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12.04.19 Personal top 30 Albums of 201912.21.18 Personal top 25 albums of 2018
12.22.17 The Most Infectious 30 of 201712.21.17 The Freshest 40 of 2017

Personal top 25 albums of 2018

Most years I like to make a list on the one platform or the other. 2018 has had a lot of surprises and even more let-downs – but here on only focus on the former.
Simulation Theory

Muse has been facing diminishing returns over the last decade – each album saw them stray further from their initial spark of creativity, rather settling for a mix of the most accessible elements from ‘Absolution’ and ‘The Origin of the Symmetry’ and ideas ‘borrowed’ from Queen, which are more than 30 years old. Personally, undersigned found plenty to enjoy on these albums, but I could not help but feel increasingly underwhelmed. ‘Simulation Theory’, is not the return to form for Muse – to the contrary, casual flirtation with commerciality now resulted in full commitment to pop, synth rock and techno. However, Muse are obviously not trying to please anyone but themselves on ‘Simulation Theory’, making the resulting music sound more earnest than it has been over the last decade. In the end, an album with the addictive ability of ‘Something Human’ and ‘Dig Down’; and the unabashed experimentation on ‘Break it To Me’ and ‘Propaganda’, won me over.
The Arrow of Satan Is Drawn

Bloodbath’s adoption of Paradise Lost’s Nick Holmes – who didn’t so much as produce a single growl in almost 20 years – surprised everyone when it happened in 2014, on the excellent ‘Grand Morbid Funeral’. Bloodbath returns, with Nick Holmes once more snarling, growling and rasping his way across this record. ‘The Arrow of Satan is Drawn’ is as nasty as it is contagious in its approach of death metal – one can only hope they’ll continue to provoke in the upcoming years (referring not in the least to the quite offensive album cover), if it keeps resulting in stellar albums.
23Florence and the Machine
High as Hope

I’m not too fond usually of singer-songwriter acts, but for Florence and her Machine I hold a soft spot. She delivers her songs with her trademark combination of strength and vulnerability – maybe even more than usual, with tracks like “Hunger” exposing her personal issues with anorexia. A smaller, more intimate album than her previous efforts – ‘High as Hope’ might disappoint those looking for catchy chorus-focused anthems, but please those who can appreciate a record of this intimacy.

Soliloquiem with ‘Contemplations’ produced a fresh take on gloomy melodic death metal, sounding somewhat like their peers In Mourning, Insomnium and Okera. ‘Contemplations’ challenges the listener more than many others in the genre, relying not on easy-to-latch-on-to hooks or choruses – rather challenging the listener with complex songs that require repeated listens to reveal their true potential. The perfect soundtrack for the winter came early; I’d recommend the unfamiliar strongly to give this release a go.
21Mike Shinoda
Post Traumatic

Alas, last year we had to say goodbye to ‘a voice of a generation’ – Chester Bennington. Leaving behind legions of fans and his band mates grieving, one in particular took it upon himself to share his story with the rest of the world – none other of course than Mike Shinoda. Not only does ‘Post Traumatic’ encapsulate Mike’s emotional progression from grieve to denial into anger effectively, it does as well expand its vision and looks towards the future – thereby closing on a more hopeful note than it starts. Mike borrows elements from his 2005 Fort Minor album, as well as from the less than excellent ‘One More Light’. The end-result is more than just a little poppy and cheesy at places, but in the end manages to come across heartfelt – and contains a few of the more contagious tracks of 2018 to me, such as “Over Again”, “Make it up as I go” and “Lift Off”.
Devouring Radiant Light

‘Devouring Radiant Light’ is one of the many excellent black metal releases from last year. This one stood out to me due to the sheer energy intertwined with excellent melodies on this release, but also due to its focused length – there really isn’t any filler on this record. ‘Devouring Radiant Light’ is a little further from traditional black metal and much closer to its atmospheric or melodic counterpart, which may offset some of the pvrest metalheads, but I enjoy the album all the more for it.
19Nothing But Thieves
Broken Machine

Nothing But Thieves is an adorable band, hailing from the UK, providing their second full-length interpretation on pop-infused indie rock. The introduction of electronic elements on this record on i.e. “Live like Animals” does their sound justice – up-beat techno rhythms go surprisingly well with their conventional indie sound and unconventionally wide-ranged lead singer. Furthermore, ‘Broken Machine’ is full of sing-along songs that remind me of festival grass and watered-down beer, probably because that’s how I know Nothing But Thieves best by.
18Encircling Sea

Inspired by other end of year lists, Encircling Sea came to my attention with their debut ‘Hearken’. Needless to say, it made such an impact that in a few spins this album proved to be among the best ones I’ve heard this year. ‘Hearken’ takes its time on each individual 8-11 minute tracks to build up a dreary, burdensome atmosphere with whispers, slow drumrolls and plucked guitar melodies – only to explode in climaxes of ferociously pounding drums, shredding tremolo riffage and pulverizing growls. Amazing effort.
17Omnium Gatherum
The Burning Cold

