For me, 2017 has been an utterly fantastic year for music. Not just the new albums that've been released that are rocking my world, but the whole current of sound I've experienced throughout the year. It's been a year of musical reawakening for me, getting back into the "Metal" genre after many many years of being a casual observer and fan. If you're like me, music is more than just a way to fill time or whatever. It's that for sure but also something more, something that goes higher... At any rate, join me as I reflect on the musical year of 2017!
Since high school my musical taste has been biased towards punk and ska music; the vast majority of tunes I listen to belong to one of those two genres and in general, they offer a sound that seems to speak directly to me. It's hard to explain but maybe you know what I mean. To be honest, though, lately the punk genre in particular has felt tired to me; NOFX, arguably one of the best and most popular punk bands out there, haven't put out a record I loved in a great while (2006, maybe?) and really Propagandhi is the only punk band that's been blowing me away with their new stuff. For me, it's been a dry well in the punk genre but thats not all bad seeing as I have a fantastic catalog of old albums. Who needs new stuff right? Right??
I'll just start by saying I don't like getting into new music. I just have a hard time finding new stuff, and then when I do find it I have an even harder time giving it a listen. I just want to hear what I already like damnit!! Ahem... Some time in February I was visiting my brother. As we often do, we had some music on in the background while we were sitting around talking. I think it was some spotify playlist he has, but one song caught my ear amidst the chatter. Very distinct drumming accompanied by funky almost-rapping (the music was somewhat soft) that was definitely in another language. "What are we listening to?!" I asked as I started getting more into what I was hearing. The song was "Ratamahatta by Sepultura from their album Roots.
I'd heard the name Sepultura before and I knew about Soulfly, but I didn't recall any specific songs as I had never been exposed to them (or sought them out.) Anyways, I was into the song and began listening to Sepultura's catalog, starting with their early works. Immediately, I was blown away; the album Schizophrenia was where I started, and it began to occur to me that this band was something of a "better Slayer". It was at that time that something switched on inside my head, but after that all I wanted to hear was more metal. So I got my hands on all kinds of new sounds and it's been great - and some of those great new sounds were released this year and find themselves on my "2017 list".
Released mid-January, "Machine Messiah" is a shockingly good album. That's not to say I don't like their previous albums, but this is a step up for Sepultura in so many ways. Each song is dynamic and forceful, with fantstic sound and production throughout. Starting out slower than many of their previous albums, the intro (title) track is awesome start to finish despite (because of?) that. Moving into the second track, "I Am the Enemy" is a brutal, thrashy tune with amazing highs and lows. Singer Derrick Green (who's previous work with the band I am a huge fan of, the guy is awesome) is at his best and just blows you away in this and each track (save the instrumental, "Iceberg Dances".) I'd absolutely love to see these songs live! Such freshness is unexpected from a band that's been around for so long, been through so much, and put out so many albums, but "Machine Messiah" is almost a message to the world saying that the band is not only still kickin', they are totally thriving. It was great to discover Sepultura in 2017, and even moreso that they released this album just beforehand too.
311 fills so many musical roles, their songs range so widely that which I feel like hearing can vary depending on .. I guess a lot of things. I really liked their last album, which was their first time working with "Transistor" producer Scotch Ralston since 2001's "From Chaos", which I liked a lot overall. Ralston produced about two thirds (or so) of Mosiac, released late June, with the other tunes being produced by Goldfinger frontman John Feldman. I actually like Goldfinger a lot, though I've not yet caught up on what they've done since Hang-Ups... at any rate, I can't really put my finger on why but the resulting album feels and sounds less awesome than 2014's Stereolithic. Whereas Stereolithic gave me that fully fleshed 311 sound (funky hip-hop-ey yet more dynamic still.) Transistor was, in my mind, 311's "London Calling" because they did so much and all of it so well, and "Stereolithic" just nailed that for me start to finish. In contrast, Mosiac just feels forced, like how I feel about albums after "From Chaos" and prior to "Stereolithic". Yeah it's 311 but it doesn't have that same enchanting style that you just cant help but softly bob your head to. Instead it feels like song after song of trying to be a radio hit, for better or for worse. There are some good tunes in there but overall, this album was a bit of a disappointment to me (combined with 311's "somewhat" high ticket prices, but I don't want to editorialize on that too much.)
This turned into a bit of a ranting ramble, but that's because 311 is one of my favorite bands (even if I don't totally love every song or album.) Moving on...
I didn't grab this album until after seeing them live, and I definitely recognized several tracks from hearing them live. That in itself is a testament to the skill of this band, in my opinion as one who has been to many many live shows of varying sound qualities. As to the album, from start to finish "Left Hand Pass" is filled with blazing, technical death metal beats and riffs along with the hilarious cannabis-related lyrics. Of course there are also the "punny" song titles, often (always?) named after a "real" metal song by another band but the title modified to include cannabis inuendo. Their libe show was one of the best, most technical live shows (metal or otherwise!) I've ever seen, and that's reflected in "Left Hand Pass". Each song on the record will blaze you in some way or another; raw speed, technicality, or silly cannabis puns. This is a very fun, very easy to enjoy record that will rock your socks off.
Propagandhi has been one of my favorite punk rock bands since the first time I heard "Anti-Manifesto". I've watched their style and sound evolve through the years, and "Victory Lap" is in many ways their best album yet. Solidifying their prog-punk sound, this album is a great show of the band's technical and songwriting abilities. Falling more on the prog-side of their style, the album lacks songs that sport their more hardcore sound; that is short very fast songs that may or may not have Todd Kowalski screaming. In lieu of that, which I deem to be a nice part of their evolving sound, the tunes on "Victory Lap" hone the prog-punk sound to a finely sharpened point. Fast, technical, and well written, the more I listen to this record the more I love it. I'd like to give the track "Comply/Resist" a special shout out, it might be my favorite track on the album despite having an longish/awkwardish intro. I preordered the album and got the digital bonus tracks; maybe I'm fussy but I dislike getting these as MP3s with no other option. Anyways, the tracks are OK with one of them being recycled (Technocracy) from a not-well-known split album they put out. Bonus is better than nothing, and even without the extra tracks this album is great.
This album actually came out the day I saw Soulfly at The Forge. From the get-go, this album is very thrashy and satisfying. It gives you that Arise-era Sepultura feel but actually much heavier and more technical. In the first four tracks you are treated to high-quality thrash beats as well as slower (yet very technical) metal beating. The variety and energy of the album is great, it makes me want to listen to it over and over again. The title track is an instrumental, a very nice touch as the Soulfly instrumental tracks are some of my favorites by them.
I spent a couple of years not looking out for any kind of new music, be it bands I already liked or ones I've never heard of. This past year saw me finding more new music that I've found in a long time, and I'm looking forward to new albums, bands, and gigs in the future.