The 10 Best Metal Albums Of 2018
First, some housekeeping. In place of what would have been November’s Black Market column, you are now (in early December) getting our TOP 10 METAL ALBUMS OF THE YEAR (*terrifying thunderclap*) MINUS A MONTH AND A BIT (*sadder, softer thunderclap*). At the end of this month, as a sort of “special edition” of December’s Black Market column, we’ll cover the “best of the rest” in some configuration that will surely test the scrolling capabilities of your preferred digit. We’ll be back with a regular Black Market column in January (*saddest, softest thunderclap*).
Second, assuming you haven’t already made your way down to “the list” part of this year-end list, please allow me to quote here a few sentences from List Item #10, written by Aaron Lariviere:
This list will disappoint you. (Also, year-end lists are dumb, dumber than our usual lists, which is saying something, but I digress.) Picture Jake Bannon screaming “YOU FAIL ME” at someone vomiting on his shoes — that’s us, failing you in real time. Unless the things you love happen to perfectly align with the schizophrenic nonsense we slapped together and labeled “BEST OF 2018,” your thirst for listicular validation shall go unquenched. There will be no Thou. No Yob, Panopticon, Horrendous, Slugdge, At The Gates, Dödsrit, Deafheaven, High On Fire, Sleep, none of it. Not even Deicide. (Stan is furious.) For better or worse, we made a collective decision to eschew grand narratives and editorial coherence, and instead give you our unvarnished favorites — the things we loved most (or hated least).
So: You’ve been warned. And you’ll re-encounter this warning when you read Aaron’s aforementioned blurb below. And you’ll still be disappointed. But you can’t say we didn’t warn you.
With that, let me now fulfill my ceremonial big-thinker (lol) obligations by showing everyone my ass. Here’s 2018’s eulogy, in which I will isolate and expound upon the trends of the year in some not-at-all instantly dated way so I don’t get replaced by an intern who could do my job by throwing darts at a wall of slam promos.
Ahem. Uh, hi.
Holy shit, what the fuck did we just live through?
Deep breath. Okay, let me spit up some thought-vomit instead. I began the year writing about how mindboggling it is to me that two people can like similar stuff given the infinite number of variables in the mix. Here I am, 10 nervous breakdowns later, with a piece about how we manage to bridge those gaps anyway. Can’t say I expected that. But, then again, I also wasn’t expecting to become obsessed with a YouTube video. Yeah, here’s the metal review I couldn’t get out of my head. Long-lost metal scribe Ramar Pittance sent this to me. Check it out:
The man in the car, as you know now from his infectious salutation, is YouYouYou!!! (or, depending on account strikes, YouYouYou !), a busy YouTuber who used to upload little-seen hip-hop reviews along with the occasional nod to mainstream rock. Back in July 2017, he switched things up by documenting his “first time reaction” to every Linkin Park album. His views increased. Next, he binged Avenged Sevenfold’s discography. Then, Disturbed. By December, he was sinking his teeth into Kill ‘Em All, the video of which, at the time I’m writing this, has accrued over 36,000 views. Weeks later, his commute was scored by Iron Maiden. Not long after, YouYouYou!!! was losing his shit to “Painkiller.”
Taken alone, this video is not very 2018. I love it, I love YouYouYou!!!, but let’s face it: People have been losing their shit to Judas Priest since forever, often in cars, notably in parking lots. But…everything else about it – how it came to be, how it makes me feel, how I want it to make me feel – is, if not very this year, very this last half of the decade, which is about as close as I can get to relevancy without spraining something.
Quick info dump: If you’ve never actually “surfed” in your “browser” to the popular “website” YouTube, what has been embedded above is a reaction video. Pretty self-explanatory, though I do get a kick out of this Wikipedia definition: “Reaction videos are videos in which people react to events.” You don’t say.
Anyway, you’ve probably suffered through a think piece or seven on why this particular reboot of the human experience has endured long past the halcyon days of its humble, coprophagic beginnings. Early on, these editorials used to skew embittered in the dad-jokiest of ways. But, since pivoting to video en masse and pushing previous gatekeepers into Mark Zuckerberg’s gaping Zardoz maw, we’re now seeing more nuanced takes regarding our new influencer overlords.
