Best of 2018: Chris’s Honorable Mentions List

EOY 2018 Header 9C

We’ll save the long-winded rhetoric for the final list.  There’s fifteen albums listed here that are categorized as “Honorable Mentions” because that’s typically how these list things work.  But in reality it’s a disservice to relegate the incredible music contained herein to a tier of “also ran.”  I spent much of the year thinking about what I needed music to do for me, and hunting for the songs, the bands, and the albums that worked – selfishly – for me.  All of the albums listed below work on me and for me: pushing me to move further, holding me back when I’ve gone too far.  I can’t ask for much more than that.  Last year I titled my honorable mentions albums #40-26, but in truth a number can’t define the reinforcement and excitement this music provided.

So let’s dive in and talk about them for a spell.

The Outer Circle

Honorable Mentions

Anicon - Entropy Mantra

With every release Anicon continue their steady transformation into one of my favorite metal bands.  The sense of adventure and craft displayed on Entropy Mantra shows a band tossing aside the constraints of modern black metal to embrace different and more direct rhythms and melodies on tracks like “Names Written in Tar” and the epic “Paling Terrain.”  Since reviewing the album in June and having had the chance to see the band rip a room apart in a live setting I’m down for whatever Anicon want to do.  Entropy Mantra is a massive achievement, their best album yet.

asunojokei - awakenings

The unique mix of hardcore, black metal, shoegaze and post-kitchen sink approach Asunojokei bring to their music hooked me since first hearing their debut EP, which landed in my Best of 2016 list.  Their full length debut, translated as Awakening, doubles down on the same aesthetics that make the band such a singular entity.  “Double Quotation Mark” moves from a choppy chord drenched in delay to strained tremolo-laden cry of anguish, only to move a few bars later to a syncopated progressive riff that wouldn’t be out of place on a Between the Buried and Me record.  That the band can make every leap feel organic even as it’s completely unexpected is just one reason I can’t get enough of this album.

barren altar - entrenched in the faults of the earth

It’s a good thing I cleaned out that promo pile a bit; otherwise I don’t know if I would have caught up with Entrenched in the Faults of the Earth, the excellent debut from Barren Altar. Like I said there, the music is awash in contradictions that pull together to create a dark, brooding thing of beauty.  Whether it’s the push/pull of doom and blackened death on opener “Nexus of Grief” or the cavernous rot of “The Great Awakening of Death” there’s a lot of necrotic meat to gnaw off the bones of Entrenched in the Faults of the Earth, and I for one plan to continue nibbling away.

Bosse-de-Nage Further Still

Before I started writing for Nine Circles I kept a year-end list of my favorite albums on my phone.  You can bet in 2015 Bosse-de-Nage was there with their crushing All Fours.  This year is no different, as Further Still takes the band’s sonic template and condenses it to a lean, angry assault that as our own Vincent so ably put it focuses on a percussive post-hardcore vibe that makes songs like the standout “Down Here” and “The Crux” feel like a breed apart from what everyone else is doing.  Further Still charges to the edge of the cliff, drowning you in the adrenaline and terror not knowing if you’ll stop in time.

Craft - White Noise and Black Metal

That opening riff on “The Cosmic Sphere Falls.”  Soon as I heard it I knew I was going to be in the bag for White Noise and Black Metal, the latest from Swedish black metal legends Craft. There’s this small but impactful nuance where they bend the note up a half step before resolving.  It’s something I learned from Darkthrone and have used in my own music, and hearing it here brought that shiver to my ears.  “Again” is another example, that opening riff set against the march rhythm bringing a diabolical flair to the song.  Craft have never been content to follow their peers, each album since Fuck the Universe (my introduction to them) has sought to push past the repetitive cadence of black metal into something more mysterious and evil.  White Noise and Black Metal does nothing to shirk that responsibility.

Ghost - Prequelle

I really struggled with putting Prequelle on my list, not because of any backlash concerning Ghost, since I unabashedly love their debut and 2015’s Meliora.  It’s more that I find the first half of the album truly unfuckwithable: actually from intro “Ashes” straight to the pomp and pop of “Dance Macabre” it’s a perfect execution and so damn singable I’ll put it up as one of my favorite things of 2018.  But “Pro Memoria” puts the balance of the album off-kilter, and while it does manage to recover (DAMN “Helvetesfonster” is good) it’s the one instance where I’ll say this didn’t belong on the final list, great as that first half is.  Side note: much as as I love Carpenter Brut, their remix of “Dance Macabre” was a big whiff.

harms way - posthuman

I’m just as surprised as you are Harms Way is on my list.  Mainly because until a few months ago I had zero familiarity with the band.  But there is something primitive in the way the band effortlessly blends their hardcore and industrial elements to craft a brain bruising album in Posthuman that reaches into the primal parts of my psyche, the parts that want to bash my fists against anything to leave a mark and take away the thoughts in my head.  “Sink” has a methodical crush to it that perfectly segues into the siren wail of “Temptation” but it’s the next track “Become a Machine” that currently has its hooks in me.

