(We’ve held the door open for one more year-end list before closing our LISTMANIA 2019 series, and that final list comes from long-standing NCS writer TheMadIsraeli.)
I feel like metal in 2019 reached an all-time high for expressiveness and creativity in the 2010s. Some of the absolute best collections of music I’ve heard have been 2019 releases, and while I don’t know where such albums would rank in a Top 100 of the decade list, this decade ended VERY strong.
We’re seeing an interesting renaissance that kind of hit its peak last year, in that almost everything seems to be black metal to one degree or another. With the clear exception of thrash, just about every sub-genre of metal was feeling the grim melodies, layered chord-driven guitar work, and more bestial and more “human” approaches to metal that black metal is known for. It’s interesting, and I’m all about it. This wasn’t the case for everybody of course. Certain bands stuck to their guns and unleashed strong follow-ups, very promising debuts, or just stayed the course of their legacy to excellent effect.
I’ve got six categories today, of six albums each. I’ll be doing a little blurb about each list. I used this format back in 2017, and I think this will be my year-end format for the rest of my time writing for this site.
Thrash metal had a surprisingly strong year with a combination of more modern takes and old school sounds, both pushed to technical and compositional heights in a way that really struck a chord with me.
Three comebacks are on this list, all super-strong and arguably peak material. Exhorder reinvented themselves almost entirely yet lost none of the brutality or intensity of their music, Carnal Forge came back and basically ripped the reins away from The Haunted while also capturing quite a bit of Terror 2000 on Gun To Mouth Salvation, and Possessed released a riff-jam-packed interesting comeback record that showed evolution, but didn’t evolve too much, an album that definitely adopted elements of thrash and death metal conjured after their time, but with nothing modern.
Two new-blood bands are on here, Warchest and Algebra. They only have two or three albums to their name but are showing themselves to be bands to watch, Algebra especially. Finally, Hatriot, the Steve Souza vehicle as I call it, released some fantastic pure-nostalgia thrash brimming with riffs, piss, vinegar, and political vitriol. Overall I feel this spread of records really represents thrash at its best this year.
Death metal for me was all about old school pace, and gargantuan, twisted and mangled riffs, combined with big, open but not super-polished production values. Endolith is obviously the most modern, with their Meshuggah-influenced industrial sci-fi brand of progressive groove-driven death metal, a sound you just won’t hear anywhere else, with the sort of sci-fi cheese I love in my metal in general. They did fit into my categorization of MASSIVE death metal though.
Firespawn, Oblivion, and Pedophile Priests all released their best material last year, all adopting a policy of lumbering, discordant yet technical, and fat-trimmed in an old school way that I really needed in my life, all while being delightfully progressive.
Misery Index delivered with consistency, producing yet another standout album of their brand of militaristic deathgrind that saw some TINY additions of Polish imperialism added to their sound, which paid off in spades. It’s hard for me to say where Rituals of Power ranks among this band’s releases, considering that I basically think their entire discography warrants equal listening across the board, but it’s definitely stellar.
Hannes Grossmann and co. released what might be the best album under his own name, and it had no fucking PR whatsoever, which is weird to me. So much so that I didn’t even know the record existed until a few days before preparing these lists. What I love about Apophenia is that this really feels like they just wanted to write a really frantic, technical, progressive, but completely unrelenting death metal album — and it shows. The mix is very rough around the edges by the standards of most Grossmann projects, and it shirks any sense of dynamics in service to the mission of just assaulting you with non-stop blitz’s of insanely layered, cathartic, and fast-as-fuck songwriting.
Black metal was pretty interesting for me this year as far as what I settled on. Every album here is a different persuasion and different era of black metal, but the one thing that connects all these records is that they are VERY expressively emotive. Black metal as a whole really shined in this department; the raw humanity present in a lot of the music this year really resonated with me.
Wormwitch essentially released an album that took the At The Gates sound and completely conformed it to black metal stylistic maneuvers, creating an album that was ferocious, passionate, and driven by immense conviction powered by snarling riffs and melancholic melody.
Meanwhile, Mayhem released their best record since Grand Declaration Of War, a twisted indecipherable anti-liturgy of distinctly blasphemous conviction. The riffs and atmosphere on this record both are so twisted, and the vocals are at peak black metal acidity. Daemon, out of my six picks here, I think really captures the black of black metal the absolute best. It’s feral, tribal, ritualistic, occult, and consuming.
