It’s December 2017, already? Oh shit.
As some readers have noticed, I’ve been largely absent from the AMG offices for much of this past year. Truth is, I’ve been working on a few musical endeavors of my own, and haven’t been able to quite keep up with all the other records being released (much less review them). While I’m sure I missed out on countless Max Cavalera- and/or Geoff Tate-associated projects, I still maintain that this is a good problem to have.
Anyway, here’s some stuff that impressed, inspired, or simply rocked my ass this year. And as always, if you disagree with anything on this list, you are wrong. See you in 2018.
(Ish) Ulver // The Assassination Of Julius Caesar – Of all the reunions that took place in 2017, perhaps the most overlooked was Ulver reuniting with actual songs. The Assassination of Julius Caesar finds Ulver as highbrow and pretentious as ever, but with recognizable song structures and memorable hooks, topped off with Garm’s unmistakable silky-smooth voice. The resulting sound is not unlike an extremely dark George Michael album, which is really what the world needs right about now.
#10. Exhumed // Death Revenge – Exhumed‘s last two records have been excellent slabs of grindy death metal, and Death Revenge completes the hat trick. A concept record about grave robbing in 19th-century Scotland (I’m not sure why Subzero from Mortal Kombat is on the cover), Death Revenge is easily the most ambitious thing Exhumed have ever done. The music itself follows suit, with loads of harmonized guitar themes and even orchestral passages. If this sounds lame and weak, rest assured that Death Revenge still contains plenty of the speedy gore metal that Exhumed is known for.
#9.Tau Cross // Pillar Of Fire – On Pillar Of Fire, Tau Cross continues to mine the Motorhead-meets-Highlander sound that worked so well on their self-titled debut. The heavier songs still pound ominously (“Killing The King,” “RFID”), and the ballads remain dramatic and poignant (“What is a Man,” the title track), and all tracks seethe with the kind of measured fury that only comes with experience. Oh, and it’s always a pleasure to hear Michel Langevin (Voivod) hit the drums.
#8. Thundercat // Drunk – While Drunk is not a metal album in any way, Stephen Bruner aka Thundercat does have some credentials, having served as Suicidal Tendencies‘ bassist for over a decade. Drunk is a strange brew of jazz fusion, old-school funk, and Zappa-style weirdness, while also borrowing liberally from hip-hop, anime, and Sega Genesis games. Check out the insanely catchy “Friend Zone,” or perhaps “Show You The Way,” in which Thundercat trades verses with both Michael MacDonald and Kenny Loggins (seriously).
#7. The Obsessed // Sacred – Sacred finds legendary frontman Wino making music under The Obsessed banner for the first time since 1994, alongside yet another new lineup of musicians. The band name and supporting cast are almost irrelevant at this point, but what matters is that Wino’s skills remain sharp as ever. “Sacred,” “Stranger Things” and “Razor Wire” are among the best songs in the Obsessed canon, and the album is generally a welcome blast of Sabbathy biker rock.
#6. Steven Wilson // To The Bone – It seemed inevitable that Steven Wilson would one day make a Peter Gabriel/Tears For Fears-styled pop album, and To The Bone is pretty much just that. What we have here is middle-of-the-road cerebral rock, with almost none of the complexity or grand design of his past two records. The timing of this coincides suspiciously with Wilson signing to a major label, but it also sounds more like Porcupine Tree than anything he’s done since that band split up. A few of the tracks don’t quite hit the mark, but when To The Bone works, it really works.
#5. Mutoid Man // War Moans – On their third record, Mutoid Man‘s signature sound remains generally intact, with a couple interesting developments along the way. Yes, the goofball lyrics are still there, and the riffs still sound like effects pedals being destroyed by all three mutants from Rampage. This time around, though, there’s also semi-serious homages to Morbid Angel and Seasons-era Slayer, as well as some genuine hooks. I still maintain that War Moans‘ main flaw is that the best tracks overshadow the rest of the album. But I’m still listening to those tracks 6 months later, so Mutoid Man must be doing something right.
#4. Royal Thunder // Wick – On their previous record Crooked Doors, Royal Thunder began to shed their retro-metal roots in favor of a more nuanced and original approach. Wick refines and builds on that sound, with tighter songwriting and some textured guitar work from axemen Josh Weaver and Will Fiore. Of course, the main draw is the voice of singer/bassist Mlny Parsonz, who is likely the best vocalist in rock music at this time. Wick is not a huge leap forward or a change in direction, but instead represents steady growth and confidence, and there’s something to be said for that.
