Best of 2018 - Sam Houlden's Picks (Cover Artwork)

Best of 2018

Sam Houlden's Picks (2018)

Staff Picks

So here’s my list - it’s what I’ve dug most this year, not what I’ve thought is objectively best, don’t give me any sh*t about inconsistencies, etc. Some records have fared better than others over the last 12 months and this list represents how these records have been to live with, how much I’ve obsessed over them and how some of them have aged well - or not. So yeah. Here we go.

My Favourite Records of 2018

20. A Perfect Circle: Eat The Elephant


Just scraping it into the list is this bizarre, occasionally ludicrous, frequently pompous experiment in progressive rock music. I'm simultaneously seduced and frustrated by Maynard James Keenan, as I'm sure is true of a lot of people. But it's less his vocal performance on this that is so alluring as the musical canvas. It's an odd thing to say on a record featuring Maynard, but I could equally listen to this as an instrumental album in the case of most of the songs and I think that's maybe why I've found myself listening to it so much in spite of myself. It's inveigled its way into my psyche in spite of me preparing to dislike it and for that, I have to concede that APC have made an album full of surprises and ambition that hits a lot more than it misses.

19. Architects: Holy Hell

Epitaph Records

The fact that Architects have managed to put out an album at all probably needs to be praised when you consider the circumstances, but to have put together something so technically complex, melodically strong and simultaneously triumphant in the face of such adversity is extraordinary. On top of that, to consider that this initially insular tech metal band are now playing to stadiums, then you have one of the most unlikely success stories in modern rock music ' but one of the most well-deserved. Death is evidently not defeat.

18. Spanish Love Songs: Schmaltz

A-F Records

It's by no means a bad thing to be compared to the Menzingers, but it doesn't tell you enough about SLS, because they're an incredible band in their own right. It's just that they occupy much the same space in my head, albeit SLS have always played second fiddle to Scranton's finest. On this record though, if it weren't for the absolutely world class level of quality on After The Party, then I'd say the 2 were pretty much on a level playing field. The fact that the quality seems to be increasing with each release makes me so very happy and excited for the future ' remember, this is a band who have only existed for 4 years! A collection of earnest, lovelorn, catchy punk songs that for some reason are just impossibly easy to connect with in the hands of Dylan Slocum and co.

17. Behemoth: I Loved You At Your Darkest

Metal Blade Records

How do you follow up a record like The Satanist? Well, in Behemoth's case, by not really trying to make a follow up, per se. Nergal has described ILYAYD as their 'rock 'n' roll record', which might seem implausible given the nature of Behemoth's music and subject matter, but you know what? When you listen to it, it makes sense. There are solos on this that sound like they could have been played by Angus Young, there are picked, spacious intros, the production is glossy... all in all, it's a very listenable album believe it or not. Sure, it's still lyrically a tirade of blasphemous, anti-religious vitriol, but I kind of like that too.

16. YOB: Our Raw Heart

Relapse Records

I wasn't a YOB fan prior to hearing this record, which is maybe surprising given my appreciation of doom/stoner rock. All the same, a 6-song, 73-minute album can be a daunting prospect. As I listened and prepared to review the record, I did some back catalogue listening, read more about Mike Sheidt and more importantly the backdrop of the writing and recording of this record. When you're armed with that information and really listen to the record's stages; its patient and intoxicating approach to melody, it can be an incredibly uplifting experience. Not something that you would associate doom with (by definition), but this isn't just any doom record. It's something a bit special.

15. Cancer Bats: The Spark That Moves

Bat Skull/new damage

What a way to announce your return to form. Releasing an album that even though it was surprise dropped on the same day as Sleep's The Sciences, had the alternative music community almost universally elated. In a world where almost everything has turned to sh*t, it's incredibly stirring to hear Liam Cormier screaming his way through one of the most positive collection of punk ragers ever to be committed to a single disc. As with CB at their best, shades of punk, hardcore, Southern metal, all served up with a massive side order of good vibes. Killer.

14. High on Fire: Electric Messiah

entertainment one music

I was always going to like this record, I think it's fair to say. I've been a huge fan of HoF since I first saw them at an ATP festival in December of 2005 and to my ears, their current run of albums is producing their best quality work since Blessed Black Wings. Not everything on this record is to that level, but it does the 2 things I love from HoF ' specifically, the shorter, straight-up ragers ('Electric Messiah', 'Spewn From The Earth', etc) and the super-doomy stoner concept pieces as well ('Steps Of The Ziggurat/House Of Enil', 'Sanctioned Annihilation'). Here's to many more years of this stuff. Assuming Matt doesn't have to have any more body parts amputated, of course.

13. Anaal Nathrakh: A New Kind Of Horror

Metal Blade Records

It's a neo-black metal, EDM-infused concept album, made by a Bristolian duo, based loosely around the first world war. Now, are you honestly going to tell me you're not interested in that? It sounds utterly ludicrous ' and it is. It's stupidly heavy and at times completely inaccessible to a lot of people I'd have thought, but my god is it a fun ride. As heavy as it is, there are some of the most extraordinary hooks on this record as well. For example, in 'Forward', they use the percussive sound of a rifle being reloaded as part of the main hook. Come on. Yes, it's mad, but that's where its charm lies as well.

12. Clutch: Book Of Bad Decisions

Weathermaker Music

Some people argue this is a mediocre Clutch record and although I accept it's not Blast Tyrant, that's ok with me. This version of Clutch (super blues/funk) is something I really enjoy in them as a band. And everything you could ask for from a Clutch album is still there to a greater or lesser degree ' Neil Fallon being a total badass, mammoth-sized riffs and just a huge f*ck-off serving of fun. I'm still listening to this a lot and suspect that will be the case for years to come.

