2018 Top 100 Albums Part 2
And here is part two in our five part series as our very own Stewart Lucas takes us through his top hundred albums of 2018. Stewart is usually our extreme metal correspondent but his countdown highlights what he thinks have been the big releases of the year, no matter the genre. So without anything else to do here is numbers 80-61.
Mr. Kennedy's first of two appearances on the list (Spoilers) and I really should stop disregarding and under estimating our Myles. I completely ignored his main group Alter Bridge for a good long while, telling myself that they were forgettable soft rock for those who didn't like rock. Then accidentally, I found myself listening to their third record ‘ABIII’ and I loved it as it was Heavy Rock with a real metallic punch and I have been a convert and a big fan ever since. And then, there is his extra curricular partnership with Slash which again I didn't get for a good while but then on seeing them live I realised what a warm and fruitful musical relationship it has become and how the genuine mutual respect between the two shines a light on another more frosty partnership Slash might have. And there might be more from this later but ... spoilers.
So I really should have learnt but I hadn't, so when Myles first solo record was released back in March I didn't even bother downloading it and it was only in September that I got around to listening to it and wouldn't you know it's really really good. This is an acoustic based concept album about Myles late father but it is not a maudling and down-tempo record. This is jaunty Southern Bluegrass given a modern twist. It is reverential in use of the Blues but does it in a way that doesn't feel retro or that it is treading old ground. It may be an acoustic album but it certainly isn't stripped back as it has a full and rich sound and a real power and oomph to each track. And the moral of the story is that I need to accept I really like Myles Kennedy and all his many incarnations and even if he went on to release an album of Adele covers I probably would like it.
Right! Remember this lot’s name as they are going to be huge. In a decades time they will being headlining the Download Festival and they will be the band that the next generation of metalheads align themselves to. For now they are a work in progress but by god do they have heaps of potential and the embryonic stages of a style and a sound that I believe will make them Metal's next big act. They are still only in their mid-teens (Christ none of them can legally drink yet) but already the musicianship is stunning. They are yet to truly to find their own musical voice (which is why ‘Tu’ resides in the upper seventies) but there are flashes of what I think is the brilliance yet to come.
Kiwi (and Aussie) metal has up until this point been pretty much a facsimile of American and European influences but in the same way Sepultura made a name for themselves by blending Amazonian tribal music into thrash, Alien Weaponry have brought Maori chants, rhythms and attitude into the mix. It doesn't quite work as yet and within ‘Tu’ comes across as messy in places, but you just feel the potential fizzing. Second track in 'Holding My Breath' is by far the best thing on here but you just know that next time around with a bit of time and maturity under their belt they will come back with a whole album of songs that good and that is when the fun will really start.
More Doom Metal and this is from the dark, slow, pendulous and fecken heavy end of the spectrum. When it comes to impenetrable Extreme Metal, I would always put myself more in the Death and Black camp (now camp Black Metal that's a sub-genre I'll love to see "ohhhh Satan, get you") but every time I compile these lists I am always surprised how much Doom I put in! Musically this may be on the more experimental and complex end of the Doom scale but as a band Thou are a very much a straight edge punk act at heart. Paradoxically for an act sometimes lumped into the stoner category they are all T-total and chemical abstainers. They also take DIY to the nth degree by not having a record deal and simply putting out stuff online when it's ready. As you can guess they are pretty prolific and whilst this only their fifth 'long player' overall this is fourth release of year as it was preceded by three EP's all long enough to be considered albums.
Magus has a lot in it, the stylistic changes are enough to make you dizzy in places and whilst it is at all times dark and heavy, the way that darkness and heaviness is presented changes on almost a minute by minute basis. This is an album you lose yourself in and if I had spent hours wandering in its musical corridors I suspect it would have been higher, but it is here because it is an ambitious, commendable and admirable piece of work even if it does feel a little of a slog to get to the end of.
