2017, Part 2: But I Haven't Finished The First Half Yet!

Thumbs up: +1
Still got plenty of stuff to catch up from Q1 and Q2 from this year, but will probably end up checking out some stuff from second half of 2017 before I'm done with all of that, so here's this list.

Created by: musclassia | 05.07.2017

1. Mastodon - Cold Dark Place
2017 [8.5] - There's a very sizeable chance of two Mastodon releases making my top 10 of 2017, in part due to general below-average output this year, and in part because they're a great band and I consistently enjoy their output. However, whilst Emperor of Sand was overall a quality release in my eyes, it was a bit inconsistent throughout, and below their best work from the 00s. This EP, however, is seriously impressive - somewhat darker than most of their music (particularly this decade), proggier (definitely more hints towards Crack The Skye here than anything that's come out since that album), and emotionally richer. It does peak with the incredible first song North Side Star, but all 4 tracks are great, even if Toe To Toes is a little bit out of place compared to the other 3 songs, which isn't surprising as those three were recorded during the Once More Round The Sun period whilst Toe To Toes was made during the Emperor of Sand sessions.
2. The Contortionist - Clairvoyant
2017 [8.5] - Language never made the impact on me that it made on many others, so I wasn't going into this album expecting a masterpiece, despite the similar levels of enthusiasm towards it. However, I ended up totally won over by it. The music feels more coherent than on Language, and regularly lands the emotional blows that one typically failed to do on me. The songs feel more cohesive and the hooks are more prevalent, so it doesn't have the hit and miss, and somewhat formless feel of many songs on that album. The quality is consistently high throughout - the Monochromes act as fantastic bookending tracks, and others such as Godspeed, Clairvoyant and Absolve are fantastic.
3. Leprous - Malina
2017 [8.4] - I've heard a lot in the build-up to listening to this album that, one or two songs aside, it sounds like you would expect based upon the early songs that were released from it - to this, I would only partially agree. I have listened to From The Flame and Illuminate a lot in the last couple of months (not so keen on Stuck), and I would say the more simple straightforward songs like these occupy the first 6 tracks on the album. Mirage, a fantastic song, begins the latter stretch of the album, in which I feel it gets far more varied - more explorative songs, including the title track, which maintains a quiet, sorrowful feel throughout whilst refraining from breaking out at any point, the very proggy Weight Of Disaster and aforementioned Mirage, and the truly shocking The Last Milestone, a stripped down, strings-dominated, mournful dirge over which Einar's gutwrenching utterances glide. I wouldn't say this album matches up to their peak effort to date Bilateral, and perhaps not even Coal, but the combination of more cohesive 'single' songs and some real interesting variety at the rear end of the album puts this above the solid, but at times awkwardly structured, The Congregation.
4. Cormorant - Diaspora
2017 [8.3] - Another solid release in the still-young discography of this distinctive and exciting progressive black metal band. As before, solid songwriting that utilises their best black metal and non-black tendencies, variation in vocal styles, intensity, moods, all generate an output with enough twists and turns to remain fresh and enough quality to sustain interest throughout. Arguably most pleasing to myself is the extremely long closer Migration, with its top-quality post-rock mid-section that builds slowly but with purpose as more and more elements come into play, from the driving drums to the various guitar lines. This is sandwiched between a black metal intro that moves from frantic, to a storming march, to a catchy riff-fest, and a climactic black/doom stomp and final BM romp. A highly multi-faceted 26 minute mammoth that symbolises the capacity to offer both variety and quality throughout, which has made this band (alongside their striking album artworks) a real hot commodity.
5. Perturbator - New Model
2017 [8.3] - A suitable extension of the great Uncanny Valley, this EP has the same Blade Runner-esque darkwave vibe going on, which it once again executes with aplomb. Nothing here is as energetic and outright memorable as Neo-Tokyo, but every song works well, unlike one or two off of the last album.
