Last year at Astral Noize, we finished off a great year of music by listing our top 21 picks of the year. So it’s a testament to just how fantastic 2018 has been musically that this year we made the ambitious call to compile a top 100 Albums of the Year list. A wholly collaborative effort between many of our always dependable team of brilliant writers, this list is a meticulously-chosen labour of love that reflects just how great the year has been, not just for heavy music, but for the musical landscape in general. Starting today, this week we’ll be posting 25 picks a day, counting down to the final top 25 on Friday. Here are albums 75 through 100.
100: Yves Tumour – Safe In The Hands of Love
It’s not that Yves Tumor resist categorisation. They render it irrelevant. Safe In The Hands Of Love is more than the sum of its parts. While Yves Tumor have been evasive towards offering any deeper meaning to their work, Safe In The Hands…’ builds a narrative framed between love and oppression. It’s that middle ground which is Yves’ strength, lurching between soul samples and claustrophobic noise; songs about police brutality and holding someone close in succession of each other.
The album speaks to an ever-increasing reality for the majority of working-class people, one of entrenched poverty and an existential struggle for their own rights and representation. Rather than defer to clichés of anger in the face of conflict, Yves create a soundscape of hope against repression in a musical landscape saturated with sounds. The casual listener may not recognise Safe In The Hands…’ as one of the most vital pop albums of recent years, but if Yves Tumor’s stage presence is any indication, theirs is a voice which will narrate the socio-political climate for this generation.
99: Yob – Our Raw Heart
At seven tracks and 73 minutes, Our Raw Heart is the longest of Yob’s eight albums. The health issues of guitarist and vocalist Mike Scheidt have been well-documented, and a title like Our Raw Heart sounds like the most heart-on-sleeve variety of emo; maybe Yob have had a lot on their plate. However, instead of self-absorption, this album extends outwards in the philosophical manner Yob have come to be known and loved for, continuing their melodic streak from 2014’s Clearing The Path To Ascend.
By the clean break seven minutes into opening track ‘Ablaze’, Our Raw Heart is heading for something epic, and from there on, through the chugging statement of intent that is The Screen, the album builds up to centrepiece track Beauty In Falling Leaves. As ever, the rhythm section of Aaron Rieseberg on bass and Travis Foster on drums is perfunctory yet thunderous, and it’s great to hear Scheidt’s clean singing continue to get stronger, maintaining a bit of that Ozzy vibe until he starts roaring and reaping souls.
98: Ddent – Toro
Post-metal’s origins were defined by exciting bouts of experimentation, and as such many contemporary bands from the genre are treated as if they’re doing something new simply because they churn out the same mix of atmospheric and metallic intensity that has underpinned the style since its formation. Simultaneously comprising Ddent’s heaviest and most accessible material to-date, second full-length effort Toro has been a breath of fresh air in a post-metal landscape that’s lost its flair for innovation.
Toro comprises a rich tapestry of boundary-pushing metal, building on the mournful tones and psychedelic grandeur of the Parisian duo’s debut full-length, آكتئاب. The way multi-instrumentalist Louis Lambert and drummer Marc Le Saux construct a song is intricate and considered, with graceful melodies and gloomy atmospherics building tension before giving way to thrilling bouts of doom-driven intensity. The songwriting is exploratory enough that you never come to expect the heavier moments around the next corner, making Toro a consistently exciting listen that frequently catches you unawares.
97: Snøgg – Abeloth
As far as elevator pitches go, “Negura Bunget‘s Om but about obscure Star Wars lore” is a pretty good one. Experimental in nature, and recorded from improvised sessions featuring violins and field recordings in addition to the typical black metal instruments, Abeloth is compulsive, corruptive, and very distinctive.
Abeloth is a labyrinthine record, with a restless, disturbing nature that calls to the dark between the stars. The violins add a piercing edge, cutting through the raw black metal like a knife whilst the field recordings add a sense of decaying grandeur. It conjures similar atmospheres to the likes of Deathspell Omega or Aosoth, but without feeling as tired or formulaic as the music of those bands can feel these days. Yet despite sharing its name with a creature from Star Wars, Abeloth has an emotional edge, and is remarkably coherent and structured despite its experimental, improvised origins. Anyone feeling that black metal is lacking in inspiration would be well advised to spend time with this record.
