Metal Nation’s Top 50 Hard Rock and Metal Albums of 2018

20. Metal Church – Dammed if You Do (Rat Pak Records)

At the closing bell, Metal Church  unleashed its 12th studio album, Damned If You Do. The record finds Metal Church inventing new ways to reinvigorate the power of their victorious 1984 debut album, dealing out track after track of pure metal glory. If it’s possible, the band may have released the best overall album of its career with Damned If You Do. The opening title track is a hooky and muscular buzzsaw of tight riffs, infectious yet heavy passages, with Howe’s biting vocal assault leading the way. “By the Numbers” is an instantly addictive classic, while tracks such as “The Black Things,” “Revolution Underway,” offer slower, more nuanced moments of darkly emotive groove and melody.  This balance goes back and forth throughout Damned If You Do, culminating in the full on mosh masterpiece, “The War Electric.” Mike Howe‘s voice is better than ever, and new drummer Stet Howland (ex-WASP) helps drive the record with percussive precision. -RR

19. Between the Buried and Me – Automata  (Sumerian Records)

North Carolina’s Between the Buried and Me shot for the stars in 2018 and delivered an epic, two part concept record, Automata. Part one was unleashed in March and began the tale of a not so distant future where dreams are captured and sold as entertainment. The EP features six tracks and clocks in at 35 minutes of prog metal intensity. Huge riffs, masterful musicianship and a great story kept us going til July when part two was released. Automata II is another 4 tracks taking the story to climax and completion. Nearly 70 minutes in total, the Automata story is packaged with broad sonic dynamics as the vehicle for telling a great narrative; peaks and valleys, highs and lows, driven by emotions of helplessness, terror, and the underlying human desire to survive. This pair of EP’s raises the bar for BTBAM and is a must for the prog fan who enjoys an engaging concept that unfolds within a colourful sonic landscape. –DW

18. Khemmis – Desolation (Nuclear Blast)

Khemmis threw down a doom-filled gauntlet in June with their third album, Desolation. Based in Denver, Colorado, Khemmis takes the riffage, down-tuning, and harmonies most associated with doom and adds another entire instrumentation component with their vocals. Phil Pendergast soars throughout, arching for the heavens in one verse and wraithing a growl through the next. Khemmis is arguably one of the biggest metal bands to come out of Denver in quite some time. Desolation only improves their chances of securing that mantle. -BJ

Desolation marks the third album for Denver’s Khemmis. The quartet continue to meld their style of classic metal and modern doom into something spectacularly fresh yet familiar. The dual guitar attack of Phil Pendergast and Ben Hutcherson find inspiration in the likes of Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden, something that plays out stronger than ever on this new record. With each album, Khemmis has become more ambitious and has also taken slight shifts in direction, This time around they tap into epic metal elements one might find on albums by Tyr or Grand Magus, but have no fear, the doom’s still here. Whatever it is they are doing, it works, and only three records into their nascent career, they are churning out dynamic and memorable albums. -RR

17.  Voivod – The Wake (Century Media)

The Canadian prog-thrash metal heathens somehow manage to defy the odds again, by creating another masterpiece of dissonant grandeur.  How they manage to keep themselves so innately relevant is beyond what my feeble brain can fathom. The Wake is a concept record that–well imagine if the antagonist in the Aquaman movie had defeated our hero and wrought destruction upon the world, That’s kind of the gist, without the whole schmaltzy Hollyweird bit. Guitarist Dan Mongrain delivers brilliantly on his second effort with Voivod. Words like diverse, complicated, and intriguing all pop to mind as one listens to the extraordinary depth achieved throughout this sonic specimen of metal excellence. -RR

16. Sleep – The Sciences (Third Man)

Matt Pike makes the first of two appearances on our Top 50 list this year. After attending Portland’s metal marathon Stumpfest in 2017, and a planned return most definitely on the list in 2018, I was unable to get back to Mississippi Studios. What made that even worse was as I was reading about the three day show just a few days after it was over, Matt Pike had personally delivered The Sciences to the crowd for a listening party of the ENTIRE album. Still pissed about it today. Sleep are THE stoner band. After being tucked away for about 20 years, they returned with a record that only they could produce, full of 10-minute-plus interludes and fuzz for days. Wouldn’t expect anything less from Pike, Al Cisneros, and Jason Roeder. Just awesome to hear them once again in their infinite glory. – BJ

Sleep returned after a lengthy hibernation, and with The Sciences, and proved they are still as grimy and fuzzy as ever. The fact of the matter is you could bitch about a lot of Sleep’s qualities, but at the end of the day the majority of them are the quirks that fans have come to love over the years. For those who do, The Sciences will set the grade for skeptics and optimists alike. If you have yet to experience a stoner/doom album before, you have stumbled upon its fathers. To all who venture within this particular soundscape, safe travels. – AS

