Top Albums ov 2018 w/ Hans, Rolderathis, and Ben Serna-Grey!
Listmania begins! The first three of our writers off the rank are Hans, Rolderathis, and Ben Serna-Grey.
10. Weltschmerz – Illustra Nos
Bit of a last minute entry, and one I would have overlooked if not for our dear Owlboy. Chaotic but cohesive, clad in icy cold production, and with just a dash of weirdness to make it stick out. I think I’d like it if they added more stuff like the occasional horns and the vocals on “Reverence”, but overall, I already find their sound and songwriting very satisfying. We’ll see if this turns out to have much staying power, but it charmed me enough from the get-go to be worth the inclusion.
9. Black Wizard – Livin’ Oblivion
Listenable Records | Review
I haven’t heard a whole lot of notable classic doom and heavy metal this year, which may very well be due to Black Wizard setting the bar ridiculously high early in the year. Not only is the songwriting cool, but the vocals are an incredible treat to listen to, and the band bring in enough variation in terms of genre and mood to keep everything exciting. As noted, the album slacks off a little towards the end, yet I’ve never regretted putting it on for another go.
Everything I’ve said in the review still stands, and while the album hasn’t gotten as many subsequent spins as I’d expected, it’s remained head and shoulders above all other black metal I’ve heard this year. Yeah, Spetral Wound was pretty cool, but ultimately didn’t wow me. Voragine of Autumn was beautiful, but requires too specific a mood to enjoy. This, however, covers a broad enough spectrum of emotion to make it a safe bet anytime.
7. Exxxekutioner – Death Sentence
Ulthar Records | Review
“Make Black Thrash fun again” were the words I put in Hellripper‘s mouth last year, and Exxxekutioner seem to have had much the same idea. While not the only album in this genre that positively surprised me this year, it’s easily the one I came back to the most. The riffs and the speed they’re exxxecuted with are plain fantastic and have done their part in countering the aformentioned lack of classic heavy metal this year.
6. Maggot Heart – Dusk To Dusk
Teratology | Review
Knew this’d be on the list way before it even came out; the only surprise is that it doesn’t rank higher. It’s much more of a grower than I expected it to be, which seems strange given that, as Richter pointed out, more weight has been put on catchiness and singalongitude. Maybe that’s not exactly what I wanted from this band. Or maybe the EP was a grower as well and I just forgot that. In any case, once the growing gets going, it gets going good, and I’ve been enjoying this more and more on every spin.
My giddiness has worn off a bit, but even without rose-tinted glasses, this thing still stands as a monumental return to form from a band that seemed poised on the verge of total mediocrity. It’s all I wanted to hear and more, with the tried-and-true Crown formula of catchy-yet-reckless death thrash enriched with new ideas, and it still never failed to put a grin on my face and inspire ridiculous poses.
4. Beaten To Death – Agronomicon
Thanks to some kinda Bandcamp goof, the album was available in full for a brief moment – enough time to get in one full spin and confirm that these guys are back on their shit. The trademark “melodic grind” sound with the low-gain guitars and inhuman growls and shrieks has not been meddled with, yet the album doesn’t feel like “more of the same”. After Unplugged, I felt like the novelty was wearing off and wondered where they might be headed. Agronomicon shows that it’s still possible for them to find new, beautiful avenues within the confines of their style and kick plenty of butt while doing so.
3. Decomposer – Hard 2 Kill
Independent | Mini Review
I’m pretty unhappy with that mini review, but now, given the chance to rectify it, I still find myself unable to succinctly say why this album is so fucking great. It’s fast and fun – much like Mentor – but it also feels kind of sad and surprisingly personal in places, which is something I haven’t really heard in any subgenre of thrash. Or maybe I’m talking out of my arse again. I’m just gonna say “it’s good,” imply that you’re dumb if you disagree, and leave it at that.
