Exclaim!'s Top 10 Metal and Hardcore Albums

Best of 2018

BY Exclaim! StaffPublished Dec 7, 2018

Today (December 7), we're unveiling our list of the best metal and hardcore albums of 2018, including heavy mainstays like Sleep, Cult Leader and Daughters, not to mention a slew of up and comers.

Exclaim! has spent the past week rolling out our genre-specific album lists for the Best of 2018; it started with our Top 20 Pop & Rock Albums, then we revealed our Top 10 Folk and Country Albums. Stay tuned next week for more.
Top 10 Metal and Hardcore Albums of 2018:  
10. Turnstile
Time & Space

Turnstile's Time & Space sees the animated and tempered world of hardcore through a sonic and aesthetic kaleidoscope. The album came out on a label that once put out releases for Madball and Life of Agony, and they could easily have marketed the band as the next Nickelback or Stone Sour. More often than not, though, the group is a mix of Snapcase grit and the Red Hot Chili Peppers' groove.
Comparisons aside, Baltimore's finest have perfected the formula for what a hardcore record can be: there's jangly piano throughout "High Pressure" and R&B flavour in "Moon"; Britpop tendencies guide "Generator"; there's even a collaboration with Diplo on the political-leaning "Right to Be." Turnstile have a penchant for vibrant experimentation, but their prototype of psychedelic DC-adjacent hardcore ensures that no matter how far they dive away from their punk rock ethos, they somehow find their way back to the mosh pit.
Connor Atkinson
9. Imperial Triumphant
Vile Luxury
(Gilead Media/Throatruiner Records)

In their lustrous gold masks, Imperial Triumphant are the perfect band to flip the monochrome monotony of black metal on its corpse-painted head. Their inversion of the genre's tropes extends beyond aesthetics to concept — central to Vile Luxury is exposing what we called "the rotten core of the Big Apple," their hometown — and music itself; the trio take the already avant-garde stylings of French black metal masters like Deathspell Omega and Blut Aus Nord, as well as death metal counterparts Gorguts, and add a heavy jazz influence.
The unique sound does a better job than extreme metal alone ever could at capturing the bustling streets of New York, where you might walk past a world-class jazz club without even knowing it. And that's exactly what these guys are: world-class. Drummer Kenny Grohowski plays with John Zorn.
Growling guitarist (and only original member) Zachary Ilya Ezrin has been building to this for 13 years, and in Grohowski and co-vocalist/bassist Steve Blanco, he's finally found his allies in opulence — as foul as they know that may be.
Bradley Zorgdrager
8. Frontierer

When a relatively unknown band from Scotland makes one of the most talked about records of the year, it comes as a bit of a surprise, but Frontierer built a strong following with their blend of polyrhythmic drop-tuned Meshuggah riffs and chaotic mathcore in the vein of the Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza on their debut album a few years ago. Now, with Unloved, they've caught the attention of the metal community at large. 
The five-piece math metal newcomers masterfully execute unrelenting breakdowns and mind-boggling technicality, but their experimentation with industrial sounding electronics and unnerving glitches is what makes this such an interesting album. If you're a fan of brutal beatdown riffs and demented experimental metal with a hardcore touch, Unloved is a necessary listen.
Joe Smith-Engelhardt
7. Cult Leader
A Patient Man
(Deathwish Inc.)

A Patient Man, the highly anticipated full-length followup to Cult Leader's stellar 2015 debut album, Lightless Walk, is only their sophomore LP, but it finds the Salt Lake City, UT quartet fully coming into their own, blending chaotic hardcore and noisy grind with moody, haunting melodies. The contrast of sounds is both complementary yet jarring, all the while draped in Cult Leader's distinct atmosphere of vicious, tormented aggression and utter despondency. 
Tracks like "I Am Healed," "Curse of Satisfaction" and "Craft of Mourning" are relentless, breakneck assaults of suffocating, dissonant riffs, pummelling blasts and odd-timed angular guitar work. Anthony Lucero's vocals are harsher and more corrosive than ever, exuding a fiery hostility that anchors the album.
While the band have flirted with slower brooding moments on previous releases, Cult Leader embrace doleful melodies with much more confidence on A Patient Man. "To: Achlys" and "A World of Joy," as well as the title track, feature lumbering dark tones, clean guitars and deep, goth rock-style vocals. These tracks are delicate and beautiful, but contain a bleak and intensely unsettling vibe.
Once again working with Converge's Kurt Ballou, A Patient Man showcases Cult Leader not only at their most technically proficient, but also at their bravest and most thoughtful in terms of songwriting and composition. The result is a record that's truly unique and exceeds all expectations.
Denise Falzon
6. Harm's Way
(Metal Blade)

Swole, buff and heavier than a steel-plated kick to the temple, Harm's Way came into their own with Posthuman. By jacking up their hardcore sound with industrial elements from heavy music's cutting edge, these Chicago heavyweights struck the perfect balance between new and old. Think Code Orange's Forever, by way of early Slipknot.
Harm's Way prove that the term nu-metalcore is no joke. They double down on heaviness with standout tracks like "Call My Name," "Dissect Me" and "Human Carrying Capacity," and when you throw in a few choice breakdowns with vocalist James Pligge's punishing delivery, you've got one of 2018's most uncompromising releases. It's fresh, new, and surprisingly upbeat. Harm's Way chewed listeners up and spat them out on last album Rust; with Posthuman, they've shown that they can have fun doing it, too.
Max Morin

