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2018-12-07

MUSIC 2018: top albums and concerts



And here's the annually impossible task again... You know the drill: These are my personal favorites of 2018, chosen only among albums I own in some form.

So there's absolutely zero sense in complaining about Beyoncé missing, because I didn't fucking buy the new Beyoncé album (and also that new Beyoncé album doesn't even exist, but you get my point).

Who knows how I will read this ranking in a couple of years? Especially since I seldom included so many album I bought so shortly before I finished this. And also there's so much good stuff out there, if I had bought only half of the releases which are still on several of my digital and cerebral wish lists, all this would possibly look significantly different.

In the end this is all about celebrating and recommending good stuff that came out or happened this year. So please don't care too much about the numbers on the left! Everything featured here is great in my book.

Below the albums are two concert rankings, one for club/solo shows, the other for festival appearances.

My favorite EPs and other stuff will follow shortly in another post!






ALBUM TOP 24:



  1. VOIVOD - The Wake

    After the "Post Society" EP it was a safe given that the new Voivod album would be great. But how incredible great it actually turned out to be was "way beyond, way beyond, way beyond all speculations" (to quote from the track "Event Horizon"). "The Wake" embraces almost all the strengths of Voivod's diverse, now thirty-five years old history, but it doesn't rely on nostalgia. Instead it still expands the band's innovative sound to create something really fresh and exciting.
    Voivod have already created some of the greatest metal (and beyond) albums of all time ages ago. "The Wake" looks strong beside any of them. A phenomenal addictive prog thrash fusion concept masterpiece.
     
     
  2. ANNA VON HAUSSWOLFF - Dead Magic

    For half of the year this album was unrivaled contender for the top spot of this list. And even now it's as close as you can possibly imagine. If magic is really dead like its title suggests, then it went out with a cataclysmic bang. The drone of Anna von Hausswolff's pipe organ and the emotional pull of her mystical voice are both unfathomably vast. "Ugly And Vengeful" alone is like the whole living and dying, buildup and collapse of a civilization. Mighty and beautiful beyond words.

    [If you like this one, you should also check out DNMF's organ-heavy drone monolith "Smelter"!]
     
     
  3. YOB - Our Raw Heart

    Not enough enormous pure feelings yet? Yob has them all. From crushing devastation to uplifting hope the essential doom record of 2018 offers insight into all of the brutality and preciousness of the human condition. Reflecting upon Mike Scheidt's very own fight against death and literally (he had to learn to sing again) finding him with a new, at times unbelievably gut-wrenching voice, "Our Raw Heart" more than fulfils the promise of its title.

        
  4. MYTHIC SUNSHIP - Another Shape Of Psychedelic Music

    Talking about promising album titles (and cover artworks): Conjuring Ornette Coleman's 1959 game changer "The Shape Of Jazz To Come"  like Mythic Sunship are doing it here is a pretty damn bold statement. But the former trio which largened itself to a saxophone and guitar fronted quintet has all the right reasons to be bold. Only after a few minutes in you know that this instrumental double album is not only an overwhelming ecstatic ride, but indeed an instant jazz fusion / stoner / psychedelic rock classic.
     
      

  5. Take a legendary female choir with unique vocal techniques, pair it with Dead Can Dance's Lisa Gerrard, back them up with first class folk musicians and a beatboxer, let them interpret new arrangements of traditional Bulgarian tunes... and then just feast on your own amazement. What a different, vivid, magical piece of world music!
      
      

  6. WREKMEISTER HARMONIES - The Alone Rush

    You want it darker? JR Robinson and Esther Shaw aka Wrekmeister Harmonies will surely help you with this bleak, existentially nightmarish work. Flowing from haunting Nick Cave / Michael Gira style singer/songwriter sensibilities to apocalyptic no wave (or free jazz?) noises "The Alone Rush" smothers almost all traces of light. "Forgive Yourself And Let Go" - but don't expect this droning chunk of depression to help you!
        
