Gah! Where am I? Who am I? Happy Metal Wvrm? What in the shit is going on here? One second, I’m
stitching wood-chipped chunks of Swordborn back together down in the Coal Chamber doing nothing worth mentioning, officer. The next, I’m here. In an office with a door handle and no bars on the window. Wearing a lab coat with no, wait, only a couple blood stains. A photo of Steel holding a gun to my head, signed “Welcome to the editorial staff,” sitting on my desk… I’ve got a desk! With all three legs! I got promoted! All shall love me and despair!
Jokes aside, it’s been a long fucking year for this wvrm. As I continue my involuntary descent into the pits of adulthood, the gravity of age and responsibility stretch days into centuries. Do you know how many colors of work pants I have? How many tools exist simply to mock my feeble attempts at home improvement? How many different people’s shit I’ve had on my hands this week alone? I’m not a real doctor—or a father—the answer should be one! I tried to write three books this year and I failed three separate times. Each new sunrise carries with it a thousand new opportunities to fail spectacularly, and I make the most of every one.
But through it all, there’s been Angry Metal Guy. Rain or shine, poop brown or puke rainbow, the site has been there. I struggle to express what writing here has meant to me over the last couple years. I believe, in the least sanctimonious way possible, that what we do here makes a difference, if only to the minuscule percentage of people who both like the least accessible music in the world and are just as pretentious as we are. It may not be much, but it’s all I need.
So thank you. Thank you to Angry Metal Guy, Steel Druhm, and Madam X for piloting this dinghy down the Grand Line, and for giving me an outlet to unleash my grammar Nazi tendencies on every poor soul writing here (sorry not sorry you don’t understand asides, Ferrous). A very special thank you to Dr. A.N. Grier for swashbuckling through the format queue with me. If we weren’t laughing, we’d probably be crying. I can’t imagine wrestling that hydra without you. To Mrs. Wvrm, I can’t thank you enough for putting up with the aural terror of every vocalist that needs a smoothie and the ensuing hair-pulling as I agonize over each word like I’m writing the preamble of the Constitution. To the rest of you schmucks, be you on Slack or in the comment section: I couldn’t ask for a funnier collection of assholes to while away the hours with. I don’t know many metalheads in real life, so you make my life all the happier just by existing. Happy Christmas, merry New Year, and may 2019 bring you every joy you could ask for.
(ish) Beaten to Death // Agronomicon – 2015’s Unplugged remains the brightest gem in Beaten to Death‘s melogrind crown, but Agronomicon is nonetheless an atom bomb, capable of unleashing unfathomable mayhem in barely an instant. Their obscene catchiness and penchant for incredible song titles-lives on in stunners like “Extremely Run to the Hills” and “Boy George Michael Bolton,” packed with energy and urgency and a ridiculous groove that still has no business succeeding in music this chaotic. As if there was any doubt, Agronomicon cements the Norwegians as one of the premiere acts in grindcore, melodic or otherwise.
#10. Hinayana // Order Divine – I thought I’d had melodic death/doom pegged. The cabal headed by Novembers Doom and Swallow the Sun had their niche, and there they could stay, capable, competent, and, nowadays, completely disaffecting. Then Order Divine rose out of the Texas night like a moon dragged too close to the earth. Hinayana‘s somber melodies lead Order Divine to some rarefied air, but always presenting catchniess in different ways. Whether pacing themselves into highlight chorus or chucking knucks right from the first bar, Hinayana always find a way to compelling music. If they can escape the shadows of Insomnium‘s presence and establish their own definitive brand, the night sky is the limit for Hinayana.
#9. Moonshield // The Warband – Sometimes, a simple man needs a simple album. The Warband gives you exactly what you want, exactly how you want it—delicious, direct, and incredibly fun. Moonshield wear their hearts on their sleeve with every note of their propulsive melodic hardcore. Their chipped tunes never fail to bring a smile to my face, and on every listen, a new song takes the lead to keep the album fresh. A dose of complexity wouldn’t hurt future outings, but you have to start somewhere, and The Warband is a hell of a declaration of intent.
