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.

Convictions Announces Headlining Holiday Tour Featuring Set For The Fall

Fresh off both releasing heavy albums in 2018, Convictions and Set For The Fall are teaming up for the Hope For the Holidays tour to close out the year.

According to a post on Facebook, Set For The Fall stepped in following previous opener Roseview dropping off the lineup. The tour is set to kick off on Sunday, November 25 in Lakewood, Ohio, and continues throughout December before wrapping up in La Crosse, Wisconsin on December 22.

Convictions is a heavy metal band with a focus on uplifting lyrical content, dubbing themselves as aggressive worship.  The Ohio based band released their third LP, Hope for the Broken,  on June 1, 2018.

They will be joined for the 23-city tour by North Carolina rockers Set For The Fall, who just released their hard hitting sophomore project, Still Just Breathing, on November 16.  Keep up with Set For The Fall by following them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or by visiting their web site.

Learn more about the Hope For the Holidays tour by following Convictions on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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

Set For The Fall to Release ‘Still Just Breathing’ on November 16

Fayetteville, North Carolina-based hard rock band, Set For The Fall, has announced the upcoming release of their highly anticipated sophomore album.

According to the post on Facebook, Still Just Breathing will drop on November 16 and feature collaborative guest appearances by Matty Mullins (lead vocalist for Memphis May Fire) and Ryan Kirby (of Fit For A King). The full tracklist dropped alongside the album announcement.

Still Just Breathing follows 3 Nails,  a successful 2015 debut that put them on the map for metal with a positive message.

Keep up with Set For The Fall by visiting their web site, or by following them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

Up ↑