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Music

Judas Priest: Metalogy

Adrien Begrand

Over the course of 30 years, the mighty Priest has had an eventful journey as metal gods, with more than their share of peaks and valleys: they went from being regarded as metal progenitors, to a worldwide commercial success, scorned for being shameless sellouts, accused by witless parents of convincing kids to kill themselves, and coming out from it all as triumphant heroes.


Judas Priest

Metalogy

Label: Legacy
US Release Date: 2004-05-11
UK Release Date: 2004-05-17
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1976: Side one, track one on Judas Priest's newly released second LP, Sad Wings of Destiny, the monumental "Victim of Changes", the song that changed the course of heavy metal. The tune gets off to an ordinary start, a decent Black Sabbath/Deep Purple homage that originated as a song called "Whiskey Woman". It churns away comfortably, the relaxed, ambling riffs by guitarists K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton underscoring singer Rob Halford's somewhat mundane tale of a guy with woman problems ("Takes another drink or two, things look better when she's through"). Then, from out of the blue, the song comes to a screeching halt, as a much more menacing tone sets in, the band delivering sharply syncopated flourishes as Halford spits out the lines venomously, "Get up! Get out! You know you really blew it!" as Tipton and Downing go on to deliver a screaming dual guitar solo, which would go on to become one of the band's trademarks. The song shifts again to a more mellow, regretful third movement, the protagonist lamenting over the transformation in the woman he once loved, before climaxing with something never heard in metal before, a searing, blood-curdling scream by Halford, as he howls, "Victim of changes!!!" The simple, blue-collar, monolithic metal of old, replaced in an instant by something much more progressive, flamboyant, and operatic.

Part of the "second wave" of heavy metal in the mid to late 1970s, Judas Priest, along with Rainbow, UFO, and the Scorpions, bridged the gap between pioneering groups Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Led Zeppelin, and the crucial New Wave of British Heavy Metal, which was then in its infancy. Hailing from the same industrial city as Black Sabbath, Birmingham, England, Judas Priest was the single most influential metal band of the late '70s; the impact of their first four albums on the entire genre is immeasurable, as numerous styles, such as power metal, thrash metal, death metal, speed metal, and progressive metal all grew from what this band started.

1984: Ninth-grade headbangers at a junior high school argue over the merits of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, the two best metal bands on the planet: Halford vs. Dickinson, Downing-Tipton vs. Murray-Smith, Doug Johnson's "Metallion" vs. Derek Riggs's "Eddie", songs about a post-apocalyptic world vs. historical epics, but all agreeing that Priest's "Eat Me Alive" totally rules. A kid listens to "Freewheel Burnin'" on his walkman over and over and over again, trying desperately to figure out what the hell it is that Halford's singing so fast during the middle eight, angry that his cassette of Defenders of the Faith didn't come with lyrics, and that Halford doesn't enunciate better. Elsewhere, a band of fourteen year-olds debate whether or not to play "Love Bites" at a school variety show, prompting a skinny guitarist in a Screaming For Vengeance baseball t-shirt to concede, "Well, it's the easiest Priest song to play." In a neighborhood home, downstairs in the rec room, two friends watch a grainy, bootlegged videotape of a Priest concert from 1982, as one comments, "They sure don't move around much, do they?"

Over the course of 30 years, the mighty Priest has had an eventful journey as metal gods, with more than their share of peaks and valleys: they went from being regarded as metal progenitors, to a worldwide commercial success, scorned for being shameless sellouts, accused by witless parents of convincing kids to kill themselves, and coming out from it all as triumphant heroes. For a time in the '90s they became "the band with the gay singer", and then for a while they were "the band who replaced their gay singer with a kid who played in a Judas Priest tribute band." Today, as Priest prepares to complete a long-awaited comeback by co-headlining the 2004 Ozzfest tour, their great classic lineup reunited for the first time in a dozen years, they're returning as heroes once again.

February, 1998: A 28-year-old former Priest fan sits down to breakfast, picks up the newspaper, and reads that Rob Halford has officially come out of the closet. "Well, it was kind of obvious," he smirks, pausing a second, then adding curiously, "But if it was so obvious, why didn't us kids ever notice it?" A few minutes later, he nearly chokes on his coffee when he thinks about just what "Eat Me Alive" was really about, chuckling at the thought of how naïve he and his friends were 14 years earlier. Later that day, he erupts with laughter when he remembers the big-haired metal chick on Heavy Metal Parking Lot who said if she met Halford, she'd "jump his bones."

