TOP 20 ALBUMS OF 2018
1. Ghost – PREQUELLE
A contentious choice for sure but this is the record I continued to revisit over and over throughout 2018. All gimmicks aside, PREQUELLE is full of catchy, hook-filled songs that admittedly lean more towards hard rock than metal but the music is heavy enough that Ghost has earned its’ place in the metal realm. This is clearly a big-budget record with massive expectations that Ghost is proving itself capable of filling. The band has more than its share of detractors but no one can deny the fact Ghost knows how to leave its’ mark.
2. At The Gates – TO DRINK FROM THE NIGHT ITSELF
Continuing to ride the wave of a late-career resurgence since reforming in 2007, Swedish pioneers At The Gates deliver another blazing slab of quality melodic death metal. Tomas Lindberg’s bark is as harsh as ever and the loss of founding guitarist Anders Björler is not felt at all. This band’s legacy remains untarnished as the metal seems to just flow naturally through their veins.
3. Primal Fear – APOCALYPSE
Hard to believe Primal Fear is now in its twentieth year (and twelfth studio album!) and still releasing top quality music. APOCALYPSE is everything fans have come to expect from the German group: driving power metal, bolstered by fiery leads and a solid backbeat with the fierce vocals of Ralf Scheepers locking everything down. Primal Fear simply can do no wrong.
4. Judas Priest – FIREPOWER
It just goes to show what a great year 2018 was if Judas Priest releases a new album that barely cracks my Top 5! FIREPOWER is easily the best album that band has released since reuniting with Rob Halford in 2004. Where REDEEMER OF SOULS was a bit too dark and NOSTRADAMUS was just too damn long, FIREPOWER dialled things in to build upon the classic sound of the band without sounding like they were coasting by on legacy alone. The unfortunate loss of Glenn Tipton from the lineup is certainly a blow going into the next record but while Parkinson’s will keep him from the stage, it shouldn’t keep him from being able to write further Priest classics. Halford hasn’t sounded this good in years, either. It is quite amazing to hear new music that still sounds fresh and relevant from a band 45 years into its career.
5. Amorphis – QUEEN OF TIME
Amorphis continue the pace first set forth with the untouchable late ‘00s trio of ECLIPSE, SILENT WATERS and SKYFORGER. The Finns’ folk influences never seem forced and blend perfectly with the dynamic vocals of Tomi Joutsen. This is a “big” sounding record with choirs and orchestration—even saxophone—but everything clicks to make QUEEN OF TIME another jewel in Amorphis’ crown.
6. Immortal – NORTHERN CHAOS GODS
7. Fifth Angel – THE THIRD SECRET
8. The Ocean – PHANEROZOIC I: PALAEOZOIC
9. Watain – TRIDENT WOLF ECLIPSE
10. Into Eternity – THE SIRENS
11. Soulfly – RITUAL
12. Skeletonwitch – DEVOURING RADIANT LIGHT
13. U.D.O. – STEEL FACTORY
14. Light The Torch – REVIVAL
15. Angra – OMNI
16. Summoning – WITH DOOM WE COME
17. Exmortus – THE SOUND OF STEEL
18. Meliah Rage – IDOL HANDS
19. Nervosa – DOWNFALL OF MANKIND
20. Stryper – GOD DAMN EVIL
***HONORABLE MENTIONS: Warrel Dane – SHADOW WORK, Dee Snider – FOR THE LOVE OF METAL, Pig Destroyer – HEAD CAGE, Krisiun – SCOURGE OF THE ENTHRONED, Metal Church – DAMNED IF YOU DO, Redemption – LONG NIGHT’S JOURNEY INTO DAY, Black Label Society – GRIMMEST HITS, Winterfylleth – THE HALLOWING OF HEIRDOM
BEST NEW BAND OF 2018
Alice Cooper’s guitarist unleashed her first solo album with a mix of styles showcasing her mastery of the instrument. Combining equal parts late-eighties Shrapnel shredfest with nods to Queen and crunching hard rock, CONTROLLED CHAOS was a pleasant surprise.
BEST LIVE ALBUM OF 2018
Devin Townsend Project – OCEAN MACHINE: LIVE AT THE ANCIENT ROMAN THEATRE PLOVDIV
On September 22, 2017, Devy & Co. traveled all the way to Bulgaria to perform his 1997 cult classic OCEAN MACHINE (and other fan-requested tracks) live with a full orchestra and choir. The result is a jaw-dropping spectacle on video that must have been surreal to witness in person. The stress of putting on another huge production nearly did Devy in and it turns out this release will be the swan song for The Devin Townsend Project.
