Scholar of the First Sin: Hera’s Best of 2019

Best of 2019

The Dark Souls franchise may own this title, but Aldia’s got nothing on me.

Last year around this time I made a statement, hoping that I would take it easier on the album listening; however, I also said that it would be for naught, as my 2019 release calendar was looking great and I was so excited about it.

However, life has a way of kicking you in the bollocks.

Due to stress, grad school, and other personal matters, I burnt out halfway through the year, which meant that my tolerance for music went down the drain. I listened to less albums than I originally wanted to and even quit writing about music for myself for a while. I felt like I withdrew from the enjoyment of music and I needed to get my head back into it. It also didn’t help that I had quite the difficult semester, from which I am still recovering from. This made the process of putting a list together difficult, but I did it and it’s here for all of you to see.

Welcome back to the Hunger Games EOY list season!

Just like 2018, 2019 was an impressive year for music in general. The sheer amount of releases may have topped 2018’s output, which of course means expanding my list to 20 once more. However, also like last year, I had to cut some albums from this list because I want to spend more time with them (sorry, Mechina!). I also have decided to cut EPs from this list, as they deserve to have their own separate slot (sorry, Delain!).

Also, a note: I have not listed any black metal on this list, which means bands like Alcest, Falls of Rauros, Foscor, Rotting Christ, and Clouds Collide will not be here. However, that doesn’t mean that they’re not good and don’t deserve to be here – they will end up in a separate list that I still have to make.

I also don’t want to make this list 30 albums long and felt the need to cap it somewhere. With that in mind, I decided to divide this list into three parts, which will now be accepted as canon (at least for me):

  • the nebulous, where any of those albums’ placements could be placed anywhere at any time
  • the hypothetical, where the albums’ placements are more concrete, but can also be moved around
  • the theoretical, where the albums’ placements have been solidified

Let’s hope this doesn’t become a pile of word vomit, but anyway, have my Top 20 Albums of 2019. If you think I missed one, write me an essay with cited sources and send it to wherever you can get a hold of me.

With all that out of the way, let’s begin!

Part I: The Nebulous

20. Astronoid – Astronoid

It pains me to see Astronoid in this position, but it can’t be helped. I didn’t come back to it when I had the time to spare.

Although I enjoyed their album and live performance when they came to L.A. with Zeal & Ardor, the album itself was not something I was keen on coming back to. However, this isn’t a detriment to Astronoid themselves as I clearly enjoyed it on its release, and I kept coming back to it for a bit. However, as new things came up, it got lost among the piles of other releases and music I was looking into it. Now that 2019 is over, I can finally re-familiarize myself with an album I already know I’m going to enjoy. This may not be Air, but Astronoid really shows how the band has improved, clearly incorporating more prog influences into their music. It also shows how much they’ve evolved as a band, their musicianship and artistic choices speaking for the level of quality in the production. They were not afraid to take risks and it paid off, and I am hopeful they will continue in this musical upswing. Also, can you believe that this is only their second album?

19. Fleshgod Apocalypse – Veleno

Another band I am ashamed to place in this spot on the list, but, after the literal “Fury” and flair of King, Veleno failed to make its mark on me surrounding release date.

I remember looking forward to this album, especially after I had seen them live with Hypocrisy last year as co-headliners. However, while it seemed that it was a good year for death metal, there was still a heap of releases that got lost within the shuffle of the first half of the year. Now, mind you, when Veleno first came out, I did give it a proper listen, even enjoying their cover of “Reise, Reise” (which I love, honestly). It’s such a lively and powerful album that it deserves more time. Another album I am looking forward to listening to now that 2019 is over, Veleno may end up being one of those I will appreciate a year after its initial release date. Personally, I would like them to continue with their symphonic overtones, but I would also be very welcoming if they added some technical aspects to the mix. Granted, this is only their second foray into symphonic death metal (as far as new albums go), so I am expectant for whatever else they decide to do.

18. Chelsea Wolfe – Birth of Violence

File this under: “Another artist I did not go back to during 2019”

I like Chelsea and I like what she’s done with this album. It’s a shift from the last three that I’ve heard as they have this highly atmospheric and experimental feel that makes them easy to get lost in. With Birth of Violence, Chelsea has expanded into a more acoustic approach, leaving behind the smoke and shadows of her usual fare and giving us something rawer and more human. Birth of Violence is different but remains one of the more interesting albums released this year and yet another album I wish I had spent more time with, and I might go ahead and revisit it once I’ve built my tolerance for music again. This is something that you must savor, like a good aged whiskey on a cold night.

