It’s been a strange year for Grier. The levels of confusion and frustration in my work and personal life have been more than I can bear. Resulting in daily migraines, the worst bouts of depression I’ve ever experienced, and working more than I did when I had my own business. And, to be honest, I haven’t a clue what lies ahead. Never in my life has my future been so unclear. Something I thought I would never have to deal with again since leaving said company. But, AMG never lets me down. Even when I was a reader. Though most of the crew doesn’t realize it, they’ve been my support group for years. Thank you AMG, Steel, and Madam X for always being there for me. You three have no idea how much you’ve made my life better. I also want to thank Dr. Wvrm for all his help with the editing of what seems like thousands of reviews this year—noob and vet alike. Sharing this job with you has been a pleasure and I appreciate all that you do.1
Now, I don’t mean to bitch. Everyone’s got their shit and it’s only fair that I should be no different. But, as with any year, my jumbled selection of top picks needs justification. Some of what you are about to see is terribly stupid, some are as confused and frustrated as me, and others are my mood at 100 mph, on a highway straight to my grave. There’re low and high points, light and dark, and plenty of contemplation—should we continue or give up this fucking fight? While I won’t deny that 2018 was a great year for metal, it wasn’t until the end of the year that things started clicking for me. Most of the year, I was barely grasping at a top five, much less a top ten. When my headache’s finally subsided long enough to listen to shit, I discovered that 2018 was full of slow-burners. Records that became monstrous with each passing moment and each warming spin.
Twenty-eighteen was a good year for black metal, a bad one for thrash, and—to many—the final nail in the coffin for bands like Vreid, Behemoth, Machine Head, and Pig Destroyer. Forgotten and underrated bands shot their way to the top of lists (Chapel of Disease), unsigned outfits surfaced and shocked the entire community (Second to Sun), successful new eras began for bands of old (Craft and Immortal), and metal mainstays continued to drop masterpieces no one could deny (Kingcrow and The Ocean). Some made my list, some didn’t. Some albums may be “missing” in your eyes and others might be “out of order.” Whether you agree with me or not, I couldn’t care less. Take it or leave it, this is the Grier of 2018. I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride.
(ish) Priest // New Flesh – Yep, welcome to Grier‘s personal nightmare. A nightmare where he tries to justify why an ’80s synth-pop record that scored a measly 2.0/5.0—filled with gimps and leather—would make his “ish” pick. Being the diehard Mercyful Fate fan that I am, Ghost‘s Opus Eponymous was a magical journey into ’80s occult metal. And, as it turns out, Priest consists of members/producers that once called shotgun on their way out to the Mystery Van. But there’re no Scooby snacks available on Priest‘s debut album. Instead, New Flesh whips out a hard-on dripping with Vaseline and throbbing to the rhythm of the Eurythmics and The Sisters of Mercy. It’s a uniqueness that no other “metal band” can match.2 It’s a weird fucking nightmare but, goddamn, Priest have a lot of balls. And, for that, they deserve my odd pick for 2018.
#10. Pig Destroyer // Head Cage – Head
Case Cage is one of the more controversial releases of 2018. Some have proclaimed it a new era for the band. Others have accepted it as an interesting break from the Pig Destroyer norm. But there’re many that consider Head Cage to be the Load of Pig Destroyer‘s catalog, which I find fucking ludicrous. Love it or hate it, Head Cage is a fresh piece of work and one of the more original of PD‘s discog. While tracks like “Torture Fields” and “Army of Cops” might be cleaner and more accessible than, say, most of Terrifyer, the thrashy riffs, rumbling bass, massive drumwork, and political themes make them impossible (at least for me) to ignore. Accept it or deny it for what it is, you can tell by the execution and songwriting that Head Cage is as strong an album as any in the band’s catalog.
