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The Best Metal Albums of 2018 (So Far)

Welcome to Pitchfork’s monthly metal column, where we guide you through the genre’s new music and happenings with an eye towards a specific theme.


We’re halfway through 2018 and it’s been a banner year for all things slow and dismal. Maybe it’s the constant stream of bad news and our collective weariness mounting, but subgenres like doom, sludge, and stoner metal are all thriving. Many of the year’s best metal records have come from bands sinking to unimaginable lows: Detuned guitars, trudging tempos, and putrid howls like distant thunder have stood out as defining trends.

Among 2018’s finest to date are comeback albums by doomy legends like Sleep and YOB, records that build on earlier defining statements and take each band’s story to unexpected places. Honorable mentions go to Slugdge and Mournful Congregation, two hybrid doom acts that have stood out in a field rife with purposeful monotony by injecting it with ambitious conceptual flourishes. Meanwhile, the music that has gone in the opposite direction—thrash metal, power metal, and other upbeat strains—has felt like a response to old-school influences: Primal Rite’s righteous fury or Visigoth’s triumphant anthems both inject new energy into classic sounds. With a whole lot of the year left to trudge through, find five of our favorite recent metal albums and 10 honorable mentions below, plus Spotify and Apple Music playlists.

Sleep: The Sciences [Third Man]

Sleep’s music is built on mythology: a heady brew that melds sci-fi epics, occult parables, stoned visions, and metal iconography. Despite those interests and the space-centric motif of The Sciences, the trio’s first album since their ’90s masterpiece Dopesmoker, the joy in these songs is just how down to earth they are. Bassist Al Cisneros sings like he wants you to listen closely and follow his instructions. Matt Pike riffs like he’s been saving his wildest ideas for this very moment. And percussion from Neurosis’ Jason Roeder clears a path through the deathly slow proceedings, giving some songs the momentum of an oncoming hurricane. While The Sciences is the band’s most compact, immediate album to date, its mysteries continue to unfold the closer you listen.

YOB: Our Raw Heart [Relapse]

Every YOB album feels like a breakthrough. This is simply the sensation that the Oregon band’s sprawling, shapeless music evokes—a state where heavy topics like life and death and evil all coalesce as one tortured, epiphanic bellow. The effect is sent into overdrive on the trio’s eighth album. Composed in the wake of the near-fatal illness of vocalist and guitarist Mike Scheidt, Our Raw Heart is the sound of YOB reckoning with its own self-imposed boundaries. It’s a melodic and gorgeous record, but it also bursts forward with the intensity of gratitude and renewed focus.

Visigoth: Conqueror’s Oath [Metal Blade]

From the opening pick slide and horseback gallop of “Steel and Silver,” Visigoth’s breakthrough sophomore album revels in old-fashioned pleasures. The Salt Lake City quintet is not the only U.S. act embracing the time-worn traditions of NWOBHM and power metal, but Conqueror’s Oath feels like a rallying cry for the revival. Consider it a concise proclamation of what’s worth salvaging from the past, with not a second of filler among its eight tracks. Lyrically, these songs go exactly where you want them to—war is declared, victory is sought, pretty much everybody’s got a sword—and the music is equally triumphant. Keep an ear out for “Salt City,” an endearingly cheesy tribute that somehow makes the highways of Utah sound as mythical as ancient trailways.

Tribulation: Down Below [Century Media]

It’s not often that a band’s most experimental music is also its most accessible. Yet this is exactly what Tribulation has accomplished with Down Below, the Swedish quartet’s fourth album. Across these demonic, action-packed epics, Tribulation refines its gothy hybrid style—a mix of deathrock, black metal, and psychedelic rock—with its tightest craftsmanship to date. Highlights like “Nightbound” and “The World” wouldn’t be so thrilling if the band’s members weren’t also pushing themselves to new extremes, incorporating pianos and synths to create an atmosphere as fully realized as their songwriting has become.

Oceans of Slumber: The Banished Heart [Century Media]

Ocean of Slumber’s The Banished Heart is a lot to take in at once. The Houston quartet builds songs that feel like entire playlists condensed into swirling mini-operas. At the forefront is Cammie Gilbert, whose clean, melodic vocals are poised for emotional directness. The video for the album’s 10-minute title track opens with her belting out the song alone in the car, and plenty of her hooks encourage you to do the same (my favorite: “When I say forever/I mean forever”). But even when Gilbert exudes the quiet calm of a folk singer, chaos swirls around her. Death-metal growls, mosh-ready breakdowns, and the virtuosic blast beats of drummer Dobber Beverly ensure you never get too comfortable. This immersive mixture of moods might not be for everyone, but once it sucks you in, you won’t want to leave.


Honorable Mentions:

  • Mournful Congregation: The Incubus of Karma [20 Buck Spin]
  • Portal: Ion [Profound Lore]
  • Primal Rite: Dirge of Escapism [Revelation]
  • Slugdge: Esoteric Malacology [Willowtip]
  • Gaerea: Unsettling Whispers [Transcending Obscurity]
  • Tomb Mold: Manor of Infinite Forms [20 Buck Spin]
  • Rebel Wizard: Great addictions to blindingly dark, wordly life [self-released]
  • Our Place of Worship Is Silence: With Inexorable Suffering [Translation Loss]
  • Marijannah: Till Marijannah [self-released]
  • Judas Priest: Firepower [Columbia]

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