Top Albums ov 2019 w/ Rolderathis, 365, and Joaquin Stick
Listocalypse Day 4: the end is nigh, darkness consuming all light, corporeal inversion commencing.
2019 was the year of my re-corruption, as our dearly departed Dubya pulled up the lids of my owl eyes to show me I could still appreciate no-frills death metal (thank you, my friend). Ever since then, it’s been a descent into more and more depraved tunes (with a few outliers, of course). And you know what? I think I like it down here. Numbered list this year ‘cuz I’m a corp-cuck.
10. Malevich – Our Hollow
Independent | Mini
What do listening to Malevich and being interred have in common? Everything. If you could experience your own burial it would sound something like this: the creaking of pulleys, the slow thump of clots of dirt hitting the casket, shrieks of grief from the surface, muffled through mahogany. There’s an earthy quality to the mix (whether coating spastic grind or the depths of despondent sludge) that makes me check my ears for soil after every song. It’s raw, harrowing, and just over half an hour. We all (hopefully) have enough time to listen at least once before we’re lowered into our hollows.
9. Nightfell – A Sanity Deranged
20 Buck Spin | Podcast
There’s a charming simplicity to Nightfell‘s latest album, a focus on death/doom fundamentals performed by expert hands. Think of the record as the most succulent cut of beef imaginable, perfectly seasoned with the salt of tears. A shroud of woe lies draped over every minute of its runtime, and it’s an atmosphere that always feels organic; you won’t hear any “HowlingWindSound4.wav” garbage, just shifting, mournful guitar lines and a vocalist who sounds like he was recorded in a cave inside of another cave. From the stately drumming (please bury me with a loop of that snare sound playing in my headphones) and death metal tremolos to the foggy ambient passages, the dynamic production imbues A Sanity Deranged with the weight of dread. But it’s a good dread, I promise. (P.S.: I heard this band described as “Sadboi Bolt Thrower” and my lie detector didn’t flinch.)
8. Essence of Datum – Spellcrying Machine
Season of Mist | Podcast
Normally, I need instrumental melodeath in my life like I need a LEGO block implanting itself in my sole; however, the Belarusian boys in Essence of Datum have completely excised the saccharine bloat I associate with the genre. What’s left is Spellcrying Machine: 7 tracks of expressive leads and melodic (but not toothless) riffs that manage to sound triumphant without bringing the cheese, and actually step outside of the typical fist-pumping fare. “Shikari Algorithm” flirts with cataclysmic black metal, and even “Pendulum,” one of the most playful tunes on the album, delves into doomy introspection in its latter half. Don’t worry about the lack of vocals—that would only serve to mute the instruments, and they have so much to say.
7. Cloud Rat – Pollinator
Artoffact Records | Review
This is grindcore after all, so I’ll keep it short and
sweet abrasive. Cloud Rat utilizes a strange mixture of sounds, a combination of styles almost as rare as their namesake: post-metal’s wistful melodies take a trip through the trash compactor and emerge as filthy, bite-sized morsels bursting with emotion (and bile). The precision of the trio’s performances is another departure from the typical sloppiness of grind; rather than feeling like a departure from the genre’s roots, Pollinator‘s clarity helps drive the band’s environmental (and societal) themes into the brain undiluted, like so many poignant bullets.
6. Malignant Altar – Retribution of Jealous Gods
Maggot Stomp | Clink clink clinkclinkclinkclink clink-clink
If my list from last year is any indication, I haven’t been into straight-up, no-frills death metal for a hot minute—but then a drummer named Dobber came along and everything changed. An endless procession of fills and creative cymbalwork augments these primitive riffs into something truly propulsive; let’s be honest, the man’s got more flow than Flo. (There, I said it, I’m here to start beef, I want them to get into a feud and write drum solo diss tracks so that we can all profit.) The sense of motion within these tracks is almost palpable—so stick your head out the window and feel the miasmal winds on your face.
