I left the hulking beast that was 2016 quietly, careful not to disturb the now fallen giant lest I startle and incur its wrath in those final seconds. Best to be careful: it had been a while since I had a year where the chaos of the outside world match and stoke the rage, doubt, and pain in my insular little life. But for every terrible news item that stabbed into our collective cultural eye there seemed to be another great — no, fantastic — album waiting to echo, share, and ultimately help ease our pain. And I’m not even limiting that to metal: everywhere incredible music was being created and shared, as if somehow deep down we all knew we were going to need it.
All of which goes to say 2017 has a long road ahead of it if it hopes to match the staggering amount of quality releases the previous year offered up for the masses. In a year where seemingly every single one of my favorite bands released something I was initially worried I might not find a lot to look forward to this year. After 10 minutes I had at least two dozen upcoming releases I couldn’t wait to get my hands on (not even including the latest from Black Anvil, which I happily address here). And while I won’t touch on everything, I’ll point out a few albums I’m hoping will stave off the bats and wolves looking for blood in the Year of Our Metal Lord, 2017.
Immolation – Atonement: In a year of great metal from every genre, one of the things I felt 2016 lacked was a truly great classic death metal record. There was plenty of modern harsh swirling maelstroms of noise calling itself death metal, but nothing that rang for the technical yet brutal bell that bands like Immolation can nail. The last few albums, especially 2010’s Majesty and Decay show they still can bring it like no one else, and based on first single “Destructive Currents” it looks like Atonement will be just as razor sharp. (Feb 24)
Byzantine – The Cicada Tree: Byzantine took that American heavy metal sound popularized by bands like Lamb of God and added singular progressive touches on their first two outstanding records that had them nipping at the heels of the metal elite. That momentum crashed when they broke up a day after releasing 2008’s Oblivion Beckons, but leader Chris “OJ” Ojeda picked things back up and went to Kickstarter in 2010 to help fund their kickass self-released, self-titled album. Now signed to the massive Metal Blade Records, here’s hoping they reap all the accolades they very much deserve. (TBD Spring)
Twilight Fauna – The Year the Stars Fell: Last year Twilight Fauna put out Fire of the Spirit, what I thought would be the pinnacle of what Paul Ravenwood has been doing with the project since forming in 2011. Who knew that not even a year later we’d get The Year the Stars Fell, featuring Slaves BC’s (and Nine Circle’s own) Josh Thieler on drums. There’s something in the walls of sound Twilight Fauna wrap their Appalachian black metal take on family, religion, and the community culture in his region that I find mesmerizing, and from what I can tell from the 10-minute track “A Thinning Veil” there’s no end to the amount of innovation and passion we can expect from this. (Mar 24)
Judicator – The Last Emperor: 2016 saw my re-engagement with power metal after what felt like a decade. I tend to lean more towards the heavier, less theatrical bands in the genre, and Judicator’s first two albums — King of Rome and Sleepy Plessor — immediately grabbed me with their combination of pomp and aggression. New album The Last Emperor promised a return to the historical storytelling absent in 2015’s more autobiographical At the Expense of Humanity but a multitude of factors delayed the 2016 release. Things seem on track again for 2017, so hopefully I’ll be listening to some great new tracks from these guys sooner rather than later. (TBD 2017)
Panopticon – The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wild: No one can accuse Austin Lunn of not being ambitious, and after capping off his “Appalachia” trilogy with 2015’s excellent Autumn Eternal you’d think he’d be content to take a small break. Instead, 2016 saw a deluxe remastering of his first two albums packaged as Revisions of the Past, and 2017 sees a double concept record, evoking in his words both the despair and anger with society and the destruction of the environment while simultaneously reveling in the beauty to be found in the natural world. With Colin Marston behind the boards this is easily my most eagerly anticipated record for 2017. (TBD 2017)
The albums listed above are just the ones I could find a modicum of information about. If I had more information I could have written pages about how much I can’t wait for new releases from, oh…just off the top of my head: Evoken, Clouds Collide (if this comes to be it will officially be my most anticipated album of 2017), Void Ritual, Mortals, Decrepit Birth and Caladan Brood. Hell, after the disappointment of Once More ‘Round the Sun I can’t wait to see if Mastodon jumps back in the saddle with a stellar record.
But maybe I spoke too soon. I can hear the rumblings of the great beast shaking the dirt and dust and bones of the previous year’s prey off its wooly skin. There’s a sound like thunder echoing in the wave of every dead branch, and if I squint just the right way I can see one terrible eye opening with a slow certainty, its blackened death pupil dilating as it focuses its gaze upon me.
Have at thee, 2017. Have at thee.