JOHN’S FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 2018.

John Huber of Skeleton Rose Shares His Favorite Albums of 2018

Gooooooooood evening, freaks and geeks! Holy shit, it has been some time since I’ve chatted with you. Nearly six months by my count. And on that occasion, as I recall, we were talking about Tim Lambesis’ return to the metal world. Now. Today, I’m happy to report that I’m coming to you under much more celebratory circumstances.

2018. It has come and gone. And since you’re on a metal website, I’m sure you know what that means. TIME FOR SOME LISTS! So, since there is no original way to begin that endeavor, I’ll just get right to it. BRING ON THE SHREDS, THE SOLOS, THE BLASTS, THE SHRIEKS AND THE RIFFS!!

Now. Real quick. I will say this. By no means is this to be taken as any sort of comprehensive collection on the entirety of releases last year. Between the horror novels and the music I write, the shows I put on, and a full-time job, I only have so much time to listen to music. And, admittedly, I don’t get a chance to check out as much as I’d like. So, don’t put words in my mouth and think I’m presenting myself as some sort of ‘end all’ knowledge on the metal landscape from 2018. I can only go from the pile of metal albums that found me last year, and from that stack, tell you which ones struck my fancy. Rather than a ‘BEST OF’ list, I’ll just call it my ‘FAVORITE LIST.’ And in that list, I have scored and ranked the entries. With some consideration, I narrowed it to ten. After that, I gave every album two critical listens—scoring each one. The average between the scores is the final score. That average score determined placement. Seemed a fair way for me to gather my thoughts on each one. Let’s do this.

10. WELCOME TO BONKERS/NEKROGOBLIKON

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I have a really soft spot for unusual albums. I get burned out on metal albums in today’s ‘whatever-core’ soundscape. So, there are two things that will usually pay you my attention. The first, if you execute your ideas extraordinarily. In other words, your songwriting. And every album I dig into, I listen to in its entirety. Metal is a beloved piece of my soul. So, I want to like everything I listen to, I give myself over to whatever the album is going to try and accomplish. And that said, I think that’s a great deal more leniency than many other reviewers or metal fans will give. I always give an entire album at least one full spin, start to finish. I’m old school like that. I want to see you showcase your songwriting ability. This is music, after all. So, if you can write a song, and beyond that, many songs, then put them all together in a comprehensive order that takes me on a journey, I will sing your praises. Pretty straight forward. And the second, if you can bring an unusual element to the table, at least one little unique something, bonus points.

Those things said, WELCOME TO BONKERS marks both those boxes. Anyone familiar with this band will know the band’s living, dressed Goblin mascot, John Goblikon. A live-action actor that takes up with the band on stage, takes part in any number of tomfoolery on their Instagram and interacts with fans at every show. As you can imagine, ”Goblin” is the theme in most of the music. And with John Goblikon taking his part very seriously, it would be very easy for the humorous edge to get out of hand and make the entire charade a circus. Buuuut, somehow with this album, the songwriting is top notch and keeps a serious enough edge in how they shriek and riff about their goblin motifs. Look no further than ’THE SKIN THIEF’ and ‘MOLD.’ The latter being catchy as hell.

So, all told, well done to these guys. They were a bit too serious about their ‘goblin’ hijinks on 2011’s STENCH, and they were too humorous on 2007’s GOBLIN ISLAND. At last, WELCOME TO BONKERS strikes that perfect balance of humor and execution, to the point where you have to respect them as entertainers and musicians; a feat that is never easy to successfully execute.

FIRST SCORE: 75

SECOND SCORE: 75

FINAL SCORE: 75

9. ALL I SEE IS WAR/SEVENDUSTSEVENDUST

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Another long survivor; nearly a quarter-century and with twelve albums. That’s a long time to endure. So, with an album title like ALL I SEE IS WAR . . . Let’s just say, they make sure you know they are still focused. Now everywhere I look, these guys are always classified as ‘Alt-Metal.’ Fair enough, I guess. And a few reviewers I’ve read explain how SEVENDUST is in the ‘unicorn’ category. Heavy enough for the metal crowds, accessible enough for the rock fans. But, let’s get one thing straight. If SEVENDUST is a rock band in any capacity, then their brand of rock is a full contact sport. They’re a metal band. Period. Look no further than the first ten seconds of ‘Risen’ from their 2018 offering. And know that every song brings that type of power, and the fist that wields it.

