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2017-12-19

MUSIC 2017: top albums and concerts



And here they are! After already sharing my favorite EPs, live albums, downloads and some other stuff here, it's time for the "main categories", those being studio albums and live shows.

For the albums I've stuck to the odd number of 22 from last year.

Of course many more releases are worth mentioning.

And even more interesting albums are simply not in my possession. Maybe they are somewhere on my wishlist, even some I was totally sure I would grab as soon as possible, but then didn't for some reason. In some cases I just didn't find myself in the mood for the artist or musical style yet (like The Hirsch Effekt, Tori Amos, Ayreon and prog metal releases in general), in others I was dissappointed by what I had heard so far (Avatarium), content with the memory of the live experience for the time being (Papir, Monolord) or maybe I was a little bit insulted that the band toured everywhere but in Northern Germany (Paradise Lost).


The live concerts are divided into the categories club/solo and festival shows again.


Album TOP 22:


 

  1. BELL WITCH - Mirror Reaper
    If this ranking was solely determined by how often I spin an album, this would certainly not be here at the top.The funeral doom duo Bell Witch was never too fond of traditional song structures and radio-friendly lengths, as proved on their previous work (my album of the year 2015) "Four Phantoms". But "Mirror Reaper" takes their ability to freeze time to a whole different level, with just one coherent track spanning 83 (eighty-three) minutes. It's not a casual listen. You need to immerge into this monumental, sad, crushing, beautiful effort. When you do it's worth every minute.
  2. MOTORPSYCHO - The Tower
    Epic double albums are no novelty in Motorpsycho's history. But even for a rich oevre like that of Norway's finest the sheer amount of diversity, perfect songwriting and flawless arrangements on "The Tower" is a noticeable achievement which lets their first work with new drummer Tomas Järmyr tower over most of the ant-like music world benath them. But no worries: besides their sublime musicianship Motorpsycho are still just fucking cool.
  3. DOOL - Here Now, There Then
    Let me repeat what I've said before:
    "Here Now, There Then" is a future classic and will go down as one of the most powerful debuts of this decade. That's not an opinion, it's a promise!
    I said that in February and nothing happened to change my opinion since then. No, quite the contrary: their live shows even amplified this feeling.
  4. LOSS - Horizonless
    Two funeral doom double albums in my top four? Yes, because it is the doomiest of all doom. In scope, concept and execution "Horizonless" is almost on par with Bell Witch's historical colossus, in several aspects it is even better. But honestly: Ranking two masterpieces dealing with death and grief, which on top of that are both dedicated to the memory of the same person, seriously sucks. For the uninitiated this one is probably easier to get into.
  5. TEMPLE OV BBV - Temple Ov BBV
    The price for the greatest and most zeitgeisty album title of 2017 hands down goes to Gnod's "Just Say No To The Psycho Right-Wing Capitalist Fascist Industrial Death Machine". But as much as the music on that thing lives up to the title, I prefer the even darker, angst-driven soundscapes and primal, swans-like mantras of their cooperative work with Radar Men From The Moon under the moniker Temple Ov BBV.
  6. LAIBACH - Also Sprach Zarathustra
    After the pop appeal on "Spectre" there's no "Tanz mit Laibach" at all on this rework of what initially was the soundtrack for a Nietzsche-based theater play. "Also Sprach Zarathustra" shows an ambient, industrial, often minimalistic, sometimes orchestral side of Laibach, which is old-school and yet another reinvention of the Slovenes at the same time.
    For the german fan the album also offers a treasure chest of highly quotable lines in Milan Fras' majestic throaty snarling.
  7. ULVER - The Assassination Of Julius Caesar
    With these ever-transforming, norwegian chameleons almost anything can happen with each new release. This time it's an album bathing in (pop-)cultural and historical references. A journey through the known history of civilization and the human condition. A stunning eighties art pop masterpiece. 
  8. GODFLESH - Post Self
    Three years after "A World Lit Only By Fire" Godflesh return with a wider, more eclectic sound palette. While it's still enormously heavy, "Post Self" shows a greater focus on synths, elaborate electronic rhythms and also a wider vocal range from borderline harmonic clean singing to some of the most aggressive stuff Justin Broadrick has ever done. As great as "Fire" was - this new album undoubtly is a less formulaic work with even deeper impact.
  9. AGUSA - Agusa
    Most bands courting for my attention under the umbrella of prog, psychedelic and... let's call it classic or "retro" rock will have a hard time against the flute-fronted instrumentals of Agusa. And I can't even offer those bands any precise formula to possibly change that. The simple truth still is: Agusa's music just makes me perfectly happy.
  10. GLERAKUR - The Mountains Are Beautiful Now
