2019 is a big year in more ways than one. For starters, it’s one year before the the big 2020, where our collective minds lose themselves (there’s a joke on one of the album titles in here) over a round number. Are you ready for “Best of The Decade” lists? Because they’re coming, in their dozens. It’s also a big year for fans of music in general and metal specifically. There’s been an incredible number of excellent releases in the year so far, and it we’re just barely over the mid-way mark. And lastly, it’s a big year for Heavy Blog specifically; we’re turning ten years old and that’s one hell of a round number.
While many more thoughts are coming on what that ten year mark means, I can’t help but have everything I write colored by that milestone. For me, it’s five years; I joined the blog at the very end of 2013. In that timespan, things have changed immensely. We have strived to move away from news and “fast” coverage in favor of more in-depth articles and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve tried our best to diversify our staff, both in taste and in character, and we’re making headway there. Mostly, we’ve gone from a loosely affiliated group of people to an organization, more resilient and adaptable, able to make this thing called Heavy Blog keep happening without losing our insanity over and over again.
And we did it all for years like 2019, so we could still be around to talk about the sheer amount of excellent music that’s out there for those willing to look for it. I mean, god damn just look at this list; there are true classics in here, albums that we are certain will stand the test of time. From progressive death metal to hip-hop, from jazz through ambience, darkness, brightness, and more, these albums represent what is, to us, the cream of the crop. Remember: a collective came together to make these together. Your mileage may vary. But every entry on this list is well worth your time, as a gateway into all the other fantastic music released this year if nothing else.
Enjoy. And, as always, thank you for allowing us to keep this crazy thing going. It literally falls apart in an instant without you.
An Isolated Mind – I’m Losing Myself
Determining the value of art is less simple than it first appears, in my estimation. Especially when it comes to music. While you may find artists’ ability to compile and layer melodies, riffs, vocals and percussive elements in a meaningful and impactful way paramount in importance, there are other levels of context that for most of us can make or break a piece of music. Sometimes the lyrics suck, or band members’ philosophies are harmful, or an aspect of the overall aesthetic of an album just feels off. Some of these things can be easily overlooked, some may impact your overall opinion of the music. It’s difficult to argue against the notion that there are a myriad of internal and external factors that play a key role in determining a piece of art’s value. For me, An Isolated Mind’s debut record I’m Losing Myself checks nearly all the boxes that I would use to ascribe meaning and value to art. It’s honest and brutal about a topic that very rarely gets such treatment and is very important to many, personal to the point of being uncomfortable, constructed in a manner that propels its chosen medium (avant garde/progressive death metal) forward. In short, it’s just about everything I could ask for in a record.
When judging the merits of any piece of music, it’s pretty much impossible to start anywhere other than the thing itself. Does it sound good? In the case of An Isolated Mind, absolutely it does. Kameron Bogges (who astonishingly performs every instrument on this record) unfurls a masterclass of avant garde/death/black metal musicianship that is grounded in theme and extremely varied in execution. Where “We Are Fragile Vibrations” opens the album with a gentle ambient instrumental, subsequent track “Afraid of Dissonance” expands into a technical death metal territory that feels like a more emotionally and musically expansive Ulcerate, combining synthetic and instrumental elements into a track that darts and weaves like a diseased hummingbird, both beautiful and terrible. The remainder of the record follows this musical trajectory, mixing blasting aggression (“Eternity in a Minute”) with progressive metal (“Turritopsis Dohrnii”) and electronic/ambient elements (“I’m Losing Myself”/”I’ve Lost Myself”) in a manner that never once feels dull or predictable. Couple that with the album’s stark and bracingly vulnerable lyrical explorations of mental illness, and you have yourself one of the best, and most valuable, debut records I’ve heard in some time. If you haven’t heard this record yet, change that immediately. It’s well worth the investment.
Astronoid – Astronoid
Post-metal can be such an amorphous term. A lot of times, bands get that label simply for not fitting into any other subgenre. For Astronoid, it’s because they combine so many different elements in a modern package that it has simply grown beyond the labels and creates their own voice. Their latest self-titled record grows beyond their first record and shows the band evolving their songwriting and production ideas into a package that is wholly unique and presents old ideas in new ways. They also draw on influences outside of metal to really create something original that doesn’t come around very often.
You rarely see the combination of metal concepts and post-hardcore and emo-style songwriting, but it’s in droves on Astronoid. It’s a pretty mature record that takes on very adult ideas and presented in a way that shows off the band’s advanced songwriting ideas. Luckily, they also have the musicianship required to pull off such feats. There are instances of guitar acrobatics, blast beats, and old-school-style grooves divvied up between 9 tracks of progressive songwriting with heavily emotional lyrics. It’s all presented in a very dreamy package in a way that you feel like a completely different person after hearing it. I’ll personally be looking forward to fighting for this record at the end of the year.
