Best Of 2019 – Last Rites Combined Staff Top 25

Well, Mark Tremonti of Alter Bridge was deemed “Guitarist Of The Decade” by the readers of Guitar World Magazine. From what I can tell, he seems like a good guy, so congrats to him. And hey, Alter Bridge is popular enough to have well over a million followers, so they’re clearly doing something right. My gut instinct has me wondering if 99% of the people involved in the voting look suspiciously similar to the members of Alter Bridge, though. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I guess—throw a beanie on my head and force me into some jeans with fancy threading on the back pockets and I might fit right alongside their promo pics as well. Those fellers have a hell of a lot more money than me, though. The bastards.

Anyway, point being: news of this article opens a big can of worms. Worms that have questions and concerns.

First and foremost, this serves as yet another reminder that we’ve reached the end of a fresh decade, so votings and rankings such as this are bound to abound. And yes, Last Rites is planning on committing a portion of 2020 to looking back on the best of what the last decade has delivered unto us, the ultimate fans of the guitar’s greatest gift: RIFFS.

Second, who might WE consider to be the Best Guitarist(s) Of The Decade? The Last Riters and our readership are generally more concerned about the underground, but there are some big players out there that’ve been quite busy over the last 10 years. For me personally, the following 15 (in no particular order) jump to mind:

• Esa Holopainen (Amorphis)
• Mark Shelton (Manilla Road)
• Ihsahn (um, Ihsahn)
• Tosin Abasi (Animals As Leaders)
• Terrance Hobbs (Suffocation)
• Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth)
• André Olbrich (Blind Guardian)
• Ice Dale (Enslaved)
• Karl Sanders (Nile)
• Adrian Smith (Iron Maiden)
• Bob Vigna (Immolation)
• Jim Matheos (Fates Warning, Arch / Matheos)
• Luc Lemay (Gorguts)
• Christian Münzner (Eternity’s End, Alkaloid)
• Shusuke “Syu” Ueda (Galneryus)

I’m sure you fine folks can think of at least 10 or 20 others I’ve managed to neglect.

What the hell does this have to do with this year’s Last Rites Combined Staff Top 25? In the immortal words of Ol’ Dirty Bastard: nuthin’. But it’s sure as hell fun to argue about it as another decade draws to a close. Annnnd…it’s another LIST. We love our precious lists.

As for 2019, it’s been another very good year for metal and Last Rites. Our Top 25 will (hopefully) demonstrate the former, and with regard to the latter, the crew is still tight: one of us got married, so we all gathered; another got engaged, so we will all gather again; and we still assemble like poorly dressed Sandhill Cranes every year at MDF to test all the barstools at Max’s Taphouse. Oh! We added a new guy, too, which is exceedingly rare. He has a real name, which remains a secret because he’s fairly well known (rhymes with Bustin’ Fingerlakes), and he brings a brand new flavor of shitty taste to the table. So, thanks for that, “FetusGhost” (wink wink.)

And you! The readers! You’re still here.  A very sincere THANK YOU goes out to any and all eyeballs currently reading our words, as well as the bodies connected to those blessed peepers.  Sometimes it feels like we don’t thank you guys enough, but hopefully our gratitude is still reflected in the quality of the words we continue to rumble down the chute.

This year’s Top 25 is pretty eclectic? That question mark is intentional, because I lost the ability to discern what’s generally considered eclectic and / or peculiar around the same time I discovered Varghkoghargasmal and Lugubrum. And speaking of those two particular bands, you’ll perhaps notice that black metal didn’t exactly win out in our Top 25. We could beat around the bush and talk about shifting tastes and avoiding various buffoonery until the pandas come home, but it’s probably easiest to simply put it like this: there ain’t a lot of black metal on our collective list. What there is, however, is a stack of really cool records as voted on by the following individuals: Me (Captain), Zach Duvall, Jeremy Witt, Jeremy Morse, Dan Obstkrieg, Manny-O-War, Chris Sessions, Ryan Tysinger and FetusGhost. Now you know who to thank and blame for including and ignoring your favorites. Be sure to keep an eye out for our personal lists starting next week so you can really find out who’s liable for the way this thing shook out.

