2018 Top 100 Albums Part 1
It’s that time of year where other publications start wheeling out their end of year lists. Well this year here at ROCKFLESH we didn’t want to feel left out so we asked our very own Stewart Lucas (a man who claims to listen to over twenty new releases each week) to compile us with a list of his favourite albums of 2018 and he has come back with a whole top 100.
So over the next 5 or so weeks, we will bring you his countdown in chunks of 20 albums and a Spotify link so you can listen along.
Aren’t you lucky people?
So without delay, here is numbers 100-81
And we are off and we start as we mean to go on with one of metal's most authentic, genuine and none compromising acts Corrosion to Conformity. Active since the early eighties they started as a hardcore punk outfit but in the nineties took a left turn into heavy blues territory. This is their first album in thirteen years with their classic groove metal line up but rather than stick to a tired and tested formula they have actually moved their sound on with this record. It is, as you would expect, brim-full of chunky scuzzy riffs but there also a lot more boundary pushing going on here than I had expected. There are slower moments and even some level of musical complexity beyond riff follows riff. Overall highly enjoyable.
Pitch black electronic that is warped and deliciously dark and distorted. Some may call this synth or dark wave but really It's essentially electro-black metal. Apex Twin if he sold his soul to Satan.
Facebook's almighty and all-knowing algorithms have figured out that I like a lot of bands and what my diverse and eclectic tastes in those said bands are. Therefore I get swamped with 'sponsored' posts from groups that because I have liked X and y want me to check out their latest effort. Visions of Atlantis were one of these attention seeking outfits flashing their wares at me and in a weak point where I was feeling a tinny weeny bit more peace and goodwill than usual, I thought I might check them out and to my surprise I liked what I heard. This is ambitious big budget symphonic metal with a mythical oceanic obsession, think Nightwish soundtracking Clash of the Titans. Everything here is big; the songs, the sound, the ambition and (from the sound of it) the lung capacity of the two vocalists. There has been plenty of swirling emotive symphonic metal this year that frankly has come across as so identikit that even though I have enjoyed my first listen I have not bothered with a second helping as there is another almost identical female fronted act coming around the corner. However Visions of Atlantis have the duel vocalist thing and their Atlantis obsession which together makes them stand out from the crowd enough to (just about) get a spot on my list.
Last year when compiling this list I seemed to listen to more doom metal albums than is entirely healthy for one person and the year before it was thrash that seemed to monopolize. Well this year it's been an abundance of retro sounding rock records that has filled my listening time. To be honest the vast majority of these haven't made the hallowed hundred but there are a few that managed to stand out from the crowd and earn their place and here is the first in the shape of the fourth album from Nashville's All Them Witches. This really is retro and old school as it sounds like a lost Door's album or outtakes from the first couple of Eagles albums. There is a real warmth to its old fashioned 70's rock feel and it seems like the tracks wash over you like waves of southern sunshine. It hasn’t got an original or challenging bone in its body but it manages to be feel good which to be honest was enough for me.
And to prove the utter eclecticism of my tastes, we go from two of the more accessible and casual-listener friendly in this list to probably one of the most impenetrable records on here. Ion is very much an acquired taste and if you are not into disjointed highly challenging white noise then I probably would give it a miss. But if, like me, you can see the art and beauty in harsh brutal black metal then this is great. It really pushes the boundaries of what constitutes music but isn't art's primary job to challenge and to confound?
And here comes the Doom. There is a precedent at present to mix doom with all sorts of other metallic flavours, this however is 100% proof accept no substitute Doom Metal. The reverence to Electric Wizard is very obvious but as standard fare Doom Metal goes this is really rather good. The riffs are slow and tombstone heavy and the songs are well structured. There is nought new here but I still found it highly enjoyable.
I am not a pop punk kid and I probably would take great offence if you deemed to refer to me as one. The whole bandwagon of shouty tattooed college fund American kids being annoyed at their lot in life sort of passed me by and to be honest I couldn't tell a Less Than Jake from a Rise Against. However in my weekly trawl through weekly releases I really really enjoyed this album. It's short sharp no flab approach to songwriting appealed to my love of the Ramones and their anger at, well anger at everything has a real passion and authenticity to it. Most modern American punk feels sanitised and safe, designed to sell the sensation of rebellion whilst being less radical than a CBGB's full of Jacob Reese Moggs. “Wake the Sleeping Dragon” felt real and for that it earns a breadth in the hundred, just don't call me a pop punk kid!