For instance, Eric Skelton, writing for Pigeons & Planes, spoke with USC’s Professor Lisa Aziz-Zadeh about the neurological effects possibly underpinning why people are drawn to reaction videos:
“Mirror neurons are neurons that are active both when someone makes an action (like grasping a cup) as well as when someone sees someone make the same action,” [Aziz-Zadeh] says. “Mirror neurons may enable us to automatically simulate other people’s experiences. Thus when we see someone doing an action that is joyful (like rocking out to music), we might share the joy they experience because we know what it feels like to rock out to music ourselves.”
Per Internet Law, I will now share an Inzane_Johnny meme.
Back on track: I feel what Skelton and Aziz-Zadeh are getting at when I watch YouYouYou!!! run excitedly around his car, powered by the sheer ecstasy of experiencing good Priest. I feel the faint flicker of a younger me having his first brush with THA PAIN-KILLAH. I feel a sense of validation that someone outside the metal sphere could be so enraptured by the music I love. All they had to do was listen! For anyone who is lonely within the holding cell of an ultra-fringe interest, that is some intoxicating shit. You found me! Wait, how did you find me? Ah…yeah, man…about that: There might be some other stuff at play here, too.
In 2011, Sam Anderson, before he made Oklahoma City interesting, wondered if reaction videos would survive when questions inevitably arose regarding their authenticity. Alleged hidden-camera recordings aside, how real is a reaction when you know someone is watching you, anyway? Anderson: “This kind of self-consciousness could be the death knell for reaction videos, in the same way that the initial frisson of reality TV was killed, almost immediately, by contestants’ increasing familiarity with the conventions of reality TV.” Reality TV, of course, survived, evolved into a mostly-scripted meta mindfuck, and was elected president. Similarly, reaction videos’ suspiciously premeditated performative conventions have now been normalized and encouraged by a count-the-views race towards lightly compensated notoriety.
Indeed, with over a decade of data informing creative decisions, you sure do see a whole lot of uniformity in reaction videos. It’s not just the reactions, though it’s hard to ignore that they’ve been winnowed down to ultra-extra emotes that can be easily sorted into LIKE or OUTRAGE thumbnails. That Anderson saw such homogeneity before YouTube’s partner program went wide is telling, that even before the service could be (potentially) monetized by all, DIY entertainment Darwinism quickly ascertained which expressions captured the biggest audience. If your platform’s visible indicators of achievement are popularity-based, that’s the hellscape that’s terraformed, I guess. Unsurprisingly, when the pyrrhic chase for “engagement” is coupled with YouTube’s brand of parasitic capitalism, it also leads to people murdering any proven topic to goddamn death.
To that end, you’ll find a lot of professed non-metalheads reacting to metal and Judas Priest’s “Painkiller” in particular. The duo behind Lost In Vegas are the kings of the outsider-reaction field and their “Judas Priest- Painkiller (REACTION!!!)” has racked up 625,000 views since October 2017. They are good, it’s deserved. They sit atop a growing heap that includes newer reactions by Alex Hefner (201,000 views), VinAnd Sori (55,000 views), and Hectic Reacts (51,000 views), to name a few. But this phenomenon even predates Lost in Vegas: WeabooReacts reacted to “Painkiller” two years ago.
First, my god, someone get Halford to react to a reaction video. Second, what’s really driving all of this? Lost In Vegas has a track record of innovation. YouYouYou!!! likely got to Painkiller through a request from his community to marathon all Priest. So, maybe this is misplaced cynicism and that holds true for everyone. Maybe I’m just too old, not to mention blinded by outmoded everything, to truly understand. But, given the preponderance of channels drilling down on the same exact song in the same extract format, it’s hard not to wonder if there are a ton of these things mostly because YouTube’s algorithm has signaled to creators that there’s an audience for these things. In turn, thanks to Fair Use and our cultural affinity for mimicking past successes, a whole mini marketplace has arisen around the instant takes of a 28-year-old metal song.
