Another year, another list. I tried with this list to distill a years worth of experiences, live shows, late night listening sessions and seemingly constant festival attendance in order to deliver you the a set of records that described the top releases of this year as accurately as possible. This has been a truly great year for metal and all manner of excellent releases aren’t going to make it onto this list, but there were really too many to count. In a year where friends my misspent youth turned up alongside elder statesmen of the scene, I also hoped to capture the diversity of what was excellent in 2018 with this list, rather than hunkering down on a few tried and true favorites. As opposed to many other years this was a year where I could have conceivably put together a top 15 in a few different genres, there was simply that much good stuff. As always though, I am sure I missed some truly important and next level stuff, but I’m sure I’ll be getting an earful about that in the comments section! Happy new year, life is a death sentence!
15. Khôrada – Salt
I tried really hard to make sure that I was listening to this record objectively when considering it for my year-end list. For those not in the know, these Prophecy Productions signed masters are composed of four-fifths of Agalloch and the frontman of Giant Squid, enough I think, to stunt many metalheads' opinion of the band. As is though, Salt is a truly exciting listen, full of bold swaggering melodies and also moments of incredible honesty. It’s a dark, sludgy and altogether thrilling reflection of the world around us. What this dynamic opening salvo from Khorada is not is wannabe Agalloch stuff. The guys are scratching a very different musical itch here and I find it incredibly addictive.
14. Pig Destroyer – Head Cage
Pig Destroyer have done it again with Head Cage. In fact they have gone above and beyond. With the addition of bassist John Jarvis since 2012’s masterful Book Burner, the band has also gone on to embrace much thrashier, groovier and generally speaking more dynamic tones. These grindcore masters still bring the punk fury, but they do it while significantly expanding their sonic pallet. Chaotic and bordering on terrifying, the group remain at the cutting edge and force us to really come to terms with the darker and more nihilistic side of this genre. Blasting forward ever faster, Pig Destroyer know that they are the swaggering kings of the scene and Head Cage is their cry for blood.
13. Outer Heaven – Realms Of Eternal Decay
I remember seeing Outer Heaven play record stores and basements opening up for bands like Noisem and Full Of Hell and thinking that these Philly phreaks were onto something special, they were just so goddamn heavy! Realms Of Eternal Decay is the product of years of struggle in the dynamic Northeast underground. These are the favored sons, the guys who made it, who fought through the bullshit and created something truly great. Outer Heaven prove that they are a cut above all the other cro-magnon death metal bands blowing up in 2018 by coming at you with a sense of brutality, of cunning devilishness and searing anger that you just don’t get from death metal these days. Undeniably brutal and freakishly triumphant, Realms Of Eternal Decay is the sound of humanity coming to die.
12. Skeletonwitch – Devouring Radiant Light
I’m not gonna lie – I thought Skeletonwitch was basically done as a band after they changed singers. Few groups can really recover from a shift like that especially once they had become so established. To be honest, I think that before this record I never even identified as a Skeletonwitch fan, and yet here we are. Devouring Radiant Light is some of the most brilliantly conceived thrashy death metal that I have ever heard. Their mix of styles, the quality of the songwriting, the general approach and set of ideas behind the record… all of it comes together in almost perfect unison to make for an immersive and thrilling listening experience that I can not wait to get to uncover in a live setting.
11. The Skull – The Endless Road Turns Dark
The Skull are something of a doom metal supergroup featuring half of Trouble as well as members of Witch Mountain and Cathedral. With frontman Eric Wagner, no one would blame the band if they just wanted to write more Trouble worship, but they don’t. Instead, the band craft a unique and thrilling brand of doom-laden hard rock that falls within the traditional tropes of the genre and encourages us, as listeners to delve ever deeper. This is a truly exciting and twisted record with Eric’s voice sounding just as strong as ever – in some ways even pushing the boundaries of what these guys have done in the past. It’s exciting to sink your teeth into an album that is so expertly executed, which is just what I have been doing for months now with this one.
10. Un – Sentiment
Un is the sort of band who I pressure people to go see when I want them to have a spiritual experience. Time and time again people have seen the band and uttered the same phrase, ‘These guys are just so fucking heavy’. Sentiment proves though that Un isn’t JUST about crushing you with volume, although that is indeed one of their many talents. Sentiment is in fact a doom metal masterpiece, expertly navigating many tropes of death doom and crafting it into something much more grandiose. The epic Pink Floyd by way of Gary Moore inspired solos and soul crushing melodies that are as reminiscent of Wishbone Ash as much as they are of Pallbearer have fused to unleash something utterly thrilling. This is a huge step forward for the band and an indicator of greatness to come.
9. Nhor – Wildflowers
Wildflowers is a heart rending piano suite from Nhor, an artist primarily known for his work in the world of black metal. A double LP with each side representing a different season, Wildflowers is a beautiful journey. With all of the elements needed to almost instantly become a timeless classic. This is the sort of album that you find yourself coming back o time and time again, a sort of lodestar of the psyche and a reminder of the beauty that humanity can create. Emotionally fraught and almost guaranteed to make you shed a tear – Wildflowers is a powerful and graceful statement. Perfectly capturing the beauty of our dying world, Nhor has proven once again that they are one of the great forces in the world of dark music.
