Mid-Year Verdicts: TOP TEN METAL ALBUMS IN 2017

When putting together the names for this Top Ten chart for metal, I was impressed to see how many “veterans” are part of the list. I don’t know if I should be really suprised or rather it was to be expected. In effect these groups have been playing for so long because they have recognized qualities. The reality is that many albums coming from experienced musicians are at the end of the day more inspired and filled with passion than the average stuff that’s published by younger generations of metallers. Fortunately, however, there are also a number of relatively recent metal band that somehow balance the situation and give me hope about the future of this kind of music.

 

#1) Nightmare Logic by Power Trip

Nightmare Logic, which is the last and second full-lenght album by Texans trashers Power Trip, is systematically climbing the rankings of any chart where this work it has been included. Eventually it reached the top of its category: I’m giving it the deserved award of best metal album of the year in this half-term review.

Power Trip are a relatively new metal band from Texas that plays an energetic and violent blend of thrash and hardcore. They aren’t around since many years but have already accumulated considerable experience playing live together with some big names like Anthrax, Lamb of God and Napalm Death. Nigthmare Logic is their second full-lenght album and it proved to be one of the best thrash metal releases of the last years: fast, energetic, and  innovative with a lot of inserts from other metal sub-genres, such as hardcore and industrial.

Take Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All, double the intensity and throw some Slayer and crossover thrash into the mix, all updated to the 2010’s with a modern production and you have the fearsome riff machine that is Nightmare Logic. (The Metal Archives)

Nightmare Logic looks to me as one of that fortunate cases where the classical and typical elements which made this kind of metal so much successful in the past 30 years have been masterfully reshaped with modern elements, creating a new and unique sound that most likely will become itself a reference for future generations. Impressive, not to be missed.

 

#2) The World Ablaze by God Dethroned

This album was a shocking encounter when I first heard it: I was not expecting such a magnificient work from a band that released their previous full-lenght work as back as 7 years ago. And regardless of the ups and downs it’s having in my charts since its arrival, it remains one of the best albums that I heard in 2017, across all genres of music.

Death Metal is not an easy kind of music to listen and unfortunately it is also inflated by an excessive number of low-level bands that simply find themselves pushing the sounds to the extremes without particular skills or any research for something different to say. Nothing we just wrote applies to The World Ablaze, the last release by Dutch metal veterans God Dethroned. This is the tenth album since their formation in 1991 and, as anticipated, it arrived seven years after their previous release. I can somehow imagine the four musicians spending this long time refining and improving their signature blackened Death metal style.

According to what the band declared when launching the album, The World Ablaze must be intended as the final album in a “WWI trilogy”. The group aimed to create an album that could result dynamic and diverse, but with typical GD riffing and loads of melodies and catchy hooks. “The album sounds crystal clear and heavy as fuck at the same time“, they said in an interview.

The quality of the album is really impressive and there is a fantastic balance between energy and melancholy, the two main and recurring themes of their recent production. God Dethroned posses an undeniable capability to forge impressive and engaging guitar riffs which result enough catchy and “groovy” to make the songs enjoyable to hear, whilst keeping some of the brutality that is typical of the Death Metal sub-genre.

Everything is just very well executed. The composition of the songs, the natural recording sound, the musicality and the originality. Just like the clear grunting vocals, extreme technical drums, nice musical bridges and overall amazing guitar riffs and twin solos. Is it new and original what God Dethroned did? No. But it’s certainly a brilliant continuation of what this legendary band already brought us. (Pitkings.com)

 

#3) For the Fallen by Memoriam

Memoriam is a new death metal band consistings of two former members of Bolt Thrower, i.e. singer Karl Willets and the band’s original drummer Andy Whale, joined by former Benediction’s Frank Healy on bass and Cerebral Fix’s Scott Fairfax on guitar. Leveraging their substantial and proud metal heritage, the four metal heroes started playing together since 2015 in a number of festivals and eventually released in 2017 their debut album, For the Fallen.

As a long-term supporters of Bolt Thrower (which I consider one of the best metal band of all times), I was partially curious and partially scared to listen to this album. Is it better to keep intact the memory of something that was so beautiful (and that no longer exists today) or rather try to renew the magic with a new musical project, but with the risk of compromising the perfect image of the original band? For the Fallen shows that there is a third option: to make a new album which is not only a tribute to a glorious past, but which at the end becomes a unique and singular work without necessarily appearing as just a fading copy of the original. This is possible by operating the correct combination of new and legacy elements, and by putting in the mix an healty dose of intelligence and musical sensibility, This what I found in the album.

Memoriam understand that hooks and lyrical depth are just as important as bone-crunching riffs or surging, destructive double-bass. They have turned personal suffering and global misery into a laudable artistic achievement. (TeamRock)

Pesonally, I would have maybe appreciated less mid-tempo songs and some more brutal aggression, but you can’t have everything you dream. In any case, this is a solid and very enjoyable death metal release and I foresee that For the Fallen will probably be among this years top 10 metal releases even by 2017’s end.

