Yes, you read that right. 2018. It took me over a year to put this dang list together, and I’m not letting all that work go to waste. I need to get this thing posted so I can focus on my 2019 list. I listened to a ton of new stuff in 2018, much more than in previous years, hence the long wait. The list itself is shorter, however. I’ve trimmed the fat from my previous lists that got kind of bloated. I’ve narrowed things down to my top 15 albums of 2018. Remember these are just my opinions, so feel free to kindly share your own picks below!
The eighth album from stoner metal titans High on Fire is nothing short of pummeling. High on Fire is a band I got into fairly recently, and this album certainly had a hand in getting me into them. From the beginning of “Spewn From the Earth” to the end of “Drowning Dog,” it never lets up with the heavy and has a nice mix of shorter straightforward songs like the title track and longer epics like the 10 and a half minute “Sanctioned Annihilation.” In frontman Matt Pike’s own words, it’s “the best album we’ve ever done, by far,” and I can’t say I disagree. Electric Messiah should appeal to old and new fans alike and, since it worked so well for me, I’d say it’s a fantastic starting point for those who haven’t listened to High on Fire before.
Amorphis is one of those often overlooked bands in my opinion. The Finnish melodic death metal sextet has constantly evolved their sound over their thirteen-album, three-decade career, flirting with folk metal, power metal, progressive metal and more, at times even abandoning growled vocals entirely. Queen of Time, I feel, represents the pinnacle of that evolution. It’s an awesome, epic progressive melodeath album all the way through, with the perfect balance of harsh and clean vocals that shows off vocalist Tomi Joutsen’s talents with both styles. And with the inclusion of symphonic elements or folk instruments here, and a choir or a saxophone solo there, there’s never really a dull moment. This is Amorphis at the top of their game.
My hometown Boston boys delivered once again with their seventh album. The tech-death/thrash metal quartet is nothing if not consistent, and The Outer Ones is no exception. Steeped in Lovecraftian lore and eldritch horror, this album is a fun ride from start to finish. The lyrical themes are a perfect match for Revocation’s aggressive, technical sound. Tech-death can be as horrifying and unapproachable to the uninitiated as the Cthulhu Mythos these songs are inspired by! Jokes aside, this album is great and it’s right up there with 2014's Deathless as a contender for my favorite Revocation album.
Speaking of seventh albums from Massachusetts metal bands released in 2018, metalcore stalwarts Unearth put out another banger in the form of Extinction(s). While it doesn’t have the melodic hooks of 2011's Darkness in the Light or the excellent technical prowess displayed on 2014's Watchers of Rule, this may well be Unearth’s heaviest release yet. Not even another lineup changed slowed them down. New bassist Chris O’Toole fits right in with the rest of the band. And we have to talk about Nick Pierce’s drumming. He blew me away when he debuted with the band on Watchers of Rule, and he continues to be an absolute beast behind the kit on his second album with the band. With crushing tracks like “Incinerate,” “Survivalist,” “Cultivation of Infection,” and “Sidewinder,” this is an Unearth album not to be missed.
Polish blackened death metal pioneers Behemoth put out another monster album with I loved You At Your Darkest, their follow up to their critically acclaimed 2014 album, The Satanist. Much like its predecessor, Nergal and co.’s eleventh LP was also almost universally praised, and for good reason. This album is powerful, heavy, and almost otherworldly. Many Behemoth fanboys point to The Satanist as Behemoth’s best album, with several publications going as far as naming it the best metal album of the decade, but I personally think that I loved You At Your Darkest is their finest work to date.
After releasing his first full-length release and one of my favorite albums of all time, Handmade Cities, in 2016, Australian prog rock/metal guitarist returned 2 years later with a new EP. Though it’s only 4 tracks, clocking in at a total of 20 minutes, Sunhead was one of my favorite music releases this year. “Kind,” is an amazing opening track with Plini’s signature brand of upbeat, happy, melodic prog guitar goodness. “Salt + Charcoal” is more chilled out with a bit more emphasis on ethereal synths to fill it out. “Flâneur” is a wonderful jazzy number complete with piano, keyboards, and saxophone. The title track wraps things up on a more somber note. With only 4 songs, Plini managed to craft an EP that spans every style of his music. It’s definitely worth a listen.
Greta Van Fleet have made a big splash in the rock world in the last few years, especially with their full-length debut, Anthem of the Peaceful Army. Depending on who you ask, it was either a good splash or a bad splash. Many have written the band off as a Led Zeppelin rip-off (including certain publications that shat all over Led Zeppelin when they first started out), but I think a young new band introducing new generations to great old-school style rock is unarguably positive. Not to mention that the boys in Greta Van Fleet have some great songwriting chops in my opinion. For me personally, Anthem of the Peaceful Army didn’t really resonate with me as much as the material from their Black Smoke Rising and From the Fires EPs at first, but the album has seriously grown on me. I honestly can’t name a track on it that I don’t like. From hard rockers to ballads to soaring anthems, there’s a lot of good stuff here. I can’t wait to hear what this band does next.
