Another year, and another big pile o’ great and not-so-great music passes us by yet again! 2017 was a rather diverse year musically, with a lot of big hits and a few strange misses. Let’s get right to it then, shall we?
AW: I have to tie this year, but I’m almost uncertain as to whether I should. It’s almost unfair to include Ayreon in the running for these awards because no one can really compete on their scale. How does one vocalist compare to Floor Jansen, Hansi Kursch, Marco Hietala, Anneke van Giersbergen, Jonas Renkse, and so many more combined? How do the standard ten (give or take) songs compare to a four act opus with an incredible, heart-wrenching story? Even on a purely musical level, Ayreon’s band are top-notch. So as such, The Source is the obvious choice. However, there is a band who released an album that I enjoyed so thoroughly that I wanted them to win in spite of how amazing Ayreon is. It wasn’t better, objectively speaking, but it’s an album I can listen to in any mood and enjoy it, and it’s also an album I’ve listened to about a billion times without getting sick of it, and both of these are things that The Source cannot do. As such, I’m almost inclined to give Ember Falls’ debut, Welcome to Ember Falls, the award alone. However, objectivity requires me to tie them, for they both win on entirely different merits.
WK: Much to my disappointment, no instant 10/10 classics were released this year, but the closest one ended up being Amber Galactic by The Night Flight Orchestra. Compared to my favorite albums from previous years (by Fates Warning and Steven Wilson), this is like the polar opposite, being fairly straightforward and no-nonsense classic hard rock, but it’s done so well and with such infectious passion that you can’t help but feel good listening to it. Another great thing about the record is that for once the right track was delegated to bonus track status: “Just Another Night” is a pretty repetitive tune and doesn’t measure up to the songs on the main album, which is all killer, no filler.
LL: The first of a few mentions to come, this one goes to Crimfall’s return album, Amain. It’s been a fairly nice year album-wise, and Ember Falls managed to hold this title for a good while in my books, and Hallatar and CyHra came in as worthy contenders towards the end of the year. But Crimfall more than just managed to meet my expectations with their long-waited follow-up for Writ of Sword – it also raised the bar for their next efforts (and others, too). Even for someone familiar with Crimfall’s music, Amain offered wonderful surprises and, once again, took the listener on a journey to a whole another place and time. Oftentimes one of the core issues with any sort of cinematic, heavily orchestrated metal album is that it sounds too pompous, pretentious, or just plain ridiculous; however, while Crimfall’s sound is big, it isn’t stuffy or too polished; quite the contrary. Amain has the needed roughness to make it sound real. These are stories you can believe, regardless of whether you want to or not.
AW: I hemmed and hawed over this for a great deal of time, but ultimately decided that I had to give it to “The Day that the World Breaks Down” by Ayreon. The 13-minute song is an incredible opener to both an album and a story, with twists and turns that I can’t deny loving. Lucassen has a knack for taking vocalists that I either love (like Hansi Kursch), I don’t know (like Michael Eriksen), or that I didn’t much care for in their own band (like Russell Allen), and making me love them passionately (see Russell Allen’s part around 8:50 in the song for reference). This song does that and so much more. Be prepared to hear more about it below, certainly. Quick note though – if I stop being objective and you want to know my personal favorite song of the year, it’s “Falling Rain” by Ember Falls.
WK: This is a tough one, but I have to go with “The Exorcist” by Daniel Cavanagh, which left the best first impression and mesmerized me right from the start. Anathema’s The Optimist unfortunately didn’t have big emotional songs like “Ariel”, “Internal Landscapes”, or “Dreaming Light” that I’m used to hearing from them, but luckily Cavanagh more than made up for it on his own. Some of his greatest songs, such as “Inner Silence” and “One Last Goodbye”, have been written about his late mother, and “The Exorcist” – another addition to this series – is not far behind them, as the emotion is palpable. It also made me appreciate Cavanagh’s singing talents more, as I’d always thought of him more as a guitarist and songwriter than a vocalist.
LL: I continue with Crimfall – it certainly isn’t hard to name my favorite song this year. ”Until Falls the Rain” has almost all things imaginable I could want from a song, and it has them with style. It sums and wraps up Amain with a huge-ass boom, after which it’s pretty understandable to want to take another spin. This gem of a song has easily made its way towards the top of my all-time favorite songs listing, and I don’t mind that one bit.
