Metal will never, ever die; Not only because it’s a genre that constantly champions innovation and compositional evolution, but because it has served as a platform for marginalized perspectives and unorthodox voices throughout the entire globe since its creation. Besides, what better soundtrack could there be for a time as confusing and chaotic as this, than the music that speaks horror, dystopia, depression, and upheaval, and has also provided a healthy dose of fantasy and escapism for almost fifty years?
Even more appropriately, 2017 was the year of doom metal’s triumph. The slow, dense, Low end-heavy style has proved to be a poignant aural companion to the feelings of crippling anxiety and crushing uncertainty in today’s global reality. In this list, we have a funeral doom record that feels like an actual funeral dirge for a dear one that left, a sludge doom tour de force that perfectly evokes the very texture of things crumbling down, and a blackened doom opus that not only blurs the limits between the two sub-genres even further, it tackles the correlation between the real evils of the outside world, and how we internalize them as melancholy.
However, our number one album is a tight, all-encompassing mass of chaos, agitation, and hysteria. It echoes the sheer insanity of every day’s news cycle, and it comes from a land that is known for its revolutionary art, but it’s still criminally underreported in metal circles. You see, this list can also serve as a thinly-veiled “Fuck you” to the mainstream English-speaking music publications that focus almost exclusively on American Metal, when the actual global metal fan usually does not care as much about the North American scene unless a certain band is unquestionably mind-blowing — and we have a fair share of that here as well. Our list aims to highlight the best in the Anglo-sphere, but also cover scenes that are having landmark years, like the ones in Central and Eastern Europe, and of course, to follow the latest developments wherever they come from. It was a great year for Metal albums; here are 10 of our favorites.
10. Blaze of Perdition – Conscious Darkness
Out of all the young bands riding the contemporary, post-Blut Aus Nord wave of black metal, Poland’s Blaze of Perdition are perhaps the most compositionally accomplished. Conscious Darkness brings a fascinating balance of atmospheric elements, progressive influences, and straightforward aggression, and best of all, the songwriting feels completely organic. While many bands may impress with technical flare or an avant-garde twist, Blaze of Perdition’s brilliance lies in the execution, and this year, they were one of the greatest.
9. Archspire – Relentless Mutation
Complex riffs, intricate rhythms, and odd time signatures are not enough if you want to stand out in the realm of technical death metal. Fortunately, Vancouver’s Archspire has the production choices, the melodic edge, and the talent of Oli Peters, one of the most impressive vocalists in metal today — really, the man’s throat seems like it was bionically improved. On top of that, Relentless Mutation is only 30 minutes long; a precise, blistering attack.
8. Violet Cold – Anomie
Who would have known that the blackgaze record of the year would come from Azerbaijan? Violet Cold is the brainchild of super prolific experimental musician Emin Guliyev — when I say prolific, I mean 33 releases in five years — and this masterpiece of emotional depth and melodic sensitivity shows him at the top of his game. Anomie is a long, atmospheric journey, with a touch of intimacy and playfulness that reminds us of French composer Neige and his Alcest and Amesoeurs projects, although Guliyev’s music is more informed by electronic styles; there’s even a folk tendency in certain moments that would make fans of Rakoth and Falkenbach very happy. This is the year’s breakthrough act — Violet Cold should be way bigger.
7. Enslaved – E
I know it can be a bit tiresome to talk about long-standing bands putting new albums out, but who can argue with Enslaved and their ridiculously consistent trajectory? The Norwegian legends set themselves light years ahead of their peers at the turn of the millennium and yet, while the rest were still catching up, they kept pushing themselves sonically, technically and in terms of songwriting. E is the most shamelessly progressive record in their 14-album strong discography, and proof that Enslaved is still the very definition of the term “forward-thinking metal”.
6. Power Trip – Nightmare Logic
Sometimes all you need from a metal album is pure, uncompromising aggression. A heavy blow to the head, no apologies, no explanations, no bullshit. Nightmare Logic is just that, a display of passion and power from this Texan group, and also a trip down memory lane through thrash metal’s glorious past. The sweetest part is that, even if it’s composed in the earliest of crossover thrash traditions, it has today’s clear, immense production. Best of both worlds.
5. Aosoth – V: The Inside Scriptures
For the fifth — and ostensibly final — chapter in Aosoth’s chronology, the French band has created their most dissonant, relentless and monolithic album. It’s also their most sharp and detailed; the drums got more technical and rhythmically spacious, the guitar work veers a bit more towards the low end, and the ambient sections became less frequent, making way for more hellish riffing. There’s a 90’s death metal vibe in the mix as well, which contributes to the record’s great balance of brutality and grandeur. With V: The Inside Scriptures, Aosoth has given us their finest work. If this is really their farewell, then what an amazing way to go.
4. Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper
Even as we’re experiencing a kind of doom renaissance this year, nothing prepared us for one of the most ambitious artistic statements of 2017, in any genre. Seattle’s Bell Witch decided to pay homage to their late drummer Adrian Guerra with an 83-minute, one single-track monster of a record. This monumental work quickly reminds us of other two one-track doom beasts: Sleep’s Dopesmoker and Green Carnation’s Light of Day, Day of Darkness. If we use them as points of comparison, we can say that Mirror Reaper possesses the thick, mean sound of the former, combined with the emotional fluidity and sense of space of the latter. And still, the majestic manifestations and the doom/death catharsis are Bell Witch’s own.
3. Amenra – Mass VI
Make no mistake — these Belgians are the heaviest band in the world right now, and they’re heavy in every sense of the word; musically, emotionally, spiritually. As with every installment in their discography, Mass VI is a tough listen — Earth-shattering riffs, brooding, unsettling atmospheric passages, voices charged with throat-shredding fury and a passion almost unparalleled in metal — but the experience is worth every damn second, however uncomfortable it may be at first. Amenra goes really deep into your soul, and that’s where their message belongs.
2. The Ruins of Beverast – Exuvia
The word “Exuvia” refers to the exoskeleton that certain creatures (arthropods, crustaceans, arachnids) leave after the process of skin-shedding. Sometimes, researchers only need to study these exoskeletons in order to discover their genetic information, their biological cycle and their distribution in an ecosystem. The album Exuvia refers to cultures and their connection to the past. Skin-shedding is a ritual that some ancient peoples viewed as a sign of renewal, and just like the exuvia, every culture in the world has left its wisdom for the new generations to appreciate and preserve. The Ruins of Beverast focus on the ritualistic aspect of this knowledge, employing tribal soundscapes and shamanic expressions in their already perfect marriage of doom and black metal, for a record that is as diverse and expressive as it is simply trance-inducing.
1. Endon – Through The Mirror
Grindcore. Avant-garde. Noise. Power Electronics. Black Metal. Punk. Free Improvisation. Total madness. The best metal album of 2017 is all of that, and much more. The “most extreme act in Tokyo” has delivered an exercise in apocalyptic destruction, perhaps incomprehensible for the uninitiated, but completely consistent with the unique mindset and the vision of a band with such skill and vast musical scope. No other record echoes the year’s descent into sheer insanity better than Through The Mirror, but this is no case of art imitating life. These Japanese geniuses have carefully carved this path for over a decade. It’s only now where the world around us is mad enough for us to find their music necessary in our little cataclysm.