#5. ZEAL & ARDOR – Stranger Fruit: Although the metal purists and elitists might frown upon an entity like Zeal & Ardor being talked about in this context, here’s an artist who’s not just pushing genre boundaries and defying all limits, but bringing forth something so fascinating, it commands and deserves to be lauded as an extension of metal. Swiss-American musician Manuel Gagneux decided to combine Negro spirituals with black metal to lay the foundation for the sonic identity of Zeal & Ardor, and added sprinklings of melodic death metal, industrial metal and electronic music to the mix too. The 2017 debut album Devil is Fine announced Zeal & Ardor’s groundbreaking arrival, and the second album Stranger Fruit has surfaced only a year later with a set of tunes just as mind-bending, if not more. An incredibly intense album by a truly one-of-a-kind artist, the metal genre should feel fortunate to be able to claim Stranger Fruit as its own.
#4. GRAVEYARD – Peace: Swedish bluesy hard rock band Graveyard has put out some delightful music over the past decade or so, and their 2018 album Peace does just that, but with a heavier, grittier feel. The signature Graveyard vocals, riffs, guitar leads and grooves are still very much prevalent, but the band succeeds in achieving a much greater balance between heaviness and melody as compared to past albums. The shifts between upbeat heavy rock tunes and straight-up blues numbers is something special, and unique only to this album. Since day one, Graveyard has been a very catchy, compelling band that anyone with even the slightest interest in heavy music can easily fall in love with. Peace takes this quality to new levels of dynamism, and is so stunning that it almost comes across as a hypnosis tape. Graveyard is one of the best things to have happened to heavy music in the 21st century, and Peace is a top-class album.
#3. RIOT V – Armor Of Light: American classic heavy metal legends Riot, reincarnated with a new lineup as Riot V in 2013, released their second album under the new name this year. Armor Of Light is filled to the brim with all the goodness and glory of unadulterated, unabated traditional heavy metal, and no fan of the genre could possibly dislike this album. And with such an epic album cover depicting not one but several incarnations of Johnny the seal mascot, who wouldn’t want to pick this one up? The band is at the peak of its powers here, both in songwriting and performance, and there isn’t such a thing as a bad song on this one. Armor Of Light certainly vindicates the band’s reincarnation under the Riot V name, because with new music of such quality and calibre, the Riot name will continue to shine on.
#2. BULLET – Dust To Gold: Longstanding Swedish hard rock band Bullet released their sixth LP Dust To Gold this year, and if there’s such a thing as an “instant classic”, this album would be it. Clocking in under 40 minutes and boasting of 12 songs that would all be radio hits if this album was released three or four decades ago, Dust To Gold is everything a fan of classic hard rock / NWOBHM / traditional metal could ask and hope for. There’s no denying that Bullet takes inspiration from and pays homage to the likes of AC/DC, Dio, Accept, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, but it is also quite clear that Bullet has established their own distinct sonic brand in the process over the years, a brand that’s very much recognizable by now, and that’s what you hear on Dust To Gold. No amount of praise is sufficient for this slab of simple, straightforward yet powerful, energetic and memorable modern-day old-school heavy music.
#1. THE LION’S DAUGHTER – Future Cult: Imagine a band that combines sludge metal, black metal, progressive metal and retro ’80s synth. Now imagine that this band writes an album that resembles the soundtrack of a science-fiction horror TV series like Stranger Things. That band is The Lion’s Daughter from St. Louis, Missouri, and that album is their latest release, Future Cult. The world of heavy music has not witnessed an album so groundbreaking in concept and spine-chillingly intense in execution, in a long, long time. Each of the 10 songs on the album has its own individual identity yet also serves as a piece of the puzzle that completes the stunning, spellbinding, mind-boggling journey that is Future Cult. At 37 minutes, it is of the perfect duration which makes you listen to the whole album over and over again. In addition, the cover artwork and accompanying conceptual art visually ingrains the sheer terror and intensity the album establishes sonically. Countless albums got released this year, but none of them created an experience like Future Cult does, every time you listen to it. And that is why it is number one on this list.
– by Andrew Bansal