BEST FOLK ALBUM
AW: Man, the contenders came out this year! Crimfall released their first album in over half a decade, Eluveitie released the long-awaited followup to Evocation I: The Arcane Dominion, Ensiferum changed things up a bit with Two Paths, and Wintersun bridged the gap between Time albums with The Forest Seasons. Several of those disappointed me though, with one standing out easily as a great album with little to complain about, and that is Evocation II: Pantheon. This gorgeous bit of acoustic Celtic mythology is excellent to listen to actively or in the background, and the cover artwork is truly gorgeous.
WK: Folk metal still doesn’t tickle my fancy – pass.
LL: A thought that has crossed my mind a few times before is that the terms high-key and low-key folk should be established; it’s not fair to compare something like Ensiferum to Wolfheart and vice versa, even if their music stem from same kind of sources. While Two Paths was quite alright, I will still grant the title of best folk album to Tyhjyys: it channels quite effortlessly the things I look for in a folk album, and you won’t find too many weak moments in there. Tuomas Saukkonen and his gang didn’t re-invent the wheel, but they did quite a fine album.
BEST FEMALE-FRONTED ALBUM
AW: I rarely have something unusual to offer to this category. My standard picks are usually well-known bands like Nightwish. However, this year I picked up on a group that’s been raising steam lately: Kobra and the Lotus. It doesn’t hurt that they’re from my home country, but while their first few albums didn’t manage to capture my attention, they started to get recommended to me repeatedly towards the end of the year. I finally put on their latest album, Prevail I, for a listen and found myself thoroughly enjoying it. Kobra Paige has got a wonderful voice and the music was refreshingly heavy considering the female vocalist. Considering how much Jamo enjoyed their live show, I’ll have to put them on my list of bands to look out for in the future.
WK: Like last year, there’s not a whole lot of competition in this category in my books, so the title goes hands down to Hurricanes and Halos by Avatarium. The Swedes built up on the strength of The Girl with the Raven Mask (2015) and managed to hit a sweet spot between hard rock and doom metal on this release. I thought Jennie-Ann Smith was a great singer before already, but amazingly enough, she keeps raising the bar even higher on each album. However, I have to give a shout-out to the self-titled debut by The Dark Element – the collaboration between Anette Olzon and Jani Liimatainen – as it’s loaded with catchy tunes. I heard it fairly recently for the first time, so obviously I’m less familiar with it than the Avatarium album – if I’d got my hands on it a little earlier, it might be my #1 here.
LL: I could have named Crimfall’s Amain for this one, too, but I felt like shedding light on not one but two Finnish-singing female-fronted bands that have delighted me this year. Too often the more punk and rugged female-fronted bands are left in bit of a shade by their more melodic (and sometimes more orchestrated) contemporaries, but Huora’s Hukutaan paskaan and Ikinä’s Samoista soluista have been a fresh breeze of beer-smelling air with their uncompromising styles. While Ikinä blends together metal, rock, and the legacy of groups like PMMP and Tiktak, Huora trusts in the more traditional punk aesthetic, and both have a knack for lyrics that hit the spot within the 20-something age range, whether the topic is personal struggles, societal issues, or just good old partying. We don’t need more goody two-shoes bands.
MOST EPIC SONG
AW: Well, it’s hard to pick here, but I think pretty much anything off The Source would yet again fit the bill. Pretty much every song on that album is epic in its own magical and majestic way. I won’t specify. If you listened to the album, you understand. Honorable mention to “Clear the Way” by Iced Earth though – they haven’t nailed an epic like that in years, if not decades.
WK: This has got to be “Graves” by Caligula’s Horse – as an album, In Contact is a bit of a mixed bag, but when it’s great, it is freaking great, and this song is a good example of that. What can I say? There are dynamic shifts, diverse vocals, great soloing, and cool extra instrumentation in the form of a saxophone solo, all over the course of a journey of 15½ minutes.
LL: A no-brainer from me again, this title was made to fit “Until Falls the Rain.” As I said earlier, Crimfall has a certain sovereignty in creating cinematic landscapes with their music, and on “Until Falls the Rain” Jakke Viitala and his troupe have taken this to its peak. From the hasty voices speaking in the beginning to rousing choruses and finally fading off to rain, it’s quite a ride in a little less than 8 minutes. I’ve been in awe of Helena Haaparanta’s vocal skills for years, and her singing in the chorus especially still gives me chills on almost every listen.
BEST SLOW SONG/BALLAD
AW: I actually struggled to think of a slow song or ballad this year that really moved me. I think I’ll have to go with my personal favorite track from CyHra’s debut album, “Inside a Lullaby.” The piano melodies are gorgeous and Jake E.’s vocals are passionate and very diverse. It’s a lovely song with great dynamics that frequently gives me chills. If “Light Me Up” by Kobra and the Lotus is slow enough to be considered a ballad, I’ll consider this a tie too. That song has a lot of strength and beauty to it.
