This was a banner year for death metal by any measure.
Here are some of our favorite death metal releases from 2017.
2017 made it extremely difficult to pick a favorite in the crowded field of death metal because of the sheer breadth of quality releases to choose from. Old school death metal stood strong, with bands influenced by a wide range of classic acts releasing stellar material. Whether you’re a fan of Morbid Angel, Incantation, Abhorrence, Immolation, or Pestilence, you likely found something to love this year. That’s not to leave out progressive death metal which produced a few stars, and the more experimental arts, those that combine death metal with other subgenres to create something wholly engaging and new.
Contaminated – Final Man
This is an absolute monster of sludge, shit, and bone. Contaminated’s debut album is a confident and fully-formed manifestation of filthy, low-end heavy death metal a la Finnish masters like Rippikoulu and Abhorrence. The album cover gives a pretty good idea of what to expect here: a Cronenberg living on a liquid planet with vomit trees sprouting from the goopy ground. Song titles are a good indicator, too: Mired in Shit, Starved, Co-Opted into Worthless sludge—these all suggest the nasty, crushing music on display. There are riffs galore here, whether they are lightning quick or slowed down to dirge-like pace; they are very low-tuned with a warm tone that sometimes muddies the sound into chaos. Christoph’s drumming is insane and augments the riffs here well, often turning them from great riffs into skull-crushing out of control manglers from hell. He is excellent at both frenetic blast-beats faster than one would think possible and overwhelming doomy beats. The vocals fit well—extremely low grunts that sound like they come from somewhere deep below one’s toilet bowl. Not to be left out, the bass is exactly the type of disgusting and aggressive tone I love to hear in my death metal and is mixed real high. Through its 34 minutes, songs are memorable and there isn’t a weak link here. Overall my favorite death metal album of this year; and honestly it goes toe to toe with most death metal from any era. Let it co-opt you into worthless sludge. You’ll like it, trust me.
Unaussprechlichen Kulten – Keziah Lilith Media (Chapter X)
Cthulhu riseth! These Chileans have been laying down eerie, occult-themed death metal for going on twenty years now, and shockingly enough, they may have released their best album yet. Unaussprechlichen Kulten (henceforth referred to as “UK”) play a winding, creepy, almost wacky style of death metal influenced in equal parts by Immolation and Morbid Angel. On this album, they ratchet up the occultism, including unsettling piano and horn intros to many songs, but the music thereafter is fundamentally the same as it has always been. UK’s strength is in uniqueness. Riffs are unlike quite anything you’ve ever heard. UK utilize a dual guitar attack to great effect, Curwen and West often throwing down different licks at the same time to create a maze of horrifying, semi-melodic torment. Everything a death metal fan could want is here guitar-wise—great tremolo riffs, slower, arpeggiated sections, screaming pinch harmonics, and whacked out solos. Butcher of Christ’s is able to rip off blast beats in so many different forms that they never become tedious and they always seem to be exactly what is needed. There is some great interplay between drums and bass here, too. Curwen’s vocals are at once raspy and roared, almost sounding like a whisper from hell. They are almost anti-vocals. And they sound just how I imagine Cthulhu would sound. UK’s music is at once extremely dissonant and very pleasing to the ear; this is catchy music written for witches, demons, and the like, but I’m sure you’ll probably like it, too.
