Riley's Top 20 Albums of 2017
Hooray, this marks my third time whipping up a good ol' end-of-the-year list! And I gotta say, it's not exactly getting easier choosing who lands where on it. If you've caught my previous lists, the format is relatively the same. Below you can view my top twenty metal releases, some fifteen honorable mentions, five EPs, and ten non-metal albums for a total of fifty rad records of 2017!
Do you like my choices? Yes? No? Wish someone else was included in the list instead of what I chose? Well drats, I tried my best to include a variety from doom, sludge, prog, tech-death, deathcore, metalcore, symphonic death metal, instrumental, thrash, industrial, djent, post-hardcore, black metal, and more. In the end, it's all just my opinion, but there's probably something on here you enjoy. List your comments, questions, and concerns in the comments section below. Also, don't forget to vote in our Readers' Poll for Best Album of 2017.
20. Spotlights – Seismic
Last year, their debut LP hit my honorable mentions list, but this release was a huge step forward on all fronts. Seismic simply sounds huge. Each doom-laden groove shakes the Earth, while the delicate melodies comfort the listener. Spotlights used to come off as a Melvins, Isis, and My Bloody Valentine cocktail, but are now officially their own unique entity. This duo already has me hooked on their sophomore record and I'm eagerly awaiting seeing them live and releasing further material as well.
19. Fragarak – A Spectral Oblivion
Progressive tech-death acts are sometimes predictable in that you can expect complete uptempo intensity, instrumental virtuosity, and an overall intelligence encapsulating extreme metal into something more special. Yet, Fragarak takes these tropes and applies their own ingredients to present the subgenre in a fresh manner. This album is full of vocal diversity and acoustic classical guitar, the latter being what I would consider the group's most admirable trait.
18. Enslaved – E
Admittedly, I never was completely sucked into the depths of Enslaved's discography. My curiosities were previously somewhat piqued with their slow and gradual Porcupine Tree-esque transformation, but their Viking metal roots was a tad off-putting when mixed with their prog elements. As I gave this release a try, I finally felt fully gripped by their music as the experimental elements seem to be the main focus on this record. As a whole, E sounds like an Enslaved album, yet some certain songs sound like a completely different band in the best way possible.
17. Within the Ruins – Halfway Human
Honestly, there were a lot of quality metal/deathcore albums that came out this year from Emmure, Oceano, Thy Art is Murder, Veil of Maya, etc. But in the end, Within the Ruins took the cake for the best deathcore release this year in my opinion. Unlike some other bands, their modest addition of clean vocals was tasteful and significant in this group's ascension towards progressive leanings.
16. Septicflesh – Codex Omega
Nothing gets me more intrigued than classical orchestration and metal finding middle ground. String sections enrich Septicflesh's death metal with breath-taking dynamics throughout Codex Omega. The term 'epic' is kind of a worn-out phrase to describe something amazing, but I think it is the most fitting description for this record. You'll feel as if you're on the battlefield between the Spartans and Persians when getting sucked in to this music.
15. The Faceless – In Becoming a Ghost
To this day, I hold the three-movement "Autotheism" piece to be an extraordinary leap forward in technical-death metal as the vocals and unconventional instrumentation allowed for a absolute theatrical delivery. The long-awaited follow-up to The Faceless' 2012 masterful work does not disappoint one bit. Frontman Michael Keene doubles down on his jazzy tendencies, yet stirs in even more genius into the cauldron with blackened vocals of Abigail Williams' Ken Sorceron.
14. Alluvial – The Deep Longing For Annihilation
On a somewhat related note, I felt slight disappointment when hearing Animals as Leaders' The Madness of Many last year as it just felt less innovative and catchy as previous releases. I began to worry about the state of instrumental metal, however the supergroup Alluvial, consisting of Keith Merrow (Conquering Dystopia), Wes Hauch (Black Crown Initiate, The Faceless), and Dan Presland (Ne Obliviscaris), reassured me that everything is a-okay. The Deep Longing for Annihilation is brimming with equally intense and memorable licks.
Self-released / Listen to: "Lila"
13. John Frum – A Stirring in the Noos
With a lineup consisting of seasoned musicians from all walks of extreme metal, this band was on the path for victory right off the bat. Not only is A Stirring in the Noose a death metal hard-hitter throughout, the group's flirtation with doom and ambient noises on certain songs came to much surprise. I'm hopeful that this project continues forth to release more material in which they take their clearly established death metal talents to an unfathomable level.
12. The Minerva Conduct – The Minerva Conduct
Former Animals as Leaders drummer plus three musicians from established Indian metal acts join forces to form a progressive instrumental/djent record, convinced yet? The hooks, dynamics, electronics, etc. are all far above the expectations I held when approaching this album. This LP should definitely be looked into if you're interested in modern prog.
