At the time I’m writing this, an Encyclopaedia Metallum search turns up 15,896 releases in 2018. (It’s early, the trve number will probably exceed 2017’s 18,299 once Florida recounts whatever Sloth shat out.) How much metal is that? Well, I say in an intolerably Ted Talk-y voice, if all 6,899 of 2018’s full-lengths averaged a Reign-in-Blood-y 29 minutes (lol) and were sheathed in a teenager-proof jewel case, it would take you about 139 days of non-stop listening to get through that 224-foot stack. Per the Measure of Things, 224 feet is “about nine-tenths as tall as a Giant Sequoia tree.” As Aaron points out, 139 days is a hair shorter than the next Therion album.
This is a long way of writing that 2018 was a lot, much too much to fit into a Top 10, especially for three metal writers itchy with the completist’s strain of OCD. To rectify that, let me now proudly present an, uh, indulgent sprawl that we’ll euphemistically title the “Best of the Rest.” Hope for the former, prepare for the latter. Each of us will submit a Top 20 and maybe a little bit more. If you’re metalhead, you know why we’re compelled to do this. If not, consider this the aQ-styled shopping/reference guide you didn’t ask for. Alright, buckle up: It’s dirty, filthy, stinking lists all the way down from here.
And…that’s it. It’s a bizarro Black Market in that I’ll now shut the heck up. Truly. In the extremely mortal words of Throwdown, yeah, that’s all there is to say. But…goddamnit, Ian, you weenie…I got one thing left to say.
Thanks for sticking with us. Better things ahead. Stay safe. See you next year/month. –Ian Chainey
To those who bemoaned our abbreviated list last month — a piddling, measly, weaselly offering of only 10 metal albums in a year as stacked as 2018 — this one’s for you.
Behold, a collective pile of 50 or so of the year’s finest. Was there a grand theme, some kind of arc we can bend into narrative? Who knows. Metal in 2018 is as fractured and fractious as the rest of the world, pockets of disconnected scenes tethered together more by blog coverage and occasional festival lineups than any true kinship or shared worldview. The bands in my list, besides those that share members, have very little to do with one another.
From my perspective, then, through the lens of my stupid brain, the unifying thread was unexpected melody. The kind you find without looking, even when they’re not obvious. My list of favorites leans more melodic than usual, and it’s hard to say whether that’s a sign of anything happening in metaldom writ large or just a symptom of my own decline. Most likely the latter. Unmitigated punishment only takes me so far these days. The world offers enough. Better to find a thread of light amidst all the dark, even just a fleeting burst of melody, and see if it can lead you through to the other side. It won’t, but it’s nice to pretend.
So here we are, skidding over the rim into 2019. It’ll get worse before it gets better, but we’re still here. The stock market may be churning, the seas may be rising, and we may be backsliding into the most inept autocracy the world has ever seen—but this shit hasn’t killed us quite yet. Put your ears to use while you can. The Black Market grinds on, as always, like the future-tank from Terminator 2 rolling over a landscape of skulls, and we’ll keep the hits coming. Good luck out there.
20. Amorphis – Queen of Time (Nuclear Blast)
Amorphis in 2018: everything at once & a riot of color — proggy melodeath bursting with Euro bombast, exotic instruments & chipmunk voices.
19. Rocka Rollas – Celtic Kings (Stormspell Records)
Bad singing can’t derail the speed metal banger of the century, released 2 years after the band’s demise. RIYL Blind Guardian, strong cheese
18. Abigor – Höllenzwang (Chronicles of Perdition) (Avantgarde Music)
Maniacal & highly Austrian, Abigor fuses hell-prog & brutal riff salad to make music no one wants but everyone needs. RIYL Emperor, headaches
17. Solstice – White Horse Hill (Dark Descent Records)
Timeless riffs cut clean & land with reassuring weight — a swinging scythe in slow-motion, firelight glinting off the arc of arterial spray.
16. At the Gates – To Drink from the Night Itself (Century Media Records)
Ignore the whinging masses, this slays. Darker & harder than before, second only to SotS in forlorn riffitude. RIYL melo-in-ur-death, Tompa
15. Délétère – De Horae Leprae (Sepulchral Productions)
Organs seethe under concertina-wire guitars, & white-knuckle melody bleeds through. Pure black Quebecois revelry of the foulest order.
