It was a year of good metal, it was a year of fake metal. Each year metal becomes more and more diverse culturally, aesthetically, and sonically. Whether it is blending elements of black metal and crust punk to create something beautiful, or sticking to something that still sounds good, metal can go in so many directions. With the rise of streaming services, bands from across the world can literally release their music for all the world to hear. Even with the tape trading days long behind us, that thirst to find every great band is stronger than ever. With websites like Bandcamp, we have quick access to anything an artist has to offer be it mp3 downloads, LPs, or pins. Something that was recorded in a West Virginia basement can now be found in India thanks to the internet. Us at Metal Nexus even make it an effort with our State of The Art pieces that deep dive into bands from different states you might not have known about yesterday. I was able to discover so many fantastic bands this year because of streaming services. A lot of the bands on this list I discovered this year and their music became lodged in my brain so I had to add some of them to this year’s album list. The metal community’s driven passion for the music cannot be wasted on just talking about the new record. Listen to the record. Buy the record. Go to the show. Buy a t-shirt at the show. I am going to try my best and do the same in 2019.
10. At the Gates – ‘To Drink From the Night Itself’
Since the departure of Anders Björler, At the Gates recorded and released their sixth studio album ‘To Drink From the Night Itself.’ This album is their second release since their 2014 reunion with ‘At War With Reality.’ Now with Johan Stålhammer on guitar, At the Gates reminds us all that melodic death metal would not be what it is without them. The title track is the most enticing on the album – taking notes from their own successes with ‘Slaughter of the Soul,‘ doing a trapeze act with catchy riffs and moments of softer cleaner tone. Songs like “Daggers of Black Haze” really let them show off their abilities as a unit, changing riffs both acoustically and electrically. The only gripe I have with this album is the mixing and production. It feels like a 90s style of production that could be improved in 2018. Other than that, there were really killer tracks like “Palace of Lepers” and “In Death They Shall Burn” that had that thrashy edge that At the Gates is known for. A worthwhile return for the 90s death metal legends.
9. Behemoth – ‘I Loved You at Your Darkest’
Carrying the satanic torch into 2018 was Poland’s Behemoth with ‘I Loved You at Your Darkest.’ One of the most controversial bands in mainstream metal today, they have always had a tone of anti-theism and satanism. For example, the album begins with the track “Solve” and ends with “Coagvla,” alchemic terms that many occult groups have taken as their own inspiration for metaphysical and philosophical teachings. Behemoth blends elements of black metal, thrash, and death metal and they have found the right formula that draws large audiences globally. Sharing the stage with bands like Slayer and Lamb of God, Behemoth have risen in their ranks since the release of 2014’s ‘The Satanist.’ One of my favorite tracks from ‘I Loved You at Your Darkest’ was “Bartzabel.” Combining a heavy percussion and riffs with haunting Gregorian chants is what makes Behemoth stand out as not only an extreme band, but a good pallet cleanser for even heavier, maybe more obscure artists. With frontman Nergel, who has even dipped his toe into country, Behemoth will stay strong as one of the household names of metal today.
8. Iron Reagan & Gatecreeper – ‘Split’
At first glance, a split LP between Iron Reagan and Gatecreeper would not work. The two Relapse Records artists could not have been any more compatible with this crushing album. Between Iron Reagan’s prolific crossover thrash and Gatecreeper’s desert-dwelling death metal, the energy is never lost between tracks from either artist. Some of my favorite tracks from Iron Reagan were “Warning” and “Take the Fall,” both providing memorable riffs without wearing them out. While Gatecreeper did not have nearly as many tracks, they brought their “A” game. “Daybreak” was a nice introductory track, but with only so many tracks it almost felt like a waste. “Dead Inside” and “War Has Begun” are devastating tracks that get me really excited to see what is in store for Gatecreeper in the future.
7. Nervosa – ‘Downfall of Mankind’
I’m so thrilled we got a Nervosa full-length this year. The Brazillian thrash trio never disappoints with their patriarchy smashing riffs and politically-charged lyrics. I’m always so impressed with three-pieces in metal because they are able to accomplish so much with three musicians where some bands would need five. After a lot of time on the road, Nervosa brought us their third release ‘Downfall of Mankind.’ The entire album is a galloping warhorse, with sword drawn ready to lop some bigoted heads clean off. Guitarist Prika Amaral provides not only catchy riffs, but she flexes her soloing abilities with tracks like “…And Justice for Whom?” and “No Mercy.” Fronted by Fernanda Lira, she commands a valkyric energy with powerful lyrics and vocals. My favorite tracks are “Never Forget, Never Repeat” and “Kill The Silence” because they each have such palpable energy in the political climate we are cursed to exist in. I cannot wait to see what else Nervosa has in store for us in 2019.
