Nine* Circles ov…What “Didn’t” Make My 2018 End of Year List (But Could Have)

EOY 2018 Header 9C

* SPOILERS: it’s gonna be 20 albums…buckle your seat belts.

I told myself this year I was going to take it easy – do the Honorable Mentions, get the final list out, and put 2018 to rest.  On a global, national, and personal front the year’s been pretty much a disaster from the start, and the quicker I can put it in my rearview mirror the better.  But the more I tweaked and played with my end of year selections (thank you Trello for making that shit so easy) the more I realized that – like always – music was the thing that propped me up and made every setback if not better, at least tolerable.  And when the dust cleared from all the list building I found a huge excess of albums that didn’t make my lists but easily could have on another day.  Everything is interchangeable; we are not the people we were even a moment ago, and those experiences constantly inform our perspective on the world, metal albums included.

Just one example: I’m currently listening to “Reaper on Your Heels” from the awesome Lucifer II (reviewed here) and I just realized it’s not covered anywhere on my lists.  That’s a crime.  The amount of music that impacted and affected me this year was massive, and the fact we’re going to talk about over 60 albums by the time my various end of year lists are done isn’t an indicator that I’m less discerning or critical in my viewpoints (though you can argue that and I welcome you to it), but that this year more than any other I tried to open myself up and drop preconceived notions, expectations, and community consensus.  The result was a metric ton of music that I’ll be listening to for a long time to come, so for this edition of Nine Circles ov… I want to dive into a bunch of music that’s not on my end of year lists today, but could be on any other given day.

Let’s do this…

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alkaloid liquid anatomy album cover

Moving from a crust version of Yes to Tool to overt death metal and back again in the span of a single song (check out opener “Kernal Panic”) Alkaloid are never content to stay in what place for very long, and Liquid Anatomy is an apt title for this Frankenstein creation.  As soon as you think you have the band nailed down, they find another avenue to explore as they do with the djent/death-doom hybrid of “As Decreed by Laws Unwritten” and you are left to re-assess everything that came before.  Can it get a little too scattered at times? Sure, but it’s never not interesting, and I’ll take the excitement of seeing where Alkaloid will go next any time.

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Amorphis - Queen of Time

Forever known as “Queen of Bee” around these parts, the latest from Amorphis is rightly getting AOTY status from a lot of sites, and it’s refreshing to see so much love for something so melodic and warm.  Queen of Time mixes its folk and majestic metal even more seamlessly than predecessor Under the Red Cloud and proves once again that Tomi Joutsen is one of the best vocalists under the wide umbrella that is rock and metal.  “The Bee” is a fist slamming opener, but there’s not a weak track to be had on this platter of amber goodness.

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Ancestors - Suspended in Reflections

The fourth album from Los Angeles progressive band Ancestors feels a bit of a far cry from their debut Neptune With Fire a decade ago, and that’s a good thing.  Then they were battling the Sleep stigma with their lengthy stoner doom jams, a dragon everyone was chasing back in the day (and continues, to varying degrees of success).  Suspended in Reflections is a massive leap forward, cutting the songs down to their essence and injecting a healthy dose of Jesu-like shoegaze and Pink Floyd progression to create something approaching the colors on the album cover: a dark, purple velvet cloak that invites mystery.  “Gone” is a beautifully weathered signpost for where the band is traveling, and straight through to closer “The Warm Glow” feels like a single journey.

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chapel of disease - as we have seen the storm, we have embraced the eye

This one is purely a case of me not having enough time with it yet.  I was unfamiliar with Chapel of Disease before seeing it listed on Deibel’s Top 40 of 2018, but upon hearing opener “Void of Words” I was instantly hooked.  Sonically rich and diving into metal with a fresh perspective and wide influence, …And as We Have Seen the Storm, We Have Embraced the Eye immediately invite repeated listenings to understand just how the band managed to weave each segment of song together so coherently.  Plus the Dire Straits influence in the guitar playing is something I’ve never heard before in a metal context.  I’ll be coming back to this again and again, and so should you.

