With every year that passes, things seem to get better and better for metal as a whole. New bands are reaching audiences they’d never have dreamed of 20 years ago, largely thanks to the internet, and many of the genre’s old-guard are stepping up their game and releasing some of the best material they have in years. Death metal, in particular, seems to be enjoying a particularly strong surge in excellence across its innumerable subgenres. And so, as we approach the mid-way point of 2017, what better time to reflect on some of the death metal albums that have taken the game by storm so far this year? Before we get started, I’d like to give honourable mentions to Immolation, Suffocation, Broken Hope, Maze of Sothoth, Nyktophobia, and Firespawn, who have all released absolute beasts this year, but have just been edged out of the top 5.
- Hideous Divinity – ‘Adveniens’
Italy has a history of producing excellent brutal death metal bands, with Hour of Penance and Fleshgod Apocalypse leading the charge. Rome’s Hideous Divinity look set to complete the triumvirate, and put cement Italy’s place as an important piece of the metal map. Already with two albums under their belt with tech/brutal death metal label Unique Leader Records, Hideous Divinity unleashed their third offering, and best album yet, in April.
‘Adveniens’ is not for the faint of heart – there is no orchestration or atmospheric elements here, just ~50 minutes of sheer, savage, brutality. Across the record as a whole, Hideous Divinity clearly display how they have grown since 2014’s ‘Cobra Verde’ – the songwriting is just simply better and more mature, the riffs are astonishing, the drums are, somehow, even tighter and everything is just more cohesive. ‘Cobra Verde’ was good, but ‘Adveniens’ is outstanding. There is a fine line between writing great tech-death and self-indulgent wankery, but Hideous Divinity definitely fall into the former with their newest offering.
- Azarath – ‘In Extremis’
Lead by none other than Polish titans Behemoth‘s drummer, Inferno, Azarath offer a classically Polish sound – a visceral mix of black and death metal that is as intelligent as it is abrasive. Azarath have never enjoyed the same level of success that Inferno sees in Behemoth, but as is often the case with extreme metal, many of the best bands remain underground. It’s been six years since the last Azarath album, the utterly jaw-dropping ‘Blasphemers’ Maledictions’ – a gap that can no doubt be attributed to Inferno’s punishing schedule with Behemoth following the incredible success of 2014’s‘The Satanist’.
Six years is a long time for a band not to be active, and there were some big expectations for Azarath to deliver a suitable follow-up to the criminally under-rated ‘Blasphemers’ Maledictions’. On first listens, ‘In Extremis’was a bit of a disappointment. Immediately, it was a great album, but it didn’t have that initial wow factor the previous record did. However, after spending more time with ‘In Extremis’, it’s clear that Azarath have delivered one of the finest records of the year. Impossibly dark, and skull-crushingly brutal, ‘In Extremis’ is an unrelenting blast-fest that was definitely worth the wait.
- Entrails – ‘World Inferno’
In a world where Dismember have hung up their axes, and Entombed are embroiled in drama and confusion, the hunt for top-tier Swedish death metal must look to more modern bands still true to the old-school sound. Though Entrails formed in 1990, when Swedish death metal was beginning to claw its way from the frozen tundra of the North, they didn’t actually drop their first full-length until 2010’s ‘Tales From The Morgue’. But they are well on the way to making up for lost time, with five full-length albums in seven years and no sign of slowing down. But the quality of Entrail’s music is just as important as the quantity they seem to be releasing as quickly as possible: they have gone from strength to strength with each album deserving a place in the Swedish death metal hall of fame – and their newest opus, ‘World Inferno’, may just be the best of the bunch.
Filthy and raw, ‘World Inferno’ embodies everything that is so damn great about Swedish death metal – gore-drenched imagery, buzzsaw riffing, catchy melodies and all delivered in a package that will make you think it’s 1991 all over again. The album is anathematic, bloodthirsty, and packed from start to finish with pure aural carnage. Entrails have penned an album that will be hard pressed to find a worthy contender for “Best Swe-Death Album of the Year,” and though we still have another six months of music to get through before we can start our end of year lists, I think they might have that one in the bag.
- Maat – ‘Monuments Will Enslave’
The most underground release on this list, Maat‘s sophomore album, ‘Monuments Will Enslave’ is both one of the best and most underappreciated death metal albums to have been released in the first half of this year. One of the many, many German bands that are crafting incredible death metal in the underground at the moment, Maat have taken their eastern-influenced old-school death metal sound to a whole new level with their newest offering.
The bastard love child of Morbid Angel and 2000s era Behemoth, Maat mix an interesting, somewhat blackened sound complete with occasional use of Middle-Eastern instrumentation and pure old-school worship – and the final result is astounding. ‘Monuments Will Enslave’ is fast, abrasive and bloodthirsty, but it also embodies many of the best elements of old-school death metal and drives them into the 21st century.
- Hate – ‘Tremendum’
‘Tremendum’ is incredible. There are no two ways about it. Hate have always been a really interesting band, bridging the gap between the riffs and brutality of death metal and the bleak atmospherics and thoughtful, blasphemous poetry of black metal with an unparalleled level of expertise. Consistence, intelligence, and passion have been the driving force behind Hate for a quarter of a century – whether you listen to one of the early demos, or the newer, polished, full-lengths, an extremely high quality of song-writing shines through right across their discography.
Though I thoroughly enjoyed Hate’s ninth album, ‘Crusade:Zero’, it was a self-proclaimed disappointment to the band’s frontman and creative driving force, Adam Buszko. With the tragic passing of bassist Sławomir Kusterka (Mortifer) looming over the band, the remaining members decided to call Hate quits, leaving Buszko to rebuild the band from the ground up, and fulfil contractual obligations with a new album in less than ideal circumstances. Like I said, I really liked ‘Crusade:Zero’, but ‘Tremendum’ is something else entirely. There is a new focus, a reignited passion, and an energy that bands just starting their careers would be envious of. ‘Tremendum’ is just incredible from start to finish – beautifully written and brutally executed, it is blackened death metal done to perfection. There is no doubt in my mind that it is the best death metal album of 2017 so far, and it’s going to take something very, very impressive to knock it from that spot come time for end of year lists.
This list is focused only on full-length albums, but there have been some excellent EPs and demos that have dropped so far this year that deserve being mentioned – props to Godeater, Gates of Endor, Warpath, and Cryptworm, who have all released really promising EPs and demos this year. The rest of 2017 is also shaping up to be incredible for death metal, with new albums from Decapitated, Abhorrent Decimation, Dawn of Disease, Incantation, The Black Dahlia Murder, Arch Enemy, Septicflesh, Cannabis Corpse and a promised return to form from the mighty Morbid Angel before the year is out. Let us know what your favourite death metal albums of 2017 have been so far, and what ones you’re most looking forward to, in the comments below!