This is the tenth year I’ve made a top albums list. I’m certainly no elder statesman (fuck, I’m not even thirty yet), but I’ve learned a lot in the last decade. I’ve broadened my musical horizons and codified my selection process, but the biggest lesson I’ve learned is to never be self-conscious about the albums you choose. We all experience music differently from one another and everybody has personal reasons for their preferences. Lists like these should not be made to prove one’s superior taste, but rather to share our findings with others and see how their experiences compare. There are no wrong answers if you can explain them, and every year is a good year if you know where to look. We’re all here to learn about each other as well as ourselves.
But enough of that flapdoodle, here’s my twenty favorite albums of 2018!
20) Khemmis – Desolation
Khemmis rides the momentum of their growing success quite smoothly on Desolation. The classic metal influences and more extreme tinges mesh well with the band’s epic doom roots, and the more developed vocals and guitar harmonies are something to behold. It doesn’t appeal to me quite as much as 2016’s Hunted, but it deserves props for presenting the style more accessibly without watering it down. It’s an album that should sit well with literally any kind of metal fan.
19) Merlin – The Wizard
When I first looked at Merlin’s fourth album, I was enthralled with the instrumentation but wasn’t sure if the songwriting was quite on the same level. Now that I’ve had more time to digest it, I can say that there’s more to The Wizard than my love of horns in heavy metal. The riffs are groovy as hell and the flow between songs perfectly channels the feel of classics from groups like Hawkwind and pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd. Seeing how the band recently expanded to a sextet, I imagine things will only get quirkier from here.
18) Blackslash – Lightning Strikes Again
I’m gonna be honest with you about this album: It’s not that unique. The style doesn’t sound that different from the multitude of traditional metal albums that came out this year. But Blackslash did something for this album that few of their peers did; they remembered to make it fuckin’ catchy. The fact that Lightning Strikes Again features the most infectious A side I heard all year deserves to be applauded, as does the rock-solid musicianship backing it up. As much as I enjoy Firepower, this album truly captures the spirit of early 80s Judas Priest.
17) Yob – Our Raw Heart
Bands like Yob have always prided themselves on their music’s climactic highs and lows, but I’ve never heard a more emotional album in the style than Our Raw Heart. The album’s compositions may hit all the common tropes of the post-metal formula, but the painful performances make for an especially cathartic experience. Moments like the sixteen-minute minimalism of “Beauty of Falling Leaves” don’t seem like they’d work on paper, but the way it’s set up fixates your attention the whole agonizing way through. Plenty of groups find tragedy in death. Yob found tragedy in survival.
16) Forming the Void – Rift
Seeing how Forming the Void’s second album, Relic was one of my top picks in 2017, it’s nice to see them come back with another winner just a year later. Rift greatly benefits from a more straightforward style whether it be the punchy “On We Sail” or the crushing doom of its last two numbers, and the commanding yet melodic vocals only add to the awesomeness. The band has been getting more attention lately, and I truly hope that they’re on the edge of a breakthrough.
15) Fire Down Below – Hymn of the Cosmic Man
Space rock bands are a dime a dozen these days, but I can’t think of a band in the scene with more balls than Fire Down Below. Their second album certainly does its share of navel-gazing, but there’s just as much time devoted to ass-kicking heavy metal overdrive. Nothing ever feels too tripped out as the memorable hooks serve as strong breadcrumbs when one is navigating through the album’s surprisingly purposeful jams. Anybody who misses the attitude seen in bands like Kyuss or early Fu Manchu will surely get a kick out of this.
14) 1914 – Blind Leading the Blind
There’s no questioning the passion that was put into 1914’s second album on both musical and thematic elements. The omnipresent wartime samples and ominous release date highlight the Ukrainians’ dedication to their World War I aesthetic while the intermingling of doom, black, and death metal results in ungodly heaviness. War themes in metal are as old as the genre itself and it does my heart good to see such fresh perspectives still emerging from this hellish union.
13) Höstblod – Mörkrets intåg
Inspired by familial tragedy, Höstblod’s debut album is a fascinating blackgaze conundrum. An array of unorthodox instrumentation is utilized without falling victim to technical self-indulgence, and song structures are full of curveballs that only enhance the intensity on display. The lyrics are exclusively performed in Swedish, but their emotions hit hard without getting too overwrought. It’s hard to tell where this project will go from here considering its muse, but this effort deserves much more exposure.
12) Iron Void – Excalibur
With a theme centered around Arthurian myth and a slight production upgrade, it goes without saying that Iron Void’s first concept album is more ambitious than their first two full-lengths. However, Excalibur offers a grounded execution with a slew of catchy doom riffs and memorable vocal lines. The whole thing gives me classic Gates of Slumber vibes, and I sure won’t bitch about that. I don’t think other traditional doom fans will either.
11) The Skull – The Endless Road Turns Dark
The Skull’s second album is cut from the same cloth as 2014’s For Those Which Are Asleep. But instead of feeling like a re-tread, it’s arguably more cohesive, with its various elements more thoroughly integrated. Plodding doom, ominous psychedelia, and even hints of blues are blended together quite smoothly thanks to skillful songwriting and Eric Wagner’s world-weary wail. It’s a laid-back listen without getting too soft, and engaging without getting too in your face.
