Best of 2018: Kieron Hayes

Spread the metal:

01. Powerwolf – The Sacrament of Sin

So many times this year I found a new album I loved and thought, “Yeah, this might dethrone Powerwolf. This deserves the top spot”. Then I’d listen to Sacrament of Sin again. It’s certainly not the most original or creative album out this year, but it’s just so damn good, one of those where it doesn’t need to do anything new, because it does what it does so well. Every song here is a winner, and in contrast to their last offering, I also really enjoy the covers CD that comes with it (this time with other bands covering Powerwolf).




02. Zeal & Ardor – Stranger Fruit

I learned about Zeal & Ardor proof-reading a gig review for them, and their style sounded intriguing. The album lived up to that and then some. On paper, a mixture of spirituals/gospel/blues and black metal shouldn’t work, but it absolutely does. As I read someone else describe it, Stranger Fruit is music to burn down the plantation to, carrying a unique and powerful catharsis.





03. Hoth – Astral Necromancy

I’ve never been that much into melodic black metal, but Hoth may have changed that for me. Similar to Powerwolf’s new album, it’s not really breaking any new ground, but it treads the existing ground with such confidence and poise. The album uses all the best tricks and tropes of the genre to carve out headbanging tracks of epic adventures, storming across frostbitten wastelands.





04. Warrel Dane – Shadow Work

Shadow Work carries something of a sorrowful stigma with it, having been released posthumously after Warrel Dane’s death a year ago. Some might even dismiss its positive reception on such grounds. But honestly, this is one of his best works, carrying a lot of what made Nevermore so good without sounding like a half-measure or tribute to it. It’s got that delicious mixture of dark progressive metal, energetic bursts of power and just the right amount of thrashy/melodeath aggression. Closing track “Mother is the Word for God” is up there with “This Godless Endeavor” as a true metal masterpiece.




05. Psychostick – Do

Who says comedic metal can’t be good? Psychostick have been consistently improving over the years, relying less on sheer novelty and instead crafting simple yet fun songs while maintaining their humourous edge. Do takes this to a whole new level of quality. From mocking Metallica’s 90s output (while lamenting the loss of Blockbuster Video) or raging against a spouse getting ahead of you in watching a TV show together, through to a heart-felt ballad of hatred and disgust, it’s always furiously fun and carries a consistently self-depreciating edge as the band never take themselves remotely seriously.



06. Tribulation – Down Below

This one got a lot of attention in 2018, and I succumbed to that myself. I’d heard of the band before but never listened to them, but I like what I heard here a lot. Down Below deserves all the acclaim and attention it received, merging some melodic black and gothic stylings with classic heavy metal sensibilities for some damn catchy numbers.





07. Gama Bomb – Speed Between the Lines

I’ve loved Gama Bomb’s wild, zero-shits-given style of insanely fun thrash since their earliest days, but their last couple of albums didn’t quite grab me as much as I would’ve liked. Speed Between the Lines brings them right back to the top of my playlist. It’s still not big, it’s still not clever, but it’s such a fun ride.





08. Thy Catafalque – Geometria

Thy Catafalque’s last couple of albums, while not bad, just didn’t grab me in the same way classics like Tűnő idő Tárlat or Róka Hasa Rádió did. Geometria is a resounding return to form. While it could perhaps benefit from a dash more of the heavier side of their music to fill out the flavours, what is here is so immersive and effective that I find myself not really caring. For those who don’t mind their metal atmospheric and mixed in with a whole range of other influences (electronic, prog, folk music, jazz), this one’s a treat.




09. Visigoth – Conqueror’s Oath

Visigoth’s Conqueror’s Oath is that special sort of album that reminds you why you fell in love with heavy metal in the first place. They stand alongside the likes of Liege Lord or Cloven Hoof, or more recently Grand Magus, in putting out material that’s just so high quality and done with such conviction, it doesn’t matter if you’ve heard its like a hundred times before. Just about every song here is bursting with power and catchiness.





