Well, another year is now sitting in our rear-view mirror. While I didn’t listen to EVERY record that came out in 2018, here’s some loving words regarding the albums that I heard that meant the most to me this year. Releases that made my own personal 2018 experience infinitely better, and I’m incredibly grateful for these artists and the amazing works that they created. Without further ado, here are my favourite albums of 2018.
Polyphia – ‘New Levels New Devils’ (Equal Vision)
Pushing limits and embracing challenges was the ethos of Polyphia’s ‘New Levels New Devils‘. Here, Polyphia really seemed like they were finally performing the music they heard in their heads, and thankfully, it all came out naturally and cleanly rather than forced and messy. As such, everything is just so slick and super tasteful. The densely textured guitars, bending riffs, interesting chord shapes, thick production, flowing percussion and mathy odd-time rhythms, to the surprisingly chilled timbres across these 10 tracks all made for brilliant ear porn.
In terms of songwriting skills and performance chops, the four-piece pulled out all the stops. The smooth-as-hell legato runs; the wicked alternate and hybrid picking techniques; the stylistic ingenuity of instrumental prog merging with trap and pop; the wicked polyrhythms and sense of groove; to the awesome yet fitting features from Ichika, Matues Asato, Jason Richardson, and Chon’s Mario Camarena and Erick Hansel. As for hooks, the four-piece weren’t simply delivering them via the usual bright, shredding guitars as before. No, they really made you work for ’em, packing infectious musical lines into precise drum patterns, running bass lines, vocals (yes, vocals finally made it into Polyphia), and interweaving guitar figures. Polyphia crammed so much into these compositions, so much so that you discover new things on each listen. And that’s exciting!
A potential game-changer for guitar-focused, instrumental progressive music, ‘New Levels New Devils‘ will upheave this scene – just you watch. It’s proof that a band with a penchant for pentatonic scales, djent guitars, and jazz undertones can tastefully amalgamate trap hi-hats, hip-hop vibes, pop samples, and EDM formats to make for something unique and something that works. All with sublime production and delicious, darker harmonic minors thrown in for good measure too. We all win when talented artists like Polyphia pull off such experimental envelope-pushing. GOAT, indeed!
Rivers Of Nihil – ‘Where Owls Know My Name’ (Metal Blade)
Rivers Of Nihil became the undisputed kings of the technical death metal flock in 2018 with their new epic, ‘Where Owls Know My Name‘. (“Who?“, get it?) Rivers Of Nihil’s previous two offerings – 2013’s ‘The Conscious Seed of Light‘ and 2015’s ‘Monarchy’ – were your decent if typical tech-death listens that had promise but never quite realised their full potential. ‘Where Owls Know My Name’, however, was that un-tapped potential being discovered, wrapped up in a dire narrative of existential dread and conflicts of the self. This album was a galactic leap forward in their songwriting, production, ambition, and musical variety. And one that really paid off for them too.
The Pennsylvanian metal act filled their sonic palette with whatever they saw fit. For instance, the electronic-instrumentals, synths and pounding percussive loops on ‘Terrestrial III: Wither‘ sounded like Korn or Code Orange at their most experimental, yet also at their most realised. The sexy, jazzy saxophones in ‘Death Is Real‘, ‘Home‘ and ‘The Silent Life‘ added so much character and soul to their respective compositions. As did the record’s tastefully placed clean vocals and spacious, progressive sections too. Other times, the band just pummelled you into the dirt with well-written, hectic tech-death moments that could tear planets asunder, with ‘Hollow‘, ‘Home‘ and ‘Old Nothing‘. The ever-changing, slow-burning movements that ‘Subtle Change (Including the Forest of Transition and Dissatisfaction Dance)‘ hulked through displayed this band’s knack for skilful pacing and composition. Then, the way the record began with ‘Capricorn / Moonspeak‘ and later ended ‘Capricorn / Agoratopia‘ made for a complete experience; a proper start and bookend.
No matter how you spin it, this was Rivers Of Nihil at their most diverse and musically interesting; at their most creative and deadly. ‘Where Owls Know My Name‘ is a progressive and ambitious tech-death LP for the ages; masterful. I’ve kept returning to this record throughout the year and it never once loses it’s impact. The band also scores some bonus points because their vocalist, Jake Dieffenbach, is practically deaf yet he still offered one of the most indomitable vocal performances of the year short of that new Harm’s Way record.
