What in the world is he doing writing an article about his favorite albums of 2018 in March of 2019? I imagine a few of you will ask that question. I wondered if I should write this at this late a date. Almost all writers who do these sorts of lists complete them in December or January. That puts me way behind the curve!
That’s all right. I write here on my own schedule, and the beginning of 2019 has been crazy for me, for positive reasons. Besides, I look at my “favorites of the year” articles as pieces of writing I prepare all year, as projects I put time and effort into, not as thrown-together posts to capitalize on year-end, awards-season trends, not that there’s anything wrong with writing an article for those reasons, necessarily, especially when people expect it. Personally, I like to let the albums sit with me, to see how I truly feel about them. This site isn’t my main gig. It’s a place I go to write about music and movies when I get the chance, so I don’t have to rush anything.
The way I try to run this site, throughout the year I write about whatever music and film that I can or wish to write about. I don’t try to keep up with any particular number of new releases. However, I do keep a list of all the albums and movies I want to hear or see from the year, gathering the entries from media and people I follow. As I make my way through that list, I put together my favorites. This is partially so I can display that on various social media but primarily so I can write these “favorites of the year” articles. Again, I use this method because writing for this site isn’t my main gig.
Doing these sorts of articles in this fashion also helps me trim away the pressures of hype and expectations. And I get to have more fun. I also, hopefully, miss fewer releases.
If this all seems silly to you, so be it.
2018 may not have been a necessarily stellar year for pop music, but it was a fairly interesting year for music outside the pop music sphere. Artists in genres like rock and hip-hop tried a lot of experimental things, either because artists were trying to jump onto strange, new trends, or because artists were confused about new trends outside their purview, this confusion making them willing to branch out. If these experiments and instances of artists playing around with their sounds weren’t always successful, they were fascinating to follow.
Additionally, though many major stars flopped hard in 2018, many up-and-comers made major strides. The underground scenes flourished too, especially in extreme metal, and, as usual, especially outside the US. Metalheads and hard rock fans have been complaining for years about the lack of hard music in the pop world, but, as Dave Mustaine recently said, “I don’t know that metal – real, credible metal – ever had mainstream dominance, because that is what ultimately killed metal, mainstream exposure.” The same can be said for hard rock, punk, folk, certain subgenres of hip-hop, etc.
Before I move on, it would be remiss of me not to mourn those we lost from music in 2018. Thankfully, there weren’t as many high-profile musical artist deaths in 2018 as in 2017, but I specifically want to remember a few on my radar: guitarist Fast Eddie Clark of Motörhead, Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, Avicii, drummer Vinnie Paul of Pantera fame, Aretha Franklin, Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Ed King, and country star Roy Clark. The world is better for your music, and you will be remembered.
Now, let’s dive into my favorite albums of 2018! Ranked from lowest to highest will be my ten favorite albums of the year, and below that I will list alphabetically my honorable mentions, all of these being albums that were in serious consideration for a spot in the Top 10.
This is my top favorites list of albums. These are the works I most enjoyed or appreciated, the ones that struck a chord with me, not necessarily the releases I thought were objectively the best. This taps into my personal feelings on the art.
Only LPs will be featured here. That’s only fair, and in the true spirit of celebrating the album as a whole. If I were to include EPs, I would have included Lightlow’s indie rock “Begin Again,” Mental Coma’s thrash metal “Visions,” and Plini’s instrumental rock “Sunhead.”
Here we go!
My Top 10 Favorite Albums of 2018
10. Avatar’s Avatar Country
I fully owe my new, as of early 2018, love for the Swedish heavy metal band Avatar to my “E.D. – Music, Movies, Etc.” co-editor, David Malone. On March 1st of last year, David published a review of this January 2018 LP release of theirs and turned me on to this epically strange group. Then in April, we went to see them live, and I was hooked.