Partially in celebration of Halford's much-heralded return, and also to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the release of the band's 1974 debut Rocka Rolla, Judas Priest has compiled the definitive, career-spanning Priest anthology, in the form of a very swanky, five disc set. Metalogy (that's Metalogy, not "metallurgy", curiously enough) might not be as thorough a collection as the separate sets of remastered albums that came out in the last five years, but as far as multi-disc "best of" compilations go, this the rarest of sets, one that not only serves as a thrilling introduction to a legendary band, but also one that is guaranteed to please longtime fans. Quite frankly, this is one of the best heavy metal anthologies that's ever been assembled.

Metalogy leaves no stone unturned, offering a detailed look at every phase of the band's catalog, and most rewarding are the tracks that feature Priest at their most innovative. Of course, there's "Victim of Changes", the song that started it all, but this set includes the version from 1979's Unleashed in the East live album; just how "live" that album is has always been a question, but the performance of the song, studio enhancements and all, is superior to the original album version, and worthy of inclusion. We do get gloriously remastered versions of 1976's "Tyrant" and "Deceiver", two songs that confidently foreshadow the band's career, as well as "Never Satisfied", from the 1974 debut Rocka Rolla. 1977's Sin After Sin predates classic European death metal, something you hear during the monstrous choruses and intricate, doom-ridden arrangements of "Sinner" and the stunning heaviness of the peerless "Dissident Aggressor", which boasts the most thrilling intro in heavy metal history (the latter was later covered by Slayer in 1988). "The Rage", from 1980's much-loved British Steel has the band audaciously injecting reggae into their sound, while the propulsive "Electric Eye", from Screaming From Vengeance (1982) features some of Halford's greatest lyrics, as he touches on society's growing paranoia during the increasingly techno-centric late 20th century. It's "Beyond the Realms of Death", from 1978's Stained Class, though, that remains Priest's high water mark to this day, a combination of "Ballad of Dwight Fry" style melodrama ("Withdrawn he'd sit there/Stare blank into space") and responses of passionate defiance in the powerful choruses ("This is my life, this is my life/I'll decide not you"), as two majestic solos by Tipton and Downing take the song soaring into the stratosphere.

Speed has always been a big part of the Priest sound, and their early attempts at faster, more frenetically-paced, double bass-driven rhythms and intricate guitar arrangements paved the way for bands like Motorhead, German metal masters Accept, as well as Venom, Diamond Head, Helloween, and later, the entire American thrash metal scene. Sin After Sin's "Call For the Priest" and Stained Class's "Exciter" are early examples of the band's increased ferocity (and where you can sense Metallica's trademark thrash sound originating), and as the years go by, the band simply perfects the art of speed metal. Longtime live staple "Hell Bent For Leather" introduces us to Halford's increasing fascination with leather, spikes, and vague S&M references, while the '80s classics "Rapid Fire", "Screaming For Vengeance", and "Freewheel Burnin'" are downright bestial in their intensity. Nothing, absolutely nothing comes close to matching 1990's "Painkiller", the band's astonishing comeback after an artistically subpar (some might say disastrous) five year period, serving as both a showcase for one of Halford's greatest vocal performances ever, and the phenomenal drumming of Scott Travis, who had just joined the band.

May, 1986: Filmmakers Jeff Krulik and John Heyn venture to suburban Maryland on a warm spring afternoon to talk to metal fans gathered for a Judas Priest concert. They come across a group of teens, led by an outspoken, mulleted young man, dressed in garish zebra-print spandex from head to toe, who grabs the microphone: "Heavy metal rules! All that punk shit sucks! It doesn't belong in this world, it belongs on fuckin' Mars man, what the hell is punk shit? And Madonna can go to hell as far as I'm concerned, she's a dick. Seriously, heavy metal definitely rules, Twisted Sister, Judas Priest, Dokken, Ozzy, Scorpions, they all rule! This punk shit... they can all go to hell... I don't care, you know, I don't really give a shit about that kind of punk fuck!"