Baroness – Gold & Grey
What else should we have expected from Baroness? They’re nothing if not devout to the idea of change and broadening their palette, and Gold and Grey is directly in line with this ethos. In hindsight, their sonic metamorphosis feels gradual. From a duo of heady and heavy EPs to the proggy sludge of Red Album to Blue Record’s exuberant and fluid stylings to the psych- and pop-tinged Yellow & Green to Purple, where the Baizley & Co. took their sound to new anthemic rock heights that had them culminating in something of a modern Thin Lizzy informed by the scuzziest noise and prog. With their latest, they’ve again maintained their unpredictability without upending everything. Branching out beyond primary and secondary colors to Gold & Grey, the hues/sounds present on this record are as esoteric as they look/sound. It’s every bit an amalgam of everything that’s come before it as it is a fresh reinvention of their sound – still further down the rabbit hole Baroness go.
This being said, there are some ties back to its predecessor. Producer David Fridmann returns with a sound that (though “unpleasant” to some at times) underscores their heaviness in new ways. Yeah, it might’ve sounded “better” with a “cleaner” mix; but through this lens, we get a band at their peak sounding truly raw. It’s a subversive, lo-fi sound for a (fairly huge) rock band’s most psychedelic offering, but it’s also refreshing as an emphasis to the group’s sonic power and thematic grit. Still, Gold & Grey still manages to pack in the anthems (“Tourniquet,” “I’d Do Anything,” “Cold: Blooded Angels,” “Broken Halo,” “Borderlines”) but they’re presented across a broader range of hazy and organic soundscapes, incorporating more jazz, prog, post-, and even math rock at times. Further, they’re scattered among a variety of essential segueing instrumentals and short form songs (“Sevens,” “Anchor’s Lament,” “Blankets of Ash,” “Can Oscura,” “Assualt on East Falls”) that lend a surreal character and feel to the album as much as they control the ebb and flow of energy, emphasizing the arc of the record as they complement the surrounding pieces. In standard Baroness fashion, everything is impeccably arranged to play off one another, making for what feels like their most expansive record to date. They return with some heavy and loud moments (“Front Toward Enemy,” “Seasons,” ”Throw Me an Anchor,”), but this go around has them tempered with a heavier dose of the trippy and weird (“Emmett – Radiating Light,” “Pale Sun”).
There’s an obvious sense of growth on this record. The rhythm section feels more “right” on Gold & Grey than it did on Purple. Nick Jost’s work on the keys and synth does a lot of heavy lifting on the trippier material, and drummer Sebastian Thomsen comes into his own quite a bit with this record, incorporating some blast beats and even taking center stage at times (“Throw Me an Anchor”). He seems to open up the group to some new territories (the groove “I’m Already Gone” is unforgettable), also creating a more tangible break from the earlier material as he sits back on some of the instrumentals. New guitarist/vocalist Gina Gleason also adds an indispensable presence, boosting vocal harmonies and lending her own distinct flavor on the instrumentation. In tandem with Baizley, they’re equipped to tackle a much wider swath of sounds in a smaller space, making compositions like “Seasons, “Emmett – Radiating Light,” “Broken Halo,” and “Tourniquet” (my personal song of the year, so far), vital in the Baroness canon without being totally alien. It’s a crazy accomplishment to create something so different, engaging and still somehow in line with their prior work, but what did we expect?
The Biology of Plants – Vol. 2
Like the kaleidoscopic mosaic they present on the cover art for Vol. 2, Brisbane’s The Biology of Plants deliver a spectrum of emotions comparable to light passing through stained glass a varying angles, sometimes wildly dotting the room, and other times beaming down and singeing church pews. Primarily a modern jazz-oriented four-some, TBoP throw in many other shades to their overall sonic palette, with only one listen through of Vol. 2 you can appreciate why the term ‘modern’ or ‘nu’ might precede their name. The unfurling sound tapestries of tracks like “Ezra” or “500 Million Bells (Part I)” bring other jazz contemporaries, GoGo Penguin, to mind. Simultaneously, Simon Svoboda’s longing cello melodies that occasionally hop into the mix in between quirky bops are reminiscent of Grace For Drowning and The Raven That Refused to Sing-era Steven Wilson. On the topic of quirky bops, this album has those too. The endlessly joyous and carefree “Food Baby” is the standout exemplar of this side of the band. If you don’t find yourself stupidly grinning like a Cheshire cat with lockjaw at the Sigur Ros-esque flourish at the close of the track, then well, what’s wrong with you?
The band are another addition to the eclectic roster of Sydney-based record label Art As Catharsis, who are quietly but confidently nurturing the current wave of progressive and introspective artists coming out of Australia, such as the likes of COAST, Lack The Low, Skullcave and Lisathe. TBoP sit very snugly alongside the ranks of these artists and have already garnered recognition from the industry, winning this year’s “Best Jazz Song” at the Queensland Music Awards for their Vol. 1 track “Long Black”. In summation, they’re bouncy, they’re beautiful, they’re The Biology of Plants. Listen to them.
Ceremony of Silence – Oútis
Willowtip-signed Slovakian newcomers Ceremony of Silence came out of nowhere in 2019 to deliver a debut album that contributes to the ever-evolving and entangled amalgam of extreme metal that bands such as Deathspell Omega and Gorguts have trailblazed over the last decade or more. Outis is everything; equal parts black metal and death metal, Ceremony of Silence weave cacophonous and technical riffing with dark bouts of melody and an overarching atmospheric dread. Some call this niche of metal Lovecraftian in its sonic and visual aesthetic, and the label wouldn’t be misplaced here; Ceremony of Silence evoke a sense of creeping, twisted cosmic horror.
