We are getting dangerously close to being 9 years old. I started AngryMetalGuy.com at a time when I was a different person, and 2017 proved that more than any year of my life. I loved metal, I loved to write, I was looking for work and studying Swedish, and I was still in my 20s, and Enslaved was producing albums I worshiped. Now I’m older, busier, crankier, Enslaved mostly makes me yawn, and I’m dedicating my life to different kinds of things. But while AMG isn’t quite as ‘personal’ of a blog as it once it was, I still love it very much and it is still a reflection of my values on the Internetz. And I’m happy that it has continued to not only be relevant and to produce reviews with high quality writing, but it’s gratifying that people continue to express their trust in us as the very best of metal review media. I agree, and while that wasn’t the “goal” when I started the blog, that became a goal after we reached a point where we were taking on new writers.
And we are reaching that goal as Angry Metal Guy continued onward and upward in 2017. This would be impossible without the guidance of Steel Druhm, Madam X, and Dr. A.N. Grier, Sentynel and all the writers that I bully, new and old. We continue to reach new highs and we try to make up for our lows. And while things aren’t exactly the same as they once were,1 it’s hard not to look down on all that I have accidentally begotten and not feel proud and grateful to everyone involved—writer and reader alike.
Twenty-seventeen was a year of ups and downs, it’s included some pretty major life changes for me. As such things go, they really threw me for a loop, and one of the things that fell by the wayside even more than actually expected was the blog. It would be optimistic to say that 2018 will be better—but I live in constant hope. When I write this list next year, I will be finishing/have finished my PhD Thesis and be preparing to defend it. But what won’t change is my love of excellent, fun, and impressive music, and you can expect some new things in the future.
So may the new year bring you guys a lot of music you enjoy and reviews where we explain why you have inferior taste. You’re welcome. And Happy New Year!
#(ish): Diablo Swing Orchestra // Pacifisticuffs — While I’m not totally overwhelmed by Pacifisticuffs like I was with its predecessor, I am sure that I will be listening to this album for a long time. The song are fun, smart, addictive, and they keep me coming back. If this had been released earlier in the year, it would have ended up on the proper list. But December releases will do that to you. When will labels learn?
10: Leprous // Malina — I didn’t know what to make of Malina at first. And one night, when sitting with friends who aren’t particularly into metal, Leprous‘ newest album was playing in the background. One of them, whose tastes I’ll politely call ‘indie pop,’ said, “hey, I really like this song.” That was my moment of insight. Malina isn’t Leprous as we knew them. It’s just a wonky-ass indie pop record. But it’s a good one! While these guys aren’t as inspiring as they may have been a few years ago, Malina is an album that I think captures a good fraction of their genius in another form. And while all bands change, few bands successfully merge into something as good as Malina; Leprous is developing a sound that stands on its own, as idiosyncratic as their older material. Different, but really good.
9: Aeternam // Ruins of Empire — In a sea of trend bands making “retro epic progressive funeral doom,” Aeternam flies the flag of melodic death metal high. Ruins of Empire is the third album from these Canadian go-getters and it lives up to, and builds upon, the band’s already pretty solid discography. Their sound isn’t innovative, it’s orchestral melodeath with a MENA flavor, and we’ve all surely heard that before. But Aeternam combines Orphaned Land and Behemoth, and it ends up having all the intensity that a lot of the ‘oriental metal’ bands lack. Ruins of Empire is filled with solid songs, fun riffs, and enough Phrygian dominant scales to make Karl Sanders blush. If you haven’t purchased this record yet, now’s the time!
8: Blaze Bayley // Endure and Survive — Oh Blaze Bayley. Ever will I be trolled for liking your music, and ever will I continue to add you to lists. Endure and Survive is everything I described in my TYMHM17 about it: it’s well-written, solidly performed, thinly produced, and the concept is a bit shakily executed. But what can I do? I still just love the damn thing. This is not artistic genius from a conceptual perspective, but it has an old school feel that I love, and it is unapologetically metal in an un-ironic way. Infinite Entanglement was a fun record, and Endure and Survive makes part 2 worth your time. So maybe part 3 will be my RotY for 2018? Crazier things have happened.
7: Soen // Lykaia — I got Lykaia months ahead of time and never managed to write a review of the album. This doesn’t mean that it’s not a good album—note: it’s on this list—but given life as it happened, it ended up getting pushed off and moved around and suddenly it was April and it was too late, and then it was October and it was too soon, and then it was December and I had to write Angry Metal Guy’s Top 10(ish) of 2017. But don’t let that stop you from picking it up. Lykaia is a worthy follow-up to Tellurian, if not its equal. The band’s sound has changed with the addition of Markus Jidell (Avatarium), who adds the influences of blues rock to Soen‘s modern, Tool-influenced progressive metal. And as a band, Soen is better than ever. They know how to groove and seethe (like on “Jinn”) and they have begun to coalesce into a tight live act. It’s eminently clear that they’ve moved far beyond being a “super group,” and into being one of progressive metal’s best acts.
