(We continue a week-long rollout of a 2019 Top 50 list by NCS scribe DGR, counting down in groups of 10 each day, and in this installment we’ve got Nos. 40 through 31.)
By day two it is fun seeing what patterns start to form in these lists. Barring the predictable decay of my writing ability over the course of fifty albums — because seriously, who actually does these at a reasonable pace and doesn’t just procrastinate and do it all at once? — this edition of my year-end archive starts to see the appearances of the hyperblasting death metal crews from Italy, a whole block of tech-death, and even some bands whom I’m normally used to posting much higher by year’s end.
2019 was a wild year for metal. It seemed to move in fits and starts, but each transmission in the heavy metal release schedule seemed to be a massive one. For instance: I started to notice that I have a surprising amount of albums that hit in September on here (this collection includes a small handful of them). Earlier on, there were huge blocks of releases in the last few weeks of January and the opening of February.
On top of all that, I found that this specific subset is also very Europe-oriented. That’s pretty predictable, given Metal’s long-lasting appeal over on that continent, but usually I find they’re spread out more across my list. Maybe it’s because I have two of the death metal blasting crews here? Either way, the rest of these aren’t going to write themselves, and I’m still looking forward to shouting at you about underrated deathgrind discs at some point — as is my custom — so let’s continue this death march through this 2019 collection together.
40) Order Ov Riven Cathedrals: Thermonuclear Sculptures Blackness
Y’know, it doesn’t seem like that long ago that I was reviewing this gosh-darned thing for this here website. Order Ov Riven Cathedrals continue their fascination with space, mythology, and all things splitting of the atom on their latest release — one year after their previous first full-length. While the year-over-year churn of album releases can spook me a bit, the mysterious duo behind Order Ov Riven Cathedrals used the time to hone their sound. As a result, Thermonuclear Sculptures Blackness doesn’t really suffer from the feeling of being stretched thin like its predecessor, and likewise feels like a full experience in its own right.
They’ve done away with a lot of the samples and filled Thermonuclear Sculptures Blackness with music almost all the way through save for the obligatory intro and outro. If you enjoy the sort of high-speed, blastbeat-heavy death metal Italy specializes in, this year was a particularly good one, as basically one whole band family tree decided to put out albums the same year. Order Ov Riven Cathedrals add their own spin to that specific formula by adding a whole lot of backing choir for ambience and atmosphere and also a whole lot of booming samples whenever they change tempos. It’s a pretty common movement on Thermonuclear Sculptures Blackness to have everything in the song building up to a crescendo right before the first chorus, only to have a gigantic ‘BOOM’ go off and the song becoming increasingly epic-sounding from there.
I mentioned it in the review at the time, but will repeat that Thermonuclear Sculptures Blackness is a very objective-oriented sort of album — it found one specific target and decided to shoot for it again and again for the entirety of a listening session. It’s a huge mass of high-speed death metal and one that works rather well in combination with the rest of the group’s recorded works.
39) Allegaeon: Apoptosis
Proponents For Sentience was a huge moment for Allegaeon’s career, so it’s understandable that any sort of eventual followup was likely to have a lot of steam behind it. As a longtime fan of the band, I was very excited to see people getting into them and I was also immensely curious as to how the band would follow that disc. What I had not expected when it came to Apoptosis was for it to remind me so much of the group’s third album, Elements Of The Infinite.
Apoptosis can feel weirdly reactionary at times, like the band didn’t want to be pigeonholed into having a bunch of clean singing — which vocalist Riley can certainly pull off easily, as demonstrated by Proponents… — and they also didn’t want to seem like they wrote sleek and catchy songs. Thus, Apoptosis leans harder in the death metal direction and becomes a much heavier disc than one might have initially expected. It morphs them into a prog-death band for much of the album’s run time and it seems like not only did they lean harder into the death metal, they also leaned harder into every other heavy element of their sound as well, including a song where the band are quite literally listing off a whole bunch of elements.
