The 50 Albums That Shook 2018
50. Can’t Swim
This Too Won’t Pass
A year and a half on from the release of their acclaimed debut album, Fail You Again, New Jersey’s Can’t Swim returned in 2018 with this second full-length that showed that their first record was far from a fluke. Its 10 songs have the same emotionally-charged energy as those on its predecessor, but are the result of a band who are not just more confident, but more sure of who they are.
That’s ironic, though, because the great hook of many of these songs – especially My Queen, Hell In A Handbasket and “sometimes you meet the right people at the wrong times” – is that they’re riddled with insecurity, self-doubt and a great deal of second guessing. To that extent, This Too Won’t Pass – as its title suggests – is a journey into a frayed state of mind, one full of regrets stemming from bad decisions.
Few can bare their souls with as much honesty as frontman Chris LoPorto. These songs might be wrapped up in a slick, glossy and polished sound, but beyond the surface of the production, there are deep cracks forming all over the place which threaten to both explode and implode at the same time. Are these songs able to find any kind of resolution? Not really, but the fact that they address the conflicts and problems – and even evils – that inspired them is an important first step.
‘Can I rip my brain out straight from my head?’ asks Chris on Malicious 444, before later shifting the focus to the other source of his malcontent: ‘Can I rip my heart out straight from my chest?’ It’s fair to say he does both those things, but the effects of doing so aren’t just evident within its songs – they transfer on to the listener. It’s almost impossible not to be moved by it all. The crisp production only enhances the wounds that open up more as you listen to it; it makes the pain and the emotional exhaustion all the more intense and powerful.
Musically, it’s a record that refuses to be pigeonholed, swerving between pop-punk, post-hardcore and emo-pop, as well as – at times – a few full-on pop flourishes. It’s a savage, unrelenting listening experience, and one with an incredible trick up its sleeve. Because while the songs themselves might not offer too many answers as to how you can fix feeling broken and fucked-up, as you scream along to their catchy choruses and Chris’ desperate, angst-ridden lyrics, somewhere in the back of your throat and your mind there’s nevertheless a sense of defiance that builds up. It’s not full-on catharsis, and after the album ends you might not be any clearer on what to do, but for a brief moment This Too Won’t Pass can remind you just how good it can feel to be alive.
49. Brian Fallon
Sure, The Gaslight Anthem made their live return this year, but away from the attention of his sort-of-on-hiatus ‘main’ band, Brian Fallon had his own personal comeback to contend with. Well… from himself. The New Jersey singer-songwriter found himself with severe writer’s block, and so, rather than struggling on the uncertain road ahead, he looked backwards for the first time in a decade and sought the advice of Ted Hutt (producer of Gaslight’s 2008 breakthrough The ’59 Sound). The counsel he received to “not take into consideration anyone’s opinion” worked wonders, and gave him the confidence to pen the boldest sounds of his career so far: Etta James, If Your Prayers Don’t Get To Heaven and the title-track. Forget Me Not and the tender, acoustic strums of See You On The Other Side, meanwhile, prove that no matter how much he may second-guess himself, it’s impossible for Brian to write a bad song.
48. The Black Queen
On December 29, 2017, The Dillinger Escape Plan detonated for the final time. This second album from frontman Greg Puciato’s alternate outfit arrived very much like a tranquil calm following the storm. Songs like No Accusations unfurl with cold ambience and industrial minimalism, while Porcelain Veins pulsates with strains of sumptuous synth-pop. That’s not to say the old emotional intensity has been extinguished – in processing the mayhem and tragedy that coloured Dillinger’s final run (tourmate Chris Cornell’s death, a bus crash in Poland), shades of sadness, confusion, pain and subsequent hope all appear here. Proof that the end doesn’t always mean the end.
Living The Dream
Having spent the past couple of years helping haul Guns N’ Roses back to the position of one of the greatest rock bands in the world, you could forgive Slash for wanting to put his cowboy boots up for a bit. Chief Conspirator Myles Kennedy was also a busy boy this year, releasing his own solo debut album, but thankfully the pair somehow found the energy to renew one of the finest partnerships in modern rock on Living The Dream. As you might expect, there is six-string gold on every track, but Slash’s work with the Conspirators has always sounded more like a band than a solo indulgence. That means the fluid, instantly recognisable licks are channelled into big rock anthems while Myles’ silver-larynxed vocals add a whole other layer of class. This might not be the most important album Slash has ever put his name to, but it’s another solid addition to a catalogue that already oozes quality and effortless cool.
46. The Story So Far
The Story So Far took a much-needed hiatus after the release of their 2015 self-titled album because frontman Parker Cannon was sick. Sick of pop-punk. Sick of touring. And sick of music in general. He’d fallen out of love with life and everything it offered. He dealt with it by going off the grid, locking himself in his apartment and self-medicating with drugs. “I was trying and failing to achieve the same intense high that I’d felt playing live during what were the best years of my life,” he admitted to Kerrang!.
Several crisis talks and one intervention from concerned friends later, Parker finally came back. He picked up a pen and used those dark days as inspiration for fourth album Proper Dose. The resulting lyrics are his most personal yet. Bratty tracks bashing ex-girlfriends have been replaced with introspective songs about depression (the title-track), sadness about falling out with his brother (Keep This Up), drug addiction (Out Of It) and worries about getting older (Upside Down). In making himself so vulnerable, the singer has also, inadvertently, done a PR job on himself. This once-divisive figure, who seemed surly and unapproachable, with a bad rep after kicking a fan offstage for taking a photo, now appears relatable; likeable, even. All this time he was just misunderstood.
While Proper Dose documents Parker growing as a person, it also sees his band progress their sound, taking influence from The Beatles in places, like on the dreamy and delicate Take Me As You Please. The brutish angst of their past releases has been dropped in favour of something altogether more soothing and enjoyable, and the result is the band’s most authentic and mature release yet. The Story So Far is turning out to be quite a page-turner.
45. The Dirty Nil
The Dirty Nil had a simple motto in the studio while recording Master Volume: “Troll the world.” As a result, the Canadian punk trio’s second album is bigger, bolder and takes more chances than their scrappy Higher Power debut. They threw saxophones into Evil Side to inject extra oddness to the insane wall of distortion that closes the album, while the good-time riffs of Bathed In Light have a huge smear of melody. Elsewhere, the prevailing lyrical themes of car crashes, drug freak-outs and sleazy motels reflect the reality of being a hard-touring band – even one who have opened for The Who. The graft has paid off, though. The thousands of miles put under their belt have turned The Dirty Nil into a lean, mean, riffing machine, and the recent addition of Ross Miller on bass has instilled a further confidence in crafting huge punk-rock tunes to put a big dumb smile on your face. World, you just got ’Nil-d.
(Closed Casket Activities)
With the genre in undeniably rude health, hardcore in 2018 has almost spoiled us for killer new bands. Enormous credit, then, to Boston bruisers Vein for leaving such a blistering impression with this furious debut. There are just 1661 seconds of sound on this scourging, shapeshifting album, but there’s not a scuff of boredom among them. It’s the schizoid audacity and swaggering confidence with which fragments of spring-loaded nu-metal and incomprehensible electronicore are chucked into the mix, however, that really makes this explode. Touring alongside Code Orange underlined Vein as bannermen of hardcore’s fearless new wave. More than that, it also showed they could hang with the best.
Nobody needed to escape the shadow of Drones more than Muse. Their 2015 album had been an absolute smash, their best selling record in years, and its lengthy world tour was one of the most spectacular of the Teignmouth three’s career.
But sometimes you can build a guilded prison, and after 18 months, multiple-night stints in the enormodomes of the world “began to get a bit Groundhog Day”, according to frontman Matt Bellamy. Couple this with the album’s bleak, dystopian vision that painted in gunmetal grey, and it was clear that a break and something more colourful was in order.