They also just so happen to be disgustingly good at writing choruses that are thick, hooky, infectious, and positive. They always make you want to rise, and that’s an important thing in metal, I think. Seeing how we can all get so lost in our pain, suffering and misery, it’s really nice to see a band so obsessed with making sure you always rise above it. I love the grit on this guys’ voice, too. Him and Howard Jones should duet, they really should. I do also think there isn’t a chorus quite big enough for the two of them.

But, I digress. There is some great songwriting here, great moments, filled with even bigger emotion. ‘Dirty,’ the album’s opening, is a goddamn anthem. The type of which I haven’t heard in some time. You know the one. The one that unites everyone who hears it. Every. Single. Person. ‘CHEERS’ is a march in 6/8, and I dare you to keep your head still during it. I bet you can’t do it. ‘RISEN’ is a brawler theme. But the album really opens up with darker numbers like ‘MOMENTS,’ ‘DESCEND,’ and ‘LIFE DECEIVES YOU.’ There’s some synth, some strings, some newer elements to SEVENDUST here. And it’s all done with great aplomb as if they’d been doing this for . . . Oh, I don’t know . . . twenty-five years or so. And the album ends with the rage stomper, punch to the gut ‘THE TRUTH.’ I fucking love the breakdown in that song. Very well done. ALL I SEE IS WAR offers some of SEVENDUST’S most memorable material. And for a band this far in, with such a large catalog, that’s an impressive feat worthy of note.

FIRST SCORE: 76

SECOND SCORE: 78

FINAL SCORE: 77

8. DEVOURING RADIANT LIGHT/SKELETON WITCH

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Let me say this. I’m a sucker for album covers. Especially covers that I can tell are intricately connected to the vision of your album. You will notice that many of the albums in my favorites have very intriguing artwork. SKELETON WITCH’s 2018 offering DEVOURING RADIANT LIGHT is no different, and from the first sixty seconds of the opener ‘FEN OF SHADOWS,’ the vibe is very clear. These songs will just get deeper and deeper and deeper. Every spin around these songs will show you something different, a new riff, a harmony you may have missed. And it throws around a lot of existential/soul/cosmic vibes with each offering.

What’s really impressive about this album is how tight it is, despite the destination straight to prog-ville. You can tell how much these songs want to open up, and for their credit, SKELETON WITCH allows these songs to blossom appropriately. That as the case, it’s very easy for bands to get lost in their own proggy minds. SKELETON WITCH never seems to slip into this pitfall, despite some of the longer song lengths. Now, you must not think that I dislike longer songs. Quite the opposite, actually. The longer the song, the better, as a rule. But, sometimes it’s clear that bands run out of riffs and repeat sections too many times. Hell, it happens to me on occasion in my own work. So, it’s something I like to see bands being wary of.

These songs are a far cry from their earlier, more mundane material. For the longest time, I’ve really wanted to like this band, but I feel like they have been writing the same song for the last ten years. And with DEVOURING RADIANT LIGHT, they have really begun to open their scope, however, they still do showcase great similarity between songs. The songs on this record are a bit difficult to differentiate at times, and they devolve into a wall of metal sound. Now, on this particular album, it’s a very good wall of metal sound, but still a dirge of murky keys, dissonant chords and shrieky howls from a new front man that sounds nearly identical to their last. This as the case, I never quite felt the songs were as important as the band thought they were. Very nearly . . . but not quite. I still love what this album offers though, despite the little quibbles. Still worthy of some praise, still solid. And let’s put it his way . . . I’ll be watching this band with interest moving forward. Great interest.

FIRST SCORE: 79

SECOND SCORE: 80

FINAL SCORE: 79.5

7. FIREPOWER/JUDAS PRIEST

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eeeeeeeeYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!! FIYUHPOWUH!! I know this one is making a lot of lists, and I feel it’s for good reason. This thing is a solid return to form for the metal immortals, and I could not be happier about that. Matter of fact, the first five tracks of this album string together one of the most impressive runs of any album released last year, and I stand by that claim.