As far as first impressions go, track “Ceremony of a Thousand Stars” is fairly telling of the duo’s larger playbook. Early in the track, an assault of blasts and deathgrind riffs cycle around grooving black metal before the track lumbers through pensive and spacious atmospheric riffing and reverb-accented tremolo melodies that cement the track as remarkably haunting considering the abrasive nature of much of the material. Songwriting is an underrated skill in some of the more extreme metal subgenres, and while riff salad is often fun, Ceremony of Silence strike the balance between show and substance, which is what makes Outis such a compelling record.
COAST – Skim
There are few things quite as satisfying as a promising young band avoiding the dreaded “sophomore slump” and releasing arguably their best album in the process. After their stellar self-titled debut, I had no doubt COAST would return with another excellent collection of modern, sophisticated jazz fusion jams. Yet, what they actually brought to the table on Skim far exceeded my expectations and has clearly solidified itself as an AOTY contender in the world of jazz.
As I touched on in a recent Jazz Club column, COAST synthesize an array of genre traditions into their own unique blueprint. In the process, they consistently strike the perfect balance between the elements they bring into the fold. All of the tracks on Skim are polished and expertly crafted, yet they still feel organic and exude a vibrant aura. The group’s playing is technical and frequently adventurous, but still always inviting and accessible to listeners with fresher ears less accustomed to jazz. And across every track, COAST’s performances pay homage to the past with sights set firmly on the future, producing a unique voice all their own. In short, if Skim is the only jazz album you listen to this year, you’d be making a damn fine selection.
Denzel Curry – Zuu
As a writer, a lot of the music that graces my headphones tends to stimulate me (or absolutely not) on an intellectual level. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that sometimes I just want an album filled with fuckin’ bangers. One can only take so much pretentious, noodly prog death before the need for some hot summer jams takes over, and there has been no better balm for my needy sensibilities this year than Denzel Curry’s excellent new record Zuu. Last year’s Ta13oo was one of my favorites of 2018, and featured some of the most deeply conceptual and ambitious hip-hop songwriting I’d heard in some time. But Zuu is not like its predecessor. At all. Instead, listeners are invited into Denzel’s Florida roots with all the bumping bass and insanely energetic rapping one could wish from a record designed to be blasted from open windows on a blisteringly hot summer day. It’s not a heady record, but it will most certainly get you to bang your head, which is exactly what it’s designed to do.
One need look no further for examples of this album’s intent than “Ricky”, the album’s first single and one of the most straightforward tracks of Curry’s career. It’s a personal track about Curry’s father, which serves as a perfect example of the change in thematic emphasis from his previous material. Zuu is overall a much more personal affair, mixing more accessible production and personal anecdotes about his hometown and state with skill and sheer enjoyability. But that isn’t to say that this music is any less hard-hitting than his other records. For every personal, R&B-inflected slow jam (“Wish” and “Speedboat”, in particular) there’s a straight banger waiting right around the corner (“Birdz”, “Shake 88”, “P.A.T”), giving the album enough diversity to support repeat listens. Curry’s delivery is as clever, intense, and diverse as ever, keeping the quality of the record at an equally high level to his previous projects. While Zuu may not be his most ambitious record, it’s without question his most confident and immediately accessible. Which is just what the doctor ordered for filling out my summer playlist.
Dead to a Dying World – Elegy
Dead to a Dying World somehow managed to avoid my ears until this year, but boy do they have my attention now. Elegy is impressive in both its expansiveness but also in its reservation. At many points this feels truly like an ‘epic metal’ album, yet it never comes across as “too much”. The depth of the songwriting is the crux of the ingenuity here, brilliantly using contrasting moments of enthralling ferocity and quiet reservation makes this album a journey of a listen.
Elegy is centered around three 10-minute+ epics, accented by these 2-5 minute introspective interlude-esque darkfolk leaning tracks. More than just filler though, they serve to give the album an even wider breath that evokes an Agalloch or Panopticon-ian sense of being in nature and reflecting on existence. Lyrically the album follows a similar mind-set, focused around a lone wanderer in a post-human world brought about by an extinction caused by the Anthropocene. Elegy certainly provides an adequate soundtrack for that level of contemplation.
That expansiveness I mentioned is augmented by the broad influences and instruments combined here. “Of Moss and Stone” for example gives strong Her Name is Calla vibes in the harmonizing viola and haunting folky clean vocals, which effortlessly transitions naturally into straight up atmospheric black metal. Beyond that there’s dashes of hurdy gurdies and Hammond organs, as well as guest features from ex-members of Swans and the vocalist of doom-masters Bellwitch. Behind this all is an aura of apocalyptic melancholy that really defines their sound. Elegy is an album that stretches its genre confines to the point where it’s difficult to classify, (post-blackened doom?) but it never feels like any of these influences are ham-fisted or out of place. There’s a fluidity across the album that just seems to flow naturally.
Dreadnought – Emergence
Here we are, once again, heaping praise on a Dreadnought album. However, the perspective which I’ve come to develop towards Emergence is a bit different, and even more important, than I have for previous albums by the band. You see, beyond the album being “just” excellent (about which you can read in my lengthy review), it also has a meta level to it. It typifies more than just a band making great music but also a band refusing to be complacent, pushing themselves farther and deeper into their art. I’ll be honest with you, that’s a breath of fresh fucking air in the progressive/avant-garde community.
