Drew's Top 15 Albums of 2018
It’s been a busy year for good metal bands making good records and playing good shows. You’ll see 15 of them listed below (along with 5 others that I’d be willing to swap in on another day). Making these comprehensive lists is always difficult and blatantly subjective. But if you like straightforward black metal, death metal that sounds like Incantation, and a smattering of dark hardcore and death-doom, I highly recommend this list. I’ve never felt better about a year-end list than I do about this one.
Aside from that, it’s also been a busy year for things to be outraged about in metal, a trend that’s been on a steady upward trajectory since 2014 (I’d say). It’s not worth going into detail right now, but I want to at least lay out a couple principles that we should all keep in mind.
One thing that marks out good music, including good metal, is its enduring qualities. And one reason why metal has been so enduring is its universality. The power of great riffs, the exploration of dark and evil themes, and the primal rage of the various performances all have a resonance with the human experience that cuts across all boundaries. This, for lack of a better term, is the beauty of this scene.
We should do all we can to preserve this beauty. We want people of all walks of life to come to shows, start bands and record great albums. That should not be up for discussion. What is up for discussion is how we go about doing it. We should do it with a willingness to listen and give people the benefit of the doubt. And we need to do it in a way that’s not patronizing, condescending or paternalistic. In short, we should adopt some humility and stop talking past each other. Not cursing at or attacking people on social media would be a great start. Deleting some accounts and taking the time to get to know people offline would probably help too.
Anyway. Just something to think on as you blast the records below.
15. Skeletonwitch- Devouring Radiant Light
I haven’t cared a lot about Skeletonwitch in a long time. I remember playing their second album on my radio show but not really being that into their whole black-ish thrash thing much beyond that. It was just missing something, that extra touch of drama and suspense. But on this album and with this lineup, Skeletonwitch totally nails it. And they manage to take a more blackened approach while still providing a fun listen.
Favorite song: “Fen of Shadows”
14. Necrophobic- Mark of the Necrogram
Speaking of fun, man is this a great listen. It’s good to have Necrophobic back with Nocturnal Silence-era singer Anders Strokirk and to see the band move on from all the awfulness that surrounded the release of their previous album. Mark is packed with memorable riffs, fist-pumping drum hits and plenty of singalong-ready vocals for us heathens in the crowd. A welcome return from one of the original masters of blackened death metal.
Favorite song: “Mark of the Necrogram”
13. Craft- White Noise and Black Metal
This is a weird album. No one sounds quite like Craft, Sweden’s masters of misanthropic fury and darkness. On this record, the band has stripped their sound back down to the rawness of their early records, but with a dose of modern dissonance and dash of progressive experimentation. White Noise and Black Metal show a band sticking to their core purpose, but with a willingness to extend that purpose out.
Favorite song: “Undone”
12. Ghastly- Death Velour
This is how you create forward-looking and interesting death metal in 2018. It’s not about engaging in pointless noodling or throwing off-putting intervals all over the place and calling it “innovative.” You still need aggression and hooks that connect with the listener! And this is what Finland’s Ghastly delivers. A bright future awaits these ragers.
Favorite song: “Violence for the Hell of It”
11. Deadpressure- Deadpressure
Dark hardcore is a pretty easy sell for me, especially when it comes with grind, black and death metal influences. If you’re like me and you wish you were older when His Hero is Gone was around back in the day, you’ll be happy to get to know these San Jose ragers. The rage and contempt poured into this music satisfies the soul like nothing else can. I dig the owl on the cover too…more of that to come later.
Favorite song: “Secret Name Game”
10. Drawn and Quartered- The One Who Lurks
But if you don’t care about innovating and just want to incinerate everything in front of you, this is the record for you. Drawn and Quartered have been churning out absurdly dark and menacing death metal since 1993. But they aren’t simply rewriting the same record over and over. No, this album is special. I actually found it kind of scary and disturbing. Not because of any superficial shock antics. The music just reaches into you and pulls you helplessly into uncharted territories of hellish terror. And it never lets you go.
Favorite song: “Horned Shadows Rise”
9. Corpsessed- Impetus of Death
This record was something of a grower for me. It’s not as immediately bracing as their previous album, but once you settle into the riffs (so many riffs), you can see why these guys are at the forefront of Finnish death metal. Death metal is at its best when it’s dark, dynamic and rewards multiple listens. Corpsessed’s latest gives you all that and a Helsinki-sized graveyard more on Impetus of Death.