5. Jinjer – Micro
Nuclear Blast | Review
Merely mentioning Jinjer in the kvlt and trve corners of the internet feels like drawing a target on your back. (Also, apparently mentioning that their vocalist Tatiana is a woman is tantamount to misogyny.) Something about the band’s mix of nu-metal’s aggressive bass frequencies and djent’s mechanical rhythms has people distancing themselves to preserve their “metal cred”—frankly, it’s embarrassing. This EP showcases a band in their prime, channeling styles that span generations (from blues and rap to death metal) and packing the excitement and energy of a dozen autopilot caverncore bands into each song.
4. Freedom of Fear – Nocturnal Gates
Great, first they had the Sydney Funnel Web, and now this. If there’s anything more intimidating in Australia than the fauna, it’s the ladies and gents in Freedom of Fear. This album was my biggest surprise of the year by far; I’d never heard of them before and I still have trouble believing this is their first LP. From the world-class shredding to the clever intertwining of death metal with other genres (you got your neoclassical in my slam!), the band displays a level of polish that’s almost unheard of this early on. Throw in the smoothest sax this side of Baker Street, and you’ve got yourself a real banger of a debut.
3. Vircolac – Masque
Dark Descent | Review
I don’t know about you, but I miss the good old days of Medieval Europe—not a cellphone in sight, just people living for a moment. The only doctor I want to see breathes dried flowers through a bird mask and believes sickness comes from swamp spirits. If there were a sound capable of spreading disease, it would be the Black Death death metal (or is it serf rock?) of Vircolac; even at its most melodic, there’s a nauseous lurch to the riffs, the feeling of recordings warped and mildewed with the passage of time. Masque isn’t all old school though. Through the use of subtle synths and noise rock embellishments, the band proves that it’s never too late to teach a dead dog new tricks.
2. Darkenhöld – Atra Musica
Les Acteurs de L’Ombre Productions | Podcast
There are so many ways an unplugged black metal project (with additional folk instruments) could fail, but Darkenhöld avoids every moatfall imaginable. Much like the castles of the Middle Ages, Atra Musica is a feat of engineering; all throughout, rasping vocals, extreme metal drumming and a variety of strings somehow share space without weakening the music’s foundations. This balance of regal and rustic melodies effectively transports me to both the opulent chambers of monarchs and the humble abodes of the peasantry. That’s just a really nerdy way of saying that the album is perfect for any mood—it weaves together the relaxing qualities of folk music and the immediacy of metal better than anything I’ve heard before. (P.S. to all bands: play more acoustic guitars over double bass kicks and blastbeats, it’s such a cool sound.)
1. The Odious – Vesica Piscis
Independent | Review
The year is 2019: Disney continues dragging the classics screaming into three dimensions, and the U.S. remains in a two-party rut as the country declines. It would appear imagination has become a rare commodity, but I understand where it went. The Odious sucked it all up, a supermassive black hole that compresses just about every subgenre of metal (and other styles as well) into a singular experience. The sheer amount of ideas packed into each track can be overwhelming on first listen (or the first 10), but there’s nothing vestigial here; every detour from their tech death roots, be it crooning alt-rock or a big ol’ metalcore beatdown, feels like a natural progression. Vesica Piscis is the sound of a rulebook being torn to shreds, the sound of a band playing exactly what they want with captivating conviction. Give me more of this.
365 Days Of Horror
Zvi – Deer Pink
Nefarious Industries | April 12, 2019
Are you a little sad prog boi or a big sad prog boi? Zvi (Ron Varod of Kayo Dot/Psalm Zero/Sabbath Assembly) goes for the big sad prog boi feels on his latest album Deer Pink. Atmospheric is almost too-light of a descriptor as each song intricately weaves sound and feelings into something more. Each track builds you up only to knock you down, leaving you a pile of your former self.
Killswitch Engage – Atonement
Metal Blade Records | August 16, 2019
Atonement is Killswitch Engage’s third album since original vocalist Jesse Leach returned. It is also by far their heaviest. I don’t know if it’s due to Adam D forming Serpentine Dominion with Corpsegrinder or signing to Metal Blade, or Jesse’s personal struggles, but Atonement sounds like the band has something to prove. I will always have a twinge of sadness when listening to new KSE because it doesn’t sound like Alive Or Just Breathing. Regardless, Atonement brings the heat with their mixture of hooks, uplifting choruses, and never-ending palm mutes. They manager to keep their typical sound while building upon it, not just rehashing the same thing over and over. Some of their metalcore contemporaries could learn a thing or two with Atonement.
