Best of 2017: Hera’s List – Woes of Research

9C 2017 EOY Header Image

We’re stoked to feature Hera Vidal, purveyor of all things heavy and writer/deep metal researcher for sites like Broken Amp and Metal Bandcamp here as a featured guest presenting her Top Albums of 2017.  Hopefully we’ll see her pop up here again in 2018.  Until then, take it away, Hera! 

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2017 was a fantastic year for metal. However, this means that I now have another pile of albums to look into that I probably missed. The struggle to keep up with releases is real, you guys.

Anyway, it’s list season!

Now, there is some criteria for me to decide my top albums of the year, and they usually revolve around one key factor: I have not written about them, whether they are planned drafts or have been published elsewhere. That means albums like E, Berdreyminn, and Codex Omega – which I enjoyed – and a bunch of black metal albums are not going to be on this list.

With that in mind, here is a list of 10 albums I enjoyed in 2017. If you think I missed one, please let me know via Twitter and/or any way you can get ahold of me.  ___

ayreon - the source

10. Ayreon – The Source:  The Source was one of the albums I was looking forward to a lot this year, especially since I had been a bit disappointed by their previous effort, 2012’s The Theory of Everything. This album brought some favorite singers back to the fold, including Tommy Karevik (Kamelot), Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Hansi Kursch (Blind Guardian), and Simone Simons (Epica), while also bringing some new, if unheard, talent, like Mike Mills from Toehider. The album was excellent; I listened to it a few times and then shelved it as my year continued. However, as time went on, I found myself picking it up less and less. There are still songs that I listen to from The Source, but you have to really listen to it all, as it is a concept album. Although better than The Theory of Everything, it still doesn’t beat my favorite Ayreon record, 01011001. Still, like all albums on this list, I will eventually revisit it and see if it ages well. (Spotify/Apple Music/Google Play)

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xandria - theater of dimensions

9. Xandria – Theater of Dimensions:  Outside of black metal, I love three other genres: melodeath (because traditional death metal doesn’t appeal to me), symphonic metal, and progressive metal. It all has to do with my love for classical music and the fact that I used to play the cello when I was in orchestra. Regardless of that, my love for symphonic metal has diminished over the years, but I still keep up with some bands. One of these is Xandria, who released the spectacular Theater of Dimensions early this year. I still revisit this album from time to time, and it still blows me away every time I listen to it. Dianne’s voice is beautiful and the music is fantastic, creating a solid album that was on heavy rotation through the first part of the year. However, like The Source, you have to pay attention to it before it becomes something that you can play every day, especially when you commute to work. I enjoyed Theater of Dimensions and I am still saddened by the fact that Dianne has left the band. However, I do have high hopes for the band, and I eagerly await their next release. (Spotify/Apple Music/Google Play)

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nine - Add_Violence

8. Nine Inch Nails – Add Violence EP:  Despite the fact that I said “albums”, I am going to add EPs because 2017 was the year I listened to a lot of them. Given that Nine Inch Nails is releasing three EPs instead of a full-length album, it’s only fitting that I list them here. Now, Add Violence came in the middle of the year, at a time where I wasn’t sure if they were even going to release new music after the successful drop-release of Not The Actual Events (which I played for three months straight). Of course, Trent and co. delivered and we got Add Violence. Now, this EP is a lot mellower than Not The Actual Events, but its music structure actually follows the tone set in NTAE. It still gets heavy and dark, but it doesn’t pack the punch that NTAE did. What also threw me off was the last song on the EP, “The Background World.” The 11-minute track is a lot to take in, and it sounded a bit out of place on a EP that was melodic yet cacophonic. Perhaps we might get some explanation in the next NIN release. However, Add Violence is still solid and I still listen to it quite often.  (Spotify/Apple Music/Google Play)

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eisbrecher - Sturmfahrt

7. Eisbrecher – Strumfahrt:  When you think of German industrial metal, the first band that comes to mind is, of course, Rammstein. However, as we wait for our next Rammstein fix, we have another German band to look at, and that’s Eisbrecher. Now, up until very recently, I had never listened to them, but a friend of mine guided me towards their 2015 release, Schock. After devouring Schock, I saw that they had released a new album so I picked up and I decided to listen to. Although solid, Strumfahrt lacks the power and the emotion that made Schock such an enjoyable album. It felt dry and a bit dull – which is a bit ironic, given that the title translate to “storm voyage” – but I still had it on heavy rotation. It grew on me eventually, as I ended up finding it to be enjoyable on another level. While it wasn’t an album you could party to, you could still play Strumfahrt to cheer you up when you had a bad day. Considering how Eisbrecher was one of my top artists this year, it seemed that I listened to this album a lot. (Spotify/Apple Music/Google Play)

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Chelsea Wolfe - Hiss Spun

6. Chelsea Wolfe – Hiss Spun:  I have been listening to Chelsea Wolfe since I found Pain is Beauty, and I have been following her work since then. Now, I had high hopes for Hiss Spun, as I loved Abyss and I hoped she would have continued in that vein. It was dark, slow, and cacophonic, with some heavy experimentation that gave the album a personal edge that I hadn’t heard previously. If you want to introduce someone to doom metal, this album might be the way to go. Hiss Spun simultaneously made me happy and scared me, as it felt like I was looking into my own emotions. Given that the albums comes from a very dark place, it doesn’t surprise me that Hiss Spun struck a chord with everyone who listened to it. You had to really get into a certain headspace to fully enjoy the album, because it can uncomfortable. It is Chelsea’s strongest album to date, and I expect a lot more coming. (Spotify/Apple Music/Google Play)

