Welcome to This One Goes to Eleven’s fourth-annual, year-end metal meltdown. By now you know the drill—I write a blurb about the records I liked best, you disagree, we go our separate ways until the new year. This year, however, there is one major tweak to the formula: Instead of tackling the entire planet’s musical output, 2017’s iteration is all about our own metal metropolis. Or at least sort of. Casting TOGTE’s one-man net 50 miles in every direction, this year we’re celebrating the bands that bust their asses on stages all around this city and its ever-creeping sprawl night in, night out, until universe the evaporates. So cheers to everyone who made it and everyone who didn’t. Thanks for making this the sickest metal town on earth.
11. Unearthly Trance – Stalking the Ghost (Relapse)
It’s been seven years since we heard from Unearthly Trance. In the music industry, that’s a veritable ice age, but if Stalking the Ghost is any indication, the hiatus has fully, furiously re-stoked Unearthly Trance’s once monolithic blaze. Singing with symphonies of feedback and dry-heaving on relentless downtuned crunch, the New York sludge vets’ sixth full length is perhaps their best (and most dynamic) yet, trudging, swirling, chanting, and ranting through one of the finest sub-120 bpm offerings of the year. Metal comeback of the year? In our neck of the concrete woods—even in a year that saw the return of Woe—it’s no contest.
10. Immolation – Atonement (Nuclear Blast)
Though the Yonkers vets test the northern limits of our obviously pretty fluid “New York” designation, sometimes you just need a thick bleeding slab of beat-you-over-the-head death metal, and no semi-local band served that up quite like Immolation this year. Is it that sexy year-end list pick? Maybe not. But it is a crushingly consistent death metal record and a perfect encapsulation of the trademark Immolation sound—a perfect mix of low-end chugga and droning modal melody that never seems to go out of style.
9. Couch Slut – Contempt (Gilead Media)
This year, no album screamed “fuck the patriarchy and their creep army”—one of the most important (and hopefully enduring) themes of 2017—quite like Couch Slut’s Contempt. Spearheaded by Megan Osztrosits’ feral scream and punk-as-fuck approach, Contempt tracks Couch Slut’s evolution from scathing NYC noise rockers to misanthropic doom-core collective, a transformation made abundantly and brutally clear on the album’s grating closing dirge, “Won’t Come”. A soundtrack to the disintegration of “civilized” society, this is one of the year’s most caustic, unsettling extreme listens, and the perfect way to unwind after another long day here
on earth in purgatory.
8. Black Anvil – As Was (Relapse)
By now you’ve probably heard of Cloak—up-and-coming ATL black metallers who wear a love of classic heavy metal on their sleeves—and their debut full length To Venomous Depths, one of the year’s single most-lauded metal releases. But while that moody, broody blast of black n’ roll has been a fixture on the year-end list landscape, another equally sprawling, hybridized black metal masterpiece in Black Anvil’s As Was is conspicuously missing. Ricocheting between blast beat beatdowns and pearly arena anthems, often within the same song, As Was is outpaced only by its own ambitions, providing an essential northern bookend to Cloak’s rightfully, albeit suddenly, acclaimed sound.
7. Mutoid Man – War Moans (Sargent House)
Contrary to narrative, teenagers aren’t drawn to metal for inclusion, catharsis, or artistic extremity. That comes later. They are drawn to it because the likes of Sabbath/Priest/Maiden are a ton of fucking fun. On War Moans, Mutoid Man, one of Brooklyn’s precious few not-precious metal acts, embrace that concept with open wings, plucking one massive hook after the next from the technicolor riff tree in Torche’s backyard. Do lyrics like “came inside of Satan’s daughter/nine months later, who’s the father?” qualify as high art? Nope, but in terms of sexy, sleazy, grinding sludge, War Moans is a god damn Rembrandt.
