2017 will surely hold a lot of mixed emotions for many people. In a year where everything from political scandals to prophecies of armageddon were unveiled almost every other day, I’m just thankful there was anything but a shortage of incredible music being put out. Whether it is a matter of going to shows and talking to people, supporting your local records stores, or just commenting on a band’s YouTube video, metal has always provided its listeners with a sense of brotherhood and community, and a way to escape – or sometimes even confront – the troubles of life through positive interactions and artistic outlets. In a time where so many were divided on worldly matters, I’ve seen friendships grow and connections be made over some of the albums on this list. Between the tragic passings of beloved musicians and personal strife, between every moment of darkness people had to endure this year, these records were a handful of the many that gave others and myself hope; a light to look forward to. They also just kick ass. Enjoy, and cheers to 2018.
#20 Rig Time! – WAR Innerstrength Records
I’m not from Wisconsin, but if Rig Time! doesn’t dominate the scene up there, I can’t imagine who else might. WAR is an unbelievably dense cut of focused rage. The band’s emphasis on pure heaviness accentuates their hardcore, take no prisoners attitude and uncompromising grooves. At a brisk 25 minutes, this album has been a mainstay in my CD player and likely isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
#19 Toke – Orange Emetic Records
Despite being released pretty early in the year (January 1st, to be exact), North Carolina’s Toke dished out what would be some of the most gnarly riffs of 2017 over a completely pissed off and smoked-out aura on their sophomore album. The trio’s intensity is so palpable you can practically smell the resin burning and see them wailing on their instruments in a hazy practice space somewhere. Much like my last entry, the album is incredibly short, barely spanning longer than 20 minutes. That doesn’t stop it from being one of the most memorable doom records of the year.
Myrkur has unfortunately become something of a dividing force amongst metalheads, and I say unfortunately because I greatly enjoy Amalie Bruun’s music, especially on Mareridt. Be it the more acoustic, folk-inspired songs like the title track and “Crown,” or the more conventional attacks featured on “Måneblot” and “Elleskudt,” there are moments of both peace and foreboding that flare up throughout the record that have kept me returning since its release in September, and there was never any doubt it would make my list.
#17 Khragkh – Ersatz Independent
I can’t name too many Belarusian black metal groups off the top of my head, but thanks to Ersatz, Khragkh (stylized KRVGKH) are now at the forefront of my mind whenever I think of the subject. The album, of which the title roughly translates to an “inferior substitute,” contains seven loosely connected “abstract” stories told from a number of viewpoints about humanities corruption through political, social, and religious doctrines. As if that premise isn’t already intriguing enough, it doesn’t hurt that this record is packed with strong performances all around. Dynamic vocal deliveries, melodic riffs that never sacrifice their harsh ambitions, and music riddled with permafrost but that maintains a human side too. Khragkh have created is a memorable piece of melodic black metal that simply gets better with each listen.
#16 Vassafor – Malediction Debemur Morti Productions
Combining dark, atmospheric, almost psychedelic music with the sound of second wave black metal and feeding it out over long compositions (including a sixteen minute opening track), the legendary Vassafor’s latest was a sure fire hit for me the moment I listened. There’s no conventional structure applied to these songs, they fire from the hip with an abhorrent stream of long-winded, cavernous screams and ooze with the feeling of trepidation. The closing track particularly, “Illumination of the Sinister,” a near eleven minute romp of barely distinguishable guitar riffs and changing rhythms that flow with pure hatred on top of demonic vocals, is one of the best tracks I’ve heard all year.
#15 Cannibal Corpse – Red Before Black Metal Blade Records
With three years since A Skeletal Domain’s release, I spent the whole year predicting that the immortal Cannibal Corpse would finally drop their fourteenth LP before December, and let’s just say it feels good to be right! Red Before Black isn’t a complex album. You don’t need a lot to enjoy it, just a good decent set of speakers and your air-drum kit at the ready. From fast paced death metal onslaughts (“Only One Will Die,” “Red Before Black”) to more groove focused tracks (“Shedding My Human Skin,” “Firestorm Vengeance”) Cannibal Corpse helped round out 2017 with a damned fine entry in their long-running discography.