WK: While Steven Wilson’s To the Bone is a poppier affair than his previous solo efforts, he hasn’t stopped writing songs that hit you right in the feels. “Refuge” – as the title implies – is written from a Syrian refugee’s perspective, and both the music and the lyrics are charged with emotion, painting a picture of an ascetic life in the Calais camp. The steady buildup works to its advantage, and it’s such a powerful moment when Wilson sings “It’s not a crime” and Mark Feltham’s harmonica solo enters the scene like a desperate cry for help. Let’s face it, this meme isn’t totally baseless…
LL: There weren’t many slow songs to choose from on the albums that stuck with me throughout the year. The slow songs were rare and few, and all of them felt, well, a little meh. But then came CyHra with ”Closure” – a good old traditional metal ballad that has just the right amount of almost country-like cheese, but cheese you could actually relate to what’s more to hope for? It reminds me wonderfully of some of the cheesy stuff I encountered (and shamelessly listened on repeat if needed) in my early teens, so in part it might win just for the sake of half-ironic teenage nostalgia. But really, it’s a great song.
MOST CHILLING SONG
AW: It’s hard to pick between songs on The Source, and you knew it was going to come from that album, let’s not lie. There are a few that could fit the bill of chilling songs: “Sea of Machines”, “Condemned to Live”, “Deathcry of a Race”, and “The Source Will Flow” are all solid contenders, but there is one that stands out beyond them all: “March of the Machines.” As I said in the review, that song is nightmarish, and in the full context of the album, it’s straight-up terrifying. I usually try to pick this one based on more of an emotional stirring, but in this case, I couldn’t not pick this haunting piece of art.
WK: As Mariusz Duda told me, “Crumbling Teeth and the Owl Eyes” by Lunatic Soul is about nightmares, which makes it a very appropriate song here. I like how it shifts between melancholy and a creepier vibe, and the out-of-tune keyboards in the middle add a unique flavor. You can also interpret the lyrics either as an innocent wish to be without worries like a child or as something much more disturbing.
LL: If I’m completely honest, ”Until Falls the Rain” marks easily the highest percentage of times it gave me chills when listening, but this would really get boring if I continued babbling about how much I like it, right? So I wanted to bring up another song that managed to give me goosebumbs, ”My Mistake” by Hallatar. The contrast between Tomi Joutsen’s and Heike Langhans’ voices, and between the soothing verses and harsh choruses, especially paired with the ethereally beautiful video made to the song, make a whole different kind of chilling than Crimfall does.
BEST FUN-TIME SONG
AW: Without a doubt, there’s usually one song every year that hypes me up like no other. This year, I’m actually talking about Ember Falls’ very own “Falling Rain”, which never fails to improve my mood or get me dancing at their shows, regardless of my inclination to rock out. It’s by far my favorite song of the year, as I mentioned, and deserves this spot for the joy it brings me.
WK: I could pick almost any song by The Night Flight Orchestra, but I guess “Domino” takes the cake. As I mentioned in my review, the “Africa” (Toto) vibe just shines through, and that’s what makes it so much fun to listen to, along with the epic chorus and the appropriate keyboard sounds.
LL: Simply judging by what has ended up as synonyms for an upcoming party during the year, I present you “Bileet” by Ikinä and “Kotibileet” by Huora. Easy lyrics that talk about partying is a foolproof concept, especially if you can just shout them along, but Huora takes this one by the length of a gerbil – if you understand Finnish, take a spin and have a laugh.
BEST COVER SONG
AW: I don’t think I heard any covers this year, so I’ll pass on this one.
WK: I was having a hard time with this category until I came across Doom Side of the Moon, the metal reimagination of The Dark Side of the Moon (1973) by Pink Floyd. I could name the whole thing, given that it essentially is one big piece of music, but out of the individual tracks I think the dynamic between the contemplative verses and the commanding tone of the chorus in “Us and Them” was handled most successfully. The original is one of my personal Floyd favorites to boot anyway.
LL: For once, there was a real surplus of great covers throughout the year, from humppa-fied version of Nightwish’s “Elan”, “Elanto”, by Eläkeläiset, to Crimfall covering some Rambo soundtrack, and Delain’s guitarist Timo Somers paying tribute to Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington with his “One More Light” cover. My pick, however, came in as a surprise contender and took the race in the last quarter, when I happened to catch Apulanta’s Toni Wirtanen blowing up Sanni’s “Soita mua” into a full-fledged nu-metal song on prime-time TV. It doesn’t get much better than that, does it now?
