I’ve been editing and reviewing so long, even AMG thinks my mind is gone. And just like that, another year is over, but where did the time go? As I look back over the albums I reviewed in 2018, it all feels like a blur. It seems like only yesterday I feared for my eternal metal cred when tackling the new White Wizzard retro bomb. Fast forward to the eagerly awaited Khemmis platter and on to the bestial N00b inwasion – it all flew by in a Thanos-esque snap. Over that time we added some young, hungry talent to our writing staff, who we will mold in my Steely image. Thanks to Madam X we installed a strange new project management app that allows us to handle our evil affairs in a much more orderly way1. We hit a million views in a month for the first time in AMG history as our readership continues to grow, we withstood the test of countless mom jokes, and learned that “ER” can be tacked onto almost any band name. We witnessed a barrage of Bandcamp gifting and generalized good cheer in the comment section, and I only had to Banhammer a few sorry individuals who couldn’t follow our one rule for discussion etiquette. That’s a pretty good year by any measure.
Good year or bad, I’m a lucky primate. I get to work with a great group of people who love this site and give so much of their time to keep it running, even though none of us see a penny for the trouble. The AMG staff isn’t just a group of excellent writers and reviewers, they’re also really good folks who I’m honored to know (yes, even Muppet). A special thanks goes out to Madam X for graciously handling the everflowing stream of promo that would swamp us if not managed properly. Hopefully 2019 allows her more time to write, since we all miss her oddball collection of serial killer soundtrack reviews2. Thanks to Doctors Grier and Wvrm for pulling countless hours editing and formatting reviews. It’s thankless work but you do it with love and care. And of course, a big thanks to AMG Himself for his autocratic decrees and capricious Record o’ the Month selections. He’s a big part of things even when you don’t see it. He’s the invisible hand of our blogosphere, keeping us on our toes with threats, demands and random executions.
As I do every year, I want to thank all you misguided miscreants who make AMG your second home. You’re readership is what makes this job worth doing. Despite all the time management issues, operational headaches, and endless deadlines, it’s always rewarding to see that people enjoy what we do and can find a happy place here to lay down roots and build an interweb community. It’s the best one in all of metal and we love you, even when we want to kill some of you.
But what of the music, you ask? Well, unlike some of my colleagues, I didn’t find 2018 to be a super great year for our beloved genre. There were the stellar moments to be sure, but I ended up with the lowest yearly rating average of my eight year AMG tenure, and that means there were fewer earthshaking releases, or I’m getting crankier in my olde age. Likely the latter, but still. Anyway, enough of the blather. Let’s get to the Steely heart of the matter!
(ish) Brainstorm // Midnight Ghost – Brainstorm is the most consistent heavy/power metal act running, and they really outdid themselves with Midnight Ghost. Everything I’ve loved about the band since 2000s Ambiguity is proudly on display, from the crunching, Nevermore-esque riffs to the soaring vocals of Andy B. Franke, and the song writing is extra juicy this time. The hooks fly at you from all angles and several cuts could be my feel good anthem for 2018. Midnight Ghost reaffirms Brainstorm as the best at this kind of heavy/power metal and they still have a big ole bag o’ hooks from which to draw killer choruses. Never stop storming that brain.
#10: Satan // Cruel Magic – Satan has been rocking almost as long as the Devil’s been lurking, and somehow they’re having their best days some 30 years from their birth. Cruel Magic joins a tremendous run of second career phase killers starting with 2013s Life Sentence, and the band shows no sign of letting up on the throttle. While I liked them back in the 80s, they certainly weren’t churning out stuff anywhere near as good as they are now, and every cut on Cruel Magic shakes and shimmies with pure NWoBHM magic. If this came out in 1983 it would have become a stone cold timeless classic, rivaling even Iron Maiden initial output. Age-defying traditional goodness.
#9: Soliloquium // Contemplations – Readers of this blog may know I love the now defunct melodeath act Rapture like I love oxygen. Their loss is felt still, and that’s a big reason why Soliloquium‘s criminally unheralded debut hit like a ton o’ bricks. The beloved Rapture sound is there in what this Swedish duo do, as well as elements of very early Anathema and Katantonia. Vocals phase seamlessly between guttural death roars and emotive clean singing, and the guitars weep and trill sweetly when not powdering your kidney stones. Melancholic, but heavy, doomy but deathy. That’s simply Rapturous. More of this please.
#8: Panegyrist // Hierurgy – These days it takes something out of the ordinary to get me into a black metal release, and Panegyrist definitely brings the odd. This is the sound of dark arcane rituals and black sorcery, bending space and time with pulsating, eldritch energies. Frantic blasting joins with choral chanting and clean singing as the music twists and contorts in unexpected ways, leaving the listener hanging on for dear life. Arcturus meets Master’s Hammer meets Voivod for one of the most off-kilter releases of the year, and an album that Therion should have a serious listen to if they ever hope to right the Good Ship Metaliopera. Fly that freak flag freely!
#7: Messa // Feast for Water – Messa‘s debut was my #2 pick for 2016 and expectations were naturally high for the followup to that odd slice of drone/doom. Messa opted to do a minor head fake, changing out the harsh drone and ambient sounds for a more polished, subtle approach with a greater focus on blues and jazz cabaret coolness. The title is apropos, as the music is fluid and flowing, drifting from doom to sludge and on to soft jazzy strangeness, always expertly guided by the lush vocals of uber talented frontwoman Sara. “Occult blues from hell” indeed, and one fascinating, mood-drenched trip to strange new waterworlds.
