25. Anna von Hausswolff – Dead Magic
If you don’t know who Anna von Hausswolff is by now then you really need to remember your internet password. Dead Magic is the fourth studio album by ‘von Hausswolff and her most complete yet, featuring her playing the pipe organ of Frederik’s Church, otherwise known as The Marble Church in Copenhagen.
The album itself is one in which it’s almost impossible to even fathom listening to individual tracks, and should be enjoyed as a complete project. The combination of the haunting melodies of the pipe organ and Hausswolff’s powerful vocals sound like someone trying to harness the power of their ancestors. It is truly a spectacular record with elements of ambient, pop, doom and drone, that is likely to make both the religious and the secular wind up in the same place. Starting off fairly sombre the record slowly drifts into a dark chasm of anguish.
This is the album you should show to someone who says that “it’s all been done before” to give them an example of contemporary music that reveals the ever-evolving state of music as we head into 2019.
24. Zeal & Ardor – Stranger Fruit
When Zeal & Ardor’s debut emerged from the depths of Bandcamp only last year, some thought they would remain a hidden treasure. Alas, this year’s Stranger Fruit has not only dug them up but launched them into the stratosphere and metal mainstream. Stranger Fruit continues the formula of taking the roots of blues and gospel music and merging it with the contradicting genre of black metal. The progression on this second album takes the form of a better production, a more fleshed out backing band, and a clearer vision from mastermind Manuel Gagneux. The result is very much “more of the same, just done better” it’s an indie film which has been given a Hollywood budget, but it’s clear the same auteur sits in the director’s chair.
Stranger Fruit delivers so much more. More atmosphere living in interludes like ‘The Hermit’; more catchiness on the earworm chants; more bite within the metallic moments. The lyrics have also come along leaps and bounds with more of a focus of an evil force, leading to tense and intimidating tracks such as ‘Don’t You Dare’ and ‘Row Row’. This much less heavy-handed approach is opposed to Gangneux literally just shouting about the devil on the first album, it’s much more subtle and way more haunting as a result. Immense improvements upon an already exciting project have equated to all the hype surrounding this project to be well deserved.
23. Emma Ruth Rundle – On Dark Horses
Whether it’s with Marriages, Red Sparowes or her solo work, Emma Ruth Rundle’s music is always defined by expressive tones and an emotional sincerity. After previous effort Marked For Death merged introspective reflection with commanding, surging choruses, On Dark Horses is similarly heartfelt, but perhaps a tad more spacious, dominated by soft grunge, post-rock and ambient folk. Musically, it is her most ambitious and accomplished work to date, with new sonic influences that span everything from the funeral doom of ‘Light Song’ to the epic prog of ‘Control’. This is perhaps due to the input of others, such as Young Widows’ Evan Patterson and Dylan Nadon of Wovenhand, but the release remains intimate enough nonetheless.
Marked For Death was almost harrowingly personal, the sort of intimacy few of us would dare unleash into the world, and whilst it must have been tough to release such introspective songs, it leant the release an unparalleled sincerity. That intimacy helps to contextualise On Dark Horses, an album that is comparatively uplifting. It’s not quite happier but certainly more accepting, as if Rundle is still coming to terms with the events of Marked For Death, wrestling some demons whilst putting others to bed.
22. Ivar Bjornson & Einar Selvik – Hugsjá
In Hugsjá, Messrs Bjørnson and Selvik have crafted a stridently unparalleled piece of work that vibrates with cinematic energy, combining the latter’s Norse folk output with the former’s progressive tendencies.
Sprawling vocal melodies sit atop stirring instrumentals that conjure visions of ancient times, with said instrumentals augmented by the tasteful addition of synths and a full acoustic drum kit to an established folk palette that leaves very little room for any lazy comparisons. Tracks such as the portentous ‘Nattseglar’ and the dreamlike ‘Nytt Land’ showcase this mix to a tee. Simultaneously pulsing with squelching synths and thick electric guitars whilst swirling strings, horns, and wistful vocals weave in and out of any available space to create a driven and layered affair that defies expectations at every turn.
This is a project that would be equally at home on a bill with anything from Heilung to Sigur Rós to any number of BM bands, yet still holds its own as an endeavour of enormous depth and individuality. Very little else out there sounds like this record and few other albums this year have warranted such intense digestion. A truly unique record that leaves one praying to the old gods for more as soon as possible.
