My Top Albums of 2017

And starting off at number fifteen. . .

15. Premiata Forneria Marconi – Emotional Tattoos

Starting off the list is a band of which sort of dropped off the radar and really are only mentioned when discussing the their strength of progressive rock albums in the 70s. Premiata Forneria Marconi, or PFM, are an Italian prog rock band that with their new album, Emotional Tattoos, surprised me at its strength. This hefty double-disc album features a great mix of prog rock tunes which feel like they’re from the 70s but with a modern production value. It’s a refreshing album that is unfortunately held back by its song placement (it takes a good four or five songs until the album really begins to kick some butt). Despite that, it’s deserving on a top spot for 2017.

Check out the music video for “The Lesson” here:

14. Blade Runner 2049 Soundtrack

The first time I’ve ever put a soundtrack into my list. The Blade Runner 2049 movie, while visually stunning, was audibly awesome. The cyberpunk/noir feeling originally established by Vangelis back in 1982 gets tastefully expanded upon by composers Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. The soundtrack provides a sweeping landscape of emotions and feelings which can be confusing given its sterile and mechanical sound. It’s completely worth checking out.

Listen to “Flight to LAPD”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EGxyGcZ5jsY

13. Sarkrista – Summoners of the Serpents Wrath

Intense is one way of putting it. Rip-roaring music from the second album of these German black metallers, Sarkrista’s Summoners of the Serpents Wrath is in your face with its blasting beats, screaming vocals, and shredding, ambient guitars. The album rarely lets up, giving you a solid black metal album from front to back.

Listen to the full album here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOz42CgKjks

12. Rude – Remnants…

Rude’s second release, Remnants…, is another great traditional death metal album. Their first album, “Soul Recall,” made my top fifteen back in 2014 and these guys have impressed yet again. The production completely sells me on this album, let alone the songs. This album pounds your ears hard and is yet another exceptional sounding death metal record from these U.S. based metal heads.

See the lyric video for “House of Dust” here:

11. Paradise Lost – Medusa

Pulse-pounding and crushing, the death/doom metallers Paradise Lost release yet another solid album off the back of 2015’s The Plague Within. While there’s nothing surprisingly in terms of riffing or production, the album just keeps its momentum and variety up long enough to be a great album.

Listen to the final track, “Until the Grave” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C2JRD4r4Yuw

10. Dumal – The Lesser God

When I think of American black metal, my first thoughts come to Agalloch. While these guys are no Agalloch, I feel the influence is there. Crisp production is one thing, but Dumal’s incredible sounding riffs create an almost nostalgic feel for me – reminding me of the first time I got into black metal (with Mayhem’s Pagan Fears). Lost Caverns is definitely the track that won me over on this album, but the rest of it is just so, so great. For their impressive debut album, I’ll definitely me following Dumal closely in the coming years.

Check out the full album here (especially “Lost Caverns”): https://dumal.bandcamp.com/album/the-lesser-god

9. Auðn – Farvegir Fyrndar

This Icelandic black metal outfit release a torrent of cold atmosphere with their second album, Farvegir Fyrndar. Melodic riffs are eerie and define the tone of the album. Often dramatic, the album builds momentum, starting from the first track. Crushing through, listeners are given other great glimpses of brilliance through this very bleak sounding album. Easily takes the spot as the best black metal album I’ve listened to this year.

Listen to Skuggar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RkOgY8P4NUY

8. Daniel Cavanagh – Monochrome

Given Anathema just released their newest album this year, I was surprised to see something released from their lead songwriter only a few months later. Daniel Cavanagh’s acoustic album, Monochrome, is brilliant, loving, sad, uplifting, and therapeutic all at the same time. While much can be said about Anathema’s music, Daniel’s own personal flare and attention to detail certainly shines something special here.

Listen to “The Exoricst” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pKGoYUZ_B1c

7. Artificial Brain – Infrared Horizon

If there was one thing I wasn’t expecting from this technical death metal band, it was an incredibly dramatic science fictional album. Much like the title of my favourite track on the record, this album is Estranged from Orbit. It’s different and yet feels familiar. The music is composed to make sense – there’s nothing purposefully flashy on the album. The parts in the songs have purpose and riffs are crafted to build and explode with emphasis. It’s smart, clever, intense, and sounds absolutely different than many death metal albums out there.

