2018 Part Deux: Musicianship

Dec. 14, 2018


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For those not familiar with how we do things here at Metal Trenches, we split the year up and provide a Top 10 for each of our 3 categories. This particular list is for albums that went beastmode when it comes to performance and composition in the second half of 2018. Don't miss our other lists on Enjoyability and Innovation. Find lists for the first half of the year HERE, and LISTEN about those favorites HERE. Also SUBSCRIBE to our podcast for audio via YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, or Buzzsprout. 

10 Nature's Wrath See Details for Nature's Wrath

Haunting, progressive black metal from Dallas, TX. The more I listen to this album, the more it seeps under my skin. It has the soul and aesthetic of early Borknagar, but with plenty of surprises along the way. Similar to classics like The Olden Domain, Giant Of The Mountain fuse icy black metal riffs and raw howls with hauntingly folky singing that seems to echo from the past. But rather than merely reveling in these influences, they are the foundation for so much more. This band seems to have just as much love for Baroness, Mastodon ("Kingdom of Ice") and Opeth ("Gale's End) as for Enslaved. Throughout the album elements of sludge, doom, and technical black metal a la Ur Draugr add further layers of depth to the experience. FULL REVIEW. FFO: Borknagar, Opeth, Ur Draugr

9 Charlatan See Details for Charlatan

Melbourne, Australia progressive death metallers Hadal Maw return with Charlatan. "Through the perfecting of lies and preservation of myth the serpents have come to power, we are beneath their pulpit." Songs ooze seamlessly from one to another like some insidious cross-breeding of Gorguts with Meshuggah. Blastbeats, sludgy bass, and blackened vocals give rise to an overwhelming sense of anquish and malaise. It's at once a work of plodding atmosphere-building and showcase of masterfully technical musicianship. The guitar knows exactly when and where to place a ripping solo or outburst of mathy riffage...and when to pull back to let the dark mood linger. FULL REVIEW. FFO Gorod, Intensive Square, Gorguts, Barus

8 Cosmovore See Details for Cosmovore

Witness the flowering of Bay Area blackened, old school, and often proggy death metal trio Ulthar with their new album through 20 Buck Spin. Another perfect union of old school and prog. It's the type of fusion that elevates otherwise familiar ideas to another level. And somehow Cosmovore manages to be both sickeningly primitive and impressively technical. That may seem antithetical, but those into bands like Malthusian and Dendritic Arbor will understand. You can expect a similar defiant abandonment of subgenre boundaries. For Ulthar, all that matters is conveying the maximum amount of carnage. FULL REVIEW. FFO: Abyssal, Malthusian, Moss Upon The Skull

7 Sic Erat Scriptum See Details for Sic Erat Scriptum

Estuarine is a "brutal avant-garde metal entity" formed in Tampa, Florida. Sic Erat Scriptum is, to put it simply, absolute madness. It's an inescapable, shapeshifting beast that is virtually unclassifiable within the usual constraints. You can blame bands like Estuarine for the pretentious 5 word genre tags out there. If I could take a stab at it myself, "avant-garde technical progressive blackened psychedelic death metal" captures at least 50% of what's going on here. Instrumentation runs the gamut from rock-infused progressive metal to 1000 rpm technical death metal. FULL REVIEW. FFO: Gorod, Balance Interruption, Black Harvest

6 Across Deaths See Details for Across Deaths

Irish technical black and death metal band Malthusian deliver their first full length album via Dark Descent and Invictus after building their brand with a successful demo and EP. I have been a HUGE fan of Malthusian since 2013, and Across Deaths showcases a band that most certainly has something to say without a second phoned in. This album, start to finish, is an impressive cross section of technical mastery, tightly honed composition, and careful fusion of only the most deranged of genres. Drummer Johnny King (Altar of Plagues) continues to lead the pack with some seriously maniacal work on the kit. His shifting patterns are the framework that holds it all together. Meanwhile the foreboding, schizoid riffs channel Portalish death metal, vicious black metal, and the blackened sludge of Lord Mantis. FULL REVIEW. FFO: Portal, Imperial Triumphant, Abyssal

