Welcome to the big pain in the ass Top 50 of 2018 list! There may be a few weeks left this year, but I have received essentially all of the unreleased discs for the year I’m interested in. I encourage you to take your time with sampling all the music below. I guarantee you missed a few gems along the way. For those unfamiliar, this is my annual post where I put politics and label/band relationships aside. You get my honest thoughts on releases that caught my interest in 2018 across numerous heavy rock/metal genres. Disclaimer: a. This list caters to my *personal* taste, not the full spectrum of metal genres. If you are looking for tons of death metal, black metal, whateverthefuckcore metal, or anything like that…move along...nothing for you to see here. b. I do not rank albums based on pure musical instrumentation ability or sonic clarity. While I fully believe technical chops demonstrate musical superiority in many aspects, I also think it is just as hard to write a *good* hook that draws a listener back again and again. Furthermore, a passionate vocal delivery that adds emotional depth to lyrics wins out over power/range most of the time. c. There is no right or wrong to this list. Music is a subjective listening experience. My opinion is no more valid than yours if we are on opposite sides of the fence. d. I do not listen to every single release. If your favorite disc did not make the list, I may simply not have heard it…OR I could have thought it sucked. e. Keep in mind a highly ranked disc in any genre may not make the list. For example, the 10th best power metal disc of the year is not there. It’s still a good record, but there are only so many slots. f. I may have simply forgotten a release. I reserve the right to insert a disc into the list at any time. It happens every year. I’m getting old. g. I don't include EPs in the rankings. If I did, then you would see Conception & Epica high on the list. Onward…. 50. Distant Dream- Your Own Story: The one and only post-rock album to make the cut this year. It's a throwback to the early God is an Astronaut sound (instead of the post-doom disappointment from them this year) with just a touch of prog. The soaring crescendos add weight to the spacey ambiance. Headphones take this to another level. 49. Voivod- The Wake: I always thought of Voivod as the Motorhead of prog. Everybody knows them. Everybody respects them. However, everybody sure as shit doesn’t like them. Hell, I haven't liked much since Dimension Hatröss…30 years ago. 48. Loneshore- From Presence to Silence: Milton Mendonca will not rest until I have heard every single fucking Brazilian metal release…ever. Persistence paid off this time with this throwback to the old-school Opeth sound. You can actually find snow and ice south of the equator here. 47. Last Days of Eden- Chrysalis: This band is not only inspired by Nightwish, they absolutely rip them off. I'm honestly surprised Tuomas hasn't already filed a lawsuit. The reason I enjoy this regardless is the combination of all three eras of Nightwish in one album, hell, sometimes even one song. I have to admit the accented vocals are a bit thick at times so buyer…er..uh.. streamer, beware. 46. Mayan- Dhyana: Mark & his symphonic death metal tribe have taken the best elements of their first two albums and injected steroids into this one. It's so over the top that I can't keep up at times. 45. Alkaloid- Liquid Anatomy: This is bat shit crazy, Cthhulu-style technical death metal that I can appreciate, if not truly embrace. Between the complex riffs and brutal vocals, the band injects some surprising quirky & melodic Yes homage throughout. Don't believe me? Check out this track…. 44. Witherfall- A Prelude to Sorrow: No sophomore slump here. The band returns with their dark, complex metal with shades of King Diamond & Crimson Glory. They band is right on the cusp of delivering a monster album. 43. Polyphia- New Levels New Devils: Avante-garde shredding? Hell, I don't know what to call it. I do know that some of the shit they pull off blows my mind. This is instrumental madness of the highest quality. 42. Between the Buried & Me- Automata Part 1 & 2: Yeah, I'm combining both albums because my list is not a label marketing ploy. I would so love this band's intense style of modern prog so much more if they would ease up on the blast beats and screaming just a tad. "Coma Ecliptic" spoiled me. 41. Kissin' Dynamite- Ecstasy- While they aren't marketed as a melodic rock band, they sure dance all over the razor's edge. If you are into the German stuff like Pink Cream 69, Jaded Heart, etc, then this is your next band. 40. Thauarorod- Coast of Gold: They must have listened to a lot of Dragonforce albums before hitting the studio. It's a hell of a lot faster than I remember. Bring on the Guitar Hero version! 