2018 has hit its mid-point, and in the first six months of the year, some of rock's biggest acts have added to their impressive catalogs, with both Shinedown ("Devil") and Three Days Grace ("The Mountain") extending their run of rock chart-toppers.
This year has brought the return of A Perfect Circle and Scars on Broadway after long layoffs and seen the emergence of such stellar new bands as Bad Wolves, The Fever 333, Thunderpussy, Ledger and Vexes. Plus, Alter Bridge's principal creative forces -- Myles Kennedy and Mark Tremonti -- released outstanding new music.
Join us as we revisit some of the songs, both well-known and under-the-radar, that deserve to be celebrated as 2018's Best Rock Songs ... So Far, and revisit this post as we'll update the list throughout the year.
"Bad Habit"Black Stone Cherry
Black Stone Cherry have found their wheelhouse, following the momentum of their Black to Blues EP with a more blues-rock vibe on their new album Family Tree. The disc's standout single "Bad Habit" has some seriously blistering licks backing Chris Robertson's vocal swagger as he belts about a habit that he just can't quit. The track has an undeniably catchy beat and the mid-song guitar breakdown is not to be missed.
English exports The Struts have been turning heads for a few years now, first hitting American airwaves in 2014 with "Could Have Been Me." While their sophomore set has yet to arrive, the group Dave Grohl called his favorite opening act has a swinging new rock track called "Body Talks" that is setting the path for what's to come. This fuzzed-out, finger-snapping rocker oozes with singer Luke Spiller's charisma and is certain to get audiences dancing along on tour.
Godsmack have been teasing the idea of changing things up for a while, and "Bulletproof," the lead single from their When Legends Rise album, is a bit more radio friendly, but this is still Godsmack. The driving guitars, Sully Erna's distinctive vocal approach, and the anthemic chorus plays to the band's strengths and fits perfectly along their classics.
"Cry Little Sister"Marilyn Manson
Nobody does dark and spooky quite like Marilyn Manson and the singer hits the exact right mood with his cover of the Gerard McMann song "Cry Little Sister." Many fans will remember the original from the 1987 vampire film The Lost Boys, and Manson stays fairly faithful to the original, letting his seductive delivery, raging angst, and a backing choir deliver an eerie vibe. Manson'sright-hand man Tyler Bates infuses the track with more industrial production, which allows this new version to differentiate itself from the original.
"Death on the Lips"Walking Papers
With a little less fanfare than their debut, Walking Papers issued their sophomore set, WP2, earlier this year. This gem of an album has a distinct feel with more descriptive lyrics that paint a picture of some seedier characters. "Death on the Lips" stands out as singer Jeff Angell's raspy vocal helps describe a femme fatale he calls "a pair of jumper cables on a heart that wouldn't start." "Death on the Lips" definitely feels like a night of bad decisions well worth the risk.
Shinedown want your attention with their ATTENTION! ATTENTION! album and they get it with the driving new rocker "Devil." Forceful Barry Kerch drums and wailing Zach Myers guitars command your ears while singer Brent Smith is as at his most in-your-face as he's arguably ever been on a vocal. "It's about to get heavy," belts the singer, and he means it. Turn it up and rip off the knob as Shinedown's "Devil" is rising.
"Dictator"Scars on Broadway
Daron Malakian's other band, Scars on Broadway, have been reactivated for 2018, as it appears that System of a Down isn't moving forward anytime soon with new music. After initially dropping the song "Lives," Malakian hit a home run with the follow-up title track for his Dictator album. The aggressive 1-2 punch of guitars and drums pull the listener in from the opening notes. "Your politics / your politics / your politics will never corrupt me," Malakian defiantly sings, while making his own political statement exerting his own control on his life.
One of hard rock's more consistently solid bands, Sevendust got things off on the right foot for their All I See Is War album with the single "Dirty." A muted introductory build gives way to a furiously, chaotic open. Alternating between melodically heavy verses and a chugging chorus showcasing Lajon Witherspoon's powerful range, "Dirty" picks apart the angst of a dying relationship and the disillusionment over how things got where they are.
"Disillusioned"A Perfect Circle
What better way to start the new year than with new music from A Perfect Circle? "Disillusioned" arrived on Jan. 1, giving listeners a darkly moody yet atmospheric new track to digest. “We have been overrun by our animal desire / Hiding something immediate / Keep us obedient and unaware / Feeding this mutation and Pavlovian despair / We’ve become … disillusioned," sings Maynard James Keenan with a restrained melodic rasp. The song pulls back the instrumentation to solely a piano at one point, letting Keenan's wounded vocal come to the forefront. While a somewhat somber narrative on our social media and technological obsession, the track does end on a more favorable note.
