As we bring 2018 to a close, it was another strong year for heavy metal. From young upstarts to grizzled veterans, the year saw a varied group of bands making an impact. There were some surprises, some disappointments, and a lot of great music. Here are our choices for 2018’s Best Heavy Metal Albums.
Agrimonia – Awaken (Southern Lord)
Author & Punisher – Beastland (Relapse)
Between The Buried And Me – Automata I and II (Sumerian)
Boss Keloid – Melted On The Inch (Holy Roar)
Cancer – Shadow Gripped (Peaceville)
Eagle Twin – The Thundering Heard (Southern Lord)
Eigenlicht – Self-Annihilating Consciousness (I, Voidhanger/Gilead)
Fire Down Below – Hymn Of The Cosmic Man (Ripple)
Haken – Vektor (InsideOut)
Khemmis – Desolation (20 Buck Spin)
Mantar – The Modern Art Of Setting Ablaze (Nuclear Blast)
Mournful Congregation – The Incubus Of Karma (20 Buck Spin)
Monotheist – Scourge (Prosthetic)
Necros Christos – Domedon Doxomedon (Sepulchral Voice)
Panopticon – The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness I & II (Bindrune)
Rivers Of Nihil – Where Owls Know My Name (Metal Blade)
Satan – Cruel Magic (Metal Blade)
Skinless – Savagery (Relapse)
Vein – Errorzone (Closed Casket)
Witch Mountain – Witch Mountain (Svart)
20. Clutch – Book Of Bad Decisions (Weathermaker)
Clutch‘s twelfth studio album, Book of Bad Decisions, much like the band’s touring schedule, is relentless. They used vintage equipment and a very raw, spontaneous, unrefined approach to the sessions, to give us an album that sounds as though we’re sitting right in the room with the band as they jam through these tracks with wanton abandon.
Length aside, Book of Bad Decisions is yet another standout album in the Clutch catalog, full of memorable riffs and crazy lyrics. The fat, warm sound and the raw, somewhat out of control playing lend the album an undeniable charm. Fans of the band will revel in this approach: Book of Bad Decisions sounds as live as a studio album can.
19. Hate Eternal – Upon Desolate Sands (Season Of Mist)
For two decades now, Hate Eternal have delivered consistently good death metal. And while their music has been consistent, their lineup has been a bit more fluid. That’s the case for their latest opus Upon Desolate Sands, which features new drummer Hannes Grossman (Triptykon, Blotted Science).
Erik Rutan’s guitar and production prowess are well established, and that continues on Upon Desolate Souls. Crushing heaviness prevails, combining oppressive and dense sections with groovier, driving riffs and periodic shredding solos. Rutan’s death growls are straightforward but effective. The arrangements are creative, and subtle atmospheric touches on songs such as the title track add depth to the extremity.
18. Ghost – Prequelle (Loma Vista)
Even though they are more of a rock band, Ghost have been fully embraced by metal fans. Their potent live shows, visual imagery and lyrical themes are right in the wheelhouse of metal fans, while Ghost’s music is catchy hard rock with a ’70s and ’80s vibe. Their fourth studio album Prequelle may be their catchiest release so far.
Tobias Forge, now going by Cardinal Copia, along with the Nameless Ghouls, have dialed down the occult rock while amping up the melodies on tracks like “Rats.” Ghost still sound ominous and have some occult rock moments, but bring the prog on instrumentals “Helvetesfonster” and “Miasma” (which has a sax solo and pays homage to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”) along with pop sensibilities on several songs including “See The Light” and the ’80s tinged “Danse Macabre.” The 9 tracks are diverse and memorable, more appropriate for singing along to than headbanging, but undeniably enjoyable and surprisingly uplifting.
17. Horrendous – Idol (Season Of Mist)
Philadelphia death metal collective Horrendous are back with album number four, Idol, and a lot of hype to live up to. Much like the bands they have drawn comparisons to, Horrendous have also become markedly more progressive. Horrendous are evolving and it is quite fun to see where they are taking their sound.