15. Visigoth – Conqueror’s Oath (Metal Blade)

Oh for the glory of epic classic metal. Utah’s Visigoth served up its mammoth sophomore effort, Conqueror’s Oath early in the year. The follow up to 2015’s critically-lauded debut The Revenant King, the band’s second offering continues the resurgent celebration of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, with a healthy dose of myth and fantasy-based power metal thrown into the mix. It’s something of a sonic collision between Iron Maiden and Grand Magus, also along the lines of their contemporaries in Eternal ChampionConqueror’s Oath  takes everything wonderful about the quintet’s first record, and improves upon it. They shed almost 20 minutes comparatively, but it makes the record more consistent and powerful. The album is ripe with sonorous vocals, galloping rhythms, and big hooks. There are also notable moments of folky, renaissance elements. Still, it is the over-the-top epic sense of it all that makes this one of the year’s best metal albums. I shall dub thee, warrior metal! – RR

14. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats – Wasteland  (Rise Above)

Uncle Acid is straight out of 1968. They have a signature sound that only continues to feed upon itself. I swore the first time I heard “Shockwave City” my stream had switched to a badass Van Halen riff repeater. If you are looking for some straight-up heavy rock n’ roll with a little side slice of horror/doom, Uncle Acid is your ticket. Their previous efforts have produced some instant classic songs, but overall, Wasteland is their most complete effort. – BJ

When I awarded the re-issue of Uncle Acid‘s landmark debut (Vol. 1) a spot on my 2017 top ten list, I hinted that their schtick wasn’t exactly built for longevity. By no means did I mean what I said as a slight, but I will admit that I was somewhat skeptical about Uncle Acid‘s ability to build forward momentum given the constraints of the sonic framework they’d established on their first four releases. Fortunately, Wasteland finds Uncle Acid making significant strides in songcraft and while the disconcerting charm of their basement-dwelling sonic delivery is still firmly intact, they’ve tightened up their playing and imbued Wasteland with a solid sense of melody. I don’t expect Uncle Acid to ever stray too far from the sound that brought them here–and Wasteland proves that they don’t necessarily need to–but it’s refreshing to hear Uncle Acid spreading their wings a bit. -CC

13. Saxon – Thunderbolt (Militia Guard/Silver Lining)

It has long been suggested that the only things one can truly count on in life, are death, taxes, and perhaps corrupt politicians. None of them good things, to be sure. I would argue, justifiably so, that on the positive side of that equation is Saxon. The English metal stalwarts are beginning their fifth decade of creating head-banging, no frills music that stands the test of time. Moreover, they are as timely and sonically consistent with their releases as any fan could ask for. This would include the band’s latest effort, Saxon’s 22nd studio album Thunderbolt.  After four decades, Saxon has mastered the art of crafting well-balanced, dynamic albums packed, with memorable headbangers and timeless anthems. Thunderbolt is another significant example of the band’s passion for making potent and compelling music while also demonstrating respect for the fans that expect more than the laurel-resting fodder some of their contemporaries have been guilty of. Thunderbolt sets no precedence but rather stands as the next chapter in Saxon’s influential legacy.  -RR

12. Slugdge – Esoteric Malacology (Willowtip Records)

The British purveyors of extreme mollusk metal returned in 2018 with their fourth full-length studio affair, Esoteric Malacology. After releasing three albums back to back from 2013 to 2015, founders Matthew Moss (vocals, guitar) and Kevin Pearson (guitars) took their time with this slimy new slab of progressive sludge. They also brought in bassist Moat “Mot the Mooter” Lowe and drummer Alan Cassidy (The Black Dahlia Murder) to upgrade the duo to a full band. Trying to define the Slugdge sound is difficult as the band is a true hybrid, and with Esoteric Malacology listeners can find elements of death, doom, prog, black, and thrash metal, with many others nuances oozing between. The songwriting of Moss and Pearson is a compositional display of skill and ingenuity, and this may be the album that elevates them from cult heroes to the spotlight. -RR

11. Alien Weaponry – Tu  (Napalm Records)

We have all heard Amon AmarthRammstein, and Slipknot, bands that are heavy as hell and represent the geographic area they are from (Believe me, Iowa is its own kind of heavy). It only makes sense that we finally have a contender from the South Pacific. Hailing from New Zealand and representing a legitimate background in Maori language, heritage, education, and culture, Alien Weaponry absolutely exploded in 2018. With an average age of about 18, the men of AW have a sound all their own, mostly because of the aboriginal lyrics and chanting found throughout the album. It is absolutely bad-ass. How this combination has not been put forth before is beyond me, because it makes perfect sense. If there is a new album or band you check out in 2018 it has to be Tu. -BJ

A Sound of ThunderAlien WeaponryAll That RemainsAmorphisAnaal NathrakhAvatarBehemothBest of 2018Between the Buried and MeBoss KeloidBurning WitchesClutchCorrosion Of ConformityDaughtersDee SniderDire PerilGhostGraveshadowHakenHigh On FireHoly GroveHorrendousHYVMINEIcarus WitchImmortalJudas PriestJungle RotKhemmisManimalMetal ChurchMichael RomeoMike Lepond's Silent AssassinsObscuraOh.Pale DivinePig DestroyerRivers of NihilSaxonSleepSlugdgeSoulflyTribulationUncle Acid and the DeadbeatsVeinVisigothVOIVODWitch mountainWitherfallYOB
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