(We have reached the end of DGR’s week-long roll-out of his Top 50 year-end list, with this segment devoted to the Top 10. All the preceding installments can be found behind this link.)
The final ten of this year’s year-end list is special to me. That coud be easily stated for every year, but 2019 is one of those years that just went absolutely crazy — in fits and starts of course, there’s a lot of April and September representation here — and it brought on a massive torrent of metal that not only pushed out the boundaries of the genre but also twisted, mutated, and contorted it into all-new forms. You also had fantastic releases from groups who are already working within well-established blueprints and finding ways to keep things interesting.
While I could go on an endless screed about 2019 as a whole, keep in mind that although I have fifty releases on the list that I particularly enjoyed — an admittedly ridiculous number — I listened to and generally got a kick out of so many more. A lot of those are popping up at NCS, on other writers’ lists and on users’ lists, and even on the occasional big website list when they’re not seeing just how much prose they can dedicate to Blood Incantation or showing off that they’re hip with the kids by nominating every teenager’s favorite new and hip band Tool (and I love Tool).
Every year seems to lend credence to the idea that heavy metal is not only a genre but a filter you put music through, so that you get all sorts of different styles and morphings of the genre. Many of those are so interesting and fascinating to listen to. The old guard will always do an excellent job waving the metal banner, and the death metal crews in particular are having a hell of a time with it. So, while record sales continue to decline and streaming continues to rip artists off (the “well, at least its something” argument quickly loses its lustre when your favorite album is interrupted by an ad for Tide), Heavy Metal continues apace, long having had decades of never really having any money anyway and carrying itself entirely by the passion of the artists and the fans that populate its sphere.
So let’s get this final ten going and then you can feel free to tell me how wrong I was for not including your favorite band whose name looks like I slammed my hand on the keyboard — I kid, its both hands isn’t it? — in the Comments below. I look forward to your Gorguts jokes.
10) Moro Moro Land – Smirenie
Another one of a handful of EPs that worked their way onto this year-end collection and the first of two in this final batch. Moro Moro Land hail from Russia and play what they refer to as “atmospheric/post-metal/blackened hardcore”. If that seems like a lot, just know that Moro Moro Land do an excellent job of blending it together so that it just sounds like some really, really noisy -core that happens to be drenched in smoke.
Smirenie flies by since it is only five songs and the metal that Moro Moro Land generate is like a barrage. Smirenie is one explosive number after another that I can’t fully attest to understanding lyrically due to it being in Russian, but I do recognize me a sample of the big speech from The Great Dictator whenever that pops up. So when Moro Moro Land decided to let that be the dominant factor of the first song on Smirenie — it takes up a good third of the first song — they do so expertly, keeping that segment quiet but then exploding around it.
Moro Moro Land write some heavy and driving music on Smirenie and it feels like such a natural progression from their previous release, Through, that you can’t even bat an eye. I latched onto how Smirenie is a little heavier on the black-metal side of their blackened hardcore way back when I wrote this one up in early March, and I’ve lately come to the conclusion that they did so because they found a ton of explosive catharsis in the wall of rotating blasts and near-non-stop cymbal work that fills out their hazy musical atmosphere.
As an aside: They were also included in a roundup here that also featured Waste Of Space Orchestra, whom you’ll remember from yesterday’s installment of this archive because of course you’ve been reading all of these, further proving that we are the most in-touch site out there.
Smirenie’s progression from Through still provides plenty of opportunities to rock the hell out, as there’s a certain driving-force that can be derived from the -core side of the band’s genre descriptor. The blackened part provides much of the ‘heavy’, the post-metal segment handling much of the atmospherics, and the hardcore side providing the massive riffs by which the band will have you headbanging for Smirenie’s twenty-some-odd minutes. This is one that you should not be letting pass by you this year.
09) Disillusion – The Liberation
Disillusion’s newest release The Liberation was a long time coming, with a thirteen-year gap between full-lengths and only a 2016 single in between. Reinforced by a crowd-funding campaign, the German prog-metal band unleashed this heavy and all-over-the-wide-field-of-metal new album in the beginning of September.