That’s it. What were your favorite albums of 2019? Who would you pick as your Top Ten Guitarists Of The Decade? Do aliens make lists relating to the top ten ways they’re going to murder us all? Feel free to wrassle over life’s big questions in the comments section or through our Facebook or Twitter account.

See you on the other side. [CAPTAIN]

25. WHITE WARD – LOVE EXCHANGE FAILURE

Love Exchange Failure cover art“White Ward harnesses ideas of pain and disconnection and turn them into haunting, plaintive jazz woven through several waves of modern black metal. There is an exciting commitment to all aspects of their sound, and we can only hope that they continue to experiment and add singers and musicians to their ranks (permanent or otherwise).” [FETUSGHOST]

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24. TRAVELER – TRAVELER

“Simply put, it is such an enjoyable listen that it actually distracts from other tasks. It demands attention with its hooky riffs and well-written songs. Everything else seems to fade to the background as Traveler takes its hold, sending the listener on a cosmic voyage powered by the nuclear fusion of imagination and emotion. It is such a fun album that listening to it while holding still is a nigh-impossible task, and I cannot wait for the opportunity to be frustrated to find the right words to describe the next one.” [RYAN TYSINGER]

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23. CAR BOMB – MORDIAL

Mordial

“Did Greg Kubacki perfect the pick-scrape riff? There are even truly peaceful moments, like the outro of “Antipatterns.” All due respect to noted French persons/band Gojira, of course, but Kubacki manages to scrape through the 5th dimension more than once. Both the Dillinger and the Meshuggah are still here, but like, partially digested, spit back up, and baked into a C-4 casserole. These four gentle souls are in lock-step; they are an unstoppable whirlwind of perfectly timed chaos. [checks notes: “drums = heavy” – better spice that one up, you lazy asshole]” [FETUSGHOST]

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22. ATLANTEAN KODEX – THE COURSE OF EMPIRE

“By the first solo, it is clear why Atlantean Kodex are such masters of their craft – there isn’t a whole lot of technical flashiness going on here; the root of the band’s power is firmly set in their songwriting – in the structure, in the choice of notes and changes, of the building of suspense and tension to the ultimate release. Markus’ vocals simply rise above the music, accentuated with plenty of subtle choral harmonies to drive home his lyrics of near-forgotten ancient myths from a perspective that feels both anthropological and theological as much as it does mythological.” [RYAN TYSINGER]

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21. OOZING WOUND – HIGH ANXIETY

The Last Rites HQ, for all its mahogany paneling, fancy leather chairs, and expensive oil paintings, is home to a very diverse group of weirdos. When High Anxiety popped up on our year end list (via supersecret and Russian hacking-resistant voting machines), about half the gang said, “What the heck is an Oozing Wound, and should I see a doctor?” The other half replied, “They’re a gnarly, awesome thrash band from Chicago, and better late than never, but modern medical science can only do so much for you at this point. It’s like the band wrote ‘Surrounded by Fucking Idiots’ about you guys.” But seriously, this is ripping, sarcastic, noisy thrash, lovingly hatefully crafted by a trio of Midwestern lifers. “Tween Shitbag[s]” beware, this one is for the angry old ‘heads. [FETUSGHOST]

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20. OBSEQUIAE – THE PALMS OF SORROWED KINGS

“Not since Windir has a black metal band been so infatuated with their guitars ringing out for eternity, and like their Norwegian progenitors, Obsequiae often creates a pipe organ feel with their harmonized leads. As it was on the previous two albums, it’s almost constantly stunning on The Palms of Sorrowed Kings. But the comparisons to Windir and other influences – Dissection-esque melodic black metal, the earliest Opeth, or The Jester Race-era In Flames – stop with the pretty parts. Obsequiae is almost completely uninterested in aggression.” [ZACH DUVALL]

