I had considered doing a video on this topic but it felt out of place having not recorded a video that wasn’t a podcast in nearly 8 months. Regardless, on today’s Frantic’s Antics I’m bringing you my top 10 albums of the year!
As with most lists like this, it’s hard to narrow down just what albums truly were the “best” in my mind. Having utilized my new habit of finding new music, I ended up listening to nearly 40 albums that were released this year, with the majority of that listening having started in mid September no less. Of course that means I won’t be able to cover every single album that came out this year. So if your favorite was omitted, it is most likely due to me having not actually heard it. Oh and keep in mind this will be 100% Metal, so apologies to non-metalheads in advance.
One other thing I want to mention is how many of these album are my first venture into the artist’s music. There may be a few of you that say “this album wasn’t nearly as good as album X or Y from their previous releases!” While I try to account for that, just understand that my venture into all of these bands is a part of a bigger initiative of my own to venture out of my comfort zone and find things I hopefully end up liking. Having started this initiative like I previously mentioned in mid September, you’re gonna see “this was my first time listening to insert band here” on easily half of these albums.
Regardless you can send all complaints (or praise if you so wish) to @FranticJ3 on Twitter. Enough caveats, let’s get started!
Narrowing down this years’ releases to 10 means a few won’t make the cut. The following albums I quite enjoyed but were just shy of being top 10 worthy:
GWAR – The Blood of Gods
Genre: Heavy Metal
Oh GWAR… Never change. I love GWAR and while I don’t think this album is “amazing” or anything, for a satirical metal band I think GWAR is one of the best out there. They gave 0 fucks back when they began and still give 0 fucks to this day. My favorite song is Fuck This Place for many reasons, but the main one being the fact that they actually keep in continuity with their comic series that started this year. If you need more GWAR in your life, I’d highly recommend their comic series. It’s bonkers.
Songs to get you started: Fuck This Place; El Presidente;
Grave Digger – Healed by Metal
Genre: Power Metal
I used to say Power Metal was a guilty pleasure of mine. Now that I’ve advocated for removing “guilty” from that statement when you use it, I suppose I have to find a better way to describe it. While I’m thinking about that, do yourself a favor and check out Power Metal veterans Grave Digger, specifically their latest album Healed by Metal. With such a cheesy name I think you know what to expect.
In all honesty I listened to this album last week not knowing what to expect. It might deserve to be higher (or lower/not mentioned) but my first impression was this album was awesome. It starts strong with the title track and what really caught my attention was the song Free Forever, simply due to my love of a good catchy melody. In many ways this album is your prototypical Power Metal venture, except Grave Digger aren’t throwing high-pitched vocals at you. Instead you get the raspy delivery by Chris Boltendahl which adds some Heavy Metal flavor to the palette. Definitely a must listen for Power Metalheads in 2017. It’s cheesy but great, which is exactly what I want from Power Metal.
Songs to get you started: Healed by Metal; Free Forever; Ten Commandments of Metal;
10. Elder – Reflections of a Floating World
Genre: Progressive Stoner Doom Metal
It’s hard to describe this album. I saw it rotating around people’s best of lists early this year and gave it a listen. I liked it a lot but then I basically forgot about it. I went back recently and gave it another go and man is it good. Elder do an impressive job here crafting lengthy doom metal pieces without causing boredom to ensue. The chugging riffs and vocal performance by Nick DiSalvo are extremely impressive. Jack Donovan on bass and Matt Cuoto on drums help build a strong foundation for the melodies and progressions to really capture your ears.
I think my biggest knock against the album is the hour and four minute run time for the six songs. Like I said they did a good job of not making me bored while listening, but a few songs just felt like they were overstaying their welcome or possibly could’ve been broken into a few different tracks. But I definitely don’t have much room to talk when it comes to short tracklistings, long-ass songs, or multiple songs in one (see: rest of this list), so take that criticism with a grain of salt.
Either way, this album is an awesome album and reasserts Elder as one of the best current Stoner/Doom Metal bands in the market. If you’re able to put down Sleep’s Holy Mountain and Dopesmoker, give this a listen. You won’t regret it.
