I listened to more doom this year than any other year. I don’t know why, but the albums put out in 2017 really resonated – not that I was depressed or anything, but the styles, moods, and performances really drew me in, more so than in the past. We had excellent modern doom such as Pallbearer, funeral doom along the lines of Loss, and everything in between. All told, there were a lot of excellent releases. Here’s our choices for the best of the best.
12. Poseidon – Prologue (Ripple)
A four-track album called Prologue may seem like an EP, but Poseidon’s debut album is 44 minutes long, and worth every minute. Prologue is a doom album infused with sludge, prog, and a touch of hardcore.
The key here is in the variety of the songwriting. All four tracks stand out in different ways, with the winner being the excellent “Mother Mary Son of Scorn,” an acoustic dirge with a fantastic, hypnotic arrangement. Poseidon will be a force on the metal scene if Prologue is any indication.
11. Völur – Ancestors (Prophecy)
Ancestors is Canadian trio Völur’s second album, and it’s a weird one. Why is it weird? Because this doom-laden prog outfit plays drums, bass, and violin and features both male and female lead vocals.
Ancestors is comprised only of four songs, but they’re all epic, ranging from 10 to 17 minutes. Each song is skillfully arranged, never leaving the listener bored or clicking through to the next track. Heavy, ponderous, menacing, and filling the soundstage despite the scant instrumentation, Völur are a band to keep an eye on.
10. Usnea – Portals into Futility (Relapse)
Long instrumental passages that build immense anticipation and an occasional proggy melody pulsate through Usnea’s third album, Portals Into Futility. Though recorded over the course of a single week this past February, there’s no apparent urgency in the band’s morbid delivery. Any outburst of rage is a deliberate attack on their doom/sludge metal.
There are some monsters on here, creaking to existence with little room for maneuvering. However, the group finds a way to streamline their songwriting, while still composing a 20-minute behemoth that’s their longest to date. By doing this, Usnea avoid any instance of dragging the pace downward.
9. Paradise Lost – Medusa (Nuclear Blast)
Doom legends Paradise Lost crack the top 10 with Medusa, perhaps their heaviest effort to date. After going off the rails with goth (and worse) a dozen years ago, the band have returned to what they are best at beginning with their 2005 self-titled effort, and ramping up to this year’s release.
Medusa is an excellent death/doom effort, with plenty of menace and majesty – the band’s best since Faith Divides Us – Death Unites Us. Clean vocals, death growls, and veteran arrangements and songwriting chops show us Paradise Lost have found their way back to their roots, and we are the benefactors of the results.
8. Ufomammut – 8 (Neurot)
The Italian sludge/doom trio Ufomammut deliver 8 songs on 8, which of course is their eighth full-length album. They took a different approach to recording this album, using their live sound engineer and recording live together in the same room.
The result is an album that doesn’t stray far from their previously established style, but is a bit more straightforward while remaining cohesive and displays more of the live energy. For the first time in a while there are no songs longer than 10 minutes, but Ufomammut still like to mix shorter tracks (3 to 4 minutes) with more epic compositions. It all blends expertly into one extended piece, a psychedelic trip of fuzzed out bliss.
7. Hallatar – No Stars Upon the Bridge (Svart)
Hallatar came to be in an interesting and tragic manner. Last year Trees of Eternity released an excellent album, but singer Aleah Starbridge passed away prior to its release. Guitarist Juha Raivio recruited Amorphis singer Tomi Joutsen and HIM drummer Gas Lipstick to assist in recording No Stars Upon the Bridge, a memorial of sorts to Starbridge.
The record comes across as a sorrowful funeral dirge, with heart-rending vocals. The music is ponderous and majestic, while the vocals – clean, harsh, blackened, you name it, all styles show up – at first seem to be the weak point, but when taken in context to the material they make sense. The highlight is an appearance from Starbridge on album closer “Dreams Burn Down,” showing again that she was a light that left us too soon.
6. Hell – Hell (Sentient Ruin)
Hell is a one-man act, the terrifying offspring of Salem, Oregon’s M.S.W. Hell has been gracing us with an extreme version of funeral doom metal for ten years now, and this latest self-titled album is an exercise in terror, filling the listener with dread from beginning to end.
The heaviest and most extreme album in our Best Of column, Hell features massive distortion, brutal-sounding drums, and insane vocals – including shrieks, hisses, yowls, and everything else. It’s the project of a man possessed, and by no means an easy listen, but rewarding in its own way.
5. Below – Upon a Pale Horse (Metal Blade)
Sweden’s Below are a five-piece doom outfit that aim for the epic end of the spectrum. Upon a Pale Horse is their second album, following 2014’s Across the Dark River. A big draw for this band is the singer, Zeb, whose vocal stylings are like a theatrical Geoff Tate, and much like on their first album he nails his performances again here.
Across the Dark River was chock full of guitar-heavy doom, with plenty of riffs and solos to keep ardent metal fans satisfied. Upon a Pale Horse expands the envelope of what Below can do, by offering us both faster and slower songs where doom is still the genre of influence, but classic metal is at the fore. This album is a step up from their first, and needs to be checked out by all metal fans.
4. Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper (Profound Lore)
Mirror Reaper, an 83-minute, single-track behemoth from Bell Witch, is a daunting affair, a 900-page philosophy textbook in a row of disposable grocery store paperbacks. Even those used to the band’s knack for lengthy songs will be at a loss initially.
But don’t let the length be a deterrent. The death of former drummer Adrian Guerra weighs on this grand meditation on our existence, a sonic catharsis we are lucky to be privy to. Mirror Reaper is the most challenging metal album of 2017, yet is essential for anyone with the absolute determination to take this mammoth undertaking head on.
3. Pallbearer – Heartless (Profound Lore)
A lot was expected from Pallbearer’s third album, Heartless, and the band delivered. Heartless sees the band evolve even further, adding traditional metal, progressive influences, and atmospheric moments to their doom repertoire.
While not perfect, Heartless is damn close. The lush soundscapes and heartfelt, wrenching lyrics result in an album that takes some dedicated time to listen to, but is infinitely rewarding. It’s a pleasure to watch a band evolve their sound slowly but surely – Heartless comes off a little less heavy than Foundations, but with better arrangements and performances from the band – creating a style that belongs only to them.
2. Spirit Adrift – Curse of Conception (20 Buck Spin)
It was only a year ago that Spirit Adrift put out an impressive pair of releases with debut EP Behind – Beyond and the Chained to Oblivion full-length. Most bands could get a few years’ mileage out of all that material, yet here we are in late 2017 and the group already has another album ready with Curse of Conception.
This one is still in the vein of doom metal, though charged-up guitar solos have a thrash interior. Shorter songs allow for a more focused experience, a directness that wasn’t as prevalent on their previous album. The result is an excellent, engaging record.
1. Loss – Horizonless (Profound Lore)
Funeral doom is not easy music to listen to. If you made it all the way through Loss’s 2011 debut Despond, you know what I mean. This is music made for crushing souls and sucking hope out of the world. It’s an ordeal for the band to play, and an ordeal for us to listen, but when it’s done well, oh boy does it get you.
Horizonless ups the ante from Despond in every way. The band says Horizonless will take the listener even further beyond the realms of hopelessness, and they’re right. These are massive, ponderous, death-filled dirges that suck the air out of the room. But not only are the songs and ambient segues nightmarishly dark, they’ve been meticulously constructed and produced, giving us the best-sounding, written, and performed doom album of the year.