Up first is the ninth studio album from progressive metal project Ayreon, the brainchild of Dutch composer and multi-instrumentalist Arjen Anthony Lucassen. Those familiar with the Ayreon sound will immediately take to The Source with it's melodic guitar lines, organic retro-sounding keyboards, and Jethro Tull-like folky sections. What makes The Source stand out however is the sheer wealth of vocal talent found within. Lucassen has assembled his best cast of singers yet, with Dream Theater's James LaBrie, Kamelot's Tommy Karevik, and Nightwish's Floor Jansen being just three of a twelve-strong cast. As with all of Lucassen's work, Ayreon and beyond, there is a lot to digest here which makes repeated listens a necessity. The melodies and concept are captivating however, and fans of progressive metal will revel in the musical riches that are found within The Source's many layers.
Almost in direct contrast to Ayreon's progressive bombast, The Dives' tight power pop is just as satisfying. This young American band impressed when I saw them open for Kiss back in May, and their debut four-track EP Everybody's Talkin' was purchased at the merchandise stand after their set. Despite only being short, this has been a regular on my iPod since with each of the four songs oozing class with the tight melodies and strong energy. Shades of Cheap Trick and The Beatles are found within, but all wrapped up in a distinct rock 'n' roll blanket that makes this such a joyous listen. The only complaint I have is that many of the best songs that the band played live are not featured here, but this certainly bodes well for the future and I look forward to what The Dives will do next.
British rock 'n' roll vagabonds The Quireboys' second wind is still blowing strong as the six-piece released their fifth album in as many years in September. This latest outing, dubbed White Trash Blues, is a covers album which sees the band tackling a collection of their favourite blues songs in their own brash and high-energy style. Blues has always been a big part of The Quireboys sound, so they sound at home sinking their teeth into some of the genre's best-known standards. Muddy Waters' Crosseyed Cat sounds fresh and urgent, Willie Dixon's much-covered (I'm Your) Hoochie Coochie Man has rarely sounded so powerful, and Taj Mahal's strutting Leaving Trunk is pulled into the modern day thanks to frontman Spike's Whisky-soaked vocal. The Quireboys are one of the best pure rock 'n' rolls bands going in 2017, and this album showcases another side to the band who's reputation has been enhanced greatly by releasing four excellent albums of original material since 2013.
October was a very busy period for new rock and metal releases, so it was inevitable that a few were going to fall through the cracks. Austria's Serenity were one of the victims of this hectic month, and their sixth album Lionheart has only recently been added to my collection. A concept about Richard the Lionheart's deeds is perfect fodder for a power metal act, as Serenity's love for all things historical once again drives their songwriting. Frontman Georg Neuhauser has the perfect voice for this type of epic storytelling, and his relatively new songwriting partnership with guitarist Chris Hermsdörfer has improved massively since the release of 2016's Codex Atlanticus. While Serenity will always be one of power metal's second division acts, and will probably never better their 2011 opus Death & Legacy, Lionheart is a strong entry into the band's catalogue and one that shows they continue to be a creative and impressive force.
Another victim of the October glut was Sons of Apollo, the new progressive metal supergroup formed by former Dream Theater members Mike Portnoy and Derek Sherinian. This was always going to be a technical album, and of course it was with all of the bombast and intelligence that often comes with progressive metal. The band's debut album, the nine-track Psychotic Symphony, is a heavy effort that allows Portnoy plenty of time to shine behind his drum kit, and allows guitarist Bumblefoot to demonstrate why he should be considered one of the generation's very best players. Frontman Jeff Scott Soto and bassist Billy Sheehan make up the rest of the band, and all five pull together to make an album that sounds familiar, but at the same time is not too derivative of anything any of them have done previously.
Those are five albums which I thought deserved a mention here, and I am glad that I have at least been able to highlight them in some way before 2017 ends. As mentioned I will also briefly discuss my favourite live release of the year, and this happens to be Delain's new double live album and DVD combo A Decade of Delain: Live at Paradiso. Filmed at Amsterdam's Paradiso venue in 2016 to celebrate the band's ten year anniversay, A Decade of Delain shows the Dutch six-piece symphonic metal band at their very best. Delain have always been a powerful presence in the live arena, and this first official live release showcases this with a good selection of songs from their five studio albums and a host of special guests that make appearances throughout the concert. Despite Delain being a tight and talented band, it is frontwoman Charlotte Wessels that truly steals the show throughout. She is one of the most likeable frontwoman ever and showcases her excellent voice and infectious charisma throughout the night. Delain's music has always been harder-hitting and more concise than many of their symphonic metal peers, and it is this that makes them such a captivating live band.
Well that does it for Part 1 of my round-up of 2017's new musical releases. My Albums of the Year list will come tomorrow, but until then there are a couple of other things I would like to discuss. 2016 saw the real start of many of our favourite rock and metal stars passing away. 2017 has, sadly, been much the same and I am sure this will carry on into the future. There were a couple of deaths that came as a shock however, the first of which was former Mostly Autumn guitarist Liam Davison who sadly passed away in November. I had seen Davison with Mostly Autumn many times over the years and, although he had not been a part of the band since 2014, has left a lasting legacy on one of my very favourite bands. His 2011 solo album A Treasure of Well-Set Jewels is a fitting representation of his skills as a songwriter, vocalist, and a guitarist; while his wealth of material with Mostly Autumn over the years shows him more restrained but always part of something greater. He will be sorely missed. The other death that came as a shock was that of Sanctuary and former Nevermore frontman Warrel Dane. By all accounts, Dane was a very troubled individual but his power vocals and idiosyncratic lyrical style was a big part of what made both Sanctuary and Nevermore such powerful and vital bands in the metal world. There is no-one else out there quite like Dane, and his passing leaves a big hole in the metal scene.
Moving on from those sad thoughts, I would briefly like to look forward into 2018 at some of the albums that we already know are coming out. January and February already look to be extremely busy months for new releases with Magnum, Orphaned Land, and Saxon (among others) all releasing albums during the first months of the year. The first new album of the year for me will be Leaves' Eyes Sign of the Dragonhead which drops on 12th January. Looking further on into the year we will be treated to a new album from British hard rock legends Whitesnake who will be releasing their first album of original material since 2011, provisionally titled Flesh & Blood, at some point during the first part of the year. Another legendary British rock band Uriah Heep will be entering the studio soon to record a new album for release during the back end of the year, as are the rejuvenated American progressive metal band Queensrÿche. 2018 will also see the release of the video of Marillion's stunning concert at the Royal Albert Hall this past October, which is another release I am gleefully anticipating. 2018 is already promising to be another excellent year for new music, and I am sure I will be finding myself listening to all sorts of goodies throughout the next twelve months. Check back here tomorrow for my Albums and Gigs of the Year lists, and have a great 2018!