8 Dec 2017

TONEwood's Top 10 Metal Albums of 2017

Following the format from 2016, I'll be making two separate lists for the end of 2017. One specifically for metal and its subgenres, and one for all other genres - including hard rock.

Where 2016 was a strong year throughout, it took a few months for the roster of 2017 to really sink in with me. As a matter of fact, I think we were beyond the half-way point before I found any strong contenders.

That is not to say that no good albums came out in the first part of 2017 - Just that I didn't discover them before the second part. In the end, as I'm writing this, choices had to be made, and many more than worthy albums had to be excluded.

For TONEwood these first two years have been turbulent. The launch of TONEwood Tapes in November 2016 has as of the moment of posting yielded 7 tape releases - 1 in late 2016, and the remaining (Fordærv repress, Teleport, NP at the Banishing Point, Ætervader, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and Deathray Bam!) in 2017.

KGLW and Deathray Bam! will be the last releases from TONEwood in 2017, but I'm looking forward to releasing more great music on tape in 2018. Be sure to follow the TONEwood Facebook page to get the latest info about upcoming releases!

I'd like to extend my deepest thanks to every distro who has taken on TONEwood titles, to every band and artist I've collaborated with, and especially to every person who has bought a TONEwood tape! And with no more filler text, here's the Top 10 metal albums from 2017 according to the Gospel of TONE.

If you want to listen along on Deezer or Spotify, here's a handy playlist:

10: Undergang - Misantropologi
It feels like we're being spoiled by great death metal these days, both old and new. Torturdød and company have done it again with this, their fourth album. Rotten to the gore, caveman death metal brutality of the dirtiest and heaviest kind. This time the deadly trio leave a little more room for ponderous melodies, but their rancid DNA remains the same: Ultra low gurgles and strings, and unorthodox, groovy, knuckledragging drums that makes it impossible to sit still. Undergang is refreshingly low-key every time, and only the filthiest is to be expected from these rot-mongering corpses.

 9: Phrenelith - Desolate Endscape
Now normally I'd be worried about a prolific death metal musician starting a new band alongside his main project, but with Torturdød of Undergang fame you can never really be too sure about his dealings as he's already involved with many similar bands. Though still definitely belonging to the heavier end of the death metal spectrum, there's a certain distance between the calculated heaviness of Phrenelith and the brute force of Undergang. There's some obvious stylistic overlap between Torturdød's various projects, but as with groups like Hyperdontia, Reefer and Wormridden, the influence of the other members serves to drag the sound in other directions. Having followed Phrenelith since their dirst demo, it's been a short but gruesome journey to the death metal juggernaut they quickly developed into with Desolate Endscape.

8: Droid - Terrestrial Mutations
A year without a crazy thrash metal journey through space-time simply wouldn't be the same, and with Vektor momentarily out of the picture it's good that we've got the likes of Droid to take the burden into their more than capable hands. Terrestrial Mutations drops from orbit out of nowhere and launches a near mass extinction event due to its incredible mass and velocity. Droid's debut album is inventive and vastly different from the bulk of the remaining scene - In short, you feel every strum, beat and melody like they're the first of their kind.

7: Analepsy - Atrocities from Beyond
Even before seeing these guys crush a receptive audience into a super massive black hole this summer I felt like Atrocities from Beyond would be a real winner. There's nothing new about Analepsy's brand of brutal death metal. In fact it comes off as rather ordinary and almost pedestrian. But the inherent power in their grooves and slams whipe away any doubt as to this Portuguese band's abilities. Sure, they tick all the boxes for modern slam, but their dynamic songwriting and its effect is undeniable. Fans of Putrid Pile, Katalepsy and Abominable Putridity should be VERY satisfied.

6: Stälker - Shadow of the Sword
Listening to Stälker from New Zealand feels like greeting an old friend; An old friend who religiously dons his cut-off Show No Mercy t-shirt, spandex tights, bullet belt and leather arm bands every morning. Like Vulture from Germany or Ranger from Finland, you could hear their raw potential from the first shred of the first demo. Though the three songs from last year's Satanic Panic demo EP make a comeback, these already killer tunes recieve the unholy company of an additional seven instant speed metal hits. Each carving stabs at your metal heart like a newly polished steel blade. If their deadly performance doesn't persuade you, I've got bad news for you: You might be a poseur, and will summarily be escorted from the hall.

