It was an off-album-cycle year for most of heavy music's A-list and even B-list — which meant that the onus fell on ambitious up-and-comers and grizzled underground veterans to step it up on the new music front, and step it up they did. While the festival headliners were busy on the road headlining festivals, death-metal pioneers got back to what they do best, former hardcore frontmen explored fresh hard-rock sounds, recently assembled supergroups were super and young extremists were extreme. Here are 2017's 20 best albums (and one EP).
20. Scour - 'Red'
Ex-Pantera frontman Phil Anselmo has dabbled in black metal intermittently for over two decades now with side projects like Christ Inversion, Viking Crown, Eibon and now Scour, his gnarled crew of battle-tested players from Pig Destroyer, Cattle Decapitation and others. A six-track romp through buzzing infernos and sludgy hellscapes, the supergroup's second EP, Red, is Anselmo's finest black-metal hour to date — no corpse paint necessary. Zoe Camp
19. Royal Thunder - 'Wick'
Led by the inimitable vocal prowess of singer/bassist Mlny Parsonz, Royal Thunder have been steadily redefining the sound of American rock & roll since 2007. The Atlanta band's third album is a stirring Southern union of psychedelic blues, heavy soul and galvanic rock that somehow gets better with each spin. J. Bennett
18. Necrot - 'Blood Offerings'
Packed with killer riffs, thunderous blast beats and the death-defying leads of Saviours guitarist Sonny Reinhardt, the debut album from this hotly touted Oakland death-metal trio bristles with a raw intensity that's frequently lost in the modern era of triggered, overproduced extremity. By keeping it real, Necrot keep it awesome. J.B.
17. Tombs - 'The Grand Annihilation'
With a talent for fusing extreme metal with gothic atmosphere, post-rock expansiveness and deeply introspective lyrical themes, Brooklyn's Tombs hit a new creative apex with their fourth album. The Grand Annihilation has more cool ideas and crushing riffs in the first three songs than most records have in their entireties. J.B.
16. Dead Cross - 'Dead Cross'
One of 2017's most thrilling adrenaline rushes, Dead Cross' debut LP found the unlikely supergroup of Mike Patton, Dave Lombardo, Retox guitarist Michael Crain and Retox/Locust bassist Justin Pearson frenetically fusing thrashy hardcore with Patton's personal brand of unhinged vocal weirdness. Spin this record every morning, and you'll never need coffee again. Dan Epstein
15. Integrity - 'Howling for the Nightmare Shall Consume'
A veritable feast of darkness, Integrity's ninth album lures the listener through one artfully-constructed descent into Hell after another. A sprawling masterpiece that willfully defies easy genre pigeonholing — it sinks its talons into everything from metalcore to Motörhead to early Scorpions — Howling for the Nightmare Shall Consume is the crowning achievement of Integrity's impressive career. D.E.
14. Morbid Angel - 'Kingdoms Disdained'
For a band, lineup chemistry is everything, and bassist/vocalist Steve Tucker's return to Morbid Angel, following the major misstep that was 2011's industrialized David-Vincent-reunion album Illud Divinum Insanus, has brought out the best in guitarist/main man Trey Azagthoth. On the relentlessly furious Kingdoms Disdained, he reminds the world that he isn't just a death-metal O.G., but also maybe the subgenre's greatest creative force. Fred Pessaro
13. Full of Hell - 'Trumpeting Ecstasy'
Chalk it up to effort, persistence or nefarious musical logic: As soon as Full of Hell released Trumpeting Ecstasy, their devastating third LP, the band's emergent reputation as royalty within the East Coast underground calcified into mathematical certainty. With harsh metaphysics like theirs, industrial-noise-blasted grindcore has never sounded so godly. Z.C.
12. Trapped Under Ice - 'Heatwave'
Six years after unleashing their most brutal batch of pit-starters, hardcore torchbearers Trapped Under Ice made an unexpected sunny return with Heatwave: a spunky, ultra-melodic love letter to old-fashioned punk à la the Cramps, equally suitable for headwalking and hanging out. The Baltimore boys have never shied away from pushing boundaries — and though some purists may chalk up Heatwave's sweetened palette to a de-fanging, ragers like "Do It" argue the contrary by way of a kick in the teeth. Z.C.
11. Obituary - 'Obituary'
The title of the death-metal quintet's 10th studio album pretty much says it all: From its hard-swinging grooves, neck-snapping riffs and watertight song arrangements, to Ken Andrews' dazzling old-school fretboard workouts and John Tardy's blood-curdling roar, Obituary is basically everything you could ever want from an Obituary album — which is why we love it, of course. D.E.
