You’ve seen it. You’ve debated it. You’ve cried over it. But what’s done is done: Our list of the best albums of the year is behind us, and there is much rejoicing. But what about the albums we loved that didn’t make the final cut? For those of you who read Noyan’s column regarding the methodology behind our AOTY piece, it’s pretty obvious that not every album in our personal year-end selections made our aggregate list. Amidst the clamor, general consternation, and calls for Nick’s head, we decided to create a space for our writers to choose an album from their personal year-end list that didn’t make the cut to highlight. With this spirit in tow, welcome to Outliers! Please enjoy this selection of albums that we loved that did not receive the consensus votes to be included as one of our collective albums of the year. If you have yet to do so, include your own year-end lists in the comments.
Let the parade of the beautiful rejects commence!
Boss Keloid – Melted On The Inch
Truth be told, whilst I was looking forward to hearing Boss Keloid’s third album, all I was really expecting was a fun collection of meaty, doomy riffs and potentially some world-class wordplay. That is, after all, what Melted On The Inch‘s predecessor, Herb Your Enthusiasm, delivered. This means that I was almost completely unprepared for what proved to be one of the biggest, most dramatic and most successful leaps forward in a band’s sound in living memory. Holy Moses.
However, the indications were there that Melted On The Inch was not going to be a common-or-garden successor. In the interim, as well as a switch of bass player, Boss Keloid added a keyboard player to their ranks, and vocalist Alex Hurst also picked up a second guitar. So it was probably inevitable that whatever they produced was going to be more layered than what came before, even if the scale of their ambitions may not have been quite so obvious.
Divided into just six tracks, Melted On The Inch is a tightly written, dynamic 40 minute adventure taking in the band’s trademark beefy riffs and adding a liberal dose of psychedelic prog, as well as dashes of funk and soul for added flavour. It is dramatic, almost to the point of theatric, and packed with pleasantly surprising twists as well as some tremendously satisfying builds and pay-offs. Since it’s release, I have taken to referring to their overall sound as ‘Swamprog’, a portmanteau that would fit comfortably alongside their baffling song titles, like “Tarku Shavel” and “Lokannok”.
There really are no weak links in the band, but it’s worth drawing extra attention to guitarist Paul Swarbrick’s knack for writing unconventional riffs that are still immediately accessible, and to Alex’s soulful and commanding vocal performance. Together, they make the listener sit up and pay attention right from the first spin, and Melted On The Inch still rewards repeat visits with a host of subtleties and nuances to discover. Combining the baser pleasures of nodding along to a big thick groove with more cerebral delights, Melted On The Inch is the product of a band setting lofty ambitions, and then smashing through them to create something genuinely exceptional.
Don Broco – Technology
Rivers of Nihil may have ended the album of the year debate for me before 2018 even began, but Don Broco’s Technology is undoubtedly the record I’ve listened to the most this year. I don’t think a week’s gone by this year that I haven’t spun it at least once, or even multiple times, back-to-back. The album is far from simple, disposable, easy listening, however. Its flawless combination of often-disparate pop elements is largely unprecedented as far as modern, mainstream rock music is concerned and its one which makes the entirety of their contemporaries look even more uninspired than they already seemed by comparison.
The best description that I have come up for when describing Technology is that it sounds like Electric Six mixed with Duran Duran; except, like, heavier. That, or it actually manages to sound like its cover. We’re not talking Tomb Mold levels of brutality here, but there’s a punch to Technology’s proceedings that brings it far closer to the world(s) of hard rock and heavy metal than you’d expect from a band who got their break supporting 5 Seconds of Summer. The bulk of its sixteen tracks are underpinned punchy, low-end bounce that underpins both its opening, title-track and stand-out single “Stay Ignorant” conclude with an almost djent-ike riff; “The Blues” is propelled by a driving, electronic-bass riff; and “Pretty” takes the hard-hitting sheen of No Doubt’s “Hella Good” and drags it through gutter after a long night out.