39. Sirenia- Arcane Astral Eons: Sirenia are morphing further & further into a true symphonic metal band with Emmanuelle on vocals. That works for me, as they employ the best the genre has to offer, including classic beauty & the beast moments. I will add there is a clear distinction between the "singles" and the rest of the album. 38. Arion- Life is Not Beautiful: Intentional or not, Arion has successfully captured the early spirit & bounce of Sonata Arctica. These big ass hooks are what I love about power metal. The duet with Elize Ryd has one of the best choruses this year. 37. Maestrick- Espresso Della Vita: Solare: Quirky Brazilian prog that really deserves a wider audience (right, Milton?). They are all over the place in terms of style- Dream Theater to Pain of Salvation to Queen. Hell, "Daily View" is a wink & a nod to "You're My Best Friend.” The only thing holding it back from a higher ranking is the vocal accent is a bit thick for me at times. In a first, I'm posting two videos, as I'm treating the first song as the instrumental intro to the main song. It's that damn good. 36. Angelus Apatrida: Cabaret De La Guillotine: It was a really, really shitty year in thrash for me. These Spaniards & Vermithrax are the only thing that saved it. All you need to know is they have a huge old-school Testament vibe. 35. Amaranthe- Helix: Let's get this out of the way now. You know what to expect: pop metal with big sugary hooks. However, I'm happy to report there is no "That Song" this time around. The dynamic between all three vocalists is excellent this time around as well. 34. Brainstorm- Midnight Ghost: Andy and the gang return with their best effort since "Soul Temptation." Anthemic German power metal isn't the king of the castle these days, so this is welcome return to form. 33. Tesseract- Sonder: One of the djent pioneers have evolved their sound into something significantly tastier, yet darker. It's an intense listen despite the fact the vocals have moved away from the barking. Dan has such a smooth delivery. 32. Sisare- Leaving the Land: Finnish artsy prog that brings to mind Opeth's "Heritage" combined with a bit of Riverside. The band incorporates folk, lots of post-rock, & stark prog arrangements. 31. The Temperance Movement- A Deeper Cut: Down & dirty ass-shakin' blues rock from the UK. Think Black Crows meets 70's Rod Stewart. Vocalist, Phil Campbell, has a fantastic voice and is a true throwback to the charismatic frontmen of yesteryear (dude has some serious moves on the mic). Every song could be a hit on a classic rock radio station- "all killer, no filler." Greta Van Fleet and Rival Sons can kiss my ass. 30. Karmic Juggernaut- The Dreams that Stuff Are Made Of: Psychedelic prog that is not for the weak of heart. It's a nutty record that reminds of me of Diablo Swing Orchestra at times and Primus at others. Hell, maybe a dash of Zappa as well. It's not something you are going to grow to love. You either freak over the freakishness from the start, or hit stop before the first song ends. Inebriation really adds to the enjoyment. 29. Shattered Skies- Muted Neon: I'm not the world's biggest djent fan, but this band just hits the right spot because they never lose focus of the melody for the sake of the riffing. It's taken some time to find their footing since the all-world prog debut, but they are more than back in the groove now. 28. Tomorrow's Eve- Mirror of Creation III: Project Ikaros: There aren't many bands left that still release quality bread & butter crunchy prog metal that we all cut our teeth on in the 90's. Enjoy it while you can. 27. W.E.T.- Earthrage: Let me say whatever one else is thinking. Even though this is a fantastic melodic rock disc, the first song is what we want the entire album to sound like. We want Soto & Erik to swap vocal lines and then harmonize gloriously on a big ass chorus. Despite the rest of the album being great & Soto doing his usual awesome thing, you are left wanting more. Listening to this is like watching a porno and getting the money shot in the first two minutes. 26. Ihsahn- Ámr: Anyone who thinks Ihsahn simply performs black metal hasn't heard a note of his music since his boy band days. He continues to push the boundaries of his creativity into areas that you would never expect. While the dark brutality is still prevalent, songs like Sámr show a softer, more introspective side. All of the risks on this one pay off in spades. 