I decided to approach my annual list of top 25 albums released the previous year differently by basing my selections around the ones I would take with me to a deserted island in the face of the coming apocalypse. The main criteria I used mirrors that for an article I wrote outlining what (in my opinion) are the ten best albums to have come out since launching Angelic Warlord in 2006: focus less on the final grade and more on those I have spent the most time listening- not to mention obtaining a good survival kit!
In many ways, 2016 was the year of the independent release, at least when factoring how independent artist Oblivion Myth took the top spot and beat out some very tough competition in The Neal Morse Band, Theocracy and Michael Sweet. This further manifests itself from how not only 3 other independent artists round out the top 10, but 13 of the final 25 are ultimately independent as well.
It was also the year of international appeal when factoring how the top 25 includes two bands each from Italy, Brazil and the UK in addition to one each from Greece, Switzerland, Sweden, Macedonia and Columbia. One multinational act was included in The World Will Burn made up of members from the United States and New Zealand.
The World Will Burn also ranks alongside Wytch Hazel, Big Chris & D’Bare Bones Band, Faith Head and Energema as exciting new groups to have hit the scene in 2016- all of whom I am looking forward to hearing new material in the coming future.
The year also saw veteran classic metal act Philadelphia return with its first album in thirty years and joins other eighties metal stalwarts Bloodgood, Saint, Sacred Warrior, Stryper, Armageddon and Deliverance to put out new music following extended hiatus.
In turning our attention to 2017, Signum Regis (Decennium Primum), Biogenesis (A Decadence Divine) and The World Will Burn (RuiNation) are set to unveil new albums, while quality works have already come out by Michael Cutting (Unspoken) and Four Star Revival (The Underdog EP). Of equal note is the old school thrash album currently being crowd funded by Deliverance (via Indiegogo) and talk of another album from Michael Sweet and George Lynch.
Finally, from the ‘if it were a perfect world wish list’ department, following are several albums I would love to see released in 2017 (but more than likely will never happen):
*Guitarist Rex Carroll (Whitecross) joins forces with a professional vocalist along the lines of Rob Rock (Impellitteri) or Mark Boals and records the type of career defining eighties melodic metal and hard rock album of which we know he is capable.
*Vocalist and composer Matt Smith steps outside the boundaries of Theocracy to record a progressive metal side project or solo album, referencing how many of my favorite Theocracy songs are the most progressive.
1. Oblivion Myth - Inside The Mirror
Nashville, Tennessee based quartet returns with the traditional metal mixed with strong leanings towards power metal and hard rock of its superlative sophomore album Inside The Mirror. A group whose motto is ‘Eternity is real, Oblivion is just a Myth’, Oblivion Myth has made significant steps and strides since its 2008 debut Between Shadow & Light, a fine album in its own right (referencing the 80% Angelic Warlord review).
2. The Neal Morse Band - The Similitude Of A Dream
The Neal Morse Band hits the ball out of the park on its 100 minute, two CD set magnum opus The Similitude Of A Dream, which lyrically draws inspiration from John Bunyan’s 1678 Christian allegory Pilgrim’s Progress. Maintained by The Neal Morse Band is the joining of classic rock, hard rock and progressive rock inherent to its 2014 debut The Grand Experiment.
3. Theocracy - Ghost Ship
‘Ghost Ship comes with more hooks than your local bait and tackle shop’ notes the 90% Angelic Warlord review of the fourth Theocracy album, reinforcing the Athens, Georgia based groups penchant for composing catchy melodies within an epic power metal with progressive overtones framework. Ten-minute closing epic “Easter” challenges for song of the year.
4. Michael Sweet - One Sided War
Eighties influenced melodic metal and hard rock solo album from Stryper front man Michael Sweet rivals the best produced by the ‘yellow and black’ attired group in which he has gained renown. Affix the Stryper label to One Sided War and release it in follow up to No More Hell To Pay and Fallen and I would not think twice in light of both the musical direction and quality to songwriting at hand.
5. InnerWish - InnerWish
Fifth album from Athens, Greece’s InnerWish aligns multifarious forms of metal, as outlined in the opening sentence to the Angelic Warlord review: ‘There is melodic metal and there is power metal and there is traditional metal and there is symphonic metal and somewhere where these genres intersect there is InnerWish.’ Composed in the process are some of the groups best ever songs, including “Needles In My Mind”, “Modern Babylon”, “Machines Of Fear”, and “Rain Of A Thousand Years”.
6. Wytch Hazel - Prelude
Joining the synergy between NWOBHM, the hard rock twin guitar attack of Thin Lizzy and folk-rock eccentricity to Jethro Tull with facets of sacred medieval music, is the full-length debut Prelude of Lancaster, UK based Wytch Hazel. While not a Christian band per se, the Wytch Hazel lyrics reflect the faith of vocalist and guitarist Colin Hendra.