Everything hits harder on Apoptosis, and the songs become clear skill demonstrations for the band. Allegeaon have long been a recommendation of mine to the guitar-nerds amongst my friends and coworkers, and man, Apoptosis leans into that even harder too. The group continue their flamenco-esque suite of acoustic guitar music throughout the album, and really, those are some of the few resting points on Apoptosis. For most of the time the band are absolutely rumbling through the album, bringing forth a barrage of guitar leads, solos, a whole bunch of spotlight for the bassist to really show off, and an even more varied vocal performance than on their prior release, including a demonstration of some lows that must have been the reason why Riley had a brief stint in Pathology before that band brought back Obie for their album Reborn To Kill.
The closing few songs on Apoptosis are easily highlights: “Stellar Tidal Disruption” combined with the album’s title song makes for an excellent suite of music. Earlier on is a little more all-over-the-map in terms of pacing, but as a whole Apoptosis feels like a weird alternate-universe sequel to an earlier disc. It’s certainly quicker moving and as such feels like a faster blast of music than Allegaeon have provided in the past, even though its total run time is still damned close to an hour. As such, I didn’t find myself jamming this album as much as I would’ve liked but still found Apoptosis to be an impressive effort from the band.
38) Godeater: All Flesh Is Grass
Scotland-based tech-death group Godeater and their first full length release (following a small collection of singles and an EP), All Flesh Is Grass, were a pleasant surprise in the back half of 2019. Tech-death as a whole had itself a hell of a year as the expansion of the scene seems to continue wholly unabated, absorbing more and more into its amorphous mass, not un-akin to a musical version of The Blob. Labels like The Artisan Era and Unique Leader both had a pretty massive slate of releases, and the major labels even got into the game as well. However, Godeater’s independent release of this album proved to be one of the more exciting ones this year.
Godeater have drawn all sorts of comparisons, but the one I was surprised to notice early on was a comparison to Psycroptic within the the first few songs, except with a whole lot more synth work. Godeater seem to morph constantly throughout All Flesh Is Grass though, so while its opening few tracks may be filled with super-frenetic guitar playing and songs that dart back and forth like hummingbirds, Godeater get bleakly apocalyptic by the time they’re closing up the album. You could probably use the one-two combo of “All Flesh” and “Salvation” — a two-minute song and a nearly-eight-minute one — as the point when things start to get moodier on All Flesh Is Grass. It’s certainly when the band really start demonstrating their versatility, beyond the capacity for mounting near-constant onslaughts.
In fact, the song afterwards is a one-minute ambient piece and the only time where All Flesh Is Grass is really calm. Afterward, in “Blood Moon”, the band really lean into a tech-death barrage that spills into the aforementioned bleak apocalypse — complete with a near deathcore bludgeoning segment in the center of it.
I tend to find a small handful of discs every year that have this sort of ceaseless-attack approach to songwriting, and they become a sort of a haven for riff-heavy music. I found that All Flesh Is Grass was all for serving that purpose this year.
37) Omophagia: 646965
646965 is an album that sounds like Omophagia had a fucking blast creating. Since I’ve already professed my love for ‘stupid’ death metal earlier on with Murder Made God, I feel like it needs to be stated that Omophagia fall into a similar camp. The musicians behind it certainly aren’t stupid, but the music they write has found some sort of sweet spot between being extremely flashy and technical and basically hitting rocks in order to make loud sounds. Their sense of mechnical-groove appeals to the caveman-brain in all of us, and then on top of that you have two guitarists convinced that they’re in some sort of pyrotechnic fight with each other.
Omophagia start 646965 with a bit of a show-stopper in the form of its title song, which features the vocalist hashing out numerical code over a band piston-hammering away behind him. After that is when Omophagia start to show off their flashier side as 646965 ratchets up in intensity until the next verse. The constantly building style of songwriting is one that gets a ton of mileage on this disc; that made each song pretty interesting in its own right, and it made the album as a whole feel heavier than hell at times. And at times it was just fun to see where the Swiss brutalizers were going to take us on the headbanging journey next.
