Mark Z.’s and L. Saunders’ Top Ten of 2018

Mark Z.

As 2018 draws to an end, one thing has become unequivocally clear: you’re all SLUTS. Metal sluts, that is. Whatever happened to the days when you’d obsess over an album for days or months, pouring over the lyrics and listening intently on the best set of headphones your minimum wage job could afford? These days, you’ll let any old Eastern European death metal band plow your ears for a night without so much as a mention in the comment section the next day. I think back to my own early days, when albums truly felt like they mattered. Whatever happened to those days?

It turns out, they’re still here. In the glut of Spotify, Bandcamp, and the multitude of other platforms, you just have to pay closer attention. Looking back on 2018, these are the ten(ish) albums that mattered to me.

Oh, and thanks to the loyal readers and editors and all that shit.

(ish) Bastardizer // Dawn of Domination – I’d be perfectly okay if every music genre disappeared except for Australian blackened thrash, and Bastardizer’s Dawn of Domination is a great example why. Combining Motörhead-style speed metal with the demonic force of Gospel of the Horns, these Aussies manage the rare feat of sounding both fun and extreme. What other album this year could pull off putting songs called “Demons Unleashed” and “Whiskey ‘Till Death” right next to each other? If you’ve ever wanted to hear what the playful younger brother of Deströyer 666 would sound like, this will rock your world as much as it did mine.

#10. Outer Heaven // Realms of Eternal DecayAlong with Gatecreeper and Scorched, Pennsylvania’s Outer Heaven are spearheading a new movement in primal, brutish death metal. Vomiting out a sick mixture of Asphyx, Morbid Angel, and Demillich, their Realms of Eternal Decay debut is a force of primordial nature, smothering all in its path like a massive blob of sentient ooze. In a year already saturated with strong death metal, no band in the genre stood out to me more.

#9. Mongrel’s Cross // Psalter of the Royal Dragon CourtHow can Australian blackened thrash be made even better? By adding huge marching riffs in the vein of Bathory and Kawir, of course. This Australian duo’s sophomore full-length was regal, triumphant, and empowering, packed full of great riffs and soaring high with fiery melodies. Listening to this makes you feel like you’re reigning over your own kingdom, dragons and all.

#8. Bonjour Tristesse // Your Ultimate Urban Nightmare – Somehow I totally missed Akerblogger’s detailed review of this album back in August, which meant I went nearly three months without realizing King Apathy’s vocalist had a side project that was (unsurprisingly) pretty fucking good. Expanding on the themes of his main band, Bonjour feels simultaneously clean, modern, cold, suffocating, and deeply personal. Sometimes it feels like today’s society really is a nightmare, but listening to that idea conveyed through these heart-wrenching melodies and piercing black metal riffs almost makes the agony worth it. As we watch our world sink further into its own demise, Nightmare is an album that feels all too relevant.

#7. Black Royal // Lightbringer – Sometimes, you don’t need music that makes you think. You just need music that crushes you to a pulp. That’s not to say Black Royal are superficial—just that their big sludgy riffs and massive stomping chugs are so damn good, it wouldn’t matter if they were anyway. Lightbringer both pummels and flies high, feeling at once focused and exploratory. If you ever wanted to hear what Mantar would sound like with more consistency and interesting songwriting, this Finnish quartet’s debut will be right up your alley. Lightbringer shows the band have a bright future ahead, and I can’t wait to see it.

#6. The Crown // Cobra Speed VenomI’ve never given much of a shit about The Crown, but that changed massively with Cobra Speed Venom. Not since Amon Amarth has a band been able to sound so catchy and accessible without loosing an ounce of heft. Songs like “In the Name of Death” are explosive death-thrash anthems, while stomping bangers like “We Avenge!” simultaneously drop the tempos and raise the fists. In an era where even your neighbor’s dog has started a dissonant black metal band, it’s refreshing to hear a record that excels solely on killer riffs and no-B.S. songwriting. When it came to metal in 2018, Venom’s direct nature and ferocious attitude went virtually unmatched.

#5. Hopesfall // ArbiterAfter an 11-year absence, this North Carolina quintet returned with what could be their strongest album yet. Nominally a melodic rock album, Arbiter shimmers with plenty of spacey leads, not to mention some of the catchiest and most unique vocal lines I heard this year. This an album that makes you feel and reflect, an album that not only creates its own world, but draws you headlong into it. At the same time, its dreaminess exists alongside some very sharp and metallic moments that betray Hopesfall’s post-hardcore origins. While hardly metal, Arbiter is a must-hear record from a band I never thought we’d hear from again.

