Top Rock Releases of 2018

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.”

Honorable Mentions: Broken by Memphis May Fire, The North Star by Remedy Drive, Attention Attention by Shinedown, Obscene by Amongst the Giants

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.

Josh Dun of twenty one pilots Joins House of Heroes Reunion Show

On December 28, House of Heroes played their first show in two years– and they had a special guest.

House of Heroes was playing in their place of origin, Columbus, OH, to mark the ten year anniversary of their milestone album The End Is Not the End. During the encore, former House of Heroes drummer (and currently of twenty one pilots fame) Josh Dun took the stage with his former bandmates. Dun posted about it on his social media accounts, news that was quickly picked up by outlets like Alternative Press.


The drummer posted the above clips in his Instagram story, sharing clips from his vantage point in the crowd before he ended up on the drum kit.

Josh Dun was a part of House of Heroes in 2010, playing drums on stage and on the album Suburba. He would move on to join fellow Ohio native Tyler Joseph in his passion project twenty one pilots– a project that quickly captured the world with tunes like “Stressed Out” and more recently “Jumpsuit.”

The appearance with his former bandmates capped off a major end of the year high for Dun. Earlier this month, he announced his engagement.  Shortly before that, twenty one pilots snagged another Grammy nomination. All of this follows the release of Trench, one of the most lauded alt albums of the year.

Keep up with House of Heroes on Facebook and Instagram.

Thrice Drops New Music Video And News of Bring Me The Horizon Tour

It’s already been a busy news week for Thrice, who dropped a new music video and announced that they’ll be supporting Bring Me The Horizon for a run of shows early next year.

The new unsettling summer camp music video is for “Only Us” from their stunning exploration of unity, humanity and spirituality, Palms. 

The full list of tour dates supporting Bring Me The Horizon is also available now at The winter dates cover major cities like Nashville, Dallas, Chicago and New York. Tickets are available now. The news dropped the day after Thrice lead singer and lyricist Dustin Kensrue celebrated his birthday.

For more from Thrice as they close off a milestone year, follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Living Fully: ‘Broken’ by Memphis May Fire

They say that if you’re not changing, you’re dying. It’s a saying that has rarely been more true than when applied to bands’ creative longevity. The challenge for established musical entities is how to change enough to thrive as creatives without leaving their longtime listeners behind. That is exactly the balance Memphis May Fire nails with Broken.

In the seven years since Rise Records debut The Hollow, Memphis May Fire has racked up accolade upon accolade, launching chart-topping singles and dominating the stage on tours like Warped. With the arrival of Broken, Memphis May Fire proves that not only can they climb to the top of the post-hardcore genre– they also have the wisdom and musical chops to innovate in order to stay at the top of that game.

As you can glean from the title, Broken is fueled by weighty themes, diving into the different ways we break (relationally, mentally, emotionally, spiritually) while holding the courage to claim the hope for healing. We caught a glimpse of this already with the lead single “The Old Me,” a moody rocker that longs to return to a time before anxiety and depression clouded daily life. “Sell My Soul” musically swaggers its way through towering guitar riffs from Kellen McGregor as it offers a scathing rejection of anyone who would try and force Memphis May Fire to shut up and sell out. “Heavy is the Weight” reinforces that declaration, incorporating a hip-hop interlude that pairs perfectly with the rhythmic structure of the song.

The frustration of relational betrayal and the dark places it can take us are a centerpiece conversation on this record, beginning with “Who I Am.” The ferocious verses give way to a melodic, confessional chorus: “it’s not fair for me to think you’d understand the darkest part of me is part of who I am.” The theme of exposed flaws ultimately severing a relationship is taken to the next level with “You And Me,” a piercingly poignant ballad sung from the place where two people realize it hurts more to stay than to leave. This track shows Matty Mullins’ prowess as a vocalist, emotional fragility resonating through the pitch perfect melody.

Musically, the band shows a clear progression towards a more melodic sound, but without ever sacrificing a thundering, heart rate raising power. “Over It” is a song fed up with stress, the frustration seemingly spit through grit teeth in the verses. “Fool” rides the steady pulse of Jake Garland’s drums while expressing the anguish of relational abandonment, also serving as one of the few songs that has a really strong presence of screamed vocals on the bridge.

