2017 saw our unexpected loss of some fine musicians, including Tom Petty, Chuck Berry, Chris Cornell, Malcolm Young, and Chester Bennington. Nevertheless, it remained an exceptional year for music in other ways.
To think ten years ago, getting to attend a small rock gig here was considered a stroke of luck. Seeing Guns N’ Roses live this year was absolutely unforgettable. As was experiencing the spectacular concerts of Wolfmother, Tyler Bryant, Megadeth (third time’s the charm), Richie Kotzen, Hats Off to Led Zeppelin, and Sick of It All.
2017 releases also charmed audiophiles, as old favourites make strong comebacks and young bands break the mould. There goes the falsehood that the new generation has ruined music. Far from it, as this list would prove – in two pages and no particular order:
15. Santa Cruz – Bad Blood Rising
Flashy outfits and pop-oriented hooks are surefire ways to invite scorn in the rock/metal scene. Not that these guys give a damn. Drawing comparisons to Mötley Crüe and Skid Row, Santa Cruz has the looks to match withal. But even as they wear their influences on their sleeves, the Finnish band finds their own sound with this polished release.
Musically, Bad Blood Rising thrives on the same attitude and zest that has earned them their previous fans, who will not be disappointed. Going for energetic solos and anthemic choruses, they capture the infectious rhythm of the genre neatly, and never once forget the fun of it.
14. The Hawkins – Ain’t Rock N Roll
Three EPs later, The Hawkins has now acrrued an impressive repository of bangin’ tunes, and it baffles me that these Swedish rock n’ rollers have not exploded onto the scene in a big way. It’s about time. Ol’ school punk meets classic rock in Ain’t Rock N Roll, their stupendous debut album that never relents.
The opening tracks Alco-Hole and Fuck You All I’m Out of Here get straight down to business, sustaining the high momentum till the very end. Only with Will & Testament do they slow down for a bit, before rising into a defiant protest against death. Just you wait, these guys will be headlining festivals soon enough.
13. Counterfeit – Together We Are Stronger
Remember Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd, particularly that kid belting out his creepy stalker’s anthem for Johanna? Well, turns out actor Jamie Campbell Bower fronts a punk-rock outfit called Counterfeit, and by god is their debut a nice little surprise of the year.
Together We Are Stronger delivers a no-frills collection of rebellious numbers, including Addiction and Enough that will have fans rarin’ to go from the start. Indelible is Letters to the Lost, a raw resonant ballad penned for the ones lost to suicide. It is nothing short of an excellent first record, though cynics may call it less.
12. Rise Against – Wolves
Since his presidency, Donald Trump has assumed the unfortunate role of quarry of several ardent lyrical protests. Deservingly, most would say, and few musicians have come forth as blatantly as Rise Against. Sharply written and uncompromising, their latest album Wolves openly critiques his extreme actions and the world aflame at large.
“How many walls can you put up? How many guns till you feel safe?” These frustrations may be a direct response to the American elections, but there is no doubt that the sentiments of the political game reverberate loud on a global scale.
11. Shadow of Intent – Reclaimer
Metal has some of its roots in classical, which makes unlikely bedfellows out of the two. Shadow of Intent is one of several outstanding bands that perfect the collision of the contrasting genres. Melodic and fervent in equal parts, their sophomore release The Reclaimer may just turn deathcore detractors into fans.
If that alone fails to satiate your appetite, this year also sees the band release The Instrumentals. With a grand total of 22 songs, the compilation album is a beautiful display of their genuine métier in balancing symphony and destruction with ease.
10. Artificial Language – The Observer
Progressive fans will revel in the music of newcomers Artificial Language, as their debut album The Observer melds disparate genres into their own distinctive sound. The experimental record takes bold chances and impresses with just how much works, both technically and melodically.
The Grand Skeptic for instance, brings a stunning Vivaldi-esque guitar opening into a soaring chorus backed by clean vocals. Nothing short of another standout track with Mazes, where killer riffs get a prime neoclassical complement. Well, who would expect anything less from the guys behind this Stranger Things tribute?
9. Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown – Self-Titled
When Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown supported Guns N’ Roses earlier this year, they immediately caught my attention. Not once did they hold back on their verve despite the sparse crowd (as is the fate of many opening bands), and soon as the lead guitar virtuoso Bryant launches into his bluesy influences, I was hooked.
The hype lives on with their superb follow-up to Wild Child. Their self-titled release sees a neat mix of modern-alternative (Backfire), stripped-down roots (Rambling Bones), and even a bit of grunge (Aftershock). Guitarist Graham Whitford might also have worked his father’s influence into Weak and Weepin’, heavy on its welcome Aerosmith flavour.
8. Mastodon – Emperor of Sand
Prog giant Mastodon has evolved a great deal over the years to mixed reactions. Their seventh studio album Emperor of Sand may disappoint purists who are dead set against clean vocals, but those open to their constant experimentation will be floored.
Their musical ambitions reign supreme, as they venture into radio-friendly hooks alongside their signature incendiary riffwork. An accessible first half eases into melodic songs like the groove-laden Show Yourself, before frantic drums kick into a hard-hitting part two, with Word to the Wise and Ancient Kingdom taking the lead.
More on Page 2.