2018 was a very strange year for me.
I started the year with an intracranial hemorrhage (I’m fully recovered now, thanks) and ended the year with a marriage (she may never fully recover, thanks). Through it all, through the ups and downs and in-betweens, there’s always Last Rites because there’s always metal. I’ve been listening to heavy metal now for thirty years, give or take, and this last year was my tenth one as a writer at Last Rites, so those twin bastions of metallic greatness have proven to be among the constants in the private Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride that is my life. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, even if it means I have to put up with this mötley crüe of goofballs and idjits for another year or so.
This time of year, I usually spend the next few weeks scouring everyone else’s year-end lists for everything I missed. So though there are still countless dozens of albums I never got around to in 2018, there were at least three dozen that clogged my earholes perfectly for these 12 months. I spent about five or so minutes culling that 36 down to 20-ish for you, faithful reader, and the results of that thoroughly scientific process are conveniently listed below.
CLEVER TITLE FOR NUMBERS 20-11
20. Monstrosity – The Passage Of Existence
Even as I sit here and type the words “Monstrosity is one of those bands that will never get the credit they’re due,” I know deep down that I also have a tendency to forget about Monstrosity. These Floridians have been churning out quality death metal for decades, since the first wave was a ripple, and The Passage Of Existence is another (ahem) monster, just tech-y enough, just thrashy enough, all old-school and ripping, and therefore, all good.
Don’t believe me? Well, you’ll have to—we didn’t cover this album. (I told you that Monstrosity doesn’t get enough love.)
19. Extremity – Coffin Birth
And speaking of “old school,” new old-schoolers Extremity school us all in the fine art of classic death metal with their debut, which is equal parts filth and finesse. Of course, with members in (or having been in) Khorada, Vhol, Ludicra, Agalloch, Cretin, Repulsion, Vastum, Exhumed, and Ulthar, we expected nothing short of awesomeness. And we got it.
Don’t believe me? Ask Professor Sessions.
18. Visigoth – Conquerer’s Oath
Everything old can indeed feel new again — Visigoth is proof enough of that. There’s been no shortage of retro-minded traditional metal acts in the past however many years, many decent and some occasionally rising above the mire. What’s refreshing about Visigoth is that they get traditional metal right, not just the sounds and the subject matter, but the intangible spirit, the feel, the power. And what’s best about Conquerer’s Oath is that it improves upon the already winning formula of The Revenant King, so not only is Visigoth damned good, they’re only getting better.
Don’t believe me. Ask an idiot.
17. Horrendous – Icon
Horrendous’ Ecdysis topped our staff-wide 2014 list, and Anareta placed within the top ten the following year, despite being a better album (that one was a tougher year, I reckon), so it’s safe to say we tend to enjoy our Horrendous around here. With a markedly greater focus on the progressive death side of their formula, Icon shows Horrendous continuing to expand and explore, finding new footing along the way. Another feather in the cap of one of modern death metal’s most consistently strong outfits.
Don’t believe me? Ask a giraffe.
16. Tomb Mold – Manor Of Infinite Forms
Death metal has had a hell of last few years, and 2018 thankfully continued that trend, with greatness from the old guard and the new kids alike. Toronto’s Tomb Mold dropped their second record almost square in the middle of it, and Manor Of Infinite Forms (them forms just go on and on and on…) is both a continuation of and an improvement upon last year’s debut Primordial Malignity, which is to say that it’s more murky and riffy death metal that manages to sound both vintage and fresh at once.
Don’t believe me? Ask Dr. Tysinger.
15. Sulaco – The Prize
“The spazzy grinders in Sulaco came loaded for war. The Prize is state of the badass art technical grindcore. It’s got independently targeting particle beam phalanx riffs; you could fry half a city with these puppies. It’s got tactical smart missile riffs; it’s got phased plasma pulse rifle riffs; it’s got rhythms that hit like RPGs; it’s got a stout production and an appropriately gnarly tone, a sonic electronic ball-breaker. It’s got the power of nukes, the cutting edges of knives, and all the subtlety of sharp sticks.”
Don’t believe me? Ask… me, and you can read that quote again.
14. Human Cull – Revenant
England’s Human Cull returns after four years off with a sharpened attack — Revenant is still grinding, raw, ugly, but it’s also more focused, more refined, just better. Earlier Cull efforts were strong, but this one’s simply stronger. No books are being rewritten, no horizons broadened. No ground is broken, but yet the horizon and the ground are leveled, scorched, devastated, and that’s the point.
Don’t believe me? Ask… well, it’s also me.
13. Scorched – Ecliptic Butchery
Yet another relatively young death metal band that gets the old school vibe just right without sounding slavish or rehashed, Scorched pummels with an organic, stout, and positively destructive take on the classic formula, as beautifully retro as that “Amazing Tales Of Horror And Weirdness #57” album art. Rarely do album covers perfectly sum up the music within, but Ecliptic Butchery does just that — a little rough, a lot macabre, very classic and yet clearly showing some disparate influences. A thing of gloriously ugly beauty, within and without.
Don’t believe me? Ask another thing of gloriously ugly beauty.