6: Caligula’s Horse // In Contact — I’m not djent djunky, but Caligula’s Horse isn’t a band that seems like they’re particularly true to the expectations of the djenre. In Contact shows these bearded Australian art kids wandering down the “melodic and progressive” vein, while leaving some of their techier sounds for the wayside. This is a perfectly fine turn of events, in my opinion, because In Contact is an excellent album from a band that continues to develop a sickly sweet sound that I (and Kronos) can’t seem to get enough of. This record also has the enviable feature that it gets better as it goes on, and that makes it a particularly easy record to listen to repeatedly. When you hit the end of “Graves,” you’ve sat through so many great riffs and memorable songs, that you just want to listen to it again.
5: Crimfall // Amain — The return of Finland’s other symphonic folk metal band in 2017 was something I had long anticipated. And Amain did a great job of meeting my expectations and demonstrating that time had not dulled the swords of these Finnish heavy metal warriors. And while I was slow on the uptake, once Amain sat with me, it revealed itself to be a deep, enrapturing record that fulfilled my wishes for it. The tracks are epic—loaded with harmonies, counter melodies, orchestrations, vocal choirs, and fantastic performances from the whole band—and my spirit animal (Helena Haaparanta) continues to be one of the best vocalists in metal. I get that it isn’t 2004 anymore—so this sound isn’t the hip and happenin’ thing that all the kids are jivin’ to—but Crimfall continues to be a band that is far too under the radar given their epic talents and three great albums.
4: Archspire // Relentless Mutation — Relentless Mutation is a record whose title deftly describes Archspire‘s musical trajectory. These Canucks came back in 2017 to scorch my face off with some absolutely relentless techy death metal. While I was a fan of their last record, I wasn’t exactly sitting around watching my email waiting for a download link. But Kronos pointed me in its direction, and I was immediately overcome. Relentless Mutation is unashamedly ‘modern’ in its sound—it is tech death, a genre dedicated to figuring out how to make DR2 not audibly peak—but it hits every note that I want from techy music with such precision that I adore. The riffs are sick and memorable, there’s tons of groove and great melody, and the addition of the neo-classical licks to the fold is something which I’ve been screaming for more bands to do since I first heard Oracles by Fleshgod Apocalypse. While Relentless Mutation isn’t that perfect neo-classical tech death that I desire, it’s one of my favorite tech death albums in years.
3: Lör // In Forgotten Sleep — Lör is like Wilderun‘s little brother, cutting their teeth on epic folk metal, but doing its own thing. I knew that In Forgotten Sleep was special from when I first heard it. The ’80s production aesthetics and unapologetic and idiosyncratic nerdiness of the music spoke to me on a deep level. At 68 minutes, In Forgotten Sleep is pushing into territory that usually puts me to sleep, but Lör are deft composers and they manage to keep things fresh and interesting throughout. And what’s sneaky about In Forgotten Sleep is that I have become less critical of it, the more I’ve heard it. At first I wasn’t sure if I liked the production, and then I wasn’t sure if I liked the vocalist, and then I wasn’t sure that the music was good enough to carry nearly 70 minutes on its own. Today I wouldn’t change any of that. In Forgotten Sleep is a triumphantly old school synthesis of different genres in a way that just works for what it is. All I’d change today is the logo and cover art.
2: Black Sites // In Monochrome — For the second time in three years, one songwriter has landed in the #2 spot on my Record(s) o’ the Year list. Last time, it was Trials who graced this list, but they have since met the Metal Gods in Valhalla. In 2017, we have Black Sites‘ In Monochrome, and nearly a year after I reviewed it, it’s still an excellent record. What’s great about Black Sites is how they manage to balance the new and old—writing tracks that hat-tip the greats—while dropping sick riffs and hooks that keep the listener coming back. While not as heavy a band as its predecessor, Black Sites is still unabashedly heavy and slick. And In Monochrome shows that the band also has a ton of potential. So if you’re like me and realize that songwriting is a dying art and long for metal interested in the craft, look no further than Black Sites. There’s nothing retro here, but In Monochrome feels undeniably classic.