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diablo-swing-orchestra-pacifisticuffs-2017

5. Diablo Swing Orchestra – Pacifisticuffs:  Hey, an avant-garde prog metal album!  When Diablo Swing Orchestra finally announced that Pacifisticuffs was being released towards the end of the year, I rejoiced and listened to “Knucklehugs (Arm Yourself with Love)” until I wanted to puke. This was the last album that I had been waiting for on my release calendar, and I couldn’t help but add it to this list. Pacifisticuffs sounds like Pandora’s Piñata, but with the added effect that the vocals are different. Kristin Evegård’s vocals incredibly match the avant-garde nature of the album, fitting well with the swing revival theme the band is known for. They definitely know how to experiment with their music and their vocals, while keeping it heavy and lively for the listener. I couldn’t help but sing along at the most inopportune times, which made me look like a fool on my commute, but who cares? It’s fun! (Spotify/Apple Music/Google Play)

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amberian dawn - darkness of eternity

4. Amberian Dawn – Darkness of Eternity:  Hey, look! Another symphonic metal album!  The penultimate album on my release calendar, Darkness of Eternity was a complete surprise for me. Of course, since Päivi “Capri” Virkkunen joined the band, Amberian Dawn has gone down a more accessible sound, swapping their symphonic/power metal influences for more a neoclassical sound, while also combining elements from disco. There was a slight ABBA influence in this album, which was completely unexpected but totally enjoyable. This is an album that you can blast at a high volume without getting tired of it. I personally love their shift in sound – it fully compliments Capri’s versatile voice, which is probably one of my favorite voices in this genre right now. If you haven’t done so already, please go listen to Darkness of Eternity; it is excellent! (Spotify/Apple Music/Google Play)

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These next two all could have been the top album of 2017, and they all could have been placed in the top three. However, the more I listened to them, the more I was sure of their placements. Thus, here are the top two before I drop the top album of 2017.

zeal and ardor - devil is fine

3. Zeal & Ardor – Devil is Fine:  Who would have thought that black metal could combine African American spirituals and blues to create one of the most powerful albums I have heard this year? This impressed me to the point that I told everyone in my circle of friends – who are all metalheads – to listen to this album as soon as they could. A good majority of them were impressed with the combination, and I just kept going back to it when I could. This album is very short, but it’s a lot to digest, especially when the themes are not something you hear very often. What I also love about this album is the research that went into it, as Manuel Gagneux, the man behind Zeal & Ardor, had to research what the spirituals sounded like. This, along with black metal (albeit the melodeath tag might be more appropriate) influences, made the album a solid one, reminding us that music can still be created organically – even when the combination started as a joke. (Spotify/Apple Music/Google Play)

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2. Ulver – The Assassination of Julius Caesar // Sic Transit Gloria Mundi:  “I want to tell you something / about the grace of faded things…”

I never thought of an album as “sexy”, and then Ulver dropped The Assassination of Julius Caesar and my expectations were shot. I got into this album very late into the year, ignoring it when it was first released. Considering how Ulver started off as a black metal band, Assassination is what I like to call a “pop” album, in a way that reminds me of Depeche Mode. There is something incredibly alluring about this album: it hypnotizes you with its musical tones, while its electronic beats and atmosphere makes you want to sway to the music. It’s oddly sensual, like silk on skin. However, there is something spatial about it, too, as you continue to move from setting to setting between each song. You become something in that space, but what that something is up to you. (Spotify/Apple Music/Google Play)

And just when things couldn’t get any better, Ulver unexpectedly drops Sic Transit Gloria Mundi on a random day without warning. Tracks from the Assassination cut-room floor, they are enjoyable all on their own. I have no idea how often I’ve listened to Gloria, but they have been on constant rotation since they came out. However, the reason this combination is not #1 is because it didn’t hit me as much as I would have liked. (Spotify/Apple Music/Google Play)

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And the top album of 2017 is…

King Woman - Created in the Image of Suffering

1. King Woman – Created in the Image of Suffering:  Anyone who knows me knows that I haven’t shut up about this album since it came out. It’s been on constant rotation since its release, and there is a very great reason behind it. As we all know, 2017 has been tumultuous as hell, with enough massacres, Nazi rallies, allegations of sexual assault, and consequences for those who thought they could get away with this bullshit to last me a lifetime. Created in the Image of Suffering hits like a ton of bricks, dealing with catharsis after leaving a Christian cult. The emotions are so raw that they moved me. I felt a sort of kinship with Kristina Esfandiari in her lyrics as she lays her personal and inner turmoil. The whole album is solid, doom metal oozing from its pores and into the ears of the listener. Despite what it was going for, Created was comforting, as you knew there was someone else who went through terrible ordeals and came out on the other side. There is light on the other side and that’s enough. (Spotify/Apple Music/Google Play)

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All right, that ends my list! Thank you to Nine Circles for letting me share my list this time, and perhaps I will return – we shall see. In the meantime, if you have not listened to these albums, please do so and let me know if you enjoy them. Until next time, felices fiestas!

-Hera


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