    The icelandic post metal force GlerAkur truly is a larger-than-life entity. The slow, but unstoppable build-ups, from beautiful dreamscapes over deep ambient and drone, to relentless, endless walls of the most crushing guitar riffs possible: this music is not solely made for our mortal ears, but also to crush mountains and raise islands from the ground of the ocean.
  11. ZOLA JESUS - Okovi
    How did I put it in my review?
    "Okovi" is the crossbreed of Florence + The Machine's "Ceremonials" with the Björk albums "Vulnicura" and "Homogenic" under admixture of the darkness from Chelsea Wolfe's "Pain Is Beauty". A captivating, moving piece of majestically emotional, deep and heartfelt electro pop.
  12. YAZZ AHMED - La Saboteuse
    I've only just discovered this British/Bahraini trumpet and flugelhorn player in November, so the album came to me super late, when most of this post was already written. And even if this might prove to be a move too bold in hindsight, I feel pretty confident placing "La Saboteuse" so high amidst my favorites. Because seriously: This fusion of modern jazz with traditional arabic folk is some Davis/Hancock style next level stuff.
  13. MYRKUR - Mareridt
    Be it scandinavian folk, lush choirs, duets with Chelsea Wolfe, harsh black metal outbursts or alluring Lana Del Rey pop - with "Mareridt" multi-instrumentalist and singing  fairy/banshee Amalie Bruun goes all over the place, embosoming and defying genres at the same time. As always when he's involved, the production by Randall Dunn is the icing on the cake.
  14. KRISTEEN YOUNG - Live At The Witch's Tit
    Nope, despite the title this is indeed a studio album. Direct, combative, aggressive as ever Kristeen Young hammers the keys and stretches her lungs to one of her finest collections of songs to date. From the lyrics to the raw sound "Live At The Witch's Tit" is a punch in the face - and for some guys surely also a kick where it hurts even more. But it's delivered with purpose and in style.
  15. TAU CROSS - Pillar Of Fire
    Rob Miller and his all-star crust metal crew take no prisoners on the follow-up to their self-titled debut from 2015. Steering between hardcore, post punk, thrash and folk, pushed forward by Voivod's never-tiring Away, this double album is packed with urgent, mostly extremely headbangable killer tracks. It showcases not only Miller's evocative lyricism and inhumane gargling voice, but also his unmistakable sense for catchy, but never shallow songwriting.
  16. CHELSEA WOLFE - Hiss Spun
    The enigmatic goth singer / songwriter fully embraces droning doom metal and gives us an album which has a stronger "band vibe" than any of her previous works. Whilst "Hiss Spun" doesn't dive into such nightmarish depths as 2015's "Abyss", it still combines eeriness and honesty in a way only few artists are capable of doing.
  17. BIG|BRAVE - Ardor
    With two guitars plus drums the Canadian trio Big|Brave builds a thick wall of noise and drone rock (now sometimes backed up my strings), with each of the three long tracks growing in monumentality and emotional depths. The latter is pre-eminently provided by the headstrong high voice of Robin Wattie. Especially her singing makes "Ardor" stand out.
  18. DEPECHE MODE - Spirit
    One spot on this list is reserved for my favorite mainstream pop album. Right now Lana Del Rey's "Lust For Life" is in heaviest rotation. In the greater picture however there's no way I can deprive Depeche Mode this entry. "Spirit" is their darkest, angriest and best produced album since a really, really long time ("Playing The Angel"? "Ultra"?). Anyway, this is great work, gentlemen!
  19. THE PICTUREBOOKS - Home Is A Heartache
    There's no question about it: The super heavy power blues of guitarist / singer Fynn Grabke and the maddest drum animal of our times Philipp Mirtschink is best experienced live. Being well aware of that, The Picturebooks recorded most of "Home Is A Heartache" live - in their rehearsal space, which is also their motorcycle garage. Its raw unfiltered sound is the perfect enironment for the record's strong tracks.
  20. THE BUG VS. EARTH - Concrete Desert
    Kevin Martin aka The Bug drives us through vast, bleak electro soundscapes of monumental scale. The tempo is slow. The frequency is low. And the view depressingly grey. However Earth guitarist Dylan Carlson joins him and tricks us into perceiving our post-apocalyptic "Concrete Desert" as something actually cool you willingly want to lose yourself in. The bonus 12" featuring two tracks with hoarse aggressive vocal performances by Godflesh's Justin K. Broadrick is indispensible.
  21. YOUN SUN NAH - She Moves On
    Youn Sun Nah goes americana. Backed by a brand new band of first-class jazz musicians the exceptional Korean singer explores the folk and rock of North America with her interpretations of classics by Fairpoint Convention, Lou Reed, Jimi Hendrix and others. Most of this album is a relaxing, easy listen. So YES, I occasually DO like female singers, who are not all gloom and doom.
  22. DEAD NEANDERTHALS - Craters
    DEAD NEANDERTHALS - Womb Of God
    In the spirit of the jazz legends of old this dutch duo isn't content with putting out only one album per year. And by the trick of contextualizing the drone of "Craters" with whatever the fuck that brutal shit on "Womb Of God" is, they actually managed to kick my other favorite new free jazz record, Black Cube Marriage's "Astral Cube"  from this list. Sorry guys, these two Dutchmen are just too loud.


