2017 has been a terrible year on most fronts, however for heavy music it has actually been one of the strongest years for the genre. What stands out most about heavy music is just how many new bands rose to prominence, and how many bands were able to achieve both artistic and commercial success while staying true to their artistic integrity. It's a brave new era, and while I'm excited to see what 2018 brings, here we will be getting reacquainted with the best albums of 2017.
"YANA AOTY" was a bit of a meme this year, but in the case of Counterparts, that is more than justified in my opinion. They've always been one of the most distinctive bands within their vein of melodic hardcore, blending together the roughness of the early '00s metalcore scene with intricate technicality, a really intuitive sense of melody threaded throughout the chaos, and a whole lot of passion.
Despite losing a few members, they've been able to take all the lessons learned over the previous four full lengths and distill them together into 27 minutes of pure brilliance. The hooks are bigger than ever, especially on "Bouquet", the short sharp burst of hardcore fury in "Thieves" and some absolutely majestic moments. "No Servant Of Mine" captured the awkward grandeur of Poison The Well and the title track in particular was absolutely stunning. It's no surprise if you know me that Counterparts were always going to be high up in an "Albums Of The Year" list, but they deserve it with this one.
The thing about metalcore is that it's a resilient genre. It's been with us since the very early 90's, it's gone through so many different iterations and has so many different ways it can be approached, but it has a tendency to lapse into periods where it's not a driving force, it merely exists. Bands release albums, play shows, but they aren't pushing metal forward, or driving the conversation. A particular strand of metalcore I was in love with before, epitomised by bands like In Hearts Wake, perched midway between the uber commercial and the uber respectable, has fallen on hard times recently.
Loathe, a band from Liverpool, with this debut are here to make metalcore great again. It sits in the middle ground between metalcore, deathcore and tech metal, drawing in areas of industrial music, nu metal, and even a wee bit of blackgaze on "P.U.R.P.L.E.". However, it's able to blend all these elements together in such an interesting fashion. Its overarching post-apocalyptic concept means that all the bells and whistles, multiple instrumentals, serve the album as a whole, immersing you in its world. The bangers are well and truly well represented here, with the lurching grind of "Dance On My Skin", the sinister grooves of "East Of Eden" and the sheer emotional devastation of "Babylon". If this is their debut, I am so excited for what this band can offer us in the future, get on the Loathe train folks.
I've already written an article about why this album is so important, so I will try and keep this brief, but this is the objective heavy album of the year, the other two above it subject to my own personal love of Counterparts and the fact Loathe are pushing forward a style close to my heart that was otherwise dead this year. Forever is a genuine game changer. They've taken their complex, extremely brutal take on metallic hardcore laced with so many different ideas and concepts, and pushed it to the next level, artistically challenging without ever losing its gut level punch to the face. Nearly every publication under the sun has raved about it, so I'll just leave the album linked in the heading and let you be swept away by Pittsburgh's finest. Also, "Bleeding In The Blur": what a chorus, what a guitar solo, what an absolute tune lads.
When I first found Employed To Serve, they were in my mind just another extremely good UK hardcore band that'd probably split up after this album, like too many other bands before them. Their style was rooted heavily in the frantic mathcore of Botch, Dillinger, Norma Jean, but the sheer ferocity was something I couldn't pull my ears away from. This album is a massive step up for them in terms of quality, and that debut was absolutely fantastic.
They've adopted slower passages and a suffocating atmosphere reminiscent of Will Haven, most notably in "I Spend My Days - Wishing Them Away". There are all the signature twists and turns we expect from this band, but they're woven into songs that are tighter and more progressive than ever, just peep "Void Ambition" and "Church Of Mirrors". "Apple Tree," however, is a truly stunning, closer to a brilliant album, by a brilliant band, now able to stand up with the greats of not only nasty riffy metalcore, but heavy music at large.
Converge are absolute legends within the hardcore scene, and for good reason. Throughout nine full lengths they've established themselves as one of the most forward thinking, passionate, unashamedly artistic and unashamedly emotional bands in hardcore, and this album is a further addition to an already stellar canon.
Here you have four of the finest musicians to ever pick up instruments, all completely in synch with one another yet tearing at the seams, creating a fiercely chaotic yet grounded hurricane of an album. It's heavy, always interesting, and Jacob Bannon must always be commended for how he can deliver complex emotions and poetic lyrics with that pterodactyl screech we've all come to know and love. Also, "A Single Tear" is a truly beautiful ode to fatherhood, "Trigger" is one of their most interesting songs rhythmically and "I Can Tell You About Pain" is just sheer auditory violence.
