Huck N’ Roll
You’re getting your money’s worth in this edition of the Top Ten(ish) lists, miscreants. You see, Eldritch Elitist and I do not like the same things. Or, to be more accurate, we don’t like the same things to the same degree. We both might like Manticora, but one of us not enough. Or Morne. Or whatever. The point is, you’re getting around thirty awesome albums to check out from this post, if you haven’t already listened to them.
From my perspective, this is my most varied list yet. From old-timers to newcomers, from crust to prog, hopefully there’s something for everyone here. My top three albums were shoo-ins this year, but after that? I’d say there were about forty albums that could have finished from 4-15. So culling them down to a dozen, and putting them in some sort of order, was a bit of a crapshoot. The one thing they all have in common is that they’re great records, and deserve to be on someone’s list somewhere. So here you go!
(ish) Judas Priest // Firepower – Listen, is Firepower the greatest album ever? Hell no. What it is, though, is the greatest album in the last 28 years from one of the most important bands in heavy metal history. There are a handful of songs that could be lopped off this 14-track monster, which would leave us with an album that all the young bucks could learn a thing of two from. A reinvigorated band, catchy songwriting, and a stellar performance from Rob Halford all add up to a record we should not forget about.
#10. Haken // Vector – Some of the weenies here in the AMG Worldwide corporate headquarters weren’t all that fond of Vector. “It’s not Haken!” “It’s too chuggy and djenty!” “It’s not Haken again!” Whine, whine, whine. These boys set out to craft a deliberately heavy album and that’s just what they did—and in the act did not lose sight of the melodies and harmonies that are their trademark. If you can live with the breakdowns, we still have an incredibly well-written album, and a one of the top prog releases of the year.
#9. Solstice // White Horse Hill – Having just written about this a few weeks ago, White Horse Hill is still fresh in my mind. The performances, songwriting, and production are all fantastic here. The album is one crushing song away from perfection. And the fact that these guys pulled it off a full twenty years after their last album is amazing. As it stands, though, Solstice came in here and kicked King Goat to the sidelines with the most vital epic doom album of the year.
#8. Morne // To the Night Unknown – Satan might have gotten all the love in our September Record o’ the Month post, but if AMG Himself had drank the cup of hot chocolate I’d brewed for him that month, I might have been able to make that decision, and Morne would have stood atop the list. This is one of the most subsonically heaviest albums I’ve ever enjoyed, with vocals from the depths of hell and riffs for ages. This year, Morne, along with Agrimonia, gave me newfound appreciation for crust and its variants.
#7. Agrimonia // Awaken – Awaken was the third album I reviewed this year. Do you know how hard it is to stay atop a playlist for eleven months, when 300 more albums come after yours? It’s damned hard, but this album kicked such major ass I couldn’t set it aside. Whereas Morne destroyed us with crusty sludge, Agrimonia take a progressive approach. The music is complex and nuanced—but still heavy AF—and combined with the sickest vocals of the year courtesy of Christina Blom (yes, that’s a woman howling her possessed way through these songs), resulted in an amazing album.
#6. Riverside // Wasteland – Riverside haven’t wowed me yet this decade, and having tragically lost their guitarist in 2016, I was worried. I shouldn’t have been. Wasteland is the band’s most complete record, awash in emotion but not dreary, melodic yet not vapid. There are plenty of heavy moments, plenty of delicate movements, and all-round wonderful, complex performances, especially Mariusz Duda on vocals, bass, and some guitars. While prog rock/metal didn’t enjoy its greatest year, Riverside bucked the trend with a fantastic album.
#5. Boss Keloid // Melted on the Inch – If I had to pick one album this year that exudes pure joy, it would be this one. Much like a couple others on this list (Agrimonia, Fire Down Below), I grabbed it on a whim and my life is better for it. The mix of prog, psych, doom, and stoner, all with such a positive, not a care in the world, vibe, is done so well that the whole album kicks continuous ass. It’s like Clutch and Torche taken to a whole new level. Boss Keloid have quickly become one of my favorite bands.