12. Six Brew Bantha – Blight
Canadian three-piece grindcore unit Six Brew Bantha make up for their goofball name through the time-honored tradition of riffs. Riffs and riffs. Riffs and riffs and riffs. And also screaming. And blastbeats. And grooves. And riffs. Riffs that go this way, and then that way, and then the tempo changes from super-fast to just kind of fast, and then there’s a riff and there’s another riff, and a lot more yelling and screaming (with some profoundly poetic lyrics, I might add), and then also a riff. All of these things are good, and together, they’re damned great.
Don’t believe me? Ask a fine fellow, and also some other people about some other albums.
11. Binah – Phobiate
Britain’s Binah takes the Swedish death metal sound, the HM2 buzzsaw bite, and uses it not to merely recreate Sunlight Studios’ signature sonics, but as a building block to grow a new branch on death metal’s evolutionary tree. Both atmospheric and vicious, Phobiate is an absolutely killer collection of well-constructed and brilliantly composed death metal, an album that shows this relatively young outfit is clearly cut out for the big leagues.
Don’t believe me? Ask the Professor about this one, too.
A DIFFERENT CLEVER TITLE FOR TOP 10
10. HOODED MENACE – OSSUARIUM SILHOUETTES UNHALLOWED
New vocalist Harri Kuokkanen arrives for this one, and though it wasn’t as if the previous Hooded Menace efforts were shabby in any regard, heretofore unimagined improvements were made; the whole got stronger at the same time that the approach remained largely the same. The death / doom remains deathy and doomy, and Lasse Pyykko’s guitar melodies weave amidst those subterranean-sounding, bone-crushing riffs, and now it’s all turned up to 11. No one knew Hooded Menace needed improvement, but damned if it didn’t work out.
Don’t believe me? Ask a genius.
9. SLUGDGE – ESOTERIC MALACOLOGY
On the surface, Slugdge would seem to be among the silliest bands around — and maybe they are, but then when you scrape off the slime, well, there’s a deadly serious wealth of killer tech-ish, melo-esque, somewhat black-y death metal beneath, all perfectly polished and filled to the brim with riffs… and also bad slug puns. What more could we mere dim and slime-ridden mortals ever ask from the Greatfather Mollusca?
Don’t believe me? Ask our team of expert archaeologists.
8. SATAN – CRUEL MAGIC
Three albums back now, Satan’s return was one of the strongest comebacks in quite awhile, and these re-energized NWOBHMers show no signs of slowing down now. Speedy and melodic, with some killer riffs and catchy hooks, Cruel Magic isn’t outside the box, of course — no one would expect otherwise. Sometimes you just want a new take on an old sound, and who better to bring it than the same old dogs that brought you Court In The Act about 4000 years ago?
Don’t believe me? Ask that Tysinger boy again.
7. AMORPHIS – QUEEN OF TIME
Coming off one of their strongest albums… well, ever… Amorphis lands on their feet with one of their strongest albums… well, ever. Again, this one’s also not particularly outside the box, mind you — it’s more of the same epic, sometimes gothic, folk-influenced, occasionally doomy, somewhat death-y, and overall excellent brand of greatness they’ve been perfecting for ages, but it’s just that they… well, they’ve perfected it, improving up on the already great by simply becoming greater. That’s a lot of italics for emphasis, I know, but dammit, this album deserves them.
Don’t believe me? Ask the first idiot.
6. CRIPPLE BASTARDS – LA FINE CRESCA DA DENTRO
Nero In Metastasi showed Cripple Bastards at the top of a new direction, sharper and more polished than their earlier efforts, but still possessing that fiery fury that defines them. This latest effort is a step back towards the raw, punky, crusty violence that characterized the days of Variente alle morte and Desperately Insensitive, but most importantly, La fine cresca da dentro is packed full of those killer grind/death/punk/thrash riffs that the Bastards are just ever so good at composing. A damn fine grinder from Italy’s angriest.
Don’t believe me? Ask a goddamn sexual tyrannosaurus.
5. JUDAS PRIEST – FIREPOWER
Redeemer Of Souls was… not as good as many people believed. But hey, Firepower IS that good. It’s the return to form that we’ve all been waiting for, and it’s easily the best Priest album since Painkiller, nearly 30 years ago. Halford sounds great; the songs are strong, memorable, filled with all the hallmarks of classic Priest-y greatness; the tandem of Faulkner and Tipton are jelling well, and… well, there’s that whole “Glenn Tipton having Parkinson’s and then retiring” thing to put a little damper on the matter, but if he can’t tour for now, hopefully he can still keep writing, and if nothing else, at least he’s bowing out after releasing one more barn-burner.
Don’t believe me? Ask the new boss, same as the old boss.
4. GHOST – PREQUELLE
Ghost’s conversion into arena rock superstars takes a huge leap here, with hooks guaranteed to earworm their way into your brain, with the Satanism scaled back to meet the masses halfway, with a batch of Tobias Forge’s greatest tunes, with a weirdly progressive instrumental number with soaring saxophone played by a new Pope… It’s silly; it’s fun; it’s theater; it’s “heavy metal” that is mostly just rock ‘n’ roll. It’s also very damned good, no matter what the haters will tell you.
