Before August, 2019 seemed to be a fairly unremarkable year. Some great releases, not really anything that sounded like it would top my list, but pretty decent all around. But when it rains it pours, and it’s been a goddamn monsoon since the summer holidays. 2019 was absolutely a banner year for metal if you ask me, and I am totally certain I’ve missed a bunch of gems due to sheer time constraints. I can’t keep up with so many great releases, man! As a result, I could have made two respectable Top 10s this year, and if your favorite record isn’t on this one, it was probably on that other hypothetical one. That being said, I highly doubt I’d change my winner of this year, an iconic progressive masterpiece of an album the likes of which I have not heard in a very long time. And it may not be the one you think…
As for 2020, the future’s looking bright! Across my AMG tenure I have noticed that albums of which I expect a lot usually disappoint,1 so I’m going into the new decade expecting only to be surprised by amazing bands I have never heard of before. And even if there’s going to be tons of sub-2.5 albums, there’s a summer full of concerts and festivals awaiting, crowned by Angry Metal Days, for which you can expect the first major update in January! And on that note, dear readers, I want to thank you for being with us another year, and wish you a very happy 202nd decade. The planet may be burning, but we will always have metal to comfort us. So hug your loved ones, sit close to the fire2, and listen to albums about life, death, hell, abuse, eldritch aliens and crying dragons. Here’s my list of this year’s best ones.
#(ish). Devin Townsend // Empath – If you’d tell me Devin Townsend was gonna make one album that encapsulates everything the man has ever done, I’d say you were mad. I’d say Devin was mad. But of course, Devin is as mad as he’s always been, creating a crazy clusterfuck of an album that flies between so many moods and styles without blinking for 75 minutes, I can entirely understand anyone who hates Empath with a fiery passion. But it’s also the most Devin album Devin ever created, and there are endless great moments throughout this insanity-fueled smorgasbord. The whiplash-inducing “Genesis,” the manic Disney-opera of “Why?” and the Strapping Young Lad nostalgia of hypervortex “Hear Me,” Empath is a celebration of everything that makes Devin such an idiosyncratic musician.
#10. High Fighter // Champain – Sludge has had a pretty good year, I’d say, with good records from Hollow Leg, Cult of Luna, and Warcrab, to name a few. But surprisingly, female-fronted sludge has made a beeline for the front pages, with Burning Gloom and High Fighter releasing two stellar albums in a short span. Between the two, though, the latter is the clear victor. Champain is a searing record, not only full of solid hooks and grimy guitar tones, but with a gifted frontwoman in Mona Miluski. Her acerbic cleans and absolutely scorching black screeches set the tone of restless unease. The compositions that emphasize unstoppable momentum and desperate urgency do the rest. On the 2019 podium of sludge, Champain gets to uncork the champagne.3
#9. Xoth // Interdimensional Invocations – Who says fun and humor have no place in extreme metal? After the good reception of their debut Invasion of the Tentacube, expectations were high, but Xoth have delivered in spades. Tightening up their rambunctious melodic death/black, Invocations is chock full of crazy riffs that seem to throw themselves at their confines, bending and twisting in unexpected ways. The vocal approach has diversified, regularly going from screams to shouts to growls in the same sentence, and that glorious slap-style bass is an absolute joy to listen to. Xoth have created another total roller coaster that nails the balance between tight musicianship and loose songwriting to always make feel like the rails are about to come off.
#8. Birdeatsbaby // The World Conspires – I prize innovation in metal, and Birdeatsbaby brings that innovation in spades, mixing symphonic elements and prog metal with punk cabaret to produce a sound not quite like anything I’ve heard before. Traversing a huge array of moods under guidance of emphatic frontwoman Mishkin Fitzgerald, The World Conspires is a tour-de-force of emotionally engaging songwriting, treading the urban and the burlesque with affecting vocal hooks and eclectic instrumentation. Trading in wonder, cynicism, longing and grief, it’s an album that’s as grand and ambitious as it is personal, and though it overreaches on length, its songwriting is smart and varied enough to keep me engaged.
