Here we are again. It’s time to announce my 50 favorite albums of the year. In some ways, this was a tough year for me. I took on a second job, which actually allowed me the ability to listen to significantly more music in 2019 than anytime in the past. However, I found less time to write. I have a quite extensive backlog of reviews I’d like to write, which may show up in 2020. Speaking of next year, I plan to write one review a month. I think that limitation will help with my sanity and is unfortunately fairly realistic for the time I have. I have a couple of ways to share other albums I like in the works, but am not able to share them yet. I will add another caveat. If you are in a band or with a label, and want to send me a physical album of some sort, I’ll guarantee a review, though not necessarily a positive one.
A couple of reminders. 1) I only include albums I receive promos for in my list. There are already literally hundreds to choose from and this seems to be a reasonable way to place a limit on my options. There are therefore some big names that were not even in consideration as there are three or four big labels (and many small ones, of course) that don’t send us promos. 2) The list is completely subjective. I’m a fan. I have no music theory training and don’t play an instrument. I do however spend a lot of time with music and think my tastes mesh well with some people. Use the list to find some new gems. 3) The list is a snapshot. I can guarantee at this point that there will be things I want to change a month from now. I feel best about my top 5. Beyond that, there could be lots of changes. 4) All 50, and many more besides, and excellent and well worth your time.
Now, the list. Let’s do it in reverse this year to build some tension:
50) Unfurl – The Waking Void – Independent Release – USA – Hardcore – 9/20/2019
The Pittsburgh quartet are one of those projects that are difficult to categorize. They strike me as hardcore at their root, but include elements of sludge metal, black metal, powerviolence, and pure chaos from the void in their sound. The Waking Void spends forty-five plus minutes punishing you, pausing only to build tension, never to provide release. The savagery alternates between blistering, skin peeling riffs, sonic abrasion, and feral, relentless destruction. I’m seeing more and more of these types of band pop up. Unfurl are staking their claim as one of the best.
49) Opeth – In Cauda Venenum – Nuclear Blast Records – Sweden – Prog – 9/27/2019
I’ve mostly been on the sidelines of the great Opeth debate. It seems like the metal world really wants them to make metal again. Those days were before my re-entry into the world of metal (after two and a half decades of ignoring it all to focus on family, career, etc). I’ve dabbled a bit. I’ve even seen them live, thanks to a contest win (and the heavy stuff they played at the end of their set was my favorite). All of that said, In Cauda Venenum is an excellent album. Really. Give it a chance. I’m not even generally much of a prog guy, but this album keeps my attention from start to finish with each listen. There are many twists and turns, interesting riffs, and a generally compelling composition. I received the English version, but I have it on good authority that the Swedish version is better, because the singing flows better. Don’t shut it out because you miss old Opeth. Love it for the magnificence that it is.
48) KMFDM – Paradise – Metropolis Records – Germany – Industrial – 9/27/2019
For decades now, German industrial project KMFDM has given us an exceptionally dance-able soundtrack for the revolution. Paradise is no exception. The beats are thick and the anger is palpable. All it takes is a quick listen to the first track K-M-F to understand both. Core members, new members, and guest spots all wrap things up to create a stellar album top to bottom, including Andrew “Ocelot” Lindslay as MC on K-M-F, a native Michigander and friend of a friend. Sometimes the world is small. Solidarity with the messages. I’m certain you’ll groove to the rhythms on Paradise.
47) Deivos – Casus Belli – Selfmadegod Records – Poland – Death Metal – 11/29/2019
Polish brutal quartet certainly don’t fail to bring the pain, but they are careful to avoid the common pitfall of some brutal death metal by becoming too one-dimensional. The drumming contains interesting syncopation, quality fill choices, the occasional cowbell (among other things), and more to balance the well played speed and brutality that show up regularly. The bass is a destructive bulldozer, but also adds to the dread with dark tones. There are some really excellent riffs throughout the album, as well as some truly nasty lead playing at times. Vocals are fitting for the style and work well. Casus Belli hammers you in the face with almost 40 minutes of dissonant brutality. Press play!
