- Kreator – Gods of Violence
- Pallbearer – Heartless
- Sikth – The Future in Whose Eyes?
- Power Trip – Nightmare Logic
- Elder – Reflections of a Floating World
- Wear Your Wounds – Wear Your Wounds
- Sleep Token – Two (EP)
- Queens of the Stone Age – Villains
And now, on to the main feature…
Darkest Hour – Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora
It says a lot about the quality of the albums released in 2017 when Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora only makes number 10. This a release I considered a potential AOTY when it first dropped. Darkest Hour has been one of the most consistently good bands in metal. They have arguably never released a bad album. Mixing their brutal mix of hardcore, thrash and groove metal with the production skills of Kurt Ballou, however, may have resulted in their finest album to date. The razor-sharp riffing and guttural screams of the D.C. group mixes perfectly with the less than pristine production style of Ballou. This album goes for the throat with the teeth in its rabid, foaming mouth. If you want your metal heavy, then Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora is for you.
The Black Dahlia Murder – Nightbringers
I fully expect this to slowly creep up the list as I spend more time with. I was late to the party on this one but that hasn’t stopped me putting on my list; I knew Nightbringers belonged here after the first listen. Nightbringers is the latest from The Black Dahlia Murder – the resident nerds of death metal. While this latest release doesn’t bring anything new to the group’s sonic palette, it didn’t need to. The band’s formula has always been that of quality melodic death metal and this is the best example of Dahlia sound we’ve had for a while. It would not be an exaggeration say that Nightbringers is up there with Ritual and Nocturnal; some of the best albums the Michigan quintet have ever released. Nightbringers is a fantastic release that sits pride of place in the growing legacy of The Black Dahlia Murder.
Mastodon – Emperor of Sand
After releases like Crack the Skye and Once More ‘Round the Sun, Emperor of Sand – the seventh album from Georgia sludge stoners Mastodon – feels like the only album they could have made. Combining elements from all eras of Mastodon’s history, Emperor of Sand feels like some kind of sonic pinnacle. It acts as a whistle-stop tour of almost everything they’ve done to date. Despite this being a narrative album about being left in the desert to die – a concept that acts as a metaphor for the living hell of cancer treatment – the album feels concise at vital at all times with no wasted moments. Every word, note and cymbal crash on Emperor of Sand feels natural yet perfectly planned at the same time. The quality of the performances and songwriting on display on this album has resulted in an essential progressive stoner album and a must listen for 2017.
The Erkonauts – I Shall Forgive
I Shall Forgive come out of nowhere this year. The Swiss band aren’t exactly on the tip of many tongues and there doesn’t seem to have been much hype from either the mainstream or underground metal press, not even when their latest effort was dropped on Indie Records in November. Being an eclectic bunch, The Erkonauts draw influence from across the metal and rock spectrum. If pushed I’d say that I Shall Forgive combines Faith No More with Motörhead to create driving progressive metal tracks with crushing grooves and more hooks than your standard bait shop.It would be easy for such a coming together of different elements to sound like a mess, but the reality is far from it. Rather I Shall Forgive is superbly written and incredibly varied body of work, offering tracks that are complex enough for prog fans to get their teeth into, but not so self-indulgent as to lose sight of what makes a great rock song.
DVNE – Asheran
Edinburgh’s DVNE (pronounced Dune) has slowly been gaining traction in the underground doom world and, if this were a fair planet, their sophomore full length, Asheran, would be enough to have their tracks blaring from headphones around the globe. But since it isn’t a fair planet it felt only right to lead by example and point out how bloody amazing this album is. A hypnotic, epic journey of a release, Asheran is psychedelic, progressive, sludgy and melodic all at the same time. This isn’t musical hypnosis through mindless repetition, however – DVNE avoids this all too common pitfall of their chosen scene – but rather a trance created through melodic, undulating riffs that take influence from wide across the metal spectrum. This is an album to fall into and will, just like the book series with which the band shares its name, take you to far away places if you just close your eyes and let it.