14. Varathron – Patriarchs of Evil (Agonia Records)
Blessed be, the epitome of Hellenic black metal emerges live & wriggling: Varathron are here for the throne. RIYL Rotting Christ, God of War
13. Rites of Thy Degringolade – The Blade Philosophical (Nuclear War Now! Productions)
Pounding, percussive, throbbing & jagged: mantras of strength and controlled violence meant to crush your will. RIYL determinism, sick riffs
12. Tomb Mold – Manor of Infinite Forms (20 Buck Spin)
Chords SMASH, leads GNASH, guts CLENCH, heads BANG. Churlish OSDM with a whiff of rotting melody. RIYL Autopsy, Undergang, charnel delights
11. Fluisteraars & Turia – De Oord (Eisenwald)
The latest/greatest metallic gateway drug; conqueror of year-end lists; pinnacle of jangling delirium; conceptual masterpiece of biune form.
10. Deceased – Ghostly White (Hells Headbangers)
Possibly their best, certainly my favorite: dial back the death, crank the RIFFS of STEEL, feel the thunder course through your pants.
9. Burial Invocation – Abiogenesis (Dark Descent Records)
Transcend the mundane & taste GLORIOUS, INTOXICATING DEATH. Come for the riffs, stay for the atmosphere. RIYL parting the veil of sanity
8. Svartidauði – Revelations of the Red Sword (Ván Records)
Swarming, a storm of silver-black slivers burrowing into flesh, trawling guts, ripping free to dance rhapsodic and burst behind our eyes.
7. Satan – Cruel Magic (Metal Blade Records)
Electric & eclectic, “trad” from a dimension where metal never grew old but stayed exploratory & explosive, a caustic cauldron of invention.
5. Immortal – Northern Chaos Gods (Nuclear Blast)
Abbath left. Weaklings wept. Immortal returned stronger, leaner, meaner than ever for a glory ride through Bathory lands. And it was good.
4. Ritual Necromancy – Disinterred Horror (Dark Descent Records)
And I quote: “the single best death metal record in a year weighted down and drowning in great death metal.” RIYL Incantation, churning guts
3. Mournful Congregation – The Incubus of Karma (20 Buck Spin)
Unspeakable weight. Bleeding leads. Funeral doom taken to its logical extreme, a microcosm of personal pain blown to cosmic proportions.
2. Tanith – Citadel (Hoove Child Records)
Hard rock never felt this right. Russ from Satan lends a touch of class & the leads do the talking. 2 perfect songs captured on 2” tape.
1. Agrimonia – Awaken (Southern Lord Recordings)
Riffing on Katatonia & Nux Vomica, the least “2018” release of all came to rule them all anyway. Atmosphere for days, riffs for miles — everything I never knew I needed channeled into anything I could ever want. “Withering” is my song of the year, dancing through an album’s worth of riffs only to loop back to a loping, syncopated lead that scratches the weirdest itch. Strange times call for strange tunes.
Last and technically least, I suppose, a mountain of Honorable Mentions in alphabetical order:
Anicon, Aura Noir, Brood of Hatred, Chaos Echoes, Convulsing, Corpsessed, Daughters, Death Karma, Drawn and Quartered, Esoctrilihum (both 2018 albums), Harakiri for the Sky, Hate Eternal, Hooded Menace, Horrendous, Inexorum, Infernal Coil, Innumerable Forms, Irreversible Mechanism, Judas Priest, Judicator, KEN Mode, Madder Mortem, Massive Retaliation, Matterhorn, Messa, Mortuous, Mutilation Rites, Napalm Death (b-sides), Necrophobic, Nigredo, Our Place of Worship Is Silence, Primordial, Runemagick, Saboter, Shrine of the Serpent, Siege Column, Slugdge, Uada, Vallendusk, Vanhelgd, Voivod, Wild Hunt, Windfaerer, Wombbath, Wytch Hazel, Yob –Aaron Lariviere
It was hard to keep up with the insane amount of music that crossed the bow this year. In addition to all of the excellent releases from labels, there’s an increasingly deep well of music well worth your time getting released online through Bandcamp and other streaming platforms. This isn’t new, but it seemed as if this year the sheer number of releases ensured we’d miss some great albums. You, our readers, often pointed out stuff we missed, and we thank you for that.