5. Outer Heaven
Realms of Eternal Decay

What is it about the Pennsylvania backwoods that inspires the most vicious death metal? Incantation, Coffin Dust, Rivers of Nihil and Goreaphobia have all lurked in William Penn's dark forests. Newcomers Outer Heaven smash forth like an ancient cyclops with its one eye trained on old-school blastbeats and hardcore-inspired breakdowns. 
Lyrically, the band's incendiary debut, Realms of Eternal Decay, covers Obituary's tales of rotting ways, while their musicality taps the classic veins of Morbid Angel and Cannibal Corpse. Like Cist, Gatecreeper, Corpsessed and bands of their ilk, this snarling outfit proffer a freshly bloodied palette from young musicians weaned on gore-crusted godfathers Autopsy and Death. Ultimately, Outer Heaven raise the bar and a bruised fist for older, reuniting death-metal bands looking to record new material — either write songs of the most brutal quality, or stay dead. 
Chris Ayers
4. Daughters
You Won't Get What You Want

Daughters' comeback album is a game-changer. All of the raw, unbridled creativity and roiling aggression of their youth has had time to mature into a richer vintage; You Won't Get What You Want naturally trades a bit of the band's manic vigour for stalwart menace, but it's perfectly suited to their throbbing dissonance and the unhinged cadence of Alexis F.S. Marshall's insightful, conversational rants.
We know Daughters are titans of mixing hooks with experimental brutality — that they're still honing that formula and putting out peak material is exceptional enough — but the real stun factor on this album is the sheer breadth of musical growth on display. This band has evolved, and they don't give a fuck if you're along for the ride or not. They certainly haven't softened, though; they've become more sinister and cinematic, using a more expensive and dynamic array of sounds, textures, rhythms and warped takes on melody. Daughters are a singular force in the world of metal, and this is one of the year's most unique and exciting offerings, regardless of genre.
Scott A. Gray
3. Rivers of Nihil
Where Owls Know My Name
(Metal Blade)

One typically knows what to anticipate from a tech death release: blast beats, guttural vocals and breakneck guitar clinics, all interspersed with the odd progressive passage — but Rivers of Nihil subvert all expectations on breakout release Where Owls Know My Name. The band creatively employ ambient elements not commonly found in tech death, resulting in a much more dynamic sound. Most notably, WOKMN makes use of saxophone and synth/keys, which offer much-needed reprieve following the album's heavier and more technical passages. Remarkably, this is achieved without sounding forced, pretentious or ever interrupting the album's stream-like fluidity.
Rivers of Nihil have made a name for themselves with this third full-length release, receiving widespread attention and much acclaim over the past eight months, but perhaps more impressively, they've breathed new life into a somewhat stagnant sub-genre that has seen many of its champions grow old. Where Owls Know My Name is one of the year's best — and might just become one of modern metal's most seminal pieces of work.
Lukas Wojcicki
2. Sleep
The Sciences
(Third Man Records)

It's fitting that Sleep's first LP in 19 years starts off with "The Sciences," a feedback-laden track that forces fans to wait three minutes before they can bask in the San Jose trio's plodding riffs. But it's precisely this patience that Sleep have fostered throughout their entire career — and it makes The Sciences a near-perfect album. When their former label, London Records, wanted to mess with their last LP (the immortal Dopesmoker), Sleep simply waited it out, choosing to disband rather than bend. And when they reformed in 2009, they continued to demonstrate their stubborn patience, taking a decade to make sure their reunion album matched the pure excellence of their back catalogue.
While metal has a unique legacy of honouring its elders — recent albums by stalwarts Behemoth and Voivod have been awarded excellent reviews — The Sciences never sounds like the work of a 27-year-old band. Even though "Marijuanaut's Theme" references their eternal love of the herb and "Sonic Titan" compacts the capricious peaks and valleys of Dopesmoker into 12 minutes, Sleep still seem poised to push stoner metal into the future with The Sciences — even if it takes them another 19 years and three minutes to do it.
Daniel Sylvester
1. Vein
(Closed Casket Activities)

We aren't far removed from a time in heavy music where the very mention of "nu-metal" would cause headbangers to recoil, but the incorporation of that subgenre's influence by a current crop of artists has become undeniable in recent years. The most tasteful fusions have come from young hardcore bands, a charge led by the likes of Code Orange and, in 2018, Vein.
On their debut full-length, Errorzone, the Massachusetts outfit go beyond their undying love of groove to incorporate sounds outside of metal and hardcore to immediate, devastating effect. That much is apparent seconds into the listen, when the dissonant guitars of "Virus://Violence" cut short to reveal a breakbeat pulled straight from the '90s. The familiar break calls to a different genre and era entirely, but remains no less chaotic.
These types of straining sonics rarely slow. Songs like "Old Data in a Dead Machine" and "End Eternal" find the band putting their riffs through the ringer with liberal use of pitch-shifting. Elsewhere, a siren initially buried under an onslaught of guitar provides an unsettling segue between "Broken Glass Complexion" and "Anesthesia." Errorzone's subtle instances of melody lean more towards restlessness than reprieve.
Vein do not directly imitate so much as effortlessly fuse the elements that best align with their chaotic hardcore roots, and that will only help push their potent blend to further experimental extremes. As vocalist Anthony DiDio told Exclaim! this year, "Nostalgia is great…but you have to take that nostalgia and move it forward."
Calum Slingerland

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