11. Marty Friedman – Wall of Sound
There's a good chunk of artists on this list that I hardly paid much attention to previously and then when giving their newest record a shot, I was baptized and instantly hooked. Marty Friedman belongs to that category in which I never showed much interest in his past solo releases and then as soon as I lent my ear to Wall of Sound, everything changed. This guitarist is a true artist when it comes to arranging notes that sound as majestic and melodic as a professional singer.
10. Demonic Resurrection – Dashavatar
As I've delved into the Indian metal scene this past year, I discovered the country's likely largest act. Demonic Resurrection has previously released four records and debuted easily their finest work yet this year. Dashavatar displays diversity through Indian classical instrumentation and varied vocal deliveries amongst blackened death metal.
9. With Our Arms to the Sun – Orenda
Back in the 90's, there seemed to be many bands exploring production experimentation, allowing their records to include a spectrum of musical depth from muddy or hollow to dense and gigantic qualities. With Our Arms to the Sun reminds me of such greatness on Orenda as each song can transition from a stoner rock-like tone to Pink Floyd clarity.
8. Stargazer – Tui La
When The Contortionist released Clairvoyant this year, it didn't match my expectations as a follow-up to Language. But when I stumbled upon Stargazer's Tui La, I felt that the music perfectly filled the void of what I envisioned in a heavier version of The Contortionist. Although the comparison isn't perfect with Stargazer throwing modern progressive metalcore into their mix, I think the band's use of synths, clean vocal deliveries, and unique riffs forms a parallel. This band is one you're not going to want to miss as they rise amongst the other modern greats bringing intelligence and ambience to the metal scene.
Released via Famined Records / Listen to: "Temple of Solace"
7. Sepultura – Machine Messiah
I honestly haven't been intrigued by a Sepultura record since Roots. The seven releases that followed that LP never held enough pizazz to keep me interested, but the band blindsided me with Machine Messiah. After decades of thrash and death metal material, a shift to prog was the last thing I expected. Considering the band is fairly new to this style, I wouldn't say every composition is perfect, yet they now have my full attention when it comes to future releases and shows.
6. 3Teeth – <shutdown.exe>
There has been an unfortunate absence of new industrial acts in the metal community as of late, but 3Teeth is without a doubt proving such a sentiment wrong. Their old school Skinny Puppy vibe beside Rammstein-like energy in live shows is the life force behind the subgenre in modern times. Tracks like "Divine Weapon" or "Degrade" are exactly the kind of focused angst that hooked me to this style back in highschool.
Released via OMF Records / Listen to: "Pit of Fire"
5. SikTh – The Future In Whose Eyes?
I may be voicing an unpopular opinion here, but this sounds like SikTh's most focused record. Sure, The Trees Are Dead & Dried Out Wait For Something Wild and Death of a Dead Day were significant in the development of djent and weird prog in general, however the depth of the melodies and songwriting are undeniably more powerful on this one. I also think their choice of "No Wishbones" and "Golden Cufflinks" as singles were strange as they had way better songs like "Century of the Narcissist?" or "Weavers of Woe" instead.
4. Less Art – Strangled Light
Never been too into the whole post-hardcore scene, however these guys changed the whole game for me. The tones created in this LP cut through the confident rhythm section like butter while the lyrics are beyond personal and inspiring. Members of Thrice, Kowloon Walled City, and Curl Up & Die are all included in this group to even convince you further to listen to this killer record.
3. Pallbearer – Heartless
I'm utterly pleased that this record is making such an impact and many others are viewing it with similar adoration. No other doom band have transitioned to a progressive act so seamlessly. It hasn't even been a year since I first gave Heartless a listen and it already feels like a classic. While on a few of the later tracks, Pallbearer still keep their doom traits proudly, I am truly curious if the progressive element will grow in the follow-up.
2. Illustrations – Acts of God
Oh lord, I was so bummed once I saw that these guys were separating. Acts of God surged through my blood this past summer and fall as it was my go-to drive to work CD to jam to in the car. Their overall style could best be described as blackened hardcore, although I think they reveal writing and production techniques that exceed beyond the limitations of said subgenre. I'm trying to be optimistic regarding a reunion, but at this rate it will likely be other bands spawning from the members continuing to make incredible music.
1. Exist – So True, So Bound
I'm a tad speechless about this record. It's a little bit of everything I love; part Cynic-like innovative prog and part Gojira aesthetic heaviness. As much as I'd like to push recommendations in listening to every single one of the records on this list, I feel this one is an essential record to invest in if you're into extreme music with a sense of balance.
