By Raph al Guul
Over the years, I have really grown to appreciate the musical album as a unit of art. I think it started with American Idiot, a record that really offered a lot more to those who sat down for consecutive and uninterrupted listening. Obviously, not every album accomplishes this, but I still like to listen to new albums from front to back without interruption, at least the first time around. And I look out for new records each year, hoping for a gripping hour or so.
Compiling a yearly top five from the results of this quest makes sense – listing is what I expect the artist to do for me. The track list is the fulcrum of listeners’ emotions during playback and what I now do is reciprocally list them like a fractal. Only this time it does not occur artfully, but at least I hope tastefully.
Speaking of taste, I listen to a lot of different kinds of music and I try to get away from genre restrictions.* Nonetheless, I always gravitate towards rock and metal because I suppose that’s where my heart lies. And this year, there’s pretty much only that in my top five. That’s why I encourage you to post your own favorites in the comments below. Anyway, let’s get on with it:
Number 5: Axxis – Retrolution
When a band I really like comes out with an album that has a really stupid title, I always worry that the music might not be able to win them back my respect. Axxis managed quite handily, though, with a rock solid record that’s a great blend of hard rock and power metal.
Stand-out track has got to be “Dream Chaser”. It sounds like something Europe made in the 80s, with a chorus that sweeps through the room every time it comes up. Generally, the German hard rockers veer strongly on the melodic side, which makes the album very palatable hard rock, even for casual listeners.
Favorites: “Burn! Burn! Burn!”, “Dream Chaser”, “Heavy Metal Brother”
Number 4: Flogging Molly – Life is Good
I don’t frequently listen to Celtic punk, so it is kind of a lucky coincidence that I even heard Life is Good in the year in which it came out. But boy, is it a good album. This is actually one of those that really works as a track list like I talked about in the introduction. On such records, it’s hard to point out a stand-out track, and therefore I just won’t.
There is something immensely personal about Flogging Molly’s central figure and lead singer Dave King. His vocals are competent on a technical level, but they carry so much more than just pitch and volume. You can really feel his disposition when he sings. Or maybe I am just a sucker for sexy Irish accents.
Favorites: “Welcome to Adamstown”, “The Days We’ve Yet to Meet”, “Life Is Good”
Number 3: Die Toten Hosen – Laune der Natur
How on earth are they still this good? Die Toten Hosen take their time releasing new albums, but they always deliver a knock-out disc. This is another record that I wasn’t aware had come out. I was actually in Germany when I heard one of their new songs playing on the radio some months after the release of Laune der Natur. Got the album the same day.
My stand-out track was “Wie viele Jahre (Hasta la Muerte)” right away. It encapsulates sort of what I associate with the notion of a punk band but with the usual dose of Hose.
Maybe nostalgia is partly responsible for how much I like the record, I cannot rule that out. Either way, listening to it feels like coming home to an angsty 16-year-old self. And sure enough, now we’re both listening and we both know that we’re going to find a way past our insecurities and the asshole who pretends to be a friend and maybe the girl that always looks the other way when we’re there.
Favorites: “Alles mit nach Hause”, “Laune der Natur”, “Wie viele Jahre (Hasta la Muerte)”
Number 2: Power Quest – Sixth Dimension
Being a fan of Power Quest has been a roller coaster. The British outfit used to be one of my absolute favorites until they disbanded in 2013. I was devastated upon reading the news. Three years later, they announced a return with a new line-up. But the initial excitement soon faded when they released the first new single in 2016 that just sounded nothing like a song from Power Quest. I originally didn’t even check out the album for two months, I was so disappointed.
Turns out the rest of the album is exactly what I had hoped for, though: melodic speed metal with excessively layered vocals that suggest an almost ecclesiastical arrangement. But then of course the band brings in the guitar solos and the trademark keyboard. It’s all there, so this story has a happy ending – for now.