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conjurer - mire

Not enough people are talking about Mire, the debut full length from UK genre hybrid Conjurer.  The album has a solid foundation in death/doom, but there are huge swaths of sludgy progression that ease the suffocation on tracks like “Hollow” and the brutal “Retch” that constantly keep you on your toes.  It would have been incredibly easy to just remove all the dynamics and keep the album at volume 11 from front to back like so many other like-minded bands will do, but Conjurer are more interested in the textures beneath the death and filth, and that makes Mire a killer debut and a huge challenge for whatever they do next.

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dire peril - extraterrestrial compendium

If 2018 was anything for me, it was the year I dove deeper into power metal and its varied offshoots.  Taking up the mantle for the Power Metal Album of the Month brought me closer to a genre of music I normally held at arm’s length but was such a vital component to my love of metal as a kid.  As I said in my reviewDire Peril embodies everything I love about the genre in their album The Extraterrestrial Compendium.   There’s a personal synergy when a band writes about things I love in a style I have grown to love, and Dire Peril’s song cycles about Predator, The Thing, Barberella, and other classics of science fiction and horror are just icing on an already delicious and epic metal cake.  I may have let that last sentence get away from me, but don’t let Dire Peril get away from you.

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Domkraft - Flood

I admit I have a soft spot for stoner rock (wait until you see my album of the year), but it’s been getting harder and harder to find albums that don’t just toe the line and actually have a sense of weight and depth to them.  In that regard I reluctantly agree with the online community.  But when something does click I treasure it.  Domkraft hail from Sweden and their sophomore record Flood has that certain quality that always manages to get its hooks into me.  It’s a combination of psychedelic sludge and doom rock that’s super bottom heavy yet light enough to hear all the nuances.  The squalling feedback solo in opener “Landslide” mimics the wind against the sails of a ship bound for Lovecraftian terrors, and I’m 100% on board, bad puns be damned.

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Eagle Twin - The Thundering Heard

I love Clutch, but sad to say Clutch let me down this year.  Eagle Twin, a duo haling out of Salt Lake City is most definitely not Clutch, but their blues soaked in the blood of a mammoth album The Thundering Heard did all the things a classic Clutch album does for me: roars and rages with a boogie stomp that bleeds and batters.  When our own Mark reviewed the album back in March he nailed the draw that comes from the signature guitar sound created (literally) by Gentry Densley, who builds his own guitars and amps.  It’s a rumbling behemoth of a tone, terrifying and beautiful in equal measure.  If you’re not completely taken by the final minutes of “Quanah Un Rama” I don’t know how I can help you…

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hekatomb - funeral mist

Black metal took a bit of a backseat for me in 2018; after absorbing so much of it (and writing it to boot) I needed music to do something different for me, something black metal can’t typically do.  But that didn’t stop a few records leaving their mark on me, and Funeral Mist delivered with  Hekatomb, a spiraling blitz of black metal whose album name I mangled this year almost as much as Amorphis’s latest (Hekabomb, anyone?  No?).  The third part of a trilogy I never knew existed, the dizzying music contained on Hekatomb emerges from the brainpan of Arioch, aka the vocalist for Marduk.  Buried in the onslaught is some cool experimentation, whether it’s the thrash melding on opener “In Nomine Domini” or the disappearance of drums for the final two minutes of “Naught But Death.”  I even hear the faint echo of a cowbell on “Shedding Skin” but that could be my imagination.  Regardless, there’s something about Hekatomb that gets its way into your brain in a way a lot of black didn’t this year.

