Top Albums ov 2018 w/ Leif Bearikson, Sepulcrustacean, & Brenocide!
It really is true that the older you get the more you appreciate the slower things in life. Snail races, funeral doom, the unimaginably slow procession towards inevitable nonexistence. For fans of that second one, 2018 delivered an absolute monster of deathly sadness in Rites of Despair, the second full length from Fórn. Get low, get slow, get crushed by the slow march of certain death.
I don’t know what I could say about this album that our resident Lizard hasn’t already said. Just an absolutely stunning display of death metal madness. Riffs for days in a most literal sense.
I’ve been enamored with this band since I first heard their demo on bandcamp back in the wild days of 2013. A Metal Gear reference? In a death metal band? Be still my heart. Five years and a few logos later they dropped their debut LP and it was worth every second of waiting. Twisted, ignorant, skull through a wall death metal. If Morbid Angel were born in a tar pit, they’d be Outer Heaven.
7. Carpe Noctem – Vitrun
Aural Music / Code666 | Podcast
Iceland, my friend, it’s so good to hear from you again. Black metal hadn’t done much for me in 2018 until Carpe Noctem came along and reminded me that it could, in fact, be incredible. The complete and total freakout halfway through Og hofið fylltist af reyk is a personal highlight of the year for me.
6. Svartidauði – Revelations of the Red Sword
Van Records | Podcast
Oh hey again Iceland! A late entry, but an absolute stunner of an album, one that slowly grows stranger and stranger the further in you get. Revelations of the Red Sword does a stellar job mixing aggressive riffs, atmosphere, and ear worm melodies into an unforgettable black metal release.
After a whole summer’s worth of shorter music releases, the bar was set fairly high for Thou’s fifth full length, Magus, and they cleared it with ease. Incorporating every bit of the influences put on display in their summer EPs, Magus is a multiheaded sludge monster filled with surprising moments of catchiness, beauty, and empowerment.
4. Infernal Coil – Within a World Forgotten
Profound Lore Records | Podcast
To be perfectly honest I was far from won over upon first listen of Infernal Coil’s debut. I was a little turned off, even. I kept coming back, though, something within it calling to me time after time, and boy am I glad I stuck with it. Album centerpiece “49 Suns” is a jawdropping barnburner that fades into multi minute acoustic beauty, and a great showcase of what this album brings to the table.
Technically a reissue of a release from last year, but who fucking cares when an album is this incredible? Not I, clearly. From the harsh electronic dirge of the opening of “Woe to All” to the beautiful vocals that overlay the title track (and really, the entire album), All Bitches Die is urgent and necessary. The pain and fury presented is genuine and heartbreaking, but transformed into something truly awe inspiring. If you don’t rage and mourn along to All Bitches Die, you don’t feel anything at all.
Every Horrendous release from now should come with a sticker that reads “CHUCK LIVES” placed front and center. On Idol the Horrendous boys continue to carry forth the progressive death metal spirit of Chuck Schuldiner, but don’t get it twisted: this isn’t Death worship like some other bands. These jams, elevated by new member and dedicated bass player Alex Kulick, and pure Horrendous, and being Horrendous has never been so good.
1. Tomb Mold – Manor of Infinite Forms
20 Buck Spin | Review
If you’ve spoken to me at all in the past 6 months then I’ve probably waxed poetic about this album. The bugged out, bright orange artwork, riffs that leap from bouncy to angular to thrashy and back with ease, Dark Souls…it’s everything that I want from a death metal album and so much more. In the immortal words of myself, “Weird death metal forever.”
Amidst of the feverish orgy of violence that is the death metal revival, Zealotry stand as one of the spearheads of an emergent movement of bands defying pitfalls and genre bloat past and present. Intensely riff-driven yet winding and harmonically vibrant, Boston’s leading avant-prog aliens craft dense webs of ambiguously seated between the consonant and dissonant frequently employing impressive polyphonic and event contrapuntal arrangements. It’s dizzying and disorienting, unburdened by a need to belong to the realms of the oldschool, modern, or even dissonant. With further observation however, the underlying consciousness hidden behind this creature of innumerable twitching limbs orchestrates refined technicality through sensible, narrative structures building on one another to form songs dreadfully clear in their intent. Unmatched, unrepentant, insurmountable, and their third AOTY.
FFO – Having your brain devoured by interdimensional insectoid predators.
