Here’s an admission for all you folks… I suck at intros. Sure, I can bang out a review with relative ease, once I know where I’m headed with it. Same goes for getting my think-pieces going, once the ideas present themselves. But introductions? Maaaaaaaan… fuck those good and hard, especially when it comes to year-end lists and my thoughts of the year leading up to it.
This year was very busy for me. A new career brought some new challenges and rewards my way. Learning, and making mistakes, was a constant theme of 2018. There were moments of joy, frustration, and loss, and while the music didn’t always capture those moments like in years past, the ones that did connect with me hit me in ways that can’t really be described in words, and those albums are below. Granted, I know I’m missing an album or two, but I hope you enjoy the selection, and you all will be good to each other in the following year.
Finally, I know my output hasn’t been as steady as it was in the past, but if there’s something I learned this year, it’s that I will find time to continue writing for the best metal review site on the Internet. I love talking about metal with you folks, and exposing all of you to new sounds and bands, as well as giving honest opinions with you all. That will never change, and I’m not going anywhere.
Again, I want to thank my family and friends for being there, as well as the other writers here at Angry Metal Guy for continuing to bring it with the humor, the metal, the writing, and most importantly, their friendship. Big thanks also go out to Dr. Wvrm, Dr. A.N. Grier, Madam X, and Steel Druhm for tightening up my words and for being awesome people, to Sentynel for keeping the site going behind the scenes like a seasoned pro, and to Angry Metal Guy himself for still believing in me, even when I didn’t. And a big thank you and I love you to my partner, for continuing to be my rock over the years. Words are not sufficient enough. And a giant thank you to you, the readers, for your comments, concerns, questions, memes, humorous pics, and all sorts of wacky shenanigans, for making this worth it for all of us. I’m not kidding when I say you all are the lifeblood that keeps us going, so again you have my eternal gratitude.
Lastly, this is dedicated in loving memory to my late older brother who, had it not been for him introducing me to metal music, as well as to gaming and pro wrestling as an impressionable kid, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now as a writer. Thank you, and I love and miss you.
(ish) Gygax // 2nd Edition – The boys are back in town with their second album, and it’s just as fun as their debut. Another great album of Thin Lizzy worship. Also, hi, LOOK AT THAT BEAUTIFUL ALBUM COVER. *ahem*
#10. Slægt // The Wheel – Further streamlining their “Gothenburg-meets-Tribulation” sound to where there’s only the finest cuts of meat, these Danish youngsters are quickly making a name for themselves, and I can only see bigger and better things coming their way in the future. A stellar album.
#9. Riverside // Wasteland – After losing their guitarist and longtime friend, Piotr Grudziński, to a heart attack in 2016, Riverside would be understandably forgiven if they just decided to cease operation under its current form. Instead, they soldiered on in what’s one of the most heartbreaking, honest, and beautiful albums I’ve heard all year. A fitting tribute to a good friend.
#8. Collapse of Light // Each Failing Step – Funeral doom, when done right, can provide a catharsis like few other forms of music can. When you add the somber wails of Natalie Koskinen (Shape of Despair), it elevates the music tremendously, which is amazing considering the music on here is stellar to begin with. I’m left wanting more.
#7. Un // Sentiment – These Seattle doom merchants barely missed my list in 2015 due to The Tomb of All Things coming out after my list was finalized, but there’s no issues here with them landing on my list with a stronger follow-up. Their songs may take a while to digest, but the journey makes the destination more than worth it, and if you love strong doom metal, you need to get your hands on this pronto.
#6. Outre // Hollow Earth – No lie, out of all the releases to come out this year, I had my eye on the follow-up to 2015’s awesome Ghost Chants the closest, so I expected more post-blackened goodness. Instead, Outre dove deeper into dense, chaotic waters, emerging with a disgusting, wretched, and incredible beast that turns a gaze towards a more bleak and disturbing future. Ugly and visceral.
#5, Mournful Congregation // The Incubus of Karma – It took seven years after their last album, the stellar The Book of Kings, for our beloved Aussies to drop a worthy follow-up. If The Incubus of Karma is any indication, I’m okay with that stretch of time, as it produced one of their strongest albums to date, if not the strongest. One hell of an incredible album awaits those who wish to listen.
#4. Slugdge // Esoteric Malacology – On the one hand, the British duo have a knack for coming up with some of the funniest mollusk-related puns for song titles. On the other, though, no one is laughing at their musicianship or songwriting chops, as these two (now a full-fledged band) kill it better than most of their peers (and even some of their influences). How they haven’t faltered in quality after four albums of intense technical death metal is astounding.