"Fascination"Red Sun Rising
While "Deathwish" has climbed the charts in recent months, we favor the haunting guitar tones of Red Sun Rising's Thread album standout "Fascination." The album opener trudges along with a shimmery veneer, building toward a more '90s guitar-centric alt-rock vibe as Mike Protich sings, "You find what drives you and mesmerized you / Leaving us to discover love through / The fascination isn't / The fascination isn’t / The fascination unless / Do you miss us at all?" This spooky little gem leaves its mark as something fresh in an often too similar world of rock radio.
Clutch's Neil Fallon knows how to tell a story through music, and what a story we get in the band's new song "Gimme the Keys." The singer digs into his own group's history to share a tale of a particularly disastrous performance from early in their career. The guitar-drum interplay sets the perfect backdrop for this track as Fallon sings about "getting the hell out of Dodge" after an altercation with drunk security guards.
"Just Say When"Nothing More
Nothing More's "Go to War" was one of the most in-your-face anthems of 2017, but as the calendar turned to 2018, we got a different side of the band. The tender "Just Say When" is a reflective and somewhat heart-wrenching song about a failed relationship as told through the experience of singer Jonny Hawkins, who gives the track a raw kind of heartache. This song is just another reason why Nothing More's star continues to rise.
"The Mountain"Three Days Grace
The transition is complete. Three Days Grace have kept the momentum going with Matt Walst as their vocalist and continue to crank out chart-topping gems. At press time, their motivational anthem "The Mountain" had not only been a No. 1 hit at Active Rock radio but had received the second most spins of any song in 2018. With its pulsing low end and driving guitar parts, it's hard not to get pumped up when hearing this song. Mission accomplished.
Skillet drummer Jen Ledger stepped out from behind the kit to offer her first solo EP earlier this year, and her years of tutelage under the husband-wife team of John and Korey Cooper has paid off. Ledger has been building toward releasing her own music for several years, and the lead single "Not Dead Yet" from her EP is a strong opening statement. Ledger can belt with the best of them, and this defiant track, borne out of her battle with panic attacks, shows an ability to find power in her own vulnerability.
"Over It"Bullet for My Valentine
Bullet for My Valentine's lineup has changed a bit in recent years, but they're every bit as powerful as they ever were. The band comes out of the gate swinging with "Over It," the lead single from their Gravity album. Throttling low end gives way to more melodic verses as Matt Tuck expresses the angst of trying to help a loved one only to be met with resistance and coming to the conclusion that it may no longer be a battle worth fighting. The "breathe in / breathe out" build midway into the song leads to a bit of vocal catharsis for the singer, who can finally unleash how "over it" he is.
Featuring former members of A Life Once Lost, Vessl, Fury of Five and Downstage, Vexes appeared on the scene in early 2018 with their Ancient Geometry album. Comparisons to Deftones followed not long after, with the band finding their strength in a similar quiet-loud atmospheric vibe. Among the stellar tracks on this impressive debut is "Plasticine," a song that ebbs and flows over distortion-filled heaviness. This hypnotically crushing track will hopefully serve as a gateway into an album that deserves attention.
"Red Cold River"Breaking Benjamin
Breaking Benjamin continue to thrive in their second act, albeit with darker themes playing out over their Ember album. The Ben Burnley-led outfit explores the anguish over a life that's left him numb on "Red Cold River." The singer screams through the song's chorus, while later repeating with angst on full display, "Try to find a reason to live." It's a dark song for certain, but one that's had an impact on listeners.
"Roll Me Under"Stone Temple Pilots
Stone Temple Pilots got fans buzzing in late 2017 with their first single "Meadow" featuring new singer Jeff Gutt. "Roll Me Under," the second single from their self-titled album, is every bit as solid as "Meadow," while amping up the rock energy. The band relies on heavier, muscular guitar parts and prominent drums, while Gutt proves himself a viable successor to the STP vocalist spot giving the track plenty of grit.
"So Far Under"Alice in Chains
Welcome back Alice in Chains! After a five-year break between albums, the band came firing back with the doomy, chugging rocker "So Far Under," a track inspired not only by personal experience but anguish over the world climate as a whole, according to co-vocalist William DuVall. "It’s not as resigned to defeat as it may seem. The lyric is a cold, hard assessment of a difficult situation but the music has a message all its own. There’s still room to flip the script," says the singer.
