soundtracks, and many other genres, manages to subvert each and transform them into something wholly new and surprising. Part of the challenge in selling this album is that it’s incredibly difficult to describe what it is exactly. It seamlessly slithers between so many sounds and styles over its 11 tracks that providing an accurate and singular label for it feels utterly inadequate and misleading.
Perhaps the best way to conceive of Chalice Hymnal is as a collection of soundtracks from loosely-tied together film scenes. There is a connective tissue that leads the listener from one piece to the next, but every single track is a cinematic universe unto itself. The beauty of Grails is in their ability to build such a clearly-defined and visual soundscape within the span of only a few minutes, and their collective compositional talents and prowess are on full display here as never before. Not only do I find myself wanting to hear much more of every single motif and oeuvre Chalice Hymnal takes me through, but with only having the music to go off of, I want to see every single film these vignettes surely must be scoring. That is how viscerally strong the music of this album is. It is musical impressionism at its highest, and more than perhaps any album released in 2017, it is one I consider to be a perfect work of art.
Necrot – Blood Offerings
2017 was a helluva year for death metal and its adjacent subgenres. About a third of our collective top 25 is something death-tinged, but to my surprise, Necrot’s Blood Offerings missed our cut. It’s easily my favorite straight-up death metal record of the year, and I’d be as bold as to take a step further to preempt it as one of the finest releases of the style this decade – I haven’t binged on a record like this in quite some time. While a number genre vets took a stab at a comeback this year, the new blood proved that they too have a grasp on what makes OSDM such a riot, but more importantly, how to nudge that old sound forward. Paying tribute to the style usually makes innovation an afterthought, but it’s apparent Necrot aren’t paying any tributes. This shit is baked into their DNA. This is authentic death metal, not glory days “We’re ba-ack!” or wannabe “Hey, we sound like those guys!” garbage.
Necrot’s piles and piles (and piles) of riffs are substantial meat and potatoes, enough to satiate the appetites of both those who’ve busted their necks more than a few times and those that are still whetting their teeth on death metal. An update of Bolt Thrower for the modern age wasn’t exactly something I heard anyone clamoring for, but Blood Offerings’ riffy onslaught shows us exactly how stupid we are. Really though, who’d think to beg for an update on perfection? The many thrash stains born into the fabric of this album flavor everything with a speed, finesse, and technicality that’s occasionally surprising and always pleasant. Whether it’s the Slayer-y lead outbursts, the crusty barked hooks, or the expertly varied delivery of riff after riff (did I mention how many awesome riffs there are?), everything is on point and performed with an uncommon vigor that commands repeat listens – it’s the fuckin’ Pringles of death metal. Blood Offerings is the record the old vets wish they could make to keep themselves relevant.
Persefone – Aathma
Following up a masterpiece like Spiritual Migration seemed like an impossible task for Persefone, and yeah…it was. Aathma sounds like the creation of a jam session that decided to inject its favorite styling choices of Cynic and Dream Theater and then hit the cruise control button. It just goes down a straight path without exploring any alternative routes to its destination, and after 4 dozen playthroughs over the last year, I might have an idea where that destination is.
While the end goal of this album may be lost among long time fans, it did something else I’ve only seen a handful of albums do. Get non-metal fans interested in Progressive Metal. Every time a song from Aathma came up on shuffle, friends were always intrigued and loved what they were hearing. When I decided to put on a song from Spiritual Migration, they lost interest. The surprises that Spiritual Migration threw at its listeners were extremely progressive and near overwhelming for fans at the time. Now Aathma has taken a step into a safer space and made something more accessible to the metal community. While the ideas and compositions in Aathma may be nothing new to a jaded and salty prog metal fan, that doesn’t change that the actual riffs sound really fuckin cool. Sure, maybe Paul Masvidal’s vocoder wasn’t a big hit to me, but to literally every single friend that heard Living Waves, it was one of the cooler things they have heard in the genre. It made me really question what Persefone wanted from this album. They created something that may be a gateway into Progressive Metal. Following up a masterpiece is a near impossible task, and there is no shame in doing something else.
Spectral Voice – Eroded Corridors of Unbeing
There are no words that can encapsulate the deep, overwhelming sadness and rage boiling in my heart at the fact that this record didn’t make our top twenty-five on the year. Nevertheless, here a bunch more words about it anyway, because this is a record that absolutely deserves the attention of any fan of death and/or doom metal. Spoiler alert: Eroded Corridors of Unbeing is one of the best records of the year.
For those who may be unfamiliar with this Denver outfit’s background, Spectral Voice consist in majority of members of Denver’s other preeminent death metal band Blood Incantation, and have been dropping EPs for the past few years to critical and listener acclaim. Their debut full-length has been hotly anticipated, and thankfully Eroded Corridors of Unbeing is worth the wait. Take the cavernous and doom-infused nature of Incantation and spike it with the space-based shenanigans of Timeghoul and the pure death-doom aggression of dISEMBOWELMENT and you’ll come close to capturing the sonic magnitude that Spectral Voice conjure here. Opening salvo “Thresholds Beyond” wastes no time opening hellish stargates with punishing, molasses-infused gusto. The riffs are syrupy and murky, and the atmosphere is an odd juxtaposition or spacious and claustrophobic (this can be attributed to a production job that allows the guitars to transcend the murk frequently, giving the melodies and riffs here an often space-horror quality). All of the performances here are fantastic, with member finding time to shine in the mix, with album closer “Dissolution” putting on raw display everything that makes these musicians and songwriters so special. This is an auspicious beginning to a career that I hope continues with speed and aggression.
This record is a must-listen for fans of both death and doom metal. It encapsulates everything that make these subgenres so compelling in one epic, devastating package. Whatever is in the water here in Denver, may it flow plentifully and with maximum impact. In a scene exploding, Spectral Voice rise above the teeming masses as one of the premium death-doom acts working today.
While She Sleeps – You Are We
There’s a lot about You Are We to be sceptical about at first glance. From its nonsensical, self-important title and the mish-mash of cultural texts that adorn its cover, to mention its overtly more accessible and melodic musical direction; there was a lot in the lead up to this album’s release that was likely to set even the most mildly cynical alarm bells ringing. Yet what makes the record work, and what will ultimately cement it as a modern classic is the sincerity with which each and every one of these elements is delivered.
It also doesn’t hurt that the songwriting on this album is absolutely phenomenal and that While She Sleeps’ basic premise of dirty punks laying down furious metal riffs interjected by utterly gigantic choruses remains rather potent. There are entire albums’ worth of moments in each and every one of these songs and there simply isn’t anyone around at the moment doing what they do to this high a standard. Once unpacked, this album simply cannot be denied, and it is sure to become the landmark against which all records of its ilk are measured for years to come.