Allow me, if you will, to get on my soapbox and shout about all the bloody brilliant music that has come out this year. If you’re willing to listen – not to me mind, to the music – you will find that 2019 has been one of the best years of the decade and as the 10s draw to their eventual but inevitable close, join me as we look at my top 20 (ish, I cheated) albums and five EPs of the year. Bear in mind this is not an exhaustive list and there will be omissions, but enjoy it for what it is, yeah?:
Top EPs of the Year:
5. Pleiades – All at Your Mercy
4. Phoxjaw – A Playground for Sad Adults
3. Portrayal of Guilt – Suffering Is A Gift
2. CREATURE – HOUND
1. A.A. Williams – A.A. Williams
The albums of the year:
Honourable mentions (Alphabetically)
Alcest – Spiritual Instinct
Allegaeon – Apoptosis
Blood Incantation – The Hidden History of the Human Race
Inter Arma – Sulphur English
Ithaca – The Language of Injury
Leprous – Pitfalls
Mastiff – Plague
Petlib. – Maker
Pijn And Conjurer – Curse These Metal Hands
Puppy – The Goat
Sermon – Birth Of The Marvellous
Swans – leaving meaning.
Venom Prison – Samsara
Wear Your Wounds – Rust On The Gates Of Heaven
20. Efrim Manuel Menuck and Kevin Doria – Are SING SINCK, SING
There’s plenty to dislike or write of as pretentious tosh about the project formed off Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Efrim Manuel Menuck and Growing/Total Life’s Kevin Doria. From the lack of any traditional percussion, to the ambient soundscapes that make up the gorgeous music, this is a dense record that many will find inaccessible. It’s the interplay between the various noises and electronic throbs that make the album such a scintillating prospect, a quizzical carnival of electro-sweeps and hopeful tones. The album is an uncanny mixture of blissful elegance and brutalist noise, and opens this list of the year’s best.
19. Schammasch – Hearts Of No Light
The fourth LP from Schammasch is a world beating example of post-black metal. Instrumentation that broods through exquisite restraint that then blossoms into Luciferian edicts; the record is undeniable in its meticulous craft and musicianship. Songs like Qadmon’s Heir are not poignant or subtle, but stand as testament to the band’s root influence with their blast beating howls of anguish. The feather-touch production interweaves histrionics and harmonies into these assaulting works: There are myriad layers to uncover. A work of spiralling dexterity that satisfies both fans and the band’s ambition, it is an apt, worthy successor to the monolithic Triangle.
18. Jamie Lenman – Shuffle
Some have written off Jamie Lenman’s third solo record as a novelty. Those who do so clearly haven’t listened to it and are pre-judging based on the fact it’s a covers album. This album is worthy of standing shoulder to shoulder with Annie Lennox’s Medusa and Johnny Cash’s American series as a show of covering prowess. The gall of an artist to update The Beatles for 2019 in the form of the rollicking Tomorrow Never Knows and the Gallagher-esque football chant of Hey Jude is jaw dropping, but pulled off with incredible composure. Shuffle’s greatness will go down in history.
17. Russian Circles – Blood Year
Russian Circles are undoubtedly luminaries of post-rock. With their seventh LP they reaffirm this. Though it may lack some of the abstruse charm of Guidance or Empros, Blood Year is a dynamic exploration of the power of the riff. Arluck and Ghost on High stand out as the heaviest examples of what Circles can do with their instrumental virtuosity, but exude the restraint that makes their music accessible. The songs are hugely exciting, and while not Russian Circles’ best record – it may be their weakest – it deserves a place in the canon of the finest the genre has to offer.
16. Dawn Ray’d – Behold Sedition Plainsong
2019 has been a bad year for black metal’s public image. Bands stepping up to embrace national socialism are all too frequent, confusingly siding with the very Judeo-Christian ideologies they claim to abhor. Hail Satan then that Dawn Ray’d’s brand of anarcho-folk black metal is here to make a safe space for those not willing to ‘seig heil’ in the pit. With captivating energy and expert blending of seemingly disparate genres, this is perhaps the most prescient protest music being made today. Horrifically blackened music is a vessel for their important messages of tolerance and community. Forget Satan; hail this.