6. Funeral Chic – ‘Superstition’
Funeral Chic casts a dark shadow over hardcore, combining punk energy with a black metal aesthetic that blends oh-so-nicely. The rhythm section provides an intense D-beat with haunting reverberated vocals. A band like Funeral Chic is needed our political climate, carrying the “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” torch into the future. Vocalist Dustin Carpenter’s vocal style is resentful and angry, full of scoffs of disgust and hatred. The band’s pain can be felt in tracks like “Left Alone” and “Deep Pockets.” For those who said punk is dead, they were absolutely wrong. Punk never went away. It slithered underground, evolving and adapting. As a result, we have Funeral Chic who sit comfortably amongst their peers at Prosthetic Records, with bands like Neckbeard Deathcamp. One of my favorite tracks, “Say No” is such a strong track from opening lyric to the breaking outro. ‘Superstition’ is a coup-inducing masterpiece that may inspire someone to fight back against that which oppresses them.
5. Cult Leader – ‘A Patient Man’
Cult Leader’s sophomore release ‘A Patient Man’ helps them stand out amongst the rest. This album has bi-polar tendencies – one side is aggressive hardcore energy that doesn’t seem to wear out, while the other half has a sludgy doom side with melancholy lyrics and melodies. The single, “I Am Healed”, opens up the album with neck-breaking ferocity and power. This same energy is carried along with “Curse of Satisfaction” and “Isolation in the Land of Milk and Honey.” It is with the track “To: Achyls” the tone of the journey changes. Achyls is the Greek goddess of misery, making the title dreadfully appropriate. This song and other tracks like it on the album show the band’s range of talent, especially with vocalist Anthony Lucero. His clean vocals on this track channel the energy of the late Peter Steele (Type O Negative). In the coming winter months, I will be returning to this album frequently.
4. Khemmis – ‘Desolation’
Khemmis released their third album, ‘Desolation‘ earlier in 2018, in many formats, like many others last year. I was fortunate enough to get a copy of the LP and I love it. Khemmis is a metal band that doesn’t necessarily follow too many formulas or do anything that is by the book. They describe themselves as a doomed heavy metal band, but they don’t paint themselves into a corner as any specific sub-genre. They create these epic tracks that hardly ever go under five minutes while keeping a nice pace that doesn’t become exhausting. Now with this record, they have found their own voice as a unit. Blending so many styles instrumentally and vocally, they are not a doom metal band in the traditional sense. For doom purists, this record may turn them off. A shorter more melodic track “Isolation” may not attract someone who was a fan of the previous records. As someone who came up listening to bands like Metallica and Black Sabbath (like a lot of us), Khemmis is a cool blend of both sounds. It is surprising that they have not reached more fans with their welcoming but heavy sound. I hope these guys are able to reach more fans because their sound is very accessible and theiy’re too talented to not be more well known.
3. High on Fire – ‘Electric Messiah’
‘Electric Messiah’ is High on Fire’s eighth full-length release and was some of their best work yet. With this lineup now going 10+ years strong, they have really gotten their gritty sound down to a science. Working again with Kurt Ballou (Converge, Torche, Kvelertak), ‘Electric Messiah’ is a favorite among longtime High on Fire fans. With tracks like “Spewn From the Earth,” they come out of the gate swinging with a filthy riff and strong vocal presence from frontman Matt Pike. High on Fire also presented one of the most fitting tribute’s to the metal god Lemmy Kilmister with the title track, “Electric Messiah.” I wrote earlier this year that this track had an amazing Motörhead aesthetic without straying too far from the High on Fire sound. While staying gruff, Pike’s vocals are strong and coherent with each track. Even though they had to miss their fall tour with Municipal Waste, Toxic Holocaust, and Haunt, High on Fire will be back on the road in 2019.
2. Sleep – ‘The Sciences’
Sleep’s triumphant return on 4/20 could not have been more appropriate. With so much time apart, guitarist Matt Pike and vocalist/bassist Al Cisneros each now bring something from their other projects with them. Cisneros creates a mystic atmosphere with both his bass playing and vocals – something he brings to the table from Om. Pike brings aggressive riffs without losing focus on the task at hand: Sabbath-worship. The entire album is a mix of epic, long riff journeys like “Antarcticans Thawed,” while there are shorter galloping tracks like “Marijanaut’s Theme” as well. With the addition of Jason Roeder (Neurosis) on drums, the album is pounding with a strong and thunderous rhythm. While Sleep is not known for being prolific, each of their releases is a top-shelf masterpiece. Now the household name of stoner metal, Sleep continues to blow everyone away with their numbingly loud riffs and clever songwriting.
1. Windhand – ‘Eternal Return’
A lot of the bands on this list I discovered more or less within the past year or so. One of my favorite discoveries this year was the Richmond doom outfit Windhand. Fronted by Dorthia Cottrell, the band has a heavy psychedelic sound while wearing their grunge influences on their sleeve. ‘Eternal Return’ is their strongest release yet, with a great strong mix between the instrumentals and vocals. Cotrell’s vocals are clear and consistent, while not overshadowing the riffs. I was struck down immediately by the first track “Halcyon,” which comes in galloping but rolls out a weighted and atmospheric riff. The album has long doomy tracks sprinkled in with short melodic breaks in between, with tracks like “Pilgrim’s Rest”. The album goes from cryptic melancholic hymns like “Grey Garden” to powerful spells like “Red Cloud.” I found myself coming back to this album over and over again more than the rest from 2018. Garrett Morris’ guitar work is so catchy with Cotrell’s vocals that can be both soft and strong. While the album is a bit more than an hour long, it is easily digestible for someone who wouldn’t always go for lengthy doom epic.