Top Albums of 2017 — Chris Rowella
No one ever accused me of being an optimist, but in the current world of Chicken Littles, I’m practically Charlie Brown. The year 2016 was, overall, the greatest year in human history. And 2017 was better. Despite the daily predictions and reports of terrible events, we are living in a golden era of our civilization. Plenty of digital ink will be spilled about the way things are in the "Age of Whoever," but the more accurate term is "Age of Hyperbole." I’ll never understand why people worry about things that don’t matter, but I suppose anxiety and incomprehension are just human nature. Anyway...
Metal, and heavy music in general, also had another banner year; I could easily expand this list to 50 without trying. I don’t know if there was any unifying trend present, but there was quality across the genre board. Old guys continue to remind us that they still know how to kill it (The Lurking Fear, River Black, Expulsion, Burn, The Obsessed, basically half of my top-ten), and relatively younger bands made some career-defining future classics (Royal Thunder, Foreseen, Necrot, Ruby The Hatchet, Duel). I’m still a sucker for what my colleague Jon Rosenthal refers to as “bands that sound like motorcycles," and between releases from Ripple Music, Heavy Psych Sounds, and Magnetic Eye, the riff department is working overtime. So once again, and especially if you’ve been reading my writing here over the last eight-plus years, my list has a few outliers but is mostly quite predictable. And really, what’s wrong with that?
Enjoy, and have a great new year.
20. Fistula – The Shape Of Doom To Cumm))) (PATAC Records, USA)
19. Unearthly Trance – Stalking The Ghost (Relapse Records, USA)
18. Acid Witch – Evil Sound Screamers (Hells Headbangers, USA)
17. Meatwound – Largo (Magic Bullet Records, USA)
16. Mutoid Man – War Moans (Sargent House, USA)
15. Friendship – Hatred (Sentient Ruin, USA)
14. Power Trip – Nightmare Logic (Southern Lord, USA)
13. Spirit Adrift – Curse Of Conception (20 Buck Spin, USA)
12. Unsane – Sterilize (Southern Lord, USA)
11. The Judge – Tell It To The Judge (Ripple Music, USA)
(Found Recordings, USA)
When a “lost recording” shows up after years, or in this case decades, it’s rarely more than a footnote in the respective band’s history. Gruntruck destroys that notion with an album as vital, engaging, and enjoyable as their two classic full-lengths. Recorded by Jack Endino while still in their original form, the album’s deft blend of soulful songwriting and muscular musicianship is a testament to Seattle’s heavy rock scene and its enduring legacy.
(Southern Lord, USA)
Plenty of bands slow down as they progress, but when All Pigs Must Die do it, it’s more akin to changing the blender setting from “liquify” to “shred." Adding a few more atmospheric moments to their caustic blend of metallic hardcore and Swedish death does nothing to dilute the great vengeance and furious anger of their sound; indeed, an added layer of depth gives Hostage Animal a leg up on its predecessors, as well as separating All Pigs Must Die from the HM-2 pack.
(Relapse Records, USA)
What, did you expect this to not show up somewhere on here??
(Listenable Records, France)
It can be tough to replace Tomas Lindberg when he bounces from your band (looking at you, Nightrage!), but you could do plenty worse than recruiting Kevin Sharp. With an already stellar track record, Demonization adds a distinctly different dimension to Lock Up’s legacy while retaining its signature deathgrind ferocity. It stands tall with any release of the band members’ main projects, and as angry as it may be, Shane Embury and company sound like they’re having a great time.
If more bands could embrace the "keep it simple, stupid" philosophy, a lot of them would be better off. Toke don’t break new ground or experiment, and they aren’t going to end up on Pitchfork’s front page. What they do is write killer riffs and memorable, fun stoner metal jams. It’s not complicated, folks: do what you know, do it really well, and the rest will follow. Having an incredibly enjoyable live show doesn’t hurt, either.
(Soulseller Records, Netherlands)
Demon Eye may not make the waves other “modern classic rock” acts do, but they do it better than most. While other bands busy themselves professing love for Pentagram, Sabbath, and Deep Purple, Demon Eye just go and get it done. From the opening moments of leadoff track “The Waters And The Wild," it’s pretty clear Prophecies And Lies -- recorded by COC bassist/legend Mike Dean -- is head and shoulders above what most of their peers are doing. It’s one of the best rock records of 2017, and could also hold that title in 1974.
(Relapse Records, USA)
I don’t always listen to black metal, but when I do, I prefer the kind purists hate. Well, perhaps not always; and I’m sure there are a few troo kvlters out there that secretly enjoy the big hooks, melodies, and clean vocals on As Was as much as I do. Black Anvil has always had a healthy dose of shade thrown their way. I’m not sure why but frankly don’t care. As Was marks a significant leap forward in the band’s aesthetic and sound, and showcases their best songwriting to date. Relatedly, “Ultra” is my choice for best metal song of the year.
(Armageddon Record Shop, USA)
Can we anoint Elder as national treasures yet? It goes beyond their amazing musical talents and singular songwriting skills; they continue to draw fans from a broad spectrum of genres and tastes, and Reflections serves as a catalyst for all of it. Psychedelic passages give way to guitar hero solos, progressive scales meld into quiet ambient moments -- and that’s just one song. With each spin, there are new layers to discover and enjoy. To quote Jean Girard: “You taste of America.”
(Rise Above, UK)
Remember all that talk up top about optimism and everything being great? Sometimes you have to throw all that shit into a hole, set it on fire and smoke the ashes. Love From With The Dead is a big, nihilistic slab of cemetery doom made by guys who have lived it longer than anyone. There is beauty in the breakdown, of course, for those open and willing to hear it. Heartbreak is, after all, more than emocore fodder. Existential dread, anxiety, and sadness pervade every crevice of this album. It’s a tough listen, but ultimately satisfies the most persistent doom itch.
It’s not metal, and (as I write this) most people haven’t heard it yet, but Interiors took my top spot without much deliberation. It would be easy to chalk it up to 1990s nostalgia, and I won’t deny the memories that came flooding back right from the opening moments of “Illuminant." Yet that is a testament to the power of Interiors. Quicksand released an album in 2017 that sounds like the band never went on hiatus. To be sure, we’ve seen many other acts reunite and release great albums, but rarely do they sound as seamless as Quicksand does here. The one noticeable departure is frontman Walter Schreifels, incorporating some of the songwriting elements of his post-Quicksand bands like Dead Heavens and especially Rival Schools. This is an added bonus, more than anything else. Interiors fits like an old sweater, and at this point satisfaction is no longer the death of desire.