10. Behemoth – I Loved You at Your Darkest

The Satanist was always going to be a hard act to follow, even for a band as renowned, so acclaimed, so deserving of their name as the mighty Behemoth. Instead of trying to one-up it, I Loved You instead streamlines things somewhat, keeping the songs generally shorter and punchier while still maintaining their signature sound. To some, this will lack something other classic Behemoth albums had, and I can certainly see where that argument comes from. There aren’t really any of those truly larger-than-life songs on here, like “O Father O Sun O Satan”. But for me, this is also one of the most consistent albums the band has put out, never really dipping in quality throughout. And yes, I even liked the children’s choir parts; there’s something so deliciously blasphemous about a children’s choir chanting heresies.



11. U.D.O. – Steelfactory

Straight up traditional metal fun. Whether it’s a swaggering rocker, a heavy stomper or an emotional power ballad, this one is just a good time. It’s cheesy and almost certainly won’t contain any surprises for anyone who’s listened to UDO or Accept before, but it also won’t disappoint either.





12. Skeletal Remains – Devouring Mortality

I don’t go in for plain old death metal so much, but Devouring Mortality was a hell of an exception, really showcasing how good the genre can be when it’s done well. Every track is a skull-smashing, throat-ripping slab of delicious repugnance. The songs know exactly when to blast, when to stomp, and when to stop to never outstay their welcome.





13. Metal Allegiance – Volume II: Power Drunk Majesty

Metal Allegiance’s first album was pretty good as “supergroup with lots of guests” offerings go, but Volume II really feels like a step up in consistency and focus. While all those guests are certainly a treat, and the tracks are still tailored to the vocalists’ strengths, here it feels less scattergun in its approach. The album as a whole is a more consistently heavy/thrash metal album, with those variations between tracks working to give it greater flavour rather than feeling disconnected. “Mother of Sin”, “Liars & Thieves” and “The Accuser” stand out as particular favourites for me.




14. Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart

Rare is the band in this day and age that can provide something new, and while I’d say there’s nothing wrong with playing the hits if you do it well (as many entries on this list will attest), it’s also a real treat to find something to expand the horizons a bit. Oceans of Slumber do this here with Cammie Gilbert’s captivating, impassioned vocals over a blend of progressive, doom and post- metal elements, ending up with a truly unique atmosphere of darkness, and this is an album all about the atmosphere.




15. Judas Priest – Firepower

No doubt this one will appear in many people’s best of 2018 lists, and probably higher than on mine too. Maybe it’s just because I enjoyed Redeemer of Souls more than many, so this feels like less of a step up. But still, even to me, this -is- a step up, pushing the songs closer to the fiery, super-charged metal the band has become so known for, and perfectly offering up just what’s promised by the album’s cover art. This is Priest at some of their most vigorous and metallic, yet still wonderfully catchy, especially “No Surrender”, “Firepower”, “Traitors Gate”, “Never the Heroes” and “Sea of Red”.




16. Deadly Carnage – Through the Void, Above the Suns

Through the Void, Above the Suns is a superbly paced, totally immersive bit of post-metal/blackgaze. It has just the right amount of heaviness mixed in with the otherworldly soundscapes, all tied together with hypnotic rhythms. It’s one of those albums that makes for a great album to just put on and sink into, and with further development of their sound the band could go somewhere really special with this.





17. Soulfly – Ritual

What with how good last year’s Psychosis was from Cavalera Conspiracy, there’s a danger of suffering from Cavalera fatigue, lessening the impact of just how good Ritual is. While both certainly continue the trend of the brothers’ return to heavier, more aggressive material, Psychosis had a more raw feel to it, almost like a development of Nailbomb’s stuff. Ritual is more Soulfly, having more of their tribal influence and grooving rhythms, but it’s still a stonking good slab of thrashy groove metal.




