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.

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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