A lot of metal writers like to begin or end their “Best of XXXX” articles with something like, “Well guys, I think it’s been a Great Year For Metal!” I’ve totally been guilty of this at least once before, so I’m not passing judgement on any fellow writers. Still, can we say this about 2017?
As I mentioned last year, metal has steadily become more and more balkanized. The only time metal audiences of all stripes, factions and persuasions seem to unite is to argue over the latest thinkpiece about cultural issues within the scene, or some scandal involving a famous or semi-famous band. Some of these arguments are worth having. But when they take place among metal writers on social media (which is where most of it happens), nuance tends to die away in favor of a group-think arms race to impress the right people. Still, this is happening in all social circles and all art scenes in 2017, so it’s not exactly fair to lay this at metal’s doorstep.
So was it a good year, musically speaking? Yes. Much better than last year, especially in the world of death metal. One note of caution, however. Many of the albums below are from well-established, popular bands. In one sense, it’s good to see metal’s old and not-quite-as-old guard putting out great music, selling well (for 2017) and mounting successful tours. But on the other hand, this leaves metal’s future in, say, 20 years, somewhat uncertain. If no bands exist who can still pack arenas and get young teenagers into the music, will the scene whither to a husk of small club shows and nostalgia, populated by an aging clutch of devotees? Maybe it will. Maybe it should. But we’ve been there before, sometime around 1997, and no one then could have predicted the 20 years that followed.
Anyway, here are my 15 favorite albums of the year at the time of meeting my editor's deadline. End-of-Year lists are never finished, they just have a due date. Here's a 2017 playlist for you all to check out!
15. Trivium – The Sin and the Sentence
With Silence in the Snow, Trivium made a reach for the mainstream, and did pretty well for themselves, landing in the top 20 on the Billboard charts. But something was missing musically. They proceeded to release a repackaged version of their first album, Ember to Inferno. Perhaps this made an impact on the sound of this album. When Trivium is good, they’re REALLY good. Check out: “The Sin and the Sentence,” “Betrayer,” and “Sever the Hand”.
14. Runespell – Unhallowed Blood Oath
By the end of last year, I was fully burned out on the trees-on-the-album-cover style of black metal. After all, when Bergtatt and Ashes Against the Grain have already been made, where else do you go? Well, you can make an album like this! Runespell takes an atmospheric approach and infuses it with the classic second-wave sound to give it that edge so many “autumnal” bands are missing nowadays. Check out: “Oblivion Winds” and “White Death’s Wings”.
13. Cannibal Corpse – Red Before Black
It’s hard to argue against a good Cannibal Corpse album, and this one totally slays. The production is absolutely blistering, helping to pack the album with in-your-face riffs and Corpsegrinder’s always satisfying vocals. Additionally, there are some riffs and arrangements on here you wouldn’t expect from the band, their overwhelming consistency notwithstanding. Enough ear candy to feed a small island nation and enough firepower to blow it up. Check out: “Red Before Black,” “Only One Will Die,” and “Shedding My Human Skin”.
12. Cradle of Filth – Cryptoriana: The Seductiveness of Decay
I told you I put a lot of established bands on this list. OK, so years ago I wrote some reviews saying nice things about Darkly, Darkly Venus Aversa and Manticore. Well to hell with all that. This album and it’s predecessor, Hammer of the Witches, comprise Cradle of Filth’s best material since Midian. The riffs and vocals here give the album the right amount of weight to be taken seriously, with just enough gothic cheesiness thrown in to give it that characteristic Cradle feel. Check out: “Heartbreak and Seance,” “Achingly Beautiful” and “The Seductiveness of Decay”.
11. Asagraum – Potestas Magicum Diaboli
On the other hand, here’s some pure, vicious Norwegian black metal. By that I don’t mean straight-ahead early-90s black metal. There’s plenty of that there, but there’s also a dash of dissonant riffing present in Asagraum’s style that makes it stand out. And it’s also not the type of dissonance that bores me to tears (not naming names, but I’m sure you know of whom I speak). Check out: “Black Triangle Temple” and “Black Sun Prayer”.
10. Darkest Hour – Godless Prophets and the Migrant Flora
I am very, very, very late to the party with Darkest Hour. While I was at just the right age to get to them during the Sadist Nation-era, I was never really interested. The vocals didn’t connect with me and my headspace was too crowded with the bigger bands in the New Wave of American Heavy Metal (see: #15). Boy was I wrong. This Kurt Ballou (more from him later) produced monster is so good that it got me into Darkest Hour's back catalog (especially Mark of the Judas…those riffs!!!). Check out: “The Knife in the Safe Room,” “Timeless Numbers” and “None of This Is the Truth”.
