2017 – A Year In Review: Album Of The Year Part One

Album Of The Year2017 was a bit of an odd year for me and music. There were the usual bands sticking to their standard release cycles, a couple of uninspiring efforts by established artists and some surprisingly excellent records by new kids on the block, but it’s taken the full 365 days (plus a couple more) for me to figure out which were my favourites, with no real runaway winners like last year.

All Them Witches
All Them Witches – Sleeping Through The War

Old stagers Marilyn Manson and Sepultura produced their finest efforts of the past decade in Heaven Upside Down and Machine Messiah respectively, both proving they’ve not lost the fury so prevalent in their earlier careers. Someone who seems to have never stopped meanwhile, Mr Mike Patton produced another raucous cacophony with new band Dead Cross, whilst the softer side of Americana saw Mark Lanegan produce another effortlessly amazing record in Gargoyle and All Them Witches fuzz us all up with the delirious Sleeping Through The War. Queens Of The Stone Age, Trivium and Mastodon all struggled a little this year with each of their new releases just failing to capture what went before; victims of their own success perhaps?

Blood Command
Blood Command – Cult Drugs

Cranking up the heaviness, Cannibal Corpse and Obituary both gave the new death metal generation a run for their money with a pair of crushing albums, whilst Behemoth frontman Nergal took a slightly different route, exploring country music alongside John Porter on the fascinating Me And That Man. Another new take on extreme music saw Blood Command turn many heads, their third album of deathpop, Cult Drugs, finally pushing them into the mainstream, something that Vukovi will be hoping to replicate as they grow their alt-rock sound off the back of their excellent self-titled debut.

Back over in Blighty, the UK scene continued to go from strength to strength with a reborn Pulled Apart By Horses leading the charge on the excellent The Haze. Frank Carter banged out his second, slightly tamer solo effort whilst much-touted Bristol punks Idles turned numerous heads with their vitriolic debut, Brutalism. There was still room for a few old hands to get in on the act though with Cradle Of Filth launching another grandiose platter in Cryptoriana, and Black Star Riders taking their sound another step further on Heavy Fire.

Iron Monkey
Iron Monkey – 9-13

If you’d told me five years ago that we’d see new records from Akercocke and Iron Monkey in 2017, I’d not only have looked at you like you were a mentalist but also been as giddy as the proverbial kipper. Although the Monkey were never likely to hit Johnny Morrow-era levels of brutality, 9-13 was still a solid outing and Akercocke proved they’ve still got that wicked Satanic glint on Renaissance In Extremis.

Paradise Lost also went back to their darker routes on modern doom classic Medusa with guitarist Gregor Mackintosh pulling double duty by banging out another crushing Vallenfyre opus, Fear Those Who Fear Him. In fact doom started to rediscover some real form with bands like Spaceslug, Pallbearer and Elder bringing the genre bang up to date with a trio of modern classics.

Of course there’s always a section on here for Ginger Wildheart-related releases and 2017 was no different with friends and former collaborators releasing a ton of new material this past 12 months. Chris McCormack and Tom Spencer helped bring a modern punk ethos to the latest outing from stalwarts The Professionals, 20 years after their last record. Role Models showed no signs of slowing down with the high-energy rock and roll explosion Dance Moves, whilst Hellbound Hearts pulled out all the stops on a modern metal classic in Film Noir. Ginger himself explored a more country vibe with Ghost In The Tanglewood, inspired perhaps by recent collaborations with Ryan Hamilton who himself launched his catchy-as-anything The Devil’s In The Detail. CJ Wildheart meanwhile went the other way, blasting out the heavy Blood with a new-found fervor after a difficult 12 months.

But none of these records quite managed to make my top picks of 2017. To find out what did, stay tuned pop pickers…

Leaky Headphones

Regular subscribers will know just how much other people get on my nerves, but when these same dullards fail to realise they are inflicting their misery on everyone else, it gets me even more riled.

One popular annoyance tactic amongst the mouthbreathing public transport population, seems to be either having awful headphones that pump more music into the air than into your ears, or to have the volume pumped up so high on your generic MP3 device that all and sundry can make out every lyric to your godawful dirge.

The latter is made even more odd considering recent campaigning from numerous musicians including Chris Martin, Gary Numan and Plan B to raise awareness of the dangers of loud music and the harsh reality that is tinnitus.

I admit that I like, on occasion, music to be loud. Sometimes ear-bleedingly so. But with headphones, I tend to not only get paranoid that others may not appreciate the latest Cannibal Corpse ditty, but also that my lug-holes may not be able to take such a consistent OTT battering.

From my first ever gig, I’ve gone through the whole temporary deafness thing on more occasions than I care to remember. For some reason I’ve mainly ended up on the left side of the venue at gigs and I will fully admit that the hearing in my left ear is probably a little worse than my right and that overall, my hearing is probably only 80% of optimum. Has it been fun getting to this point? Kind of. But I should definitely have done something about it before now.

I was bought some earplugs as a youngster by a concerned father but probably only used them once, thinking I was too cool to stand out there in a metal crowd with some pink nubs in my aural canals. Nowadays I see half the crowd (the old ones at the back, natch) wearing the things and maybe they realise too that the years of loudness are taking their toll.

Back on topic, I still fail to understand the mentality of the super loud “personal” music use on the bus, train and tram, as at those times of day I prefer to relax a little. It’s all well and good blocking out other people, but to have the music that loud must be deafening these people. Similarly, I think that I would be too paranoid about having my senses so impaired crossing roads if my music was up so loud. On a positive note, I have now concocted a way to amuse myself through these people; Leaky Headphone Shazam (TM). That’s right kids, you too can name and shame the particular generic R&B artists being belted out by simply letting Shazam do the identification work for you. It’s actually quite frightening that the music can be loud enough to make this possible from across a carriage, but thoughts of a worst offender league table have crossed my mind…and I’m looking at YOU Rihanna.

The old adage goes: “If it’s too loud, you’re too old.” This may be so, but I’d prefer to still be able to hear it at some volume rather than go deaf within the next ten years and hear nothing at all.