Vince Neilstein’s Top Fifteen Metal Albums of 2017
While so many of my past year-end lists have inadvertently leaned heavily on a specific sub-genre or style I favored that year, my 2017 entry is anything but: this may be the most varied list I’ve ever put together for this feature. Prog metal, sludge, psychedelic, mainstream, black metal, death metal… it’s all here and then some. I guess these uncertain times call for varied tastes… or something. Or maybe I’m just getting old and more comfortable with myself.
15. Spotlights – Seismic (Ipecac)
Dream-sludge outfit Spotlights delivered one of the most dynamic efforts of the year with Seismic, their third full-length, that’s equal parts Crowbar and Weezer — a combination you’ll be unlikely to find anywhere else, ever. So often with metal that goes heavy on the atmosphere I find it hard to get through an entire album, the songs blending into one another without discernible breaks unless you’re paying close attention. That is not the case the here: Spotlights explore the FULL range of what they’re capable of, and it’s a mesmerizing listen.
14. Dyscarnate – With All Their Might (Unique Leader)
THE death metal record of 2017 also ends up being one of the best records (period) of 2017. Domination-era Morbid Angel, fellow U.K. death metal troupe Mithras and metal powerhouses Gojira are the obvious touchstones here, but Dyscarnate put a modern technical death metal spin on that sound that I haven’t heard done before. These guys rip in the purest sense.
13. Mutoid Man – War Moans (Segeant House)
For whatever reason, Mutoid Man’s 2015 sophomore effort Bleeder didn’t connect with me as much as their fantastic 2013 debut Helium Head. Thankfully War Moans brings them right back into my very top standing, with another album packed full of upbeat, rocking, rollicking stoner rock / metal anthems.
12. Deadlife – Bionic Chrysalis (Lazerdiscs)
In a year in which scene kings Perturbator and Dan Terminus both released new albums (plus GosT just missed the cutoff with a late 2016 effort), Deadlife’s Bionic Chrysalis stole the show as the best dark synthwave album of 2017. Bionic Chrysalis goes really, really heavy on the dance beats and supplements the usual palette of analogue (and analogue-inspired) tones with a healthy dose of chiptune. None of that would mean anything if the songs weren’t top notch, of course, and that’s what makes Deadlife stand out from the pack: the guy is clearly a fucking master who understands the nuance of what makes a perfect jam.
11. Trivium – The Sin and the Sentence (Roadrunner)
With The Sin and the Sentence, Trivium have delivered my favorite album of theirs since Shogun nearly a decade ago. The band has struck the perfect balance between all of the terrain they’ve explored throughout their career: the epic, progressive journeys, the pop-flavored songwriting and both their heavy and lighter sides. “Betrayer” and “The Heart from Your Hate” are instant classics that’ll be in the band’s live setlist for years to come.
10. Woe – Hope Attrition (Vendetta)
Woe have been consistently putting out some of the best black metal in the world for a decade now, and their latest album might be their strongest yet. The composition is the most nuanced, the songs the most focused, the riffing the tightest, the band the fiercest and, not to be understated, the production the crispest, bringing this group’s music the sonic fidelity I’ve felt it’s always craved.
9. Dool – Here Now, There Then (Prophecy Productions)
The retro, psychedelic hard rock scene has become very saturated in recent years, but Dutch outfit Dool — featuring two ex-members of The Devil’s Blood — have found a way to keep it sounding fresh (no small feat for a genre steeped in the past!) thanks to an excellent sense of composition, arrangement and understanding of harmonics. The songs on this record are absolute aces that’ll have you singing along after midway through the first listen.
8. Body Count – Bloodlust (Century Media)
We all thought we knew what we were getting with Bloodlust, the second effort in recent years from Ice T’s reactivated Body Count, but the outfit exceeded expectations and bested 2014’s Manslaughter with a stellar collection of both catchy and poignant songs. It’s so, so great to have Body Count back as an active unit.
7. The Haunted – Strength in Numbers (Century Media)
I wouldn’t have predicted such a strong effort from The Haunted either — especially after the band parted ways with vocalist Peter Dolving several years back — but when you’ve got basically half of At the Gates plus Ola Englund in the same group it really shouldn’t be surprising that the result is one of the best melodeath records released in recent years. The brutality, the groove, the finesse — it’s all here.
6. He is Legend – Few (Tragic Hero)
He is Legend strayed far from their southern rock / Christian metal roots many years ago and they’ve never looked back. What they’ve evolved into is a band whose music is truly undefinable; not quite metal, not quite rock, not like anything else at all, really… but very, very good. They’re one of my favorite bands to follow, year in and year out, and Few delivers some of their best songs yet.
5. Mord’a’stigmata – Hope (Pagan Records)
Melancholic melo-doom (Insomnium, Swallow the Sun, etc.) sorely needed a sonic update, and it got one in the form of Mord’a’stigmata’s Hope with a potent injection of black metal and sludge. Mord’a’stigmata don’t even sound much like the aforementioned bands at all, but there’s a certain proclivity towards finding grandiose melody in unexpected places that they share. A wonderfully moody and emotive effort.
4. Byzantine – The Cicada Tree (Metal Blade)
Byzantine expanded their sonic palette a bit on their Metal Blade Records debut, venturing out into more expansive and experimental territory. Byzantine still sound very much like Byzantine — nobody beats ’em — but it’s encouraging to see the band pushing themselves rather than settling into what’s comfortable. As always, the performance is razor tight and the melodies are second to none.
3. The Night Flight Orchestra – Amber Galactic (Nuclear Blast)
Sometimes you gotta dad rock, and no one these days is dad rocking harder than The Night Flight Orchestra. After delivering a ho-hum sophomore effort with Skyline Whispers in 2015, this time around NFO re-captured the magic that made their 2012 debut Internal Affairs such a wonderful journey. Summoning the timeless vibes of Journey, Night Ranger, Steely Dan and the like, the band delivered some of their best, most earworm-worthy entries yet, including Song of the Year candidate “Gemini.”
2. Darkest Hour – Godless Prophets and the Migrant Flora (Southern Lord)
Darkest Hour have never written a bad album, but after 2014’s highly polished, more mainstream-leaning, self-titled affair it was time for the band to get back to their roots. And who better to help them steer that ship than producer Kurt Ballou? Ballou’s specialty is in creating fantastic-sounding, clearly mixed recordings that don’t lose any of the rawness and energy that make a band’s performances special, and he delivered an absolute doozy here in that regard; Godless Prophets and the Migrant Flora captures everything that’s special about this band.
1. The Contortionist – Clairvoyant (eOne/ Good Fight)
There isn’t much I can say about Clairvoyant that I didn’t already say when I raved to the world about it in my official review, but here’s the tl;dr version: The Contortionist have finally arrived, cementing themselves as one of the top rising forces in metal. After years of experimentation and discovery, the still relatively young band has honed in on a style that’s uniquely theirs — highly progressive but wonderfully accessible — that doesn’t imitate anyone and no one imitates (at least not yet). Clairvoyant is as fine a collection of tunes as you’ll find anywhere in 2017, and it’s gonna be tough to top.