An eclectic and intriguing year for heavy music has come to an end, and it’s time to look back at the songs that stood out in 2018.
We recently posted our picks for the Top 25 Hard Rock + Metal Albums of 2018, and now we’re singling out the individual songs that struck a chord with us over the past 12 months.
From mainstream rock and extreme metal to experimental noise and a new wave of hardcore, and beyond, 2018 marked a breakthrough year for many young acts while a few veteran bands released their finest works in years.
[See Also: Top 25 Metal + Hard Rock Albums of 2018]
It was tough narrowing down the list to 30 songs, as a number of solid tracks were painfully excluded, but with that said, here is the Top 30 Metal + Hard Rock Songs of 2018:
30. DEAD NOW – “POWERSHAPES”
Sounds Like: A futuristic musical journey powered by sludgy riffing in the style of Tony Iommi and Ritchie Blackmore.
Key Lyric: “Dark dreams they take so long to shake, erase a picture and another stays/ I’ve searched for all the ways to say, think I found a way”
Why Song Matters: Whether you call it stoner rock, sludge metal, or whatever else, Dead Now are definitely a band to keep an eye on. Former Torche member Andrew Elstner fronts a trio that worships classic ’70s metal like Sabbath and Deep Purple all through a sound that’s thoroughly modern, as evidenced on the ethereal yet heavy “Powershapes”.
29. BEARTOOTH – “DISEASE”
Sounds Like: Modern hard rock that hits you in the gut.
Key Lyric: “Stuck at the surface/ Not making progress/ Falling apart/ Well I’m trying my hardest”
Why It Matters: “Disease” provides an anthem for those struggling in a time when mental health issues and addiction are at the forefront of our society. While radio ready, the song takes the listener into a dark place lyrically, as Beartooth frontman Caleb Shomo is not afraid to share his personal pain.
28. DIMMU BORGIR – “I AM SOVEREIGN”
Sounds Like: An occult army marching to war while seeking a greater understanding of reality and eternity.
Key Lyric: “Knowing when to end a journey/ Is to recognize where it begins/ What we really seek is not here/ But on the other side of fear”
Why It Matters: Dimmu Borgir’s first album in eight years is a monument of symphonic black metal, and this song might be its most epic. Masterful melodies, a shifting song structure, and plenty of head-banging opportunities make “I Am Sovereign” beautifully brutal.
27. TREMONTI – “BRINGER OF WAR”
A DYING MACHINE
Sounds Like: A tumultuous roller-coaster ride that leaves you gasping for air at the end — and wanting to go for a second ride.
Key Lyric: “Draw a line painted with blood in the sand/ The only war we could never lose is at hand”
Why It Matters: Tremonti’s latest disc, A Dying Machine, is a concept album that tells the tale of the turn of the next century where humans and fabricated creatures, “vessels,” are trying to co-exist. Opening track “Bringer of War” paints the picture of the war unfolding ahead, with pummeling drums and Mark Tremonti’s stronger-than-ever vocals.
26. AT THE GATES – “DAGGERS OF BLACK HAZE”
TO DRINK FROM THE NIGHT ITSELF
Sounds Like: The closing credits of a bad-ass new Dracula movie.
Key Lyric: “The anesthesia of repetition/ Let monotony and isolation reign/ Will our persistence fade like daggers?/ (Daggers) daggers of black haze”
Why It Matters: “Daggers of Black Haze” is a microcosm of To Drink from the Night Itself, which is the most melodic At the Gates record since Slaughter of the Soul. Its orchestral accents perfectly set up the hook-filled heaviness that follows.
25. GRETA VAN FLEET — “AGE OF MAN”
ANTHEM OF THE PEACEFUL ARMY
Sounds Like: An epic journey of self-realization that offers hope in a time of darkness.
Key Lyric: “Beauty lives in every soul/ The more you love the more you know/ They pass the torch and it still burns/ Once children then, it’s now our turn”
Why It Matters: The easy thing to do is dismiss Greta Van Fleet as a Led Zeppelin sound-alike, but a deeper dive into the music shows intricacies and layers to their sound that extend well beyond the young members’ years. “Age of Man” is the strongest song on the band’s debut album, Anthem of the Peaceful Army, opening the disc in grand fashion.
24. PARKWAY DRIVE – “THE VOID”
Sounds Like: A fist-pumping anthem that takes the listener into a world of pain.
Key Lyric: “Answer no master, never the slave/ Carry your dreams down into the grave/ Every heart, like every soul, equal to break”
Why It Matters: Parkway Drive have evolved from their early metalcore sound, offering up a a more radio-ready sound that still retains the power of their past works. “The Void” and the rest of the band’s Reverence album provide a statement that the Australian act is ready to take their music to new heights.
