Another year has passed, and here we stand. In the time that AMG has existed as an entity, it has continued to grow. This year we reached the notable achievement of breaking a million views a month at the end of the year. We had our very first song debut, for a record that Soen will release in February of 2019, and we ran a campaign for new writers so successful that we’re not even done with it (have you applied? Read the footnote!).1 We’ve started bringing some n00bs on, however, and it’s been a particular joy seeing them come along. It’s also gratifying to see how many people love this site and want to write for us. We were flattered by the responses and the ass-kissery that you all showered on us in hopes of getting an unpaid job that will alienate you further from friends and family, while robbing you of all the possible joy of just listening to music ever again.
I want to start by saying thanks to the staff at AngryMetalGuy.com who consistently hit their deadlines, write solid prose and who love metal so much that at times I can hardly keep up with them. You couldn’t ask for a better working environment. These guys—except Cherd who cheered against my Vikings yesterday because they have a defensive back who went to college where he’s from, so fuck that guy—are insightful, funny and bring a ton of fresh ideas to the blog. Sure, I arbitrarily reject most of them, but that’s not the point!
Of course, an even mightier thanks is owed to Steel Druhm and Madam X for their unceasing dedication to AngryMetalGuy.com. The work that they put in is a vital part of what makes the site function so well. The same is true of the Drs. Grier and Wvrm who have become increasingly trusted members of the dictatorial presidium. Soon, with their new stock options and improved salaries, they will forget their loyalties to the working men who slave away with daily reviews and be willing to crush the spirits of all who oppose their newfound privileges. It’s been a real treat turning them against their vested interest.
Lastly, dear readers (both new and old), thank you so much for taking the time to read and participate here. We have a great community that’s growing and is the talk of the metalverse. I think it’s great that you guys are so dedicated and I only wish that I could understand your memes. I wish you all a great 2019 and hope that you enjoy this list (and all the lists). I am so thankful for your continued readership and encouragement. I was reminded again this year on several occasions that you make all the difference. You helped to prop up a label that hit a rough time by rushing to buy a release that we loved. When I posted a last-minute TYMHM on the 30th of December, you read it, found it was good and went and bought the record. Over and over you have shown us—and hopefully record labels and bands—that you are willing to support the music you love and we all find it so gratifying. I love being able to use this platform to open the world of metal up. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!
Now to the list! Break out your flamethrowers one last time for 2018!
#(ish): 1914 // The Blind Leading the Blind – I have a feeling that if I’d had three months with The Blind Leading the Blind, it would feature much higher on this list. Unfortunately, I just heard it for the first time at the end of November. It’s tough to judge how the album is going to play for me in a few months. But right now? The Blind Leading the Blind does what the best albums do: it hooks me on the opening track and then it won’t let go. The band’s doomy death metal and blackened overtones are only outdone by the brutal topic of WWI. This album has the feeling of lightning in a bottle but only time will tell if it’s magical or fleeting.
#(ish): Between the Buried and Me // Automata II — I didn’t make it to this album in time for it to have featured heavily on my playlist all year. However, in the buildup to Listurnalia, I’ve been listening to it and it finally lives up to what I’ve been expecting from BtBaM since my I first picked up Alaska. While these guys have always been talented, it finally feels like they’re finding the sweet spot of blending great musicianship with fully realized songs. And goddammit this album (or EP or whatever the fuck it is) features some smart songwriting as well as the technical flare we all expect. But memorability is the album’s most important addition. Previous records have always had moments, but Automata II has a skyhigh Rush Quotient™, perfectly blending memorable songs with interesting, progressive ideas.
#10: Satan // Cruel Magic — Like Between the Buried and Me, Satan is a band that I’ve been told I should like. Until Cruel Magic, however, they never really clicked for me. There’s something special about this album. Maybe it’s the live feel and old-school production. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m getting old and enjoy the nostalgia of bands making records with memorable hooks and early metal sensibilities. I admit that these are both probably true. More likely, though, is that I’m burned out on a metal scene that seems to equate song-length with quality and bands that have forgotten (or never learned) the fundamentals of songwriting. What I love about Cruel Magic is that it’s a great set of addictive, ebullient songs performed by a band who obviously loves what they do. The record blasts past and urges repeated listens with every spin. If this had been released in 1984, I think it would have become a classic.
