EMP’s Best Albums of 2017 ft Mastodon, Linkin Park, Marilyn Manson and more…
As we buckle up and head into 2018, we’re looking back at some of our favourite new music releases from the past year.
Mastodon – Emperor of Sand
Mastodon’s latest release brings back elements of their Crack The Skye era sound, blasting their last two, more radio-friendly efforts out of the water in my opinion. Whilst the songs retain the shorter and more concise structure of the band’s recent work, they simultaneously go back and reintroduce some of the more epic, progressive riffs and lofty themes of bygone days. The super catchy single Show Yourself capitalizes on the band’s groovier side, whilst other tracks such as Steambreather and Andromeda bring heavier and more progressive moments to the table. Throughout the album the band mix clean and growled vocals with heavy, groovy and melodic riffs creating a perfectly distilled version of the sound they’ve been developing and refining for years. They may have lost the more far-out progressive element and the harder side, but they’ve essentially perfected their formula for combining heavy metal, prog, stoner, doom and radio-friendly rock in a way that brings all the disparate elements together into something that sounds so cohesive you just can’t imagine it being any other way.
Linkin Park – One More Light
One More Light raised a lot of controversy among fans as the band unveiled their brand new sound on the first single Heavy. Gone are the gritty nu metal flavours that made Linkin Park such a huge hit in the 2000s. Well, times change and the mix of screams and raps over heavy guitars have given way to softer and more introspective songs that sometimes tread into pop territory. There are far more softer, slower and sadder tracks here – many of which (especially the title track) take on an additional poignant edge in the wake of Chester’s tragic death. In fact they’ve never shied away from changing their style, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they’ve explored new territory here yet again. Heavy may be a pop track, but it’s a good one. Good Goodbye recruits grime hero Stormzy for a wonderful track that gives a modern twist to their old formula of mixing rap with singing. It’s hard not to miss the rawness of their first few albums – but if you want to listen to Hybrid Theory again, go dig out your old CD from high school. This is yet another new embodiment of Linkin Park and should be judged on its own merits rather than compared to glory days 15 years ago.
Stone Sour – Hydrograd
With Slipknot winding down a notch in recent years, Corey Taylor’s been putting more time and energy into Stone Sour, and the result is a classic hard rock record that brings the band’s sound kicking and screaming into 2017. The rather formulaic Song #3 has been limping along on the radio for months, but the heavier (and honestly more Slipknot-esque) Fabuless makes a much better job of showing Corey’s vocals at their best, with a harder edge. Whilst many have commented that the band have traded anger for more positive emotions on this album, the slower moments are fortunately balanced out by just enough grit and adrenaline to stop Hydrograd from sliding into flavourless rock territory. It’s an old cliché that bands tend to get boring when they get older and more ‘settled’ in life, but the Iowa lads have retained just enough aggression to give Hydrograd the rougher side that it needs. Standout track Taipei Person/Allah Tea serves as an excellent example of how the band are capable of bringing metal elements into hard rock, while title track Hydrograd shows that they can produce big and punchy rock anthems too. It’s only rock and roll but I like it.
Leprous – Malina
The Norwegian progressive metallers fronted by Emperor frontman Ihsahn’s brother in law have gone from strength to strength in recent years and quietly slipped out from the shadows and into the mainstream with their particular brand of experimental and progressive music. Malina surprised fans this year with a more radio-friendly turn that lost some of singer Solberg’s harsher vocals and weirder moments. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether or not that’s a good thing, but there’s no question that Malina is musically highly competent. The melancholic feel of opening track Bonneville is still my favourite by quite a long way, but the perfectly-structured single From The Flame is a wonderful example of how the band can compact their music into a more accessible format whilst still retaining their unique charm. This kind of weighty and emotionally fraught music demands to be played on vinyl in a dusty room as raindrops beat on your windowpane. Solberg sings to us about emotions that are outside the normal range for us mere mortals, but I certainly enjoy feeling them along with him. My favourite album of the year.
Cradle of Filth – Cryptorania
Twenty odd years ago when Cradle of Filth got bored of po-faced ‘classic’ black metal and decided to write bizarre conceptual epics that mix symphonic metal with tongue in cheek faux black metal and basically whatever else they found lying around, few would have thought that they’d still be churning out top quality albums in 2017. But they are, and in fact they’re doing it with aplomb. Whilst there may have been a couple of blips in their timeline, and none of the original band members bar Dani are still in the fold, they’ve managed to come roaring back with some of the best songs they’ve ever produced. Like or loathe Dani’s shrieky vocals or the band’s over the top theatricals, they’re certainly not going anywhere. However the songwriting here is surprisingly mature. Far less of the corny voiceovers that were oh-so popular ten years ago and more straightforward metal that doesn’t take any prisoners. Tracks like Heartbreak and Séance and You Will Know The Lion By His Claw bring together all the very best elements of their work to date, polished in a way that they haven’t been before. The new additions to the band seem to have breathed fresh air into the creative process, resulting in exceptionally tight guitar work, really powerful melodies and neatly structured songwriting that’s a far cry from the OTT stuff they used to favour. Even the guitar solos (good ones) are back from the depths of the grave. After almost writing themselves off with a series of weaker albums, this one is genuinely good enough to stand up against the other top albums released last year.
Marilyn Manson – Heaven Upside Down
After close to three decades of shocking parents and teachers, Marilyn Manson have once again served up ten new slices of irreverent industrial metal on Heaven Upside Down. Seemingly effortlessly mixing metal and danceable electronica on catchy new tracks like Revelation 12, Say 10 and Tattoed In Reverse, Manson don’t stray too far from their well-worn formula, but then again they do do it better than any of the other copycats that they’ve spawned in their wake. Be prepared for songs that are sure to get you out of your chair and get stuck in your head. In his own words, Mr Manson intended the album to ‘f*** sh** up’ rather than change the world, and this is pretty much the effect he has achieved. A guaranteed good time.
Arch Enemy – Will to Power
Arch Enemy’s change of vocalist from the revered Angela Gossow to Canadian singer Alissa White-Gluz was predictably met with premonitions of doom from purists, but the monumental War Eternal shattered all but the hardest of melodic death hearts, and Will To Power packs almost as much of a punch as its predecessor. If the ‘inspirational quote’ lyrics of the first single The World Is Yours left you a little cold, don’t dismiss the rest of the album quite yet. Arch Enemy have been at the top of the melodic death metal scene for two decades for a reason. They’re spectacular heavy metal musicians, tearing out riffs that are as catchy as they are visceral. Alissa shines even more here, with a ferocious intensity to her harsh vocals that elevates the music to the next level. The Race, Murder Machine and The Eagle Flies Alone are as good as anything on classic albums like Doomsday Machine. Maybe the heaviness of their music has been toned down a notch in favour of perfectly crafted melodic guitars, but the energy and power of the songs should not disappoint. Let the masters show you how it’s done.
What have been your favourites? Let us know!