(At last, we reach the fifth and final installment of DGR’s 5-part year-end effort to sink our site beneath an avalanche of words and a deluge of music. It includes his Top 10 albums, plus a list of EPs, and one final non-metal entry.)
Here we go into the final installment. One last grouping of albums and one last collection of thudding riffs, heavy guitars, and enough drumwork to leave one’s head spinning by the time it wraps up.
This final ten is all over the place, in terms of both genre and location. My lists tend to be pretty international always, but the consistent bouncing back and forth that is happening in this part has proven to be entertaining in its own right.
This group also reveals just how much of 2018 turned out to be the year of cathartic release for me. Alongside all the genre-bending, all the experimentation, and all of the well-executed groove, I found that every once in a while this year a disc would hit that would just boil down to a half-hour-plus of yelling, and I would relish every single second of it. I’m sure we could credit that to the wider situation of the world these days but I’ve also always been a sucker for turning music into an instrument of release, and for some reason that approach won me over hard this year.
So let’s begin with the final ten, and then a grouping of EPs I enjoyed this year, my final non-metal (ish) release recommendation, and a small (ish) closing paragraph… because why would I ever stop typing after just finishing the final ten?
That’s for crazy people.
10 – Svalbard – It’s Hard To Have Hope
Hell yeah, let’s kick this whole thing off with an album that has way more in common with the punk side of things than anything else we’ve tended to cover on the site this year.
Naming your album something like It’s Hard To Have Hope is basically catnip for me — much like Dormant Ordeal naming their album We Had It Coming. I enjoy the up-front admission of the garbage state of affairs of the world in an album title, and honestly, Svalbard’s approach of all heart and everything laid out on the table is perfectly fitting for it. Double points for having your previous release entitled One Day All This Will End.
You only need to glance at the song titles of the disc to understand just where the band are coming from. While sometimes they can lyrically be about as subtle as a brick to the head, the group’s combination of hardcore punk, post-metal, and a whole lot of drumming destruction as back-up, makes It’s Hard To Have Hope a highlight of the year.
Svalbard’s multi-front vocal attack has basically all its members at one point or another screaming themselves raw across the album. They make a lasting impression in the opening few songs — the run from “Unpaid Intern” to “Pro-Life” is a killer collection whose subject matter is very forthright and especially targeted. They have Svalbard alternating between a relentless two-step playing style and some blasting heaviness with the guitar melodies soaring above the band in order to amplify each and every yell. The back half gets a little heavier but also a little more lush as well. “Try Not To Die Until You’re Dead” is a gorgeous song that serves as an excellent lead-in to the album’s closing instrumental.
It’s difficult to cover a lot of what is happening on It’s Hard To Have Hope simply because I feel like I’m underselling a vast amount of it. It is an album that is all heart and all passion, tackling some incredibly difficult subjects and doing it in a way that makes no compromises (because you shouldn’t have to); sitting here and analyzing how the band are skilled in creating a gorgeous atmosphere that occasionally matches the cold of the island they take their name from feels like I’m shortchanging it.
I checked out the album based on its name alone when it appeared in our promo-box one day, and I’m glad I did. Since its May launch it has been a source of cathartic release on a personal level, often paired up with some of the other louder and more punk-fueled assaults on my year-end list this year. This is one of those discs where I can completely understand why it is getting the acclaim that it is — you owe it to yourself to give it a listen.
9 – Altars Of Grief – Iris
Looking at it now, I think Altars of Grief may be the only doom band on my entire list. Not fuzzed-out, reverb-worshipping stoner doom, or the glacial pace of funeral doom, but the miserable and cold drama of another specific branch of doom.
Something I had long chalked-up to being of the European doom scene, this branch is a little more melodically minded, with some of its roots and heavy keyboard usage seeming to have risen out of the melodeath scene. It’s the sort of doom that is more like staring at a frozen lake post-blizzard than the seemingly endless stylings of its genre-brethren. Fitting then, that Canada’s Altars Of Grief refer to themselves as ‘Prarie doom metal’, because that’s about as close as we’ll get to a cold and frozen-over expanse on this year-end list.