And yet, despite the myriad of contrivances fostering the optimal conditions to support so many “Painkiller” videos, I believe that people are reacting truthfully within them. It’s weird. Perhaps it’s because there’s nothing really dictating how one should react to “Painkiller,” only that it’s advantageous to film a reaction to one. The path of least resistance in this hypothetical is to not lie but also inflate the truth until it’s as entertainingly and unignorably large as possible. Artistically speaking, that might not be the purest thing in the world, but what in reality actually is? In a sense, that’s just art. And, hell, the presence of money makes anything seem compromised. Lest we forget, a version of the “Painkiller” single was released by CBS with “Better By You, Better Than Me” on the B-side, Priest’s classic 1978 Spooky Tooth cover that got a fresh coat of controversy thanks to the 1990 “subliminal message” suicide trial. What a virtuous way to move units, CBS. In other words, same as it ever was?
Yeah, if all of this hemming and hawing over authenticity feels familiar, it’s because reaction videos dredge up the same unanswered questions that have hung over criticism since time immemorial. Granted, interrogating criticism is Mike and Doug’s world and I’m but a dipshit streaker within it, but I’ve at least waggled my philosophical parts at the following: How truthful does someone have to be regarding something that’s inherently subjective? How long does someone have to research and contemplate source material? How do the formalities of the form – the customs, audience expectations, and inevitable capitalistic concessions – end up influencing opinions?
I mean, take that last question: What is a year-end list if not someone’s truth imprisoned within artificial objectivity and steroid-injected hyperbole? For one thing, is that Great Falls album due out on December 21 just going to turn into fucking Thanos dust 11 days later? Don’t get me started, my gripes are legion. Holy shit, where’s the Tylenol. Regardless, lists persist because they’re instantly familiar, easily facilitating lifehack-y pursuits like grokking a year’s worth of metal without having established a long-term residency. The purpose of a list is to be the best, now, even if they’re really the far more bullshitty “best,” “now.” This is an open secret and yet I get unreasonably stressed out making them, fully submitting to the impossible ideals of the form.
So, yes, it’s a little rich to hold reaction videos to my older, equally suspect markers of validity, mainly because reaction videos do some things so much better. On the smaller scale, witnessing even the faintest twitch of an unguarded opinion in this age of workshopped banality is thrilling, itching some long-unscratched part of my brain. No matter the take, I’m transfixed, and I seem to calibrate accordingly in order to connect. Positive in-the-moment judgments are unlikely endorsements by unexpected allies, negative ones are…legit enlightening? Again, it’s weird! These videos offer defined stances, but the takeaways are strangely amorphous. Whatever you want to find in them, you’ll find.
Wired’s Laura Hudson, reacting to a spate of Game Of Thrones reaction videos, reached beyond the schadenfreude of voyeuristically documenting obvious marks and found this: “There’s catharsis in [the videos] as well: a way to see our own horror and sadness reflected in the faces of others, and thereby somewhat allayed.” Tha pain-killah, indeed. This sort of “unity through experience” is an enduring trait across all reaction videos. It’s why I’d go a step further and say that, in addition to mirror neurons and catharsis, they even enrich one’s subsequent experiences with the source material.
This used to be the domain of the older-sibling/cool-friend/record-shop effect, where these crucial interactions complicated one’s own opinion, adding a kind of depth one couldn’t unlock alone. It makes sense that the better versions of reaction videos would democratize and diversify that experience. That someone might find Judas Priest through Lost in Vegas or YouYouYou!!! is pretty cool. But check this out: If you scroll down into the comment sections, you’ll see people requesting reactions about the things they already know and love. People want to hear someone else express an opinion on their dearly beloved shit. People want to know that they exist. So, that someone might find Lost In Vegas or YouYouYou!!! through Judas Priest is one hell of a thing. And that seems to go both ways.
