As is the case with genre/horror films in 2019, the final year of the 2010's also delivered defining albums across all of metal's many subgenres. So many, in fact, it was utterly impossible for me to check them all out amongst watching tons of horror movies, writing news articles, and catering to everyday adult life bullshit.
I did, however, listen to a ton of phenomenal metal offerings, and even though I could make a "top 25" list, or even a "top 50" at that, I'm going to attempt to condense my favorites into a "top 10" of sorts, because I'm obviously a glutton for punishment... Just know, these are in no particular order, they're simply the top albums that stuck with me the most throughout the year.
I'll kick things off with some honorable mentions.
2019 saw the return of a few premiere artists, with Tool and Rammstein both releasing long-promised studio albums, ending decade-plus droughts. Tool delivered Fear Inoculum after a 13 year wait, an album that's, quite possibly, the most complex of their career. It's a very patient album that demands multiple listens in order to uncover its many rewarding elements. While taking a decade-long hiatus would most likely spell certain death for most metal acts, the almighty Rammstein returned with their most diverse offering of Neue Deutsche Härte, a self titled release that takes risks while simultaneously staying true to the band's classic formula. From the epic "Deutschland" to the insanely catchy "Radio," Rammstein's seventh studio album is both a perfect entry point for new fans and a satisfying experience for those who've waited 10 years for its release. Also on the industrial side of the metal spectrum, 3Teeth returned with their latest opus and third album overall, Metawar. The album is a bleak, angry one, a stark comment on the current state of the union delivered through detuned guitars, stompy beats, and aggressive vocal work from singer/songwriter Alexis Mincolla. Metawar is, without a doubt, a product of its time, but its lasting appeal within the industrial metal genre is undeniable.
A handful of mainstays from my middle/high school years also returned with some standout efforts in 2019, starting with Children of Bodom, who unleashed Hexed, their tenth studio album and one that holds true to that iconic "Hate Crew" sound. Unfortunately, back in November the Finnish metallers announced the departure of drummer Jaska Raatikainen, bassist Henri "Henkka T. Blacksmith" Seppälä and keyboardist Janne Wirman after almost 25 years with the band, a massive blow to fans. Helsinki's vampires The 69 Eyes returned with their twelfth studio album, West End, a very solid celebration of the band's 30th anniversary. Much like Children of Bodom's Hexed, West End features The 69 Eyes dishing out their trademark goth 'n' roll sound that us fans all know and love. The album also mixed things up with the welcome inclusion of several great guest vocalists such as Dani Filth, Wednesday 13 and Beastö Blancö's Calico Cooper.
Rounding out the honorable mentions, surprisingly enough, are the masked nu metallers from Iowa, Slipknot with their sixth studio album We Are Not Your Kind. Admittedly, Slipknot has fallen to wayside for me over the last decade, but We Are Not Your Kind drew me back into the maggot army with its strong sense of identity and experimentation. The album features enough to please the diehard fans, while mixing things up with plenty of new sounds. There's a reason Slipknot remains one of metal's biggest acts as they prepare to enter the third decade of their career.
Toxic Holocaust - Primal Future: 2019 (eOne)
Celebrating their 20th anniversary, Portland punk-thrash crossover band Toxic Holocaust, led by frontman Joel Grind, ended a six year absence with Primal Future: 2019. Once again, Grind dishes out track after track of toxic fucking thrash metal, which is just what I've come to expect from the master of the new wave of thrash!
Every single track will have you wanting to headbang, and while some may view the album's lack of variety as a weakness, I view it as a metal palette cleanser of sorts. There's nothing to dislike about the album. It's an enjoyable thrash metal album through and through, and while it may not be on the same level as An Overdose Of Death or Evil Never Dies, it's certain to satisfy any sort of thrash metal cravings you may have.
Also, the neon-tinged, dystopian future cover artwork gains the album a few extra points in my book!
Wednesday 13 - Necrophaze (Nuclear Blast)
The Duke of Spook and his merry band of misfits returned in ghoulish fashion in 2019 with their eighth album, entitled Necrophaze. A must-own record for horror fans and a testament to the lasting power of the legendary Wednesday 13, Necrophaze once again sees the band going through somewhat of a change sonically, but not so much as to put off long time fans.
The album balances both content and composition across a diverse range of styles, from the catchier party anthem of sorts, "Bring Your Own Blood," to "Decompose," which carries that quintessential Wednesday sound, Necrophaze is an absolutely joy to experience. Roy Mayorga of Stone Sour provides an eerie, authentic, '80s inspired synth soundtrack-score to the equation with Alice Cooper, Christina Scabbia of Lacuna Coil, Jeff Clayton of Antiseen and GG Allin’s Murder Junkies, and Alexi Laiho of Children of Bodom also making guest appearances. The latter of the bunch lends his vocal skills to a stellar cover of WASP’s vulgar hit "Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)."
Sonically and thematically speaking, Necrophaze features some of the best music that Wednesday and Co. have ever produced.
Swallow the Sun - When a Shadow Is Forced into the Light (Century Media)
Finnish extreme metallers Swallow the Sun followed up the release of their magnum opus, 2015's Songs of the North, Vols I, II and III with When a Shadow Is Forced into the Light, which saw lead writer/guitarist Juha Raivio returning to the band for the first time since the passing of his partner Aleah Stanbridge (Trees of Eternity). The band's seventh studio album served as somewhat of a vehicle for Raivio to express his pain and loss, while also paying tribute to his lost love.
Mixing doom death with '80s goth and a bit of black metal, When a Shadow Is Forced into the Light is a surprisingly soft, mellow album sound-wise, but it's one that demands multiple spins to fully appreciate. It's a very sorrowful and touching effort, and even though its restrained, at times minimalist, sound palate my turn off longtime fans, I kept the album in my regular listening rotation for many months after its release.
