It’s that time of year where Limelight Magazine lists our top 10 albums of the year.  We listened to nearly 200 studio albums that were released in 2018 and these records  are the cream of the crop, showing these talented musicians at the peak of their game.
1. Leather – II

You might be forgiven if you were left wondering just how good the new solo album from Leather Leone would sound after a nearly 30 year break since her first solo disc Shock Waves. I say might because if you’ve ever heard Leather’s vocals, you should know that invariably the material always rises to the top. On the simply titled II, Leather and her “Boys From Brazil,” just annihilate all comers. I got to review the album upon its release back in April and I said that the material would leave you shell shocked with its unrestrained power, aggressive melodies and Leather’s signature vocal sound. I also proclaimed it should be considered a candidate for album of the year. As it turned out, that wasn’t just hyperbole from being on a musically induced high while writing that review. II maintained a thrilling high energy charge each and every time you listen to the album and could be seen not only as an equal to any of her past works but might just be the singularly best album she’s ever done. (Standout Tracks: “Juggernaut” and “Hidden In The Dark”) – Jay Roberts

2. Judas Priest – Firepower

Rob Halford, Glenn Tipton, Ian Hill and the rest of Judas Priest have had themselves quite a year. And it all stems from the release of the outstanding Firepower album. While Tipton himself has been somewhat sidelined due to health issues, the band has kept firing on all cylinders with guitarists Richie Faulkner and Andy Sneap providing a “youthful” burst of aggressive intensity that fuels the album like you wouldn’t believe. I wrote in my review of the disc that if there was any question about Priest remaining both the Metal Gods and Defenders of the Faith, that Firepower would dispel that notion and leave doubters begging for forgiveness. And that isn’t just blowing smoke. Because the 14 songs on the album are outstanding. Even the one song I initially didn’t care that much for (“Flamethrower”) ended up being one that I would sing along to joyously upon each successive spin of the album. You might think that I’m overstating things a bit given the level of their past discography, but for me at least, the all out aggressive metallic attack that the band spews forth shows that Judas Priest has plenty of ammunition left to them and leaves me with the impression that Firepower is one of the best albums of the band’s storied career. (Standout Tracks: “Traitor’s Gate” and “No Surrender”) – Jay Roberts

3. Metal Church – Damned If You Do

When Metal Church reunited with front man Mike Howe in 2016, they recorded a stellar comeback album called XI to critical acclaim. Now, two years later, the veteran West Coast hard rockers raise the bar even higher with their 12th studio album Damned If You Do. The 10 tracks on this disc have the old school Metal Church sound while proving they can still teach any new hard rock band on the block a trick or two. As guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof commented in a press release, “I feel this album is a very powerful statement to what Metal Church has always been about. A tough and aggressive old school metal album while maintaining a level of musicality and melodic sensibilities. In short, Metal Church have given their fans what they want with Damned If You Do and, if you haven’t checked out the hysterical video for “By the Numbers,” you can do so by clicking HERE. We cannot wait to see these songs played live when they tour in 2019. (Standout Tracks: “By the Numbers” and “The Black Things“)

4. Ghost – Prequelle

As Ghost continues to evolve with each new studio release, Prequelle is their finest album to date. While some fans have expressed disappointment with the band going in a more “pop-orientated” direction, they need to get over themselves and give it another listen to fully digest the material. Prequelle is essentially a concept album chronicling the timeline that someone experienced during the Black Plague. Each song has thought provoking lyrics that remind me of some of the well-crafted Blue Oyster Cult songs of the ‘70s and early ‘80s as well as some of the prog rock albums of that time period where all the songs are tied together with an overriding theme. The musicianship is also dazzling. Just listen to the instrumental track “Miasma” and you’ll hear classic metal guitar hooks, keyboards and organs, and a catchy saxophone solo. In short, every single track is rock solid and this album fires on all cylinders from beginning to end. (Standout Tracks: “Miasma” and “Witch Image”)

5. Riverside – Wasteland

After the unfortunate death of their guitarist Piotr Grudziński due to cardiac arrest in 2016, I was uncertain what would happen to Riverside. Rather than replace him, the band decided to continue as a trio with Mariusz Duda playing guitars on future releases along with session players. Wasteland consists of nine songs that are filled with heartfelt and raw emotion. It’s clear the members of Riverside are still dealing with the loss of their bandmate. However, the music is still excellent with songs that would make Steve Wilson proud. This is a beautiful prog rock album from start to finish. (Standout Tracks: “Vale of Tears” and “The Struggle for Survival”)