23. MINISTRY – “VICTIMS OF A CLOWN”
Sounds Like: A literal breathing exercise to fall back on as the US political landscape goes up in a blaze.
Key Lyric: “Wake up/ Take it in/ Exhale/ Repeat/ Fire up/ Freak out/ Let it go … Remember to exhale”
Why It Matters: Ministry mastermind Al Jourgensen is mostly known for his outsized persona and production chops, but behind the carnival-barker/studio-rat image he’s always been just as dedicated to the art of crafting songs and guitar riffs. “Victims of a Clown” balances the slinky, dance-tinged metal of latter-day Ministry with the spartan proto-thrash of the band’s groundbreaking industrial output from the ‘80s.
22. SEVENDUST – “DIRTY”
ALL I SEE IS WAR
Sounds Like: Ruling the dance floor on a Saturday night at a club that bangs only hard rock and heavy metal. (Side note: Why can’t there be a place like that near me?)
Key Lyric: “What makes us human / Becomes a ghost / I can barely breathe in (all I see is war)”
Why It Matters: “All I see is war” is not only a lyric in Sevendust’s “Dirty”, it’s also the name of the band’s latest album. “Dirty” sets the listener up for this hard-hidding concoction from the Atlanta metallers, which is classic Sevendust — brutally intense instrumentals and Lajon “LJ” Witherspoon’s crystal-clear vocals.
21. SLEEP – “MARIJUANAUT’S THEME”
Sounds Like: The ideal test case for anyone who has spent the better part of their lives doing nothing but listening to crackly Black Sabbath between vape hits.
Key Lyric: “Through the hashertoid fields/ A transmission yields/ Now riff beacon signal is received”
Why It Matters: From the opening sounds of a bong rip to the monstrous stomp of its closing moments, this is Sleep encapsulated. The six-plus minutes are the template for every stoner rocker or doom metal band to follow from here until eternity. The Iommi references and Matt Pike’s lawn-torching guitar solo are the icing on this weed brownie.
20. SLIPKNOT, “ALL OUT LIFE”
Sounds Like: A jackhammer that pummels you in the chest.
Key Lyric: “Drop that shit and put it on a pedestal/ Children are afraid of the gods/ Raise your hands and show me what’s impossible/ That makes us even, never tell me the odds”
Why Song Matters: “All Out Life” is the first taste of Slipknot’s as-yet-untitled 2019 album, providing evidence that after 20 years, the masked marauders are not slowing down. The song serves as a rallying cry to not pit old verses new, and to instead embrace items of value over mediocrity, no matter when they first surfaced.
19. KEN MODE – “NOT SOULMATES”
Sounds Like: Agitation ricocheting inside your head like a swarm of frenzied hornets.
Key Lyric: “I’ll repeat myself like some redundant iconoclast/ Inconvenienced by your kindness”
Why It Matters: Few bands have been able to balance frustration and conscience on par with KEN Mode, who continue to illuminate why the path for any thinking person is so often fraught with anger.
18. HALESTORM – “KILLING OURSELVES TO LIVE”
Sounds Like: The final bloody battle at the end of The Wild Bunch.
Key Lyric: “Here we are/ We’re going down with this ship/ And if this is our last trip/ At least we’ll go together”
Why It Matters: Defiance needs a soundtrack. Sports teams need that song that can pump them up before the final game of a playoff series where the odds are stacked against them. That’s where the anthemic centerpiece of Halestorm’s latest album comes in: The band treats this song like a last shot, as if Lzzy Hale and company are going out guns blazing.
17. THE OCEAN – “DEVONIAN: NASCENT”
PHANEROZOIC I: PALAEOZOIC
Sounds Like: Geological time scaled down to fit into an 11-minute prog-metal opus.
Key Lyric: “The song that remains unsung/ A chain around my neck/ Thrusting on my back/ This violent storm ahead/ Of time never spent/ Nascent”
Why It Matters: The Ocean are no strangers to epic song structures, but they outdo themselves here by using patience to sublime effect as “Devonian: Nascent” builds to monumental peaks and valleys befitting of a band that named itself after something as incomprehensibly vast as the ocean. Throw in guest vocals from Katatonia’s Jonas Renkse and the result is a progressively-minded opus.
16. BRING ME THE HORIZON – “MANTRA”
Sounds Like: The present and future of rock music, equal parts heavy and catchy.
