74. Secret Cutter – Quantum Eraser
It’s strange that when talking positively about metal we use negative adjectives to describe the experience of listening to an album, but there’s just a certain thrill in hearing something that shakes you to your core. So when we say that Secret Cutter’s Quantum Eraser is a trying record that tests your resolve, we mean it in the best way possible. The Pennsylvanian trio created a sweltering inferno last July, offering up a unique strain of extreme metal that’s equal parts sludge and grind.
The band’s creative flair occasionally rears its head in intriguing new ways, with smatterings of post-metal and experimental noise working their way into the chaos, but for the most part, this is a filthy bout of musical intensity. The impenetrable atmosphere is aided by the not-so-infrequent usage of mathy tempo changes, which help the band show off just how many weapons they have in their arsenal in a fairly short space of time.
73. Turtle Skull – Turtle Skull
Of all the subgenres that are loosely categorised under the doom umbrella, fuzzy stoner rock is the one with the greatest penchant for chilled-out vibes, but that side of the genre is rarely explored as greatly as it was on Aussie band Turtle Skull’s debut album. The band go by the tag “flower doom”, a fitting descriptor for their ‘70s-flavoured strain of psyched-out rock, but the more ominous tones of the doom genre are seldom heard here. When they are, they somehow cater to the tranquillity, with the style’s usual lethargic paces and fuzzy tones taking on an ethereal nature to bolster the psych-pop vocals. Their sound only just remains heavy enough to entice metal fans in, but it’s less the heavy riffs that make this stand out and more the soothing nature of the bluesy rhythms strung out across warbling guitars that will keep you coming back for more.
72. Pig Destroyer – Head Cage
Head Cage, Pig Destroyer’s sixth album, is the first on which the band have brought a bassist on board to bolster their furious sound, namely John Jarvis, cousin of drummer Adam Jarvis. This adds weight to their sound, and the band have also shifted to a slower gear in places, though much of the delivery remains rapid-fire. Head Cage is Pig Destroyer’s most overtly political album yet – twelve tracks which confront the mind-numbing media and political landscape two decades of a digitally-atomised society have wrought.
Their approach here is scorched earth. Vocalist JR Hayes tears into their morally bankrupt, brutal authoritarianism with which we are faced but also turns that critique inward – inviting the listener to challenge their own complicity and complacency. As previously, Pig Destroyer concern themselves with dualities, exploring these on Head Cage against the background of a society increasingly at ease with unleashing its darker compulsions on its fellow citizens, while wearing a crumbling mask of civility.
71. ASG – Sunrise Survive
Old school without limiting themselves, there are several sides to ASG, all of which are neatly captured on their sixth album, Sunrise Survive. One is a ‘70s rock vibe, with big riffs (see the chorus of the titular opening song) and bluesy leads, bestowing it with a lay-there-and-do-nothing-but-listen vibe. Another is the metal touch, which comes through when vocalist Jason Shi alternates from agile, semi-hoarse singing to screamed vocals and the guitars begin tight, palm-muted chugging.
Although having very little to do with thrash, when they want to ASG can really drive (‘God Knows We’). And then there are the stoner rock elements (‘Hawks on the Run’), but as fuzzy as ASG can get, they’re too fast and too melodic to sit anywhere near the likes of Sleep; this is closer to the way Baroness or Kylesa mixed genres to great effect. The chorus of ‘Lamb Song’ is “just need a little bit of time to explore” – an unwittingly self-referential title.
70. Dylan Carlson – Conquistador
Ask any band that utilises even a hint of drone in their work and the chances are Earth will feature pretty high up on the list of influences. In the last few years, guitarist Carlson has reinvented himself yet again and each release seems to bring something completely new, with the list of collaborations (Emma Ruth Rundle in this instance) proving most varied. Conquistador has a certain filmic element to it, telling the story of an early explorer traipsing the harsh American landscapes.
