(We dom’t publish a single “official” NCS year-end list of best releases. Instead, each of our staff members compiles his own individual list.Andy Synn‘s week-long series of personal year-end lists continues today with his list of 2019’s “Good” albums.)
It’s important to clarify, right now, that both today’s list and tomorrow’s are NOT in any way an attempt to rank (at least not in any detail) the various albums which I’ve listened to this year.
The purpose of these two lists, today’s “Good” and tomorrow’s “Great”, is simply to provide a round-up of the various new releases which have found their way into my eardrums this year.
Of course, even these two lists (which together total somewhere approaching 300 albums) don’t provide a comprehensive account of everything that’s been released in 2019, but I sincerely hope that every one of you reading this right now comes away from this article with at least a handful of new bands/albums to check out.
As always I’ve broken things up into various categories to make the reading easier/fun, and (where possible) I’ve included a Bandcamp link to the album in the full list at the end of the article.
BIG NAMES AND RISING STARS
While I’m sure most of you are interested in seeing which bands made this list from more unknown/underground backgrounds, I want to start off by covering some of the “bigger” releases.
I was (and still am) a big fan of the new Soilwork album, which put in a strong showing despite a few dud tracks, and the same goes for both the new Martyrdöd and Insomnium records which, while not either band’s best work, are still well worth your time and money.
Both brutal legends Nile and progressive overlords Borknagar responded to some unfortunate line-up changes with albums that frequently teetered on the edge of greatness, while a little band called Opeth delivered their best album since “the change” in the shape of In Cauda Venenum.
Both In Mourning and Fleshgod Apocalypse provided solid entries into their own developing discographies in the shape of Garden of Storms and Veleno respectively, although neither was quite as good as their very best, as did the always reliable Entombed (AD), whose new album probably IS their best since all the shit hit the fan.
Meanwhile the Whitechapel boys finally found their stride again after an unfortunate run of increasingly poor albums, even as Leprous took a significant step to the side with the heavily Trip-Hop influenced sound of Pitfalls.
On the more blackened side of things 1349 refused to stray from The Infernal Pathway, which kicks a significant amount of ass, and Abbath (who I think we all hope recovers soon) delivered his strongest solo effort yet, although Mgla took a slight step down with Age of Excuse, which doesn’t quite match the power or consistency of its predecessors (though not for lack of trying).
Then there’s three of the US Metal scene’s “rising stars” – Cloak, Immortal Bird, and False – all of whom received a significant amount of hype, and subsequent success, this year, with False in particular showing a lot of promise as a band who could really be on to something special once they’ve finally, and fully, stepped out of the shadow of their influences.
INTO THE BLACK
It was a fertile and fecund year for Black Metal, as always, with impressive outings from both the old guard – Bethlehem, Enthroned – and the new blood – Mo’ynoq, Ossuaire – that only just missed out on making the cut for tomorrow’s list.
There were also several surprisingly good comeback albums from bands like Drottnar, Ketzer, and The Howling Wind, along with new records from previously established names returning under a different moniker (Gaahl’s Wyrd, Батюшка, Aoratos, Yerusalem).
2019 also saw the debut of a LOT of new bands. and I highly recommend checking out Triste Terre, Skald In Veum, The Watcher, and Raptvre (whom I’ll hopefully be covering in full next week).
The Aussie Black Metal scene gave birth to three of my favourite Black Metal albums of the year, in the shape of Kali Yuga Crown (Advent Sorrow), Dark Clouds of the Inferno (Blackhelm), and Dirge (Deadspace), the latter of whom will also be making an appearance on tomorrow’s list.
And, of course, the Norwegian scene brought the ice and thunder as always, in the form of Posthum, Katechon, Ragnarok, and Nordjevel, as well as Mork and Svartelder who came this close to sneaking onto the “Great” list (something which I’m still very conflicted about).
2019 also continued to prove that Black Metal is, as it should be, a global phenomenon and a universal language, with albums from Greece (Akrotheism, Order Of the Ebon Hand), Sweden (Astrophobos. Grafvitnir), Canada (Csejthe), Slovenia (Dekadent), Poland (Deus Mortem, Useless), Israel (Dim Aura), Belarus (Downcross), Belgium (Drawn Into Descent), The Netherlands (Imperial Cult), France (Maïeutiste), Spain (Suspiral) and Italy (Tenebrae In Perpetuum) all impressing me enough to make the cut this year.
Heck, Germany alone produced four particularly striking entries – Schattenfall, Shrine of Insanabilis, Stellar Master Elite, and Sun Worship – which I thoroughly recommend to all of you.
The American Black Metal scene produced a number of intriguing albums from the more atmospheric and/or proggy end of the scale (Ashbringer, Ashen Horde), along with a much-hyped (if slightly overrated) new album from melodic medieval maestro Obsequiae, an epic Black/Death hybrid from Polemicist, and an extremely underrated slab of raw strangeness from Blue Hummingbird on the Left.
Of course, if you like things rougher and riffier then maybe bands like Frosthelm, Howling, Vale, and Vimur will be more your speed (emphasis on “speed”).