Key Lyric: “Could I have your attention, please/ It’s time to tap into your tragedy/ Think you could use a new abuser/ Close your eyes and listen carefully”
Why It Matters: Bring Me the Horizon sound nothing like their early deathcore selves, now embracing pop sensibilities and releasing infectious rock songs that you can dance to and bang your head to at the same time. “Mantra”, the first single from the band’s 2019 album, amo, exposes cults for their predatory practices, with frontman Oli Sykes serving as ringleader.
15. AUTHOR & PUNISHER – “NIHIL STRENGTH”
Sounds Like: A gang of assembly line robots stuck in some Sisyphean loop of anger and recrimination toward the dumb humans that programmed them.
Key Lyric: “Unable to move again/ Or no will left to move again/ Not enough will left to move again”
Why It Matters: As with most Author & Punisher work, you don’t listen to this song so much as you brace yourself for its impact. You are no match for Tristan Shone’s homemade machines when he gets his hands and mouth on them, using them to crank out ferocious industrial rhythms and drones that want to massage your spinal column violently.
14. BADFLOWER – “HEROIN”
OK, I’M SICK
Sounds Like: A highly dysfunctional relationship set to music.
Key Lyric: “She’s in my bed again/ She marks her fingerprints/ In my skin/ I breathe her perfume in/ It burns like heroin”
Why It Matters: Badflower have written the perfect anti-ballad with “Heroin”, sucking the listener in with haunting verses before bringing the heavy in the emotional chorus. A late entry for 2018, the track and the band’s debut album, OK I’M SICK, should both make a big impact in 2019, as these Los Angeles rockers know their way around crafting compelling tunes with soft-loud dynamics that beg the listener to sing along.
13. TURNSTILE – “GENERATOR”
TIME & SPACE
Sounds Like: Losing your mind in the pit as catharsis for a breakup.
Key Lyric: “I’m hanging on, but I alienate/ Dancing with my pain now in the dark/ From right to left/ Watching my world disconnect”
Why It Matters: Turnstile’s first LP on Roadrunner was one of the most fun and unique hardcore albums of the year. “Generator” is a standout in an album that blazes through 13 tracks of old-school hardcore in 25 minutes, but with an emphasis on melody, dynamics, and rock-’n’-roll flair.
12. AMIGO THE DEVIL – “EVERYONE GETS LEFT BEHIND”
EVERYTHING IS FINE
Sounds Like: The soundtrack to a macabre Coen Brothers film.
Key Lyric: “Now I’m older and the fire feels so little/ And time became something to kill/ I must have died and gone to heaven/ ‘Cause this is boring as hell”
Why It Matters: Rock troubadour Amigo the Devil, otherwise known as Danny Kiranos, has taken his love for metal and hard rock and applied it to a folk-rock sound that is somehow reminiscent of Morrissey and Leonard Cohen, all with an underlying heaviness to it. “Everyone Gets Left Behind” features the drumming of Rage Against the Machine’s Brad Wilk, giving the song a mid-tempo, clap-along kick, as Amigo delivers his lines with a devilish grin.
11. BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME – “CONDEMNED TO THE GALLOWS”
Sounds Like: An elegant nightmare where the dreamer faces their own extinction but is at peace with it.
Key Lyric: “Align the love inside me/ Let misery wake me”
Why It Matters: Between the Buried and Me have been one of the most progressive bands in metalcore for a while, and this jam is no exception. Over six-and-a-half minutes, “Condemned to the Gallows” is equal parts beautiful, brutal, spacey, and techy.
10. VEIN – “VIRUS://VIBRANCE”
Sounds Like: Being punched in the face over and over, falling down, getting up, and being punched in the face again.
Key Lyric: “I’ve got a nuclear weapon called self-actualization/ 60-20 inner vision/ Aim inside and blast the glass ceiling”
Why It Matters: “Virus://Vibrance” pulls no punches as the opener to the first Vein full-length. Drum-and-bass beats, nasty breakdowns, savage vocals, and dive-bombing, squealing, riff-riddled guitars set the table for 11 tracks of extremity.
09. JUDAS PRIEST – “LIGHTNING STRIKE”
Sounds Like: Classic Judas Priest funneled through a lens of forward-thinking sheen and production.
Key Lyric: “Walking through fire/ Fate’s in my hands/ Waiting for lightning to strike”
Why It Matters: “Lightning Strike” was the first single metal legends Judas Priest unveiled off their Firepower album, and with the help of veteran producer Tom Allom (who worked on classic Judas Priest albums like British Steel and Screaming for Vengeance) and contemporary metal producer Andy Sneap, the track introduces Judas Priest to the modern metal ear while keeping that classic vibe.