46) Subhumans – Crisis Point – Pirates Press Records – UK – Punk – 9/13/2019
UK anarcho punk legends Subhumans are back in 2019 with an in-your-face new release. While perhaps not up to the legendary standard of The Day The Country Died, the album is still excellent. Featuring ten tracks of political punk rock and a brief instrumental interlude, the band continue to speak truth to evil in their own unique way. There’s plenty here to get your fist pumping. For me, the final track, Thought Is Free tops the lot and earns a place in my pantheon of immortal and essential punk songs. More fodder for your personal soundtrack to the revolution.
45) Due to continued research into labels that support racist and/or NSBM values, I have discovered that this is a choice I can no longer support.
44) Mourner – Apogee of Nihility – Satanath Records/More Hate Productions/The End of Time Records – Russia – Death Doom Metal – 6/30/2019
Hailing from Russia, Mourner is a new entity, a trio, that plays death doom in a fairly straight forward manner, though leaning towards Funeral Doom. That said, they have struck gold here on their first release. The emotions brought forth by Apogee of Nihilty are very real, very palpable. Though not my typical style, they manage to grab the 44th spot, with only the next entry being higher in a similar style this year. I can’t wait to hear what comes next for this project. It’s rare for such a slow placed style to produce such enjoyable and memorable riffs, but Mourner have successfully done so.
43) Illimitable Dolor – Leaden Light – Transcending Obscurity Records – Australia – Funeral Doom Metal – 3/20/2019
First, let’s set something straight. I still love Transcending Obscurity Records. They didn’t take my list by storm quite as much as last year, but that has more to do with my own personal genre tastes. They still released a ton of quality releases. Here, on it’s sophomore release, Illimitable Dolor have really captured my attention. I really didn’t understand the fuss about the prior album, though I liked it well enough. This one holds me hostage every time I press play. The level of quality is such that, if they were playing a style I listen to more, they would undoubtedly be higher on my list. Pain and sadness are releases with every strike of the drumstick, every stroke of the guitar pick, every mournful howl into the microphone. Loss drips from the pores of this one. On an interesting side note, Stuart Prickett will make another appearance on this list with another band.
42) Fawn Limbs – Harm Remissions – Roman Numeral Records/Wolves and Vibrancy Records – USA – Hardcore – 8/2/2019
In an extreme change from the prior two entries on my list, we have Fawn Limbs here at 42. Chaotically urgent, Harm Remissions is a masterpiece of splattering your brains on the wall. I listed hardcore as the genre, because I wasn’t sure what else to write, but I could have listed grindcore, mathcore, black metal, noise, and maybe others, with equal honesty. Possibly the most disturbing listen I’ve had all year (with only one or two other contenders), this album is anxiety inducing in the best ways. All sharp corners and swinging hammers from odd directions, Harm Remissions never relents.
41) Naga – Void Cult Rising – Spikerot Records – Italy – Sludge Metal – 11/15/2019
I first discovered Spikerot Records through Hobos (who narrowly missed this list) and then SednA (also a narrow miss), and then finally Naga which, with Void Cult Rising, has released an intense and personal feeling record of intense proportions. Needless to say, with those three representing one third of the young Italian labels output so far, and all being so excellent, Spikerot is an up and coming label to watch. The trio known as Naga play a doomy sludge with more than a taste of blackening. The result is bleak and immersive. The riffs are driving ear worms propelled forward by the excellent drumming, but it is perhaps the impassioned screams and yells of vocalist Lorenzo that really make the album for me. His style brings to darkness the nihilistic horror of the bands sound, the icing on top of the excellent cake, so to speak.
40) Temple Koludra – Seven! Sirens! To A Lost Archetype – Transcending Obscurity Records – Germany – Black Metal – 6/14/2019
The one-person project of M:W, Temple Koludra hails from Germany. In my mind, this is one of the most under-rated releases of the year. I saw very little chatter about it, but it is well deserving of all the notice it received and much more. Black, dissonant, and immersive, Seven! Sirens! To A Lost Archetype is a difficult listen for sure, but worthwhile for those who make the effort. Vicious riffs are underpinned by unrelenting percussion. Thick vocals force their way through the blackness to attack your psyche. The album is a masterwork of darkness. If you haven’t already done so, take the time now to immerse yourself in this one.
