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James Peterson's Top Ten Albums of 2017.

Added 17 February 2018, 3:57 PM

No. 10:

Band: Enfold Darkness
Album: Adversary, Omnipotent

General Information:

Year of Formation: 2005
Record Label: The Artisan Era

Before I get into my main paragraph on why this is on my list I need to say the following. It’s an interesting experience to get into a pretty renowned band in the modern extreme metal scene by befriending one of their band members because he said “hey wanna check some demos from my band’s upcoming album?” when you’re hanging out outside of a venue of a show. It’s a soul crushing experience to find out that that same person who became not only a super awesome friend but a GIGANTIC source of inspiration to you felt he couldn’t go on, and took his own life. Todd Honeycutt is one of the best fretless tech death bassists that’s ever lived as far as I’m concerned, and this is an incredible final album to showcase that. His basslines on the “The Adversary, Omnipotent” and “Terror of a Perilous Quest” for example are absolutely brilliant. The latter I can actually play front to back because he was kind enough to send me the tab before he passed. I’ve been meaning to record a cover of it in tribute to/memory of/honor of his life and musical achievements, but I keep putting it off without realizing I am. Hopefully I can do that eventually so you can hear even more clearly (most metal albums have buried bass in the mix) why I think his bass playing was absolute peak for the style. RIP Todd.

The album in general is absolutely insanely good, though. Elijah Whitehead (who wrote all of “Lairs of the Ascended Masters," iirc) and James Turk are ridiculously talented songwriters and axemen. The aforementioned song sets the tone for the rest of the record perfectly with it’s delectable flurry of blackened tremolo and NECROPHAGIST-esque riffs but with a lot more interesting and demented note choice. This and many of the other songs also go at an incredibly fast pace with crazy drums from Greg Vance, and blistering speed that is what I love about ORIGIN as well, but they also keep it dynamic with quieter, softer and/or slower stuff (see “Liberator of Mages” with its awesome melodeath vibe) that are just as brilliantly written where necessary. Andy Nelson’s vocals are incredibly aggressive but not hard to get into (like the past vocalists unfortunately were for me at first). The black metal chords used on this thing really serve a complex malicious vibe which musically represents well the elaborate story tied into ENFOLD DARKNESS’s lyrics. There’s a couple killer guest solos on this thing too: a couple from the guitarists of INFERI (Malcolm Pugh and Mike Low) and the other one is from my dude Colin Butler of VIRULENT DEPRAVITY on “The Sacred Daemonic.” His solo one of my favorite parts of the whole album. The other huge highlight for me is album closer “Vanish Into Damnation.” It’s unlikely, but if I ever got to see them play that or “The Benefits of Your Demise” Id probably cream myself. This whole thing is gold with almost no filler (wasn’t blown away by the interlude track, though) and was in my car most of 2017. If you like blackened tech death, then you need this in your ears.

No. 9:

Band: Moonloop
Album: Devocean

General Information:

Year of Formation: 2001
Record Label: Listenable Records

Is it weird to get into a metal album at a Barnes and Noble? This is the best (and perhaps only) time I’ve gotten into a new album from reading an ad in a magazine. One of the issues of Terrorizer had an ad for this Listenable Records band, and as soon as I got deep into it, I fell completely in love. It’s filled to the brim with brilliant, unique, off kilter riffing at times and nut crushingly brutal riffing at others (and sometimes both simultaneously) as well as chillingly strange passages of textural atmospheres. The bass guitar here also fits perfectly, and it’s nice to hear what it’s doing. These guys are super tight but also a dynamic group that has some of the coolest melodic and soft passages with just the perfect amount of dissonance. They’re pretty restrained in letting loose on the most epic moments on each of these songs only after building up to them as well, I find, which makes them all the more satisfying when they hit (starting at the bridge 4:15 in "Megalodon" going back into the soaring lead and big chords/grooves is one perfect example). Sometimes the groovier riffs here evoke a sense like you’re listening to a more classic metal band even though there’s not much theoretically that can point to this. They just give off that vibe while still remaining squarely a modern progressive death metal band. The vocals are super brutal just like the riffing as well. One of the best examples of this is a riff in “Zeal” that reminds greatly of IMMOLATION followed by a super fulfilling sung vocal passage which is one of the best and most memorable moments on the record, before going right back into some gnarly INTRONAUT-esque heavy shit. If you’re only gonna check one song from this thing though (but you really should check the whole thing), make sure it’s “Oceans.” It’s by far the best cut on here. That song is the fucking perfect blend of gorgeous and gnarly. One of the most emotionally powerful songs of last year, honestly rivaling the stuff on my top couple albums. And we’re still only on #9. 2017 was full of masterpieces, for me. Eric Baulenas and co. … incredible job. Musical geniuses we have on our hands, here.

