Article By: Pat ‘Riot’ Whitaker ‡ Edited By: Leanne Ridgeway
Oh, where to start… first off, Pat is essentially a walking mountain (literally and figuratively) of heavy metal musical knowledge. Anyone he’s talked with can attest to this. I’ve been acquainted with Pat for a little while now and, though we live at a distance of about 1000 miles, I’ve met him twice. The first time was at a heavy music festival, the second time was… at a heavy music festival. Shocking.
As I was starting up Riff Relevant, it coincided with when Pat split ways from his former writing endeavor, so he was invited to channel all that cybernetic musical energy to here for a spell.
RiffRelevant.com now presents his Favorites of 2017! Pat chose a total selection of 50 releases from the year, with a handful of honorable mentions included. See his list and check out these bands! – Leanne
After a few years of compiling annual, Best Of… year-end lists (2017 in this case, of course), I have come to dread doing them. That foreboding stems from a variety of factors, when combined are akin to mental torture really… at least for me.
Think about it, every new calendar year brings thousands of new releases and if you have musical tastes encompassing a multitude of genres and styles, then it is a massive undertaking. I have opted to take another approach this year, and am just sharing some outright favorites from 2017. No numerical designation, no struggling to weigh each’s merits and find a certain placement for them. Nope, no way, so here you go… These are 25 full albums and 25 EPs out of the hundreds of 2017 releases that I liked.
If you or your band isn’t here, pay it no mind for it doesn’t mean a thing. If I liked your 2017 release then I, you, and a great number of others are already quite aware of that and don’t need some list to belay that reality. Let’s get started…
‘Sacred‘ – The Obsessed
After a hiatus lasting nearly two decades, along with a couple of half-hearted reformations, Scott “Wino” Weinrich reactivated one of the underground’s most beloved bands. A bit rocky at first with some repeated line-up changes, but as the saying goes: “Let the music do the talking!” It did more than talk, it rocked the hell out in a genre-mashing milestone. Released via Relapse Records in 2017, ‘Sacred‘ picked up where the band originally left off in 1994. It serves as yet another example as to why Wino and his crew, drummer Brian Costantino and bassist Reid Raley, are one of Rock ‘N Roll’s most revered acts.
(Scheduled to perform at the Maryland Doom Fest 2018.)
‘Take Me To The Gallows‘ – Professor Emeritus
A somewhat unknown (to me) Chicago band, Professor Emeritus, seemed to come out of nowhere with a monumentally magnificent début. I’ve been enamored with it since. Taking all the best aspects of Metal, Doom, Power Metal, and Heavy Rock from the last four decades, the band put a huge dent in the status quo with their thrilling first outing. I expect great things from this band. Streaming here.
‘Juggernaut‘ – Dollar Llama
One of heavy music’s more prolific, yet tragically underexposed bands are Portugal’s Dollar Llama. They put a 2017 feather in their cap with the aptly named ‘Juggernaut’. It captures the band doing what it is they do best, creating some of the most enthralling Rock music in the world. Southern-fried, groove-fueled, and simply fantastic, if there’s one band I could pick to share with everyone on this planet it would be Dollar Llama. Obscenely overlooked, with many completely unaware of their existence period. If you want to discover a worthwhile band, Dollar Llama is it and ‘Juggernaut’ is a fine place to start.
‘Grand Rites‘ – Dead Quiet
Vancouver’s Dead Quiet recently returned with their sophomore opus, proving the hysteria over their 2015 introduction was no fluke. With a heavy ’70s bent to their moving proto-metal output, the band (possessing past/ present members of Barn Burner, 3 Inches Of Blood, Anciients, Hashteroid, and more) released this phenomenal mold-breaker of a record. Astounding from start to finish.
‘Journey To Ascension And The Loss Of Tomorrow‘ – Thousand Vision Mist
I’m about convinced the members of TVM sold their souls for progressive Rock ‘n Roll because this year’s full-length release leaped light years ahead from their 2015 Demo. I say that with no disrespect to anyone, but what this trio transmitted on this outing is nothing short of rejuvenating. All of those people claiming to be aficionados of Prog Rock are far from such if not singing the praises of 2017’s gift from Thousand Vision Mist.
(Scheduled to perform at the Maryland Doom Fest 2018.)
