2017 will be remembered as the year of death metal, with several classic bands releasing outstanding albums and up and comers making their mark. But there were plenty of other genres that released great albums this year. Here are our picks of the 20 best metal albums released in 2017, along with some honorable mentions.
Amenra – Mass VI (Neurot)
Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper (Profound Lore)
Blut Aus Nord – Deus Salutis Meae (Debemur Morti)
Decrepit Birth – Axis Mundi (Nuclear Blast)
Dodecahedron – Kwintessens (Season Of Mist)
Exhumed – Death Revenge (Relapse)
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars (Napalm)
Farsot – Fail-Lure (Lupus Lounge)
Hallas – Excerpts From A Future Past (The Sign)
Mord ‘A’ Stigmata – Hope (Pagan)
Myrkur – Mareridt (Relapse)
Paradise Lost – Medusa (Nuclear Blast)
Power Trip – Nightmare Logic (Daymare)
Pristine – Ninja (Nuclear Blast)
Soen – Lykaia (UDR)
Spirit Adrift – Curse Of Conception (20 Buck Spin)
Tombs – The Grand Annihilation (Metal Blade)
Ulver – The Assassination Of Julius Caesar (House Of Mythology)
Woe – Hope Attrition (Vendetta)
Wolves In The Throne Room – Thrice Woven (Artemisia)
20. Chelsea Wolfe – Hiss Spun (Sargent House)
Chelsea Wolfe has drawn a lot of critical acclaim for her genre-spanning albums. Her latest release Hiss Spun will continue that praise, blending disparate styles into a cohesive and compelling whole.
The album is front-loaded with heavier tracks, such as the opening doom-laden song “Spun,” the deliberate “16 Psyche” and “Vex,” which includes guest growls from Aaron Turner (Isis, Old Man Gloom). Those are contrasted by quieter and more ethereal tracks, some which glide along mellowly and others that have more tension. She incorporates styles including alt rock, folk and electronica. Wolfe’s vocals range from near whispers to melodic crooning to more aggressive and urgent singing. All of those styles are on display on “Twin Fawn,” the most dynamic song on an emotional and cathartic album that’s packed with them.
19. Kreator – Gods Of Violence (Nuclear Blast)
Gods Of Violence is Kreator’s fourteenth full-length studio album, and continues the band’s run of strong albums since the release of Violent Revolution in 2001. Lyrically, Gods Of Violence takes up Kreator’s mantle with scathing songs aimed squarely at religious fanaticism and its intersection with political violence and the rise of totalitarianism. Musically, Kreator are a veteran band and, at this point in their careers, are going to deliver, at the very least, a strong album, and that’s certainly the case with Gods Of Violence.
How does Gods Of Violence stack up against the band’s recent output, especially after coming off such a strong album in Phantom Antichrist, which was released almost five years ago? Quite well, but Gods Of Violence contains more melody, a few minor orchestral arrangements, and plenty of slower moments, more so than its immediate predecessors. The production is also more organic with a richer guitar sound and a perfect mix. Kreator continue their run of strong releases and demonstrate that they still have plenty of songwriting chops left after more than 30 years of being on top of the thrash metal heap.
18. Cormorant – Diaspora (War Crime)
Progressive black/death giants Cormorant return with Diaspora, an album that features even fewer songs than Becomes Astral (four), but clocks in at a massive 61 minutes. The tracks are between 8 and a whopping 26 minutes in length. In the hands of anyone else, this might be self-indulgent, but these Utah vets know a thing or two about sharp songwriting.
Diaspora is an excellent record, with all four songs taking us for thrilling rides. Production is a bit muddy, and the drums sound like they’ve been brickwalled too hard, but the songwriting and performances overcome this. With engaging arrangements, solid vocals, and tight musicianship, Diaspora is an epic record that even detractors of the death/black vocal style can get behind.
17. Jag Panzer – The Deviant Chord (SPV/Steamhammer)
Jag Panzer’s American bred style of traditional/power metal has made it to album number ten with The Deviant Chord. Vocalist Harry “The Tyrant” Conklin sounds as good as he ever has, and unlike many classic bands, modern production lends itself to the band’s sound. The bass is fat in particular on “Salacious Behavior” as John Tetley does his best Steve Harris impression. The album has great variety from the opener “Born of All Flame” to the cover of Celtic folk song “Foggy Dew,” which strikes a chord with a similar style to how Slough Feg would handle a song like that.
This is a bona fide classic metal album from any era and stands toe to toe with Jag Panzer’s back catalog. If you are looking for one traditional heavy metal album this year, it may well be this wonderful release.
16. Trivium – The Sin And The Sentence (Roadrunner)
From album opener and title track “The Sin And The Sentence,” Trivium set an ambitious agenda. Highly technical musicianship is combined with radio friendly clean vocal hooks, besieged by blast beats and old time Slayer style grooves, all held together with their inventive, two pronged trademark neo-classical shred guitars.
It’s a triumph. It’s definitive Trivium. They won’t be losing any old school fans over this collection of eleven well crafted songs and they will almost certainly gain some new ones from it. It’s an extremely mature and confident album from a brave and focused band who are very comfortable with making their metal their way.
