You’re here! Welcome! So glad you could make it.
So, how was the flight? Wait, what? You walked here? All the way from January 1st? You walked here all the way from January 1st. Wow. How long did it take? Eleven months and seven days. I see. Of course. And you didn’t fly or drive because? Right… Because you might miss some wonderful things if you speed through life. That’s true. That’s true.
You, uh… You saw that the northern white rhinoceros went extinct this year, yes? And yeah, awful violence and terrorism and racism and unending unrest and persecution and death and destruction and pain and misery and the Warriors winning the NBA championship again. You noticed all of that. Check. Good for you. Good to stay on top of things, even if it’s difficult to face.
We found a lake on Mars! That’s pretty cool. Evidence of a lake on Mars, actually. It’s not much of a lake these days, really. Has anyone thought about the possibility that the human race was already on Mars and left it because we basically pounded it into dust? Then we figured out how to get to Earth to save the population and scientists then created this “Forget Everything” storm that wiped out all memories of Mars so humans could have a fresh start without living with the guilt of having ruined an entire planet. I’m sure it’s already a sci-fi series on Hulu. Regardless, hails to Mars Lake. Oh, and we’re there again! On Mars! Using robots. Robots driving around Mars and enjoying its evidence of lakes.
Metal happened, too. Did you… Did you enjoy some metal? Great. That’s just great. Where is who on our list? Ahhh, those guys. Yep, they didn’t make the cut. We tried it and failed. I’m sure our ears are broken.
Metal worked harder than ever this year to clean up some of its messes. That’s a good thing—cleaning up messes. It’s a messy world we live in, isn’t it? Not just in metal, of course. Unfortunately, being vigilant about cleaning up messes sometimes has a way of making those around you messier, so then you’re just cleaning up more messes. Shit ouroboros, Randers.
Great news, though: 2018 provided enough good-to-great metal that we were able to cobble together yet another Super Amazing Fantastic Incontestable Top 25 Heavy Metal Albums of 2018 Combined Staff List, and no one on the crew died in the process. In fact, there was very little arguing behind the scenes this year. Well, with regard to our combined year-end list, that is. We love bickering. The Last Rites staff argued a lot about olives in 2018.
Anyway, this year’s top 25 is, once again, an ideal cross-section of who we are as a collective. A little too old and too cold, sure, and what youth we have is admittedly old-souled, but we’re not completely stuck in the past, even if some of our list suggests otherwise. Ultimately, we remain loyal to the root essence of metal while still being accepting of trends and progression, and we continue to approach records where style outweighs substance with torches gleaming. You gotta pass the smell test, baby!
Thanks again for making it this far alongside us, readers. You guys are the absolute best.
Also, we miss you, Shark. The Last Rites collective spent a fair bit of time talking about the loss of Mark Shelton earlier this year—both at the site and on social media—but we’d like to dedicate this year’s List Season to his memory. May the Lords of Light forever be with you, old friend. See you on the other side. [CAPTAIN]
25. OUTRE-TOMBE – NÉCROVORTEX
“Did I mention that the riffs were good? They are, and there are shit-loads of them. Need a little melodically induced madness? Check out the second riff in “Aberration.” Searching for a some dirge-y doom-death? The mid-section of “Concile Cadavérique”, has just what the doctor ordered. Sublimely evil tremolo-riffs? “Vengeance Spectrale” has you covered. Grooves, you say? Those are friggin’ everywhere.” [JEREMY MORSE]
24. HORRENDOUS – IDOL
“On the surface, Idol largely repeats [the Horrendous] mold, making it initially appear like their smallest jump in terms of band evolution, but dig a little and it’s clear that the band’s “proggier” tendencies have taken even deeper root, as has their knack for melody. They also added even more atmosphere and a touch of theatricality to yet another stellar, often gripping set of songs, while passages of clean vocals and softer progressive rock make it blatantly obvious that future stops on the Horrendous train plan to keep the evolution moving.” [ZACH DUVALL]
23. BINAH – PHOBIATE
“Right off the bat Binah delivers an epic grinder with “The Silent Static”, a twelve minute pummeling that extravagantly displays their mastery of the form while pushing the limits of what you can say in a Sunlight track. And it gets…well, not better, but as-gooder from there. “Dream Paralysis” waltzes the death waltz with so much intensity and emotion you want to find a renaissance corpse and start swinging it around the room. “Waves of Defacement” is a straight homage to the elders, while “Transmissions from Beneath” has a strangely 80’s style riff that devolves into a chaotic tentacle-porn of runs and chords before waxing almost Morbid Angel-ic, all bookended with simple picking melodies.” [CHRIS SESSIONS]
22. CRIPPLE BASTARDS –
LA FINE CRESCA DA DENTRO