‘Skulthor Ebonblade‘ – Temptations Wings
Asheville, North Carolina’s purveyors of Appalachian Power Doom truly outdid any of their earlier efforts with their spectacular 2017 conceptual record. Weaving a mythical tale of mysticism, warriors, magic, mayhem, and retribution, this record made Temptations Wings a household name within the musical underground. The band reigned destruction down on all that heard it while enlarging the band’s fan base into a global grouping of warriors.
‘The Grinding Wheel‘ – Overkill
My all-time favorite thrash band returned with yet more intensely incendiary metal, as only they can deliver it. Uncompromising and undiluted, the eighteenth studio outing from New Jersey’s finest was another feather in this iconic act’s cap of musical legacy. Of course, you don’t tinker with what works, so Overkill did not reinvent the wheel, they just pummeled that damn thing to pieces with their neck-wrecking assault.
‘Verdigris‘ – Mirror Queen
One of our better-kept secrets in the subterranean music sect, New York’s Mirror Queen unleashed a mind-melting deluge of psyche-tinged, NWOBHM influenced Progressive Rock. It came packaged as Tee Pee Records release ‘Verdigris’ and contained an astounding array of amalgamated musicality entirely capable of transporting you to other worlds. All while taking you on a careening ride of emotions resulting from the myriad textures and limitless scope from this mediocrity-mangling audio adventure.
Self-Titled – Molasses Barge
One of my favorite vocalists (Brian “Butch” Balich) delivered once again on this Pittsburgh-based band’s sophomore outing. Overflowing with abundant Doom, Power Metal, and more, this monolithic monstrosity became one of my most-listened-to albums of 2017. I have yet to tire of it, despite repeated playing from start to finish… and repeat… again and again. Plus, the fact Blackseed Records released it with a bonus CD of Molasses Barge doing some intriguing song reinterpretations from bands that inspired them made this a true win-win.
‘Anamnesis‘ – Obese
Dutch sludge powerhouse Obese returned with a massively significant ode to heaviness, their sophomore album ‘Anamnesis’. The fattest of stonerfied sludgy aggression and heady tinges of psychedelia were emitted on this crushing Argonauta Records offering. How this band stays clear of so many people’s musical radar has utterly dumbfounded me.
‘4 On The Floor‘ – Broken Teeth
One of the U.S.’ more straightforward, no-frills rock and roll bands is undeniably Texas’ Broken Teeth. The band came through on a tear yet again in 2017, with this ferocious full-length of anthems inspired by greats like AC/DC and Motörhead. Fronted by the manic and merciless pastor of disaster, Jason McMaster (Watchtower, Dangerous Toys, Ignitor, Evil United), Broken Teeth leave more than mere teeth mangled in their wake.
Stream ‘4 On The Floor‘ at this location.
‘Four‘ – Circus Of Power
Despite it being a matter of mere weeks since its release, one of the greatest old-school Rock bands in history recently returned in a major way. Although this legendary act had been inactive for decades, it had no effect whatsoever when they came back with a vengeance via ‘Four‘. Riveting rock ‘n roll laced with funk, psychedelia, alt. rock, blues, and more, Circus Of Power resurfaced and seem dead set on reclaiming their throne as an important act in U.S. rock history.
Self-Titled – Stonerror
From one of perhaps the least expected places on Earth – Poland – came what may be the rightful heirs to the kingdom of Kyuss-influenced music. The stupendous Stonerror dropped a freaking fantastic channeling of hypnotic Desert Rock, soulful vocals, and more. Stonerror is in no way mere clones or some crap mimic. No, what they create here may possess some signature similarities, but this self-titled album is nothing but pure artistic genius in its very own right.
‘…From The Twilight Zone‘ – Bretus
Italy’s masters of traditional Doom returned with a conceptualized recording of gargantuan groove-grafted abominations of heaviness. With each track inspired by a classic horror film, the idea itself was the perfect palette for Bretus to create an ode to evil all their own. They did, too, as this record is laden with occult lyrics and haunting, yet crushingly dense, sonic inspirations of true, undiluted Doom.
‘Head Bent‘ – The Cold Stares
One of 2017’s releases I have enjoyed most was the two-man wonder that is Nashville’s The Cold Stares. It astounds me to this very moment that two musicians can create a fulfilling masterpiece like this one, structured on foundations of Blues, Folk, Rock, and pure, good ol’ Americana. I can say with the utmost confidence, this album will hold up against anything else out there.
