Welcome to my annual list of my favorite albums from the year. I listen to a lot of music, and these albums are the ones that held my attention, captured my imagination, and/or inspired my creativity during the year.
The list features new artists that I discovered through various channels, and old stand-bys that continue to crank out great music. If you've visited my annual lists at all, you know that I don't listen to the Radio. I don't agree with the concept of DJs telling us what they think is important to listen to anymore. I care more about online reviews, YouTube reviewers, "Reaction" trends, and Word of Mouth recommendations from friends and family.
With that in mind, I hope you spread the word and share this guidance with your network, pay forward these suggestions of high quality music. Please check out my YouTube playlist featuring clips from every album, featured at the bottom of this blog. And if you're feeling bold, drop a comment and let me know what you think.
Thank you for visiting! Rock on.
Feel (EP) & Regenerate
A solid EP with a delicious single in "Feel", especially the remix created by Zardonic. Find it. Feel it. The future is bright for this rock band from the UK.
Underrated doom metal from Arkansas with clean, melodic vocals, gloomy pace and smart guitar work. Reminded me of Solitude Aeturnus.
This was bound to happen, eventually. I imagine that the empire is filled with metal bands. Pardon the pun. A brilliant, heavy tribute to the sounds of Star Wars.
It's fitting that Sanctuary released this album of Demos and rare tracks circa 1986, considering their lead singer, Warrel Dane, passed away in December of 2017. Warrel was an inspiration to me for the duration of his time on the metal scene, over 30 years. In 1988, I ordered a relatively unknown album called "Refuge Denied" from the Columbia House Tape Club. I loved the album so much that I ordered a rare "Refuge Denied" album shirt. I loved the shirt so much that I stitched the cover to the back of my high school jeans jacket. Sanctuary has always been my banner band. Some of the song quality is rough and unrefined, but it is amazing to hear the range of Warrel's talent prior to the release of polished "Refuge Denied", cementing the reality that he is one of the most underrated artists of the last four decades.
You have to give any project by Logan Mader (Machine Head/Soulfly) a lot of leeway. Fronted by the beautiful and talented Lauren Hart, Once Human echoes the sound and style of Arch Enemy. Their sophomore effort is solid, though a bit unspectacular.
Color of Nothing
Ethereal, industrial, gothy. kaRIN and Statik have been creating unique and dynamic darkwave for decades now, powered by melodic vocals and edgy electronics.
I honestly can't take concentrated death metal for long. The vocals are often too inaccessible, the music too chaotic and sometimes untrackablle. I've been listening to Obituary off-and-on since their 1990 "Cause of Death" album, so they are acquired taste. Their power is in their consistent, unrelenting brutality. Insert metal horns here.
Post Self brought me back to 1992's "Mothra". 25 years later, the Godfathers of mechanical industrial music are still cranking the wheel. Themes of transhumanism and technological singularity echo throughout this gritty, guttural soundscape.
IAMX (Chris Corner) is a dynamic, multi-discipline, avant-garde artist, reflecting the variable that is featured in his pseudonym. "Unfall" explores his abstract and instrumental interests. While I prefer the version of IAMX that involves guitars and grittier elements, I can appreciate his electronica explorations.
Amy Lee + Orchestra + Evanescence tunes = Divine Experience. Not your typical rock or metal album, but Amy Lee has never been typical. "Lost In Paradise", "Secret Door" and "My Immortal" orchestrated are awesome works of art.
PROPHETS OF RAGE
Prophets of Rage
Now here's a dream superband - key members of Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy and Cypress Hill. If you told me twenty years ago that this band would form to help "Unfuck the World", I would've moshed in place and cheered loudly. As Morello told Rolling Stone, "we're an elite task force of revolutionary musicians determined to confront this mountain of election year bullshit, and confront it head-on with Marshall stacks blazing." They are my current anti-Trump trumpet.
Leave it to a band from the Ukraine to create the most interesting death metal album I've heard in a long time. "Futility Report" is a smart fusion of death metal, metal core, horror and jazz. Yes, jazz. Featuring a full-time saxophonist as part of their six-piece, the presence of sad sax tones adds dark swing and swagger to an otherwise typical death metal set. Additional props to the creepy, mysterious art of the album.
