Top Albums ov 2018 w/ Spear, Richter, & McNulty!
Don’t be left listless this list season.
As is the norm, trying to encompass the vast spectrum of good metal releases in 2018 with a paltry 10 albums is a complete fucking bust, so I’m once again trying to keep this restricted to relatively unknown bands to narrow it down. Additionally, I’m going for albums that I believe share a sound similar to other, bigger bands that put out records that will assuredly be showing up on lists around the internet. Finally, I’m not going to double-list anything I’ve talked about in any other year-end article. Anyway, here they are in alphabetical order, because fuck rankings:
Æpoch – Awakening Inception
FFO: Beyond Creation – Algorythm
Even in the midst of this glorious new era of tech death, it’s rare to hear an album quite like Awakening Inception. It’s a brainy blend of melody and technical showmanship with a production job that gives it a unique sound, and that bass playing is just relentless. What really sets it apart, however, is how mean its riffs are. These are the kinds of riffs you tell your kids not to talk to, the sort that you don’t want to run into in a dark alley but secretly admire from a distance for their sweet leather jacket and bigass knife. In all seriousness, Æpoch outdid themselves with this one, creating an album that is both a compelling listen and a standout in the ever-widening tech death landscape.
Aethereus – Absentia
The Artisan Era | Review
FFO: Obscura – Diluvium
Speaking of compelling tech death, the newest Aethereus album has been in steady rotation since this summer, and with good reason. A somber farewell to the late Shaun Hansen, Absentia is emotionally powerful as it is musically complex. It’s a masterclass in writing music that is progressive and dense without alienating a casual listener. There’s a lot going on at once at any given point, layer upon layer of instrumentals that can be dissected and examined individually, but it’s easy to just sit back and absorb all at once. It’s very tight and flows smoothly, none of its many moving parts dispensable or superfluous. Moreover, these are smart tunes that made me feel things, and that’s what secured its spot on my list (and should hold a place on any tech-head’s list as well).
Okay, so the related band might be cheating with this one- the bands share a member and Passage was basically a single- but this album fucks, and once you’ve finished it, you will too. In the short time I’ve had access to The Void Engineers, it has wormed its way through my ears and into my soul. I absolutely love this style of weird bouncy death metal, and Cosmic Atrophy hit all the right beats while bringing a bunch of new sounds to the table with synths and orchestrations. This year had a solid showing of Demilichish bands, from Exlimitir to Replicant and even Outer Heaven to an extent, and this album was a perfect capstone to it.
Coming across a band I’ve never heard of and discovering they do everything I like is an increasingly rare treat these days, which is why I’m so taken with Eartheria. Awaken the Sun is the merging of nature and the arcane, two songwriting philosophies frequently brought together in progressive music but rarely with such cohesion. It drifts between ethereal, contemplative melodies and thick headbangers without missing a step, and god damn I just love every second of this album. Stop reading and go buy it.
Gatekeeper – East of Sun
FFO: Visigoth – Conqueror’s Oath
You ever find yourself disappointed in an album you’d been anticipating, going back to it over and over again trying to take comfort in its familiarity and convince yourself that it’s really not all that bad and we had such good times before and oh god has it really come to this? I mean, uh, me neither, but if I HAD experienced such a thing, East of Sun would definitely have been the album to rescue me from the cycle of aural abuse. It filled an early-year void in my trad metal listening, proving that there’s still fun to be had and room for creativity in the genre’s worn and hallowed halls. Everything on this album rips, from the riffs to the shreds to even the damn vocals, and there isn’t a dull moment to be had.
I’m breaking my first two rules for this one because nobody else here has talked about it and it’s been haunting me since the start of March. The Banished Heart is depressive prog of the highest order. Cammie Gilbert’s vocals rend my heart and leave it ragged, which alone would have been enough to land it a spot on this list, but the atmosphere set by the rest of the band is equally powerful. Somber melodies are punctuated by bursts of raging blastbeats and powerful riffing, and there’s a ton of variety from song to song. There’s no way I can do this album justice in a quick paragraph; sit down with it when you’ve got some quiet time to yourself.
Parius – The Eldritch Realm
Independent | Review
FFO: Between the Buried and Me – Automata
This album was a weird one. I’m not sure I can think of another metal album that draws its inspiration from The Twilight Zone, let alone successfully work that aesthetic into the music. The Eldritch Realm wins plenty of points for flavor and brings a ton of smarter-than-average melodeath riffing to the table, but its treks into unexpected territory are what really sell it. The combination of concept, Tommy Rogers style vocal quirks, and hook-laden tunes has kept me coming back for the past few months.
