There are a few albums that I wish I had more time with, namely ones from Kaarmekristus, Drowning the Light, Archgoat, Sargeist, Esoctrilihum. and a few others. Nonetheless, welcome to the Agatized year in review. Consult past posts for more in depth analysis on most of these releases.
17. Ifernach – Gaqtaqaiaq
The musical highs that are achieved on opening track “Extinction” wandered through the year nearly unrivaled in quality and emotion. The lead guitar is brimming with a primeval power as it transports you to blissful, simpler realms of remembrance. The rest of the album is indeed solid musically, but no other moment is quite as exciting as the movement that begins the album. Songs like “Interlude”, “Naufrages”, and “Metal Sauvage Gaspesian” contain some folk and ambient elements that give this album a more defined character, making the listening experience feel genuine. An effective strategy going forward for Ifernach would be to save the best for the last track, as it would be interesting to hear an entire album building towards the glorious crescendo that we know this band is capable of creating. Ifernach create authentic, furious music and any future creation should gain well-deserved attention.
16. Runespell – Order of Vengeance
Runespell has quickly risen from the dirt to become a consistent force, hollowing out a unique sound in the realm of black metal that leans towards more epic song structures. Whereas the first album could be spun at just about any time to get a quick dose of pagan ferocity, this new album does not lend itself to constant listening; it is a longer, more somber trek that requires the proper mood to be fully enjoyed. A casual listen will result in feeling that this album is monotonous and unexciting, and in this respect Order of Vengeance does not prove this assumption incorrect as you progress through the album. None of the songs ever seem to really lift off the ground, which is fine when you take this album for what it is and expect nothing else but mid paced glory. When compared to last year’s Unhallowed Blood Oath, however, there is less of a balance between grandiosity and fury, which is a factor that made Runespell’s sound so captivating. Even through this mild criticism, “Wolf.Axis” is one of the most compelling tracks to be unleashed this year, with an inspired drum performance and some real power in the vocals. More tracks in this vein would be welcome in the future.
15. Hail Conjurer – Dreams of Serpent
There was much excitement around the two Hail Conjurer demos that were released in 2017, offering snippets of a deranged yet promising sound. The rewards were plenty in the release of Dreams of Serpent as Hail Conjurer seems perfectly suited for the longer format, being able to experiment wildly and get lost in the ambient haze. The variation of the long tracks allow for H.C.’s acumen as a drummer to shine; the style on “Mysterium Tremendum” contains upbeat, relentless fills that seamlessly transform into something heavier as the song spirals downwards. The blown-out production is similar to the demos in that it makes the recording seem psychotic and unhinged; this is an album created by need, not choice. This will become a classic in the Bestial Burst catalog.
14. Misotheist – Misotheist
Misotheist are a new entity specializing in disorientation and epic atmospheres via lengthy song structures and a variety of great riffs. The second track “Beast and Soil” is the perfect showcase for this band’s sound, beginning with a downtuned, pummeling riff then ending with soaring melodicism and enlightenment, capping off a remarkable journey. The transitions between movements within each song are clean and seamless, and by the end of the songs, multiple themes return to collide with a profound force. The drummer is on an absolute rampage throughout this entire album, and it brings a Vemodian quality to the sound. This is a beyond promising debut album, and hopefully there is more to come from this mysterious band in the future.
13. Norrhem – Vaienneet Voittajat
Norrhem take the classic Finnish black metal sound and inject it with militant hatred and a wealth of destructive riffs. All aspects of the production are perfect, and these guys know how to write songs that are constantly shifting while maintaining past themes. The real highlight of this album is the two-part “Vaienneet Voittajat” suite that perfectly exemplifies the beauty and harshness of true Finnish black metal. The first part is filled with nonstop speed and aggression; catchy riffs disappear and reappear all over the track. The second part also serves as the final track of the album, and it is a more morose, heavy sound that packs a mighty punch. The vocalist employs multiple techniques on this track to emphasize Norrhem’s final message on this album. This final track will go down as a classic of the Finnish scene, cementing Norrhem’s young legacy of hatred and northern majesty.
12. Nachash – Phantasmal Triunity
Is it wrong for one’s favorite track to be the intro to an album? Nachash could not have possibly started off stronger, with their new album beginning with an ode to the perfect EP from 2015 with guitar riffs so mighty that they are almost visibly swinging from the sky, and chanting that prepares us for the battle ahead. They deliver on the immense promise of the EP by releasing an album of more of the same formula, just cranked up an extra notch. The band was clearly inspired to top the last effort, and its evident in not only the insane riffs, but the monstrous drum performance as well as the overall production. One of the best aspects of Nachash was their ability to deconstruct a song into a slower, more ambient pace just to eventually pick up the pieces with an even larger sense of urgency than before, and that is evident as early as the second track “Apex Illuminous”. Nachash have a unique and fantastic formula that they should continue to stick with until the end.