#9. The Konsortium // Rogaland – From the comments originating from my review of Rogaland, few will agree with my placement of this thrashy black/folk record on my top ten list. But there’s not much I can do about it. This fucking album has me drowning in everything I love about bands like Ihsahn and The Deathtrip. As well as the fact that The Konsortium consists of a couple of my all-time favorite black metal musicians: Teloch and Dirge Rep. And though many of you had gripes about the vocals, Member 001’s use of shrieks, falsettos, and soaring cleans are some of the most original I’ve heard all year. Like Funeral Mist, the vocals have an “unhinged” quality to them like no other album on my list. Because of this, “Havet” and “Skogen” are, in general, a couple of the best songs I’ve heard all year. They also possess sweet saxophone, clean/acoustic guitars, and building melodies that go beyond anything the band has ever done before. Rogaland is powerful and spontaneous and, given enough time, its atmospheres and landscapes will suffocate you.
#8. Them // Manor of the Se7en Gables – Two years ago, I gave a little album called Sweet Hollow my “ish” pick. Why? Because I thought it might piss off the giant ape in the main office? Nah, I’m not that vengeful. As I’ve done for years, my “ish” pick is reserved for an album that I couldn’t stop listening to. Even if that album never scored higher than most of my honorable mentions. Two years ago, Them‘s Sweet Hollow made the cut for being fun and because I’m a whore for King Diamond. Now it’s 2018 and Them is back with Manor of the Se7en Gables. And, I’ll be dammed if it didn’t secure a top-ten spot! While Sweet Hollow borrowed liberally from the King ethos, Manor of the Se7en Gables shows a heavy/speed concept that is more original than anything the band did on the debut. From vocals to instrumentation to songwriting, Manor of the Se7en Gables shows a band coming into their own.
#7. Crisix // Against the Odds – A lot of readers won’t agree with me on this one. Especially the thrash enthusiasts that find Crisix‘s brand of goofy rethrash a mockery to the anti-governmental, anti-societal thrash from the ’80s. But, 2018 was not the year for thrash and only a few bubbled to the top. And, for me, Against the Odds is it. It’s a balanced disc with every nook and cranny filled with fun, crushing, and, at times, melodic numbers. “Technophiliac,” “Xenomorph Blood,” and “Get out of My Head” will have you improvising a mosh pit in your living room, while “Perseverance” and “The North Remembers” will have you striking up a Bic lighter and singing to the rafters. Though you won’t find anything groundbreaking on Against the Odds, it’s too fun to resist. Because of that, this little record has been my most-listened-to album of the year.
#6. Altars of Grief // Iris – I’m not gonna lie, I miss Woods of Ypres a lot. When David Gold died—almost to the day—seven years ago, I was devastated. And when the band’s final release dropped one month later, Gold’s loss sunk in. And it took me a good two years to get over it. Iris is the closest I’ve come to the empty, yet beautiful sound that made Woods who they are. But Altars of
Grier Grief aren’t copycats. Though they have that Woodsy hopelessness in songs like “Isolation,” “Becoming Intangible,” and “Child of Light,” Altars of Grief hammer you with the sheer heaviness and black/death rasps/growls of “Iris.” It’s a dense record with black and white paints bleeding into gray. If Iris hadn’t been a last-minute listen and last-minute addition to my list, it may have been higher. But, for now, I’m just glad it’s here.
#5. Atlas Moth // Coma Noir – I never pen enough sludge/stoner reviews in a given year. Which is surprising considering I listen to the genre a lot—most likely due to a large part of the Arizona scene being doom, sludge, and stoner metal. I love me the kind that bumps and thumps, creating angry and gloomy atmospheres that liquify even the most-solid ground. And the kind that won’t allow you to escape its murky sadness and depression. When The Atlas Moth‘s Coma Noir came out in February, it sucked me straight to the bottom of its quagmire. The nasty vocals, the crushing riffs, the moody vibes, and the Throwdown thrashiness combined with the Mastodon progressiveness made Coma Noir pure power. To lose even one piece of the puzzle would turn unstoppable tracks, like “Coma Noir” and “Furious Gold,” into mediocre ones. Thankfully, The Atlas Moth do what they do best. And Coma Noir is proof of that.