I also wholeheartedly hope that the creation process helped Raivio find some of the inner peace he’s seeking.
Coffins - Beyond The Circular Demise (Relapse Records)
Japanese death metal legends Coffins released their fifth full-length effort back in September. Beyond the Circular Demise continued the band's no frills, no trends, no fashion style, delivering sludge-infiltrated, plodding death metal at its finest.
Bone crushing riffs are set against pounding war drums, while hallowed screams preach fire and brimstone. The album encompasses all of the death and doom that has defined Coffins and their career as the underground’s torchbearers for over 20 years.
This is Coffins at their most unforgiving and uncompromising.
Rotting Christ - The Heretics (Season of Mist)
Greek metal trailblazers Rotting Christ have been at the forefront of the black metal scene since the release of their highly influential Thy Mighty Contract in 1993, and their thirteenth full-length release, The Heretics, sees the band showcasing a signature style honed by nearly 30 years of toil and triumph.
The album focuses on heretical figures across history, and achieves a sinister and ominous atmosphere through booming choirs, narration and swaths of percussion. Anthemic tracks such as "Heaven and Hell and Fire", "The Raven" and "Fire God and Fear" are staggering in their size and breadth.
The power and majesty of The Heretics can only be achieved by a band with a lifetime's devotion to heavy metal, and proves these pioneers to be among the genre's all-time elite.
Exhumed - Horror (Relapse Records)
How could I not include an album with the title "Horror" in my favorites list? It also just so happens that the ninth studio album from Exhumed is yet another fine offering of gore-obsessed death metal from the San Jose, California based deathgrind maniacs.
Continuing their passion for all things gruesome with horror-inspired lyricism, the undisputed pioneers of neck-breaking riffs returned with 15 of their most intense tracks to date.
Nightmares meet shred, as the speed-inducing track "Ravenous Cadavers" highlight Exhumed’s penchant for blazing, face melting guitar work, while "Naked, Screaming and Covered in Blood" and "Playing with Fear" elevate the band to levels of grind unheard of since their debut album, Gore Metal.
Whether you're a longtime fan of Exhumed or just looking for some blistering deathgrind to satisfy your craving for all things putrid and vile, Horror has you covered! It also features the best damn retro-inspired cover artwork of the year!
NONE (British Columbia) - Damp Chill Of Life (Hypnotic Dirge Records)
Following 2018’s epic Life Has Gone On Long Enough, depressive black metal masters NONE returned to destroy my every shred of optimism with the oppressively bleak atmospheres of Damp Chill Of Life, the band's third studio effort.
Weaving visionary soundscapes with depressive black metal, Damp Chill Of Life will gnaw at your bones like dying alone in an ice-bound wilderness. Haunting piano keys and retching voices flicker through harsh walls of instruments, ebbing and flowing through the lengthy tracks as NONE take their time to pick apart your psyche.
If I had to pick a single favorite album of the year, this one would certainly be a top contender. Damp Chill Of Life is one of those albums that crawled under my skin and left me wanting more. It also made me want to drive my car into a frozen lake and end my meaningless life... (I'm only joking, of course!)
Devil Master – Satan Spits on Children of Light (Relapse Records)
The album title of Satan Spits on Children of Light alone landed Philadelphia's Devil Master a spot on this list. Not really, but it's a real doozy, that's for sure! The album itself is one hell of a venomous and twisted debut, offering up a dose of black metal-infused punk mayhem.
Much like the albums of Cleveland's Midnight, Satan Spits on Children of Light is an album for wild, debaucherous nights of partying and occult activities. But where Midnight mashes up characteristics of Venom and Motörhead, Devil Master unleashes the fury of Bathory's earliest years mixed with the campy deathrock darkness of Christian Death.
If blackened goth-rock ends up taking off, it's safe to say that Devil Master will be at the forefront of the movement.
Blood Incantation - Hidden History of the Human Race (Dark Descent Records)
Following their highly acclaimed 2016 debut, Starspawn, Colorado’s death metal quartet Blood Incantation returned with Hidden History of the Human Race, a 36-minute, four-track sci-fi opus that takes influence from legendary bands like Death and Morbid Angel.
From the full blown chaos of "The Giza Power Plant" to the epic journey that is "Awakening From The Dream Of Existence To The Multidimensional Nature Of Our Reality (Mirror Of The Soul)," a track that occupies nearly half of the album's entire runtime, Blood Incantation have expanded the sonic cosmos explored on Starspawn in the best of ways.
Hidden History of the Human Race does more within its four tracks than most albums do with more than twice that amount. This is forward-thinking death metal at its finest.
Bloody Hammers - The Summoning (Napalm Records)
The doomy North Carolina-based Bloody Hammers, consisting of Anders Manga on vocals and most other instrument alongside Devallia on keyboards, were a new discovery for me in 2019 and quickly became one of my most listened to bands of the year.
With The Summoning, the duo perfected the marriage of lumbering, buzzing guitar riffs with ethereal gothic tropes, and created a brilliant musical experience that pays homage to classic horror cinema and the macabre. "Let Sleeping Corpses Lie", "Now The Screaming Starts", "From Beyond The Grave", and "The Beast is Coming Out" are a few shining examples of memorable songcraft and the dark and gloomy atmospheric nature of the album.
The Summoning is a well-balanced, highly addictive affair. It's dark in subject matter, but in a comforting sort of way, much like the music of the immortal Type O Negative. And speaking of Type O, I haven't had an album stick with me like The Summoning has since October Rust, which is possibly the highest praise I can bestow on an album. Ten tracks of chilling, toe-tapping terror, and each one is an absolute gem.
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