Guess what this is? Yep it's more Doom. But this is as far from Thou that you possibly can go whilst staying in the same sub-genre. This is Doom at its most commercial and bluesy, essentially back to its roots of unashamed Sabbath worship. This is slick but well-made heavy Blues Rock and it's swagger and attitude outweighs the fact that it has the brutality and danger of Mr. Tumble. Lightweight but very enjoyable.
TesseracT have worked bloody hard to get this far, as for fifteen years they have tirelessly and slowly trod their very distinct path of pop meets highly technical polyrhythmic Metal. They have resolutely stuck to their guns even when bands they have obviously influenced have overtaken them in the fame and glory stakes. ‘Sonder’ is very much more of the same; precise and highly complex Metal built around structured concise riffs and constantly shifting time signatures and topped with Dan Tompkins soulful even poppy vocals. Those schooled on the dirt, scuzz and chaos of heavy rock may struggle with ultra-clean, repetitive and almost identikit feel of the music, but for me this almost autotronic coldness beautifully juxtaposes the passion and fragility in the vocals. This may well be the future of our genre and from the huge throng singing along when I saw them last week, it's in safe hands.
And let us make our first visit to the enchanted world that is Sludge Metal, so called for the scuzzy, distorted riffs that typify it. Think Motorhead but faster, heavier and Uglier. High on Fire came out of the ashes of probably the greatest Doom metal band of all time Sleep (remember them, it might be important later), and are led by Matt Pike the absolute master of the unrefined bluesy riff. Comparing this and the TesseracT record hopefully illustrates for the unbeliever the utter diversity that exists within heavy metal. Whereas TesseracT were precise and tightly regimented, High on Fire are the exact opposite. ‘Electric Messiah’ is raw, primal and wildly erratic, If ‘Yonder’ is guilty of being engineered within an inch of its life, then ‘Electric Messiah’ has grown organically with wild abandonment. It may be as clever as a division two defender, but it's got passion and conviction in spades!
I was really really disappointed with this album. Now that may come across a tad bizarre given the amount of platitudes and positive vibes that I have flung upon the previous twenty-six albums. The reason is that no matter how good this record is (and it is good) it is not the life changing album of the decade that I had been expecting (I had gone as far as holding the number one spot open for it, I was that certain that this was going to be something special. You see it has been a long long while since a new band has been feted in the way that Greta Van Fleet have. Gigs have been sold out without them releasing a thing, journalists have been salivating and people whose musical tastes I highly admire have been proclaiming them the second coming. The last time I remember this much hysteria about a debut album was The Strokes and ‘Is That It’ was magnificent so my hopes were high. ‘Anthem of the Peaceful Army’ is immaculately produced and fantastically made, but (and as it is a lowly number 74 there is a but) it just doesn't quite have the songs. The musicianship is stunning but it just lacks those killer sing-along numbers. They may sound uncannily like Led Zeppelin but sadly they are yet to write a ‘Whole Lotta Love’, 'Rock N' Roll' or a 'Black Dog’.
Meaty, chunky melodic Folk Metal from Iceland. As with all their stuff, they "sing" (OK growl and scream) entirely in Icelandic and the lyrics conform to the old Norse poetic forms of Fornyrðislag and Sléttubönd. I really liked this album as it seemed to have more body and structure than you usually get in Viking obsessed Folk Metal and the Metal and Folk blended in seamlessly rather than seeming to be forced together as, again, you get in some forms of Folk Metal. Well-made and highly enjoyable.
Thy Catafalque is one of Edinburgh based Hungarian photographer Tamás Kátai's many musical projects. He is rather prolific and likes to push the envelope a wee bit. ‘Geometric’ is best described as avant-garde Metal which means that it has everything but the kitchen sink in it. There is Jazz, Prog, Folk and all shades of Metal in here. You sometimes feel like screaming 'just pick one style' but it is still a rather good album.
