We here at Heavy Blog like to ponder the big questions: Who are we? Why are we here? What is the best Swedish progressive grindcore album released prior to 1993? You know, the big stuff. In order to better address such pressing matters, we bring you Heavy Issues: a bi-weekly column by which we plan to get to the bottom of things. But we can’t just do it on our own, we want to know what you think as well. Read our responses below and weigh in with your own opinions in the comments.
This week’s question: What are you looking forward to in 2019?
Josh – All of my favourite Australian bands putting out new albums.
Australia has one of the healthiest heavy music scenes in the world, and many of its best bands are gearing up to release new material in 2019. In Malice’s Wake are currently in the studio, working on album number four. Their 2011 record The Thrashening is in the running for being my favourite Australian album of all time and their last album, Light Upon the Wicked (2015), came damn close to topping it. Their compatriots in the Australian Big 4, Elm Street are reportedly writing new material, and it will be interesting to see where they take their sound after 2016’s more traditional heavy metal-oriented Knock ‘em Out…With A Metal Fist. Harlott are likewise due for a new record, while Desecrator have already teased new material, in the form of last year’s Manic EP. Meshiaak also have a new album on the way and, as I write this, the mighty Truth Corroded have just dropped a teaser for their new record, Bloodlands. We’re now also staring down the barrel of a new album from A Million Dead Birds Laughing after last week’s surprise single release. The Australian scene seemed to have a relatively quiet year in 2018 (outside of bigger releases from the likes of Psycroptic and Parkway Drive) but it already appears to be back in full force.
Further Considerations: seeing what death metal decides to do this time: 2017 got weird, while last year was all about Rush; I wonder if there’s going be another dominant trend in 2018. Also, Download Australia, which takes place in a couple of months, that line-up is seriously stacked!
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Nick – The things I’m least expecting.
This may sound like a cop-out answer, but truly what I’ve come to appreciate over time as I’ve been a part of Heavy Blog and have been exposed to innumerable bands and sounds I never heard before is that often times the best albums are the ones you least expect or have no prior knowledge of. I’m excited to hear what bands come out of the woodwork this year to blow my mind with their own twists and takes on sounds I already enjoy or, even better, sounds I didn’t even know I enjoyed.
On a more personal note, last year was difficult for me in that I completely uprooted my life to a new state and area without a single person around I already knew other than my wife. With that I pretty much gave up whatever momentum I had built musically with my band(s) in NYC, and I was certain I wouldn’t be able to find my way into anything else fulfilling for quite some time. Instead, I am currently active in two bands playing very different kinds of music and getting to stretch myself out as a musician. So I’m looking forward to building up new momentum and creating new ways to express and fulfill myself creatively.
Further Considerations: The Dear Hunter have been unusually quiet since wrapping up their last tour early 2018, which almost certainly means Casey and crew have been hard at work on something they don’t want to share. I can’t say for sure that whatever it is will see release in 2019, but based on my sources whatever it is might possibly be bigger in scope than we’ve seen from them before. Also, Post. Festival 2019 is already in the works and is poised to be even bigger and more awesome than its inaugural event. With any luck I will be able to get there myself this year.
Eden – The continuation and complication of the traditional heavy metal revival.
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of power and heavy metal. Thus, the revival these genres have been undergoing in the recent few years has been a joy to my ears; it seems as if every month a fantastic traditional heavy metal release comes along, reinvigorating my love of cheesy riffs and falsetto vocals. In addition, there appear to be “flavors” slowly emerging, with many bands going off on their own tangents within the revival; some channel proto-doom, many channel Iron Maiden and yet more plug thrash for their tone and theme.
In 2019, I expect two things to happen: this “complication” of the genre will continue to happen and traditional heavy metal will get more time in the sun among the big publications. As for the first item, I think it’s obvious why I’m excited for it: more sub-genres and flavors within traditional heavy metal is a good thing both for the “common” listener and for the bands operating within the genre. It makes for a strong community, able to hit on multiple fronts and serving something for everyone, just as the original waves of heavy metal bands did.
The second item is a bit less straightforward. First, let me explain why I think it’ll happen through a specific example, Haunt. While Haunt have been making their specific brand of high-octane heavy metal for a while now, under different names perhaps but still, last year saw their popularity rocket. They were featured on end of year lists and on multiple reputable publications, putting their music in front of many readers.
And yet, I don’t think we’ve come even close to the height of their success. I think that now, with their previous album becoming less of a well kept secret and their next album slated for a 2019 release, they’re about to enjoy far more attention. Which brings us to why this is a good thing; attention bleeds. Smaller bands like Traveler, Gatekeeper and more are all going to release albums this year and they’ll enjoy some of the attention that Haunt will be getting. Couple this with Satan’s well-received release from last year alongside some other veterans coming back this year perhaps, and you have yourself a formula for the further explosion of traditional heavy metal. I can’t wait.
