Master of Muppets
Another year has died; time incessantly stumbles onward, moments transpire only to immediately fade into a distorted fog of selective recollection or else the cold and overcrowded annals of abandoned memories. Things happen and then they don’t, so it goes, woe Discordia. Reviews come and go, comment storms flare up and dissipate in the blink ov an eye, and yet through it all this site has never failed to make me feel as though I’m exactly where I need to be at any given moment, digitally ensconced by an aegis of words and sounds that have become my world. Hell, this is the only comment section I participate in in all the interwebz, so it’s possible that I don’t entirely hate you creeps, either. My point: nothing is forever, all we are is dust in the wind, and yet what we have here in this hallowed Hall is something truly special. To me, at least, but really that’s all that matters. This site means the world to me, and I’m honored to have a place of my own within its inner workings. Thanks for being you, yo’s, here’s to another year of this nonsense down and to many more to come. With that said, the other lists here are all objectively inaccurate heaps of logorrheic bullshit, so here’s one you can trvst, may it do ya.
10. Varaha // A Passage for Lost Years – As much as I love to read literally anything by our very own Kronos, I’m also well aware that our tastes don’t tend to align as often as, say, mine and Cherd‘s, Grymm‘s, or Mark Z‘s1. There’s no accounting for taste, but when Kronos name drops Katatonia and slaps a 3.5 on something, there’s no question that I’m going to buy and love the shit out of said something. A Passage for Lost Years was no exception, and as expected Varaha have had their doomy mitts on the smoldering rubble that pretends to be my heart ever since I first read about them back in May.
9. Evohé // Deus Sive Natura – When our very own Twelve first unveiled the glory that is Deus Sive Natura unto the world, I put on my snob shoes and panned the Jørn-loving shit out of it. “Sure,” says I, “the ladies all want to have his babies and men throughout the lands tremble when they whisper his name, but why the fuck should I care what he has to say about anything, yo?” Months spent in blissful ignorance came and went, until this one time, at Bandcamp, when I stumbled upon a hoodie that just screamed “Muppet!” by some band called Evohé. Determined to grab that goodness without being a poser, I gave Deus Sive Natura a crossed-fingered spin, and was immediately treated to some of the absolute best pagan black metal I’d ever heard. Simultaneously exalted and infuriated, I searched the archives to confirm that these angry metal assholes had never divulged said greatness to the masses before I took to the breakroom to give them Hell… only to discover that The Bringer ov Nightwish Plagues himself had tried to tell me of this blackened gold some months prior. So it goes, yo, but it’s ok, I’ve since forgiven Twelve for his insignificance and these days I sometimes even admit to knowing him.
8. ROSK // remnants – I absolutely adored ROSK‘s debut, Miasma, and had been eagerly awaiting its follow-up since the first time I finished the album. Needless to say, I was wicked excited to learn that such a sequel was to strike sometime this year. However, I was almost equally disappointed to learn that said album was to be an acoustic endeavor. I have tried to keep this a secret for as long as possible, but: sometimes I’m a fucking idiot. Despite my dumbass doubts, this album hit me every bit as hard as its predecessor, and – having learned to listen to the lad and now able to take him semi-cereal—I was quite pleased to learn that the numeric enigma known as Twelve would be preaching the good, quiet word of remnants to you wretches. Y’all need ROSK, yo, and if ya don’t know now ya know.
7. Hope Drone // Void Lustre – Hope Drone are a very special band to me. Beyond bringing a particularly bleak and dissonant take on atmoblack to the table that I find to be as refreshing as it is enjoyable, Kronos‘ beautifully written assessment of their similarly brutiful Cloak of Ash, was arguably the review which made me realize that this angry metal word-slinging gig was something that I desperately wanted to be a part of. When news of new Hope Drone first reached me, I didn’t know which I was more excited for: the music itself, or the chance to read another masterpiece by Kronos. Thankfully, both more than lived up to my expectations, with Void Lustre being sufficiently ashen and grim and my former idol turned scribe-brother being more than the right writer for the job. Void Lustre might not collectively hit quite as hard as Cloak of Ash, but when it’s on point it is fucking on point, and I couldn’t have asked for a better review/er to confirm my biases.
