November! I love November. That’s when it starts to really get cold in Israel. November is also when music starts to slow down as people prepare for the Big Freeze (both in temperatures and in social presence) that is December. However, this is 2019 and all the Old Laws do not apply here anymore, heathen. This is one of the busiest and the most prolific years in music (and metal) that a lot of us can remember and thus, even November has lots and lots of gems. Well, when compared to previous Novembers; things have definitely still slowed down but they went from that fever pitch you hear when your train is chugging along at full speed to that low rumble it does when it’s only really fast. That’s the metaphor I went with and I’m sticking with it, damn you.
So, November. What did we have this month? Interestingly enough, November’s Picks are quite heavy; from the overpowering black metal of Abigail Williams, through the hotly anticipated cosmic death metal of Blood Incantation, and all the way to the truly majestic unfurling of Wilderun‘s epic, the music this month is mostly loud, fast, and heavy. And that’s a good thing! I’m not going to try and read anything into it since it was probably just a coincidence, but November seemed full of great albums that just went hard. In a way, that’s fitting; with a bang and not a whimper or something of the sort.
This also drives home another point we like to talk about a lot here at Heavy Blog: people do know that the year doesn’t end in November, right? I mean, some publications run their lists so early that they’d miss half of these releases. And there’s still December! All of us have to sacrifice weeks on the altar of technicality and I get the restraints of things like print magazines (which is why I would probably never write for them) but I do feel like not enough is being done to catch these truly amazing, “late” releases. More for us, I guess? Or something like that, music isn’t really a zero sum game.
Anyway, luckily for us, our year doesn’t end until late December so we can spend some time delaying on the truly fantastic albums released in the heavier spaces of our beloved genre during November. Have at it then! And make sure to play it loud; let Father Winter know we’re still alive.
Abigail Williams – Walk Beyond the Dark (atmospheric black metal, melodic black metal)
American Black Metal outfit Abigail Williams are always shapeshifting, always pushing forward. That’s always been a part of their charm; from their early days giving metalcore’s take on Emperor (their Legend EP in 2006), the band has since shed its metalcore riffing in favor of a more streamlined black metal sound (In The Absence of Light, 2010) and developed briefly into progressive and atmospheric black metal (Becoming, 2012). With The Accuser in 2015, the band dropped into noisy and chaotic tones that was described as psychedelic by the band and their new label Blood Music. One thing’s for sure with Abigail Williams; you can’t expect them to stand still for very long.
Their latest, Walk Beyond The Dark, appears to be a culmination of the band’s various eras and sounds, deftly interwoven into what could be their greatest album to date. Everything worth loving from the larger AW discography is available across this record. Yes, including some of the melodic cues from Legend. As such, this is perhaps the defining Abigail Williams record.
Opener “I Will Depart” is a fierce and anthemic slab of black metal, which would seemingly set the tone for the record to follow, contextualizing the slant towards a modern if not straightforward black metal sound, bringing the sound of seminal USBM acts like Leviathan up-to-date. However, the track flows seamlessly into “Sun and Moon,” which leans more heavily on atmosphere, groove, dynamics, and melody that seems to define more recent developments in black metal. In fact, frontman and sole remaining founding member Ken Sorceron gives an incredible clean vocal performance where he really goes for it. “Ever So Bold” is an early standout as well, with trem-picked melodies and blasts that carry into a guitar solo from Ken’s former The Faceless bandmate Justin McKinney that is just to die for.
At this point, the record takes an unexpected, but welcomed turn. “Black Waves” is a haunting track that pulls from post-black metal and features some of the orchestral flair that we last heard on Becoming. These post-metal tones carry over into “Into The Sleep,” and the strings take center stage on the dark and hypnotic “Born of Nothing.” The eleven-minute closer “The Final Failure” serves as a summation of the album, a crushing and emotional exercise in progressive black metal that, hopefully, sets the stage for future Abigail Williams outings in terms of songwriting and dynamic scope within songs. But, again, Abigail Williams is hard to nail down.
Walk Beyond the Dark is certainly the best produced album the band has ever had; there’s enough dirt and fuzz to signal that this is, in fact, a black metal record, but there’s a much appreciated relative clarity in the mix, especially after revisiting The Accuser. The two records obviously intended for separate atmospheres, but the audible details — be it guitar harmonies, symphonic orchestrations, and the rare clean vocal melody — just make the record a vibrant and engaging experience. Dark, hypnotic, and perhaps hopeful, but absolutely vibrant, and it’s certainly one of the more compelling black metal albums you’ll hear in 2019.
