Brian O’Neill’s Top Albums of 2018
In sports they say that you can’t judge a draft for five years. That’s true for a lot of reasons that are too obvious to waste time getting into, but the main logic is that you need a few years of perspective to truly judge if that wide receiver your favorite team passed over was worth picking instead of the cornerback they actually did choose.
The thought process may carry over a little bit because historical perspectives can change how an album is perceived. This is why a living list such as at Rate Your Music where decades-old albums can jockey for position to this day based on new reviews is cool. For shits and giggles check out the top metal albums five years ago and you’ll see Deafheaven, Satan, The Ocean, Summoning, Tribulation and Windhand whose latest albums will pepper this year’s list. All of them were pretty highly rated at the time too.
Still, just like in sports you’ll have promising talent that never is fulfilled. In sports it’s a knee injury; in music it could be musical differences. That still doesn’t stop ESPN from issuing draft grades ten seconds after picks are made, and it won’t stop me from ranking my favorite (mostly) metal albums now. Just get back to me in 2023 and I might make a few changes.
20. Summoning – With Doom We Come (Napalm Records, Austria)
19. Slugdge – Esoteric Malacology (Willowtip Records, United Kingdom)
18. D.O.A. – Fight Back (Sudden Death Records, USA)
17. Stone Deaf – Royal Burnout (Coffin & Bolt Records, USA)
16. Spiral Skies – Blues For A Dying Planet (Art Of Propaganda, Sweden)
15. Khemmis – Desolation (20 Buck Spin, USA)
14. Witch Mountain – Witch Mountain (Svart Records, USA)
13. The Young Mothers – Morose (Super Secret Records, USA)
12. Screaming Females – All At Once (Don Giovanni Records, USA)
11. Amigo The Devil – Everything is Fine (Regime Music Group, USA)
Cloud Rat is beholden to no one and will release a ton of vinyl singles, 12” LPs and splits with like-minded bands through a slew of independent labels before finally compiling all of them onto a single CD. Clipped Beaks // Silk Panic merges a year and nearly two dozen songs onto one shiny, furiously fast and uncompromising compact disc. Among the usual short blasts lies “Holding The Picture,” an 18-minute psychedoom noise du force unlike anything Cloud Rat has done, yet somehow it still fits perfectly.
If the heralded Children of the Night was Tribulation solidifying its sound, Down Below sees the Swedes perfecting their unparalleled evolution of Swedish death metal. If anything the band takes the outside influences and make them slightly more prominent; the glam is glammier, the ‘80s New Romanticism seems even more authentic (“The World” could be a growling Spandau Ballet B-side) and “Nightbound” might be even poppier than “Melancholia.”
As I said in my Invisible Oranges album review, “The only thing more surprising than Satan’s reemergence has been how solid the band has been since coming back.” Three albums into one of the most remarkable comeback stories in metal history, the same Satan lineup that made 1983’s Court in Act is releasing majestic albums. No time machine is needed to go back to when the NWOBHM was emerging; just listen to Cruel Magic.
Killer Machine is probably not as immediate as 2014’s Shake Electric despite the band bringing in pop Svengali Peter Kvint to co-write a couple of songs. There is also a slight detraction from the band’s love of all things ‘70s, however write riffs as catchy as on “Like A Wild Child,” “Dead or Alive” and “So Easy” and have Ann-Sofie Hoyles become an even more confident bad ass frontperson make this a fantastic album for any decade.
The case can be made that The Wake is the first album where guitarist Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain was able to fully step outside the long shadow of Denis “Piggy” D’Amour. Although he played on 2013’s Target Earth, it was the first release after using two albums worth of Piggy guitar and a mercenary Jason Newsted on bass and seemed to reside in the same realm. Whereas now, the Quantum evolution the band is known for is back. “The End of Dormancy” is one of the band’s best songs and this is one of the band’s best albums which is insane to say after all these years, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
It’s a cliché: A musician who had to face his own mortality survives after nearly falling into the abyss and comes back to make the best album of his career. But just because it can be a Hollywood script doesn’t make it any less true for Mike Scheidt and it doesn’t make Our Raw Heart any less brilliant. This is some of the most uplifting, regenerative doom metal ever made by a man thankful to be able to make it. Yob is love, don’t ever forget it.
That '70s Show returns with the doom mostly replaced by genuine pop-craft as if Bowie joined Big Star or Cheap Trick. My wife is a crafty type who has decried glitter as something that gets all over everything and you can’t get rid of it. She doesn’t like it but when we’re talking about the kind of glitter that gets into brains and refuses to go anywhere, such as on “Shockwave City,” that’s perfectly acceptable.
They have a terrible band name that sounds more like some second rate trap rap troupe. They’re not metal or even metal-adjacent; in fact, they’re at best country-adjacent. But I cannot get Jessica Price’s vulnerable yet powerful voice out of my head, nor the band’s twangy indie-rock songcraft. Come for “Southern” which has the same shimmery-twitchy feel of old Cure singles and stay for “Run Wild”’s sultry, haunting hipster blues. Cursive’s Tim Kasher knows, since he released In Rounds on his 15 Passenger label.
Vance Kortla drummed in a death metal band Black Spiral (their 1999 debut is available on Bandcamp) before leaving Texas for Los Angeles, He did okay for himself - nominated twice for a Hugo Award for the best Science Fiction fanzine, winning a Los Angeles Area Emmy for Independent Programming – though he certainly saw the “waitresses and millionaires who disappear into the desert air” that he sings about on the title track of Dreamers & Runaways. His lush, smooth baritone not unlike Nick Cave narrates smartly-penned lyrics atop the reverberating vibrato of cello.
It could have fallen upon itself as gimmicks tend to do. The Devil is Fine, the mashup of black metal and black music -- pre-Antebellum spirituals to be exact -- should never have been as good as it was. And a follow-up should never have been even better, yet Stranger Fruit once again is greater than the sum of its parts. Those parts bring in even more influences, and take it all into the present, sounding as modern as the most slickly produced R&B or epic metal ever could. Just way better than all of that, and for me, way better than anything else that came out this year.