Every year, Hellbound writers submit their top albums of the year. They all get compiled into Hellbound’s Top Metal Albums of the year (coming soon).
Top Albums of 2018
After having run front-to-back with Limitations, listeners will almost definitely find that they won’t just be left winded by the exertion required to make it through the album, they may feel compelled to go and lay down to collect themselves. Such a claim may sound like rhetoric, but that’s not the case in the slightest; the unrelenting, unrepentant onslaught unloaded by this album is brick-thick and never breaks for a second. In that way, that this album bears a name like Limitations is laughably ironic; one listen proves that this album and this band clearly have yet to find a limit to the promise and power in them.
9. Just Business
Even upon their first play through Bass Drum of Death’s fourth album, listeners will quickly be able to note that its title is a complete fucking misnomer. Nothing about this album is “Just Business”; it’s impossible to not take this music personally because it IS THAT GOOD and DOES mark a spectacular potential turning point for the band. Simply put, “Just Business” rocks like a beast through two sides in thirty-five minutes and, while leaving winded, absolutely leaves listeners wanting more as well.
Right from the beginning, guitarist Brian McClelland grinds out a chord progression so violently that one might swear they can hear metal shavings falling from his strings, while the rhythm section (comprised of bassist Curtis Parker and drummer Matt Chandler) just bludgeons listeners into submission with their parts.Even seconds in, listeners may already find themselves dazed by the assault laid out by the band, but the rough-cut gem is unquestionably singer Lisa Mungo’s performance here; already rasping like Donita Sparks the morning after a hard-drinking and hard-smoking night from note one, Mungo rasps and wretches her way through a lyric sheet which is equal parts ‘intelligent’ and ‘infuriated’ (the first verse – “The needle is spinning retrograded/ These hind legs seen better shades/ Well, there’s no better sing/ Than to be a wild thing/ A wild thing” – effortlessly sets the tone) and instantly gets listeners onboard without even trying. It might not be the easiest thing on the ear, but listeners will find themselves hooked and spurred into action, without a doubt.
7. Go Farther In Lightness
For the nearly half-century since the genre’s inception now, one of the few steadfast foundations upon which punk rock has stood has been nihilism. Consistently, the spirit of punk has been one of “Fuck it all – strip the music down to the barest essentials and get emotionally dark and bleak – at least that way we’ll all beat the world at its own game and laugh when it comes runner-up to us when it reaches its own inevitable collapse.” That angle has always proven to be a pretty attractive one from which to view the world, but it has been done so often now that it could be seen as a “tradition” – something that punks have always (dogmatically) abhorred. Nearly fifty years along now, it seems like someone should have taken note of the irony present in that basic foundation and (in keeping with the other keystone tenets of punk) attempted to flip everything that punk has held dear on its head and rethink it from the ground up.
I have to confess that, as soon as I began listening to Loner – the new full-length album by Caroline Rose – I realized that everything I thought I knew and expected from the singer was incorrect. My first contact with Rose was with the song “Yip Yip Yow” from an NPR live performance, and that was enough to get me looking around for other music by the singer. What I found was largely music which drew a lot of inspiration from the roots and alt-country traditions; soulful and beautiful, but with a fresh excitement which was pretty infectious. Listening to Loner, all of those things could be perceived as true – but there is also much, much more at work on Loner. It is far more complex than anything Rose and her band have attempted before.
In keeping with the surprises which manifested in 2018, this year marked the first occasion when a prog band released my favorite album of the year – and is it ever one for the books. On their debut full-length, Yamantaka // Sonic Titan intertwine elements of Japanese art and culture (anime art and cartoons as well as theatre and music) with some shockingly heavy progressive rock and arrive at a sound which is completely unique and stands apart from everything else that’s happening in any idiom or sub-genre in popular music. It’s hard but it’s delicate, aggressive but genteel and produced so cleanly that listeners have no choice other than to absorb every microtone of each song as the album plays. It’s remarkable.