That right there is a delightful Q&A video in which YouYouYou!!! talks about whether his opinions have changed following his first-time reactions. Gonna edit this a bit for clarity: “You guys have been watching me grow, man. The most recent thing I’ve grown into is thrash metal. I’ve been resisting that sound for quite a minute. But now I find myself contradicting myself: saying I don’t like it…but I guess I do like it.”
The thing is, if you click through his channel, you can see that! You can binge that! And it makes my metal heart swell. “One of us! One of us! Oh no, back away from the Creed, my dude!” But it’s some real monkey’s paw shit, too. I feel so connected, so elated that someone outside my bubble can hear what I am and understand what I am, and yet we’re both alone: YouYouYou!!! in his car and me on my computer. How real can that connection be? This is something Skelton touched on, that videos might be how people are left to socialize now that tech, in order to serve man with the most predictably anxiety-ridden existence, is steering us away from in-the-flesh interactions. The human thing to do is to acclimate to the form and reach into the void hoping to feel someone on the other side. Hell of a reaction. –Ian Chainey
10 Ritual Necromancy – Disinterred Horror (Dark Descent Records)
As the blurbmeister tasked with kicking off this list, it’s my job to deliver the bad news up front: This list will disappoint you. (Also, year-end lists are dumb, dumber than our usual lists, which is saying something, but I digress.) Picture Jake Bannon screaming “YOU FAIL ME” at someone vomiting on his shoes — that’s us, failing you in real time. Unless the things you love happen to perfectly align with the schizophrenic nonsense we slapped together and labeled “BEST OF 2018,” your thirst for listicular validation shall go unquenched. There will be no Thou. No Yob, Panopticon, Horrendous, Slugdge, At The Gates, Dödsrit, Deafheaven, High On Fire, Sleep, none of it. Not even Deicide. (Stan is furious.) For better or worse, we made a collective decision to eschew grand narratives and editorial coherence, and instead give you our unvarnished favorites — the things we loved most (or hated least). In that spirit, let’s get this disappointment train rolling…with the single best death metal record in a year weighted down and drowning in great death metal: Disinterred Horror, by the Portlandian horde Ritual Necromancy. At first glance this could pass for any of a dozen killer Dark Descent releases from 2018, like Corpsessed, Hyperdontia, Skeletal Remains, or Burial Invocation (which came damn close to snagging this spot). But this thing outpaces its peers through strength of will alone, succeeding not through flash, and certainly not through concessions to weakness like melody or lyricism. No, the spuds in Ritual Necromancy stick to the core tenets of pure death metal and simply outgun the opposition: this is violence for violence’ sake, neck-snapping riffs and yawning gloom fed through a blast furnace. I’d like to close with the words of some enthusiastic Bandcamp commenters, who clearly get it: according to Shubham Roy, Ritual Necromancy deliver “incessant distortions blended with eerie ambiance. My type of death metal!” Or this from fireant1349: “A boiling, bloody, blasphemous libation!” But it’s Lauri Laurila who captures my sentiments exactly: “ Riffs! Great riffs! So wow!” So wow. –Aaron Lariviere
HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp
9 Sear Bliss – Letters From The Edge (Hammerheart Records)
More than 20 years on, Sear Bliss are killing it. My first listen to “The Main Divide,” which I can only assume was a single from Letters From The Edge, left me with the kind of exhilarating high that I hadn’t felt in a long time — the kind of feverish energy that makes you press play again and again. The tracks that comprise Letters From The Edge are engrossing, and the marrow that binds the album is surreal, planting you in the midst of a wholly envisioned world that’s as magical as it is dark. The signature brass continues to deliver its weight in gold, providing bohemian flair, regal annunciation, and dramatic intonation with remarkable dexterity, its exhales fried at the ends as they dissipate into the atmosphere. The album’s a front-to-back, groove-filled winner, but several tracks prove precipitous pinnacles — “Mirror In The Forest,” “Haven,” and “The Main Divide” in particular. I’ll always remember the invigorating feeling of navigating my way through New York City with the latter in my headphones, speaking in a language that rang so clear in my ears but would be garbled and unintelligible out loud. –Wyatt Marshall
HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp
8 Tanith – Citadel (Self-released)
More proof the rules don’t matter: Here’s a two-song 7” single from an unsigned hard rock band, originally released in November 2017 but reissued on cassette and vinyl earlier this year. And it’s here because it’s legitimately great, because these songs have the power to dispel the mundane through pure mythic force. This is rock ‘n’ roll and heavy metal rolled into one. Hawkwind grinding up on Ten Years After, Wishbone Ash leads and Uriah Heep vibes and psychedelic BÖC guitar freakouts, all tracked to 2” tape, which I know because I read every word of the Bandcamp credits while spinning these two tracks ad nauseam all year long. Hell, Doug even likes these guys. For the uninitiated, Tanith is the Brooklyn-based throwback project of British guitarist Russ Tippins, best known for his work with resurrected NWOBHM gods Satan, whose fifth LP Cruel Magic would have made this list had a certain 2-song wonder not edged it out by a hair. Across 10 fleeting minutes we get riffs aplenty, psychedelic hoodoo, more melody than I know what to do with…not a second wasted, just flowing vocal harmonies and guitar counterpoint all crystallized into a kind of everyday strangeness. It reminds me of sitting down to read the unadorned prose of Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles Of Amber and feeling like I’m drifting off to another plane — simple tools generating unearthly results. Anyway, just buy this. It’s easily the best two bucks you’ll spend this year, and we need to encourage these guys to make a full-length right quick. –Aaron Lariviere
HEAR IT: Bandcamp
7 Unfelled – Beneath Distant Skies (Cold Ways)
The three tracks that comprise Beneath Distant Skies come from another era, arriving borne from battle smeared, muddied, and faded yet triumphant and vital. Few possess the knack to write such searing, timeless melodies, and the three treasures here come from D, the mastermind behind Australia’s Woods Of Desolation. You may know Woods from the band’s incredible 2014 album As the Stars. And while D wrote that album by himself, a cohort of others stepped in to fill various performance duties. With Unfelled, D does it all, delivering deep, gurgling rasps and playing with the sense of urgency of a sole creator. The recording is lo-fi, so put on good headphones to get the most out of it and truly appreciate the moving guitar and synth work. If Beneath Distant Skies didn’t catch your ear in 2018, it may be due to the fact that it came out on a tape limited to 100 copies (and was technically released in 2017…in December after publications put out their end-of-year lists.) But its quiet release can’t hinder the invigorating rush of a track like “Transcendent Legacy,” one of the best of the year, or the destiny-driven march of “The Eternal Guard.” All together, it’s a remarkable 19 minutes, and with luck we’ll be hearing more Unfelled soon. –Wyatt Marshall
HEAR IT: Bandcamp
6 Délétère – De Horae Leprae (Sepulchral Productions)
Délétère’s chaotic black metal on De Horae Leprae is hard to pin down: it thrashes, it rages, it gut-punches with force, it nearly spirals out of control. But somehow, while moving a million miles a minute and swirling like a maelstrom, it manages to be — cough — infectious. There are highly melodic hooks coursing through the putrid, pompous, glorious mess that moves, for the most part, at frantic pace. Surreal quirks abound, with sirens ringing out from below and, most notably, the hysterical shrieks of a backing vocalist that serves as a sort of impish sidekick to the throaty, grating bellows of the commander at the head of the doomed ensemble. There are real high-water marks here — “Cantus III – Ichthus Os Tremoris,” makes a case for the best metal song of the year. And while black metal bands from Québec will always evoke their frozen terroir, a new characteristic has taken hold up north, a rotting pestilence that both Délétère and Cantique Lépreux, this year’s other top black metal release from Quebec, laud with frigid, sordid laurels. –Wyatt Marshall
HEAR IT: Soundcloud
5 Fórn – Rites Of Despair (Gilead Media)
