Well, here it is again.
How do I sum up a year in music that some how seemed to top every other year previous? Why do I say that every year? Who cares what I think anyway? I limited myself to a top thirty, but boy, there’s a ton of honorable mentions. Black metal was king this year, as it is most years for me. I’m boring, whatever, eat my shit.
Without further ado:
1) Carved Cross- The Yawning Abyss of Perdition.
No album touched me as deeply as this one did. From the moment I listened to the bleak, lo fi, Burzum-y opening riff, I felt things like I rarely do when listening to music, let alone black metal. This won’t be for everyone. It’s raw, and the production while enhancing the appeal for me, has definitely turned off many a person I’ve recommended this record to. Fuck em. They’re cowards. This slaps. There’s a distinct level of sadness that comes with the riffs unrivaled by perhaps any record I’ve heard in the realm of metal within the past ten years.
2) Akitsa- Credo
I’ve always liked Akitsa. They’ve forever been the best at combining punk and black metal. However, some of their albums have lulls for me that just sorta left me wanting more. Credo didn’t. In addition to putting on perhaps the most savage performance I’ve seen this year, they absolutely blew me away with their new album. All of their trademarks are there, but for once, everything lands perfectly. Credo is short and sweet, but possible the most vitriolic and passionate record I’ve heard in the genre in quite some time. O.T. is the fucking craziest live vocalist too. Rare to hear a voice so savage.
3) Manes- Slow Motion Death Sequence
Norway has a long standing history as the home of the birth of black metal. While Manes were once part of this tradition, their hard turn into experimental music resembles Ulver’s. Those who have followed their career arc since Villosophe will know what to expect, but there’s something to be said about being so consistently creative and boundary pushing. You won’t easily fit this into a category; there’s shades of trip hop, post rock, goth, and punk, along with the darkness you would expect from black metal.
4) Candelabrum- Portals
I will readily admit that it took me quite some time to warm up to Candleabrum. From the first time I heard them, I just disregarded them as a weaker Black Cilice (funny that the same guy is behind both bands). However, Portals changed my mind about them. The synth heavy songwriting truly adds an otherworldy atmosphere. The emphasis on atmosphere and ambiance is heavy, so if you’re looking for riffs, you may want to look elsewhere, but man, this really did it for me.
5) Cosmic Church-Täyttymys
Finland’s finest purveyor of melodic and atmospheric black metal riffs ends his career with this project with perhaps his finest work. The level of care taken to craft the guitar riffs and harmonies is beyond most artist’s capabilities. It almost feels like the project has been taken to it’s terminal point in that I have no idea how he could improve upon this record.
6) Pa Vesh En-Church of Bones
A completely new band to me, Pa Vesh En made their mark by taking everything I like about raw black metal and melding it with the ugly, industrial feeling of Axis of Perdition and some Blut Aus Nord. This got repeat listens, late at night, when I wanted to scare the hell out of myself.
7) Sigh- Heir to Despair
Man, they really talked a lot of shit about how different this album was, and how everyone was going to hate it. Well, they were half right. This is definitely different. It fits neatly into Sigh’s oevure of “we sound like a jazzy circus going to hell” that they’ve had going on since Imagniary Sonicscape, but it also sounds like no other band on earth. The song I linked is definitely the most “normal” on the album, so if you’re looking for more like that, you may be disappointed. As the album progresses, it gets a bit more laid back, but never less stunning.
8) Ungfell-Mythen, Mären, Pestilenz
Folky without becoming cheesey, riffy without becoming an athletic event, and intense without becoming exhausting, Ungfell has perfected the art of balanced, yet creative black metal. Not too firmly in any sub genre, Ungfell does a lot of things right that I really haven’t heard many other of their contemporaries do. As a relatively young band, I’m very excited to see where they go next.
9) Daughters-You Won’t Get What You Want
This is easily the strangest album on my list, and one of the strangest albums I’ve ever heard. Daughters started off as everyone’s least favorite sassy white belt grindcore band, and have evolved into a noise rock titan who draws influence from Swans, NoMeansNo, Jesus Lizard, and fuck knows who else on their most recent effort. This was definitely the most challenging album I heard this year, and every listen, it reveals itself more and more.
10) Spectral Wound- Infernal Decadence
Sometimes, you just want a record that kicks the shit out of you with riffs, and doesn’t care for interludes, or drawn out melodic parts, or useless clean vocals. Infernal Decadence is exactly that record. Holy mother of fuck, it’s so heavy and powerful, it basically leaves you breathless by the time you’re done with it. While Sargeist released an awesome record this year, these guys released the best Sargeist sounding record this year, by far.