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19. TANAGRA – MERIDIEM

“Tim Socia weaves tales of anciently futuristic dreamlands—mystical lands that combine and intertwine the past with the future. Melodic guitar lines interweave and create a sense of profound loss—a mourning for the lost ruins of the ancient past and a life more intimately connected to nature. It’s an overlaying emotion across Meridiem that creates a ceaseless tension between remaining in a time long passed that’s nevertheless entangled in the future. What will the hero choose? Will the hero stand defiant against the shores of time? It’s within the multiverses and interdimensional planes of existence that Tanagra’s tales lie expertly supported by hyper-emotional, technically proficient, brilliantly composed and balanced musicianship.” [MANNY-O-WAR]

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18. ETERNITY’S END – UNYIELDING

“The interaction between Münzner, Tougas and Pitts is superlative, so shredders approaching in hopes of hearing something that will inspire them to take their playing to the next level are in for a merciless treat. And coming in from a different angle, folks who wouldn’t know a sweep-picked arpeggio or diminished scale if it hit them on the front end of a speeding garbage truck would have to walk away equally impressed. The way all the leads mingle with what LePond and Grossman bring to the table (bassists and drummers will find plenty to chew on here as well), and the way it all does so within so many slants of heaviness—speed, thrash, power, hard rock, traditional, neoclassical—make the whole of Unyielding sound very much like a modernized version of what Shrapnel would’ve killed to sign back in the day.” [CAPTAIN]

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17. MAMMOTH WEED WIZARD BASTARD –
YN OL I ANNWN

When both Bongzilla and Belzebong exist, you really gotta stretch the ol’ brain cells to come up with an even dumber 420-friendly band name. But if you want to engage your audience for more than a stoned chuckle, consider gently placing an angelic voice over fuzzy, doomy riffs, and crafting some songs that are way more beautifully heavy than they have any right to be. Should you also include some wobbly, futuristic synths and explore the cosmos? Bingo! Wales’ MWWB is full of contradictions, but similar to Year of the Cobra or Cult of Luna’s Mariner with Julie Christmas, they have flawlessly blended massive grooves with Jessica Ball’s beautiful vocals, and created crushing and compelling psychedelic doom. You don’t have to be blazed out of your gourd to enjoy this album, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Strap into your spacesuit and board “The Spaceships of Ezekiel” as we Yn Ol I Annwn (that’s Welsh for “return to the underworld,” you uncultured idiot). With song titles in 6 different languages referencing Vonnegut, floating ships above the horizon, biblical science fiction, and more, you better buckle up; this journey is gonna get weird. [FETUSGHOST]

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16. ESOTERIC – A PYRRHIC EXISTENCE

“Full psychedelia is carried in on the wings of seabirds as Esoteric effortlessly reaches their compositional climax. While they claim that humanity is “paralyzed with apathy,” their music certainly denotes a channel of resistance that is tragic and beautiful at the same time. Much like weeping while laughing, crying through pleasure or rain falling from a cloudless, sun-drenched sky, the pointlessness of existence can be contrasted and combated through the tireless pursuit of artistic endeavors (at which Esoteric certainly excel beyond means).” [MANNY-O-WAR]

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15. CANDLEMASS – THE DOOR TO DOOM

“Längquist sounds fantastic. Not quite the same level of stagey drama compared to 30-plus years ago, which was to be expected, yet every bit as enthusiastic, barrel-chested and vital to the overall victory. Where years and life have so often sapped counterparts, Längquist’s voice has simply become more gravelly and composed. He gives the record’s heaviness the perfect partner, slamming home the hook as well as any of the C-mass frontman sandwiched between his bookended releases, and he offers the scattering of Door to Doom’s mellow moments an added bit of golden sorrow.” [CAPTAIN]

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14. DIMHAV – THE BOREAL FLAME

“If Last Rites still lived in the scoring days, I would be extremely tempted to hand The Boreal Flame a 10/10. And yes, this is stated with full recognition of the fact that three days spent with an album is a very short honeymoon and one swallow does not a summer make. But I feel like I’ve been waiting for Dimhav and a power / prog record of this sort (and caliber) for over a decade, and now that it’s landed—blindsided, no less—I could not be more pleased with the result. Hell, even if this ends up being the only thing this trio manages to thrust into the aether, The Boreal Flame delivers enough ins and outs from start to finish to keep the engine purring for years to come.” [CAPTAIN]

