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The 20 Best Metal Albums of 2007

2007 was one of the best years for metal in the 2010s. Like other watershed years -- 1983, 1984, and 1991-- it's partially a case of artists peaking at the same time. The year unleashed 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

Heavy Metal Guitarist by The Digital Artist (Pixabay)

1. Alcest - Souvenirs D'Un Autre Monde [Profound Lore]

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 1990s, 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

LISTEN: BANDCAMP

2. Pig Destroyer - Phantom Limb [Relapse]

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

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

Artist: Dark Tranquility

Album: Fiction

Label: Century Media

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/d/darktranquility-fiction.jpg

US Release Date: 2007-04-24

UK Release Date: 2007-04-23

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List number: 11

Death metal can have a personality. The only band of the so-called Gothenburg sound to still doggedly march the melodic death metal path, Dark Tranquillity is easy to take for granted, but Fiction is yet another classic in its oeuvre. The influential six-piece effortlessly shows the younger bands how to do it properly, crafting a record both brutal and catchy, blessed with an electronic, vaguely futuristic production that runs hand in hand with the band’s famous guitar-keyboard interplay. The lyrics question modern society in a way that is thankfully meaningful and appropriate, and Mikaal Stanne, whose growl has evolved into one of the most emotive in the genre, delivers them with the ardor of a veteran.

-- Andrew Blackie

Multiple songs: MySpace

 

Artist: Machine Head

Album: The Blackening

Label: Roadrunner

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/m/machinehead-theblackening.jpg

US Release Date: 2007-03-27

UK Release Date: 2007-03-26

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List number: 12

For all the ups and downs the Bay Area band has experienced over the years, Machine Head has remained a resilient bunch. But while the fans have been loyal, the rest of us couldn't have predicted the kind of astounding return to form their seventh album would be. Instead of attempting bold stylistic changes, main man Robb Flynn takes a step back, incorporating sounds from his 20 year career, from downtuned late '90s riffs, to Burn My Eyes-era groove, to even further back to the days of Bay Area thrash, the epic title track kicking off this comeback in spectacular fashion.

-- Adrien Begrand

Multiple songs: MySpace

 

Artist: Ulver

Album: Shadows of the Sun

Label: The End

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/u/ulver.jpg

US Release Date: 2007-10-09

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List number: 13

Ulver have become a law unto themselves, outcasts of the Norwegian black metal scene they were once at the center of. Yet their self-imposed exile has opened a creative vault inside the band that we’d never have imagined from their early days, and they deliver yet another sign of their amazing evolution on Shadows of the Sun, a somber masterpiece, icy and sparse but desperately sad and funereal at the same time. Vocalist Kristoffer Rygg’s musings on the cosmos, set to a haunting, Gregorian chant-like backing, have a quiet, compelling ring to them that goes side by side with the subdued strings and horns. Best of all, a cover of Black Sabbath’s “Solitude” is even better than the original. You can just imagine the embers of a fire, burning quietly while this album supremely, quietly unfurls.

-- Andrew Blackie

Multiple songs: MySpace

 

Artist: High on Fire

Album: Death Is This Communion

Label: Relapse

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/h/highonfire-deathisthiscommunion.jpg

US Release Date: 2007-09-18

UK Release Date: 2007-09-10

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List number: 14

The ultimate hesher band, High on Fire celebrates the old school appeal of classic metal: the bombast, the tribal intensity, the catharsis, the escapism of fantasy-themed epics, and best of all, the godly riffs. In fact, Matt Pike and his boys just might have outdone themselves on this one, with the monolithic production of Jack Endino, Pike's relentless shredding, Des Kensel's tom-heavy beats, and the melodic sensibility brought by noob Jeff Matz on bass making this beastly sucker more earth-shattering than the great Surrounded by Thieves.

-- Adrien Begrand

Multiple songs: MySpace

 

Artist: Shining

Album: V: Halmstad

Label: The End

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

US Release Date: 2007-04-23

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List number: 15

Sweden’s Shining is at the head of an extreme metal subgenre tagged depressive black metal, led by Niklas Kvarforth, who incites suicide in the band’s fans and openly practises self-harm. A dubious honor, perhaps, but his hateful sado-masochism (sung entirely in Swedish) is supported by impressive, even captivating, scores on Halmstad, a record that sounds as mentally unstable as the ideas he advocates. It’s hugely diverse and extremely progressive for the unfairly stereotyped black metal label, including several very well-placed, manipulative samples, while keeping a firm hold over the musty, blackened atmosphere and obsessions with sickness, disease, and self-infliction that Kvarforth works so hard to portray. The acoustic guitars in particular are eerily unsettling and bone-chilling, but the best example of him stretching himself out comes on “Åttiosextusenfyrahundra”, which borrows Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”.