Songs to get you started: Sanctuary; The Falling Veil;
9. SikTh – The Future in Whose Eyes?
Genre: Math Metal
I hadn’t listened to a SikTh album until now and I think I’ve been missing out. I tend to enjoy bands who literally give 0 fucks when writing music. Of course with the heavily Djent guitar-work you kind of have to give 0 fucks because you’re already polarizing in the eyes of the metal community (source #1: not being listed on Metal-Archives). That aside, this album features some great Math Metal with impressive technicality from everyone involved.
I also love the absurdity that is the narration on This Ship Has Sailed in particularly. It’s not a comedy narration or anything, I just love the tone and delivery. The stand-out song to me is Ride the Illusion as I would insta-mosh to that song. My car might start swerving if it comes up on shuffle.
Songs to get your started: Weavers of Woe; Golden Cufflinks; Ride the Illusion;
8. Lunar Shadow – Far From Light
Genre: Heavy Metal
This is another album some might have expected higher on the list. I’ve seen many saying it should be album of the year. Personally the one thing that knocked it down on my list was the the lower production value. I think that’s okay, though, as this is a great debut album for the German Quintet. Yes you heard me, this is their debut album. I think they set great groundwork for future releases and am looking forward to hearing from them here in a year or two when their sophomore release drops.
As for the album itself, Vornam’s vocals are an extreme standout. While vocals will make or break a band in many people’s eyes, I think his voice helps the band stand out. After all his voice is very unique and is easily picked out of a crowd and his range is quite large. But I have seen many say that’s the worst part of the album. To each their own I suppose.
As for the rest of the band I can’t say any particular performance stood out besides the lead guitar, which is not necessarily a bad thing. If we were talking about a solo guitarist with boring songs it’d be a problem. But in Heavy Metal we want cohesive melodies, good guitar work, and a sound structure from the bass and drums. We get all of that and then some, which is why this album stands out and doesn’t blend into the background with the other releases of the year.
My favorite track is Gone Astray, which isn’t much of a metal track. It’s the power ballad of the album I suppose, but the melodies and lyrics are quite catchy and I have found myself listening to it on multiple occasions.
Songs to get you started: Hadrian Carrying Stones; Gone Astray;
7. Persefone – Aathma
Genre: Progressive Melodic Death Metal
Seeing reviews claiming this wasn’t as good as the previous album made me intrigued. It’s not, but that doesn’t make it a bad album.
I had not heard a Persefone album before so this was my first experience. I remember thinking “damn!” among other positive thoughts and gave it a few listen-throughs afterwards. The reviews of it stating that their previous album Spiritual Migration was a masterpiece made me wonder if maybe I needed to listen to that album too. Needless to say both albums are great and I understand that following up a masterpiece with something other than a masterpiece can cause issue. I think that Aathma is still a great album. If this was your first Persefone album, like it was mine, you wouldn’t know there was an even better album out there.
But what about Aathma itself? Well I may have a soft spot for Prog Melodeath but don’t let that fool you; this album is fantastic. The album throws a lot at you, whether it is guitars, piano, drums, or harsh vocals you just never know what is coming next. That unpredictability is what really makes this album worth the listen since it makes you want to pay attention to everything happening. I suppose it is not for everyone, but man is it great for those willing to listen.
Also shoutout to Paul Masvidal of Cynic on the tracks An Infinitesimal Spark and Living Waves and Øystein Landsverk of Leprous (a band who may be further down on this list) on the final track or tracks depending on how you look at all 4 parts of the title song.
Songs to get you started: Spirals Within Thy Being; No Faced Mindless; Aathma parts 1-4;
6. Pain of Salvation – In the Passing Light of Day
Genre: Progressive Metal/Rock
Just missing out on the top 5 is my original album of the year choice from back in January. Glad I didn’t jump the gun, but the prog veterans Pain of Salvation come back with a bang and deliver
Polyrhythms the album a great album with heavier music than recent entries. A return to form that many felt was needed.
What’s interesting about this album is where the inspiration of the lyrics come from. The band’s driving force and singer Daniel Gildenlöw was hospitalized in 2016 due to a flesh-eating bacteria that nearly killed him. I can’t imagine what that was like, but the lyrics take note of it and remind you to live a life and live it well. Personally I love the lyrics on this album, especially on songs like Full Throttle Tribe and most notably the title track In The Passing Light of Day.
