The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

Some might say that this year we can throw that mirror away, since cruelty glares menacingly at us around every corner or tap of a phone screen. That does indeed seem to be the case, but the emotions in the aftermath of what we experience still need to be processed, and the chaos, pain, and hard fought resolve found in heavy music can go towards our understanding and healing. PopMatters' Best Metal of 2017 list is a collaborative effort by writers with different tastes, and yet, there is common ground found between all 20 albums chosen below despite musical differences: the ability to provide cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right we need it most. – Dean Brown

20. Cloak: To Venomous Depths (Season of Mist)

Cloak take their cues from a variety of stylistic corners (black metal, death metal, glimmers of NWOBHM and even prog) and lay waste to our ears on this near hour-long adventure. If the hair on your arms doesn't stand on end during "Within the Timeless Black" and "Beyond the Veil", it may be time to rethink your musical affinities. While elsewhere, the 10-minute "Deep Red" is a great closer, thrilling enough to make your blood stand still once or twice throughout its run-time. Cloak are clearly a band out to carve a niche of their own. – Jedd Beaudoin

19. Mastodon: Emperor of Sand (Reprise)

With a concept about a nomad who has been handed a death sentence at its core, Emperor of Sand takes on themes of death and dying with unexpected clarity and profundity. That doesn't mean that the heft of Mastodon's new material gets in the way of the listener having a good time, however. Singles "Show Yourself" and "Steambreather" demonstrate plenty of the collective's hook-writing strengths, while "Roots Remain" and "Jaguar God" sweeten the deal. This is a decidedly smart and, yes, mature album from one of metal's greatest modern bands. – Jedd Beaudoin

18. Succumb: Succumb (The Flenser)

Succumb's first full-length is an old-school album in a modern guise. Fuelled by the extreme metal spirit of the early '80s, in all its thrash and proto-death metal glory, Succumb takes on the attitude of yesteryear and combines it with a clear, modern production courtesy of Jack Shirley (Deafheaven, Oathbreaker). The band's schizoid lead work, heavy groove, and technical aptitude coupled with vocalist Cheri Musrasrik's insane delivery makes Succumb one of the strongest metal debuts to come out in 2017. – Spyros Stasis

17. Ex Eye: Ex Eye (Relapse)

This was inevitable, right? Colin Stetson, one of the greatest saxophonists of our generation was always going to find an opportunity to meddle with the technical side of extreme metal, and that is exactly what Ex Eye is about. Alongside him are three excellent musicians in Greg Fox (Liturgy, Zs), Shahzad Ismaily (Secret Chiefs 3) and Toby Summerfield, and together they go into an sharp recital that ranges from black metal to free jazz by means of abstract and experimental notions, guided by the free-falling dynamism of improvisation. – Spyros Stasis

16. Royal Thunder: WICK (Spinefarm)

While WICK is the least immediate album in Royal Thunder's short but impressive discography, the band's ever-improving song-writing prowess is undeniable after repeat listens. The Atlanta, Georgia four-piece's shrewd musicality honed in on forming a versatile base for the gritty, passionate and hook-wielding vocals of front-woman Mlny Parsonz, a fiery blues singer with an old soul and demons to chase. Due to its seamless transitions, atmospheric layering and tight, song-servicing performances, WICK is proof positive that Royal Thunder have an ageless nature—kind of like metal's own Fleetwood Mac. – Dean Brown

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