As one of the strongest years for rock in recent memory draws to a close, here are Rock On Purpose we’re reflecting on the best 2018 had to offer.
It was a year of electronic elements weaving their way through rock with more creativity than ever before. It was a year of thoughtful ballads and searing social commentary. It was a year of a new Christian rock label rising. It was a year of veterans remaking themselves and newcomers offering their voices to the genre.
There were so many good albums that we couldn’t fit them all on this list, so we’ll be adding some of your favorites to a Spotify playlist. Enjoy looking back with us!
Mary Nikkel’s Picks
1. Disease by Beartooth
Content Note: Songs dealing with alcoholism, addiction
Beartooth’s ascent has been a rapid one– with good reason. Lead singer and primary songwriter Caleb Shomo’s ruthlessly introspective explorations of mental illness, addiction, sobriety, and spirituality are in their most mature and raw form yet with Disease. When you tune into the lyrics, it’s almost hard to listen to, it’s so raw. When you zoom out to the broader musical picture, it’s a tightly muscled musical beast, tearing through the airwaves with grit and power. This album promises continued replay value.
2. Dark Skies by Fit For a King
Fit For a King is one of the mainstays of the current wave of post-hardcore acts, displaying an impressive ability to appeal to a wide range of listeners. Dark Skies manages to be somehow both their heaviest and most melodically compelling album to date. With intrepid lyrical ventures into a many shades of soul darkness, Fit For a King presents just the right blend of crushing riffs, gut-deep growls, and soaring melodies.
3. Trench by twenty one pilots
Although this feels almost like a cop-out to include due to how obvious it is, the fact remains that twenty one pilots is achieving something for alternative music that no one has managed in years: they’re making the whole world care. With yet another concept-heavy release developed in captivating detail, from the lyrics to the art direction of the packaging, Trench is another masterpiece for this duo. From sharp staccato jams like “Jumpsuit” to the searing ballad “Neon Gravestones,” Trench is an effort that gains richness with each listen.
4. Red for War by Zahna
The freshman class of Rockfest Records has been a dominate force in rock for 2018. One of those artists, Zahna, released an album so high-caliber it defied all debut project stereotypes. Red for War wrestles with betrayal, anger, and skirts despair, ultimately catalyzing a response of hope and determination. Zahna’s vocals are breathtaking, paired with instrumentation that shores up the emotional impact of each track.
5. Erase Me by Underoath
Content Note: Language, themes of addiction
This album was a difficult one for many, and undeniably controversial. But I believe that the return of genre-defining giants Underoath is best understood not as a set of belief statements, but rather as a story– a story about wrestling through abandonment, addiction, and desperation. A story from the trenches of the long, agonizing up-and-down journey of sobriety. The musically experimental and thematically relentless album hinges on the frenzied bridge of “ihateit:” “God, erase me, I don’t deserve the life you give, I don’t deserve the life you give. God, I can’t change at all, I don’t deserve the life you give.”
Matt Durlin’s Picks
1. Ember by Breaking Benjamin
Content Note: Mild language in “Blood,” and they explore some dark themes throughout.
My top rock album of the year came with the band that is about to set out on tour with Skillet, Underoath, and Fight the Fury in 2019. Breaking Benjamin continues to be a premier hard rock act, delivering hard and heavy music and deep, thoughtful lyrics. There are few breaks from exploring dark themes on Ember, from the opening track “Feed the Wolf” through “Blood,” an honest look at fears within. The journey is equally heavy musically, as thick and raucous guitars are backed by hard-hitting percussion and powerful vocals. I am excited to rock out to these tunes live in 2019.
2. Legacy by The Protest
After a relatively slow start to the year, The Protest dropped one of the first and best rock albums of the year in July with Legacy. This album is enjoyable to listen to from front to back and features dual guitar licks that are some of the best I’ve heard in a long time. “Knockout” is perhaps my favorite song of 2018, with aggressive vocals and an energetic chorus.
3. Still Just Breathing by Set For The Fall
This November release was an early Christmas gift for rock fans. Still Just Breathing has something for everyone, starting with “Who Am I,” a driving up-tempo track featuring Memphis May Fire frontman Matty Mullins. Set For The Fall blends sounds from alternative rock to heavy metal, and the result is everything a mosh pit of headbangers could ask for.
4. LEDGER EP by Ledger
I generally try not to include EPs on lists like this– artists with full length albums ought to be rewarded. But there are exceptions to every rule, and Jen Ledger’s long-awaited solo debut (which many expected to lean to pop and less rock) did not disappoint. Ledger EP has been in regular rotation since it was released in April and has already garnered accolades for hits like “Not Dead Yet” and “Iconic.” Jen Ledger delivered one of the best rock projects of the year with her debut.
5. Palms by Thrice
This addition to the top five may come as a bit of a surprise to metal fans, and while I appreciate the heavy, this alternative left coast rock album deserves your attention. “Hold Up A Light” is one of the best tracks on this Switchfoot-esque album. Palms is perhaps the most diverse album by Thrice since 2005’s Vheissu.
Honorable Mention: Red For War by Zahna
Just missing the top 5 on my list is the debut album from Zahna (a.k.a. Suzy Madsen). This album paves the way for a bright future as Zahna shows off her ability to pack a powerful punch vocally. There is no doubt much to look forward to from this up and coming act.