It’s awesome that so many new bands are creating exciting albums and have the ability to share them with so many so easily. It’s exciting for us, the listeners, to come across something excellent, and when we do so it’s no doubt exciting for the artist as well. But as some in the broader music recording industry have begun to question the value of labels, I was particularly thankful this year to the labels that, often out of a labor of love in our world of metal, continue to source and present amazing underground artists and their albums year after year. Unfortunately, we’re losing a good one tomorrow, one that played a big role in shaping underground metal in the U.S. over the last (almost) decade. Fallen Empire, a label that is overrepresented below and has produced some of the most interesting underground bands of late such as Arkhtinn, Death Fortress, Tchornobog, and many more, is shuttering at the end of the year. It’s a loss, but a reminder to cherish the labels out there unearthing exciting new acts while also digging for self-released Bandcamp gold.
20. Solar Temple – Fertile Descent (Eisenwald)
Trance-inducing, feverish trilling atmospheric magic from another of the most promising bands from the Dutch scene. To further complicate matters (and demonstrate how active a few core actors are), this one features the same two from Fluisteraars and Turia that teamed up to create Iskandr.
19. Fórn – Rites of Despair (Gilead Media)
For those who want a little more action than what much of the world of doom offers, Fórn creates some of the most interesting and engaging melodic soundscapes in the genre — alongside earth-shaking riffs.
18. Death Fortress – Reign of the Unending (Fallen Empire)
With a drop that came just before the end of the year, Death Fortress has unleashed another punishing, stomping, and exceedingly intricate and uncompromising album. One of the heaviest, best, and consistent black metal bands in the U.S. underground.
17. At the Gates – To Drink From The Night Itself (Century Media)
The living legends continue to produce some of the most vital, fist-pumping, head-banging metal out there. At the Gates seemingly effortless ability to craft massive anthems is mind-boggling.
16. Uada – Cult Of A Dying Sun (Profound Lore)
Uada continues to refine and beef up its riff-forward, melodic brand of black metal. There’s polish, here, but it doesn’t in any way diminish the side-to-side hair-swing energy fueling the album from start to finish.
15. Forest Mysticism – Hearken (Cold Ways)
D. of Woods of Desolation revived his old project Forest Mysticism this year alongside two new projects in Unfelled (below) and Remete. All are worth your time. This demo shows three equally compelling sides of Forest Mysticism and features a searing anthem, a thrasher, and a poignant instrumental track.
14. Amorphis – Queen of Time (Nuclear Blast)
More than a quarter century into the band’s existence, Amorphis is firmly in a second era of greatness behind Tomi Joutsen. Big, hook-filled melodies, buttery riffs, and slick production make for an awesome listen.
13. Eneferens – The Bleakness of Our Constant (Bindrune Recordings)
Gorgeous atmospheric black metal pulled from the woods, streams, and mountains and loaded with magnificent, mournful hooks. Utterly engrossing and featuring some of the best songs in the style of the year.
12. Cantique Lépreux – Paysages Polaires (Eisenwald)
Relentlessly bitter cold and ripping atmospheric black metal bolstered by exquisitely throaty vocals. Here, the Quebec winter is even meaner and less forgiving than on 2016’s excellent Cendres Célestes.
11. Panopticon – The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness (Bindrune Recordings / Nordvis Produktion)
People are divided on the merits of the second disk, but it’s safe to say that part one features some of the most gorgeous atmospheric black metal of this — or any — year.
10. Det eviga leendet – Lenience (Fallen Empire)
This maniacal and occasionally frantic album of noisy rippers pulls from a palette smeared with black metal, punk, post-hardcore and more. Appearing out of nowhere and with almost no background information, the work is as mysterious as its message is urgent.
9. Mesarthim – The Density Perimeter (Self-released)
Mesarthim continues to push ever onward beyond the outer reaches of our solar system, soundtracking the celestial bodies they witness with walls of synths and techno bleeps fit for the wondrous occasion.
8. Arkhtinn – 最初の災害 (Self-released)
After six demos of haunted space-inspired works spread over five years, Arkhtinn unleashes a two-track full-length epic of dense, smeared interstellar sound. Where Mesarthim, above, sees wonder, Arkhtinn also finds black cosmic horror.
7. Iskandr – Euprosopon (Eisenwald)
From the mind of O from Turia and featuring a member of Fluisteraars on the recording, Iskandr mesmerizes with bright, jangly, and dissonant melodies that slowly take hold and deposit you in a disconcerting foreign world.
6. Sylvaine – Atoms Aligned, Coming Undone (Season of Mist)
Beautiful, melancholic, shoegaze-y post-black metal that will lull you to another planet a la best of Alcest. From time-to-time, Atoms Aligned, Coming Undone hits levels of note-perfect glory that won’t be forgotten.