21. Vein – Errorzone
Mentioning “nu-metal” in a positive context is treated by a good portion of metal fans as akin to taking a shit on their copy of Ride The Lightning. In fact, many readers have probably already clicked off this post in disgust the moment they saw the phrase. Which is a shame, because they’ll lose the chance to hear about one of 2018’s finest debuts. Vein’s 2017 EP Self-Destruct had many salivating at the thought of a longer bout of the Boston band’s audial assault, and Errorzone delivered on all fronts, taking their boundary-pushing strain of hardcore to its outermost limits. And yes, mixing in some nu-metal bounce (more Sepultura’s Roots than Limp Bizkit) for good measure.
The nu-metal isn’t the headline here, though, more so the veritable onslaught of different ideas catapulted at listeners over its eleven tracks. The dizzying speeds and scattershot experimentation makes for a release that’s as bonkers as anything else to be released this year, yet amongst all the mutant extremity is an undeniable accessibility, at least to those who enjoy their hardcore remorseless and dissonant. Hardcore fans will find much to love, but amongst the flailing limbs and broken bones is a penchant for variation that the genre often lacks.
20. High on Fire – Electric Messiah
2018 was a busy year for Matt Pike. Not content with surprise dropping the new Sleep album on 4/20, we also saw the release of High On Fire’s eighth studio album, Electric Messiah. The Motörhead comparisons were inevitable, not only with the band’s relentless thrash-meets-doom mix and Pike’s gravelly vocals, but also because of the frontman revealing that Lemmy had come to him in a dream which had led to the album title. More surprisingly there are also traces of Sabbath thrown in, most notably on ‘God Of The Godless’, which is more commonly aligned with the Iommic worship displayed by Sleep – perhaps explainable by the triumph of the cult stoner bands return after a 17-year gap between albums.
It’s when Hire On Fire go full chaos mode that they really come to life, smashing their way through tracks such as opener ‘Spewn From The Earth’ like an unmovable force. The title-track itself is the best tribute to Lemmy yet, from possibly the only band capable of doing it justice with just over four mins of raw snarling power. High On Fire have trod the same path for over two decades now, but when they do it this well, that’s no bad thing at all.
19. Solar Temple – Fertile Descent
You might have come across Solar Temple before with one of the standout demos of 2017. Rays Of Brilliance had a maturity to its sound that a lot of bands should be envious of, but Fertile Descent is a wholly different beast with unending layers of atmosphere and obvious blackgaze and post-rock influence.
The whole project is split over two tracks, and is definitely a record that takes you on a journey through many altered states. You will want to take your time with Fertile Descent, something you figure out as soon as ‘Those Who Dwell In The Spiral Dark’ starts and you’re hit with a ceaseless, pummelling wall of guitars and drums allowing for the vocals and intricate guitar solos to really be heard, sounding like a satanic rite spoken softly and deeply into the cosmos.
The second part of this journey is titled ‘White Jaw’ and runs over twenty minutes, and it’s almost hard to believe how interminable and utterly relentless their sound considering the beauty and depth is also entails.
Bravo Solar Temple for producing one of the best examples of the direction black metal is now taking as we head into 2019.
18. HIRS – Friends. Lovers. Favourites.
“Fuck civility” was one of this year’s key phrases – taking the (white liberal) notion that oppressed peoples should deal with their outrage in a polite, constructive, recognisably civil way and answering with an affirmative “fuck that”. Friends. Lovers. Favourites. was HIRS Collective’s response to the weight of violence and transphobia levelled at trans and nonbinary people, offering unconditional love to their friends and cold steel to anyone who would mess with them. Anti-trans violence is nothing new, but Donald Trump’s campaign to erase trans rights in the States and TeRFs frothing over the Gender Recognition Act in the UK brought the sheer murderous awfulness of it into stark relief. Drawing on the talents of peers like Laura Jane Grace, Martin Crudo and Sadie Switchbalde, HIRS delivered affirmations and deadly threats in short bursts of grinding powerviolence. As they said: “Here’s to us. Unwanted and weird… but always surviving.”
17. 夢遊病者 (Sleepwalker) – For This Time Only, Never Again
There are some bands who don’t really seem to care about the concept of genre, or the notion that playing a certain style is normally associated with boundaries and expectations of what can and can’t – or should and shouldn’t – be done. Sleepwalker aren’t really one of those bands. Their take on psychedelic black metal is one that is completely nonconformist, save to the band’s own expectations and desires.