The Liberation has seven songs, and the main bulk of them run between five and twelve minutes, with the bigger numbers being these absolutely vast works that don’t extend their length via the weapon of atmospherics and quiet meditation very often. Surprisingly enough, on top of the group’s prog and death metal approach you can hear a massive variety of different styles working their way into the formula — including a somewhat understated influence of the blues and an atmosphere that sounds like a weird alternate-universe prog-death-era Opeth deciding to do a heavy metal soundtrack to a Western movie.
A massive chunk of Disillusion’s latest is clean-sung, so it is a bit of an exception to our rule, but the journey that the group have penned for The Liberation is such a varied one that it truly is a musical adventure. Our review for it spent much more time diving into it than I could hope to do here, but the soundtrack-esque quality of the album feels truly cinematic, its own tied-together concept sometimes providing the soundtrack to the listener’s own wanderings. I know I’ve been out traveling around town when the middle three songs of “The Great Unknown”, “A Shimmer In The Darkest Sea”, and “The Liberation” have hit, and let me tell you, this album has even made being stuck in traffic watching another dipshit fail to correctly merge into the lane feel like a goddamned epic.
There’s an “alright, just one more time….” quality to The Liberation that has made it stubbornly stick around my head since its early-September release, with each new listening session a chance to find something new — or hell, as has often become the case here, just one more chance to go through what I am already enjoying. It is a starkly different album among the lineup of utter annihilation, grooving doom, and avante-garde artsy black metal that is this final collection of music, and yet it slots in perfectly here, as it has heavy metal being used expertly to create something truly interesting and gorgeous, a journey well worth traveling.
08 – Gloson – Mara
For being only a two-song EP, Gloson’s Mara is a sinister-sounding release. It probably doesn’t take much guessing to tell what sort of music Gloson kicked out in these 15 minutes, at least if you’re a regular visitor to this site and have read the reviews for both Mara and Grimen by now, becoming ultra-familiar with the band n the process. Yet if you’re new to Gloson or Mara, they could not be more at home among the many death-and-doom comrades in this final edition of the year-ender, because the band’s slow-moving sludge and doom hybrid takes on a very menacing air as Mara’s concept slowly reveals itself over the course of its two songs.
The EP deals heavily in the realm of the unconscious and the dreams that happen therein, with the band themselves describing it as such via their Bandcamp page: “‘Usurper’ is about when you are the protagonist of a dream and have to wade through oceans of unreal horror that dwells within, while ‘Equinox’ is the other way around, when you yourself are the antagonist and the chokehold of everything that is real and unreal.” Thus, if it seems like that laugh that pops up halfway into the EP sounds evil as all hell, it’s because it legitimately is.
In their fairly young discography Gloson have already mastered the art of atmospherics in their fuzzed-out branch of the sludge and doom-metal tree, with each forward-moving motion from the band accompanied by a massive groove, which the group then take full advantage of to make it seem like the song is crashing down around you. With multiple members on the vocal front, the songs seem larger than life, and you can practically see the band members folding over backwards in order to pre-load their next massive jump forward with the next big, crashing groove.
Of all the bands in the big post-rock, sludge, and doom hybrid explosion that heavy metal has been experiencing for the past decade or so now, I think the unassuming bunch from Sweden that is Gloson have mastered the art of achieving utter darkness. With the small collection of releases to their name so far, they have proven to be one of the best out there. If you haven’t checked out Mara or Grimen, you owe it to yourself to do so.
07) Strigoi – Abandon All Faith
Strigoi join the seemingly less and less exclusive group of very recent releases to have hit in 2019 that have wormed their way into my year-end list, but I can assure you that this one has been getting constant replay from me already.
It wasn’t even that long ago — a month to the date almost as of this writing — that I really dissected this one ahead of its release. The latest in Gregor Mackintosh‘s adventures into the world of oppresively heavy death metal sees him teaming up with former live-lineup Vallenfyre compatriot Chris Casket in order to unleash a pretty solid forty-some-odd minutes of violence that feels like Vallenfyre picking up right where it left off, with an emphasis back on the doom-and-death side that wasn’t as immediately present in the former project.
