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Top 25 Metal + Hard Rock Albums of 2018

Our staff's favorite albums from a wide-ranging year of heavy music

Top 25 Metal Hard Rock Albums
YOB / Behemoth / Deafheaven, photos by Raymond Ahner, Kevin RC Wilson, Spencer Kaufman
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    It was a fascinating year for metal and hard rock, with a number of underground and upstart acts releasing stellar albums in 2018, alongside strong discs from veteran bands like Judas Priest, A Perfect Circle, Clutch, Ministry and others.

    Hardcore continued its renaissance, with young acts like Vein and Turnstile leading the charge. Meanwhile, extreme metal had another banner year, as bands like Behemoth, Tribulation, Portal, and others all churned out impressive albums. And doom metal ruled with exceptional efforts from YOB, Sleep, Khemmis, Windhand, and others.

    And while next year will see the release of albums from big guns like Slipknot, Deftones, Rammstein, and possibly even Tool (fingers crossed), 2018 was a noteworthy year for heavy music, in that it was highlighted by a wide spectrum of subgenres, ranging from the avant-garde metal stylings of Zeal & Ardor to the radio-ready hard rock power of Halestorm.

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    With the launch of Consequence of Sound’s new destination Heavy Consequence earlier this year, it’s our pleasure to bring you our staff picks for the Top 25 Metal + Hard Rock Albums of 2018.

    –Spencer Kaufman
    Managing Editor, Heavy Consequence

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    25. Pig Destroyer – Head Cage

    Pig Destroyer - Head Cage

    Origin: Alexandria, Virginia

    The Gist: After a six-year gap between albums, Pig Destroyer’s sixth disc, Head Cage, acts not just as a followup to their previous LP, Book Burner, but also to all the various experiments guitarist Scott Hull has undertaken between then and now, both in Pig Destroyer and his other grind band, Agoraphobic Nosebleed.

    Why It Rules: Pig Destroyer continue their sonic expansion beyond the realms of grindcore, showing ample creativity and proficiency in more technical, progressive, groovy and punky realms. The players’ dabblings within other genres pay off here, giving a more well-rounded album than ever before with more song variance than they’ve had at any point prior in their career, all of which is delivered well. Vocalist J. R. Hayes continues to be the one of the best lyricists in grindcore, and the alchemical mixture of Blake Harrison’s noise and electronics with mastermind Scott Hull’s meaty guitar work continues to dazzle as a true force of extreme music. —Langdon Hickman

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    Essential Tracks: “Army of Cops”, “Concrete Beast”, “Torture Fields”


    24. Portal – Ion

    Portal - Ion

    Origin: Brisbane, Australia

    The Gist: Portal are one of Australia’s, and the world’s, most out-there death metal bands, and you can reach that conclusion from a Google Image search alone. They sound as ghoulish and inhuman as they look, taking equally from Morbid Angel and Ligeti. On their fifth album, ION, they strip away the bassy murk long integral to their sound and bring up the treble, giving them a black metal makeover while also adding clarity.

    Why It Rules: Mystery’s been Portal’s appeal for most of their career, and making their attack more discernible doesn’t take away from that. It’s only made them more extreme. Now their terror is fully in front of you, with Horror Illogium’s guitar contorting into impossibly tortured shapes, skipping around in a bizarre cosmic game of hopscotch. Taken apart, it’s a mess of atonal noise; put together, it’s a pain and bliss hell-symphony for a hell-world. —Andy O’Connor

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    Essential Tracks: “Phreqs”, “Crone”, “ESP ION AGE”


    23. Clutch – Book of Bad Decisions

    Clutch - Book of Bad Decisions

    Origin: Frederick, Maryland

    The Gist: Hard rockers Clutch have been going strong since the early ‘90s, and continue to deliver the goods on their 12th studio album. For Book of Bad Decisions, frontman Neil Fallon and company tapped producer Vance Powell, who has worked with Jack White and country star Chris Stapleton, giving the disc a sound and energy that matches the band’s live show.

