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Columnus Metallicus: The Best Metal Albums Of 2017
The Quietus , December 20th, 2017 12:00

The heaviest, bleakest and most beautiful metal albums of the year, as compiled by Louise Brown, Cheryl Carter and Kez Whelan, with a little help from their tQ friends.


It seems like only yesterday we were racking our brains to bring you the best of 2016’s metal releases, and now here we are all over again. The last twelve months may seem to have flown past at the speed of your average Napalm Death song, but they’ve also been packed to bursting with all manner of life-affirmingly filthy riffs and righteously rebellious musical statements, much like your average Napalm Death song.

We’ve had big releases from heavy-hitters in every subgenre: death metallers have had new Morbid Angel, Autopsy, Cannibal Corpse, Obituary, Suffocation, Immolation and Dying Fetus LPs to chew on; black metal fiends have been worshipping new Wolves In The Throne Room, Satyricon, Enslaved, Taake and Blut Aus Nord albums; and doom addicts have been skinning up to The Obsessed, Electric Wizard, Iron Monkey, Gravetemple, Pagan Altar, Unearthly Trance and Ufomammut. Grind-a-holics have been treated to fresh noise from Full Of Hell, Phobia, Death Toll 80k and Looking For An Answer; hardcore heads have been blasting new Integrity, All Pigs Must Die and Code Orange LPs; thrash fans have had new Kreator, Sepultura and Municipal Waste records to tuck into.

Extreme prog/death/black legends Akercocke delivered their first new record in a decade, and we saw even more pioneers returning in new projects. Amebix man Rob Miller delivered a second album with his Tau Cross project, whilst Bolt Thrower and Benediction alumni reconvened under the guise of Memoriam to deliver a crushing debut, and members of Repulsion and Exhumed teamed up for the inevitably titled Expulsion.

But, as we keep screaming at everyone in earshot, there’s a whole lot more to metal than legacy acts, nostalgia and successful comeback albums, and there’s been a wealth of newcomers keeping the flames burning this year, taking the genre to new and exciting places. Pallbearer continued to push doom’s boundaries (and their growing profile suggests the next couple of years could be even better for them), masked Dutchmen Laster broke new ground within black metal with their progressive second full-length, Employed To Serve managed to make chaotic metalcore sound even fresher than it did in the early ’90s, Ghold kept finding new ways to make sludge sound like music from another planet and Spectral Voice warped death metal into some utterly bizarre shapes, to name but a few.

As expected for a year rife with escalating political unrest, metal has continued to fight the good fight, for the most part. Despite certain pockets of NSBM lunatics feeling emboldened in recent times, it’s extremely heartening to see that one of the year’s strongest black metal debuts, Dawn Ray’d’s eloquent The Unlawful Assembly, carries a staunchly anti-fascist message. Thrash has historically been more politically active than black metal of course, but that didn’t stop Power Trip’s impassioned social commentary from feeling any less righteous this year, whether they were dropping one of 2017’s most crushing LPs or telling Fox News to fuck off.

Undoubtedly, there are great releases we’ve missed along the way too, but it’s been hard enough to squeeze all of 2017’s great metal into a series of monthly columns, let alone a single list of 20 records. We’ve persisted nonetheless, melting down the grey matter of all the Quietus contributors who are partial to the sound of a distorted guitar, and reconstituting those molten opinions into the squirming, omniscient hive mind of a list you see before you…

Top 20 Metal Albums Of 2017

20. Akercocke - Renaissance In Extremis (Peaceville)
When a band breaks up but doesn’t say anything, then reforms years later with a record that marks a rebirth in sound and it feels like they never went away. That’s Renaissance In Extremis in a cliché nutshell and Akercocke to the core. Previously known as a group of Satanic Gentlemen, the Londoners have broken free of those chains and come back more stripped back and defiant with a blackened death metal record that creeps in at the end of our list.

19. Morbid Angel - Kingdoms Disdained (Silver Lining)
With bassist/vocalist Steve Tucker returning and the painful memories of the dreaded Illud… album receding, Morbid Angel reminded us why we loved them in the first place with Kingdoms Disdained, a solid slab of death metal mastery in the vein of 2000’s imposing Gateways To Annihilation. With the intensity cranked up to 11, thankfully the band’s more experimental tendencies manifest themselves here in the bludgeoning but almost jazzy swing of brutes like ‘Declaring New Law (Secret Hell)’, rather than aimless ambient segues or hammy pseudo-industrial posturing. It’s good to have them back.

