I feel like I say this every year, but I continue to feel very fortunate to have such a great platform to share the music I love. It was a big year for me, personally. Behind the scenes, I've been working on my doctorate degree and am finally in the closing months of that. I've been able to advance not only my career but my role here at Metal Injection—becoming review editor. In addition to my responsibilities in that position, I started a new column covering black metal after writing about funeral doom for two and a half years. Big changes.
In addition to all of that, 2018 presented a wealth of metal riches to pick from. This year was especially difficult to pick from and if I had the endurance or attention span to do it, I would have done a top 25 to give a bigger chunk of the albums I enjoyed a spot. Nevertheless, I whittled it down to 15 metal albums that carried the most sonic and personal weight in my opinion.
Yet, before we delve into those. Here are some albums that aren't metal—in alphabetical order—that I really enjoyed this year because it's silly to only listen to one style of music.
Anderson .Paak – Oxnard
Ben Frost – All That You Love Will Be Eviscerated
Emma Ruth Rundle – On Dark Horses
Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer
Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth
Khruangbin – Con Todo El Mundo
Low – Double Negative
Tim Hecker – Konoyo
Sons of Kemet – Your Queen is A Reptile
Vince Staples – FM!
15. Panopticon – The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness, Part I & II
Austin Lunn is a brilliant mind and a humble man. His move to the frigid wilderness of Minnesota found its way into his music starting back around Roads to the North. Now, on The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness, Lunn has fully immersed himself in the woods he calls home.
The wildly ambitious and brilliantly executed double album covers two of his musical passions. On one disc, fierce black metal. On the other, dark Americana, country, and folk. Lunn channels Norwegian history and Townes Van Zandt across almost two hours of music. It's a massive undertaking on paper, but if there was anyone in heavy music equipped to tackle this, it's Austin Lunn.
14. Horrendous – Idol
A contemporary of mine likened Horrendous' trajectory to that of Death, and I thought hit the nail on the head. Over the course of four full-length albums, the quartet has evolved into a progressive death metal titan. Their new album, Idol features high-pitched roars and clean vocals in addition to time signature shifts and atypical death metal stylings, Horrendous blow the top off of the genre—much like Schuldiner and company did many years ago.
There was so much death metal to pick from this year and with how much Idol stands out in the crowd, it's impossible not to notice how great it is. They've made me more of a fan with each album and with this one, I'm fully hooked. "Soothsayer" was easily one of my favorite individual tracks from this year.
13. Vilkacis – Beyond the Mortal Gate
Michael Rekevics is a hell of a musician. The man does it all, especially in his solo endeavor, Vilkacis. After an EP in 2013, we had to patiently/anxiously await a full-length effort for five years. It was certainly worth the wait. Rekevics—who is also in bands like Yellow Eyes, Vanum, and Fell Voices among others—is one of a few musicians in black metal who can harness its raw ancestry and its modern atmosphere all on his own. Beyond the Mortal Gate is that mastery on full display.
Subtle melodies emerge from primal fury, it's a dichotomy not often done so well in metal. It's the ideal weapon for black metal as spiritual war.
12. Yob – Our Raw Heart
What can be said about Yob that hasn't already been said? Mike Scheidt is a beacon of hope in this world, a wonderful soul that prisms through his band's music. With the partnership of Aaron Rieseberg and Travis Foster, the Oregon trio's comeback album is undoubtedly triumphant and one of the finer pieces of music this year. The radiant passages that encompass Our Raw Heart are some of the most uplifting tunes from the band yet. I premiered the title track of the album at Noisey, here's an excerpt from it, it essentially applies to the album in its entirety:
"His voice and engrossing guitar wizardry are once again accompanied by the earth-shaking low-end of bassist Aaron Rieseberg and drummer Travis Foster. Yob’s customary glacial pace forces introspection, and immersion; “Our Raw Heart” spans 14 and a half minutes, and in true Yob fashion Scheidt, Rieseberg, and Foster use every second to produce a truly evocative composition. This dazzling offering is undoubtedly one of the trio’s brightest moments. Scheidt’s grizzled timbre emerges a few minutes into the track as radiant guitar chords slowly blossom into what seems like an infinite crescendo; then as the track winds down, the final five minutes settle into a meditative groove before taking one last climb as the music slowly fades."
11. Glacial Tomb – Glacial Tomb
This trio is more than simply a Khemmis side project. Ben Hutcherson, Connor Woods, and Michael Salazar collectively carry a unique, diverse background of musical endeavors that—to varying capacities—find their way into Glacial Tomb's excellent, full-length debut. Following an EP and a much-needed cover of "Fuck Nazi Sympathy" in 2017, the trio dialed in their sound into a huge full-length debut this year.
