Albums of the Year 2018

And so we come to the end of another year. Lots of talent on display. More than a few surprises along the way too. By and large, I’ve had a cracking year listening to metal.

Last year, I had a laundry list of albums I missed that I wish I hadn’t. This year, I managed to get most of my targets reviewed. That being said, here’s my list of missed opportunities:

Accu§er – The Mastery
Eagle Twin – The Thundering Heard
Tomb Mold – Manor of Infinite Forms
Winterfylleth – The Hallowing of Heirdom
Zeal & Ardor – Stranger Fruit

I’ve kept my promise to myself and kept my named awards for Best Complicated Release, Best Art, and Best Live Act.

Idle chit-chat aside, here’s the best damn eleven albums 2018 sent my way.

11) Mantar – The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze

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Nuclear Blast – 2018/08/24

What I Said Then: Their incendiary songs roll along with a pyroclastic flow that ensures that everything in their path is obliterated.
What I Say Now: I just love how effortlessly catchy these songs are. For something as straight up mean as this, the fact that you can sing (yell) along with it pretty well immediately is a hell of an achievement.

10) Corpsessed – Impetus of Death

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Dark Descent – 2018/11/23

What I Said Then: It’s like the coroner performing an autopsy, but in your back shed with garden tools.
What I Say Now: Corpsessed understand the compelling perversion of horror. That, once the monster is loose, it is impossible to look away from the bloodshed. Behold the captivation of the train wreck.

The Prurient Award for Best Album that Doesn’t Lend Itself to Easy Reviewing
Kurushimi – What is Chaos?
(Avant-garde Jazz – Australia)
Art as Catharsis – 2018/09/13

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Kurushimi goes everywhere at once, but then the track changes and it finds a whole new set of directions to go all at once. It’s overwhelming, but a great album is contained in the cognitive ultramarathon.

9) Barren Altar – Entrenched in the Faults of the Earth

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Self-Released – 2018/06/12

What I Said Then: This album is venomous, filthy and aggressive, but is delivered with such diligence and vigour that nothing gets lost in the malign fury.
What I Say Now: This album has some incredibly deft touches. Doom, especially of the funereal type, doesn’t typically lend itself to musical agility. But Barren Altar nail some pretty spectacular audio gymnastics.

8) Michael Romeo – War of the Worlds / Pt. 1

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Music Theories Recordings – 2018/07/27

What I Said Then: It still has all the technical merit you’d expect from one of metal’s great guitarists and composers, but it comes without any of self-indulgent baggage of solo projects.
What I Say Now: I am going to say this is the most straight up fun album on this list. The lyrics, the solos, the weird directions it goes; all of it is done for maximum enjoyment. Entertainment turned up to eleven.

7) Deicide – Overtures of Blasphemy

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Century Media – 2018/09/14

What I Said Then: This is laser beam focussed and whip cord taut. Fuck it; it’s their best album ever.
What I Say Now: I’ve gone back and listened to the best of back catalogue. I stand by the above claim. It is heavy, malevolent, blasphemous Deicide at their absolute best. Thoroughly demonic.

Mariusz Lewandowski Award for Best Art
Zbigniew M. Bielak for Overtures of Blasphemy by Deicide

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I keep coming back to this. There’s something both evocative and visceral about this piece. It has a sinister, almost blood-soaked violence to it, which is impressive since it’s a drawing of a scribe.

6) Moss Upon the Skull – In Vengeful Reverence

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I, Voidhanger – 2018/10/19

What I Said Then: Taking Orchid-era Opeth’s proto-sensitivity, combining it with Cascadian black metal’s hermit tendencies, then wrapping it in trad death metal hostility is ambitious.
What I Say Now: This is a very different beast to your standard prog death. It breathes, it grows, it sounds like a living organism made of rage. I love this organic approach to music making.

5) Nadja – Sonnborner

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Broken Spine Productions – 2018/09/14

What I Said Then: Open your ears and marvel; Nadja have produced a masterpiece of dreamy, inspired doom.
What I Say Now: It’s like an anxiety attack slowed down. I can’t think of any other album I’ve listened to that takes something so relaxing and made it seem so tense. Soothing like a persistent catatonic state.

