In what’s becoming a tradition here at the Vault, We’re going to kick off 2019 by taking one final look back at some of the best that 2018 had to offer. Here are a few of our writers’ favorite albums that for various reasons flew under the radar last year…
Aaron Dexter Bray (Contributing Editor)
Μνήμα – The Remains of Human Bones (Harvest of Death)
You want hell on Earth? This is hell on Earth. Released quietly back in May, the second demo from Hellenic solo act Μνήμα (or MNHMA) is one of the most vicious, caustic stabs of howling cacophonous bile committed to tape this year – three tracks of rawer-than-raw black carnage that sounds like the audio equivalent of being torn limb from limb on a rack. I don’t know who’s behind it, but they’ve since released another demo that’s ever so slightly more considered and “structured,” if that’s more your jam. Tapes are still available now through Harvest Of Death / Signal Rex and it’s only a couple of bucks on Bandcamp, so check it out if you’re feeling particularly misanthropic and want to kick your year off with a possible heart attack. 95% of you will probably hate it…for the other 5%, you’re welcome.
Nigel Holloway (Contributing Editor)
Eagle Twin – The Thundering Heard (Songs of Hoof and Horn) (Southern Lord)
Eagle Twin’s third album is one that I enjoyed a lot when it was released, but didn’t seem to stay with me for long. Or so I thought. I found myself returning to it later on in the year, and have enjoyed it even more since then. It’s a quite addictive brand of sludge/doom metal, with a strong blues influence and incredibly charismatic vocals. Although certainly not a perfect album, I can’t help but be quite taken with it. If you missed it when it was released in March, then now’s the perfect time to get acquainted with it.
Soliloquium – Contemplations (Transcending Records)
Here we have a high-quality slab of melodic death/doom. Dripping with emotion, wrapped in luscious melodies, and featuring one of the best deathgrowls I’ve heard this year, Contemplations is a first-rate listen for anyone who enjoys wallowing in the darkness. Imagine Brave Murder Day-era Katatonia mixing it up with some aspects of both old and new Paradise Lost, and you have a seductively rich and extremely enjoyable record.
Spencer Hotz (Contributing Editor)
ATKA – Untitled Album 1 (Self-Released)
Did you ever wonder what The Dillinger Escape Plan would sound like if they had decided to be a grindcore band? Look no further than the mathy insanity of ATKA and Untitled Album 1. You’d be hard pressed to recommend a track to a friend considering all the titles seem to have been vomited out by a computer during a fit of epilepsy, but go ahead and just hit play on the first one to get a glimpse of what this album does start to finish. This crew is relentless and fast but doesn’t avoid variety throughout their brief release. The vocals in particular throw in screeches, pseudo cleans, mid-range yells, a guttural or two and even some falsettos. Don’t pass this up!
Autokrator – Hammer of the Heretics (Krucyator Productions)
Sure, Extremity, Scorched, and Tomb Mold put out phenomenal death metal albums in 2018, but do you remember the last time that you listened to some deathly tunes that actually felt sort of scary? Enter Hammer of the Heretics, whose album cover sets the tone for the musical hellscape that awaits when you hit play. Autokrator plays a brand of death metal that hits hard, utilizes a wall of sounds, has demonic vocals and even throws in some torture sounds for good skin-crawling measure. If you in fact did miss this album, here’s an interview to give you a bit more insight.
Benighted – Dogs Always Bite Harder Than Their Masters (Season of Mist)
Some people ignore EPs and therefore miss out on some real gems. This album is the epitome of an EP for a band consisting of a couple new tracks, a cover and a handful of live jams, so it’s understandable that some people may have skipped over it as just a stop-gap between full lengths. Trust, however, that this is well worth your time. The new tracks feature some guest spots and will tear up your ears like any good Benighted song, but ultimately this release survives on the live half. I was always a little wary that this crew wouldn’t be able to pull off the inhuman approach they take to vocals in a live setting. I was dead wrong. The vocals are ridiculous, the music is tight and their energy runs rampant from the speakers. Oh and their cover of “Slaughter of the Soul” is so damn fun even if it’s the same song just played faster.
Fucked and Bound – Suffrage (Atomic Action)
If 2018 didn’t make you at least a little pissed off, then you probably spent it in a coma. Ringing in 2019 with a bit of cathartic rage is a great plan and Fucked and Bound’s debut album, Suffrage, is just the anthemic middle finger you need. Raw, hostile, energetic and above else memorable, this album is 20ish minutes of grind-inflected hardcore/punk. You may have missed it last February when this was released, but don’t let this February be as equally bland. You can read a full album review here.
Chris Latta (Editor)
Stoned Jesus – Pilgrims (Napalm Records)
Nobody was doing the stoner-prog thing in 2018 quite like Stoned Jesus. Their fourth full-length is full of intricate rhythms that avoid getting too technical and extended atmospheric buildups that avoid getting too repetitive. The resulting songs are oddly catchy once you’ve had enough time to soak them in. I also love how the guitars and bass operate independently yet contribute to a greater whole, while the vocals are delivered in a friendly post-Ozzy howl. I almost had this on my top twenty list and really wish I’d gotten a proper review together for it.
Clayton T. Michaels (Senior Editor)
Since my year-end list was almost all from a single genre, I made one rule for myself when considering albums to include here: no black metal!