Honestly, you could listen to the title track (all 15 minutes of it) and get a good read on the whole album. It’s easily the best song on the album and if you’re familiar with Pain of Salvation’s discography you might even enjoy the callback to Ending Theme. I know I did.
The track is extremely emotional and did what I didn’t think a song could do: make me feel some extreme emotions, particularly sadness. The song centers around a main character reminiscing of all the amazing times with their lover who is slowly passing away right in front of them. I think it speaks well to Daniel’s performance here as we aren’t sure how much of this is actually real. Are these memories he remembered with his wife while his future was uncertain? Are they just fictional yet quite possibly real? It reminds me of the song Sisters from their previous album Road Salt 2 since that song has unbelievable emotion and a fantastic performance from Daniel once again, yet we don’t even know if the events ever even happened. The song makes you think it did though and that’s powerful in its own right.
Ragnar Zolberg is a highlight on this album too as his higher reach vocals compliment Daniel’s aging vocals quite well. Not to say Daniel sounds bad on this album, far from it, he just isn’t hitting Reconciliation levels of high notes anymore. Thus is the curse of aging. The downside of Ragnar Zolberg is that he left the band earlier this year due to creative differences, or in other words Daniel is very hard to work with. But this did reintroduce Johan Hallgren to the band who left back in 2011, to which many Pain of Salvation fans rejoiced.
As for the rest of the album, it is hit or miss. The shorter songs are good, but they tend to start expressing an idea musically and end before it gets going. That doesn’t mean they are bad songs, far from it actually. The songs just feel shorter than they should be. While I personally enjoyed the whole album, someone who isn’t a big fan of Pain of Salvation might not like some of the songs on this album.
Songs to get you started: On a Tuesday; In the Passing Light of Day; Meaningless; Full Throttle Tribe
5. Xantochroid – Of Erthe and Axen: Acts I & II
Genre: Cinematic Black Metal
You could argue I’m cheating by including 2 albums in one but they go together so well that I think they’re better off as a complete listing. Xanthochroid is one of the bands that likes to write their own lore instead of relying on the real world for direct inspiration (see: Coheed and Cambria). I don’t find anything wrong with this, and imagine most won’t either, but the band also self-categorized themselves as Cinematic Black Metal. I’d argue some Prog elements exist but it would seem their goal is to be 100% self-sufficient considering their record label is owned by them.
With a band so heavily invested in themselves it provides a nice inspiration to the couch musicians we’re so used to today, especially in the Djent Youtube world. With seemingly no outside help to make this album, how does it fare? You may have already guessed based on being ranked #5 but it’s damn good.
If you’ve read my musical habits article, you’d know I attempt 2 new albums a week. Xanthochroid was the first band that made me break this rule. Part 2 and the previously mentioned GWAR album were on my plate for that particular day and as I listened to part 2 I found myself thinking “what about part 1?” You might say “well why didn’t you listen to part 1 beforehand?” Look, I’m not perfect. The 2 albums is a light rule, one that helps guide me along a path in an otherwise pathless world. I wasn’t planning things out and was just throwing darts at a board to pick out albums for my 2 per week and it just so happened to land here. My point really is that I broke the rule because I loved part 2 so damn much and saw that part 1 was also released in 2017 that I decided the rule could be bent just this once.
The album opens with a purely symphonic track followed by an acoustic song featuring male and female vocals having a conversation. You most likely will have the thought “isn’t this a metal album?” to which the first act quickly responds with To Higher Climes Where Few Might Stand and pretty much doesn’t let up. The way the vocals sound like a thousand voices at once and how large the band sounds overall is what I really like about this album. The melodies stick with you and the subtle progressive elements make this a great album in my book.
The second act has a purely vocal track that is basically a Gregorian Chant. They’re throwing a ton of different styles in here and it works well. The final track of the second act, Toward Truth and Reconciliation, caps the album off well. Overall these two albums are worth listen-throughs back-to-back on more than one occasion.
Songs to get you started: To Lost and Ancient Gardens; To Higher Climes Where Few Might Stand; Of Aching Empty Pain; Toward Truth and Reconciliation;
4. Ne Obliviscaris – Urn
Genre: Progressive Melodic Death Metal
Many might argue this should be higher but ultimately I think this album was awesome but not as awesome as Portal of I, their debut. I’m not a cynic who thinks a band is never better than their first release or who says “I enjoy their earlier work” because, as frequent readers know by now, I like progression. That being said I don’t think Ne Obliviscaris has progressed, but the good news is they haven’t regressed either. I was blown away by Portal of I when I heard it for the first time earlier this year, and having listened to it easily 20+ times I can say for certain they have a fan in me.
