Just as Ben Timpson was fairly eclectic in his listening this year, as evident in the Best of 2018 list I posted earlier this month, so evidently was mine. I felt like I had a more difficult time finding new music I could really be passionate about this year, which could be why half of my picks are from bands I have enjoyed for years, and others I stumbled upon after listening to some random Spotify station. So, as I was putting this post together, I found it easier to pick my favorite album from a derivative genre than a “Best” overall. So here’s my group of metal and not-so-metal albums I either reviewed or should have reviewed…

 

Stryper – God Damn Evil

I’ve made no bones about my love of ‘80s Metal in past writings, so picking God Damn Evil should come with little surprise. Granted, there are quite a few bands from back in the Sunset Strip days that are still putting out records, but very few of them either A) contain all or most of the original members, and/or B) are putting out anything near the quality of what they did in the glory years. Stryper is SO much better than most of those bands are at this stage in their career, it’s not even funny. They still have all the chops they did back in ’86, but with all the benefits of 2018 production quality. Michael Sweet has one of the best voices in the business, and he and the boys aren’t afraid to step out of their comfort zone to keep things fresh. Recommended tracks: Take It to the Cross, Sorry, Lost  stryper.com

Bob Schneider – Blood and Bones

My second obvious pick is THE MAN’s 14th (!?!) studio album. Like many of Bob Schneider’s albums, Blood and Bones contains some songs that he has played live for years, but finally decided on a version to officially record. This however never seems to matter, as Bob has no problem giving each version its own identity. An EXTREMELY prolific song-writer, the 16 tracks on Blood and Bones are of his patented FRUNK blend, giving us everything from bouncy bluegrass to white boy rap. Bob has so many songs in the tank he could probably put out records for the next 20 years. I damn sure hope he does. Recommended tracks: Lake Michigan, Making It Up, Tell Me That You Love Me  bobschneider.com

Weedpecker – III

One genre of promo it seems like I was completely inundated with this year was stoner rock, or at least some wannabe Sabbath flavor of rock/metal. However, Weedpecker I found on my own on Bandcamp. III focuses heavily on more of a groovy, atmospheric feel compared to most of those promos I received. Hitting that sweet spot somewhere between My Sleeping Karma and Elder, the songs wash over you like the best buzz you’ve ever had. Recommended tracks: Molecule, Embrace, Liquid Sky  weedpecker.bandcamp.com

Umphrey’s McGee – It’s Not Us/It’s You

My last obvious pick(s) are the latest outputs from Improg masters Umphrey’s McGee. Releasing the two albums four months apart was just so we weren’t overwhelmed by their awesomeness. Putting them together as a double album would have been too much. I had just enough time to digest It’s Not Us before I was surprised by It’s You. Umphrey’s, much like Bob Schneider, like to play songs live before they record them, as they tend to take on different personalities as time goes by. Such is the case with a few tracks that were finally recorded, or evolutions of them they’ve played for years. Giving us everything from funk to folk, prog to pop, Umphrey’s continues to push the boundaries of their sound. Recommended tracks: The Silent Type, Maybe Someday, Remind Me, Dark Brush, Triangle Tear, Seasons, Upward  umphreys.com

Rivers of Nihil – Where Owls Know My Name

My next pick is one that is a little more popular among many year-end lists, as it should be, because Rivers of Nihil’s Where Owls Know My Name is just so fucking good. By taking the teachings of many masters and melding those into their own special blend of prog/tech/death, Rivers has very quickly become one of the best on the block. Where Owls Know My Name is their third and latest installment in an ongoing series of semi-concept albums focused on climate change and the Earth’s revolt against man. The songs take on the identity of the landscapes they describe; swirling, soothing, and brutal all at the same time. Recommended tracks: The Silent Life, A Home, Where Owls Know My Name  facebook.com/riversofnihil

The Temperance Movement – A Deeper Cut

Another band on the list that is on their third album is The Temperance Movement. A Deeper Cut, much like the above mentioned Owls, is also their third excellent record in a row. Also much like many of the bands on this list, even though TTM play in a particular ballpark doesn’t mean they can’t be used in multiple positions. Blues, rock, southern rock, folk, yeah, all that. A Deeper Cut is a cranker in a different kind of way compared to other albums on the list, but it’s a cranker none the less. Recommended tracks: Caught in the Middle, Love and Devotion, Backwater Zoo  thetemperancemovement.com