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13. TOMB MOLD – PLANETARY CLAIRVOYANCE

“All this gels into one of the best sounding death metal albums I have heard. Much as with Manor of Infinite Forms, Planetary Clairvoyance is just listenable. It is a joy to play this in the car, in the gym, in the operating theater (I would think), or as you sit at your cubicle desk doing whatever mindless thing you do for a living. And better still, if you are doing nothing at all but trying to absorb every nuance of the record. It is just a fucking pleasure.” [CHRIS SESSIONS]

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12. IMMORTAL BIRD – THRIVE ON NEGLECT

“No matter where you are in a given Immortal Bird song, there is a gut level movement that many blasting bands lose in their fury, but it is part of Immortal Bird’s nervous system. “Vestigial Warnings” had my head bobbing through all the sick asymptotic bends that buttress its structure, and thus I was completely hooked for the crunching slowdowns in the mid-section and drawing the song to a close. “Avolition” carries that forward with a heartbreaking chord combo and release. Even without the lyrics you know this is a song of pain and loss. And headbanging. Very much headbanging.” [CHRIS SESSIONS]

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11. TANITH – IN ANOTHER TIME

“Guitar tones are strong and rough, but also warm and bright, while Newton’s bass has a relatively tight and round feel to it, providing buoyancy beneath the melody makers. Robinson’s drums are made to feel just a little soft, saturated, while the cymbals ring brightly. And it’s all filtered through the gentlest layer of haze to settle it into that classic 70s analog sound. Wrap that sound around the twin guitars and vocals, interweave it with amazing melody and harmony and it’s no surprise that these songs are reminiscent of some of the 70s greatest melodic rockers, including Thin Lizzy and Blue Oyster Cult, but especially Wishbone Ash.” [LONE WATIE]

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10. NO ONE KNOWS WHAT THE DEAD THINK –
NO ONE KNOWS WHAT THE DEAD THINK

“The riffs are brutal, albeit with an intricacy for those bold enough to look closely. Then “Dagger Before Me” begins with similar fury, but midway through the riffs open up. They chug along slowly, a single rhythmic chord atop devolving, naked drums as the song closes. I might have exaggerated slightly about the lack of dynamics in grindcore. Slightly. Marton and Nakano only slow down to show how fast they can keep going. If Chang weren’t so damn vitriolic, I would consider praising their music as spirited and lively. Screw it, this is a spirited album, full of lively songs written and expertly performed by seasoned veterans. Grindcore for the lifers.” [FETUSGHOST]

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9. OPETH – IN CAUDA VENENUM

“Everything here is a journey, even if sometimes the journey includes some weird turns. This is new era Opeth, after all, and Åkerfeldt has long been a bit of a prankster. But for every start-stop and up-and-down of “Universal Truth / Ingen sanning är allas,” there is a perfectly smooth “Lovelorn Crime / Minnets yta.” When the latter explodes into its bright, affecting guitar solo, it rewards all the subtlety of Åkerfeldt’s earlier vocal melodies, and just when you think the former is going to spend all it’s time changing volumes, it naturally arrives at a dramatic and beautiful string-driven swell.” [ZACH DUVALL]

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8. WEEPING SORES – FALSE CONFESSION

“Clarity, melody, restraint? Am I even talking about a death/doom metal album? Yes I am. Consider opener “Scars Whispering Secret Tongues.” Right off the bat you get a doom-infused, forlorn, but wonderfully heavy riff. The lyric is driven by Schwegler’s double kicking, without changing the tempo, early Mastodon or Inter Arma style. Sickening breaks and lead melodies follow, until the lead work begins to send us toward a melodic interlude, ramping the energy just to send us over a cliff of oddly off-kilter violining and into an abyss of sorrowful crunching weight.” [CHRIS SESSIONS]

