Paleowave

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.

Year-in-Review: 2015 Metal

The middle of February is an appropriate time to release a best-of list for the previous year in my opinion. No, seriously. The folks at AngryMetalGuy have the right idea - you need at least a month to listen to December’s output! In any case, here’s the list of my top ten metal releases in 2015, accompanied by two-sentence descriptions:

Honorable mentions: Visigoth - The Revenant King, Sumac - The Deal, Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats - The Night Creeper, Paradise Lost - The Plague Within, Intronaut - The Direction of Last ThingsTrials - This Ruined World, Khemmis - Absolution, Deafheaven - New Bermuda

10. Rivers of Nihil - Monarchy

Monarchy

Not having been on a technical death metal trip for a long time, Rivers of Nihil’s sophomore effort, Monarchy, is the perfect foray back into the field. Monarchy maintains a fine line balancing technical structures, grooviness, and songwriting skills, and is chockfull of memorable riffs and extremely talented instrumentation. 

9. Ghost - Meliora

Meliora

God damn it (Satan damn it?), I was never a Ghost (or Ghost B.C.?) fan until 2015, when I went against my better judgement to see what all the fuss was about, and inevitably got sucked into the endlessly catchy vortex of Blue Öyster Cult jams and church music choruses. Meliora is on par with the other two Ghost albums: a solid throwback album with slow-paced, groovy, downtuned rock ’n roll riffs that stick to your brain and somehow don’t give you a saccharine overdose when you come back for seconds. 

8. Tau Cross - Tau Cross

TauCross

I got turned onto Tau Cross even before I found out about its Amebix/Voivod roots by the incredibly grim album artwork. The remarkably refreshing self-titled debut delivers on all counts of a noteworthy metal album including how epic and anthemic it sounds despite its relentlessly crusty approach.

7. Horrendous - Anareta

Anareta

My word - this album took me by complete and utter surprise considering my expectations for exhilarating progressive death metal in the last few years. In a pool filled with multiple ‘old-school death metal’ tropes, Anareta delivers like nobody else, with fantastic, cohesive songwriting replete with somber, subtle melodies, and unsettling structures that are reminiscent of a much ‘doomier’ version of Atheist’s Unquestionable Presence.

6. Fluisteraars - Luwte

Fluisteraars

Though it is disappointing that no other black metal made my 2015 list (A Pregnant Light wasn’t a full length!), Dutch band FluisteraarsLuwte, takes the best parts of Drudkh, Summoning, Hate Forest, and Burzum’s naturalistic (and suicidal) tendencies and juxtaposes them with a unique, riff-driven, second-wave mentality that rivals the ferocity of any of the aforementioned bands. These guys are the European answer to the recent Cascadian black metal movement. 

5. Goatsnake - Black Age Blues

BlackAgeBlues

When I saw Goatsnake live in early 2015, on top of being able to see these legends perform, I had no idea that they were writing new material, let alone releasing a new album in the coming months! Black Age Blues is menacing, evil, folksy, bluesy, heavy as hell, and everything you could wish for in a Goatsnake album - classic entertainment right here.

4. Tribulation - The Children of the Night

Tribulation

What an inconceivable progression it has been for Tribulation from 2009’s rabid death/thrash metal homage to Entombed/Dismember, The Horror, to 2015’s goth ’n roll Children of the Night with its middle eastern melodies, atmospheric songwriting, and ethereal aura - who would’ve guessed? Though this was one of the first few new albums I heard in 2015, I have kept coming back for more, and it is always a blast - just like their live performance.

3. Satan - Atom by Atom

AtomByAtom

How were they ever going to top the heavy metal fury that was Life Sentence, which was also arguably the best return-to-form album in history? Well, here we are with Atom by Atom, an absolute stunner of a heavy metal record with ripping twin guitars, intricately complex structures, roaring solos, and some of the best bass-drum interplay I’ve heard in a while; simply stunning putting every other revival NWOBHM album to shame.

2. Royal Thunder - Crooked Doors

CrookedDoors

Having seen them live twice, Royal Thunder are fast becoming one of my favorite bands. Crooked Doors is on the natural, upward trajectory from Royal Thunder's humble beginnings, but the maturity, depth, and character of this record somehow resonates with me on a fundamental level almost as if the most infectious moments of Anathema, Opeth, and Alice in Chains were fused onto one album. Go listen to it!

1. Elder - Lore

Lore

I am unable to find flaw with this unreservedly immense record (including its absolutely gorgeous cover artwork). This is one phenomenal journey, tumultuous crescendo after crescendo that never dulls, tying together the best facets of heavy music that pulls influences from across the spectrum and adds up to an incredibly expansive, satisfying, and rewarding listen! I cannot wait to see Elder perform Lore in a live setting!