18. Venenum - Trance Of Death (Sepulchral Voice)
This German quartet surpassed all the high expectations set by their filthy, old-school worshipping EP with this debut full-length, arguably 2017’s most ambitious death metal record. Whilst still retaining their former fury (check out ‘The Nature Of The Ground’ – hot damn!), Trance Of Deaths progressive tendencies take the band’s evil sound to all manner of weird and wonderful places, especially on the final three-part title suite, a sprawling yet focussed psychedelic voyage pitched somewhere between Mental Funeral and 2112.

17. The Ruins Of Beverast - Exuvia (Van Records)
The Ruins Of Beverast don’t do anything by halves and with Exuvia clocking in at a little over an hour there can be an argument for an artist indulging themselves a tad too much. However, leader Alexander von Meilenwald uses each minute to its fullest and as such his fifth record is one that traverses the abyss and spins you into space. As our colleague Pav said in May “Exuvia gives a feeling of vast, light-filled spaces, like spears of sun breaking through the windows of a ruined cathedral, coming off like a metal answer to Dead Can Dance.”

16. Pagan Altar - The Room Of Shadows (Temple Of Mystery)
A band destined to lurk in the shadows of British heavy metal history, who had a moment of belated glory come all too late. Number 16 on our list is a deserved nod to Pagan Altar, South London’s NWOBHM and doom metal pallbearers, who, following the sad passing of founding frontman Terry Jones, put together a tribute 13 years in the making, that cemented just how special and unique their part in the legacy of this country’s traditionally-rooted heavy metal is, and always will be.

15. Tchornobog - Tchornobog (I, Voidhanger)
The new school of death metal is a many headed beast and for Tchornobog’s debut that rings wildly true. Combining elements of the classic death metal sound with black metal, jazz, piano and a heady dose of one person’s inner nightmares has given Tchornobog an incredible head start. One-man black metal be damned, it’s time for one-man death metal to rule 2018.

14. Pyrrhon - What Passes For Survival (Willowtip)
With absolutely astonishing musicianship, memorable songwriting, savage riffs and dizzying technicality, What Passes For Survival is the most well-realised LP these New Yorkers have released yet. It made most of the year’s other extreme metal releases look like mere child’s play in comparison, a point further emphasised by ‘Goat Mockery Ritual’s scathingly hilarious lyrics.

13. Satyricon - Deep Calleth Upon Deep (Napalm Records)
True Norwegian black metal may seem like a thing of the past but Satyricon have taken all that made the second wave great and turned it into a modern and ferocious animal. Deep Calleth Upon Deep may not be the raw black metal album you were waiting for but it sure is a black metal album worth your time, and in a year in which the new breed of black metal made their mark, Satyr and co proved the old guard can still innovate and crush.

12. Primitive Man - Caustic (Relapse)
If this 77-minute behemoth had consisted only of the first nine tracks, it would still have been one of 2017’s heaviest records and a more than satisfactory follow-up to 2013 debut Scorn, but those final three songs just take it to a whole new level. ‘Disfigured’ somehow doubles the weight of the Denver sludge trio’s pitch-black pummel, before ‘Inevitable’ quadruples it and ‘Absolutes’ ends the LP with the most cathartic use of negative space you’ll find on a metal album this year.

11. Grave Pleasures - Motherblood (Century Media)
“Let’s dance while we all go to hell,” is frontman Kvhost’s explanation of the goth-metal-pop-rock monster mash that is Motherblood. Rising from the embers of Beastmilk, this is offering number two from Finland’s ghoulish goth rockers and provides the soundtrack for the end-times, should you wish to go out with a bang and a boogie.

10. Electric Wizard - Wizard Bloody Wizard (Spinefarm)
A new Wiz started the year as one of the most anticipated albums in the heavy metal world, and it ended it with expected, and deserved, adulation. A cheeky nod to Black Sabbath there with the title, and a bold claim, except that Jus Oborn and his gathered misfits deserve the comparison with sneering, salacious, stoner sleaze rock that will stand the test of time.