08. ZEAL & ARDOR – “DON’T YOU DARE”
Sounds Like: A reckoning with the ghosts of America’s horrific, blood-drenched history and a ritualistic exorcism of demons that hints at a greater source of healing and reconciliation.
Key Lyric: “Mornin’ might never come ‘round these parts/ Sun never gonna come up”
Why It Matters: Though metal’s origins in the blues are undeniable, it’s often difficult to hear the connection via the modern era’s most extreme metallic offshoots. Somehow, Zeal & Ardor mastermind Manuel Gagneux has managed to build a bridge between past and present.
07. A PERFECT CIRCLE – “DISILLUSIONED”
EAT THE ELEPHANT
Sounds Like: An animated dream sequence in an art-house film.
Key Lyric: “Time to put the silicon obsession down/ Take a look around/ Find a way in the silence”
Why It Matters: On their first album of originals in 15 years, A Perfect Circle reinvented themselves, stepping back from their usual alt-metal style and towards a cinematic sound led by guitarist/songwriter Billy Howerdel. “Disillusioned” is a beautiful, poignantly worded reflection on our collective digital addiction.
06. CULT LEADER – “TO ACHLYS”
A PATIENT MAN
Sounds Like: An even darker and more ominous Joy Division.
Key Lyric: “Let this pass from me / Daughter of the dark / Dance with me to the sound of God’s infinite silence”
Why It Matters: Cult Leader’s music ranges from extreme metal to crust punk and hardcore, but on “To Achlys”, the Salt Lake City act slows things down into one of 2018’s most haunting and beautiful tracks, a truly mesmerizing song that takes the listener into the dark world of sorrow.
05. YOB – “BEAUTY IN FALLING LEAVES”
OUR RAW HEART
Sounds Like: An arms akimbo cry from a mountaintop.
Key Lyric: “Been this way throughout time/ Been this way throughout my life/ Your heart brings me home”
Why It Matters: Mike Scheidt knows how fragile life is, having come close to losing his in a battle with an intestinal disease. This latest YOB album, Our Raw Heart, is a full-length reflection of that time with the sharpest expression coming by way of this brutally beautiful song that is as unabashedly romantic and tender as it is heavy.
04. DEAFHEAVEN – “GLINT”
ORDINARY CORRUPT HUMAN LOVE
Sounds Like: A melodic black-metal love ballad in which the author imagines a blissful future with their beloved.
Key Lyric: “I’m shrinking into your gown/ Tearing the pink linen of your belly/ Burying into your abdomen/ And sewing the seam of your skin”
Why It Matters: “Glint” is mostly emblematic of Deafheaven’s past (save for a righteous rock solo), but it’s a knockout on an album that pushed the black-metal experimentalists further into emotive, cinematic territory.
03. DAUGHTERS – “THE REASON THEY HATE ME”
YOU WON’T GET WHAT YOU WANT
Sounds Like: A pissed-off former friend giving you a public dressing-down while a robot has a seizure.
Key Lyric: “Don’t tell me how to do my job/ You gimme-gimme son of a bitch/ They got a name for people like you/ But I don’t give a good god-damn to remember what it is now”
Why It Matters: One of many standouts on the first Daughters release in eight years, “The Reason They Hate Me” is the biggest banger on a noisy, challenging, industrial hardcore album with a singer who channels David Yow and Nick Cave. It’s an excellent blend of groove and whirring, chaotic sonics.
02. GHOST – “DANCE MACABRE”
Sounds Like: A ballad about being with (and/or bewitching) a lover before the end times — a truly macabre way to YOLO.
Key Lyric: “I don’t wanna end like this (cataclysm)/ But there’s sting in the way you kiss me (armageddon)/ Something within your eyes/ Said it could be the last time/ ’Fore it’s over”
Why It Matters: Though Ghost have plenty of melodic, ballad-y tracks in their catalog, “Dance Macabre” is the closest we’ve gotten to a love song (that’s not about Satan). It’s an infectious, upbeat hit that goes full ’80s with a blend of pop and hair metal (and a tiny touch of prog).
01. BEHEMOTH – “BARTZABEL”
I LOVED YOU AT YOUR DARKEST
Sounds Like: An army on horseback staring down their enemies before starting their attack run.
Key Lyric: “Come unto me Bartzabel/ By the laws divine I quell”
Why It Matters: Behemoth offer up a magical bit of black metal, cut through with chanting backing vocals and the kind of shiny atmospherics that feel like airborne intoxicants. This is the kind of music the PMRC warned us about, the dark, seamy stuff where demons get invoked and bad deeds get done.