6. Dauþuz // Monvmentvm – I’m like anyone else: if your band has a “Þ” in the name, your album artwork is a monochrome scene of bleakness and wheelbarrows, you don’t believe in “u” and you scream like a drunk n’ demonic dwarf about miner things in a language that I don’t understand, then I’ve already purchased your album before I’ve so much as considered whether or not I want to eat that week. Dauþuz immediately captured my imagination after a quick perusal of The Metal Archives revealed their only listed lyrical themes to be “traditional mining in Germany and Europe,” and damn it if Monvmentvm didn’t turn out to be some of the most grimly fun black metal I’ve heard in a long time. Unhinged vocals, expertly applied acoustic accents and honest-to-Jørn riffs for days are what you get when you go digging for Dauþuz, I can’t recommend this one enough.
5. Slow // VI – Dantalion – I haven’t had a bad angry metal year yet, but 2019 was a particularly good time to be Muppet. I got to cover releases by several personal favorites, and not only was I never let down but in a few cases, my expectations were greatly exceeded. Somewhat unsurprisingly, Slow‘s VI – Dantalion proved such a case, expounding on the magnificently sincere funeral doom I had been so taken by with V – Oceans and managing to stand out both against and despite the impressive myriad of releases Déhà unleashed upon the world this year alone. This album lovingly embraces me with hateful arms that crush and suffocate me while gently and reassuringly screaming into my bleeding, deafened ears, and I don’t think I’ve ever had a nicer thing to say about anything. The fact that this one actually earned me a few accusations of underrating a Déhà album says it all: Dantalion is one truly fucking amazing piece of funeral doom goodness.
4. Déhà // Cruel Words – That this would reach the esteemed upper echelon of The One Trve List could never be questioned, much less doubted. Déhà’s work has been an incredibly cherished part of my life since I first stumbled upon Slow‘s V – Oceans, and Cruel Words is as strong a testament to just why that is as they come. This is the sound of manic depression, a weapon against such forged by the very same. Déhà’s unfaltering addressing of my bleakest constant allows me to meet the eyes of the monster when its cold gaze rests upon me; the myriad styles which comprise his tonal palette effectively bring the beast into sonic existence and murder it before my very earballs, at once rendering it real and reducing it to rubble in a sea of funeral doom, sludge, post-metal, and DSBM. A (very) few other albums managed to climb over this slab ov sadness to scale the summit of standout selections, but nothing hurt so good as Cruel Words, and it was truly an honor to overrate it.
3. King Apathy // Wounds – For all the depressive beauty and mournful glory contained herein, there is no more bittersweet selection on this list than Wounds. Being granted the privilege of covering such a personally beloved act by the Zster—who bestowed a similarly generous opportunity upon me with Ancst‘s Ghosts of the Timeless Void last year and in fact introduced me to both bands in the first place—sent me into a frenzy of joy and felt at the time, as did the album itself. Everything looked perfect from far away upon my oaken reviewer throne, but the fall from such great heights was made that much more painful when the band announced their dissolution mere months later. It sucks all the butt in all worlds known and unknown that King Apathy are as past tense as 2019, but their final offering of blackened melodic hardcore was a poignant and heartfelt condemnation of a species in a similar state of denouement that I’m particularly proud to have penned a piece for. With their mournful minor scales and masterful amalgamation of dreamy post-metal and volatile hardcore soundscapes, King Apathy (née Thränenkind) just fucking got me, I’m still not ready to say goodbye but the band and this album in particular will hold a special place in my heartsack forevermore.
2. Glare of the Sun // Theia – People stop showing up to see what all the fuss is about when you’re the Muppet Who Cried 4; unfollow buttons get clicked, RotM suggestions are disregarded entirely, and readers and staff alike start popping out of the woodwork with their unquestionably superior takes on any given thing—and I get it, yo. So it goes, but I like what I like, and this site insists on utilizing a numeric rating system, despite the absurdity of hoping to ever attain any semblance ov consistency among so many varying tastes. I absolutely fucking loved Theia, and since “I absolutely fucking love this album but you might not” is not a number, I did what my hearthole told me to do and damned the band to faithless panning and accusations of being overrated. I thought I had presented you creeps with something special at the time, and I’m still wildly in love with the genre traversing anti-joyride beast that is Theia, I just no longer care that my shameless adulation was denied its rightful place along the site’s side banners—and on the one RotM post in the history of ever to be nothing but Muppet-friendly tunes, no less!