Ghost’s fourth album is another excellent entry in the discography of Tobias Forge and co. While not quite as good as the masterpiece that is their previous album, Meliora, Prequelle is a solid second place. The first two singles, “Rats” and “Dance Macabre,” alone make it worth picking up, but there’s a lot to love here. I’d say it’s a bit more accessible than the band’s previous work and it even gets poppy at times, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “Dance Macabre” has this 80s pop vibe to it and it’s probably one of my favorite songs of 2018. Though Prequelle may not be their best album, it’s certainly their most fun.
Former Sepulura frontman Max Cavelera’s Soulfly has kind of flown under the radar over the last few years, but their eleventh album is not to be ignored. Ritual is a strong contender for their best album, in my opinion. It’s crushingly heavy, it grooves hard, the production is tight, and the songwriting is great. There are some moments that remind me of the excellent final two Sepultura albums Cavalera performed on, and that’s a good thing. You also can’t go wrong with guest vocal performances from Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe and Immolation’s Ross Dolan. It’s definitely worth a listen.
Between the Buried and Me’s double concept album, Automata, is one hell of a progressive metal ride. Though released a few months apart as separate albums, the band’s eighth and ninth, respectively, it only seems right to count Automata I and Automata II as one for the sake of this list. The two are meant to be experienced together. Both discs clock in at a bit over thirty minutes and tell the story of a man whose dreams are broadcast as entertainment, which is an interesting concept. I’m always a sucker for narrative albums too. In terms of music, the second album is definitely the more dynamic and experimental of the pair, but both are great. Each stands well on is own as well, but they are much better listened to back to back.
The sixth album from Alice In Chains and their third since the death of Layne Staley is, in my opinion, the most they’ve sounded like their old sound in the William DuVall era of the band. Their previous two efforts, Black Gives Way to Blue and The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, were both amazing, but they lacked a certain feeling to them that Rainier Fog delivers in spades. It’s a perfect blend of the old school Alice In Chains from the 90s and the modern Alice In Chains we got to know on the last couple of albums. William DuVall and Jerry Cantrell have perfected their tag-team vocal attack, producing some of the finest vocal harmonies in the band’s history. They’re a pretty great guitar duo too. Though not as influential nor game-changing as either Facelift or Dirt, Rainier Fog has cemented itself in my mind as one of the best Alice In Chains albums.
I had never really listened to Architects before this, but Holy Hell blew me away with how powerful it was. The British metalcore outfit’s eighth album, their first since the tragic loss of lead guitarist Tom Searle to skin cancer, is just packed full of emotion. This is no sympathy selection either. You can feel the pain of the loss in every track like a punch in the gut through both the music and the lyrics, especially in lead single “Doomsday.” You can tell they took everything they had and poured it into these songs to honor their fallen bandmate, and twin brother in the case of drummer Dan Searle. Lead guitar duties were handled by Sylosis main man and friend of the band Josh Middleton, one of my favorite modern metal guitarists. I think this is a perfect album both for old fans and new fans such as myself.
Twelve albums about a quarter century into their career, Sevendust is still going strong. The Georgia alt-metal quintet have been one of the most consistently good bands in the scene if you ask me. All I See Is War is another notch in these veterans’ belt. They’ve never really put out a bad album, but this is one of their best in years and probably the most polished release they’ve ever put out. It’s got that signature heavy but melodic Sevendust sound, with frontman Lajon Witherspoon’s amazing vocals standing out as always, but there’s enough fresh and new sound here to differentiate it from the rest of the band’s discography. And the production quality is just so good. May Sevendust continue putting out awesome releases for years to come.
Firepower is the best Judas Priest album since 1990's Painkiller. It’s one of their best ever. They’ve got seventeen other albums across a 50+ year career to compare it to, including such masterpieces as Screaming for Vengeance and the aforementioned Painkiller, so that’s saying something. I’d put it right up there with those two as a contender for best Judas Priest album of all time. It’s got a nice modern sound to it, but it still has the quintessential Priest vibe to it. Even in his late 60s, Rob Halford’s voice sounds amazing. His performance here blows that of 2014's Redeemer of Souls out of the water. Speaking of Redeemer, Richie Faulkner may have made his debut with the band there, but he’s come into his own on this album. His and Glen Tipton’s guitar work on Firepower is amazing, as is pretty much everything about the album. Go listen to it.
Though not the most technically impressive, the most innovative, nor the most diverse album on this list, there was no 2018 release I kept coming back to as much as Ember. Even today, it’s an album I jam on the regular. I don’t think any band exemplifies the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to music as much as Breaking Benjamin. These guys know what their fans want and know exactly how to deliver it. Their second album with the revamped lineup that debuted with 2015's Dark Before Dawn and their sixth overall, Ember continues in the same vein as its predecessor, but turned to eleven. This is unquestionably the heaviest Breaking Benjamin album yet. It might even be their best, but the jury’s still out on that one. Whatever the case may be, one thing is for certain: Ember is my favorite album of 2018 by a landslide.