Top Albums ov 2019 w/ Karhu, BW, and Leif Bearikson
Listocalypse Day 3: headaches, nausea, dull pulse, bones hurt, eyes burning, intermittent molting.
I like making and organizing lists, but publishing them always makes me feel like there should be something definite about them, even if it’s just my opinion, and I’m not so good with that so list season isn’t usually very easy for me, and this year was no different. Actually it was harder than ever before because I feel like I haven’t enjoyed very much anything this year, and if I have, it’s quickly waned. What did I even listen to this year? Not too much stuff that came out this year, or at least, not much that I also enjoyed and kept returning to. I’ve probably already forgotten about more good albums than I recall because I don’t keep a thorough list throughout the year. So I decided to make this list a purely metal one, and save myself the trouble of wondering whether I came back to Janne Westerlund enough to warrant it a spot, if Swans’ latest is really that good, do Hot Heros’ inconsistencies keep me from enjoying it that much or is Malibu Ken better than all these metal records. And yet, this way, I still got to mention and market them. Besides, we all know all I really listen to is sketchy bm, so this list is all false anyways, haha, just kidding, unless…
Soen – Lotus
Silver Lining Music | Stick’s Review
Whatever the stuff that this is made of is, probably the same dreams are made of, baste me with it and set me on fire. I need it to seep into my pores, to burn into my marrow, to meld into my cellular structure. No one does this kind of contemplative, emotional progressive metal/rock like Soen does (and that means no one) and I don’t think they’ve ever done it so well before.
Lord Vicar – The Black Powder
Church Within | Review
A seventeen-minute doom track that goes from headbanging stomp through constant shifts to soul-dragging weight, acoustic melancholy and better grasp on dynamics than your favourite prog band, while riffing the hell out of your face? Count me the fuck in. Though the massive opener has been swallowing a lot of my attention, the rest is just as good and you should really get this record you dolt.
Véhémence – Par le Sang Verse
Antiq Records | Review
I guess my biggest disappointment (musically) this year would have to be black metal. I love black metal, I love it weird, second-wave worshipping, raw, noisy, mangled, sterile, squeaky clean, primal, psychedelic and generic. But practically nothing this year has left too much of a mark on me. Except this. Goddarnit this is good. Bright medieval melodies coming out of all your orifices with real consideration for dynamics and interplay between instruments on a level that’s rarity for black metal.
Borknagar – True North
Century Media | Review
I’m not going to sit around and pretend I haven’t spent countless hours with everything that’s ever come out of Oystein Brun’s pen but this one ( a team effort) is extremely good too. There’s a lot of diversity between the songs, both individual themes and entities are thoroughly engaging, Vortex gives a career best vocal performance, and gets nifty on the bass while Lazare proves his prowess as a (vocal) composer once more. Emotionally exhausting, but in all the good ways.
No Bandcamp Because Century Media Sucks Like That
Gygax – High Fantasy
The perfect summer rocking record to be played in sub-zero temperatures while setting fish traps for burbots in the middle of December. Guitarmonies, hooks for days, saxomaphone and the nerdiest concept this side of the River Wazoo. High Fantasy has to be the fun-est record I’ve listened to in 2019, but it’s got plenty more to offer for a careful digger than just simple rocking fun. Which it is also full of.
Nucleus – Entity
Unescapable Thrash | ‘Crustacean’s Review
The real best sci-fi death metal album released this year. I sorta forgot about this record for a couple of months, but boy am I glad I dug it back up. It’s got riffs that’ll blow your dick clean off, with just the right amount of “weird and quirky”, songs that flow into each other all suite-like and shit. Ugly and fancy at the same time! Death metal don’t do no better, Donny.
Rainer Landfermann – Mein Wort in Deiner Dunkelheit
Looking at my list, I was a little worried. Did I really not get my weird on this year? Have I enjoyed literally nothing that I’ve enjoyed up until now? Silly me, Rainer Landfermann’s solo debut came out this and not last June. It’s got the insane vocals from Bethlehem’s Dictius Te Necare, it’s got the insane bass from Pavor, and including this probably breaks my “metal only” rule, but it says “No Metal Albums”, we’re allowed to have one. And almost all of it Rainer did by himself too. This album gives me the same smug sense of superiority a Kallion Villamyssyhipsteri gets when ordering a casual IPA.
