This list has been exclusive to the Sleeping Village's instagram for a few weeks now, but now is the time to place it in hallowed permanent ground. I’ll keep this brief: 2018 was a good year for good music. While few releases left me utterly gobsmacked, the sheer number of albums that fell--and remained--in the lovely range between “very good" and “quite excellent, actually” was impressive, to say the last. And, notably, many of these albums were the product of lesser-known bands. Whether freshly birthed from the primordial metal muck, or quality efforts from acts on the rise, 2018 belonged not to the established names, but rather to the little guys. It is my hope that this list, in large, reflects that.
In short, my top 20 albums met this criteria:
A). I enjoyed it.
B). I listened to it with great regularity across a significant expanse of time.
C). I believe it to be significant in either the reaffirmation of a core sound/aesthetic, or the development of a particular sub-genre.
Without further ado:
20. HOODED MENACE - Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed
Although this was released early on, no album impressed me this year with such a finely-tuned ability to straddle the line between death’s crushing riffage and funeral doom’s dismal gloom. Harrowing and heavy, the layers of grotesque yet melodically lofty leads form a near-tangible environment for these Hooded Menaces to dwell. Despite these leanings, “cavernous" remains an apt description for the atmosphere. I mean, just look at that album cover. Precision and restraint in the percussive department--and a killer vocal tone--further delineate Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed as a masterful album, easily their best (and most ominous) to date.
19. ARKONA - Khram
Well damn, how’s this for an aggressive about-face in terms of maturity between releases? Prior to this excellent batch of blackened folk, Arkona primarily dealt in pseudo-paganic power metal. Here, they maintain the ambiance (and the wind instruments/bagpipes, albeit a hell of a lot more judiciously) but lose the goofy schtick. Take the intro and first track as a prime example of this growth, as eerie throat singing leads into a thoroughly well-composed journey along medieval pastures. Arkona demonstrates a brilliant balance between harsh howls and wavering cleans, lending each track a certain aggression without ever losing sight of their whimsical foundation. Intriguing rhythmic interludes abound, illustrating a dedication to organic song structures. Besides being a compulsively fun listen, this album speaks volumes to Arkona’s willingness to try new things and demolish the boundaries they had previously established. If that isn’t enough of a reason to start taking a band seriously, I dunno what is.
18. MESSA - Feast for Water
Over the past few years, doom with female vocals officially transcended the realms of “known entity" into the arena of “crowded space.” This didn't stop me from becoming, at first listen, utterly enraptured with Messa’s dangerous combination of crooning vocals, pea soup gloom, and experimental tendencies. Feast for Water largely abandons the drone element of Belfry, and instead turns up the avant-garde approach, complete with a smoky jazz-lounge interior and a velvety croon. It’s blues, it’s post-metal, and at times, it’s vaguely dark ambient...and yes, it's plenty weird. Messa is heartfelt in their originality; the sonic expression of noir’s aesthetic and dour existential suspense. For a taste, try standout track Leah on for size.
17. HINAYANA - Order Divine
The issue with a lot of middling melodeath is a lack of dramatic flair. If one is following in the footsteps of heavy-hitters such as Insomnium, Omnium Gatherum, or Be’lakor, a certain appreciation for narrative and emotional development only goes so far if you don’t have that flashy approach. And oh, is Hinayana flashy. Vibrant guitar, dynamic bass, cathartic choruses, and the kind of songwriting that induces both heartfelt sorrow and triumph without subjecting the listener to some ill-conceived sonic whiplash. Return to Nothing is a high water mark, but there isn’t a track here that doesn’t leave me in a state of blissful satisfaction. Order Divine, simply put, is captivating. On Hinayana’s next effort I am hoping to see them reach further into the creative abyss in order to further distance themselves from the melodeath greats. That said: for a debut, such associations are hardly a legitimate downside, are they?
16. ALLFATHER - And All Will Be Desolation
Unlike a bullhead, Allfather has teeth. However, much like a bullhead, Allfather lurks in the cold & the dark, possessing the propensity to violently churn outward, extend its voluminous jaw, & swollen your arm up to your elbow. Feel your fingers in the muddy esophagus of this beast from the deep? That’s And All Will Be Desolation for you: an album constructed entirely on sludgy, sternum-cracking riffage, with liberal application of hardcore belligerence and doom’s murky atmospherics. And really, what’s a year end list without at least one big ol’ dumb skull?
15. ORPHANS OF DOOM - Strange Worlds/Fierce Gods
While there was a lot to enjoy in the realms of doom, sludge, and stoner metal this year, there were few albums that grabbed me by the ears and unceremoniously ragdolled my lanky frame. Strange Worlds/Fierce Gods is a hefty (yet remarkably nimble) minotaur of an album. Exemplars of consistently strong songwriting, these boys from Kansas City aren’t afraid to let the drums take the limelight. Intriguing tempo changes abound, maintaining constant interest. This isn't to say that the guitar ever truly takes a backseat. These riffs before ye mean business--think Lizzy by way of Baroness or early Sumac. Orphans of Doom inject a healthy dose of psychedelia and prog into their small (but ferocious) body of work, and this newfound fan is very excited to see where future efforts take them. As someone plugged into the happenings of doom, I can certify that Strange Worlds/Fierce Gods is the singlemost underrated album of 2018.