“But really, even beyond the riffs and the signature fury, what keeps the Bastards among grindcore’s more engaging purveyors is their ability to create memorable songs within a swirling maelstrom of blastbeats and thrash riffs and unintelligible screaming. Nearly every track has some kind of well-crafted hook, if such a term can be applied to a record like this — the twisted riffing and Slayer-esque solo of “Non Coinvolto”; the techy midsection of “Due Metà In Un Errore”; the entirety of “Chiusura Forzata,” which at five minutes is the album’s longest and most developed class in death-grind mastery; the thrashing drive of “Narcolessia Emotiva” and the hardcore punk of “Nervi in Guerra”; the “three songs in sixteen seconds” punch of “Equilibrio Ansiogeno,” “Interrato Vivo,” and “Quali Sentieri,”… All forms of extremity are welcome in the Bastards’ relentless barrage.” [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
21. OKSENNUS – KOLME TOISTA
Most things – from plates of food to articles of clothing – that are sold as “deconstructed” have a tendency to be poorly thought out and downright lazy. Joensuu, Finland’s Oksennus, since its standout ЖЖЖ demo, has never marketed its music as such, but this particular brand of Finnish death metal still comes across as very strange, lo-fi, experimental music that’s been taken apart and given to the listener to put back together. That is, at least, what it feels like on the surface. If listeners are willing to dig a bit deeper into the concept of Kolme toista, they will find a remarkably clever, well put-together concept that is as rewarding as it is perfectly timed. Deconstructed? Sure, but just as fun as playing with a new Lego set, only this is like… if the Legos were made out of carrots. [KONRAD KANTOR]
20. SLUGDGE – ESOTERIC MALACOLOGY
“Lo, bring us this day our timely slime, the fourth such offering from Your celestial emissaries, the kingly Slugdge, and let it be filled with riff after holy riff, o Greatfather: let it be technical but not too technical, and let it be melodic but not too melodic; And lo, may it be called Esoteric Malacology, and may it be even better, even godlier, even greater than the slimes that slimed before it, a more refined sliming, with a greater emphasis on excellent clean vocal work from the one named Matt and – we must repeat – riff after holy riff from the one named Kev.” [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
19. VARATHRON – PATRIARCHS OF EVIL
“The album’s dynamics are also aided by the band’s restraint, as they only occasionally put the blasting into overdrive. “Orgasmic Nightmares of the Arch Desecrator,” for example, starts out as big and blasty as the album gets, but finds time to return to the band’s signature melodicism and distant chants (A+ for that song title, by the way). But it’s “Luciferian Mystical Awakening” that really shows off this trait. It starts with a soft, mournful feel, dives full into a 6/8 Viking drive, and ups the bombast and theatricality throughout. After a second use of the softer parts, a small solo grows to be a huge tremolo lead that is then accompanied by a lower, equally huge tremolo harmony before an explosion of blasting and Necroabyssious’s massive presence overtake the song. It’s a deft bit of songwriting, and possibly the best song on an album loaded with great, instantly catchy tunes.” [ZACH DUVALL]
18. SKULMAGOT – SKULLED TO DEATH
“It’s hard to even name a single highlight (or lowlight) on Skulled To Death; not only are there no bad tracks, but every song carries its own weight. The entire album has been expertly carved to remove any fat or filler, providing a concise, focused album that never loses momentum in its brief 27-minute runtime. In an age where almost any music a fan could want is easily available online, Skulmagot have created the modern equivalent of a gem by hiding some fantastic old skool deth metl in plain sight–a reminder to rip past the flesh and judge the music by the guts.” [RYAN TYSINGER]
17. URFAUST – THE CONSTELLATORY PRACTICE
“Every part of The Constellatory Practice is connected as part of a whole, as if each represents a different location along some strange journey. Opener “Doctrine of Spirit Obsession,” for example, is like waking up feeling groggy and out of place in a small boat, drifting down some unknown river. The huge vocal moments represent openings into grand vistas, while the subdued passages are like floating through a ravine, with much of the world’s din muted. Each is a result of and respite from the other. “False Sensorial Impressions” and “Behind The Veil Of The Trance Sleep,” meanwhile, truly make the most out of the album’s structural minimalism. The former is a pulsating, heavy nightmare constantly approaching but never quite reaching you, while the latter perfectly executes a constant, deliberate crescendo of a single irresistible motif.” [ZACH DUVALL]
16. SLEEP – THE SCIENCES
