It’s been a busy year. Busy enough, in fact, that I stopped counting how many albums I’d listened to in 2017. All I know is that my normal amount of listening dwindled pretty fast these past few months, and I put up some weak numbers. I’m about to make a serious argument, however, for the old adage of quality over quantity. I know I missed a lot, but a lot of what I did get to knocked me on my ass. This year in metal saw some veterans of the genre defend their title, a couple local bands get some serious love from yours truly, a few ominous underdogs rise to the top, a couple oddities become pleasant surprises, and several debuts that made those veterans shake in their worn-out Vans. A solid year was indeed had. And so, ladies and germs, let us charge forth into my favorite metal albums of 2017.
#20 Talsur – Slough of Despond Independent
This is some of the best funeral doom you will hear all year. Slough of Despond moves at a doldrum’s pace and is oppressive as all hell. The guitars are frequently accented with big, heavy piano chords, and the vocals have a tendency to be truly frightening. Talsur knows how to make mournful melodic, and if you dig this album, he’s actually released several more songs this year as well, all of which are great.
#19 Bufihimat – I Independent
Every year, I need that one album that sounds like entrails in a tornado. Last year was Pig Destroyer’s Painter of Dead Girls, this year it’s the utter Russian insanity of Bufihimat. Technical grindcore can be a bit much for me at times, but the screeching guitars, berzerker drumming, and guttural vocals of I never sacrifice comprehensibility for the sake of noise. Bufihimat are doing things that I wish more bands would take note of, and they’re doing them in a perfectly concise manner.
#18 Dream Tröll –The Knight of Rebellion Independent
Dream Tröll is badass, there’s no two ways about it. This UK band has tapped into the spirit of heavy metal in a way that isn’t fair to anyone else, especially for a debut album. The songwriting is dripping with fantasy, the melodies are frustratingly catchy, and the guitar tones are as bright, colorful and over-saturated as an 80s cartoon. This is by far the funnest metal album I heard all year, and well worth the abandonment of your inhibitions.
#17 Comeback Kid –Outsider Nuclear Blast
Comeback Kid went from “they’re pretty cool” to “HOLY SHIT COMEBACK KID!” real quick. Signing to Nuclear Blast has done these Canucks well, as Outsider is far and away the hardest-hitting and most musically diverse material the band has ever released. This is a magnum opus of hardcore. And hey, getting guest vocals from the likes of Devin Townsend and Chris Cresswell doesn’t hurt either.
#16 The Ruins of Beverast – Exuvia Ván Records
When it comes to immersion, I don’t think anyone did it better this year than The Ruins of Beverast. Exuvia is essentially a ton of weird ideas packed into a consistent atmosphere that is both paralyzing and stimulating at the same time. Words only go so far with this record, so just listen. Primal, trance-inducing black metal of the highest order.
#15 Suffering Hour – In Passing Ascension Blood Harvest
This album took some time to grow on me, but after several listens, I finally began unpacking the layers enough to find the gold. Funny thing is, I’m sure there’s still more to unpack. Most of the best hooks in technical black metal this year can be found on In Passing Ascension, no doubt about it.
#14 Archspire – Relentless Mutation Season of Mist
Badass badass badass badass Archspire. Badass badass. Badass badass badass badass badass badass badass Relentless Mutation. Badass badass badass badass badass. Badass badass Canada badass badass. Badass badass badass? Badass.
#13 Last Moon’s Dawn – Absence Pest Productions
I’m not a fan of everything Pest Productions releases, but they certainly are busy bees and well worth keeping an eye on. Case and point, Absence by Last Moon’s Dawn. This album had some of the best melodies of 2017, and their beautiful use of piano absolutely sealed the deal for me. Absence is gravel encased in ice. If you want black metal, melodeath, folk, and more seamlessly interwoven, Last Moon’s Dawn has you covered.
#12 Ordos – House of the Dead Moving Air Music
I’ll be damned if House of the Dead doesn’t become a sleeper hit of 2017. Coming out of virtually nowhere, Ordos secured a spot on this list after the first listen. The Swedish band combine doomy, energetic stoner metal with just the right amount of creepy atmosphere, and all I want is more. Ordos can also boast one of the best vocal performances of the year. Hear it for yourself.
#11Gone is Gone – Echolocation Rise Records
I really don’t think Gone is Gone would work with anyone other than Troy Sanders behind the mic. The atmospheric, minimalistic sound of Echolocation is a flawless fit for Troy’s foggy vocals, and even at its most energetic, this album is still calming. Think of any outdoor setting in any kind of weather, and Echolocation can take you there. For such a subtle album, I’m surprised how many times I kept coming back to it. This is great driving music, need I say more?
#10 Tchornobog –Tchornobog Fallen Empire Records | I, Voidhanger
Tchornobog successfully presents itself less as a band making music and more as a world to be sucked into with sludgey, blackened doom tendencies and long, flowing song structures. The leads and horns, along with little nuances in the drumming, like the scurrying high-hats and subtle grooves, really work to enrich the massive atmosphere by introducing the possibility that you’re not alone…and yes, not alone in a bad way. Tchornobog are an absolute tour de force of oppressive, bone-rattling atmosphere, and this debut is more than just an introduction, it’s an invasion.