That said, the band still crust and grind it up quite a bit on Abandon All Faith with a whole block of songs in its front-third running in at at barely-over and extremely-under three minutes. Since “Phantoms” leads off the whole event before tumbling into that collection of songs, Abandon All Faith starts off its first twenty minutes of life heavy and fast before completely slamming on the brakes and descending into the realm of suffocating doom for “Carved Into The Skin”.
This happens twice in the way Abandon All Faith is laid out, so that the mood of the disc seems to cycle, although the grouping of death metal songs in the last half of Strigoi’s debut is a whole lot beefier than the sub-two minute blasters that you find in the front half. There’s definitely a sense in Strigoi’s debut that they really wanted to create a much more oppresive atmosphere than they could previously with as straightforwardly heavy as Vallenfyre got. So when that project wrapped up it was as if Abandon All Faith was partially built out of the desire to have the music be much more suffocating. There’s a quiet bit of backing choir in the last song and a giant wall of feedback and reverb so that every motion made by Strigoi is big, lumbering, and fucking ugly.
It is nice to see that where one project wrapped up after a neat three releases, another opportunity crops up for its members to keep things as murky and dark as they can get it on the death metal front. While admittedly we’re huge fans of Greg Mackintosh and this style, it was still hard not to approach Abandon All Faith a little jaded, only to have that armor completely melt away by the time the fourth song set in.
06) Schammasch – Hearts Of No Light
Just one more time on this year-end archive, let’s get weird and avante-garde, this time with a name that you’re likely to recognize if you’ve been trawling around the No Clean Singing sewers long enough.
The mysterious robed figures of Swiss black metal group Schammasch released their latest album Hearts Of No Light — and a much shorter one than their last full-length – in early November of this year. Like every other release from the group, it is full of unexpected twists and turns that keep you guessing what could possibly come from the group next.
Having heard it, Hearts Of No Light was one of those releases that I was really, really excited to see how people were going to react to, and what moments in particular they were going to zero in on. Because for a band who have a three-disc release and an EP that is basically twenty minutes of build-up until two actual songs at the end, Schammasch manage to pull off some real surprising stuff in their tracklisting here. You do have to hand it to them, as Hearts Of No Light is once again a remarkably different release from its predecessors.
For instance: There is a surprising amount of prominence given to the piano on this work, as well as quite a bit of clean-sung moments, although delivered intentionally in a range between haunting and bizarre and appearing during moments that then segue into some of the heaviest parts of the album. It also seems like Schammasch must have really enjoyed the constant building-up-to-an-event style of songwriting they employed on their Hermaphrodite EP, because a handful of the songs here all seem to be building up to something, only to be cast into the wind and blown away like ash in a person’s hand.
I still haven’t quite wrapped my head around the fifteen minutes of closing song “Innermost, Lowermost Abyss”, because it’s a very pensive instrumental for the most part — but arrives after one of the most angular songs on the album in “Katabasis”. It is Schammasch’s tendency to write music that not only challenges the listener but also themselves, and that helps keep things interesting throughout Hearts Of No Light. There are times when the album can feel like a series of sporadic, off-the-wall moments, and other times when things do truly move organically.
But overall it’s hard not to listen to this and walk away from it at least slightly mesmerised, if the music within songs like “I Burn Within You” don’t leave you mildly befuddled at least. Even though it was a late-in-the-year release, it’s hard to deny the kind of firm grasp Schammasch have had on me this year. It may not be the heaviest and most breakneck stuff the band have put out to date, but it is up there as some of the most intriguing.
05) Theories – Vessel
Seattle’s Theories unleashed their second album Vessel in April of this year via Corpse Flower Records and it was a shock to the system that was dearly needed. The group’s two full-lengths up to this point have felt like a pretty clean split on their genre codifier, with Regression leaning heavily on the grind side of the grindcore sound and their latest, Vessel, leaning more on the dumb and mosh-heavy -core side. Vessel as a whole is still a massive wall of blastbeats, but in comparison to Regression there’s actually a few moments of respite throughout — mostly the times when the band are leaning on the weighty, chugging riffs instead of the cauldron of chaos that they usually whip up.
