Since the earliest days of mankind, someone has always been convinced that the world is ending. What’s both fascinating and terrifying about this is that of all those who have preached and proclaimed the end of days, there are always some who truly believe it. While it’s a bit of a leap to say reality is fragile, it certainly is easily malleable. Perspective truly is everything—if you are convinced of your reality, I mean fully convinced down to the deepest levels of your subconscious that the world is ending, or that the earth is flat, or that olives in any way are not a delicious delicacy for the discerning palate, then that becomes the world in which you live. This is, of course, oversimplifying, as perspectives can change just as easily as reality. Experience and growth alter the way in which we see things and approach the situations we perceive around us. Delusional minds (like those who do not enjoy olives) can heal, and, when people shed their hubris, minds can be changed.
But who is to say those with a differing reality from our own are wrong? From a certain point of view, there is no wrong reality, only the construct of reality via general consensus in perception. If the man on the street corner proclaiming “the end is nigh,” genuinely feels the Earth is on the brink of collapse, then perhaps it really is falling apart around him. The way light behaves differently depending on how it’s studied further proves this phenomena exists in a more measurable plane. If the observer views light as a wave, it will behave as a wave. If the observer views it as a particle, it behaves as such. Alter your perspective, alter your observations, alter reality.
2019 was a very diverse year for metal, with excellent releases coming from all corners of the spectrum. Our own staff list was all over the place in what has to be one of the most divisive year-end votes in my whole entire two years of writing here. There was a lot of excellent music I regretted leaving off—it’s always hard to narrow a year’s worth of music to twenty albums and a handful of demos and EP’s, but 2019 was exceptionally tough. That being said, the list that follows consists of the best metal albums of 2019 from my personal perspective, and therefore, The Definitive List Of The Best Metal Albums There Ever Was In The Year Of Our Lord 2019.
There Were Never A Better Ten Then These, Except Perhaps The Ten That Followed. But What Do I Know? I Couldn’t Even Think Of A Clever Title
20. Musmahhu – Reign Of The Odious
Speaking of paradigm shifts, the prolific Swartadauþuz shifted gears from his typical stomping grounds of the more blackened forms of steel to deliver one hell of a death metal album early on in the year under the new project title of Musmahhu. In what is becoming a somewhat over-inflated balloon of excellent old school death metal, Reign Of The Odious stood out. Not relying solely on sweaty meatsack production, the album in fact does quite the opposite. There is a cold, calculating evil behind the clean, cavernous production that syncs up just right with the onslaught of downtuned riffs, swirling leads, and the deep, hollow echoes of the drums in an orchestration of pure darkness. There isn’t a moment wasted on the album—it takes a deep dive into the unholiest caverns of reigning terror and death that engulfs any light within your worthless soul.
19. Profane Order – Slave Morality
Every year there seems to be one war metal release that pummels its way to the top for me, and this year it goes to Profane Order. While their previous works were enjoyable to fans of the genre, Slave Morality reveals the band to be amongst the elite soldiers of violent devotion. Noisy and eviscerating, yet with a clarity in the production that emphasizes the breakout riffs and screaming solos, Profane Order are here to eviscerate the weak, empower the strong, and take absolutely zero prisoners on their homicidal road to victory.
18. Paladin – Ascension
Paladin’s debut is nothing short of a rip-roaring blast of a good time. Lighthearted in spirit, the band take their craft seriously, shredding their way to through thrashy power metal with the potential for widespread appeal. There’s something for everyone on Ascension, and the spirit-lifting, youthful exuberance behind the record is nothing short of infectious.
17. Eternity’s End – Unyielding
I’m not sure if power metal just had an exceptional year or my tastes expanded, but I listened to it more than I probably ever have in the past three hundred-odd days. Kicking it all off, and staying a favorite for the year, was the second album by international megasuperpowergruppen Eternity’s End. Technically released at the tail end of 2018, the album didn’t see North American release until this year, and it counts, goddamnit. What’s so great about Unyielding is that, despite the overwhelming pool of talent in the lineup, the songwriting comes first, with the individual members able to stretch their chops more in the soloing department at little to no sacrifice to the musicality of the songs.