Tiger Army – RetroFuture
Rise Records | September 13, 2019
Not too long ago I discovered Tiger Army after years of seeing their name, but never listening. What a mistake. Their brand of punk rock psychobilly is incredibly infectious and, as someone who does not boogie, actually makes me want to boogie. I know psychobilly and rockabilly are poison to “trve” metalheads, but fuck it. Tiger Army are so good at what they do that is should melt away your preconceptions and bias. RetroFuture is a melting-pot of punk, psychobilly, country, and Western and I can’t get enough. It makes me want to put on spurs and ride off into the sunset in search of adventure, fortune, and romance. Not many bands make me want to do any of that.
Sworn Enemy – Gamechanger
M-Theory Audio | April 5, 2019
Many bands want to sound like they’re going to punch you in the face. Sworn Enemy sounds like they’re actually going to do it. Gamechanger continues the band’s indomitable metal/hardcore attack that they have been putting out for over 20 years. Despite their long tenure (or maybe because of it) Sworn Enemy is still as hungry and pissed-off as ever with Gamechanger fitting in perfectly with the band’s major debut As Real As It Gets. Two-stepping, picking up changing, windmilling, spinkicking. All are encouraged with this album.
When I spoke with Brett Boland earlier this year, he rejected the notion that Astronoid was a metal band and explained that “Dream Metal” was just a name made up by Blood Music. Fair enough, but damn, is it an apt label. Astronoid deftly blends dreamy post-rock sounds with urgent metal-centric riffs and drums. It is simultaneously aggressive and pretty, wracked with longing emotions. It goes above and beyond just being a “heavy” album and showcases just how great Astronoid is and can be.
Babymetal – Metal Galaxy
Babymetal Records | October 8, 2019
I can hear the gnashing of teeth now. To put it plainly, Babymetal and Metal Galaxy makes me happy. Not much in this world can do that, but I can’t help but smile and sing along to their ridiculously catchy tunes. Metal Galaxy travels the universe, incorporating different musical styles ranging from traditional Indian music to folk metal. KamiBand, the backing musicians, are as great as ever and Su-metal and Moametal are just the best. All of it is a delight. You may now proceed to get really mad.
The Moth Gatherer – Esoteric Oppression
Agonia Records | February 22nd, 2019
I said back in February that The Mother Gatherer’s Esoteric Oppresion was a Top 10 contender and sure enough, they made it. The band’s doomy sludgey output would perk up the ears of any Neurosis or Cult Of Luna fan. What sets Esoteric Oppresion apart from the glut of sludge bands out there is the underlying melodic and post-metal flourishes. It’s what really separates a good album from a great album and your generic slow-and-low band from The Moth Gatherer.
Pinkish Black – Concept Unification
Relapse Records | June 14, 2019
Horror movie fans will get it. Concept Unification fits in solidly with the Carpenters and Frizzis of the world. The album has that synth-heavy sense of dread that I crave when watching modern horror movies that use modern music. Though is may appear to some that what Pinkish Black is doing no this album is simple or generic, the band layers each moment to create something massive. Give me the underlying sinister sounds and plodding trepidation of Concept Unification any day of the week.
“Ouchies! Duh prodwuctions huwts my wittle pwecious eawrs!” said the metal community after listening to Gold & Grey. Suddenly everyone was an expert on sound and they were unhappy with the way the album sounded. Not me. Give me that rough, tinny shit. It’s what the band wants and I think it adds another dimension to their sound. Gold & Grey has groove and raw passion. John Baizley’s strong vocals soar above everything yet somehow manages to bring it all together for an album that shows an amazing band only getting better as time goes on.
