It’s finally here… the time when music nerds scramble to compile all of the albums they enjoyed during the year!
This was a particularly strong year for music of all types, both mainstream and independent. I even had a hard time narrowing down my favorites down to 50 records, let alone ranking them from “most best” to “least best.”
With that being said, my list doesn’t stem from any desire to tell anyone which albums are objectively the best. All of these albums made my list because, in one way or another, they moved a part of my soul that I’ll carry with me from 2018 to 2058.
It’s also worth mentioning that my musical taste is completely all over the place. My shameless love of the weirdest, nastiest metal music coincides with my more recent appreciation of hip-hop, art pop, and post-punk. So bear in mind, this list has its fair share of twists and turns.
You may notice that my bottom picks, 50-41, are more on the obscure side. Some of these albums took me a while to fully appreciate, but my decision to include them here means it was worth the time spent soaking in their strange darkness. You can count on more recognizable names being in subsequent installments—but hey, I made this list to give you guys a glimpse into my perspective on music in 2018. If these aren’t your favorite bands, make your own list and add to the conversation!
I hope some of these stay with you the way they’ve stayed with me.
50. Reverorum Ib Malacht — Im Ra Distare Summum Soveris Seris Vas Innoble
This Swedish “Roman Catholic black metal” band seems intent on keeping itself as obscure as possible. This LP contains some hints at recognizable black metal structures, but every sound is shrouded in harrowing mysticism.
Reverorum’s amalgamation of dissonant riffs, pummeling drums and archaic chants is impenetrable enough, but the band’s disdain for traditional production takes the form of a lucid nightmare. These songs sound like reverberations of the band playing in a deep cave. It’s an unlikely environment as any for Catholic symbolism, but Reverorum manages to use their left-field music as a vessel for their devout Christianity. Good luck trying to make heads or tails of what’s actually happening on this thing, but I think everyone can agree this band balances hellishness and holiness.
49. Soulfly — Ritual
Yes, we’re talking about the band that wrote “Jumpdafuckup,” but Soulfly took everything to the next level on Ritual. Max Cavalera hasn’t put out anything this punishing since he left Sepultura. The unbridled intensity he brings to the table over 30 years into his career is simply astounding, and rest of the band follows suit.
By no means is this album groundbreaking the groove metal genre, but what it lacks in originality it makes up for with brute force. From tough-as-nails breakdowns and furious mosh riffs to jackhammer blast beats and infectious tribal rhythms, Soulfly hits hard and plays its hand tastefully. Vocal contributions from Immolation’s Ross Dolan and Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe respectively supercharge the death metal of “Demonized” and certified thrasher “Dead Behind The Eyes.” Ritual is the sound of Brazil’s metal legend showing the youngsters how it’s really done.
48. Sumac & Keiji Haino — American Dollar Bill – Keep Facing Sideways, You’re Too Hideous To Look At Face On
Canada’s post-metal trio and the Japanese legend joined forces to a mind-altering effect with this slab of noise metal abuse. Sumac has always pushed the boundaries of heavy music, but it took a true aural contortionist to lead them beyond sludge metal and into something truly experimental.
Haino’s animalistic vocalizations and paranoid soundscapes capsize Sumac’s riffs and plunges each song into hellish improvisational rock. There’s little to grab onto in terms of traditional beats and riffs, but Sumac and Haino present some wonderfully madding exercises in free-form avant-metal. Keep Facing Sideways saw Sumac push its incredible chops and run with its eccentricities, which the band held on to after the fact.
47. The Soft Moon — Criminal
Two schools of thought remain constant in post-punk: the pretty and the ugly. Louise Vasquez has made a name for himself in the latter school as The Soft Moon. Criminal turned that ugliness inward, which resulted in Vasquez’s most raw and visceral record to date.
This thing is primal and dirty, chock-full of industrial rhythms, lo-fi synth walls and violent darkness. The synthwave elements keep things suitably catchy, but the gritty vocals and tell-tale lyrics become the focal point of this harrowing trip down memory lane. Addiction, mental health and childhood trauma are recurring themes in Vasquez’s Joy-Division-cum-Michael-Gira vocal delivery. Sullen despair billows from the destructive beat and grating synths of “Like a Father” and the brooding drones and dark-wave beats of “Young.” Criminal provides an essential catharsis for a man coming to grips with his internal war.
46. Wardruna — Skald
Wardruna has spent the past several years feeding traditional Nordic folk through a filter of contemporary ambient music. The group long held the torch of Scandinavia’s musical and cultural tradition, but its latest LP redoubled its ancestral reverence and sonic authenticity.
Consisting of 10 solo performances by frontman Einar Selvik, Skald lives up to its name as a no-frills journey back to the Skaldic poets of the Viking Age. While this album is certainly obscure in concept and minimal in its delivery, Selvik channels palpable emotion through his ethnic instruments and incredible voice. Every song is literally lifted from Old Norse poems and epics, but Skald elevates itself above a mere history lesson through its potent musicality. Powerful melodies, intimate acoustics and spiritual atmospheres make this a memorable bastion of Old Norse folk music.