17. Immortal Bird – Thrive On Neglect

As many of you know, I am not big on death metal except for two subgenres (maybe even three). Thus, when everyone at 9C essentially told me how good Immortal Bird is, I decided to listen to them just to see what the fuss was all about.

Thrive On Neglect is an album that hits like a ton of bricks, mixing elements of death metal, crust, hardcore, and black metal into a big sludge of fury that makes me want to punch something. The melodic riffing, combined with the superb vocal delivery, made this album a delight to listen to albeit one that can be punishing if you are not used to music of this caliber. It made such an impression on me that I could not leave it out of my list; it wormed its way into my mind and now it’s here. Maybe 2020 will be the year that I will finally dedicate time to death metal, but we shall see. Let me spend time with Immortal Bird first.

16. Cave In – Final Transmission

Before some of you give me shit for putting Cave In in this position, it is not this low because it’s a bad album and deserves this spot; I put it here because the album is meant to only be listened to once and never again.

After going through a bad depressive episode in June and spending time away from home, I decided to listen to this album out of curiosity and I started crying. Created as a tribute album to bassist Caleb Scofield, who died in a car accident in 2018, Final Transmission is the last Cave In album with Scofield making a physical appearance and his imprint is everywhere. It feels organic and heartwarming, which ultimately makes it more heartbreaking when you realize how important Caleb was to the band’s sound. The first track, “Final Transmission,” is a recording of an idea Caleb had for a song, his recorded vocals now part of a soft guitar melody. Ultimately, Final Transmission is an album that allows one to deal with the grief of losing someone important to you; it allows for catharsis through all the pain you feel in your heart. I can’t listen to this album without wanting to start crying, and so, after you listen to it, you must shelve it and save it for another. Yes, this is still Cave In and their prog space-rock is akin to Lo-Pan, but this is more heartfelt and emotive than Subtle.

15. Ithaca – The Language of Injury

Can you believe this is only their debut? Holy crap.

We talked about Ithaca on the podcast but let me just add another few words about how The Language of Injury may be one of the most important albums of 2019. The sheer capacity for rage this album holds and how it resonated with everyone who listened to it seemed to make it one of this year’s standouts. I listened to this while in my second semester of grad school and it gave me the energy to get through that month. This is also the album that will be played during a revolution, because nothing says “fuck you” more than hardcore injected into your veins before you dropkick someone in the face. Emotional and filled to the brim with music meant to strengthen your rage, The Language of Injury is something that must be experienced.

Part II: The Hypothetical

14. Lindemann – F&M

For all of you who thought this project was never going to come back: joke’s on you.

Although their first album, Skills in Pills, can only be described as one of the most innovative clusterfucks of 2015, LIndemann, the project of Till Lindemann and Peter Tägtgren, has shown maturity when it comes to their music. Although it can be compared to Rammstein due to its highly aggressive nature and explicit content, this is not a Rammstein clone. After all, with Peter doing most of the instrumentation, you get an extreme variety of songs that would not make sense to have them together except for on this album. From harsh electronica (‘Ich weiss es nicht”) to romantic lyricism that can end in tragedy (“Allesfresser”) to a bloody tango (“Ach so gern”), F&M is an album that combines numerous influences that gives you something different from everything else out there. What a great clusterfuck.

13. Insomnium – Heart Like A Grave

There’s been a growing discussion that melodic death metal will go through a renaissance due to both sonic and structural changes. I made references to it last year and throughout a good portion of my writing and commentary when I didn’t have a depressive episode. Although we can see it in bands like Blood Stained Child and Noosphera, it may have been (officially) kickstarted by Heart Like A Grave.

With this album, Insomnium has returned to what they explored on Shadows of a Dying Sun, evoking a prog influence in their melodic death metal that brings them to life. As one of the big-name melodeath bands that remain, it surprises me that they’re still thriving within that mantle, especially when other bands have moved into other spheres since then. However, this may be why I liked this album a lot – it was familiar yet exciting, where most melodeath I have been acquainted with has either been stale or has remained safe but fun (see Omnium Gatherum’s The Burning Cold). It feels like Insomnium is setting up a foundation for something new, but we won’t be sure until we hear what they do next. I have an inherent interest in where this band will go, especially with that prog influence running around.