HONORABLE MENTIONS (basically, #21 – #35 Best Metal Albums of the Year):
15. Doom Side of the Moon – Doom Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd + stoner punk, need I say more?)
14. Akercocke – Renaissance in Extremis (yeah yeah, the vocals on here are sometimes crazy abrasive at parts, but there's some even more insane music moments that are worthy of taking notice to as well)
13. Nova Collective – The Further Side (if you ever found Between the Buried and Me to be a bit too extreme for you, their side projects are always a blast, especially this jazz-fusion, instrumental prog joy ride)
12. The Hirsch Effekt – Eskapist (I already sense this album being an ever further favorite as it becomes more enjoyable after each listen with a satisfying blend of cleans, screams, grooves, prog, punk, djent, metalcore, and more)
Released via Long Branch Records, SPV / Listen to: "Inukshuk"
11. Dethrone the Sovereign – Harbingers of Pestilence (although initially labeling these guys as Born of Osiris knock-offs, I later realized there was way more intricacies and layers to their music delving beyond melodic deathcore like jazz, tech-death, etc.)
10. Dog Fashion Disco – Erotic Massage (the past few albums since Adultery has been so-so in my opinion, but a rerecorded version of the avant-gardish jazz-funk metal band's debut definitely caught my ear)
Released via Razor to Wrist / Listen to: "Christian Dance Song"
9. Body Count – Bloodlust (while Manslaughter was a luke warm comeback record, this one is full-force OG Body Count aligning with modern metal quality)
8. Zeal & Ardor – Devil is Fine (I struggled on if this should be considered a non-metal release with the black metal elements only being a fraction of the other musical styles included, but that fact alone is evidence enough that this record must be heard and applauded as widening the parameters of metal)
Released via Radicalis Music / Listen to: "Devil is Fine"
7. Machines of Man – Dreamstates (while very reminiscent of BTBAM, this is a damn impressive experimental prog debut release)
6. Axis – Shift (I am simultaneously desperately wanting to see this guys live and intensely fearing being anywhere near the pit that their hardcore music will summon)
5. Igorrr – Savage Sinusoid (with so much metal out there, it can be hard to separate yourself from the flock, yet Igorrr's experimentation makes himself the one of the most impressive black sheep)
4. Sorxe – Matter & Void (ever since Isis kicked the bucket, it seems that post-metal as a whole lost its momentum, but new bands like Sorxe are a beacon of light for the subgenre as they mix in doom and sludge quite smoothly)
3. Emmure – Look At Yourself (at some corners of the internet Emmure gets a fair share of hate, however this record may change their minds as the band's new lineup expanded their bouncy nu deathcore to higher melodic and heavy heights)
Released via Sharptone Records / Listen to: "Flag of the Beast"
2. Hellkeeper – A World Within Flesh (the amount of energy translating into these newer hardcore-inspired groups is insane and Hellkeeper's use of black metal on top creates for a horrifically compelling result)
Self-released / Listen to: "Species"
1. God Mother – Vilseledd (even though some of these songs are half a minute long, this band manages to pack as much energetic loudness as Code Orange or Dillinger Escape Plan)
EPs (short, but sweet):
5. Polyphia – The Most Hated (easily the most engaging songs this instrumental shred act has released, now including electronics as well)
Self-released / Listen to: "Icronic"
4. Obstinate – Infraction (a few bands have tried to meld rap and djent and have found some success, yet I find this attempt to be the best turnout)
3. The Arson Choir – Trophy Nation (whether you're in the gym getting pumped or stuck in traffic, these jams are the go-to for any metalcore or mathcore fans)
Self-released / Listen to: "ABQ Blue"
2. Eccentric Pendulum – Tellurian Concepts (an 18-minute long track stacked with progressive leanings, djent riffs, sound manipulation, and amazing guest musician solos)
Self-released / Listen to: "Tellurian Concepts"
1. Sleep Token – Two (this mysterious project is almost non-metal with a majority of the songs' playtime being dedicated to emotional indie-folk and electronica, but the soul-crushing breakdowns at the end certainly go harder than I'd ever imagine)
Released via Basick Records / Listen to: "Nazareth"
NON-METAL (I'll state what genre I believe applies):
10. Ho99o9 – United States of Horror (experimental hip hop)
Released via 999 Deathkult / Listen to: "United States of Horror"
9. Happyness – Write In (alternative, indie rock)
Released via Moshi Moshi, Bar None Records / Listen to: "Through Windows"
8. Chon – Homey (instrumental progressive rock)
Released via Sumerian Records / Listen to: "Nayhoo"
7. Falquist – No Sound in Space (alternative rock)
Self-released / Listen to: "Eject"
6. St. Vincent – Masseduction (electropop)
Released via Loma Vista Recordings / Listen to: "Pills"
5. Itchy-O – From the Overflowing (avant-garde)
Released via Alternative Tentacles / Listen to: "Gallow's Disco"
4. Crystal Fairy – Crystal Fairy (experimental rock)
Released via Ipecac Recordings / Listen to: "Drugs on the Bus"
3. sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only (post-rock)
Self-released / Listen to: "Tundra"
2. Roger Waters – Is This the Life We Really Want? (rock)
Released via Columbia Records / Listen to: "The Last Refugee"
1. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy (indie rock, folk)
Released via Bella Union, Sub Pop / Listen to: "Pure Comedy"
View more of the Best of 2017 here.