(Andy Synn‘s week-long series of personal year-end lists continues today with his list of 2018’s “Good” albums.)
As we’re all well aware by now, there’s simply so much music, and too many albums, released each year for any blog/zine to keep up with them all, although we do try our damnedest to do so.
Case in point, there’s over 170 albums on the list you’re about to read, with another 90-ish (I haven’t counted yet) to follow on tomorrow’s list of the year’s “Great” albums
Combined with the “disappointing” entries from yesterday’s article that makes almost 300 albums which I’ve managed to listen to and form an opinion about over the last twelve months, and yet that’s still barely even a drop in the (blood) ocean when you consider how many other releases I’ve completely missed out on (or, as is the case with a few of the missing albums, simply not had time to properly assess and evaluate).
And the thing is, I’m fully aware of and appreciate just how lucky I am to have the opportunity to listen to so much music and to seek out so many new and exciting artists each year. Most people don’t have the same freedom or time to dedicate to listening that I do, so one of the primary purposes of these end of year round-up columns is to provide our readers with a sort of “one stop shop” where they can check out a hefty helping of music which they might otherwise not have discovered and, hopefully, stumble across a few hidden gems.
Now, as always, this particular list runs the widest gamut in terms of overall quality, from albums that are simply “alright”, to those records which were so good as to have metaphorically grazed the bar of true “greatness” with their outstretched fingertips, only to fall just short at the final hurdle.
Which, obviously, is a hideously mixed metaphor, but hopefully you understand what I’m getting at.
You will also quickly notice that this year I’ve opted to break things up with a few “themed” titles, to hopefully make it easier to navigate, as there’s a LOT to get through here.
So, now that we’re all adequately prepared, let’s begin…
First off, I’d like us all to take a moment to acknowledge that almost one year has passed since the death of ex-Nevermore/Sanctuary vocalist Warrel Dane, and appreciate that while his posthumous second solo album, Shadow Work, may not be the best thing he ever put his name to, it’s still a rousing tribute to one of the most powerful and distinctive voices in Metal.
BIG NAMES, BIG ALBUMS
Legendary acts like At The Gates, Bloodbath, and Dimmu Borgir all put out some solid work this year, none of which should disappoint any long-time fans, but the real surprise (for me at least) was just how killer the new Immortal album turned out, as Northern Chaos Gods only narrowly missed out on a place on my “Great” list.
Kataklysm, Krisiun, and Marduk all continued to put in a strong showing and show no signs of slowing down, while Omnium Gatherum, Aborted, and Watain bounced back in much better form after stumbling quite a bit last time around.
Anaal Nathrakh and Primordial each produced a new album which initially divided their respective fanbases but which, while not necessarily their best work, are still well worth listening to (“Forward” still kicks ass, I don’t care what anyone else says), and I’m sure we’re all aware of just how highly I (and pretty much everyone else) rate the new Skeletonwitch and Psycroptic records, even if I feel both could have been improved with a few minor tweaks to the tracklisting.
Speaking of all-time greats… both Drudkh and Sear Bliss put out some extremely respectable stuff in 2018, although neither album seemed to really receive the fanfare they deserved, and long-time NCS favourites High On Fire and The Ocean continued to deliver the goods with their latest records despite the occasional moment of filler, while Barren Earth put out an album that was so good it only barely missed out on tomorrow’s list.
Not only that, but the new Zeal & Ardor turned out to be a much more cohesive, much more compelling, release than its predecessor, and though I still think the whole project was fawned over a little too much for what it’s supposed to “represent”, rather than what it actually sounds like (mixing folk music, of any type, and Black Metal isn’t actually that crazy or original an idea, you know), the songwriting on Stranger Fruit is head and shoulders above the band’s previous material.
On the flip-side to all this, 2018 also saw some extremely good debut albums from new and upcoming names like Disassembled, Prophetic Scourge, Pestilent Reign, and Yashira, all of whom deserve a lot more attention than they’ve received thus far.
Personal favourites of mine, like Mire, Glacial Tomb, and Azusa (aka Extol by another name), may very well be making another appearance later in the week… but you’ll have to tune in again on Friday to find out.