Press Club – ‘Late Teens’ (self-released)
Melbourne’s Press Club don’t have a single gimmick getting in the way of their sound and trajectory. It’s just killer, hook-fueled punk rock wearing it’s heart on it’s sleeve at all times, and that’s why it’s so damn good. With authentic live recordings, a real love for distortion, emotional lyricism about messy relationships and the pains of growing up, and with some truly sweet riffs and vocal melodies, the humble abode of ‘Late Teens‘ is a true pleasure to live within for thirty odd minutes.
Just like how this fierce and honest debut LP says exactly all it needs to with it’s direct words, gripping earnestness, explosive hooks, and no-bullshit songwriting, there’s little else I need to add. Well, except for this: ‘Late Teens’ is a magnificent album – one of 2018’s best rock releases – from one of Australia’s best up-and-coming bands nonetheless. Just watch Press Club explode moving forward; 2019 is really gonna be their year!
Delta Sleep – ‘Ghost City’ (Big Scary Monsters)
I adored Delta Sleep’s wonderful second album, ‘Ghost City’ when I reviewed it, but since then, this exemplary math-rock LP has only dug it’s hooks further in; digging right down into the basement of my heart and setting up permanent shop. ‘El Pastor‘, both versions of ‘Sultans Of Ping‘, ‘Single File‘ and ‘Sans Soleil‘ are all gems. Even the two interlude tracks that I wasn’t too keen on initially have now both become second nature! I really cannot stress enough how much of an essential release this is, for any genre aficionado or for those who enjoy wondrous, emotionally palpable music. This is a brilliant math-rock dystopia, one that that exceeds at both it’s concept and musical execution.
On one hand, it’s an emo/math-rock scored story about finding meaning and purpose in one’s life. About trying to remain sane in a system that’s anything but, as you grind away at a mundane daily routine for faceless bosses and a sprawling grey city that saps everything from you. While much less extreme than anything detailed in 1984 and Brave New World, it’s more of a down-to-earth, spiritual ride in terms of the futuristic, corporate-driven dystopia painted; one where Delta Sleep’s music expertly pulls you from personal victory to crushing existential loss after another. As we follow the record’s protagonist, learning of her work, life and thought-process within this soul-sucking universe, by the end, her final arc feels like a fitting swan song for her personal journey. One that I feel many can internalise to become their own in some way.
Then, on the other hand, there’s just how fucking well Delta Sleep have crafted an exceptional record that moves you at your very core, with never a dull moment to be had. The shifting time signatures, head-turning odd-time rhythms, pedal-board magic, playful and gorgeous guitar work, and passionate vocals from frontman Devin Yüceil make for a soothing yet tear-jerking experience. It’s holistic, in a way. As a result, the U.K. act sky-rocket to be one of math-rock’s brightest lights, and that’s really saying something given damn well this genre is doing of late. In a word, ‘Ghost City‘ is beautiful.
Sectioned – ‘Annihilated’ / Frontierer – ‘Unloved’
It’s perhaps a cop out on my part to include these two particular Scottish bands together here. Namely as they share band members and because they both write a similar brand of chaotic, over the top extreme metal that’s as maddening as it is methodical. Yet both Sectioned and Frontierer make an incredible fucking racket in their own right. Comparable artists like Meshuggah, Tony Danza Tap Dance Extravaganza and Car Bomb get loads of praise, and rightfully so, but Frontierer and Sectioned are carrying this style’s torch forward into a new age. A bold new era that’s going to make your ears bleed blissfully with incomprehensible songwriting cues that all fire off at a scary pace. Dangerous and confronting music that threatens to drown out your sanity as freakishly low tunings, sick riffs, whammy effects, adrenaline-fueled vocals, and crazed rhythmic patterns completely swallow you up. Bat-shit wild, cerebral, and then some.
Essentially, both records are the definition of chaos. ‘Annihilated’ and ‘Unloved‘ are like the first time you heard Converge’s ‘Jane Doe’ and were left completely bewildered. Like how you had to lift your jaw off the floor after first hearing Dillinger Escape Plan’s ‘Calculating Infinity’. Like the moment you discovered Tony Danza Tap Dance Extravaganza and had your mind blown. Both of these albums have their slight, minute differences, yes, but both are akin to hearing a brutal yet glorious ten-car pile-up; like lengthy math-metal ear endurance tests that you need to take over and over again. Look, ‘Annihilated’ and ‘Unloved‘ are fantastic, a pair of crushing, shining beacons sitting atop the modern extreme music map. Don’t miss out on either one, cowards. Take the plunge into two of the most hellish sounding yet also most compelling metal records of 2018:
Hopesfall – ‘Arbiter’ (Equal Vision)
With any kind of reunion and comeback effort, just how the hell does a band from a more or less bygone era navigate this often tricky release? Head back to basics and keep shit safe for the eager fans who just want a return, regardless of quality? Change things up and bring in fresh influences so that you’re not feeling stale, yet run the risk of potentially alienating older fans? It’s a tough one! Thankfully on their returning fifth LP, Hopesfall met this difficult task head and crushed it beneath their feet.