16. Tomb Mold – Planetary Clairvoyance
Them Tomb Mold boys is back. While last year’s Manor Of Infinite Forms was no slouch, it didn’t quite stand out as much from the pack as I’d hoped initially. The weirdness from their Primordial Malignity debut fuse with the most pummeling, violent aspects of Manor and then launch for the cosmos on Planetary Clairvoyance. This is death metal ripped apart by the unrelinquishing gravitational pull of Planet Riffsalot.
15. Mizmor – Cairn
Cairn was a slow burn for me that took a few listens to full realize just how brilliant it is. The way Mizmor combines black metal and doom across a vast landscape of introspective solitude comes across as an extremely personal work. While the songs are far from complex, they feel massive, like the looming cloud of depression morphing into a hurricane of sorrowful fury that descends upon the listener in a wash of fuzz. The recording is beautiful, with every detail of the pinch harmonics amongst the wailing blasts or acoustic fingerpicking throughout the quieter passages ringing out through the tortured cries of desperation and despair.
14. Funereal Presence – Achatius
Raw, twisted, and extremely bizarre, the occult bend to Funereal Prescence’s sophomore record injects a medieval feel to twisted guitar melodies that refuse to sit still. Stylistically sitting on the fence between first and second wave black metal, Achatius for some reason reminds me just a touch of the pre-Transilvanian Hunger era of Darkthrone (think “In The Shadow Of The Horns” weirdness). Noisey, slightly insane, and driven by occult madness—pretty much everything I could want in black metal.
13. Pa Vesh En – Pyrefication
Harrowing, sinister raw black metal that sounds like the necrotic wails of an undead orchestra echoing throughout ancient earthen catacombs. Fully saturated doom and gloom that smothers the listener before thrusting them into a full communion with the dead. Abandon all hope.
12. Darkthrone – Old Star
In their later years, Darkthrone essentially became the garage rock equivalent of a metal band, stripping down the influences of their beloved genre to the most bare-bones, raw form of the art. While the slower, driving tempos began working their way in, especially on 2016’s Arctic Thunder, they reach a doomier conclusion on Old Star. The love for Celtic Frost style riffing is never lost, though, regardless of whether they are playing black metal, crust, speed metal or doom, there is always, ALWAYS plenty of their heroes in their music. It’s forever cold, raw, pissed off, and, well, sounds like fucking Darkthrone.
11. Infernal Conjuration – Infernale Metallum Mortis
Picture the best looking plate of nachos your mind can conjure: loaded with toppings, dripping with cheese, and every single chip is coated in an infernal plethora of glorious garbage food (and perhaps a bit of scallions or something green.) Anyway, Infernal Conjuration’s entry on this list is the death metal equivalent of said nachos. True metal of death that refuses to stay comfortably in one place for too long, the band litters Infernale Metallum Mortis in all the sauces and garnishes: divebomb solos, abrupt tempo shifts (a la Death), twin leads, divebomb solos, pinch harmonics, running kicks, divebomb solos, blast beats, plunking bass, divebomb solos, and more divebomb solos. One hell of a debut.
There Is A Theory Which States That If Ever Anyone Discovers Exactly What The Best Metal Albums Of 2019 Are And Why They Are Here, Those Records Will Instantly Disappear And Be Replaced By Something Even More Bizarre And Inexplicable
There is another theory which states that this has already happened.
10. Obsequiae – Palms Of Sorrowed Kings
Shimmering guitars full of riffs and leads-aplenty ring out over majestic, medieval plains, and a varied rhythm section keeps the pulse pounding throughout the record. But don’t take my word for it, Zach reverberated my feelings pretty well in his review below:
9. Encoffinized – Chambers Of Deprivation
Removing any animal from its natural environment can have catastrophic, life threatening events. Take, for instance, the snare drum sound on Metallica’s St. Anger. Left in an unnatural and threatening environment (St. Anger), it withers and dies a slow and painful (if not a bit comical) death. Put it in a habitat of thick, putrid, guttural death metal, however, and it will flourish and thrive. Case in point: Chambers Of Deprivation. With the loving nourishment of some choice caveman death steeped in sewer rot that’s oozing with sludgy, detuned vocals, Encoffinized have found a home for the near-marching levels of tightness on the snare drum to survive and flourish. In this habitat, it finds its groove—cutting through the thick mass of waste and finding a home at long last in the parking lots of Huntington Beach.
