Welcome to day 30, the final day of my ‘Album of the Year 2017 top 30 countdown’.
I have done it! Another year goes by and another top 30 albums have been counted down, dissected and given yet more love and attention. But that’s exactly what these records fully deserve, because they are the best of the best during a fantastically strong year. It has also been a year in which I have strived to listen to as much music as possible, across as wide a spectrum of subgenres as possible. It has inevitably led to a broadening of horizons and a few surprises along the way. For a start, I never expected a non-rock/metal disc to feature in the list, let alone my top 10. But that’s exactly what has happened.
But more importantly, I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has stuck with me throughout this series. Everyone who has read, liked or commented on my posts has given me the impetus to continue, despite finding it harder than ever to find he time to devote to such a time-consuming venture. It is worth it of course, but everyone’s support has been invaluable nonetheless.
As always, here’s the ubiquitous quick reminder to new readers that links can be found below for all of my previous posts in this year’s series, along with a couple of ‘honourable mentions’ posts and the entire series from 2012-2016. If you explore any of these, I hope you enjoy what you read.
And now, here goes…the gold medal winner and my favourite album of 2017 is…
Legends of The Shires
“I don’t think there is ever a point with any album where I think ‘right I’m 100% ready to pen this review’ – that feeling never arrives. But having spent quite a lot of time with ‘Legends Of The Shires’, obsessively at times, I’m as ready as I’ll ever be to pin my colours to the mast. And all I can really say at this point is ‘Oh. My. God’ This record is mind-blowingly good. It is sensational.
The first thing to report is that the core sound I referred to earlier is all still in place; ‘Legends Of The Shires’ couldn’t be anyone other than Threshold. If you’re looking for a radically different approach, you’ll be disappointed. The rest of us should simply rejoice. Big, chunky riffs, bigger melodies, technicality, swathes of keys, extended instrumental passages – they’re all here and it all sounds utterly glorious.
It’s always a bit of a risk to release a double album and, in the case of Threshold, it is a record featuring 14 individual tracks with a running time of well over 80 minutes…However, I can honestly say, hand-on-heart that ‘Legends Of The Shires’ flies by. At the outset, I immediately had my favourite songs but as time has gone by, I find myself liking something within each track. No, that’s not accurate – I adore just about every minute of this weighty tome.
There’s a beautiful ebb and flow to the record, encompassing all of the myriad strengths of the Threshold collective. From quiet, introspective and delicate, right through to heavy, powerful and commanding, the full gamut is explored. There are shorter pieces and, as is their way, a few longer compositions where the technical prowess and flamboyance of each member is given a chance to shine brightly. And believe me, every member of this band is dreadfully talented.
I’m not really sure how to sum up ‘Legends Of The Shires’ adequately, because in many ways I am lost for words. I was expecting a great album, because that’s what Threshold always seems to deliver. I wasn’t necessarily expecting a masterpiece. For that is exactly what ‘Legends Of The Shires’ is; it is magical, it is majestic and it is a perfect tour-de-force of melodic progressive metal. Outstanding.”
Read the full review here.
It’s not often that the English win anything but this year, a band from my own fair Isle has finished top of the pile, releasing my personal favourite album of 2017. I was gushing in my praise for the epic and brave double album ‘Legends of the Shires’ from Threshold when I first reviewed it at the time of its release. And, in all honesty, nothing had changed.
I have had a very hard time choosing this year’s top 30 and an even harder job once I got into the top 10. However, despite toying with other candidates now and again, in my heart I knew that this was going to be the winner this year. It was my first and only perfect score of the year for a start, something that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
However, it can sometimes be the case that an album that presses all your buttons initially, can fail to maintain the interest in the longer-term. I did wonder whether this might be the case for ‘Legends of the Shires’ but as it turns out, the album has just got stronger and stronger.
Songs that I loved a few months ago, I still love. And the songs that I originally liked, I now love too, as they have worked their way expertly into my affections. To find a standard album that contains no songs that you dislike can be a rare thing, but to be confronted by a double album that can boast such a feat? That’s rarer still. And yet that’s exactly what ‘Legends of the Shires’ is. It is a collection of 14 songs, spread over at least 80 minutes and two discs, and like every single minute of it.
I was never one of the dissenters when it emerged that Damian Wilson was to be replaced by the returning vocalist Glynn Morgan. However, an eyebrow was raised at the unexpected news. The truth is though, that Morgan doesn’t put a foot wrong on this album; he delivers just as you’d want him to and he’s the perfect fit for the entirety of the material as far as I’m concerned.
Vocalist changes, concepts and double albums aside, the most important thing about ‘Legends of the Shires’ is that the compositions are some of the very best of the band’s career. Never ones to release anything short of excellent, it comes as the highest of praise to declare this to be Threshold’s finest work. It was always going to take a lot to displace either ‘Critical Mass’ or ‘Hypothetical’, but I think the quintet have managed it.
As I’m quoted as saying in my review, ‘Legends of the Shires’ contains everything I want from a Threshold disc and far more besides, including ‘big, chunky riffs, bigger melodies, technicality, swathes of keys, extended instrumental passages…’ If you thought on a first listen that the likes of ‘The Man Who Saw Through Time’ or ‘Lost In Translation’ were epic tracks, just wait for a few more spins, because they only get better as time goes on, especially the former with its complex and sprawling construction.
I still remember the moment when I knew that this disc had to be number 1. I was out with the dog and I had my big headphones on. As I neared the end of the walk, I was confronted with ‘The Shire (Part 2)’. I’d heard it many times in different settings, but as the track erupted out of its gentle and tentative beginnings and the guitar began to sing, my hair stood on end and tingles moved up and down my spine. I knew with absolute certainty that I was listening to something special, something that spoke to me with real force.
There may be albums released in 2017 that push the boundaries more, that break new ground, that are more complex, avant-garde or technical. There may be more streamlined or more immediate records too. But I know with certainty that ‘Legends of the Shires’ is the finest album of 2017 because it is so often my ‘go-to’ listen. Just like Evergrey last year and others in previous years, ‘Legends of the Shires’ is a distillation of exactly what I love about this kind of music and is exactly what I want to listen to right now. Not only is ‘Legends of the Shires’ the best progressive metal album of the year, it is the best album, full stop.
If you missed either of my 2017 ‘honourable mentions’ posts, here they are should you be interested:
Previous posts in my 2017 Top 30 countdown:
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 2
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 3
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 4
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 5
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 6
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 7
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 8
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 9
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 10
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 11
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 12
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 13
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 14
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 15
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 16
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 17
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 18
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 19
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 20
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 21
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 22
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 23
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 24
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 25
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 26
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 27
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 28
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 30
And from previous years: