Excretakano’s Top Fifteen Doom Metal Albums of 2018
In years past, I’ve tried heroically to listen to as much new music as possible. All the major releases got some ear time, but it was also important to me that I keep digging for all the great underappreciated stuff that tends to get overlooked by the major outlets. My greatest happinesses have been found there. This year, though, I barely had time to pull my head out of my prodigious ass long enough to hear the music I was asked to write about. I loved new firebrands by Behemoth and Skeletonwitch and Deafheaven, but I never spent time with equally deserving records from Horrendous, Revocation, Outer Heaven, Tomb Mold, Ihsahn and Funeral Mist. And then someone turned me on to Gaerea and I was done… Clearly I was woefully behind the ball and missing out on some truly extraordinary art.
With that in mind, I cannot in good conscience suggest a list of the fifteen BEST ALBUMS OF 2018!!! Instead, I submit for your attention a list of the strongest doom records I had the fortune to hear over the past twelve months. In truth, I probably fucked even this up. But if I open your mind to something powerful in the meantime, we’ll call it a draw.
And no, Sleep’s not on this list. Sure it’s a good record. Go fuck yourself anyway.
15. Fister – No Spirit Within (Listenable)
My first exposure to Missouri’s Fister was with 2013’s Gemini, and that album knocked me on my ass. The boys have been busy since then, shitting out splits like their creative process has been on a steady diet of bran muffins and hate for the past ten years. No Spirit Within is just as bludgeoning. The experience gets an upgrade to Fucking Terrifying whenever Kenny Snarzyk abuses the microphone with whatever noxious brew is coming out of his throat. If you fall asleep listening to this record, expect to wake up with a knife in your gut. The hand that stuck it there will have been your own.
14. On Thorns I Lay – Aegean Sorrow (Alone)
I’ll agree with the haters: This album probably shouldn’t be here. There’s no way OTIL would have gotten here on the strength of their mid-‘00s albums. That melodic alt-metal shit was damn near unlistenable. Is it possible that, now that extreme trends have changed, this new record is just a scene-chasing poser with no personality or convictions of its own? Sure, it’s possible. Still, these songs rule pretty hard if you’re into melancholic doom in the vein of Swallow the Sun or October Tide. Aegean Sorrow dropped in mid-March, so I’ve had eight months to change my mind. I haven’t.
13. Alkymist – Alkymist (Independent)
The weight and propulsive force of this record grabbed my attention as soon as it hit my inbox a couple months ago. This fledgling Danish outfit lands with a detonating blow, gripping your sallow bowels and clenching down hard for the full 45-minute run. Most doom bands start their careers with a single narrow vision (loudheavyslow) and refine their sound in interesting ways over time, but Alkymist beats the odds by bringing extraordinary creative energy and ideas to this debut. I’ll be listening to this for a long time.
12. Bongripper – Terminal (The Great Barrier)
I fucking hate the term “stoner metal” with a deep, passionate hate. It seems to suggest that the music is only really accessible to those who are chemically inundated enough to, you know, like, get it, man. Good doom can change your brain all by itself; if your music requires chemical input, then your music sucks. These ideas kept me from diving into Bongripper for far too long. Live on stage, they are transcendental. Their recorded work is nearly as transporting. This whole instrumental stoner (there really isn’t a better word for it) doom thing should have run out of steam ten years and several albums ago. It hasn’t. Go ahead. Rip the bong. Bongripper await.
11. Lychgate – The Contagion in Nine Steps (Blood Music)
Is it doom? Eh. Really, this music could be called anything – doesn’t make it true. The chord changes are generally slower than anything as frenetic as death, black or thrash metal. The tones are super gloomy, and there are parts for piano, organ and spooky whispering. And Esoteric’s Greg Chandler provides vocals, so until that band gets around to following up Paragon of Dissonance, I’m calling Contagion doom and shrugging off all complaints to the contrary. The only reason Lychgate aren’t considered game-changers is that nobody else is even trying to play their game. Vortigern’s band concept was killer back in 2011 and it’s only gotten more interesting since then.
10. Hooded Menace – Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed (SoM)
These Finns have always been a solid bet for some tomb-crumbling, grave-emptying death/doom. The blind dead have rarely been this ferocious, this hungry or this… succinct. I realize that shouldn’t matter, but dammit, this is a doom list, and a mere 40 minutes just feels a bit light. Of course, the quality that lurks within more than justifies Ossuarium’s placement on this list. Their modest, unpretentious live performances have slapped them with the unfortunate (but affectionate) nickname Hoodied Menace, but on record, with only the brilliant cover art filling the visual field, these dudes make a serious impression.
9. W.A.I.L. – Wisdom Through Agony Into Illumination and Lunacy, Vol. II (Triumphant Transgressions)
Including W.A.I.L.’s second album in a list of great 2018 doom is probably cheating, partially because it doesn’t really settle for being a top-to-bottom doom record (black/death darkens lengthy sections of these 60+ minutes), and partially because it’s only a 2018 release on a technicality. I have a clear plastic cassette tape of this amazingly amorphous metal, sent to me by main man A.E. with a multi-page, hand-folded, ditto-printed booklet that forecasts the release of W.A.I.L. II sometime in the spring of 2013. Triumphant Transgressions only just got around to releasing it this past March, but I’ve been immersed in this stuff for close to six years. It’s exquisite. If you haven’t heard the first W.A.I.L. joint, definitely check it out, too. This band takes all the heavy music you’ve ever liked, drains out all the mediocre parts and elevates the remaining awesome bits to Olympian heights.
