Death metal has, without question, dominated the extreme metal landscape in 2017. Old-school legends Immolation, Incantation, Suffocation, Obituary, and Dying Fetus all released vital additions to their lengthy discographies—and with Cannibal Corpse’s forthcoming splatterwork, the frenzied kill-spree continues. Established tech-death acts such as Decrepit Birth and Origin also dropped notable albums recently, while German enigma Ingurgitating Oblivion outdid them both with what is the progressive death metal LP of the year, Vision Wallows in Symphonies of Light, a sublime disharmonic opus.
It is, therefore, no surprise to see that death metal features heavily in our top 20 full-length debuts from the underground this year, from scene veterans returning under a new guise to ravenous newcomers keen to make their mark. But not only that, crippling doom and sludge, enchanting occult rock, vicious crossover thrash, passionate post-hardcore, and magisterial black metal—pretty much the full breadth of the extreme spectrum—are all represented. Pay no heed to what the curmudgeons say: there are plenty of fascinating sounds being forged annually by new metal bands. 2017’s swarm has been distilled…
20. Necrot: Blood Offerings (Tankcrimes Records)
Necrot (featuring Luca Indrio of the equally punishing Vastum and Acephalix) have fully risen from the primordial ooze after a number of demos, and with the Neanderthal-pummel of their guitars and drums, they intend to cave skulls and guzzle the gelatinous nectar within. Blood Offerings is bursting with Autopsy- and Asphyx-styled riffs. Like those bands, Necrot are on the right side of loose—you won’t find dazzling displays of technical prowess here. Death grooves hack and slash wildly, decipherable growls spit bile, and the band’s blunt force song-writing style recalls the sub-genre’s ‘90s heyday in all its gut-spilling glory.
19. Hallatar: No Stars Upon the Bridge (Svart Records)
Trees of Eternity’s beguiling 2016 debut came steeped in grief due to the untimely passing of vocalist Aleah Starbridge, the life partner of Juha Raivio, the band’s songwriter and founding member of Swallow the Sun. Hallatar is an extension of ToE—a means to process the suffering Raivio has experienced. His raw pain could only be conveyed through the monumental weight of doom-death, and support is provided by Amorphis’s versatile vocalist Tomi Joutsen and former H.I.M. drummer Gas Lipstick. The trio utilize the writings of the dearly departed Starbridge, which affords further gravitas to music teeming with anguish.
18. Less Art: Strangled Light (Gilead Media)
Musically, Less Art might not be the heaviest band featured on this list. But when you consider how close to the bone former Curl Up and Die vocalist Mike Minnick’s brutally honest lyrics cut—tackling real-life themes of internal fear, violence, suicide, as well as pointed socio-political commentary—Strangled Light earns its place here, no doubt. It bodes well for the band’s longevity that their jagged noise-rock riffs and impassioned vocals/lyrics are more of a talking point than the fact that some of the musicians behind them are also members of Kowloon Walled City and post-hardcore favourites Thrice.
17. Au Champ des Morts: Dans la joie (Debemur Morti Productions)
Formed in 2014 by guitarist/vocalist Stéphane Bayle of the long-running French symphonic black metal band Anorexia Nervosa, Au Champ des Morts have the exacting balance of intensity and introspection which could only be struck by a seasoned musician. Like fellow compatriots Alcest and Les Discrets, Au Champ des Morts play to grandeur; their post-BM is haunted by coldwave’s sense of longing as much as windswept Ulver-isms, yet there is warmth at its heart. As autumn moves swiftly into winter’s desolate grip, Dans la joie will suit the natural elemental shift, light into darkness and back again.
16. River Black: River Black (Season of Mist)
A prime example of a cult hardcore act ahead of its time, Burnt By the Sun never reaped deserved acclaim during their run. River Black’s self-titled debut is a Burnt By the Sun LP in all but name (three-fourths of the band have reformed, with bassist Teddy Patterson replaced by Revocation’s Brett Bamberger). If the precise and paralyzing River Black achieves anything, let’s hope it’s that John Abebato finally gets recognized as one of the best guitarists in extreme metal; the dude crafts sky-cracking noisecore riffs, the raw components of which have to be sourced from the hulls of alien spacecrafts.
15. Dool: Here Now, There Then (Prophecy Productions)
The gaping hole left by the Devil’s Blood may never be filled, but Dool’s debut—featuring the band’s live rhythm-section—goes towards the healing. There are certain musical commonalities between both bands, particularly “Golden Serpents” and “In Her Darkest Hour”, which explore the same aphotic moods through psychedelic rock licks and richly textured female vocals. Dool’s primary influences are more contemporary, however, as “Vantablack” suggests an affinity for Cult of Luna’s build and collapse dynamics, while “The Alpha” borrows liberally from Tool’s “Forty Six & 2”. Due to the variety displayed throughout this bewitching debut, you get the feeling true magic may occur in the future.
14. Cavernlight: As We Cup Our Hands and Drink from the Stream of Our Ache (Gilead Media)
Cavernlight’s emotionally and physically draining debut is the sour sound of depression reverberating outwards like a death-rattle. The mental health benefits for musicians using their art as a cathartic release can be profound; but for the listener, a blackened doom band such as Cavernlight can cause a debilitating existential crisis with just one baleful note. Mercifully, the misery isn’t laid on for too long since the album runs a tight 35 minutes. The chances of a swift replay are unlikely though because you’ll need time to replenish your soul before Cavernlight strip you bare and dangle you helplessly over the void again.
13. Extremity: Extremely Fucking Dead (20 Buck Spin)
“Sometimes, dead is better…” This sound-bite at the beginning of Extremely Fucking Dead, lifted from the film adaptation of Stephen King’s Pet Semetery, goes towards explaining the motivations of Aesop Dekker, Shelby Lermo, Marissa Martinez-Hoadley and Erika Osterhout, celebrated underground musicians who’ve united to play old-school death metal as Extremity. Macabre, atavistic, and oddly catchy while flaying your skin with razored riffage and blast ‘n’ groove drumming, Extremity’s rather short debut LP has all the vile trademarks of the Floridian and Swedish scenes combined. It’s a foul and bloody mongrel birth, indeed.
12. Owlcrusher: Owlcrusher (Seeing Red Records)
Owlcrusher’s torturous sludge is so terrifying that it would give Alan Dubin vivid nightmares. Sepulchral riffs fall like tombstones from the sky; blackened shrieks and deep growls flit, ghost-like, around the ruins. There is no reprieve from Burning Witch-esque doom, even as a rare semi-melodic Peaceville Three riff and lead lurch skywards during “Feeble Preacher”. The guttural guitar tones, sub-sonic bass frequencies, and slow-motion drumming nail everything to the sodden ground, where poisonous effluence infects open wounds during the eponymous title track. By the end of “Spoiler”, you’re entirely numb, as though you’ve bathed in Novocaine and nihilism.
11. Dawn Ray’d: The Unlawful Assembly (Halo of Flies/Prosthetic Records)
Laden with the piercing wail of violins, the rampaging yet atmospheric Celtic folk-infused black metal Dawn Ray’d play forms a vehicle for their anarchistic invectives. Liberation from all oppressive forces is a battle-cry worth fighting for, especially given the worrying political climate worldwide, and this young British band have taken their stand. Those protesting “Keep politics out of metal!” need to look at the history of the genre. Escapism is important, but so too is a liberal dose of realism blasting in your face just as Dawn Ray’d have done on their nuanced and expertly paced debut.
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