If you dig Revocation but wish they had stuck with their thrashier sound, then Reprisal has exactly what you need. This is smartboi thrash with winding, serpentine riffs that don’t forget how to party, and they don’t cut corners with the solos. It’s fast and aggressive with a pinch of sass, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
This album was another pleasant surprise. Despite this being their fourth full-length album, I had never heard of Stortregn prior to seeing their video for “Circular Infinity,” and it was love at first sight. Listen. Whatever. As with Arsis, Emptiness Fills the Void is a pastiche of melodeath and black metal that leans towards tech and prog. Its songs are defined by exultant harmonies and counterpoint with tons of little flourishes that add a lot of flavor and personality to the music. I’m not sure that this thing left my CD player for the entire month of July, and it still puts a shit-eating grin on my face every time I pop it back in. Just a great album all around.
I think I’m contractually bound to include at least one ultra-shred tech death album on any Best Of list I write, and god damn did this year offer a lot of options. As my last slot, this one was the hardest to fill, and I landed on Unflesh because I believe they best represent what this sub-subgenre has to offer. Savior is relentless in its display of virtuosity, but the onslaught is tempered by excellent pacing and a nastier delivery than you hear from most bands of this ilk, particularly in the vocals. If you like your tech death fast and vicious, it’s hard to do better than this.
The paucity of metal on this list would suggest that I’d be better off writing (read: drawing) for some other blog. Alas, no one will take my calls.
Convulsing — Grievous
Self-released | Interview(s)
It was quite sneaky of Abyssal to invent deathgaze on Denouement and then take it to the Nth level on Antikatastaseis. As far as I can see, no one has noticed yet. What does this have to do with Convulsing? Until the release of Grievous: nothing. But now that Grievous has been released, I can firmly state that there are at least three deathgaze records in existence. Here, Convulsing employs breath and atmosphere to flirt with the sort of spiritual orgasm that sustains the entire length of The Clearing Path‘s spiritually orgasmic Watershed Between Firmament and the Realm of Hyperborea. (Have these guys been trading notes?) Grievous is taxing and devastating, a journey through skronk and gauzy feelings and back again. And yet it will leave you feeling much less brutalized than last year’s Errata.
Book of Sand — Postmodern Witchcraft
Auris Apothecary | Review
Grab your black lipstick and your banjo and your boogieboard and let’s get weird. Surfing in Appalachia, drinking blood out of sippy-cups on the beach in broad daylight, conjuring Baphomet with a Moog…these are a few of my favorite things.
Maggot Heart — Dusk to Dusk
Teratology Sound & Vision | Review
As Hans has already noted, I have already noted that Dusk to Dusk does not quite live up to the absurdly high expectations set by the debut City Girls EP. It’s not as pissed and not as dark, the upshot I guess being that it is both beefier and catchier in the riff department. What I appreciate most about it is that unlike many albums that suffer from concavity (bowing in the middle), this one is convex to the point of turgidity (pregnancy even). If rock is dead then Maggot Heart is dancing on its grave.
Toby Driver has slowly but surely been injecting heavy synthwave vibes into his main project, Kayo Dot. Even so, I could not have seen this coming. Piggy Black Cross is a new collaboration between Driver and Bridget Bellavia that melds the saturated sci-fi atmospheres of synthwave with glitchy electronica, unorthodox compositions, and just a squirt of the sultriest goth. The beats are sparse but tricky, the moods continually shifting from numinous to dystopian, and the rarely repeated vocal phrasings conjure eros and loss and everything in between. The ultimate picture projected by this evocative journey is one of a future city, damp and neon, inhabited by sex-bots adrift on mourning for the death of the human species — their only source of patronage and affection.
Jute Gyte — Penetralia
Self-released | Mini Review
My computer makes the strangest noises when it overheats.
Malthusian — Across Deaths
Invictus Productions | Review
Malthusian has found the sweet spot between the cavernous, the dissonant, the eldritch and the insane. The perfect death metal opus to plug into your ears when you make the trek to the men’s room and need to drown out the sound of several of your colleagues voiding their colons into the bowl in harmony.