Gatekeeper – East of Sun
Cruz Del Sur Music | Mini-Review
After the disappointment of Solstice‘s plodding White Horse Hill (and Atlanean Kodex‘s sophomore for that matter), my faith in the battle-ready tribes of epic heavy metal had started to weaken yet after a six year wait and a change of vocalist, a lone warrior whom I had almost forgotten returned with renewed vengefulness and bloodlust to set the record straight. Possessing the mightiest singing this year manifesting in the form of Jean-Pierre Abboud of Borrowed Time infamy and Geoff Blackwell’s arcane command of ye riffing ways of olde, Gatekeeper’s long awaited debut stands mighty and superior as this year’s finest evocation of melodic metal sorcery. Incredibly muscular songcraft, brilling with mountain-levelling chords, is tempered by the wisdom of ages past, taking listeners on a voyage through realms of classic metal mysticism once thought forsaken from ripping semi speed metal onslaughts and triumphant power metal anthems to even the earliest forms of prog and imperious yet doomed epics. Yet rather than mimicry, these Vancouver barbarians forge a path brilling with a spirit both severe and charismatic, drawing upon multiple generations of swords-and-sorcery legends for a powerful statement of this subgenre’s still fresh possibilities. Accept neither mercy nor substitute on threat of death.
FFO – Treading the jeweled thrones of the Earth, battle-axe in hand.
Mournful Congregation – The Incubus of Karma
20 Buck Spin | Mini-Review
Doom metal simultaneously understands metal the best of its many offspring yet so frequently fails to deliver on its promise. After seven year absence, Australia’s heirs to Thergothon‘s throne remind us exactly why the power of sparse yet weighty riffage still rings true. Where most obscure their mediocrity through excessive fuzz and meandering plod, Mournful Congregation stride forth with utmost clarity thanks to a huge, booming production placing guitars front and foremost with excellent lead tone. This is vital for their eye for lead playing that while simple on paper, create a framework for deeply evocative melodies intricate in their highly ornate arrangements. By doom standards they might as well be classical composers with the sheer amount of depth to each composition yet due to the sparse nature of the instrumentation, the clarity in each song’s direction is near impossible to miss. It is sombre music yet behind the minor key melancholy lies a reverence for the mystical and mythological as evidenced by the song titles and lyrics as much as it is the air of worship and reverence. The perfect album for long, quiet nights that stretch on far longer than they need to be.
FFO – Solemn reflections on the futility of being while crying into a bag of shredded cheese at 4 AM in the morning.
Tomb Mold – Manor of Infinite Forms
20 Buck Spin | Review
Some might say primitivity and artistry are antithetical but they a) spend 60% of their time online at R/Incels and b) would shrivel up and collapse into dust by the time they’re two minutes into this album. Taking a framework of Autopsy style hardcore punk recklessness with oddly 70’s style leads in a doom context and the mysterious murk of classic Finnish death metal, Tomb Mold’s sophomore is as articulate as it is filthy and callously intense. Dense pillars of tremolo picking exists alongside carefully picked riffs and smoothly phrased melodies, smoothly transitioning between denser phrasing and almost delicately executed patterns over stomping percussion leading to brief moments of explosive blasting. While not exactly highbrow, they songs carefully move between a select number of well fleshed out themes, gradually introducing them to quickly reroute motion or expand upon a particularly nifty melody. While it easily checks all the boxes for O L D S K U L L authenticity, Tomb Mold thankfully never enter throwback or style worship territory, refusing to rest on simply recreating an “atmosphere” of the past as much as an idiosyncratic approach inspired by but not chained to genre pillars.
FFO – Speedrunning unnecessarily hard and slightly overrated fantasy RPGs.
Yes, the band is almost entirely Anglagard members other than the bassist’s daughter, there’s only one interlude between four songs over 11 minutes, and each one is a symphonic progressive rock jamboree, but is it the new Anglagard album basically? Well, not really. While both bands can have a similar foreboding mood, this debut album’s whimsy takes it to more pensive and brooding domains, upping the influence of Magma/Eskaton style zeuhl, horror movie music, Enrico Morricone, and oddities like Univers Zero and King Crimson. There’s a stronger use of sustained and slightly improvised sounding texture to create strange and gnawing moods, revelling in a sense of both ambiguity and anxiety rather than the fantastical and adventurous. At moments it does calm itself yet a threatening undercurrent of creeping basslines and layers of ghostly instrumentation remain. While the appeal to fans of Yes and Genesis is there in terms of the raw complexity involved, the end result possesses a distinctly modern sensibility in its distinctly configured songwriting that treads between seeming aimlessness and subtly alluring direction. It’s progressive rock for the darker years head.