And although the thunderous grooves of Becoming The Juggernaut, Blodwar, and Carthage probably won’t be joining them, they still kick some major ass all the same.
Then, of course, there was the stylish Prog-Djent of Letters From The Colony and the emotive Blackgaze of Møl, both of which made a major (if not a little overrated) impression on worldwide audiences over the last twelve months.
DON’T CALL IT A COMEBACK
Who doesn’t love a successful underdog story? Case in point, the new Memfis album was well worth the five-year wait between releases, and the unexpectedly vicious and venomous return of The Agony Scene has definitely put them in contention to be one of my most listened-to albums of 2018.
And then there’s the welcome return of Light This City, whose latest release, Terminal Bloom, has taken up nearly permanent residence on my daily playlist.
One name which has been (deservedly) popping up on quite a few End of Year lists is that of Bristolian quartet Svalbard, who provided a killer mix of big hooks, big riffs, and even bigger ideas, on their second album It’s Hard To Have Hope, and if you’re a fan of their work you might also want to check out the similarly punchy, ever so slightly blackened, Post-Metal of Chambers and the proggy Post-Hardcore of The Yellow King.
And if you’re still looking for something in a similar vein to the artists mentioned above, why not give the crustier, punkier strains of Wretched of the Earth or the cathartic Blackened Hardcore of Soul Grip a try while you’re at it?
The new Marsh Dweller album found the project moving towards a much more Post-Metal-based sound, while still retaining a solid connection to its Black Metal roots, while the fantabulous Diableries (by Albuquerque quartet Distances) split the difference between gritty Sludge and Post Metal atmosphere with admirable aplomb.
Representing Belgium, both Hemelbestormer and Haester produced some intriguing stuff this year, although the former is undoubtedly the stronger of the two, and both Orator (USA) and Krakow (Norway) delivered some impressively immersive, intriguingly proggy, material as well.
If you’re looking for bombastic, groove-heavy riffage, then why not check out Earth Ship and Radiant Knife, who brought the thunder with Resonant Sun and Science Fiction (the latter of which throws some wickedly proggy touches into the mix)?
Or perhaps the strutting, Stoner-Sludge swagger of Witch Ripper is more your speed? Or maybe the stomping Sludge-Doom of Nest?
Of course if your tastes lean towards the doomier end of the spectrum, 2018 also had a lot to offer you, in the shape of Un, Ursa, and Foehammer, all of whom came very close to cracking tomorrow’s “Great” list, and who may well be getting some further coverage next week (if things pan out).
BRINGERS OF DEATH
Of course, as we all know, 2018 has been an extremely Death Metal heavy year, and some of my personal favourites included the blasting brutality of Deathstorm, Veld, Eskhaton, and Storm Upon the Masses, as well as the rifftastic third album by Spanish stunners Neter.
Grethor, Lago, and Our Place of Worship Is Silence each brought a veritable boat-load of distortion and dissonance to the table with Damnatio Memoriae, Sea of Duress, and With Inexorable Suffering, while Genocide Pact, Mammoth Grinder, and Of Feather and Bone added a dash of devastating Grind influence to the proceedings in order to make things even heavier.
In terms of relentless brutality you could do a hell of a lot worse than to check out the new Skinless, Nails of Imposition, and Order Ov Riven Cathedrals albums, each of which is capable of pounding, pummelling, and pulverising their listeners into submission with consummate ease, and I can’t forget the destructive Death/Black attack delivered by Omnipotence on Praecipitium, or the classic, Old School Death Metal of Obliteration now, can I?
On the Death/Thrash side of things there’s a little band called The Crown who you may have heard of, whose latest album, the fantastically-named Cobra Speed Venom, is a top-notch piece of work, while our old friends in Hatepshere continued to plough a familiar furrow with the enjoyable, if not exactly groundbreaking, Reduced to Flesh.
And if you’re looking for something even thrashier than those, give Graviton and Nervosa a spin too!
On the more technical end of the Death Metal spectrum both Cognitive and Xenosis brought some serious shred and red-hot riffage to the table, as did relative newcomers Decrescent and Ahtme (the latter of which was a particularly delightful slab of crushing technical riffology).