#4. Amorphis // Queen of Time – I described Amorphis to a friend of mine as “the most complete metal band.” What I meant there is that these guys are so multifaceted, and mesh all their influences together so perfectly, that they create albums that are simply amazing examples of so many of metal’s subgenres all melded together. Queen of Time covers all the bases, with melody, heaviness, catchiness, and brutality, all in the most lushly produced wrapping one can image.
#3. The Ocean // Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic – Funny story here, I thought I had a bunch of The Ocean albums in my collection. Turns out I was thinking of Locrian. What the fuck? I guess facets of their music are vaguely similar (and they are both amazing bands), but still, out the window with my cred. Anyhow, that didn’t stop me from absolutely loving this latest post/sludge/prog opus from a fantastic band. This album fires on all cylinders, and hits me hard right in the privates, but in a good way.
#2. Hamferd // Támsins likam – For the first half of the year, this was my favorite album. It is pure doom perfection—in fact, back in January I thought AMG Himself had underrated this album with a meager 4.5. Every aspect of this record, from the songwriting, to the arrangements, the production, and the out-of-this-world vocals of Jón Aldará, are so on-point that it is impossible for me to think of any negative feedback. In fact, the only reason this album isn’t my #1 is:
#1. Fire Down Below // Hymn of the Cosmic Man – If Kyuss and Tool made love in some seedy hotel, and Fu Manchu filmed the entire thing from a chair in the corner, the ill-begotten spawn of this coupling would be Fire Down Below. I wrote glowingly about this album back in June, and since then I’ve only loved it more. The album illustrates the adventure of a man being launched into space, and does so with perfection. Every song, every lyric, and all the pacing immerse us so deeply in his journey that we also feel lost. You know how I can tell Hymn of the Cosmic Man is a great album? Because whatever song I’m listening to on it seems to me to be the album’s best song—until the next song starts. If you didn’t listen to me six months ago, believe me now: this is a stellar (interstellar!) album.
- King Goat // Debt of Aeons – Epic doom with a staggering vocal performance, as we’ve come to expect from these guys.
- Madder Mortem // Marrow – Gardenstale will spew all over this album, so I’m not going to, but it is excellent.
- Michael Romeo // War of the Worlds Part I – Far better than I expected, with a revelation of a singer in Rick Castellano.
- Obscura // Diluvium – Based on my limited knowledge of the genre, the top prog-death album of the year.
- Satan // Cruel Magic – My Contrite Metal Guy note for the year: I should have given this a 4.
- Yob // Our Raw Heart – Like the album title, this is raw, heartfelt doom at its best.
Disappointment of the Year
Since August, I’ve been planning on going with the awful new Into Eternity album, which features bland, unimaginative songwriting and horrible DIY production. Then I remembered Primordial’s flop, Exile Among the Ruins. Normally when Primordial releases a new album the question isn’t “Will this be any good?” It’s usually “Where in my Top Five will this album slot?” Not this year. With one stellar song, two other pretty good ones, and filler as the remainder, it’s clear the band’s heart wasn’t in this album. I’ll forgive them this time, but I’m worried about what their next release will be like.
Tank // Sturmpanzer – There was no competition. This album is the only 0.5 review I’ve done. Whoever told Algy Ward it was a good idea to put this out needs a stern dressing-down: Sturmpanzer is the worst album I’ve heard in decades.
Best Cover Art
Gygax // Second Edition – Even if you’re not a die-hard Dungeons & Dragons fan, this cover kicks ass.
Song o’ the Year
There were more great songs than albums this year, if you ask me. The arena-sized anthem “Four Blessings” from Brainstorm. Agrimonia’s crushing prog-crust masterpiece, “Foreshadowed.” The murky psychedelic jam “Dark Clouds,” from MaidaVale (go look them up). The sole highlight of Primordial’s wreck, “To Hell or the Hangman.”1 But I’ll stick with the final cut on my album of the year, “Adrift in a Sea of Stars,” as my favorite track. It perfectly exemplifies what Fire Down Below aimed for on Hymn of the Cosmic Man. Play this song, and I guarantee you’ll want to buy the record.