    Why It Rules: On Book of Bad Decisions, the Maryland rockers deliver a classic-sounding Clutch album that also feels fresh and awakened. Tracks maintain the sludgy melodies and groovy rhythms that longtime Clutch fans love but also branch out into new territory with everything from brass-heavy instrumentals on “In Walks Barbarella” to a touch of twang on “Vision Quest”. —Anne Erickson

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    Essential Tracks: “Gimme the Keys”, “In Walks Barbarella”, “Vision Quest”


    22. Mammoth Grinder – Cosmic Crypt

    Mammoth Grinder — Cosmic Crypt

    Origin: Austin, Texas

    The Gist: After nearly nonstop touring as the drummer for Dallas thrash insurgents Power Trip, Austin metalpunk maestro Chris Ulsh returns to his main project, Mammoth Grinder, his take on Swedish death metal via pummeling hardcore. This is also the first disc with their new lineup, with Ulsh switching over from guitar to bass and recruiting Iron Reagan’s Mark Bronzino on guitar and Ryan Parrish on drums.

    Why It Rules: Anything with Ulsh’s touch is guaranteed to be a front-to-back banger. Even with five years between albums, a grueling schedule with Power Trip, and two-thirds of the band based out of Richmond, Virginia, Mammoth Grinder still sound like Mammoth Grinder. They can justify calling one of the songs “Superior Firepower,” as influenced by primitive Chicago death metal of Master as it is the Texas heat Ulsh emerged from. —Andy O’Connor

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    Essential Tracks: “Locust’s Nest”, “Cosmic Crypt”, “Servants of the Most High”


    21. Ministry – AmeriKKKant

    Ministry - AmeriKKKant

    Origin: Chicago / Los Angeles

    The Gist: The first release since the second time Ministry leader Al Jourgensen swore he was pulling the plug on the band, AmeriKKKant unfolds as a continuous sound collage assembled out of the nonstop bombardment that’s become a daily fact of life for anyone with access to media. Jourgensen was galvanized by the seismic shocks caused by the election of Donald Trump, whose voice is the first thing one hears on AmeriKKKant in the form of a warped soundbite.

    Why It Rules: Why turn to this album when you can saturate your brain with the same unpleasant subjects virtually anywhere you turn? Because Jourgensen has a way of making them fun somehow. In anyone else’s hands, the miasma of chilling headlines the Ministry mastermind draws from would make for an oppressive, despair-inducing mood. Instead, you can glean some relief as Uncle Al leaps into the maelstrom like a park ranger sky-diving into a forest fire. Boy, do we ever need someone like him right now. —Saby Reyes-Kulkarni

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    Essential Tracks: “Twilight Zone”, “Victims of a Clown”, “Game Over”, “Antifa”


    20. High on Fire – Electric Messiah

    High on Fire - Electric Messiah

    Origin: Oakland, California

    The Gist: High On Fire fans know exactly what there’re going to get when they spin a new record, as the Oakland-based trio has delivered dependable stoner/sludge metal for 20 years. The band’s eighth studio album, Electric Messiah, and its title track pay tribute to Lemmy Kilmister, with frontman Matt Pike acknowledging that his gravel-throated voice has often been compared to the late Motörhead legend.

    Why It Rules: Opening track “Spewn from the Earth” explodes with a mammoth riff and a vigorous pace, decorated with fiery guitar leads. Pike’s vocals are ferocious, while the production is gritty and loud. The title track is a high-energy affair that maintains its energetic pace throughout its four-plus minute duration. Album closer “Drowning Dog” possesses an ’80s metal style intro, á la Judas Priest, combined with a brief “Children of the Grave”-esque Sabbath vibe, resulting in the most diverse track on the entire album. —Kelley Simms

    Essential Tracks: “Spewn From the Earth”, “Electric Messiah”, “God of the Godless”, “Drowning Dog”


    19. Cult Leader – A Patient Man

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    Cult Leader - A Patient Man

    Origin: Salt Lake City, Utah

    The Gist: Cult Leader were trying to make a dynamic technical record, so of course they hopped in the studio with Kurt Ballou to ensure every note of the band’s chaotic blitz of hardcore and metalcore rang through. On the band’s second full length project, they seek to distinguish themselves by offering up more than just wild arpeggios and in your face aggression.

