Monday, January 1, 2018

The Best Of 2017

The Best Of 2017

2017 will go down as a challenging year. Sure, every year has its difficulties, but 2017 seemed just that much tougher to get through.

But despite the struggles of day to day life, at least there’s music.

But having said that, I’d have to admit that 2017 won’t go down as one of the strongest in terms of classic musical offerings either. There was no shortage of albums to listen to, but it fell well short of mark of previous years for memorable albums.

But all was not lost, because there were enough gems to emerge from the coal, and earn themselves high rotation throughout the year.

So here it is this year’s list. As always, the choices here are based on my own personal tastes, and are not in any particular order of preference.


The Night Flight Orchestra – Amber Galactic (Nuclear Blast Records)

After the high mark of excellence left with 2015’s ‘Skyline Whispers’, I expected big things from The Night Flight Orchestra on their third album. And to be honest, on the first couple of listens, I was disappointed. But you can never judge a book by its cover, and as time wore on, so did my love of this album. Just about all the album tracks can be listed as a favourite (Apart from the Mick Jagger cover of course!), but favourites include ‘Midnight Flyer’, ‘Gemini’, the Kiss tinged ‘Sad State Of Affairs’, ‘Jennie’, ‘Josephine’ and ‘Space Whisperer’. The album is a must have!

Big Wreck – Grace Street (Zoë Records)

There are plenty of classic rock outfits that emerge from the woodwork every year, but few that try live up to their lofty claims of sounding like the real deal. But Canadian outfit Big Wreck really is the exception. After a series of critically acclaimed releases, the band is back with their latest effort, and it’s again something new from them, and yet true to the bands past sound. ‘One Good Piece Of Me’, the vintage ‘Digging In’, ‘Tomorrow Down’ and the progressive laced instrumental ‘Skybunk Marché’ is exactly the brand of rock you’d expect from the band, while keyboard driven and measured ‘Motionless’, ‘All My Fears On You’, and the marriage of all sounds on ‘Floodgates’ is new terrain from the group. Big Wreck isn’t the next big thing, because they were always the real deal right from the start.

Ginger Wildheart – Ghost In The Tanglewood (Round Records)

When Ginger announced that his new album would be in a more acoustic/county vein, I was optimistic about the results. But once again, I wasn’t sold on the finished product. But as always, time has changed by mind, and for the most part, it’s another stellar effort from the genius. The opener ‘The Daylight Hotel’ is an absolute cracker, while the beautifully simple ‘Pay It Forward’, the heartache of ‘Miss You’ and ‘Remains’, ‘The Words Are Gonna Have To Wait’ and the rocking ‘The Reaper’ showcase Ginger’s song writing stripped back, at seemingly at his best.

Hell Or Highwater – Vista (Spinefarm Records)

It’s a while between releases for Hell Or Highwater, but well worth it. Although sounding a little more polished on the production front, the band retains the style that worked so well on their former releases for the most part, with a couple of surprises to shake things up a bit. Tracks such as ‘Don’t Hate Me’, ‘Dame’, ‘Colors’, ‘Washed Away’ and the single ‘I Want It All’ will keep existing satisfied to no end, while cuts such as the dramatic ‘Another Good Time’, ‘Lighter Than Air’, the thumping modernised rock edge in ‘Don’t Stop. Get Up.’ and ‘Pieces’ keep things from getting stale. ‘Vista’ is a truly well return for Brandon Saller and company after a long period of inactivity.

Comeback Kid – Outsider (Nuclear Blast Records)

Comeback Kid were always going to have a challenge topping 2014’s ‘Die Knowing’ in my eyes, and while their new album doesn’t quite topple the previous album off its place on the top shelf, the band certainly gave it a bloody good go. ‘Outsider’ is probably best described as an album that combines everything the band has delivered over the last three studio albums. There’s plenty of aggressive hardcore/punk (‘Outsider’, ‘I’ll Be That’, ‘Outrage (Fresh Face, Stale Cause)’ and ‘Livid, I’m Prime’) mixed masterfully with tracks that drive home Andrew Neufeld’s irresistible melodic  presence (‘Somewhere, Somehow’, ‘Surrender Control’, ‘Absolute’ and the heavy ‘Throw That Stone’). Overall, this is another top effort from the Canadian’s.

