It’s that time. Chestnuts are roasting, Chris is Kringling, and everyone’s losing their fucking minds in Wal-mart, trying to get something called “fingerlings” for their ungrateful kids. Up in the northernmost pole, lists are being made, checked, and checked again. Deep in the bowels of the Indy Metal Vault dungeons, a more sinister catalogue is being arranged by yours truly. And holy shit did I have a tough time of it. 2017 has been one hell of a year for metal. I thought that after the crazy year we had in 2016, there’s no way the musical bar could be raised, but as I so often am, I was wrong. Ironing out a definitive list of my top 20 albums was a near herculean labour. Tears were shed, blood was spilled, and many revisions were made, but I’ve finally settled on a group of albums I feel are essential listening. That said, I proudly present to you my picks for 2017’s best albums!
#20 Blyh – Transparent to the World Independent
Super grim black metal that includes a “my name Jeff” soundbyte? Hell yeah. If you’re interested in the story behind that, you can check out my in-depth interview with Blyh’s mainman Mural here. As for the tunes? Fear not. This black metal is as black as it comes. Cold, hostile, uncompromising. Transparent to the World is a nasty gust of frost-carrying wind. It’ll raise the hairs on the back of your neck at the same time as it’ll make you raise your fist.
#19 Elvenking – Secrets of the Magick Grimoire AMF Records
Fun, folky power metal done right. This album’s got its flaws, this much is true. But Secrets of the Magick Grimoire has grown on me. It’s a fun, heartfelt album of folky anthems to mystical creatures and magic. What more could ya ask for, ya nerds? It’s been in the playlist since I first hear it, and that’s always a sure sign of a winner.
#18 Horn – Turm Am Hang Norther Silence
On Turm am Hang, Horn have crafted a blackened folk metal album that’s as fun as it is emotional. Full of German folklore and rowdy beer hall spirit, Turm am Hang is Horn’s best album yet. It’s got all the hooks, melody and depth you could ever ask for, and even sports a guest appearance by Lord Sardonyx of While Bitter Spring Sleeps. No matter which way you look at it, Turm am Hang is one hell of an album, The stomp-along vibe coupled with the expertly woven folk melodies make this an album to be reckoned with, and best enjoyed with a tall glass [ed. note: of water, because Reese is only 17. We wouldn’t allow him alcohol in the dungeons, anyway].
#17 Ulsect – Ulsect Season of Mist
On their self-titled debut, Ulsect have crafted a nightmarish hellscape of dissonant riffs, powerful breakdowns and atmospheric ambiance. If you’ve wondered what Ulcerate coupled with breakdowns would sound like, Ulsect have your back, Jack.
#16 Stone Sour – Hydrograd Roadrunner Records
I’ll come right out and say it: I love Stone Sour. Hydrograd showcases exactly why. It’s slick, fun, heavy when it needs to be, catchy when it ought to be, and a barrel full of laughs throughout. Hydrograd is an excellent summer album, and as such, it made up most of my summer listening. It’s got that carefree, rock n’ roll attitude that I just can’t get enough of. It’s no House of Gold and Bones but she’s a damn fine record all her own.
#15 Ne Obliviscaris – Urn Season of Mist
Wow. Ne Obliviscaris just keep getting better on each release, don’t they? On Urn they offer up their best, most accomplished work yet. Beautiful is a word I’ll be using lots on this list, but god DAMN this is a beautiful album. “Eyrie” is easily one of my top five songs of the year. The emotional depths Ne Obliviscaris achieved not only on that track, but on every one of Urn’s songs is nothing short of breathtaking. And don’t even get me started on the violin playing. A masterpiece.
#14 Huszar – Providencia Anthrazit Records
Providencia is a truly unique work of art. It feels like a blissful hallucinogenic trip gone black metal. It’s weird and wonderful, beautiful and sometimes frightful. It may take a few listens to set in, but once its hooks sink in, you’ll be along for the whole ride.
#13 Immolation – Atonement Nuclear Blast
Immolation’s latest album is as destructive as it is inventive. It’s got all the technical playing you could ask for, and all the heavy riffs you could ever need.The dissonant, off-kilter riffing that defines this record made my skin crawl. Atonement is a nasty slab of evil death metal mastery. Immolation have never disappointed, and yet they still manage to exceed expectations. If modern death metal bands want to get noticed, they oughta keep a VERY close eye on what Immolation do next…
#12 Ghost Bath – Starmourner Nuclear Blast
I was rather shocked to learn I was the only one in the IMV headquarters to like Starmourner. I understand where its critics are coming from, but damn. This album excites me. It’s one of those records that just makes you want to drop everything and just head outside and stargaze. It’s a sad, nostalgic album, but also one teeming with hope. Wonderful.