Of course, then there's the more commercial side of Judas Priest, the stuff that provided the soundtracks to frat parties and tailgate parties everywhere. The band made their dramatic stylistic shift on 1979's near-classic Hell Bent For Leather with such radio-friendly rockers as "Evening Star" and the terrific "Delivering the Goods", but it was the following album, British Steel, that broke the band in suburban America. Drummer Dave Holland came aboard for that album, and while not the most versatile performer, he provided an especially strong, no-frills backbeat that suited the band's new style well. Producer Tom Allom, with whom the band would work throughout the 80s, stripped down the band's sound, simplifying the tunes into more compact, immediately pleasing fare, perfected on such tracks as "Living After Midnight", "Metal Gods", and a year later, "Desert Plains" and "Heading Out to the Highway", the two best tracks from the much-maligned Point of Entry album. 1987's Turbo was an ill-conceived attempt at synth-laden pop rock, but it did yield a very good single in "Turbo Lover", not to mention the highly underrated ballad "Out in the Cold". However, it's "You've Got Another Thing Comin'" that takes the cake as the band's most ubiquitous tune, its brooding opening riff and Halford's shamelessly cornball lyrics making the tune a rock radio staple for more than 20 years now, appealing to partiers and hardcore metal fans alike.

The real jewel in Metalogy is something that Priest fans have been craving for years, a bonus DVD of the long out of print Judas Priest Live concert video, recorded during the 1982 Screaming For Vengeance tour. It's especially a revelation for younger viewers, who, seeing the full concert, get to witness the band at the absolute peak of their power, as they tear through an unforgettable 90-minute set. Older fans, though, will get just as much of a kick out of the performance, as Halford is in fine form, both vocally, as well as onstage, as he glares menacingly at the crowd during "Electric Eye", straddles and whips his Harley during "Hell Bent For Leather", and does a fabulously goofy robot stomp as he sings "Metal Gods". Presented in both two channel stereo and 5.1 surround sound, and with crystalline picture quality, this DVD is essential viewing for every metal enthusiast.

Although it would have been nice to see a couple more tracks from Sad Wings of Destiny on the set ("The Ripper" and "Genocide" are somewhat eyebrow-raising omissions), the band has otherwise done an outstanding job culling what they consider to be their best music. Every album (save 1987's flaccid Priest...Live! album) is represented fairly; even the horrendous 1988 album Ram it Down and the subpar late '90s albums are given token nods, and thankfully, the band's more forgettable singles have been left off (bless you, boys, for not including "United", "Don't Go", "Locked In", and "Johnny B. Goode"). Some listeners might take issue with the band's decision to replace such songs as "Diamonds and Rust", "Starbreaker", "Green Manalishi", "Breaking the Law", and "Electric Eye" with live versions, but each of those performances all top the originals. Only does the live version of "Love Bites" seem an awkward fit, as Tom Allom's heavy, minimal treatment on the Defenders of the Faith album version suits the song better.

Presented in a very snazzy, sturdy, simulated black leather box, adorned with metal studs (one of the best design ideas we've seen in a long time), Metalogy looks great on the outside, and sounds even better, the remastered songs practically leaping from your speakers. For anyone looking to buy their first Judas Priest CD, or for those older, casual fans whose interest in the band was reborn when Halford returned this year, it's worth every cent. Trepidatious diehard fans who already own all the remasters will justifiably balk at buying the set, and it's more of a judgement call on their part, as they can burn their own Priest compilation, but the live DVD is so great, it makes up for any problems a fan might have with the track selection.

June, 2004: The ex-headbanger, now in his mid-30s, comes home one Saturday afternoon, clutching his newly-purchased copy of Metalogy. He pulls the box out of the record store bag, grinning childishly at the metal-studded box, his wife rolling her eyes. He spends the rest of the day listening to Judas Priest for the first time in years, his interest in the band renewed with a vengeance as he briefly muses, "Where's 'The Ripper?'" before cranking "Starbreaker" as loud as it can go. He watches the DVD, feeling the same rush he felt when he first saw the poor-quality tape of the same show 20 years earlier, wondering why today's younger bands don't have the same kind of flair these guys did, and why his wife just doesn't understand how great this all is. He then gets an idea; dashing to the computer, he enters a google search for "judas priest freewheel lyrics". Two mouse clicks later, he scrolls down, reads, and thinks, "Of course!" "Hold on to the lead with all your will and concede you'll find there's life with victory on high." "Amen, brother. Now how am I going to tell the wife I just bought myself a $75 Ozzfest ticket?"

