24 December 2018

Midlands Metalheads Albums of 2018

2018 has been an incredible year for rock music- legends have released astounding albums, bands that never got the attention they deserved made astounding comebacks and new bands across the spectrum kicked the doors down with style. With so much great music out there, our team of expert reviewers have compiled a list of our twenty favourite albums this year. We’ve listed them in no particular order, and this list was compiled by December first for time sensitive reasons, as such no album released in December has been included in the list below, but they will be eligible for next year’s list.

Spanish Love Songs- Schmaltz

Words by Matthew Brooks

There are few albums ever written that capture the mid-20s angst of not knowing who and where you are quite like Schmaltz. Every moment of this album drips with a very real sense of depression and anxiety. The choruses explode and will have you humming along for days after you first hear them. The lyrics are perfectly blunt and direct, always clear in what they’re about, but relatable enough to make you cry. Sure, a song as massive as The Boy Considers His Haircut should have a better title, but when you’re singing the words “I just wanna know how to be okay” at 3 am, who really cares?

Judas Priest- Firepower

Words by Amy Lawrence

Firepower is a colossal example of what a metal band should strive to achieve, offering relentless power that’s layered with ambience. The production is stunning, capturing the true essence of the album and ensuring that every track is heard in blissful clarity. Each riff contributes to a variety of tones, ranging from the sinister Evil Never Dies and the Black Sabbath infused Lone Wolf. Firepower perfectly showcases Priest’s creative potential, particularly pertinent with their fiftieth anniversary looming in 2019.

Ghost- Prequelle

Words by David Steed

Prequelle has been gracing end of year lists across the rock and metal community, so it will be no surprise that it is listed here (and also on our mid-year list). Despite its popularity it is also one of the most divisive albums of the year: comment sections across social media are full of people decrying the hype around the band, with every man and his dog putting forward a band/album who are better. Whether Prequelle is the album of the year or not is, of course, debatable, but it’s undeniable that it’s up there. The only people who don’t like it are those who don’t listen to rock music in the first place and those that are so metal they completely disregard bands with any kind of popularity or sense of fun. Ghosts usual dark lyrical themes (this time it’s the Black Death) are wrapped up in bombastic and cheesy music that sounds like the cast out love-child of ABBA and Blue Oyster Cult. There is doom/glam genius in the dark guitar harmonies of Faith, sing-along moments in Rats and Dance Macabre, rock musical theatre in album closer Life Eternal, and of course there is THAT saxophone solo that brings the ear-gasmic climax to Miasma. Internet users can say what they like, but there is now very little that can shift Ghost from atop the pedestal of being the best theatrical rock band of the 21st Century.

Palm Reader- Braille

Words by Matthew Brooks

Palm Reader has been a shining beacon of UK hardcore for many years now but have never received the attention the quality of their music warrants. Many other criminally overlooked British bands have returned with astounding albums this year- of those Braille is the best. The expansion of Palm Reader’s sound with clean vocals gives a new dimension to their music and gives a new appeal to listeners who might not have been able to get their head around the sheer, harsh chaos of previous material. That said this is by no means a commercial sounding album, far from it in fact, but the future looks bright for Palm Reader. If nothing else Braille is a triumph any band should be proud of.

Outre-Tombe – Nécrovortex

Words by Kevin McDonald

Read our full review here.

With so many bands practising the old school death metal style in an era where getting access to underground bands is ever easier, it is a lot more difficult to stand out. Canada’s Outre-Tombe seem to have things sussed though, and with only two albums to their name, they are rapidly tearing away from their contemporaries. Their approach sounds simple enough, just pulverise the listener with an immense barrage of riffs until they are helpless. In practice it’s far more difficult, and the ease at which Outre-Tombe pull it off makes it all the more impressive. There’s a remarkable consistency to the record as it ebbs and flows perfectly over the course of its thirty-six-minute run time, with none of the ten songs willing to give an inch in the battle for supremacy. To put it simply, they’re all the winners, and so are we for having a chance to hear this. At this late stage, I can’t see any extreme metal album usurping Nécrovortex this year (over to you Sulphur Aeon), so if you like death metal and haven’t checked this out, then I suggest you rectify your mistake immediately.

