As we approach the end of 2018, I wanted to give a personal opinion on what I feel are the musical highlights of the year gone by. You may agree with all or some of these, or you may think I’m full of s**t. Fine by me. These are not based on any kind of chart position, local airplay or other bias aside from a personal one having spent the last 30 years in the rock music industry. Take a look and feel free to comment your opinions below the article!
The Dose: Vervain
The Dose released this song (one of three in a video trilogy) in June of 2018. This grunge throwback band’s name has the double meaning of ‘get a Dose of our style’ and the Spanish word for the number two (Dos) as the band is a two-piece outfit, featuring a drummer (Ralph Alexander) who is not only heralded to be one of the best in rock music today but also plays both bass and drums simultaneously and Indio Downey, son of uber-famous Robert Downey Jr. This is one of a small handful of bands to watch in 2019!
17. Badflower: Heroin
This is the second single from the groundbreaking Los Angeles band, and one of a few songs found on their forthcoming ‘Ok, I’m Sick’ album (to be released in early 2019) that has already seen the light of day, albeit with a different mix. Frankly, this song would have wound up higher on the list if it hadn’t been released so late in 2018. Frontman/guitarist Josh Katz has the unique talent of writing from the soul lyrically, and once again he puts it all out there for fans to see on the track ‘Heroin’. While some might hear the song as a literal nod to the dangers of the drug heroin, the video likens heroin to the addictive qualities of being stuck in a dysfunctional relationship with a seductive woman. This video for this one has HOT written all over it. See for yourself below!
Warped Tour stalwarts Underoath have had many fits of start/stop over their lengthy career. The Florida based band has been tearing it up since 1997 but have stayed largely underground, starting as a psudo-Christian metal-core band, they have since dropped the religious label and have worked hard to refine their sound to reach a larger, more mainstream audience. On their latest release ‘Erase Me’, singer Spencer Chamberlain digs deep to reveal some of his inner demons and public struggles with drugs and alcohol. Founding member Aaron Gillespie (drummer/vocalist) now resides in Salt Lake City and is known for writing and producing for many successful acts and was the drummer for Paramour for several years.
From Ashes To New: Crazy
Giving a nod to their heroes in Linkin Park, this rap/rock outfit had a breakout year in 2018, playing Reno a few times and holding a top five rock song nationally with the track Crazy. The Linkin Park influence can be heard thorough out their 2018 sophomore release ‘The Future’.
While being described as both a hardcore punk band and metal-core outfit, the Columbus, Ohio based band has been tearing up the underground circuit since their formation in 2012 with their brutal vocal and guitar attack. The title track ‘Disease’ stays true to their aggressive roots while throwing in enough melody to attract a more mainstream radio friendly audience.
Thrice: The Grey
It has been fascinating to watch and hear the evolution of the Thrice sound since their humble beginnings as a post-hardcore punk band in Orange County (Irvine, Ca.) in 1998. Singer Dustin Kensrue has released a total of twenty albums, ten with Thrice over the last two decades. Dustin has gone from Warped Tour screamer to acoustic singer/songwriter to introspective ‘thinking mans’ musician as evidenced by their latest two releases. While not on any critics lists for 2018, the album ‘Palms’ sits on the top of my personal list of the BEST ALBUM OF 2018!
The #metoo movement of 2018 was captured in a way with the empowering track ‘Flawless’ by Los Angeles beauty Dorothy. While the rest of the album is a bit too ‘Janis Joplin’ for what we do on Rock 104.5, Flawless captured a vulnerability that made the song connective on many layers. Contrary to first impressions (rock singer with neck and wrist tattoos), Dorothy prefers melon balls over chicken fried steak for breakfast and water over tequila when wrapping up the night as mentioned in my interview with the singer below!
Greta Van Fleet: When The Curtain Falls
Literally exploding on the scene back in 2017 with Safari Song and Highway Tune, personally Greta failed to impress with their full length debut album ‘Anthem For The Peaceful Army’ due to the seemingly insincere, contrived lyrical content. Sure, it’s easy to say that Greta Van Fleet totally ripped off the Led Zeppelin sound (as many before them have), but they do it astoundingly well for a bunch of 21/22 year olds. ‘When The Curtain Falls’ is a standout track on the album, reflecting on how fickle the Hollywood lifestyle can be (and the arc of success in general). Words like ‘You’re a child in the garden, You’re growing up, I’ll watch you bloom, And your dreams are not forgotten, You’ll be a woman soon…’ (from the song ‘The New Day’) just have me thinking WTF?
Disturbed: Are You Ready
I have to applaud the guys in Disturbed for really trying to break the Nu-Metal mold and reinvent themselves on the album ‘Evolution’. While I still think there are far too many ballads on the record for my personal tastes (based largely on the success of their version of The Sound Of Silence), it is cool to hear David Draiman work hard to show off his vocal range and pink belly. All that said, the debut track from the album is totally 100% Disturbed!