#9 Genus Ordinis Dei – Great Olden Dynasty Eclipse Records
November releases have a big job to do, seeing as many of them have only a week or two to make an impression worthy of end of year lists. Well Great Olden Dynasty sniped a spot on this list with ease. I’m tellin’ ya ladies and germs, Italians and their symphonic death metal. This album is a sweeping scythe of grandiose heaviness. Finding that perfect balance between symphonic elements and death metal riffage is paramount for the genre, and Genus Ordinis Dei deliver this in spades. Even the vocals have great variety and rhythm, something that is an automatic win for me. There’s nothing to dislike here. Viva L’Italia!
#8 Mastodon – Emperor of Sand Reprise Records
Mastodon comes in many flavors, which is your favorite? Me? I like ‘em all. I will admit though that my feelings towards them as of late had seen a slight slump, and Emperor of Sand was just what I needed to rekindle my affection. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve jammed this record, it’s just too damn catchy. The boys have still got it, and I’m stoked to say that one of the most anticipated albums of the year also turned out to be one of the most essential.
#7 The Necromancers – Servants of the Salem Girl Ripple Music
Anyone here that thinks rock and roll is dead, never fear. The Necromancers are here to…well…do a little necromancy. Resurrecting ye olde heavy metal sensibilities and breathing new energy into tried and true formulas has never sounded so delicious and occult. This is a true witch’s brew of all the best influences a soul can be sold for. With a growly vocal performance and guitar-work that seamlessly melds the likes of Motorhead, Sleep, and Tribulation all at once, The Necromancers have crafted one hell of a merciless debut album.
#6 Abigoir | Nightbringer | Thy Darkened Shade | Mortuus – Split W.T.C. Productions
I honestly don’t consider this to be a split album. Some of the biggest names in blackened death metal converge here to create a fully realized record. Every contribution flows cohesively with each other, making it a smooth descent into hell. Tension is built with the opening track by Abigor, with Nightbringer adding aggression to the aura next. Thy Darkened Shade then throw down in typical TDS fashion before Mortuus close the album out with a dark, lumbering crawl. This album is absolutely massive, positively crushing, addictively malicious, and simply one of the best black metal offerings of the year.
#5 Undoctrinate – Innate Independent
If I could warn you all against one thing this year, it would be taking a pass on Undoctrinate. This one-man black metal project from Oregon is trve riff worship of the iciest variety. Innate is home to some of 2017’s most sinister guitar work, with enough powerful melodies and dynamic songwriting to carry you through the long winter. Every element down to the snarled vocals is sharp and piercing, so watch your fingers. If the frostbite doesn’t get them, the wolves will.
#4 Shaarimoth – Temple of the Adversarial Fire W.T.C. Productions
This was the first truly expansive, heavy, and enveloping album I heard in 2017, and it carried its weight well all year. Temple of the Adversarial Fire goes from 0 to 60 in the blink of an eye, with lumbering, war-marching rhythms and guitars that present a perfect blend of sheer atrocity and catchiness. Incredibly memorable leads intersect with a blizzard of hellfire in the rhythms, and every so often the band shatters the atmosphere completely with ear-splitting riffs that would make the devil himself cower in a corner. As far as blackened death metal goes this year, Shaarimoth just did the most, delivering hooks with frightening intensity.
#3 1476 – Our Season Draws Near Prophecy Productions
Anyone that caught my review for 1476’s live show in Salem a couple months ago probably saw this pick coming from a mile away. 1476 are one of the best bands that are starting to pick up some serious steam, and Our Season Draws Near does nothing but propel their credibility as such. This is definitely in the top three most dynamic releases of the year, with songwriting that constantly switches between mournful, whispering acoustics and explosive, anguished outbursts of post-black metal folk. Anyone that has spent time in their native town of Salem, or New England in general, should find a special connection with this music. Jump onto the 1476 train now folks, because it’s going places you’ll want to be.
#2 Replacire – Do Not Deviate Season of Mist
Season of Mist signing a killer band from my home-base of Boston will inevitably elicit a healthy amount of bias. But hey, Replacire still speak for themselves. Their fiery blend of progressive, technical death metal is absolutely demolishing. The guitars themselves have more facial expressions than Devin Townsend and transition seamlessly between heavy chugging, fire alarm staccato, and whirlwind-like wails. The vocal performances here are also appropriately murderous. Deep, disgusting, and frightening, only to be interrupted occasionally with some of the most unique clean melodies this side of the River Styx. There is not a single moment on this album that disappoints, nor one that does less than frighten.
#1 Witherfall – Nocturnes and Requiems Century Media
Here it is folks, my number one album of 2017. Witherfall’s Nocturnes and Requiems absolutely blew me away. The sheer talent behind this release is staggering. The late Adam Sagan, who tragically passed away soon before the album’s release, provides the album with a colorful and complex backbone of percussion. Every snare and high-hat melds fluidly with guitarist Jake Dryer’s contributions, and if you know anything about Dryer, you know this is no easy task. He gives the guitar performance of the year, with speedy riffs, melodic leads, shredding solos, and even Spanish-style fingerpicking! Jake does it all, but don’t let this kid steal all your attention. Bassist Anthony Crawford, a virtuoso on the heavy strings, drops his usual jazz style to slap the living hell out of the metal community. He can be a little hard to hear in the mix admittedly, so I recommend watching his playthroughs on YouTube (give the man a bass solo on the next record!). Rounding out this metal masterpiece is vocalist Joseph Michael, who seems to be on a first name basis with every octave there is. Obvious King Diamond comparisons can be made, but Michael’s voice truly stands on its own. Each member’s talent, combined with the dynamic and progressive songwriting, crafts a flawless slab of aggressive, romantic metal. So have a drink for Adam Sagan and give Nocturnes and Requiems a spin. 2017 belongs to Witherfall.