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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May 2018 Review Round Up

Hoo boy, June kind of just appeared, didn’t it? Was still hammering out a review or two in the wee hours of publishing day morn. It was a pretty easy month to get distracted by though.

I started the month by travelling to see Ihsahn. As far as I’m concerned he’s one of the great icons of metal and it showed in his live performance. Credit too goes to Direct Touring for matching him up with some great support. Mar Mortuum were frosty and aggressive like black metal should be. The ludicrously good Ylva gave me vertigo through sheer heaviness. And Hybrid Nightmares were so over the top it was pretty well impossible to not enjoy them. But the man himself put them all to shame. Cracking night out.

On that topic of Ihsahn, Àmr is my album of the month. I expect high quality from him. We all should by now. But this is a step beyond. It’s probably the finest album in his catalogue. I’m sure some Emperor purists will disagree, but they should know they’re wrong.

Shout outs go to Altarage and Woundvac for some kick ass merch. Always appreciated when bands do merch in big guy sizes.

I’ll be back next month. As usual, if you have comments or critique, you can hit me up on Facebook.

Enjoy

Album of the Month
Ihsahn – Àmr
(Progressive Metal – Norway)
Candlelight – 2018/05/04

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If you only have one Ihsahn album in your collection, make sure it’s Àmr. It takes all the good things from his previous solo works and distils them down to nine tracks of perfection. It’s technically superb, emotionally vivid, and memorable in a way that defies expectation. From its opening moments I haven’t wanted to listen to anything else. It has completely dominated this month.

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Amorphis – Queen of Time
(Progressive Metal – Finland)
Nuclear Blast – 2018/05/18

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This is all over the place. I can’t remember another album quite like it to be honest. It has some songs that are contenders for track of the year. It also has a couple of appalling tracks that you just can’t listen to. The production values are universally top notch, so this is all about stylistic choices. And I just can’t fathom how it all came together.

Blood Tsunami – Grave Condition
(Thrash – Norway)
Soulseller Records – 2018/04/27

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Kudos to these mad thrashers. This started life as a four track ep, which they then bulked out with some unreleased material. But for Dungeon of the Rats (originally from For Faen!), I wouldn’t have noticed. It’s real impressive that it sounds so cohesive. Better than cohesive, it’s high quality and entertaining as hell. Quality musicianship from all involved.

Depravity – Evil Upheaval
(Death Metal – Australia)
Transcending Obscurity Records – 2018/04/30

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The toughest albums to review aren’t the great nor the grating. They’re the merely good. And that’s what Evil Upheaval is. Heavy without being crushing. Fast without being blistering. Entertaining without being memorable. And that’s the key point; if you like death metal, you will definitely like this, but don’t expect it to linger in your consciousness.

Drudkh – Їм часто сниться капіж (They Often See Dreams About the Spring)
(Black Metal – Ukraine)
Season of Mist – 2018/03/09

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Following up the terrific A Furrow Cut Short was going to be a tall order, but They Often See Dreams is a resounding success. Invigorated and pissed off, Drudkh’s signature invocation of misery has never sounded so vital. A dark undercurrent of furious energy drives this, never allowing it to settle. The Drudkh renaissance continues.

Ekranoplan – Hypnopædia
(Sludge Metal with a dash of Grind – Germany)
Narshardaa Records – 2018/01/30

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I remember Ekranoplan’s demo being much more of an Entombedcore affair, so this progression was a surprise. While there is still a mighty fistful of HM2 going on, the sound has been built on and enriched by adding aggressive, pounding, High on Fire-esque sludge. It’s not straight up mean; it’s complex layers of mean.

Mesarthim – The Density Parameter
(Black Metal – Australia)
Avantgarde Music – 2018/04/03

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Mesarthim want you to know that if you stare into the void, the void will never stare back. The void does not care that you exist. There is nothing out there but a vast frozen emptiness, occasionally lit by beautiful clouds of radiation capable of flaying flesh from bone and burning bone to ash. Existence is a perilous, bleak, and futile endeavour.

夢遊病者 (Muyūbyō-sha – Sleepwalker) – 一期一会 (Ichi-go ichi-e – For this time only, never again)
(Avantgarde Black Metal – Japan)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2018/05/25

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I have quietly anticipated this album since it was announced. It just seemed so intriguing. It delivered on that promise. It mesmerises as it slowly unveils its many secrets. Such esoteric bleakness really shouldn’t sound this welcoming and warm. And, yet, it’s distant and almost unknowable. This is deliberate, challenging, masterful.

Petrification – Hollow of the Void
(Death Metal – United States of America)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2018/04/23

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I could have been harsh and just written “See review of Depraved – Evil Upheaval”, but that would have doing them an unkindness. What we have here is an album that gives the listener the most tantalising hint of what a live experience would be. It’s evocative of headbanging front rows, circle pits, and windmilling hair. Definitely would see this live.

Serum Dreg – Lustful Vengeance
(Black metal – United States of America)
Vrasubatlat – 2018/04/20

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There’s something about this merciless slab of blackened nastiness that really makes me think of Nachtmystium at their finest. Aside from that being high praise, it comes with the added benefit of being Blake free. It’s more than just aggressive; it has a pervasive, creeping dread that gives it a febrile touch of madness. Sinister at all levels.

Thou – The House Primordial
(Drone Doom – United States of America)
Robotic Empire – 2018/05/01

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Ethereal and beguiling. Bleak and distressing. Horrific and vile. The House Primordial is all these things at once. It creates a maliciously pressurised sonic landscape so catastrophically heavy that light (joy, hope…) struggle to escape it. Thou specialise in these nightmares, but everything on display here still sounds as novel as the freshest hell.

Turbonegro – RockNRoll Machine
(Deathpunk – Norway)
Mercury Records – 2018/02/02

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Something got under the skin of the band in the years between Sexual Harassment and this. Deliberate throwbacks and obvious homages to other rock greats are delivered with their characteristic shit eating grin. It’s like their saying “Didn’t like what we did last time? Want us to only do things how you like it? Fine. RockNRoll Machine beep boop.” And yet, it’s still pretty damn good.

Woundvac – Terrorizing the Swarm
(Grindcore – United States of America)
Self-Released – 2018/05/04

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Listening to this, you might be tricked into thinking that Phoenix, Arizona is some sort of frozen wasteland. Why else would Woundvac need to bring this level of blistering heat? Believe me; this is an absolute scorcher and it rendered me slightly insensible for a bit. So much so that I temporarily forgot the US has other grind acts. It’s that good.