And so another year passes, the inexorable march of time…
In the grand scheme of things, 2019 was a pretty good year for me, and I hope the same for you. I drank many good beers; I spent time with many good friends; I saw many great shows (Iron Maiden twice! King Diamond! Queensryche AND Fates Warning! Misfits + The Damned! Faster Pussycat!) Most importantly, I whiled away many hours listening to great music — my most favorite of past-times, of course — and rather than keep you waiting here with some faux-philosophical (fauxlosophical?) bullshit wrap-up, let’s just get to to the damn thing, what say you?
THESE ALBUMS ARE GOOD
(BUT NOT AS GOOD AS THE ALBUMS BELOW THEM)
20. Misery Index – Rituals Of Power
Not Misery Index’s best, but still dependably pummeling death / grind with loads of groove and sharp riffing. A much better take on what Pig Destroyer was trying to do with last year’s dreadful Head Cage.
19. Runemagick – Into Desolate Realms
I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I avoided this band for a long time because the name made me think this would be poofy-shirted folk goofiness. Turns out it’s kick-ass vintage doom-y death-y goodness. Who knew? You knew? Ah, well…
18. Insomnium – Heart Like A Grave
Generally speaking, I don’t give half a hair on a rat’s ass about melodeath, but when it’s done properly, it can still crush. Insomnium does it properly, largely by expanding the palette and tossing in loads of sadsack goth. The perfect album for the coming winter…
17. High Command – Beyond The Wall Of Desolation
Ah, crossover, that perfect middle ground between hardcore rage and metallic riff. High Command brings the goods for this one, all swaggering groove and ripping riff and crackling energy. Put it on, turn it up, circle the wagons…
• We didn’t cover this because we’re dumb.
• Play Along At Home
16. Flotsam & Jetsam – The End Of Chaos
What lies beyond that wretched eyesore of a cover is the best Flotsam album in thirty years, re-capturing the fiery thrash spirit of the first few, back before the groove metal years. AK still sounds killer, and the band is firing on all cylinders. Let’s hope this chaos is just (re-)beginning…
• We didn’t cover this either. I told you we’re dumb.
• Facebook Stalk The Band
15. Pretty Maids – Undress Your Madness
This hard rock / metal / AOR juggernaut has found a new spark over the last few records. Jumping back and forth from more metallic numbers to more radio-friendly ones, this may not be the most kvlt record around, but it rocks from tip to toe. Get well soon, Ronnie; we’re pulling for you.
• We didn’t cover this one, too. You know why? Yeah.
• Send Your Own Get Well Message
14. Exhumed – Horror
Exhumed never disappoints, and Horror is no exception. Stepping backwards towards a grindier, less melodic approach, Horror is still primo Harvey / Sewage filth and fury, filled with snappy riff and bloody humor. Plus, look at that sweet album retro-VHS album art, eh?
13. Immortal Bird – Thrive On Neglect
Immortal Bird continues flying higher and higher with this, their second full-length and first for 20 Buck Spin. Tearing up the black, death, and grindcore playbooks and letting the pieces fall together where they may, the Bird has crafted a damned fine slab of cross-genre extremity.
12. Dimhav – The Boreal Flame
Proggy power done properly, with all the instrumental noodling, fiery speed, and soaring melody you could ever want. A late-year out-of-nowhere entry custom-made for exploding best-of lists. Welcome back, Mr. Heiman…
11. Candlemass – The Door To Doom
The kings of doom return with Johann Längqvist behind the mic for the first time since the first time. This year, if you listen to only one bad-ass slab of epic doom featuring a song about a giant octopus with a guest solo from Tony “God” Iommi himself, then let it be this one…
THESE ALBUMS ARE EVEN BETTER THAN THOSE OTHER ALBUMS UP THERE
10. WEEPING SORES – FALSE CONFESSION
Death / doom has been hitting home even harder of late, for whatever reason. Maybe it’s because I’m old and one step closer to my imminent demise and I’m sad about it, or maybe it’s just because this year had a slew of ugly doomy goodness. This Weeping Sores was towards the top of the death / doom pile, blending stately violin melodies against some killer morose riffing, the whole of it equally beautiful and ugly, just like life, just like you, just like me…
9. OVERKILL – THE WINGS OF WAR
Did anyone not expect this to be on my list? I mean, c’mon… It’s Overkill. And I love Overkill. Most of you probably expected it to place higher, and maybe I did, too, but that’s no real slight on The Wings Of War. It’s Overkill doing what they’ve been doing since coming back screaming strong with Ironbound almost a decade ago. This is high energy thrash from one of the few old-fart bands that’s still making thrash on this level. Maybe it’s not as strong as Ironbound or White Devil Armory (though it’s an improvement upon Grinding Wheel), or maybe it’s just that we’re five albums into the resurgence now and we’re expecting this type of thing, but regardless, The Wings Of War delivers.
