Yes, that title is a Dark Souls reference, and it’s a title I would like to have some day.
Anyway, it’s that time of year where we all just want to enjoy the last vestiges of holidays before the new year begins and we all decide to make lists. Whether it is for presents, things to throw out, or just a general shopping list for Christmas, we are bound to make one.
However, here in the hallowed halls of 9C, we are making one better: It’s time for EOY list season!
2018 was an impressive year for music in general. The sheer amount of releases this year was mind-blowing – so much so that I decided to make it into a top 20. That’s right: I expanded my list because 10 ain’t gonna cut it. However, there were a lot of albums left out from this list because they weren’t being as heavily played as they were supposed to be or they came out too late for me to actually put on this list (sorry Within Temptation!). I also decided to cut EPs from this list, as they deserve their own separate thing that won’t be explored until I have some more time. Let’s get started…
This year was a lot.
With that in mind, I decided to divide this list into three parts:
- the nebulous, where any of those albums’ placements could be placed anywhere at any time;
- the hypothetical, where the albums’ placements are more concrete, but can also be moved around; and
- the theoretical, where the albums’ placements have been solidified.
As you will see, this list became a pile of word vomit, because I have written a lot this year and you will get some of that on here. Anyway, here’s my Top 20 Albums of 2018. If you think I missed one, please write me an essay with cited sources and send it to wherever you can get ahold of me. Other reviews do not count.
With all that out of the way, let’s begin!
Part I: The Nebulous
20. Recode the Subliminal – Disconnected: Oh, Recode the Subliminal, what happened? The Cost of Every Man was an album that I played for a good portion of 2017 and early 2018, so when I saw they had released a new album, I was pretty much into it. Then, I listened to Disconnected and it was – for a lack of a better word – lacking the essence that made The Cost fantastic. Granted, the concept was excellent – a Deus Ex Machina-like story where two people fall under two different sides in a world where cybernetic parts can be implanted into humans. However, the story lacked cohesiveness, making me backtrack and listen to the songs again to fully understand what’s going on. The weird pacing and editing of how the story played was being structured took me out of enjoying the music several times, which sucked. Considering how good The Cost was, I expected Disconnected to blow my mind, only for me to question why it was released in the first place. Now, don’t get me wrong; the music for Disconnected was fantastic. It hit me in all of the right places, with its progressive tendencies and overall vocal appeal creating this cocoon of sound. It’s clear that the men in Recode the Subliminal faltered on Disconnected, but I hope their next album brings them back to terra firma.
19. Kamelot – The Shadow Theory: The shame about this album is that I loved it, but it stands nowhere near its predecessor, Haven. It’s also sort of sad to place Kamelot here, because I love this band with every fiber of my being. However, I also must be objective; Kamelot tried to do too many things on one album, and it isn’t well-developed. I know that, plot-wise, this album is a follow-up to Haven, but it feels off. What I love the most about Kamelot is that they can unite both voice and instruments together to make a cohesive album, and they have one of the most fantastic productions I am acquainted with. With The Shadow Theory, they failed to unite those concepts; it feels like the band is trying to show off what Tommy can do, as opposed to what everyone can do. It also feels like a highlight reel with mechanical sounds embedded into it, as if they didn’t want to take any risks. I wish they could have expanded musically on this album, but it didn’t pan out. What I hope to see is Kamelot expanding more of their sound into new territories, not cop-out because they want to throw things against the wall and see what sticks. This album had a lot of potential and it could have been executed better.
18. The Ever Living – Herephemine: When I first heard Herephemine, I was on a plane to visit my (ex-)boyfriend, and I thought it would be good mood music for leaving California at 6 am. I didn’t like it at first – first track “The Great Defeatist” was a slow drag of an opener – but then it grew on me the more I listened to it. It also became more poignant after I returned from my trip and became single again. Something about its intensity and cinematics make this a compelling album to listen to, especially when you are all alone and you can play it loudly through your headphones. It’s also experimental and honest in its nature with its deep walls of sound layering being its most outstanding feature. There are also elements about this album that makes it seem like I encountered this kind of record before. After repeated listens, I found that reason it felt so familiar was due to the highly experimental doom you could find in both Chelsea Wolfe and King Woman’s body of work. While both artists deal with doom on an experimental level, Chelsea’s is more ethereal, cinematic, and paralyzing, while King Woman’s is more guttural, soul-wrenching, and claustrophobic. It feels like The Ever Living took all of these elements, added a soundscape that never shifts, and came out with an album that needs to be played loudly by plugging into an amp.