If Drones was a warning about the darkness of the future, Simulation Theory fully embraces an opposite, optimistic view from Matt that “it’s actually really exciting and cool.” Where Drones was a (relatively, for Muse) stripped-back rock album built on granite riffs and regimented rhythms, here they delighted in turning everything up to ridiculous levels of technicolour, dazzling with just how OTT they could be.
Drawing inspiration from soundtrack artists like Halloween/Escape From New York director John Carpenter, Muse sound like they needed to buy a second kitchen sink to throw in here. Synths and electronics wash over everything, lighting up the riffs to Thought Contagion in bright neon, and bringing vivid colour to Algorithm. Even down to the cover– designed by Stranger Things artist Kyle Lambert – Simulation Theory is like having Muse projected through an ’80s sci-fi adventure, where the plot is to find out if we’re in a computer simulation of reality, artificial intelligence is an accepted part of life, and the future feels limitless rather than doomed. In an age of extreme climate change, scary politics and the question of sustainability looming large, that’s quite a welcome thought.
42. Boston Manor
Welcome To The Neighbourhood
‘Welcome to the neighbourhood, if you could leave you would,’ begins Boston Manor’s Henry Cox on their second album’s brooding title-track. The Blackpool quintet use a half-fictionalised imagining of their hometown as the setting for songs that address the thick sense of unease they see settling on top of their generation. It means we see shadowy scenes of heroin addiction (Halo), unemployment (Funeral Party) and other nastiness play out as Henry toes a line between quiet menace and barking fury. Set to a reboot of their pop-punk inflected rock with a more dense, industrial sound, the record’s dark electronics provide a fitting backdrop to all this bleakness. It’s a slick, dark work, and one which further positioned BM as one of the UK’s most intriguing young bands.
41. Smashing Pumpkins
Shiny And Oh So Bright, Vol 1. / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun.
You should never think you can predict Billy Corgan. Two years ago, the idea of a new Smashing Pumpkins record, never mind one made by three-quarters of the band’s classic ’90s line-up (James Iha, yes; D’arcy Wretzky, no), seemed out of the question. But here we are. What’s more, Billy seems to be having the time of his life, if his outfits and antics on the band’s mammoth tour have been anything to go by. It’s come through in Shiny And Oh So Bright’s music – where once there was self-loathing and tripwire tension, in songs like Knights Of Malta and Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts) there is an almost playful vibe. It’s not the sound of grinning and bearing it, it’s creative, loose, bordering on pretentious at times, and all the better for it. And if that sounds unlike Billy Corgan, maybe that’s half the point.
40. You Me At Six
When You Me At Six announced they were dropping a new album, just 17 months after the release of 2017’s Night People, it became clear the Weybridge quintet wanted to move on. And quickly. Despite it crashing into the UK charts at number three, Night People received mixed reviews from fans and critics alike, and shortly after the release YMAS found themselves sans management and battling legal issues.
By their own admission, the Surrey quintet knew they’d failed to deliver the goods, and put it down to various factors: trying too hard to be what they thought people wanted them to be, frontman Josh Franceschi struggling with his personal life and creating a weak link within the group, and them as musicians simply falling out of love with their own band. So it’s no surprise they set about working on new music almost immediately in an attempt to start fresh.
Their situation found them making the record unsigned, not even knowing who was going to pay for the thing. And that’s the magic of it: they were making music for themselves and nobody else, much like when they made their Take Off Your Colours debut 10 years ago. It’s just a band making music because they like it, and not because there’s anyone else telling them to.
VI sees YMAS staying true to themselves and having fun in the process – coming up with lyrics during early morning drinking sessions, or while Josh was taking sit-down wees (on Predictable), and even performing a synchronised dance routine in the video for 3AM. It resulted in an album they love and believe in, and one that to the listener sounds suave and confident; a band enjoying life. It might be their lowest-charting release since their debut, but here You Me At Six proved that their music is about so much more than that.
39. Mike Shinoda
On the face of it, Mike Shinoda’s debut solo LP is a chronicle of grief. It’s spelled out in that wounded title. It courses through painfully personal lyrics, with Mike’s observation that, ‘You say goodbye over and over and over again’ highlighting the inescapable spiral into which Chester Bennington’s death last year put him.
Post Traumatic is barely even a rock album, in the classic sense. Crashing guitars and pounding drums simply don’t have a place in Mike’s uncluttered deconstruction of the tangled feelings that had been knotting him up from within, a symphony already crashing uncontrolled beneath the surface, and these compositions needed to be stripped back to their bare bones for those chaotic emotions to radiate through – perhaps even to dissipate. Grief is an intimate experience. So is this album.
In pursuit of spiritual emancipation, nothing is held back. The voicemails of condolence that segue into Place To Start make for a jarring intro, miles removed from the calculated production of Linkin Park. Meanwhile, Promises I Can’t Keep veers uncomfortably into guilt, asking, ‘What’s the difference between a loss and a forfeit?’ before acknowledging, ‘I tried to make it better, but I made it more sick…’
Although cathartic in their own right, these songs form part of a broader ‘group therapy’ with the Linkin Park family. They are a signal that, although Chester is gone, the music has not died with him. They are an invitation to those in need of a pillar of strength to lean on friends around them. Where Mike’s narrative thins to loose sketchwork, it’s only to enable transference of fans’ own experiences on to the themes of loss and healing.
They are also a step towards grief’s final destination: acceptance. From the record’s initial announcement to a throng of still-raw fans at LA’s Tower Records in March, via the unbridled outpouring at early shows and the rousing sets at Reading & Leeds, the focus has remained on the path ahead. Tellingly, Mike’s recent gigs have been celebratory in tone, and the power of these songs has only been realised as their prominence at shows has faded. LP classics are edging back in. The clouds are clearing. We’re able to celebrate again, both for victories past and those still to come. This is the music that carried us through.
38. High On Fire
Lemmy was an icon, the living embodiment of rock’n’roll. High On Fire’s neanderthal frontman Matt Pike would never claim to be filling the beloved Motörhead legend’s boots, but so many comparisons have been thrown his way thanks to his lifer vibes and dedication to volume. It helped inspire the Oakland maulers’ eighth album. “I had this dream where he got pissed at me,” explained Matt. “The song is me telling the world that I could never fill Lemmy’s shoes because Lemmy’s Lemmy. I wanted to pay homage to him in a great way.” Fittingly enough, the album is a dirty, loud collection of utterly thunderous, overdriven rock grooves and huge metal riffs. And while Matt may not claim to be Lemmy, his recent partial-toe amputation doing little to impede HOF’s progress would nonetheless get an approving nod from the big man.
If Thrice included every person who guested on Palms in its liner notes, the booklet would be as thick as a phone book. In an inspired move, the song The Dark features over 1,000 fans who submitted their vocals online, a truly ingenious way to pay tribute to their supporters. Palms is Thrice’s 10th album and marks 20 years as a band, which might explain why the band wanted to go to such lengths to mark it. It resulted in a truly special album, the sound of a band seizing the wheel when lesser bands might have hit cruise control. We described its blissful blend of emo, post-hardcore and alt.rock as “a thing of textural beauty which traverses sounds and moods,” and as a way of reasserting themselves, Thrice could not have done better than this.
36. Joyce Manor
Million Dollars To Kill Me
Emo? Indie? Punk rock? Joyce Manor refuse to be a band who can be easily pigeonholed. It may be fairer to say they’re something approaching all of the above, yet not quite settling in a single spot for long enough to get comfortable in any one skin – a theme that’s flowed through their songs over the past eight years, too. And the LA-expats continued to quietly evolve into something uniquely special and beloved here, mixing their instinctive knack for melody-rich earworms with insouciant sonic scruffiness. With the help of feted Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou holding fort on production duties, this fifth full-length keeps up the quartet’s tradition of packing a flurry of emotional gut punches within the most economic of songs. It’s the sheer range of sounds and feelings that they throw into the mix that make Joyce Manor such a beguiling proposition – every moment feels personal, like it’s yours and yours alone.