That is the sound progression that is likely to surprise longtime listeners the most: although Broken does utilize the classic MMF rough-cut vocals as accents, it shies away from needing to use screams alone to create emotional intensity and weight. “Mark My Words” screams its way through transitions between verses and choruses, but overall its self-empowerment declaration against the negative forces trying to hold us back relies on tight lyrics and aggression built through instrumentation. The ability to be musically arresting (and heavy) with much less screaming is a tall order, but Memphis May Fire absolutely delivers, proving that they’re not losing momentum for an instant even as they creatively mature.

When all is said and done, the great plot twist of Broken is that yes, we might all be broken– but we’re also so much more than that. “Watch Out” is like a deep breath inhaled, centering in on confidence: “see the tables turn, feel the fire burn / once we get started, there’s no stopping us.” The album ends with “Live Another Day,” a track that summarizes the highs and lows of the songs that come before it while speaking assurance and courage directly to anyone who might be considering ending their life: “we were born to be great, don’t just throw it away / live another day.”

That call to live, no matter the pain (or the healing) it might lead you through, lies at the core of Memphis May Fire’s Broken. It asks a question worth considering: do any of us live fully before we’ve been broken?

You can find Broken on iTunes and Spotify.

Related Artists: Papa Roach, Demon Hunter, Sevendust

Regret and Redemption: ‘Still Just Breathing’ by Set for the Fall

In an industry climate that sets up more barriers than ever before for rising artists, it has become incredibly difficult to come out of the gate strong. But you’d never know it from listening to Set for the Fall, who makes mature, melodic hard rock look effortless.

Over the course of just three short years, Fayetteville, NC-based band Set for the Fall released their debut album 3 Nails and landed spots touring with Seventh Day Slumber and later Memphis May Fire. That unstoppable momentum has culminated in Still Just Breathing, a monster of a sophomore album showcasing a sound that instantly pulls the listener into an expansive emotional experience.

Part of the excellence of Still Just Breathing lies in the fact that it strikes a delicate and delightful balance between hardcore sensibilities and post-grunge, refusing to be pigeon holed in one subgenre. The crushing riffs paired with refreshingly technical guitar moments in lead single “Breathe Again” begin to reveal this synergy. The beautifully poised guitar mix from Harrison Muffley and Donovan Roybal is paired with vocals from Joseph Lassiter that reference the post-grunge sound, instantly reminding of bands like Shinedown and Seether.

That unique sound is delivered with musical intentionality and cohesion, from the frenetic energy of the guitars on “Callout” to the scalding screams on the bridge of “Liar.” Those tracks also exemplify the way that Still Just Breathing never wastes the kind of aggression that hard rock naturally provides. They put the full weight of that aggression behind the emotional experience of being broken, being betrayed by someone you trusted.

This album is certainly not heavy in musical style alone. Set for the Fall offers unflinching exploration of relational pain, regret and personal demons. “Paper Hearts” is a scorchingly honest song with a killer vocal hook that talks directly to some of the worst parts of how we react to heartbreak, offering the lyrics that give the album its title: “I know you know I know I’m left here bleeding / I know you know I know I’m still just breathing.”

“Who I Am” takes a look at self-destructive patterns from the outside, the chorus pleading like a dear friend begging someone to walk away from their own sabotage. The melody on this song is instantly memorable, the perfect opportunity for a guest appearance from the soaring vocals of Memphis May Fire frontman Matty Mullins. The project’s other noteworthy feature comes from Ryan Kirby of Fit for a King on “Judgment Day,” a banger of a song that captures cultural discord and descent with a musical fury that builds on the theme of chaos.

Set for the Fall’s voyage into the workings of the human heart brings them to some more mellow moments as well. “Counting Stars” is a lament, regretfully recounting loss. “Forever” is a love song sung from the road, singing about the sacrifice required for both those who tour and their loved ones at home. These ballad-leaning moments prove Set for the Fall has more than one sonic palette in their repertoire.

With an album that clocks in at 12 tracks (plus an intro), there is room for a lot of themes. Regret, loss, heartbreak, chaos: this desperation is deliberately punctuated by answering melodies of hope. “New Creation” fiercely screams the victory cry that comes with being set free from the worst of ourselves: “I am a new creation.” Closing track “Home,” fittingly enough, brings the emotional journey through human highs and lows to its conclusion in the arms of a divine Rescuer: “I’ll face these moments I guess until I see you again / when you finally call me home.”

