There was a lot of good music in 2018. That is to be expected for any year; there are just so many artists and musicians out there that are creating, constantly… The absolute number of musical releases is utterly daunting and insignificant by its sheer size—it would be impossible to listen to everything released in a given year—but I’ve truly given it my best, listening to a total of 2,257 albums, EPs, and splits from this year alone (an average of over six releases every day). That is without mentioning older albums, or albums from 2019 that I had the chance to listen to in advance.
Last week, I wrote my Best Jazz of 2018 post, which was a condensed version of the original post I wrote for Heavy Blog Is Heavy, and Matt published a huge top 40 list. Today, I want to focus my attention on metal music, which is the broad genre I listened to the most this year (1,182, compared to 890 for rock, 497 for jazz, and 320 for everything “-core”; note that these categories are not mutually exclusive, and these numbers are approximative). In the coming weeks, I’ll try and come up with lists for these other two broad categories as well, so keep an eye out for it!
Like with my original jazz post on HBIH, I will subdivide the metal genus into various species, namely black metal, death metal, doom metal, post-metal, power metal, progressive metal, and thrash metal. These categories are somewhat subjective, especially when bands tend to take elements from one or many other subgenres to add to their own sound and style, so don’t be too offended if you see something in death metal that would have better fit, in your opinion, in progressive or post-metal, or whatever. So, without further ado…
Best Black Metal: Chaos Echœs – Mouvement (Nuclear War Now! Productions)
Chaos Echœs is a new name on my mind. I didn’t know of them before I heard their recent masterpiece, Mouvement. The French trio takes an unbridled avant-garde approach to craft the most poignant and intimate release of the year. Mouvement is atmospheric, dissonant, and psychedelic. As I mentioned in my original review of the album, it’s so well-crafted and intriguing that it’s a challenge in and of itself, but the result pays off. Mouvement is a transcendental experience, and it deserves its spot at the top of this list.
Best Death Metal: The Aftermath – Vermine (PRC Records)
Vermine is quite simply a masterpiece of progressive tech-death. What’s even more surprising is that the album consists of songs that the band sat on for years before finally recording and releasing them in June of 2018. This album is mind-blowing enough as it is, can you imagine this being released in 2014, or even earlier? In a way, I think it’s a good thing it didn’t: the public is quite unforgiving when it comes to music ahead of its time. It’s plausible that Vermine wouldn’t have garnered the success it did in 2018… On the other hand, it could have perdured as an obscure and misunderstood masterpiece in the underground circles. As it stands, I can’t predict whether or not the album will achieve a legendary status, but it’s certainly impressive enough to make it to the top of this year in death metal.
Piah Mater – The Wandering Daughter (Aural Music)
The Lion’s Daughter – Future Cult (Season of Mist)
Hardcore Anal Hydrogen – Hypercut (Apathia Records)
Potion – Diaphonized (Independent)
Anachronism – Orogeny (Independent)
Best Doom Metal: Soldat Hans – Es taut (Chucky! Music Productions)
Was there ever any competition? Soldat Hans‘s 2018 full-length was so much superior in so many regards that, really, nothing came close to it, at least for me. The languor, the delicacy, the carefulness, and the absolute catharsis of the record are so meaningful. The slow and deliberate approach of Es taut pays off tremendously, in the end. In two well-crafted and elaborate compositions, combining into over fifty minutes of material, you’re transported into an otherworld, it feels very light considering you’re supposed to be in “metal” territory, but it only makes the climaxes more heavy, weighty, and meaningful. It’s a non-standard doom album, and it’s the best one from 2018.
Best Post-Metal: 灰野敬二 (Keiji Haino) & Sumac – アメリカドル紙幣よそのまま横を向いたままでいてくれ 正面からは見られたもんじやないから (Amerika doru shihei yo sonomama yoko o muita mama de ite kure shōmen kara wa mi rareta monji ya naikara) / American Dollar Bill – Keep Looking Sideways. You’re Too Hideous to Look At Face On (Thrill Jockey Records)
This otherworldly collaboration between Japanese legendary noise musician 灰野敬二 (Keiji Haino) and American post-metal supergroup Sumac deserves all the praise it got, and much, much more. The record, commonly referred to more concisely as American Dollar Bill, is an exquisite experimental and atmospheric one. Sumac’s Love in Shadow, although great itself, didn’t come close to being on the same level as this one, which came out in February. The music here is loose and untethered, wildly swaying between chaotic aggression and emotional contemplation. There’s no mistake, American Dollar Bill is the superior post-metal album of 2018.
Best Power Metal: Helion Prime – Terror of the Cybernetic Space Monster (Tribunal Records)
I’ve got to say, choosing the best power metal album of 2018 has been quite challenging. First of all, I’m not totally comfortable with the genre. I’ve grown from a sheer disdain to a certain tolerance of some bands out there, but some fare better than others. For the best of the year, I’ve decided to embrace the cheese that Helion Prime has brought on a platter. Terror of the Cybernetic Space Monster is cheesy, but I’ve come to like the band with their 2016 self-titled debut. Despite a considerable change—from a frontwoman to a frontman—I’m glad to say that Helion Prime still has it. If you want some great songs to rock your head to, showcasing decent musician prowesses and an edge of progressive metal influences (see the seventeen-minute title track), this album is for you!
Best Progressive Metal: Universe Effects – Desolation (Independent)
Progressive metal suffers from the opposite problem as power metal, for me: the overabundance of choice. Plenty of bands (see Honourable Mentions below) have crafted great works of art, usually by fusing two or more genres together—e.g. Hago, Thrailkill, and Resurrecting Id with jazz and metal—but fewer have grasped my short-time attention span using only the tools of the trade: pure progressive metal. This is why Quebec City-based Universe Effects grabs the trophy in this category. Desolation is a magistral album with all the hallmarks of traditional progressive metal. (Hello, oxymoron!) It’s absolutely superb and memorable in every sense. The vocal melodies, the riffs, and even some unforgettable song structures can be found everywhere on the album. On top of that, if you like long songs, brace yourself for the five-part “The Library”, which clocks in at almost forty minutes!
Vacuus – Hyperkulturemia (Independent)
Zevious – Lowlands (Nefarious Industries)
遺伝学者 (Iden Gakusha) – 芸者 (Geisha) (Independent)
Night Verses – From the Gallery of Sleep (Equal Vision Records)
Zeno Machine – Eleatics (Independent)
Best Thrash Metal: Hexecutor – Poison, Lust and Damnation (Independent)
There are few things better, in my opinion, than blackened thrash metal. The two realms of black and thrash metal just seem like the perfect marriage! Hexecutor‘s Poison, Lust and Damnation has been the one album that struck me the most in 2018. The riffs follow one another without interruption and oftentimes even a transitory period, making it somewhat similar to some of Death’s stylistic avenues. Everything’s fast, aggressive, and neck-breaking. The solos spread throughout the release are melodic and memorable, while the vocals are truly a high point as well. This album’s a real banger!