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Classic Rock's 25 albums of the year so far

We’ve reached the mid-point of 2015, so we asked Classic Rock’s crack team of scribblers to name their favourite albums released so far this year. It’s a right old mixed bag: bands who’ve been around for decades and bands releasing their first collections. Bands from Scandinavia and a solo act from South Africa. Bands who used to be other bands. Bands made up of musicians who are still in other bands. And bands who might just be filling those end-of-year polls come December. Confused? The only way to make sense of it is right here…

Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color If you’re expecting more Southern-fried rock’n’soul, the subtle, jazzy textures of this album’s title track might surprise. Yet Gimme All Your Love’s slow-building anthemic roll immediately hits the spot, and the funky shards of guitar underpinning Future People, offset by gutsy stabs of rock riffing, suggest Brittany Howard’s mob are only beginning to tap into their true potential. (JS)

Ash - Kablammo! Many successful bands seem embarrassed by the idea of reprising a winning musical formula. Not Ash, whose first new album in eight years bolts out of your speakers on a wave of buzzsaw guitars, power pop hooks, and the same slightly frantic, over-excited tempo that have made their best moments such a rush. Welcome back. (JS)

Blackberry Smoke - Holding All the Roses The Southern rockers’ extended live jams are tightened up into five-minute parcels of punchy country-rock here, but it only sharpens their impact on Rock And Roll Again and the title track, while big choruses like Heard It All Before and Living In The Song are shot through with Nashvillean melodic charm. They’ve been heavier, but rarely so tuneful. (JS)

Black Star RidersThe Killer Instinct Steeped in the past but very much happening right now, Black Star Riders are swiftly becoming a very serious proposition, not just a retirement plan for people who used to be in other bands. The Killer Instinct is dynamic, melodic, enormous fun, and packed with the kind of vagabond charm you-know-who used to specialise in. Phil Lynott is surely grinning in his grave. (FL)

The Darkness - Last Of Our Kind Despite parting company with two, presumably exploded drummers either side of its release, Justin & Co’s fourth album is something of a triumph. Beneath the typically outré Viking theme and falsetto wail you’ll find some killer riffs and epic hooks in an ebullient, original set of songs that arguably outstrip anything they’ve managed since Permission To Land. (JS)

Dead SaraPleasure To Met You Back in 2013, Dave Grohl said Dead Sara could be “the next biggest band in the world”. Cut to next scene, they’re dropped by Epic Records, and we’re not sure why, because Pleasure To Meet You finds the band clambering steadily in precisely the opposite direction. This is LA hard rock-noir, Fleetwood Mac with a stack of Marshalls. (FL)

EuropeWar Of Kings The Dave Cobb (Rival Sons/California Breed)-produced War Of Kings completes a trilogy of releases that saw the quintet from Upplands Väsby put clear blue sky between the hair metal and spandex days of the 1980s and an ongoing reunion reinvention as a bona fide 1970-influenced classic rock group. (DL)

Faith No More - Sol Invictus 2015 was the year that Faith No More finally got their belated dues as one of the pivotal bands of the last 30 years, thanks in a large part to a comeback album that was as inventive, perverse and ornery as anything they’d recorded during their original run. They cited British post-punk linchpins Public Image Ltd and Siouxise And The Banshees as influences, but truly this sounded like only one band: Faith No More. It’s good to have them back. (DE)

FMHeroes And Villains FM’s popularity has escalated since a reunion in 2007. Their ninth album, Heroes And Villains is versatile, filler-free and impressively fresh-sounding. From fist-in-the-air anthems such as Digging Up The Dirt to the über-ballad Incredible, a song that producers of the next Superman movie really should hear, it’s nigh on flawless. (DL)

HalestormInto The Wild Life Marking the precise point on the Venn diagram where fierce ambition and ability collide, Halestorm are heading in one direction, and that’s up. Into The Wild Life combines all your favourite bands into a near-faultless collection of pop-rock singalongs that veer from enormous tenderness to breathtaking venom along the way. File under: tour de force. (FL)

Howlin’ Rain - Mansion Songs On the surface, Howlin’ Rain’s fourth album was pure backwards-looking Americana, albeit one which shared a kernel of experimentalism with mainman Ethan Miller’s other band, art-rock linchpins Comets On Fire. But buried beneath the slide guitars and bluegrass fiddle was a jet-black dissection of the human condition swirling with images of bodies swinging on gallows and blood-soaked fields of wheat. Beautiful and unsettling. (DE)