#4. Light This City // Terminal Bloom – When I reviewed Terminal Bloom, I made the mistake of namedropping a couple shitty bands. Allow me to rectify that now, because Light This City are far better than an Arch Enemy comparison would suggest. Pulling from their time in melodic punk band Heartsounds, this California quintet play melodic death metal that sounds like Black Dahlia Murder infused with heaps of young, desperate emotion. The riffs are often bright and energetic, while the songs alternate between charging thrash metal and bursts of massive melody. Rare is an album that sounds so extreme yet heartfelt. The result was not just my favorite comeback of the year, but one of my favorite albums of 2018, period.

#3. Vomitor // Pestilent Death Pestilent Death is like that adolescent relationship you’re not quite sure about. Even after reviewing it, I liked it, but I didn’t love it. But then something happened. I found myself humming the riffs weeks later. I found myself mumbling the lyrics to “Roar of War” while cooking spaghetti. Before I knew it, I’d bought the cassette, I’d bought the vinyl, and I was blasting this album so loud my balls were bouncing up and down like a bunch of grapes. These Aussies combine death and thrash in a way that’s raw, loud, and sloppier than the hobo you saw eating out of the trash earlier today. Hell, they make Destroyer 666 sound prim and proper. And that’s no easy feat—especially when the music is this f’ing good.

#2. Harm’s Way // Posthuman – I have a love-hate relationship with Posthuman. Love because it’s one of the best albums I heard this year, hate because it’s the reason I’ve been walking around since February with a ragged stump where my dick used to be. Combining hardcore, groove, and industrial, these Chicago natives are somehow both pulverizing and nuanced, both reflective and devastating. From the Godfleshy stomp of “Call My Name” to the charging grooves of “Human Carrying Capacity” to the wry noise rock of “Temptation,” Posthuman consists of ten surprisingly varied tracks packed with more vocal hooks, memorable riffs, and sheer muscle than anything else this year. Yet for all its raw force, Posthuman was simply an amazingly well-constructed album that I fear too many people overlooked due to its hardcore label and “gym music” aesthetic. Their loss. Because simply put, this album kicks ass.

#1. Allfather // And All Will Be Desolation – Back in 2016, a young British band quite impressed me with their Bless the Earth with Fire debut. Yet when it came to the end of the year, I realized Allfather’s combination of sludge, doom, and hardcore hadn’t quite reached its full potential. That’s no longer the case. And All Will Be Desolation shows the band not just realizing their potential, but surpassing it in gargantuan fashion. Songs like “Citadels” and “Black Triangle” rock with the most headbangable moments of the year, while closing epic “Lampedusa” climbs to heights the band had only hinted at in the past. Between the big burly riffs, gruff vocals, and rhythms that deftly shift to ensure heads will always be banged, Desolation evoked the might of Crowbar and High on Fire to become the most purely metal thing I heard this year. Every moment feels like one you want to show your friends, while the lyrics are empowering, mature, and all too applicable to today’s world. I can hardly write about Desolation without wanting to grab the CD off my shelf, and I suspect that’ll be the case for years to come.

Allfather - And All Will Be Desolation

Honorable Mentions

  • Faithxtractor // Proverbial Lambs to the Ultimate Slaughter – One of the marks of a good album title is how badly I want to insert the word “fucking” into it. “Ultimate Fucking Slaughter” turns out to be a decent descriptor for the furious death metal within this Cleveland trio’s third album, but even that doesn’t capture the surprisingly melodic riffs and superb songwriting that Ash Thomas (Shed the Skin, Crucified Mortals) and friends bestowed upon us here.
  • Enblood // Cast to Exile – This young Portuguese band swirled together tech and melodeath in grand fashion, blasting forth with the frantic melody of All Shall Perish while featuring some of the finest guitar solos 2018 had to offer.
  • Voidhanger // Dark Days of the SoulThe Infernal War boys can do no wrong, especially not when combining death, thrash, and black metal into such a scathing and riffy assault. Heads were fucking banged.
  • Scorched // Ecliptic Butchery – A fine companion piece to Outer Heaven, with similar hefty riffs and lurching rhythms but somehow even more unsettling with its alien abduction themes.
  • Archgoat // The Luciferian Crown – While Nameless_N00b_01 didn’t love it, to me this was a monstrous example of bestial blackened death metal done right. Diverse songs, a thunderous guitar tone, and riffs which can actually be discerned? Satan done good here, folks. This could be Archgoat’s best yet.

