Friday, December 14, 2018

Durf's Töp 15 Albums and 5 EPs/Splits/Demos of 2018

2018 was a pretty momentous year for me personally, as the Durfette and I packed up and moved from Chicago, IL, our home for over a decade, and moved out west to Boise, Idaho.  It's been a great move, but owning a home and finding a new job have definitely brought with them their own challenges, as has the addition of the Durfling just a few short weeks ago.  Because of this most recent addition, my year end lists are a bit scaled down this year; I won't be listing my favorite concerts (Fire in the Mountains, not even close), non-metal albums (Panopticon's The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness, Part 2, similarly a Crimson Tide-level blowout), or songs (Marche Funébre's "Darkness" or Panopticon's "At the Foot of the Mountain"), because it's taking all of the limited time I have to put together this admittedly half-assed list of what I consider to be the best EPs/Splits/Demos and Metal Albums of the Year.  I hope that 2018 has been good to you and yours, and that big things are on the horizon for your 2019.  Let me know if you agree with my selections or think I missed something obvious in the comments, but don't fucking talk to me about Prequelle.  That record sucked and I'm pretty sure Ghost blew their load in two albums and is running on fumes.  Here are some albums that didn't make me want to bash my head in with a square hammer.

5. Bedsore - S/T
A hodgepodge of genres, sensibilities, and ideas brought together under some of the coolest album art I've ever seen, the self-titled demo from Italy's Bedsore shows a lot of promise.  Bedsore doesn't really fit neatly into any genre, and the two tracks on the demo showcase a band whose next release could sound like almost anything.  Looking forward to following these guys.

Favorite Track: "Brains on Tarmac"

4. Gevurah - Sulphur Soul
Another slice of pitch black metal from Montreal's Gevurah, Sulphur Soul follows 2016's stellar Hallelujah! and sees the band continue to grow their dynamic, hyper-aggressive strain of black metal.  The biggest improvement over its predecessor may simply be the "less is more" approach; while I found Hallelujah! to get a little long in the tooth in spots, Sulphur Soul never overstays its welcome.

Favorite Track: "Across the Primordial Sea"

3. Neolithic - Cult of Ignorance EP
Operating somewhere in the range of crusty, blackened death metal and grind, Neolithic's Cult of Ignorance is a vicious, nine minute assault on the senses that grabs you and doesn't let you go.  Within the 19 other albums on this list, there are 30 tracks longer than Cult of Ignorance's 8:27 runtime, which is just a fun fact for a fun album.  Longtime readers know my affinity for the long track, but there's something to be said about three quick hits that leave you wanting more.  Very much looking forward to seeing where Neolithic goes next.

Favorite Track: "Rapacity"

2. Between the Buried and Me - Automata II
I still think splitting this album in half was a mistake, if for no other reason than it highlights just how much better II is than I.  "The Proverbial Bellow" is on the very short list for Best Song BTBAM Has Written, and "Voice of Trespass" is an absolute hoot.  Here's hoping the band's next album will be this good (or better) and they'll go back to letting their music do the talking, instead of the presentation.

Favorite Track: "The Proverbial Bellow"

1. Eye of Solitude/Marche Funébre - Split
The doom album of the year.  Despite my initial underwhelmed response to Eye of Solitude's "Collapse," it's a hell of a song that has received frequent plays around my new house and on my new commute, so I clearly still enjoyed it.  Marche Funébre's "Darkness," on the other hand, is merely my favorite song of the year, with spectacular vocals and a riff that owes me eight months of back rent for the space its taking in my head.  Just a phenomenal release. 

Favorite Track/Song of the Year: Marche Funébre - "Darkness"


15. Devouring Star - The Arteries of Heresy
We begin the list with an album that came out recently; it's always tricky to me to try and suss out where true quality ends and recency bias begins, but in the case of Devouring Star, I don't really care.  The Arteries of Heresy is suffocating, oppressive metal that calls to mind Ulcerate or Behemoth without the hype or Inquisition without the off-record issues.  This record is brutal, and fast, and I absolutely owe Tom and Mick a debt of gratitude for keeping on me to make sure I checked it out.