35. Fall Out Boy
M A N I A
When Fall Out Boy first unveiled the bizarre, Britney Spears-referencing, EDM-infused Young And Menace in April 2017, the world’s collective “What the fuck?” was a fair reaction. The startlingly chaotic single was actually conceived by frontman Patrick Stump around the Chicago quartet’s headlining slots at Reading & Leeds 2016, and consequently inspired them to write a whole album that tore up the rulebook and gazed far beyond their pop-punk roots. And although follow-up single Champion (co-written by pop star Sia) harkened back to their latter-day arena-dominating sound, it quickly became clear M A N I A as a whole would be as unpredictable as the band themselves. But, as bassist Pete Wentz told Kerrang! ahead of its release in January, their musical and creative decisions were also simply a sign of the times. “For some, the album and the body of work is important,” he pondered. “So, we’re making a record for people who only like rock’n’roll that sounds like this, and we’re also making songs for people who only listen to the radio, where there are no guitars at all. It can be a little schizophrenic, honestly.”
The results, as Pete promised, came in many different forms. Both HOLD ME TIGHT OR DON’T and Wilson (Expensive Mistakes) boasted the genius pop sensibilities Fall Out Boy have been perfecting since 2003 debut Take This To Your Grave, while the storming The Last Of The Real Ones and waltzy Heaven’s Gate proved that Patrick still has one of rock’s most impressive voices.
It’s still almost impossible to pigeonhole Fall Out Boy’s seventh full-length, even 11 months on. And that is, of course, what makes it so damn brilliant.
34. The Struts
Young & Dangerous
With the release of the Bohemian Rhapsody movie, it seems the whole world went Queen crazy in 2018. It’s fitting, then, that one of the albums of the year should be from a UK band so closely following in their heelprints, as The Struts proved they’re set on bringing bombast back. On second album Young & Dangerous they’ve actually taken some solid steps toward their own musical identity, but Freddie Mercury’s flamboyant spectre still looms large, probably spreading a winged cape. There is no line too sassy, no yelp too high to make it on here, as the pouting Primadonna Like Me and Body Talks take you to a world of limos, champagne and glorious excess. No wonder Dave Grohl says they’re “the best opening band Foo Fighters have ever had”.
33. Don Broco
When you listen to Technology for the first time, you wonder, “Have Don Broco lost their fucking minds?” No, they’ve just gone full-Broco. The Bedford quartet’s third record works because it is wild, and you can’t help but take notice. There are lyrics about chili con carne, a whole song about swinging your T-shirt round your head (complete with a horn section), plenty of Rob Damiani’s trademark satire, and a musical palette inspired by everything from N.E.R.D. to Phil Collins. The band left all fucks at the studio door, and in doing so produced a set of dark, abrasive pop-rock songs, each one their own signature shade of bold. And it paid off, since Technology catapulted Broco to arena headliner status. Turns out Greatness isn’t just track nine on the record, it’s their 2019 mission statement, with Rob demanding: ‘Give me fucking greatness, or give me nothing at all.’
Self-styled “blackened rock’n’roll” punksters Pagan didn’t plan on actually making an album. The original blueprint was to release 13 enigmatic singles then break up. There was just one snag: the Melbourne quartet’s mix of disco-punk and boiling intensity proved too good to throw away on a gimmick. It is our gain, though, because Black Wash is undoubtedly one of this year’s most inimitable debuts. Consider Death Before Disco, which sounds like Every Time I Die and Michael Jackson having a punch-up. Or the twisting Blood Moon, which evokes both Converge and Mayhem. But rather than a half-baked mishmash of disparate influences, Pagan have developed a unique chemistry, a vibrant and potent concoction that will see their cult spread in 2019.
31. Greta Van Fleet
Anthem Of The Peaceful Army
The rate at which Greta Van Fleet rose in 2018 was genuinely staggering. Even before the release of their debut album, the youthful quartet had rocked their way to over 30 million Spotify plays of their song Highway Tune, from last year’s From The Fires EP, and been called the future of rock’n’roll. With Anthem Of The Peaceful Army now out, a band who were already hot property have gone nuclear.
Musically wise and gifted beyond their young years (half of the band are still too young to get served in their home state of Michigan), Greta Van Fleet are a shining example of a band who have gold-edged rock’n’roll cool seemingly flowing through their veins. Some critics accused them of simply aping Led Zeppelin, but while there’s a great dollop of Zep influence at work, the natural talent and hazy flair of songs like Age Of Man and When The Curtain Falls is something that simply cannot be faked. In singer Josh Kiszka they have a frontman with a voice that it would be criminal to allow to do anything else but croon and wail in the energised manner in which he does here. And his brother guitarist Jake is a simply staggering player, a liquid-fingered virtuoso who can make his instrument sing in that way you imagine all rock guitarists do in their head but so often fall short of. The sort of player who can get away with holding his axe behind his head while soloing away. It’s not showing off – it’s necessary.
Since its release in October, Anthem Of The Peaceful Army has clocked up over 100,000 sales already. Meanwhile, anyone who caught them at Download, or at their three-night stand at London’s O2 Forum Kentish Town, or when they were picked by Dave Grohl to appear alongside Foo Fighters at Cal Jam will know just how stunning they are in the flesh. And while they may make you feel more 1978 than 2018, carrying the spirit of rock this perfectly is absolutely timeless.
30. Nine Inch Nails
When Kerrang! concluded its 2017 Nine Inch Nails cover story, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross were charged with excitement about the future. The pair had just recorded two brilliant EPs, 2016’s Not The Actual Events and 2017’s Add Violence – the former even broadcasting the raw, guitar-based aggression that Trent had previously moved away from. NIN had a rough blueprint for the third instalment of this planned trilogy, but when they started recording they found themselves uninspired by what they were creating. Some fresh thinking was required for the grand finale. It paid off.
On the one hand, Bad Witch – especially with its narrative of civilisation unravelling – flows on perfectly from its predecessors. Like those records, it has moments of sublime ferocity thanks to the weaponised noise of opener Shit Mirror. But listen to I’m Not From This World and you’ll be forgiven for mistaking its palpitating white noise for an eerie extra-terrestrial transmission. NIN still manipulate sound like no-one else.
But it’s that most unexpected of things that helped them produce one of 2018’s most arresting albums: the saxophone. Trent said he felt the instrument he hadn’t played since his youth almost taunting him from dark corners of the studio. So he played it. With help from Atticus, they ingeniously situated the sax within NIN’s gritty sonic palette. Rarely has such a narrowing of musical focus resulted in such an explosive expansion of a band’s sound. On God Break Down The Door NIN go extremely boldly to places they’ve never been. And so, too, does Trent’s voice as he adopts a surprising croon for those songs and the ominous strains of closer Over And Out. This is not just a new chapter in NIN’s storied history, but also one of their most fascinating.
29. Panic! At The Disco
Pray For The Wicked
(DCD2/Fueled By Ramen)
By Jennyfer J. Walker (Writer)
When I heard Brendon Urie was set to do a stint on Broadway, my first thought was how theatrical the follow-up to 2016’s Death Of A Bachelor would be. Then Pray For The Wicked arrived and played out like a musical of the Panic! man’s life, with songs about rejecting his parents’ Mormon faith (Say Amen (Saturday Night)), his childhood dreams of becoming a rock star (High Hopes), becoming a success (Hey Look Ma, I Made It), and his run-ins with the dark side of the music biz (Dying In LA). Brendon And The Amazing Technicolour Dream Coat, if you will.