As David said in his review, “Avatar utilizes over the top and ridiculous story telling in their lyrics melded with accessible heavy metal.” All true. David also said in his review that he had heard they “are a hoot” live. This is, as we found out, also true (and relevant, considering their previous album’s protagonist is an owl). I hope these guys find immense success in the rock and metal world. They possess incredible musical talent, diversity, and proficiency, and they combine traditional heavy metal, groove metal, and melodic death metal into an avante-garde, theatrical meal that is exciting, unique, and just plain fun. Plus, it’s thoughtful and even biting at times.
Avatar Country isn’t quite as fully realized and accomplished as their last LP, Feathers & Flesh, but it’s a rockin’ good time, contains some hilarious satire, and features catchy, fist-pumping metal tunes, led by a charming, charismatic, commanding frontman and backed by a more than capable band.
Favorite Track: “The King Welcomes You to Avatar Country”
9. Arctic Monkeys’ Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
Will you enjoy the Arctic Monkeys’ Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino? Well, honestly, that will depend on how you feel about Turner’s absurdist lyrics and the band’s new, or at least current, direction.
Tranquility Base is yet another left-turn from the Arctic Monkeys, who have had a career full of left-turns, and though it may surprise you that the guys are now, at least on this album, playing and singing something in a sound that basically amounts to Space Lounge Pop Rock, it’s not actually that much of a surprise if you know the band’s discography and the ways many similar artists have progressed in their careers. Their sound is now retro, ’70s-style, Bowie sorts of compositions and instrumentation, and I love the band’s musical exploration here. Arctic Monkeys is one of my favorite bands of the twenty-first century, and my love for their music continues with this album.
As a side note, a few months ago, I walked into a hotel lobby one morning, and they were playing “Four Out of Five” from this album. If you have heard that song, you will know that was probably unusually fitting, and, yes, it was fitting for the hotel I was staying in that day.
Favorite Track: “Four Out of Five”
8. Jack White’s Boarding House Reach
In my opinion, Jack White deserves consideration as one of the greatest rock stars of all time. He’s strange, he’s mysterious, and – most importantly – he’s both extremely talented and extremely creative, as well as musically and artistically intelligent.
Boarding House Reach is Jack White’s best, most creative work since his White Stripes days, from the more typical, Jack White, blues rock fare like “Connected by Love” and “Over and Over and Over;” to the bizarre “Why Walk a Dog?” and “Get in the Mind Shaft;” to the tribute to modern, New Orleans, jazz fusion “Ice Station Zebra” (my personal favorite song of the year); to the seriously performed “Humoresque,” whose tune is a piano cycle by the Czech composer Antonín Dvořák and whose lyrics were written by Al Capone in the 1920s while imprisoned in Alcatraz; to the spoken word passages like “Ezmerelda Steals the Show,” which finds White wryly on a soap box.
Boarding House Reach does not offer the kind of streamlined, stripped-back listen you might get from a White Stripes album. Rather, it is a collection of artistic endeavors by White, created initially in a small apartment, sealed off from the world, and achieved with an array of musicians behind Jack, including excellent session workers and such gun-for-hire artists as musicians who recreate hip-hop, sample heavy productions in a live setting for rappers. Boarding House Reach may be difficult to consume for the uninitiated, but it rewards the listener greatly.
Favorite Track: “Ice Station Zebra”
7. Deliverance’s The Subversive Kind
Here’s an album I’ve been trying to convince folks to give a chance since it released in February of 2018. I know some Deliverance fans, many of them the sort who have followed this Los Angeles, Christian, speed/thrash metal band since they formed in 1985, were disappointed with The Subversive Kind because they miss the days of Deliverance’s melodic hook choruses, and it certainly didn’t help that Jimmy P. Brown hyped The Subversive Kind to his fans as Deliverance’s Reign in Blood. Reign in Blood this most certainly is not, but that is all right! I love The Subversive Kind for its speed, heaviness, aggression, and commitment, and I love it for the gritty, dirty, low-budget quality of the recording and performances.
This album does not sound artificially bad, like many current thrash bands’ albums do, in an attempt to recreate albums whose makers didn’t even want them to sound the way they did. Instead, it is indeed created on a shoe-string budget, crowd-funded mostly, but sounds as good as it can for what it is, and it does sound decent.
