For devotees the world over, heavy metal will never die. Hands held high, fingers pressed into tight devil-horns, fans of the genre treat their dedication to metal almost like a religion — and the bar-room floor or their bedroom is their church.
2018 was an absolutely amazing year for the heavy metal genre, spawning hits from genres ranging from the new wave of British heavy metal as exemplified by Satan to the saxophone-laden technical death metal of Rivers of Nihil.
Without further ado, and presenting a very different list than Loudwire, we present the 10 best heavy metal albums released this year.
10. Between the Buried and Me — Automata I and II
Highly unique and always experimental, progressive death metal crew Between the Buried and Me knocked it out of the park with their back to back half-albums this year. Automata I and Automata II do stand alone on their own, but are much better enjoyed in sequence, as intended. Borrowing a bit of eccentricity that hearkens back to mature Marilyn Manson, Tool, or Opeth — the American quintet delivers something very different from the mainstream. That’s a good thing, because the mixture of hardcore heavy metal and artistic, idiosyncratic songwriting is delectable herein.
9. Judas Priest — Firepower
Rob Halford is a heavy metal legend, and his voice continues to amaze. Sky-high and pitch-perfect vocal delivery still intact — and as forceful as ever — Firepower is a full, rich tapestry that tells a new story from what we’ve heard before from the band. There’s not an element of the production that sounds out of place. If you placed this album side by side with their work from the 1980s, it’s not precisely clear whether the classics would actually win out. This album is that damn good. An easy recommendation to any fan of the band, or the genre writ large. Look out for “Necromancer,” and “Traitor’s Gate.”
8. Tribulation — Down Below
Swedish melodic death/doom metal group Tribulation has managed a minor miracle in summoning forth Down Below, drawing deep from an artistic font to deliver a brutal yet beautiful collection of songs. Blending an almost psychedelic hard rock with a ragingly harsh guitar tone that roams up and down the fretboard with reckless abandon — and hammering a hard-hitting doom metal sludge — Down Below is truly a hidden gem. Extreme metal fans would do well to take a trip with this album, sampling the nostalgically tinged “Nightbound” first.
7. Immortal — Northern Chaos Gods
Immortal is, well, Immortal. The question of whether or not the band remains true to their roots without Abbath on the axe has been answered — Northern Chaos Gods is a great album that pays deep homage to the roots of the band. Wintry cold vocal delivery and seriously shredding make this an absolute must-own black metal effort. Look out for the rollicking “Gates to Blashyrkh” and the absolutely epic “Mighty Ravendark.”
6. Dimmu Borgir — Eonian
Long-standing symphonic black metal masters Dimmu Borgir are back with a vengeance this year with Eonian. Their iconic high-fidelity production value pairs extremely well with novel songwriting in this venture, though the tunes are not so experimental as to turn off long-time Dimmu Borgir fans. The corpse-painted Norwegians push around the boundaries of their sonic comfort zone, bringing back a bit of the harsh edge that made them a worldwide sensation with the release of Enthrone Darkness Triumphant in 1997. Their signature sound is best captured in tracks such as “Council of Wolves and Snakes” and “Interdimensional Summit,” but the entire album is satisfying throughout.
5. Satan — Cruel Magic
Bringing an old-school sound to the table directly from the NWOBHM — reminiscent of Ozzy Osbourne’s early catalog — Satan somehow also manages to stand apart from their peers, creating a heavy metal chug all their own. The English band first set out in the late 1970s and is still crushing skulls today, churning out an exceptional effort in the form of Cruel Magic. Standout headbangers such as “Ghosts of Monongah” and “Death Knell for a King” show that the veteran metallers still have what it takes to slay.
4. Revocation — The Outer Ones
Technical death metal thrashers Revocation turned in a science fiction slash horror inspired piece of work this year, releasing The Outer Ones on September 28. Frontman Dave Davidson is in fine form here, delivering blistering solos overtop insanely complex heavy metal riffs. The black metal inspiration is obvious on this album, with dissonance and tremolo picking making appearances throughout many of the tracks. Kicking off with the blast-beat laden “Of Unworldly Origin” and finding its heart and soul in the crazily swaying “Fathomless Catacombs,” The Outer Ones blends a Lovecraftian mythos with some truly killer musical delivery.
3. Skeletonwitch — Devouring Radiant Light
Finding new life with a new lead vocalist (Adam Clemans), Skeletonwitch left their nu-thrash roots in the past when it released Devouring Radiant Light over the summer. Taking on a blackened thrash tone which distinguished it from the albums that had come before it, this record sampled the best of both worlds. Soaring yet sad guitar leads laid overtop a panoply of pounding drum work and brutal vocals are combined with a cohesive soundscape that shows both fury — “Fen of Shadows” — and melancholy — “The Vault.” Devouring Radiant Light is the best Skeletonwitch product to date. “Carnarium Eternal” may, in fact, feature the most brutal hook in any metal album put out in 2018.
2. Nothgard — Malady X
A somewhat lesser-known band from Bavaria, this metalhead quartet put out an absolutely savage album this year in the form of Malady X. One part Children of Bodom, one part Eluveitie, and about five parts their own hellish thing — Nothgard nailed the melodic death metal sound to near perfection on their latest offering. From the fast and frenetic fretwork present in “Epitaph” to the epic melodies of title track “Malady X,” Nothgard deserves more recognition amongst the metal community. A stellar effort, and their first after having been signed to Metal Blade.
1. Rivers of Nihil — Where Owls Know My Name
The best heavy metal album released this year, Rivers of Nihil’s Where Owls Know My Name is a creative masterpiece. The daring inclusion of a sweet yet sonorous saxophone to the affair was brave, but worked out as well as could possibly be imagined — adding a depth of character to each track which would otherwise have been absent. Poetic songwriting and lyrics in tandem with progressive soundscapes make this extreme metal project one to check out regardless of personal preference. Stellar drum work, prominent and rock-solid bass performances, great guitar tone, and a mixture of filthy and clean vocals make for a heavy metal melange that was not surpassed by any other band this year. Rivers of Nihil had a serious breakthrough with Where Owls Know My Name— particularly within the title track and in “Subtle Change” — and deserve the accolades being showered upon them as 2018 comes to an end.