The most impressive thing, though, is how tracks like High Hopes are imbued with Brendon’s zest for life. There’s the commanding Say Amen (Saturday Night), which got the play-on-repeat-’til-I-can-stand-it-no-longer treatment from me when it came out, while Dancing’s Not A Crime’s ‘I’m a moon-walker!’ line gets me every time.
It’s all big, showy, high-energy business as usual, until closing track Dying In LA. The piano ballad is the most delicate and emotive Panic! song yet. The lyrical matter won’t resonate with many listeners, but that doesn’t matter because the strings and melody are beautiful enough to move you to tears.
I love it – Pray For The Wicked gets a standing ovation from me.
28. Tiny Moving Parts
(Big Scary Monsters)
Pick a line from Tiny Moving Parts’ fourth record, and chances are it’s being belted out loud by Dylan Mattheisen. The frontman of the Minnesota emo-math-rock trio may primarily deal in the overtly personal, with much of Swell charting his issues with anxiety, but his approach is to face these things head on, loudly. Every song here is in possession of a dizzying pace, a sensation only enhanced by his expertly-delivered tapping riffs, while the band could teach a PHD in building and releasing tension. These clever arrangements provide extra emotional heft to Dylan’s metaphorical narrations, which can take strange forms: wishing wells (Warm Hand Splash), or a fish that’s been swallowed by a whale (Whale Watching). It’s all used to help deliver the album’s ultimate message: to focus on the positives. In doing so, Swell is a blindingly colourful record that comes across as one big celebration of feelings.
27. Parkway Drive
“I don’t want to drag someone into the limelight because of loss,” Parkway Drive frontman Winston McCall told Kerrang! ahead of Reverence’s release, after he’d just detailed a series of devastating events that had unavoidably bled into their new record. “The worst thing I would want is some people to read about something and then go, ‘Ooh, who has this happened to? I’m going to find out!’ We don’t want it to be the focal point for people to come and talk to us about – but it’s in there…”
With a wretchedly dark subject matter, Reverence was absolutely at risk of being overshadowed by the tragedies surrounding it. Hopelessness can be found at every turn – from the moody orchestration to Winston’s pained lyrics. ‘So ask me how I’m coping, and I’ll smile and tell you: “I’m just fine” / While down inside I’m screaming ’til I fucking bleed,’ he confesses starkly on opener Wishing Wells, immediately shutting down any preconceptions that Parkway Drive would be their typically happy selves on album number six. And, such was the emotional wringer the Aussies were put through in the time between 2015’s Ire and this year’s Reverence, getting it all out in song wasn’t even cathartic. “There’s no healing,” Winston sighed. “Time goes on, and now there’s more space between the wounds. But it doesn’t mean that the wound is going to heal.”
In Parkway Drive’s case, putting pen to paper may not have helped Winston personally, but it resulted in some of the greatest moments of the band’s career so far. Musically, too, it unfolded with equal distinction, boasting epic string segments (Chronos), superb riffs (The Void, In Blood) and choruses big enough to surely catapult them even higher up the bill of metal’s most renowned festivals. Winston got his wish in the end, then, and Reverence’s prime talking point was simply that Parkway Drive are unstoppable.
26. Trophy Eyes
The American Dream
Two years before The American Dream’s release, Trophy Eyes frontman John Floreani found himself as an alien in a foreign land, having emigrated from Australia to live in Texas with his girlfriend. It’s a journey that masterfully characterises the New South Wales band’s third record. Miming In The Choir is a fine example of a song that’s clearly been written within view of mile-wide highways and dusty plains, employing gospel chants and bluesy guitars to offset the group’s melodic punk. Lyrically, John paints himself as no saint, as he regularly loads wry observations about his troubled past and gladly pulls the trigger. It makes for a record of beautiful contrasts and wild ambition, and it all goes off like a firecracker.
25. Carpenter Brut
Carpenter Brut are an odd proposition: the anonymous Frenchman plays synths, uses projections to give the feeling you’re actually watching a performance when he plays live, he bangs like The Prodigy, but has the imagery of Judas Priest in a neon-coloured 1987 slasher movie. But somehow it all works brilliantly on Leather Teeth. The fictional soundtrack to a film that’s not been made, there’s John Carpenter-ish electronic grooves everywhere, and the biggest beats you can think of, but at the core of it all is a metal heart. Kriss Rygg, frontman with weirdo Norwegian black metallers Ulver, puts in an appearance on Cheerleader Effect, while Beware The Beast (featuring Grave Pleasures’ Mat McNerny) hits like Robocop in a bad mood. At 30 minutes, it’s short, but Leather Teeth is also one of the most exciting albums – metal or otherwise – of the year.
24. Single Mothers
Through A Wall
(Big Scary Monsters)
What do Eminem, Beyoncé, Rihanna and Canadian punks Single Mothers have in common? No, they don’t all shop in the same branch of Morrisons, it’s that they all surprise-dropped their latest albums. The band is essentially now the musical vehicle of frontman Drew Thomson, who is joined by a revolving door of recording musicians here. Many of the tracks barely top the two-minute mark, and they even released a chaotic clip that, in 180 seconds, manages to house music videos for not one, but two songs (Dog Parks and Switch Off). All of the above flies in the face of what conventionally makes a great release, and yet Through A Wall contains some of the band’s best work to date. It’s faster, angrier, and it really, really doesn’t give a crap.
23. The Interrupters
Fight The Good Fight
Ska-punk has tended to come in two broad stripes: there’s the parping, fun, and loud shirt variety (think Reel Big Fish and Less Than Jake), and then there’s the grittier, edgier take that can be traced from The Clash, through to Rancid, and now the suited and booted feet of Los Angeles crew The Interrupters.
It’s The Interrupters’ California brethren in Rancid who are the most obvious influence here, and there are multiple threads linking the two bands. Singer Aimee Interrupter has previously collaborated with ’Cid frontman Tim Armstrong’s prolific Tim Timebomb And Friends project, while he both signed and produced this debut album. Rancid also make a guest appearance on Fight The Good Fight, but The Interrupters never seem overshadowed or come across like a tribute act. They put their own raucously hook-laden spin on proceedings, especially with Aimee proving herself a born star. Her tales of toxic relationships, struggle and fighting to prove herself are here laid out in gloriously sharp fashion. Ska didn’t take over 2018, but The Interrupters gave it an almighty shot in the arm.
22. Alkaline Trio
Is This Thing Cursed?
It’s been a funny old year for Matt Skiba: in spring he went through throat surgery, which forced Alkaline Trio to cancel their appearance at California’s Self Help Fest. Mercifully, the operation was a success, and the band returned with their long-delayed (thanks to Matt’s tenure in blink-182) ninth album.
Is This Thing Cursed? is the band’s first album to be written in the studio. Any fears that this would result in a rushed, Trio-by-numbers record are immediately quashed by the record’s title-track, which opens the album with vocals from bassist Dan Andriano for the first time in the band’s entire discography. Clearly, this is not business as usual.
On the subject of blink-182, if we may, one of the album’s stand-out tracks was directly inspired by Matt’s travels with the pop-punk behemoths. Goodbye Fire Island documents the infamous 2017 Fyre Festival – the super-exclusive, tropical island bash with $4,000 tickets, which blink pulled out of at the last minute, and that left models and Instagram influencers stranded after storms hit and the whole thing went kaput. It’s all reflected in the song’s biting lyrics: ‘Stranded in the ocean / Lost our only boat / Abandoned here and broken / Cost us everything we own.’ It’s an immediate Alkaline Trio classic, but also a brilliant piece of satire.
