Skull Fracturing Metal’s Top 30 of 2017

2017 marked yet another interesting year for heavy metal. Many of the big trends from previous years remained in tact: thrash is still dying off (except for Vektor-inspired bands), death metal is dominated by caverndeath/Incantation worship, there continues to be an uprising of epic traditional heavy metal bands, and power metal is being ignored while death and black metal reign supreme. Personally, this was a more difficult year for me to keep up as the number of new records coming out increases, and it becomes harder and harder to find the time to listen to them all. Nevertheless, with just two exceptions (Vexovoid and Lancer), I managed to hear pretty much everything I was looking forward to in 2017.

Once again, it was difficult to limit this list to 30 albums. Omitting records from legendary bands like Immolation, Accept, Obituary, and Overkill isn’t easy, but it demonstrates how many strong releases there were. Similarly, new albums from mid-tier bands like Seven Kingdoms, Blood Feast, Serious Black, and MindMaze also ruled, but couldn’t find a spot this year. And then there were the obscure hits: honourable mentions go to great records from Ekpyrosis, Impalers, Hellcannon, Exarsis, and No Amnesty, amongst others. Ultimately, the albums that made the list were the ones I found myself returning to time and time again, whether because of a few specific hits, or because they were the most well-rounded releases.

As with every year, there are always some disappointments. The biggest one is that we still didn’t get a new release from Riot City, despite the band teasing a new release in January 2016 with the greatest speed metal song since the 1980s. In terms of releases that did come out, the obvious letdown was Borealis’ re-recorded debut album, which lost all of the charm of the original. Other bands like Gruesome and Harlott managed to recover from somewhat weaker previous releases. Overall, while 2017 didn’t manage to have as many life-changing records as we were seeing just a few years ago (2013 and especially 2014 were just unbeatable), it was ultimately a satisfying year, with a strong number of high-quality releases, particularly in the beginning of the year. Much like every year, a full-review of all 30 albums below can be found on SFM!

30. Stallion – From The Dead (Germany, Speed Metal)

The follow-up to Stallion’s incredible debut album is a tale of two distinct sounds. Moving between rocking, mid-paced anthems and high-speed bangers, “From The Dead” is a solid, albeit underdeveloped collection of songs that is sure to please anyone that still rocks a patched-out denim jacket. The band is still instantly recognizable from their shrill vocalist who wails somewhat uncontrollably, though they could benefit from returning to more straightforward catchier songs. Regardless Stallion still put together an excellent release.

29. Night Demon – Darkness Remains (USA, Heavy Metal)

Much like Stallion, Night Demon is an example of a band who absolutely knocked it out of the park on their debut, and then released a competent follow-up that will likely live in the shadow of the band’s first record. “Darkness Remains” is sonically consistent with the band’s sound, and with tracks like “Welcome To The Night”, “Maiden Hell” and “On Your Own”, it will get lots of plays, but it also falls just short of the heights the band reached so quickly. If you’re new to the band, this is still a great starting point, and will no doubt get plenty of rotation.

28. Municipal Waste – Slime and Punishment (USA, Thrash Metal)

After a few years of silence, one of modern thrash metal’s biggest bands came back and made an immediate impact. “Slime and Punishment” far exceeds the band’s previous couple of records, and brings back memories the band’s earlier material. Both “Breathe Grease” and “Slime and Punishment” are immediate winners that should never leave the band’s setlist, but even a deeper cut such as “Think Fast” is instantly memorable. This album proves the Waste is back and more relevant than ever!

27. Wintersun – The Forest Seasons (Finland, Melodic Death Metal)

Though “The Forest Seasons” was underwhelming upon first listen, this is mainly just because Wintersun’s first two records are fantastic. Truthfully, this is likewise a monolithic effort that is far subtler than their other work. Subsequent listens make it especially apparent that the closing effort, “Loneliness (Winter)” embraces the same epic qualities found in previous greats like “Death and the Healing” and “Sons of Winter and Stars”. Strip the drama and hype away from Wintersun, and you’re left with a very serviceable, often great, band!