11) Failure- In The Future Your Body Will Be The Furthest Thing From Your Mind
My fucking god, I’m so happy Failure has now made two new records since their reformation. I’m not sure where I’ll end up putting this, rank wise, in their catalog, because I’ve spent decades with their other records (with the exception of The Heart is a Monster), but the fact that a band I’ve loved for so long still puts out killer space rock is good enough for me. If you know Failure, you won’t be surprised with much here, although the deviations into…I don’t know, there’s some weird songs on here that magically work, but that sums up most of their career-everything just works. This record dropped as a series of four EPs, and as I waited for the last to drop mid November, I stayed up until midnight listening to the first three EPs in a row, loving every second.
12) Drudkh-They Often See Dreams About Spring
As one of my favorite bands for 15ish years, every new Drudkh album comes with a lot of excitement, but a lot of worry that we’ll get another Handful of Stars. That is not the case here. They haven’t reinvented the wheel; they’re still an atmospheric black metal band with a slight post rock influence, but god damn, they make that wheel smooth and glorious. This is quite easily their best work in over a decade, outside of some of the various songs on splits and such. If you lost faith after Estrangement, this is a good path to changing that.
13) American Nightmare-Self Titled
Holy shit, this went so much better than I expected. American Nightmare were a pivotal band for me at the end of high school. I’ve still never related to lyrics as well as I have theirs, and their music makes me want to move like no other band I’ve ever heard. I’m so glad they’re back, and while you’re still getting noisey hardcore like you did years ago, they’ve matured and brought serious post punk sensibilities to the table. A welcome return. Long live American Nightmare.
14) Craft- White Noise and Black Metal
One of the best in the black metal game returns with another killer riff fest of an album. Craft has the unique ability to throw raging riffs together in a cohesive song and still maintain a groove that makes me want to nod my head. Never too melodic, but never too atonal or wanky, Craft manages to play to all the conventions of the genre without sounding like rehash.
15) Funeral Mist- Hekatomb
Man, this is one evil sounding album. Orthodox black metal with no frills, but done so well, I immediately loved it. Nasty riffs? Check. Lyrics filled with references to satan? Triple check. Disconcerting choral chanting paired raging, fully insane vocals? CHECK.
16) Immortal- Northern Chaos Gods
So much was made about Abbath leaving Immortal. Would they survive without the man who penned their opus, At the Heart of Winter? Would his froggy grandma croak and incredible and distinctive riffs, now missing, be the death knell of this band. I am fucking thrilled to report that despite the changes, Immortal didn’t suffer a bit. This Demonaz helmed album is easily one of their best. If you know Immortal, you know what this sounds like, but man, this is truly them at their finest.
17) Iskandr- Euprosopon
Creative melodic black metal, with cleverly used clean vocals, and clean passages that add beauty not rivaled by many within the genre. I’ve always been a fan of their work, but this is truly next level for them. On this record, Iskandr went from a good band to a truly great one.
18) Moenen of Xezbeth- Ancient Spells of Darkness
This record captures the “spooky” feel of mid 90s black metal, and reminds me of Sigh’s classic Scorn Defeat. The keyboard lines enhance this vibe, and make the band stand out from their peers attempting to recapture the spirit of the “glory days” of the genre. I was surprised to find out that this band shares members with Perverted Ceremony, because fuck, I cannot get into that band at all.
19) Solar Temple- Fertile Descent
Somewhere between black metal and neofolk lies Solar Temple. There’s a lot of strange, Death in June and Swans like moments going on throughout this album, but it still stays deeply rooted in black metal. This is a record that truly pays off after repeat listens. I didn’t know what to make of it at first, and every spin, it reveals itself further.
Spacey, expansive black metal that conforms neither to expectations or standard song structure. The most striking parts of this album, other than the insanely well crafted riffs, are the non metal parts. I almost felt as if I were being transported into orbit. Truly striking stuff, and conceptually, I always appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into the background of Markov Soroka’s work. I won’t do it a disservice by regurgitating it poorly here, so read up.
21) Cirrhus- Unimpeachable Madness
Melodic, psychedelic, and passionate are three words I would describe Cirrhus’s brand of black metal. Since their lone, self titled release some time ago, Cirrhus has seemingly flown under the radar. Their reemergence here shows them a refined beast, fully realized in the mold they set out before. They are by far the strongest band on the CW Productions roster, and a boon to USBM as a whole.