4) Skeletal Remains – Devouring Mortality

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Dark Descent – 2018/04/13

What I Said Then: It makes me feel like I’m windmilling with luxurious waist length hair, even if I’m just gently headbanging while driving.
What I Say Now: Nothing is quite as invigorating as Being hit by tropical cyclone Devouring Mortality. It’s a maelstrom of chaotic riffs and pounding drums. It smashes like a storm that doesn’t stop.

The Dillinger Escape Plan Memorial Award for Most Kick Ass Live Act
Sólstafir

I wish I had some pics or a video like I did last year, but Sólstafir were just so hypnotic, intense, and awe-inspiring that the thought of whipping out my phone never occured to me. I could have cried.

3) Bliss Signal – Bliss Signal

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Profound Lore – 2018/09/28

What I Said Then: It’s nice to see James Kelly return to the more abrasive, blackened sounds, but combining it with grime creates a sublime, haunting sound I didn’t think could exist.
What I Say Now: Bliss Signal upends the black metal status quo. This is functionally a techno album, but lives and breathes the left hand path. Trailblazing, unique and utterly compelling.

2) Daughters – You Won’t Get What You Want


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Ipecac – 2018/10/26

What I Said Then: With guitars that sound like a musical air raid siren, drumming that consistently surprises in the best way, and one of the most evocative vocal deliveries I’ve heard they have delivered one of the most welcoming forays into discomfort ever.
What I Say Now: By moving noise rock closer to noise than is typical for the genre, Daughters have tapped into a mighty wellspring of disquiet. It still rocks, but in a tremendously unsettling way.

1) Ihsahn – Àmr

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Candlelight – 2018/05/04

What I Said Then: It’s technically superb, emotionally vivid, and memorable in a way that defies expectation
What I Say Now: It’s about as close to a perfect album as possible from Ihsahn. At its core is a marvellously complicated heart. Hearth warm and deathly cold, locked in precarious balance.

So there we are. That’s as firm a one, two, and three as you can get. I’m still pretty blown away by Ámr to be honest.

And forward to 2019 and the end of an amazing decade in heaviness.

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October 2018 Review Round Up

The year might be getting close to wind up, but October served up some mighty releases. Hopefully November and December will keep on delivering even though the release rate slows.

Bliss Signal justifiably took home the Album of the Month. The melding of Altar of Plagues grimness with club scene electronica works in all sorts of ways it shouldn’t.

I have a temporary employment deficit issue going on at the moment, so November and possibly December might be a whisper slower, but I’ll keep going because I love it.

As usual, if anyone wants to contribute to my Red Bull fund, I still have my ko-fi up and running.

And, as usual, if you have critique or commentary, you can reach me at Facebook.

See you next month.

Album of the Month
Bliss Signal – Bliss Signal
(Blacktronica – Ireland/United Kingdom)
Profound Lore – 2018/09/28

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Bliss Signal is possessed of that beautiful, casual genius that you know will never lose its tarnish no matter how many times you listen to it or how long it has been between spins. It’s nice to see James Kelly return to the more abrasive, blackened sounds, but combining it with grime creates a sublime, haunting sound I didn’t think could exist.

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Anaal Nathrakh – A New Kind of Horror
(Blackened Industrial Grind – United Kingdom)
Metal Blade – 2018/09/28

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Good to see that a band as committed to unapproachable blackened noise as Anaal Nathrakh can still endeavour to mix things up. With vocals approaching comprehensible and a satisfyingly King Diamond-esque approach to delivery, this may be the closest we get to an accessible album from them. It’s still horrific hell noise though.

Behemoth – I Loved You At Your Darkest
(Black Metal – Poland)
EVP Recordings – 2018/10/05

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Despite being no strangers to blasphemy, this sounds like Behemoth’s Martin Luther moment. Of course, they’re not nailing their list of grievances to the church door; they’re shoving it right down the throat of the church. They understand and articulate their theological underpinnings while making their declaration of eternal war sound so seductive.

Boar Worship – Balance of Terror
(Deathly Sludge Metal – United States of America)
Self-Released – 2018/09/23

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Balance of Terror takes sludge and breaks it down to its barest elements. Guitar, drums, vocals, no messing about. It’s a risky strategy to strip things back this much, but Boar Worship have truly embraced this stylistic primitivism. It raises the riff to a totemic ideal: a spiritual force comprised entirely of rancor. Boar worship? No. Hate worship.

