David E. Gehlke Best-of 2017

Thursday, 7th December 2017

These lists are never easy to make, but it’s a worthy, if not joyous endeavor, trying to sort through hundreds of titles and condense them to 12. Metal surely doesn’t lack for quantity, that’s for sure. The last 12 months have been steady, if not somewhat remarkable. Our scene is still growing, not contracting, thankfully, and the old guard hangs around while newbs are nipping at some heels. Not a bad place to be in, frankly.

This year’s top pick goes to French dark-wave outfit Soror Dolorosa, whose Apollo exudes confidence and drama across 14 songs. Familiar faces like Paradise Lost, Anathema and Kreator abound, while newbies Au Champ Des Morts, Old Night and Cellar Darling demonstrate there’s plenty of fresh faces to add to the mix. Any way you slice it, lots of hand-wringing, (bald) head-scratching and re-writes ensued to get to the below 12. Read on…


12. Overkill – The Grinding Wheel (Nuclear Blast)
A late-career resurgence is almost a necessity for any thrash band worth its salt, including Overkill. On The Grinding Wheel, Bobby Blitz and friends cling to their familiar blue-collar thrash formula, snarls, on-the-level lyrics and all. The utter definition of working man’s thrash, a label the Jersey guys would no doubt be embraced.


11. Hallatar – No Stars upon the Bridge (Svart)
The product of Swallow the Sun primary songwriter Juha Raivio, Hallatar also happens to feature Amorphis throat-of-gold Tomi Joutsen. The result is a daunting, harrowing display of near-funeral doom, topped with Joutsen’s identifiable clean vocal blend.


10. Ensiferum – Two Paths (Metal Blade)
The smoke has cleared on the epic metal movement, but Finland’s Ensiferum is still standing. Two Paths is perhaps the band’s best since 2004’s Iron, displaying gall, might and heroic numbers that for all and intents and purposes, are sublimely catchy. For a good time, get down with “God is Dead.”


9. The Haunted – Strength in Numbers (Century Media)
You could put The Haunted in veteran band territory; their debut will 20 years-old next year. The seismic lineup change in 2013 that saw Marco Aro rejoin the fold reignited the direction of the band’s vaunted Made Me Do It/One Killer Wonder era, something that is capitalized upon on Strength in Numbers. Biting, frothy and rather agile, the Swedes are thrashing like its 2000 again.


8. Kreator – Gods of Violence (Nuclear Blast)
A new Kreator album is treated like an event and justifiably so. Mille Petrozza and his band of henchmen don’t pop out an album every other year, which creates all sorts of build-up and anticipation. Gods of Violence, of course, delivers with firebrand precision, tossing in some new thrash anthems to boot.


7. Grave Pleasures – Motherblood (Century Media)
Perhaps the hippest band of the dark rock movement, Grave Pleasures have recovered from the 2015 stumble that was Dreamcrash on Motherblood. Lots of sass, hooks and persuasion in these songs, like, the cool kids on the block inviting all of us metal folk over to the party.


6. Cellar Darling – This is the Sound (Nuclear Blast)
With Eluveitie treading creative waters, the creation of Cellar Darling (featuring former Eluveitie members: Anna Murphy (vocals, hurdy-gurdy), Merlin Sutter (drums) and Ivo Henzi (guitars and bass)) is a welcome one. Murphy has proven she can carry an album, while the songs — mostly metal with a rock and folk edge — are distinctive and enthralling. Will be curious to see if a Cellar Darling vs. Eluveitie rivalry is in the cards.


5. Anathema – The Optimist (KScope)
Forever held in high regard because of their early 90s doom wanderings, Anathema’s gradual shift into a rock-superpower has been a long time coming. On The Optimist, the faithful Brits bust out a harmonious, carefully-crafted blend of hard(er) songs, all dressed up ever so nicely by the dual vocals of Vinny Cavanagh and Lee Douglas.


4. Old Night – Pale Cold Irrelevance (Rain Without End)
Seemingly out of nowhere (Croatia) comes Old Night, perhaps the brightest new doom band in recent memory. The vocals of Matej Hanžek are what should turn people onto the band, a veritable doom soothsayer of the highest quality, but the songs themselves lurk, lurch and loom large, tidying up those shapes and angles Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus originally forged three decades ago.


3. Au Champ Des Morts – Dans la joie (Debemur Morti)
French black metal’s penchant for being weird and obtuse notwithstanding, here comes Au Champ Des Morts in their atmospheric, sweeping glory on their Dans la joie debut. The whole thing is like one crisp, brisk walk through wintry terrain; the riffs blow at your back, giving you the push to withstand the cold, while the melodies serve as the warm embrace. This is monumental black metal, period.


2. Paradise Lost – Medusa (Nuclear Blast)
Can’t help but ponder where Paradise Lost was 20 years ago. Certainly not in the same frame of mind they are in now. Medusa effectively pulls from the most beloved reaches of the band’s vast back catalog, starting with 1992’s Shades of God and the following year’s Icon. It simply crushes and churns, northern darkness in tow, along with Nick Holmes’s ever-thoughtful lyrical escapades.


1. Soror Dolorosa – Apollo (Prophecy)
All hail dark-wave. Long-live dark-wave! Apollo, the fourth full-length from France’s Soror Dolorosa is the year’s most complete album, a journey through the darkened corridors of sublime new wave, dark rock and dreary mellow. It’s a difficult combination to nail, but between the album’s core songs (“Everyway,” “Another Life,” “The End”) and its subtle, cinematic interludes, Soror Dolorosa has emerged as yet another bastion of French ingenuity.

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