Top Albums of 2017 — Bruce Hardt-Valenzuela
This is my first genre-specific year-end list, which is a bigger headache than you’d think. The enumeration below started out at as 50 entries, but I’m subservient to the constraints of format, so my apologies in advance if your band’s 2017 release isn’t on here (if that matters). Since this is a hardcore, metalcore, or whathaveyou column, that’s exactly what you’re going to find below. Don’t be cheeky though, this wasn’t all that I listened to in 2017; this year’s Wolves in the Throne Room, Slowdive, Amenra, Full of Hell, Death of Lovers, The Black Dahlia Murder, and Gatecreeper releases were just some of the certified slappers I enjoyed.
To (briefly) get a bit personal, 2017 has been the toughest year of my life, so it’s only apposite that I turned to the music where my heart is, which of course was hardcore. I realize that sounds super corny, but even the most faithful keepers approach their craft with some tongue-in-cheek, so just let it slide, thanks. This year’s feast of breakdowns, anthems, and camaraderie has been among the best to be offered in our lifetime, so here’s to the music that keeps us going and keeps on giving.
20. Firewalker - Firewalker (Pop Wig Records, Massachusetts)
19. Year of the Knife - Ultimate Disease (Delaware)
18. Wristmeetrazor - I Talk to God… But the Sky is Empty (Arduous Path Recordings / Zegema Beach Records, US)
17. Liar’s Tongue - Threat of Intellect (Utah)
16. Vicious Embrace - Purged in Flame (Delaware)
15. Forge - Demo (Arduous Path Recordings, Florida)
14. Safe and Sound - Ashes Lie and Wait (New Age Records, Washington)
13. Forced Order - One Last Prayer (Triple B Records, Massachusetts)
12. Blackened - Existence is Suffering (No Thought Records, Arizona)
11. Incendiary - Thousand Mile Stare (Closed Casket Activities, New York)
(Sorrow Carrier Records, CA)
Ache of Eternity is so heavy it’s almost unfair. This Georgian quintet spins spry metalcore and body-twisting death metal into a seamless whole. In spite of its expeditious length, Vatican layers each riff with existential woe, hammered ever deeper like a sentient bullet in part by the album’s melancholic lyrics. Ache of Eternity inflicts its wrath with calculated, wicked honesty, leaving you anticipating Vatican’s next move.
(Triple B Records, Massachusetts)
I can only guess that the album cover depicts Frank and Monica Gallagher from Shameless on any given night, and while the image is striking, it’s only a buffer for the music itself. Candy Says follows close on the heels of their 2017 demo, with both releases granting Candy near unprecedented momentum. This comes at no surprise considering all the harsh breaks, furrowed brow chuggery, sweeping melodies, and rabid bearing this EP slings in only ten minutes. All I can do is preemptively brace myself for what Candy will unleash next (hopefully soon).
(Independent, New York)
Heal. take their cues from melodic hardcore bands of the mid-to-late aughts, namely Deathwish Inc. and acts like The Carrier, Killing the Dream, and Carpathian, while also bringing to mind The Effort and Ruiner. I categorically mention those artists because, with all honesty, I miss when bands sounded like that. No Love/No Light is refreshing, moving, even beautiful in its nostalgic spell, but its key success lies in how Heal.’s intense earnestness brings melodic hardcore screaming and kicking into the next decade.
(Arduous Path Recordings, Florida)
A Needle Under the Nail’s debut is nothing short of lightning in a bottle… or rather a cassette. Falling somewhere between Blood Has Been Shed and Martyr A.D., this four-song demo is executed with a deft hand and, in spite of its scale, it's uncannily high-concept. Written with a clear objective to deny repetition, there is fluid urgency and steely expertise infused into these tracks. A late 1990s, early 2000s throwback brimming with panicked freneticism and downtrodden melody, this demo sets sights firm on moving metalcore into the future. As an aside, the addition of samples from Alien and early 2000s Toonami anime dubs in combination with the song titles (“Quasar” and “Satellite”) and H.R. Giger-esque cover art gives the demo an appreciable sci-fi flavor.
