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The 25 Best Metal Songs of 2017

Metal has always thrived by extremes—despair, triumph, destruction, rebirth. But even in this traditionally aggressive art form, the genre has evolved to acknowledge an emotional core rooted in sensitivity, healing, catharsis, inclusion. In 2017, metal means droning, ambient soundscapes from Arizona’s With Our Arms to the Sun, avant experiments from Brooklyn’s Pyrrhon, and a blackened strain of crossover thrash from Necrot. Metal means Pallbearer’s affinity for both Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd, Code Orange’s Grammy-nominated hardcore, and Zeal & Ardor’s ingenious mutation of black spirituals and black metal. Metal today means the ability to challenge, to change, and to reinvent—and that mutability is what unites SPIN’s list of the year’s best metal songs, chosen by staff and contributors. In what other genre could a band called Couch Slut make a roomful of sweaty old men scream along to lyrics about female suffering and toxic masculinity? — ARIELLE GORDON

25. Tomb Mold, “Primordial Malignity”

(Primordial Malignity, Blood Harvest Records)
With a guitar tuned low enough to wake the undead and vocals that sound straight from the Devil Himself, Tomb Mold’s debut album feels like a 32-minute underworld blitzkrieg. The title track epitomizes the Toronto-based duo’s unpredictable composition style, each creeping chord progression lasting only a few measures before the next sludge-drenched riff. Max Klebanoff’s howl is reminiscent of Scandinavian death metal forefathers Entombed and Unleashed, but somehow even more raw and terrifying, making Primordial Malignity some of the most scarily inventive death metal of the year. If you can’t take the heat, stay out of Hell. — ARIELLE GORDON

24. Spectral Voice, “Thresholds Beyond”

(Eroded Corridors of Unbeing, Dark Descent Records)
Before the Colorado death/doom band‘s gleefully titled debut, Eroded Corridors of Unbeing, Spectral Voice had already released five demos and two splits, and three of its four members had plenty of practice in their other excellent band, Blood Incantation. All that preparation resulted in something that sounds both classic and unique, and more seasoned than your average first outing. The band creates a seamless hall of warping mirrors featuring suffocating atmospherics, iterative blast beats, down-tuned everything, and eerie interludes interwoven with sewer-deep vocals that bring to mind Incantation and diSEMBOWELMENT. Opener “Thresholds Beyond” creates a dynamic push and pull for all of this, and then ties it all into knots. — BRANDON STOSUY

23. With Our Arms to the Sun, “Homebound: March of the Trees”

(Orenda, 11th Dimension Records)
Arizona-based experimental metal band With Our Arms to the Sun have fully come into their own on third LP, Orenda, a cogent and conceptually ambitious effort produced by Melvins’ sludge-metallurgist Buzz Osborne. The album’s name, Orenda, refers to the Iroquoian concept of spiritual power inherent in all living things—it’s the force that motivates curses, luck, and fate—and each of the LP’s ten songs wrestle with notions of progress, evolution, and existence. Album closer “Homebound: March of the Trees” pairs airy reverberation and dramatic melodic guitar with vocals that whine, drone, and scream out in agony; it’s a sonic interpretation of the existential frustration caused by fighting against one’s own spirit. Yeah, it’s heady, man, but so is life. — ARIELLE GORDON

22. Pyrrhon, “The Happy Victim’s Creed”

(What Passes for Survival, Willowtip Records)
The avant-garde extreme metal experiments of Brooklyn four-piece Pyrrhon may be a turnoff for fans of traditional death metal, but the opening line of “The Happy Victim’s Creed” makes it aggressively clear the band doesn’t care: “I did what I did,” warbles a vocal sample that’s slowed-down to sound like Barney from The Simpsons impersonating a New Jersey crime boss, “If you don’t like it, you can kiss my ass.” That’s by far the most direct remark made among the ensuing onslaught of filth and despair that lyricist and front-snarler Doug Moore conjures while railing against the seemingly innocuous comforts of complacency. At the same time, Dylan DiLella treats his guitar like a literal axe, cutting across a litany of technically impressive chord progressions with a speed that threatens whiplash. Song structures diverge entirely from any kind of central rhythm, resulting in a dizzying five minutes of thrash metal and mathcore that would be disorienting if not for new drummer Steve Schwegler’s technical prowess. On “The Happy Victim’s Creed,” Pyrrhon push genre experimentation and existential dread to their logical conclusions, with terrifyingly cathartic results. — ARIELLE GORDON