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7. BORKNAGAR – TRUE NORTH

True North is an album for all seasons, all moods, all celebrations and all lifestyles. It’s pure exuberance harnessed, infused with happy pills and set free upon the masses to create one giant population of smiling citizens ready to embrace each other in peace and love. Bass lines pop and dazzle as melodic guitars rocket over chromatic progressions and modal, relative-minor key changes that lend a bluesy feel to this masterpiece of modern prog.” [MANNY-O-WAR]

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6. BLUT AUS NORD – HALLUCINOGEN

Hallucinogen is another feather in Blut Aus Nord’s already well-worn beret, and it is a feather that should be worn without criticism. The album is, not to overstate the fact, a perfect work that can (and should) be returned to time and time again in both the happiest of sun-filled beach afternoons and the most depressed of winter evenings soaked in glogg, dew-laden greatcoats and wet overshoes. Hallucinogen is at once both timeless and present, emotionally mature and painfully vulnerable. It is a masterpiece of the melding of black metal sub-genres while reaching beyond.” [MANNY-O-WAR]

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5. DEVOURMENT – OBSCENE MAJESTY

Devourment’s brand of brutality here is so accurate in its trajectory that it could almost be considered sophisticated. Brad Fincher’s drumming is phenomenal from start to finish: speed on the snare that hurtles like a plummeting rollercoaster, swift and clever cymbal play, and very often hitting like literal thunder in order to augment all those HULK SMASH riffs. And my lord, those riffs. The weight of an actual planet pounding your skull into powder, snorting said powder, and then riding off to the heavens to battle other planets.” [CAPTAIN]

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4. ORGANECTOMY – EXISTENTIAL DISCONNECT

The easiest way to describe it all is, well, FUN. Remember fun? Brutal, slamming death metal that’s fun and in fact quite fit for the entire family: Brutal Slam Dads, Brutal Slam Moms, Slam Grammies and Pappies, plus all the grimy Slam Youth that have been gifted to us all. If Existential Disconnect could be an amusement park, which it should, it would offer an endless supply of rides that forewarn of grisly decapitations, senseless disembowelments and alarming head explosions, but you’d still manage to walk away from it all exceedingly thrilled to finally be free of your guts.” [CAPTAIN]

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3. NILE – VILE NILOTIC RITES

From start to finish, Vile Nilotic Rites is singularly focused on moving bodies, whether through hyperspeed fret-lashing, mid-paced swaggering, or earthquake-grade breakdowns. The pacing and sequencing of the album is remarkable, too, with the mostly frantic attack of the first two songs pulling ever so slightly back into the choppering grease-strut of the title track, which in turn leads into the jaw-droppingly epic “Seven Horns of War.” The cinematic break and spoken word recitation around the 5:30 mark of “Seven Horns of War” could have sapped its momentum, but the jackhammering, militaristically precise section that it ushers in is one of the most absurdly city-leveling passages Nile has put to record to date.” [DAN OBSTKRIEG]

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2. ARCH / MATHEOS – WINTER ETHEREAL

“Perhaps the most inviting aspect of the record is that, much like the most recent Fates Warning album Theories of Flight, Winter Ethereal feels like just that: an invitation. These extremely experienced musicians are still pushing themselves, but they don’t do it from feelings of pressure or boredom, but from their perpetual sense of curiosity, and they want listeners along for the ride. It isn’t just in the lyrics, but also in music that fits those words perfectly and in the performances of musicians that are beyond excited to be there. We should all be lucky enough to have such passion for anything after such a long time. Perhaps that’s the true theme of the record, that the world will do everything it can to beat us down, but no matter what, we must keep lit the pilot light of positivity.” [ZACH DUVALL]

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1. BLOOD INCANTATION –
HIDDEN HISTORY OF THE HUMAN RACE

With Hidden History Of The Human Race, Blood Incantation has grown more complex, layering their songs more lavishly and moving further away from traditional structure than their already off-center starting point and relying more on gradually building the music up to unorthodox crescendos. The jolting changes that highlighted their previous material and draw the earlier comparison to Death are still very apparent; the band aren’t afraid to boldly and brashly shift direction on a whim, yet they break newer, more progressive ground with the same confidence and gusto and it pays off over and over again. There is so much going on simultaneously, but it works when viewed in its entire context. The ley lines of their influences provide a grid-work for the band to work within, and, when necessary, challenge and push into territories that seem both new and familiar, as though seeing the world of death metal from a parallel perspective, breathing into it fresh life and infusing its potential with extraterrestrial D.N.A.” [RYAN TYSINGER]