15. We Never Learned To Live – The Sleepwalk Transmissions
Opening with a washed out riff on the main motif of Permafrost sets up The Sleepwalk Transmissions for an ethereal and dreamy ride. What it doesn’t do is prepare you for the post-hardcore assault that We Never Learned To Live lead you on. From Luma Non Luma through to Radio Silence, the outfit approach the genre pioneered in the 90s with a distinctly 2019 flair. It feels like a record that will remain timeless thanks to its cohesive narrative and meticulously intricate song structure that moves between regular and acerbic time signatures. Almost certainly the best post-hardcore record of 2019.
14. Full Of Hell – Weeping Choir
Twenty five minutes of terror. This perhaps undersells the nuance of Full Of Hell’s latest opus as it is a serpentine and sanguine journey through hellish territories, the likes of which have admittedly been seen before but rarely to this calibre. As Burning Myrrh – the lead single – blasts into the eardrums with its vocal duality, there’s an immediacy of the band that makes them the most extreme outfit of the year. Ebbing seamlessly between works, this album should be heralded as near-perfect by anyone with a basic understanding of extremity. Full Of Hell are set to take on the globe.
13. Devin Townsend – Empath
Undoubtedly the most upbeat record on this list, Devin Townsend’s symphony is birthed to life in the form of Empath. From the opening notes of the bizarrely beautiful Genesis, this is an album that delights in oddity – as Hevy Devy is wont to – and never releases its stranglehold on the absurd. A soliloquy to surrealism, this album is a wonderful encapsulation of the mind of one of the world’s most versatile musicians. ‘It took all of my words and my fantasy worlds’; a beautiful summation of the record from Devin himself that leads to a blissful rhapsody to the unusual.
12. Vaura – Sables
Synth-pop is assuredly undergoing resurrection. Through the popularity of the synthwave of Carpenter Brut and Perturbator, the world sees the likes of Depeche Mode selling out the London Olympic Stadium. Espionage begins as an ode to post-Black Celebration era Depeche Mode, and the album resonates with adoration for bygone days. However, it singles itself out from the nostalgia crowd with an aplomb for musicianship: These songs are far more complex than their predecessors dared attempt. The title track and finale in particular showcases a band not afraid to take risks within a genre that has, until now, begun to stagnate.
11. Employed To Serve – Eternal Forward Motion
The best album Slipknot didn’t write; this record is a slamming slab of hardcore mixed with nu-metal bounce thrust together into an amalgam of brilliance. Where the two once disparate genres would vilify the other, Employed To Serve bring harmony and unity and explore every avenue available. With riffs the size of Jupiter, the likes of the title track and lead single, Force Fed, have already seen bodies torn to shreds in the many circle puts conjured up by the voracious outfit. Employed to Serve are set to go from strength to strength and might just be metal’s next superstars.
10. Latitudes – Part Island
For a while this was the album of the year. Part Island is achingly beautiful. Performed in a combination of whispers and baritone bellows the album is a dynamic masterpiece of post-rock. It is hard to find a criticism of an album so beautifully put together and so expansive, with so many various instrumental dexterities. The production is stunning and serves the heft of the songs well, while also enunciating the communicative subtleties of songs like opener, Underlie. Genuinely, utterly beautiful, it feels a shame to have this record round out the top ten rather than stand proud atop it.
9. Herod – Sombre Dessein
Few albums blend together post-sludge and post-metal well. In fact, you probably can’t think of many off the top of your head. Well, Sombre Dessein does. From the creeping dread of Fork Tongue Intro, Heord set the scene for an apocalyptic journey, coalescing ideas of so many bands before them into a coherent structure trimmed of any fat. Heavy, grinding and obtuse, this record offers so much in forty-two minutes that a secondary and tertiary listen is mandatory. Outdoing far more established acts on this list, Herod’s second release bodes mightily well for the listener and for the band’s future.
8. Tool – Fear Inoculum
After thirteen years, you would expect to be disappointed by a record. The long wait for Tool’s fifth LP seemed infinite, so to finally grasp it with both hands in 2019 felt miraculous. Fortunately, the music within the expensive CD case did not disappoint: Lengthy songs that drift through complex movements, the album is a dynamic, resonant piece of genius. Though it does not live up to the likes of the seminal Lateralus, this is perhaps Tool’s best work since, and stands testament to the virtuosic abilities of Adam Jones, Danny Carey, Justin Chancellor and Maynard James Keenan. Welcome back.