Fórn, a Bostonian quartet with some great guest spots, went deep on its “first proper full-length,” Rites Of Despair. This year, a lot of doomy sludge or sludgy doom bands did, too, something you can read about next month in our December addendum (yes, to answer you in the back: along with all the death metal). Maybe it’s just a natural rebuttal to the times, that a too-fast, horrifically apathetic world breeds bands that excel at methodical and introspective metal. Rites fits that mold as a two-act concept album plumbing the depths of a traumatized psyche, a slowly unfurling exploration that can’t be summarized within an Instagram story. But, as Chris Pinto’s roar makes clear, it’ll settle for kicking your ass if you only want to dwell on the surface. Reminding me of a bygone band before it was washed away by ocean currents, Fórn’s active ingredients of thrillingly dense crushes and untamed leads make the quieter moments feel all the more substantial and gripping. The hair-raising loudness also pays off the wandering, that subtle worldliness coaxing compositions down unexpected directions. But, to reiterate, it’s hard not to hear Fórn outside of this present moment. There’s something about what the players are doing, consciously or not, that feels bigger than rote genre requirements. Guitarist Joey Gonzalez (and on the A-side, Brandon Terzakis, too) sniffs out these gutting in between notes, like internal screams manifested as electric amp howls. Brian Barbaruolo’s bass is an indomitable spine, there no matter the tumult. Christian Donaldson’s ferocious drumming must still establish the more meditative tempos, maintaining his rage without raising his heartbeat. Granted, so much of what makes an album rocket up a year-end list is personal context, so maybe only I feel this so acutely. But, when “Subconscious Invocations” ends abruptly with one of those unresolved musical inhales and Pinto’s drained yell, it just feels so fucking real. –Ian Chainey
HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp
4 Mournful Congregation – The Incubus Of Karma (20 Buck Spin)
Amongst other things, 2018 was a year of disappointments. Setting aside the central bummer of realizing Earth is skidding ass first into the darkest timeline, even just focusing on musical failures, we had a string of letdowns this year. Panopticon combined some of the best black metal of the year with the worst acoustic music ever recorded, which was enough to tarnish the entire experience. Yob is still reasonably yobby, but the new album lacked that transcendent spark that animates their best work. But the one that really broke my heart was Evoken. The single was misleadingly strong, if weirdly mixed; I wrote about it before hearing the rest of the record. And when it arrived…instead of suffocating doom perfection, we got an awkward collection of bad sounds: overwrought keyboards and weepy violins, distressingly thin guitars and the occasional dose of wretched clean singing, i.e., the metallic equivalent of saltpeter. And the underlying conceit turned out almost too silly to summarize (it’s a concept album about a haunted diary). Fortunately for all parties involved, most especially the listening public, Mournful Congregation were waiting in the wings to assume the funeral doom crown, having already released their masterwork earlier in the year. Drawing on what I wrote back in January: What sets Mournful Congregation apart are the winding, wailing lead guitars, constantly in motion and tugging at your guts and heartstrings. And the band is a world unto themselves, as heavy as anyone with a better ear for melody and pain. Where Evoken attempted to stretch beyond their limits, Mournful Congregation sail past with no signs of slowing. Whether salting the earth across a 20-minute dirge (see “A Picture of the Devouring Gloom Devouring the Spheres of Being”) or painting the sky with a six-minute guitar solo (as on the title track), these guys can do anything. –Aaron Lariviere
HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp
3 Immortal – Northern Chaos Gods (Nuclear Blast)
Although the legend has now been chipped into the icy tomes recording Blashyrkhian history, it’s still a little unbelievable. One warrior king left, another returned. Immortal, true to its name, reclaimed its frozen throne, releasing a grim and dark black metal decree in the…heart of summer. Unlikely shit, friends. Whatever, Northern Chaos Gods is what I signed up for, an unceasing stacking of killer riffs and rhythms, one that hellions can scale to reach heaven’s heights. Demonaz’s axe comeback is wish fulfillment for those who want it old and cold. His raspy snarl is totally fine, too. Horgh’s heavy blast hammer falls as fast and steadily as ever. Peter Tägtgren fills in the crevasses with low end, not to mention gifting Demonaz with an uncharacteristically awesome mix. These gents have been known to do these things, so I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised that they went and did them on this thing. However, if the potentiality of past triumphs was all it took, we’d still be writing about Amon Amarth or some shit, right? That