The opener, and title track, comes along with merciless double bass and snare hammers in its chorus that will make even the most difficult among you at least nod your head and give a devilish smirk. The second track, ‘LIGHTNING STRIKE,’ gives no quarter and continues the rise into epic glory. And Halford’s opening lyric on that track makes me smile every time—‘I’ll bring you the head of the demon, I’m peeling the skin from its face.’ But beyond the aggression, nearly all European artistry has an incredible flair for epic dramatics; and metal is no exception. IRON MAIDEN and JUDAS PRIEST seem to rally troops in such a unique way, nearly as if the songs are forlorn soldiers waving a bloody flag atop a far hill in the murky sunrise. And the key to that vibe is the beautiful dual harmonies. That’s always been the key, and it will continue to be the key. The effortless solos and endless chug/accent/chug riffs are just a huge bonus. Those rising harmonies and epic chord progressions give their choruses something that American bands seem to capture only rarely. This formula takes full flight on ‘NEVER THE HEROES,’ and for what it’s worth, that’s one of my favorite tracks from this album.

But, the strength of PRIEST and MAIDEN also tends to be their weakness at times. Where the European flair for dramatism takes flight, it can also fall flat. It can drag and it can dull the anger and rage that fuels metal at its core. And THAT’S what Americans seem to do so well, that anger and rage bit. Truly special bands, at truly special times master them both; and PRIEST has done that through their career many times. However, the second half of this album simply loses some steam. It became very apparent on the second critical listen. That’s why it isn’t higher in my list, and I think that’s a flaw that many reviewers have overlooked in favor of sheer joy that PRIEST is still healthy. The album gives up momentum around the 35 minute mark and never quite regains the firepower it opens with. See what I did there?

Anyway . . . it’s not perfect, but it is solid. And when the legacy bands do well, all of metal does well, I think. It helps keep metal relevant, and it offers different aged flavors to a new scene that grows more stagnant with every weary breakdown. It helps newer bands, newer fans, realize that metal can still be limitless, and that you really can do anything, you can write anything . . . Even if it is the music your grandfather may have also loved in his younger rages.

FIRST SCORE: 86

SECOND SCORE: 77

FINAL SCORE: 81.5

6. TO DRINK FROM THE NIGHT ITSELF/AT THE GATES

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This was a big one for me. I’m a huge fan of melodic death metal, and an offering from one the original Swedish hellraisers was a big moment for me this last year; especially when I got a chance to see them on tour. One of the things I LOVE about AT THE GATES is the aggression in their brand of melodic death. They have more in common with the brutality/speed of SLAYER (FUCKIN’ LOVE SLAYER!! SLAYER RULES 666!!) than the likes of IN FLAMES or DARK TRANQUILITY, who have always been a bit more focused on atmosphere.

I say that with respect to all those great Swedes, because I love the entire movement, trust me. It’s very VERY near to my heart. An entire genre that seeks to bring together the harmonies/melodies/vision/emotion of dark classical music and the brutality of death metal. That special place between beauty and brutality that is so difficult to master. And for AT THE GATES’ space inside that very genre they helped to create, they play at merciless speeds. They always have. They keep an intensity that’s rarely seen, especially as musicians age, all held in a contentious check by Tompa’s strangled shriek. But, okay, you get it. I love this band. And their 2018 release TO DRINK FROM THE NIGHT ITSELF is a solid one.

The title track, also the opener, is one that will probably never leave their setlist. It flows so easily with their older material, and it is just as merciless. Not to mention the title line, when it appears in the song, was 100% built for a crowd scream along, ‘AS WE DRINK FROM THE NIGHT ITSELF!!’ Then BAM!! Double time tremolo onslaught. And AT THE GATES carries on half this album in that same rage. But what really is of note for this offering is their focus on a few mid-tempo numbers that bring a very welcome sense of atmospherics that may have been a bit more downplayed on other releases. Now, these mid-tempo numbers are no softer, they are no more accessible. But they do showcase some more emphasis on chord work and groove which is a fantastic change of pace, even if one or two of those numbers lack a bit of identity. But, of those mid-tempo numbers, the raucous ‘STARE BOUND IN STONE,’ the infectious ‘PALACE OF LEPERS,’ the chilling ‘DAGGERS OF BLACK HAZE,’ and the chilling ‘THE MIRROR BLACK,’ more than cover a few moments where the band loses focus in the sea of wandering dissonant chords. Not to mention that most of those mid-tempo pieces feature sections that go double time and rip your head off anyway. Listen to ‘THE CHASM.’ You’ll see what I mean. That riff when Tompa shrieks, ‘AS WE OPEN THE CHASM!!’ makes me sweat with adrenaline on that thrash beat and dirty roll on the low B string.

