Top Albums ov 2019 w/ Spear, Joe, and Lacertilian
The end is in sight. Solace in death. Welcome back.
Presented in alphabetical order.
I saw someone describe this album as “post-punk masquerading as prog death” awhile back, and that’s not too far off the mark. Turns out that’s a pretty sweet combination of sounds; Folie has the heart and soul of the former with all the technical prowess and flair of the latter style. The vocals are raw, earnest, and powerful, and the instrumentals are equal parts somber and dazzling. The guys in A Novelist outdid themselves with this one- Folie is an album that everyone should hear, and there’s little else quite like it.
Whoever it was that introduced me to Dawn of Nil has my eternal gratitude; Culminating Ruins is one of the most unique and entrancing death metal albums I’ve heard in some time. Its melodies and chord voicings are alien and unconventional, but somehow still memorable. Its songs are long, but they flow so well and are so expertly crafted that you hardly notice. Even listening to it as I write this now, seven months after its release, I’m in awe of these compositions. If nothing else, give “Astral Vertigo” a listen; that riff that closes out this song is incredible.
If Suffering Hour went more death metal, leaned off the weird bendy stuff a bit, and went super fast all the time, the result would sound a fair bit like Defacement. Deviant has a dark and dismal atmosphere, but the delivery is fiery and intense. Ulcerate fans will appreciate this particular flavor of dissonance as well; much like those tech/skronk giants, Defacement doesn’t let it dominate the music completely, instead using it to give their music a more unique voice.
While this technically came out December 24th of last year, it was a Japan-only release, and I feel the end of December is late enough to justify its inclusion here anyway. Eternity’s End rocks some serious star power, featuring members of such illustrious acts as Alkaloid, Chthe’ilist, and Symphony X, and Unyielding is the culmination of their collective talents. This album shreds unbelievably hard and fast- as expected of a record inspired by F-Zero- and it’s ceaselessly entertaining. Vocalist Iuri Sanson (ex-Hibria) in particular deserves a shoutout for his performance here, as he brings a ton of power and character to an already powerful record. After several months of spinning this, I can definitively say this is one of my favorite power metal albums of all time, let alone of 2019.
My brain can only handle about 20 minutes of mathcore before it starts screaming and trying to escape my skull out my ears, but for Freighter, I’m willing to risk pushing it to 30. The Den is every bit as frenetic and jarring as you’d expect a math-branded album to be, but the focus here is as much on having fun as it is on creating jaunty compositions. The band has turned the unstable nature of the genre in their favor, making something that plays to the inherently bouncy sound this type of music has. It’s a lot of fun! Besides, just look at these guys and tell me you don’t want to listen to this.
I’m as much of a fan of big dumb death metal as the next guy, but big smart death metal? Whoa. Hath’s approach to prog death comes in the form of a diverse sonic palette rather than jaunty time signatures and complex chords, and it works wonders for them. That grimy guitar tone is shockingly clear in the lower register and feels very unique to this fast, melodic style of death metal, and the acoustic passages are as beautiful as they are haunting. Of Rot and Ruin was far and away my most-listened album this year, and it continues to draw me back in for more.
I’m not going to pretend to understand what Rae Amitay went through to conjure these lyrics or any of the hideous music surrounding them, but I’ve been using the Immortal Bird crew’s auditory expulsion of personal demons as a vehicle to exorcise a few of my own. This was a rough year for me, and I found myself retreating to hideous music more often than I typically do. Thrive on Neglect was one I returned to repeatedly; it runs the gamut of negative emotions, eventually stumbling toward catharsis, and it riffs hard the whole way. It’s everything I want from this type of music and then some.
On the complete opposite end of the emotional spectrum is this collaboration from Pijn and Conjurer, which was written with the express purpose of making some heavy, happy tunes. It’s a rare beacon of joy in a genre that is largely gloom and doom, and it’s a very comforting listen. It does this without being sappy, either; there’s still tension in each song, so that feeling doesn’t feel vapid or superficial. The release of that tension is fantastic every time it hits, and it hands down makes this the feel-good album of the year.