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gatekeeper - east of sun

Every metal site and their brother are raving about Visigoth (I will too, but later).  But that wasn’t the only excellent offering of more traditional metal that came out this year, and when it comes to consistency I might offer up that East of Sun, the latest from Canadian epic/trad metal outfit Gatekeeper as the better record.  Front to back each track is a ripper, with special mention to the opener “Blade of Cimmeria” and closer “Oncoming Ice.”  This is a record that breathes magic and passion and knows to get angry when it counts.  Vocalist Jean-Pierre Abboud has a grit to his voice that stands out against  the old school rasp of the guitars, and push the record from “surprisingly good” to “damn great” metal that needs no tags.

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Haunt - Burst Into Flame

Another dose of good old-fashioned heavy metal that is very much back in fashion, at least when it’s executed as well as it is on Burst Into Flame, the debut LP from Haunt.  Close on the heels of debut EP Luminous Eyes, their full length hones in on everything that made the EP great: riffs locked tight against the drums, copious amount of twin guitar leads, and the great delivery of Trevor William Church.  Revisiting my review from August and listening to the opening title track I’m still shaking my head as to why this isn’t on my “official” list, but that’s the way of these things.  The way the notes hit you can change things in an instant.  What remains constant, however, is that Burst Into Flame will stay in rotation for a good long time, holding the torch for everything great about heavy metal.

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immortal guardian - age of revolution

More than once crafting the Power Metal Album of the Month I’ve had this happen:  you finish writing about your main selection, and then you go through the other albums released that month to fill the post out, only to have an album grab you in a way that – had things been reversed – would have made that album the PMAOTM.  Such was the case with September.  Not taking anything away from Ironflame’s epic trad metal, but Immortal Guardian roared out of my headphones in a way that was a delight.  The best power metal mixes technical prowess, bombast, and drama in a perfect blend, but there’s something about how everything is turned up to 11 on Age of Revolution I can’t get enough of.  Do I wish the drums didn’t sound so tinny?  Sure.  But damn do I love the crazy mix of sounds these guys put together.  When I’m in the mood this album is perfect.  When I’m not it has the power to change my mind.  Also: saxophone.

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Inexorum - Lore of the Lakes

I don’t have a better way to describe what Inexorum is like than how I opened my review of the album:  when someone asks me what black metal is, this is the sound that comes to my head.  Icy and bleak and furious with an undercurrent of melody that pierces the madness and anchors it.  Lore of the Lakes sticks to a very strict formula, but it’s one executed flawlessly.  From the frantic urgency of “Raging Hearts” to the truly epic feel of the closing title track, the album is a perfect encapsulation of where my head is at when it comes to streamlined black metal.

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In the Woods... - Cease the Day

In the Woods… have put the black metal back into their unique take on metal with Cease the Day.  The album takes everything that made “reset” album Pure such a highlight and adds back the anger.  From my review of the album last month: “Simply stated, Cease the Day takes Pure and rips it open.  Shorter in minutes, it’s a larger, more expansive album, returning to the dynamics and aggression of Heart of Ages but mixed beautifully against the progressive folk/doom of Omnio and Pure.  In a way it’s what I wanted the new Thrawsunblat to be, or where Woods of Ypres could have traveled were it not for the tragic death of David Gold.”  This is still an album I’m digesting, and I plan on digging deeper into its richer throughout 2019 and beyond.

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master's hammer - fascinator

Continuing the trend of classic metal bands coming back with a vengeance this year, Master’s Hammer released a monster of record in Fascinator.  Awash with small quirks and off-kilter moments it’s a testament to how forward thinking the band has been over the course of thirty odd years.  You’re never going to mistake this for anything other than black metal, but the path the Czech band takes to get there is unique to say the least.  There’s a Arcturus-like vein running through tracks like “Psychoparasit” and “Linkola” but there are also moments of theatricality that recall Rammstein of all bands.  Underneath it all though is a steady current of black metal that Master’s Hammer has been perfecting ever since 1991’s Ritual.