Isenordal – Spectral Embrace + “Eternal Winter of the Mind” (Eternal Warfare)
Any of our loyal Vault Hunters who were around for 2017’s Year-End Extravaganza will recall that Isenordal’s Shores of Mourning topped my list. I fucking love this band, and I thought for sure that they were perfectly positioned to break through to a much larger audience with their follow-up. Yet despite two excellent releases and a well-regarded 5+ week US summer tour, here they are as one of my under-the-radar picks. As such, you may be (understandably) be asking yourself ‘what the hell happened?’ The short answer: Isenordal is just one of those bands that likes to fuck with people’s expectations.
The longer answer: instead of going the traditional route for their follow-up, the dark folk incarnation of the band released its first full-length Spectral Embrace. I know a lot of metal people turn their noses up at the thought of heavy bands doing acoustic albums, and for good reason – writing for acoustic instruments is very different than writing for a metal band. For starters, you don’t have all the distortion and other effects to layer on and disguise shoddy songcraft. Isenordal definitely doesn’t have a problem in that department, as Spectral Embrace is an utterly gorgeous, absolutely heartbreaking album.
As for the metal version of the band, they released the 15-minute long “Eternal Winter of the Mind” as their half of a split with their summer tour mates Void Omnia. It’s basically everything that made Shores of Mourning so exquisite distilled into one song and then improved upon in every possible way. I’d call it breathtaking, but that would be underselling it. I actually wept the first time I listened to the song, largely because of the performance by violist/vocalist Marisa Kaye Janke – her ethereal falsetto and lyrical viola lines form the emotional heart of the track, and the instrumental piano and viola duet she shares with Lieu Wolfe during the song’s interlude section is easily the standout moment of the song.
Honestly, at this point I’m convinced that Janke is at least part Siren – if I were to ever see the band perform live, I’d be legitimately worried that my body would wind up lying wracked and broken on the monitors after her voice lured me too close to the stage…
I don’t always listen to funeral doom…but when I do, I prefer it to completely fucking crush me under the weight of its despair. And if the riffs turn out to be just as devastatingly heavy as the feels? Yes – a thousand times yes!
Eremozoic is both the first album for German musician Eugen Kohl’s funeral doom project Sinister Downfall and the first release by newly-formed Armenian funeral doom label Funere, and it’s one hell of a debut for them both. Kohl, who is likely best known for playing in black metal bands Donarhall and Nihilisticon, proves to be quite adept at the whole ‘slow, sad, and heavy’ thing, as there’s nary a beam of light across the album’s four song, 40-minute run time. He also tends to color his doom with shades of depressive black metal, making for an exhilaratingly morose stylistic hybrid of Bell Witch and Totalselfhatred. So fucking hopeless, and so fucking good.
Eremozoic also easily wins the ‘Most Depressing Album Title of 2018’ award. The title comes from the work of biologist E.O. Wilson, who coined it as a suitable name for the upcoming fourth era in the Earth’s development that will follow once the sixth mass extinction we’re now experiencing concludes. Since that current extinction, unlike the other five that have occurred throughout Earth’s long history, is due almost exclusively to the habits of homo sapiens, Wilson suggested calling the fourth era the Eremozoic, which translates as ‘lonely life.’
Matt S. (Contributing Editor)
Acathexis is an international supergroup comprised of Mare Cognitum mastermind Jacob Buczarski, multi-instrumentalist Déhà (Imber Luminis, Cult of Erinyes) and vocalist Dany Tee (Aether, In Element).
With their self-titled debut album, Acathexis might have created my favourite black metal record of the year. It’s just a shame it was released on December 26, because I’m pretty sure this would have ended up on many year-end lists had it been released a little earlier. This album is a massive, immense piece of breathtakingly heavy and evocative black metal. The production is one of the best I’ve encountered in a long time, the musicianship and the vocals are – unsurprisingly, given the lineup – outstanding, and the songwriting is pretty darn perfect.
Third track “Veins Hollowed” is easily the most touching and heart-shattering song I’ve heard all year, and the other three tracks on the albums are pretty much on par with it. Balancing melody, atmosphere, and blistering aggression, Acathexis have crafted an incredible album that is engaging from the first second on and will have a lingering impact on the listener.
Wounds of Recollection – Crashing Waves of Heaven (self-released)
I don’t know why bands or labels think the final days of December are a good time to release new music. Crashing Waves of Heaven is another album that would have probably ended up in my top 20 had it been released a few weeks earlier.
Playing an atmospheric blend of folk-infused post-black metal, the one-man Wounds of Recollection from the Eastern coast of the United States has a sound that at times is very similar to Deafheaven, but a little rawer and with a darker and more depressive mood to it which is at times more akin to Der Weg Einer Freiheit and their darker, more traditional style of post-black. According to their Bandcamp page, Crashing Waves of Heaven, the band’s sixth full-length album, “follows the memoirs of a lonely nihilist; lifted from the security of his home and onto the shores of the Atlantic Ocean at dusk.”
The album is a great example of post-black metal that balances the different tonalities of black metal, post-rock, and folk into a coherent and exciting whole, making for a both engaging and crushing listening experience with moments of beauty and moments of nihilistic aggression alternating and melting into one big picture. I highly recommend this album, not only to fans of the aforementioned bands.