Another year, another list. This has been, in my not so humble opinion an excellent year for heavy metal. We've seen a ton of great stuff come out, ranging from doom to classic metal to grindcore. There were surprises, new innovations, and even, god forbid, a tech death record that all won my heart. It was a year where I spent a lot of time digging into the old stuff and a lot of time trying to understand where all of this came from and I think this gave me a new found appreciation of music as a whole. It's not until you find yourself elbow deep in 70's prog obscura that you fully 'get' the new Enslaved if you know what I'm saying. So in this list I tried to capture a lot of the stuff that won my heart, most of it is underground, though there are a few records that broke through (And even a band with a #2 single!) but I'm very curious to hear what you all think!
15. Dreadnought – A Wake In Sacred Waves
I still think that Dreadnought is somehow going to be the band who save us all from extinction. When it comes down to it there is more raw talent in this band than in almost any of their peers. Listening to how they have evolved their sound and what their particular brand of saxophone-tastic art doom involves has always been a treat and A Wake In Sacred Waves is their most visionary work to date. Full of unique ideas, pressing riffs and the crippling ability to swoop to the highest heights and plunge to the darkest dungeons this is the sort of perfectly orchestrated art metal that can't help but to fascinate. With seemingly infinite layers and diverse influences bringing in just about every imaginable sound to what is a shockingly well put together release you can't help but to obsess over what has been done here.
14. Monarch! – Never Forever
This one was my dark horse, a monolithic doom metal record of the sort I never really anticipated that I'd discover. As the rest of my list pretty clearly shows I'm a big fan of sadboi art doom, but this was not one of the super hyped records to drop in this genre this year. Not a lot of people were turned onto this band, at least not initially. We're starting to find a few folks who dig it, but it definitely has the vibe of being a diamond in the rough. That being said this record is absolutely gorgeous, powerful progressions and lush production makes it easy to get lost in the sonic architecture of Never Forever. Toss in a jaw dropping 9 minute long French language cover of KISS's classic "Black Diamond" and it rapidly becomes clear that there is a lot more to this band than initially meets the eye.
13. Full Of Hell – Trumpeting Ecstasy
It's been four long years since the last non-collaborative full length from grindcores great hope for the future. I think that in the midst of all these collabs and splits it might have been easy to forget that even on their own Full Of Hell are one of the goddamn greatest bands in the world right now. They have the same insane bloodthirsty magic that has made this material so valuable to so many for years now. There is a devastating crush to Trumpeting Ecstasy which makes it an impossible record to escape. There is something utterly massive about the production on this album and the bonecrushing assault of these tracks is transcendent. It speaks to the bands skill as songwriters as well as where I can see them going in the next few years – and it feels like world domination might not be too lofty a goal.
12. Archspire – Relentless Mutation
Yeah, yeah – I know its 2017 and it's not cool to like tech death anymore. I also know that most tech death we're hearing these days is the same silly derivative and boring crap that we always hear. I'm not into it and I'm sure you aren't either. That being said – holy shit are Archspire amazing. When this record was doing the press circles you just kept hearing people freaking out over how they'd never heard anything like this before. Be it in their stunning vocal delivery, multi layered compositions or simply the quality of the songwriting, Archspire will leave you scraping your jaw off the floor with this one. This is an album that fulfills the creative promise of technical death metal with none of the pretention or boring masturbation that came to define this genre when it decline a few years ago.
11. High Priestess – Demo
When this record was first recommended to me by my dear friend Christine Kelly, head of Tridroid Records, I was immediately stunned by the execution. In fact, the first thing I did upon finishing this album for the first time was send it to a close friend with the subject line, "LISTEN TO THIS – FUCK". It's pretty much impossible for a band to stun me as much with a demo as High Priestess did. Rather than playing on stoner rock tropes or trying to leverage their position as an all girl doom trio they just rip out badass riff after badass riff, unleashing sonic bliss upon those of us willing to delve into what they've done here. There aren't a lot of bands on the scene right now executing at this level and it's fascinating to get to partake in what High Priestess have conjured up. This Los Angeles force is going to be making some big moves in 2018, I can just feel it.
10. Spirit Adrift – Curse Of Conception
Following the team approach of bands like Blood Incantation and Spectral Voice, Spirit Adrift is the dudes from Gatecreeper's doom metal project and by god is it a stunner. Curse Of Conception sees band mastermind Nate Garret take things to a whole new level, his voice is honed to perfection, the execution on the tracks potent and the songs devoid of some of the fat that defined this projects debut. Spirit Adrift is starting to really live up to the potential that so many painted them with over the last few years and it's thrilling to see it unfold. Curse Of Conception is the kind of doom record you can turn up loud and just zone out too, delving into the little nooks and crannies. Clearly a music lovers creation this is a delicious piece to really sit back and sink your teeth into time and time again.
9. Bloodmoon/Trapped Within Burning Machinery – Split
Two of my favorite obscure West coast doom bands putting together one release? Well shit, this wasn't the only time this happened this year but it certainly wasn't one of my favorites. Bloodmoon in particular have been long dormant, this being their release since 2013's masterful Voidbound. This offering hints at so many great things to come from the band, and as someone who's been following their demos closely for years I'm extremely curious to see how it unfolds as things progress. Meanwhile, Trapped Within Burning Machinery haven't done too much lately either, so this was a refreshing visit to their particular corner of hell. Their 17 minute long offering was twisted and addictive, making this one of the most devastating and alienating splits of they year but also one that true fans of the underground doom scene are going to want to really sink their teeth into.