As I settle in to hash out this obligatory intro, I’m grappling with the effects of something that I haven’t felt since my earliest days writing for Angry Metal Guy: Imposter Syndrome. See, I’m listening to a random pick from an extensive list of the year’s best black metal—one which features mostly records and acts I’ve never even heard of—and am floored, because it’s better than 90% of the records I’ve heard in the genre this year.2 There’s not a damn thing I can do about it, either. My list is finalized, and it’s far too late in the game to hash out another TYMHM in the name of a last-minute entry. I’m forced to submit my list as-is, equipped with the knowledge that, in some alternate universe, I submitted a totally revamped and more widely researched list where most of my real-world entries barely scrape by with honorable mentions.
A potentially infinite expanse of undiscovered Eldritch bait aside, I’d be lying if I said that I don’t love the absolute shit out of every record you’re about to encounter below. There has been a lot of moaning and groaning around the AMG hobo wine cooler about how 2018 has been a lesser year for metal releases, and while it may be true that the amount of staggeringly excellent records pales in comparison to last year’s slate of offerings, I also feel that the average release quality these past twelve months has been much higher than in recent years. This makes for a particularly gargantuan gold pile, through which sorting out the cream of the crop has been an agonizing act of deliberation and compromise, but this means that this year’s batch of list makers has been particularly well considered. In other words, there may be a lot of 4.0-tier material on this list, but most of it is practically scraping against 4.5 territory.
A big “thank you” goes out to my fantastic colleagues, any of whom I’d be more than happy to share beers with despite their nearly universal shunning of my power metal recommendations. An even bigger shout out goes to our tireless editors, who have always accommodated my late write-ups borne from my increasingly hectic life, and to Steel Druhm, Madam X, and the Guy himself for giving me this amazing opportunity over two years ago. The impact this blog has on metal subculture is tangible—just this year, I’ve seen multiple instances of “Praise Jørn” written in Bandcamp reviews for albums by bands that we have never even covered. Those who came before me ensured that this blog is an institution whose words never go unrecognized, and I’m thrilled to help continue the legacy.
(ish) Manticora // To Kill to Live to Kill – Every time I re-spin To Kill to Live to Kill, I always manage to forget that it’s an intended first entry in a two-part concept. Manticora‘s first LP in eight years is so densely packed with tunes—those tunes being the darkest, heaviest, and most dramatic power metal tracks one is likely to come across—that it feels substantial enough to last me for another decade of Manti-hibernation. Though not as high as it should be on this list due to a slightly bloated middle act, its best bits (i.e. everything else on the record) represent a superbly written mashup of power, thrash, and death metal, all wrapped in superb grooves and wonderful melodic embellishments. Far and away the most ambitious record in its genre this year, if not the outright best of the bunch.
#10. Asu no Jokei // Awakening – Shadows cannot exist without light, and no album this year has understood this better than Awakening. Though ostensibly a blackgaze album, Asu no Jokei‘s eccentric take on the style instantly transcends this label, incorporating old school death metal heft and authentic second wave iciness to form something borderline unclassifiable. Its extended moments of serenity are expertly counterbalanced by jarring outbursts of quirky dissonance, and while the album’s back half somewhat lacks the unpredictability of the first, the overall level of quality never significantly dips. For the year’s most inventive black metal album, you need look no further.
#9. Black Royal // Lightbringer – You know how people wanted to drink the red liquid found inside a recently unearthed, thousands of years old sarcophagus? As insane as that sounds, I kinda understand it when listening to Lightbringer3. Its production is so fucking delicious that I’d undoubtedly take a huge swig of it if someone managed to distill it into liquid form, even though the sheer weight of it would probably cause my guts to drop out of my ass.4 A doomy concoction of savage death ‘n roll, Black Royal‘s debut is bolstered by cosmic undercurrents of subtle synths in its back half, forming a record that is immediately satisfying while possessing the melodic nuance to grant it serious growing room. This is unique, immensely powerful stuff, and I’m itching to hear more.