9. Godflesh - Post Self (Avalanche)
It’s pretty extraordinary that, almost 30 years after the release of their first EP, Godflesh are still releasing utterly vital records that continue to reshape and reimagine their sound. Far more textured and subtle than 2014’s more aggressive, metallic A World Lit Only By Fire, Post Self explores the band’s murkier recesses with thrilling results, from the dubby Killing Joke-isms of ‘Mirror Of Finite Light’, to the John Carpenter-esque keys of ‘Mortality Sorrow’ and the suffocating My-Bloody-Valentine-on-steroids guitar smog of ‘The Cyclic End’.

8. Chelsea Wolfe - Hiss Spun (Sargent House)
Whilst continuing in the heavier direction of 2015’s Abyss, Hiss Spun is more abrasive and confrontational than its melancholy predecessor, but still manages to contain some of Chelsea Wolfe’s most infectious and catchy songs to date – just check out intense closer ‘Scrape’ or the way Chelsea’s ethereal vocals dance around Aaron Turner’s primordial roar on ‘Vex’. All things considered, this could be Chelsea Wolfe’s finest hour to date; the bombastic Kurt Ballou production is just the icing on an already exquisite cake.

7. Amenra - Mass VI (Neurot Recordings)
Pain is Amenra’s modus operandi and on Mass VI the Belgians grip anguish by the throat and filter it through a sound that has become a genre unto itself. Not quite sludge of hardcore but a stunning blend of everything dark, Amenra have once again shown why they are masters of their craft. Mass VI is cathartic and draining and you’re left feeling hollow, as though Amenra have looked deep inside you and excised your own exquisite desolation.

6. Solstafir - Berdreyminn (Season Of Mist)
Icelandic black metal filtered through the glacier of British 80s pop-goth, the northern cowboys of Solstafir offered up a sixth album of blackened beauty in 2017. Berdreyminn captures the barren beauty of both their homeland and the genre of black metal; the avant-prog touches of light and extreme passages of cacophonous shade, the tense build toward climax, and the volcanic eruption of relief when their compositions break and moments of mournful but hopeful reflection wash over the listener. Rejuvenating black metal at its best.

5. Bell Witch - Mirror Reaper (Profound Lore)
Bell Witch lost a former member of their band during the making of Mirror Reaper and it’s in this pain that the duo create waves of poignant despair. The album is one hour-long song and should you be willing to fully invest in the experience you are tossed about in a sea of grief and desperation that empties the soul, but we recommend you carve out sixty minutes from your schedule and dive in deep.

4. Wolves In The Throne Room - Thrice Woven (Artemisia Records)
Weaver by name, weavers by nature, Aaron and Nathan return with a sixth album that continues the genre-pushing, boundary-breaking black metal that they introduced us to on their debut in 2006. Spacious, light-bearing, and inspired by the nature surrounding their home in Olympia, Washington but still nihilistic and uncompromising, on Thrice Woven the brothers added a dash of American spirituality to an already captivating musical palette to create this year’s outstanding black metal offering.

3. Power Trip - Nightmare Logic (Southern Lord)
The nightmare is real with Nightmare Logic. Written last year during election primaries in their homestate of Texas and released earlier this year as we were all getting to grips with exactly just how much of a maniac the new US president is, Power Trip managed to perfectly encapsulate our anger, confusion and desperation in 32 minutes of tormenting thrash metal. From a bedrock of hardcore punk, Power Trip piledrived all their fury into a call to action for political metalheads worldwide.

2 . The Obsessed - Sacred (Relapse Records)
A whopping 23 years have passed since The Obsessed’s last full-length, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from a cursory listen here; Wino’s band has never sounded heavier, and the vocalist/guitarist himself sounds utterly rejuvenated, howling away with renewed vigour on cuts like ‘Razor Wire’ and the title track, shredding some head-spinning leads on ‘Haywire’ and ‘Punk Crusher’, and even busting out his finest Phil Lynott impression on a cover of Thin Lizzy’s ‘It’s Only Money’. An hour of true doom perfection.

1. Pallbearer - Heartless (Nuclear Blast)
Pallbearer have been evolving their doom for almost ten years and with the release of their third full-length the Arkansas residents have ascended ever further in the heavens. Transcending genres and appealing to the masses isn’t always a bad thing and Pallbearer have pulled off the transition with grace. Heartless is a gorgeous and sorrowful work that deserves every plaudit it gets, and this year saw Pallbearer recognised not just as one of the most interesting doom bands around, but one of the most interesting rock bands around full stop.