Amidst all the global socio-political unrest and the personal trials of 2018, metal has had a noticeably strong and positive year.
Amidst all the global socio-political unrest and the personal trials of 2018, metal has had a noticeably strong and positive year in terms of the albums released. Every established sub-genre bore bountiful fruit and each release-week had numerous albums worth checking out. Death metal especially dominated the extreme metal landscape in 2018, which was no mean feat. Hell, our feature of 20 of 2018's best metal albums could have just been comprised of death metal and death metal-adjacent releases—and the final list hosts seven. There were also some really exciting full-length debuts—one of which cracked our collective top 20 (a reflection of the quality from established bands rather than a slight at the other debutantes)—and many established acts crafted what could easily be classified as their best work to date.
In addition, there were a few extremely poignant albums, and none more so than our number one choice this year. Metal for all its bravado and aggression is acutely attuned to physical, emotional and spiritual pain and anguish, and because of the depth of feeling some bands within its walls can convey, it offers solace by the fact that others are also clearly suffering and trying to cope with life's troubles, whatever they may be. That connection and transference of relatable energy between artist and listener is why many of us still approach metal with religious fervor: behind the amplifier abuse, tortured screams, baleful atmospheres and often grim lyricism there is catharsis and strength to be found, to help overcome collective and individual difficulties. Metal as a source of internal power should never be taken for granted.—Dean Brown
20. Vein - Errorzone (Closed Casket Activities)
Attempting to gather only salient information and trim away all unnecessary fat is a difficult task in any field. The experimental hardcore act Vein, however, make this distilling process appear very easy on their debut record. In errorzone, the band produces a tour de force across the mainstream manifestation of hardcore music, but also its underground counterpart. Nu-metal, mathcore, thrash elements and post-hardcore motifs all find their way into the mix and are masterfully balanced in this flawless first attempt.—Spyros Stasis
19. Thou - Magus (Sacred Bones)
Hailing from Louisiana, a place with a deep tradition of sludge metal, Thou always take a holistic approach when it comes to their vision for the genre. Magus is the latest installment in their experimental trip, taking on the characteristics of the three EPs they released earlier in 2018: Downcast grunge atmospheres, ambient interludes and dark folk elements are all combined with the sludge basis of Thou to create a potent and epic release. Even though it does not feature the broad scope of their masterpiece Heathen, Magus still breaks new ground for the band, musically and structurally, and shows that the grey sky is the limit.—Spyros Stasis
18. Skeletonwitch - Devouring Radiant Light (Prosthetic)
Skeletonwitch have undergone a rebirth on this, their darkest, heaviest and most engrossing release to date. With vocalist Adam Clemens (Wolvhammer) now firmly a part of the lineup and guitarists Nate Garnette and Scott Hedrick in songwriting hyper-drive, Devouring Radiant Light showcases defined stylistic purpose with the black metal aspects of their sound pushed to the foreground and the melodic nous and thrash-battery still given ample footing. The foolish could have written Skeletonwitch off when they dropped former vocalist Chance Garnette, yet here they are, in full-flight like never before, displaying the kind of zeal and determination shared only by metal's elite.—Dean Brown
17. Slaves BC - Lo, and I Am Burning (The Fear and the Void Recordings)
Existing somewhere on the divide between perturbing black metal, crushing sludge and frantic hardcore, Pittsburgh's Slaves BC turn their souls inside out and lay them out before us, unprotected, on their second full-length Lo, and I Am Burning. The music tells a deeply personal story that erupts as a caustic stream of bile, repressed emotions, and anger. Despite its immediate belligerence, this is music that manages to communicate on a universal level as it provides glimpses of painful catharsis. A most difficult and equally rewarding listen.—Antonio Poscic
16. Portal - Ion (Profound Lore)
Portal—the true boogeyman of the cult death metal scene, the original babayaga. New album Ion sees the Brisbane surrealists undergo a slight change of sonic perspective. The production features a cleaner quality, which highlights more vividly the Voivod-ian origins of Portal, and also their thrash lineage. At the same time, the band does not rely, as much as they used to, on dissonance and inharmonicity, unleashing some very interesting hooks and themes throughout the record. For this reason, Ion feels like a testament to Portal's underlying songwriting quality rather than the mystique that surrounds them.—Spyros Stasis