I’ll explain: I grew up listening to progressive music. Progressive rock was one of the first genres I ever discovered by myself, standing on the shoulders of my parents and the Internet. Progressive metal was even more formative, as I had no one in my immediate vicinity, initially at least, which listened to it and could guide me. That made it all the more exciting, as I was setting out on my own and discovering something new. Everything was fresh, exciting, and challenging. Nowadays, naturally, much of that sheen has worn off, as I grew used to the ways in which bands changed and morphed over time.
But Dreadnought? I can never see Dreadnought coming. Every step of their career so far has left me with my mouth hanging open, constantly pushing on what I thought their limits were. It’s like one of those awesome laser cleaning tools; every album of theirs just scrapes away the layers of jaded experience that coat my musical taste and reminds me why I love progressive music so much. Emergence is probably the album to most do that and, even in 2019, it shines bright in my rotation.
Full of Hell – Weeping Choir
If consistency and work ethic are virtues, Full of Hell should be sainted by now. Over the past decade, the Pennsylvania/Maryland death-grind demons have churned out project after project of maniacally vicious and exceedingly high quality material, collaborating with bands as divergent in sound as The Body, Merzbow, Nails, and Code Orange Kids, while squeezing in what little time they have between releases for a famously relentless touring schedule. Most bands in metal would find such a lifestyle exhausting or stifling to their creative process, and perhaps Full of Hell does, but you wouldn’t know it by listening to their music. 2017’s Trumpeting Ecstasy was their most ambitious and captivating album to date, ramping up the death metal elements of their sound to create something simultaneously more expansive, ambitious, and intense than anything they’d released before. This year brings us Weeping Choir, which sees Trumpeting Ecstasy’s above qualities and somehow raises each by a full notch of excellence. It’s a brutal companion piece to the band’s previous best, and cements its place as one of the band’s most enjoyable and expansive recordings.
“Burning Myrrh” opens the album exactly the way you’d anticipate if you’re a fan of the band’s music. Spencer Hazard’s razor sharp guitar work rages over Dave Bland’s uniformly excellent (and on this record expertly controlled) drum work, while vocalist Dylan Walker’s vocals writhe with a demented passion that is as disgusting as it is diverse. The latter point is worth noting further, as this is by far the most insane and sensational performance of Walker’s career, jumping between wretched shrieks to brutal growls and punkish barking sometimes in the span of a single song. The band’s songwriting is elevated to new heights here as well. While the standard grindy ragers are present in abundance (“Silmaril”, “Haunted Arches”, “Thundering Hammers”, etc.), it’s the album’s weirdest (“Rainbow Coil”) and longest tracks (“Armory of Obsidian Glass”) that steal the show. The latter features a haunted vocal accompaniment by Lingua Ignota, and some of the most deeply dramatic and melodic songwriting the band has conjured yet. Building extensively on the template laid down by Trumpeting Ecstasy, there’s no way we can call Weeping Choir anything short of a rousing success, and easily one of the best albums of the year thus far.
Glassing – Spotted Horse
Since the very beginning, Glassing have shown much promise with their poetic mixture of blistering hardcore fury and atmospheric post- influences. Their debut, Light and Death, was a relatively condensed effort that rarely relented — even in its slower moments, it brought in sludgy torment accented by singer Dustin Coffman’s piercing shrieks. Spotted Horse effectively expands on Glassing’s atmospheric side, adding in more ambient sections that shake up the band’s previous structuring and draw on more patient build-ups.
“Follow Through” is a good summation of Spotted Horse’s formula: a gentle, floating introduction that suddenly gives way to a crushing, feedback-encrusted riff, and eventually ends in suspension that never entirely resolves the tension. It’s heartening to know that Glassing continue to be able to create a sense of terrain with their music: you feel as if you’re exploring nooks and crannies of valleys and soaring through the skies. Whilst Light and Death often felt like dropping off a cliff in broad daylight, Spotted Horse has a more slow-burning desolation — desert towns and tumbleweed, dusk settling in.
Green Lung – Woodland Rites
There’s a joy to life; no matter how cynical you get and how bad things become, that’s important to remember. The world breathes and contracts around us and, before we end it all, there is still time to appreciate that. Music is a really good way to do that, I find, as it leaves me open to connection and to powerful emotion and a good rock n’ roll is tough to beat for that. When it’s made with that same kind of exuberance, celebrating life and the power of music, all the better.
That’s exactly what Green Lung’s Woodland Rites does; it is, at the bottom of things, an album filled with the joy of life. Every note, drum-hit, and vocal moment ring out with a celebration of being alive and of the world in which we find ourselves. This takes it from a great album, on the merit of its composition and execution, and elevates it into ever-green statues; rare are the moods where I don’t want to spin it. Funnily enough, the fewer words said about it, the better. Just crank the volume up, find a sunny spot with some green around it, and have a blast.
Hath – Of Rot and Ruin
Throughout the first few months of 2019 I wasn’t really feeling it musically. I was burnt and no new music was resonating with me. Then Hath dropped Of Rot And Ruin and suddenly the passion and excitement was back. For those of you who somehow haven’t yet heard this record yet (woe unto you), think bleak death metal with blackened textures, ravenously monstrous vocals, progressive leanings, and walls of tremolos amidst lumbering and serpentine riffs alike. Done damn well.