14. UNDER SIEGE - Under Siege
In the world of pleasant surprises, there’s really nothing like expecting to be serenaded by some freshly scrubbed Italian death...and, instead, promptly being trampled by a bagpipe-wielding party of marauders. On their debut, Under Siege packages a wide range of influences across the melodeath, pagan, and folk metal arenas into a surprisingly succinct and well-conceived album. They never overdo the symphonics and never underdo the mighty riffs: from what more could you ask? Much like Turisas, these fledgling warriors of steel know how to write songs that gets the ol’ blood pounding, while simultaneously maintaining a finely honed progressive edge.
13. WITCH MOUNTAIN - WITCH MOUNTAIN
Filling the unlucky 13th slot on our list is the incomparable Witch Mountain. I've been a fan of this powerhouse of an outfit since 2011's South of Salem opened (given limited experience) a door to the wide horizons of doom metal. I’ve been anticipating this latest release for a while--ever since that beautiful moment when, in the midst of undergrad’s bleakness, it was announced that Kayla Dixon would take over vocal duties. And if Kayla seemed like a confident addition to the crew then, she’s undoubtedly a seasoned pro now. New bassist Jason Brown also brings a lot to this soulful package, adding a little heft to Rob Wrong’s already substantial riffage. End of the day, everything I said in my review earlier this year rings true: Witch Mountain’s 4th album is a brilliant reaffirmation of their core identity and sound, and triumph reinvention for one of the best current bands in the American doom circuit. Witch Mountain got a lot of airtime this year, and if you haven’t given it a chance...this, dear readers, would be the opportune moment you’ve been waiting for.
12. KHEMMIS - Desolation
Khemmis have yet to release an album that hasn’t found a respectable hovel in my year end list. Hunted, most notably, was a moody doom blast of blunderbussian proportion. Needless to say, there was a whole lot riding on Desolation. While some of my fellow critics have said it’s a bit of a plateau, I vehemently disagree. The newfound focus on traditional elements--soaring choruses and galloping leads that would make the boys of Lizzy or Tyr brandish their manly chests--demonstrates that Khemmis isn’t one to adopt a formula and deny themselves self-refinement. Phil’s vocals in particular elevate Khemmis’ sound, which, generally speaking, is chock full o’ melody. This album remains their most consistent and sleek work to date, and if you’ve written Desolation off because it isn’t a Hunted clone, I highly, highly recommend a revisitation.
11. MERLIN - The Wizard
Hey, Yorick! Merlin has been a constant companion this year. Whether heading to a job I disliked mightily at 5am in the midst of a snowstorm, or traveling internationally after quitting said job, this warlock and his pointy hat have been whispering sweet nothings into my frostbiten (or sunburnt) ears all the while. To quote our original review of The Wizard here at ye olde village: “Merlin presents an album that feels original, untouched, and somehow beyond the scope of influence.” Proggy and tastefully experimental, this isn’t your standard exercise in doom. Forlorn yet assertive sax permeates the fold, and chanted vocals contribute to the general ethereal ambiance. It’s a pretty album filled with seemingly ugly moments, and that is a significant accomplishment in and of itself. As an expression of Merlin--the man, not the band--this slab o’ of dreamy psych-doom is an apt portrait. (And for those keeping count at home, The Wizard is my secondmost favorite doom album of the year).
10. OXYGEN DESTROYER -Bestial Manifestations of Malevolence & Death
There were a great many death metal albums that nearly made this list. Scorched, Monothiest, De Profundis, Convulsing, Outer Realm, and Our Place of Worship is Silence, to name but a few, all put out fantastic releases worthy of recognition. But regardless of their many merits, none of these bands delivered a death metal album that approximates the destructive tendencies of the most almighty harbingers of armageddon: y’know, the mighty Kaiju. Oxygen Destroyer are as brutal as they come, laying down track after Kaiju-themed track with an untouchable intensity and furious enthusiasm. I said in my review earlier this year that Chris Craven--a man unto like a monster himself--may have delivered the drum performance of 2018. In hindsight, I really don't think anything else can contest him for that title. Bestial Manifestations of Malevolence & Death is an album that wears its intentions and influences on scaly sleeves, and for that, I love the carnage it has to offer. If there was ever a death metal band qualified to cleanse earth of humanity’s existence, yer looking at it.
