20 July 2018

2018 – 10 of the best albums so far

There is no arguing the fact that 2018 has been spoiling us rock fans absolutely rotten. There has been no shortage of releases from across the musical spectrum, whether that be from established names or newbies trying to carve up their own patch. To celebrate officially being (just-over) half way through the year, a few of us here at Midlands Metalheads have put together a list of some of our favourites so far. So, in no particular order, here are ten of the best albums from 2018 so far:

Myles Kennedy – Year of the Tiger

Chosen by: David Steed (Reviews)

Back in 2009, Myles Kennedy officially announced that he would be releasing his first solo record. Close to a decade of ups and downs later and we finally got the end result that is Year of the Tiger (you can read our full review here). When it was announced, Kennedy hinted that it would be a more stripped down, song focused approach than the work he does with Alter Bridge, and he wasn’t kidding. The album features predominantly acoustic instrumentation and takes influence from the musical roots of the deep south of the US, broadly summed up as country and blues. While not a metal album in any sense of the word, the record is more emotionally heavy and intense than you would expect from this musical style. This is, however, no surprise when you know that the album is written solely about the death of Kennedy’s father. There are many interviews documenting the struggle that he went through to transfer his emotions into the music that you can now listen to. An album full of darkness and despair, but hope and beauty also, Year of the Tiger is one of this years stand-out releases from across the whole music industry.

 

Kane’d – Show Me Your Skeleton

Chosen by: Tina Culbertson (Head Press Officer)

The new Kane’d album ‘Show Me Your Skeleton’ has had me singing at the top of my voice, dancing around the room, sinking into deepest thought and all things in between since I heard it.

Title track ‘Show Me Your Skeleton’ is a full on melodic assault, dramatic guitars, harmonies galore and you’ll find yourself humming that chorus involuntarily for ever after. You could pretty much say the same for the whole album in fact. The songwriting, lyrics, hooks, musicianship, sound, production…all are extremely high quality.

This album has everything: the naughty ‘I Won’t Bite’, the beautifully haunting ‘Don’t Turn on The Lights’, the party hard ‘Reckless’, the impossible not to sing along (and personal favourite) ‘Hey, Hello’ (that chorus sends me to another place!), the soul searching ‘Sin’ and the heartstring tugging of ‘I’ll Bring You Home’. It is all delivered by the ‘has to be seen to be believed’ harmonising of the very beautiful & very talented Kane sisters Chez, Steph & Stacey. If this wasn’t enough, this seven piece from Wales (yes, seven!) bring it to the next level again with the powerful twin axe attack and guitar goddery (is that even a word, no? It should be!) of Jack ‘JD’ Davies and Harry Scott Elliott and the rhythm section of bassist Josh Raw (how cool is that name) and drummer George Elliott (‘fuck sake George’ to anyone that caught them at HRH Ibiza recently!). All the members have come together to produce an instant classic that sits proudly and equally amongst anything in my collection by the likes of Heart, Vixen and Halestorm.

All killer no filler as they say.

Pennywise – Never Gonna Die

Chosen by: Kevin McDonald (Reviews)

Pennywise’s twelfth full length Never Gonna Die sees Pennywise back to their best following a relatively turbulent period in their ranks. Jim Lindberg’s departure following 2008’s lacklustre Reason to Believe allowed Zoli Téglás to inject some much-needed inspiration on 2012’s superb All or Nothing, although his brief tenure was marred with internal strife, allowing Lindberg to return. 2014’s Yesterdays was enjoyable enough, although the use of old Thirsk era material had some questioning whether the group was creatively spent. Never Gonna Die not only puts that notion to the sword, it shows that, as the band enters their third decade, they can still deliver the sort of high octane punk that saw them breakthrough in the ’90s. Lindberg may struggle a little with some of the higher notes, but he’s otherwise on point, ably supported by Fletcher Dragge’s nifty riff attack and the tireless rhythmic thrust of Randy Bradbury and Byron McMackin. A 40 minute, hook laden punk rock assault, the album stands alongside All or Nothing as the group’s finest moment since 2001’s Land of the Free?; a testament not only to their enduring quality and timeless energy, but also a sign that there is plenty left in the tank for the years ahead. When it’s time to call punk album of the year for 2018, this will surely be up there.

