My love of explosive death metal and my fascination with Chinese history finally intersected in 2018 with Ripped to Shreds's debut. The record is positively bursting at the seams with Swedeath influence (the very album title is an obtuse roundabout reference to Entombed), and while the Chinese themes don't manifest through dorky folk instruments or anything, they do add a huge amount to the album's character (though we definitely need tracks about the Nian devouring terrified peasants or Zhou Xin's ridiculous wine lake and Burning Cannon Punishment in the future). Andrew Lee occasionally pops into a discord server I'm on, and when I realized who he was I asked him why his project had such a generic name when the music so obviously had a unique theme. His answer was "Because I just fucking love Terrorizer." Me too, buddy.
This is practically the sole representative in the ever prevalent niche of "death metal that wishes it was 1992" with no further creativity. This style generally bores me to tears but Skeletal Remains manages to rise above the veritable conga line of cliches with sheer energy. This hits all the same beats as Death, Cannibal Corpse, Obituary, and any other classic American death metal band from the early 90s that you can think of, but the showmanship of performance and tightness of songcraft make the deja vu a pleasant experience. The only real thing holding this back is "Ripperology", which is far and away the most boring track on the album, sounding like a straight b-side from Spiritual Healing, and for some reason it was chosen as the opener. Get past the plodding mid paced opener and you'll be greeted with some bone shattering death metal.
My first thought when this was announced was "leave it to Deicide to waste such a great cover art", but by some Christmas miracle they transcended the swamp they've been mired in as of late and delivered what is easily their best album since The Stench of Redemption. I'm pretty much over classic bands releasing mediocre slop and watching it get heaped in praise just for not sucking (see Judas Priest this year or Overkill for the last four albums or so), but I gotta be a hypocrite and hand it to Deicide, because they fucking nailed it this time. This is the hungriest and most focused and intense they've sounded in years. Skeletal Remains up there was great because it sounds like a lost 1992 record. Deicide here is great because they were there in 1992 and by some black magic wizardry managed to regain that 1992 form.
Damn son, back at it again with the nasty death metal. This one is just fuckin' slimy sounding and I love it. It takes a few cues from Autopsy in that regard, and the occasional slow riff crushes so hard with such alarming effectiveness that I almost brace myself when I know they're coming. For most of the year, the only track I found myself coming back to was the title track since none of the rest nailed a riff quite as hard as that one nails that main groovy riff, but the gravitational pull of this album is god damned celestial because I just kept coming back and liking it more and more each time. This is a consistent plateau of gross and filthy death metal and I recommend it to everybody, even your grandma.
As much as I loathe the obnoxiously long sentence fragment of a title, ...and as We Have Seen the Storm, We have Embraced the Eye is an absolutely fucking stellar release in pretty much every other sense of the word. I recall hearing both of Chapel of Disease's previous albums, but I recall them being decent death metal with no distinguishing features. That's why Long Title is such a surprise, because the only lingering death metal features nowadays are the (comparatively) rare double bass sections and the still-harsh and throaty vocals. Everything else is pure 70s psychedelic/prog rock atmosphere with a fuzzy edge of macabre extremity, morphing into some kind of difficult-to-define "atmospheric psychedeath/extreme prog rock" monster. This is exactly what I was promised with Horrendous's breakout Ecdysis four years ago.
I know I made a crack up there about how atmoblack was everywhere this year and how it was pretty uniformly "meh", but Harakiri for the Sky was a huge exception to that rule. My beef with the style has always been that it's saturated with mediocre bands because it's really easy to think of two whole melodies per song and then stretch it out for 12 minutes. You can get a massive breadth of material stored up for years' worth of releases when that's all the effort it takes. HFTS doesn't do that, because this is loaded with interesting moments. There are so many excellent melodies, so many neat things being done with the percussion, so many exquisite swells and releases. It can be fairly typical in its structuring but Arson defies the stigma and delivers a home run by being fast and slow at the same time somehow.
Finally we're gonna break away from all the darkness to indulge in something consonant and upbeat... kinda? I've ignored Mary's Blood for years because I never realized the band was the Misery Index to Destrose's Dying Fetus. Yeah the split happened before the Destrose album I'm familiar with but the similarity is definitely there. You hear "all girl J-metal" and assume saccharine giggliness but that's not what you got with Destrose and it's the same deal with Mary's Blood. It's about as rough as you can legally get with the style, which means it's still very clean and polished, but there's a hell of a lot more grit in songs like "World's End" or "R.I.P." than most of their contemporaries. It occasionally flips to some dirty rock n roll type stuff as well, and overall it's just best summed up as a fun romp. Don't be afraid of yourself.
GOD DAMN FUCK OUCH BRUTAL TOO HEAVY TOO MEAN OW OOF MY BONES. Really though I wish I could go more into detail on this but it's hard to do considering it's main quality is simply how fucking manic and vicious it is. From the Depths of Flesh pulls zero punches and just goes for the throat for its duration. It's truly overwhelming at times; a veritable deluge of riffs and whirlwind drumming that creates this morbid cacophony that I just can't stay away from. I don't listen to a whole lot of things that could be described as "raw", but this here is Raw like Monday Night. Just sitting down comfortably and listening to this at a reasonable volume is still likely to give you a fucking concussion.