#14 Tau Cross – Pillar of Fire Relapse Records
Pillar of Fire was the first album I had the pleasure of reviewing here on Indy Metal Vault back in August, and I’m glad to say that it holds up to the high esteem I regarded it with back then. The second full length from this internationally formed punk/metal supergroup, the riffs are full of hooks, the vocals are ghastly and instantly recognizable, and songs range from Priest-inspired ragers (“Deep State,” “RFID”) to somber acoustic tunes (“Pillar of Fire,” “What Is a Man”). Tie all of this together with a loose concept that floats around the record, and giving this one a spot on my list was a no-brainer.
#13 L.O.R.E. – Litany of Ruinous Entities Red River Family Records
I didn’t discover L.O.R.E.’s devastating full length debut until very late in the year, but this release demolished my psyche on the first listen. The opening track is a ten and a half minute tirade of gloomy synth, setting the tone for the unimaginable chaos that will ensue. Raw, unfiltered black metal with simply brilliant compositions and an amazing vocal performance. Listening to “Litany V” while walking alone at night could be a new pastime.
#12 Incantation – Profane Nexus Relapse Records
The arguable kings of over-oppressive, doomy old school death metal, Incantation’s latest album dropped to an absurd degree of hype this year and brought more than its fair share of hellish riffs to warrant a high spot on my list. From the fade in intro of the album opener “Muse,” which springs right into action with chaotic blast beats and John McEntee’s primordially wet vocals, Profane Nexus marches its way through countless pinch harmonics and intense sections of sickly doom that corners the listener into submission. From more traditional OSDM-style songs (“The Horns of Gefrin”) to the abstract and unforgettable moments (“Incorporeal Despair”), this album is a brutal listening experience that must be heard by any fan of the genre.
#11 Falls of Rauros – Vigilance Perennial Bindrune Recordings
An album I would not find until very late in the year, Vigilance Perennial completely took me by storm. Its breathtaking musicianship, equally beautiful as it is utterly heartbreaking, should serve as a basis for bands of the same nature for years to come. Falls of Rauros aren’t simply black metal musicians, they are composers, and this album is all but a masterwork of channeling raw emotion through layered pieces of music. The smooth guitar transitions of “White Planet,” which blend moments of serenity into slightly heavier (but still melodic) sections, are otherworldly to say the least. I am a particularly big fan of the drum sound on this album. The toms sound more fit for a jazz band than black metal, but it works so well during the quieter moments. Of every track, the most effective may be the instrumental at the album’s halfway mark, “Warm Quiet Centuries of Rains.” Perfectly titled and implemented before the back half of the record’s blackened swarm. Vigilance Perennial is quintessential black/folk metal listening.
#10 Wode – Servants to the Countercosmos Avantgarde Music
Wode have such a crazy spin on black metal, focusing up on intense, ear-catching riffs that layer out a sonic universe. Servants to the Countercosmos blends a handful of styles but is blackened to the core, delivering a precise and harsh wave of dissonance over just thirty minutes and squeezing more distinct moments into the music than should be physically possible. The epic, ten minute “Chaosspell” is one of 2017’s finest songs, and following it up with the feeble and quiet “Undoing” as the album’s closer secured this record as one of the most memorable of the year.
#9 Full of Hell – Trumpeting Ecstasy Profound Lore
Full of Hell have likely already secured their place is history as a stupidly prolific and intense band. Trumpeting Ecstasy is the kind of album that some bands spend their whole careers trying to make. It’s harsh, unforgiving, and takes on a life of its own. There is a certain feeling created when listening that can’t be forced. Ambient cuts such as the title track, or the fucking terrifying heaviness featured on “Gnawed Flesh” are delivered with a focus and energy that you can just feel glowing off of the record. An unmistakable must-listen.
#8 Marsh of Swans – From Ashes Beneath Independent
A two piece black metal act, Marsh of Swans’ debut From Ashes Beneath left an indelible mark on me while listening to it. I’ve never been to Lawrence, Kansas – where the duo hails from and writes their material about – but there’s a feeling of home that comes across in their music, be it the beautiful lead guitar in “Blood in the River” or epic majesty of “Out Amongst the Stars.” The music is dark but strangely uplifting, carries an air of familiarity, and was one of the most mesmerizing releases I heard this year.