#3. Spirit Adrift // Curse Of Conception – Easily my biggest surprise this year, Spirit Adrift won me over with a winning mix of influences including Trouble, Cathedral, Thin Lizzy and of course Black Sabbath (alongside subtle hints of Big Four thrash). More importantly, Curse Of Conception boasts excellent songwriting, a soulful vocal performance, and thankfully contains no lyrics about wizards or bong hits. I rarely hear “doom” albums that maintain my interest these days, but Spirit Adrift transcend both that genre and its stereotypes. I have to thank my colleague Dr. A.N. Grier for the referral on this one; check out his interview with frontman Nate Garrett here.
#2. The Night Flight Orchestra // Amber Galactic – I’m not sure what more there is to say about Amber Galactic, except that it/s one of the most fun records I’ve heard in years. Over the course of 3 albums, The Night Flight Orchestra has perfected a style that recalls everything that was great about rock music between 1976-1984, delivered with little irony and no apologies whatsoever. Yes, it’s occasionally cheesy, but beneath the cheddar is clever songwriting (there’s that word again) and top-notch musicianship. Here’s hoping that they can finally quit their day jobs in Soilwork and Arch Enemy and focus on NFO full time, or at least long enough to do a U.S. tour.
#1. Pain Of Salvation // In The Passing Light Of Day – This year may have generated records that were quantifiably “better” somehow, but nothing hit me as hard as this one. Inspired by mainman Daniel Gildenlow’s near-death experience, In The Passing Light Of Day is a powerful musing on love and grief (and of course creepy sex stuff, because Daniel Gildenlow). Musically, ItPLoD represents a partial return to Pain Of Salvation‘s heavier sound, with a particular emphasis on polyrhythmic trickery. In true PoS fashion though, it’s the ballads that shine brightest (specifically “Silent Gold” and the title track). It’s maybe a little intense for everyday listening, and some circumstances of its creation are mired in sketchiness, but In The Passing Light Of Day is still an astounding album by any measure.
Huck N’ Roll
“Huckster, give us a top ten list.” Well, here’s the problem, if I do a scan through my dozens of reviews here this year, I only really have enough to do a top five list. Luckily, the rest of our crew of merry gentlemen (and woman) reviewed a ton of excellent material, and you and I both got to reap the benefits of their work.
This year I listened to over 300 albums. At least 200 of those pretty much just took up time I could have spent reading the news. But that left a ton of great material to sift through, and while it was easy to pull together my favorite 25 albums, and then my top 15, giving just one of those the #1 spot was a bit harder. But as someone near and dear to me says, “It is what it is,” and so here’s my Top Ten(ish) of 2017.
(Ish) Dodecahedron // Kwintessens – If I’ve taken anything away from the last year and a half reviewing albums at Angry Metal Guy, it’s the fact that I’ve been able to broaden my tastes. Three years ago, there’s no way something as crazy as Kwintessens would even reach my speakers, let alone a year-end list. This is disturbingly alluring prog-tech-death done in masterful fashion, and I’m damned glad I took a chance on giving it a spin.
#10. Bell Witch // Mirror Reaper – An eighty-three minute song is a pretty pretentious thing to try and pull off, especially for a two-man band, and even more especially when one of those members is replacing a former member who passed away, but Bell Witch pull it off with a thoroughly engrossing and emotional opus that’s well worth setting aside time for. It’s pretty much the opposite of Kwintessens.
#9. Persefone // Aathma – Andorra may be a tiny, unknown country, but Persefone did it proud in grand fashion with the excellent modern prog metal album Aathma. Four of my top ten-ish albums were AMG Records o’ the Month, and Aathma just barely missed out in March. These guys produced an extravagant death-tinged prog album that’s a joy to listen to, and even better than their excellent back catalog.
#8. Lör // In Forgotten Sleep – Every year someone comes along who surprises the hell out of us. This year hands down it was Lör, whose debut album In Forgotten Sleep was the talk around the water cooler for all of August. The band’s sublime blend of prog, power, and folk metal had us all forgetting about Steven Wilson and Leprous, who also released albums that month. My favorite debut album of the year.
