Dark Matter webzine's Top 10 Albums of 2018
From natural disasters and government corruption to being forced to share an office with Sandra in Marketing, the year 2018 has serviced us with more than its share of woeful tidings and catastrophes. And that’s all before The Great British Bake Off Christmas special finally sends us hurtling into a Trent Reznor-esque downward spiral of self-loathing and existential dread. But before we brace ourselves for another fresh host of forthcoming horrors lurking just around the corner (hello 2019!) let’s first reflect on what’s been an indisputably brilliant year for extreme metal. So, without further ado, it’s with much nerdish excitement and gushing superlatives that we present to you the Dark Matter webzine team’s Top 10 Albums of the Year.
FAYE COULMAN EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
ANAAL NATHRAKH ‘A New Kind of Horror’
Be it in the relentlessly battering throes of old school death or black metal’s wintry, tremolo-laden trappings, precious few dare to deviate beyond the rigidly inflexible rules and parameters of their chosen subgenre. Anaal Nathrakh, on the other hand, apparently didn’t get the memo. Not so much bending these established norms and conventions as violently smashing them to smithereens, ‘A New Kind of Horror’s’ nightmarish melange of blackened atmospherics, battering ultra-violence and mind-altering electronica is a jaw-dropping wonder to behold. And from King Diamond-esque shrieks of torment and careening stints of insanely paced riffage to desolate, war-torn atmospheres that palpably reek of despair, this is nothing short of a compositional masterpiece.
Aborted may originally hail from Belgium, but this bludgeoning, violently energised slab is certainly no sweetly palatable box of chocolates. And from sizeable hunks of relentlessly churning groove to deranged stints of hyperblasting insanity, the quintet’s 10th studio album displays in abundance all the blistering technical prestige you’d expect of this uber-talented collective. Seamlessly intermingled with a bloodcurdling host of deathly atmospherics spanning everything from black metal to ’80s horror, this is aggressive, darkly absorbing listening to devour. Bon appetit!
In a year that’s witnessed more landmark albums than you can shake a Varg Vikernes-endorsed morning star at, the spring of 2018 saw Shagrath and co. finally break their eight year-long radio silence with this gloriously bombastic and blackened epic. Melding classically frostbitten stints of muscular groove and caustic screams alongside a luxuriantly gothic array of symphonic flourishes and towering choral blasts extravagant enough to make Tim Burton weep pitch-black tears of joy, this is the unmistakable sound of a band at the crowning peak of their compositional powers. Simply stunning.
‘Northern Chaos Gods’
With all the humbling and immovable majesty of some vast primordial glacier nestled in the most remote and savagely inhospitable of frozen wastes, Immortal’s richly influential legacy is nothing if not enduring. Yet, for all the Norsemen's historic status as one of black metal’s earliest and most influential icons, latest record ‘Northern Chaos Gods’ is no jaded rehash or misty-eyed homage to past glories. And from whirling, insanely paced displays of abrasive riffage through to grandly expansive lines of ceaselessly churning bass groove, this frostbitten blizzard of a long-player is as fresh and vital as it is richly steeped in tradition.
‘Constellation of the Black Light’
Despite our shamelessly heavy bias toward all things Finnish and frostbitten over here at Dark Matter HQ, this blistering and beautifully orchestrated slab is quite deserving of all the gushing praise we’re about to heap upon it in shamelessly prolific excess. Featuring propulsive blasts of feral, unadulterated aggression and intricately wrought melodies that instantly recall the icy, chest-beating majesty of fellow countrymen Insomnium, ‘Constellation of the Black Light’ is an album gorgeously awash with untamed beauty and brutality. Brace yourselves, 'winter metal' is coming!
‘Repulsion For Humanity’
The notion of an extreme metal supergroup featuring members of Slipknot, Dragonforce and Mayhem may have raised more than a few purist eyebrows since news of the band first broke back in 2016. But from this seemingly disparate assortment of big-name talent comes a vicious, fluidly cohesive strain of death metal that audibly bristles with hostility and intensely sinister atmospherics. And from Joey Jordison’s relentlessly pounding trademark presence through to Frédéric Leclercq's blistering repertoire of lacerating licks and bone-scraping riffage, second opus ‘Repulsion For Humanity’ finds the all-star collective on exhilarating, relentlessly ultra-violent form.
‘The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze’
It’s a curious form of musical alchemy indeed that binds together Mantar’s varying strains of inky, subterranean groove, raggedly acerbic fretwork and dry-lung snarls into an electrifying formula that’s as supremely pissed off as it is impossible to pin down. And whether laying down supersized slabs of fat, blackly chugging bass or channelling the madly barrelling spirit of Motörhead, there’s no mistaking the pure, undiluted rage emanating from every violently energised inch of aptly-titled newie ‘The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze’. Richly informed by the frighteningly relevant concept of a blindly ignorant society mindlessly sleepwalking its way into inevitable disaster, it seems the world as we know it is assuredly going straight to hell. Happily for us though, the accompanying soundtrack is pretty fucking sweet.