‘I love you Honeybear’ remains one of the greatest albums this decade has given us. A heartfelt and emotionally raw tale of loss and love told in a wonderfully warm, witty and self-referential fashion that engaged and immersed you in a musical snapshot of Josh Tillman's chaotic life. The follow up ‘Pure Comedy’ however was such a disappointment. It lost the irreverence and playfulness that made ‘I love you Honeybear’ such a joy and was overwrought, over-serious, over long and just lost its self in its own sense of self-importance. ‘God's Favourite Customer’ is a real return to form, it will never be as good as ‘Honeybear’ but the playful humour and self-deprecating self-awareness is back. The music is once again laidback, informal and full of warmth and spontaneity. ‘Pure Comedy’ was packed with over-stylised over-designed torch songs but thankfully the messy improvised and lazy delivery is back and general mischievous glint in the musical eye is once more present. And most importantly it is almost forty minutes shorter than ‘Pure Comedy’ which just felt like a chore to listen to! You shouldn't label an album a success purely on the fact that it is better than its predecessor but he'll I feel like I've got the Josh Tillman I love back which is great!
In our world there are two Shining's (and that is not counting the Stephen King novel or the Kubrick masterpiece). There is the Swedish Black Metal band which is a vanity project of egotistical nightmare Niklas Kvarforth and there is the Norwegian Black Jazz band. This is from the latter though somewhere between the last album and this, they have ditched the Black, the Jazz and the Metal and undergone the most incredible stylistic change I have ever seen a band undertake. There is literally no similarities at all between ‘International Black Jazz Society’ and ‘Animal’, every single fibre of their musical DNA is different.
Now I am/was quite a fan and loved the whole sax over distorted guitar sound, so initially I was shocked and appalled by this complete rejection of everything that made the Shining great and I had my outraged of Manchester review written in my head after my first spin of ‘Animal’. But I thought I would give it another go and suddenly I realised that they had produced a very very good pop rock album that I potentially would be raving about if it had been made by another band. This is pure bubble-gum keyboard drenched schmaltz that sounds like it has escaped from the soundtrack for a eighties Arnie action movie. It has choruses that you could build an entire international airport on and hooks catchier than the common cold. The fact that this is the same band that produced scary distorted Black Metal (OK with saxophones but still) I find mind-boggling but I need to give them their due that this is rather good!
Glen Benton produces decent album shock. In my late teens, Deicide were probably the most evil thing that I had encountered. They talked about Satan not in a 'boogie man is going to get me' way but in terms of reverence and worship. Whilst most other Metal band played at being demonic and servants of hell, Deicide seemed to mean to. Their second album 'Legion' is still considered one of the great Death Metal albums of all time but for the last two decades they have traded on their name and past glories, not helped by perpetually seeming to cancel tours and festival appearances and making really poor records.
However after many of us had given up on them, Deicide have stopped arsing about and made a really rather good record. This is chunky, muscular Death Metal and it is very well made. Deicide records have been guilty of being sloppy and messy but this is concise and immaculately structured. It seems out of nowhere they have re-found their venom, power and fire and realised good Death Metal is not just a case of playing fast and growling. Really good, now for that tour?
And here is another veteran act still producing the goods. I fell in love with Voivod way back in 1988 when their extraordinary fourth album ‘Dimension Hatröss’ seemed to combine my love of thrash with my emerging love of Queensryche. Thirty years later, it is a joy to behold that they are still producing complex and challenging music that refuses to adhere to any particular genre. Founding member "Piggy" may sadly be no longer with us and there have been numerous comings and goings and comings again with the line-up but that urge to experiment and confound that I found so enticing on the fourth release seems very much still be in place here on what is their fourteenth album. ‘The Wake’ is fascinating to listen to because it keeps changing and morphing in front of your eyes. There is essentially a funky core to the album but around that it wraps varying time signatures and proggy guitars to the point that It comes across as ambient, trancy and almost hypnotic in places. It sounds completely unlike anything you will find under the label heavy metal and I found that particularly heartening as that is exactly what I thought of ‘Dimension Hatröss’ thirty years ago.