Given those positives, and for how ‘THE MIRROR BLACK’ finishes the album directly where we began it, in that beautiful chorus of strings and haunting voices, I can forgive one or two missteps in the middle of the record. And, if you can’t see what I see in those mid-tempo numbers, just wait for ‘IN DEATH THEY SHALL BURN.’ That song heats the record back up to the same momentum it starts with on the title track. And the sheer force it builds into the ending of that song is undeniable. The rolling leads, rising from chord to chord, feel very nearly like cursed and wicked fire twisting and rising to take the very victims it is condemning as Tompa howls over and over ‘IN DEATH THEY SHALL BURN!!’ Killer stuff. And AT THE GATES showcased that they are still at their best with a basic approach. Grip that guitar and rip some fuckin’ riffs.

FIRST SCORE: 81

SECOND SCORE: 84

FINAL SCORE: 82.5

5. MEDITATIONS/KATAKLYSM

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I’ve been listening to Kataklysm for a long time. And to be perfectly plain, they are always solid. And I mean ‘always.’ Nearly to a fault, to the point where it makes me nervous. This year’s MEDITATIONS was no different. I heard ‘Guillotine’ as a pre-release, and it’s fucking killer. The song is very aptly named, and it possesses one of the best choruses I heard in 2018. Period. Since it’s the first song on the album, I was positive that the rest of the album would be stale in comparison. I was convinced that this was the album where the Canadian inventors of ‘Northern Hyperblast’ would mail it in.

But, the rising thuds on the opening of ‘Outsider’ and how it rises like a majestic fucking lion into its chorus had me clapping my hands together in praise. I just gave up. There’s no ‘mail it in’ album for these guys. Always solid. Always soldiers. Always. And their thuds, their chugs, their accented power chord slides and hammer-ons, you think they would run out of riffs. Or that I would get sick of listening to them always thunder on, but I never do. And the middle of the album loses no steam.

‘Born to Kill and Destined to Die’ is a fucking anthem to conquer your enemies by, and the chorus just unravels and unravels and blooms after a chorus riff that’s so delicious. ‘In Limbic Resonance’ starts with a breathtaking wall of hyperblast and never releases all the way into an ending that carries on with all the grit of a DIE HARD sequel. The train rolls on through ‘ . . . And Then I Saw Blood’ and ‘What Doesn’t Break Doesn’t Heal.’ The album doesn’t really slow until ‘Bend the Arc, Cut the Chord.’ And even though it slows at that point, it is no less punishing, and the dual harmonies no less resonant in your soul. And the album wraps with ‘Achilles’ Heel.’ And that outro is one to end a movie with, very cinematic. Great stuff.

The only problem, and the only reason I don’t have it higher in my list, is because the album is a very comfortable offering from KATAKLYSM. They take no chances, and they never stray from their bread and butter. And for that bread and butter, they are remarkably consistent; and at their brand of melodeath, they cannot be bested. It’s a bread and butter I will happily eat over and over, but no matter how great it tastes, it is still the same bread and butter. Normally, I don’t give a shit. But, if we’re being picky. Like, say, with a ‘FAVORITES’ list . . . Well, you get it. But make no mistake. Set your watch by these guys. They will never disappoint you. One of those bands that doesn’t write bad music, and they always shred.

FIRST SCORE: 83

SECOND SCORE: 85

FINAL SCORE: 84

4. OUTLAWS ‘TIL THE END vol. 1/DEVILDRIVER

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This one really isn’t fair, so I won’t spend too much time dwelling on it . . . though I could talk about this one for hours. It’s not fair because it’s a cover album. In a list of originals, I’m sure many of you will scream and stab your computers given that I even have it on the list at all . . . But, you know how it goes . . . It’s my list. So. Get the fuck over it.

It’s a metal album of outlaw country covers that features over twenty-five guest artists in addition to DEVILDRIVER. And it’s fucking great. You would assume that this would be the album for metal band alums to express their yearn to sing or croon, to get those softer bits out their system, but that’s not the case. There’s no subdued context to be had. These are metal covers, and they’re intense. My man, my idol, Randy Blythe of LAMB OF GOD makes an appearance on two tracks—Stan Jones’ ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’ and Willy Nelson’s ‘Whiskey River.’ Those just so happen to be two of my favorite songs, and Randy fucking pummels you in the walls of these songs. And to hear Randy let out the howls for those tracks . . . It just feels right.

