Top Ten of 2017: Caustic Casanova

Caustic Casanova is a loud, heavy rock band from Washington, DC, that has learned the power of constant motion. Since 2013 they’ve practiced and toured tirelessly, showcasing their brands of “absurdly muscled uber-psyche” and “beautiful aural assault” all across North America while releasing new music regularly, with no intention of slowing down.
What kind of music has Caustic Casanova made since opening for sludge rock titans Kylesa in 2014 and signing to their eclectic label Retro Futurist? Their relentlessly intense live show has earned plenty of notoriety, and their 2015 LP Breaks has garnered much praise for its uniquely diverse take on heavy.
Caustic Casanova released their second seven-inch, Pantheon: Vol 2, on September 8 before hitting the road again last fall.
Ghettoblaster caught up with the trio recently to get lists of their favorite releases of the year and they kindly obliged.
Andrew Yonki’s Top Ten
10. Elder – Reflections of a Floating World

So much going on in this record. It’s a little bit psychedelic, a little bit progressive, definitely has some alternative moments, but one cannot deny that above all it is just fucking really good. The heaviness does not let up, but the heaviness is never at the expense of songcraft or melody. A standard against which many a headbanger will be judged.
9. Bigfoot Yancey – Hills
Mike Angel and his boys from Indianapolis expand on the promise hinted at by their debut EP, Welcome to the City, with this batch of midwestern Americana. Traditional Instruments collide with lyrics reflecting modern life, injected with the honesty and humor of someone far wiser than his years would suggest. The kind of music to listen to on a Sunday morning while drinking coffee as it rains like hell outside.
8. Jade Jackson – Gilded
What stands out most about this record is that it is batch of brilliant traditional country songs elevated by a voice that would be equally at home in smokey jazz-clubs as it is backed by pedal-steel and fiddle. The standard country themes are all there, but Jackson brings the more traditional subjects into the 21st Century with her young point of view with wiser-beyond-years understanding, and of course, that soulful, jazzy voice with only the slightest hint of twang. All these sonic hallmarks would be nothing without songs; fortunately, expert songcraft is abundant on this record.
7. Mutoid Man – War Moans
As its evolved, heavy metal has just gotten more superlative in every way: heavier, more technical, faster, more brutal. It has not gotten more FUN, and fun was a major part of the best classic metal. Mutoid Man fixes that – the aggression of classic New England hardcore smashes up against red-hot speed-metal technicality, but balances it out with a jubilant and cocky swagger reminiscent of Thin Lizzy and Judas Priest.
6. Propagandhi – Victory Lap
Don’t let the title mislead, this is most definitely NOT a band resting on laurels of any kind. This album is a taut collection of razor-sharp riffs, bilious sociopolitical commentary, hard-driving rhythms, and guitar-work that puts most modern metal bands to shame. Count on Propagandhi to fire salvos of guitar-based artillery for as long as the state of the world demands sonic catharsis.
5. Worriers – Survival Pop
2017 was an exhausting year, with lots of people angry and scared and anxious just living day to day. Think of this album as all of that despair and anxiety, channeled into artful yet coherent poetry, backed by slashing guitars and driving rhythms. Worriers is definitive pop-punk for darker times. The catchy melodies make sure that the lyrics will stay in your head, and maybe there is hope to found in that.
4. Contrarian – To Perceive is to Suffer
Of all death metal bands to form and put out records since 1998, this is the band that sounds most like the genre’s namesake. One would be hard-pressed to find a band who has come so close to nailing the sonic hallmarks of Chuck Schuldiner’s best work with Death. Anyone looking for death metal that combines dizzying guitar riffs and solos, inventive, jazz-infused double-bass-drum mayhem and gut-churning screams should look no further. Many extreme metal bands are content to emphasize speed and brutality; Contrarian realizes that true heaviness lies in knowing when to pull back, to lull, and, of course, when to deliver the final death (Death?) blow.
3. Pallbearer – Heartless
Doom is the metal genre in chic at the moment, and there are plenty of bands out there playing slow, heavy, mournful, and loud. Almost none of those bands do it anywhere near as well as Pallbearer. Furthermore, Pallbearer has the gift of being able to turn dark, existential agony into gorgeous torrents of emotional, melodic turmoil. Yearning and beautifully dismal, the vocal melodies and twin-guitar leads and riffs are what separate Pallbearer from the average doom metal; while most doom metal exists as a soundtrack to the big-picture view of destruction and apocalypse, Pallbearer’s strongest attributes invite the listener to an uncomfortably intimate viewing of internal struggle, self-destruction, and doubt.
2. The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
A beautiful album of lush instrumentation, brilliant songcraft, and aching melodies. Even after many listens, it remains difficult to find the words to accurately describe this incredible record. There are times when the pulsing synths and gruff vocals recall the best of Bruce Springsteen’s career, Born in the USA and later, and as brilliant as THAT record is, the comparison is not entirely accurate and nowhere close to telling the story of the sonic ground covered by this record. There are moments of atmospheric alt-country-rock, synth-pop lines that would be at home in an ’80s training montage, and songs that skirt the edges of bombastic arena rock. Lots of records pick from those influences and sonic palettes; this album pulls off the impossible by using those influences to not just create something wholly unique, but by avoiding the all but assured misstep into cheesiness. Just…listen to this album.
1. Cloakroom – Time Well
Shoegaze, slowcore and noise-pop collide to create a firestorm of lush feedback, impenetrable guitar-fuzz, warbling chorused clean arpeggios and dense bass, creating a foundation on which airy, bleak vocals barely touch. Heavy without being metal, deliberately slow but never turgid, Time Well excels at creating oppressive yet beautiful melancholy reminiscent of a louder version of Idaho or a less romantic Hum. Essentially, this album sounds a lot like what would happen if post-metal bands took the idea of “FInal Breath” by Pelican (their only non-instrumental song to date) and took it in a more song-oriented direction while losing none of its paradoxical oppressive beauty.
Honorable Mentions:
Crossed Keys – I’m Just Happy That You’re Here
Technicians – Now that We’re Home
Ryan Adams – Prisoner
Francis Beringer’s Top Ten