96: Earthless – Black Heaven
It’s a bold move to make a drastic change in direction so deep into a bands career; especially one as successful as San Diego psych-rockers Earthless who have been melting minds with obscenely long, mostly improvised jams since way back in 2001. But change is not necessarily a bad thing, and in the case of Black Heaven it’s refreshing to have more structure and shorter songs.
Considering Earthless have released jams that clock in close to an hour, it was a shock to the system to long-time admirers when you realise this six-track album weighs in at only 40 minutes in total. The longest track here, ‘Electric Flame’ is a miserly 8:51, a kind of restraint that is practically grindcore to these guys. The biggest change though is the addition of vocals by guitarist Isaiah Mitchell, which lends more of a classic rock feel than any of the band’s previous material.
95: Zorn – S/T
Short, messy and a bit daft, this EP from Philadelphia’s Zorn is a quality racket. Wildly grasping bits of metal landscape as it charges blindly to the end of its almost ridiculous eight minute run-time, there’s all sorts of stuff in here – looming doom, clattering and cantankerous black metal, balls-out thrash, boogie-ing death rock and rasping hardcore punk all crash into each other as though they’re trying to pit in a public bathroom. Way, way filthier and louder than their Castle Of Death EP – also released this year – Zorn’s self-titled release points to an incredibly exciting future.
More riveting because it’s so impossibly short, this most recent work bumps the more studied, slightly gauche approach of its predecessor and delivers a rampant, muscley howl of a record. That they would even have the audacity to release an EP this brief is commendable, and it’s difficult to express how much joy there is in hearing ‘Oathbreaker (Zorn Is Your Master)’ swagger so endearingly clumsily to its completion, knowing full well that this is what the band intended. Tremendous.
94: Vodun – Ascend
Let’s get this out of the way: metal loves a gimmick. As much as some of us protest that it’s “all about the music, man”, we’ve all at one point worshipped a band wearing masks, dressed in robes or adorned in all manner of face paints and costumes. Vodun emerged back in 2016 with one of the most refreshing sounds that hard rock had encountered in a long time as well as an original gimmick that fuelled the music and gave it an interesting subject matter, rather than existing solely to help give it an edge-factor.
Their second full-length effort, Ascend, saw the UK trio take it to the next level. Boasting a veritable stampede of gargantuan choruses and earth-shattering grooves, not to mention the thrashy riffs brought in by new guitarist Linz Hamilton, the album was consistently more entertaining than its already brilliant predecessor. On top of it all was a political element that explored how looking to the past can help us build a better future. Rousing and charismatic music for the revolution.
93: Messa – Feast For Water
There’s something about the expressive nature of jazz that works so well when coupled with doom metal’s vast but bleak scope. Building on the jazz/drone/doom concoction Messa weaved so masterfully on previous album Belfry, April’s Feast For Water was yet another shrewd fusion of disparate genres in a year that was lined with such innovation.
Messa’s tracks are moody, soulful and occasionally ethereal, but always tight and intelligently written. The band never linger on a riff for too long, and they never miss the opportunity to squeeze every last drop out of a brooding melody. These tracks are vast and affecting, switching between delicacy and intensity with ease by entwining the two with a bluesy atmosphere that remains dark as if submerged like the blurry figure on the album’s cover.
92: Racetraitor – 2042
Old punks don’t die – they get law degrees and move into human rights advocacy. Up until 2016, that could have been the epitaph for firebrand political hardcore band Racetraitor, whose initial and all too short history lasted three years between 1996 and 1999. Reforming briefly in 2016 to mark the reissue of their Burn The Idol Of The White Messiah album, Racetraitor began touring again, then writing, culminating in the release of this year’s album 2042.
Named for the year that the non-white population of the US will outnumber the white population, 2042 continued Racetraitor’s track record of provocation as agitation, asking difficult questions of America’s continuing legacy of reactionary white supremacy. Adding elements of death and black metal to their Rorschach-meets-Dropdead brand of chaotic hardcore, Racetraitor made a triumphant and necessary return to duty in 2018.