‘The Liars Bend Low‘ – Pyreship
Another début that instantly floored me from first listen was from the Texas quartet Pyreship. Channeling quite profound elements of Progressive Metal, Post-Metal, Grunge, Alternative and intense psychedelia, the record is one of the year’s more powerful stand-outs. Any album that uses samples from ‘The Great Dictator’ (Charlie Chaplin), David Lynch, and Martin Luther King, Jr. just has to rule in my book.
‘From Ashes‘ – IAMFIRE
Vocalist Peter Dolving (MaryBeatsJane, ex-The Haunted) was part of one of 2017’s more unique efforts, the Stoner / Alternative Rock lean of this one-off (so far, hoping for a follow-up). With heaping additions of Fuzz, Doom, Psychedelia, and Sludge, an unlimited approach that seemed determined to adhere to no preconceived expectations, IAMFIRE created one profound album.
‘When Colors Fade Away‘ – Blackfinger
Any year that serves me up a plate of Eric Wagner fronted music is a damn good year, indeed, and this did exactly that. Eric retooled the roster of players in Blackfinger and now aligns with guitarists Terry Weston (also of Dream Death) and Matthew Tuite, alongside bassist Matthew Cross and drummer David Snyder. The band delivered an incredible opus of emotionally rife doom with their sophomore release.
‘Enter The Arena‘ – Warbeast
Texas’ sinister, unhinged thrashers returned with this furious assault of Lone Star State metal in 2017. With a lethal twin-guitar shred leading the way, the record is a powerful blast of underground music. Vocalist Bruce Corbitt‘s (Rigor Mortis) ongoing battle with esophageal cancer suffered further sad news, as he revealed the recent seven months of chemo treatment was unsuccessful and doctors have told him to prepare for the worst possible outcome.
‘Astral Travel‘ – Mezzoa
A fantastic, fluid, and downright phenomenal effort of undiluted Stoner Rock came in the form of this incredible record from San Diego’s Mezzoa. This release will stand the test of time and is clearly a descendant of what bands like Kyuss have inspired others to create. Magnificent!
Stream ‘Astral Travel‘ at the Mezzoa website.
‘Heavy Lips‘ – Gorilla Pulp
Italian stoner rock stalwarts Gorilla Pulp released yet another phenomenal outing, with their latest slab of feel-good rock ‘n roll. The band shows a real leap in song structure and delivery, not that any before this did not also rule. My fellow cohort David ‘Sunshine’ Lamay coined a new term for the genre in his review of the record. ‘Desert thrash’, indeed.
‘Rise‘ – KLANK
When it comes to industrial metal, there can be only one. That standalone entity is KLANK. KLANK is both man and band, of course, Daren ‘Klank’ Diolosa and his bandmates Pat Servidio (guitars, keys, programming) and drummer Eric Wilkens. The trio rendered another amazing exploration of unique music, interesting topics, and profound lyrical statements with this year’s ‘Rise‘. My opportunity to interview Daren also ranks high in my own cherished accomplishments.
‘Be No One. Be Nothing‘ – Crackhouse
Haunting, post-apocalyptic, progressive doom/sludge deluge that causes shudders down to your very core. Yep, a crushing battery came with this French trio’s latest delve into frightening, atmospheric aural darkness. Served to us by Italy’s Argonauta Records, Crackhouse is an addictive excess, laden with density and foreboding vibes. This album is most certainly not for the meek.
‘Interiors‘ – Quicksand
One of the greatest bands from the 90s grunge / alternative rock movement returned after a 22-year absence, with this flooring studio effort. The band achieved comeback greatness with this stellar deluge of emotionally moving music. It picked right up where they left off and established Quicksand as one of NY’s most significant offerings to the rock world.
‘A Place Where There’s No More Pain‘ – Life Of Agony
Twelve years after their last studio recording, with rampant uncertainty about the band or its chances of new music, NYC’s iconic Life Of Agony returned triumphant and undaunted. They did so successfully, with an album capturing the vibe and style of their earlier eras and melded them into one impressive comeback, via their first effort for Napalm Records.
The following is a listing of some incredible EPs I especially liked that were released in 2017. There are many others worthy of being included here, but these came to mind right away…
‘Sol Aeternum‘ – Fallen Suns
A mind-blowing second outing from this underrated L.A. band. It delivers a masterful inferno of alternative / hard rock, with a touch of blues and nu-metal leanings. For me, this is pretty much as good as it can get.
