2017 has come and gone and now 2018 is blessing us with its freshness and downright bone-chilling coldness. So when can I move to Florida or anywhere cheap and tropical? Thank God we always have plenty of metal goodness to keep our blood flowing and get our bodies moving to generate some much needed warmth. Let’s keep that heat generating as we review a list of my favorite metal releases from the past year.
Like everyone involved with Damnation Magazine, I had a rather hectic 12 months and lots of metal got released into existence without my knowledge. I work 2 jobs and get virtually no days off so finding time to listen to new music is always a challenge. I did take a few days from work to finally check off a prime item on my bucket list when Nick, Sean, me and friends attended ProgPower in Atlanta this past September. I had been dreaming of witnessing this premier American metal festival for more than a decade and it did not disappoint in the least. Like the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise which I took part of 3 years ago, I highly recommend making the sacrifices necessary to attend either of these fantastic metal celebrations. Atlanta’s ProgPower showcased many top metal bands such as Metal Church, Katatonia, Myrath, Lords of Black and Orphaned Land. If you have the means to do so, plan to make the pilgrimage to Atlanta for a future metal prog & power bonanza.
Now let’s get to the metal. I am going to give you a numbered list of my 17 top metal releases for 2017. Pretty clever there, eh? First, due my previously mentioned lack of time, there were many releases that I just did not get a good chance to become familiar with. There are several others that I recently discovered and they would probably get added to my actual numbered selections if they weren’t so new to my metal awareness. But all of these releases are too good to go without comment so please take note:
Decaying Days – The Fire of a Thousand Suns – I just found out about this album this past week and I’m telling you if I had heard it sooner, it would probably be in my top 5 albums for sure. A mix of Insomnium, Paradise Lost and old In Flames. How did I not hear about my new favorite band sooner?
Kreator – Gods of Violence – these German thrash kings rarely disappoint. This album didn’t floor me but it’s still solid and has some true highlights.
Communic – Where Echoes Gather – new music from this Norwegian band is always welcome. A decent album and it will probably become even more important now that Nevermore is truly gone forever (RIP Warrel Dane).
Aeternam – Ruins of Empires – very cool aggressive melodeath with oriental and Middle Eastern elements to add some extra flair. And these gents will be on the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise this year. Excellent stuff!
Liv Sin – Follow Me – I am unfamiliar with the singer’s previous work in Sister Sin but I like this record full of straight-forward metal tunes.
Replacire – Do Not Deviate – in your face death metal with the singer from Wilderun. They just played St. Louis in December with singer James from Black Crown Initiate doing the short tour and it was a fun set.
MindMaze – Resolve – A band that has been on my radar for a few releases now. Excellent guitar work and a very unique and impressive vocalist. Check out the track “Sign of Life” and pick this up if that works for you.
Orden Ogan – Gunmen – full blown symphonic German power metal about cowboys and the wild west? Sure – I’m game. Not as strong throughout as their previous release but still enjoyable if you like power metal.
Aether Realm – Tarot – checked this out after reading a raving review. I liked it and then life happened and I totally forgot about it. Read more raving reviews from several year-end lists so I now own it and plan to listen to it often in the coming weeks. European melodeath from North Carolina? Hey – whatever works!
Sorcerer – The Crowning of the Fire King – If you like your doom metal in the vein of classic Candlemass and vocals that recall power metalers Dream Evil, you should definitely give this disc a spin.
An Abstract Illusion – Illuminate the Path – ok – this actually came out in 2016 but they just made it available again on cd in 2017 and I didn’t listen to it until this past year, so that counts in my book. Plus it’s really cool.
Iced Earth – Incorruptible – anytime you get a new album from this band, it’s a big deal. You know exactly what you are going to get with these guys and they deliver another solid US power metal record.
