Much of this past year has been an experiment. Now, after tinkering with my formula for a year, I think this experiment has largely been a success. I never planned on ranking and reviewing albums. But after doing them for a year, I can say it has been a fun adventure. Plus, I am genuinely interested in music. Before I even considered ranking and reviewing, I listened to music all the time. I analyzed it and annoyed my wife with my thoughts. Until last December, I never planned on converting this hobby into something akin to a side-job.
Since it is the end of the year, I figured I should compile a list of my top five albums of the year. These are albums that I kept returning to and albums that I thoroughly enjoyed. The (kind of arbitrary) rules I established for this list are simple: these albums must be ones that I reviewed and they had to be released in 2018. EPs are not eligible, nor are cover albums.
These are in no particular order. They are just the albums I thought were best from this year.
Architects “Holy Hell”
This album is about coming to terms with death and accepting it. This is a vital part of life. The music is heavy and angsty, hammering a sweet spot with a brand of precision that only metalcore can bring.
Holy Hell was written in the wake of the death of the band’s longtime guitarist, Tom Searle. Thus, every note and lyric on the album is soaked in passion. Sam Carter screams lamenting phrases and sings depressing lines, edging the album toward a seemingly forgotten sub-genre of “emo” music.
Throughout the disc, the band members confront dense existential questions about mortality. I like the challenge brought by these questions. They make me think and converse with the music. This makes the music more enjoyable to return to, since questions about the lyrics and their deeper meaning linger.
Black Veil Brides “Vale”
I’ve had a sweet spot reserved exclusively for Black Veil Brides for years. They are easily one of my favorite bands, and Vale has become one of my favorite albums overall. It is heavy, yet not saturated with repetitive riffs and thick notes. It is a piece of art and a story.
The story and themes of Vale are attractive, because they revolve around humanism and the strength of the individual. In the last few years I have gravitated toward this type of thinking. As a result, the lyrics resonated with me. Again, like on Holy Hell, they pulled me in gingerly, making me engage with the music on a deeper level.
Musically, this record was pleasing. While it wasn’t choking with cookie-cutter riffs, it was full of catchy hooks and lyrics that refused to leave my mind. This album also had a variety of songs. They weren’t all fast ‘n’ loud, nor were they all slow burning ballads. Both are present, and glistening with Andy Biersack’s trademark voice and style.
Distorted Harmony “A Way Out”
I’ll start by stating that Distorted Harmony changed my life in a few ways. They were one of the first non-mainstream bands I reviewed and ranked. They also really launched my interest in progressive metal.
A Way Out is a radio friendly version of Distorted Harmony. The rest of their albums are amazing, but not nearly as accessible. The songs aren’t necessarily built for a casual listener, which is great for people who enjoy listening to something different. This record is a brilliant entry point for people who have not already invested time with the band’s music. A Way Out is shorter and more focused, without sacrificing too much of the band’s innovative spirit.
Mike Shinoda “Post Traumatic”
I was surprised with this album. Before it was released I thought I would like it. Mike Shinoda is a great musician and Fort Minor was a cool side project. This new adventure had to be good, right? Post Traumatic is a great record. It is raw, bloody emotion. Lyrically it is intense and honest.
I’ve returned to this record, in its entirety, numerous times. I rarely listen to an album all the way through more than once. But, somehow Post Traumatic captured me. It’s a perfect showcase of grief and pain. And, it’s a catchy mix of genres; but what else would Mike Shinoda do?
As a weird side note, Post Traumatic and Holy Hell are similar albums, they could almost be sequels. They are both about death and coming to terms with the hold it has over us. The Architect’s took an oddly spiritual route, while Mike Shinoda chose to lament. In my experience with death and loss, I have dabbled in both spiritual and depressing avenues. I have poured my emotion into pages, hoping to seal the pain in with the ink. In the end, nothing completely sews the wounds close. However, when combined with music and taken consistently over time, they come close to fixing the damage.
Shinedown “Attention “Attention”
The themes Shinedown wove into Attention Attention are timely and hit a sensitive nerve, like Black Veil Bride’s record. Attention Attention has one brutally simplistic message: failure happens, expect it; the only thing you have to focus on is getting back up.
Musically, Shinedown tied some pretty nifty ideas together with this album. It is poppy insofar as it upbeat and very radio friendly. However, the songs are also heavy and filled with notes and beats that give your bass a work out. Therefore, the album is fun, and it carries a deep message if you examine it.
Lyrically, Attention Attention is alluring just because it offers a hope and bright future through a depressing lens. There is an unfortunate surplus of “bad things” in the world and we undoubtedly smash into them often; a flat tire, a broken bone, the annoying coworker that boils your blood. We don’t have any freedom when comes to avoiding these unsavory events. However, we do have some choice once the event has transpired, do we deal with it or get bogged down in the mire? My opinion on this my be biased, because this is pretty much how I view the world.
Between the Buried and Me “Automata”
To begin, I prefer part two. Part one was good, and yes, the band was nominated for a Grammy for “Condemned To The Gallows”. However, part one lacked a certain spark that is usually dribbled over Between the Buried and Me’s music. “Blot” was solid, but the other songs were kind of tasteless. The second half of the record, while short, was staked with more alluring music. “Voice of Trespass” is especially wicked and a blast to listen to.
The story hidden behind Tommy Rogers screams and growls is fascinating and trippy. The themes snaked through this story are equally as fun and cryptic. The story touches on some metaphysical elements excite the “philosophy nerd” in me.
The Smoke Detectors “I Never Needed You Here”
These newcomers released their first two EPs this year. I discovered them by chance over the summer and quickly fell in love with their take on one of my favorite genres: emo punk pop. I Never Said I Needed You Here is a very fun record that showcases the Smoke detectors creative talent.