It’s finally that time of the year again when we take a look back at what we have listened to and what music had the greatest impact on us. While it’s always a difficult task to pick your favorites from a whole year’s supply of music, it was especially hard this year. 2018 was simply outstanding from a musical standpoint. The amount of amazing and fascinating records released this year was nothing short of incredible. Throughout the year I listened to no less than 500 albums, EPs and splits, of which I picked 20 favorites in a very long and painful process. Note that I did only take full-length albums into account for this list. This is a somewhat ranked list, but every one of these albums is absolutely fantastic and definitely worth your time. So, without further ado, let’s go!
20. Robot Koch – Sphere
A space symphony: atmospheric and captivating soundscapes that make you feel like you’re floating through the endless emptiness of space. Combining elements of ambient, down-tempo and dark synth, Robot Koch created one of his darkest, most cinematic and fascinating albums yet.
19. Anna von Hauswolff – Dead Magic
Pop and metal are pretty far apart, right? Well, not in this case. Anna von Hauswolff plays music that could be described as “funeral pop”. Dead Magic consists of dark, heavy compositions that combine elements of dream pop, folk, noise and drone into something entirely new. Everything about this album is fascinating, from the music to the unique vocal performance and the captivating dark atmosphere. Definitely check this out if you think you’re open-minded enough for it.
18. mewithoutYou – [Untitled]
Philadelphia-based indie rock/post-hardcore outfit mewithoutYou are already a legendary band. With their latest full-length album they only further solidify their status and offer a beautifully written, captivating album showcasing the band’s outstanding musicianship, amazing songwriting skills, and powerful lyricism.
17. Hollywood Burns – Invaders
French synthwave composer Hollywood Burns managed to not only surprise me with his debut album but also make me reconsider my ideas of what musicians in this niche genre can actually achieve. Invaders is an incredible listening experience — one of the most cinematic albums you’ll ever hear. Enhancing the typical synth sounds of the genre with lush orchestral soundscapes, electric guitars and heavy metal influenced drumming, Hollywood Burns creates a sound that is heavy, imaginative and incredibly catchy. The songwriting is inspired by sci-fi and horror film soundtracks and makes this album an epic and immersive experience you’ll want to listen to over and over again. There’s also a theremin used on the album. That alone should be reason enough to check it out.
16. Rivers of Nihil – Where Owls Know My Name
Arguably the most talked about death metal album of the year, Rivers of Nihil’s Where Owls Know My Name shows the band changing their style drastically into a more progressive, less brutal form of death metal that takes in influences from folk, electronic music, and jazz. The album is an entertaining and fascinating record every fan of progressive extreme metal should give a listen.
15. Monotheist – Scourge
Formed in 2004, Monotheist is a progressive extreme metal band from Orlando, Florida. They play an eclectic mix of brutal technical death metal with progressive influences. Having been around for fourteen years now, they are no newcomers. However, Scourge is only their debut album — a more than solid one. It shows the band paying respect to their musical heritage while simultaneously creating a style of their own. Great songwriting and interesting stylistic elements make this album a coherent, entertaining and impressive listening experience.
A full review of the album is available here.
14. Evoken – Hypnagogia
Hypnagogia, a concept album about World War I, is one of Evoken’s most refined and well-rounded albums yet and only further strengthens their position as one of the best bands in the funeral doom genre. It also serves as a good starting point into their discography for new listeners.
Read the full album review here.
13. Panegyrist – Hierurgy
Panegyrist play avant-garde metal that combines elements of melodic black metal and progressive metal into a very unique package. Based in orthodox Christianity, the lyrics on Hierurgy primarily deal with the idea of theosis, the “process whereby the individual is transformed and united with God through the operations of the divine energies,” a highly interesting topic in my opinion. The songs are meditations, fragments of prayers. It’s a difficult, if not impossible task to try and analyze the ideas and thoughts expressed in them. The good news is: you don’t have to. This album can be felt. It draws you right into its world of divine darkness and uncreated light.