8. Thou – Magus (Sacred Bones)
Go ahead, roll a d4 to decide which 2018 Thou record to put on your year-end list. They sure as hell didn’t make it easy. Magus is the longest entry, but Rhea Syliva, Inconsolable and The House Primordial are each twice as long as a Nails album, and they’re each fucking amazing in their own right. Thou is a singular band, pouring rage and despair into every moment and demanding your undivided attention as they pummel your puny soul with pain. Music lovers with an affinity for existential drubbings ignore any Thou release to their own detriment. Thou never make the record you expect, which is a huge part of their power. The other part is just their sheer power.
7. The Body – I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer. (Thrill Jockey)
A few weeks ago, in Baltimore, the Body played an opener-length set in the headliner time slot. Over Author & Punisher, no less. Weird. Whatever. Chip King and Lee Buford were always best as a studio project anyway, where their music has all the sound-sculpting benefits of technology and infinite creative possibility. I Have Fought Against It is the most ethereal, electronic, noisy left-field choice on this list, but it is no less doomy for all that. As with Thou, the Body is so prolific that it can be hard to choose which of this duo’s albums to praise (I just found out they dropped another album a month ago without my knowing). I kind of hope that humanity and all its trappings burn in a great global conflagration, and all that remains to document our passing is this band’s entire recorded output.
6. Un – Sentiment (Translation Loss)
Sludge rules. Trad doom can be charming. Death/doom slips the bonds of this existence and reaches new planes of misery. Blackened death/doom can be just the coolest thing going. But nothing shovels rich, black earth on the spirit and drowns the will to live in its own rank juices like protracted, relentless funeral doom. Un stars doom royalty Samothrace’s Monte McCleery on guitars and vocals, alongside coconspirators David Wright (guitar), Clayton Wolff (bass) and Alex Bytnar (drums). Listening to Sentiment, you will be sad. You will be content. You will be bereft. You will be undone. You will be dissected, planted and forgotten. You will be doomed.
5. Monolithe – Nebula Septem (Les Acteurs de l’Ombre)
Frenchman Sylvain Bégot hooked me back in 2012 with comeback stunner III. Single, 52-minute doom concept songs shouldn’t be that compelling. Since then, the project has only become more impressive. IV was supposed to close down the entire operation (narrative arc complete, apparently), but we’ve gotten three full-length records beyond it, and we should all be glad for it. Nebula Septem is a strange exercise in compositional precision (as were Epsilon Aurigae and Zeta Reticuli before it): Seven songs, each exactly seven minutes long. Art shouldn’t work this way, but Monolithe does, and anyone unwilling to call this art can meet me later tonight for a brass knuckle sandwich and a tall glass of shutthefukkup.
4. Yhdarl – Loss (I, Voidhanger)
Can I get just a single year when I don’t need to bow down to some amazing band that nobody I know has ever heard of before? Two years ago, Ireland’s Mortichnia grabbed me by the nuts; last year it was Polish demons Mord’a’Stigmata. Very early in 2018, this frightening slab of utter night crossed my path, and I haven’t gotten over it. Again, this isn’t strictly doom either. In fact, it spends a lot of time being harrowing black metal. That said, it still takes forever to unfurl, and even when the drums ratchet up the pace, there’s an undercurrent that draws everything toward the insatiable abyss. Or maybe I just really wanted to include my new darling band high up in this list and I’m just trying to rationalize it.
3. Mournful Congregation – The Incubus of Karma (Osmose)
If I’ve shoehorned a couple frauds into this list, I make up for it here. This is tear-soaked doom of the highest order. You want songs so long they outlast your lunch break? You got’em. Vocals that scrape the base of your skull, looking for depths yet unfathomed? Easy. Melodies so drawn out they should be played on an organ in a German church a la John Cage’s “As Slow As Possible”? With pleasure. Emotional responses so dark and uncomfortably vulnerable that you won’t want to speak to another human meat robot for days? Get in here. The ego dissolution is fine.
2. Evoken – Hypnagogia (Profound Lore)
By this point, predictability becomes a problem with this list. Alongside Mournful Congregation, Evoken are the very embodiment of the doom ethos. In any normal situation, these two bands releasing albums within a few months of each other might have a dampening effect, each one’s mastery canceling out some of the potency of the other. Not this year. While MC let all the cosmic depression hang out, Evoken have tightened their belts a bit and written a concept record around the horrific first World War and a demonic diary. Hypnagogia’s bleak crawl is assisted by prevalent cello accompaniment and several moments of astonishing inspiration (a choral section in “Ceremony of Bleeding” exemplifies the brilliance, but in no way defines it). By rights, this should have been far and away the best doom album of the year. And maybe you think it was. But…
1. YOB – Our Raw Heart (Relapse)
Mike Scheidt is king. Am I biased because we nearly lost him? Maybe. But I just dropped the needle on “Ablaze” and the universe just began nodding its head in time. If thunder formed a band with hurricane-force winds and a Richter-razing undersea earthquake, all of whom were wracked with debilitating writers’ block until they enlisted the melodic sensibilities of a hidden mountain stream, that band might also create music as moving, as self-obliterating as Our Raw Heart. Maybe you’re not feeling “The Screen” or maybe “In Reverie” hits too many obvious notes for your taste. None of those arguments stand up against the 31 minutes that comprise “Beauty in Falling Leaves” and the closing title track. This music is deeply, unsettlingly human. Fullness and deprivation tug at the poles of these songs; lush hope and crippling desolation populate it in equal measure. In a world that feels more fucked every day, Our Raw Heart is healing music that should bolster all our noblest resolves.