Throughout the course of For This Time Only, Never Again, a host of comparisons come to mind, including (but not limited to) Voivod, King Crimson, Sigh, Xasthur, Endless Dismal Mona, Zeni Geva, Oxbow, Ghost (not that Ghost, the Japanese folk-rock band), and the Taj Mahal Travellers. That’s a diverse range of bands, and it only provides a glimpse into the headfuck that is For This Time Only, Never Again.
But what makes the album remarkable is how cohesive it is, and how well it pulls together its diverse sounds. The word “genius” can be thrown around too easily, but Sleepwalker are more than deserving of it – they are one of the most intriguing bands of our time, and more than deserve your attention.
16. Ghost – Prequelle
“Overhyped industry darlings” and “a shit Blue Öyster Cult” is what the hipster snobs called Ghost. Quite frankly, Prequelle is such a fun listen it could have Ronald Mcdonald buggering Papa Emeritus whilst wearing a Nike tracksuit on the cover and it still wouldn’t be “too industry” to enjoy. If you like having a sing along to Dio or Rhandy Rhodes-era Ozzy (and maybe an appreciation for Abba) then there’s no way you can’t have fun with this album. When did metal stop being fun anyway? Ghost has taken their occult psychedelic sound and essentially done to it what JJ Abrams has done to Star Wars. Yes, it’s pissing off uber-serious fans but it’s also elevating the art (be it heavy metal or movies about space wizards) to a new, modern level with supreme production that delights many older fans whilst introducing a new generation. The songwriting here is undeniable, ranging from bangers like ‘Rats’ and ‘Dance Macabre’, which are soon to join ‘Holy Diver’ and ‘Crazy Train’ on your local metal club’s jukeboxes, to dark sermons about mortality and loss in ‘See The Light’ and ‘Pro Memoria’, to the second-best sax solo of the year (see Rivers Of Nihil for number one). Guaranteed this album is going to be huge on the “this album got me into metal” columns in ten years.
15. Conan – Existential Void Guardian
2018 saw the return of stoner/doom heavyweights Conan with their fourth album Existential Void Guardian, a towering epic beast of an album, crammed full of their trademark gargantuan riffs and bleak, imposing vocals.
With one of the most recognisable sounds in their genre, blistering opener ‘Prosper On The Path’ reminds us immediately why Conan are so revered. Thunderous drums bolster truly giant riffs as singer Jon Davis’ commanding voice soars above. Similarly, ‘Eye To Eye To Eye’ is a pummeling assault of fuzz-drenched riffs, reverb-infused vocals and rumbling drums. Overall, the tempos are more in line with what we have to expect from Conan, but the caustic, grind-infused ‘Paincantation’ and relatively upbeat ‘Volt Thrower’ both pick up the pace somewhat, with the latter featuring an infectious groove and brief pulses of harmonised vocals, lending the album subtle variations in tone. Closer ‘Eternal Silent Legend’ starts as a more subdued affair, with some beautiful drum flourishes, before opening into a truly expansive epic filled with haunting leads and climaxing in a monstrous ending. With this album, Conan have successfully managed to keep hold of what makes them unique whilst adding some new touches to take their sound forward.
14. Bismuth – The Slow Dying of The Great Barrier Reef
Bismuth are one of 2018’s breakout acts. The duo have been making waves in the UK scene through a prolific live schedule (it’s essential to catch ‘The Slow Dying of The Great Barrier Reef’ – which makes up most of its namesake release – live) and stacks of releases and collaborations (with Legion Of Andromeda and Gnaw Their Tongues) since their formation six years ago, and The Slow Dying Of The Great Barrier Reef is perhaps the apex of their ethereal drone-doom mastery.
2018 has also been a year in which extreme artists supporting real-life causes through their music has become far more prominent. The Great Barrier Reef really is dying, and it’s because of the environmental destruction hundreds of years of capitalism has wrought upon our earth. Through celestial vocals, a mastery of crawling, droning atmospherics, and a total lack of six-string guitar, Bismuth have succesfully captured, as many artists have this year, the voice of our dying world. The Slow Dying… is a powerful record, and one imbued with a crushing form of melancholy no record has topped this year.