Culture

Spawning Ground

David Antrobus

In this ancient place of giant ferns and cedars, it seems the dead outnumber the living; the living fall away too quietly, too easily, taken away by stealth. There is tremendous natural beauty here, but its hold is tenuous, like moss clinging to rotting bark that will ultimately break and sink into the forest floor.

If I were to choose a visual symbol of my adopted home of Mission, an average-size town in the impossibly green western Canadian province of British Columbia, I would probably come up with a rotting carcass in a verdant pasture, a vision of death amid life. If this sounds harsh, hear me out and I'll tell my own truth about this place.

Clinging to the swift-scoured, salmon-haunted northern bank of the mighty Fraser River like an ailing lamprey to the deadly smooth flank of a Great White, this town, situated about 70 kilometers east of Vancouver, owes its entire existence to the water of its rivers and lakes, and to the wood harvested from the dense, surrounding forest. Settled in the mid-19th century, Mission has managed to survive despite two serious floods, a bridge collapse, the ominous early signs of malaise in the natural resource sector (did we really think the salmon and the great conifers were infinitely, magically renewable?), and a general reputation for unfocussed, redneck belligerence.

It all comes down to the Fraser River. The river has brought both food and trade; it provides a thoroughfare upon which the people of Mission (among others) float the great log booms that are the defeated renderings we humans fashion from the vast tracts of coastal rainforest (cedar, spruce, fir, hemlock) in our seemingly inexhaustible compulsion to exploit her resources and bring Mother Nature to her matronly knees — in part because (we believe) we can.

But the details about life in this town — the jeweler murdered in a robbery, the pretty high school graduate killed by a drunk driver, the 14-year-old suicide — in fact, all the jostling narratives crowding like paparazzi, each insisting on exclusive front page drama, bubble and coalesce and ultimately conspire to reveal the hidden Mission. There is a dark vortex lurking beneath the seemingly placid surface; the ominous shadow of something ancient beneath sun-dappled waters. Even the countless apparent banalities playing out on the town's rural borders disguise something deeper, more clandestine: the hobby farmer up in MacConnell Creek bemoaning his exhausted well; the entrepreneur hungry for an investment opportunity, eager to transform the hillsides of quiet, bucolic Silverdale into sudden, lockstep suburbia; the hiker mauled by a black bear in the mountains north of Steelhead. And always, the numerous lives derailed by marijuana grow-op busts. For all the gradual liberalisation of laws at the consumer end of this local economic rival to wood and water, those who supply the celebrated crop usually feel the full force of Canadian justice, anyway. There are times when nothing in Mission seems devoid of some kind of meaning.

A monastery sits above this town, a Benedictine haven of alternating silence and the evocative clatter of Sunday Matins bells. Its tower is phallic and disproportionately defiant, rising above the landscape like a giant darning needle, casting its intrusive shadow over the patchwork quilt of human settlement as if to stitch a final tableaux, symbolically and definitively, of the history of the original inhabitants and their mistreatment at the hands of the white settlers. Said inhabitants were (and are) the Stó:lo people (their language, Halq'eméylem, was an exclusively oral tradition, so the words are spelled phonetically nowadays). Stó:lo territory stretched along the river valley from present-day Vancouver to Yale in the Fraser Canyon, a 170 kilometer swath of virgin, fecund land, teeming with such totemic creatures as salmon, ancient sturgeon, deer, black bear, cougar, coyote, beaver, and wolf.

The Stó:lo, a Native American (or First Nations) people belonging to the larger group of Central Coast Salish, settled this area around 10,000 years ago. Europeans, attracted by rumours of gold, arrived in the 1850s. The resulting clash of cultures did not work out well for the indigenous people, and today they are still recovering from the trickle-down effects of at least one generation having been torn from its extended family. Residential schools, for which the monastery in Mission is a present-day symbol, were sites of a particularly virulent form of cultural genocide. First Nations children across Canada were taken from their homes, often exposed to physical and sexual abuse and occasionally murder, their mouths scoured with soap if they even dared to utter their own languages. St. Mary's in Mission, founded in 1861 and relinquished in 1984, was the last residential school in Canada to close.

