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The Best Metal Albums of 2007

Adrien Begrand and Andrew Blackie

This is the best year for metal music we've seen in a very long time. Like other watershed years, such as 1983, 1984, and 1991, it's partially a case of artists peaking at the same time, and 2007 was no exception, unleashing a wave of superb releases from January straight through November.

Modern metal music has evolved so much during the last couple decades, that it's become far too varied for such a simple umbrella term. That said, whether it's a band hammering out dense sludge riffs, an operatic vocalist singing an aria over a goth band and orchestra, someone incorporating IDM beats into metalcore, a veteran band unleashing the kind of classic metal mastery we crave, a genre-defying act completely stripping down its sound, or even a fey French dude singing about how pretty the sunlight looks through leaves in the summer, the classic elements of metal remain the starting-off point for each. What's been so thrilling is seeing just how many directions this genre could head in, and as metal stands in 2007, the possibilities seem endless.

Simply put, this is the best year for metal music we've seen in a very long time. Like other watershed years, such as 1983, 1984, and 1991, it's partially a case of artists peaking at the same time, and 2007 was no exception, unleashing a wave of superb releases from January straight through November. If we could have our way, we'd give you a comprehensive run-down of 50 essential albums, but instead of exasperating our terrific editors, not to mention risking running out of adjectives, fellow metal scribe Andrew Blackie and I have painstakingly pared it all down to a simple list of 20 recommendations we feel you need to hear. Appropriately, it's an eclectic bunch, some albums stubbornly classicist, others blurring any preconceived notion of what defines metal, but whether it's music that compels you to throw the devil horns during your morning commute, or sounds so beautiful your knees buckle, there's something here for everyone.

-- Adrien Begrand

 

Artist: Alcest

Album: Souvenirs D'Un Autre Monde

Label: Profound Lore

Contributors: Neige

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/s/souvenirs_dun_autre_monde.jpg

US Release Date: 2007-08-14

UK Release Date: 2007-08-06

N/A release date: 2007-06-08

Display as: List

List number: 1

Words mean nothing. Neige, the man behind Alcest, a band rooted in France’s black metal scene, has proved this once and for all on Souvenirs d’Un Autre Monde. This is a piece of work inspired by pure emotion, mapped straight from the depths of the imagination. The music has its closest point of call in the shoegaze movement of the early '90s, yet is at the same time completely its own. The lyrics are all in Neige’s own language, yearning for a different world, yet the power of the mood comes through like a shining light. The songs are transcendent, each one wrapping its arms around you. There is so much aching feeling and cluttered beauty channeled into each of them that they seem to flow out of the stereo and spread out into your surroundings, helplessly lifting you with their staggering euphoria, while Neige, the creator of it all, sounds like he’s singing from heaven. Musically and emotionally, the experience is incomparable to anything else that has come out this year. No other album has been able to create a mood like this does, and it fills me with joy every time I hear it.

-- Andrew Blackie

MP3: Souvenirs D'un Autre Monde

Multiple songs: MySpace

 

Artist: Pig Destroyer

Album: Phantom Limb

Label: Relapse

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/p/phantom_limb.jpg

US Release Date: 2007-06-12

Display as: List

List number: 2

Standing somewhere between the speed of grindcore, the catchiness of thrash, and the skull-crushing onslaught of death metal, Pig Destroyer's third official full-length album embodies everything there is to love about this crazy genre. It's quintessential American extreme metal, anchored by guitarist Scott Hull, who puts on a mesmerizing clinic on old school riffery, and whose analog tone possesses enough depth and warmth to make us forget that these dudes still don't have a bass player. If that wasn't enough, vocalist JR Hayes continues to show why he's the best lyricist in metal today, whether it's his violent Burroughsian fantasies ("Phantom Limb", "The Machete Twins"), moments of jarring, thinly-veiled romanticism ("Fourth Degree Burns"), or devastating character sketches ("Girl in the Slayer Jacket"). Phantom Limb is as ugly as Alcest is pretty, but it's also every bit as affecting.

-- Adrien Begrand

MP3: Thought Crime Spree

Multiple songs: MySpace

Pig Destroyer - Loathsome

 

Artist: The Dillinger Escape Plan

Album: Ire Works

Label: Relapse

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/d/dillingerescapeplanthe-ireworks.jpg

US Release Date: 2007-11-13

UK Release Date: 2007-11-05

Display as: List

List number: 3

Despite going through enough turmoil to ruin any other band, the Dillinger Escape Plan emerged through it all stronger than ever, pulling off a triumphant third album that dares listeners, especially fans of the technical "mathcore" style the band helped pioneer, to drop any preconceived notions as to how they think this band should sound. Almost seeming like they're throwing the fans a bone, the Dillinger boys toss out a handful of songs that build on the dexterity and ferocity of earlier records, but the real thrills are to be had on the more surprising compositions, which veer from exhilarating groove ("Milk Lizard"), Aphex Twin-style drum and bass ("Sick on Sunday"), to mellow jazz ("Mouth of Ghosts"), and arguably the best pop-metal tune of the year in "Black Bubblegum". Ire Works might be the most polarizing metal disc of 2007, but it's also one of the very best.

-- Adrien Begrand

Multiple songs: MySpace

 

Artist: Between the Buried and Me

Album: Colors

Label: Victory

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/b/betweentheburiedandme-colors.jpg

US Release Date: 2007-09-18

UK Release Date: 2007-09-24

Display as: List

List number: 4

With its mind-boggling mélange of every musical style imaginable growing more diverse with each new album, Between the Buried and Me has not only distanced itself from the younger bands that have been following their lead, but they've managed to lap the lot of them with the ambitious Colors. The North Carolina band now is in a class of its own, unleashing 64 minutes of continuous music that, for all its range and eccentricity, never comes at the expense of the melodies. Consequently, the central hooks of tracks like "Informal Gluttony", "Sun of Nothing", and "White Walls" draw us in more as the band throws everything at us, from didgeridoo to country music, the wildly unpredictable musical tangents, incredibly, never feeling contrived. The sky's the limit for these guys now.