What makes the album truly remarkable, however, is its elevated and eclectic songwriting. The affective stadium-sized air-rock anthem “T-Shirt Song”, with its bristling horn sections and electro-pop voice overs, is followed-up by “Come Out to LA”, which comes off like a feel-good, reggae-tinged take on Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar”. Later tracks are just as ludicrous. “Tightrope” sounds like a melodramatic mash-up of modern synth-pop and a motivational, ‘80s movie anthem, while “Got to Be You” channels Joshua Tree-era U2 to moving effect. Although there’s an argument to be made that it’s maybe a touch too long, each of its sixteen tracks is rendered instantly memorable through its endless barrage of colossal hooks and precise deployment of moments that go off like pop-rock depth charges.
No album has brought me more pure joy in 2018 than Technology, and—though it may only prove a slight reprieve—it also goes to show that mainstream rock can not only still be great, but it can be exciting and challenging as well.
– Joshua Bulleid
Eartheria – Awaken the Sun
After a relative lull in 2017, melodic strains of technical and progressive death metal have made a rapid resurgence in 2018 with fantastic releases by the likes of Rivers of Nihil, Psycroptic, Irreversible Mechanism and many more. Make sure you count Eartheria among those. These Finnish bad boys play incredibly groovy and melodic technical death metal, ala current-era Psycroptic, with riffs and licks for days. Each of its five tracks has at least one riff that will worm its way into your memory and dig in for the long haul. I’m talking WWI trenches here, and these guns have plenty of ammo. The piano intro serves as the calm before the storm, volley after volley opening fire 50 seconds into “A Wake (In The Sun)” with a riff that’ll get necks snapping and feet stomping in no time. The drums begin pounding down with artillery support in no time, and this is all before we even get to the machine gun riffing in the verses!
Just when you think this aural assault has broken you down you get the morphine you’ve been craving with beautiful melodies and tasty licks, such as the latter half of “Brought Before The Emperor” or the chorus of “Myriad”. In no time you’ll be addicted, unable to stop yourself from coming back again and again. Luckily for you, this addiction has zero downside because Awaken the Sun is 30 minutes of all killer no filler that doesn’t outstay its welcome. They successfully strike the delicate balance between melody and groove, they sound techy enough to bring in the tech and prog crowd, whilst they’re not so far removed from thrash that they can’t appeal to a broader audience. There is a simplicity to their technicality that makes it a fun and easy listen and I simply haven’t been able to stop coming back to it – so make sure you check it out!
Horrendous – Idol
If math is the reason why Horrendous’ new record Idol didn’t make it to our collective Top 25, then I guess math is just plain fucking wrong. Okay, that obviously isn’t the case, as our AOTY methods are objectively the best (don’t @ us). The real issue is that death metal had a great year in 2018, particularly with the surging OSDM scene that launched records like Tomb Mold and Infernal Coil to our collective top 25 list. Not to mention all the prog and avant-garde death metal that populated the list up to our top spot. If we were to compile a list of best DEATH METAL albums of the year, no doubt would Horrendous wind up in the mix.
Horrendous’ blend of OSDM, prog, melody, and tech have poised the band to become Masters of ALL of death metal, conjuring Death, Atheist, Incantation, Hypocrisy, and Gorguts alike to craft one of the most engaging extreme metal records in 2018, and certainly the catchiest death metal record around that doesn’t include clean singing as a primary melodic delivery system, with more bass solos than you could ever ask for. Pre-release single “Soothsayer” is almost anthemic, capitalizing on every opportunity to toss out some soaring leads and “The Idolator” feels like Beyond Creation’s gritty unwashed cousin — in the best way possible, of course. You can’t pick a bad song out of this record; even the intro and transition songs find ways to move the body forward, and, as I said, bass solos.
In 2018, Idol made Horrendous my new favorite death metal band, and they should be yours, too. It also doesn’t hurt that Anthony Fantano broke out the yellow flannel and gave it a 9/10. Honestly, I don’t know what else I need to tell you to get you to listen to this. Press play below.
Hoth – Astral Necromancy
While I had to listen to Oathbreaker a few times to love, Astral Necromancy, Hoth’s second full-length album, took about 30 seconds. I loved it from the moment “Vengeance” started up. The melodic riffs can sound so dark and evil that it just does my heart good. I’m usually not one for a really melodic record, but Hoth has something so special going for it that even I can’t deny it.
To me, it’s all about the lore. With a name like Hoth, you get an idea of exactly what you’re getting. Their first EP Infinite Darkness contained songs about creatures and lore from the Star Wars universe. Oathbreaker was the story of the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker and the introduction to Darth Vader. Astral Necromancy takes those ideas and creates their own universe, though to me it’s still sort of grounded in the same universe. But that doesn’t really matter because their version of melodic black metal is the absolute perfect backdrop for the stories they want to tell.
