I know you’re supposed to present these things as a countdown, but this is the order I wrote it in and I’m too lazy to change it now. So here are 10 albums I enjoyed, along with an afterward of some other stuff I liked.
- Pain of Salvation – In the Passing Light of Day
Apology albums are albums made in the wake of a tremendous, alienating shift in direction. These albums are usually a half hearted statement made by a band as an olive branch to fans that want to go back to the way things used to be, when we were all younger. On first hearing the opening riff to “On a Tuesday”, I was ready to write In the Passing Light of Day off as an apology album. But instead of making an album that sounds kind of like The Perfect Element or Remedy Lane, Pain of Salvation delivered an album that stands toe to toe with them.
It’s unfortunate that Daniel Gildenlow had to go through a life threatening infection to get here, but I’ll be goddamned if he didn’t–with the help of now ex-member Ragnar Zolberg–filter the anxiety of major illness into the best 71 minutes of music I heard this year. The lyrics are pretty raw and look a little earnest on paper, but Daniel sells them hard and the band backs him with everything they have–soft piano, heavy handed downtrend riffs, odd-time signatures, harmonies, etc. Really, you should listen to the whole thing, but I suppose the opening track “On a Tuesday” gives a fair lay of the land. Fair warning though: both “Silent Gold” and “In the Passing Light of Day” destroy me just about every time I listen to them.
- Night Flight Orchestra – Amber Galactic
Some of my favorite albums are non-metal albums made by metal people. Even when not speaking the language, you never lose the accent.
I don’t even like AOR that much, but through hindsight and an incredible ear for melody, these guys were able to trim the fat from that early 80s rock sound and make the catchiest album of the year. You may not like AOR either, but after one listen you’ll probably find yourself humming “Star of Rio” or “Gemini” while trying to forget the boring crap piling up on your work desk.
- Vulture Industries – Stranger Times
I had always written off Vulture Industries as an Arcturus soundalike, but 2013’s The Tower blew me away. This is a more straightforward album than The Tower, but while it sands off many of the rough edges, it keeps just enough weirdness–and Bjornar Nilsen’s fantastic distinctive vocals–to stick out. “As the World Burns” sums it up pretty well.
- Ulver – The Assassination of Julius Caesar
Look, I celebrate the entire catalog. If Ulver puts out an album, they’re pretty much guaranteed a spot in my rotation. However, this is their biggest statement since becoming a real, touring band, and their best work since Blood Inside. Ulver could always be counted on for interesting textures, but on this album they give the people want we want: Garm’s voice everywhere. Ulver does synth pop as only Ulver can, by showing you the wall in every door. Team it up with the Sic Transit Gloria Mundi ep for the full experience.
- Paradise Lost – Medusa
Less a return to their roots than a summary of everything they’ve learned so far, Medusa refines the approach taken on The Plague Within. By lobbing massive melodies over a blanket of sludge, Paradise Lost has made the ugliest beauty of the year. It’s like Draconian Times lived in a cave for the last 20 years and has gone feral.
- Junius – Eternal Rituals for the Accretion of Light
There’s a lot to take in on this album, so it took me a long time to get into it. I thought Reports from the Threshold of Death was really good and the follow up Days of the Fallen ep was great, so the shift in this one took a listen or two to plot. But it seemed like I kept hearing clips from this album everywhere and every time I did I was reminded of how much I liked it. Junius definitely has a signature sound and this might be their definitive album, but even though I’ve listened to it a ton over the last few months, the only thing I really know about it is that I love it and you should listen to it 5 times.
- Satyricon – Deep Calleth Upon Deep
2017 was a year where a lot of old friends made their way back onto my playlists. I’ll go to my grave a Volcano defender, but no Satyricon album since then has stuck with me. And yeah, I snickered at the album cover and the title, but that ended about 30 seconds into “Midnight Serpent” (the “God of no gods” part for those keeping score). As cold as Rebel Extravaganza, though less urban and as melodic as Nemesis Divina though far less bombastic, I think this might be the most frigid Black ’n Roll album ever made.
- Cloak – To Venomous Depths
Scandinavian darkness splattered with American viciousness. Listening to this one is what made me think that Black ’n Roll is about to have a moment and that Tribulation won’t just be an anomaly. I’m a sucker for groove and minor key riffs and this has plenty to spare.
- White Ward – Futility Report
Look, you put a saxophone on an extreme metal album and I will listen to it at least once. The press release called this the “metallic version of Ulver’s legendary ‘Perdition City’” and I’m not here to argue with that. It has a lot of the flipping through strange radio stations feel of Perdition City, but occasionally one of those stations will be playing some experimental black metal or even melodeath. It doesn’t always connect, but when it does it’s all worth it.
- Crusty Old Toad – Turn People Into Food
I wasn’t sure about putting this one on my list, but the fact that a song called “Auto-Bate 4000” not only exists but is legitimately catchy is an achievement that deserves to be recognized. The lyrics are cleverly stupid but the fact that everything is delivered completely straight keeps the whole album from tipping over into a mere novelty. That and the super melodic solos. Jesus Christ, the solos. In a year that constantly folded back into self parody, I think an album that works as both black metal and a meta-comment on black metal might be the most 2017 metal release I can think of.
I didn’t see enough movies this year to feel comfortable making a top 10 list, but if I did, my number 1 would be a two way tie between War for the Planet of the Apes and Raw. I may still end up writing something about War for the Planet of the Apes, but I think you should go watch Raw right now and not read anything about it until after. There’s at least one scene burned into my brain for the rest of my days. And for what it’s worth, I really liked The Last Jedi.
As far as comic books, I spent 2017 catching up, so I didn’t read a whole lot of recent releases. But the flat-out best thing I read this year was My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris. It’s a beautiful book that shifted my outlook on the world by comparing life to a photograph.
I’m pretty sure I read only one book released in 2017, but The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris was so good it will probably make it into my regular rotation.
I think the New Donk City level from Super Mario Odyssey is probably the best level of anything ever, but my Switch says Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is the game I played most this year, so take that as you will. However, I also really like Pyre and haven’t a chance to play Zelda yet, so I’m in the same boat that I was in for the movies.
And as for TV, everyone knows that Better Call Saul is incredible and Michael McKean is doing his best work on it. However, if I had to give my heart to just one TV show this year, it would have to be Vice Principals. The series finale manages to be both a wild fever dream and make complete sense all at the same time. And as much as it’s a perfect end for the series, I wouldn’t turn down a follow up season with the new character they introduce at the end.
Oh, and I’m not sure where to put it, but add Nathan Fielder’s Finding Frances in whatever category you decide it belongs in.