Year-in-Review: 2018 Metal

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As is tradition, a few months into the new year (it’s June?!!), I recount my favorite metal albums of the past year. 2018 was an eventful and busy year for me, with the usual ups and downs, but certainly in the net-positive zone; I think I can say that for the music as well! While there were some releases from big names that didn’t really do it for me, there were many great records from upcoming bands and newcomers.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Sleep - The Sciences
  • Parius - The Eldritch Realm
  • Necrophobic - Mark of the Necrogram
  • Monstrosity - The Passage of Existence
  • Michael Romeo -
  • Gozu - Equilibrium
  • Gaerea - Unsettling Whispers
  • Deicide - Overtures of Blasphemy
  • Amorphis - Queen of Time

Here is my top twenty list (with a sentence or four; as always, click on the artwork for links to YouTube):

20. Bosse-de-Nage - Further Still

Bosse-de-Nage sit right in the middle where hardcore meets black metal; breakdowns and accelerated d-beats/blastbeats are accentuated by harsh, shrieking vocals which are then layered on top of tremolo-picked, quasi-melodic riffs. For my money, a much grittier and chaotic sound compared to others that flirt with this mixture (Deafheaven or Ghost Bath).

19. Hamfer∂ - Támsins Likam

Hamfer∂ is the Faroese term for sailors lost at sea and Támsins Likam, their sophomore effort, sees the doomsters’ sound sink into one evocative of their name - ghastly, unsettling, and at times, crushing. The album is an impressive effort to meld melodic-tinged doom metal with folkish tendencies and a dissonant, yet progressive edge.

18. Crone - Godspeed

Crone show depth and flexibility in their songwriting ability on Godspeed and fuse grunge, progressive and alternative rock with metal elements. To give you an idea, there are parts which remind me of Pink Floyd, Alice In Chains, and David Bowie, but also parts that are similar to mid-era Katatonia or Opeth. A solid listen.

17. Anicon - Entropy Mantra

Fast, frenzied, melodic, technical, and thoughtful, Anicon continues to push boundaries on the foundation paved by the NYC black metal avant-garde (e.g., Krallice, Woe, and my favorite, Castevet).

16. Harms Way - Posthuman

Full of aggresive riffs and breakdowns, although Harms Way certainly wave the ‘bro-metal’ flag high and proud, Posthuman never becomes monotonous and is rather multi-dimensional. Along with the face-pummeling in-your-face swagger, there is a vibrant noisy, industrial facet to Posthuman that is intriguing and edgy.

15. Rivers of Nihil - Where Owls Know Your Name

Taking a slight departure from their previous output, Rivers of Nihil, opt for a more progressive and “ethereal” sound that strongly resembles Fallujah’s catalog. While this appears to be a point of contention for many, it works, and I don’t really think it deters from their original brand of technical death metal. The production on Where Owls Know Your Name is really well-balanced - polished, but not to the point of being overproduced.

14. Gorod - Æthra

Æthra is an excellent technical/progressive death metal album - memorable, groovy, and hard-hitting - Cynic jamming with Mastodon and Gojira. Unlike many others in the techy business, Gorod ensure that top-notch, virtuoso musicianship doesn’t come at the cost of artful songwriting.

13. Horrendous - Idol

While this is not Anerata (IMO their finest hour), Horrendous plunge forward in their exploration of progressive-tinged, old school death metal with Idol. The nods to Atheist, Death, and Cynic are still present in the sound (e.g. plopping bass) and songwriting (e.g. jazzy, jerky structures) but Idol is fresh, original, and quite simply a highly entertaining slab of metal.

12. Panopticon - The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness I and II

This double-album is really quite tough to pin down. “A fusion of black metal and Americana folk” would not be a wrong description but at the same time would be doing a disservice to the multifaceted manner in which these two genres are fused.

11. Psycroptic - As the Kingdom Drowns

Clinical and catchy - Psycroptic bring their absolute A-game with As the Kingdom Drowns. Never before have they sounded so furious, frenzied and yet, evocative and majestic. There is a depth to this album that is palpable and brought about by bold experimental leaps (e.g. operatic vocals overlaid with death metal growls) which is also a sign of successful execution.

