What a year. 2019 saw the Holdeneye family sell their house, move into a rental, buy a new house, remodel the new house, and move into the new house. There was a point in time where I wasn’t sure if I had what it would take to see the plan through, but all the stress paid off. I’m currently sitting in my pretentious home office at a ridiculous desk surrounded by books and weird figurines, and I couldn’t be happier. I’d like to thank Mrs. Holdeneye for her strength during the process because this year tested our marriage more than any of our other baker’s dozen. Thanks to my daughter Ellzebub for contributing to my reviews, and to my son Ezkaton for almost always requesting metal in the car.
This year also saw Angry Metal Guy become an even more important part of my life. There were weeks where the ritual of listening to and writing about music was almost Zen-like in the way it helped me handle the stress of the busiest year of my life. I applied to write here on a whim, and I can’t believe how it all turned out. I’m grateful to Steel Druhm for mentoring me through the probation process. He spent hours with me in the Skull Pit, nurturing me with one hand and holding a pillow ready in the other should smothering become necessary. Thanks again to Steel and to Drs. Grier and Wvrm for their hours of editing my never-ending mistakes, and thanks to Madam X for expertly dealing out promos. Sentynel saved my ass more than once this year, and I’m extremely grateful that I’ve gotten to know him and all the rest of the AMG staff. I’d thank Angry Metal Guy for not destroying me, but he hasn’t read this list yet and my demise is still a
certainty possibility. Finally, thanks to everyone who’s taken the time to read one or more of my reviews. I know it’s not easy, and I appreciate your effort.
Now, without further ado, steel yourself and gaze upon the eclectic disaster that is Holdeneye‘s Top 10(ish) of 2019—if you dare!
(ish). High Command // Beyond the Wall of Desolation – After surviving The Great Thrash Drought of 2018, we saw a slew of solid releases from established names and fresh meat alike this year, but by combining a catchy crossover swagger with swords and sorcery themes, High Command blunt force trauma-ed their way to the top of the thrash heap in 2019. Beyond the Wall of Desolation sees the band defying the laws of nature as they’ve smashed more riffs into its runtime than is actually possible. Narrowly beating out the latest from Inculter for my thrash crown, it was the way High Command incorporates classic heavy metal elements into their attack that ultimately won me over. I would have missed this one if it wasn’t for TheKenWord and some of our faithful commenters. Entertaining from front to back, you must venture Beyond the Wall of Desolation. That’s an order!
#10. Capilla Ardiente // The Siege – The Siege is all ’bout that bass, ’bout that bass, but there’s also treble. Specializing in Candlemassive1 epic doom, Capilla Ardiente have delivered 2019’s truest expression of doom in a crowded field of huge releases. The bass presence is simply immense. Just listen to the opening minutes of “The Crimson Fortress”—I am right now and items are literally moving across my desk on account of the rumble. I like my doom straight outta the 80’s, and Capilla Ardiente delivers in spades. Filled with hugely emotive but powerful vocals, gigantic riffs, driving drums, and that bass, The Siege deserves to be playing on this year’s varsity doom team. This probably would have ended up a lot higher on this list if I’d found it earlier.
#9. Warcrab // Damned in Endless Night – If you’d told me in January that I’d get sludge on my year-end list, I would have gently disagreed (or more likely, I’d have smiled and said nothing because I’m polite like that). On the other hand, if you’d told me then that Cherd of Doom and I would share a year-end list item, I’d have laughed obnoxiously and probably punched you in the face. But how was I to know that Warcrab would come walking sideways down the beach sporting the finest logo in the metalverse and peddling some seriously groovy deathened sludge/doom? Damned in Endless Night had just the right ratio of each of its stylistic ingredients, and like the music contained within, it slowly and methodically pummeled me into submission.
