I know I’m not alone in saying that this year has flown by. As I sit at my desk, still digesting the Christmas festivities of the past few days, I find myself pondering about the state of Alternative music (as well as my waist line…). See, I sort of feel like 2018 was a bit of a bust in terms of the type of music I love. The focal point of this years’ music wasn’t necessarily the music itself but rather the chit chat surrounding it. Is Rock dead? Are Guns ‘n’ Roses just a nostalgia act now? Will Gibson guitars still exist soon? When the fuck is the new Tool album coming? (although the latter has been applicable the past decade). 2018 has been a year of victory for music labels churning out their radio-friendly unit shifting bullshit. Very little of this year’s offerings in the alternative scene have challenged the status quo.
That said there is light at the end of this dark tunnel of cheap hooks and pomposity and whatever the hell Cardi B is. At this years’ Grammy Awards (yes let’s pretend for just a second that anyone worth their salt gives a flying fuck about the Grammy’s anymore) exciting young artists Greta Van Fleet were nominated for FOUR, count ‘em, FOUR Grammy Awards including best new artist – the first Rock band to do so in god knows how long. There has also been the evolution of Ghost witnessed in real time, with Tobias Forge’s creation now selling out arenas worldwide and also boasting numerous Grammy nominations.
Of course these aren’t the *only* bright sparks of 2018 (I am a pessimistic nihilistic asshole). The following albums, for me at least, held the torch for alternative music this year and set the standard going forward in to 2019. Collectively and individually, each of the following albums have kept things fresh in an otherwise stale landscape of offerings of the alternative persuasion. If you have not checked any of these out, I highly recommend you do so.
10. Nine Inch Nails – Bad Witch
Yes it’s an EP. Yes two tracks are instrumentals. Do I care? Nope. The last of a trilogy of EPs, and the first set of songs with Atticus Ross as a full time member of the group, Trent Reznor proves with this recent effort that he is still an innovative force in music. Experimenting with different vocal techniques, as well as some expert level programming making nob turning look like an art form, Bad Witch closes an interesting chapter in the history of the band and leaves all NIN fans wondering what’s next in store.
9. Halestorm – Vicious
Halestorm are a band on the cusp of greatness and made another impressive step forward towards realizing their potential with Vicious. The only criticism of the album is that there aren’t many risks being taken to propel them forward. Rather, Halestorm continues to stick to what they know through a formula which in fairness continues to serve them well. One only hopes that they can build on their momentum as Lzzy Hale is as good of a vocalist as anyone in rock.
8. Wolftooth – Self titled
As far as debuts in metal go, this is pretty much right up there with any new band I’ve heard. Their stoner metal grooves cascade with pure ferocious riffs sweetened by some excellent melodic vocal work. A very accessible introduction to the genre for anyone interested in finding out more.
7. Stone Temple Pilots – Self Titled
A relaunch of a career plagued by tragedy, STP prove they still have a knack for crafting some stellar bluesy rock tunes. The brothers DeLeo and Eric Kretz provide the canvas for the exceptional Jeff Gutt to step in to the shoes of his predecessors and provide a truly remarkable vocal performance.
6. Ben Howard – Noonday Dream
Definitely the easiest listen in our list, English folk musician Ben Howard’s latest effort marks a step in to a diversified range for the talented songwriter. Somewhere between Sigur Ros and Pink Floyd, with Howard’s own seemingly endless catalogue of inspiration, Noonday Dream has some deeply touching moments that provoke an array of different emotions. Sometimes melancholy, but reaching a new plateau of creativity when compared to Howard’s previous releases.
5. Alice In Chains – Rainier Fog
Returning to Seattle to record for the first time since 1995’s self-titled album, the band’s 6th record and third featuring vocalist/guitarist William DuVall has a little bit of everything that makes this band one of the most influential rock acts of the past 30 years. Guitarist and founder Jerry Cantrell proves once again why he is one of the most under-rated guitarists of our time with some excellent soloing that ranks amongst his best work.
4. Mike Shinoda – Post Traumatic
Less of an album in the conventional sense and more of a journey through the process of dealing with loss. Shinoda’s first album under his own name steadily rises out of the bleakness of losing band-mate and friend Chester Bennington and emerges as a lesson in channeling emotion in to artistry which in turn has aided the healing process. If Linkin Park were never to record again, Post Traumatic has sewn the seeds for a great career as a solo artist for Shinoda.
3. Greta Van Fleet – Anthem of The Peaceful Army
A band as talented as they are polarizing. Young upstarts Greta Van Fleet’s debut album isn’t exactly the pure rock fury that many were expecting, and touches on the formulaic side in places. But let’s take a step back and take in that as of this writing, two of the members of this band are still teenagers. There is plenty of time for them to live up to the moniker of saviors of Rock and Roll and this record proves they have a very bright future indeed.
2. Arctic Monkeys – Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino
Another record which has divided opinion. It’s easy to hear why given this is without doubt the most artistic effort by the Yorkshire lads. Immersive and provocative whilst maintaining depth and precision. While it can take a few listens to actually understand this album, it’s by far their most creative and ambitious effort and one that could prove a turning point for the next stages of their already decorated careers.
1. Ghost – Prequelle
Watching Tobias Forge’s monolith go from strength to strength has been a joy to witness. From starting out as a band with a reputation for a goofy satanic gimmick, Ghost have gone on to achieve rock greatness with their fourth album. While it’s easily their poppiest and most accessible effort, it’s filled with arena rock style singalong anthems and could be said to be the first great rock record released in recent years. The story arc that follows the band makes the mystique surrounding Ghost all the more entertaining and adds to the overall dynamic this album generates.