(We present NCS contributor Wil Cifer’s selection of the Top 25 metal albums of 2017.)
Here’s my top 25 metal albums of 2017. Making these lists can send my OCD into a spiral, so I have learned to abandon my more complex methods of ranking them and leave it to what Last Fm said I listened to most. In some cases it didn’t feel right so I flipped entries around.
While I adhere to a pretty strict policy of not feeding the trolls, these lists can lead to a great deal of grumbling, so this time around I have included a brief blip explaining why one album ranked higher than the other.
In short these are MY Top 25 Albums of 2017, so if your name is not Wilhelm Satanchild Cifer, then I don’t really care what you think, but feel free to share your thoughts any way since this is the internet.
So before the tears begin to cascade over your keyboard because Necrot didn’t make my list, let me say this … At the end of the day I can dissect an album’s composition, but it boils down to how much I listened to it. All of these had to be loaded onto my iPod at the time I compiled this. I wake up each day to a dozen promos from P/R companies and record labels in my in-box, so the 32 gbs in my iPod is hard-fought-for territory. These are the albums that stuck with me and are my current soundtrack going into 2018.
25 Shores of Null – ”Black Drapes For Tomorrow”
The mix might be impeccable, but it’s the vocals that set this album apart. Tightly harmonized baritone that can bring comparisons to Alice In Chains, even after throwing in growls and lower goth tones. The guitars are not out to dazzle you; they kind of sweep you away in a majestic drone. The blast beats happen, but don’t feel as in-your-face since they are not dependent on them. An impressive journey.
24 Spirit Adrift – “Curse of Conception”
Moving away from doom here, there seems to be more of a longing in his wail this time; he lets his voice crack right from the first phrase. Filled with twin-guitar harmonies and excellent dynamic shifts that nurture the album’s more melodically introspective tone, often contrasted by foot-on-the-monitor guitar-god grandiosity.
Why this is ranked higher than Shores of Null… because the songs have more energy and urgency.
23 Ragana – ”You Take Nothing”
This two-piece out of Oakland returned with a moodier yet more feral vision of black metal mixed with crust. One thing they have going for them is their songs are very concise and streamlined, never feeling like bloated drones. The two longest songs are six-and-a-half minutes. A more emotional explosion than their previous album.
Why did this rank higher than Spirit Adrift? They took their feet off the monitors and gave me something more real.
22 Heavydeath – ”Sarcophagus in the Sky”
The lines between death metal and doom are clearer on this album. The Swedish band often borders closer to where doom and sludge meet, as there is less aggression and more of a downcast gray cloud over this album to add to the oppression.
Why did this rank higher than Ragana? Heavier and more atmospheric.
21 Samsara – ”When the Soul Leaves the Body”
Slovakian metal is gaining ground now when it comes to doom. The proof lies in this band Samsara, who have a big majestic sound; when they pick up the pace into a chug, the results are without a doubt powerful. The vocals have more of a deathly roar to them, though the overall melancholy places this album firmly as doom. This album is very well-produced, and they have a vast sprawling sound.
Why it ranked higher than Heavydeath… The dynamics in this massive sprawl proved more captivating.
20 Hexis – ”Tando Ashanti”
If you were to ask me who is the heaviest band out today, I might point you in the direction of this band from Denmark. Heavy is more than low tuning, thick gain, and how fast you strike the strings. It is about the sonic tensity stirred, and the feelings driving how you attack your instrument. A vicious blend of hardcore, blackened death metal, and grindcore.
Why it ranked higher than Samsara …when I wanted something crushing, this was the album I turned to.
19 Ufomammut – ”8”
The crunch of sludge is once again obscured by clouds of tripping haze. With Pink Floyd-like vocals, each song takes you further into the depths of their warped rabbit hole. The songs are not catchy songs that grab your ear with their infectious allure, but immensely interesting and captivating in a more cerebral fashion. They do lock into some more conventional metal riffs here and there, but the organic melting of one ear movement into another has a life of its own.
Why this ranked higher than Hexis? Easier to get lost in this album, more cerebral, not as abrasive.