As biting, dark and sneering as ever, Is This Thing Cursed? was a dynamite return. Welcome back, Alkaline Trio, we’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
21. twenty one pilots
(Fueled By Ramen)
By Emily Carter (News Editor)
When I look back on 2018, there’s one overriding feeling that pretty much dominated my thoughts until September: nervous anticipation. Waiting for Trench was practically painful, and not just because twenty one pilots had already left such a profound impact on me with their previous work; it was also the way in which Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun seemingly disappeared off the face of the planet and locked themselves away for an entire year to work on it. Where were they? What were they up to? Would Blurryface still be involved? What would this new twenty one pilots era look like? And, crucially, how would it sound?
Naturally, the wait was worth it. Trench is the Ohio duo’s most breathtaking release yet – and an album that is, wholeheartedly, theirs. And it isn’t even in-your-face about it. While Blurryface had inescapable choruses with Stressed Out and Tear In My Heart, Trench scrutinises on finer details, and that’s what sucked me in: the dark honesty of Morph; the quiet, modest defiance of Leave The City; and the heart-stopping Neon Gravestones. But the radio-bothering moments aren’t in short supply, either. Jumpsuit’s storming bassline pretty much shuts down every “they’re not rock” argument, while Legend’s gorgeous melodies reinforce a touching tribute to Tyler’s grandfather, who passed away as he was writing the song. Then there’s Pet Cheetah, where Tyler claims to have a ‘Pet cheetah down in my basement / I’ve raised him, and bathed him / And named him Jason Statham.’
That they can cram a lyric like that into an otherwise intensely personal and meticulously crafted album is just more proof that twenty one pilots are a band capable of things that few others are.
Book Of Bad Decisions
Clutch have been a band for a very, very long time. The Maryland band came together in 1991 and released their first album – the wonderfully pugnacious Transnational Speedway League: Anthems, Anecdotes And Undeniable Truths in 1993. In the quarter of a century since, they’ve never made a bad album. Seriously.
It’s hard to think of another band that can equal them for consistency, but even in a career of great albums there’s something very special about Book Of Bad Decisions. Now working completely independently, managing themselves and releasing music on their own Weathermaker label, there’s even more of a feeling of freedom about Clutch here than ever before. But equally, rather than disappearing into the mountains surrounding their Maryland home, Book Of Bad Decisions finds Clutch finely tuned to the world around them. There’s an undercurrent of bubbling tension and anxiety that suits the times we’re living in, alongside the usual revved-up hard-partying anthems (Hot Bottom Feeder, for example, offers a slide-guitar-backed recipe for crab cakes).
It doesn’t hurt that the album was recorded live in the studio with veteran producer Vance Powell (The White Stripes, Wolfmother), because if there’s a band with a killer live magic, it’s this one. It’s rare to hear a band with such an effortless chemistry, who can ride along on a groove with quite the same synchronicity and languid feeling as Clutch, and to bottle that lightning in all its electric glory is a fantastic feat of which other bands should all be jealous.
This album is unlikely to elevate Clutch to stardom and enormodomes. But in the annals of music history, Clutch have contributed many great albums. Here, they delivered another to add to their enviably long list.
Mire is badass. Not our words, the words of Biffy Clyro on Twitter. And they were right. At the start of 2018, those in the know already knew Conjurer were good. Two and a bit years of tearing up the UK metal underground had already seen the Rugby quartet growing into something brilliant, but when their debut album arrived in March it was a mile beyond even the most generous of expectations.
It was heavy, it was fierce, it was highly skilled, and it burst with that same barely controlled wildfire energy that made it so exciting the first time you heard Mastodon or Converge. With an album that was simply thrilling to anyone who’s a fan of heavy sounds, Conjurer had come up with something truly magic.
Lying beneath the enormous, low-end drops and moments of scalding blastbeats, the urgency of Mire comes from needing to get something out of your system. It is into their music that the four of them push through anxiety, depression, frustrations and worry. In some cases, there is distance – Choke deals with the cult of celebrity and muck-raking intrusion on the lives of others, while Hollow is a highly personal account of self-harm from guitarist/singer Dan Nightingale. The lyrics make for uncomfortable reading (‘If I have to tear at every tendon to rid me of this leech, I’ll bloody my hands,’), but the way in which he and his bandmates pull the song’s slab-like riffs from their instruments and scream the words is to hear them giving such dark thoughts a fight they cannot win. It is the very sound of life loudly finding a way.
It’s this sense of exorcism and the euphoria that comes with it that propels Mire so excitingly along. A feeling that the music is playing the players as much as they are playing it. That something so visceral and primal is put together with such intelligence and skill simply adds to its brilliance.
Upon its release, we awarded Mire a full complement of Ks, with the flabbergasted comment, “That they’ve achieved something this accomplished on a debut record is nothing short of stunning.” We were right, Biffy were right, and by picking up Mire and letting its mix of tightly-wound intensity and loose-leashed chaos pummel you, you’re right, too. Conjurer are awesome, Mire is badass, and with big things on the horizon for 2019, it’s also been a triumph for one of the finest new metal bands in the UK right now.
18. Alice In Chains
The spectre of Alice In Chains’ past looms over their sixth studio album.
Rainier Fog was recorded in part in their hometown of Seattle, in the same studio where the quartet made 1995’s self-titled LP, their final full-length with original vocalist Layne Staley, who passed away in 2002. Its name comes from Mount Rainier, which overlooks Seattle, and the title-track is a tribute to their grunge peers who emerged from the city.
Rainier Fog is, however, much more than the sound of a band reliving former glories. They may not stray far from their core sonic components – the eerie, atonal vocal harmonies; the sludgy, uneasy riffing; the monolithic grooves; the unerring sense of darkness – but these 10 songs sound too vital, too alive to be a pastiche of times past.
Their first album in five years begins with the tense, grinding The One You Know before the title-track raises the tempo with the kind of trademark Jerry Cantrell guitar part that feels like he’s riffing on your very heartstrings. Drone, meanwhile, features a guest spot from former Queensrÿche guitarist Chris DeGarmo, as Jerry and frontman William DuVall trade vocals before climaxing with the cheery line, ‘I’ll stay here and feed my pet black hole.’
The up-tempo Never Fade is a reminder that AIC are the kings of pulling anthemic choruses out of unlikely places, while closer All I Am is a fittingly sombre finale, its ageing subject reflecting on their life, asking, ‘Is this all I am?’
In the hands of anyone else it would be a bummer. But with Alice In Chains it’s an affecting, beautifully emotional end to one of the finest albums of their career.
Ahead of JORD’s release in April, MØL vocalist Kim Song Sternkopf explained that the album’s title directly translates as ‘earth’, referring to the dirt that holds our bones, but also the planet on which we live. “We all eventually end up in the ground. At the same time, it’s a thing that we have to be mindful of not destroying,” he said. “More metaphorically, the main theme is how everything changes and goes from one thing to something else.”
That idea is navigated through exploration and evolution of black metal screeches and glacial washes of guitar on JORD. Yet it is a series of shrewd conceptual moves that make it such a cohesive listen. Storm opens with an echoing, bottom-heavy guitar line that tips the hat to Twin Peaks’ theme, while Ligament jerks between heart-palpitating drums and moments of ethereal clarity that reflect Kim’s frenzied message.
When asked how the act of creating such an ambitious record squared with MØL’s acceptance that it will inevitably be lost to time, Kim responded with a laugh, “That’s one of the reasons you have to appreciate it while it lasts.” But in a way, MØL have created something lasting, a monumental work for the ages.
16. Drug Church
By Tom Shepherd (Production Editor)
It was one specific moment that made me first realise that Cheer isn’t like other records. It’s in the middle of Unlicensed Guidance Counselor, a song that essentially preaches that you inevitably will – no, need – to fuck up on your way through to becoming a good, whole person. This stretch of about 30 seconds starts with the frankly incredible line, ‘Push your sister’s boyfriend down the stairs / Steal 40 dollars from the till / There’s a learning process here’ being gruffed out by frontman Patrick Kindlon to some choppy punk guitars, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, a glorious, euphoric riff cracks down the middle of everything. It’s so good and dangerously energising it makes my brain feel like I could punch through a brick wall. But it also completely shifts the mood of the song, offering the listener a glimpse of redemption away from all the transgressions and failure.