9. OF FEATHER AND BONE - Bestial Hymns of Perversion
Through some twist of fate, we have a second “Bestial” in our midst...and for good reason. If my old skool death metal isn’t A). grotesque and B). like unto a beast, I’m perfectly willing to show it the door. Thankfully, Of Feather and Bone nail both on the head. With a maul. The old skool aggression here is unprecedented, from the marshy riffage, to the dual vocal approach, to the lo-fi production reminiscent of a demo cassette left to rot in the breast pocket of John McEntee’s future cadaver. Of Feather and Bone aren’t trying to bring anything new to the table, but their execution is astoundingly top-notch. And really, at the end of the day, you aren’t looking for innovation when you gaze over the visage of such a viscerally exciting cover. You want blood and broken bones, and Bestial Hymns delivers.
8. ABORTED - TerrorVision
Describing why Aborted makes good death metal is akin to describing why water is good for you: no one cares about the technicalities. The fact of the matter is that, regardless of lineup changes, Aborted is on a goddamn streak. TerrorVision is but the latest victory on their grisly warpath. Caluwe has established himself as a premiere vocalist of the modern death metal era, and his exorcistic roars have never been more pugilistic. Majestic guitar work abounds, managing riffs-a-plenty on both the melodic and grind-influenced ends of the spectrum. Percussion is relentlessly precise, yet organic enough to avoid that dreaded clinical feel. Together, the elements work supremely well, and, as such, TerrorVision remains one of my most-listened albums of the year. To all the doubters, this particular Villager sees your cries of “Retrogore!” and raises you a Squalor Opera.
7. CHAPEL OF DISEASE - And as We Have Seen the Storm, We Have Embraced the Eye
This magnificent album has climbed the ranks with disturbing speed and acumen. A week ago it had found a place in my honorable mentions. Four days ago it rested neatly on the bottom shelf of my top 20. After numerous edits, it now resides here--and I’m cutting it off, dammit. If left unobserved, Chapel of Disease’s opus certainly has the ability to push and shove its way into the top 3. Here's why: a great album is, all too oft, one that challenges genre conventions. Here, we’re looking at a seamless dovetail of two seemingly distinct aesthetics, but Chapel of Disease have somehow managed to meld the exploratory world of 70’s prog and hard rock with the blunt edge of traditional death. The result is a hooky and lucid atmosphere, a vivid display of harsh vocals and a deliciously warm guitar tone. If metal has the equivalent of slipping into clothes that have just come out of the dryer, this is it. And as We Have Seen(…) is a brilliant exercise in blatant sonic exploration and structural deviation, and while their move away from the death confines has dismayed some critics, I find this to be one of the most fascinating evolutions of a band’s sound in recent memory. For a particularly acute taste of Chapel of Disease’s unique approach, album opener Void of Words comes very highly recommended.
6. JUDICATOR - The Last Emperor
Judicator appeals to a certain academic side of my existence; I wrote my dissertation on the 1st Crusade. So if you’re morbidly curious about where my fascination for the medieval aesthetic stems, there ya go. But Judicator’s brilliant latest didn’t end up 6th on this list simply for thematic reasons. Nay, The Last Emperor is a magnificent beast of a record, a shining example of how goddamn powerful power metal can be when executed with mature and adept hands. Glorious hooks abound, as do a wide array of lofty leads and comradious choruses. Epic bloodlust is the name of the game, and despite preconceptions associated with the genre tag, Judicator take their craft incredibly seriously, never sacrificing the sheer quality of musicianship. According to Spotify, 3 of my 5 most-listened songs of the year were cherry picked from this album. Highly, highly recommended, especially for ye olde acolytes of the Blind Guardian.
5. MORROW - Fallow
Alright, ye of little patience for small transgressions. This album was technically unveiled on Christmas Eve of 2017, but we’re going by the later physical release date. But in actuality, I’m not worried about the foibles, ‘cuz this album is one of the most devastating albums I had the pleasure of enjoying this year. Crust doesn’t typically lend itself to a gentle touch, but the liberal inclusion of violin and cello places Fallow in a category of its own. Hauntingly desperate, aggressively delicate. Catharsis isn’t merely a means to an end, but rather part of the journey. Gang vocals, purely reminiscent of hardcore stylings, serve both as a climax and a foil to mournful progressions. All told? An emotional masterpiece. Don’t let that release date scare you away.
4. DOMKRAFT - Flood
I originally reviewed Domkraft’s sophomore effort in a favorable light. What I didn't anticipate, however, was its ability to clamber so effortlessly up the rungs of the year-end ladder. It’s good. Really, really good. What more is there to say? Here’s a (slightly modified) summary quotation: “As a statement of pure dedication to their genre wheelhouse, Domkraft have done themselves proud. This isn’t an introduction to doom. As an example of the genre’s staying power, however, Flood is THE finest example of its ilk I have encountered this year.”
3. PAARA - Riitti
The premiere moments in this beleaguered scribe’s music listening existence more often than not involves being swallowed whole by an album. From nose to rump, Riitti is an engrossing and fantastic beast, defined by quality songwriting and a pervasive sense of growth and development. While admittedly a newcomer to the scene, I seldom find black metal to outwardly present so much depth and attention to natural flow from passage to passage, track to track. From melancholia and serenity to overt rage, Paara possesses the ability to meld and traverse a wide emotional range. The atmosphere is made complete by the inclusion of Finnish vocals, which add a certain ethereal ambiance to the whole package. Riitti is a special album--dare I say beautiful. And, as I mentioned in my review earlier this year, the entire album serves as a buildup to the final anguished minutes. Many listens later, this still remains my most anticipated conclusion of the year.