And speaking of riffs, the firepower on display here is breathtaking. The record is unrelenting in its aural assault, a la Nile, but the measured and tasteful inclusion of acoustic passages in tracks such as “Currents”, “Worlds Within”, and “Kindling“ offer respite when it is most needed. The record integrates guitar solos seamlessly within the fabric of each song, not a single one sounding out of place, superfluous or self-serving. For those that listen closely a raft of influences can be heard with riffs occasionally borrowing from Rivers of Nihil (“Rituals”), Arsis (“Withered”), and Opeth (“Progeny”) to name a few, yet so expertly have they contextualised those styles within their own sound that they don’t sound like any of those bands. This record sounds uniquely theirs and, while I can talk about its riffs for days, what truly ties it together is its atmosphere.
Of Rot And Ruin evokes a sense of foreboding and desolation like few others can. It’s this atmosphere and character that lends the album its gravitas and allows it to stand head and shoulders above their death metal peers. The comparison that is most fitting is The Ocean’s Pelagial. Now I’m not claiming it to be as good as that record and nor is it comparable in sound. But there is a similar sense of atmosphere. As soon as you hear it, you can place it. You know the band. You know the record. You know that feeling. And, like Pelagial, there isn’t any one song here which truly stands out as mesmerising, like Fallujah’s “The Void Alone” or Obscura’s “Weltseele” did. But there isn’t a weak song to be found and the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. A near certainty to make our end-of-year list, you’d better get listening to make sure it lands on yours too.
Immortal Bird – Thrive on Neglect
How does one begin to describe the combination of influences that stunningly comes out as Immortal Bird? It remains and always shall be a mystery to me how progressive, death, black, and grind can come together into such a uniquely intriguing package. Thrive on Neglect is an absolutely stunning example of what a broad musical education can do. Berklee grad and vocalist & drummer Rae Amitay, along with the rest of the crew, create the kind of sound you wished every artist could make. It is a unique blend of ideas and sounds that come together and make music that sounds like no one else but themselves.
In an odd way, I think the combination of sounds on Thrive on Neglect makes it an incredibly accessible record. Granted you still need to be down with portions of what the band does in order to really appreciate it, but this is a record that keeps you coming back. Their voice is so unique that you’ll spend long spans of the album completely enraptured in the scene they’re setting. Other times, you try to listen as closely as you can to each individual part of each song to pull apart what they are trying to do. It’s genuinely impressive that they’re able to pack so much into each individual track without overwhelming listeners despite the fact they’re playing abrasive music by popular standards. As we watch them grow as a group, we should note that this sound is open to even more influences and additions. I’ll be enjoying this one for a long time to come, but I can’t wait to hear what they make next.
Inter Arma – Sulphur English
Although this Richmond quintet has been carrying the torch for forward-thinking sludge metal for almost fifteen years now, it’s not until the past five years or so that, in my eyes at least, Inter Arma have fully come into their own as both a musical and intellectual force to be reckoned with. The one-two punch of 2013’s Sky Burial and 2014’s The Cavern signified something of a new internal propulsion on behalf of the band; the nascent love of dark and strange psychedelia finally mixed perfectly with the rest of the simmering, pungent cauldron of done-death-sludge-doom for a concoction that was finally as potent and hard-hitting and murky as it seemed to promise.
The band’s 2016 offering, Paradise Gallows, took the next step down the band’s path to ascendance; it took the fermenting witch’s brew and made something that was glorious, affirming, and celebratory, even as it was almost unbearably pummeling. Gallows was a collection of droning, psychedelic prayers to the celestial bringers of heat, an exaltation to the virtues of the sun and stars at every step of the way. Tracks like “An Archer in the Emptiness” and “The Summer Drones” were loud, proud exclamations of solar deification, embracing heat and loving it.
Sulphur English is a far darker affair than its predecessor: where Gallows was a celebration of heat – proudly scalding, a warm summer day where one happily melts – this record is boiling and torturous. It sounds like spreading wildfires and sunstroke, heat waves and dry skeletons baking in the savannah. Everything is permeated with a sort of hopeless gloom, like an incoming dust storm that threatens to wipe away everything you know and love that you can only hunker down and prepare for to a small extent.
Musically, this change can be owed in large part to a tremendous increase in the death metal influence Inter Arma displays: the sludge is tempered far more this time around with extreme metal riffs that are strongly in the lineage of turn-of-the-millennium Morbid Angel, recalling the most putrid and crushing moments on Gateways to Annihilation specifically in its lurid occult incantations that evoke the sort of existential horror only black holes and apocalyptic visions can. Inter Arma’s DNA certainly hasn’t changed, but a different side of the group’s collective psyche certainly comes through here than what did before. Even the moments that are the most familiar to returning fans – the droning guitars and morose clean vocals of “Stillness”, the turbid lurch of “Citadel” – seem colored by an existential darkness not previously seen.