#7. Soen // Lotus – Occasionally you come across a band that for all intents and purposes you feel like you should love, but the love will simply not come. Aside from “The Words,” Soen was one of those bands for me during their first 3 albums. Yes, Joel is a peerless singer, and the arrangements are beautiful and intricate, and I certainly liked what I was hearing but I was missing an emotional hook to bring everything to a higher level. Well, Lotus has that hook in spades. It has an x-factor not present on their prior outings, with “Lascivious” and “Martyrs” two of the most heartrending tracks yet released by the Swedish supergroup, and the solo on the title track might be the year’s best. After several releases of almost-there-but-not-quite, Soen have finally arrived in my heart.
#6. Idle Hands // Mana – There’s plenty of reasons I could give for including Mana on this list, despite it being a pretty basic album from a songwriting perspective. I could mention the soulful goth vocals, even including the “Ugh!”s that should be bothersome but just add charm. I could talk about the great production, with the warm guitar tone and punchy bass. But there’s really just one good reason. Mana is catchier than a hall full of jugglers with Ebola. Track after track, the hooks just keep coming. Even when the lyrics get as silly as “Dragon, Why Do You Cry?” the sheer infectiousness of the melodies keep me coming back, and when the tracks are paired with genuine emotional engagement, such as in the case of Mana’s absolute peak “A Single Solemn Rose,” it’s absolute gold.
#5. King Apathy // Wounds – Sometimes I just feel far too much love for the world and its human population. One visit to Wounds swiftly removes all hope and good will towards humanity. With their scorching final album, King Apathy point an accusatory finger at the whole of mankind over the destruction of the planet we live on, with an impassioned rage and resentment on a level seldom heard. With gorgeous melodies imbued with melancholy and desperation, all hope for the future is burned on the pyre, where only the light remains of mother nature one day reclaiming the ruins we left behind. “Revelation Time” is particularly potent with its despondent reverberation and hard-hitting drums. It’s beautiful, it’s heartbreaking, and it bites like acid rain.
#4. Fvneral Fvkk // Carnal Confessions – There are so many ways this could have gone wrong it’s a miracle it has gone so right instead. Yet despite the ghastly band name, Fvneral Fukk turned out to be highly capable musicians with an enormous talent for minimalist epic doom that remains deadly serious in the face of a subject many wouldn’t dare to approach. The deliberate pace of the riffs and the evocative liturgical vocal style are enough to evoke the clerical subject, and the lyrics are devastating. “Alone With The Cross” is worth the ticket of admission on its own, but none of the tracks are anything to scoff at, tackling clerical abuse from different angles with unblinking sincerity and massive riffs that instantly nestle in the brain. Don’t judge a book by its cover, and don’t judge a band by its name, apparently.
#3. Slow // VI – Dantalion – Everyone in the Skull Pit kept yammering on about this one so much, I had to give it a go, despite my reservations about funeral doom (the closest I ever got to enjoying the niche genre was Warning). And wouldn’t you know it, they were yammering for a reason. VI is a massive, gorgeous piece of symphonic-infused doom that moves like a glacier and hits like an avalanche. Layer upon layer is stacked, slowly grinding guitars joined by strings and keys subtly building into an emotionally complex structure that weighs as much as a neutron star. If you ever wanted to know what it’s like to be ground up under a tectonic plate while several orchestras play appropriately dramatic music at you, here’s your chance.
