Doomsday – 2018 In Review

A dark and foreboding greeting to you, heaviest of Heavy Bloggers! Yes, I’m afraid it’s that time again. The death of the year 2018 demands a review, and we would be quite foolish not to oblige. It’s been another very solid year for doom metal. Personal favorites and genre darlings alike have returned with huge releases, up and comers have made themselves known, and a certain giant of the scene made a comeback after a far too long hiatus. What’s not to like about DOOM 2018?

On a more personal note, let’s remember our good friend Lincoln Jones who started this column last year. Lincoln had to step away from the blog for reasons of not being metal enough, obviously, but he still checks in with us to see what we’re all talking about and make some music recommendations of his own. Even before joining the blog, I was a fan of this column, and I’m overjoyed to be able to continue it in a way that (hopefully) makes us all very pleased. I hope I can continue the column in a way that he approves.

To the albums!

Straight Damn Doom

Straight up doom metal had another excellent year. We saw new releases from several mainstays of the genre that many were desperately looking forward to. In addition to that, we’ve seen more breakouts from bands that we don’t talk about enough.

After blowing our minds last year with Time Travel Dilemma, Spaceslug returns with Eye the Tide. I’ve grown to really love this kind of sound from the Polish trio. It’s got a great stoner post-rock aspect to it that works so well in doom. It makes it seem very academic and high-minded to enjoy them but that’s not to say it’s inaccessible. It’s an incredible example of what modern doom bands can do. They take their sound into so many different arenas but still center it in a gloomy sound that infuses heavy blues and synthesizers into it. It’s a wonderful follow up to a record that only came out in Feb. 2017. Let’s hope they can keep up the pace!

Conan have kept up an equally good pace with their discography, so two years seems like an eternity with their rate of production. Thankfully, we were blessed with another batch of the caveman battle doom they create with Existential Void Guardian. Honestly, this record might be one of my favorite releases of the year. You know how you critically think about your favorite media? Like you might’ve had a favorite movie this year, but there’s definitely a difference between your favorite movie and the most critically acclaimed movie of the year. It doesn’t make your favorite bad or anything like that. That’s how I feel about Existential Void Guardian.

This record FUCKS. Not only is it doomier than a Fantastic Four origin story, but it aggressively shoves it in your face every single opportunity it has. The trio tunes down their guitars ultra mega low so that the heaviness can absolutely slam you. Every single sound on this record is distorted and shouting at you so you can’t possibly miss a single note. It’s on this list for that purpose. It might not be the best record of the year, but it would be difficult to argue there’s a record more fun than Existential Void Guardian.

No discussion of doom metal in 2018 could blow past YOB. The return of Mike Scheidt and the boys was a very welcome one having heard the story of Scheidt’s health scare and the unbelievable pain he went through. Like a lot of art, Scheidt spun his pain into a brilliant work with Our Raw Heart.

There’s a damn good reason this record has made everybody and their grandmother’s list of best of 2018. Hearts are completely poured out on this record, leaving your nerve endings frayed and your emotions completely shattered. It is a truly wondrous experience when someone can absolutely nail describing the feeling of pain and suffering. Not only do these lyrics serve the emotions expressed in the song, but the music is just as reflective. The two parts of these songs intertwine to express angry frustration or the philosophical experience of coping with loss. Rarely can a record do both things so well, but Our Raw Heartdoes it.

What bewilders me about this record, and really YOB as a band, is how Scheidt goes about writing his riffs. It’s not just chugging barre chords and soaring leads. He’s doing so much in a minimum amount of time. It’s such an original way to create music that we simply don’t hear enough of now. This is really a side note to the above paragraph, but there is so much to pull out of this record that any discussion of it could go on for days. Regular readers of Heavy Blog have probably heard enough discussions of YOB to make them blue in the face, but listen to Our Raw Heartagain. Get some nice headphones and just experience it.

Slow Your Roll…Significantly

Let’s get sad, people. Doom metal really hits close to home when the tracks are super slowed down. It was a fantastic year on the heavier end of doom. And by heavy, I mean both heavy metal and heavy emotionally.