No. 8:

Band: Marty Friedman
Album: Wall of Sound

General Information:

Year of Formation: 1987
Record Label: Prosthetic Records

For the longest time I wasn’t really huge into solo guitarist albums. To a newbie like I was to the album style… genre… whatever you want to call it, and the fact that I didn’t really dabble much, it seemed like the focus would be more on showing off and less on writing structured and emotive songs. This is the impression I’d gotten for a while, but then JOSH MIDDLETON PROJECT released “Hollowed-Out Planetoid” in 2016 and utterly shocked my world. “This is the peak of solo guitarist albums, to me. I doubt I will hear anything that will even be super close to being this good.” Wrong I was. Enter MARTY FRIEDMAN’s newest solo disc “Wall of Sound.” This is definitely heresy, but fuck it. Having heard Rust and Peace and this, if you asked me to pick the way better one… I’d choose this. It’s SUCH an addictive record and there’s so much to take in and every song is MASTERFULLY written and performed. And they’re all SONGS not wank fests. The sound engineering itself doesn’t actually use the “wall of sound” technique, but this album still sounds HUGE. Grooves and sexy licks galore. There’s even extended range/tuning and modern extreme metal influence on this thing that only serves to make Marty’s writing more dynamic than it already would be, with very beautiful uplifting and softer passages gracing this thing across it’s runtime as well. If you ever want to get a couple modern guitar solo albums, I’d say make sure they’re “Hollowed-Out Planetoid” and this. Just like "Adversary, Omnipotent," this one also hasn't left my car.


No 7:

Band: Cormorant
Album: Diaspora

General Information:

Year of Formation: 2007
Record Label: Unsigned/independent

CORMORANT are a band I’ve been familiar with for at least half a decade now because of Anthony Fantano AKA TheNeedleDrop’s review of their 2011 disc "Dwellings," which is an album I didn’t care for very much. THIS on the other hand, totally blew me away. For starters, the sound engineering on this thing is a triumph in and of itself. It’s absolutely 10/10 just like the music is. The band draws so effectively from the most evocative sides of doom, melodic death metal, black metal, prog, and even a bit of neo-classical contrapuntal writing across their four extremely immersive and endlessly engaging compositions on here. Even the shortest song on here manages to have almost all the styles above flow seamlessly into each other with a couple riffs that make the ANCIIENTS fan in me very moist (thats probably the best band to compare this to in general along with ENSLAVED… who ALMOST made this list along with BELL WITCH, NE OBLIVISCARIS, etc. Shoutouts to their new masterpiece albums), and when the bridge section in subsequent closer “The Migration,” which is the longest song in contrast, seems like it’s becoming a bit needlessly long, the band makes the payoff beyond worth it. “The Sentinel” also has a very drawn out calm section that’s so moody and… just encompasses your entire soul when you listen to it. I’m almost mad Anthony completely ignored this and didn’t give this album the exposure/attention it oh so utterly deserves. But you can’t really blame the guy: he calls himself the “internet’s busiest music nerd” for a reason. If you like any of the bands or styles I listed above definitely check this. It was actually at the TOP of this list for a short while in 2017. Immaculate album.