Cradle of Filth – Cryptoriana The Seductiveness of Decay – with this band, either you like or can tolerate the vocals of Dani Filth, or just forget it. But if you can handle that end of their product, this is one of their most solid outings in many years. And it includes an awesome cover of Annihilator’s “Alison Hell”. Plus plenty of artwork that will make your parents blush and question their parenting skills.
Panzer – Fatal Command – A German thrash metal super group fronted by Schmier from Destruction. This is my first experience with the band and I like the album. It’s really a mix of thrash and catchy European power metal and that works fine for me. Check out the track “We Can Not Be Silenced”. Good stuff!
No Return – The Curse Within – French melodeath with a guitar tone I really love. I own a previous album from like 20 years ago but then this band fell off my radar. They are back now with this strong release.
Fen – Winter – Atmospheric black metal is a genre I have been growing more fond of recently. I just discovered this album and it is helping to turn my heart colder and more black. That could also be from the freezing temperatures outside but let’s stick with the belief in the power of good black metal.
Enisum – Seasons of Desolation – so I mentioned me getting into more atmospheric black metal? Yeah – here’s another band I just discovered from Italy and this is pretty cool so far.
And now for the official list of my top 17 metal releases from 2017. Except there is nothing official about this since besides the top 3 or 4 albums, all of these can be interchangeable depending on my mood, my circumstances and just how angry I need my music to be after another day of work.
17) Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars – Mauricio Iacono keeps himself busy fronting both Kataklysm and Ex Deo. I was aware of his output with Ex Deo and his fascination with Roman history previously but had never bothered to listen to the music. Their label Napalm Records released a few preview tracks before this newest record came out and I was instantly intrigued. The crushing brutality of Kataklysm partnered with some symphonic elements was just what I needed to get drawn into Ex Deo’s ranks. More of this please!
16) Torchia – Of Curses And Grief – these Finnish lads (it’s awesome so of course they are from Finland!) put out an EP a year or so ago that definitely caught the ear of several of us here at Damnation Magazine. And now their debut album is here and it is definitely an aggressive and attacking metal beast! From the first track “Face of Hate” you are assaulted and pummeled by guitars and a vocalist that shoves himself down your earholes and punches away until you’re left like the albums last track “Dark and Cold”. Phenomenal cover art too – check these guys out and prepare to get your asses kicked!
Bandcamp page: https://torchia.bandcamp.com/album/of-curses-and-grief
15) Vinsta – Vinsta Wiads – So do you like Opeth? Do you love their albums Blackwater Park and Ghost Reveries? Then you will enjoy this album by Vinsta. It’s not an exact clone by any means but you can tell that Opeth is an important influence of Vinsta mastermind Christian Holl. And since Ghost Reveries was my first exposure to Opeth, I’m not complaining in the least. All the lyrics are sung in Austrian but this does not detract from the listening experience at all. And if you like physical copies of cds, the digipak version of this album is beautiful.
Bandcamp page: https://vinsta.bandcamp.com/album/vinsta-wiads
14) Shores of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow – Have you ever wondered what Alice In Chains may have sounded like if they were from Italy and their drummer realized he actually had a double bass pedal? Perhaps not but I’m betting that if these two things actually happened, the musical result would sound something like Shores of Null. Just listen to the song “Donau” or the title track and tell me you don’t agree with my assessment. And if you like what you hear, check out the band’s previous release Quiescence as well. And then you can thank me later.
13) Heart Attack – The Resilence – Silly artwork aside, this album is pretty awesome. Imagine Pro-Pain going a bit more modern sounding and you’ll get an idea of this band from France’s sound. They are not doing anything new, but they will punch you in the gut, knock you to the ground and stand over you daring you to get back up. I have thoroughly enjoyed their beatdown many times this year.
Bandcamp page: https://heartattackmetal.bandcamp.com/album/the-resilience
12) Ra’s Dawn – From the Vile Catacombs – This is a band that has been hiding in the shadows of the German underground for years. They have produced 2 or 3 solid albums of German power metal with hints of Egyptian elements to entice and seduce your metal soul. Songs like “Crusher” and “Soraya’s Eyes” will get your head banging, but “(We Play) The Music Of The Devil” is a true power metal anthem.