‘Pure Eternal Hate’
From the mellow, sun-drenched climes of Cyprus comes an infinitely darker, deliciously brutal proposition whose violently energised hymns of hate instantaneously flood the senses with adrenaline. Combining explosive levels of aggression together with impeccably engineered precision and complexity, this exhilarating long-player is prime, relentlessly pummelling death metal at its finest.
‘Reflections of Torment’
There are certain records that require a smattering of time and patience in order to properly appreciate their various musical subtleties and nuances. And then there’s the likes of Wrathrone, whose coldly majestic presence and scalding, incandescent energy leaves the listener instantly dizzy with adrenaline. But despite the Finns’ instantaneously gratifying charm and prominently displayed love of old school death metal, ‘Reflections of Torment’ is an album equally brimming with electrifying freshness and originality. Crammed with a darkly absorbing plethora of groove-laden fretwork, pulverising blasts and sleekly agile twin guitars, theirs is a masterful, breathlessly suspenseful formula.
REALM OF WOLVES
Through inky, richly interwoven strands of scalding tremolo, Scandi-flavoured fretwork and echoing, exquisitely delicate atmospherics, it’s with seamless ease that these gifted Hungarians transport us to a place and time far removed from this grey and weary earthly realm. Layering influences as varied as glimmering, Alcest-tinged atmospheres and windswept acoustics alongside violent explosions of coldly blasting aggression, ‘Oblivion’ is surely one of the most mesmerising underground gems you’ll hear all year.
Amidst 2018’s exhausting catalogue of fraught global events, it was glorious to be offered the chance of an exhilarating escape into a shadowy, otherworldly realm with Dimmu Borgir’s latest high fantasy offering. 'Eonian' is a grandiose, symphonic metal odyssey sprung from the wildest of imaginings, all soaring choirs, haunting strings and epic crescendos imbued with lashings of high drama. Combining the most theatrical of black metal trappings with classically influenced raptures and twisting, serpentine vocals, this narrative-driven spectacular has all the technical splendour these versatile sorcerers of the darkest of arts are renowned for. Long after this year’s grubby affairs have faded from memory, the epic 'Eonian' will continue to inspire.
'Trident Wolf Eclipse'
After what seems like aeons, this year the mighty Watain were back with a vengeance. 'Trident Wolf Eclipse' is another gleefully overdone aberration of dark majesty, suitably seeped in sin and showcasing the group’s superior technical mastery of black metal’s inky underworld. This latest tour de force sees the demonic horde once more rampaging through blistering hellscapes torn apart by frenzied, spiralling blastbeats, giddying, almost unbearable stretches of tortured guitar and viscous vocals ripped from the gut. In a year strewn with the wreckage of political chaos, this is the most unnerving of laughter in the dark.
'The Arrow of Satan is Drawn'
A scathing condemnation of the irrational insanities of the current global climate, Bloodbath have reached new heights of sadistic wickedness with their latest timely masterstroke. Bracing, old school death metal at its most delectably savage, 'The Arrow of Satan' is a razor-blade dissection of humanity’s inevitable march towards its own destruction, a screaming pandemonium of torturous chords, riffs that grip like steel-jaw traps and the raging, blunt-edge vocals of Old Nick. Despite featuring the ambiguously named 'Chainsaw Lullaby', this dollop of depravity has enough existential anguish to ensure sleep eludes you for a very long time.
'I Loved You at Your Darkest'
As we headed into the twilight of the year, the Behemoth beast could be seen rearing its grotesque, pock-marked flanks, ready to spew up blasphemous blackened death straight from the netherworld. Embracing the anti-religious and occult themes beloved of the band, when the poetically titled 'I Loved You at Your Darkest' arrived it was met with universal acclaim. A twisted fairy-tale of malformed madness, Behemoth’s latest album is an inferno of demented drum-work and bone-crushing riffs, with liturgical choirs lurching right on the tortured edge of sanity, all set against an elegiac backdrop that slowly blackens the soul. Entranced listeners found themselves lost without hope in the all-encompassing, treacly darkness, dragged to depths unimagined before, even by Behemoth themselves
These peerless titans of heavy metal need no introductions, and this year was perhaps their most mind-blowing annus mirabiles since their 'British Steel' heyday. Anyone fortunate enough to be at Wacken or Bloodstock over the Summer will never forget their incredible live performances, masterfully structured around 'Firepower', their scorching new release. Magnificently recapturing their glory days, this dynamic album proved Priest still have what it takes to set the senses aflame, barrelling back at their blazing, incandescent best with a rollicking rollercoaster ride that encapsulates their distinctive, technically-dazzling guitar solos, habitual aggressive beats and head-shattering vocals. In 2018, Judas Priest transported us back to the Golden Age of metal in style
'Meditations' Nuclear Blast
Three decades after they first came roaring onto the scene, hyper-charged with rebellious fury, Kataklysm show no signs of slackening in pace. Their latest album is a merciless onslaught of the most rough and ready, enthusiastically energetic death metal, fortified with layers of built in thrash, pummelling, muscular blastbeats and searing vocals. Effortlessly employing their thorny ‘Northern hyperblast’ style and as brutishly wild as ever, 'Meditations' is a worthy addition to Kataklysm’s impressive discography.