#2. The Drowning // The Radiant Dark – Topping the year’s triumvirate of doom, The Radiant Dark takes the prize by being an absolute riff machine. Kicking off slow with an engaging bout of funeral doom, it’s the last two minutes of “Triumph of the Wolf in Death” that made me an instant convert with the Riff of the Year, and it doesn’t let up after that. Ten-ton hooks wallop you left and right, yet the band still manages a spectrum of different approaches, like the ominous grandeur of “Harrowed Path,” the sadboy whirlwind of “Blood Marks My Grave,” the cosmic enormity of “I Carve the Heart of the Universe” and the bludgeoning melancholy of “In Cold Earth.” The songs develop so naturally you barely notice their length and the sheer addictiveness of the titanic riffs keeps me coming back to this album, and it would have taken the crown with ease, if only it weren’t for…
#1. Disillusion // The Liberation – Holy mother of Jørn, what an album this is. The Liberation represents the very apex of progressive songwriting, with an impeccable flow that demands the entire album be spun in full every time you begin its winding journey. Disillusion construct expectations, subvert them, surprise us, let us linger in uncertainty and pick the perfect moment to return to the familiar. On the way through this flawlessly executed and incredibly addictive stream, the band manages wondrous warm vocal tones, sleek solos, and mountains of hooks that transition effortlessly. Each part not only adds to the whole, but their interplay elevates it, and it’s a futile task to pick apart the instrumentation and still bring across what makes their unity so powerful. It is difficult for me to even conceive how to write an album of such intricacy, because when everything interlocks, where do you begin? And yet, this complexity belies how deceptively easy a record it is to listen to. From extravagant opener “Wintertide” to the melancholy reflectivity of closer “The Mountain”, there is an ongoing motif of letting go, which strengthens the sense of flow and progression and adds to The Liberation’s unity. It also furthers its status as an album that transcends its building blocks to become something on a whole new level from anything else released this year. This is 2019’s best record, without a doubt, and to me personally, the first true 5.0 to be released since I began writing for Angry Metal Guy.
- The Offering // Home – Missing out on the top 10 by a hair, Home’s infectious eclecticism, indeterminable blend of styles and slew of irresistible hooks are a breath of fresh air.
- Teeth // The Curse of Entropy – When the furious wall of Frankensteinian riffs, unsettling metallic bass and neck-snapping whiplash drumming recedes, you wonder at what point the gaping hole in your sternum appeared.
- Wilderun // Veil of Imagination – Though I’d expected this much higher, it’s still an adventurous, intricate prog metal album with many an inventive flourish, and I applaud the evolution of their sound. It’s just no Sleep at the Edge of the Earth.
- Dawn of Disease // Procession of Ghosts – Putting the death back in melodic death, Dawn of Disease is an old-school treat: a raging firestorm of hefty riffs around a searing melodic core.
- Hollow Leg // Civilizations – HOLLOW LEG MAKE FEEL LIKE ANGRY CAVEMAN. ANGRY CAVEMAN FEEL GOOD!
- Hideous Divinity // Simulacrum – It’s quite a feat to combine brutality and technical intricacy without losing a sense of groove and flow, but Hideous Divinity juggle all three and destroy our necks in the process.
Disappointment o’ the Year
Wilderun // Veil of Imagination – Well, it’s been nice knowing you all. By the time you read this, I will likely be floating toward the ocean face down. But before the powers that be erase me from the planet, I’ll explain why I selected the only 5.0 this year as my Disappointment o’ the Year. You see, I loved Sleep at the Edge to death. Every track was amazing in its own right, and the record’s balance was simply sublime. When I heard “Far From Where Dreams Unfurl” from the new record, I was ecstatic. A new, more symphonic approach to Wilderun’s songwriting? Hell yes, my body is ready! Yet it’s that symphonic approach, or rather the overuse of it, that knocks the album out of balance in my opinion. Everything is so saturated with bombast, it leaves little room for the small, quieter, emotional moments that made Sleep at the Edge so gripping. As I mentioned above, Veil of Imagination is still a great, adventurous record every prog lover should hear. But after the amount of hype for it, I had still expected something more balanced and more memorable than what we got.
Song o’ the Year
Of course it makes sense for the best song of the year to be the best track of the best album. Though that’s not always the case (the overlord’s own pick for Soen’s “The Words” comes to mind) it has always spun out that way for me. But competition has been stiff this year, even for Disillusion. King Apathy’s “Revelation Time,” Fvneral Fvkk’s “Alone With The Cross” and even non-Top 10’ers The Neptune Power Federation’s “I’ll Make A Man Outta You” made serious attempts at the belt. But ultimately, all were eliminated by TKOs, courtesy of Disilliusion’s masterful “The Liberation,” which packs everything great about its namesake album into a constantly evolving package that flows beautifully, transitioning to and from a massive symphonic riff with unparalleled skill. So, I present to you, the Song of the Year 2019: “The Lib-”
But wait, what’s this? What’s this? LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, I DON’T BELIEVE IT! MADDER MORTEM HAS JUST ENTERED THE RING WITH A FOLDING CHAIR!
