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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September 2018 Review Round Up

We’re reaching the crunch point for the critical year. August was impressive, but September really stepped it up as bands and labels try to maximise their visibility. I can’t wait for October.

The album of the month is from Florida death metal veterans, Deicide. You have no idea how surprised I am to have written that. But credit where credit is due, they absolutely nailed that super-hostile sound.

Not too much else to say. Starting to look towards my end of year list, which is always fun. And given that 2019 is just around the corner, I’m starting to look seriously at my best of the decade list too.

As always, for comments and critiquing, you can reach me via Facebook. And I’m still always in need of Red Bull, if you don’t mind the panhandling. I wish I could get the fancy widget to work, but alas, I’m not that competent.

Album of the Month
Deicide – Overtures of Blasphemy
(Death Metal – United States of America)
Century Media – 2018/09/14

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If you thought this was going to be another piece of stodgy filler in Deicide’s extensive catalogue, get to the back of the class! It’s easily their best since Stench of Redemption, and I’m going to have to realisten to that to make sure it’s still their best. I have my doubts to be honest. This is laser beam focussed and whip cord taut. Fuck it; it’s their best album ever.

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Archgoat – The Luciferian Crown
(Black Metal – Finland)
Debemur Morti – 2018/09/14

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Archgoat’s best album. Just going to put that straight out there. I buy Archgoat for their signature blend of Fimbulwinter cold and sulphurous balefire. This album more than delivers on those fronts, but is also unexpectedly loaded with sinister groove and infernal sexuality. It’s rare to find a black metal album that so ably encapsulates damnation.

Aura Noir – Aura Noire
(Blackened Thrash – Norway)
Indie Recordings – 2018/04/27

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Aura Noir’s intertwining of thrash and first wave black metal has always yielded razor sharp riffs. Aura Noire continues this trend. They haven’t exactly built extensively on what they’ve done before, but that’s not what this is about. This is, as it always has been, about cramming venomous thrash all the way down your throat.

Black Matter Device – Modern Frenetics
(Mathcore – United States of America)
Self-Released – 2018/04/06

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Fast music for the short tempered. Modern Frenetics is an album for people who don’t have the patience for soft things. It helps that Black Matter Device are (appropriately) mathematically precise. The relentless pummelling that ensues is one of the smartest arse-kickings you will experience. It’s like getting mugged by a mortarboard.

Clutch – Book of Bad Decisions
(Rock – United States of America)
Weathermaker – 2018/09/07

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It’s funny how after all these years Clutch still find a way to deliver just what you want while still surprising you. Book of Bad Decisions comes across as rawer and dirtier than the high octane output of their previous few albums. Real music for smokey dive bars and, by God, it’s beautiful. It gets you right in that part that knows a bit of grime is good for the soul.

Common Eider, King Eider – A Wound of Body
(Black Ambient – United States of America)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2018/09/21

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Dealing only in the bleakest of black ambient, Common Eider, King Eider have turned loose an audio horror upon this world. It creeps and slithers and contorts its way around your psyche; never pushing all the way through, but never letting you get comfortable. Albums that do their work quietly are a challenge, but I recognise darkness when I hear it.

Drawn and Quartered – The One Who Lurks
(Death Metal – United States of America)
Krucyator Productions – 2018/07/27

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How on earth have I managed to get to 2018 without hearing about Drawn and Quartered? These guys have been pounding out old school death metal for ages now and it’s taken until this monster landed for me to know they existed. It’s an appalling oversight on my part. Guttural, almost brutal, The One Who Lurks is a visceral gut ripper.

Grave Dust – Pale Hand
(Death Metal – United States of America)
Self-Released – 2018/08/24

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What is up with 2018 and top notch death metal releases? I’m running out of superlatives; I’m either going to start repeating myself or start using nonsensical adjectives. But, dead set, Pale Hand is another death metal monster. It’s a rumbling, aggressive, menacing beast, but it comes with that vital element of catchiness that lodges the songs in your brain.

Hyperdontia – Nexus of Teeth
(Death Metal – Denmark)
Dark Descent – 2018/09/06

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Nexus of Teeth is a fine death metal record that may not set the world on fire but is definitely enjoyable. It suffers a little from repetitiveness, but in Hyperdontia’s defence, they do a couple of things really well, so it makes total sense that they play to their strengths. You can put this on in a room of genre buffs and they will be headbanging all over the place.

Imperial Triumphant – Vile Luxury
(Technical Black Metal – United States of America)
Gilead Media – 2018/07/13

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This is different. Cacophonous black metal played with a level of technicality that should require an engineering degree all wrapped up with Fritz Lang-esque noir. This is what a smokey jazz dive sounds like in hell. I like this a lot, but I’m not going to lie; it’s a tough album to get into and even once you’re in, it can be overwhelming. Extremity done differently.

Kaerulean – The Orwellian Dream
(Blackened Death Metal – Australia)
Truth Inc – 2018/08/10

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It makes a hell of an entertaining racket. But, more than that, it impresses on multiple levels and you will get more out of it with each subsequent listen. For starters, I genuinely didn’t expect the clean vocals to be as good as they are. And the rhythm section is just a fucking beast underneath. This band deserves much broader exposure.

Mantar – The Moden Art of Setting Ablaze
(Sludge Metal – Germany)
Nuclear Blast – 2018/08/24

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Finally getting around to Mantar and I totally get why they are, and rightly should be, considered sludge’s premier arsonists. Their incendiary songs roll along with a pyroclastic flow that ensures that everything in their path is obliterated. I know I’m not the first to say it, but it’s amazing that this sonic firestorm is made by just two people. Incredible stuff.

Nadja – Sonnborner
(Ambient Doom Metal – Canada)
Broken Spine Productions – 2018/09/14

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Open your ears and marvel; Nadja have produced a masterpiece of dreamy, inspired doom. The 30 minute opener is an album in and of itself. It’s awe-inspiring too. It weaves, lilts, and flows beautifully. The following four tracks include dramatic and jarring tonal shifts, giving the ambience some unexpected, but welcome exhilaration.

Primordial – Exile Amongst the Ruins
(Blackened Folk Metal – Ireland)
Metal Blade – 2018/03/30

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I can only assume that Primordial are sick of Metal Blade, as this sound like nothing more than a contractual obligation album. All the hallmarks of a Primordial album are there, but they’re so listless and seemingly dialed in. It’s tough to listen to something that sounds like nobody cared. It’s especially tough when it’s a band as hugely talented as Primordial.

Thou – Magus
(Doom Metal – United States of America)
EVP Recordings – 2018/08/31

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Other bands must wish they could match Thou’s ability to be both prolific and talented. Magus is their fourth release this year, the second to get a review by me, and easily the best thing they’ve done recently. Which is impressive, because they are consistently excellent. The raspy growls, the subtle melodies, the monstrous low end; it is amazing.

The Vintage Caravan – Gateways
(Rock – Iceland)
Nuclear Blast – 2018/08/31

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I love what The Vintage Caravan have done previously, so it really pains me to say this: Gateways is boring. At best it’s dull, at worst it’s tedious, and it all balances out as boring. There’s nothing on display here to get the listener actively involved in the music. It just kinda plods along without doing anything noteworthy. At least it’s easy to forget.