18 Godflesh – ”Post Self”
Justin Broadrick’s flagship project has been many things over the years, some heavier than others. This incarnation harkens back to their heavier times, while still being balanced-out by often droning ambience. The metallic guitar riffs add groove to the industrial stomp of this dystopian monster.
Why this ranked higher than Ufomammut… more crushing and apocalyptic, I need more apocalypse in my life.
17 Acid Witch – “Evil Sound Screamers”
This Halloween-themed band balances ambience and death metal so well, and I can see this appealing to people who might not normally be into this flavor of metal. I am a big fan of the fact that it’s all pretty dark and creepy, making it one of the year’s better death metal albums.
Why this ranked higher than Godflesh? More fun.
16 Loss – “Horizonless”
Everything you liked about Despond is present, but the production is much fuller and shows they have gone the extra mile to expand their sound. The guttural gurgle of vocals is still there, though more vocal colors have been added — such as the more scathing, higher-pitched black-metal-like snarl that explodes out of “The Joy of All Who Sorrow”.
The differences on this one include the uglier sonics in the chord progressions, where the first album found the guitar in a more mourning melodic longing, The first song even builds into something more like black metal.
Why this ranked higher than Acid Witch … emotionally complexity beat the charming Halloween gimmick.
15 Satyricon – ”Deep Calleth Upon Deep”
Up until this album it had gotten to the point where only those in the deepest denial thought of these guys as black metal. This album might have more disdain than anger to it, but the overall feel is the right step down the left-hand path. This album won me over with subtle hooks and a hypnotizing churn.
Why this ranked higher than Loss… it was easier to digest on a regular basis than the longer songs of Loss.
14 Myrkur – “Mareridt”
If you strip away some of the atmospheric interludes and just look at this album in terms of songs, it’s really strong. The album’s most outstanding moments compensate for the more odd Lacuna Coil-like steps into convention, which are not bad, just not what I was warmed-up for. This album will without a doubt bring her a larger audience, and this was not done by really selling out, even though the black metal was dialed back to make room for it.
Why this ranked higher than Satyricon… better vocals.
13 Gwar – ”The Blood of Gods”
Gwar used to be one of my favorite bands in high school. After This Toilet Earth the songwriting took a dive, and in 2017 it was hard to imagine the band going on without Oderus. Blothar, the new singer, is the old Beefcake the Mighty taking on a new mantel. So they promoted from within. The tap back into what made them appealing to high school earned a solid spot on my iPod.
Why this ranked higher than Myrkur… This takes me back to my teenage years.
12 Wolves in the Throne Room – “Thrice Woven”
Wolves in the Throne Room are back to a more unabashed embracing of black metal. In doing so, this doesn’t mean they are being enslaved to blast-beats or ignoring some of the things from their more experimental leanings that have made them who they are. Six albums and fourteen years invested in this, they have a clear understanding of who they want to be in the present moment and continue to invoke the feeling of their surroundings.
Why this ranked higher than Gwar? Gwar is dumb fun, these guys are making seriously transcendent music.
11 Igorrr – “Savage Sinusoid”
It took several listens to find the center of this oddly progressive project from France. When broken to the core of its parts, they are a metal band, they were a death metal band, though very progressive. This album had to grow on me, but it is like a puzzle I keep returning to.
Why this ranked higher than Wolves in the Throne Room… the songs are more varied and I don’t feel like I need to be camping in the mountains to listen to it.
10 Paradise Lost – “Medusa”
Most metal bands tell you their new album is heavier, these veterans delivered. From the sound of the first song this might be true. The sung goth vocals are more sparse, making this a more somber brand of death metal with the occasional lapse into lumbering doom.
These guys are obviously old pros, the guitar tones are dialed in to give the needed crunch, and the drums pack the punch, required for this kind of music, with a mix that doesn’t have the double bass trampling you.
