Friday, December 29, 2017

Best of 2017: top 20 albums of the year

I have to be honest here, while I think there are no year in metal that is technically bad, I felt like 2017 was a disappointment. A lot of good records were released this year, but very few were truly great, nothing that I would even consider to my absolute favourites of all time. This made my selection of this year's top 20 records extra hard, because I had to ask myself if some of these albums even deserved to be here. In the end though, I did create this top 20, and will look back at this year as another decent year in metal, where the width of our beloved genre does show how large it is once again. So before we get into it, let me introduce some honorable mentions, the albums that just missed out.

Annihilator - For The Demented: The Canadians is becoming a "every other record" band
Antichrist - Sinful Birth: A nice sophomore effort from the Swedes
Bell Witch - Mirror Reaper: One song, 84 minutes of play time, 100% emotion
Caligula's Horse - In Contact: Proggy goodness
Fen - Winter: Impressive progressive black metal

Now, let us get to it, the top 20 albums of 2017

20. Avenford - New Beginning
As stated in my review, I did not know what to expect from this Hungarian band who exclaimed that they were starting from scratch in their sophomore effort. Whether that statement was true or not, there was no denying that "New Beginning" is a neat little piece of work, even if it might not be one of the most impressive feats you will see this year. What I love about this record is the grand versatility of it, that it moves through the mini branches of power metal seamlessly. It is just a very likeable record, one that kept coming back to me several times during the year. Not bad at all for a band at the beginning of their careers.

19. Tankard - One Foot In The Grave
Despite seeing that they are reaching the end of their road, Tankard makes sure that they drown those worrying thoughts with their usual set of "medicine", beer and metal. Maybe they saw all the success that a lot of thrash bands have had in recent years and said "hey, we want a piece of that cake too!", so they churned out one of their strongest pieces in over a decade. While it may not be fully focused around partying hard and drinking lots of beer, it is still Tankard to the core, just as funny and quirky as always, with several killer tracks to boot. Just hope that the grave does not get the rest of their bodies all too soon.

18. Cradle of Filth - Cryptoriana - The Seductiveness of Decay
The last couple of albums from Dani Filth and co. was really enjoyable right from the get go, but lost my interest down the stretch. "Cryptoriana..." however, did not. It still holds up as well today as it did the day it was released, and it is kind of hard to pin point exactly why that is, seeing that it is not THAT much different from its predecessors. It is a little more determined, a faster and harder effort where the band is going all in. It is less goth, more metal, and that is how it should be, a seductive mistress that I can come back to anytime.

17. Brothers of Metal - Prophecy of Ragnarök
Winning the "debut album of the year" award is the Swedish group Brothers of Metal, a band that borrows the macho attitude of Manowar, but puts its own spin to it with the viking theme. It could easily be seen as a cheesy rip off band that promotes false advertisement (or gender equality?), but I am having way too much fun to even care. Seriously, "Prophecy of Ragnarök" is one of the most fun power metal records I have heard in a long time, and I am still not sure if I want to call it a guilty pleasure, or just straight out pleasure. Eh, as long as I have fun, I am happy, and I do smile from ear to ear when this record is on.

16. Darkest Hour - Godless Prophets And The Migrant Flora
Now THIS was a shocker, after several years of dwelling in the mediocre metalcore swamp, Darkest Hour found a rope, and dragged themselves out of it, delivering their best record since the early days. With furious speed, extreme rhythms, and an energy that is more or less unmatched, Darkest Hour found back to their hardcore roots and just set a goal on destroying everyone's eardrums. I was blown away, mostly because the band felt so comfortable, that they would never return to the good old days, oh thank god they did.

15. Body Count - Bloodlust
Ice-T in a metal band, it sounds like the plot for some stupid family comedy that he would star in, but this is reality, and Body Count has been one of the more important metal bands in the nu-metal genre after all. I cannot say that I have too much knowledge of their past, but I understand their importance, and I understand that this album is more than a heavy punch in the gut. "Bloodlust" tackles several issues that is dealt within the modern society, and they do it in a manner that leaves quite an impact. Together with the help of Dave Mustaine, Max Cavalera, and Randy Blythe, Body Count takes no prisoners and makes sure you see the problems from a new perspective. Also, the "Raining Blood/Postmortem" cover should not really work, but Ice-T channels his inner Tom Araya and kills it.

