(We begin a week of Andy Synn‘s year-end lists with a traditional installment that veers off our usual theme of focusing on music we enthusiastically recommend. Feel free to disagree — some of us here may disagree as well — but also feel free to share in the Comments your own thoughts about 2018 albums that disappointed you.)
Despite the fact that the general ethos of the site is to accentuate the positive and to downplay the negative, that doesn’t mean we shy away from constructive criticism when we feel it’s necessary (well, as long as it adds something to the review).
It’s for this reason why I like to start off my annual week-long round-up of the year with the albums which I found to be the most “disappointing” from the last twelve months, as I feel it’s important to acknowledge that not every record released is necessarily a winner, no matter how much we might want them to be, and that it’s always worth pointing out when an artist falls short of the mark.
Now, I’m aware that there are a lot of “big names” represented here, which will probably end up putting the proverbial cat among the pigeons when it comes to angry, offended comments, but I’d like to stress that none of the albums featured here is an objectively “bad” album. And several of them are still quite enjoyable in their own right. But it’s possible for an album to be good while also being a disappointment, particularly in cases where the band themselves have clearly failed to live up to their own high standards.
ALTERBEAST – FEAST
Alterbeast’s debut album, 2014’s razorlike Immortal, was a surprisingly fresh shot of feverishly technical, deceptively melodic, Death Metal whose strikingly strong showing suggested that the Californian quintet might just have something special to offer in the future.
Unfortunately that future is now here, and pretty much everything that made their debut distinctive is completely absent on Feast – the song structures are more basic, the melodies are more forgettable, the riffs are depressingly generic and interchangeable, and even the Dissection cover sounds as predictable and uninspired as you might expect.
The execution, of course, is top-notch and as tight as anything/anyone you might care to mention, but that alone isn’t enough to make this album stand out from the many, many other bands who sound exactly like this.
BEHEMOTH – I LOVED YOU AT YOUR DARKEST
Following up an album that was widely considered to be your band’s magnum opus would be difficult for anyone, but I can’t think of any other record this year that’s been such a let-down as this one.
I’m not saying there’s not a fair bit of enjoyable music on ILYAYD (the brooding “Bartzabel” is one of my favourite tracks of the year), but the good stuff is vastly outweighed by a plethora of middling material which, at best, sounds like discarded b-sides from the previous album sessions and, at worst, sounds as if the band simply gave up writing them half-way through.
Ultimately that’s probably the real issue with this album. It sounds like the band simply settled for “good enough”, and just relied upon their established fame and impressive marketing machine to do the work for them. But then considering how many “Best Of” lists I’ve seen ILYAYD cropping up on over the last few weeks, maybe name-value is more important than album quality in the end!
BEYOND CREATION – ALGORYTHM
Much like their Polish brethren above it’s hard not to think of the new Beyond Creation album as being a victim of the band’s own success, coming as it does hard on the heels of their back-to-back successes with The Aura and Earthborn Evolution. But the fact is that Algorythm rarely rises to the same heights.
There’s a couple of absolutely killer cuts of course – the title-track and climactic closer “The Afterlife” in particular stand up alongside the band’s very best – but the majority of the album falls far short of the band’s usually high standards, tending towards noodling self-indulgence that lacks the sharpness and focus of their previous records.
I will say though that BC were definitely in a difficult position coming into this album, as I doubt a straight-forward repeat of the same tricks and tropes from their first two records would have worked either, but hopefully their next attempt will manage to marry their increasingly progressive proclivities to the same stylish songwriting which made their previous efforts so thrilling from start to finish.
BLEEDING THROUGH – LOVE WILL KILL ALL
As a huge fan of this band, especially their later years where they began to plough a much heavier, darker, and more aggressive furrow, I was incredibly excited to hear that they were coming out of hiatus this year with a brand new album.
Unfortunately their time in the wilderness appears to have undone a lot of the growth and development that the band had experienced, as while half of the record (mainly the second half) picks up exactly where albums like Bleeding Through and The Great Fire left off in a burst of hyper-aggressive, blackened metalcore vitriol, the rest of LWKA feels like a blatant attempt to grasp at some mainstream (by Metal standards at least) success, with a sound that’s closer to the generic, commercialised approach of The Truth and/or the soulless, radio-friendly repertoire of All That Remains.