‘Arbiter’ is the record I never knew I wanted from Hopesfall, yet has become the one I’ve needed the most. It’s heavy and melodic, but also catchy and moody, yet at all times is stellar and essential for their sound and legacy. With this new record featuring killer production, unforgettable songwriting cues and an exceptionally solid track flow, it avoids all of the trappings that other comeback efforts fall into (American Nightmare, anyone?) ‘Bradley Fighting Vehicle‘, ‘H.A. Wallace Space Academy‘, ‘Faint Object Camera‘, and ‘Tunguska‘? Banger, banger, banger, banger! And I love the nerdy, scientific references that inspire these song titles too – ‘Tunguska‘ is named after the Tunguska impact event of 1908, the largest meteor impact in recorded human history.
While not a complete departure from their existing sound, ‘Arbiter‘ follows on from 2007’s ‘Magnetic North‘ extremely well; honing everything that came before in their discography to become a finely tuned machine. It never feels slack, it doesn’t feel phoned-in, nor does it feel tired or dishonest. If anything, it feels like the greatest, truest Hopesfall record yet. This is how you make a long-awaited comeback. ‘Arbiter‘ is authentically polished, immensely satisfying, and irresistibly radiant. Welcome back, Hopesfall. It’s so fucking good to hear you guys once again!
Dance Gavin Dance – ‘Artificial Selection’ (Rise Records)
13 years in, eight records down, and after a laundry list of former members and many interpersonal dramas, Dance Gavin Dance have aged into their current iteration wonderfully so. To the point where they’ve dropped their best material to date with ‘Artificial Selection‘. These guys are on a real midnight crusade currently, existing at their most popular peak in years, and they won’t be stopping anytime soon. After all, just as Jon Mess screams on ‘The Rattler’, “Retired is a word that I hate”
Ironically enough, there ain’t nothing artificial about the glory that ‘Artificial Selection’ achieves in it’s confident 14-song stride. Huge choruses, great vocal melodies, solid breakdowns, frenzied instrumentals, bongos and even kazoo’s, surprisingly layered lyrics about the band’s lives and their beliefs, to finger-twisting and colourful guitars – there’s so much to love! Whether it’s that jaw-dropping reprisal section in ‘Evaporate‘, the final 90 seconds of ‘Midnight Crusade‘, the superb hook and vocal layerings dolled out on ‘Count Bassy‘, the surprising yet wholesome guest features, to the blunt yet honest lyrics about fame and heroes on ‘Gospel Burnout‘ – I could rave about it all for hours! And I basically did as much in my original in-depth review of it, so I’ll spare you that for now.
However, just know that this IS the most consistent DGD record yet; impressive doesn’t even begin to cover it. Hell, to merely label this record as ‘post-hardcore’ feels like an insult to the band’s high-caliber of expressions presented. This isn’t just a record for the many fans that have supported DGD over the years, but a record for the band themselves too. The people who write this record off because of who made it and the band’s past albums don’t know what they’re missing. This is a record where you only get out what you put back into it. Happiness is indeed ‘Artificial Selection‘.
Pianos Become The Teeth – ‘Wait For Love’ (Epitaph Records)
Without knowing the context or personal history of Pianos Become The Teeth’s singer, Kyle Durfey, ‘Wait For Love‘ is simply just a good album. However, once you understand the reality and lyrical context of Pianos‘ newest work and what Kyle’s experienced – his son’s birth, his marriage, his depression, and his father’s passing to Multiple sclerosis – ‘Wait For Love‘ suddenly becomes an exceptional record. A damn well gut-punching listen at that, too.
‘Wait For Love‘ is a gloomy, heart-breaking record dealing with loss, bitterness and regret; like watching a projection of your life, what it is, and what it could have been. All culminating in the emotionally wrought closer ‘Blue‘, where we hear Kyle singing about having a fictional conversation with his now deceased father. It’s harrowing stuff. In saying that, a Pianos record isn’t written for me, you or any other fan or listener. These songs and their lyrics can be applied to our own individual lives, for sure, but it’s meticulously written and painstakingly brought to life to help find comfort and catharsis within Kyle and Pianos as a whole.