2. NECROPANTHER - Eyes Of Blue Light
Blackened thrash isn't exactly a burgeoning field, which, in some respects, automatically places Necropanther ahead of the fold. But Necropanther are so, so much more than a de facto replacement for the Skeletonwitch of yore. Simply put, this album--and the band itself--represents my favorite aspects of heavy music. The riffs are omnipresent, the harmonic melodies are unabashed, and the vocals are like unto Satan (the acid-refluxed) Himself. Moreso, this album possesses remarkable replay value--for a genre that generally encounters fatigue a few tracks in, Necropanther’s brand never falters or makes me reach for an alternative. Today, with a wealth of year end lists to peruse, filled with new music to discover, I nonetheless listened to Eyes of Blue Light not once, but twice. In full. Espousing Necropanther’s merits has been one of my favorite activities of the year. As my second favorite album of 2018, Eyes of Blue Light comes highly, highly recommended.
1. 1914 - The Blind Leading the Blind
As unfortunate as it may sound, context plays a very underrated role in the impact of an album. Listening to a world-class work whilst stuck, for example, in the mire in an ugly mindset, severely reduces the efficacy of the piece in question. The harsh reality of context, however, is particularly relevant in the case of my personal Album of the Year. Released 100 years after the conclusion of WWI, 1914’s exemplary The Blind Leading the Blind is a prime example of an album’s meteoric impact being significantly larger than the sum of its parts.
WWI was not a romantic war, and The Blind Leading the Blind is not a romantic record. Following the lead of its grisly subject matter, this album illustrates the horrors of a war fought outside the confines of dramatic or heroic narrative. It's not about a fight for a greater cause, or an attempt to right a grand injustice. The objective? To kill until there is nothing left to kill. “I know what we’re fighting for,” roars our narrator on Arrival. The Meuse Argonne. “Hopefully to end the war.” 1914 paints a grotesque, nihilistic, and realistic picture--and in this way, their commemoration is appropriate beyond compare. The Blind Leading the Blind captures the wide range of emotion experienced by the most emotionally broken. Thus, as an emotional work, it triumphs.
Musically, the genre--if it can be called that--is one of aggressively blurred lines. Blackened death, overt death, churning sludge, mustardy doom. All take solace in 1914’s muddy, bloody, yet au fait grasp. The result is an atrociously accurate atmosphere. The liberal inclusion of samples only enhances the feeling, to that point that listening is nearly voyeuristic, like you’re observing the (shell) shocking realities of senseless war from the safety of tidy modernity. Very seldom does an album inflict such a boggling barrage of emotion.
The Blind Leading the Blind is devastating. I’ll leave it at that.
Thanks so much to everyone who has followed along. We here at the Sleeping Village sincerely hope that this exercise has introduced you to some new music. Regardless of how small we may be in the grand scheme, its been an honor and a privilege. Support small artists, listen to good music. Happy (very belated, by this point) new year to you all!
Written by: Loveloth
Yes, it's time for these obligatory year-end lists where I subtly position myself as having superior taste than you mere mortals, but fear not because you will give in! Hopefully. Anyhow, I am Loveloth (of a certain Gazebo that resides in the waters of Instagram) and this is my first legit text for this wonderful thing we have going on here. It's a sign that you'll be seeing a lot more of me this year so prepare. But let's indulge in my top 20 picks of 2018 before those wretched times come.
See how I skillfully skipped the whole "this year was amazing for music" thing and... aw shit, well, it seems I am just like the rest of them. Onwards then!
20. IN VAIN - Currents
Norway's greatest prog death band return with a huge, engrossing, snappy and overall excellent record. The fact that this was released in January and still managed to grab my number 20 spot after listening to about 340-ish records from 2018 says a lot. And having Baard Kolstad behind the kit certainly helped and I sincerely hope he sticks around. Absolutely worth your time.
19. MESSA - Feast For Water
Gonna spoil the list and say that this is the only doom record you'll find. Yes I am aware that this is not YOB's Our Raw Heart and better for it, as Feast For Water has practically no filler moments. Messa are slowly but surely carving their own niche with each new release and I couldn't be happier. Sara intoxicates with her gorgeous voice and the rest of the band provide a jazzy, submerged, subdued and dynamic (yep we're already using that word) backbone. A must for doom fans.
18. DAUGHTERS - You Won't Get What You Want
Well it seems most of us didn't get what we want. We got something that either completely caught us off guard raises hand or exceeded our every expectation. With this record, Daughters became an almost household name and a frequent guest of many a year-end lists. Anxious, decadently poetic, paranoid, bestial, it all represents that one part of us which we desperately try to subdue. Lose yourself in the hysterical abyss that is You Won't Get What You Want.
