For the first time since starting the Rock Sins End Of Year Awards several years ago, we’re welcoming a few special guest contributors to the awards. Our first special guest is our longtime friend, Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine and WhatCulture scribe Matt Mills. Take it away Matt!
Album of the Year: Zeal & Ardor – Stranger Fruit
There is nothing on Earth comparable to Zeal & Ardor. The one-man venture of Manuel Gagneux has, in just 24 months, gone from being a 4chan-inspired in-joke lingering in the underbelly of Bandcamp to an internationally acclaimed tour-de-force. And this isn’t because of any gimmick or a music video happening to go viral; it is simply a result of wholly original music. The project fuses the dark and exotic melodies of African-American slave music with the dissonant power of extreme metal. It’s a melancholic mixture that doesn’t sound like it should work, yet absolutely does, as epitomised by their sophomore album, Stranger Fruit. On anthems like “Don’t You Dare” and “Gravedigger’s Chant”, the ominous nihilism of olden spirituals gives way to the climax of raging riffs and agonised wails. At times catchy and at others unsettling, Stranger Fruit is a wonderfully unique journey.
Haken – Vector
Ihsahn – Àmr
Psycroptic – As the Kingdom Drowns
Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs
Song of the Year: Orphaned Land – “The Cave”
Orphaned Land’s Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs is a masterpiece that was five years in the making, and worth every second of that wait. It deserves to be a regular on many an end-of-year list in 2018, as it shone with its progressive metal backbone being expanded upon by Middle Eastern instrumentation and Islamic chanting. “The Cave” opens up this hour-long magnum opus of an album, ensuring that Unsung Prophets… begins on the strongest foot possible, with eight minutes of unpredictable magnificence. The lengthy track boasts a plethora of dynamics and emotional tones, wasting no time as it runs the gamut from heavy to beautiful to insightful. Kobi Farhi’s performance is nothing short of breath-taking: the singer emulates the sound of wailing mosques as his lyrics tell of Plato’s famous allegory of the cave (it’s too complex to detail here, but Google it; it’s fascinating).
Rolo Tomassi – “The Hollow Hour”
Ithaca – “The Language of Injury”
Exploring Birdsong – “The Downpour”
Slugdge – “The Spectral Burrows”
Gig of the Year: Ihsahn & Ne Obliviscaris – La Machine du Moulin Rouge, Paris, 5/11/2018
Heading off on a long weekend to Paris to cover Ihsahn’s European tour for Prog magazine was a life- and career-affirming concept. And it was only made better by the fact that the Norwegian hero and his support, Ne Obliviscaris, floored the Moulin Rouge’s La Machine nightclub with their progressive intensity. The Australian openers made for a perfect warm-up, with the consistent ferocity of death metal gaining originality anew from diverse instrumentation, mathematical wondrousness and back-and-forth singing from duelling frontmen. However, they would soon pale in comparison to the headliner. Ihsahn wore his diversity on his sleeve from the very get-go: the electronics of “Lend Me the Eyes of Millenia” gave way to the black metal bang of “Arcana Imperii”. “Celestial Violence” made for an epic and emotional highlight, before the raging riffs of “Frozen Lakes on Mars” sent France home happy. As far as pure excitement, unpredictability and aura, no other show lived up to this.
Trivium, Code Orange, Power Trip & Venom Prison – O2 Academy, Brixton, London, 21/4/2018
Holding Absence, Loathe & I, the Mapmaker – The Anvil, Bournemouth, 9/3/2018
Caligula’s Horse, Circles & I Built the Sky – Boston Music Rooms, London, 1/11/2018
Skindred & CKY – O2 Guildhall, Southampton, 20/4/2018
Festival Performance of the Year: Gojira – Bloodstock Open Air
In its latest outing, Bloodstock possessed a stacked bill of heavy metal favourites playing alongside the genre’s most promising up-and-comers. Headlined by Judas Priest, Gojira and Nightwish, this year’s incarnation provided many of the best UK festival sets of 2018. For Saturday’s Gojira, it was a make-or-break affair. Nowhere near as well-versed in main-event slots of this scale as Priest and Nightwish, they were the wildcard, with everything to prove. Happily, however, they gave easily the best show of the weekend once they got up on the Ronnie James Dio stage. From opening death metal anthem “Only Pain” through to the grooving encore “Vacuity”, the progressive Frenchmen obliterated expectations. The ante of their always-intense set was upped by a new visual element: paintings by band founders Joe and Mario Duplantier were projected proudly to give new life to the pure emotion of “The Gift of Guilt” and the skull-crushing breakdowns of “Backbone”.
