I really like honorable mentions. When people talk about their favorite albums of any given year, I think I am actually more interested in by what *almost* made the cut than what took the number one spot. It’s so interesting to see where the absolutely arbitrary line gets drawn between “the best” and “the still pretty fucking good”. Once again, I find myself truly hashtag blessed to be in another year where there was so much good metal that I couldn’t bring myself to write just one list. As always, just because these are honorable mentions doesn’t mean they’re not worth your time. This list is just a musical amuse bouche before the real thing, but it is nonetheless delicious on its own.
The Lion’s Daughter – Skin Show
I truly had no idea what to expect from Skin Show. All I knew was everyone on staff was talking about it, and everyone was too busy to pick up the promo, so I went for it on a whim and boy was I ever not disappointed. As a lover of horror movies (surely not as ardent a lover as some on staff, but I can hang), the synths did it for me immediately, but going back and listening to the rest of the band’s discography really puts the triumph that is Skin Show in perspective. Everything is so much more smoothly polished and evened out, and the end result is the soundtrack to a classic horror movie that never got made.
As stated, I am responsible for the review for this bad boy, right here.
Demiser – Through the Gate Eternal
Demiser are a band that take themselves the EXACT right amount of serious, which is to say they don’t take their image very seriously at all but their music absolutely whips fucking ass. Through the Gate Eternal is the most fun I’ve had listening to an album, but it is also a blackened thrash tour de force. Sure, they have songs like “Raw Fucking Vomit” and “Warfuck Demon Lust” but there is nothing laughworthy about the blistering solos and razor-sharp riffs that blaze through this album, and it all comes from a band that is just beginning their career.
Ænigmatum – Deconsecrate
I think “extremely audible bass” is going to be the running theme that keeps all of the various lists together, and Deconsecrate is a perfect jumping off point for this topic. Old school meets new school, technical without being too techy, and of course, blistering fret work from all three stringed instruments in the band make this a very refreshing change of pace from the usual death metal fare. Thank god for Buke recommending this to me specifically because of the bass tone, because I almost missed it, but I guarantee I will be on the lookout for more from this crew. They have a unique sound that is a righteous blend of a lot of different styles of death metal, but it is all complementary and quite a lot of fun to listen to.
Wanna hear more? Check out the review I wrote here!
Spiritbox – Eternal Blue
I truly have no idea how this album ended up on a list of mine. On paper, it falls into a category of music that tends to bounce off me very hard. I don’t really enjoy stuff that is too poppy or streamlined, but Spiritbox are one of those bands that are blowing up so hard that I felt like I had to try them, and I’m so glad that I did. There are pop sensibilities that run through this whole album, but they are never overplayed or kitschy. It is still a metal album at its core, but the band’s excellent sense of dynamics and songwriting chops means that for every brutal breakdown and throat-searing howl, there are moments like “Secret Garden” and “Constance”, where Courtney LaPlante’s gorgeous voice shows off a much different side than people might be used to. It’s just good music, and there’s a reason why they are practically household names right now.
A Pregnant Light – Kiss Me Thru the Phone
Can Damian Master do any wrong? No. Kiss Me Thru the Phone is just one of several releases attached to his name, both inside and out of the A Pregnant Light brand, and they’re all great, but Kiss Me Thru the Phone is the one that stuck with me the most because of how effectively it showcases exactly what a genius Master is. One part blackened punky I-don’t-even-know-what, one part recorded phonebooth confessions from complete strangers who called a real honest-to-god A Pregnant Light hotline, one part raw emotional catharsis, all sequenced in reverse chronological order, and also from most produced to most raw, because why not? If you expected anything less, you don’t know Damian Master.
Violet Cold – Empire of Love
Without going too deep into my personal life, this year has given me a lot to be Proud of, and I am very thankful that I had a soundtrack to blast along with that swelling sense of pride. I love Violet Cold, and I would stand behind anything Emin Guliyev puts out, but Empire of Love is truly something special. The black metal meets Azerbaijani folk meets electronic is still the staple sound, but so many other elements are thrown in, from straight folk to hip hop, that this becomes an evolution in the sound of the project, even if he never seems to make the same album twice. To top it all off, there is a running total of all the followers he lost on each platform, and all the hate messages he got from crybaby black metal purists who whined about a rainbow album cover are posted as a wall of shame for all to see. Their tears are just as delicious and this album is fun to listen to.
Converge and Chelsea Wolfe – Bloodmoon: I
You already know I love a collaboration album, and I would follow almost blindly what both Chelsea Wolfe and Converge do on their own. While it’s not a collaboration that immediately makes sense, it is one that ends up bringing out new and unseen sides to both artists featured, in addition to all the other names like Ben Chisholm and Stephen Brodsky. This is truly the most experimental that Converge have ever been, wildly shifting between punky abandon and crushing psychedelia, all held together by Wolfe’s haunting wails and an atmosphere so thick and dense you could cut it with a knife. The title implies that there will be a Bloodmoon: II at some point and I am here for it.
Mare Cognitum – Solar Paroxysm
Solar Paroxysm is truly a no-fucks-given album. As someone who has always been a passing fan of the project, I have appreciated Jacob Buczarski’s ability to put the cosmic in cosmic black metal, but on Solar Paroxysm, the gloves come off and the edges become much sharper and more focused. The opening riff of “Antaresian” is still something I listen to when I need to hype myself up on the way to work, and while it’s a little on the long side, there is a fury and an undeniable energy to this piece that makes it a standout release in a discography that doesn’t really have any misses.
Vince talked about this album much better than I just did, and the proof is in this link.
Obscura – A Valediction
I was also not expecting this record to end up on this list. Not that I wasn’t expecting it to be good, but I wasn’t really prepared for how much I was going to enjoy it. Obviously, the implosion of the last lineup of the project put a big question mark on what the future of Obscura was going to be, but as soon as I heard that both Christian Münzner and Jeroen Paul Thesseling were coming back to the fold, I knew I had to make mental space for A Valediction and it definitely deserves it. For starters, the bass work on this album is outstanding, in keeping with my personal brand, but two, they brough back the straight-up Morbid Angel worship, and I think that alone sells this record.
Gatecreeper – An Unexpected Reality
I’m keeping the tradition of throwing an EP onto each of the lists that I write, because why not. An Unexpected Reality opened this year up quite early with quite a bang, but it is one of the most interesting things Gatecreeper have done in their career, and one that I think shows a surprising amount of differentiation of their sound than I have seen from them. Most of the songs are thrashy, punky, almost crust bangers, in and out in under two minutes, but where they really shine is the eleven-minute closer “Emptiness”, where the band showcase crushing doom vibes. Unexpected it certainly was, but pleasantly so.
So, there she is: nine plus one offerings that signal the flavors of the best of list that is coming soon™. It has been a truly excellent year where, once again, even for the honorable mentions, some real bangers had to hit the cutting room floor. There aren’t enough hours in the day to write about all the great music that came our way this year, but this is a good enough place to start. I’ll see you for the next one.