The group’s latest album, Iris, released in late-March of this year after some musician lineup shifting in the years between it and their 2015 split Of Ash And Dying Light, it features some of the best keyboard-heavy and atmospheric doom that the band have done to date. It also helps that two of the tracks nearly morph into death metal songs for most of their length as well.
Iris is the most refined verison of themselves that Altars Of Grief have put out so far, combining slow-moving guitars, melodramatic vocal work (both clean and harsh), and plenty of keyboard/synth swells in order to amplify their chosen subjects, so that each of Iris‘ eight songs keep you locked in place. Most of the songs run close to eight minutes in length — save for “Epilogue”, which is a soft-instrumental and comes in around two — but you never notice because each song moves in a sweeping and grand fashion.
“Desolation” opens as one of the heaviest tracks on the album (and quickly became one of my personal favorites) and album closer “Becoming Intangible” starts out as the slowest and moodiest song on Iris before becoming the disc’s finale in suitable form. You can just tell from the opening strains during “Isolation” that the disc is just going to be gorgeous, especially once the strings start working their way into the mix. Once you reach the title song, that point is made clear.
Iris is an album that drags itself along the well-worn paths of misery and loneliness, yet is so expertly crafted you can’t help but let it envelop you. It’s one of the few — or maybe the only — doom albums on this list, and I highly recommend giving Iris a listen.
8 – Irreversible Mechanism – Immersion
When listening to Irreversible Mechanism‘s newest album, Immersion, I felt like Neo in The Matrix when he could finally see the code moving. I can recognize exactly what is happening in this album, why it appeals to me, how it is functioning, and who its main influences are. But it is an album that still wound up being one of my most listened-to discs this year.
Irreversible Mechanism laid out a blueprint early on in Immersion of what they were aiming for and then executed upon it almost flawlessly. They move away from the ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ style of writing in their debut album Infinite Fields — which is made a little easier to deal with by the fact that Inferi, the masters of said style, have an album out this year – and have moved more toward something that sounds like a head-on collision of Fallujah, Rivers Of Nihil, and a handful of other post-metal groups currently working on the fringes of the tech-death scene.
Yet, despite the fact that I can so easily dissect Immersion’s building blocks, I still wound up loving this album and it became a constant spin. Serving as one large conceptual music piece, Immersion clocks in at a healthy fifty-plus minutes, and a majority of that is devoted to songs that still wind up somewhat densely packed together but also flow into one another, so that if you’re the type to just let an album run, it’s easy to get lost in this ceaseless cavalcade of music.
The opening three-song assault of “Existence I: Contemplation”, “Existence II: Collision”, and “Abolution” sets an incredibly high bar for the album that kind of carries you through the rest of it. I enjoy the drifting and electronic nature of “Simulacra” and the long prog-work of “Footprings In The Sand” as it barrels its way towards its conclusion — which turns out to be a sample of Morpheus speaking to Neo in The Matrix.
Immersion is like a lot of albums on my year-end list, in that it contains so much within it — even with the band’s new-found style — that every listen feels like a different set of discoveries being made. The latter half of the album is especially filled with little melodic lines here and there that, after a while, start to challenge the aforementioned front-half in terms of most interesting. For instance, at first I enjoyed the way the disc sort of barreled its way to its finale after “Footprints In The Sand”, but after a while started to notice just how much I was enjoying those different little melodic lines that seemed to spring into existence during Immersion’s closing two songs.
While Immersion doesn’t kill it on the originality scale, the exhaustive way in which the band execute their chosen formula, and how well they do it, made Immersion a record that was hard to top for me in 2018.
So naturally this means that the seven that did top it on this list are fucking masterpieces.
7 – Dead Wretch – Hug Division Dead Wretch
As far as I’m concerned, prolific black-metal musician Dan Jackson is a goddamned hero for releasing the newest album of his joking project Dead Wretch. A combination of new songs and older tracks from the project’s first EP, Fuck It, Hug Division Dead Wretch skewers a variety of different black metal tropes while also launching some assaults on the state of the world today.