Death doom had a solid year, and it all started with Hooded Menace in 2018. Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed is everything you’d want from a death doom album. It’s got that plodding pace the doom crowd loves but mixes it up enough to bring in the death-heads. It has the heaviness and the fuller sound required to make this seem like an angry funeral that it needs to. It also builds in the throwback qualities doom loves like a solid twin guitar attack. It really hits all the hallmarks of a good death doom album.

What comes out on the other side of all this is an excellent package of truly well-written songs. These aren’t just exercises in genre-smashing for the sake of it. It’s not an experiment just to see what comes out the other side. Hooded Menace has been developing this sound for just over a decade. This is musical creativity at its finest: taking your influences and expressing yourself in a truly unique way. There may be a growing wave of death doom bands coming up, but the genre is propped up by Hooded Menace and their best release yet.

Funeral doom had an excellent entry with Mournful Congregation and The Incubus of Karma. Funeral doom is the most mysterious of subgenres to me. Metal is always about sensory overload and playing heavy, hard, and fast. Mournful Congregation eschews that last bit and really slows it down. You wouldn’t think it, but it’s actually far more difficult to play slowly like this with such plodding paces and lengthened songs. Among several bands currently occupying this niche, few do it better than Mournful Congregation. Their song structures allow for focus to shift from section to section. One section might have the vocals occupy center stage, the next allowing for a soaring guitar solo or interesting slow riff. It’s all done in a very mature way that always seems like an appropriate use of the space without shoehorning something in.

Not only is all of that true, but this is also an incredibly sad album. Funeral doom is, of course, known for creating a sense of depression or loss, but something about this record really drives that home. Everything leaves you needing more emotionally. It’s like almost achieving your dreams but failing miserably. The ability to create that sense musically shows an incredible songwriting talent. Mournful Congregation has never disappointed, and this is possibly their best work yet.

Don’t Mess With Tradition

One of the best developed sounds of doom is a modern take on traditional heavy metal. Sometimes the traditional crowd can sound cheesy and over the top, but the doom bands that take on that sound create a certain atmosphere where they can do those outrageous things while also being grounded. It’s these bands that are looking to rock the scene and demand your attention.

This year, we were greatly blessed with a new Khemmis record, Desolation. The highly anticipated follow up to 2016’s Hunted did not disappoint in the least. It absolutely nails the sound the band has been creating, a modern take on a more traditional doom/power metal sound. While those two ideas may seem like they conflict, there is enough finesse on Desolation that it comes off as extremely creative and informed uses of things like soaring vocals or twin guitar attacks and solos.

The best aspect of Khemmis’s sound is that they can employ things that are throwbacks to 70s heavy metal while also keeping it in the doom category. This album absolutely booms with booms with the bass and features a lot of signature low end work on a doom record. They can take their songs into a faster tempo while also still seeming to plod along like we like our doom. All of it seems brand new even though much of it is informed by the old guard. True creativity comes from the ability to repackage good work, and Khemmis does it better than anybody. Please never stop, you fuzzy masters in the mountains.

In a similar vein, Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats have an equally throwback sound though it’s informed by slightly different artists. The Deadbeats create a unique sound that’s more influenced by The Doors-style of heavy blues wrapped up in an eerie quality that’s tough to put your finger on exactly. Imagine an up-tempo soundtrack of a 70s slasher movie and you’d be pretty close to the Uncle Acid vibe.

That’s the most satisfying part of this record. It creates a feeling and it sticks with it. It makes subtle variations on that feeling but it’s the same throughout. It’s lo-fi and stoner-infused impending doom much like a chase scene in a horror movie. There’s some evil chasing you down and you know it’s right on you, but you don’t dare turn around for fear of knowing what it is. Such is Wasteland. It’s such an uncommon vibe and tone that you can’t deny this record. In 2018 when everyone is trying to achieve the dark by tuning lower and turning up the distortion, Uncle Acid goes a different route that we should really be applauding. Previous records were wonderful entries but Wasteland takes the cake.

Sludge Lords Rising

There will always be a whole mess of sludge in anything, but there were some huge releases from bands that deal in dirt. As much as it’s awesome to be slow and low, picking up the pace with some heavy psychedelia and speed is just as fun for all kinds of different reasons. Or maybe you like your sound even thicker dirtier, which can just as easily be arranged.

