As we do every year, Metal Nation will unveil its Top 50 Hard Rock and Metal Albums list at the end of the year. Likewise, many of our staff will serve up their own Top 10 Lists, because we all have different perspectives on metal. As with every year, my personal Top 10 List is not what I perceive as necessarily the best metal albums of 2018, but rather the ones that I spent the most time listening and returning to. They were the best for my tastes…with the admission that I did not hear every hard rock and metal album released this year (who has?). My own tastes are more traditional and less extreme. I like big riffs, and I can’t deny…. That said, inevitably, the moment I publish my list, I’ll discover something I missed or somehow overlooked. As always, there are no greatest hits, EPs, or live albums on my list.
Honorable Mention 1: Witch Mountain – Witch Mountain (Profound Lore)
I’m normally not a big stoner/doom/sludge guy. I checked this album out because of vocalist Kayla Dixon’s presence in the band. I saw her perform during her brief stint with Helion Prime and she blew me away. This is Dixon’s debut with Witch Mountain, and I absolutely fell in love with it. The riffs are weighty, loose, and appropriately fuzzy. The percussion is expectantly raw, and the low end vibrates through your marrow. As with most albums in this genre, the length sits around 35 minutes, but it is only five tracks deep. One of those tracks is an exceptional cover of Spirit’s “Mechanical World.” It’s the original material however, that makes them a worthy year-end candidate. Tracks like “Burn You Down,” with its behemoth and eerie semblance, and the chunky riffs and doomish groove of “Midnight,” make this a mighty slab of ear candy. And of course there’s brilliance of Dixon’s vocals. Her soulful delivery adds a wonderfully warm depth to another wise cold genre. She elevates every song with her vocal dynamism, which in turn raises the impact of every track on the record. She provides the sonic beauty for the proverbial sludgy beast.
Honorable Mention 2: White Wizzard – Infernal Overdrive (M-Theory Audio)
This may have been the first album I reviewed for 2018, and no sooner was the proverbially ink dry then founder Jon Leon announced the band had dissolved for good. White Wizzard has always been a bit disconcerting for fans. Every release has marked a different line-up, with only bassist and principal composer, Leon as the group’s anchor. That said, White Wizzard have never strayed away from their classic metal sound, and that is something the fans can appreciate. Infernal Overdrive clocks in at just over an hour and the production by Ralph Patlan (Megadeth, Witherfall, Flotsam and Jetsam) is spot on. The return of guitarist James J. LaRue and vocalist Wyatt “Screamin’ Demon” Anderson combined with Leon’s ever-improving songwriting craft has resulted in White Wizzard’s most important and meaningful record to date. Infernal Overdrive is a perfect 10th anniversary gift for long-suffering fans and and those who appreciate damn good traditional and progressive metal. At the very least, White Wizzard went out putting its best album forward. Read Full Review
Honorable Mention 3: 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 Champion. Conqueror’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!
10. Dream Child – Until Death Do We Meet Again (Frontiers Music)
Longtime Dio guitarist and collaborator Craig Goldy has at long last channeled his pain, energy, and inspirations into a project that pays respectful homage to his late friend in a fitting manner–the creation of fantastic new music, that resonates with the memory of Ronnie James Dio. Dream Child‘s debut album also introduces the world to former Helker vocalist Diego Valdez, who truly soars on this record. Track by track, Until Death Do We Meet Again is almost a Dio blueprint with crunchy and muscular guitars along side soaring vocals and grand imagery. However, Dream Child’s debut album is more than just a modern tribute to its primary inspiration. There are many other influences at play throughout the album’s 12 tracks. Goldy’s fretwork and Valdez’s throaty and nuanced vocals stand out as the shining stars on an album packed with talent. Valdez hits all the right notes in revitalizing the memory of a heavy metal hero, while Goldy sounds as spirited and vigorous as he did in the 80s. Fans of 70’s and 80’s hard rock and metal, and Dio fans in particular should thoroughly enjoy Until Death Do We Meet Again. Read Full Review Read Full Interview
9. Bullet – Dust to Gold (SPV/Steamhammer)
Bullet’s sixth studio record, Dust to Gold is a perfect example of an album that I almost missed out on this year. It dropped back in April and I only recently caught wind of it. The Swedish muscle-metal quintet continues to dial up its own blend of traditional riff-centric, hammer-down, boogie-and-roll metal that is a twisted amalgamation of bands like Judas Priest, AC/DC, Accept and Thin Lizzy. While the wailing vocals of Dag Hell Hofer can be a bit over-the-top, they perfectly suit Bullet’s hard-partying style of anthemic headbanging. The dual guitar attack of Hampus Klang and Alexander Lyrbo brings back powerful memories of traditional 80s metal, before spandex and Aquanet drained the genre of its testosterone. Dust to Bone is a riffgasmic slab of everything dirty and dangerous that drew us old school metalheads to the hole-in-the-wall record stores to begin with.