Finland’s most consistent melodic death metallers move away with ‘The Burning Cold’ from their more progressive sound, established ever since the release of ‘New World Shadows’, towards an album that most of all aims to have an excellent live impact. At face value this was disappointing to me, but as I gave this album a few spins I realized it isn’t half bad. The tracks indeed have a more direct approach, are structured less complexly and are built more around a catchy chorus then I’m used to from Omnium Gatherum. Luckily, it does indeed succeed to be their catchiest album to date and somehow this simply clicked with me. Overall, the album is an easy and very pleasant listen, with as absolute highlight “Planet Scale” – the sheer weight of its massive chorus is astonishing, fitting the song’s theme.

Shylmagoghnar cast out a monstrous album, clocking 1 hour and 12 minutes – daunting for the uninitiated to get into. However, for those with enough patience, there is a unique progressive melodic death metal record lurking underneath this very lengthy endeavor. I have personally yet to distinguish among the individual tracks, but the overall experience is one I’d truly recommend.
15Funeral Mist

Funeral Mist granted me one the most creative, take-no-prisoners approaches to black metal in recent memory. This album does little else than in 43 minutes try to rip out its listener’s throat by means of the pure ferocity and malice – a thing I very much appreciate. The occasional appearance of melodic elements alleviates their music above ‘just’ pure evil, making it also quite gorgeous in the process.
Queen of Time

Queen of Time sees Amorphis delivering yet another quality melodic death metal album, to the brim filled with hooks, soaring choruses and melodies that remind one of the land of a thousand lakes. Careful experimentation with adjacent styles is present – like with black metal and folk metal. Tomi Joutsen is one of the albums highlights, as one would expect. Amorphis can only be faulted for not truly daring to approach their sound from a completely novel angle, yet I cannot blame them too much if the returns of a comfortable album are as high as on Queen of Time. Hopefully Amorphis dare to thread more dangerous waters on their next release – I would think they’d be up for the task of thinking out of the box much more strongly.
I Loved You at Your Darkest

Behemoth these days is most notoriously famous for Adam "Nergal" Darski’s outings in popular media. However, I care little for these things – so the apparent controversy surrounding Behemoth did not distract me from enjoying this album. And enjoyable it is. Continuing down the path ‘The Satanist’ cemented, ‘I Loved You at Your Darkest’ manifests Behemoth further as one of the leading forces in extreme metal. Behemoth in 2018 lands not quite an as monumental album as The Satanist – but tracks such as “Wolves ov Siberia” and “We are the next 1000 years” make it a close effort.
12Bonjour Tristesse
Your Ultimate Urban Nightmare

Bonjour Tristesse managed to produce a very mixed package with their 2018 release – a visually attractive album cover with the biggest mess of track titles in this year. Song titles such as “Another Bullshit Night in Suck City” and “The Act of Laughing in a World Once Beautiful Now Dying” almost put me off from enjoying this album – but luckily it did not in the end. I fact, ‘Your Ultimate Urban Nightmare’ is a highly appealing album, mixing depressive black metal with marvelous atmospheric interludes – resulting in a diverse, rich experience. High note to me is the close-to-black-metal-power-ballad closer “The End of the World”, that is almost as cheesy as well it is awesome.
11Clouds (INT)

Like clockwork, the ‘super group’ Clouds has been producing new somber, gloomy material every year, but it will take many more years to come for me to start complaining. Their already familiar blend of a burdening atmosphere and crushing doom / death metal is unprecedentedly beautiful. Dor continues without major changes down the path 2017’s Destin and 2016’s Departe went in, also in 2018 providing me with a fair share of depressive thoughts and weepy moments from Dor – so I enjoyed it a lot.
10Sorrow Plagues/De La Nostalgie/Elderwind/Dreams of Nature
Mater Natura Excelsa Split

(I'm only focusing on Sorrow Plagues' part of the split album)
Sorrow Plagues manifested themselves permanently on my radar by releasing personal album of the year contenders in two consecutive years, with 2016’s ‘Sorrow Plagues’ and 2017’s ‘Homecoming’. Again, this year I was treated to more Sorrow Plagues with the ‘Mater Natura Excelsa’ EP. Somehow condensed, ‘Vista’ and ‘Bloom’ stand out even more in their excellence – the result of their marriage between depressive black metal and shoegaze is simply impressive. I’m really curious on how Sorrow Plagues will push the envelop on their next release.
9Anaal Nathrakh
A New Kind of Horror

England’s most famous shock-metal duo Anaal Nathrakh are back with ‘A New King of Horror’, thematically based on the horrors of the First World War. For this release Anaal Nathrakh traded their blackened aspects of their sound in favor of a stripped-down, industrial take on it. I applaud Anaal Nathrakh for attempting to reinvent themselves and to me, it absolutely works. The war drones throughout “The Reek of Fear” and the marching machine-gun blast beats on “Forward!” work perfectly with their usual extremity. The latter half of the album sports a selection of tracks that remind me much more of “Vanitas”, closing the album on a very familiar – yet pleasant – manner.
The Bleakness Of Our Constant

‘The Bleakness of Our Constant’ provides a focused 43 minutes of progressive metal that reminds me a lot of Agalloch, while bringing to it a personal own twist. Aside from the progressive meanderings, atmospheric passages and gorgeous solos one would hope for, Enferens caught me off guard with the beautiful cleanly sung lyrics – such as those on “This Onward Reach” – that bring an emotional weight to this release.