The opener and title-track is based around a single minimalistic riff which expands and unfurls, setting the scene as if panning across a great American plain. Next up, ‘When The Horses Were Shorn Of Their Hooves’ is the beginning of the action; the horse chase and gunfight of this imaginary western film. Carlson does a great job throughout with the narrative, keeping things ultra-minimalistic, almost barren, where necessary which allows the moments of tension to pierce through and finally wrapping the story up nicely with closer ‘Reaching The Gulf’.
69. Gnaw Their Tongues – Genocidal Majesty
Experimental Dutch multi-instrumentalist Maurice de Jong has been putting out work under various guises for nearing 30 years now, but he is best known for his uncompromising work as Gnaw Their Tongues, whose previous efforts have seen him collaborate with the likes of Dragged Into Sunlight and Crowhurst. Genocidal Majesty is the latest macabre offering, taking aim at humanity as a whole, and crushing it under an unforgiving wall of noise, laced with bile and vitriolic rage.
It can be hard to work out what, if any instruments feature here or whether it’s just endless layers of samples creating a cacophony of hellish sound, and it’s certainly not for the faint of heart. But what Gnaw Their Tongues manage to portray to those brave enough to delve into de Jong’s world is the pure violence and dismay that is the building blocks for the album. It’s a full-on onslaught that almost challenges you to continue, but rewards you if you do. Never one to hog the misery, The Body’s Chip King guest stars on two of the tracks, and adding his trademark shrieked vocals to the mix really adds to the terrorising atmosphere by contrasting brilliantly with the deep and dark timbre of the album.
68. Slugdge – Esoteric Malacology
Behold the rising of your mollusc overlord! Slugdge were formally seen as a bedroom project with a bonkers concept about cosmic slugs, and whilst that’s still the case they demand to be taken (somewhat) seriously with Esoteric Malacology. It’s a titan of a record which sounds as grandiose as it does batshit mental. Insanely well-crafted riffs continue to tower for an hour straight as they take influence from the entire metal spectrum, from Dimmu Borgir’s over-the-top atmospherics and Dying Fetus’ intricate brutality to Mastodon’s space-spanning choruses and Meshuggah’s precision-engineered riffs. It would be easy to write pages of comparisons like that, as this record has an unbelievable range of influences which fuse together to create this epic behemoth of slime. But don’t think that means that Slugdge lacks their own identity, far from it. So many acts sacrifice any semblance of personality for technical prowess, but Slugdge play mind-meltingly brilliant music whilst maintaining a character that is as over the top as their album art and mollusc-themed song titles.
67. Arthedain – Infernal Cadence Of The Desolate
Infernal Cadence Of The Desolate is a gloriously unpretentious black metal record that stands out because of such a fact. In a scene where we have become accustomed to, and almost expectant of, bands pushing boundaries and coming through with genre-defying sounds, Arthedain are a fresh reminder that sometimes just making a strong record within the boundaries of a genre is just as powerful. That is exactly what Infernal… is all about. Far from being a one-trick pony, however, this album takes cues from post-black metal, death metal, and second wave black betal without succumbing to tropes that may pigeonhole it succinctly.
Melodic in all the right places with plenty of harsh razor riffs underpinned by perfectly sympathetic blastbeat-assured drumming, and topped with vocals that switch between death metal roars and throaty black metal rasps, this is a record that stands out for daring to just be a damn good metal record of adroitly written songs. The nuanced lyrics are another highlight, tackling some choice introspective topics, woven together with expected themes of darkness, torment, and the void.
66. Boss Keloid – Melted On The Inch
Boss Keloid really stirred it up with their third opus, very much stepping outside of the doom/sludge/stoner influences that they were born out of. Not to say that those elements of their sound have gone away completely, but this record reaches much further into the realms of progressive rock. Though they’ve always had a very techy style of playing, Boss Keloid explore a much wider rhythmic pallet here, with elements of reggae and tribalism being much more prominent.
