Music

The Best Metal of 2018

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

Heavy Metal Guitarist by The Digital Artist (CC0 Creative Commons / Pixabay)

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

15. Ghost - Prequelle (Loma Vista)

From its jaw-dropping artwork to its loosely-tied black-death concept, to Tobias Forge's master puppeteer approach to band aesthetic, songwriting and promotion, Ghost's Prequelle is pop-metal perfection, the complete package. Two prog rock-influenced instrumentals, one replete with a ripping sax solo, find room to roam among the anthemic '80s-baiting singles—"Rats" and "Danse Macabre" —not to mention the glammed up "Faith" and the solemn album comedown, "Life Eternal". This is the definitive statement Forge has been working towards since cult classic Opus Eponymous, the album that will hoist this ghoulish and camp troupe to the headline arena stage.—Dean Brown

14. Tribulation - Down Below (Century Media)

The story of Tribulation's transformation is a beautiful and bold one. While the Swedish group started out as a very good death metal band, adorned with the usual gruff symbolism and imagery, they've transformed themselves into a genuine vessel of romantic atmospheres and decadent darkness—gothic in the purest sense of the word and with an eye turned towards Lord Byron. On Down Below, their growl-led heavy metal is sprinkled with various influences, from prog rock and psychedelia to thrash, while their underlying and proudly shown effeminate side acts as a subversive element against the toxic masculinity present in the genre.—Antonio Poscic

13. Daughters - You Won’t Get What You Want (Ipecac)

Daughters relied on the maniacal energy of mathcore and the extravagance of grind for the first part of their career. During their breakup the band appears to have transformed, shedding most of their skin and taking on a different identity. You Won't Get What You Want is the result of this process, and it revels in its oppressive sound. While still carrying some of the fast intense progression, Daughters have evolved to work within a sludge paradigm and an almost soundtrack-like scenery—like an avant-garde neo-western film—which makes the whole journey that much more intoxicating.—Spyros Stasis

12. Imperial Triumphant - Vile Luxury (Gilead Media)

The perfect soundtrack to the apocalypse. The seven trumpets announcing the end of times. That is the true nature of Imperial Triumphant's Vile Luxury. The Manhattan-based black/death metal group harness cacophonous textures and form them into something that vaguely resembles the style of avant-garde black metal acts like Deathspell Omega. But their music is that much more threatening and obscure. An amorphous, atonal mass of black metal tremolos and blast-beats infected by jazz and serialism that expands in various directions. A unique work, and a uniquely grim impressionistic take on the dark side of New York City and Western civilization.—Antonio Poscic

11. Horrendous - Idol (Season of Mist)

Not since Chuck Schuldiner's Death has a death metal band made as rapid an evolutionary charge as Horrendous, from the Chills' primordial ooze to the exuberant solar flares of modern classic Anareta. Idol, however, is less of a stylistic leap and more of a consolidation of what worked on its predecessor. Horrendous have found their niche for now, and the technical aspects of their prog-death sound remain paramount, while melody is explored in a more rounded manner without sacrificing the breathtaking aggression and infectious musical energy that has become their trademark. It is a worthy plateau from which they'll surely bound even higher from.—Dean Brown

10. Pig Destroyer - Head Cage (Relapse)

Pig Destroyer has always been one of the most terrifying acts in the modern grindcore scene. Their earlier works featured a truly violent center that exploded in every direction. Returning six years after Book Burner, the band, for the first time ever with a bass guitarist, continue to spread havoc. Head Cage is a more pristine and modern release, however, featuring cleaner production and also an accessible groove metal slant. That does not mean that the monster is gone, but it has rather transformed to something more direct and cerebral.—Spyros Stasis

9. Boss Keloid - Melted on the Inch (Holy Roar)

Boss Keloid's metamorphosis from a solid stoner/sludge rock band to the wildly inventive and progressive act that stands before us on Melted on the Inch is nothing short of miraculous. The heavy, ground-cracking riffs remain steadfast, but it's the atypical lithe twists and colorful turns and melodic embellishments that make this album such a wondrous experience, one you'll take over and over. Alex Hurst's vocal performance is also worthy of praise, a powerhouse lead feature that dictates the tone of the record and sets up numerous musical peaks throughout what is quite simply, their finest recording to date and the kind of record that can define the direction of the rest of their (hopefully lengthy) career.—Dean Brown

8. Agrimonia - Awaken (Southern Lord)

Sweden's Agrimonia set out on a path of post-metal grandeur, sludge weight and crust intensity with Host of the Winged and Rites of Separation, but have blossomed to something much more potent and progressive with Awaken. The new record feels like the perfect amalgamation of all those different modes, carrying on the spirit of the Swedish melodic death metal scene, while at the same time keeping a forward-thinking perspective on crossing genres and influences with poise and confidence.—Spyros Stasis

