SAGAN'S TOP ALBUMS OF 2018
2018 has been very generous in the number of albums it has bestowed upon us, and while I found myself scrambling to keep up with my new releases to check out, I also had some severe disappointments and wondered; will there be that few albums that will blow me away this year? Well, the answer was yes. However there are many bands out there who have released fantastic records this year, and I would hate for them to go unnnoticed. So while I can't list them all, here are my 5 absolute favourites of the year.
5. Manticora — To Kill to Live to Kill Manticora isn’t your typical groovy guitar-porn jerk-off band, and it’s that unpretentious progressive sound combined with their heavy, HEAVY death disposition that pleases me so much. So did their new album, To Kill To Live To Kill. The Danish band’s record flies above their previous work, with production a high step up from before, making it even more enjoyable through some good headphones. To Kill to Live to Kill starts VERY strong with some of the best songs in the first 20 minutes, but it never really slows down, taking the listener into a sensory journey as only a good progressive album can. Manticora created a wonderful ride that you’ll want to take over and over until your head is spinning (from too much headbanging). Special mention for track #9, “Nothing is Forever” — It made me cry so many times that I wasn’t able to make it through on my first 5-6 listens of this album. If you can relate, it is very painful to listen to. It’s not my favourite on the album, but it is by far the most moving, and I have to give credit to a band who can make music conjure up such feelings. Songs to listen to: “Echoes of a Silent Scream”, “Katana — Awakening the Lunacy”, “The Farmer’s Tale Pt.2 — Annihilation at the Graves”
4. Chthonic 閃靈 — Battlefields of Asura Chthonic (閃靈) had been absent for a while and I was beginning to worry if, between action movies and Freddy Lim’s political career, there would ever be more Chthonic records. But 2018 came with Battlefields of Asura and I was blown away. This album is dark, really dark. Traditional music elements mixed with blackened symphonic death, Freddy Lim’s versatile vocals alternating between banshee screeches and guttural growls, an air of despair and brewing revolution, with a bit of whimsy; every element of typical Chthonic is present. An ominous melody repeated either in choirs or instrumentally throughout the album gives it a feeling of continuity, so it flows unnaturally well as a front-to-back listen and you’ll feel familiar with the whole album even on your first spin. Between the epic introduction and a final track that sounds like it was recorded inside a spaceship is nestled a solid album that ranges from melodic to brain-rattling, with even a proggy interlude with “Masked Faith”. And Chthonic released it in full in both English as well as Taiwanese to double your pleasure. Chthonic has not lost their magic touch and I’m more than satisfied with Battlefields of Asura. Songs to listen to: “Souls of the Revolution”, “Carved in Bloodstone”, “Millennia’s Faith Undone”
3. Stam1na — Taival I love Stam1na, so one could say this review is biased; but if it were, they would be my 1. So take this as an honest critique: Taival is fucking excellent. It has a beautiful intro that wraps me in the warm melancholy of orange beams of the setting sun on a frigid sunny winter day (I grew up in the Great White North and I have feelings!). It leads into “Solar” with its pure Stam1na energy — this is probably my favourite song on this album — and then on to “Elämänlanka” with its catchy chorus and mostly clean vocals. The trilogy of songs entitled “Metsästäjä” are especially melodic, with the 3rd one almost a tragic power ballad. But with the following track, Stam1na goes right back into their usual near D-beat influence with a wrecking ball of a song, “Sudet Tulevat” — additional vocals provided by Björgvin Sigurðsson of Skálmöld for added grit. And so the melodic and the erratic just keeps stacking up against each other all the way through Taival, ending with another beautiful, very cinematic, somber and melancholic final track. The Finnish band keeps winning honors in their home country album after album, and it’s easy to understand why Taival is sure to bring them some more. This is one of Stam1na’s most diverse albums, as well as one of the finest. Songs to listen to: “Solar”, “Elämänlanka”, “Metsästäjä III”
2. Powerwolf — The Sacrament of Sin What can I say about Powerwolf that hasn't already been praised? The German band never ceases to outdo itself in their live performance, music videos, and records. Coming for blood after less than 2 years since their last release, Powerwolf unleashed The Sacrament of Sin and it was, once again, brilliant. While it isn't my favourite album of theirs overall, The Sacrament of Sin has some of Powerwolf's best songs on it, in my opinion, and altogether a solid addition to their discography.
This album also came with a special edition covers album with bands such as Battle Beast, Eluveitie and Saltatio Mortis covering Powerwolf originals. That little extra, I must admit, left a rather bad taste in my mouth. Other than Battle Beast's great take on "Resurrection by Erection", the rest of this 2nd disc was unimpressive, to put it as kindly as I can.
Powerwolf is a lone beast in the often gimmicky power metal scene (no hate; I LOVE gimmick metal). To be able to milk the vampires, werewolves and wicked clergy trope for over a decade on their own is a feat of strength, and they came out strong as ever with The Sacrament of Sin.
Songs to listen to: “Incense & Iron”, “Stossgebet”, “Night Side of Siberia”
1. Nothgard — Malady X In 2016, Nothgard placed 2nd in my top albums of the year with their previous effort, The Sinner’s Sake, but this time they slayed the competition with Malady X. Dealing with themes of betrayal, war, and the general sickness of the human condition, with Dom R. Crey’s beastly vocals at the forefront of every song, this is Nothgard all grown up — no more “Mossback Children”, this is serious stuff. The big surprise on Malady X was the slow-paced song “Daemonium I”. Dom R. Crey is accompanied by the fabulous Noora Louhimo (Battle Beast), and the duo puts together a sacrilegious performance in this languorous hymn to burning desires. That is a side of melodeath that has been left unexplored, but Nothgard went there — and lit my fire! Nothgard operates in the shadow of melodeath giants, and tend to fly under the radar, but Malady X is a real gem of heavy-duty riffs, epic melodies, and dark lyrics that any melodic death fan can get behind. Songs to listen to: “Daemonium I”, “Fall of an Empire”, “Serpent Hollow”