Idol might not be the band’s most accessible album, but for seasoned death metal fans, this will be a fun album to dissect and hear each and every influence for what they are to Horrendous and how they sound on Idol as a whole. Horrendous are a different band who are able to let their influences seamlessly into their music, none of it feels put on. This is a death metal album for death metal fans, by death metal fans.
16. High on Fire – Electric Messiah (eOne)
To Lemmy with love. Oakland’s buzz arsonists High on Fire send a farewell note to Mr. Kilmister, anointing him Electric Messiah. In the tent-pole song “Electric Messiah,” pseudo-soundalike Matt Pike leads his trio through one of HOF’s finest single since “Frosthammer.” Electric Messiah is an excellent addition to the HOF canon.
The decades-long consistency is carried on, with producer Kurt Ballou allowing a slightly rawer, slightly more relaxed sound to temper the usual wall-to-wall decibel derby. Dynamics sneak around the outer edges of the frontal attack, especially in Des Kensel’s Tama tantrums. “Sanctioned Annihilation,” “The Pallid Mask” and the intriguing “The Drowning Dog” are highlights to a collection that owes its heart to the Ace of Spades.
15. Visigoth – Conqueror’s Oath (Metal Blade)
Conqueror’s Oath is Visigoth’s followup to 2015’s highly successful The Revenant King, an album of heroic metal that drew heavily from bands like Grand Magus and Cirith Ungol. Not wanting to mess with a good thing, Visigoth repeat this formula here.
It’s hard to find much to dislike in this collection of well-written, infinitely enjoyable anthems, primarily dealing with warriors, traitors and conquerors. “Salt City” stands out as an odd duck, but is an homage to the band’s Utah base, so can be forgiven. The drums could also use a bit more punch, but other than that Conqueror’s Oath is a traditional metal tour de force.
14. Hamferd – Tamsins Iikam (Metal Blade)
Hamferð, are self-proclaimed purveyors of Faroese doom metal. Támsins likam (Body of the Mist) is Hamferð’s conclusion of a conceptual trilogy that began with an EP in 2010 and 2013’s full length album Evst. Musically, this is one of the most exquisitely produced and performed albums you will hear this year.
Hamferð have released a perfect doom album. With outstanding performances from every band member, fantastic songwriting and production that ties everything together seamlessly, Támsins likam is a tour de force for the band, and places them firmly at the forefront of the genre. Faroese doom metal is here to stay.
13. Khorada – Salt (Prophecy)
Many mourned the end of Agalloch, who split up in 2016 after a two decade run that saw them release several outstanding albums. Just a couple of years later, three quarters of the band (guitarist Don Anderson, bassist Jason Walton and drummer Aesop Dekker) have teamed up with ex-Giant Squid vocalist/guitarist Aaron Gregory to form Khorada. Salt is their debut album.
While the DNA of both Agalloch and Giant Squid are evident, Khorada also blaze their own trail. The lengthy songs give them plenty of room to move between styles, tempos and textures. Tracks like “Seasons Of Salt” are sometimes urgent and aggressive, other times deliberate and reserved. There’s push and pull throughout, with a thread of melancholy keeping it cohesive. Nearly bottomless depth and obvious emotion make it easy to immediately grasp onto, but it takes longer to fully absorb everything Khorada are doing on their engaging debut album.
12. Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love (Anti-)
Deafheaven’s Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is no ordinary corrupt human rehash of that dim swamp of today’s black metal. Where most bands are contemptuous of change for fear of riling their fan base that demands the comforts of bandsaw vocals and cut-out chaos, Deafheaven break the oldie molds with the finest metal-based music presently available.
Polarization is the keystone of art. Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is art, and a messy millennial masterpiece of genre-collision and unique vision. It’s apparent that Deafheaven are an art metal band that ignores the norms of comfort. Their art is not always highbrow and other times it may get post-modern obscure, but all that matters is the music and where it takes you. Deafheaven are limited only by sky and disdain for mediocrity.