#4. Funeral Mist // Hekatomb – After months of discussing Funeral Mist‘s Hekatomb in the AMG comments and, via their very own TYMHM piece, it’s occurred to me that this black metal gem can be described in one word: unhinged. Arioch/Mortuus writes the kind of black metal pieces trve fans dream of. Songs with no regard for rules or patterns, no regard for what’s right or wrong, no regard for the normal or expected. Hekatomb will kill your lawn, burn down your home, and, for good measure, torch your neighbor’s doghouse. “Hosanna,” “Cockatrice,” “Shredding Skin,” and “In Nomine Domini” don’t give two fucks about your peace, your happiness, or your fucking life. You might as well take your doors off their hinges when spinning Hekatomb. It’ll blow them off anyway.
#3. Sargeist // Unbound – I’m easy when it comes to black metal. That’s probably why my top ten black metal picks look different than my colleagues’. While I enjoy heavy meloblack releases, with their lengthy songs and murky atmospheres, I don’t always need them. Most of the time, all I need is a classic Scandinavian-styled record designed to set the world on fire. Sure, twenty of those come out a week during the year, but few of them work. And that’s why Shatraug is a myth amongst men. A man with so many releases under his belt that you expect the well has gone dry. And, one day, that may be true. But today is not that day. Instead, Shatraug has crafted a Sargeist record as relevant as ever. Unbound is equal melody and equal punishment, with a simple, yet complex, attitude. It’s a packed, pleasing disc that won’t disappoint any traditional black metal aficionado.
#2. The Ocean // Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic – The Ocean always has me learning something with each release. If it’s geological eons or the ocean depths, I spend as much time researching the concept as I do listening to the album. Context is everything for The Ocean and Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic is no different. Every song is a piece of a topographical puzzle, with valleys and mountains, climates and landscapes, and moods and attitudes painted to its surface. The Ocean‘s music is more than sound waves protruding from my headphones. It’s something you can touch and feel. Each riff, each build, and each climax is as warm as human skin. And, Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic has put goosebumps to the skin.
#1. Second to Sun // The Walk – Second to Sun and their epic The Walk are living proof that you can’t complete your annual top ten list in October. I still question a band’s motive for releasing an album so late in the year, but it happened. And, in reality, I’m sure no one gives a shit but music reviewers. After releasing The Black3 back in May, no one expected a second 2018 release from this Russian outfit. Not to mention one this good. Not only that but it was released as both a vocal and instrumental version. Listen to one, listen to the other, listen to both, or create a playlist that mixes the two. It doesn’t matter. Like The Ocean‘s Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic, both versions have their own thick textures—unveiling their many surprises and exposing fresh atmospheres with each listen. The Walk may have been slow getting to the front but, goddamn, I’m glad it’s here.
- Craft // White Noise and Black Metal – This album was so close to making my list, it’s not even funny. If it wasn’t for end o’ the year surprises—like Second to Sun—Craft would have remained in my top ten. Regardless, White Noise and Black Metal is the band’s most unique record to date. And arguably their best. Because of that, it deserves the top spot in Grier‘s honorable mentions.
Allfather // And All Will Be Desolation – Here’s another that fell off my list as others made their way into top spots. Which says something about how competitive my list became this year. And All Will Be Desolation is too good not to show up somewhere. It’s a beast of a record and one of the most destructive combinations of doom, sludge, and stoner this year.
Immortal // Northern Chaos Gods – This is one the biggest surprise of the year for me. I mean, Immortal has always been good and has always been a favorite of mine, but how good can they be without Abbath? Well, it turns out, quite good. Northern Chaos Gods is the start of a new era for Immortal and I’m excited to see where it takes them.
Death Alley // Superbia – Since 2015’s fun-as-hell Black Magick Boogieland, I’ve been waiting impatiently for another Death Alley record. But, when it finally arrived, I was not prepared for it. Superbia is no BMB, Part II. It’s a masterful achievement of proggy ’70s rock and, like BMB before it, it’s one of the most interesting releases of the year.