Read More: Review
Blood Incantation – Hidden History of the Human Race (death metal)
It’s rare that a death metal record reaches a level of hype strong enough to pull in the likes of Pitchfork for a glowing review. But here, in that most rarified of spaces, stand Denver’s seminal death metal mayhem makers Blood Incantation. After their debut EP Interdimensional Extinction and full-length record Starspawn created an underground and critical stardom that eclipsed most if not all of their contemporaries, the release of their much anticipated follow-up reached a fever pitch of hype that few in this extreme space command. Hidden History of the Human Race isn’t just another release in a very talented band’s evolution, it’s a metal event record. Which makes its utterly spectacular success as a piece of art all the more amazing.
On performative, songwriting, and production levels, Hidden History of the Human Race is the band’s best release. It’s wildly ambitious without losing its edge of raw heaviness, technically flashy without ever succumbing to abject wankery, and rides a rich, robust production aesthetic that balances clarity and nastiness almost perfectly. It steps up the band’s game from Starspawn on most every measurable metric, and does so in just a few seconds more time to boot.
“Slave Species of the Gods” kicks off the record with an abject riff fest that rivals Morbid Angel in outright nastiness, but channels Timeghoul in its undergirded, spacy adventurousness. The songwriting here is simply superb, flexing and flowing across multiple passages that always tie themselves seamlessly together. “The Giza Power Plant” is no different, stringing together some of Paul Riedl and Morris Kolontyrsky’s most bludgeoning and impressive fret work to date. The production on Hidden History is also excellent, especially on “Inner Paths (To Outer Space)”, a mostly instrumental affair that still brings plenty of heft to the general atmospherics, and even features a blurgh-based cameo from Demilich’s legendary frontman Antti Boman. It highlights the insane percussive work of bassist Jeff Barrett and drummer Isaac Faulk in a manner that makes their contributions to the record easily recognizable in the mix.
Then we get to the album’s final track, the bombastically titled “Awakening from the Dream of Existence to the Multidimensional Nature of Our Reality (Mirror of the Soul)”, which is by far the most interesting and perfectly executed slab of death metal unleashed in 2019. It’s 18 minutes of consolidation, combining all of the elements that have made Blood Incantation the unique entity they have become into one gargantuan opus that is never anything less they fundamentally engaging. It’s a perfect way to cap off a near-perfect record. Which brings me to my only quibble with Hidden History. Clocking in at 36 minutes in length, I can’t help but wish the album contained just one more track. After about a dozen listens, I have yet to find a true gripe with the music itself, which honestly just makes me wish there was more of it. But if complaining about album length is one’s only qualm, I suppose one might have a genre masterpiece on their hands. Time will tell if that’s the case for Hidden History, but count me among the believers.
This is my favorite record of 2019. Arriving just in the nick of time to send this decade off into the constellations with the force of a megaton bomb, Hidden History is a complete triumph, and a record I will be returning to frequently in the next decade. Blood Incantation have here cemented themselves as one of death metal’s most incendiary acts, and I can only imagine what masterful mischief they’ll conjure next. Because, believe it or not, I’m thoroughly unconvinced that this is the best the band are capable of.
Read More: Review
Iapetus – The Body Cosmic (prog metal, melodeath)
Metal taught me that it’s OK to be passionate about things. I’ve written about this idea in the past; having become a person with lots of emotions, and strong ones at that, I constantly felt like I was being too much to people around me when I Was growing up. Metal was there to say that that those emotions and their intensity were fine and here’s how to aesthetically consider and express them. That’s why, no matter how much I grow my own musical tastes and knowledge, I still find myself returning to a core of heavy, power, and progressive metal. That’s also why black metal has so much appeal for me, since it also paints those same intense emotions, just with a different, darker color palette. This is also something which metal shares with (good) science fiction; since the genre inherently deals with things larger than ourselves, it is the perfect practice within which to consider both the limits and the un-limits of our own psychology.
The minds behind Iapetus grasp these ideas very well. Like I wrote in my review, they are informed by the same streams within science fiction which have always captivated me as well. But, more than that, they are also powered by the same fascination with metal and the power it holds (I will never stop referencing that track name). More than anything, perhaps, their most recent release, The Body Cosmic, is inherently “about” metal’ grand aesthetic gesture; the groovy riff, the soaring solo, the guttural vocal line, the evocative choir. It is an album which truly deserves the word “epic”. Instead of trying to restrain the excessive, it revels in it, casting its aesthetic net wide both in ideas (that is, the concept as conveyed by the lyrics) and in composition.
