By Brandon “B-Mac” McCarthy
2018 has come to a close, and this year marked another successful year for both hard rock and heavy metal. So many artists and bands put out some amazing stuff that fans are happy to have in their music collection. For me, there were 20 this year that stood to me and defined them for 2018. This part always kills me because the process of choosing can be a nightmare to me, and there are so many artists that deserve a spot on my list. However, that being said, these are my picks for my Top 20 hard rock and heavy metal albums this year.
20. Phil Anselmo: Choosing Mental Illness as a Virtue – Break out the strait jackets, for Phil Anselmo has brought madness to his latest work with the Illegals. Death metal at its most gnarly, we dive into the insane mind of the crazy, and emerge that much more disturbed. Anselmo gets more vicious in vocals, while guitarists Steve Taylor and Mike De Leon play raw and greasy with the guitar licks. With songs like “Utopian,” “Choosing Mental Illness,” “Finger Me,” and “Delinquent,” Anselmo has created another masterpiece that will surely remembered as one of death metal’s greatest creations.
19. All That Remains: Victim of the New Disease – The group has returned to form that proves why they are one of the founding fathers of metalcore. Intense, guttural, and tenacious, All That Remains have put together a metal record where they return to their original roots. There are some somber moments, but most of this record is a pile-driver to your nuts with tunes like “Fuck Love,” “Blood I Spill,” “Alone in the Darkness,” “Everything’s Wrong,” and “Wasteland.” Philip Labonte continues to cross boundaries between screamer and melodic singer. This album marks the last with original lead guitarist Oli Herbert, who suddenly passed away before the album’s release. It is bittersweet, but he leaves All That Remains’ fans probably his best riffs ever written.
18. Diamante: Coming in Hot – Blue-haired and full of attitude, Sunset rock diva Diamante drops in her debut album. This record is full aggressive female power and spunk, stuff that is a cross between Joan Jett and Halestorm. She is a song bird that can be mean or sweet, depending on her mood. Her backing band does an amazing playing powerful hooks and catchy melodies that jump between poppy and hard rock. Some of the best songs include “Coming in Hot,” “Sound of Us,” “F.L.A.G.,” “Sorry,” “Kind of Love,” and a heavy version of the classic Hearts tune “Crazy On You.” If Diamante keeps up the momentum she is on right now, then nothing is gonna stop this badass chick. Look out Taylor Swift, you got competition.
17. Behemoth: I Loved You at Your Darkest – Evil spirits and extreme guitars surround the air on Behemoth’s 11th release. First off, I am a Christian and do not condone Satan, but I choose to see this album as a statement of freedom of expression. The masters of blackened death metal continue to reign supreme on their unholy throne. Leader Nergal constructed a devilishly charming album that continues what The Satanist left off. From “Wolves ov Siberia” to “Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica,” “Bartzabel,” “If Crucifixion Was Not Enough…,” and “We Are the Next 1000 Years,” Behemoth dominates its crafts to height. Again, I do not worship what they preach, but I respect their freedom of choice, and the shredding is brutal and intense.
16. Shinedown: Attention Attention – Negativity comes knocking our door, only for us to push it aside in the end. That is what Shinedown has created with their newest work. It is a concept record about a person who is in a bad place mental, who then works through the issues to become a better person. Mixing in elements of hard rock, arena rock, pop rock, alternative rock, and a bit of electronic, this album surpasses Threat to Survival in terms of creativity and musicianship. Vocalist Brent Smith stills soars high with his voice, while Zach Myers creates some impressive guitar hooks that helps create the mood of each song. From “Devil” to “Attention Attention,” “Kill Your Conscience,” “Get Up,” and “The Human Radio,” Shinedown shines brightly with their 6th release.
15. Rivers of Nihil: Where Owls Know My Name – Death metal never sounded better until I heard Rivers of Nihil’s latest creation. What makes this album spectacular is how the group incorporates jazz fusion into their harsh, progressive nature. It is a concept record that, according to bassist Adam Biggs, tells the story of the last man on earth, made immortal to be the witness of the dying planet. This album has some outstanding guitar work by Brody Uttley and Jonathan Topore, whose riffs mesh in nicely with the saxophones and trumpets that are featured. Add the deathly screams of Jake Dieffenbach, then you can hear the pain and wretchedness. For about an hour, Rivers of Nihil get super creative with songs like “The Silent Life,” “Old Nothing,” “Terrestria III: Wither,” and “Death is Real.”
