Best Albums Of 2017 (Staff Picks)

Sebastian Vazquez’ Top 10

#10. Marty Friedman – Wall of Sound: Holy moly. This album is a force to be reckoned with! Instrumental music in general is often brushed aside in the metal scene in favor of so called “real” artists, and winds up in niche markets with little to no airplay and media publication. Marty Friedman however, needs no introduction. This album, an 11-track masterpiece encompasses everything heavy metal, including prog, thrash, speed, and even classical music elements. Friedman has produced an album that is here to stay. Friedman, in the time to come, will join the ranks of Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Michael Angelo Batio, and Yngwie Malmsteen as one of the elites of instrumental music. A prolific writer, often releasing albums multiple times a year, Friedman has finally hit his stride in being able to showcase and demonstrate his talents without taking an overtly bombastic turn, like much of his contemporaries mentioned. Surely there are moments where you feel like Friedman is showing off his talents, but the music ebbs and flows so well within each song, and furthermore, throughout the entire album. One of my major respects to Friedman, is that he encompasses the evolutionary stage of heavy music in general, and sprinkles in here and there elements present in every decade dating back to 1980. Without the musical evolution of heavy music, there is no ‘Wall of Sound’. Friedman, a virtuoso in the sense of the word, has evolved and transcended as a solo artist to a new level, and ‘Wall of Sound’ is undoubtedly an expression of that.

#9. Symbolic – 5ive: The album, titled to represent a fifth member added to the San Diego based group Symbolic, as wells as the band’s fifth proper release, has stood the test of time since it hit the underground scene. This release is arguably the band’s strongest, and definitely the most polished. Standout tracks include ‘The King Has Fallen’, ‘Devil Be Me’, and ‘No Ordinary Life’. This Southern California quintet has been awfully quiet this year but rumor has it that this band, along with their new branding, has exciting developments to come. Definitely one of the more underground bands to top this list, anybody who is a fan of power prog, or bands such as Fates Warning, Dream Theater, and Ivory Tower, would seriously find themselves coming back to this record in the future.

#8. Mothership – High Strangeness: Stoner rock in general has become a huge market within the last few years, and this Dallas, Texas trio has taken the genre to a whole new level. Slower tunes in comparison to their previous releases, the band has transcended their songwriting for the better, with some of my favorite tracks being ‘Crown of Lies’ and ‘Helter Skelter’. This band has their brightest moments yet to come, after performing the main stage at Psycho Las Vegas 2017 and touring for much of the year. The Juett brothers, along with their canman Judge, are leading the pack in the stoner rock scene, inspiring newer and younger generations of rock and rollers with their psychedelic and groovy tunes. This album will be tough to top, but Mothership has what it takes to produce another quality record in the years to come. No other band in the scene in my opinion has risen to this level in the circuit as well as this band has.

#7. Night Demon – Darkness Remains: Traditional heavy metal purveyors in Night Demon, reforming the classic heavy metal sound of the early ’80s underground, have found their calling in their sophomore release. Fronted by old school kingpin Jarvis Leatherby, the band has cut their teeth in the underground circuit for the last three years touring relentlessly to promote their EP and debut. Now with their new release earning them best newcomer title by Metal Hammer magazine, the band has cemented the traditional metal scene as a new force to be reckoned with, with similar bands such as Skull Fist, Enforcer, Axxion, Air Raid, High Spirits, etc seeing a growth in their fan bases. Some of the stronger tracks, such as ‘Hallowed Ground’ and ‘Welcome to the Night’, have taken elements of the classic sounds that birthed the heavy metal explosion of the ’80s and carving their own sound as a polish. This band has actually allowed me, once a two-guitar snob, to genuinely appreciate what bands could accomplish with one guitar in the mix. Night Demon is probably the sharpest and brightest expression of the traditional metal scene, due to their wide range, being able to encompass varying colorations of the classic heavy metal sound, as the band continues to tour the world and make new fans.

#6. Power Trip – Nightmare Logic: I have to partially admit; that it took me close to 10 months after this album came out, to finally take a stab at listening to what all the fuss was about. This album, at first receiving what it seemed universal praise for this release, has been topping “best of” lists all over the internet so I felt compelled to finally see what the hype was all about. Another thing I must admit, I was initially put off. Not being much of a thrash or hardcore punk fan in general, it took me several listens to finally grasp why this album has become a shining light in the crossover thrash scene. Power Trip has done an excellent job in making thrash music appealing to a more commercial audience, with tracks like ‘Executioner’s Tax’ and ‘Firing Squad’. After about the fifth or sixth rotation, I started to find myself singing along to the catchier parts in each tune. For those looking to broaden their musical horizons in heavy music, and in particular to thrash or hardcore punk, look to this release as a proper stepping-stone. I have certainly gained much appreciation for crossover thrash music in general due to this release, and I am eager to discover what else modern thrash has to offer. Well done fellas, and much kudos for being able to produce an album to hit a wider audience allowing metal to reach new types of fans.

