I have listened to a broad church this year, and not all of it the Church of Satan. I began writing for the zine Astral Noize in the summer, and as such my choices of the best albums released in 2018 are available here (numbers 99 and 84) and here (numbers 71, 64, 61 and 55). Featured below, in no particular order, are older releases or other new ones that didn’t make the Astral Noize list. Entrants from my previous best of lists have been left off, because you shouldn’t live in past, man.
A Storm of Light, Anthroscene (Translation Loss Records)
‘The narrowing of their sound is both a focusing and a limitation, and this makes Anthroscene a powerful, muscular listen, rather than a hugely exciting or daring one; the exploration is over. Nihilism on the nose.’
Jack Johnson, In Between Dreams (Brushfire Records)
Happy yet also thoughtful acoustic music.
Faustus, s/t (Navigator Records)
Folk music full of dark nights and terrible weather and dramatic harmonised singing.
Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon (EMI Records)
C’mon, you know this one, your Dad insisted you listen to it and you actually liked it. Glassy guitars, sax solos, roto drums, it’s deep, it flows, it’s about time, it’s a balance of everything, fuck it, it’s perfect.
Yob, Atma (Profound Lore Records)
The Yob: Song by Song pieces on this album will be coming soon(ish), but after the sludge of The Great Cessation, the more melodic nature of Atma is a welcome variation.
haarp, Husks (Housecore Records)
As a child you dreamt of driving a steamroller. They adorned your wallpaper. You graduated summa cum laude. You moved to the city. You have one of those green office lampshades. You stare out of your corner office window at the tiny cars, so far below. The mere thought of country fairs has come to haunt you. You’ve come to realise you will never drive that 1915 Aveling & Porter Britannia. Listen to me – you can do it. The path of a thousand miles starts with a single footstep. And that single footstep is listening to Husks by haarp. Low, rolling, intense sludge from New Orleans, thick enough to lay roads and heavy enough to crush all beneath.
Wolfmangler, Dwelling In A Dead Raven For The Glory Of Crucified Wolves (Aurora Borealis)
You’re lost in the Black Forest with wolves closing in.
Isis, Not in Rivers, But in Drops (Ipecac Records)
This is a single, consisting of two tracks culled from In The Absence of Truth. I’m still deciphering the hidden patterns of Oceanic so haven’t heard In The Absence of Truth, but if this is what got cut, I’m looking forward to having my mind blown. Drops of what? And why drops? Why not rivers?
Biffy Clyro, Infinity Land (Beggars Banquet)
They call it alternative rock. They call it experimental rock. They call it post–hardcore. But as The Ting Tings should have actually said, this is prog. Even having been released 14 years ago, Infinity Land is still some of the weirdest rock music going. Really weird.
Palms, s/t (Ipecac Records)
‘Characterised by reverb, shimmering guitars, light drumming and Chino Moreno’s clean vocals, Palms is mellow to the point of inducing slow motion.’
Martyrdöd, Elddop (Southern Lord)
Crusty D–beat which finds a balance between the assault of punk and the engaging quality of a melody which sticks. The lyrics are screamed or maybe in Swedish.
Mouth of The Architect, The Violence Beneath (Translation Loss)
Melodic, aggressive, hefty, raw and beautiful post–metal, featuring the platonic ideal of a roar and a highly inventive reinterpretation of Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes.
The Atlas Moth, An Ache For The Distance (Profound Lore Records)
If The Atlas Moth played cricket (does anyone play cricket in the U.S?) they would bowl medium–slow curveballs (I know, I’ve just brought baseball into this analogy, but you get the idea). It sounds huge, with multiple wheeling guitars panned side to side and the black metal screeches and gravelly clean vocals often developing a call and response pattern (Holes in the Desert).
Ahab, The Call of the Wretched Sea (Napalm Records)
Intense funeral doom album which translates Moby Dick into audio. Where Mastodon’s Leviathan painted in broad, energetic strokes, the oppressive, foreboding atmosphere of The Call of the Wretched Sea emphasises the horror story aspects of Moby Dick, conjuring images of Ahab (as in the captain of Pequod) throwing the sextant overboard. The music booms around whilst still crushing down like the weight of the sea, and it’s hard to associate the vocals, as gutteral as they, with coming out of the mouth of a human being.
The Pogues, If I Should Fall From Grace With God (Pogue Mahone/Warner Music)
A mix of traditional Irish folk, Shane MacGowan’s punk singing and a diverse array of world music. I want to be a Pogue.
Pelican, What We All Come To Need (Southern Lord)
Driving, instrumental post–metal. It can be hard for instrumental guitar music with no vocals to be memorable, but What We All Come To Need feels like the complete package. When The Creeper and Strung Up From The Sky kick in it brings that ethereal feeling of feeling like king of the valley.
Avenged Sevenfold, City of Evil (Warner Brothers)
Despite sitting at the commercial end of the spectrum (well, map) of metal, there is a strong element of the epic to City of Evil, consisting of 11 songs over 73 minutes, which vary in length from five to nine minutes. It’s flashy and fun – guitar heroics litter the whole album, which, whilst verging on cheesy on their other albums (particularly their self–titled 2007 album), are perfectly balanced here. The whole of the album, even dourer tracks Seize The Day and Strength of the World, are energetic, helped by the big production values, and the way that the intro of opener Beast and the Harlot gives way into that double kick pattern has become a landmark of modern metal.
Rise Against, Long Forgotten Songs (Interscope Records)
B–sides and covers in Rise Against’s punchy punk rock style. The covers include two of the best I have ever heard, Bob Dylan’s Ballad of Hollis Brown and Black Flag’s Nervous Breakdown
Inter Arma, Sky Burial (Relapse)
Sky Burial doesn’t take the genre–agnostic approach that Inter Arma would display on their later album Paradise Gallows, focusing a lot more on doom, but elements of this approach are clearly in their genesis, with death metal, Americana and a Pink Floyd influence mixed in with the aforementioned doom.
Deafheaven, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love (Anti–)
There’s a certain breed of wispy indie music in which there seems to be a competition who can have the most boring album art (not to mention the music – play a riff, goddammit). The cover art of Ordinary Corrupt Human Love threatens to take this title. An unfocused black and white photo shows what might be guitarist Kerry McCoy wearing sunglasses and a scarf walking down an even–more–out–of–focus city street. Given the distinctive artwork that adorned their previous three albums, and Deafheaven’s well–known focus on aesthetics, this is surprising. Have Deafheaven morphed into shoegaze, as their prior albums so often hinted they would? Well, yes and no, but what’s definite is that this transmutation has worked. Overall, it’s lighter than previous album New Bermuda, with more acoustic sections (You Without End) (which also includes a piano), clean vocals (Canary Yellow) and extended moments of ethereal reverb (Glint), but the shrieked vocals, tremolo picking and blast beats steer it well away from wispiness to strike a balance of light and dark.
‘I can’t believe it’s not black metal.’
Death, Individual Thought Patterns (Relapse)
More melodic than Death’s preceding album Human, this is metal that deliveries on all that technical metal promises without falling into its pitfalls. In fact, in terms of longevity, Death can be mentioned in the same breath as Metallica in how much they were ahead of their time, in the the scope of their influence and in the range of their evolution, with 1993’s Individual Thought Patterns a demonstration of each of these. There is a lot to unpack within these 10 tracks, with lots of of riffs, shredding and a watertight rhythm section including independent bass lines from Steve DiGiorgio on his fretless bass. Progressive, experimental death metal firing on all cylinders physically and intellectually.
‘I leave the known roads.’ – Chuck Schuldiner