S/T – Bone Church
A new testament of spiritually enhancing rock and roll was sermonized in 2017, via introduction to the Connecticut-based Bone Church. Moving with magnificent manifestations of supernatural guitar-driven experiences, these five amazing examples of crafty creativity are well worth knowing inside-out, chapter and verse. Bow at the altar of Bone Church.
(Scheduled to perform at New England Stoner And Doom Fest.)
‘Machines‘ – Kings And Liars
Always a sucker for enthralling, groove-driven, heavy rock constructed of hooks and various timing or tempo alterations, I was immediately impressed with this start-up. The emotion and scope of this four-song introduction was an enjoyable surprise, indeed. With members of Toxic Holocaust, Jasta, and Kingdom Of Sorrow in its’ roster, Kings And Liars more than delivered with their 2017 EP.
(Scheduled to perform at New England Stoner And Doom Fest.)
‘Insecurities Exchange‘ – Mother Mary
This old-school rock nod, inspired by the great bands of the Seventies, like Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, and Whitesnake, was a bolt out of the blue for me. A supergroup, if you will, that includes members of Saigon Kick, The Cult, Transatlantic, and more. The most venerable Mother Mary is more than worthy of your devotional commitment to their house of Rock ‘N Roll worship.
S/T – Vessel Of Light
One of the more surprising alliances in music history, old-school metaller Dan Lorenzo (Hades, Non-Fiction, The Cursed) and Ancient VVisdom’s Nathan Jocum recently delivered this trippy début. The pairing provided one hellishly unique ode to seemingly mystical spiritualism and psychedelia. Word comes they are currently working on its follow-up.
‘271‘ – Ember
Of course, Alabama’s Ember made this list, and for two reasons. One, their 271 EP is incredible! It contains some massively moving atmospheric doom that Riff Relevant was part of documenting the creation of. That is reason two! Either way, this EP and band are both fantastic, period.
‘Seeds Of The Past‘ – Sound Of Origin
Another amazing début that arrived this past year was a fuzz-fattened beast from this UK band. Molten, lava-hot Desert Rock delivered with tumultuous metallic intensity and sledgehammer sludge arrival. I recently learned the band was seeking a new singer, let’s hope they continue to build upon what they began with this stellar outing.
S/T – Wolftooth
One more début from last year’s output that I absolutely enjoyed was the three-song introduction to this Indiana-based band. Being stately neighbors always factors into my embracing a band – my being in Kentucky makes me take on a serious support role with underground acts like this. The band is at work on the follow-up and indicators show it to be another incredible outing for this blue-collar badassery.
(Scheduled to perform at Descendants Of Crom 2018.)
‘Pyrrhic Victory’ – ZAO
I have been an immense ZAO fanatic for decades and I believe anything this long-running post-hardcore/ extreme metal band does is worthy of notice. This quick EP follow-up to their phenomenal 2016 outing ‘The Well-Intentioned Virus‘ was indeed another victorious outing for this magnificent act.
‘Uncoiled – The Singles‘ – Serpents Of Secrecy
I don’t know if two songs an EP make, but you know what, this is my damned list and I’ll do what I want. It took some time for the Serpents Of Secrecy to get their material out, but when they did, two songs or not, these tracks made one hell of an impression. Blues and doom heaviness offset with groove and ample amounts of emotion, these cuts cut to the bone. The recent sudden loss of bassist Reverend Jim Forrester has cast a shadow on the band’s continuation, but hopefully, they’ll persevere and build upon his, and their own, musical legacy.
(Scheduled to perform at Descendants Of Crom 2018.)
S/T – Watcher’s Guard
True doom arrived in the form of this fearsome three-song introduction to Glasgow, Scotland’s Watcher’s Guard. No rehashing or cloning here, as this is one of those bands that carve their own distinctly sheared path right from the start. They do so with feet planted simultaneously in the old-school and new.
‘Breaking Class‘ – Toxik
Not too shy of thirty years since the last official Toxik album release, a gloriously triumphant return for this legendary band came kicking ass in 2017. Furiously thrashing savagery rages from this outing. It marks the return of Toxik’s classic era singer, Charlie Sabin, and long-running lifeblood guitarist, Josh Christian. Joining them are bassist Shane Boulos and drummer James D’Maria, who collectively break classes and molds with this heavy metal assault.