11. KEN Mode – Loved (Season Of Mist)
Canada’s noise-rock veterans KEN Mode are back with their seventh album, Loved. After issuing some outtakes on 2016’s Nerve EP, the band delivers what promises to be a darker, heavier album, and they come through with nine furious blasts of unnerving chaos. Production is handled by Andrew Schneider (Cult of Luna, Converge) rather than Steve Albini, and the sound is as raw as the emotion.
Loved is 36 minutes of unbridled aggression. The first eight songs never let up, with atonal guitar work, wonderfully obnoxious drum sounds, and Jesse Matthewson spitting fantastic lyrics with a maniacal rage. The only respite from this acerbic devastation comes in the first few minutes of album closer “No Gentle Art,” making Loved an exhausting but engaging listen.
10. Immortal – Northern Chaos Gods (Nuclear Blast)
Immortal return as a two piece with Northern Chaos Gods, featuring Demonaz on guitars and vocals and Horgh on drums. There are various callbacks to Battles In The North on tracks like album closer “Mighty Ravendark” and “Gates To Blashyrkh,” both of which refer to when the band was a different two piece (Abbath and Demonaz). This feels very much like what Immortal had set out to play from day one; black metal with the chill of Norwegian ice and an epic battle playing out in front of you.
This album stands alone as a fine moment and return for one of the genre’s absolute cornerstone bands. It is hard not to compare to what this band was with what it now is and grade it on its own individual merit. All things considered, this is a very good black metal album in 2018 regardless of who recorded it. If you never got into the ’90s edition of Immortal, this should serve as a primer for what helped establish the band in the first place. Here’s to new beginnings!
9. Amorphis – Queen Of Time (Nuclear Blast)
If you look up “multifaceted” in the metal dictionary, you just might see a picture of Finnish stalwarts Amorphis. Loosely based on the idea of empires and civilizations rising and falling, Queen of Time is a collection of epic songs in the truest sense of the word. Every single cut on this ten song album is slathered in layers of instrumentation, giving the impression of massive, cinematic spectacle.
Each song is immaculately arranged, and show Amorphis to be a band that defies a single genre label. Melodeath, folk, power and progressive metal are all on full display throughout, often interwoven seamlessly within a single song. Amorphis gave us a gem with Under the Red Cloud, and on Queen of Time they have upped the ante in almost every way imaginable, delivering an engaging, thoroughly entertaining album that shows us they are the one of the most well-rounded and capable bands in the metal scene.
8. Sleep – The Sciences (Third Man)
Sleep shocked the metal world by dropping the surprise The Sciences, their first new album in 15 years. During the early ‘90s, Sleep along with Kyuss made it okay to worship Black Sabbath and helped to spearhead the stoner metal music scene. Some of these songs have been played live by the band before and are not exactly new, but when you hear studio versions of “Sonic Titan” and “Antarticans Thawed” you would swear they flow on this album like they belonged there the entire time.
The Sciences is the album fans have waited a long time for and does not disappoint. It has all the elements that made the band’s prior work so iconic and helped to launch a million reefer and riff soaked bands. Sleep made this style of music popular again and in their nearly 30 years of existence few would argue against that fact. This is the album no one knew existed, no one knew they needed, yet everyone wanted in 2018.
7. Voivod – The Wake (Century Media)
The Wake is the first full-length Voivod album to feature Dominque “Rocky” Laroche on bass, and the chemistry between the three musicians (including Michel “Away” Langevin on drums) really works throughout. If there’s one theme that defines The Wake, it would be experimentation – something the band is already well known for. Here they take it further in some areas, not just in the songwriting and arrangements but also Denis “Snake” Belanger’s vocals.
Overall, Voivod have released a stellar album, featuring the band members firing on all cylinders, solid songwriting, excellent vocals, and a welcome sense of adventure. It’s fantastic to listen to one of Canada’s most influential metal bands push their boundaries this far into their career.
6. Judas Priest – Firepower (Epic)
Metal gods Judas Priest have been putting out albums since 1974, and their legacy is untouchable. Firepower is Judas Priest’s 18th studio album. Rob Halford’s voice continues to defy age, with low register menace and upper register screams sounding as potent as ever.
