10. Riverside - Wasteland
We said: "There’s a post-apocalyptic concept at the heart of Wasteland, albeit one that’s more The Road than Mad Max – an all-too-real story of very human terror. Its nine songs are loaded with bleak imagery of global warming and senseless war, from the fallout shelters and ‘gardens of Eden burning above’ of doom-laden intro piece The Day After to the sound of gunfire and cries of death on Guardian Angel. Scratch the surface and you’ll find a reservoir of anger – an anger that’s aimed at the stupidity of humanity and at a world that’s cruelly robbed them of a friend. Musically, Wasteland is no less turbulent. Across its nine tracks, frontman and songwriter Mariusz Duda strikes a balance between cohesion and surprise. Vale Of Tears is carried on a bullish, quasi-industrial riff that suddenly gives way to a pastoral chorus. The ominous Acid Rain transforms completely halfway through, its churning atmosphere giving way to a billowing and expansive second half. The twisting eight-minute title track combines a spaghetti western twang with subtly stirring harmonies."
9. Uriah Heep - Living The Dream
We said: "The title track is another inch-perfect and strident anthem, Shaw’s soulful roar conveying the song’s mixed emotions with casual authority. Album centrepiece Rocks In The Road is the other moment on Living The Dream when it’s impossible to imagine any long-term Heep fans not losing their shit. Eight minutes long and gently redolent of past triumphs like July Morning and Salisbury, it erupts into bombast worthy of The Who but sounds less like an exercise in reverent retro rock than a wholesale upgrade for this band’s prog sensibilities. The remaining songs are all brimming with golden moments, both reassuringly classic and thrillingly fresh, with Waters Flowin’ standing out as a shimmering, acid folk detour and the closing Dreams Of Yesteryear bringing everything to a melancholy but satisfactory conclusion. A staggering 49 years in, Heep are still living the dream and making it look easy."
8. Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons - The Age Of Absurdity
We said: "Campbell’s three sons – Todd, Dane and Tyla (also a member of the criminally underrated The People The Poet) – are an exceptionally talented trio of Welsh bearded bastards, and the family DNA knits everything together as much as the dynamics of the musical interplay. It’s tight. Very tight. Eschewing the grittier and scuzzier elements of Motörhead’s aesthetic for a far cleaner, punchier approach, the energy is high and there’s a rich seam of enjoyment. Think classic rock with a metal production (pinpoint-perfect guitar tones, a snare sound to die for) and a shitload of swagger and you’ve got a layman’s review that’s actually not too far off the mark. All in, it’s superior stuff, brimming with self-effacement and fun that belies the quality and seriousness from which it’s constructed. Decent family values in anyone’s book."
7. Vennart - To Cure A Blizzard Upon A Plastic Sea
We said: "Here, with a level of job security gigging with Biffy Clyro, and a well-received debut in his pocket, Vennart lets his freak flag fly. Opener Binary forges a logical link between old and new, shuffling the off-kilter drums and swirling Radiohead-isms of his past output with a baggy tribute to his adopted Manchester that evidences the new album’s playful ear. Donkey Kong pulls off a similar trick, reframing the game as a sort of psychoanalytical framework that seems to incorporate youth, nostalgia and the sense of something rotting all at once. It also proves that it’s not just the scale of the compositions and the ‘anything goes’ songcraft that have evolved: Vennart sounds like he’s put work into stretching his vocal abilities. The middle eight bursts with the sort of primal scream you may fantasise about releasing in public, and there’s a touch of Chris Cornell at play here, albeit often buried to eye level in layers of filthy fat synth and distortion. Elsewhere, Friends Don’t Owe is sort of like Mclusky but in a time signature we can’t figure out with a calculator, and it’s oddly earwormy as a result."
6. Manic Street Preachers - Resistance Is Futile
We said: "Four years after they expanded their horizons with the critically feted synth-heavy Euro-modernism of Futurology, the Manics return to their heartland with Resistance Is Futile. The first album to be recorded at the band’s new rural studio in Wales, it has a pleasingly boomy big-room sound, high in polish and rich in ripsnorting glam-metal guitar. With stalwart producer Dave Eringa back at the controls, this is vintage arena-rocking Manics, grandiose in scale and unusually buoyant in mood."
