Since roughly 2010, albums in rock and metal have been nothing short of excellent. Bands have made their reputation-cementing efforts, artists going off to make new bands or solo ventures, the occasional comeback or new bands beginning to cut their teeth. 2013, in particular was brilliant and I didn’t think it possible to beat but this year has given its predecessor its run for its money. It’s some tough competition for just for those who had a release this year. Some worthwhile mentions not on this list are “High Hopes” by Bruce Sprinsteen, “Savages” by Theory of a Deadman, AC/DC’s “Rock or Bust” and the deceptively fantastic “Aquostic” from Status Quo. Special mention goes to “Magic Mountain” by Black Stone Cherry for being the biggest letdown this year. Easily their weakest album. Here’s what I think are this year’s best.
10. All You Can Eat – Steel Panther
After their debut “Feel the Steel” made people realise rock doesn’t need to be so serious and follow-up “Balls Out” didn’t scratch that itch, “All You Can Eat” brought Steel Panther back on top. Not quite as good as the debut and it leans more towards a hard rock album than a love letter to 80s hair metal bands, it felt like they were becoming a parody of themselves. Full of catchy riffs and covering the big issues other bands avoid on songs like “Pussywhipped”, “The Burden of Being Wonderful” and “You’re Beautiful When You Don’t Talk”. And that’s without mentioning the cover art. Just don’t watch the accompanying video for “Gloryhole” when you have company.
9. Black Eyed Sons – The Quireboys
After a drought of a few years with no new material from the Quireboys, we got the wonderful “Beautiful Curse” last year and this year’s “Black Eyed Sons” to mark their 30th anniversary. With an acoustic live disc and a DVD of last year’s London show on the Beautiful Curse disc as standard, this was great value for money. It felt a little bit too soon though as “Beautiful Curse” was a strong enough album. Not quite the heights of last year’s album or their arguably best “A Bit of What You Fancy”. However, I’m not going to complain if Spike and the boys want to give us more great sing-along tunes.
8. Going to Hell – The Pretty Reckless
Sneer if you must but this is one of the tightest rock albums I’ve heard this year. Had there been less great records, this would easily be inside the top 5. While their debut “Light Me Up” went off in as many directions as possible, this was the sound of a band that had settled on a direction and wanted to go as far and as fast as they could in that direction. Full of chunky, crunching riffs, Taylor Momsen’s outfit are more than just a backing band. “Absolution” is dark and twisted while “Fucked Up World” covers that well-known topic of living in the moment. Highlights on a great album.
7. .5: The Gray Chapter – Slipknot
In terms of anticipation for 2014’s albums, this was damn near the top. Not wanting to rest on their laurels of sitting at the top table, Slipknot had one thing left to prove: they could still make music without two of their biggest contributors. And they could. Just not as well had Paul Gray and Joey Jordison been in the band. With a sell-out UK tour and another Download headline performance around the corner, there’s still more to come from the nine. Not quite as great as the first three albums but still good enough to be mentioned, there’s still some massive songs on this, “Custer” being just one of them.
6. The Hunt – BlackWolf
Before I’d reviewed this album for another website, I’d never heard the name BlackWolf. One listen from this debut album and that changed. I was immediately hooked. Blues-tinged hard rock, excellent. Despite a release at the start of the year, it had set the bar for the remainder. They sound exactly the same in the flesh, too. A sign of great things to come, hopefully.
5. Renegade – Toseland
I had little hope for this when I heard it, regardless of the good things I’d heard from multiple sources. James Toseland shows he’s not just a guy who races bikes. He likes his rock music too. And with Toby Jepson on production duties, it showed both in a favourable light. It’s heavy, gritty and inspiring. One thing though, here’s hoping the songwriting is a little less formulaic.
4. Royal Blood – Royal Blood
This came from nowhere. I had heard one song on Kerrang! And it wasn’t the worst thing they’ve played. Then the album debuted at number one in the UK album charts. Endorsed by Jimmy Page and Metallica, I knew I had to hear this. Taking one of the biggest jumps I’ve done when it comes to buying albums, this was catchy, simplistic yet brilliant rock music. Hard to believe it’s only a bass player and drummer.
3. Sonic Highways – Foo Fighters
Another album near the top of my anticipation list, this would be at the top of this list had it not been for the following two records. While it didn’t have the initial gut punch of predecessor “Wasting Light”, this was a slow burner, needing multiple listens to grow on me. And I’m glad I gave it the chance. Foo Fighters don’t have anything left to prove. Instead of making another album, this 8 song album was recorded in 8 American cities and viewed as a fun project. With its big artwork and a big sound, you’d be forgiven for thinking this record came from the mid 1970s.
2. Great Western Valkyrie – Rival Sons
Laden with blues, soaring vocals and a “less is more” approach, this is an album which harks back to vinyl during its greatest years. Brooding and graceful, it’s been carefully crafted. When we talk about “those” albums; the game-changers, we think of stuff like “Led Zeppelin IV”, “Rocks” or “Destroyer”. We should add this one to the list.
1. World on Fire – Slash featuring Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators
Summed up in one sentence, this is the bastard child of “Appetite for Destruction” and “Apocalyptic Love”. When I heard this for the first time, there were no words at my disposal. I listened to it all day. If “Apocalyptic Love” was about establishing Slash and his buddies as a band, this cemented them. This is the kind of record which will take them to the top of the pile. It’s the kind of record that had they been completely fresh newcomers, people would have sat up and took noticed. Clocking in just under 80 minutes, it passes in a blur. Brimming with some of Slash’s best work since “Appetite for Destruction”, big choruses designed for arenas and proving Todd Kerns and Brent Fitz may be the best rhythm section around today. Myles Kennedy flexes his songwriting muscles between living in the moment, coming of age, elephant poaching, murder, political dissatisfaction, web cam girls and much more. Of course, I don’t need to mention how good his vocals are, it’s Myles Kennedy. One thing is for sure, with an album like “World on Fire”, this proves this isn’t just a passing fancy for any of the band members. They’re here to stay.