21. Fall of Rauros, “Labyrinth Unfolding Echoes”

(Vigilance Perennial, Nordvis Produktion/Bindrune Recordings)
Fall of Rauros’ fourth album, Vigilance Perennial, feels like a tender waking dream. The Portland, Maine band creates shimmering landscapes where you’ll hear bits of Alcest, Agalloch, and Panopticon (with whom FoR released a split LP in 2014). One of the best examples is “Labyrinth Unfolding Echoes,” a masterclass in quiet/loud and melancholic/muscular that’s apparently about existence (“Every hopeless struggle / Every flightless endeavor / Everything kept at arm’s length / This labyrinth unfolding echoes”), though you could also use the song title to describe FoR’s elegiac mix of Cascadian metal, folk, dark ambiance, and post-rock (with the occasional jazz or classic metal flourish). For its first two minutes, “Labyrinth” is patient and painterly. Then it explodes into a kaleidoscope of autumn colors shredded by raw howls and striated riffs. It’s a black metal shout-along that has the energy of Deafheaven, albeit with everybody floor punching in a Northeastern pine forest.  — BRANDON STOSUY

20. Zeal & Ardor, “Come On Down”

(Devil is Fine, MVKA Music)
Perhaps one of the only good things ever to come out of 4chan, Zeal & Ardor is the crossover metal project of Swiss-American musician Manuel Gagneux, who’d asked the notoriously offensive board what subgenres his next song should mix. The trolls responded by suggesting black metal and black spirituals, though they put it far more offensively, and the idea stuck with Gagneux, who later spun the two styles together for two conceptually exciting and sonically fascinating albums under the name Zeal & Ardor. “Come On Down,” from Z&A’s latest album Devil Is Fine, pairs soulful, bluesy incantations with heavy tromolo and wailing riffs, resulting in a satanic spiritual that, rather spectacularly, sounds like a major underworld awakening. A head-scratching headbanger that turns a trollish quip into a masterful stylistic innovation, “Come On Down” is a breath of fresh melodic-death air in the oft rigid, oft humorless genre of black metal. — ARIELLE GORDON

19. Ex Eye, “Opposition/Perihelion; The Coil”

(Ex Eye, Relapse Records)

Saxophonist Colin Stetson is known for his work with Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, and other bands a hesher might bop on private mode, but his avant-metal group Ex Eye—with drummer Greg Fox of Liturgy fame, no less—should be the main thing you remember about Stetson this year. The four-piece’s self-titled debut is the missing link between black metal and Sonny Sharrock’s Black Woman, and the last track “Opposition/Perihelion; The Coil” is the quartet at their most frenzied. Fox and guitarist Toby Summerfield lead off with a no-wave black-metal attack before Stetson’s sax steers the track into even choppier waters. Though his horn isn’t screeching yet, there’s still an intimidating urgency, even as the track drifts off into drumless psychedelic noise death. “Coil” both embraces chaos and provides disassociation from it—a useful skill for navigating this year and our future. — ANDY O’CONNOR

18. Cavalera Conspiracy, “Spectral War”

(Psychosis, Napalm Records)
Igor and Max Cavalera are among metal’s most famous brothers, almost as much for the ten-year-long feud that splintered their former band Sepultura as for their triumphant reunion as Cavalera Conspiracy. The fourth studio album under that name, Psychosis, summons Sepultura’s catchy grooves and thrash attacks, but with the kind of authoritative heft that only legends like the Cavaleras could muster. “Spectral War” is the perfect example: Max’s crushing vocals take center stage amid a relentless spate of tremolo riffs, but then just when you’re comfortably locked into a headbanging rhythm, a searing guitar solo tears through the middle of the song, backed by a riff so heavy it could flatten a galaxy. It’s an exciting return to form for the Brazilian brothers. — ARIELLE GORDON

