Steel Druhm’s Top Ten(ish) of 2017

To think I’ve been doing this since April of 2010 makes my steely head spin. So much has happened around here in that time and we’ve grown from mega-kvlt to pretty damn big over the years (especially in Japan). I’ve had the pleasure of working with a series of fine writers and metal bloggers over that span, and I feel safe saying there’s not been a better ensemble than the one we have right now at this moment in time. They’re such a fractious, ornery collective of eclectic tastes and temperaments, but we’re one big dysfunctional family and I love them all like foster kids I keep around for the government subsidies. I want to hold on to this epoch of AMG history as long as possible, as it feels like a Pax Romana of sorts and I’m proud to be a part of it. Thanks for everything you folks do to make AMG a special place to work.

If you pursued the lists of my fellow AMG writers, you noticed a lot of talk about transitional periods, tough times and what a slog 2017 has been. Our staff is a notoriously whiny pack o’ divas and malcontents, but truth be told, 2017 was a challenging (though mostly positive) year for me as well. At times life made it hard to give AMG the amount of time it deserves. Thankfully, the ever wonderful Madam X and always helpful Dr. Grier stepped up and assisted in the day-to-day blog duties, enabling AMG to rumble along. A big thanks for the help, it meant a lot. And naturally, thanks to AMG Himself for founding this site and laying all the essential groundwork for what it has become.

I always take a moment at the end of the year to thank you, the loyal readers, and you deserve it now more than ever. You keep coming back here, despite our best efforts to drive you away with arcane inside jokes, opaque DR ranting and poor command of basic journalism tenets. You overlook our flaws and make a home for yourselves in the comment section, and though you pay no rent, we appreciate your presence more than you know. Keep coming back here, and we’ll keep doing the things we do. We love you crazy kids!

As for the year in music, it was solid, but as several staffers already pointed out, it wasn’t superlative, and I definitely ended up with fewer “must include” albums than in previous years. Still, when the metal was hot, it was molten, and some of the platters on my list will be favorites for years to come. Speaking of lists, mine is below, so read of it fully and know it to be trve. Steel hath spoken.

(ish) Galley Beggar // Heathen HymnsGalley Beggar aren’t metal in the traditional sense, and I’m not even sure why we got their promo, but for my money Heathen Hymns is the best occult/retro rock platter you’ll hear this year. If Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin ever collaborated, this is what it would sound like, and it’s glorious, mysterious, ethereal, and just a bit eerie. Folk sensibilities blend with 60s psychedelic rock and hypnotic vocals and the songcraft is top-notch throughout. This thing stuck with me all year and it fits well with any mood that doesn’t involve throwing cars at people or toppling governments. Beautiful, enchanting stuff.

#10. Excalion // Dream Alive – As far as pure, unadulterated Euro-power cheese goes, Dream Alive was the best album of 2017. With a new singer providing essential grit and an uncanny similarity to Marco Hietala (Tarot), Excalion set out to build towering edifices of catchy, Broadway-ready power metal ditties with just enough muscle to keep things metal. All the essential boxes are checked as the album rips from one upbeat anthem to the next, never losing sight of the need for hooks, flash and bombast. If more power metal was of this quality, I wouldn’t have outsourced my power duties to SwordJørn.

# 9. The Necromancers // Servants of the Salem Girl – It goes without saying a record this good should never have been given to a mere probationary Muppet. He didn’t deserve to bask in the meaty, riffy stoner doom goodness The Necromancers dropped on an unsuspecting world. He certainly had no business reviewing something so catchy and addictive, full as it is with Orange Goblin and Fireball Ministry badassery. All the more so as “Salem Girl Part I” is one of the best songs o’ the year. Yes, this album should have been the exclusive domain of Steel, and the bitterness still burns.

# 8. Witherfall // Nocturnes and Requiems – With Symphony X on indefinite hiatus so Lord Russell Allen can pursue his dreams of being in a shitty nu-metal act, Witherfall came from nowhere to pick up the neo-classical prog-power metal crown. With shred master, Jake Dreyer (Iced Earth) steering the ship, Nocturnes and Requiems is a stately, regal and classy ride through metal history with as many hooks as there are stunning musical moments. The fact Dio’s cousin is on the mic doesn’t hurt none either. A fitting memorial to drummer Adam Sagan, who tragically passed before the album saw its release. Maybe a one off, but if not, you can call these cats Symphony Next, provided Russell doesn’t get his head straight soon(ish).

#7. Below // Upon a Pale Horse – With Candlemass no longer fulfilling their role as undisputed modern doom masters, newer acts like Crypt Sermon, and Below have filled the breech. Upon a Pale Horse is an oh-so-very Leif Edling-esque outing with a goodly amount of traditional metal influence shoehorned in for maximum trvness. Powerful vocals join weighty riffs to drive a collection of surprisingly catchy numbers with real staying power. This sounds like what Candlemass should be doing in 2017 but isn’t, and somebody’s gotta do it. Below stepped up. Thanky.