Why this ranked higher than Igorrr… great melodies always win out over proggy acrobatics
9 Amenra – ”Mass VI”
This band from Belgium came back with another piece of beautiful despair. With members of Oathbreaker in the fold they deliver a lush take on metal. The atmosphere might be even thicker on this album than it was on the previous releases. It’s a suburb piece of work that finds the band hitting their stride.
Why this ranked higher than Paradise Lost… it strikes new ground sonically
8 Pallbearer – “Heartless”
Things have changed, still the same band, just venturing further down the road away from the sub-genre of funeral doom they came from. The vocals are more up-front and really killing it, though the guitar is taking a back seat, which makes me think this album might be heavier if they were pushed forward, or maybe I am not listening to it loud enough yet. “Thorns” is a logical step from where they were on Foundations of Burden, plenty of those angular riffs snaking themselves around these songs.
Why this ranked higher than Amenra… the vocals made these songs soar higher.
7 Belphegor – ‘TotenRitual”
This album balances heaviness and songwriting, following a similar equation as in the formula that makes bands like Dimmu and Behemoth so catchy. This is not selling out or pandering for mainstream, but quality songwriting, with a convincing attack when they decide to give you the middle finger and go for it. An excellent piece of dark death metal where savagery meets form and function.
6 Code Orange – “Forever”
Welcome to 2017’s equivalent of You Will Never Be One of Us. Tough and tight, the guitar on this album is mean as fuck, but has an incredible tone.There is a machine-like precision to the execution, and the syncopation is ridiculous more often than not. This album doesn’t take prisoners, but still offers touches of melody and memorable songs.
Why is this ranked higher than Belphegor? The songs were varied enough to invite more listens.
5 Atriarch – “Dead As Truth”
The Portland masters of black-hearted gloom are back. The album’s strength is its array of vocal colors; more death-rock-like crooning is set against black-metal-like scowl. These guys once again prove that darkness alone can make you sonically heavy.
While the songs creep along at more of a doom pace, it’s this darkness that would appeal to fans of black metal, though the overall mood owes more to doom.
Why this ranked higher than Code Orange… darker, and the feeling of despair sums up how I feel about humanity.
4 Morbid Angel – “Kingdoms Disdained”
A powerfully dense and aggressive album that finds the band returning to their former glory. This is where they should have picked up after Domination, as it’s clearly the best album they have done since then.
Why this ranked higher than Atriarch… Pretty much because I have loved Morbid Angel since high school and I am happy they are back sounding more like themselves, and since I’m a nihilist, a whole album about ancient gods wiping this world away sounds good to me.
3 Goatwhore – “Vengeful Ascension”
By the 7th album most bands have a set formula, and a sense of staleness sets in with the same old, same old. That is not the case with the new Goatwhore. Not a wild deviation from their sound, but the songwriting is more focused and highlights the band’s strength and energy.
This might also be one of the band’s most melodic albums. It seems like they have more readily embraced their death metal side. So in the swirl of hybrid sub-genres that make up this band, death metal is the predominant ingredient, with riffs that make their brand of aggression something that is effortless to return to.
Why this album out-ranked Morbid Angel? This was a close call, I just listened to it more.
2 Tombs – ”Grand Annihilation“
This incredible album clears up any questions regarding Tombs‘ legitimacy as black metal. The guitar tone peels your face off and leaves you a bloody stain on the wall behind you. Mike Hill’s growl has a Neurosis-like rasp to it as the lyrics are articulated.
The songs are all respectable lengths, rarely venturing over the seven-minute mark. The drummer Charlie Schmid really pulls his weight on this album with doubles that lend to the feeling that this is a more metallic effort than All Empires Fall.
Why do I think this album outranks Goatwhore? Darker, and more sonic depth
1 Converge – “The Dusk In Us”
At some points on this album it might be hard to tell where the lines between their punk past and their metalic present have been drawn. Then there are songs that almost seem to have been born of an intent to headbang, like “Reptillian”.
More emotionally volatile and dynamically explosive than some of the band’s darker album, like You Fail Me, it is sonically heavy and well-written in a way that demands repeat listens, which earned it the top spot.
Why this album ranked higher than Tombs… It takes you more places emotionally and sonically.