2017 has been a fairly accomplished year for yours truly. I’d never been able to review so many new albums in a single year before, let alone even listen to and absorb this many. I can attribute my productivity to being able to listen to music at my day job but I don’t think I’d have been quite so active if not for the support of my colleagues and readers of the Indy Metal Vault.
And with that sappiness out of the way, let’s take a look at the top twenty albums that not only held my attention but made a lasting impression over the course of the year. Some have lamented a smaller number of “iconic” releases than usual but the underground has proven itself to be an excellent alternative when the legends of old have seemingly run dry. It sure is a neat time to be alive when the best music is being made by people that you’re on a first name basis with.
#20 Ironflame – Lightning Strikes the Crown Independent
Ironflame’s debut album is one man’s love letter to old school American power metal. Each song marries melodic speed riffs with catchy vocal lines and the production gives things a polish that doesn’t take away from the ballsy instrumentation. Highly recommended to fans of Jag Panzer and early Anthrax among countless others.
#19 Power Trip –Nightmare Logic Southern Lord
I don’t think any other thrash band turned as many heads in 2017 as Power Trip did with Nightmare Logic. No other band in the genre released an album with this much energy and catchiness behind it. It’s not the most brutal thrash album out there and there are plenty of moments that recall old school Testament and Sepultura, but Power Trip seems poised to show the old and new guards alike how it’s done.
#18 Mangog – Mangog Awakens Argonauta Records
Much like bassist/vocalist Bert Hall’s other band Beelzefuzz, Mangog plays a more soulful take of the traditional doom template. The band’s vocals are much more involved than most doom bands and the songwriting has a varied mix of slow numbers and hard rock excursions. It’s not a massive game changer but it is a refreshing variation of a tried and true formula.
#17 Ruby the Hatchet – Planetary Space Child Tee Pee Records
Ruby the Hatchet does a pretty excellent job of capturing the vibe of early 70s acts like Deep Purple and Uriah Heep, even if their production style is a little fuzzier than their inspirations. The guitars have a good mix of haze and muscle, the organs give the album character, and the vocals blend in well without losing sight of memorable lines. I hate that they were forced to cancel their live appearance here in Indy, but I’ll at least be better acquainted when they’re able to come through next time around.
#16 Argus – From Fields of Fire Cruz Del Sur Music
Argus has always been right on the line between doom and traditional metal, seemingly gravitated more to the latter as time goes on. From Fields of Fire features some of their fastest songs to date alongside some of their most emotional, resulting in an album that is powerful in both senses. If you’ve not already been acquainted with Boldly Stride the Doomed, this may be a nice place to start
#15 Mothership – High Strangeness Ripple Music
While Mothership’s straightforward approach to hard rock isn’t exactly a game changer, their energetic approach does make them one of the biggest standouts in the scene. Though not different from previous albums stylistically, High Strangeness is easily the band’s most accessible album due to the short length combined with catchy songwriting. I’m still way too salty about them being denied the chance to open for Metallica.
#14 Blazon Stone – Down in the Dark StormSpell Records
It’s easy to write off Blazon Stone for what can be perceived as intentional unoriginality, but it’s hard to condemn them when they’re so good at what they do. Their fourth full-length tribute to Running Wild isn’t too different from their past entries and offers much of the same high speed catchiness. Songs like “Eagle Warriors” and “Tavern of the Damned” are guaranteed to stick in your head for weeks on end, but any power metal fan will love to have them there.
#13 Avatarium – Hurricanes and Halos Nuclear Blast
Avatarium seems to have come into their own on their third album. While their previous efforts were two predominantly doom albums with occasional experimental lapses, Hurricanes and Halos dives headlong into classic rock influence. Thankfully the results are as eclectic as they are memorable and Jennie-Ann Smith continues to prove herself as one of the finest voices in the genre. It’s weird for me to say as a diehard Candlemass fanboy but Lief Edling’s lessened involvement may have been the best thing that’s happened to Avatarium.
#12 Monolord – Rust RidingEasy Records
I was ready to write Monolord off as another average Electric Wizard clone but they’ve really won me over with Rust. It’s a significant improvement over their previous albums, which I find interesting as it features the same downtuned riffs and slow tempos. It might just be a matter of more distinct songwriting as songs like “Dear Lucifer” are catchier than they initially let on. Just listen to this instead of the new Electric Wizard. You’ll thank me later.
While The Devil and the Almighty Blues’ second album isn’t too hard to describe, it is a little difficult to do so without selling it short. There are plenty of bands operating in a similarly long-winded stoner blues style but not too many others really know how to draw their songs out and retain their grooves to such a degree. It’s an album that is easy to get lost while also being almost danceable for its duration. It’s an incredible listen that should resonate with any blues rock fan.
#10 Black Road – Black Road EP DHU Records
I may have some bias as the people in Black Road are friends in the scene, but this EP would be a major highlight even if I didn’t know anyone involved. They’re the type of band whose tropes and influences are easily identified yet still exceed expectations. Each track has a distinct style that offers a slew of infectious blues riffs, playful structures, and some of the most electrifying leads out there. Come for the pretty girl singing, stay for the amazing guitar work.
