I know, you’ve come here in hopes of some diatribe about how my 2019 sucked ass or how I loathed a lot of stuff this year. But, if that’s what you came for look elsewhere. 2019 has been a good year for me on many fronts. My family continually prove to me that true beauty does exist, I have a great job that was extremely busy all year, I got to speak with a few bands I truly adore, I trimmed social media, I kept up with those who matter, and those who matter kept up with me. Oh, almost forgot, amazing bourbon was had along the way and we found a new local brewery with a top shelf IPA. One thing that hasn’t changed is the impact music has on my life and this list, my list, encompasses what raised the hair on the back of my neck. Buckle up buttercup.
This year in metal is better than the last few years combined and by a wide margin. Generally that would make for a pain in the ass 12 months in my OCD brain but the funny thing is, I actually spent time getting to know the albums in this list because they just wouldn’t leave. Nor did I want them to. And as much of my year that was dominated by god tier death metal, my end results are broad. Way more so than I had originally thought. But, just like years past, many that rode my list for weeks on end are not here and some that I missed altogether are here. Funny how 12 months of quality metal changes things. There’s a ton that didn’t make it but that doesn’t mean they weren’t good, it simply means they didn’t quite make the same impact. And, obviously I whittled this thing down from what it was and even swapped some stuff around since our All In Top 9 of 2019. My format will be top 9 and 9 honorable mentions because as much as I love reading lists and seeing what made someone’s top 50, in the end, life is full of hard choices and cutting to produce the cream of the crop is damn difficult. Me and the hard way get along great is what I’m saying. And, of course, 9 for branding (obviously). I’ll also be going in numerical order seeing as most of you will scroll to the top pick anyway.
One more thing before we jump to the picks: A sincere debt of gratitude belongs to the bands we cover and the bands that reach out, the PR folks that shower our inbox on the regular, the labels we deal with, Bandcamp, our amazing staff who are even more amazing than you can possibly know, and YOU our dear readers. Thank you all. Now, GO.
Vitriol effectively brought the extreme back to extreme death metal with their four track EP and now with this full length they credibly establish themselves as the band that will carry this torch for, hopefully, a very long time. I said in past coverage that they are the “future of the genre” and after spending an ungodly amount of time with this album and returning to the elder guard for context time and time again, I fully stand behind that statement. In a past interview we ran with frontman Kyle Rasmussen, I was impressed by his unwavering conviction and dedication to what this band is all about and what they stand for and that has stuck with me ever since. Just listen to “I Drown Nightly” and marvel at how tightly assembled all the pieces are. Or randomly pick a track and hold on to the seat of your pants. This is the epitome of vicious death metal, intelligent execution, and supreme technicality.
Admittedly I was sad to hear of Spellcaster calling it a day. Their pure metal and thrash spoke to me in a major way. But, from those ashes rose Idle Hands with a goth infused hard rock / metal EP that was good enough to hook me for what was to come. And what came was an album that I had no idea would make the kind of impact it has. Mana is equal parts heavy metal fantasy, arena rock electricity, and gothic — treading on tragic at times — vocals all wrapped in a tightly wound and epic, cinematic package. “Give Me to the Night” is a balls out rocker that elevates heart rates and might just be the track of the decade, “Jackie” and “Don’t Waste Your Time” eschew the rock for dreary tear jerkers (and yes, this is a good thing) while “Dragon, Why Do You Cry” features some of the kind of outlandish lyrics that metal is known for. For an album that covers everything from suicide, loss, death, dragons, and most things morbid, it finds a way to be strangely upbeat and positive. Now that they’re here, I’m excited to see where they go but in the meantime Mana will have my ear for a very long time.
Crux is the one album on this list that hit me completely blindsided. I knew nothing of the band but dove in head first to soak in all I could. What I found was a group that are expert craftsman at the art of writing memorable songs that stand the test of time. The riffs, melodies, and punch are undeniable in opener “Trust” and deeper cut “Awe at All Angles” while the more airy tracks such as “Omega Days” and the title track show a band with much more to offer than just fantastic hooks and heaviness for days. The lyrics and vocal phrasing from John Carbone are outstanding and yet another reason why I said these guys are expert craftsman. Whether you put them in metal, rock, or radio ready, the times I’ve blared this album, windows down, and screaming the lyrics to the top of my lungs are countless and I can’t see that changing anytime soon. No matter where they fit and honestly who cares, genres are meaningless with this kind of quality.
Call it metalcore or hardcore or whatever core but don’t you dare call The Language of Injury anything but deeply affecting. Though the barbed wire opening of “New Covenant” and “Impulse Crush” or even “Youth vs Wisdom” poise Ithaca as heavier than hell, it’s the quieter spaces of “Secretspace,” “Gilt,” and the crushing “(no Translation)” that color the entire album of one filled with pain. Djamila Azzouz’s vocals drive all this home with her impressive vocal range that transitions from fiery to impassioned to overflowing with emotion and back again at the blink of an eye. This is one of the most impressive debuts of the year, hands down.
