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Best of 2017

Tyler's Top 15 Albums of 2017

Posted by on December 21, 2017 at 12:52 pm

2017 was not a great year for heavy metal music.

Yeah, yeah, I know your favorite bedroom black metal artist with 13 Facebook followers released an underappreciated masterpiece and I'm a mainstream corporate shill for not covering it. You got me there.

Of course, there were still a handful of fantastic records that deserve praise and there was more than enough killer material to fill out this list, but really, not much genuinely blew me away this year. Still, I can't complain too much, because it'd be hard for any 365 days to follow the excellence that was music in 2016, (looking at you, fans of Chthe'ilist, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Danny Brown, Wormrot and Anaal Nathrakh). I'm already looking to 2018 and can't wait to listen to (and hopefully cover!) releases from bands such as Pig Destroyer and The Ocean. High hopes.

As for 2017 in general you…Almost certainly don't care what I have to say about the last 12 months. All I'll say is that it's been a pleasure working with the Metal Injection team and I've enjoyed the opportunity to review, rep and ultimately champion the music that makes life worth living. Hope you've enjoyed reading my stuff. More to come.

Anyway, here's a list of music that you should listen to:

15. Septicflesh – Codex Omega

Codex Omega’s low points are still the kind of quality that the average metal band could only dream of attaining.

Let’s focus on the high points: Septicflesh’s latest is crushing, epic and all the other positive adjectives you’d demand from the Greek quartet. “Enemy of Truth” and the especially pummeling “Faceless Queen” are the easy standouts, but nearly all of Codex Omega’s tracks feature impressively bombastic symphonies that perfectly compliment the furious metal. Symphonic death metal isn’t exactly a well-populated subgenre, but Codex Omega is nonetheless further proof that Septicflesh is the unarguable master of the style.


Howls of Ebb / Khthoniik Cerviiks14. Howls of Ebb / Khthoniik Cerviiks – With Gangrene Edges / Voiidwarp

It’s always a shame when promising young talent disbands, but Howls of Ebb certainly know how to go out with a bang.

This is blackened death metal done right, full of wicked off-kilter strangeness and dense, evil atmosphere. The Howls of Ebb portion boasts some of the year’s best bass work and offer far more longevity than 15 minutes of music ever should.

Though Khthoniik Cerviiks’s name recognition is comparably nil, their 26 minutes of material is no less impressive. “Spiiral Spiire Stiigmata” is a maliciously constructed exercise in blackened depravity that wholly warrants its 12-plus minute runtime. Uncompromising, evil stuff that absolutely flies by, despite the lengthy duration.

It’s all grisly, bittersweet material, but while one band certainly ended things on a helluva high note, another emerges from the mist to prove that the subgenre still has plenty of life left in it.


13. Power Trip – Nightmare Logic

I generally dislike thrash metal and I can count the number of crossover records I really enjoy on both hands. So when I say that Power Trip's thrashy, crossovery sophomore record is easily one of the year's must-listens, I'd like to think that counts for something.

Nightmare Logic is a no-frills, expertly paced record where each song sounds like more of a highlight than the last. If you’re into this kind of metal, it’s hard to imagine not falling in love here. If you’re not, Nightmare Logic is easily good enough to make you a convert.


12. Ulver – The Assassination of Julius Caesar

The Assassination of Julius Caesar is the best Ulver record in two decades.

That’s no small praise, given the band’s expansive catalog and consistently high quality, but pretty much every aspect of Ulver’s latest record supports that claim. Of particular note is Kristoffer Rygg’s beautiful vocal performance. While he’s always been a phenomenal singer, his vocals are usually a supplement to Ulver’s atmospheric soundscapes. Here, Rygg is front and center in the mix, and his soaring vocals are among the finest work of his storied career.

“Rolling Stone” is especially praiseworthy and easily one of the year’s best songs. “Southern Gothic” isn’t far behind. Neither is opener “Nemoralia” or dark closer “Coming Home.” Get the trend here? This record is a highlight in a discography in no shortage of highlights and there’s never been a better time to dive in.


11. Archspire – Relentless Mutation

THIS RECORD IS SO FUCKING CRAZY TECHNICAL I LOOK LIKE THE ALBUM ARTWORK AFTER LISTENING ALSO I WANT TO TYPE THIS ENTIRE DESCRIPTION IN CAPS LOCK BUT I'LL TRY TO RESTRAIN MYSELF.

