Best Albums of 2017

Happy new year, dear readers!  I’m a little late with my annual best albums post seeing as it’s already 2018 but that’s ok.  When you have a toddler, things don’t always get done on schedule!  Anyway, 2017 was a great year for rock music, my favorite genre, but you might be surprised to find which album made my choice for best album of the year.  So without further ado, here are my picks for the best albums of 2017.

11. Madness by All That Remains:ATRMadness As some of you may know, I’m a huge fan of Phil Labonte, the lead singer of ATR.  He’s an outspoken Libertarian which is not something you find too often in the rock world (or in the music/celebrity world in general actually).  You can hear some of his political views in this album including in the title song Madness (those themes are more apparent if you watch the music video).  Actually you can see a hint of political themes just by looking at the picture on the album!  Other highlights on this disc include the band’s unexpected cover of Garth Brooks’s classic The Thunder Rolls & If I’m Honest.

10. From the Fires by Greta Van Fleet: fromthefires gvf.jpgI just discovered this band a few weeks ago after getting curious about them since I kept seeing their name on lists of best albums/songs of the year.  It turns out these guys range from just 18-21 years old but their music sounds like something from the 70s- in a good way!  I was truly shocked after listening to their music to find out how young they are.  Lead singer Josh Kiszka has an amazing voice & the band is rounded out by his twin brother on guitar, their other brother on bass, & a friend on drums.  Safari Song is the first song I heard by the band & it immediately captured my attention, as I think it will yours too.  Also check out Highway Tune.

9. Heaven Upside Down by Marilyn Manson: heaven upside down MMWith this album Manson has fused the industrial sound of his older albums with the more bluesy sound of his 2015 album The Pale Emperor, which makes for a truly unique sound.  My favorites include Say10Tattooed in Reverse, & title track Heaven Upside Down.

8. Graveyard Shift by Motionless in White: motionlessinwhitegraveyardshiftcoverI’m such a huge fan of MIW’s 2014 album Reincarnate that I’m not sure they’ll ever top that one for me.  But this album is still a great one.  There a few tracks where I feel the lyrics are a bit wanting but the other tracks are so well written that they make up for it.  Don’t miss the haunting but gorgeous Eternally Yours, the music video for which features lead singer Chris Motionless’s gorgeous girlfriend, & 570, an ode to the band’s decade of hard work which gives homage to their hometown of Scranton, PA (570 is the area code there).  With lyrics like “And when I’m facing a wall, I do not quit/Cause if you mean it, you will make it” the latter is an excellent song for the gym or any time you need a little encouragement to keep working toward your goals.  Other highlights include Queen for Queen & Hourglass.

7. Crooked Teeth by Papa Roach: crooked teethThis is actually the first Papa Roach album I’ve ever owned & I find myself spinning it again & again.  I was inspired to buy it when I saw several of my favorite rock stars including Chris Kael, the bassist from FFDP, posting about how great it was on Instagram.  From title track Crooked Teeth to None of the Above to American Dreams this album is one great song after another.  A surprising ballad that you absolutely must not miss is Periscope featuring pop singer Skylar Grey.

6. Hydrograd by Stone Sour:hydrograd stone sour As I discussed with MIW, Stone Sour’s previous album (the double album House of Gold & Bones from 2012-2013) is one of my all time favorite albums so I’m not sure if it’s even possible for the band to ever top that one for me.  However, their most recent effort, which won Hard Rock Album of the Year at the Loudwire Music Awards, is epic nonetheless.  My favorite track also happens to be the heaviest track on the record Taipei Person/Allah Tea.  Other great tracks include singles Fabuless Song #3, the former of which attacks the shallow nature of fame & the latter of which is a love song which is intended to fuse both the sappy & lusty natures of love, thus making it the third option for love songs, hence the title.  Also don’t miss Knieval Has Landed.

5. Asking Alexandria by Asking Alexandria: aa albumI have a whole blog post dedicated to AA’s previous album The Black, that’s how much I love it.  I actually wasn’t familiar with the band until that album so I was quite disappointed when I found out that Ukranian singer Denis Stoff was leaving the band.  To be perfectly honest, when original singer Danny Worsnop rejoined the band I was afraid they would go back to songs about nothing more than drinking & sex.  However, once I heard a few songs from this disc, I realized that it is without a doubt the band’s best work to date.  Lyrically & musically the band has truly matured & found their groove, as evidenced by lead single Into the Fire which will quickly get stuck in your head.  My other favorite tracks include Hopelessly HopefulAlone in a RoomRise Up, & the surprising acoustic piece Vultures which was recorded in just one take in the studio.  Check out this excellent article about the stories behind each song on the album.