1. The Drowning // The Radiant Dark – I will forever curse the square-panted scribe who successfully snagged this spectacular slab of somber, scorching sweetness from the sump before I so much as saw it sitting there. Long have I loved the Peaceville Three, and yet never have I felt that any one album ever managed to fully master the brave new doomscape that the legendary assembly helped to forge—until now. Weeping guitars, pummeling drums, powerfully plodding tempos and the very voice of Hell adorn this gem in expertly nuanced doses, and I simply could not ask for a more enjoyable alchemy of all things doom than that which exists within The Radiant Dark. I would have gladly sold off our resident sponge to the lowest bidder for the
powers rights to wax reviewic on “In Cold Earth” alone, but it’s a justice-free world we’re living in, yo. So it goes, and yet I can still take comfort in knowing that I was at least able to hijack the hype train for this one, and for that I haz no regerts.
- Nullingroots // Malady’s Black Maw
- NONE // Damp Chill of Life
- Hanging Garden // Into That Good Night
- Vofa // Vofa
- Suldusk // Lunar Falls
Disappointment o’ the Year
Altars of Grief, Cormorant, humanity in general.
Song o’ the Year
The Drowning‘s “In Cold Earth” – I haven’t been able to shut up about this album all year, nor have I been able to stop playing this track all the while. “In Cold Earth” speaks for itself, yo, either listen to it or don’t but the show’s over so get the fuck off my lawn!
I can’t believe I’m still here! I am probably the least trve of everyone staffed and most liable to piss off my comrades/supervisors by just being myself. I’m also a terrible actor, so I can’t exactly come up with a persona to hide behind, either. Oh, well! At least I got paired up with my favorite misanthropic fuzzbucket for list season.
Anyway, my year has been eventful, to say the least. I quit my retail job—because retail can go fuck itself with a ripe cactus that’s also on fire and saturated with oleoresin capsicum—and redirected towards a more promising and stable printing occupation. I made some major adjustments to my mental health support system, which I neglected for far too long. Writing here helped immensely in this regard, restoring some much-needed self-confidence. Although, I think I might have overburdened myself in the process, so I’ll probably slow it down a little next year. Don’t worry, I still plan to contribute regularly!
I love it here, by the way. The community alone feels like home, and that I found it and made friends in it and feel wanted in it is unreal. I can’t thank all of you enough for tolerating my shenanigans and my exuberance and whatever else I do around here. To all of my fellow writers, administration, IT guru
s, editors, and loiterers, I extend heartfelt gratitude to you all as well. I know I’m probably a handful most of the time, and your patience and hilarious shit-slinging zingers have been a constant boon, not to mention all of your feedback that helps me develop my nascent skill as a writer and as an analyzer of sound. I can’t wait to enter the new decade with you guys.
I guess I’ll finish by stating that my philosophy towards Top 10 lists is this: I obviously listen to and like a lot of stuff, some of it actually good and some of it just for me. Seeing as how my tastes are… well… the way they are, I must consider that just because I like something doesn’t mean it deserves a special spotlight. So, I start with records that I not only love, but that I also feel accomplished something that the records you don’t see here couldn’t. From there, I consider my feelings should I omit an item from the newly trimmed finalist pool. If I writhe in pain and scream in horror, then it stays in the running. If I shrug and say, “ah, well,” then I know I culled the right item. This is my method, as it shall be until such time as I discover it requires tinkering. So, without further ado…
(ish) Tardigrade Inferno // Mastermind – One of most ridiculous albums I’ve ever heard, and yet I can’t get enough. With more hooks than that one episode of Spongebob Squarepants with all of the hooks (I think it was called “Hooky”) and big fat riffs with more heft than a record like this should ever possess, Mastermind is basically my spirit animal. The only reason why it’s not higher up on this list is because I apparently still have the smallest amount of restraint. Barely.