17. TOBY DRIVER - They Are The Shield
One would think Toby Driver's peak passed after so many different bands and projects, but no, you noobs, he is an unstoppable creative force and his second solo record proves this. They Are The Shield is an expansive and brilliant journey into the most ethereal and sonically pleasing waters. I'll be retaking the journey for many days to come and you should too.
16. A FOREST OF STARS - Grave Mounds & Grave Mistakes
Being unique is really hard, it's a shocker I know. But A Forest Of Stars truly do stand out. With their eccentric (and amazing in every way) Victorian aesthetic, this English septet will drag you, with or without your consent, through their bleak and decadent era with the power of psychedelic, avant-garde and progressive blend of black metal with outstanding lyrics. Your tour guide will be Mister Curse and he is quite an intense oddity so prepare accordingly. Maybe Katheryn will help you, who knows in any case have fun!
15. ERRA - Neon
It's 2018 (not anymore actually) and we have a Sumerian records band on a top 20 list on an underground review site, that's a first and don't worry, I am equally as confused. But Neon is so damn vibrant, catchy and groovy that I couldn't ignore it. I instead embraced it, and what I got is a superb progressive metalcore record filled with impressive riffs, engaging vocals and smart, creative songwriting that exploits the power of good choruses. Neon is a shot of much needed energy in a pretty sated scene.
14. OCEANS OF SLUMBER - The Banished Heart
Doomy and gloomy prog guided by a troubled yet breathtaking female voice? I'll have an hour of that please. Despite their misleading name (no oceans in Texas, come on guys) Oceans Of Slumber was on my radar since their excellent Winter that seemingly came out of nowhere. Two years passed and The Banished Heart stares directly into our souls with refreshing honesty, proudly showing its vulnerable and exposed insides. And we all have that due to (a)social media and other technological wonders and trends. Shame the record had some filler tracks such as the Wayfaring Stranger and being generally a bit bloated. Still, it's a real treat and a sign of wonderful times to come.
13. BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME - Automata I & II
I know what you're thinking, and no, it's not cheating. Let's face it, the Automatas belong together as they make this conceptual majesty whole, literally and figuratively. And I've gotta be honest, (get used to these,) I liked Coma Ecliptic a lot so I expected great stuff from these wizards, but the pressure from the others who don't share the same opinion as yours truly was real. The band absolutely delivered and released one of their greatest works to date. It's a pretty big deal if you're a BTBAM fan. With tracks like Blot and The Voice Of Trespass the quintet still manages to explore and expand like never before, and I can't wait to see how they'll follow up this behemoth.
12. SILENT PLANET - Where The End Began
I had no idea Silent Planet existed until I saw praise from my fellow Villagers (Soliloquist and Ancient Hand to be more precise). The praise is justified because Where The End Began is a lyrical masterpiece and a joy to listen to. Surprisingly complex with jazzy drumming, angular and acrobatic riffs, clear yet beefy production and those amazing vocals. Garrett Russell is a modern poet who deconstructed the whole American society with clever word play, insane amount of references and depth that is unheard of in metalcore. His actual vocal performance is excellent, his flow, range and pronunciation are all superb. Silent Planet, you definitely have my attention.
11. IHSAHN - Ámr
I like Emperor but Ihsahn is so much of a better fit for me. Quirky, experimental and dark, Ihsahn's 7th record Ámr shares similarities with Arktis, but is overall a completely different story. Acrylic drum set, odd analog synths reminiscent of Carpenter and that flat but organic production guarantee a good time filled with memorable moments. Wake, One Less Enemy are some of Ihsahn's finest work and while it doesn't top After or Arktis, Ámr is still a proof of Ihsahn's vast creativity and will to chart unknown (and icy) waters.
10. RIVERS OF NIHIL - Where Owls Know My Name
Who? Get it? The album title is referring to owls and... oh just forget it and listen to the damn thing if you somehow didn't. Despite the just OK production, Rivers Of Nihil blast through with intense sax-laden, quarter-note chugging maelstrom that took 2018 by storm and for fine reason. It's super good fams! This is a big step up from Monarchy and I am really curious to see where this Pennsylvainian quintet leads us.
9. SUMAC - Love in Shadow
Unpopular opinion. I prefer Sumac over Isis since their superb What One Becomes, but Love In Shadow is a monumental feat that expands the band's formula. And that formula is god-tier improvisation. Led by disgusting heaviness paired with earth-shattering riffs and enough momentum to put down a charging rhinoceros, Sumac constantly challenging themselves and the listener and I love that. Long, exhausting but cathartic and purifying, Love In Shadow is a record whose density and scope will drag you back to it only to expunge you after draining all your energy.
8. ALKALOID - Liquid Anatomy
This record rose up like the cephalopods it prophesies as one of 2018's finest. Bursting with degenerate charm, this ode to my mighty cosmic masters (I am Loveloth after all) is one I will always return to. It has everything, the riffs are mind-boggling complex exercises, the lyrics zany and extremely clever, the vocals unsettlingly familiar, the drums astounding, that's what you get when you put five German wunderkinds and geniuses in one room and let them jam and talk about Lovecraft, science and metaphysics. Bravo chaps, my overlords are pleased.