7. Stairway - Power & Glory
Returning to prime form following its uneven 2010 release Interregnum, second represented UK group Stairway continues to bask in NWOBHM revelry with its sixth full-length album, Power & Glory. Fifteen minute progressive based “Sun Of Malachi” is another song of the year candidate. The Revelation themed cover art by Rodney Matthews also rates with the year’s best.
8. S91 - Behold The Mankind
Italy’s S91 returns with all English mostly progressive but at times symphonic, melodic and power metal laced second full-length-album Behold The Mankind, which contrasts with its duel English and Italian predecessor Volanta Legata from 2011. Vocalist Christian Liljegren (Narnia, Divinefire, Golden Resurrection) makes a guest appearance on opening track “The Cry Of Life”, of which the group also recorded a lyric video.
9. The World Will Burn - Severity
A bit outside the box and different with its modern to grungy to straightforward hard rock sound but also very good is The World Will Burn and its initial offering Severity. The World Will burn stands out as the new band of renowned Bride front man Dale Thompson, whom has joined forces with multi instrumentalist Alan Zaring.
10. Big Chris & D’Bare Bones Band - When Your Time Comes
Heading in what it refers to as ‘an your face and rocked out blues’ direction’, Big Chris & D’Bare Bones Band draw upon the influences of Glenn Kaiser Band, Stevie & The Saints, ZZ Top, George Thorogood and Stevie Ray Vaughan on When Your Time Comes. The group’s moniker bases itself around the ‘D’Bare’ brand of box guitars employed by vocalist and guitarist Chris Dickens.
11. Hypersonic - Existentia
The second represented band from Italy, Hypersonic delivers power metal within a symphonic and progressive framework on its sophomore release Existentia. Guest appearances abound, including vocalist Jo Lombardo (Metatrone), guitarist Stefano Ghigas Calvagno (Metatrone), Tommy Reinxeed (Reinxeed & Golden Resurrection) and others.
12. Dan Cummins - Storm
With 13 songs and nearly 80 minutes of music (and all of it good), Storm, the sophomore solo album from guitarist and vocalist Dan Cummings, draws upon aspects of AOR, blues, metal, modern rock and progressive rock. Many will also recall Cummins from his work in Delorean and its pair of fine hard rock releases, Dauntless (2004) and Edge Of Existence (2010).
13. Pÿlon - A Lament
Switzerland’s Pÿlon maintains its penchant for quality doom metal on its seventh full-length album A Lament. Founding member Matt Brand returns on lead vocals, supplanting Jordan Cutajar (Nomad Son), whom fronted the groups 2014 offering Homo Homini Lupus. Cover art depicts ‘the ladder of divine ascent’ from the monastery of St. Catherine, Sinai, 12th century.
14. The Union Of Sinners & Saints - The Union Of Sinners & Saints
Yes, there is a ‘union’ to The Union Of Sinners & Saints, but it is one between Petra lead vocalist John Schlitt and White Heart guitarist Billy Smiley, who combine for a self-titled work exclusive to classic rock to melodic rock to blues rock territory. Included alongside ten original cuts are covers of Petra and White Heart classics “Independence Day” and “Beyond Belief”, respectively.
15. PEO - Welcome To The Party
Christian friendly mainstream solo album Welcome To The Party from Leviticus front man Peo Pettersson takes AOR hooks and injects them with a bit more guitar driven muscle than is often associated with the genre. Musically, this is the album long term Leviticus fans have been waiting since its last offering, its fourth and final studio album (and lone one to be fronted by PEO) in Knights Of Heaven from 1989.
16. Eden’s Way - Can’t Get Enough
Musically by far the strongest of the five Eden’s Way albums, Can’t Get Enough revels in eighties influenced commercial hard rock and AOR. A newfound bluesy direction taken by the group perfectly suits the earthy and mid-ranged vocals of long-term front man David Underwood.
17. Vox Heaven - Vox Heaven
The brainchild of Brazilian vocalist Celso De Freyn (Maestah, Stauros), Vox Heaven joins elements of power metal, traditional metal and hard rock on its self-titled debut in which dozens of talented guest musicians and vocalists participate. A literal ‘all star’ project, Vox Heaven’s goal is to proclaim Christ while supporting unity within the Brazilian metal scene.
18. Tribulance - The Aftermath Of Lies
Heavy hitting Tucson, Arizona based mainstream four-piece aligns old school thrash, traditional metal and classic US power metal with uncompromising lyrics on its sophomore release The Aftermath Of Lies. The group returns with its first album in over twenty years after releasing its debut Trials & Tribulations in 1995.
Disclaimer: This is the only album that (at the time of this writing) does not have a corresponding review. Rest assured that a glowing review is forthcoming in the very near future!