5. Krukh – Безглуздість! (Fallen Empire)
Muscular, cavernous metal full of both quirks and massive and invigorating bellow-backed passages. Features Markov Soroka of Tchornobog and Aureole, so expect the unexpected.
4. Délétère – De Horae Leprae (Sepulchral Productions)
Ripping, dense, and occasionally unhinged nightmare material from Quebec. Regal and bombastic one minute, liable to make your skin crawl the next.
3. Sear Bliss – Letters From The Edge (Hammerheart Records)
Beefed-up black metal magic delivered with bohemian flair thanks to signature brass from a band finding new ways to dazzle after a quarter century of existence.
2. Unfelled – Beneath Distant Skies (Cold Ways)
Heroic atmospheric epics echoing from the past courtesy of D. of Woods of Desolation. If the lo-fi demo heralds future Unfelled material, we’re in luck.
1. Fluisteraars / Turia – De Oord (Eisenwald)
An absolutely massive, deeply moving, and absorbing two-track split from the Netherlands’ finest black metal bands that will have you hitting replay again and again. –Wyatt Marshall
20. Ævangelist – Matricide in the Temple of Omega (I, Voidhanger Records)
The most coherent, therefore best, thing this project has done. Will still destroy your hearing. Chaos to make sense of chaos.
18. Stilla – Synviljor (Nordvis Produktion)
Backwoods wizard shit. Put its skill points into upgrading the Casio. Necro af, but naturalistic as heck.
16. Hooded Menace – Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed (Season of Mist)
Delivered on expectations, which is its own kind of hell. Compare to others of its ilk and it gleams so much brighter.
15. Sleep – The Sciences (Third Man Records)
Accounted for 50 – 60 percent of my smiles this year. Reassuring that searing solos still make me make faces.
14. Hwwauoch – Hwwauoch (Fallen Empire Records / Amor Fati Productions)
Your favorite atmo black metallers unleash the noise. Tickles the fight/flight part of your brain with a power drill.
13. Voivod – The Wake (Century Media Records)
As “Sonic Mycelium” swells, it foretells a future where I’m still mesmerized by this fucker. Makes me want to create, as all vital art should.
12. Bismuth – The Slow Dying of the Great Barrier Reef (Dry Cough Records / Medusa Crush Recordings)
A-side immolates your speakers with a feedback-firing death howl lasting 32 minutes. B-side pulls off the same trick in six.
10. Nigredo – Flesh Torn – Spirit Pierced (Transcending Obscurity Records)
Riff after riff. Sounds austere on the surface, but active listeners will find many entwined coils of writhing hideousness within.
9. Sorcier Des Glaces – Sorcier Des Glaces (Dread Records / Obscure Abhorrence Productions)
Sometimes I just start laughing at how much this is. Does what Moonsorrow should still be doing. Transporting: I put on my robe and wizard icicle.
8. Convulsing – Grievous (Self-released)
Said this a lot: got me through some stuff. “Inescapable gravity of loss/ Lay upon the head/ Suffocated.” Fuck, man. Riffs are nice, too.
6. Portal – ION (Profound Lore Records)
Like unveiling the energy that governs the universe. Hurts my brain, yet most accessible they’ve ever been. Hope clarity kills the Murk Age dead.
5. Brutal Blues – BB (At War With False Noise / Give Praise)
Steinar and company continue to create music that so fully nails how I hear the world. Like watching a grind album go supernova.
4. Fluisteraars / Turia – De Oord (Eisenwald)
Inspired theme pushes two already ultra-creative entities over the top. New details wash ashore every listen.
3. Slugdge – Esoteric Malacology (Willowtip Records)
Our boys done blowns up. Deserved. Taps into a deep-ass reservoir of melody. Haven’t felt like this since jamming melodeath with new ears.
2. Fórn – Rites of Despair (Gilead Media)
Hard to explain why an album connects. It just knows your combination. Finds the real you that you try to keep hidden.
1. Immortal – Northern Chaos Gods (Nuclear Blast)
The heart wants what it wants and it wants winter. I get the Lack Abbath moaners. I also get that they can eat my ass. Tastes true, dudes.
OUT OF STEP
Awarded to my favorite punkish records. Fight me at a show
10. Bootlicker – Who Do You Serve? (Warthog Speak Records / Slow Death Records)
9. Asesinato – Demo (Self-released)
8. ATKA – Untitled Album 1 (Self-released)
7. Sectioned – Annihilated (Self-released)
6. Dominant Force – We Don’t Want the Last Laugh (Sonic Warfare Productions)
5. Closet Witch – Closet Witch (Halo of Flies Records / Sassbologna)
Exhilarating. This year needed this.