Cheer essentially thrives on weird contrasts like this. Throbbing guitars give way without warning to Cure-like melodies, as they do in Dollar Story, a first-person account of the ‘Life of a broke lonely pissant.’ Meanwhile, Patrick has mastered the art of sardonic takedowns when it comes to contemporary social concerns. Whether skewering acts of holier-than-thou-ness on social media (Unlicensed Hall Monitor), or grappling with newly developing social anxieties (Avoidarama), he clearly gets a kick out of dirtying up the place, as his words read like a self-help book with a crooked author.
It means the record glows with a weird, ugly rage. Not a hyper-politicised Hollywood strain, but a smirking, pale, office-cubicle anger. In that way, it’s hard to think of another album that captured the mood of 2018 quite so authentically.
It’s Hard To Have Hope
By Nick Ruskell (Senior Editor)
I first saw Svalbard at an all-dayer in Basingstoke in 2014. They were playing on an upstairs stage where the audience were jammed into the stairway, and singer/guitarist Serena Cherry made the croaked announcement that she’d lost her voice. None of this put any kind of dampener on the rage and fury they managed to rain down for the next half an hour. In 2018, as then, they remain unstoppable.
It’s Hard To Have Hope is even more explosive, exciting and defiant than the band I saw that day. Musically, it traverses hardcore, punk and black metal with ease, but at its heart is a fire fueled by a searing, bare-faced rage. Unpaid Intern is a diatribe against opportunities being denied to young people who can’t afford to work for nothing, while Feminazi?! pours molten scorn on those who reduce debate and discussion down to a ridiculous insult. It’s the plain, blunt manner in which the topics are laid out that gives them their barbed impact, and there is nothing not to understand when Serena yells that ‘Feminists and fascists are not the same thing.’
Positivity comes in the fact that all these songs are a call for action, while Try Not To Die Until You’re Dead is a defiant statement about carrying on (‘I may be aching and exhausted but life’s not over yet’). Whether you take it as being about Serena battling a stomach illness, or fighting through depression to get out of bed every day, it’s a truly uplifting moment.
This year threw up many things to be angry about. But here there’s an energy to stop you simply slumping down into the darkness, and start fighting back.
14. Fucked Up
Dose Your Dreams
Never ones to do things by halves, Fucked Up’s fifth studio album begins with the almost classical prelude to opener None Of Your Business Man. Don’t be fooled, though – after 100 or so seconds it bursts into the fiery brand of rough-and-tumble punk rock the Canadian band are famed for. A double record, Dose Your Dreams contains 18 songs that play with and subvert the idea of what punk is and can be, with a cameo from Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis, and displays of majestic shoegaze and psych. At its core, though, Dose Your Dreams is a bellicose and beautiful punk record that’s not just unafraid to be different, but which thrives off the freedom that attitude allows for.
Knowing What You Know Now
When Marmozets’ debut album, The Weird And Wonderful Marmozets, was released back in 2014, it sent seismic waves through the UK’s rock scene. As feral as it was catchy, the record meshed huge melodies with oddball intricacies the band had picked up during their earlier adventures in math rock. The touring that followed was intense and demanding – throughout 2015 the band were everywhere… and then they fell off the face of the Earth.
Frontwoman Becca MacIntyre’s long-running struggle with hypermobility syndrome had peaked as the relentless touring took its toll, and Marmozets went unofficially on hold. In 2016 they didn’t play a single show, and in 2017 their gig calendar was only marginally busier. The silence around them was deafening.
Behind the scenes, Becca was undergoing a series of operations, followed by a substantial period of recovery and recuperation. She even had to learn to walk again. Yet all the while, the groundwork for album number two, the 5K-rated Knowing What You Know Now, was underway.
“When your body changes, your music and your pace changes with it,” Becca said earlier this year, when asked about the impact of her injury on the band’s music. Clearly, the band’s temporary derailment had only strengthened their resolve. Explosive, fierce and more confident than ever, in January the band burst back to life. Armed with their new album, this year they’ve toured the UK (twice), smashed the European festival circuit, played and dropped off an American tour (due to Becca falling ill), headlined shows in Australia… the list goes on. And it’s testament to the songs themselves that Marmozets’ torch is burning bright once again.
The album serves up a more precise Marmozets sound, while compromising nothing in the way of character. Opening track and first single Play was exactly the in-your-face party-starter the rebirth of the band required, and the energy remains electric through Habits, Major System Error and Run With The Rhythm. To top it all off, in October the band played their biggest headline show ever to a sold-out crowd at Kentish Town Forum. Proof, if it were needed, that battling through the toughest challenges of their career has resulted in a truly epic period for Marmozets.
12. The Xcerts
Hold On To Your Heart
Murray MacLeod didn’t want to make a miserable album. Even with a natural tendency to turn towards the dark side and write about the gloomier sides of love and life, he reached a point where he felt like he needed to crawl out of the muck into the light.
First, though, he moved into a truly awful flat, ironically dubbed ‘The Mansion’, an abode which featured scary, loud neighbours who would yell to themselves in the night, and very little in the way of home comfort. It fit the bill perfectly for Murray to live somewhere that was “as awful as [he] was feeling”. But it was a purposeful attempt to reach rock-bottom, in order to get back to a simpler life, in order to properly move forward. When the songs started coming, the frontman made a purposeful move to write music that would lift his spirits and pull him out of dark places.
What eventually came out was a record bursting with effervescence, life, and knowingly-high moments of pure ‘80s cheese. The influence of classic pop-rockers like Cheap Trick, Rick Springfield and Tom Petty shone from every surface, as the sugary-sweet Daydream arrives sounding like a thousand champagne corks popping during the graduation scene in an ’80s teen comedy. Feels Like Falling In Love, meanwhile, is the biggest song Springsteen never wrote, and First Kiss Feeling is packed with so much wistfulness and summer love you can almost feel the temperature getting warmer during its chorus. And when Murray talks about wanting music to get him away from the darkness, the ridiculous saxophone that introduces Drive Me Wild (courtesy of Black Peaks’ Will Gardner) is what he was driving at. It will never not make you smile.
Sometimes, things need to get worse before they get better. As The Xcerts proved, when you really try to lift yourself out of the mire, it can lead to truly glorious, life-affirming things. The most uplifting album of 2018? Why, yes.
11. Judas Priest
Ahead of the release of Firepower, Judas Priest and their fans were dealt a blow. On February 12, it was announced that guitarist Glenn Tipton would be stepping down from touring, due to the development of Parkinson’s disease. But, as ever, Priest were not going to go down so easily, and Firepower is a roaring testament to their undefeatable spirit.
As much about sticking your fist straight into the face of adversity as a return to the classic Priest sound, tracks like the epic Lightning Strike, the crunching Evil Never Dies and galloping highlight Traitors Gate bristled with an invention and power that made this the Metal Gods’ finest LP since 1990’s classic Painkiller.
Heroically, Glenn ripped through his riffs and solos with do-or-die urgency, putting in the shift of his life to not allow his condition to get the better of him, as Rob Halford fed gleefully on the energy firing out of his friend’s axe. It is an inspiring example of refusing to be beaten.
Props, too, must go to producer Andy Sneap, who after finishing the album donned the black leather to provide cover for Glenn on the subsequent world tour. And what a tour. An intercontinental ram-raid that’s swept across Europe, Asia, North and South America, it confirmed that Judas Priest remain one of metal’s most inexhaustible crown jewels. It was a point made most thrillingly at the band’s headline set at Bloodstock in August, when Glenn joined them onstage for the encore. Because Judas Priest are awesome, and nothing can stop them.