Special praise is reserved, however, for Irreversible Mechanism and Centaurus-A, the latter of whom came back from relative obscurity with the attention-grabbing Means of Escape, having unexpectedly picked up Darkane’s singer Lawrence Mackrory to handle vocal duties along the way.
Moving into a more “Progressive” area, the new Steorrah is well worth checking out if you’re in the mood for something Opeth-y, while the debut album from the French band Cor Serpentii was pretty much everything I’d hoped the new Into Eternity would be.
And, obviously, I’d kick myself if I failed to give due attention to the twisted technicality and progressive power demonstrated by Moss Upon The Skull on their impressive debut, In Vengeful Reverence.
It turns out I’ve actually listened to more Melodeath (or thereabouts) this year than I thought I had.
In particular, as well as the previously-mentioned Light This City, I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed the welcome return to form from The Absence, along with the more folk-inflected new album from Frost Giant.
Perennial underdogs Dagon returned from the depths of obscurity with their long-awaited (if a little over-indulgent) new record, Back to the Sea, while Melo-Death/Black duo Hoth continued a great run of form with their third record, Astral Necromancy.
And if new blood is more your thing, then allow me to recommend Parius and (to a lesser extent) Nyktophobia for all your hooky, high-intensity riff cravings.
Heavy is as heavy does, and new records from Aegaeon, Depths, and Impending Doom were all VERY heavy indeed, and should all probably come with a public health warning.
The new Within Destruction was a lot of dumb fun too, while Ichor, Bog Wraith, and Necropia all added a splash of darker, almost blackened, melody to their simmering Deathcore stew, with surprisingly impressive, results.
Special mention however is reserved for Nadir, the second album by UK Doomcore overlords Black Tongue, which provided some of the most suffocatingly dense and devastating metallic misery of the year.
THE BRITISH ARE COMING
Speaking of the UK, a number of my countrymen (and women) did these green and pleasant lands proud this year, some of whom I’ve already mentioned in other sections, and the rest of which I’m going to highlight right now.
Coming in at the top of the class, but perhaps just shy of true greatness, the sawtoothed riffs of Allfather and the hyper-melodic shreddery of Bloodshot Dawn will likely appeal to most of our readers, as should the blistering Post-Black blend of Jøtnarr and the aggressively anti-religious Death Metal of our old friends in De Profundis, who seem to have finally found their true sound on The Blinding Light of Faith.
The sheer savagery of Spearhead and Ascaris shouldn’t go unremarked upon, and can be contrasted nicely with the soaringly melodic, atmospheric Post-Rock/Post-Metal stylings of The Everliving and the moody melodicism of Famyne, while those of you in search of doomier delights would do well to give the brilliant new Bast album, Nanoångström and the ever-eloquent melancholy of My Silent Wake, a spin ASAP.
Bast weren’t the only doomy disciples to serve up some miserable melody and titanic grooves this year either, and the suitably epic second album from King Goat is also more than worthy of your attention and acclaim, as is the triple-threat of sludgey, stoned-out doomery provided by Garganjua, Nomad, and Geomancer.
And last, but by no means least, the debut albums from Mask of Judas and Agrona should definitely find a few new fans here, if people are willing to give them a chance.
SHADES OF BLACK
When putting this list together I also discovered just how much Black Metal I had (unsurprisingly) listened to this year, several of whom have already been mentioned in other sections of this article.
Already infamous iconoclasts such as Acherontas, Hetroertzen, and Glorior Belli were joined by new (or newly discovered) artists like All My Sins, Imperialist, Nachash, and Paragon Impure, while several of my enduring favourites – Agrypnie, Uada, Wolvhammer – put out what would come to be some of my favourite Black Metal albums of the year despite the fact that they didn’t quite manage to break into tomorrow’s “Great” list.
The more melodic and eccentric (and, in some cases, barely even Black Metal at all) stylings of An Autumn For Crippled Children, Mesarthim, and Unreqvited were balanced in turn by more angular, aggressive, and ruthlessly raw material from Anicon, Moonreich, and Valdur, helping to showcase the wide breadth and ever-increasing depth of the genre.
On the proggier side of things bands such as Crow Black Sky, Decline of the I, and Wild Hunt continued to expand their horizons in compelling new ways, while both Ion and Pure Wrath each delivered another killer album of blazingly atmospheric (if also occasionally over-indulgent) Black Metal with A Path Unknown and Sempiternal Wisdom.