#6: Collapse of Light // Each Failing Step – 2018 was exceptional for doom death, and no album harshed my happy quite as mercilessly as Each Failing Step. Featuring members of Shape of Despair, the band expertly mines the emotional wreckage, and does so coldly and mercilessly, exploring loss, grief and human isolation in intimate, unsettling ways. This is hypnotic, soul pulverizing funeral doom with moments of beauty and grace, but few traces of hope. Best consumed in moderation and with friends nearby. Weighty.
#5: Sulphur Aeon // The Scythe of Cosmic Chaos – Part of me wants to write these guys off as overrated. That part of me is stupid and should be shunned at all times. Sulphur Aeon is legit, and if their last platter of tentacle death metal didn’t prove it, The Scythe of Cosmic Chaos settles the argument quite forcibly. This is death metal for the ages, oozing with evil, menace and just enough melody to get inside you and take control. Rarely does death metal this heavy feel so compelling and listenable. The ghosts of prime Morbid Angel smile upon the ungodly creation, welcoming the Elder Gods back in music form.
#4: Heir Apparent // The View From Below – There’s never been a comeback from a 30 year hiatus that was this successful. Having completely dropped out of sight following their 1988 release, Heir Apparent suddenly reformed and released their best work ever, keeping the core of their progressive metal sound intact while modernizing it ever so slightly. The nods to vintage Queensryche and Fates Warning are still there, but the writing is actually better than on their semi-classic debut. This is the thinking man’s sports coat metal of the late 80s, and it still works in the hands of wily vets like these guys. Yes, you should call this a comeback.
#3: Vanishing Kids // Heavy Dreamer – A late year surprise that really caught me off guard, Heavy Dreamer‘s wild, weird mix of doom, 70s rock and Goth really impressed the hell out of me. Of all the retro doom acts I’ve heard, Vanishing Kids is the only one to truly make the style feel new and refreshing. There’s something special in the songwriting and performances that mere words cannot do proper justice. Heaviness perfectly balanced with harmony and melody, as all things should be, and vocals that give me goosebumps. This is music I didn’t even know I needed, but I did. Had this come out earlier in the year it might have moved up a spot. Don’t miss this wonderful and weird glance at the past.
#2: The Eternal // Waiting for the Endless Dawn – The perfect case study for how an album can fester in one’s brain. I loved the songcraft from the start but the album’s daunting length put me off initially. I kept right on playing it after my reviewing duties were done though, and with every spin it got its hooks deeper into my psyche. This is a beautiful, haunting slab of sadboy Goth-doom, overflowing with longing, melancholy and hurt, stealing the best of Paradise Lost, Anathema and My Dying Bride, and making it their own. Several songs here vied for Song o’ the Year, and for various reasons 2018 gave me a lot of opportunities to return to this album. In the end, its length was comforting rather than off-putting. Go figure. Mea culpa for massively underscoring this thing of depressive beauty.
#1: Eneferens // The Bleakness of Our Constant – Sometimes you know you’ve stumbled onto something special as soon as you hit play. Such was the case with the latest by one-man atmoblack act Eneferens. From the grace of acoustic intro “Leave,” through to the final strains of “Selene,” Eneferens mastermind, Jori Apedaileman deftly mixes blackness with melodeath and bleak post-metal to craft an album of subtle ebbs and tides. It’s an emotional journey through the depressive elements of man and nature, steered by first-rate musicianship and a keen ear toward unforgettable melodies, even dragging in a goddamn ukulele and making it work. It’s best enjoyed as a whole and it feels like it flies by in a flash. Though Jori’s compositions reference many other artists, this never feels like a copy of anyone’s style. Of all the albums I heard in 2018, I got lost far deeper in this one than anything else. So much so that I had real trouble turning this thing off to listen to other albums on my review queue. It was like walking away from a Michelangelo to look at finger paintings. If you miss everything else this year, make some time for The Bleakness of Our Constant. You won’t regret it.
Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):
- Altars of Grief // Iris – Woods of Ypres may be gone, but some of their tragic magic lingers on in Iris.
- Ocean of Grief // Nightfall’s Lament – Super sadboy, winter-ready melodeath designed to penetrate even a heart of trve Steel.
- Fate Breaks Dawn // Deviate – The Lör of 2018: Quirky, super slick progressive power metal out of Queens, NY with harsh vocals, heavy crunch and a real sense of adventure.
- Décembre Noir // Autumn Kings – More first-rate doom death, full of weepy weepiness.
- Solstice // White Horse Hill – In a year with no Sorcerer, these Brits did their best to fill the epic doom gap.
- Michael Romeo // War of the Worlds – Symphony X by any other name would smell as sweet, plus aliens.
- Voivod // The Wake – It’s nothing short of miraculous that these weirdos can keep going strong regardless of who’s in the band.
- 1914 // The Blind Leading the Blind – Following in the muddy, bloody footsteps of Bolt Thrower and Hail of Bullets is a suicide mission, but 1914 dodged the bullets.
- Witchcryer // Cry Witch – Delivering the Castle album that Castle themselves could not.
- Hamferd // Támsins likam – Poignant, heartbreaking death doom that fully translates even when delivered in a foreign dialect.
Song o’ the Year:
The Eternal – “I Lie in Wait” – It’s a really great song. What else is there to say? Steel tested, sadboy approved. Listen to it!
Disappointment of the Year: Therion // Beloved Antichrist – As triple albums of bombastic opera metal go, this one was a Les Miss. Too much opera with too many singers going full Tarja, and almost no metal makes Steel Druhm an angry apeboy. Less is more, unless we’re talking about including actual metal, of which you need some.