It may be a well-kept secret, but Metal does actually have a pretty decent sense of humour and is perfectly capable of taking the Mickey out of itself. I'm not talking about the nod nod wink wink 'aren't we clever for acting stupid' irony of steel panther which, in my eyes, is one not particularly funny joke stretched over an entire career. The not taking seriously I refer to is the reverential approach of Evil Scarecrow who obviously love their Metal but are also acutely aware of the absurdity of it all. “Chapter IV: Antartartica” is their fourth self-released album and like everything they put their name to, is great fun. The approach here is not a general 'he he, isn't metal silly', it's much more subtle and in-jokey than that. You need to know your Manowar from your Megadeth to get plays on thrash ballads, prog epics and arms aloft anthems. The songs are well made and well played and the laughs come from the lyrics rather than the concept (Hurricanaddo and Balled of Brother Payne were still cracking me up on the fourth listen which is a good sign). This by no means high art but it is a hell of a lot of fun.
For those playing sub-genre bingo you can cross another off as here comes out first dollop of Folk Metal. Now Folk Metal takes two quite distinct forms. There is the jaunty type played by swedes in loin clothes and armour and there is the more serious type that channels Folk's very own inner darkness. Arkona are very much in the latter camp and there is nothing particularly jiggy or sing-alongable about “Kharm”. Russian Folk isn't particularly joyful to start with and when combined with blackened Metal it creates an immersive and rather striking aural experience. “Kharm” is actually a very deep, nuanced and layered album and it took me a number of listens to actually get it. But (like one of those 3D pictures) when it clicked I could see how rich and textured it actually is and I was able to get lost in the atmospheric ambience of it all.
There is a real fad currently in extreme metal for anonymity. Batushka are completely masked in cloaks with black vales, Ghost have their masked nameless ghouls and whilst Ghostbath may now show their faces, members are still never named. Add to that list Uada who wear black cowls over the heads and look Ringwraiths meet Dementers. As you can guess this is not an album of love ballads, but cult of a dying sun is not necessarily as harsh as you would expect. This is on the melodic end of Black Metal and sounds like Iron Maiden if they replaced Bruce with a goblin. The opening two tracks are terrific and whilst the album never quite matches that for quality, it is still a really well made and well produced piece of work!
OK intriguing one here. Mancunians Winterfyllethare one of the UK's foremost black metal acts and have carved a niche for themselves by removing the Satanism and replacing it with British pagan spirituality. This is their sixth studio release and is a real sharp left turn as they have completely ditched the metal and gone folk. This is stripped back mournful and stark acoustic folk and has nothing twee about it. It is quite beautiful in places and rich in pathos and atmosphere but it also does have a tendency to drag and whilst it is obviously really well made I did find a mite dull...
Death metal was born in 1986 when across America disenfranchised impressionable kids devoured Slayer's sublime “Reign In Blood” but simultaneously came to the same conclusion that it would be better if it was faster, more obscene and the vocals were more intangible.
And lo! Death Metal came into being. Pretty soon news spread around the globe of how bands like Possessed, Death, Autopsy and Obituary were pushing the boundaries of how extreme Metal could be. That further lead more young men (and it was at this stage a very white, male and horrifically sexist movement) to decide that their calling in life was to play nasty offensive music.
One of those bands was Telford's Cancer and pretty soon they had built up quite an impressive fan-base of English Death Metal convertees desperate for a home-grown champion to follow. Their second album “Death shall Rise” is now considered to be one of the foremost releases of the stage of death metals development but 1993's “Sins of Mankind” was a misguided attempt to go commercial and pretty soon the wheels fell off and Cancer messily fell apart. There was a sort of reunion in 2003 that featured some but not all of the original line up but as that produced the equally dreadful “Spirit in Flames” it's been pretty much erased from history and the 2013 reformation with all original member accounted form is seen officially was the beginning of this new face. So ignoring “Spirit”, “Shadow Gripped” is their first new record in 25 years and it's great. Like last year's memorable debut from Mermoriaum, it strips everything back to what made Death Metal so exciting in the first place. There is no trying to be over clever or technical here, they have simply based songs around sharp fast pulsating riffs. There is something reassuring but also refreshing about the simplicity of this record, it shows that great Death Metal just needs space to breathe.
For an American act, Kamelot play a very European type of music in a very European style. This is Power Metal at its most overblown and it's most intricate In the main, American Metal tends to be much more in your face and straightforward than this. Kamelot have been at this since 1991 and have got stirling choruses, widdly widely guitar solos and grand keyboards flourishes down to a fine art and whilst “The Shadow Theory” sounds exactly like the eleven albums that precedes it, it is still great fun.