    Why It Rules: A Patient Man reflects a band stepping into maturity. The Salt Lake City band retains claustrophobic torrents of noise like on title track “A Patient Man”, but richly balance these moments of calamity with measured melancholy. The misleadingly titled “A World of Joy” is a dark, introspective track paired with beautiful brooding guitar and a deadpan delivery from singer Anthony Lucero that can lull listeners into an unflinching trance. Drummer Casey Hansen absolutely demolishes his kit throughout this recording and stakes his claim as one of the most technically gifted drummers in the scene right now. —TJ Kliebhan

    Essential Tracks: “A Patient Man”, “A World of Joy”, “Isolation in the Land of Milk and Honey”, “To Achlys”


    18. Windhand – Eternal Return

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    Windhand - Eternal Return

    Origin: Richmond, Virginia

    The Gist: Windhand have spent the better part of their decade together adjusting and refining their doom metal sound in response to changes within the band’s lineup, including the departure of co-founding guitarist Asechiah Bogdan. With the membership of the group feeling more secure, the quartet finally feels settled and locked in, joined together in a collective drive to bring their chosen genre back to its psychedelic roots and themselves back to their grunge and alt-rock influences.

    Why It Rules: The mood of Eternal Return was set by the birth of guitarist Garrett Morris’ first child and the death of a close friend to the band. The former is literally what sets off the album, with a recording of an in utero heartbeat that sets the tempo for the opening track. But the latter is what sets the album’s course as the band grinds through a cycle of songs that wrestles with the beauty and terror of knowing that every day on this planet brings us all closer to our last breaths. Singer Dorthia Cottrell doesn’t wail these ideas but approaches them steadily, with understanding and a slight resignation. She lets the rest of her bandmates provide the muscle. All she needs to do is hold the prow steady and true. The destination? Infinity. —Robert Ham

    Essential Tracks: “Halcyon”, “Feather,” “Red Cloud,” “First To Die”


    17. Monotheist – Scourge

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    Monotheist - Scourge

    Origin: Orlando, Florida

    The Gist: Lo, the promise of Monotheist’s demo album Unforsaken and follow-up EP Genesis of Perdition is finally fulfilled. All it took was finding the right cadre of musicians to join in the cause and to hand control of the mixing and mastering to more assured hands (in this case, 7 Horns 7 Eyes guitarist Aaron Smith). Here at last is the vision that leader Michael Moore has long had simmering in his head, crystallized and solidified and achieving something close to perfection.

    Why It Rules: Scourge is the culmination of the many years Moore took to find the right lineup, the right presentation for his technical death metal. The stars have finally aligned on his band’s first proper full-length, namely through the contributions of vocalist J.J. Polachek and the more recent additions of guitarist Tyler McDaniel and bassist Jose Figueroa. Versatile artists all, they ably follow Moore down his circuitous pathways that run headlong into a storm of swirling, jagged sound. —Robert Ham

    Essential Tracks: “The Grey King”, “Mark of the Beast 2: Scion of Darkness”, “Scourge”


    16. Halestorm – Vicious

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    Halestorm - Vicious

    Origin: Pennsylvania

    The Gist: Coming off their previous two albums — 2015’s Into the Wild Life, which yielded four Top 10 mainstream rock hits, and 2012’s The Strange Case Of…, which earned the band a Grammy for “Love Bites (So Do I)” — Halestorm set the bar high for their next disc. The resulting effort, Vicious, is an uncompromising, hard-hitting album with lyrics that exude equal parts empowerment and sexuality

    Why It Rules: Few voices in modern hard rock are as powerful as frontwoman Lzzy Hale’s, and her pipes certainly are on full display on Vicious. In fact, her epic screams in the first 20 seconds of the blistering leadoff track “Black Vultures” make it clear that Halestorm are bringing the heavy on this album. The album’s opus, “Killing Ourselves to Live”, has a monster chorus that conjures up such artists as Dio and Heart. Despite popular music trends, Halestorm continue to wave the flag for hard rock with pride and power. —Spencer Kaufman

    Essential Tracks: “Black Vultures”, “Uncomfortable”, “Killing Ourselves To Live”, “The Silence”


    15. Tribulation – Down Below

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    tribulation down below cover 2018 1200x1200 Top 25 Metal + Hard Rock Albums of 2018

    Origin: Sweden

    The Gist: By expanding their sound to include shades of psychedelia and its more modern offshoots, Tribulation have wisely chosen to evolve the boundaries of death metal. It’s a move that requires more active listening at times to catch the nuances or to better appreciate the fluid movement of each song. That’s far from a bad thing. You gain more fans by coaxing them forward rather than pummeling them from the jump.