Further Considerations: everyone else finally hearing the upcoming Contrarian album. It’s fucking excellent.
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Simon C – Meshuggah headlining Arc Tan Gent.
If there is one thing that throws the occasional ray of summer sun through the dreary winter months, it is the steady drip-feed of announcements of who will be appearing where over festival season. Various festivals, including Tech Fest, 2000 Trees, Bloodstock and Download among others (we are quite spoiled for festival choice in the UK, considering we’re just a poky little island) have made their first announcements, but there is one in particular that is standing head and shoulders above the pack for me right now.
It’s only one band, but what a band: Meshuggah will be headlining this year’s Arc Tan Gent festival. That, on its own, is pretty much enough to guarantee my attendance. I would hope that going into detail about why Meshuggah are an utterly essential live band for the average Heavy Blog reader would be unnecessary. But just in case any of you have slipped past that stage of the initiation, the experience is broadly analogous to having a fridge dropped on you, with millimeter precision, from low-earth orbit. Pow.
Arc Tan Gent itself is possibly more of an unknown quantity. Starting in 2013, the festival quickly established itself as a cornerstone of the quirky British underground scene, with a particular focus on all things math- and post-. Meshuggah will be joining an auspicious group of headliner alumni, including 65 Days of Static, Explosions In The Sky, Converge, Glassjaw and The Dillinger Escape Plan, who in turn have sat atop four-stage bills brimming with talents.
I’ve been to two previous editions of the festival, including the inaugural year in 2013. I returned in 2017, having had a ticket for 2015 I was unable to use. By far and away the biggest impact the festival has had on me was introducing my eyes and ears to the unrelentingly majesty of Nordic Giants, and I will be forever grateful for that. It is firmly a music lovers festival and – in the main – is not attended by people who want to drink warm beer in a campsite all day, then stumble over to watch the headliners. The spectacle of punters literally running between stages to catch as much as possible is not uncommon, and every band I have seen at the fest has played to a respectably sized audience, even those starting before noon. Impressive. I am confident that Meshuggah bringing their show to that stage will be one of the absolute high points of the whole festival season, and I am all but certain I will be there to see it
Jonathan – The improved state of indie rock and pop.
I listened to a lot of albums in 2018. More, for that matter, than in any other year since I began keeping track of my listening habits. The vast majority of the albums I dedicated time to last year were staunchly in the metal camp, but I foresee that changing somewhat in 2019, and for the better. I grew up with the odd, angular, exploratory sounds of indie rock and pop molding my musical taste and solidifying some of my most memorable musical moments, and if I’m being honest, last year wasn’t close to a banner year for rock and pop’s more eccentric margins. 2019 looks to change the general stagnation of this brand of music by bringing in releases from some heavy hitters, which will hopefully give indie rock the spark it needs for a solid year.
If January is any indication, fans of indie rock and pop should have plenty to celebrate as the year progresses. Deerhunter, Sharon Van Etten, Mree, The Twilight Sad, Toro y Moi, Buke and Gase, and several others released some of the best work of their careers in the early weeks of the year, and that’s just an appetizer for what the year has in store. Tame Impala, Vampire Weekend, Cass McCombs, Beirut, Grimes, (Sandy) Alex G, Sleater-Kinney, These New Puritans, Hot Chip, and Panda Bear are all slated to drop new albums in 2019, and if even a few of these are as good as I hope they are this year will be a damn good one for independent music. Here’s hoping.
My musical emphasis as a consumer seems to shift every few years, and as I’ve listened to some of the best that heavy music has to offer over the past two years I’ve found myself craving a banner year in the musical world I cut my teeth in. All indicators seem to point toward a fantastic trip ‘round the sun for indie rock and pop, and I cannot wait to see how it unfolds.
Further Considerations: More incredible death metal
One need only give a cursory glance at the content Scott and I generated last year to confirm that we’re big fans of death metal. 2017 and 2018 were back-to-back amazing years for the genre, particularly in the progressive and old school camps, and I’m sincerely hoping that trend continues into 2019. Given the slate of bands releasing new material this year, including Contrarian, Altarage, Tomb Mold, and a host of others, there’s no reason to think 2019 won’t stand as another quality onslaught of the gnarliest sounds in metal.
Scott – Reviving my love of (new) hip-hop.
From a macro perspective, 2018 was a pretty solid year for me when it came to hip-hop. I rediscovered my love of classic acts like the Wu-Tang Clan, thanks to the 25th anniversary coverage of Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Plus I finally listened to both landmark albums from Digable Planets courtesy of $3 used copies of Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space) and Blowout Comb. And of course, I spun some recent favorites from Danny Brown, Kendrick Lamar, Run the Jewels and countless others.
