Top Albums ov 2019 w/ Hans, BSG, and Black Metal Porkins
Day 2 of listocalypse is upon us…
Category: Favourite Blend of Genres
Wizard Rifle – Wizard Rifle
Svart Records | Review
Might seem a bit strange to pit these guys against this kind of competition. Make no mistake, the contestants delivered extremely well-crafted material, but I always find my attention waning sooner rather than later with them. Not so with Wizard Rifle‘s blend of stoner-, noise-, post-rock, and sludge. It’s just a hell of a good time. While the majority of songs are played with a sort of gleeful abandon that may well be considered cooky, they are quite capable of profound moments, too. An incredibly endearing record.
Category: Death Doom that Actually Bangs
Nightfell – A Sanity Deranged
20 Buck Spin
Some owl tried to poop all over my list again, and as with Weltschmerz last year, the little bugger succeeded with Nightfell. Death doom is a combination of words that usually elicits a yawn before I even press play, but these guys do a couple of things right. For one thing, it’s a concise record – a huge plus in a niche where words like “epic” and “sprawling” tend to become synonymous with torture. This begets (or is caused by) the band’s ability to deliver crushingly melancholic songs that don’t drag their asses around like arthritic mummies. Take note: a song’s emotional impact is not heightened by its trodding in place for eight minutes. Quick punches can still hit hard.
Category: You Should Listen to More Grindcore
Endrot – Planned Obsolesence
Independent | Winning
I already had a whole thing written about Noisem and how they kinda hit a sweet spot between all the “big” grind releases of the year, but my initial critique still stands: it’s a far cry from their best effort and sounds oddly tired (and tiring) a lot of the time. These are some of the reasons they eventually lost the spot; the main one is Endrot’s massive riffing capacity. This is like the best bits of classic Swedeath and the most fun bits of early Hellripper squeezed into a grind corset. The resulting trifecta will effectively and joyfully shred you to pieces, and you’re gonna love every second of it.
Category: Chillout Metal
Chronologist – Equinox I/Solstice I
Independent | Mini-Review of Equinox I
So far I’ve been stringent about not including EPs on these lists, but Chronologist made it easy to cheat by releasing about an album’s worth of material in snack-sized chunks. And what delightful snacks they are! Instead of designing overly wanky parts to showcase their abilities, the band keep things digestible, pairing amazing riffs and melodies with engaging grooves and the occasional blast. In other words, they use their powers for good. The result is as fit to soothe a mind in the throes of putting a year-end list together as it is to make you bang your head (gently).
Contestants: Flesh of the Stars, Elder
Category: Death Metal that Does What Death Metal Should Do
Had a right devil of a time trying to decide between this and Tomb Mold. The battle was epic. You should have seen me going back and forth between tabs on my browser! Coming back to them after a week-long break, however, the decision was suddenly all too clear. Witch Vomit have fantastic sound that makes everything hit that much harder, they deliver quality songs more consistently, the guitar leads make everything more fun, and they get a lot of shit done in a shorter runtime (a point in a band’s favour not just when it comes to doom). Don’t be surprised to find an item called Witch Vomit in the next Souls game.
Category: Believe the Hype
Disillusion – The Liberation
Prophecy Records | Review
The two minds I was in about this have sort of met in the middle by now. Is it the greatest thing I ever heard? No. What it is is a well-crafted record that manages to bring all of Disillusion‘s strengths into the fold while including some new impulses that make it stand on its own and deserve to be viewed outside the shadow of previous works. The fact that I was willing to make the time to arrive at this conclusion perhaps speaks more in favour of the band than the album, but there’s no denying that, regardless of my eventual attitude towards it, this is the main musical event of the year. There was no other record that I looked forward to this much, and there was no other I would have ever dedicated this much attention to. It’s been a journey, and it’s one I’m glad to have made.