#10. Dialith // Extinction Six – Let’s make symphonic metal great again! A long time passed since I loved a symphonic power metal record as much as I love this one. Not only does it sound great, especially for a self-released product, but it succeeds in every category that countless albums since Nightwish‘s Imaginaerum have failed. More of this, please!
#9. Slow // VI – Dantalion – Funeral doom needs that Goldilocks factor between heft, passion and sorrow to be a list contender. Far and away Déhà’s flagship project, Slow crafted one of the crushingest, most lovingly delivered and mournful records I have ever heard. More than the sum of it’s excellently rendered parts, it is an essential entry in any music fan’s discography.
#8. Kull // Exile – Risen from the ashes of Bal-Sagoth, Kull breached the roiling seas of symphonic metal with a massive debut epic Exile. Theatrical and bombastic, but with every bit of the grit you could ever want from a traditional black metal offering, this record could usher in a new era for the genre. Also, pirate ships are cool.
#7. Fvneral Fvkk // Carnal Confessions – I tend to be very picky about my doom metal, as the absence of Atlantean Kodex and Isole on this list clearly illustrates. But Fvneral Fvkk bent my ass over and cracked the shit out of it with their sturdiest yardstick. I had no other choice but to submit, so help me God. May those wretched souls whom this record rightfully arraigns be erased from this world and sent straight to the lowest circle of hell.
#6. Devourment // Obscene Majesty – Fatality. There really aren’t any other single words that do this record justice. Filthy and scummy, but with a scalpel-sharp sense of direction and clarity of intent, Obscene Majesty earns the distinction of being the heaviest motherfucker to ever bear its weight upon this planet’s fragile crust. Bow before it as it pummels you into a fine mist.
#5. Firelink // The Inveterate Fire – How often do we find an underground gem as compelling as The Inveterate Fire? I don’t believe there are many, but suffice it to say this one ripped melodic black metal a new one this year. Bridging the gap between aggressive riffing and bubbly lightness, while also providing ample fodder for the gamer nerd in all of us, Firelink are one of the most promising new meloblack acts out there.
#4. White Ward // Love Exchange Failure – Twice as long as Futility Report, yet somehow even more engaging, Love Exchange Failure proves that White Ward are no one trick pony in a weathered trenchcoat. It’s incredibly difficult to blend the smooth character of a saxophone with the icy malice of black metal, but thanks to a sturdy infrastructure and magnificent flow, this record makes the most of its constituent elements. And like the best things in life, it gets better with age.
#3. Gorgon // Elegy – Less is more. Then again, sometimes more is more. In Gorgon‘s case, more is the most more more can be. Bombastic on a gloriously indulgent scale, Elegy is both an expansion of Gorgon‘s trademark sound and also a distillation of everything that made their debut Titanomachy successful, if terminally underrated. Unlike many symphonic death metal records, where reckless compositions allow one instrument or element to dominate all others, this one feels like an intense tango between the orchestral elements and the monstrous guitars and bellowing roars. Be prepared my friends. Your fragile corporeal forms may not survive this dance.
#2. Warforged // I: Voice – Easily the most creative and unorthodox approach to extreme metal this side of an Artifical Brain release, I: Voice confirms my failure as a reviewer to perceive brilliance when it stands right in front of me. At once sprawling, brutal and delicate, the record wraps you in a verdant hellscape of horrors unknown, save for a pair of yellow eyes burning in the distance and a scratchy howl emanating from afar. Where do you run? It doesn’t matter. Anywhere you go, Warforged finds you, rends your spirit and buries the body. Nature takes hold and you exist no more. There is only Warforged, and the ghastly voice that haunts the trees.
#1. The Drowning // The Radiant Dark – Curating this list was difficult because—just when I had about seven solid contenders ranked—the metal deities decided to vomit quality content all over the back half of the year. Every one of my current Top 10(ish) entries fought valiantly for the crown at some point, and all of my Honorable Mentions are excellent records that deserve better. In short, there is nothing I can do to make myself feel totally comfortable with my final tally this year. I just have to do my best and hope that I don’t regret anything later. One thing’s for sure, though: The Drowning‘s The Radiant Dark at #1 is the easiest choice I made. Say what you will about the drum performance (which is fine, shut up) or the mixing (okay that needed work) or some other unjustified third thing, nobody wrote better songs than these Brits in 2019 and nothing you fools throw at me could convince me otherwise.