When I heard they had a new album coming out this year I immediately delved into Citadel, their sophomore release. I’ll be honest, I haven’t listened to it outside of the first listen and don’t remember much. That’s not a good sign in my mind since to me that says it was potentially forgettable. I won’t comment further but it is a sentiment I’ve seen others bring up. When I heard the first single for Urn it had shades of Portal of I so I was excited. But when I got the album and listened, I wasn’t stunned or shocked by its prowess. I felt like the production of it felt off and that maybe this wasn’t the finished deal.
It is a good album, don’t get me wrong. Hell being 4th on this list should mean it is good, I just had some things to express so you understand why I didn’t think it deserved to be higher on this list. Maybe I’m nitpicking, maybe I’m just wanting perfection.
As far as the instrumental and vocal work, the band proves once again they are quite talented. Running a marathon is just another Tuesday for drummer Daniel Presland. Tim Charles’ violin work is beautiful as per usual, when you can actually hear it that is. And the guitar work is quite impressive. The lyrics are very interesting, as there seems to be a lot of interpretation needed. Lines like “Nebulous skin of change reflecting; Seething dead eyes; Drowning within two black mirrors; The writhe of our stained-glass angels” make me think they’re singing about mythology or something to that extent.
With a run time of 45 minutes and change and having only 6 songs I think it is safe to say you can pick basically any song from the track listing and get a good sample of the album as a whole. Well, don’t pick Libera part II since it is a short instrumental track, but each other song is on the lengthier side having only one below 7 minutes. Typical Ne Obliviscaris but a caveat to mention nonetheless.
To reiterate: I enjoyed this album, regardless of what the first three paragraphs may have hinted at. I just feel like it was the b-side to Portal of I and hence it’s placement on this list. I would absolutely recommend it to anyone interested and if you’re not interested I’d still recommend it. Then I’d tell you to listen to Portal of I because I think I’ll recommend that album every day of every week until the end of time.
Songs to get you started: Intra Venus; Eyrie;
3. Leprous – Malina
Genre: Progressive Metal/Rock
Having never listened to Leprous until this album I didn’t know what to expect. I ended this album craving more from both the artist and wanting to listen again – a sign of a great album in my mind.
Lead singer Einar Solberg has a great performance on this album. Just listen to the tracks Stuck and From the Flame for a good sample of that (but in reality the whole album highlights his vocals). His range is impressive and he hits high notes without strain and flows well when doing it. He’s not one of the typical prog singers who just have absurdly high-pitched voices either. He’s no bass or baritone, more like a tenor with a ceiling in the soprano range, which I’d say is my favorite style of vocals.
He’s not the only attraction here, though. Tor Suhrke and Robin Ognedal provide some unique guitar work that doesn’t just blend into the background as some Prog Bands tend to do (when it isn’t whack-a-mole with the time signatures that is). No, the duo provide some great backing to Solberg’s vocals while giving their own unique feel and manage to put together some sweet rhythms. The song Captive gives a good example of what I’m talking about.
Baard Kolstad on the drums provides a strong foundation with some very impressive mixtures of different techniques and timing. Every time I think I could pick up a drum set and rock out to the music I’m listening to (having only played Rock Band drums), Kolstad reminds me it isn’t as easy as I thought. Sometimes I wonder how many body parts he’s using to play the songs.
The main downside of this album is the bass is pretty underwhelming. It’s not …And Justice For All bass, where it just doesn’t exist, but you really have to listen for it to notice it, which I don’t think should be the case for a bass, especially in this genre.
Overall this album is great. Taking away the lower end of the bass the album still impresses me melodically and technically, which are two of the largest factors contributing to any enjoyment I’ll get out of an album. It rightfully deserves number 3 on this list.
Songs to get you started: Just listen to the whole thing from start to finish;
2. Power Trip – Nightmare Logic
Genre: Crossover Thrash Metal
This could have easily been number 1 on the year and I’m struggling to put it at 2, but a 30 minute album almost feels like we got cheated out of a full length release. Don’t let the time code fool you, this album starts off grooving and just kicks you in the face repeatedly for 30 minutes.