Vargrav – Reign in Supreme Darkness
Werewolf Records | Review
Been fluctuating a lot with this one, is it as great a record as I predicted it would grow to be, or a disappointment after all? Does it measure up to the debut, which made my last year’s top 3? Questions that don’t need answering. Though it’s pretty much just Emperor-worship, as opposed to the debut’s far larger scope, it’s not as redundant as some other, recent records of similar stylistic origins and why do I always end up writing some criticism into these lists when I’m supposed to blatantly celebrate this awesomeness? Compact and lively symphonic black metal that rules.
Funereal Presence – Achatius
Sepulchral Voice | ‘Crustacean’s Review
I don’t know what this is. Thrash-influenced, classic heavy metal forcibly played by a first wave black metal band on a really bad trip? Sounds about as accurate as anything else. The songs get long, the arrangements make me do that one look Leonardo DiCaprio does in that one picture and then it goes all xylophony on me. This here Trip is trippy as hell, without the usual burden of force-fed psychedelia, and I want in on it.
Cult of Luna – A Dawn To Fear
Metal Blade | Stick’s Review
Going to be honest with you for a moment. I was going to put Pentacle’s new album, Spectre of Eight Ropes here. It’s a really good Dutch death metal record, but I literally listened to it for the first time two days ago as of writing this. And with such a short history with that record, I’m a little hesitant to include it just yet. So I’m putting the an excellent comeback record from post-metal near-giants here instead. CoL only ever changes little, giving each album a character of it’s own, but never truly warping their sound anywhere, and somehow still makes it work. This one goes together with existential crisis, depression and various sorts of anxiety very well.
10. Chevalier – Destiny Calls
Gates of Hell Records | TovH Review
Three words: medieval metal madness. With Destiny Calls, Chevalier take all of the best dungeon-vibes and insanity of Brocas Helm, the speed and precision of ADX, and some of their own special magic to create a more mature follow up to 2017’s A Call To Arms. Wild lead guitar, great vocals, and one of the loudest bassists ever to be heard in speed metal make for one of the most fun albums of 2019, and a wide variety of songwriting gives it plenty to unravel with each relisten. Recommended for fans of Brocas Helm, Omen, and ADX.
9. Magic Circle – Departed Souls
20 Buck Spin | Ride Into Glory Review
Magic Circle may well be the best of the current crop of retro hard rocking doom bands. Though they started off as a mish-mash of doom tropes on their first album hearkening as much to Trouble as to Pagan Altar, they have over time narrowed down their influences to encapsulate the ‘70s more than anything- some of the heavier side of doom remains, but it’s far more tempered now by Black Sabbath and bluesy jam bands than it ever was in the past. Departed Souls features great songwriting, a good sense of dynamics between heavy and light, killer riffage, one of doom metal’s hardest hitting drummers, and one of the most distinctive vocalists in heavy metal right now. Sleeping on Magic Circle would definitely be a mistake. Recommended for fans of Black Sabbath, Pagan Altar, and Witchfinder General.
8. Ares Kingdom – By the Light of Their Destruction
Nuclear War Now! Productions
Ares Kingdom have always been criminally underappreciated by death metal fans. Formed in 1996 following the dissolution of Order From Chaos by two thirds of the OFC lineup, Ares Kingdom have walked a path of death and destruction with their music that picked up where Order From Chaos left off, albeit with a much heavier thrash influence and sense of melody. Since their first full length in 2006 Ares Kingdom have consistently put out an album every four or five years, and each one has absolutely annihilated. Each album has its own sense of identity, and in the case of By the Light of Their Destruction, that identity is a bit more black metal influence than the last few records, a bit more unchecked aggression, and as always, enough riffs to level a mountain. Recommended for fans of Deceased, Order From Chaos, and Armoured Angel.
7. Funereal Presence – Achatius
Sepulchral Voice Records | TovH Review
Negative Plane is easily one of my favorite black metal bands to pop up after the classics, and unfortunately, they’ve been pretty much inactive musically (though they still play shows) since their sophomore album came out in 2011. The sting of their absence is lessened by drummer Bestial Devotion’s ongoing solo project, Funereal Presence, who sound quite a bit like Negative Plane but with a heavier dose of complete insanity; though the Funereal Presence debut The Archer Takes Aim suffered a bit from one-man-band syndrome, Achatius, this year’s offering, suffers from none of those flaws. Wild, theatrical, and expansive, Achatius is to my ears this year’s finest black metal album. Recommended for fans of Negative Plane, Mortuary Drape, and Cultes des Ghoules.