Second To Sun comes next closest with the potent Legacy, an interesting experiment in mixing the progressive technical tendencies of bands such as Dark Fortress or Keep Of Kalessin with more modern rhythmic concepts (the album’s main single “Once Upon A Time In Mother Russia” has a definitively modern core groove that carries it, for example), which results in a captivating listening experience.
Asagraum released the best record of their career, an interesting throwback to just pure old school tremolo picking, d-beat punk-driven black metal that gets the blood boiling with its primitive sensibilities. Another band on my list here, Kludde, are a very under-appreciated commodity in the black metal world. They approach black metal with a Celtic Frost sense of simple ritualistic reverence that is disfigured and minimalist. This album really caught me by surprise.
Of course, there was Fleshmeadow with their EP Daymares. I can’t speak enough high praises for this band. Their combination of frantic energy, speed-driven songwriting with dynamics and dramatics, combined with a lyrical technical flair for riff-writing, have me backing this band for the long term.
MELODIC DEATH METAL
Melodic death metal as a landscape had a super-weak year in 2019 but the albums that stood out were fantastic. New blood, peak albums from long-running bands, and a lot of variety.
In Mourning and Nailed To Obscurity both delivered peak levels of brutal, brooding sonic melancholy, while In Mourning further evolved into something entirely different from where they started.
Lahmia was a big-time surprise. In the wake of Amon Amarth releasing a frankly weak album last year, Lahmia delivered an album in Resilience that captures Amon Amarth at their best mixed with Be’lakor and Omnium Gatherum progressivism, creating an album that really stood out for me and was a consistent listen all year. I’m REALLY excited for what these guys do next.
Allegaeon released with a top-three record in their career with Apoptosis, bringing a much more aggressive propulsive spin to their sound. It shows the band still ever-changing, never content and never getting stuck in a rut of simply perfecting an established sound. They’re always ready to do something new, and that ís really fucking cool. It makes following their growth a journey in itself.
Aeons Confer delivered with an unexpectedly different, but equally impressive and engaging sophomore album that could be looked at as a sort of cousin to the Endolith record with rearranged priorities. Carcariass, SUPER-underground legends who have always been unfairly neglected, also delivered the best album of their career in their comeback Planet Chaos. These guys are like the peak Annihilator of the melodic death metal world, displaying technical and deliberate mastery of guitar composition. Their record this year was really something.
METALCORE / DEATHCORE
Metalcore and deathcore, sub-genres of metal I typically find lacking nowadays, had a surprisingly killer year. Underground talent in Target and Obzerv released some stellar progressive material that realized the genre’s potential through pulverizing grooves and engrossing atmosphere, while Car Bomb, Humanity’s Last Breath, Infant Annihilator, and Fit For An Autopsy all were at the top of their respective games. I’m consistently bewildered that Infant Annihilator continue to go under people’s radar. Currently the best active deathcore band out there to me.
Humanity’s Last Breath feel like they are slowly leaving their deathcore and djent roots behind, more and more with every release. They’re definitely trying to become more of a death metal band, and Abyssal might be the last traces of deathcore we hear in their sound.
Finally, these are albums that either I couldn’t directly fit into a category or just barely missed making the cut on the other lists. Disillusion‘s The Liberation is the best “if only it had just a bit more in the harsh vocals department” progressive metal record I’ve heard in a long time. It deserves all its accolades, but it just didn’t QUITE deliver 100% for me due to songwriting choices on the vocal front.
Acheronian Scar are the symphonic death metal replacement I always wanted in the face of Fleshgod and Septicflesh both really starting to fall off the wagon. They understand what originally made this style of metal appealing, and I think their sophomore, if it improves on their debut properly, will prove a highlight of the year in which it arrives.
Belzebubs and Blood Red Throne both released albums that barely didn’t make it into their respective categories. Blood Red Throne‘s Fit To Kill is as good as anything they’ve produced, but it just didn’t quite win out for me over the weirder, more progressive and aggressive death metal that stuck with me. Belzebub’s debut is a fantastic record, but it drags in places.
Man Must Die‘s Gagging Order is fantastic It’s more Man Must Die, which is always welcome; I just wish we would’ve gotten more. Vielikan was just too weird to put in any category. It’s a record that verges on transcending genres, and it’s a fantastic work of avant-garde extreme metal that deserves infinite accolades.
So that’s it. Going to post Bandcamp or other links to the music below — and let’s get started with 2020.