11. Turnstile: Time & Space

Roadrunner Records

I honestly couldn't imagine Turnstile making a record that I don't like at this point. It's not like they've got a vast back catalogue under their belts, it's just that what they do, they do so well. Also, their genre-hopping approach means that they don't sound like anyone else and their live show is absolutely killer as well. Cover of Kerrang magazine, appearances at a broad spectrum of festivals/events whilst still maintaining their NYHC credibility would be impossible for almost any band, but it seems there's little Turnstile aren't capable of.

10. Vreid: Lifehunger

Season of Mist

The amount of strut and swagger in this record is brilliant. Norwegian black metal infused with real rock 'n' roll aesthetic and posturing. Black 'n' roll at its finest. Given that this is their 7th record as well, it's always cool to hear a band so deep into their career still with originality and fire in their bellies. The Latin guitars that crop up throughout, along with the regular changes of pace mean that the record's 38 minutes zip by in what feels like half the time.

9. Basement: Beside Myself

Fueled By Ramen Records

This record turned up at a point in the year where I'd be listening to almost exclusively metal (not by design) for a month or so ' and made me realise exactly what I'd been missing. The pacing, the production, the vocal lines are just so undeniably pleasing that it took over my life for about a week. As someone who was a big fan of Colour Me In Kindness but less so the last record, I couldn't be happier to see Basement absolutely smash through the level of quality I was always hoping they'd reach again. 12 tracks and 39 minutes of pure enjoyment.

8. The Dirty Nil: Master Volume

Dine Alone Records

I really liked the first album (Higher Power), but this somehow just feels much more of a complete work. There's maybe a more 'rock' feel to this record, but that's largely down to song structure and pacing as opposed to the manner in which the songs are delivered. And the songs themselves are f*cking brilliant ' definite contender for best album opener of the year in 'That's what Heaven Feels Like' for a start, but 'Pain Of Infinity' and 'I Don't Want That Phone Call' are equally impressive in terms of songwriting. Have a few cans, stick this on and have a lovely old time.

7. Settle Your Scores: Better Luck Tomorrow

Nuclear Blast

Well here's one I didn't see coming. I bloody love this record. It's heavy pop punk as it should be. Breakdowns, vocal hooks galore, sloganeering and loads of pace throughout. Hasn't failed to put a smile on my face a single time since it came out and it regularly features in my headphones/car/speakers when I'm driving, running, working... it just ticks all the boxes without taking itself too seriously. I liked it when I first heard it and like it more with every listen, which is surprising for something of this ilk. Unfashionable music made to the highest standard.

6. Hot Mulligan: Pilot

No Sleep Records

This is maybe a bit more... youthful than a lot of the music I listen to, but I think it's the energy and gleefully wry approach to these songs that makes it incredibly compelling. At one point I was listening to this album a couple of times a day and it's not been out of my ears for more than a few days at a time since it came out in March. Where some music of this ilk can feel a bit disposable, the strength of the hooks in this has kept me coming back and enjoying it almost all year. Joyful stuff.

5. Skeletonwitch: Devouring Radiant Light

Prosthetic Records

Yup. More black metal. Blackened thrash, maybe. But this is grand-scale, diverse stuff. Organs, dual lead guitars, myriad time changes and just a perfect encapsulation of the sensations that I want from black metal. It also has a slightly rock 'n' roll approach in places (the solos, especially), which makes it feel quite self-aware while still showing the necessary reverence to the place it comes from (necessary for an American black metal band if any sort of acceptance by the wider black metal community is sought... ).

4. Black Peaks: All That Divides

Rise Records

Ah, Black Peaks. A band who have been quietly becoming world class for a few years now. Difficult second album? Not for these guys. With comparisons being drawn to SOAD, Deftones, Mastodon and even Tool, if the quality wasn't so high, this could have been hard to listen to. However, as it is, it's a superb example of how heavy rock, hardcore and prog can be melded together to produce something intelligent, challenging and ultimately fascinating to listen to. The fact that it does it whilst also being crushingly heavy when it wants and incredibly delicate when it needs to be is testament to the band's ability as musicians and songwriters.

3. Nervus: Everything Dies

big scary monsters

I'm not sure I've enjoyed a straight-down-the-line punk record as much as this for a while. Em's ability to frame her subject matter in such accessible turns of phrase makes this an album you can pick up at pretty much any time and you'll enjoy yourself with it whatever mood you were in when you pressed play. Consistent, concise and just a textbook lesson in songwriting.

2. MØL: Jord

holy roar records

This was my No.1 pick until Deafheaven turned up in July. Theoretically, a similar album to Deafheaven, but done in a completely different style. The combinations of glistening, shimmering, cinematic passages and the brutalism of the more traditional black metal elements makes for a truly exhilarating listen. The fact that this is also the band's first full-length is completely staggering and makes me utterly ravenous for what comes next from them. I also saw them in a 200-capacity venue, broke my hand in the excitement and even that couldn't put me off them. At all.

1. Deafheaven: Ordinary Corrupt Human Love

Anti- Records

I just cannot conceive of a time when I won't listen to this record. The first 3 songs (which make up 30 mins of music, remember) are just about the most perfect distillation of blackened shoegaze that anyone could ever ask for. The amount of emotion infused into the actual music is extraordinary as well. An absolute masterpiece.

So a year that threw up a lot of surprises for me. Turns out I’m way more into black metal than I thought. Maybe only one ‘10’ in the list for me, but a whole heap of 9’s. A good year with a bunch of new bands for me to be excited about in 2019 and beyond. Cool.