2018 Best of Metal: #16 Agrimonia-Awaken

Release Date:  January 26, 2018

Personnel:  Christina Blom-vocals, Magnus-guitar/keyboards, Pontus Redig-guitar, Martin Larsson-bass, and Bjorn Eriksson-drums

Origin:  Gothenburg, Sweden

It really seems like you can’t have a credible year-end list without including at least one Gothenburg band.  Agrimonia carries on the tradition of their forefathers of pounding melodic death metal.  This one is full of creative riffs and songwriting that has depth that a lot of the death metal albums that came out this year were solely lacking.  Vocalist Christina Blom gives a performance that should have her recognized as one of the preeminent voices in the death metal game.  She is just harsh in her delivery and it provides the perfect voice for the music that is flat-out ominous.  In a just world, this is another band that should be enjoying a much larger stage.

4 flip flops out of 5

The list so far:

16.  Agrimonia-Awaken
17.  Between the Buried and Me-Automata I & II
18.  Clutch-Book of Bad Decisions
19.  Harakiri For The Sky-Arson
20.  Behemoth-I Loved You At Your Darkest

Best of Metal: #17 Between the Buried and Me-Automata I & II

Release Date:  March 9, 2018 and July 13, 2018

Personnel:  Tommy Rogers-vocals/keyboards, Paul Waggoner-guitar, Dusty Waring-guitar, Dan Briggs, bass, and Blake Richardson-drums

Origin:  Raleigh, North Carolina

I’m counting this damn thing as one complete album.  For some reason, Between the Buried and Me decided to release their latest album in two parts.  I’m going to put the blame on this one squarely on the label because I just can’t see a reason for splitting this thing up into two separate entities.  Even length-wise, it really doesn’t make sense to split it up.  Anyway, if you take both of these semi-albums as a whole, you end up with a pretty solid outing.  BTBAM is another past winner of my album of the year award with 2015’s Coma Ecliptic.  As with Behemoth’s album this year, the new BTBAM doesn’t quite measure up to their previous masterpiece, but it is still among the top releases of the year.  The dudes really pushed the sound further into a proggier direction and it really feels as if BTBAM is overtaking Dream Theater as the preeminent prog metal outfit going today.

4 flip flops out of 5

The list so far:

17.  Between the Buried and Me-Automata I & II
18.  Clutch-Book of Bad Decisions
19.  Harakiri For The Sky-Arson
20.  Behemoth-I Loved You At Your Darkest

2018 Best of Metal: #18 Clutch-Book of Bad Decisions

Release Date:  September 7, 2018

Personnel:  Neil Fallon-vocals, Tim Sult-guitar, Dan Maines-bass, Jean-Paul Gaster-drums

Origin:  Germantown, Maryland

They’ve done it again.  Clutch isn’t what I would quantify as the best or most talented band around.  But what they are good at, they do really, really well.  What they are good at is crafting really catchy songs set to vocalist Neil Fallon’s playful lyrics.  I’m generally not a big lyric guy, but Fallon is really one of the best at creating these little short stories and just selling them perfectly in his performance.  He’s really the closest thing we currently have to a Bon Scott type persona (minus the self-destructive streak) in rock/metal music today.  Cheers for being a bastion of consistency and reliablity.  Cheers also for giving us the lyrical phrase of the year in “Weaponized Funk!”

4 flip flops out of 5

The list so far:

18.  Clutch-Book of Bad Decisions
19.  Harakiri For The Sky-Arson
20.  Behemoth-I Loved You At Your Darkest

2018 Best of Metal: #19 Harakiri For the Sky-Arson

Release Date:  February 23, 2018

Personnel:  Matthias “MS” Sollak-guitars/bass/drums and Michael “JJ” V. Wahntraum-vocals

Origin:  Salzburg and Vienna, Austria

This is the first appearance for Harakiri For The Sky on one of my end of year Best Of lists.  Still a relatively young band, Arson is the fourth official album released by the band.  Although they hail from Austria, this album feels like it should have been crafted in the frozen winterlands of Scandinavia.  This is a very melodic death metal album that contains some very personal and emotional lyrical content.  Depression and heartbreak are main themes.  This thing is downright emo in places and the music, though harsh, has a very soothing quality to it overall.

4 flip flops out of 5

The list so far:

19.  Harakiri For The Sky-Arson
20.  Behemoth-I Loved You At Your Darkest

2018 Best of Metal: #20 Behemoth-I Loved You At Your Darkest

Release Date:  October 5, 2018

Personnel:  Nergal-vocals/guitar, Orion-bass/vocals, Inferno-drums, Seth-guitar/vocals

Origin:  Gdansk, Poland

Damn.  It feels like I just got finished compiling last year’s list.  2018 has been a bit of a blur, but it has once again been filled with some amazing metal albums to divert our attention from the ever-expanding shit show that is our beloved United State of America.  We’re all going to die, but at least the soundtrack is fucking killer.  You’ll also notice that I’m running this list out a bit early this year.  I normally like to run the list out so we end the last day of the year with the announcement of my pick for album of the year.  However, my attention is going to be elsewhere the last week of the year (i.e. the punk rock fiance and I are finally getting married.  We’re doing our part to bring punk and metal closer together.  You’re welcome.).  So, let’s start this sucker rolling now.