Why can’t black metal always be this good? Mirror in Darkness is an untamed beast of an album, flailing wildly and unpredictably through each of its songs. It’s noisy and dissonant, but not lacking in melody, either- the opening of “Apophenia” is one of my favorite moments in any song this year. The songwriting and performances are fluent and creative, and I love the way everything sounds; the bass tone in particular is hard as hell, and everything cuts through the wall of sound. This album continues to blow me away every time I return to it.
This is the only album I’m assigning a number: I said back in April that I suspected this would be my album of the year, and that opinion has not wavered since. I: Voice is a daunting album; it’s long, it’s dense, it’s incredibly uncomfortable, and it’s also the most rewarding listen I’ve had all year. There’s so much going on here, so many layers of tech and dissonance and weird jazzy melodies, that I find something new every time I come back to it. It’s as nightmarish as it is innovative, and even with all the other amazing stuff released in 2019, this one topped everything for me.
So uhhh.. Dubya used to do a kind of year-end site summary which I’m not going to try and replicate because I’ve already fucked this post up by spending all last week compiling the other writer’s lists, thinking life would allow me a minute to do my own top 10 the night before publishing. However life is a fickle bitch and shit happened all weekend to prevent me from getting some cpu time. So apologies to Spear, who had his stuff in order and had to wait for today to share his faves. Also, the large lack of Dubya (RIP), and ephemeral editing time from Joe and I throughout the year has meant that Rolderathis, Spear, Joaquin, et al have had to step up to keep things ticking over during 2019, so huge thanks is in order for them. Buy them an album on Bandcamp, or just send them a nice animal gif.
10. Weeping Sores – Fales Confession
I, Voidhanger | Podcast
Mates from Pyrrhon, Seputus, and Tchornobog combine to release an album that sounds nothing like Pyrrhon, Seputus, or Tchornobog. Forlorn yet beautiful death/doom featuring a violin. An engrossing listen that plays out like a melancholic aftermath to everything collapsing around you. Listen to it, not me.
9. Noctambulist – Atmospheres Of Desolation
Blood Harvest | Podcast
We actually got our first taste of Atmospheres Of Desolation all the way back in late 2018, and from that moment I had trouble finding the urge to check anything else. The combination of the all-out abrasive shredding and breathtaking transitions into phantasmal atmospherics is something to behold. Dissonant flairs book-end almost every scathing riff set to a tumultuous war metal-esque tempo, ratcheting up the tension with every passing moment. Oppression never sounded so alluring.
8. Russian Circles – Blood Year
Sargeant House | Podcast
Russian Circles never disappoint. Having been a fan of the band for over a decade now, their inclusion here is about as close as I’ve ever gotten to devoting a spot on an end of year list to a “nostalgia” act, but Blood Year definitely deserves it. Their last couple of records hadn’t really hit home so it legitimately gave me a warm feeling (not piss, I checked) hearing the band weave their hypnotic sonic spirals in a way that simultaneously evoked old memories but also felt like new exploring territory. Incredibly pleasing stuff. The track I’ve chosen to embed below ‘Kohokia’ would comfortably earn a place on a Russian Circles Greatest Hits album if such a thing were to exist.
Probably the most fun you’ll ever have listening to a dissonant death metal album. Horror God make music that suits whatever the fuck is depicted on that cover art. If the intro riff to ‘Age Of Madness’ doesn’t immediately get you feeling frisky, you do not fuck. Begone. However, if you dug that Teeth record, Sunless, or just wanna hear what Gorguts would sound like on mushrooms, this shit’s for you. Speaking of, there’s a guest solo from ‘The Huff’ himself on one of these tracks too. Wild fun.