Despite not releasing a new album, Madder Mortem celebrated their 25th anniversary with a remastered re-release of their debut album Mercury, including 3 re-recordings and 2 new tracks, both based on riffs written during the Mercury era. One of those tracks is the absolutely gorgeous “Vigil,” which takes everything great about one of my favorite bands, pours it in a post-metal mold, and sculpts it around a framework of gradually increasing intensity. It’s a fantastic track, and an equal to Disillusion’s best. So management be damned, this time I’m having two Songs o’ the Year!
Disillusion‘s “The Liberation”
Madder Mortem‘s “Vigil”
With the odd exception, I felt a real distance from metal for the first half of 2019. Considering my preferences, it may have something to do with this year’s defining litany of black metal releases. Or maybe it’s because, like entropy itself, my professional life has expanded to swallow absolutely fucking everything. I am inconceivably bored of complaining about work but, the fact is, metal had to take something of a back seat this year. I pondered long and hard whether I should (temporarily, at least) close the door on my time at Angry Metal Guy. But, despite my abject lack of availability, I never felt a disconnect from the community we have painstakingly built here. And that’s down to all of you insufferable bastards. 2019 was, in fact, a pretty decent year and ye angry metal faithful never let me forget it. From dissonant blackness to the funereal end, this last twelve months seemed intent on providing a musical challenge, While I limped along at the start, I did my very best to catch up. Thus, this list is more a microcosm of what I listened to and less a quantified assembly of the year. It also confirms that my taste is still better than yours.
As ever, I greatly appreciate Sentynel and all the managerial and editing staff who tirelessly labor behind the scenes. The greatest of respect goes to contributors and commentariat alike who have clashed with personal struggles and found a way to persist this year. Onward and upwards, my friends. Finally, I would like to offer particular thanks to AMG, Steel, and Madam X for putting up with my awful excuses to flout all and any deadlines. Even this list was late as proverbial fuck. Next year will probably be the same or maybe worse. But on the bright side, here’s a glimpse into the office Christmas:
‘Twas the night before Christmas when all through The Hall,
Something wicked was stirring, The One Above All.
N00b bodies swung low from rope knotted with care,
By one so inclined to pain each man his share.
A grin never flinching rested upon teeth,
Of this figure adorned with atmo-black wreath.
It lingered by the skull pit fueled with fresh bone,
A Diabolical flame to warm rose hearts to stone.
When from the chimney came a most welcome guest,
Elitist and cruel and of bloodied red breast.
Both fellows laid plans for a Yuletide most violent,
A putrid old Tale of a world sleeping silent.
The visitor and host made up for the roof,
Where upon lay a sleigh drawn fast by no hoof.
Instead, a dark carriage pulled only by souls,
Of the wicked whose end came Christ-posed on poles.
And so with a voice that could bid the moon wane,
He proceeded, each one, to call out their name.
“Come ye Swordborn and Noctus,
And myriad fake Doctors,
Happy Metal Iscariot,
Now make haste my dread chariot!”
By his word a Grymm un-light filled their blind Eyes,
And at once were both beings borne into night skies.
Above snow below the dark comet flew,
A grave silhouette at odds with the view.
Within every home stood a tree fresh from glade,
These vandals of sanctity did so invade.
Whether naughty or nice, to each one a gift,
Death metal and Doom to drive neighbor adrift.
With sorrow well sown and bloodshed complete,
Old Master and pupil made to retreat.
The Angry Metal Guy and student named Steel,
Original sinners who blaspheme with Zeal.
From atop the cold world as dark turns to light,
A last Word is heard: “until next Christmas night…”
Addendum: Somewhere along the line, I convinced myself that The Approaching Roar by Altarage was released at the very end of 2018. It does, in fact, belong to 2019 and almost certainly deserves a spot on this list.