Contestants: that other long-awaited prog metal album, I suppose
Category: No Way You’re Cool Enough for this Record
Angel Sword – Neon City
I don’t know if I lack the words to express how cool this album is or if there’s simply not enough space here to fully explain everything that’s great about it. Angel Sword‘s hard rockin’ attitude has been enhanced with a kind of melancholy that shines through in a lot of riffs. Altogether, the music feels darker than before. A minor aspect that helps this impression is the absence of the cliché hymn to some kind of metal brotherhood. The album’s art design thus proves more than a gimmick; these songs do seem to come from a dystopian future where the only unity is that of the victims of authoritarian powers. And then, of course, you realize it’s not the future at all. This album rules, and I’m not sure I would have minded much if nothing else had been released this year.
Contestants: THERE CAN BE NONE (although Galaxy made a valiant effort)
Category: Black Metal Album that Shreds the Most
Slaughtbbath – Alchemical Warfare
Hells Headbangers | Review
First owls, now bears. Karhu’s black metal round-up brought these guys to my attention at the last minute, and it reminded me that while I quite enjoyed 1349 (the former holders of this spot), I ultimately like my black metal a lot less sophisticated. This is primitive enough that it made me want to revisit Panzer Division Marduk and injects a good dose of thrash into the mix – not unlike 1349, but so much more bluntly aggressive that it just had to win my heart over.
Category: Black Metal Album that’s just Four Long-Ass Tracks
The title of the category has nothing to do with what drew me to this album, I just love the fact that there’s still competition in such a narrow field. Anyway, this thing is so dang good we reviewed it twice, and it had a downright magnetic pull for me back when it dropped. I just had to listen again and again, so enchanting was this album from a parallel universe where A Blaze in the Northern Sky is the only black metal anyone’s ever heard (I honestly don’t remember which review I pulled that from). That’s not to say that this is the kind of rehash that many other second-wave worshippers dabble in. This is more like building a castle from a blueprint for a hut, and the result is glorious.
Category: Black Metal EP that Shreds the Most
Hellripper – Black Arts & Alchemy
Reaper Metal Productions | Premiere
Okay, I give up. There have just been too many excellent EPs this year to not include at least one all by itself. James McBain is a hard-working motherfucker, which thankfully isn’t evidenced by the “twelve albums per year” release schedule of other one-man projects, but rather in the fact that every release of his main outlet Hellripper makes leaps and bounds in terms of quality. The improvements in his guitar playing and songwriting skills have quickly elevated his material from solid to stellar. But while his technical proficiency is a joy to behold, the package would not be complete without the sleazy fun that the music oozes. Leave it to this guy to find ever new ways of praising goats and demoting Christ over blazing riffs.
I can tell I’m getting old because the year flew by and I can’t really remember what albums came out in 2019. I’ll hobble along and do my best, though, because I know some good stuff came out, I just have to verify which albums I like are from this year. There’s plenty I’ve missed, there’s plenty I just plain haven’t gotten around to yet. This year kinda sucked to be honest, except for a few very bright points, and I fell behind on basically everything imaginable. Here’s what I was able to get to and enjoy, though.
10. Miyavi – No Sleep Till Tokyo
Universal Music/Virgin Records
I’ll be doing a full review of this album and a spotlight of this absolute gem of a human being, and it might even get put up before my list gets thrown in all of your faces, but this album was a surprising return to form from the LA-based Tokyo-born guitarist. For the last few albums, and I have a gut feeling it’s due to a certain frequent collaborator who will remain unnamed for the moment, Miyavi‘s albums had a distinct lack of guitar considering he made his mark by way of virtuoso guitar work. No Sleep Till Tokyo sees the self-proclaimed samurai guitarist bring his instrument back to prominence in his songwriting. His newer American pop-influenced sound is bolstered up by a more familiar J-pop and J-rock flavor, striking a sweet balance between the heavier aspects of his sound and the more bubblegummy pop sounds he’s been experimenting with. A particular favorite for me on this record is the track “Under the Same Sky,” the line Miyavi uses to explain his philosophy that we’re all on this planet together so please be kind and take care of one another, an ideal he has backed up with work as a refugee advocate and UN refugee ambassador. If you ever get the chance to see him play I’d highly recommend it. He’s a wonderful musician and a wonderful human being.