39) Baroness – Gold & Grey – Abraxan Hymns – USA – Prog Metal – 6/14/2019
If, at the start of the year, you had told me that a new Baroness album would end up ranked #39 on my list, I would have told you that you’re crazy. You see, Baroness is my favorite band. Notice the use of the present tense. I actually have real trouble placing this album. At first, I honestly didn’t like it at all. It’s subtly dissonant at a lot of points, and I didn’t know how to react to that initially. Anyone who knows me though, understands my love of dissonance. It just caught me off guard I think. Also, there’s a weird dichotomy where this album has a track or two that are firmly in my top five Baroness tracks (Tourniquet and Cold Blooded Angels) and, for the first time ever, a couple tracks that I actually don’t like. Even more disappointing is that those tracks end the album. Assault on East Falls is really more of an interlude, but adds nothing to the album for me. Then Pale Sun. Oof. Not my thing. Who knows. Maybe those will grow on me, but for now, I always end the album feeling unsated. I think that is the primary reason for the surprisingly low rating.
38) Vultur – Drowned in Gangrenous Blood – Memento Mori – Greece – Death Metal – 10/31/2019
One of the nastiest death metal releases of the year (with probably the nastiest sample at the beginning of the title track), Vultur are a Greek quartet that blend a significant amount of blackened riffs into their OSDM attack. The result is absolutely filthy. In fact, I would say that those riffs are the main reason they make the list, though the entire album is solid top to bottom, with all instruments and vocals forming an excellent and well coordinated attack. It’s the blackening of their riffs that sets this album apart from me though that set them apart of others doing a similar style who also deliver an excellent OSDM product. There are a lot of releases right now that fall into that particular pidgeonhole, so it’s takes a little something extra to set yourself apart. Vultur has it!
37) .gif from god – approximation_of_a_human – Prosthetic Records – USA – Grindcore – 9/27/2019
Hailing from Richmond, Virginia, the six humans who make up .gif from god certainly know how to throw down. approximation_of_a_human is twelve tracks of blinding bliss. Equal parts humor and political commentary, the album (my personal introduction to the band) caught my attention essentially from the first note. Contrasting high/low vocals duel over dissonant chaos that can slow down to the pace of nuclear waste seeping into a river as easily as it can speed up to a rocket fuel fed frenzy. Dissonant and blistering, group leaves you know room to breathe. Grindcore, when done well, is one of my favorite genres, but too much of it is uninspired speed for the sake of speed. .gif from god does the genre exceptionally well. They are fully on my radar now.
36) Incandescence – Ascension – Deathbound Records – Canada – Black Metal – 3/15/2019
Raise your hand if you like dense, dissonant black metal as much as I do. The duo of Philippe Boucher (all instruments) and Louis-Paul Gauvreau (vocals) do this really well on Ascension, their third full length with Deathbound, in addition to an independently released EP early in their career. The album is dark and majestic, calling to mind the raw power of nature in her most dangerous moments. Riffs soar, but also crawl insidiously inside your brain. A rich bleakness is called forth from the depths. If all of this description seems somewhat contrasting, that is because the album is somewhat contrasting. Both a beautiful and a difficult listen, Ascension requires time and attention, but rewards you when you spend these on it.
35) Polemicist – Zarathustrian Impressions – Fólkvangr Records – USA – Death Metal – 8/30/2019
What do Hivelords, Surgeon, and now Polemicist all have in common? Lydia Giordano on guitars. As an individual member, of course, she’s not the only reason all of these projects are/were great, but man, they all featured a bunch of nasty riffs. Zarathustrian Impressions is the first release of this new-ish project. On a rock solid death metal foundations, the quartet uses blackened riffs and vocal style to take you on a dark and harrowing progressive journey into the beyond. Hivelords probably leaned more black metal (and doom) and Surgeon was more pure progressive death metal. Polemicist is somewhere in the middle with it’s meaty black death blend. Another home run for a Giordano project and kudos to the entire group, of course.
