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The 50 Best Rock Albums of 2019 (so far)

40. Sunn O))): Life Metal

Although Sunn O)))’s detractors will continue to sneer at gigantically amplified guitar chords played at a snail’s pace through a wall of stacked speakers, the four monolithic pieces that comprise this album prove to be an exhilarating experience for those with curious ears and a taste for the extreme. 

Steve Albini’s engineering skills bring a sharp clarity to Sunn O)))’s sonic excursions that gradually reveal all manner of harmonic heights and window-rattling frights.

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39. Big Big Train: The Grand Tour

A quarter of a century into a career that really seems to have gathered momentum only over the past half-decade, Big Big Train leave English fields behind on The Grand Tour, venturing to Italy to celebrate science, art and literature in the manner of – one presumes - 18th-century explorers rather than Jeremy Clarkson and co. 

Musically their course hasn’t deviated much, although The Florentine kicks off with some delightfully jaunty acoustic guitar before reverting to type, but everything is so beautifully constructed that the lack of real deviation is its own reward.

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38. Dead Man's Whiskey: Under The Gun - Reloaded

Dead Man’s Whiskey have stirred up quite a buzz recently, and this expanded edition of their debut album comes in the wake of an appearance at last year’s Ramblin’ Man Fair. 

Playing a festival named after an Allman Brothers song is appropriate for these Brit up-and-comers; their blues-based hard rock is shot through with a generous measure of southern rock, tempered with a metallic edge and jackhammer delivery, exemplified in the hefty riffs and stomping grooves of This Fight and War Machine.

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37. Last In Line: II

Led by guitarist Vivian Campbell, Last In Line deliver songs which have British hard rock grit and an American sophistication. Drawing comparisons with ZZ Top, Thin Lizzy, Aerosmith and Saxon, the performances shine through on multi-faceted tracks such as Year Of The Gun, The Light and Give Up The Ghost

Vocalist Andrew Freeman proves himself to have passion and command, and new bassist Phil Soussan gives the music rhythmic flexibility. Overall, II showcases a band thrusting forward.

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36. Paul Gilbert: Behold Electric Guitar

Mr. Big guitarist Paul Gilbert is that rare breed of shredder who’s able to appeal to non-musicians with instrumental music, invariably housing his guitar prowess within memorable songs. 

Across a mix of blues, rock, pop and jazz, recorded live without overdubs, Gilbert lays down ear-worm melodies (Let That Battery Die), balanced with fret-scorching fireworks and poetry about turtles (A Herd Of Turtles).

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35. King Gizard & The Wizard Lizard: Fishing For Fishies

King Gizzard play Alexandra Palace this year, and this thirteenth album finds them starting to sound like a band who deserve the billing. That band being the Black Keys, tripping their nuts off. 

The effect is often akin to fuzzed future-blues impersonations of the Eagles, Deep Purple, Steely Dan and T.Rex; check the tribute-to-dance demon Boogieman Sam. Factor in some art-tronic patches and a comical, vaudeville approach to major issues – they tackle bloodsports on the plush country title track, and boogie shamelessly about augmented humanity and plastic-clogged oceans – and they’re not a million millilitres from being the 21st-century 10cc either. If this is the big new sound, expect ayahuasca rave to sweep the nation.

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34. Eric Gales: The Bookends

We’ve spent so long casting Eric Gales as the archetypal shoulda-done-better bluesman that it’s still a revelation to hear his late-period bloom. 

Gales hooking up with Maroon 5 producer Matt Wallace for The Bookends should hint that the album isn’t shy of commerciality – see the breezy folk-blues of Something’s Gotta Give, which practically humps the leg of radio playlist compilers. But while Gales lays on the hooks, he can’t help but write interesting, off-kilter material. 

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33. JJ Cale: Stay Around

JJ Cale’s death in 2013 robbed rock’n’roll of one of its greatest, and most under-appreciated, talents. An influence on everyone from Neil Young to Beck, his songs have been covered by artists ranging from Captain Beefheart to Spiritualised. This collection of unreleased material, compiled by his widow Christine and manager Mike Kappus, adds to his legacy. 

Opener Lights Down Low is a sleepy-eyed shuffle which could be an out-take from 1971’s Naturally, while Tell You ‘Bout Her is spine-tingling, almost as if Cale has pulled up a chair next to you in a juke joint to fill you in on his latest squeeze.

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32. Diamond Head: Coffin Train

While the whole affair is still solidly rooted in the Brit-metal of the Bronz label era, expansive stormers like Shades Of Black and Death By Design sound more like latter-day Soundgarden than like any other NWOBHM band still in operation. 

There’s an almost proggy complexity to this album’s songs, but the hooks, flash and the sheer wall-melting, roof-rattling riff majesty of mainman Brian Tatler are all still in place. Overall this is a fine addition to the DH legacy.

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31. Quireboys: Amazing Disgrace

Yes, it’s the Faces getting paralytic with the Stones as ZZ Top flick cigarette butts in their drinks. But if some recent Quireboys albums have been slightly tame, now the band are off the leash. 

Seven Deadly Sins swerves into a dirty funk rash, Sinner Serenade cheekily bares its badass groove to everyone, and Slave #1 has the sort of sleazy emotion that would make any porn star blush. The best Quireboys album for ages.

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Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 35 years in music industry, online for 22. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.