Disappointments of the Year – I was going to write individually about these albums, but there really isn’t anything different to say. The below three bands released great material in the past but let me down this year with records that felt uninspired and sorely lacking. Here’s hoping they turn things around in the future.

Song o’ the Year

Hopesfall’s “H.A. Wallace Space Academy” – The kinetic opening riffs. The agile verses that bounce through a set of addictive and evocative melodies. A memorable chorus that inverts expectations by actually being softer than the rest of the song. And a bridge that draws the band right back to where they began decades ago: brooding and spacey hardcore. Hopesfall couldn’t have picked a better first taste of their comeback album, and though I couldn’t begin to explain what the song is about, I feel like I know exactly what it means.

Song o’ the Year – Runner Up

The Crown’s “In the Name of Death” – This is how you write a metal anthem. That slick melody that snakes through the chorus, the pounding stop-start rhythms, the call-and-response refrain, the charging thrash verses—I can’t tell you the amount of times I sang this to myself, not to mention the number of times I blasted it on my headphones at the gym while onlookers wondered where that crazy look in my eye was coming from. They just didn’t know what they were missing.

Song o’ the Year – Because Australia Can’t Be Held Down Edition

Vomitor’s “Roar of War” – If that main riff doesn’t make you bang your head, I have no idea why you even bothered with the rest of my list. Shitty taste has never sounded this good.

L. Saunders

The roller coaster of life has certainly thrown up some challenges over the past year and change. From personal hurdles to the harsh unpredictable nature of life, 2018 created its fair share of mental, emotional, and professional hardships. Thankfully, there’s been plenty of positive moments and changes in fortune along the way. Continuing to be a part of this amazing blog as it grows in stature is an absolute honor that I feel forever grateful for being a small part of.

As for heavy music in 2018, it’s been a strange year, but not a bad one by any means. I’ve listened to a shit ton of albums across the heavy spectrum and along the way there’s been no shortage of great discoveries and quality material. The problem with metal in 2018 mostly boils down to the fact there’s been loads of very good to great albums released, but few truly excellent and ground breaking ones. I’ve chopped and changed my list relentlessly, and even now, various positions could potentially be interchanged from one week to the next. And unlike what The Rolling Stones proclaimed, time was not on my side when trying to cram in everything I wanted to fully appreciate, so rain-checks are indeed in order for Rolo Tomassi, Satan, Riverside, Beaten to Death and the intriguing Vanishing Kids, among others…

Lastly, thanks to the awesome readership here at Angry Metal Guy for making this all possible and worthwhile. The community here is a standout in the troll-infested world of metal blogging. I extend particular appreciation to all the great recommendations and thoughtful, witty, and respectful opinions that make up the core of the comments. Furthermore, a big cheers to all my fellow colleagues, including the recent influx of noble n00bs, for their continued inspiration, tireless work ethics, and kick-arse recommendations. A special shout-out to the higher powers for helping run this operation so smoothly, and ironing out the technical tweaks and curtailing my penchant for exceeding word count limits. Without further ado, here’s my list o’ best albums of 2018. Enjoy!

(ish) Arsis // Visitant – I didn’t really expect American melo-tech death stalwarts Arsis to blow me away in 2018, following five years of silence on the recording front. But I’m sure as hell glad they did. Visitant is the sound of a band rejuvenated and firing on all cylinders, while making just a few telling tweaks to their tried and true formula. This is as vicious and energized as the band has sounded in a decade, with James Malone shredding like a madman and delivering a throaty, savage vocal performance atop stacks of top shelf riffs and killer melodies.

#10. Æpoch // Awakening Inception – Underwhelmed by the last couple of Obscura releases? Craving a fresh mix of progressive and technical death metal with a side of raw brutality? Æpoch’s impressive debut LP has you covered in spades. Awakening Inception is far from perfect, it’s a tad front loaded and could use some tighter editing, but the album is a frequently thrilling and addictive listen that has stayed in heavy rotation since I discovered its charms. Beyond the technical fireworks, Æpoch craft catchy and dynamic songs, incorporating thrashy and blackened elements into their over-the-top shredfest of progressive tech-death. Inferi, Psycroptic, and Soreption released great tech-death albums in 2018, but Awakening Inception absorbed the most attention.