34) 1000 Yard Stare – Benthic – Independent – USA – Sludge Metal – 8/3/2019
One of only two Michigan releases (local-ish scene, as in, bands I know and see somewhat locally) to make my list this year. And what a release it is!. Since catching the quartet open for the mighty Primitive Man, I’ve been a huge fan. They’ve been around officially since 1998, but weren’t active after 2001, until reforming in 2015. Benthic represents their first full length release. It would be rare for a release to be worth a two decade wait, but this one really is. The quartet plays obliterating sludge and is one of only two or three bands that I put in a class with Primitive Man. Newest member Chris Martinez handles the kit with pummeling regularity. Scott Lambert has been on bass since the reformation, sending waves of reverb soaked brutality. On guitar and vocals we have founding members Matt Fraser and Tony Wright respectively. Fraser’s menacing tone and slow, evil riffs add textured to the reverb madness, while Wright pours his entire being through the microphones in bilious barks and gravelly growls. Get on this while they’re still (sort of) new. You can say you listened to them back when…
33) Horrisonous – A Culinary Cacaphony – Memento Mori – Australia – Death Metal – 1/19/2019
Do you remember when I said that Stuart Prickett would show back up? Well, here he is, this time on guitars only, for this Australian OSDM delight. Given the tongue in cheek nature of the album and song titles, I actually wasn’t expecting to like this very much. I figured it was a bit of a joke band that would only warrant a minute or two of my time. I pressed play and found myself listening to the entire album. The riffs, the aggression, the manic drumming, pounding rhythm, and nastily pitch perfect vocals all hit the right spot. So, then I immediately hit play again. In fact, this album has stayed a regular in my playlist for the entire year, something only a handful of albums can claim. Like labelmates Vultur, they also have something that sets them apart from the crowd of OSDM albums. For Horrisonous, it’s exceptional composition and execution, to a degree above that of even many of the stronger of their peers.
32) Crimson Moon – Mors Vincit Omnia – Debemur Morti Productions – USA – Black Metal – 8/30/2019
Speaking of exceptional execution and composition, USBM band Crimson Moon certainly have it on Mors Vincit Omnia. In their 25th year as a band, the quartet have released a masterpiece. One of my projects for 2020 is to go back through their discography, as they are a band that has escaped my notice until this point. Honestly, MVO is everything I wanted as a follow up to Batushka’s Litourgiya, (an album I fell in love with when it came out), except it’s significantly better anything done by any version of that project (including the aforementioned album). The combination of darkness and beauty found in the harsh blackened vocals interspersed with choral parts. The pairing of dissonance with assonance. The aggression and release. All of this and more makes this a majestic album. In fact, I’m probably guilty of not listening to it enough, because of other reviewing duties. It will be a mainstay in my playlist for some time to come.
31) The Ember, The Ash – Consciousness Torn From The Void – Avantegarde Music – Canada – Black Metal – 9/13/2019
I’m often guilty of simplifying how I feel about something, a genre for instance, just because it’s easier to do so. For example, I often say I don’t really like atmospheric black metal. Consciousness Torn from the Void is yet another example of why that’s is just a simplification, or perhaps an exaggeration. In actual fact, atmo-black when done well, is among my very favorite things to listen to. Unfortunately, it’s too often not done well, and is just boring. The Ember, The Ash have created a masterpiece in the atmospheric black metal field. The entire work is fashioned by 鬼 who is the same mind behind Unreqvited. Entirely engaging, Conciousness Torn from the Void steals your consciousness and brings it to the edge of said void. There are certainly atmospheric parts here, the aggression of black metal is not forgotten. Savagely beautiful!
30) Ison – Inner – Space – Avantegarde Music – Sweden – Drone – 9/20/2019
Moving on to another Avantegarde release, we have Ison, a dreamy drone project from Sweden. To be honest, I hesitated for a long time before finally including the album here. You could make a case that this is the least metal album on the list. Dreamy, sometimes poppy, incredibly contemplative, the Swedish duo draw you in from start to finish. Not heavy at all in a musical sense, the album is still incredibly weighty emotionally. I feel the hour plus of music quite viscerally. I actually think that this would be an incredible album to start about a quarter of an hour before dawn, and watch with the sunrise. Wonderfully composed and executed, Inner – Space is worth having for those quieter moments.
29) Bednja – Doline Su Ostale Iza Nas – Transcending Obscurity Records – Croatia – Black Metal – 11/29/2019
Bednja are a new project hailing from Croatia. The trio is essentially a hardcore punk band that likes black metal, and it shows in their song writing. Everything from vocal style to song structure leans much more heavily towards hardcore crust punk, but then they’ll whip out manic blast beats and gnarly tremolo riffs. To be honest, the precise formula doesn’t really matter much. This album rips really hard! I can only hope they make more. What a smashing start for the young band!