While She Sleeps have gone their own way, recording this album on their own, yet they've somehow made their biggest album to date with this. How did they do it? There's a far greater embrace of melody this time around, most notably with Matt Welsh's increased vocal presence here, though the roughness to his voice sets their brand of metalcore far apart from the Asking Alexandria ripoffs that somehow still litter the scene.
That same blend of fiendishly technical riffs and turns of pace, punk vigour and rough edged but soulful melody is very much intact here, but the songs are so much bigger sounding this time around. They're delivering songs here like "Hurricane" and "Silence Speaks" that are true to the band's ethos while still being massive anthems that'd sound perfect on radio, yet we've still got the driving Comeback Kid meets Unearth jaunt of "Civil Isolation" for those who still want their muscle. While She Sleeps have long been a shining star of UK metal, and with this album they're finally getting the absolutely massive success they've deserved for so long, and give off an amazing statement of intent with this album too.
Evil, chaotic, violent hardcore has been one of the most successful offshoots of hardcore in the 2010s, despite having been around as long as Cursed's work in the early 2000s. Even as far back as bands like His Hero Is Gone, bands are still able to do interesting and compelling things with it. Helpless are one of those bands, a Plymouth power trio drawing on the battery of Nail's furious grindcore, the layered malevolence of Full Of Hell and the twisting laceration of Cult Leader/Gaza. They help distinguish themselves from the pack with a heavy noise rock influence, squalling bursts of stinging feedback accentuating numbers like "Worth" and "Sertraline" and even cheekily drawing on The Jesus Lizard's monolithic bass-lines for stunning closer "Denied Sale". A stunning debut from an outfit Metal Hammer have dubbed as "the UK's nastiest band".
Japan's Envy have stiff competition for the title of finest post-rock/screamo leaning band in their countrymen, Heaven In Her Arms, who mix that formula with shimmering shoegaze and vicious black metal, in a similar fashion to one of last year's best albums, Oathbreaker's Rheia. Somber guitar-work builds into thunderous black metal, switching to pounding skramz into an absolutely sweeping post rock climax, and that's only on the first fully fledged song, "Abyss Of The Moonbow". The guitar-work on this album is some of the best I've heard this year. It can take on so many different shades and styles and even surprise us with a classic metal flourish. Their sonic palate isn't the most unique, but they merge all the elements of their sound together so well with a fiercely emotional core that makes the language barrier negligible. Truly one of the most beautiful, cinematic and exhilarating albums of 2017.
Shizune offer a far different, though no less compelling, take on the screamo genre to Heaven In Her Arms. Their attack is a wiry, technical, intricate one, leaning on the same sharply piercing guitar lines and shrieked vocals as countrymen Raein. They may be screamo classicists, but within their sound there is more than enough intensity and strong performance to make this one of the best albums of this year. "deadall day, rodeo tonigh!" tumbles out the speakers with a grinding thrust, "kathmandu" slows things down interestingly before "always separate the drugs" absolute destroys things with its sprawling structure and dueling guitars. It's 10 songs lasting 13 minutes, everything about the Italian school of screamo distilled into one amazing record.
Glassjaw are absolute legends within the post-hardcore scene for an utterly unique and progressive take on the genre. Daryl Palumbo is one of the 21st century's greatest vocalists while having only released two absolute classic albums and despite touring and putting out EPs here and there, not having done a whole lot besides that. This December they surprised us by dropping Material Control out of nowhere. While it's uncertain where exactly it stands next to their last two albums as of now, there was a long stretch of time between them, making them super influential pieces of work and thus comparison is perhaps unfair. It is still an extraordinary album.
The production style is raw and cavernous. They've also brought back the heaviness present on debut Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Silence, albeit in a more interesting and progressive manner than the raw rage that characterizes that album. There are so many gems to be found on this album, like the stunningly intimate "strange hours", the blunt force trauma of "shira", the absolutely massive vocal hooks of "cut and run". They very easily could have phoned in a version of what people liked about their sound and reaped massive rewards, but they pushed themselves forward artistically, giving us an album full of subtleties that takes its time to reveal its secrets to us. They must be saluted for doing that.