25. Striker- Play to Win: Striker are seriously the most underrated band of the last 5 years. Hell, they are one of the most prolific as well with 4 albums released in that same time span. I would normally classify them as traditional, but they went and made a full-blown cock rock album this time around. This is what I crank up when I roll the windows down. 24. Orphaned Land- Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs: Orphaned Land's latest is their most melodic & progressive album yet. The highest compliment I can give them is that their middle eastern music no longer sounds exotic. It's an old, warm blanket I wrap up in. 23. All Traps on Earth- A Drop of Light: I got turned on to this one late. This is epic instrumental prog rock courtesy of a project from one of Änglagård's founding members. Fans of King Crimson and the Canterbury scene should take note. 22. Parkway Drive- Reverence: Haters gonna hate, but Wacken got it right. The new record falls somewhere between the bro metal of Five Finger Death Punch and the groove riffs of Pantera. This one gets the blood pumping in the gym in a hurry. 21. Lost in Thought- Renascene: This was one of the bigger surprises of the year. I truly enjoyed the debut, but wasn't expecting them to come back this strong after a 7 year hiatus. The debut reminded me of the early Circus Maximus with soaring vocals prog. They have toned that down and headed into more of an Anubis Gate feel. 20. Powerwolf- The Sacrement of Sin: The Brotherhood of the Wolf is now one of the biggest power metal bands on the planet. They took a sacrilegious Sabatonesque approach, added a healthy dose of cheese, and sprinkled in some tongue-in-cheek humor here and there ("Demons Are A Girl's Best Friend", anyone?). The resulting anthems are both epic & glorious. 19. Dynazty- Firesign: Anyone that says this sounds exactly like the last two records needs to spin all three albums back to back and compare again. The melodic metal approach stays intact, but they went from "Warp 10, Mr. Sulu" to a pleasant walk in the park with the speed. I have voted Nils into the pantheon of vocal greats of our genres alongside Russ, Jorn, etc. 18. Judas Priest- Firepower: Their best since "Painkiller." 'Nuff said. 17. Southern Empire- Civilization: Part of me is sad the band left behind the Eagles go prog approach of the last album. They embraced a more traditional, if not heavier, prog rock approach this time around similar to Spock's Beard/Neal Morse. 16. Hago- Hago: Berklee College Fusion, baby! You get the blender mix with prog metal, jazz, and middle eastern elements. You will recognize a couple of the guys from Distorted Harmony on board. This is my favorite instrumental album this year. 15. Rivers of Nihil- Where Owls Know My Name: Progressive death metal album that is complex without being over the top technical. They don't just change time signatures or throw in some weird rhythm for the sake of it. These guys go from brutal riffing to soaring solos in the blink of an eye. Plus, they have a full-time saxophonist so that's an automatic win for me. If you are a fan of Ihsahn, this is essential. Check out the sax solo that leads into a beautiful guitar solo with all sorts of feel on this video starting at 3:20. 14. Animal Drive- Bite!: Hard rock with a splash of prog on the side isn't something you often find. Some of you may recognize vocalist Dino Jelusic from TSO. Here, he cuts loose like a young Jorn Lande. In fact, the Ark vibe on this song is what hit me in the face on first listen. 13. Kamelot- The Shadow Theory: I think this is the lowest I have rated a Kamelot album and it still almost hit the top ten. Honestly, there is nothing for me to complain about. I'm just ready for them to mix it up a bit more after all these years. Is that fair? Hell no. I think the same of all my favorites after 20 years of albums. However, I don't think they care. They are bigger than ever without us old farts bitching and moaning about the past. Good for them. 12. Poets of the Fall- Ultraviolet: Fanboy alert! Poets can do no wrong in my eyes. Their music connects with me on an emotional level that only a handful of bands have ever done. Do I wish they would return to the more guitar-driven rock of the past? You are damn right I do. That said, I will still enjoy the U2 leanings this go around. 