Every year we encounter so much amazing music, that to try to create any sort of list creates a near constant headache. There are many criteria that could go into our end-of-year roundup, but ultimately, as with every year, it comes down to which albums we have listened to over and again, mindless of popularity, sales or whatever else allows one to judge an album with any semblance of objectivity. Undoubtedly you won’t agree with all the albums on the list, nor would we wish you to, but it might cause you to head back and check out a missed release, or drop us a message and tell us what we missed. That’s the joy of music, it’s subjective, and what means the world to one person, may only irritate another!
Regardless, thank you for sticking with us for another year, and we hope that this list may offer up a few surprises, and even a few revelations as we head into 2018.
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
We could endlessly debate the relevance of a post-Cavalera Sepultura, but for those who have continued to follow the band, Sepultura have repaid that faith with a number of great albums including the conceptual Dante XXI and the towering statement of intent that was Nation. Nonetheless, Machine Messiah is their masterwork. A strong contender for the album if the year, Machine Messiah is a monstrous album that incorporates thrash, groove and even prog into its fiery, metallic framework. The band shine throughout, but it is Derrick who stuns with his performance, and Machine Messiah stands as a testament to his dedication and craft. Simply awe-inspiring from start to finish, Sepultura continue to produce original and exciting metal and Machine Messiah is their finest moment to date.
Roger Waters – Is This The Life We Really Want?
It has been a long wait for a new album from Roger Waters, whose last record (2005’s Ca Ira notwithstanding) appeared way back in 1992. Indeed, many would have been excused for believing that Roger might never return, but the experience of touring The Wall clearly enthused the recalcitrant bassist (as has the political turmoil that has engulfed the world in the last two years) and he returned with an album that bristles with barely concealed rage. Teamed up with famed Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, Roger turns in an album that frequently echoes the Floyd whilst taking inspiration from numerous contemporary influences. It was an inspired pairing and the album, which tackles everything from Drones to Trump, sees Roger back to his fire-breathing best. A treat for Floyd fans, but forward-looking enough that it could easily ensnare listeners who have never even encountered that legendary act, is this the life we really want? Is a powerful and immersive record and a most welcome return.
Lee Ranaldo – Electric Trim
Mesmerising, beautiful and slightly punky, Electric Trim is a gorgeous offering from the former Sonic Youth guitarist. Reminiscent of the quieter end of Sonic youth’s oeuvre (think ‘mote’), Electric Trim constantly challenges the listener’s expectations as Lee and a cohort of studio buddies (including erstwhile SY drummer Steve Shelley) weave a shimmering and gorgeous sonic web around them. An album that needs multiple listens to unlock its myriad secrets, there’s no doubt we’ll still be poring over it into 2018 and beyond.
Suicide Silence – Suicide Silence
Seriously, I don’t care. For all I know the band could be roadie-for-a-day-charging, ego-maniacal madmen, but that doesn’t change the fact that I loved this controversial LP. A massive step away from the deathcore savagery of old, it captures raw emotion in a way that no amount of technicality can, and songs like ‘dying in a red room’ are hypnotic, lysergic pieces that last long in the memory. Hey, if it’s not your thing, fair enough, but as a huge fan of alternative metal, I enjoyed the naked intensity of the band’s performance. Who knows where Suicide Silence will go next, but, for me, this was a rare unguarded moment from a band unafraid to buck convention.
Prophets of Rage – Prophets of Rage
Critical responses to the debut LP from Prophets of Rage were a mixed bag, perhaps because the album lacks the fire and fury of Rage Against the Machine. However, it’s a real grower, with a number of tracks lodging themselves firmly into the cranium. Sure, Chuck D. and B-Real may not ape the vitriolic delivery of Zach, but they have plenty to say and the interplay between the two is a real pleasure. Meanwhile, the band wisely infused their metallic fire with elements of funk to smooth out the sound and the result is an album full of political zeal delivered with considerable flair. With no filler in sight, this self-titled debut is a concise and powerful statement of intent delivered by a group of musicians who continue to fight the system any way they know how.
