By Sarah Kitteringham
CALGARY – The dumpster fire that was 2017 is finally coming to a close! Thank goodness there has been an abundance of fantastic heavy metal to ease us in these politically and socially divided times. To celebrate that, I’ve invited BeatRoute’s own Christine Leonard and Breanna Whipple to join me in celebrating the metal that made 2017 bearable. Therefore, you’ll get to read our ruminations before getting to the monthly listings. Dun. Dun. Dun. Dun. Dun…… GO!
Let’s start with Breanna Whipple. She’s a passionate hair metal fan who also happens to be a horror fanatic; she’s been penning odes to spooky greats all year over in the Film section and spends her free time schooling posers on the virtues of KISS. This is what she dug.
“I want to begin by prefacing this with a coupling of Whitesnake lyrics: “I know you, you know me, I’m the black sheep of the family.” Such is true amongst the handful of writers working year round on the Shrapnel section here at BeatRoute. I have always been a passionate defender of hair metal – it IS metal, and it does deserve to be in this section. That being said, and to my wonderful surprise, my favourite album of 2017 ended up being from a band that was criminally underrated even in their big-haired heyday. Babylon A.D., a glam band formed in 1988 out of sunshiny San Francisco, released an absolutely perfect self-titled debut in ’89 with all the crushing party riffs and beautiful ballads a little platinum blonde like myself could have hoped for. With 28 years between the aforementioned release and their latest, ‘Revelation Highway,’ the stylistic continuity is ever-present which is an absolute treasure in world where aged rockers have a tendency to give good ol’ country music a try (I’m looking at you, Sebastian Bach and Ron Keel)!
Hair metal aside, a honourable mention goes out to Vulture‘s debut full-length, ‘The Guillotine,’ which is a flawless package of contemporary speed metal. While on the subject of speed metal, a band to look out for is Portland, Oregon’s Leathürbitch. Caught these boys opening for Blaze Bayley earlier in the year and they have perfected the craft.”
Next up is Christine Leonard, one of BeatRoute’s most committed contributors. Leonard worships sludge, doom, and psychedelic metal; she also happens to run the fantastic CJSW 90.9 FM radio show dubbed The Nocturntable. This is what floated her proverbial boat in a live setting.
“All told, 2017 was a ribald and fun-filled year for metal fans, and festivals (that provided the opportunity to take in established favourites and head-swiveling newcomers) loomed large on the calendar. Freshly equipped with a new DSLR, your faithful reporter took on the mantle of concert photographer this time last year and the twelve months that followed re-introduced me to the thrills of the live concert experience that I already know so well. From Wolves in the Throne Room’s besmudged Sled Island smoke show to trembling before the might of 420 Music and Arts Festival headliners, Wo Fat, the need to capture the moment drew me directly into the eye of the storm in 2017.”
Now, for your editor, who has too many opinions and spent the entire year discovering new bands and worshipping old gods alike. While two established acts released greats that were my top two of the year, the remainder of entries in the list is criminally underrated. Here’s my personal top ten of the year; I’d also like to give a shout-out to BlackRat for their Demo 2017 release and signing to Shadow Kingdom; another shout-out goes to WAKE for signing to Translation Loss Records.
At number 10 is Toronto’s own Tomb Mold, who released ‘Primordial Malignity’ via Blood Harvest Records back in February. The band utilize old school Scandinavian death metal in their dense, insular onslaught; their music contains bilious grooves and gargled barks that cut to the core. They tie with Droid, who released the Voivod worshipping ‘Terrestrial Mutations’ via Temple of Mystery Records.
The number nine slot is taken by Lansing, Michigan’s The Swill. Their June release ‘Master of Delusion’ evokes Hammers of Misfortune as if slowed down to doom tempos and spit shined with a ‘70s rock lens.
At number eight sits rock/industrial/Misfits evoking act Tau Cross, whose second album ‘Pillar of Fire’ far supersedes their debut in that it integrates more choruses and structurally, the songs have a better focus. Of course, I wouldn’t expect anything other than progression and quality from Rob ‘the Baron’ Miller (Amebix) and Michel Langevin (Voivod).
Next up is Dumal, a new American act who clear digs the recent wave of Eastern European black metal. Their debut ‘The Lesser God’ is incessant and vicious.
At number six is Chilean/Swedish epic doom band Procession, whose third studio album ‘Doom Decimation’ sees them speed up the pace and merge ‘Tales of Creation’ era Candlemass with the fist pumping bravado of Manowar.
Number five goes to the debut EP of new Finnish speed metal band Chevalier, who are elevated by the gnarly, echoing shrieks emanating from Emma Grönqvist. ‘A Call to Arms’ is the most exciting thing to happen to the genre in 2017.
Rounding out number four is British Columbia power metal band Unleash the Archers, who’ve spent the year touring on the strength of their third album ‘Apex.’ Vocalist Brittany Slayes delivers her strongest performance yet harkening to Queensrÿche at their peak; the remainder of the band has trimmed the fat and their dual guitar onslaught is a perfect accompaniment to the conceptual masterwork.
Number three is taken by another Michigan band: it’s death doomsters Temple of Void, who released ‘Lords of Death’ to great acclaim. The album follows in the footsteps flattened by Asphyx and Hooded Menace, with some bizarre integrations that elevate the release to legendary status.
Speaking of legendary: is there a better black metal band running right now than the Ruins of Beverast? Doubtful, as Alexander von Meilenwald has channeled into a atmospheric black doom hybrid that’s otherworldly and ugly as hell. His fourth offering ‘Exuvia’ is a tribute to horrific dissonance.
Now, we’re at number one, which goes to doom/NWOBHM greats Pagan Altar. Their fourth and final release The Book of Shadows is a beautiful and mournful tribute to vocalist Terry Jones (RIP); the music is a haunting amalgam of Rainbow and Witchfinder General. It’s a monument to a life well lived, and will go down in history as gorgeous and fitting end to a band that’s irrevocably shaped underground metal.
Now for the monthly listings! December is a traditionally slow month, so there’s not much, but here goes!
Throughout the month, head to Distortion for their annual Punk Vs. Metal series, with a twist: the Calgary Beer Core is challenging Metal Heads United for the ultimate showdown! Round one goes down on Thursday, December 7, round two on Thursday, December 21, and round three is on Thursday, December 28. Check the Distortion Facebook page for more details as they come in!
For the best local offering of the month, head to Tubby Dog in Calgary on Saturday, December 16 for the final Bluntwizard gig. The bill features performances from Erector Set, Enemies, Vanta, and is headlined by Edmonton’s own Languid. It’s also your opportunity to say goodbye to PMMA’s own Ryan Kostel, who departs across the world shortly after.
On Sunday, December 17, head to the Marquee Beer Market & Stage for metalcore act All That Remains. They’ll be performing with Throw the Fight and guests.
Other than that, have a Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Hanukkah, or happy miserable-drink-alone holiday season! We’ll be back in 2018.
All That Remains, Babylon A.D., BlackRat, Chevalier, Droid, Dumal, Enemies, Erector Set, Languid, Leathürbitch, Pagan Altar, Procession, Ruins of Beverast, Tau Cros, Temple of Void, The Swill, This Month in Metal, Throw the Fight, Tomb Mold, Unleash the Archers, Vanta, Vulture, WAKE, Wo Fat, Wolves in the Throne Room’s