Side note: If/when high as fuck, open this album’s Bandcamp twice and play the record on top of itself for 10x the fun.
13. Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love
Despite accusations of ‘hipsterdom’ and a frothing hostility from genre purists surrounding anything that could be defined as ‘post-black metal’ or ‘blackgaze’, the reality is that these labels are a rather loose description of most bands that have dared to broaden their horizons beyond black metal’s second wave conventions. It is interesting, therefore, that although 2013’s Sunbather and even its noticeably heavier follow-up New Bermuda left elitists weeping through smeared corpse-paint, Deafheaven‘s fourth LP actually opens up a very real conversation as to whether Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is, in any sense, a metal record.
Like a big middle finger to those that will never accept them, the San Franciscan quintet navigate a quintessentially prog-rock sprawl which is so bursting with colour and ambition that any hope of characterising what Deafheaven do here quickly falls by the wayside. There’s lush piano (‘You Without End’), rock opera crescendos (‘Canary Yellow’), wistful dream-pop (‘Night People’) and or snatches of Disintegration-era The Cure, Mogawi, Queen and The Beatles. Ordinary Corrupt Human Love may be a blur of conflicting spirits, but its sheer wealth of ideas not only makes for one of the most enthralling and potent listening experiences of 2018, but earmarks a time in which we should be finally celebrating Deafheaven solely for who they are, and forgetting what they are not.
12. Rolo Tomassi – Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It
The evolution that Rolo Tomassi have been through since their inception is absolutely staggering. With each new album, their sound has matured and expanded, leading us to their boldest and most ambitious release yet, Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It. Whilst the mathcore sound that they grew out of still has some roots on this album, Rolo Tomassi have comfortably explored elements of post-rock, ambient, post-metal and even spots of black metal here. They’re also pushing themselves with longer tracks, each with a greater sense of depth, layers and textures, evoking a strong atmosphere and emotional weight to boot.
Just take the one-two-three punch that opens the first side of the record; ‘Towards Dawn’ bathes the listener in gorgeous back-masked synths, sounding like something you’d hear on a Sigur Rós record, before launching into the soaring majesty of ‘Aftermath’, weirdly sounding like Paramore. This then erupts into perhaps Rolo Tomassi’s darkest and most ferocious song yet, ‘Rituals’, which has a menace reminiscent of Oathbreaker. The band work in much more contrast and ebbs and flows, really fleshing out the dynamics of the record. This is the sound of a band not being content to rest on their laurels.
11. Vile Creature – Cast Of Static And Smoke
Doom metal is a crowded scene, with a lot of bands offering relatively little beyond re-hashed Sleep and Sabbath riffs; but Vile Creature are one of the bands that have stood out in recent years. Building on the 2016 EP A Pessimistic Doomsayer, this year’s Cast Of Static And Smoke builds a post-apocalyptic world, telling a tale of robots seemingly doomed to repeat the mistakes of those who made them.
And yet, Cast Of Static And Smoke is an album filled with a deeply human sense of emotion and pain. This is an album where it feels incredibly personal, as if the band are casting out their personal demons one slowed-down riff, pummelled drum-beat and throat-shredding scream at a time. But central to its appeal and success is how universal and welcoming it feels, which is a rare thing to say about an album where the shortest song is just shy of nine minutes. Few albums this year have had such cathartic power or depth of ambition – and that’s without considering the accompanying short story, which further fleshes out the narrative concept of the album.
10. Pijn – Loss
Debut albums rarely come around as astonishingly and ambitiously-crafted as this. Manchester based post-rock collective Pijn have written, produced and recorded this epic beast all by themselves. Loss not only boasts meticulous detail and depth, but it is also one of the most powerful, heartfelt and moving albums you will hear this year. Running at just over an hour, this album is largely instrumental, sometimes replacing lead vocals with manipulated spoken-word samples. And yet the arching theme of loss and grief punches a staggering weight across the whole album. The addition of strings and lap steel guitars that actually sound like they are weeping, feel lyrical and expressive in their own right.
Many of the epic songs on this album embody great emotions. On ‘Distress’, the discordant strings and crushing guitars actually sound menacing and anxious. The ghostly piano melodies and brittle vocal harmonies of ‘Detach’ sound distant. Whilst Loss could easily be described as the sound of sadness, there are bright and uplifting spots too. ‘Blanch’ weaves around gorgeous rhythmic clean guitar and bass interplay reminiscent of Tortoise‘s immortal math rock classic ‘The Glass Museum’, ending in the most delightful distorted bass riff you’ll hear this year.
