Because I can’t just call it a day and rank my 15 favorite metal records of the year, here are the other contenders that could easily have earned a spot had I been driven (crazy?) enough to extend my “Best of 2017” list by a few more records (in alphabetical order, because I categorically refuse to rank anything else until December 2018. I’m done) :
3TEETH – SHUTDOWN.EXE
Have you been dying to bust out an old pair of JNCO’s recently? Do you feel a sense of pride at those stupid goth dreadlocks you wore for one week when you were 15 solely because Munkey (or maybe Fieldy? Possibly Head?) from Korn were rocking them? Now well into at least your 30’s, do you still like mom and dad “just don’t get” your lifestyle? Well then do I have a record for you!
Enter 3TEETH, the stupidly named band that put out possibly the best industrial album of the last 2 decades. With vocals echoing early Marilyn Manson and music that is halfway between White Zombie and early Nine Inch Nails, 3TEETH’s sound is definitely a throwback for all of us who came of age thinking that Limp Bizkit, Korn and Linkin Park were the definition of heavy metal. But surprisingly enough, there really is nothing cheesy about their sound. Shutdown.exe’s sound is very familiar, yet fresh.
With the heavy industrial/electronic focus, this album was never going to be considered one of the year’s absolute best. But Shutdown.exe is for more than a nostalgia trip, and 3TEETH appear to be much more than a novelty act.
“Pit of Fire”, “Shutdown”
BELL WITCH – MIRROR REAPER
If only there were a few more weeks in 2017 (and if only I had listened to this album when it was first released back in October), I guarantee you it would have earned a spot in my Top 15 (and probably Top 10…maybe 5). As such, I’ve listened to the whole record three times in the last week (which is no small task with a run-time over 80 minutes) and had to crank out a last-minute review to honor what is undoubtedly one of the most moving records of not only 2017, but of recent memory.
Borne out of the sudden and unexpected passing of founding member Adrian Guerra, Mirror Reaper is a truly somber experience, with large swaths of the record populated by nothing more than the sparse pluckings of piano wire and hushed bass tones. When the album gets heavy (and I mean musically, because GOOD LORD is this record heavy in the truest sense of the word), it is one of the finest doom works around. It is nearly impossible to break this album up into sections or movements, as the transformation from one sound to the next happens at a glacial pace, requiring this album to be judged as a whole. While this brings its own challenges (the lack of identifiable movements means recalling specific parts of the album, even after just finishing a listen, is nearly impossible), Mirror Reaper may be the most moving record of the year.
BISON – YOU ARE NOT THE OCEAN YOU ARE THE PATIENT
Fun story about how I discovered Bison: I have absolutely no idea how I discovered this band. Nobody told me about them, I don’t remember reading any album reviews, I honestly don’t know anything about them (a quick Wikipedia search just unveiled that they are apparently Canadian. So that’s neat). Consider it the happiest of accidents that I stumbled upon this gem of an album, a bizarre hybrid of stripped down sludge and some hardcore punk that hits heavy while making you think.
Further reading their Wikipedia page, apparently they have toured at points with both High on Fire and Baroness, which now that I think about it are the 2 best comps that I could imagine for their sound (although neither is perfect. Bison is less melodic than Baroness but much proggier than High on Fire). The short 7-song track length doesn’t detract here, as 6 of the 7 tracks are magnificent (and the 7th, an instrumental jam, isn’t too shabby in its own right).
I still know next to nothing about this band (although their name used to be Bison B.C. Thanks Wikipedia!), but I do know that they’re firmly on my radar now after this release.
“Until the Earth is Empty”, “Anti War”, “Tantrum”
CODE ORANGE – FOREVER
Gritty, fuzzy, and pissed off, Forever attacks you with non-stop fury and endless aggression right up until the moment it decides to completely reverse course and drop some groovy melody on you.
These kids (I call them kids because A) their name used to be the Code Orange Kids, and B) there is a prevalent “fuck the man” attitude on this record that just sounds youthful. I have no idea how old they actually are) lean heavily into the hardcore side of metalcore, with their hissing screams having an overt rap sound to them and the guitars serving almost as an alternative percussion source. What results is pure viciousness, an aura of pure hate just oozing with anger strewn across every track…well, nearly every track.
