2018 was the year many of metal's A-listers put out new records and the result was a jam-packed 12 months that had plenty to offer for metalheads of every creed.
Of course, it wasn't all good: Some of my most anticipated records, namely The Ocean and The Black Queen, largely disappointed me. Unfortunately, the majority of the nonmetal offerings in the last 12 months also failed to impress. Well, the latter point is probably a moot one to most readers. Regardless, there were plenty of great metal records this year and it was difficult to narrow this list to 10 entries. The following records stood out during a particularly busy year for heavy metal and will absolutely be worth returning to many years down the road:
10. Sectioned – Annihilated
Annihilated is 43 minutes of wanton bloodthirstiness. Though Sectioned’s musical direction boils down to, “Play as loud and violent as possible,” the band achieves their goal in adrenaline-pumping style. Few records in the last year have managed to scratch that recurring itch for furious and to the point music quite like Sectioned manages to do.
Admittedly, Annihilated is almost abrasive to a fault—that whirring white noise that opens most songs can quickly wear on the ears—and I rarely listen to the entire record in one sitting anymore. That kind of critique would disqualify most any other record from an end of year list, but Sectioned's high points are so incredibly strong that I'll absolutely be revisiting most of the material on a regular basis far into the future.
9. Nine Inch Nails – Bad Witch
Bad Witch is not going to usurp Pretty Hate Machine or The Downward Spiral from any favorites lists, but it is a damn good record in its own right and proves that you should never count out veteran musicians such as Trent Reznor. Heavier elements from the band’s industrial metal days often shine through here and should delight fans of Nine Inch Nails’s earlier work. That said, the album’s noise and ambient passages are also a cut above the band’s other recent offerings. Bad Witch might be short, but it’s an impressively consistent release that stands above many of the band’s younger contemporaries.
8. KEN Mode – Loved
Loved exudes raw emotion. Paranoia and loathing, to be specific. You get a constant feeling that something is unwell, due to the twisted, shifting guitarwork and overall tone, which are wrapped together perfectly with front man Jesse Matthewson’s biting screams and fantastic lyrics. “Feathers & Lips,” “Not Soulmates” and “Fractures in Adults” are the particular standouts on an album with no shortage of memorable moments.
7. Rivers of Nihil – Where Owls Know My Name
There's a reason practically every metalhead is talking about this album. Not only has Rivers of Nihil produced a modern tech death gem, it’s the kind of record that should appeal to those who typically distance themselves from the subgenre. I’m not big on tech death, but I’ve been regularly spinning Where Owls Know My Name, both as a single piece and individual tracks, since I first heard it. This wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the excellent song structures: Each track seamlessly moves through satisfyingly direct heavy passages to more technical bits and back again, constantly keeping things fresh.
6. Horrendous – Idol
Horrendous has been one of the key bands to watch for in the last few years and Idol sounds like the Pennsylvania death metal act truly realizing their full potential. This is an expansive, superbly technical and diverse offering that stands as one of the genre’s most memorable offerings in years, never mind 2018. Idol is what happens when a potential genre leader hits their stride, and one can only imagine how the band will build on this sound going forward.
5. Of Feather and Bone – Bestial Hymns of Perversion
There’s been no shortage of great old school death metal acts lately, but Of Feather and Bone deserves to be near the top of the pack. Bestial Hymns of Perversion is as menacing and blasphemous as its title suggests, full of deep, guttural roars and some of the best drum work in recent memory. Although the record doesn’t have quite as many standout tracks as many of the other albums on this list, Bestial Hymns of Perversion is one of the most consistent offerings here, with nary a single riff or satanic howl out of place. But seriously, that drumming! Preston Weippert deserves endless praise for his work behind the kit, which adds a huge presence to almost every song. Bestial Hymns of Perversion might sound quite different from the band's prior works, but the result is one of the grisliest death metal records in years.
4. Altars of Grief – Iris
I have been waxing poetic about Altars of Grief's phenomenal sophomore album for most of the year, but Iris genuinely deserves the praise. It’s a beautiful, melancholic slice of doom metal that is elevated by frequently stunning vocal performances, especially in “Desolation” and “Iris.” The record moves along at a respectable pace by doom standards and allows for plenty of heavier moments but also boasts more than enough somber atmosphere and measured passages to appeal to genre diehards.
3. Knelt Rote – Alterity
50 listens later and Alterity still hasn’t come close to losing its edge. Knelt Rote’s unearthly fusion of black metal, death metal and grindcore is a shrieking, evil concoction unlike anything else this year and an absolute must-listen for anyone that can bear its oppressive heaviness. As noted in my review, Alterity is as menacing as that mix of genres would suggest, yet also manages to be far more than the sum of its parts.
2. Panopticon – The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness
Austin Lunn produced some of the most passionate black metal I have ever heard in my life this year. The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness has all the raw, emotive power and beautiful atmosphere of the best of black metal's second wave, but it's all tied together with infinitely better musicianship and far more interesting song structures. This is a bona fide metal journey that is best listened to with headphones and without any other distractions. When you give the album the attention it deserves, it's an engrossing and rewarding experience that is emblematic of the very best the genre has to offer.
This ranking is almost exclusively based on the first half of The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness. I'm one of those people that truly cannot stand country music in almost any form. Though there are a few tracks in the record's latter half that I enjoy—namely “The Wandering Ghost” and “The Devil Walked the Woods"—it's the first half that keeps me coming back and earns the project's latest release such a high spot on the list. That's around an hour of music, and it's genuinely among the best black metal in the genre's history. Whether you're here for the whole package or just that first hour, Panopticon's latest is unarguably a must-listen.
1. Anaal Nathrakh – A New Kind of Horror
Yeah, it wasn't even close. A New Kind of Horror is a modern classic from one of the best bands in the metal scene. I waxed eloquent about this record in my review earlier in the year and the record's immense appeal hasn't worn off in the slightest. Think apocalyptic, harrowing or any other of the myriad metal critique buzzwords; they all apply. The record boasts some of the most varied work of instrumentalist’s Mick Kenny’s career, while vocalist Dave Hunt’s monstrous shrieks prove yet again why Anaal Nathrakh is one of the most staggeringly ferocious bands in the metal industry.
Keep up with all of our Best of 2018 Coverage here.