Axl Rosenberg’s Top Fifteen Metal Albums of 2017 – The “Serious” Version
Since publishing my Top Fifteen Metal Albums of 2017 list earlier this week, I’ve gotten a bunch of e-mails like this one from reader Gabe V.:
“Dude, grow the fuck up and put some work into your list. It’s lazy and unbecoming of a metal journalist, if that’s what you call yourself, to apply stupid Trump non sequiturs to albums whose artists would probably have appreciated (and deserved) recognition and promotion.
“Case in point: I don’t have the ability to immediately listen to music at work or on the go, and Vince’s description ALONE of Dyscarnate, a band I hadn’t heard of, was enough to get me to write their name down and look ’em up later. They now have a new fan, because Vince put in the effort.
“Another case in point: One of you guys named The Human Abstract’s ‘Digital Veil’ album of the year in 2011. The description gripped me enough to give it a spin, and I’ve been a fan ever since. Find that guy, whoever he was. That guy put some effort into his list. Is he still with MS?
“I don’t need more Trump bullshit. I get it enough by being alive in 2017. Do your 2018 list some justice next year and give a shit.”
First, please allow me to thank Gabe (and readers like him!) for his constructive criticism. There are a lot of things in the world today worth being outraged over, and my year-end list is inarguably one of them.
Second — sarcasm aside — the “Trump non sequiturs” weren’t utilized out of laziness. They were used because I wrote about these records a bajillion times during the course of 2017, and honestly, at a certain point, it’s hard to know what else there is to say. Furthermore, with each passing year, I become increasingly convinced that these lists are completely meaningless. Art isn’t a competition, but even if it was, there’s absolutely no way to correctly gauge whether or not a particular release was one of the “best” of the year the year it came out. What we really should be doing is listening the fifteen best metal albums from ten years ago (if not twenty or thirty), because when it comes to art, time is really the great decider. Will I still think Darkest Hour’s Godless Prophets is “better” than Power Trip’s Nightmare Logic in ten years? I have no fucking idea.
So I attempted to be funny. Maybe I failed. Maybe there was a more effective way to point out that these lists are total nonsense. Unlike Dave Mustaine, I am not infallible.
But there is one part of this argument that hits me where I live: that the artists deserve more promotion than my list provided.
To that end, here is my list, again, only now with “serious” descriptions. I hope they expose you to some cool bands with whom you weren’t already familiar. I also hope they prevent Gabe from having a goddamn aneurism.
15. Sunlight’s Bane – The Blackest Volume: Like All the Earth Was Buried (Innerstrength)
Deathgrind that is the musical equivalent of someone working very hard to slit your throat with nothing but steel wool. If you’re a fan of fellow Michiganians like Kid Rock and King 810, this is not for you. If, on the other hand, the success of Kid Rock and King 810 makes you want to set the entire state of Michigan on fire, you should love this.
14. The Erkonauts – I Shall Forgive (Indie)
The Erkonauts are kind of like System of a Down if System of a Down’s lyrics weren’t so whacky (no random Nabisco references here). I Shall Forgive reins in some of the off-the-wall, Faith No More-esque stylistic diversity that was on display on the band’s debut, I Did Something Bad, in favor of a more consistent sound. I’m gonna be honest: I prefer I Did Something Bad. But that doesn’t negate the fact that I Shall Forgive is fucking great; I must have heard a hundred bands this year trying to do something similar, and they almost all fell flat on their face, making The Erknonauts’ creative success all the more impressive. If you’re in the mood for melodic alt-metal, you won’t do much better than this.
13. Völur – Ancestors (Prophecy Productions)
The older I get, the less I give a shit about doom metal. Maybe it’s because I know my life is slipping away second-by-second and I just don’t have twenty-eight minutes of evidence that the band likes weed. In any case, it’s saying something that I was so blown away by Ancestors. The band uses the violin in place of the guitar, which might have been just a dumb gimmick, except you can’t even tell it’s a violin like 90% of the time. If you’ve ever listened to doom metal and thought “Gee, it would be great if this band bothered to write an actual fucking song,” Ancestors is for you.
12. Body Count – Bloodlust (Century Media)
Ice-T has described Body Count as the musical equivalent of a grindhouse movie, and that’s not far off: there is nothing innovative or sophisticated about Bloodlust, and while listening to it, you will, at least once, say to yourself “Holy shit, am I really enjoying this album so much?” But you will be enjoying this album so much, because the songs are insanely fucking catchy. Since Bloodlust‘s release, I have not been able to see the phrase “Black Lives Matter” without getting “No Lives Matter” stuck in my head. The only reason to dislike this record is if you’re too cool for school.
11. Igorrr – Savage Sinusoid (Metal Blade)
Igorrr’s creativity knows no bounds; this is, after all, the guy who made a great song solely by following the lead of his pet rooster. So Savage Sinusoid is blissfully schizophrenic, mixing metal with electronic and opera vocals and hurdy-gurdys and who the fuck knows what else. It’s hard to even choose an “exemplary” track from the album, because no two songs are alike. Traditionalists will hate this. Everyone else should spend some serious time with it.