28) Horror God – Cursed Seeds – Lavadome Productions – Russia – Death Metal – 9/27/2019
Hailing from Moscow, the quintet known as Horror God make some nasty death metal. Whether these two facts are related in some way, I have no idea. The release of Cursed Seeds brings us the return of Lavadome after a hiatus of a couple years, and what a way to come back. The album twists and turns through cosmic death metal dissonance and occasional burly black metal riffing. Tightly written, the songs hook you quick, then drag you in their bloody wake as they storm through unknowable directions, often changing tack with no warning whatsoever. Ah, yes, dissonance. I love you so much. Cursed Seeds is the third full length for this project and definitely delivers everything you could want.
27) IATT – Nomenclature – Black Lion Records – USA – Prog Metal – 9/27/2019
Speaking of unknowable twists and turns, the mighty Philadelphia quartet IATT is back with another masterpiece of progressive dissonance. I was incredibly impressed by 2015’s Gnosis: Never Follow The Light, so it was with great excitement that I discovered this long awaited follow up (though there was an EP in between). I can say gratefully that Nomenclature hasn’t let me down at all. It is a stunning album, full of beauty and darkness. The band does such an amazing job of revealing the contrasts and duality of life in their music. Their style is hard to pin down (as you can see by my cop out, but true, genre designation above), but this is a band that does well with genre mixing. Not all bands do. Nomenclature goes in so many directions that it’s not easy to describe in a brief paragraph. The best I can say it to click play. You can thank me later.
26) Cliterati – Ugly Truths/Beautiful Lies – Tankcrimes – USA – Hardcore – 8/30/2019
Taking a hard left turn, we jump to the powerful Cliterati. The hardcore punk quartet play sonic political aggression with some degree of tongue in cheek. The music is straightforward and well written with intelligent lyrics and a belligerent and in-your-face vocal delivery. The music carries you along in it’s fury. I haven’t yet had the opportunity, but I’m guessing Cliterati is an absolute blast live. There’s so much angry fun to be had.
25) Demiurgon – The Obvious Lure – Everlasting Spew Records – Italy – Death Metal – 7/12/2019
With their second full length under this name (they also released a full length under the name Hatred), Demiurgon has done what few bands have successfully done. That is, they have created an album that is essentially technical death metal and is also exceptionally enjoyable. Bands, take note! Keep some grit. Keep some brutality. It’s wonderful to hear your technical skills, but they’re pointless if not in the context of well written, meaningful songs. If you are in doubt of what I mean, press play on The Obvious Lure and listen to an absolute clinic on what top quality technical death metal should be.
24) Redbait – Cages EP – New Age Records – USA – Hardcore – 6/14/2019
On Cages, hardcore punk band Redbait take on racism, class-ism, issues of immigration and more with their sharp tongued aggression. The EP is a raging fire of righteous rage picking up where Red Tape left off and raising the stakes. The songs scream of immediacy. On five tracks found here, the band adds abhorrent sludge, occasional blackening, and touches of grind to the sonic palette already in place. If you like blistering leftist hardcore punk, then this is for you. Solidarity!
23) Weeping Sores – False Confession – I, Voidhanger Records – USA – Death Metal – 9/13/2019
Shout out to the mighty Great Mackintosh for turning me onto this beauty. False Confession is a death doom record in that style that he and I both like. The sounds draw you into a certain head space and then hold you there meditatively. The tracks are longish, 10 minutes each give or take, but hold my interest just fine. What really sets this album apart though is the violin. As a metal instrument, the violin (and it’s cousin the cello) are having a bit of a heyday, and deservedly so. The work done here by Gina Hendrika Eygenhuysen literally made me stop what I was doing just to better tune into the music. It adds a beautiful sense of pathos to the album. Wonderfully done!
22) Due to issues with a band member coming to light, I can no longer support this release.
21) Hideous Divinity – Simulacrum – Century Media Records – Italy – Death Metal – 11/8/2019
Back in 2017, Adveniens missed my list by a narrow margin. I found it a strong album, but not enough my style to include. Now here we are two years later and wow! Simulacrum is in the top half of my list. And a well deserved placement it is! The band have built on their strengths by continuing to write brutal tracks with excellent riffs, top notch drumming, and some interesting technicality, but they have also added some blackening and a better flow to the composition. On this fourth full length, the Italian quintet shred your psyche from within. One of the most obliterating releases I’ve heard this year.