11. Subsignal- La Muerta: They have upped their game with each subsequent release. This is no exception. However, they threw us a big league curveball this time with a lighter approach full of pop elements. The chorus to "The Passage" hit me really hard in the feels as my mom passed away suddenly: All we have is this moment All we have is this knowledge That this life is a passage So narrow, so wide. All we have is this union Like rivers and oceans And it all can be taken in a blink of an eye. 10. Seventh Wonder- Tiara: Admit it. The words, "Boom! Boom!" never sounded so good in prog metal. In fact, my duet with Tommy on that song is rather impressive as we harmonize so well that Kansas would be jealous. You can't go wrong with a sci-fi concept album that contains all of the band's hallmarks that made us fall in love with them in the first place. 9. Kingcrow- The Persistence: Kingcrow continues their winning streak. This is four monster releases in a row. What I truly love about the band is that nobody else sounds like them. It's prog that relies more on feel & mood than technical prowess without slowing things down to depressing level. 8. Haken- Vector: Haken did a complete 180 degree turn from the last 80's inspired album to modern, heavier vibe. "Veil" & "Nil by Mouth" are absolutely fantastic. If the rest of the album stayed true to the heaviness of those two, this would be #1. 7. Amorphis- Queen of Time: Amorphis is one of the few bands that can add every element imaginable to their music and still sound exactly like Amorphis. How can you not get excited about choirs, saxophone, and Anneke in the mix? 6. Alien Weaponry- Tū: New Zealand teenage trio have done something never done before. They have crafted a kickass, riff-tastic album with their native Māorian language. After one spin, I wanted to learn a proper Haka and beat the shit out of concert attendees who talk during a show. This album crushes and wins the headbanging award for the year. 5. Barren Earth- A Complex of Cages: This record is criminally underrated. It's referred to as progressive death metal. However, I just cannot call it that because the atmosphere is so much more than the standard bark & riff. The vocals are a 50/50 split and the acoustic moments are beautiful, somber, & haunting. You could almost think of it as Opeth meets Amorphis. 4. Redemption- Long Night's Journey Into Day: Take one of my favorite bands, add my favorite vocalist, and it's an instant win. Tom's vocals fit the band seamlessly. While most melodic prog bands leans towards the DT school of thought, Redemption focuses on sharp, complex & precise guitar rhythms without sacrificing to the Prog keyboard overlords. Now that the nerves are out of the way, I fully anticipate greater things next time around. 3. Michael Romeo- War of the Worlds: Part I: Half of the album is about as close to "V" era Symphony X is as close as I'll probably ever hear again. That luscious orchestration I have longed for is like seeing your best friend again after 20 years apart. "Believe" is exactly what I want to hear from Romeo. While the other half of the album isn't exactly modern SX, it's close enough. The only thing missing is a larger key presence. If Russ decides not to return to the fold, Rick would be fine replacement for SX. 2. Lord of the Lost- Thornstar: Gothic rock is not my usual fare. That should tell you how special this double concept album about the lost ancient civilization of the Pangea is. There really is a lot of crossover potential with the of metal crowd. However, the vocals are going to make it or break it for quite a few. Think Peter Steele meets Johnny Cash with some excellent raspy screams adding to the atmosphere. The songs are dark and just catchy as hell. You are getting a bonus video because I doubt most of you have heard of this band and the more exposure, the better. The cinematography shits on the abandoned warehouse usual fare: 1. Ostura- The Room: It wasn't even close this year. This racked up more plays than any other album by a good 20% on my play count. Here are a few adjectives I'd use to describe the album: cinematic, massive, epic, bombastic, lush, complex, fanfuckingtastic, etc. It's the kind of album you don't just listen to, you really absorb. The orchestrations are courtesy of the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Furthermore, the Lebanese band adds ethnic elements, classical & operatic pieces, & heavy synths that takes it to an Ayreonesque level (yeah..Arjen is on the album as well). In addition to the amazing musicianship and songwriting, I do have to mention the outstanding vocal work. Primary vocalist, Elia Monsef, brings comparisons to Zaher of Myrath. Guest vocalist, Michael Mills of Toehider, is impressive as hell with his out of this world highs. However, it is Youmna Jreissati who steals the show. She is the second coming of a young Simone Simons. I want both the band and world to know there is a spot on the festival roster if I can ever get the band in the country due to the bullshit visa requirements.