What really makes Melted On The Inch stand out is that it is so damn pretty and colourful. It’s a very positive, soaring and majestic album. Alex Hurst is really the star of the show here; his vocals and lyrics are just so catchy and heartfelt. The band have gone to a higher level, adding in keys. Even though Melted On The Inch is 20 minutes shorter than their previous album, it feels just as epic and complex. From the wonderful album cover to all six magical songs, this a truly beautiful work of art.
65. Basalte – Vertige
Montreal natives Basalte decided that instead of releasing a slew of three-minute wonders dissecting relationships, they’d turn loose four lengthy songs entirely in French that are so melancholic and grand that listening to Vertige on repeat was more of a privilege than a task. A record that’s not in any rush, Vertige is nevertheless an invigorating rollercoaster of black metal urbanity, with more concrete and steel than forest in its veins. Opening with the twelve-minute ‘Ce Que Le Corps Doit Au Sol’, the hardened sorrow of these tracks is not to be underestimated, and the relative dryness and lamenting quality of the sounds themselves gives the slower sections a loping, romantically-defeated atmosphere. Definitely one for a long, late-night train ride through the city, it’s a grower in the true sense, with all of its humanity laid bare in front of you. Closing track ‘Acouphene’ translates as ‘Tinnitus’, which you’ll definitely experience after cranking this to absorb every forlorn, wounded note. Superb.
64. Garganjua – Through The Void
Doom metal has never been about letting the good times roll, but on Through the Void, Garganjua really do weigh down.
The trademarks are there – slow tempos, lots of low-end, thick tones, a lumbering rhythm section and gracefully mournful vocals, with the latter suggesting that Garganjua have some old-school doom influences (there is almost a trad metal element to ‘Adrift’). As such, there is some comparison to be had to Pallbearer, key differences being a few more odd time meters and switches into roars.
As this last point suggests, Garganjua strike a balance between polish and grit, and it pays off – songs are identifiable whilst the album still maintains a very particular mood. And as titles ‘A Distant Shore’, ‘Through The Void’, ‘Crushed Beneath The Tide’ and ‘Adrift’ infer, these songs are about being lost, directionless and powerless forever more.
When you drop something into the sea and watch is disappear (don’t litter kids. It’s not cool and Moby Dick will hunt you down) it installs a very permanent sense of departure. You will never see that thing again. As an alternative to littering, let Through the Void weigh you down.
63. Pagan – Black Wash
Even in a year awash with musical creativity, Pagan’s Black Wash stands out for its innate ability to traverse various styles with ease. There’s the punky energy that dominates proceedings, often underpinned by a latent accessibility à la Marmozets; there’s the heavy-but-poignant blend of black metal that bands like Svalbard and Møl also showed a knack for this year; and then there’s the rollicking rock’n’roll that injects the release with an unstoppable momentum. You’re never quite sure what’s around the corner, but it consistently thrills.
The Australian band’s brand of hard-to-define heavy music is a far sight more fun that many of their contemporaries, with the band proudly displaying a proclivity for not taking everything too seriously (as much of the metal scene certainly does), but there’s also the intriguing concept that influences the release’s lyrics and a white-hot aggression that shows they can hold their own against any band currently in circulation. With Black Wash, the band crafted not just their own sound but their own identity. Ones to watch, for sure.
62. Khemmis – Desolation
Denver, Colorado’s own Khemmis served us a masterclass in doom with a bonus lecture on classic metal riffage on their third record Desolation. Bleak themes about grief and depression paint a grimmer portrait than their empowering second album Hunted, with lyrics like “how can I pray for salvation when I’m the only one left to grieve?” aiming straight for the heart. The lyrics feel much more at home within the catacombs of doom metal on this venture, veering further away from the fantasy-influenced script of Hunted and taking more influence from acts like Paradise Lost and Candlemass.
Desolation is a sombre affair which slowly leads to a climax of hope and strength proclaiming “out of the darkest night no one could help me find the way, but in the new spring dawn I find the strength to carry on.” This endeavour is backed by soaring guitars, vocals which vary from desperate cries to fierce growls and a stunning production. Worthy of attention from any metal fan, from those who enjoy Trivium to those who enjoy Saint Vitus, the album leads you on a tragic and relatable journey, but one which, in the end, heals.