#9: Obscura // Diluvium — I really liked Obscura‘s newest album when I reviewed it. But I had nagging doubts, too. I wondered how Diluvium would stand up, especially to competition from the likes of Alkaloid, Æpoch, and myriad others. But with its brilliant guitar work and tightened songwriting, Obscura kept ending up in my regular listening rotation. The riffs are tight, fun, and the tracks are well-composed. I love the sound—and can’t get enough of that fretless bass—and with heavy Cynic influences, it fills an expanding-alien-shaped-hole in my heart. Add to it that Diluvium features some of my favorite guitar-work of the year, and it’s a clear shoo-in for this list. I can’t wait to see what Obscura has in store for us next.
#8: Orphaned Land // Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs — Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs is an album that I enjoyed a year ago, stopped listening to and then got a hankering for in recent months. While not the groundbreaking endeavor that Mabool and ORwarriOR were before it, UP&DM is a surprisingly addictive record that finds Orphaned Land with newfound energy. That energy may come from having new guitarists who want to use high-gain amps. An alternate hypothesis is that the band took the time it needed to write and produce a concept album, since the album also bears the hallmarks of having been well-plotted. The result is that Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs is a fun, moving, coherent and important record that is worthy of the Orphaned Land legacy. The ending of “The Manifest – Epilogue” — with the 1984 quote and the sample from Víctor Jara‘s “Manifesto” — is one of the most powerful things I heard this year. The message speaks to me on a visceral level: “The moral to be drawn from this dangerous nightmare situation is a simple one. Don’t let it happen.”
#7: Gorod // Æthra — I wasn’t sure what I was going to get with Gorod this time around. I spent so much time trying to chase this promo down and figure out what label the band was on now that I didn’t even think I was going to get to it in time. Fortunately, the system worked, and I was given a chance to be blown away by a Gorod that—even while taking a step away from some of the things that made them so good—was chock full of piss, vinegar, and the very best riffs.2 Having carefully reviewed this record, I could wax poetic about the details all day. But I think the reason that I keep coming back isn’t in the details, but rather a combination of stellar composition and ridiculous guitar gymnastics. When these explosive elements are packed tightly into 45 minutes of ass-kickery, Æthra is dense and powerful and one of the year’s best records.
#6: Riverside // Wasteland — It’s been nearly a decade since I first heard Anno Domini High Definition and this is the first full-length Riverside album to make my end of year list since then. Wasteland is an album that balances fragile sadness and progressive noodling with a gymnast’s grace. What makes this album special is the combination of weapons-grade melancholy with delicate and memorable melodies that make the listener ache. Tracks like “Guardian Angel,” “Lament,” and “The Night Before” are deeply emotional and are great examples of Riverside starting to perfect their turn from rock-influenced to post-Floyd melodic prog. While I wasn’t totally overwhelmed when it first came out, Wasteland has stuck around in my rotation and will be an album I come back to for years to come. I can’t wait to see them live for the first time this spring!
#5: De Profundis // The Blinding Light of Faith — Today, as I was listening to my Top 10(ish) records in playlist form, I discovered that the opening strains of “Obsidian Spires” gives me the same kind of immediate “fuck yeah!” reaction as hearing the first notes of Slaughter of the Soul or Piece of Mind. Slowly but surely, The Blinding Light of Faith has crept up my rankings, eventually even edging out Gorod and Obscura. While other bands this year wrote fantastic death metal records and tracks, De Profundis is the death metal I’ve come back to the most frequently. The combination of the Floridian and Swedish strains of death metal culminate in slick riffs and a pummeling approach offset only by the record’s surprisingly proggy turns. The result is that The Blinding Light of Faith is at once accessible and interesting and that it’s become deeply addictive. These guys are quickly becoming one of my favorite death metal acts.