 

#4) Heartless Oppressor by Primal Attack

Primal Attack are a new groove metal band arriving from Portugal. They released a beautiful album called Heartless Oppressor, which is the second since their formation. Although it’s evidently inspired from the works of Pantera, Hatebreed and Machine Head, the album contains a high number of original features to become a unique piece in the current metal scene.

Heartless Oppressor is a strong and energetic disc and it’s fully packed with catching riffs and melodies. These guys from Portugal must have some special gift if they managed in less than five years to achieve such a level of maturity in balancing different metal influences, which span from groove to death metal.

This is an album that I definitely recommend and I’m expecting big things in the future of the band. A few of the songs from the album have become a regular presence of the metal playlist I’m publishing in the blog, and this LP remains firmly in the upper section of the chart despite the fact that many other aggressive contenders have arrived after its release.

From the palm-muted explosion of “Halfborn” to the relativeness mellowness of “Heart & Bones”, Heartless Oppressor is a groove thrash masterpiece that truly belongs in the 21st century. I hope Primal Attack continue to spread their wings, both metaphorically and physically – because there is a huge scene in the US and the UK ready to gobble this style up. Raise your horns, bang your heads…and swing those tambourines! (The Metal Archives)

 

#5) Conformicide by Havok

American thrash-metal masters Havok released this year their fourth studio LP, Conformicide, which interrupts the four year break since their beautiful 2013’s Unnatural Selection, so far the longest gap between two albums of the band. During these years there has been a new change in the lineup since bassist Mike Leon left the band and was replaced by former Cephalic Carnage’s Nick Schendzielos. Despite these changes, however, the band led by David Sanchez managed to put together a solid collection of enjoyable and aggressive old-school thrash songs. And the performance of the new bassist is simply superb.

All those who are familiar with the band will agree that Havok’s sound and songwriting skills improved a lot with the time. The overall level of the album is in fact excellent and probably Conformicide maybe considered their best work so far.

As with any musical genre, good songwriting is absolutely essential and will ultimately make or break a record. The guys in Havok are exceptionally good at their instruments, but they’re even better at writing bona fide, legitimate, good ‘ol fashioned songs. The songs are what made Master of Puppets, Reign in Blood and Rust in Peace classics, and the songs are what make Conformicide such a strong effort (Metal Injection)

There are a couple of songs in Conformicide which really stand out for their brilliance, and it’s no by chance that Havok has been a stable presence in my metal playlists (including the first volume of my new mixtape series on thrash metal).

Another important characteristic of the band is the technical expertise of all the members. The four guys show an unquestionable talent in playing their instruments and the new bassist, in particular, impressed me a lot for his furious but precise surgeon-like  style (you may have a look at the video below to figure out what I’m talking about).

 

#6) Tarot by Æther Realm

Tarot, by U.S. metal band Æther Realm, is one of the most recent surprises in metal. The band, which plays an interesting fusion of melodic death metal, folk and heavy metal,  with the second release eventually managed to define an own and unique style, something that’s not easy to achieve in a kind of music that’s so strongly influenced by a few major and relevant groups such as Ensiferum and Wintersun.

The distance between Æther Realm‘s two full-length releases may have been a time-consuming trip, but it is time that the group have clearly taken advantage of, forging and smithing each of Tarot’s songs into battle-worthy weapons. The band have leaped past the initial fascination of a group out of North Carolina being able to create so well a sound that we usually associate with Scandinavian regions, vaulting into an area where they’ve been able to mature their sound enough that Æther Realm have really now become their own thing. (No Clean Singing)

What’s really good in this disc is the quality of the guitar riffs. In most of the times the guitars operate in background to support and amplify the melodic soundscapes that are created with keyboards and vocals, but at other times they break the melodiy with furious rhythms and fierce guitar rides. The album is also characterized by a combination of clean vocals with growls and screams and the balance between these two styles is excellent and gives another positive element to most of the songs.

For the time being this is the best symphonic-like metal album that I’ve listened in 2017, and it rapidly gained a relevant position in the top ten chart.

 

#7) Black Laden Crown by Danzig

After seven years since the last studio album with original material, American heavy metal legend Glenn Danzig has called back once more his faithful disciples and together they crafted and released a new magical chapter of their incredible musical journey. Black Laden Crown, the new album by Danzig, is a phenomenal example of modern heavy metal and it demonstrates, if there was still need, that a band doesn’t need to play ultra fast or to follow the latest trends to be heavy and to be good.

This is the eleventh full-lenght studio release of the band and it arrives a couple of years after the controversial home-made covers’ album Skeletons. Black Laden Crown sees the returning of former drummer Joey Castillo, who was with the band from 1994 and 2002. The other member of the group is legendary guitarist Tommy Victor, who’s going to release in a few months a new album with his own band, Prong. Tommy Victor and Glenn Danzig shared the duties of bass player in the album.