My stand-out track is “Kings and Glory”. It’s not leaps ahead of any of the other tracks, but it has a little surprise factor when at 3:40 they unexpectedly break from solo to vocals that are just to die for. When I first heard that, I knew this album was going to make it high in the top five this year.
Favorites: “Starlight City”, “Kings and Glory”, “No More Heroes”
Number 1: Dreamtale – Seventhian …Memories of Time
This album should not technically be on the list because it came out on December 9, 2016. The problem is that last year, I had my list done mid-November** and completely missed the release. I only found out about it recently, when I was looking for what’s in store for 2018. But Seventhian is so good, to pretend it never happened at all would have been a bigger sin than including it in a list for 2017, so here it is in first place.
Dreamtale has yet to make a bad album. And while some songs have sounded a little similar to each other over the years, that has never been a serious detriment. I know few bands that mesh synths, keyboards, guitars and drums in such a way that the result is metal dance music. A prime example is the stand-out track, “Greenback Hunter”, a magnificent four-minute head-banging romp.
…Memories of Time is the second part of the album that contains eight re-recorded songs from old albums. Cool, I guess? I listened to it, but I don’t see the point. To me, Seventhian is the album, …Memories of Time a bonus disc.
Favorites: “Dreality”, “October is Mine”, “Greenback Hunter”
I feel that 2017 was not as great a year for music as 2016 was. That Top 5 had a lot more competition and the best albums of that year*** are still among the most played for me by the end of this one. But as you can see, 2017 wasn’t completely devoid of bright stars on my musical firmament. Now the question is, what can we look forward to in 2018? Here’s some thoughts:
- English Rock band Magnum is coming out with Lost on the Road to Eternity in January. I like the band but wouldn’t usually anticipate a new record. This one has got a song with Tobias Sammet from Edguy and Avantasia on it, though. If the album overall sounds a little more like Avantasia, we might have our first hit 19 days into the year already. Top five potential: 40%
- On the same day, Fall Out Boy bring out the long delayed Mania. While I hate every Fall Out Boy album before release and at first listen, they all become massive favorites over time anyway. I have given in and am pretty confident that this one will be no different. Top five potential: 70%
- Chris Bay, lead singer of my favorite band, is releasing a solo album called Chasing the Sun in February. He says the material didn’t fit the band’s style. So I am not sure what to expect. Top five potential: 60%
- Swedish power metal outfit Veonity has been working on their third studio album for half of 2017, so it should be finished soon. Whether it comes out next year has not been confirmed, though. I hope it’s an improvement over the really strong Into the Void, because that would be glorious. Top five potential: 40%
- Some speculation: Sabaton has so far released a new album at least every other year, so it would be time for the next record. I have not heard any official announcement yet, though. But I have no doubt they’re working on something great, judging by their last two stellar discs. Top five potential: 50%
- More speculation: Exactly ten years ago, Timeless Miracle started recordings for their second album. I have talked a little online with the front-man and they are in fact working on it again these days. I still don’t think it will be out in 2018, but for the first time since 2008, it will not be a completely unrealistic suggestion. Top five potential: 20%
What are your favorite albums of the year? What did you think of my picks? What are you looking forward to in 2018? Let’s discuss in the comment section.
* I believe the rhetoric of genre is particularly damaging to the artists themselves. It rarely serves a purpose and instead restricts them. So most artist ignore genres or try to. When they don’t, it seldom results in anything good. On the consumer-side, people like to identify positively with this or that genre. That gives them a sense of community but it also closes them off. I should be able to really enjoy hard rock without categorically refusing to ever check out a hip hop track – the best way to ensure that is to strip that sentence from its genre-denominations. I acknowledge, however, that it would be unbearable to read about music without this kind of terminology. That is why I also use it generously across the article.
** Yeah, I know. Why would I do that?
*** If you haven’t given Avantasia’s Ghostlights a chance, you are a fool. That album could change your life.