AW: Usually a tough one for me, this year it was easy, as well as unusual in that I’m picking a bass-line. Yes, you guessed it, “The Day that the World Breaks Down” returns once again, for the bass-laden riff that starts around 8:20 and lasts nearly a minute as Russell Allen joins in, then continues on a bit later. Incidentally, that whole part is one of my favorite parts of any song possibly ever, and sometimes I put it on just to listen to those couple minutes.
WK: This one belongs to Cyhra’s “Karma”, no doubt about it! When I first heard those classic In Flames-style guitar harmonies, my first thought was “Hell yeah, Jesper Strömblad is back!” Euge Valovirta’s melodic solo in the same song is splendid as well. The rest of the album didn’t totally live up to my expectations, as the riffing is not as impressive on the other songs, but now that Valovirta is an official member, I hope the next album will have a more even balance between guitars and pop elements.
LL: This is always a difficult category for me, as I tend to pay more attention to vocal melodies and whole songs, so I admit my defeat and leave this one blank.
AW: The only instrumental I can think of this year was “Ghost Dance (Awaken the Ancestors)” by Iced Earth, and while I think it has some of Iced Earth’s best riffing in ages, the weird native chanting kind of throws it off for me. If you want to count it by default, by all means, otherwise I’ll pass on this category.
WK: Drift by Tuesday the Sky is a fully instrumental album, so it’s easy to pick something off of it. “It Comes in Waves” remains my favorite track on the record: Kevin Moore’s Rhodes playing, Jim Matheos’ tasty guitar leads, and the relaxed vibe is a combination that makes the tune irresistable.
LL: Wolfheart’s “Shores of Lake Simpele” might not be the most creative effort as far as instrumentals go, but you have to admit it’s a good one. It’s a damn good intro, too; three and some minutes doesn’t feel too long, if you pace it with some shouts (those don’t count as singing, shush) that are even more in place at shows.
BIGGEST POSITIVE SURPRISE
AW: I haven’t been all that stoked on Iced Earth in recent years. Damn, if I think about it, the last album of their that I straight-up loved was Horror Show back in 2001 – no wonder I was so thrilled with Incorruptible! I was never really into the Ripper Owens -era music and Matt Barlow’s comeback didn’t do much for me, likely relating more to the material than his performance. When Stu Block arrived, I had high hopes for Dystopia but past the first two songs, I can’t name anything off the album, and I really didn’t think much of Plagues of Babylon. With that in mind, there’s no doubt that Incorruptible was, even though it took a while to open itself up to me, a hugely positive surprise on the whole! Also, bonus points to Battle Beast for putting out an album I didn’t hate!
WK: While Daniel Cavanagh’s solo album Monochrome came out of nowhere, I knew I’d probably at least like it – just like Anathema’s latest albums – and I did. However, last year Haken’s Affinity was my choice in this category as an album by a band that finally clicked with me, and this time I’ll pick The Assassination of Julius Caesar by Ulver for the same reason. I’d tried getting into Ulver before, but their music mostly went over my head until they released the aforementioned album, which has more hooks and an 80s synth pop vibe that I enjoy. No offense to Martin Gore and co., but I’d dare say that this is the best Depeche Mode album of the year!
LL: Frankly, I expected nothing from Ensiferum’s Two Paths and wasn’t even sure I was going to listen to it in the first place, after One Man Army was so far below the bar. By the time it came out I had heard so much praise I was simply too curious to pass it, and didn’t regret the decision. It doesn’t surpass their best efforts, but definitely deserves to be taken into rotation, and gives some hope for Ensiferum raising their album game back to its former level.
BEST NEW DISCOVERY
AW: I’ll have to return to Kobra and the Lotus for this one. While they’re not exactly new to the scene, having put out their first album earlier this decade, they’re only just starting to become known in these parts and I hope to see them gather more fame. Their latest album, Prevail I, was truly fantastic without a single miss on its track list, and it seems to get better the more I listen to it.
WK: While The Night Flight Orchestra have already put out three albums, it seems to me that Amber Galactic is the first to garner a lot of attention (thanks to Nuclear Blast) and I’m not the only one who discovered them this year. I also ended up buying their previous two records, which aren’t too shabby either!