The actual music on this record is equally impressive. Every sound on this record was clearly thought out and executed exactly as the duo wanted. The guitars have that very subtle distortion to them that help them sound so melodic and evil at the same time. The drums provide an excellent base cacophony to build off of with the bass provided an excellent musical layer at the bottom. The vocals are raspy but clear so that they both tell the tales of Astral Necromancy but also leave you feeling a bit haunted by their words.
I’m not super surprised this record was left off a lot of lists. The band is still building up a fanbase after all, and Bandcamp black metal duos tend to be a dime a dozen. But what Hoth is doing is truly unique and interesting. I think this record is doing something truly original and should be on everyone’s can’t miss for 2018. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a swift follow-up from Hoth.
Howling Sycamore – Howling Sycamore
On paper, I should have loved this album from day one. In practice, it took a long time to grow on me. This was probably because of personal reasons (moods, preoccupation with other music, and the such) but also because the album itself is such a complex and inherently impenetrable piece of music. It’s also difficult in a difficult way, the “meta” of the album being the true challenge if it. You see, when you look at the composition or technicality of it alone, it’s not too mind boggling. Sure, it’s complicated and fast at times but there were albums this year that were way more technical with which I’ve had no problem connection.
It’s more the structure and the mood of the album that beguile me. On one hand, it constantly seems to be filled with pent up energy, a kind of closely checked combustion process that’s raging in a chamber deep underground. But on the other hand, it’s constantly releasing that energy in flamboyant expressions of avant garde metal. It’s like freeze-framing the exact moment in which a power metal vocalist jumps off a stage monitor and erupts into a furious scream but then somehow running that image through a greyscale filter.
That kind of suspended feeling made me really uncomfortable when I first sat down to listen to the album; I was constantly looking for the payoff, the big catharsis at the end of the climb. But the brilliance of the album is that it’s all one big payoff and that there is no payoff, all instruments (and, maybe most importantly, the vocals), constantly building towards something that never comes. Once you let go of your expectations and just let this album do its thing, you’ll find a unique blend of progressive, power, and avant garde metal that’s always ready to suck you in into its weird, skewed vision of the universe.
ION – A Path Unknown
Of all of 2018’s unorthodox black metal offerings, none ensnared me as completely as ION’s A Path Unknown. The trio’s progressive and surreal spin on black metal is a daunting undertaking; the album’s 70-ish minutes are divvied up among three labyrinthine tracks that engulf listeners in a unique blend of amoebic psychedelia and smothering synths and guitar effects. It’s reminiscent of Krallice’s totally uncompromising and dense approach, but ION’s dissonance swirls with wafts of dreamy ambience and nightmarish noise that feels closer to something like Wormlust. Still, the progressive and melodic abilities of this San Francisco trio give them a different flavor, and the contrasting nature of these elements make A Path Unknown as peculiar and fascinating as it is challenging.
The adventurous size of these tracks allows atmospheric threads to seamlessly bridge the beautifully melodic and hazy with menacing harsh electronics and guitar effects. Longer forays into spacious, effect-driven voids balance their infinitely dense segments, expanding and contracting spatially and temporally. At an intimidating 30-plus minutes, opener “I, II, VI” demonstrates an exceptional sense of timing, unleashing both vantablack fury and trippy sprawls in well-measured doses that defy its runtime. “III, IV” leans heavier on their progressive tendencies, locking in on insatiable grooves and the bleary, obfuscated layers of Ryan Daniel’s captivating synth and guitar arrangements that are simultaneously wide and angular.
A Path Unknown is bionic in sound, with Adam Houmam’s surgical and tenacious drumming being a big part in creating this sonic cyborg. At times laser sharp, he regularly employs rapid double-kick drumming and blasts that mesh wonderfully with the thick static-y washes of effects and robotic, roaring, bending guitars. Still, the dude still finds space to flair with proggy feel and pocket presence (see the vertebrae-busting “V” or the wily rhythms that start to ramp up about a third of the way through “III, IV”). Similarly, Daniel Perdomo’s bass finds a similar balance with a tone that’s bracketed between earthy, chunky goodness and that classic alien-like prog sound. The way it all comes together is intriguing, but once you catch onto its idiosyncrasies it’s addicting. With A Path Unknown, ION crafted an undoubtedly intimidating record, but it’s so very worth the effort.