7. SLUGDGE - Esoteric Malacology
You know what my overlords found more pleasing? Slugdge's latest attempt of summoning the slimey Greatfather, of course. This very record is the definition of justified hype, and these two potential servants named Matt Moss and Kev Pearson created one of the most engaging prog hybrids in a very long time. Now I only need to convince them that we should unite our religions into one vast, cosmic organization that will ensure the future of...oh, sorry, got off track there for a second. Proceed.
6. DEAFHEAVEN - Ordinary Corrupt Human Love
The greatest foe of trve kvltists hath returned with their most subdued, complete, and least metallic offering yet, and it's breathtaking. Deafheaven always manage to make me feel fuzzy inside whilst going insane. Whatever your stance on the band, this deserves your attention, it's truly fresh and the San Fran quintet continue to be a trailblazer and a great influence to upcoming bands. Be brave, explore and ignore naysayers because if you truly got it, who knows, maybe you'll create something unheard of and that's what propels art forward.
5. TESSERACT - Sonder
Meet my most listened to band in 2018. That's right, it's djent time and Tesseract's Sonder is a brilliant, albeit short culmination of all their previous phases. Abrasive, vast, insanely groovy, complex, ambient and soaring release that shows a band pushing themselves whilst completely retaining their core sound. Be it the absolutely breathtaking Juno or goosebump inducing scope of Beneath My Skin or Mirror Image, Sonder will never leave rotation (especially because of its godly production), same as every Tesseract record. I just need more.
4. ROLO TOMASSI - Time Will Die And Love Bury It
Where did the hell did this come from? If you're like me, you'll feel the same way after experiencing Time Will Die And Love Bury It which is Rolo Tomassi's breakthrough and overall fifth release that ups the antee on every front. Eva Spence's voice is equally as formidable as it is soothing, the instrumentation is amazing as it walks the thin line between unbelievably aggressive and unbelievably chill. Tracks like The Hollow Hour, Rituals, A Flood Of Light, or basically any other stick and continue to get under your skin, at least this occurred with your boi. This was my AotY for a while and as we near the end of our list, the smallest details dictated what record sits on what spot
3. THE OCEAN - Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic
I am a big paleontology nerd, and having a brilliant post-metal act such as The Ocean consistently deliver gold is nothing short of outstanding. Massive, vibrant and unbelievably clever with its usage of words and motifs, Palaeozoic soared above virtually every other release. You'll get my sentiment after Permian: The Great Dying abruptly ends. The bar has been set unbelievably high and I am pretty confident the band will follow up accordingly. All hail The Ocean.
2. VOLA - Applause of a Distant Crowd
Vola was one of those year-defining bands for me and Applause cemented that love. Just as with The Contortionist's Clairvoyant in 2017, Vola brought a breath of fresh air to an ironically formulaic scene. Too many prog bands sound alike and play it safe but these Danes decided to almost entirely drop the Meshuggah worship (that I am a fan of) that was plentiful on Inmazes and gaze towards pop, electronica, ambient and industrial. What we got is a wonderful, fresh, lush sonic curtain that completely surrounds you. Ruby Pool, We Are Thin Air, and the title track are among the most beautiful and warm pieces of music I heard last year. Then you have stuff like Smartfriend or Whaler which show the more "ugly" and discordant side of the band we grew accustomed to on their previous releases. Must hear, in my Necronomicon-looking book.
1. BLACK PEAKS - All That Divides
Here it is, the album I felt was the most complete and the closest thing to a masterpiece 2018 had to offer. I expected seeing Black Peaks somewhere on my list but definitely not as my number one pick and I am even happier for it. All That Divides is a sound of true, unadulterated passion that the band unleashes upon the listener. This isn't the only thing that makes this record so brilliant of course. Each song is brimming with well executed ideas, the instrumentation is impressive, the vocals superb and the whole package outstanding with no filler in sight. Imagine if you had the best parts of Crack The Skye era Mastodon, the hysteria and calculated aggression of Dillinger, Mars Volta's unhingedness, the flow of Oceansize and sprinkle in a tad of Deftones for good measure. Yes I mentioned a lot of bands but Black Peaks came to a point where their sound is their own. There is no doubt in my mind that these guys are here to stay and continue to make waves with each passing release. World, it's time to meet your new masters, apart from me of course. Now on to 2019!
Written by: Ancient Hand
Ranging from the most extreme to the most ethereal, a wide range of genres are represented--and appreciated--here at the Sleeping Village. In that adventurous spirit, here are Ancient Hand's top 20 albums of 2018.