such a classic black metal band could make such a classically blasty black metal album now and still crush the field speaks to something else. This iteration of Immortal simply sweats an enigmatic artistic essence. You can’t bottle it, you can’t spritz it upon wimpy shit to make it breath fire. Dudes just have it, still have it. How else to explain “Mighty Ravendark,” a nine-minute epic that rides the same armored strut for, oh…carry the frostbitten three…divide by mountains of might…, 100 percent of its running time? This shouldn’t be thrilling – it’s pretty much a redistricted map of “Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)” – but it’s a blinding flurry of badassery. Like snow, you know what the end results entail, but a fresh layer never fails to magically transform everything it touches. So…Immortal…is like…snow? Wow, nailed that one. Hire me, Genius. Anyway, winner of this year’s Morbid Angel Award in the category of “I Am a False for Doubting.” –Ian Chainey
HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music
2 Agrimonia – Awaken (Southern Lord Recordings)
Strange how our favorites find us, isn’t it? I slept on Agrimonia when it surfaced in January. It wasn’t until you all raved about it in the comments that I went digging, and I was done for as soon as I gave it the time of day. Besides Tanith, this is the one I spent the most time with in 2018, and I can comfortably label it the best album of the year, regardless of where it falls in the big list. I stand by my initial take, and I’m too lazy to write a new one, so here’s a paraphrased capsule summary: For the unfamiliar, Agrimonia are a bastard creation of indeterminate genre, more indebted to a sense of roiling melancholy than any particular metallic styles. Members hail from a range of disparate bands with a few clear throughlines: see the crust-driven death of Miasmal, the violent melo’d crust punk of Martyrdöd, and the ragged melodeath perfection of At the Gates. In turns elegiac and blistering, these songs start with melodic hooks and grow outwards in unpredictable ways. They’re impossible to wrap your arms around, often blowing past the 10-minute mark with more high-quality riffs per song than most bands manage in a career. Revisit the rain-drenched leads at the end of “Astray” or bob along to the throbbing squeal of “Foreshadowed.” With a melodic sensibility drawn from (and surpassing) bands like Katatonia and October Tide, what could sound like a Deftones tribute in lesser hands transmogrifies into the best combination of punk and extreme metal we’ve seen since His Hero Is Gone (though Nux Vomica’s 2014 self-titled LP came pretty close). Whatever this is in the end, it feels entirely divorced from 2018. All for the better. –Aaron Lariviere
HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp
1 Fluisteraars / Turia – De Oord (Eisenwald)
Perhaps it’s somewhat unusual to present a two-track split as the best album of the year, but in our defense De Oord is an unusual split. For one, there is the length of the songs that comprise it — together, the pair runs about 32 minutes, a length approaching that of a traditional album. So you can feast on our top pick and not walk away hungry. For another, the split is united conceptually in an unusually artistic way, with each band offering a tribute to the river that shapes the geography around their respective home towns: the Rhine for Fluisteraars, the Waal for Turia. (“De Oord” is an old Dutch word for the place where the two rivers, and now bands, meet.) And then there is the fact that the split finds two of the best black metal bands of one of the most exciting scenes going performing at their absolute peaks. It’s enough to brush aside convention, something we’ve always enjoyed doing in The Black Market column anyway.
Fluisteraars, the veterans of a young Dutch black metal circle that tends to embrace atmospheric and hypnotic riffing and bright, jangly guitars, start at the helm. Their offering meanders, navigating troubled waters and diving into extended instrumental passages before surfacing in a kind of awe-inducing altered reality. On the back, Turia rage through delirious fever-dreams, bubbling, swirling, and ultimately surviving. A light touch in terms of production gives both tracks a raw immediacy. As I mentioned in our premiere of the album, it’s easy to lose track of time listening to De Oord; engrossed or lost in the listen, it slips by. Caught up in such a state, it’s both sad and heartening to know that the bands’ subjects will flow long after De Oord and the rest of us expire. –Wyatt Marshall
HEAR IT: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp