(Andy Synn concludes his week-long round-up of metal in 2018 with this list of his ten personal favorites among the year’s great and good albums.)
So, after all the stress and struggle involved in putting together all my various lists which preceded this one, now it’s time to relax and turn my attention to those albums, whether “Great” or “Good”, that make up my personal favourites of 2018.
Once again I decided that I wouldn’t include any “Honourable Mentions” this year, as to do so would essentially mean reproducing a good 60-70% of my previous lists (although, that being said… do try and give Agrypnie, Disassembled, Hundred Year Old Man, The Agony Scene and Void Ritual a listen if you get chance) and instead decided to focus solely on the ten albums which I’ve listened to the most and/or which have made the biggest impact on me this year.
Funnily enough, while the actual process of working out which ten records best represented my listening habits over the last twelve months was as complicated as ever, the write-up was much easier than I expected it to be, as it just so happens that I was responsible for reviewing almost all of them!
- NECROPHOBIC – MARK OF THE NECROGRAM
Probably an unsurprising entry to anyone who knows me well enough, as Necrophobic have long been one of my favourite bands, and Mark of the Necrogram is undeniably one of the best albums of their career, reuniting the classic guitar duo of Johan Bergebäck and Sebastian Ramstedt, as well as the returning Anders Strokirk (taking up the microphone again for the first time in twenty years).
To quote my own review, this album is:
“…an undeniable triumph, packed to the rafters with massive, insidiously melodic riffs, shamelessly extravagant solos, and riveting, rock-solid grooves, not to mention a seemingly endless array of humongous metallic hooks big enough to hang an entire bull’s carcass from.
“Tracks like the blast-happy, riff-heavy title-track or the neck-wrecking thrash attack of “Odium Caecum” immediately showcase the reborn Necrophobicfiring on all cylinders, mixing the wisdom and experience of a veteran act with the vim and vigour of a much younger band, while also continuing to channel some of the same proggy proclivities which underpinned many of the tracks on Death to All.
“In the end Mark of the Necrogram proves that there’s no-one quite like Necrophobic when it comes to delivering the goods. So let all the pompous pretenders and patronising posers beware… the true kings are back!”
- ANTLERS – BENEATH.BELOW.BEHOLD.
One of my most surprising, and fulfilling, new discoveries of the year was the second album by German Black Metal quartet Antlers, which popped up on my radar seemingly out of nowhere way back in April.
Delivering an aggressive, atmospheric blend of “cascading chords, tripwire tremolo melodies, and serpentine drum work”, the group’s sound is somewhat comparable to that of bands like Weakling, Woe, and Wiegedood, yet doesn’t sound quite like any of them, despite sharing “a similar predilection for dense, oppressive atmosphere and intense, aggressive riffage.”
It’s an edifying, electrifying, emotionally exhausting listening experience from start to finish, and, to quote an unnamed source:
“…there’s something undeniably vital and visceral about numbers such as the frenzied ‘Heal’, the moody and compelling ‘Metempsychosis’, or the grim majesty of ‘The Tide’ (to name but a few) that I keep on coming back to this album over and over again…”
- RITES OF THY DEGRINGOLADE – THE BLADE PHILOSOPHICAL
While I’ve long been a big fan of esoteric extremists Rites of Thy Degringolade and their distinctive brand of grim ‘n’ gritty Death/Black magick (so much so that I selected them as my subject for the 94th edition of The Synn Report), it wasn’t until they released their long-awaited fourth album, The Blade Philosophical earlier this year that I truly fell in love with their music.
Perhaps it’s due to the steady expansion of my own tastes over the years, or perhaps it’s a result of the band adopting an ever-so-slightly more “progressive” approach this time around, but, whatever it is/was, their latest release simply connected with me much more deeply than any of their previous albums (all of which I’ve enjoyed in their own right) ever did.
To quote a certain dashingly-handsome writer:
“Of course the term ‘progressive’ might make it seem like the band have mellowed somewhat [but] nothing could be further from the truth… The riffage is still as relentlessly rabid, the vocals still utterly voracious, and the drums still deliver an avalanche of explosive blastbeats and neck-snapping rhythmic twists with little to no regard for the listener’s safety (or sanity).
“The atmosphere is thicker than ever, however, and the malignant melodies more deeply ingrained and integrated, seeming to seethe and slither across your skin like baleful fire even as the turbulent, chugging riffs and sledgehammer drums seek to shake and shatter your bones.”