#4: Amorphis // Queen of Time — Queen of Time has been strangely divisive among fans of Amorphis and this site. I admit that I gave it a long time off after the initial four dozens listens and getting the cover tattooed on my ass, but ultimately I was just as happy to hear it when I pressed play nearly six months later. Whatever that X-factor from the early Tommi records was, it’s back. On Queen of Time, I think it’s the combination of the new orchestral and choral elements, but then there’s something here that sort of reminds me of Tuonela, as well. Regardless, this batch of new Amorphis songs hit the spot for me in May and is still hitting it in December. Like I wrote in my review of Queen of Time, the album “sports unforgettable material throughout, and finds Amorphis doing its best bumblebee impression, staying afloat in spite of [Angry Metal Guy‘s] Law [of Diminishing Recordings™].” May their improbable career continue.
#3: Barren Earth // A Complex of Cages — At an hour long of post-Amorphis progressive, folk-tinged death metal,3 Barren Earth dropped one of the most interesting and expansive albums of 2018. A Complex of Cages oozes with a truly special vibe that hooked me immediately and hasn’t let me go all year. Part of this, of course, is the Jón Aldará’s fantastic vocal performance. He balances his different roles in Barren Earth—as the bearer of deathly growls and soaring melodies—with his beautiful, brassy voice and a presence that brings Barren Earth‘s sound together. But what makes A Complex of Cages so damned good is its intricacies and melodies that work unite to create a sound that seems to only eminate from deep within the Finnish forests. I knew from my first listen that this would be on my Top 10(ish) and it’s one of the few albums I never gave a rest in 2018.
#2: Michael Romeo // War of the Worlds, Part 1 — Michael Romeo‘s debut(ish) solo album is practically perfect. From the opening, cinematic strains of the introduction to the cliffhanger of “Constellations,” Romeo and company bust out techy riff after catchy chorus after intense orchestral build. As a whole, the record’s different elements culminate in an epic listening experience that was a breath of fresh air. As a power metal fan who hates so much of modern power metal because of bad production, vocalists who can’t carry their water, or mediocre compositions, War of the Worlds is exactly what I needed. The riffs are heavy, the songs vibrate with excitement and the record is subtly techy in a way that puts the demonstrative techiness of genres like djent to shame. The golden cherry on this proverbial sundae is the special performance of Rick Castellano on the microphone. With a truly outstanding vocal performance and some of Romeo’s best ever guitar solos, War of the Worlds is an album that’s desperately difficult to leave at number two on this list. Part two will hopefully drop in 2019 and I am ready for more!
#1: Hamferð // Támsins likam — Hamferð is special and Támsins likam is a powerful record. Metal has been awash in a sea of doom metal in the 2010s, but few bands are as enchanting as Hamferð. Támsins likam is mixed by Daniel Bergstrand in Uppsala, Sweden—the same studio where Pain of Salvation recorded and mixed 2017’s Record o’ the Year, weirdly enough—and the album is an artfully written and gorgeously produced. The sound is deliberate and crushing, with leaden guitars and thick, ponderous bass and drums. Throughout, the band uses white space to give the music the heft that it needs. Jón Aldará’s voice—singing in his native Faroese—is the bow that ties everything together with his intense emotion and power.4 It’s a testament to the pure strength of Támsins likam that it can be so moving without the listener understanding a word of it. Támsins likam demonstrates Hamferð‘s excellent musicianship and compositional intelligence. Combined with an artful mix and commanding performances, Hamferð produced my Record o’ the Year for 2018.
Honorable Mentions (in a particular order, but I refuse to tell you which):
- Acrid // Wonderland — This sat on my stack of shame too long. I fucking dig this record and had a hard time not putting it in as an (ish). That, apparently, is my burden to bear in 2018. I genuinely recommend you check these guys out. Acrid plays tightly written, addictive melodic death metal. Listen, listen, listen!
- Dirty Shirt & Ansamblul Transilvania // FolkCore DeTour — This is a live record from a band I’d never heard before and it makes it tough to throw it onto the list proper because it’s not new music. But it’s great performances in a novel setting for a mashup of groove-heavy, gypsy-punk-infused-metal. I’ve listened to this record dozens of times this year and aside from one uncomfortably nü-metal track it stands the test of time. It’s an addictive listen from a band that I would never have found on my own.