Favorite Track: "Sin Assimilation"

14. Conjurer - Mire
Conjurer's Mire was brought to my attention by the terrific Andy Synn, whose review of the album got me incredibly excited to hear it.  Once I heard it, I then reviewed it, because I loved it.  There's a bit of hardcore, some proggy stylings, some ambient passages... it's very close to being a kitchen sink album, with all the styles thrown in, but it's unquestionably terrific and a fantastic debut.

Favorite Track: "Of Flesh Weaker Than Ash"

13. Gaerea - Unsettling Whispers
Vicious, driving black metal with no time for any sort of gazing, Unsettling Whispers is the debut full-length from Portugal's Gaerea.  And boy oh boy, does it waste no time in absolutely fucking shit up and declaring itself.  Blast beats and tremolo riffs abound, and the vocals are perfectly mixed and sound great, which I feel like a lot of "trve kvlt" black metal fucks up.  There's a whole lot to like here, even for someone like me whose typical order at the metal coffee shop is "ambient blackgaze with a double shot of steamed milk and a sprinkle of clean vocals."  Gaerea is the real, raw, and fine, kvlt, deal.

Favorite Track: "Whispers"

12. Ancestors - Suspended in Reflections
I had never heard of Ancestors before Suspended in Reflections, but I guess there were quite a few people who were very excited for its release.  After listening, I certainly understand why.  Ambient, ethereal doom with soaring vocals, Suspended in Reflections was an incredibly pleasant surprise.

Favorite Track: "Gone"

11. Yob - Our Raw Heart
Yob is one of the greatest bands of the past two decades, and Our Raw Heart is another genre-defying reason why, but if I'm being honest, this album comes down to one song.  "Beauty in Falling Leaves" is one of the most beautiful, poignant songs I've ever heard, to the point where if Our Raw Heart were just that track on repeat, it would probably be my Album of the Year.  Don't get me wrong; I enjoy every song on the album, especially "The Screen" and the title track, but man oh man if there isn't something about "Beauty in Falling Leaves" that just kills me.  Go listen to that, and then listen to the rest of this.
Favorite Track: "Beauty in Falling Leaves"

10. Tribulation - Down Below
For all its accolades, Tribulation's previous album, 2015's The Children of the Night, just didn't do anything for me.  Fast forward a couple years, and holy shit.  People keep telling me this is how the band has always sounded, but something must have changed, because a band that I thought had very limited, niche appeal has all of a sudden created something wondrous.  I don't actually care what happened; I just care that this album rips, and is fun, and that the piano melody at the end of "Lacrimosa" stays in my head forever.

Favorite Track: "Lacrimosa"

9. Møl - Jord
The first time I listened to Jord, I texted Mick and told him that the best Deafheaven album of the year probably just came out (and I love Deafheaven, so this was not an insult).  Sure enough, while the newest Deafheaven album was very good, it was Møl and their debut full-length Jord that carried the year in blackgaze.  Tracks like "Penumbra" and "Ligament" show a band that have full authority of their genre, while the stellar "Lambda" is evidence of a young band that isn't afraid to push the boundaries and try out new things.  Møl is a band to watch; they'll be a household name after their next album, or I'll shrug my shoulders and wonder what the hell is wrong with the rest of you people.

Favorite Tracks: "Penumbra," "Lambda"

8. Rivers of Nihil - Where Owls Know My Name

My approach to technical death metal has always been pretty simple: if it's not Gorguts, I'm not really interested.  While not all-encompassing, it's a pretty tried and true rule, and it applied three years ago when Mick first brought Rivers of Nihil to my attention with their album Monarchy.  Well, times have changed, and I guess so has my view on things, because Rivers of Nihil are back with their third album Where Owls Know My Name, and holy shit it's fantastic.  Techy without being staid or soulless, proggy without being wanky, Where Owls Know My Name is a statement album from a band about to breakout.  Jake Diffenbach is my favorite metal vocalist that I didn't know about last year.  AND HOLY SHIT THAT SAXAPHONE!