FFO – Probably whatever this tree person was smoking because damn what the hell.
ShadowKeep – S/T
Pure Steel Records
ShadowKeep had been a mostly competent example of classic pre-Dream Theater/Symphony X American styled prog of the power metal variety but 10 years after their last album and they have become masters of this style. Joined by James Rivera of Helstar, their return has been heralded with a renewed level of raw musicianship, opening the album with a blitz of tightly coordinated twists and turns you would normally expect moreso of a Watchtower album; a bold statement of their honed skills. A newfound level of aggressive tightly executed riffing, working slicing lead guitar into precisely punchy phrases, is the order of the day and allows them to make all kinds of wild and jaw-dropping movements that I would never have imagined they were previously capable of. James’ voice might not have the same high flying wailing tone of the usual Geoff Tate types but his raw emotive power shines even in the album’s two ballads (along with some excellent acoustic work), adding to the raw forcefulness of this rejuvenated UK giant. It’s definitely very proggy but it harkens back to a time when the term hadn’t become synonymous with mind-numbingly dull syncopated chug-thug and failed jazz fusion bands, driven by the same sense of resolute adventurousness of US power metal like Oliver Magnum and Liege Lord and the high tech weaponry of Titan Force and Realm.
FFO – Having actual riffs in your prog, holy shit.
Melodic war metal sounds silly unless you’re either Axis of Advance or these guys. While their older material did touch on this idea, it’s only this year that this Grecian cult of blasphemy truly nailed the idea in full. Eclipsing their discography in terms of sheer content, the fourth Embrace of Thorns album brings the widest and most thorough level of composition in their career, hinting at a larger underlying death metal influence. However the riffing style is something else entirely, taking primitive technique descended from the raw vomit of bands like Archgoat and Beherit infused with a distinctly Greek style of 80’s infused black metal like Varathron and Necromantia then topping it off with the explosive drumming of Maelstrom, one of the album’s main highlights. Each track is its own epic journey through a whirlwind of vile contempt and organized chaos, working a wide variety of shifting atmospheres and expression then converging on particularly powerful melodies for moments of climactic and fiery power. The death metal aspect of it can make it feel sometimes like a wave of numerous riffs but from black metal rises their power for lengthy textures that become singular voices of power, converging multiple thematic ideas into a single intransigent unity. Utterly devastating but fortunately not distracted by its aesthetic unlike the usual Conqueror and Blasphemy wannabes.
FFO – Bestial goat sodomizing bullet belt hellnoise but with lots of melody.
I honestly can’t sum this up better than the above sentence but because I’m morally obliged to have a small text blob here, fine then. Far Corner are an avant-prog band that really emphasize the “rock” part of progressive rock while still having the ominous chamber music influences and weirdo jazzy instrumentation of the original Rock In Opposition bands. It’s a mixture of two differing yet not opposed streams of thought and it results in a strange, playful, and at times surprisingly hard hitting mixture of ambiguously toned quasi jamming eclecticism and what sounds like an almost tongue-in-cheek rock and roll rendition of an old black and white film’s soundtrack. Fully instrumental, there’s a great deal of music theory wizardry to be dazzled by but there’s also just a plain lot of daring compositional manoeuvring with little of the long-winded and sometimes stuffy songwriting bloat that affects a lot of prog. The songs are frequently quite long but they’re jam packed with lots of zaniness and creative instrumentation, keeping the album exciting and lively. Its appeal will be for prog fans old and new as well as ‘bangers who don’t mind a wild on the weirdo side.
FFO – Emerson, Lake & Palmer directing a kitschy 70’s horror movie with King Crimson as the hero and Univers Zero as the villain.