No 6:

Band: Lorna Shore
Album: Flesh Coffin

General Information:

Year of Formation: 2010
Record Label: Outerloop

I think it’s really nothing short of a fucking TRAVESTY how often many of us will hear “core” and immediately shut our brains off to an extent. I’m guilty of this too. When a lot of my friends were praising LORNA SHORE as one of the best deathcore bands in the game when this album dropped I was kinda just like “OK” and didn’t bother to check them out immediately. I can’t even remember what it was that convinced me to, but at some point I clicked play on the album… and realized how much I was missing out by sleeping on this GODLIKE band. The riffs are unreal. SUPREME tech death riff wizardry litters its entire runtime. Same goes for the leads and the absolutely mind fucking guitar solos here. Look no further than the DIVINE half a minute of music between 1:03 and 1:33 of “Denounce the Light” for proof of this (fuck… as I’m typing this I’m realizing I need to make that my ringtone). Adam De Micco’s inspiration from musical artists like Rick Graham and OBSCURA (#BestDeathMetalBand) is very clear when you listen to this thing, and he has proven to me he is the king of songwriting in this subgenre of music. The music also has cold and forlorn as FUCK sounding black metal riffs. The atmosphere and cinematic vibe here is out of this fucking universe. And even the breakdowns are unbelievably good. They have this sense of frantic unpredictability and anxiety to them that’s executed so effectively from the whole band. I’ve heard some complaints about this band being not very tight live which I don’t understand entirely. Sure maybe they’re not PERFECT, and their vocalist may have low energy stage presence, but I don't find these to be hugely detracting criticisms. They’re still better than COUNTLESS bands I’ve heard with this new material… On this record they sound RAZOR tight (although you never know these days with quantization) and as you listen to them play these songs, you can tell all the blood, sweat, tears and sincere extreme emotion that went into this thing. It’s ridiculously resonant. This was my #1 AOTY all the way up until what wound up being my AOTY dropped and my #2 and #5 at the time grew on me to surpass this. Best deathcore album of all time. Listen to it. I don’t care if you don’t like deathcore. Come on, son.

No 5:

Band: Arcane Existence
Album: The Dark Curse

General Information:

Year of Formation: 2016
Record Label: Unsigned/independent

I first heard of ARCANE EXISTENCE exactly a year ago shortly after this debut dropped. It was pitched to me as OBSIDIAN GATE (My favorite black metal band of all time and biggest music influence far and away. I'm even wearing their shirt rn.) meets FALLUJAH by… a former friend. A guy I had a fling with who basically led me on which put me in a temporary state of depression but that’s neither here nor there cos I reflected on the whole experience in my upcoming debut EP. Musical and lyrical art is a great coping and introspective mechanism about life experiences, but music can also have lyrics about fantasy stories. Those tend to be what I write at least, and with ARCANE EXISTENCE you have a classic example of the latter done extremely well. The entire record is a concept disc about the TV show Once Upon a Time. The prominence of bell sounds and symphonic instrumentation and very effected guitar timbres give off an atmosphere that truly makes it easy to visualize that kind of fantastical world as you listen. The riffs here are absolutely insane. Particularly on album best, “Reshaping History,” which is among the better songs I’ve ever heard. There’s so much emotion in the way that Kiera writes riffs with incredibly feelsy use of vibrato, groove, lush chords and gut wrenching melodies that is truly staggering. She is far and away the best songwriting woman I’ve encountered in the extreme metal scene, and I can only hope that more women feel encouraged to be composers and band leaders in extreme metal than already are doing so in coming times. But seriously, “Reshaping History” has driven me to tears a number of times and the rest of the album has come close to doing so. If you don’t cry at how sheerly and overwhelmingly powerful the opening riff is, then you will when the song drops its dynamic suddenly and Jamie sings her strongest sung line on the album, before going right back into that incredible opening chord progression to close the song. My ONLY gripe on the entire album is that Jamie can at time be pitchy, sounding like she’s singing in quarter tones and struggling to hit a note right on the money from the 12 Western tones during some of the chromatic modulations that happen ALL over this album (which is like my favorite thing ever in music and part of why I love this disc so much). A good example of this happens in “Magic” but there’s a number of other examples. I hate to recommend it, but I think Melodyne would fix a lot of this. Anyway that’s a seriously SMALL criticism. I didn’t come into this thinking it would be exactly how the guy who recommended me them pitched it to me, but it literally is. Vibe wise this truly gives off the chromatic harmonic brilliance and symphonic black metal of classic OBSIDIAN GATE blended seamlessly with the modern groovy atmospheric death metal of FALLUJAH. This has my utmost recommendation. I've listened to it oh so many times.