6. Dysrhythmia – Terminal Threshold
Translation Loss | Podcast
While we’re talking about Huff Daddy, he + Colby Marstonian & co. put out another weird one of their own. Although potentially the weirdest part of Dysrhythmia‘s follow-up to 2016’s Veil Of Control was that it was weirdly less weird than expected. Yes, it was still most definitely the product of the people behind Krallice, Gorguts, Behold…The Arctopus etc. but it felt more immediately accessible than their previous output. So I guess the main difference you’ll notice is people having their brain melted with a pleasant smile rather than a quizzical stare this time around. Unbelievable musicians making untouchable tunes.
5. Sinmara – Hvísl Stjarnanna
Ván Records | Review
Yeah, so this one was a given for anyone who has had to read/listen to my bullshit over the past five years. Even my wife, who does her best to drown out my incessant Icelandic interest, would have recognised the almost incomprehensible logo from my wearing of the same 5 or 6 shirts on rotation every week and made an educated guess that any Sinmara release wouldn’t escape my end-of-year ejaculate. The band’s second full-length Hvísl Stjarnanna absolutely fucken deserves it though. A slightly more enigmatic and mysterious affair than Aphotic Womb, but all the better for it.
4. Ceremony Of Silence – Oútis
Willowtip | Premiere
One of the early 2019 records that absolutely floored us on first listen, then second, third, and every subsequent listen. Turns out Slovakia’s answer to Ulcerate released what is surely one of the most outstanding examples of blackened death metal to appear this whole damn decade. Did I mention it was their debut? Or that they’re a duo? Mind-boggling.
3. Nucleus – Entity
Unspeakable Axe | Premiere
In another particularly strong year for death metal, Nucleus‘ Entity was the one album for me which stood out above the others. Yeah, I was anticipating it to be as wild a ride as Sentient and the following split Fragmented Self hinted at, but this shit bumped me out of orbit. Sci-fi themed skronk-adjacent death metal imbued with progressive song-writing sensibilities and organic production. The most alluring aspects of 90’s Finndeath and modern USDM condensed into one cortex coating compound.
2. Billy Woods – Hiding Places
As tough as it is to dedicate space on an already condensed list to a non-metal album, I’d be lying if I didn’t include an album from my most listened to artist in 2019. Billy Woods released two new records this year and while both of them are essential, I spent more time with the first to drop. If you listen to hip-hop but aren’t already familiar with Billy Woods, you’re useless. Rectify your shit.
In Passing Ascension was my #1 of 2017, and ended up being our site’s overall #1 of that year too, so it probably shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to see Suffering Hour here. Some say it’s tough for an EP to compete with full-length albums for end of year prestige points, with less tracks to potentially hit the mark/leave an impression/etc. so I guess that makes it even more of a feat for a single track to eclipse an entire year’s worth of albums? I dunno, either way I’ve already written and said far too much about Dwell.
Just listen to this shit, it’s incredible.
I listened to less music this year than any other I can recall. It’s kinda been a busy one. I went through three jobs, got married, and went back to school SO DON’T EXPECT TOO MUCH FROM ME, GODDAMMIT. Anyway, here are ten records I liked this year.
10. The Sun Came Up Upon The Left – Sounds We Make Through Wind
Euphoriadic | Review
I wrote a lot of painful things in my review of Sounds We Make Through Wind. I’m in a pretty good mood at this exact moment so rather than delving into all that again maybe you should just buy this record because it is woefully under-appreciated.
I listened to two complete artist discographies in 2019, Buck Owens and Freddie Gibbs. Buck Owens doesn’t have a new album on account of being dead for 13 years, but Freddie Gibbs has been insanely prolific. Bandana, his second collaboration with super producer Madlib is chock full of lush instrumentation and an endless litany of bars dedicated to the art of selling cocaine. It’s exactly the kind of fun I’ve come to expect from the second most famous artist from Gary, Indiana
Interspersed throughout with authentic 1910s radio propaganda speeches, The Great Adventure juxtaposes the American promise of “a great adventure” awaiting our young soldiers in Europe with the hellish reality of trench warfare, chemical attacks, and endless death. Perhaps the most morbid track on the album, “Tote Erde” opens with the upbeat strain of “Johnny Get Your Gun” before trudging into an inevitable demise via relentless blastbeat fire. If you like your death metal slow, low, and eternally indebted to Bolt Thrower, The Great Adventure is a can’t-miss record. As the band states, “May the war on nationalism never end!”
