Thursday, December 19, 2019

Durf's Töp 15 Albums of 2019

Another year screams toward its conclusion, forcing me to once again realize my New Year's Resolution of "write more for that blog you love doing!" has again fallen by the wayside.  My lack of activity here at the Töp is certainly disappointing to me, but given all the satisfaction and happiness 2019 has given me by way of fatherhood, marriage, finding a great job, and fully embracing the Durfette and I's new home in Idaho, it's hard for me to be too angry about it.

That said, it was an absolutely stacked, fantastic year for music (again).  Obviously, given the title of this post, I'm only getting in to fifteen albums, which is a nearly insignificant amount given the sheer volume of great shit that came out this year.  I'm not doing an EP or Splits list (again), which means I just have this tiny space to tell you about Elder's absolutely stunning The Gold and Silver Sessions, or the wonderful doom that both Un and Coltsblood brought to their split very early in the year.  I'm similarly not doing a Non-Metal list, which means you don't have to read what I'm sure would be a lot of words on Lana Del Ray's sublime Norman Fucking Rockwell!, which is probably my favorite album of the year, metal or otherwise.  Maybe next year.  What I do have are fifteen metal albums that have stuck with me through the year, albums that have managed to stand out above the noise and din of (again) another packed year.  Without further pretense:

 15. Falls of Rauros - Patterns in Mythology
One of North America's premier black metal bands, Falls of Rauros took a slight step back after the excellent Vigilance Perennial.  That being said, their folky, melodic, black metal is still so far ahead of the pack that a tiny blip in quality still comes out better than most every other metal release this year.

Favorite Track: "Last Empty Tradition"

 14. Xoth - Interdimensional Invocations
While attending Northwest Terror Fest this past May, friend of the blog and all-around good dude Joseph Schaefer let Mick and I know that Xoth was onstage and we didn't want to miss out.  What do you know, he was right.  Whereas other, unnamed for now space-inspired death metal bands lean heavily into the serious, Xoth is just straight up fun, blending blazing riffs and pounding rhythms for a wild good time.  I've definitely caught myself going 30mph over the speed limit to this bad boy.

Favorite Track: "Melted Face of the Soul"

13. Asthma Castle - Mount Crushmore
A supergroup of sorts made up of members of bands I don't really know or listen to (minus Pig Destroyer), Asthma Castle was a pleasant find this year.  The band's hardcore/stoner rock/sludgy amalgam is an absolute delight, and song titles like "Brazilian Catbox Incident" and "The Book of Duderonomy" show that these guys are clearly having a blast.  A tour with Mutoid Man seems like a no-brainer.

Favorite Track: "Methlehem"

12. Herod - Sombre Dessein
Dark and heavy, the French metallers in Herod flirt with a variety of genres across Sombre Dessein's seven tracks, moving deftly between post-metal, death metal, progressive metal, and even a little djent action.  The overall result is something that defies description but invites adjectives, as each of Sombre Dessein's shifts and variances in sound work harmoniously to produce a unique sound that will leave you both banging your head and nodding along plaintively.

Favorite Track: "There Will Be Gods"

11. Dawn Ray'd - Behold Sedition Plainsong
Before seeing them at Northwest Terror Fest this year and subsequently checking out their debut album The Unlawful Assembly, the only thing I knew about Dawn Ray'd was that they're an anti-fascist black metal band.  And while I fully support punching Nazis in their faces and curb-stomping white supremecists, I'm not going to listen to your band if it doesn't sound good.  Obviously, given its inclusion on this list, Behold Sedition Plainsong sounds good.  This is atmospheric black metal at its most blistering and intense; don't let the violin fool you, these guys are not fucking around.  Dawn Ray'd has two full length albums to their name, and they are two of the most impassioned, excellent black metal releases of the past few years.  Very excited to see and hear more from this band.

Favorite Track: "Soon Will Be the Age of Lessons Learnt"

10. Baroness - Gold & Grey
Baroness have, for the third straight album, written songs that can be considered the best of the band's not-unimpressive discography.  Yet, for the second straight album, those songs are marred by some of the worst mixing decisions I've ever heard.  I'm sure "Throw Me an Anchor" is a fantastic, well-written song, but it's fucking unlistenable on every format I've tried.  "Seasons," "Broken Halo," and "Tourniquet" are all incredible rock songs, and hell, even the myriad interludes ALL work, giving Gold & Grey a wonderful, concept album feel.  Albums this well-written and performed should be shoe-ins for Album of the Year, and it frustrates me to no end that the engineering drops it down.

Favorite Track: "Tourniquet"

9. Alcest - Spiritual Instinct
Following the excellent Kodama, Alcest continue their hot streak with Spiritual Instinct, featuring six songs that are impassioned to an impressive degree.  Alcest feels alive and revitalized, and the songwriting is among the best of Neige's career.  Does Spiritual Instinct top Escailles de Lunes as Alcest's signature opus? Well... ok, maybe not.  But with Shelter's dreampop-inspired shoegaze now five years in the rearview mirror, and two more fantastic return-to-form blackgaze albums in their catalogue, it's clear that Alcest still deserve to be recognized at the front of their genre, as well as metal as a whole.