12. Iapetus – The Body Cosmic

This album is great, and more people need to listen to it.

Another album that I came to late during the year and haven’t spent much time with, The Body Cosmic is an amalgamation of various influences and tones that make my head spin. I have no idea if it falls within the tech death camp or the prog death camp, but I actually don’t care, because the music is that great. Our own Charles mentioned this album, and, out of curiosity, I decided to give it a listen. Not only did The Body Cosmic make a terrific first impression, but I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. Although I am not familiar with Iapetus at all, I found myself thinking about this album a lot while making this list, and I just had to include it. It’s tremendous and a beauty to hear and I, for one, have enjoyed it thus far. Besides, “I Contain Multitudes” has become a musical tapeworm that won’t leave the back of my head.

Charles, you have redeemed yourself with this album. Kudos to you.

11. In Mourning – Garden of Storms

I have never truly enjoyed In Mourning’s discography – their albums have been hit or miss for me, and I’ve had years to reflect on my perception of those albums. Despite that, I was still nonetheless excited about this.

Garden of Storms is prog death that resonates; I could only sit there, mesmerized, as I listened to it on my commute to work. While the first two tracks set the mood for the album, it completely catches you off guard with “Hierophant,” a track with consistent drumming and a similar melody to Amorphis’s “The Bee.” In fact, there is an Amorphis vibe to the album that I can’t seem to shake, so I just listened. Although this album just barely missed the top ten, I think I’m going to appreciate it more with time because the album is a banger. Yes, the first two tracks do drag but once you get past that all things collide into this beautiful, melodic prog death that just moves the soul. I am hoping In Mourning continues in this direction, because this sound suits them and they need to build on that. I expect great sonic things coming from this band in the future.

10. Leprous – Pitfalls

I have been so enamored with this that I’m in the process of trying to mimic the vocals. In fact, I am so into this album that I have been humming it throughout most of my days. “Below” seems to be the song du jour, although “At The Bottom” is also a top pick.

Another late addition to my list, Pitfalls came to my attention towards late November/early December, and I proceeded to listen to this more and more as the days went on. I found myself coming back to it more as the days after the semester continued to blur, ultimately upsetting the spots for several albums that I had planned. Even now, it’s a soothing balm to my brain, something consistent but with enough variance to be different each time you listen to it. At times both bleak and emotional, Pitfalls is an album that brings you to the absolute pit of despair but also gives peaks of joy. I am not familiar with Leprous, but this album makes me want to explore their discography since it fills my heart with joy and a sense of peace that I haven’t felt in a while.

9. Within Temptation – Resist

There are so many references to revolution that I can’t tell if this is a concept album or just a general outlook due to the current political sphere we currently live in. However, I know that “Supernova” is about the death of a loved one (we will talk about that later), so perhaps I am missing something here.

Within Temptation is a band that I have grown up with so they hold a special place in my heart. I don’t talk about them very much, but when they announced that they were coming out with a new album in 2018, I was in. However, they delayed it until February of 2019, but it didn’t matter, because I was hopeful. I was excited to see them head in a new direction, especially after the eccentricity and the sounds used in Hydra. And then Resist blew me away. Although I didn’t spend as much time as I wanted to with this album (blame Empath, Rammstein, and Shehili), Resist is an absolute banger, filled with so much melody and color that I was ecstatic when I heard they were coming to L.A. I got to catch them on tour with In Flames around my birthday, which was amazing, and my 17-year old self finally achieved her dream of seeing them live. This album will now be on rotation throughout 2020, because I need it to be.

8. Devin Townsend – Empath

We have discussed this one on the podcast and I wrote about it as the final review for PureGrainAudio, so you can say that I have talked a lot about Empath. Now, I love Devin Townsend and everything he has ever created, but I have to say that my soul firmly stands with DTP. His solo stuff has always been hit or miss with me, but Empath did a lot to straddle the line between the sheer musical insanity of DTP and all his other projects.

And it paid off.