9. Cellar Darling – The Spell
Nuclear Blast Records | Review
When this trio got kicked out of Eluveitie and formed their own group in response I was worried at first that it was just going to be a slightly different flavor of Celtic folk metal. Luckily, Cellar Darling are an entirely separate sound with proggy, doomy elements and just a slight patina of folk over the top. This record definitely solidified my opinion that Eluveitie did themselves a massive disservice by not having these folks in their band anymore, especially losing Ana’s singing abilities. The upside is a talented new band with a fresh sound putting out a great record this year.
8. Avantasia – Moonglow
Nuclear Blast Records | TovH Review
Avantasia and Edguy are great. This album is great. It stands out a little from the rest of Avantasia’s albums due to the sheer level of musicality on here though, even getting Geoff Tate to sound good. Aside from Geoff Tate, the list of guest artists was pretty top-notch, even including Hansi Kursch. I don’t have much more to say about this album than what I already put on the review, but you should go listen to “Raven Child” because that track is pure fire.
7. Stormland – Incident Report: UC-0791227
Independent | TovH Premiere
Gundam death metal for the cultured weeb. A fun and heavy little 5-track EP with a pretty interesting story to go along with it, especially if you’re someone who is into or wants to get into Gundam. The Dossier Edition is a treat, packed with a “dossier” containing the lyrics. The cover of “Break My Stride” was also an unexpected addition that works surprisingly well.
6. NOISEPOETNOBODY – Concrete Vitalist
Scry Recordings | TovH Premiere
An incredible soundscape with plenty of noise and musique concrete elements, this four-movement piece features a mix of field recordings and prepared/string piano with synth noise and drones. It’s the sound of urban living, urban decay. At times haunting, and at others downright menacing.
I like Dawn Ray’d, but it wasn’t till this record that I actually entirely liked a full-length offering of theirs. The folk parts are stronger and better sounding, with a slight Ives-like layering going on, and the black metal stays fresher and more heavy-hitting for me, with particularly poignant lyrics and themes.
4. Alcest – Spiritual Instinct
Nuclear Blast Records | Review
In my review I was actually a bit hard on this album, but it’s been growing on me. While I still prefer Kodama, Spiritual Instinct was a good offering from the band, with a heavier sound being showcased this time around. I think this album works best being taken in bits and pieces, keeping the songs fresher and preventing the thing from bleeding together into a big mass of pretty Alcest sounds–listening to the record on my commute between gigs and jobs where I could only listen to a song or two at a time is what started piquing my interest more compared to the first few spins I had for my review.
3. [L]e Complex – Malevolent Dreams
Crunch Pod |
I was browsing through the power electronics and noise tags on band camp one day, and I came across this album. The mix of rhythmic, breakbeat sound through the lens of noise and harsh ambiance drew me in and it’s been on pretty heavy rotation since. I don’t know much about the artist, or their other project [FABRIKMUTTER], but I know I dig this a lot. A cursory glance on Facebook shows that they seem to be firmly in the antifascist camp, so that’s a plus in my book. Check it out.
2. Darkthrone – Old Star
Peaceville Records |
I wrote a review for this one (not for TovH) and turned it in and it just . . . disappeared. I really liked this record. It’s crusty, thrashy, and very 80s, but somehow has a more mature sound. Right from the opening track I was into it. I also dig that the production went for a vintage sound without making it sound like they were recording in an echoing basement like some albums I’ve heard trying to get a specific sound.
1. Devin Townsend – Empath
Inside Out | TovH Interview
I am right, stop throwing stuff at me.
I did a review for New Noise when the album was coming out where I said I could tell this was going to be in my top albums of 2019, and it’s still on heavy rotation for me. I love the variety on this album, I love the skill, and I love the weirdness. I ordered a CD of the record and got a second disc full of songs that weren’t included with the promo, and I found some on there I like even more than those on the main album. A fantastic and varied album about aging, coping, growing, and life. Wanting to love and to be loved. I think that’s a pretty good thing to strive for right now.
So there we are. Like I said there’s plenty I missed but I hope you enjoy some of these as much as I did.