I went into a deeper dive as part of a three-band review piece alongside Inanimate Existence and Vale Of Pnath‘s releases this year, if you want even more context than what’s being provided here. But I will reiterate that “Absolute Zero” and “Radicalized” remain monstrous songs, and the replayability with 646965 is massive. It finds its mark quickly and remains there, so once you’ve synced up with this one it’s hard to pull back until it wraps up.
36) Rotting Christ: The Heretics
I’ve come to the conclusion at this point that I listen to Rotting Christ for the same reason one might listen to AC/DC. I know from the outset exactly what I’m going to be in for, because this deep into Rotting Christ’s career, the band have found a sound and let themselves become defined by it. Absorbing elements of folk, classic rock, prog rock, and even the blastier nature of death metal at times, Rotting Christ are no longer a fire-and-fury sort of black metal band that the name might suggest. They’re secretly some of most fun songwriters out there, with many a guitar lead and martial percussive movement to attest to that — even if it’s a formulation they like to use over and over.
Rotting Christ have become a spectacle. They’re one of those bands that are excellent to just put a whole discography on shuffle and let ride, random order of songs piling over on top of each other. The Heretics is the latest addition to that slate, an album that does away with a lot of the pretense that came packed into some previous Rotting Christ albums and instead has them mining a very comfortable vein for them, for the sake of ten new songs. There’s a whole lot of familiarity at play on The Heretics. Some songs feel like alternate versions of earlier material, some are Rotting Christ being the most Rotting Christ they can be, and there’s one or two that have the band almost trampling over themselves and getting dangerously close to being an earlier song.
When you’re as prolific as Rotting Christ now are, you probably wind up repeating yourself a handful of times, but The Heretics certainly made that a little more evident than it had been before. But yet, as mentioned above, I know what I’m in for, and there’s something to be said — especially as this year went for me in my personal life — for settling into something you know and recognize and still have a blast with it. I like when Rotting Christ stomp, yell, and give me shit to shout in languages that I don’t speak or understand.
I can see the anti-religion speeches coming from a mile off and know well what inspires them. You’d better believe I was more than mildly amused to hear the band making a song out of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”, and yes, while The Heretics is probably the most Rotting Christ album that Rotting Christ have put out to date, I still found myself jamming this album a ton. It was one of my many comfort-zone albums this year.
35) Insomnium: Heart Like A Grave
Looking back on the release of Winter’s Gate, I’ve wondered if the genesis of that album was (at least partially) the band looking at their preceding album, Shadows Of The Dying Sun, and thinking, ‘Alright, now where the hell do we go from here?’. Funnily enough, after the release of the remarkably well-received Winter’s Gate, I again wondered if the band found themselves in the same situation all over again — thinking again, ‘Alright, now where the hell do we go from here?’.
As the group’s renown seemingly increases with each release, Insomnium have taken to wildly shaking up their formula, shifting from a doom-influenced melodeath heavily built around citing poetry for subject matter to something a little more airy. The group still play within the frozen wastes of melancholy but they’ve expanded their sound quite a bit, adding in elements of folk, and even going for straightforward melodeath from time to time. With expanding sound has also come an expanding roster, with the group adding a third guitarist who also helps on the vocal front, in the person of power-metal stalwart Jani Liimatainen, whose resume is increasingly vast. Heart Like A Grave marks the first release with him as an official member of the otherwise stable group, and it is one in which he contributes heavily.
Pretty much every band member has a songwriting credit at different points across Heart Like A Grave, which gives the album the most all-over and scattershot feeling of any Insomnium record to date. It may be the first release of theirs that has truly felt like a collection of singles vs having one obvious overarching musical theme. Since you have music coming from so many different directions, Heart Like A Grave swims through a variety of Insomnium-moods, whether it be the now firmly embraced clean-sung and growled dynamic, or the longer and more epic songs (the band themselves have cited “Pale Morning Star” in particular as being like a miniature Winter’s Gate), or even the aforementioned straightforward melodeath song or two, like the killer “Neverlast”.