Leprous – Malina
Leprous have continued their dominance of the world of metal-tinged progressive rock. With Malina, the band continues to slowly remove all of the metal elements out of their sound, concentrating their focus on time signature wizardry and huge ear-worm hooks. Gone are the screams and harsh vocals and what remains is something special. Some people might accuse them of selling out, but to those people, I’d ask if Leprous being a “metal band” is what has been the most interesting thing about the band since their formation. Removing such extraneous elements has allowed Leprous to focus on the things that truly make them unique; their ear for melody and syncopated rhythms. Melina, while also being one of the most cohesive and well-crafted albums of the Swedes careers, is very accessible. The complexity is still there, but the quality of the songwriting makes it appear more simplistic than it is, while the more friendly sonic pallet makes it enjoyable by those not interested in the more extreme side of the genre.
Employed to Serve – The Warmth of a Dying Sun
Employed to Serve are at the forefront of the latest wave of quality UK hardcore. While the debut, Greyer Than You Remember, walked slightly more along the straight and narrow of technical hardcore – inspired by the likes of Agoraphobic Nosebleed – The Warmth of a Dying Sun opens the band up to a wider range of influences. Their angry and angular metallic hardcore riffing has been combined with a more dynamic approach to songwriting to create an experience that is as aggressive as it is haunting and emotional. Employed to Serve started their career sharing the stage with the likes of The Chariot and Converge at Hevy Fest in the UK. Now, with release The Warmth of a Dying Sun, they have an album that can be held up alongside those champions of the genre.
Grave Pleasures – Motherblood
While I don’t think I’ll ever quite come to terms with losing Beastmilk after just one full-length release, the latest effort from their spiritual successor – Motherblood by Grave Pleasures – certainly moves in the right direction. After a rather limp debut in Dream Crash, Motherblood goes off like an atom bomb. The apocalyptic goth rock vibe is one that no other band has been able to even get close to. Motherblood is part swaggering danger and part bleak post-apocalyptic shriek and all gothic melodrama. With their second attempt, Grave Pleasures have crafted verses that are catchier than most bands best choruses thanks to their excellent ear for vocal melodies. Motherblood easily the catchiest album of 2017; it’s catchier than radiation poisoning and after one listen and you’ll be singing sweet deathly nothings to yourself all night.
Converge – The Dusk in Us
It’s incredible that 27 years after their formation and 16 years after the release of Jane Doe, Converge can still release albums like The Dusk in Us. This ninth album from the titans of metalcore is ferocious, chaotic, heartfelt and incredibly focused, while also being the most accessible set of tracks in the band’s catalogue. This isn’t because the band have sacrificed their essence for wider appeal, but instead because Converge is at a stage in their career where their songwriting ability is sharpened to a finely tuned razor’s edge. Each track twists and writhes in its own unique kind of aggression but each still belongs to the whole. The Dusk is Us is an addictive injection of feral insanity, taking on the ills of the world one crushing minute at a time.
Chelsea Wolfe – Hiss Spun
Giving Chelsea Wolfe the album of the year award is slowly becoming a default action. Each time she releases a new album she twists her unique sound in new and interesting ways while maintaining her incredible grasp on deeply emotive songwriting. With Hiss Spun Chelsea Wolfe has moved even further into the world of extreme music, amalgamating driving guitar riffs with dread-building atmospherics and Wolfe’s trademark wail. Gone (for the most part) is the focus on electronics found on previous effort Abyss and in are the influences of Converge/God City sound maestro Kurt Ballou (give that man the 2017 MVP) – along with a steaming helping of sludge metal. That isn’t to say that Hiss Spun is a metal album. It’s not. This is Chelsea Wolfe channelling her gothic siren song through metals harsh filter and those expecting a true metal record may well be disappointed. For the rest of us, however, Hiss Spun is an incredible journey into the fractured mind of one of alternative music’s most expressive artists. It’s visceral, it’s scary, it’s emotional… it’s the best album of 2017.
So that’s the lot. Here’s to whatever great albums 2018 has to come!