#6. Nailed to Obscurity // King Delusion – The most obscure gem this year, Nailed to Obscurity’s well-executed fusion of Katatonia, Ghost Brigade, and Opeth really hit me in the feels. Here is the sadboy material for seekers of the melancholy and the bleak, but with a high heaviness quotient courtesy of some gut-busting death roars and the occasional Behemoth fixation that creeps its way into the funeral. A diverse set of killer tunes prove these cats are a band to watch. If you want some heaviness with your depressive tuneage, you best get Nailed.

#5. Threshold // Legends of the Shires – I’m a Threshold fanboy and have been for some time. That didn’t stop me from fearing the worst when superb frontman Damian Wilson bailed on short notice as the band prepared to record an 83-minute mega opus. Turns out my fears were groundless, as Legends is another smooth, slick work of prog-gold, with original singer Glynn Morgan riding to the rescue in heroic fashion. This is an album that kept growing on me long after my review, and I now believe I underrated it. Contrition is a bitch, but this album deserves a lot of props for making 83 minutes glide by so effortlessly. Thoughtful, polished, emotional and catchy, Threshold seems incapable of doing wrong.

#4. Hallatar // No Stars Upon the Bridge – A piece of music as brilliant as it is soul killing, No Stars Upon the Bridge is a rare thing. This musical cenotaph bares the soul of its creator, Juha Raivio (Swallow the Sun) in ways that are unsettling and almost too intimate, like you’re invading his period of private mourning. Tomi Joutsen (Amorphis) delivers the performance of a lifetime here, bringing life to Raivio’s raw grief while bridging the gap between observer and participant to make you feel his pain and loss. This is doom/death taken to the next level by cold, hard reality, and it hurts to experience it every single time you press play.

#3. End of Green // Void Estate – Talk about a band coming into their own. Every album shows growth and improvement, and this is their definitive statement in 20-plus year career in the goth/doom arena. Void Estate takes the best elements of Type O Negative and Lacrimas Profundere and creates an album you can truly wallow in, finding every last shred of beauty hidden in the darkness of the human condition. And it’s all so memorable and catchy to boot. Several songs on the album were in the running for Song o’ the Year, and there’s something special going on here that deserves more attention. Give it!

#2. Voyager // Ghost MileVoyager and I have a kind of Sid and Nancy relationship. I was wildly in love with their The Meaning of I album, but was bitterly disappointed by the follow-up. I wasn’t sure how my date with Ghost Mile would go, but ultimately love blossomed again and all was right in the world. The band is so damn talented and able to fuse so many different genres into a kind of musical gumbo that not only makes sense, but sticks in your head forevermore. Ghost Mile is a highly diverse album, finding the band dabbling in many moods and styles, but it all works exceptionally well. Few acts have such a unique sound and identity and it makes me happy to hear them back in the groove once again. Up with Australia!

#1. Sorcerer // The Crowning of the Fire King – In the category of “I did not see this one coming,” Sorcerer reigns supreme. When last I heard Sorcerer in the 90s, they were an already defunct metal band with only a collection of demos available to appreciate. Appreciate I did, but never expected to hear from them again. I missed their 2015 comeback album somehow, but I certainly didn’t miss The Crowning of the Fire King. And they’ve used their long layoff to turn themselves into a killer fusion of doom and regal power metal. Crowning sounds like Kamelot had a love child with Candlemass and Headless Cross era Sabbath, and hired Rainbow as the nanny. Every song is gold, even the bonus cuts, and no album this year had anywhere near the same magnetic attraction to my brain. This thing is the champagne and gold leaf encrusted caviar of metal platters and you should enjoy of deep chewing. Steel ov Approval granted.

Honorable Mention(s):

The Night Flight Orchestra // Amber Galactic – Very nearly cracked my top ten with their shameless 80s radio rock.
Fireball Ministry // Remember the Story – Excellent, gritty stoner rock for bikers and miscreants.
The Obsessed // Sacred – Wino just gets better with age.
Firewind // Immortals – Guilty pleasure via shreddy Greek power feta.
Jag Panzer // The Deviant Chord – The Lords of American power metal still kick copious fanny.
Spirit Adrift // Curse of Conception – One man, ten-ton doom.
Power Trip // Nightmare Logic – Beneath the Planet of Beneath the Remains.
God Forsaken // In the Pitch Black Grave – Savage Swedeath from the man behind Blood Mortized.
Lör // In forgotten Sleep – Glorious prog-power with just enough folk flavor.
Blazon Stone // Down in the Dark – I like pirate booty and I cannot lie, especially when it’s Running Wild and free.


Song o’ the Year: Sorcerer – “Abandoned by the Gods”

Disappointment o’ the YearPyramaze // Contingent – After the stellar near-perfection of Disciples of the Sun, Pyramaze come back with an ambitious concept album that plays out like a straight-to-video Michael Bay movie. Nearly everything that worked before is discarded in favor of an overblown, symphonic soundtrack to a movie I have no desire to see. Even the videos are overdone and tedious. Very disappointing indeed.

Jørn o’ the Year: – It’s still Heavy Rock Radio as we didn’t review the man’s 2017 release, which was only just okay.

« »