#7 Violet Cold – Anomie Folkvangr Records | Tridroid Records
On first listen, I didn’t really know what to make of Anomie. I knew it was great, but I didn’t know exactly what made it tick. There’s a beauty transcended through this album. A grace that first presents itself on the opening title track about halfway through, and stays throughout the rest of its runtime. Heartbreaking black metal interlaced with spoken poetry by a female voice in the Turkish language and long instrumental passages. Anomie carries subtle elements of shoegaze-synthpop (for lack of a better term) and seamlessly weaves them with a blackened atmosphere. Outstanding compositions, vocals, and one of the most refreshing takes on the genre in years ranks this among 2017’s best releases.
#6 Immolation – Atonement Nuclear Blast
One of the first major label releases I legitimately couldn’t wait for this year. Maybe it was my binging of the Immolation discography prior to its release, but Atonement hit ALL of the right notes for me. Lyrically, musically, the album is nothing short of magnificent. “When the Jackals Come,” “Thrown to the Fire,” “Lower,” and many more read like pure poetry off the lyric sheet, and come to life with the threatening bouts of death metal played over them. Immolation have never made a bad album, but Atonement puts their best foot forward in a long time. It’s bestial, heretical, and sounds like it came from a different field of existence. Death metal for grown ups.
#5 Dying Fetus – Wrong One to Fuck With Relapse Records
And contrary to everything I said in my last entry, Dying Fetus proved this year that hey, sometimes you just need some gnarly riffs and irresistible breakdowns to win the day. I don’t think ANYONE was ready for Wrong One To Fuck With to hit as hard as it did. The opening track still gets me hype enough to last through ten mosh pits, and it probably will do so for years to come. It’s an almost laughable album title, but in a way it just makes the record’s ridiculous accomplishments more fitting.
#4 Temple of Void – Lords of Death Shadow Kingdom Records
Temple of Void’s Of Terror and the Supernatural completely blew my mind when I discovered it last year, and this year’s Lords of Death did just the same. Nothing game-breaking is really introduced here, but the band does what they do to the utmost of their abilities. The heaviest of riffs, the grooviest of grooves, and some of the most ghoulish, nightmare-inducing vocals I’ve ever heard, Temple of Void are an absolute monster of a force to be reckoned with.
#3 Spectral Voice – Eroded Corridors of Unbeing Dark Descent Records
Confession: I’ve probably only really listened to Eroded Corridors of Unbeing a handful of times. It still takes the number three spot on my list. Spectral Voice have practically out-Incantationed Incantation. This album is hell on wax; an unrepentant demon performing a chokehold on all things holy, but in musical form. Songs are not songs, but compositions. A dark sea of flowing sludge pouring from ethereal monstrosities. The song title “Visions of Psychic Dismemberment” alone should tell you everything you need to know. If you have, through some weird mistake, slept on this release, get on it immediately.
#2 Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper Profound Lore
There is so much to say about Bell Witch’s Mirror Reaper. Everyone has an opinion on it, but I think the album, and the circumstances surrounding its creation, should speak for themselves. Mirror Reaper is a stunning work of art, and even if it is not holding the number one spot on my list, if there is any album I would call “necessary listening” that came out this year, this would be it.
#1 King Woman – Created In The Image of Suffering Relapse Records
From the moment I heard King Woman’s Created In The Image of Suffering, I knew it would be ranking very high on a list somewhere around the end of the year. This band had flown under my radar until I discovered this album in February, and I hope I never let another shred of their music do so again. So many descriptive words such as “heartbreaking,” “etheric,” “emotional,” get tossed around for atmospheric music, but this release deserves so much more than those words can muster. Listening to it sublimates my brain into another state. Kristina Esfariandi’s otherwordly vocals layered over her bandmates’ fantastic music culminates into a work of art that feels limitless, that escapes conventional boundaries.