Real Friends- Composure

Words by Rachel Sandford

Real Friends originally started out with a lot of passion in their music; even the slower songs were so full of emotion it made them really stand out from the crowd. With their two previous albums before composure, I personally felt they had lost that. It was decent music, sure, but it seemed like the passion was gone. With Composure, it definitely sounds like that passion is back.

Harakiri For The Sky- Arson

Words by Matthew Brooks

Read our full review here.

It is often foolish to suggest a record is on track to be your album of the year in January. However, the sheer quality of Arson lead me to make exactly that claim when I reviewed it. It’s inclusion on this list is down not only to that initial assessment of quality, but also how much it’s continued to grow on me with each subsequent listen. The crystal-clear production on this album really enhances the emotional, post-black metal odysseys the listener is guided through. Many bands would make ten-minute long, depressing songs overly oppressive and bleak to listen to, but Harakiri for the Sky always seem to instil a sense of triumph into their music, that leave the listener feeling that maybe, just maybe, everything will be alright if they can make it through. And what more could you possibly want from music than that?

Myles Kennedy – Year of the Tiger

Words by David Steed

Read our full review here.

Released back in March, Year of the Tiger already made our mid-year list and has survived to make it onto this list as well. If you read our full review of the album then this will come as no surprise: it is an album that transcends genre boundaries and should be essential listening for any music fan. With a broad range of acoustic instrumentation, poignant lyrics and hauntingly beautiful melodies, the album transports you through the emotional turmoil experienced by Kennedy over his years of processing the untimely and avoidable death of his father. It is a stand-out release for Kennedys already remarkable career and for the music industry as a whole.

Hooded Menace- Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed

Words by Kevin McDonald

Over the course of the past decade, the Finns have produced quite a catalogue of death/doom metal, 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 devastating, 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. Heavy, memorable, atmospheric, well written… this album is seriously good, and has everything a death/doom metal fan could ask for.

The Dead Daisies- Burn It Down

Words by Diane Davies

Over the past four or five years, the Dead Daisies have steadily been thrusting themselves upon us with relentless touring and killer albums, such as Make Some Noise in 2016, Live and Louder in 2017. This year gave us the stunning Burn It Down, which reflects the vivacity and zeal that makes us love this David Lowry project. With notorious bands under their belts, such as Whitesnake, Thin Lizzy, Mötley Crüe and Journey, these boys know how to captivate an audience. Resurrected is a blast that ignites this album with sensational turmoil. Following on, Rise Up and the title track continue to blow us away in true Daisies fashion. You cannot fail to love Doug Aldrich’s guitar contributions. Judgement Day is the slow grind where John Corabi is allowed to demonstrate his vocal range. Then we have the funk influenced What Goes Around. The sultry Bitch then hits us with Marco Mendoza’s bass underpinning it perfectly. The ten tracks are varied and buzzing as you would expect. Dead and Gone and Can’t Take It With You are testaments to how tight the guys can play. Finishing on another fast and thumping rant, Leave Me Alone, you have to admit that Burn It Down is a great listen.

Conjurer – Mire

Words by Matthew Brooks

If someone had compiled a list of all the best things about the more extreme end of heavy music, I could be easily convinced that Conjurer had gotten hold of the list and ticked off every single item on. More than that though every single element of this album is done to an absurdly high quality. It’s not just full characteristics of their sound that are executed flawlessly, like the sludgy riffing or bone shattering vocals, but also the little nods to other subgenres can bring a smile to any extreme music fan’s face- like the snare count in on Retch being ripped straight from the grindcore playbook. If a band had released Mire as their fifth release, after years of tinkering and adjusting their sound, it would be superbly impressive. This isn’t Conjurer’s fifth album. It’s their debut album. It’s almost difficult to believe, but not only is this album beyond incredible- it speaks volumes about Conjurer’s potential moving forward. Also, if you get the chance to catch the band live, you have to if you like the idea of drowning in riffs.