Favorite Track: "L'îl des Morts"

8. Sleeping Ancient - There Is No Truth But Death
One of those killer, out of nowhere, I've never even heard of this band before releases, There Is No Truth But Death is a terrific blend of black and death metal.  Featuring suffocating atmosphere blanketed over exhilarating riffs and just the right amount of ambiance, Sleeping Ancient has brought forth one of the best debut full-lengths of the past few years, and should be well on their way to being a household name.

Favorite Track: "Taphephobic Hallucinations"

7. Blood Incantation - Hidden History of the Human Race
Does Hidden History... live up to the dizzying hype surrounding it? No, but literally nothing could live up to that much hype.  But that doesn't mean Blood Incantation haven't created something special, or that the album doesn't deserve to be celebrated as one of the best of the year.  Twisting, turning, chaotic, and brutal in equal measure, Hidden History... confirms that Blood Incantation is one of the most exciting bands in metal, and album closer "Awakening from the Dream of Existence to the Multidimensional Nature of Our Reality (Mirror of the Soul)" shows just how great these dudes from Denver can be; I haven't been referring to it as "Catch Thirty-Three but death metal" for nothing.

Favorite Track: "Awakening..." (I'm not writing it out again and you can't make me)

6. A Swarm of the Sun - The Woods
Brooding, atmospheric music that is probably more metal-adjacent than straight up metal, The Woods is an utterly captivating and convicting piece of music that deserves to be listened to in a single sitting, preferably at night during a storm of some sort.  Or, you know, in your car or on your computer.  I don't want to tell you how to listen to A Swarm of the Sun, I just want you to listen to A Swarm of the Sun.

Favorite Track: "The Woods"

5. Inter Arma - Sulphur English
Maybe the most unheralded band working today, Inter Arma have yet to release a bad album over their decade-plus career, yet Sulphur English easily stands alone as their signature work.  The crushing heaviness of "Citadel" or "The Atavist's Meridian" are this band's hallmark sound and key takeaway from their live shows, but it's the less heavy but no less intense duo of "Howling Lands" and "Stillness" that really showcase the depths of talent present in Inter Arma, as well as their progressive songwriting chops.  This should be the last album they release without every metal fan clamoring for it months in advance.

Favorite Track: "Howling Lands", "Stillness"

4. Russian Circles - Blood Year
The heaviest album Russian Circles have ever put out, Blood Year is easily my favorite release from a band that has no weak albums.  It's one of those weird little quirks of subjectivity that I can't really explain to you why I love this album so much, only that I find myself wholly engrossed by all of it, and that "Quartered" is the best song the band have ever written.  I've just accepted that this is a heart pick, so that's going to have to be good enough for you.

Favorite Track: "Quartered"

3. Wormwitch - Heaven That Dwells Within
For all the hype and acclaim that bands like Tribulation and Cloak rightfully receive, Wormwitch is where whatever we're calling this new sound of black metal really clicks for me.  Heaven that Dwells Within is a rip roaring adventure that keeps you entertained and alert for all ten of its tracks.  The somber opening of "Dancing in the Ashes" is a great hallmark showcasing the band's versatility, but it's "Two Wolves" and its Riff of the Year that show how fuckin' cool Wormwitch is.

Favorite Track: "Two Wolves"

2. Pelican - Nighttime Stories
Pelican has long been on my shortlist of favorite bands, and Nighttime Stories is the best, most invigorated they've sounded in almost fifteen years.  Simultaneously an amalgam of what has come before and an exciting, bludgeoning step forward for the band, Nighttime Stories reminds me of everything I love about one of my favorite bands while making me incredibly excited for wherever Pelican goes next.  Nighttime Stories is Pelican at the top of their game, and I really hope I get to see some of these songs live in the very near future.

Favorite Tracks: "Abyssal Plain," "Cold Hope"

1. Varaha - A Passage For Lost Years
When friend and former Brutalitopian Jack told me to check out this band, I knew I would give them a cursory listen, because he's got pretty good taste.  I had no idea that I was going to discover one of my favorite albums of the year, and a band whose sound seems cater-made for everything I love about metal.  This is an album that, each time I listen to it, feels just as fresh and exciting as the first time I gave it a spin.  It's doomy and heavy and atmospheric and cathartic and everything else that still draws me to heavy music after all these years.  The best part is I hadn't heard of Varaha before this album, making A Passage for Lost Years not only my Album of the Year, but a shining example of why it's important to listen to new and unfamiliar things.  Thanks Jack; owe you big for bringing this one to my attention.

Favorite Tracks: "Severance," "My World and Yours," "Irreparable"

So that's it.  Hope you found a new favorite something to listen to this year, whether it was on this list or not.  There's so much music out there, and I hope you're soaking as much of it up as you can.  For now, enjoy the holidays with your friends and family, eat too many sweets, drink one or two beers too many, and send this year to the Great Calendar Dumpster in the sky in style.  Next year will, I'm sure, be filled with even more music to listen to, and we here at Brutalitopia will do our best to talk about it some more.  And if we don't, well... see you next December for some more lists.

- Durf

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