The altar of metal must be frequently stained with fresh blood for it to survive and thrive. This year Warwickshire doom merchants Conjurer more than satiated that need – their debut album 'Mire' is startlingly good. Offering up quiet moments of simmering, doom-ridden tension punctuated by deep, throaty vocals before waves of aggression-laced riffage come crashing down, each track leaves sludge-sullied tidemarks in its wake. Those who gave Conjurer a shot at their busy time this year found it to be a worthy sacrifice indeed.
ANAAL NATHRAKH ‘A New Kind of Horror’
Anaal Nathrakh’s pulverising, bone-jarring extreme metal should come with a trigger warning. The band’s abrasive, relentless mix of death metal, black metal, industrial and grindcore never fails to leave the mind not just blown but smashed to smithereens. Their latest album is no exception, its every track spasming with pure unadulterated rage. Some days, sticking on 'A New Kind of Horror' was the only way to deal with the intense feelings of suppressed anger brought on by simply watching the news headlines in 2018.
'Downfall of Mankind'
Wavering somewhere between crushing despair and extreme rage, Nervosa’s unapologetic, punishing pure thrash perfectly captures the mood of the last 12 months. Their latest album is an aggressive, shredding slice of head-banging insanity, guaranteed to clear out the cobwebs and assuage those feelings of resentment at the state of the world as effectively as a good session with a punchbag. The musical equivalent of flipping the finger.
A FOREST OF STARS
'Grave Mounds and Grave Mistakes'
As the ups and downs of this turbulent year continued to wear us down, it was tempting to turn to the unique, darkly romantic style of progressive black metal group A Forest of Stars for a refuge of sorts. And yet the music of Forest isn’t what it seems; listen closely to their latest album release and there is something darker and more viscerally sinister going on. The bleak, Northern English lyrics steadily get angrier, more explicit and seem to waver on a knife-edge of desperation, the fluttering pipes and airy streams of folk melody that run through get wilder and more manic, and the raging percussion and palpitating strings gradually swell into raging torrents of sound about to burst their banks. Yet amongst these untethered cacophonies, there is something cathartic about this work of shattered beauty that can truly act as a balm to the weary soul.
'Melted On The Inch'
No slouches before when it comes to songwriting; the Wigan warriors have really lifted themselves on this one. Warm, woozy and bluesy they're rising out of the smoke-filled haze and in the stratosphere as their talent unfolds to rightfully take over the world.
'Forever Marching Backwards'
If the world is going to Hell in a handcart, you want Battalions at the wheel, one hand on the wheel and the other flicking the Vs. Sleek and spitting sludge-fuelled bile, they're the embodiment of work hard play hard ethos of the UK underground.
There's uneasy listening, and there's the tumult of Coilguns' relentless barrage. Purposely unrefined the production may be, but with its massive dense wall of guitars and slashing cymbals that looms tall, 'Millennials' is a dirty, nasty wrecking ball of an album.
CRIPPLED BLACK PHOENIX
Season of Mist
Consistently reinventing themselves, this is a record that carries the weight of the angst of our times. This is Floyd for a new generation with post-metal meditative sensibilities that's as heart-breaking as it is powerful.
HERE LIES MAN
'You Will Know Nothing'
For a true taste of something different, you can't beat New York's ecelectic Here Lies Man. Taking the 70s fuzz rock template and applying lashes of Afrobeat funk makes for one of the most authentically psychedelic trips of 2018.
Imagine a more playful take on the drug-fuelled misery of Eyehategod, and you have Manchester's Nomad in all their sludgy messy glory. 'Feral' is a rumble to be sure, but sharp rather than lumbering and lacerating rather than crushing in a gloriously low-fi way.
'The Wolf Bites Back'
You know what you're getting when Orange Goblin drop an album; you know what you're gonna get. Everything you could want is here: catchy riffs and gut-busting sing-a-longs abound, with every song a sky-punching triumph.