Ah, 2018. What an absurd, exhausting and often infuriating ride you were, with death as my ubiquitous companion and co-pilot. You entailed on one hand a near-cataclysmic series of loved ones dying around me in rapid succession, while on the other, an ever-flowing stream of metal that helped make that maelstrom somehow survivable and acceptable for yours truly.
As you, the well-informed reader, likely noticed during the course of the year, and will see again when you read further below, 2018 was a banner year for death metal of all colors and shapes, but most and especially for the boundary-pushing kind that redefines and reconfigures the entire genre. Another type of metal that really resonated with me was one of transcendence and catharsis, of dreamlike journey, cosmic marvel and triumphant rebirth. Overall, the vast array of diverse evolutionary pathways, latest career pinnacles, and dazzling artistic growth and achievement in the field of metal was a compelling sight to behold and a wondrous thing to experience.
As further proof of the excellent and exciting state of metal today, albums worthy of inclusion in the below list continued to be released until the very final days of the year, resulting in perhaps the strongest December release-wise in recent memory.
With this succinct backdrop in mind, I offer the following 23 releases as a tribute to goddess Eris.
23. Veilburner – A Sire to the Ghouls of Lunacy
After three increasingly impressive releases, Veilburner hit it out of the five-dimensional ballpark with A Sire to the Ghouls of Lunacy, their latest wriggling, amorphous inter-dimensional topsy-turvy experiment. Impressively, while the journey into weird realms is undeniably bonkers and disorienting, it comes with jagged hooks and enthralling melodies; or, in the words of Corey, “it’s out there but somehow still seems logical.”
22. Lychgate – The Contagion in Nine Steps
The distorted beauty of Lychgate lies in their singular ability to make everything sound slightly off and vertigo-inducing, yet never off-putting or overly avant-garde for its own sake. Accordingly, The Contagion in Nine Steps is a delirious dreamscape of an album, beautifully composed, and evocative and hypnotizing in its operatic grandeur.
21. Imperial Triumphant – Vile Luxury
In my review I proclaimed that “Vile Luxury is utterly unique and haunting, where chaos coalesces into something remarkable and profoundly captivating. It is where Imperial Triumphant become the living embodiment of New York City that takes the next step in the evolution of metal.” In essence, the album sounds like a living nightmare, “the throbbing pain of torn ligaments; the wailing of spirits being crushed by the unbearable oppression of living in a decaying metropolis; a riddle about whether spines will turn into glass or rubber; bones sucked dry of marrow and sinewy arms breaking in resignation and relief; the rhythmic punctuation hidden behind the seeming clatter of someone overdosing on heroin collapsing down the stairs of a dilapidated walk-up.”
20. Fórn – Rites of Despair
Fórn’s long-awaited debut full-length delivers with the crushing density of a neutron star. Where other like-minded literal heavy-hitters often end up in a slog of monotony and disappear into a tar pit of their own making, Fórn rises above with a keen eye for evolving motifs and leads that are both regal and ethereal, and which elevate despair into the realm of pure catharsis.
19. Agrimonia – Awaken
In my review I noted how “Agrimonia does not compose excellent songs that are merely rife with inventive songwriting, and superb performance. Rather, the band crafts vivid tapestries of emotions that ebb and flow like life itself, crawling through dark valleys of defeat and periods of weeping sorrow, before surging triumphantly to the highest peaks of glory and achievement, overcoming odds that seemed insurmountable before. […] Agrimonia sounds massive in its own idiosyncratic way, which is bound to influence and inspire legions of bands and challenge their preconceived notions of the limits of extreme music”
18. Ancestors – Suspended in Reflections
Back in August, I wrote how “Suspended in Reflections mixes psychedelic doom, post-rock and progressive metal into a lush soundtrack and liberating narrative for embracing death as the natural endpoint of existence on this plane, and the transcendent, radiant beauty of it all. Simultaneously immense, heavy and weightless, where melancholia, mourning, loss, gratitude and triumph coalesce, Suspended in Reflections is a breathtaking experience of gorgeous dreamy movements and multi-layered soundscapes for floating away as the lights begin to dim and it is time to return to the stars and join the night sky.”
17. Awooga – Conduit
Back in July, I wrote how the energy and passion contained in Awooga’s debut full-length Conduit was helping me survive the suffocating summer heat and humidity of New York City. Well, here we are nearly six months later in the midst of winter and it turns out that the album is, to paraphrase Albert Camus, the invincible summer that slaps eternal, regardless of the season. To reiterate my earlier praise, “its doomy density couples with the rare instant memorability and army of earworms contained in the classic albums that got you into metal, in a way that compels you to turn the volume up to eleven.”