Pijn are a very forward-thinking outfit. It is one thing to combine rock instrumentation with strings and electronics, but they really get the most out of their setup. Pijn are truly one of the most exciting things to happen to post-rock in about a decade now, comfortably laying crescendo-core to bed.
9. Infernal Coil – Within A World Forgotten
As we all know by now, death metal of the early ‘90s flavour has had a prominent resurgence over the last twelve months. But to those who grew up worshipping at the maddened altars of extreme metal’s genesis, the new wave of the old school (keep up) risks – ironically – falling into the same cesspool of pointless emulation the death metal scene of the ‘90s died amidst.
Taking a Full Of Hell-esque approach to their subtly noise-imbued sonic whirlwinds, and lashing this fury to a primal storm of OSDM fuzz indicative of the most vicious recesses of the ‘90s Swedish scene, Within A World Forgotten has helped Infernal Coil stand out amidst a sea of bands who really really like Incantation this year. The release’s more experimental flourishes, of obfuscated stabs of noise, or of melancholic breaks that wouldn’t be out of place on a Wolves In The Throne Room release, fit perfectly amidst the release’s primal, blasting walls of distorted death.
Anyone privy to the HM-2’d out, d-beating rackets that emanated from Scandinavia in the early ‘90s will be familiar with a spirit, imbued with a twisted strain of noise integral to the flavours of both old school death metal and black metal (and one largely absent from today’s squeaky clean OSDM rackets) – and that’s what has landed Infernal Coil their place in the Top Ten. The band’s emphasis on the importance of environmentalism, communicated through vicious, blasting deathgrind, gives voice to the primal spirit of a planet burdened by its own slow death.
8. Panopticon – The Scars Of Man On The Once Nameless Wilderness (I and II)
Even after all these years, Panopticon remain a divisive band – you love them or you hate them. Sole member Austin Lunn does not care either way, and that is exactly what makes Panopticon stand out. One-man bands can often be egoistic, self-indulgent, and ill-thought-out when it comes to vision and quality content, instead acting as a blunt point-making exercise. This has never been so for Lunn, and The Scars… proves this to the Nth degree. Two hour-long discs, one of trademarked melancholic folk-infused black metal and one of americana/folk, sounds like an ordeal at first, but the fact that this a solo endeavour brings forth a level of cohesion you’d be hard-pressed to find when compared to a full band. No battle of egos; no compromise of ideas; just pure expansive outlook for what metal, and music in general, can be.
Lunn proves that despite the apparently opposing tonal qualities, these genres are more connected than one may think. The atmosphere and potential for evoking the same set of emotions is the bridge that connects the harsh to the delicate across The Scars…, rather than any direct musical comparison. With so much on offer, this album is a playground for the senses that justifies its lengthy runtime. Such effort has been made to craft an immersive experience that coming back for repeat listens feels like you have never even left the snowy log cabin you entered the first time the needle drops on the opening track.
7. Møl – Jord
Given the release of some genre-revitalising records from Alcest, Oathbreaker and Wolves In The Throne Room of recent times, not to mention the emergence of young-bloods Ghost Bath and Astronoid, it is clear that the enduring post-black metal movement is as rich and creatively fertile as ever (we need look no further from Deafheaven‘s thrilling Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, released earlier this year, as evidence of this). With nary a speck of corpsepaint in sight, the scene continues to infuriate internet trolls and black metal gatekeepers with expanding parameters and unlimited ambition, and may have found a new flagbearer in Danish five-piece Møl.
Widely acclaimed in underground circles for its distinctive collision of dream-like texture and scalpel keen extremity, it would be easy to conclude on paper that Jord is merely another box-ticking blackgaze self-filler. However, to say that there is anything predictable about Møl‘s sound would be grossly inaccurate, with the band contributing a fiercely original, fiercely succinct strain of glacial violence which gleefully thrusts to the forefront the sort of rhythmic destruction that their peers would largely keep under wraps. And so, whilst the likes of ‘Ligament’ contain enough Christ-slaughtering blastbeats to put even Satyricon‘s Frost to shame, the riff-driven groove and thudding metallic clout of ‘Vakuum’ underpins any of the band’s My Bloody Valentine-isms with a jarring, discordant bleakness and direct sonic pummeling. There is charm and delicacy here aplenty (‘Lambda’), but Jord ultimately impresses with the brevity of its bone-chilling assault and the strange headbangability of Møl’s fledgling universe.