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Outre-Tombe - Nécrovortex

Death metal had a monster year.  Doesn’t matter what sub-genre you like, 2018 was the year a band put out a monstrous death metal record.  And if old-school death in the vein of early Death but with more filth is your bag, then Outre-Tombe had you and a lot of others moshing with abandon thanks to Nécrovortex.  One of the things I’ve been stressing all year in my death metal reviews is that singular feeling when a band hits that golden pocket of groove.  If you can manage it you’re golden and on each track Outre-Tombe hit it with a sledgehammer.  Listen to how filthy and tight “Désintégration” is without sounding like an over-executed mess.  Despite the filth and muck everything comes through in a great mix, and those vocals sound like they’re coming from niles below the Earth.  Also dudes know how to effectively use a whammy bar…that counts for a whole lot in this business…

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qoheleth - black kite broadcasts

The only reason Qoheleth isn’t on my main EOY list is because I’m friends with the singer/guitarist and also happen to be in a band with him.  Objectivity is a lie.  The subjective is all I can impart to you, and in this case it’s that Black Kite Broadcasts blows up the noise rock found on the band’s debut with a healthy dose of melody.  There’s a newfound confidence to not bury everything in a wall of sound, and that’s immediately apparent in “T(h)rash Panda” which is still dirty and primal but accessible in a way the band never was before.  The vocals are much higher in the mix, and you can feel vocalist/guitarist Jeremy Hunt discovering what he voice can do: on “Uterine,” he finds a line between the spoken delivery of classic Iggy Pop and the swerving cadence of D Boon from the Minutemen.  The music embodies a drunken lilt that feels on the edge of a musical brawl and in its best moments, as on the ominously quiet “Hooray! They’re Dead” it reaches the sublime.

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skeletal remains - devouring mortality

More death metal.  More old school.  More hitting that pocket.  Bands like Skeletal Remains are keeping that flame ignited by bands like Obituary back in the 80s.  There’s a degree of technicality on Devouring Mortality but it’s completely organic and a part of the songwriting structure.  Since I’m already almost 3,000 words into this post I’ll gladly crib from my review back in April and say every track offers an ear worm that makes Devouring Mortality a winner; the frantic chorus of “Seismic Abyss,” the extended opening of “Torture Labyrinth,” the old school flavor of “Parasitic Horrors” – Skeletal Remains plants a huge stake in the ground for why Florida death metal still resonates decades later.

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Slegest - Introvert

I don’t know what that cover is.  A lady praying to a goat/bird/brain?  That’s some weird shit.  You know what’s not weird?  The straight up black and roll Slegest knocks out of the park on latest album Introvert.  Putting a real emphasis on classic hard rock the Norwegian outfit feel like the best parts of bands like Turbonegro without the jokes.  Our editor in chief nailed the huge 80s influence the album wears on its sleeve, particularly with the guitar lines.  I could point to any track but just let opener “Blodets Varme Gjennom Meg” wash over you and see if you feel the same way.

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Trappist - Ancient Brewing Tactics

I needed some fun in my life in 2018.  And weird as it is to say, I found that fun in a hardcore band dedicated to beer.  Trappist come out of the LA hardcore/power violence scene and Ancient Brewing Tactics feels like it could have come out any time in the last 25 years.  I mean that in the best possible way – there’s a timeless quality to the songs, and the way they blaze past you at 100 mph.  Even when things slow down as they do on something like “The Patron Saints” there’s a brazen intensity present in every second, as if the whole things is going to blow up with the slightest push…you know, just like it could when you’ve had one too many at the bar.  If Murphy’s Law were hardcore instead of punk/ska, they’d be Trappist.  Wolves in the tap room be damned, I’m here for whatever they do next.

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All this great metal and I haven’t even gotten to my Honorable Mentions list yet, let alone my favorite albums of the year.  But like I said, we change with every moment we’re here, and these albums in their way had just as much an impact, and deserve their day in the sun as well – I guarantee they’ll be getting more than enough time on my stereo in the months and years to come.

Until next time, keep it heavy.

-Chris


 

3 thoughts on “Nine* Circles ov…What “Didn’t” Make My 2018 End of Year List (But Could Have)

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