You’ll be listening along to Forever, ready to put your fist through the Great Wall of China after the first three tracks, when suddenly you get a chilling blast in the face with “Bleeding in the Blur”, which is just a minor downturn in distortion away from being the alt-rock jam of the year. I don’t need my metal bands to be able to go soft, but I can certainly appreciate those that do it well. And Code Orange definitely can.
“Forever”, “Kill the Creator”, “Bleeding in the Blur”, “Spy”
ELDER – REFLECTIONS OF A FLOATING WORLD
Here’s a pro tip for all of you yunggins’ out there thinking about starting up a rock band (and I was in one for close to 3 weeks, so you know you can trust me): If every song on your album is going to be 13 minutes long, you better be pretty fucking good and pretty fucking interesting. Otherwise these kids and their ADD just aren’t going to stick around to finish your record.
Luckily, Boston’s Elder doesn’t have to worry about that on Reflections of a Floating World. With the shortest track clocking in at 8:40 (and only 2 of the 6 tracks under 10 minutes), the album isn’t for anyone in the mood for some fast and furious action. The record is, however, and absolute clinic on how to avoid stagnation on tracks that last longer than most of my relationships. Their sound is fuzzy and yet clinical, giving of the stoner vibe while maintaining proggy precision. Reflections of a Floating World is a record completely worth getting lost in. You’ll never know what you’ll find in this fuzzy madness.
FULL OF HELL – TRUMPETING ECSTASY
2017’s winner for Best Album Artwork, Full of Hell are true to their name on Trumpeting Ecstasy. Seriously, I imagine this is what they play on loop at Starbucks in hell. Pushing noise to its most extreme extreme, this album will have you questioning where music stops and chaos begins. But for those of you willing to give it a few spins, you’ll see that this is some of the mostly tightly organized, technical, fun chaos around.
For all there is to be said about the insane pace at which this album comes at you, Full of Hell truly hit their groove on the last 2 tracks, which coincidentally are the 2 slowest tracks on the record (and I use the term “slowest” VERY loosely). Rather than napalming the entire landscape, “Trumpeting Ecstasy” is a small blaze that slowly burns out of control, with “At the Cauldron’s Bottom” serving as the point when it all spins out of control.
“Crawling Back to God”, “Trumpeting Ecstasy”, “At the Cauldron’s Bottom”
GHOST BATH – STARMOURNER
Rather than ignoring it and losing all credibility that I have with all of you out in internet land (and really, what else do I have in life?), lets deal with that big old elephant in the room right off the bat. Can I understand a single word said (shrieked?) on this album? No, no I cannot. Do I enjoy the vocals (screeches?) on this record? No, no I do not. My first experience with Starmourner lasted all of 30 seconds after the vocals kick in on the second track. At first, they are rather unbearable, unintelligible and distracting from the music.
But while checking out Fallujah and Thy Art is Murder on tour this year I was able to experience these guys live. And you know what? The vocalist isn’t too bad. He is leaps and bounds (and a jet ride to Tokyo) better live than he is on this record. It is with that new knowledge that I was able to revisit Starmourner and discover that behind the shrill cries of the lead singer lies one of the instrumentally strong albums of the year.
One of the easiest ways to earn points with me is to do something different within a firmly established genre (like Khemmis and Pallbearer in Doom). Starmourner is black metal unlike anything I’ve ever heard, and quite possibly anything that has existed before. I have never heard black metal that sounds so…happy? The thrumming guitars are played at an unbelievably fast pace, and yet the result is something bizarrely fun and groovy.
So yes, gripe away at the vocals. I won’t blame you. But if you try to approach this as an instrumental record (that a drunk buzzard that wouldn’t shut up happened to be in studio for), then this is one of the finest records of the year.
“Seraphic”, “Celestial”, “Luminescence”
GOD MOTHER – VILSELEDD
The band hasn’t even officially broken up yet and I’m already having Dillinger Escape Plan withdrawal. What am I supposed to do with my life without their mathy insane goodness? Well fear not fellow Dillies (I just made up that nickname. It is not very good), for Sweden’s God Mother are here to rescue us from (or perhaps drive us deeper into) the darkness.