“If the first half of the album is a demonstration of all the styles the band members have mastered over the years, side B is truly where the band hones in on its refreshed songwriting ability by piecing together all of said styles cohesively. “Antarcticans Thawed” is a great representation of Sleep’s knack for riding out long, drawn out riffs that give Roeder the chance to really solidify his still-new position in the band. The song is about Matterhorn’s children being set free by melting or some shit. Who fucking knows, but the lyrics paint a pretty fantastic visual picture of Antarcticans doing some gnarly things. Oh, I lost track of what I was actually doing during the solo, but hot damn at around 11:35 those pounding riffs and that head-bobbing rhythm snapped me out of it.” [KONRAD KANTOR]
15. A FOREST OF STARS –
GRAVE MOUNDS AND GRAVE MISTAKES
“Perhaps now is a good time to also credit the band for something that should have been highlighted much earlier: the strength of the vocal department. There is something oddly soothing about the British accent that, even when chaotically shouting from the black rooftops of Leeds with a throat spitting tar and coal from a mind amped up on amphetamines, sounds totally in control and comforting. As if after screaming about death and destruction and utter chaos, Kettleburner and Curse slide down the chimney to have tea and crumpets after washing their hands and brushing their rotting teeth.” [KONRAD KANTOR]
14. MÖRKÖ – ULVOVA TYHJYYS
“Ineffectual babble thrown against a wall in an attempt to define something intended for an infinitesimal segment of an already modest population is an admittedly foolish pursuit. You want a dirty definition of Mörkö that skirts useless hyperbole? They’re fucked. Not because you run the risk of getting doused in pig’s blood from witnessing them in the flesh, but because they consent to Earthly estrangement after having witnessed 3 million souls lost to the Tüüka-wüürm virus on Heliox.5 Prime during a recent 5-week holiday. The great and sacred cockerel scrapes mortal wounds on the Earth and ruin awaits us all.” [CAPTAIN]
13. HATE ETERNAL – ON DESOLATE SANDS
“And yet, Hate Eternal has always seemed a mite underappreciated compared to other brutal and/or technical peers. One explanation for this is that they are neither as cheaply brutal (“ignant”) as some bands nor as overtly technical (masturbatory) as others, preferring to write real songs over pushing some extreme. But this is only true if you look at typical genre tropes. Hate Eternal doesn’t spend half of their albums doing Cryptopsy slams or delivering torrents of sweep picking, but they’ve long been among the most intricate, blasty, and downright heavy bands in death metal, while their brutality comes through in sheer muscular force.” [ZACH DUVALL]
12. SATAN – CRUEL MAGIC
“Satan expands on their flirtation with more progressive elements in their structures, as further evidenced by the equally excellent track “My Prophetic Soul.” In classic Satan fashion, melodies are delivered at breakneck speeds, and it’s just riff after riff. While still working in the confines of an overall verse/chorus structure, its the sections in between that really shine. The bridges are expertly crafted to carry the weight of what is a catchy tune to begin with and expand it into more of a journey without meandering too far from what really makes the band so great: their songwriting. Though Cruel Magic may not be quite as speedy as their previous material, it is without any sacrifice to the electricity of the music itself (which isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of fast-paced burners that glide the record forward).” [RYAN TYSINGER]
11. SEAR BLISS – LETTERS FROM THE EDGE
“Now in their 25th year of existence and on their eighth (!) album, Sear Bliss plays with the confidence of a band that knows its precise strengths but still revels in finding new ways to outstrip past heights. On Letters from the Edge, the horn’s tone (apparently the horn “section” at the moment is only Zoltán Pál’s trombone) is rich and full, but it’s often mixed so seamlessly against the guitars that they blend in much more than they jut out. The Windir influence is occasionally more pronounced here than on previous albums. The main tremolo melody of early album highlight “Seven Springs” is both acrobatic and uplifting, all the more so when buttressed by the powerful chorus (backed by both horns and keys in a rich splash of sound).” [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
10. MESSA – FEAST FOR WATER
“One of the most interesting tensions throughout the album is the contrast between the relative sharpness of Sara’s vocals and the reverbed, almost aquatically diffuse sound of the instruments. Although Sara’s vocal lines are often being belted out with significant power, they’re set back a ways in the mix. This production choice serves to highlight the laser-focus purity of her tone while not overpowering the intricate interplay between the rest of the instrumentation. The guitars and bass are warm, bordering on fuzzed-out, and the thump and crack of the drums are slightly muffled in such a way that the resonant wash of the cymbals blends in with the rounded edges of the guitars. It’s a beguiling sound that allows the band to appear sneakily unified even when each of the instruments is doing something different.” [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
9. MOURNFUL CONGREGATION – THE INCUBUS OF KARMA