There is a certain level of dangerous cheese factor that bands in this musical space often have to contend with, trying to connect with the downtrodden without resorting to the pitfalls of over-commercializing and simplifying others’ pain– a trap many rock bands have fallen into in the past. Set for the Fall side steps that hazard entirely, staying laser focused on exceptional song crafting and lyrics that try to tell a story instead of pummeling with trite truisms. The result is the kind of album that has been sorely lacking over the past decade. Still Just Breathing blew me away with its musical maturity, satisfyingly unapologetic rock sound, earnest humanity and resolute message of redemption.

You can find Still Just Breathing on iTunes and Spotify.

Related artists: Spoken, Memphis May Fire, Shinedown, Sevendust, Art of Dying

Vibrant Duality: ‘The Beast You Feed’ by VERIDIA

“There is a war between two wolves raging inside all of us. The wolf that wins is the wolf you feed.”

This is the Cherokee proverb that serves as the starting place for VERIDIA’s long-awaited debut full length album.

The road to get to The Beast You Feed has often been fraught with challenges and setbacks, a process that guaranteed that the resulting songs would have the intensity that can only be born from struggle. The ten tracks are laid out in two halves, a balanced take on the light and the dark. “The first 5 songs on the album touch on stories of selfishness, anger, a wounded, guarded ‘dark’ perspective,” lead singer Deena Jakoub explains. “The second half shifts to stories of those who brought light into my life when I needed it the most.”

That first half begins with the lead single “Numb,” a dark-edged masterpiece that explores what it feels like to numb our ability to honestly experience the world, aided by an infectious pulsating beat. “Cheshire Smile” and “Feed the Animal” continue to uncover the ways our hearts warp when we isolate them from community and connection, with “Cheshire Smile” talking about the walls we set between ourselves and others and “Feed the Animal” expressing the wounded desperation for love that still exists behind those barriers. “Ghost” sings from the ultimate haunted ground of loneliness.

Musically, this project is the most electronically-focused we have heard from VERIDIA yet. Kyle Levy’s percussion continues to provide the backbone, and Brandon Brown’s guitar work lends texture and grit, but it’s all spun together by rich and layered electronic beds. The non-organic, digital sounds play into the theme of living life automated, severed from the truest parts of our humanity. With songs like “Savage,” we see the truly exceptional range of techniques Deena is capable of as a vocalist, offering delivery and melody structure that plays into the experience of the lyrics.

The Beast You Feed hinges on “I Won’t Stay Down,” an empowering, bracing call towards hope: “Gotta keep my head up / Gotta fight until it hurts / Part of the process / Hope is in the progress / I’m rising up / Been down and out, but I won’t stay down.” This song serves as the turnaround at rock bottom, as if asking the necessary question: now the pain and dysfunction has been acknowledged, what do we do with it?

“Reckless” answers with an energetic, insistent beat that has had fans dancing at live performances for the past few years. “Dopamine” is a heart-skips-a-beat love song, with quirky instrumentation to match. Continuing to display the versatility of VERIDIA’s musical arsenal, “Perfume” is a sonically slick pop tune, reflecting on the people in our lives who carry an air of infectious joy with the lyrics “I wanna live like you do / Breathin’ love into the room.”

The album closer “I’ll Never Be Ready” has attracted a significant amount of press surrounding the fact that Amy Lee’s Evanescence played piano for the ballad, but here the star power should be far overshadowed by the significance of the story. Deena Jakoub wrote this song while walking with her father through terminal illness, with the song ultimately finding a place at his funeral. When she reached out to invite Amy Lee to provide piano for the track, it was mere months after Amy had lost her own brother. The result is a loving lament that piercingly captures the ache of loss.

As a VERIDIA listener since the days of their 2014 debut EP Inseperable, I feared that I might have set my expectations for their debut album too high. Those qualms were instantly dismissed as The Beast You Feed proves that VERIDIA can consistently deliver intentional musical excellence and a thoughtful, heart-on-your-sleeve approach to lyrics that is instantly arresting. Some of their earlier fans in the rock market may need a moment to mentally adjust to the more electronic-centric sound, but I hope they take that time to do so. What they’ll discover is a gem of an album that explores what it feels like to truly attempt to live life fully, even when it hurts.

You can find The Beast You Feed on iTunes and Spotify.

Related Artists: Halsey, FF5, Icon For Hire

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