And, of course, we can’t forget about the always divisive, yet so often impressive “Atmospheric” side of things, can we? So if that’s your thing then don’t miss the new records from Axioma, Ellende, Chrome Waves, and Constellatia, for your next fix of bleak, brutal beauty.
WHAT DO WE SAY TO THE GOD OF DEATH?
If anything, Death Metal had an even stronger year than its blackened sibling, including bludgeoning new albums from established extremists like Hate (producing their best album in years) and Blood Red Throne alongside newer entries from their dedicated disciples in Noctem and Accursed Spawn.
There were solid new entries into the canon from bands like Abominism (a personal favourite of mine), Iron Flesh, KHNVM, and Kosmokrator, as well as some seriously heavy hitters courtesy of Carnal Forge, Konkhra, and the mighty Hour of Penance (who just missed out on tomorrow’s list by the skin of their gnashing teeth).
It also seems like something nasty must have gotten into the US water supply, as “the land of the free” (and home of the whopper) produced a lot of gnarly, riff-heavy bangers this year, with Creeping Death and Gatecreeper leading the charge (despite not quite making the cut for tomorrow’ list), followed closely by fellow riffmongers Superstition and Vastum (both of whom deserve your attention asap).
Of course America wasn’t the only place getting into the obnoxiously old school vibe, and if you enjoy any of the above artists/albums then you should definitely give the new records from Antropomorphia (Netherlands), Carcinoid (Australia), Deiquisitor (Denmark), Impiety (Singapore), and Infernal Conjuration (Mexico) a whirl.
Oh, and if you’re interested in the thrashier side of things, both Nucleus and Xoth came very close to making the cut for the “Great” list, while the merciless melodic assault of Dawn of Disease delivered some electrifying extremity of its own.
You should also make some time for some of the newer, less familiar names on this list if you can, including the riff-centric Soheil Al Fard, the symphonically-enhanced Xaon, and the crushing, groove-heavy Dissentient (another one of my personal favourites).
Then, if you’ve still got the necessary brain cells working, don’t miss the blistering Death/Grind “supergroup” Serpent of Gnosis, or the killer collaborative effort that is Cosmic Putrefaction.
TECHNICAL EXTREMITY OR EXTREME TECHNICALITY?
At the nexus point between “Technicality” and “Brutality” 2019 found bands like Abnormality, Oblivion, and Prion continuing to deliver the devastating goods, aided and abetted by new albums from Origin and Order Ov Riven Cathedrals.
Similarly the crossover into Deathcore also delivered quite a few pleasing releases, with the underrated Diabolos from Canada’s Plaguebringer deserving just as much attention as more famous (or more hyped) releases from Carnifex and Nekroi Theoi.
Of course, the real gem was/is Global Warning from To The Grave, which is easily my pick of the bunch!
On the proggier side of things I know a lot of people were really excited to hear the debut from Hath, which was certainly a good album, but a little too indebted to its main influences, something which could also be said about the new record from Fractal Universe (though both are still well worth your money).
Two of my own favourites – Fallujah and Inanimate Existence – produced new albums that just missed out on tomorrow’s list (honestly, the increased riffiness of the former and the added proginess of the latter both really speak to me), as did Beneath the Cosmic Silence, the debut album from Prog-Death duo Atlas Entity.
And for those of you looking for a dose of shred, might I recommend the new albums from Caecus, Conforza, and Singularity? Trust me, there’s a shed-load of riffs and notes and finger-flensing twists packed into each one.
There’s also a handful of less extreme, but significantly proggy, albums/artists which made an impact on me this year, including the hyper-melodic Ethereal by Shokran, the intricately arranged Medium by Mantra, and No Rising Sun, the final album from the now sadly defunct Wrvth.
Finally, extra special mention must be made of the ludicrous Prog-Death concept album from Bushwhacker and the stellar new Allegaeon record, Apoptosis – especially the latter, as even now I’m not sure that it doesn’t belong on tomorrow’s “Great” list.
WITNESS THE THICKNESS
When it comes to thick, meaty riffs, the Sludge/Post-Metal scene had a lot to offer this year, beginning in January with the new album from A Secret Revealed, and then stomping its way through the next twelve months with releases by The Moth Gatherer, Forge, and Unfurl (with that last one being particularly noteworthy).
New releases from more Hardcore and Crust influenced acts like Glassing, Grogus, Orphanage Named Earth, and Toadeater fought for our attention with more ethereal and atmospheric records from Myriad Drone, Oh, Hiroshima, Pillars, and Vesperine (give all those a listen if you can), even while nastier, darker albums from Lambs and Lord Mantis tempted us to forget about the rest of the world and wallow in our own filth and depravity.
Universal Death Church in particular cut right to the bone, although it’s a bit disjointed in places, and not quite the utter monstrosity that Death Mask is/was (and always will be).
Kerala continued their descent into strangeness on Anagenesis, while Glare of the Sun continued their ascent towards greatness with Theia (even if they’re not quite there yet), while the Stoner-Sludge riffosity of Grizzly just made for a rivetingly good time for all.