King KingReaching For The Light Things are accelerating nicely for a band attempting to break into the mainstream after scooping five gongs at the British Blues Awards in 2014. The Glaswegian group’s third album is a refreshing, moreish blend of Bad Co and early Whitesnake influences, topped off by the soulful voice of Alan Nimmo. (DL)

Marilyn Manson - The Pale Emperor The God of Fuck made a comeback in January, with his first really good new album in years. Serious rock riffage mixed with grittily gothic magnetism, on songs that reignited our love for the man behind Antichrist Superstar and Mechanical Animals. A confident, classy return to form. (PG)

Dan Patlansky - Dear Silence Thieves ‘Highly respected’ doesn’t always have to mean ‘worthy but dull’. Although this South African blues guitarist is invariably tagged as such, this inventive set proves otherwise, from the muscular funk-rock grooves of Backbite and Feels Like Home to the heavy swing of Taking Chances. And as ever, elastically hypnotising guitar licks add extra layers of decoration to every track. (JS)

Pond - Man It Feels Like Space Again Ex-Tame Impala man Nick Allbrook leaves the heavy blues riffs at the door as this sixth album’s abiding theme is lysergically infused, sun-dappled pop. Nonetheless, the wonky, Flaming Lips-style grooves of Zond and Elvis’ Flamin’ Star precede a title track channeling early 70s Floyd and the Beatles at their most dizzily melodic and far out. (JS)

Revolution SaintsRevolution Saints One of their number is making headlines for all the wrong reasons right now, but Revolution Saints are responsible for one of the year’s indispensable melodic hard rock debuts – as you’d expect of a line-up comprising members past ‘n’ present of Whitesnake, Journey, Night Ranger, Damn Yankees, Dio and more. (DL)

Royal Thunder - Crooked Doors If Led Zeppelin had a love affair with a young grunge band, with early psych-doom LPs in the background, this might have been the result. The Atlanta rockers found their mojo with Crooked Doors, with singer Mlny Parsonz (already a heck of a powerhouse) electrifying the likes of Time Machine into bewitching triumphs. (PG)

ThunderWonder Days How better for Thunder to have silenced the ‘how dare they reunite again’ crowd than by making the finest album of their career since 1992’s Laughing On Judgement Day. Wonder Days played to the South London band’s numerous crowd-pleasing strengths yet kept things interesting with the occasional mild curveball. (DL)

TotoToto XIV The band have theorised that this album, their first in nine years, should have been titled Toto IV, as they view it a sequel to 1982’s multi-platinum-selling IV. Given that it was made out of contractual liability that’s quite a claim, though it’s borne out by some wonderful material and performances. (DL)

UFOA Conspiracy Of Stars Unlike so many acts of their vintage, UFO continue to make new music – A Conspiracy Of Stars is their 22nd studio album – that refuses to be dwarfed by a glittering body of earlier work. At the heart of it all, Phil Mogg retains a voice that’s simply unmistakable. (DL)

The Von Hertzen Brothers - New Day Rising Helsinki’s finest pulled out every stop for their sixth album, New Day Rising, and it really shows. A bigger, bolder, rockier collection than their previous (largely more proggy) records, it affirmed their ability to write stadium-friendly ‘choons – with well-placed flashes of their eclectic angles, plus pitch-perfect harmonies throughout. (PG)

We Are Harlot - We Are Harlot Who’d have thought former metalcore poster boy Danny Worsnop would be the man to give good, old-fashioned rock’n’roll a much-needed shot in the arm in 2015? Actually, Worsnop himself has been shouting it from the rooftops ever since he quit his old band Asking Alexandria. Happily for everyone involved, his new outfit walk the walk. We Are Harlot are on a mission to bring old school values – that’ll be sex, drugs, rock’n’roll and loud guitars – back into the spotlight. With their debut album, it’s very much a case of mission accomplished. (DE)

Wilson - Right To Rise Fratboy farting-around out of their system (remember Full Blast Fuckery??) the Detroit hard rockers sharpened their axes and generally upped their game for their second LP. Hints of Clutch, Monster Magnet and Motorhead combine with grungy fuzz, on tracks that clearly bellow: ‘WE MEAN BUSINESS’. (PG)

Steven Wilson - Hand. Cannot. Erase. Myths and legends are old hat for the golden boy of modern Prog, and his latest set explores the all-too-true story of Joyce Carol Vincent, whose body lay undiscovered in her London flat for more than two years. The Rush-revisited vibes of First Regret and King Crimson-style angularity of Home Invasion are beautifully offset by the breathtaking beauty of simple balladry such as Happy Returns. (JS)

_Words: Dave Everley, Polly Glass, Fraser Lewry, Dave Ling, Johnny Sharp. _