The album itself is a self-contained thousand mile stare. The stomp through Johnny Cash’s (my favorite artist of all-time) ‘The Man Comes Around’ has a straight Pantera stink-nasty stomp to its entirety. And the absolute bulldozer ‘I’M THE ONLY HELL MY MAMA EVER RAISED’ will have the thunderheads gathering in the distance for even the most resistant of metal heads who aren’t enthused about the metal/outlaw country crossover. And the run of ‘COPPERHEAD ROAD,’ ‘A THOUSAND MILES FROM NOWHERE,’ and ‘DAD’S GONNA KILL ME,’ is fantastically drifter. I will spend endless summers listening to this album. So, to be concise, I fucking love metal and I fucking love outlaw country. I was brought up on both, and their shared rebelliousness puts their attitudes within shouting distance of each other. And between those genres, in the drinking, the fighting, the grit, the blood and the pain, that’s where this devil was raised. Both myself and this collection of songs. So, I cherish this album. It makes me feel like I’m not so fucking alone. This is just a fucking cool album, a fucking cool idea. I hold both genres very dear, and it disappoints neither. It’s the kind of album that’s so niche that I can’t even really believe it exists, to be honest.

FIRST SCORE: 82

SECOND SCORE: 87

FINAL SCORE: 84.5

3. I LOVED YOU AT YOUR DARKEST/BEHEMOTH

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BEHEMOTH is slowly taking over the metal world. At least, it seems that way. Everywhere I look, more and more fans are flocking to them in droves. And I think I know why. Like IMMORTAL, and many other death metal acts, they’ve given proper time for their extremity to hatch. It’s been tested, shaped, twisted, bent and carefully pruned. BEHEMOTH has learned the biggest secret to the extreme caverns of all death metal genres. The key is developing a proper sense of restraint. Know when to turn up all the knobs, know when to steam roll your audience, and know when to back off. Also, utilizing some pleasant chords, solos and progressive vision will go a long way to a more pleasing musical output. And for their work on their last three albums, they have grown in spades.

Their songwriting has become top notch, becoming nearly tender in some places, but never weak or lost. Always balanced out with their merciless layers of haunting guitars and the best percussion I’ve ever experienced courtesy of Inferno. This band is simply in stride, and more and more death metal bands are getting the memo. Show some vision, think out your riffs, layer appropriately, and write from the heart. I LOVED YOU AT YOUR DARKEST picks up exactly where THE SATANIST left off, and for that, it is a surprisingly different record than its predecessor. Where THE SATANIST was an impenetrable showcase of dark cosmic power, I LOVED YOU AT YOUR DARKEST seems to be the moodier response. Not as focused on intense layering, though it does have its moments (see ‘WOLVES OF SIBERIA’ and ‘GOD=DOG’), this album has many curves, twists and progressive trails that lead off into different symphonic passages that put a great amount of movement in every piece. And while JUDAS PRIEST may have had the most infectious ‘first five songs of an album’ in 2018, BEHEMOTH rightfully takes ‘the most impressive first five.’ The opening run of ‘SOLVE,’ ‘WOLVES OF SIBERIA,’ ‘GOD=DOG,’ ‘ECCLESIA DIABLOLICA CATHOLICA,’ ‘BARTZABEL’ and ‘IF CRUCIFIXION WAS NOT ENOUGH,’ give the most unique span of songwriting I’ve ever seen from an extreme death metal band.

All of those songs have such strong identity, such strong memorable moments. Harmonious, beautiful, emotional, mighty, brutal and brilliant. This is a very intelligent record. And more bonus points for the emphasis on gorgeous solos which seem to offset the fierceness of the songs in such a breathtaking way that it becomes a very difficult experience to describe. This is a favorite album of mine from a favorite band. Great fucking work, period.

But, while it is a great record, and a noteworthy achievement in their recent run of artistic triumph and success, it is not perfect. The middle of the album does get a bit muddy where the progressive tendencies are pushed to their limit. And to be frank, the second third of the album is not nearly as smooth as the first or last. I don’t know if they qualify as ‘stumbles,’ but at times, you may be waiting for the formula to come back together again. It does, rest assured. ‘HAVOHEJ PANTOCRATOR’ does just that; a gorgeous number placed in a very strategic place in the album where the band feels they may have lost your attention for a hot minute.