Parkway Drive – Reverence

Words by David Steed

Parkway Drive have had a turbulent last few years: not only were they hit hard by the tragic death of their good friend Tom Searle (Architects) but they have also been dealing with similar circumstances within their own families (they have, justifiably, not released many details in order to protect their privacy, but you can read singer Winston McCall’s interview with Metal Hammer to find out more). The culmination of using music as their emotional outlet has led to an album that is the epitome of channelled anger and grief: Reverence. You can feel the hatred and spite dripping from the vocal delivery of songs like Wishing Wells and Absolute Power, whereas Prey and The Void bring the defiant and uplifting anthems. Cemetery Bloom is a haunting track that is more poetic monologue that it is rock song, worthy of being delivered from the highest mountain top. The entire album is underpinned by fierce, melodic grandeur: if Iron Maiden used seven string guitars and had a sizable injection of Norse blood this is the kind of thing I could see them writing. There are naysayers who would have believe Parkway Drive have sold out because they are not strictly metalcore anymore, and yes, some of these tracks are the most accessible the band have produced. The emotional weight more than compensates for the lack of breakdowns, and there are numerous other bands still writing traditional metalcore tracks. But there is no one who has written an album that sounds like Reverence, and as such it stands tall as one of the finest heavy releases of the year.

Pennywise – Never Gonna Die

Words by Kevin McDonald

Pennywise’s twelfth full length sees the Californian punk group back to their best following a relatively turbulent period in their ranks. Jim Lindberg’s return with 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 attack, the album stands alongside All or Nothing as the group’s best 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.

Twitching Tongues- Gaining Purpose Through Passionate Hatred

Words by Matthew Brooks

Read our full review here.

Hardcore has been having a real boom period, especially in the US. A lot of those bands bring a high level of thuggish brutality, Twitching Tongues stand out from the pack by eschewing a lot of that for gothic vibes. Type O Negative are the first name to come to mind when listening to Gaining Purpose… the vocals sitting in the lower register massively helps in that comparison. What also helps Twitching Tongues is they’re not afraid to do whatever they want. Not only does Gaining Purpose… feature a piano ballad- something for which a lot of hardcore bands would get crucified- but Long Gone, the track in question, is brilliant and especially impactful as it’s sandwiched between two of the most aggressive tracks. Twitching Tongues have constructed an album that excels at all the most important aspects of modern hardcore. The riffs are fantastic, the vocals as shoutable after the first listen, the breakdowns slam, the sequencing is on point and the gothy overtones are the perfect icing on the cake. Essential listening.

Toska- Fire By The Silos

Words by David Steed

Many who listen to Toska will have come to them via their guitarist, Rabea Massaad, whose social media presence has grown massively over the last year or so due to his high-quality guitar gear demos and his open and honest personality (you can listen to a collection of tracks written for these demos on his fantastic EP, Grinding Gears). Although Massaad is the most well-known face of the band, Fire By The Silos is a triumphant debut that highlights the quality of all three members (the band is completed by Dave Hollingworth on bass and Ben Minal on drums).  Traditional song formats have been thrown out the window and replaced by a need to create a singular musical entity: an album that should be listened to from start to finish to fully appreciate an album that flows almost like a film score. Some of the spoken word segments won’t be for everyone, but the ebbs and flows between heavy riffs and ambient soundscapes should as a minimum be interesting to rock fans, and at best fully engross the listener in some of the most original progressive rock music in the scene today.

Ryan Roxie – Imagine Your Reality

Words by Kevin McDonald

Probably best known as one of Alice Cooper’s most dependable band mates over the past two decades, Ryan Roxie has never been averse to taking the reins himself for a solo venture. His first full length since Roxie 77’s superb Two Sides to Every Story in 2011, Imagine Your Reality is everything you’d want from Ryan: hook laden, riff ridden rock ‘n’ roll, without an ounce of self-indulgence. Whether it’s the laidback demeanour of “Hearts in Trouble” and “The Uh-Oh Song” or the more barbed attitude shown in “Me Generation” and “To Live and Die in LA”, Roxie is coolness personified, effortlessly imbuing the material with his stylish swagger. Packed to the hilt with catchy earworms and irresistible melodies, the all too brief run time leaves you wanting more; always the sign of a great record. Given his track record, I’d expect nothing less from Ryan, and I can only hope this is the start of a more regular output from this criminally underrated musician.