5 Symbology of Shelter See Details for Symbology of Shelter

The worlds of blackened hardcore and djent collide once more with a seriously head-turning third album from Italy's Noise Trail Immersion. Moment of Collapse Records. The influences of Noise Trail Immersion are diverse and apparent. Hardcore/mathcore elements of the likes of Converge form an obvious foundation, but the spiraling, reverb-tinged riffs and ferocious drumming would be right at home on an Ulcerate or Deathspell Omega album. Such is their love of all things metal that when faced with the decision of what to write they chose ALL of the things. Black metal, post-metal, death metal, djent, and hardcore all flow through this project's DNA in relatively equal measure. FULL REVIEW. FFO: Frontierer, Sectioned, Hellkeeper

4 The Outer Ones See Details for The Outer Ones

Boston progressive death metal band Revocation are at it again with a new album via Metal Blade RecordsThe Outer Ones represents a massive step forwards for a group already growing in popularity. Even as someone who did not previous enjoy their albums, I was utterly blown away by this one. The performances are tighter than ever, and the compositions have grown in scope and complexity. And despite clear focus on technical proficiency, these songs are also insanely addictive. I could not put this record down. And even when I finally did, I was back at it again just days later. FULL REVIEW. FFO: Allaegeon, Ourorboros, Psycroptic

3 The Phobos​/​Deimos Suite See Details for The Phobos​/​Deimos Suite

PODCAST EPISODE. International brutal techncial death metal band Serocs seriously step up their game with a new concept album via Everlasting Spew inspired by the likes of The Divine Comedy and A Christmas Carol. I was already impressed by Seroc's pure brutality and technical instrumentation on "Being" and "Nihilus," but it wasn't until "Thanatophobia" that they truly showed their cards. From this song forwards, The Phobos​/​Deimos Suite becomes a mind-melting work of progressive death metal madness. The guitars aren't only fast and methodical: they're infectiously unforgettable. The drums aren't only pummeling: they're zombifyingly infectious. The vocals aren't only brutal: they're strangely catchy. With the perfect harnessing of both melody and sheer sonic violence, Serocs have hit a serious high point in their career. FULL REVIEW. FFO: First Fragment, Benighted, Cryptopsy

2 In Vengeful Reverance See Details for In Vengeful Reverance

PODCAST EPISODE. Exquisitely calculated progressive death metal from Belgium's Moss Upon The Skull via I, Voidhanger. Every track on this album is arranged and executed with needlepoint precision. For those who enjoy their death metal with heavy emphasis on the prog like Obscura and Cynic, you're going to want to open your wallet for this one. My favorite parts are, unsurprisingly, the faster bits. The guitars and drums in these moments are dizzying in their technicality and shifting textures. But at the same time, I highly appreciate the pace changes. The deep, echoing old school death growls nicely compliment the doomier sections ("The Serpent Scepter"); and Moss Upon The Skull know exactly when to shift up in gear again. FULL REVIEW. FFO: Gorguts, Antlion, Gorod

1 Molten Giant See Details for Molten Giant

French technical, progressive death metal band Exocrine are back with their incredible sophomore effort, this time with the support of Unique Leader Records. Molten Giant is just as good if not better and more focused than its predecessor. And speaking of focus, Exocrine make the wise decision of prioritizing quality over quantity. At just 8 songs clocking in at about 35 minutes (5 less than the debut), this album is as lean and consistent as they come. Compositions are incredibly complex and brimming with impressive technical performances, and never at the sacrifice of engagement and flow. Furthermore, each song has its own aesthetic and personality thanks to a highly varied approach to riffs. FULL REVIEW. FFO: Necrophagist, Within Destruction, Cynic