(Andy Synn‘s week-long round-up of metal in 2018 continues with his personal list of the year’s Great albums.)
What exactly makes an album “great”?
Personally I don’t think it’s any one thing. An album can be great because it’s in possession of a truly unique vision, or because its creators displayed a sense of ambition beyond their station. It can also be great simply because its execution is utterly impeccable, or because it somehow channels the fundamental essence of a particular style like no other. Or maybe it just possesses some sort of indefinable x-factor which makes it shine just that little bit brighter than the albums around it.
The point is there are many ways for an album to be considered “great”, and the various selections I’ve picked out on this list showcase an impressive variety of approaches to achieving this greatness.
Being “great” doesn’t mean being perfect by any means – in fact several of these albums are flawed in their own way(s), yet still rise above these flaws to deliver something truly special – nor does an objectively “great” album always have to be your favourite one (indeed, there are quite a few entries on this list whose quality I fully appreciate, yet which simply don’t connect with me in the way their predecessors did), but each of the albums featured here possesses, in my humble opinion, a certain spark or seed of greatness that means people are likely going to be talking about and comparing other records to them for years to come.
Now, for the most part if you can’t find an album/artist here, and also can’t find them anywhere in yesterday’s ridiculous smorgasbord of metallic morsels, then in all likelihood it means I simply didn’t get round to hearing said album/artist or, if I did, I wasn’t able to form a proper opinion in time for me to feel confident about including it/them in my annual round-up.
That being said, however, I do want to point out a few things I’ve missed out on in the hope that some of you will still go and check them out for yourselves.
For one thing, you won’t be seeing Sleep or Pig Destroyer on this list, as neither band has ever really connected with me in any meaningful way, so I decided to dedicate what time I might have spent listening to their new material to searching for other, less “famous” acts to check out instead.
I spectacularly failed to listen to Tristan Shone’s latest work as Author & Punisher, and also missed out on the new album from The Lion’s Daughter too, even though its predecessor featured quite prominently in my 2016 list.
Not only that, but I honestly just ran out of time before I had chance to check out either of the new Sigh or Unleashed releases, so you won’t be seeing those here either, nor will you be seeing Agrimonia or Thou, both of which have been popping up frequently on other people’s lists, but simply weren’t on my radar before now.
You’ll also note the distinct absence of Vergelding by The Monolith Deathcult… not because I didn’t like it (I did, but maybe not as much as Versvs) but because I actually wrote the press release which accompanies the record, and didn’t want to mix business and pleasure any more than I already do!
Still, there are another 90(!) albums on this list which I definitely DID get a chance to delve into properly over the last twelve months, and collectively these records represent what I consider the top tier of the year’s shining metallic crop.
GIVE ME LIBERTY DEATH
Where to start with this year’s bumper crop of deathly delights?
How about with the ever-reliable, and reliably-devastating, Hate Eternal, who put out one of their best albums yet with Upon Desolate Sands? Or maybe the fourth (and potentially finest) album by international brutalisers Serocs?
Then, of course, there was the plethora of bands putting a fresh new spin on a variety of Old-School sounds, from the slow, suppurating slog of Innumerable Forms or the twisted morbidity of Zealotry, to the gnarly, gruesome grooves of Tomb Mold and Scorched, and the straight-up riff-frenzy of Baest and Outer Heaven.
If you’re looking for something a little less out-and-out brutal, then Chapel of Disease might be just what the doctor ordered, delivering a fascinating blend of saw-toothed swagger and progressive melody with their latest album, …And As We Have Seen The Storm, We Have Embraced The Eye, while the always-impressive Horrendous produced what might just be their best album yet by leaning in a much more thrashy (albeit still highly proggy and technical) direction on Idol.
By way of contrast the Revocation boys kicked out what just might be their heaviest and most Death Metal release yet in the shape of The Outer Ones, while Mancunian slam-lords Ingested finally made the long-awaited step up into the big leagues with their bombastic, chugtastic fourth album, The Level Above Human.
Of course if you prefer your Death Metal with a little bit of extra “blackened” seasoning, then 2018 also had a lot to offer you, with the asphyxiating, atmospheric extremity of Convulsing and Rites of Thy Degringolade offering a tantalising (and terrifying) glimpse into a singular sonic hellscape, while the The Scythe of Cosmic Chaos, the stunning new record from Sulphur Aeon, provides us with all the majestic malevolence we could possibly wish for.
We also shouldn’t forget about the punishing new album from Ukrainian Blackened Death-dealers 1914, or the utterly scorching Exiler by Construct of Lethe, which find both bands stepping up the intensity and extremity even further than they did on their debuts.