Vessel also marks a few new changes for the band with every one of the stringed-instrument crew in this four-piece handling vocal work. That becomes a from-all-angles assault, a multitude of voices raining across whatever mosh pit battlefield they may be at the head of. I sensed early on that the band were likely to be dooming themselves to playing quite a few songs off of Vessel for years to come, more specifically songs like “Undertow”, “Slow Poison”, and “Ill Will”, although Vessel has a whole provides plenty of choice cuts.
Once you get past the initial slow-moving grinder of “Human Vessel Cell”, Theories lean on the accelerator, and the band that you might’ve recognized during the Regression days fully reveals itself, while the production of the disc can make it seem like Theories recorded the album in a catacomb — which I mentioned in my review could likely be the same place where they found the unfortunate victim that is depicted on the cover art. “Hollow” proves to be a deceptively catchy song for a brief moment as the album closes out, and as one of the longer songs on Vessel it contributes to an overall longer runtime.
Theories now have two very different experiences in their arsenal and both have been fantastic releases. Even though we’ve been banging the drum about this crew for some time now, it still needs to be re-iterated that you shouldn’t let them fly under your radar. They’ve got some absolute violence in song form in their collection and it is stuff that you owe it to yourself to listen to.
04) Call Of The Void – Buried In Light
It’s a bummer that Call Of The Void decided to hang it up this year after the release of their third album, Buried In Light. That said, wow, what a way to go. The saying that if you’re going to go out, go out on top, applies here because Call Of The Void released an absolute monster of a record.
Basically about as teeth-gnashing as they come, Call Of The Void‘s hybrid sludge and punk heavy core found itself embracing a death metal, grind, and noisier side that at times had them channeling the fury of a group like Misery Index to the point where they could easily pass as one of the most pissed-off groups in metal today.
Buried In Light is built on a foundation of absolute ferocity, so that the moment this one starts you’re basically going to go rounds with the disc until it finally closes out on “So It Ends”, which is goddamned perfect when you think about it. Few discs out there can capture the break-neck velocity of what it is like to see this band live, yet Buried In Light does so with ease — something I can attest to, having caught Call Of The Void a handful of times live whenever they’ve passed through my lovely neck of the woods.
Songs on Buried In Light can switch from blastbeat-heavy monsters like the molten-opening of “Disutility” to bouncier stuff like “Suck Me Dry” — itself reminiscent of the title song of the AYFKM EP back in 2016 – and from there on Call Of The Void just unleash a whole bunch of noisy outbursts that keep you headbanging for near the entirety of its run. “Enslaved” is just a minute of reverb and feedback, helping to break up the slower-moving and festering “God Hunts”, which just seems to build and build until the band are screaming “Buried Alive” at you by the close. That spills into “ReDeath” though, which after “Enslaved” and its slower build feels like a slightly welcome reprieve at first, because it’s actually kind of catchy — especially the “We are not angels….” passage in its opening minute or so.
There’s an undercurrent of Buried In Light that has the band boiling under the surface though, so even though every song seems like an explosive outburst, the album still feels like it is being restrained by something until its title song kicks in. That constant build becomes a source of excitement, and so listening to Buried In Light become louder and louder is one hell of an experience. It sucks that Call Of The Void called it quits here, but as mentioned before, they picked a hell of a disc to go out on.
03) Hideous Divinity – Simulacrum
Now four albums deep into their career, and one breakthrough release among them, Hideous Divinity were primed to really make a name for themselves with Simulacrum. Upon release it was an interesting tale because it continues and iterates on what the band did with Adveniens to a level where it starts to feel like Simulacrum is Adveniens‘ evil twin.
Hideous Divinity have embraced their brutality and technicality, all at ten million miles an hour and issued with an “all at once” writing style on Simulacrum, and also decided this go-around to make things much darker and more apocalyptic than before. If it seems like the songs have a much darker atmosphere whirling around them, you’re not the only one who has noticed it. At the very least, I picked up on it too during my multiple listening sessions with Simulacrum since its early November release. Hell, at some point I kind of had to as the guy who accidentally reviewed Adveniens a bit too early ahead of release because I was so damned hyped up on it.