I obviously can’t know how much Sulphur English owes philosophically to the increasingly alarming projections of global warming’s impact in our near future, (I do know, at least, that the album was in large part informed lyrically by current politics, so it seems at least partially likely) but to me, at least, it’s impossible to listen to this album without that sort of background radiation bleeding through into my conscious thought. Sulphur English is hot and apocalyptic, all firestorms and drought; it is dark, and gloomy, and existentially crushing, and, my god, it’s so fucking good.
Ithaca – The Language of Injury
The Language of Injury is the perfect example of an album that seeks not to relive or replicate, but instead revive and breathe new life into a specific branch of metalcore that’s largely been carried by the very torchbearers who sparked the flames in the first place. Honestly, has there been anything that resembles a Cave In, Converge, Dillinger Escape Plan, or Every Time I Die that hasn’t been completely outclassed by the legends themselves? As I type this, it seems outrageously hyperbolic, but I’m falling to come up with even a handful of bands (much less on their debut LP) who have taken the legends to task quite like Ithaca have.
The Language of Injury isn’t as much about genre-bending or breaking to push things forward as much as it is about refining classic metalcore and picking up where the old timers (c’mon, those dudes are in their 40s now…) have left off. In doing so, not only has this quintet earned their keep in 2019’s hardcore annals, but they’ve also positioned themselves as *the* group to pay attention to in the coming years for their ability to meld technical ingenuity and emotion in ways that few others have proven. This shit ain’t just stylistic lip service. Djamila Azzouz’s vocals are steeped in passion in a way that very much bring to mind hardcore all-timer Jeffrey Moreira. Her exhaustive roars carry an incredible amount of emotional weight and aggression and her melodic spots are immaculate, playing a huge part in making the record heavier and more real than just about anything else this year.
The record sounds like it’s written by hardcore fans who were sick of the same old same old because, well, it was. It shows, too. These well-seasoned ears aren’t just cherry picking the sweet stuff, they’ve taken it all into the fold and have honed their own edge on it. Panic chords are abound, feedback stabs through like the knife that adorns the cover, the bludgeoning breakdowns are certain to have kids going completely ballistic, and the head-spinning, shortcutting, trap-dooring direction through each track is as on-cue and tasteful as one could imagine. No second overstays its welcome. And with such economic songwriting (most tracks hover around a quick three minutes), Ithaca still manage to adjunct their perfected metalcore brew with just enough moments of post-rock (“Slow Negative Order”, “Better Abuse”), noise (“Impulse Crush”), and dreamy or proggy melodies (“Clsr.,“ and “Gilt”) to consistently keep listeners on their toes. It’s an exciting start for a band as they sound every bit as well-versed and compositionally astute as big dogs like Rolo Tomassi and Oathbreaker, but with an ear that is able to continue writing on pages unfinished by Poison the Well or Misery Signals.
There’s so much on The Language of Injury that’ll have metalcore aficionados reminiscing about the good ol’ days, but more importantly, it will have them thinking twice about revisiting their stacks of classics and instead give this another whirl.
Latitudes – Part Island
Latitudes have been at the vanguard of the British post-metal movement for over a decade now, and their fifth release, Part Island, sees them complete their incremental transformation from a purely instrumental outfit on 2007’s Bleak Epiphanies in Slow Motion, gradually increasing the involvement of vocalist Adam Symonds to the point that now, for the first time, every track on the album has a vocal layer. Part Island‘s predecessor, 2016’s Old Sunlight, saw the band bring the black metal elements of the sound to the fore, but this time around they have been dialed back again, with only “The Great Past” carrying the same level of blackened intensity. Part Island is a mournful lament on the state of the world, and of the United Kingdom in particular. It is also a much more dynamic and spacious affair, containing some of their most delicate and vulnerable moments alongside their trademark, gut-churning post-metal riffs.
Latitudes are a band that have refused to stand still. Part Island follows in the footsteps of its predecessors by boldly breaking new ground, but still retaining Latitudes’ unmistakable identity. The title track best exemplifies their latest approach, closing the album with a ten minute adventure that starts with gently strummed acoustic guitars, building the heaviness first, then upping the tempo into a blackened section before the track ebbs away, ready for a final crescendo into post-metal stateliness. Latitudes have always experts in balancing moments of muscularity and vulnerability, and Part Island – to these ears – is their most successful, most complete juxtaposition to date. It is hauntingly beautiful, with a dark undercurrents hinting at an anger simmering beneath a maudlin surface, and a must-listen for fans of all things post.
Numenorean – Adore
One of the strongest entries this year into the impressive list of bands striving to keep the increasingly homogenizing sub-genre of post-black metal/black gaze alive is Numenorean’s Adore. This album is a considerable step-up from their debut Home in 2016, which was a solid release, but ultimately remembered more for it’s controversial and questionable album artwork. With Adore they’ve redefined themselves as one of this scene’s strongest and most distinguishable acts, straying further away from the Deafheaven indie/shoegaze aesthetic and embracing one rooted more in extreme metal. Also, despite what their name may suggest, there’s pretty much zero LOTR influence here – sorry nerds.
The broad influences at play here make this not only one of the best, but most accessible post-black albums of the year. I can see it appealing to fans of not only this niche, but also from more traditional black metal, death metal and prog. This accessibility is aided by very professional and fitting production that let’s the range of instruments and vocals equally shine. There’s a primal heaviness on tracks like “Coma” and “Regret” with an emphasis on groove that’s often lacking in this sub-genre which is really refreshing. Dare I say this is a black metal album made for lifting? Some of the heavier riffs are legitimately ear-worm level catchy, harboring what arguably Gojira have made a living out of. Honestly, I hope they take some pointers from this, because these Canadians have crafted one of 2019’s most memorable releases of the year.
