For me 2018 started in the saddest way possible, with my all-time favorite band – H.I.M. – performing their final show in Tavastia Klubi, in Helsinki, on New Year’s Eve, during the famous HellDone festival. But as 2018 progressed good news followed, and it actually shaped up to be a really great year, with amazing rock and metal releases (especially a few from some of my favorite bands), excellent debut albums, more or less unexpected side-projects and collaborations, a really beautiful DVD entitled “Ayreon Universe”, and a long-awaited come-back from Seventh Wonder and an unexpected come-back from Roy Khan with Conception.
For me, 2018 was the year of surprises.Without further introduction, here’s my top 10 Favorite Albums of 2018.
Disclaimer: this is not a ‘best of’ list, but the albums to which I listened to most, and which ended up being some of my favorites from this year.
10. Alternative Metal:
Bullet for my Valentine – Gravity
''Start living, cause we’re not dead yet''
I am probably one of the few persons on the metal scene who actually likes this album, and understands why it has been constructed the way it has. While I do miss the heavy edge and aggressiveness of “Venom” (2015) in terms of guitar work and screams / harsh vocals, I hear the same edge and aggression in the lyrics. I mean, the lyrics on this album are so angry and harsh, the music is just a catalyst for them to be sung. And Matt’s delivery is just as in-your-face as always, though maybe a bit more melodic. Sure enough, this is not a full-blown metalcore album, and "Don't Need You" is the heaviest song on the record, but on a certain level so is "Not Dead Yet", "Piece of Me" or "Over It", especially lyric-wise. Full review here.
9. Symphonic Metal:
Elvellon – Until Dawn
''Dance for the lord of broken souls…''
This wonderful debut album impressed me from the first listen through with its beautiful dreamlike atmosphere and Disney vibes. Elvellon have really refreshed the symphonic metal genre, which, despite some quality releases over the years, seems a bit stale and set in its ways. Mixing bombastic orchestral sounds, hard riffs, and the wonderful vocals of Nele Messerschmidt, their songs will transport the listeners in a world of fantasy and magic. The band have emphasized more on the orchestration and put the instrumental in the background, and thus created a very dreamy vibe, that makes for a wonderful listen, especially on a lazy, raining afternoon, but also when you feel the need for a relaxing sonic experience. This does not mean that the album is mellow as it has its hard and heavy moment, and the single “The Puppeteer” and "King of Thieves" being perfect examples. Full review here.
8. Heavy Metal:
Kobra and the Lotus – Prevail II
''I believe in you, do you believe in me?''
With the release of “Prevail I” last year and “Prevail II” earlier this year, I managed to get into this amazing metal band from Canada, and I am really loving this massive double album. It’s heavy, and dynamic, but also quite melodic, and emotional, with some pretty intense lyrics and vocals deliveries. Talking only about “Prevail II”, this is a very powerful, heavy record, and this heaviness comes at you from two sides – the music and the lyrics. This is an album that will make you take a good look at your soul and reflect upon your life because of its razor-sharp, direct lyrical content, while headbanging to the infectious rhythms of the guitars and drums. On the album, we have the power anthem "Losing My Humanity", by far one of the best songs of 2018, but also the sweet and delicate "Let Me Love You", and a beautiful yet different cover of Fleetwood Mac’s "The Chain", among many other high-energy songs and soulful moments. For more details, check my review.
7. Hard Rock:
Halestorm – Vicious
''What doesn’t kill me makes me vicious''
The follow-up to 2015’s “Into the Wild Life” sees the band strongly pursuing their rock and roll path with a rocking, diverse, heavy, and dynamic collection of songs that show a lot of edge and power but also sensibility and emotion. As vocalist Lzzy Hale stated “this record was about overcoming inner demons” and most of the lyrics focus on this struggle. I was excited for this one ever since "Black Vultures" got released in June, and wasn’t disappointed with the final result. Songs like the classy "White Dress", the gritty "Vicious" and the energetic "Killing Ourselves to Live" showcase their unapologetic view of life, while "Do not Disturb" and "Conflicted" present their sassy and playful side. Truly, “Vicious” is Halestorm to the bone, and it shows the evolution and growth of a band that puts heart and soul into their music. It’s passion for good rock n’ roll music at its finest! For more, read the review here.
6. Folk / Oriental Metal:
Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs
''One can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark
But one cannot forgive a man who is afraid of the light''
Israeli oriental metal band have made a strong comeback this year with “Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs”, a concept album that revolves around the myth of the cave. Combining folk elements with a solid metal soundscapes and religious / political lyrics, the album is firstly a very powerful statement on the current state of the world (see the lyric video for "We do not resist"), and secondly a very diverse and well-crafted metal masterpiece (see the video for "Like Orpheus"). It has a good pace with softer, almost acoustic pieces, in between the heavier, more aggressive ones. One of the things I enjoy mostly about it is its variety, where no two songs are alike, yet there is a definite Orphaned Land stamp on each of the 13 tracks. Also the concept of the album is very relevant to the current situation, making this album an intense, emotional and intellectual listening, with a lot of meaning behind the lyrics. For more, read my review.
