Matt Bower Best-of 2017

Monday, 18th December 2017

As I sit down to write this column, the season’s first snowfall is blanketing the New England countryside, signaling it’s once again time to ponder the year that was in music and reflect on which releases rose above the rest to form the list below. No doubt a challenge, it’s one I always look forward to and relish.

Be it digital, physical, vinyl, cassette, old, new, single, or compilation, 2017 offered a plethora of superb releases from talented artists. The one thing the 12 selections below share is quality from start to finish, all killer-no filler, as they say. Let’s get to it, shall we?

12. Acid Witch – Evil Sound Screamers (Hells Headbangers Records)
After being stoned to the grave, the Witch is back to conjure more swamp spells and witchtanic hellucinations. The potent brew of death, doom, psychedelic rock and a whole lot of Halloween horror fun continues, as the band unleashes its most lethal death-doom dose yet.

11. Jag Panzer – The Deviant Chord (SPV)
Driving riffs, propulsive drumming, tantalizing solos, catchy melodies, powerful vocals and diverse songwriting round out The Deviant Chord, plus a well-executed cover of an old Irish folk staple to boot (“Foggy Dew”).

10. Kreator – Gods of Violence (Nuclear Blast)
The Teutonic thrash titans have been on a tear with lethal thrash releases and Gods of Violence is no different. Filled with lightning-fast leads, ultra-melodic songwriting and Mille’s signature gritty rasp, the Essen boys show there’s still plenty left in the tank more than three decades into their stalwart career.

9. Municipal Waste – (Nuclear Blast)
The crossover-punk slam anthems of the Waste have always won me over, and Slime and Punishment boasts some of the band’s most addictive headbangers to date, including the title track, “Parole Violators” and “Amateur Sketch.” This one had me returning often for repeat spins.

8. Sorcerer – The Crowning of the Fire King (Metal Blade)
Doom will illicit thoughts of something dark, heavy, slow and brooding. After all, lurching rhythms, concussive drumming and hammering riffs are hallmarks of the genre. The Swedes manage to pull it off with a richness, a smoothness and an ear-catching melodic tendency seldom seen in doom. Class all the way.

7. Shores of Null – Black Drapes for Tomorrow (Spinefarm/Candlelight)
Blending elements of Enslaved, Amorphis, Novembers Doom and Woods of Ypres, Shores of Null craft a unique but intoxicating amalgam of black, death, progressive and doom. Sit back, relax and let Shores take you away.

6. Seven Spires – Solveig (Black Ray Music Group)
Impossible to categorize, symphonic, power, black, and melodic death elements all share a part in the unique Seven Spires sound. The band not only had the conviction to release a concept debut album but also the talent and prowess to produce something awe-inspiring.

5. Warbringer – Woe to the Vanquished (Napalm Records)
John Kevill and company have composed their most mature and accomplished album of their career with this devastating release. Pushing themselves to the limit with offerings such as “Shellfire” and the 11-plus-minute opus “When the Guns Fell Silent,” this is Warbringer at the top of their game.

4. The Night Flight Orchestra – Amber Galactic (Nuclear Blast)
From Fleetwood Mac to Abba and Kiss, this AOR/classic rock side project composed of metal musicians harkens back to the ‘70s and ‘80s with some of the most addictive, sing-along, dance-along, feel good anthems of the year.

3. Lich King – The Omniclasm (Self-released)
When it comes to thrash, nobody has more fun than Lich King. The lyrics may not always be serious, but the riffing sure as hell is. If pit-stomping, neck-wrecking thrash anthems are what you seek, “The Omniclasm” has them in spades and features some of the best riffs of 2017.

2. Night Demon – Darkness Remains (Century Media)
The Ventura, California, upstarts follow up their killer debut with a bevy of classic NWOBHM-fueled rockers, upping the ante in songwriting and execution. Tighter, sharper and not afraid to expand their sound, the trio shows why they are the future standard-bearers of heavy metal.

1. MindMaze – Resolve (Inner Wound Recordings)
A power/progressive masterpiece, this concept album embodies depth and emotion. From the top-notch musicianship to the recurring musical and lyrical themes, there’s a lot to absorb here, but if you take the time, you will be richly rewarded.

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