6. The Body – I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer.
It’s tempting to call this album techno metal for The Body’s reliance on electronics. I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer. takes the blueprint they laid with their 2016 album and expand it even further into the reaches of alienation and misanthropy. The mechanistic rhythms that sound like they’re disintegrating underneath plumes of noise and cacophony evoke the same existential dread we suffer from attempting to survive under neoliberal capitalism. The Body’s music is corporeal in the way it reminds us that emotional and physical pain are the same thing.
Where The Body really innovate is in their sound design and ability to collapse conventions of metal such as live instrumentation. I Have Fought Against It… is one of the most loathsome electronic albums ever produced. Chip King (vocals and guitar) and Lee Bufford (drum machine and programming) are able to channel so much pain into their respective instruments that they sound like they are constantly being tortured. Bufford’s synths and King’s vocals are blood-curdling, and the worst thing about this album is that it doesn’t even sound like this is the lowest point of their suffering. The sheer denseness of noise has a habit of building into crescendos and drowning out King’s cries. He sounds like he’s constantly on the verge of choking underneath his own screams. This album insists that things could always get worse.
5. Tomb Mold – Manor Of Infinite Forms
Given the seemingly unending stream of quality death metal releases this year, the frothing anticipation and rapturous response to Tomb Mold‘s sophomore full-length tells us all we need to know about the Canadian quintet’s unexpected (to them) popularity. Having captured the imagination of the extreme metal underworld despite their originally humble ambitions, Manor Of Infinite Forms emerged as a filthy, limb-lopping statement of intent, and perhaps what is most impressive is how cross-generational the band’s sound proves to be, its fervently old school violence and distinctly Finnish deformity underpinned by a surreal, subterranean horror which looks to appease both purists and contemporary death-heads alike.
Alongside this, throughout the record’s forty-one-minute runtime, shades of Human-era Death, Demilich and Bolt Thrower may be obvious (among a host of others), yet it is the blend of these intercontinental influences with the band’s idiosyncratic flair which makes Manor… so much more than a dull pastiche of well-trodden ideas. And so, whilst ‘Final Struggle Of Selves’ may slam like Adramelech in full flight and ‘Chamber Of Sacred Ootheca’ recalls Demigod at their most rabid, Tomb Mold‘s songwriting know-how and structural suss consistently manages to brew this melting pot of extremity into something uniquely, unmistakably them. Rare is a band that is able to harness both the indefinable magic of death metal’s formative years with a singular vision all of their own, yet, as their growing reputation attests, Tomb Mold are the real grotesque deal.
4. Sumac – Love In Shadow
Sumac really pushed the boundaries this year, challenging themselves to yet another high watermark as musicians. Not only did they release a collaborative album with cult Japanese free improv musician Keiji Haino back in January (which you must definitely check out as well), but they recorded this epic monstrosity directly afterwards. Sumac have pushed their sound further into the realms of free improvisation, and that willingness to explore the experimental nature of their sound has propelled them into bolder territory. Love In Shadow stands as one of the finest records Aaron Turner has ever been a part of, even amongst such a distinguished discography.
Featuring four side-length tracks, Love In Shadow isn’t an immediate or accessible record at all. It will take a few listens for it to really get under your skin, but when it does you’ll be coming back for more. Sumac throw in some of their most ferocious, darkest, noisiest and most angular riffs ever. The compositions duck and dive in very abrupt ways, seeming very loose and random at first, making the sounds and compositions just as abstract as the amazing cover art (painted by Turner himself). But once you learn to connect the dots and work out how these massive songs flow, this album blossoms even more. In particular, ‘The Task’ is a sheer roller-coaster of sound, ebbing and flowing through many movements that will blow your mind. Sumac have created one of the most ambitious and forward-thinking albums of this year.