14. Clutch: Book of Bad Decisions – Arguably one of the best hard rock bands to come out of the 90s, Clutch has continued their recent hot streak with their 12th release. What makes this record stand out in my mind was how Clutch did not stick to their cookie-cutter stoner routine, they went into their bag of tricks and pulled out a slew of different style tunes that still have that heavy blues stoner to them. Frontman Neil Fallon and his band of merry stoners throw in a mix of funk and Southern Rock. Fallon sounds amazing on this album. Tim Sult arms this album with some tasty, distorted guitar hooks, while bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster weaponized every song with lethal riffs and beats. From “Spirt of ‘76” to “Book of Bad Decisions,” “How to Shake Hands,” “Vision Quest,” “Sonic Counselor,” and “Ghoul Wrangler,” Clutch is still at the peak of their creative after many years.
13. Co-Op: Co-Op – There is a new generation of rock stars coming into their own today, and Dash Cooper is one of them. As the son of Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer Alice Cooper, Dash leads his own creation to the promise land. Co-Op has a very exciting hard rock sound that is a cross between Soundgarden and Alice Cooper. Dash has a powerful, rustic voice that sounds very down-and-dirty, ready to fight with his words. Guitarist Jeremy Tabor provides the debut LP with delicious licks and solos. I really enjoyed the thumping power of bassist Justin Swartzentruber, who is simple, but decisive. Dash’s own pops actually collaborated on one of their songs, “Old Scratch,” which is a fitting “father and son” moment. Aerosmith axe man Joe Perry got in on the action by lending his services on “Howl.” Along with “N.O.W.,” “Desert Dreams,” “Sleep,” “Condemned,” “Secret Scars,” and “Overdrive,” I see Co-Op as a future Hall of Famer if they continue making impactful records like this one.
12. Disturbed: Evolution – Disturbed has evolved with times, and provided with new music that I feel is a big improvement over 2015’s Immortalized. Leader David Draiman continues to push the band into new territories with a record that is relatively heavier than the last one, but is seen as being more somber and melodic. I like the direction they took on this effort, particularly on the guitar work by Dan Donegan, who is talented in creating new exciting riffs that challenges the band’s place in rock ‘n’ roll. Mike Wengren is still a massive beast on the drum kit, while John Moyer returns to provide impactful basslines. The songs are a mix between heavy and light, guitar driven and ballad-led. From “Are You Ready” to “A Reason to Fight,” “Stronger on Your Own,” “Saviour of Nothing,” and “Already Gone,” Disturbed has given the fans an exciting album.
11. Alice in Chains: Rainier Fog – One of the last great grunge groups of the 90s, Alice in Chains has returned to show the world they are far from over with their 6th release. Since joining in 2006, co-leader and singer William DuVall has been the answer to fill the void that the late Layne Staley left in the group. Along with co-leader and guitarist/singer Jerry Cantrell, they still remain an effective singing duo, giving fans a record filled with sinister doom metal, sludge metal, grunge, and hard rock. Cantrell is still a hurricane on the guitar, playing some very potent licks. I was also blown away by the stoner-like beats performed harmoniously by drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Inez. The Seattle rock ‘n’ roll outlaws, arguably the heaviest of the Seattle Big 4 of Grunge (Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam), have a slew of amazing songs like “The One You Know,” “Red Giant,” “Drone,” So Far Under,” and “Never Fade.” Remaining optimistic after so many years, Alice in Chains are still a wrecking ball in rock today.
10. Waking the Sleeper: The 7 Deadly Sins – Pray for us sinners, for Waking the Sleeper takes us on a journey down the road of debauchery. This alternative metal act from Wichita brings us their wretched debut album that is a combo between alternative metal, hard rock, and a dash of screamo and soft rock. Fronted by Raven Le Rouge, I thoroughly enjoyed listening them take us on a dark journey that hopefully made us feel enlightened coming out the other side. Filled with crunchy guitar licks, pulsating drum and bass beats, and mesmerizing vocals, Waking the Sleeper is the offspring of Disturbed and Evanescence. From “Sloth” to “Gluttony,” “Smoke and Mirrors,” “Greed,” “Lust,” “Pretty Little Liars,” “Blind Me,” and “Wrath,” this is a band alternative metal fans can get behind. Preaching our last rites, Waking the Sleeper is the sleeper hit of 2018.
9. Slash: Living the Dream – Slash has definitely living the dream; a rock ‘n’ rollers dream. The Hall of Fame guitarist of Guns N’ Roses has developed a huge following with releasing his own material. This album marks the third release with Alter Bridge frontman Myles Kennedy and their own group, the Conspirators. This also marks the first record with newest guitar member Frank Sidoris, whose rhythmic hooks gels in nicely with the groove of the music. What makes this album good is the incorporation of classic rock beats along with a new hard rock edge. Slash can still whip out hit making solos that him a legend in the late 80s and early 90s with GNR. Plus, I do not know how Kennedy manages to keep his vocals sound so vibrant after being part of so many projects including his debut solo album, Year of the Tiger. With songs like “Driving Rain,” “Mind Your Manners,” “My Antidote,” “The Call of the Wild,” “Slow Grind,” and “The Great Pretender,” I see Slash and Myles Kennedy not slowing down any time soon.
