My Top 10 Albums of 2017

I have heard here-and-there that 2017 was supposedly a ‘down’ year for music. Honestly, I cannot disagree more. Sure, we had a disappoint entry or two from the ‘big boys’  (I was really disappointed with QOTSA’s latest release), but if you take a few minutes to dig just a little beneath the surface, I think you will find that 2017 was a flipping brilliant year for new music.

I could have listed twenty, maybe thirty, albums below, but I’ve (painstakingly!) kept it to just ten.  They are listed in alphabetical order.

 

Ba’al – In Gallows By Mass (EP) 

Ba'al In Gallows

There’s already been many words written about the fantastic year these chaps have had, so I will keep this short. They are one of the best bands to come out of the Sheffield music scene in recent years, and In Gallows By Mass is a fantastic post-metal EP, expertly juxtaposing dark and light to produce a rather profound piece of heavy melancholy.

Favourite track: One Under the Sun

Battle Beast – Bringer of Pain

Battle Beast Bringer

I really dig how Battle Beast flavour their brand of power metal with anthemic hard rock  licks and choruses. Some will find it too cheesy, but I can tell you right now that this band and these tunes were absolutely perfect as Thursday night headliners at the last Bloodstock.

Favourite track: Bastard Son of Odin

Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper

Bell Witch Mirror.jpg

I can’t say that I have ever hugely been into funeral doom, but this 83-minute single track from Bell Witch is nothing short of a masterpiece. Whilst heavy in places, it retains a sombre melodic melancholy that reflects the real life creation of the song (one of the band members sadly passed away, and they used some of his pre-recorded vocals on the song). Haunting and beautiful.

Favourite track: Mirror Reaper

Fen – Winter

Fen Winter.jpg

Outside of the odd band, I have not more than dabbled post-black metal to this point, and I had been yet to check out Fen. Winter instantly impressed me, and I’ll definitely be checking out the rest of their discography.

Favourite track:  I (Pathway)

Greta van Fleet – From the Fires

Greta van Fleet From the Fires.jpg

Veering off into more classic rock territory now. Michigan’s Greta van Fleet at times remind me of Led Zeppelin and others of Lynynrd Skynynrd. Hard rock seems to be about ready for its latest resurgence and I could easily see these guys leading the way after a release as strong as this.

Favourite track:  Safari Song

Orden Ogan – Gunmen

Orden Ogan Gunmen.jpg

Despite them recently touring Europe with Rhapsody of Fire as one of their supports, I’d never heard of German power metallers Orden Ogan until this year. Apparently they have been on the go since 1996 and this is their sixth album! To compare them to their contemporaries, I’d say they lean towards the Blind Guardian end of the power metal spectrum (maybe with a hint of Powerwolf). Gunman itself is a belter of a melodic metal album and one fans of the genre should regard as a must buy.

Favourite track: Come With Me To The Other Side (featuring Liv Kristine)

Pallbearer – Heartless

Pallbearer Heartless.jpg

As the list has so far shown, my album preference seems to veer between cheesy uplifting metal and sorrow drenched melancholy. Pallbearer very certainly fall into the latter category. Is it prog? Is it doom? Who cares, it’s soul breakingly sad and beautiful.

Favourite track: I Saw The End 

Septicflesh – Codex Omega

Septicflesh Codex.jpg

Another band that I have never really paid much attention to until now, but that will certainly change. Their symphonic death metal sound on this album reminds me a little of Dimmu Borgir, except with a fuller sound and stronger instrumental composition. This became evident to me on the instrumental bonus tracks – unlike other metal bands, where such tracks could seem like throwaway fads, these sound like legitimate pieces of (dark, moody) classical music.

Favourite track:  Enemy of Truth

Voyager – Ghost Mile

Voyager Ghost mile.jpg

If I was forced to pick an actually favourite album of the year, Voyager’s Ghost Mile would likely be the victor. A perfect example of melodic power prog, these Aussies totally blew me away with their musicianship and vocal work. Simply, one of the best albums I have heard for years.

Favourite track:  Ascension

Walpyrgus – Walpyrgus Nights

Walpyrgus Walpyrgus Nights.jpg

I first heard of Walpyrgus through following one of my favourite bands, While Heaven Wept. With WHW looking like it is wound up (at least for the time being, possibly for good), I decided to check out what other bands the members were in. Walpyrgus features WHW bassist Jim Hunter, as well as members of Twisted Tower Dire, Beard of Antlers and Daylight Dies. What they have created is a delightful mix that ends up coming across as a (possibly cheesy) horror themed classic / 80s metal sound.

