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The 40 best rock albums of the year... so far

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Kris Barras Band: Death Valley Paradise (opens in new tab)

Former cage fighter and now hard rock singer/guitarist Kris Barras (opens in new tab) hasn’t changed his stance much since swapping the ring for the stage, and musically there’s plenty of belligerence and fist pumping going on. But he’s getting better at it. After launching the album with two heavyweight tracks, they hit the anthemic single My Parade, which is an unequivocal statement of intent. Other standout tracks include the haunting Wake Me When It’s Over and the final Chaos that deals with some of Barras’s own struggles.

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Magnum: The Monster Roars (opens in new tab)

Magnum (opens in new tab) have been notably consistent with their output over the past two decades, releasing one album every two years since 2012, and this one feels like their strongest in a while. The first half delivers one tuneful stormer after another, with the opening title track, Remember (which includes one of the biggest earworms, come the chorus), All You Believe In and lead single I Won’t Let You Down all perfect examples of elder statesmen showing off their craft.

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Michael Monroe: I Live Too Fast To Die Young (opens in new tab)

Opener Murder The Summer Of Love kicks things off with a riff as good as any Ron Asheton ever wrote, while Young Drunks & Old Alcoholics, All Fighter, Pagan Prayer and the title track – which features Guns N’ Roses (opens in new tab) man Slash on guitar – are similarly feisty, careering along at 100mph without regard for the health or safety of anyone involved. The pace slows for the somewhat gothic Derelict Palace and the lovely piano ballad Antisocialite

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Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Barn (opens in new tab)

Recorded, as its title subtly hints, in a converted barn in Colorado, Barn is a collection of songs that sometimes sound like Crazy Horse at their most juggernautical, sometimes like the yearning country of his 1992 album Harvest Moon, and sometimes just like a group of ageing friends doing what they do best: making music as organically as anyone can with electric instruments.

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Nova Twins: Supernova (opens in new tab)

Around their 2020 debut album Who Are The Girls? the duo’s hyper-charged clash of modernist metal, rap, industrial rock and snaking R&B drew comparisons to Enter Shikari (opens in new tab) and The Prodigy (opens in new tab), and this second album brings the heft and enormity to make them serious contenders. Forthright of attitude on the BLM-inspired Cleopatra, the riot-for-recognition Antagonist (opens in new tab) and Fire & Ice (‘I wanna strut, I wanna scream, I wanna fuck, I wanna fight, I wanna bite’, bawls Amy Love), they now have the sonic goods to match, with unique twists. 

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Porcupine Tree: Closure/Continuation (opens in new tab)

Who knows whether this is a sign of more new albums to come. The band themselves almost certainly haven’t worked that out yet. But as a return, and as a work in its own right, Closure/Continuation is an elegant and accomplished treasure from experts in their field. Which is exactly what the Porcupine Tree (opens in new tab) fans have been holding out hope for during all these years, and then some.

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Rammstein: Zeit (opens in new tab)

Sonically speaking, Zeit could only be the work of one band; Rammstein (opens in new tab) have the strongest, most distinct identity of any metal artist. All of the touch points of their sound are present and correct, from the grinding guitars to the low vocals. But although they haven’t fucked with the formula, they’ve at least roughed it up a bit.

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Red Hot Chili Peppers: Unlimited Love (opens in new tab)

“We yearn to shine a light in the world, to uplift, connect and bring people together,” said the Red Hot Chili Peppers (opens in new tab) in a collective statement heralding their latest album. And, while the 17 songs of Unlimited Love do not always quite live up to the incandescence of their mission statement, there is nonetheless an undercurrent of playfulness and joy at the emergence from pandemic and the reuniting old buddies back jamming in the same room.

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Robin Trower: No More Worlds To Conquer (opens in new tab)

For all his Procol Harum (opens in new tab) success, his startling mid-70s run of four consecutive US solo gold albums and his still-Stakhanovite productivity (he’s well into double figures for 21st-century albums), Robin Trower (opens in new tab) often slips under everyone’s radar. No More Worlds To Conquer is a reminder of what he’s about. Cheeky title notwithstanding, these 11 stately, languid tracks move like musical galleons. 

