It feels like only yesterday I was looking back at 2017 and compiling the best parts of music for what transpired that year. And here we are, another year gone and another exceptional year for rock and metal. I’ve heard an obscene number of albums and EPs, reviewing most of them – and on the gig front, pretty much the same. In fact, if you’d told me when I wrote 2017’s feature that this was the best year of music yet, I’d call you a liar. Yet here we are.
Album of the Year: The Virginmarys – Northern Sun Sessions
After one listen, I knew. Nothing was going to top this. Continuing the self-produced, self-released journey they started with last year’s Sitting Ducks, The Virginmarys have provided a masterclass in their recently released latest album and just like its predecessors, ensuring it sounds like nothing else out there. As intense as any of their live shows, lyrical content for every listener to relate to and pushing their sound forward, providing a number of different styles whilst ensuring its cohesive and still sounds like them. Funded entirely by ticket and merch sales, this is the album by the fans for the fans but similarly, the one the band have always wanted to make. Nothing represents their mantra of “Peace Love Truth Music” as well as this.
Top albums of the year (in alphabetical order):
Bad Touch – Shake a Leg. One of the hardest working bands in the unsigned scene got themselves a record deal with Marshall Records and put out their best album yet. I’ve been covering the quintet for several years now and with this third album, they sound as fresh as they ever did.
Clutch – Book of Bad Decisions. Re-energised with a new producer and recording the album live, 15 tracks is longer than most Clutch albums but there’s not a bad song among the collection. Indeed, it’s the Clutchiest Clutch album that Clutch have ever Clutched.
Brian Fallon – Sleepwalkers. At the start of the year, all I knew about Brian Fallon was that he had a solo career whilst The Gaslight Anthem were on hiatus. One leap of faith with this album later and I was hooked. There’s simply something addictive about this album as Fallon pulls on your heartstrings, baring his soul for the world to see and maybe the least heavy album this site has ever covered. It still has a home here and speaks volumes: if good music can take you out of your comfort zone and still resonate, it’s something to be celebrated.
Beth Hart – Live at the Royal Albert Hall. This is a seminal performance from Hart. Pulling from every corner of her storied career, she’ll take herself on an emotional roller-coaster over the two hours and drag you along for the ride.
The Hyena Kill – Spun. The filth-mongers of Manchester decided to get even filthier and make some of their best work. It’s brutal noise rock at its finest and whilst it smashes you over the head, it’ll pick you back up with a friendly smile.
Myles Kennedy – Year of the Tiger. Not content with fronting two bands already, Kennedy finally gave fans what they’d been clamouring for. Except it wasn’t the long-awaited solo album he spoke about; this was something else. Yet he still maintained one intention on this record – it would be totally different from anything he’s put out before. And if you know his history, an Americana/singer-songwriter album shouldn’t be a massive shock to the system. With tracks like “The Great Beyond” and “Love Can Only Heal”, it’s Kennedy running the musical and vocal gamut.
Parkway Drive – Reverence. The one album on this list I didn’t review. So here it is: this is what metal should sound like in 2018.
Phil Campbell & the Bastard Sons – The Age of Absurdity. If ever you could sum up 2018 in four words, it’s that. Campbell didn’t get his sons to just help him make a new Motörhead album. Instead, you’ve got bluesy moments, hard rock, punk and it’s all pinned together with a modern outlook.
Dizzy Reed – Rock ‘N Roll Ain’t Easy. The Guns N’ Roses keyboard-wrangler showed he’s got a great voice on him. Marrying early 70s classic rock with hairspray-coated moments of the 80s, it’s heavy on the keyboards to prove rock doesn’t need to be all about the guitar.
Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators – Living the Dream. Reassembling the Conspirators and pinching Kennedy from his own solo efforts, Slash ensured the four year wait was worth it to make his best solo album to date. Tighter than its predecessor, Slash is still able to provide a broad range of styles and make it sound like a Conspirators record. Blues-drenched, punchy hard rock may be as popular as ever but leave it to the master and a highly proficient band to show everyone else how it’s done.