6. Shade Empire - Poetry Of The Ill-Minded
2017 [8.2] - It's been a long time since I heard Omega Arcane, so I can't comment on it any further than I gave it a good score when I first listened to it so must've somewhat liked it. I also rather like this album - I expected not to as the symphonic black thing has become a bit tedious for me by now, but I ultimately found it entertaining, varied, and evocative. Some really nice musical arrangement and writing, it maintains its quality pretty much throughout, which is pleasing. I also didn't find the trumpet and clean vocals nearly as irritating as some others did; to the contrary, I thought by and large they were perfectly okay and regularly used quite well.
7. Subterranean Masquerade - Vagabond
2017 [8.2] - Actually a really neat prog album, with plenty of middle Eastern influence (it's rather Orphaned Land-esque) at times. But it has distinctive twists - the flipping between major and minor melodies on the second half of Hymn of the Vagabond is truly delightful. Beyond that, it's a well-produced, well-written, well-balanced album with complexity but not in excess, healthy doses of melodies (Asian and otherwise) with patches of intensity (occasional growls, and the doom-y dirge of the David Bowie cover), and solid vocals, both lead and the regularly utilised backing vocals and choirs.
8. Rosetta - Utopioid
2017 [8.2] - Starts off very post-rock-esque, quiet and jingly, but slowly grows throughout the first 15-20 minutes in heaviness and dynamics. After that, it journeys between softer, contemplative stretches with soothing vocals (Hypnagogic) to more melodic yet heavy parts that remind me of sections of The Ocean's Pelagial, and finally the meatier, crunchier passages. The heavier aspects of their sound are arguably best demonstrated on Detente. Not as imaginative and explorative as The Anaesthetate perhaps, but a step up from their two efforts from 2015.
9. Caligula's Horse - In Contact
2017 [8.2] - I do feel for the most part, based on their past 2 albums, that this band is just a notch below the current modern progressive metal genre leaders such as Leprous, and (at least before the last album) fellow Aussies Karnivool. However, there's still plenty worth getting stuck into on here, including the dainty and jolly The Hands Are The Hardest, the punchy The Cannon's Mouth, and the honestly epic Graves, which is well worth its runtime.
10. Tchornobog - Tchornobog
2017 [8.1] - Primarily cavernous extreme doom that drifts from Wormphlegm-esque vile dirges to incendiary death/doom barrages, particularly in the first half of the album, but there are still quite a few intriguing diversions made along the way. "Hallucinatory Black Breath Of Possession" throws in some hammered dulcimer partway through to accompany a steady march, whilst "Non-Existence's Warmth" is dominated by an almost post-rock/metal sound, with a brief sax cameo to boot. Add to that the melodic death/doom sound of the closing track and what at first appears to be a torturous grind becomes far more multi-faceted than initially anticipated.
11. Paradise Lost - Medusa
2017 [8.1] - I actually really rather digged this - any problems Nick Holmes had when he first started growling again with Bloodbath are gone, as the vocals are venomous and intense, the riffs and thick sound are punishing but not overbearing, and the lead guitar melodies are on point throughout. It all comes together into a really imposing mammoth of melodic death/doom, albeit one that is pretty unwavering stylistically, which may put off those that prefer the sonic variety on their previous couple of albums.
12. Orden Ogan - Gunmen
2017 [8.1] - Imagine this will probably be amongst, if not the king of, the best power metal albums from 2017. Anthemic, cheesy but not irritatingly so, rich in sound, plenty of great vocal arrangements, a suitably epic feel, memorable, and consistent in quality throughout. I'm trying to remember which band it reminds me of the most - maybe Blind Guardian in some ways, but definitely a distinctive feel (less minstrel-ish I would say), perhaps Edguy/Avantasia a bit, but I also got a Wintersun vibe at times. Whatever it is, it works well and delivers a really effective and enjoyable end product.
13. Hacride - Chapter I - Inconsolabilis
2017 [8.1] - Far more melodic than I remember their previous album being, where the comparisons to Nero Di Marte's dissonant extreme prog seemed more apt, this is prog metal with dynamics and heart, covered by some great song texturing, structures and neat clean vocal parts. I guess it feels a little closer to maybe Klone than NdM? But not sure who the test comparison would be for this sound. Not a huge fan of the country feel of the closing song however.
