Well, considering I’ve spent so much of the year talking about music, it’s time to do that again. However, rather than do a list of every single album that I listened to over the course of 2016 (because I wanted to be able to get some sleep in the four months leading up to the end of the year), I’m going to just pick my 5 favourite records of the year that I not only love on a personal level, but also on a quality level. For better or for worse, these are the five records that I feel are the best records of the year.
Volbeat – Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie (5th place)
I’ll admit, this was a pick that was difficult for me to justify at first. After all, whenever I’ve listened to it all the way through, I’ve always found myself feeling like it doesn’t have the magic of their last album and there’s always been a few songs on it that I’ve never really enjoyed that much.
That said, the songs I HAVE loved on it have never left my listening pleasure since the record was released (to the extent that I’ve probably played them more than pretty much any other songs released this year), the band’s combination of rock n roll, country, hard rock and heavy metal is still a huge joy to listen to and, despite the record being more than a touch formulaic, it’s still a very solidly written record. Really, the worst I can say about the record is that it’s not Volbeat’s best, the mastering could have been quieter and could have done with trimming a couple of the weaker tracks off of it, which doesn’t detract from the fact that the record is a mostly enjoyable experience.
So, for all of the personal grumblings I have about it, it’s hard to deny that Volbeat have produced a pretty solid record that still sounds unique in the rock scene in general now, more than a decade after the band’s forming. It’s not the best record they’ve ever done, but it is still a great record that deserves a lot of praise.
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest (4th place)
To say that this was an unexpected surprise when it first crossed my path would be quite the understatement. I still remember when I first started to listen to it in preparation for my review of it and, after getting through “Anthem for Freedom” and going “Eh, OK, that’s pretty solid, but, if that’s the best the record has got, things are about to get very disappointing”, I promptly was blown away by “Truth” and the rest of the record proceeded to lived up to every demand I had of it as a personal listener.
While, critically, I did (and still do) think that the record falls apart a bit towards the end, I’m still really impressed with the record now. Progressive power metal is really difficult to get right even at the best of times for established veterans of the style, yet this record, written by a guitarist who, to my knowledge, had no previous credits to his name and a vocalist who had never been anywhere near the style as a performer, proved to be a truly excellently written record. With some great guests on the record (Mark Jansen and Charlie Dominici were definitely unexpected, to say the least!) and some truly great performances (Elina Laivera’s voice is beautiful), this record pretty much proved that one should never look at one’s circumstances and assume too much, for you might just be proven very wrong indeed!
Drive, She Said – Pedal to the Metal (3rd place)
I will admit, I wasn’t entirely expecting to see this record placed so highly in the list when I started to work it out. It definitely has more tracks on the tracklist that I skip compared to The Jaguar Priest and it doesn’t really do anything that is particularly special in comparison to the final two picks, so you’d think that The Jaguar Priest would have been the third pick.
However, when I listened to the record in preparation for the article, I came to realise that the main strength of this record is that the songwriting is just rock solid throughout (even if I don’t particularly like the material as much as with The Jaguar Priest) and the sound is just HUGE, feeling like it could have literally been a live recording from directly inside a huge arena. Combine this with truly wonderful performances and you have a true winner of a record that, by the narrowest of margins, manages to be worthy of third place in this year’s awards.
Sunburst – Fragments of Creation (2nd place)
I will freely admit, I am actually surprised that this record did not end up as my record of the year. This record literally had everything that I demanded of a record, both critically and personally, having a sound that basically seeked to replicate the sound of Nevermore while having a vocalist who sounds exactly like Kamelot’s much-missed ex-vocalist Roy Khan (as well as having the ability to pull off extreme metal vocals).
Indeed, even now, at the end of the year, I’m still blown away by this record whenever I listen to it, although I will freely admit that I don’t think it has quite the same impact that it did on the first listen. Technically brilliant, well performed and excellently written, the only major flaw in it is the lack of originality, which isn’t a big problem for me when the sound being stolen is so infrequently heard that it doesn’t even feel dull to hear it. Definitely an album that prog fans who haven’t heard yet need to pick up!
Theocracy – Ghost Ship (Album of the Year Winner)
That this record was a record of the year contender is not really going to be a surprise to anyone who read my initial review, but what surprised me is just how much further it won me over after my initial review (which was hardly a negative review to start with!), to the extent that it actually succeeded in dethroning Sunburst from the top slot once the growing finally set in.
Genre defying, this record isn’t (it’s pretty easy to place this in the progressive power metal spectrum) and the mastering grinds my gears on a personal level, but what really sells this record is just the sheer quality of the material on display. Seriously, if you’re a progressive power metal fan in the slightest, then this record literally has everything you could demand from the spectrum on the songwriting front and it does it with excellent performances that prove that the band is comprised of excellent musicians. If people tell you that Americans cannot do power metal like the Europeans, then this record will quickly prove them wrong (although a punch in the face for their rudeness might also do the trick…)!
Music Hopes for 2017
So, with the top 5 out of the way, let’s talk about some of the music hopes which I have for next year!
- New System of a Down album: I’ll admit, I was SUPER late in getting onto the System of a Down bandwagon, only getting into their stuff in the last month or so, so I was really happy to hear that the band are working on a new album that should be due out next year. There’s still not been a band who has really been able to capture what the band were doing in their heyday, so it’s nice to see them bringing out something new. Hopefully, they give the mainstream music charts a good kick in the pants and encourage people to give metal music a shot, although I think I’ve more chance of finding an elephant hiding under my bed than that one happen…
- New Seventh Wonder record is worth the wait: I’m pretty sure my love of Seventh Wonder is well known by this point, so I won’t bother making a big fuss over it here. Suffice it to say, though, I really, REALLY hope that the new Seventh Wonder record turns out to be worth the wait, because I have been impatiently waiting for it since 2014 and I’m really wanting to see what the band has to offer.
- New album by The Darkness doesn’t disappoint: I’ll admit, this one is a desperate hope, because I was REALLY not impressed with 2015’s Last of our Kind, but I absolutely loved their first two records and still happily listen to them now (there’s still good material on their third record, but I don’t think it holds up as well as their first two), so I’m really hoping that the band’s fifth record redeems them after their last one.
- New Fleetwood Mac record happens: I absolutely adore Fleetwood Mac’s material from their second self-titled album up until Tango in the Night, so I am enthusiastic about their upcoming album. However, some press stuff I’ve seen indicates that things are kind of tense between Stevie Nicks and the rest of the band, so she might end up not appearing on the record, and their EP from 2013, while not awful by any measure, felt like it was lacking something to truly bring it to life in the way that the old records did, both of which are leaving me sceptical that the record will turn out as well as I’m expecting it to. Hopefully, I’m just being paranoid and things will work out!
- Fefe Dobson finally releases a new record: I am not subtle about my love of Fefe Dobson’s works, so I’m hoping that she finally manages to produce her follow up to 2010’s Joy, because she is a truly great pop songwriter who deserves to be much better known than she is. I’m carrying this over from last year, so I’ll not give this much more expansion, but I really do want to her more material by her, because she’s about the only modern pop artist who I actually have any respect for on a listening level!
- Gig reviews: a personal thing rather than a music scene focused one, but people who know me in person will know that I passed my driving test early in December, so I’m hoping to start to add gig reviews to my schedule because, well, I can actually attend them now without it costing me an arm and a leg. This might end up not happening, but it is definitely on the cards!