8. KRYPTS – CADAVER CIRCULATIONS
Somewhere, at some point, my fine compatriot Captain declared that Finnish death metal is greater than Swedish death metal. One day, not all that long ago, them would’ve been fightin’ words to me. But the more I go back and the deeper I dig into Finnish death metal, the more I think he may be onto something. Now on their third album, Krypts keeps the death alive and oozing, slathered in reverb and crawling up from the grave, all eerie atmosphere and carving riffs. Sometimes sluggish, sometimes pummeling, always creepy, and damned near perfect.
7. TOMB MOLD – PLANETARY CLAIRVOYANCE
Death metal had a hell of year, that much is certain, from both the Old Ones and the New Kids. Tomb Mold is squarely in that second category, of course, though they certainly learned their art well from the former one. Now on their third album, they continue to grow, with Planetary Clairvoyance quite easily the best of the bunch so far, filled to bursting with grimy murky hooky riffs and stellar performances. The vocals float ominously back in the mire, but each instrument is somehow clear even as the whole thing is coated in a nearly palpable grime. Meet the new death, sounds a lot like the old death, and kicks ass all the way.
6. NILE – VILE NILOTIC RITES
And speaking of the Old Ones, here’s Nile back to show everyone how high-class brutal death metal is done. With riffs, riffs, and more riffs, Karl Sanders and company return with some new blood and one of their strongest albums of late. Of course, Nile’s formula hasn’t changed, even if the line-up has: tech-ish arrangements, skull-crushing heaviness, tales of ancient civilizations, and — it warrants further mention — riffs, riffs, riffs, and more riffs. Also, seriously, was there a better song title in 2019 than “Snake Pit Mating Frenzy”?
5. BLOOD INCANTATION – HIDDEN HISTORY OF THE HUMAN RACE
The press buzz on Hidden History Of The Human Race has been, to understate it a bit, quite positive. I’ve seen this hailed as the Album Of The Year in some places (like, y’know, here), and I’ve been told it redefines death metal in others. Whether you think it’s incredibly good or merely very very very very good, what Blood Incantation has wrought upon is undoubtedly Awesome Death Metal, and yes, one of the best death metal albums of the year (perhaps the best, as I don’t have any death metal above it, you’ll soon notice). Hidden History is handily the best release from a band that continues to create first-class metal. Between these guys and Tomb Mold above, the future is very much in good hands.
4. OPETH – IN CAUDA VENENUM
But which version? The English one, or the Swedish one? And the answer is: Yes. Whatever language you prefer, Opeth has delivered yet again. You know all those people who complained about the last few albums, about Mikael’s embrace of prog-rock over prog-metal? I’m not one of them. But I will admit that the likes of Heritage and Sorceress, while very good, are still not as good as what preceded them, your Ghost Reveries and your Watersheds, so having Opeth returning to that level of quality is a damned good thing. Ambitious, emotional, occasionally heavier than it has been, and always interesting, In Cauda Venenum is another notch on the belt of one of metal’s all time greats.
