2017 Mid-Year Recap: Best Albums (Editor’s Picks)

#15. Zeal & Ardor – Devil is Fine: The most original, unconventional and unique concept to have graced the world of alternative, underground music in 2017 surely has to be the one-man project Zeal & Ardor, the brainchild of New York based songwriter Manuel Gagneux. For the debut album ‘Devil is Fine’, he decided to bring two massively disparate worlds together, as he set about blending black metal and African-American slave music. But more than the strangeness of the concept itself, the most striking feature of this album is that these two genres, and some others in small parts, have been melded so beautifully, it comes across as a sound that has existed for centuries, as if it was the most obvious thing no one dared to attempt. This can only be attributed to the brilliance of Manuel Gagneux. ‘Devil is Fine’ exemplifies true musical innovation.

#14. Vallenfyre – Fear Those Who Fear Him: English death-doom outfit Vallenfyre features Greg Mackintosh on vocals and guitar, and was formed by him in 2010 in an attempt to present music more stripped-down, straightforward, violent and to-the-point as compared to that of his main band, Paradise Lost. Vallenfyre certainly achieved as much on the first two albums, and the newest effort ‘Fear Those Who Fear Him’ proves that it’s only continuing to get bleaker and darker with every album. Mackintosh has gone back to his roots to make music for this band, and has dug deep to resurface with this new album, a punishing barrage of 14 earth-shattering tracks. ‘Fear Those Who Fear Him’ is instant gratification for fans of all things sonically heavy and extreme.

#13. Unleash The Archers – Apex: Canadian quintet Unleash The Archers celebrated ten years as a band in 2017 with the release of their fourth album ‘Apex’, a righteous slab of fist-pumping, face-melting heavy metal that excels in quality as well as quantity, with its hour-long duration. The band, seasoned and evolved in their songwriting prowess through the past ten years, has come up with short up-tempo songs as well as 7-8 minute long epic compositions, and has succeeded with both in equal measure. Every layer of the music is simply stellar and exudes musicianship of high calibre. Some albums take time to grow on the listener, but this is not one of them, as it makes maximum impact straightaway, and does so from the first note to the last. With all the right ingredients for a great heavy metal album, ‘Apex’ comes as aptly named and highly recommended.

#12. Night Demon – Darkness Remains: Ventura, California old-school metal trio Night Demon released their second album ‘Darkness Remains’ this year, and there is no disputing that it takes the band forward by leaps and bounds from their 2015 full-length debut ‘Curse of the Damned’. Even as Night Demon continue to stay true to their NWOBHM-inspired roots, they’ve injected a far greater degree of variety into these songs, in a way that makes the album equal parts catchy and progressive. This 10-song effort is ablaze with tempo changes, not only from song to song but within almost every song. And yet, the five-and-a-half minute title track is the longest song and nothing else is longer than 4 minutes. Amidst all this is also an instrumental track, and a song with lyrics paying tribute to Iron Maiden. There is surely a parallel universe in which each of these 10 songs is a radio hit, such is their level of quality, catchiness and impact. Night Demon’s ‘Darkness Remains’ is 2017’s truest and finest ode to traditional heavy metal.

#11. Darkest Hour – Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora: Washington DC metal veterans Darkest Hour released their ninth studio album this year, and even though they never really went away and have kept the band going for 22 years, ‘Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora’ is a return to form, a comeback of sorts. This is the most raw and extreme this band has ever sounded, and not many people would have expected such an album from Darkest Hour. Their melodic elements are still prevalent but this is all about the unabated fury, fueled by their hardcore and Scandinavian death metal influences. Initially intended to be a self-funded, self-released effort and eventually picked up by Southern Lord Records, the D.I.Y. ethos is strong in this one, and Darkest Hour have exercised creative and sonic liberties in a manner they’d never done before. ‘Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora’ is a raging beast of a record.

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