I’ll start off with the cliche about billions of albums being released in 2018 and how it was difficult to choose my favorites. This year, my five top choices all happen to be from Sweden or the U.K., and three of those bands are known for being rather theatrical. Does that tie into my musical taste? Who knows. But these were my top five favorite albums of the year.
5. At The Gates – To Drink From the Night Itself
Genre: Melodic Death Metal
Release Date: May 18
The Swedish melodic death metal masters are back with a vengeance despite the departure of co-founding guitarist Anders Björler last March. TDFTNI definitely pulls more from their classic Slaughter of the Soul and Terminal Spirit Disease cuts than their previous album, At War with Reality (2014). We also get a glimpse of vocalist Tomas Lindberg’s hardcore influences, and new guitarist Jonas Stålhammar (God Macabre) certainly helped breathe new life into the band’s riffage, which gives TDFTNI its own distinct identity from the rest of the band’s extremely influential discography.
4. The Struts – Young & Dangerous
Genre: Glam Rock
Release Date: October 26
The Struts’ sophomore record is far from a slump. It’s a fist-pumping party that’s like T. Rex and the Rolling Stones had a crazed, coke-fueled party with Kesha (who guests on a version of “Body Talks”). Though Young and Dangerous is mainly an upbeat, Dionysian ode to sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, there are some bonafide anthems like “Somebody New” and “Ashes” that can bring a tear to your eye. If you don’t mind 70’s-inspired, feel-good glam mixed with today’s slick pop production, this album “burns like fire”.
3. Judas Priest – Firepower
Genre: Heavy Metal
Release Date: March 9
A massive step up from Redeemer of Souls (2014), Firepower is arguably Priest’s greatest album since Painkiller (1990). The band teamed up once again with former producer Tom Alton (Ram It Down) and modern metal engineer Andy Sneap (Megadeth, Amon Amarth, etc.) to create this hard-hitting album. It is classic Judas Priest songwriting and dueling guitars with an updated, ferocious sound that flirts with thrash (à la Overkill) at times. Firepower certainly lives up to its name and cements the band’s legacy as the Metal Gods.
2. Avatar – Avatar Country
Genre: ??? (Heavy/Alternative/Power Metal)
Release Date: January 12
The theatrical Swedish band effortlessly zigzags between genres on a comedic, clever concept album that revolves around the monarchy of Avatar Country. It is a satirical view of celebrity and hero-worship painted with a diverse palette of melodeath, metalcore, and power metal riffage (and vocals), occasional southern rock grooves, and catchy songwriting that will have the songs playing in your head long after the album ends. Though the band is often dismissed due to their theatricality, Avatar Country shows off their technical prowess and that they are definitely a force to be reckoned with in modern melodic metal.
1. Ghost – Prequelle
Genre: Hard Rock/Heavy Metal
Release Date: June 1
Though this album has topped plenty of “Best Metal Album of the Year” lists in various publications, calling it a “metal” album is simply inaccurate.
Tobias Forge Cardinal Copia’s rock opera masterpiece is centered on the Black Plague and survival, sounding like a blend of 70’s classic rock (Alice Cooper, Queen, etc.), and 80’s pop and metal. It’s as diverse, bombastic, and over-the-top as Ghost’s imagery and stage shows.