17. Sinistro – Sangue Cassia:
From an essay I wrote about the album:
Angst also lies at the heart of the album, one that would warrant the sadness and the melancholy the album seems to give off. In Spanish music, we have a genre specifically dedicated to angst; it’s called corta venas, and yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like: it’s music to cry to and to slit your veins open to because the lyrics are so soul-crushing that you can’t do anything but. Because of the voice-music contrast, you wouldn’t think of the angst that belies the album. However, it depicts the turbulent grief of mourning through the dissonance and low tones of its music. The use of ecclesiastical bells depicts a funerary tone, as if Andrade is grieving. However, because of her voice, the contrast transcends the narrative of the album. Andrade is telling different stories united by the single, thin thread of love, a love that is both fleeting and intense. It’s the cause of her mourning, of her persistent need to die. It’s this intense love that causes her to ache and to seek death, to reflect on the nature of what was lost.
I grew up with corta venas being a staple in my household, and this album might be a version of that tradition. While this album sits in the doom metal label, its post-metal characteristics make Sangue Cassia a sad ballad that you need to replay to fully understand.
16. Omnium Gatherum – The Burning Cold: It helps that I saw these guys in concert and I have been familiar with their music for some time.
As many of you know, I love melodeath, so I am pleased to include two albums of this genre on my list. While The Burning Cold may not be my favorite Omnium Gatherum release – that honor goes to Beyond – this album still hits all the right spots for me when it comes to melodeath. Relentless, fast-paced, and melodic to its core, this album was brought to my attention when I saw them in concert back in September. I spent a few days listening to it, only to come back to it these past couple of days while stuck in Finals week. While it didn’t jive with me the first time I heard it, the continued exposure to the album made me appreciate it a little more each time. Even now, I find myself mouthing “Refining Fire” and “Be the Sky” while I am on the train or on the walk home. It’s a good album that has its moments, but, for the most part, these guys are staying true to their aesthetic and their sound. Personally, I loved seeing them live and it’s my wish that they had played longer when I did. They were fantastic, and they made me appreciate their music a little more. I am looking forward to their next album while I continue to listen to this one when the mood strikes me.
15. Oblivious – När Isarna Sjunger: From my own review back in April:
This is music that I would call “dad rock” – it’s music that I would imagine a man reliving his youth would listen to while drinking a cold drink after a long day at work. It’s fun, moving, and not something I naturally gravitate towards. Oblivious’s brand of stoner metal reminds me of the psychedelic sound aesthetic from the 60s mixed with classic rock influences. You can hear this in the vocals, with its melodic tendencies and chill nature. I also love the atmosphere it has, as it’s fun and not complicated in the slightest. You can tell that Oblivious enjoys the music they play, and the aesthetic it has makes for an enjoyable listen. Everything about När Isarna Sjunger screams music you can hear around a bonfire with friends. It’s fuzzy and perfect for listening in the winter.
2018 may be the year of death metal, but I personally think that 2018 was the year of stoner metal. Although I missed out on a lot of stoner metal releases this year, no one can deny that some interesting things are happening in the genre. It’s something to keep an eye out for.
Part II: The Hypothetical
14. Thy Catafalque – Geometria: File this album under “Things Hera Will Never Shut Up About.”
From my own review I did back in June:
Now, I would not describe Geometria as a bop, but this is an album that makes me want to groove and dance, even at the harshest moments. What I also love about Geometria is how much of it was inspired by architecture. As a person who gained an appreciation for architecture back in school, this tidbit of information makes me smile. We sometimes forget that architecture is an art, although we don’t consider it to be in the same tier as painting and sculpture. However, architecture is always able to capture someone’s imagination, and, in the case of Kátai, he has made an album that has a diversity and a schema that can be attributed to creating something from the ground up. The album also has a city vibe, reminding me very much of Neolunar (please listen to that if you haven’t done so already; it’s excellent and it has a lot of the cleaner aspects of what makes Kátai a great musician), eliciting a feeling of both warmth and homesickness.