-- Adrien Begrand

Multiple songs: MySpace

 

Artist: Porcupine Tree

Album: Fear of a Blank Planet

Label: Roadrunner

Label: Atlantic

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/p/porcupinetree-fearofablankplanet.jpg

US Release Date: 2007-04-24

UK Release Date: 2007-04-16

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List number: 5

Porn! Anti-depressants! MTV! It’s possible one could accuse Porcupine Tree of making the slightest exaggerations on the state of youth culture for the sake of art, but the marvelous Fear of a Blank Planet shows that it’s empathy that counts. Aided in no small amount by frontman Steven Wilson’s high-class production job, all three band members turn six snakingly progressive tracks into a winning performance, pulling off adolescent emotion and isolation with utter conviction. The album swims in gorgeous melodies, runs abundant with subtle embellishments, and even makes an eighteen-minute sidewinder about the process of derealization cohesive and heady. An epic of Pink Floydian grandeur, arguably the year’s essential progressive album, and at least twice as good as Dream Theater’s Systematic Chaos.

-- Andrew Blackie

Multiple songs: MySpace

 

Artist: Moonsorrow

Album: V: Havitetty

Label: Spinefarm

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/m/moonsorrow.jpg

US Release Date: Available as import

UK Release Date: 2007-01-29

Display as: List

List number: 6

Metal can never have enough songs about the end of the world, and Moonsorrow takes this concept to heart on two recordings, clocking in at almost an hour, following the Earth in its apocalyptic dying breaths. Like Alcest, the fact that all the lyrics are sung in the band’s native Finnish doesn’t detract from the music’s absorbing beauty. Absolute care is devoted to every second here, and it’s a true testament to the power of these musicians that they can make such an ambitious and imaginative folk-metal venture work. V: Havitetty is an extraordinary journey.

-- Andrew Blackie

Multiple songs: MySpace

 

Artist: Baroness

Album: The Red Album

Label: Relapse

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/b/baroness-theredalbum.jpg

US Release Date: 2007-09-04

UK Release Date: 2007-09-10

Display as: List

List number: 7

After generating serious buzz with a string of well-received EPs, Savannah, Georgia's Baroness took a much bolder step on the highly anticipated debut full-length, bringing in a more accessible, indie rock influence that few metal bands would ever consider attempting. The aggression of the band's sound is never compromised, nor is the combination of Mastodonian riffs, NWOBHM harmonies, and Southern rawk swagger, but at the same time, there's a melodic sensibility to The Red Album that gives Baroness a leg up among their American peers, epitomized brilliantly by the opening trifecta of "Rays on Pinion", "The Birthing", and "Isak".

-- Adrien Begrand

Multiple songs: MySpace

 

Artist: Jesu

Album: Conqueror

Label: Hydra Head

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/j/jesu-conqueror.jpg

US Release Date: 2007-02-20

UK Release Date: 2007-02-19

Display as: List

List number: 8

Over the last three years, Justin Broadrick's post-Godflesh project truly started to realize its potential, and with three excellent EPs and one superb full-length in 2007, we were only too happy to take whatever the prolific fella gave us. The gorgeous, melancholic Conqueror ranks as one of many high water marks in Broadrick's distinguished career, his continuing experimentation with the juxtaposition of melody alongside massive layers of guitars, inspired by 1980s shoegaze (there's that word again), reaching near-perfection, finding a comfortable middle ground between 2005's more blunt Jesu and last year's shimmering Silver EP.

-- Adrien Begrand

Multiple songs: MySpace

 

Artist: Neurosis

Album: Given to the Rising

Label: Neurot

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/n/neurosis-giventotherising.jpg

US Release Date: 2007-06-05

UK Release Date: 2007-05-07

Display as: List

List number: 9

More than a decade after the landmark Through Silver in Blood, the Bay Area legends are in classic form yet again, eschewing the streamlined sound of 2005's The Eye of Every Storm in favor of the kind of overwhelming heaviness we expect from them. Working with longtime collaborator Steve Albini (talk about a perfect match), the give and take between brutality and subtle melody is enthralling from start to finish, starting with the brooding title track to the spectacular climax of the nine-minute "Origin". With so many bands copping Neurosis's style these days, it's good to see the masters come along and school the young 'uns once again.

-- Adrien Begrand

Multiple songs: MySpace

 

Artist: Virgin Black

Album: Requiem: Mezzo Forte

Label: The End

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/v/virgin_black.jpg

US Release Date: 2007-04-03

Display as: List

List number: 10

A labor of love, Requiem: Mezzo Forte is the first in a trilogy of concept albums about a funeral mass. A Christian doom metal outfit from Australia, Virgin Black’s sprawling symphonies are, as expected, hugely depressing and shamelessly tear-jerking, but this album is amazing because of the mastery they have employing an orchestra. The symphonic backdrop suits the seven cuts completely, flowing as one with the stunted tempos and hopeless operatic vocals of Samantha Escarbe and Rowan London. An album that demands your participation in its mourning gloominess to appreciate, “Lacrimosa (I Am Blind With Weeping)” and opener “Requiem, Kyrie” are marked by some of the richest dynamics of the year, and promise two exciting follow-ups.

-- Andrew Blackie

Multiple songs: MySpace

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