4. The Stories We Tell Ourselves by Nothing More: nothing-more-the-stories-we-tell-ourselvesThe Grammys actually got something right this year when they nominated this disc for multiple awards.  Nothing More’s previous album was amazing  but this one is equally awesome.  Once again the band finds a way to combine catchy melodies with phenomenal lyrics.  Check out Do You Really Want It? & Go to War for great examples of the heavier songs on the album.  However, my absolute favorite tracks on the album are two ballads, Still in Love & Just Say When, which were both clearly inspired by lead singer Jonny Hawkins’s divorce.  Both songs are heartbreaking but beautiful.  I could listen to a whole album of just ballads like these two.

3. The Sin & the Sentence by Triviumthe sin and the sentence Trivium have been releasing albums & touring the world since they were barely of legal age, but they have truly outdone themselves with their most recent album.  As soon as I heard the title song I knew this was going to be a phenomenal album.  Check out this article for an excellent look at the inspiration behind the songs from lead singer Matt Heafy & bassist Paolo Gregoletto.  There isn’t a single bad song on this album so it’s hard to choose favorites but be sure not to miss heavy-hitter The Wretchedness Inside as well as the more radio friendly The Heart From Your Hate & Endless Night.

2. Ritual by In This Moment:in-this-moment-ritual I fell in love with ITM after 2012’s Blood but it seems like every disc the band releases just gets better & better.  This year’s effort shows off a more bluesy side of Maria Brink which is best showcased on lead single Oh Lord.  My absolute favorite track from this album is Black Wedding featuring Rob Halford from Judas Priest.  It’s one of those songs I fell in love with the first time I heard it, & I think you will too.  Other favorites of of mine include Joan of Arc & Half God Half Devil.

1.  Slowheart by Kip Moore:slowheart After 10 rock/metal albums, you probably weren’t expecting a country album to make my choice for best album of the year, but Kip Moore’s third album is just that good.  Besides which, he is often noted for having rock elements in his music.  Anyway, there is no doubt that I’ve listened to Slowheart more than any other album this year.  I fell in love with Kip’s music after his previous album Wild Ones when I realized what a great songwriter he is.  But this album is even more amazing.  If you really want an inside look at the stories behind the thirteen amazing songs on this album, check out this documentary about the making of the album.  My absolute favorite on this disc is album closer Guitar Man.  It reminds me of Billy Joel’s classic Piano Man (one of my all time favorite songs) as it is an ode to the power of music.  Listen to it & fall in love.  Other stand-out tracks (there are so many, it’s hard to choose!) include Last ShotPlead the FifthI’ve Been Around, & Bittersweet CompanySlowheart is one of those albums that makes me want to listen to it all over again the moment it ends.  It’s so obvious that Kip put his heart & soul into writing these songs which is what really separates him from most modern country singers.  And that is what makes Slowheart my choice for 2017 album of the year.

As I always do with these posts, I’m going to conclude this with my choices for most anticipated albums for this year.

Most anticipated albums for 2018Black-Veil-Brides-Vale

  • Vale by Black Veil Brides (just 10 more days- out Jan 12!!)
  • Pop Evil by Pop Evil (Feb 16)
  • Godsmack’s as yet untitled seventh album
  • Black Stone Cherry’s as yet untitled seventh album
  • Halestorm’s as yet untitled fourth album

Album Review: The Black by Asking Alexandria

Every once in a while I come across an album that is just so fantastic that I feel compelled to write an entire blog post about it.  Asking Alexandria’s latest record The Black is just such an album.  You may remember that I mentioned a few songs off of this album in last week’s post, but that was before I’d had time to actually devour the entire album.  I bought it last Monday (after it had debuted the Friday before that), & it’s been on almost constant replay in my car & on my computer ever since.AA band