10. Usurpress - Interrgnum

Sampling a vast array of influences and styles ranging from krautrock to old school death metal, at its core, Interrgnum is a dark, brooding album where Usurpress craft original doom metal material with melancholic leads, epic melodies, and grimy undertones.

9. Mos Generator - Shadowlands

Oh yeah! With Shadowlands, Mos Generator drop a new stoner/blues rock scorcher, which is perhaps, their finest effort thus far. More than anything, the band’s songwriting shines on this record with catchy tunes, clever structures, fantastic solos, and nostalgic choruses; Shadowlands spans the stoner rock spectrum.

8. Burial Invocation - Abiogenesis

Abiogenesis came out of nowhere! The debut album from Burial Invocation (of Ankara, Turkey) is an exemplary display of ominous, murky, old-school death metal. This album invokes the spirit of Demilich, Nocturnus, early Immolation, and Dimembered amongst others, and perfectly straddles the line between Floridian brutality and Swedish creativity.

7. De Profundis - The Blinding Light of Faith

Taken at face value, The Blinding Light of Faith delivers precisely what the album art conveys: pummeling, lightly-blackened, death metal with atonal melodies, screeching solos, and a deeply anti-religious vibe. Don’t be fooled however, because this merely scratches the surface; deeper down, De Profudis show off some incredibly mature songwriting, progressive musicianship (including jazzy breaks and offbeat time signatures), and as far as death metal goes, are not afraid of melodic leads. Fantastic stuff!

6. Sigh - Heir to Despair

What can I say? I am just glad that there is a new Sigh album out for our enjoyment. As oddball as ever, and as catchy and eclectic and cool and thunderingly bizarre as ever, Heir to Despair is another excellent addition to the artform practiced by Sigh.

5. Thou - Magus

This one is a dense and dark one. Full of unfiltered, thick, sludgy riffs that slowly slither about in a murky, crusty atmosphere, Baton Rouge’s Thou create a sonicscape of chaos without any need for speed. “Shapeshifting through life” croons lead singer Bryan Funck, and somehow this is a fitting description for the evolution of Magus.

4. Satan - Cruel Magic | Judas Priest - Firepower

Satan and Judas Priest have done it yet again (I couldn’t pick one)! How these two bands have managed to perfect the NWOBHM formula without getting stale baffles me, but here we are… Whereas both albums are filled with arresting riffs that latch onto your head, charged with melodies and dueling guitars and soaring vocals, the themes driving the music contrast each other. Judas Priest (as per usual) are infatuated by fantasy, technology, the supernatural, and… firepower - accordingly, the sound on Firepoweris polished, crisp, and large. On the other hand, Satan are in league with the occult, magick, and other philosophies, with a gritty, neoclassical, and almost “eastern European” sound (as opposed to the more conventionally Western melodies on Firepower). Also the lead singers couldn’t be more different. Yet, both albums are amazing.

3. YOB - Our Raw Hearts

Oregon’s doom metal stalwarts YOB haven’t released many albums that I don’t value dearly; Our Raw Heart is not an exception. Plaintive, dense, and not an easy listen, Our Raw Hearts is also filled with hope, mystique, grandeur, and nostalgia. At times groovy, at times lofty, and at times, crushingly heavy, each song is entirely cohesive with pummeling drums, buzzing riffs, and emotive, rusty vocals. Clocking in slightly over 70 minutes, there is nary a moment that doesn’t add to the overall epicness of the journey. Our Raw Hearts is the doom metal soundtrack to Westworld.

2. Messa - Feast for Water

Feast for Water is the incredible, sophomore effort from Italian doomsters, Messa. Frontwoman Sara’s sultry, calming, and enigmatic vocals are the star attraction of this show but the music on offer is the perfect accompaniment. Sparse, warm, and humble, the guitars and keyboards transition across genres from soft bluesy interludes to heavy, doomy passages and from acoustic, jazz-like breaks to staccato-filled crescendoes. Feast for Water is a completely unique metal experience.