And if you’re looking for something a little off the beaten path (emphasis on “beaten”) then you definitely need to check out the squalling, angular dissonance of Baring Teeth and the churning, choking riffs of Barús if you haven’t done so already.
In the parallel universe where the more Technical and/or Progressive Death Metal bands reside, unexpectedly awesome comeback albums from Augury and Soreption found both bands throwing hands and heavyweight riffs with a renewed sense of aggression and intensity, while Arsis surprised everyone with the much darker and deathlier strains of Visitant.
Speaking of surprises, 2018 found Rivers of Nihil pushing the progressive boat out with Where Owls Know My Name, which, while less consistent than Monarchy in my opinion, really opened up a host of new possibilities for the band.
By contrast Gallic giants Gorod produced one of the most concise, consistent, and virulently catchy albums of their career with Aethra, without sacrificing an ounce of instrumental intelligence in the process, while their countrymen in Exocrine went in an almost entirely opposite direction on the ferocious Molten Giant.
Ridiculously talented Progressive Death dynamos Alkaloid continued to stretch the boundaries of the genre with the mind-bending complexity of Liquid Anatomy, while Obscura finally completed their four-album conceptual cycle this year with the release of the surprisingly fluid and organic Diluvium, and long-time NCS favourites Slugdge produced their best album yet in the shape of the effortlessly inventive Esoteric Malacology.
Extra-special mention must be made however of Absentia, the debut full-length album from Washington tech-wizards Aethereus, whose vitalising blend of style, skill, and songwriting easily earned it a place here alongside other, much more well-established names.
BLACKER THAN THE BLACKEST BLACK (TIMES INFINITY)
Moving swiftly on, in a much darker, bleaker, and, yes… blacker… direction, both Sargeist and Ascension put out what could arguably be considered career-best albums this year, as did the legendary Necropbobic, who conquered all their recent adversity to produce the raging cauldron of blazing riffs and blistering hooks that is Mark of the Necrogram.
Mysterious Black Metal mystics Mare finally unleashed their debut album, Ebony Tower, this year, and the long wait proved to be totally worth it, while under-appreciated underground warlocks Ordinul Negru made yet another case for why they should be bigger and more well-known with the caustic Faustian Nights.
In terms of pure riffs per square metre, both Funeral Mist and Craft absolutely smashed all expectations this year, with the depressively dark and melodic melancholy of Infestus and Gaerea not far behind them, while the scything third record by Belgium three-piece Wiegedood also proved to be a real dark horse candidate.
Of course if we’re talking about blackened riffery we can’t ignore the galloping grooves of Shining, the sheer savagery of Outré or the fiery catharsis of Dödsrit, although the former in particular seems to have been particularly overlooked and/or ignored this year.
The ever-fertile Icelandic scene produced several of the year’s best Black Metal albums this year, with Carpe Noctem, Slidhr, and Svartidauði standing head and shoulders above all the rest, although their dominance was definitely challenged by the crushingly dense new album from Devouring Star and the relentlessly heavy, borderline hypnotic, strains of Apocalypticists by Kriegsmaschine.
I’ve been seeing the captivating, folk-infused new albums from Panopticon and Wayfarer cropping up on several lists over the last few weeks, and totally agree that both records are fully deserving of a lot of praise and acclaim, as both records really offer something special and unique.
As does the second album from German quartet Antlers, which has been in regular rotation with me ever since March.
Moving in an even more “progressive” direction, the latest (and probably greatest) albums from Aklash, Oubliette, and Claret Ash albums demonstrated that you don’t have to sacrifice credibility or individuality in order to incorporate a wealth of scintillating, soul-stirring melody into your Black Metal, while more “Post-“inclined efforts from Basalte and Bosse-De-Nage proved that atmosphere and aggression can go hand in hand without either element losing out.
And while both Horizon Ablaze and Ihsahn continued to build and expand upon the legacy and influence of Emperor in strikingly different fashion – the former bringing the thunderous riffs and proggy touches in equal measure, the latter moving in an ever-more eclectic and exotic direction with his solo work – the two bands who pushed the boundaries the most this year (at least from what I’ve heard) were A Forest of Stars and Imperial Triumphant, the latter of whom provided a perfect soundtrack to modern disaffection and urban decay with the nightmarish Vile Luxury.
THE FILTH AND THE FURY
Moving away from Black Metal, but still staying as grim and grisly as possible, killer debuts from Leeched and Conjurer made an instant impact on the Metal scene this year alongside new releases from more famous and more established monsters like Mantar and Phantom Winter, collectively providing a roiling mixture of blackened fury, sludgey riffage, oppressive, doom-laden atmospherics, and abrasive, industrial-infused ugliness.
Things weren’t any brighter or happier over in the USA either, with both Slaves BC and Churchburn doing their very best to channel their anguish and agony into disgusting musical form.
