The 50 best albums of the year (so far)

25. God Is An Astronaut - Epitaph

We said: "God Is An Astronaut’s intense wall of sound live has always manifested itself very differently when put down on tape. However, with this, their eighth studio album, they find themselves as vital as ever, capturing in the crunchy yet sleek collaborative production with Xenon Field a distilled dose of the magic that’s usually only found at their shows. Thematically, it’s an album that’s dense and offers little by way of respite."

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24. Conjurer – Mire

We said: "Even with the highest of expectations, Mire is a breathtaking debut album. It almost seems absurd to think that a band this youthful could have such a tight grasp and understanding of metal’s most explosive dynamics straight off the bat. Listening to the isolated snare intro that gives way to the blasting Retch is a giddy thrill, but the depth and restraint that Conjurer display on the Eastern-tinged, Cult Of Luna-esque Of Flesh Weaker Than Ash – an album highlight that crashes like a tsunami wave onto the listener then pulls back slowly, before crushing you once again – is the most telling evidence that this is a group of musicians that are wise well beyond their years."

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23. Midas Fall - Evaporate

We said: "The sound Midas Fall make is that moment when you first wake up and push out of the blackness into consciousness, trying to remember the song that was playing somewhere in the wild skies of your dreams. Ethereal, haunting, bewitching – it’s easy to bandy adjectives about while trying to reach for the right descriptive tone for the music they make."

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22. Black Stone Cherry - Family Tree

We said: "You know what you’re getting with BSC – they’re not about to U-turn into punk any time soon. But over the years, their albums have become more layered, polished and full of arena-worthy choruses. Once described as being on the fringes of heavy metal, they’ve dispensed with that on their last few albums and have instead embraced those down-home roots more fully. 

Opener Bad Habit is like two tracks, with a stomping groove breakdown halfway through mixed with swirling guitar riffs – BSC love a guitar solo – while Burnin’s uplifting chorus is infectious."

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Parkway Drive Reverence album cover

21. Parkway Drive - Reverence

We said: "While opener Wishing Wells takes old-school melodic leads and melds them with Winston McCall’s newfound darker, cleaner and more grizzled vocal range in a song that would have fit perfectly on Ire, there are enough moments here where the band are evidently still keen to experiment. There are the folky strings on the slow and sombre Cemetary Bloom and the arcane doom chants that underpin I Hope You Rot that come with a whole set of black metal vibes, but most impressively of all there is album closer The Colour Of Leaving. When justifying Parkway’s change in sound previously, Winston was at pains to point to his love of dark troubadours Tom Waits and Nick Cave, and here it is manifested in what is clearly a deeply personal, pitch-black lament that is a wholly different strand of heavy to breakdowns and mosh calls."

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Møl Jord album art

20. Møl – Jord

We said: "Jord is one of the most exhilaratingly taut blackgaze albums to drop in a very long while. Tackling a subgenre usually defined by its lingering cleanliness and slow pace, these Danish debutants inject their first full-length with direct songwriting (the longest track barely scratches six-and-a-half minutes), hardened riffs and black metal ferocity."

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Zeal & Ardor – Stranger Fruit album cover

19. Zeal & Ardor – Stranger Fruit

We said: "While a track like Fire Of Motion – notably the most feral, aggressive thing this one-man-project has ever recorded – hits you like a well-placed punch in the stomach, Stranger Fruit impressively proves one thing in particular: Manuel Gagneux could easily be a successful mainstream artist – keep in mind that he wrote, composed and recorded all of his schizophrenic, peculiar songs by himself (plus a drummer on his sophomore record). The soulful melodies of his songs and their undeniable catchiness will haunt you in your sleep, softly breathing lines like ‘You are bound to die alone’ and ‘Don’t let anybody tell you that you’re saved’ into your soul. 

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18. Blackberry Smoke - Find A Light

We said: "Like Skynyrd and all the other great southern rock bands who came after them, Blackberry Smoke know the value of keeping it simple. They play music for the people, pure and simple, stripped of pretension and artifice. There’s a chunk of rock’n’roll here, a little bit of boogie there, a touch of country twangin’ for the good ol’ boys. They deploy a bar-room piano for the good times, a crying guitar for the bad, and a little bit of fiddle for when they want things to get wild. It’s an age-old formula, but one that they’ve got locked down."