#8. Gaerea // Unsettling Whispers – Like a permanent specter lurking on the edge of my thoughts, Unsettling Whispers was the one album that I couldn’t escape this year. Gaerea submerge you in scalding waters, simultaneous suffocating and burning away your pathetic form. It’s a testament to Gaerea‘s talent that their debut came together so fully formed, their sound so distinct despite black metal’s ubiquitous presence, the might of their staying power matched only by their ambition. The waves of Unsettling Whispers‘ existence have only just begun to be felt; it’s fresh enough to shake up the scene (and launch a thousand Gaerea clones) and strong enough to withstand spin after spin. I can only wait for album number two.
#7. Slugdge // Esoteric Malacology – Consider me one of the converted. Like Gaerea, this was an album I enjoyed initially but didn’t think I would return to half as many times as I have. Yet here we are, nine months later, and I’m still agape at Slugdge‘s mammoth leap forward. In a huge year for death metal, who would guess that the slug meme guys would be here at year end? Slugdge handle their progressive and blackened influences with so much skill that their death metal characteristics stand out all the more, deepened on a core level rather than tacked on to. Esoteric Malacology is not without reproach—it’s probably just as bit self-indulgent it’s accused of being—but when the riffs are this damn good, it’s hard to care. Hail Mollusca.
#6. Asu no Jokei // Awakening – Post-black. Atmoblack. Blackgaze. Call it what you want, but Awakening will still have your attention and your respect. Asu no Jokei might not plunder the depths of madness as ostentatiously as countrymen like Sigh or Boris, but the myriad of always excellent elements at play on Awakening range from unsettling to moving to downright enthralling. The album plays like a cohesive unit despite a varied track list that you simply don’t see from a lot of bands in the space. Perhaps it is that unexpected duality that dug Awakening deep into my subconscious. Perhaps it was the total commitment in Nuno’s vocal performance. Perhaps it was the sheer skill that lights the way on each new path Asu no Jokei usher you down. Whatever it was, Awakening has yet to let me out of its clutches and I’m all the happier for it.
#5. Svartidauði // Revelations of the Red Sword – I’ve never been one for Deathspell Omega worship, but something about Revelations of the Red Sword sticks in my craw. Svartidauði work miracles with this one, striking perfect balances between dissonance and melody, pace and heat. The whole record breathes such continuity into its overwhelming malice that none of the heavier moments feel overblown, none of the blasts feel unearned. The execution is top-notch from the trio, resulting in perhaps my favorite performance of the year. When the bleakness and grandiosity of it all culminates in closer “Aureum Lux,” the results blot out Iceland’s midnight sun. If you would see that darkness last forever, have hope. Svartidauði may see that it does.
#4. 1914 // The Blind Leading the Blind – Eastern Europe’s march to the front of the global black metal column has been swift and merciless, and 1914‘s twist of the kaleidoscope unveiled one of the region’s best atrocities to date. The Blind Leading the Blind encapsulates the annihilation of the era, in all its wanton carnage and misery, with an hour of the finest meat-grinding riffs and percussive destruction that black and death metal have to offer. The Ukrainians dig trenches of doom-rife misery through the battlefield, deepening the link between the oppressive nature of The Blind Leading the Blind and its source material. The war movie soundbites can be a bit much at times, but at no point do I ever feel that the overt theme of the record is overdone. Despite a monstrous year for death metal and stiff black competition, 1914 blow both camps to smithereens.
#3. Mongol // The Return – Melodeath proper had a rough year. Big names faltered. Progressive experimentation required extra seasoning. The hooks just weren’t there… except for Mongol. The Canadians’ tale of Genghis Khan returning from the dead to conquer the world mercifully scratched the melodeath itch that no one else could reach all year. Their lush orchestration and wide range of folk instruments ensured that the execution of their clever songwriting matched the grand nature of The Return‘s majestic melodies. Mongol crash across the steppe better than almost everyone this year, led by my favorite song of the year in “To the Wind.” In fact, only the three minutes of “Dschinghis Khan,” my least favorite song of the year, may be all that stands between The Return and a real discussion for the top spot. Be that as it may, I still owe Mongol a great debt. In a year of disappointment, The Return didn’t let me down.