No 4:

Band: The Faceless
Album: In Becoming a Ghost

General Information:

Year of Formation: 2004
Record Label: Sumerian Records

“In Becoming a Ghost” is a record that’s almost terrifyingly diverse (every song offers something different) and yet extremely consistent and original for the most part, and almost terrifying just flat out at points from how dark the subject matter is and how effectively the emotions are conveyed to the listener. Aside from literally one lick that feels out of place, and a sound engineering job that almost makes me cringe, the entire record is pure gold… no… pure platinum. Front to back. Every second. This is an album that’s impossible to forget and get out of your head, and every listen will leave you begging to come back for more. That’s a bit ironic considering it’s an album about drug addiction. Keene’s lyrics and vocals convey so much sincere pain that it’s hard not to be enthralled by his crooning voice, and his guitar and bass writing is at a peak here in their discography with contributions from McKinney. Sorceron’s screams are antagonistic and sharpened, and Westmoreland is as always a master behind the kit. All their performances combine in musical mastery to create not only the best technical/progressive death metal album of 2017, but one of the best of the whole decade. If IRREVERSIBLE MECHANISM, THE RITUAL AURA (my guitarist friend Brandon Iacovella just joined that band #shoutout, so please check them) and HANNES GROSSMANN weren’t in the game this might even be THE best in the subgenre of the decade.

No 3:

Band: Shroud Ritual
Album: Five Suns

General Information:

Year of Formation: 2015
Record Label: Unsigned/independent

Every year I find something in December that absolutely blows me the fuck away, which is why I refrain from finalizing my list until the entire year has pretty much passed to make sure I don’t miss anything to the best of my ability. As tradition seems to have it thus far, my musical friend Jimmy Brown (who should be making waves in the music scene soon with his extreme talents, trust me) showed me this album just before the year’s end. This doesn’t sound like one dude from the capital city of ‘Murrica. This LITERALLY sounds like Horace Rosenqvist of AQUILUS and Benjamin Baret of NE OBLIVISCARIS, the two very likely most compositionally perfect metal bands out of Melbourne, Australia, combined forces, made a bit of a “supergroup” instrumental prog extreme metal duo and composed this album. But nope, EVERY last thing that went into the creation of this record was composed by a Washington DC resident who only goes by “Patrick H.” Almost overnight, this man has become one of my favorite creative minds in the entire metal scene. Every single song on here is instantaneously infectious, but there’s so much to unpack it leaves you hitting replay. Each song has it’s own identity too because of the diverse stylistic array presented here, from the calm but dramatic atmospheric intro of “Heirloom,” to “Lightless” with it’s blend of melodic black metal and relentlessly intense technical death metal, to “Celestial Dome” which is one of the really good examples of what I described above about this album sounding like Horace and Benji writing a song together. The show stealer track for me was definitely “Sleep and Oblivion,” which gives me the exact same vibes as two of my absolute favorite songs ever smashed together in a “song orgy”: NE OBLIVISCARIS’s “Devour Me, Colossus” and OPETH’s “Hessian Peel.” I couldn’t believe my ears as I was listening to this album. The sound engineering is really fucking good on this thing too for a DIY project, and although I think the music could benefit from strong vocal composition and emotionally resonant lyrics in the vein of WILDERUN added on top, it absolutely doesn’t need them to be basically perfect. You know what the real kicker is though? This whole masterpiece of an album is out and the band page on FB has LESS LIKES than my tiny fucking band that has over 300 with only one song out. Fuck that. Let’s fix that, guys. Like away: Honestly this is the kind of band that I’d absolutely love to be a part of if it weren’t a solo project. I’m beyond floored.