8. 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.” New drummer Stet Howland (ex-WASP) helps drive the record with percussive precision. Read Full Interview
7. Dire Peril – The Extraterrestrial Compendium (Divebomb Records)
I’ve been waiting on this record for some time, and fortuitously, the end result did not disappoint. Dire Peril is the cumulative effort of Helion Prime‘s Jason Ashcraft (guitar) and Judicator‘s John Yelland (vocals), who also put out noteworthy albums for their own respective bands this year with Terror of the Cybernetic Space Monster and The Last Emperor. With The Extraterrestrial Compendium, Ashcraft wanted to develop songs based around his favorite sci-fi films, such as Predator, Barbarella, Total Recall, Starship Troopers, E.T., and so forth. The sound of the album is consistent with both Yelland and Ashcraft’s other power metal outfits, but there is a certain magic to what they have created here that has elevated the final result. The interplay between the guitars and Yelland’s unique vocal style is instantly addictive, and carries throughout the record’s 12 tracks. The album has a heavier and more aggressive feel than their other projects as well. There’s something of an Iced Earth meets Blind Guardian essence, which makes sense, as Ashcraft likens it to their own version of Jon Schaffer and Hansi Kursch‘s Demons & Wizards. The album also gives nod to Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Star One project. All of which is brilliant company to aspire to. Lucassen, Ashcraft’s personal hero, makes a cameo on the album’s final track. Read Full Interview
6. Graveshadow – Ambition’s Price (M-Theory Audio)
This album became an early favorite this year. Taking nothing away from the band’s impressive debut, Nocturnal Resurrection, Ambition’s Price is a stronger, more cohesive and evolved effort by far. Vocalist Heather Michele has confidently showcased her deft talents for soaring melodies and intriguing lyrical themes. Her voice is quite distinctive, and it adds depth and uniqueness to the band’s style. She is able to transition smoothly from beautiful clean peaks to deathly growls without disruption. Her knack for performing clearly enunciated harsh vocals is amazing. As someone who is not a fan of most growling vocals, in particular because they are difficult to understand, it is truly impressive how adept Michele is in this area. The growling elements add a perfect touch and are not overused. On many levels, it is her voice that sets Graveshadow apart from its contemporaries. This is not simply a fantastic record, but legitimately one of the best of 2018. With Ambition’s Price, Graveshadow has taken what has become a somewhat complacent and stagnant style of metal and breathed fresh life into it, creating something vibrant and memorable. They took a massive swing with this album and knocked it out of the graveyard. Read Full Review Read Interview
5. 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. Read Full Review Read Interview
4. Manimal – Purgatorio (AFM Records)
It boggles my mind that Sweden’s Manimal is not more popular. The group’s latest installment, Purgatorio, picks up where its successor left off while also moving beyond it. Band founders, vocalist Samuel Nyman and guitarist Henrik Stenroos, continue to evolve Manimal’s sound without straying too far from its signature style. The rhythm section of bassist Kenny Boufadene and drummer André Holmqvist (Ice Age) return for their second album as well, each adding their own unique magic. Throughout the dynamic and devilish Purgatorio, Nyman takes us through the paces with his vocal pyrotechnics. He is arguably centerpiece of Manimal‘s signature sound. Stenroos has served up another platter of memorable solos and hooky riiffs, and the band has packed this album with plenty of catchy melodies that beg for repeated listening. From 2009’s debut The Darkest Room to Trapped in the Shadows, to Purgatorio, Manimal has continued its evolution of weighty and exceptional modern power metal. They have incorporated their various influences into a sound that is at once familiar yet decidedly recognizable as their own. Read Full Review Read Interview