#3. Voices // Frightened – Frightened is not the logical progression of 2015’s incredible London, but yet it is unmistakably Voices at their nihilistic, pessimistic core. And while it alienated quite a few listeners upon release, it was an instant favorite of mine that only tightened its grip on me over the last few months. It’s also proof positive that it’s not usually the artist who bends to the whim of the listener, but rather the listener bending to the artist.
#2. Imperial Triumphant // Vile Luxury – Just like their home in the Big Apple, Imperial Triumphant crafted quite the 56-minute headfuck that enchanted as it disgusted, crafting glorious skyscrapers that proudly overlooked rats gnawing through trash bags. Their marriage of discordant death metal and free-form jazz elegantly (and perversely) weaved a tale of a city’s infatuation with both the sublime and the seedy, and further cemented Imperial Triumphant as borderline unfuckwithable.
#1. Morrow // Fallow – Yes, I am fully aware this album came out at the very tail end of 2017, one day short of Christmas, and this is considered cheating. Two things: 1) This is my list, so go make your own if this bothers you, and 2) this album is one of the most passionate, defiant, and sometimes heartbreaking albums I’ve heard since… well, their debut in 2016’s Covenant of Teeth. It’s the aural equivalent of watching your favorite hero from a film or book facing their inevitable doom, but you watch or read on for their heroic death anyways, as you have to see it (and them) through to the end regardless because everything connects with you that deeply. That’s the power behind Fallow; no matter how bleak or hopeless things get, you see them through. Always.
- Sylvaine // Atoms Aligned, Coming Undone – Another fine album of ambient black metal with a vibrant, almost watercolor atmosphere.
- Amorphis // Queen of Time – Amorphis continue to captivate and astound, almost three decades later. In fact, “Amongst Stars” barely lost out as my Song o’ the Year choice.
- Order ov Riven Cathedrals // Göbekli Tepe – Leave it to Italy to take technical death metal, launch it into space, and proceed to make a monster out of it.
- The Ocean // Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic – I will admit that this is my first experience with this German act, and now I have a ton of backtracking to do. Many twists and turns abound, with epic build-ups flooding this amazing album.
- Voivod // The Wake – One of the proggiest albums these Canadian legends have ever released in their storied almost-40-year career, and one of their best to boot.
Disappointments o’ the Year
- Primordial // Exile Amongst the Ruins – I don’t know if it’s due to issues in the studio, production woes, or personal things rearing their ugly heads, but Exile Amongst the Ruins is the sound of a treasured band sounding tired and weary. When stacked against their previous work, you also get the idea that they might even be a slight bit bewildered, as Exile greatly lacked the robust pride and energy that Primordial are well-known for and loved, and it’s the one album of theirs that I haven’t returned to since reviewing it. If you only knew how much it hurt to write that review…
- Anaal Nathrakh // A New Kind of Horror – …which would be about as painful as this one was to write about. Anaal Nathrakh are to me what Iron Maiden is to Angry Metal Guy in that their music helped shape who I am. A New Kind of Horror is troubling on two fronts: their classic “everything cranked to at least 25” sound and songwriting had been done on older albums but better executed before, and the few new things that were introduced ranged from being merely okay at best and downright cringe-y at worst. And it guts me saying this because I straight-up love this band, their chaos, and Dave Hunt’s powerful and versatile vocal ability. Here’s hoping this is just a hiccup.
Song o’ the Year
Voices‘s “Footsteps” – This year brought some incredible metal my way, but it was the closing track to Frightened that I kept coming back to the most. One part Katatonia, one part The Cure, but all authentic and heartbreaking, “Footsteps” saw Voices round a major corner, and as such delivered a powerful ballad to close out Frightened.
Lots of good metal came out in 2018. In fact, so much good metal came out that it was depressing. You see, good music has no place on a year end list – this is where we collect the superlatives of the year, all of the records that moved and inspired us so much that we feel the need to tell you again what they are; sublime, incredible, devastating and wonderful. Ten(ish) records is too much in a year where, despite listening to, on average, a new death metal album about every week,1 I only thought one of those albums could stand with my picks from last year. So instead, below are the five(ish) albums that saved me from complete burnout.
As usual, before you read my list and begin to fully comprehend the depths of your falsehood, I’ll delay you with a few acknowledgements. As always, Dr. Wvrm,2 Dr. A.N. Grier, Madam X, and Steel Druhm have my gratitude for their organization and ace editorial work which catches the vast majority of errors I make before the commenters skewer me for them. It’s their hard work that holds our material to the standards Angry Metal Guy has set. I owe all of the staff at Angry Metal Guy thanks for being supportive, thoughtful, and in general a dream to work with. Penultimately, a preemptive thanks to the army of n00bs, named and unnamed, who have been covering and will be covering promo that I have no desire of coming into contact with. Due to a pretty relaxed work schedule, I was able to write more reviews this year than ever before, but it’s a pace I just can’t keep up, and I’m happy to take next year off of assignment to the Unique Leader desk. As always thank you for reading, participating in a remarkably functional comments section, and in general propping up our banana republic.