17. Amenra, “A Solitary Reign”

(Mass VI, Neurot Recordings)
To listen to “A Solitary Reign,” the nine-minute apex of Amenra’s mammoth Mass VI, is to immerse oneself in an overflowing well of sorrow, brought on by tragedies the Belgian post-metal band have suffered over the past five years. Among them: a brain tumor removed from frontman Colin H. van Eeckhout’s son, the cancer diagnosis of guitarist Mathieu Vandekerckhove’s father, and the death of drummer Bjorn Lebon’s mother. Like the record writ large, “A Solitary Reign” finds Amenra desperately searching for catharsis from within a leaden haze that—much like grief itself—grows more despondent by the second, spiraling ever-downward. The apotheosis arrives just in the nick of time; right as the void is about to swallow them whole, a sweet melody swoops in to pierce the darkness. If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is. — ZOE CAMP

16. Integrity, “Die With Your Boots On”

(Howling, for the Nightmare Shall Consume, Relapse Records)
Almost 30 years into his career, Integrity founding member Dwid Hellion still sounds like a hungry upstart. But Howling, For The Nightmare Shall Consume—the Cleveland band’s conceptual album about armageddon—is a shaggy dog of a record that wouldn’t come easy to a youngster, integrating Leonard Cohen-intoned hardcore, ra-ra backup vocals, and tambourine across its 57 metalcore minutes. This polished gem’s comparatively straightforward; it stands out for its gritty compression. “Die With Your Boots On” is a three-minute “Ace of Spades” squealer that blends thrash, punk, hardcore, and Morbid Angel murk with eternal questions (“Where will it end?”) and an aggressive hook (“die! with! your! boots! on!”) that could easily serve as the starting point for your next revolution. — BRANDON STOSUY

15. Converge, “Arkhipov Calm”

(The Dusk In Us, Epitaph Records)
Metalcore is a notoriously violent artform, rooted in a pugnacious tradition of crushing beatdowns, bare-chested machismo, and screamed vendettas. But what happens to the fight when that old rage ripens? Sixteen years after setting the genre’s aggro-steeped standards with 2001’s seminal Jane Doe, Converge gives us our answer with “Arkhipov Calm,” a frenzied treatise on the art of knowing when to back down. Frontman Jacob Bannon penned the stop-and-go ripper in homage to Vasili Arkhipov, the Soviet navy officer who famously refused to sign off on a nuclear torpedo strike against an American ship during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, thereby averting an atomic war between the two superpowers. Through a combination of period imagery (“Fresh faced oligarch,” an allusion to a ship that “lists to the side”), Converge’s creative engine develops this brave act of historical defiance as a metaphor for his own personal wars, a show-stopping battle waged by way of stabbing guitars and gatling-gun drum fills. And it’s a winning battle at that. — ZOE CAMP

14. Uniform – “Tabloid”

(Wake in Fright, Sacred Bones)
If Steve Albini got Big Black back together for the sole purpose of playing crossover thrash, it would sound a lot like Uniform’s “Tabloid.” With its sophomore release Wake in Fright, the Brooklyn duo moved from bleak industrial to even bleaker, more hopeless mechanized thrash. “Tabloid” encapsulates that direction, jolting you not just because it’s so fast, but it shakes up the dystopian landscape they made on their debut Perfect World. Guitarist Ben Greenberg loops thrash riffs blown to near static like Cryptic Slaughter via Steve Reich via Ministry circa Psalm 69. Its minimalism rendered in the most brute, blurred terms. Vocalist Michael Berdan rediscovers his rage from his days screaming for Drunkdriver, acting as then human uprising against Greenberg’s legion of amplifiers and drum machine mother brain. Even if it doesn’t inspire you to overthrow the system (or at least your manager), it’s a waterfall of dead eyes, tapping thrash espresso into your ever-despairing soul. — ANDY O’CONNOR