-- Andrew Blackie

Multiple songs: MySpace

 

Artist: Om

Album: Pilgrimage

Label: Southern Lord

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/o/om-pilgrimage.jpg

US Release Date: 2007-10-02

UK Release Date: Available as import

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List number: 16

A languorous, hypnotic combination of classic doom metal and ragas, the duo of bassist Al Cisneros and percussionist Chris Hakius perfect their dreamy sound on their third album, adding subtle improvisation atop a series of repeated riffs and melodies. The overall effect is absolutely sumptuous, Cisneros chanting gently over arrangements alternately somber ("Pilgrimage") and ominous ("Unitive Knowledge of the Godhead"), and with the great Steve Albini providing an impeccable mix, Om now ranks as the pre-eminent name in American doom.

-- Adrien Begrand

Multiple songs: MySpace

 

Artist: Astarte

Album: Demonized

Label: Avant Garde

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/a/astarte.jpg

US Release Date: 2007-04-04

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List number: 17

The blessing of Arch Enemy’s indomitable Angela Gossow goes a long way in the female-fronted metal world, and Greece’s Astarte do her one better on their latest disc. Based around an all-female trio calling themselves (rather appropriately) the Sirens, this is a havoc-wreaking line-up of modern black metal. Blazing guitar harmonies that stampede all over the jagged, hellfire thrash collide with vocalist Tristessa’s possessed rasping to ancient pagan gods. This is a truly ferocious CD, one that shows that, when it comes to the extreme, the girls can do it just as well as the guys.

-- Andrew Blackie

Multiple songs: MySpace

 

Artist: Caïna

Album: Mourner

Label: Profound Lore

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/c/ca239na-mourner.jpg

US Release Date: 2007-06-19

UK Release Date: Available as import

Display as: List

List number: 18

Twenty-year-old Andrew Curtis-Brignell could pass for your usual indie folk artist, but the prolific UK musician delves into far darker territory on Caïna's second full-length. With a thoughtful, poetic take on Satanism that few like-minded artists can equal, Curtis-Brignell, who performs everything himself, veers off into different extremes, from dark ambient, to shoegaze, to the goth of early Cure, to post rock, and yes, even folk, yet his eclectic musical tastes work exceptionally well, as Mourner's black metal core, warmer and more soulful than we expect, is never very far away.

-- Adrien Begrand

Multiple songs: MySpace

 

Artist: Witchcraft

Album: The Alchemist

Label: Candlelight

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/w/witchcraft-thealchemist.jpg

US Release Date: 2007-10-23

UK Release Date: 2007-10-08

Display as: List

List number: 19

While Sweden's Witchcraft continues to faithfully duplicate the proto-metal sounds of nearly 40 years ago, The Alchemist sees the quartet broadening the sound considerably. The Sabbath influence remains strong (Volume 4 is the record of choice this time), as is that of Pentagram, but the band also tosses in doses of psychedelic and progressive rock, "If Crimson Was Your Colour" and the phenomenal epic title track both making a similar creative leap as countrymen Dungen achieved three years ago.

-- Adrien Begrand

Multiple songs: MySpace

 

Artist: Within Temptation

Album: The Heart of Everything

Label: Roadrunner

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/w/withintemptation-theheartofeverything.jpg

US Release Date: 2007-07-24

UK Release Date: 2007-03-12

Display as: List

List number: 20

2007 was without doubt a big year for Within Temptation, the time they finally managed to break out from being just another female-fronted band and take their vivacious pop sheen to the world, thanks to The Heart of Everything. Fans cried, “Sellout!”, but sometimes hooks are all metal needs, and the album is infinitely spinnable, with “The Howling”, “Hand of Sorrow”, and “All I Need” carrying melodies to be envied, power ballads “Forgiven” and “Frozen” irresistibly winning hearts, and the bombastic, sweeping orchestras offset only by the maturity of frontwoman Sharon del Adel’s seductive yet earnest high-octane singing.

-- Andrew Blackie

Multiple songs: MySpace

 

Andrew Blackie:

Alcest, "Printemps Emeraude"

Porcupine Tree, "Anesthetize"

Ministry, "Let's Go"

Evile, "Enter the Grave"

Chimaira, "Ressurrection"

Adrien Begrand:

The Dillinger Escape Plan, "Milk Lizard"

Alcest, "Ciel Errant"

3 Inches of Blood, "Night Marauders"

High on Fire, "Fury Whip"

Pig Destroyer, "Loathsome"

The worst metal albums of 2007:

Andrew Blackie:

1. Avenged Sevenfold, Avenged Sevenfold (Warner Bros.)

2. Hellyeah, Hellyeah (Epic)

3. Annihilator, Metal (SPV)

4. Dimmu Borgir, In Sorte Diaboli (Nuclear Blast)

5. Emmure, Goodbye to the Gallows (Victory)

Adrien Begrand:

1. Avenged Sevenfold, Avenged Sevenfold (Warner Bros.)

2. Manowar, Gods of War (SPV)

3. Iced Earth, Framing Armageddon: Something Wicked Part 1 (SPV)

4. Helloween, Gambling with the Devil (SPV)

5. Entombed, Serpent Saints (Candlelight)

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