The 10 Best Heavy Music Albums of 2018

Deafheaven perform at FORM Arcosanti in 2017.
Deafheaven perform at FORM Arcosanti in 2017. Michelle Sasonov
It's only fitting that rage rooms became a trend this year. A few years ago, escape rooms were all the rage. The appeal wasn't hard to grasp: Getting to relive the frustrations and pleasures of playing Myst for weeks as a '90s kid in the course of a single hour. But rage rooms, where patrons get to embrace their inner Fred Durst and break stuff, feels more on-brand for 2018. In a year that feels especially bleak and apocalyptic, paying for the privilege of wrecking a bunch of crap with no consequences feels like a pretty sane reaction to what's going on in the world.

Rage isn't only thriving in room form: 2018 has been an especially good year for heavy music. For people who need a little ear-shredding, blood-pumping sonic catharsis, this year has produced a lot of fantastic metal, hardcore, and noise albums. If you're looking for something to soundtrack your next visit to a rage room (or to help you channel your rage-spasms after watching CNN in a more healthy direction), here are 10 of the year's best heavy records (presented in alphabetical order).

And just to be clear: This really is just a small sampling of the wealth of great material that came out this year. Cult Leader, Jesus Piece, Sorcier des Glaces, Sylvaine, Zeal & Ardor, Sleep, The Body, Daughters, Agrimonia, and A Pregnant Light also put out worthy records this year. Or we're-not-worthy, if you want to get all Wayne Campbell about it.

Deafheaven — Ordinary Corrupt Human Love

This is the album that Smashing Pumpkins wished they released this year. On their fourth album, post-metal/blackgaze heroes Deafheaven go all-in on their love of classic rock. Listen to how the band transforms themselves into Thin Lizzy about 4:18 into "Honeycomb": It's a good look for the band. Uplift has always been the band's strong suit; as magnificent as the riffage can be on Sunbather and New Bermuda, it's the moments on songs like "Come Back" and "Irresistible" when the band lets their love for dream-pop and plangent guitar noodling take over that work best. Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is packed with these moments, as the group put together the kind of wide-screen, yearning soundscapes that would sound right at home on Siamese Dream. There's even clean vocals on this one, courtesy of gothy songbird Chelsea Wolfe.

Gouge Away — Burnt Sugar

Hailing from the stomping grounds of the legendary Florida Man, Gouge Away have carved out a niche for themselves as one of the most promising and powerful hardcore bands in the U.S. While previous album Dies is full of hardcore energy and politically pointed lyrics, Burnt Sugar takes their sound in a new direction. Christina Michelle’s rabid voice is still the linchpin to the band’s sound, but Burnt Sugar finds them embracing their '90s noise-rock influences. There’s quite a bit of Jesus Lizard DNA in the sludgy dynamics of their songs, and a bit of Fugazi in the way Gouged Away can stop and start on a dime in the middle of their songs. These songs are sidewinders, twisting and writhing their way through your ears at a sinuous, steady pace. While the lyrics aren’t as topical and didactic as on Dies, Michelle’s lyrics about depression, isolation, and how hard it is to connect with other people on this record feel more personal and bold. And on songs like the bass-driven "Ghost," the band comes close to tapping into the cracked-pop of their namesake: The Pixies.

Guttersnipe — My Mother the Vent

In one of Jorge Luis Borges’ best short stories, he wrote about a character discovering an Aleph, a kind of portal that lets anyone see everything at once. Every point in history, every place in Creation, stretched before you at once.

Guttersnipe’s music is the aural equivalent of an Aleph. A duo from Leeds (with the wonderful GWAR-ish names of Tipula Confusa and Uroceras Gigas), Guttersnipe are free-noise experimentalists (If you thought AIDS Wolf was too tame, boy howdy do we have a band for you). Listening to them feels like trying to listen to every record at once. Noise and jazz and rock and primitive drumming and childish vocals and screams and synths and noodling guitars and indescribable buzzing sounds collide into each other simultaneously. Their music is the sound of sensory overload: The mind strains to keep up with it. And that’s what makes them so exciting.

HOLY FAWN — Death Spells

In a year chock-full of fantastic heavy records, it’s heartening to see that one of the best ones came from a local crew. HOLY FAWN’s Death Spells is a moody, nocturnal wonder. Listening to the album is like drifting on a river in the dead of night: The music flows, black and somnolent. It’s often quite pretty, much like starlight reflecting on the surface of dark water, but there are hints of large and hungry things under the surface. Even during the most beautiful, pastoral sequences on the record, there looms the feeling that at any moment something is going to break through and capsize the whole thing.

Threading together ambient textures with shoegaze instrumentals, haunting vocals, post-rock atmospherics, and brief bursts of harsh intensity, Death Spells is a master class in building tension and creating a sustained mood.
If you’ve ever been alone in nature, wandering around in the dark, you’ll be able to tune into this record’s vibe.

