Best of 2018: 30-21

30. PORTAL, “Ion” (Profound Lore): We’ve come to expect twisted, bizarre creations from the cloaked Aussie death metal horrors Portal, and on their astonishing fifth record “ION,” a nine-track, 37-minute document of terror that is astonishing for many reasons. For one, the songs are not baked with noise, nor do they sound like they emanate from a dank basement. Also, it truly gives the listener a view into just how intensely powerful these mysterious beings are as performers. If you’ve ever had the luck to see the band live, you know how great Portal are as players, and more of that shines through on tracks such as “Esp Ion Age,” “Phreqs,” and 9:44 closer “Olde Guarde” that delivers chaos and demolition, a stabbing exclamation point at the end of a mind-mangling album. There have been many pretenders to Portal’s crown, but no one ever will take it form them. (Jan. 26)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/PORTALDEATH/

To buy the album, go here: https://profoundlorerecords.merchtable.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/

29. INSECT ARK, “Marrow Hymns” (Profound Lore): If you’re up for a deep journey into the cosmos and your own psychosis, Insect Ark’s excellent second album “Marrow Hymns” could be just what you need. The duo of guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Dana Schechter and drummer Ashley Spungin pour themselves into nine tracks of instrumental power, as they key in on isolation, loss, and displacement, as both members experienced tumultuous times leading up to this record. The result is a stunning collection that can be as cathartic for you as it was for Schechter and Spungin to create. Here we are, 10 months after this fine record landed, and it’s been one that’s morphed in my mind over and over again, which is the sign is a great piece of work that has layers of meaning you must work to peel back. And we’re still mining to this day. (Feb. 23)

For more on the band, go here: https://insectark.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://profoundlorerecords.merchtable.com

For more on the label, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/

28. AGRIMONIA, “Awaken” (Southern Lord): Many bands change things up over time, because it can get a little trying to keep doing the same things over and over again. Swedish pounders Agrimonia have been a favorite here for years because they’re one of those bands that always add new chemicals to the formula, and they do that again on “Awaken.” The band doesn’t just stay within one path but pushes into multiple lanes, blending rock, post-hardcore, black metal, and doom into the puzzle. It’s an astonishing mixture, and it’s the best Agrimonia ever have sounded. Tracks including “A World Unseen,” “Foreshadowed,” and spacious closer “The Sparrow” demonstrate this expanded sound palette, keeping the band’s heaviness in tact but also including different colors and shades that make them an even more interesting group. (Jan. 26)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/agrimonia.swe/

To buy the album, go here: https://www.southernlord.com/store

For more on the label, go here: https://www.southernlord.com/

27. MARSH DWELLER, “Wanderer” (Eihwaz Recordings): Having a place to call home, be that physical or mental, is something not everyone has a privilege to say they have. Marsh Dweller creator John Owen Kerr explores the idea of continually feeling one’s way through attempting to find a place that can be a true home, even as one travels from town to town, place to place looking for that ultimate warmth. On top of one’s home evolving over time, so has Kerr’s music. This is a much different record from 2016’s “The Weight of Sunlight,” as the songs are much longer, more atmospheric, and even quite beautiful in spots. It’s also a fascinating listen that can swallow you whole as you work through his music that’s thunderous, atmospheric, and emotional, so don’t think you’re alone if you find at the end of this, you’re feeling a wave of chaos within your own soul.  (Oct. 19)

To buy the album, go here: https://shop.eihwazrecordings.com/product/marsh-dweller-wanderer

For more on the label, go here: https://eihwazrecordings.com/

26. GLACIAL TOMB, self-titled (Gilead Media): To put on a record and feel like you’re physically being smashed about the head and torso means you’ve discovered the good stuff, and that’s jam packed into Glacial Tomb’s mighty and conquering debut record. These guys show zero mercy on this seven-track, nearly 35-minute record that’s a nice compact blast that gives you just enough to leave you wanting a shitload more. Their menacing death metal surrounds and destroys, highlighted by cuts including  blistering opener “Monolithos,” trucking “Breath of Pestilence,” dizzying and ugly “Witness,” and misery-inducing closer “Shackled to the Burning Earth” that’s mucky, proggy, and vicious. Every moment of this album is like an MMA beating, with you ground and pounded into the mat. (Oct. 26)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/glacialtomb

