Matt Coe Best-of 2018

Monday, 17th December 2018

2018 will not be an easy year for me to forget. Divorcing in May, living on my own in September – and properly handling all of the life changes in between is not an easy feat. But the power of metal and writing about it was quite cathartic to coming out as well adjusted as I could – plus the soundtrack to a few albums that hit this top twelve list of the year. Again, diversity has been king – beyond my penchant for traditional / power metal, there is a love of doom, extreme, and modern aspects to my choices.

Without further ado, here are my top choices for 2018 – based upon a combination of my initial impressions and consuming these records more and more as the year progressed.

12. Vermithrax – Imperium Draconis (Divebomb Records)
Pittsburgh, PA is a steel city known for its blue-collar mentality – and this band live for that ethic on Imperium Draconis. Staying true to their power/progressive thrash ideals – it’s as if transporting Forbidden, Sanctuary, Vicious Rumors, Nevermore, and Flotsam & Jetsam into the current marketplace. Guaranteed to please and leave you wanting more.

11. Amorphis – Queen of Time (Nuclear Blast)
Comfortable in transforming from their progressive death/doom roots in the early 1990’s to a more melodic heavy metal band with nuances from that era, Queen of Time pulsates due to its hypnotic keyboard/guitar combinations against clean and growl vocals. The push and pull of music to words keeps listeners riveted, from opener “The Bee” on through to the epic 6:19 conclusion for “Pyres on the Coast”. We all know Tales from the Thousand Lakes is a no doubt classic – but this effort could reach that same status a decade or two down the line.

10. Torian – God of Storms (Ram It Down Records)
A new label on the scene, one of their first signings is this German power metal act Torian with their fourth album God of Storms. Combining traditional, Teutonic riffs that stride from the heart, the Orden Ogan-like chorus action during “Old Friend Failure” and “Saint of the Fallen” among others encourages that mead hall/ large festival congregation to join along. Metal that makes you forget about any daily toil and rejuvenate back to your care-free youth.

9. Rivers of Nihil – Where Owls Know My Name (Metal Blade)
Progressive, extreme, and melodic aren’t three adjectives normally strewn about when describing an album – but that ambiance and dynamic ability makes Rivers of Nihil refreshing and a pioneer act for a metal scene needing that younger perspective to shine. Hauntingly beautiful in juxtaposition for “The Silent Life”, the jackhammer guitar assault for “Old Nothing” mesmerizes in machine gun fashion – and the record takes you on that unique mind trip with every successive pass.

8. Judas Priest – Firepower (Sony Music)
Listeners have wondered if Judas Priest would ever step up to the plate and come close to releasing a pinnacle effort like Painkiller was in 1990. Firepower is that close relative – employing Andy Sneap/Tom Allom for production roles gives the band a fiery, potent attack – even if there are more mid-tempo anthems than true speed efforts. The title track, “Evil Never Dies” and culturally moving “Traitors Gate” stand up very well as landmark Priest songs, and let’s hope this isn’t the final studio effort from the band.

7. Graviton – Per Erebus Ad Astra (Self-Released)
Massachusetts thrash act Graviton turned up the speed, the attitude, and the relentlessness while also proving that they can shift gears and deliver a doom song too on their first full-length. Between the double barrel blitzkrieg for “My Degeneration” and “Signals from Beyond” and the mid-tempo slam breakdown during “Shattered Repose”, as well the already mentioned doom shifter “Tomes of the Mystic”, it’s little wonder why this quartet aren’t moving up the ranks and garnering underground and prime thrash/death opening slots for nationals that come through New England.

6. The Night Flight Orchestra – Sometimes the World Ain’t Enough (Nuclear Blast)
Consisting of many Soilwork members, yes it’s not technically a ‘metal’ album – this is more 70’s/80’s classic melodic rock with some yacht touches here and there. But it’s hard not fully engage in this band who take you back to music they love and put their own original take on the proceedings. From Toto to Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac to Player, Boston to Journey – it’s all here and more on this 12 song, almost hour-long platter.

5. Icarus Witch – Goodbye Cruel World (Cleopatra Records)
After a six-year hiatus and a couple of member changes, Pittsburgh’s traditional metal outfit Icarus Witch release possibly their best album to date with Goodbye Cruel World. Assembling a rock star team in members and behind the scenes people, there’s a genuine affinity for melodic hard rock and harmonization combinations throughout – channeling 70’s and 80’s influences while never losing the map on making things sound fresh for 2018. The reflective ballad “Antivenom” and U2-like jagged guitar/bass interplay for an instrumental like “The Flood” stays with you long after the songs end – a true testament to the power of delivering strong music.

4. Dynazty – Firesign (AFM Records)
Fusing some electronic/cyber orchestration hooks against their modern melodic metal platform, Swedish act Dynazty with Firesign delivers a solid set of moving songs. Bringing to mind Pretty Maids and Europe with a little more finesse, it’s hard not to be clapping and singing along to “Breathe With Me” and “Follow Me” upon first listen, and then delve deeper into the guitar/keyboard twists and steady grooves for deeper enjoyment. And vocalist Nils Molin now has double the band activity as the new male clean vocalist for Amaranthe.

3. Khemmis – Desolation (20 Buck Spin)
Colorado is home to this mighty heavy metal act – crushing through twin guitar harmonies, equally captivating mountain top clean melodies, and the sheer power of doom driving their sound for Desolation. Much like Grand Magus, Khemmis understands the necessity of catchy hooks while delivering these songs – and it’s hard not to get swept up by the Maiden/Lizzy action during “Bloodletting” or the stealth-like low charm of “The Seer”. Possibly on par with Pallbearer for future leaders of this genre.

2. Visigoth – Conqueror’s Oath (Metal Blade)
Utah is home to Visigoth – parading a warrior’s mentality for true power/traditional metal on their second full-length Conqueror’s Oath. Using European and American compatriots for influence, those who love Omen, Manilla Road, Grand Magus, Manowar, and Twisted Tower Dire need anthems like “Steel and Silver” and “Blades in the Night” in their lives – plus the band throw down some Kiss-oriented fun for “Salt City” to diversify the record. We need not worry what the future holds when the veterans retire as long as bands like Visigoth continue forward.

1. Voivod – The Wake (Century Media)
Progressive, avant-garde, left-field, thrash – simple words to throw about, yet tough to encapsulate the amazing effort that is The Wake from Canada’s Voivod. Challenging themselves this deep into their career is a testament to their craft. Nimble bass mechanics, Away’s unique drum hits and phrasing, the comfort of Chewy taking on axe chores for the sadly deceased Piggy, and the one of a kind morose to alternative melodies for Snake make “Obsolete Beings” and “Spherical Perspective” intense, mind numbing trips to the outer galaxy.

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