And if you have the deluxe edition of Heart Like A Grave you’ll also encounter almost seventeen minutes of instrumental music (including the closing track twice, once regular and once with its keyboards and orchestration redone to sound like it could’ve fallen off of the Blade Runner soundtrack).
With the album’s sort of all-over-the-place nature being the way it is, I found myself enjoying it as another batch of good Insomnium music — I’m one of those for whom their discography is golden pretty much all the way through — and not really feeling like I needed to dive deeper in a review. I genuinely enjoy each song, and broken out from the album as a whole they tend to stand fantastically as singles, but for some reason, a strong collection of singles just wasn’t what I was looking for from them this year. Otherwise they would’ve been much higher up in this year-end collection.
34) Hiss From The Moat: The Harrier
The Harrier is only Hiss From The Moat‘s second album. Another branching of the Italian hyperspeed death metal tree, Hiss From The Moat seek to differentiate themselves by being a little bit more blackened death metal than the rest of their fellow scene. This means that since the group’s debut album Misanthrophy in 2013, Hiss From The Moat have leaned a little harder on the atmospherics and the Satan in about equal amounts in comparison to their compatriots.
The six years between Misanthropy and The Harrier have also seen the addition of a full-time vocalist, Max Cirelli, whose higher range makes the vocal work a little more snarled and less bellowed than the band have had previously. Yet for the most part, Hiss From The Moat and The Harrier exist as a vehicle for hearing drummer James Payne blast a kit into oblivion. If you’re as big a fan of death metal with thundering drums as I am, then Hiss From The Moat have a good offer for you, because basically from halfway through the new album’s title song, and definitely by the time “The Passage To Hell” is going, nearly every song has thundering war drums to accompany each of the group’s lumbering motions through their blackened death metal sphere. “Slaves To War” becomes the clearest example of this in the first-half of The Harrier before its one brief interlude.
Hiss From The Moat break themselves out from the pack by attempting to create this relentlessly smoky atmosphere throughout The Harrier, so that each and every bombing run from the band feels like it was created by the satanic robed-priest characters the group portray themselves as in their music video for the aforementioned “Passage To Hell”. This was another one that I had the opportunity to review way back in April and much of that carries over here. It’s a relentless album that seeks to crush its listeners beneath the sheer weight of its death metal. Every song is thus a massive archive of howled vocals and hammering guitar parts, all backed by a battle-hardened rhythm section that makes each hit so precise that it can feel surgical. Don’t let The Harrier go past your radar if you enjoy some hammering and fast brutal death.
33) Deserted Fear: Drowned By Humanity
Deserted Fear’s Drowned By Humanity was one of a big handful of melodeath albums that I jammed throughout this year. As an early-year release, Drowned By Humanity became one of those consistent ‘default-to’ sort of albums: It’s a solid forty or so minutes of hook-laden death metal from a three-piece group that manages to sound absolutely massive.
This is Deserted Fear‘s fourth album and probably their most finely-tuned to date. Nearly every moment seems calculated to either have you humming along or headbanging along, moving from gigantic rhythm segment to glorious guitar lead segment at the drop of a dime. As time has gone on, I came to think that it was a little bit of a misstep for the band to open the album with “All Will Fall”. I think it gives a false impression that Drowned By Humanity is going to be this huge album full of slow-moving, chugging riffs. For the most part, that applies to its back half but the front half is front-loaded with fast songs..
That opener isn’t a bad song, but “Reflect The Storm” is the one that really colors Drowned By Humanity as a whole. I wonder if other people thought that, too, as that’s one of the handful of songs off the album to receive the music video treatment. The melodic guitar work in that song is a huge highlight and it becomes one of the pillars of Deserted Fear‘s sound as a whole on the new record, so much so that this might be one of the catchier albums in this collection.
