If you are familiar with Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats, you are no doubt aware that the only physical manifestation of their debut album Vol. 1 was on 30 CD-R’s that the band sold at live gigs circa 2010. That finally changed this year when the band’s creative mastermind Kevin Starrs (who wrote and performed Vol. 1 entirely on his own) oversaw the remixing and proper release of the now-legendary album on CD, vinyl, and digital. Uncle Acid’s schtick is probably not well suited for longevity, and the mystique that defines the Uncle Acid experience seems to have evaporated somewhat with subsequent releases bringing them into the harsh light of notoriety (even if they remain largely unknown outside of the heavy underground), but Vol. 1 is an important release and deserves to be on this list regardless of the fact that it was technically released in 2010.
Standout track: Do What Your Love Tells You
For me, Cypress Ave. was hands down the most expectation defying release of 2017. I don’t want to insult the band by suggesting their past efforts were one-dimensional, but my overall perception of The Midnight Ghost Train’s sound was so linear in scope that the Cypress Ave.’s various twists and dives seem all the more stunning as a result. It’s like that sensation you get when you take a sip of what looks like a delicious and refreshing Coke only it turns out to be a frothy pint of Old Chub instead. FULL REVIEW
Standout track: The Watcher’s Nest
Emperor of Sand is not my favorite Mastodon record (that would probably be Leviathan or Blood Mountain, depending on the day), nor would I consider it the pinnacle of their creative potential (Crack the Skye), but what I will say about Emperor of Sand is that it represents their most cohesive effort as a band. All 4 members deliver absolutely brilliant performances across the album’s 11 tracks, solidifying Mastodon as one of the most talented and unique bands of their generation. FULL REVIEW
Standout track: Clandestiny
Elder is—and has been for some time now—without peer, at least in terms of combing ambition with the talent to actually pull it off. Reflections is going to end up on a number of “best of” lists this year, and for very good reason. Building on the momentum of 2015’s Lore, Elder has vaulted into elite status in the heavy underground and one can only imagine what sort of sonic conjurations they’ll come up with next—especially now that they’ve embraced a 4th member in an effort to align the depth of their live sound with the ambitions of their studio output. FULL REVIEW
Standout track: Blind
I could shuffle the majority of this list any number of ways but Ramble Beyond is—without a doubt—my favorite release of 2017. Like a lot of bands these days, Bask’s sound reveals a wide range of influences—everything from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s southern rock dalliances to the punctuated simplicity of the deadliest Gojira riffs gets a nod here—and their sound is wildly unique while being somewhat obvious in influence, but it is the band’s uncanny ability to imbue their songs with a true sense of place that set them apart from their contemporaries. Hailing from Ashville, NC, which is situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains near the heart of Appalachia, Bask prove themselves to be true masters of the art of conveyance from the first gaze of the album’s gorgeous artwork to the closing moments of the final track. I had the good fortune of seeing them open a show for Pallbearer earlier in the year, and I can vouch for both how well their sound translates to a live setting and how genuinely down to earth these guys are. Over and over again, Ramble Beyond was my escape from all the shit that 2017 brought upon us. It was THE one album that I kept coming back to when I wanted an hour to myself. It took me places. And it’s the best thing I heard this year.