12. Drudkh – Їм часто сниться капіж
Drudkh return to do what they do best and offer a beautifully understated style of atmospheric black metal on this album that evokes emotions and inspires the listener to let their thoughts wander and… dream. Surprisingly, one of the features Drudkh’s earlier works are known for is completely nonexistent on this album. There are no folk elements to find here, not even in the form of an acoustic intro or outro. Instead, the incredibly well-balanced songs are mainly constructed of rhythmic riffs coupled with tasteful tremolo melodies, blistering drum work and a subtle use of symphonic sound walls that add a very epic element to the aggressive sound. With Їм часто сниться капіж Drudkh have proven once again that they are indeed one of the best bands in the genre. Not afraid to experiment and leave behind certain aspects of their popular style while returning others, this album is one of their most coherent and absorbing works so far and an essential listen for every fan of the genre.
11. Sadness – Rain
Given the band name, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that the one man project Sadness from Oak Park, Illinois plays a melancholic, depressive style of black metal. What could come as a surprise to some is how beautiful his compositions are. On his newest full-length effort Rain, shoegaze riffs, dreamy synths, and slow, doomy rhythms meet distant choirs and despaired screams howling in the background, massive walls of sound alternate with gentle acoustic passages and sections of more traditional, melodic black metal riffery. Every element contributes to an atmosphere of intense longing, sadness, and melancholy. A very beautiful album when you are in the mood for it.
10. Clouds – Dor
With their third full-length release Dor, international melodic death-doom outfit Clouds once again offer an absolutely crushing and beautiful album that no fan of the genre should miss. Dor lives off the contrast between atmospheric, floating orchestral/synth soundscapes, beautiful melodies and crushingly heavy riffs, clean harmonious singing, and devastating low death growls. Dark and light, hope and desperation collide in these compositions. Depression, despair, and darkness characterize the mood of the lyrics and the music. But at the same time, there is beauty in these songs. There is wonder and hope piercing through the desperation, like sunlight through a thick wall of clouds. This album is a truly beautiful piece of art that leads you into darkness and transforms it into light.
9. 1914 – The Blind Leading The Blind
The Blind Leading The Blind is the second concept album about the horrors of World War I on this list. Musically combining blackened death metal with elements of doom and sludge, the album takes you right onto the battlefield and leaves you crushed and devastated in the end. A dark and brutal album that leaves no doubt about the true character of war.
8. Elderwind – The Colder The Night
Elderwind are one of my favorite atmospheric/ambient black metal bands, and this album was definitely one of my most highly anticipated releases of 2018. Fortunately, it did not disappoint. While I do not think this album is in any way better than the band’s legendary debut full-length, it is pretty much on par with it. Beautiful compositions and a very tasteful combination of harsh black metal riffing and majestic synth soundscapes make this album the perfect soundtrack for a long walk through a snow-covered landscape. An essential release for any fan of atmospheric black metal.
7. Utstøtt – Járnviðr
Járnviðr by Oregon-based one-man project Utstøtt is an amazing black metal album, that combines melody, riffs, atmosphere, beauty and harshness into an intriguing, captivating and epic package. The compositions on Járnviðr are as grand and epic as those on the band’s previous albums, but they are much more traditional and visceral at the same time. The production is sharp and clear, adding to the harshness of the riffs and vocals. Stylistically sitting somewhere between atmospheric and melodic black metal with pagan/folk influences, the compositions on this album are written and build around melodic riffs, but focused on the atmosphere they evoke rather than the melodies themselves. Not only are the riffs on this album freaking righteous, there are enough additional musical elements, like atmospheric synth-driven sections, amazing guitar solos and beautiful acoustic portions incorporated into the compositions to keep the album interesting and entertaining throughout its duration. All in all, fantastic stuff.