45. Portal — Ion
If any extreme metal band could be afforded a bit more accessibility, it would be Australia’s Portal. Their past four albums have hurled avant-garde death metal to an abyss of caustic noise and unorthodox structures. While Ion in no way lessons Portal’s alien assault, it leaves more room for mutated melodies to emerge from the claustrophobic filth.
Make no mistake, Ion is still terrifyingly brutal and uncompromisingly weird. The difference is that the album’s musical madness yields more cohesive ideas to the discerning listener. Portal’s dark ambient and experimental elements gives them an unnerving edge, but more tremolo-picked anti-melodies escape from the primordeal soup of monstrous growls and unpredictable blast beats. It’s still quite a bit to take in on first listen. Portal’s latest offering concedes a bit more ground to those willing to sail into its treacherous waters.
44. Mournful Congregation — The Incubus of Karma
As funeral doom metal reaches more ears through the success of bands like Seattle’s Bell Witch, veterans like Australia’s Mournful Congregation are finally getting the recognition they deserve. These guys have worked in the shadows with acts like Birngingham’s Esoteric and Finland’s Skepticism to pioneer a cross section of doom metal, death metal and funeral dirge music. The Incubus Of Karma once again proves the band’s pioneering prowess in the metal underground’s most morose sub-genre.
Mournful Congregation upholds a beautifully melodic doom metal tradition. Though certainly sluggish and pessimistic to the core, The Incubus Of Karma is ultimately driven by compelling melodies instead of suffocating brown noise. There’s even an orchestral element that pervades throughout these songs. Even though the album lives up to the droning, dissonant funeral doom approach, there’s an undeniable elegance to this album. Rumbling growls and gargantuan guitar riffs coincide with regal organs and soulful guitar solos in Mournful Congregation’s latest metallic dirge.
43. Death Grips — Year of the Snitch
Let it never be said that Death Grips don’t know how to befuddle their listeners. Two years after releasing the violent, insane and morbidly comedic Bottomless Pit, Year of the Snitch looks to alienate everyone who found the Sacramento trio’s tempo in 2016. Collaborations with Shrek director Andrew Adamson notwithstanding, this album reinforces the group’s disdain for boundaries and appetite for memetic madness.
From forays into strung-out rave music to nonlinear speed-core, cuts like “Death Grips Is Online” and “The Horn Section” push Death Grips farther away from their hip-hop foundations. Drummer Zach hill also has more room to truly cut loose on tracks like “Black Paint” and “Shitshow.” These passages are contrasted with some of the band’s most accessible material, though lyrical themes remain incomprehensibility even in bangers like “Streaky.” As the punk ethos continues to shift over from rock to rap music, this album’s elusive nature stays true to Death Grips’ unorthodox ethos. Year of the Snitch should be approached with a real appreciation for whimsical absurdity.
42. Wrekmeister Harmonies — The Alone Rush
While it departs radically from Wrekmeister Harmonies’ previous multilayered epics, The Alone Rush achieves a human element through its therapeutic context and minimal composition. The writing process for this LP was rooted in healing, as each musician grappled with personal tragedy before and during the making of it.
In Wrekmeister Harmonies’ usual fashion, this album functions as one 47-minute song. The stripped-down approach the album takes spotlights long-time contributor Esther Shaw’s ethereal keyboard and violin. She fills the sonic space during softer parts and supports huge crescendos and chilling dissonance.
Swans’ percussionist Thor Harris was the perfect final addition to the Wrekmeister Harmonies power trio. His rhythmic textures mirror the amorphous dreariness of the album’s soundscape. The three musicians’ remarkable chemistry gels their shoestring arrangements, but band leader J.R. Robinson’s haunting narrative provides the emotional quotient. Robinson takes his most vulnerable position yet and his simple strumming and baritone sing-talking gradually weave a narrative of heartache, despair, confrontation and ultimately, transcendence.
41. Chastity — Death Lust
If Deftones formed in Ontario, Canada as a post-hardcore project, they would sound like Chastity. Hard-hitting beats, groovy riffs and emotive vocals certainly evoke the Sacramento legends, but debut album Death Lust finds its own identity through mastermind Brandon Williams’ surprisingly mature approach.
Chastity maintains an equal connection to soft-spoken indie rock and head-splitting alt-metal, but the way that combination plays out on Death Lust is incredibly diverse. Whether it’s mosh pit punk like “Choke,” the chest-pumping sludginess of “Children” or the dreamy melodicism of “Scary” and “Heaven Hell Anywhere Else,” this album is both listenable and potent. The ideas on this album are presented rather simply, but that works in the album’s favor. “Suffer” even has a White-Stripes-like blues vibe, while “Negative Reason To Be” combines the album’s energetic and heavy elements. Williams ties it all together with his raw, versatile vocal delivery.
His feral barks and spectral singing have the perfect balance of taste and intensity, as do his moving lyrics. His words speak to the heart of adolescent hardships, but not without a hint of redemption. Through uncertainty, anxiety and pain, Williams uses an intense exterior to empower his will and overcome his obstacles.