6. Terminus – A Single Point of Light
Cruz del Sur Music | Ride Into Glory Review
Terminus debuted in 2015 with the monolithic The Reaper’s Spiral, which remains one of my favorite heavy metal albums from the last decade. Now they’re back, and again come in hot with an album that crushes most of their competition with ease. Incredible and distinctive singing combines with a dynamic mix of epic heavy metal, classic USPM, and doom metal to create another epic for the ages. Recommended for fans of Isen Torr, Twisted Tower Dire, and Solstice.
I’ve talked a lot about how much I love this band over the last few years, and they just keep upping themselves. Unaussprechlichen Kulten is death metal’s response to Lovecraftian horror; the fundamental shape of their music is one of ever-shifting sonic torment, with guitars generally straying from standard riffing and songwriting (and, often, from each other) to present some of the most unique and well-done death metal of today. Though the band’s foundations can be found in bands like Immolation, Morbid Angel, and Sadistic Intent, Unaussprechlichen Kulten are one of the rare bands going these days to really form their own sound in a way that makes it hard to compare them anymore to their forefathers. Recommended for fans of the bands mentioned above, as well as for fans of any and all forward-thinking death metal.
Italian heavy metal has long been legendary in heavy metal to the sufficiently educated fan, and Vultures Vengeance carry that torch with the grace and gravitas of a band that took ten full years of songwriting and tweaking to put out their first album. The Knightlore is easily the best debut album of 2019, and is a breath of fresh air in a scene without enough personal character to songwriting. Gorgeous, epic, progressive, and still with enough riffiness to challenge any heavy metal band, it’s no shock that Vultures Vengeance immediately captured the imagination of the heavy metal scene and made huge waves right from their first demo. Recommended for fans of Dark Quarterer, Manilla Road, and Tyrant (UK).
3. Pentacle – Spectre of the Eight Ropes
Iron Pegasus Records
Despite the fact that this list features no less than three death metal bands dating back at least twenty years, not many of the old legends are still doing well. Plenty of them are still active- just look at any festival headline featuring death metal to see that- but even out of the bands that are still slaying live, most of them that are still releasing new music are doing a less than stellar job of it. Enter Pentacle, who have been fairly quiet since 2005’s Under the Black Cross. They’ve had a handful of EPs and splits, sure, but everyone has waited nearly fifteen years for the Dutch band’s third album. Fortunately, Pentacle still has it, bringing a raging mixture of brutal Frost-ian thrash and early death metal that sounds as angry and energetic now as it did when the band first debuted in 1992 to new record Spectre of the Eight Ropes. This is death metal not for those who love big technical flourishes and clean production, but for those whose hearts lie with the original soul of the genre- the obscene, the ugly, and the gnarled. Recommended for fans of Asphyx, Divine Eve, and Sadistic Intent.
2. Capilla Ardiente – The Siege
High Roller Records | TovH Review
Capilla Ardiente are simply put the single best band in epic doom metal right now, as is proven by their sophomore album, The Siege. Incredible songwriting, thunderous bass, and one of metal’s best vocalists combine in the best of fashions to create an epic doom metal album for the ages. The sense of might and wonder presented here rivals anything that’s come out in the last few years, and any doom collection is incomplete without it. As good as Bravery, Truth and the Endless Darkness was, The Siege is better. Recommended for fans of Solitude Aeturnus, Procession, and Candlemass.
1. Orodruin – Ruins of Eternity
Cruz del Sur Music | Review
Johnny Gallo has for years now been in the highest echelon of active doom musicians, and is probably my favorite still in the business. This is yet again cemented by Orodruin’s first new material in a decade (discounting 2012’s In Doom EP which, though excellent, was recorded in 2007). Rather than the crushing heaviness of downtuned guitars and dirging song structures that so many associate with modern doom metal, Orodruin’s heaviness comes from an older place- Judas Priest versus Cathedral, to quote a friend. Regardless of what you call it, Orodruin is absolutely incredible even after their long hiatus, and no matter where they go from here, Ruins of Eternity alone would make the entire year worthwhile. Recommended for fans of Solstice, Magic Circle, and Black Sabbath.
Nucleus continue to explore the outer reaches of death metal and are still finding extra terrestrial gold. Entity is an evolution rather than a giant leap, a refinement of sound that really nails a claustrophobic and alien atmosphere that feels like aliens munching on your brain. If you’ve ever wanted to know what it sounds like to discover a spacecraft teeming with hostile lifeforms then this is the record for you.