20) Warforged – I: Voices – The Artisan Era – USA – Death Metal – 5/10/2019
Confession time. This album almost didn’t make it onto my list. I know for a fact that every year I misjudge a few and inevitably just miss a lot. This year, when I first listened to Voices, I didn’t initially feel it. I thought it was alright, but nothing special. Then, through a strange series of events, I ended up with a copy on CD and began to jam it in my vehicle. Over and over and over. Listening to a single track, or even a couple won’t give you a true picture as to what Warforged have created. Coming in at around 75 minutes, the Chicago quintet allow time for their music to develop. If you are patient, the payoff is so worth it. My concern here is: Do I have it ranked high enough?
19) Malevich – Our Hollow – Middle Man Records/Fremen Death Commando Records/Sludgelord Records/Dead Red Queen Records/Zegema Beach Records – USA – Grindcore – 10/25/2019
Our Hollow is another album that took me awhile to clue into. Guitarist Josh reached out to me through a Facebook group after I’d posted soliciting possibilities for this list. Upon first listen, the album wasn’t going to make the cut. Then I made it out to see the Atlanta quartet live in the basement of an old credit union. The passion and vitriol on display in the live performance made me listen again. I had one of those moments where everything clicked. This album is a spastic mix of grind, sludge, doom, crust, and much more. The only constant is the feral chaos on display. Plus there is some political bent to it. In the words of the lyricists, ‘Behead the rabid, fascist spectre.’
18) Seer – Vol. 6 – Artoffact Records – Canada – Doom Metal – 2/8/2019
The Canadian quintet known as Seer are not afraid of big ideas. My evidence? As the album name Vol. 6 implies, there are releases under the names Vol. 1-5. Through the entirety of their releases, the lyrics follow a common narrative. I’ll leave it to you to discover. Heavy and often beautiful, Seer play traditional doom in a majestic and epic way. Sure, there are hints of Black Sabbath in the riffing, etc., but Seer are bigger than that. Traditional doom writ large. Vol. 6 is a load, a powerful, punishing, beautiful album, and you should listen to it.
17) Hath – Of Rot and Ruin – Willowtip Records – USA – Death Metal – 4/12/2019
I’ve seen this album as the number one on several lists, and I don’t hate the choice. About halfway through the year, I had it in contention for that spot myself. Techie in places with a modicum of chug, Hath channels beautiful darkness through the lens of blackened riffs and progressive song structures. Of Rot and Ruin will grab you, shake you back and forth, scream in your face, and make you like it. Interesting with excellent composition of the various revolving parts, and stellar performances by all, it’s very hard to find fault. I guess for me, the only thing that has it down in the teens is a wealth of albums I like slightly better.
16) Pharmakeia – Pharmakeia – Amor Fati Productions – Unknown – Black Metal – 7/25/2019
Suffocating psychedelia. That’s what this mysterious project brings to the table. Visceral and haunting, Pharmakeia is tightly controlled chaos spewed forth in black metal form. Layers of feral riffs sit over the driving drums that sound like the heartbeat of the void. Demoniacal screams and yells utter forth calling forth all manner of nightmarish creatures. The album is uncontrollable. It grabs and won’t let go. Drown in it (for about 32 minutes), then press play again.
15) Cloud Rat – Pollinator – Artoffact Records – USA – Grindcore – 9/13/2019
I love this band so much. As people and as musicians, they are incredible in so many ways. In Pollinator, the Michigan trio continue to develop their grind (plus more style). Amongst the often doomy riffs, there is some blackening (I think), and a whole lot of nastiness. The drumming continues to be none stop chaos. The vocals and lyrics remain as poignant and caustic as ever. This album is absolutely obliterating across its 30 plus minutes. The CD comes with a companion disc that is drone/shoegaze instead of grind, and is also amazingly good.
14) Drastus – La Croix De Sang – Norma Evangelium Diaboli – France – Black Metal – 3/1/2019
Drastus is a one-man project from France that features some of the nastiest atmosphere I’ve ever heard. The music is absolutely unbending and oppressive…the stuff of nightmares. The first six tracks are all top notch, weaving through the void with the listener in their wake, but it is track 7 (Constrictor Torrents) that really wins the prize. This track would have my vote for track of the year, if I did such a thing. It is so overwhelming, engrossing, and engaging as to actually feel like dark sorcery.