#8. Ashen Horde // Fallen Cathedrals – I gambled when I picked this one for review as it was well outside my usual wheelhouse, but boy, did it pay off. Fallen Cathedrals is a continuation down the progged-out extreme metal pathway that founder Trevor Portz has been traveling since Ashen Horde began as a one-man project, but the biggest change was the addition of tech-death mega-vocalist Stevie Boiser (Inferi, Tethys, Equipoise). Boiser gives an absolutely demented performance and it matches Portz’s musical insanity perfectly. Because of this review, I was lucky enough to interview both Horde members, and I can confirm that they’re two of the coolest metal musicians in the business.
#7. Graveyard // Hold Back the Dawn – I reviewed a lot of old school death metal this year, and while almost all of it was good, Graveyard was the best of the lot. Hold Back the Dawn is a beautifully produced expression of the genre, but it’s the addition of elements of black, thrash, and heavy metals that gives this Lovecraftian monster enough buoyancy to rise from the depths and preside over the sea of quality 2019 OSDM releases. Riffs and leads twist and turn relentlessly, and each of the carefully crafted tracks has its own character, a quality not always found in a genre in which one song can easily blend into the next. Check out “Hurled Unto Damnation,” a track that sounds like it could be a death metal cover of an epic Iron Maiden song and one of my favorite tracks of the year.
#6. Bewitcher // Under the Witching Cross – There was an unbelievable amount of quality metal oozing from Portland, Oregon this year, but I’d like to ask Bewitcher to accept the final (Mount) Bachelor rose. They conquered my heart on our one-on-one review date with their perfectly paced collection of Satanic speed metal anthems Under the Witching Cross. I spent a lot of time this summer blasting this record in my car with the windows down so I could unequivocally prove to everyone around me just how tough I am. I played “In the Sign of the Goat” an unhealthy amount of times this year, and it may just be the most classically metal song I heard in 2019 regardless of genre. The fact that I could say the same about at least two of the other tracks on here should prove just how strong this record really is.
#5. Skelator // Cyber Metal – Ah, Skelator. Damn, I love these guys. Singer Jason Conde-Houston’s voice is truly the hammer that breaks the glass and strengthens the steel—the weak cannot handle it and shatter under its might, while the trve are emboldened and empowered by its strong magics! If you can listen to the four track run of “Cast Iron,” song of the year contender “The Hammer,” “Highlander,” and “Akira” without smiling and banging your head, then you’re not into metal and you are not my friend. All hail Skelator, and may all of their enemies die by cyber samurai blade! With neither remorse nor shame, I stand before you today to proclaim that Cyber Metal is the truest metal album of 2019.2
#4. The Offering // Home – Now for the least true album on this list. Most self-respecting metalheads would dismiss The Offering‘s mish-mash of styles as nonsensical genre bastardization, but most self-respecting metalheads would be silly poop faces. A last minute addition to my review schedule, I was immediately hooked by the band’s mind-blowing progressive blackened nüpowerslamharddeathrockdjentcore. I expected my initial infatuation to wear off quickly, but I’ve returned to Home again and again since its release in August. Vocalist Alex Richichi has the Leatherman Wave of voices, and it’s his performance that elevates this record from mere experimentation to true innovation. If there’s any justice to be found in the universe, The Offering will be the next face of mainstream metal.
#3. Krater // Venenare – Krater out Mgla-ed Mgla this year. Venenare‘s amazingly produced blend of melodic and riff-centric black metal had me raising a goblet of poisoned Kool-aid in a toast to annihilation, just like the figures depicted on the album’s hauntingly beautiful artwork. Krater‘s willingness to play with the standard black metal rhythms and tropes and to incorporate elements of other genres resulted in Venenare being a captivating and diverse listening experience from start to finish. The mastery of each musician shines throughout, and Abortio’s venomous vocals land with the impact of a nihilistic sledgehammer. No finer black metal touched my ears in 2019.