91: Louise Lemón – Purge LP
Utilising the tag “death-gospel”, perhaps a term that can be spread out to encompass a broad wave of contemporary acts like Chelsea Wolfe, Emma Ruth Rundle and Anna von Hausswolff, Swedish songwriter Louise Lemón released this longer version of a 2017 EP this year to shamefully small (but consistently enthusiastic) acclaim. Purge’s reverb-heavy atmosphere captures the heavier atmosphere of the bands that producer Randall Dunn is well-known for his work with, but Lemón’s tracks boast a more soulful nature, with lyrics of heartbreak and deception presented through the songstress’ astounding, soaring voice. The haunting, hair-raising aura of these tracks is only bolstered by learning that they were tracked in a secluded cabin in the Swedish woods, which, more often than not, are more the imposing claustrophobic type than the happy animal-filled type, with towering trees that obscure the sunlight and seem to offer no way out.
90: Deus Vermin – Monument To Decay
Sometimes, a band come out of seemingly nowhere and blindside you with their talent. Such is the case with UK upstarts Deus Vermin, whose blackened death metal is up there with the best of the genre, and this is despite the band only releasing their first demo last year, with Monument To Decay being their debut EP.
Blackened death metal is a style that often tries to paint pictures of something other than a few guys playing music in dimly lit basements, and few realise that vision better than Deus Vermin. This is music that conjures ruined shrines made from bone; of streets awash with blood; of a world torn apart by chaos. All of which may suggest some Portal-esque repellent vision; but Monument To Decay is comparatively accessible. This is largely because the EP has RIFFS. It’s rare for music this extreme to be so filled with hooks and melodies (albeit damaged ones), but Monument To Decay manages it. This band are sure to take the UK underground by storm, and deserve to be huge.
89: Grave Lines – Fed Into The Nihilist Engine
Spread out across the doom hotbeds of London and Brighton, four-piece Grave Lines‘ second album was released through the excellent New Heavy Sounds, home of Black Moth, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Limb, Vodun and more. Grave Lines have some great pedigree too, made up of former/current members of Throne, Sea Bastard, Dead Existence, Casual Nun, Landskap, War Wolf, Dysteria and The Death Letter. As the name suggests, Grave Lines have created a near hour-long delve into darkness, full of uncompromising anguish and lurching from one brooding track to the next.
It’s difficult to pick out a specific highlight in an album that maintains this kind of quality throughout but special mention must go to ‘Silent Salt’, which is full throttle and shows experimentalism outside the usual constraints of doom. Good thing too, in an increasingly packed doom scene, innovation is a surefire way of tackling oversaturation. Here, Grave Lines embody not just sludge and doom but also post-metal, goth-tinged folk and hard rock to craft a brilliantly bleak album that shows that gargantuan riffs don’t have to come without any nuance.
88: Cult Leader – A Patient Man
Spearheaded at all times by either pure anger or pure sadness, Cult Leader second album is a record that showed a talent many of their peers must surely envy. A Patient Man skillfully balances scathing and impenetrable muscularity with bouts of vulnerability. The album kicks off with the face-melting ruckus of ‘I Am Healed’, an unstoppable serving of crust-ridden grind that shows no signs of weakness. This opener barrels forward uncontrollably with such might that it’s hard to wrap your head around the fact that a track like ‘To Achlys’ could be written and performed by the same band.
This number, along with the first four-and-a-half minutes of ‘A World Of Joy’, show a Nick Cave-esque proclivity for a more sunken, sombre approach. Here, the music shifts focus, from relentless violence to brooding introspection, and yet it never loses its captivating nature. It is closer ‘The Broken Right Hand Of God’ that truly displays the band’s songwriting prowess, but from start to finish, A Patient Man is more than worthy of its plaudits.
87: Fórn – Rites Of Despair
Fórn first caught the attention of the metal scene back in 2014, when their debut album The Departure Of Consciousness was probably one of the heaviest things many had heard up until that point. Fast-forward to 2018 and, an EP and a single later, Fórn unleashed a very different beast in Rites Of Despair. Their agonising, chasm-like blackened death-doom was still very much present, but the band had grown to let chinks of light and pastoral hues into their monochromatic sonic palette.