5. Steve Perry - Traces
We said: "Mostly, Traces triumphs due to the sheer quality of its material. Those who appreciated its predecessor, 1994’s For The Love Of Strange Medicine, will find much to wallow in here. However, should you expect a new millennial reboot of Journey’s Raised On Radio, well… you’d better turn the page now. Including a remake of George Harrison’s I Need You, the album is done and dusted within 40 sumptuous minutes. By turns maudlin and celebratory, saccharine and spiritual, the elephant in the room is the overwhelmingly sedate pace of these songs. Five of them saunter before Sun Shines Gray dares to break into a gentle gallop. However, without exception they are mesmerising. Patience has been rewarded."
4. Greta Van Fleet - Anthem Of The Peaceful Army
We said: "Many bands have been heralded about as the saviours of rock recently, but few look as likely to actually pull it off as Michigan’s Greta Van Fleet. Three barely-out-of-their teens brothers and their drummer mate, they channelled the greats of the past – well, Led Zeppelin, basically – to serve up the most exhilarating debut album of the year. That their ascendancy has been so swift and the backlash so muted suggests that Anthem Of The Peaceful Army is exactly what rock needs in 2018. If they’re this good now, imagine what they’ll be like in five years’ time."
3. Ghost - Prequelle
We said: "With their playful pastiche of OTT Satanic imagery, each album has seen the band fronted by a ‘new’ version of pope-inspired singer Papa Emeritus – the alter-ego of band founder Tobias Forge. With Prequelle, they replaced Papa with Cardinal Copia and set the songs and lyrics in the context of the Great Plague. In today’s turbulent landscape, the apocalyptic themes struck a chord among listeners. Consequently, Prequelle was Ghost’s most personal album yet, forgoing much of the theatrically evil posturing of prior albums and instead hitting fans straight between the eyes with real-life themes of death, suffering and loss. Sonically, Ghost reignited their love affair with late-70s and 80s rock, heard in full-tilt bangers like Rats and the addictive, hip-swiveling rhythms of Witch Image and Dance Macabre. Blue Öyster Cult had long offered an obvious reference point for Ghost’s sound, but Prequelle revealed a far broader spectrum of influences, from the sturdy metallic hooks of Judas Priest to the campy bombast of King Diamond, to the sugary stylings of Swedish pop. One of those rarefied albums that grows stronger with each listen, its scale and depth ensure that it’ll enjoy swivel-eyed popularity for many years to come."
2. The Struts - Young & Dangerous
We said: "Few things make us happier than a genuinely exciting new band. Except, of course, one that fulfils their early promise and makes a second album that’s better than the first.Formed in Derby but now largely based in the USA, The Struts turned heads with their joyously glitzy debut, Everybody Wants. This year they upped their game by enhancing everything we loved about them (the glitter, palatial tunes and nods to Queen, the Stones and prime 70s glam) and adding a whole load of contemporary production ideas, bold pop streaks, smarter lyrics and musical diversity. It didn’t ‘play safe’ and still it was utterly lovable. Brilliant."
1. Judas Priest - Firepower
We said: "What does heavy metal sound like? It sounds like Judas Priest, circa 2018. As they approach their 50th anniversary, the legendary Brits could easily be milking the nostalgia circuit, but Firepower confirmed that they are very much still in the business of showing everyone else how this shit is done. Produced by Tom Allom and Andy Sneap, Priest’s 18th studio album sounded fantastic: the perfect blend of contemporary crunch and old-school clarity. More importantly, this was the strongest collection of songs the band had written in decades. Preview single Lightning Strike made a lot of people very excited, but it wasn’t even in the top five songs Firepower had to offer. From gnarly, malevolent anthems like Evil Never Dies and Necromancer through to the mid-paced pomp of Children Of The Sun and Sea Of Red’s epic melodrama, Rob Halford sang it all with steely authority and these veterans sounded, once again, like true metal gods."