20 Best Metal Albums of 2018: Judas Priest, Yob, Sleep and More - Rolling Stone
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20 Best Metal Albums of 2018

Nineties revivalists, noise-rock weirdos and titans of the old school: the year in heavy

top metal albums of 2018

Rolling Stone staffers rank the 20 best metal albums of 2018, including the latest from Judas Priest, Daughters and Sleep.

Metal thrived in 2018, as bands from every imaginable genre, subgenre and microgenre tapped into deep wells of anger and disappointment for some of the most stunning heavy albums in years. Doomsters Sleep, Yob and Windhand stretched out their malice; black metal purveyors Immortal and Deafheaven supercharged it with labyrinthine melodies; extreme death dealers like Tomb Mold and Portal crushed it and compacted it; and metal legends Judas Priest rained hellfire down upon it. There were so many strong releases that some projected favorites, like Ghost and High on Fire, ranked too low on our critics’ ballots to make the cut. Here are 2018’s heaviest hitters.

Vein Errorzone

Vein, ‘Errorzone’

Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Nü-Metal Revival? Whereas the legacies left by alumni of Dischord or Earache still carry a certain level of prestige for hardcore bands in 2018, Nineties alt-metal has gotten a bad rap since its inception. But Boston five-piece Vein seem up for a challenge: Their debut LP borrows as much from the techno resistance of digital-hardcore forebears Atari Teenage Riot as from the bass-heavy dissonance of the Headbangers Ball class of 2003, matching breakdowns with breakbeats. Vein cherry-pick the best of both scenes and fashion a metallic glitch monster from the entrails. “I will not deny what I cannot delete,” yawps frontman Anthony DiDio in closer “Quitting Infinity,” a poetic conclusion to the Frankencore opus that is Errorzone. “Please rewrite me.” S.E.

Deafheaven Ordinary Corrupt Human Love

Deafheaven, ‘Ordinary Corrupt Human Love’

After 2015’s middling, ultra-metallic New Bermuda, Deafheaven got their groove back on Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, which contains seven doses of heartbreaking acrimony set to glorious post-rock balladry and crushing, quasi–black-metal riffage. It’s the unusual commingling of light and heavy that makes the LP compelling — opener “You Without End” is like Billy Joel trying prog rock while the next track, “Honeycomb,” is a blur of tremulous extreme rage with the occasional Beatles rip-off riff thrown in for good measure. Each track is its own melting pot of hard-rock subgenres, and in Kerry McCoy’s guitar lines there’s a certain joy that serves as a counterpoint to all of singer George Clarke’s hopelessness. It’s maximalism at its most nuanced. K.G.

Daron Malakian's Scars on Broadway Dictator

Daron Malakian and Scars on Broadway, ‘Dictator’

A little more than a decade has passed since System of a Down reached their creative stalemate, and the band still has no current plans to make a new album. So Dictator, by guitarist-vocalist Daron Malakian’s side project Scars on Broadway, filled a gap for fans of the band’s manic, skittery punk-metal this year. Lead track “Lives” is a danceable, hook-filled ode to survivors of genocide, while the down-tempo “Talkin’ Shit” is the sort of groovy, heavy hippie-stoner freak-out that Malakian specializes in. The fact that the album ends with what sounds like metal’s answer to Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” — the disco-imbued “Assimilate” — is just another welcome reminder of all the punky celebrations we’ve been missing out on all these years. K.G.

Judas Priest Firepower

Judas Priest, ‘Firepower’

Judas Priest may be heavy metal’s most interesting comeback story of 2018, simply because they never went anywhere. They’ve had ups and downs creatively since the late Sixties, but no one could have expected their 18th album, Firepower, to sound this fresh and vibrant. Founding guitarist K.K. Downing split in 2011, and his foil, Glenn Tipton — who plays brilliantly on the LP — announced he wouldn’t be touring with the band due to Parkinson’s. Nevertheless, Judas Priest sound anything but tired on Firepower: Frontman Rob Halford sings his tales of specters, necromancers and the ruins of war with more gusto than on the group’s prior record, 2014’s Redeemer of Souls, and the band plays with true bloodlust throughout, recalling their crushing work on 1990’s Painkiller and the melody of 1978’s Stained Class. “Flame Thrower,” the title track and “Never the Heroes” all scream with vengeance like classic Priest, but they also sound thick and modern — not like the work of a band entering its 50th year. K.G.

Daughters You Won't Get What You Want

Daughters, ‘You Won’t Get What You Want’

Close to two decades since Daughters first erupted in a burst of explosive grindcore on Canada Songs, their reunion LP, You Won’t Get What You Want, captures a darker, more shadowy side of the group. Each track builds slowly, reveling in noise and unusual rhythms, as frontman Alexis Marshall moans and croaks about disillusionment and uneasiness. It’s like a unique combo of noise-mongers the Jesus Lizard and art-punks the Birthday Party — but so much heavier — as the group seems to experience a nervous breakdown on tracks like the dirge-like “Long Road No Turns” and plodding “The Reason They Hate Me.” They may have ditched the more obvious metal influences, but there’s a sense of menace throughout the record that reflects their past through a glass darkly. K.G.

The Sciences Sleep

Sleep, ‘The Sciences’

In the nearly two decades since Sleep’s last album — the monolithic, single-track odyssey Dopesmoker — they’ve gone from underground heroes to stoner-metal legends. So when they surprise-released The Sciences on 4/20 (of course), the happy shock was just how great it sounded. After three minutes of unwieldy feedback riffing, dubbed “The Sciences” (duh), you hear vocalist-bassist Al Cisneros take a bong hit like Popeye downing spinach, and the trio kicks into a chunky, plodding groove on “Marijuanaut’s Theme.” Each of the album’s tracks is a deep dive into a hesher shadow realm where Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi is God (he’s namechecked on the Sabbath-punning “Giza Butler”) and time is only a construct. Guitarist Matt Pike, who also put out an excellent High on Fire album this year, plays measured, wah-wah–inflected solos, drummer Jason Roeder keeps everything on track and Cisneros spaces out, singing his fantasies in a gloriously stoned monotone. It’s a mood, man. Don’t question it. K.G.

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