#2. Turilli/Leone Rhapsody // Zero Gravity: Rebirth and Evolution – What can I say, I’m a total sucker for big, beefy progressive power metal. My top two favorite bands of all time are Symphony X and Nevermore, so it should be no surprise that I passionately ate up what Fabio Leone and Luca Turilli threw down this year. Huge bombastic choruses, crunchy riffs, over-indulgent operatic elements, and a few Queen moments had me raising invisible champagne flutes to the sky on a regular basis during the second half of 2019. Not even the inclusion of a saxophone on a track could ruin the fun I had with Zero Gravity. This is the first form of Rhapsody that I’ve ever loved, and I found its cheese to be filling and life-giving.
#1. Wachenfeldt // The Interpreter – An oldie, but a goodie, The Interpreter was released way back in February, and it stayed with me all year long. There were times where I thought to myself, “Self, did you exaggerate how great that Wachenfeldt album was?” Then I’d listen to it and think to myself, “Nope. Self, you’re the smartest person alive.” Thomas von Wachenfeldt not only possesses the most metal name ever, he also possesses almost unfathomable musical talent. The Swedish music professor is vocalist, bassist, keyboardist, violinist, and one of the guitarists on this diverse collection of dark hymns of astoundingly uniform quality, and he nails all of it. Brutally heavy but melodic death metal seasoned with black metal, thrash, and a dash of symphonic majesty, The Interpreter is nearly perfect and it was my go-to record of 2019.
- Inculter // Fatal Visions – World-class thrash with world-class production.
- Eternity’s End // Unyielding – Tech-death giants do epic power/speed metal.
- Nightfell // A Sanity Deranged – Riff-tastic blackened death/doom.
- Drottnar // Monolith – Technical black ‘n roll from Norway.
- Tanagra // Meridiem – Too-long power metal that has two songs of the year.
- Stormwarrior // Norsemen – Irresistible Euro-speed metal. Vikings!
- Witch Vomit // Buried Deep in a Bottomless Grave – Toilet bowl death metal. Ew!
- Gloryhammer // Legends from Beyond the Galactic Terrorvortex – Mmm, cheese.
- Mortiferum // Disgorged from Psychotic Depths – Death/doom fueled by Oly.
Disappointment of the Year
It’s hard for me to be disappointed about anything in the world of music this year as I’m tickled pink to simply be here, and I heard a lot of great stuff! If I had to choose something, though, I’d have to say that the 2019 output of Amon Amarth and Sabaton left me a little underwhelmed. I don’t think that either band is capable of making a bad record, but these were the first albums by either set of Swedish pagans that didn’t draw me back throughout the year. These were highly anticipated, but the rest of the year’s metal haul more than made up for any potential disappointment.
Songs o’ the Year
- Tanagra – “Witness”
- Wachenfeldt – “The Interpreter”
- Bewitcher – “In the Sign of the Goat”
- Skeletor – “The Hammer”
- The Offering – “Lovesick”
- Ashen Horde – “Face of the Enmity”
- Graveyard – “Hurled Unto Damnation”
- Krater – “Prayer for Demise”
- Nightfell – “The Swallowing of Flies”
- Turilli/Leone Rhapsody – “Decoding the Multiverse”
Cherd of Doom
I’ve been an official writer here in the AMG offices for exactly one year now, and in that time I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion An office skull pit where members of my probationary cohort decompose 30 feet from my desk. Metalcore bands who don’t know what the term “Avant Garde” means. An omnipresent cowboy who appears at random and stares unnervingly over your shoulder. I’ve seen what the bottom half of a sentient Muppet looks like, and I don’t care to talk about it. I’ve had the Spirit of Christmas Weenie Metal try to posses me not once, but twice, and I’ve attended hobo wine fueled office parties so debauched that the thrash band next door routinely calls the cops to complain about noise. After all the things I’ve seen, I’ve come to two conclusions. First, my fellow writers are top notch folks who have middling taste in metal. Second, Holdeneye‘s dad jokes should be banned under the Geneva Conventions.