LL: One Desire is a band I was extremely skeptical about at first, and remained so after hearing their autotune-laced debut album, but somehow lured their way into my brain’s earworm folder thanks to their show at Sauna Classic. The song material isn’t bad – it doesn’t offer anything radically new to its genre of 80s flavored hard rock, but it certainly gets stuck in your head, and I’m looking forward to seeing them again at various festivals next summer.
BIGGEST WHATEVER (MOST FORGETTABLE ALBUM)
AW: Hmm, there were a lot of mediocre albums this year, but truly forgettable? Oddly enough, I might have to give this to The Forest Seasons by Wintersun. While I can’t say that I didn’t like the album, in the end there was just honestly not much to bring me back to it. I like “Loneliness (Winter)”, but apart from that, I don’t really have much to say for or against it. I mostly just forget it exists, in spite of all the hype.
WK: As a reviewer who’s willing to take a chance and check out releases by previously unfamiliar bands, you’re bound to come across some mediocre stuff. In my case, the most apt example of an album that went in one ear and out the other is Motherblood by Grave Pleasures. Nothing on the record is downright bad, but almost all the songs follow such a similar formula that everything becomes a gray, indistinguishable mass, and there are no big highlights to sweep you back in.
LL: For some reason this has been a year with quite a few albums I had thought I would listen a lot before they got out, but ended up not really listening them at all – examples include Brother Firetribe’s Sunbound, Ayreon’s The Source, and Humppa of Finland by Eläkeläiset, among others. This year, my nomination doesn’t go to an album that would necessarily be the most boring, per se, but one I literally forgot existed for most of year: Dance Panique by Turmion Kätilöt.
AW: This was a tough call for me, because there were a handful of albums that almost lived up to their mark, but didn’t quite. First of all, I had a certain set of expectations for The Forest Seasons by Wintersun, which in hindsight were probably a bit unrealistic. On the flipside, Ensiferum’s Two Paths managed to be a pretty great accomplishment musically, but was completely ruined by the bad clean vocals. Of those, I’d have to pick Ensiferum. While Wintersun’s album just wasn’t what I expected, Two Paths could have been really good if they hadn’t chosen to use the backing vocalists in the lead in half the songs, ultimately ruining them with their lack of cadence and tune. Especially contrasted to the alternative versions, it’s clear that it could’ve been a great album but isn’t.
WK: Well, this is easy! Paradise Lost have had a surprisingly consistent career despite having gone through numerous stylistic facelifts for almost 30 years, but Medusa is one of the low points of the band’s 15-album discography. It feels like the Yorkshire lads are more concerned with sounding heavy and raw than writing memorable songs nowadays, but I hope they’ll get over this midlife crisis and re-emerge with a stronger record in a few years.
LL: As this category usually has reflected the height of my expectations towards certain bands, I thought it to be fair to exclude those, especially because those albums still grow on me with time. My final pick for this obviously didn’t, and Brother Firetribe’s Sunbound has the questionable honor to man this category after already appearing in another not-so-positive category above.
AW: It seems as though last year we opened this up to deaths (not just members leaving bands), in which case I’ll have to mention Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington of Soundgarden and Linkin Park respectively. Their deaths seemed to go hand-in-hand in a way, and told a tragic tale of depression and the music industry, leaving many heartbroken for being unable to give back the strength that their music had given to their fans. But in agreement with Wille and Lene, if we’re being traditional here, the Amorphis split with Niclas Etelävuori was a bit sad to hear about, and though I’ve never been big on the HIM train, they are certainly an icon and it’s a bit sad to say farewell.
WK: Out of deaths, the most shocking one to me was Chris Cornell. I’d only been a sort of casual Soundgarden fan beforehand, but I thought he had one of the best voices in rock, and suicide is one of the most tragic ways to go anyway. Since then I’ve then delved more closely into the Soundgarden discography, as well as the excellent Temple of the Dog album that Cornell made with the Pearl Jam guys in the early 90s – what a talent and loss! As for splits and departures, it was sad to hear Niclas Etelävuori quit Amorphis over management disagreements – it’s no fun when non-musical factors come into play and affect the lineup. On the positive side, he (apparently) remained friends with the band, and Amo found a good ‘new’ member in original bassist Olli-Pekka “Oppu” Laine.