- Blaze Bayley // The Redemption of William Black — As I outlined in my TYMHM, The Redemption of William Black is a great record from a guy who’s just doing his own damn thing. Blaze’s new material has authenticity in spades and I absolutely love it. I love that he’s set up his own label to do exactly what he loves to do: make music, tour, and grow epic sideburns. I also love the fact that his fans are super intense and the comments on both Facebook and our site are a lovefest for the most unfairly maligned dude in metal. It’s fantastic, and these are signs that he’s doing something very right.
- Parius // The Eldritch Realm — I would be remiss if I didn’t give Parius a nod. This record is such a fun little ditty that I want to remind everyone that it exists and that they are welcome to buy it and listen to it and love it. Can’t wait to hear more from these guys.
- Madder Mortem // Marrow — Slowly but surely, Marrow has crept into a constant place in my rotation. The album is such a slow burn that it really took me by surprise. It didn’t quite make the cut for the list, but goddamn Agnete’s voice is cool (she reminds me of Grace Slick from Jefferson Airplane) and the songwriting is both fun and unexpected. I will be revisiting this for a long time.
- Alkaloid // Liquid Anatomy — It was hard leaving this off the list proper. Liquid Anatomy is an invigoratingly heavy record that feels like a cross between Omnivium-era Obscura and A-to-D-era Morbid Angel. There are so many good riffs and great ideas and performances here that it feels like an injustice that it didn’t make the list. And now I’m trolling my own list. *rabble rabble*
- Æpoch // Awakening Inception — I just wrote about these dudes, but let me reiterate that Æpoch is promising as hell.5 A lot of people are putting this on their End o’ Year lists, and they deserve it. It didn’t eat up so much time, though, since 2018 was a bumper crop of excellent death metal.
- In Vain // Currents — I feel kind of bad about In Vain. I think Currents would have made the list in 2017 as I love it, and think it’s their best record yet. I have listened to it quite a lot this year but it just never quite makes the cut for the final list. But let me assure you, this is one of my heartiest recommendations from 2018. This album is chock full of great riffs, awesome vocal performances and all the variations on Scandy melodic genres you can eat.
- Haken // Vector — This record isn’t a disappointment in the sense that it was a bad album. I don’t think it’s a bad record, per se. The reason it was disappointing to me is that I liked it so much at first and then it just fizzled on me. Eventually, one has to accept that a band is moving in different directions from the path one would have chosen for them. Said differently, goddamnit The Mountain was such a good fucking record! No one sounds like Haken sounded, but they decided to pack that sound onto the ships to Valinor and send it away. I don’t know why. It makes me sad.
- Dimmu Borgir // Eonian — Demon Burger is one of those bands that I’ve always had a soft spot for. “The Insight and the Catharsis” is still one of my favorite orchestral black metal songs, and I got heavily into their discography back in the late-90s and early aughts (like the poseur I am). I know that they haven’t been good in a while,6 but I had hoped that they would make Eonian a record that would wave the flag of the extremely dead orchestral black metal subgenre high. Alas, they embarrassingly made a professional choir sing some of the most cringe-inducing things I’ve ever heard in my life. This record bummed me out. It’s time to quit beating this horse, y’all. It appears to be well and truly dead.
Top 5(ish) Songs o’ the Year
#ish: Amaranthe: “365” — Oh c’mon, you can’t listen to this song 15 times to review the album and not kinda start liking it. You try it!
#5: Riverside: “The Night Before” — Yeah, this song ain’t metal even a little. But my god, it’s such a fragile and beautiful song with a pitch vocal perfect performance from Duda, and it makes me ache when I hear it. “The Night Before” is the perfect way to end one of the best records of the year.
#4: 1914: “Passchenhell” — This fantastic, doomy number struck me immediately upon hearing it the first time. The riffs and harmonies are perfect, and the build into the blasts with the violin over it works so well. And, finally, the sample of the soldier singing “We’re here because we’re here because we’re here” to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne” is a haunting ending that’s driven me close to tears nearly every time I’ve heard it.7 1914 brought their A-game to this track.