8. Plainride – Life on Ares
I realize that this list is by and large made up of grim music and bleak soundscapes, this makes Plainride the sort of odd man out just because they are much more likely to make you instead belt out a “Fuck yeah!” It’s been really fun to watch these guys evolve over the last few years, and Life On Ares is really the sound of the band coming into their own. Rather than stagnating on their third record, the band has instead driven themselves to new heights delivering a unique brand of rock and roll that can’t help but to impress. Charismatic and full of the swaggering magic of youth, Life On Ares shows us a rock band who have made huge steps forward and who promise to take the world by storm. This is a very fun and empowering listen that is a treat to come back to.
7. Witch Mountain – Witch Mountain
Two elements make Witch Mountain a truly incredible record, the first is Kayla Dixon’s vocal histrionics. She is a masterful force in the studio and she gives Witch Mountain a dynamism and potency to their sound that you just don’t get anywhere else in the world of doom metal. The second is the architect of her sonic backdrop, Rob Wrong who, with rumbling guitars and deserved confidence unleashes the sort of blistering doom stomp that some thought was lost to time. Witch Mountain have come out and proven in the best possible way that not only are they capable of weathering lineup changes but that they turn them into the best thing that could have happened for the band.
6. Fister – No Spirit Within
It’s been really cool to watch Fister start to rise to ascendance within the heavy doom world over the last few years. Their sound is wonderfully ugly and every passing record seems to take that ugliness to freakish new extremes. The nihilistic magic of No Spirit Within is just the next step in this primitive journey. Few bands can match their incomprehensible seething darkness and the demons conjured up by the music of Fister are truly depraved indeed. This is an album that sees the group developing upon their combined years of experience and plumbing the darkest depths of the human psyche. In many ways No Spirit Within is legitimately terrifying, and the blasphemy it has wrought can’t help but to fascinate.
5. CHRCH – Light Will Consume Us All
I remember first discovering Chrch on the eve of their first record coming out, then being further impressed both with their live show and their stunning split with the aforementioned Fister. With Light Will Consume Us All,the band really steps up into being the impenetrable force they were always meant to be. Chrch is defined by a sense of dark and light with a stygian bottom end being counterbalanced by soaring vocals. The band has made a study of musical textures and fuses them in a way that can’t help but to tear you the fuck apart. Unapologetically heavy, but still unnervingly beautiful, Light Will Consume Us All shows a band not only getting their sound into a more rightly honed assault, but also disemboweling those who might stand against them.
4. Khemmis – Desolation
With the huge media blitz that surrounded Khemmis’s previous record, one had to wonder what would happen with Desolation, what direction they would take and how they hoped to expand. I think that electing to evolve into much more of a hard rock band was a great decision for the long term growth of the band, and also for fans of heavy music. The King Diamond by way of Thin Lizzy inspired tunes are driving and exciting, they evoke tall towers and dark nights in the city, it’s the sort of all encompassing listening experience that leaves you with a smile on your face and your fist in the air. Through it all though it’s clear that Khemmis have not left their doom metal roots with moments of riffy goodness showing up throughout.
3. Mournful Congregation – The Incubus of Karma
While this is certainly a record to file under ‘Maximum sadboi jams” this is also one that really touched me and I found myself coming back to it a lot throughout 2018. Mournful Congregation unveil with every passing track a really twisted and exciting brand of funeral doom that is going to keep you entranced from beginning to end. Sure this is a really long record and one that demands a fair amount of dedication to really 'get', but even from the first, The Incubus Of Kharma is exciting in its minor key threnodies to a world desecrated by our own bitter humanity. Resplendent with bleak emotions and tortured memories, Mournful Congregation have delivered what is arguably their most impressive work to date.
2. Zeal & Ardor – Stranger Fruit
When an artist has the sudden breakout success that Zeal & Ardor has had, you kind of immediately need to ask yourself if this is sustainable, if this is going to lead to actual growth or if the band just blew their load on the first release, never to be heard from again. As the straight up jaw dropping Stranger Fruit proves, Zeal & Ardor are the real deal. A damn sight stronger than their already potent debut, this is a record that brings in incredibly unique ideas and approaches to get a sound that you simply are not going to be able to match anywhere else. This is a wholly unique project and one that stuns from first to last. Zeal & Ardor are not only one of the most exciting things that I have ever heard come out of the metal scene, they are one of the most exciting things happening in music right now. You need to get on board this hype train.
1. Yob – Our Raw Heart
I feel like listing this record as my number one is a little bit of a cop out, but what the hell do you want from me? Our Raw Heart is REALLY fucking good! Not only that though, but the story behind it is incredible and the emotions experienced by frontman Mike Scheidt through his brush with death are on full display here. Yob have in many ways been indicative of the absolute best that this community has to offer and Our Raw Heart is far and away their best and most important record to date. It is dark and brooding, terrifying in its immaculate conception, fusing dark and light effortlessly and making it impossible not to find yourself brought to tears. Our Raw Heart is not just a huge step forward for the band, but in my opinion the moment where the group goes from “A great doom metal band” to “Heirs to Neurosis.”