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Vince Neilstein’s Top Fifteen Metal Albums of 2018

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Couldn’t quite balance on one leg for this shot.

This will be the twelfth time I have assembled one of these year-end lists. As far as the fifteen albums herein being the “best” of 2018, I gave up on that concept long ago; they’re simply the ones I listened to the most. With that in mind, which of them will stick around in my conscious once the sun has set on this surreal fever dream of a year? That remains to be seen, and indeed it’s been an interesting exercise to look back at my entries from previous years to take note of which ones have stuck and which haven’t. At the very least I’ve enjoyed all the albums here a whole lot, and I hope you do too.

15. Sleep — The Sciences (Third Man)

Sleep delivered just what the doctor ordered with The Sciences, their first album in nearly two decades, released by complete surprise on April 20th (the only day that makes logical sense). With lyrics like the one about a pterodactyl that arises from a tree stump when bong water is poured onto it (at least I think that’s what I heard?), and fuzzed out riffs the size of a giant set of pendulous old man balls, The Sciences delivered everything long-dormant Sleep fans could’ve wanted.

14. Jääportit — Jääportit (Epidemie)

The Finnish solo artist first started releasing music in 1997, but this, his fifth full-length, is the first time his work has made its way to me… and I’m so, so glad it did. ” Jääportit’s music is hardly metal, but there’s a reason heavy music fans have been latching onto it: its dark, moody, atmospheric, instrumental vibes will, as MS scribe Kayla so astutely put it, “sweep you away to a frozen Nordic landscape.” With a self-titled album one would usually expect some kind of rebirth or definitive statement, and while I can’t say if that’s the case — I sadly haven’t had the chance to explore the back catalogue — I can surmise that there’s a reason this album, of all of them, caught my ear.

13. Author & Punisher — Beastland (Relapse)

It’s been fun to watch Tristan Shone’s musical project develop over the years from both a technical perspective (those machines!) and a conceptual one. What started as a vehicle to make aggressive sounds out of hand-built and -operated machines has morphed into something distinctly more musical, and on Beastland Shone has honed his songwriting skills to their most sharpened yet, making it easily the strongest effort of his career.

12. Striker — Play to Win (Breaker)

Striker’s proprietary brew of traditional heavy metal riffery, thrash beats, ’80s hair singalong choruses, power metal bombast and Shrapnel Records shred, combined with a strict dedication to modern production aesthetics, has produced one of the year’s most unexpectedly delightful and FUN records. Do you seek big choruses, over-the-top guitar leads and overall good-time party vibes? Get right the fuck in here!

11. Gunship — Dark All Day (Horsie in the Hedge)

Though Gunship fall on the poppier side of the synthwave spectrum (GosT or Perturbator they are certainly not), band leaders Dan Haigh and Alex Westaway are metal dudes at heart, and without a standout release in 2018 from the dark side this one gets my nod as synthwave album of the year. Gunship’s sonic palette is especially dense this time around with layer upon layer of retro sounds stacked upon one another and wrapped up in a modern production veneer that makes it all go, pop, bang and sure, why not, even slap. Every song delivers big in the hooks department — every one! — and the moods are sufficiently melancholy and wistful throughout. Dark All Day is Gunship hitting their stride; this is what it sounds like when a band is fucking killing it.

10. Oceans of Slumber — The Banished Heart (Century Media)

For the sake of an easy reference anyone reading this will grok without much afterthought or research required, Oceans of Slumber play like a more melancholic, depressive and and introspective version of Intronaut. Really their sound is way more than that — these comparisons are reductive by nature — but the music on The Banished Heart is both complex and accessible in a certain Intronaut-y kind of way, and if that name-check gets even one of you to check out the album I will have done my job here.

9. The Crown — Cobra Speed Venom (Metal Blade)

Here’s how I described The Crown’s latest record when I wrote about it back in February: “If you’ve felt that Goatwhore’s recent output hasn’t quite hit you right in that spot, there’s a good chance The Crown’s new material will. It’s furious, it’s heavy, it’s full of riffs, it’s intense.” I stand by that assessment ten months later! This record melts faces, pulverizes the remains in a meat-grinder, incinerates what’s left to ashes and then drops a nuclear bomb that obliterates any particles remainining into sonic dust.