True, the crushing riffs were still present (see ‘Cosmic Desolation’ and ‘The Ancient Wisdom of Sorrow’), but in the high drama of introductory track ‘涂地’, the Boston band introduced calming, reflective layers of synths and clean vocals that broke up the existential weight of the album’s heavier moments. Thrillingly, LP highlight ‘Scrying Beneath The Wolf Moon’ took the gentle beauty of interludes ‘Ego Desecration’ and ‘Auraborous’ and combined them with blacker-than-black doom to realise the full extent of Fórn’s ambitions.
86: Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
Without resorting to hyperbole, Dirty Computer is a masterpiece. Running the gamut from chart-bothering bangers, soul ballads, and venomous hip-hop to funk, rock, and electronica, every one of these fourteen tracks is infused with sexual tension, pride, and an envelope-pushing boldness that defies categorisation. Audacious tales of sexuality, self-love, community, and politics drive home the fearless nature of Janelle’s mission statement: this is who I am.
Considering he worked on a handful of tracks for this record it makes sense that Dirty Computer feels like the rightful passing of the torch from Prince to Ms. Monáe, a direct line from one powerful artist to the other. This is a collection of provocative, sleazy, and downright groovy songs that are far more than the slick pop that they appear on first listen. Each successive playthrough reveals nuances in lyrics, instrumentation, and production alike that cause the ear to pay attention and the soul to sing. As subversive and daring as any metal record, this is the true sound of innovation, ignore it at your peril.
85: Rope Sect – Persona Ingratae/Proselytes
Mysterious death-rock outfit Rope Sect are a rare thing in this day and age. Bereft of any real online presence and possessed of some seriously stark imagery, the Germans pushed out two EPs last year that were later collated into one full-length. From opener ‘Fallen Nation’ onwards, Persona Ingratae/Proselytes is a banging record, with some armour-plated choruses and grimly engaging melody. Songs like ‘Tarantist’, ‘Death Is Your Lover’ and the exquisite ‘King Of The Night’ will grab you with their black-gloved hands until you surrender. Heaving with actual, proper songs, riffs and character, it’s very hard to fault any of the tracks from either release. The Proselytes side is cleaner-sounding but no less fantastic, and it’s hard to make a record sound this leathery and convincing at the same time. On heavy rotation in this writer’s household since its discovery earlier this year, Persona Ingratae/Proselytes is an absolute monster. Pulping.
84: TONS – Filthy Flowers Of Doom
While some sludge bands are looking for a bad time and hate life itself, there is a strong and noble tradition of sludge bands who like a laugh; Weedeater, Torche and even Eyehategod have a dark sense of humour. If you do so happen to enjoy laughing, as well as riffs with an inebriated lurch, absolutely monstrous tones and occasionally decipherable vocals, quit hating on life and go ‘Sailin’ The Seas Of Buddha Cheese’ (actual song title) with TONS’ Filthy Flowers Of Doom.
Opening track ’Abbath’s Psychedelic Breakfast’ starts with a drum solo that flows into a sick, darting riff in an odd time signature. Don’t be fooled by the song names – unexpected transitions like this pop through the album and show that TONS are more than just another bunch of stoners with access to massive amplification. The earlier comment ‘other monstrous tones’ also applies to the bass and guitars; much like how you desire that Flying V or that castle to go in your fishbowl, bassists the world-over desire that bass tone. Tons of sludge, tons of laughs.
83: Memoriam – The Silent Vigil
If you were still struggling with the break-up of Bolt Thrower, then Memoriam should at least be helping to ease the pain. Consisting of various members of the UK death metal old guard – most notably, vocalist Karl Willetts – and playing death metal in that classic style, Memoriam are a triumph of passion and talent-over-innovation. As that implies, there’s nothing on The Silent Vigil that hasn’t really been done on dozens of other albums. The difference is, few other bands do it as well as Memoriam.
Sure, age might be showing on the band slightly – most noticeably, Karl’s bark isn’t the same as it was when he was in his 30s – but they’ve lost none of their drive and talent. If anything, The Silent Vigil is even more explicit in its politics than anything any of the members have been involved in previously. It’s hard to think of a song as clear in its anti-racist, anti-bigotry message as ‘Bleed the Same’. In an age of division, Memoriam are a uniting force of hope.