Which is really what this soulful album encapsulates. As the group take what 2014’s ‘Keep You‘ nailed and ramp up the grand melodic and atmospheric turns with evocative story-telling, glistening guitar tones, great production, and drummer David Haik stealing the instrumental spotlight. It twists from energetic, catchy rock cuts ‘(Charisma‘), to majestic and cavernous moments of ambience (‘Bay Of Dreams‘), to dark, bittersweet love songs (‘Love On Repeat‘), yet it’s always engrossing. It’s a love record on the surface, but digging past that, you’ll find it’s a love letter to Kyle’s wife, son, father, and bandmates. Simple in many ways but complex in how the many pieces come together, it’s a touching and melancholic experience. ‘Wait For Love‘ is life-affirming bliss embodied.
The Armed – ‘Only Love’ (Throatruiner/No Rest Until Ruin)
Look, you cannot tell me that The Armed aren’t some kind of performance art act at this point. The Armed are a true enigma, and whether or not you wish to decode their inane line-up secrets, music media fuckery, bizarre metaphors or their cryptic lyrics, one cannot deny the sheer quality of their insane musical prowess. Hammering power-electronic blasts, feral DIY punk moments, glitchy synths, densely layered blackgaze, dissonant hardcore, and weird electronic-tinged art-rock are all par for the course with ‘Only Love’. While equal parts amazing and ridiculous, ‘Only Love‘ works far too well, yet it shouldn’t when looked at on paper. Of course, this is The Armed we’re talking about! A lesser yet more sensible band would’ve cocked up such a furious concoction of ideas and genres in half the time.
Funnily enough, if this album was only made up of their dissonant hardcore creations (‘Witness’, ‘Role Models’), it wouldn’t be as good. And if the record was defined only by their more experimental art-punk flourishes (‘Middle Homes’, ‘Fortune’s Daughter’), it also wouldn’t be as effective. It’s the record’s combination of these ideals, it’s stark musical variety and constant experimentation, that makes it so astounding. Nothing and no one is safe when The Armed come out to play. Their immense artistic expressions and bold tensions on ‘Only Love’ creates a surreal experience of unrelenting, noisy boundary-pushing. It sounds like Fuck Buttons, The Body, Rolo Tomassi, Black Flag, Deafheaven and Converge were rolled into some Chronenburg monstrosity. It’s odd, it’s loud, it’s unique, it’s ludicrous, and it’s vital. Come feel the noise, but don’t be shy – it’s only love.
Zeal & Ardor – ‘Stranger Fruit’ (Independent)
Merging occult imagery, blues, black spirituals, themes of slavery, and caustic black metal, Zeal & Ardor are unlike anything else making waves through metal right now. A modern reinterpretation of Billie Holiday’s 1939 ‘Strange Fruit‘, an allegory for race and black prejudice in early 20th century America, the sublime ‘Stranger Fruit‘ summons a menacing, macabre and mastered sequel to what 2016’s ‘Devil Is Fine‘ began. As expected though, this latest devil was so much better than fine! For this was Zeal & Ardor proving to the rest of the world that they weren’t just some flash-in-the-pan act, but rather something else to behold. Something worthy of all the attention that was placed upon their niche sound in 2017.
I do not hesitate to label Zeal & Ardor frontman and band leader, Manuel Gagneux, as a musical genius. His understanding of the history behind their lyrical themes and musical tropes is deep and cultured. Which is what makes for a hand-crafted record where everything is necessary, even those eclectic instrumental interludes littered across the near-hour runtime. Black metal is easily one of the most malleable genres, and Zeal & Ardor’s latest epic showed that fact off incredibly well; creating grim yet bluesy and even catchy piece. There’s honestly nothing else quite like ‘Stranger Fruit‘ in 2018; a unique record from a unique band. It’s a haunting yet head-banging spiritual experience, one that I cannot wait to experience come their 2019 Australian tour! There’s a storm out there…
The Wonder Years – ‘Sister Cities’ (Hopeless Records)
As emotionally honest and as poetically detailed as ever, ‘Sister Cities’ is a mammoth album whose track-listing marks pins across a worldly-travelled yet personally introspective map. It’s a record held together by the well-plotted red string of Dan “Soupy” Campbell’s unrivalled heart and unmatched lyricism; linking many different metaphors and stories together that it’s almost overwhelming at times. But this theme of related connections is bolstered by the most natural, lively production of the band’s career, as well as some of the best rock compositions that these Philly heroes have created. (I’d list the whole album, but ‘Raining In Kyoto‘, ‘We Look Like Lighting‘, ‘When The Blue Finally Came‘, and ‘Pyramids Of Salt‘ are the golden eggs).