• As Seen In Death Metal Round-Up At The Maggot Stomp Records Corral
8. Gaahls Wyrd – Gastir – Ghosts Invited
Gaahl has had one hell of a career arc since the days of Trelldom, and Gastir is his most mature sound to date. The record goes down smoothly, like a rich red wine that’s full-bodied with Enslaved-sounding progressive riffing, thick & smokey atmosphere, and Gaahl’s uncanny ability to call upon voices from the distant past. Gastir plays out like a folk ghost story come to life, and is an impressive addition (and perhaps a peak) to Gaahl’s already solid resume.
7. Angel Sword – Neon City
Angel Sword is blue denim heavy metal—the ratty edges of a cutoff vest, and the smell of cheap beer splattered on unwashed jeans. But looking beyond the gruff, anthemic choruses, you’ll find a heartfelt and soulful reimagining of heavy metal. With the riffing approach drawing influence from the earliest days of 70s’ metal, Angel Sword pack the power of the 80s into their infectious refrains. There’s not another band in traditional metal of old or new that sounds quite like Angel Sword, making their sophomore effort feel both familiar and new. Regardless of whether or not the tongue is set firmly in the cheek, Angel Sword have a way of melting even the most solid of iron hearts.
6. Traveler – Traveler
There are a lot of excellent bands popping up in the so-called New Wave Of Traditional Heavy Metal, but few hit home for me the way Traveler does. The riffy, motivated guitar of project mastermind Matt Ries interplays beautifully with Jean-Paul Abboud’s sorrowful, yet powerfully emotive vocal performance to create a catchy and instantly memorable record of straightforward, sci-fi tinged heavy metal that just reeks of the 80s. The new generation of traditional metal is alive and well, and it’s most certainly in good hands.
5. Slow – VI – Dantalion
If there’s one thing Slow have learned to do in their twelve years of existence, it’s build a climax. Taking the labored dirge of funeral doom and translating it into something this powerful is no easy task, and Slow pull off a successful follow-up to 2017’s Oceans with the ever-dramatic, ever-crushing sixth entry to their discography. The varied instrumentation between the strum of the guitar chords adds a symphonic feel to the record, fully emphasizing the aforementioned crescendos. As melancholy and depressing as funeral doom can be, Slow always manage to leave the tiniest glimmer of optimism buried deep within their sound, tucked away beneath the roar of desperation and hopelessness.
4. Arch / Matheos – Winter Ethereal
Is there a more balanced duo in prog metal than John Arch and Jim Matheos? The majority of the Awaken The Guardian-era Fates Warning lineup return for their second album, and first in eight years. The wait has been worth it, though, as the band has again tapped into progressive metal magic that logically and meticulously constructs a heartfelt experience that still keeps enough technicality and time shifts to leave prog nerds happy. So, pop on those headphones, sink back into the bean bag, and let Winter Ethereal sweep you off your feet and into the wondrous imagination of Arch / Matheos.
3. Blood Incantation – Hidden History Of The Human Race
If everyone keeping up with recent metal releases collectively performed a mind meld and the entire consciousness of metalkind, in its infinite wisdom, were to declare an album of the year, it would be Hidden History Of The Human Race. Luckily, Last Rites, in our infinite idiocy, are in tune with such wisdoms, as Blood Incantation’s sophomore album landed the coveted top spot on our Staff List. What’s so special about this record is not only the way in which Blood Incantation so fluently alchemize their influences into inspiration, but also just how well the music translates into the concepts behind it. Hidden History realizes the vast potential of death metal as a whole, and while Blood Incantation isn’t expanding the universe quite yet, they are pushing against the very outer limits of the genre as we know it. I can’t wait for the next one.