- IMMORTAL – NORTHERN CHAOS GODS
No-one was as surprised as me to discover that Northern Chaos Gods was not only a triumphant return to form from Demonaz and Horgh, but that it would also swiftly become one of my favourite Immortal albums full stop, and one of my most-listened-to records of the year to boot.
What’s particularly great about this album is that while it does feature a somewhat “back to basics” approach in places that incorporates some much more prominent, and much more “serious”, Black Metal elements into the band’s signature sound (often recalling the band’s own Battles in the North/Blizzard Beasts era) it also doesn’t ignore what made the band so successful and well-loved by so many since then, as killer cuts like “Gates to Blashyrkh”, “Where Mountains Rise”, and the grimly grandiose “Mighty Ravendark” demonstrate that the dark duo have lost none of their flair for carving dramatic, epic compositions out of the ice.
Quoth the raven(dark):
“…Northern Chaos Gods demonstrates, quite convincingly, that there’s still a lot of juice left in the Immortal tank…”
- MIRE – SHED
Another surprise discovery this year was the debut album by Denver Prog-Death duo Mire, which made some small but significant ripples in certain Techy/Proggy circles.
It is, to quote from the gospel of Synn:
“…[a] fearless mix of chunky, chugging riffage and subtly progressive melodic touches, all arranged in an extremely dynamic form which balances hooky heaviness and subtle technicality in equal measure, and topped off with an intriguing blend of barking harsh vocals and moody clean-sung melodies.”
And while I still contend that it’s just that tiny bit too short (one more killer track would definitely have bumped it up this list even further) I stand by my assertion that the arrangement of knowingly familiar pieces into unfamiliar patterns found here should have all of us questioning why more bands aren’t this good.
Fans of Slugdge, The Faceless, Ageless Oblivion, etc… you may have just found a new favourite band!
- BARÚS – DROWNED
Following the release of their truly outstanding self-titled EP way back in 2015 my expectation were understandably extremely high for the debut full-length album from French Death Metallers Barús, and I happy to say that the doom-laden dissonance and devastating density of Drowned did not disappoint.
To quote a man who has never been referred to as “the next Hemingway”:
“The original touch-points I highlighted in my previous coverage of the band – Triptykon, Meshuggah, Gorguts – are all still relevant throughout the length and breadth of this record, with the music continuing to express a unique blend of angular, gut-churning riffage and ominous, oppressive atmosphere…
“But this time around the levels of aggression and unsettling discordance seem to have been ramped up a couple of notches, granting these songs a sense of pummelling, punishing heaviness and calculated, barely-controlled chaos reminiscent of Ulcerate at their most apocalyptic…
“There are, however, a few carefully chosen moments where the quartet allow the almost asphyxiating atmosphere they generate to open up and breathe a little, exposing a calmer and more ambient side of the band than we’ve seen before, which stands in stark, dynamic contrast to the rest of the album’s practically overwhelming aura of soul-crushing intensity.”
- DÖDSRIT – SPIRIT CRUSHER
Every so often in life you stumble across an album or an artist that simply connects with you on a fundamental level. Spirit Crusher is one of those albums.
To quote an anonymous writer-slash-genius:
“Clocking in at a much more substantial 44 minutes in length (though still only made up of 4 songs), Spirit Crusher takes everything that made the self-titled release so good and simply amps it up another notch or two, while still retaining the same core sound and vision.
“And while some may have been a little worried that stretching things out like this might have meant that Öster was in danger of spreading himself a little too thin, nothing could be further from the truth.
“As a matter of fact, the added space and time allocated to these four songs has simply allowed them more room to spread their wings and flex their muscles, while also giving the more atmospheric and ambient undercurrents of the music a chance to really simmer and breathe.
“Unpretentious, unassuming, yet undeniably glorious in both sound and scope, this album is, in no uncertain terms, an unfettered joy to listen to, from start to finish, and one of those records which reminds me exactly why I fell in love with Metal in the first place.”
- IHSAHN – ÁMR
My long-running relationship with the music of Vegard Sverre Tveitan, aka Ihsahn, aka “The Black Wizard”, has been so well-documented by this point that I don’t feel like I need to go into it here.