#3: Angra: “The Bottom of My Soul” — Could someone please just make Rafael Bittencourt the principal vocalist in Angra? Unlike Fabio “I’ve never heard a note I couldn’t slaughter by oversinging it” Leone, Bittencourt’s vocals are emotive but sport a grit fits perfectly for metal. I was struck by this fact once again while listening to ØMNI this year. While maybe not as Eurovision ready as the last time they featured on my Song(s) o’ the Year list, “The Bottom of My Soul” meets my criteria of moody, melodic, and melodramatic. A highlight from a pretty enjoyable record.
#2: Haken: “A Cell Divides” — While Vector was good, but frustrating, its standout track was “A Cell Divides.” It closes the album out with great riffing and one of the best vocal melodies on the whole album. I love the stuttering feel, the tightness of the composition and I think Nolly’s djenty production works well on this song. It’s heavy, fun and catchy. Two extra thumbs up for that bridge: pure Haken goodness.
#1: Amorphis: “Amongst Stars” — I didn’t know that these guys had enlisted Anneke to sing on this record until I heard it for the first time. My heart leaped into my throat, and I’ve been in love with this song ever since. Anneke’s vocals are perfect for this music, mixing with Tommi’s growls and hovering alone in the high-mids. Her range and timbre exist in a little pocket of sound that contrasts with the band in a nearly mystical way. Straight perfection.
And here’s my favorite comment image macro of the year:
A Note on What’s to Come
Twenty-nineteen is going to look different at AngryMetalGuy.com in some ways. In the upcoming year, I will step officially into a Managing Editor role for this website. That means that I am responsible for the tone and direction of the site, large-scale planning, and things on an almost managerial level. My new role is quite similar to what I’ve been doing for a while. In broad strokes, this means that I am going to step away from reviewing for the foreseeable future. I’m in the critical final stages of a Ph.D. education and combined with other personal concerns, it’s difficult for me to dedicate the time I want/need to dedicate to AngryMetalGuy.com these days. Every time I get involved again in the day-to-day, I become too involved. I love writing reviews, listening to new music, teaching n00bs to write, and I have a tendency to invest my life into these things when given a chance—even when I can’t afford to. I need to have some self-discipline, even if it means allowing people who aren’t the standard by which all should be judged to review records that are mine by right. Barring a new Iron Maiden, [Luca Turilli/Fabio Leone’s] Rhapsody [of Fire], Opeth or Soen album, I need to be focusing my time and word counts on finishing my dissertation. You will still be able to complain at me once a month when I dictate the Record(s) o’ the Month to the unwashed masses. Other than that, however, my role is going to be backstage until future notice.
This does not threaten the continued existence of AngryMetalGuy.com. Fortunately, I have had the uncanny luck to work with the most incredible, patient and diligent partners in this endeavor in the form of Steel Druhm and Madam X (with the excellent recent additions of the Drs. Grier and Wvrm) without whom this site would be immeasurably different. I cannot tell you how glad I am to be able to entrust my accidental legacy to such capable, wise and dedicated people. I love them fiercely.
Finally, 2019 marks an entire goddamned decade of Angry Metal Guy. Know that we are busy brainstorming ideas for what we’re going to do and that we hope to make it as memorable as possible.
- Hello applicant: we are slowly working through things here. If you haven’t heard anything yet, it doesn’t necessarily mean we have disqualified you. This process is going to be a long one, but we promise that you’ll hear from us as soon as we can make time for you in our busy schedules. ↩
- “They know riffs. They have the best riffs.” –Ed. ↩
- Take that one, genre police! ↩
- Congratulations to Jón for being the first musician, let alone vocalist, to be featured on two releases on the same Top 10ish. Hell, the Top 3, even. ↩
- Though, does anyone know why there are only two dudes in the band all of a sudden according to Metal Archives? ↩
- Read: decades. ↩
- For context, British soldiers sang this in the trenches during WWI. The brutality of such a simple joke in the face of so much pointless death is truly tragic. ↩