Which is a shame, because, as they’ve proven before, when they’re untethered from commercial concerns, BT are capable of kicking out some seriously heavy, savagely hooky, jams, rather than the calculated, compromised collection of mediocrity which they’ve delivered here.
BURIAL IN THE SKY – CREATIO ET HOMINUS
As technically talented and melodically gifted as BitS are (something which you can see/hear much more clearly on their previous record Persistence of Thought), the sad fact is that they singularly fail to distinguish themselves from their competition in any way on Creatio et Hominus, which flails around for thirty-six minutes in search of an identity, but ultimately comes across like a less distinctive, less interesting cousin to both Fallujah and Rivers of Nihil.
INTO ETERNITY – THE SIRENS
There are several reasons why the long-awaited comeback album from Canada’s Into Eternity ended up on this list… the dull, lifeless production, the unnecessarily convoluted, yet somehow also overly repetitive, song structures, the inexplicable decision to re-record both “Sandstorm” and “Fukushima”, both of which are over six years old by this point and were written/arranged for an entirely different vocalist… but the main point of contention is that the band’s new singer, the bombastic Amanda Kiernan, deserved far better material for her recording debut with the group.
It’s not all bad news – “Fringes of Psychosis”, “This Frozen Hell”, and “Devoured By Sarcopenia” all find the band firing on something close to all cylinders, and largely overcome the questionable structural arrangements and mixing choices afflicting the rest of the album – but three out of eight tracks isn’t a great ratio at all, if we’re being honest, and while both Buried In Oblivion and The Scattering of Ashes won’t be leaving my regular listening rotation any time soon, it’s sadly very unlikely that this album will be joining them.
IN VAIN – CURRENTS
Once again proving that a band’s previous success can easily become an albatross around their neck, the fourth album from these Norwegian Prog-Metal magicians disappointingly fails to live up to the high standard set by its predecessor, 2013’s outstanding Ænigma, despite the band’s best efforts.
Stumbling out of the starting blocks with a pair of surprisingly sub-par and out-of-character tracks, and then ricocheting through a series of songs which range from “great” (“Blood We Shed”, “En Forgangen Tid”, “As The Black Horde Storms) to merely “so-so” (everything else), the ratio of killer to filler is definitely skewed in favour of the latter and, although the special edition improves things somewhat (“And Quiet Flows the Scheldt” is a potential classic in the making), this is, sadly, probably the band’s least impressive effort yet.
ISKALD – INNHØSTINGA
Another one of my favourite bands, I’ve been a big fan of Iskald ever since their first album, however even I have to hold my hand up and admit that this is far from their best work.
While each song definitely includes a few red-hot riffs and spirited solos, the seeming lack of direction and overly convoluted songwriting which afflicts practically every track consistently works against the band’s inherent strengths, leading the totality of Innhøstinga to be less than the sum of its parts.
LASCAR – WILDLIFE
There’s not much I can say about this one really that hasn’t already been said by quite a few other reviewers (and more than a few commenters).
Despite enjoying both the band’s previous albums, Absence and Saudade (and, to a lesser extent, their Cryptospores EP), this one just lacks a certain something, a certain je ne sais quoi, and roundly fails to leave a mark or make any real sort of impact.
LECHEROUS NOCTURNE – OCCULTACLYSMIC
Oh, how I wanted to love this one. I really did. But it just doesn’t hold together as a complete album when all is said and done.
There’s some absolutely crushing tracks, don’t get me wrong. “Quantum Mysticism” is an absolute monster, and “Tower of Silence” is as instantly replayable as it is utterly relentless, but the majority of the record simply can’t seem to find its own distinctive voice, and just whizzes past in a frenzy of faceless extremity.