      
  7. ZEAL AND ARDOR - Stranger Fruit

    On his first full-length with Zeal & Ardor Manuel Gagneux gets serious and matures all the elements of his unique genre cocktail of black metal, gospel, blues, industrial, indie, soul, thrash metal and whatnot into a stunning collection of catchy rebellious tunes. "Stranger Fruit" connects his alternative history of satanic slave upheaval with the ongoing racial and social struggles of our time.
     
      
  8. KAMASI WASHINGTON - Heaven And Earth

    Tenor saxophonist / composer / Coltrane worshipper / personified jazz hype Kamasi Washington has done it again and proven himself to be the reigning maximalism colossus: His second full length album comes on a whopping five (5!) LPs including the "secret" bonus album "The Choice". Yet again Kamasi and his fabulous crew - all having grown as individual instrumentalists -, accompanied by strings and choir, embark on an extraordinary epic, action-packed spiritual journey.
      

  9. INSECT ARK - Marrow Hymns

    Minimalistic experimental instrumental doom with a strong Earth influence, mainly performed on bass / lap steel guitar and drums. From ambient and drone soundscapes to snarling parts reminiscent of Godflesh - it's amazing how the seemingly sparse arrangements of this duo open endless spaces of imagination.

    [Naturally I also have to highly recommend Dylan Carlson's even more stripped down solo work "Conquistador" here!]    


  10. WANG WEN - Invisible City

    China's finest never cease to impress. Once again packed in a spectacularly designed sleeve, yet even improving upon the already more than convincing production of the predecessor, (mostly) instrumental post rockers Wang Wen maintain the familiar elements of their sound - especially the signature majestic trumpet and horn parts -, but still put many new exciting twists and turns on it.
      
     
  11. MOURNFUL CONGREGATION - The Incubus Of Karma 
     
    I've said it in my review and I'll say it again: An album which has a song titled "A Picture Of The Devouring Gloom Devouring The Spheres Of Being" on it, has already won in my book. But also beyond this indisputable fact "The Incubus Of Karma" offers one of the most majestic takes on what ultra-slow funeral doom can be. Those ever-increasing lead guitar harmonies alone would make it worthwhile to bathe in the sadness of this masterpiece.

    [A somehow similar feeling, yet not in a funeral doom but death metal context can be found on "Ossuarium Silhoettes Unhallowed" by Hooded Menace.]
     
      
  12.  ESBEN AND THE WITCH - Nowhere  

    Gothic post punk trio Esben And The Witch, fronted by bassist and captivaing, beautifully desperate vocalist Rachel Davies, seems to pick up right where it left on last year's "Live At Roadburn" record. There is "Nowhere" to hide from the bleak emotional truth nor to escape the dark melancholic undertow of this wonderfully raw album.
        
      
  13. THE THING WITH FIVE EYES - Noirabesque
     

    Meandering ambient landscapes and chirring electronic noises. Rhythmic experimentations. Orchestral film score and intimate chamber music arrangements. World music. Oriental flutes and percussions. The mystical voice of Laila Bounous. A yearning trumpet. Doomjazz. Jason Köhnen taps into countless primal, universally touching wells to form a gigantic musical narration. Mythic escapism masterclass.
     
     
  14. VODUN - Ascend

    Vodun are genre-bending fighters for equality, peace and ass-kicking explosive rock. Merging influences from stoner, sludge, psych, tribal, soul, prog, indie and thrash metal this tribe of powerhouse singer Oya, guitar wizard Marassa and never-enough-cowbell drummer Ogoun takes no prisoners. "Ascend" is a highly charismatic record with an urgent message and a strong afrofuturistic spirit. Just put this right next to Zeal & Ardor!   
      
     
  15. KIKAGAKU MOYO - Masana Temples  

    Many albums on this list have seriously great cover artworks, but this one in its bold original vividness is special even among the best of the bunch. Musically the newest work of the Japanese psychedelic kraut masters Kikagaku Moyo is a delicate colourful gem of the genre mixed with Far Eastern, Indian and jazzy elements. The musicianship, arrangements and production of "Masana Temples" are blissful perfection.