• Aephanemer // Prokopton – An immense record with all of the melodic amenities required to keep my engine running at redline from beginning to end.
• Ars Magna Umbrae // Lunar Ascension – Dissonant black metal has rarely been so memorable, but between strong riffs and crushing atmosphere, Lunar Ascension remains captured in the deepest recesses of the mind long after the sound waves flatline.
• Iapetus // The Body Cosmic – Where Wilderun once again somehow failed to keep me as deeply in love as it has my compatriots, Iapetus won my heart with immeasurably dynamic songwriting. That it’s offered free of charge must be a crime somewhere, right?
• Lacuna Coil // Black Anima – Never once have I given up on a band once I reach the fan stage. Not once. And records like Black Anima are precisely why. I knew Lacuna Coil would return to the metalverse in fine form, and this is proof positive that I was right all along.
• Pristine // Road Back to Ruin – Hard rock requires a fine assortment of songs that do more than just get the blood pumping. It’s gotta swoon and swagger as much as it moves the spirit. Pristine have done that and more. I just wish I had spent more time with it.
• Unfathomable Ruination // Enraged and Unbound – Unsatisfied with the prospect of merely reproducing the electric Finitude, these purveyors of technical brutality explore the limits of their chosen milieu and shatter many of them in the process. And yet, the cork on this bottle of lightning feels less tightly sealed than Finitude‘s. No matter, it will still get plenty of airtime in my home.
• Warcrab // Damned in Endless Night – Riffs. Riff riff riffs of riffity riffness. Riffing riffgasms of riffery riffitude riff forever. Riffs riffify on top of riffing mega-riffs. Also, SWORDS.
• Wormwitch // Heaven that Dwells Within – If there was one record that challenged Firelink and White Ward for the meloblack crown of the year, it was Wormwitch‘s Heaven that Dwells Within. Immense hooks combine with immediate melodies to create a potent record brimming with red-blooded virility.
• Xoth // Interdimensional Invocations – I can’t begin to apologize enough for excluding this unbelievably fun album from list proper. It is a testament to the strength of 2019’s releases that something as dynamic and memorable as Interdimensional Invocations must slum it with the rest of these Honorable Mentions.
Disappointments o’ the Year
• Within Temptation // Resist – Never once have I given up on a band once I reach the fan stage. Not once. Until now. I thought Hydra could be a fluke, since every other Within Temptation release before it maintained a high level of quality without rehashing material or kowtowing to trendy fads. Alas, Resist demonstrates to me that the band simply doesn’t want to make the same music that made me fall head over heels for them way back when. It’s been fun, and I cherish all of the memories. I wish them all the best, even if I can’t stand their ground any longer.
• Fallujah // Undying Light – This atrocity just makes me angry. I don’t care that they no longer sound like the same band that put out The Flesh Prevails, but force me to take an Advil just to make it through the requisite number of spins to properly review a brick? No. Fuck this album and the precious space it callously displaces with its presence.
Surprise o’ the Year
• Tarja // In the Raw – I had no idea this was going to happen. After so many tepid, bloated releases, Tarja and her long-time songwriting team actually managed to strike the mother lode. Her fifth rock record is full of hooky songs that feel naturally heavy and fun. You owe it to yourselves to stow your preconceptions away and give In the Raw a whirl. I promise you won’t regret it!
Song o’ the Year
Fvneral Fvkk‘s “Alone with the Cross” – This was a tight race, to be sure. In the end, I had to give it up to “Alone with the Cross” for the simple reason that it not only has the best chorus out of anything to grace these ears but also the most compelling story. It’s not often I feel bad for a bad guy as bad as this baddie, but it’s really hard not to here. What a pitiful soul.
- Despite the respective reviewing preferences and differences between myself and the reviewer formally known as Z, it is pretty insane how often one of us will mention some random hardcore or otherwise less-than-kvlt act in the breakroom only to have the other—and only the other—likewise lose their shit in a fit ov superior taste and nostalgia. ↩