Furher apologies to all those artists from Bone Man to Spidergawd and from Electric Moon to Pallbearer whose fantastic albums only barely didn't make the cut!

There's one band among "the rest" however which stands out in a special way and thus deserves an...

Honourable special mention:


KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD - Polygondwanaland
(plus four more albums)

This band is very possibly the hottest shit from Australia right now. One year ago the stylistically open psychedelic rock group announced no less than five new studio albums for 2017. They delivered four as of now, but number five is already teased with videos and will surely come some day in the remaining two weeks of this year.
Now I can't really comment on this whole effort, because I only just acquainted myself with the Lizard Wizard via their latest work "Polygondwanaland". But I've listened to bits of their other 2017 albums with especially "Sketches Of Brunswick East" and "Flying Microtonal Banana" promising to be just as exceptional and all over the place as this party beast.



SOLO / CLUB SHOW TOP 9:



  1. MOTORPSYCHO - Markthalle, Hamburg
    More than two and a half hours of epic excellence with Motorpsycho (plus guest on keys and guitar) left only one conclusion: this is one of the very best live bands in existence right now.
  2. VOIVOD - Logo, Hamburg
    There can never be enough praise for the thrash and beyond innovators Voivod. They always deliver. They always kill it. This show - the first show with new bass player Rocky for me - was no exception.
  3. THE NEAL MORSE BAND - Markthalle, Hamburg
    In a year that had me not too interested in classic prog rock stuff this concert was the beaming exception. The full live execution of "The Similitude Of A Dream" was a superlative in band chemistry and musicianship.  
  4. MONOLORD + CONAN - Bambi Galore, Hamburg
    What a killer package of stone-age super-fuzzed barbaric ear-shattering battle doom to end all doom!
  5. MONSTER TRUCK + THE PICTUREBOOKS - Uebel & Gefährlich, Hamburg
    The sweating-under-the-denim-jacket-on-the-highway heavy blues rock'n'roll equivalent to what the Monolord/Conan package was to doom. (The Picturebooks also delivered a killer headlining show in Kiel in December.)
  6. BLUES PILLS + DEWOLFF - Orange Club, Kiel
    Accompanied by a perfectly fitting support act Blues Pills justified the hype surrounding them once again. Even if the band was shitty, Elin Larsson's energy would probably save them. But they're not shitty at all, so this thesis will remain unproven.
  7. TAU CROSS - Hafenklang, Hamburg
    Best thing to do while not attending the Wacken Open Air for the first time in years? Getting battered amebix-style by Rob Miller, Away and Co. at a packed, sweaty Hafenklang club concert!
  8. THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN - Markthalle, Hamburg
    One last excess of mind-boggling insanity. After a year-long farewell tour Ben Weinman and Greg Puciato have sent an irreplaceable chapter of extreme music history into retirement. We had a blast! And several seizures and fractures.
  9. SÓLSTAFIR + MYRKUR - Grünspan, Hamburg
    Even though they are definitely a rock'n'roll band, Sólstafir have this cinematic grandiosity which makes each song feel like it tells the story of a lifetime. With Myrkur as support act this was undoubtly a night to remember.
    (Admittedly Sólstafir's show at Prophecy Fest was even better, but in favor of featuring as many artists as possible/reasonable I gave their spot in that list to another band.)
  10. RADARE - MS Stubnitz, Hamburg
    Cinematic doom-jazzy post rock inside the belly of a big boat. Always a fascinating excercise in slowing time and expanding the sight of your mind's eye.



