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Articles : Jonathon Besanko’s Top Albums of 2017

By on December 22, 2017

Across the board, 2017 has been quite the year for metal. There have been truly some fantastic albums this year that the more I thought on it as I was working on this ‘best of’ list, the harder it became to settle on a final top 10 list. While there are albums I sadly had to leave off this list that easily could have slotted in – EOD: A Tale of Dark Legacy by The Great Old Ones, Sinner’s Lament by Taberah, and Codex Omega by Septicflesh all come to mind – I’m quite content with the list I’ve ultimately rested on. Furthermore, I am yet again overwhelmed by the sheer talent emerging from Australia alone. Every year, more and more albums surface that either can legitimately compete with that of their international counterparts, or in the case of albums such as Urn from Ne Obliviscaris, best them. Without further ado, here is my best of list for 2017, in no particular order.

Orden Ogan – Gunmen

The German power metal quartet has yet to disappoint me, and the band’s sixth full-length album is no exception. Orden Ogan possesses an uncanny ability to produce some of the more emotional and engaging choruses I have heard out of this subgenre. With Gunmen, the vocal prowess of Sebastian “Seeb” Levermann is put on full display, while the rhythm section of Tobi, Niels, and Dirk feels its most consistent. While still a step below album’s To The End and Ravenhead, the Western theme utilised on Gunmen works remarkably well for Orden Ogan’s style leaving an album that is at once familiar, and yet on the other side of the coin, fresh and unique to their style.

Carach Angren – Dance and Laugh Amongst the Rotten

The Dutch horror metal maestros continue to release consistently impressive albums, and with each successive record, their Cradle of Filth-esque style of black metal continues to evolve and mature. While they have continued to embrace more of a theatrical taste with each new album, Dance and Laugh Amongst the Rotten pushes this to the nth degree; delivering a record dripping in blood-soaked ghost stories of modern-day horror. Fit with a traditional haunted house aesthetic, it is in here that Carach Angren has found their niche. A much more consistent album than This Is No Fairytale, the new album from Carach Angren sees the Dutch three-piece back atop their throne of writhing, tortured souls.

Below – Upon A Pale Horse

Sweden’s Below was an accidental finding for me, having heard their album in a record store when out one day. Upon A Pale Horse is the second full-length album from the doom metal band, and it is a beast of a record. With lead vocals reminiscent of Michael Kiske courtesy of frontman Sebastian Jansson, one of the best ways I could describe this album would be to imagine what it would have been like if Kiske had fronted for a doom metal band instead of power metal. That’s a pretty damn good recommendation in my books. Check this record out, it’s total Candlemass worship and there isn’t a dull track on it. Certainly, one of the more interesting doom releases I’ve heard in a few years.

Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars

I was beyond excited when Maurizio Iacono announced that he was reforming Ex Deo, following a short hiatus after the release of Caligvla wherein he’d declared that his Roman-themed side project was likely to be no more. The Immortal Wars was worth the wait. While an inkling below Caligvla in terms of overall production quality and memorability of songs, The Immortal Wars is a truly excellent symphonic death metal release; telling the story of Carthaginian general, Hannibal (who led the infamous trek of war elephants across the Alps), and that of the Second Punic War. While admittedly, I’ve never been the hugest fan of Kataklysm (Iacono’s main band), as a young student of Rome from an early age, I’ve always had a fascination with the Roman Empire and all its treachery, bloodshed, and ego that comes attached to its history. The air of authenticity and intrigue Ex Deo carries with its musical interpretation of Rome’s flowered history is simply brilliant. The level of orchestration and musicianship brought to The Immortal Wars is a thing of beauty, and between this album and Caligvla, you can truly see Ex Deo have come into their own and crafted something here that is unusual and bold yet also leaves the door open for much more to explore in the future. Fingers crossed we eventually get an album that deals with the Year of the Five Emperors. If you don’t know what that is, Google it: few things could feel more tailored to a symphonic death metal album than the events of that year.

Unleash The Archers – Apex

Unleash The Archers have been one of my musical obsessions since I first discovered their music by chance on YouTube a few years back with song, “General of the Dark Army” (off Demons of the AstroWaste). Since their debut album, the Canadian quintet has grown from strength-to-strength and continue to mature as a band with each record. By a heavy margin, Apex is Unleash The Archer’s strongest work to date. Not only is Brittney Slayes’ vocals taken up a notch (you get to see her exercise her beautiful, softer range here too; with her work on the title track being some of the best I’ve heard from her), but the concept for this album is also just awesome! It’s a story about prophecy, a search for ultimate cosmic power, and the struggle of the main antagonist, the Matriarch’s, sons – being directly tied to her achieving her quest, at the expense of their lives. Like the best material from Rhapsody of Fire, you see this story unfold across the ten songs, with each track having its own individual identity. The song “Earth and Ashes”, for example, features vocals from guitarist Andrew Kingsley, lending his cleans to the final part of the song. It was an unexpected touch I really enjoyed. I hope to see more of this from the band going forward. The harsh vocals are also used more sparingly and strategically on this album, representing the sinister nature of the scenes with the Matriarch as opposed to their more random inclusion on the band’s previous album, Time Stands Still.