4. The Night Guy at The Apocalypse Profiles of a Rushing Midnight
While there have been albums which have appeared from Hamell On Trial since Tough Love came out (six of them – three studio albums and three live albums, in fact) and each has definitely had some inspired moments and moments of brilliance, but none has captured a spirit and collection of images so perfectly. None before The Night Guy at The Apocalypse, Profiles of Rushing Midnight but, this time – with a billionaire would-be oligarch sitting in the big chair at the head of the United States government and with white supremacists exerting a presence which hasn’t been seen since the Second World War and with natural disasters battering the coastal regions of the United States – the stage is perfectly set. Having been recorded using a cellphone in various locations around the world while Hamell was on tour, this album has a raw urgency which simply cannot be faked or replicated and it’s the kind of thing which needs to be experienced firsthand to be understood.
3. Spencer Sings the Hits!
When your own name has preceded your band’s name for the last twenty-eight years, the idea of releasing a solo album might come off as feeling a bit strange – but it makes perfect sense in Jon Spencer’s case. On the eleventh album to bear the singer’s name Jon Spencer replaces his backing band and rethinks the nature of his music a bit, but also refreshes his approach with renewed energy and focus; it’s slick and hard as an aluminum baseball bat. The best part is that the album’s title isn’t ironic – each cut on Sings The Hits is a hit.
2. LIGHT // SOUND
Other than boasting one of the most inventive covers of the albums released this year, LIGHT // SOUND’s debut holds the distinction of being a great indie rock album in the tradition of Sebadoh, and actually living up to such praise. Right out of the gate, the New Orleans-bred band manages to capture the idea of indie creativity at its finest and most homegrown as they mix excellent rock songwriting chops with small but tight sonics with the perfect amount of underground class and style to ensure that listeners are enthralled with the music. The results are brilliant and will have those who hear it coming back for more and more and more.
1. The Spark That Moves
When a band gets six albums deep into their career, history has illustrated that one of two things happens: either said group releases a career-defining album, or they release the worst shit shingle in their catalogue. For every British Steel, Machine Head, Divine Intervention, Sabotage or Sound of White Noise, there are also albums like Somewhere In Time, Take A Look In The Mirror or Load… It’s actually a pretty remarkable position to occupy, that ‘sixth album’ slot and, from the moment the needle catches the groove in The Spark That Moves and “Gatekeeper” crashes in to open it, listeners will understand that this record is positioned to align perfectly with its position in Cancer Bats’ catalogue. There, everything that has ever won Cancer Bats praise from both fans and critics is already locked down tightly and swaggers with the knowledge that the fury the band is bringing is going to work. From the first instant that singer Liam Cormier crows out “God damn,” he’s already at full stomp, and every second of the aural wave that the band brings behind him is honed and tempered to cut listeners to the bone. Those listeners will know it and they’ll love it and the album, for its part, does not let that vibe lapse for a second through its running. This album is both perfect and a perfect storm.
Album Cover of the Year
LIGHT // SOUND – s/t (independent) – Made from floorboards repurposed from houses in New Orleans which were torn down as the city continues to rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the cover of LIGHT // SOUND’s self-titled album cuts a striking image and each is absolutely one of a kind.
Best Gig of 2018
I didn’t catch any shows this year (although there are still a couple coming up that I’d like to see, so that may still happen).
Favourite Physical Item Purchased
Cancer Bats’ The Spark That Moves
Most Anticipated Album(s) of 2019
Dunno yet – I’m not thinking that far ahead.
My 2018 in Metal
What a year it has been. Were there great releases? Heavens yes – there were enough great albums released this year that bands normally regarded as mainstays on my best-of lists of ANY year (like the Eels, for example) didn’t just get knocked down the numbers, they got knocked clean out of my ten best. Regarding metal albums specifically, Cancer Bats’ sixth album arrived and proved once more that, sometimes, a band’s sixth album can stand as proof that a good group just needs a chance to cure to present something classic. Not only that, there was also no shortage of great new bands who seemed to come out of nowhere (like Fucked and Bound) who arrived and left an indelible impression. Needless to say, while 2018 featured no shortage of upsets and surprises, many of the musical upsets and surprises were definitely exciting and welcome ones.