While 2018 is far from over, there have been a number of noteworthy metal albums released so far this year. Whether it be legendary artists who helped pioneer heavy metal (Judas Priest) or acts who have helped redefine heavy music during the current decade (Ghost) or young bands who are bringing new energy to the scene (Vein), there’s a wide range of artists who have delivered quality albums in 2018.
Below are the metal discs that have been in constant rotation in our streaming playlists and on our turntables (yes, we’re definitely down with the vinyl resurgence), making up the Best Metal Albums of 2018 So Far:
Note: Most recent releases are listed first.
Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love
Origin: San Francisco
Release date: July 13
The Gist: This modern metal act has likely netted one of the largest crossover audiences of the 2010s thanks to 2013’s shoegaze/black metal hit Sunbather. After a drastically darker and thrash metal influenced disc, New Bermuda, Deafheaven used sobriety and maturity as the conduit for their fourth album. The two lead singles “Honeycomb” and “Canary Yellow” came with a surprisingly sunny, almost saccharine tint that seemed to indicate the band was pushing their sound in a new direction.
Why It Rules: Ordinary Corrupt Human Love has a gentle quality about it that few metal acts would even risk, with much less actually pull it off. The album has a pleasant lushness that even Sunbather lacked, and it’s is paced in a way that actually allows you to enjoy it’s soothing ambient moments before it frantically pushes the pace again. Deafheaven are a chameleon of sound-continually challenging what a metal band can sound like and questioning what metal at it’s very core needs to be and what it needs to reject. — TJ Kliebhan
Vein – errorzone
Release date: June 22
The Gist: The first full-length from Boston five-piece Vein cements the hype about this underground band, quickly coming overground. Eleven frenzied, genre-defying songs make up an album that is marked by its astonishing drumming, almost jazz-like in its execution, playing around beats, dropping blast beats, technical flourishes and multiple time signatures — all beneath a crushing sonic assault blending metal, hardcore, groove metal and melodic death with gritty, screeching and warm vocals. The result is an aurally spellbinding collection of songs.
Why It Rules: Errorzone should be taken in its entirety as a beautiful, unrestrained metallic hardcore symphony. “Doomtech” is the album standout, and recalls early Fear Factory; but the gems that lie within are myriad. “Virus/Vibrance” kicks off the album with a punishing groove and quickly sets the tone for what it is to come. “Anesthesia” could be an old industrial song, with its fuzzed-out vocals and Emergency Alert alarm that bleeds into the furious aggression of “Demise Automation.” The cacophonous album closer, “Quitting Infinity,” ties everything together as it swings from hardcore to death to melodeath. If you put the album on repeat you will quickly lose sight of where it begins and where it ends, and that’s magical. — Mick Stingley
Khemmis – Desolation
Origin: Denver, Colorado
Release date: June 22
The Gist: Three albums in, doom metal quartet Khemmis have their internal engine working at maximum efficiency and power, having spent the previous six years fine tuning and oiling their sound. The music on their latest full-length, Desolation, shows no sign of strain or effort, however. It’s a seamlessly constructed work that purrs and snarls, with the edges fleshed out by small interludes of respite and beauty.
Why It Rules: The focus of Desolation has set on the vocals of Phil Pendergast. Make no mistake, there are witheringly hot riffs, complex arrangements that turn and twist through a pocket history of heavy music, and some screeching contributions from the band’s other guitarist-singer, Ben Hutcherson. But it’s Prendergast that is pushed to the foreground of this band’s controlled burn. His lyrics — meditations on the flimsiness of existence surrounded by visions of sharpened talons and “the gilded door of the abattoir” — and ringing voice are the blue flame at the center. — Robert Ham
YOB – Our Raw Heart
Release date: June 8
The Gist: YOB is mostly the creative work of vocalist-guitarist Mike Scheidt, who had a frightening 2017 where he battled diverticulitis and nearly lost his life. Our Raw Heart is an exploration and reflection of that period of Scheidt’s life with most of this album being written from his hospital bed that year. YOB’s brand of psychedelic doom metal reached it’s highest critical praise with their last disc, Clearing the Path to Ascend, and it was unclear what direction the band would turn to next.