There are 82 Indian Reserves in the Fraser Valley. There are eight correctional institutions, two in Mission alone (Aboriginal people represent around four percent of the Canadian population, yet account for 18 percent of the federally incarcerated population). Somebody — something? — really likes to control and segregate people, around here.

This fragmentation is reflected in the odd demographics of the town in general. Leaving their multicultural mark have been, at various times, Italians in Silverdale, Swedes in Silverhill, the French in Durieu, the Japanese in the early years of the fruit industry (as in the US, the Japanese were rewarded for their labours by being sent to internment camps in 1942), and immigrants from India in the early days of the shake and shingle mills. (The Western Red Cedar, with its straight grain, durability, and imperviousness to the incessant rain, while inspiring Native culture with the quixotic grandeur of totem poles, grabbed more prosaic European imaginations in the form of the shake and shingle industry, which provides reliable roofing and siding components for homes.)

In some ways, Mission is a vibrantly conflicted example of Canada's multicultural mosaic. With just over 30,000 residents (of which 3,000 are First Nations) mostly crammed into a relatively small area, bordered by the river to the south and the mountains to the north, mill workers and biker gangs, artists and Mennonites, muscle car boys and summer folkies, soccer moms and Sikh Temple-goers, merchants and pagans, Freemasons and caffeine addicts, street people and Renaissance Faire anachronisms all rub shoulders with varying degrees of friction, occasionally achieving harmony in spite of themselves. Perhaps the relative accord is due to the overall youth of the population (73 percent are under 35-years-old).

Earlier, I mentioned the presence of death. Why? Because it is everywhere here, its proximity eerily palpable. It inhabits the sly rustle of the towering conifers. It taints the air with the swampy pungency of skunk cabbage in springtime. It hums incessantly in the sub-woofer buzz of the hydroelectric dams. It shuffles along in the downcast, scuff-shoed limp of a lone child returning to a chilly home. From a distance, even the monks in their dark cassocks, knit-browed and bound by their vows of silence, seem eerily close to the Reaper caricature. For actual evidence of its pervasiveness, though, one need not go far back in time.

The bodies of three women were dumped between here and neighbouring Agassiz back in '95. Suicides and the furtive aftermath of murder, barely registering in the town at all, have spattered Burma Road, a potholed strip of rocks and dirt skirting the shore of Stave Lake. In 1997, Doug Holtam of Silverdale (a small community west of Mission) bludgeoned his pregnant wife and six-year-old daughter to death with a hammer. Against all odds, his young son Cody survived the attack. In 1995, a drunk driver, leaving in his wake not only the proverbial outpouring of community grief but also a devastated twin sister, killed 18-year-old Cindy Verhulst during the week she and her peers were busy celebrating their high school graduation. There was the little boy who slipped away from his day care centre and drowned in the swollen Fraser River. The 12-year-old boy found hanging from a school washroom towel dispenser. The elderly pilot whose body was discovered in dense forest a full two years after he had gone missing. And there was Dawn-Marie Wesley, a 14-year-old Native girl who took her own life in the basement of her home after enduring relentless bullying at school; barely noticed in life, Oprah material in death.

As disturbing and tragic as these stories are, however, there was little precedent for the breaking news in the summer of 2003. This one will need a little background.

Since the mid-'80s, women have been disappearing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, Canada's poorest postal code. Partly due to the initial incompetence of the Vancouver Police Department and jurisdictional issues with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), partly due to the amorphous (read: investigative nightmare) nature of the disappearances, and partly because so few people cared about missing hookers and addicts, more and more women went missing, with nary a ripple in the public consciousness (or conscience). In fact, as of this writing, a horrifying total of 65 individuals are currently on the Missing Women list. For years, law enforcement didn't even refer to their disappearance as crimes, and it wasn't until 1998 that an official task force was even assigned to investigate.

