Not that long ago, in the year 2018: it was a dark time for the rebellion. Generals gathering their black masses on all sides of music fandom, while crowded the field of contenders led by an astronomical number of albums unlistenable, but some really great ones emerged. Meanwhile, fighting the good fight for bands and fans, the alliance of Ghost Cult and their intrepid staff worldwide was at the ready, week in and week out. Shoutout to our team for their votes in our Album Of the Year list parts one, two, and three, and for their verbiage. Thanks to our Senior Editor Steve Tovey who compiled them all and contributed to these wrap-ups, and to you, our readers. You rule!
5. ALICE IN CHAINS – Rainier Fog (BMG)
“This sixth album of grungy (but not entirely grunge) tunes – their third with singer William Duvall, Rainier Fog (BMG) is probably the most personal album that Alice in Chains has made since Dirt. Named after the mountain close to their Seattle hometown ,and recorded at Studio X, the same location where the band recorded their 1995 self-titled album, (their last with Staley) this is a record that has the band actively questioning their own demons, occasionally not liking what they see in the mirror (real or metaphoric). Notwithstanding, across this album, the overwhelming feelings are of catharsis and defiance: through using the personal as universal, the band has fashioned a record of resonance and heft; they sound utterly vital.” Review here
4. BOSS KELOID – Melted On The Inch (Holy Roar)
“The band themselves describe Melted… as “more” in every aspect: “more progressive, more uplifting, more melancholic… heavier, more delicate, it has more beauty, it has more darkness.” And this is a spot on assessment. There’s a lot of experimentation going on; interesting time-signatures, jazzy segues, and layers of instrumentation that you don’t expect. The change in style takes a while to take in, and repeated listens are required… A weird beast of a record, but a beast nonetheless.” Review here
3. BEHEMOTH – I Loved You At Your Darkest (Metal Blade/Nuclear Blast)
“And it certainly does meet the standard, but it goes about it in the least expected of ways. And while there is more than enough pummel, brimstone, Satanic imagery and blast beats to go around, I Loved You At Your Darkest’s focus is to explore new musical terrain. In addition to the mayhem there’s now an abundance of acoustic guitars (see ‘Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica’), choirs and melodic hooks (‘Sabbath Mater’). What I’m saying is that this just might be Behemoth’s ‘Black Album'”. Review here
2. JUDAS PRIEST – Firepower (Epic)
With eighteen studio albums and almost fifty years under their bullet belts, Judas Priest, alongside Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, have managed to become a household name even in houses where the occupants haven’t even heard of Heavy Metal. Their legacy is inarguable. In fact, there is so little left to say about the band that hasn’t already been documented in some way over the last four (now virtually five) decades, that all you really need to know is this: They’re Judas fucking Priest.
Firepower is a monster. A colossal metallic robot capable of crushing cities underfoot, paratamizing and vaporapeizing everything before it out of existence. For those of you who were less than whelmed by 2008’s ambitious but overblown Nostradamus(Epic) or 2014’s Redeemer of Souls (Epic/Columbia), then fear not. The Priest are back. And then some. Review here
1. GHOST – PREQUELLE (Spinefarm)
While it wasn’t a foregone conclusion, Ghost has been telegraphing Prequelle’s (Loma Vista) greatness for several years. First, they predicted this arc in our interview with the band, back in 2013. Directly after releasing their previous high peak in Ghost Cult’s 2015 AOTY, Meliora, they released the Square Hammer single in 2016, also produced by Prequelle’s brilliant helmsman Tom Dalegety. With its 1980s synth, catchy hooks and blistering riff, this track was the bedrock the new album was built on. After the hype train left the station last year with news of the album that would become Prequelle, you knew equal numbers of stans and trve grim bastids were lining up to kiss/kill this band that has blossomed into a pop culture phenomenon. Ghost never actually labeled themselves doom, kvlt, stoner rock, or trad heavy metal in the first place. So just let Ghost be themselves and get over yourselves. Haters, you may now see yourselves out, because we know this is your station stop and if you’ve read this far, you have our respect.
Ghost not only won our writers poll this year but did so by the widest margin ever. That’s pretty crazy since we have a diverse, global team of writers compared to most music sites. Maybe the most impressive and dangerous thing about Ghost is still the idea of Ghost. In a fun-house mirror mockery of our religious leaders and really all in the cult of personality Ghost uses the nurturing loving trust of music and a welcoming fan culture of inclusiveness to spread the good word of Satan. As our scribe Gary Alcock brilliantly wrote in his review of Prequelle:
Just ask yourself, if you wanted to spread the word of Satan to the widest possible audience, which would be the best way to do it? Screaming and bellowing unintelligible utterances against headache-inducing blast-beats, or doing it quietly, melodically and insidiously, so people with no real knowledge of the content can unexpectedly find themselves happily singing along to tunes containing sacrilegious lyrics about the church, human sacrifice, and the cloven-hoofed goaty one?
Not unlike past heroes Danzig, Ronnie James Dio, Jinx Dawson, Alice Cooper or Geezer Butler‘s appreciation of the dark ages philosophy regarding the nature of good, evil and the great Satan, Ghost’s songs explore the real nuts and bolts of faith and the consequences for the mistakenly faithful in a far more intellectual, real and terrifying way than any blasphemous black metal or death metal band could do. What if your blind faith in these systems is your downfall? What if you could have eternal life? The recurring symbolism of the plague, plague rats, damnation, and the rejection of salvation in a world of heinous holier than thou phonies not only holds up a mirror to 2018 but connects deeply with the listener in a timeless way.
Then there is the music. Whether via necessity of the dismissal of the former cadre of Nameless Ghouls or not, Prequelle is Tobias Forge’s undeniable singular vision defined in the most realized way to date. Heavy, groovy, sexy, and evil through forty-plus minutes of musical joy. Crushing riffs, flashy metal licks, throbbing bass, orchestral strings and choirs, breathtaking classical piano, four-on-the-floor beats, and catchy hooks galore. Not to mention Cardinal Copia’s dynamic singing performance. All with a bombast and character not far from heroes like Led Zeppelin or Queen. ‘Rats’ and ‘Dance Macabre’ are stellar, hook-laden rock jams to be sure. But the entire album has a character and depth like a classic concept album. From the major jams of ‘Faith’ and ‘Witch Image’, to the incredible instrumental of ‘Miasma’, track after track holds up on repeat listens. Did you miss Mikael Akerfeldt’s Damnation-style classic guitar on ‘Helvetesfönster’? We bet you did. The overwhelming dynamics and ear-worms on ‘See The Light’ and so much more. Prequelle is the kitchen sink of well written, but even better-executed material. If it was a just world, tracks like ‘Pro Memoria’ and ‘Life Eternal’ would make it to actual pop radio, infesting the zeitgeist beyond mere rock and metal fans.
Like all the best albums, it doesn’t linger in spite of an on the nose intro and two instrumentals but leaves you wanting more, yet still satisfies. It’s very rare for a band to achieve mass popularity and still keep its artistic integrity up high. Improbably, Ghost has done it and seems poised to continue to scale new heights. Review here