Old Wounds, Zeal & Ardor, Rolo Tomassi and Rivers of Nihil Lead an Experimental Year in Metal

Photo: Ellie Mitchell

BY Bradley Zorgdrager Published Dec 11, 2018

This year was one of boundary shattering within heavy music. While these bands had been nudging, pushing or even shoving their sounds' uniqueness forward with differing degrees of force, 2018 marked the point of no turning back. Much like the vigour with which the artists pushed their influences, the levels of synthesis differed from dramatically distinct to insidiously inconspicuous. Read through this list to climb the Mountain of Melding; believe us, you'll want to snowboard down and do it all again afterward.
Old Wounds
Glow (Good Fight)
What Did They Add? New wave, industrial, AFI and Glassjaw vibes to metalcore.
After a tumultuous couple years of lineup changes, Old Wounds could have been buried by the glut of metalcore revival bands who came up in their wake. Rather than allowing that to happen, the New Jersey crew doubled down on their goth-approved outer-genre flirtations, turning them into full-on love affairs on tracks like "Beauty Mark," "…Vanilla Filth…" and "To Kill For." Next time, hopefully they'll fuse them into metalcore songs, rather than partitioning them into their own tracks.
Zeal and Ardor
Stranger Fruit (MKVA)
What Did They Add? "Negro spirituals" to black metal.
Manuel Gagneaux, a black Swiss-American, had the biggest proverbial distance to bridge, with a combination so ridiculous it could only (and did) come from a racist joke — on 4Chan no less. Last year's Devil Is Fine was exactly that, fine, showing him striking back at the racist suggestion with a smug grin, but tracks like "Row Row" and "Don't You Dare" find him laughing directly in their face and getting closer to answering his question of "What is American slaves had embraced Satan instead of Jesus?"

Rolo Tomassi
Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It (Holy Roar)
What Did They Add? Experimental post-rock and beautiful vocals to mathcore.
If blending black metal and shoegaze resulted in blackgaze, the fusion of mathcore and ethereal post-rock can only be called mathsoar. The co-pilots taking Rolo Tomassi's flight into the stratosphere are brother and sister duo Eva and James Spence, whose vocal chord shredding increasingly comes second to their radiant resonations and synth strokes (of genius), respectively. A track like "Rituals" shows their commitment to cacophony, while "Aftermath" reveals them swinging their loyalty the other way, and the majority of the album shows them splitting their attention between the two.
Rivers of Nihil
Where Owls Know My Name (Metal Blade)
What Did They Add? Saxophone, organs, piano and more to technical death metal.
No one's saying that Rivers of Nihil are the first death metal band to use these instruments, but often the flashiness is just a flash in the pan. Where Owls Know My Name ain't flashy and it hasn't gone up in smoke. Instead, this fire burns brighter as the band gains more traction for their classy inclusions, which show a desire to progress. Proof that the motives were pure: guitarist Brody Uttley told us the followup might ditch the brass entirely and focus on dissonance.

Imperial Triumphant
Vile Luxury (Gilead Media)
What Did They Add? Jazz to dissonant black/death metal.
Imperial Triumphant announced this, their third LP, with the unveiling of more ornate and lavish masks, adding crowns atop their golden visages and elevating their luxury to that of royalty. As their heads got more pointy, their sound pulled in a smoother direction — sort of. While still a dissonant concoction of black and death metal's most dizzying elements, they fused in more prominent jazz elements like trumpets, piano breaks and an overall swinging swagger to truly encapsulate the two-faced nature of affluence.

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