#(ish). Unfathomable Ruination // Enraged and Unbound – Unfathomable Ruination currently reside at the very top of the death metal skull pile. Their previous album Finitude was a marvel of memorability and technical bluster. Enraged and Unbound maintains the band’s enviable musicianship but doesn’t quite match its predecessor’s writing standards. However, this doesn’t remotely suggest that their current offering isn’t worthy of accolade. Their increasingly impressive dedication to immersive brutality is well and truly on display with spiraling solos and honed that fill every available aural inch. It speaks volumes that a slightly lesser follow-up to a great album is still this good.
#10. Hideous Divinity // Simulacrum – There’s nothing I love more than a band that constantly strives to improve and Hideous Divinity have done so hand over fist. Simulacrum exceeds 2017’s Adveniens in almost every way. The record is buoyed by pummeling riffs yet appears surprisingly capable in its cathartic potential. The razor sharp instrumentation permits Hideous Divinity‘s increasing experimentation to cut deeper than ever, while the band’s roots remains steadfast in their dedication to violence. Death metal offered brutality and proficiency in equal measure this year, but few albums progressed a discography with the same cogency as Simulacrum.
#9. Esoteric // A Pyrrhic Existence – Doom metal enjoyed a fine funeral in 2019 and British legends Esoteric were at the forefront. Any long-form doom is made even more painstaking by its adherence to singular tempos. Esoteric somehow manage to tow the line and buck the trend all in one fell swoop. A Pyrrhic Existence employs crawling rhythms but never shy from accommodating the band’s progressive tendencies, which are in turn given structure by the album’s sense of narrative. Admittedly, the record’s capricious character and huge length provides a certain challenge. But those with the nerve were rewarded by a sublimely schizophrenic sojourn into one of the very best doom releases of the year.
#8. White Ward // Love Exchange Failure – There’s just something about the sax that continues to divide. I’m a fan, but especially when its utilized to such seductive effect. Love Exchange Failure combines hook-ridden melodic/post black metal with sumptuous saxophone for an urbane window into urban decay. The songs’ capacity to allow the unique instrumentation to take such an introspective stance compliments the tight riffing and clear choruses. Black metal maintains a unique capacity to convey emotion and White Ward smartly veer away from the genre’s more theatrical motifs to deliver a standard-bearing album. Those who attempt a similar desolation will have a hard time matching such stunning work.
#7. Venom Prison // Samsara – Grinding death metal wielding slams, technicality and enough social outrage to truly blow the heads off the cattle. How on earth could you deny such a furnace of extremity? With the help of Larissa Stupar’s savage histrionics and a battery of frantic soloing to herd the rhythmic kinetics, Venom Prison stomped an indelible boot-print on death metal in 2019. Samsara is chaotic yet, somehow, distinct. Whether its the blinding piss and vinegar or the unbridled riffing, the album offers a beating I just can’t refuse. Intelligent, aware and fucking furious, Samsara reminds us that the cerebral approach to extreme metal doesn’t stop at cracking skulls. However, protective head gear is highly recommended.
#6. Slow // VI – Dantalion – Of the three most prominent funeral doom releases this year, Slow was responsible for the most traditional and almost the best. The genre’s archetypal depth defines the record, while lilting gothic textures ensure an emotional response. Déhà’s signature crawls all over each thunderous psalm with delightful misery. The very crux of funeral doom rests on the concept of a crescendo, and Dantalion never fails to build to a distraught peak. If oceanic riffs that pound the perdition into your very soul sound like a good time, then Slow is a necessary inclusion. Had I been able to commit more time to the album, there is every chance VI-Dantalion would be higher up this list.
#5. Ars Magna Umbrae // Lunar Ascension – For all my black metal bitching, one of the albums that captured my attention most this year was Ars Magna Umbrae‘s exceptional take on dissonance. Lunar Ascension is daunting in its obtuse angularity, but somehow incredibly listenable. The material’s magnetic ability to simultaneously attract and repel provides an endless stream of novelty to muse over. Dissonance in black metal is hardly innovative, but no other album was as convincing in its execution as Lunar Ascension. If you adored 2019’s flood of hoods and woods but somehow missed Ars Magna Umbrae, then I insist you remedy that immediately.
