Generally the beginning of the year is pretty sparse when it comes to quality new releases. Not so with 2018. It’s off to a really strong start, with so many excellent albums that worthy releases such as Watain, Avatar, Shining and Corrosion Of Conformity didn’t make the cut. Here are our choices for the best metal albums released in January of 2018.
1. Tribulation – Down Below (Century Media)
Tribulation come out of the gate swinging in 2018 with Down Below, the successor to critical darling Children of the Night. Gone are the days of death metal for this band, in its stead are riffs and a dark atmosphere shows the band rocking while amply embracing the dark side. Johannes Andersson’s gruff vocal approach comes off as though he is a member of the undead coming to greet you and act as Virgil to your Dante.
Tribulation have crafted an exceptional album that follows a great one in its own right. They have carved themselves a niche that is tough to duplicate; much like Cloak’s To Venomous Depths did in 2017. Down Below is poised to be among the year’s best, bar none.
2. Hamferd – Tamsins Iikam (Metal Blade)
Hamferð, are self-proclaimed purveyors of Faroese doom metal. Támsins likam (Body of the Mist) is Hamferð’s conclusion of a conceptual trilogy that began with an EP in 2010 and 2013’s full length album Evst. Musically, this is one of the most exquisitely produced and performed albums you will hear this year.
Hamferð have released a perfect doom album, and an early leader for end-of-year Best Of lists. With outstanding performances from every band member, fantastic songwriting and production that ties everything together seamlessly, Támsins likam is a tour de force for the band, and places them firmly at the forefront of the genre. Faroese doom metal is here to stay.
3. Agrimonia – Awaken (Southern Lord)
Agrimonia features members of At the Gates and Martyrdod, which shows through in colors in their metal style. The music on their third album Awaken is abrasive in nature, especially Christina’s vocals, but features a good deal of melody as well. However, there is a decidedly different approach that has a more downtrodden vibe and it leads to impressive results. The music is more focused on emotion and complexity this time around than the melodic moments and it leads to a different style of music that is appropriate.
There is still a good amount of bite to the songs, but they are focused in a different direction. The more melancholic tone of the band fits nicely into a new landscape of music. This is an album that takes more of an emotional stance than At the Gates and succeeds nicely in doing so. Just see the fifth track “Withering” for this focus on feelings and the newfound level of intricacy and a very strong undercurrent of atmosphere.
4. Faceless Burial – Grotesque Miscreation (Blood Harvest)
After its initial digital release last September, Grotesque Miscreation, the full-length debut from Australian three-piece Faceless Burial, is getting CD treatment courtesy of Blood Harvest Records. The record, which also includes five tracks plucked from their 2015 demo, is a robust offering of grim and groovy old-school death metal that thrives on crunching riffs, monstrous vocals, and a rumbling rhythm section.
A well-written press release connects Faceless Burial to death metal royalty, with references to the early Finnish and Tampa scenes, and then to veteran brutes like Immolation and Incantation. And sure, these shoes fit thanks to the trio’s natural chops and their adherence to evil-ass riffs that churn and plod against a dense subterranean backdrop. Grotesque Miscreation feels and sounds familiar, which could be a drawback, but the result is ultimately too mean to dismiss. A burly dose of no-frills malevolence with rad artwork.
5. Howling Sycamore – Howling Sycamore (Prosthetic)
Howling Sycamore can be thought of as a supergroup of sorts: guitarist Davide Tiso (Ephel Duath), singer Jason McMaster (Watchtower, Dangerous Toys), and drummer Hannes Grossmann (Obscura, Necrophagist) form the core of the band, and are joined for guest appearances on the sax by Yazuka’s Bruce Lamont and on guitar by Dysrhythmia/Gorguts’ Kevin Hufnagel. Quite the disparate and talented lineup.
Blast beat drumming, virtuoso guitar playing, demented sax solos, and “crazy Dio” vocals don’t sound like a good mix on paper, but the band has put together an extremely interesting prog metal platter, loaded with energy, changeups galore, and superior songwriting. Howling Sycamore is the best prog metal album of January. Hopefully this is the band’s debut, and not just a one-off.
6. Slow – V – Oceans (Code666)
If ever there was a band whose name should be taken literally, it would be one-man Belgian funeral doom project Slow. Their album, V – Oceans, consists of five ten-plus minute glacially-paced atmospheric doom epics. Originally self-released last year, it is now seeing record label release.
Musically, V – Oceans is the equivalent of listening to a tsunami, with wave upon wave of colossal, bleak, yet captivatingly arranged funeral doom crashing over us with inexorable might, each song flowing seamlessly into the next. Add in Déhà’s charred, ominous roar and you have something that, for fans of the genre, merits dozens of repeat listens – just not all at once.