If you’re not familiar with the band (as I wasn’t until about two weeks ago), Asking Alexandria is a British metal band which was formerly fronted by Danny Worsnop.  I’d heard the band’s name quite a bit over the past few years, but I’d also heard lots of stories about their excessive partying & Worsnop’s drug use, so initially I dismissed the band as not worth my time.  However, as I explained last week, when I heard Andy Biersack of Black Veil Brides (another band I initially ignored only to recently realize their brilliance) reference Danny Worsnop in an interview, I decided to give the band a listen.  After a quick Google search I discovered that Worsnop actually left the band last year to focus on his new group We Are Harlot.  It is indeed rare that a band can lose their lead singer & come back stronger than ever, but that is exactly what Asking Alexandria has done.  I’m still not a big fan of their earlier work with Worsnop, but this latest album with 23 year old Denis Stoff from Ukraine at the helm is nothing short of splendid.  Okay, enough background, now let me tell you why this album rocks & share with you my favorite tracks!

aa the black

Disclaimer: this is an adult album.  If the F word offends you, this album isn’t for you which is unfortunate because you will miss out on a truly epic record.

The album opens with the brilliant & aggressive track Let It Sleep.  There are a few moments that bring to mind MIW’s Reincarnate which of course is a great compliment in my opinion.  This song is a great way to open the album because it shows off the diversity of Denis Stoff’s voice, particularly his ability to scream ferociously as well to sing very melodically.  Lyrically the song addresses the demon inside of all of us & the struggles we all face in that regard.

The second track is The Black for which the album was named.  This is another heavy-hitting song, but the fierce aggression of the majority of the song is tempered by moments of placid melody that are all the more beautiful because of their contrast with the rest of the song.  The section at 3:05 gives me chills every time I hear it.  Sonically there are moments that remind me of Sempiternal-era Bring Me the Horizon (another British metal band, for those who are unfamiliar), but the song is by all means very original nonetheless.  The piano ending is particularly brilliant to my ears.

denis stoff

New lead vocalist Denis Stoff

The third song is the first single off of the album (I believe) I Won’t Give In.  Both lyrically & musically this is a very uplifting piece.  This is the song that initially grabbed my attention & encouraged me to delve further into the band.  Lyrically I can’t help but feel that this song was inspired by Worsnop’s behavior before he left the band.

The fifth song The Lost Souls is sonically perhaps the most intriguing piece on the album.  The track opens with an instrumental segment that calls to mind a horror movie.  It then switches into a chugging anthem for all of us who have ever felt left out, rejected, or otherwise different than the norm: “We are the ones that no one gave a chance/We are the ones that almost lost it all/Ghosts in the hallway who never catch a glance/We are the lost/We are the lost souls.”  The track ends with a haunting piano solo that somehow makes you want to hit replay & listen to the song all over again.asking alexandria logo

The seventh song Send Me Home is a considerably softer, more melodic track that speaks to the longing for home that the band members feel when they’re relentlessly touring all over the globe for much of the year.  Like any truly great song, there are many ways to relate to the lyrics here.  I think anyone who’s ever been away from home for an extended period or even someone who is missing a loved one who has passed away will find comfort in the longing expressed in this beautiful track.

The ninth song Here I Am is another more melodic piece that helps balance out the blatant aggression of some of the other pieces.  Lyrically it’s an anthem to self empowerment that is relatable to all.

Next up is Gone which is by far the gentlest, softest piece on the album, perhaps the only one that is a true ballad.  The harmonies between Denis & the voices of the other guys are hauntingly beautiful.  While it may seem “boring” next to some of the heavy-hitting tracks like Let It Sleep & The Black, there is no doubt that this song is no less a work of art than those pieces.

ben bruce

Founding guitarist Ben Bruce

The next to last song on the album is Undivided, an unequivocal “moving on” type of song.  Definitely not for the faint of heart, lyrically it is both profane & clever, & the tone reminds me a bit of Antivist by BMTH.

The record closes with Circled By the Wolves, a piece with a very cinematic vibe that makes for a perfect ending to the album.

denis stoff I wont give in

Yes, that’s an awesome owl tattoo on his chest there.

Well, that’s it, y’all.  I don’t know what else I can say to convince you to give this album a listen (& hopefully a purchase).  Trust me, you won’t regret it if you do.

To the guys in Asking Alexandria, I doubt you’ll ever read this, but if by chance you should, thank you for making such a musically & lyrically brilliant album.  Congratulations on coming back better & stronger than ever!