Listening to The Body Cosmic then is truly that cliche of “a journey”, not only because of the journey it tells with its words but also in the sense that it moves us. Emotions, movement, feeling, impact, these are all concepts which are closely related (some of them stemming from the same etymological roots) and with good reasons; the distance travelled on The Body Cosmic is not just spatial but also emotional. This is an album to be screamed with, to move with, to express those places inside of us that yearn for the massive, for the too-big-to-contemplate. This is an album that doesn’t hide its fascination with the infinite, both the infinite that’s waiting for us out there and the infinite that has always been in here with us. In those regards, The Body Cosmic is a quintessential metal album and one that will work wonders in explaining why the genre is so important to us that are in love with it.
Read More: Review
Nile – Vile Nilotic Rites (tech death)
After Dallas Toller-Wade left Nile, I was pretty concerned about the future of the band. He’s been a pretty key player for a long time, and his unique vocal style was a staple of the Nile sound. That being said, his departure wasn’t the only reason for trepidation. The last album Dallas worked on with Nile, What Should Not Be Unearthed, was easily their weakest. The band sounded like they were completely out of creative steam, and had finally ran out of ways to go back to that ancient Egyptian well of inspiration.
Founding member Karl Sanders seems to have also recognized these issues, according to interviews. With the addition of Brian Kingsland of Enthean, and Brad Parris a few years before that, the band has gained a young and fresh set of voices, and that seems to have invigorated them. What we have in Vile Nilotic Rites is the rawest album they’ve made since Black Seeds of Vengeance, with the weirder progressive influences from In Their Darkened Shrines, that also preserves the modern punch of Those Whom The Gods Detest. It’s easily one of their best albums. Honestly, it’s just Nile, so there’s not much more to say, but that shouldn’t be taken for granted. There are a million ways to throw together the same ingredients and most of them will end up as a bland mush. Here, the formula comes together just perfectly.
Also worth noting is that the band have switched from longtime producer Neil Kernon to modern metal staple Mark Lewis, and that shows as well. The songs are tighter and better organized, and the production is fantastic. Hearing the bass on a Nile album and having everything else still sound good is a treat! I wasn’t sure if this band still had a place in the conversation in 2019, but they’ve proven me wrong on all of my pessimistic counts and put out another great album, one of their best ones.
Obsequiae – The Palms of Sorrowed Kings (pagan black metal, melodic black metal)
Obsequiae are a band that, in all ways, seem to take advantage of every opportunity they are given to stop and smell the roses. On a metatextual level, this looks fairly obvious; the band have taken breaks of upwards of three full years in between the releases of every LP. However, this trait is also present within their music. Each album of theirs is a bundle of lush, beautiful soundscapes split between gorgeous, atmospheric melodic black metal and pieces of medieval classical music. Melodies unspool lazily, thin strips of lace and filigree floating off into the breeze, and the brief punctuations of these with rhythmic stabs do little to speed up the pace, instead serving as a moment of reflection. Other metal bands paint pictures, but Obsequiae have opted to weave tapestries instead, letting each moment linger in time and space beautifully.
Musically, their core has changed little in the intervening years since their last offering. They strike at the same halfway-point between Windir and Solstice (the doom metal one, not the death thrash one) and find their target perfectly. Protracted melodies coil around themselves and ring out beautifully, distant shouts mark the path forward, and the bass and drums are more than content to hold each song’s backbone from behind. Despite this album continuing their process of refinement and honing their sound, Palms occupies a space in the band’s growing oeuvre that appears somewhat paradoxical at first glance: it is their most self-indulgent album to date, and at the same time their most straightforward and understated.
The reason for both of these, though, are one and the same. On Palms, we find a band that is more than willing to sacrifice obvious complexity in their composition – gone are the near-constant counterpoint guitar melodies of Suspended in the Brume of Eos and Aria of Vernal Tombs – for the acuity of their artistic vision. In stride with this, Obsequiae sound more self-assured than ever of their melodic prowess and their capabilities as a unit. Melodies are shining, bright, resplendent; each movement within each track is given ample time to resolve and to shine through whatever polyphonic revolutions are occurring beneath the surface. The more Obsequiae grow into their unique sound, the less they obfuscate their core. Vicente La Camera Mariño’s harp work is a gorgeous and essential part of the album as well, finding a beautiful ground that serves as necessary moments of respite from the heavy complexities of the band at large while also perfecting the medieval mood Obsequiae aim for.