22) Sanguine Relic- The Essence of Eternity’s Despair
Ok, fully disclosure, I fucking hated this band at first. I didn’t get it. It sounded like speaker static and some dude yelling over the static. Now, that said, despite completely changing my mind on them, I really wish they’d turn the vocals down. Raw black metal with great melancholy riffs. Sanguine Relic has been hailed as the future of USBM. I’m fine with that description.
23) Höstblod – Mörkrets Intåg
There is such passion and sorrow to this record. While it’s easy to tie it to black metal, the deep emotions, choices of melodies, and song arrangements invoke the things I loved best about the heyday of screamo. The varied instruments employed, and somber clean vocals truly make this record pull at my heartstrings like few others have in recent memory. As an aside, the vinyl packaging was hands down the best of any record I bought this year. While I’d never buy a record just for “extras”, I loved the thought put into making this a truly special physical release. I look forward to seeing where the project goes next.
24) Adzalaan- Into Vermillion Mirrors
Punky, angry black metal that was the perfect fit for the basement show in which I first saw them. There’s no bullshit here; the album rages all of the way through and barely stops to come up for air. If I had never heard black metal, I could easily be convinced this was a raw punk record with extra aggressive vocals. Made more for circle pits than burning churches.
I grew up in Pennsylvania going to hardcore and punk shows, so of course I was familiar with Mewithoutyou long before I ever heard this album. But I’ll be honest, nothing prior had really stuck with me until this record. Melodic, but angular post hardcore with excellent vocals, and very introspective lyrics. There’s even shades of shoegaze and post punk as well. Not everyone’s cup of tea, and hell, their prior work wasn’t really mine, but this suited me just right.
Funeral doom is so hard to do right. It’s not an inherently interesting genre, and it moves slowly across pretty long songs. However, Evoken have been doing this almost as long as the genre has existed, and on their newest release, they’re not exactly changing the game, but they’re, much like always, winning it. I enjoy the slight nods to My Dying Bride, and other gothic influenced death/doom of the 90s and early 2000s. I was way surprised by the quality of the clean vocals. The World War I theme is so bleak, and the music reflects that. Turn a sunny day grey and listen to this album.
27) Sargeist- Unbound
Finland’s riffmasters have returned to blow everyone’s fucking head off. This album is 48 minutes of speed, fury, and power. The revitalized line up has written their strongest material other than Let The Devil In, and I’m loving every minute. Can’t wait for this to hit LP.
28) Portrayal of Guilt- Let Pain Be Your Guide
I’m immediately skeptical of any band tagged with screamo. Last time I listened to “screamo” someone recommended, it was decidedly not the City of Caterpillar/Page 99 etc I grew up on, and was in fact, total fucking trash. I am very pleased to report that this album is anything but. There’s a bit of a grind and noise influence as well, but boy, it reminds me of Majority Rule, but does so in a way that isn’t outright plagiarism, which is nice. More bands like this. Less like Touche Amore.
29) YOB- Our Raw Heart
YOB continues to be one of the few doom bands I will listen to, and love, every single piece of music they decide to release. Slow dirges that carry a ton of emotional weight, and heavier than hell guitar work supplemented by beautiful, yet unorthodox clean vocals, and howls straight from hell. The thunderous rhythm section plods along for most of the record, but when it needs to go, it GOES. Definitely my favorite thing they’ve done since The Great Cessation, which is an all time favorite doom record.
30) Thy Catafalque-Geometria
Only in Solefald will you find a band, still active, that truly stretches the definition of “avant garde black metal” more than Thy Catafalque. When you’re listening to blast beats, and next thing you know, you’re listening to techno, you’re listening to Thy Catafalque. Their use of vocal harmonies has always made them incredibly appealing to me, and those harmonies are out in force here.
HONORABLE MENTION: All of these records are great, so good that I felt the need to purchase them. I may also have ranked them higher if I listened to them more, but some of this stuff is newer, and some of it, I just didn’t get around to as much as I would have liked. This year was so insanely good, it was really difficult to decide what should be here, and what should be ranked above.
Maybe the best black metal demo I’ve heard in a decade.
City Hunter-Deep Blood
Absolutely raging raw punk.
Genre veterans sound as fresh as ever.
Bio-Crisis-Sangrando el Olivido
My buddy that put me on to these guys called them “Mexican Tragedy” and that’s massively underselling them.
The Crown- Cobra Speed Venom
Holy shit, the Crown is back. Album fucking RULES.