I feel that to love something is to be able to admit its flaws and sometimes to make fun of it, and it is clear across the whole of Hug Division Dead Wretch that when he’s not laying into Nazis, homophobes, bigots, and the various other shitbags of the world today, and telling them to Eat Shit, that Dan Jackson absolutely knows his stuff and is perfectly willing to slaughter some sacred cows along the way.
Dead Wretch delivers a combination of grind, punk, black metal, and death metal that absolutely kills it across the whole of the twenty minutes that is Hug Division Dead Wretch. This is the sort of release where people are bound to have completely different favorite songs since each of the tracks stands as its own individual piece. So you whip around from punk-driven tracks like “Miracle Blackpunk Connection” into joking groove in the opening, and apocalyptic death metal in the closing, of “Unfuckable”.
I’ve referenced it numerous times across the site already, but I am a huge fan of “Red Logo Atop A Buff Goat Demon” for a few reasons: One, it’s actually a great song on its own, furnace blast heavy and moving very quickly. And Two, the lyric “Okay, we get it. You like Blasphemy too” is never going to fail to make me laugh.
Black metal’s more grim elite find themselves with multiple barbs pointed at them — beyond the project being a massive send-up of it — with tracks like “So Kvlt, So True, So What?!” and “You’re Not Elite” mining a similar vein, the audio version of sneering at someone for two minutes while holding your middle finger in their face.
Hug Division Dead Wretch even brings back “Have You Guys Heard Witchery” from the project’s earlier releases, which is great if you’ve never crossed paths with that song before because he’s not joking when he describes the song’s main guitar riff as sounding like a lesser version of something that band would have done. He gets a lot closer than he gives himself credit for, though.
For me, Hug Division Dead Wretch will likely hold the record for quickest move from random band button on Metal-Archives to purchased on Bandcamp for a very long time. Even though Dan Jackson has got much more serious projects in his pocket that will make any black metal fan happy — Void Ritual, Mendacium — I’m firmly in the camp that Dead Wretch is one of the best things that hit this year.
6 – Rivers Of Nihil – Where Owls Know My Name
Rivers Of Nihil are not the sort of band whose future I’m prone to pontificating about. The Pennsylvania group’s progressive death metal approach had already produced one gem in the form of 2015’s Monarchy, and I wasn’t really sure what to expect from them on their next album, Where Owls Know My Name.
Even going in without expectations, the album proved to be a massive surprise — refining into a much sleeker beast what was already a pretty solid core of tech-death crashing into progressive death metal explorations, while also throwing everything they could think of into an album that has been receiving a rightful amount of critical acclaim.
People seem to be absolutely mind-blown about the presence of a saxophone popping up, but it’s actually a lot more common than you’d think. It’s just that Rivers Of Nihil‘s sparse usage of it on Where Owls Know My Name is one of the better ones so far. Chock full of deliciously thick grooves and a dual-pronged vocal approach that sees the band spreading their wings into the clean-singing realm a bit more, the album is an excellent use of its near-hour with you as a concept disc.
They use that time to cover a vast amount of ground. By the time the disc wraps up with “Capricorn/Agoratopia”, it’s hard to tell what the band have left for the future. There are so many different and heavy moments. The opening songs up to “Terrestria III: Wither” make for a fantastic musical run, with “A Home” feeling like the most straightforward of the bunch yet still containing some fucking fantastic drumming highlights. And the band manage to rope Black Crown Initiate’s Andy Thomas in for a bit of work on the title track, amongst a handful of guest credits that show a tremendous amount of effort was put into this album as a whole.
Hearing Rivers Of Nihil release the album-equivalent of swinging for the fences after already putting out an earlier killer album proved to be an absolute joy this year. And once again, I’m looking forward to being surprised by whatever they do from here.
5 – The Agony Scene – Tormentor
I did not expect The Agony Scene‘s newest album Tormentor to be as good as it is. As a long time Agony Scene fan I expected to enjoy it, even though the group went away for a number of years (close to eleven if you’re counting) and came back as part of the metalcore resurgence that has been happening recently. But they still exceeded expectations.