LL: I second (or third?) Amy’s and Wille’s words on Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell, and move on to the splits and break-ups. Truth be told, I’ve had more ‘end of childhood/youth’ moments than probably would fit the criteria, but somehow those moments still tend to show up every now and then. To me, Vesa Ranta retiring from playing drums this fall was definitely one of them; you know those few musicians you’re just used to being there and doing music, so you don’t really expect them to retire? Followed by a sudden, ”Oh, oh right,” when they do. Nevertheless, as Ranta’s work has inspired me as a photographer ever since I started myself, I’m happy to see what he’ll come up with in that field.
There’s also another worthy mention that falls under the category of ‘end of youth.’ By the time this post comes out, HIM will have almost wrapped up their over 2-decade-long career, and I’ll have seen the last we’ll all see of them at Rytmikorjaamo with Wille. It’s always an unsettling feeling when a band you’ve grown up with calls it quits, and even when it is the right decision made at – probably – the right moment… you’ll still miss them. Whether it’s remembering how they were when you first got into them, or just the memories attached to the music, it’s worth reminiscing, I’d say.
AW: Recommend me something? I had a hard enough time thinking of splits, so I can’t really come up with replacements either.
WK: As I mentioned above, Olli-Pekka Laine rejoined Amorphis, so the original lineup (rounded out by Tomi Joutsen and Santeri Kallio) is back together. I haven’t seen the new incarnation live yet, but that’ll probably change next year!
LL: Nothing new to add here, just humming in agreement with Wille’s words above.
BEST COVER ART
AW: A tie this year! Wintersun’s The Forest Seasons may have been a bit of a let-down thematically, but perhaps it was all the more so because it didn’t live up to its gorgeous cover art. The beautiful colors, the tranquil scene, the flares of light peeking through the trees, the images in the wood on the border… it’s a gorgeous piece of work with which I’d gladly adorn my wall given the right opportunity. It’s merely a shame that the themes on the album didn’t match the quality of its art.
As well, Eluveitie’s Evocation II: Pantheon is one of the only albums I even know about that has packed so much meaning into one design. You can read about the meaning in the interview Maria did with Chrigel Glanzmann here, but suffice to say that every line on that cover serves some purpose and you can tell that a great deal of thought and effort was put into it. And through all of that, the cover also manages to be really gorgeous. I expect to see this in a lot of tattoos in the future. I even considered one myself.
WK: I have to say I like the art for Lost in the Ghost Light by Tim Bowness. It’s a good representation of the record’s concept, and I enjoy how evocative and detailed it is, thanks to all the fictional rock band memorabilia. Even before you’ve heard a single note of the music, it makes you curious about the contents, and that’s a sign of a successful album cover.
LL: Heck, this was a surprisingly tough pick this year. I felt quite drawn to (pun intended) traditional or traditional looking mediums with album covers this year, like Crimfall’s Amain, No Stars Upon the Bridge by Hallatar, and Ajattara’s Lupaus to name a couple. All of them pay justice to the album itself, so this would be more or less a toss-up if I tried to choose between them. So no winner from me in this category this year, but three honorary mentions.
WORST COVER ART
AW: It breaks my heart to say this, but I might have to give this one to Ember Fall’s debut. As much as I really adore that album and want to give them all the awards, this is not one that I had hoped to give. The color was a bold choice and it matches the visual themes from the music video for “COE” nicely, as well as some of their merch. However, I’m not sure I really ‘get’ the album art, if I’m being honest. I know the band has a sort of dystopian theme, and likely they were touching on that, but it isn’t all that visually pleasing to me. (Granted, if I listened to Avatarium, I’d give their latest this award. Hideous cover, yikes.)
WK: If the Tim Bowness album had the most fitting cover possible, then The Dark Element’s debut unfortunately is the opposite: not only is it visually unappealing, but it also looks more suited for a B-horror film poster than a pop metal album. Whoever made the artwork clearly hadn’t listened to the record, given how far-removed from the music it is aesthetically. A dishonorable mention goes out to Steven Wilson’s To the Bone – it doesn’t look horrible, but I find both the concept and the execution cheesy. Sorry Steve, but you’re not photogenic enough to show up on album covers, especially with no shirt on!
LL: Compared to two previous Turmion Kätilöt albums, Dance Panique’s cover art is a setback in both style and quality. I loved the kitschy disco aesthetic they had going on with Diskovibrator and Technodiktator, so the weirdly dark Photoshop work just didn’t do it for me. Another strong contender for this category was The Dark Element’s debut of same name; like, what is that even?