5. Power Metal:
Kamelot – The Shadow Theory
''We are the last to walk the Earth…''
Kamelot seem to have traded the symphonic / gothic aura, and romantic lyrics that defined the band for such a long time for a darker, more industrial feel, that goes hand in hand with the dystopian, futuristic themes of their latest albums. Musically, the album can be split in two: the deeply beautiful and emotional part, with songs like "Ravenlight", “Stories Unheard”, “In Twilight Hours” (ft. Jennifer Haben), “Static”, or “Vespertine (My Crimson Bride)” and the more modern part with, at times, edgier instrumental and growls from guest singer Lauren Hart, such as on "Phantom Divine", 'Mindfall Remedy", but also "Amnesiac" and “Burns to Embrace”. For the most part, this is classic Kamelot to the bone, dressed in new and fancy clothes (or sounds, if you will), making for a very well-crafted nod to their past, while still keeping their eye on the future. For more details, read my review here.
Northward – Northward
''When shall I be my paragon?''
The crowning jewel of this year’s side-projects, Northward, sees Floor Jansen and Jørn Viggo Lofstad marching down the beaten path of rock, and delivering a classic rock album with some throwback moments and groovy melodies. I really got hooked on this as soon as the first single "While Love Died" got released and then even more so once I heard the full album. Northward is a very well composed and put together album, with a great pace and flow to it. Each song has its own personality and don’t seem to follow a certain formula, which is probably the album’s best feature (as for instance "Get what you give" and "Storm in a glass"). There are some hard and heavy cuts like “Drifting Islands” (ft. Irene Jansen), the dirty rocker “I need”, or the energetic “Let me out”, but also some sweet and tender moment as the atmospheric “Northwards”, the acoustic piece “Bridle Passion”, or rock anthem “Paragon”. A very enjoyable listen through. Full review here.
3. Modern Metal:
Amaranthe – Helix
''Make a start with the Helix''
After 2016’s “Maximalism”, I kind of lost my interest in Amaranthe, as I had a hard time getting into the album, and still don’t really like it (too poppy and light for my taste, especially lyric-wise). But when Nils Molin of Dynazty joined the band, my interest got rekindled. I was curios to see how the old songs sounded live with his voice and singing style (and I am very much digging everything, including "That Song", but mostly "True" and "Drop Dead Cynical") but most importantly, how the band’s sound would subsequently evolve. And "Countdown" reassured me that Amaranthe was back on track blending metal and pop in their very unique way. True enough “Helix” is very much Amaranthe down to the last detail – it’s sophisticated, mature with a great balance between the poppy side and the heavy side which really show the evolution of the band, and just how flexible their sound really is. I do believe they stepped up their game and raised the bar with this record. Such songs as the title track “Helix”, “The Score”, “Dream”, “Countdown”, "365" or “Momentum” are probably some of the best on the album, while growl-fest “GG6” is definitely the wild card of the bunch. High-energy album with a nice dynamic and balance of the three vocalists – Elize Ryd, Nils Molin, and Henrik Englund Wilhelmsson, with some killer guitar work from Olof Mörck. Love it!
2. Progressive Metal:
Seventh Wonder – Tiara
''Of course she will defend our way of life…. ''
Epic as it is beautiful and diverse, but with an underlying beauty flowing from the vocal melodies and intricate rhythms, “Tiara” is a multi-layered, complex, and masterfully written story about the corruption and indifference of mankind, and the innocence and purity of a child. There is also a neat balance between darkness and light as this could have been a very dark and tragic story of mankind’s degradation, but the way the music and the concept are constructed show there is a glimmer of hope in even the most hopeless of situations. Undoubtedly, this is Seventh Wonder at their absolute best and hearing Tommy Karevik singing without restrains is such a delight. At times incredibly complex ("The Everones", "Victorious" “Damnation below”), at others quite simple and melodic ("Tiara's song", "Beyond today", “The Truth”), each song is a statement to the band’s artistic vision and craft, attention to detail, and songwriting expertise. All the trademark elements, all the moods and feelings they are known for are on full display, the melodic sensibilities and progressive intricacies are very much present and woven together beautifully, making “Tiara” an epic masterstroke. Full review here.
1. Melodic Metal:
Dynazty – Firesign (my album of the year)
''We all fall and we all rise
The road is long to Paradise''
The lyric “I have fully been possessed” from “In the arms of a Devil” perfectly describes how I feel about this album. It took me completely by surprise and I have fallen in love with it from the first listen through. I enjoy every little detail of “Firesign” – the backing orchestration which gives it a certain elegance, Love Magnusson and Mikael Lavér’s guitar lines, Jonathan Olsson’s groovy bass parts, Georg Egg’s drum patterns, Nils Molin’s gorgeous vocals and beautiful lyrics – it’s as close to being flawless as it gets. Actually I think the lyrics are a big reason for me liking this album so much, as I never though anyone could match the sensibility, beauty, and elegance of Ville Valo or Tuomas Holopainen’s lyrical style, but Nils has done just that ("The Grey"). There are so many relatable lyrics in “Firesign”, it’s impossible not to identify with certain songs and / or verses and choruses, as for instance "My Darkest Hour" , "Closing Doors", or "Let Me Dream Forever". Just like with Stone Sour’s “Hydrograd” from last year, I think I can quote almost all of it by heart. Yep, that’s how much I’ve listened to it. For an in-depth analysis of the album, check out my review.