13) Arkona – Age of Capricorn – Debemur Morti Productions – Poland – Black Metal – 12/13/2019
Dissonant riffs…driving rhythms…atmosphere like the inside of a mushroom cloud…what’s not to like. Arriving late in the year, this album (26 years after their formation) drives home the point that this Polish quartet are master of black metal. Though it’s a mid-December release, I don’t feel bad at all about putting it this high on my list. It has had plenty of spins. If anything, it may end up being retrospectively too low. If you haven’t caught onto certain themes yet, I love oppressive atmosphere and dissonance. This provides both within excellent composition and musicianship.
12) NEDXXX – NEDXXX – Norma Evangelium Diaboli – Unknown – Black Metal – 12/13/2019
Speaking of dissonance, this mysterious and new project released by NoEvDia came out of nowhere on the exact same day as Age of Capricorn. This is dissonance of a different sort though with whiplash turns, otherworldly riffs, and a non-stop pace. Little is known about the project. My speculation is that it is something of a supergroup from members of other NoEvDia bands. That is, of course, beside the point. Let the music speak.
11) Dawn Ray’d – Behold Sedition Plainsong – Prosthetic Records – UK – Black Metal – 10/25/2019
Featuring yet another style of black metal we have the sometimes melodic, ever ardent Dawn Ray’d. The anarchist trio again call forth ‘battle hymns for the class war’ across ten tracks plus an intro. Their choppy style continues to be smoothed over from time to time with the violin playing of the vocalist. As always, their message of liberation and revolution rings clear and true. Solidarity!
10) Pulchra Morte – Divina Autem Et Aniles – Ceremonial Records – USA – Death Metal – 2/1/2019
As we move into the rarified air of the top ten, we find this magnificent release by Pulchra Morte. This was another album that spent some time in earlier consideration for AOTY and was neck and neck with Hath for awhile. Divina also took second place in the People’s Choice contest I ran on Facebook. The album is melancholy, beautiful, and emotionally powerful. Death metal with well placed use of violin and a female guest vocalist who contributes some incredibly moving cleans. Take the time to listen to the entire album. You won’t be disappointed.
9) Venom Prison – Samsara – Prosthetic Records – UK – Death Metal – 3/15/2019
This British quartet are one of my favorite modern death metal bands. Their style is incredibly brutal, razor sharp, and carries you along like a river during flood season. The riffs are well written and compelling. The vocal style is abrasive in the best ways. The drums never quit. The band also features some political content, especially feminism. Solidarity.
8) Yellow Eyes – Rare Field Ceiling – Gilead Media – USA – Black Metal – 6/28/2019
The American duo known as Yellow Eyes again impress with a masterpiece. Their style incorporates field recordings with galloping drums, excellent riffing in the US atmospheric style, and vocals that are like shrieks from the void. Actually their fifth full length, the last three have put them on everybody’s radar, with this one driving home their consistent brilliance. I love getting lost in this album. Full immersion!
7) Soen – Lotus – Silver Lining Music – Sweden – Prog – 2/1/2019
When I first heard this early in the year, I was pretty blown away and figured it would be high on my list. Being prog though, I handed review duties off to Mannerheim, our prog expert, and moved on. I literally didn’t listen to it for months. This past autumn, when I started shuffling the pieces of my list in earnest, I put it back on to see if it was as good as I remembered. It was. Maybe better. It really should be top 5 or even top 3, but there are 6 I like (slightly) better, so here we are. Absolutely compelling, beautiful, and magical. What an incredible piece of music from start to finish.
6) Schammasch – Hearts of No Light – Prosthetic Records – Switzerland – Black Metal – 11/8/2019
So, Hearts of No Light is definitely a black metal album, but there is much of it that is objectively not black metal. From the introductory piano to the goth rock first single, this album goes where black metal typically does not. Why? I’m assuming that the four members of Schammasch would rather attempt to reach the perfect composition of their vision than be stuck within the confines of a genre just to remain trve. How is it black metal then? Listen to it. The soul of it is undoubtedly black metal. It is ominous and beautiful, powerful and hateful, melancholy and triumphant. It is blackness unleashed and unconfined.