To buy the album, go here: https://gileadmedia.net/collections/pre-orders

For more on the label, go here: https://gileadmedia.net/

25. UN, “Sentiment” (Black Bow/Translation Loss): No question heavy metal is awash in negativity, which has been the case ever since the beginning of this style of music. But not all bands head down that path, and Seattle funeral doom crushers Un decide to go the other way and embrace the positivity they see in their lives and the world, which is something we all could use right now. Four mammoth tracks spread over about 53 minutes is what greets you on the band’s second album “Sentiment,” and while you’re not going to be dragged through a pit of dark feelings, you’ll definitely be pummeled on your trip. “In Its Absence” is atmospheric but also smothering and skull splitting; “Pools of Reflection” is cagey and bloody, with a Kelly Schilling of Dreadnought adding a sense of beauty to the fury; and “A Garden Where Nothing Grows” ends the record with droning terror, doom smothering, and a rising psyche fog. (Sept. 28)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/unvibes

To buy the album, go here: http://translationlossrecords.bigcartel.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.translationloss.com/

24. WAYFARER, “World’s Blood” (Profound Lore): The Wild West is fairly underrepresented when it comes to black metal, but Denver’s Wayfarer are working to change all of that with their spellbinding art. “World’s Blood” is their first for Profound Lore but third overall, and it’s easily their most interesting and inventive. Here, Wayfarer dig deep into their Denver roots and the suddenly bustling metallic pools that have gathered in that area, and they also pay homage to those whose footsteps once marked their corner of the earth, only to be forgotten by so many. The music here flows like tributaries of oranges and purples poured down darkened mountainsides, and their destructive strikes that rage out of shadowy sections give the music a light/dark feeling. These guys always have been a buried gem, but this record seems to be changing that for this awesome group. (May 25)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/wayfarercolorado/

To buy the album, go here: https://profoundlorerecords.merchtable.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/

23. HOREHOUND, “Holocene” (Doom Stew): Pittsburgh’s Horehound has had a hell of a year, capping if off with their powerful second record “Holocene,” a tremendous follow-up to their 2016 debut. Here, the band doesn’t simply stay on the doom path and instead brings in a variety of sounds and styles to make their music even more spellbinding. That gives each a song its own personality, and while they all work together as a total package, each can and does stand on its own quite powerfully. Opener “The Kind” begins quietly and delicately before singer Shy Kennedy unleashes growls and her powerful singing; “L’appel du Vide” has weird guitars effects at first before turning bluesy, as riffs snake, and psychedelic playing causing dizziness; while “Anastatica” delivers a tasty bluesy riff along with echoing vocals, and an assault packed with swagger. Killer record from top to bottom. (Nov. 30)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/horehoundband

To buy the album, go here: https://www.doomstew.com/store/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.doomstew.com/

22. FÓRN, “Rites of Despair” (Gilead Media): Earlier we talked about a doom album awash in positivity. Now, let’s look at the polar opposite. Fórn’s second full-length “Rites of Despair” is ideally named, because that’s exactly what this record is. It’s dour, dark, and depressing from beginning to end, and the band pulls that off in a way that sucks you in and keeps you, no matter how hopeless everything seems. It’s a great record, one of the best doom albums of the year, but even after absorbing such brilliance, you don’t feel any better at the end. There will be no smile on your face; your heart won’t be swelling with love. Everything the band commits to this 11-track, 65-minute torture session is black and devastating, injecting you with the feeling that nothing ever was good, and that will never change. Everything on this thing hurts, and that’s likely just the way Fórn want it. (Sept. 21)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Forndoom/

To buy the album, go here: https://gileadmedia.net/collections/pre-orders

For more on the label, go here: https://gileadmedia.net/

21. DEVOURING STAR, “The Arteries of Heresy” (Dark Descent/Terratur Possessions): Sin is human. Every single person does it, and some people even are obsessed with it and use these deeds to push forward their own agendas. Devouring Star’s sole creator JL equally is as fascinated with this concept and uses it to inform the thunderous second record “The Arteries of Heresy.” “Consummation” opens the album with noise building before the music starts slithering, and the growls hammer at your senses; “Sin Assimilation” has a raucous start, with the drums mauling, and the music carving a destructive path. Total havoc is achieved, with the savagery coming to a boiling point, the madness stirring, and the track coming to a stabbing finish; “Scar Inscriptions” jangles at the start before the melodies get hypnotic and weird. The track clobbers, while raw growls push their way in and open up flesh. It’s hypnotic, dizzying, and savage, and it might make you think about your own role in the worldwide campaign of sin. (Oct. 26)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/DevouringStar/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.darkdescentrecords.com/store/

Or here: https://www.van-records.de/index.php?language=en&cPath=23

For more on the label, go here: http://www.darkdescentrecords.com/

And here: https://terraturpossessions.com/

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