Last year, a couple of friends and I fulfilled a bit of a bucket list ambition of attending a European music festival by heading to Grass Pop Metal Meeting in Belgium. I tell you this as the first band we saw on entering this Disneyland for metal heads was MaYan. I'm not sure whether my affection for them was artificially enhanced by the euphoric experience of actually being in a festival where you are treated with respect and a level of intelligence but they were absolutely amazing. So I come to their new album with huge expectations and thankfully it doesn't disappoint. This is symphonic operatic metal at its most bombastic and over the top. Yes they are not alone in producing this stuff but ‘Dhyana’ seems to ratchet everything up about five gears. Whilst I wouldn't always argue more is better this album succeeds because it is so cinematic and ambitious.
Ever wondered what a Fugazi album released in 2018 would sound like? Well here is your answer as Turnstile takes the musical blueprint of the straight edge legends and update it for a post truth world. This is intelligent minimalistic experimental punk at its best. It's short and it's uses every note sparingly, very much aware of not out staying it's welcome. But within its brief 25 minute lifespan it still manages to pack so much energy and conviction that there are times you are left breathless by its pace and vision. Very much proof that you don’t have to have length to make an impression.
Aborted are from Belgium and over the last twenty two years have had so many members pass through their ranks that they potentially qualify as a Flemish work creation scheme. They specialise in big, chunky wide-screen Death Metal and ‘Terrorvision’ is no exception. This album is as near to stadium rock as Death Metal will get. It is big confident music designed to fill a big space and whilst it retains its brutality it is highly polished and extraordinarily well produced. What sets ‘Terrorvision’ apart is the sheer power and vitally they manage to amass over the eleven tracks. It feels so alive and life affirming and proves once again just because something is fast and brittle, it doesn't stop being euphoric.
A friend on Facebook whose opinions on music and a whole host of other things I hugely admire and respect, enquired whether the none metal entries were in the list to keep the listener on their toes. A nice idea but like most conspiracy theories it shows more design and thought that is actually the case.
You see, like some very slow cybernautic transformation over the last fifteen years, my tastes and musical touchstones have become more and more and more metallic as I lose touch with my indie and dance reference points. So the occasional non-metal entries are all that remains of the old indie and dance kid Stewart, my old identity screaming to still be heard over the metallic din. None of the entries from outside metals many fiefdoms are new acts as I am no longer in those circles, they are older acts that I still cling onto as the metamorphosis happens and there are less than ten of these on the whole list and there will be even less next year and so on and so forth until the process is complete.
OK, if you are not into experimental post metal then I would approach this one with caution. This is a bubbling cauldron of angst and isolation expressed through the medium of repetitive noise. It isn't particularly heavy or fast and there is a lot of melody on display here. It is just presented in such a random and non linier way that it comes across as disorienting and nonsensical. None of this is a bad thing though as the resulting maelstrom of noise is immersive, intriguing and completely fascinating. You found yourself hypnotically sucked in by patterns of repeated notes and otherworldly sounds. Probably not music for dinner parties but still utterly compelling.
Very slick pop prog from Denmark. This is all smooth edges, dreamy melodies and rich harmonies. There is lots of A-ha comparisons giving it a distinct eighties vibe but it also splices in modern metal when you are least expecting. It's biggest selling point is it's warmth. Modern prog can be so angular and cold but Vola (very much like Tesseract) manage to add a human and fragile edge through copious usage of soaring melodies. A rich and thoroughly engaging record.
Never mind the radiant light this is a sub-genre devouring record as it absorbs in thrash, Black, Death and Power metal and digests them to create something quite unique and special. There is so much in here that I love in that it has Death Metal’s brutality and Black Metal’s ethereal atmospherics and then it combines these with the song structures and melodies of traditional metal. It sounds rich and deep and just so confident. Extreme metal is not meant to be this catchy.
And that’s part two wrapped up. More to come as numbers 60 to 41 are next after this short break….. And remember to listen along on Spotify.