Hailing from Lithuania, Erdve debuted this year with Vaitojimas in what I can only interpret as their native language. And astonishing this tongue sounds – with lead vocalist Vaidotas Darulis delivering one of the strongest extreme metal vocal performances I’ve heard this year. Vaitojimas holds six tracks of pure despair, wrapped in a package of sludge, black and post metal – and with it, dropped one of the best albums undersigned has had the privilege of hearing last year.
6Jonathan Davis
Black Labyrinth

Korn’s Jonathan Davis has been sitting on the idea of creating his solo effort, ever since his – in a particular niche – to a cult-status praised soundtrack for the Queen of the Damned movie. The same Middle-Eastern folk influences can be heard on this album that were apparent on his 2002 soundtrack, yet somehow Jonathan managed not to let his material get stale over the years. He provides a very accessible iteration on Korn’s sound, with more focus on melody and experimentation, and much less and groove and angst. The results are very pleasing to the ear, of course – if one holds appreciation for nu-metal that is.
5In Vain

Five years after the absolute high point that was Aenigma, In Vain are back with their most commercially sounding effort to this date. They’ve gotten some critique throughout the internet here and there, but personally I applaud them for daring to embrace their catchier side – on “Soul Adventer” (with Mr. Heafy from Trivium no less) and “Blood we Shed” it works extremely well for them. Furthermore, I would be remiss if I failed to mention “Origin”, that is to me their strongest anthem yet – if you failed to hear this album and cannot spare more than 6 minutes of your time, start here.
4In Chasms Deep
The Realm Between

In Chasms Deep produced an excellent album for those who prefer their black metal out of the box. ‘The Realm Between’ is highly melodic, strong on groove and takes its time to build up to the one epic lead or the other crescendo. I want to especially comment on the vocals, ranging from piercing shrieks to deep growls that really got my attention. The high emphasis on melody might be off-putting to those seeking something trvly cvlt, but not counting myself among those I found a lot to enjoy on ‘The Realm Between’.

After a long 5 years of silence, Germany’s blackened post metallers Agrypnie returned with yet another furious release. Over the course of the last few years, Torsten and his companions have been cumulatively building frustration over the refugee crisis and the tragedy it caused (and still does) – Grenzgaenger brutally reveals the dark side of a humanitarian crisis in Europe and America. Their passion is contagious, like no other Agrypnie get my heart pumping and adrenaline rushing – I can actually FEEL their anger as my own. If that is not art, I don’t know what is.
2A Perfect Circle
Eat the Elephant

I never expected A Perfect Circle to make a comeback. And if they ever did, I expected a half-assed attempt at a record like ‘eMotive’. Instead, they made their unexpected return sounding more relevant than they ever did before. With ‘Eath the Elephant’, they’ve finally managed to fuse their later electronic experimentations, the softer approach of ‘The 13th Step’ and the (now) classic alternative rock of “Mer de Noms’ unto one, greater than the sum of its parts, sound. The album delivers via their expected formulate of alternative rock high notes and fan pleasers such as “The Doomed” and “TalkTalk”, flirts with a more commercial, accessible sound on “Disillusioned” and throws complete curveballs with “So Long and Thanks for All the Fish” and “Hourglass” – all the while achieving the beforehand perceived impossible; delivering their most focused, concise and thematically thoughtful album to date.
1The Ocean
Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic

No one expected The Ocean to top their 2013 (dare I say) masterpiece Pelagial, and I went in expecting not this much. Initially I agreed with most critical reviews I read confirming this – 'Phanerozoic' is quality work from the Ocean, yet a step down from Pelagial. Little did I know that 'Phanerozoic I: Paleozoic' just requires A LOT of time spent with it to start to unfold and to reveal its secrets. While Pelagial was focused and intimate, Phanerozoic acts on a wholly different scale: the album is massive in sound, grand in scale and holds an unequaled weight due to the perfect fusing of the theme of this album, the varied vocal delivery, the orchestral arrangements and the highly innovative post metal as a foundation to it all. Phanerozoic’s reinvention of The Ocean’s sound towards a much greater scale is a move that works out brilliantly for them, making this for me the most daring, creative and impactful album of 2018.
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