Neil Young & Promise of the Real – The Visitor
It’s all in the tone with Neil and when the great man unleashes the same gnarled guitar that powered ‘ordinary people’ on opening track ’already great’, long-time Young fans will be in heaven. It’s not all perfect, the second half of the album is somewhat weaker than the first, but the album taken as a whole remains the work of an impassioned and committed artist and it stands in stark opposition to much of the over-produced music that currently dominates the world stage. With a strong political undercurrent, The Visitor is an album that isn’t afraid to voice its opposition to the wave of xenophobia currently sweeping certain sections of the USA and we can only hope more artists follow Neil’s example in 2018.
Ulver – The Assassination of Julius Caesar
Ulver’s ‘pop album’? You better believe it. Melodic, hypnotic and utterly brilliant, the live shows that followed were spectacular and the music itself exemplary. Few bands are capable of such whole-hearted reinvention, but Ulver just keep getting better. The production is flawless, the delivery intense and the atmosphere the band weave utterly immersive. An album that works best when played through as one, lengthy (and slightly disturbing) piece, The Assassination of Julius Caesar sees Ulver once again expand their horizons, always searching for that sublime moment when emotion and art collide to truly enliven the senses. Arguably Ulver’s finest record since the astonishing Perdition City, The Assassination of Julius Caesar is a work of art.
JW-Jones – High Temperature
An album that blindsided me, High Temperature is one of those rare albums that puts a smile on your face with the first song and then glues it in place for the duration of the record. From a brilliant cover of ‘Murder in my heart for the judge’, via the distorted blues of ‘out in the woods’ to the poignant ‘already know’, JW Jones approaches the blues from a deeply personal perspective, imbuing the songs with a human quality that is impossible to ignore. The live shows that ended the year were sublime and I have no doubt we’ll be hearing more from JW in 2018, but for now High Temperature stands as the high watermark of his remarkable career.
Godflesh – Post Self
Godflesh have long been a multifaceted beast, and whilst the band can deal in brutal minimalism with aplomb, their music has always allowed for so much more. Post Self sees Justin Broadrick explore the dark sonic realms that exist in the hinterland between Ministry, Jesu and Killing Joke and the result is absolutely stunning. An intelligent, frequently obtuse, piece of work, Post Self is certainly heavy, but it’s when Godflesh engage with trippier elements that this album truly comes into its own. An amazing journey through the rabbit hole, Post Self is arguably one of Godflesh’s finest works to date.
Mollie Marriot – Truth is a wolf
That voice! You could fall in love listening to Mollie’s remarkable effort, truth is a wolf, such is the soulful, bluesy edge that she brings to her material. Just listen to the title track as she howls at the moon and you’ll be lost. Whilst Mollie’s name implies a certain heritage, the most remarkable aspect of Truth is a Wolf is the way that Mollie neatly sidesteps the lengthy shadow of her antecedents to craft her own sound from the outset, infusing grungy influences into ‘control’ and embracing starker soundscapes with ‘Love your bones’. A phenomenal album, Truth is a Wolf will cast its spell over you from the very first listen.
Ever since we caught them at HRH Doom Vs Stoner, we knew that OHHMS were special, but just how special did not become fully apparent until the band dropped the astonishing and utterly brilliant the fool. A double album, the fool finally offered OHHMS the space to expand upon the insane jams that made up their EPs and the result is an album that wraps you tight in its dark embrace and holds you tight until it’s done. Concluding with an epic masterpiece, the hierophant’, the fool is pretty much everything I could have wanted from OHHMS and a little bit more. As an added bonus, the vinyl edition is simply gorgeous. All hail OHHMS, we love you!
‘Supersonic Blues Machine – Californisoul
The sound of a road trip across America’s vast open spaces, this is the most amazingly life-affirming album of 2017. Like a ray of sunshine, the album warms the spirit and the guest appearances only augment the brilliance of the core band. From the moment the Santana-esque ‘I am done missing you’ slides into view, through the glorious ‘L.O.V.E’ to the concluding ‘this is love’, Californisoul is one of those albums that leaves you glowing. We’re waiting for live dates in 2018, but Californisoul is another masterwork from these roaming troubadours.