#8. Lik // Carnage – As a sweet, non-confrontational homebody, I’m having a hard time forming the adjectives to describe Lik‘s sophomore LP Carnage. This record is just flat out mean, its gory subject matter so coarse (and delivered with such perfect clarity) that it honestly took me aback the first time I heard it. Yet Carnage won me over an instant later, its lyrical grotesqueries absorbed and amplified by the music’s macabre charm. Carnage sounds like what would happen if Dismember and Nails spawned a child weaned on hooky Iron Maiden melodies, and while something so purely visceral should not sound so disgustingly catchy, it just does, and effortlessly at that. In terms of a pure rush of death metal adrenaline, 2018 offers nothing better.
#7. Coheed and Cambria // Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures – I was endlessly pleased to see that I had successfully converted a handful of closeted posers to the ways of Coheed with my TYMHM piece on The Unheavenly Creatures. That’s not just because it was a nice ego boost, mind you, but also because people are rightfully recognizing it as a downright stellar late-career release. Creatures sees Coheed and Cambria releasing their best record since 2005, and while it’s one long mother fucker, every track still manages to plant both feet firmly in the realms of diverse experimentation and soaring, accessible melodics. This balanced vision makes for an absolutely addictive listening experience, and as this may well be the last great album Coheed ever releases, I plan on absorbing every gloriously excessive moment for quite some time.
#6. Dire Peril // The Extraterrestrial Compendium – This is the rare album that I reviewed highly upon its release, but almost immediately felt that I undersold in my initial write-up. Yeah, Dire Peril sounds a lot like Demons & Wizards and is a cool love letter to sci-fi cinema. More than that, though, it is an impassioned outpouring of of power metal bombast, possessing a burning soul fueled by creative melodies, towering vocal harmonies, and an otherworldly atmosphere that is a perfect reflection of the record’s concept. While the thrashy guitar rhythms are certainly Iced Earth-like in their quick, chunky riffs, this soul is what sets Dire Peril apart from Schaffer and friends, delivering what I would argue bests most of, if not all of Iced Earth‘s greatest hits.
#5. Morrow // Fallow – Coming in at number five on my list of the best metal albums of 2018 is a record that is neither strictly metal nor technically new as of this year. Despite these facts, Fallow is a record absolutely worth including here; not just because it was originally slated for a 2018 release, but because it is a magnificent work of aggressive art. A unique collection of melodic, long-form crust tracks laced with elements derived from doom and metalcore, Morrow‘s sophomore effort is of a class that borderline invalidates its already great predecessor. This is partly because of greatly increased compositional diversity, but much of the credit is due to its revamped duality of aching melancholy and seething, relentless anger. Incinerate your expectations of what crust can be, and listen to Fallow ASAP.
#4. 1914 // The Blind Leading the Blind – An album lyrically centered around World War I, released on the centennial of the war’s end, had the potential to feel rushed and pretentious. The Blind Leading the Blind is anything but. 1914’s mammoth death metal riffs, soaked in dark, doomy melodies, perfectly encapsulate an atmosphere born from countless generations’ worth of war horror stories, with subtle blackened accents adding smart modern touches and hellish texturing. This is a clearly a band with an acute awareness of the gravity of their subject matter, and the result feels appropriately larger than life. If there was a more massive sounding album released this year, I’d be at a loss as to what that could even sound like compared to this.
#3. Skeletonwitch // Devouring Radiant Light – Even though I’ve always stood by my gushtastic review, I’ve long grappled over whether Devouring Radiant Light is a listmaker. The answer became clear as its play count rose from one, to five, to a dozen for the month of December alone as I compiled this list. Any record that represents such a significant rebirth for its artist, especially one featuring multiple song o’ the year candidates, is worthy of praise as one of the year’s most significant releases. Melodically rich yet rhythmically relentless, scathingly aggressive yet achingly beautiful, Skeletonwitch‘s first foray into full-on black metal makes for one of the year’s most cathartic records, and my favorite black metal album of the year.