Old Solar – SEE
Despite being a casual post-rock fan, it’s been pretty obvious that the genre is having an exceptional year. There’s a cornucopia of bands releasing top-shelf material, and for me, SEE is the pinnacle of a banner year. That’s why we jumped at the opportunity to premiere the album’s closing track, “While the Earth Remains,” and highlighted Old Solar as a key player in our deep dive on religiosity in the new wave of American post-rock. Yet, even if you choose not to dig deeper into the rich, thematic compositions on SEE, you’ll still find instant gratification in the sonic grandeur Old Solar crafts so effortlessly on their latest triumphant offering.
At just five tracks and 44 minutes, SEE might seem a bit terse for today’s post-rock landscape. That shallow interpretation would be wildly off base, as Old Solar conjure some of the most epic cinematic post-rock you’ll hear this year. Along with the typical ensemble of patient percussion and explosive guitar crescendos, the band incorporates additional instrumentation that adds to the majesty of the album’s proceedings. Specifically, the prominent use of bells elevates each composition into a celestial atmosphere. The result on each track is elite post-rock crafted for genre fanatics and newcomers alike, making for one of the most accomplished offerings from the scene this year.
Saor – Forgotten Paths
Andy Marshall, the man behind Scotland’s premier one-man black metal project, has struck well with every swing. Every couple of years or so since 2013, he’s put forth a new offering of Saor songs, and although they’ve all been in pretty much the same vein, he’s such a meticulous and talented craftsman that it’s hard to fault him for sticking with what he knows he can do well. Forgotten Paths is his fourth album, and while we certainly don’t see Marshall tampering with the Saor formula to extreme extents, it’s still certainly worthy of exclamation in its own right.
To trace the aesthetic path Saor has taken is to walk down from the top of a mountain to its surrounding foothills: Marshall’s sound first came through at a dizzying elevation; Roots and Aura are both gorgeous vistas from above the clouds, and Guardians sees us stopping at a plateau around halfway through our descent. Forgotten Paths, then, translates into song the joy of returning to the flat plains and forests at the bottom of the mountain, the serenity of having sturdy ground below you and the sky above. Musically, Forgotten Paths is grounded and stable, trading breathless excitement for something more stable and robust. Make no mistake, Marshall’s modus operandi is as graceful and gorgeous as ever, but his cinematic sound is far more in service of something confident and sturdy than the gorgeous panoramas of previous records.
Although, admittedly, Forgotten Paths isn’t my personal favorite release of Marshall’s, the average Saor song is so far above what most other bands in the atmospheric black metal genre are doing right now that it rightfully belongs on this list alongside many genuinely groundbreaking albums. Go outside, walk around listening to this, and let all of your troubles melt away as you experience the sublime earthiness of the world at ground level.
Thank You Scientist – Terraformer
Plenty of ink extolling the virtues of one Thank You Scientist has already been spilled on this here blog, but if you haven’t heard it from anyone else, take it from me: if you are into any sort of progressive music, this band is worth your time and more. 2016’s sophomore record Stranger Heads Prevail had the seven-piece further refine their already unmatched mix of progressive rock and jazz fusion, capped off with massive vocal performances; and so, naturally, anticipation levels for the band’s newest LP Terraformer were sky-high.
While live-performance sneak peeks at their new material suggested a bit of a mellower sound on this outing (“Anchor”, “Geronimo”), this is still a near-1.5 hour record we’re talking about here, and Thank You Scientist gleefully traverse all sorts of musical territory with Terraformer. From face-melting instrumentals (“Chromology”) to the aforementioned gut-punch choruses (“Swarm”, “Everyday Ghosts”), older fans are likely to be more than sated, but that’s not to say the band doesn’t have a few tricks up their sleeve still (“Birdwatching”, “Son of a Serpent”). How such a densely packed record manages to even make sense at all is beyond me, but it’s been just over a month since the album’s release and I’m still struggling to listen to anything else. In all, Terraformer is a generous helping of some of the best and most well-crafted progressive music put to tape this year, and well worth many explorations through its vast runtime.
Venom Prison – Samsara
There aren’t many bands that have improved to such a degree as Venom Prison since their debut release just four years ago. Starting life as a murky Euro-metalcore band with beatdowns and divebombs lashing over twisted vocal lines, Samsara has quite rightly propelled these UK metallers into the stratosphere; you’re going to be hard-pressed to find publications that won’t feature this record somewhere in their year-end lists. The record is undeniably accessible, even considering the serious themes and diabolical death metal it dishes out in heavy, heavy spades.
2016’s Animus saw the band really dialling into a wretched death metal sound, chocked full of filthy grooves and solos shrill enough to make Kerry King piss his pants. Samsara hasn’t deviated too far from this blend of styles – Venom Prison are still playing rambunctious death metal with an accomplished gusto – but it has sharpened the razor edges of this young acts technical prowess and songwriting style. There isn’t enough space in this list for me to get stuck into each and every track I love on this record as I’d need a paragraph for each. Rest assured, I could wax lyrical about each piercing scream and ludicrously snappy riff all fucking day. But. If you can only check one track out, try “Implementing the Metaphysics of Morals” out for size.