Black Peaks – All That Divides

Words By Matthew Brooks

Give the critical acclaim that Black Peaks’ debut, Statues, received, it’s fair to say there was a lot of pressure coming into All That Divides. From the offset it’s clear All That Divides is a very different album to Statues. Where Statues had a large focus in big riffing, All That Divides has a much more expansive musical canvas- though it does know when to bring in the big riffs. As such, All That Divides is a less instantaneous listen, but the rewards are much greater if you stick with it. The musicianship on display here is unbelievably good, with influence taken from bands across the progressive rock/metal spectrum as well as from post-hardcore and beyond. Drum nerds take note, this album is essential. That’s all without mentioning the godlike vocals of Will Gardner, one listen to Home will send shivers down your spine and his banshee-like shriek is, frankly, jaw dropping. With All That Divides, Black Peaks have continued to ascend into the upper echelons of challenging, interesting rock music. If you’re not on board with Black Peaks yet, rectify that immediately.

Be The Wolf – Empress

Words by David Steed

It is surprising how little coverage Be The Wolf have got over here in the UK. We at Midlands Metalheads are not exempt of guilt on this front as their latest album, Empress, was submitted for review but initially got lost amongst the hundreds of albums we receive. Now is the time to rectify that. Broadly speaking, Empress is a melodic hard rock album with a polished, European pop/rock sheen, but it covers a lot more ground than such a description gives it credit for. There are hooks a plenty and riffs that you actually remember (the guitar that opens Action sounds like a modern version of Burn era Deep Purple). Burn Me Out brings Motorhead-esq fast-paced rock ‘n’ roll, whereas Move It is a hard-rock take on 50s big band swing. Every song brings something new to the album, but with a cohesive sound throughout, grounded in the polished, chorus-laden guitar tone and distinctive vocals. This might be the best melodic rock album you haven’t heard this year.

Kalmah – Palo

Words by Kevin McDonald

Returning from the swamplands after a five year exile, Kalmah show no signs of rust as they ease right back into the groove with the magnificent Palo. A band spawned in the wake of the keyboard drenched melodeath explosion spearheaded by fellow Finns Children of Bodom in the late ‘90s, Kalmah have always had a more magical, wondrous slant than their compatriots, and it’s pleasing to say they haven’t lost their touch. A huge part of Palo’s success is the way the melodies and riffs blend together as one, with masses of memorable harmonies seamlessly worked into the framework of the songs. In this genre, it’s very easy to slap melodies across the riffs in a contrived manner, but with Kalmah, they’ve always danced delicately amongst one another as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. This organic quality is what helps rank Kalmah as one of the strongest acts in their field, and Palo strengthens this status as another fine addition to their near flawless catalogue.

Zeal & Ardor – Stranger Fruit

Words by Matthew Brooks

Read our full review here.

When Zeal & Ardor released Devil is Fine in 2016 (rereleased in 2017), it was viewed, often, as an intriguing oddity. The fusion of soul, gospel and other forms of African American roots music with black metal certainly had the potential to be a one of oddity. Devil is Fine was a good, if unrefined effort. Stranger Fruit blows any accusations of novelty out of the water by managing to combine the two style, and a hell of a lot more, into a single, cohesive whole on each song. The catchy vocals of the soul inspired parts will drag in even a casual listener, before blasts of icy black metal roar from the album. It’s by no means a one trick pony however, the ratio of black metal is tweaked in each song and elements from pop, electronic, chip tune, modern metal, and an incomprehensible amount more pop up throughout the album, never feeling disconnect and adding enough variety to prevent the album from ever feeling stale. Perhaps Zeal & Ardor’s leader, Manuel Gagneux, is some form of genius, all I know is I want someone to throw enough money at him to have a full gospel choir on the next album.

List compiled and edited by Matthew Brooks

Read our mid-year list here.