5. Roger Waters – Is This The Life We Really Want? Roger Waters, of one of the most successful rock bands in the history of music, Pink Floyd, released an album full of powerful social commentary. Waters has taken no restraints on producing brilliant songs with even more brilliant songwriting, often taking a political stance of varying social ills, such as war, inequality, and government corruption. It is rather rare for today’s musical landscape, for a commercial, major artist to tackle some of the biggest social and political issues that confronts billions of people around the world. Much of the milieu of consistent top 40 radio music hit producers are self-obsessed, and consistently produce music glorifying extravagant lifestyles riddled with alcohol, drugs, fancy cars and houses, and offer nothing to the general public in music that listeners could in reality relate too. The album, almost pushing a full hour, takes stabs at criticizing the brutality of drone warfare and torture programs, and also raises question to the refugee crisis caused by American imperialism in the Middle East. The album artwork, a redacted sheet of paper, raises light on the massive and secret surveillance state we currently live in. An album in the modern day that criticizes the international political arena and raising awareness on questions that virtually no artist is grappling with, this album is ultimately important.

#4. Warbringer – Woe to the Vanquished: It has taken Warbringer five albums to finally produce their best work. The production, the songwriting, the slightly political stance, and even the artwork all encompass this band’s evolution in the modern thrash scene. Woe to the Vanquished is easily the strongest thrash album of 2017, and can date back many years as they compare to other burgeoning contemporaries such as Havok and Exmortus. Thrash music in general seemed to be making a huge wave over the course of the last 5 years or so, but Warbringer, sits atop the modern thrash universe alone with their recent undertaking. As a person who has taken many years to finally appreciate thrash music in general, this album will forever be a mainstay in my music rotation whenever I want something with blistering speed and high octane aggression. Standout tracks ‘Silhouettes’ and ‘Woe to the Vanquished’ would be the answer for anyone asking, “What are some of the best thrash songs being put out today?” With their relentless touring, this band will certainly see brighter lights and bigger stages as they slowly emerge as one of the titans of heavy music in the modern day.

#3. Striker – Self-Titled: Striker, who finally decided to release an eponymous record at their fifth go around, has cemented themselves as the leaders in the traditional metal scene, having guitar leads flying all over the rhythms with gang vocals accenting the harsher and also catchier sections in the music. The band spent no time in between their prior studio LP ‘Stand in the Fire’ which received ubiquitous praise as the band’s strongest release ever, in releasing another quality record. While not as strong as ‘Stand in the Fire’, their self-titled efforts takes melodic passages to new lengths in songs like ‘Born to Lose’ and ‘Rock the Night’. This album has allowed them to get onto bigger tours too, as they recently toured with Dark Tranquility to wrap up the year. The Canadian bands are definitely one of the stronger elements in the traditional metal scene, and are arguably more talented than the others in producing catchy choruses and epic guitar solos and leads. For anybody wishing to explore the scene in general, I would recommend them to check this album and the rest of the band’s discog. You won’t be disappointed.

#2. Iced Earth – Incorruptible: This album, as Metal Assault has claimed, has the best six minutes of heavy metal in 2017, in a surprisingly instrumental track titled ‘Ghost Dance’. The album, often going unnoticed or unmentioned in some of the more commercial rock and metal publications, is a damn shame. For any fan that appreciates classic / power metal, this album could be your next-in-line favorite and as a person who has not delved much into the band’s lengthy career, ‘Incorruptible’ has earned a new fan. This near-perfect album contains everything a metalhead would enjoy. Sick guitar leads, pounding double bass drums, and heavy vocals all blending together to form an album so balanced in character, that anyone looking to make their mark in heavy music should pay attention to the songwriting on ‘Incorruptible’. This album slaps anyone in the face claiming that there is no good “new music.” How elitist for one to say that! Some of the stronger tracks are ‘Great Heathen Army’, ‘Seven Headed Whore’ and how can one not mention ‘Ghost Dance’. The album artwork is definitely worth mentioning, as it perfectly displays what the listener is to hear. Fiery and destructive power metal!

#1. Mutoid Man – War Moans: Oh how much can I go on and on and on about how much this album has been able to broaden my horizons in musical taste. Upon first listen, I was absolutely blown away thinking how a three-piece band could produce such a big sound, as each song perfectly flows into another with little to no stale air. I found myself annoying all of my close friends and family, urging them to listen to this album after I had been annoyed from all angles to check this album out myself (immense thanks to all those who did). A band that is similar in sound to The Mars Volta if they took speed and dropped the acid trip, Mutoid Man’s ‘War Moans’ is the pinnacle of modern musical brilliance. I find myself green with envy at times, as an artist myself, at the musical ability of each performer on the album, making the music at first glance sound easy to play, but remaining quite the contrary. That is how you know if one is an incredible musician; if they make it look easy.

This mish mash of prog and math rock blends so well to form brilliant songwriting start to finish; I restate myself in order to make this point. In comparison to every other album released in 2017, I have listened to this album more times than every album listed in this top 10 put together. It is just THAT GOOD. The album begins with ‘Melt Your Mind’, a song that demonstrates the building block for what is to come for the rest of the 12-song album. It flows right into the groovy jam ‘Bone Chain’ and then an in-your-face attack with ‘Micro Aggression’. The album takes a slightly slower turn with ‘Kiss of Death’ which flows perfectly into my favorite song of the album, ‘Date with the Devil’. This album, which I would debate with a fiery fervor, easily has the best opening five-track segment in all of prog-rock history. There is no dull moment in ‘War Moans’, and the surprisingly short album length in comparison to other albums in the list definitely helps in making this album feel so complete, bookend-to-bookend. This three-piece super group has made waves in their sophomore release, topping best of lists all over the place and rightfully so. With so many overhyped bands out there making “best of” lists unjustly (like Mastodon’s ‘Emperor of Sand’) Mutoid Man has earned the summit of the 2017 metal music mountain.

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