26. Cannibal Corpse – Red Before Black (USA, Death Metal)

There is no more reliable band left in metal than Cannibal Corpse. The consistency at which they pound away on killer death metal releases is unparalleled, and they are very deserving of the title of the best death metal band of all-time. “Red Before Black” sees them continuing their domination. Even if it is not their best effort in recent years (a title held by “Torture”), it does remain an essential record to own. The musicianship is still top-notch, while the songwriting continues to annihilate many of their peers.


25. Game Over – Claiming Supremacy (Italy, Thrash Metal)

My expectations for this record were perhaps a little too high after last year’s masterpiece “Crimes Against Reality”. While “Claiming Supremacy” still can’t live up to the band’s previous release, it nonetheless contains a number of high-energy thrash efforts that are sure to keep any neck busy. There are some slight production missteps on this album, but they seem to only affect a small number of tracks. Game Over is far more adept than most thrash bands at writing competent, catchy music, and while they can do better than this, it’s still a very solid album.

24. Hazzerd – Misleading Evil (Canada, Thrash Metal)

Hazzerd’s debut record seemed to come and go with minimal fanfare. And while the band doesn’t do anything particularly outside the box in the world of thrash metal, they do demonstrate an exceptional ability to create memorable hooks, not unlike the Bay Area greats of the 1980s. “Misleading Evil” is filled with unquestionable precision and technical ability, which culminates in the instrumental title track. It appears that it might take some more time for the band to gain traction amongst the metal underground, but once they do, it will be no surprise why.

23. Power Trip – Nightmare Logic (USA, Thrash Metal)

Power Trip was the hype thrash band of 2017, and one listen to “Nightmare Logic” makes instantly reinforces this belief. The album is filled to the brim with crisp, catchy riffing that isn’t as overt as other thrash bands. The ultimate highlight is “Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Axe)”, which brings the groove like no other song released this year. Personally, I didn’t find this to be as life-changing of a record as many others did, but there’s no doubt that it thrashes more than sufficiently.

 

22. Droid – Terrestrial Mutations (Canada, Thrash Metal)

Droid may be one of many newer bands that fits the technical thrash metal label, but what this band is doing differs considerably from similarly labeled groups. Droid is far more reminiscent of Voivod than these other bands, and can best be described as something that’s just plain weird. They focus on hand-twisting chords and dissonance, combined with unique rhythms and shouted, punky vocals. The album is somewhat on the long side, but offers more than enough variation to remain interesting for its hour+ runtime.

21. Anvil Strykez – Anvil Strykez (Finland, Synthwave)

It might not be metal, but Anvil Strykez’ debut was immediately embraced by the metal community, myself included. While I can’t speak intelligently about this style of music, it is nonetheless a captivating electronic experience that combines bouncy, catchy melodies from the 80s with admittedly weak vocals to create a futuristic atmosphere. The real surprise is that this record isn’t just a novelty; it has remained in regular enough rotation 8 months since I first heard it to earn a spot in the Top 30, and that is a major indication of its quality.

20. Bloodbound – War of Dragons (Sweden, Power Metal)

Few bands are as schizophrenic in both sound and quality as Sweden’s Bloodbound. Their last couple of records have seen them adopting a Sabaton/Powerwolf sound filled with bombastic choruses, layers of keyboards, and plenty of backing vocals. This style suits the band well, as “War of Dragons” easily ranks amongst their stronger work (though still not resembling their masterpiece of “Tabula Rasa”). It’s surprising that “Stand and Fight” hasn’t become a huge anthem in the power metal community, because it’s every bit as catchy as anything Sabaton has written.

19. Harlott – Extinction (Australia, Thrash Metal)

Harlott’s third album shows them getting back on track to match the potency of their debut. The band’s Slayer-meets-melody sound results in a hyperfast record that is always pummelling you with both hooks and riffs. One look at the tracklist shows a number of brilliant efforts (“First World Solutions”, “Conflict Revelation”, “Violent Conspirator”, etc.) that are sure to be instant classics for the band. Harlott’s true strength is the fact that despite the increasingly absurd tempos they reach, they never forget that songs are the foundation of good thrash metal.