But, those things happen when you take chances, and for that courage in a genre that seems to reward none who break the rules, I applaud BEHEMOTH. As a final word, more of an aside, I feel I must mention my frustration with the final track ‘COAGVLA.’ It feels like the epic track we didn’t get. It enters like the mightiest of battle cries, building for only the war cry of every fallen angel, only to snap off with the tolling of a final death bell. Though, in hindsight, when listening to the album on repeat, where that track leads directly into the restart of the album, this may have been an incredible heady stroke of genius from Nergal. I’ll let you decide.

FIRST SCORE: 88

SECOND SCORE: 83

FINAL SCORE: 85.5

2. NORTHERN CHAOS GODS/IMMORTAL

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I’m not a huge fan of Black Metal, usually. I respect the hell out of it, and I can always see how great it can be, but generally it doesn’t fit my palate. There’s a reason for that. I feel like most Black Metal bands get too lost in how evil they think they are. The genre presentation takes over the music and it ends up being a noisy unidentifiable mess. But, that should stand as a testament to how great a band IMMORTAL really is. They’re a black metal band that does it well. Really, really well.

I’ve liked IMMORTAL for a long time, and I think we are living in a great age of metal where the more extreme acts seem to be honing in the elements of their style, and they are executing with great aplomb; offering respectable slabs of metal art. Extreme art, but still respectable and well executed within the realms of how intense they are. And at the onset, in the extreme genres, you have to make your peace with the elements they offer. If you’re convinced the extreme sections suck, there’s nothing they can offer you that you will enjoy. This is where that ‘give yourself over to the vision’ element comes in. You have to want to enjoy it, and have to let them have the reigns. As a listener, you can’t fight how far they want to push you; not if you want to enjoy it, anyway.

So, with that said, NORTHERN CHAOS GODS is extremely solid. This thing has clear riffs, relentless blast beats, impenetrable layers and epic chords. Of course, I had read a great deal of resistance from IMMORTAL fans with the replacement of Abbath, the lead vocalist. But, if you dislike this album based upon that, I think you’re being obtuse. Personally, I think the new vocalist is an upgrade. I’ve never been a fan of the black metal croak, though I made my peace with it long ago. But IMMORTAL parted with Abbath’s croak in favor of Demonaz’s shriekier delivery. Not to mention there’s quite a bit of familiarity with Demonaz given his entire history with the band.

So, simply, this album feels very natural from note one, and on the opener, also the title track, it makes no aspersions about direction. This is a straight forward record. The walls of blinding pick rolls and blast beats bulldoze right out of the gate. And the ending to this album is supremely satisfying. ‘WHERE MOUNTAINS RISE’ is fuckin’ epic. And last of all, the harrowing 9-minute victory lap ‘MIGHTY RAVENDARK’ is an undeniable gallop that won’t leave any of my playlists for some time. The band talked for quite some time about their excitement concerning this record, and I can see why. It’s a clinic of not only what makes IMMORTAL great, but the best of what Black Metal can offer when it’s done properly; with great passion, great vision and tedious execution.

FIRST SCORE: 88

SECOND SCORE: 86

FINAL SCORE: 87

1. THE END OF MANKIND/ADVERSOR

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I went back and forth on this many times. Over and over it until I realized that I was trying to skew the numbers out of its favor rather than listen to my heart. And this . . . This is a great speed metal record. In terms of the vision it sets, this is nearly a perfect thrash album. And for that execution, that momentum it never loses, it gets my top spot.

The opening track begins with Al Pacino’s insane shouts as Tony Montana from SCARFACE: ‘GO AHEAD, I TAKE YOUR FUCKING BULLET!! YOU THINK YOU KILL ME WITH BULLET?!! GO AHEAD, I TAKE YOUR FUCKING BULLET!!’ . . . And if that isn’t a very clear, concise mission statement/war cry for what this album is supposed to be, I don’t know what is. And not just a mission statement for the album, but for all thrash/speed metal as a whole. Despite the bullets, despite the scars, despite the dust, the bones, the deaths, the age and the many attempts to kill it . . . Thrash metal will never fucking die. And trust me, the entire album never loses sight of its goal; to scream defiantly at all claims to bury it for its aged approach.