Add in the usual excellent lead breaks from old-timer Glenn Tipton and relative newcomer Richie Faulkner (a member since 2011), some heavy riffing, and the rock-solid rhythm section of Ian Hill on bass and Scott Travis behind the kit, and we’ve got a band firing on all cylinders throughout Firepower. It’s remarkable, really. Judas Priest have still managed to deliver an electric, vital album that surpasses anything they’ve released in nearly 30 years. Firepower is the band’s best record since Painkiller.
5. Tribulation – Down Below (Century Media)
Tribulation came out of the gate swinging in 2018 with Down Below, the successor to critical darling Children of the Night. Gone are the days of death metal for this band, in its stead are riffs and a dark atmosphere shows the band rocking while amply embracing the dark side. Johannes Andersson’s gruff vocal approach comes off as though he is a member of the undead coming to greet you and act as Virgil to your Dante.
Tribulation have crafted an exceptional album that follows a great one in its own right. They have carved themselves a niche that is tough to duplicate; much like Cloak’s To Venomous Depths did in 2017.
4. The Ocean – Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic (Metal Blade)
Phanerozoic I is a master class in vocal production, and marrying the voice to the feel and intention of the song, but that’s not to take anything away from the other five members of the band. From beginning to end we’re treated with fantastic songwriting that keeps pace with the musicality these guys bring. Unlike Pelagial, which was one extended suite, these songs stand on their own.
Progressive post metal doesn’t get any better than The Ocean, and they once again prove themselves to be the leaders of the genre with Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic. Distilling the best elements of bands like Neurosis, Cult of Luna, and (this time, anyhow) Katatonia, and combining those elements in impeccably arranged and produced songs, gives us one of the strongest albums of the year.
3. Skeletonwitch – Devouring Radiant Light (Prosthetic)
Skeleltonwitch have had a few lineup changes over their 15-year career, but none shook the band’s fan base more than the departure of original vocalist Chance Garnette in 2015. With Wolvhammer vocalist Adam Clemans taking the helm for Devouring Radiant Light, external expectations of how Clemans would fit into Garnette’s role added on to the five year wait between this album and their last one.
There’s an undeniable drive from Skeletonwitch on Devouring Radiant Light, as if they had something to prove not only to those hesitant after Garnette’s departure, but to show that they didn’t have to just play the same music with a new vocalist copied and pasted in. Clemans has a different vocal style than Garnette, but his wicked rasps quickly find their place in Skeletonwitch’s ever-changing formula. It may have taken a decade and a half for the band to start taking significant risks, but Devouring Radiant Light proves a gateway into what could be a prosperous period ahead.
2. Tomb Mold – Manor of Infinite Forms (20 Buck Spin)
Tomb Mold have been prolific in their short time as a group, already releasing multiple demos and a full-length in the span of two years. Manor of Infinite Forms is a continuation of this proficiency, which hasn’t dimmed the group’s gritty death metal flame. The seven versatile songs on their second album crackle with crooked tempos and an unwelcoming demeanor.
The ragged momentum of Manor of Infinite Forms is propelled in part by drummer/vocalist Max Klebanoff. His sadistic growls and schizophrenic drum performance give the other members a path to follow along in the insanity. Closer “Two Worlds Become One,” with its low-key acoustic intro and death/doom pacing, is a top-notch finish to the album.
1. Yob – Our Raw Heart (Relapse)
Yob‘s miraculous, magnificent Our Raw Heart is the kind of album that will turn the sun dim and have you repeatedly return for the experience. Yob have taken it beyond the thunderstorms that they have left in their wake on previous outings and summoned yet a grander storm that pounds with greater fury and a more refined, heart-churning focus.
Reaching in deeply to wrench its chest open toward a violent sky, Yob expose its raw heart to roar back at the latest storm, to become fragile in the power of thunderheads and lightning. Vocalist Mike Scheidt gives strength to that fragility, though, scorching through the reverb and rancor on tracks like “In Reverie” to put wrong in its place by voicing its common horror. Yob tower over other doom bands, and it is a rare achievement to take a genre with the strictures and restraints of doom and yank out beauty unmatched. It earns the honor of our number one album of 2018.