Marilyn Manson – Heaven Upside Down
Who’d have thought the God of Fuck’s reinvention would incorporate so savage an album this late in the day. Following on from the stunning Pale Emperor, Heaven upside down is an altogether heavier affair, embracing the darkness of Antichrist Superstar, yet allowing at least a little humanity to seep in. Akin to a best of, only containing original songs, Heaven Upside Down is one of Marilyn Manson’s finest albums in years.
Mark Lanegan – Gargoyle
The tenth album from the former Screaming Trees mainman, ‘Gargoyle’ takes vast strides across lush sonic territory, always tethered by Mark’s well-worn voice. As the album progresses, there’s a feeling that Mark is drawing widely upon his illustrious past at the same time as moving forward, always striving for that transcendent moment when music becomes a unique work of art, free from the shackles of history and purely evocative of a moment in time when a group of musicians were able to come together and create. ‘Gargoyle’ is full of such moments and is a truly miraculous record.
Afghan Whigs – In Spades
Frequently awkward, dense and filled with a mordant wit, In Spades is the second post-reunion Whigs album and it simply astounds. From the deliciously atypical opener ‘birdland’ to the string-laden beauty of Oriole, Afghan Whigs steadfastly refuse to play to the gallery, the band gleefully embracing jazz, soul and blues without sounding like any of those things. A bold, arty record that offers considerable emotional resonance despite its brevity, In Spades is an affirmation of the Afghan Whigs’ remarkable talent.
Walter Trout – We’re all in this together
Bringing together a remarkable collection of blues legends including Joe Bonamassa, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Warren Haynes, Walter Trout delivers a stinging affirmation of his newfound lease of life. Where Battle Scars was a cathartic retelling of his illness, we’re all in this together sees Walter revel in the joy of making music and the results are wonderfully infectious. Amidst all the star turns, the appearance of Walter’s super-talented son John is a particular highlight, and this album only gets better with repeated listens.
Tau Cross – Pillar of fire
Somewhere between the gnarled post-metal of latter-day Amebix, the arty soundscapes of Swans and the cold industrial horror of Killing Joke and Godflesh, Tau Cross emerged with a ferocious second album that cleverly juxtaposes Rob Miller’s gravel-throated vocals with super-precise riffing and a surprising concentration of melody. Influences abound, but the overall sound belongs to Tau Cross and the album offers up enough surprises that listeners will be kept guessing across its run time. From the tribal fury of ‘bread and circuses’ to the stripped-down acoustic beauty of the title track, Tau Cross followed their muse and the resultant album is essential for anyone who views music as more than mere entertainment.
Kenny Wayne Shepard – Lay it on down
Emotional, heartfelt and with a powerful groove on hand when the mood so takes it, lay it on down sees Kenny Wayne Shepherd continue to stake out his place as the guardian of the blues. Beautifully recorded, the songs will live with you long after the album has finished. Tracks like the fiery ‘baby got gone’ have the sort of fret-board bothering riffing that will get you moving, whilst the soulful title track stirs the senses in a different way. Further proof, as if any were needed, that Kenny Wayne Shepard is one of the great blues guitarists playing today.
Anathema – The Optimist
Harking back to a fine day to exit, the optimist is the most adventurous and intriguing Anathema album since we’re here because we’re here. The album is sumptuous and the level of detail the band apply to their music is truly inspiring. Conceptually stunning and frequently surprising, the optimist is just wonderful on every level. In truth, Anathema rarely, if ever, disappoint, but even so, their latest effort remains a particularly stand-out achievement. As a footnote, the surround sound version that comes packaged with the CD opens the album up in a whole new way and is a highly recommended bonus.
Ex Deo – The immortal Wars
Not so much a side-project as a labour of love for the Kataklysm crew, ‘The immortal wars’ is a dark, intelligent epic with cinematic elements woven in amidst the furious death metal riffing. With a coherent theme running across the whole album, ‘the immortal wars’ is the perfect marriage of concept and execution and it continues to thrill some ten months down the line. Easily the most inspiring effort from the Ex Deo boys yet, ‘The immortal Wars’ will leave your jaw hanging on its hinges.