18. Mason – Impervious (Australia, Thrash Metal)

Harlott may have been the first modern Australian thrash band to catch my attention, but Mason is every bit as good. This band employs a similar formula, but leans slightly harder on melody. “Tears of Tragedy” is not just one of the best thrash songs of 2017, but one of the best thrash songs ever. Mason’s commitment to thrashing as fast and as hard as possible makes “Impervious” a convincing listen. While they may not have the same level of fame as their Australian friends, they are every bit as deserving of becoming a huge band!

17. Power Quest – Sixth Dimension (UK, Power Metal)

Power Quest’s full-length return was a triumphant record that brought all of the gloriously cheesy melodies that long-time fans could hope for. New vocalist Ashley Edison is a perfect fit for the band, and may even appeal to fans who couldn’t deal with how ridiculously happy some of the band’s old singers sounded. There’s no shortage of memorable songs on this disc, and from the high-energy riffing of “Face the Raven” and “Lords of Tomorrow” to the epic closer “The Sixth Dimension”, this album showed that Power Quest is back and stronger than ever!

16. Archspire – Relentless Mutation (USA, Death Metal)

Rarely does technical death metal ever get it right. Even when it does, it’s rare for an album to stand out as much as Archspire’s “Relentless Mutation” has. The record is a complete cacophony of sounds that make little sense in isolation, but blend to a brilliantly complex masterpiece. The band has a knack for writing memorable songs, which is a difficult task given the constant flurry of notes they are unleashing. The obvious highlight is “Involuntary Doppelganger”, but Archspire succeeds because most of the tracks on this record have numerous parts that you’ll want to return to over and over again.

15. Beast In Black – Berserker (Finland, Power/Symphonic Metal)

“Berserker” is a fairly diverse offering of heavy metal that relies excessively on bouncy keyboards and catchy pop melodies. There is admittedly a wide variation in the quality of many of these songs, but when this band is on, they’re on. Beast In Black’s vocalist is also an absolute banshee of a singer who unleashes notes beyond what the human body should be capable of, and his willingness to put these screams into seemingly otherwise innocent songs (“Blind and Frozen”) makes for a hilariously awesome outcome.

14. Striker – Striker (Canada, Speed Metal)

Striker are unquestionably one of the leaders of modern traditional heavy metal, but their self-titled record felt just a little too rushed. It is their shortest record, and truthfully, their least memorable. But a weaker Striker album is still better than most music ever laid to tape, and fans of the band will still be happy to know that the band hasn’t changed their sound or compromised at all. Both “Born To Lose” and “Freedom’s Call” are instant classics, while the remainder of the album is serviceable, despite not being as brilliant as past works.

13. Secret Sphere – The Nature of Time (Italy, Power Metal)

Upon first listen, this was an underwhelming record. It doesn’t have a lot of traditional metal songs, and certainly nothing as speedy as the band’s older works. There is, however, a lot of subtly in what Secret Sphere is doing on this record, and given enough time, it will certainly grow on you. The only part that still perplexes after several listens is the extensive use of interludes, but looking past this, there are a lot of great songs on “The Nature of Time”. It isn’t as catchy as “Portrait of a Dying Heart”, but that was a one in a million album, so this is a more than adequate follow-up.

12. Alice Cooper – Paranormal (USA, Shock Rock)

The 6 year wait for Alice’s new album was completely worth it. “Paranormal” is an exciting album filled with instant classics (“Fireball”, “Fallen In Love”, “Genuine American Girl”). Alice is still committed to trying out as many different sounds as he can, and he succeeds with most of them. There is a slight lull in the 2nd half of the album, but with a strong finish to the record (including two tracks featuring the remaining members of the original Alice Cooper group), “Paranormal” earns a place amongst the top half of Alice Cooper’s discography!

11. Nemesis – Atrocity Unleashed (USA, Thrash Metal)

Nemesis’ debut record seemed to pop out of nowhere, but this band should have been receiving plenty of hype. It is an insanely fast thrash record with only the purest influences. If you prefer that thrash sounds exactly as it did in the 1980s, “Atrocity Unleashed” is the record for you. I was fortunate enough to see the band live in 2017 as well (which is how I discovered them) and can confirm that they shred even harder in a live setting. Nemesis’ goal is absolute destruction of your neck, and that is exactly what they achieve on “Atrocity Unleashed”.