Spectral Burrows is one of the best songs of the year, easily. Perfect proggy death metal.
Purity Reisistance- Promo
Raw, hateful, and melodic. A great debut. Likely should have made my list.
Industrial metal masterpiece.
Unreal good. Likely should have made my list.
This is pretty moshy for raw black metal, and pretty well produced too.
The Ocean-Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic
One of the few post metal bands I can still stomach, and boy do I love them.
Emma Ruth Rundle- On Dark Horses
Absolutely crushingly beautiful indie rock for sad times.
Ancestors-Suspended in Reflections
Absolutely gorgeous and lush “post metal” that sounds less like Neurosis, and more like Sigur Ros
Spacey black metal gloriousness.
Arktihnn- VI, and I’m sure I’ll love their other release.
See the above. I like spacey black metal. fuck off about it.
Harm’s Way- PostHuman
Meatball sandwich hardcore meets Godflesh meets me doing a bunch of deadlifting to this album
Det Eviga Leendet- Lenience
Atmospheric black metal that I wish I had more time with.
Andeis- Servants of the Cold Night
Half way between grating and beautiful, this is an interesting and rewarding black metal record.
Rebel Wizard-Voluptuous Worship of Rapture and Response
Equal parts Maiden and Midnight, Darkthrone and Priest.
Ride for Revenge-Sinking the Song
The fuckin ugliest band in the game. LP NOW PLEASE.
Sainte Marie Des Loups- Self Titled
Raw, noisey, yet soundscapey black metal.
Pissblood- Self Titled
If Cursed was a black metal band, they’d be Pissblood. God damn.
Mgla’s more industrial cousin, featuring sneaky nods to Sepultura.
Utzalu- Idiot Hell
This punky black metal shit rules, and should keep coming out, in droves.
Abigor-Höllenzwang (Chronicles Of Perdition)
Classic band, still making classics in 2018. Uglier than hell black metal with no frills.
Aorlhac- L’Esprit des Vents
Absolutely beautiful atmospheric black metal.
Arena rock doom metal, with some seriously soaring vocals and bitching solos.
Epic screamo, with unreal levels of emotion permeating every note.
Incredible Dbeat madness with black metal and death metal overtones
Cantique Lepreux-Paysages Polaires
Quebec does atmospheric black metal real real good.
Late entry to the party, god damn it ruled.
Death grind from hell.
Svalbard-It’s Hard to Have Hope
Beautiful and angry screamo.
Cremantur-The Prize of Treason
Raw, dissonant black metal.
Emperor worship is at it’s finest this year.
Majestic Mass-Savage Empire of Death
Sleazy black metal for making out with your lady when she’s cosplaying as Elvira.
All of the various Unholy Vampyric Slaughter Sect material from this year, splits, eps, singles etc,.
Black metal, noise, industrial, and other kinds of hell.
Svartidaudi-Revelations of the Red Sword
Not the album I wanted, but it’s still well done. Too much indecision between melody and chaos, and doesn’t blend as well as I’d like
Turia/Fluisteraars and Turia/Vilkacis splits
Both splits were incredible, but the Dutch bands (everyone but Vilkacis) are the true gems here.
Eps I loved:
Book Of Sand-Postmodern Witchcraft
Mooncitadel-The Moon Calls to Wander…The Winter’s Majesty
Anticipating in 2019:
The two new Lana del Rey songs, Mariner’s Apartment Complex and Venice Bitch were easily two of the best songs I heard all year. Can’t wait for her new record next year.
Best Live Shows:
Lana Del Rey in a stadium
Adzalaan/Dagger Lust/Skaphe in a basement
Midnight at Street Metal Massacre
Master’s Hammer, The Ruins of Beverast, Dodheimsgard, and Sinmara at MDF
Akitsa at Saint Vitus
Didn’t hear enough times to fairly rank before I wrote this, wish I did.
Nocturnal Triumph- Real good, not as good as their last.
Circle of Ouroborus-One single is enough to have me HYPE
Circle of Ouroborus/Cenotaphe split-see above
Voidsphere/that whole crew’s new releases-all great, need way more listening
Unholy Vampyric Slaughter Sect- Power of Unordained Light. This is unreal good but I need to digest it a bunch more.
Disappointments of the year:
At The Gates-boring as hell, watered down, mid tempo garbage
Pig Destroyer- What the fuck were they thinking? this straight up sucks ass. give me prowler any day.
Panopticon is still making records. That’s a shame
Uada went from a good band to making a terrible mess of an album