(ish) Portal // Ion – It’s Portal‘s best record and the band damn well know it, so it has to be featured here despite being overtaken in my listening rotation over the course of this year. Ion sees the band relying on songwriting rather than production to create their trademark atmosphere of moldy and austere horror, and they’re more than capable of succeeding in that approach. If you’ve never experienced Portal, this is where to start.
(ish) Human Cull // Revenant – You’re better served looking at Mark Z‘s list than here for quality -core (I assume), but even as a grindcore dilettante I still know the good stuff when it bites me in the ass. I couldn’t shake Revenant and still can’t. It’s got the best intro a grind album ever had, a bevy of sick riffs and grooves so fast no needle could track them. What’s not to like?
#5. Baring Teeth // Transitive Savagery – A late comer, but worth every second I waited for it, Transitive Savagery is Baring Teeth as they have always aimed to be. Uncompromising in its vision and execution, this intelligent and aberrant exercise in violence demands investment but reaps great rewards. Transitive Savagery restates everything Baring Teeth are good at while building upon the band’s already singularly challenging discography to deliver yet another glimpse of the incomprehensible.
#4. Aseitas // Aseitas – This is a beautifully odd death metal record that steadfastly refuses to commit itself to one sound, and in a year where steadfastly old school death metal records landed in my ears as regularly as neo-fascists popped up in global news, that eclecticism stuck with me. I can’t quite figure Aseitas out, and that’s both the point of the album and responsible for a lot of its allure.
#3. Author & Punisher // Beastland – Author & Punisher keeps getting better. As Tristan Shone continuously hones both his instrumental arsenal, his industrial doom creation becomes more and more precise, punishing, and even beautiful. Beastland only has one dud song and it’s overshadowed completely by one of the strongest mid-album stretches in recent memory. Plus, the songs kill live.
#2. Infernal Coil // Within a World Forgotten – While Grymm‘s reservations about the latest from Our Place of Worship is the Old Blockbuster Video by the Interstate record ring true, I was dead-set on listing it, at least until Infernal Coil blew it out of the water. The Idoahoans’ focus on drumming and atmosphere over riffage, counterintuitive as it may seem, drove home the impenetrable violence that both bands conjure. Within a World Forgotten probably won’t become anywhere near as important or widely-imitated as Everything is Fire, but the sense of terror and personal insignificance it produces brought me back to the first time I heard Ulcerate, and that’s no mean feat.
#1. Madder Mortem // Marrow – Didn’t see that one coming, did you? I love this album. I love every single song on it. Marrow is exactly the varied, creative, and heartfelt album that every prog band should aspire to make and moreover the kind of intelligent and insightful art that makes life worth living. As much as I can’t get over how perfectly this album is written, paced, and performed from a musical perspective, it’s Agnete Kirkevaag’s lyrics and vocal delivery that completely won my heart. Her emotional palette is vast, and Marrow tugs at a new heartstring at every turn. Heartbreaking tenderness (“Until You Return”), desperate defeat (“Waiting to Fall”), and powerful defiance (“Liberator,” “My Will Be Done”) all play crucial roles in this incredible LP.
Honorable Mentions – Even if I didn’t feel like listing a ton of albums this year, I still heard plenty that I liked and that have stuck around in my rotation. Here are a few.
- Lik // Carnage – The best Swededath album ever made? I’d say so, but I don’t much care for Swedeath in the first place…
- Our Place of Worship is Silence // With Inexorable Suffering – Much as I love to make fun of their name, this band kicks ass.
- Rolo Tomassi // Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It – It’s no Dillinger album but it doesn’t need to be for me to appreciate its melodic and mathy contrast.
- Psycroptic // As the Kingdom Drowns – This is hands down the best Psycroptic album since The Scepter of the Ancients.
- Street Sects // The Kicking Mule – Hellish samples, unforgiving battery, and earworm melodies make for an industrial record every metalhead should check out.
- Imperial Triumphant // Vile Luxury – Imperial Triumphant finally hit their stride with this bizarre and unsettling ode to the top 1 percent of the 1 percent of filth.
- Slugdge // Esoteric Malacology – Not Slugdge‘s best effort, but I’m still hailing Mollusca enough to get disappointed emails from Satan.
Song o’ the Year
Madder Mortem‘s “Until You Return” – What better way to top off the massive about-face of that album of the year pick than to name the least brutal song in the whole list as my song of the year? I’m certainly not a sucker for lovesick ballads, but “Until You Return” stole my heart (it seems to have fallen into this song’s pocket) and I’ve listened to it more than I care to admit.