A Forest of Stars – Grave Mounds and Grave Mistakes
(Psychedelic Black Metal – United Kingdom)
Prophecy Productions – 2018/09/28

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This came awfully close to a bad review. It took so many begrudging listens to get to a point where I could review it. But during that last spin, something clicked. Suddenly what was plodding became deliberate, what was melodramatic became operatic. The trick was I had to be alert. This is way too smart an album to be half-arsed.

Gevurah – Sulphur Soul
(Black Metal – Canada)
Profound Lore – 2018/09/28

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Gevurah are where I put my money when asked who I think the most dangerous sounding black metal act is. There’s no lecturing. There’s no preaching. There’s no posturing. There is only black metal at its most fundamentally visceral. Sulphur Soul doesn’t need to deviate from this; something so unhallowed in its simplicity yields its own dark rewards.

High on Fire – Electric Messiah
(Sludge Metal – United States of America)
eOne – 2018/10/05

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High on Fire don’t do bad albums. I’ll just put that out there first. That being said, not all their albums live up to their high standards. Electric Messiah is one of those. It wants for that special combination of resinous sludge and bombastic riffage that make the great albums so memorable. It’s still a good album, but I won’t have any reason to revisit it.

Horrendous – Idol
(Death Metal – United States of America)
Season of Mist – 2018/09/28

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Horrendous faced that nightmare of how to follow up a brilliant album with quiet aplomb. Idol follows Anareta but subtly tweaking the things that made their previous release so good. They haven’t radically changed things; rather, their sound has taken on more progressive elements. It a more complicated experience, but in a good way.

Kurushimi – What is Chaos?
(Avant-garde Jazz – Australia)
Art as Catharsis – 2018/09/13

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No matter how weird/inaccessible you may find [insert metal subgenre here], jazz at its weirdest will always make everything else seem normal in comparison to its batshitness. What is Chaos? is hallucinogenic in delivery, veering wildly between spaced out headfucks and aggressive, grind-esque pummellings. It is absolute madness.

Moss Upon the Skull – In Vengeful Reverence
(Progressive Death Metal – Belgium)
I, Voidhanger – 2018/10/19

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Taking Orchid-era Opeth’s proto-sensitivity, combining it with Cascadian black metal’s hermit tendencies, then wrapping it in trad death metal hostility is ambitious. Extremely ambitious. But fortune favours the brave because I can’t get enough of this. It manages to strike the perfect balance between sophisticated insight and naked hostility.

Pig Destroyer – Head Cage
(Grindcore – United States of America)
Relapse – 2018/09/07

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I love a bit of grindcore that’s not afraid to add a bit of swagger to their blasts. Head Cage has swagger in spades, but there’s no tongue in cheek, no knowing wink. It’s bravado being delivered with maximum aggression. The great thing about this is the combination of white hot anger and rhodomontade is it super catchy.

Revocation – The Outer Ones
(Technical Death Metal – United States of America)
Metal Blade – 2018/09/28

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You’ve got to admire Revocation; they are the hallmark of consistency and innovation. They’re on to their fifth album this decade and again they’ve delivered a corker that sounds substantially different to what has come before, but is still distinctly them. The Outer Ones is sinister, almost blackened in tone and gives their aggressive style an icy precision.

Sumac – Love in Shadow
(Post Metal – United States of America)
Thrill Jockey – 2018/09/21

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Aaron Turner really knows how to score a headfuck of an album. Pounding sludge deconstructs into spirals of noise and free jazz only to resolve itself almost imperceptibly back into form. And then it splinters off in another direction. Then another. But all of this happens so organically, that it’s the only logical way these tracks can play out.

Voivod – The Wake
(Progressive Thrash – Canada)
Century Media – 2018/09/21

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This is a great Voivod ep wrapped up in a mediocre album. The last half is top notch, weird as a Bosch painting Voivod. But those first few tracks are just such an exhausting slog to get through. The problem is they are lifeless. Barren as the lunar surface with about as much atmosphere. Suffer through the insufferable prog-lite, reap the rewards of later.

Windhand – Eternal Return
(Stoner Doom Metal – United States of America)
Relapse – 2018/10/05

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Of all the stoner doom bands you should know, Windhand are probably the most grounded in reality. There’s no hammer horror, no over the top misanthropy, and no transcendental musings. What there is though is a haunting, sad insight into life. Eternal Return is bleak, but is fuelled by a fire of determination that gives it a curious optimism.