Listen to the whole album here (especially “Estranged from Orbit”): https://profoundlorerecords.bandcamp.com/album/infrared-horizon

6. Steven Wilson – To the Bone

Steven Wilson always does something different – not because he has to, but because he can. With this album, Wilson crosses the boundaries of pop rock and prog rock, creating an album that heavily reminds me of Peter Gabriel’s So. Featuring a handful of songs with Ninet Tayeb sharing vocal duties and incredible musicianship, the classic Steven Wilson “sound” makes To The Bone not only a strong album, but somewhat of a “gateway” album to introduce pop fans about prog. With a well-rounded album and even a subtle nod to Porcupine Tree in one of the songs, To the Bone is yet another Steven Wilson album that made my Top 15 list.

Seen the video to the astounding “Pariah” here:

5. Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper

What. A. Heavy. Album. Featuring drums, bass, vocals, and a Hammond, this near hour and a half long song, in my opinion, well-defines funeral doom metal. Dark and dreary, Bell Witch brings the dead to the listeners ears in this haunting slow burn of an album. It’s atmospheric, moody, crushing, and so many other feelings, that “Mirror Reaper” is really something needed to be experienced.

Listen to an excerpt from “Mirror Reaper” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yrc1ch3O9Fs

4. Anathema – The Optimist

One of my favourite bands return with somewhat of a sequel to 2001’s A Fine Day to Exit with their newest release, The Optimist. Smartly crafted, the album begins where their previous album, Distant Satellites left off – with electronic music. However, the band cleverly makes the electronic to real-instrument transition within the first song and continues to put the listener through a literal journey of musical and lyrical emotions and feelings that are purposefully left ambiguous. It’s a damn pretty album. “Wildfires” is my favourite track.

Watch the video for “Springfield” here:

3. Bent Knee – Land Animal

When I first heard Bent Knee, I couldn’t get over how tight the band was. As if they’ve been playing for decades, this American prog rock outfit showcases their songwriting abilities all over this album – and they’re supremely tasteful. Often times prog rock showcases (and can sometimes celebrate) musical wankery. Bent Knee shows restraint and thought behind each note, chord, and lyric. While Land Animal is their fourth album, the band takes nothing for granted with the effort clearly put into this record. What a treat.

Watch the live video of Bent Knee performing “Holy Ghost”:

2. Ulver – The Assassination of Julius Caesar

In The Assassination of Julius Caesar, ex-black metal band Ulver create something that’s dark, experimental, and would appeal to Depeche Mode fans. Upon first listen, I felt engrossed with the production: the synth, reverb; the drama. Like the music, Ulver’s lyrics are also intelligent and deep. Music builds and slows, putting the listener through an interesting journey of sounds which engrossed me like no other album had this year. Ulver’s newest is a gorgeous electronic-feeling album with nothing but respect to its listeners.

Check out the first track of the album, “Nemoralia” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wq0Kb4bFNzg

1. Pain of Salvation – In the Passing Light of Day

When this album came out in the middle of January, I had hoped for another album to be released later in the year that would be better than it. Not because I disliked the album, but because it was so damn good and so early on in the year, I really hoped another album could topple it. Now here we are at the number one spot on my list.

When lead singer/songwriter Daniel Gildenlow went into the hospital a few years back, he discovered he had a life-threatening disease. This album is that story and goes through the emotional trauma and thoughts running through his head while in the hospital. At times uplifting, the album can become sad when you can feel the emotions coming from Gildenlow’s voice. He’s felt the pain he’s singing about and he wants us to experience what he’s experienced.

Tracks like “Silent Gold” and “If This is the End” are both mournful and powerful. “Full Throttle Tribe” is catchy, while “Reasons,” “Meaningless,” and “On a Tuesday” are direct and in your face. However, it’s the final title track which absolutely steals the show. At fifteen minutes in length, “The Passing Light of Day” explains the fears and joys of being in love while given the listener an emotional roller coaster of music to follow suit. Songs are strongly crafted by both Gildenlow and multi-instrumentalist Ragnar Zolberg. Zolberg joined the band in 2011 and co-wrote most of the songs on this album. Now no longer in the band, I can’t help but follow where he goes next to see what he does.