Out of the gate is Polish blackened death metal outfit Behemoth.  Behemoth is a prior winner of album of the year back in 2014 with The Satanist.  I Loved You At Your Darkest was the follow-up album to that masterpiece.  So, Behemoth really had their work cut out for themselves in attempting to live up to such a monumental release.  The new album wasn’t quite as strong as The Satanist, but it has enough choice moments on it to land it on the final spot of this year’s Best Of list.  I still feel that this album will help Behemoth’s attempts at further mainstream appeal.

4 flip flops out of 5

Into Eternity-The Sirens

From the outside looking in, band layoffs can be hard to understand.  We fans are selfish bastards by nature.  We love our bands and we crave new material from said bands.  It’s hard to understand how a creative unit of people aren’t able to produce new content on a regular basis and when a band goes years without producing anything new, it can be frustrating for fans.  However, there is no telling what is going inside of the collective unit.  Personal things happen.  Personnel changes happen.  Life gets in the way.  Now, sometimes a fan’s irritation can be justified, such as in the cases of Tool and Metallica, who are both notorious procrastinators when it comes to producing new songs.  It seems some bands that reach a level of mega-success can afford to rest on their laurels and coast making a living as mainly a touring nostalgia act.  For bands residing further in the underground, I’m sure it is a daily struggle to simply keep the band going as an active entity in this era of the music business.

In the case of Into Eternity, it has been ten years since their last album release.  Part of the reason for this delay was due to some key personnel changes.  Lead singer Stu Block left the band to take the same position with Iced Earth and officially left the band in 2013.  However, it was announced that the band had found a replacement in Amanda Kiernan relatively quickly.  From there, it was announced by the band that a new album was in the works and would be released around late 2014 or early 2015.  And then nothing.  No news.  No updates.  No album.  I have no idea what happened.  Whether it was personal or business issues holding up the progress of this band is just unknown.  And it is really a shame because the buzz on these guys before their extended hiatus was really starting to grow.  They had coveted opening slots on Megadeth’s Gigantour and were a handpicked opener for Dream Theater on their Chaos in Motion Tour in 2007.  It really seemed like things were looking good for these guys and then their progress just hit a brick wall.  It’s one of those stories in the music business that truly makes me sad.

Well, finally, the long-talked about album has come out.  The Sirens is a rebirth for the band in more ways than one.  First, it is the first new music from the band that we have heard in ten years.  Second, the addition of a female vocalist in the form of Amanda Kiernan supplies a new fabric to Into Eternity’s sound.  The weird thing is that, at its core, it still sounds like Into Eternity.  This album is a direct progressive thread from The Incurable Tragedy.  You’ve still got the ambitious guitar licks.  The blending of progressive and death metal.  You’ve got the multiple vocals of Kiernan, lead guitarist and head honcho Tim Roth and death gutturals of bassist Troy Bleich.  It’s good to have these guys back as an active entity.  I hope the layoff wasn’t too long and that people still remember them.  They have a long of ground to regain.  This album is a good start.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

Bloodbath-The Arrow of Satan Is Drawn

I really find it kind of strange that Bloodbath is still a viable entity.  When this project first started, it really felt like a simple outlet for death metal dudes whose main gigs had started to pull away from their original gritty death metal roots into more respectable and proggier death metal bands.  For those not familiar with Bloodbath, this started as a side gig of Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth, Katatonia’s Jonas Renske and Anders Nystrom and all around death metal guru/producer/drummer/guitarist Dan Swano.  Swano and Akerfeldt dropped out a few albums past and has been replaced by Opeth drummer Martin Axenrot and Paradise Lost vocalist Nick Holmes.

I like the fact that the guys in the band are really embracing their dark roots on this one.  Renske and Nystrom have reverted by to their early Katatonia nom-de-guerre of Lord Seth and Blakkheim, respectively.  Axenrot is simply Axe and Holmes is going by Old Nick.  They are also living true to their name by basically bathing in (fake?) blood for every appearance/photo shoot they do.  It’s really become quite the spectacle of a band.

Musically, this new one is exactly what you have come to expect from Bloodbath.  Any niceties have been stripped away from this one.  It’s death and gore and apocalypse and a little more death for good measure.  The guitar tones have this odd gritty sound to them.  They are definitely playing to the early 90s sound of the early wave of Scandinavian death metal bands.  This music isn’t for the prog nerd who have latched onto Katatonia and Opeth’s current output.  This is music for the gutters and the morgues.

Also, that album cover is just perfect.  So very Rosemary’s Baby of them.  I love it!

Another tidbit is that they were able to get Jeff Walker of Carcass, Karl Willetts of Bolt Thrower and John Walker of Cancer to provide guest vocals on one track.

3.5 flip flops out of 5