With subject matter rooted in nihilism and misanthropy, Glacial Tomb takes aim at humanity and it's pitiful existence and in a year like 2018, it made a wonderful soundtrack. Hutcherson and Woods trade vocal duties over shifting tempos and arrangements that bend the very will of death metal and grind. It's an incredibly promising full-length debut for a trio of gentlemen who I'm certain will only get better as they continue to work together.
10. Mare – Ebony Tower
This album by Mare was my introduction to Nidrosian Black Metal. A friend of mine turned me onto this group when Ebony Tower arrived in late August. The ambiance and overall sinister tone of this record are overwhelming. The focus of the record doesn't rest so much in the instrumentation alone, but in the dark arts through which their music is conjured. The Trondheim entity has been around for quite some time now and this record offers a wonderful entry point into one of the darker and interesting collectives in black metal.
9. Of Feather and Bone – Bestial Hymns of Perversion
The groove of "Mockery of the Ascension" alone puts this album on this list, but holistically speaking, Bestial Hymns of Perversion was one of the best examples of death metal this year. There was a lot of death metal this year and many bands chose to take it in different directions. For Of Feather and Bone, they added swaths of grind and dashes of the cavernous elite like Incantation and find their source material in the cultural imagery of Alvino Salcedo's Aztec and Huichol lineage.
With how big and ominous this record sounds, it's tough to believe this is Of Feather and Bone's first foray into death metal. Yet, if this is the avenue they're going to continue to go down, I can only see it getting better from here.
8. Uada – Cult of A Dying Sun
An excerpt from my review of Cult of A Dying Sun:
"They seemed to arrive out of nowhere in 2016—faces veiled and clad in leather jackets. The Portland quartet Uada blindsided black metal audiences with their debut album, Devoid of Light. They had no prior demos or EPs, just a string of shows in which they played their early material. It's certainly something not typically seen, especially in black metal where a lot of bands build their name on raw demos. Yet, for Uada, the atypical introduction was a bolt of lightning. Those outside the Pacific Northwest's metal hotbed quickly learned how infectious their melodic black metal was. Now, on their much-anticipated second full-length album, Cult of A Dying Sun, the band shows that lightning does, in fact, strike twice…
Uada's artistry and mystique are advanced beyond their years. This quartet is known for their dynamic live sets, incredibly detailed promotional material, and of course, their command on melodic black metal. If Devoid of Light wasn't enough to sell listeners on Uada, then Cult of A Dying Sun will certainly do the trick. Though they catch some flack for pulling a similar aesthetic to Poland's Mgła, they are quickly asserting themselves as the United States' pillar in this style of extreme metal. The effort and care that goes into this project simply cannot be stated enough. The path they've taken to get to this point has been a bit unorthodox by black metal's criteria. Yet, with music this powerful and ruthless, they prove that quality reigns over quantity."
7. Spectral Wound – Infernal Decadence
An excerpt from my feature and interview with Spectral Wound:
"As black metal continues to sprawl from its frigid center, the genre's boundaries are becoming rather fluid. Personally, the experimentation is nice. The last handful of years produced some incredible examples of just how malleable black metal is. However, it's great to return to that icy well of inspiration. Québec's Spectral Wound is a unique entity in black metal's current landscape. They're a band that eschews the experimentation in black metal in favor of a truly raw, ancestral sound. Though they come from the fertile Québécois metal scene, their black metal is very Scandinavian in execution.
Spectral Wound emerged in 2015 with their debut album, Terra Nullius. They quickly became a focal point of the world's underground black metal for their exacting and riff-centric approach. While there are many bands who try this avenue, they often fall victim to rote mimicry. For Spectral Wound, however, they have a keen knack for finding the sweet spot. They're crisp production and feral arrangements beat tower over a sea of inaudible lo-fi demos. Their latest album, Infernal Decadence doubles down on ferocity, ultimately creating one of the more vicious records of 2018."
6. Wayfarer – World's Blood
I've been temporarily living in Denver for almost six months now and Wayfarer's World's Blood has become my soundtrack for living in the West. I've taken this album out on long hikes and drives around the state and it simply amplifies the experiences.
The quartet's Rocky Mountain black metal harnesses the power of the mountains and the expansiveness of the high plains, distilling Colorado's unparalleled beauty and the American West's bloodied history into one of the finest displays of extreme, atmospheric metal this year. Additionally, Wayfarer's singular vision for this record and their partnership with Colin Marston who did mixing, mastering, and more was one of the savvier moves music production this year. It made the scope of this record even grander and immersive.