LUME – Wrung Out
I could go on about how this year’s clear cut best album didn’t even make our top 25, but at this point no one needs me to tell them about how amazing Coheed and Cambria is or how they released their best record in over a decade (except maybe the rest of our staff). So instead I want to focus on what in my estimation is 2018’s third-best record (HOLY FAWN’s Death Spells actually made our list, thank Christ), the Chicago slowcore trio LUME’s breakout record with Equal Vision, Wrung Out.
There’s been a minor revolution in measured, rhythmically transfixing post-hardcore over the past couple of years, a trend that seems to walk hand in hand with the strong re-emergence of shoegaze and the renaissance of doom that we’ve borne witness to of late. LUME is officially at the forefront of the revolution. Wrung Out is distinguished by the powerhouse rhythm section of brothers Dylan (bass) and Austin (drums) Hulett, who are essentially like a single beating heart, a machine powering grooves that bury deep into your brain. The intrigue of this band is that their earworms come from the elements that typically take a backseat to greedy guitarwork or vocals. In this case the Hulett brothers – whose energy is something to behold live – propel the compositions, but they are met in perfect fashion by the understated but crucially important work of guitarist/vocalist Daniel Butler, who lends melodies that perfectly compliment the crushing grooves without ever stepping on them. It reminds me in some ways of late-stage These Arms Are Snakes – philosophically at least – when Chris Common and Brian Cook were simply locked in performing at a dizzying level and Ryan Frederiksen and Steve Snere did just exactly what they needed to in order to complement what was at that juncture the jaw-dropping epicenter of that band.
This careful balance is what makes Wrung Out work so well. Unlike some of their sludgy contemporaries, LUME is perpetually listenable, retaining a clear artistic vision but never straying too far from the path of being sonically approachable. They are as likely to appeal to fans of heavy alt-rock bands like Hum or Failure as they are to those who favor more dyed-in-the-wool shoegaze/slowcore acts like Nothing or Codeine. Looking around at various year-end lists it seems like a lot of people overlooked LUME this year. Don’t make the same mistake, get this album into your ears posthaste.
Svalbard – It’s Hard To Have Hope
I feel it is an injustice that we’ve not once covered this album in some manner this year. This fell in my personal top 10 yet seemed to be underappreciated or overlooked by many writers here and elsewhere. I believe Svalbard’s It’s Hard to Have Hope is lyrically one of the most important albums to be released this year in the core/metal scene, and is something that I hope reaches the people it needs to.
On the surface, IHTHH is a well-written melodic/blackened hardcore album with a fair share of post-metal influence somewhere in the realm of their Holy Roar label mates in Employed To Serve, Rolo Tomassi and Conjurer. The post and black metal influence shines through their ability to find a balance between fluctuating dynamic moods. However, this album truly serves as a vessel for vocalist Serena Cherry, who really has something to say. Her political and social commentary is very in your face and literal, yet extremely honest, emotional, and powerful. She tackles issues very pertinent and relevant to herself, and it will resonate with you aggressively, either positively or negatively with likely very little in between. The title It’s Hard to Have Hope is a commentary on the bullshit realities that we have created, and that young women in particular face. Tracks cover topics such as the obscenity of unpaid internships, revenge porn, and abortion rights, with brutal passion.
Perhaps the hardest hitting song on the album is “How Do We Stop This?” which I need to give a sexual harassment content warning before quoting. I truly believe this is the most important song released in the hardcore scene this year, and the lyrics are both chill and tear inducing in a powerful way.
As a teenage girl, no one said I could seek help. When I was watching a band and I was unable to fight off his hands. Paralyzed by the shock of forceful attention that I didn’t want. Is this just what happens at shows? Is this a depressing rite of passage for every music loving girl?