5. Devil - To the Gallows
You can always depend on Norway's Devil to come save the day with their exceptional doom traditions every few years. As always the group delivers their rocking metal with a wonderfully grounded attitude. To the Gallows is chuck full of simple but satisfying working class songs like you'd expect from earlier incarnations of Pentagram or Witchfinder General. If down to earth, beer-consuming and casually written and performed metal is your thing, Devil is the perfect fit. It's refreshing that they seem to not even try to fit in with current trends - To the Gallows is the embodiment of casual heavy metal attitude with no frills dictating rockstar behaviour.

4. Argus - From Fields of Fire
Clean vocals and a seriously well thought out chorus seems to be the least of anyone's worries in the modern metal scene. Therefore it's insanely refreshing that quality bands like Argus continue to pump out album after album of epic heavy metal every few years. From Fields of Fire is no exception and follows the Argus formula from previous albums without fault, but rather than relying entirely on their time tested style they've taken to add a dash of NWOBHM aesthetics to their mix of epic doom and traditional heavy metal. Initially From Fields of Fire felt like it was harder to get into, but this album is the definition of a grower. Once it lands in steady rotation it's diffecult to let go of all the layers and unique twists and turns that Argus put forth.

3. Vulture - The Guillotine
Of the many new bands in the once-again blossoming speed metal scene, few shine bright and chrome like Vulture from Germany. With 2016's Victim to the Blade EP Vulture let us know that they're all about murderous steel-willed speed metal, and even if that demo EP was hard to top, The Guillotine is even more raw, restless and wild. Guitar licks, drum rolls and screaming vocals, the album is aptly named after an instrument that removes heads. From sheer headbanging your neck will be hard pressed to keep that noggin' of yours attatched through just one sitting of The Guillotine. Re-experience the chaos of early Kreator, the melody of Agent Steel, the brutality of early Slayer and the menacing dystopia of Destruction in one package.

2. Sorcerer - The Crowning of the Fire King
This is a very late addition to the Top 10 roster of 2017, and not just because it came out a little late. Rather, I've just been slow to pick up on this Swedish band's majesty. This is one of those bands that didn't rise to fame in their original run, but with a re-activation and new material pulled through with incredible force. Armed to the teeth with incredible axe-work, vocals of steel and iron-clad rhythms, Sorcerer are ushering in an age where they and their brothers in Argus and Visigoth rule supreme. The Crowning of the Fire King is the wet dream of everyone who counts bands such as Candlemass, Tony Martin-era Black Sabbath and Solitude Aeturnus amoung their favourites.

1. Sons of Crom - The Black Tower
When I got this promo in my inbox I almost reared at the uninteresting artwork, but being a casual fan of fantasy aesthetics I ended up putting on The Black Tower anyway, and I was blown away in an instant. I would have never thought that this album would end up on my top 10, let alone in first place. Life is full of surprises like that. From their straight forward black metal onslaughts to Bathory-esque viking psalms, The Black Tower very much feels like the conclusion to Quorthon's Nordland Saga that we never got. It's just so memorable, powerful and most of all very different from what I've come to expect from modern metal. Ever since I discovered this album it's been invariably running where other albums have fallen through in the long run.

Honourable Mentions:

1: Whoredom Rife - Dommedagskvad
Norway's Whoredome Rife came from out of nowhere and shook the black metal world's very foundation. Their debut album bustles with raw energy on account of the group's inventive, refreshing riffs, rife with melodic enigmas (and whoredom). In a time where most black metal bands opt for an airy atmosphere spread thin over a frame of repetitive structures, or an ultra orthodox simplicity, listening to songs like the complex Beyond the Skies of God is such a breath of fresh air. There can be no doubt about the fact that Whoredom Rife have delivered some of the best black metal riffs of 2017, and that we sorely need more!

2: Solbrud - Vemod
Solbrud are arguably the reigning kings of the current Danish black metal scene, and with every album they hammer home with convincing force why this is indeed the case. Where Jærtegn elaborated on the organic soundscapes of the self-titled debut, Vemod takes the formula of Jærtegn and further improves on the ritualistic musical hypnosis that always manages to impress. Through three albums Solbrud has kept moving forward, but always keeping to a concise four song format where only the best makes the cut.

3: Vallenfyre - Fear Those Who Fear Him

Where most supergroups fail, Vallenfyre prevails with some of the most filth encrusted, doom-laden death metal imaginable. The tempo on Fear Those Who Fear Him seems to be a bit more on the slow, heavy side than on A Fragile King or Splinters, but just the ponderously churning sound of Vallenfyre's strings is enough to cause cardiac arrest from sheer power. The band's crust punk vibe once again impresses, and FTWFH might be the closest we'll get to a band who can for all intents and purposes be classified as a true force of nature.

Post your own top 10 or comments below!

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