I was also particularly taken with Djupets Kall from Oro (which you can read more about here) and very pleased (and surprised) by the return of Solstorm as well, a band I honestly never thought I’d hear anything more from.
KEEPING THE BRITISH END UP
When it comes to albums/artists from the UK you’ll likely have heard of Cognizance and Godeater, who’ve both been building a name for themselves in the Tech Death scene both at home and abroad, and long-time NCS readers will definitely be familiar with Warcrab and Necronautical, both of whom proved this year that they’re ready to step up to the big leagues.
You’ll probably also have seen the name Ithaca being thrown around a lot too, and while I still feel the album’s a bit haphazard musically, the band’s message rings through loud and clear all the same.
Osiah are also another band who’ve started making inroads into the wider consciousness, having been picked up by Unique Leader for the release of their new album, Kingdom of Lies, while less well-known, but just as savage, acts like Antre, Geist, and Mastiff collectively provided this year with a soundtrack to imminent societal collapse, and look set to benefit greatly from this increased exposure (as do those nasty boys in Opium Lord and Blind Monarch).
Torpor’s Rhetoric of the Image gave the UK Post-Metal scene a big shake up this year, with some assistance along the way from both Surya and the sludgier/proggier Everest Queen, while Gevaudan finally unveiled themselves as a fresh face, and a fresh voice, for the Doom scene to latch onto.
And, of course, we can’t forget about the Death Metal delights of Cadaver Soiree and Consecration, or the blackened brilliance of Plague Pit and Sidious, now, can we?
FROM THE LAND OF THE ICE AND SNOW
As big fans of the Icelandic Black Metal scene here at NCS we’ve always got our eyes open for new albums and artists hailing from the home of Bjork, and this year three in particular grabbed my attention, in the form of the striking self-titled debut from Örmagna, the mysterious Prog-Death collective Vögel, and the oppressive Doom of Vofa.
FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS
Speaking of “oppressive Doom”, 2019 had more than its fair share of that, including new albums from October Tide, Swallow the Sun, and Red Moon Architect, with the former opting for a noticeably more Death Metal approach, and the latter going full on Funeral Doom (with impressive results), while StS gave us a more introspective look into their souls on When A Shadow Is Forced Into the Light.
Nailed to Obscurity followed up the stunning King Delusion with a slightly more restrained effort in the form of Black Frost, while Weight of Emptiness delivered the album I wish Novembers Doom had written with their latest, Conquering the Deep Cycle, even as Varaha firmly planted their gloomy flag in the graveyard soil with the grandiose A Passage for Lost Years.
Special mention is reserved for Australia’s Illimitable Dolor – whose second album, Leaden Light, is a real gloomy (and heavy) gem – and Austria’s Selenite, whose roiling cauldron of dreary doom only narrowly missed out on receiving one of my top honours for the year.
Oh, and even though it was originally released digitally in late 2018, Swamp Witch’s Dead Rituals was released “properly” this year, so deserves a mention too!
A bunch of my personal favourite albums of the year also feature on this particular list, and cover a wide range of styles/sub-genres, from the abrasive, crust-infused Hardcore of Arboricidio, to the scintillating Progressive Death stylings of Kaleikr, to the swaggering, riff-centric Black Metal attack of Feral Light.
The artfully atmospheric, chillingly cathartic strains of Empyrean Fire and There Is No Truth But Death (by Chernaa and Sleeping Ancient respectively) are two albums I’d highly recommend to anyone looking for a Post-Black Metal fix that rises above the rest, while those looking for something on the “purer” end of the Black Metal scale would do well to give both Neptunian Sun and Idolatry a listen ASAP.
Cthuluminati provided a dose of welcome weirdness with their debut album, Reliqideus, with the moody, atmospheric Palindrome, by Katharos XIII acting as a contemplative comedown and a necessary counterpoint to that album’s more psychedelic approach.
The creative twists and turns, not to mention killer melodies, of Obsidian Tide hooked me in straight away as soon as I heard them, as did the new album from Norwegian prog-metallers Timeworn (which I’ll hopefully be writing more about next week), and the punchy Blackened Hardcore of Russia’s Morokh.
And, last but by no means least, my darker, doomier side really enjoyed the gut-wrenching new record from Obed Marsh and the artfully ambitious, single-track monstrosity that was Sedna’s The Man Behind the Sun.
And that, my friends, is it for me for today.
If you don’t see something here that you were expecting to, chances are it’s either going to be in tomorrow’s list of the year’s “Great” albums of 2019… or I didn’t get chance to listen to it.
Either way, do me a favour? Pick a couple of bands who you think might sound interesting, check them out, and if you like what you hear, show them your support.
The full list, as always, is below:
Borknagar – True North
Carnifex – World War X
Entombed – Bowels of Earth
Fallujah – Undying Light
Insomnium – Heart Like A Grave
Leprous – Pitfalls
Mork – Det Svarte Juv
Nile – Vile Nilotic Rites
Noctem – The Black Consecration
Opeth – In Cauda Venenum
Soilwork – Verkligheten
Swallow the Sun – When A Shadow Is Forced Into the Light
Timeworn – Leave the Soul for Now
Vögel – Ómstríð