Manes // Slow Motion Death Sequence – Manes is an odd duck. After making an early-career move from black metal to the avant-garde in the early ’00s (much like the mighty Ulver), the band continues to push boundaries with every release. Slow Motion Death Sequence is moody and trippy, yet smooth as glass. The end result is a captivating and stunning record that finds the band at the most-accessible period in their twenty-five-year career.
Professor Black // Sunrise and I Am the Rock – Only one man would dare release three records on one day. And, of those three, two were fucking spectacular. Sunrise finds Black exploring the interesting combination of Bathory and the ’80s rock/metal stylings of W.A.S.P., while I Am the Rock is pure Motörhead worship. The man is a master at what he does and the calculated and meticulous songwriting of these two albums is clear.
Vardan // Unholy Lightless Summer – Vardan has been a running joke at AMG Industries, Inc. for so long, I started to think they (he) had to be the shittiest band on the planet. It turns out Vardan (the man and the band) are actually quite good—regardless of how many albums he puts out a year. And the little, three-song record, Unholy Lightless Summer, is a pleasant surprise. It’s got the feels and moods and it doesn’t linger as much as its lengthy tracks may appear. It’s more “upbeat” than the other black metal releases on my list, yet it drags you deeper than most.
- Kingcrow // The Persistence – Three years ago, I had the privilege of reviewing Kingcrow‘s Eidos record. It’s a concoction of simple builds, atmospheres, and progressiveness that simply floored me. Though I’m not exactly the prog guy at AMG,4 Kingcrow plays the kind of prog that hooks me in the mouth. Combining the depressing atmospheres of the synthy “The Persistence” with Opethy Watershed-like moments of “Folding Paper Dreams,” the band presses against walls they erected eighteen years ago. This new record is stripped to the bone—focusing on an interlocking theme and vibe that “persists” from opener “Drenched” to closer “Perfectly Imperfect.”
Amigo the Devil // Everything is Fine – Musically, Amigo ain’t metal. But he’s about as metal as a folk/country musician can get. About as metal as Tom Waits‘ Black Rider, if that gives you perspective. And anyone that’s been to a west-coast metal festival and seen him play his acoustic, one-man shows at breweries, distilleries, in backyards, and between the sets of Agoraphobic Nosebleed, Pig Destroyer, and Power Trip consider Amigo family. With three untouchable EPs under his belt, Amigo‘s first full-length is finally here. Within you’ll find yourself laughing to “Hungover in Jonestown” and “I Hope Your Husband Dies,” singing along to “Hell and You” and “Everyone Gets Left Behind,” and curling up to die with “The Dreamer” and “Cocaine and Abel.” Once you’re in, there’s no way back out.
Wardruna // Skald – If you haven’t heard Wardruna but you’ve have seen the Vikings TV show, then you’re a liar. You’ve heard Wardruna. This shit is so out of the norm for me that it had to make an honorable mention. Typically using choirs and orchestration to bring his old-fashioned Scandinavian folk to life,5 Einar Selvik has stripped everything back with this year’s late-arriver, Skald. Case in point: the sixteen-minute poem, “Sonatorrek.” Skald is a soundtrack to a time long gone, whose cultures and traditions live through the vocals, instrumentation, and songwriting of Wardruna. Skald may not be for everyone but, it’s still impressive.
Disappointment o’ the Year
Machine Head // Catharsis – “Triple Beam.” ‘Nough said.
Songs o’ the Year
The Beauty: Rauhnåcht‘s “Gebirgsbachreise” – Talk about love at first sight. I’ve had this song (and it’s album Unterm Gipfelthron) for only a couple weeks but this gorgeous instrumental floored me. It’s a simple piece but that’s what makes its bass leads, acoustic rhythms, and folky atmospheres so rich and captivating.
The Beast: Pig Destroyer‘s “Torture Fields” – I know, I know. This isn’t what you expected from a Grier Song o’ the Year. But there’s nothing I can do about it. Not only are the breakdowns at 1:20 and 2:30 some of the more neck-snapping of 2018, but the violent conclusion makes the band sound like they are an actual steel-manufacturing plant. Not in one. Are one. Of all the songs I’ve heard this year, this is the one I’ve listened to the most.