Yet, as I went to make my annual Best Of list, I found that I’d barely listened to any new hip-hop from the past year. That’s not an exaggeration, either; I marked down just two albums I enjoyed over the previous 12 months. This isn’t the setup for “modern rap sucks” rant. Granted, a good chunk of popular hip-hop doesn’t really do much for me, but that’s something I could say about every genre to some degree. Anyone that says “All [insert genre here] is [insert critique here]” just isn’t looking hard enough. No genre is entirely defined by one artist/subgenre.
What’s really at play here isn’t particularly interesting, to be honest. I listen to almost exclusively new music while I’m at work, and then listen to my CDs and vinyl when I’m home or in the car. As a journalist, I’m either on the phone or writing pretty much all day, making it a bit difficult to listen to someone “talk” in my ear and concentrate at the same time. Unfortunately, as a result, my consumption of new hip-hop has plummeted in recent years, as I’ve naturally gravitated towards instrumental music or genres where the vocals essentially become another instrument (i.e. metal).
This is pretty obviously a bad reason to forego listening to a genre I love, which is why I’m looking forward to changing that next year. Instead of putting on my vinyl copy of The Chronic by Dr. Dre, maybe I scroll through Rate Your Music and find a new rap album that looks enticing and give it a shot. Hip-hop’s straightforward concept allows for limitless possibilities, and I’d like to resume my exploration into a diverse, multifaceted genre.
Sidenote: Picking my “favorite” hip-hop album of 2018 seems a bit misleading, given how few rap records I spun last year. But I figured I’d drop a link anyway:
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Pete – A new Mastodon record.
Sure, everybody else might take the longview of things, but I’m into 2019 for the stuff I can get out of it. For me, that’s a new Mastodon record. I’m from Georgia originally and really got into more underground metal around the same time as Remission was released. “March of the Fire Ants” got a lot of heavy rotation on Headbanger’s Ball at the time, and I was hooked. Mastodon being from Atlanta made it also feel like I was rooting for the home team, and I try to support all culture southern.
More to the point, Emperor of Sand left me wanting a bit more. The album itself felt incomplete to me. It’s very cathartic for the guys in the band to release themselves of their troubles and demons, and for that I really loved the record. But it didn’t feel like the Mastodon I’ve come to grow and love over the years. To be sure, I am by no means expecting them to reach Crack the Skye levels of musicianship and songwriting. That would be extremely unfair to them and set expectations way too high. At the same time, Emperor didn’t feel like the journey I thought it was going to be. When a band sets out to make a theme album, there really needs to be moments of high emotion. You need to feel like you’ve changed as a person by the end. Emperor of Sand didn’t do that for me.
There was a lot of very classic-sounding Mastodon songs on Emperor. “Sultan’s Curse,” “Steambreather,” “Clandestiny,” and “Andromeda” all feel like mainstays in a Mastodon live set which is exactly what fans want out of a record. And really, I just want more of that. Crazy riffs, trippy imagery in the lyrics, and the occasional sprawling epic track. I guess I’m saying I just want more content. I’m such a glutton for it.
Trent – What Else Does Blackgaze Have to Offer?
Blackgaze, or post-black metal has to be one of the fastest growing heavy subgenres over the last decade. The formally fringe shoegaze and/or post-rock infused black metal style pioneered by the likes of Alcest, Les Discrets, and further popularized by Deafheaven has ballooned the niche subgenre into the spotlight and even relative mainstream. A lot of the output, especially those with more post-rock tendencies, have been some of my favourite black metal related music of the past two decades. Unfortunately, the genre has also to an extent become one of mimicry and mediocracy with a lot of bands just trying to recreate what those have done before them and falling into the genre’s own tropes, limiting creativity. For 2019 I’m curious to see what more the subgenre has to offer for us. Where else can it go?
In recent years we’ve seen several bands throw a curve ball with the genre, often simply by just fusing it with another distinct, different and complementary style of music. A separate, but often musically very similar genre has co-existed for some time known as skramz, or screamo which often has a comparable harsh vocal technique. The post-rock leaning bands in this genre have a lot of crossover, and one of my albums of the year last year that made that clear was Respire’s Dénouement. What stood out about this album was the Godspeed You! Black Emperor-esque orchestral post-rock fused with those shrill black metal vocals, which is something I’d love to see explored further. Abstract Void has also mixed things up by, as far as I know, pioneering what they’ve coined as ‘blackwave’, or blackgaze meets synthwave. None of their albums have truly wowed me, but the contrasting yet weirdly amazing fusion does work, and I think the combo has a lot of potential. I’m eager to see it also taken to a more blackened hardcore territory like we saw with Oathbreaker and at times Rolo Tomassi’s latest. We’re fortunate to have a new Downfall of Gaia on the near horizon who give it a more traditional sludge/post-metal treatment. There’s also the I suppose, ‘sister genre’ atmospheric black metal which is usually more grounded in black metal but can employ these influences fruitfully.