[takes massive bong rip] I mean, like, what even is a year, man? A fuckin’ calendar or some shit? It’s a total construct and I don’t need to abide by it. These lists are written in November with a full month of music yet to be released. So, to me, list consideration should reach from December through November to capture those gems in the otherwise Lost Month. And here we find Acathexis, released on December 26, 2018, when the metal media was in hibernation. From the minds of Déhà (he of the hundred thousand bands), a Mare Cognitum guy, and one other dude whose other bands I don’t know, comes a blistering and yet soulful black metal offering that captures the brutality of the genre while tapping into the soaring heights of the atmo- and post- hyphenated versions. It would be a shame if it didn’t get recognition simply based on the tyranny of the Gregorian calendar. This was also one of the last releases for the fallen Fallen Empire Records.
Sitting in the lotus pose atop a great mountain, the wise man Spear once posed a question of existential significance: how many albums from last year’s list do you still listen to regularly? My answer was two. It gave me pause and made me reevaluate my life’s choices. What was I doing with these lists? I realized I was using my critic brain more than my music-lover brain, trying to evaluate the best records from an objective standpoint. But I am a subject, not an object. In my spare time, I consume music I want to hear, not music I think is necessarily the highest quality. So this year, I promised myself I would make a top 10 list of records I actually loved listening to. Enter Witnesses, a band who started as an ambient project. To Disappear and Be Nothing is their first foray into Katatonia-laced melodic doom and I love it. The clean vocals are affecting, vulnerable, and [shudders] dripping with sentiment. Your enjoyment of the record will entirely depend on the level of buy-in you have to that sentiment. Its sadboi beauty pulled my heartstrings and never let go.
8. Ars Magna Umbrae – Lunar Ascension
I have a love-hate relationship with dissonance. It can be used to create the most gloriously evil and uncomfortable sounds to ever curse the land. It can also be used to sound like a recording of a band falling down the stairs (sorry, Pyrrhon). I guess I’m just not smart enough to enjoy the latter. Thankfully, there are bands like Arts Magnet Umbrella who bring the dissonance in my favorite way: structured enough for my small brain to comprehend and unsettling enough to seize the type of darkness only dissonance can achieve. From a one-man outfit on his first day out, it’s really, really impressive. One of my favorite dissoblack albums.
7. Waste of Space Orchestra – Syntheosis
Svart Records | Mini-Review
If before the year started someone told me that one of my favorite records this year would be a 64-minute space opera from a one-off, ten-man collaboration project, I probably would have nodded while slowly backing away and dialing 911. Yet here we are. The relentlessly weird and uncategorizable alliance of Orannsi Pazuzu and Dark Buddha Rising is a compelling, fascinating journey narrated by three characters, The Possessor, The Shaman, and The Seeker. It floats through nine chapters on a cloud composed of experimental, psychedelic, spacy, prog-ish, whatever else stuff with the metal in closest proximity being black, I suppose. The ambition and scope is enormous and there are innumerable ways this album could have failed. But they nailed it from start to finish, especially with the final and title track, “Syntheosis,” which embraces its name by connecting all of the many motifs from the album into one massive epic. A great achievement.
This debut record from two mysterious Frenchmen knocked me flat on my ass. Playing some form of blackened doom-sludge with tinges of industrial and electronica, Vous Autres makes some of the nastiest, ugliest, hopeless music I’ve ever heard. Haunting dissonance, crushingly heavy riffs, shredded-throat vocals, complete devastation of body and mind in perpetual nightmare. It’s the aural equivalent of passing an event horizon; all light is absorbed and cannot escape. Play it as loud as possible, preferably with solid bass output.
5. Veilburner – A Sire to the Ghouls of Lunacy
Transcending Obscurity Records
Ever wondered what a bastard love child of Ved Buens Ende, Dodheimsgard, and Deathspell Omega would sound like if it grew up to be a cowboy? Well, probably a little bit like this but it also sounds like other stuff, too. Another one of these late December 2018 releases, Veilburner crafted an impressively creative avant-garde black/death metal album that pushes genre conventions out of a window to splat on the pavement below. There’s a distinct Western vibe rolling through the blood rivulets trickling onto the street, while the shattered bones frame an often discordant maelstrom of tightly controlled fury. Now that I’m sick of this extended metaphor, I’ll just say this record kicks ass and you should listen to it if you like weird shit.