Favorite song: “Endless Plains of Dust”
8. The Crown- Cobra Speed Venom
Ok, one more fun record before we start breaking into the upper ranks. This record is basically made of hooks. If you threw together melodic death metal, classic heavy metal and the best keg party ever, you’d have something like Cobra Speed Venom. It’s amazing this band has been at it for so long and with so many records. New listeners should definitely check this one out (…and then go all the way back and listen to their Crown of Thorns-era albums, both under-recognized classics).
Favorite song: “In the Name of Death”
7. Sargeist- Unbound
The masters of raw melodic black metal return after four years. Unbound picks up where 2010’s Let the Devil In left off and brings back some of the grit and dynamics of the band’s first two albums. Sargeist are one of the best when it comes to weaving memorable riffs into a maelstrom of melancholic fury. This makes for some truly thought-provoking and imaginative metal. It was also great to watch them perform twice this year, particularly in NYC, where the crowd was one of the most diverse and positive ones I’d ever seen.
Favorite song: “To Wander the Night’s Eternal Path”
6. Varathron- Patriarchs of Evil
From the Aegean sea to the Devil’s ears. Varathron is one of those bands who seem to be in a totally unexpected late-career renaissance. Of course, His Majesty at the Swamp and Walpurgisnacht are undeniable classics. But the songwriting on this album is just so phenomenal! One track flows flawlessly into the next, and you never feel the need to skip anything. Varathron, along with their countrymen in Kawir, are a severely underrated Greek institution. Give this album a listen and let’s work to change that.
Favorite song: “Luciferian Mystical Awakening”
5. Evoken- Hypnagogia
I told you there would be another owl showing up here. Evoken has become one of my new favorite bands this year. I’d previously lacked the sonic palette for their brand of funeral death-doom, which is until I got into Disembowelment first. As a new convert, I was ready for the endless waves of grief and sorrow to wash over me with this album. This is deep, rich and powerful stuff. Not for the light-hearted, but definitely for those looking to explore their own lost kingdom of darkness.
Favorite song: “Valorous Consternation”
4. Vermilia- Katkyt
One of the most promising new acts in the world of black metal (and folk-inspired metal, for that matter), Vermilia has crafted one of the most enjoyable releases in recent years. The blend of clean vocals with traditional black metal styling is executed so well, it washes away the awkward sins of so many acts who have tried this in the past. We should also appreciate how evocative the music is as well. The riffs and grooves bring the pines, rivers and snow-covered hills right to your mind’s eye, all without the overuse of flowing beats that plague most atmospheric black metal bands. Let’s hope for more from Vermilia soon.
Favorite song: “Haudoille”
3. Spectral Wound- Infernal Decadence
Where the hell did these guys come from? Well, yes, I know they’re from Montreal. You know what I mean! For those of us who like black metal in its original, old-school incarnation, Spectral Wound is without a doubt the band to beat. They play a style very much steeped in the ways of many Finnish and Québécois acts, but also owe a clear allegiance to the old Norwegian masters as well. But at the same time, they breathe their own life (death?) into the music as well, making it an absolutely essential listen.
Favorite song: “Feral Gates of Flesh”
2. Immortal- Northern Chaos Gods
Speaking of the old Norwegian masters. All of those people out there fretting about Abbath not being with the band anymore need to get over themselves. This totally rules. Northern Chaos Gods is a modern Immortal classic, one that follows the traditions of their best albums, particularly Battles in the North and At the Heart of Winter. Fear not warriors of the Ravendark, your blizzard beasts are roaring once more!
Favorite song: “Gates to Blashyrkh”
1. Cosmic Church- Tattymys
But alas, I have to hand the top prize to this departing Finnish collective. Cosmic Church takes the raw black metal formula and adds a reverence for the astral realm that gives the music a unique flavor. But this flavor still retains the fury and power of the original sound. And like I’ve said before, they did it without putting planets on the album cover, an accomplishment on its own! It’s everything I look for in black metal and more, and a great way to bring the project to a close. We’ll have to see what realms Luxixul Sumering looks to conquer next.
Favorite song: “Armolahja
Extended Selections (Numbers 16-20)
On any given day, I could swap some of the lower-ranking albums on my list for the ones below. The only reason they fall here is that they’re more mood-oriented to me than general-purpose masterworks. If you’re feeling introspective and reflective, the new At the Gates or Schattenfall albums provide a thoughtful backdrop. If you want to rock, the new Judas Priest album totally rules (yes, it really is their best since Painkiller). Want some crushing and violent hardcore? All the hype around Jesus Piece is well justified. As for Archgoat…um…I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.
At the Gates– To Drink From the Night Itself
Schattenfall– Schatten in Schwarz
Judas Priest– Firepower
Jesus Piece– Only Self
Archgoat– The Luciferian Crown
Keep up with all of our Best of 2018 Coverage here.