10. Stinking Lizaveta – Journey To The Underworld

Simply the most fun you’ll have listening to an instrumental heavy metal album. Journey To The Underworld was the best collection of off-the-wall licks and insane, intense arrangements I heard this past year. This veteran Philadelphia band, unburdened by traditional songwriting conventions, skips around from noisy post punk to classic rock rifforama easily and without hesitation, then doubles back and dabbles in massive fuzzed out blues scales, but not before smashing you with some old school thrash and neck bending math rock for good measure. With the exception of a few quiet interludes that give way to spacious, dreamy passages, they never keep their iron boots off your neck, and the end result is a relentlessly heavy power trio stomp from start to finish. All three of them can play just about anything, but their chops always serve the wacky song being played, which is a measured restraint rare for this kind of band. It’s why they’ve remained one of the most heralded instrumental bands in the world for so long.
9. Imelda Marcos – Dalawa

This truly strange math rock guitar and drum duo from Chicago make some of the most innovative and bizarre instrumental music I’ve ever heard. I just don’t have the language to describe a lot of it, but it sounds totally inhuman. Watching it live doesn’t make it seem any less impossible. The technical prowess combined with sheer innovation is just jaw dropping. Most bands like this are content to blow you away with oddball clever compositions, intricate arrangements and atonal wizardry. Imelda Marcos does all that but makes sure each track is jam packed with unforgettable guitar hooks. Sure, some of those hooks sound like they are straight out of some sci fi horror movie score, but they’re hummable hooks nonetheless. This is a genius band and a genius record. Probably the most unique album I heard in 2017.
8. Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper
This is haunting, frightening, beautiful doom metal of the highest order. Bell Witch is just a bass and drum duo who throw in sections of organ. Their skill at pulling and scraping such unbelievably moving, leaden heavy metal out of such a limited set up speaks volumes about the weight and strength of the material they write. This is one nearly 83 minute song – it’s not easy listening by any stretch, but it is the most enjoyable single song lengthy heavy metal record I’ve heard since Sleep’s Dopesmoker. Each movement swims in and out of warm post rock, unrelenting funeral doom with guttural vocals, drone metal and ethereal ambience with ease. It truly feels like one complete composition and it is never boring. The fact that it was written under the cloud of original drummer Adrian Guerra’s death, and that his vocals are a part of the record, give Mirror Reaper a devastating mystical quality. The crushingly slow beats and chorus soaked bass distortion serve as a eulogy for a lost bandmate and friend. The music is wrapped around this story and can’t escape it – and Bell Witch don’t seem to want the listener to escape either. This isn’t for the faint of heart, but you’re unlikely to find a more complete and all-encompassing audio experience on the slow side of extreme metal than Mirror Reaper.
7. Pallbearer – Heartless

