In an era where technical complexity seems to be heralded as the defining feature in determining what makes an album great, the refreshing breath that hard rock provides is obscured by fanatics who strive to classify albums by whose musicians can challenge the boundaries of human performance in their songwriting. While such rankings certainly have their place at the end of 2019, this list instead turns to the realm of hard and melodic rock. It would be unfair to pit the likes of The Tea Club’s explorative melodies or the orchestral magnificence of Blind Guardian Twilight Orchestra against the steady, vibrant electric guitars of a much more classic rock scene.
The following list brings attention to the visions of rockers, undoubtedly rooted in the legendary pioneers of the genre, but also those that have been bold enough to reimagine what rock should look like in the modern era of polished production and nearly infinite competition. Balancing tribute to the greats that formed rock as we have come to recognize it alongside the increasing demands of a saturated music scene may have taken its toll, but the following artists have shown that they can take the challenge with grace and create something stunning. Some artists have elected to follow a more melodic route, hopefulness and light weaving seamlessly with steady hands on electric guitars, while others have crafted their biting style on a traditionally inspired raw grit and howling falsettos.
Taking a considerable share of the market in a sometimes overlooked genre is the indomitable Frontiers Music SLR, whose bands consistently bring not just tribute to the tenets of hard rock in vibrant guitars and raspy vocalists, but also bright new talent. Twelve of the following fifteen albums have their home at this record label. Smaller labels and independent releases have also been strong contenders this year, where artists have had the opportunity to not just pay homage to the musicians that inspired their journeys, but to create something new for present and future generators to enjoy in equal measure.
As always with music, taste is highly subjective, and the following list is no exception. While it may have been impossible to listen to every album that was released in 2019, the following list reflects the final results of a lengthy deliberation of the many stunning albums that came across our many contributors’ desks. We can only hope that you enjoy reading the list as much as we enjoyed listening to these albums!
15.- Crashdïet – Rust (Frontiers Music SLR)
Few bands in the sleaze rock scene seem to have suffered as greatly as Crashdïet, yet few have also had such successful staying power. After 19 years, only five studio albums, and four changes in vocalists, there was uncertainty alongside anticipation when it came to this latest offering from yet another new lineup. Stunning listeners with a charismatic new vocalist and melody-driven song composition, Crashdïet seems to be inspired in equal parts by sleaze and glam. With the exciting bite that only an 80’s hair band could achieve, “Rust” is a treat in the band’s cohesion, a soulful ballad, and unforgettable octane-fueled tracks that set their work ablaze.
14.- KXM – Circle of Dolls (Rat Pak Records)
A super-group with members from the ranks of King’s X, Lynch Mob, and Korn, KXM offers their third album as a piece that is both dark in theme and diverse in songwriting. Driven primarily by the number of quality riffs that fill this album from start to finish, the final polish that propels this album to highly memorable quality is the crisp lyrics delivered by vocalist Doug Pinnick. Occasionally stilted pacing allows each musician to shine on their respective instrument, and is a clear culmination of the wisdom that they have each amassed in their own respective acts. Instruments may set the mood, but an unmistakably steady voice allows “Circle of Dolls” to transcend from the merely memorable into one of the year’s unforgettables.
13.- Inglorious – Ride to Nowhere (Frontiers Music SLR)
As far as modern takes on classic and hard rock are concerned, this is about as original as one can still be, thus earning it a spot on the coveted end-of-year list. Such a unique approach comes from borrowing heavily from the genre’s more foundational artists while taking full advantage of the arsenal of production capabilities at every modern artist’s fingertips. Inglorious may well be the fusion food truck of the future, serving a dish that is all the best elements of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Whitesnake the best of the 90s Seattle scene, and some very appetizing modern flavor as well. The ingredients are both fresh and delicious: this is an album that you should get it while it’s hot. Check out our detailed thoughts about this album here.
12.- Crazy Lixx – Forever Wild (Frontiers Music SLR)
Another sleaze rock album, the unmistakable polish of commercial-driven glam made this emotional, anthemic album all the more memorable from the first listen into the many subsequent listens. Tantalizing hooks make each song an irresistible gem from each opening note, but the soul of the album is carried by a steady and ever-fluid transition from what could be seen as merely party-rock to a much more serious, thoughtfully constructed composition. “Forever Wild” makes clear that Crazy Lixx still holds the 80s close to their hearts, but are unafraid of the bombastic production capabilities of the twenty-first century. With both soul and spice at the helm of a wild ride, Crazy Lixx has held their hard-earned spot at the top of many fan’s sleaze rock titans.
