These are the best ten records I heard in 2017, and I think they prove unequivocally that despite what you may have heard, nearly seventy years on rock and roll is alive and well. You may have to do a little more legwork than you’re used to to find it, but trust me, it’s there. Bands all around the world carrying on the traditions of those who came before, while also constantly rebuilding the whole thing in their own image. Hearing the evolution is exhilarating enough to make wading through all the crap worthwhile. This list was in a constant state of flux. There were another four or five records that could’ve just as easily made the cut, and half the albums here were in the top two at one time or another.
10. Black Wail – Chromium Homes (Rhyme & Reason)
This Jersey City, New Jersey quartet’s newest release manages to find the sweet spot between “Southern-fried choogle” and “Heavy metal nightmare,” making extremes seem like the most natural thing in the world. Lead singer Michael Tarlazzi covers a lot of ground, from hard rock belter to black metal demon to increasingly angry robot, the rhythm section is swingy but solid, but for me the band’s main strength lies in their bone-chilling harmonies; tracks like “They” and “Thee Ghost” offer clear examples of the band’s whiplash aesthetic.
9. Ufomammut– 8 (Neurot Recordings)
Nearly two decades after achieving liftoff, this Italian space-sludge trio just continues to go further and further and get better and better. Their latest release, 8, is an exploration of the concepts of infinity; the largely-recorded-live album simultaneously hypnotizes and pulverizes. The whole thing kills, but for me the standout was “Warsheep,” one of the best heavy songs I heard all year.
8. Band of Spice – Shadows Remain (Scarlet Records)
One of the year’s most harrowing releases, Shadows Remain offers a glimpse into frontman Spice’s season in hell. There’s plenty of ribcrushing metal here, but there’s also alt-country and roots rock, jazz and bossa nova. Beautiful and more than a little unsettling, it’s a record that wears its soul on its tattered denim sleeve, a brooding bruiser that simultaneously kicks your ass and breaks your heart.
7. Gorilla Pulp – Heavy Lips! (Retro Vox)
For all those folks who thought rock and roll died in the early 1990’s, I’ve got good news; it ain’t dead, it just moved to Italy. Dripping hooks and groove and pure attitude, Gorilla Pulp sound like what may have happened if the Black Crowes had gone the glam metal route instead of drifting off into hippie-land. You can hear the tape hiss and taste the cheap beer on rockers like “In Your Waters” and especially on the title track (which buries its meaning in almost exactly zero layers of metaphor or hyperbole).
6. Warfaring Strangers: Acid Nightmares (The Numero Group)
The good people at the Numero Group continue doing the lord’s work, finding and preserving long-forgotten musical nuggets and allowing the rest of us to partake in the fruits of their labor. The last couple of years they’ve turned their attention to heavy music, and the tracks on Acid Nightmares are a testament to their expertise. Recorded around the world in the late 60’s and early 70’s, these tunes are first-generation stoner rock that offer a guided tour through the drug-induced death of the hippie ideal; any fan of hard rock or proto-metal will find plenty to love here.
5. Agusa (The Laser’s Edge)
Expertly crafted Swedish instrumental folk-prog, Agusa’s self-titled fifth release was one of the most moving and satisfying things I heard all year. If you’re not so much a fan of the flute as a featured instrument, this one may not be for you. But if you’re into epic jams that sound straight from the early-to-mid 1970’s, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything better this year.
4. Gin Lady – Electric Earth (Kozmik Artifactz)
Electric Earth may not be metal, but it’s damn sure stoner rock. Gin Lady has the sweet smell of 70’s psychedelia down cold, and the Swedish revivalists have managed to make a record that feels fresh and familiar all at once. It makes colors seem a little brighter, the air seem a little cleaner, and the sunshine seem just a little warmer.
3. Kadavar – Rough Times (Nuclear Blast)
The German retro-rockers stomp through the classic rock songbook on their fourth full-length, and the result is a riff-hewn masterpiece that reeks of dirt weed and bad intentions. From the glam-rock romp “Into the Wormehole” to the double-time murder ballad “Die Baby Die” to the show-stopping “Vampires,” Rough Times clearly illustrates that Kadavar has become one of the fiercest (and most goddamn fun) bands plying their trade today. (And hey, how about some North American tour dates, fellas?)
2. The Darkness – Pinewood Smile (Cooking Vinyl)
Those who would dismiss The Darkness as a silly novelty band do so to their own detriment. Few bands are as gifted musically or melodically, and the hooks contained on Pinewood Smile are great big sharp dangerous bastards capable of jamming themselves directly into your skull. I’ve been a fan since Permission to Land, and I think Pinewood Smile is the best record they’ve ever done, period. It’s a punch in the gut from a well-manicured hand, a spin around town in an unpronounceable Italian sports car, and unless you’re a real stick in the mud, it’s one of the best times you can have listening to a record.
1. Hobosexual – Monolith (Kitchentable Records)
The Seattle duo’s third album is a jaw-dropping genre smasher, an exhilarating thrill ride, and the testimony of two guys who are obviously true believers in the power of rock and roll. It sounds like everything I’ve liked about heavy rock since 1985, and in doing so it sounds like nothing else. The most singular record I’ve heard all year, I can’t recommend it highly enough.