Normally, picking just 10 albums from a long list of releases is a torturous task. Anxiety reigns supreme while migraine headaches threaten to derail the whole process, and shopping runs are made simply to stock up on painkillers. Even when it’s all over, and the list in question is completed, the temptation to go back and repeatedly revise the damn thing remains a constant problem for the following 12 months.
2018, however, has been very different for me. The following albums have soundtracked my downtime ever since I first heard them, and I have no hesitation in recommending them all equally to the curious metal fan. Since this is a “Top 10” list, I have to add a special mention for British mathcore upstarts Palm Reader and their jawbreaking album Braille – and then move on to a very deserving chart-starter…
10. Rolo Tomassi – Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It
Rolo Tomassi’s latest masterpiece is as thought-provoking as its title suggests. Primarily taking their creative cues from Between the Buried and Me and The Dillinger Escape Plan, this band of British virtuosos can do no wrong. Whether delivering festival-worthy rock songs (“Aftermath”), causing their listeners to instantly shit themselves (“Rituals”), evoking Dillinger’s classic “Prancer” on “Alma Mater”, or pushing past the eight-minute mark for “A Flood of Light” and “Contretemps”, Rolo Tomassi prove themselves unstoppable over and over again.
9. Haken – Vector
After hitting a new creative high with 2016’s Affinity, Haken wound up collaborating with Mike Portnoy as part of the former Dream Theater drummer’s Shattered Fortress project. That experience inspired Vector, Haken’s heaviest effort yet – although guitarist Richard Henshall and his compatriots looked even further afield when searching for new influences. During a recent Metal Injection interview, Henshall cited the likes of Tigran Hamasyan and Fear Factory (as well as the massively influential Meshuggah) as key listening points during the making of Vector, and as on Affinity, Haken managed once again to blend a wide range of sounds into a one-of-a-kind whole.
8. Polyphia – New Levels New Devils
Easily the most controversial band on this list, Polyphia named their 2017 EP The Most Hated before throwing trap influences into their instrumental guitar-driven melting pot for New Levels New Devils. Finally turning their backs on what bassist Clay Gober recently referred to as “Radio Disney shit” in favor of their darkest material to date, Polyphia may be a band you can only love or hate, but at least they’re doing something worth talking about. Listen deeply enough, and you’ll find that their musicianship is truly undeniable.
7. Monuments – Phronesis
The album previously codenamed M3 feels like a transitional release, a set of cathartic tracks that Monuments needed to get out of their systems in order to move on from their own private troubles. Nonetheless, it is totally fucking badass – and songs like “Stygian Blue” and “A.W.O.L.” manage to keep pace with most of the classics from Monuments’ previous long-player The Amanuensis. The tech-metal scene is a better place with this band in it, and I’m glad they made it through some dark times with something sick to show for it.
6. The Arusha Accord – Juracán
The Arusha Accord are one of the most ambitious bands in the tech-metal underground right now. Juracán is but the first of four five-track EPs, and the first Arusha release since their debut album The Echo Verses dropped in 2009. After a lengthy hiatus and a ton of behind-the-scenes drama, these guys are officially back in action – and deserve to reclaim the status they earned before the shit hit the fan.
5. Between the Buried and Me – Automata
Between the Buried and Me have a long-standing reputation for thinking outside the box, while challenging both themselves and their fans. Automata dropped in two separate pieces, spaced about four months apart, but works best when taken as a single, combined whole. Automata I finished on a musical cliffhanger; the time between releases helped hype the next half; and Automata II didn’t disappoint – but this project still feels in retrospect like a marketing exercise that happened to contain some incredibly awesome music.
Having said that, Automata is another instant-classic BTBAM record, as well as their most experimental yet. From the consistently melodic “Millions” to “Voice of Trespass”, which reminded me of Diablo Swing Orchestra, it’s great to see that Between the Buried and Me are definitely not in danger of losing their progressive Midas touch. Here’s to their next long-player – which hopefully will arrive in one piece.
4. Tesseract – Sonder
Progressive metal records can rarely be described as “concise”, but then again Tesseract are known for going against the grain and making the apparently impossible possible. Running at a mere 36 minutes, Sonder manages to be accessible, complex, deep, and endlessly repeatable all at once. It’s also notably more aggressive than Tesseract’s previous few releases; signature opener “Luminary”, the exotic “King”, and updated single “Smile” all boast some unforgettably brutal moments.
3. Black Peaks – All That Divides
Black Peaks’ debut album Statues remains one of my favorite albums of all time, even though it dropped two and a half years ago. In that time, Black Peaks have overcome financial difficulties and returned to the fray with All That Divides, a set heralded by three accessible singles and a bunch of B-sides that I actually prefer to the A-listed cuts. Three of them (“The Midnight Sun”, “Aether”, and “Fate I & II”) run past six and a half minutes, totaling almost 20 minutes of music between them – and throughout this entire album, Black Peaks continue to find new ways to stretch themselves.
2. Toska – Fire by the Silos
As it happens, the bands behind my top three releases this year all hail from Brighton – a seaside city on the south coast of the UK, renowned for its creative and culturally vibrant atmosphere. Toska are the newest of these bands, and they’ve been hard at work smashing every opportunity that’s come their way. From stunning festival sets to sold-out tours and the release of Fire by the Silos – a sprawling instru-metal labyrinth with a surprising amount of breathing space – these guys represent, for my money, the future of progressive metal right now.
1. Architects – Holy Hell
I won’t be surprised if this album winds up topping a large percentage of 2018 end-of-year lists. In fact, I’d be stunned into silence if it fails to do just that. Having forced themselves to confront the tragic loss of guitarist and mastermind Tom Searle – not just personally and psychologically, but also on record – Architects have absolutely earned the highest of high acclaim with this album.
You can read my full review of Holy Hell here. I will stand by every word for the rest of my life.