Those this look like a guy who would make a metal record?

14. Leprous - Malina

Even if "Malina" is fairly similar to the superior "Affinity", Leprous still makes this their own thing, and unveils a very emotional and smooth record. It does not suit everyone, but I really enjoyed it because it felt more personal than that dark and gloomy "The Congregation". The band is trying to push themselves with every record, and that is something that everyone should admire about them, no matter if you like the album or not. They never stand still, they are never stuck on any mountain or that, they keep evolving and creating emotional records, and this year, I think they hit it out of the park.

13. Warbringer - Woe To The Vanquished
I was unsure whether if Warbringer would be able to channel their early career form again, that I would once again experience an onslaught like "Waking Into Nightmares". Sure enough, the American lads delivered big time with "Woe To The Vanquished", an album with tons of dynamite neatly packed within to blow everyone away. It is everything that I want from a band that is seen as a modern day interpretation of Slayer, they just crushed everything in its way with riffs and blast beats as its main weapons. There is no question here, "Woe To The Vanquished" is a crusher of epic proportions. But not as epic as...

12. Power Trip - Nightmare Logic
You would think that thrash metal has evolved in the close to 40 years it has been around, but albums like "Nightmare Logic" shoves a huge middle finger to that thought. Sure, it does not sound dated or anything, but Power Trip used classic strategies here, from the short and sweet play time of 32 minutes to the relentless riff assault that never seems to end. It is the 2017 version of "Reign In Blood", and it has the confidence to confirm it, definitely a worthy spiritual successor.

11. Mastodon - Emperor of Sand
At first, I was kind of underwhelmed by "Emperor of Sand", mostly in the musical department. The concept is great and imaginative, but the more commercialized music did leave me a little empty. But as time has gone, I have kept coming back to this record, never truly releasing its grip on me. While I still think it is one of the weaker Mastodon records to this date, it is still a Mastodon record with a lot of quality to it and several killer tracks. The quality here is undeniable, Mastodon keeps on trucking with its highly infectious music.

10. Kreator - Gods of Violence
The older, the better, am I right? Well, that is certainly true with thrash metal at least, because while we have seen a lot of great thrash records this year, it is the veterans in Kreator who made the best one. "Gods of Violence" puts all of the young bucks in their place with crushing riffs, catchy melodies, and an energy that certainly matches what they did in their hey days. Yep, Kreator is doing exactly what you would expect with this, their 14th studio effort, a kick ass record that will be remember with joy in the future.

9. Prospekt - The Illuminated Sky
I love finding new progressive talent, and I definitely think Prospekt is a band that more people should take a look at. Everything is showcased in "The Illuminated Sky", the impressive instrumental skills, the great song structures that will keep you guessing, and a keen sense of balancing between the heavy and the melodic side of things. For a band that just released their sophomore effort, they sure act like veterans, hopping here and there within the album without losing their way. It will sure be interesting to see where their journey will take them next.

8. Evil Invaders - Feed Me Violence
Man, I love me some speedy speed metal, and no other band delivered as good as Belgium's finest. Evil Invaders got off to a fast start in "Feed Me Violence" ,and beside from a couple of mellow parts here and there, they never slowed down. With a frantic pace that just saw the band spitting out riff after riff after solo after riff, this album became an insane roller coaster ride that left your head swinging back and forth and sideways. The adrenaline is pumping just by thinking of this album, and it is a high that you want to get back to time and time again.

7. Pallbearer - Heartless
The Americans in Pallbearer has only been around for just under 10 years, but has quickly become a giant in the doom metal scene, and listening to "Heartless", I can see why. It is a very beautiful listen that is very careful in what it does, never rushing its progress. Sure, this is a very bright album musically speaking, but there is a lot of darkness behind it that makes it so striking and so intense, without ever feeling dense. At the very least, it made me (finally) realize the greatness of this band, even if it might be seen as the "least good" effort of their short discography, do not miss it.