61. In The Company Of Serpents – Ain-Soph Aur
In The Company of Serpents sound weary. They channel forces, talk of things so old that mountain ranges have come and gone, and now, on Ain-Soph Aur, they are tired.
This weary vibe is despite their power, rather than for a lack of it. They are heavy, slow and crusty, doomed in a similar (yet distinguishable) vein as Samothrace, with Grant Netzorg’s vocals consisting of gravelly singing and gravelly-er yelling, comparable to Kiwi sludge artists Beastwars.
Where some doom weighs down like an anchor on the way to the seabed, Ain-Soph Aur has an outward-looking vibe. Elemental forces and images of nature on a grand scale are brought to mind, much like with Agalloch – just with very different elements and images. The heavy reverb only enhances this sense of scale, as though the guitars and drums (no bassist. Huh.) are bouncing off those mountain walls. The acoustic tracks have a similarly earthy sound, and the album art even has a tree of wisdom vibe to it.
“Ain-Soph Aur” is defined as God prior to self-manifestation in the production of any spiritual realm – i.e. the time before God. Fittingly, this is doom of the most primordial kind.
60. Divide And Dissolve – Abomination
If there’s one thing that sucks about doom, it’s the genre’s proclivity toward bearded white men singing on and on about gloom. But Melbourne duo Divide And Dissolve’s Abomination reclaimed this trope this year, through haunting melodies and dissonant atmospherics, unspokenly speaking of the alienation and degradation colonised people of colour experience in our society on a daily basis. There’s something almost dreamlike about the release’s sound – a combination of restless, shuffling doom with uneasily mournful woodwind melodies, only once allowing for any kind of vocal contribution on ‘Reversal’.
Abomination does not speak for any one person, rather it’s uncomfortable minimalism paints a bold picture of the inner turmoil so many experience on a daily basis. Abomination does not rage against the white supremacist, colonialist structures – at least not conventionally – rather it paints a picture of the inner turmoil so many are forced to feel by the white supremacist, patriarchal society enabled by the colonial ruin of the last few hundred years. An essential, if sometimes uncomfortable listen amidst the current political climate.
59. Sloth Hammer – Part 1 – The Tease
In recent years, with the current trend of genre-bending synergy abound, every sludge artist and their mum is purporting to incorporate noise into their punishing, riff-laden sewage, but to date, the quality pickings have been slim (Shout out Aerosol Jesus for actually pulling it off too).
The wonderfully entitled Sloth Hammer have this year bucked this trend with their unhinged debut, Part 1: The Tease. Whilst the off-kilter grind of their more recent output is just as accomplished and absurd, The Tease makes Primitive Man’s efforts at noisey integration look like My Bloody Valentine in comparison. The group’s approach is at first a fairly standard one – sinister vocal samples and anguish abound – but the beauty of The Tease is in its embrace of total distortion, which turns the group’s basis in Iron Monkey worship up to eleven.
Filled with seething, harsh electronics, discordant walls of riff and anguished dual vocals, and topped off by some of the most oddly endearing album artwork this side of the anti-fascist black metal scene – Part 1: The Tease has bought new meaning to the art of noise-fuelled sludge anguish in 2018.
58. Tribulation – Down Below
This year, Sweden’s Tribulation returned with an album that continues their musical evolution, adding new textures, cleaner production and a greater emphasis on melody to their goth metal stylings.
Down Below opens with two of the strongest songs Tribulation have written thus far, ‘The Lament’ and ‘Nightbound’. The former begins with haunting arpeggios before introducing Andersson’s blackened growl, whilst the latter has hooks you’ll find hard to forget. Indeed, Andersson’s vocal style may be the only noticeable link to the band’s heavier roots but it compliments their now leaner, goth-tinged classic rock sound to startling effect.