FESTIVAL SHOW TOP 15:


 
  1. MAGMA - Roadburn
    To be fair: Magma shouldn't even be on this list at all. More like "TOP extraterrestial encounters". Still, after all those decades, Christian and Stella Vander and their Zeuhl companions prove that they are one of the most amazing bands in this cosmos.
  2. DOOL (Hell Over Hammaburg + Prophecy Fest + Sankt Hell)
    2017 was a prolific year for Dool. What a killer live band, bringing a unique energy to every show. Both Hell Over Hammaburg and Prophecy Fest saw them playing shows you just have to call call historic. And Sankt Hell was very great, too. [EDIT, because the festival took place after this post]
  3. ZEAL & ARDOR (Roadburn)
    Manuel Gagneux really hit a nerve with his slave chant / metal crossover project. Seldom have I seen a brand-new band with so much unknown material receiving so much love from its audience. Without exaggaration - this was a historic performance.
  4. ESBEN AND THE WITCH (Roadburn)
    magically mesmerizing, enchanting Roadburn magic to die for, part 1 - and already available on vinyl!
  5. GRAVE MIASMA (Hell Over Hammaburg)
    Grave Miasma put the HELL in Hell Over Hammaburg. Their performance opened a maelstrom to the netherworld and transformed the Markthalle into a fiery pit of chaos. One of the best death metal shows I've ever survived.
  6. EMMA RUTH RUNDLE (Roadburn)
    magically mesmerizing, enchanting Roadburn magic to die for, part 2 - just one woman and her guitar spellbinding and silencing a packed room
  7. GNOD vs. KURO (Roadburn)
    A one-hour masterclass in suspense and release. The perfect drone.
  8. SUBROSA (2 shows, Roadburn)
    magically mesmerizing, enchanting Roadburn magic to die for, parts 3 and 4, because as we all know all good things come in... uhm, forget it, just keep in mind that Subrosa is one of the finest doom bands of our times, no matter if they are playing "For This We Fought The Battle Of Ages" in full or performing a quieter "subdued" set. 
  9. MISþYRMING (Hell Over Hammaburg)
    Ever been sprayed with whale blood and then brutally kicked into an active icelandic volcano? ok, I guess you haven't experienced the black metal inferno of Misþyrming yet.
  10. ULVER (Roadburn)
    "Hit me! Hit me! Hit me with your laser beam!"
    A full performance of their synth pop masterpiece "The Assassination Of Julius Caesar"  - and lots of lasers! 
  11. TEMPLE OV BBV (Roadburn)
    Gnod and Radar Men From The Moon transforming the 013 main stage into a massive noise agitation zone with a phenomenal rendition of their joint album.
  12. HEDVIG MOLLESTAD TRIO (Roadburn)
    Wow! When you already expected a very good blues / rock / jazz fusion / prog power trio, but your expectation are surpassed in spades. The Extase venue was ablaze.
  13. TYGERS OF PAN TANG (Hell Over Hammaburg)
    I'm not exactly a NWoBHM guy and apart from their ridiculous big cat imagery my familiarity with Tygers Of Pan Tang leant towards zero. What a welcome surprise that these elder metal heroes from the age of rockstars totally won me over!
  14.  HORISONT (Rock Spektakel am Rathausmark)
    While the masses gathered at the batshit crazy expensive Rolling Stones show in the city park there also was a smaller open air right next to Hamburg's townhall - for free! And when Horisont delivered their epic shades of Deep Purple type time traveller hard rock show, there was no doubt that I was at the right concert. All power to the moustache!
  15. BIG BUSINESS (Droneburg)
    One of the most badass noise rock duets out there.
    Big Business = huge entertainment!


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