#9. Extremity // Coffin Birth – It was a huge year for death metal, particularly for tech & prog death lovers, and old school death obsessives. Extremity fall into the latter field, and despite some tough competition from the likes of Ripped to Shreds, Lik, Skeletal Remains, Obliteration, Baest, and Scorched, this debut LP from this seasoned collective garnered the most listens. The formula is simple, but like the quality old school revivalists do best, Extremity thrash, riff and groove with a fresh, aggressive and vaguely modern edge, respecting the past while striding confidently into the here and now.

#8. Boss Keloid // Melted on the Inch – Intelligent stoner prog with fat riffs, even fatter grooves, and an adventurous, cohesive song-writing spirit, Boss Keloid created a mammoth album with Melted on the Inch. It’s a fun and insanely addictive listen, with the top notch musicianship and slick song-writing serving up a sturdy platform for the wonderfully gruff, epic, and charismatic vocals of Alex Hurst to shine. The proggy quirks and deviations form a focused and coherent part of the band’s still hefty, riff driven core, and the hooks have consistently engaged my attention.

#7. The Atlas Moth // Coma Noir – I’ve long been a fan of Chicago’s shape-shifting The Atlas Moth and their intoxicating blend of harsh extreme metal and adventurous psychedelic sludge. Following the harrowing and difficult The Old Believer album from 2014, it’s great to hear The Atlas Moth spreading their wings creatively, while crafting an album that flat-out rocks. Dropping back in February, this was always in danger of becoming lost in the shuffle. However the excellent song-writing and abundance of earworm hooks kept me coming back fairly consistency, making Coma Noir one of my most played albums of the year. Stavros Giannopoulos pulls no punches, with his abrasive vocals scaring off some of the AMG community, while oozing anguish and emotion.

#6. Slugdge // Esoteric Malacology – I’ve been championing quirky UK duo Slugdge since I penned a Things You Might of Missed piece on their excellent Gastronomicon album in 2014. Naturally I’m stoked for their success, even if my Slugdge boner isn’t as slime covered as those proclaiming them the greatest band of the century. Esoteric Malacology is another quality release, which finds Slugdge flexing their progressive muscles. ’90s influenced death collides and mutates with elements of prog, blackened thrash, and melo-death, bolstered by razor sharp musicianship and killer hooks. Slugdge could benefit from some more stringent self-editing, but Esoteric Malacology remains a complex, intelligent and frequently thrilling album.

1914 - The Blind Leading the Blind#5. 1914 // The Blind Leading the BlindUkraine’s 1914 are true metal historians, detailing the emotional impact, bravery, heart-wrenching loss, and rich, brutal history of World War I in truly powerful and elegant style. This album inspired me to touch-up on my World War history knowledge and revisit a number of classic war films. But perhaps most tellingly, it kept me clambering back for more of their epic, brutal barrage of doomy, blackened, and unfuckwithable death metal. Relentless and uncompromising, yet melodically rich and emotionally affecting, The Blind Leading the Blind carries the spirit of Bolt Thrower into the modern era. 1914 stand out defiantly as a unique force to be reckoned with.

#4. Necropanther // Eyes of Blue Light – Man, this album came from the fucking clouds, after somehow overlooking it earlier in the year. What they may lack in originality, Necropanther more than compensate with excellent song-writing chops and an exhilarating formula of fiery blackened thrash meets sleek melo-death. Throw in the manic, gurgled rasps of vocalist/guitarist Paul Anop and you simply have one of 2018’s most exuberant, enjoyable, and flat-out catchiest metal albums. Beneath the blasty, vibrant jams, lies the emotive melodies, conceptual links, and passionate connection with sci-fi novel Dune, finding the band condense and bottle their admiration of the source material with pure class and aggressive style.

Alkaloid - Liquid Anatomy#3. Alkaloid // Liquid Anatomy – Dazzling prog meets futuristic tech death, Alkaloid’s Liquid Anatomy trumps their impressive debut and solidifies the supergroup as the real fucking deal in 2018. Liquid Anatomy is a step-up from the debut in most respects, and despite its epic, shreddy compositions, the album feels tighter and leaner when stacked against The Malkuth Grimoire‘s bloated flaws. Although the prog is increased, Alkaloid wisely chose not to dampen the impact of their rugged death metal, creating a wonderfully cohesive and fluid harmony between the styles. Compellingly ambitious and memorable song-writing coupled with mind-bending twists and supreme musicianship were toppers for a brilliant album.