I’ve been a fan of Pain of Salvation since 2002-2003. While I can say with certainty that this is my favourite album of 2017, I can also say that In the Passing Light of Day is Pain of Salvation’s best studio album to-date.

Check out the music video for “Reasons”:

See the music video for “Meaningless” here:

Honourable Mentions:

Barenaked Ladies – Fake Nudes

Threshold – Legends of the Shires

Bison – You Are Not The Ocean You Are The Patient

Ayreon – The Source

Aborted – Bathos EP

Kreator – Gods of Violence

All Pigs Must Die – Hostage Animal

Nordic Giants – Amplify Human Vibration

Most Disappointed:

Electric Wizard – Wizard Bloody Wizard

Cannibal Corpse – Red Before Black

Pallbearer – Heartless

Sólstafir – Berdreyminn

Vuur – In This Moment we are Free – Cities

Sons of Apollo – Psychotic Symphony

Moonspell – 1775

Questions? Comments? Agree? Disagree? What have you?

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My Top 15 Albums of 2014

And starting off at number fifteen. . .

15. Rude – Soul Recall

Rude - Soul Recall

Old school death metal in 2014. Rude brings back the sounds of Death and Morbid Angel to create a solid, refreshing throwback to what death metal was all about.

Watch the video to the title track “Soul Recall”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aeB0_E6r2YY

14. Spectral Lore – III

Spectral Lore

I’m a sucker for atmospheric, epic black metal. Spectral Lore’s III album hits the nail on the head with this well-crafted work. Layered with plenty of soundscapes, this album truly defines the cold.

Listen to the entire album here: http://spectrallore.bandcamp.com/

13. Yautja – Songs of Descent

Yautja

This is sludge at its finest. Bass pounding with beats, distorted guitars, and a rally cry with the drums. This debut album by this relatively unknown band deserves the recognition it gets here. (FYI, Yautja is the name of the alien species the Predator is).

Listen to the entire album here: http://yautja.bandcamp.com/

12. Evergrey – Hymns for the Broken

Evergrey - Hymns for the Broken

Evergrey returns to their pre-2001 days with this powerful new album. While the band seems to slowly depart from their gloomier lyrics, the music is still-ever emotional and also driven by a refreshing new sound with their old song-writing style.

Watch the video for “The King of Errors”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pmmh69G-pt0

11. Casualties of Cool – Casualties of Cool

casualties-of-cool

Although Devin Townsend released three friggen’ albums this year, Casualties of Cool is the only one on my list. This country rock album experiments with a little bit of everything he’s done in the past. There’s a little bit of his “mediation” album Ghost, his rock album Ki, and his dark ambient/noise album, Devlab. A concept album, Casualties of Cool is really something that stands out amongst not only his discography, but in the general sphere of “music.”

Listen to the song “Forgive Me”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNlLqvZPfI8

10. Judas Priest – Redeemer of Souls

judas-priest

The last arguably “good” Judas Priest album was 1990’s Painkiller. After a few flubs, Redeemer of Souls truly is a redemption for the band. While it doesn’t showcase anything new, it shows that Judas Priest still has everything they did back when they started: powerful song writing, great lyrics, and offering awesome, head-banging momments all throughout the album.

Listen to the song “Halls of Valhalla” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VddfDsrVdcs

9. Falconer – Black Moon Rising

falconer

If you’re a fan of well-constructed riffage, this is what you need to listen to. Incredible song writing skills, and of course, epic vocals from Mathias Blad, this hits the sweet spot of finely-crafted power metal.

Listen to the title track “Black Moon Rising”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lv05oHDjus4

8. Freak Kitchen – Cooking With Pagans

freak-kitchen

Cooking With Pagans is one of the best rock albums I’ve heard in a long time. For the uninitiated: a similar style of Motorhead with jazz, metal, and pop music, Freak Kitchen shows off impressive songs with silly lyrics and catchy choruses, making you to grow a smile across your face. Their music video below, Freak of the Week, was also given a $100,000 budget. They opted to hire cartoonists to make it happen.

Watch the video to “Freak of the Week”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y2vzBdIejVY

7. Blut Aus Nord – Memoria Vetusta III: Saturnian Poetry

blut-aus-nord

There’s some real, damn good black metal here. The guitars are really what make this album an outstanding piece of work. Rich with emotions, it pained me to put this album in seventh place. Alas, you’ll soon learn why.

