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
10. Wake The Sleeping Dragon!
Artist: Sick of It All
Label: Century Media
The kings of hardcore have returned with an album that proves that they are as relevant as ever, showing no signs of slowing down any time soon. Their resilience, consistency and quality output prove that they’re the greatest hardcore band of all time.
In stark contrast to the pizza party thrash that remains popular, Blood Tsunami celebrates and worships the past without trying to blatantly rip it off. Grave Condition, their fourth album, takes their blackened, sometimes melodic and punk take on Slayer and Kreator to an even more raw level in terms of songwriting and production. The ghosts of classic Metallica and Testament also weave in and out of Grave Condition, but while their influences are obvious, Blood Tsunami, featuring Faust formerly of Emperor, continues to burst forth with a unique identity. Grave Condition is abundant with face-melting riffs and blazing solos.
Crucifier isn’t the most prolific band. They’ve been in existence for nearly thirty years, yet they have released demos, EPs and songs on compilations more than anything. Thy Sulfur Throne on High is actually their second full-length album, following the debut from 15 years earlier. But for the Pennsylvania-based band, it’s all about quality rather than quantity. The wait has been worth it. Drummer and vocalist Cazz Grant, best known for his work with Grand Belial’s Key at the height of its career, leads the charge on an album that’s as well written as it is genuinely dark, ominous and unsettling. Simply put, Thy Sulfur Throne on High is blackened death metal at its finest.
Chicago’s primitive and burly death metal outfit Cardiac Arrest has released half a dozen albums across a couple of decades. They continue along the expected trajectory stylistically without chasing their own tail. A Parallel Dimension of Despair isn’t groundbreaking. And that’s okay. It’s a fantastic death metal album that’s chock-full of energetic, aggressive, memorable songs.
The legendary grindcore act has never allowed the expectations and demands of purists to restrain its artistic pursuits. Pig Destroyer has waved the grindcore flag with pride, and the band has also been key in turning it upside down and challenging the idea of what grindcore is. Indeed, sometimes the group has contributed to the expansion of the boundaries, while fearlessly stepping outside of them altogether at others. But Pig Destroyer’s boldness has never been so pronounced as it is now on Head Cage. The album is a genre-bouncing affair that’s streamlined in focus and intent at particular sections, yet free flowing and sprawling in overall scope. It isn’t likely to tickle the pickle of the kinds of grind fans who perpetually seek bands rehashing old Agathocles seven-inches, but it’s inevitably going to shine bright in the eyes of those who have favorably viewed Pig Destroyer since its transition from pure grind to beyond with Terrifyer and Phantom Limb. Whether the group is grinding along like a speed demon, redirecting its belligerence into a mid-paced, bottom heavy stomp, or broadening its horizons with progressive and evocative flourishes that retain a grimy and gritty edge, it remains compelling throughout. Pig Destroyer’s impressive capabilities are on full display as it serves up a smorgasbord of sound on Head Cage, the ensemble’s most dynamic and accessible album to date, one that’s also utterly savage and belligerent.
Portal’s otherworldly dark music continues to eschew some of the more traditional and recognizable aspects of the likes of, say, Immolation and Morbid Angel whilst simultaneously plumbing the depths of said artists’ spirit and essence. At times chords remain suspended, left hanging with an element of repetition contributory to a hypnotic state prior to an awakening by jagged heavy metal noise clamoring and crashing much like a glass wall shattering from a cannonball’s impact. The Curator sounds more like a man possessed than some dude singing in a metal band. His daunting presence and absurd, theatrical garb demands attention live, yet with regard to the group’s recordings, his role isn’t central as he generally chimes in relatively sparingly to punctuate certain parts with his deep, booming roar. But with Ion, the expression that was once more thoroughly abstract and almost seemingly shapeless has now taken a more easily recognizable form. The murky, loosely defined atmospherics of yore have been dialed back in favor of more fury, increased speed and experimental death metal complexity. Whether or not the band’s odyssey into the abstract and amorphous had contacted the highest state of enlightenment its capable of reaching on 2013’s Vexovoid, Portal’s shifting focus toward higher velocity, technical music was a wise move to avoid the possibility of redundancy.