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Melted On The Inch album cover

17. Boss Keloid - Melted On The Inch

We said: "Sidestepping any urge to rehash the formula, Melted On The Inch is Boss Keloid's most ambitious effort yet. This is a resinous journey into the gauzy realm of mesmerising grooves, prismatic melodies and towering metal riffage, incorporating even more influences, more tonal experimentalism and more inventive song structures than ever before. Opener Chronosiam delivers a statement of intent with an onslaught of sharp, slamming riffs and a soaring, anthemic chorus."

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A Perfect Circle – Eat The Elephant album cover

16. A Perfect Circle - Eat The Elephant

We said: "Eat The Elephant gradually gains heft while staying intriguingly unpredictable. If The Contrarian, Feathers, By And Down The River and The Doomed are multi-segment, quasi-religious goth epics designed to appease Tool fans (“blessed are the fornicants, may we bend down to be their whores!” Keenan growls, clearly a Love Island fan), they’re also misleading diversions to give Keenan and Howerdel breathing space for more frivolous fun."

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DeWolff - Thrust

15. DeWolff - Thrust

We said: "Within their own gleefully built parameters, DeWolff’s arrangements are so imaginatively freewheeling, and their spirit so open-hearted, that they brim with versatile vigour in the 21st century. This eighth album by a trio still not out of their twenties is a blueprint for classic rock as an enduring form."

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Hugsja album cover

14. Ivar Bjørnson & Einar Selvik - Hugsja

We said: "This is an album of profound dichotomy; fragile melodies give way to breathtaking crescendos and passages of profound sadness cede to fleeting moments of innate joy. Traditional Norwegian folk music was once the central method of passing stories and traditions through the ages, with each generation augmenting the music with new sounds, stories and ideas. As nomadic people, these songs absorbed elements of the cultures they encountered, both within and outside of Scandinavia."

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13. Walking Papers - WP2

We said: "On WP2, bassist McKagan, golden-voiced, hugely expressive singer/guitarist Jefferson Angell, keyboard player Benjamin Martin of the Missionary Position and Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin have taken things up a notch, outswaggering QOTSA on the wry My Luck Pushed Back, slipping on Ryan Adams’s existential, darknight-of-the-soul shoes (and borrowing from his songbook for its ‘strung out forever like Christmas lights’ lyric) on the woozy Red & White, and even updating the lusty charm of INXS on belters like Hard To Look Away and Death On The Lips."

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12. Tax The Heat - Change Your Position

We said: "You can’t put a price on self-belief, and Tax The Heat sound so utterly self-assured on this follow-up to their well-received 2016 debut Fed To The Lions, you get the feeling that, for them, success is not only inevitable, it’s already here. And this ingrained confidence in what they’re doing makes the obvious touchstones that provide the bedrock of their sound – the layered Queen choral bursts, the White Stripes simple-not simple blues battering, the cocksure Thin Lizzy swagger – appear less like pastiche and more like taking the responsibility of carrying a grand old torch."

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11. The Temperance Movement - A Deeper Cut

We said: "Rather than the anthemic, indie-tinged leanings of its predecessor, A Deeper Cut serves up a familiar mix of blues-rock swagger and soulful sensitivity. This reversion to type can be put down partly to the departure of original guitarist Luke Potashnick, the man largely responsible for pushing the band out of their comfort zone, shortly after the release of White Bear.

It appears that Potashnick’s departure didn’t so much precipitate a crisis as force the band to simply double down on what they do best. Opener Caught In The Middle struts in on the back of a tightly coiled guitar groove, a tactic which the band deploy throughout the record. There’s little of the wilful sloppiness or self-indulgence of so many blues rock bands here – this is tight and precise but never dry or airless."

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10. Lovebites - Battle Against Damnation

We said: "Opener The Crusade and Break The Wall are immediate crowd- pleasers, cross-pollinating British heavy metal with power metal, defiantly in thrall to Iron Maiden, Manowar and Dragonforce. 

Above The Black Sea and Under The Red Sky are dense with screaming guitars, melodic leads and a theatrical symphonic influence that suits their already OTT aesthetic to a tee. This is Lovebites throwing absolutely everything at the wall and watching it all stick."

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9. Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons - The Age Of Absurdity

We said: "Likely acting as some sort of catharsis to the pain of loss and grief, in retrospect, Phil Campbell’s strategy of focusing his energies into this family-filled project has proved both a bold and brave move: some icons’ shoes can never be refilled. 

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."