4. KEN Mode – Loved (Season of Mist)
Metallic heft has always been there. Felt weightier/darker this time.
3. Stimulant / Water Torture – Stimulant / Water Torture (Nerve Altar)
Everyone has a powerviolence band, this is one of the few modern ones that does it right.
2. Starkweather / Concealment – Starkweather / Concealment (Translation Loss Records)
Nice to see this out in the world, finally.
SLAMZ, DA DA DA
Awarded to the degenerate goo albums that only I care about
5. Posthuman Abomination – Transcending Embodiment (Comatose Music)
Promising. If Wormed’s botnet delivered a payload of groove.slam.exe.
3. Meshum – Promo 2018 (New Standard Elite)
Half of Cenotaph makes a turbo death record.
2. MDMA – Chemical Obliteration (Reality Fade)
Sounds like the Predator trying to inflate birthday balloons.
1. Deracinated – Adoration of Decaying Carrion (Inherited Suffering Records)
Almost made my Top 20. Catchier than Ozzie Smith covered in burrs.
KAIRON; IRSE! AWARD
Awarded to my favorite metal-adjacent rock albums I couldn’t shoehorn into the column this year, my bad
5. New Light Choir – Torchlight (Svart Records)
Continues to incorporate new sounds while remaining earthy, immediate.
4. Leonov – Wake (Fysisk Format)
Ghostly doom rock, but better than the other seances.
3. Laktating Yak – Origin of the Yak (Self-released)
Late find. Heavy prog that’s heady. Violin is bananas.
2. Malady – Toinen Toista (Svart Records)
Campfire prog. Warmer than ten cats on a wool blanket.
1. Madder Mortem – Marrow (Dark Essence Records)
I mean, fine, it’s metal. It’s metal. Progressive and catchy. Somehow goes in both directions without sacrificing ground to either.
Awarded to the quality death metal records that I failed to put into the column, my bad
5. Corpsefucking Art – Splatterphobia (Comatose Music)
The best Italian Cannibal Corpse knockoff writing songs about sentient tomato terminators.
4. Eskhaton – Omegalitheos (Lavadome Productions)
Not spudly, but batshit. How about some war metal in your BDM?
3. Faceless Burial – Multiversal Abattoir (Iron Lung Records / Me Saco un Ojo Records / Blood Harvest)
Just a healthy tuber doling out great solos.
2. Mass Infection – Shadows Became Flesh (Comatose Music)
Greek for Steve Tucker.
1. Cosmic Atrophy – The Void Engineers (Self-released)
Everything and the sixteenth kitchen sink of fourteen four-regional dimensions (still uncaulked).
Shout out to all the caveman labels up in the game now.
DOOM OR BE DOOMED
Awarded to the doom album I loved that I failed to put into the column this year, my bad
Abyssal – Misanthrope (Concreto Records / Transylvanian Tapes)
Sounds like bar band Corrupted. Filled in the negative space of my days.
Shout out to Runemagick.
Awarded to the best workout album
Internal Bleeding – Corrupting Influence (Unique Leader)
Made me walk like Conor McGregor, got me kicked out of every Planet Fitness.
Shout out to Our Place of Worship Is Silence.
THAT’S, LIKE, WORK AND STUFF
Awarded to the band least interested in promoting their good album
P.L.F. – Jackhammering Deathblow of Nightmarish Trepidation (Six Weeks Records / Regurgitated Semen Records)
Raise your hand if you knew this existed. Put your hand back down.
Shout to Dispirit’s “demos.”
SON OF A
Awarded to the best album released in 2017 that I found in 2018
I’LL HOLD YOUR BEER
Awarded to the biggest swing for the fences
Entropia – Vacuum (Arachnophobia Records)
Incorporated bouncy krautrock and became the band Circle can’t be.
Awarded to the best album to throw on during the weekend
Deathhammer – Chained to Hell (Hells Headbangers Records)
Like Kill ‘Em All, but on fire.
Thanks for putting up with me. I’m already super pissed that I didn’t mention _________ (Sulaco! Moss Upon the Skull! Death Fortress and the album they released two goddamn days ago). Shout out to Last Rites, Invisible Oranges, No Clean Singing, Toilet ov Hell, Bandcamp, Metal YouTube, my Black Market homies, and the Stereogum commenters. What I like is as much you as it is me. Thank you. –Ian Chainey