1. Voivod - The Wake

Considering all the technicality that 2018 brought, it is only fitting that Voivod takes the crowning spot. Voivod are no amateurs - The Wake is their 13th offering. What is amazing about this album is that after about a decade or so, Voivod are sounding less like a collection of people who play for Voivod and more like their former selves 20 years ago. Of course, their erstwhile future was highly uncertain when Piggy, their frontman, passed away tragically in 2005, but with Dan Mongrain (perhaps one of my favorite guitarists of all time!) stepping in and taking more of lead role over the last few years, Voivod are looking stronger and more consistent than ever. The Wake is thrashy, dissonant, psychedelic, schizophrenic, catchy, and technically, quite incredible. It isn’t too often that I come across new music thinking “I did not expect that!” but this album was filled with such moments, song after song. The mix on this album is also perfect with the guitars packing a punch, the bass and bass drum centered and allowed to shine, and the vocals not hidden away. The Wake is as cohesive and as engaging an album that you’ll find - it may not all make sense together at first, but then the brilliance of Voivod, shines through.

Academic Workflow: How to get Siri to read papers to you

Often, when I'm reviewing a manuscript or reading a paper, I first like to familiarize myself with the general topics and themes discussed in it, before diving deeper to assess and analyze the text. For this purpose, I find that "listening to the text” is highly beneficial because it involves less friction compared to having to sit down and prepare myself to read a manuscript. Additionally, I can listen while I'm at the gym, or while commuting, at the coffee shop, etc.

Here's how I do it:

  1. Get Instapaper: Instapaper is a free read-later app that is handy for several reasons. Essentially, it strips the clutter from any webpage article and stores a clean, ad-less, plain-text version for you to read, accessible on any platform. You can pay for premium options, but both free and pro versions have the basic "text to speech" functionality, where your article is read aloud to you.
  2. Prepare your manuscript for Instapaper: Instapaper gives you the incredibly convenient and useful ability to forward article links, text, or even newsletters or email to its platform (see below). Once the text is in, Instapaper will parse and neatly format the contents of your email, which is then synced across its website and apps. If you are interested in sending a formatted, published journal article to Instapaper, extracting the text from the PDF and pasting it into your email window is rather straightforward. For an unpublished manuscript PDF with line numbers, I’d suggest cropping out the line numbers (this can be done in Apple’s native Preview or using Adobe Acrobat), to prevent Instapaper from reading them on every line (it can get annoying). After cropping, selecting and copying the body text is easy. If it’s a Word doc,
  3. Email the text to Instapaper: Each Instapaper user gets their own mail-to-instapaper address. Now, all you need to do is paste the manuscript text into your composer and send it off to Instapaper.
  4. Get Siri (or the built-in Instabot) to read your paper!
1. Crop line numbers out from your manuscript.

1. Crop line numbers out from your manuscript.

2. Select all the text from the manuscript after cropping

2. Select all the text from the manuscript after cropping

3. Email the text to your Instapaper Account

3. Email the text to your Instapaper Account

4. Hit the share button and click on “Speak” for text-to-speech

4. Hit the share button and click on “Speak” for text-to-speech

Thoughts on alternatives:

There are other apps out there (like Voice Dream Reader — which I’ve heard good things about) that can convert text to speech. Although, my limited experience with many common apps has not been… up to par. The iPhone itself has an “accessibility” option where text on the screen can be read out loud, but this feature doesn’t work when the phone is locked and is not convenient. For me, Instapaper is a simple, minimalistic app that excels at what it does. Its email feature is very convenient, and with the workflow above, I find it to be the best way to “listen” to papers.

Transitioning from Papers 3 to Bookends: Part 2 - The How

After making the radical decision to uproot my reference management system, I decided to take the plunge with Bookends ($73.99 for MacOS+iOS version with an additional $9.99 per year Pro features on iOS). I now had the seemingly formidable task of moving all my PDFs and their attached references from Papers into Bookends. Spoiler: I managed to do this with relative ease.

Here are the steps I followed for my transition from Papers to Bookends (including the associated setbacks and successes):

0. Trying out Bookends

Before moving your entire database(s) to Bookends, I suggest you try out some simple functionality by dragging and dropping (or searching for) a PDF of a paper and check whether an accurate reference is retrieved. You also have the option of autocompleting an entry (Refs → Autocomplete Paper or Cmd+Shift+C). Try editing a reference manually and get familiar with the Bookends interface. I strongly recommend reading the official website’s FAQ, tutorials, support as well as the provided documentation.

1. “Import References from Papers”

Bookends has a handy built-in option to import references from Papers (or Sente or EndNote): File → Import References

Outcome: All the references move into Bookends but not the PDFs (or attachments, in Bookends’ parlance).

Potential Problems: If you receive a “no references exported from Papers” error, try restarting Bookends (while keeping Papers open).

2. Set up a preferred PDF naming structure

Explore writing your own reference and citation formats

Bookends can automatically rename an imported PDF based on the reference that it eventually retrieves. For example, Bookends can make s2-342439.pdf into Thirumalai-2011-Journal-Geol.pdf after crawling through the text. If you’d like to, you can customize this structure by first making (or choosing) a format in the manager: Biblio → Formats Manager.

Outcome: You will be able to choose your preferred naming structure in the preferences.

3. Optional: Set yourself up for iOS usage

Designate the format for renaming PDFs in Bookends and assign the attachments’ folder to the one in your iCloud drive

If you intend on using Bookends on iOS, make sure you go ahead and download the app now. Follow instructions here to import a PDF through a search engine. Ensure that sync has been enabled; now, a ‘Bookends’ folder will be created in your iCloud directory.

On the desktop version, open up preferences and in the drag-down list, choose iCloud Folder for iOS Sync as your attachments folder. The default, inside Documents, does not jive if you want to have an iCloud-synced iOS version, so you might as well follow the above steps even if you don’t want to use the iOS version (the free app supports this as well).

Outcome: You have a folder titled “Bookends” under iCloud Drive.

4. Find all your Papers' PDFs:

Find and consolidate all the PDFs stored in Papers’ virtual library.

Since you’ve already imported references from Papers, Bookends will be populated, but they will not have PDFs attached to them. If imported correctly, it will yield an error that the PDF (with a long, machine-readable string name) cannot be found. This problem stems from Papers’ opaque Virtual Library and file handling system. But this also poses an advantage: now we simply need to gather all the PDFs wherever Papers stores them (with intact names!) and paste them into the Bookends’ folder (inside the iCloud drive).

Go to your Papers’ virtual library/database location in Finder to start this procedure. In this overarching structure, search for .pdf and then ‘add’ a search where you filter by PDF kinds.

Outcome: You are able to select all the originally-named Papers PDFs under one search.

5. Move the PDFs to your Bookends Folder

Before you move anything, make sure that Bookends on your desktop is closed.

Depending on the number of PDFs you have, I would recommend moving in segments. For context, I copied ~1500 PDFs (of ~5000) from the Papers’ search folder and pasted into the Bookends folder (in iCloud Drive) first before doing the rest. The time for the overall transition including the wait for iCloud to upload all these files (make sure there are no small ‘uploading’ clouds visible in Finder!) was about ~20 mins.

Outcome: You have all your Papers’ PDFs in the Bookends Folder.

6. Allow Bookends to do its thing

Batch Edit: rename all your attachments

Open up Bookends, and if the attachment folder has been set to the one under the iCloud drive appropriately, all your references ought to have PDFs attached to them! Scroll through the references and make sure that PDFs are attached.

Now, since nobody likes those cruddy long, undecipherable names that Papers provides, let’s rename the PDFs based on our chosen format. Refs → Global Change → Rename Attachments. This took about ~35 minutes for me.

And - that’s it!

Outcome: All your Papers’ references are in Bookends, with PDFs intact, AND the PDFs are all inside the Bookends folder, named based on the structure you chose! Voila!

If you followed these steps, you ought to be able to open up Bookends on iOS and slowly wait for the iCloud sync to weave its magic.