11. Mare – Ebony Tower
Beyond all the needless hype, the return of Mare was unquestionably a monumental occasion that merited our undivided attention towards their new creation. The music takes time to unfold and spill its secrets before proper appreciation can begin, and the atmosphere is intoxicating as you move through the album, though there are some jarring moments that bring you back to reality for just a bit, such as the acoustic guitar outro in “Blood Across the Firmament”. The entire band works well together, and there’s not one particular instrument that really shines above the rest. The bassist and drummer do magnificent work in providing a constant pummeling back end while the guitarists are free to sleuth around with crazy riff dynamics as the vocalist preaches to the deranged choir. There is not another album this year that contains such an intense aura of pure sorcerous darkness.
10. Vargrav – Netherstorm
For the second year in a row, Werewolf Records released a fantastic album early in the year that still begged for repeated plays as the year dragged to a close. Vargrav is one of the most exciting new black metal bands, and their style of symphonic black metal is extremely potent. It is common to find bands that use symphonic elements as a crutch for the sad lack of riffs present, but Vargrav understands that one must possess a strong black metal core before branching out into experimentation. All five songs are classic compositions, but the two obvious highlights are “Limbo of Abysmal Void” and “Obedient Intolerant Ensnared”. “Limbo” starts furiously before devolving into a grandiose futuristic meltdown around two minutes in. “Obedient” begins its epic journey in perfect fashion – slow synths that eventually build up into the main riff that gains more power and urgency as the track wanders onwards. Vargrav has already completed work on his second album, so anticipation runs high for the next creation.
9. Cénotaphe – Horizons
Despite a brief 26 minute running time, Cénotaphe delivers a concise knock-out blow of triumphant, fast paced riffing and memorable songwriting. Finnish label Kuunpalvelus releases nothing but high quality material, and this album was their crowning achievement of the year. The third track “Bourreaux et Suppliciés” is breathtaking in its formula and its spirit, with the guitar tone possessing both mournful and grandiose qualities. The restraint of the drummer in the slightly slower sections shows great maturity for such a young band, and they also seem very inspired, with releases in 2019 already underway. There were several great debut albums released in 2018, and this one tops them all.
8. W.A.I.L. – Vol. II
There was no greater artistic expression this year than what W.A.I.L. was able to accomplish with their gargantuan second album. As we discussed previously with Runespell, and something that has been written about bands like Ildjarn, is that not every album is made for constant repeated listens. These are albums that cannot be casually put on in the car, or at home surrounded by other people. Soaking this monument in is a strictly solitary endeavor, as there is so much happening around each of these half-hour long tracks that you would not want to miss a thing. W.A.I.L. can seamlessly go from a slow, spacey section to a downright pummeling blast fest, and then just transform the song completely, as if starting a new chapter within a novel. While this album definitely did not get the most plays when compared to others, every listen was quality time spent, and new secrets unveil themselves each time. This is an album to be cherished and relied upon throughout the years.
7. Ride for Revenge – Sinking the Song
At this point, Ride for Revenge are only adding to their immense legend; they have nothing left to prove, yet they are still continually inspired with creating soundtracks to the perverse satanic underworld. The long tracks like the self-titled and “Horror in Heat” prove to be inescapable labyrinths of filth and noise that is as repulsive as it is imprisoning. The shorter tracks provide a sense of urgency that fits the tribal drumming style perfectly, and oscillating sounds swirl about to create an aura of confusion and delight. The balance between these two styles is perfect as usual. There is no other band like Ride for Revenge, and there never will be again. Their two concerts this year in Los Angeles will go down in history, and were certainly the best live shows of 2018.
6. Demonomancy – Poisoned Atonement
While the guys in Mare may have a deep connection with the dark arts, Demonomancy have been possessed to the point of madness and insanity, creating an album so unhinged and brimming with evil that it must be heard to be believed. Sinister energies must have been at play during the creation of this album, because mere mortals simply do not have the capacity to design such insane riffs, especially on the epic final track “Nefarious Spawn of Methodical Chaos”. From the time it was released until now at the end of the year, that riff at the 3:50 mark is absolute greatness, and it never grows tiresome. The catchiness of “The Day of Lord” is criminal in its overarching evilness. It will be interesting to see if Demonomancy attempts to top this release at any point, or just calls it quits after this one. This is an album that most bands can only dream of creating.