Zombie Apocalypse – Life Without Pain Is A Fucking Fantasy
Innerstrength Records | August 9, 2019
I waited a long time for new Zombie Apocalypse. All my expectations were met and exceeded on Life Without Pain Is A Fucking Fantasy. The songs are a frantic maelstrom of aggressive insanity. Every thing is a rush with this album and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Metal, hardcore, crossover, whatever you want to call it, there is something there for most fans of heavy music. Life Without Pain Is A Fucking Fantasy will bash your skull, tear open your rib cage, and gulp down your gooey entrails. All in less than 15 minutes.
These certainly aren’t the objectively best, most interesting albums of the year, but I listened to them a whole lot, so they must be my favorites.
Bask reminds me a lot of Elder, but existing in a game world where only a limited amount of skill points are available for your character build. Elder, who maxes out the RIFFS dial, has fewer points to spend on vocals and Bask decided to balance the two a bit more. The vocals are really front-and-center, but there’s enough variation in the instrumentation to make it feel a little progressive. The desert tone that permeates the runtime is extremely well done. It’s not a perfect album, but its accessibility and frequent hooks kept me coming back often.
9. Baroness – Gold & Grey
Abraxan Hymns | TovH Interview
Yeah, I wish it didn’t sound like that either. Despite that, I still love just about every song on this record. Gold & Grey is the perfect conclusion to their color series, and I hope this energy carries over to their next project.
I tried really hard to not put an 11-minute EP on here, but I had so many options for this spot that I had a brain malfunction and threw in this instead. I’m not sure what else to call it but post-punky-hardcore, but whatever it is, Blood Command continues their streak of ridiculous hooks filled with pure adrenaline.
It’s always nice when a band you used to love but hasn’t really hit the spot for a while comes back with probably their best work to date. Blood Year is a phenomenal instrumental record that is able to supplant the stickiness of vocals with unique rhythms and riffs that seem to speak through melody. The production is nice and punchy and sounds like a whirlwind of a live performance.
6. Sinmara – Hvísl Stjarnanna
Ván Records | TovH Review
The Icelandic black metal scene is mostly lost on me for the same reason as most filthy death metal, in that I have a hard time latching on to any riff in particular to observe the passage of time. Sinmara, however, are somehow able to slip ridiculously memorable melodic bits in with the nasty buzzing riffs and echoing screams. “Crimson Stars” is one of my favorite tracks of the year and being able to witness it live was something else.
5. Ashbringer – Absolution
Prosthetic Records | TovH Review
My happy-gaze atmo-black metal spot goes to Ashbringer this year, a spot previously held by Astronoid and MØL. The production on this album is kinda whack, but they somehow make it work in their favor; it’s gritty, melodic, varied, and shockingly cohesive for its length. Absolution has eight very long tracks, all of which are complete journeys that can be taken individually or all at once.
I think I’m in the minority in thinking that TYS’s previous release was a step down from their debut, but they are back with a vengeance on Terraformer. I just can’t get over how dang fun their sound is; it almost makes me, a person who will fake an injury to avoid dancing, get jiggy with it. If you haven’t seen these guys live, you need to witness an over-packed stage full of top-of-the-line nerd musicians just JAM.
3. Moon Tooth – Crux
Pure Noise Records | TovH Review
You can practically hear the heart and soul put into every track on this album. Not a single moment is wasted on this monumental slab of prog. The guitarist never stops doing things I’ve never heard before, the vocals are unhinged, and the rest of the band somehow keeps up with the insanity.
2.Eternal Storm – Come The Tide
Transcending Obscurity | TovH Premiere
Come the Tide feels like it was an album that was somehow made exclusively for me. Eternal Storm somehow crawled into my brain and figured out every little thing I like in my metal and then just plopped it down on the record. Every time I listen I think “Ok, this is bullshit. That happy melody over growls and blasts, that sax solo, the cathartic atmosphere, they just did all of that to make my top 10 list.” Well, it fucking worked Eternal Storm. I HOPE YOU’RE HAPPY.
1. Cult of Luna – A Dawn To Fear
Metal Blade | TovH Review
As much as I hate the idea of topping my list with a band that has been a genre-defining beast for nearly two decades, I cannot get over how much creativity they still have to give. A Dawn to Fear is their most dynamic effort yet, and years down the line, will probably be the CoL album I revisit the most. Layers upon layers upon layers of textures keep me coming back for more.