I know The Crown released a solid comeback this year with Cobra Speed Venom, but for my money, the true throwback to that halcyon early aughties boom of hook laden death/thrash came from relative newcomers, Lik. Carnage takes the Scandinavian buzzsaw tone that we all know and love and just owns it so hard that the fact that the album is a walking cliche doesn't really matter. This also reminds me a lot of Deathchain's heyday. Lik sounds like the logical continuation of what was happening there, and I couldn't be happier about it. Basically, if you've been following me for any amount of time, you know that two of my most favorite musical qualities are speed and hooks, and Carnage delivers both in spades. This was formulated in a lab to appeal specifically to me.
Ahhh, here it is, the dorky flower metal album that always wiggles its way into my year-end list. Thaurorod should initially be a huge turnoff for me since they're listed around the net as "progressive power metal" from Finland, which signifies dull-ass chugprog or waify Nightwish-lite type stuff, so imagine my surprise when "Power" kicked the album off with a kick in the nuts so swift that I'm still coughing up pubes. The "progressive" part of their genre really only comes from the fact that they have keys and sometimes use a time sig more complex than 4/4, but when you lay it all bare, this is speedy and beefy power metal of the early Sonata Arctica variety. Coast of Gold is an exercise in leaning on cliches and reminding the listeners why they're so overused in the first place. (It's because tons of double bass and major melodies rule).
I love riffs. I love hooks. I love melodies. I love brutality. 1914 has all of those things, for sure, but that's not why The Blind Leading the Blind is such an enrapturing album. No, what puts this album so high up on my list is pure, suffocating, helpless, miserable, deathly atmosphere. I don't have enough space here to go into as much detail as this album deserves, so I just implore you to listen to it. The album is obviously a concept album about The Great War, there are samples of propaganda and war songs all over the place, the lyrics are as stark and brutal as the trenches themselves, "The Hundred Days Offensive" is one of the most depressingly dark songs I've heard in years, and it was released on the centennial anniversary of the armistice. Forgive me... forgive me....
And now for something way more fun! GTK is another one of those bands that was created specifically to please me. This is the third time in the last four albums that they've ranked in my Top Two, so you should know why they kick so much ass by now. The Final Stand continues the band's stylistic tradition of playing death metal that sounds less like a crypt and more like a carnival fire, with dazzling flashes of slap bass and guitar solos that sound like backflips coupled with riffs that sound like tommy guns that fire chainsaws for bullets. I don't know what else I can say about these guys, this is exactly the kind of obnoxious, maximalist brutality coupled with lip-flapping speed that I can't get enough of. I already reviewed it with a score of 99%. In any other year this would have easily been the album of the year.
But not this year.
I didn't have time to review this like I had planned before this post went live, but I knew all the way back in February that this was going to contend for the top spot. And with every listen, from eleven months ago up to today, Conqueror's Oath has gotten better. I don't know if it's worthwhile for me to pontificate on what makes a "perfect" metal album, because obviously everybody is going to have different criteria. But for me, this is it. There is not one single second of this album that isn't pure fucking gold. There is not one misplaced note, not one booming baritone misused, not one solo that doesn't rip my face from my skullfront, every single aspect about the album falls into place perfectly and there is no possible way I can think to improve it. Three years ago, The Revenant King took the metal landscape by storm and delivered one of the most muscular and awe inspiring slices of trad metal that the scene has witnessed since the end of the 80s. It was bold, brash, and daring, even brandishing the cojones necessary to plop a Manilla Road cover smack in the middle of the album and effortlessly upstage the vaunted veterans, unveiling the uncomfortable truth that I was right all along that the 'Road could have been as good as everybody says they are if Shelton could actually fucking sing. Jake's voice packed so much oomph and gusto that I felt my chest hair thicken the first time I heard him. And even with an order as tall as topping the mountain that was the debut, Conqueror's Oath blew it away like it was fuckin' Krakatoa. Everything that was great about the debut is greater here, and it's done with the added benefit of a veritable cornucopia of new ideas. Visigoth didn't rest on their laurels here, only reusing the template that carried the previous album on a handful of songs and filling out the rest of the tracklist with epic odes and furious barnburners. The sheer speed of "Outlive Them All", the massive chorus of "Warrior Queen", the pounding march of "Steel and Silver", the entirety of "Traitor's Gate", I'm getting chills without even listening to the album as I write this. If nothing else, they deserve a trophy for making motherfucking Utah sound like the most exciting place on earth with "Salt City". I love this so much. Yes, this will be a perfect 100% whenever I get around to reviewing it. It is a bona fide future classic, one of the few pure slices of unabashed retro glory executed exactly as well as their peers from 1984. The middling response to this album at my home base of MA has been the crime of the century. Visigoth easily takes the BH Award for Album of the Year 2018, and likely the preemptive Album of the Decade as well. This is how you do it. MY WORDS ARE A SWORD OF CLEANSING FLAME.
And now for something completely the same!