20. THOSE POOR BASTARDS - Inhuman Nature
Those Poor Bastards follow up their 2016 album, Sing it Ugly, with Inhuman Nature—an album that I was very excited about. Their previous album had some songs that I loved, but I found it to be one of the band’s weaker overall due to its overly grating production and repetitive sounds. My favorite album from the group is Satan is Watching, which features the band embracing more dark and sinister sounds. Luckily, just as much variation on that album was utilized by the band on this new release. This new album from the duo was announced with the single “Snake-Tongued Deceiver,” which features production that places the album in the time period that it aims to emulate. The rest of the album fell in line with this single; the production is fun and allows for bouncy rhythms, which are usually brought about through the incredibly fun synth work. The vocals have an interesting inflection that brings a melancholic mood to the bouncy music. Overall, I had a ton of fun with this album.
Favorite Tracks: Heap Bad Medicine, Snake Tongued Deceiver, Blow Wind
19. RIVERS OF NIHIL - Where Owls Know My Name
An interesting blend of jazz instrumentation and death metal. I don’t think either aspect of the album is the best in its respective genre, but I do think that the blend offers a ton of interesting material to enjoy. Catchy guitar riffs, fast-paced drumming, atmospheric instrumentation placed with the brutal vocals makes for one of the year’s most headbang-inducing albums!
Favorite Tracks: Terrestria III: Wither, The Silent Life, Where Owls Know My Name
18. ZEAL & ARDOR - Stranger Fruit
After my review of their debut album, Devil is Fine, Zeal & Ardor essentially did exactly what I wanted from them on their follow-up; the electronic elements took a backseat and left room for the chilling mix of blues and black metal. The haunting atmosphere of this album alone makes it one of the year’s most engaging releases, and pairing that atmosphere with the impressive instrumentation gives you one hell of a terrifying, catchy album.
Favorite Tracks: Intro, We Can’t Be Found, Stranger Fruit
17. UADA - Cult of a Dying Sun
Uada followed up my favorite album of 2016 with an incredibly punishing, yet slightly bloated, sophomore album. I really wanted to love this album, and I was happy when it lived up to my expectations. I still feel that the run time is a little too long for the lack of variation, but the material on the album is very much worthwhile, nonetheless.
Favorite Tracks: The Purging Fire, Cult of a Dying Sun, Mirrors
16. IDLES - Joy As An Act of Resistance
Positive and bouncy, this punk album is filled with fist-pumping anthems that will get stuck in your head for days.
Favorite Tracks: Television, Danny Nedelko, Colossus
15. ARCHITECTS - Holy Hell
Architects return from losing an integral member of their band to cancer with an incredibly moving metalcore record. The pained screams from frontman Sam Carter nearly make the entire release for me. The use of strings throughout the album elevate it to heights so epic that all you can feel is the emotion put into the music. While it may not be the most technically proficient album of the year, it is one of the heaviest when it comes to emotional weight.
Favorite Tracks: Royal Beggars, Holy Hell, The Seventh Circle
14. IMMORTAL - Northern Chaos Gods
Immortal returns with one of the best albums of their career. This release is filled with incredible riffs and drumming. The vocals are amazing, and the epic atmosphere puts the last 15 years of their discography to shame. Similar to Uada, I felt that this release was maybe one song too long, but otherwise, I just wish more albums could successfully achieve the atmosphere this album does.
Favorite Tracks: Mighty Ravendark, Northern Chaos Gods, Gates to Blashyrkh
13. BEARTOOTH - Disease
Beartooth started off strong. Their debut EP was some of the most scathing and brutal metalcore I had heard when it dropped. Their debut album introduced more melody, and their sophomore album made me doubt that they could ever recapture the same magic. I seriously lost a lot of hope after their 2014 album, Aggressive. That is, until I started hearing the singles from Disease. This album is an experiment in metalcore. Elements from punk, classic rock, and emo find their places in the tracklist. A varied listen, and with most of the experimentation playing off so successfully, this album is one of the year’s best—and potentially the band’s best release ever.
Favorite Tracks: Greatness or Death, Afterall, Clever
12. BROCKHAMPTON - iridescence
BROCKHAMPTON have all eyes on them. Their careers are at the point where they can either propel themselves even more into the realm of hip-hop’s bests, or they can lose it all. After last year’s releases and the controversy surrounding one of their members, a lot rode on this album. Luckily, their new album, iridescence, sees the bands at potentially their most cohesive. All the members seem to be on the page, and the frustration with their current states of life shine through in a multitude of sounds—from chaotic to beautiful. It is definitely a step in the right direction, and I look forward to seeing what else they can achieve.
Favorite Tracks: San Marcos, J'ouvert, Tonya
11. NOW, NOW - Saved
Now, Now released one of my favorite albums of all time in 2012 with Threads. I have been waiting nearly 6 years for their follow-up, and during that wait, the group’s sound changed drastically. Now only a two-piece, Now, Now have created Saved, a synth-pop album that relies more on the vocal melodies of Cacie than the drumming of Bradley. Luckily, Cacie delivers. Cuts like AZ and MJ show her as a strong and capable frontwoman. Not every track lands the same way these do, but when the duo is able to achieve the sound they’re going for, it is clear this change in their sound works to take their musical prowess in a direction with tons of possibilities. Hopefully, we don’t have another six-year wait ahead of us.