6. Ayreon - The Source
Okay, so Arjen Lucassen has made better concept albums in his life, but I just cannot ignore the pure joy that this album squirts out all over you, it is contagious. I mean, how in the hell do you make a song called "Everybody Dies" overly happy? It sounds so wrong, but Arjen makes it so right. This whole record has this campy musical feeling blended with power metal, and it mixes up so nicely, I simply cannot stop smiling when listening to this record, and it is all thanks to the passionate performances from all of the artists who was a part of this. Everybody dies, AND I LOVE IT!

5. Persefone - Aathma
When the hell is Persefone gonna get the key to the country of Andorra? Seriously, is there anyone else who have done more to advertise this country in a positive matter? Anyhow, "Aathma" is just a splendid achievement of technical progressive death metal, a grand epic that takes the band further than one would imagine. The technicality is off the charts, the song writing is as good as ever, and they even managed to catch a little Cynic magic together with Paul Masvidal. Yes, "Aathma" is an amazing album, probably the best thing that has come out of Andorra since... well... the last Persefone album.

4. Novembers Doom - Hamartia
These guys have really become one of my all time favourites in recent years. After getting in my top 20 of 2014 with "Bled White", they did it again here with "Hamartia", another brilliant effort of pitch black darkness and pitch black sorrow. Novembers Doom knows exactly how to pull your heart strings, while also delivering crushing blows towards the rest of your body, pummeling you completely. It is a beating I will gladly take, especially knowing how many awesome songs this record presents me with, each one more unique than the next one. Also, Paul Kuhr, can I marry your vocals?

3. Threshold - Legends of The Shire
With a change of vocalist and an announcement of a double record clocking in at 82 minutes, it was fair to wonder if Threshold bit off more than they could chew with "Legends of The Shire". Turns out, they did not, instead they delivered another excellent Threshold experience worthy to remember. All of the classic Threshold traits are here, neatly packed in a double album that takes us on both highs and lows. in various paces as well. This album never feels too long, it does a good job in distracting the listener from time itself, all to tell a neat little story that is accompanied with some fantastic progressive metal. It is an effort definitely worthy of being called "My Precious".

2. Unleash The Archers - Apex
The archers were surely unleashed with the release of "Apex", an album that knocked me out time and time again with its brilliant song writing and shear power. This is not any power metal album that you would find in your bargain shelf, this is a tour de force with a wide range of different weapons, each more efficient than the last. The most impressive thing though is the vocals by Brittany Slayes, because while most female fronted power metal bands not named Battle Beast would go more of a Nightwish route, this band said "fuck that", and went their own way. It may have taken them four albums, but Unleash The Archers have finally found their rhythm, the sound that shall lead them to greatness, and it is a journey we all should be a part of.

Out of all the albums I have listened to this year, no other release hit me as hard as "In The Passing Light of Day". The true story about singer Daniel Gildenlöw's interaction with death was breathtaking to listen to in musical form, and it was even heavier when I listened to him speak about it in the "Spotify Metal Talks" episode. Everything is emoted perfectly here, from the frantic and scary realization in "On A Tuesday", the hopelessness in "Meaningless", to the hope and relief in the title track, this whole album is an emotional roller coaster that hits every note. This album was written from the heart, from personal experience, and that ways incredibly heavy when you are taking it all in, it is a true effort that is shared to the world, and I honestly cannot be thankful enough for what the band has done, bringing this to life. Once again, thank you Pain of Salvation, and congratulations on your achievement.

So yeah, this whole year was kind of a waste, because this year's best record was released back in January, but we certainly had fun along the way. Thank you all for this year, no matter if you just stopped by or are a dedicated reader.

Happy new year, and let us hope that 2018 will be another great year for the greatest music genre there is.

Stay metal!
Robert "Sharkruisher" Andersson

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