There is not a dull moment on this album, trust me. In a world where every new Thrash album sounds like a band wanting to replicate the Big Four of the 1980s, Power Trip shows that Thrash isn’t dead if you put your own identity on it all while keeping true to the roots.
The album’s lyrical aspect is classic thrash. Just look at Executioner’s Axe: “Today is your lucky day; The executioner’s here, and he’s ready to make you pay.” Death, dissension, and even mentions of demons are waiting for you lyrically in this album. It feels odd to talk about a Thrash band’s lyrics as something to be truly praised, but I think they make this album that much better. A common complaint that I see among metal fans is metal lyrics are pretty crap, and to a certain degree I can agree. While I get enjoyment out of lyrics more than I think some others might, there is an abundance of simplistic lyrics out there. I don’t think Power Trip is one of those and for a band that gives off a “fuck that; fuck you” vibe I think they did a great job in the lyrical category.
I can safely say I’ll be listening to this album many more times in the future, and will recommend it to anyone willing to listen. And if you find yourself craving the olden days of Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer, and Megadeth, but don’t want to wade through crap to find it, give this album a listen. I think you’ll enjoy it.
Songs to get you started: Just listen to the whole thing from start to finish;
1. Subterranean Masquerade – Vagabond
Genre: Avant-Garde Metal
I’m a sucker for Avant-Garde. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but if it is your’s then you need to hear this album. The opener, A Place for Fairytales, gives you a great look into what you’re in for: mood swings, seemingly out of place harshness, and beautiful melodies. This song starts us off with a happy, bouncy melody that would make you think “this is supposed to be Metal?” But then you get to the chorus where the lyrics sing about a “minor note in a place that was meant for Fairytales” and the mood immediately changes. I personally love the inclusion of the word “minor” to help symbolize the minor key change. It might sound lame that they seemingly spell it out for you, but at no point is that the case. By the end of the song the main melody is backed by harsh vocals with double bass pedals and the wonder of “where’s the metal” has all but left your mind. And that’s just the first track.
The album is named Vagabond and the lyrics center around a traveller, the so-called Vagabond, and you get to hear his story of wanderings and friendships. What I find the most intriguing about this is that, in a way, the band is also a Vagabond. Avant-Garde, at its core, is a genre of experimentation and pushing boundaries. Often bands will do these things and cause ripple effects in the respective genre they’re pushing the boundaries of, in this case metal. “That’s not Metal” is a common phrase often reserved for the likes of “core” and Nu-Metal but when intrigue overrides standards and wonder replaces norms, you will find those unsympathetic to the cause. This means a band may struggle to find a true definition of who they are in the eyes of non-fans, making them a wandering vagabond. Their 3,500 monthly listeners on Spotify might also point to this.
Saxophones and harsh screams don’t have a place in most people’s library of music on their own, let alone together. I don’t take this personally, and I imagine Subterranean Masquerade don’t either. If they did then they probably would’ve stopped 2 albums ago. The good news is that they did a phenomenal job throwing the seemingly infinite number of styles into the blender that is this album.
I suppose if I had to critique it I could say I don’t like their cover of David Bowie’s Space Oddity as the closing track. It’s not that I’m against covering artists or against “paying tribute” or what-have-you, it’s that the cover is just boring. For a band that I’m praising so hard for creativity and uniqueness it seems odd to me that they just carbon-copied the song and didn’t throw some flair on it. Look at a band like Oceans of Slumber: their Kashmir or Nights in White Satin covers are phenomenal. They put their own unique spin on it while staying true to the source material. This is what I expect from a cover, not just “hey I really wanna play this song on the next album” and that’s all that is done. Live performance? Sure. Not on the album though. But Space Oddity is a great song in its own right, and given the great flow, production, and quality of the rest of the album, this peculiar cover isn’t a big enough blemish for me to knock this album out of the number 1 spot on my list.
Songs to get you started: Just listen to the whole thing from start to finish;
So that’s my list! Again I apologize if I didn’t cover your favorite album from this year (or if your favorite didn’t make #1 on my list). Let me know what you think of my short analysis of each album along with what you think of my rankings!
Remember to send all praise, recommendations, requests, and complaints to @FranticJ3 on Twitter and I’ll see you guys next time!