      

  16.  IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT - Vile Luxury
     
    Searching for the sickest, most advantgarde shit on this list? Look no further, because New York's Imperial Triumphant has got you covered. Extreme experimental jazz in a black metal disguise, completed with bar piano, a brass sextet and hellish descents into utter chaos. "Vile Luxury" is a disturbing and devastating maelstrom into glorious cacophony.
      
     
  17. SINISTRO - Sangue Cássia
      
    Heavy as the last night before the end of days and mesmerizing like the angelic image of your loved one in a dream, Sinistro swing the doom hammer right into the feels. The dramatically levitating, Fado-inspired Portuguese vocals of Patricia Andrade are still a wonderful singularity within the realm of metal, bringing this cinematic double album to perfection.

    [If you dig "Sangue Cássia" and death metal vocals, you should more than definitely also take a listen to "Támsins Likam" (that's Faroese) by
    Hamferð!]


  18. KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD - Gumboot Soup

    2017 saw King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard famously releasing five ambitious new albums. But since the physical version of the last one came out months after the digital release on December 31st, it really belongs on this year's list. Psychedelic, jazzy, funky, heavy, quirky, earwormy. "Gumboot Soup" is probably the most diverse work of the bunch - and my personal favorite alongside "Sketches From Brunswick East". Highly joyous entertainment.


  19. OCEANS OF SLUMBER - The Banished Heart  
     
    They did it again - and they doubled down on almost every aspect: more influences, but also more consistence. More epic melodies, more blasts, More death, doom and darkness. More emotion. Thanks to Cammie Gilberts stellar vocal performance "The Banished Heart" drills right into the heart. The title song is possible one of the most monumental love songs of all time - and pulls it off to make a calm piano solo passage the highlight of what ultimately still is a mostly brutal metal album. 
        
     

  20. BONG - Thought And Existence

    The meditative drone doom wizards from the home island of Stonehenge are finally back with a massive, ever increasing album. Or as I put it in my review: "It's a journey from the electric spark in your cortex to the edge of the redshift at the outer verges of the cosmos."

    [Extremely close to this in its monumentally elevating scope is the vinyl-only re-recording of Father Sky Mother Earth's self-titled debut.]
      
     
  21. RIVERS OF NIHIL - Where Owls Know My Name

    Progressive death metal with influences from all over the place and lovingly embraced guest intruments like trumpet, cello and most prominently saxophone. Rivers Of Nihil kick major ass - and they do it with style, originality and determination. "Where Owls Know My Name" offers a fresh take on the genre and is a flawless killer of an album.

    [If you you want the same amount of sheer death metal fun, but without all the fancy sax and prog and whatnot gimmicks, you can of course - as always - count on good old sick Autopsy with "Puncturing The Grotesque"]
      
     
  22. MALIA - Ripples (Echoes Of Dreams)
     
    One piano, a couple of strings - and a voice that is so smooth and soothing, so intimate and expressive. R'n'B / jazz pop singer Malia reimagines her whole album "Echoes Of Dreams" in a pure filterless form. Her take on the concept of stripping it down to the maximum is as obvious as it can be - but it's also that damn good.

    [Another incredible soulful voice which deserves to be honoured here and only barely didn't make the list is one which sadly became silent. Charles Bradley's posthumous "Black Velvet" thankfully is not a Christmas cash grab.]
     
      
  23. LUCIFER - Lucifer II
     
    So, appearantly there's a new queen of hard rock in town. And yes, I actually do give at least a little shit. Who would have thought that a couple of years ago? With a completely new crew (including Nicke Andersson, who played almost all instruments in the studio) Johanna Sadonis steered Lucifer into a less Black Sabbath, more Blue Öyster Cult direction on their sophomore album. I didn't ask for this, because I'm usually in favour of more doom, but hell, they really pulled it off.