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GENERALLY IMPRESSED WITH RIFFS

  1. Brutalist_Receptacle December 6, 2019 at 10:27 am

    No Veilburner (post-year-end lists late-December 2018)or Malist. _?_
    COLOSSAL OVERSIGHTS.
    Not enough BM.
    Love Esoteric, Opeth, and Immortal Bird and this site.
    Thanks guys.

    Reply

  2. Hm, this Malist ain’t half bad! Good looking out, Mx. Receptacle. And don’t you worry, we’ve got more than a few colossal BMs over here. Thanks for reading and agreeing with part of the list!

    Reply

  3. ...And Dreadfully Distinct December 7, 2019 at 1:03 pm

    Great list!

    I still loved MGLA’s and Inter Arma’s releases, but you can only throw in so many.

    Reply

  4. Always love the LR EoY lists, this one being no exception. A few I adore (Tomb Mold, No One Knows…), a couple that I’ve been meaning to spend serious time with (White Ward, Weeping Wounds), and others I missed that I’m excited to get into (Car Bomb, Organectomy). Another solid year LR staff.

    My personal list would’ve included – among others – Sermon, The Great Old Ones, Ceremony of Silence, Year of the Cobra, and Paladin.

    Guitarist of the Decade?
    Gregor Mckintosh (Paradise Lost, Vallenfyre)
    Austin Lund (Panopticon)
    Leila Abdul-Rauf (Hammers of Misfortune, Vastum)

    Reply

  5. I dont care that it didnt make the cut, I’m just commenting to point out that I wish the latest Mgla album got reviewed by the best on the ‘net (thats you guys!)

    (Side note: good list!)

    Reply

  6. I always look forward to your end of year lists, b/c there is always a lot of stuff I’ve missed out on. It’s good to see Devourment and Nile getting some credit, b/c I think a lot of people have really slept on those albums.

    My favorite albums I think people have really missed out on are the new Cloud Rat and Gardsghastr.

    Reply

  7. So awesome to see that Tanith get such a bold mention. So many riffs. Such vision. Haha.
    Weeping Sores as well. I was firmly blown away by its brutality and its somber tone.

    Whoever mentioned Ceremony Of Silence.. that record is really amazing.

    Vanum, Vehemence and Serpent Column were all really great black metal.

    Reply

  8. Michael Romeo

    Reply

  9. Welcome to the new golden age of heavy metal, where technology, mail delivery and the internet have freed artists and small record labels to put out their own music the way they want it to be. When a top 25 list is no longer sufficient to list the vast number of albums that are worth listening to.

    You could almost do a top 25 for every subgenre of heavy metal and still leave out quality albums.

    Reply

  10. Mate, Eternity`s End is 2018 album.

    Reply

    1. That Japan-only release from December 26th / 2018 was impossible to find anywhere but Japan, so we’re okay with allowing the March 22nd / 2019 Ram It Down version.

      Reply

  11. For all the years I’ve been coming here and getting introduced to new and challenging music, as a person who doesn’t play instruments and is generally more drawn to rhythm, I’ve had tons of “oh shit” moments thanks to y’all. This year was one of the biggest with Arch/Matheos. I read your review and gave it a spin or two and nothing really stood out to me to be honest. I drove 13 hours to Florida for Christmas and spun it a few more times at full blast driving through some beautiful forests in the south east and it finally hit me! A true masterclass on vocal melody and the interweaving of the vocals with the guitar is unreal! Albums like that are exactly why I keep coming back here year after year to you guys, helping me to learn to listen differently and exposing me to the best that this beautiful genre of music has to offer! Cheers to another amazing year and to an unbelievable album!

    Reply

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