Favourite track:  The Dead of Night

 

 

 

 

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December Playlist

This is slightly earlier than usual, but I hope to throw together sort of end of year list at the actual turn of the year, so I thought it made sense to get this posted earlier.

10 Tracks!

This month is the first time I have restricted my list to a mere ten tracks. My friend Joe (whose own playlists inspired me to start my own) sticks to ten tracks himself, so I thought I would give it a serious bash too.

‘Tis the season to be jolly! 

It was oh so tempting to throw together a list of seasonal tunes this month (who doesn’t love a bit of Bing and Bowie?), but I decided to try and keep this to (mostly) standard releases.  The closing track is my only exception.

Shout out!

A special shout out to Matt Jones, whose end of year ‘best of’ lists got me to check out a a few bands that ended up making this month’s playlist (tracks 6 and 9 specifically, for anyone interested).

Have at it! 

Without further ado, here’s my December listening distilled into a manageable 48 minute meal:

November Playlist

With the end of the month fast approaching, it’s time to publish my monthly playlist for November.

This month is probably the first that has been directly affected by gigs I have attended. In fact, I attended two gigs this week and all four bands have made my list!

Add to the above that there’s also an entry taken from a playlist a friend created for me as an introduction to industrial music, as well as the usual entries made up of songs from this year and it is quite a mixed bag.

So, yeah, if a playlist comprising of classic rock, psych, jazz, chilled industrial, power metal, metalcore, post-metal/sludge and doom takes your fancy, they wrap your ears around the playlist below!

 

October Playlist

In August I started doing creating playlists made up of tracks that had caught my ear over the course of that month. You will find the October playlist at the bottom of this post.

As is becoming the trend, I listened to quite a lot of new music this month, and it was as challenging as ever to cut this down to  16 songs.

Whilst I had previously settle on a 90-ish minute run time being a nice target run time to aim for, I have hopelessly failed this month. I do have a good excuse though – it is because the final track is an 83-minute behemoth.

There’s a little less prog and post rock/metal this month, with a roughly 50/50 split to whether tracks would be considered heavy or soft. On the heavier end, doom prevails, whereas there is probably more variety in the lighter stuff.

Anyways, enjoy:

September Playlist

Last month I started doing monthly playlists made up of tracks that had caught my ear over the past month. You will find the September playlist at the bottom of this post.

I listend to a lot of new music in September, and it was a real bind trying to trim this thing down. I think I have decided that around 90-ish minutes is a sensible limit to aim for, and this collection goes just a smidge over that.

Besides four or five tracks, you’ll likely find the songs are on the more melodic and melancholy side this time around. There’s nothing much to to that – it’s just how it has come out.

Anyways, enjoy:

An August Update – New Monthly Playlist

Those of you that follow my blogging will have noticed that I have slowed down in recent months, particularly with my monthly discography reviews. In truth, a combination of things have happened and it started to feel like I was arbitrarily picking bands for the sake of it.

With that in mind, I have decided to stop giving myself strict limitations/deadlines on when to do those – they’ll come as and when I feel like doing them. The plus side to this is, all those bands that have 20 billions albums are now back on the table, as I don’t need to squeeze my listening into a single month!

Instead of doing a discography per month, I am going to try something a little different. Inspired by/stolen from my good pal Joe, I am going to put together a short playlist of stuff that has caught my ear over the past month. This will – very likely – be new(ish) stuff, though I’m not tying myself down to something as specific as that. In fact, this month features a couple of tracks an 2012 release from Cinematic Black Metallers Xanthochroid.

Anyways, enjoy:

Discography Review | Beyond the Black

Continuing on from last year, my new year’s resolution once again is to expand the breadth of my musical knowledge and experience. As with last year, I’m listening to the discography of a different band each month.

As mentioned last time out, I’ve fallen slightly behind. My previous entry saw me take a look at US stoner americana folksy proggy grungsters All Them Witches.  To make up for not doing a discography in April, I intend to do squeeze in an extra one somewhere. Partially because of this, I’ve opted for a band with only a couple of albums this time – Beyond the Black.