2. Blut Aus Nord – Hallucinogen
Psychedelic black metal isn’t a new thing, by any stretch, but it is a style that remains a source of untapped potential for the future of black metal. At least in this idiot’s view of the world. It’s not a set genre or style—there are very few parallels outside the black metal tag between Oranssi Pazuzu or A Forest Of Stars or Psychonaut 4. Ever masters of this sort of stylistic diversity, French black metal outfit Blut Aus Nord stepped to the plate this year with their thirteenth full-length, Hallucinogen. While Manny might want you to think there’s not that much psychedelia going on (link to his otherwise wonderful review below), are you really going to trust a guy that’s skeptical of CBD with your chemically enhanced mind expansion? The album drops you right into the fungal realm, like a trip kicking in as soon as the mushroom burps hit. The leads swirl around the cranium like fungal spores released in tandem with neuron synapses—the running pace of the kicks comforting and not overbearing, simply driving you easily into the dream world ahead. And while I’ve got your attention, Manny, did you hear that little bit where “Nomos Nebuleam” breaks down at around 5:20? That’s a little slice of pure 60’s psychedelic rock that seamlessly works its way out of the black metal ether that’s hazing around it. I completely agree with your interpretation of the vocals, though—the way they are beautifully buried beneath beneath the blanket of the mix, subtly and effectively elevating the album beyond mere comprehensible realms. With Blut Aus Nord’s penchant for furthering stylistic and conceptual works, I find myself hoping that Hallucinogen becomes another trilogy, and perhaps inspires more bands to seek out and explore the vast potential in psychedelic black metal.
1. Atlantean Kodex – The Course Of Empire
The Course Of Empire is more than just a collection of the finest material Atlantean Kodex have put out to date. Yes, The White Goddess is an absolute gem of an epic metal album, but on the band’s third full-length, the tracks are more than mere songs; these are almighty hymns of epic heavy metal. Atlantean Kodex are essentially giving Manowar the full Peter Jackson treatment, making everything larger than life, yet still somehow realistically grounded. Perhaps it’s the storytelling behind it that keeps it rooted in reality. And the scholarly approach to the might and mythos of early civilization certainly helps. It could just as easily be the breathtaking vocal performance, not just the mighty leads by Markus Becker, but the more subtle backing vocals popping up at just the right moments to provide maximum impact. Of course, it could be the age-old use of timeless riffs weighted with enough force to crush the shackles of pre-civilized man, or the use of callbacks in the songwriting across the album to really drive the peaks home. Regardless, The Course Of Empire is the most balanced of the band’s work—a front-to-back masterpiece that echoes with ancient legend and enough reverb to fill the cradle of civilization itself. Long live true heavy metal.
Quick Title For Quick Releases
Demos / EPs / Compilations / Eight Tracks / Mini-Albums / Cassingles / HitClips / Etc.
10. Vorga – Radiant Gloom
Modern sounding black metal is often hit-or-miss, but German newcomers Vorga landed firmly on the hit side. Grooving, driving percussion beneath long form melodic passages, the real secret behind the appeal on Radiant Gloom is the same technique that has always made black metal bands of all variety successful: the breakout riff. Vorga build and release tension across the twenty-odd minute EP without so much as a dull moment to be found.
9. Hexenbrett – Erste Beschwörung
First wave-sounding black metal complete with organs, weird bells, shredding guitar, unholy choirs, whispered incantations, and, of course, primitive blast beats? Sounds like the perfect soundtrack for stomping around my apartment in a cape on a Friday night. Ryan? Nay, I am the Vampyric Archduke Of Unit 2C!
8. 夢遊病者 – Ѫ
While there are plenty of artists injecting new ideas into established mediums, 夢遊病者 continue to throw out the rulebook entirely. One of two offerings this year, the band’s Ѫ EP further explores the territory first hinted at on last year’s quite excellent 一期一会. Whispering out like ripples on a pond, Ѫ uses pieces of all sorts of musical language to create its own beautiful vernacular: free form structure beneath a dreamlike production, with only hints of the black metal that dominated a large percentage of their sound early on. True visionaries.
7. Völtage – Spellbound
There were plenty of quality traditional metal EP’s and demos this year, but one I found myself constantly returning to when I needed a boost was Spellbound. Something about the band’s style draws from everything I love about 80’s metal—from the epic, uplifting feel of “Dragonland” and “Dust Devil” to the occult / sleaze fusion of “Spellbound” and, of course, the engine revving burner of “Speed Demon” (that breakdown sounds absolutely like a drag race should.) Even the flaws in production become endearing amongst the twin leads and fiery solos, as Völtage pack as many memorable riffs into the four songs as possible.