The current kings of American melodic doom metal return with their best record yet. This one has no shortage of funeral dirges and monumental riffs that move mountains with unrelenting sadness and beauty. But on this LP they really upped their game with the vocals – the gorgeous hooks are overflowing from each and every track. The instrumental arrangements of the songs are less unrelenting doom and sludge and more Pink Floyd progressive rock – a welcome change that shows this band will never sit still or be nailed down. They’re evolving into, simply put, one of the best heavy metal bands in the world. I assume at some point they’ll outgrow the doom tag altogether. Special consideration has to be given to the final song “A Plea for Understanding” – which is, to my ears, far and away the best thing Pallbearer has ever done. The vocals and lyrics that carry the track would not be out of place on a Kansas, Styx or Foreigner hit. It’s about as naked and vulnerable and unabashedly poppy an arrangement choice as can be made in this kind of anthemic doom, and they pull it off flawlessly. Goosebumps every time – it’s the best metal song of the year.
6. Hyperbor – Mondo Violento

This Lawrence, KS, band is one of the best we’ve ever played with and their new record is an absolute triumph. The easiest band to compare Hyperbor to is King Crimson – this is like a 30 minute mix tape with wildly different songs that touch on all the areas King Crimson (Robert Fripp at the helm) have mastered over the years. Ethereal vocals, crazy math rock arrangements, angular repetitive riffs, electronica, jazz, soul, progressive pop, bizarre and frightening soundscapes, industrial noise, anthemic heavy metal riffs – it’s all stuff KC has done, and it’s all on this record. The Melvins and King Crimson are the only bands I can think of that would dare to put an album like this out. Welcome Hyperbor to an elite community of hard rock brilliance. Its restless pace and relentless genre-hopping is not for everyone, but for those of us that like this kind of thing, it does not get much better than Hyperbor’s Mondo Violento.
5. Mastodon – Emperor of Sand

Mastodon returns with another excellent record, their best since Crack the Skye in 2009. Everything they do well as the undisputed kings of forward-thinking heavy metal is on full display here. Shapeshifting prog rock arrangements. Bizarre lead guitar playing that splits the difference among King Crimson, The Allman Brothers and Death filtered through bluegrass and surf rock. Vocal hooks crammed into each and every place possible. And the most innovative riffs in heavy music. The singing has improved yet again as this band continues to challenge themselves. Brann Dailor puts in his best drum performance ever – his octopus-behind-the-kit insanity and technical proficiency is never in doubt, but he’s making more and more groove-oriented choices that give the eventual flurries of fills and cascading pummels more weight when they arrive. This is one of Mastodon’s most dynamic records, and the drumming is a huge part of that. “Steambreather” has one of the best riffs of the year, an unforgettably catchy chorus, and Dailor’s drumming and singing is about as good as it gets. Album closer “Jaguar God” is an epic prog-metal masterpiece would have been at home on Crack The Skye. This record’s Scott Kelley’s cameo (the Neurosis front man sings a song on every album) comes on the manic sludge fest “Scorpion Breath”, which has two of the best riffs of Mastodon’s career crammed into three minutes. If only the lame radio rock of “Show Yourself” had been swapped for the absolutely gorgeous anthem “Toe to Toe” off the Cold Dark Place EP that came later in 2017, Emperor of Sand might have been a contender for my number one record of the year.
4. And So I Watch You From Afar – The Endless Shimmering

ASIWYFA returns with an entirely instrumental album. The Belfast band, has, over the past few LPs, carved out an entirely unique sound. Almost in a genre by themselves at this point, the boys find themselves favoring their heavier material that relies more on power and riffage than on delicate passages and quiet to loud traditional post rock dynamics. The pretty parts and cinematic scope are still there, don’t worry, but there are few diversions into overtly indie pop territory, and not even the occasional vocal to distract from the central focus – relentlessly coming after the listener with beautiful, transcendent hooks and crazy, destructive riffage. Make no mistake, this is the same band. Their brand of catchy, agile, relentlessly optimistic math rock still shines and soars across these ferocious tracks. It’s just more direct, tighter, and more sonically devastating than ever before
3. Crystal Fairy – Crystal Fairy