#9 Chelsea Wolfe – Hiss Spun Sargent House
Hiss Spun isn’t an all-out metal album by any means, but Chelsea Wolfe finally puts those influences up front and center after a few albums of playing coy. It’s an intense listen as Wolfe’s ethereal voice constantly threatens to be drowned out by the droning riffs and soundscapes yet ultimately defines them. I’d be curious to see how the template carries over to the live environment. In the meantime, this album has gotten me on the Chelsea Wolfe hype train and I’d advise you to try it out if you haven’t done so.
#8 Pagan Altar – The Room of Shadows Temple of Mystery Records
While lead singer Terry Jones’ passing didn’t consciously affect the album’s composition, it’s impossible for it to not affect the way one listens to it. The band’s rustic brand of classic doom and ghostly lyrics are as prominent as ever, but the emphasis on the band’s folk side makes these tomes even more chilling than normal. It’s especially telling on the title track’s theme of fear passing through generations and the epitaph-like phrasings on “After Forever.” Pagan Altar has always been an underrated and overlooked staple of the doom scene, but The Room of Shadows was a stellar way to guarantee their legacy.
#7 Witherfall – Nocturnes and Requiems Century Media
Witherfall’s debut really grew on me over the course of the year. While the musicianship and scope are easily identifiable from the get go, the songwriting takes a little more time to sink in. Once it clicks, Nocturnes and Requiems becomes a power prog masterpiece that dares to rival the best of inspirations like Control Denied and Nevermore. I commend the band for soldiering on considering the tragedy that played into this album’s conception and they’re sure to get even more powerful if the right momentum is behind them.
#6 Demon Eye – Prophecies and Lies Soulseller Records
I’ve said it and I’ll say it again: Demon Eye is my favorite band going right now. They won me over with the mix of doom, NWOBHM, and 70s prog on 2015’s Tempora Infernalia and they keep the momentum going with their third full-length. Prophecies and Lies may opt for slower riff work compared to its predecessor but the songwriting is just as infectious and the performances are just as fun. I’m not sure if this album will hit the same classic level as its predecessor but it’s still a highly recommended listen for fans of Rush, Iron Maiden, and Pentagram.
#5 Forming the Void – Relic Argonauta Records
Elder deserve their status as top dog of the burgeoning stoner/sludge scene but I think Forming the Void may be my personal pick in the movement. They have a similar mix of complexity and trippy atmospherics but the songwriting is a more straightforward, almost mantra-like take on the style. Definitely recommended if the new Mastodon wasn’t quite up to your speed.
#4 Satan’s Hallow – Satan’s Hallow Underground Power Records
I think Satan’s Hallow has been one of heavy metal’s favorite underdogs in 2017. Their debut came the hell out of nowhere and offered 35 minutes of the most authentic classic metal out there. Influences like Riot, Warlock, and Mercyful Fate are felt without a single trace of irony as vicious vocals and screaming leads are delivered with absolute sincerity. It’s a damn shame that living distance has forced the band to go on hiatus, but even if they don’t come back, they’ve got an amazing as hell debut to their name.
#3 Night Demon – Darkness Remains Steamhammer SPV
Night Demon’s second album secures them as the leader of the traditional metal revival. The production may be fairly modern but the band adheres to the early 80s blue collar set up by Saxon and Di’Anno-era Iron Maiden. The songwriting is hooky without sacrificing riffs, the song variety doesn’t get in the way of the album’s late night party feel, and the trio’s energy will keep you on the edge of your seat the whole way through. A mandatory listen for fans of the new movement and maybe even one to convince the old farts that there’s still good metal being made today.
#2 The Midnight Ghost Train – Cypress Ave Napalm Records
I’ve been a fan of The Midnight Ghost Train since 2012 and consider Buffalo an essential stoner blues classic. Albums like Cypress Ave. are supposed to the ones that diehards like me condemn as lost the plot sellouts, yet I absolutely adore this thing. While the album is far less aggressive than past outings, its incorporation of blues, funk, folk, and even rap influence is both tasteful and catchy as hell. If you had told me that The Midnight Ghost Train made an album where one of the best songs has a rapper on it, I’d be skeptical, but would still concede that of all the bands out there, they’d be the most likely candidate to pull it off.
#1The Flight of Sleipnir – Skadi Eisenwald Tonschmiede
When getting this list together and looking back on The Flight of Sleipnir’s sixth full-length, I was worried that I may have overhyped it when I reviewed it early this year. Fortunately I can still say this album is pretty damn close to perfect. The five songs on here are an amazing blend of black metal, prog, doom, and folk that flows seamlessly throughout the album. It is an intense and meditative listen that recalls the best of bands like Burzum and Wolves in the Throne Room. I’m honestly surprised that more people haven’t brought it up since its release and I’d advise you not to skip this one or any of their past works.