Relentless Mutation is unapologetic tech death, crammed with borderline psychotic riffing, single-mindedly manic-paced vocal bleatings and random jazzy interludes, and I can understand how this might turn some metalheads off. But if this is your thing, this is off the walls wild stuff that manages to keep you fully engaged throughout, despite the unerring madness. It's a crazy ride, but there's more than enough substance here to keep listeners coming back for many subsequent plays.

If you’re still waiting for a new Necrophagist record, this is probably as reasonably close as we’re gonna get. So, there’s also that.


10. Benighted – Necrobreed

Necrobreed kicks you in the teeth with savage brutality from start to finish, is one of the best death metal records in recent memory and a flagrant middle finger to every negative stereotype associated with the genre.”

That was the lede for my review of Benighted’s eighth record, and Necrobreed still holds up months later. There’s no doubt that this kind of blunt aggression will turn off some listeners, but the record boasts plenty of subtle nuances and little standouts to keep things shockingly fresh, even after several dozen listens.


9. Akercocke – Renaissance in Extremis

Wow, now this is how you do a reunion. Of all the veteran metal acts that have emerged from the abyss to release new material in the last few years, Akercocke's magnificent return to the industry is easily among the best.

The Satanic and sexual lyrics might be gone, but Akercocke’s wicked mix of prog and death metal is still intact, and things have never sounded better. “Unbound by Sin” and “Insentience” are basically progressive death metal perfected, and though they’re the obvious standouts, Renaissance in Extremis has no shortage of memorable moments. The album near-perfectly meshes grueling heaviness and disarmingly beautiful moments of calm, and the result was absolutely worth the decade-long wait.


8. Morbid Angel – Kingdoms Disdained

Honestly, all I wanted from Kingdoms Disdained was to be able to crack a lot of Illud Divinum Insanus jokes, but Morbid Angel deserves better than that.

This is a phenomenal comeback and startling return to form for one of the genre’s heavyweights. Everything just clicks here, from Trey Azagthoth’s thundering guitar performance to the exceptional drumming and Steve Tucker’s wicked growls. There’s no low points, but plenty of hits. Opener “Piles of Little Arms” kicks things off in superb fashion, while “The Pillars Crumbling” and “For No Master” are easily among the best death metal songs of the year. The past is the past. Don’t miss out.


7. St. Vincent – MASSEDUCATION

13 songs, and each one is a major win. I’ve been spinning this record nonstop since it released and I just can’t get enough.

There’s considerable variety and all of it clicks nigh-perfectly, whether it’s the huge vocals on “Los Ageless” and the title track or the sinister lyrics and beat of “Pills.” Every track has standout moments that warrant mention — the quiet “Happy Birthday, Johnny” is a particularly emotional piece and easily one of the year’s best songs — and Annie Clark’s penchant for experimentation keeps things fresh throughout and for many subsequent plays.


6. Laster – Ons vrije fatum

Other than the vocals, which were and still are shockingly incredible, I didn't initially have too many specific things to say about Ons vrije fatum. It was just faultless, trippy and damn good black metal.

But beyond that, I've been consistently coming back to this record nearly every week since it first released way back in February. Ons vrije fatum spirals into seemingly endless directions in its 55-minute runtime, but the weirdness never comes across as pretentious or unfocused. This is an adventurous, wonderfully unique black metal record unlike anything else released this year.


5. Blanck Mass – World Eater

Gorgeous psychedelic ambience. Blistering aggression. Electronic dance music interspersed with feral screaming and harsh noise that puts the vast majority of black metal artists to shame.

World Eater says a lot, despite its only vocals being entirely unintelligible screeching and comparably relaxed samplings that probably only make sense on your preferred psychedelic substance. I’ve been hooked on World Eater since it came out in March and my initial fascination hasn’t faded in the slightest. This is a truly special record and while Benjamin Power (the mastermind behind this solo project) is hardly unknown due to his work in Fuck Buttons, it’d be nothing short of a travesty for his latest work under the Blanck Mass moniker to not receive similar attention. Metal, electronica, anything else, whatever: This is an absolute must-listen.