I will never stop talking about Thy Catafalque – this band may be one of my favorite avant-garde black metal acts that currently exist in the scene, and that’s saying a lot because I have heard some killer avant-garde black metal this year (cheers to Imperial Triumphant!).
13. Eldritch – Cracksleep: From a review I did back in April:
Considering how insomnia, on a whole, is caused by numerous factors, the desperation is evident and justified. While it is not known just what causes insomnia, there have been numerous suggestions. One such theory is that increased activity in the central nervous system leads to enhanced sensory and information processing, leading to restlessness. In other words, a sleepless night can be caused by anxiety, stress, and other factors that can disrupt the central nervous system from resting. Cracksleep takes this and amps the desperation and the melancholy to a claustrophobic and skin-crawling level. However, even in their desperation, there is something beautiful about the way Eldritch portrays insomnia. One can appreciate the imagery of the sleepless night, whether it is regarding boredom (“Staring At The Ceiling”) or feeling a deep sense of anxiety that leads to cold sweat (“Deep Frost”).
Eldritch gets to be on this list because they wrote an album about insomnia, which just so happens to be something I struggle with. They understand the woes of the condition and create compelling imagery to make the listener understand the woes of it.
12. Dir En Grey – The Insulated World: I have loved Diru for a long time, and while Spotify has not been very forthcoming in getting their albums on the platform (get it together!), it hasn’t stopped me from listening to what’s available. Originally a visual kei band, Diru has since shed the elaborate costumes for something more “appropriate,” although their penchant for wordplay and Kyo’s signature bestial howling has continued. Now, because I also go through periods of not knowing what’s happening in the music world, I tend to forget that that Diru is still around. Imagine my surprise and delight when I heard that they were coming out with their newest album, The Insulated World, towards the latter half of the year. This album continues their chaotic blend of avant-garde metal without giving a shit about what everyone else thinks, which is a testament to their aesthetic. The music is equal parts melodic and progressive, while also maintaining a whimsical edge that veers towards the insane (if the cover art doesn’t give you that feeling, then I don’t know what to tell you). What makes the album stand out for me is how hard-hitting it is, as the band employs more melody to soften the harshness of the sound. However, it does nothing to temper Kyo’s vocal delivery, although his cleaner vocals are used more here; he’s both mad and emotive, and that’s something not a lot of people can pull off. For an album that I heard about six days before its release, I am surprised that it made it this high on the list and I am going to keep listening to it to further understand what’s going on.
11. Chthonic – Battlefields of Asura: From an essay I wrote on the album:
The two most interesting songs from a narrative perspective are “Souls of the Revolution” and “Carved in Bloodstone.” They each convey something inherent to the history of the country and to the sense of solidarity we feel despite our differing origins. In Taiwan, it is believed that a nation’s flags have powers embedded in them and will become available to you when you need them. “Souls…” reinforces the idea that, despite the erasure of historical events or the displacement and almost-eradication of an entire group, you can still feel connected to your gods through your flags. Meanwhile, “Carved in Bloodstone” deals with solidarity, both for those currently living and for those who have passed away. The aforementioned displacement may keep you away from your country, but you can still create a sense of community to those who have either been oppressed in the past or are currently oppressed by a major government or independent state. Despite most countries adhering to the “One China” policy, some do have unofficial diplomatic relations with Taiwan, fostering a sense of sympathy and solidarity for their current plight.
Chthonic is one of those bands that holds a special place in my heart because of their outward politics. They are one of the first bands that impressed me with the thought they put into their music and their lyrics, as they practice what they preach. The day they come to the States will be the day I lose my mind.
10. Emigrate – A Million Degrees: Things I wasn’t expecting: Emigrate releasing a new album and then climbing this high on the list.