Elsewhere, the band give us a brooding instrumental with ‘Purgatorio’, which offers a quieter interlude near the album’s midpoint before the stabbing keys and crashing riffs of ‘Cries Of The Underworld’ reawaken us once again. Album standout ‘Here Be Dragons’ is a thing of beauty, a beautifully epic piece of goth rock in both feel and lyrical content, it also leaves a lasting impression with an unforgettable chorus and hummable guitar lines. This album gets under your skin and thankfully stays there.
57. Skeletonwitch – Devouring Radiant Light
One of the more surprising albums released this year was Devouring Radiant Light by Skeletonwitch. A band more commonly associated with thrash, a change of vocalist has been the catalyst in taking them into blacker realms and in the process has helped them produce one of the most impressive extreme metal albums of the year.
Hints of their new direction were given on 2016 EP The Apothic Doom, their first release with new vocalist Adam Clemans, but it’s here that their new sound comes into its own. Opener ‘Fen Of Shadows’ perfectly encompasses what is to follow, with it’s gentle, chiming intro and emphasis on atmosphere, Skeletonwitch have gained a depth to their sound without losing any of their ferocity or power. ‘Temple Of The Sun’, another highlight, blends their influences seamlessly to mesmerising effect, combining blastbeats, a euphoric guitar solo and even some clean vocals. Taking a range of influences from various genres, Skeletonwitch have managed to create something fresh and produce one of best extreme metal albums of the year.
56. Closet Witch – Closet Witch
From the very instant ‘Blood Orange’ begins, the self-titled full-length from Closet Witch is pitilessly mental. One of those rare occasions where a band manage to translate their holy-crap-are-we-going-to-make-it-out-of-this live shows onto record, the restless, snaking, militantly aggressive blasts, shrieks and stomps career through these thirteen tracks like genuine warnings, and the band completely refuse to show weakness.
If you can imagine being lowered into a rat-filled cupboard into a too-small basement where Rotten Sound, Hedge Fund Trader, Discordance Axis and Piss Vortex are playing over each other, you’ll have some idea of what it’s like to listen to this record. Although there are moments of very mild respite like ‘Brother’, any notion of safety is carpet-bombed by ‘Eyelids Of Horus’, ‘It Doesn’t Feel Free’, or the aaah-what’s-happening of ‘Spell Of Giddiness’.
Ferocious to the point of exploding, Closet Witch is the record you stick on at a party to find out who your friends are. Everything is mad, everything is burning, everything is wrong, and you’ve already bought this record. Thrillingly berserk.
55. Black Tusk – T.C.B.T.
The cover art of T.C.B.T. is a lightning bolt stencilled onto a flight case. This is a well-chosen metaphor; Black Tusk have gotten faster and meaner and have probably blown a few fuses along the way too.
The Georgia-bred band could have been called a sludge band at one point, but they’ve twisted the throttle on T.C.B.T. and now it’s hard to explain what their self-chosen genre of “swamp metal” actually translates as. It sits on the cusp of a few genres, and that cusp is certainly a sweet spot; there’s a lot of punk and Motörhead revving up in there, as well as the aforementioned sludge.
That said, what sells Black Tusk is not genre, but that they are an exciting listen, and even with T.C.B.T. being the first album written since the death of founding member Jon Athon, it’s also a fun listen.
Black Tusk have always had a simple credence and on T.C.B.T. they continue to play it with absolute conviction; faster, meaner, blow some fuses.
54. Sunwatchers – II
What is that record that you were looking for all of 2018 but alluded you? Well, none other than Brooklyn natives Sunwatchers with their second album II.
An explosion of raw anthemic free jazz combined with psychedelia and noise rock; it’s the soundtrack of our times, a rallying cry to people everywhere to rise up and crush your oppressors with musical revolution. But II isn’t all relentless energy, it’s also full of poignant moments of melody, especially on tracks like ‘There Are Weapons You Can Bring To School’ and ‘Flowers Of The Water (For Lou)’. It’s those moments which really make the group’s Pharaoh Sanders-esque ferocity really stand out.
