2017 was a solid year for metal, no doubt. I’ve noticed, while perusing “year end” lists, a lot of the same things coming in at the top. Credit where credit is due – some of the metal genre’s best bands released some awesome material – Enslaved coming in with another genre-bending masterpiece; Loss and Bell Witch showing the world that some of the best funeral doom in existence is made right here in the USA; Immolation, Cannibal Corpse, and Obituary all coming out with super solid slabs of death metal. Even some really big underground death metal talent rose to the top, with bands like Phrenelith, Undergang, Spectral Voice, and Necrot releasing some truly wonderful stuff.
This list isn’t those things. This list is curated not solely from my own personal top 10 from last year, but from albums I really enjoyed that I do not remember appearing on any “best of” list from 2017. These are albums that are either on small labels, no labels, or just simply slipped through the cracks when they shouldn’t have. Be warned – this is a pretty black metal heavy list, but some creative surprises are certainly within.
Here we go…
2017 Albums You May Have Missed
Orm – Orm
Melodic black metal
This was my album of the year last year. And as the year went on, I was actually surprised at the absolute lack of coverage and attention it got. From the first second this record begins, you are in for a riff fest of the most epic proportions. The fact that this is a debut is doubly surprising, given how cohesive and mature the music on this record really is. The production is clear but not overdone and I cannot get enough of the epic “moments” each riff change creates. I go back to this album often, and it’s still not lost its luster. Seriously, the song “Temple of the Death” is likely one of the most breathtaking black metal songs I have heard in my entire life. And the cover art on this one is absolutely the stuff of legend.
Saiva – Markerna bortom
This album is all about a calming feeling, likely attained from living among the woods of Swedish Lapland. It is the one-man project of Andreas Petterson, the prolific multi-instrumentalist and owner of the Nordvis label. Saiva is mostly a folk metal project along the lines of Otyg or early Vintersorg. It is sung in his native tongue and has a distinct far northern Scandinavian feel. There is still a solid foundation of black metal in some tracks, but the folkiness of it all never fully gives way to a complete black metal assault. When I want something that’s not just straight up folk music or Americana and still want to feel at peace, this is the album I will continue to reach for.
Cicada the Burrower – The Great Nothing
Blue Bedroom Productions
Progressive/depressive black metal
Madison, Wisconsin, USA
This is by far the oddest album on this list. It is also one of the oddest albums I listened to all year in 2017. It is not an easy listen – the guitar sound is rough, the programmed drums aren’t tremendously well-mixed. I know that’s not the most positive first impression, but the lo-fi production starts to really grow on you as the album progresses. It helps to know that the album is a concept about extreme depression from the experiences of the artist, Cameron Davis. With song titles like “I Lived in an Empty Body” and “Nihilism Fuck Wave,” it is clear there is some real human anguish being expressed here. Once that anguish is understood, the merits of this album present themselves. This is not some cheesy shoegaze black metal, like Deafheaven or whatever. This is a broken man trying his best to heal from rock bottom with some of the more tortured bedroom black metal you’ll ever hear. I’m convinced Davis wants you to experience that depression with him. With that in mind, the lo fi production and subdued vocal approach makes more sense and the atmosphere is absolutely perfect for concept in mind.
Sun of the Sleepless – To the Elements
This is the solo project from Schwadorf of Empyrium, a band I hold to the highest regard. But I had no idea that this had come out until it was emphatically recommended to me by two close friends up here in Minnesota. The reason it’s on this list is that I didn’t really see any hype or press over this album, which pretty much blew me away from the first time I hit play. From the truly epic, ambient intro, to the wonderful traditional black metal on the rest of the record, this album is a delight. I’ll be honest, it lacks the epic melodies of Orm or any of the folk qualities of Saiva (or Empyrium for that matter), but there is something really wonderful about listening to these breathy black metal chords wash over you. The drums are also absolutely massive on this record and likely one of my favorite parts as I crank it to eleven on my record player. I think it would be easy to write this off as generic black metal, but I detect a certain sincerity that’s not there in the more cartoonish “Hail SATAN” type bands out there. There are also some really nice clean vocals that add to that ambient atmosphere that you don’t see in the black metal orthodoxy very often.
Ironflame – Lightning Strikes the Crown
Martins Ferry, Ohio, USA
Another one man band. Another debut album. Another obscure release that needs more attention! I am an unabashed fan of power metal. Its catchiness, its epicness, its absolute cheesiness, I love it so much. I’ve written articles about my love of the ProgPowerUSA festival, which I’ve attended each year for more than a decade and a half. But I’ll be honest – power metal has stagnated in recent years. While death, black, and doom metal bands are becoming younger and more dynamic than ever, and genre-bending progressive projects are blowing people’s minds, power metal is in a sad state. Enter Ironflame, a solo project from Andrew D’Cagna, who is involved in a myriad of projects (including Nechochwen, Obsequiae, and Brimstone Coven, all bands at the top tier of their own respective genres). Ironflame is absolutely not reinventing the wheel here. That’s not the point. Ironflame is the kick in the nuts that nerdy-ass power metal needs. It’s simply one of the most fun albums you will listen to, with just enough cheesiness to keep that D&D game going! Lightning Strikes the Crown is all about upbeat, uptempo, catchy power metal songs that you will remember after only a couple listens. Singable choruses, air guitar-worthy solos, and very nice high register clean singing. Even days after listening to this album, I’ll catch myself humming a melody or singing “We’re maaarching! We’re maaaarching onnnn!” It really is that catchy, and I couldn’t recommend it more highly to any fan of melodic power metal or the traditional ‘80s NWOBHM sound.