Honestly, I wouldn’t have minded if they had waited another seven years to release their third album, but I am not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Given how Rammstein have been on hiatus and the band members are working on other projects – Lindemann, anyone? – it would have made sense for Richard Kruspe to bring his project back to life. Now, I don’t know about you, but I am very much into this album. The blend of rock and electronica with Richard’s smoky yet dark voice creates an incredible contrast, especially considering some of the guests he’s included. It can be inferred that Richard trusts the people he’s working with, because what you get is a different sonic experience for each song. There is nothing uniting them except for the different themes they carry from song to song. There is also a heightened sense of playfulness that is much more explicit than what you see in Rammstein; here, most of the music is sung in English (except for Till Lindemann, who sings in German for “Let’s Go”), so they can’t hide behind the linguistic wordplay. A Million Degrees feels very much like one of those albums you play at a goth club when you want to start a party, but you also want to make people sad about halfway through it.
9. MaYaN – Dhyana: What happens when the man behind one of the bands you love returns with his side project? You listen to it, of course, and become joyous because there are so many voices you enjoy. The third album from MaYaN, Mark Jansen’s other project, Dhyana features vocalists like Henning Basse (Firewind), Marcela Bovio (ex-Stream of Passion), Laura Macri, and George Oosthoek in a glorious expression of symphonic death metal that leaves you breathless. This is one of the albums I was pleased to find out was being released this year, which made me promptly lose my mind when I got my hands on it. Now, as much as I loved the band’s previous effort, Antagonise, Dhyana finally cemented their sound and their lyricism into something cohesive. It also helps that their lineup is also more cohesive as well, making MaYaN more of a band rather than a side project. However, what truly blows my mind is the amount of detail that went into getting all those voices and orchestrations to work together. I know that Mark and co. raised money via a successful Indiegogo campaign to record with the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, and it worked beautifully for them. The Orchestra adds a layer of wonder and majesty to the music, creating a beautiful record that makes me almost weep in joy.
8. Obscura – Diluvium: Don’t be fooled by the “prog death metal” label; these guys are tech death through and through, but they’re slightly more progressive with Diluvium. It’s also the last album in their tetralogy that started with 2009’s Cosmogenesis, making this the end of an era. As someone who has gone back and listened to Obscura’s entire discography in the past two years and has enjoyed most of it (sorry, Akroasis!), listening to Dilivium is sort of bittersweet, as they are wrapping their tetralogy, but they are also creating the foundation for something better. What I first noticed was Obscura had employed more prog into their music – as opposed to how their sister band, Alkaloid, has always used prog – the music became more interesting. As I have mentioned in the past, Obscura are clearly instrumentalists first, musicians second, and they are always going to show off their instrumental prowess. On Diluvium, however, Obscura has done what they previously haven’t done before, and that’s take the time to make a record that focuses on their music rather than their instruments. What you get is music that is both enjoyable and makes you want to headbang. I am excited to see where Obscura will go on their next album, and I know I will have a great time with it. There’s a reason Obscura is my favorite tech death band: they clearly know what they are doing.
Part III: The Theoretical
File all these albums under “Things Hera Will Never Shut Up About.”
7. Coheed & Cambria – The Unheavenly Creatures: I always forget that Coheed & Cambria exist, and then they release a new album, which makes me puts down everything I have listened to thus far for it. Taking place in the Amory Wars universe created through much of their discography (except for 2015’s The Color Before the Sun) and comic book series, The Unheavenly Creatures tells the story of Nostrand and Nea, known as Creature and Sister Spider, two lovers who are trying to escape from a prison known as The Dark Sentencer. These two eventually give birth to a character named Vaxis, later to be known as the “Father of a New Universe.” While you don’t have to read the comic books or listen to Coheed & Cambria’s entire discography to understand what’s happening, you can still appreciate the music they have created. The Unheavenly Creatures is an excellent album with enough catchy songs to keep you humming throughout the day. I enjoyed this album so much that it immediately jumped to a high number on this list, because I couldn’t stop listening to it. There is a strong meld of prog, rock, and pop-punk that immediately injects into your veins, making you want to jump and dance while also screaming the lyrics out loud. The Unheavenly Creatures may be the best Coheed & Cambria album to date.
