20 Best Metal Albums of 2017 - Rolling Stone
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20 Best Metal Albums of 2017

Hardcore trailblazers, longform doom and genre-bending savagery: the year in heavy

Few years in recent memory have needed righteous, screaming rage like 2017, and metal answered the call, whether it’s Body Count’s starkly political screeds, Pyrrhon’s controlled confusion or Power Trip’s nostalgic, axe-swinging trip back to the Reagan Eighties. Bands like Unsane and Obituary stayed the course while Code Orange, Oxbow and Circle exploded genre entirely. Here’s the year’s best. 

Rolling Stone 20 Best Metal Albums 2017

Elder, ‘Reflections of a Floating World’

On their fourth LP, Massachusetts’ Elder prove they’re masters of the dying art of epic-scale rock composition, fully earning their jumbo-size track lengths, lofty lyrics and neo–Roger Dean album art. The key to their appeal is a skillful cherry-picking of around five decades worth of riffy awesomeness – not just the tectonic art-doom of the Neurosis school and the geeky proto–math rock of obscure proggers like Gentle Giant but also the Allman Brothers’ way with a tasty melodic flourish and Hawkwind’s spacey throb. An expert sense of pacing and guitarist Nicholas DiSalvo’s soulful vocal hooks improbably make “Sanctuary,” Reflections‘ 11-minute opener, one of the year’s catchiest metal songs, and the intrigue stays high throughout the LP, even when the band indulges its minimal side on krautrock-y instrumental “Sonntag.” For sheer gatefold-era grandeur, Elder had few rivals in 2017. H.S.

Rolling Stone 20 Best Metal Albums 2017

Mastodon, ‘Emperor of Sand’

The great strides Mastodon made on breakthrough albums like Leviathan and Crack the Skye have given way to small tweaks. An ambitious, cancer-inspired narrative framework aside, the band’s seventh LP ends up sounding more like a refinement of its predecessors Once More ‘Round the Sun and The Hunter than a bold next step. Still, everything that has made the Atlanta quartet one of the most beloved heavy bands on earth is here in spades, from raging, dynamic prog-metal (“Sultan’s Curse,” “Ancient Kingdom”) to hooky hard rock à la Queens of the Stone Age (“Show Yourself,” which shows off drummer Brann Dailor’s supple pipes) and an appropriately majestic multipart closer (“Jaguar God”). H.S.

Rolling Stone 20 Best Metal Albums 2017

Circle, ‘Terminal’

Calling Finnish cult heroes Circle “prolific” would be a humorous understatement (they’ve released more than 30 albums since forming in 1991), and calling the septet “eclectic” would likewise fall short of the mark. Their first release for Southern Lord veers from chugging krautrock grooves to Stooges-style bulldozer riffing to spacey Pink Floyd interludes to Seventies prog-metal excess to Queen-ly pomp-pop without any warning. However it’s all fluid and organic – and especially impressive when the multi-layered assault of the band’s three guitarists kicks in gloriously on “Rakkautta Al Dente,” “Sick Child” and the title track. These guys are very much on their own trip, but it’s an addictive thrill to have a seat on their spacecraft. D.E.

Rolling Stone 20 Best Metal Albums 2017

Converge, ‘The Dusk in Us’

Few other hardcore bands have matured as gracefully into something bigger and better than what they started as. The band’s first album in five years and ninth overall, The Dusk in Us, boasts all the savagery of the quartet’s original heyday in the late Nineties but with more drama. Guitarist Kurt Ballou now spaces out his guitar in a way that sets the mood and pummels with metal ferocity, depending on the way frontman Jacob Bannon is shredding his vocal cords at the moment. In “I Can Tell You About Pain,” Ballou and his bandmates dole out a feedback-saturated pile driver of a riff as Bannon yowls, “You don’t know what my pain feels like,” while on the more straightforward goth-rocker “Thousands of Miles Between Us,” they all work in concert as Bannon near-croons about coping with death and emotional distance. Grownup and effortless. K.G.

Rolling Stone 20 Best Metal Albums 2017

Code Orange, ‘Forever’

The Pittsburgh hardcore-from-hell outfit delivers state-of-the-art heaviness with its third full-length LP, and its first for storied metal imprint Roadrunner. Befitting drummer/vocalist Jami Morgan’s well-documented love of Nine Inch Nails, Forever thrives on atmosphere as much as aggression. Merciless precision bludgeonings are still the focus – aptly, the band soundtracked the entrance of menacing wrestler Aleister Black at a recent WWE event – but the ominous ambient passages in tracks such as “The Mud” only heighten the album’s thick aura of dread. The most riveting moments belong to guitarist Reba Meyers, who provides eerie melodic vocal turns on “Bleeding in the Blur” and “Dream2” in between the other tracks’ beatdowns. H.S.

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