There was no shortage of stand-out metal releases in 2018, and this year saw many artists branching out and continuing to push the boundaries of their respective genres. Newer artists like Slugdge earned success after years of struggling in the underground, while veterans like Behemoth, Sleep, and Immortal continued to preserve their status as legends of the game.
Here are some of the year’s most remarkable metal albums:
Panopticon – The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness
Panopticon is the unique ambient black metal/folk metal progeny of sole songwriter and instrumentalist Austin Lunn of Louisville, Kentucky. What began as a studio-only endeavour has since expanded to include a lineup of musicians for live performances. Lunn remains the creative force behind the project which blends black metal with elements from his Southern roots, including bluegrass and Appalachian folk music, banjos, fiddles, and acoustic guitars, and drawing a heavy influence from his love of nature and the outdoors.
The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness is split into two parts, with the first taking inspiration from legendary Norwegian bands Bathory and Windir (Lunn even dedicated the third song to late Windir mastermind Valfar.) The second part of the album delves into Lunn’s pastoral side, featuring more acoustic, bluegrass, and folk music, and is inspired by the writings of American environmentalist Sigurd Olson.
Slugdge – Esoteric Malacology
Formed in 2012 in Lancashire, UK, Slugdge had released three albums prior to 2018’s Esoteric Malacology, their first proper label release via Willowtip Records. Duo Matt Moss and Kev Pearson have created an entire Lovecraftian universe with their blackened-death style of metal based on the cult of Mollusca, who believe that an inter-dimensional slug god will one day enter our world and destroy it with slime.
Rivers of Nihil – Where Owls Know My Name
Rivers of Nihil deserves an award for somehow finding a way to make a saxophone sound heavy as hell. Where Owls Know My Name was one of the most refreshingly unique metal releases of 2018, and Rivers of Nihil’s unconventional approach feels completely authentic.
Behemoth – I Loved You At Your Darkest
Revered Polish metal veterans Behemoth set expectations almost impossibly high with their broadly-acclaimed 2014 album The Satanist, but their 2018 follow-up I Loved You At Your Darkest succeeded in meeting them. On their eleventh album, Behemoth continues to unleash their signature brand of intensely dark black/death metal, but also expands their sound to incorporate more diversity with their guitar and vocal tones, including using a 17-piece orchestra and a children’s choir.
YOB – Our Raw Heart
Much like how the aforementioned Behemoth frontman Nergal channeled a close encounter with his own death into the unrelentingly devastating album The Satanist, YOB vocalist, guitarist and mastermind Mike Scheidt prevailed through a bout with a near fatal illness to emerge on the other side a changed man with unstoppable creative momentum. Woven into Our Raw Heart’s staggering 75 minutes of doom are Scheidt’s reflections on life and death, and some of the most fervent, aggressive and voluminous riffs YOB has ever created.
Tomb Mold – Manor Of Infinite Forms
Toronto’s own Tomb Mold continue their rapid rise to the forefront of death metal with their second album Manor Of Infinite Forms. The album follows their much-loved 2017 release Primordial Malignity, which seemed to appear on almost every year-end metal list last year. This time they’ve teamed with engineer Arthur Rizk, whose recent work includes Power Trip’s Nightmare Logic and Code Orange’s Forever, to achieve a dreadfully gargantuan sounding record. They’ve already announced that they will be releasing a new album in 2019.
Sumac – Love In Shadow
Sumac began in 2015 with ex-ISIS frontman Aaron Turner embarking on a quest to produce “the heaviest music he’d ever created.” Turner met Vancouver-based drummer Nick Yacyshyn through Kurt Ballou of Converge, and the pair quickly discovered a unique chemistry. After playing together only twice, they performed their first show opening for Deafheaven in Vancouver, and soon decided to pursue Sumac as a full-time band. Sumac’s third full-length album Love In Shadow is a masterclass in dynamic, experimental post-metal.
MØL – Jord
Like Deafheaven? Alcest? Do you ever wish Slowdive was born and raised in some cold, dark forest in Scandinavia? Well, Denmark’s MØL pairs black metal and shoegaze beautifully on their debut full-length Jord.
The Ocean Collective – Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic
Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic is Berlin-based musician collective The Ocean’s seventh full-length album. Started in 2000 by German guitarist and core songwriter Robin Staps, The Ocean has shared stages with Opeth, Mastodon, Devin Townsend, and Between The Buried And Me. The progressive-metal collective featured a revolving door of contributors until establishing a stable line-up in 2009. Phanerozoic I continues the band’s tradition of writing albums about prehistoric Earth, geology, biology, and philosophy, and includes guests like vocalist Jonas Renske of Katatonia.
Ihsahn – Ámr
Although the Norwegian composer, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Ihsahn is most known for his work in the highly-influential black metal band Emperor, his solo work often leans more into the realm of progressive metal than it does black. The black metal is still evident, but with each new record Ihsahn continues to evolve and push his sound into new territory.
Spectral Wound – Infernal Decadence
In case you thought there wasn’t enough black metal on this list, here’s Spectral Wound from Montreal with their second album Infernal Decadence. One of this year’s stand-out black metal records proves again that Quebec has one of the most underrated metal scenes on the planet.
Mammoth Grinder – Cosmic Crypt
Formed in Austin, Texas in 2006, Mammoth Grinder consists of current and former members of Power Trip, Iron Reagan, and Darkest Hour. They aptly describe themselves as primitive, punk-inflected death metal. This album is so fun it cured my seasonal affective disorder.
Immortal – Northern Chaos Gods
Although it was rumoured that black metal pioneers Immortal were finished after founding member Abbath Doom Occulta left the band in 2015, Immortal returned this year with Northern Chaos Gods, their first album in almost nine years. It’s evil, dark, frostbitten black metal. And despite missing Abbath, it’s Immortal.
At The Gates – To Drink From The Night Itself
Architects of Swedish melodic death metal At The Gates had 26 years of legacy to live up to with the release of their 2018 album. To Drink From The Night Itself meets the high standard the band established with their genre-defining, landmark 1995 album Slaughter of the Soul.
Sleep – The Sciences
Released on 4/20 with little warning, Sleep’s fourth studio album The Sciences marks their first full-length release since 2003’s Dopesmoker. It’s hard to find a band that does stoner-metal better than Sleep. The album has everything to love about Sleep: it’s loud, slow, and hypnotic. These riffs are so dank you get high just listening to them.
Tribulation – Down Below
While their earlier releases may have leaned heavy on the Swedish death metal side, Tribulation create an ethereal, seamless blend of goth rock, old school, death and black metal on Down Below.