As for metal itself, 2019 was a stellar year overall, and especially strong for black metal (throughout) and doom (back half of the year). I didn’t get to several albums that I have no doubt would be contenders for this list had I just given them the time, but then I’ve also got a toddler, who demands my constant attention because humans are the only mammal that doesn’t have ANY survival instincts before the age of four. So, if you read my list, or indeed any of the others, and wonder why you don’t see your favorite underground jewel, it’s more likely we didn’t get to it than we thought it was unworthy. I’d like to thank Steel Druhm and Madam X for steering this ship of fools, AMG for the site and that time he told me he secretly loves sludge, our editors Dr. Wvrm and Dr. A. N. Grier, Huck N’ Roll for allowing himself to be photographed in a cowboy hat, and of course, you for reading. With that, here’s my objectively correct list.
(ish). Idle Hands // Mana – Throwback goth rock/metal wasn’t something I imagined glomming onto in 2019, but when my fellow writers wouldn’t shut their yaps about Idle Hands, I hit play on “Give Me to the Night” and was instantly hooked. I listen to a lot of stuff with weird and winding song structures, so a little verse/chorus/bridge action, especially when it’s as catchy as the songs on Mana, is a welcome change. So why isn’t this a proper top ten? Because “Dragon, Why Do You Cry?” is a damn silly song, and I’ll fight writer or commenter alike who disagrees. That hiccup aside, the re-animated corpse of Spellcaster made a great record in 2019.
#10. High Fighter // Champain – It’s exceedingly rare to find sludge metal that isn’t either reefer worship, Southern Americana with delusions of prog or filthy misanthropic doom, but High Fighter is somehow none of those things while still retaining the genre tag. Champain has a pep in its step, with dynamic, heavy songs that stretch and snap like elastic. Musically, there’s great variety and flow, but the lynchpin is front-woman Mona Miluski’s unique vocals. From her bone dry harsh rasps to her oddly twangy cleans, I can’t think of a similar vocalist in all of metal. If you’re one of those people who think they know what sludge is and that it’s not for you, Champain might just surprise you.
#9. Warforged // I: Voice – If 2018 was a three-keg technical/progressive death metal rager, 2019 has been the day after when everyone sleeps it off. Warforged may be a year late to the party, but that just means they stand out even more. Yes, it’s a 73-minute album long on ideas and short on restraint, and yes, even I have criticized otherwise great albums for these very reasons, but when it comes to I: Voice, I just don’t care. From cohesive songs to stream of consciousness fragments, all 73 minutes keep me happily engaged. This is a complex ecosystem of sounds, and I am all about that biodiversity.
#8. Weeping Sores // False Confession – Violins popping up in metal is nothing new. You can hear them now and again as part of a symphonic section or a one-off guest spot to add a little “look what we did” to a song. But violin as an integral, organically executed component in otherwise brutal death-doom with disgusting cavern-core vocals? Here is something new under the sun. SubRosa (RIP) wove violins into their tasty sludge doom, but Weeping Sores‘ approach is even more eyebrow-raising, and it elevates what would already be fantastic death-doom material to an astonishing album unlike anything else I heard this year.
#7. The Drowning // The Radiant Dark – Speaking of death-doom, The Drowning incorporates exactly zero bells or whistles into their Peaceville-tinged album The Radiant Dark. All they do is write nearly perfect death-doom songs like “In Cold Earth” and “All That We Need of Hell.” I’ll be honest, I think “Prometheus Blinded” is out of place in style and quality with the rest of the album, but when the rest of the album is THIS FUCKING GOOD, I’m willing to look past one song I can easily skip. The Radiant Dark has not one, but two contenders for SOTY. It’s an easy top ten.
#6. Slow // VI – Dantalion – Have I ever told you how much I love funeral doom? It’s eas… why are you checking your phone? A call? I didn’t hear… you need to take this? No no, go ahead. *Stares blankly through obviously fake call* Everything all settled? Good, because I’m still gonna tell you about the best funeral doom album of 2019. VI – Dantalion perfectly weaves blatant beauty with butt loads of despair and crushing distortion. Admittedly, I haven’t given the new Esoteric a full spin and I fully expect to love it, but Slow has made it difficult to give my sadness to any another.