10. Rolo Tomassi
Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It
It’s strange to think that Rolo Tomassi’s Hysterics debut celebrated its 10th birthday in 2018. It was a frenetic, skilled (if barely controlled) slab of musical chaos, but it didn’t necessarily sound like it came from a band built for the long haul.
A decade on, Rolo sound almost like a different band. They’ve evolved from an outfit whose attack was built on aural shock tactics and sheer technical prowess into one with a real mastery of light and shade. This still doesn’t always involve the format of the standard rock song of course. Time Will Die… moves away from the monochrome gloominess of predecessor Grievances and into an airier light, kicking things off with the shimmering ambience of Towards Dawn and the ethereal swirls of Aftermath. It’s a bold play, but then Rolo have never played safe. There are moments of genuine beauty on here, as the band continue to expand their palette, but they haven’t entirely abandoned the strategically placed noise-traps to chew the ears of the unwary. Basically, they now sound like a band who can do absolutely anything and go absolutely anywhere.
In 2005, Rolo Tomassi played their first ever show at the now defunct Classic Rock bar in Sheffield, where they were supporting some other new band called Bring Me The Horizon. They haven’t transitioned to the mainstream in the same way, but their fifth studio album has seen them take some huge strides in terms of both popularity and creativity. It’s seen them embark on their biggest UK tour to date, incorporating their biggest single headlining show at the Scala in London. More importantly, with Time Will Die… they’ve further cemented themselves – as if there was ever any doubt – as one of the most fearlessly innovative acts the UK underground has ever thrown out.
Joy As An Act Of Resistance
This record, perhaps more than any other, hit like a zeitgeist-capturing bullet in the head of 2018. Under the gloomy shadow of the shambles that is Brexit Britain, Bristol punks IDLES poured all of their energy, passion and fire into Joy As An Act Of Resistance, and emerged with one of the angriest, most touching, poignant and even amusing albums of the year.
If there was one word to sum up IDLES on Joy… it would be ‘conviction’. The piss and vinegar in singer Joe Talbot’s words is palpable, as the band rattle and howl with a righteous fury that swept up all in its path. Even Jools Holland succumbed to their charms, inviting the band on to his infamously stuffy BBC Two music showcase, resulting in a chaotic performance. Taking aim at everything from immigration to class warfare and outmoded masculinity tropes, while also looking inward and tackling hefty, emotive subjects like addiction and grief, there is a lot to take in. If you didn’t listen closely enough you might dismiss this as boorish, terrace-like sloganeering, but few records were as bold or as smart as IDLES dared to be here. They sometimes make their points with all the subtlety of a club to the cranium, offering harsh words not-so-softly spoken, but those are the stakes at play in 2018.
It’s often said that there aren’t enough rock artists with anything to say; that they play it safe, play the game and ultimately play the role of a rock band. IDLES conclusively proved that they are the real deal, and put themselves forward as one of the most important British bands in years. Better yet, the warmth this work has been met with means this is just the beginning, for artist and audience alike.
I Loved You At Your Darkest
It’s surprising how a band as extreme, blasphemous, nasty-looking and evil- sounding as Behemoth could become one of metal’s biggest cults, with a success that just about touches cloth with the mainstream. Or it would be were they not fueled by an intense, single-minded dedication to not letting anything stand in their way.
On the eve of I Loved You At Your Darkest’s release, frontman Nergal mused to Kerrang! that the only thing that mattered to him was to fulfil himself, and that any success would be welcomed but not pandered to in order to achieve it. But this is precisely why ILYAYD has become the biggest extreme metal release of 2018.
Were any naysayers doubting Behemoth’s ability to balance underground ethics with high profile, one only need look at the artwork to be put right – a series of Renaissance-painting-style photographs featuring the band in various settings, including a Christ-like figure being disembowelled while still alive. And when it comes to the music, the blasphemous salvo of Bartzabel and God = Dog is like a fire sweeping through the Vatican.
We celebrated by putting the band on the cover for the first time in September. Nergal viewed it as another triumph to add to his list. And, as a band who never settle for less than victory, it was a victory well earned.
7. Culture Abuse
By David McLaughlin (Associate Editor)
Hands up: I’d completely slept on Culture Abuse. Everyone raved about their 2016 Peach debut and said how much I’d love them, but laziness/stubbornness/idiocy meant recommendations fell on initially deaf ears. Then I heard Bay Dream and instantly regretted being such a dummy.
Somewhat ironically, this was love in an instant, sounding to my ears like the perfect blend of summery pop played by a band who were basically a bunch of slacker punks at heart. The woozy sway of the songs and the carefree spirit within vocalist David Kelling’s words combined to make the most ‘me’ mix of music released this year. You know how people used to lazily say that Weezer sounded like The Beach Boys playing rock? That’s a cap that fits Bay Dream a lot better.
Should time travel ever become a reality, Culture Abuse could do worse than going back to the mid-’90s. These are the kind of songs that would’ve made them stars then. As it is, they remain a beloved cult concern, and this album will be one held dear to the hearts of those who welcome it in, and way beyond 2018 too.
Dance On The Blacktop
Being in Nothing must be exhausting. Their first album, Guilty Of Everything (2014), was recorded after frontman Domenic ‘Nicky’ Palermo was released from prison, having served two years for stabbing a man in self-defence. Their second album, Tired Of Tomorrow (2016), meanwhile, was delayed after Nicky was jumped after a show, resulting in a fractured skull and broken vertebrae.
With a run of luck that poor, some bands might have called it a day. But not Nothing. They worked through the pain – capturing all that had gone before and hammering it into some of the rawest shoegaze of all time. And album three is no exception. It’s tortured and dark and beautiful. It’s an album forged from pure pain of both the emotional and physical kind, with lyrics like, ‘The drugs were never strong enough,’ likely being a nod to Nicky’s recovery. Even the album title itself is derived from a prison term for fighting, not only an acknowledgement to the frontman’s time in jail, but also surely recognition of the fight that being Nothing has been thus far.
Presumably, as the album was released, the band were bracing for their world to cave in around them once again. While we’re glad they finally seem to be catching a break (touch wood), their trauma didn’t go to waste here.
Last year, the question of whether Ghost’s appeal would become more selective minus the masks and secrecy surrounding the band was raised in large terms.
A host of former Nameless Ghouls took leader Papa Emeritus to court – under his real name of Tobias Forge – for non-payment of touring wages. Masks came off, behind-the-scenes business gristle appeared online, and yet at no point was the mystique or allure of Ghost as an idea dented. Such is the strength of the band’s identity. And as Prequelle proved beyond measure – now under the guidance of a new leader, Cardinal Copia – even with Tobias Forge’s actual face just a Google away, Ghost’s music stands taller than ever, entirely on its own merits.
A hellish companion piece to 2015’s Meliora, it plays opposite to that album’s utopian vision of a perfect future with no God, with the Lord raining down his wrath. It starts with the cautionary black-death tale of Rats, and continues through omnipotence and being watched (Faith), and drawing strength from betrayal and hate (See The Light). There is also love in times of war (Dance Macabre), but this is somewhat countered by Pro Memoria’s weirdly uplifting chorus: ‘Don’t you forget that you will die…’
Musically, it is peak Ghost. Where it draws from the band’s usual doomy rivers, such as on the chunky Faith, it is instantly classic. But the flamboyant flourishes and frequent detours into gung-ho theatrical territory are similarly masterful. And what’s that on the ’80s stomp of Miasma? A blazing saxophone solo that could soundtrack a car chase? Fuck. Yes.
Not only did Prequelle show that the spectre of seeing The Wizard Of Oz unmasked would not haunt Ghost, it saw them surging ahead to further their mark on the world. Before Prequelle, in summer 2017, they headlined Bloodstock, and delivered a show most veteran festival bill-toppers couldn’t hold a candle to. With Prequelle, they have the tools to go even further.