19. Faith Head - Are You A Faith Head?
Debut of Chattanooga, Tennessee based five piece Faith Head, Are You A Faith Head? touches upon classic hard rock instilled with strong modern, groove and blues based overtones. Lyrically, Faith Head lives up to the meaning behind its name (as outlined in the Urban Dictionary): “someone who holds irrational religious fundamentalist beliefs and no matter what evidence is provided to the contrary will never change”.
20. Philadelphia - Warlord
Comeback of the year award goes to Philadelphia, whom returns with the traditional metal and hard rock of its first album in over thirty years, Warlord. Philadelphia shakes off any rust and does not miss a beat in recapturing its prime form in the process.
21. Amos - Jade
Brazil’s Amos also returns following hiatus (but of only seven years) for its third-full length album, Jade. As with its previous efforts, Amos continues to skirt Gothic rock territory with forays into the hard rock and metal side of things. Cover art ranks with my favorite of the year.
22. Energema - The Lion’s Forces
The third represented band from South American, Energema (making Columbia its home) plays up a joining of power metal and melodic metal on its Sleazy Rider Records debut The Lion’s Forces. The group loosely bases its prose around the Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis (referencing both the albums title and cover art).
23. My Darkest Time - The Last
A joining of Gothic, doom and symphonic metal with a technical songwriting aptitude characterizes the fourth album of project from Macedonia mutli-instrumentalist Zarko Atanasov. My Darkest time further stands out with its female fronted vocal approach while eschewing any extreme vocal presence.
24. Razorigami - Embracing A Temporal Exile
Third (and reported final) album of high octane vocalist Luke Richard Weber, Embracing A Temporal Exile maintains the artists penchant for metal, hard rock and classic rock with light progressive nuances. Occasional atmospheric overtones set EATE as the most varied of the Razorigami releases.
25 (tie). Pastor Brad - Storm The Gates
Veteran guitarist ‘Pastor Brad’ Windlan has recorded a ‘parodies’ cover album in Storm The Gates in which he pays tribute to the bands that inspired him to become a musician. The upshot is re-imagined versions of nine mainstream metal and hard rock cuts with lyrics rewritten to reflect a Christian message.
25 (tie). Various Artists - A Celebration of the Death and Resurrection
Better known as the ‘Easter Compilation’, A Celebration of the Death and Resurrection assembles many of the best Christian metal and hard rock cuts focused on the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Songs covered includes those by Bloodgood (“Crucify” & “The Messiah”), Neon Cross (“Son of God”), Recon (“Alive”), Theocracy (“30 Pieces Of Silver”), Sacred Warrior (“He Died”) and others.
Five Honorable Mentions
1. Zephaniah - Reforged
European power metal from Indiana? Who would have thought, but Zephaniah does the Dragonforce style dual-guitar-attack-dungeons-and-dragons-lyrical-themed thing as well as anyone.
2. Joshua’s Creed - Joshua’s Creed
Another challenger for new artist of the year, Joshua’s Creed brings straight on heavy metal that combines the talents of guitarist Derek Close (Judah, My Cat Puddinhead) and vocalist Dillon Reynolds (Flawed By Design).
3. Sweet Crystal - 5 Carat Rock
Veteran Detroit, Michigan power trio continues to deliver the AOR and melodic hard rock goods with its appropriately entitled fifth release 5 Carat Rock.
4. Narnia - Narnia
The new Narnia album is good, but good is also somewhat of a letdown when factoring the quality of the group’s turn of the century releases The Great Fall (2003) and Enter The Gate (2006).
5. Björn Stigsson - A New Beginning
Speaking of comebacks, renowned Leviticus guitarist Björn Stigsson has released in A New Beginning his first solo album since 1989 (Together With Friends) in which he goes after a moody and atmospheric straight on rock sound.
1. Leviticus - 35 Years Anniversary: In His Service
Superlative box set encompassing re-mastered versions to each of the four Leviticus studio albums along with a DVD of the group’s performance at the 2003 Bobfest Festival. Lovingly detailed packaging includes a 24-page booklet with a band biography and discography, vintage photos and in depth liner notes.
2. Recon - Behind Enemy Lines
Roxx Records re-mastered and re-released the 1990 Queensryche and Fates Warning influenced power metal debut of Recon, Behind Enemy Lines. In addition to the two songs the group placed on the California Metal II compilation, a pair of demo bonus tracks was included as well.
3. Thee Final Chaptre - It Is Written
New Orleans, Louisiana based melodic metal and hard rock act Thee Final Chaptre has joined forces with Divebomb Records to re-master and re-release its 1991 EP It Is Written. Bonus material comes in the form of one unreleased demo track and nine live cuts (of which eight are previously unreleased).