4. Spectral Voice – Eroded Corridors of Unbeing

Enter: Hell. This is one of the best death-doom records in the genre’s history.

Alright, so I was one of seemingly five people on the planet that didn’t understand the Blood Incantation hype. That unpopular opinion still stands, but good lord, Spectral Voice’s (which shares many of the same members as Blood Incantation) debut is just incredible. This is as evil, remorseless and alien as the album title suggests, and nearly every passage of every song goes in unexpected directions that demands the listener’s undivided attention.

This kind of music traditionally relies on lengthy buildups that eventually climax in some grand conclusion. Aside from the first minute or so, there’s no buildup. It’s just nonstop metal goodness that constantly keeps you on edge and frozen in anticipation for whatever twisted riff of inhuman roaring comes next. This is the soundtrack to being eaten alive, crushed in a black hole and erased for all eternity. Although I can’t recommend those experiences, I couldn’t possibly advocate harder for Eroded Corridors of Unbeing.


3. Artificial Brain – Infrared Horizon

While I argued that it was a fairly lukewarm year for metal music, there were still more than a few death metal records worth listening to. Artificial Brain’s monumental sophomore record is easily the best the subgenre had to offer in 2017 and, if there’s any justice, will catapult the band to the forefront of the metal scene.

The songs are superbly technical and diverse, but tightly-written and concise enough to make them absolutely fly by. Of course, this is what you should expect from well-regarded tech death and any record so high on an end of year list.

What took me by surprise were the vocals, which are primarily deep, guttural gurglings common to brutal or slam death metal bands. I typically abhor this vocal style, but Artificial Brain makes it work inexplicably well. The vocals are so fantastic and synergize with the rest of the music so well that they almost function as a fourth instrument. The music might come from the gutter, but Artificial Brain’s future looks incredibly bright and it’ll be exciting to watch the band continue to develop in the years to come.


2. Full of Hell – Trumpeting Ecstasy

If I had to pin my hopes for the future of metal music on one group, it just might be Full of Hell.

This is one of the greatest grindcore records I have ever heard. It’s a genuine maelstrom of violence and pain that beats the listener half dead, but has enough diversity and sheer musical quality to keep you coming back for endlessly repeated listens. Nearly every song has some sort of hook or other instantly memorable misanthropic highlight, and it all meshes together into a near-perfect 24 minutes of nonstop rage.

The instrumentation is a manic force of nature, the vocals range from animalistic screeching to guttural roars. This is what you’d expect from a record so high on an end of year list. But the final two tracks, “Trumpeting Ecstasy” and “At the Cauldron’s Bottom,” are so unbelievably incredible, they’re among the best metal tracks I’ve ever heard. And they constitute nearly half the record’s runtime. You do the math.

This is a glorious triumph for grindcore and metal music in general and a shining example of new blood that has the potential to become one of the industry’s future leaders.


1. Converge – The Dusk in Us

Look, this is a "Best Of" list on a mainstream metal website, so I get it if you're tired of seeing Converge mentioned yet again. The Massachusetts quartet is a metal institution and all of their releases are universally acclaimed. But I promise you that The Dusk in Us is truly deserving of the hyperbolic praise it has received. This might well be Converge's crowning achievement, and yes, I'm aware of Jane Doe's existence.

For all of it's incredible moments — and there are many — Converge never dwells too long on any of them. "Broken by Light's" latter half is dominated by an insane thrash riff before concluding with a positively explosive breakdown. Then, it's on to the next thing. The vocals on "Arkhipov Calm" and "Cannibals" are downright inhuman in their rage. The title track is as staggeringly epic as Converge's other lengthy masterpieces. "Reptillian" is a punishing, frothingly evil closer like no other. The highlights hit fast and hard and never let up.

Many words have already been written by many critics about the merits of The Dusk in Us, so I'll just end by saying the praise is completely justified. The Dusk in Us is quite possibly Converge's magnum opus, and it's certainly my top record of 2017.

Honorable mentions:

Clouds – Destin

Lorde – Melodrama

Dawn Ray'd – The Unlawful Assembly

NieR: Automata – Original Soundtrack

Tyler Hersko is a full-time journalist based in Southern California. Connect with him on Twitter.

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