8. Parkway Drive: Reverence – When I think of metalcore, I usually go to Parkway Drive these days. This is their 6th studio release, and there is a huge change to their approach on creating energetic music. While they still have their signature metalcore attitude, this album is more melodic than anything they have done. Vocalist Winston McCall decides to add more clean singing to the album, and it actually works to his advantage. Not to worry, there are still amazing guttural screams, blistering guitar hooks and licks by lead Jeff Ling & rhythm Luke Kilpatrick, and pulsating blast-beats that made Parkway Drive who they are today. From “Wishing Wells” to “Absolute Power,” “The Void,” “Prey,” “Shadow Boxing,” “In Blood,” and “The Colour of Leaving,” metalcore gets a serious makeover that is sure to win over new fans. “In Blood” as one of the best breakdowns I have heard in a while, “Scorched fucking Earth // Scorched fucking Earth // As I drown you out!” Even if they toned down just a bit, Parkway Drive is still vicious.
7. Greta Van Fleet: Anthem of the Peaceful Army – Love them or hate them, there is no denying that Greta Van Fleet is bringing old school rock ‘n’ roll a huge kick in the ass. A young band from Michigan, they are heavily influenced by Led Zeppelin, as one can clearly hear in their music. Some fans think they are a copy band of something already done, but the way I see it, they are bringing 1970s hard rock back with a vengeance. Vocalist Josh Kiszka has hollowing voice that is just like Robert Plant, but he says that is just how it came out when he sings. His brothers, guitarist Jake and bassist Samuel, deliver blues based hard rock that screams glory to past legends, while Daniel Wagner plays simple yet solid beats that is almost identical to John Bonham. Greta Van Fleet still has some growing to do, but this debut full-length is very exciting, mixing in hard rock with blues-rock and a taste of progressive. With songs like “Age of Man,” “When the Curtain Falls,” “Lover, Leaver (Taker, Believer),” “You’re the One,” “Mountain of the Sun,” and “Anthem,” I can only expect further success for the 4-time Grammy nominees.
6. Zeal & Ardor: Stranger Fruit – It was over a year ago that Zeal & Ardor, the dark creation of Manuel Gagneux, surprised the music world with the critically acclaimed Devil is Fine. Now, he is back already with his newest effort, Stranger Fruit, which is the first album to feature the full band. Gagneux continues on his path of bringing avant-garde metal to the mainstream. He walks on a tightrope in creating music that is sensitive but ruthless. Mixing his avant-garde with black metal and soul, Zeal & Ardor are at their creative mecca. I thoroughly enjoyed the chants, the blast-beats, the haunting piano work, and the stories that Gagneux has conducted. It is alternate history lesson that involves revolution and uprising. From “Gravedigger’s Chant” to “Don’t You Dare,” “Fire of Motion,” “Row Row,” “Ship on Fire,” “You Ain’t Coming Back,” “We Can’t Be Found,” “Stranger Fruit,” and “Coagula,” our souls are entangled with wretchedness in the subtlest ways. I never thought I would turn out to be a huge fan, especially since their music surrounds the Devil, but I have been turned on by their creativity. This album surpasses its predecessor.
5. Judas Priest: Firepower – Fans long for the old sound of Judas Priest, and I believe they have done just that. I see this as a much bigger improvement over 2014’s Redeemer of Souls. Leader Rob Halford fires on all cylinders with his signature growl and ear-splitting falsetto scream. There are some heavy-duty, fast-paced guitar work that brings new school metal and old school metal together, thanks to the collective work of Glenn Tipton and Richie Faulkner. I have to say, having Faulkner join the band 7 years ago help rejuvenate the metal legends synapses, and his lead solos were outstanding. The songs they penned were much heavier and I view it one of their best albums ever put together. Firepower screams vintage Judas Priest. Producer Andy Sneap add some of his own flair that made the record that much sharper. With songs like “Lightning Strike,” “Evil Never Dies,” “Necromancer,” “Children of the Sun,” “Rising from Ruins,” “Traitors Gate,” and “Sea of Red,” I am once again hell-bent for leather, while screaming for vengeance. The mighty Priest has returned!