Haters will hate and they have been. A lot of major publications have been touting this band as one of the finest proponents of engaging extreme metal on the planet right now, opening the comment sections for bonehead “true” metalheads to engage in chopping this record down because of the lyrical content. Straight white males all over were gingerly shielding their genitals when the brutal cover art of Animus was released, with Samsara their stubby little fingers have been lopped off along with their dirty, virginal peckers.
Warforged – I: Voice
Chicago’s Warforged is what Opeth might have sounded like had they evolved with the scene instead of against it. This year, at long last following their 2014 EP Essence of the Land, Warforged’s debut album I: Voice came crashing through the prog and tech death scene — bolstered by the growing clout and hype machine of their label The Artisan Era — and somehow managed to completely exceed all expectations.
At over 70-minutes in length, I: Voice is a prog metal odyssey with such a broad scope that fans of Opeth, Between the Buried and Me, Leprous, and Altar of Plagues alike are sure to enjoy without feeling like an unfocused mess. Warforged deftly move through swathes of blackened death with the occasional symphonic flourish — as heard on opener “We’ve Been Here Before” — before eventually winding up in the wilderness with acoustic guitars and piano providing an atmospheric soundtrack (“Beneath the Forest Floor”). Late in the record, upright bass and piano showcase the band’s jazz capabilities, as if the preceding piano solos weren’t hinting at it enough.
It’s hard to imagine a stronger debut album than I: Voice. Despite such a variety of sounds and moods, it’s such an expertly crafted and cohesive album that one would expect it to be a mid-career classic from a veteran band. As such, I: Voice has potential to one day wind up with a similar status as prog metal classics like Colors and Blackwater Park, and it goes without saying, it’s easily one of the year’s best prog metal records.
We Are Impala – Visions
What an utter treat it is to stumble upon a hidden gem and help bring it broader attention. It’s hard to believe that none of us here had heard of Spain’s We Are Impala before this year because they’ve been so ingrained in our minds ever since. Combining a technicolor dreamscape of expertly-crafted stoner and psych metal ala Elder, an adventurous post-prog streak calling to mind other great instrumental prog acts like The Physics House Band, and a cosmic/sci-fi mastery of atmosphere endemic of other great post/psych acts like Grails (not to mention a healthy dose of Pink Floyd for good measure), Visions is a whirlwind journey that is captivating through and through. The fact that it manages to accomplish so much in just under 30 minutes is further testament to how ridiculously strong the material they’re putting out there is.
Given the fact that their music exists in so many musical spaces that have built long and well-deserved reputations for being bloated and stuffed with filler, it is utterly refreshing just how vital and momentous every minute of their music sounds. “Rituals” is a kick in the teeth that is packed to the gills with adventurous riffs. “Alpha Centauri” zooms out for a broader psychedelic scope but never loses its focus. “Echoes of Blue” is a welcome moment of rest and contemplation before kicking into a beautiful high gear by the end. “The Golden Face” is another galloping stampede that only manages to up the ante on itself and perfectly transitions into the bouncy and sax-filled “Valleys of Entropy” that is basically just one gigantic build to maximum climax. I dare you to listen to this and not leave with a big smile on your face. It is the perfect boost of positive energy and one that I intend to keep returning to throughout this year and beyond.
Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising
It’s long been commonplace for modern rock and pop music to find success in mining the annals of classics of the 60s and 70s while adding a contemporary flare. Yet few have been able to do so in as a spellbinding and unique way as Natlie Mering has as Weyes Blood. Bringing together the lyrical and wistful beyond her years sensibility of 70s Laurel Canyon singer-songwriters, sunny and sharp pop rock of The Kinks, cosmic broadness of Enya, and the modern synth-driven dream pop of the likes of Beach House, Titanic Rising is a kaleidoscopic ode to the daily travails of modernity that constantly threaten to drown us. Like the haltingly bold cover art displaying Mering floating in a bedroom fully submerged in water, the experience of listening to Weyes Blood is akin to gliding peacefully underwater. The sun shines through that creates an illusion of safety, but there is an inherent and constant danger in it that can turn dark at any moment.
Much of the album leans towards the lighter side of things, particularly in the instantly-memorable pep of “Everyday.” More often, however, there is a tension of lightheartedness and melancholy that pervades it all, from the musical sighs that form opener “A Lot’s Gonna Change,” to the existential musings of “Something to Believe In” with Mering’s statement of “Got a case of the empties,” and the stunningly epic “Wild Time” that summarizes the state of the world in the understated “It’s a wild time to be alive.” And then there are all the moments in which she dives in deep on sci-fi weirdness, from the halting “Andromeda,” the dark fever dream ballad “Movies,” and the cold 80s synth feelings of “Mirror Forever.” Pair that with the cinematic theme that runs in the album’s bookends and title track – a reference to “Nearer, My God, To Thee,” the classic hymn supposedly played by the band upon the Titanic as the ship sank – and it ties Titanic Rising together into a dream-like affair existing somewhere between fantasy and nightmare. Wild times, indeed.