 

Zeal & Ardor – Stranger Fruit

Chosen by: Matthew Brooks (Reviews)

Following up the intriguing if flawed Devil Is Fine, Manuel Gagneux’s black metal/African America roots music project dropped the utterly stunning Stranger Fruits (you can read our full review here). Combining the seemingly disparate musical styles in a much more coherent and cohesive fashion, while sprinkling in elements of industrial rock, ambient, chip tune, and much, much more is impressive. Managing to combine this all together whilst still crafting memorable, often toe-tapping, songs is surely a work of genius. Manuel puts in the most diverse and riveting vocal performance of the year, his voice handling both soulful singalongs and black metal shrieking with ease, whilst covering a massive range of notes. Every second of the album feels finely crafted a complete musical journey with a tale to tell. Every listen reveals new secrets and will leave you humming at least one of the plentiful hooks all over this album. Pure joy and musical genius wrapped up in an easily accessible package. Zeal & Ardor are a totally unique proposition with unparalleled musical craft. Stranger Fruit is not only exciting because of its musical content but the endless potential of the band to produce a follow up of further excellence. Keep your eyes on this band, they may well continue to greater and more exciting heights.

 

Parkway Drive – Reverence

Chosen by: David Steed (Reviews)

In Parkway Drive we have yet another band who have alienated a small, but very loud, part of their fanbase by developing their sound. While 2015’s Ire was the first slight deviation from the bands musical roots, this time around they took the bull by the horns and officially stated that they have ‘outgrown metalcore’ just prior to the release of Reverence. Now, for fans who throw their toys out the pram as soon as they don’t get their daily dose of breakdowns, this was a disaster. For the rest of us, this promised a potentially more musically expansive release than the confines of metalcore could provide. There is no hiding from the fact that yes, this record features some of the most accessible songs Parkway Drive have released. Don’t take this as a betrayal of their roots, just enjoy the powerful and anthemic quality that the likes of Prey and The Void provide. For those after something more intense, Absolute Power and Shadow Boxing offer an atmospheric social commentary that is just as heavy as anything the boys from down under have previously released. The introduction of strings, vocal experimentation (including, to the horror of many, clean vocals) and a fierce sense of melody have led to Parkway Drive producing a record that is far more than what many cynics would have you believe. It is true, many bands are trying to capitalise on the popularity of a style kick-started by 2013’s Sempiternal (Bring me the Horizon), but Parkway Drive have combined their metalcore origins with an almost viking-esque sense off grandeur to create one of the finest heavy albums of 2018.

 

Hooded Menace – Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed

Chosen by: Kevin McDonald (Reviews)

There’s a lot of value in a good name. Whether it’s the grim reaper, little red riding hood or a sinister religious figure, there is no denying that the moniker Hooded Menace has an impact, invoking a sense of darkness and danger. Over the course of the past decade, the Finns have produced a catalogue of death/doom metal that is worthy of such an evocative title, and with Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed, they have made their finest work to date. A band that had seemingly already mastered the art of crafting sprawling epics, the album shows they’re still improving as songwriters, further tweaking and refining their formula to create their most concise effort so far. The riff work is massive and simply crushing, the melodies mournful and melancholic; each song dripping with a horrific aura that is alluring and chilling in equal measure. Every passage is executed to near perfection, with each track dynamic enough to ensure the album never stagnates or drags. For a genre famed for its slow pace, this record sure does fly by. Not even the numerous line-up changes have managed to knock the group off course, with new frontman Harri Kuokkanen’s imposing growl a vital part of the album’s success. Heavy, memorable, atmospheric, well written… this record is seriously good, and has everything a death/doom metal fan could ask for.

