Best of 2019: Chris’s Honorable Mentions List

Best of 2019

No meandering preamble.  Too much of 2019 was utter shit, and music was the salve to my battered and bruised soul.  Last week I touted 19 albums that helped me cope with the personal and global tragedies that the year brought, and this week brings another 15 records that, while not formally ranked all can on a given day act as my #26, or even my #1.  Don’t try to find reason or logic in a list.  Not only is it all subjective, but it’s all subject to change on a dime, on a given moment when the axis spins and tries to buck you off into orbit, and all you can cling to is the fragment of a melody, a riff or a lyric that tethers you to the world, keeps you grounded and ready for another day.

Enough.  Let’s do this.  

The Outer Circle

Honorable Mentions

alcest spiritual instinct

There are those who will say Alcest never left us, but Spiritual Instinct feels like a a return to the magic that made me fall in love with the band in the first place.  More assured in its aggression that Kodama, there’s an urgency to tracks like “Protection” and “Sapphire” that felt missing on the previous two albums, and Niege indeed brings back the screaming in an organic, natural way that doesn’t feel like a betrayal to the direction his music has taken since the shoegaze pop of Shelter.  For me they’ll never equal the primal beauty of their debut, but there’s a connection to Spiritual Instinct I cannot deny.

boris - love & evol

I knew from the first moments of “Away From You” that Love & Evol was going to make a lasting impression.  It would be more of a shock if Boris didn’t amaze me with each new release, but by tempering their attack and leaning on their more drone, post jam elements they found something to spoke deeply to me in 2019.  It was the year I finally *got* Sunn 0))) after all…  Burined in the reverb and tentative singing and impeccable guitar work is a spark of the muse that never fails to catch at my throat.  Even at their most fuzzed out chaotic, as on “EVOL” or the evil drone of closer “Shadow of Skull” I am helplessly in its grasp.

Blut Aus Nord - Hallucinogen

At this point every Blut aud Nord release is a welcome surprise.  Will it be something far-flung and avant-garde like the 777 trilogy or 2016’s Codex Obscura Nomina?  Or some thing more blackened and traditional like the Memoria Vetusta series?  Hallucinogen lies somewhere between the two, and surprises with being the project’s most accessible, melodic offering yet.  Dense yet clear, this is modern atmospheric black metal that’s – dare I say – catchy and mesmerizing. Vocally things keep to mainly chants and screams so buried in the mix there’s little use in deciphering anything, but those lush guitars and the way they play against the battery drumming on “Sybelius” are all I need.

Dead To A Dying World - Elegy

Every year there’s an album I don’t get enough time with that I put on the honorable mentions list, and later realize it should have been on the final list.  Last year it was Sleepwalker’s exquisite debut full length, and this year I suspect it’s going to be Elegy, the latest from Dead to a Dying World.  After having for so long been the champion for shorter, compact songs that fit on one side of a 45 minute tape, 2019 was the year I dove deeper in longer, hypnotic songs.  It doesn’t that Elegy still manages to fit on one side of  a said cassette tape, but the way the “elemental dark metal” merchants craft such expert songs of loss and being lost on “The Seer’s Embrace” and the crushing “Of Moss and Stone” Re-listening to it now I feel like I’m making a huge mistake not putting it on my Top 10 for the year.

Falls of Rauros - Patterns in Mythology

The jump in quality Falls of Rauros had with 2017’s Vigilance Perennial was massive, and if Patterns in Mythology doesn’t have quite the same leap, it’s still the Maine cascadian/progressive/post/call it whatever you want black metal band’s best album.  The album enhances the streaks of anthemic rock, folk, and ambience from earlier and takes over the mantle long held by Agalloch and Wolves in the Throne Room.  The dynamics at play on “Weapons of Refusal” as the song jumps into a searing guitar solo worthy of any late 80s hair band is sublime.  The fact that it’s couched in some of the best black metal to come out in the past decade just makes it even better.

Fen - The Dead Light

I thought I had my list complete, and then Fen comes along and releases The Dead Light in December.  Prog elements run wild, particularly on the two-part title title track, and overall there’s a great modern progressive vibe that meshes nicely with the more traditional aspects Fen have been known for throughout their careers.  The biggest change is probably the compactness: this is a tight record, with no moments wasted.  That just makes songs like “Labyrinthine Echos” even more impressive.  Fantastic album front to back, but what really makes it for me are those mid-paced rock moments that crunch and pop in the more extreme moments.

ghostlimb - the only measure is labor done not days

I’m going to keep on about how good the new Ghostlimb is until you all fall in line.   Recorded live to tape by Jack Shirley, The Only Measure is Labor Done Not Days is slamming brutal hardcore done right, which for me is dynamic and anguished and sounds great and is under 30 minutes.  That Ghostlimb have been doing their unique blend of hardcore sludge for so long yet never gets mentioned in the same breath as a band like Converge is a crime.  Here’s hoping you hear “Boundless Brine,” “Prairie Wolf” and the rest of this burst of anger and start putting them in the conversation.