Dee Snider – For the Love of Metal. Dee Snider making a straight-up heavy metal album? Sign me up! Getting out of his comfort zone at several moments, he handles it with ease. Indeed, if you love heavy metal, this is the best love letter to the genre you’ll find.
The Temperance Movement – A Deeper Cut. Phil Campbell (no, the other one) and co came out of hiding to deliver their most polished album to date. Finding their groove and out-doing their previous efforts, this is one of the most real albums I’ve heard in years.
Walking Papers – WP2. Another which was worth the wait. Coming out at the top of the year did this one no harm. Blending grunge with blues, theoretically, shouldn’t work but when you match the fuzz of both genres with their equally dark lyrics – both of which are present – you’ve got a gritty album. Jeff Angell’s storytelling gives you plenty to think about as a human being and a number of concepts we have to wrestle with as a species. Add in the sheer swagger and the progression from the debut and it’s an album which sticks with you.
Wilson – Tasty Nasty. One of the most fun albums I’ve heard in years. Mixing no-frills hard rock with hip-hop beats is perhaps a departure for the band all about the fuckery. But they weren’t fucking about with this. It rocks.
Best live shows:
RavenEye / SKAM / Anchor Lane – King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow (11th February). As the power trio brought their Nova adventures to an end, RavenEye made sure to go out with a bang. The final two nights saw them in Glasgow and Edinburgh, firing on all cylinders, they gave it everything they had (and more) before heading into the studio to work on their new album.
Black King Cobra / Sauza Kings / Darkness Divine / Landslides – Audio, Glasgow (23rd February). A bittersweet evening if ever there was one. Black King Cobra took to their first headlining gig as if they’d been doing it for years but it also saw the departure of original bassist Johnny Keel. As nights in a band’s history go, this is the crown jewel.
The Temperance Movement – Barrowland Ballroom, Glasgow (3rd March). In the words of Phil Campbell: “Absolutely nothin’ fuckin’ like it.”
Myles Kennedy – The Garage, Glasgow (20th March). A man who can command arenas with not one band but two took to a sold-out club in Glasgow and hammered through not only his recently released album but songs from Alter Bridge, Slash and a couple from his Mayfield Four days. Songs I never thought I’d hear.
Anchor Lane / RumRunners / Darkness Divine – The Garage Attic, Glasgow (27th May). Before they’d have an incredible summer, Anchor Lane battered out a set most bands can only dream of. Pulling from live favourites and treating the sold-out hometown crowd to some new songs, it served as a stark reminder of why they’re so highly regarded and the best band to come out of Glasgow in years.
The Gaslight Anthem – Barrowland Ballroom, Glasgow (24th July). There are great gigs and then there are special gigs. This was the latter. For a band I’d only recently listened to, I devoured those five albums, paying special mind to The ’59 Sound since it was being played in full. From the minute they took to the stage with “Handwritten” and over the course of nearly two hours as they closed with “American Slang”, friends and I sang, jumped and smiled. Nights like those are ones to be treasured.
Aaron Buchanan and the Cult Classics – Steelhouse Festival. With a biblical storm on the horizon, Aaron Buchanan unflinchingly led his band through a handful of songs before the plug was pulled. The rain didn’t stop their effort but you expect nothing less than their all whether rain or shine, 50 people or 50,000.
The Wildhearts – Steelhouse Festival. On the other end of the spectrum, the tail end of the weekend saw The Wildhearts bring the only sunny moment. It converted me into a fan to make for one of the most fun performance I’ve seen in my life.
Phil Campbell & the Bastard Sons – G2, Glasgow (11th November). Eighty minutes of unadulterated hard rock from their album and some Motörhead songs for good measure, I’m not sure who enjoyed it more, the band or the crowd.
Slayer / Lamb of God / Anthrax / Obituary – SSE Hydro, Glasgow (12th November). Just look at the line-up on that! That tells you everything you need to know.
The Virginmarys – Stereo, Glasgow (28th November). While they’ve always belonged to Glasgow, tonight, their second home belonged to them. One of the best performances I’ve ever seen from the trio and one of the sweatiest gigs of my life, if you were there, it’s one for the books.