Finally, in February 2002, Robert William Pickton, a pig farmer from the Vancouver suburb of Port Coquitlam (approximately half way between Vancouver and Mission), was charged with two counts of first-degree murder of two of the missing women. More charges followed in the months ahead. Pickton currently faces 15 counts of first-degree murder with seven more expected. DNA samples of 31 women have been linked to his 10-acre farm. In short, potentially the largest serial murder case in Canadian history is now underway just 35 kilometers from Mission.

Given the frequent intrusion of death into the area, I suppose it should have surprised no one when, on 20 July 2003, the missing women's joint task force announced they would be searching an area of wetlands near Mission. Just south of Highway 7 (aka the Lougheed Highway) and the man-made body of water known as Silvermere (itself the subject of a delightfully creepy urban legend or two), the area is basically marshland bisected by a meandering slough. Immediately following the announcement of the search, the site was fenced off with temporary chain link, and the highway's wide shoulders — traditionally home to roadside fruit and flower vendors hawking their locally grown products — were suddenly and unequivocally off-limits.

Driving this formerly innocuous stretch of blacktop, especially under the after-dusk arc lights, with their swirling bug armadas and liquid island oases in the dark, now touched off an indescribably eerie feeling. It was a relief when, on 8 August, the entire ensemble of law enforcement personnel (numerous forensic investigators plus 52 anthropologists) took up their tools again and vanished. They gave no word of what they had uncovered or even whether anything had been found at all, leaving our community to its familiar, fitful dreams once more. Mission's part in this unfolding story, as it relates to the wider world, remains amorphous and indistinct, with its usual chilly glints of barely suppressed horror flickering amid the overall grey.

Here, it seems, empirical proof takes a back seat to rumour and anecdote every time.

Sometimes, while hiking alone in the tree-bejeweled mountains west of Steelhead, east of the dams, I have suddenly felt the fetid breath of graves, a harsh raven-shadow lurking behind the abundant emerald and olive greens of this sodden paradise. Inexplicable noises in the deep tangled brush; distant rending, gnashing. Something skulking and hungry. With all the assured rationality of the white male immigrant, I've been known to smirk at the idea of ghosts, and yet stumbling along a jade-tunnel trail bristling with old man's beard and devil's club, I've occasionally recoiled from something, the skin of my arms prickling with gooseflesh. There are spirits here, all right, something not too far removed from the capricious tricksters who inhabit indigenous myth. Spectres of a kind, nursing some nameless, hollow ache of unrequited need rendered manifest, paradoxically, by a landscape dripping with life.

The closest we Europeans get to perceiving this (however inadvertently) can be heard in the low extended rumble of the nighttime freight trains as they call out in the dark, hunching parallel to Railway Avenue long after most residents are asleep, lonely as a buffalo herd that's somehow seen and almost comprehended its own approaching ruin.

Of course, my telling is by no means the complete, illustrated history of Mission, a town that can barely hold onto its own name (since 1884, take your pick: St. Mary's Mission, Mission Junction, Mission City, Village of Mission, Town of Mission, and currently the District of Mission). Not by a long shot; this lurid splash portrays but a small corner of the canvas. How can any one person paint the full picture of a community, after all? No, despite my perverse zeal to stir the viscous mud below the bright surface, great deeds and happy memories adorn the history of this place, too, adding the sparkle and lustre of life above and hopefully beyond the stillness and silence. And yet, no matter how much joie de vivre this community may exhibit on its special days, like a red-carpet celebrity when the cameras start rolling — whether it be the laughing children with their maple leaf flags and pancake stacks celebrating Canada Day up at Heritage Park, or the benevolently stoned crowd at the annual Folk Festival, or even the choked air and sharp adrenaline at the Raceway — surely one thing cannot go unremarked: nearly half of those missing-presumed-dead women were of Aboriginal descent. This adds one more layer of indifference to a jaded populace apparently caught somewhere between the small town rural cruelties of its past and the uneasy suburban shrugs of its gathering future.