13. Spirit Adrift – “Curse of Conception”

(Curse Of Conception, 20 Buck Spin)
Being born fucking sucks, right? That’s what Spirit Adrift founder Nate Garrett posits with the title track of his Arizona band’s second album. He’s not into original sin, but he’s still convinced that our mere existence is a sentence of never-ending misery—and “Curse of Conception” is that vintage “Birth / School / Metallica / Death” shirt made into a song. The Arkansas native takes some Black Album chunkiness for the chorus, adds some “Sad But True” menace to Spirit Adrift’s omnipresent layer of melancholic doom. Metallica isn’t the only reference here: “Conception” also takes the best from Black Sabbath’s eternally underrated ‘80s work, particularly its soaring melodies; plus the intro gives off huge Trouble vibes, chucking brimstone like firewood. As with the whole album, it’s a fitting tribute to Garrett’s formative influences and how they still make life worth living in the face of … well, you have Twitter, right? — ANDY O’CONNOR

12. Power Trip, “Waiting Around to Die”

(Nightmare Logic, Southern Lord Records)
Townes Van Zandt, 1969: “Now I’m out of prison / I got me a friend at last / He don’t drink or steal or cheat or lie / His name’s Codeine / He’s the nicest thing I’ve seen / Together we’re gonna wait around and die.”

Power Trip front-beast Riley Gale, 2017: “You’re waiting around to die / How can you live with it?”

It might be a coincidence that there’re two great Texas songs called “Waiting Around to Die”—or maybe there’s just something about Texas. But while Van Zandt’s classic deals with the rootless tedium of Death taking His sweet-ass time to get around to you, Power Trip’s “Waiting” is telling you to charge forth and punch Death straight in the nuts. Gale’s howls and Blake Ibanez’s riffs and divebombs—which show the guitarist at his most direct and his most vertigo-inducing—are anathema to apathy, making this “Waiting” the perfect soundtrack for crop-dusting a hashtag-resistance bro wearing a Pod Save America shirt in the pit. Power Trip shows are not a place for middling in the first place. — ANDY O’CONNOR

11. Code Orange, “Forever”

(Forever, Roadrunner Records)
Code Orange’s “Forever” opens with a revenge vow for the ages, down-pitched for maximum demonic effect: “When hands are caught in my brother’s pocket / I’ll burn my gods down.” To wit, the Pittsburgh band have signaled their power-grabbing intentions from the beginning—the group menacingly self-identifies as “thinners of the herd,” according to a 2014 single—but it’s here, in the opening moments of their anticipated Roadrunner debut, that the long-awaited purge finally gets underway. “There’s nothing you can do to take it,” drummer/vocalist Jami Morgan sneers in the gap between breakdowns, punctuating his threats with well-measured snare hits. The tension comes to a head in the clobbering outtro, a terse, four-word declaration of immortality: “Code Orange / Is forever.” In the wake of the song’s unexpected Grammy nomination—”Forever” was the only hardcore single to make the 2018 best metal performance shortlist—the writing on the wall couldn’t be clearer. Next on the band’s agenda? World domination. Be very afraid. — ZOE CAMP

10. Sannhet, “Way Out”

(So Numb, Profound Lore Records)
It’s never been easy pinning a genre to Sannhet: The instrumental music this Brooklyn trio makes is more about goosebumps than a specific sound. As with all the band’s music, though, the drums from third album, So Numb, are up front and seem to conduct the composition while the guitars and bass—played by accomplished designers who make their own graphic art and videos—are evocative and well-defined. The driving and drifting “Way Out” is atmospherically reminiscent of the Cure’s Disintegration, but it could just as easily be a surprise bonus to Explosions in the Sky’s 2003 The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Space. Yet somehow, three-and-half minutes in, it’s still clearly Sannhet, a testament to how carefully the band builds its powerful soundscapes. — BRANDON STOSUY

9. Mastodon, “Steambreather”

(Emperor of Sand, Reprise Records)
The transition between writing rollercoaster prog epics and catchier, more straightforward tunes usually comes with some growing pains. With “Steambreather,” though, Mastodon find that ever-elusive happy medium, proving that they can flirt with commercial appeal while still challenging themselves and their audience. A far cry from the Southern-fried technical death metal of the Atlanta metal quartet’s early work, the Middle Eastern-tinged “Steambreather” nevertheless encapsulates the band’s penchant for brains, brawn and—most notably—groove. Meanwhile, drummer Brann Dailor’s rather tuneful lead vocal has him seeming more and more like metal’s answer to Phil Collins, only without the sneakers or the schmaltz. — SABY REYES-KULKARNI