6. Azusa – Heavy Yoke
Azusa is what you call a metal supergroup. Composed of guitarist Christer Espevoll and drummer David Husvik from long-running and innovative Norwegian progressive extreme metal band Extol, bassist Liam Wilson from legendary mathcore outfit The Dillinger Escape Plan and Berlin-based Greek singer Eleni Zafiriadou from indie-pop duo Sea + Air, Azusa is a project that combines very different musical styles and elements into a very unique and exciting mixture. Sitting somewhere between death metal, thrash metal, mathcore and post-punk, Heavy Yoke is experimental, progressive, aggressive, heavy and constantly surprising. Azusa continues where Extol and TDEP left off and makes innovative, challenging and exciting music of highest quality. Don’t sleep on this one, folks.
You can stream/purchase Heavy Yoke here.
5. Frontierer – Unloved
Chaos. Destruction. Aggression. Terror. Unloved is a cacophonous symphony of previously unheard proportion. Fifty-seven minutes of pure sonic annihilation. Awe-inspiring musicianship meets mind-numbing brutality. Scottish mathcore maniacs Frontierer have perfected their sound and crafted one of the year’s most powerful and hard-hitting albums. Absolutely mental.
4. Haken – Vector
What an album! Haken’s fifth full-length offering, Vector, is a progressive metal masterpiece and one of their best albums yet. The only thing keeping it from being perfect is the comparatively short playing time of only 45 minutes. But everything that’s in these 45 minutes is absolutely brilliant. Once again, Haken combine beautiful melodies and heavy riffs, classic rock elements and lots of proggy experimentation into well-crafted compositions. This is a musically impressive, well-written album that is a ton of fun to listen to and further solidifies Haken’s position as one of today’s best progressive metal bands.
You can stream/purchase Vector here.
3. Bloodbark – Bonebranches
This is definitely the most beautiful black metal album of the year. A majestic, stunning piece of music. Stylistically reminiscent of acts like Skyforest or Elderwind, the three lengthy songs that comprise this album are structured in a rather simple, yet amazingly effective way. Each track establishes one simple melodic theme at its core and builds upon and around it with layers of guitars, strings, synths, and even choirs to create an overwhelming, yet uplifting atmosphere. The fantastic vocals add an element of despair to the overall shoegazey, hopeful sound and give the ethereal qualities of the music weight and substance. Top notch atmospheric black metal.
2. Silent Planet – When The End Began
Silent Planet’s band name stems from the title of C. S. Lewis’ philosophical science-fiction novel “Out Of The Silent Planet”, which is the first part of a trilogy about humanity and its relationship with itself, nature, technology and the divine. It is quite fitting the band chose this name because these are the topics they are concerned with as well. Their songs are poetic observations and intellectual disquisitions on the sicknesses of our world and the role we as humans play in them. When The End Began shows Silent Planet at their creative peak. These songs are more intense, heavy, meaningful and exciting than anything they’ve released so far. And that’s saying a lot. There is no topic too controversial or dark for Garrett Russell to write a song about. He touches on those issues others like to ignore and puts a human face onto lifeless statistics and facts. It’s a world of pain – our world – seen through a lover’s eyes. Clothed in heavy, technical, atmospheric music, his poetic and sophisticated lyrics develop an incredible dynamic, taking you right to the place of action, into the theater of war. If you decide to enter the world of the Silent Planet, prepare to be changed. This is an album that has the power to alter perspectives and open eyes. An album that needs to be heard.
You can stream/purchase When The End Began here.
1. Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love
Californian blackgaze outfit Deafheaven are one of the most talked about metal bands of the decade and this year they’re even nominated for a grammy. What a time to be alive! Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is the band’s least blackened album yet and shows the band moving even more into the post-rock/shoegaze/dream pop direction with atmospheric and warm compositions. Why is this my number one favorite album of the year? Because I fell in love with it right away, and because I’ve listened to it more often than any other album on this list. I love every second of it and get lost in its atmosphere every time I put it on. I don’t see myself ever getting tired of this album. Absolutely beautiful and impressive.