5) Misþyrming – Algleymi – Norma Evangelium Diaboli – Iceland – Black Metal – 5/24/2019
I’m not normally a fan of the Icelandic scene. In recent years, there has been a huge buzz around Icelandic black metal, but every time I’ve tried to listen, I’ve been underwhelmed. Enter Misþyrming. The quartet makes a strong case that I need to rethink my evaluation of the entire scene, and possibly my life. Were it not for one instrumental track in the middle (Hælið) that I don’t enjoy at all, Algleymi would bump up even higher. The albums are so tightly ranked at this point folks, that even something minor like that makes the difference of a ranking or two. Now go listen to this romp through somewhat melodic midpaced black metal.
4) Panzerfaust – The Suns of Perdition I: War, Horrid War – Eisenwald – Canada – Black Metal – 6/14/2019
This album is approaching perfection for me. For months, it was (secretly) my number one album of the year, and it is deserving of the honor. Only in the last two months or so have three albums squeezed their way in front of it. In no way, shape, or form has my enjoyment of the album faded. I love it as much now (maybe more) than my first listen. The Canadian quartet have created a roughly half hour black metal opus to war. The atmosphere is gripping and compelling. When I saw them live, I remember thinking that Panzerfaust was a metal band that really did sound dangerous, unlike other bands that say such things to my derisive laughter. Raw aggression, but pretty cleanly produced, is the formula that propels this album to such heights. Buy it. It’s a masterpiece.
3) The Restarts – Uprising – Pirates Press Records – UK – Punk – 10/25/2019
If you haven’t picked up by now that I have certain strongly held political leanings, then you haven’t read the other entries. The reason for that is that, at my core, no matter how much metal I listen to, I identify most strongly with the anarcho punk scene and the music it produces. I have a handful of albums that are the standard against which I hold all other music from the genre. One example is The Day The Country Died by The Restarts label mates the Subhumans. Not only does Uprising hold up against that small pantheon, but it has actually joined them. There is not a wasted track here. Each one is an important political statement you can sing along to thanks to the excellent music it’s shouted over. The best punk record I’ve heard in over a decade.
2) Cattle Decapitation – Death Atlas – Metal Blade Records – USA – Deathgrind – 11/29/2019
I’ve been let down by so many bands I love with their most recent offerings that I approached Death Atlas with some trepidation mixed into the hope. Not only was The Anthropocene Extinction a masterpiece in it’s own right, but there was lineup changes and a marked difference in cover art. Would they too fail to meet my blindingly high expectations? The answer is no, they would not. For my part, Cattle Decapitation is one of those rare bands that has improved with every release, and they’re all great. I love the whole discography, but the mix of melody and aggression, run through the blender of about a zillion genre styles here, works so well, that it tops the lot. Travis Ryan (the best extreme metal vocalist ever) adds new vocal weapons to his repertoire. I can’t wait to hear this played live!
1) Bull Of Apis Bull Of Bronze – Offerings of Flesh And Gold – A Moment of Clarity Recordings/Tridoid Records – USA – Black Metal – 6/21/2019
I recently made the offhand comment to a friend that they should listen to this album from start to finish uninterrupted, in a dark room, on good quality headphones. And then I told them that it would change their life. The more I think about it, the less sure I am that it was a joke. A truly immersive listen to Offerings of Flesh and Gold is a powerful experience. Rolling between atmospheric parts and blistering black metal, Offerings grabs on in an incredibly visceral way. Meditative and ritualistic, the album takes me to a different place when I allow myself the time to be immersed by it in that manner. I walk away at the end and feel like I’m entering the world anew from somewhere slightly different. Snatches of riffs and blasts or more atmospheric parts roll through my head for hours or days afterwards. I can think of maybe three other albums that affect me this strongly.
In addition to the strength of the musical performance, Bull of Apis Bull of Bronze is thematically important. I will let their own statement of purpose speak for them and just say that I stand in solidarity with this purpose. “Bull of Apis Bull of Bronze is a collective against hierarchies, and the power structures that divide and separate humanity. The power that you feel inside you should be focused as a knife point into the hearts of those that only know how to consume, and those that live off the backs of the downtrodden.”