The best metal albums of 2018

Photo: Zeal & Ardor (Stian Foss), Windhand (Joey Wharton), High On Fire (Jen Rosenstein), Graphic: Libby McGuire
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No sane, decent person could get through this year without experiencing at least a few flashes of rage or despair. Both are integral, of course, to the emotional language of heavy metal. In 2018, the genre provided a sturdy soundtrack to our collective meltdown, offering commiseration by the blast beat and power chord. These days, metal is a spectrum, spanning numerous subgenres, moods, and styles, and this year’s best fit no single template—it moved at a gallop and a crawl, dabbled in grunge and gospel, touched on the very real problems of the real world and paid its respects to a slug god from outer space. What the cream of the crop had in common was an ability to channel extreme feelings into thrilling, even beautiful music. Below, we’ve singled out our 10 favorites of the year, plus 10 honorable mentions for the truly ravenous. Because a bad year for the world was a good one for metal. Maybe that’s not a coincidence.

Churchburn, None Shall Live… The Hymns Of Misery

Over the past decade, some of the most exciting metal has offered a seamless blend of subgenres. Founded by Dave Suzuki of Vital Remains and Ray McCafferty of Grief, Churchburn effectively marries death metal’s frantic nature with the plodding intensity of doom. While the band’s debut showed promise, None Shall Live… The Hymns Of Misery truly defies categorization, providing triumphant lead parts that never sully its mournful atmosphere. [David Anthony]

High On Fire, Electric Messiah

Matt Pike’s first stoner-metal band, the legendary Sleep, hogged all the hosannas this year, thanks to rapturously received comeback album The Sciences. But the perennially shirtless ax man saved his best riffs for his more ferocious day job, paying tribute to late guitar god and Motörhead frontman Lemmy with a typically awesome collection of blistering anthems. As usual, you’d have to be stoned out of your gourd to bet against High On Fire. [A.A. Dowd]

Mammoth Grinder, Cosmic Crypt

It’s been five years since the last Mammoth Grinder album, and in that time the lineup has changed almost entirely, with Chris Ulsh—of Power Trip and Impalers fame—welcoming new members from crossover-thrash act Iron Reagan. But the band hasn’t changed its sound so much as dug in its heels and made a record that perfectly encapsulates its mix of metal chops and punk ethos. A dense assemblage of riff-fueled aggression and D-beat fury, Cosmic Crypt proves, most impressively, that Ulsh is in no danger of running out of steam, no matter how many different bands he squeezes into his busy schedule. [David Anthony]

Primal Rite, Dirge Of Escapism

With the rise of bands like Code Orange and Power Trip, the gulf that once separated punk from metal has all but closed. It’s at the midpoint between those two sounds that Primal Rite thrives. Though released on Revelation Records, the label responsible for any number of New York hardcore classics, Dirge Of Escapism plays as much like a crossover metalcore record; full of mosh-ready grooves and shredding leads, it offers a profound statement by throwing out the rulebook. [David Anthony]

Skeletonwitch, Devouring Radiant Light

Losing a lead singer can topple the mightiest band. Rather than try to continue down the path paved with ex-frontman Chance Garnette, this eminently moshable Ohio outfit took off in a new direction, trading its signature party thrash for a sweeping, grandiose style of black metal. Remarkably, the reinvention slays. By the end of the album’s rousing opening track, “Fen Of Shadows,” any grief over the band that was has been swallowed up by a triumphant hellfire. Skeletonwitch is dead. Long live Skeletonwitch. [A.A. Dowd]

Slugdge, Esoteric Malacology

Slugdge is blender music: In goes death metal and prog, out comes an ooze true to its name, thick and slimy. As demanding as the songs on Esoteric Malacology can be in length and virtuosity, they’re built around a blissfully nerdy mythology—the gospel of a godlike space slug named Mollusca—and enough sly humor to title a winding epic “Crop Killer.” Mastodon’s maritime and sci-fi epics seem straightforward by comparison. [A.A. Dowd]