6. Sanguisugabogg – Pornographic Seizures
I could go on and on here about sick, sluggish, drugged-out caveman riffs, but that’s shown to be pretty par for the course for Maggot Stomp Records releases this year. What really shot Sassysausagebogg to the top of the goreheap for me was the rhythm section on the band’s debut demo. That grimy, lower than thou bass paired with creative drum work absolutely drives Pornographic Seizures forward. It’s rare to find drum patterns that themselves sound inherently evil, and Sandypolywogg nail it. Plus, throw some absolutely banging riffs on top for good measure. Degenerative death metal for degenerate people, and I’m here for it.
5. Undeath – The Compilation Of Decomposition
It was a tough call between the Rochester, NY’s debut Demo ‘19 and their follow-up EP, Sentient Autolysis, but Caligari Records luckily stepped up and made it a lot easier by bundling the two into an excellent compilation from the promising new death metal band. Armed with thick grooves, a spunky guitar tone, and plenty of Demilichian weirdness, Undeath constantly morph and change shape as they bring their songs to life from beyond the grave.
4. Mortal Incarnation – Lunar Radiant Dawn
If a stream of light being crushed out of existence by a black hole somehow manifested into death metal riffs, then Japan’s Mortal Incarnation capture that experience on their debut release, Lunar Radiant Dawn. An incredible amount of potential is harnessed into the two distinct mazes of death that twist and turn through a labyrinth of psychological terror—flowing unnaturally between stretches of crushing doom and pummeling assaults, leaving little left of the mind to process what it has actually experienced.
3. Hellripper – Black Arts & Alchemy
The Scottish hellgoat returns with a blazing fire from Hades. Hellripper has been on a roll since first unleashing The Manifestation Of Evil EP back in 2015, and the latest offering from the blackened speedy thrash band (or is it thrashy speed? Who cares?) continues to show just how much project mastermind James McBain just gets it. Littered with riffs and nonstop energy, Black Arts & Alchemy is pure blasphemous fun that would send Satan himself flying into the pit. All hail the goat!
2. Olkoth – The Immortal Depths And Treasures Of Necromancy
I get to cheat again with this entry, because not only is The Immortal Depths And Treasures Of Necromancy a compilation, it’s a compilation of two demos from 2016 and 2017. However, I’ll always have a soft spot for spooky black metal, and the way Olkoth’s music dances and flits about like a restless spirit haunting the ruins of an ancient castle hooked me in. The creative riffing further enhances the dreamlike state of the soft synths beneath them, as the crisp drums chime and crackle like the chains shackling the poltergeist to its eternal home.
1. Sabïre – Gates Ajar
It would make my life so much easier if there were maybe two more tracks on Gates Ajar so I could just make it my favorite album of the year and be done with it. Maybe its brevity is part of the key to its success—it left me wanting more every time. Regardless, the passion that has gone into making Sabïre’s debut mini-album come to life shines through on every track. Every time I put it on, I have to listen at least twice to get an extra fix of the spirit of freedom emanated behind each song. It’s that feeling you get around the first hour into a long road trip, with nothing but the pavement ahead and all your troubles left in the dust in lieu of the future and the unknown… At least for a short while. So, hop on that ’67 Scout that’s been gathering dust in the garage, grab one for the road, and let the good times roll with Gates Ajar.
The Best Albums There Ever Was In The Year Of Our Lord 2019: 1984 Director’s Cut Version Extended Edition For The First Time Ever On VHS And Betamax
While most of the other Last Rites guys are fairly well-rounded in their music taste, I never feel I listen to enough outside of metal from the present year to have much of a say on the best non-metal albums. So, in lieu of a non-metal list, I compiled some of my favorite traditional releases for the year. In a style that largely depends on looking back, it’s difficult to fairly compare them with albums that seek to move forward. These are but a few of the bands keeping the faith after nearly half a century of true heavy metal, and the torch burns brightly still indeed.
10. Screamer – Highway Of Heroes
Leave it to Sweden to continue to capture that classic heavy metal sound. Ljungby’s Screamer return for their fourth full-length, and by far their best yet. Plenty of power and speed without sacrificing the songs, Highway Of Heroes is packed with energy and is simply a joy from beginning to end.