6. Stone Temple Pilots – Stone Temple Pilots

On the band’s second self-titled studio album and first with new lead vocalist Jeff Gutt, Stone Temple Pilots have released their best album since Purple (1994). All 12 tracks have the classic STP vibe which has been lacking on their last studio releases. Dean DeLeo’s guitar playing on this record might be his best yet, while the rhythm section of Robert Deleo and Eric Kretz is as solid as ever. What really makes this album work is Gutt’s amazing vocals. His voice is similar in style to the late Scott Weiland but manages to keep his own identity. This album is a welcome return to form. If you want straight up rock and roll, you should have this album in your collection. (Standout Tracks: “Middle of Nowhere” & “Six Eight”)

7. Mass – When 2 Worlds Collide

On their first studio album since the fantastic Sea of Black in 2010, Mass return with another fine collection of songs. While I’ve always been a fan of the band and own every studio album, they are recording the best music of their career now and are at the top of their game. What I like most about this release is the stellar musicianship and modern production. Mass only get better with age. As I’ve said many times, it’s a shame Mass has never made a bigger name for themselves. When 2 Worlds Collide displays a finely honed musical style that will make any hard or melodic rock fan sit up and take notice. (Standout Tracks: “Turn It Over” & “Some Time Ago”)

8. Haken Vector

On their fifth full-length studio album, Haken have gone in a much heavier and more concise direction with the seven song album clocking in at just under 46 minutes. While that may be the result of the band producing the album themselves, they haven’t lost their passion to experiment and explore new sounds in the studio as is evident by “Veil” and destined to be classic instrumental “Nil by Mouth.” As vocalist Ross Jennings said prior to the album’s release, We don’t like to make simple music. We always aim to defy expectations, and I believe we’ve surpassed what we aimed to achieve with our new album.” Clearly, he was right on target with his assessment and we wouldn’t expect anything less from this band. (Standout Tracks: “Veil” & “Nil by Mouth”)

9. Fifth Angel – The Third Secret

After nearly 30 years, Fifth Angel returned with a new studio album in 2018 called The Third Secret via Nuclear Blast Records. While I was excited to hear the band were back in action, I was a little skeptical at first when the news broke that original vocalist Ted Pilot would not be part of the reunion. However, after hearing the 10 tracks on the disc, it’s clear the time away only energized the band in the studio. Kendall Bechtel’s vocals are stellar and even reminiscent of Dioat times, while his guitar solos are blistering. In a press release, the band said this album would “please both their die hard fans and new fans alike” and they delivered on that promise! (Standout Tracks: “Queen of Thieves” & “Fatima”)

10. [TIE] Robert Reed – Sanctuary III

When Robert Reed recorded his classic Sanctuary albums in 2014 and 2016 respectively, he paid homage to the great Mike Oldfield. Sanctuary III continues that tradition with Reed playing most of the instruments himself. The album also features Simon Phillips on drums and contributions from recorder player Les Penning and the Tubular Bells production team of Tom Newman and Simon Heyworth. While Sanctuary III features only two long form compositions like Oldfield’s first three studio albums, Reed is not afraid to experiment on this album, making it more of his own. We can only hope he records Sanctuary IV in the future. (Standout Tracks: “Sanctuary III Part 2” & “Sanctuary III Part 2”)

10. [TIE] Metal Allegiance – Volume II: Power Drunk Majesty

The sophomore album by Metal Allegiance is once again anchored by Mark Menghi, David Ellefson, Mike Portnoy and Alex Skolnick, with contributions from a diverse selection of the heavy metal community. Volume II: Punch Drunk Majesty is much heavier than their debut album and more focused overall. The band’s website sums up this release nicely, “An adrenaline-soaked, thrash-worshipping, groove-driven, diverse, yet more sharply focused effort than its no-less-impressive predecessor, the mere existence and urgent brilliance of Volume II: Power Drunk Majesty silences any doubt as to the band’s earnest intention, purposeful resolve, and resilient dedication to all things heavy metal.(Standout Tracks: “Mother of Sin” & “Terminal Illusion”)

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