Distill the Swarm: The Top 20 Extreme Metal Debuts of 2017

Pay no heed to what the curmudgeons say as there are plenty of fascinating sounds being forged annually by new metal bands. 2017's swarm has been distilled…

10. Ulsect: Ulsect (Season of Mist)

With members of Dodrecahedron on board, Ulsect's self-titled debut unsurprisingly creates order through dissonance. Jarring time-changes, juddering post-Meshuggah polyrhythmics, bleak passages of disquiet, and sections of consonant tonal experimentation are among some of the technical aspects to marvel at. Conceptually, Ulsect discusses "human failure and prophecies of demise", and while the music and themes may seem too cerebral on paper, the album works on a less highbrow level in reality. In fact, the disorientating impact from the mechanical riffs/rhythms of highlights such as "Diminish" and "Unveil" hit your stomach long before they reach your soon-to-be-scrambled brain.

9. Succumb: Succumb (The Flenser)

Bay Area newcomers Succumb play a bizarre brand of extreme metal. You get the perverse riff-mangling of luminaries Gorguts, yet there's also plenty of bestial war metal, black metal, and what Converge might sound like if they grew up in a Florida swamp instead of the Boston hardcore scene. In other words, this is spite-filled, atonal horror, the kind that remorselessly provides zero footholds for the uninitiated. Cheri Musrasrik's vocals, meanwhile, may prove divisive; her approach mainly consists of pained howls and yowls in a high-pitched punk snarl, making the whole thing -- including her violently poetic lyrics -- sound like some kind of Lynch-ian head-fuck.

8. Expander: Endless Computer (Nuclear War Now!)

Here's a surprise: More-kvlt-than-thou record label Nuclear War Now! has released a thrashing hardcore album produced by Kurt Ballou. That's a sentence you don't write every day. But then again, Expander are not the kind of band you encounter every day. The live energy and aggression Ballou trapped on tape is startling. Some bands' music settles into the background when you press play; Expander doesn't afford you this option. The intimidating Texans grab you by the gizzards and refuse to relent. You're left wiping spittle and drumstick shards from your whitened face once the abuse is over.

7. Memoriam: For the Fallen (Nuclear Blast)

Memoriam have rolled through 2017 like an armoured tank spraying hellfire on those who promote injustice. The new band comprised of ex-Benediction/Bolt Thrower veterans show no signs of middle-age malaise; the indefatigable battery on display has the same gusto as some of the younger acts mentioned above and below. Much of the praise has to be placed upon guitarist Scott Fairfax, a relatively unknown musician, who arrives battle-ready, armed to the hilt with high-powered riffs. His thundering syncopations with returning drummer Andy Whale are nothing short of destructive, while Karl Willets' death-bark is as authoritative as it sounded during his Bolt Thrower days, albeit more life-scarred.

6. Cloak: To Venomous Depths (Season of Mist)

Cloak's first full-length plays out like a companion piece to Tribulation's masterful The Children of the Night LP. Some might find the unmistakable parallels to the Swedish shapeshifters too on-the-nose, mind, but that criticism fades into the background as the slick song-writing chops and melodic/metallic interplay of Cloak's members shine brightly on repeat listens. The songs are anthemic, defiant and steeped in heavy metal classicism. Each player shows a shrewd understanding of extreme and traditional metal dynamics, resulting in an album which loudly proclaims Cloak as one of the most potent new bands in modern metal.

5. Venenum: Trance of Death (Sepulchral Voice)

It has been six long years since Venenum's demo first caught the ear of those who scavenge the underground for fresh meat. But now we can rejoice, as they've completely capitalized on their potential and exceeded all expectations with Trance of Death. Death metal remains the life-source, yet not unlike the much-missed Morbus Chron, their music also comes with a litany of outlier elements. Venenum have experimented with blues, progressive rock, neo-folk, John Carpenter horror soundtracks, and the clotted, dank atmospherics of black metal, turning what could have been a stylistic mess into a raging triumph.

4. Tchornobog: Tchornobog (Fallen Empire/I, Voidhanger)

Rivalling Bell Witch for the best artwork of the year, Tchornobog's debut cries out for a gatefold pressing. If you're willing to use such a fantastical piece -- which looks like Dune as designed by Clive Barker -- then the music has to just as enthralling and nightmarish. Tchornobog's doom/death/black metal amalgam has the power of a vortex sucking you into its cavernous maw and still, the subtle intricacies of the songs somehow remain audible. Interestingly, the album was recorded by Stephen Lockhart, the man behind our debut of the year, and like Rebirth of Nefast, Tchornobog's hellscapes come from one twisted mind, that of multi-instrumentalist Markov Soroka.

3. The Lurking Fear: Out of the Voiceless Grave (Century Media)

H.P. Lovecraft's influence on heavy metal culture is as vast as one of Chthulu's bowel movements -- the author has been pillaged for chilling lyrical fodder for decades now. The latest disciples to the mythos are the Lurking Fear. With At the Gates alumni, drummer Adrian Erlandsson and firebreather Tomas Lindberg, in fine form, the Lurking Fear kick up a death metal miasma befitting the imagery of Lovecraft's grimoire. Comprised of 12 concise, ferocious tracks, the crust-punk credentials of the band's members never allow song-writing bloat to set in. Out of the Voiceless Grave is thrilling, horror-indebted extremity.

2. Spectral Voice: Eroded Corridor of Unbeing (Dark Descent)

Spectral Voice's 2015 demo, Necrotic Doom, stirred the interest of many death-doom aficionados upon its release. In the intervening years, this interest has piqued due to the rise in popularity of Blood Incantation, the astral-traveling DM act which shares three members with Spectral Voice. So, to say their full-length debut is highly anticipated would be putting it mildly. Like Venenum, Spectral Voice have surpassed their past potential tenfold with this unmercifully heavy and malevolently atmospheric collection of songs sourced from the bottomless depths of Finnish funeral doom, US/UK death metal, and the eerie oddness of the Australian entity diSEMBOWLMENT. The "modern class" label gets bandied around too carelessly these days, yet here's an album which justifies such hyperbole.

1. Rebirth of Nefast: Tabernaculum (Norma Evangelium Diaboli)

Eleven years in gestation, Tabernaculum is finally upon us and comes bearing the respected Norma Evangelium Diaboli stamp, the mysterious French label which brought us black metal monuments by Deathspell Omega, Funeral Mist, and Watain as well as a handful of others. You can now add Rebirth of Nefast to that list of esteemed black/death metal bands because regardless of the label releasing Tabernaculum, it's a tour de force. Masterminded by Irish musician Stephen Lockhart, who now resides in Iceland and is heavily involved in that scene, Rebirth of Nefast's debut has been painstakingly labored over and every minute detail serves a purpose. There is power in such intense scrutiny of art -- the manic perfectionism of a sole creator trying to nail his muse to a cross. Lockhart has suffered, and we can feel the crushing weight of his expectations on this album. The production is pristine and spacious; it allows the blasts to echo eternally and the riffs to cascade with biblical force. The funereal passages elicit hypnotic thrums which pull you closer; the discordance of the more chaotic sections is never to the detriment of primal heaviness. It's an overwhelming listen requiring plenty of focus to appreciate the scope of what has been constructed here. When it does reveal itself, Tabernaculum proves itself not only to be the best full-length metal debut of 2017, but also one of the best albums of this year... or any year for that matter.

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