10. Higher Power - 'Soul Structure'
Like a punch from a fist tattooed with smiley faces, this hardcore quintet from Leeds, England, seriously slapped us upside the head with the positive energy of their full-length debut. Soul Structure's 10 tracks offered an exhilarating blast of classic NYHC crossover, with a touch of Jane's Addiction and a whole mess of streetwise British swagger thrown in for good measure. D.E.
9. Grave Pleasures - 'Motherblood'
The Finnish death rockers formerly known as Beastmilk delivered their best album to date with this year's Motherblood. Songs like "Falling for an Atom Bomb," "Be My Hiroshima" and "Doomsday Rainbows" balance post-punk pandemonium with nuclear hooks, while frontman Mat McNerney's sonorous vocal lines invoke mushroom clouds over stinging guitars and apocalyptic beats. J.B.
8. Amenra - 'Mass VI'
Belgian post-metal outfit Amenra have trafficked in transcendent anguish from the start, both musically and lyrically. The group's discography is not so much a series of albums as it is a staggered, pain-ridden liturgy, a steadily-unfolding procession of crushing "masses." With its sweeping scale, nuanced feints and dynamic twists and turns, Mass VI is the group's most stunning sacrament so far. Z.C.
7. Frank Carter & the Rattlesnakes - 'Modern Ruin'
Frank Carter made his name as the live-wire frontman of punk-rock rabble-rousers Gallows; while his current solo band the Rattlesnakes traffics in a more mellow and melodic brand of hard rock, the singer injects it with all the bristling, snotty electricity of his former group. The result is catchy and accessible enough for commercial airwaves and yet edgy and real enough to engage discerning headbangers — think Queens of the Stone Age if instead of going dance with their last album, they had gone hardcore. It's rock music that actually rocks — which, in this day and age, is something worth celebrating. Brandon Geist
6. Godflesh - 'Post Self'
Three years after their punishing 2014 comeback, A World Lit Only By Fire, England's leading industrial-metal merchants took a more introspective turn on Post Self. This time out, Justin Broadrick and G.C. Green leaned heavily into dystopian soundscapes that, in their own bleakly cacophonous way, managed to leave as much of a lasting sonic and psychic mark as Godflesh's classic grinders. D.E.
5. Converge - 'The Dusk in Us'
Whether it's a plaintive ballad (the title track), an AmRep style bass ripper ("Trigger") or killer opener "A Single Tear" — perhaps the closest Converge have ever come to writing a traditional rock song — The Dusk in Us sees the revered Massachusetts hardcore outfit defying expectations at almost every turn. Essential. J.B.
4. Chelsea Wolfe - 'Hiss Spun'
Gothic singer-songwriter Chelsea Wolfe unveiled her heaviest and most dynamic album yet with a little help from Queens of the Stone Age's Troy Van Leeuwen, Mustard Gas and Roses' Bryan Tulao and SUMAC's Aaron Turner. But it's Wolfe's soaring, ghostly vocals that hold it all together, and under her guidance, the beautifully overcast Hiss Spun luxuriates in serpentine melodies, moaning doom riffs and high atmospheric darkness. J.B.
3. Mastodon - 'Emperor of Sand'
Mastodon's first concept album since 2009's Crack the Skye found the progressive-metal foursome grappling with such weighty subjects as cancer and mortality. It was hardly a bummer, though, thanks to the record's intensely uplifting music, which once again attested to Mastodon's innate ability to be both accessible and really friggin' far out at the same time. D.E.
2. Power Trip - 'Nightmare Logic'
After nearly a decade as a band, Dallas' Power Trip pulled it all together on Nightmare Logic, a distillation of years of hard touring on the DIY circuit and of everything good on their debut LP, 2013's Manifest Decimation, which saw glimmers of breakout potential through the rough, Eighties-style apocalyptic production. The quintet finally have an LP that encases its positively incendiary live show in amber, a totem with the power to lock in fans from hardcore kids to first-wave crossover seen-it-alls to everyone in between. F.P.
1. Code Orange - 'Forever'
The January release of Forever kicked off a massive 2017 for Pittsburgh's Code Orange, complete with opening slots for System of a Down, Hatebreed and Gojira, accolades from Corey Taylor, Randy Blythe and other tastemakers, a Revolver magazine cover and, most recently, a Grammy nomination. All deserved? Hell yeah. The most impressive thing about Forever isn't just the album's range — though few records encompass mosh-driving metal ("Kill the Creator," "Spy"), hooky post-grunge ("Bleeding the Blur") and atmospheric industrial rock ("Ugly," "dream2") the way that it does — it's that the record always sounds like the cohesive, signature work of one band. And that band is pissed, defiant, bursting with energy and imagination and, did we mention, pissed? The year's finest combination of forward-thinking experimentalism and reptile-brain fury. B.G.