#2. Altars of Grief // Iris – Altars of Grief wreck me. Even now, in this 11th hour edit, the foundations of this list ripple as Altars of Grief push higher and higher up its ranks. Of all the albums here—including #1—Iris seems the most likely to haunt my steps for years to come. Iris looms like smoke on a pyre, lingers like the unfillable ache long after. Not since David Gold’s untimely departure has the pain of loss and of being alive been so marvelously presented. In a way, the heaviness of Iris feels like a companion piece to Eneferens‘ softer The Bleakness of Our Constant: a midnight phone call before the morning after, the tears preceding the resignation, anger before acceptance. The confusion and catharsis soaking Iris take many forms: sorrow-stricken dirge, blackened outrage, brutal cataclysm as the human condition and humanity’s conditioning to hope clash. Altars of Grief carry a single flame in the name of Woods of Ypres, though their crushing weight threatens more deathly hallows as they press you through six feet of freshly dug earth. Through it all, Iris is magnificent.
#1. Eneferens // The Bleakness of Our Constant – A recent discussion with one of you fabulous readers put into perspective why Eneferens, a band I couldn’t spell in an atmoblack genre I barely cared about, stuck with me so much. The Bleakness of Our Constant makes me feel. It stretches its skeleton key past the base desires that usually drive a listen and unlocks the bastion of emotions pent up far away from day-to-day life. It speaks to the fields of regret and self-disgust and sadness that can bore through a life. The musical quality is unquestionably top-notch—every song is a tour de force and the record could have landed here based on that alone. But Eneferens put themselves out there with music that captures the unspeakable storm caught in my throat. Very few bands have ever dredged the lock-box of my heart so fully; the ones who have, acts like Strapping Young Lad, Woods of Ypres, and Æther Realm, have been my favorites in all of music. When The Bleakness of Our Constant ends, I start it over again. And again. And again. Hoping it can answer some question I’ve never known to ask. Praying Eneferens can solve the yearning the world never could.
- Horizon Ablaze // The Weight of a Thousand Suns – In the bleakest part of the early year, with the New England snow calcified around the winter’s accumulation of dirt and salt and shitty releases, this was the only album that could satisfy me.
- Mutilated by Zombies // Scripts of Anguish – My favorite meat-and-potatoes death metal in, well, forever.
- Allfather // And All Will Be Desolation – A crusty, vicious, utterly devastating behemoth that is impossible to turn off once it gets rumbling.
- Sacrificed Alliance // Withdrawn – A incredible peak-and-valley attempt at the progressive ideals that I’d like to see more of in melodeath.
- Inferi // Revenant – A lack of true standout moments dings Revenant‘s replay value, but few records this year top this purple people-eater’s cohesion.
- Light This City // Terminal Bloom – “But it’s just a bunch of hooks,” my brain screams, drowned out by my heart’s delighted squeals of “It’s just a bunch of hooks!”
Disappointment o’ the Year
The Year – Metal’s star power served up a lukewarm plate of mild wings and celery in 2018, and the rest of the scene didn’t fill the void until it was too late. Chalk it up to the flotilla of good-but-not-good-enough and one-spin wonders offered by bands I expected better from (see: Amorphis,1 Skeletonwitch, Khemmis, Omnium Gatherum, Kalmah, In Vain, Primordial, Haken, and Panopticon). Hell, I didn’t even rate Sulphur Aeon that highly. Coupled with wet sharts from hyped releases like Behemoth, Ghost, UADA, and Hoth, 2018 pantsed me every time I had the audacity to hope.
Song o’ the Year
Mongol‘s “To the Wind” – In the end, you go with what you know, and I know melodeath. My life is one big hunt for the next song I want to spin thirty-five times in a row. “To the Wind” is that track. Its insurmountable heights get me out of bed in the morning. Its 10.0/5.0 chorus could send me running through a brick wall. It is the crux of the year’s best melodeath album and the apex of every sublime melody Mongol have ever written. Of course it’s “To the Wind.” What other song could it be?