No 2:

Band: Rapheumet’s Well
Album: Enders Door

General Information:

Year of Formation: 2002
Record Label: Test Your Metal Records

You know you like an album… perhaps TOO much, when another review you find that paints it in a negative light damn near makes your skin crawl and your fingers fly in ranting rage because it’s clear they don’t understand the vision of the band (I’m not naming names), but my wonderful Hickory, North Carolina friends in RAPHEUMET’S WELL have almost certainly dominated metal in 2017 in terms of quality composition with their third opus “Enders Door.” Yes, perhaps I’m a little biased, but I’ve been a colossal fan of them since shortly before meeting them when only their debut “Dimensions” was out. Main composer and band mastermind Josh “Nassaru” Ward has only honed his compositional skills since then, culminating in this gigalith of emotional storytelling, word painting, utterly hellish and crushing riffs (see the riff that comes out of nowhere in the middle of “Ghost Walkers Exodus”) and stunningly professional orchestration (like on the very first minute+ of the record). This is impressive as fuck considering “Dimensions” and “The Exile” are so masterful I didn’t think there was too much room for the band to grow further in some of their strengths, but they did. This time around more contributions are added to Nassaru’s core creations for the band, from Annette Greene’s haunting but bright soprano singing and occasional very dark and gothic passages she’s composed here, to frontman on this disc Jeb Laird’s snarling tormented vocal delivery; from what I understand guitarist Brett Lee actually didn’t compose so much on here, but being friends with the guys I’ve heard a little of what he’s written for album 4 and it’s also monstrously heavy. Lead axeman Hunter Ross is another superstar on this thing, so much so that I couldn’t help but ask him to join a brand new studio tech death project I’m starting, because not only do his solos shatter universes on this thing, but his riffs that encompass the first half of “The Diminished Strategist” are the best in the style I’ve heard in 2017. Even surpassing my infatuation with “In Becoming a Ghost.” The back half of this song blew me away just as much because it’s… definitely the most emotional musical moment of 2017. Even surpassing everything on my #1 album. I tear up and get goosebumps. Every. Time. The extreme surges of emotions I get from this record are in part from understanding and resonating with the story that encompasses the album, which I implore everyone to get into with the music by buying the short book the band sells. The only gripe I have is that the mixing job is pretty muddy, but it’s not like I can do much better. For me in 2017, “The Diminished Strategist” is song of the year; “Ender’s Door” is metal album of the year. But, there's still one more on this list… and it may come as a shock.

No. 1:

Artist: Tyler, The Creator
Album: (Scum Fuck) Flower Boy

General Information:

Year of Formation: 2007
Record Label: Columbia

This is a metal webzine. This is a hip-hop album. I don’t really care, because this is my favorite disc of 2017 (although in fairness to RAPHEUMET’S WELL they come. razor-thin marginally close… one of the hardest things about this list was deciding to put them or this on top). This isn’t just a hip-hop album though…. this is what I can only describe as PROGRESSIVE hip-hop. Yes. You read that right. Despite being a very hooky pop and rap record, the composition and production (all done by Tyler himself, hence his name) has more in common with classic 70s geniuses like Gino Vanelli and Tony Banks of GENESIS than other hip-hop does, at least I find. There’s tons of fusion and neo-soul and even orchestral flourishes on this thing. “Garden Shed” even gave me the same vibes in the beginning as ALCEST’s “Shelter” album. And there’s tons of other little touches and textures thrown in here left for the listener to discover over multiple listens: which I’ve given this thing. Hella given this thing. I usually focus more on music than lyrics in my reviews, but just like the RAPHEUMET’S WELL album, the words in the lyrics on this album made very deep personal connections with me that I can’t entirely explain in one paragraph. The parts that tell stories about the difficulties of coming out definitely resonated with me as a bisexual man, and “See You Again” might be… the greatest love song ever written along with “To Love” by MEANS END (now my favorite song of all time) and “You” by aforementioned TONY BANKS. If you like progressive or even just emotionally powerful music give this album at least one try. Please.


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