Bad Wolves – Disobey

Ok, ok, ok, I know, ‘Zombie’ and ‘Hear Me Now’ are all over the radio, but that’s the bait. Bad Wolves lures you in with the cool cover and the smooth ballad, then knocks you over the head with heavy grooves and hooks on Disobey. This record has that special balance that allows it to be heavy but catchy. Tommy Vext and Doc Coyle called their shot and knocked it out of the park. Recommended tracks: Truth or Dare, No Masters, Run for Your Life  badwolvesnation.com

Wilson – Tasty Nasty

Now, if Bad Wolves has the more serious heavy grooves and hooks, Wilson has the more fun heavy grooves and hooks. When I did my review of Tasty Nasty earlier this year, I said it was too much fun not to listen to, and that’s still true. Wilson, kind of like Bad Wolves, have found this in-between spot where they can write rockin’ fun songs that blend late ‘90s/early ‘00s nu-metal and radio pop rock into something a little heavier and fresh. Recommended tracks: Dumptruck, Like a Baller, Fuck up My High  houseoffuckery.com

Zeal & Ardor – Stranger Fruit

I’ve never been a fan of Black Metal, but there’s something about Zeal & Ardor that intrigues me. Stranger Fruit, the band’s second album, is no less intriguing than their first, last year’s Devil Is Fine. Their mix of Black Metal and Southern Black Folk music is so crazy it works for me. The chainsaw guitars and blast beats intermingled with hand claps, foot stomps, and chants fit together like they were meant to be. Some Black Metal bands have used their music to create a sense of fear, but I haven’t heard anything as creepy or cool as some of the stuff on Stranger Fruit. Recommended tracks: Gravedigger’s Chant, You Ain’t Comin’ Back, Built on Ashes  zealandardor.com

Jesus Piece – Only Self

Hardcore has never exactly been my strong suit, so when I attended the Heartland Throwdown back in March, there were only a few bands I was familiar with. One new band I was exposed to was Philadelphia’s Jesus Piece. Holy crap were they impressive live! Their debut album, Only Self, is no less impressive. Hardcore isn’t the only flavor on the album, as Jesus Piece adds elements of death metal, industrial, and metalcore along with BRUTAL breakdowns. I may not get to see them live again, but luckily Only Self is the next best thing. Recommended tracks: Lucid, Punish, Curse of the Serpent  jesuspiecesl.bandcamp.com

FEVER 333 – Made In America

Rage Against the Machine were awesome. We knew a band that good would have some others try to follow their pattern to success. Many have tried, but FEVER 333 may be the first to succeed. I think it’s because the seven tracks on Made In America owe more to punk and EDM than the rap and funk. RATM were one of the right bands at the right time. With our current political and social climate, FEVER 333 might have come along at just the right time. Recommended tracks: Made An America, Walking In My Shoes, Hunting Season  fever333.com

Gygax – 2nd Edition

The first band on this list that Spotify introduced me to this year is Gygax. Their special brand of Thin Lizzy worship is something to behold. I’ve heard some other bands try, but 2nd Edition sounds like some long lost tapes someone found in Brian Downey’s basement. Even swapping out two of Gygax’s members between this and first album, Critical Hits, couldn’t stop them from churning out tunes that would make Phil Lynott proud. Recommended tracks: Dice Throwers & Rock ‘n Rollers, Pure Hearts, Second Wind  gygaxguild.bandcamp.com

The Last Band – Hisingen

Now this record, I have to admit, I initially listened to because of the album cover. Yes, I still pick albums that way, just like in the good old non-internet days. The Last Band are a post-hardcore/punk band from Gothenburg, Sweden. Hisingen is not only the title of their third album, but it’s also the fifth largest island of Sweden. Hopefully it’s not inhabited by polar bears with laser eyes, although that would be pretty cool, but then we’d all be fucked. Anyway, I’m glad I picked up this record because these guys are raw and they rip. Recommended tracks: The Hunt, Pt. II, They Say, I Got No Friends  thelastband.se

SLUGDGE  – Esoteric Malacology

This last album is one that everyone seemed to be talking about, and I finally got around to checking it out. I’m glad I did! Slugdge are new to me, and it sounds like I picked up on them at just the right time. The two dudes (!) of Slugdge are on their fifth album, and Esoteric Malacology betters all the previous efforts and more. What caught me about this record wasn’t just the killer riffs, the surprisingly sweet drum programming, or the suggestive song titles, but the variations in tempo, texture, and vocal technique. Is it bad that Esoteric Malacology is the record I kinda wish Revocation would’ve made this year? I dunno, whatever, who cares. Enjoy the goo! Recommended tracks: War Squids, Crop Killer, Slave Goo World  slugdge.bandcamp.com