HONORABLE MENTION: Lacuna Coil – THE 119 SHOW: LIVE IN LONDON
This show was a massive spectacle put together as a one-off to celebrate Lacuna Coil’s twentieth anniversary. All the big songs are here as well as several that haven’t been played for many years or ever at all. Stage actors and circus performers fill the stage and along with a killer light show and a tight performance from the band, this live recording is a no-holds-barred fan experience from start to finish.
BEST EP OF 2018
Cryptopsy – THE BOOK OF SUFFERING: TOME II
Many fickle metal folks still (unfairly) have the bad taste of THE UNSPOKEN KING lingering in their mouths but Cryptopsy has continued to quietly release new material independently for the past six years. The latest, the second part of THE BOOK OF SUFFERING EPs, adheres to Cryptopsy’s legacy with a neck-breaking, mind-blowing blast of insane technical death metal.
BEST REISSUE OF 2018
Metallica – …AND JUSTICE FOR ALL
Metallica continues its trend of reissuing the classic albums in super-deluxe boxsets filled with goodies and rarities to tickle hardcore fans who possess deep pockets. Still no justice for Jason Newsted’s bass, though.
BEST COVERS ALBUM OF 2018
Bonfire – LEGENDS
Covers albums usually are not my thing (nor is Bonfire, for that matter) but this two-disc set of tracks covers several genres and really pulls out all the stops, featuring the German veterans take on such diverse acts as Toto, Queensryche, Hardline, Rainbow, Survivor, Grave Digger, Robin Beck and House of Lords among others.
BEST REMAKE ALBUM OF 2018
W.A.S.P. – RE-IDOLIZED: THE SOUNDTRACK TO THE CRIMSON IDOL
Blackie Lawless added a couple tracks and altered some lyrics on others to update the story of Jonathan 25 years later. The companion “movie” was a bit of a stretch and the need for this release at all is debatable but hearing W.A.S.P. take a second stab at what many consider the band’s magnum opus is interesting nonetheless.
BEST COMEBACKS OF 2018
Immortal – NORTHERN CHAOS GODS
The last record from Immortal was 2009’s blistering ALL SHALL FALL but the acrimonious split with Abbath in 2015 left many wondering what the future of the Norwegian black metal veterans would hold. Abbath’s own solo release in 2016 wasn’t too far off base from what one would expect from Immortal and many including myself assumed Abbath would carry on the torch but Demonaz and Horgh have returned with a mighty vengeance. Sure, Abbath’s unique vocals are glaringly absent but Demonaz possesses an icy roar that chills all the way to Blashyrkh. The biting riffs are here as are the charmingly goofy lyrics, so Immortal hasn’t missed a step at all.
Into Eternity – SIRENS
A whopping ten years after THE INCURABLE TRAGEDY, Into Eternity is back with THE SIRENS. Two songs were released by the band in 2011 and 2012 before going off the radar again, mostly due to uncertainties with vocalist Stu Block who is pulling double-duty in Iced Earth. Traces of Block’s vocals remain here but Amanda Kiernan more that capably fills the lead vocal spot with powerful screams and growls. Tim Roth’s dizzying leads and progressive metal leanings are still as rich as ever, too. It has been a long wait but THE SIRENS is well worth it.
BEST METAL-RELATED BOOKS OF 2018
Martin Popoff – IRON MAIDEN: ALBUM BY ALBUM
With over eighty books now to his name, Popoff’s coffee table tome about Iron Maiden is a glorious read from cover to cover. The classy hardcover presentation, high-quality paper and tons of colour photos capture the essence of the band with various industry folks and musicians (including Blaze Bayley) weighing in on the impact Maiden has had on them. What sets this book apart from the dozens of other Iron Maiden books is the attention to detail and equal space given to each album, especially those during the non-Dickinson years.
Mark Eglinton – LACUNA COIL: NOTHING STANDS IN OUR WAY
The good people at Rocket 88 continue to publish lavish works that go above and beyond the standard book releases. Like the epic tome they did on Opeth in 2016, NOTHING STANDS IN OUR WAY tells the story of Italy’s Lacuna Coil in a gorgeous hardcover format with personal photos from the band’s collection and stories about each album in the band members’ own words. These books aren’t cheap and are directed toward the serious fan but you certainly get what you pay for.
Dayal Patterson & Sakis Tolis – NON SERVIAM: THE OFFICIAL STORY OF ROTTING CHRIST
Greece’s Rotting Christ has been around for thirty years but it wasn’t until I read this book that I realized just how influential they were on the global metal scene. The Tolis brothers have anchored Rotting Christ since day one and drummer Themis gives his first ever interviews in this book, while the words of vocalist/guitarist Sakis get the most space. This is a 300-page paperback released by an independent publisher but there is no shortage of quality or content here at all. Loaded with photos, detailed recording information and plenty of feedback from current and former members, the history of these Greek veterans is really given the golden treatment.