Corrosion of Conformity has returned with its best album in 22 years. The group has never released bad or subpar music, but since Pepper Keenan removed himself from the picture to focus upon Down, the unit lost its momentum and magic. Now that the charming frontman has returned to the fold, the group has repossessed the power, spirit and sounds of Deliverance and Wiseblood. Fortunately, this new album isn’t simply a rehash of those classics. No Cross No Crown is an extension of that timeless spirit that benefits from the musicians’ growth since the release of those revered albums. With No Cross No Crown, there is a dramatic sense of power from the moment you hit play. Signature Corrosion of Conformity elements take hold as “Old Disaster” sounds like it was performed by a burly and beefed-up, metallic version of Gov’t Mule or The Allman Brothers Band. And lest we forget, shameless Sabbath worship emerges on “E.L.M.’” a track that perhaps tears a few pages from Trouble’s playbook as well. Corrosion of Conformity has returned with a release that proves that the gentlemen are back on their game and ready to rumble.
The Wake is elaborate, complex and bizarre yet surprisingly accessible. Michel “Away” Langevin is reliable with his pummeling and tasteful approach, and while Denis “Snake” Bélanger offers the best vocal performance of his career as he gives sound to the lyrics that are as nerdy and interesting as ever, it’s actually guitarist Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain who steals the show. Even though Mongrain is perceived by many as a newbie, he’s been a part of the band for a decade. Some will never fairly give him a chance due to the fact that he is not the guitarist who he replaced: the legendary and inventive Denis “Piggy” D’Amour who died of cancer in 2005. Mongrain was the perfect replacement because he was a longtime fan, one that clearly studied Piggy’s style. Mongrain’s off-the-wall, frantic style sometimes morphs into punchy bursts that are jazzy and rhythmic, specifically on tracks like “Always Moving”. He steers the ship across oceans of post punk, post rock, prog and more—all whilst maintaining the integrity of the band’s metal foundation. Collectively, Mongrain’s style and contribution, Snake’s lyrics, Away’s post-apocalyptic dystopian artwork and every aspect of the band strikes an interesting balance. The Wake is the epitome of avant-garde metal that’s void of pretense. Voivod is back in a big way.
Philip H. Anselmo & the Illegals’ sophomore effort is nothing short of maniacal, a schizophrenia musical expression that’s as insane as it is enjoyable. Choosing Mental Illness As A Virtue finds Philip H. Anselmo & the Illegals disregarding strict metal conventions and boundaries as it playfully bounces across a plethora of heavy music styles. One should be forgiven for submitting to bouts of head-banging and missing out on fully appreciating the intricate guitar work’s details and rhythmic interplay. But it’s more worthwhile to properly soak in all the nuances behind the undeniable catchiness on one of Anselmo’s best albums in years.
With its third album, 1999’s Driven to Conquer, Internal Bleeding had truly found itself and honed in upon its trademark style and identity. Tough guy guitar chugging is layered atop mid-tempo pummeling, spiced up with occasional bursts of blasting belligerence. Internal Bleeding, led by guitarist Chris Pervelis, encompasses the direct approach, mentality and style of hardcore as well as a clear appreciation of hip-hop groove. In spite of the magnitude of the death of founding member and drummer Bill Tolley last year, not only has the band held it together and persevered, Corrupting Influence is the best album of its career. They’ve established a formula that works, but Corrupting Influence showcases more guitar melodies than ever that provide contrast and are interesting on their own. But the filthy grooves and mosh-pit stirring riffs are what Internal Bleeding is primarily known for, and there is an endless supply on Corrupting Influence. Sure, the group is regularly credited as pioneers of the en vogue “slam death metal” movement, but for the bulk of its career, the Long Island-based crew has been regarded as leaders of good, ol’ fashioned, brutal American death metal. Whatever one would like to call it, Corrupting Influence is the album of the year.
Hate Eternal – Upon Desolate Sands (Season of Mist)
Best Gig of 2018
Judas Priest @ The Bomb Factory in Dallas, Texas (April 28, 2018)
Favourite Physical Item Purchased
The Mercyful Fate “Crush the Cross” shirt that I purchased from Tim of Diabolical Force Distribution is definitely one of the coolest merch items I’ve ever owned.
Most Anticipated Albums of 2019
Nuclearhammer, Diocletian, Tool, A Pale Horse Named Death, Today is the Day, Deiphago, Usurper, Darkthrone, Imprecation
Looking Forward to in 2019
Things are going well for my band: Trench Warfare. In 2018, we played at Gospel of the Serpent Festival in Chicago before opening for Heresiarch and Antichrist Siege Machine on the tour’s Texas leg. We will soon release our first album, Hatred Prayer, via Transcending Obscurity Records on CD, vinyl and digitally, later via Von Frost Records on cassette. Check us out if you’re interested in blackened death metal, war metal or any kind of aggressive and violent music.
Apparently it’s pretty cold in Murmansk. Less chilly is Death Nord Kult, the latest release from Old Wainds. They hail from northern Russia, and thus it’s not overly surprising that their brand of black metal is all about darkness, the arctic, and geographical isolation.