Whether your tastes in heavy metal leans toward the more viscerally brutal end of the spectrum or toward the vintage sounds generated by acts such as Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, 2018 saw plenty of top-shelf metal to please all whose musical preferences run in a heavier direction.
A Swedish collective who dub their music Roman Catholic black metal, a Los Angeles duo who deliver pummeling death metal, a Denver quartet who infuse melodic-doom with classic metal flourishes and an Australian one-man force of shred guitar are but a few of the diverse acts that inspired our picks for the Best Metal Albums of 2018.
10. Lucifer, Lucifer II
Lucifer is a throwback to when “heavy metal” was used to describe acts such as Dio and Deep Purple. The haunting croons of vocalist Johanna Sadonis bellow mightily on hard-driving rockers such as “California Son” and crack with forlorn emotion on dark ballads such as “Before the Sun.” The second record from this outfit would sound gorgeous played through a ’70s hi-fi speaker cabinet, as every rumbling riff comes through loud and thick thanks to production collaboration from Sadonis' new bandmate/songwriting partner, Nicke Andersson (The Hellacopters/Entombed).
9. Four Stroke Baron, Planet Silver Screen
The mechanized production and occasional bursts of blast beats contained on Planet Silver Screen would be at home on a Fear Factory record. But this Reno, Nevada, trio uses that aura to surround some of the catchiest hooks and choruses of 2018 on this, their third album. Vocalist/guitarist Kirk Witt's shouts resemble an ’80s goth-night robot, adding an ethereal feel to some of the poppiest songs committed to a metal record by musicians not named Devin Townsend.
8. Our Place of Worship Is Silence, With Inexorable Suffering
Guitarist Eric Netto and drummer Tim Gaskin have bludgeoned the ears of listeners in the past with atmospheric black metallers Lake of Blood. With this project, the Los Angeles–based duo engage in a more stripped-down form of musical brutality. The death metal on display here is a primal beast that forsakes faux-Satanic preening in favor of a uglier barrage of nihilism. Netto and Gaskin trade off on some of the most guttural vocals of 2018, while Netto's guitar work and Gaskin's drums sound equally sepulchral.
7. Revororum Ib Malacht, Im Ra Distare Summum Soveris Seris Vas Innoble
Whether the promotional copy tagging the band as "Roman Catholic black metal” is a gimmick or not, it cannot be denied that the ambient black-metal din generated by this Swedish collective resulted in one of the most aurally terrifying records of the year. The tracks on their latest record resemble layered noise-soundscapes more than they do individual songs, with several of them mixing Roman chants and blood-curdling screams for the soundtrack to the resurrection of Christ playing out as the apocalyptic event foretold by some.
6. Tomb Mold, Manor of Infinite Forms
Every year, dozens of death-metal acts release albums that attempt to recapture the days when the genre was dominated by records with the Earache and Roadrunner Records logos stamped on them. Most fail to be more than flaccid mimicry. Tomb Mold are the rare exception. The hallmarks of the genre's landmarks are there on the Toronto act's second album, as guttural vocals, galloping drums and buzz-saw guitars certainly abound. But the precision of the band's attack combines with beefy modern production to elevate Manors of Infinite Forms well above the horde of pretenders to the throne.
5. Khemmis, Desolation
On their third record, Denver quartet Khemmis bridge the gap between the forlorn melodic-doom of modern acts such as Pallbearer and the galloping metallic triumph of classic metal acts such as Iron Maiden. The more midtempo tracks on Desolation pack a crunchy punch but even the moodier lurching moments are still given a sense of spiritual catharsis thanks to the harmonies of guitar duo Phil Pendergast and Ben Hutcherson, as well as vocal tradeoffs where Pendergast soars with strong melody and Hutcherson cuts through with harsh howls.
4. The Ocean, Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic
It is appropriate that the latest record from German collective The Ocean is a concept record loosely based on an era of history where modern life forms evolved while others went extinct. The themes are parallel to how The Ocean broke out from the rest of the mostly moribund post-metal genre. They continue to stand on top of the mountain looking down on their peers, their delivery here shrouded in tribal drumming, expansive progressive chord structures that are engrossing without being excessive, and an incredibly powerful production.
3. Primordial, Exile Amongst the Ruins
The second track on this Irish band's ninth album, “To Hell or the Hangman,” may be the most metal song of 2018. It's a galloping seven-minute opus that never relents in its metallic composition. Vocalist A.A. Nemtheanga heartily bellows about being sent to “hell or the gallows,” while thunderous bass from Pól MacAmlaigh, stamina-testing drumming from Simon O'Laoghaire and hypnotic rhythm guitars and tasteful solos from Ciáran MacUiliam and Micheál O'Floinn all build to the climax without ever slowing. The midtempo anthems making up the remainder of the album are damn great, too.
2. Rebel Wizard, Voluptuous Worship of Rapture and Response
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At first glance, song titles such as “Drunk on the Wizdom of Unicorn Semen” come off as a troll of excessively pretentious black-metal tropes. But one cannot deny the effort that Australian musician Bob Nekrasov — the sole member of Rebel Wizard — puts into creating a dizzying cacophony of metallic sounds that stands out as an eccentric Frankenstein's monster even for the metal genre. The final output sounds like the effort of a musician who was torn between putting out a lo-fi black metal record or just using his guitar to shred and rock the fuck out. Luckily for us, he decided to do both.
1. Yob, Our Raw Heart
The first decade of Oregon doom-metal trio Yob had already set a high bar with its moody, psychedelic-driven din, its albums mostly consisting of sprawling, feedback-drenched compositions punctuated by vocalist-guitarist Mike Scheidt's ethereal vocal wails and howls. Scheidt suffered through a near-fatal battle with diverticulitis in 2016. The first album since that episode is delivered with the sense of urgency and immediacy that is evident from a person who has stared death in the eyes and fought back. The emotion and power of the experience is laid bare on Our Raw Heart, supplementing the heavy atmosphere already generated by the band's music.