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  ANDY RAWLL'S BEST OF 2017s
26th December 2017

andy rawll
Words: Andy Rawll



andy rawll

It's that time of year again and what a year it has been, and now it's time to start publishing our writers' Best Of 2017s and on 31st December we'll be publishing the end result, one winner from each category. Here's Andy's Best Of 2017s...

BEST BAND: SHATTERED FORTRESS

Erstwhile cinematic nightmarian Mike Portnoy assembled a special band of Prog Avengers in 2017 to tour a unique celebration of the music of his previous band. With the last show having been played, this is the first (and last) opportunity to recognise the short but sweet existence of a band that delivered the dream Dream setlist for those of use with the DT DTs. Essentially, UK prog band Haken, supplemented by monster musician Eric 'the best the band could get' Gillette, Shattered Fortress provided a much-deserved victory lap for Portnoy, finally closing the chapter on his theatrical legacy, just as he prepares to join Sons of Apollo on the road.

2. VOLA

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Genre-straddling exponents of thrillingly labyrinthine goth-prog, exemplified by their acclaimed debut, 'Inmazes', Vola returned for a series of great headline shows in 2017. Their unique Danish djenty sound melds the melodic grind of Mastodon with the searing dynamics of Deftones to stunning effect, led by the strong, smooth voice and churning guitar of Asger Mygrind. I was blown away by their fresh, dynamic sound and am really looking forward to their imminent new album.

3. INGLORIOUS

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There are many bands and artists that have worked hard over 2017 to progress to the next level and delivered great new music and live performances with honorable mentions to Stone Broken, Broken Witt Rebels and Bad Touch. However, for me, it's Inglorious that stand-out. Fired by the return of original guitarist Drew Lowe they released a superlative second album earlier this year. Their basterdly brilliant live shows have progressed beyond compare, headlining larger venues, like the Electric Ballroom, and winning prestigious support slots for big-stage tours.

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BEST GIG: JIMMY BARNES, O2 ACADEMY, ISLINGTON, 13th DECEMBER

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Barnesy's first return to London since the fabulous Cold Chisel gigs of 2012. He never disappoints live, but this was way above and beyond what I was expecting, shaking the Academy like a runaway freight train. Backed by a great band, this was high energy rocking set that seamlessly mixed solo, chisel and cover songs to the delight of the packed, euphoric crowd. From the opening Celtic slide that introduced a locomotive 'Driving Wheels' through a dizzying 'Merry-Go-Round' and the blue collar national anthem of 'Working Class Man', the main set was perfectly paced and brilliantly executed, with Jimmy feral bark in fine fettle with his three daughters, Mahalia, Eliza-Jane and Elly-May providing characteristically barnestorming backing vocals.

2. GUNS N' ROSES, LONDON STADIUM, 16th JUNE

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Appetite sated. Stadium destroyed. Simply superb show by the Gunners at the new home of the Hammers. A stellar performance of close to three hours of the best songs from their four main albums, plus a great choice of covers, from the predictable 'Live And Let Die' and 'Na-Na-Knocking' to the unexpected 'Black Hole Sun' and 'Wish You Were Here' plus a memento from Axl's busman's holiday in 'Whole Lotta Rosie'. A grand day out.

3. DEVIN TOWNSEND, RAMBIN' MAN FAIR, 30th JULY

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Armed with his full Metal project, for me, this proved to be the most astounding, entertaining, engaging and brilliant show of the weekend. With song titles like 'Supercrush!', 'Hyperdrive' and 'Stormbending', you can feel the intensity of the music even before a note is played, yet it's the unpredictability of the resulting musical maelstrom that's most remarkable. Crushing riffs, polka rhythms, operatic vocals and symphonic keyboards combined to stunning effect, with 'Grace' from the suitably named 'Epicloud' album being a perfect example of Devin's industrial strength Dantean Rhapsody and 'Higher' the apotheosis. Exhilarating, unique, amazing and exhausting. A triumph of transcendence.

BEST ALBUM: BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION - 'BCC IV'

andy rawll

Behold the fourth instalment of the New Testament of the four horsemen of the Black Country apocalypse. A rock album hewn from the hardest granite and etched with deep volcanic grooves that erupt with unbridled fire and brimstone, trampling underfoot all that dare to stray into its path. Compared to the preceding trilogy of albums from the fantastic four, there's a heroic continuity of style and sound that continues to draw heavily from the rich well of 70s classic rock with the modern heavy soulful edge. Surely one of the best hard rock albums of the year, a precious amalgam of the Voice Of Rock, the lord of the strings, the caligula of keys and the son of the God Of Thunder.