14. Steven Wilson - To The Bone
2017 [8.0] - Probably the poppiest thing Steven has done, most obviously on Permanating, but even that piano-driven song has its fair share of character. And there is still a fair amount of Wilson-style prog on here, most obviously on the likes of Detonation or Refuge. The guest vocals from Ninet Tayeb unsurprisingly lift up the songs she features on hugely, but in general the quality you would expect from Wilson is still very much on display here, even if it lacks the melancholy of Hand. Cannot. Erase. or the likes of Drive Home. It's actually relatively varied, and consistent despite that variety.
15. Myrkur - Mareridt
2017 [8.0] - I don't think this is quite as compelling as M, certainly there's nothing here as ethereal and entrancing as Skøgen Skulle Dø. However, on the flip side this is possibly more varied and more adventurous - more non-metal styles are on display here, or on display more than previously, including Norse folk, ballads such as Death of Days (made me think a bit of Nighttime Birds-era Gathering), and a couple of neat duets with Chelsea Wolfe. Overall, another neat release from a controversial, but in my opinion, quality artist.
16. Threshold - Legends Of The Shires
2017 [7.9] - Extensive prog album which brings a few bands to mind, including one prominently that I can't quite recall (possibly Pagan's Mind, with the vocal lines etc?). It's good some enjoyable songs and solid writing to sustain interest during the long runtime, but perhaps not enough to wholly captivate.
17. Vattnet - Vattnet
2017 [7.9] - An interesting shift away from the quality post-black metal found on Settler, towards a post-metal/prog metal sounds that brings to mind Palms, The Ocean, Intronaut, and Long Distance Calling amongst others. It's generally pretty likeable, with some interesting songwriting, but nothing that makes it stand out from the bands it's following, unlike Settler which was a prime example for the genre. It isn't helped by the vocalist (who sings almost entirely clean vocals here) is not the most powerful of vocalists - he reminds me a bit of Chino Moreno on Palms' album, but not at the same quality level. Still, it's pretty good on the whole and it'll be interesting to see how they develop the sound on future efforts.
18. Rings Of Saturn - Ultu Ulla
2017 [7.9] - Really interesting album actually, starts off feeling like it's just going to be an above-average deathcore album, but in all of there there's progressive songwriting, melodic stretches (especially on album highlight The Macrocosm), distinctive use of electronics (sometimes almost going Pryapisme-esque cybermetal), and just a general high quality to songwriting and instrumentation. Certainly worth giving a try if you have any inclination towards deathcore.
19. Akercocke - Renaissance In Extremis
2017 [7.8] - I'm not a big fan of this band's sound, but I can appreciate the distinctiveness of it, and the talent and vision behind it. The wildly varying avant-garde extreme prog, from soft atmospheric stretches (sometimes with sax or trumpet to keep it company), all the way up to straight up death metal, with a whole range of vocal styles accompanying everything (albeit of questionable quality). It's a weird, off-kilter album with a murky sound, nothing on it really tickles my feelings but it's objectively impressive.
20. Widek - Hidden Dimensions
2017 [7.8] - Discovered this through a post-rock YT channel, but this is categorically not post-rock. Instrumental modern progressive metal, not particularly djent-y but clearly from the same kinda scene as many of those musicians. It also features many musicans known for their own instrumental prog, including David Maxim Micic (who recently released the excellent Who Bit The Moon, and whose song here, 'Gravity', is an early standout cut), and Sithu Aye. Quite light mood-wise and an atmospheric kinda feel not too far from the likes of Disperse's Living Mirrors, it's very pleasant and if you like this type of music should fully satisfy. I personally am not a big fan of instrumental prog these days but can recognise quality music such as this.