Their discography is a little bit more varied than their peers, so that should have been a clue, as the Oklahoma-based crew have breakdown-heavy records, more traditional harsh-verse/clean-chorus records, and even an album that embraced the hardcore punk scene in a way I wouldn’t have expected from them. But still, none of it really clued me in to Tormentor turning out as heavy as it is.
The Agony Scene really pull out all the stops on this disc, and scorch the Earth for those expecting anything like their older records. They go for an explosive approach, one that leans heavily on the blastbeat to propel songs forward. Combined with that is the group’s newfound approach to adding a whole bunch of blackened riffs to their arsenal, including a few that — as my fellow writer Andy cited in his review — have the band steering heavily into Goatwhore territory.
Tormentor feels like the most natural progression for the band from where they left off at 2007’s Get Damned, even if it’s now one of the heaviest albums they’ve done to date. Its ten songs absolutely fly by and leave you spinning in place like a cartoon by the time “Mechnical Breath” (which contains a small shoutout to “Will To Bleed” from Get Damned) — wraps up.
“Like The Weeds In The Field” is a vicious early song, and one on which the stars seem to line up perfectly. It’s easily one of the more infectious tracks on the disc since the percussive chorus segment has the lines “Spread like the weeds in the field/Deceiver standing at his right hand” and you can’t help but want to scream along to that segment, especially the way vocalist Michael Williams delivers that “DECEIVER!!!” line.
The Agony Scene find a lot of life in their approach to metal this time around, a more raw and feral approach than one might expect. They get a lot of mileage out of the near-black-metal guitar work combined with their own driving rhythm segments to make just about every song an intensely hard-hitting affair. I’d throw the word “relentless” at it, but I’d still feel like selling it short, because after the intro song Tormentor is basically like a car at top speed headed toward a wall.
The fact that it flew by so quickly made it a source of constant repeats this year; it became one of my ‘default’ listening records: Can’t think of anything I want to listen to? What if I give Tormentor another spin? Then an hour or two later I’ve looped around back to the beginning for the fourth time. Absolutely one my highlights this year.
4 – The Ocean – Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic
The numbers game with The Ocean‘s newest album Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic reads like craziness: It is seven songs and nearly forty-eight minutes long. Of those seven, one is an intro bit and there’s one instrumental. And yet in all honesty, this is an album where it doesn’t feel like forty-eight minutes. It feels like a half hour. At this point I am inclined to believe that The Ocean aren’t just musicians any more, they’re magicians.
The group’s latest album has been a long time coming, five years after the release of Pelagial, yet it has absolutely been worth the wait. The group play it pretty safe for the most part, jamming out six songs that sound like they’ve been in the forge for those aforementioned five years, with every single movement being there because it was the exact thing that song needed at that exact moment.
Pretty much every song is a highlight on this album. “Ordovicium: The Glaciation of Gondwana” is probably the most The Ocean-single that the band have done so far and it is easily one of the best. “Cambrian II: Eternal Recurrence” is a fantastic lesson in dynamics as the song slowly builds toward its conclusion, and the whole ending segment of it is just glorious and atmospheric. “Devonian: Nascent” and its two separate movements starts out as a fantastic Katatonia song before The Ocean come crashing in to interrupt the sad-sack party and turn it into one of the heavier ones on the disc. The vocal work on “Permian: The Great Dying”s back-half is impressive as hell — especially during its final “The sun burns us alive” line, and it would feel incomplete without the meandering three-minute instrumental that leads into it.
With Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic, The Ocean have unleashed another disc which absolutely requires that once you start it, you have to make it all the way through. Yes, the call of the relationship problems turned geological events metaphors of “Ordovicium” is insanely strong — I’m a huge fan of that “You show your true colors only in my absence” line also – but letting the whole disc run and getting lost in it was one of my favorite things to do this year. Like the album preceding it on this list, it also became one of my default albums to listen to since its November release date.