Favorite Tracks: "Old Nothing," "Where Owls Know My Name"

7. Windhand - Eternal Return
After four albums, Windhand appears to be on a Star Trek film-like pattern where every other one is good.  Their self-titled debut escaped my notice, but their follow-up Soma showed up on my 2013 list and still gets a decent amount of play around these parts.  2015's Grief's Infernal Flower left me wanting more and not really feeling it, and then here is Eternal Return, which, ahem, returns me into the fold of clamoring Windhand fans.  Dorthia Cottrell continues to have one of the very best voices in music, while the riffs from guitarist Garrett Morris are still thick and crunchy as ever.  It's when the riffs drop and the band scales back, however, that it shines the most; album closer "Feather" is an easy choice for my favorite song, and the comparisons to the grunge bands of old are not without merit.

Favorite Track: I literally just told you

6. Jesus Piece - Only Self
I've never considered myself a hardcore fan; outside of a year-long Hatebreed phase, I don't think I ever really dove deep into the genre.  So when my pal Jack told me about Only Self, I was mildly hesitant.  For like two minutes.  Jesus Piece' full-length debut is packed with heavy, grooving riffs; some tracks, like "Curse of the Serpent," bring to mind a leaner, faster, angrier Gojira.  This is something I never would have picked up on my own, and I'm very glad it was brought to my attention.

Favorite Track: "Dog No Longer"

5. Pig Destroyer - Head Cage
I feel a little guilty loving Head Cage so much; all of the big Pig Destroyer fans I know were a little disappointed by it, and it's my favorite thing the band has ever done.  True, I've never really been a huge grindcore guy, but I'm hoping Head Cage can be a sort of stepping stone into the genre.  Or maybe it'll just be a onetime fling, and I'll go back to catching grind bands at festivals wondering how I possibly could have heard sixteen songs in a half hour set.  Either way, Head Cage rips exceptionally hard.

Favorite Tracks: "Army of Cops," "The Last Song"

4. Khôrada - Salt
Khôrada is more avant-garde than I anticipated coming from three quarters of the legendary Agalloch, but this is an incredible thing.  Steering into the trippy and weird musical vibes, Don Anderson, Aesop Dekker, and Jason Walton sound free and relaxed, while still being three of the best musicians on the planet. Add that to Aaron Gregory's boundless vocals (which are becoming a mainstay on my year end lists), and you have something special.  Salt is nothing like I what I anticipated when Khôrada was announced, and its all the better for that.

Favorite Track: "Ossify"

3. Bongripper - Terminal
Chicago's Bongripper has long been a favorite of mine, but on Terminal they have raised the bar with what is perhaps their best work yet.  Terminal finds the band at their most accessible, with a strong current of melancholic melody running through their misanthropic, crushing riffs and deafening feedback.  Every Bongripper album has been terrific, but Terminal sees them at their best, just in time for me to move out of the city they play a show in every fucking year.

Favorite Track: "Death"

2. High on Fire - Electric Messiah
I'll be honest, while they've all had their moments, the previous three releases from High on Fire have all left me a little wanting.  Not so for Electric Messiah, which is the band's best album since Death is this Communion (and potentially only behind that album in the band's discography, period).  Electric Messiah sees the band rip and shred over nine filler-less tracks, with momentum ebbing and flowing but never ceasing and the energy shifting between kinetic and potential while never feeling staid and always being fun.  It's good to feel this excited about High on Fire again.

Favorite Tracks: "The Pallid Mask," "Drowning Dog"

1. Panopticon - The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness, Pts. 1 and 2
A slam dunk easy choice for album of the year, even if I am cheating a bit and combining the two parts.  Panopticon has long been the under appreciated torchbearer for American black metal, and The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness is Austin Lunn's magnum opus.  Separating (but not entirely) his two loves, black metal and americana, onto two albums paid off in spades, as it showcases his incredible songwriting and makes the crossover moments really, truly pop.  The Scars of Man... is one of those albums that transcends music, an album where the themes and ideas stick with me long after the last time I listen to it.  Easily my album of the year, and the newest addition to my All-Time Favorites.

Favorite Tracks: "Snow Burdened Branches," "The Moss Beneath the Snow," "(Cowering) At the Foot of the Mountain"

So there you have it: one demo, two EPs, one half of an album, a split, and fifteen full-length albums that represent the best 2018 had to offer in music.  Thanks so much for reading, as always; I hope you and yours have a safe and happy holiday season, and that you ring in 2019 in all the best ways possible.  Hopefully we'll be a little more active in the new year, but either way, we'll be around in some form or another.  Be well.

- Durf

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