I don’t even know where to begin. I can’t. 2018 was one of those years that’s hard to describe to non music enthusiasts when it comes to all the great albums that came out. From the very beginning, so many of my favorite bands, nationally, internationally and locally, assaulted me with killer records. I was so elated these past 12 months, that it really forced me to reflect on my metal past as a whole. Sure, there have been some great years for metal in recent history, but I can’t think of one single year that pleased me the way 2018 did.
As is my typical style for these EOTY pieces, I’m going to list my top national/international albums, followed by my top local albums, and then finally, a mixed list of honorable mentions. None of these lists will be ranked. I’ll only be revealing my top dogs at the end of each list.
- The Crown – Cobra Speed Venom – Released March 16 on Metal Blade Records
Swedish death metallers, The Crown returned this year with a 13 track banger, meant to remind the masses of who the fuck they are. The band is best known for fusing melodic death metal with classic, traditional death metal. If you’re unfamiliar with these guys, but you’re into older At the Gates, Dismember, or even Death, check out their entire discography NOW! This is their 10th studio album. The Crown have been going strong since 1995, formerly under the name Crown of Thorns.
- The Absence – A Gift for the Obsessed – Released March 23 on M-Theory Audio
I was devastated when I thought this band was done for good back in 2015. Thankfully, the boys returned to surprise me with this great new full length. You’ll hear about a lot of melodic death metal from me, but I try to keep things as close to the classic form as possible. There are a few modern MDM bands that I like, but to me, nothing beats the classic form inspired by early At the Gates. As such, it’s only natural that I completely fell in love with this album. Upon the first listen, it was like being transported back to 1995. Anyone who likes balls to the wall thrash drumming combined with aggressive, yet melodic speed riffing, will love this. It’s a blistering heavy hitter from start to finish, and I’m so proud of everyone in the Absence camp for making this happen. True melodic death mastery is alive and well in Tampa, Florida!
- Kalmah – Palo – Released April 6 on Spinefarm Records
These guys formed in Finland in 1998. So once again, we’re talking about a melodic death metal band from the ’90s, still going strong. But unlike The Crown, Kalmah present a more folk oriented approach to melodic death in a lot of their newer stuff. The melodies are extremely catchy and playful, while the rhythm guitars, bass and drums, provide a brutally heavy backbone to this well known epic act. Palo is the band’s eighth studio album, so those unfamiliar with this band have a bit of catching up to do, but don’t worry. Fans of the genre will notice that these songs just fly by, leaving you wanting more every single time.
- Kamelot – The Shadow Theory – Released April 6 on Napalm Records
So which is the better classification for Kamelot? Are they power metal or symphonic metal first and foremost? It’s a discussion I feel I’ve been having for about 20 years, which has led me to classify them as both. But really, it depends on the album. For me, Kamelot still holds up as one of the top bands in both fields, but a lot of people panicked when Roy Khan departed the band in 2011. I was one of them. However, former guest vocalist Tommy Karevik really stepped up to the plate in my opinion and is a more than suitable replacement. Vocals are so important in this genre, but their last three albums with Tommy, including The Shadow Theory are all still top notch records. The Shadow Theory is huge, epic, theatrical and bombastic. It carries all the weight of a full orchestra, despite the more compact live show and electronics used to compensate for the lack of said orchestra, and is packed with infectious songs that will stand the test of time for this band. Each new album with Tommy is a step back towards the glory days with Khan, while at the same time, the band is breaking new ground and reaching new heights.
- Amorphis – Queen of Time – Released May 18 on Nuclear Blast Records
Amorphis has been churning out metal since 1990. They started out as a death metal band, then eventually drifted into the combination of heavy metal, progressive metal, folk metal, melodic death and straight up death that they are today. Every Amorphis album in recent history is an in depth, multidimensional journey and Queen of Time is no exception. From front to back, this is a very strong album covering a wide variety of styles. They’re one of the most versatile European bands that I listen to and it’s impossible to get bored with their sound, as long as you’re into lots of diversity in metal riffing, drumming and vocals. This album certainly isn’t my number 1 for the year by any means, but I’d say they’re definitely the most interesting melodic band I listen to right now.