“If there was ever a divine spark hidden in the subconscious realms of human nature, this fine example of funeral doom has always been on the brink of bringing that to light in the realms of its listeners’ minds. If the “primal matter” is meant to serve as substance in the unconscious mind that is needed for the incarnation of a deity, then perhaps we humans will always be blind. Perhaps this very album is meant to signify the primal matter? Perhaps we are dejected because of primal matter? (Thank God I only have the time and ability to write about the music.)” [KONRAD KANTOR]
8. MADDER MORTEM – MARROW
“Stylistically, Madder Mortem’s sound is very eclectic, but they unite each disparate thread such that nothing feels cluttered or haphazard. Marrow is full of cleverly meandering songs that still hit the listener squarely in the gut with their emotional directness. This eclecticism means that Madder Mortem should be an easy sell to fans of a diverse range of bands, from Leprous and Devin Townsend to The Gathering and Anathema, and from Tool and Katatonia to Burst and The Third and the Mortal. The left and right channel guitar interplay of the first post-chorus on “Far From Home” displays the progressive spirit of a band that, like many of those peers, never needs to beat you over the head with obvious progressive signifiers.” [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
7. W.A.I.L. –
WISDOM THROUGH AGONY INTO ILLUMINATION AND LUNACY VOL. II
“Wisdom Through Agony Into Illumination And Lunacy Vol. II condenses the over-arching theme of the band’s purpose into a simply stated yet unfathomably deep concept: The dualistic nature of humans and the universe. This concept goes quite deep down the rabbit hole as the listener contemplates the exquisite lyrics and liner notes, but remains easy enough to comprehend so as to never seem overly pretentious or above the average drunkard kicking back to listen to a black/death/doom metal record.” [KONRAD KANTOR]
6. SOLSTICE – WHITE HORSE HILL
“The record itself is a huge achievement—the closest thing to a natural 10/10 slab from the epic realm we’ve heard since Scald’s Will of Gods is a Great Power, and something that raises the bar previously set by the likes of While Heaven Wept’s pivotal Vast Oceans Lachrymose or The White Goddess by Atlantean Kodex. Of course, Solstice is hardly a stranger to virtue; musically they’ve been world-class for ages. But the addition of Paul Kerns (ex-Arcane Sun) behind the mic beginning with 2013’s Death’s Crown is Victory EP was crucial for vaulting things to another level. Kerns sounds fantastic here—a Länquist level of spirit when measures are meant to galvanize, and a brawny approach to sensitivity throughout the record’s lighter fare.” [CAPTAIN]
5. VISIGOTH – THE CONQUEROR’S OATH
“…Conqueror’s Oath features an explosive abundance of infectious choruses and bridges that are at times startlingly invigorating, so be sure to pound the album into your ears before that dreadful 3:30pm numbers meeting if you like the idea of envisioning someone running an impressive glaive through old man Bottomburp while he drones on and on about deferred revenue reports.” [CAPTAIN]
4. VOIVOD – THE WAKE
“The songwriting is progressive, constantly shifting time and tempo, tone and tenor in order to keep that storyline compelling both within and between songs. And somehow everything remains connected to those early roots even as it reaches to remember all the branches and blossoms of the band’s experience since, so that the feel of The Wake is at once fresh and familiar; the Voivod you’ve always known doing the thing you know so well even better than you could have hoped.” [LONE WATIE]
3. JUDAS PRIEST – FIREPOWER
“Firepower is the best Judas Priest album since Painkiller, and more importantly, the first since then that could fit comfortably after that record without being too far in the shadows. It’s a damned good metal record from an absolutely great metal band, older now and far removed from the classic days, but proving once again that they’ve still got both the fire and the power.” [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
2. DECEASED – GHOSTLY WHITE
“The bring it chorus in “Thoughts from a Leaking Brain”; the irresistibly classic metal riffs and huge “The devil is real! The devil is real!” passage in “To Serve the Insane”; the sudden riff-and-rhythm call-to-arms moment in “Pale Surroundings”; such signature spots are a, well, signature of the band, and seem to come totally naturally. Fowley’s vocals are the most recognizable element, but everything about the Deceased sound is based on personality, charisma, and fun, straight down to the spooooooooky samples.” [ZACH DUVALL]
1. AMORPHIS – THE QUEEN OF TIME
“Queen of Time picks up where Under the Red Cloud left off in that regard, but with perhaps an additional achievement unlocked for delivering even more moments that make the heart swell to the point of eruption—moments that make a strong case for generating the following absurd statement: just how much you’re going to love this record matters less than how much it’s going to love you, and buddy, Queen of Time is gonna wrap itself around you tighter than a pet reticulated python that knows you have chickens in your pants. Or…something a lot more snuggly and sentimental than that.” [CAPTAIN]