18. Amorphis – Queen of Time

Like Judas Priest’s latest, this one didn’t do quite as much for me as for others, not making it quite so high in my end of year list, but Queen of Time is still pure quality. Like Under the Red Cloud, this one continues Amorphis’ upward trend after a few dull offerings, and it’s a firm “Welcome back, boys” from me. “We Accursed” and “The Golden Elk” are some of the most memorable tunes the band has put out.





19. Ghost – Prequelle

Prequelle certainly reins in a lot of the more metallic aspects of the band, opting for something softer and more piano/keyboard-driven a lot of the time. While this does result in something not as well-rounded as Meliora was, it’s still an enjoyable ride. I’d be lying (and I think many others would be too) if I said “Dance Macabre”, “It’s a Sin” and “Life Eternal” weren’t in my head for ages after every listen.





20. Saxon – Thunderbolt

It’s really hard to go wrong with Saxon, they’re just so damn reliable. Thunderbolt isn’t among their greatest albums, but it doesn’t have to be, because even Saxon just at their usual standard is still quality.





Best EP: Owl Maker – Paths of the Slain

Owl Maker’s debut release is a great little taster of what these folks can do. Whether it’s hard rockers like “99” and “Ride With Aileen”, epic themed tales like “Lady Stoneheart” and “Freya’s Chariot”, or classic doomy stompers like “Marshiara” and “Witches”, everything is a tasty offering. The production could be a bit better, but only to be expected so early on in the band’s life. I’ve still high hopes for Owl Maker going forward, and recommend any metal fan check out this EP.




Best New Band (debut full length from 2017): Hulkoff

Were it not for Elder’s incredible Reflections of a Floating World, Hulkoff’s debut Kven would’ve been my album of the year in 2017. As it is, it’s a solid second, and still one of the most enjoyable releases I’ve found in recent years. Every single track is so ludicrously fun, combining the Viking true-ness of Amon Amarth with Sabaton’s perfect style of epic catchiness. The production is stellar, giving the guitars a delicious CRUNCH that works whether thrashing along or crafting powerful sagas, and the rest of the music compliments it perfectly to keep it from ever sounding thin. Every song demands the listener don a horned helm, mount the nearest dragonship and praise Odin while raiding any available coastline.



My Favorite Discovery of 2018 was…the return of Cirith Ungol!

They actually reformed several years ago but I completely missed it. Then I found their new single, “Witch’s Game”, made for the movie “The Planet of Doom”. It royally kicked my arse like only classic heavy metal can. Cirith Ungol are one of the pedigree old-school metal bands, and based on what I’ve heard this year, they’ve still got it in spades.

Go buy the single now!




Best Comeback of 2018: Thy Catafalque – Geometria

After a couple of weaker offerings that felt like they were more paying lip service rather than continuing to advance their (or rather, his, Tamás Kátai) legacy, Thy Catafalque surge back into form with Geometria. Not their heaviest album, certainly, but it works so damn well whatever style it’s going for at the time.





Disappointments of 2018: Sigh – Heir to Despair & Corrosion of Conformity – No Cross No Crown

Sigh’s new album, Heir to Despair, was probably my biggest disappointment of the year, feeling like the band has shifted from crafting songs that are unpredictable in all but quality, to churning out the kind of “throw everything into a pot, let’s just be as random as possible lol” crap that Unexpect used to produce.




Corrosion of Conformity’s No Cross No Crown wasn’t quite such a stark disappointment, and honestly wasn’t half bad in and of itself, but I was really hoping the return of Pepper Keenan would herald a return to the glory days of the band. As it is, the result isn’t really bad, but falls far short of the classics.





Hopes for 2019:

In just a couple of months we’re getting another offering from Rotting Christ, which is always a treat, as is the news that the ever-productive Devin Townsend has more of his mental goodness on the way for us. Thrash kings Onslaught and Evile look set to have new albums out, as do fellow Brits Carcass. There’s also a debut to come from webcomic-based inheritors of Dethklok’s crown, Belzebubs, and maybe even some new material from classic metal gods Cirith Ungol. Plenty to be looking forward to!