David E. Gehlke Best-of 2018

Monday, 10th December 2018

The art of songwriting is of infinite intrigue, although it’s not as valued a commodity in metal as, say, classic rock. It seems everyone takes a different route to get to the same spot, essentially. There’s no set formula in metal, nor are there any rules to be followed, that is unless you’re in a beatdown hardcore band where a beatdown is, in fact, a necessity for every song. (No beatdowns on the list, though.)

Nevertheless, the below ten cuts bound through several of metal’s various subgenres, although it appears to this scribe’s ears that melodic death metal had more of an effect than in years’ prior. But, Primordial, as they did for the album list, take the top spot for the songs. Really hard to argue with a song as climatic as “Upon Our Spiritual Deathbed.” In an effort to keep the below list lively, here are a few words that come to mind for each song.

10. Emma Ruth Rundle – Races (from Dark Horse)
Metal dudes love Emma Ruth Rundle for obvious reasons: She writes uniquely dark songs while not being a Goth nor a hipster.

9. Sear Bliss – Shroud (from Letters from the Edge)
Hungarian black metal band who has been around forever, it seems, that loves using a horn section and can pen an epic jaunt, or two.

8. Fractal Gates – Dreams Apart (from The Light that Shines)
“Basic melodic death” would be apt for France’s Fractal Gates, although “Dreams Apart” feels like you’re about to take off on a rocket ship ride.

7. Omnium Gatherum – Rest in Your Heart (from The Burning Cold)
Markus Vanhala told this scribe personally that he thinks this is “single-worthy.” He couldn’t be more correct, as usual.

6. At the Gates – The Mirror Black (from Drink from the Night Itself)
The broadening of At the Gates continues – they can do more than write songs that everyone else (ahem, metalcore) tries to copy.

5. Night in Gales – The Spears Within (from The Last Sunsets)
This feels like 1996, which is great – all melodic death metal of this type should feel this way.

4. The Night Flight Orchestra – Barcelona (from Sometimes the World Ain’t Enough)
Kyle McGinn would take a paddleboat across the Atlantic to see these guys play. Perfectly understandable.

3. Warrel Dane – As Fast as the Others (from Shadow Work)
Shadow Work as a whole is a big miss, but “As Fast as the Others” is a reminder of what Warrel Dane (R.I.P.) can do when he has good material to work with.

2. Sylvaine – Abeyance (from Atoms Aligned, Coming Undone)
Sylvaine should move to the forest to serenade wildlife.

1. Primordial – Upon Our Spiritual Deathbed (from Exile Among the Ruins)
The fervor, fever and forward-motion of “Upon Spiritual Deathbed” is simply brilliant.

Best newcomer: Outer Heaven. How does one stick out from the death metal bog? Write better songs, something Outer Heaven accomplishes on their Realms of Eternal Decay debut. The Philly band scrapes some familiar surfaces while paying heed to some of death metal’s most unsung bands, like Gorefest, for instance, in those obscure riff and melody choices.

Biggest disappointment: An Autumn for Crippled Children. The blackgaze vets have been lauded here as the best band in their sub-genre, but their new album, The Light of September, shows the first real sign of wear-and-tear in the idea department. Stale songs, tired arrangements and uniformity kill this album.

Best cover art: Bloodbath – The Arrow of Satan is Drawn. Easily Eliran Kantor’s creepiest work to date, the flies buzzing around the crib, the cross on the wall, the Coroner-like panel including Bloodbath’s logo and album title…simply awesome.

Best concert: Helloween “Pumpkins United” tour, Worcester, MA. This reunion was on a Guns ‘N Roses level of not-going-to-happen for quite some time, the current band at odds with beloved former singer Michael Kiske. But, credit Kai Hansen for bringing everyone together for a world tour that started in 2017 and finally hit North America this fall. The ‘Weenies pulled out all the stops in their two-and-a-half hour set, with power metal anthems and smiles-a-plenty.

Most anticipated for 2019: Carcass. The legendary Brit melodic-death-grinders don’t necessarily need to release a new album, but with Surgical Steel now being six years old, Walker, Steer and company are due. Being that no two Carcass studio albums sound alike, interest is piqued as to what direction they take.

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