6. Noosphera – Más allá del sol: For the second melodeath album on this list, Noosphera brought out the guns on Más allá del sol, combining both melodeath and trance to create something very spatial. While not on the same orchestral level as Mechina, Noosphera created a compelling album that was on rotation throughout the summer. It was a sharp contrast to the other summer album – Zeal & Ardor’s Stranger Fruit – which is faster and more melodic in tone. What also made it stand out was the fact that Mas alla del sol was sung entirely in Spanish, making me love this album even more. From a post they made regarding the single “Más allá del sol”:
[…] It’s a concept album that deeply explores themes such as the loss of a loved one and the eternal struggle between fighting for what you want despite what the world deems otherwise. Throughout the eight tracks, we will also how our protagonist deals with various problems that will put him to the test and how his resolutions will help him transcend the barriers in his mind [translated; context].
Despite its short run time, this album goes deep and it deals with a lot, making anyone who listens to it question whether there is something more to our existence than just merely living. Although the album’s concept is still a mystery to me – I know someone is dead and the main protagonist blames someone else for the death of that loved one – Más allá del sol is still worth listening to. After all, not all good melodeath is Swedish.
5. Zeal & Ardor – Stranger Fruit: You all knew it was going to be here because I haven’t stopped talking about this band since Devil is Fine. I listened to this album throughout the summer, which was a perfect companion to the oppressive heat wave California deals with every year. I was also taking an accounting class, so this album takes me back to spending a lot of time going over notes and studying for exams. What I love most about this album is the fact that it expanded on itself, as it comes close to an hour of music. All of the tracks hit like a ton of bricks, making you want to headbang and dance along to the music. It also makes you want to scream the lyrics out loud, as if any of the pain and suffering you have felt can be exorcised out of your body. The tracks I love the most, “Servants” and “Ship On Fire,” have a repetitive beat that makes me want to pick up drumming. The black metal-infused blues and gospel makes this a joy to listen to and their energy can be felt on the album. This energy also translates well to a live setting, which makes it more poignant. I happened to catch this band live when they came to California and I have never seen such an inclusive show. For that sacred time, Zeal & Ardor preached to the crowd in complete exaltation, and the crowd responded euphorically. Hail Satan.
4. a crowd of rebellion – Ill: Talk about a surprise contender! I happened to listen to a crowd of rebellion on complete accident – sometimes, Spotify recommends me some great things starting off with their album, Xanthium. That album blew my mind, so when I heard they were releasing a new album called Ill, I went for it. To make a long story short, I was so impressed with this album that it contributed to a crowd of rebellion becoming my top artist of the year (according to Spotify anyway). The thing about Japanese metal music in general is that they combine so many elements together that it almost shouldn’t work, but it does. On Ill, a crowd of rebellion combines elements of K-pop, rock, and metal to create a fun, enjoyable album that transcends the language barrier. Ironically, I didn’t listen to this album right away when it was released, as I was on a Zeal & Ardor kick for a good portion of the summer. However, once grad school started, I was fully on board with Ill and its idiosyncrasies. From its pop tones to vocalists Daisaku Miyata and Ryosuke Kobayashi melding their vocals together in interesting ways, a crowd of rebellion is an earworm of a band that makes you replay their albums constantly. They are slowly becoming a favorite band of mine, so I will keep an eye out for their next release.
3. Amorphis – Queen of Time: I was so happy we did a podcast on this album because my love for it hasn’t been extinguished even after I saw them live in concert. Granted, I haven’t stopped playing this album since its release, beating out other albums such as The Shadow Theory, making this spot well-deserved. As one of the bands whose discography I am most familiar, I was expecting big things from this band and they certainly did not disappoint. Queen of Time is such a fantastic album that I have been coming back to find what else is there I can gleam from it. I enjoyed this album so much when it was first released, but then I decided to put it away for a while because I didn’t want to get sick of it. After four months, I came back to it and it hit just as hard as it did the first time. Their blend of progressive death metal is such a joy. It also helped that I saw them in concert, because I had such a great time watching them be cohesive and be themselves. The concert cemented my love for this album, and I kept replaying it. Queen of Time may be my favorite Amorphis album of all time just because it is a natural progression of what they have been doing. I am excited to see where else they can go, because I want them to play this album with Anneke on stage. That would be one of the best things I could experience, and I hope their next album is just as stellar as this is.