MELODY AND MAJESTY
But if all the darkness and depravity is too much for you, rest assured that there were more than enough bands out there doing their very best to bring a bit of beauty and bombast into your lives, from the moody proggery of Ancestors and the gorgeous goth-tinged grooves of Kontinuum to the majestic melodeath of Arson, the latest album from Harakiri for the Sky.
The soaring vocals and righteous swagger of Desolation, by Denver doomsters Khemmis straddles the line between classic and modern with boldness and confidence beyond the band’s years, while the enthralling, electrifying melodies and riveting riffs of A Parting Gift, by Spires makes me question what exactly the band have to do to break out big.
And while big names like Amorphis, In The Woods…, and Madder Mortem each produced some brilliant work this year (the former in particular is, arguably, one of the best albums of the band’s career, or at least the second half of it), the thrilling storytelling and twisting structures of The Heavens Are Not On Fire…, by Texan Prog-Metal quartet Wills Dissolve, suggests that the future of the genre is in good hands too.
DOOM ‘N’ GLOOM
If you like your melody a little darker and doomier however, you might want to give the new albums by Clouds and Oceans of Slumber a listen, both of which blend truly heart-rending vocals with an enthralling array of gargantuan riffs and passages of haunting ambience (although the latter could still do with a bit of a trim here and there in my opinion).
Our old pals in Monolithe changed their style a little on Nebula Septem, moving even further away from their Funeral Doom roots but still maintaining all the same power and electrifying atmosphere, while 2018 found our friends in Eye Of Solitude moving in the opposite direction on Slaves to Solitude.
If you’re looking to delve even deeper into the realms of Funeral Doom then you owe it to yourselves to check out the aptly-named Desolate Grief by Faal as well as the haunting, harrowing, new album from Woebegone Obscured.
And it would be wrong of me to move on without heaping an extra helping of praise on the scintillating catharsis of Our Raw Heart by Yob, which reveals that the (understandable) four-year wait between albums was more than worth it.
Great Post-Metal is defined, for me at least, by the sheer weight it brings to bear. It can be as atmospheric, as ambient, or as melodic as the bands want it to be, but that weighty presence, that sense of imposing mass, needs to be there no matter what.
Thankfully, the progressive twists of Abandon of the Self (Eryn Non Dae) and the mesmerising vocal melodies of Sangue Cassia (Sinistro) are backed up by some humongous, heaving riffage and pulse-raising percussion, while the stark contrast between the crushing crescendos and meditative moments that suffuse The Sky Over, the latest album by Void of Silence, makes for one truly intense and emotional experience.
The raw emotion displayed on Breaching by Hundred Year Old Man only adds to its impressive, immersive heaviness, although both Hegemone and Morne produced what were arguably even heavier, more hypnotic albums this year, constantly surging and cycling through progressive patterns of primal vocals, potent riffage and pounding percussion.
Oh, and while I have you, make sure to grab yourself a copy of Hearken, the latest album from massively underappreciated Australians Encircling Sea, as it’s easily one of the most captivating and immersive albums I’ve encountered all year.
Last, but by no means least (is a phrase I’ve used too many times already this week), I can’t brings things to an end without mentioning that the new Alice In Chains album, Rainier Fog, is without doubt one of the best of their career, with Cantrell and co. still capable of kicking out the jams with the very best of them, while the new Judas Priest album is one of the biggest, best, and most pleasantly rifftastic surprises of the year.
Turns out that old dogs don’t always need to learn new tricks… they just need to stay on top of their game!
As always I’ve included as many Bandcamp links as I could find in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the article, so if anything above has tickled your fancy then hopefully you’ll be able to track it down somewhere below.
This evening I’ll be making a futile attempt to winnow this list of 90 albums down to the ten records which I think best represent the breadth and depth of the Metal scene this year, and this will hopefully be published tomorrow for you all to observe and argue about in the comments.
And while I’ve got my selections picked out already, for the most part, I don’t rule out some last-minute changes if I suddenly wake up in the middle of the night, covered in sweat because I’ve suddenly realised that my Critical Top Ten seems to share very little in common with most of the other zines and sites I’ve been keeping an eye on over the last few weeks.
Until then my friends… excelsior!
Alice In Chains – Rainier Fog
Amorphis – Queen of Time
Arsis – Visitant
Baest – Danse Macabre
Faal – Desolate Grief
Gorod – Aethra
Ihsahn – Ámr
Judas Priest – Firepower
Necrophobic – Mark of the Necrogram
Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart
Soreption – Monument of the End
Sulphur Aeon – The Scythe of Cosmic Chaos
Wiegedood – De Doden Hebben Het Goed III