3) Leprous – Malina (Inside Out)
I’m at odds with myself by being an incredibly ADD prog fan. I think the phrase I said more than any other this year was “I don’t give a shit about any songs longer than 3 minutes.” Leprous scratch that very specific itch for me; the songs aren’t quite that short, but they present a version of progressive music that’s not bogged down with excessive guitar soloing and bloated track lengths. Make no mistake – the album is a tour de force of musicianship from start to finish, but every note serves the song. They get in, they make their point, and they get the hell out, and they do so in a way that’s both impressive and tasteful. Choice moment: the end of the middle section in “Stuck,” where frontman Einar Solberg unloads an absolutely bananas vocal showpiece. It’s probably my #1 favorite musical moment of 2017.
Key tracks: “Stuck,” “From The Flame,” “The Weight Of Disaster”
2) Toothgrinder – Phantom Amour (Spinefarm)
Talk about a curveball – after Toothgrinder dropped two of my favorite releases of 2014 and 2015, respectively, they pulled the bottom out of their slightly mathy, steamroller groove-oriented prog/hardcore sound, and completely double down on an album full of atmospheric textures, restrained playing, and heavily layered clean singing. It was a big risk, so if you’ve ever paid attention to my other lists or writing, you’ll be totally unsurprised to know that I think it’s sweet. There’s still some heavy moments; “The Shadow” is anchored by a muscular groove riff that was the backbone of Nocturnal Masquerade, but dig deeper and you’ll find electronic pulses, fuzz guitars, beer-chugger party jams, and hazy Deftones-isms. They’re throwing everything at the wall here, and fortunately it almost all sticks in an engaging way.
Key tracks: “The Shadow,” “HVY,” “Adenium”
1) Converge – The Dusk In Us (Epitaph)
Converge once again prove why they’re the kings of the genre here – it’s unmistakably Converge, but with just enough little deviations to keep you on your toes. A slight turn towards melody in some of the vocals and ultra-tight songwriting might fool you into thinking Converge have lost some edge, but it’s all wrapped up in Kurt Ballou’s signature sound – some of the most vicious, desperate guitar and drum tones you’ll ever hear in heavy music; simultaneously blown out and crystal clear.
Key tracks: “Eye Of The Quarrel,” “Under Duress”
The Contortionist – Clairvoyant (eOne)
Darkest Hour – Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora (Southern Lord)
Steven Wilson – To The Bone (Caroline)
Dead Cross – s/t (Ipecac)