Don’t believe me? Ask the shining and the light.
3. DECEASED – GHOSTLY WHITE
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Deceased is just goddamned fun. Like the kind of fun you can only get from the electric riff, the pounding drums, the instantly hooky chorus, sing/shout/scream-ing along in the front row while a great band rips through great songs in front of you. Blurring the lines between the death, thrash, and traditional streams of metal, Deceased has carved out a wonderful spot at the crossroads, and though they aren’t the most prolific band around (it took them seven years to make this one), Ghostly White is nevertheless another pile of greatness in a decades-long run of successes. Deceased is just goddamned fun.
Don’t believe me? Ask this yo-yo.
2. VOIVOD – THE WAKE
The curiously brain-melting cover art fits perfectly the expectedly brain-melting music within. Voivod is one of the all-time greats, one of metal’s finest and brightest for decades now, and The Wake is another knockout punch delivered with precision and panache. Guitarist Chewy fits right in, composing perfectly Piggy-ish riffs and leads, alongside the original tandem of Snake and Away. The fact that a band is making music this great this far into their career is impressive, but then again, it’s Voivod, so it’s always been impressive, and may it always be.
Don’t believe me? Ask the Native American fellow from The Outlaw Josie Wales.
1. WAKE – MISERY RITES
Lots of waking going on up here at the top of this list. The Calgary-based grinders in Wake released a monster of an album a few years back in Sowing The Seeds Of A Worthless Tomorrow, and they topped it wholly with this one, improving in every capacity over what was already a damned fine start. A conceptual song-cycle about addiction and relapse, Misery Rites is a smart, sharp, caustic, and utterly brutal attack, filled with rage and riff, and by gum, doesn’t that just sound perfect? Why, yes. Yes, it does.
Don’t believe me? Ask God.
DO YOU HAVE MORE TO LIST?
Yes, I do. Thanks for asking.
PERHAPS A LIST OF EPs?
Oh, that’s a grand idea. Here, look at these:
Abhorrence – Megalohydrothalassophobic
Short record, long title, great Finnish death metal. ‘Nuff said.
Rotten Sound – Suffer To Abuse
Shorter record, inverse title from the previous full-length and yet just more of that sweet killer Swedeath-inflected grindcore from a band that never disappoints. You know what you’re getting into, and you like it.
No/Mas – Raíz Del Mal
Technically, I think this is a full-length, but it’s like ten minutes long, so does it go here, or does it go after the next header? Who cares? It rips. Crusty grindy hardcore-punky goodness that you need in your ears.
PERHAPS A LIST OF HONORABLE MENTIONS?
Well, funny that you bring it up, because I’d like to give a shout-out to a few records by old favorites that narrowly missed my list for different reasons. These are they:
Metal Church – Damned If You Do
The gods of wrath are still going mostly strong — Damned isn’t as consistent as XI, but it’s still better than it should be, this far into their career. This one was a late entry that may not have found a spot in the above, but never had time to really grow on me, and regardless, Metal Church rules and I like talking about them only slightly less than I like listening to them.
Napalm Death – Coded Smears And More Uncommon Slurs
When a compilation of nearly twenty years of leftovers and left-behinds is better than most bands’ best work… well, that’s when you’ve achieved total godhood. Though I initially included it in the list above because it works incredibly well as an album in its own right– it placed in the lower 10, for the record — I decided that it was better to feature down here and allow another entry on the main list. Either way, Coded Smears is a monster, filled with modern Napalm-y goodness, and you should hear it. Long live Napalm Death.
PERHAPS A NOD TO ABSENT FRIENDS?
As it goes every year, tragedies occur, and people we love and respect depart this mortal coil for whatever lies beyond. As our beloved art form ages, we’ve all endured our share of dying heroes in the past decade or so, but this year hit a little closer to home because this year cost me a hero I actually knew. I had the honor of meeting Mark “The Shark” Shelton on multiple occasions — in a tornado-stricken field in Ohio, where he joked about bringing the weather with him from Kansas; in the crowd at Maryland Deathfest, where he watched The Melvins with the Last Rites crew; in a strange basement bar in Indiana, just before Manilla Road laid waste to the place with killer riffs, epic songs, and those sweet, sweet Shark guitar solos. I won’t say I knew him well, but he was always happy to chat, to laugh, to call you “brother,” to wish you a Happy Birthday via social media from wherever he was. We all know he rocked like, but aside from that, in person, he was as nice a guy as we could’ve ever asked him to be. Manilla Road’s legacy is cemented forever; their catalog of great heavy metal speaks for itself. Shark leaves that behind for all of us to enjoy, and the world is a better place because of it.
Additional thank yous and RIPs to these fallen brethren whom I never had the pleasure of meeting: Killjoy, Tim Calvert, Bret Hoffmann, Randy Rampage, Ralph Santolla, Pat Torpey, Todd Youth, Fast Eddie Clarke, and anyone else I may have forgotten. Death sucks, but it’s inevitable. Live while you can.
PERHAPS A CLOSING STATEMENT?
Nah, I’m done. Thanks for reading. Here’s to 2019.