9. Death Fortress – Triumph of the Undying
Blue-cover blackened death metal, but with extra grit and filth added. The subterranean vocals are so immediately brutal, almost more guttural than necessary, that they immediately call attention to themselves. They compete against the buzzing, icy riffs and savage drums that harken back to Battles in the North-era Immortal. Check out: “Storming Wrath,” “The Warrior’s Mantle,” and “Wisdom of the Unspoken”.
8. Full of Hell – Trumpeting Ecstasy
A totally off-the-wall mix of death, black, core and grind styles that satisfies a certain urge that I usually reserve for powerviolence. Trumpeting Ecstasy is dark, bleak and terrifying, with a guitar tone straight out of your worst nightmare. A fitting sound for a year like 2017. Check out: “Trumpeting Ecstasy,” “Deluminate” and “Bound Sphinx”.
7. Wolves in the Throne Room – Thrice Woven
Alright, so I know as an Open Minded™ metal writer I’m supposed to make some sort of nod to 2014’s Celestite as an great accomplishment that “transcended black metal…maaaaaannnn.” Whatever. I like Wolves in the Throne Room because I like black metal. So I’m happy to say they did a great job of it on this album. Check out: “Born from the Serpent's Eye” and “Angrboda”.
6. Nightbringer – Terra Damnata
I know I just said that I don’t like most dissonant black metal. BUT! If said black metal resembles Anthems and Equilibrium-era Emperor, I’ll give it a shot. Sure, Terra Damnata doesn't show a “diverse range of moods and styles” but who the hell cares? It’s fast, brutal and invokes the occult in a way that doesn’t slide too close to self-parody. Check out: “As Wolves Amongst Ruins,” “Misrule” and “Let Silence be His Sacred Name”.
5. Kawir – Exilasmos
This was a last-minute entry onto this list. I hadn’t realized that Kawir already put out another album, and that it was so awesome. For those of you who don’t know, Kawir is part of the Greek black metal scene, but hasn’t quite gotten the attention of bands like Rotting Christ and Varathron. With an album as straightforwardly ripping as this, that needs to change. For once, shiny production makes a great band sound even better. Check out: “Lykaon,” “Oedipus” and “Orestes”.
4. Origin – Unparalleled Universe
I don’t listen to much tech death, but when I do, I almost always choose Origin. Unparalleled Universe shows the band at its sweep-picking, blastbeating, mind-bending best. It’s a big improvement over their previous album, and hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves from the metal press. Check out: “Truthslayer,” “Accident and Error,” and “Dajjal”.
3. Paradise Lost – Medusa
It’s amazing to hear a band sound like this so late in their career. Medusa is a culmination of every phase of Paradise Lost, all expertly weaved together. There’s a lot of early Paradise Lost to be found here. And I don’t just mean Gothic, Icon or Draconian Times, but the death-doom of Lost Paradise as well. But the clean vocals here might be the best the band has ever put to record, though the previous album comes close there. Check out: “Shrines,” “Fearless Sky,” “The Longest Winter” and “Gods of Ancient”.
2. Integrity – Howling, For the Nightmare Shall Consume
Speaking of culminations, Integrity’s latest album takes the best of what they’ve done in the past and adds some new elements as well (including some fun!…no, really). Yes, there’s plenty of the classic metallic hardcore that made the band legends. But there’s some classic heavy metal and hard rock sounds to be found that adds a different edge and makes it a unique entry in the band’s catalog. Check out: “Blood Sermon,” “I Am the Spell” and “Die With Your Boots On.”
1. Converge – The Dusk in Us
It takes me awhile to get into a new Converge album. In fact, I tend to find them kind of annoying at first. Aside from Petitioning the Empty Sky, Jane Doe and You Fail Me, I’ve never immediately liked a Converge album. I originally thought this album would be an afterthought. “Under Duress” especially got under my nerves. But it did so in just the right way. It stayed in my head, followed me around and wouldn’t leave until I blasted it again. And then again. And then The Dusk in Us became my album of the year. Sure, that’s kind of a weird path to take, but no one ever said that artistic taste was totally rational. Also check out “A Single Tear,” “Reptilian” and “The Dusk in Us.”
Great Songs From Other Albums
There's nothing wrong with the albums these songs came from. They either didn't move me as much as the ones above, or I ran out of time to listen to them more than once or twice. Keep in mind, there are some albums I only got to check out after the due date for this article that would probably break my entire list if I considered them (e.g. Der Weg Einer Freiheit, Evilfeast, Morbid Angel, Perturbator). Anyway, if you're keeping track of everything here, make sure to throw these songs onto your playlist!
Chelsea Wolfe- “16 Psyche”
Obituary- “Sentence Day”
Code Orange- “Bleeding in the Blur”
Midnight- "Crushed by Demons"
Line of Scrimmage- “Pestilence”
Broken Hope- “Blast Frozen”
Black Dahlia Murder- “Nightbringers”
Party Cannon- “Everyone is Still Dead to Me”