2. Great Falls – A Sense of Rest
Corpse Flower Records
I’ve said before (probably in the review that I haven’t written at the time of this writing) how Sulaco and Baring Teeth satisfied some of my weird need for dissonant, angular, thoroughly unpleasant music of the kind I’d only ever heard from Great Falls before. Just when I thought I had to contend with that (not that that would’ve been awful), the masters themselves come to the rescue and deliver an experience that sounds equally tortured and torturing, proving they’re still the best at this kind of almost-not-music.
1. Viscera/// – City of Dope and Violence
Third I Rex/Toten Schwan Records
Another one that had pretty much secured a spot on the list long before it came out. Only “pretty much” because while I wasn’t really worried, anything seemed possible given the experimental nature of the band. What they gave us could be described as a mixture of the atmospheres of the first two full-lengths delivered by way of the experience and production quality of the third one; a beautiful synthesis of all that came before, and which makes it clear that the band is still moving forwards and not short of ideas.
Conjurer – Mire
Holy Roar Records
If somebody told me a year ago that a bizarre concoction of metalcore and death/doom would find its way onto my list, I would’ve said “Hi, yes, and I’m sure Åkerfeldt will be growling again any minute now.” Mire is one of the most dynamic debuts in recent memory, with breakdowns that vibrate in the chest cavity alongside moments of vulnerable introspection that are no less impactful. These transitions are always in service to the songs; together with the shifting vocal styles (including some truly harrowing shrieks), the album touches on a spectrum of emotions during its runtime, leaving listeners exhausted but ultimately satisfied.
Pelts – They Say
One of these things is not like the others—on the surface at least. Pelts‘s nuanced electro-punk skewers the ills of modern society with a ferocity most thrash bands can only dream of. Jim Swill’s vocals flesh out the compositions, drawing influence from acts as diverse as Fine Young Cannibals (please somebody remove these falsetto hooks from my brain) and Mindless Self Indulgence. There’s a little slice of hell on display here for just about any audience; from four-on-the-floor bangers to glitched-out beats, a distorted edge and penchant for dissonance allows They Say to transcend the boundaries of genre.
Ellorsith – Orbhàis
Dark Descent Records
Orbhais is a bit like a black cat—whether or not I’m superstitious, whenever it crosses my path, the thought surfaces that something terrible might lie around the corner. There’s an eerie ambience woven into the band’s blackened death metal, a pervasive feeling that the slinking riffs cover the sound of footsteps approaching. Even the groovy, melodic portions of the record are steeped in dread, thanks to a vocalist that does his best to emulate the grinding of wet gravel with his larnyx. Take it from the Mr. Skeltal cosplayer doot-dooting on the album artwork: spoopy tunes ahead.
Howling Sycamore – S/T
Howling Sycamore are a good example of that rare beast, the supergroup greater than the sum of its egos. Their debut blends the fatalistic poetry of Nevermore with progressive black metal in a journey through surreal soundscapes. Jason McMaster plays the conductor with his unique voice; soulful crooning gives way to throat-shredding screams in an instant, captivating listeners with his unpredictable performance. Hannes Grossmann’s drumming is the rotten cherry on top, binding the disparate threads of the album into a cohesive whole. Let’s be honest, the guy puts on a clinic every time he whacks something with a stick.
Serpents Lair – Perpetual Hunger
Amor Fati Productions
Serpents Lair didn’t get the memo about black metal being grim and frostbitten; this EP plays out as more of a scouring desert wind with bone-dry guitars and melodies that shimmer like distant mirages. While they were never writing riff salad, Perpetual Hunger distills their best qualities into blackened death epics that range from deep grooves (and I mean deep, the cymbalwork alone is worth hearing, and is highly danceable at times) to skronk riffs that stick in the mind like sand in a place you don’t like to have sand.
Ascension – Under Ether
W.T.C. Productions / Blut & Eisen Prod.
Ascension do the whole “eldritch” thing better than most of their black metal peers, with nary a crackling flame or wind soundbite within earshot; the atmosphere comes from the smoky, reverb-soaked production and sinister melodies that drape the album. The stylistic split between black and death metal is nearly 50/50, which works in the album’s favor—right when I’m blastbeated out, a violent headbanging riff arrives to rejuvenate my attention span.