BEST LIVE SHOW
AW: There were always going to be two contenders for this slot this year: Ayreon Universe in Tilburg and the Devin Townsend Project in Plovdiv. I had expected it to be a close call between these two, but in the end, even DTP couldn’t touch on the sheer insanity and magnitude of the Ayreon show. As well, while Ocean Machine was phenomenal to hear in an ancient Roman theater, the orchestra might as well have not been there for how well it could be heard. Ayreon Universe, however, boasted a veritable cornucopia of the best vocalists around, performing some of the best songs I know. Any time Arjen Lucassen rallies his guest vocalists to perform, it’s pure gold. Really, again, how do you top that?
WK: Even without counting, I’m fairly sure I didn’t attend as many shows as last year, so picking the best one is therefore easier as well: Riverside’s gig in Tampere had a great, warm vibe, and I was positively surprised by Lion Shepherd as the support band. Seeing the Polish progsters with smiles on their faces after the darkest phase in their career gave you hope that all obstacles in life can be overcome, and the interesting rearrangements gave some songs a second life (pun intended). Thinking of Michał Łapaj’s constant grinning still makes me chuckle to myself! Honorable mentions go to CMX’s once-in-a-lifetime Talvikuningas show, Apulanta’s entertaining spectacle, and Dream Theater’s nostalgic Images and Words celebration.
LL: This is an absolute no-brainer, I would’ve picked Insomnium’s festival ending show at Nummirock’s main stage right off the bat just seconds after they had finished it, even with the rest of the festival season still ahead of me. I’ve repeated this for half a year now – if there’s ever a right moment for pouring rain and bone-chilling cold at any gig, it was during “The Gale” in Nummijärvi. And this statement will stand into the unforeseeable future. Apart from the atmospheric elements provided by nature and midsummer, there likely would have not been a better way to call it a night than with Insomnium; through the 10 and some years I’ve listened to them, this was easily one, if not the very best of the shows I’ve seen them playing. The mammoth piece of art that is Winter’s Gate has translated to live shows almost surprisingly well, and at least I had no complaints about the rest of the set either. But what really made the night was the way the songs were performed. I’ve never seen a bad show from Insomnium, but this time Niilo Sevänen in particular seemed to have found an extra gear somewhere and cranked it all the way up, leaving me and my company at awe. If it wasn’t clear before, these guys are certainly shaping up for big stages.
BEST LIVE ALBUM/DVD
AW: I didn’t come across any of these this year, so this is a pass.
WK: I went to see Black Sabbath’s The End of the End in a cinema in September and later bought the DVD to watch the whole thing without any interview clips interrupting the show. It’s a good documentary of the final(?) concert by the band that wrote the rulebook of metal: Ozzy Osbourne is in good shape (I know overdubbing is a thing, but he didn’t sound much worse when I saw them on the same tour, so I doubt a vast amount of doctoring was needed), Tony Iommi’s riffs sound as thunderous as they should, and it brought back nice memories of last year’s Monsters of Rock performance in Helsinki. Some of the fast cuts are annoying (I thought this early 00s fad had died a deserved death already), and I’m still not fond of the way Tommy Clufetos whacks his drums as if he’s cutting wood, but my overall impression is positive, and the Angelic Sessions recordings are a welcome bonus. To be honest, I liked David Gilmour’s Live at Pompeii a bit more when I saw it on the cinema screen, but since this is supposed to be a metal list and I haven’t watched the actual DVD anyway, I’ll let Sabbath have this.
LL: Unlike previous years of writing these, I managed to see not one but two new live DVDs this year, I’m actually impressed with myself! But as two is quite a small sample, I won’t make a final pick between them, especially because I liked them for different reasons. When considering live albums, Delain’s Live at Paradiso was easily one of the best I’ve ever heard, but as a DVD it sadly didn’t meet the expectations after seeing the show it was filmed at. On the other hand, Dimmu Borgir’s latest, Forces of the Northern Night, which featured an actual symphony orchestra and choir, was a good example of technical prowess, but even though I enjoyed it, I don’t feel emotionally inclined to watch it from time and time again.
BEST MUSIC VIDEO
AW: I don’t often watch enough music videos in a year to find something very inspiring to put here. However, this year had one video that was strange and beautiful and so, so, so appropriate to the lyrics that I knew about 30 seconds in that it would get this award. “Six Days” was not a song that I particularly liked when I reviewed Cellar Darling’s album, due to the way Anna Murphy sings in it. However, after hearing the lyrics and seeing this video, I finally understand the beauty of this song, and it’s making me think that I need to re-listen to the whole album with the lyrics so that I might better appreciate it. At very least it worked extremely well for this song, and that’s a powerful thing.