1: Pain of Salvation // In the Passing Light of Day — You cannot differentiate context from the experience of art. In the Passing Light of Day is an album that I needed in January. While I was not dying, the feel and content of the album spoke to me at the right moment in the right time and one full year later, it’s still the finest thing I heard in 2017. This album is fueled by emotion, loss, frustration and fear. Recorded in the town where I have lived longer than anywhere in my life, In the Passing Light of Day almost felt like an album written for me and that got to me at the perfect moment. And unlike certain other albums I’ve had an intense relationship in the beginning, In the Passing Light of Day has stood the test of time. It continues to be an intense, emotional, and epic ride today—putting me on the edge of tears with every listen. Songs like “On a Tuesday” and the title track are beautiful epics, while “Tongue of Gold” (“I cry in the shower / I smile in the bed…”) is raw, and “Silent Gold” is a sweet ache. The heavy parts are still chaotic and winding, and while the tone isn’t necessarily good, it has come to feel right. Who knows what the future will bring for Pain of Salvation, but In the Passing Light of Day is the kind of once-in-a-lifetime album that I never expect to be duplicated.
Top 5(ish) Songs of the Year
#(ish): Caligula’s Horse – “Graves” — One thing you can’t take away from Caligula’s Horse is that they write smart, catchy tunes. While I think In Contact is a great album, it is an album that I think gets better as it goes on. The penultimate track (“The Cannon’s Mouth”) warmed me up, so when I first hit “Graves” I was blown away. Yes, this track is fucking long. But the composition is fantastic, the melodies are subtle (but hooky), and it’s emotional as hell. The thing that guarantees its success, however, is the last two minutes of the most fiercely executed groove I can remember. I listened to the last two tracks on repeat for about three days when I got the album, and “Graves” has stuck with me since.
5: Kobra and the Lotus – “Specimen X (The Mortal Chamber)” — In the tradition of Angra‘s “Crushing Room,” Kobra and the Lotus‘s “Specimen X” is an excellent modern power metal track that’s packed with all the melodrama possible from the Sterile Power Metal Sound™. Kobra’s tone and performance remind me of Doro‘s powerful pipes, and the chorus packs a fantastic punch. Put these together with a great bridge, and a guitar lead worthy of a South American crowd sing-along, and you have an exemplary and memorable song.
4: Blaze Bayley – “Blood” – I’ve always thought that Blaze’s bands are underrated, and tracks like “Blood” are the reason. This song shows off all of the best qualities of his solo work. One of the best things about his work is how good Blaze is at choruses. “Blood” features a fantastic chorus, great bass licks in the intro, and all the riffing is totally solid. I even love the vocal effects they use in the verses giving him a phased sound. It’s true that this track also demonstrates one of the less excellent sides of his recent solo work, with Extremely Awkward Exposition dominating a great melodic bridge of the track, but I don’t even care. When shit is good, it’s just good. If you can’t enjoy this track, I question whether you actually like heavy metal. [This track doesn’t exist on YouTube or Bandcamp as an embeddable track, because Blaze hates exposure now, apparently, so here’s a link.]
3: Soen – “Jinn” – “Jinn” is a groovy, seething song that does everything right. From the introductory swooping bass, to the sultry vocal line, to the chorus and Lopez’s finger drums and violin outtro, this track grabbed me immediately. Every time I come back to it, I get pulled in again to how the song builds up so slowly. It’s a patient track that shows Soen developing as a band and that I keep coming back to again and again.
2: Black Sites – “Burning Away the Day” – Speaking of bands with awesome riffs and great songwriting, Black Sites features both. You may remember the songwriter and riffmeister from this band from Trials (on whom I also heaped praise for their riffs), and “Burning Away the Day” demonstrates that Mark is one of the best metal riffmeisters around. This track is simultaneously old school and modern, rocking a Rainbow or Maiden feel, while still having a thick, crunchy tone and a heavy side worthy of the band’s thrashy background. An awesome track.
1: Pain of Salvation – “In the Passing Light of Day” — The title track from ItPLoD is a genuinely independent piece of genius. It is deep, emotional, and extraordinarily well constructed. The production is subtle, making it seem like you’re sitting in a room with Gildenlöw, a tube amp, and an old white Stratocaster. But the track is subtly layered with keyboards, multiple tracks and vocal harmonies which fill the sound out and offer a complexity to the apparent minimalism. It is the lyrics, however, that make me ache every time I hear this song. Maybe you have to be a bit older, with all the life experiences that suggests, in order to truly appreciate this track. But for me, it’s the thematic tensions in the song—about pain, longevity, novelty, and comfort—that carry tremendous weight. Add to this the pain—“My love, don’t be afraid I hear you say / I am here for you all the way / I just wish that I could smile and say / “Baby, hey, I’m in too much pain to feel afraid” / My lover, my best friend…”—and I am struck by a profound sadness. I saw this live in London, and the crowd was completely spellbound—the reaction to “In the Passing Light of Day” was stronger than the classic tracks they used as the encore. This song is truly the best song I heard in 2017, and one of the finest I’ve ever heard.