6. Yellow Eyes – Immersion Trench Reverie (Gilead Media)
If Immersion Trench Reverie doesn’t sound like a prototypical New York metal record, well, that’s because it’s mostly from somewhere else. Inspired by (and laced with) field recordings from the band’s winter trip to Siberia and recorded in the same Connecticut cabin that they tracked its predecessor, the band’s third full length is not only their most organic, but also their most demanding. Like the moment when an ordinary dream morphs into a nightmare, Immersion Trench Reverie finally proves that Yellow Eyes are not the “melodic” black metal we all thought they were, circling, feinting, twisting, and contorting the obvious pay-off again and again, dragging listeners to hell—or in this case, the frost-bitten dusk of Russia—in the process.
5. Sunrot – Sunnata (independent)
There are few things more gratifying than hearing a band make “the leap”—of throwing on their new record thinking you have it all figured out only to wake up on your ass 45 minutes later wondering what the hell just hit you. This year, NJ post-sludge collective Sunrot—on the back of their brilliant debut full-length, Sunnata—made that leap. Simultaneously grandiose and glitching, lumbering and lurching, Sunnata unfolds over 11 grainy, monochromatic missives—the sign-off static of some Cold War-era newscast slowed down, stretched out, and slammed through a frothing 4×12. I don’t what I thought Sunrot had in them—I don’t know if Sunrot knew what they had in them—but if you only listen to one sludge record this year (a stupid hypothetical, I know), then Sunnata is it.
4. Artificial Brain – Infrared Horizon (Profound Lore)
Metal, due in large part to the nature of its subject matter, is always something of a fiction, but in 2017, few records pushed true narrative—character, plot, theme, blah, blah—quite like Infrared Horizon. A series of vignettes about a dystopian future where robots and cyborgs have outlived their human architects for so long they now view themselves as products of simple evolution, Artificial Brain’s sophomore LP is a fascinating examination of not only creationism, but the very outer limits of death metal as a genre. Dialing back the gain and pushing treble textures to the forefront, Infrared Horizon establishes the LI outfit as the galaxy’s foremost death-jazz force, skatting, vamping, and skronking through yet another civilization-incinerating blast of brutality.
3. Incendiary – Thousand Mile Stare (Closed Casket Activities)
If Long Island hardcore is a capital-F family—think the Corleones, the Sopranos, and the Bluths—then Thousand Mile Stare installs Incendiary as the acting dons. One of the single most diverse, memorable, song-centric slabs of hardcore since Jane Doe, each and every outpouring of anger on Thousand Mile Stare—from the foreboding opener “Still Burning” to the scathing capitalist critique “The Product if You”—carves out its own sonic space at the base of your skull. This is not 10 blows from the same scabbed fist, as so many genre peers press, shrink wrap, and ship. It’s an honest-to-goodness album, with each song gathering its own serrated hooks and foundation-splitting riffs under a single ideological umbrella: If we don’t fight, we’re fucked.
2. Krallice – Go Be Forgotten (Gilead Media)
At this point, every new Krallice release comes as something of a surprise, but Go Be Forgotten is shocking not because of the context—the band’s second unannounced full-length dropped in the span of a month this fall—so much as the content: A blushless, full-blooded return to the Krallice of yore. Far more than a simple nostalgia trip, however, Go Be Forgotten—a violet wash of synth swells in the eye of a swirling extra-terrestrial tremolo-storm—is the relentlessly experimental quartet’s most focused, melodic, and listenable (there, I said it) record since Years Past Matter, begging listeners to step out from behind the lab glass and finally, after years of careful observation, face the gale head on.
1. Uniform – Wake in Fright (Sacred Bones)
If you got woke in 2017 but still slept on Uniform, well, then did you really? Sure, sure, Wake in Fright got its Twin Peaks cameo, but the industrial duo’s sophomore LP is so much more than 4.0 Sacred Bones marketing, slithering out of Brooklyn like a bead of sweat on the forehead of modern anxiety, a call to arms against a freshly authoritarian state, the sound of two punks—Michael Berdan and Ben Greenberg—remembering how much fucking fun metal can be. And while tracks like “The Lost” aren’t your typical breakdown-and-a-cloud-of-dust offensives, remember that Greenberg’s kick samples are of falling bombs and his snare the sound of staccato machine gun fire, and then try to tell me that’s not the most metal thing you’ve heard all year.