#11 Enisum – Seasons of Desolation Fólkvangr Records
Seasons of Desolation is a step up from Arpitanian Lands in every way possible. This is a band whose power is only waxing, and yet they’ve already made a large splash within the black metal community. Their ear for dark atmospheres is unmatched. Their ability to craft beautiful melodies unrivaled. Their back catalogue unsullied by even one dull song. Enisum is a band to watch out for. I can very easily picture them one day achieving the same status as acts like Panopticon and Saor. For now though, Enisum round out the bottom half of my top 20 list. A spot well earned.
#10 Falls of Rauros – Vigilance Perennia Bindrune Recordings
Vigilance Perennial is a special album. It can be astonishingly beautiful at times, but then primally savage mere seconds later. And as always, Falls of Rauros make it look easy. This album bears very little resemblance to the band’s earliest works, but that’s part of its charm. It’s new and it’s different, it’s an exciting new chapter in the band’s discography, and it’s a damn fine record to boot.
#9 Blaze of Sorrow – Astri EISENWALD
Blaze of Sorrow have crafted an enchanting album in Astri. With themes of space and exploration, this atmospheric black metal album truly takes you on a journey to someplace special. At times hopeful and teeming with life, at times bleak and melancholy, Astri is an album that’ll send you through the wringer. You’ll come out the other side a better person for the experience though, and that’s the beauty in Blaze of Sorrow’s latest emotional folk black masterpiece.
#8 Absolver – Oscillate Thy Tongue and Howl at the Sun Independent
Nasty doom/black/noise. This is the sort of music your grandmother thinks you listen to when she sees your Guns n’ Roses shirts. As pulverizing as it is scary, Oscillate is blackened doom as you’ve not heard it before. The fact that this is a debut record makes this effort even more impressive. Keep your eyes on this band, lest they suddenly get huge while you blink.
#7 Dying Fetus – Wrong One to Fuck With Relapse Records
In a year full of beautiful, soulful, atmospheric black metal, sometimes a record as ugly and aggressive as Wrong One to Fuck With is all you need. With balls of brass and riffs aplenty, Dying Fetus show us all yet again why they’re counted amongst death metal royalty. After having your face slammed into the ground for the eleventh time on track number two, you’ll decide it’s better to just lie down and let Dying Fetus pummel you mercilessly. Which they do. With pleasure. Wrong One to Fuck With is very much Dying Fetus being Dying Fetus, albeit with perhaps a touch more groove than on previous records. If you dig good death metal, you’ll dig this. Easy as that.
At time of writing, the first winter’s snow has melted. Hopefully, we’ll be seeing more soon though, since Arvet is best enjoyed while gazing out at the frost covered scenery, fully immersed in the white. Grift’s brand of melancholic blackened Swedish folk metal has always been great, but with Arvet, a new bar has been set.”
#5 Violet Cold – Anomie Folkvangr Records | Tridroid Records
When black metal first emerged, it was perhaps the most abrasive strain of metal yet. It’s incredible to see how much the genre has evolved and changed over the years, that a band such as Violet Cold can operate under the black metal label. Anomie is cold, tragic and sad, but at the same time, rather inexplicably heartwarming. This is the work of a man who’s known many sorrows and joys. Perhaps more of the former than the latter. Anomie is a product of pure heart, for those with heart.
#4 Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper Profound Lore Records
A heartbreaking exercise in funeral doom excellency. A fitting final sendoff for an artist departed well before his time.
#3 Frostreich – Join the Wind Geisterasche Organization
This album’s been on my mind since January. It’s a wonderful balance between atmosphere, and active post-black bliss. If you’re not a ‘post’ fan, perhaps Frostreich will cause you to reconsider your position. Emotionally-charged blackened metal has always been my favourite type of music, but Frostreich managed to reverberate with me in a way only a select few of their peers have. I’d be remiss not to put them in my top 3.
#2 Kardashev – The Almanac Subliminal Groove Records
The Almanac is a release that shouldn’t work as well as it does. Think about it, black metal + deathcore + post metal + ambient. If that doesn’t sound like a recipe for disaster, I don’t know what does. Fortunately, Kardashev were able to not only prove me wrong, but they’ve created a gorgeous, mesmerizing album in the process. More than even the sum of its many parts, The Almanac is a very special album indeed. I originally wasn’t going to include EPs on the list, but hell, I couldn’t NOT include The Almanac. It’s one of the most interesting releases I’ve heard not just in 2017, but in years. You owe it to yourself to give it a listen.
#1 Heretoir – The Circle Northern Silence Productions
A touchingly beautiful album. No other musically offering in 2017 has come even close to hitting me the same way The Circle did. If an album can make me headbang as much as The Circle did while also reducing me to tears, it’s special. Heretoir have crafted a career-defining album here. As melancholic as it is hopeful, this album is a tale of life, death, rebirth, and ultimately, the triumph of the human spirit. Heretoir took six years to craft this album. Six years well fucking spent. It not only beat every other album released in the past 365 days, it absolutely dwarfed them. There’s literally no other 2017 album I could reasonably give this spot to. The way I feel about this album is very special indeed. Certainly more special than I can describe in a short blurb like this. To put it as bluntly as I can: you need to hear this album.