10. Dragonforce – Reaching Into Infinity (UK, Power Metal)

“Reaching Into Infinity” is a slightly puzzling record, as it is overflowing with potential, only some of which is reached. The two preceding albums were more succinct, and the band greatly benefited from concentrating on a smaller number of shorter songs. There are still plenty of instant classics, but side 2 is less memorable and starts to wear down over time. The experimentation with more extreme elements wasn’t necessarily bad, but did seem unneeded. Still, this breaks the top 10 simply because it still has all the Dragonforce staples: blazing solos, unbelievable vocals, and tons of soaring melodies.

9. Alestorm – No Grave But The Sea (Scotland, Power Metal)

Alestorm’s brilliance becomes more apparent with each record, as the band continually finds ways to reinvent themselves to come up with interesting hooks despite a somewhat boxed-in theme. The talking point for “No Grave But The Sea” is obviously the vulgarity-plagued anthem, but even beyond this song, the album never stops unleashing sing-along anthems. More serious efforts like the title track and “To The End Of The World” are also clear winners, as are all of the singles. The only thing that could be better is if they replaced all of the vocals with dogs barking. Oh wait, they did do that…

8. Havok – Conformicide (USA, Thrash Metal)

“Conformicide” was a controversial record for all of the wrong reasons. Far too many people (myself included) were focused on the preachiness of the lyrics, while forgetting that thrash metal in an inherently political subgenre (Megadeth in particular). Look beyond the words, and you’re left with a number of potent thrashing efforts. “F.P.C.” and “Intention To Deceive” both destroy everything in their path with second half thrash breaks that offer outrageous tempos. Other songs like “Hang ’em High”, “The Masterplan”, and “Wake Up” are as catchy as thrash can be. I’ll admit that I wasn’t sold on “Conformicide” at first, but the playcounts don’t lie, as I’ve been coming back to it time and time again.

7. Blazon Stone – Down In The Dark (Sweden, Speed Metal)

Perhaps these lists are getting too predictable, as Blazon Stone once again finds themselves inside the top 15. It seems that Ced has no intention of slowing down, aiming to match the prolificness of Running Wild themselves. Truthfully, Blazon Stone does this sound better than the masters. “Down In The Dark” is another record of great tremolo-picked melodies, classic heavy metal riffs, and heavily accented vocals that are easy to sing along to. This album features some underrated deeper cuts like “Merciless Pirate King” and “Rock Out!” that are every bit as good as the singles. Another essential purchase!

6. Screamer – Hell Machine (Sweden, Heavy Metal)

A lineup change that included a new singer couldn’t stop Sweden’s Screamer. It may have taken them a little longer than normal to churn out their next record, but “Hell Machine” is every bit as energetic and enthusiastic as the band’s previous works. It’s pretty much a toss-up as to which of the three albums is the best, but “Hell Machine” is a strong contender with sing-along anthems like “On My Way” and “Monte Carlo Nights”. Improvement points are few and far between for the band, as they’ve mastered the art of writing potent traditional heavy metal!

5. Orden Ogan – Gunmen (Germany, Power Metal)

Each subsequent Orden Ogan record seems to catapult the band’s popularity to new heights, and while “Gunmen” isn’t necessarily as strong as 2015’s “Ravenhead”, it does remain a top-tier release. Few bands can compete with Orden Ogan’s ability to craft monstrous choruses with layers upon layers of brilliantly executed backing vocals. The album doesn’t even give you a chance to breathe, as it kicks off with 5 of the band’s strongest tracks to date. While side 2 isn’t as filled with hits, the choruses are equally likely to remain stuck in your head, until the closing chants of “Finis Coronat Opus”. This last track underwhelms at first, but upon subsequent listens, proves to be one of the strongest cuts as it shows a different, more epic side of the band.