Vulture’s Vengeance is all throwback 80s trad metal all the time. “Lord of the Key” (perhaps a musical double entendre?) is a tour de force of effortless guitar heroics. “Chained to the Night” offers up the tastiest and most unexpected guitar solo of the whole year. As soon as it’s over you’ll rewind just to hear it again. If you’ve ever pined after a pink Charvel, The Knightlore is the record for you.
Outside of Integrity and the Firestorm EP, I’m not much of a metalcore boi. OR SO I THOUGHT. The Language of Injury, Ithaca’s first full-length, is pissed off. Sure, of course it’s pissed off. It’s a metalcore album, right? But it also taps into a long-assumed dry vein of melodic and emotional hardcore that gives me a sweet tickle in my skull and a flood of nostalgia (though I don’t recall any bands of my era pulling it off this well).
5. Blood Incantation – Hidden History of the Human Race
Dark Descent | Review
Ya’ll are probably too mainstream to have heard of this one but what can I say? I’m a pretty underground kinda guy. If you’re able to read all of the patches on my dork suit out loud with perfect pronunciation you’ll actually force me to teleport to my home on the 5th dimension. Anyway, a lot of words have been written about Hidden History of the Human Race, all of them can be boiled down to, “Hey this is a pretty good death metal record.” That’s all well and good but I have yet to see anyone ask, “What about the hidden HERstory of the Human Race, HMMMMM?”
I fell in love with Sumerlands when those sweet boys released their debut in 2016. When I interviewed Arthur Rizk, he only had glowing things to say about vocalist Phil Swanson. I worked my way backwards in his discography and got my lil brains blown out by The Golden Bough, Atlantean Kodex’s brilliant album from 2010. The Course of Empire is the only album this year that I had to drop everything and listen to the moment it was released and damn did it deliver. If you’re prepared for a grand hero’s journey, sit down and listen to the whole thing. If you only have time for a lil epic odyssey, stab the play button on “He Who Walks Behind The Years (The Place Of Sounding Drums).” Shit whips ass.
This was a pleasant surprise from the sleepy little town of Chicago, Illinois. The melodic doom on display with Mercy shines with the glow of a sacred object. In moments, I feel like I’ve accidentally joined the congregation of some obscure holy sect, hearing hymns that weren’t meant for my ears. At other moments, like the 22-minute opening title track, you could swear you were listening to a rock opera from another dimension. This is a beautiful fucking record.
Damien Master managed to fuse punk and black metal together into a singular sound. While every other bm punk band was busy vomiting on a pile of upside down crosses, Master pens tales of doomed lovers amid some of the most tasteful guitar you can find this side of the Mississip. No APL release has ever sounded like anything other than the work of Damien Master. With Broken Play, his best work since 2014’s My Game Doesn’t Have a Name, you’ll die, fall in love, and then die a few more times for good measure.
1. Idle Hands – Mana
Les Acteurs de L’Ombre Productions | Podcast
There’s a couple of clunkers on Mana. There’s a few vocal melodies that don’t quite work. It’s all undeniably cheesy 80s rock. But if you’re too self-conscious to try wearing your sunglasses at night, you’ll never know the true heights of how cool you could possibly be. For my money, Idle Hands put out the record with the most damn-I-gotta-hit-repeat-on-that-one bangers on a single disc in 2019 and that makes it the best album of 2019. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Go listen to “Jackie”, “Give Me to the Night”, “Mana”, or “Blade and the Will” and you’ll be like, “Dang, Joe was right.”