#2. Sulphur Aeon // The Scythe of Cosmic Chaos – The Scythe of Cosmic Chaos is the record that I felt the metal community was hyping Gateway to the Antisphere to be in 2015. It’s a record that masterfully builds upon the foundation laid by Sulphur Aeon‘s first two albums, featuring the same ripping brand of blackened death metal that fans have become accustomed to, bolstered by smarter compositions packed with genre-bending dynamism. This jump to more sophisticated songwriting never comes across as clinical or hackneyed, either; The Scythe is musically intricate yet utterly primal, comfortable in its own skin while constantly clawing at the very tendons that hold it together. If this isn’t Lovecraftian atmosphere perfected, I don’t know what is.
#1. Necropanther // Eyes of Blue Light – I had the opportunity to briefly chat with the Necropanther boys following an absolutely deadly performance earlier this year, and aside from being some of the nicest musicians I’ve ever met, I learned a little bit about their approach to album craft. As it turns out, the band’s seamless genre splicing isn’t necessarily the result of a single, unified vision. Necropanther‘s thrashy death metal core is intended as a constant, sure, but as the individual band members all have differing preferences in subgenres—and since all contribute to the songwriting process—the limitless scope found within said constant is a work of admirable compromise and perfect cooperation. Thus Eyes of Blue Light was born, an immaculate, infinitely replayable love letter to damn near everything I love about the multitude of subgenres it explores. Relentless, galloping thrash riffs? Of course. Soaring power metal guitar harmonies? Present. Massive, melancholic bouts of black metal and stomping death metal slams? Check and check. Necropanther may be beholden to genre conventions, but the fact that they approach every style they touch with unbridled conviction while simultaneously melding their disparate influences into a seamless whole is nothing short of unbelievable. More than just Skeletonwitch 2.0, Necropanther is an undoubtedly one of a kind act, and more than deserving of my top prize in 2018.
- Dream Tröll // The Witch’s Curse – If this hadn’t been an EP, it would’ve been in my main list, no question. Ambitious, insanely catchy traditional metal that does not sound like fucking Fall Out Boy, so fuck off, El Cuervo.5
- Beaten to Death // Agronomicon – More abrasive and experimental than Unplugged, Agronomicon isn’t quite as astounding as I’d hoped, but it’s still a great heavy metal album by a totally unique heavy metal band.
- Horizon Ablaze // The Weight of a Thousand Suns – I’ve never really cared for Gojira, but you people keep telling me that this sounds like Gojira, so I guess you could call this better Gojira. I shall henceforth refer to Horizon Ablaze as Shin Gojira.
- Outer Heaven // Realms of Eternal Decay – This is a great death metal record. I’m glad I didn’t have to review this album, as I have literally nothing else to say about it, other than I wish it had songs about Metal Gear(!).
- Sojourner // The Shadowed Road – Summoning, now with actual songwriting! The title track was a strong song o’ the year candidate, too.
- Imperialist // Cipher – Big fuckin’ riffs, great fuckin’ art. My favorite no-frills black metal record this year.
- Heads for the Dead // Serpent’s Curse – Crusty, gothy Swedeath that was my go-to soundtrack for this year’s Halloween season.
- Judicator // The Last Emperor – Aunt Judy does it again with one of the best slabs of pure Blind Guardian worship in years.
Songs o’ the Year
Skeletonwitch‘s “The Vault” – Perhaps the single most gorgeous intro I’ve heard in a metal composition this decade, and it was written by fucking Skeletonwitch. That alone makes this track essential, but the fact that the meat of the track builds masterfully into a complex work of remarkably mature melodic black metal makes it unmissable.
Dream Tröll‘s “In the Name of Isabella” – “When monsters lurk in the dead of night, fear is your only companion.” Cue the most orgasmically catchy bridge section I’ve heard all year.