3 – Slugdge – Esoteric Malacology
We’ve been writing about the slug-based death metal two-piece Slugdge for a long time on the site. In fact, it’s NCS’s own fault that I came across them, and have enjoyed the prog-death leanings of the UK-duo ever since. Yes, I was looking forward to the release of Slugdge’s newest disc — and Willowtip debut — Esoteric Malacology as much as anyone, but if you had told me that the slug-overlord concept album full of heavy metal puns was going to be a highlight of the year, I don’t know how I’d have reacted at the time.
Now? I’m fully open to and embracing the idea.
If the smattering of sci-fi albums across my top-albums list this year hasn’t clued you in (I started it way back in the upper reaches), I love, admire, and encourage doing this sort of shit to heavy metal. Take, bend, break, and mutate this genre, and hell, if you can do it with the songwriting capabilities that Slugdge demonstrate here, then we’ll be in full-on-inject-it-into-my-veins territory.
A weighty fifty-eight minutes across eight songs is what awaits you if this is your first dive into Esoteric Malacology, but the whole thing is just a glorious experience. I’m enjoying this current wave of death metal bands who’re just throwing their all into every release and leaving nothing to the wayside. To say that Esoteric Malacology covers some ground would be putting it mildly; Slugdge take this project through all sorts of different realms of death metal. They fill songs with heavy chugging segments verging on -core stuff at times, and at the drop of a hat can go fully apocalyptic and blast-heavy, with guitar work to match.
I imagine there will be plenty of ink spilled over “The Spectral Burrows” and its impressive vocal work, and truly, it’s a little bit of a showstopper early on in the album. For the first few listens I too found myself repeating that one constantly, and not just because the chorus is legit catchy but also because I loved the super-low, near-throat-singing, meditation of the final words that led into it. If there were an award for coolest moment within a song that we could give out, that ten or so seconds leading into it would easily be there.
I also enjoyed the slow doom-groove of “Salt Thrower” a ton as well, with its opening four minutes slowly building around an angular and alien guitar melody before descending into a much weightier back-half.
Esoteric Malacology is an adventurous album that for all its ridiculous aesthetic makes good on the time it asks of you. There’s so much to headbang along to, sing along to, air-drum along to (in my case), and otherwise to enjoy, that since its early March release it has been pretty much a lock for my — and apparently quite a few others’ — year-end list.
2 – Alkaloid – Liquid Anatomy
Watching the slow realization that Alkaloid might have something very special on their hands after we received the promo for their newest album, Liquid Anatomy, by watching the reactions work their way through our NCS staff thread, was a magical experience. Some of us started on songs we recognized, others were a little more immediate, but the slow-building train of “Hey, did you hear this part?” or “Hey, have you checked out this song yet”, to my own idiotic yells of “HOLY FUCK KERNAL PANIC IS ’80S PROG” really was truly something special.
It may be the only disc where we fantasy-drafted which song we would premiere if we were granted the ability to do so (it turned out to be a premiere of “As Decreed By Laws Unwritten”, accompanied by Andy’s album review).
Liquid Anatomy truly is a special disc, representative of a band free to explore, because honestly, when your lineup is made of guys like Alkaloid’s, then you have nothing left to prove. So really, you can just go absolutely wild, and for the most part Liquid Anatomy does.
Its opening segment feels like three seperate singles before the group knuckle down and start playing something a little more familiar to people who were looking for a followup to The Malkuth Grimoire. Opening song “Kernal Panic” is stunning with its arena-rock guitar riff before becoming a whirlwind death metal track. “As Decreed By Laws Unwritten” is such a groove-heavy, murderous song that does Morbid Angel better than Morbid Angel have been doing recently.
And “Azagthoth”, with its combination of galactic destruction and cult mythology, is another angular groove of a song that at times transforms into a demo for how many odd drum-lines Hannes Grossmann can come up with. The main chant of the song is just drums and a light bit of instrumentation, yet with all that surrounds it, still manages to come off sounding absolutely massive. Keep in mind that all of this happens before you even reach the real meat of the disc, when you return to the story of the space squids and various other science-fiction concept songs that make up the closing segments of the album.