Best new band I discovered:
Mason Hill, Anchor Lane, Black King Cobra. This has always been a Glasgow band. Sure, I could mention the established names I got into this year but I’ve always given this to an up-and-coming band. And as it happens, it’s always Glasgow.
This year, I’m splitting it between two bands – Darkness Divine and Concrete Kingdoms. Where Darkness Divine hail keep the Glasgow theme, it’s also the heavier end of the spectrum of my reviewing tastes. From the first time seeing them support Black King Cobra at the start of the year to the massive growth they made in a few months supporting Anchor Lane, that slot was earned.
As for Concrete Kingdoms, they may be a bit further north but musically, it speaks to everything I love about music and as a live act, they make no bones about impressing their audience, which they manage, time and time again.
Best thing that happened:
There’s a number of things I could say on the personal front but we’re keeping this strictly music-related. Early June and I finally got to see The Rolling Stones – the last band on my “bucket list” and having finished up college earlier that week for summer and the perfect setlist – it was always going to be a special one. They may be well into their 70s but they nailed it without even trying but you don’t get to that level without being something special. So now I’ve seen Keith Richards effortlessly get every last ounce of tone out of that battered Telecaster and in the same gig, speechless, as me and a sold-out Murrayfield chanted his name during Jagger’s introduction. It’ll take a special one to top it.
Worst thing that happened:
That horrid Stone Temple Pilots album. Seriously, though, the fire at the Glasgow School of Art which affected the O2 ABC – Glasgow’s best venue. It’s still standing but the roof isn’t in great shape. I’ve had a lot of great nights in there over the year and I’ve yet to find a venue its equal (I’m too young to have experienced the Apollo). But on a more objective note – it’s not just me who loses a venue, it was the perfect size for bands who could fill the Garage twice over but not big enough to justify the Barrowlands. Which means not only rock and metal but any touring musical act is now likely to skip Glasgow. Sure, SWG3 is trying to step up but it’s just not the same. However, it must be acknowledged that through this, it brought out the best in people, shows were moved to different venues or fresh dates were sought. It just shows that whilst we may squabble over genres and bands, music does have the power to unite.
Overall view of the year:
Honestly, rock and metal is probably in the best shape it’s been for about 25 years at this point. I’ve reviewed more albums, EPs and gigs than ever. The fact that hefty names like Ghost, Black Stone Cherry, Halestorm and Five Finger Death Punch have all put out great albums this year and didn’t make the corresponding list shows how great a year this has been for releases. The unsigned/underground/up-and-coming scene in the UK is incredible and the musicianship, production and live performances are just as good as those packing out arena (if not better).
The fact I’m still finding bands with a massive catalogue for me to dive into is something which never gets boring. But the best of it? Getting sent new bands, either with familiar sounds or something new entirely (yes, they still exist). I haven’t just let my interest stagnate and when I hear a new band that I enjoy, I still get that same excitement when I heard rock music for the first time.
Most looking forward to in 2019:
- Call of the Wild 2019 – I’m usually cynical about a festival in its first year but I have a good feeling about this one.
- Crobot’s return to the UK – hopefully with a fourth album
- Anchor Lane’s debut album
- Slash’s UK tour – it’s been so long since he, Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators were here
- A new RavenEye album and subsequent tour
- Bloodstock – having not been since 2016, it’s about time I made the pilgrimage once more, especially since Scorpions are headlining
- Steelhouse – it may be 800 miles of driving but it’s so worth it
- Top of the list, it has to be our editor-in-chief, Mosh. Mainly because he’s clearly lacking a brain cell or two for the fact he leaves me in charge when he’s not around.
- Rachel Hasnip, Katie Frost, Gary Cooper, Ricky Fleming and the rest of the Moshville Times crew.
- Michelle and Kirsten at Cosa Nostra PR
- Rob Town at Stampede Press
- Valeria at Duff Press
- Rage PR
- SaN PR
- Mark Robinson of Polestar Music Management
- The VMs family
- And as I always end this – you. If no one read our efforts, they’d be moot. I mean, we’d probably still do it for the sheer love of it but it just wouldn’t be the same.