Serving as a fitting climax to the album, the powerful “Try Not to Die Until You’re Dead” takes a softer post-rocky shoegaze approach structurally, with clean vocal passages very reminiscent of Holy Fawn’s fantastic 2018 outing. Lyrically this song is an opus for anyone who finds themselves struggling to stay alive; if that sounds like you, please listen to this.If you’re looking for some solid blackened melodic hardcore you can do much worse than this album, but ultimately IHTHH is a fearless call out for empathy and respect to a scene (and world) dominated by masculinity and oppression. We’re fortunate to have voices like Serena’s and bands like Svalbard carrying a torch in this fight, because in calls to arms like this lies a hope.
Tesseract – Sonder
Tesseract’s fourth album arrived onto the scene with admittedly less fanfare than its three predecessors had received. In following up their now-classic debut One, 2013’s emotionally charged (yet less abrasive) successor Altered State reaffirmed that Tesseract were a force to be reckoned with in the burgeoning progressive metal scene of the early 2010s. Next, 2015’s Polaris heralded the return of original vocalist Daniel Tompkins, and the promise of the band revisiting their early breakdown-heavy glory with the melodic sensibilities shown further along their career. Did it fully deliver? Not necessarily in the way that I had hoped, with the album sacrificing the lengthier, progressive side of the band for punchier tracks that felt a cut below what I’d come to expect from the band.
But Sonder is what Polaris should have been, seamlessly marrying the darker, riffier sound of early Tesseract with the immaculate sheen of Altered State in ways Polaris attempted but never quite achieved. Tracks such as “Juno” and “Beneath My Skin” showcase the longer-form progressive metal that the band excel at; each song traverses ample musical ground, guided along as always by Tompkins’ ever-impressive vocal acrobatics. Meanwhile, “Smile” and album standout “King” explore the heavier, darker side of Tesseract with a newfound polish, between shimmering ambient moments and earth-shattering choruses alike. This is the sound I’d been (dare I say we’d been) waiting for post-Altered State, and it appears Tesseract are finally in shape to confidently reap its rewards on Sonder, making even the strongest points of predecessor Polaris seem unfocused by comparison.
The album’s weakness, unfortunately, is its length; it seems Sonder is only just beginning to get warmed up when “The Arrow” coolly signals its conclusion a mere half an hour in. Make no mistake: the song is a powerful note to end on. But it comes far too soon. Still, it stands that at its best, Sonder is Tesseract maintaining their composure and making a powerful, relevant album in a genre that has otherwise been derided as outdated in 2018. Sure, the album is still a few steps away from greatness — but it still bears immense promise, and undoubtedly demanded many, many fruitful revisits throughout the year.
Zealotry – At the Nexus of All Stillborn Worlds
I have serious issues with the manner in which the music industry writes their year-end lists. Completely ignoring the majority of November and all of December as if there’s no possibility of these months churning out amazing recordings, a significant chunk of releases end up left out in the cold. While I think we here at Heavy Blog do a much better job at releasing our end of year content later than most, we’re still sucked into the list vortex that is modern music (an unavoidable ailment of an oftentimes lifeless system). I write these things namely because Zealotry’s phenomenal third full-length At the Nexus of All Stillborn Worlds is one of those casualties of the system. Released December 7th, it didn’t have enough time to register with publications that had already posted all of their lists before its release. Which is a damned shame, because this is one of the finest death metal releases of the past few years.
The amount of things that go right on this record are just unfathomable. The production is both eerily atmospheric (best exemplified in instrumental interlude “Accursed”, which could have come straight out of a 90s Castlevania game) and stunningly clear. Kudos to Xavier Berthiaume on an incredible mix that never once forgets to highlight Aódan Collins’ impeccable bass work. Every instrumental performance on here is essential, with particular attention paid to Philippe Tougas, who imbues every progressive or technical riff with the gravitas of a master musician. The solo work in “Lethe’s Shroud” and “Primus Venatoris” is particularly contracted and potent, highlighting the band’s penchant for songwriting that is effective without ever overstaying its welcome. Front-to-back, there’s little to fault this record for. On technical, instrumental, and aesthetic levels, there are few (if any) death metal records that can top it this year.
If you have yet to give this record a listen and are a fan of quality, technically astute death metal, I implore you to change that. Zealotry are fast ascending the death metal ranks and may reign supreme in the realm of spacey, progressive death with bands like Chthe’ilist and Blood Incantation before we know it. Perhaps they already do. Regardless, At the Nexus of All Stillborn Worlds is a masterpiece that I will be listening to for years to come. This is a hype train I strongly urge you to hop on.