Deliverance’s brethren Tourniquet also released a worthy album this year, Gazing at Medusa, though it had many faults. Even still, The Subversive Kind is, for my money, by far the best thing released by that old scene in 2018, the best album to ever come from that scene, and the best album released by a thrash band in 2018. Those are bold words, but that’s just how much I enjoy The Subversive Kind.
Favorite Track: “Epilogue”
6. Brandi Carlile’s By the Way, I Forgive You
I have been enthralled with this, Brandi Carlisle’s latest LP, ever since it debuted. I especially love the thoughtful lyrics, Brandi’s soaring yet ragged vocals, and exceptional production from Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings. By the Way, I Forgive You may be Carlile’s masterwork. It is most certainly a definite standout in Brandi Carlile’s discography, and it more than filled my country/folk/Americana desires in 2018 and continues to do so in 2019, even as I hear many other albums, some of which are good too.
By the Way, I Forgive You is a dark album, lyrically, that isn’t depressing and, as is on-brand for Carlile, is actually quite hopeful. It’s also an album that feels intensely personal yet, at the same time, deeply, universally relatable. The songs here cover topics that could easily come across as trite or cliché, but they don’t.
Here you will find songs of faith and doubt. Good and evil. God and the Devil. Life and love. Love and loss. Prejudice and open arms. Anger and forgiveness. Growing up and getting old. Relatable stories and themes in illustrative song. Despite Carlile’s occasional pop leanings, this is what folk music is supposed to be all about, and the Cobb and Jennings production helps the whole team walk Carlile’s fine line.
Favorite Track: “The Mother”
5. The Struts’ Young & Dangerous
If you ever get the chance to see The Struts live, take it. They’re fantastic performers, and frontman Luke Spiller holds the crowd in his palm. They are very much glam pop rock, but good.
It’s difficult for me to describe exactly what Young & Dangerous is to me, other than that it accomplishes for me much the same thing The Struts accomplish in their live shows: The album will remind you rock ‘n’ roll is fun. If you want more rock in the mainstream, no matter your subgenre persuasion, pay attention to and support this fantastic band. I will also say out of the multitudes of albums I’ve spun from 2018, Young & Dangerous is by far the most exciting, entertaining, and enjoyable.
In the year of our Lord 2018, we truly needed some music that was both good and fun, something to just jump up and delight our ears and make us feel excited. The Struts, at least for me, filled that need. No, this is not deep music, and yes, it is indeed pop leaning. Yet if you like the pop, you get plenty of that in songs like “Body Talks” and “Bulletproof Baby,” and if you like more of the glam rock stuff, you get tracks like the Meat Loaf inspired “Fire” and the Queen adjacent “Tatler Magazine.” It also helps that this is an album that rewards, by references and repetition, listening to the album as a whole work.
Favorite Track: “Fire (Part 1)”
4. Kyle Craft’s Full Circle Nightmare
Tired of mediocre lyrics in your rock? Take a listen to the phenomenal Full Circle Nightmare from Kyle Craft, an excellent singer-songwriter who is injecting a rare strain of quality into the far-too-often bland crowd of which he is a part.
Craft’s sheer musical storytelling exuberance never fails to excite me, and he stands his high-quality lyrics upon a foundation of folk rock mixed with glam rock; a blend of late ’60s, newly electric Bob Dylan; the glammiest work of Aerosmith and the Rolling Stones; and Bat Out of Hell-era Meat Loaf. You will also hear hints of David Bowie, Jack White, and Old Crow Medicine Show. Though these are reference points I can employ to describe Craft’s music, Kyle also maintains an identity his own, which he started building up well on his debut album, Dolls of Highland.
There’s no one out there in the music scene quite like Kyle Craft right now. Listen to the way he pulls off his style, how he binds together his varied influences into a coherent whole. Craft’s brand of singer-songwriter, indie, glam rock has a sound appealing to anyone who likes good, old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll, but it’s also a carefully assembled sound, like The War on Drugs but rougher-hewn and more memorable. Full Circle Nightmare is comprised of love and sex songs, if you want to examine them on that level, but you will rarely find a batch of love and sex songs this compelling, insightful, and well-written.
