Maybe 2x CY Young Award winning Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom who fought a good part of adversity this season before ultimately staking his claim as the best pitcher in baseball, showing incredible resolve when he didn't have "it". Or maybe Jack Adams trophy winner Barry Trotz who when he took the helm of the New York Islanders in June of 2018 was handed a bag of spare parts and asked to make something of it. Instead of the projected last place finish he brought them their best season since 1983. So when you feel like nothing is possible just remember the stories of these great men and maybe some of the tunes of 2019. There were a number of surprises but no true #1 album emerged for a long time; I was however surprised by what I enjoyed during the year, even if the Brutalitopia output was minimal.
For now here are the honorable mentions:
Weeping Sores - False Confession
Wormwitch - Heaven That Dwells Within
Bellrope - You Must Relax
Possessed - Revelations of Oblivion
Magic Circle - Departed Souls
15. Eye of the Destroyer - Baptized In Pain
New Jersey Hardcore/Death Metal collective, Eye of the Destroyer and their charismatic front man Joe Randazza burst on the scene after being tour beasts for years. Randazza who once helmed the battery for this band takes cues from current and past hardcore acts such as Harms Way, E. Town Concrete and Irate, meshing it firmly within a beatdown aesthetic, something that the mean streets of Elizabeth, NJ will do to you. This is a wonderfully angry album, one that hits as hard as the lives of the band members it took to live through it.
14. Departure Chandelier - Antichrist Rise To Power
Francophiles, Departure Chandelier with their penchant for French history, use black metal to tell the tale of Napoleon Bonaparte. Choosing to remain enigmatic, the band uses a synthesizer to create an unsettling background for their 2nd wave black metal atmosphere. The guitar lines, while appearing simple, act as a ride into battle, both in favor of Napoleonic rule and the disintegration of it. While remaining more mid-paced than most modern black metal, it is the balance of the atmosphere and the odd production quality that sell this album, beyond mere gimmick.
13. Full of Hell - Weeping Choir
Full of Hell continue their noisy dominance over metal with another stellar release after the critically acclaimed Trumpeting Ecstasy in 2017. The band is able to balance minute and a half blasts with tracks like 'Armory of Obsidian Glass'; a track that is a fine balance between majorly fuzzed out guitar lines, vicious vocals and then something of a surprise; actual melodic vocals. The closing beauty balances with the typical FoH fury for a track that comes in at almost 1/3 the length of the album, but really shows off the band's excellent and undying love for creativity.
12. High Command - Beyond The Wall of Desolation
Being the best thrash album of 2019 may not sound like much, but then again it might well be the best crossover album since Power Trip's Nightmare Logic, so you may want to pay attention. Worcester, MA may not seem like the place you would find something that's sound has a foothold in California and the Southwest, but a claim has been firmly staked in New England. This is fast and furious, angry and pissed off crossover thrash from the mid '80s being played today for today's angered scene. I am calling for 'Inexorable Darkness' to be a new theme for angered and disenfranchised youth.
11. Falls of Rauros - Patterns in Mythology
Maine masters of beauty, Falls of Rauros use the wonderful combination of folk metal in conjunction with black metal tropes that compare them favorably with fellow countrymen, Panopticon. During a year without the aforementioned band, Falls more than suitably makes up for the absence. The tremendously moving 'Weapons of Refusal' is gorgeous, varied sections of fury and moving beauty create a moving dichotomy that bands would be lucky to achieve. Falls of Rauros are truly a band that doesn't get enough credit for what they do from album to album.
10. No One Knows What The Dead Think - No One Knows What The Dead Think
Featuring 2/3 of the best known lineup of tech grind legends, Discordance Axis; you have to at least pay attention to No One Knows What the Dead Think. Jon Chang and crew influenced an entire generation of technical grinders, yet have arrived upon the hiatus of Gridlink which also included grind legend Takafumi Matsubara. This is a short album as it is only 18 minutes but the fast and furious riffs reveal themselves more and more upon each repeated listen, which is nothing like the chore of having to spin a Prurient album from start to finish. Fans of grind need this album in their lives.
9. Bask - III
During a year in which Baroness merely were treading water and Kylesa continue their hiatus, we now have Bask. This band from slightly further north (North Carolina that is) pick up the mantle from the southern Atlantic states with a wonderful mixture of folk, progressive rock, and Americana. Bask in reality do their own thing but fans of the bands mentioned above will really find a nice niche here, even if this album isn't exactly heavy. What it is though is very good and something a bit different for this list.
8. Blood Incantation - Hidden History of the Human Race
A much ballyhooed album if there ever was one, Blood Incantation's Hidden History of the Human Race was about as polarizing a release this year and for good reason. This excellent album is a fitting successor to 2016's Starspawn and an album that places Death's Human at the heart of its sound. Album closer "Awakening From the Dream... (Mirror of the Soul)' is an absolute beast that runs the gamut of different styles of death metal and atmosphere. This album is worthy of the ton of hype behind it. Every death metal fan should get behind this record and defend it to the death. Here is how I already did.
7. Darkthrone - Old Star
Darkthrone need no introduction as their contributions towards extreme music are well documented and their sound nowadays is ever changing. This still has a heart as black as the depths of hell, but Fenriz's undying adoration of proto-metal and doom come out on full display on tracks like 'The Hardship of Scots'. The galloping melodies are excellent and well-executed with an emotional tilt at points. This stands next to The Underground Resistance as the best Darkthrone has to offer in the 2010's and one of 2019's best.