8. Converge, “I Can Tell You About Pain”

(The Dusk in Us, Epitaph Records)
There are more musical ideas crammed into these two minutes and 25 seconds than a lesser band would address in a sprawling, multi-part suite. After a five-year silence, the legendary Massachusetts band’s comeback single begins with a spastically asymmetric instrumental attack that’s classic Converge, stuttering forward and whiplashing back like a car crash on loop. It’s a fitting gesture for a song that’s lyrics take stock of a brutally failed (and faintly Oedipal) relationship in unapologetically melodramatic terms, with frontman Jacob Bannon screaming and gnashing about a “sick matriarch” who “rips the roots from my heart.” It might all be a little much if his bandmates weren’t so inventive, matching the histrionics with their own ever-escalating fury. After a series of riffs that are just as tricky as the first, “I Can Tell You About Pain” finally settles into a hulking hardcore breakdown—but even then the rhythms are jerky and strange, designed to throw you off balance even as they lure you into the pit. “Stay calm, keep your head down,” Bannon intones at one point. As long as Converge are still making music like this, that’s just about impossible. — ANDY CUSH

7. Couch Slut, “Funeral Dyke”

(Contempt, Gilead Media)
Scraping guitar feedback or unbridled sax skronk? Depressive black-metal anger or noise-rock histrionics? Better yet, why should you have to choose? You don’t: Couch Slut’s “Funeral Dyke” has it all. Front-yawper Megan Osztrosits sounds like she’s forever past her breaking point, where sanity is but a forgotten memory of an ideal past that probably never existed, while guitarist Kevin Wunderlich ping-pongs between extreme styles while maintaining an in-the-red consistency. “Dyke” seethes in anger like a Today Is the Day cut too hot for their seminal In The Eyes of God. There’s also some surprisingly gorgeous melodies in the song’s second half; if you want to call “Dyke” sentimental because there’s melody, you are truly damaged. — ANDY O’CONNOR

6. Obituary, “Sentence Day”

(Obituary, Relapse Records)
The first self-titled endeavor in Obituary’s storied 30-year career doubles as the band’s definitive release to date, whittling the Tampa pioneers’ abrasive oeuvre down to its crushing signatures: blistering solos, double-kick rhythms, hopscotching tempos—and of course, frontman John Tardy’s blood-curdling outbursts, which take center stage on lead speedball “Sentence Day.” Yowled from the perspective of a dejected death-row inmate, the gnarled track is less a single than a catalogue of execution methods (“Killed / Scarred / Burned / Skinned and waiting to die!”) rattled off at breakneck speed. Not that these Floridians fear the reaper: The song’s recurrent thunderstruck solos resemble giddy salutes to the inevitable end, a series of graceful dives into the void. Obituary are metal legends for a reason and “Sentence Day” is latter-day exhibit A. — ZOE CAMP

5. Pallbearer, “I Saw The End”

(Heartless, Profound Lore Records)
On 2017’s Heartless, the vintage doom that Pallbearer previously perfected has become shinier, stadium-ready, and more prog. Recorded to analog tape by the band and then mixed by Joe Barresi (QOTSA, Tool, Melvins, Fu Manchu), the group has polished (but not simplified) their knotty sound, reminding us they like their Pink Floyd and Rush alongside their Black Sabbath—and if any of Heartless’ seven songs could possibly land on a more adventurous classic-rock radio station, it would be opener “I Saw the End.” Across its triumphant six minutes, Brett Campbell leads mountainous three-part harmonies about blackening skies and the oncoming apocalypse, those Osbourne-bellowing vocals soaring confidently and dramatically over elastic guitars that dart, scissor, and crunch. “I Saw the End” seems like a decent follow up to “Black Hole Sun”—an accessible and anthemic bit of heavy psychedelia about the world imploding. — BRANDON STOSUY