Simulacrum is interesting upon start-up because it feels like it is all over the place at first. I had a few times with “Deleuzean Centuries” where I thought I had gone through a couple of songs by the time its five minutes had wrapped up, simply because the band had the balls to come to a dead stop and completely change gears halfway through. “The Embalmer”, however, remains just as terrifying as its excellent music video, a Hideous Divinity standard of non-stop madness and plenty of time for vocalist Enrico “H.” Di Lorenzo to scream over the top of it in a percussive nature to drive the song forward. Then a thirty-second interlude, and then it’s right back into the storm.
Long story short: Simulacrum doesn’t quite settle into its overwhelmingly brutal groove until about eleven minutes into the album, but from there on out it becomes a spectacle to behold. It becomes this big mass of death metal that at times feels written to bring on a sort of anxious terror, and like many of the albums in this final collection, just dishes out pummeling after pummeling segment without regard to anything around them.
It’s perfect then that Hideous Divinity have a song called “Seed Of Future Horror” in its tracklisting, because — outside of its more obvious inspirations — Simulacrum, like the albums before it, is tied together by a thematic concept. And this time around it is much closer to Adveniens in that sense — Hideous Divinity have also planted a seed of future horror in musical form. Within four albums Hideous Divnity have made themselves into a landmark group and one that you should really be paying attention to, especially if you’re like me and you love your death metal beatdowns at lightspeed.
02) Vitriol – To Bathe From The Throat Of Cowardice
Vitriol are one of those bands that you need to get on the ground floor with, because there are few bands out there who have had this level of intensity on their debut full-length.
We’ve been yelling at people about them since their EP Pain Will Define Their Death (and its later reissue with one new song) so you’d better believe we were fucking excited about the group’s album To Bathe From The Throat Of Cowardice. That album is the sort of release that is going to be intensely hard to mine when it comes to the Most Infectious list this year because it’s hard to define anything on this album as “infectious”. It’s just a wall-to-wall and end-to-end nightmare of chaotic death metal with a multi-pronged vocal approach that seems to come tearing out of hell at all angles.
There are times during some of the songs that it seems like the band themselves are barely hanging on as the music continues to spin and spin until it reaches a white-hot temperature. Listening to the record is like having your skin blown off a la Mortal Kombat fatality — leaving you a bewildered mass of muscle and skeleton.
Where do we even start with some of these songs? Do we highlight the relentless nature of album opener “The Parting Of A Neck”? Do we embrace the gloriously mean nature of “The Rope Calls You Brother”? Or the searing intensity of “Legacy Of Contempt” — which, as an aside, is a really strong standout alongside “Hive Lungs” in the back half. Or do we embrace the one massive groove that people will likely notice during “I Drown Nightly”? Hell, even “Violence, A Worthy Truth” and “Victim” still hit hard through the album’s incredibly noisy production, and we’ve had the better part of a year and a half to get used to how those two move.
Vitriol seem legitimately angry about everything they are writing about, and every song on To Bathe From The Throat Of Cowardice is a maelstrom of explosive cathartic release, a seemingly endless series of bombing runs and constant guitar work, like the band needed to record every note and every possible permutation of some of their grinding riffs or someone was going to murder them.
I can’t tell, beyond my own personal excitement for it, how To Bathe From The Throat Of Cowardice is being picked up widely. But I can offer that I think this may be one of those albums that serves as a high water mark by which groups who claim that they’re pissed off at the world will be measured for a very, very long time.
01) Distaste – Deibel
What follows may in fact be the dumbest fucking thing I have ever written, and I assure you, I could not be more proud.
So how did the absolute fucking torrent of death metal and other excellent albums that preceded this one manage to be overshadowed by a late-September release from an Austrian deathgrind band, other then the fact that I already thought Distaste were fucking awesome? Let me explain: Because Deibel did something for me this year. While there are absolutely some massive demonstrations of excellent musicianship, stunning technical showpieces, damn-near unfuckwithable displays of brutality, and otherwise fantastic concept albums, and all of them stunning collections of music, Deibel still did me a massive favor.