You can’t talk about sludge in 2018 without mentioning Thou. Every year, we all get lucky with releases from a lot of favorite bands. Sometimes, albeit rarely, you might get 2 releases in one year from a band. Thou, on the other hand, released 3 EPs, 2 splits with The Hirs Collective and Ragana, and the full length brilliance of Magus. There are bands that haven’t put out that much material in their entire careers! The feat itself is enough, but they also released one of the top records of the year in Magus.

To be clear, this record is a testament to one’s willpower. The record is incredibly jarring both to one’s senses and one’s emotions. It is a heavy record by multiple definitions. Thou is well-known for their loud and abrasive sound. They drench everything in their trademark sound of extremely loud and detuned guitars, deep and unsettling bass, and absolutely bombing drums. Combine that all with Bryan Funck’s screaming shriek and whatever you get on the other side will be rough around the edges.

However, there is also a thematic heaviness to Magus. There is a heavy emphasis on individual expression and living free. You can hear it in many of the lyrics. They’re showing the dark side of not embracing your individuality or knowing yourself. You can’t give into your darker emotions or you’ll end up as the subject of a Thou track and a model of how not to be. The heaviness of song and emotion make this an unforgettable record.

The flipside of Thou’s plodding and heady sludge is High on Fire. Matt Pike’s second release of 2018 (yes, it’s coming next, hold your horses) burns the damn house down on Electric Messiah. Among the more underground metal bands, High on Fire has always been pretty accessible to listeners outside the scene. This record proves that even more. Sure, it has your standard extended sludgy doom tracks, but it’s also got the title track which could easily be played on any local rock station.

Leading up to the record release, Pike was on the interview circuit talking about the record and the title track. One thing that kept coming up was a discussion of Lemmy. Pike has claimed a lot of people have compared him to Lemmy, which might seem like sacrilege. However, I couldn’t get it out of my head while listening to Electric Messiah. I thought of the many times Lemmy refused the metal label to instead say, “Hey, we’re a rock and roll band.” In many ways, that was true. In those same ways, that could be said about Electric Messiah. I mean, it’s great sludge metal goodness but it’s also just fun rock music. It can be both.

It’s hard to say where Messiah ends up on High on Fire’s pantheon of records, but I think it could be easily said that it’s one of the best records of this year. It’s got everything you’d love from a High on Fire record without any unnecessary frills. Sometimes you just want something raw and straightforward. I present Electric Messiah.

To Awake from Slumber

It would be difficult to speak about doom metal in 2018 without mentioning Sleep. The torch-bearers of stoner doom came back with their first full-length album since 1999’s Dopesmoker that dropped on April 20th. Gee, I wonder why they picked that date…anyway, it was met with immediate surprise and near universal praise. The only warning anyone had was a Facebook picture upload on April 19th announcing the record’s release, but it was more than enough for the internet to exclaim, “HOLD ONTO YOUR BUTTS.”

In the 19 years since the last Sleep record, Al Cisneros had gone on to form OM, the ultimate in meditative drone doom, and put out 5 records while Matt Pike immediately put out a whole catalog with High on Fire. Those experiences helped this Sleep record flesh itself out. This record relies on heavy blues and psychedelia to carry out its stoner intent. It starts with the ambient guitar feedback sounds on the intro track, “The Sciences”. Then it’s a blast off with “Marijuanaut’s Theme,” which I would make my personal Heavy Blog song of the year.

This album shows a dramatic shift in their sound for the better. Obviously the heavy blues and stoner doom of the early 90s was great, and extending that into a single album-long track was brilliant on Dopesmoker. Still, The Sciences shows that they’ve learned a lot during their time off. They accept the meditative droning nature of OM on the middle tracks to an interesting effect. It’s not a drone for the sake of it. It all builds up to something. Meanwhile, Pike’s guitar work has significantly improved since the early days of Sleep. He really engages the songs in interesting ways.

I think The Sciences should be near the top of everyone’s lists for 2018. Not just for reasons of a classic band coming back together after such an extended period of time. It also represents a huge shift in the band’s sound over a 19-year period. And on top of all of that, it’s really damn good. I honestly don’t know what else to say about it.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was 2018. There were a lot of great releases from a number of artists, not all of which we could recognize here. But Heavy Blog has a lot of end of the year content to come, so don’t panic! Your personal favorites will be coming around, I guarantee it. Stick with me into 2019. I’ve got a great feeling it’s gonna be a good one.

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