4. Ghost: Prequelle – Papa Emeritus III is dead, and Cardinal Copia (both portrayed by Tobia Forge) is now in charge of the Swedish doom metal group. They have returned to continue their quest to bring masses to their evil congregation. Prequelle is probably the most divisive yet genius pop metal album ever produced. They added in flavors disco, arena rock, doom metal and pop rock. This is a record that deals with the Plague and Black Death, while serving as a reminder to “seize the day” for those who are still around. While talks about death, it is a celebration of life, in a dark, twisted way that only Ghost can put to words. Well-crafted lyrics, devilishly charming music, and a knack for flair, Ghost continues to surprise me. From “Rats” to “Faith,” “See the Light,” “Dance Macabre,” “Witch Image,” and “Life Eternal,” this will be an album that will be talked about for years to come. “Dance Macabre” was the one tune, which very disco rock oriented, I did not expect to enjoy so much. Not a big fan of disco, but damn did Ghost pull a fast one and create something infectious. As long as Cardinal Copia and his Nameless Ghoul are still around the music world is not safe.
3. Amaranthe: Helix – This is the record I have been waiting all year for, and it did not disappoint me. Amaranthe has come full circle and back to basics with this heavy-duty number. While I did enjoy 2016’s Maximalism for its creative exploration, I felt Helix catapulted them the stratosphere once again. Elize Ryd is still one of the best female rock singers today, and she captures the true power of what Amaranthe is all about. This is the first album with new clean male singer Nils Molin, who brings a power metal feel to the group. I will always be a Jake E fan, but Molin soars to new heights, while Henrik Wilhelmsson continues to prowess as a death growler as well as lead singer. Guitarist Olof Mörck plays some sick riffs that drifts between death metal and power metal. Helix is chalk full of splendid songs like “The Score,” “365,” “Countdown,” “Dream,” “GC6,” “My Haven,” “Iconic,” and “Momentum.” This is arguably their best album since The Nexus. Like a dream, Amaranthe to show the world why they are the kings of melodic metal.
2. Soulfly: Ritual – When combining thrash metal with death metal and groove metal, no one does it better than Soulfly. The brainchild of Sepultura founder Max Cavalera is back at it once again with a record that filled with fast-paced riffs and deaf-defining screaming. I was blown away by the lethal combo of black metal, death metal, groove metal and thrash metal, and how it all meshed together so well. Not only can Max bring the wretched screams, he can lay down some awesome guitar riffs. Marc Rizzo just dominates the lead guitar solos, outdoing all the previous work he has done with Soulfly. Max’s son, Zyon, is such a badass on the drums, cutting through the cymbals and snares like wrapping paper. Ritual marks the debut of new bassist Mike Leon, who is a pulsating pleasure on my favorite instrument. From “Ritual” to “The Summoning,” “Evil Empowered,” “Under Rapture (featuring Ross Dolan of Immolation),” “Demonized,” “Blood on the Street,” and “Bite the Bullet.” Max even brought in his friend, Lamb of God frontman Randy Blythe, in to help spread the carnage in “Dead Behind the Eyes.” Soulfly carries my soul to the gates of heavy metal heaven with this album. I am filled full of groove.
1. Halestorm: Vicious – This is my favorite hard rock group of this generation. Halestorm brings to us an album that is filled the holy hard trinity of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. Lzzy Hale and her band of rock outlaws of outdid themselves with a record that is much heavier than their predecessor, 2015’s Into the Wild Life. Lzzy does a magnificent job with her vocal work, getting down and dirty in the gutter. She is full of wonder and angst, showing the world that she is still at the top of her game. Vicious features some of the best solo guitar work that Joe Hottinger has created. He is as slick and mesmerizing as they come. Bassist Josh Smith did a fabulous job with carving out affectionate basslines, while Lzzy’s brother Arejay kills it on the drum kit. He just wails on the drums with such passion. Lzzy drew a lot the songs from personal experience and has opened the doors to show her pain and healing at the same time. Halestorm has done a brilliant job writing out memorable songs “Black Vultures,” “Uncomfortable,” “Buzz,” “Do Not Disturb,” “Killing Ourselves to Live,” “Heart of Novocaine,” “White Dress,” and “The Silence.” Vicious kicks tremendous ass, and that’s why it is my top choice of 2018.
All of these incredibly talented artists that have made this prestigious list should be proud of the work they created. Here are a few artists I would like to give an honorable mention to for their work: Bad Wolves’ Disobey, Light the Torch’s Revival, Like a Storm’s Catacombs, Terrorizer’s Caustic Attack, Bullet For My Valentine’s Gravity, Nine Inch Nails’ Bad Witch, Five Finger Death Punch’s And Justice For None, Atreyu’s In Our Wake, Breaking Benjamin’s Ember, and Thunderpussy’s Thunderpussy. With 2018 in the books, 2019 is looking even more promising with new Slipknot, Tool, Avenged Sevenfold, Lamb of God, and Megadeth. To all the artists this year, I salute you. Horns up!!!