MONOTHEIST – SCOURGE
As talented as this Floridian five-piece may be, their debut full-length was undoubtedly an uneven piece of work whose high points (such as the stunning opening pairing of “The Grey King” and “The Great Chain at the Neck of the Earth”) were consistently undercut by the album’s more disjointed and derivative tracks (such as the disappointing closing duo of “Abominable Acts” and “Scourge”).
There’s an awful lot of promise and potential here, there’s no doubt about that, but the simple fact that it’s so easy to notice just how much of this potential remains unfulfilled can’t help but make this record feel like a case of “what could have been”.
SINSAENUM – REPULSION FOR HUMANITY
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, nine times out of ten the idea of a so-called “supergroup” is better than the reality, and the second album from multinational extreme metallers Sinsaenum (whose line-up features current and ex-members of Slipknot, Mayhem, Dragonforce, and Loudblast) is no different in this regard.
There’s a couple of decent tracks (“Repulsion for Humanity”, “My Swan Song”, and “Nuit Noire” all hint at the inherent, if ultimately unrealised, potential of the band), but the general lack of direction and purpose displayed by the album as a whole leaves a lot to be desired.
Maybe it’s a result of having “too many cooks” in the kitchen, or maybe the band as a whole are just a little too desperate to be all things to all people, but overall Repulsion for Humanity sounds like it was a lot more fun to write and record than it is to listen to.
ULTHA – THE INEXTRICABLE WANDERING
This is another one of those occasions where a band’s most recent album simply doesn’t live up to the standards set by its predecessor.
The first half of The Inextricable Wandering in particular is a significant step down from Converging Sins, as while it deals in a very similar (perhaps too similar) style of darkly depressive, asphyxiatingly atmospheric Black Metal, it simply doesn’t feel as vital or as vibrant and just kind of drifts by in a hateful haze.
That being said, the second half features a variety of compelling, out-of-the-box creative choices which make for a much more interesting listening experience, and this is something I look forward to seeing the band explore further in the future.
UNEARTH – EXTINCTION(S)
I don’t know if anyone else has noticed this, but these Massachusetts Metalcore pioneers seem to operate on the same schedule as the original series of Star Trek movies. By which I mean every other release is really good, and the ones in between are… less good.
Think about it. The Oncoming Storm was fantastic, but In The Eyes of Fire failed to properly ignite. Then The March represented a significant return to form, but was followed in turn by the disappointingly bland and uninspired Darkness In The Light and the impressively intense Watchers of Rule.
Thus, according to this trend Extinction(s) was always going to be a disappointing outing, and while there are a couple of stand-out tracks, the majority of the album sounds like the product of a band who’ve lost touch with their own identity, and instead have tried to copy the current zeitgeist rather than forge their own path.
Still, if the pattern holds out, their next album should be great!
VREID – LIFEHUNGER
This is the second appearance in a row for Vreid on my most “disappointing” albums list, which is not something I could ever have predicted when I first encountered the band, as I was (and remain) absolutely in love with the band’s distinctive brand of rhythmic, riff-heavy, Metallica-influenced Black ‘n’ Roll (particularly their post-Milorg material).
But while large sections of Solverv felt like, to quote myself, a band desperately “in search of a solid hook or sense of identity”, Lifehunger is, if anything, even more confused and capricious in nature, with the few songs that actually sound like the band we’ve all come to know and love heavily outnumbered by an array of tracks which are either distressingly forgettable or, even worse, memorable for all the wrong reasons.
I wish I could have said this album was a return to form, or a welcome evolution of the band’s signature sound, but it honestly sounds like Vreid have no real idea of who they are, or who they want to be, any more.
So there we have it, a list that’s bound to upset more than a few people, but whose value I think (I hope) will still be apparent to the majority of our readers.
Make no mistake about it, I don’t go into any album, or the writing of any review/article (including this one) wanting to dislike or attack a band’s work, but there are times when it’s appropriate to confront the flaws or failings of the artists we love, and hopefully even if you don’t agree with my selections here you’ll be able to understand and appreciate the rationale behind their inclusion.
Tomorrow we’ll move onto more positive matters, with my densely-packed round-up of all the “Good” albums I’ve listened to this year!