All in all, while some of the foibles of the group’s earlier work has been lost, The Palms of Sorrowed Kings stands as the truest testament thus far to the strength of Obsequiae’s singular and completely unique vision of extreme metal. This is a raising of the stakes in every way for an already amazing band.
Read More: Review
Voyager – Colours In the Sun (prog rock, prog metal)
In my personal opinion, there is a distinctly fine line that the kind of “vanilla” or power prog that Aussies Voyager currently trade in have to walk in order to be successful. Dealing largely in major keys and brighter moods and with the long history and weight of classic prog always veering its head in the background, it is exceedingly easy to lean in too hard to that aesthetic and wind up with a syrupy, saccharine, and cheesy mess that’s difficult to take seriously. For Voyager themselves, the weight of their own long history and their journey across multiple styles could either further cement those kinds of issues or allow them the kind of agility to avoid those worst tendencies. As Eden mentioned in his review of this album, up until now there have been reasons to worry that it would always be more of the former category for them. With Colours in the Sun, however, it seems that the band has finally cracked the code to create a sound combining elements of djent-y prog metal, bright classic prog, and technicolor synthwave/electro-pop that is clearly of those styles but not consumed by or beholden to them.
What strikes most immediately about the album is the sheer number of high-quality hooks littered throughout. For this kind of music that by-and-large lives and dies by its vocal and instrumental hooks, it cannot be overstated how difficult it is to actually write a compelling melody and chord progression that is not only pleasant to listen to at the time, but beckons you to return multiple times. In this sense pretty much every track on Colours in the Sun is a sheer banger, from the alluring and hard-hitting opening title track, to the smoother quasi-ballad “Brightstar,” to the incredible grooves of “Entropy” (featuring Einar Solberg of Leprous in what is tragically his best appearance this year given the relative bummer that Pitfalls was), and the satisfying ending that “Runaway” provides. CitS also provides several real moments of surprise and experimentation for the group as they continue to lean into disparate influences and styles. Where “Brightstar” and “Now or Never” are fantastic synth-pop ballads, tracks like “Reconnected” go in a completely different direction with a piano theme that wouldn’t sound out of place on mid-career BTBAM and a hard-hitting and mysterious aura that can go toe-to-toe with Leprous’s better work.
There really isn’t a particular weak spot for the band on this album, which is perhaps its one greatest defining feature. After flirting with greatness for so long, it’s immensely satisfying to see them put all of the pieces together here. It’s not one of the most groundbreaking or forward-thinking prog releases this year, but it’s almost certainly one of the most consistently enjoyable and listenable, making it an easy choice for album I am most likely to turn to at any given moment.
Wilderun – Veil of Imagination (progressive melodeath, folk metal)
Given the structure of our content schedule, there are a handful of albums each year that we’ll write about several times by the end of December. When we have an album that warrants a review, inclusion in one of our genre columns, and contention for our year-end list, we’re dealing with one of the most essential releases of the year for its style. I recognized that Veil of Imagination belonged in this category in the middle of my first listen, a designation Wilderun earned while further establishing them as frontrunners in multiple metal subgenres.
And yet, the way Wilderun craft their music in a way that both blends and transcends the styles that influence them. The band primarily pull from melodeath, folk, and prog, incorporating flavors of symphonic and power metal as well. The synthesis of these related yet distinct sounds is nothing short of stunning. Countless bands have paid pilgrimage to Opeth‘s signature sound, but by my estimation, none have left with such rich rewards as Wilderun.
There are countless reasons for this, as I outlined in my full review of the album. But if I could boil it down to one core strength, it’s clearly the band’s ability to write balanced and complete compositions. Veil of Imagination isn’t just a death metal record with various melodic elements and orchestral arrangements thrown into the mix, nor is it a lavish folk metal album with some underlying death metal tropes to give the album some bite. Instead, the tracks feel organic, comprised of musical shades and hues placed perfectly on the band’s sonic canvas. Everything feels like it’s exactly where it should be, as the band never leans on the heavy or melodic sides of their sound excessively.
With all this in mind, it’s most accurate to label Veil of Imagination as one of the best “metal” albums of the year, as it ranks as a top album from each of the subgenres it touches upon. You’ll certainly see Wilderun mentioned in our upcoming Death’s Door coverage, and the death metal on the album is undoubtedly excellent. But the real story here is the evolving narrative of Wilderun as some of metal’s most inventive and greatest modern songwriters.