Favorite Tracks: MJ, AZ, P0wder
10. MOUNT EERIE - Now Only
Mount Eerie followed up one of 2017’s best albums with an equally crushing and emotional musical journey. This time around, the songs make use of more typical music motifs, but the result is just as difficult to listen to. I sincerely hope things get better for Phil and his family.
Favorite Tracks: Earth, Crow, Pt. 2, Distortion
9. HORRENDOUS - Idol
Horrendous continue to put out impressive music. Idol is an incredibly interesting and engaging listen that grabs your attention and refuses to let go until it the entire album is done. The interesting and catchy riffs, the howling vocals, and the punishing drumming all culminate into an oddly melodic yet brutal album; oxymoronic as it may seem, this album deserves to be heard.
Favorite Tracks: Soothsayer, Divine Anhedonia, Obolus
8. PANOPTICON - The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness I & II
Panopticon tried something incredibly interesting on this release: separating the folk elements from the black metal elements into two separate albums, culminating into one epic release. I was worried about this release feeling way too long, but I was shocked to find a release of this length so engaging. The black metal album features some awesome riffs, but the folk album sees Panopticon in a new and fascinating light. The alternation between fast folk music and slower cuts keeps the second album at the forefront of your attention even after it ends.
Favorite Tracks: The Moss Beneath The Snow, (Cowering) At The Foot Of The Mountain, Blåtimen, Sheep in Wolves Clothing
7. MGMT - Little Dark Age
MGMT released my favorite (spoiler alert) pop album of the year. The incredibly proficient synth work that culminates in a strange, dark album with catchy vocal leads and great guitar works makes for a listen that is fun, haunting, and introspective. Cuts like the title track, “Tslmap,” and “She Works Out Too Much” are just some of the best the duo has to offer, and don’t forget the David Bowie worship on “When You’re Small.” If you haven’t heard this album, you need to.
Favorite Tracks: Little Dark Age, Tslamp, When You’re Small
6. PORTAL - Ion
Ion is crushing. Ion is punishing. Ion is a tumble into an oppressive abyss that doesn’t let up even beyond its runtime. The chilling vocals and distorted guitars are paired with cacophonous drums and dark atmospheric passages that dizzy you unlike anything you have heard this year. In a word, this album is revolutionary. I only wish all death metal could be this good.
Favorite Tracks: Esp Ion Age, Olde Guarde, Husk
5. KIDS SEE GHOSTS - Kids See Ghosts
Kanye West and Kid Cudi joined forces to create my favorite hip-hop album of the year. The sounds on this album range from vibrant and beautiful atmosphere to rock to punishing and aggressive rap. I love the wide array of sounds in such a short and concise album.
Favorite Tracks: Feel the Love, 4th Dimension, Cudi Montage
4. MESARTHIM - The Density Parameter
Mesarthim is one of my favorite current black metal projects. Their unique blend of synth and black metal into a dancy and trance-inducing project is nothing short of fascinating. Their new release saw the project embrace more of the dance rhythms that are present in their music. A bold decision that paid off; this album is a work of art.
Favorite Tracks: Recombination, Ω, Collapse
3. UNDEROATH - Erase Me
Underoath, my favorite band of all time, dropped their return album—their first in 8 years and their first with Aaron behind the kit in 10 years. While some cuts on the album don’t reach the same heights that they reached in the past, there are some incredible cuts on this album that showcase the ferocity and drive that the band showed off in their mid-2000s releases. Even the most melodic cuts are something to behold, with “I Gave Up” being an Underoath that we have never heard, and I am excited to hear more from. It is really when Underoath tries to walk the line between these two sounds, things slip up. Luckily, there are very few cuts on this album where it seems they’re trying to do that.
Favorite Tracks: No Frame, In Motion, I Gave Up
2. BLACK TONGUE - Nadir
Nadir is the most crushing release of 2018. From the pounding instrumentals that take influence from deathcore, doom metal, black metal, and harsh noise to the lyrics that drag you to the area between “life and death and time,” Black Tongue make you see your innermost demons on this release, and there is no solace to be found at the end of the album.
Favorite Tracks: The Eternal Return to Ruin, Parting Soliloquy, Crippled Before the Dwelling Place of God
1. SILENT PLANET - When the End Began
When the End Began is this year’s best album. The entire package is perfect. The lyrics are moving and show an incredible amount of awareness in our current, messed-up world, and the storyline that is used to explore the different apocalypses that we may face is fascinating. Silent Planet have outdone every release of theirs. They have crafted an album that I believe is truly perfect.
Favorite Tracks: All of them, but Lower Empire is my favorite song of the year
Thank you so much for reading my top 20 albums of 2018! For my top 6 releases (and a few more), you can head over to my Instagram, @TheAncientHand, to read my more in-depth reviews.
Providing thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy, and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a groggy-eyed, highfalutin peasantry.