10) Sergeant Thunderhoof – Terra Solus
Sergeant Thunderhoof’s second album is a distinct take on proggy stoner doom. Its crackly guitar tone, emphasis on groovy segments, and softer atmospherics help to set them apart from the bulk of their amp worship brethren. It offers a certain rawness not commonly seen in the genre and its memorable riffs make it worth coming back to. It’s the meeting ground between Orange Goblin and Porcupine Tree that I didn’t know I wanted but am happy to have.
9) Judicator – The Last Emperor
The Last Emperor is shorter than Judicator’s past efforts, but it never holds back on bombastic power metal goodness. Song arrangements are theatrical, as charging guitars and over the top vocal layers tell tales of well intentioned but fundamentally flawed crusaders of lore. Structures are elaborate, but the choruses are guaranteed to get stuck in your head. Some may find it too derivative of classic Blind Guardian, but you’ve got to be doing something right if Hansi himself shows up on a song!
8) All Them Witches – ATW
Having slept on 2017’s Sleeping Through the War, I was quite impressed with ATW. All Them Witches hasn’t altered their fuzz blues formula all that much but injecting some 70s rock swagger into it does give their signature jams more impact. As somebody who’s been following them since Lightning at the Door, it feels like the band is really starting to live up to their potential. I’m anxious to see where they go from here, especially considering their recent decision to ditch the keyboards and move to a power trio format.
7) Voivod – The Wake
Target Earth and the Post Society EP may have proved that life after Piggy was possible for Voivod, but I don’t think anybody expected The Wake to be this legitimately stunning. Despite only featuring half the original lineup, the band has crafted an album with a refreshing take on their classic sound. Chewy and new bassist Rocky play off each other well, Snake’s vocals have never sounded better, the classical strings are expertly applied, and the recurring motifs result in a cohesive concept album. An illustrious example to follow for the old guard and the new.
6) Pale Divine – Pale Divine
In a time when every doom/stoner band’s presentation is stuffed with fancy toys or important stories to tell, it’s nice to see a group that exists to just rock out. Pale Divine’s self-titled album is the definition of unpretentious with its basic instrument setup, working-class vocals, and forty-six-minute runtime. But rather than sounding monotonous or lazy, it excels thanks to heavy helpings of memorable grooves, varied songwriting, and catchy hooks. It’s not trying to be important but don’t confuse that for a complete lack of trying; this is an excellently crafted album that any doom fan should enjoy.
5) Mos Generator – Shadowlands
For all the time I spend mulling over subgenre nonsense, Mos Generator is one band I’m content to call straight up rock ‘n’ roll. Shadowlands is an excellent summary of their sound, combining the attitude of Electric Mountain Majesty with the chorus friendly Nomads and the trippier aspects of Abyssinia. It’s a heavy record with a lot of muscle behind it but also a certain polish that lends itself to lean hooks. If you’ve never heard the band before and have any fondness for Sabbath, KISS, or Floyd, this just might be the best place to start.
4) Witchkiss – The Austere Curtains of Our Eyes
Few albums in 2018 took me on a journey quite like Witchkiss’s debut. It starts as what seems to be a typical sludgy death-doom record only to reveal itself as a more multi-faceted affair with a stirring dual vocal format and dynamic riff work, all the while retaining a dark cavernous atmosphere. It’s very purposeful for a first entry, and I’m curious to see how the band will develop from here. I can tell you that seeing the band perform at this year’s Doomed & Stoned Festival in near pitch blackness and a storm raging outside was one of the most thematically appropriate live sets I’ve ever witnessed.
3) Wayfarer – World’s Blood
Wayfarer’s third album is a very striking take on atmospheric black metal. Its bright, dry tone and sprawling lengths capture the open desolation of the American badlands while the pounding riffs on songs like “Animal Crown” and “The Crows Ahead Cry War” give them more muscle than your average Agalloch clone. 2018 seemed to be a year for western-themed black metal bands to make themselves known, and while any widespread movement is likely a product of my own imagination, these guys make for strong trailblazers.
2) Wolftooth – Wolftooth
2018 seemed to be the Year of Wolftooth. The Richmond, Indiana group came the right hell out of nowhere, instantly getting on huge supporting bills and earning endorsements from various factions in the underground. My girlfriends enjoy them, and they’ve attracted the attention of people not normally attuned to newer bands. And the best part is that they deserve every bit of praise they get. Their debut album is a perfect meeting ground of doom and classic metal, offering a slew of powerful riffs and catchy vocals that only get stronger with repeated listens.
1) Visigoth – Conqueror’s Oath
Visigoth’s second album is the perfect balance of epic and fun. Despite being nearly twenty minutes shorter than its predecessor, 2015’s The Revenant King, it features much of the same dramatic riff work and the vocal layering makes its choruses as climactic as they are infectious. The leaner song lengths result in a barrage of hard-hitting anthems, and songs like “Outlive Them All” barely give you time to truly absorb them yet never fail to make deep impressions. It also helps that Jake Rogers’ baritone is the most refreshing voice in contemporary metal. Some may deny the album a classic status, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it proved influential to future bands.