Thou, Magus

Only listing Magus as one of the year’s best metal records undervalues the breadth of work Thou put out in 2018. Arriving at the end of a self-described “Summer Of Thou,” during which the band released a trio of EPs of varying musical styles, Magus synthesizes the sound of all three into a cohesive whole, sprawling in length and ambition. It’s not as singular as 2014’s Heathen, but maybe singularity would be antithetical to the band’s vision: The culmination of over three hours of music from this year, Magus is one part of a larger story, even if it’s still a great stand-alone piece. [David Anthony]

Tomb Mold, Manor Of Infinite Forms

Toronto’s Tomb Mold has carved out a nice little niche for itself, playing death metal of the Finnish variety and focusing its lyrics around role-playing games like Bloodborne and Dark Souls. On Manor Of Infinite Forms, the band has moved away from some of its early influences and begun openly embracing the genre at large, aligning itself with late-period Gorguts in its ability to make open space feel just as consuming as a crushing riff. The album succeeds by loosening the reins, allowing Tomb Mold to find its own voice—and, maybe, to become the next big thing in death metal. [David Anthony]

Windhand, Eternal Return

Eternal return indeed. On its fourth full-length, Richmond, Virginia’s most accessible doom-metal titans hook up again with veteran producer Jack Endino (Nirvana, Soundgarden) to go digging around in grunge’s graveyard. It’s lead singer Dorthia Cottrell’s spellbinding croon that give these songs, fuzzy and tuneful, their throwback appeal; she’s a dark goddess rising from rock ’n’ roll’s crypt, like Frances Farmer at last having her revenge on Seattle. [A.A. Dowd]

Zeal & Ardor, Stranger Fruit

Black metal can be a bubble: a misty, mythological forest to flee to while the world burns. On his second Zeal & Ardor album, Manuel Gagneux doesn’t just boldly, controversially blend the genre’s massive sound with the surprisingly simpatico trappings of gospel, soul, and the blues. He also redirects its sorrow and fury, its anguished apocalyptic emotion, toward the realities of a racist American now. Stranger Fruit, in other words, pulls black metal out of the forest, creating something resonant and urgently current in the process. [A.A. Dowd]

Honorable mentions

Anicon, Entropy Mantra
This New York supergroup featuring members of Krallice and Yellow Eyes makes technical, experimental black metal without sounding anything like those other bands. [David Anthony]

The Body, I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer
Calling The Body metal may be a bit of a misnomer, as it occupies so many different spaces that it defies classification. But the band built a home in the metal world and still resonate within it no matter how far it strays. [David Anthony]

Bone Sickness, Theater Of Morbidity
If Spazz played death metal, this is what it would sound like. If you miss the sound of early extreme metal, when it was largely recorded on boomboxes and dubbed poorly by some hesher, this will surely scratch that itch. [David Anthony]

Bosse-de-Nage, Further Still
The Bay Area genre tinkerers of Bosse-de-Nage toy with black metal a little differently than their friends in Deafheaven: Working in angular indie-rock influences, they offer a more anxious, self-examining racket, looking inward instead of aiming for the stratosphere. [A.A. Dowd]

Conjurer, Mire
The first album from British four-piece Conjurer is vicious, complex, and at times disarmingly lovely. No metal debut this year hit harder. [A.A. Dowd]

Glorior Belli, The Apostates
You’d never guess swampy bangers like “Hangin’ Crepe” were cut in Paris rather than south of the Mason-Dixon line, given the Skynyrd-meets-Mayhem boogie of the band’s sound. [A.A. Dowd]

Panopticon, The Scars Of Man On The Once Nameless Wilderness
Although splitting the black metal and Appalachian folk sides of the Panopticon sound into two separate discs doesn’t always flatter the latter, this is still an ambitious, affecting manifesto from Austin Lunn, one of the towering giants of the genre. [A.A. Dowd]

Revocation, The Outer Ones
Equal parts technical death metal and supercharged thrash, Revocation’s latest is proof that the Boston band has only gotten stronger with age. [David Anthony]

Sumac, Love In Shadow
The experimentalists in Sumac make a lengthy, largely improvised work that’s incredibly consuming and constantly compelling. [David Anthony]

Tribulation, Down Below
The Byronic dandies of Tribulation continue to go their own idiosyncratic way, offering another graveyard smash that’s as hooky as it is heavy. [A.A. Dowd]

Listen to songs from these albums and our other top picks from 2018 on Spotify.