4. A Perfect Circle
Eat The Elephant
If not an outright tragedy, it was at least profoundly sad that A Perfect Circle had largely been AWOL for the past 14 years.
Since 2004 fans had agonisingly been denied the sound of Maynard James Keenan and Billy Howerdel locking into each others’ creative orbits in the studio. This is, after all, a partnership that had produced some of the most breathtaking music of the 21st century. We waited over a decade for them to make a new album together, and somehow, despite the burden of anticipation, it didn’t disappoint.
Eat The Elephant is a record not so much to get temporarily lost in, as to outright disappear into. Months on from its release it’s still yielding surprises, and that has everything to do with the fact that Billy and Maynard didn’t retrace old steps. Be it the quietude of the title-track or the trip-hop of Get The Lead Out, this is a band fast-forwarding to the present day. Not that it came easy – for The Doomed, Billy stayed awake for 36 hours to nail the music. The results of such meticulousness, however, included some of Maynard’s finest vocals and astounding songs like So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish.
In some ways ETE’s an easy record to misunderstand. Accompanied by creepy artwork and holographic visuals primed to flambé the mind, you might think it’s meant to be deliberately elusive in its meaning. Yet it’s actually the lack of ambiguity that makes it most impressive. On songs like TalkTalk, we have grim prophecy writ large. Yes, a lot of bands pointed a finger at the world’s woes in 2018, but few identified with any great nuance the actual reasons for them. That is perhaps where APC distinguish themselves most: diagnosed in these songs are all the fallible behaviours that have plonked us on oblivion’s doorstep.
It’s not without hope, though. At the heart of each track lies the notion that salvation may exist if we simply address our own personal culpability. Now that’s worth a 14-year wait.
By Sam Coare (Editor)
Standing outside London’s Brixton Academy on a warm Wednesday night this past June, the much-discussed mobile phone ban implemented by that night’s headliners, A Perfect Circle, was suddenly brought into sharp focus.
With the Kerrang! Awards 2018 little over a week away, my week had largely been taken up dealing with phone calls smoothing over last-minute details, and making arrangements for the arrival of our guests. It was from one such phone call, outside Brixton’s branch of Nando’s, with Architects’ LA-based manager that the spanner in the evening’s works would be thrown.
‘The new album is done, you know,’ he told me of the then still largely secret project we have all since come to know as Holy Hell. ‘I’ll send it to you now.’
For the next two hours, my phone burned a hole in the pocket in which it had been forcibly consigned. Onstage, Billy Howerdel, Maynard James Keenan and co were putting on one of the shows of the year, yet my mind was lost from the email I knew sat in my inbox that contained an album I had been desperate to hear since that January, when frontman Sam Carter played me a rough mix of one track (which, exactly, is lost to memory) in a quiet pub round the corner from K! HQ.
Holy Hell has not been far from my headphones, or thoughts, since that summer night. It is a record that worms its way into your heart and soul, nagging and pulling at both with every listen. It is unflinching, bold, and deeply moving; exhausting, yet come its conclusion, uplifting, too. It stands as a monument to one man, and the impact his 28 short years had on the people around him, but also to the power of music as catharsis; a guiding light through the darkness we will all come to face in life. 2018 has been a year blessed with records of remarkable quality, yet no other can profess to being as powerful. As the title-track itself offers, there is a Holy Hell where we can save ourselves.
Ordinary Corrupt Human Love
If 2018 has shown us anything, musically, it is this: it has been a year in which creativity, individuality and being your own band with your own standards and agenda have triumphed.
For California blackgaze leaders Deafheaven, a band already at odds with almost anything expected – not black metal enough for some, or else too black metal for others at the opposite end of the spectrum – this has evidenced itself in their finest album to date, and one which further pushes the limits of genres, and indeed themselves, to staggering limits previously unthought of.
The road to creating Ordinary Corrupt Human Love was one beset with trouble for Deafheaven: burnout from touring, frayed relationships and unhealthy self-medicating with booze and drugs all needed to be navigated in order to keep their course true. When the core duo of singer George Clarke and guitarist Kerry McCoy began working again, having cleared their heads, what started coming out was not typical, even for a band as atypical as theirs. It didn’t wade so heavily into harsh noise or black metal, for one thing, although when those blasts did come, they thundered through songs like Canary Yellow and Honeycomb with the force of a nuclear wind. But where those moments were used sparingly, in their place was a vast sense of space and, frankly, bits that sound like Oasis with a few lagers in them. The eight-minute opening sprawl of You Without End even carries with it a similar sense of piano-led grandiosity as My Chemical Romance’s Welcome To The Black Parade.
The path may have been rocky, but Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is an album that balances cold hatred and warm, comforting love perfectly, traversing the two without seemingly trying. In a year of boundaries being smashed to pieces, Deafheaven still manage to stand in a field of one.
Time & Space
At the start of 2018, Turnstile were one of the coolest bands in underground hardcore. But they were also unknowns outside its borders. Twelve months later, their brilliant, incendiary, genre-hopping second album has made them one of the hottest bands on Earth, hardcore or otherwise.
Borne of the people around Baltimore mainstays Trapped Under Ice, soft-spoken frontman Brendan Yates explained at the start of the year that they’d set out “not as a side project, but this other, special thing”. Continuing a collaboration between himself and guitarist Brady Ebert that had endured over two decades since their childhood in Burtonsville, Maryland, roots ran deep. Wildcard bassist Franz Lyons, six-stringer Pat McCrory and drummer Daniel Fang were equal parts, however, in a project built on brotherhood, friendship and enjoyment.
It had been clear that something special was in the pipeline, but few predicted just how high Turnstile would set the bar. Their second LP Time & Space was both the launch pad and rocket fuel for the stratospheric rise that followed.
“Hardcore can be whatever you want it to be,” Brendan had declared ahead of the album’s release. The 25-minute whirlwind of sound that arrived on February 23 made good on that in every imaginable way. A peerless showcase of genre cross-pollination, this was a recognition that the mosh-pit melting pot had reached boiling point, overflowing with music fans from all walks of life. Its weave of thumping NYHC rhythms, hip-hop beats, alt.rock grit and live-wire punk energy refused to be confined by any boundaries whatsoever.
It’s a spirit that shines everywhere, like when Sheer Mag’s Tina Halladay lends her vocals to distended party anthem Moon, or EDM super-producer Diplo (whose rock credentials also include producing Rolo Tomassi’s 2010 album Cosmology), brings a little keyboard razzle-dazzle to the otherwise tumbledown Right To Be. They’re not cash-grab crossovers, but happy collabs based on friendship and mutual admiration.
More importantly, in refusing to pander to anyone in particular, the album connected with fans everywhere. Its message – community, diversity, inclusivity – proved to be every bit as important as the music itself. A once derisory meme became a gloriously inclusive reality, as far-flung fans hopped aboard. “How do you get into hardcore? ENTER THROUGH TURNSTILE.”
Live, too, Turnstile’s name became the must-see of the year. Beyond mere moshy hardcore shows – although there is still plenty of that to be had – they saw skate-punk riffs mixing with moments of reggae chill, and funky grooves tripped into the circle pit. That they can headline Leeds’ Outbreak hardcore fest and appear at Jay-Z’s Made In America fest simply underlines their universal appeal. Their dedication, meanwhile, is non-swerving – before Time & Space’s release show, heroic drummer Daniel Fang checked himself out of hospital with a bout of rhabdomyolysis (an affliction of the muscle fibres) in order to play. In his medical gown, no less.
Hardcore can be whatever you want it to be. In delivering the common ground on which a world of fans from so many walks of life converged, Time & Space is the album of the year for brilliantly demonstrating just how inclusive, exciting, fun and energising it can be.
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