3. Rivers Of Nihil – Where Owls Know My Name
Despite 2015’s Monarchy turning quite a few heads, it still felt like this came out of nowhere. Rivers Of Nihil stepped up such a considerable height on Where Owls Know My Name that it caught many listeners off-guard. It’s a sublime blend of tech, prog, and melodic death metal, and it forces all of those genres out of their respective stagnation, with tracks leaping from ferocious-yet-catchy verses to prog soundscapes, and the best sax solo on a metal album this year (despite Ghost’s best efforts). ‘Old Nothing’ goes from being the best melodeath track you’ve heard in years to having a psychedelic solo as if you were tripping balls whilst listening to At The Gates. ‘Subtle Change’ is an eight-minute epic which has a King Crimson moment in it.
Prog and death metal have been mixed before, of course, but this is taking from the furthest end of prog with all the bonkers key solos included. It’s not just a death metal act wearing a King Crimson shirt, as some reviews may have you believe, it’s a band maturing and throwing caution to the wind to make way for ambition and innovation. It’s a record with an epic yet melancholy tone which doesn’t use its variety of instruments and textures as a crutch but instead seamlessly weaves them into its tapestry to reveal an incredibly well recorded and crafted record. The history books will show this as a landmark album for Rivers Of Nihil, and quite possibly as a landmark album for progressive metal as a whole.
2. Conjurer – Mire
Conjurer’s debut EP, I, was a masterclass in hard-hitting sludgy post-metal, and some of the best music to come out of the UK in recent memory. Utilising an assortment of meaty and brutish tones, Conjurer’s sound was as intense as it was accessible for fans of heavy music, and in turn, the four-track EP was as enjoyable for metalheads as it was welcoming to newcomers of the genre. Now two years on, it’s undeniable Conjurer have simply perfected this approach, with Mire again being the most captivating record from the UK in 2018. The opening of ‘Choke’ is what you wish every record would begin with – Brady Deeprose and Dan Nightingale’s dual vocal is as performative as it as complementary, and it’s easy to forget that Conjurer have only been a band for a couple of years. Musically, the four-piece are as imposing as they are chaotic. With left-field decisions littered throughout genre-defining tones and production, the sheer joy this record produces is an injection the genre very much needed.
The build-up and closing of ‘Hollow’ is just one of many sublime moments, presenting at its core a fantastically written piece of music, but also a band who know exactly how to pace and structure. There’s no need for overbearing tones when the riffs are of such a high quality, and thought is clearly put into their positions. Lewis Johns’ production subtly works to bring out the best in each component: you can feel the grit in the distortion and the wavering of the reverb. A merging of innovation, and genre awareness, Mire is a pure unfaltering triumph.
1. Thou – Magus
In a year of roiling political horror, violence and crippling human failure, Thou responded as only Thou could: by being Thou. In fact, the Baton Rouge sludge group were so much themselves that they offered up seven different versions of Thou in 2018, over a slew of splits and EPs that led up to and followed Magus, their first full-length release since 2014’s Heathen. For a group as idiosyncratic and intractable as Thou, it was never going be a case of responding to the existential nightmare of post-Trump America, so much as dialling down on what they’ve been doing since 2007: diving deep into metaphysics, offering up difficult answers to impossible questions and harnessing scalpel-sharp lyrics to something just about recognisable as the raw bones of Louisiana sludge metal.
Just as the Rhea Sylvia and Inconsolable EPs drew out their grunge DNA, Magus took Thou’s experimentation and welded it to their stern, monolithic heavy metal. Magus wasn’t a sea change, so much as a gentle refinement and shading in of what had come before, reflected in the album’s cover art, which added soft focus and pastel hues to the band’s usually stark, woodcut aesthetic. You could feel it in the way ‘In the Kingdom of Meaning’ wedded Shelley-esque romantic poetry to Soundgarden riffs, or in the solemn melodicism of ‘Changeling Prince’, which veered close to to the cleaner end of death-doom and Solitude Aeternus’ heavy tragedicism. Magus was a consolidation of all that had made Thou Thou up until this point.
Lyrically, “ours is the painful, victorious birth of limitless choice” could have served as Magus’ mission statement. Where other artists looked outwards to address injustices, Thou burrowed inwards in a purposeful, cleansing ritual of self-purification. Call it freeing yourself of bullshit or a moment of transcendence, but, like the ancient magicians (or ‘magi’), Thou knew that the answers, the true magic, lay in the heads and the hearts of us all.
Picks 100-75, 74-50 and 49-26 also now available.
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