 

Harakiri for the Sky – Arson

Chosen by: Matthew Brooks (Reviews)

Arson is not an album for background listening. But if you have the time to fully immerse yourself in the deep, emotional, all-encompassing musical landscape you will find yourself stunned. The crystal-clear production is not a feature of a lot of black metal related albums and really adds to the weight of the record. The layers and layers of intricate guitar work will crash over you, with more and more to be found with each and every listen. The vocals take a back seat throughout but are dripping with raw emotion. This album though is somehow more than the sum of its part. While there are many bands today who manage to make three-minute songs feel like they last ten, Harakiri For The Sky have managed to make their ten minute, emotional odysseys feel as though they pass in less than three. This is just due to the fact they are so enthralling. This is a masterwork of song writing. The album drips with a depressive yet triumphant atmosphere, as though the band have just struggled through a personal tragedy and have just seen the light at the end of the tunnel again. As such this album manages to be uplifting and a thoroughly transformative experience, one feels as though they come out the other side a different person, having defeated their troubles. The album may not be as catchy as others on this list but it is certainly far more moving and emotional than anything else released so far this year. Let Arson change your life, immerse yourself in it.

You can read the full Arson review here.

 

Ghost – Prequelle

Chosen by: David Steed (Reviews)

In 2016 Ghost released Popestar, a five-song EP featuring selection of covers spearheaded by the one piece of original material on the EP: Square Hammer. The 80s melodic rock stylings on that track have since been nurtured and developed to culminate in the release of Prequelle. Probably the most predictable entry on this list, Prequelle sees the occult rock band dive head first into an album full of melody and bombast, taking more influence from the likes of Blue Oyster Cult, ABBA and 80s glam than from any of the Satanic dabbling of their fellow metalheads. Fronted by Cardinal Copia, the latest incarnation of their frontman, the band have forgone the midnight mass style ceremonies of their previous three albums and now invite their congregation to follow them into what sounds like a trial run for an upcoming Ghost musical. Lyrically, the usual dark themes are a constant throughout, this time around it’s the Black Death, but it’s all wrapped up in an infectious sense of fun, albeit one where that feels like it could turn at any moment. It’s like it’s only fun while the lurking beast wants it to be. With upbeat anthems, mid-tempo ponderings, instrumentals and the doom/glam genius that is Faith, Prequelle sees Ghost comfortably cementing themselves as the best theatrical rock band of the 21st century. Oh yea, there’s a saxophone solo too.

Godsmack – When Legends Rise

Chosen by: Kevin McDonald (Reviews)

“Time and tide wait for no man.” Variants of the phrase have been uttered over the course of several hundreds of years, and it is no less true now than it was back when it originated. The passage of time has been known to understandably mellow many bands of a heavier persuasion, particularly in the light of any commercial success. Godsmack is one such band, and they made no secret of such in the run up to the release of When Legends Rise. Their seventh full length sees them opt for a direction more akin to hard rock than the heavy/alt metal of much of their canon, streamlining and softening their sound. Sully Erna’s vocals have a lost a bit of their grit and edge, and the riffs don’t cut as much as before, but the core, high quality songwriting is still there. Some may cry foul over the use of outside songwriters on a few tracks, but what’s the harm when the songs are this good? The opening one-two of the title track and Bulletproof sets the bar high and the group rarely falter from there, with hooks galore as the band works through eleven tracks with the minimum of fuss. There’s nods to earlier days here and there, but it’s largely new territory for Godsmack, and as the superb “Eye of the Storm” brings the record to a close, there’s no doubt they’re as comfortable and capable here as they were in their old surroundings.

Twitching Tongues – Gaining Purpose Through Passionate Hatred

Chosen by: Matthew Brooks (Reviews)

Gaining Purpose… is like The Blackening in a way. I know it’s a great album but every time I listen to it I’m reminded that it’s even better than I thought it was. From the first moment the guitars come in, you’re convinced that it will be a straight-ahead, shouty hardcore album. Then the vocals start. Instant Type O Negative vibes. Compounded with the gothic and doomy overtones to a lot of tracks, it’s obvious who the band were listening to while writing the record. But this isn’t just a re-tread of the Type O back catalogue, it’s a fantastic work in its own right. Laden with hooks, shout along moments and two of the best mosh calls of the year so far, Gaining Purpose… is a beast all its own. Very few albums with riffing of this high a standard can suddenly throw in a piano ballad and have it work perfectly. No song out stays it’s welcome and no musical idea is executed poorly. If you want to shut your mind off and throw spin kicks to great hardcore riffs, this album is for you. If you want to listen interesting, introspective music with gothic overtones this album has also got you covered. This album is probably the best hardcore album I’ve heard this year.

You can read the full Gaining Purpose… review here.