This album is completely at home circa 1986, alongside REIGN IN BLOOD, MASTER OF PUPPETS and KILLING IS MY BUSINESS. This album grips its strings and rips loose in a supremely satisfying 36 minutes. Complete with gang shout vocals, 240 BPM steam rollers, brutal simplistic lyrics and infectious gallops. The opener ‘PSYCHOTROPIC NIGHTMARE’ does business and does it really REALLY well. The next track, ‘THE END OF MANKIND,’ is part two continuation of the first track, but always seems to blossom and unravel on the same idea, never becoming stagnant or stale. And just when you think the relentless shred riffs might get old, they toss a new riff into the fold, alter the speed, set up the solo, and always end up in the choruses that are built to start circle pits that will tear down a venue.

ADVERSOR is an Italian band, and admittedly, I don’t know much about them. So, I’m not sure who is writing the riffs for this band, but whoever it is, they can riff their fucking balls off. The beauty of it is that the most basic rule of songwriting is so perfectly on display. Music is a conversation. The beginning of the section, riff, meter, whatever, poses the question. And the second half answers it. So in all the whirlwind of speed and shreddage, the finishes to these riffs are chosen with great care. The writer never just picks ugly chords to end on, and none of them are interchangeable. The finishing chords and accents are always twinged with the slightest touch of melody, which adds beautiful angst, fury, rage, resolution and determination to these songs.

Every number rips out of its cage like the perfect fighting creation, set on its combinations and attacks that differ just the right amount from the last. Every song pulling you in just a little differently than the previous. This album NEVER loses momentum. It never loses focus. It never stumbles or falls. Its grip never weakens. It may shift or twist, but it never weakens.

Even in the mid-album, which many bands struggle with, it never loses its stride or power. It takes a tangible approach with a gritty little acoustic guitar solo ‘ . . . ON DEATH AND DYING . . . ‘ to simply reset, and the second half of the album continues on with the same precision, heat and determination as the first half. Culminating in my favorite track with ‘POISONED LYMPH’ which gallops out in the chorus like a goddamn horse of war: silent at first for the scream of ‘RETURNING NOW TO TAKE OUT OUR REVENGE!!’ then taking the battle field in powerful accented wallops: ‘TO! THE! ROOTS!! . . . ROAD! TO! HELL!! . . . THROUGH! YOUR! VEINS!! POISONED LYMPH!!’ repeated over and over so can’t help but hammer along. And if that isn’t enough to make you want to join a legendary 80s circle pit, the absolute hurricane run of ‘ETERNAL DAMNED,’ and ‘MUSEUM OF SUFFERING’ tears out like a dinosaur in heat. The kind of run that would make SLAYER jealous, and not because of the sheer raw and primal intensity, but because ADVERSOR never sacrifices songwriting in order to achieve it.

The only small criticism . . . The only thing that keeps this album from being a perfect showcase of thrash/speed metal . . . This band needs a Dave Mustaine on lead. The solos are adequate, and they do showcase proper vision. They never harm the songs, nor do they let them down. But . . . in being adequate, they are only that. Adequate. The lead guitar never quite unleashes like the percussion, the riffs and the vocals do. But, to be honest, that may make the solos stand out just a bit more. In an ocean of endless arpeggios, ascending and descending double time scales, more dialed down leads give the song a little bit of silky movement, which makes the solos easy to get in and out of. So, in reflection, it serves the songs just fine, but for the more hardcore speedsters among you, you may find yourselves just a bit wanting when that lead comes and goes. But, for me, the album still soars, slaughters, bulldozes . . . pick your brutal term, but they all fit. And in the album ender, ‘CULT OF APOCALYPSE,’ it brings the album to a great benediction shout ‘THE CULT OF APOCALYPSE!!’ in time with the rolling chords, the driving double bass and galloping snare. All driving off into the ravine where the song, and the album, crashes into nuclear explosion like the epic close of any live show. This album epitomizes, to me, TENACIOUS D’S ‘THE METAL.’ . . . “No one can destroy the metal. The metal will knock you down with a vicious blow.”

FIRST SCORE: 92

SECOND SCORE: 97

FINAL SCORE: 94.5

Peace, love and brotherhood.

John Huber (SKELETON ROSE MEDIA)