Melodeath as a whole had a pretty good year in my opinion, though my list may not reflect the huge amount of exploration I did within the genre. I think that’s more a reflection of just how surprisingly enormous 2019 was for metal as a whole. Deserted Fear stood out amongst the bunch because they have an ear for some of the catchiest guitar writing out there, and even though it peters out a bit in its back half — save for “Sins From The Past”, which delves deep into Gojira-land for a bit — Drowned By Humanity was a fun listen as one of the previously mentioned ‘default go-to’ albums this year. A February release managing to hang on as long as this one has is an impressive feat on its own.
32) Car Bomb: Mordial
When it came to Mordial by Car Bomb, what finally brought me around to it was the sense that this disc is a very calculated yet barely restrained form of chaos. ‘Mathcore’ as a genre is always going to hold that sort of appeal no matter how unwieldy the codifier may be, but how else does one expect to describe the sort of hybrid core/prog/metal sound that comes out of the sort of chugging, angular songs that are produced by its artists? It’s a messy and noisy affair, but at the same time Mordial is hyper-precise in exactly when it wants to make the next sudden jump to a different part of a song. So you’ll often find yourself nodding along to a certain segment only to find it has done a half-skip, or a certain extra bass drum hit has appeared, and you’ve now completely lost track of the rhythm again.
Since Car Bomb have had a decently long career in an on/off fashion, the group have long since fine-tuned the start-stop style that has become part of their arsenal. On Mordial they modify it by adding a whole lot of atmospherics to the mix, weaving in a ton of echoed guitar and thundering bass drum so that the quiet moments — when they appear — are often haunted by some form of background noise, so that there’s no real meditation happening. Our own Andy highlighted this in his critical top ten post when he was raffling off a list of different sounds and genres he could try to pin down on this disc, and it reads like a random gathering of bands.
Yet it’s hard not to agree with the statement that there’s quite a bit of melody woven into the album as a whole — keeping in mind that each clean-sung chorus in the opener “Fade Out” comes after a dynamite-triggered avalanche of guitar slides leading up to it each time. “Vague Skies” whips through a variety of styles in its four minutes, and follower “Scattered Sprites” follows a similar pattern, though “Scattered” is a far less friendly song, especially with its Meshuggah-esque chug in the opening few momenets. Probably to ease people into “Dissect Yourself”, which has become something of a personal favorite, if only for just how noisy it is.
It’s that constantly shifting dynamic that made Mordial another one of the late-year highlights in 2019 — funny, given the large collection on my list that I’m now noticing seems to have hit in September.
31) Wormed: Metaportal
With Wormed and their 2019 EP Metaportal we follow that sudden and neck-snapping shifting of songs with a different and much more brutal genre entirely. Metaportal is actually the first of a couple of EPs in my year-end list this time around.
The continuing cosmic sci-fi adventures of Krighsu lend themselves well to the sort of whiplash-worthy cosmic tech-death of which Wormed have demonstrated their mastery. Metaportal is pretty much a continuation of its predecessor Krighsu, so musically it adds up to another eighteen-or-so minutes of bludgeoning tech-death that changes structure so rapidly that listening often feels like an exercise in clinging on to a spinning object for dear life as it constantly attempts to throw you off and cast your body into the void. Closer “E-XYSTEM://CE” at first feels like it is going to be the one to buck that trend and just be a straightforward atmospheric death metal song, but then its opening wraps up and the band go into a sudden start/stop blast that scorches everything that lies before it.
One thing that Metaportal does a fantastic job of is to justify EVERY SONG TITLE BEING WRITTEN IN CAPITAL LETTERS. Wormed‘s music is meant to be played loud and rocked out to as violently as possibly. They’re just as much ‘mood’ on Metaportal as they are a blisteringly fast death metal band. Metaportal even has one of the best endings out there, in that it just stops. Like, a sudden, hard stop. No fade-out, no build-up, just the band blasting along and then a sudden silence. It’s fantastic. It’s like the band spend the whole of Metaportal increasing the accelaration on you and then just concrete-wall the experience right at the end.
If you feel like listening to a death metal EP capable of reducing you to your base atoms by the time you’re done, Metaportal can do it easily.