4. Nocturnal Rites – Phoenix (Sweden, Power Metal)

There are few bands I’d underrated as badly as Nocturnal Rites prior to the release of “Phoenix”. Owning a couple of their “classic” records (“Afterlife” and “Shadowland”), I’d merely written the band off as an occasionally enjoyable but not great power metal group. How wrong I was for two reasons: firstly, the often maligned “Grand Illusion” and “The 8th Sin” are actually fantastic melodic power metal albums. Sure they don’t sound much like the high-speed sounds the band previously employed, but they’re far better written. But the real reason I explored those records was due to the decade-late follow-up: “Phoenix”. The key to any great power metal album lies in the choruses, and “Phoenix” is an emphatic statement that Nocturnal Rites are gods at writing choruses. The band also added axeman Per Nilsson from Scar Symmetry, and he takes these songs to another level with his incredibly smooth lead playing. Much like the above record, side 2 isn’t quite as thrilling, but retains a similar and effective formula.

3. Kreator – Gods of Violence (Germany, Thrash Metal)

There was never any doubt that the best thrash metal band of the last decade would put out a record landing in the top 5 of this year-end list. It’s amazing that no other group has emulated the band’s melodeath-meets-thrash formula, but it continues to be effective for the 5th consecutive record. The speed is still there on efforts like “World War Now” and “Totalitarian Terror”, but the album does feel a little slower than the last couple. Nevertheless, Mille’s continued brutal onslaught of both riffs and aggressive vocals make “Gods of Violence” another raging thrash metal release. The closing song, “Death Becomes My Light”, goes for a more epic approach and marks one of Kreator’s most unique and enthralling efforts.

2. Firewind – Immortals (Greece, Power Metal)

Few bands had their backs pinned against the wall as badly as Firewind. Not only did they lose the most consistent vocalist in the band’s history, but most fans agreed that each subsequent release had felt more stale than the last. Combined with mainman Gus G’s stint in Ozzy Osbourne’s band, and his solo work, Firewind seemed as good as dead. “Immortals” shows the band bouncing back in a big way. They acquired one of my all-time favourite singers in Henning Basse (formerly of Metalium fame), and immediately began unleashing inspired power metal tracks once again. Never before has the band captured magic quite like they did on “Live and Die By The Sword”, one of the few tracks of theirs that truly takes you on a journey. There is no shortage of classic Firewind songs either, with “Hands of Time”, “Back On The Throne” and “Lady of 1000 Sorrows” being amongst the best. From start to finish this album annihilates all expectations and proves that Firewind is still the best band ever to come from Greece!

1. Warbringer – Woe To The Vanquished (Thrash Metal, USA)

Following a rocky album and a short break in activity, Warbringer needed to unleash a great album to regenerate significant interest in the band. What they did with “Woe To The Vanquished” goes far beyond all expectations. This is the single best modern thrash album in existence, dethroning the band’s earlier work, “Waking Into Nightmares”, which held that title. Warbringer continues to rely on speed and brutality, unleashing some of their most aggressive songs to date (“Shellfire”, “Descending Blade”, “Divinity of Flesh”), while also being able to make truly crushing tracks (“Spectral Asylum”). The band’s more progressive side still exists, but was largely isolated to the lengthy “When The Guns Fell Silent”, which is the perfect end to the violence that preceded it. Most importantly, however, Warbringer consistently thrashes in a way that is catchy and memorable. “Remain Violent” is an instant anthem, while other tracks like “Woe To The Vanquished” and “Descending Blade” have tons of moments that will make you want to scream along. Ultimately, “Woe To The Vanquished” is likely to be the defining album of the band’s career, and is certainly the highlighted of a crowded 2017!

3 Comments

  1. “There are some slight production missteps on this album”

    Now that is a giant understatement ruins the album for me along with the crappy anti-religion song. Had the same problem with Havok’s album the album is too damn long and three of the songs have the same lyrical theme. I had to make my own version on YouTube and I’d rather listen to that.

    • Agreed that Havok’s album is far too long. If you cut “Claiming Certainty”, “Circling The Drain”, and “Slaughtered”, it becomes an even stronger record. I still found myself listening to it constantly though.

      • I’ll have to give that a listen but I think that’s what I chose to remove. 2017 also destroyed Stallion for me. The first album was fun but this second one just bores me and is too political for no good reason as far as I can tell. I hate fascists but when everyone who disagrees with you is a fascist that is a problem. I chant Kill Communists during that song but even that is overboard and inappropriate.

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