2. Spiritual Front – Amour Braque: This band may label itself as “suicide pop,” but, if anything, Amour Braque is what happens when you take corta venas and make it poppy. Sure, most of the songs are love songs but nothing screams masochism more than when one of your songs starts with the lyric “I want to feel that pain behind me / I’m afraid I could love it again.” Amour Braque came out early in the year, but I didn’t listen to it until probably about the mid-point, when I became overly curious about the cover. I mean, despite the art film way the cover is shot, there was something overly playful and sinister about it. Well, eventually, curiosity killed me and I dove deep into the infested waters of masochism, corta venas, and pain as a vehicle for seduction. Just like another album on this list, Amour Braque is not afraid of going deep into the human condition, especially when it deals with the subject of the folie a deux. In this case, it’s a man obsessed with the idea of pain being inflicted on him if it means seeing his ex-lover again. He’s madly in love with her, and it almost feels like she’s playing with him, egging him closer to the brink of madness. Of course, he’s a willing partner in this, and the music reflects that. There is a highly distinct art film feel to it that keeps you compelled to hear the album to completion, and you will sway to it when the time comes. After all, the weird looks on the train are completely worth it.
And the top album of 2018 is… A TIE?!
1. Kontinuum – No Need to Reason // The Ocean – Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic: That’s right, my top album of 2018 is a tie! Considering that one of them came in the middle of summer and the other came out very recently, it should come as no surprise to anyone just how much I love them.
As my brethren at 9C know, I have not stopped talking about No Need to Reason since it came out. I have been recommending it to everyone and anyone who will listen to me babble about it because it made something click in my brain. The sultriness and the atmosphere surrounding the album is one of mystique, almost as if Kontinuum created the post-metal soundtrack to a successful seduction. No Need to Reason is an alluring album that is not afraid to go to some deep places, and I, for one, will take an offer for a drink if you played this for me. What I also love about No Need to Reason is how soothing it was at first, like setting the scene for something else to happen. However, the more you listen to it, the more sensuous it becomes, as if slowly weaving you closer and closer towards your final destination. It’s a beautiful, comfortable album that straddles the fine line between surrealism and sensuality, and I am a sucker for a well-composed album that clearly makes its presence known based on the music they have to offer. It was incredibly moving, making my long work days bearable when I needed that small amount of comfort. Even though I haven’t been listening to it as intently as I was before, No Need to Reason remains in my rotation, as I can easily reach for it when I need it. I also don’t know how many times I have danced by myself when no one is watching, listening to this album on repeat while doing homework for an accounting class or while being alone in my office. It’s a beautiful record.
Meanwhile, Phanerozoic I is a monster whose intensity outshines everything I have heard this year. You know this album is a banger if it makes me sway with a heightened sense of awareness that might make us all turn to dust. The only album that comes close to Phanerozoic I’s intensity is Herephemine, but what The Ocean have created is a sonic masterpiece that makes me want to plug it into a speaker or amp and play it loudly. Originally lured to this album by Jonas Renske’s appearance on the track “Devonian: Descent,” Phanerozoic I quickly rose to the top of the list the more I listened to it. Considering this is my first The Ocean album, I was surprised I clicked with it so quickly. Musically, Phanerozoic I is a massive entity, where a lot is happening and you can barely make sense of it. The deep, cinematic tones that straddle the line between progressive and experimental is one that deserves to be dissected and studied by everyone who comes across this album. There is also a lot of texture to how the music is constructed, as if you could touch it and feel it vibrate as it plays. This is the other album on this list that makes me feel like lying on the floor, blasting it, and then seeing how enthralling it would be. Phanerozoic I is an album that will make you lose track of time as you will lose yourself through its progressive tonalities as you travel through death, destruction, and possible rebirth. If you haven’t heard this album yet, you are missing out and I wouldn’t be surprised if it made it on a few other lists this year.
Like I said, this was a pile of word vomit. Next year, I might take it easy with the album listening, but I don’t think that will happen. I mean, my 2019 release calendar is already looking pretty good, so I guess we shall see if 2019 tops the sheer amount of albums I have listened to this year.
Even if you don’t like anything I have on this list, at least give some of it a try; you never know what you will find in this pile of albums.
Hasta la proxima!