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The Curiouser Top Ten Albums of 2018

Clearly, The Doors’ Live at the Isle of Wight Festival is the best album released in 2018, but in the spirit of giving new artists (such as The Damned and Superchunk) a chance to shine, I’m going to stick to albums actually recorded within the last year, or failing that, at least within my lifetime! I’ve also just noticed it appears to have been quite the year for black metal…

1 Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse

As soon as this as announced last year, I did have an inkling that this, the first release I picked up in the first week of 2018, might become my favourite album of the year, but I wasn’t expecting what it turned out to be. From being heirs-apparent to Satyricon’s “mainstream” black metal throne with their last release, they’ve gone right back to their underground roots with something more comparable to Marduk’s decades old masterwork Panzer Division Marduk. It’s a twisted journey through many intertwining layers of ferocity, and it’s an incredible one.

2 Violet Cold – Sommermorgen, Pt. I: Innocence, Pt. II: Joy, Pt. III: Nostalgia

Without doubt the best triple album of the year, as well as being the most uplifting and emotional rock album(s) of most years! Completely instrumental; part shoegaze, in no small part thanks to consistently wonderful soaring guitar lines that might even make Slowdive look on in awe, and part post-metal, though in a distinctly un-metal way. Absolutely fantastic set of albums that I’d have taken any one of in any given year, that have been in non-stop rotation since they all appeared. Just wonderful.

3 Marduk – Viktoria

The opening track, Werwolf, confirms this as a classic Marduk black metal blitz. It just blows your socks off every listen, and whilst the band do offer the odd melodic respite throughout the album, this is pretty much what you get for the duration. Great musicianship, true to form subject matter that will offend all who deserve to be offended, and just a wonderfully cold, cold record.

4 Immortal- Northern Chaos Gods

Masterful mix of raw aggression and more ambient moments, and a masterwork in black metal songwriting throughout, none more so than in 10-minute album closer, Mighty Ravendark. Special mention to some fantastic use of clean guitars that somehow add even more grimness to the mix. Exquisite.

5 Ghost – Prequelle

When Abba met Kiss… or as the recently outed mastermind behind Ghost, Tobias Forge said, sounds like the band from the seventies you never heard. Another slice of bonkers dark glam rock that is more stadium than occult now, but is still sinister (loosely themed as a concept album about the Black Death), is often strangely hypnotic and is as catchy as hell.

6 Behemoth – I Loved You at Your Darkest

This is some complex, heavy satanic black metal! There’s choirs, chanting, operatics, orchestras and ambience, but those are all just finishing touches to a vision of hell that it’s hard to tear your ears away from. They’re not really pushing any boundaries, but their evil excellence makes that totally irrelevant.

7 Primordial – Exile Amongst The Ruins

Always a band I look forward to hearing something new from – progressive (as in progressive, not prog) as ever, often epic, doom-laden, Celtic folk-tinged black-ish metal! As always, the bleak lyrics come across as a call to war, complementing a highly atmospheric, crushing and elemental album from these masters of their art.

8 The Damned – Evil Spirits

Despite being a band I’ve been into since a very early age, and one that created my favourite album ever in Phantasmagoria, I’ve always maintained that you could probably make one decent album out of everything The Damned has produced since Anything in 1985. Then along comes Evil Spirits, and it’s not only a decent album, but a very good one indeed! It does hark back to Anything, with a very 80’s multi-layered production style, and the band once again tapping into their more psychedelic influences. It might not be very punk anymore, but they still know how to write a catchy, angry tune!

9 Ihsahn – Amr

Incredibly polished, atmospheric and almost cinematic, just like every release since Ihsahn emerged from Emperor. And with every release, he’s moving the boundaries further from what started as black metal with some clever embellishments, to some mind-boggling songwriting that touches all kinds of genres, metal and otherwise. There are so many layers, so many things going on and so many contrasts that on first listen you have no idea where he’ll go next, or even where the sound will come from next if you’re listening to this in headphones! Bonafide genius.