15. Akercocke – Renaissance In Extremis (Peaceville)
The British progressive black/death metal band Akercocke have reunited. Their current lineup includes vocalist/guitarist Jason Mendonca and drummer David Gray, who have been with the band since the beginning. Guitarist Paul Scanlan, who was in the group from 1997 to 2003 returns, and the newest member is bassist Nathanael Underwood (ex-Dam).
Renaissance In Extremis is their first album in a decade, and a welcome return. They blend black/death metal with melodic and progressive parts, mixing in hints of numerous other genres as well. Each track balances straightforward brutality with creativity and exploration and a combination of melodic singing and harsh vocals. In the hands of lesser talent, the constantly shifting styles might be awkward, but Akercocke seamlessly ride the waves from accessibility to extremity.
14. Full of Hell – Trumpeting Ecstasy (Profound Lore)
At first glance, Full of Hell are nothing more than cacophonous noise. But upon deeper examination this under 25 minute dirge is a powerful statement to how concise an album can be in 2017 and still get their point across. Trumpeting Ecstasy is the first exclusively Full Of Hell full length (following collaborations with Merzbow in 2014 and The Body in 2016) in nearly four years and it feels like they have truly honed their craft.
Whether it be the powerful opener “Deluminate,” scorcher “Crawling Back to God” or the particularly ominous guitar tone on the title track; the violence has variety and Full of Hell have delivered what is easily their best release yet and have set the bar very high for grind and powerviolence in 2017.
13. Cannibal Corpse – Red Before Black (Metal Blade)
Cannibal Corpse return with another death metal tome of unbridled brutality, blood, gore, and of course Corpsegrinder’s throat. Red Before Black is front to back savagery and with the same brain trust controlling the band for over 20 years, is anybody really surprised?
The guitars sound absolutely disgusting at times, with a riff strummed and listening to it die into a quieter section of song, is a masterstroke in the “no stone left unturned” style of death metal that this band has been churning out for nearly 30 years. If this was one of your most anticipated albums of 2017, you won’t be disappointed. Long live death!
12. Mastodon – Emperor Of Sand (Reprise)
Mastodon have the ability to create a style that is completely their own, but generate enough diversity that each release inimitably stands alone. Emperor Of Sand is no different. A distinctive animal from its predecessors, it retains the core of their sound while bringing in new concepts. Like a complex puzzle, the material needs to be put in its correct places to be fully seen (and heard). It needs to be absorbed and worked on to uncover the genius behind the songwriting. The theme of birth, death and the pain of living with cancer are woven throughout the entire album.
As much as Brent Hinds and Troy Sanders have been the backbone of the Mastodon sound, Brann Dailor more than ever makes his presence known vocally. The overtly poppy “Show Yourself’ is about as good as it gets. The first single showcases an incredibly catchy melody that will be stuck in your head for days while still retaining the amazing musicianship they so readily put on display. Emperor Of Sand is another masterpiece from a band that has never released anything short of that. The depth to the songwriting is impressive as the album flies by, begging to be listened to again and again.
11. Caligula’s Horse – In Contact (InsideOut)
Australian prog metal juggernauts Caligula’s Horse are back with a new concept album, In Contact. To a degree, In Contact focuses on art, creativity, and the human connection. More importantly, though, are the songs and performances. Spread across ten songs and just over an hour, In Contact is a stellar slab of modern progressive metal.
Caligula’s Horse have always been known for adeptly blending melody with technical but not overdone arrangements, mixed in with the occasional djenty embellishments. In Contact is no different, with plenty of chugging riffs, stellar guitar solos, intricate yet still melodic movements, emotional vocals, and great songs. Aside from a small spoken-word misstep (that’s probably crucial to the concept, but not the album), this is a great prog metal album.
10. 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 one of the best-sounding, written, and performed doom albums of the year.
9. Royal Thunder – Wick (Spinefarm)
Royal Thunder return after a great sophomore record Crooked Doors as their brand of emotive, vocal driven hard rock explores new musical pathways. Wick balances somewhere between gospel and medium paced hard rock as their harder days of CVI are in the distant past.
Whether it be to harmonize with the guitars or act as a bridge between choruses, vocal effects dominate the emotionally heavy side of the album. The majority of these songs are met with equally stirring and beautiful guitar work creating an absolutely immersive atmosphere of self-realization and clarity. Royal Thunder continue to evolve and with album number three they are firmly their own beast and we benefit from it with each new listen.
8. Pyrrhon – What Passes For Survival (Willowtip)
To say New York avant-garde extremists Pyrrhon push the envelope on their third full-length What Passes For Survival is an understatement. They shove, kick and propel that envelope into orbit.
No matter what kind of chaotic, experimental roads they venture down, they avoid the musical crash and burn. Technical wizardry, constant tempo changes and varied vocals make it a challenging but compelling and rewarding listen. From one minute blasts of extremity like “The Unraveling Part 3: Live From The Fresh Corpse” to the 12 minute closer “Empty Tenement Spirit,” Pyrrhon take the listener on a ride that’s unhinged, unpredictable, unorthodox and unforgettable.