- At the Gates – To Drink From the Night Itself – Released May 18 on Century Media Records
At the Gates have been a thing for more than 25 years, but this is only their 6th studio album. The main reason for this is the band’s nearly 20 year hiatus from 1996-2014, with the exception of a reunion tour in 2008 if memory serves. Yet absence makes the heart grow fonder, especially when it comes to one of the most innovative bands in melodic death metal. A lot of people credit this band for starting the genre, and depending on what exact style you’re talking about, you’re not wrong. In any case, To Drink From the Night Itself is another classic example of ATG doing what they do best: driving melodic riffs, fast punk/thrash style drumming and consistently harsh and raspy vocals from frontman, Tomas Lindberg. A lot of people wrote this one off, along with its predecessor and the comeback record, At War With Reality, but thinking realistically, how many bands came out in the 20 years ATG was gone who completely hijacked their sound? It’s easy to call albums cookie cutter if people have been ripping them off for 2 decades; just something to think about. When all is said and done, how could a band who receives constant praise and has spawned countless imitators not make this list?
- Omnium Gatherum – The Burning Cold – Released August 31 on Century Media Records
I can’t say enough about this band, so I’ll try and keep this short. In 2012, I went to Cleveland to finally see Dark Tranquillity for the first time. By then, they were already playing way too much music I couldn’t stand and I was angry I hadn’t gotten to see them sooner. But even though I was only looking forward to half of their setlist, it was more than worth the trip. Omnium Gatherum opened for DT that night and I’ve never looked back. OG are what I wish DT had become over time. Since 2007, these guys have been churning out melancholic melodic death metal of the finest form. Instead of going in a cleaner, more simplistic direction as DT have, OG continue to intensify their songs and improve their production value with each record. The Burning Cold is a true testament to this and it’s clear the boys are still full steam ahead. The songs are well written, the solos are top notch, the key/synth elements are perfect, the list goes on. Just imagine the soundtrack to your favorite ’80s action/adventure flick, gone straight melodic death metal.
- Sirenia – Arcane Astral Aeons – Released October 26 on Napalm Records
One of the very few “gothic metal” bands I enjoy is Sirenia. I first found them about 15 years ago, during a time when bands like Sirenia, Tristania and others of the like seemed fewer and farther between. Hailing from Stavanger, Norway, these folks have been pumping out their brand of symphonic/gothic/doom metal since 2001. Their latest album is a definite culmination of their career’s work, while at the same time, it could be considered a departure to those who cling to the raw sounds of At Sixes and Sevens. Over the years, the band’s production value has certainly gone up. In addition, just 2 years ago, Sirenia parted ways (amicably) with vocalist, Ailyn, who would be replaced with French mezzo-soprano vocalist, Emmanuelle Zoldan. Zoldan however has already been with the band for the past 13 years as part of the “Sirenian Choir”, so don’t expect too drastic a change there. All in all, if you appreciate melodic instrumentals, synthesizers, heavy, distorted guitars, female clean vocals (mostly classical or operatic in nature), male harsh/death vocals, clean male vocals, choirs and violins, you’ll love this band if you don’t already. Just be ready to take in A LOT of music with each track.
- Arsis – Visitant – Released November 2 on Nuclear Blast Records and Agonia
It’s been 5 years since the last Arsis album, and if you care as much about these guys as I do, you know how painful those 5 years were. It was also hard to see the band’s future for a moment there, since James Malone (frontman, lead guitar), decided to bring out his ’80s power/hair metal side with his very fun project, Necromancing the Stone. Also, with guitarist Brandon Ellis now crafting searing leads for The Black Dahlia Murder, it was anyone’s guess. Since I never bothered to do extensive research during the 5 year break, I just happened to briefly chat with Malone a few years back on the Winter Warriors tour after a Necromancing set, and he was more than willing to tell me all about this wonderful new Arsis album. Visitant is everything a fan of melodic tech death and horror movies could ever hope for. Every song is geared towards the ’80s horror flick connoisseur, while assaulting the listener with everything Arsis is renowned for: speed, technical prowess, hooks and a variety of melodic death, tech death and traditional death influences. Unwelcome was a fine predecessor in 2013, particularly with the band’s spirited cover of “I Wear My Sunglasses At Night”, but in my opinion, Visitant just blows it out of the water. The songs are more memorable, the creepy factor is through the roof and you just can’t toil with these guys when it comes to the genre they’re crafting themselves album by album. Top notch!