#2. Sulphur Aeon // The Scythe of Cosmic ChaosIf it wasn’t already apparent, Germany’s Sulphur Aeon reside near the top of the pile of modern death metal bands. This later year release arrived early via the generous promo Lords and has been in constant rotation since. The Scythe of Cosmic Chaos reaffirms their elite status and is a more than worthy follow-up to Gateway to the Antisphere. Dense, suffocating blackened death is served up in brutal, unforgiving, though addictive and mesmerizing doses. There’s an epic feel, dank melodic undercurrent, and fierce intensity seeping from the album’s black heart, yet it never overwhelms and the hooks embedded within penetrate deeper with every listen.

#1. The Ocean // Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic – Layers, man, layers. The Ocean build expressive, emotive, and complex prog metal, layer upon layer, forging towering compositions based on thought provoking, historical narratives and featuring lush instrumentation, complex harmonies, and stunning shifts in tone and dynamics. Pelagial remains one of my favorite albums of the past decade, so expectations were unreasonably high for Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic. And though I concede it doesn’t quite match its predecessor’s dizzying heights, Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic remains an enormously satisfying and gorgeously composed progressive metal opus, with frontman Loïc Rossetti reaffirming his position as The Ocean’s immensely talented trump card. The winding, epic compositions never seem to overstay their welcome, and in true The Ocean style, the album flows impeccably and rewards repeat listens and headphone immersion. Recent years have dished up stronger competition for the coveted number one position, but The Ocean are still worthy recipients in a solid but weaker year for heavy music overall.

The Ocean - Phanerzoic I

Honorable Mentions

  • Mule Skinner // Airstrike – These NOLA underground vets caught me off guard by returning with their first LP since 1996’s obscure gem Abuse. Airstrike is a dense, brawling record that finds the veterans in fine form and showing no signs of softening with their addictive sludgy death meets old school grind formula.
  • Horrendous // Idol – Although Idol offers less surprises compared to their past couple of albums, it remains a powerful statement from these forward thinking prog-deathers. A complex, melodic, yet deceptively catchy and vicious album.
  • Madder Mortem // Marrow – Norway’s Madder Mortem had remained on the periphery of my progressive tastes until Marrow won me over. Aside from some minor gripes, Marrow delivers a glorious mix of Goth-y prog metal, crafty song-writing, and a spellbinding vocal performance from Agnete Mangnes Kirkevaag.
  • Khemmis // Desolation – I didn’t consume much doom this year. Aside from strong albums from Yob, Messa, and Hooded Menace, the third LP from Khemmis provided another epic batch of trad metal glory crossed with sorrowful doom. Desolation can’t outdo the brilliant Hunted, but is nevertheless another stirring effort of emotive, finely crafted, and hugely memorable songs, with loads of heart and steely grit.
  • Chapel of Disease // And As We Have Seen the Storm, We Have Embraced the Eye – Who would have thought mixing bluesy, progressive rock influences straight out of the ’70s with old school death would work? This is a soulful, stunning concoction of disparate influences and sublime guitar work, whipped into a compelling and cohesive whole.
  • Barren Earth // A Complex of Cages – It wasn’t quite the knockout blow I was hoping for, but Barren Earth still crafted a top notch progressive death opus, bolstered by slick, memorable compositions and Jón Aldará’s powerhouse growls and stirring cleans. The album bloats on occasions and Aldará’s cleans skirt dangerously close to melodramatic territory, but the hefty pros outweigh the album’s minor cons.

Disappointment o’ the Year

Although they each released solidly respectable albums, when considering my own expectations, and with their previous track records setting the bar high, the 2018 albums from Revocation, Anaal Nathrakh, Bloodbath, and Haken left me underwhelmed and ultimately disappointed. Here’s hoping they return to loftier heights next time around.

Song o’ the Year

The Atlas Moth’s “Galactic Brain” – To be honest, I had difficulty summing up a bumper year and narrowing it down to just one song. However, The Atlas Moth’s “Galactic Brain” was an early year highlight and gripping stoner-sludge anthem that has remained in heavy rotation. This is no minor feat considering the solid quantity of stellar songs that have demanded my attention throughout the year. Thus, “Galactic Brain” is certainly one of 2018’s most addictive and compelling metal songs. The thick, absorbent grooves, engaging leads, and perfectly balanced vocal attack, pushing Dave Kush’s clean croons to the forefront, resulted in a truly powerful, emotive, and catchy tune which strikes with sledgehammer force and tick-like penetration.

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