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Saxon: Carpe Diem (opens in new tab)

Sure, there’s predictability here. You can gaze at the album’s track titles and feel confident that Dambusters and Living On The Limit will be fast, while The Pilgrimage and Lady In Gray will be panoramic epics. But as was the case with Motorhead (opens in new tab), there’s genuine pleasure to be had in knowing what to expect from salty sea dogs like these. And besides, in a world that feels increasingly unstable, it might have been too much to bear if Saxon had suddenly gone emo.

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Scarlet Rebels: See Through Blue (opens in new tab)

Welsh firebrands Scarlet Rebels (opens in new tab) are only too happy to launch barbed lyrical attacks on the authors of austerity and the revellers of sleaze and corruption, while their musical template is the sound of melodic classic rock. The boogie is strong in album opener I’m Alive and their ethics and integrity are firmly in place on These Days, an anthem of optimism and hope.

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Scorpions: Rock Believer (opens in new tab)

The formula remains gleefully intact: galloping guitars and deft choruses – or, as Klaus Meine encapsulates ungrammatically in Gas In The Tank: ‘louder, play it hard’. Meine’s vocals, as powerful as they were when he’d rock you like a hurricane, have retained their emotional undertow, Jabs’s guitar playing still sizzles, most heroically on the terrific Shoot For Your Heart, and the engine room could still power a small town. 

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The Sheepdogs: Outta Sight (opens in new tab)

The Sheepdogs’ first full-length album since 2018’s Changing Colours (opens in new tab) sees the chooglin’ Canadian rockers doggedly determined to shake off the isolation blues. Forced to record without much studio frippery, the Currie brothers go to all-purpose mid-70s jams to keep spirits high while off the road. As such it’s an undemanding record, formed from a wish to create a good-time vibe in a vacuum. 

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Slash feat. Myles Kennedy ATC: 4 (opens in new tab)

Everything on 4 is deeper, looser and grittier. River Is Rising sets a heavy, menacing vibe with an accelerated lead guitar bridge straight out of the Paradise City playbook. Whatever Gets You By has the rumbling bass and big, Bonham-y drums of Rival Sons’ Electric Man (opens in new tab), while Spirit Love flits between electric sitar twangs and grungy, Alice In Chains (opens in new tab) verses

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Stereophonics: Oochya! (opens in new tab)

No one expects Stereophonics to reinvent the rock’n’roll wheel, but they lovingly half-inch a few in some style. Running Around My Brain channels the classic AC/DC (opens in new tab) rhythm section sound, complete with Angus Young-style guitar solo, then on the anthemic trad-rock of Made A Mess Of Me they show they can ape Bryan Adams just as skilfully. For the most part, the record showcases a band still looking forward to the next challenge.

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Tedeschi Trucks Band: I Am The Moon: I. Crescent (opens in new tab)

Tedeschi Trucks Band's I Am The Moon project sees four albums released over four successive months, and if the first is anything to go by, we're in for a treat. I Am The Moon: Crescent is sublime, with five tracks that walk a delicate line between the band's jam-band origins and their increasingly exalted songwriting. Highlights include the absolutely gorgeous Here My Dear, and the twelve-minute Pasaquan, which allows the band to stretch out in often breathtaking fashion.  

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Thunder: Dopamine (opens in new tab)

It’s an awful lot to absorb in one go, but repeated listening highlights the impressive songwriting chops on display, and at this stage in their career the band can afford to indulge themselves and stretch the boundaries of what a Thunder album can offer. Ironically, these are all the right noises too, just a bit different. Ultimately, though, the question is, where do Thunder go with the next one?

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Volbeat: Servant Of The Mind (opens in new tab)

The whole album shines and flows with a real sense of purpose, and you know that not only did they have fun putting this all together, but also they achieved it with the attention to detail that marks it out as a firm step forward for the band. Like others, Volbeat have used the recent global travails to reset their musical clock. The result is not only their best album in a while, but also one that opens up an exciting future.

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Von Hertzen Brothers: Red Alert In The Blue Forest (opens in new tab)

Big themes demand a majestic, ambitious backdrop and the Von Hertzens don’t disappoint, embracing a wealth of instrumentation alongside the Finnish folklore and icy, beautiful countryside of their childhood. There are also flavours of frontman Mikko’s years in India, a serving of Anathema-style electronics, and the grandeur of the Pink Floyd (opens in new tab) records in the brothers’ bloodstream. There are heavy moments, tender moments, haunting moments – often all within quick succession. And it’s stunning.

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