Combining the unbridled chaos of early DEP with the grooves of Every Time I die (with a healthy splash of hardcore and sludge to boot), Vilseledd comes at you like a freight train of aggression, barreling at you with quick hitting tracks with no interludes, no clean vocals, and no intros to give you a chance to breathe.
While it’s too much to put on their plate at such an early stage of the band’s existence, Vilseledd shows that God Mother are the worthiest contenders to DEP’s throne right now. And that may be the single-highest praise that I can bestow upon a band.
“By the Millions”, “No Return”, “De Ovälkomna”
IGORRR – SAVAGE SINUSOID
Hands-down the winner for the Most Ambitious Album of 2017, Savage Sinusoid is a bizarre combination of metal, jazz, classical baroque, and something called “Trip-Hop”, that I’m sure all the kids are crazy about. The resulting album stretches the definitions of not only what can be considered “metal”, but music in general. While vacillating frequently between “incredible” and “unlistenable”, the album is nonetheless one of the more interesting, if not fun, records of the year.
“Viande”, “ieuD”, “Opus Brain”
LENG TCH’E – RAZORGRIND
Seriously, what the fuck is in the water (or chocolate?) in Belgium right now? Because it seems like every couple of weeks the tiny European waffle factory keeps popping out another great metal record. Between Oathbreaker in 2016 and Leng Tch’e and Amenra this year, that is three fantastic records from a place slight bigger than Massachusetts.
Few albums in recent memory encompass their title more than Razorgrind, a sharp, piercing exercise in grindcore the doesn’t let up from the moment you hit play. Vocalist Serge Kasongo’s varied delivery throughout the records keeps things interesting, as I’m not sure any single one of his vocal styles (he has at least 4 distinct styles that I count on the record) would be strong enough the carry an entire album. But his multitude of screams and the punk-tinged terror of the music create a terrifying hellscape on Razorgrind, one very much befitting the band’s name (fun fact: Leng Tch’e is the name of an ancient Chinese torture method, roughly translated to “Death by a thousand cuts”. So that’s fun!).
“Gundog Allegiance”, “Commitment Fail”, “The Red Pill”
LORNA SHORE – FLESH COFFIN
It is a dirty word, spoken only in hushed tones in dark alleyways late at night. Look carefully at your surroundings before speaking it, for to be heard speaking the dark word will lead to the life of an outcast. Your loved ones and strangers alike will banish you from their thoughts, for you are lesser than them. You are tainted. The word? Deathcore.
I’m being a BIT melodramatic here, but even I cringe at the thought of deathcore. The breakdowns. The hardcore kids doing cartwheels and rhythmic gymnastics across the pit while trying to accidentally elbow someone in the face. The awful, cheesy, laughable gutturals that seem to only find footing in this one subsection of metal. And with that being said, I’m ashamed to admit that 2017 was a GREAT year for deathcore.
Case in point is New Jersey’s Lorna Shore, who serve you a hearty helping of death on Flesh Coffin with just a splash of core to keep the fanbase happy. The breakdowns are few and far between, the gutturals fit in with the natural flow of the album, and the funeral doom-y guitar tones create an atmosphere that I’ve never heard on any deathcore album. This album is phrenetic and haunting, menacing and yet sorrowful. And it absolutely rips.
“Offering of Fire”, “Denounce the Light”, “Flesh Coffin”
MOONSPELL – 1755
My only regret with 1755, which is one of the most haunting and enthralling listens of 2017, is that it’s a concept album that I can’t understand because I forgot to learn how to speak Portuguese before diving into the record. But even with the slight (and I mean SLIGHT) handicap, 1755 is a sonic journey, taking you right into the heart of the 1755 earthquake that levelled Lisbon and the aftermath.
Their first full-length record in their native tongue, Moonspell have created a haunting listen on 1755 that is still surprisingly accessible right from the start. While many concept albums require a block of your day to prepare, listen, react and contemplate, every track on 1755 stands on its own.
