Friday, December 14, 2018

Tom's Töp 15 Albums of 2018

 2018 was my first full year as a parent of two, and if that doesn't frighten you, then you must not be human. 2018 was a year that I learned to experience and appreciate more of the small things; small people and small towns included. Yep it was small except for the sheer amount of great music it produced. It was a tremendous year for heavy music of all varieties, as it provided more great albums on average since 2015. Seemingly every month had an album that would surprise and it made it harder to put a line in the sand as to what and when you wouldn't include anything on the list anymore. So after months on non-speculation here are my honorable mentions and my Top 15 albums of 2018.

Honorable Mentions:

Satan - Cruel Magic
Corrosion of Conformity - No Cross No Crown
Mournful Congregation - The Incubus of Karma
Jesus Piece - Only Self
Yob - Our Raw Heart

15. Devouring Star - The Arteries of Heresy (Dark Descent, Finland)
One of the more surprising albums on this list and one that impressed right from the album art. Devouring Star is not for the faint of heart and their sophomore album The Arteries of Heresy is an unforgiving lesson in black metal not often seen from a place like Finland. Much like fellow geographical anomalies Zhrine; this black metal is deep, atmospheric, immersive and more aurally satisfying on each subsequent listen.

14. Mantar - The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze (Nuclear Blast, Germany)
This German duo on their third album continue to meld together their doom with blackened influences and are certainly better than the sum of their parts, especially the drums which pound and deliver a great bedrock for some of the finest interplay between that and the guitars of the year. The songs are all of varying speeds as Mantar continues to display their ability to shift tempos, yet sacrifice nothing. Look to this destructive duo for a fun and furious time.

13. Sunflo'er - No Hell (Noise Salvation, USA)
With a strong year in hardcore courtesy of bands like Vein and Jesus Piece you may be wondering who Sunflo'er are exactly; let's explain. This hardcore trio is in the same mold as recent retirees The Dillinger Escape plan with their sporadic time and tempo changes which happen on a dime. One listen to their opening track "Loup Garou" will have you both banging your head and also scratching it. As a listener I have also been drawn to some strange music and Sunflo'er manages to be that for sure and then some. Easily the most diverse album on the list and a fun one to boot.

12. Panopticon - The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness (I and II) (Bindrune, USA)
Panopticon's Austin Lunn has a musical drive that is nearly without equal and in 2018 he released his first double album The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness a sprawling two hour endeavor split among two parts. The first more of the familiar black metal played on previous albums and the second Americana. Admittedly Lunn's music works best as a joint venture instead of two parts, but this was a different kind of adventure best experienced as one collective whole, if possible. "En Hvit Ravns Død" is just as powerful as any song he has written in the past and on the second disc "(Cowering) At The Foot Of The Mountain" serves a similar purpose. A must hear for fans of beautiful atmosphere and brimming with emotion.

11. Cancer - Shadow Gripped (Peaceville, UK)
2018 was also a year chock full of notable death metal releases whether it be Tomb Mold, Mortuous, Of Feather & Bone, or Outer Heaven. One that may have slipped by would be Cancer's Shadow Gripped which is a classic UK styled death metal album you didn't know you needed. Cancer cut their teeth alongside countrymen Bolt Thrower and Carcass but don't have the same level of notoriety. Playing the heavy chunky riffs that their country is famous for has never been their issue. There is no subtlety with this album and honestly the best death metal of 2018 was far from it. 

10. KEN Mode - Loved (Season of Mist, Canada)
KEN Mode's style of noise rock is like a swirling maelstrom of sound that encapsulates chaotic shifts and is easily one of the best noise records in recent years to go along with records by Wrong, Unsane, and Child Bite; and as of now my favorite from their own catalog. "Doesn't Feel Pain Like He Should" is a great opening track and a welcome intro to the band as a whole. Sporadic time signature changes and jangly riffs remind listeners of Helmet's strongest moments and the drums fire on all cylinders; continuing to pound and match the fury at hand. Noise fans owe it to themselves to get familiar with Loved and soon.

9. Sleep - The Sciences (Third Man, USA)
When push comes to shove as a listener of heavy music, a great riff can seemingly top all other elements of the music at a given time; thus an affinity for doom metal and the master class of stoner doom that Sleep's surprise album The Sciences was complete with a 4/20 release date was a breath of sweet, stinky, and sticky air provided by the trio of Pike, Cisneros, and Roeder. Pike's riffsmanship has never been in doubt and High on Fire's Electric Messiah was a solid album but for peak Pike it was all about Sleep. Cisneros does a capable vocal job but his bass playing in particular is special especially on the Sabbathian epic "Giza Butler". This is the doom album of the year bar none.

