The Soundboard’s Biggest Surprises Of 2018

Up next in our year end lists, we take a look at some of the albums this year that delivered more than expected, and thus made so much more of a lasting impact – these are the biggest surprises of 2018.

Luke Nuttall (Editor / Writer)

5. Vein – Errorzone
Perhaps not surprising in the traditional sense considering the mark their earliest material had already left of modern hardcore, but few could’ve possibly expected that Vein’s transition from hot-ticket items in the underground to a genuine, boundary-pushing force in heavy music would’ve arrived on their debut album. Clearly the gap left by The Dillinger Escape Plan has been left in capable hands, as Errorzone takes a similar template of seething, angular noise and does it to an extent that’s every bit as vital, cutting-edge and – most crucially – good as whatever their spiritual forefathers could come up with. Coupled with a reputation for some incendiary live performances, and the future already looks bright for Vein, more so than anyone could’ve predicted at this incredibly early stage.

4. Judas Priest – Firepower
To put it into context regarding why Firepower was such a surprise this year, Judas Priest have almost been around for five decades at this point, and with this album, they’ve made what is by far their best album since the early ‘90s. It’s not as if that’s an unassailable feat, neither for Judas Priest themselves nor so many other trad-metal bands burdened by diminishing returns, but the fact that Firepower is such a startlingly and consistently solid album – and one that’s really only gotten better over time, for the record – is a great thing to behold, especially when the band themselves sound the healthiest and most gusto-driven that they have in decades. Again, it’s not exactly the music reinvention that precisely no one expected it to be, but this is a galvanisation of the highest order, and for a band who could’ve easily continued to churn out mediocre entries that would fly on inertia alone, that’s not something to overlook.

3. Trash Boat – Crown Shyness
If there was an award given for most improved band this year, Trash Boat would be right near the top of the list of contenders. What started out as yet another faceless UK pop-punk band to add to the deluge found themselves evolve in such a dramatic way this year on their sophomore album Crown Shyness, doubling down on their heavier and hardcore-influenced moments for some dramatic shifts in quality. A raw, roaring display of a band using everything that they’ve learned up to now to their advantage, Crown Shyness is about as convincing as face turns get, seeing all the hype and praise that had been inexplicably lumped onto Trash Boat in the past finally come to fruition in a big way. It’s not all the time that albums like this come around, but as Crown Shyness has proved, when they do, they’re something to be savoured.

2. Good Charlotte – Generation Rx
Let’s be honest – as much as the excitement of Good Charlotte overshadowed any real critiques by many, Youth Authority was possibly the worst thing they could’ve returned with, a clear attempt at reviving 2000s nostalgia in the most saccharine, unflatteringly juvenile way possible. Fast forward a couple of years to Generation Rx, then, when all of that has been totally paved over, and in its place stands a Good Charlotte that’s more mature and angry than ever before. Sure, it would be a bit too much to ask to see any sort of grit surface with it, but for pop-rock, a clear pivot towards sounds this dark and openly foreboding is very much a rarity, not to mention so much of the emotional rigour surrounding the opioid crisis in a manner that’s by far Good Charlotte’s most honest and thoughtful to date. It’s a left turn that came completely out of the blue, but for a band now with a clear, vested interest in growing with their audience, it’s much appreciated. The fact that it also turned out to be their best album in years is just as good.

1. Zeal & Ardor – Stranger Fruit
This time last year, Zeal & Ardor was little more than a janky Bandcamp project looking to do something a bit different and falling at every hurdle beyond the most basic first steps; now, they’re legitimately one of the most exciting metal bands on the planet. It’s true that Manuel Gagneux had some good ideas back on Devil Is Fine, but when the execution was as poor as it was, it wasn’t hard to believe that, at least in terms of commercially-released music, he’d blown his only chance. Then came Stranger Fruit this year to fully serve out the humble pie, taking the elements of black-metal and chain-gang chants that were once so disparate and combining them into something fierce and oppressively dark. Even if this still isn’t the finished article (which some of the shakier moments of this album would suggest it is), the vast distance that Zeal & Ardor has travelled in such a short time is nothing less than staggering, and the fact that what came from it is one of the most fascinating albums of the year is equally so.

Georgia Jackson (Deputy Editor / Writer)

5. Boston Manor – Welcome To The Neighbourhood
Boston Manor were always in the top tier of the often samey UK pop punk scene, but even on the Be Nothing album cycle, it didn’t feel as though they were quite there yet. But Welcome To The Neighbourhood being a stomping rock album felt unprecedented. There are brilliant choruses that plenty of long-standing bands in Britrock have been dying to write for years, and the album’s concept of the bleakness of the town they live in due to today’s political and social climate gives everything a real edge. They discuss heroin addiction, the hopelessness youth feel and corrupt authority figures and it’s a total package that not only stands out, but has been stuck in our heads all year. This is a band at the start of their journey to be great, and it’s far more than what was expected of them.

4. Twenty One Pilots – Trench
Sold-out tours worldwide, chart hits and generally becoming a household name normally worms its way into a band’s psyche for the rest of their career. Fame and success is often always a thought behind every musical move they make. Twenty One Pilots, who perhaps should’ve been a victim of such an effect, have just taken the opportunity to push their musicianship and conceptual side even further. Trench focuses much more on the complex overarching narrative rather than writing radio choruses to equal the success of Stressed Out or Lane Boy, and it feels like a much more introspective record as a result. The production is very understated on songs like Morph and Neon Gravestones and puts much of the focus on the organic guitars and drums when they’re present, although Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun foray into using different vocal techniques, horns, lush synths. It’s a really admirable and artistically credible move from a band who less was expected of, and it does make future albums a much more exciting concept.

3. WSTR – Identity Crisis
WSTR come from the same world as Boston Manor, and with debut full-length Red, Green or Inbetween, it felt like the zest they’d shown so much of on EP SKRWD had been lost to the boring, samey crop that the UK pop-punk scene has been known for. Follow-up Identity Crisis felt completely out of left field, bounding the quintet up the pop punk hierarchy with bags of personality and genuine fun, something that Red, Green Or Inbetween felt lacking in. The grinning choruses of Crisis and especially Bad To The Bone are brilliant, with Sammy Clifford’s mischievous contributions adding an entirely new level to already great songs. It’s a record that truly sparks hope for the future of WSTR – fingers crossed that this ends their yo-yoing career and is the start of a more consistent path.

2. Mumford & Sons – Delta
Despite acclaim around the start of their career, Mumford & Sons have started to earn a Coldplay-like reputation among many music fans – their lack of bombast (and joy in a lot of cases) has had quite a polarising effect. New album Delta doesn’t exactly prove that opinion wrong, but it houses lots of rousing slow builds that feel truly epic. They’ve not been known as the most charismatic band in the world, but with a sound like this, they don’t need to be. This is a band working together in total harmony and making properly impressive music, and it’s been interesting to see what Mumford & Sons can really do together.

1. The Longshot – Love Is For Losers
The last few years haven’t been good for Green Day. 2016 saw the release of Revolution Radio, the fruits of their evolution to the middle-aged boring rock band that no one ever wanted to see them become. All seemed lost behind below average songs and a rose-tinted view on the past that was completely out of touch – that is, until Billie Joe Armstrong released an album with his side-project The Longshot this year. These are pop punk songs with a real energy to them, not at all dissimilar from what Armstrong was releasing 20 years ago. Chasing A Ghost in particular is bittersweet, as brilliant a song it may be, it shows the potential Green Day have to still be making great pop punk songs. More from The Longshot soon please.

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