Thou — Inconsolable/Rhea Sylvia
Self-released | Review
If you smash these two EPs together you get a far superior album to the subsequent Magus. So that’s what I’m doing and you can just deal with it. Inconsolable breaks up the Thou formula by dispensing with it completely in favor of sombre acoustic laments. Rhea Sylvia breaks up the Thou formula by parlaying brevity and memorability into optimum impact. (Magus does not break the Thou formula, so by comparison just sounds like a huge step backward.)
Basalte — Vestige
Self-released | Review
Québec’s Basalte spin long, baroque post-black yarns that avoid repetition and worship dynamics. Imagine some shunned composer of antiquity disassembling the elements of Bosse-de-Nage and Terzij de Horde and reassembling them according to the tastes and attention spans of the patrons of yore. Overtures, movements, codas, Theme & Variation. You know: technique.
Street Sects — The Kicking Mule
The Flenser | Review (with illustrations)
Who knew that if you were to peel back all the noise and chaos and hyper-aggression of End Position you’d find the best dark synth-pop on the market? It feels wrong to call something this prickly and hopeless “synth-pop”, but at this point it just feels right. At present, the darkness of Street Sects is more thematic than tonal. If you tune out the lyrics, The Kicking Mule sounds largely bright and punchy. Tune back in and…well…it’s probably best not to listen to this album alone.
Charlie Looker — Simple Answers
Self-released | Review
Lavishly orchestrated avant-garde pop. Strings, horns, and timeless anti-fascist lyrics. On his first official solo record, Looker jumps from darkly personal themes to darkly universal ones with style and grace. He also blows the doors off our pedestrian ideas of what an orchestra is for, twisting traditionally melodic instruments into generators of concussion, feedback and noise at will. Even at its most abstruse, Simple Answers is torturously gorgeous.
Malady – Toinen toista
Svart Records | Review
In 2018 I’ve been listening to mostly podcasts and prog rock released before 1985. But here’s a prog rock band that I truly dig, and of course they’re from Finland. Toinen toista includes obvious influences such as Genesis, Yes, and Jethro Tull – three prog rock bands bands out to whom I’ve been rocking most of the year. (And it ends with a 23 minute song, bonus points right there.)
Anachronism – Orogeny
890186 Records DK | Tech Death Thursday
What Spear said.
Valgrind – Blackest Horizon
Everlasting Spew Records | | Album Stream
What Lacertilian said. Riffs like that of Immolation and strained vocals like that of… I can’t remember, but you probably do. Transcending Obscurity and Everlasting Spew have been on fire this year, with just about every release being very good or better.
Aborted – TerrorVision
Century Media | Mini Review
Aborted have been dependable workhorses for a while now, with quality as predictable as veterans Cannibal Corpse. And like the aforementioned classic death metal band, their newest release was one of their best; the band having had the chance to iron out all the kinks and even sprinkle in a few new ideas here and there.
Totenmesse – To
Pagan Records | Review Coming Soon | Podcast
I discovered this dissonant black metal album on another metal blog and fell in love. It will be reviewed here soon. The middle song is a cover of King Crimson‘s “21st Century Schizoid Man”.
Aepoch – Awakening Inception
Independent | Premiere
Spear said it best with his premiere. This is some thrashy yet melodic death metal of the tech variety. You’ll find lots of cool guitar solos on this album… and who doesn’t enjoy guitar solos? Crazy people, that’s who.
Tomb Mold – Manor of Infinite Forms
20 Buck Spin | Review
Death metal. Lacertilian worded it better than I ever could have in his review linked above.
Grethor – Damnatio Memoriae
Independent (I think) | Review
Upon this album’s release, I predicted it would make my top 10 at the end of the year… and I was correct. Since discovering them via the Best Unsigned Band in America contest, I have enjoyed this bizarre death metal band’s work; and the band’s first full-length does not disappoint.
We only got to hear two songs from this one, but if that’s any indication of the rest of the material I am in love. In fact, I can’t imagine a scenario in which the unreleased songs are that much of a departure to take it off of my list. The wackiness and the guitar solos sold me on Zealotry’s latest.
Gorguts-ian weirdness and non-stop technical prowess. Weird death metal in the best possible way. The album is jam packed with greatness but truly shines towards the end when the songs stretch out a little more, with the final one being a 10+ minute epic. It’s in those moments when Serocs really flex their progressive metal muscles.