     
      
  24. RMFTM & 10.000 RUSSOS - RMFTM & 10.000 Russos
      
    RMFTM aka Radar Men From The Moon are obviously a good partner when it comes to collaborative albums. Last year's joined work of the Dutch psych group with Gnod under the moniker Temple Ov BBV ended up being one of my favorite records of 2017. And now they have teamed up with their Portuguese labelmates 10.000 Russos to deliver yet another lesson in here pummeling, there hypnotic noise and drone.
     



But wait! No Laibach?


Yesterday I've received my CD copy of "The Sound Of Music" which is included in the Supreme Leader Edition Blu Ray of the documentary "Liberation Day" about Laibach's historical show in North Korea. And I'm still waiting for the vinyl which needs a seriously torturous time to ship here. Should have ordered that from Slovenia, too...

But well, what I was going to say is, that I have to draw a deadline at some point. I am absolutely positive, that "The Sound Of Music" would deserve a spot somewhere in the ranking, but beyond that I really cannot make up my mind yet.

The same goes for Toby Driver's incredible solo work "They Are the Shield", which I have only bought a couple of days ago. Supreme stuff, which probably belongs somewhere above, but it's just too late in the game now.

[Reviews for both albums still to come!]

And of course there also a couple of further artists like Sherpa who missed the list by a hair and (in their case) would at least have been featured in a similar-bands-footnote under Toby Driver.







SOLO / CLUB SHOW TOP 12:



  1. SUN RA ARKESTRA - Kampnagel, Hamburg

    Lead by 94-year young Marshall Allan and including several members who are already in the band since the 1950s the twelve-headed Arkestra embarked on a two-hour free jazz extravaganza that was just astonishing. An almost Magma-level live experience!
     
  2. LAIBACH - Kampnagel, Hamburg

    Presenting the "Also Sprach Zarathustra" album Laibach were in a significantly more primal, droning, theatrical and sinister mode than on previous tours. Laibach haben das Glück erfunden.
     
  3. ANNA VON HAUSSWOLFF - Kampnagel, Hamburg

    Colossal and all-encompassing like the movement of continental plates and as beautiful as a deadly volcano eruption caused by it. Am I being too dramatic? No, not for the mighty Anna von Hausswolff.
      
  4. VOIVOD - Logo, Hamburg
     
    I came to see Voivod and I ended up in a world of pain. Boy, that escalated brutally! Wildest metal concert of the year and one of my all-time favorite bands on top of their game. 


  5. Speaking of wild. Those Aussies are freaking insane, insane, insane, insane, insane, insane, insane, oh boy, insane. Fuck yeah! I think I just gizzed all over myself again.
       
  6. THE MYSTERY OF THE BULGARIAN VOICES feat. LISA GERRARD - Laeiszhalle, Hamburg

    And now for something completely... wonderful. Just as otherworldy as on this year's album (see above) the Bulgarian choir and Lisa Gerrard were something really unique and precious to behold.
      
  7. KIKAGAKU MOYO - Hafenklang, Hamburg
        
    Half a year after discovering them at their Roadburn shows (see list below), now with their new album "Masana Temples" (see list above) on heavy rotation, seeing Kikagaku Moyo on a small club stage was an even greater treat.
      
  8. YOB + WIEGEDOOD - Molotow, Hamburg

    Yob is love. And words cannot describe how much Mike Scheidt rules. The fabulous black metal inferno of Wiegedood did a great yob of completing the concert night.
     
  9. MOURNFUL CONGREGATION - Bambi Galore, Hamburg  
       
    This slow and grievous heaviness. And the grandeur of up to three lead guitars almost emulating a classical string terzet. Mournful Congregation are officially my favorite funeral doom live band besides Bell Witch now.  
      
  10. CARPENTER BRUT - Uebel & Gefährlich, Hamburg

    The boys were back in town and they brought the three big A's: aerobic, asses, axe murders. A synthwave party with all the glorious 80s clichés including glam metal and the dangers of hard rock and Satanism. Carpenter Brut fucking slayed.
     