Bandcamp page: https://rasdawn.bandcamp.com/album/from-the-vile-catacombs
11) Nine Treasures – Wisdom Eyes – This would be much higher on my actual list if I could get a physical copy of this album. I listen to cds at one of my jobs so if I don’t have a copy to spin, I just won’t listen to it much. But the title track of this album is amazing and I cannot recommend giving it a listen enough. Probably my favorite song of the year. Damn, it’s catchy. Let me play that again…
10) Alestorm – No Grave But The Sea – The mark of a good album is one that makes you smile every time you put it on. This is one of those albums for me. Ok – so it may not be a masterpiece. And yes – this band has a few records that I like a bit more. But it is impossible to not crack a smile as soon as you hear the intro to “Mexico” or “Alestorm” or “F@#ked With An Anchor”. One of the most fun bands on the planet, swords down. And then to top things off, the bonus disc on the deluxe version is the whole album with dogs barking for the vocals. Bloody brilliant! I have played this for so many people at Best Buy and they have all loved it. Can’t say they have all bought the album, but hey – they all left the warehouse with a smile and feeling better than when they first arrived. So there.
9) Wormwood – Ghostlands – Wounds From A Bleeding Earth – So I mentioned a few times earlier in this post how atmospheric black metal was becoming a favorite genre of mine. Here is one of the top reasons why. This band and this album got a lot of play in 2017 from yours truly. I hope they get a lot of play from our readers in 2018 after reading this. This is what I hear in my head when anyone says Scandinavian black metal. Perfect!
Bandcamp page: https://wormwood-official.bandcamp.com/releases
8) Act Of Defiance – Old Scars, New Wounds – I honestly did not expect much from this album. They released their debut two years ago and it was solid but nothing extraordinary – at least in my humble opinion. I saw the band live at Fubar and again – they were solid but nothing really special. So now we have their 2nd album and I cannot stop spinning this sucker. Now true – everyone in the band is a seasoned metal professional so they have experience with what works and what sounds good. But the songwriting and the performances on this album are just spot on. This is heavy, pissed off and memorable. I will now consider myself a fan of Act Of Defiance and I encourage you to become one as well. But as the guys from the band Allegaeon know after touring together with this band, Shawn Drover is probably still gonna hate this post.
7) Bloodred Hourglass – Heal – So what would happen if you got everyone from Children of Bodom, In Flames and Omnium Gatherum together in one location? Besides one epic bar tab, if you combined them musically, you might get something that sounds like this latest album from Bloodred Hourglass. When I think of Scandinavian melodeath, this is sound I am looking for. If you like any of the bands mentioned here, do yourself a favor and check out this record. Two metal horns up from this metal fan!
6) Black Anvil – As Was – This came out very early in the year – January I think and without much fanfare. Our fearless leader Nick here at Damnation posted something about the release and I did what most folks do when their boss recommends something. I read it, had never heard of the band, so I shrugged it off and continued on with my life in complete ignorance of the awesomeness that was contained within. A month or so later, I read a review on a website I frequent that fervently praised this record. I gave it a spin and quickly realized the error of my ways. I bought the disc and have been spinning it regularly ever since. And then the band played St Louis a few months ago opening for Mayhem and that cemented my love of this album. But I still ignore what Nick says and writes for the most part. I mean – come on – just because he got one thing right doesn’t mean I should actually start paying attention to my boss. Seriously.
Bandcamp page: https://blackanvil.bandcamp.com/album/as-was
5) Pillorian – Obsidian Arc – Full disclosure – I was never a huge fan of Agalloch. I own a few of their records but I was never smitten with an undying love for the Portland band like many in the metal community. So when it was announced awhile back that Agalloch had met its demise, I did not need to join a suicide support group and I did not greatly increase the net worth of the companies Kleenex or Puffs. I am finding myself much more fond of the band that rose from their ashes called Pillorian. Their album Obisidan Arc is a true dark metal gem and is much more aligned to what I’m looking for when wanting some American – wait for it – atmospheric black metal.