Crystal Fairy is a “supergroup” – Buzz and Dale from the Melvins, Teri Gender Bender from Les Butcherettes, and Omar Rodríguez-López from Mars Volta/At The Drive In. But it mostly sounds like a Melvins album with Teri on vocals. In that regard it’s the best Melvins album since 2010’s The Bride Screamed Murder. Buzz puts forward some of the best riffs and arrangements of his career, and Teri dances all over them with a total mastery of the craft of rock and roll front woman. She is simply one of the best hard rock/punk vocalists working today, and her incredible range and evocative lyrics adds a significant counterpoint to the Melvins music. The Melvins have never sounded so anthemic. This was my most listened to record of 2017, easily.
2. Elder – Reflections of a Floating World

This album is a genius level curation of the finest in epic ’70s maximalist progressive rock, grinding, grooving minimalist krautrock, the warmest of ’60s psych and classic rock (Jimi Hendrix and The Allman Brothers seem clear reference points), and the most emotive and crushing contemporary post rock and avant garde metal. And it’s all on display within an indestructible edifice made of rock solid Black Sabbath-influenced hazy stoner jams. Elder’s meticulous and thunderous creative vision has no horizon, what they can do instrumentally is essentially limitless at this point. But triumphant earworm vocal hooks and instantly memorable guitar leads are the focus of the songwriting amidst this controlled virtuosic maelstrom – which makes this collection of really long progressive metal songs one of the most accessible and catchy heavy records of the year.
1. Oxbow – Thin Black Duke

I’m late to the party on Oxbow – I’ve known the name for years, but this full length was my first detailed introduction to this band. There is no band that sounds like this, and there is no record I’ve ever heard like Thin Black Duke. Angular Fugazi-esque noise punk meets Lungfish’s practiced repetition forms the spine of some of this music, but it’s often augmented by lush strings and brass, both of which give these tunes a haunting beauty almost unheard of in this kind of aggressive rock. Lumbering power-riffs give way to jazzy lounge music, and abstract, droning horror soundtracks contract and expand into chaotic noise – and on and on it goes like that, each twist and turn more unexpected than the last. There’s no direction this progressive dissonant orchestra won’t go, and there’s no direction they go that doesn’t make sense when the listener gets a moment to digest the majesty of it all. They make impossible genre-mashing sound simple, easy and smooth. That’s because the biggest presence on the record is the strength and vision of vocalist Eugene Robinson, whose approach exists somewhere between Tom Waits and David Yow (with occasional touches of Chris Cornell), and whose wild and theatrical performance alters every moment of the album for the better and ties the compositions together as a cohesive whole. Without him, this would be a hell of an instrumental record. With him sputtering, soaring and slithering in and out of every demented riff and bellowing his manic preacher-poetry over its most intense sonic catharses, Thin Black Duke approaches truly transcendent art. Album of the year.
Honorable Mentions:
Monolord – Rust
Kairon; IRSE! – Ruination
Primus – The Desaturating Seven
EPs of the Year:
Zeal & Ardor – Devil Is Fine
Nah. – Social Meteor
Husbandry – Bad Weeds Never Die
Lo-Pan – In Tensions
Chrome Ghost – Reflection Pool
Stefanie Zaenker’s Top Ten
All reviews in Haiku format!
10. Zeal & Ardor – Devil Is Fine

Black metal and blues
Most unique release this year
Musical genius
9. Hyperbor – Mondo Violento

Electric doom prog
Low end attack, psych madness
Organized chaos
8. Converge – The Dusk In Us

Pushing their limits
Outside of their comfort zone
Same crushing talent
7. Spotlights – Seismic

Killer doom shoe-gaze
Both inspiring and scary
Great soaring vocals
6. Mogwai – Every Country’s Sun

Beautiful textures
With heavy metal riffage
Trance-inducing tunes
5. Mutoid Man – War Moans
Such aggressive riffs
Both intense and beautiful
4. Pallbearer – Heartless

I dance in madness
Slinky, heavy metal prog
Unearthly vocals
3. Minus The Bear – VOIDS

Excellent math rock
But it’s also heavy pop
Tight live, tight record
2. Kairon; IRSE! – Ruination

Do you remember
Emerson Lake and Palmer
This is way better
1. Elder – Reflections of a Floating World

Psychedelic waves
On a journey in my mind
Elder just gets me
Honorable Mentions:
Oxbow – Thin Black Duke
Lionize – Nuclear Soul
Set and Setting – Reflectionless
Mastodon – Emperor of Sand
Crystal Fairy – Crystal Fairy
And So I Watch You From Afar – The Endless Shimmering
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