The Heavy Hymnals Metal Albums of 2018

I don’t care to do countdown lists, so here is my list of albums of 2018 in no particular order. At the bottom of the list there is a playlist with my a track I think best represents the album.

Behemoth - I Loved You at Your Darkest

This album marks the biggest departure from the tried and true Behemoth formula that we’ve seen yet. Since 2007 (year The Apostasy was released) the band has stuck with shorter names  for their albums and a modern black metal style. I Loved You at Your Darkest marks the first time the band has named an album after a Bible verse (Romans 5:8) as well as a return to their roots with a longer album name. It’s also a surprisingly experimental album from such an established band. The album features slower more blues inspired tracks on it like Bartzabel and God = Dog along with tracks with a more traditional sound from the band such as Wolves ov Siberia. Even with the fairly noticeable changes in style that the band has put into this album it still feels like a Behemoth album. Enough of the bands voicing comes through that you never forget who you are listening to. Infero unleashes some of his best drum work yet with Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica. Nergal keeps his distinct vocal work well presented in this album. Orion laid down solid bass work on the tracks.

Rivers of Nihil - Where Owls Know My Name

This album was released pretty early in the year and managed to find regular play on The Heavy Hymnal and my home all year. I honestly can’t praise this album enough. The mixing and master is top notch, the riffs are heavy, drums are aggressive and technical, and there is a god damn saxophone. Sign me the fuck up. As a recently convert to being a jazz music fan I really appreciated what this band was able to do with their tracks by adding a sax to the lineup. We’ve heard a lot of things from technical death metal bands, but this is one of the best gimmicks I’ve heard in a long time. While the band doesn’t want to be known as “the sax band” I hope they continue their innovative streak in a genre that all too often fails to push boundaries. This is an album that will continue to see heavy rotation in my playlists for a long time to come, and an excellent junior album to a band that has been on a streak of good releases the last 5 years. I can’t wait to hear what these folks have in store for us on their next album.

Toundra - Vortex

While not the heaviest band on this list they are certainly one of the best stylistically. Their albums are meant to be played in full and this album offers one of the best audio journeys they’ve ever produced. The band has been incredibly busy since their last release touring and decided to name this album after one of the venues they have fallen in love with during their life on the road. Tounda has been very outspoken that the believe this is their best album because of the special connection they feel with this venue. I have a hard time expressing why I like this album so much, but this has been one of my favorite albums released this year. The guitar work, drums, and melodies all flow together in such a way that you can’t help but tap your feet and bob your head with the music.

Long Distance Calling - Boundless

Long Distance Calling has been described as the best instrumental metal band that you’ve never heard of, and they often seem to be overshadowed by titans such as Mogwai, If These Trees Could Talk, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. This album, much like the Toundra album that I reviewed earlier creates an incredible complex and beautiful sonic soundscape for you to explore. Unlike other post-metal bands they don’t repeat a riff until it’s seared into your mind so much as they let the track evolve seemingly on it’s own as it plays (similar to a jazz band). The band has gone through several style changes throughout the years, but this album is a nice return to their roots. The album takes the simple stylings of Avoid the Light, and the production wizardry of Long Distance Calling and fuses it wonderful blend that highlights everything that makes post-metal such a special genre. This album features some of the best drum work and guitar effect usage the band has employed.

Skeletal Remains - Devouring Mortality

This album was a bit of a sleeper hit with me. It popped up in a similar artists list and I had never heard of the band but thought their name was awesome and decided to give it a listen. It has since then become one of my favorite albums this year. While the riff work is a bit on the safe side the aggressive sound of Devouring Mortality manages to stay incredibly catchy. I constantly find myself head bobbing and air drumming while listening to this album. The album does everything right and makes no serious missteps.

TesseracT - Sonder

It’s always impressive what these guys can produce. This is one of the best sounding albums I’ve heard all year. All the instruments are clearly presented, and the technicality that the band is known for is pushed further than their previous works. It always impresses me that bands like TesseracT can continue to push themselves further and further down that road and find new ways to develop their sound. As metal continues to push itself technically these guys will continue to find new avenues to explore. This alum is a must listen if you are a fan of djent or anything on the technical side of the spectrum.

Sulphur Aeon - The Scythe of Cosmic Chaos

This album barely made the cut for 2018. It was a super late release around the holiday season, which proved to work in it’s favor for me as I was spending more time in the car driving to and from holiday events so that gave me time to listen to this one. The only thing about this album that was a drawback for me was the tracks start to sound the same after the first 3 so the back half of the album seemed to get less play from me on subsequent listening than the first half.

Slugdge - Esoteric Malacology

By far one of the heaviest albums of the year. I can’t say enough positive things about this album. It saw constant play on the show, and at home. The chugging heavy riffs, the reverb vocals, shredding solos all come together to produce an epic album. If you are a metal fan, please listen to this album. I promise it will not disappoint.

Amorphis - Queen of Time

Another album that featured real guest instruments instead of keyboards or programming. If the metal world keeps up this trend of better production, and having guest collabs the genre might finally shake off it’s shackles of brick walled sound. Not only does this album sound beautiful, but the tracks feature some of the best work from Amorphis, who after a string of mediocre releases finally managed to capture some of the magic that they had during Skyforger. This album saw heavier play at home than it did on the show, but this is an album that is best listened to straight through versus picking individual tracks. I can not strongly recommend this album enough.

Obscura - Diluvium

This album hits all the technical beats you want in a tech death album. The guitar and bass work on this album is some of the best I’ve ever heard. The tracks all managed to be catchy while featuring ear burning levels of shred mastery. The drumming keeps pace with the rest of the band. The album run length is long enough that you don’t get tired of listening before it ends. I am really enjoying the trend of shorter albums this year.

Parius - The Eldritch Realm

This is the 2nd full length album from these folks, and they really crushed it with this album. Easily one of the best sounding metal albums of the year that I listened to. The album manages to feature some awesome tech death work while incorporating humor and homage to Lovecraftian horror and Twilight Zone. Again, it’s an album that falls on the extreme end of short with a 29 minute runtime, but I would rather have the album be shorter than what many of us are used to than be loaded with filler content. This is a band that seems to be getting better and better with each release, and I can’t wait to see what they have in store when they drop their junior album.

Haken - Vector

I think that I am a little biased when it comes to reviewing Haken albums because everything this band has produced is gold. Tracks like The Good Doctor, Puzzle Box, and A Cell Divides show off the band’s ability to incorporate synths and programming into their songs, and the acoustic bridges help the songs land. The catchy riff work, soaring synths, and tight drumming all lead in to the sound that can only be described as Haken. They do a great job incorporating sonic callbacks to previous works and riffing them into a new form. The album manages to be long enough to take you on a journey, but not so long that the band runs out of tricks before the end of it. Something else the band did that I wish was more common was release the instrumentals for the album.

Skeletonwitch - Devouring Radiant Light

This album making the list shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. I’ve regularly played tracks off it on the show and spent a solid month after it’s release detailing how it’s going to end up on my year end list. The fast paced guitar work, simple drumming, and upfront vocals work well to create a cohesive, fantastically produced album full of awesome moments. They band went with quality over quantity on the album and it really shows. All of the tracks feel like they belong on the album, and all have their memorable moments. Whether it be the pans and fills on Fen of Shadows, or the group chorus on Temple of the Sun.

Kevin Swenson