Grayceon – IV
Translation Loss Records | Review
The cello is one of my favorite instruments, and it warms my icy heart to hear one played so beautifully in the context of thrash and doom metal. There’s nothing ornamental about Jackie Perez-Gratz’s playing—the strings are an integral part of the riffs, whether filling in for a bassist or shredding in tandem with the guitars. IV is a refreshingly honest record, with little in the way of posturing or pretense; this talented trio write songs about life, and aren’t afraid to mix in some joy along with all of the hardships that metal tends to focus on.
Lautreamont – Silence of the Deceased
This album is essentially “1984: The Musical;” slabs of cold, industrial riffing evoke towering Brutalist structures, swallowing all who enter. The melodic flourishes from the guitars and synths serve only to heighten the sense of loss as we’re led into the bowels of the Ministry of Love. Room 101 contains something different for everyone, as the band’s influences are as numerous as human fears: groove metal rhythms, post-metal crescendos and the rusted synths of aggrotech walk the lonely corridors. One thing is certain as we’re strapped down and the headphones lock over our ears. We love Lautreamont.
Truent – To End an Ancient Way of Life
What if Gojira, but still heavy and fun in the year 2K18? Truent answer this question with heaps of syncopated rhythms and about a thousand more ideas than your typical groove metal band. Classic rock solos? You bet. The trappings of tech death? Check. Audible bass? Well, that shouldn’t really be something to brag about (WE HAVE THE TECHNOLOGY), but they incorporate the instrument in more than just a supporting role, adding depth to their eclectic sound.
Dewfall – Hermeticus
Naturmacht Productions | Review
Do the words “medieval” and “Anicon” cause your sword to rise? If you answered “Yes” to this question, immediately seek help in the arms of Dewfall. While they’re first and foremost a melodic black metal band, they incorporate sounds from a slew of genres; you’re just as likely to hear the swagger of the NWoBHM movement as the dissonance of French black metal in any given song. The memorable riff/song ratio is flat out embarrassing for their contemporaries; when I’m struggling to give a damn halfway through a monochromatic hour-long “ritual” by some other band, my thoughts inevitably drift back to the constant thrills of Hermeticus.
I’m not especially great at ranking things. Even just naming a single favorite whatever can be an excruciating task for me, so I try not to make a habit of forcing myself to list things from best to worst and varying shades in between. So, very loosely ranked and without too much fussing around, here are my top 10 metal (and metal adjacent) records of 2018:
10. Master’s Hammer – Fascinator
My Toilet debut roughly a year ago was a write-up of Master’s Hammer’s real strange experimental electronic record Slagry. The band was still somewhat obscure to me at the time but I did delve into them a bit further with a look at their magnum opus Jilemnicky Ocultista, a black metal operetta that showed more than enough shades of off the wall that Slagry really shouldn’t have surprised and alienated as many fans as it did. Well these senior citizen weirdos are back at it and I ordered a shirt, a patch, and several records, including their newest release Fascinator, which is a mix of Europop, classical, dungeon synth, and black metal, with a heaping handful of theramin solos. It’s fun, it’s wacky, it’s not a black metal record that has me worried they’re a band full of people who would gladly string my entire family up as race traitors.
9. Urze de Lume – As Árvores Estão Secas e Não Têm Folhas
Equilibrium Music | Review
A promo dropped in my inbox one day, for a record by Portuguese dark folk band Urze de Lume with a title that translates to “the trees have grown bare and dry.” It’s a bittersweet record about the metaphorical autumn of one’s life, dripping with nostalgia and melancholy and made all the stronger by the virtuoso skill of the band on their chosen instruments. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been a sad boi, but this record is near flawless in its execution and powerfully conveys its moods, textures, and message. I remember back when I was still going to university I had an English lit professor who talked for a bit about how as you (and characters) grow older the motifs and ideas of nostalgia begin to pop up more often and with more weight to them. This is definitely the musical equivalent of that idea.