This is not to say that further fusing more genres is the only way for blackgaze/post-black metal can grow. There’s nothing wrong with well-written, fantastic modern takes at what those have done before you and this applies to all genres. We’ve seen this from Pale, Show Me a Dinosaur, Asunojokei, MOL and more. It is that what first made that genre or subgenre special which defines it, but we need to have more than just Neige and the Deafheavens carrying that ship.
David – Continued growth.
Just over three years ago I crossed over from being a devoted music fan to being a writer for a music blog, Arctic Drones. Within a couple of months I found myself associated with A Thousand Arms, reaching out to bands from all over the world in search of songs for a compilation concept we were hatching. The transition into building an ever-expanding network was almost instantaneous. Three years later I’ve been involved with dunk!festival, Post. Festival, booking shows on my own, writing PR, organizing a globally-focused networking platform, and last year I started my own company, Young Epoch. This may seem like a self-serving thing to be excited about, but what I wanted to address goes deeper than professional ambitions.
Joining this international network of musicians, artists, writers and others has opened up a whole new world for me. Social media obviously plays a massive role in our lives at this point, and as such I have grown my Facebook friends list to nearly 1100, and I would say that – conservatively – 750 of them I became acquainted with through music and the arts. The ability to source the minds of thoughtful individuals from every corner of the Earth has facilitated a personal growth for me that I’m not sure I can quantify. I would have always described myself as an open-minded, kind-hearted individual, but my journey through the music world has brought me closer to certain ideas and issues than I ever had been before. As a relevant for-instance, I recall a time last year when our own Eden Kupermintz shared a post on Facebook criticizing Jordan Peterson, and I engaged him in conversation, not because I necessarily agreed with Peterson, but because I thought of him more as a coldly objective observer of culture. Months down the line now, I have realized that I was misguided and I think the knowledge and insight I’ve gained about this subject is both important and likely would not have been as readily attainable had I not had access to Eden’s well-researched thoughts. This is just one of numerous examples. Becoming a part of a worldwide network comprised largely of thoughtful, intelligent, caring people is simply invaluable, both in regard to seeing things in a more global context and gaining a much more personal insight into individual issues.
This involvement has also vastly improved my ability to gain valuable cultural experience. I have boarded more airplanes in the past year and a half than I did in my entire life previously. This May will mark my third trip to Europe in as many years. Ostensibly I am going to be a part of dunk!festival, which is one of the truly great events and networking opportunities of the year, but I am also able to spend more and more time exploring the rest of the continent each time I’m there. I feel like I’ve grown as a person in a very short period every time I return from these trips. I visited Los Angeles for the first time last year, my first time traveling further west than Austin. I also travelled to Indianapolis, a place I never thought I’d go but loved all the same. I’m going to Montreal for the first time in a couple of days (shocker since I live in northern Vermont and grew up in New England), and the destination is a club where I’ll be hanging out with people who’ve become friends of mine, and also happen to be musicians whose work I deeply enjoy – The End of the Ocean, Tides of Man and Appalaches. I’m extremely excited to see where else music takes me in the coming year and beyond.
As you wander through your thirties, you can sometimes find that life has gotten unexpectedly lonely. For so many of us, the friendships of childhood are only memories, and as professional responsibilities take hold we sometimes wake up and realize that we don’t have a ton of real camaraderie in our day to day lives. My experience in the music world has aided in filling some of those holes, and then some. When I travel to Europe, or anywhere else for that matter, or even when I book shows in my own area, I always run across people that I’ve built friendships with. Many of these people I’m meeting face to face for the first time, but at this point a lot of them are turning up again and again. This year is sure to bring even more of the same.
So yes, I am excited to grow myself and my company’s brand. I’m excited to continue bringing in more clients. I’m excited that I currently have someone who is functioning in an intern-like role, which tangibly proves that there are people who view what I do as important and worthwhile. But as much or if not more than all of that, I am looking forward to the continued forging of friendships through music, to the ever-evolving process of personal growth, and to the expansion of my own cultural experiences. None of these things would have been facilitated at such a rapid rate were it not for music, and I want to make sure it is well-known that I take none of this for granted and appreciate it even beyond the words I’ve just written. Here’s to a 2019 that is somehow even better than the three years that preceded it.
What about you? Let us know.