#7. Spirit Adrift // Curse of Conception – One man doom act Nate Garrett just put out a great album in 2016, how the heck could he top it a year later? Nobody really knows, but top it the man did, with Curse of Conception, one of the best doom records of the year. Garrett channeled all his influences (Black Sabbath, Pallbearer, and Cathedral, amongst others) into something uniquely his own. An excellent followup.
#6. Loss // Horizonless – Out of all the albums on my list, this is the one I had the hardest time with. Not in regards to inclusion here: it definitely needs to rank high on any doom aficionado’s list. Moreso because Horizonless is such an exhausting album to listen to. This is funeral doom to play when regular funeral doom feels too optimistic, and as such is impossible to listen to beginning to end without being a different person at the finish. Like many albums on this list, Loss managed to up their already magnificent game.
#5. Sorcerer // The Crowning of the Fire King – When you’re dormant for decades, you need to forgive the fans if they’ve forgotten you. Luckily, the intrepid Steel Druhm pulled this album out of the promotional scrapheap and found a stellar, trve and olde metal album. Epic in scope, doomy in nature, and of the finest tempered steel, The Crowning of the Fire King is a towering achievement for a band that’s been quiet for so long.
#4. Caligula’s Horse // In Contact – Progsters love Caligula’s Horse, but much like Persefone they’ve been flying under the radar. Maybe not for long, after the masterful In Contact. Aside from a spoken-word rant towards the end, this loose concept album shines on all levels – outstanding vocals, and a band that can shred with the best but knows when to step back and let the entire picture show through. Australia’s finest prog product prove once again that they rule the roost down under.
#3. Pain of Salvation // In the Passing Light of Day – Despite coming out in January, Pain of Salvation’s excellent album survived the test of time and withstood nearly all comers, delivering an emotional autobiographical concept album that clicks on all levels and comes in as the best prog metal album of the year. From start to finish the talent and feel shine through, with technicality and raw emotion constantly pushing each other to higher levels.
#2. Pristine // Ninja – I’m not going to say why we didn’t review this when it came out (ahem, promoters, ahem), but better late than never. Norway’s Pristine delivered the best blues-rock album we’ve heard since Blues Pills’ 2014 self-titled debut. With stellar songs, a superb band, and out-of-this-world vocals from Heidi Solheim, Ninja almost never left my playlists this year.
#1. The Night Flight Orchestra // Amber Galactic – Every record in my list is deserving of top billing. Best metal album? Sorcerer. Best doom? Loss. Prog? Pain of Salvation. But when push came to shove, I went with my heart here, and no record got played more, in more situations, than Amber Galactic. It was the perfect blend of classic pop and hard rock, harkening back to the days of bands like Harlequin, Prism, Loverboy, and even a bit of Abba. This record featured the catchiest songs of the year, perfectly arranged, with Björn Strid singing his heart out. With the world going to hell in a handbasket, and everyone offended by everything this year, isn’t it just the best to sit back in your easy chair and crank Amber Galactic with a huge shit-eating grin on your face the entire time?
- Mahakala // The Second Fall – Eldritch Elitist turned us on to this charming blend of power and doom metal, and we thank him.
- Night // Raft of the World – We didn’t review this, but the overt Blue Oyster Cult vibe of this record really grew on me over the year.
- Sabbath Assembly // Rites of Passage – The best occult rock album of the year.
- Wobbler // From Silence to Somewhere – Top notch prog in the vein of Yes, Gentle Giant, etc. My favorite album of the ones I reviewed.
Disappointment o’ the Year
I honestly don’t get all the fuss about the latest from Leprous, Malina. I was looking forward to this record more than any other this year: maybe that’s why I felt it was just a waste of so much potential, all turned into sad-boy prog. The album made a lot of year-end lists, but it just left me shaking my head, wondering who castrated this once-fine band.
Worst Album o’ the Year
Appice // Appice. So bad I don’t think any site reviewed it. The Appice brothers are drumming legends, but somehow when they worked together they combined to provide the biggest lump of turd on the year. Nothing on this record sounded good, especially the beyond-lame Black Sabbath mashup.
Cover Art o’ the Year
Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper. Obviously.
Song o’ the Year
Poseideon “Mother May; Son of Scorn” – I wanted to choose “Fucked with an Anchor,” by the legendary Alestorm, but was politely asked to stand down. And after having almost been put out with the trash for sneaking a Kiss article onto the site, I decided standing down was the prudent choice. So check out this melancholic, beautifully arranged acoustic doom number from Poseidon.