Best Albums Of 2017 (Staff Picks)

Jason Williams’ Top 10

#10. Hate – Tremendum: From the landscapes of Poland, blackened death metal veterans Hate bring forth a stunning new release that incorporates their usual blistering speed, but also a dramatic change in pace as well. Honing in on the band’s American-influenced death metal sound over the past 10 years, ‘Tremendum’ offers the extreme metal listener a compelling and hypnotic riffing session, as evident on tracks such as ‘Fidelis Ad Mortem’, and the dark buildup found in the beginnings of ‘Numinosum’. This change of pace from the fundamental blasting found in their records is rather welcoming, and is able to let the music stay crisp and memorable. A strong and well-composed effort from one of Poland’s outstanding bands.

#9. Madrost – The Essence of Time Matches No Flesh: Thrash, at least in my opinion, is hard to do well. Whether elements of punk simply overtake it, or countless bands ripping off thrash riffs from the elite, Orange County local favorite Madrost does none of these things. With this new release, ‘The Essence of Time Matches No Flesh’, Madrost creates a death/thrash album that is everything you desire: dark, technical, and aggressive. Tracks such as ‘Dimensions’, and ‘From Sand to Dust’ invoke a brutal side of thrash that is uncommon yet done beautifully. Destructive riffs, crystal clear production and a metal story that is told with guts and a black flame. The record is only 37 minutes, but you’ll be left gasping for air by the time you realize it’s over. Local bands can get it right, and Madrost is raising the flag in burning spirit for all of them. Look out for them in 2018, and beyond.

#8. Wintersun – The Forest Seasons: Through controversy, excitement and mystery, Wintersun released their most atmospheric and melodic release to date. ‘The Forest Seasons’, broken up into 4 tracks averaging 12 minutes, representing each weather season in the process, brought forth this passionate roller coaster of dark, technical folk metal. Exploring out of the band’s normal comfort zone, leader and Wintersun creator Jari Maenpaa created a bleak and emotional record that showed their music can be slower,
with less solos, while being extra attentive to detail, and especially stand out. Jari’s vocals have gotten dramatically better in quality over every album, and this album so far, at their very best. The added use of more synth and samples is also tasteful. I cannot wait to see the next chapter of Wintersun’s discography.

#7. Immolation – Atonement: New York death metal masters Immolation sucker-punched the masses in the liver with a most sensational new record that reminded fans just how intense this band can be. While ‘Kingdom of Conspiracy’ was a solid record, nothing stood out too much, as rare as that is to say about Immolation. But ‘Atonement’ attacks the listener right from the word go, yet keeping true to their catchy formula, mixed with dissonance and harmonic flow, something that hasn’t been high in quality from the band in a few years. ‘Rise the Heretics’ and the title track stand out especially from this 11-song Godzilla of an album. The death metal innovators shine again, bringing forth a thriving new record that we are honored to be treated to.

#6. Suffocation – …Of the Dark Light: Twenty-eight years going, and twenty-eight years strong to this present day, brutal death metal creators Suffocation released their eighth album, attempting to stay just as relevant as the younger bands presently. ‘…Of The Dark Light’, clocking in at 35 minutes, is nothing short of a furious death metal attack. And while the wizard axe wielder himself Terrence Hobbs continues to amaze, the album truly picks up around the end, with ‘Some Things Should Be Left Alone’ and ‘Caught Between Two Worlds’ showcasing the glorious technical chaos Suffocation has perfected for decades. The masters of extreme metal once again reign supreme.

#5. Iced Earth – Incorruptible: After the inconsistent ‘Plagues of Babylon’ album in 2014, Iced Earth returns with much needed redemption, in the form of this outstanding 2017 release, ‘Incorruptible’. This one boasts of various tempo changes, and powerful choruses found on ‘The Veil’ and the opener ‘The Great Heathen Army’. What I enjoy much on this album is Stu Block’s vocal range, which is presented strongly. His diction and passionate lyrics give Iced Earth an added dimension to their sound. The epic album closer, ‘Clear the Way (December 13th, 1862)’ is by far the superior track on the record, and their best closer since ‘Come What May’. A true return to form, Iced Earth storms in with a vengeance.

#4. Anathema – The Optimist: Continuing to expand their already broadened horizons, progressive rock legends Anathema bring forth one of the most gorgeous sounding albums of this year. While the guitars certainly are less impactful than recent releases, it’s made up with astonishing piano pieces and even doses of electronic music, that intrigue the listener. Lee Douglas as usual completely shines and creates the level of superiority that Anathema has over many others, with ‘Endless Ways’ and ‘Ghosts’ representing her joyful tear-inducing singing. Another color into their bright and incredible music palette, ‘The Optimist’ continues to represent the quality of musicianship Anathema has exhibited for many years, and will keep doing for many more years to come.

#3. Enslaved – E: When Enslaved releases a new record, you pay attention. 14 albums later, nothing has changed. The glorious progressive black metal innovators continue to exceed their already high expectations, and ‘E’ does not let us down. No album of theirs even closely similar to one another, and this one continues that trend. Tracks such as ‘Axis of the Worlds’ and ‘Storm Son’ are beautifully written with intricate riffs and bleak atmosphere, bringing the listener to a grand mountain top upon the rainfall. Newest member Hakon Vinje brings an extra sense of youth and vocally keeps up quite well with their old keyboard/vocalist Herbrand Larsen. With each Enslaved release, my senses continue to grow and my moods expand to new heights, with their life-changing music. Enslaved can do no wrong, and ‘E’ provides the evidence to that claim. Progressive black metal at its finest.

#2. Artificial Brain – Infrared Horizon: Death Metal has continued to expand into soaring heights over the past several years, but nothing quite like what Artificial Brain has continued to do since their first record ‘Labyrinth Constellation’. Now releasing ‘Infrared Horizon’, the band has profoundly made an impact on the metal community with this vibrant and expertly made extreme death metal, with stellar, demented riffs that twist the soul into a pretzel, and astonishing dark atmosphere that would tame the night sky itself. The middle of the record shines greatly, as ‘Estranged from Orbit’ drowns the listener in a whirlwind of beautiful chaos. Vocalist Will Smith’s gutturals add to the deafening tone of the music, the track ‘Mist like Mercury’ a prime example of his outstanding vocal work. The guitar work hits you from every angle, leaving you barely able to catch a breath, as you soak in this sonic attack of an album. By far and large, one of the greatest albums in quite some time. Artificial Brain is here to stay.

#1. Akercocke – Renaissance in Extremis: 10 years since their latest album, and 5 years since the return of Akercocke, no band this year has come back in such prime style in the musical shape of ‘Renaissance of Extremis’. The unbelievable progressive death metal act’s 6th record brings a new level of dissonance, chaos, and subtlety within these 9 profound tracks. The intro to ‘Insentience’ is indescribable, layered with their demonic clean guitar tone to build into a calm yet bruising monster. The dynamic songwriting of guitarist/vocalist Jason Mendonca and founder / drummer David Gray pieces together this enigma of extreme yet angelic music, combined into something extraordinary. Mendonca only growls in 3 tracks on the record, yet the other material isn’t any less brutal, but actually enhances the already menacing nature. The intricate guitar work and memorable solo section in ‘A Final Glance Back Before Departing’ leaves the listener speechless as you hear various tones and harmony wrapped into a death metal masterpiece. This album took my breath away, and actually becomes greater after the first listen. Akercocke’s return was in no way wasted, and ‘Renaissance in Extremis’ for me, is the 2017 album of the year.

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