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8. Ghost - Prequelle

We said: "Prequelle offers a set of subversive, contrary, frequently brilliant songs that push against the boundaries of metal’s self-imposed cult-hood. There are moments of arena-rock ambition, sly transgression and winking blasphemy, all sugared by the kind of pop nous that rock seems to have misplaced years ago. First single Rats is the perfect snapshot of where Ghost are at four albums in, hitching rat-a-tat riffing to a billowing melody that suggests they’ve been listening to ABBA as much as they have Black Sabbath. This gleefully perverse marriage of the sacred and profane continues through the sweetly crunching See The Light and stately ballad Pro Memoria, reaching its logical conclusion with the genius one-two of Miasma and Danse Macabre."

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7. Judas Priest - Firepower

We said: "The first thing you’ll notice about Firepower is how insanely huge it sounds. Andy Sneap hardly needs an introduction here, but both he and co-producer Tom Allom deserve to be acknowledged for drawing the finest, most fiery performances imaginable from a band that, with all due respect, will be celebrating their 50th anniversary in 2019. Just as he brought Accept back from the dead and nudged Megadeth towards the triumph of Endgame, so here Sneap’s intuitive but meticulous approach has had a profound impact. Firepower is ruthlessly contemporary and gleams with an almost futuristic polish, delivering more punch per square sonic inch than Priest have wielded in a long time. The campaign to get Andy Sneap behind the controls for the next Metallica album starts here."

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Tesseract Sonder album artwork

6. Tesseract - Sonder

We said: "There’s no other way of putting it – the riffs on this thing are fucking enormous. Opener Luminary is a revelation; short, precise and weirdly accessible, it’s driven by the heaviest riff Tesseract have penned since their debut album and topped with the sharpest hook of their career to date. Second track King is a lengthier affair at seven minutes, but where the Tesseract of Polaris and Altered State would follow every tempting path down the ambient rabbit hole, Sonder revels in directness and in the kind of dynamics that tend to have universal impact."

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5. Fantastic Negrito - Please Don’t Be Dead

We said: "Fantastic Negrito will never be short of material. In his tumultuous life, the man born Xavier Dphrepaulezz has survived near-death experiences with gunmen, a near-fatal car crash that put him in a coma and cost him the use of a hand, million-dollar record deals and million-dollar record disasters, and grand disillusionment with the Hollywood lifestyle. 

Thankfully, a unique background has made for a singular and spectacular multi-instrumentalist and singer. With its roots burrowing deeply into the rich earth of the blues, Please Don’t Be Dead, inspired largely by addressing his fears for the world his children are set to grow up in, melds the personal with the political, completely unconfined by genre or self-censorship."

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4. 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. 

The album arrives at full roar with People Give In, which subverts its own wistful message of creeping midlife defeat by erupting into a mighty celebration of stoic survival against adversity. Propelled by orchestral strings, this rousing terrace chant is plainly aiming at A Design For Life heights. Mission accomplished." 

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3. Myles Kennedy - Year Of The Tiger

We said: "Myles Kennedy’s first solo album has been a long time in the making. The Alter Bridge frontman spent seven years working on a solo project, before realising that the results weren’t right, scrapping the entire thing and starting afresh. It was a bold move, but with Year Of The Tiger he’s finally hit the mark he wanted.

It’s essentially a concept album, with Kennedy focusing on an event in his life that he always wanted to explore lyrically but until now lacked the courage to do so: the death of his father when he was four years old. A Christian Scientist, he refused medical attention and as a result died soon after becoming ill.

The album is billed as a stripped-back, blues-based piece of work, with Kennedy citing artists including Mississippi John Hurt, Chris Whitley, k.d. lang and Nick Drake and Led Zeppelin’s acoustic works as inspiration. But while Year Of The Tiger dispenses with the heaviness of Alter Bridge, it’s by no means a simple singer-songwriter affair."

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2. Tremonti - A Dying Machine

We said: "With disc number four, Mark has adopted a far more grandiose approach: not only does A Dying Machine boast over an hour of music, but it’s also a narrative-driven, conceptual piece. Mightily metallic high-points like Bringer Of War, Make It Hurt and The Day When Legions Burned make A Dying Machine more than worth the cost of admission."

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1. Godsmack - When Legends Rise

We said: "While they might have begun in the nu metal sphere, When Legends Rise exposes a band who are not afraid to develop and show how experience has coloured their style. 

When Legends Rise is more of a pop/rock album than anything else, with songs like Bulletproof, Under Your Scars and Unforgettable based on finely honed melodies which allow Sully Erna to accentuate the fact that he is an emotionally charged, charismatic vocalist."

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