Portrayal Of Guilt — Let Pain Be Your Guide

There are few things I love more than heavy albums that are also short and to the point. Portrayal Of Guilt’s Let Pain Be Your Guide has just 10 songs that rocket past like a car shooting toward a canyon with its brake cables cut. The Austin band tap into Converge-style hardcore and screamo, mixing in metal and industrial atmospherics to create a nasty, visceral, spastic record that leaves you wanting more. Singer Matt King delivers one of the year's best vocal performances: He sounds like he's being vivisected on record, screeching and howling with the intensity of someone who's desperately trying to cling to life. Let Pain Be Your Guide may not be the feel-good record of the year, but it's the perfect LP to reach for when you need to let the poison out.

Rolo Tomassi — Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It

I still remember the first time I listened to The Blood Brothers’ Burn, Piano Island, Burn. I felt like that record was rewiring my brain in real-time; As each song passed through my ears, my preconceptions of what music was at the time were being torn to pieces and rearranged into something new. I hadn’t heard ANYTHING like them in high school — listening to Piano Island was like listening to a mixtape recorded by the feral schoolboys in Lord of the Flies. An album of unpredictable, enthusiastic savagery.

I bring this up because I had the exact same feeling listening to the latest Rolo Tomassi album. It’s perhaps the most ambitious and bewildering rock record I’ve heard this year. The band shape-shifts wildly from track to track, veering from screamo to ambient music to King Crimson-esque prog to mathcore to orchestral music to post-metal to sounding like a respectable version of Evanescence. Sometimes these musical transformations happen in the same song, as they effortlessly hop from “clean” vocals to guttural roars.

Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It is like a Rubik’s cube that the band is trying to solve. Each song is another twist and turn, another not-quite-right configuration that is all the more intriguing for sounding like nothing else out there. It’s a record I still haven’t got a handle on, but I look forward to listening it again and again to see how profoundly it can reorder my senses. It’s the kind of record that makes 90 percent of everything else released this year look timid and piss-weak in comparison.

Svalbard — It's Hard To Have Hope

Is there a more perfect album title for 2018 than It’s Hard To Have Hope? The rise of fascism across the globe, our impending ecological doom, the ever-widening economic gap between the haves-and-have-nots: These are just a few of the stakes being plunged into the hearts of any optimists who’ve been following the news.

Thank heavens for the folks at Svalbard showing us an alternative to hope: Righteous fury. The Bristol quartet howl, thrash, and shred their way through It’s Hard To Have Hope’s eight tracks. Singer Serena Cherry tears her lyrical subjects (animal cruelty, women’s rights, the Sisphyean work culture millennials are trapped in) apart like a junkyard dog bearing down on a meaty bone. The refreshing no-time-for-bullshit of her words is matched by the band’s searing mix of hardcore, crust, and black metal.

Thou — Magus

Pusha T boasted that it was going to be a "surgical summer" when he shaved a few layers off of Drake's soul on "The Story of Adidon." If Thou were the kind of group to flex about themselves on wax, they could have called 2018 their "summer of sludge." The Baton Rouge doom metal titans unleashed a trio of EPs over the summer before dropping a full-length at the end of August. All the Thou releases this year are essential: The House Primordial EP's violent rumbling is heavy enough to trigger a seismograph; Inconsolable found the band delving deeper into their prettier, ethereal side; and Rhea Sylvia was basically the best Alice in Chains record to drop since Layne Staley died. But those three stylistically divergent EPs are just a warm-up for the massive Magus, an epic record full of bowel-shaking bottom end, prehistoric riffs, and lyrics about transcending the limitations of your flesh, gender, and civilization.

Unreqvited — Mosaic I: l'amour et l'ardeur

When it comes to the art of the hustle, metal bands are giving rappers a run for their money. Whereas in past years hip-hop icons like Young Thug and Future were dropping an almost preposterous amount of releases within the span of a year, this year it seemed like metal bands were really embracing mixtape rappers' "make 'em choke to death on content" business model. Hailing from Ottawa, one-man “depressive suicidal black metal” band Unreqvited dropped two full-lengths this year: Stars Wept to the Sea and Mosaic I: l'amour et l'ardeur. Unreqvited come from the Alcest school of black metal: lush atmospherics, sustained guitars that recall the dreamy beauty of Slowdive and the cinematic expansiveness of Explosions In The Sky, and brief dabs of howling-arctic-wind vocals. Songs like "Permanence" fill out their long run times like crystals growing in a petri dish, slowly expanding outwards in a shimmery, cold lattice.

YOB — Our Raw Heart

On past albums like Clearing the Path to Ascend, YOB sounded like they were trying to shred their way to the purest of spiritual dimensions. Their music was full of proggy ambition, Black Sabbath fuzz, and psychedelic flourishes. YOB frontman/guitarist Mike Scheidt even had a bit of prime-Ozzy in his vocals, tapping into the kind of banshee-wail that the eater-of-bats used to be able to do in his sleep.

But their latest effort finds them going the opposite direction on the tree: This record is their Malkuth LP. An album obsessed with flesh, mortality, and finding peace in this world. That focus on blood and guts comes from Scheidt’s health scare: A case of diverticulitis almost killed the singer. He wrote a fair amount of Our Raw Heart while in the hospital, unsure if he would live to see the record completed. Our Raw Heart pulses with vitality, with the immediacy of someone trying to pour every last thought and hope and ambition into their work. And that effort pays off beautifully: It’s the finest thing YOB has done so far. And with Scheidt healthy again, it hopefully won’t be the last.
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Ashley Naftule