Favorite Track: “Gold Calf Moan”
3. Kids See Ghosts’ Kids See Ghosts
Kids See Ghost, a new project from Kanye West and Kid Cudi, is an experimental mixture of hip-hop, rock, and psychedelia. When I heard snippets of the material from this album and realized what West and Cudi were attempting here, I knew I just had to check it out. It’s not exactly my kind of thing, as I’m not normally a hip-hop/rap fan, but, dang, is this album good! Plus, I’m loving the shorter album trend of which this album is a part. Yes, please!
Neither West’s nor Cudi’s artistic inclinations overpower the other’s here. Instead, they work together, side-by-side, to create something amazing. We’ve got hip-hop, more straightforward rap, hard rock, grunge rock, neo-psychedelia, R&B, and modern pop. And the creative, eclectic samples here work even when they shouldn’t, like a 1930s Christmas song and a lesser-known Kurt Cobain guitar riff. You get raw production, for sure, of which you see much in West’s production work these days, but you also get that meticulous assemblage for which West is well-known and rightfully respected.
Kanye West worked on several albums in 2018 in some capacity, as producer and/or featured artist. These include Pusha T’s celebrated Daytona, his own Ye, and Nas’s NASIR. Yet Kids See Ghosts is the only one that both caught and held my attention. And I’ve been playing this thing on repeat ever since.
Favorite Track: “Freeee (Ghost Town, Pt. 2)”
2. Daughters’ You Won’t Get What You Want
I dislike almost all noise rock, math rock, and any subgenre ending in “core,” yet 2018 brought me a new noise rock/math rock LP from a heavily grindcore influenced band that isn’t just good, it’s great, probably a masterpiece, and I love it.
The alien instrumentation – created on guitars, bass, and drums, despite the often unnatural nature of it – that the guys of Daughters bring to the table here crawls under my skin and burrows its way around my body. However, that wouldn’t be sufficient to make this album’s experience last if it weren’t for the vocals and lyrics. Despite Daughters’ vocals being unclean on previous albums, here the vocals are both loud and clear, sometimes sung cleanly, sometimes half-spoken. And the lyrics are excellent poetry. Here’s a segment I love from “Ocean Song”:
Sprinting like some wild animal,
A blur beneath the streetlamps,
Overhead a terror-scream,
Everything he has is within him.
His shoes come up from off his feet.
The shadow haunts him for several yards,
The ghosts of what he was, desperate to keep up until gone.
Now the road, punching upwards into his soft, naked feet.
He is never knowing, never again,
Forever flowing, no more waiting,
His muscles burn, deciding to run till he can run no more,
To find everything he can find,
To know, to see for himself, if there is an ocean beyond the waves.
That’s exactly how I feel when I spin You Won’t Get What You Want.
Favorite Track: “Ocean Song”
1. Orphaned Land’s Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs
If you enjoy metal, progressive metal especially, and the depths it can explore, you simply must check out Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs from Orphaned Land. Every time I spin it, I love it more. It’s an album from a far too often overlooked Israeli band that contains delicious helpings of philosophical, Oriental, folk metal and progressive metal and rock, as well as death and doom metal. It’s all good stuff and worth your time.
If you’re used to hearing Orphaned Land focus on peace and harmony, prepare to be surprised. Though those sentiments are here, and unity and striving toward peace is certainly the call by the end of the tracks, most of what you’ll hear on Unsung Prophets is an inflamed Orphaned Land, frustrated at years of suffering and turmoil, which they’ve unfortunately had to witness firsthand. While many American and European metal bands can look out and see those things in our world, these guys reside smack dab in the middle of an actual Hell on Earth. In their manner, that comes across. These are not the token wailings of youth who have never experienced the problems they are communicating. These are the shouts of survivors.