Suffering Hour – In Passing Ascension
Suffering Hour’s brand of death metal is one of the more unique kinds to come out of the last few years. With their release of their first full-length, Suffering Hour have proved that they are not your typical death metal with a black metal flare. Right away, the album lets you know what you’re in for from the very first riff. A guitar tone that resembles the sound dust from a dead star would make engulfs the entirety of the music, as it not only takes center stage, but also occupies any empty spaces left by the other instruments in the fold. Outside of the absolutely brilliant tone, the riffs on this album are as dissonant and off-kilter as they are mesmerizing. Think Inquisition riffs but with a heavier emphasis on variation and atmosphere. Outside of the sprawling guitar work, the drumming offers a satisfying combination of speedy and intricate percussion work as well as everyone’s favorite blast-beats. The five-string bass really pushes the already grandiose production further by adding some much needed depth that is sometimes absent when the guitar is off doing its own dissonant riffing. The vocals act as a vessel for some very maniacal shouts and screams that accurately mirror the music’s central theme. This LP has some of my favorite tracks this year too; “The Abrasive Black Dust” is an instrumental that keeps on giving with multiple highs and lows that will fill your ears with that wonderful guitar tone. “Procession to Obscure Infinity” also has one of my favorite riffs this year. The riffs on this song emit a foreboding feeling of emptiness and, like the title implies, obscurity. Overall, this album is a must listen if you are into bands that incorporate dissonance and more sprawling riffs into their sound. This album ended up as my fifth favorite album this year, which also makes it by far my favorite death metal album this year
Tomb Mold – Primordial Malignity
Tomb Mold is one of the darlings of 2017 in the metalsphere and for good reason. Another band highly influenced by the early 90’s Finnish sound but who puts their own spin on things to separate themselves from the pack. This Canadian juggernaut only consists of two dudes, one of whom plays drums and does vocals and the other who plays the stringed instruments. Though there’s just two of them, they manage to create quite a rumbling racket. Their music is very heavy on the low end, with the bass cutting through extremely prominently. It’s got a fuzzy, loud, monstrous tone that is exactly as important to the sound of this album as anything else. The guitars are heavy as hell, alternating between pummeling, rhythmic chords and more traditional tremolo riffs. But that’s not all! A hallmark of this album is the out of this world riffing style that Derrick Vella uses. He’s a master of utilizing hammer-on-pull-off nut-jobbery to create evil and putrid sounding riffs—riffs which are probably my favorite part of the album. Max Klebanoff’s vocals are rotten as all hell, low as can be but somehow welcoming at the same time. I find his vocals to have a pleasant, warm quality to them even though they sound like a demon is shitting them out. Overall a combination of old and new done just right.
Damnation Defaced – Invader From Beyond
German outfit Damnation Defaced formed in 2006 and Invader From Beyond is their third full-length release. They play death metal with a healthy dose of melody and some great songwriting. Throw in highly effective synths, memorable choruses, infectious riffs and great solos and you have an idea of what Damnation Defaced are all about. All of Invader From Beyond deserves your attention, but there are highlights worthy of special attention, such as “The Key To Your Voice,” “Rendezvous With Destiny,” with Ronald Reagan’s disturbingly distorted ‘A Time for Choosing’ speech, and “The Creator’s Fall,” with memorable chorus and solo. The final track “Embraced By Infinity” is the pièce de résistance, expertly bringing together catchy guitars, an utterly infectious chorus, gentle, shoegazing-esque guitars and hints of Novembers Doom. There were few better death metal tracks in 2017.Metal fans looking for something innovative and original might pass this one by, but those whose heads are turned by great Death Metal songs ought to give Invader From Beyond a try.
Ascended Dead – Abhorrent Manifestation
Ascended Dead’s last.fm page says they aim to create “primitive, visceral, psychotic death metal without limitations.” I’d say the only limitation they could possibly have would be how long their vocalist can hold onto his vocal chords and how fast their drummer can play. Seriously, the vocalist sounds like he might drink glass smoothies, sand his vocal chords, gurgle acid, or any combination therein. Dude sounds like he’s being tortured rather than performing on an album; his vocals are unlike quite anything else I’ve ever heard. Same goes for CK’s drumming, which is technical, precise, ultra-fast, and wholly compelling. It’s the kind of drum performance that makes you kind of wish you had a track of just the drums to listen to by themselves to pick out all the details and nuances. That’s not to discount the guitars, which are insane as well. Ripping, multifaceted, Necrovore-esque riffs come flying almost too fast to keep up with. The constant changes in riffs—combined with their insane shattered-into-shards quality—create an atmosphere of absolute chaos. Sometimes the album feels like it is ready to come apart at the hinges, like it cannot possible be contained by your speakers anymore. Primitive? Check. Visceral? Yep. Psychotic? Most definitely.