8. Tengil – shouldhavebeens
Prophecy Productions | Review
An innovative post-black/heavy pop/shoegaze record by up-and-coming young Swedes, shouldhavebeens grabbed me pretty damn hard. The opposite of Urze de Lume’s record, Tengil penned an album that has the nostalgia and unsteadiness of youth as one of its main themes. Ethereal, poppy synths provide the bulk of the weight on this record, with lightly distorted guitars, frantic drumming, and great emotion-laden vocals layered on top. “It’s All For Springtime” still gets me.
7. Isenordal – Spectral Embrace
Eternal Warfare Records | Review
Fellow Cascadians Isenordal put out their first full-length acoustic debut. The band has two sides–blackened funeral doom and dark folk–and this was my introduction to their work. Expertly crafted and packed with longing and nature worship, the album was fantastic enough for me to scrape up some cash and catch them on the Portland date of the tour they were on at the time. I even awkwardly introduced myself as a guy who wrote a review of their record for Toilet Ov Hell, to much confusion!
6. Immortal – Northern Chaos Gods
Nuclear Blast Records | Review
You knew I was gonna do it. Immortal are BACK, BABY! Beyond just Immortal, Demonaz is back contributing not just vocals and composition, but playing guitar again after surgery for his tendinitis. Nothern Chaos Gods has a lot of throwback to older Immortal material because of this, but with the benefit of some polish and Nuclear Blast budget. There’s a lot to love here and after waiting for a thousand years for some new Immortal, I’m more than happy with what we’ve gotten, especially in the wake of band-related drama with Abbath.
5. Flood Peak – Plagued by Sufferers
Independent Release | Review
Flood Peak, a trio from my own neck of the woods, Portland, released the bleak and gritty post metal album that scratched an itch I was too tense to realize I had. Things haven’t been super great here. It’s not like I’m scared to go out, especially since I live a few minutes north and over a bridge in Vancouver, WA. There have been frequent visits and marches from Patriot Prayer, and everyone’s favorite Nazi LARPers the Proud Boys, in Portland. There are frequently counterprotests and opposing marches, and almost always there is violence. Often once done in Portland, these groups will come up that bridge and march in Vancouver but almost always in areas where there aren’t that many people (the new waterfront? really?) and it all gets repeated every week or two. The Flood Peak promo came when I was feeling particularly low and frustrated about, well, everything. Fortunately, it’s still stuck with me.
4. Morrow – The Weight of These Feathers
Independent Release | Review
A fresh and interesting mix of influences, again from a young group of Cascadians. There’s some black and post-black metal, modern academic/classical music, some slight jazz, some folk, and strong emotion and compositional skill to tie it all together. It seems the lads have been getting a lot of good press and they more than deserve it.
3. Soul Grip – Not Ever
Consouling Sounds | Review
Soul Grip crashed in and held my attention till the end. Frantic, desperate, roaring. Like I said in my review, Not Ever is a powerful exploration of the frantic side of hopelessness, the side that eats at you and stirs you up. Similar to Flood Peak, Soul Grip is scratching a very strong itch for me.
2. Sigh – Heir to Despair
Candlelight Records | Review
Sigh has historically been a band that I had a real hard time getting into. They gave me the impression of being lead by someone who knows how to play a ton of instruments and wants to showcase that, but didn’t quite have the composition and orchestration skill to successfully pull it off all the way. With Heir to Despair I decided to give the band another chance, and I’m glad that I did. The album is a pretty radical departure from what I’ve heard of their earlier work, but it’s a record in heavy rotation for me, so take that however you will. The old-school psychedelic and prog influences, the paired down instrumentation, everything is working in their favor with this album and it’s off the wall without being needlessly dense and muddy.
1. Dir En Grey – The Insulated World
Firewall Div. | Review
Kyo seems to be in a pretty bad place, but The Insulated World is both a continuation of the experimental path Diru has been on for years now, and a look back to their old visual kei days. For quite a while the band has been releasing staple after staple of alternative/progressive metal and this album is no exception. I just hope Kyo is doing okay.
Be on the look out for more AoTY lists coming your way soon.