KXM – Scatterbrain (Rat Pak Records)

What I love about KXM is how much it brings out in the three musicians involved. Bassist/vocalist Doug Pinnick (King’s X) provides some amazing melodies and bottom end, guitarist George Lynch (Dokken/Lynch Mob) truly stretches out and delivers a while array of riffs and sounds that extend beyond his safety zone, and Ray Luzier (Korn) is all over every song with his rhythmic thumping. Although they don’t stray too far from the blueprint laid out three years ago, the songs are so good you can overlook the fact. Stand outs include the groove based ‘Calypso’, the catchy ‘Not A Single Word’, the darkened overtones of ‘It's Never Enough’ and ‘Stand’ and the melodic trio of ‘Noises In The Sky’, ‘Scatterbrain’ and ‘Breakout’. If you enjoyed their debut, then this is a must have.

Cheap Trick – We’re All Alright! (Big Machine Records)

Despite being around for more than forty years, I believe some of Cheap Trick’s strongest output outside of their first decade together has been anything the band has released in the last ten years. And that high standard is maintained on their latest effort ‘We’re All Alright!’. Sounding a whole lot less polished and guitar heavy than anything the band has released in years, ‘We’re All Alright!’ is Cheap trick in full ‘rock on’ mode, and sounding as good as ever. Classic Cheap Trick on full display with stellar cuts such as ‘You Got It Going On’, ‘Long Time Coming’, ‘Lolita’, ‘Like A Fly’ and ‘Brand New Name On An Old Tattoo’, while ‘Nowhere’ and ‘Radio Lover’ see the band add a punk edge to their classic rock sound. After a patchy stretch through the ‘80’s and 90’s, Cheap Trick have bounced back with enthusiasm and energy that belies their age. As far as I’m concerned, that’s alright by me.

 Black Country Communion – BCCIV (J&R Adventures/Mascot Records)

After the disappointment of 2012’s ‘Afterglow’, I didn’t expect the band to make a return, let alone emerge with a fourth full length effort. But while my expectations were quite low, this album really does herald a comeback for the band, and a welcome return to the collaborative styled of song writing that was missing the last time around. Practically everything is a winner here, but ‘Over My Head’, Bonamassa’s ‘The Last Song For My Resting Place’, the riff heavy ‘Sway’ and ‘When The Morning Comes’ are possibly some of the best tunes Page and Plant never got around to writing and recording.

Decapitated – Anticult (Nuclear Blast Records)

Fusing together elements of thrash and death metal, and adding some melodic atmospherics has been working like a charm for Decapitated in recent years to these ears. And on their latest album, the Polish outfit have damn near perfected the mix on ‘Anticult’. From the groove based thrash of ‘Deathvaluation’, to the infection catchiness of ‘Kill The Cult’ and ‘Earth Scar’ and the throwback to days of old (Albeit with a modern twist) of the punishing ‘Never’, Decapitated have come up with a diverse, yet cohesive sounding album that is worthy follow up to 2014’s rather impressive ‘Blood Mantra’.

Sepultura – Machine Messiah (Nuclear Blast Records)

Sepultura have always been a bit hit and miss to me. For every big leap forward with a new album the band seem to make, they falter with the follow up effort. Fortunately, ‘Machine Messiah’ is one of those steps onward for the Brazilian outfit. Sepultura find a great balance between doom heavy efforts (The title track), thrash blasting tunes (‘I Am The Enemy’, ‘Silent Violence’ and the fantastic ‘Vandals Nest’), experimental orchestral fare (‘Phantom Self’ and ‘Sworn Oath’) and the rhythmic groove based songs the band are primarily known for (‘Alethea’, ‘Cyber God’ and ‘Resistant Parasites’) to produce a well rounded and interestingly diverse album.