21. AFX - orphans
2017 [7.8] - The only thing I've previously heard from Aphex Twin is Selected Ambient Works 85-92, so clearly I've got a lot of work to catch up on between then and now, but I will say it is easy to believe that the two works came from the same artist, and not necessarily 25-30 years apart. Some of the tone of the electronics I'm not as fond of here as on SAW85/92, but in general the synth-dominated ambient electronic is good enough to enjoy.
22. Septicflesh - Codex Omega
2017 [7.7] - More of the same from this band, and this style does have a bit of a tendency to end up blending together when repeated across songs, never mind 3 albums. However, there are enough tracks here with distinctive character (commonly mentioned album highlight Dark Art has some tasty triumphant strings and creepy chorus) to make it worth a listen for the fans of their latest style. Personally, I would need to be listening to the likes of Titan and The Great Mass far more than I actually have in the past to make more songs in the same style worth acquiring.
23. Dan Caine - Journey Through An Open Mind
2017 [7.7] - A really dainty ambient post-rock EP, full of delicate guitar playing, guitar tremolo, and serene atmosphere.
24. Cytotoxin - Gammageddon
2017 [7.6] - Fun, catchy, pig-squeally brutal death metal.
25. Wintersun - The Forest Seasons
2017 [7.6] - Despite all their antics, I do still very much like the Wintersun debut, and somewhat like the overly orchestrated and dramatic Time I. I actually think this is slightly superior to that album - not drowning in layers and layers of orchestrations, and with some really nice parts, most notably the rich clean vocals from Jari in the closer Loneliness. The tracks are overly long and could do with some direction but it's definitely better than what I was expecting.
26. The Discussion - European Tour EP 2017
2017 [7.6] - Laura Pleasants of Kylesa fame fronts this laid-back, somewhat blues-y, atmospheric alt-rock album. Somewhat like the more introspective parts of Ultraviolet, and also plenty of other music that I know that it should bring to mind but I can't remember right now, this relies on stripped down songs, with slow/mid-tempo percussive grooves over which dreary vocals and sometimes minimalist guitar arranges float, with Eastern-influenced melodies. It comes together nicely, something rewarding to lie back and space out to, and I would rank it higher than some of Kylesa's post-Spiral Shadow work.
27. Usnea - Portals Into Futility
2017 [7.6] - (Funeral?) doom with some black metal bits sprinkled in there, unsurprisingly as a non-enthusiast of really slow, trudging doom I'm not overly enamoured, but I did find it more intriguing than a majority of its competition. It primarily flickers (usually within each song) between introspective, quiet passages (usually clean guitar only), pounding, crawling-speed doom riffs, and slightly more upbeat stretches often infused with BM menace - all three of these turn up during multiple segments on opening track Eidolons And The Increate. The most interesting parts for me turn up during the softer, creepy second half of Pyrrhic Victory, and during the many different aspects of lengthy closer A Crown Of Desolation, most notably the entire second half, that goes from the barest bones, to slowly more intense music as additional guitar leads, then drums, then howls enter the fray, peaking with a climactic guitar lead before it all fades away to the sounds of pounding toms.
28. Pyrrhon - What Passes For Survival
2017 [7.5] - Certainly distinctive, this tech-death release takes cues from many of their peers (easy to hear the typical Necrophagist/Obscure sound here), but also Atheist (particularly vocally, but also some other inclinations towards an influence), brutal death, dissonance, and general avant-garde chaos. It's interesting, but as typically unemotional as tech-death often is, and a bit draining given its length.
29. Sun Of The Sleepless - To The Elements
2017 [7.5] - I feel like the problem with black metal is that across bands, the base sound is generally quite similar. It means that bands need to either add something unique or really go all-out quality-wise to standout. Quite a lot of bands manage this, but it means that the rest fade a bit. This album is perfectly decent, typical black metal with some keys and brief choral vocals to slightly spice it up, but nothing remarkable enough to really rise above the crowd.
30. We Came From The North - Faded Giant
2017 [7.5] - Typically pleasant atmos-post-rock album that gets a bit meaty towards the middle and ends with something of a flourish; I discovered it through the same channel as Apocryphal Hubris from my Part 1 list, and I would have to rate that album slightly higher than this one in terms of distinctiveness.