10. Oxbow – Thin Black Duke (Hydra Head)
Oxbow made a lounge album that’s moodier than an adolescent. Musically, there is nothing heavy about Thin Black Duke, but i) everyone song is a fucking home run, and ii) nothing, but nothing, is heavier than the emotion frontman Eugene Robinson manages to convey with his off-kilter vocal performances. Maybe instead of “a lounge album,” I should have called this “a punk lounge album”? Whatever. Call it polka for all I care. It’s fucking great.
9. The Haunted – Strength in Numbers (Century Media)
If you’re new to The Haunted, congratulations on having just recently discovered heavy metal. Like a whole bunch of the albums on this list, Strength in Numbers is evidence that strong songwriting wins the day ever goddamn time. The Haunted didn’t reinvent the wheel — they just made the best fucking wheel they could.
8. Full of Hell – Trumpeting Ecstasy (Profound Lore)
Are there any words that could describe this record as well as its already-iconic cover image? Nope. But I’ll try: if someone put a wasp’s nest in your brain and then hit your head really hard with a stick, it would probably sound kind of like this.
7. The Modern Age Slavery – Stygian (Innerstrength)
The Modern Age Slavery’s last album, Requiem for Us All, was just, like, the br00talest br00tal that ever did br00tal, basically pummeling the listener without break for thirty straight minutes. Stygian finds the band spreading their wings a bit creatively, incorporating elements of black metal, grind, and deathcore into the band’s unrelenting brand of modern death metal. Not for the weak of heart.
6. Mutoid Man – War Moans (Sargent House)
Since whenever I first heard War Moans, there has not been a single day that I haven’t had “Melt Your Mind” or “Kiss of Death” stuck in my head for at least an hour. Again, there’s no shortage of bands out there right now trying to pull of this sort of metallicized-post-hardcore-garage rock, but most of them fail where Mutoid Man succeeds.
5. Phobia – Lifeless God (Willowtip)
Phobia have been making new-asshole-ripping grind longer than Margot Robie has been alive, but Lifeless God is especially potent. This was my go-to “Fuck I have to take the subway at rush hour surrounded by thousands of morons acting as moronic as can be” soundtrack for 2017. My only complaint about it is that they made Trump look way too handsome on the cover.
4. Celeste – Infidèle(s) (Denovali)
Literally the only black metal record that made any kind of impression on me at all this year. Celeste music always sounds like the score to the bleakest movie David Lean never made. Infidèle(s) is no exception.
3. Chelsea Wolfe – Hiss Spun (Sergeant House)
I’ve never met Chelsea Wolfe, and know very little about her outside of her music. So this is unfair of me to say, but: Hiss Spun makes me feel reasonably certain she’s insane. Some artists are trying so hard to sound tortured; some, like Wolfe, just exude agony and melancholy with every note. Despite appearances by members of Queens of the Stone Age and Isis, some people will try to argue that this album isn’t metal. If you meet one of those people, assume they’re Asking Alexandria fans and back away slowly. This might be the most visceral record of the year in any genre.
2. Power Trip – Nightmare Logic (Southern Lord)
Crossover re-thrash with a shit attitude; if it was classmates with Municipal Waste and Warbringer, Municipal Waste and Warbringer would shit their pants in its overwhelmingly aggressive presence. It’s only 32 minutes long, and each riff is better than the last, meaning you may very well just leave it on repeat for a couple of hours at a time, Reign in Blood style (except Slayer are completely incapable of making anything this righteous anymore). If anyone wanted me to go with them to Washington, D.C. and make a serious attempt at overthrowing the government to a soundtrack of “If Not Us Then Who,” I would be totally down. This record not only makes me wanna recklessly destroy shit, it makes me wanna be a better person. Seriously.
1. Darkest Hour – Godless Prophets and the Migrant Flora (Southern Lord)
This album came out in March, but I think someone slipped me my promo copy in January. So I’m not exaggerating when I say I have listened to it almost every day for a fucking year. The secret to the record’s success? Songwriting, songwriting, songwriting. That’s what makes this album stand out from the crowd of literally thousands of other 2017 metal releases; what made me wanna send it to every publicist or label rep who sent me some piece of shit deathbore band they were heralding as “the next big thing.” I don’t want “the next big thing.” I want fucking songs. And whoo boy, does this record have songs.
It also has has zero weak spots. Every song is perfect. PERFECT. Bands have entire careers without writing as many tasty riffs as are on this release alone. “Epic” is a word which gets bandied about a lot in metal, but Godless Prophets makes all other allegedly-epic metal albums look about as large in scope as your average Saved by the Bell episode. Pairing Darkest Hour with Kurt Ballou was a stroke of genius. Like Nightmare Logic, it also feels like the soundtrack to a revolution. If you love Darkest Hour, it’s time to celebrate, because this may very well be their best album ever. If you hate Darkest Hour, you should still listen to this at least once, because it’s so fucking great. If you’re indifferent to Darkest Hour, get ready to have your socks knocked off. Just writing about it makes me wanna go listen to it again. So I’m gonna do that now. I suggest you do the same.