WK: Steven Wilson has usually been my go-to artist for music videos, but unfortunately just like the album cover, the videos from To the Bone all feature him, and the results are ‘meh’ at best. No video struck me as particularly amazing this year, but I’m going with “Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth” by The Mute Gods, because it has the most interesting concept, and the guy signing the lyrics is a funny little extra:
LL: Usually this category follows the pattern of, ‘first I watch only a handful of vids during the whole year and then something by Vesa Ranta wins’; however, this year proved to be an exception to the rule. Of course, there was something by Vesa Ranta in my top three in the form of Hallatar’s “My Mistake”, as usual, accompanied by Ajattara’s “Ave Satana” and Crimfall’s “Until Falls the Rain.” All of these three are drastically different from each other in style and mood, so in a way it could have been a tough pick, but in the end not so much, judging by how I grinned from ear to ear when I first saw my winning choice. It’s engaging, epic without looking ridiculous, and manages to keep it together from beginning to end, which often are problems in the videos of this genre. So, “Until Falls the Rain” takes the first place one more time in an impressive manner.
AW: There was one new band that I discovered this year that has a little something that could take them a long way: Lost in Grey. Their debut wasn’t earth-shattering, but their song-writing was really top-notch and the quality of the music and (most of) the vocals are really fantastic. I think these guys have something really good going on and I’m looking forward to hearing more material from them in the future, and perhaps catching a live show when I get the chance.
WK: It feels funny to name a group of middle-aged musicians the one with most potential, but I feel that Sons of Apollo didn’t totally manage to capitalize on their talents on their debut yet. I hope next time they’ll spend more time on songwriting and let Jeff Scott Soto and Bumblefoot loose… and Derek Sherinian will stop talking crap about Dream Theater on social media, haha.
LL: As a surprise to myself, when I thought of potential bands for this category, the one that rose above all others wasn’t a domestic newcomer comprised of eager youngsters, but a new project of seasoned musicians from ‘across the smaller pond,’ as we like to say about Sweden in here. I wasn’t much more than a little curious about CyHra when I first heard of the project, but I was wowed by their debut album from the first spin; you know those bands that feel like you’ve found a missing piece to complete the big picture of bands you listen? Here you have one.
AW: So another year has passed us by. I can’t say this year really astounded me a whole lot on the whole, but there were a few gems in there that more than made up for the lacks in other departments. While the albums were not too diverse on the scale from kinda dull to pretty good, the live shows this year turned out to be more memorable. Ayreon returned to absolutely crush my mind, I got to experience the Devin Townsend Project in an ancient Roman theater, CyHra’s debut gig made their good debut album even better, Ember falls still manages to impress me after seeing them about a thousand times, and the festivals didn’t let me down either. Nevertheless, I’ve got my ears open and hopes high for 2018!
WK: Unfortunately 2017 was kind of underwhelming for me musically, especially when compared to the previous 2 years. Few releases truly wowed me – not many newcomers entered the game with strong debuts, and some of my old favorites either sorely disappointed me (Paradise Lost), left me with mixed feelings (Anathema), or put out a fairly solid but slightly flawed album (Steven Wilson). Interestingly enough, the liveliest and most enjoyable albums came from solo- and side-projects, namely The Night Flight Orchestra, Lunatic Soul, and Daniel Cavanagh – clearly the freedom to branch out beyond your established main band is something many professional musicians cherish. Anyway, as you can see, many of my picks in this post can’t really be considered (pure) metal, as a combined result of my changing tastes and the lack of interesting new music in the genre this year, but I hope 2018 will be a more fruitful time for bands everywhere.
LL: All things considered, it wasn’t a bad year at all, music-wise. It wasn’t phenomenal, and there weren’t as many albums that would’ve really peaked from the steady flow of good and alright, but I wouldn’t call this a bad year. I feel that this was probably the reason why I felt like I had only listened to approximately three albums during the whole year, even though it was packed with all sorts of nice things. Good or even excellent debuts from S-tool, Ember Falls, One Desire, Hallatar, and CyHra, strong returns by Ajattara and Crimfall, and for example Bloodred Hourglass, Shade Empire, and Edge of Haze continued with strong efforts. Some albums I thought I’d listen to a ton got lost in the way, and I intend to pick them up while waiting for what 2018 has in store – new Arion, new Psychework, new Kamelot, most likely new Mokoma as well, so it’s looking quite good already. On live show front, 2017 was even better, and besides Insomnium being absolute amazeballs in Nummirock, I had a ton of fun all over the country. I feel it won’t get worse from that next year, anyway, so onward to new adventures!