Why It Rules: Our Raw Heart is seeping with emotional weight, but YOB do not need wild performances or intense vocal strain to tug at your heart strings. This album is as calculated and plodding as YOB always have been, but possesses a serene almost uplifting quality that has never been present before. “Beauty in Falling Leaves” is one of the most moving tracks this year, regardless of genre — the intense ode to perseverance is perhaps YOB’s most stirring tracks. — TJ Kliebhan
Zeal & Ardor – Stranger Fruit
Origin: Switzerland / NYC
Release date: June 8
The Gist: Zeal & Ardor made waves in the metal scene two years ago with their unusual blend of black metal and slave spirituals. The band’s debut release Devil Is Fine was a fascinating, but interlude-heavy album that found band leader Manuel Gagneaux still working out the kinks on this innovative sound. Stranger Fruit was a highly anticipated follow-up, with fans wondering if this novel hybrid was a gimmick, or a sound that can be expanded on.
Why It Rules: Stranger Fruit takes everything that is great about Devil Is Fine and improves on it. The 8-bit Final Fantasy-esque interludes have been kept to a minimum, clearing the room for shout-along hymnals and black metal screeches. Tracks like “Row Row” and “Don’t You Dare” have melodic qualities and anthemic structure, further distinguishing Zeal & Ardor as one of modern black metal most creative forerunners. — TJ Kliebhan
Ghost – Prequelle
Release date: June 1
The Gist: After three incarnations of Papa Emeritus, Cardinal Copia takes over the sacrilegious Swedish outfit, and he and his gang of Nameless Ghouls reveal the deep influence of progressive rock on their work. The result is Prequelle, containing multi-layered opuses that work some appropriately bleak stories about plagues and medieval torture in with tender romantic pleas. Is our beloved Cardinal singing to God, Satan or some dewy young lover? That we can’t often answer the question conclusively is half of the fun.
Why It Rules: This is exactly the album we want from Ghost: bombastic and heavy cut through with some sharp pop hooks and a touch of the sentimental. All of that is captured perfectly in the vocal of the group’s leader, with a new persona — a disturbing mask that looks like it’s melting — to better match the dramatic sweep of the music. He echoes the dark fears and the small footholds of hope that mark the slow trudge to oblivion in every pealing note of his sturdy, tuneful tenor. The metaphor of the Dark Ages that he returns to throughout is a blunt force object to drive this simple message home: We’re screwed so let’s hold on to each other on the way down. — Robert Ham
夢遊病者 (Sleepwalker) — 一期一会
Origin: New York, NY / Osaka, Japan / Tver, Russia
Release date: May 25
The Gist: Mysterious experimental black metal trio 夢遊病者, which translates to Sleepwalker, are only two EPs in and they’ve really stumbled upon an inventive sound. Drawing from krautrock, Zeni Geva-like experimental hardcore, psychedelic rock and free jazz, they swap black metal’s linear, sometimes Romantic tendencies for embracing chaos, embracing sudden left turns and reversals. 一期一会 feels more open, and it’s just as maddening as their debut 5772.
Why It Rules: You don’t find a lot of black metal that’s urbane, and that’s the real appeal of 一期一会. There’s tons of haze and buzz, but they sound as though they emerged from New York’s Downtown scene rather than a nameless Norwegian forest. They’re true to the fundamentals — and really, there’s nothing wrong with that — while taking black metal to totally new places without losing the mystique. If John Zorn discovers them, watch out. — Andy O’Connor
Sleep – The Sciences
Origin: San Jose, California
Release date: April 20
The Gist: Doom metal royalty Sleep return for their first album in 15 years — a hiatus that contained sparse live performances and the odd single. Metal’s most famous herbivores surprise dropped this new album on 4/20 (ok, this part is unsurprising) via Third Man Records. The Sciences is their first disc since their sixty minute single track odyssey Dopesmoker was released in 1999 — an album now considered an undisputed classic.
Why It Rules: Sleep’s unmatched fuzz tone is as heavy and ruthless as ever on The Sciences — the most crisply produced disc the band have ever relased. This is a dirty, no-frills riff machine of an album with a few squealing vintage Matt Pike guitar solos like the robust “Marijuanaut’s Theme.” All of these tracks are an adventurous trip through drone, doom, and space rock seamlessly arranged by Pike and singer-bassist Al Cisneros. Pike and Cisneros, who have both explored different sounds outside of Sleep’s slow doom metal, bring a cleaner contemplative quality to The Sciences indicative of a couple self-aware jokesters maturing. — TJ Kliebhan
Monotheist – Scourge
Origin: Orlando, Florida
Release date: March 16
The Gist: Lo, the promise of Monotheist’s demo album Unforsaken and follow up EP Genesis of Perdition is finally fulfilled. All it took was finding the right cadre of musicians to join in the cause and to hand control of the mixing and mastering to more assured hands (in this case, 7 Horns 7 Eyes guitarist Aaron Smith). Here at last is the vision that leader Michael Moore has long had simmering in his head, crystallized and solidified and achieving something close to perfection.