I know this. I worked with the street kid population here for years, witnessed their hardscrabble resilience. Few people ever gave a genuine damn about the plight of these children, even though some of the throwaways had not yet reached puberty. Two-thirds of street-involved youth in Mission are Aboriginal. Many are sexually exploited by family members, neighbors, pimps and selected citizens, but few speak of it. Some of these kids head west to Vancouver for a date with misery, stretching already tenuous community ties to the breaking point. My job as a street worker was to speak for these lost children, to ensure some semblance of the child welfare system would kick in through advocacy with social workers or teachers or families or counselors or probation officers. In a world in which the so-called "bottom line" — money and the politics of money — has become drawn too garishly, these already marginalized youth were, and continue to be, largely abandoned by a system designed to protect them. Sometimes I stand beside the town's failing heart, its run down main drag (1st Avenue), taking in the pawnshops and thrift outlets and dollar stores, and I'm convinced I truly hate this place... but only because I've loved it so deeply. In life: death. In death: life. The great inscrutable cycle.

In this way, the perennially troubled summer Pow Wow, always skirting the edge of ruin (corrupt, inept politics and sporadic funding, take a bow), yet often prevailing regardless, seems to me a far more accurate symbol of the clutching, ragged breaths that secretly haunt the sleep of this community. The fleeting vibrant colours of traditional dancers whirling in bright regalia — poignant as the plumage of endangered birds, flying amongst the high wailing melismas of the Northern-style singing and the vital, aorta-punching drums of the circles — somehow speaks more of an unavenged wound in time and place, set amid the cruelty that underlies so much beauty, than anything else this conflicted human settlement seems capable of offering.

An absurd contrast, really — this vibrant gathering and the judgmental silence of all those surrounding stories of the dead — the whole place holding its breath waiting for these mortal sorrows to purge themselves before the pristine lawns and asphalt and vinyl sidings are allowed to spread and eventually suffocate every fucking thing that ever felt like something here.

For here, tenacious as the town itself alongside relentless churning waters, the living will no doubt cling to hope and the perpetual dream of life until the muscled river — unnoticed, stealthy, taken for granted — wrestles away everything (horror, joy, splintered wood and the final word) at long last, sending it all tumbling toward the planet's dark and pitiless seas for good.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke


69. Arcade Fire - "Creature Comfort"

This is a big, bold statement of intent from Arcade Fire. There is a clear and admirable desire for the band not to spend too long in the same space and to mine their DNA to reinvigorate themselves. The big synths and angular new wave of early '80s the Cure sound fresh and like nothing the band has done before. Despite the retro stylings, the subject matter is refreshingly current as the group deal with the quest for personal validation from family, friends, and strangers, the anxieties of negative body image and the relentless pursuit of fame at the expense of everything else. The band cleverly offer a metaphorical panacea for all of these ills in the form of "Creature Comfort". Something to numb the pain. This is a song that leaves you anything but anesthetized. - Paul Carr


68. Alt-J - "In Cold Blood"

As far as songs about murders at pool parties go, "In Cold Blood" is actually pretty heady. In true alt-J fashion, it's hard to tell what's a red herring and what's actually relevant to the song, but as with the best songs, it doesn't particularly matter when it's this catchy. The random snippets of binary code, the allusion to C.S. Lewis' Caspian, the extended coda of "La la la"s, these are diversions from the subject at hand, perhaps because the gravity of the matter would make for too heavy a song, perhaps because alt-J delights in being obtuse. Still, with imagery as vivid as "Hair the way the sun really wants it to be" and "Lifeless back slaps the surface of the pool", it is still appropriately shocking, and yet morbidly catchy, particularly once the horns kick in. It makes you feel guilty for enjoying it, which is probably just perfect as far as alt-J is concerned. - Mike Schiller


67. The Mynabirds - "Golden Age"

The transition from 2016 to 2017 needed an elegy, an understated anthem of disillusionment and sorrow, and this is it. With its staid piano melody and Laura Burhenn's velvet vocals, the song taps into the sucker-punch trauma of feeling like social progress's trajectory was a bait-and-switch that made the eventual collapse that more crushing. The lyrics read as a litany of topical grief — the deaths of Leonard Cohen and David Bowie, worsening climate change, rampant police brutality, the severing of family ties amid political lines, and, presciently considering when it was written, the emboldening of American Nazism by Donald Trump's presidential election. Dour stuff, to be sure, yet Burhenn isn't ready to seal the mausoleum. Rather, "Golden Age" is the sound of an ideal beaten but unbroken, its swollen eye still focused on the future. It's a rail against complacency and surrender and offers needed comfort and warmth, while still being goosebumps-inducing in its call to arms. It might be a lofty comparison, but "Golden Age" is a spiritual successor to Lennon's "Imagine" in the current climate. - Cole Waterman