7. Pain Of Salvation – In The Passing Light Of Day (Inside Out)
It has been six years since the last proper studio album from Swedish prog metal vets Pain of Salvation. In the Passing Light of Day is heavy stuff. In fact (and this could be producer Daniel Bergstrand’s influence), the first forty seconds of opening epic “On a Tuesday” might make one think they were listening to a Meshuggah album, but never fear: there’s far too much musical sensibility here to make that mistake. “On a Tuesday” and album closer “The Passing Light of Day” are the two epic tracks here, and both are incredibly strong with regards to performances and composition. Both songs are clinics in progressive epicness.
Pain of Salvation kicked 2017 off in phenomenal fashion with an aggressive, emotional, thematically coherent album that engages us right from the beginning and draws us in willingly for repeated listens. Aside from the over-compressed nature of a handful of songs on the disc, this is a stunning album. As it stands, In the Passing Light of Day is arguably the best record of their career.
6. Night Flight Orchestra – Amber Galactic (Nuclear Blast)
What do you get when you combine members of death metal stalwarts Soilwork and Arch Enemy? Why, you get the most exuberant tribute to ’70s arena rock possible, of course! Amber Galactic ranks up there as one of the best albums 1980 could have given us, with Night Flight Orchestra having sonic influences ranging from old Kiss to Prism (for you Canadians) to Toto, and even with a sprinkling of Abba.
Sound dated? It is, but it isn’t. The band has crafted ten memorable songs that are all catchy as hell. Production is stellar, and Soilwork’s Bjorn Strid sings the heck out of these songs. You’ll be humming along to “Star of Rio,” “Josephine,” and “Something Mysterious,” and you should be. Amber Galactic is the feel-good album of 2017.
5. Immolation – Atonement (Nuclear Blast)
Atonement continues in the vein of Immolation’s last two albums, 2010’s Majesty And Decay and 2013’s Kingdom Of Conspiracy, with a very dense, heavy production that gives the band the heft of the proverbial two-ton weight.
Musically, Atonement is classic Immolation with lots of tempo changes, huge riffing with plenty of twists and turns, and with clearly enunciated vocals from bassist Ross Dolan, who continues to demonstrate why he’s one of the best vocalists in death metal. The songwriting diverges a bit from the last two albums with plenty of slower moments that drip with menace, and even a few moments of acoustic guitars make sporadic appearances.
4. Suffocation – …Of The Dark Light (Nuclear Blast)
New York death metal icons Suffocation return with their eighth full length album …Of The Dark Light, and it appears to be the swan song for longtime vocalist Frank Mullen. The guttural vocal style of Mullen’s has always been the glue that holds together this technical cacophony and through eight new songs and the continuing tradition of re-recording a song from Breeding The Spawn, he continues to hold his own.
For a band that has been going strong since the seminal days of death metal, Suffocation show absolutely no signs of rust; even with Mullen’s departure a known entity. He has given his blessing to a replacement, as well as other band members who were sought out by Hobbs. If you are looking for your fix of brutal technicality, you should look no further than the band that made this style famous in the first place.
3. Converge – The Dusk In Us (Epitaph)
One of the biggest albums of 2017 for sure has to be The Dusk In Us, Converge’s first album since 2012’s All We Love We Leave Behind. 2017 finds Converge to be much more of a punk rock band than in years past and just as pissed off as ever. The band also incorporates much more noise rock into their repertoire.
Overall the songs have a slow pace and let the guitars do their own work, which at times is awfully subtle. However, on repeated listens it hits harder and harder. In a time where seemingly everybody is pissed off about the overall direction of society, a new Converge album was sorely needed. Thankfully The Dusk In Us is an album fitting of the band’s massive repertoire and stature.
2. Enslaved – E (Nuclear Blast)
When it comes to combining extremity with creativity, few do it better than Enslaved. They keep getting more progressive, but still incorporate those heavy elements. After having a stable lineup for the past dozen years, things have changed on their latest album E.
Hakon Vinje has taken over for Herbrand Larsen on keyboards and clean vocals. They don’t miss a beat, as Vinje handles both duties very well. For some bands, opening with the longest track might seem risky, but it makes sense for Enslaved, with the eleven minute “Storm Son” setting the pace for all the diverse elements yet to come. From the relatively straightforward and catchy “The River’s Mouth” to the more subdued “Feathers Of Eolh” to the epic closer “Hiindsight,” Enslaved weave complex and progressive elements into a cohesive and extremely appealing whole.
1. Pallbearer – Heartless (Profound Lore)
The doom aspect of Heartless is more of an influence now than a predominance. Sure, the band still kills it with some crushingly heavy moments – the intro to “Thorns” evokes Neurosis, as does the middle of “Dancing in Madness” – but Pallbearer have moved far beyond the doom label.
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. It was released early in the year, and even in the year of death metal, Pallbearer held off all comers and released the best album of 2017.