Suffice it to say that I’ve been following his evolution from corpse-painted warrior-child to Progressive Metal warlock like a dedicated (albeit, occasionally doubting) disciple since I was first introduced to In The Nightside Eclipse so many, many moons ago.
And while there have been a multitude of twists and turns, ups and down, separations and reconciliations, over the years, I’ll never stop having time for his work… particularly in the case of his seventh-solo album, Ámr, which is easily the best thing he’s released since After.
To quote a certain goddamned sexual tyrannosaurus:
“Ámr… is undoubtedly the closest he’s ever come to recapturing that same sense of progressive dynamism and metallic fluidity which infused his third album, and could almost be said to be that record’s spiritual and stylistic twin in many ways.
“That doesn’t mean it’s a carbon-copy of After, however – particularly since Ámr exchanges that record’s jazzy squall for a heavy dose of synth-based strangeness – as the more you listen to it the more it becomes clear that the music presented here… feels very much like a roiling metallic melting pot of all Ihsahn’s influences – including, unsurprisingly, his Black Metal past, which remains a key foundation for (almost) all the material found here – all processed and refined towards their inevitable conclusion.”
- PANEGYRIST – HIERURGY
The one album on this list which I didn’t actually review myself is also one of the albums which I simply cannot stop listening to.
Despite being generally referred to as “Avant-Garde Black Metal” in most reviews, interviews, and on Metal Archives, there’s something truly special about Panegyrist that defies such easy categorisation.
By turns both sacred and profane, devilish and divine, the six tracks which make up Hierurgy thread a gleaming golden needle between beauty and darkness, order and chaos, nightmarish dissonance and dreamlike beauty, in a way which honestly doesn’t sound like anything else I’ve heard this year (or any other).
And while it’s not a perfect album by any means (although it only narrowly missed out on a place on my “Great” list on Thursday) there’s simply something so compelling, so utterly enthralling, about it that I simply haven’t been able to put it down.
As I said above, sometimes an album or artist just connects with you in a way that defies rational explanation, and this is most definitely one of those times.
- HORIZON ABLAZE – THE WEIGHT OF A THOUSAND SUNS
As if there was every any doubt about it, The Weight of a Thousand Suns is easily the album which has spent the most time in my listening rotation this year, and the one which I’ve been recommending to practically everyone I know as a worthy successor to the Emperor legacy.
Now, as I said in my review at the time, I’m aware that a statement like that one reads like meaningless hyperbole and is, even when taken at face value, setting a ridiculously high bar for Horizon Ablaze, but, to quote one of the greatest writers of the modern age:
“Tracks like striking opener ‘Sleep Is The Brother of Death’ and the remorseless ‘My Soul Divided’ are as vehement and as visceral as anything from the Norwegian icons’ later years, yet possess their own distinct voice and vision all the same, while ‘She Who Walks Upon The Sea’ and ‘The End of a Dream’ are every bit as intense and as intricately composed as anything from Ishahn’s post-Prometheus solo career, albeit with a denser and darker core of molten metallic fury which imbues every contorted twist and kaleidoscopic turn with an extra dose of primal energy.
“Conversely, numbers such as ‘Delusions of Grandeur’ – with its blend of chunky, Zyklon-esque riffs, scathing blastbeats, and unexpected injections of enigmatic clean vocals – and the pummelling strains of ‘Behind the Veil’ incorporate a much more prominent Death Metal influence into the mix, without ruining the delicate balance between melody and discordance, venom and vitality, bleak hooks and blistering heaviness, which forms the unique core of the band’s sound.
“Ultimately, regardless of whatever comparisons and contrasts you might wish to draw along the way, the entirety ofThe Weight of a Thousand Suns – from the bold hooks and fret-bursting bombast of ‘Ghost of a Previous Nightmare’, to the proggy blackened catharsis of album closer ‘Insidious’ (which you can check out below) – is consistently more than the mere sum of its parts, without a single weak link or wasted moment to be found.
“Mark my words, this could (and should) be one of the defining albums of 2018.”
So there you have it. Thanks to everyone who’s taken the time to read and to comment on this list and all the previous ones, and I hope you’ve all managed to discover at least one new album or artist to add to your own collection(s).
I’m going to be taking a short break from writing for a while to recharge my batteries a little, but should have a few more write-ups and reviews to offer over the next couple of weeks as a way of bringing a little bit of extra attention to some of the records featured this week which I think really deserve it.