Just Another Manic Monday

So it appears that I came down with the flu (or some other similar respiratory virus) over the weekend.  I went to work Friday night feeling like I might have had the beginnings of a cold but I wasn’t worried because I figured it was just allergies since the pollen has been off the charts here lately.  However, by the time I left work the next morning I had a bad feeling there was a bit more wrong than just simple springtime allergies.  This was largely because after walking up the three flights of stairs in the parking deck I found myself out of breath which is NOT normal for me.  By that evening it was obvious I had a fever, & I barely slept that night due to the fever coupled with severe congestion, coughing, & horrible body aches.


Yep, this is a pretty accurate depiction of me right now.

I’m still intermittently febrile which is apparently causing me to be a bit delirious.  Ok, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but I seriously just drove to the grocery store to return a Red Box DVD only to realize once I was there that what I had picked up was actually a CD, NOT the Red Box movie.  Oops.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m a total baby when I’m sick, but I must also confess that there is an upside to being sick, namely that it gives me an excuse to lie around on the couch reading, listening to music, & watching movies/YouTube videos without the least amount of guilt.  In so doing I have discovered two new (to me) bands this weekend which have made this flu significantly more bearable.bvb

On Saturday night while perusing YouTube I finally decided to give Black Veil Brides a listen.  I’ve heard their name tossed about a lot over the past year or two, but for some reason I always assumed they were just a bunch of overgrown teenagers full of way too much angst.  However, I quickly realized that that initial assessment was entirely incorrect.  These guys are actually extremely talented & wise beyond their years.  They are indeed young; in fact the lead singer, Andy Biersack, is only 25 but if you read up on his life & listen to his interviews you will quickly realize he is a very educated, industrious, & eloquent young man (he seriously  has a great vocabulary which only serves to increase my respect for him of course).  Despite the fact that I’ve never been all that enamored with 1980s acts like Kiss & Motley Crue, I can’t help but admire the fact that someone who’s my age (actually a few years younger) was so inspired by those types of bands that he created his band largely in their image, yet with a sound that’s all his own.  Right now I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of both the third & fourth BVB albums which I ordered on Amazon this weekend.  If you’re not familiar with the band, please do yourself a serious favor & check out my favorite song of theirs (thus far). andy bvb

Through my internet browsing, I also quickly discovered that Andy Biersack, alternately known as Andy Black, has a solo album coming out in early May.  When I watched this interview this morning & heard Andy describe how the first single from the album is about his social anxiety, I couldn’t help but feel a kindred spirit talking to me.  It’s like he was reading my mind when he wrote the song.  Perfection!social anxiety party

The other band I “discovered” this weekend is Asking Alexandria.  Again, this was another band I’ve heard & read a lot about over the past few years but given their reputation for being a bunch of wild party animals I was just never very interested in actually listening to their music.  However, after hearing Andy Biersack reference their (former) lead singer Danny Worsnop in an interview, I figured the band might be worth at least a cursory listen.  As it turns out, Danny left the band early last year & was replaced by Denis Stoff, a 23 year old from Ukraine.  It became apparent to me very quickly that Danny wasn’t a great loss to the band & that Denis is actually a far better fit with, in my opinion, a much more interesting voice.  I’m very impressed with the first single from their brand new album The Black which just debuted this past Friday.  This haunting track called The Lost Souls has also caught my attention.  It’s very rare that a band can lose their lead singer & find a replacement who’s even better but Asking Alexandria has done exactly that.AA band

So yeah, this flu or whatever it is sucks.  But I can’t complain about the subsequent discovery of some great new (to me) music thanks to having such an inordinate amount of time to be blissfully lazy & not have to feel guilty for it.MLK love

In conclusion, I’d like to end this post with a link to a picture of Andy Biersack with his grandmother.  I found it on his Instagram this weekend, & the picture just warmed my heart so much that I feel compelled to share it with my readers.  Here is a young man who is a heavily tattooed rock star who frequently wears black eyeliner & other makeup, has multiple earrings & a nose ring (& sometimes a lip ring), & is often dressed in black leather or other typical rock star gear.  And yet here is smiling & holding hands with his adorable grandmother who, for the record, doesn’t look the least bit terrified of her not so traditional grandson.  This picture is just proof to me that love can conquer all boundaries of age, race, religion, & any of the other superficial labels we so often use to categorize ourselves, & furthermore that those who choose to judge by appearances are indeed missing out on a whole world of opportunities.  You can view the adorable picture here.