6. Sanhedrin - The Poisoner
What a year it was for excellent retro hard rock. Let's give credit to Tanith too because that album just missed this list but really hit the mark with what the band was trying to do there as well. Sanhedrin just did it a little bit better. Vocalist/bassist Erica Stoltz is at the heart of the album with her soulful crooning and sweet melodies. This is a heavy metal album with rock n roll worn on its sleeve. Opener 'Meditation (All My Gods Are Gone)' is a slow burn but other tracks like 'Wind on the Storm' hit as though this was released in the mid '80s much like Pounder's stellar debut this year as well. A rocking good time can be found on The Poisoner, one of the year's most fun releases bar none.
5. Obsequiae - The Palms of Sorrowed Kings
Medieval metal, what is it? Well its what Obsequiae does so well, that's what. A combination of classical riffs, rich atmosphere, and black metal sensibilities make this band particularly unique. Seemingly gaining extra media attention this year, Obsequiae aren't doing anything they didn't do on Suspended in the Brume of Eos or Aria of Vernal Tombs merely just continuing their unique take on what is considered to be extreme. Before anybody considers me to be a trend hopper, my love of this band is older than when this site used to do podcasts! So give this band a go, if you can combine classical sounding elements with atmosphere that would make Austin Lunn blush, then you might be on to something.
4. Tomb Mold - Planetary Clairvoyance
This list is about to get noticeably not-so-heavy, so let's get the last heavy one out of the way. I expressed my love of this album in one of my very few (the site hasn't really been busy) reviews this year and it didn't stop there. This is the best death metal has to offer in 2019 even with Blood Incantation, Cerebral Rot and Possessed putting out new material. For a band that has been pedal to the metal for years now, the sky's the limit. These guys might even make Beastmaker/Haunt front man Trevor William Church look like a slacker. The band has embraced a technicality that was maybe lacking from previous releases and they do so in a way that feels authentic and not overdone, so as to not take away from what makes this band so special in heavy music. Just have a gangrenously wonderful time giving this a spin.
3. Crypt Sermon - The Ruins of Fading Light
Album # 2/2 of my actual reviews for this site, a band that means a lot to me and honestly given the year this could easily have been #1 for me, instead takes on the position of 1C. These top three albums were usually played next to or near each other and feel deeply connected and ordering them was not easy. Anyway Crypt Sermon's sophomore album The Ruins of Fading Light is an excellent follow up to Into The Garden which features more superb Brooks Wilson artwork, while it lacks the grandiosity of their previous album's art it still is a selling point here. Steve Jansson's guitar leads sound crisp and inspired and Wilson's vocals, powerful with the pounding drums on 'The Ninth Templar (Black Candle Flame)' to bring it all home. This is a doom album that will stand the test of time as it went toe to toe with other superb albums from genre legends in Candlemass and Saint Vitus, as well as other strong showings from Lord Vicar and Magic Circle. Bring on the doom!
2. Spirit Adrift - Divided By Darkness
Turn back the clock to 2017 and there I was naming Spirit Adrift's sophomore album Curse of Conception as the year's top metal album; a well deserved feat for this band who at times can be swallowed up by Gatecreeper. A Mr Hyde to their Dr. Jekyll, the heavy death metal alternative to this bright and shining heavy metal star. Frontman Nate Garrett claimed during an interview with me while on the tour for said album (at Union Pool) that their follow up had just been tracked and was head and shoulders better than what had preceded it. While that is up for debate, I can definitively say that Spirit Adrift's place in heavy metal is a strong one with metal either of the death variety or something retro seemingly en vogue these days. I have a hard time believing this band along with their peers are going anywhere any time soon. Each track on Divided By Darkness can stand alone from the other seven as they all offer something a bit different to the listener some speedy, some at a slower pace, but with enough melody to keep the Thin Lizzy fans hangin in there. If you haven't given them their due just yet, you really should.
1. Haunt - If Icarus Could Fly
Topping a year that has so many retro metal highlights, it was tough to see what would make #1 here. But the effort by frontman Trevor William Church and company has not gone without recognition. Burst Into Flame was a massive shot in the arm for 2018 landing at #6 on my list then. I was shocked to see that If Icarus Could Fly was already slated for a March 2019 release, and as of writing this list their 2020 album Mind Freeze is set for a January 2020 street date itself. Normally bands would benefit from slowing their roll but Haunt have risen to the challenge and issued what might even be a stronger album than their debut.
If Icarus Could Fly is another retro heavy metal styled album with plenty of flair provided by the guitar pyrotechnics and excellent drums that add just enough without taking away from the main rhythm section. Opener 'Run and Hide' is superb, setting the stage for the rest of the album which unfolds in just over half an hour which allows for each morsel of metallic riffs to be dissected and digested on repeat. Commonly this album was joined by its heavy metal brethren from earlier on this list (Crypt Sermon, Spirit Adrift, Magic Circle, Sanhedrin) and some that just missed out (Pounder, Slough Feg, Tanith) but this was the album that topped all of them for a genre that defined my year. 'Winds of Destiny' is the track that plays me out while writing this list confirming that I made the right decision here. 2020 here we come and Haunt is waiting for us, yet again.