4. Necrot, “The Blade”

(Blood Offerings, Tankcrimes)
Most musicians play instruments. Not the Oakland trio Necrot, who treat their blackened strain of crossover thrash as a vessel for purposeful self-destruction. “The Blade,” the first and best track from the band’s debut Blood Offerings, finds guitarist Sonny Reinhardt and bassist Luca Indrio engaged in a teeth-clenching showdown—the former’s choppy riffs cutting into the latter’s wiry fretwork like a hot knife. Drummer Chad Gailey supplies the sputtering engine, hammering away at the skins like they’re trying to run away from him. Chaotic as Necrot’s three-man sparring matches may be, their disparate approaches to pugilism reveal a shared commitment to brutal honesty—and more importantly, a stark opposition to pretense and posturing. “The Blade” is no-BS death metal at its best. — ZOE CAMP

3. Planning for Burial, “Whiskey and Wine”

(Below the House, Flenser Records)
If you’ve followed Planning For Burial sole proprietor Thom Wasluck over the years, you know that he used to drink a lot of whiskey. Jameson, specifically. His music, simply defined as “gloom,” is best enjoyed in solitude and sometimes that leads to smashed bottles and smashed hearts. He’s cut back on his drinking as of late, but the liquor is still very much a part of his music, as evidenced by “Whiskey and Wine,” the leadoff track from Below the House. (I’ve had the pleasure of serving Wasluck a Jameson shot before a house show myself and it made for one of the best shows of my life, by the way.) Wasluck crashes into this track with Jesu-esque guitar—lush, heavy, and sad all at once—and then delivers some of his angriest vocals yet, simmering regret brought instantly to boil. ”Whiskey” takes from both the pent-up confusion of Planning For Burial’s debut Leaving and the more streamlined clobbering from the Pennsylvania act’s follow-up Desideratum. Even glockenspiel and wintry synth can’t quell his rage on this song. “Whiskey” goes with lonely Christmases and lonely holidays all year long. ANDY O’CONNOR

2. Loss, “All Grows on Tears”

(Horizonless, Profound Lore Records)
Since debuting with the grandly depressing Despond six years ago, Loss’ funeral doom has grown more unrelentingly bleak, systematically spare, and darkly majestic. On this year’s Horizonless, the Nashville band create half-speed music as spacious and nimble as it is earsplitting and heavy. The devastatingly beautiful “All Grows on Tears”—which starts at a crawl and gathers steam by the time its finale crushes—finds the space to focus on the positive side of weeping: Once you’re dead and buried, water makes the roots flowing through your bones stronger. In his ghostly death whisper, guitarist Mike Meacham moans and gurgles about decomposition. Around him, moments of drifting repose gather and climb to swarming crescendos. You nod pensively, then bang your head, then tap your toes, because this song is weirdly catchy. There’s a good message, too: Something blooms as a result of our endings, even if it’s just our loved ones’ tears. If 2017 had an official anthem, this would be it. — BRANDON STOSUY

1. Power Trip, “Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Axe)”

(Nightmare Logic, Southern Lord Records)
If I had to name my 10 best concert experiences of 2017, the top three slots would all go to Power Trip murdering “Executioner’s Tax (Swinging the Axe)” live, an ultra-kinetic spectacle I witnessed on three separate occasions. Each time guitarists Nick Stewart and Blake Ibanez whipped out the track’s wailing intro, a kind of heavy-metal magic took hold; giddiness and glee flooded the mosh pit, transforming the empty floor space behind the pit into an all-inclusive (if ear-splitting) rager for metalheads of all races, ages, genders, creeds, and backgrounds. I saw kids headbanging with their parents, surly teens and middle-aged women shouting the battle-cry chorus (“SWINGING THE AXXEEEE!”). Most of all, I saw the platonic ideal of heavy metal: gnarled, potent, and fun. Consider the studio recording of “Executioner’s Tax (Swinging the Axe),” from the Texan band’s excellent Nightmare Logic, a crucible of this boundless, transcendent live energy—and arguably the finest metal song of the year. — ZOE CAMP