3. NO ONE KNOWS WHAT THE DEAD THINK – NO ONE KNOWS WHAT THE DEAD THINK
What do the dead think? They think this rips. And they’re right. (Actually, we don’t know they think that. No one does.) All terrible joking aside, the return from Discordance Axis’ Jon Chang and Rob Marton and ex-Cohol drummer Kyosuke Nakano continues in the vein of Chang and Marton’s previous work: sharp grindcore that tucks intricacies into its riffs while charging forward at 900 miles per hour, and all of that whilst Jon Chang spews forth screaming vitriol like a man possessed. An absolutely stellar grindcore album, and given the band’s pedigree, would you expect any less? With both Discordance Axis and Gridlink no more, No One Knows What The Dead Think fills that gap nicely…
2. QUEENSRŸCHE – THE VERDICT
I’m a Queensrÿche fanboy, and I have been for a large part of my life. So I’ve been more than ecstatic to watch Todd LaTorre bring new life to the band through three albums now, of which The Verdict is the strongest. His vocals are godlike, and behind them, Wilton and Jackson and Lindgren can go back to the stately progressive metal greatness that made Queensrÿche kings many moons ago. Added bonus LaTorre: In the continued absence of Scott Rockenfield (which is admittedly a bummer, as Scott is a killer drummer), Todd also performed behind the kit for this one, and it’s further testament to the man’s talents that the Rÿche literally didn’t miss a beat.
• We didn’t cover this because our mere mortal words can’t do it justice.
1. ARCH / MATHEOS – WINTER ETHEREAL
Progressive metal gods John Arch and Jim Matheos re-united in 2011 for their first full-length since the outright classic Awaken The Guardian, twenty-five years earlier. Now we’re on LP2 from the simply monikered Arch / Matheos, and like its predecessor, it’s an absolute monster of prog metal. Matheos brings the killer tracks, and Arch provides those signature soaring, twisting, oddball melodies, his lines bobbing and weaving around the riffs and rhythms, never taking the obvious turn and yet always ending up in exactly the right place. Like Sympathetic Resonance before it (and like all of Fates Warning’s work, with or without Arch), Winter Ethereal is the kind of record that captures the heart and the mind, the true depth of its secrets revealed over time and many many listens, for years to come.
TOP THREE EPs
3. Elder – The Gold And Silver Sessions
Krautrock-y, space-y, drifty, dreamy, instrumental psyche-rockin’ fun from these stoner-prog-doom wizards. Kick back with a cold one (or a burning one, whatever you’re into) and get into the groove…
• We didn’t cover this because we were too busy rockin’ to it.
• One Time, At Psyche-Stoner-Prog-Doom-Krautrockcamp
2. Phobia – Generation Coward
One of my longtime stalwart bands, Phobia just keeps on grinding. If you’ve been keeping up, you pretty much know what it sounds like, and if you haven’t been, then you should be. Crusty heavy raw grindcore, just like the good Lord intended…
1. Vader – Thy Messenger
Vader simply crushes. Vader crushes simply. If you don’t know that by now… well, you’re a big ol’ dummyhead. Vader does no wrong, and the only complaint one could make here is that this is just an EP and not a full-length. Give us more, Lord Vader, more sweet sweet death metal…
MOST INTERESTING OF THE NOT-METALS
(IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER)
Orville Peck – Pony
Ever wished Chris Isaak and the Jesus & Mary Chain would collaborate on the soundtrack to a David Lynch film? Of course you have. But they didn’t, so all we have left is this gay cowboy in a sparkly fringed Lone Ranger mask crooning goth-tinted dark Americana… Thankfully, it’s as awesome as it sounds.
Erin Enderlin – Faulkner County
Sad-panda drinkin’-song country is the best country. If you find a better opening couplet for a country song than “He was a bastard, even though he knew his daddy / even had his daddy’s angry eyes,” then you’re wrong and you didn’t find one.
Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars
The Boss’ tribute to Laurel Canyon country and California pop didn’t hit me at first, but after a few listens, it took hold. Still great songs, of course, now layered with strings and and horns and lush 70s production, like a Glen Campbell record. And yes, that’s actually a good thing.
RAISE A GLASS TO THOSE WHO PASSED
Hails and RIP to Tardar Sauce, Lil Bub, Timi Hansen, Bruce Corbitt, Paul Raymond, Richard Brunelle, Dr. John, Roky Erickson, Earl Thomas Conley, Ginger Baker, Eddie Money, Ric Ocasek, and any other of our sisters and brothers and friends who crossed into the great beyond…