You see: Deibel is about twenty-nine minutes of solid, chaotic, and blast-heavy death and grind, heavy on the grind. The important part here is that it is twenty-nine minutes long — which is the perfect length to completely tune out an episode of The King Of Queens from title screen to credits.
I fucking hate The King Of Queens. I hate most TV comedy in general, and I definitely despise Kevin James‘ larger body of work, but my god do I have an extra-special burning rage in my heart for King Of Queens — especially since Patton Oswalt is on it and he’s great. I get that dude had to get paid and it did a lot for him, but maaaaaaaaaaaan. So why is this important?
Well, I work nights and my lunch is around one to one-thirty in the morning, which is the perfect time for just about every single drive-through to close up. To be honest, I’m not going to sit in the dark in my fucking car during that time or stare at some poor fucker stuck on a forklift, so I am usually in the breakroom enjoying the now cold and definitely entirely sulphur coffee that I brought from home. I don’t fuck with the TV at all because I’m one of those hipsters that punched out on TV right about the time the History Channel became the Hitler and space aliens network, but my coworkers will usually tune it into one specific channel — and take a wild guess at what just happens to be on.
Star of cinematic masterpieces Paul Blart, Grown Ups, and Grown Ups 2 and festering pile of sentient garbage Kevin James and the show so unfunny they tried to make it twice — The King Of Queens. Now, without commercials, the run time of this show ballparks about twenty-one minutes. With ads for the various phone sex lines, celebrity chef Daniel Green and his latest non-stick pan with his recipe for melted breath mints still in the wrapper, and Bob McNumbnuts Chevrolet having their almost daily clearance sale event, because for the love of god someone please buy one of these big fucking cars despite the fact that you now have to sacrifice your first-born in order to fill the fucking thing up, you get around twenty-nine minutes of white noise and unfunny dreck.
Enter Distaste’s Deibel and its twenty-nine minutes and seven seconds of utterly furious, fierily angry, and thoroughly righteous grind, and suddenly, Deibel becomes more than just a massive explosion of excellent metal. It is also the timer by which I keep my lunch — the one thing in the world, minute for minute, that seems capable of matching my utter and complete disgust at this show. And so, Deibel enters the fray: Already an album of pretty much everything I want from a grind release, it now ascends to something more special.
It becomes a part of my life — from the opening scream of “Positionsresistent” to the grooving madness of “Gesagt, Getan”, the circle pit maelstrom of songs like “Mutter” and “Bestätigungssubjektivität”, and the closing noise of “Der Gerät”, Deibel has wormed its way into my very being and has become a daily listen. It not only powers me through work alongside the all-star cast that has made up my year end-list as a whole — a pure outburst of violence — but also powers me through lunch.
I sometimes sleep to this disc and let it subconsciously work its way into my system during those lunches. I’m at the point now where I know the exact second this disc ends and when it begins again — which I’ll often let happen because Distaste are one of the better groups out there kicking out this sort of sound. Yes, it is a purely cathartic release and at times contains some of the most brain-dead mosh parts out there and I don’t give a shit. It all slots together so goddamned well that it is like junk food for me, from moment one to moment twenty-nine and seven seconds.
So, congratultations to Distaste, as the stars have truly aligned for you this year. You have an awesome release on your hands that people are completely fucking up on by passing by, and you make a fantastic way to mute out what would otherwise be one of the more unenjoyable experiences on the planet. You’ve got one of the meanest and angriest explosions contained on one disc out there to date, and if someone is reading this who hasen’t given Distaste a chance, then you need to give this release a spin. You are robbing yourself by not doing so. They have been on an absolute tear since 2013’s Black Age Of Nihil, and Deibel is just the latest armament in an increasingly lethal arsenal.
And thus does 2019 end, not with a bang, but with the realization that the once fiery, spunky, and full-of-passion DGR is no longer young anymore, but has finally realized that he too has gotten old and has now become his dad: Sitting on a couch with an underpaying job, yelling at a television.
Get fucked, 2019.