Alkaloid meander a bit in the mid-section of Liquid Anatomy, creating a calm and progressive-metal atmosphere of keeping things strange and alien, but then the closing reaches of the disc absolutely annihilate it with one of my personal favorite songs on Liquid Anatomy, “Chaos Theory And Practice”. It’s a monstrous track whose majority is like a tech-death hurricane, that opening segment especially sounding like the band were launched into a blender. It’s not the most headbang-heavy song on the album (though it’s damned close), that honor going to the afore-mentioned groove of “As Decreed By Laws Unwritten”, but the eight-and-a-half minutes of madness that is “Chaos Theory And Practice” is almost worth the price of admission alone.
Then the band drop a twenty-minute closing concept song that somehow manages to make time fly on you. It’s enough to spark jealousy. I can’t even write a grind track worth thirty seconds of time and these guys basically make a twenty-minute movie out of a song and have it work like it’s old hat.
Liquid Anatomy launches Alkaloid into the reaches of a truly great band. Hopefully these guys are able to keep being as weird and as shackle-free as they were on this one, because this album has me looking forward to anything they do in the future.
1 – Sectioned – Annihilated
This album tore my head off the first time I listened to it. Well, actually let me back that up a bit, or rather move forward a bit. Because I feel like this album tears my head off every time I listen to it.
This album blew my hair back the first time I came across it: Sectioned found their way onto my music collection based off of the album name alone, since I’m a sucker for these sorts of album titles. It slid across my proverbial desk and I grabbed it, but it wound up getting mildly back-burnered for about a month post-release, which let me tell you was a massive fucking mistake.
I was driving home one day from work, stuck in traffic, and the very first song from Annihilated came on — the title track — and it turned me into the dude from the classic speaker commercial, sitting in a chair with everything around him being blown into the background… except not nearly as cool, and I’m still picking skull fragments out of my back passenger seat because of it.
Since then I’ve felt the need to spread the gospel of this disc to everyone, because Annihilated is one of those albums whose name fully matches the music within it. It is entirely an album of release, of cathartic anger and screaming at the top of your lungs, overwhelmingly heavy and relentlessly paced, and then when you think the album is fading out at a pretty good end-point the band decide to jam three more songs in there just to stomp you further into the dirt.
There’s so many different excellent moments across Annihilated that in a way I’m at risk of rewriting my review of the whole thing again instead of just extolling what I really loved about the chaotic whirlwind that is this album. The combination of hardcore-punk, grinding noise, the occasional light electronica/industrial hit, and the blasting heavy metal, makes Annihilated into a monster of an album where each song is its own set of artillery fire.
The four tracks that make up the run from “Toothgrinder” to “Victorious, Neverending” remain absolutely unfuckwithable and have to be up there as some of the most intense music recorded in 2018. Beyond those, Annihilated is an album designed to overwhelm you. Truthfully, were it not for the fact that it seemed like after a while it had become the fuel with which I was powering myself through many of my days this year, it absolutely would have on this end.
Yet the sheer expulsion of energy from Annihilated cannot be understated. It is explosive. The percussive nature with which every guitar part seems to throw itself around lines up perfectly with the rhythm section, and the whole combination is enough to make you feel exhausted. If somehow you have glanced over Annihilated this year, you need to rectify that issue immediately.
I don’t know if this is the future of this subset of -core right now, or if it is a perfect lightning-in-a-bottle encapsulation of a very specific moment in a very shitty year, but holy hell did Sectioned put out the album I didn’t know I needed in 2018. You have to listen to it.
THE EP BREAKOUT SEGMENT
As is usual with my year-enders, I like to highlight the handful of EPs that I’ve been listening to a bunch this year. I think that breaking them out like this also gives me the opportunity to be a little bit more concise, so I don’t over-analyze each one of them, and it also helps break them out from the flood of albums that seems to hit every year.
This year was a little bit of a smaller grouping, but I still found myself with some heavy hitters in the mix. Hadal Maw and Depths Of Hatred kept me happy on the tech-death and -core side of things, and Cryptopsy’s second Book Of Suffering release continues to reveal that band as being maddeningly breakneck when they want to be. That one in particular seems like four songs of tempo-changes specifically designed to leave one in the hospital.