“Desastre”, “Todos Os Santos”
MYRKUR – MARERIDT
Half metal and half Scandinavian folk, Mareridt is one of the most atmospherically rich albums of 2017, jumping back and forth between piercing black metal and sorrowful folk while somehow maintaining a consistent aesthetic between the two. Mareridt tiptoes the line between metal and not throughout the record, but even its lighter moments come with a crushing weight that most metal bands can only dream of achieving.
Frontwoman (and sole band member) Amalie Bruun succeeds at both ends of the spectrum on this record, with her beautiful voice shining through the darkness of the music in her clean segments, while her screams add a level of darkness on top of the black metal tracks.
“Maneblot”, “The Serpent”, “Crown”
THY ART IS MURDER – DEAR DESOLATION
A great man once surmised many years ago that if you removed every single stupid love scene in which Kelly Preston appeared from the movie “For Love of the Game”, what would be left is one of the best baseball movies ever (this man is so great that I have, in fact, forgotten who he is). Listening through Dear Desolation leaves you with that similar sense of what could have been had the band not included A STUPID HOKEY TERRIBLE MIND-BOGGLINGLY BAD DEATHCORE BREAKDOWN IN EVERY SINGLE FUCKING SONG!!! Oh, what could have been.
90% of Dear Desolation is a master work in death metal from an unexpected source. The aussies, never exactly known for their technicality or craft, wrote some of the best death metal of the year on this record, and then (possibly to satisfy their previous fan base) threw in just a hint of deathcore on every track with a literal grimace-inducing breakdown. It’s like if someone put googly eyes on the Mona Lisa. God I’m getting upset just thinking about it again.
If you can deal with there being a giant pimple right on the forehead of every song, Dear Desolation is one of the best death metal records of the year, and hopefully the steppingstone for the band leaving their deathcore roots behind and going full death metal in the future.
“Slaves Beyond Death”, “The Son of Misery”, “Puppet Master”, “Death Dealer”
WEAR YOUR WOUNDS – WYW
Seriously, somebody needs to find Jacob Bannon and give that guy a hug, because it sounds like he needs one. Prior to releasing what is inarguably one of the angriest albums of the year (Converge’s The Dusk in Us), he dropped WYW, the debut from his side project Wear Your Wounds. The sound could not be more different than Converge, as gone are all the screams and angry guitar tones, replaced with a piano and Bannon’s timid, mournful singing voice.
The one thing the two records do have in common is that they are two of the most emotionally charged albums of the year. WYW is packed full of sorrow and sadness, replacing Converge’s anger and aggression with an equally powerful, albeit wholly different emotional state.
“Wear Your Wounds”, “Iron Rose”, “Shine”
WINTERSUN – THE FOREST SEASONS
Despite how over and misused the term may be, few bands are quite as EPIC as Wintersun. Every sprawling track transporting you to a long-forgotten time and place, where brave men ride their steeds into battles against a vast dragon army, all to win the fair princess’ heart. But there can be a cost to said epicness, and Wintersun unfortunately pay it on The Forest Seasons.
If your album is going to only be four songs long, each song better be fantastic, and it pains me to say that this is only true of the first two tracks of The Forest Seasons. “Awaken from the Dark Slumber (Spring)” and “The Forest that Weeps (Summer)” are everything you could ever want from Wintersun and more. Powerful, complex, moving, and heavy, I was convinced that this would be an album of the year contender after I first heard the opening 2 tracks. The last 2 tracks, however, are the one thing that a metal song should never, EVER be. Boring.
“Eternal Darkness (Autumn)” sounds like a very half-assed attempt at black metal by a band that doesn’t fully understand what is good about the genre, and I can’t even think of anything snarky to say about “Loneliness (Winter)” because I’ve already forgotten it (despite finishing the song about 2 minutes ago).
So what does that leave us with? A deeply flawed, but still worthwhile listen. Few bands can match the sheer awesomeness of the 2 opening tracks, so much so that Wintersun still earns a spot on this list despite half of their album being the sonic equivalent of dog shit.
“Awaken from the Dark Slumber (Spring)”, “The Forest that Weeps (Summer)”