Bring Me The Horizon: Mantra
One of the most highly anticipated new releases of 2019, BMTH really put some unique, interesting production flair on the first sampling from the bands forthcoming release with the twisted track ‘Mantra’. While the video and lyrical content leave more questions than answers, the song is a blast to listen to LOUDLY, especially with headphones on. I can’t wait for the full album to drop in the new year from these rising British metal-core stars!
The Glorious Sons: S.O.S. (Sawed Off Shotgun)
A hit is a hit is a hit, and this one infects your ears like a worm. I was lucky enough to see them live a few years back and the vocalist Brett is a damn rockstar! Just wait till we get some West Coast shows from the Canadian band in 2019 and you’ll see/hear the proof that they are more than just a catchy songwriting, Juno Award winning Canadian band!
What more can be said about Shinedown? Practically everything they release proves to be a massive hit, and the hard-rocking ‘Devil’ is no expeption.
The long break has proved to be quite helpful to the Boston based metal band as Godsmack were in danger of becoming much like the aforementioned Disturbed, writing the same kind of album over and over again. Godsmack have returned with a more polished, (hate to say it) ‘lighter’ sound as they all have the perspective of being successful, getting happy with that success and focusing more on family and friends than the angst of ‘growing up’. Shannon Larkin and I discussed it during the Aftershock festival back in October. You can listen to the interview below! BTW, who knew Sully had such a sharp sense of humor, anyway?!?
AND NOW FOR THE TOP 5 OF 2018!
Five Finger Death Punch: Sham-pain
Perhaps the most mis-understood band of all time, Ivan Moody and 5FDP have been through it all; lawsuits, personal drama, drug addiction, public meltdowns, etc. and have emerged with a new outlook on life and renewed sense of sarcasm and humor as evidenced by the parody of ‘rockstardom’ in the track Sham-pain! Check out my interview with Ivan where he bares it all below:
Three Days Grace: The Mountain
Talk about ‘ear worms’, perhaps the best workout song of the last decade was done by the band that looked like they might implode after the awkward loss of original vocalist Adam Gontier. ‘The Mountain’ hits like a ton of bricks with its inspirational message and catchy melody.
Nothing spells HIT like a song about the bubonic plague, right? Ghost have been just under the radar for the last decade, coming very close to, but not quite over the top of becoming a household name. The time was ready for Ghost, and Ghost was ready to take on the world with their latest album ‘Prequel’. Starting their career out as an over-the-top satanic band hoping to trump the evil undertone of Mercyful Fate/King Diamond, Sabbath, Marilyn Manson, the scared the crap out of unsuspecting audiences early on. Over time, and with a series of very funny videos, the public slowly became quite aware of the humor behind mastermind Tobias Forge. While there might be a bit of credibility to their ‘evil undertone’, the overtone is that of an act which pokes fun at all the Satanists who have come before them. Take their musicianship seriously, but view their product as that of a best-selling Broadway production!
Bad Wolves: Zombie
Tragically serendipitous, ‘Zombie’ was done a while before the January 15th loss of Cranberries frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan. Dolores was actually set to reprise her role in the song as a duet with Bad Wolves frontman Tommy Vext on the day the world lost her. The song went on to become the biggest hit of the year and an interesting launching pad for the ‘supergroup’ known as Bad Wolves as the track is far from representative of the hard thrashing nature of the band and the bulk of the rest of their songs.
I had to think long and hard about what track would make the #1 spot on my list and Badflower’s ‘Ghost’ is it. I first heard this song in early to mid 2018 and immediately started to do some research on them. Being inundated with new music, it is rare that a song strikes me as a HIT upon very first listen. I quickly discovered other tracks floating around on YouTube like the aforementioned ‘Heroin’ and the underground smash ‘Move Me’ (which interestingly ISN’T on the new album) and decided to lead the charge here in Lil Ol’ Reno for the song ‘Ghost’. Legitimately, Rock 104.5 was one of (if not THE) first commercial radio station in the country to put ‘Ghost’ into a power rotation. Since the summer of 2018, the song and band have gone on to be one of the most played of the year and is being heralded as ‘The Band To Watch in 2019’ from all kinds of press outlets, including the very ‘hipper than the room’ KROQ in Los Angeles.
I’ve spent the last several weeks getting into the full album ‘Ok, I’m Sick’, and while ‘Ghost’ remains a standout, the album is chock full of heart-felt, emotional musical offerings touching on subjects like the ethical treatment of animals, sexual abuse, the loss of a spouse/best friend, coming of age, protest against government, sex, drugs and ROCK & ROLL! I’ll go out on a limb to say that the rawness of singer Josh Katz approaches, and perhaps eclipses the ‘heart on your sleeve’ mentality of that of Kurt Cobain. He’s an unlikely and perhaps unwilling rockstar. I have high hopes that he’ll come to grips with his stardom and talents, embrace them and continue to deliver intriguing, compelling music for years to come!