8. Voivod - The Wake (Century Media, Canada)
Voivod return with their second album with new guitarist Chewy and their first with Rocky on bass after Blacky's most recent departure. As is typical for the band, thrash is the structure for their music and it is peppered with odd time signatures and progressive sensibilities. Snake sounds tremendous as always and Away is still a phenomenal drummer. It has been five years since a proper album for these Quebecois but this is still very much vintage Voivod that fans would find with their untouchable run from Killing Technology to Nothingface.

7. Immortal - Northern Chaos Gods (Nuclear Blast, Norway)
Losing the founding member, and face of your band, in Abbath can usually spell the end for any band but enter the new two-piece version of Immortal and their album Northern Chaos Gods. Demonaz returns to the band after taking a step back for health issues many moons ago and drummer Horgh continues in his role throughout the band's long career. The album is certainly more of the early 90's material than it is At The Heart of Winter, feeling more like a second wave black metal album with unrelenting guitar speeds and pounding drums and a track title in "Into Battle Ride" which feels more like a mantra for this rejuvenated band. 

6. Haunt - Burst Into Flame (Shadow Kingdom, USA)
California crew, Haunt come to play with their powerful traditional heavy metal style on Burst Into Flame which has ample riffs and feeling very much like it belongs in the early '80s scene of yore. Lots of guitar dueling is gong on between founding member Trevor William Church and Beastmaker guitarist John William Tucker. If you dig heavy metal, power metal and NWOBHM then there is really no reason to hold back and for you, the listener to also Burst Into Flame.

5. Skeletonwitch - Devouring Radiant Light (Prosthetic, USA)
It is hard for me to describe how important Skeletonwitch are to me personally as a heavy music listener. A huge fan since Beyond The Permafrost; it was tough for vocalist Chance Garnette to go. Enter new vocalist Adam Clemans (Wolvhammer,ex-Iron Thrones) to the fold and the band has changed; once a fun go to band of blackened thrash metal sorcery has now matured into a well oiled machine with a more clearly defined musical focus. One listen to opening track "Fen of Shadows" will tell you that this is a different band overall. This is for the better and the press around this release might be the most positive for the band as a whole and I couldn't be happier for them.

4. Judas Priest - Firepower (Sony, UK)
Firepower represents the beginning of a new age for the band that once again feels cohesive and is able to stand alongside some of their best work and just to get this out of the way finally, their best album since 1990's Painkiller HANDS DOWN! Firepower is a band rediscovering their sound again after many years, and just going for it. I admit when initial word got out that this album was a tour de force, return to form for the band, I was quite skeptical; however I didn't let myself fly too high and have been spinning this record nonstop since release day. Welcome back Judas Priest, let's keep the trend going, heavy metal still needs you.

3. Visigoth - Conqueror's Oath (Metal Blade, USA)
Salt Lake City's Visigoth hit the metal scene hard with their debut The Revenant King back in 2015. It was chock full of love for bands that deem themselves epic in the scale of their music, whether it be Cirith Ungol, Brocas Helm, Slough Feg, and even a cover of Manilla Road's "Necropolis" to boot, the only track to clock in under the five minute mark. 2018 sees the band back with a renowned fervor with Conqueror's Oath. For all the classically style albums in 2018 this was a close call with Judas Priest and Haunt for the top nod, but from its release date this has become the de facto battle theme to the year and for good measure, now to find a live show of these dudes so we can all collectively conquer properly.

2. Tomb Mold - Manor of Infinite Forms (20 Buck Spin, Canada)
With plenty of gross death metal to digest in 2018, choosing the absolute best was a tall task. Enter Toronto's Tomb Mold and album # 2 Manor of Infinite Forms. I had the pleasure of seeing these guys play with Of Feather and Bone at Montclair, NJ's The Meatlocker with Of Feather and Bone and at Saint Vitus supporting Horrendous on a recent run. Their recorded material is tremendous but their live shows might as well be recorded in a catacomb with no lights and despair in your heart. "Abysswalker" also features what might be the riff of 2018. It's also not hyperbole to call Tomb Mold one of the brightest young stars of an ever expanding scene. This is auditory claustrophobia at its darkest.

1. Tribulation - Down Below (Century Media, Sweden)
Hot on the heels of their first foray into a black n’ roll style of metal, Tribulation came out of the gate swinging in 2018 with Down Below, the successor to critical darling Children of the Night. Gone are the days of death metal for this band. In its stead are riffs and a dark atmosphere that shows the band rocking while amply embracing the dark side. Released all the way back in January it is pretty amazing that this album has had such strong staying power; but then again this dark style of metal matches well within the rock-y foundations of all their songs. Johannes Andersson’s gruff vocal approach comes off as though he is a member of the undead coming to greet you and act as Virgil to your Dante. Tribulation excel by throwing small wrinkles into their songs as well. “Cries From the Underworld” is a master class in subtlety with shifts and tempo changes; with the main riff greeting you at each pass. Tribulation was 2018's best album back in January and it was tough for many other bands to keep up with that Herculean pace in the ensuing 11 months.

- Tom

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