Imperial Triumphant - Vile Luxury

It’s no secret the entire Nine Circles crew dug Vile Luxury, the latest from avant-garde black metal guardians Imperial Triumphant – it was our Album of the Month for July, after all.  And there’s little I can add to the eloquence put down by our own Zyklonius in his glowing review of the record.  What I will say is despite its challenging soundscapes and reluctance to be considered as anything other than a complete document, I kept coming back to it.  To its brass-laden clarion calls and to its creeping menace on tracks like “Swarming Opulence” and the deceptive “Mother Machine.”  There are layers and layers of filth to wade through, but also moments of surprising beauty, broken and hopeless as it is.

mournful congregation - the incubus of karma

There’s another universe out there, one where Evoken’s Hypnagogia came out earlier in the year, taking all of my funeral doom love and leaving little for Mournful Congregation.  But that’s not the universe we live in, and The Incubus of Karma blasted its way into my ears and soul back in March and I never looked back.  There needs to be a certain decayed beauty in funeral doom for it to click with me, and in the bowel dwelling sorrow of “Whispering Spiritscapes” and minor-key laments laid bare in “The Rubaiyat” I found it.  If there’s a song title that better sums up the (many) strengths of Mournful Congregation than “A Picture of the Devouring Gloom Devouring the Spheres of Being” I’ve yet to find it…

sigh - heir to despair

It took me until Heir to Despair to realize the first letter from the last few Sigh albums were spelling out the band’s name.  Duh.  So take whatever I say moving forward with a grain of salt (you should be doing that anyway).  But although there may be some level of thematic cohesion between this and 2015’s Graveland, Heir to Despair really moves the needle forward,  accentuating all the exotic flavors the band prominently embedded in classics like Hangman’s Hymn and Gallows Gallery.  “Aletheia” is a killer opening track, throwing enough curveballs to keep your head spinning before plummeting in the black metal vortex that is “Homo Homini Lupus.”  I was really not expecting to like this album as much as I do, and each spin is getting better and better.

sleepwalker ichi-go ichi-e

“For this time only, never again” is the rough Chinese translation of the latest from experimental black metal outfit Sleepwalker.  Psychedelia and industrial noise mix with more traditional back metal elements to produce something exquisitely tense.  The unexpected percussive moments of “Sitting for the Road” feels worlds apart from the guitar lament of “If Return, A Mirror Glance” until the moment the maelstrom breaks into shifting ambient structures and King Crimson soloing.  The mix on the album is superb, with a good pair of headphones really emphasizing the amount of space inherent in the songs.  This is late night, eyes closed meditation on madness and chaos, beauty in destruction.

tomb mold manor of infinite forms

Tomb Mold make death metal that is so vital and alive you can hear the viscera dripping from the notes.  The album artwork encapsulates the music perfectly.  The groove on Manor of Infinite Forms is the groove of shambling monstrosity, the title track swinging with the gait of a leviathan outer god come to reclaim the rock throne that is our planet.  “Final Struggle of Selves” has a gnarled progressive quality that stands against every band trying to emulate their forefathers and failing.  Am I jealous that Vincent covered this in his Evcharist column?  Maybe, but at least I have this paragraph to reinforce his already stately summary of what makes this album work so well.

visigoth - conqueror's oath

Conqueror’s Oath has only gotten better with time since I reviewed it back in February. Even “Steel and Silver” which I originally kind of (foolishly) panned hits me right in the sweet spot now.  And the rest of the latest rock slab from Visigoth continues to propel forward like a trad metal rocket, although nothing still manages to take the cake like the beaming Thin Lizzy/KISS love letter that is “Salt City.”  Conqueror’s Oath is the slimmer, sleeker version of what Visigoth did on The Revenant King, which typically wouldn’t be a good thing when you’re talking about traditional epic metal, but they more than earn all the accolades this album has gotten in 2018.

Zeal and Ardor - Stranger Fruit

Zeal & Ardor turned the metal world on its head with Devil is Fine, and the critical embracing of that album has left main dude Manuel Gagneux completely unfettered when it came time to construct a follow-up.  Stranger Fruit takes the striking mix of black metal, blues, folk, and gospel/spirituals and injects it with a laid back prog that over the course of the album’s 15 tracks presents the listener with a myriad of confrontations, some of which work better than others.  But at almost double the length of its predecessor, Stranger Fruit reveals so many twists and turns that its delights are many, even if they at first don’t feel as immediate.

The end is coming, folks.  Just one more week and we get into the muck and filth of my favorite albums of the year.  Thanks for hanging in this long.  See you soon.

– Chris



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