By Greg Maki
Everyone is welcome to have an opinion, but with respect, anyone who still thinks rock is dead wasn’t paying attention throughout the year that’s about to end. In 2018, it was a rare week that didn’t feature at least one or two new releases in hard rock or metal to get excited about. How strong was this year? New albums by two of my top five favorite bands (Black Label Society and Sevendust) only managed to score honorable mentions on my year-end top 10 list. Another all-time favorite (Nine Inch Nails) finished outside the top 20. It all added up to the best year for new music since we started Live Metal in 2006. And just to be clear, despite the site’s name, I don’t care much about whether something is classified as metal or even hard rock. These simply are my favorite albums released in 2018.
Black Label Society – “Grimmest Hits”
Black Stone Cherry – “Family Tree”
Black Wizard – “Livin’ Oblivion”
Corrosion of Conformity – “No Cross No Crown”
The Dead Daisies – “Burn It Down”
Diamante – “Coming in Hot”
Fever 333 – “Made an America”
Myles Kennedy – “Year of the Tiger”
Sevendust – “All I See is War”
The Struts – “Young & Dangerous”
10. Gygax – “2nd Edition”
Gygax—a California-based act that exists to celebrate tabletop role-playing games and worship at the altar of Thin Lizzy—probably would’ve been my favorite band when I was 13. And I mean that as a compliment. Full of boogie rhythms and bright, harmonizing and soloing guitars, “2nd Edition,” the band’s sophomore album, is a rousing call to arms, a battle cry for a segment of the population that forever will be on the fringes of mainstream pop culture. Full review.
9. Realms of Vision – “Through All Unknown”
Realms of Vision—the brainchild of guitarist/vocalist Frank Costa (Animosity, Entheos) and drummer Mike Ambrose (Set Your Goals)—pulls from the doomiest and gloomiest of Black Sabbath and Alice in Chains on its full-length debut, supplying some of the darkest, heaviest riffs I heard all year. Better yet, those riffs are in service to a great batch of songs, highlighted by clean, melodic vocals, and I can’t wait to hear more. Full review.
8. Light the Torch – “Revival”
Don’t call them Devil You Know—not anymore, anyway. With a new drummer in the fold, metalcore is just a memory for the Howard Jones-led Light the Torch. The more rock-oriented rhythms and riffs leave ample room for Jones’ big, big voice, and his smooth tones have never been so expressive and powerful. Hot take: “Revival” is as strong an album as any Jones did with Killswitch Engage. Full review.
7. Beartooth – “Disease”
Speaking of metalcore, Beartooth’s one-man-band Caleb Shomo continued baring his soul on his third full-length effort. Mixing hardcore, metal and punk rock, Shomo takes a long, hard look at his own depression, opening his deeply personal thoughts up for so many others to embrace. He’s become a strong voice in a crucial societal conversation, and musically, “Disease” is a banger from start to finish. Full review.
6. Dee Snider – “For the Love of Metal”
The former Twisted Sister frontman delivered the most unexpectedly great metal album of the year, his fourth solo effort. Produced and largely written by Hatebreed’s Jamey Jasta, “For the Love of Metal”—gotta love that title—is packed with heavy grooves and thrashers, while Snider, who freely admitted to not writing a single note or lyric, gives a muscular vocal performance. The whole record is a full-throttle celebration of metal, because as Snider sings on the title track, “There’s no other way.” Full review.
5. Judas Priest – “Firepower”
The Priest is back—though it never really went anywhere; its commitment to metal has stretched to nearly half a century. Mixing the grooves of “British Steel” (1980) with the heavier feel and a touch of the speed that marked “Painkiller” (1990), “Firepower” has a huge, stadium-filling sound; each song takes on an anthemic feel, primed for maximum fist-pumping and singalongs. It’s borderline miraculous that a band could create a record this strong so deep into its career. But all bets are off when you’re talking about the Metal God, the seemingly ageless Rob Halford, who gives yet another Herculean performance here. Full review.
4. Bad Wolves – “Disobey”
Behind its ubiquitous cover of the Cranberries’ hit “Zombie,” Bad Wolves unquestionably was the breakout metal band of 2018. Go beyond “Zombie” and you’ll find an act populated by longtime veterans of the scene who have been grinding it out for years and an album full of pummeling yet intricate riffs and rhythms, sometimes bordering on progressive if you listen closely enough. Tommy Vext uses a varied vocal attack to hold it all together, with a special emphasis placed on his emotional, melodic croon in the massive choruses that should ensure this is no one-hit wonder. Full review.
3. Tremonti – “A Dying Machine”
The fourth record by Mark Tremonti’s eponymous band, an ambitious concept album, tells a cautionary sci-fi tale set at the turn of the next century. More importantly for our purposes, it flat-out rips. It’s full of speed-metal-inflected riffing and thunderous drumming, while Tremonti and guitarist Eric Friedman trade licks on some tasty solos. Even more than that, it showcases Tremonti’s stellar songwriting and his vocals, which always have been solid and have improved with each record. For those who want to delve deeper, a novel released in conjunction with the album, co-written by Tremonti, expands on the story. Full review.
2. Ghost – “Prequelle”
“Upbeat” isn’t exactly the first word that comes to mind when you hear an album was inspired by the Black Death, which was responsible for the death of nearly half the population of Europe in the 14th century. But Ghost main man Tobias Forge adds a bright, ‘80s-pop sheen to his band’s metallic sound, resulting in an uplifting listening experience that was the most pure fun of the year. Packed with insanely catchy songs tailored specifically for large halls while retaining an adventurous spirit, “Prequelle” is the record that has taken Ghost into arenas—a place I expect the band to stay. Full review.
1. Cane Hill – “Too Far Gone”
The second full-length album from New Orleans’ Cane Hill was a huge leap forward, a diverse effort from a young band mature beyond its years. Critics like to throw around words like “metalcore” and “nu-metal,” but any similarities to those subgenres are the coincidence of common influences more than anything else—a jumping off point for Cane Hill to explore and widen its sound just as it explores the “naive and oh so confident” lifestyles and attitudes the band members embraced throughout the cycle of their first album (“Smile,” 2016). Hooks, heavy grooves, hardcore-fueled rage and moments of quiet—and not so quiet—introspection are all here. Throw in some industrial influences, and “Too Far Gone” is a dynamic, dramatic recording. Released all the way back in mid-January, it was the album I went back to again and again throughout 2018. In a spectacular year for hard rock and metal, no record made a bigger impact on me. Full review.