Cast The Stone came back into the fray as basically a whole new band, and their EP Empyrean Atrophy proved to be of immense interest, in part because every song was so different from the others. Having something of a death metal all-star lineup certainly didn’t hurt things either, and neither did the solid-as-hell vocal work.
On the grind side of things, both Rotten Sound and the much more local-to-me act of Alucinari jammed out some fucking awesome releases. Rotten Sound’s Suffer To Abuse basically played out like expanded versions of Abuse To Suffer songs, and hit just as hard, and Alucinari wowed me with some surprisingly intricate bass work on top of some hard-hitting and hefty death grind.
I know that this whole list so far has seemed like a torrent of music, but that’s been 2018 so far, so what’s six more releases to give a chance at some point?
Cast The Stone – Empyrean Atrophy
Every song on Empyrean Atrophy sounds different from the one preceeding it, making Cast The Stone‘s first material in thirteen years feel like an entirely new band. Vocalist Andrew Huskey puts on a hell of a performance here, and the backing by guitarist Mark Kloepel and bassist Derek Engemann just makes this that much better.
The “Jesusatan” cover is a lot of fun, and both the title track “Empyrean Atrophy” and “Standing In Shadows” prove to be EP standouts. Its twenty-six-minute duration actually make it longer than some of the albums I featured on my year-end list, but the surprisingly European death metal flavor that works its way into the group’s mix makes this much more interesting than you might expect. If you’re looking for a varied tour of death metal, then I highly recommend this one.
Alucinari – Alucinari
A combination of the grind bands Human Obliteration and Invertebrate, Alucinari bring the hammering death grind and do so at such a rapid pace on their self-titled EP that its ten minutes fly by like nothing. A source of constant repeat spins, it features a surprising amount of intricate bass-work layered over the top of the traditional high-speed pummeling for which one one comes to the deathgrind genre. “Kill The Ego”, “Lost Translation”, and “Waste Of Time” prove to be highlights in a record that is the equivalent of taking a meat hammer to the skull.
Rotten Sound – Suffer To Abuse
Few bands do the high-speed grind assault quite like Rotten Sound. While they certainly favor the -core side of the grindcore descriptor, the relentless blastfest that is a Rotten Sound release continues unabated on Suffer to Abuse. I went pretty in-depth with this one (here) but the TL;DR of it is that Rotten Sound jam out another eleven minutes of music that lines up perfectly with what they’d already put out on Abuse To Suffer in 2016. It feels good hearing from these guys again (and so soon!) and if we can get more tracks like the three-song punch to the gut that is “Stressed Mess”, “Harvester Of Boredom”, and “One Hit Wonder” then I am all for it.
Hadal Maw – Charlatan
The quick turnaround between Hadal Maw‘s 2017 release Olm and this year’s EP Charlatan was surprising, but when you have material like what the Australian tech-death crew have provided on this EP I can see why you might not want to wait. Charlatan’s half hour has the band pushing and breaking quite a few of their genre-boundaries, creating some of their heaviest work so far.
It seems like much of Charlatan has the band whittling away a lot of the fat of their previous release and condensing their music down into one nice, neatly packaged cube that then provides some of the ugliest stuff the band have created to date. The closing two-fer of “Charlatan I: The Grand Serpent” and “Charlatan II: Fervent Beasts” is practically worth the purchase on their own, if only to hear the band tie the two tracks together into eleven-plus minutes of death metal. If Charlatan is a hint at where Hadal Maw might be looking in the future, then I hope they run down that path full steam ahead because it’s going to lead to something fantastic.
Depths Of Hatred – Bloodguilt
The group’s first release with new vocalist Nico Monette, the high-speed deathcore band Depths Of Hatred from Montreal, Quebec, didn’t stray too far from their already-working formula on Bloodguilt. A little bit groovier than what their prior two releases, Aversionist and Hellborn, presented, Bloodguilt still finds the band playing much faster than their ilk — which is often why you’ll see them getting a “blackened” descriptor — and hitting just as hard.