8. Slugdge — Esoteric Malacology (Willowtip)

Much has been made of Slugdge’s lyrical dedication to shelled mollusks. While it is quite impressive the extent to which the U.K. band has immersed itself in snail culture, what has always made this band go is their dedication to the species of riffs in the genus of death metal. We’ve been fans here at MetalSucks for years, so it’s especially satisfying to see them garner wide critical acclaim this time around. It’s fully deserved, too; Esoteric Malacology is their finest work yet. RIFFS.

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

Art by Dan Seagrave

I’m placing this one in the middle of the pack for purely political reasons — I’m very biased, and I most likely listened to this album more than any other on this list. So I’ll just say this: I think the band has absolutely outdone themselves and created by far their best work to date, one that will grow to be heralded as a genre classic in due time.

6. Pig Destroyer — Head Cage (Relapse)

Refusing to be pigeonholed, Pig Destroyer have upped the ante once again by emphasizing the groovier elements of their sound over their grind roots. While many a purist might shun away from that shift (it certainly didn’t seem to faze the world’s #1 Pig Destroyer fan, though), I’m all fucking for it: I’ve lost track of how many times in this space I’ve expressed the sentiment that bands need to evolve to hold my interest, and emphasizing rhythm over brute force was the perfect way for Pig Destroyer to go. Also, let this be Exhibit A that the bands who take their time between releases and whose members don’t rely on music as their primary source of income generally tend to produce better results.

5. Skeletonwitch — Devouring Radiant Light (Prosthetic)

After a mediocre first effort with new vocalist Adam Clemans — The Apothic Gloom, released in 2016 — Skeletonwitch did what many thought they could not (yours truly included), and returned not only with a stunningly superb album but one that pushes their sound forward into new territory. If Skeletonwitch were ever going to win back fans doubtful of their worth without Chance Garnette it had to be through reinvention, and thankfully they totally nailed it with a newly gloomy, dark, doomy and progressive evolution of what they’ve done in the past.

4. Ghost — Prequelle (Loma Vista)

Ghost ventured boldy into ’70s and ’80s arena rock worship this time around, furthering the evolution from their occult Satanic roots without leaving it entirely behind. It’s been fun to watch this band take off over the years, and some of the tunes on Prequelle are instant classics that are sure to be staples of their live sets for years to come. Good songwriting will always be the be-all-end-all for this band — without that all the costumes and makeup and storylines will mean little — and Prequelle has got plenty of that, even on the instrumental tracks.

3. Harakiri for the Sky — Arson (AOP)

One of the year’s first releases and still one of the best some 11 months on, Harakiri for the Sky’s latest combines doomy, melancholic, melodic death metal (Insomnium, Swallow the Sun, etc.) with a touch of progressive black metal (early Agalloch) wrought solid into masterful, well-crafted songs that’ll have you simultaneously crying onto your keyboard and pumping your fist in the sky.

2. Yob — Our Raw Heart (Relapse)

Did Yob fucking do it or what?? The storyline has been well published: Mike Scheidt nearly died from a harrowing infection and underwent multiple surgeries followed by a lengthy recovery that put the band on hold. We all knew he’d come back strong but I don’t think anyone thought he’d come back this strong, delivering the band’s most focused, heaviest, heart-wrenching and best-sounding release to date.

1. Robyn — Honey (Konichiwa/Interscope)

Robyn has proven she’s the most metal entertainer on earth once again by completely changing up the formula when she didn’t even have to. Body Talk part two (err… part four?) would’ve been perfectly satisfactory to her legions of fans throughout the world, but instead the Swedish goddess dug deep, mined her own heartache and depression, and delivered nine mostly down-tempo songs in place of the club bangers we were all expecting. The resulting songs hit even harder than her up-tempo smashes of yore, bringing us all to our collective knees with masterfully crafted metaphors sung by Robyn’s sweet and savory voice on top of dense, lush arrangements that continue to reveal new layers upon each subsequent listen. If only “true metal” artists had the strength and determination to boldly follow their own muse to the extent Robyn has.

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