If you’re not used to hearing anything from Orphaned Land, I highly recommend Unsung Prophets as an entry point. It’s my personal favorite album of theirs, certainly one of their most ambitious. Then go back into the rest of their discography, especially Mabool and The Never Ending Way of ORWarriOR.
Favorite Track: “The Cave”
Black Fast’s Spectre of Ruin
I find blackened thrash to almost always be a subgenre too much in excess, combining two worlds that have been influenced by each other but don’t usually work well together. Bands don’t often find artistically successful ways to make these two worlds work together either. However, Black Fast’s Spectre of Ruin brings together much of the best of both worlds then injects those elements into their music along with a technicality that aids them well. One of the members being a university-trained jazz musician, the whole band has a firm grasp on the balance between technicality and musicality. Plus, I love the Edgar Allan Poe sort of dark fantasy and horror in the band’s lyricism here. Right out the gate, Spectre of Ruin knocks you on your heels and doesn’t give you a chance to recover until the last notes fade out at the album’s end.
Casting Crowns’ Only Jesus
I had lost a bit of faith in Casting Crowns when they released their last LP, The Very Next Thing, where they attempted to follow the lead of electronic-influenced rock acts like Imagine Dragons, which did not work well. And, to be honest, on The Very Next Thing, Casting Crowns seemed as if they had less than normal to say. However, the band is back in form on Only Jesus. They have a clear and distinct voice again too. Their message is that Christians should have no ego and be worried about no legacy of their own, because our concern should only be communicating Jesus and His love to the world around us: “All an empty world can sell is empty dreams. I got lost in the light when it was up to me to make a name the world remembers, but Jesus is the only name to remember.”
Corrosion of Conformity’s No Cross No Crown
With No Cross No Crown, Corrosion of Conformity returned to the heavy metal ring as an unfortunately underrated and overlooked metal act, and they returned with their classic lineup to deliver major heavy metal blows. And deliver they did, one of the best albums in their career. No Cross No Crown leans more heavily than usual philosophically into C.O.C.’s Christian and Southern spiritual roots and musically into C.O.C.’s sludge and southern rock roots. They got the title, No Cross No Crown, from an old, decommissioned church they performed at in England, where a stained glass window in the rectory bore the title inscription, which affected the band’s spirits, positively, with a general idea that guided them as they developed this record. This helped Corrosion of Conformity produce an album of weight and substance.
Del McCoury Band’s Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass
Del McCoury does indeed still sing bluegrass! At age 79, he sounds like he has barely aged at all. How is that possible? He sounds almost as good now as he did when I first heard him in 2001 on my favorite album from The Del McCoury Band, Del and the Boys, which my parents bought me for Christmas. Over the years, that became one of my favorite bluegrass albums, and now Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass is my favorite bluegrass album of 2018. No, Del and the boys don’t break any new ground. They stick to their formula for sure. But that’s OK. It works well for them, and they perform all the tracks here with skill and aplomb.
The Fratelli’s In Your Own Sweet Time
With In Your Own Sweet Time, The Fratellis have released my favorite LP of theirs, and probably their best, since Costello Music, if not their career-best. Here, they glitz up and make more memorable – and more solid, compositionally – their indie/garage/alternative rock sound, on top of it throwing in some interesting flirtations with Americana, psychedelia, indie pop, and disco, which they then mix and produce in distinctive ways. In Your Own Sweet Time finds the band exploring, perhaps more than they ever have. It certainly finds them exploring more successfully than ever. Earworm melodies and riffs abound, and we get everything from the rocking “Stand Up Tragedy” to the folksy “Advaita Shuffle” to the sugary pop “Sugartown” to the epic, seven-minute closer “I Am That.”