82: Thou/Ragana – Let Our Names Be Forgotten
Ranked again lower down on this list – and quite rightly so, given the absolute belter of an album that was Magus – are Thou. But in the wider picture beyond Magus, Thou have this year set a bar unlikely to ever be topped with a string of releases, unparalleled in their consistency by anything in living memory.
Most notable amidst this year’s Summer of Thou is the Baton Rogue band’s September split with anarcho-feminist witch doom duo Ragana. Ragana have been on the scene for a while, making an impact through their distinctively feminist power, and here topped off an already great year for heavy music with a split with an in-form Thou. What Thou and Ragana have created here is exemplary of what makes both artists great – their sounds intersecting amidst a flurry of righteous fury.
Whilst Ragana’s refined songwriting chops are brought into their own through a much sharper production ethos, undoubtedly enabled by collaboration with Thou, Thou’s sound acknowledges Ragana’s, taking a far more trebly, rawer approach. Let Our Names Be Forgotten cements Thou’s place as 2018’s untouched victors, and Ragana as their soon-to-be equals.
81: Judas Priest – Firepower
Notwithstanding the pioneering contribution of Black Sabbath, Judas Priest have bestowed more to the sound, aesthetic and overall culture of heavy metal than any band we can name. Given this, the fact that Priest refuse to pillage the nostalgia circuit is admirable – that they have released their strongest record for decades, a year shy of their fiftieth anniversary, is nigh on astonishing.
Benefiting from an immaculate production job with mixing board maestro Andy Sneap at the helm, Firepower sounds absolutely enormous, the likes of ‘Lightning Strike’ and the blazing title- track akin to classic, prime-era Priest with a contemporary nitro-boost and thrumming, almost futuristic power. Indeed, couple Sneap’s profound impact with the band working at the peak of their metallic capabilities. and these fourteen tracks are as close to heavy metal perfection as 2018 has to offer. Between its battle-ready ragers (‘Evil Never Dies’, ‘Necromancer’), mid-paced thunder (‘Never The Heroes’) and even a sludgy groove monster in the magnificent ‘Lone Wolf’, Firepower reaffirms that Judas Priest are still the authority in how to get this shit done.
80: Alice In Chains – Rainier Fog
It’s strange to think that grunge legends Alice In Chains have now released as many albums with frontman William DuVall as they did with original vocalist and founding member Layne Staley, but perhaps that’s why Rainier Fog sounds as accomplished as it does. The band have always been one of grunge’s heaviest exports, and the uncanny consistency of the riffs is integral to why Rainier Fog is another triumph in a career lined with them, but there’s also a sombre nostalgia to this record.
Much of the album’s promotion entailed the band’s home city of Seattle, and not only was it recorded in Seattle’s Studio X (where they also recorded their last LP with Staley), but the album title itself is a reference to a volcano some 60-miles away from the city. It’s unsurprising, then, that Rainier Fog is an introspective record, informed by the loss of Kurt Cobain, Chris Cornell and Scott Weiland as well as the fact that Alice In Chains, alongside Pearl Jam, are one of the last bastions of Seattle’s alt-rock boom. Long live Alice In Chains.
79: Black Peaks – All That Divides
Although Brighton quartet Black Peaks had been hotly tipped for some time before the release of their 2016 debut, the Tool/Mastodon/Dillinger’ mash-up which greeted us on Statues was not only the most exciting record from a fledgeling outfit (UK or otherwise), in recent memory, but given their obvious ambition, it suggested something momentous to come. Just two years later, All That Divides fulfilled this promise and then some.
Indeed, for all their prog-rock detours and genre-hopping tunes, Black Peaks are well on their way to winning over the mainstream rock community, their brutish, angular alt.rock brimming with equal amounts mesmerising melody (‘Home’), moments of subtlety (‘Aether’) and skewed aggression (‘Can’t Sleep’), remaining somehow as eclectic as it is palatable. Multi-larynxed frontman Will Gardener is unarguably the star of the show, however, All That Divides is an unabashed triumph across the board, and instead of buckling under the pressure of the sophomore follow-up, Black Peaks delivered a swirling, vortex-like melting pot of ideas and re-affirmed their limitless potential. Given their gloriously cross-pollinating approach, this thrilling four-piece are more than capable of being all things to all people.