- Deceased – Ghostly White – Released November 16 on Hell’s Headbangers
I didn’t plan it this way, but since we just discussed Arsis, here’s another killer band from Virginia who are just teeming with their own horror movie themes. Then again, Deceased are a completely different animal, not to mention that they certainly have seniority. The band was formed in 1984 by “King” Fowley (vocals) and guitarist, Doug Souther. From the very beginning, their goal has been to own the very concept of “death/thrash” and to “out thrash” anyone who stands in their way. It’s also worth mentioning that Deceased were the very first band to sign with Relapse Records in 1990, but have since parted ways with them (2003). The last album, Surreal Overdose came out in 2011, so they’ve had 7 years to really iron out the songs on 2018’s Ghostly White. Speaking as someone who never really got into this band on a “top list” level, I’m pleased to announce that this latest effort of theirs has really changed my mind. For a death and thrash act, these songs are huge! My favorite track is “Germ of Distorted Lore” which clocks in at over 13 minutes in length. To me, when you have a song that long and you’re a death metal band, you better have some memorable riffs. Deceased have done exactly that with not only this track, but the whole album. There is something about the songwriting on Ghostly White that really reeled me in this year, compared to previous releases. This album also hit shelves shortly after Deceased’s drummer, Dave “Scarface” Castillo died long before his time. He was 43 years old.
- Kalidia – The Frozen Throne – Released November 23 on Inner Wound Recordings
These guys have come such a long way in such a short time, it’s disgusting. Kalidia are a band who really snuck up on me just before Black Friday this year. As one of many European melodic power metal bands, Italy’s Kalidia really stand out among the pack. A lot of people quickly dismissed this band, calling them a Nightwish rip off, but coming from someone who’s been a fan of Nightwish from the beginning, let me just say that Kalidia have a lot of new ground to offer. In 2014, they self-released their debut album, Lie’s Device and the production was just awful, but this time around, they’ve signed to Inner Wound Recordings and gone to the pros for sound engineering. The results speak for themselves and the music is finally sounding the way it’s meant to be heard. Everything from the vocals to the song structuring in this band is very well done, to the point where they’ll have their own corner of the genre in no time. Everything they needed to become power metal superstars overseas was there. They just needed a little help and there’s no shame in that. Now they’re on the right path and I can’t wait to hear the songs yet to come.
- Arwen – The Soul’s Sentence – self-released on December 14
So here’s my big curve ball for this list. I just heard this band TODAY for the first time! I’ve been into power metal for nearly 20 years now, and these guys certainly excel at the genre, but that’s not what made me fall in love with them. As odd as it sounds, this album hit me so hard, because it made me realize how much Arwen and Buffalo power metallers, Orius have in common. It’s scary actually. The songs are soulful, dark, uplifting and captivating all in one. The vocalist’s range is a treasure to be sure, but his choices in his melodies, cadence, etc, all remind me so much of Ryan Skerrett, that these two have to be in cahoots. Then again, it’s highly unlikely, since Arwen hail from Madrid, Spain. Another crazy fact about this band is that this new album of theirs is their first release in 13 years! So with just two weeks and some change left in the year, these guys snuck this bad boy in and made me an instant fan. I can’t stop listening to the album. It’s 11 tracks of truly stellar power metal, with the closer being a fantastic cover of Chris Cornell’s “You Know My Name”. Amazing.
Of all these, my top album is unquestionably The Burning Cold by Omnium Gatherum. This record was a significant victory for modern melodic death metal. Without bands like this pushing the envelope well into the 21st century, MDM would simply wither and die. At the Gates will always be the forefathers that they are, but I think OG is doing something truly great for the current generation of MDM fans, as well as the next.
Thanks for indulging me by reading this list. My next will be all local acts from WNY and maybe some from CNY. Stay tuned!