Background:  Prior to their booking at Bloodstock last year I had never heard of them. I listened to couple of tracks before seeing them there, and was blown away with how professional a band with just two albums to their name are. Their songs were catchy and they were accomplished musicians.  All that being said, it took me until recently to check them out again.


Songs of Love and Death– Songs of Love and Death

In the Shadows kicks things off. Immediately I’m thinking of Within Temptation a bit here. It’s a good, solid opener that tells you what BtB are about. Nice inclusion of flutes. Songs of Love and Death is a song that’s been in my head since Bloodstock and a genuine belter of a tune.  Musically it (and a few others on the album)  reminds me of the crunchy rhythm guitar/symphonic keyboard combo that bands like Nightwish and Avantasia utlise. Unbroken is the first ballad on the album and is a little disappointing. Things pick ack up with When Angels Fall. The sound switches between symphonic metal and a sort of contemplative acoustic melody that – for some reason – reminds me of Stone Sour’s Bother. Pearl in a World of Dirt has guest lead vocals from Hannes Brawne of Kissin’ Dynamite. It’s the second ballad on the album, and is the far superior. Acoustic guitars and the flute also make a pleasant return. I don’t what it is about Hallelujah, but it strikes me as a b-side (or 4th or 5th single from the same album). Maybe it’s because it came straight after two of their better tracks and it would have fared better elsewhere on the album? Running to the Edge ramps up the tempo and is one of their better songs – you can see why this closes their set. At this point, the album was on for a really good score. However, NumbDrowing in Darkness and Afraid of the Dark are all – whilst not bad in the slightest – a little bit by-the-numbers compared to the earlier songs. Fall into Flames is a bit better, and then we get their interesting take on Motorhead’s Love Me Forever to close.  It works really well as a piano centric tune and is a fune closer.

Overall:
No reinventions of the wheel here, but definitely an album that fans of Nightwish, Within Temptation and Avantasia would probably enjoy. As debut albums go, it’s pretty swish, if let down a little by a back end that doesn’t quite hold up to the scrutiny of the first half.

Score:
3

Favourite tracks:
Songs of Love and Death, When Angels Fall, Pearl in a World of Dirt, Running to the Edge.


Lost in Forever– Lost in Forever

Opening up Beyond The Black’s only other album to date is an absolute cracker of a title track. Lost in Forever takes the melody/catchiness of Songs of Love and Death and marries it to the tempo/urgency of Running to the Edge. Great stuff. Beautiful Lies is their second duet (this time with current At Vance and Masterplan frontman Rick Altzi), and it’s pretty darn good. Pearl in a World of Dirt sets a bar for BtB duets, and it almost matches it. Written in Blood isn’t quite on a par with the opening couple of tracks but it does have a solid, rousing chorus. Against the World is a power ballad that’s good-without-being-special. It could be a grower. Beyond the Mirror is similar to Written in Blood in terms of quality. It’s very easy on the ear and would make sense as a song chosen to extent a setlist as a ‘breather’ track between two more famous ones. Halo of the Dark is a strong album track that I suspect will be another to grow on me with multiple play throughs. If there were tiers to the quality of BtB tracks, Dies Irae would safely sit in the second top, just beneath their absolute best. A very catchy tune. Forget My Name is fine. Burning in Flames has a nice opening riff that reminds me, just a bit of contemporary Iron Maiden. The song itself isn’t bad, and the riff is better. Nevermore is a bit better.  Shine and Shade has a neat bit of folkish instrumentation incorporated into the earlier portions. The verses sound like this song should sound a bit more like a story being retold, or a saga, and the very simple poppy chorus takes a little away from it. Not bad though. Heaven and Hell takes a slightly darker turn and is one of the better tracks in the back half of the album. Love’s a Burden is a neat, brooding acoustic track that closes out the original edition of the album (the tour edition tacks on another 3-4 songs).

Overall:
Better than their debut, though suffering from the familiar issue of the back end of the album not being as strong as the first half. Still, the overall quality is up and they are going in the right direction. 

Score:
3.5

Favourite tracks:
Lost in Forever, Beautiful Lies, Dies Irae, Written in Blood




That wraps up Beyond the Black’s two albums. There’s some neat stuff on both, and fans of Nightwish, Within Temptation and Avantasia should definitely give it a whirl. If they ever manage to write a full album of the quality of the first halves of either of these, they’ll have created a syphonic metal classic. As it stands, it’s simply two good albums with great first halves.