In a year where I grew so much as a person, where I took bigger steps in my life, and in a year where my family lost my grandfather, this record was there as a comforting safety net since it’s release. Honest-to-god, this is perhaps The Wonder Years’ greatest release; a career pinnacle to match that of 2013’s defining ‘The Greatest Generation‘, and something just as special. The Wonder Years are better than ever with the moving life tales of sonder that make up the real and lived-in universe of ‘Sister Cities‘. This was pop-punk growing up and maturing in the best way imaginable.
MØL – ‘Jord’ (Holy Roar)
A near-perfect blackened shoegaze sound exploded from this Danish group’s stunning debut LP in 2018. Møl didn’t reinvent the wheel that Deafheaven, Lantlôs, Heaven In Her Arms, Oathbreaker, and Alcest all pushed before them. No, what Møl did, however, was drench said wheel in liquid fucking gold and create the genre’s strongest record to date. ‘Jord’ is downright brilliant, to say the absolute very least.
This eight-track behemoth is a staggering record that I cannot recommend enough, to black metal fans or otherwise. It carves the meandering moments straight out of the genre’s frosty chest, and goes right for the throat as it never wastes your time, pulling you into pure euphoric heights at a brisk pace. These young newcomers encase you in a whirlwind of beautifully bleak ash and hazy lights, pushing you into spell-bounding passages where all is seared with powerful screams, huge walls of dreamy and super-charged guitars, and thundering blast beats (‘Bruma‘). Even when the album slows down and becomes more explorative ( ‘Lambda‘, the shoegaze bridge during ‘Penumbra‘), ‘Jord‘ never once loses its awe-inspiring quality. This is without a doubt the new benchmark for blackgaze moving forward. All hail our new blackened overlords – MØL.
Rolo Tomassi – ‘Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It’ (Holy Roar)
Watching Rolo Tomassi develop over the years has been fantastic to witness. As it all lead to this career-defining moment, ‘Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It’. This wasn’t just a watershed moment for the U.K. group, but for heavy music that’s worth a damn in 2018. This is the Sheffield group’s crowning moment, their undisputed masterpiece. ‘Time Will Die…‘ is anxious but confident; creative yet destructive; delicate but intense; dissonant yet harmonious; dark but hopeful; and most importantly, it’s a phenomenal journey. Just within the span of it’s first three songs, you can see this. It moves from the airy ambience of sparkling keys and soft vocalisations (‘Towards Dawn‘) over to a post-rock and shoegaze-tinged cosmos (‘Aftermath‘), before morphing into a brutal, blackened hardcore blaze of savagery (‘Rituals‘). Very few records can do this and make it work and gel together, but ‘Time Will Die…‘ definitely isn’t most other records. It’s better.
The only people I know who don’t like this album or are those who heard a single or two and gave up on the full thing. Bastards. But if you know, you know; if you get it, you get it. ‘Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It‘ is special. I’ve tried many times this year to pick it apart and find something I dislike, something that I feel could’ve been done better or changed, but I never once find an answer. Whether it’s Eva Spence’s impressive singing and screaming range, the record’s tight production and crystal clear mix, the spot on guitar and bass tones, the complex rhythms, the stylistic yet cohesive changes between tracks, the overall song structures, the emotional impact – it’s damn well perfect.
Thematically, the whole album is loss, grief, memory, inspiration, purpose, and pain captured in perfectly flawed human form. Matching these devastating emotional blows are the crushing dynamic peaks that it hits. All akin to seeing the ground lifted upwards before you, only for these pieces of earth to stand still as time comes to a stop. For only you and Rolo Tomassi exist when this record is speaking. ‘Contretemps‘ is stunning (especially live); the outro of ‘Alma Mater‘ is one of the best breakdowns I’ve heard in years; ‘Risen‘ blossoms with real vulnerability; ‘Aftermath‘ shows off the record’s incredible layering and dynamic headroom; ‘Rituals‘ tears your head clean off with rabid screams and mental riffs; and ‘A Flood Of Light‘ washes your soul with heavy synths and impenetrable instrumental walls, as Eva decries of those lost: “And there you are, always“.
When I listen to Rolo’s latest, I can’t just stop after one song: it has to be the entire record in-full. Front to back, start to end; it’s just that gripping. It floors me each and every time; pulling some tears out of me in the process. As someone who spends much of his time writing words on the internet, I almost don’t have the words to quite describe my full love for this album nor how great it really is. If there’s one record you listen to solely based off my recommendations, please let it be this one.
‘Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It‘, a record that means more to me than I can possibly express. ‘Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It‘, my AOTY for 2018. Thank you, Rolo Tomassi.