Empath is an inherent Devin album – if you were to put all aspects of his personality, his interests, and his sheer hilarity into one album, this is what it would sound like. Despite its sonic atmospheres, the different song structures, the sheer contrast between tracks, Empath works because this is the culmination of his career. From musical theatre with slight glitch (“Sprite”) to operetta (“Why?”) to a Deconstruction-esque track (“Hear Me”) to one of the best closing songs on an album that has a life of its own (the 23-minute appropriate ‘Singularity”), Empath is an album filled with so much nuance that you can only wordlessly scream and have a great time. There was never a minute where my mind wasn’t being blown to bits, and I must thank this man – this legend – for his creativity and his music. Thank you, Devin, for such a colorful record.

Part III: The Theoretical

File all these albums under “Things Hera Will Never Shut Up About”

7. Rammstein – Untitled (also known as Rammstein)

It’s a bit unfair to put both Rammstein and Lindemann on the same list, but, given each of their placements, guess which of them I was most expectant for.

I waited TEN LONG YEARS for this album and the wait paid off because this album shows a reinvigorated Rammstein back at the helm, creating an album so compelling that I only listened to this album for about a month. Although it eventually lost to another pick on this list, Rammstein is the echo of our times, particularly with the bombastic “Deustchland,” a pseudo-criticism towards their country of origin for all of the things they have done in their recorded history. However, that doesn’t end there: from the nostalgia of “Radio” to the inherent creepiness of both “Puppe” and “Hallomann,” Rammstein is a commentary of what the band has seen during the past ten years, putting it all together into one cohesive album that just works. While the music is catchy and the imagery is poignant and provocative, Rammstein is filled with things that make them the band they are today.

6. In Flames – I, The Mask

Here, at the hallowed halls of 9C, we take a lot of cracks and make constant jokes about In Flames’s current output, as the last couple of years have been less than stellar. However, because I am technically a child that lacks taste, I came to In Flames after their glory days of pioneering melodeath. This means I missed out on the big four releases that made them a household name and proceeded with the newest album at the time, Sounds of a Playground Fading. Given their shift in sound in the early 2000s, it makes sense that a bunch of their long-time fans dropped them like a hot potato, but that just means that they are not very open-minded. In lieu of this, I decided to listen to I, The Mask, their newest album, and I was impressed by their quality and sound. Although they are no longer the melodeath giants they once were, they are still a force to be reckoned with, and I found myself coming back to I, The Mask more and more as the year went on. It also helps that I saw them on tour with Within Temptation last year. Although it may not be your cup of tea, I, The Mask is a fantastic album and it’s something I listened to more than I care to admit.

5. Lacuna Coil – Black Anima

Listen, I have loved Lacuna Coil since I was 13, and I have witnessed their shift in sound as time has passed. However, this hasn’t changed how I feel about them at all. Although Delirium was another shift, Black Anima improved on what Delirium tried to do, capitalizing on Andrea’s harsh vocals and Cristina’s fluid voice. What we get here is a cohesive album speaking of the human condition, echoing maturity and a certain darkness that comes with the awareness of age and what you know about yourself. What I love most about Black Anima is that it lingers long after it ends. While the music is catchy and incredibly melodic, the lyrics, themes, and overall atmosphere of the music persists. I found myself coming back to this album more and more since its release day, and, having grown up with the band, I found myself attracted to its inherent humanity.

Meanwhile, I am going to try to memorize “Veneficium” and see if I can sing along next time.

4. Swallow the Sun – When a Shadow Is Forced into the Light

At this point, you all know about the tragedy of losing a loved one, especially if the loved one in question was your partner in all things – music, life, and art. I have talked a lot about the story of Hallatar and No Stars Upon the Bridge in my column and on the podcast, so it should come as no surprise that this album was on my list.

When a Shadow deals with the aftermath of grief. Juha and co. make a lot of references to Aleah Starbridge (“in this temple of the golden nightingale”), Juha’s deceased partner and frequent collaborator, and made When a Shadow as a eulogy in her memory. What makes this album even more devastating is the amount of emotion and strength it would have taken the band to make it. It is dark, but it’s ethereal and catchy all at once. After all, with grief, comes bargaining, but then comes acceptance. I shed tears when I first listened to this album, reminding me that, despite all the pain, you must continue to live. Your loved ones will always be with you in some way, and you have to continue living in order to keep their memory alive. Yes, this album can be somewhat bleak and filled with enough imagery that rivals a Blake poem, but When a Shadow is a force to be reckoned with. If you haven’t listened to it, I suggest you do, with tissues handy, you might want to have a good cry afterwards.