9. Inter Arma – Sulphur English
Relapse Records | April 12th, 2019
Inter Arma’s fourth full length is a violent merger of crushing weight, somber beauty and hallucinatory states of being, a magnificent car crash unfolding in slow motion that births something marvelous. It’s the aural equivalent of David Cronenberg’s Crash if you think about it (please don’t think about it). “Stillness” might be my favorite track of the year and is certainly one of the finest that Inter Arma have ever written.
As some of you may be aware I love DEATH METAL, and that’s exactly what Witch Vomit deliver on Buried Deep in a Bottomless Grave. Each track is quick and punchy, but with a great sense of melody (the ending of “Dead Veins” in particular is a highlight). This LP fully delivers on the promise of 2017’s Poisoned Blood. Witch Vomit do Grave as good, if not better, than any band going today and are doing it with force.
San Antonio’s Haunter follow up Thrinodia with a weird and wild death metal adventure, just a few hundred leaps removed from their black metal roots. It’s a little bit Opeth, but filtered through latter Gorguts with mystifying riffs that swirl, dance and generally bewilder but that are also expertly married to a quiet beauty. “Abdication” as the solemn instrumental center piece is one hell of a bold decision that works marvelously. Sacramental Death Qualia is a stunning leap by a band that seems poised to do great things with extreme music.
6. Esoteric – A Pyrrhic Existence
Season of Mist |
A wise man once said “if it’s too slow, you’re too young,” and I gotta say, I’m glad I’m finally old enough to enjoy the more glacially paced side of metal. Esoteric’s latest is an absolutely gargantuan beast of a record coming in at just under an hour and forty minutes but somehow not a second of that run time is wasted. It’s rare that an album that pushes an hour can hold my attention, even more so one that runs the length of a film, but Esoteric have crafted an absolutely enthralling album that is a heartbreaking joy to listen to.
5. Vastum – Orificial Purge
20 Buck Spin | Podcast
Vastum continue to have an absolutely flawless discography and also deliver some of the best songs of their career. They continue to bring the absolute dumb heavy riffs but add just a smidge more atmosphere to the proceedings and center it all around monster hooks. I struggle to think of another band that’s this heavy who’s songs I routinely sing along to and remain stuck in my head for days on end. Oh, and can we talk about that art by Laina Terpstra?
4. Gatecreeper – Deserted
Speaking of incredible art, Brad Moore turns in another mind bender of a piece for Gatecreeper’s Deserted. In the lead up to release vocalist Chase Mason repeatedly used the phrase “stadium death metal” to describe the sound of Deserted and I can’t think of a better descriptor. This is arena ready death metal meant to be shouted along to on the loudest possible sound system. Can you imagine listening to something like “From the Ashes” or “Everlasting” at any volume other than “LOUD AS FUCK”? I can’t. Inject this straight into my brain.
Power move of the year goes to Mizmor and Gilead Media for releasing an 18 minute single in the lead up to Cairn’s release. That song, quite literally a quarter of the album’s run time, is just one part of the incredible mural that is Cairn. Devastating shrieks give way to tormented shouts as the guitars and drums dance between breakneck black metal intensity and sludgey funeral dirges, freedom through heartbreak in audio form. Cairn is an absolutely incredible hour of art that will shake you down to your roots.
Tomb Mold has been on maybe the hottest hot streak I’ve seen in my fifteen or so years of listening to death metal. They’ve released three albums in three years with each release being leaps and bounds ahead of the last. Planetary Clairvoyance finds them at their most brutal, catchiest and weirdest. “Infinite Resurrection” is pure Finnish punishment and groove while “Accelerative Phenomenae” lures you in with a monster rock n’ roll riff before bludgeoning over the skull. It’s a truly fantastic album from a band pushing themselves to new creative heights, but above all of that it’s something that a lot of death metal just isn’t: Fuckin’ fun.
I won’t bore you be rehashing too much of my review of this album here but like I said in it, this is an instant underground classic. Blood Incantation offer everything that made Starspawn so special, tighten it up, and take it to strange new heights. From Egyptian funeral doom to DMT fueled instrumentals to dimension opening epics that span half of the length of the album, Hidden History of the Human Race is the wildest and most engaging album of 2019. Blood Incantation are starting to spread their wings across the galaxy and are more than ready to take us all into whatever brave new worlds await.