Sacral Rage – Beyond Celestial Echoes
Cruz Del Sur Music | Review
This is a very niche album for very niche people. American style power metal of the speed metal oriented variety isn’t super well known even among the NWOTHM crowd and prog/tech thrash? You’ll be lucky if something *other* than Mekong Delta, Watchtower, Toxik, Vektor, or Aspid are mentioned. So here we are with an album made for said super niche crowd; from the absurdly high pitched vocals that frequently venture away from the rhythms or into atonality, dissonance-tinged riffing that contorts itself into shapes both sharp and cloudy, and the pre-requisite twisty turny songwriting. I’m honestly surprised this album has gained much of an audience given how specific it is, but it’s not hard to hear why. When they want to, they can kick you right in the throat before doing some deep space warp jump shit a few seconds later, with fast semi-thrashy riffing augmented with bells-and-whistles esque digressions into rapid-fire leads and sudden falsettos that could give King Diamond a run for his money. Definitely not an album for people whose idea of power metal is full tone keyboard runs and Yngwie Malmsteen solos crossed with Japanese video game music but if you ever wondered what would’ve happened if Helstar got trapped in a spaceship full of helium that went into hyperspace to parts unknown, I’m 90% sure this is basically what that would sound like.
FFO – Judas Priest‘s Painkiller after time travelling to the year 5078, turned into a cyborg, and engaging in a SPESS WAR with an evil empire of aliens.
Though frequently associated with epic heavy metal (and not incorrectly), Salt Lake City’s premiere metal adventurers have always been an incredibly versatile band, blending equal parts Manilla Road, Thin Lizzy, Saxon, and even Blind Guardian among others into a rollicking tour de force through multiple generations of metal majesty. Lead by the booming, resonant voice of Jake Rogers this axe-swinging five piece has added a weighty grandiosity to their galloping attack, at times sounding as massive as Primordial, but they aren’t afraid to enter hard rockin’ territory, high velocity chase sequences, or straight up banging war anthems either. Yet a staple throughout the album is their ear for infectiously catchy and even slightly folksy leads and some of the most powerful choruses of the year. It’s simple music at heart but every inch of it is finely honed, sharpened for maximum effect, and delivered with a pure charisma and vigour matched by few. While its production job is perhaps a bit too polished for what it’s going for, it thankfully at the least ensures the album sounds as massive as it presents itself. Perfect for road trips and taking contracts for monster slaying alike.
FFO – Having every edition of Pathfinder and 100% completion save files of The Witcher 3.
I know. I heard the groans because I used to be that groaner. But if I didn’t put it here considering how much I spun this damn album, I’d be a liar. I’ve shat on Ghost certainly as much as the next fella, but Prequelle, the pure Meatloaf rivaling Rock Opera that it was, finally got my attention. In this massive departure from typical form, Tobias Forge totally drops the act, moves to Portland, and now plays live through a vintage Sunn amp with his significant other on drums in dive bars. Actually, none of that is true, but I’m a music blogger who managed to really like the music somehow anyway. *ducks*
Horrendous are like a totally different OSDM band every time they release another album in a very good way. Horrendous – Idol is by far my favorite band of the Big Four of Horrendous Metal.
8. Obscura – Diluvium
Relapse Records | Review
Imagine being a band of no surprises because all your music is galactically amazing. Like, I’m bored of how incredible Obscura is all the time with everything they’ve ever done with every instrument they can get their hands on, fretted or not. Move me with a shitty album please. Also I listened to this album a million times this year, but per usual Obscura naming conventions, I had to Google what the album title was just to mention it here.
It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for Black Gaze, Post Black Metal or whatever the guys who are mad at everything call it. I was not only looking forward to Deafheaven‘s release this year, but fully expecting to feature it on this list. I didn’t. MØL totally came out of left field and bodied Deafheaven right out of the cramped booth it reserved at this cash only brunch joint. It’s harder hitting, it’s more emotionally charged, the songs are more engaging and MØL comes out of the gate overall as just the better band. Much less like Alcest, Deafheaven, Boss-de-Nage or Ghost Bath before them; MØL’s music is not so loose and spacey, but instead played with intent and purpose. I would liken it more to Blackened Post Hardcore than Blackened Shoegaze, but perhaps we should bury the descriptor “Blackened” along with the rest of 2018. Whatever you’d call them, they’re an incredible band and I’m excited to see what else they may have in store for us.
6. Rivers of Nihil– Where Owls Know My Name
Metal Blade Records | Review
More like Riffers of Nihil. Am I right?
I can’t think of a better review of something. This is why I don’t do this.