Top Ten Songs For 2017

Why stop at a top ten? That’s a good question. And the answer is I haven’t. These albums aren’t quite as consistent all the way through, but still have enough killer tracks to make them worth checking out.

Pain Of Salvation – Silent Gold (From ‘In The Passing Light Of Day’)

After the brilliance of the double barrelled ‘Road Salt’ efforts, ‘In The Passing Light Of Day’ is a chore to sit through if I’m not in the right frame of mind. But one true gem to shine from the album’s punishing progressive push from start to finish is the stunning ballad ‘Silent Gold’. Stripped back, and full of Daniel Gildenlöw’s emotive vocals, ‘Silent Gold’ is an absolute stunner that proves that a song doesn’t have to be complex and challenging to captivate the listener.

Richie Kotzen – I’ve Got You (From ‘Salting Earth’)

Kotzen is another artist who despite being immensely talented, can be real hit and miss on the album front. His latest album is evidence of this, but it does have some absolute dazzlers in there, including ‘I’ve Got You’. What it lacks in guitar wizardry, it more than makes up with its infectious chorus and energetic vibe. And the fact that the song sounded just as great live is a testament of how great the song stands up on all fronts.

Warbringer – Shellfire (From ‘Woe To The Vanquished’)

I love Warbringer, but to be honest, ‘Woe To The Vanquished’ fell well short of my expectations. I believe the band may have been trying too hard to stretch their sound, and delivered an album that sounds underdeveloped. But that doesn’t mean it’s a total failure, with ‘Shellfire’ a sure-fire thrashing blast that remind me of the very reason I got into the band all those years ago. Fast paced, catchy and sounding better than ever on the production front, ‘Shellfire’ is a sign that the band haven’t lost their mojo, but merely misplaced it this time around.

Alice Cooper - Fireball (From ‘Paranormal’)

Now this one was a challenge! Not the strongest album from the Coop, but far from his worst. So O.K., which track is your favourite? And there’s the problem. I liked quite a few from the album, but one that gets me every time is ‘Fireball’. Sounding unlike anything else on the album, this bass driven (Dennis Dunaway no less!)/organ heavy effort (Courtesy of Bob Ezrin) is a marvel of strangeness and catchiness, and suits Alice to a T. It’s in a style of its own, and it’s when Alice produces his best work.

Galactic Cowboys – Infernal Masquerade (From ‘Long Way Back To The Moon’)

After seventeen years away, Galactic Cowboys finally reunited with their original line up and put together a new album! And man, was I excited. While I have yet to fully absorb in the entire album, I can safely say that it’s not quite up to top ten material. But it does have some great tunes, such as ‘Infernal Masquerade’. Packed with killer harmonies, chunky riffs and a chorus that sticks in the mind once the song has well and truly finished, the album may be far from perfect, but this is a killer track.

Akercocke - Familiar Ghosts (From ‘Renaissance In Extremis’)

Akercocke is another act that emerged from out of a self imposed exile to return with a new album this year, and despite some clear changes in sound, ‘Renaissance In Extremis’ is a very solid album. If I were to choose one song that is a favourite, and one that best sums up all of the band’s multi-faceted sound, it would have to be ‘Familiar Ghosts’. Effortlessly combining the more extreme, melodic and progressive elements of Akercocke’s sound, ‘Familiar Ghosts’ is a good example of what the band has to offer in the one song.

Black Star Riders - Thinking About You Could Get Me (From ‘Heavy Fire’)

Three albums in, and Black Star Riders are still producing the goods. There’s a lot of great tracks on the album, but ‘Thinking About You Could Get Me Killed’ is a firm favourite with its heavier sound (Courtesy of guitar duo Scott Gorham and Damon Johnson), and Ricky Warwick channelling a bit more grit on the vocal front to give the song a bit more of that sound that made The Almighty so great in the first place.