Freyja Garbett Septet – MAYA (jazz fusion)
What higher compliment can I even pay to a jazz fusion album these days than to say it’s been released on Art as Catharsis? Australian pianist Freyja Garbett’s debut album is a stunning trip through modern electro-acoustic fusion, nu-jazz, hip-hop, and beyond.
Liturgy – H.A.Q.Q. (avant-garde black metal, experimental rock)
I’m as pleasantly surprised to include a Liturgy album in our Editors’ Picks column as I was by my own keen interest to review the album positively in the first place. My main issue with Liturgy has been Hunter Hunt-Hendrix consistently biting off more than he can chew with his songwriting, a trend that continues on H.A.Q.Q. Yet, it’s truly staggering how much the band have improved from The Ark Work. Even putting the comparison aside, H.A.Q.Q. is a remarkably ambitious and beautiful release in its own right.
Read More: Review
Lord Mantis – Universal Death Church (black metal / sludge)
Charlie Fell’s nihilistic blackened sludge act Lord Mantis returned this year for the ripping yet filthy new record, Universal Death Church. Once again featuring Abigail Williams’ Ken Sorceron (his second appearance on this list!), the album is psychedelic extreme metal done right, featuring propulsive drumming from Bryce Butler (also of Abigail Williams, ex-The Faceless) and sporting a hazy, industrial-tinged production from Sanford Parker. Universal Death Church is nasty record, as per usual for the Lord Mantis discography, but expect some deeper emotional notes to be struck and some surprises along the way.
Chelsea McBride’s Socialist Night School – Aftermath (modern big band)
Like fellow Canadian Darcy James Argue, saxophonist and composer Chelsea McBride uses the anachronistic medium of big band to paint a subversive picture of modern music and politics. On her third release featuring her ensemble Socialist Night School, McBride continues down the dystopian path set by her previous release The Twilight Fall, featuring a cavalcade of styles and influences, a steady guide in the smooth pipes of Alex Samaras, and a world wracked by revolution and con artists but perhaps preserved by love.
Pray For Sound – Waves (post-rock)
Consider this a preview of the next Post Rock Post that will be coming later this week, but the latest from MA’s Pray For Sound is an unexpectedly groovy and precise release that ought to catapult them into the top tier of American post-rock.
Unfathomable Ruination – Enraged & Unbound (brutal tech death)
I was under the impression that UK brutal death juggernauts Unfathomable Ruination would never be able to top their deeply underrated masterpiece Finitude. Turns out I was wrong, because Enraged & Unbound is as good as its predecessor in every way, and even tops it in some ways. The compositions are just as lethal, the performances are uniformly excellent, and the progressive elements only hinted at in the band’s previous work show themselves with fuller force than ever. It’s an essential record for any fan of brutal death metal, especially if you like some sonic adventure in your gore-filled cup.
Vesper Sails – On to the Moon (prog rock, jazz fusion)
It’s been a good year for heartfelt, touching, jazz inflected progressive rock, what with releases from bands like Farmhouse Odyssey and The Tea Club. Into the mix we can now add Vesper Sails and their incredibly effective On to the Moon. If you wish to dream for a while in a somewhat melancholic, yet ultimately hopeful, realm, then this is the album for you.
zeta – Mochima (progressive post-hardcore, chaotic hardcore)
Imagine a near-seamless synthesis of At the Drive-In, (early) The Mars Volta, and Converge, with the Latin themes intact and energy levels turned up to their maximum capacity. Sounds incredible, right? Well that’s exactly what zeta present on Mochima – an incredible, progressive take on chaotic hardcore and post-hardcore.
A Constant Knowledge of Death – Vol III.d Impermanence (blackened post-metal)
Sudan Archives – Athena (art pop, alternative r&b)
Counterparts – Nothing Left to Love (melodic hardcore, metalcore)
Earth Moves – Human Intricacy (post-metal, post-hardcore)
FKA Twigs – MAGDALENE (art pop, trip-hop)
Golden Core – Fimbultýr (stoner metal)
Have a Nice Life – Sea of Worry (post-punk, doomgaze)
I Built the Sky – The Zenith Rise (nu-prog fusion)
Michael Kiwanuka – Kiwanuka (neo-soul, r&b)
Kokomo – Totem Youth (post-metal)
Royal Coda – Compassion (progressive post-hardcore)
Teeth – The Curse of Entropy (dissonant death metal)
Vatican – Sole Impulse (metalcore)