11.- Hardline – Life (Frontiers Music SLR)
Solo after solo from guitarist Mario Percudani craft the untouchable heavens of Hardline’s melodic rock masterpiece “Life,” a lofty ceiling that sends the album spiraling upwards and almost out of a casual listener’s reach. Capturing their gentle spirit in the flitting keyboards but maintaining their bite in an endless rhythm of percussion, the album’s overall cohesion makes it a clear, comprehensive work of sonic grace. The album’s true strength shines in its ability to mix instruments and vocals in different strengths to highlight their talents appropriately, giving an unbroken vision of a band brimming with mastery over their execution. Hardline has emerged to tell a story, one that falls short of mystery, but delves instead into a soothing temptation, a warm embrace that becomes increasingly irresistible.
10.- Pretty Maids – Undress Your Madness (Frontiers Music SLR)
A model of consistency, Pretty Maids is the best bang for your buck if hard rock is your game, and is always a guarantee to punch hard and heavy. The band is going on 40 years of pumping out catchy tunes, fetching hooks, and sing-along choruses that could rouse even the most unwilling curmudgeon. “Undress Your Madness” is yet another stellar record in the long line of solid releases, and has rightfully maintained the status that Pretty Maids has built through decades of refining their craft. Though this is almost indistinguishable from the last three records, it still represents the very core of the hard rock heap, which says a lot with the many quality acts in this subgenre. While “Undress Your Madness” may not shine through as a frontrunner in originality, it brings listeners back to what has made hard-rock so well beloved and unquestionably timeless. Make sure to read in detail about “Undress Your Madness” at this location.
9.- Michael Sweet – Ten (Frontiers Music SLR)
When away from his duties with longstanding Christian heavy metal flagship known as Stryper, Sweet takes time to inject some metallic fury into his solo work with a few auspicious collaborators in tow. Filling out the wings of a high-octane and exciting release is talent such as Gus G of Firewind, Joel Hoekstra of Whitesnake, and Todd La Torre of Queensrÿche among other recognizable act in rock and metal alike. Though the album often pushes towards the heavier side of rock, those softer rocking moments are handled with a degree of finesse that contracts massively with the easy-listening fare of the mid-90s. This complexity does not propel “Ten” out of a more inexperienced listener’s reach, but instead allows it to linger in a narrow sweet spot of both sonic pleasure and intrigue for the unexpected. The obvious mastery of musicianship and the wisdom from Sweet’s prolific career have made this album one that has attracted attention far and wide. Check out our review of “Ten” here.
8.- The End Machine – The End Machine (Frontiers Music SLR)
Quite simply, this is an album that uses rock to make itself into a reliable and succinct listening experience, one that is not just enjoyable, but thoughtful. There aren’t a lot of people making music like this nowadays, and most that are aren’t doing it nearly half as well as these guys have managed to in their self-titled release. Amazing vocals and guitar work are the stars of the show here, with tight rhythm section work, and even some bass soloing from mastermind Jeff Pilson. The songs are all solid and memorable, and the musicianship is top-notch throughout. Without any room for error, and no visible technical flaws in well-crafted musicianship, The End Machine have a strong claim to not just their sharp style, but a noteworthy place in the genre’s end of year recollection. Read a detailed analysis of this album at this location.
7.- Rival Sons – Feral Roots (Low Country Sound/Atlantic)
Of all the rock bands to deliver consistency in quality, Rival Sons should be heralded above almost all others for their continued contributions to the world of blues rock. While “Feral Roots” demands a bit more intrigue than their prior works, which tend to be much more straightforward and pointed, such pondering allows keening vocals to rise above the din of pounding drums. This novel distinction plays a pivotal role crafting an air that holds both mystery and excitement for old and new listeners alike. Catchy choruses hold high the torch of more classic rock flavors, but Rival Sons seem beyond comfortable in their own skin in an album that proves itself to be just as complex as it is tantalizing.