2. PAIN OF SALVATION - 'IN THE PASSING LIGHT OF DAY'

andy rawll

A deep and meaningful album for the band and an intense and fulfulling listen. This marks a return to the beautiful yet disturbing sonic panoramas of the 'Re:visited, Re:mixed & Re:lived' issue of their seminal 'Remedy Lane' release. It's a truly uplifting experience, full of dynamics, rich instrumentation, tricky rhythms and thought-provoking lyrics.

3. H.E.A.T. – 'INTO THE GREAT UNKNOW'

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It's easily the best commercial hard rock album that I heard all year. Yes, there are keyboards, plenty of keyboards but none of that naff, parping AOR nonsense. Here, they bring colour, beat and sparkle to every track, with clever and diverse arrangements that complement but never dominate. Front and centre is the dynamic voice of Erik Grönwall. Combining the grit and soul of Lou Gramm and the seemingly effortless range of Matt Bellamy, even on the Leppard-meets-Muse confection of 'Do You Want It?', Erik pours on his vocal sugar with true Viking intensity. The album title, 'Into The Great Unknown', acknowledges the bold evolution of the band's music. This is nothing short of a triumphant vindication.

BEST FESTIVAL: HANWELL HOOTIE, 6th MAY

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Excellent community-based event in the outer reaches of West London, that since its inception in 2013 has grown to host over 85 bands across fourteen venues all within a mile of the original epi-center of loud, the first Marshall music shop in Uxbridge Road.

The festival provides a superb showcase for new, emerging and local bands, with particular thanks to the ongoing commercial support of the Marshall family. Indeed, the list of Hootie alumni that have stepped-up to the next level continues to grow with 2014 debutants The Raven Age and Rews recently releasing their acclaimed 'Psycho' album on the Marshall Records label. This year's Hootie was a roaring success, with record attendance and a retinue of memorable performances including Rews, Berries, Kill For Eden, Fire Brigade and Du Bellows. This was topped-off by the Hootie Big Blues Jam featuring Terry Marshall (son of the father of loud, Jim). Next year's event is already planned for Saturday 12th May 2018.

BEST VIDEO: STEVE HACKETT - 'BEHIND THE SMOKE'

Promoting Hackett's most ambitious and cohesive album of recent times, this video matches the thought-provoking lyrics and cinematic soundscape of the title track. Combining dazzling imagery and epic effects, it really brings to life the dark lyrical themes of the global perils of division and the need for unity.



2. LEPROUS - 'FROM THE FLAME'

In fact, all three videos promoting their stunning album 'Malina' (Illuminate, From The Flame And Stuck) are equally worthy showcases for the soaring prog beauty of this fine Norwegian band. Classically dark imagery accompanying the ethereally compelling music is perfectly judged.



3. MAGNUM - 'WITHOUT LOVE'

Insanely catchy new song and intriguing video that complements the lyrics really well. Too often videos detract from the focus of the music. This refreshing and intelligent take on the 'lyric video' simply, but very effectively reinforces the message in the music. It's also great to see one of my favourite bands still producing work of such high quality. Really looking forward to hearing the new album, 'Lost On The Road To Eternity', when it's released on January 19th.



BEST NEW BAND: REIGNING DAYS

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Impressive Teignmouth three-piece looking to follow in the arena-gobbling wake of local heroes Muse. Active since 2013, this year they took a massive step forward joining Marshall Record's increasingly impressive-looking roster. They've evolved their original dark indie sound, exemplified by the excellent 'Opera Of Love' to a tougher, riff-driven proposition of the mighty 'Empire' and the flighty 'Renegade' that epitomise their melodic, crunchy, atmospheric and groovy style. Combining the grunt of the Queens Of The Stone Age, the eclectic groove of Deftones and the indie rock swagger of The Courteneers, the band have been previewing strong new tracks like 'Inhaler' and 'Do You Feel' from their forthcoming album in their live shows, proving that they're primed for the big stage and finally destined to exceed their potential.

LOOKING FORWARD TO IN 2018

Without a doubt the highlight of 2018 has to be Sons Of Apollo. Not content with combining the talents of some of my favourite musicians, this prog-Metal supergroup also released one of my favourite albums of 2017 in the awe-inspiring 'Psychotic Symphony', which I described as: "New school Metal virtuosity meets old school rock'n'roll swagger. As hot as the sun, as deep as a black hole and as richly coloured as the Milky Way, this an exhilarating rocket ride of ballsy progressive Metal that you will never forget."

The ultimate proof will be in the playing, and with a series of European festival perfomances announced, including Ramblin' Man Fair, I can't wait to see the band blasting those songs into orbit.









 


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