16. Horrendous – Idol
Somewhere, Chuck Schuldiner is headbanging in approval with a proud grin on his face. To this writer, Idol is where everything finally clicks into optimal configuration with its marriage of progressive resolve, exuberant thrashing and gripping songwriting. Few death metal bands possess such an endless appetite for exploration and progression as Horrendous does. Special kudos goes, once again, to Damian Herring for his masterful mixing and beautifully dynamic mastering.
15. Khôrada – Salt
Tangible and earnest in its mixture of blossoming beauty, melancholic anxiety and refusal to remain complacent neither sonically nor poetically, Salt feels disarmingly authentic by channeling and addressing real-life chaos, tragedy and threat of environmental collapse with courage and determination. Fear not though, as Khôrada knows how to rain down destruction with palpable rage on tracks like “Edeste” and “Seasons of Salt.” In these overabundant days of riveting metal, rarely do debut albums deliver such an emotional gut-punch and leave you hungry for more.
14. Deadly Carnage – Through the Void, Above the Suns
True to its title, Through the Void, Above the Suns takes you on a sublime journey through cosmos and the self, accompanied by the most beautiful and poignant post-black metal in recent memory. Stirring and atmospheric, yet never suffering from a dearth of riffs or lack of direction. Deadly Carnage’s vision and songwriting command your attention and embrace. If you searched for an underappreciated piece of precious metal in 2018, look no further.
13. Sulphur Aeon – The Scythe of Cosmic Chaos
Like my previous end-of-year list favorites Impureza and Mithras, Sulphur Aeon play the type of death metal that demands a grandiose descriptor prefixed to it, be it bombastic, gigantic or massive. I’ll settle for daisy cutter death metal to convey how the band flattens everything around its area of detonation with maximum blast damage. Accordingly, The Scythe of Cosmic Chaos hits like a tidal wave raised by Cthulhu awakening from its slumber.
12. Zealotry – At the Nexus of All Stillborn Worlds
Grimy and weird in every aspect, yet with the precision of a surgical laser, At the Nexus of All Stillborn Worlds provides a gateway to universes of non-Euclidean shapes with its dizzying compositions that are propelled by extraordinary musicianship. The impact of the interlocking complexity and virtuosity of slithering strings is heightened even further by Philippe Tougas’s eerie leads, while Tommy Parnelle’s unhinged choirs provide the proverbial rotten cherry on top of the unearthly atmosphere that permeates the album.
11. Serocs – The Phobos / Deimos Suite
Counting the number of riffs Serocs hurls at the listener on their latest album would be the dictionary definition of an exercise in futility. For the album, bandleader Antonio Freyre assembled a super-powered murderers’ row of musicians associated with some my favorite bands: Philippe Tougas (Chthe’ilist, Cosmic Atrophy, Eternity’s End, First Fragment, just to name a few), Laurent Bellemare (Sutrah, Basalte), Antoine Daigneault (Chthe’ilist, Zealotry), Kévin Paradis (Sutrah, Benighted). The ridiculous degree of talent on display translates into one of the most propulsive and brutally bludgeoning, yet simultaneously technically exceptional and irresistibly catchy death metal records in recent memory.
10. Dirge – Lost Empyrean
I remember a fellow music writer once describing how Dirge’s previous album Hyperion had remained a soothing and steadfast sonic companion which radiated “music of light” during the dark times he lived through. On Lost Empyrean, that light now illuminates with breathtaking brilliance, as Dirge reached a career high with a densely layered melange of atmospheric sludge, majestic post-metal and psychedelic doom. And what beautiful, cathartic cosmic domains the album traverses, swelling towards something glorious, awe-inducing and life-affirming.
9. The Atlas Moth – Coma Noir
On Coma Noir, The Atlas Moth took a gigantic Jedi leap by combining disparate influences and ideas to broaden their stylistic scope, while also sharpening their assault and retaining a captivating scale and impact. To retain such assertive momentum while also remaining this hypnotizing and intoxicating requires serious chops. With a lush, rich essence that is filled to the brim with excellent song-writing and delivers hook after hook, Coma Noir envelopes you in its dark narrative that screams to be experienced, as you will find out, again and again.
