As we approach the halfway mark of the year, I can't help but take a step back to do some accounting on what we've already heard this year. Coming off what I considered to be a slightly weak 2016, I was looking forward to seeing if that was a blip in the radar, or if there was a trend of weakening quality. There has actually been a bit of both, which makes this an interesting, but frustrating, year to sit through. The quality at the top of the market has been strong, but there have also been more unacceptable albums than I can remember in recent years. In alphabetical order, so as not to spoil anything, let's take a look at the best and worst so far.
Adrenaline Mob - We The People
There's an old saying that you can never go broke underestimating people's intelligence. That's what Adrenaline Mob is banking on, releasing one of the most flaccid albums and shameless attempts to hold on to their dying youth in recent memory. The only upside is that it's better than their previous album.
Danzig - Black Laden Crown
Danzig used to be captivating, but like many artists, he's lost sight of himself over the years. He can't hear that his voice is completely shot, nor can he hear that his production abilities are far below par. This is a terrible sounding record of boring songs.
Iced Earth - Incorruptible
Bands rip each other off all the time. What is less common is a band ripping themselves off, but that's essentially what happened here. Iced Earth has become a tribute band to themselves, rehashing the Matt Barlow era so much that this album might as well not even exist.
Pain Of Salvation - In The Passing Light Of Day
Prog can have a reputation for having its head up its ass, and for good reason. Where Daniel Gildenlow got the idea that anyone would want to listen to an hour of his tuneless warbling while the band thumps out bland riffs is beyond me. There's barely any music to this at all.
Steel Panther - Lower The Bar
The joke was funny the first time, and the songs were good. With each passing album, both have gone downhill. Now, I want to know why I'm supposed to think the same tired dick jokes are supposed to be funny. They've run out of ways to talk about banging strippers, so now all that's left is their mediocre music. Lower the bar, indeed.
Creeper - Eternity, In Your Arms
Meat Loaf meets AFI, Creeper has done something amazing by packing massive amounts of (melo)drama into three minute songs. These are pocket-size punk operas, and add up to an album that is ear candy with surprising depth.
Harem Scarem - United
Coming out of nowhere, these veterans have put out their best record ever. Song after song, they deliver massive, candy-coated hooks that play over and over in my head. The guitar playing is quirky enough to catch your attention, sounding like a more streamlined version of The Winery Dogs. A phenomenal shock.
Nightmare - Dead Sun
We can quibble, since it came out in Europe last year. Either way, Nightmare has delivered an album that is as heavy as power metal can get, while retaining a strong sense of melody. Maggie Luyten injects life into the band, with her vocals stealing the show. She is a superstar in the making, based on this performance.
Orden Ogan - Gunmen
In the world of power metal, Orden Ogan is currently one of the very best. They've never disappointed, and on this album they kick their game up a notch again. Their second-best album, "Gunmen" is nearly an hour of killer metal that is heavy, epic, and beautiful. Blind Guardian wishes they sounded like this these days.
Soen - Lykaia
This is what Opeth should have evolved into. Soen takes a massive leap forward here, delivering their best album by a mile. The riffing and vocal tone might be a bit too close to Opeth for some people, but I love hearing a style that has fallen by the wayside. Musically inventive and hauntingly melodic, Soen has come into their own.
The Warning - XXI Century Blood
Three young ladies have earned their acclaim for this one, an album that delivers mainstream rock better than many of their major-label competitors. Listening, you would have no idea their ages. When you find out, you wonder how in the heck these three can make an album this good, while Halestorm squandered every opportunity in the world on their last album. One heck of a debut.