What more could possibly be said about Nile that hasn’t been said over the course of nine full lengths? They’ve always had this unique atmosphere that no one has; whether it’s classic Nile on the title track here, slow and methodical but deliberate through each note, or the speed and violence of “The Oxford Handbook of Savage Genocidal Warfare,” the said atmosphere is and always has been a driving force. Placement in this list is due to how much it reminds me of In Their Darkened Shrines but at the same time treads its own path in a shining discography.
Melodic bombast meets black metal, gaze, and depressive post-metal on Adore which, on paper, shouldn’t work. In reality though, it slays. I knew very early on that this would rack up one hell of a playcount, at least for awhile, but I didn’t imagine it sounding like the first spin every damn time. That rush around 1:20 in “Portrait of Pieces” when after a long build the guitars and drums crash like emerging waves or the haunting melodies of “Regret” or the punch of “Coma,” simply put this album is a knock out from a band that’s finally found their lightning in a bottle.
I said in November’s Initial Descent that “Sentient Horror makes the best American Swedeath ever” and that they do so much more with Morbid Realms that “it’s like a geographical map of the best death metal.” As massive as The Crypts Below EP was, this is just on a whole other level. Between the effortless HM2 stylings to the classic, cranial sort of Floridian death metal, this album has it all. Not to mention the songcraft here which is done in such a way that you’d be excused for thinking this was the band’s tenth effort yet, here we are.
If there’s a busier artist than mainman Trevor William Church I’ve got some ocean front property in Arizona to sell you. In all that busy-ness the quality of his output never suffers and in fact, gets better and better with each album, EP, or track he decides to release. The hooks and riffs here are unstoppable, the subtle pop sensibilities layered into each of these earworms are expertly done, and those incredible vocals — look, I’m old and came up on classic heavy metal and when I hear a band in 2019 that gives me the same kind of chills “Victim of Changes” or “Run With the Wolf” give, I’m all in. Plus, Haunt’s sunny Cali beachish sound is a plus.
For whatever reason, this album took awhile to click with me. Longer than than any in their discography. But, when it finally did, it was like a magic spell. I couldn’t get enough of it and couldn’t escape it. Such is the power this band wields. Black metal? Atmospheric black metal? Maybe, kind of. But, overall there’s so much going on here that pigeonholing this thing in one genre is doing it a disservice. It’s epic, it’s emotive and uplifting, it’s complex yet accessible, but most of all it’s a stroke of genius from a band that gets better and better with each release. Put this on when the brain needs a reset or space to breathe.
10. Spirit Adrift – Divided By Darkness
For album number three, Spirit Adrift eschew the doom for traditional heavy metal and it works like gangbusters. Anthemic choruses, sinewy solos, and powerful vocals rip through the album and while the band doesn’t showboat or make a big deal about it, they are a freak of nature.
11. Fluids – Exploitative Practices
Any band that takes the filthy blueprint laid down by Mortician and elevates it, making it fresh again is a band that’s in my pocket at all times. Sickening death metal, just the way I like it.
12. Blood Incantation – Hidden History of the Human Race
Quite the polarizing album this one’s been. Evidently folks hate it when a band gets some recognition. Tough shit. HHotHR is otherwordly, swampy death metal from a band that’s taking the genre to new and uncharted heights.
13: Abigail Williams – Walk Beyond the Dark
Maybe, hopefully, mainman Ken will stick to this lineup since this black metal is the best black metal Abigail Williams has ever put to tape.
14. Prison – Come, Annihilation.
I don’t pretend to know punk music through and through but I do know Come, Annihilation. is an excellent and devastating punk record.
15. Exhumed – Horror
Exhumed doing what Exhumed do best; death ‘n’ grind at warp speed.
16. Night Goat – Milk
Noise rock that forces a cleansing afterwards is the best noise rock indeed. Milk is that.
17. Jesus Chrüsler Supercar – Lücifer
Swedeath ‘n’ roll that’s heavy as hell and catchy as strep throat.
18. Sanguisugabogg – Pornographic Seizures
I said in my September feature of this EP “…spews forth with neanderthal grooves and ghastly vocals…” and “…wrecks the set with speed and fury…” and I stand behind all of it.
That’s a wrap on my 2019 in metal. I mentioned earlier that I got to speak with several great bands this year and I linked a few of them above but I do want to mention the great time I had chatting with Vomit Fist who just released their second album Omnicide. I’m bringing this up because Nick and Leo were so fun to talk to and treated me like a long lost friend instead of just some flunkie with questions. Go have a listen here and you’ll see what I mean.
2020 is here and I already feel a twinge in my ear that it’ll be another strong one. Just how strong? Ah, patience as they say – we’ll have to wait to find out but if it’s half as good as 2019 we are in for a treat. Share the music you love, support your favorite bands, go to shows, support your local venues, tell the world what you love and don’t shy away from a new band or genre for fear they might be different. Take a chance. Don’t sleep on anything.
Anyway, thanks for reading and we’ll see you ’round these pages very soon. Happy New Year.