Are people still hating on Ghost for “going mainstream”? Did Ghost fans think the band obsessed with the likes of ABBA was never going to try a more mainstream-digestible sound? Revisiting Ghost’s previous albums makes me wonder why any Ghost fans were surprised or annoyed at Ghost’s “new, mainstream” direction. Infestissumam was already very much in the rock genre, one of their biggest previous singles was the radio-ready, radio hit “Square Hammer,” and Ghost has covered such pop and pop-leaning bands as ABBA time after time. Anyway, regardless of how you feel about Ghost’s past and present directions, Prequelle contains some fantastic, occasionally spooky, arena-ready hard rock. I never cared too much for Ghost’s silly occult stuff, and that’s dialed back here without losing Ghost’s Gothic feel. Prequelle is a highly enjoyable rock LP. If you wish the band were harder and heavier, I recommend a Gothic death metal album from 2018: Tribulation’s Down Below, which is also excellent and “spooky,” but much heavier, and it may be something some of the people falling off the Ghost bandwagon will enjoy. You know, strangely enough, 2018 was a good year for Gothic styling in rock and metal.
Greta Van Fleet’s Anthem of the Peaceful Army
Greta Van Fleet don’t just steal from Led Zeppelin, they also steal from early Rush and Heart. That being said, my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed 2018’s Anthem of the Peaceful Army. After hearing and considering Greta Van Fleet’s official debut LP (they released a long EP, From the Fires, last year that I also enjoyed), saying Greta Van Fleet is just a Led Zeppelin rip-off is unfair. However, it is fair to say Greta Van Fleet have heedlessly raided the dumpsters of Zep, Rush, Cream, Heart, and multiple other better blues and folk rock bands of the ‘60s and ‘70s. But Anthem of the Peaceful Army does contain hints of a generically retro yet also more original and creative band. As is, Greta Van Fleet is a super young band stringing together old sounds and lyrics to create a fun, blues rock conglomeration and making it big doing so.
Read my “defense” of Greta Van Fleet
High on Fire’s Electric Messiah
The new High on Fire album, Electric Messiah, whose title track is a tribute to Lemmy Kilmister, is yet another fantastic release from one of the most consistent current metal bands. More ear-drum-devastating, stoner-thick, doomy sludge metal with production from Kurt Ballou that aptly captures High on Fire’s live vibe, this new album is as heavy and as aggressive as anything Matt Pike and company have ever made, and it is often heavier and more aggressive, as well as faster. Electric Messiah proves you don’t need alcohol and drugs to make a great extreme metal record, as this is Matt Pike’s first High on Fire release created while completely sober. Electric Messiah slays its foes from start to finish.
Ice Nine Kills’ The Silver Scream
Ice Nine Kills’ The Silver Scream is one of the biggest rock and metal hit albums of 2018, and it’s easy to see why. It combines the kind of metalcore that is mainstream-palatable yet still aggressive with lyrics in each song that reference, for each song, a classic horror film or series. The Silver Scream is the sort of thing I’ll be playing every Halloween, and I even played it a fair bit outside the Halloween season in 2018. If you’re not a horror genre fan, you might not get quite as much enjoyment out of this, but the music alone is worth the listen if you’re into metalcore and such. I’m usually not, but The Silver Scream is an album I liked a lot.
Judas Priest’s Firepower
Judas Priest’s Firepower is no Painkiller, but what is? Firepower is Priest’s best since 1990, and not only great for a band that is thirty years old with a frontman that is sixty-seven, and not only great for modern metal, but also really good for metal in general and one of Priest’s best. Judas Priest freaking knocked it out of the park with Firepower! It’s the best Priest has done since Painkiller, containing some killer material and Halford still screaming for vengeance! Along with Visigoth’s Conqueror’s Oath and Black Label Society’s Grimmest Hits, Firepower is the best that straightforward traditional heavy metal had to offer in 2018, holding the classic heavy metal banner high without a trace of shame in their countenances.
The Oak Ridge Boys’ 17th Avenue Revival
On 17th Avenue Revival, masterful producer Dave Cobb whipped the legendary country and gospel quartet The Oak Ridge Boys back into shape and guided them into creating a wonderful collection of tight tracks that hearken back to the gospel-heavy early days of country and rock. The Oak Ridge Boys have been doing their thing well for over seventy years, but, and I am not exaggerating here, they have rarely sounded as good as Cobb helps them sound here. Sure, their voices have been technically better, especially in their early days at the height of their fame, but their energy, charisma, and competency all remain fully intact.