So, let’s bang our heads and dance as we sing in unison: “SUNWATCHERS STAND IN SOLIDARITY WITH THE DISPOSSESSED, IMPOVERISHED AND EMBATTLED PEOPLE OF THE WORLD.”
53. Moloch – A Bad Place
Though it might’ve seemed like it over the summer, Thou don’t have a monopoly on crushing sludge. Indeed, it could’ve been easy to overlook Moloch’s first album since 2011 in a year in which Thou so thoroughly spoiled us, but A Bad Place is, arguably, a more agonising take on one of metal’s rawest subgenres. Informed by the themes of mental health portrayed in Steve McQueen’s 2011 film Shame, with audio samples of said film layering the release and infusing it with yet more dread, A Bad Place is a truly pummelling listening experience that forgoes metal’s usual obsession with body horror to focus on suffering of a more existential nature. Churning deeper into your mind with each lumbering riff, these six tracks burrow into your psyche and tighten the screws until you’re questioning your own existence. Dissonant and thoroughly excruciating, this is one of 2018’s most affecting releases. Stick it on and you’ll be curled up like a newborn before the end.
52. Hundred Year Old Man – Breaching
Leeds’ Hundred Year Old Man raised the bar for UK post-metal this year, crafting a rich soundscape that walks the seemingly impossible line between expansive and claustrophobia-inducing. It’s strange that a genre borne out of experimentation is now so reliant on rigid tropes, but HYOM are here to right those wrongs on their debut album, mixing in touches of both light and dark to provide a sound that’s bleak, desolate and corrosive but also poignant and ambient.
The band know their way around a muscular riff, and aren’t afraid to throw in just enough melody to keep things alluring as well as abrasive. The band’s interlocking use of shifting dynamics is truly mesmerising, and means that whilst there are obvious touching points in bands like ISIS and Neurosis, these inspirations provide only a fraction of the whole picture. HYOM are a band who know where post-metal has come from are keen to show where it should go next.
51. Birds In Row – We Already Lost The World
Intrusively intense without being oppressively abrasive, Birds In Row have very rarely reached this balance prior to We Already Lost The World – having done so most notably on You, Me, & The Violence‘s title-track as well as ‘O’Dear’, from 2015’s Personal War. Their second LP sees them display a body of work that captures that balance in a variety of ways, all while maintaining an extremely high level of quality throughout. From the very first chords of ‘We Count So We Don’t Have To Listen’ ringing out with as much grit as clarity, the improvements are abundant and obvious. Production, composition, approach – it’s all polished without being too clean; distortion packs a punch while clean sections have plenty of room to sing. ‘We vs. Us’ showcases this work, with the refrain “It’s us against ourselves and the rest can fucking die” delivered by a Birds In Row that certainly did not exist a couple years ago. A major step up, and a fantastic take on the post-hardcore genre without derivativeness. Birds In Row have hit the nail on the head.
50. Portal – Ion
Oh Portal, look what you did. Not content with being the go-to band for everyone to name check when they talk about extremity, the Australians only went and made an album that was truly extreme, from production downwards. Casting aside the recorded-in-a-rucksack murk of Swarth and the hmm-that’s-not-all-that-great of Vexovoid, Ion is, from the very start of ‘Nth’, utterly merciless. Needlessly abrasive and catatonically hurtful, the chafed, naked guitars and maniacally confounding speeds take a foaming, burning piddle on conventional death metal’s machine-like battery and render an aural depiction of being electrocuted by the parts of your mind that you try to fight. Fat-free and organic to the point of sounding genuinely untamed and threatening, Ion did make this writer wonder what would have happened if Portal had led with this instead of building up to it – playing ‘Husk’, ‘Phreqs’ or ‘Crone’ to a you-never-loved-me melodicore fan might have killed them. Where they’ll go after this doesn’t bear thinking about, but the bar is set unfathomably high. Incredible.
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