9. Riot City – Burn The Night
Sounds exactly like it looks. Need I say more?
8. Smoulder – Times Of Obscene Evil And Wild Daring
Smoulder vocalist Sarah Ann may well have one of the best new voices in traditional metal. Bristling with power, full and clear, her voice chimes out over the might of the doom-laden guitars. The songs are well-written, and they are instantly memorable to boot. Tracks like “Ilian Of Garathorm,” “The Sword Woman,” and the epic closer “Black God’s Kiss” are epic metal highlights of the year. Epic doom forged from the fires of dragon’s breath that will thrust the listener upon thy noble steed and take arms against the darkness.
7. The Lord Weird Slough Feg – New Organon
Who are these young whippersnappers? The Lord Weird Slough Feg have been keeping the flame burning since the beginning of the 90’s, and bless ’em for it. Not only do they have such a fantastic backlog of victories, but they still bring it in a way that has never been duplicated, carving out their own niche while flying high the banner of traditional heavy metal. 2019 marked their much-awaited return, and perhaps their best work since 2007’s Hardworlder. Slough Feg is never a miss, and hearing them return with such a veracity was a welcome addition to the year.
6. Molten Chains – In The Antechamber Below
Perhaps the strangest entry to this list, Austria’s Molten Chains take occult-sounding heavy metal a la France’s Blaspheme—or more recently, Canada’s Cauchemar—and twist it with odd chord arrangements and spiraling riffage. The uneasy nature of the songs makes otherwise normal elements like solos, bass licks, or breakdowns stand out all the more. A twisted, spiraling M.C. Escher take on occult-sounding heavy metal.
5. Midnight Force – Gododdin
Midnight Force are a band I will probably forever associate with our very own Captain. After pestering me to check out their debut album Dunsinane last year, I fell in love with the honest approach to epic heavy metal the Scottish natives are hammering away at in their forge. Their follow-up, Gododdin, holds tight to the spirit of the debut while showing progression and maturity, with the band filling out their sound with keys and packing in even more infectious refrains. Heavy metal from the Old World.
4. Chevalier – Destiny Calls
How fast is too fast? For Chevalier, not fast enough. The band combine the inspirations and melodies of epic heavy metal and play them at an absolutely breakneck and reckless speed, injecting a feeling of adrenaline to the distant battlefields of long ago. Epic speed metal? Bring it on.
3. Magnabolt – Magnabolt
Magnabolt get the “truest award” for 2019, mostly for releasing their incredible self-titled debut on the world and almost immediately going on indefinite hiatus afterwards. While I’m hoping they get back together in the future, Magnabolt is in itself a blessing of mighty U.S. power metal loaded with riffs, solos, and guitar magic. Perfect for a Bandcamp gift to your guitar nerd friend or weightlifting buddy down at the gym this holiday season.
2. Tanith – In Another Time
While we had already covered the album at this point, I really need to thank our very own Lone Watie for convincing me to give Tanith a go. As far as reaching back, Tanith probably do more so than any other band on this list. While still firmly heavy metal, there’s plenty of Wishbone Ash style mood to In Another Time. Beautifully written and produced, Tanith dance with 70s prog stylings without losing the feel of grand adventure that makes the album so fun and engaging.
1. Mirror – Pyramid Of Terror
Chock full of NWOBHM melodies and a strange esoteric flair, Mirror’s sophomore album Pyramid Of Terror checks all the boxes and more. A well-rounded collection of songs displays the band’s chops, drawing from influences like Iron Maiden, Saxon, Mercyful Fate, Satan and… well, you’d be hard pressed to find something not included on Pyramid Of Terror. The beauty in Mirror is how well they reflect these influences into their own sound—not only mimicking their heroes, but tapping into the same creative pools to create their own intoxicating brew of true heavy metal.
As always, I’d like to take a moment to dedicate my list to the staff of Last Rites. It’s been a topsy-turvy year, and you guys are always a welcome reprieve from whatever else may be going on in my life. And, of course, thank you dear reader, for putting up with our lunacy and reading about what we love.
Stay weird, friends. And see you in 2020.