3. Burning Witches – Hexenhammer (Nuclear Blast)
I’m a sucker for traditional metal, big on memorable riffs, hooky choruses, and gritty vocal attacks. Bands like Judas Priest, Dio, and Accept, are where my metal heart thrives. While I somehow missed out on discovering these Swiss Femme Metales on their 2017 debut, their sophomore effort, Hexenhammer poleaxed me from the first riff. Burning Witches sound blends elements of traditional and power metal with some bits of thrash swirled in. The result is a style that sounds classic yet equally modern. Fronted by the aggressive and mammoth vocals of Seraina Telli, Burning Witches grabs you by the throat from the first notes of the opening single, “Executed”. Telli showcases a wailing yet gritty voice that sounds like an amalgamation of Rob Halford and Doro Pesch, while guitarist Romana Kalkuhl’s fingers are electrifying on the fretboard. Hexenhammer resonates with a spectacular metal dynamism, and absolutely delivers the proverbial goods. Read Full Review
2. A Sound of Thunder – It Was Metal (Mad Neptune)
I have been a fan and supporter of pretty much everything these East Coast metallers have churned out, so I knew going in, this would be a solid record. I was not prepared for what turned out to be (at least for me) the best album A Sound of Thunder has made to date. Guitarist Josh Schwartz is a big fan of guys like Tony Iommi, Ritchie Blackmore, Glenn Tipton and so forth, but it took It Was Metal, for me to really feel the impact of those riff-masters in the band’s sound. A Sound of Thunder wanted a create a straight-forward metal album, and that’s exactly what they delivered here. It Was Metal is nearly an hour long, yet feels like it flies by in hail of harmonies, wailing vocals, and addictive riffs. Despite the wealth of melody and the energetic feel of the record, A Sound of Thunder did not short change the listener on substance or depth. Every track feels like a mini-masterpiece unto itself. Each spin through the album reveals more details and invites another journey through. Every individual performance is on point, and while they all shine on their own, it is in the collective that they ascend to something greater. While the band may not see it as such, It Was Metal is A Sound of Thunder‘s seminal work to date. That is significant praise considering how highly I regard their previous works. In fact, I could argue that this could easily be in the #1 spot. Read Full Review
1. Judas Priest – Firepower (Sony/Columbia)
I’m not sure there was ever a question in my mind what my #1 album would be this year (though the band at #2 kept it tight). Judas Priest came back strong with 2014’s Redeemer of Souls, and they have not only released a worthy successor in Firepower, but one of their best albums ever. Some may call that heresy, but Firepower can readily stand alongside any of their strongest records. Where Redeemer of Souls failed in terms of production, Firepower crushed it. The choice to have Tom Allom and Andy Sneap co-produce is decidedly brilliant. Tracks like “Lightning Strikes,” “Spectre,” “Necromancer,” “Evil Never Dies,” “Flame Thrower,” “No Surrender,” and the title track are all textbook Judas Priest anthems for a new era. The addition of guitarist Richie Faulkner continues to reinvigorate the band creatively, and Sneap is a production monster when it comes to recording mammoth guitar tones. Since Firepower’s release I have seen countless posts on social media about the “best metal album of 2018” and almost inevitably the majority of responses are for Firepower, so I’m not alone when I contend that this is not only my personal favorite for 2018, but the best metal release of the year. Read Full Review