The Haunted – Preachers Of Death (From ‘Strength In Numbers’)

After launching a bit of a comeback on 2014’s ‘Exit Wounds’, I was really hoping for a knockout blow with ‘Strength In Numbers’. Unfortunately, something is a bit amiss on the new album, and The Haunted ended up with a solid, but unremarkable release. But when they hit the mark, they hit hard. ‘Preachers Of Death’ is definitely a hard hitter with its chugging groove and menacing tone, this track is what’s expected of the band both in terms of heaviness and density, and delivered in spades.

Roger Waters - Déjà Vu’ (From ‘Is This The Life We Really Want?’)

It took him twenty-five years, but Waters finally released a new album in ‘Is This The Life We Really Want?’. It’s by far his most accessible and Pink Floyd sounding effort, and perhaps that’s what stopped it from getting in my top list. Is it too easy to enjoy? Regardless of this, ‘Déjà Vu’ is classic Waters with lyrics pondering the age old question of ‘What if...’, while musically speaking it’s as melodic as ever.

Contrive – Below The Line’ (From ‘Slow Dissolve‘)

Saying that any band seems to get stronger and better at what they do with every new album is somewhat of a cliché. But with long running Melbourne outfit Contrive that really is the case. On their third full length release, the Haug twins have sharpened their song writing, their riffs and thrown caution to the wind in regards to expectations and return with a truly solid album. In terms of streamlined sounding efforts, ‘Below the Line’ well and truly fits the bit. The riffs and fairly straight forward, and Andrews drumming keeps the backbeat ticking long. But what really carries the song over the finish line is Paul’s great clean vocals. If you need to sample one track, I’d recommend this one.

The Best Book Of 2017

David E. Gehlke - Damn The Machine: The Story Of Noise Records (Deliberation Press)

There’s a tonne of autobiographies out on the market at the moment, but there’s few, if any, written solely around the story of a record label. Enter Gehlke, who came up with the idea of detailing the history of hugely influential German heavy metal label Noise Records, and the result is one truly unique book, and an absolute triumph for Gehlke’s debut effort in novel form. Boasting exclusive interviews with many of the band’s signed on with the label before, during and after its heyday, and spliced together with label founder Karl-Ulrich Walterbach’s tales of dealing with the band, and the label’s numerous employees spread through different territories, what emerges is story of a label that managed to achieve as many successes as it did failures. But during their time, German heavy metal label Noise Records was nothing short of innovative, and long after their fall from grace, considered a legend amongst fans for their foresight to sign on band’s that would help spread the European metal scene throughout the world. This book is an absolute labour of love, and a truly captivating read for anyone who followed the label’s releases back in the day.

Biggest Surprise Of 2017

The return of Vinnie Vincent is hands down the biggest surprise of the year. And the fact that the return to the public domain was through Kiss Expo, and not through a mugshot and an attached police report is an even bigger shock. Where it goes from here remains to be seen, but the fact that he’s emerged after more than fifteen years after dropping off the face of the earth is something of a miracle for diehard fans. One can only hope that during 2018, Vincent can not only right the wrongs of the past, but release some music to fans who have waited patiently for the his return for close to two decades.

Biggest Disappointment Of 2017

A lot of big name rock stars passed away in 2017, but the one artist who did pass away that actually meant anything to me was Chris Cornell. Given I was a fan (In particular Temple of The Dog), it was a sad loss. I have no doubt there was plenty of songs left in him, but when a life is cut short, so too is the possibility of any more music.

Most Anticipated Album Of 2018

In short, The Wildhearts. Despite claiming that the band had been laid to rest (At least on the studio front after the release of 2009's '¡Chutzpah!' and its sister E.P. '¡Chutzpah! Jnr.'), Ginger is once again writing songs for a new album from The Wildhearts due next year. I’m holding back the excitement to avoid disappointment should it all fall through. But once it’s given the green light and we have definitive details, there’s no holding me back!