7. Brutus – Nest
War is unarguably one of the best songs of the year.It is surrounded by expertly crafted almost genre-less music that straddles the line between post-hardcore minimalism and full on rock n roll rage. Songs like Cemetery and the wonderful opener, Fire showcase the precision and dexterity of drummer/lead vocalist, Stefanie Mannaerts, whose abilities are positively celestial. As Sugar Dragon ends proceedings in sterling fashion, the record stands a an eclectic and cinematic wonder. References and influences as wide reaching as Björk and Sleater Kinney, Brutus are a truly special trio destined to exist in the highest echelons of music.
6. Her Name Is Calla – Animal Choir
The Leicester-born band are sadly no more. Splitting after the release of Animal Choir, they bow out in utterly magnificent fashion with one of the very best albums 2019 has spawned. A complex amalgam of arrangements and lyrical phrases, the record is a marvel. The Dead Rift combines the electric and the acoustic into a stirring folk inspired symphony, and have the emotional heft and sincerity that only the most passionately created music can grasp. In This Patterned Room is perhaps the best album closer of the year, and this record is an absolute necessity for anyone serious about music.
5. Baroness – Gold & Grey
Baroness have cemented their position as one of the most revered bands in recent memory. Their artistic flair combined with a panache for transcendentally beautiful songwriting leaves jaws dropped at their ability to create miniature epics. Front Toward Enemy satisfies fans of Baroness’ earlier riff heavy work, while Seasons and Throw Me An Anchor show the subtle, emotional side they have expanded upon with recent releases. There isn’t a second that isn’t meticulously planned, yet it all feels so achingly natural and flows beautifully from work to work. Yet another triumph from a band we should feel lucky to have.
4. Car Bomb – Mordial
Easily the best “metal” release of the year, Mordial showcases a band growing with grace and elegance. This is a more cohesive and dangerously heavy record than Meta proved to be, and displays a panache for inventive songwriting, structural conventions be damned. The rhythmic shifts are so smooth that you don’t notice them on first listen, and of course the guitars sounding like laser beams through triggered MIDI makes for great fun. Car Bomb have created the best work of their careers so far and seem to finally be gaining the mainstream recognition they so obviously deserve. Total fucking carnage.
3. Lingua Ignota – Caligula
There has never been an album as heavy as Caligula. There probably never will be. Survivor anthems rather than songs, the tracks that make up this beautifully dark record of strength, the ability to overcome any evil and perseverance are all sublime. They paint a harrowing picture of Kristin Hayter, better known by stage name, Lingua Ignota, as the epitome of every woman abused by the patriarchy of modern society. It is oblique, stark and raw. This album is not for the faint of heart, but those willing to experience Hayter’s torturous catharsis will find themselves insurmountably stronger for it.
2. Cult of Luna – A Dawn To Fear
Post-metal at its finest, Cult of Luna’s latest record is a work of wonder. Certainly one of their strongest releases in amongst some near perfect albums, A Dawn To Fear is a stripped back, sparse, heavy take on the band’s signature sound. The Silent Man comes roaring out of the traps with visceral intensity, while Lay Your Head To Rest is a lumbering, bestial slab of experimentation. Admittedly, Luna aren’t reinventing the wheel with their latest opus, but what they have done is refined a bleaker sound that hasn’t been heard since Somewhere Along The Highway. A masterclass in excellence.
1.The St Pierre Snake Invasion – Caprice Enchanté
Punk is much more than an aesthetic. It’s an ideology of non-conformity to the status quo, a relinquishing of conservative agendas. No record summarises the essence of hardcore punk like the sophomore release by St Pierre, and no record is performed with such wit, ingenuity and grace. The title track is a miniature experience par excellence that challenges the listener, but provides hooks to catch you, while singles Remystery and Casanovocaine both prove themselves to be eloquent, intellectual floor filling bangers. Caprice Enchanté is the best album of 2019 and may well be one of the best of the decade.
And that’s that. What do you think? Any surprises? Any glaring omissions? Let us know down below and have a wonderful Christmas and New Year.