I’m comfortably in my 30s, I got nothing to prove to anyone anymore, and I’m gonna admit out loud that an Emo Revival album was one of my favorites of the year. I think there’s a reason a lot of metalheads gravitate towards bands like Deafheaven, Ghost, MØL, Ghost Bath, etc. The major chord changes, the consonant resolutions, the uplifting melodies; it’s because lots of us are just music fans like everybody. We gobble up groups who borrow from music we don’t think we’re allowed to listen to, and we all act like we’re getting away with something because it’s got harsh vocals or a spooky gimmick to help us maintain our cred. I figured fuck it — why not just dive in? Let myself enjoy the music I knew was always around waiting for me. Just dunk myself head first in the taboo sonic pornography I would stream in the dark with doors locked and no one watching. Of all the things I can say about this album that won’t peak your interest as metal fans, what I can tell you is Dylan Mattheisen with his capo’d telecaster buries many a metal shredder as one serious mother fucker of a guitar player. If you’re a kind of general fan of the guitartform, check it out.
I can’t deny it. The shit diaper baby gate keeper internet elitist in my soul was so pleased that a band as hyped as Revocation would just double down on some scummy Death Metal instead of continuing down the path of greater commercial appeal. Maybe that’s a corny take, especially coming from some douche who just put Ghost on his AOTY list. Yet I can’t help but get nostalgic over the No Fun Zone sentiment of my virgin metalhead past when I thought a denim vest covered in patches was mandatory uniform and the little wispy white hairs sproinging around the acne-ridden landscape of my chin were gonna look SO SICK after a couple months, I’m sure.
What I’m definitely trying to say is The Outer Ones is an album for sexually frustrated dorks.
A band name that’s a chore to say out loud, punny song titles, budget gear and production methods, an admittedly silly theme and these boys still put out the best death metal album of the year whenever they drop one. I’m almost mad. This band does everything possible to not be taken seriously, but they’re the band we all must take the most seriously. I’m forced to endure all these mollusk jokes just to enjoy the greatest modern band from the UK. It’s enough to make me want to Slug someone.
I don’t see why everyone though this album was such a huge departure for the band. Maybe if you’ve been listening to only Beyond The Permafrost for the last 11 years? This really wasn’t veering way off the path melodically for a group that released Serpents Unleashed or even Forever Abomination. Maybe the longer form songs were off-putting to Skelly fans who preferred the quick and dirty jams? If anything, Devouring Radiant Light seemed like the next logical step for the reigning kings of consonant resolution via Blackened Thrash Metal, whose otherwise glorious tracks previously felt limited to a confining few minutes. But let’s get real, the longest track on Devouring is just under 9 minutes and I see it as without coincidence that it’s the best one. Forgive the Bohemian Rhapsody movie reference, but I pity your wife if you think 9 minutes is forever.
This might be a nuclear take, but I hardly miss Chance Garnette. Especially knowing what a dirtbag he was to the other guys in the band. Regardless of how we’ve all come to know him as Skeletonwitch‘s voice, dudes who can gurgle into a microphone are a dime a dozen. There’s no reason to tolerate one who’s a cock. Adam Clemans formerly of Wolvhammer is more than a capable enough replacement, let alone one with greater range in style. Right now he’s part of being what I consider to be the best Skeletonwitch. This album is fucking epic. It’s perfect music to stand atop a mountain during heavy rain to, with wind whipping through your beard and long hair, hands clawed towards the lightning filled sky, cursing the Gods above. Speaking of which, make sure your Bluetooth speaker is waterproof.
1. Harakiri For The Sky – Arson
Art of Propaganda | Review
The fierce melancholy of Arson eerily matched what was an overall pretty poor mental health year for me. My anxieties and depression are so deeply tied to anger and animosity, and much in the same way, Harakiri’s music is loud, it’s pounding, it’s a brick wall of furious sound while it lyrically resides in despair. The massive aural weight of this album is representative of the boulder on your soul, should you suffer in a real enough way to relate to it. Harakiri is no stranger to the depressive/suicidal concept, but they’ve best realized it throughout this soul ruiner of a record. It’s simply their greatest to date. There’s not a single track I would skip (despite songs averaging 10 or so minutes), and my constantly repeated listen-throughs of Arson offered me some twisted glimmer of hope though my toughest times; reminding me I was not alone in how life and the world around us could make some of us feel so inescapably low.
Ugly cry into an open pint of Ben and Jerry’s along with the Best Metal Album of 2018, a title Arson held for 11 months strong.