Rivers of Nihil’s Where Owls Know My Name
For eight years, Rivers of Nihil was a good but not very remarkable tech death band. Now, they are great and remarkable. They brought the metal world a great, proggy, techy, death metal, concept album in 2018 with Where Owls Know My Name. And it brought saxophone to the metal world. We’ve had jazz influence for a long time, but SAX, guys! Being serious though, sure, there has been brass in metal before, but Rivers of Nihil have brought it into the fore in a way rarely seen, and not just by including saxophone but by really integrating a jazz flavor, as well as psychedelia, into technical death metal, and they do it effectually. Is this album a flash in the pan for Rivers of Nihil? Maybe. It’s hard to tell right now. Regardless, Where Owls Know My Name is a terrific album.
Skeletonwitch’s Devouring Radiant Light
Here’s another blackened thrash album I liked in 2018! I enjoy Skeletonwitch, one of the twenty-first century’s most interesting thrash-related bands, because they always find a way to combine black metal with galloping rhythms and memorable melodies. If I was worried Skeletonwitch would lose that here, they don’t, and they pair it with more intense, complex, experimental, blackened thrash numbers. If I was worried the band’s recent adversities would hinder their musical creativity, they don’t. Kurt Ballou, Devouring Radiant Light’s producer, has become one of my favorite metal producers of recent years, especially for the work he did with High on Fire on Luminiferous and Mutoid Man on War Moans. I was excited to see what he would help guide Skeletonwitch toward, and the results are even better than I expected. Their sound here achieves an excellent balance of the grimy and the clean, the raw and the produced.
Stryper’s God Damn Evil
Stryper is something else. To say the least. I respect Stryper. They could’ve played it safe making Christian music for other Christians. Or they could’ve made usual glam metal. Instead, they unapologetically stood up among the rest of the metal world and proclaimed their beliefs, then made it in the business by being good at their jobs. However, my love for Stryper is mostly of the guilty pleasure variety. It’s always a fine line though. Their 2015 album Fallen is legitimately good, especially the song “Yahweh.” God Damn Evil? I’m not sure. I could call it a guilty pleasure, I suppose, but it has too much actually good material for me to call it that. Is Stryper over-the-top here! For sure! As always. But I like it!
Turnstile’s Time & Space
For new, awesome punk that kicks all the butts, check out Time & Space. It’s well worth your while, exactly the kind of punk I want to hear, combining the catchy, melodic aggression of original punk acts like the Ramones and The Clash with the heavier aggressiveness of hardcore, call it melodic hardcore. Turnstile are also inventive and creative, making attempts to follow their sound to new places, even occasionally adding in hints of hip-hop and jazz. Turnstile is, for my money, the most exciting current punk band, and I hope Time & Space marks the beginning of an era of exploration for the band.
Twenty One Pilot’s Trench
On Trench, Twenty One Pilots converted me from a “guilty pleasure” fan to a fan outright. The cringiness of their past efforts is mostly gone, and this new album features better lyrics, better instrumentation, better singing and rapping, more consistency, and excellent production from Mutemath’s Paul Meany. And they put all of this into a concept album whose scope is equal to the conceptual elements of a prog metal record. This is impressive for a pop rock band like Twenty One Pilots, but it could so easily go wrong, and projects like this have gone wrong on multiple occasions. It doesn’t go wrong for Twenty One Pilots. Their music is catchy and appealing as ever, more so for me than ever, but they funnel it into a surprisingly thought-filled package.
I listened to 103 2018 LPs, and I spun all of those in 2018 except one.
There it is! My 2018 top albums list. I’m glad I got to do it, and I look forward to doing it every year. One note: I won’t have any ten worst lists because this is only a hobby for me. I have a job. I don’t usually listen to records I think will suck. As a result, I don’t hear enough of those terrible albums that belong in such a list.
If you want to read my “favorite albums of 2017” article, check it out!
What are your favorite albums of 2018?