31. Foo Fighters - Concrete And Gold
2017 [7.3] - Not as good as the best from Wasting Light, but a recovery from Sonic Highways, it's not so dad rock-esque and has some of that Foo Fighters energy that one would ideally wish for from the band.
32. Molecules To Minds - Ascent Into Insignificance
2017 [7.3] - The first song on this 4-track release is pretty impressive, with a mix of The Mighty Rio Grande-esque atmosphere, with some more imposing moods in the heavier sections, the first one even making me think of the intro to Limbs somewhat. However, the rest of the record is a bit too typically twee, twiddly and quiet to really stand out against the many other similar bands.
33. Thy Art Is Murder - Dear Desolation
2017 [7.2] - Pretty standard breakdown-heavy intense deathcore, but I'll admit I may have warmed a bit to breakdowns - I was bobbing along to most of this album and generally kinda enjoyed it.
34. A Rain Of Napalm - I Promise
2017 [7.2] - A post-rock release with the emphasis on rock, there are riffs and song arrangements here that could easily be turned into radio-friendly alt rock songs with some appropriate vocals. But alongside all that are some pleasant post-rock motifs and dainty ambience that nicely complements the core of the music.
35. Dead Cross - Dead Cross
2017 [7.2] - Some fun hardcore punk, carried by the ever-wonderful Mike Patton on vocals.
36. Ensiferum - Two Paths
2017 [7.1] - Superior to Unsung Heroes, but this band hasn't managed to match up to From Afar just yet. The vocal dominance has shifted away from shrieks more towards clean vocals from all kinds of sources, for better or worse (the vocalists aren't exactly stellar, but are generally appropriate). There's nothing breathtaking here, but in general it's around/just above par for the course of this kind of music, and certainly even if they're not reaching past accomplishments, Ensiferum can still write stuff that is better than the par for northern Europe extreme folk.
37. Adagio - Life
2017 [7.0] - Objectively well made, and some parts of it I like, but whilst there was probably a time not too long ago that I may have somewhat digged this, honestly at this point I find this particular style kinda boring.
38. Decapitated - Anticult
2017 [6.8] - A further extension of the groovier sound of their more recent stuff, but arguably even further away from death metal than before. The opening song is still pretty heavy, but a lot of it feels like it's straight up groove metal; compared to the big songs off of Carnival Is Forever and Blood Mantra, the blastbeats and frantic percussive riffs, are gone, and standard relatively mid-tempo groovy riffs that have only really been in the band's sound on a couple of their previous songs (Blood Mantra for example) are prevalent here. Earth Scar feels a lot closer to being a Lamb of God song than a Decapitated song, whilst Deathvaluation could almost be a Soilwork song, with its overt melodeath riffs. Honestly, it's pretty catchy and it should appeal to that primal groovy headbanging urge many metal fans have, but it feels like the band, except for moments here and there, have left behind not only everything that made them first well known, but a fair amount of what has brought about the post-accident resurgence in popularity.
39. Arch Enemy - Will To Power
2017 [6.7] - Generally pretty predictable, and as someone not enamoured by Arch Enemy, it didn't overly inspire, but it is generally okay, with some variety, particularly the clean vocals and more Gothic atmosphere of tracks like Reason To Believe.
40. Lacrimosa - Testimonium
2017 [6.5] - My first introduction to this band, and not the most impressive. Half decent but slightly tedious and pretty cheesy Gothic metal. The vocals are okay but can be a bit dreary (and not in a good way) at times, and some of the riffs/melodies/arrangements work well, but across a full hour it really begins to drag after a while.
41. Queens Of The Stone Age - Villains
2017 [6.3] - I've never really gotten Kyuss fully from what I've heard of them, and a couple of songs aside QOTSA have made even less of an impact upon me. This album doesn't change it for me, just found it a bit boring sadly.

Disclaimer: All top lists are unofficial and do not represent the point of view of the MS Staff.
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