Sometimes I am not quite sure where I exactly stumble upon the records that end up in the list as I continually keep my ears and eyes out for new interesting stuff. This could have come from metal hammer or a recommendation from a friend but it's really rather good. Gothic tinged quite aggressive power metal is probably my best attempt at a description as its got dollops loads of melody and clean vocals but there is also tons of ethereal atmosphere and also a real oomph. It's also got lots of Prog in there with time changing agogo and lots going on. As said not sure how I happened upon it and now very little about the band (so expect no history lessons) I just know I really liked it.
So after all that Metal, it is time to sound the indie klaxon. Well actually it might be worth digging out the post-punk hooter that we last used back in the noughties as this album wouldn't have sounded out of place in the bygone era of the Ordinary Boys, vintage Bloc Party and Kaiser Chiefs. It could even quite nicely fit into the sub-genre my wife refers to as boys go fighting music (Kooks, Fratelieez, Libertines all get lumped in there, in fact anyone who attracts an audience of Fred Perry wearing lager drinkers). So after all those not particularly complimentary descriptions you are probably wondering how it made it onto this list. The reason is that it is actually a really clever album. Usually nowadays I give very little time to this time of music but as I listened I found myself highly impressed by the song structures and the thought that had gone into each track. Don't be fooled by the outward impression, this is not a bunch of lads eulogising about a night on the tiles, this is actual a bunch of intelligent chaps who have got something profound, important and subversive to say. Deceptively good.
I caught Leeds's Hundred Year Old Man live at Bloodstock and Damnation festivals this year and both times their brutal and brooding take on post rock blew me away. On record they haven't quite managed to capture the intensity of their live performance but this is still an immersive and highly intriguing record that shows buckets loads of promise.
More doom, well, actually none more doom to be honest as this is huge, heavy, grinding, black, brittle slabs of doom that will shake the very fillings in your teeth. You see Doom Metal can be fragile and beautiful (see Pallbearer and The Warning, in fact, if you haven't heard the latter's “Watching from a Distance” stop reading this and go listen to it now as its an utter masterpiece), but that is not the suburbs of doom where Conan dwell. You will instead find them institute in Doom's run-down derelict dystopian inner cities producing dark, rumbling, dirty and brutal music. They do what they do well but after four near identical albums I had hoped for some level of variation.
I love The Decembrists and I love their quirky irreverent take on Americana. They construct their albums magpie style, procuring elements from all over the musical shop. In other hands this could over as clumsy or even deeply cynical and synthetic but The Decembrists have become masters and mistresses of weaving together all the little nuggets of influence to create what feels like a coherent whole.
'I'll Be Your Girl' is their eighth studio album and in their quaint sort of way, is their protest album focusing on how to be a liberal in what feels like a post liberal world. As ever, it cannons through different styles and musical constructs, though this time there is much more of a leaning toward eighties electro than usual. And it is that concentration on such an in vogue sound that has resulted in me loving this a little less than I have loved other The Decembrists albums. It's still a really good record I just don't feel the same urge to run down the road screaming to non-convertees "Have you heard this? It's brilliant!!!" as I did with the previous seven albums.
Our second album on the list entitled “Hexenhammer”. Well you wouldn't get that in the NME end of year, I can tell you! This“Hexenhammer” is by Swiss traditional metal band Burning Witches. And the first thing that annoys me is that all publicity on them (both official and fan fuelled) focuses on the fact they are an all-female (or even worse 'all-girl' band). As if we would describe Judas Priest as all male band. It just still gets my goat that women make up 51% of the population but if one deems to join a band or god forbid make up all the members of a band then that is the only think we can talk about. So I’m going to ignore Burning Witches gender and tell you that this is an affectionate rehash of everything that makes heavy metal so much fun. It may contain new songs but as they feel so warm and familiar in their construct “Hexenhammer” actually ends up coming across as a greatest hits album. So there may be little or no originality here but what is there is passion and enthusiasm, and that in itself makes for an enjoyable listen.
Finland's Wolfheart remind me of the bird in Dante's inferno that spends a millennia tapping away at the mountain but never gets anywhere but also never gives in. For ten years, Wolfheart have paraded their Viking obsessed melodic Death Metal over four albums and probably haven't progressed further than they were at the start of their career. What they do ain't bad and “Constellation of the Black” earns a place here on the fact I actually wanted to go back and listen to it again. But the fact is Amon Amarth do exactly the same thing a lot better and with a lot more success and if Wolfheart insist in continuing to sing about Viking rituals and lost warriors they will sadly continue to remain in their shadow.
And that the lot for now…. 80-61 to follow. If you are interested in listening along on Spotify, click here.