"Take You With Me"Tremonti
Since branching off with his own self-titled band, Mark Tremonti has primarily focused on a heavier vibe than what he provides in his other projects, but with "Take You With Me," the singer-guitarist has one of his most radio-ready songs to date. The song is still a high-energy rocker that will keep you tapping along with Garrett Whitlock's drumbeat and rocking out to Tremonti and Eric Friedman's guitar work, but it's a bit more melodic, uplifting and anthemic than much of their work.
Thunderpussy, aggression be thy name. This female outfit are certain to get pulses racing with the self-titled track from their self-titled debut album. Aggressive guitars, feverish drumming and a defiant "Rawr" highlight this track, which has become a highlight of their live sets. As the ladies told us when we premiered the song this spring, "The lyrics are playful and tongue-in-cheek, with slashing guitars and crunching bass, building to a dramatic crescendo. You can hear an actual smashing explosion at the climax -- that's a television meeting pavement at high velocity. ‘Coming for ya ... On the prowl ... .RAWR! Thunderpussy!!!”
Is there anybody with a better scream that Dead Sara's Emily Armstrong? She makes good use of it early to accentuate the building fuzzed-out guitar intro pulling fans into their new song "Unamerican." While there have been many rockers taking their shots at our current administration, Armstrong unapologetically voices her frustrations in raspy glory. "You could have my innocence / That I lost when I was six / I'm not your model citizen / No, I'm not your daughter / And I'm not your bitch / I guess I'm unamerican," defiantly belts the singer, who also lets fly with plenty of F-bombs in this fist-to-the-sky anthem. The track is also bolstered by Siouxsie Medley's guitar work and some attitude-filled drumming behind the kit by Sean Friday.
Halestorm are back for 2018 and burning up the airwaves with the high energy rocker "Uncomfortable." The unapologetic lead single finds vocalist Lzzy Hale rapidly riffing on her desire to break down every preconceived notion without worry. The empowering rocker is certain to embolden listeners to take control of whatever situation they too may be facing. It's an inspirational start for Halestorm's new album and one that rocks in the process.
"Walking in My Shoes"The Fever 333
One of the most buzzed about new bands of 2018 is The Fever 333, with former letlive. vocalist Jason Aalon Butler carrying over his thoughtful lyrical approach and stage presence to a new project. The band introduced their Made an America album with the single "Walking in My Shoes," a song that allows Butler to stretch out vocally, screaming his way through verses about a money-centric society over a minimal backing, then letting the force of his band jump in for the chorus while he defiantly sings, "I can't take, can't take anymore of this / You've got to slow your roll / Till you walk, till you're walking in my shoes." It's an impressive opening statement that helps set the tone for the rest of their disc.
"When the Seasons Change"Five Finger Death Punch
Five Finger Death Punch are primarily known for their rock anthems, but with the And Justice for None album, the group has made space for some bluesier exploration. As such, "When the Seasons Change" stands out on the disc, giving singer Ivan Moody a more introspective vocal showcase. "When it rains it pours / And everybody stumbles," offers Moody at one point, continuing the musical thought with the hopeful, "I won't let them bring you down." This uplifting track pushes their boundaries a bit further and ranks among their best songs.
"Year of the Tiger"Myles Kennedy
Myles Kennedy made a big artistic statement with his Year of the Tiger album, not only basing it on his relationship with his father who passed away during his youth, but utilizing a mix of instrumentation that varies significantly from what he's used in his other projects. On the album's title track, Kennedy's voice is as strong as ever, but it's accentuated by stripped back guitar, mandolin and lap steel giving it a unique feel. Kennedy tells the story from his mother's perspective, speaking of her determination to protect her family and finding the strength to move on after her husband's death.
Bad Wolves had planned to record a new version of The Cranberries' "Zombie" with Dolores O'Riordan reprising her vocals on the track, but she sadly died right before she was set to join them in the studio. The sudden tragedy altered the band's plans, with the group instead deciding to release their version minus her vocals in honor of O'Riordan. The standout rendition of the song became a monster hit with crossover success as well, giving the band a huge boost heading into the release of their debut disc. Opening with a more somber piano intro, singer Tommy Vext and the band captured the feeling and spirit of the original version.