10 Venom – Storm the Gates

There’s nothing more heartwarming than a new Venom album dropping out of nowhere, just in time for Christmas when I thought this top ten was complete (sorry Superchunk). Cronos still sounds great, as does the trademark blackened, dirty thrash. The rawness is still there despite production they could only have dreamed of when the classic records were made. And despite the classic lineup being long since gone, it still sounds like classic Venom.

Steve Norman’s Top Ten Albums of 2016

I’m regularly lambasted for being old and out of touch, but I’m quite proud to prove that at least one of those accusations wrong with at least 90% of this list! Not a Metallica or Rolling Stones in sight, though I’m still fond of this year’s output. And I still don’t like Bowie. 
  1. Jesu & Sun Kil Moon – Jesu & Sun Kil Moon. When you’ve got a name that catchy, I think it makes sense to use it on your album too!  Amazing how adding one element can make everything so different. It’s never been such a stretch to associate previous Jesu stuff to Justin Broadrick’s Godflesh past, but Kozelek’s ultra-slacker vocals unexpectedly shift this right into Red House Painters territory (more so than his Sun Kil Moon incarnation), rather than the post-rock shoegaze you’d expect, even though it’s often still there in the background textures. I love Jesu, I love Red House Painters, this is a very unlikely dream come true!
  2. Nothing – Tired of Tomorrow. More shoegaze, but this time I’d call it post-hardcore shoegaze! There’s some really incredible soaring and shimmering guitar at play here, but with an occasional hint of heaviness to it that sets it apart from the likes of my other favourites Klimt1918, Swervedriver or My Vitriol, veering towards early Smashing Pumpkins. That heaviness applies even more to the lyrics though, nodding to the band members’ hardcore past and echoing Ian Curtis with a bit of disease and decay sprinkled on top.
  3. Desert Mountain Tribe – Either That or the Moon. Driving, melodic psychedelic rock that can really suck you in and mesmerise you for it’s full length. Multi-layered and complex, great vocals and some really captivating instrumentals. One of my new finds of the year!
  4. Black Angel Drifter – Black Angel Drifter. I know I wasn’t actually there, but this takes me right back to my beloved early seventies Texarkana swampland; look up The Legend of Boggy Creek on YouTube! Feral, gothic, sparce Americana about murder and addiction and stuff, just like I plan to make one day!
  5. Dawn of Ashes – Theophany. I listened to this more than any other [new] album this year. Intense but accessible modern industrial black metal, only let down by an unnecessary Nine Inch Nails cover at the ends, but that’s very easy to avoid. 
  6. FEWS – Means. My annual breakthrough psychedelic post-punk act, and these Swedish-Americans definitely outshone anything else in this admittedly specialist genre in 2016! Literally 20 seconds of Apple Music preview was all it took me to know I’d found one of my albums of the year. Emotive guitar lines, a driving, almost hypnotic bass and a lovely air of playful gloom. Great album. 
  7. The Besnard Lakes – A Coliseum Complex Museum. I think this was the first album I picked up this year and one I had high expectations for. I’ve been a fan since their first album, and always seen them as a bit of a throwback to something, but it’s hard to pin down what – the late 60’s and The Beach Boys; some proggy thing from the 70’s that I’d probably claim I’m not familiar with even if I was; early 90’s shoegaze… For anyone else that’s followed the band, it is a bit by numbers, albeit feeling slightly more “dense” than the more dreamy last couple of albums. That said, they live in their own grandiose, atmospheric world, and I was more than happy to visit it repeatedly through 2016 with this album.
  8. Dinosaur Jr. Pure comfort food for anyone that lived through grunge and was intelligent enough to peek below its surface. Perfect summertime forty-something nostalgia!
  9. Ihsahn – Arktis. Intensely atmospheric latest release by the man from Emperor. Moments of dark ambience, prog and electronica perfectly complement an emotional black metal masterclass.  
  10. Nick Cave – Skeleton Tree. Beautiful, haunting and heartbreaking in equal measure. Just put it on through some decent headphones and listen to every word. He deserves nothing less.