Ah, that most glorious time of the year for music writers – year-end season is upon us once again! 2017 was a tumultuous year, but even so, it was a damned good one for heavy metal, and Team Hellbound had a cornucopia of great albums to choose from.
Here, we turn the page over to our individual staffers to discuss their favorite records of the year, give their hottest takes on the state-of-the-heavy-metal-union in 2017, and tell the world what they’re looking forward to for 2018.
As always, every member of Team Hellbound would like to extend our warmest thanks to each and every one of you who continue to read our site, and we wish you all a very metal Christmas and a headbanging new year.
Hails, horns, happy holidays, and ho-ho-ho from Hellbound!
Elena’s Best Metal Albums of 2017:
Released March 17
What a debut! These Californians know how to make death metal in 2017, a time when generic clone bands are more common than humans. It’s particularly technical, without sailing into unmemorable riff-salad seas. It pays homage to the old-school, but there are more contemporary elements (such as the drumming, guitar arrangements and production) that arm it with a superior sense of identity to its peers. It has no issues delving into the rabid with blastbeats aplenty and riffs that sound like a psychotic maelstrom of mental decay.
Released April 21
If that game Deadspace was a death metal band, it would probably be Artificial Brain. Their sophomore effort crams in more Voivod-style fucked up riffs, technical malevolence and those interstellar, atmospheric and prog guitar melodies. It’s rare for an album to be simultaneously relaxing and bludgeoning in a single track – but Artificial Brain engineer this multiple times. Their death metal is so memorable and creative and it takes you away to a different universe without being cartoon-y or kitsch.
Released October 13
Norway’s Viking sons are back with yet another glorious album. E features some mesmerizing and tender prog passages, expanding on their trusted Pink Floyd and King Crimson territory with even more atmospheric compositions, saxophone inclusion and the seamless replacement of keyboard player and clean vocalist Herbrand Larsen with Håkon Vinje. There are doomy punches, psychedelic examinations and Viking metal trances. The whole release feels soothing with narcotic preoccupation and solidifies why Enslaved were always the most interesting second wave black metal band.
Pain of Salvation
The Passing Light of Day
Released January 13
This release is the salvation of pain. Mainman Daniel Gildenlow contracted a potentially fatal flesh-eating disease in 2014. Now healthy, he fashioned his experiences towards this remarkable release. It’s probably the best thing the Swedes have composed since the bipolar and polarizing Scarsick a full decade ago. But this prog metal album doesn’t need to rely on reinventing the wheel. No, just honest emotion, compelling arrangements and varied tones and levels of gritty heaviness seemed enough to guarantee an Album of the Year place as early as January.
Rebirth of Nefast
(Norma Evangelium Diaboli)
Released March 24
Originally from damp Ireland, sole member Wann relocated to the colder island nation of Iceland and conjured up this beast of a release. An hour of up-heaving black metal awaits the listener, complete with unique guitar stresses that evoke a sense of anxiety. Long songs allow for atmospheric, pugnacious and introspective sections among almost theatrical arrangements to craft an unforgettable release. Black metal is infrequently innovative but this Irish Iceland inhabitant ignites intense inspiration.
To The Bone
Released August 18
Proceeding down the pop path is Steven Wilson, pissing off his fanatics with his mature take on this genre. Now in his fifties, Wilson has publicly declared his boredom with his succinct metal flirtations and pop is definitely something different for this contemporary prog god. Deliciously dark or deliriously danceable, this Englishman’s craft has so much variation that it’s hard for someone with a breadth of musical appreciation similar to a prog rocker to grow tired of. Ninet Tayeb returns to proffer her heavy-hitting yet crystalline voice, and those still suffering from fervent Porcupine Tree withdrawal symptoms should seek out the extended edition and self-medicate with “A Door Marked Summer”.
Released February 3
Fucking hard-hitting, caustic death metal bludgeoning! Toronto’s own release their debut album and to anyone who listened to the demos, it unsurprisingly destroys most death metal releases these days. Fists are raised towards Finnish death metal – including Demilich and Demigod – as well as American classics like Cannibal Corpse. There are addictive grooves that possess you to headbang along, a commendably audible and unique scratchy bass, and insistent dynamics that force the songs along in a way that makes you never want to stop listening to this audio assault.
The Assassination of Julius Caesar
(House Of Mythology)
Released April 7
Remember when Ulver were black metal? Remember when Ulver were neofolk? Remember when Ulver where electronic? Remember when Ulver were ambient? Etc. etc. These shape-shifting wolves return, this time with a slab of sophisticated synthpop and the results are incredulous – the paradigm of balance, emotion and originality. Ulver tastefully release another full-length unlike any in their discography yet again and Garm doesn’t give two shits what you think.
Trance of Death
Released March 17
It feels like forever since Venenum released their sole release – their laudable self-titled EP that propelled them to the radar of the underground. Six years later, they’ve developed. Expect other-worldly enthralling death metal with harrowing melodies, exploratory emotions and unexpected but very welcome prog rock DNA. The Germans reach a level of grandeur that isn’t articulated in this subgenre at all. Very soon after pressing ‘play’, it’s understandable why this album took so long to come out. It’s far too ambitious and well thought out to be the kind of effort that unfurls every two years.
Till Fjalls, del II
Released June 30
As if this list doesn’t make clear, when a band incorporates prog into its DNA, I usually find it a massive improvement. One exception is folk/Viking metallers Vintersorg. My favourite album of theirs was the flawless debut Till Fjalls. His scientific Viking/folk/prog metal is a fantastic listen but even Mr V. himself knew was lacking so he reverted to his roots. Now the band releases the successor to its debut and it’s brilliant. It continues its vein with catchy, epic but mature Viking metal compositions with contemporary production and more varied arrangements than its parent release. Definitely something to Rundans to!
Favourite Album-Cover Art of 2017:
Vintersorg – Till Fjalls, del II
(Napalm, released June 30)
Cover Artist: Marcelo Vasco
Heresiarch – Death Ordinance
(Dark Descent, released July 7)
Cover Artist: Misanthropic-Art
Best gig I attended in 2017:
Dream Theater playing all of the genre-defining Images and Words as part of a three-hour set for the release’s 25th anniversary. Such an impressive feat that I had to see the tour in Canada, the United States and Germany.
Favourite Metal Item Added To My Collection in 2017:
Thatifaxath’s new self-titled EP, from when they toured with Cruciamentum (as it wasn’t officially released then).
Either that or my Maudlin of the Well t-shirt. Never thought these things existed any more.
Most anticipated album for 2018:
The Howling Sycamore debut album!
My 2017 in Metal:
I moved to Toronto from London, England this year and one of the things I was really looking forward to was catching a lot of exquisite Canadian metal bands (the Canadian scene is insanely impressive right now) and I can’t grumble at seeing Nuclear Hammer, Razor, Thantifaxath, Sacrifice, Adversarial, Paroxsihzem, Tomb Mold, Voivod, Aggression, Gorguts and more in their home country. A lot of these acts don’t even make it across the pond.
What you’re looking forward to in 2018, metal-wise or otherwise
Helloween’s Pumpkins United Tour!
2017 “Metal Person of the Year”:
I really don’t know. So many individuals help make this year a solid one in metal in a multitude of ways so it wouldn’t do justice to concentrate on one contribution outshining the rest.