6.- Work of Art – Exhibits (Frontiers Music SLR)
The melodic classic rock band known as Work of Art continues to refine their craft with each new release, all following in a naming scheme for art galleries. Their debut album was solid, and each since has been even more precise in the execution of its vision. “Exhibits” is no exception to this trend, breaking out on graceful and melodic wings. From beginning to end, it is simply irresistible; the album is an eleven-track return to the glory days of Toto and Journey, with a smattering of modern polish and contemporary compositional sensibility. The members met in music school, so one can only hope that their songwriting professor gave them an “A.” We at Sonic Perspectives certainly do. Our review can be read here.
5.- Restless Spirits – Restless Spirits (Frontiers Music SLR)
Do the Restless Spirits conjured by Tony Hernando redefine music as we know it with their self-titled release? Perhaps not. Nonetheless, this album is undoubtedly tremendously satisfying to the listener, scratching all the right itches as it weaves its anthems with seemingly effortless execution from all musicians. Arena rockers, high energy, low energy, ballads, tons of great singers and killer melodies. Did we mention Deen Castronovo? This may be the most interesting contemporary super-group without Mike Portnoy anywhere in the liner notes. Definitely worth your time and hard-earned money if you have a hankering for what boils down to some serious comfort food. Learn more about this fantastic record here.
4.- Last In Line – II (Frontiers Music SLR)
Last In Line is a band that seems like fiction: almost too good to be true. And yet, here they are. The songwriting is tight and catchy, and the songs themselves are well-produced. The vocals are fantastic and quite possibly the highlight of the album in a band full of musicians from some of the most renowned bands that have ever existed. And of course, those legendary and worldly musicians are worth the price of admission as well. There’s not a bad song from front to back, with instantly singable choruses with classic huge textured harmonized vocals, solic and catchy riffs and hooks, and enough quiet moments and dynamics to keep it from venturing into the pitfalls of an album of straightforward mid-tempo rockers. If these words don’t convince you enough, your can peruse at our review at this location.
3.- Edge of Forever – Native Soul (Frontiers Music SLR)
Edge of Forever covers so much territory with this new album that it generates a widespread appeal to audiences of rock and metal alike. Whether your favourite band is Journey, Winger, Bon Jovi, Firewind, or Ozzy, there are songs here you will want in your music rotation on a permanent basis. It is a heavy album with the melodic sensibilities of the golden age of arena rock, mixed and sun by a bona fide master. From revved up rockers, to unplugged ballads, to an epic closer, the album just delivers great songs one after another, with Alessandro Del Vecchio’s keys serving as points of interest when appropriate, and taking a backseat when it’s right to do so. The drums across the album are tight and creative, and the bass never fails to bring further depth and excitement. Our own take of “Native Soul” is here
2.- Tygers of Pan Tang – Ritual (Mighty Music)
Tygers of Pan Tang are the latest in a string of classic metal acts to put out a brilliant album that is as fierce as it is refreshing. With a tried and true songwriting formula that relies on engaging hooks and fetching melodies, the band has created one of the most enjoyable collections of hard rock to date. Presenting a top notch mix and crystal clear recording, the use of modern technology pays homage to the band’s legacy without succumbing to the thin lifeless sound which has become the fanatic recreation of purists in the latest throwback releases. Bringing the heat with a rocker’s grit and shameless distortion, “Ritual” is tempered with a tracklist that demands attention in both compositional subtleties, arena-enthralling riffs, and a vocal presence that serves as a guiding light through their artistic vision. We analyzed “Ritual” in-depth at this location.
1.- Eclipse – Paradigm (Frontiers Music SLR)
Eclipse delivers a solid body of work yet again: if you already listen to Eclipse, this album is yet another sweet delivery of the sound that you have already come to love. If you are into melodic and borderline-AOR hard rock, this album is so accessible and full of memorable hooks that it’s hard to go wrong in just giving it a fair chance. At this point, Eclipse is one of those bands where everything they do is so good, it is simply a matter of comparing their new album to previous work to determine just how good. This year, it seems that their brilliance has gone unrivaled, allowing them to continue their domination across the genre of hard rock. For yet another year, it appears that Eclipse will once again be the paragon of all that rock should be both now and in an ever-uncertain future. Read more about our favorite melodic hard rock album of the year here.
If you are still here, and you are curious about our picks in some other genres, make sure to check out the lists below!