Bandcamp page: https://pillorian.bandcamp.com/track/forged-iron-crucible
4) Balfor – Black Serpent Rising – This was released on my birthday so of course it rules. But perhaps that still is not enough of a selling point for some of you. Ok. Go to the link of the bandcamp page for this record posted below and listen to the 3rd track “Unbounded Wrath of Venom”. Holy f@$kin black snake metal from Ukraine is rising and coming to insert some unholy venom up your ass, Batman!!! Then go buy this album. You’re welcome.
Bandcamp page: https://balfor.bandcamp.com/album/black-serpent-rising
3) Unleash The Archers – Apex – My fellow Damnation compatriots Sean & Todd have already included this album in their lists for 2017, so there is no great need for me to wax poetic here. I will say it is very satisfying to see a band like Unleash the Archers live up to their potential and deliver such an immense piece of work like Apex. I have always liked this band since I first discovered them several years ago. They always had a song or 2 on each release that would really grab a hold of my metal handles (don’t ask – I’ve been working long hours and it just sounded good for some reason – go with me here) and shake me madly until I was all frothed up. But Apex is very aptly named because the band really has reached an incredibly high point in their career here. No weak tracks, no out of place parts, no “I’m just going to unleash a high-pitched scream because I can” moments. Everything is well written, well performed and well thought out. I love this album and if you like power metal, I’m betting you will love it too.
Bandcamp page: https://unleashthearchers.bandcamp.com/album/apex
2) Trivium – The Sin And The Sentence – So you remember what I wrote about the Alestorm album and that a good record always makes you smile? Well – a good record can also make you want to punch things and beat the living crap out of anyone or anything within reach. There are lots of metal heads that don’t like Trivium. They are too modern. They are nu-metal. They don’t like their screaming. They don’t like their singing. They scream too much. Oh crap – now they don’t scream at all. Ugh. Well – I’m here to tell you that I find Trivium to be an amazing band and this might be their best record ever. The screams are back after taking a hiatus on their last release Silence In The Snow. I’m very happy for this because Trivium knows how to write good pissed off songs and sometimes expressing that aggression requires some good screams. Just listen to the title track or the ultra brutal ‘The Wretchedness Inside”. Hell yes!
1) VUUR – In This Moment We Are Free – Cities – Your top album should be one that you play over and over and it just never gets old. You should like all of the songs and there should be little, if anything about the album that you do not like. That album for me from 2017 is the debut by the band VUUR – which is the Dutch word for fire. A perfect choice because this album for me IS fire – hot, alluring, inviting and definitely warms my metal heart. I am not a fan of front woman Anneke van Giersbergen’s previous band The Gathering. They are fairly well-known in the metal realms, but I was never exposed to their music so I had no prior expectations getting introduced to VUUR. No matter because they won me over from the first single “My Champion – Berlin”. Other highlights include “Time – Rotterdam”, “Freedom – Rio”, “Days Go By – London” and “Sail Away – Santiago”. But, like I mentioned earlier – I like all of the songs and I really look forward to what this band does on their next record. And they will be making their US live debut in Atlanta for the 2018 ProgPower festival in September. For those of you that will be in attendance, it will truly be something spectacular to look forward to. I’m hoping they announce a US tour soon because that would make me a very happy person indeed!
So there you have it, folks – my top releases for 2017. Let’s hope that 2018 has far more instore for us than just the cold weather we’ve been experiencing so far. There are several scheduled releases that have peaked my interest so far. German power metallers Circle Of Silence release their new album The Crimson Throne soon, Ghost Ship Octavius is working on a new record, Kataklysm releases another wave of Canadian brutality on us in May and the mighty Amorphis is recording their new record as I type. Hell yes!!!