BEST DISCOVERY OF 2018
This Seattle-based power metal band was completely new to me when Nuclear Blast released THE THIRD SECRET in October. As it turns out, Fifth Angel put out a pair of albums in 1986 and 1989, then disappeared for almost thirty years! Fans of Dio, Jag Panzer, Brainstorm, Metal Church, etc. should definitely check out Fifth Angel.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS OF 2018
1. Machine Head – CATHARSIS
Machine Head’s painfully uneven career has had more than its share of peaks and valleys but the backlash received from CATHARSIS seemed to grind the band down to the point of everyone leaving the fold except Robb Flynn. Doubtful that anything can ever be worse than the wretched combo of THE BURNING RED and SUPERCHARGER but let us all hope that Flynn is able to bounce back from CATHARSIS and create another BURN MY EYES or
2. Dimmu Borgir – EONIAN
With an eight-year break between EONIAN and 2010’s equally dodgy ABRAHADABRA, one has to wonder what happened to Dimmu Borgir. Aside from the excellent “Interdimensional Summit,” there are only a couple of memorable moments to take away from this huge-sounding record by a band that seems to increasingly use choirs and string sections as a crutch to distract from otherwise forgettable songwriting.
3. Dokken – RETURN TO THE EAST LIVE 2016
Upon hearing that Dokken’s classic lineup had agreed to put aside its differences for a few shows was exciting to any fan. Sadly, it takes about a minute into “Kiss of Death” to become painfully aware of the ravages of time. Don Dokken sounds tired and there is no upper register to his vocals whatsoever. It’s like he is just there to collect the paycheque at the end of the show. The rest of the band sounds excellent with Jeff Pilson filling in the vocal gaps and George Lynch never takes his foot off the throttle…but man, those lead vocals are a real black mark on this release.
4. Six Feet Under – UNBURIED
The double wallop of UNDEAD and UNBORN in 2012 and 2013, respectively, set the stage for a creative and critical peak for Six Feet Under. A new lineup obviously lit a fire under Chris Barnes, so it is bewildering what this 20-minute collection of cutting room floor leftovers from the recording sessions of those two records offers other than tarnishing the memory of them. Poorly-recorded, seemingly unmixed or mastered and just slapped on to disc, these duds should have remained buried.
5. Venom – STORM THE GATES
Venom’s influence cannot be denied but having fractured into two lineups in recent years, Cronos now records as Venom and Mantas and Abaddon as Venom Inc.. These things are always messy and confusing for fans, just ask Queensryche, Saxon, Ratt, Great White and L.A. Guns, among others. One spin of last year’s crushing debut from Venom Inc., AVE, really showcases what a meat-headed mess STORM THE GATES is. Not sure where Cronos’ head is at these days but he seems to be going down the “tough guy metal” road, which is not a good look for him.
6. Despite listening to and rating 109 new releases in 2018, I still managed to not hear the new albums from big acts like Corrosion Of Conformity, Therion, Pestilence, Rivers Of Nihil, Gus G, Overkill, Riot V, Skinless, Yob, Moonspell, Omnium Gatherum, Grave Digger, Brainstorm, Sirenia, Anaal Nathrakh, Arsis, Cancer, Sigh and Amon Amarth by the end of the year.
GREATEST HOPES FOR 2019
1. 2018 was a banner year for metal but 2019 already shows an exciting year ahead with new albums already announced from Devin Townsend, Dream Theater, Overkill, Amon Amarth, Rotting Christ, Soilwork, Killswitch Engage, Lamb of God, Gojira, Candlemass, Whitechapel, Evergrey, Children of Bodom, Megadeth, Anthrax, Carcass, AC/DC and HammerFall.
2. KISS’ “Farewell” Tour is rumored to have all former members on stage at some point, which will be truly something to see as a lifelong fan.
3. King Diamond has announced a live Blu-Ray, so hopefully a new album is in the works, as well.
4. Vinnie Vincent’s emergence after twenty years in hiding was both shocking and exciting for the possibilities that lie ahead. Here is hoping that Vinnie is able to keep it together and release some new music in 2019.
5. In Flames’ new album, I, THE MASK, finds the band return to making listenable music again.
6. Echoing a sentiment which has become an annual staple in this section personally since 2010, the hope that more time will become available to devote to writing and contributing to the mighty Metal-Rules.com in 2019!