4. The Drowning – Radiant Dark
Transcending Obscurity | Mini-Review
Doom is a tricky genre for me. If I like it at all, it usually takes a certain mood for me to crave it. And with my mental health improving in my later years, those moods come less and less frequently. Sure, I like me some sadboi jams, as evidenced by Witnesses above, but when the BPM is best measured by a calendar, that’s usually when I punch my ticket out. These chaps from The Drowning, though, took my usual doom attitudes and placed them under water where they died of respiratory impairment as a result of being in or under a liquid. Probably because it channels nostalgia for the early Peaceville Three days, I can play this at any time, regardless of current temperament. Even the funereal dirge opener (“The Triumph of the Wolf in Death”) with its molasses pace keeps my attention somehow and that never happens. Yet as good as the whole record is, there are two massive highlights that catapult The Radiant Dark up the rankings: “In Cold Earth” and “Blood Marks My Grave.” Both of these tracks are devastatingly beautiful with heart-wrenching melodies forcing me to smash that repeat button anytime they play.
This year, I had a prog awakening. Not a total awakening, mind you—the Gates of Wank are still very much closed to me—but it was an awakening, nonetheless. I could finally appreciate bands like Porcupine Tree, Fates Warning, Haken, Karnivool, Queensryche, etc. While I enjoyed all of those records, the one that weakened my knees was Mother of Millions. Not necessarily because it is the most creative or genre-defying or had some interesting album concept. The tunes are all good to great, some driving, others contemplative, with bookend tracks “Amber” and “Artefact” obvious standouts. “Artefact,” in particular, is a monumental finisher that builds exponentially through somber piano into a post-metal explosion. But the one thing that really makes this record special is vocalist George Prokopiou. I only have one thing to say about him:
2. White Ward – Love Exchange Failure
Debemur Morti Productions | Review
A couple months ago, I was lucky enough to get the promo for White Ward’s latest. Initially, the Good Owl Roldy greedily snatched it because he was a big fan of Futility Report. For reasons only known in the avian brain, it didn’t work for him so he passed it on to me. Gripping story, right? Anyway, I’m glad he did because this album fucking rules. Gimme all that sax-drenched, urban-dystopian, hard-boiled noir black metal and give it to me twice on days that end in –y. I need it. I crave it. I want a pool of it so I can swim in it like Scrooge McDuck’s money bin, all that dirty street grime covering my body. If you want to hear about what it actually sounds like, you can click on the review link. Or not. I don’t give a shit. Fuck you.
If you’re a reader of this blog, or any lesser metal blog, you probably have an unhealthy obsession with finding new music. And if you’re anything like me, you’re constantly in search of new music that gives you that feeling, an overwhelming rapturous experience so soul-deep it makes your body tingle. Once you’ve’ had that feeling, you need it again and again. It’s addict behavior. I’ve only experienced it a few times in my life. Saor’s Forgotten Paths is one of them. From the moment I hit play, it enveloped me in layer after layer of perfect melody—whether it be guitar, bass, violin, bagpipes, or what have you—forming a perfect puff pastry of atmospheric folky black metal. [Paul Hollywood voice] Beautiful laminate, perfect prove, perfect bake. Just excellent. Honestly, the best puff pastry I’ve ever eaten.*shakes Saor’s hand* [/Paul Hollywood voice]. The critiques of this album are all wrong. Don’t like the bork bork bork vocals? Personal taste, I guess. Record is too short? Press play again. Fixed. Sounds too much like Guardians? First of all, wtf. Second of all, are you okay? Guardians is brilliant. Do you not want more of that? How could that possibly be a negative? Third of all, it’s better than Guardians in every way, from production to song-writing to emotional highs. All of it. Every second of this record is a wonder to behold and it is my birth child and I don’t want to hear anything out of any of you.