Undergang – Misanthropologi
Undergang have been a stalwart of the death metal scene for years now. Undergang completed their “Døden” trilogy in 2015, so I think everyone was interested to see what they would come up with next. Well, it’s still Undergang and it still rips. The guitar tone is absolutely massive, making each riff stand out on this beast. David Mikkelsen’s riffs are just so good. He can play groovy Autopsy killers, crushing Rottrevorous lines, weirdo fret manglers, straight up tremolo riffs, and punk-influenced jammers equally well. One of the great things about this album—and indeed Undergang in general—is their eency bit of punk influence. They don’t wear it on their sleeves, but you can hear it in the occasional d-beats, the rhythms, the riffs. Their music has just a tinge of punk thrown in—like flecks of blood in vomit. Misanthropologi is a crushing affair, often plodding along at a slow to middling pace like a horde of the undead walking down its prey. Mikkelsen is definitely the MVP here, what with the previously mentioned riffing and his gurgling, vomitus vocals, he creates the primary aesthetic here. The bass and drums help, though, the bass having essentially the same tone and Mikkelsen’s vocals. Anders Pederson’s drumming is just lovely. He enjoys utilizing toms frequently for some added oomph, but he also puts on a surprisingly nuanced performance, often making use of tinkly and sparkling cymbals in between pounding grooves. Overall, this is Undergang being Undergang, and when they do it as well as they do, what more could you want?
Temnein – White Stained Inferno
White Stained Inferno is the second album by French death metal outfit Temnein and it’s a resounding success. There are melodic and progressive elements in Temnein’s sound, but they are most of all a straight-up death metal band whose focus seems to be on putting together great tunes, rather than fitting into any specific sub-genre, or trying to create new ones. The quality of the songs is consistently high, but there are tracks that stand out even in such a well written album. “Denying The Threat” has a hugely memorable, melodic chorus and gets the neck muscles moving. “White Stained Inferno” starts gently, but suddenly erupts into furious melodic death metal with an immense chorus and a marvelous guitar solo. “The Seal,” which has a fast, catchy chorus and another jaw-droppingly good guitar solo joins the title track as one of the finest death metal songs of the year. Temnein stay close to the death metal blueprint, but they can mix it up when they want to, with clean vocals nicely complementing the deep growls in “Knowledge As A Burden,” “Dawn Of A New Day,” and “Wrong Escape.” The latter has a full-on prog rock section with acoustic guitars and mellow singing, but the band don’t lose sight of what they do so well and as expected, the track also has a wonderfully memorable chorus and more fantastic guitars. White Stained Inferno certainly won over one Metal Observer review, hopefully Temnein will reach the death metal masses with this fantastic album.
Diabolical Messiah – Demonic Weapons Against the Sacred
There is nothing flashy, spectacular, or new here. Diabolical Messiah does not traffic in splendor, flash, or pizazz. What they do is they crush. They deal in fast, devastating death metal. Blast beats, trem riffs, horribly demonic vocals. All are present and accounted for. So if nothing is flashy, there’s no pizazz, why is this one of the most notable death metal albums of the year? It is because Diabolical Messiah do what they do so well. Though there isn’t a ton of variation across tracks, what is present here is top notch. Riffs are catchy and brutal, drumming is smothering, and vocals are crushing. Various riffs are sure to get stuck in your head and stay there for days. There is one aspect of this album that I should be sure to mention that is a little different: the guitar solos. Foregoing the typical shred-fest screaming death metal solos, Guerrero and Erodes put a whole ton of reverb on their guitars and play mid-paced spacey leads. In describing them, it seems like they wouldn’t fit in with the straightforward brutality that I just described, but in fact they fit perfectly! A balls to the wall, pithy, giant death metal record.
Other Notable Releases
Phrenelith – Desolate Endscape
Witch Vomit – Poisoned Blood
Rude – Remnants…
Necrot – Blood Offerings
Engulfed – Engulfed in Obscurity
Soulskinner – Descent to Abaddon
Degial – Predator Reign
Under the Church – Supernatural Punishment