Jeff Treppel’s Top Fifteen Metal Albums of 2018
A friend recently reminded me that the first time he met me and learned I was a metal writer, he asked what my favorite metal albums of the previous year were — to which I responded, “none of them were metal.” The ratio is slightly better this year. I even had to make some tough decisions on what to omit! In true clickbait fashion, though, you’ll never believe my number one choice — or maybe you will. Said friend guessed it right away. Anyway, this year I bought a house and got married, but let’s focus on what’s important: metal albums that seriously kicked ass in 2018.
15. Visigoth – Conqueror’s Oath (Metal Blade)
Sometimes I just want to listen to music made by role-playing nerds with swords and armor. I feel no shame. Salt Lake City’s finest are certainly less problematic than, say, Manowar, and I’d argue they have better tunes to boot. Their second album proves that they’ve leveled up since their stellar debut, with fist-pumping anthems galore. This adventuring party has the necessary skills to make it all the way through a full campaign.
14. Rebel Wizard – Voluptuous Worship of Rapture and Response (Prosthetic)
A one-man blackened shred project with songs about Eastern spirituality? Sure, there’s room for all kinds in metal, but it’s hard to deny that Rebel Wizard (from the mysterious mastermind behind noise nasties Nekrasov) has carved out its own unique niche. Melodic rapid-fire riffs, drum machine destruction, and unsettling shrieks make this a truly religious experience.
13. Sleep – The Sciences (Third Man)
Jack White (whose label put this out) may ruin almost anything he touches, but the first new full-length from Sleep in two decades is so monumental that even he can’t beat it to death with the authenticity stick. A bongwater-powered trip around the sun in a cloudy haze of psychedelic exhaust, The Sciences immerses the listener in its enveloping fog and whisks them away to the smoke-filled land once more.
12. Lucifer – II (Century Media)
Hey look, it’s another notch in Johanna Sadonis’s belt. These ten tracks of 70s Sabbath worship (capped off with a Scorpions cover just to make things a little more Teutonic) really embrace the variety of sounds that “Sabbath worship” encompasses — not just the slow stuff. From the biker boogie of “California Son” to the crossroads blues of “Dancing With Mr. D” to the red-eyed soul of “Eyes In The Sky,” they not only do it all well but infuse the songs with some of the Iommiest riffs around.
11. Horrendous – Idol (SoM)
This year’s requisite cred pick comes courtesy of the only death metal album I wanted to listen to more than once (sorry, Tomb Mold). Multiple times through and I’m still trying to map out all its intricacies. Horrendous continue their steep upward slope, finding new ways to make progressive death metal exciting. We expect excellence at this point, sure, but hell if they don’t keep delivering.
10. Gost – Possessor (Blood Music)
Just when it seemed like there was nothing new to be done with darksynth, Gost injected the genre with a healthy dose of Anaal Nathraakh and shocked it back to life. Baalberith’s approach to blackened industrial yields terrifyingly danceable results. He’s a master of layering overdriven beats, grindhouse samples, slashes of white noise, and malevolent sermons that would make the Stranger Things kids crap their corduroys.
9. Sigh – Heir to Despair (Candlelight)
I wasn’t a big fan of Sigh’s recent big top adventures, but Heir to Despair brings back everything that made the band’s 2001 classic Imaginary Sonicscapes such an ear-opener. Starting with a madcap mélange of extreme styles, Mirai Kawashima and his coconspirators pull the chaotic elements together into a whirling vortex of shredding alloy that’s almost impossible to describe. There’s nobody else quite like them (and nor should there be).
8. Stonefield – Far From Earth (Flightless)
This Australian sister act knocks out heavy psych like no big deal, their familial chemistry helping them brew some intoxicating potions. Drawing from the entire decade of the 1970s — doom, psych, disco, Canterbury folk prog — Stonefield prove that nostalgia doesn’t necessarily equal torpor. It’s an adventurous mix that elevates your mind to a place as distant as the album title.
7. Ghost – Prequelle (Loma Vista)
Nobody pisses metal fans off quite like Tobias Forge, not least of which because he writes such amazing songs. Prequelle continues their all-encompassing approach to hard rock, taking AOR tropes on a trip through Castlevania and crafting some of the year’s most memorable tunes in the process. Every track could be a single, but the sinister “Rats” and necromantic “Danse Macabre” were inspired choices. If this is only the prelude, I want to know where Ghost decide to haunt next.
6. Haunt – Burst Into Flame (Shadow Kingdom)
Trevor Church has had a busy year, cranking out eight EPs with his horror doom outfit Beastmaker and this, the first full-length from his NWOBHM project. An exorcism of his personal demons in the form of sweeping riffs and giant hooks, Burst Into Flame proves that, even if the new wave of British heavy metal is 40 years old now, there’s still a spark waiting to ignite.
5. Khemmis – Desolation (20 Buck Spin)
Despite the Dungeons & Dragons trappings, Khemmis continue to push doom metal forward with their deeply personal approach to the genre. Expanding outside of their low-and-slow base, Desolation takes their quest widescreen, making it akin to the grandiose works of Cirith Ungol and Manilla Road. They take their influences and use them to journey deep into their own souls.
4. Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love (Anti-)
I’ve written plenty about this one in the pages of Decibel. Suffice to say that these divisive blackgazers continue getting better with each subsequent release. Whether you consider them metal or not, nobody this year put out a more gorgeous or dynamic song than “Canary Yellow.” That would be enough to get them on this list, but the sweeping emotional palette of the rest of the songs put them towards the top.
3. Carpenter Brut – Leather Teeth (No Quarter)
Carpenter Brut’s first proper full-length may not be the most “metal” synthwave release this year, but it may be the most ambitious. A perverse reimagining of 80s schlock soundtracks soaked in neon blood, this addresses one of the biggest problems with the genre: the songs all stand on their own, from Carpenter-esque themes to glorious synthpop gems (one of which features Ulver’s Kristopher Rygg). It’s some of the most horrific fun you can have without getting a subscription to Shudder.
2. Tribulation – Down Below (Century Media)
Hello, riffs. Sweet, sweet riffs. Did Tribulation sell their souls to Satan for such devilishly catchy guitar licks? Unlikely. Still, whatever the origin, we humble listeners are the beneficiaries of some of the most masterfully melancholy melodic death metal since the glory days of Gothenburg. In Flames may suck now, but at least these Faustian folks are blazing a trail through the nine circles.
1. The Night Flight Orchestra – Sometimes the World Ain’t Enough (Nuclear Blast)
As perverse as it may seem to put this slice of Swedish cheese at number one, there’s no way around it: the metal-adjacent album that brought me the most sheer joy this year came from a group of melodic death dudes moonlighting as AOR heroes. Honestly, it sounds like the most fun anyone in Soilwork or Arch Enemy has had in ages. Usually these melodic rock side projects from Euro-metal musicians are unmitigated garbage. This is the exception that makes the rest worth it. Crammed full of hits from an alternate-universe 1982, their fourth album fires on all cylinders, a slickly-produced ode to pomp rock bands like Journey and Styx. Check out “Paralyzed” for a disco rock delight, “This Time” for some anthemic shredding, or “Moments of Thunder” for a tasty dose of soul.