‘Orange‘ – Hellflower
The first-time studio output from Norway’s Hellflower yielded this amazing foray blending Alt. Rock, Grunge, Post-Metal, and more into this stunning starter. Things are emotional and encompass a wide spectrum on a short player that covers a lot of musical ground.
‘Birds Of Prey‘ – Owl Stretching
Musician Jason Bieler (Saigon Kick guitarist) returned with yet another ethereal ode to atmospheric psychedelic rock via his Owl Stretching venture. Three incredible originals, with two equally moving classic rock reinterpretations (i.e.: covers) made for five tracks of profoundly poignant, mood-altering music.
‘Black Hole Space Wizard: Part 2‘ – Howling Giant
Nashville, TN may be the country music capital of the world, but it’s also home to a collective creating something far beyond the scope of any commercial music. Howling Giant is their name and melding incredibly striking, psych-infused progressive rock with desert/stoner rock is their game. This was more than evident in this second installment of an EP trilogy.
(Scheduled to perform at FireBreather Fest.)
‘Criterion‘ – Marmora
Thirteen minutes that changed the heavy rock underground. Yep, that is basically what happened for me in discovering the trippy heaviness that is Chicago’s alternative stoner rock band Marmora. Three songs of completely enthralling headiness, so tight, yet free-floating with ethereal elements truly capable of taking you places.
‘The Never Nowhere‘ – RIFFT
I received an incredible birthday present in 2017 when Nashville’s aggressive prog-doom purveyors RIFFT returned with their second offering. This terribly overlooked band’s ability to create far-reaching realms of poignant music possessing depth, texture, and outright magnetism is more than remarkable. If you are a fan of heady, atmospheric heaviness then you too need to have RIFFT in your life. Just sayin’.
‘Hail To The Sun‘ – Loft
Straight outta the Unida, Hermano, or House Of Broken Promises school of hard rock’s knocks came the sophomore effort from the UK’s Loft. Incredible, catchy, and totally ass-kicking rock and roll that is extremely infectious. You’ll be hooked from the first song. So hooked in fact, you will thank Loft (and maybe me too, ha) if you haven’t heard them before now.
S/T – Kolossor
I’m very picky about my sludge these days because sometimes it can be very limited in scope. Thankfully not the case with the 2017 introduction to this short slab of groove-fueled, powerhouse pummeling from The Garden State. Kolossor keeps things well in perspective with nods to greats like -(16)- and Unsane in their sound, but also takes turns toward very Godflesh-ian lands.
‘Dehumanized‘ – Void Vator
The City Of Angels delivered this stunning début assault of nu-metal-infused modern hard rock this year, one recorded by the famed Ulrich Wild (Pantera, Prong, Fu Manchu, Static-X) no less. His masterful ear definitely contributed to the already tremendous material from the dual-nation band. Uruguayans Lucas Kanopa (guitar/vocals) and German Moura (drums) who, with American guitarist Erik Kluiber (Ironaut, ex-Gypsyhawk) and Ian Shea (bass), are the heart of Void Vator.
Red Beard Wall – ‘S/T‘ | Forming The Void – ‘Relic‘ | Shadow Witch – ‘Disciples Of The Crow‘ | Eternal Black – ‘Bleed The Days‘ | Black Water Rising – ‘Electrified‘ | The Atomic Bitchwax – ‘Force Field‘ | Ascending Dawn – ‘Coalesce‘ | Earth Drive – ‘Stellar Drone‘ | Nervcast – ‘Locked And Loaded‘ | Her Name Was Fire – ‘Road Antics‘ | and Psychedelic Witchcraft – ‘Sound Of The Wind‘.
So there you have it, o’ faithful readers! This is just a sampling of noteworthy albums rendered unto us in 2017, which provided some great listening experiences. Yet, as I mentioned earlier, don’t take it personally or professionally if you aren’t named here. Because truth is, I find greatness and talent in almost everything I am blessed to hear.
All of our contemporary bands have something to offer no matter what the case is and I can find something positive in almost all I do hear. In the grand scope of all that is, my list falls short, fails even, in acknowledging everyone or every band that deserves a nod.
Many thanks to Pat for sharing his list of favorites for the year, as well as for all his contributions. – Leanne