78: Erdve – Vaitojimas
Signing a Lithuanian band that sing in their native tongue and have little in the way of touring to their name may have seemed like the sort of risky move that labels often avoid, but to be fair to Season Of Mist on this one, they stuck their neck out and backed a release that fully deserved to be heard by a greater audience. Vaitojimas is a crushing bout of rousing extreme metal. The band’s approach to extremity is truly inspired, drawing from a number of subgenres but maintaining a consistent atmosphere that’s so intense it’s nigh-on exhausting.
The band use the tag “negative hardcore”, perhaps a nod to their influences, but their dissonant and sludgy approach is sure to please metalheads more than punks, brimming as it is with mid-paced chugs that pack the unstoppable force of a steamroller. And yet, despite the dedication to stifling riffs, there’s a desolate poignancy to these tracks, not to mention an undeniable accessibility that helps the release stand out from the pack almost immediately.
77: Sojourner – The Shadowed Road
The Shadowed Road is a fully realised epic folk metal record that is immediately gratifying, holds plenty of replay value, and sets a shining example of a band’s progression from one record to the next. Sojourner‘s debut Empires Of Ash was an ambitious record that hinted at things to come and The Shadowed Road has certainly given us what was promised. More focussed in its intentions and more varied in its dynamics with huge production and catchier hooks, it is all here.
One approaches an album such as this looking for the chunky guitars and wistful keys that conjure images of ruined temples across ancient plains, which are provided in spades, but it is the tasteful and well-placed sections of clean vocals and delicate tin whistle that soar gently over the huge sorrowful riffs that really give this record a sense of purpose and a satisfying flow that many of their peers lack. Full on from the first track to the last, The Shadowed Road is an album designed to envelop you and transport you directly into the gorgeous cover art, a pull that is hard to resist when the songs simply slap this hard.
76: Daughters – You Won’t Get What You Want
Coming back after an eight-year hiatus is no easy task. Especially when the album you left on was a wild change in direction that didn’t make a huge impact. Daughters could easily have slipped away from conscious ears right there. Instead, they’ve come back hard with one of the most celebrated and critically revered albums of 2018.
Still leaving behind those early screamo and mathcore influences (cue world’s smallest violin), Daughters have instead created an industrial nightmare reminiscent of Swans and Nine Inch Nails. As the album ventures on, the tension and intensity ratchets up more and more until it is almost unbearable. Nightmarish synths, pounding drums and anxious vocals punctuate this wonderfully crafted experience. You Won’t Get What You Want is genuinely a challenging listen, yet also a very exhilarating one. The album has a great attention to detail and a remarkable flow that allows the listener to hear it from start to finish without wanting to reach for the skip button. Against all odds, Daughters have really created a triumph here.
75: Cloud Rat – Silk Panic
Even if you’re unfamiliar with Cloud Rat, the evolution demonstrated on Silk Panic is profound. With 2011’s Fever Dreams sounding like a fight with a skip and May’s Qliphoth injecting the skeletal, jarring racket with painful, naked refinement, opener ‘Wish Maid’ is still legions away from where they’ve been. A combination of two EP splits (with The World Is A Vampire and Moloch respectively), Silk Panic paints the Cloud Rat picture on its most complete, muscular canvas yet.
Possessing a truly firm, mature sound compared to any of its predecessors, every element is more – by the time you hit ‘Sueno’, the band are in full flight, shapeshifting at will. One of the most interesting bands of this era, if you’ve got even a mild, passing interest in grind or heavy music in general, this is a record that comes with extra gallons of recommendation sauce. It’s thrilling to imagine where they might go while continuing to be themselves, pushing the limits of three-piece possibility with total defiance. If you’re a regular Astral Noize reader, this one is compulsory.
Words: Tony Bliss, Adam Pegg, Stuart Wain, George Parr, Greg Brooks, Red Sismey, Rich Lowe, Chris “Frenchie” French, David Brand, Jack King, Andrew Day, Tom Kirby, Bill Waters, John Tron Davidson, Alex McFadyen, Joe-Julian Naitsri