5. Misantropical Painforest – New Compass Point
As we get further down the list, separating the great albums from the all-time classics, uniqueness plays a huge role in the bands that will endure throughout time. From the first note on New Compass Point, not only can you tell that this is undoubtedly the sound of Misantropical Painforest, but that you are in for a psychedelic journey from the soul without any regards to trends or genres. The mastermind Kutcheck Gorealis depicts a bleak vision on the state of man, but instead of relishing in the negativity, he offers suggestions for ways to improve our position on this earth, creating an extremely rare album that gives of vibes of faint positivity without coming off as corny or cliché. Everything about this sound is unorthodox, from the tone of the guitars, to the simplified drumming and psychotic vocals, but it is an identity that Misantropical Painforest proudly stands by to deliver an authentic musical experience.
4. Knokkelklang – Jeg Begraver
Terratur Possessions had a monster year with the return of Mare and the unveiling of a special act in Misotheist, but none came close to topping the wondrous swirling sounds of Knokkelklang. The first track “Jeg Begraver” is a masterful clinic on the practice of variations on a theme, as all the riffs deviate in tone and speed but eventually return, in some fashion, to the main concept. At twenty minutes long, the song is so brooding and hypnotic that listeners are left in a trance that persists throughout the album. The vocals tend to get a bit more frantic as each song transpires, creating a feeling that the creator knows there is no escape from the confines he has created for himself. This album continues to be rewarding upon each listen, as listeners should stand in awe of the lengthy hellish soundscapes that are presented here.
3. Wulkanaz – Wulkanaz
Not to say that Paralys was a bad album, but this is a glorious return to form for Wulkanaz. Upon the release of the Blodwughe EP in 2017, expectations were very high as the production sounded excellent and it contained arguably the greatest track in the Wulkanaz discography in “Andanom”. Dreams were fully realized once this album was unleashed, as not only did it contain both songs from the EP, but also reworked tracks from the raw Rehearsal 2014 demo, with all songs containing that promising production found on Blodwughe. For Kvmvlonimbvs to dip into the past to revive old unreleased songs shows a lot of inspiration for this new album, as no stone was left unturned in its creation. Soundwise, there are no surprises here, as all the crazed, manic riffing and drumming that you’ve come to expect from Wulkanaz is present, along with the occasional accordion and coughing fits. Wulkanaz has outdone himself and has added yet another perfect album to his overwhelmingly original discography.
2. Pagan Hellfire – At the Resting Depths Eternal
Pagan Hellfire is the biggest personal surprise of the year. Having been unacquainted with this project until this year, the no-frills black metal approach mixed with hypnotism absolutely blew me away. This is black metal for the purists; there are no triggered drums or any other gimmicks, just great riffs, mighty vocals, and an evocation of the past. Second track “Rustling Wind of Dimensions Unreachable” can get downright groovy at times, and the section around four minutes in is just mind-melting, as two triumphant riffs eventually collide with monumental force. The title track also brings the heavy groove, and the flair at the end of the riffs is immensely effective in creating a unique aura. There is not one second wasted on this album; this is clearly the well rehearsed product of one man and his strife to create the ultimate black metal album. Job well done, Pagan Hellfire. It is time to get acquainted with the other releases.
1. Sleep – The Sciences
Many bands returned in 2018 after long silences, but no silence was longer than that of Sabbathian doom gods Sleep. Nearly 20 years after Dopesmoker, they unleashed this album as a 4/20 surprise, and it has stayed in constant rotation ever since. The Sciences perfectly captures what the band is able to do in a live setting, transforming songs into long compositions that alternate between slow and slower speeds. In the case of “Sonic Titan” you have multiple guitar solos and even a mind-numbing bass solo all before the absurd lyrics even take shape. Sleep could have easily phoned it in and released an average album just to play those songs live, but they took a couple live staples and did them absolute justice on record, and the new songs are just as inspired. “Antarcticans Thawed” is the ultimate highlight, as it shows the serious songwriting chops that Sleep possess. They can bend time to their will, and the song flows effortlessly in tandem with their hazed visions. A band must be a tight-knit group to pull off the various tricks that Sleep achieve so effortlessly. Sleep have returned to put the entire pathetic stoner doom genre, one that they created, to shame. This is not only the heaviest album released this year, but perhaps the entire 21st century.