5. Fórn – Rites of Despair
An excerpt from my premiere of Rites of Despair:
"Fórn's entire ethos rests in soul-crushing heaviness. The reconfigured Boston doom quintet seemingly emerged from ashes this year after a lengthy and tumultuous two years. Relocations, lineup changes, the rigors of life, and the finality of death all stood in their path. Still, even through all of it, they bounced back on their new full-length album: an 11-track, two-act ode to isolation, decay, and more called Rites of Despair. Across its expansive runtime, Fórn battles, not only these themes but the very conventions of their music up to this moment. This is a band at an inflection point. A sludge-laden funeral doom band turned into a monolithic force unleashing their ethos at a level they haven't before…
From start to finish, Fórn certainly delivers their most complete and powerful music in their roughly six-year career. Their trials and hurdles couldn't kill them. In fact, it did the opposite. It turned a great doom band into modern titans of the genre—an upper echelon talent with a diverse array of influences and a brilliant knack for pushing their limits. In consequence, they undoubtedly delivered one of the best metal albums of the year."
4. Tomb Mold – Manor of Infinite Forms
This was the death metal album to beat this year. The ascent of Toronto's Tomb Mold has been nothing short of magnificent. In less than two years, they've seemingly taken over the genre. Their new full-length Manor of Infinite Forms (and their recent Cerulean Salvation demo) capture the vile, grotesque nature death metal should always possess. Beginning as a duo, the band soon expanded to a quartet and capitalized on the ravenous success of their early demos. Manor of Infinite Forms drips with mid-tempo stylings and blistering solo work. Tomb Mold is amongst a handful of bands primed for fully breaking out and creating a new legion of death metal titans who will carry the genre for decades beyond.
This is one of a few albums I regret not being able to cover extensively this year. It arrived at a time where I was inundated with a number of things, both in writing and in my personal life, and time simply slipped away from me. Hopefully, the Moldy Boys can forgive me.
3. Mournful Congregation – The Incubus of Karma
An excerpt from my feature and interview with Mournful Congregation's Damon Good:
"The masters returned and everyone took notice. The mighty Mournful Congregationemerged last week with their first new offering since 2014's Concrescence of the Sophia. Long seen as pioneers in the realm of funeral doom, the Australian force, led by Damon Good, eclipses the 25-year mark this year; a milestone many bands do not make. It seems the band chose to celebrate the momentous occasion with one of 2018's best releases—and arguably the band's greatest work to date.
The Incubus of Karma is yet another masterful offering from Mournful Congregation. The band seems to age like fine wine as the contents of their fifth full-length record suggest. It is filled to the brim with exquisite sorrow across two (relatively) terse tracks and four momentous dirges. The spoken word passages of "Withering Soundscapes;" the savvy guitar layers across the final third of "The Rubaiyat;" these are brief yet staggering instances of brilliance that Mournful Congregation has always been known for."
2. Khemmis – Desolation
Khemmis has been arguably my favorite band to arrive within the last five years. The accelerated progression of this band's sound from plodding doom to soaring traditional/heavy metal is a testament to the skill and passion of Ben Hutcherson, Phil Pendergast, Zach Coleman, and Dan Beiers. Their melodies are unmatched, the growth—both collectively as a band and as individual musicians—has been astounding.
An excerpt of my premiere of Desolation at Noisey:
"…Still, Ben Hutcherson (guitar/vocals), Phil Pendergast (guitar/vocals), Zach Coleman (drums), and Dan Beiers (bass) make it work—and they make it work damn well. The band returns this week courtesy of 20 Buck Spin with their third full-length record, Desolation, a product of their unified vision and realization of their sound. Musically diverse and significantly more complex (see their razor-like leads and a new In Solitude-like swagger), Desolation’s six tracks see the band take another gigantic leap towards modern metal greatness…
"On their third full-length record, Khemmis taps into a well of exciting and long-lost territories in metal. Like some of their contemporaries, they use this wealth of source material—such as the albums they grew up on, turbulent life experiences, and previous efforts to build anthemic and triumphant metal—to conjure the kind of metal that originally made people cut the sleeves off their denim jackets and throw their fists in the air. It’s the music that built the scene over three decades ago—and which will hopefully carry the scene for decades to come."
1. Thou – Magus
Thou's output this year was sensational. I'd write about all three EPs and their split with Ragana if I had the time. Presently, I don't because I'm too busy actually seeing Thou perform these songs three times in one weekend.
In the buildup to Magus, they released three EPs that fleshed out numerous aspects of what is their fifth full-length record. Even with the primers, it didn't quite prepare me for how grandiose and magnificent Magus truly is. The Louisiana group has been a favorite of mine for a while and to see them continually push not just their standard's but metal as a whole's is so exciting.
Here's an excerpt from my review of Magus:
"Overall, these are pieces of a sensational whole. The intricacies and critiques of Magus and how they are executed are simply unparalleled in 2018. Considering the prior EPs and everything they have done over the last 13 or so years, this so-called "Summer of Thou" comes to a close with arguably the band's finest output to date.
Thou has undoubtedly been one of the most prolific metal bands over the last decade or so. Still, even given how illustrious their previous efforts are, they managed to reach beyond what seemed possible for Magus. Through continual refining and an unparalleled work rate, they are a model for how metal bands should conduct themselves. They've always been a band flirting with perfection and with their fifth full-length album, that is certainly no exception."