Mage – Green
Recorded in the wake of the tragic loss of founding guitarist Ben, you might imagine Green to be a weighty affair. However, whilst the band do pay tribute to their fallen bandmate, with ‘Green’ they opt to celebrate his life rather than focus upon his loss and the result is a simply and consistently brilliant album, packed full of memorable riffs and performed with great skill by the band. A most welcome return, Green is the album that, by rights, should bring Mage to bigger things.
Mastadon – Emperor of Sand
Arguably, emperor of sand is the album that should have followed the astonishing crack the skye as it would have provided a more effective bridge to the more song-oriented the hunter. Assured and with a more experimental edge than their slightly disappointing last offering, emperor of sand is a powerful outing from a frequently-great, occasionally frustrating band and it underscores the myriad elements that made them so admired. Whilst it may not quite pack the skyscraping heft of crack the skye, Emperor of sand is, nonetheless, a towering work that places Mastadon once more at the head of the prog metal pack.
Cavalera Conspiracy – Psychosis
The best Cavalera Conspiracy album yet, and one that infuses the band’s apocalyptic thrash with elements of industrial and black metal to devastating effect. Delivered with all the ebullience we’ve come to expect from Max, and yet more inspired than we’ve heard in some time, psychosis is a metallic masterpiece that recalls the sandblasted rage of Nailbomb.
Ronnie Baker Brooks – Times Have Changed
I love, love, love this album. A beautiful blues record with so much soul and such a spirit of innovation that it leaves you awash in its warm glow for hours after listening. Whether toying with hip hop on the title track or unleashing a riot in the studio with a sturdy cover of ‘Twine time’, Times have changed is a life affirming album that you’ll want to play until the plastic warps.
Stone Sour – Hydrograd
I really hadn’t expected to like this album as much as I did, and yet it really captures the essence of what makes hard rock great. Addictive as hell and perfectly produced, it sees Corey Taylor and his fellow Des Moines bruisers take the pedal away from the metal to pour on the melody, and yet they do it with such panache that you can’t help but be swept along by it.
Box Set of the year:
David Gilmour – Live in Pompeii
An amazing live album rendered infinitely more potent by the immortal setting of the Pompeii amphitheatre, David Gilmour’s latest live effort captures him in rare form as he plays a mixture of solo material (although, sadly, nothing from his first two albums) and Pink Floyd classics. It’s been a long time since Dave dusted off ‘Run like hell’ and it’s good to see him enjoying himself up on stage with a fantastic band that includes legendary pianist Chuck Leavell (Rolling Stones) and former Floyd bassist Guy Pratt. Packaged in a soft-touch case, much like rattle that lock, the box set offers CD, blu ray and a wealth of extras including a full-blown documentary, behind the scenes footage and well over an hour of bonus performances, including a mesmerising set with strings filmed in Poland. You also get liner notes, a booklet on Pompeii and memorabilia. One of the best value box sets to be released in 2017, it is a fantastic celebration of Dave’s post-Floyd work.
Live Film of the year
Slipknot – Day of the Gusano
Despite the confusion over formats and whether the theatrical version would be included in the home release (with the exception of a deluxe edition, curiously only on DVD, it was not), the latest audio-visual extravaganza from Slipknot is a truly stunning experience. Utilising multiple swooping cameras, drones and instrument-mounted lenses, Day of the Gusano truly puts you at the heart of the Slipknot experience. With a set list covering everything from the very first album (including a blistering ‘prosthetics’) right through to the most recent release, Day of the Gusano is an essential reminded of the power of Slipknot.
EP of the year
Goya – Kathmandu
The first outing from the instrumental, post-rock act Goya captures them blazing away at their instruments like a young Mogwai. They may hook you with ‘collider’, but it’s the twelve-minute, lumbering might of ‘Vanenatus’ that opens the listener’s eyes to the true scope of Goya’s lofty ambitions. This is just the start for the band, and we’re waiting with baited breath for the full-length.