Gloryhammer - Legends From Beyond the Galactic Terrorvortex

I didn’t get to listen to nearly enough power metal this year, but the few I did I loved.  Gloryhammer knows how to toe the line between the ridiculous and the sublime, and Legend From Beyond the Terrorvortex sounds exactly like you would expect it to.  That is, anthemic and soaring and punchy and filled with laser powered goblin smashers, unicorns, robot voices and more fun than practically anything else I heard this year.  In Hoots We Trust, indeed…

Iapetus - The Body Cosmic

Iapetus may have been the biggest surprise to all of us at 9C this year.  I took the review assignment because our Fearless Editor in Chief™ Josh said it was “something that would be right up my alley.”  He was right, but what none of us could foresee was how almost everyone else on the staff would fall for the The Body Cosmic as well.  Melodic and progressive, the massive epics “I Contain Multitudes” and “For Creatures Such As We” benefit from carefully balanced structures and some phenomenal guest vocals courtesy of Emi Pellegrino.  Solos galore, a massive concept centering around lofty ideas and out in the stars, this is the progressive death metal album of the year.

Mizmor - Cairn

Confession:  despite the accolades and obvious craft that went into it, I wasn’t enamored with Mizmor‘s breakout album Yodh. There was a promise in its avant-noise/doom black metal that went unfulfilled for me, but Cairn more than makes up for it with a scope that stretches from the ancient past to the unknowable future.  Opener “Desert of Absurdity” charts the absurdity of one’s life like a constantly probing knife, leaving scars at each incision.  Driving force A.L.N. consciously strove to make Cairn musically superior to his previous output in every way, and it immediately shows with a striking production that loses none of its grit even as it allows every sequence to shine.  Cairn is an album not to be taken lightly, and despite multiple listens I feel I have yet to fully grasp its full meaning.

The Neptune Power Federation - Memoirs of a Rat Queen

In a complete 180° from the previous entry, sometimes you have to remember that metal can be damn fun.  The Neptune Power Federation have not forgotten that, and their brand of 70s glam and blues driven hard rock as captured on the excellent Memoirs Of A Rat Queen is a great reminder of how bands like T Rex, Slade, and Heart influenced the genre as much as bands like Venom, Celtic Frost and Metallica.  The swagger of “Watch Our Masters Bleed” is a perfect reminder that the best metal doesn’t have to bang or slam.  Sometimes it can slither and shimmy, too.

pelican nighttime stories

The first thing that stands out on Nighttime Stories is the production.  It feels like a hardcore album, especially the way the guitars are recorded, a far cry from what you’d expect from an instrumental album, even one coming from the venerable Pelican who have never been afraid to stretch the boundaries of the type of music they want to create.  There’s an urgency to the riffs on “Midnight and Mescaline” that goes hand in hand with the double kick attack and sewer filthy bass that underlies the track.  It feels at odds to talk about Pelican’s music with those words, but the band makes it work in spades, rushing from that to the more blackened hard rock of “Abyssal Plain” and onwards until by the end of closer “Full Moon, Black Water” you feel as if you’ve come out the other side, cleansed and absolved and ready to go through it again.

tanagra - meridiem

Hands down, this is the power metal album of the year.  I was blown away when None Of This Is Real, the 2015 debut from Tanagra came out, but it feels now like a practice run compared to Meridiem.  Majestic and propulsive without resorting to any of the cliches that befall far too many power metal bands, the production is robust and crisp, all the better to emphasize the stellar guitar work on the 11-minute opening title track, as well as the killer vocals of Tom Socia.  The shorter songs work like gangbusters, moving from NWOBHM riffs to crackling lead work in a heartbeat (check out “Etheric Alchemy”) but it’s the longer, epic songs where Meridiem really shines.  Five years was too long for this sophomore offering…let’s hope album #3 comes along quicker.

toxic-holocaust_primal-future-2019

Has a better album accompanied a more ridiculous cover than Primal Future: 2019 from Toxic Holocaust?  No one can hit that early 80s speed/thrash brutality quite like Joel Grind, and after being away from the full lengths a while (since 2013 to be exact) the one man metal machine returns with one of his finest records.  If bands like Sodom, Nuclear Assault and the like have you throwing your spiked fist in the air, wait until you listen to “Chemical Warlords,” “New World Beyond” and “Deafened By The Roar.”  This is the good good stuff that reminds me why I fell in love with metal back in the day.

Vastum - Orificial Purge

How do you even define what Vastum are doing on Orificial Purge?  What does “orificial” even mean?  Words fail but the music doesn’t, an inbreeding experiment gone horribly awry (what inbreeding experiment hasn’t?) where the sludge death groove of Obituary meets the blistering death march of Cannibal Corpse.  It’s decidedly old school but completely modern, using tracks like “Dispossessed in Rapture (First Wound)” and “Reveries in Autophagia” to juggle more balls than most death metal bands can fathom.  Indebted to all the death metal masters but slave to none, there’s a strong case for Orificial Purge to not only be one for the death metal albums of the year, but of the decade.

We’re almost to the end, folks.  Albums 25 to 1 coming next week.  In the meantime these 15 gems will keep you in the heavy for the holidays.  Be seeing you.

– Chris


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