Listen to the entire album here: http://noisey.vice.com/blog/blut-aus-nord-memoria-vetusta-iii-lp

6. Sólstafir – Otta

solstafir

This band is always pushing the boundaries to what “rock music” is. The album offers a wide encompassing amount of different styles – often in the same song (see below). There is no real way to describe Sólstafir’s sound. They’re a forever-evolving band, which is really great for people who like to hear something they never have before.

Watch the music video to “Lágnætti”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8n8Uy5KmvU

5. Gridlink – Longhena

gridlink

Out of all of the albums I’m putting on my list, this is the one I feel most people wouldn’t enjoy. Gridlink is a grindcore band at heart. However, their newest release “Longhena” is truly the most beautiful grindcore I’ve heard. In its glorious chaos, the songs are ripe with emotion and complicated orchestration. While the album barely clocks over twenty minutes, it’s incredible how much wonder was put in it.

Listen to the entire album here: http://handshakeinc.bandcamp.com/album/longhena

4. Agalloch – The Serpent & The Sphere

agalloch

These American folk/black metallers release, yet again, another gorgeous album. A completely different shift from the other two black metal albums on my list, Agalloch is more based within folkore and slower paced songs. While the momentum shifts throughout the album, their music is certainly breathtaking, if not awe-inspiring in its allure.

Listen to the entire album here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHk5EnSuOV0

3. Anathema – Distant Satellites

anathema

Much like Sólstafir, Anathema is constantly pushing the boundaries to what rock is. While they lean more on the progressive rock side of things, this album showcases yet more incredible song writing by the band. Wonderful vocal harmonies, symphonic atmospheres, technical moments. . . this album is absolutely beautiful. Words cannot explain.

Can you even handle this music? The time signature! The beauty! Listen to “The Lost Song Pt. 1” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v30RadD_aiI

2. Cynic – Kindly Bent to Free Us

cynic

This album took me by surprise. Cynic was a technical death metal band. They featured harsh vocals and technical know-how with their instruments. With “Kindly Bent to Free Us,” they dropped their old selves – and death metal vocals – and turned into a progressive rock band. What they still keep is the incredible instrumentation, complexity in their songs, and the immense strength they have as a band through showcasing their talents. Being a band with only three musicians, you would feel as if there is more to the band than what you hear. The album is overwhelmingly complicated, but careful with how it lets the listener focus on particular parts. Nothing is actually overwhelming, but the song ideas as a whole are. It’s a great, great album.

Watch the lyric music video to “Kindly Bent to Free Us”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJ6MXHOXLq4

1. Triptykon – Melana Chasmata

triptykon

Between this album and Cynic, I had the hardest time deciding which would be number one. However, Triptykon’s “Melana Chasmata” takes the top spot.

Only in their second album, Triptykon’s lead singer, Tom G. Warrior, continues with his thought-provoking song writing and emotional output through this raw, energy-filled album. Triptykon is not only distorted with their song writing, but their sounds as well. In fact, the sound which the band produces is on another level of musical standards.

From the crushing bass of Vanja Slajh, to the echoed despair of Norman Lonhard’s snare; the rhythmic pounding from Santura’s guitar, and the melting intensity of Warrior’s guitar and vocals – “Melana Chasmata” is an album which will stick with me for a long time. I don’t think a week went by since its release in April where I hadn’t listened to it.

One of the best things to take away from the album is how the band is not afraid to do whatever they want. Case-in-point with the two music videos below. Getting variety like this on an album is only one of the many reasons to why “Melana Chasmata” takes the top spot on my list.

Watch the music video to the slow-paced and haunting “Aurorae”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NmyWeOvF_Sg
Watch the music video to crushing first track, “Tree of Suffocating Souls”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oMamBKqz_8U

Honourable mentions:

Devin Townsend – Z2: Sky Blue

Valnacht – Le Sacrifice d’Ymir

Overkill – White Devil Armory

Mayhem – Esoteric Warfare

Artificial Brain – Labyrinth Constellation

Pallbearer – Foundations of Burden

Electric Wizard – Time to Die

Most Disappointed:

Transatlantic – Kaleidoscope

Yes – Heaven & Earth

Devin Townsend – Z2: Dark Matters

Questions? Comments? Agree? Disagree? What have you?