#4. Weeping Sores // False Confession – Doug Moore’s Pyrrhon have always been divisive in their impenetrability, but death-doom project Weeping Sores is a much more traditionally structured band, and certainly no less extraordinary. Moore’s irregular approach to rhythm persists but is now focused through a doom metal prism, while the stunning inclusion of violin elevates the album to new heights. The record maintains a wave of nuance but is consistently driven by an undercurrent of raw intent. I have scrutinized and unpacked False Confession at length since its release and still find new elements to dwell on. In a year so virulent with great doom releases, the genre rarely did better than Weeping Sores.
#3. Tomb Mold // Planetary Clairvoyance – It’s should be of absolutely no surprise to any of our patrons that I love death metal, and the old school will always be king. Tomb Mold have consistently improved their formula, but third album Planetary Clairvoyance makes a cosmic leap. The tracks feature a much more streamlined approach, but the result finally legitimizes Tomb Mold‘s much discussed rise to the top. Such salient writing begets huge riffing, killer leads and a memorable quality that threatens to invade on a genetic level. Regardless of your seating aboard the almighty hype train, Planetary Clairvoyance took the crown for classic death metal in 2019.
#2. Devourment // Obscene Majesty – It’s rare that the combination of band name and album title so converge to deliver as promised. Devourment have been at the forefront of niche brutality for some time, but the return of Ruben Rosas behind the mic seemingly energized the band to create something special. The vocals are tectonic and the production is purposefully inhospitable, but the riffs… the fucking riffs. Rarely have my body, mind and soul been so comprehensively obliterated. Obscene Majesty is more then mere slam. The genre’s staple riffs collide with intelligent and belligerent death metal tropes for an explosion of extremity that actively feeds on life. If you missed this record, then you missed death metal in 2019.
#1. Ataraxie // Résignés – My number one pick of the year is not an album that lends itself to constant replay. Ironically, Résignés is so severe in its efficacy that it actively discourages it. Ataraxie excel at the funeral doom manifesto but instead of conjuring loss and longing like so many others, Résignés deals only in finality. The huge tempos combine with a death metal sensibility that actually informs the writing instead of simply just the vocals. But as conceptually and musically complete as the album is, it’s the inexorable advance of the narrative that informs the album’s impact. No mourning takes place here. This isn’t forlorn or melancholic. Not a moment of Résignés dwells on what was or what might have been. Instead, it looks unflinchingly forward to the end. When the last seconds of “Les Affres du Trépas” abruptly cut out, it stuns me every time. And that’s because Ataraxie have written an album that truly sounds like the end of a life. Without glorification or embellishment, it represents a very real conclusion. Résignés sits heavy on the chest, just as it presides atop 2019.
- Bæst // Venenum – A delight of Danish death.
- Black Sites // Exile – Dr. Fisting and I are good friends, but he knows me well enough to understand I wouldn’t include an album here for the sake of angry metal nepotism. So believe me when I tell you Exile is necessary listening. To be frank, the record is a veritable castle of punishing trad riffs and progressive nuances that fit together with jigsaw precision. Not to be missed.
- Ceremony of Silence // Oútis – Dissonant death metal that SO nearly made the cut.
- Chelsea Wolfe // Birth of Violence – Ever bleak, ever beautiful.
- Fit for an Autopsy // The Sea of Tragic Beasts – A killer band secure in their identity.
- Fvneral Fvkk // Carnal Confessions – A stunning exemplar of both doom and awful branding.
- Gomorrah // Gomorrah – Churning and dangerously precise brutality.
- Pristine // Road Back to Ruin – Great writing, great vocals, great album.
- Vanum // Ageless Fire – Elemental and excellent black metal.
Disappointments of the Year
- Crypt Sermon, Gygax and Cattle Decapitation for being great bands yet releasing average albums.
- The Drowning‘s drum tone, which I suspect robbed me of one of 2019’s standout records.
- Ken for remaining irrepressibly pleasant.
- Me, for failing to dedicate enough time to far too many deserving bands. To name but a few: Hope Drone, Mizmor, Xoth, Teeth, Blood Incantation and Vous Autres all suffered at the hands of my work schedule. At least I’ll have something to do in January when you’re all dying of boredom.
Song o’ the Year
Pristine‘s “Cause and Effect”