As 2017 drew to a close, I kept a close eye on the “Albums of the Year” lists from many popular metal webzines/sites, including Decibel, Loudwire, Bandcamp, Rolling Stone, Metal Hammer, and Metal Injection. Some of the most consistent genres in their lists were death metal, progressive metal, metalcore, and thrash metal. Yet no matter how much I searched, there was nary a word about some of the gorgeous black metal albums released this year. Given the hype that black metal bands such as Cradle of Filth and Ghost Bath received this year, I chose two lesser known groups and two solo projects so that they can receive the attention they deserve.
4. Pillorian – Obsidian Arc
In the wake of Agalloch disbanding, fans of atmospheric/post-black metal were forlorn by the loss of one of the first and best bands of the genre. But luckily, their hopes were restored in the summer of 2016 when John Haughm, the former vocalist of Agalloch, announced the formation of his new band, Pillorian. Haughm formed Pillorian with Stephen Parkers and Trevor Matthews. Obsidian Arc is their debut album, released on March 10th, 2017, and harks back to Agalloch’s first demo, From Which of This Oak. The production is low-fi, the vocals are visceral blackened snarls, and the riffs are reminiscent of ‘90s black metal. Overall, this is a very good album made by veteran musicians. However, it’s hindered by the fact that it is an album released by a former member of Agalloch and it does not hold up to the standards of the majority of Agalloch’s discography. With that being said, if you are a fan of Agalloch’s early material (their first demo up to The Mantle), then this album is sure to check all of your folk/atmospheric black metal boxes.
3. Violet Cold – Anomie
Since the release of his 2015 debut, Desperate Dreams, multi-instrumentalist Emin Guliyev, the sole member of Violet Cold, has been one of the most discussed artists in the blackgaze community. The solo project is based out of Baku, Azerbaijan, and Guliyev has stated that he draws influences from all kinds of music, ranging from shoegaze, to post-rock, to depressive black metal, and even his own traditional Middle Eastern music. All of these influences are clear on Anomie released on February 3rd, 2017. The guitarwork is clearly inspired by Deafheaven, the vocals are reminiscent of Annorkoth, and Guliyev utilizes a few traditional Azerbaijani instruments to boot. However, what makes this album so rewarding is its replayability. The concept of the album is based on the definition of the word anomie, “individuals ignored and vilified because they run counter to a society’s groupthink.” Although the lyrics are in Turkish, upon repeated listens, one can hear Guliyev’s rasped vocals expel his frustration and bitterness against society which fits with the melancholic and chaotic instrumentation. Overall, this is a fantastic record that I would highly recommend to fans of post/depressive black metal in the vein of Deafheaven, Alcest, Mesarthim, and An Autumn for Crippled Children.
2. Falls of Rauros – Vigilance Perennial
Let me start out by saying that Vigilance Perennial is the first Falls of Rauros album I have heard, however I am a big fan of Agalloch, Wolves in the Throne Room, and Panopticon (aka “Cascadian black metal”). With that being said, Vigilance Perennial, released on March 31st, 2017 is a remarkable album and is much more interesting than WIITR’s Thrice Woven, released earlier in 2017. Just from the opener, “White Granite” listeners know that the band will take them for a beautifully depressive ride. While Falls of Rauros is a black metal band at their core, this album is strongly tinged with bluesy folk elements that can be heard to varying degrees in each track. The vocals are filled with pain and anger, similar to Austin Lunn of Panopticon while Saor and Winterfylleth come to mind from the gorgeous lead and acoustic guitar work. This record has quickly become one of my favorite albums of the year and is a must-listen if you consider yourself a fan of Agalloch, Panopticon, Saor, and Winterfylleth.
1. Sorrow Plagues – Homecoming
First of all, I have to mention that this record is my album of the year for 2017. From the cover art to the tone of the introductory solo on “Departure,” the album screams post black metal. But fear not, David Lovejoy, the sole member of Sorrow Plagues, does not rip off Deafheaven or Woods of Desolation. He takes the best parts of Deafheaven’s blackgaze sound from Sunbather and fuses it seamlessly with post rock. The rhythm guitars are meant to create a wall of sound similar to blackgaze; however, where Sorrow Plagues really stands out is in Lovejoy’s lead guitar tone during his solos. It is reminiscent of an Intervals or Plini record and it was shocking upon first listen because I have never heard this kind of tone used so prominently in a post-black album. It is crisp and unique in the mix without sounding overprocessed. The bass is also prominent on a few tracks, such as “Disillusioned,” harking back to Lovejoy’s post rock influences. Most importantly, the vocals are further back in the mix with lyrics themed around depression and self-improvement. Lovejoy screams in the face of seemingly overwhelming depression in the closing title track: “I promise you will find the fortitude/To face this adversity with a brave face/You will see that you can save yourself/When you find yourself in that woeful place.” Suffice to say, this is an incredible album that should be listened to in its entirety, from front to back. If you enjoy post/atmospheric black metal similar to Woods of Desolation, Violet Cold, or Skyforest, this could very easily become your album of the year for 2017 as well.
Below is a playlist I made of these albums in their order of release.
The Best Black Metal Albums of 2017