#5. Ars Magna Umbrae // Lunar Ascension – Remember back in January when 2019 was dropping one wet fart after another and everyone was all “Why everything suck? We no deserve this!” Well, you whiners didn’t deserve the jet black jewel Lunar Ascension either when it dropped at the end of January. Back then I gushed “Had it been released just a few years ago, it would have been revelatory, but in 2019 it captures the zeitgeist of a black metal sound that’s still fresh and gaining traction.” 12 months later, this album has lost none of its luster.
#4. Eternal Storm // Come the Tide – As other writers are sure to note, this year saw something of a melodeath revival, with established bands and new ones alike releasing vital sounding records in a subgenre that can be a bit tired. Eternal Storm is the most notable newcomer injecting life into the scene, with mournful melodies, blackened blasts and, surprise surprise, death metal. No weenie cheese or folksy oom-pahs here. Come the Tide is straight
fire earth wind water? Let’s just say this is powerful, elemental stuff. This was one of my most listened-to records of the year, and I’m sure it will get plenty more spins in 2020.
#3. Vanum // Ageless Fire – An odd thing happens to me when I listen to Ageless Fire. I slip into a fugue state and begin looking for the highest point in my surroundings. Once I climb to the top of whatever that is; hill, water tower, Arby’s drive-through sign, I’ll stand there resolutely, brow furrowed, jaw clenched, hand on the hilt of an unseen sword as wind majestically whips my hair and beard. When passers-by ask if I’m OK, my baleful stare sends them scurrying. As the last atmospheric strums of “Erebus” fade out, I’ll come out of my stupor and sheepishly climb down. Such is the power of this album.
#2. Inter Arma // Sulphur English – I was already a huge fan of Inter Arma when, as a brand-spanking-new writer on this site, it was announced there would be a new album in 2019. By rules of AMG seniority, Grymm had dibs on the review, so I snuck into his office while he took a cat nap, knocked him out with chloroform, and pocketed the Sulphur English promo. My ratios may have been off because he didn’t regain consciousness for almost a week and woke up with (mild) brain damage. I’m told his speech therapy is going well and he nearly has use of his left arm, and Sulphur English is the best, heaviest Inter Arma album yet, so it was obviously worth it.
#1. Fvneral Fvkk // Carnal Confessions –
’Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Fvneral Fvkk.
What’s Fvneral Fvkk? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a band. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call epic doom
By any other name would sound as masterfully despondent;
So Fvneral Fvkk would, were they not Fvneral Fvkk call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which they owe
Without that title. Fvneral Fvkk, doff thy name;
And for thy name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.
- Serpent Column // Mirror in Darkness – It might take me years to fully digest this dense, dissonant black/death metal album that still shocks with unexpected beauty.
- Yellow Eyes // Rare Field Ceiling – Winding, knotted, oddly ritualistic black metal that resists easy memorization but rewards on each listen.
- Warcrab // Damned In Endless Night – Top notch sludgy death doom that can bring together even Holdeneye and myself.
- Xoth // Interdimensional Invocations – Every year I need at least one blackened, thrashy, deathy album about space horrors that rips faces off, and this year, it’s Interdimensional Invocations.
- Mastiff // Plague – Do you want impossibly heavy grindcore/sludge? Sure you do. This album gives it.
- Creature // Contes Funébres – Alternate reality black metal with few, if any, like-minded peers.
Songs o’ the Year
- Fvneral Fvkk – “To Those In the Grave”
- Inter Arma – “Howling Lands”
- Vanum – “Under the Banner of Death”
- Idle Hands – “Give Me to the Night”
- The Drowning – “All That We Need of Hell”
- Full of Hell – “Armory of Obsidian Glass”
- Bergraven – “Leendat av hans verk”
- Eternal Storm – “Detachment”
- Weeping Sores – “Scars Whispering Secret Tongues”
- Xoth – “Plague Revival 20xx”