Beacons of controversy since the 90s, ICE-T and Ernie C are back when the United States needs them most. Featuring a Slayer cover ("Raining Blood") and guest spots by Dave Mustaine, Max Cavelera and Randy Blythe, "Bloodlust" is 100% brutal, relevant and necessary.
Dead on Arrivals (EP)
Always proud to promote the great work of friends Eric Powell and Steve Hickey. "Dead on Arrivals" is a return to the delicious machine rock, coldwave assault that began on "The Negative Space". I deeply appreciate Eric & Steve's rugged, electronic-edged, aggressive style and have been a fan of 16volt for decades. I've also experienced the perfect circle of fandom, where the artists of the band support the work of other artists and involve them in their craft: my acrylic piece "Wake of the Maker" is featured as the "Dead on Arrivals" EP Cover. Trivia: My piece "Spectre Weather" was used for the cover of 16Volt's last album, "The Negative Space".
My love affair with the Cavalera brothers began with Sepultura's "Arise", and continued into the band Soulfly after the two had a ten-year feud (and Soulfly was birthed during the feud). The brothers reunited with Cavalera Conspiracy, and continue to crank out brilliant and brutal thrash/death metal with Brazilian tones, heavy drums, tribal chants and screams. If "Soulfly" and "Cavalera Conspiracy" are two sides of the same metal coin, this band would represent Tails, the darker and grittier underside -- both are inextricably connected and similar, but different in their style and approach. I prefer the Conspiracy, and love the inclusion of Justin Broadrick of Godflesh in the song "Hellfire".
Heaven Upside Down
I love Manson's clever, sarcastic approach to his art. He inspires me and empowers me with his dark dynamism and seemingly endless creative well. "Heaven Upside Down" pales in comparison to his previous work, but features enough Manson classics ("Tattooed in Reverse", "SAY10", "Kill4Me", "Heaven Upside Down") to consider it great.
Lars Gotrich of All Songs Considered described their style as "nightmarishly chaotic hardcore". I think that sums up Code Orange's style nicely. Brutal, bloody, jarring, sludgy, melodic and macabre, "Forever" is a revelation, a creative vision that has evolved amazingly since "I Am King". To truly appreciate their breadth, you must listen to "Forever" then give "dream2", the final track on their album, a listen. Dichotomous darkness abounds and Reba rocks.
Strength in Numbers
I will always prefer the Peter Dolvig version of The Haunted, but can't deny the awesomeness of the band with the return of their original vocalist, Marco Aro. Between "Exit Wounds" and "Strength in Numbers", The Haunted have developed consistently powerful pieces that demand attention and renew the aggressive, metalcore style that they were known for in their early years -- only better than 2003.
Like an oasis in the midst of a war-torn desert, the feint of heart (and ears) will take solace in this electronic escape. The concept of this album is similar in formula to my faves artists Conjure One or Sleepthief -- core musician/DJ creates music and teams up with well-known vocal talent to create song/album. "Awake" features brilliant electronic musicianship with soaring and inspiring vocals from Emilie Brandt, Kerli, Annika Wells, RUNN, MAX, and Nevve, to name a few highlights. This album operated as a Soundtrack during a period of my life, and know that it will resonate in my memory for years to come. Sometimes, we are better off lost.
I've been a fan of Cyanotic since I first discovered "Transhuman 2.0" almost a decade ago. love their sci-fi apocalypse angry robot noise-inspired industrial cyberpunk coldwave metal. Their album "The Medication Generation" was my #1 album of 2010, and I have been a supporter of the evolution of the brilliant man behind the Glitch Mode mask, Sean Payne. "Tech Noir" would be the screamo, swinging soundtrack to SkyNet taking over the Earth, to the mechanical crush of skulls during the robot apocalypse, and to the digital crash of mankind. Peppered with perfect snippets of culturally-relevant movies like "Falling Down", "Blade Runner" and "The Terminator", Tech Noir is a chilling electronic soundscape, crackling with dark electricity and violent ghosts in the machines.