    Why It Rules: Many are the metal albums that promise to take you on a journey of some kind, while leaving you right where you started. Not so with the latest from Swedish quartet Tribulation. Down Below is a true odyssey that dares you to follow every steep climb and long trek through the flatlands. Your guides are four loose-limbed long haired gents in corpse paint with a facility to move between elaborate guitar solos and pensive piano melodies. Just slip this little treat under your tongue and enjoy the scenery. —Robert Ham

    Essential Tracks: “The Lament”, “Nightbound”


    14. Amigo The Devil – Everything Is Fine

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    Amigo the Devil - Everything Is Fine

    Origin: Spicewood, Texas

    The Gist: Rock troubadour Danny Kiranos, known as Amigo The Devil, may not create music as heavy as the other acts on this list, but his folk-rock songs have resonated with the metal and hard rock community. Singing about topics like serial killers and depression, his lyrics are as heavy as they come, even if delivered with an acoustic guitar.

    Why It Rules: Amigo The Devil writes songs that are both lyrically deep and infectious as hell. Everything Is Fine was produced by Ross Robinson (Korn, At the Drive-In), and has a big sound for an acoustic album. The song “Cocaine and Abel” is a haunting gem, and the track “Everyone Gets Left Behind”, featuring drumming from Rage Against the Machine’s Brad Wilk, will get stuck in your head upon the very first listen. —Spencer Kaufman

    Essential Tracks: “Cocaine and Abel”, “Everyone Gets Left Behind”, “Hell and You”


    13. A Perfect Circle – Eat the Elephant

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    Origin: Los Angeles, California

    The Gist: Fifteen years after their last LP of originals, A Perfect Circle made a striking return in 2018. In place of the alt-metal sound for which they’re known, Eat the Elephant is more reflective of guitarist and principal songwriter Billy Howerdel’s recent foray into film scoring.

    Why It Rules: Much of the album was built around keyboards and piano, supplemental orchestration, and vocalist Maynard James Keenan’s dynamic range. Soaring post-metal riffs do make appearances, but the album is much heavier in mood and subject matter. It’s a beautiful and eclectic album that addresses sociopolitical issues with Keenan’s lyrical dexterity. —Scott Morrow

    Essential Tracks: “The Doomed”, “TalkTalk”, “Hourglass”


    12. Khemmis – Desolation

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    Khemmis - Desolation

    Origin: Denver, Colorado

    The Gist: Three albums in, doom metal quartet Khemmis have their internal engine working at maximum efficiency and power, having spent the previous six years fine tuning and oiling their sound. The music on their latest full-length, Desolation, shows no sign of strain or effort, however. It’s a seamlessly constructed work that purrs and snarls, with the edges fleshed out by small interludes of respite and beauty.

    Why It Rules: The focus of Desolation has set on the vocals of Phil Pendergast. Make no mistake, there are witheringly hot riffs, complex arrangements that turn and twist through a pocket history of heavy music, and some screeching contributions from the band’s other guitarist-singer, Ben Hutcherson. But it’s Prendergast that is pushed to the foreground of this band’s controlled burn. His lyrics — meditations on the flimsiness of existence surrounded by visions of sharpened talons and “the gilded door of the abattoir” — and ringing voice are the blue flame at the center. —Robert Ham

    Essential Tracks: “Isolation”, “Bloodletting”, “Flesh to Nothing”


    11. Zeal & Ardor – Stranger Fruit

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    Zeal & Ardor Stranger Fruit

    Origin: Switzerland / New York City

    The Gist: Zeal & Ardor made waves in the metal scene two years ago with their unusual blend of black metal and slave spirituals. The band’s debut release Devil Is Fine was a fascinating, but interlude-heavy album that found band leader Manuel Gagneaux still working out the kinks on this innovative sound. Stranger Fruit was a highly anticipated follow-up, with fans wondering if this novel hybrid was a gimmick, or a sound that can be expanded on.

    Why It Rules: Stranger Fruit takes everything that is great about Devil Is Fine and improves on it. The 8-bit Final Fantasy-esque interludes have been kept to a minimum, clearing the room for shout-along hymnals and black metal screeches. Tracks like “Row Row” and “Don’t You Dare” have melodic qualities and anthemic structure, further distinguishing Zeal & Ardor as one of modern black metal most creative forerunners. –TJ Kliebhan

    Essential Tracks: “Gravedigger’s Chant”, “Row Row”, “Don’t You Dare”


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