8. Crypt Rot – Embryonic Devils
In a year defined by great death metal Embryonic Devils is my favorite release in the genre. With massive "OOGH"'s and punishing breakdowns this is a death metal nerds death metal album. With knuckle dragging intensity, face melting tracks and a surprising amount of depth Crypt Rot fuses old school DIY sound effects with bone crunching production that is distinctly 2017. In this jaded day and age I don't find a lot of albums that make me want to circle pit all by myself, but it feels like Crypt Rot are designed for this. They punish the listener time and time again and invoke your inner 15 year old. There is an unabashed sense of fun that got me obsessed with this band from the first and reminded me why I love the teeth gnashing dorkery of death metal in the first place. While 2017 may have been the year of death metal, it's Embryonic Devils that reinvigorated my passion for the genre.
7. 1476 – Our Season Draws Near
This is another one of those records that really got me from the first spin. Drawing influence from bands like Agalloch and even Woods Of Ypres the powerful compositions and transcendent beauty of this band is hard to wrap your head around. Our Season Draws Near is in many ways the culmination of years of work – we see 1476 finally realizing their potential on their fourth full length. This is a record replete with hooks, poetry and just top notch production. It certainly has its flaws, certain songs need fat trimmed and other times melodies don't quite deliver, but for me that's a part of the appeal. Our Season Draws Near is the sound of 1476 really starting to find themselves and push towards something truly great which remains elegantly executed and endlessly exciting. It's a record that despite everything I keep coming back too – and that means a helluva lot in this day and age.
6. Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper
In some ways Mirror Reaper feels like the logical conclusion for what Bell Witch has been working towards for all these years. Their long form songs and poetic leanings were fully realized in Mirror Reaper with its 83 minute long run time stirring headlines across the globe. Beyond that thoguh Mirror Reaper has some seriously deep lyrical concepts, delving into arcane branches of hermetics and reminding us all once again that Bell Witch are creating some incredibly meaningful and potent art. There is a potent melodicism to this record that you just don't get in funeral doom and the sheer delivery of this record, and the fact that you have to pick it apart across four sides means that anytime you listen to Mirror Reaper you need to remain dedicated to pushing for something greater. It's an album that requires patience, but which pays off massive fucking dividends.
5. White Ward – Futility Report
This is another one of those records that came out of apparently nowhere and really got me digging in. A project many years in the making with a variety of splits, EP's, demos and singles coming out before this years jaw dropping full length I long wondered if White Ward would ever create something that really matched their creative potential. I'm thrilled to report that they have. There is something incredibly beautiful and deeply emotional about this saxophone driven brand of black metal. With stunning melody lines, powerful riffs and an understanding of all generations of black metal it's easy to keep coming back to Futility Report. This is the sort of forward thinking black metal that keeps me coming back to the genre and which proves time and time again that Debemur Morti Productions is one of the best black metal labels in the world.
4. Primitive Man – Caustic
You want a motherfucker of a record? This is a motherfucker of a record. Clocking in at over 70 minutes long and relentlessly punishing Caustic is the sort of doom/sludge album that you didn't even think was possible to create. Their 11th (!) release since 2013 but only their second ever full length Primitive Man fucking bowl you over with heaviness on this album. It's a record that cracks skulls and takes no prisoners. Stripped down, aggressive and almost terrifyingly pissed off, Caustic just gets better with every passing spin, time and time again beating you over the head with volume and reminding you that nothing else matters beyond the power of the almighty riff. Toss in some harsh noise, crushing vocals and demented lyrics and it becomes clear that Caustic is the sort of record you are never going to be able to put down.
3. Chrch/Fister – Split
This split has pretty much been my reason for living for the latter half of 2017. Having waited with baited breath in anticipation of what two of my favorite bands on the scene would come out with it was impossible not to freak out when it finally hit my inbox a month ago. Both groups have gone above and beyond with their respective offerings, giving new breadth to their sounds and hinting at some truly great stuff to come. This is a crowded scene that bands like these exist in and yet they seem to both have carved out distinct niches for themselves whilst simultaneously staying true to why we love this music. There is something incredibly addictive about this particular offering and it has me coming back to what these bands have crafted and where they are developing time and time again. If you want a record that shows you the state of doom metal today, this is it.
2. Pallbearer – Heartless
This was probably my most listened too album of 2017. It's an album that encompasses everything that I love about doom metal and so much more. Pallbearer have been on this triumphant progression since their debut blew us all away back in 2012. They've been one of the most important bands in my life since I was 16 years old and I can't help but to love them. That being said, Heartless is something else. It's an album that makes you say 'holy shit' time and time again. At one point this year my autocorrect was programmed to automatically type "The new Pallbearer is the best thing ever" if you kept pressing the middle button. Like – I was obsessed with this shit. And it doesn't get old. This is an album that is transcendent, that sees the band pushing their prog roots to brave new heights and reminding us time and time again why they will go down as one of the most important bands of their generation.
1. Subrosa – Subdued: Live At Roadburn 2017
It's no secret that Subrosa is my favorite active band and seeing them at Roadburn twice in a weekend was a mythic event. I remember standing next to fellow Subrosa superfan Stephen Hill and just being in awe of what they had conjured up. I've seen Subrosa probably 20 times by now, but this was different, it was powerful, it reflected on different sides of a band that I have spent literally thousands of dollars on. It's an album that hints at bold new futures for the band and which gives potent reinterpretations to songs that have been the soundtrack to my life for four or five years now. It's a record that just about anyone can get into and in fact barely even borders on metal, the only reason I'm comfortable referencing it is due to their substantial metal cred. If you want to get people into doom give them this record, hell if you want to get people into MUSIC give them this record, because Subrosa have achieved perfection.