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Axl Rosenberg’s Top Fifteen Metal Albums of 2018

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Yours truly in 1997 and 2018.

The only word I can think of to describe 2018 is “bizarre.” A lot of weird shit went down, in both the world at large, and in my own insignificant life. Some of it was terrible, some of it was wonderful, but none of it was run-of-the-mill.

So it makes sense that the theme which unites all the albums on my 2018 year-end list is, in fact, abnormality. Few, if any, of these albums are what one would classify as “traditionalist.”

15. Hate Storm Annihilation – Following the Path to Eternal Fire (Knife Fight Media)

What the fuck is going on with this album? Hate Storm Annihilation’s Following the Path to Eternal Fire sounds like someone took the entire subgenre of tech-death and got it drunk. It is at once as blunt and destructive as the band’s name and as eloquent and poetic as the way the album’s title expresses the concept of behavior that will condemn your soul to Hell. This would be my favorite album of the year, if not for fourteen other albums that I like slightly more. Would recommend.

14. Hate Eternal – Upon Desolate Sands (SoM)

What the fuck is going on with this album? Upon Desolate Sands may very well be Hate Eternal’s catchiest and most accessible album to date. Which isn’t to say that it’s chock full of power ballads. Erik Rutan, continuing to defy all logic by remaining awesome even as he reaches his umpteenth year making death metal, has reined in Hate Eternal’s aural chaos a little without sacrificing any of the brutality for which the band is famous. The result is an expression of existential angst that feels at once grand and personal. This would be my favorite album of the year, if not for thirteen other albums that I like slightly more. Would recommend.

13. Psycroptic – As the Kingdom Drowns (Prosthetic)

What the fuck is going on with this album? Psycroptic expanded their sound in a big way, giving it an extra dose of melodiousness and cinematic majesty, resulting in a record that feels like an orgasmic seizure. Should I clean myself up or get to the ER? I’m so confused! This would be my favorite album of the year, if not for twelve other albums that I like slightly more. Would recommend.

12. YOB – Our Raw Heart (Relapse)

What the fuck is going on with this album? I can’t remember the last time a doom metal album sounded this beautiful and this tortured. Like, the cinematic equivalent would be if Terrance Malick made a snuff film while on Klonopin. Frontman Mike Scheidt, having recently survived a very close brush with death, gives one of the year’s most emotional vocal performances — and he sounds like he recorded his parts after being set on fire (not for nothing is the opening track called “Ablaze”). This would be my favorite album of the year, if not for eleven other albums that I like slightly more. Would recommend.

11. Tribulation – Down Below (Century)

What the fuck is going on with this album? Tribulation have made the year’s best vampiric co-mingling of metal and indie garage rock, a record as sexy as it is evil. Johannes Andersson’s croaks mean that Down Below will never achieve the same level of success as the year’s other great occultist rock record, Ghost’s Prequelle, which is a bummer — not because sales matter, because I think Ghost fans would legit enjoy Down Below. This would be my favorite album of the year, if not for ten other albums that I like slightly more. Would recommend.

10. Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love (Anti Records)

What the fuck is going on with this album? It sounds like Elton John wrote a surprisingly upbeat Nachtmystium album and then hired L.A. Guns to record it. If Ordinary Corrupt Human Love hadn’t worked, it would be Lulu-level laughable. Instead, it only further cements Deafheaven as one of their generation’s most thought-provoking black metal bands. This would be my favorite album of the year, if not for nine other albums that I like slightly more. Would recommend.

9. Harakiri for the Sky – Arson (AOP)

What the fuck is going on with this album? Arson sounds melancholic and heroic, the soundtrack to a doomed battle for the noblest of causes. If the Knights of the Round Table had listened to epic blackened post-metal while passing around a bong and staring up the stars to wonder about humankind’s place in the universe, Harakiri for the Sky would have been their collective A+ #1 band. This would be my favorite album of the year, if not for eight other albums that I like slightly more. Would recommend.

8. Slugdge – Esoteric Malacology (Willowtip)

What the fuck is going on with this album? It’s nefarious and seductive and empowering and flattening. Does that make sense? No? Well, neither does this record, but it’s fucking good so whatever. This would be my favorite album of the year, if not for seven other albums that I like slightly more. Would recommend.

7. Obscura – Diluvium (Relapse)

What the fuck is going on with this album? Obscura give you a tab of speed, pull you into a M.C. Escher illustration of Frank Herbert novel in a labyrinthine hall of mirrors, and say, “Hey, you figure out to get the fuck out of here.” Good luck with that, jerks. This would be my favorite album of the year, if not for six other albums that I like slightly more. Would recommend.

6. Khemmis – Desolation (20 Buck Spin/Nuclear Blast)

What the fuck is going on with this album? It sounds like a trad metal band were hired to write the world’s first doom-power-metal album, and they somehow figured out a way to make it good. It’s so much fun to listen to you almost wish that Ben Hutcherson’s soaring vocals rendered the depressing lyrics less intelligible. But whatever. If Desolation is death, it’s death by chocolate. This would be my favorite album of the year, if not for five other albums that I like slightly more. Would recommend.

5. Skeletonwitch – Devouring Radiant Light (Prosthetic)

What the fuck is going on with this album? Skeletonwitch mostly forgo any deathrash influences and leans into their melodic black metal side, hard… and they hit the ball out of the fucking park. I’ve been telling everyone that Devouring Radiant Light is Skeletonwitch’s best album since Forever Abomination, but then I recently re-visited their discography and realized I was wrong — Devouring Radiant Light is Skeletonwitch’s best album ever, period. This would be my favorite album of the year, if not for four other albums that I like slightly more. Would recommend.

4. Rivers of Nihil — Where Owls Know My Name (Metal Blade)

What the fuck is going on with this album? It sounds like the band said “Fuck it, let’s just do whatever the fuck we want, expectations regarding our music or our very genre of music be damned,” and then made a record good enough to justify such arrogance. I mean, it’s a goddamn death metal record with a fucking sax solo, and what’s more, it’s a goddamn great death metal record with a fucking sax solo. Rivers of Nihil have always been stellar, but holy shit, did they stick the landing on Where Owls Know My Name. This would be my favorite album of the year, if not for three other albums that I like slightly more. Would recommend.

3. Agrimonia – Awaken (Southern Lord)

What the fuck is going on with this album? It sounds like a depressed druid elf escaped a shitty folk metal band made a choral melodeath-doom album. And I bet that you didn’t even know there was any such thing as “choral melodeath-doom.” Guess what? Neither did anyone else. This would be my favorite album of the year, if not for two other albums that I like slightly more. Would recommend.

2. Sigh – Heir to Despair (Candlelight)

Art by Eliran Kantor

What the fuck is going on with this album? I would say it sounds like everyone on Sigh was on drugs when they made it, but the truth is, we expect Sigh to be gloriously strange. Still, Heir to Despair really goes above and beyond, and is easily the band’s strongest offering since Imaginary Sonicscape. To even try and describe it is a fool’s errand; suffice it to say, it’s something every metal fan should experience at least once before they go deaf or die, whichever comes first. This would be my favorite album of the year, if not for one other album that I like slightly more. Would recommend.

1. Pig Destroyer – Head Cage (Relapse)

What the fuck is going on with this album? Where the fuck are the fucking blast beats? Is that a fucking bass? Is this even grindcore?

These questions might be worth exploring if Head Cage weren’t another instant classic from Pig Destroyer. The year’s most aggressively audacious act of artistic evolution and a true challenge to the status quo, Head Cage goes to places even the group’s most ardent admirers (i.e., me) could have imagined. This is my favorite album of the year. Would recommend.

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