Loathe – Download Festival/Holloween
At the Gates – Bloodstock Open Air
Emperor – Bloodstock Open Air
Skindred – Reading + Leeds
Favourite New Band/Musical Discovery of 2018: The Fever 333
At the end of 2017, The Fever 333 were hip-hop/hardcore upstarts with only a few singles to their name. At the end of 2018, The Fever 333 are unstoppable: they’ve signed with Roadrunner Records, released an acclaimed debut EP, appeared in such pop-cultural spheres as the WWE, headlined awards shows, supported Bring Me the Horizon on tour ad announced a debut album. This has been their first full calendar year as a band, and it would be impossible to ask for any better! 2018 has seen Jason Aalon Butler and co. prove themselves as this generation’s Rage Against the Machine, using anarchic rapcore tracks like “Made an America” to tackle corruption, extortion and inherent racism in the US. They even donate 3.33% of their concert profits to charities. There is nothing not to love about The Fever 333 and, given their accomplishments, the fact that the band is so new feels ridiculous.
Music Video of the Year: Childish Gambino – “This Is America”
Variety is the spice of life, so let’s take a short detour away from rock ‘n’ roll to acknowledge the genius of Donald Glover, AKA Childish Gambino. On 5th May, the actor/comedian/musician broke the internet when the video for “This Is America” dropped. One half peppy Afrobeat and the other half dingy, grimy trap, the song itself is a masterclass in testing the boundaries of contemporary hip-hop. However, “This Is America”’s magnificence was outshone by its visual accompaniment. Read by many as a commentary on racism and mass shootings in the USA, the music video features Glover dancing his way through a warehouse, where hellish scenes unfold. Riots and burning cars are all commonplace, with Glover himself casually gunning down black people between dance moves. It’s a video so profound, topical and well-shot that many an essay has been written about it – very deservedly so.
Behemoth – “God = Dog”
Alien Weaponry – “Kai Tangata”
Jonathan Davis – “Basic Needs”
Ghost – “Dance Macabre”
Most Disappointing Album of the Year: Dimmu Borgir – Eonian
Eight years. Dimmu Borgir took eight years to release Eonian. In the past, the blackened symphonic favourites have been responsible for such genre-defining albums as Enthrone Darkness Triumphant and Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia, which complemented metallic bleakness with bombastic and ominous orchestras. And, credit where it’s due, Eonian is as symphonic and grandiose as the day is long, but the album lacks any dirt under its fingernails. Instead of extreme metal and orchestral might working in tandem, the latter dominates the mix, drowning out any grit or heaviness that could be found here. Thus, Eonian is tonally flat and monotonous, feeling far too happy-go-lucky and – at 55 minutes in length – incredibly boring. Admittedly, there are glimmers of hope in more concise tracks like “Interdimensional Summit”, making Eonian not quite the worst thing to grace metalheads’ ears in 2018. But as a successor nearly a decade in the making? What a disappointment.
Sulaco – The Prize
Shining – Animal
Mask of Judas – The Mesmerist
Downpour – Downpour
Band of the Year: Rolo Tomassi
Rolo Tomassi played two headlining London shows this year: one in April and the other in November. Their first took place at the 600-capacity Garage. Their second was at Scala, which can easily accommodate twice as many people. Such is the scale of Rolo’s rise in popularity over the past twelve months. And there’s little wonder as to why: their latest album, March’s Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It, is easily their best to date. It transforms immense feelings of grief and pain into guttural yet gorgeous hardcore. As abrasive as it is enchanting, its integrations of metal, melodic rock and even pop into the genre are all more than welcome, making for some bizarrely accessible aural fury. For breaking glass ceilings, turning sadness into triumph on Time Will Die… and touring regularly all year, Rolo Tomassi have to be one of metal’s most exemplary bands of 2018.
Most Shocking Moment of the Year: Slayer announce their break-up and farewell tour
At the very start of 2018, the rumour mill was working overtime as it looked like Slayer were about to embark on the most immense of US tours. The Santander Arena in Reading, Pennsylvania, leaked that the thrash icons would be playing there in June with Lamb of God, Anthrax, Testament and Behemoth. Everyone was stoked for this gigantic trek, but the news that soon followed transformed that elation into bitter-sweetness. Yes, Slayer were getting ready for the mother of all tours. But it would also be the first stint of a farewell run, with the band intending to call it quits in 2019. Cue lots of heartbreak. Slayer are, obviously, one of the greatest and most influential acts in heavy metal history. Imagining a world without these men making music is daunting, yet fans should be reassured knowing that their heroes are going out with one hell of a bang.
As I Lay Dying’s classic line-up reforms
Sleep Token’s first headline show sells out in thirty seconds
The Devin Townsend Project go on hiatus
Tool are added to Download Festival 2019 (their first UK performance in twelve years)
A huge thank you to Matt for taking part in our end of year awards and we hope he will do so again next year (no pressure Matt :D). You can also check out the other End Of Year Awards from our other writers that have already been published below:
Sam Savigny’s 2018 Rock Sins End Of Year Awards
Sam Dignon’s 2018 Rock Sins End Of Year Awards