And, speaking of atmospheric, brooding new albums from Wilt, Urfaust, and Kroda provided us all with new opportunities to get lost within our own mental wilderness, while bands like Valkyrja, Whoredom Rife, and Kragkh proved that the classic elements of “true” Black Metal will never go out of style.
Giant of the Mountain produced what is probably their best album so far with Nature’s Wrath, and both Maladie and Stortregn continued to mix and match various styles and sub-genres in ever-more complex ways this year with …Of Harm and Salvation and Emptiness Fills the Void, while pure riffology was the name of the game on the new albums by From The Vastland, Nachtlieder, and The Konsortium.
New names like Devildom and Lifelost (the solo project of Wormed’s Phlegeton) stepped up to the plate at the same time as other artists, such as Necros Christos and One Tail, One Head, decided to call it a day, even as established acts like Sorcier Des Glaces and TotalSelfHatred continued to add to their growing legacy.
And, finally (for this section anyway), I’m going to add an extra special mention for the avant-garde artistry of Panegyrist and the feverishly prolific work of Void Ritual, who produced three exceptionally good albums over the course of this year.
DARKER THAN EVER
Blurring the lines between Black Metal, Death Metal, Doom, and soul-chilling ambience, Abjection Ritual and Plaguewielder have become my go-to records for wallowing in my own depravity, with both new albums by Ævangelist, Heralds of Nightmare Descending and Matricide In The Temple of Omega, following close behind.
Scum Sect, the new second album from Oakland raiders Atrament is a relentless barrage of pure filth and fury, although the Blackened Sludge-Doom of Abstracter and Body Void is, if anything, even gnarlier and nastier.
Anti-Life by Cult of Occult also isn’t for the faint of heart or the weak of mind, and the same can also be said for Chaotic Symbiosis, the grim swansong from Seattle’s own A God or An Other.
A SOFTER APPROACH
If you’re looking to balance the suppurating darkness of any of the previous albums with something sweeter and more melodic then you won’t go far wrong with the gleaming Post-Rock atmospherics of Iceland’s We Made God and their spellbinding new album, Beyond the Pale.
But if that doesn’t tickle your fancy you might also want to sample the sombre, moody melodies of Les Irreals Versions by Foscor or the eclectic, acoustic vibes of Alba – Les Hombres Errantes by French artistes Hypno5e.
ON THE FRINGES
Last, but by no means least, we’re closing things out with a selection of albums on the weirder, more indefinable end of the scale, such as the compelling complexity of Thy Catafalque, and the abstract melodies of Voices.
You might also want to give the blackened, saxophonic sci-fi soundtrack of Aetheria Conscientia a listen if you’re looking for something a little off the beaten path, or maybe even the cryptic, tangled technicality of Exlimitir.
But for those of you looking for something all the way out of the box, try the trumpet and trombone-based extremity of Ottone Pesante and their latest piece of provocative weirdness, Apocalips.
Phew… that was hard work. But, hopefully, worth it in the end.
Now, wherever possible, I’ve included links to all the Bandcamp pages I could find in one comprehensive list below, so if anything above has particularly intrigued you then you should be able to listen to it right here.
Tomorrow it’s time for the lengthy (but nowhere near as extensive) list of what I consider to be the year’s “Great” albums, so if you haven’t seen something you expected to encounter on today’s list, then maybe… just maybe… it might pop up tomorrow.
But, of course, you’ll have to check back in to find out!
Aborted – TerrorVision
At The Gates – To Drink From The Night Itself
Barren Earth – A Complex of Cages
Black Tongue – Nadir
Bloodbath – The Arrow of Satan is Drawn
Dagon – Back to the Sea
Dimmu Borgir – Eonian
Immortal – Northern Chaos Gods
Impending Doom – The Sin and Doom Vol. II
Kataklysm – Meditations
Krisiun – Scourge of the Enthroned
Letters from the Colony – Vignette
Marduk – Viktoria
Omnium Gatherum – The Burning Cold
The Agony Scene – Tormentor
Voices – Frightened
Warrel Dane – Shadow Work
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse