The Didact's Best Albums of 2017
It should come as precisely no surprise to anyone who reads my work that my favourite album of the year is, of course, an IRON MAIDEN release. I saw the mighty MAIDEN perform live twice this year with an updated setlist on their Book of Souls tour, and both experiences were truly amazing; the memory of singing along to "Blood Brothers" at the very last concert of the tour with more than ten thousand people will stay with me for as long as I live.
The setlist separates this album from past MAIDEN live releases, mostly because the new material is so brilliant. The Book of Souls was the best album that IRON MAIDEN had released in at least 25 years when it came out in 2015, and the six songs taken from it here truly come to life, particularly the title track.
Particular mention must be made of the remarkable pipes of Bruce "The Voice of God" Dickinson. You simply will not believe that two years before this album was released, Bruce was battling throat cancer. He sounds incredible. I listened to "Wrathchild" and "Blood Brothers" from this album, and then compared it to his singing of the same tracks on the 2001 live album Rock in Rio, and I honestly thought he sounded better in 2016 and 2017 than he did fifteen years earlier.
This album is now my gym staple for my Sunday workouts, and I imagine that I will be listening to it for many years to come.
Killer Kuts: The whole damn album is amazing, but if I had to pick just three songs - "The Red and the Black", "Blood Brothers", "Powerslave"
2. UNLEASH THE ARCHERS - Apex
There are not many chick-fronted metal bands that I honestly believe can give the legends of old a real run for their money, but Canada's UTA is rapidly turning into one of them. This album takes a gigantic step up in terms of songwriting, musicianship, and quality from their previous excellent but patchy effort, Time Stands Still. This is a concept album revolving around the story of the Immortal, who lies dreaming in a cave in a mountain until a master summons him to perform special tasks.
The story concerns his awakening and his search for his new master, who turns out to be a mistress, and a particularly nasty one at that. She commands him to bring her four sons before her so that she may slit their throats and drink their blood, thereby becoming immortal herself. In exchange, she promises him his freedom from the ancient curse that binds him. He performs his task, bringing her three worthless sons to her, but balks when confronted with the fourth, who has lived a good and noble life. Fulfilling his task, he finds that the Matriarch has gone back on her vow; shrugging his shoulders, he returns to his mountain home and once again surrenders to the sweet embrace of his cave. The album ends with a tantalising hint of something big to come; we shall have to see where they go from here.
In every respect, this really is a contender for Album of the Year. It would have been, too, if IRON MAIDEN hadn't come along with a live release.
Killer Kuts: Again, the whole damn album is awesome, but top three tracks - "The Matriarch", "Earth and Ashes", "Apex"
3. KOBRA AND THE LOTUS - Prevail I
Chick-fronted metal bands have gotten a lot of love from me this year, which is pretty unusual. I'm not really a grrrrrl-power metal fan. However, both in the previous and current case, the praise is well warranted. KATL, another Canadian band- what exactly do they put in the water up there that makes these women sing like they do?- has come out with a superb follow-up to their excellent previous effort, High Priestess. Kobra Paige's voice is just as powerful as ever, but her songwriting has tightened up even more, and the result is a very well balanced, solidly written, and musically diverse album that takes their playing style to a whole new level.
That said- they could really use a better graphic artist for their album covers. This one isn't very impressive.
Killer Kuts: "Gotham", "Specimen X", "You Don't Know", "TriggerPulse", "Hell on Earth"
4. IRON FIRE - Among the Dead
A lot of old-school IRON FIRE fans from back when they were a strictly power-metal band really hated the new direction that the band took with Voyage of the Damned in 2012. They took particular exception with the way that Martin Steene changed his voice to adopt a deeper growling sound, more reminiscent of death metal than the traditional clean vocals of a power band.
I am not one of those fans, as I thought that their last album was a pretty interesting effort. However, it was patchy in a lot of places. Their follow-up, Among the Dead, is a concept album concerning the results of a zombie apocalypse and the efforts of the survivors to scratch and claw a functioning civilisation out of the dirt after everything collapses around them. While the songwriting is still a little uneven, this is a solid outing with some truly great and memorable songs. The band itself is much reduced in size- there are only three members now including Steene- and the album shows the results of this. It is tighter, more focused, more precise, and heavier.
Killer Kuts: "Among the Dead", "Iron Eagle", "Higher Ground", "The Last Survivor"
5. KREATOR - Gods of Violence
You know what to expect with a new KREATOR album: brutal, neck-snapping, pulse-pounding Teutonic thrash metal full of dark snarling lyrics about war, anarchy, and death.
And KREATOR sure as hell delivers with this one.
There is definitely more of a sense of melody with this album than with the previous one, Phantom Antichrist; some of the songs have a slower groove to them that allows the lyrics to sink in a bit more. But the music still sounds rather a lot like the soundtrack to the Apocalypse- KREATOR certainly haven't lost any of their force or power as a band, and if anything they seem to be even more intent on destroying all before them here.
There is a bit more of a social-awareness theme to this album than previous ones- "Side By Side", for instance, is all about "crush[ing] homophobia", whatever that is supposed to accomplish. And that annoys me a little, since I listen to music to be entertained, not to have virtue-signalling shoved in my face. But this is a minor complaint; if you can ignore the lyrics, the song itself is damn good. And "Satan is Real" is possibly the scariest song they've ever made.
My one complaint about this album is similar to my complaint about most post-2000 KREATOR offerings: the production is... boring. I don't know what these guys do to make thrash metal sound flat, but whatever it is, they keep doing it. And it needs to stop.
Killer Kuts: "Satan is Real", "Totalitarian Terror", "Lion With Eagle Wings", "Side By Side"
HONOURABLE MENTION: JUDAS PRIEST - Redeemer of Souls
I had just about given up on the almighty JUDAS PRIEST after they released the flaming pile of crap that was Nostradamus. It was such a boring album that I could easily use it as a cure for insomnia- in fact I did use it for precisely that, way back when I was studying for something in the year that it was released. (Suffice to say that I didn't do very well on that particular test.)
But the legendary stalwarts proved me very wrong when they released Redeemer of Souls back in 2014. I only got around to listening to it in 2017 after seeing them play some of the songs live the year before, and I immediately started kicking myself for leaving it for so long. This album shows the band revitalised and happy after adding Richie Faulkner on guitars following the departure and retirement of K. K. Downing, and there is a fire and a force to the band that has not been seen or felt since the halcyon days of Painkiller.
The lyrics are great, the riffs are meaty, the solos are awesome, the drumming is insane- everything that you want and expect from a PRIEST release is right here. Rob Halford's voice has definitely aged and he cannot hit the high notes anymore, but he's still an incredible frontman. This album is a classic for the ages.