3. Evergrey – The Atlantic

Plot twist: After not shutting up about this album for months, it is not the top album of the year. That may come as a surprise to everyone I have talked to about it, but there’s a reason for it.

I listened to The Atlantic so much this year that I can no longer listen to it without thinking about all the associations I have tied to it. To me, The Atlantic is an incredibly personal album that gave me a glimpse of what my year would be like: stormy, filled with rage, spite, and pain that kept me awake at night and, surprisingly, some form of joys. Although I can only stomach it for short periods now, The Atlantic has grown on me to the point that I might keep it in rotation to listen when I need to. The music’s ever-changing tone and Tom Englund’s powerful vocals soothed my nerves and kept me company throughout the most difficult parts of my days, eventually becoming part of my soundtrack on my commute. I love this album, but I had to stop listening to it for my own good, especially after my burnout. However, this is not a detriment to The Atlantic; after all, despite its associations to aspects of my life, I have to thank it for sticking around as long as it did.

2. Leander Kills – Luxusnyomor

This album was a total CURVEBALL, upsetting everything on this list. That is the power of Leander Koteles and his band, Leander Kills.

I knew this album was released earlier in 2019, but I kept putting it off because I was scared. Although their last album, 2017’s Elet A Halat Elott, did not make it on my 2017 EOY list, I only missed it because I refused to listen to it. I don’t know what I was afraid of, but then, when I dove back into those unfamiliar waters, I was hooked. Despite enjoying Elet, I kept putting off Luxusnyomor and it got worse as the year neared. It took one of my friends to convince me to listen to the album, and, once I did, I knew I wasn’t going to let go of it. Something about Luxusnyomor continues to linger long after it’s done. Although it may not have that darkness that Black Anima or When a Shadow has, the way music is played on Luxusnyomor is masterful and spectacular. I wish more people knew about this band, because it’s an absolute delight. Language barriers aside, Luxusnyomor is great and I will probably keep listening to it as we head into 2020. After all, only Leander Koteles would create something that one of my friends can only describe as a “musical turn on.”

Also, if you can guess my favorite song off this album, then good for you.

And my top album of 2019 is…

1. Myrath – Shehili

I have a lot to say about this album, especially since it’s my top album and not a lot of people are talking about it. This should come to the utter surprise of no one who knows me and my deep love for this band. After all, they were my artist for 2019 – according to Spotify Wrapped – and I essentially played Shehili until I had to listen to something else. However, I always came back to this, especially because there is so much for my brain to pick up on. Let me explain.

Myrath’s last album, Legacy, was my favorite album of 2016, beating out Devin Townsend Project’s Transcendence, which is almost sacrilege. However, what got me about it was how complex and colorful it was; this was not your standard prog, where walls of sound and vocals are used to submerge the listener into its atmosphere. Myrath used its sheer instrumental prowess, charismatic vocals, and Tunisian influences to give the music a vibrant feel. Legacy had everything: slight political commentary, a song about Daenerys Targaryen, and the way love can hurt you. So, when Myrath announced Shehili, I was prepared.

However, I wasn’t prepared for how impactful this album was going to be for me throughout 2019.

Shehili is an experience – they decided to build on the foundations Legacy established and they went big. The orchestrations are beautiful and encompassing, the vocals are top-notch, and it’s so emotive that you feel every single shift that makes the album such a highlight. It’s so much more vibrant than Legacy, which is tough to beat, but these guys did it, and I am so proud of them. It kept me company throughout the summer and the rest of the year, giving color and nuance to a semester that felt so difficult and oppressive. It was a beacon of light during my long study nights and my long commutes to work. Myrath has come a long way from when they first started, and I hope that, with Shehili, they are now able to achieve what they desire. They deserve to, especially when they are putting music out of this caliber.

Whew. This did become a pile of word vomit.

Well, this wraps up my EOY list for 2019. Again, if you think I missed something, please send it my way. I will look at it eventually even though it might take me a few years.

In the meantime, 2020 looks to be tumultuous as well, but things are looking up, as I have music to look forward to and scream about at some point. Maybe, at the end of the year, I can tell you if I have succeeded in making more selective choices in music.

Hasta la proxima!

– Hera


 

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