Each of the songs on Bloodguilt flows into the next, and the band experiment a bit with some light symphonic work to provide melody while they hammer away in the background, but overall, Bloodguilt plays out as part proof that they can still continue on and part exploration of where they might go in the future. In the meantime, this one worked as one of my more caveman-core releases this year when I didn’t want to think and instead just hit things real hard.
Cryptopsy – The Book Of Suffering Tome II
Speaking of high-speed bands based out of Montreal, Quebec, I appreciate that every three years it seems like Cryptopsy are going to pop up and remind us just how neck-breakingly fast and manic their style of death metal is. Not only that, but almost like clockwork, The Book Of Suffering – Tome II basically boils down to Flo Mounier and crew giving vocalist Matt McGachy another twenty or so minutes of death metal to freak out over. Opening song “The Wretched Living” goes through what seems like a half-million movements in its first two minutes, and the group do that over and over again across this whole EP.
If these Book Of Suffering EP releases have taught us anything, it’s that the Cryptopsy crew are as capable of creating a whirlwind as ever — and whatever they come up with next, I’ll be looking forward to it.
On Long Distance Calling – Boundless
I debated for quite a while on what to select as the final one of these non-metal segments. For a bit I was going to talk about how great I thought Alice In Chains‘ newest album Rainier Fog was, but decided they probably don’t need the help (honestly, they’re the metalhead’s grunge band, and if you aren’t checking them out and what they’re up to now, then you’re fucking up). And I considered maybe going a little negative and talking about how Ghost’s latest one was a bit of a bummer for me, but Ghost are big enough these days that it kind of doesn’t matter. They’ll still put out songs I enjoy, like “Faith” and the “It’s A Sin” cover, for every one that I find a little uninspired (any of the instrumentals, or the ballads on this one), so that’s a big of a waste.
Finally I figured I’d go with an old favorite of mine, in the instrumental rock of Germany’s Long Distance Calling and their newest album Boundless. Unlike a lot of other ‘Post-rock’ or instrumental bands, Long Distance Calling have always been open to experimenting with their sound — at one point adding a vocalist full time instead of just guest spots for a bit — but also have been a little more rock-oriented and less ambient-echo-effect-leaning than such other bands. Boundless is the latest example of that, and surprisingly, it’s actually the bass guitar that seems like the main driver on the group’s 2018 release.
The songs here just rock; many of them are built around a humming groove and the band — for want of a better or worse descriptor — just jam. It allows Boundless to take on a dream-like quality at times, and at other moments will have you nodding your head along with the band while they try to paint various wide landscapes with just their music.
I know instrumental stuff isn’t for everyone, but I’ve been following the band since 2009’s Avoid The Light and have enjoyed their various evolutions throughout the years. This latest one is a little more familiar for this group, but just the same has resulted in eight songs of enjoyably laid-back music.
And with that we bring to a close another one of these ridiculous exercises that I call my year-end list. As of this writing it occurs to me that you’ll likely be reading this well into the New Year and I wish I had something profound to say to you but I don’t. I just hope the new year doesn’t suck as much as the last one did.
2019 is proving to be interesting so far on the metal front, with a couple of heavy rumors, some killer festival announcements, and plenty of already-announced discs to look forward to. I know that for sure I’ll be looking forward to Rotting Christ and Misery Index, and likewise, Soilwork’s upcoming album [reviewed at NCS today, in fact] will probably be pretty solid if not one of the more consistently straightforward that the band have done to date. As always, I’ll continue digging and looking for surprises, and likewise, I love being blindsided either by something we post, is recommended, or I just randomly stumble across.
It’s one of the greatest feelings in the world and part of the reason why I keep doing this year-after-year, because I hope that in some small way, I’m helping you guys get that feeling too. Heavy metal continues to be a vibrant and mutating genre, and half the fun of following it is to see what awful experiment works out next. If it results in me doing overstuffed lists until the end of time then so be it, there are worse outcomes. If not, there’s always going to be a fuckton of material to headbang along to in the meantime. I’ll see you around.