8. Entropia – Vacuum
Jettisoning convention and defying the misguided expectations I had based on Entropia’s previous releases, Vacuum’s psychedelic metamorphosis unfurls and writhes with fervent abandon and continuously transforms its form and shape. Vacuum’s shifts in sonic consciousness, built upon endless layers of transcendental texture, mesmerizing variations and diabolically groovy drumming, assault all senses and whip the listener into an ecstatic trance rarely achieved in the world of metal.
7. Beyond Creation – Algorythm
2018 was indeed a year overflowing with envelope-pushing death metal, and Beyond Creation unleashed the most poetic, elegant take on the genre, hands down. Algorythm retains a beautiful fluidity and silky flow of undulating waveforms even amidst its techiest, most bludgeoning moments. Simultaneously an ideal gateway album for newcomers to the progressive and technical realms as well as a stunning masterclass in chiseling a unique sonic sculpture.
6. The Antichrist Imperium – Volume II: Every Tongue Shall Praise Satan
Come for the satanic sex magick ritual, stay for the possessed shredding. In his Evcharist entry, our resident dreamboat Chris aptly noted the “ridiculous level of musicianship” and “mad mix of progressive styles on display” and subsequently proceeded to include Volume II in his end-of-year list. No wonder, given how the countless melodic hooks and thrash injections unleashed lacerate your skin like a flurry of hits from a cat o’ nine tails.
5. Slugdge – Esoteric Malacology
Already in March, I foresaw “the assured destruction Esoteric Malacology will eventually wreak on EOY lists” when calling the album “an absolute joyride through the slimy nebulae” and writing how it “builds on the already-formidable foundation of 2015’s Dim & Slimeridden Kingdoms by doubling down on massive riffs, countless hooks, surprise turns and inventive progressions. Slugdge is one of those rare specimens who sound unnervingly familiar — the melodic genius and snark of Heartwork-era Carcass here, the relentless assault of Napalm Death there, and Anaal Nathrakh’s operatic pomp and aggressive awe elsewhere — yet possess an immediately recognizable, unmistakably unique sound.”
4. Augury – Illusive Golden Age
To the shame of my metal cred, I had remained blissfully unaware of Augury’s reputation and track record until the release of Illusive Golden Age, their first album in nine years, back in March. Ever since, the album has revealed new layers of brilliance upon successive listens. Its intricate compositions brim with technical virtuosity and an almost overwhelming cornucopia of awe-inspiring twists and turns, which ensures a perfect balance of rich density and airy dynamics that lets the technical and progressive side of Augury’s death metal truly breathe and blossom. Truly magical.
3. Rivers of Nihil – Where Owls Know My Name
Imbued with a rollicking devil-may-care approach to death metal, Where Owls Know My Name pushed boundaries and launched cannonades of wild ideas to shock and awe. And push it does, continuously, towards unclaimed territories, where fierce riffs and pummeling drumming intersect blissfully with tranquil soundscapes and exciting curveballs, but never at the expense of any element of their winning formula.
2. The Ocean – Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic
Cinematic and cataclysmic in scale, emotion and impact, The Ocean’s latest masterwork traverses magnificent peaks and valleys with transcendental harmony. Long after the album has reached its glorious climax and the sun has burned us alive, you will remember how your life and love of metal was forever enriched by such a monumental artistic achievement.
1. Alkaloid – Liquid Anatomy
On Liquid Anatomy, Alkaloid dissolves the essence of metal and reshapes it into a constantly shapeshifting embodiment of boundless creativity and endless possibilities. Liquid Anatomy contains a dazzling display of electrifying ideas and stylistic diversity that nonetheless retain a cohesive identity and shared, albeit ever-mutating, DNA. Essentially, the breathtaking musicianship and thrilling technical prowess never overshadow the infectious fun factor, be it in the form of the 80s prog influenced arena-ready death metal of “Kernel Panic” or the mind-melting intro, alien guitar licks, titanic pendulum swings and determined lurch of “Azagthoth” or “Rise of the Cephalopods,” the 20-minute paean to our new overlords. Liquid Anatomy is an omniverse of sonic wonder where everything is possible, and every strange and alluring dimension is full of marvel. In essence, it stands as a career-defining, convention-defying masterpiece for the band and a pinnacle from which to take the next evolutionary quantum leap into the future of metal.
Nice list, brother Zyklonius! I’ll try each of these (at least the ones which I don’t already know about).
Entropia rules!!!! \m/
Nice list man, I discovered 4 to 5 great albums from this list \m/