7. Chaos Echœs - Mouvement (Nuclear War Now!) 

With Mouvement, Frenchmen Chaos Echœs have delivered the year's most audacious death metal record, one characterized by dazzling explorations and liberated playing. Released alongside Sustain, their even looser collaboration with free jazz saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, Mouvement builds on the haunted and hypnotic meanderings of 2015's Transient by expanding its sonic palette with meatier, aggressive tones. The result is like a synthesis of Aluk Todolo and Krallice. Barrages of harrowing riffs, syncopated drumming, and undulating bass-lines are condensed into compact songs that impart urgency, yet leave plenty of space for the band to spiral into droning and krautrock-like hypnotic repetitions.—Antonio Poscic

6. Sleep - The Sciences (Third Man)

Another long awaited return, Sleep has been resurrected in smoke, 15 years after the release of Dopesmoker. With drummer Jason Roader of Neurosis joining guitarist Matt Pike and bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros, the trio carry on their alchemical experiments in an extraordinary fashion—and they have not missed a beat. The Sciences ends up being a bridge between the hard-rockin' days of Volume One and Sleep's Holy Mountain and the sativa-fume-loaded times of Jerusalem, while the astral touch of OM is also felt throughout.—Spyros Stasis

5. Tomb Mold - Manor of Infinite Forms (20 Buck Spin)

In a year that has been most excellent for death metal, Tomb Mold's Manor of Infinite Forms comfortably sits near the top of the pile. Bridging a certain sludginess and bulbousness reminiscent of early Suffocation with maniacal playing and intricate structures taken from Gorguts' cookbook, the Toronto duo play mean and warped death metal that manages to both bewitch with visceral impact and stupefy with layers of details and complexity. Most importantly, and simply put, Manor of Infinite Forms is a genuinely brutal and vicious accomplishment.—Antonio Poscic

4. Slugdge - Esoteric Malacology (Willowtip)

All hail Molusca! Britain's slug-obsessed sci-fi death metal duo Slugdge finally got their just rewards in 2018 after years of dazzling those with their ears pressed to the slime-encrusted underground. Signed to Willowtip for their grandest success yet, Slugdge's deadly progressive bent on death metal should entice fans of Napalm Death, Bolt Thrower, or Carcass as much as acolytes of modern metal torchbearers such as Gojira, Mastodon, or Meshuggah. Slugdge know exactly how to strike the right balance between extreme metal's propensity for technical, bludgeoning force and the memorability and hook-awareness of bands straddling the mainstream metal divide. A stunning display of musicality and song-craft.—Dean Brown

3. Mournful Congregation - The Incubus of Karma (20 Buck Spin)

Returning seven years after The Book of Kings, extreme doom/death pioneers Mournful Congregation perform a masterclass in songwriting with The Incubus of Karma. Understanding that they cannot simply hide behind the slow pace and crushing riffs, the band introduce an array of progressive elements that enhance their monolithic approach. The solemn pace, heavy drums, deep, echoing vocals and the beautiful lead melodies and expert songwriting of The Incubus of Karma showcase why Mournful Congregation remain one of the leading acts in funeral doom.—Spyros Stasis

2. Sumac - Love in Shadow (Thrill Jockey)

Something deep changed within Aaron Turner, Nick Yacyshyn and Brian Cook while making American Dollar Bill with Japanese noise musician (and legend) Keiji Haino. Whereas their first two full-lengths presented solid and at times daring, but fairly straightforward sludge/post-metal efforts, Love in Shadow is a magnificent beast born out of free-improvisation and noise rock. Here, the weight of sludge metal elements is ingrained into a loose tapestry that hangs on a disjointed, experimental skeleton. Simultaneously ephemeral and eternal, the album's four long cuts seem to teeter on the brim of existence, pulsing in and out of perception through a mesmerizing improvised dance.—Antonio Poscic

1. YOB - Our Raw Heart (Relapse) 

Master of tone and riffs, of spiritual enlightenment and earthly struggles, YOB's Mike Scheidt has risen to almost deity-like status in the scene. Not only is the man respected for his musical accomplishments, he's also revered for his inner strength for overcoming a life-threatening acute stomach condition. Our Raw Heart is born from the most difficult period in Scheidt's life to date, and like Behemoth's masterpiece The Satanist, you can feel the illness, the worry, the conflict, and the resolve in the music. That struggle and fragility, but also the sense of power following on from a hard fought battle, is not easily translated into music. Yet true art—and that's what this doom album is—offers us an insight into the most frightening of human emotions. Our Raw Heart acts as a portal to another's pain and upon experiencing this LP across numerous listening sessions, you get a deep understanding of how much music can mean to the creator in the face of adversity and also to the listener during their own darkest nights. That connection goes beyond any end of year list accolade; that connection is everlasting.—Dean Brown

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