Artwork By Giannis Nakos

SUMAC – You May Be Held


Photo By Reid Haithcock

Master manipulators of tone and style, Sumac—Aaron Turner (vocals, guitars), Brian Cook (bass) and Nick Yacyshyn (drums)—meld sludge, post-metal, noise rock, ‘70s prog, krautrock and avant-garde experimentalism with laborious creative unification. Their expansive sound is a cataclysmic collision between the archaic, the intellectual, and the free-form. Aesthetically and musically linked to the trio’s 2018 LP, Love in Shadows, the expressionistic solar-plexus-punch of You May Be Held is just as inventive and expertly conceived. The title track and “Consumed” stand tall as two monolithic centrepiece movements full of impenetrable avant-sludge riffs, brain-busting rhythms, bestial roars and abstract build/collapse structures.

AKHLYS –Melinoë


Photo By Abraxas No / Edits: Chthonia

As one of USBM’s more esoteric enigmas, Naas Alcameth has amassed a fascinating body of work with numerous bands over the years: Nightbringer, Aoratos and Akhlys—each entity highlighting different facets of this artist’s enlightened vision of what constitutes black metal. Then there’s the black/death of Bestia Arcana and Excommunion—this dude is as prolific as he is prodigious. Beginning as a dark ambient expression, Akhlys has rapidly evolved into a burning miasma of Deathspell Omega-esque cerebral disharmony. Alcameth’s petrifying hall-of-mirrors BM on third album Melinoë continues to be psyche-rattling and vehement while structurally and thematically grandiloquent in execution.

XIBALBA – Años en Infierno


Photo By Nate Rebolledo

For their latest album, Arthur Rizk (Pissgrave/Of Feather and Bone) has made the already-intimidating metal of Californian death/hardcore brutes Xibalba sound like a damn impenetrable and unstoppable war-tank. Depending on how these guys fancy trampling the weak, they can easily draw upon classic Obituary, Vader, Agnostic Front, Sepultura or Bolt Thrower armaments, and do so without mercy for the listener. This album is ugly as fuck and suitably primitive-sounding, but some of the battery has brains behind its brawn; best exemplified by the Paradise Lost-esque doom bookending, “El Abismo, Pt. 1” and “El Abismo, Pt. 2”.

27. WAKE – Devouring Ruin


Photo By Mike Wells

Wake made the grindcore album of 2018. Eager to evolve and test limits, these Canadian cripplers retain grind as a combustible foundation while adroitly springboarding in multiple directions. Angular black/death metal—possibly too complex for most grind heshers—infests lengthy arrangements and a compelling hardcore-backed post-metal streak adds spectacle to this newly broadened scope. The key to this flourishing progression from Wake is their ability to maintain a very firm grasp on the extreme onslaught that made their name previously. Arguments now can be made that since the band's style has become more diverse and unpredictable, the intrinsic intensity is magnified. 

26. OCEANS OF SLUMBER – Oceans of Slumber


Photo By Brittany Miles

Oceans of Slumber’s upward creativity continues on their eponymous fourth album. By far, this record is the band’s most progressive and heaviest statement yet. Cammie Gilbert’s achingly soulful and emotionally powerful vocals are the focal point, and they are weaved brilliantly into the album’s varied instrumentals. Gilbert tackles societal traumas while also laying her raw personal trials out for all to see. There’s strength found in such openness, but it would all be for nothing if the music didn’t provide her honesty with a fittingly ornamental backdrop. Azagthothian death metal, doom worthy of Swallow the Sun’s sorrow, bluesy synth-splashed balladry and a wealth of other stylistic detours await the watchful.



25. ATRAMENTUS – Stygian


Stygian, the full-length debut by Atramentus (featuring members of Chthe’ilist, Funebrarum and Gevurah), summons the depressing funeral doom style pioneered by Thergothon, Skepticism and Evoken. Bleak, baleful, almost frozen over by the Northlands’ harsh chill, the three lengthy, atmospherically dense and bewitching compositions that form this dismal album tell a tale of an alternative society in limbo, dying. It speaks to our current restricted movements, adding real-world anxiety to a record built upon the spectral disquiet of horror soundtracks as much as the massive netherworld movements of Stormcrowfleet or Stream from the Heavens. True doom music for the most doomed of times. 

24. HAVUKRUUNU – Uinuos syömein sota



Havukrunnu's triumphant heavy-metal-and-folk-hewn black metal hits savage heights. This career-best album opens with a resounding vocal call-and-response, as though warriors are roaring out across icy Finnish fjords. It sets the tone mightily, and Havukruunu never once glance back. Tempos gallop onwards with life or death immediacy; gleaming riffs spark as they collide with battle sounds, like steel on steel; united vocal decrees rouse weary souls, and highly melodic leads and solos flit overhead as birds of war. The execution of it all would have Quorthon raising up a sword from the bowels of oblivion in acknowledgement of its pagan grandeur.

23. GÖDEN – Beyond Darkness


Beyond bleak. Beyond life. Winter’s Into Darkness, now thirty years old, took Frostian death down to a deeper Amebix/Discharge-level of crust punk nihilism. It stands as a timeless extreme doom classic. Because of such stature, Göden’s debut, written fully by Winter guitarist Stephen “Spacewinds” Flam, had monumental expectations facing it. Backed by Winter’s Tony Pinnisi on spine-chilling keyboards and the unnerving animalistic snarls of Vas Kallas, Flam has assuredly bounded over all anticipation by creating a singular beast eager to continue his former band’s musical legacy. It’s a daunting monument to misery, replete with spoken-word dark ambient interludes, but it’s worth sacrifice and devotion. 


ABYSMAL DAWN – Phylogenesis


Photo By Rodrigo Fredes

Instead of just shredding their way to carpal tunnel-ville, Abysmal Dawn set themselves a challenge on Phylogenesis: to craft mind-boggling technical death metal jam-packed with rapid-fire musical and vocal hooks. Easier said than done when drums are exploding at high BPM and fingers are frantically contorting across frets like a fool beneath the hand of a faith healer. But they did it, and then some, all while shouldering lineup changes. Tech-death is never usually this directly connectable. That’s a testament to the nuance attributed to this songwriting. Want more proof? Their cover of Death’s “Flattening of Emotions” fits without any distractions.

IRIST – Order of the Mind


Photo By Susy Irais Reyes

It’s a rare thing when a new band arrives on the scene without warning, brandishing a full-length debut that’s impeccably conceived and stylistically self-assured. Order of the Mind, by the Atlanta, Georgia-based prog/post-metal band Irist, is one such fully realised concern. These guys were immediately signed to Nuclear Blast, and for good reason: they wield monstrous syncopated riffs and rhythms à la Gojira, their technical ability recalls Burst at their best, they’re capable of the overwhelming atmospheric crush of Cult of Luna, and their love of hardcore, thrash and even Latin music has bled its way into each heart-racingly effective song.

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