66. Sir Sly - "High"

The premise isn't too groundbreaking: a group of young indie poppers with hip haircuts singing about getting high. What sets Sir Sly's take on getting high apart from many others is how current it is. Sir Sly's "High" nails the mindset of many a millennial as the group sings about "wondering what peace would be like" - drugs as a means of escape from this very specific wave of global turmoil. On top of that, the chorus is mind-blowingly catchy, the beats enticing. This is a social statement you can dance to, an escapist earworm and a party anthem for our times. - Adriane Pontecorvo


65. Taylor Swift - "...Ready For It?"

The essence of pop music is saying the same things over and over again in slightly different ways. This is how life works too. We settle into routines and measure our lives by the degree to which those routines shift or are disrupted over time. Most of Taylor Swift's songs are about what happens when you think about romance the way songs and movies tell us to, but she never seems to run out of new ways to frame that experience.

Usually, it's a matter of melodies or words, but sometimes, it's also a matter of sound, of putting her compositions in an environment that's a little unstable. She does this on "...Ready for It?," which is the most sonically mischievous and audacious song she's released. Over a harsh, sneering rhythm track, Swift covers familiar ground--the rush of new love, the relationship between reality and fantasy--but it doesn't feel that way because the song has a few clever ideas it gets just right: a trio of distorted bass notes that begin and repeat throughout the song; and low-pitched, synthetic brass notes that hit during the pre-chorus. Both signal that something is different, that no matter how many times we fall in love, it will always feel new. - Mark Matousek


64. Carly Rae Jepsen - "Cut to the Feeling"

Nobody has cornered the effervescent side of North American pop music quite like Carly Rae Jepsen has in the past couple years. Arriving on the heels of 2015's triumphant Emotion, "Cut to the Feeling" continues that soaring momentum. Not a whit of the song is particularly groundbreaking; instead it is a classic formula executed to perfection, building from tense verses to a chorus that explodes like fireworks. Nolan Lambroza's production is shimmering and radiant, the perfect backdrop for Ms. Jepsen, who conveys the song's feeling of euphoria with her trademark charisma. It's the type of pop music that puts a smile on your face. - Adrien Begrand


63. Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile - "Continental Breakfast"

At one point in "Continental Breakfast", Courtney holds up a video of "Kurt and Courtney", the chronicling of the relationship of lead singers Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, two of rock's greatest misfits. The synergy between Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett is less fraught; it's downright amicable. It's not difficult to fall in love with both songwriters as they bounce around their domestic lives, interacting with babies, children, and elders alike, with smiles the whole way through. If you don't find this video endearing, you probably don't have a soul. - Tristan Kneschke


62. Animal Collective - "Kinda Bonkers"

Animal Collective follow up last year's Painting With album with more of the same on new EP The Painters. Like much of their best work, "Kinda Bonkers" is bursting with ideas. Built on tabla percussion, see-saw keyboards and parallel vocals that bounce, ping and collide, the band throw everything they can in to see what cooks. All of these different ingredients are whipped up into a customary, trippy, psychedelic sponge. The whole thing is as irrepressible and energetic as you would expect, but it somehow feels more rounded. More straightforward and undemanding, never feeling like it might collapse under the weight of the hooks and melodies the band has crammed on every tier. - Paul Carr


61. ANOHNI - "Paradise"

ANOHNI's inimitable vocals are like a fixed quantity in her music, ensuring that most anything she sings retains an element of pained, graceful beauty no matter how harrowing or grisly the topic. "Paradise", another collaboration with Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never following last year's HOPELESSNESS, pushes this principle to its limit. The track is a tortured dirge barely disguised as bass-heavy synthpop, a veil disintegrating at the seams. ANOHNI sings as one caught between global concerns and her own personal, particular pain, lamenting the solipsistic confines of being but a single "point of consciousness". Perhaps the paradise she evokes, a "world without end", is one where the boundaries of the self are dissolved altogether, opening the way for empathy. And yet any clear vision of that utopia is clouded amid the wailing electronics, making it clear that we'll have to contend with our own kaleidoscopes of pain for some time to come. - Andrew Dorsett

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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