One of the best parts of being on the Metal Injection team is exposing myself to artists and styles I'd previously had little experience with (and preemptively assumed I'd dislike). Thus, my tastes expanded significantly over the last year, and my Top Ten of 2018 list definitely reflects that.
In contrast, other choices below continue the excellence I expected from some of my favorite artists and cemented how strong they remain despite factors such as losing a key member or already having a lengthy legacy. Those potential setbacks notwithstanding, these bands equaled—if not surpassed–their prior triumphs.
10. RIVERS OF NIHIL – WHERE OWLS KNOW MY NAME
At the risk of angering some readers, I'll admit that I typically don't enjoy metal this overwhelmingly savage; yet, there's something truly special in how Where Owls Know My Name balances its violence with creative and varied dives into placated movements. Take the jazz/post-rock deviations at the core of "The Silent Life" and the title track, for example, as well as the clever continuity in its bookends. There's a ton of interesting and resourceful stuff going on here, making Rivers of Nihil one of my biggest musical discoveries this year.
9. IHSAHN – ÁMR
Ihsahn is an artist I'd only heard of prior to Ámr, and I immediately had to dig into his back catalog for comparison, context, and further appreciation of one of modern metal's top solo artists. A bit more straightforward and intense than Arktis., this seventh outing upholds all of his treasured trademarks, such as relentlessly demonic trips ("Lend Me the Eyes of Millennia"), angelic confessions ("Where You Are Lost and I Belong"), and idiosyncratic compromises between the two ("Arcana Imperii," which features a guest guitar solo by Opeth's Fredrik Åkesson). Without a doubt, it's one of his most consistent and self-assured projects to date.
8. HAKEN – VECTOR
The London sextet's fifth album in less than a decade, Vector's penchant for near nonstop aggression does get a tad monotonous at times while superseding some of the melodic charms of past releases; still, it's no doubt a worthy follow-up to 2016's Affinity. Inspired by psychoanalysis and movies like The Shining and A Clockwork Orange, it begins in perfect Haken fashion with the computerized zest of "The Good Doctor," wraps up with the fetchingly eccentric "A Cell Divides," and fills in the spaces with atmospheric dejection ("Host") and awesome derangement ("Veil"). Sure, "Nil by Mouth" and "Puzzle Box" are more ordinary, yet they're still enjoyable enough to help Vector be another superb entry from Haken.
7. COHEED AND CAMBRIA – VAXIS—ACT I: THE UNHEAVENLY CREATURES
2015's The Color Before the Sun was enjoyable as an unconnected collection, but it couldn't help but make die-hard Coheed and Cambria fans yearn for a return to the Amory Wars saga. Luckily, that's just what the quartet did with the epic Vaxis—Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures. In fact, it even evokes the temperamental duality of the band's crowning achievement, Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, in both its malicious in-your-face intricacy ("The Dark Sentencer," "All on Fire") and its lighter pop appeal ("Old Flames," "Love Protocol"). While not the group's best effort, it's a very effective welcome home for the sci-fi spectacle they do so well.
6. TESSERACT – SONDER
Following up the dazzling and seamless soul-searching of 2015's Polaris was never going to be easy for transcendental djent sages TesseracT, yet the British collective comes immensely close with Sonder. Vocalist Daniel Thompkins is as soaringly sorrowful as ever on the equally crushing opener, “Luminary." As always, these dichotomies permeate the rest of the playthrough, like how "Orbital" brings awe-inspiring peacefulness prior to the ceaseless chaos of "Smile." Like its forebearers, Sonder reaffirms precisely what makes TesseracT singular.
5. SOUTHERN EMPIRE – CIVILISATION
Borne from the ashes of the outstanding Unitopia, Australian quintet Southern Empire's latest voyage recalls the radiant complexities and captivating melodies of keyboardist Sean Timms' prior outfit. Naturally, guitarist/vocalist Danny Lopresto brings a harder edge to it that shines throughout (especially on irresistible "Goliath's Moon"), while the rest of the crew fills the speakers with welcoming multilayered treats that are sufficiently inventive while also channeling 1970s progressive rock titans like Genesis, Camel, and ELP. The twenty-nine minute "The Crossroads" alone solidifies Southern Empire's reign.
4. AMORPHIS – QUEEN OF TIME
For nearly thirty years, Amorphis has been one of the top names in Finnish metal, so it's downright incredible that they likely outdo themselves on this thirteenth effort. Starter "The Bee" is an onslaught of vibrant brutality, serene catchiness, and everything in-between, while "Amongst Stars" benefits greatly from the silky singing of guest singer (and genre darling) Anneke van Giersbergen. Elsewhere, “Pyres on the Coast” ends it all with orchestral calmness, allowing beautiful harmonies and dignified piano patterns to offset its guttural foundation and cement Queen of Time's expert fusions.
3. A PERFECT CIRCLE – EAT THE ELEPHANT
Having not had much history with A Perfect Circle prior to hearing Eat the Elephant (their first original full-length since 2003's Thirteenth Step), I was able to judge it more impartially than most. Months later, I stand by my original conclusion: that it's "a remarkably atmospheric, graceful, charming, and poetically introspective (and socially conscious) sequence." Specifically, "So Long, And Thanks for All the Fish" towers as a mesmerizing philosophical symphony, whereas "Disillusioned" glides with accessible gothic social commentary and "DLB" is a haunting piano ballad that conjures atmospheric kings like Anathema, Katatonia, Lunatic Soul, and Nosound. It's a thoroughly poignant gem.
2. RIVERSIDE – WASTELAND
The first proper studio album since the untimely 2016 passing of exemplary guitarist Piotr Grudziński, Wasteland sees the Polish progressive metal masters paying tribute to his memory while also proving how well they can carry on as a trio. Written "from the point of view of someone bereft, someone who has survived a tragedy," the LP is gorgeously desolate from start to finish. Be it the dynamically pacifying yet hostile "The Struggle for Survival" and "Acid Rain" or the moody softness of "Guardian Angel" and "River Down Below," Riverside remains remarkably capable of balancing technique and songwriting. That closer "The Night Before" (a luscious piano ballad) stands as one of their most heartbreaking pieces to date is just the icing on the cake.
1. BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME – AUTOMATA (I and II)
Between the Buried and Me is more or less unmatched at what they do, and the two-part Automata further validates that supremacy. In particular, Automata I, while certainly the safer half of the work, is still quite satisfying thanks to the multifaceted closer, "Blot," as well as the spacey "Millions" and the sporadic "Yellow Eyes" that precede it. As solid as it is, though, Automata II is easily the superior portion due to its many wild and fearless rides (including a bit of progressive swing on "Voice of Trespass" and the most hypnotic melody vocalist Tommy Giles Rogers Jr. ever sang via the chorus of opener "The Proverbial Bell"). The pair works best a combined vision, of course, that's both on par with its exceptional predecessors and the best metal album of 2018, hands down.
Keep up with all of our Best of 2018 Coverage here.