(Reconsider Records, New York)
This one is nasty, a real bruiser. Sanction has a shitty attitude they display with sadistic glee on Infringement. Part metalcore freshness, part deathcore revival, Sanction’s debut album is Disembodied meets On Broken Wings meets Masochist-era Elysia, with all the savagery that stylistic marriage entails, firing off breakdown after breakdown, each brawnier than the last. An anachronistic early-aughts metalcore love letter, Infringement is worth every crushed bone and bloodletting incitement its songs cause.
(Carry the Weight Records, UK)
South Florida has been churning out seminal metalcore bands at an alarming rate over the last few years, with each representing a unique facet of the genre at large. Forge and A Needle Under the Nail, also on this list, hail from this same scene, while Sandman, xELEGYx, castyoudown, Ecostrike, and Bind are only a few of the other acts turning heads. It would be remiss to call the movement, which seems epidemic along the east coast, a revival, as that would minimize the creativity these bands demonstrate, but Drawing Last Breath is exemplary of South Florida’s aesthetics. Coming off the home runs that are their demo and Hymns of Suffering EP, Final Sacrifice is equally brutal and euphonious, unsurprising given the assured technicality on display here. Akin to releases of its peers, Final Sacrifice is grandiose, tackling a once stifled style with a clear intent to not only emulate but improve upon -- feats that Drawing Last Breath accomplishes in spades.
(Closed Casket Activities, New York)
The gears of the hype machine never cease turning, and with Vein’s appearances at Sound & Fury and This Is Hardcore this year, those gears went into overdrive, and for good reason. Self-destruct was released at the tail-end of 2016 as a split with .gif from God, but due to the band’s penchant for and pride in playing these four tracks live, it was fitting to see them get their own release this fall. A fever dream of 1990s Converge and Jeromes Dream, with Deftones splashed here and there, Vein have taken metalcore by storm by threading said inspirations and then some into their own virulent sound. Vein is one of those rare instances where the hype is best believed, and truly, how can a towering mass of eponymous, moshing windbreakers with their own cult following be wrong?
(Relapse Records, Belgium)
Few bands are able to redefine themselves with the same ease as Integrity, a name that has long been a metallic hardcore institution. Throughout its incarnations, vocalist Dwid Hellion has remained its sole member, with the name itself becoming an avenue for his creative endeavors, and Howling is Integrity’s best since To Die For. Stuffed with sweeping solos and meaty riffs courtesy of Pulling Teeth’s Dominic Romeo and war machine percussion from Ilsa’s Joshua Brettell, Howling conveys Integrity’s apocalyptic visions like never before. Across its 14 tracks (bonus cuts included), Integrity accomplishes everything from playing safely within metalcore’s confines to experimenting with utmost theatricality (see “String Up My Teeth”), creating a work that has every chance to be jarring or clunky, but defies such moments with its catchy guitar play, creative song structure, and Dwid at his feral best.
(Roadrunner Records, Pennsylvania)
Already in January, this gem had won my album of the year title, and though it got knocked to number two (Converge reigns), let’s not discredit what is now a Grammy-nominated album. Say what you will about those awards and how they’ve undermined heavy music for decades, Code Orange nabbing this nomination is pretty cool, and above all, deserved. A peculiar collection at first listen, Code Orange’s third LP sheds its human flesh, revealing a monstrous creature made of towering breakdowns and abrasive, daring segues into industrial wastelands and assailing alt-rock dirges. If you have yet to take in these foreboding sonic vistas, take this as a quantum of a recommendation to witness for yourself a modern classic.
(Epitaph Records, Massachusetts)
To the surprise of no one, Converge made it to the top of this list. For me, The Dusk in Us, their ninth album, ended up being the most complete Converge experience since 2004’s seminal You Fail Me. Converge’s lineup, intact since the almighty Jane Doe, have injected all they’ve learned in other projects into this album, rendering it as a culmination of five years-worth of musical and personal growth, a hyper-emotional testament to their collective abilities. Jane Doe is the meanest, most finite break-up record ever made, and while it may seem trite to compare all that came in its wake to it, The Dusk in Us is all that album’s heartache finally finding peace, the apparent conclusion to a journey that I’m grateful to have stuck around for.