Why It Rules: Scourge is the culmination of the many years Moore took to find the right lineup, the right presentation for his technical death metal. The stars have finally aligned on his band’s first proper full-length, namely through the contributions of vocalist J.J. Polachek and the more recent additions of guitarist Tyler McDaniel and bassist Jose Figueroa. Versatile artists all, they ably follow Moore down his circuitous pathways that run headlong into a storm of swirling, jagged sound. — Robert Ham
Judas Priest – Firepower
Origin: United Kingdom
Release date: March 9
The Gist: Judas Priest are one of the founding fathers of heavy metal’s sound and image. The band’s late ’70s and early ’80s catalog is rightfully worshipped, as is 1990’s Painkiller. Rob Halford’s absence for most of the ’90s into the 21st century marked a rough patch for Priest, but they’ve come back strong this decade. Founding guitarist K.K. Downing departed the band in 2011, but Richie Faulkner proved to be a worthy successor, leading to the solid Redeemer of Souls in 2014. With the announcement in February of this year that guitarist Glenn Tipton had Parkinson’s disease, there was plenty of reason to doubt the aging titans of metal once again.
Why It Rules: In interviews before Firepower dropped, the band stated they were going for more creative songwriting while bringing back some of their heavier and speedier riffs. Judas Priest came through on that promise in droves. While Tipton is no longer touring full-time with Priest, he and Faulkner deliver mightily on Firepower, which has some of the heaviest Priest riffs since Painkiller and speediest since Stained Class. Every vocal performance on Firepower by Halford feels like a time warp, with the legendary vocalist sounding identical to his ’80s self. Tracks like “Evil Never Dies” and “Flamethrower” prove Judas Priest still have some aggressive riffs left to shove in your face. — TJ Kliebhan
Tribulation – Down Below
Release date: January 26
The Gist: By expanding their sound to include shades of psychedelia and its more modern offshoots, Tribulation have wisely chosen to evolve the boundaries of death metal. It’s a move that requires more active listening at times to catch the nuances or to better appreciate the fluid movement of each song. That’s far from a bad thing. You gain more fans by coaxing them forward rather than pummeling them from the jump.
Why It Rules: Many are the metal albums that promise to take you on a journey of some kind, while leaving you right where you started. Not so with the latest from Swedish quartet Tribulation. Down Below is a true odyssey that dares you to follow every steep climb and long trek through the flatlands. Your guides are four loose-limbed long haired gents in corpse paint with a facility to move between elaborate guitar solos and pensive piano melodies. Just slip this little treat under your tongue and enjoy the scenery. — Robert Ham
Portal – Ion
Origin: Brisbane, Australia
Release date: January 26
The Gist: Portal are one of Australia’s, and the world’s, most out-there death metal bands, and you can reach that conclusion from a Google Image Search alone. They sound as ghoulish and inhuman as they look, taking equally from Morbid Angel and Ligeti. On their fifth album ION, they strip away the bassy murk long integral to their sound and bring up the treble, giving them a black metal makeover while also adding clarity.
Why It Rules: Mystery’s been Portal’s appeal for most of their career, and making their attack more discernible doesn’t take away from that. It’s only made them more extreme. Now their terror is fully in front of you, with Horror Illogium’s guitar contorting into impossibly tortured shapes, skipping around in a bizarre cosmic game of hopscotch. Taken apart, it’s a mess of atonal noise; put together, it’s a pain and bliss hell-symphony for a hell-world. — Andy O’Connor
Mammoth Grinder — Cosmic Crypt
Origin: Austin, Texas
Release date: January 26
The Gist: After nearly nonstop touring as the drummer for Dallas thrash insurgents Power Trip, Austin metalpunk maestro Chris Ulsh returns to his main project, Mammoth Grinder, his take on Swedish death metal via pummeling hardcore. This is also the first with their new lineup, with Ulsh switching over from guitar to bass and recruiting Iron Reagan’s Mark Bronzino on guitar and Ryan Parrish on drums.
Why It Rules: Anything with Ulsh’s touch is guaranteed to be a front-to-back banger. Even with five years between albums, a grueling schedule with Power Trip, and two-thirds of the band based out of Richmond, Virginia, Mammoth Grinder still sound like Mammoth Grinder. They can justify calling one of the songs “Superior Firepower,” as influenced by primitive Chicago death metal of Master as it is the Texas heat Ulsh emerged from. — Andy O’Connor