Damnations Day – A World Awakens

Rarely do three-pieces sound as tight or as ‘huge’ as Damnations Day do, and that’s thanks to the brilliantly talented members who are behind the Melbourne-based melodic metal band. For their second full-length album, the Kennedy brothers are once again in top form here, with vocalist/guitarist Mark showing off his impressive vocal range at every turn and Dean exercising his versatility on the drum kit. The final piece of the puzzle, guitarist Jon King offers some of the most soulful examples of playing I’ve heard this year. This is a truly excellent record.

Hollow World – Exanimate

Befitting of the theme of the album of a pandemic, along with the juxtaposition of humanity being responsible for its own destruction, the venom spat in Ben Roberts’ vocals and the sheer technicality thrust into every track of Hollow World’s phenomenal debut full-length album, Exanimate, make this release a thing to behold. Comprising some of the tightest technical compositions I’ve heard from an Australian band, Exanimate is every bit worth the wait. Hollow World has no only taken their brutality to bold new heights, but have pushed where the melodic element of their sound can go – delivering moments of unfettered, manic fury; along with subtler touches of a more sinister nature. The technicality in both guitarists Theo Goslett and Michael Truscott’s playing is the true standout of this record, however. The guitar tone on this record is tasty as fuck. That being said, a shout out to drummer, Michael Hodgson, as well. This guy must be one of the tightest and technically proficient drummers performing in Australia right now. Across this whole record, his precision just blew me away at every turn. Pick up this album!

Trigger – Cryogenesis

As with Hollow World, Trigger and their album Cryogenesis continues the theme in 2017 of Australian band’s delivering standout debut full-length albums that fly above and beyond many of their peers. For a start, Cryogenesis has what is perhaps the coolest concept idea for an album I’ve found this year: blending science-fiction with classical mythology as a metaphor in the study of the human condition is a great take I was not expecting. In terms of their sound, Trigger forms a mix of melodic metal blended with a Gothenburg touch. One of the standout elements of this record is how individual each song is made to feel across the record, yet still feels in line with the ‘sound’ and ‘feel’ of the record. Listen to “Dead Sun”, “Tethered to the Tide”, and then “Veins of Ambrosia” to hear three songs that are very different from one another in arrangement and yet still retain those similar conceptual themes of loss and false hope. This is an illuminating record from a band at the top of their game. Tim Leopold exercises his vocal range across this album (diving between cleans and harsh vocals), and the rhythm section of guitarists Luke Ashley and Sean Solley, Matt Ambrose (bass), and drummer Tim Joyce is one of the best in Australia right now. There is great cohesion in this band. A fantastic debut full-length release.

Wintersun – The Forest Seasons

Five years after Wintersun released Time, Wintersun have returned with the new concept album for The Forest Seasons. As the name implies, across the four multi-layered tracks, the themes of seasonal change in a forest setting are told in vocalist and band founder Jari Mäenpää’s typical verbose, but brilliant style. What I found most interesting about this record with the phenomenal production value aside is how committed the band are to making each track feel as if it has its own identity; something that is in-line with the nature of that particular season. For example, “Eternal Darkness (Autumn)” wholly embraces its bleak black metal nature, delivering one of the finest songs Wintersun has released, while “The Forest That Weeps (Summer)” touches on heavy folk grounds, bringing to mind some strong Summoning vibes. The production value is top notch, carrying a perfect blend of synths, choral moments, guitar and drum tones, and wistful, soaring vocals. With The Forest Seasons, Wintersun has crafted another masterpiece of a record and one that is worthy of its two predecessors. This is an album that becomes more impressive with each new listen.

Ne Obliviscaris – Urn

With little doubt to begin with, the third studio album from Ne Obliviscaris, Urn, has made another metalhead’s end of year best-of list. Ne Obliviscaris are truly in a league of their own when it comes to extreme progressive metal. Their songwriting and musicianship is world class, their lyrics are introspective and melancholic, and they continue to deliver albums that can be rightfully named as masterpieces. Urn does not change this trend, and in fact, Ne Obliviscaris only seem to further elevate themselves with each new record; delivering music that is otherworldly. Whether it’s in the moments where Tim Charles’s soaring clean vocals rise over the blast beats, or in those gorgeous passages the violin slices in over the band’s phenomenal rhythm section, and further to the aural ferocity that emerges from Xen’s harsh vocals, the presence of this band is undeniable. This is transcendent, cold, and emotionally impactful art. It is much more than just music, it carries you elsewhere even when you don’t notice that it is. That is the artistry of Ne Obliviscaris’ music, and it the artistry of Urn that it can have this effect on me. This is music to be cherished.

About

Jonathon is an aspiring fantasy/sci-fi novelist and music journalist. Thanks to the influence of the music he grew up with, he has always possessed a keen interest in metal and rock. He is also a huge fan of mythology, legend, and folklore from all across the world. You should follow him on Twitter.