  11. E-FORCE - Bambi Galore, Hamburg

    Parallel to the European tour of Voivod Eric Forrest, former bassist/vocalist on their 1990s albums "Negatron" and "Phobos", also played shows revisiting his Voivod stint. Heavy shit - and what an amazing sick voice!
      
  12. TOBY DRIVER - MS Stubnitz, Hamburg
      
    Despite it being a very exclusive show for a select crowd, Kayo Dot mastermind Toby Driver delivered the most mesmerizing advantgarde dream goth ambient chamber music imaginable.




FESTIVAL SHOW TOP 12:



  1. BELL WITCH - Roadburn Festival

    More than a thousand souls witnessed in respectful awe as Bell Witch and guest singer Erik Moggridge performed their 83-minute one-song funeral doom masterpiece "Mirror Reaper" in full. This was an experience for life, far beyond any regular concert.
    Leave it to Roadburn to not content with that alone, but also to put the icing on the cake with a second special show, where they performed those songs from their previous albums which also featured Moggridge on vocals.
     
  2. CULT OF LUNA & JULIE CHRISTMAS - Roadburn Festival

    "Put me down where I can see you run!" - I still get goosebumps when I think of that part. Being at one of those very rare "Mariner" was a privilege. Truly larger than life.
     
  3. WASTE OF SPACE ORCHESTRA - Roadburn Festival

    The two gigantic live forces Dark Buddha Rising and Oranssi Pazuzu together on one stage, performing a hypnotic black piece exclusively written just for this occasion. You can't even dream of epic shit like that.
     
  4. YAZZ AHMED - Überjazz Festival

    Trumpet / horn player Yazz Ahmed and her quartet performing their unique as complex as escapist mixture of microtonal arabic folk, traditional and modern jazz from her "La Saboteuse" album was an astonishing  trip into different worlds.
      
  5. ZOLA JESUS - Roadburn Festival 
     
    A "pop" artist at Roadburn? No worries, the dark electronic sounds and raw emotional power of Zola Jesus were far from being a danger to the integrity of the festival. On the contrary this was a show the attendees as well as the artist herself will surely remember for a long time as something very special. 
     
  6. BIG|BRAVE - Roadburn Festival

    Damn! My favorite canadian monolithic noise / drone rock trio just totally killed it.

  7. KIKAGAKU MOYO - Roadburn Festival

    The whole japanese psych kraut thing going on at Roadburn was amazing, but this stunning show clearly marked my most important new discovery of the festival.
    That they doubled down on the fair impression with the galactic "East Meets West Jam" with Earthless didn't hurt either.
      
  8. WREKMEISTER HARMONIES - Roadburn Festival

    A lot of Wrekmeister Harmonies' music may be on the calmer, sometimes even beautiful side, but especially in combination with the disturbing documentary visuals this full performance of "The Alone Rush" became an unexpectedly brutal, emotionally exhausting experience.
     
  9. PHAROAH SANDERS QUARTET - Überjazz Festival
     
    "The Creator has a masterplan: Peace and happiness for everyone." And a saxophone for Pharoah Sanders, that's for sure. I got the chance to see one of the greatest jazz legends alive and I'm glad I took it. What a melancholic experienced tone! Respect!
     
  10. GALLOPS - Roadburn Festival

    What the fuck did I just see there? Is this the post rock synthwave disco of a better tomorrow? I still have no clue even months later. Roadburn party show no. 1!
     
  11. GODFLESH - Roadburn Festival

    Finally! My first Godflesh show since the "Selfless" tour back in the 1990s. And what did they play? A special "Selfless" set of course, haha. Teenage angst nostalgia successfully fed.
     
  12. BURNPILOT - Heidenlärm Festival

    Ok, busted! I pushed this up a couple of positions to include at least three festivals in this list. Sorry, Phurpa and Motorpsycho! But hey, Burnpilot really delivered a formidable hypnotic psych excess that is absolutely worthy of being mentioned here.
     
     



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