From a musical point of view, Black Laden Crown offers the usual pack of warm, slow, melancholic but damn enjoyable heavy metal tunes. And this is really a quality offering and a few songs of the album are close to being among of the best compositions Glenn Danzing has ever written in his long career. These songs wouldn’t be out of place even within the best albums of the band, which are universally considered to be the first three LPs produced between the 80’s and the 90’s.

Black Laden Crown is Danzig’s strongest album in some time, because he’s mostly built it around his own limitations. His thunder has quelled, but his ear is sharpening again on these metal blues. (Pitchfork

I really like this album, which releases an incredible charge and charm as soon as you start to hear the baritonal voice of our beloved metaller. Long life to heavy metal!

 

#8) Fear Those Who Fear Him by Vallenfyre

Fear Those Who Fear Him by British Death Metal supergroup Vallenfyre was an album that I waited a long and also with high expectations. Vallenfyre is the side project created seven years ago by Paradise’s Lost legendary guitarist Gregor Mackintosh as a tribute to his father’s death. Today the core of the band is a trio which features My Dying Bride’s guitarist Hamish Glencross and Paradise’s lost session drummer Waltteri Väyrynen.

Fear Those Who Fear Him is the third album produced by the band. Unfortunately, it’s not only to be considered as the third chapter of a trilogy, but presumably the last one released by Mackintosh’s side project.

Vallenfyre is like my Saturday night out. Yeah, I have fun with it. I can’t deny that, but I can’t say that I take it too seriously. Again, like with Paradise Lost, the music is quite serious, but it’s like, you know, having a few drinks and going down to the pub with your mates type of thing. But I wouldn’t say the heart, no. Because I don’t intend… You know… We’re 90 percent sure now that we’ll never record anything else with Vallenfyre. So we’ll leave it as a trilogy. So if that’s where the heart was, I left it behind. (Gregor Mackintosh during an interview with Metal Covenant).

Since its foundation, Vallenfyre provided Gregor Mackintos with the possibility to challenge himself with sounds and atmospheres that are quite different with respect to Paradise Lost’s, and with very good results. From a musical point of view, we find in the album a combination of blackened death metal with the insertion of thrash riffs and a few doomy elements. The quality of Vallenfyre’s music evolved on each album, evidently Mackintosh and his bandmates acquired more confidence on every release they made. As you may expect, thus, Fear Those Who Fear Him is their best album to date. A special mention is necessary for Mackintosh vocals, which result as brutal as they are passionate and engaging. In summary, this is a very good release and in fact it achieved a strong position in the chart even in a year that has seen already a good number of strong publications for death metal. We’ll see in the future if this experiment will be really terminated or not.

 

#9) Poison The Parish by Seether

Poison the Parish, the seventh full-lenght work by South African band Seether, arrived on the shelves three years after their previous release and signed a new heavier direction for the group, which actually started as a post-grunge rock outfit and that now can be considered in all respects as a metal group. The change is also reflected by the new logo that the four guys from Pretoria choosed for the album, a logo which is now characterized by a definitely metallic font and style.

Based on what I could hear in the album, however, the change was for the better. Their older mainstream rock motifs left the way to a clear american-inspired alternative metal approach, which gave the songs greater depth and power. In their last album there are clear references (someone could say too many) to the masters of alternative metal such as Tool and Alice in Chains, but in my opinion the album never trascends into a mere imitation of a model and it generally maintains a specific style and musical autonomy.

Although their critics might accuse Seether of churning out the same album time and again, the South African trio has made (admittedly fairly small) steps in recent years to switch up their sound, and Poison the Parish sees this coming full circle. It’s the heaviest they’ve been since 2007’s Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces, yes, but it also feels like the most intentional. (Sputnikmusic)

I’m one of those who didn’t enjoy too much the last couple of works released by the band, but I must admit that Poison the Parish is giving me a lot of good feelings and in my opinion the band made a very strong and energic comeback. At this point we shall just see if this change in musical direction is just temporary or rather it marked a definitive transformation of their style.

 

#10) No God by Infernäl Mäjesty

Canadian metal veterans Infernäl Mäjesty are celebrating their 30th anniversary but they’ve never been very prolific in their musical production. As a matter of fact, in such a long time span they have released only 4 albums. No God, the fourth and last album from the band, interrupts a period of silence of 13 years. As you may expect the band went through some lineup changes during this time before the new work was recorded.

Given these premises, one couldn’t expect so much from this album. But instead of that, when listening to No God one realizes that the time which passed between their last productions didn’t affect the quality of their songwriting.

Musically speaking this is a blend of old-school thrash with many death metal elements, and the huge number of heavy riffs and the healty dose of variations that have been put into the songs of the album won’t disappoint old fans of the group.

No God offers the listener 11 imposing thrash tunes for the delight of fans of the heaviness and aggressiveness of giants such as Slayer, Behemoth and Testament (Power of Metal)

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