Continuing with our annual tradition of the End Of Year Awards, we’re delighted to welcome back Metal Hammer / Stereoboard scribe and recently appointed Prog Magazine News Editor Matt Mills as a special guest for his second involvement in the awards. He’s got some cracking picks, so read on!
Album of the Year: We Never Learned to Live – The Sleepwalk Transmissions
The Sleepwalk Transmissions is everything post-hardcore – and, indeed, rock music as a whole – should aspire to be. The second album by the severely overlooked Brighton troupe We Never Learned to Live, it’s a progressive opus where each song segues seamlessly into the next. The music and the lyrics are married perfectly, with seemingly small touches, like the drums of “The Clocks” actually sounding like ticking clocks, going a long way. Plus, the whole album is just a brilliant mesh of heavy and melodic. It’s catchy as hell, but never panders or feels “dumbed down”. More people need to hear this!
1) Iapetus – The Body Cosmic: Space-age prog/death begging to be heard by fans of Sylosis, Allegaeon and Persefone
2) Batushka (Krzysztof Drabikowski) – Panihida: Masterful riffs and Christian chants from the O.G. Batushka
3) Alcest – Spiritual Instinct: Beautiful, spiritualist melodies that turn traditional black metal on its head
4) Venom Prison – Samsara: Feminist death metal that’s more vital now than ever before
EP of the Year: Phoxjaw – A Playground for Sad Adults
On paper, Phoxjaw seem too bizarre for their own good. Their music melds the vocal style of indie rock with the riffs of metal, the angst of post-hardcore, the hooks of Beatles-style pop and the off-kilter lyricism of Syd Barrett. What a mess. However, stick on A Playground for Sad Adults and you will discover that this apparently alien concoction is, actually, a stroke of genius. On their second EP, frontman Dan Garland and his unpredictable crew bring heaviness, singalongs and “WTF?” moments in equal measure – and you’re sure to get addicted fast.
1) Exploring Birdsong – The Thing with Feathers: Sumptuous piano pop/prog that’s equal parts Kate Bush and Steven Wilson
2) Caged Existence – The Burden of Purpose: ‘90s-style metalcore with modern socio-economic concerns
3) A.A. Williams – A.A. Williams: The ominous spirit of metal injected into the tranquillity of pop
4) Hellripper – Black Arts & Alchemy: A flashback to ‘80s Venom and very early Slayer that’s brilliantly goofy fun
Song of the Year: We Lost the Sea – “Towers”
Opening your album with a 15-minute-long track requires testicles the size of space hoppers, but that’s exactly what We Lost the Sea did in 2019. In October, the Australian post-metal beloveds released their fourth album, Triumph & Disaster – an odyssey that uses the six-piece’s immense instrumental talents to tell the story of a mother and son’s last day on a post-apocalyptic Earth. “Towers” commences this emotive powerhouse, using both unsettling quietness and slicing riffs to set the scene for Triumph & Disaster’s dystopian landscape. This all builds to a barrage of perfectly married grooves and guitar chords, which are so climactic and energised that you can’t quite believe there’s still 52 minutes of music left to follow.
1) Employed to Serve – “Eternal Forward Motion”: A unique, important concept hammered home by a powerful chorus
2) Fleshgod Apocalypse – “Embrace the Oblivion”: Symphonic death metal masters welcome Armageddon with brilliant bombast
3) Fvneral Fvkk – “Alone with the Cross”: Eerie doom metal about the sins of the Catholic Church
4) Whitechapel – “Hickory Creek”: Deathcore heroes briefly explore a more emotional avenue
Record Label of the Year: Holy Roar
Holy Roar Records’ roster is probably the most all-round brilliant of any metal label active today. Every album this London-based indie platform released in 2019 was nothing short of fantastic. However, highlights include The Language of Injury – the debut album from egalitarian hardcore upstarts Ithaca. There was also Curse These Metal Hands, which saw members of the riff-governed aggressors Conjurer and the forlorn post-metallers Pijn collide. Renounced’s Beauty Is a Destructive Angel was another stand-out, mixing the melodies of metalcore names like Bring Me the Horizon with the raw aggression of Converge. And, already, Holy Roar is going to be releasing fantastic new albums from Giver and Garganjua in 2020! This label needs to be on your radar.
1) 20 Buck Spin: The best and most diverse metal label in North America right now
2) Transcending Obscurity: All year, they’ve shone a light on the best underground extremity
3) Nuclear Blast: This mainstream metal label has turned its eye to signing more esoteric names
4) Season of Mist: Gaahls WYRD, Abbath, Essence of Datum, Misery Index, Foscor, Sermon… – consistent quality from one of the best labels around
Gig of the Year: Amorphis, Soilwork & Nailed to Obscurity – Electric Ballroom, London, 4/2/2019
As 2018 became 2019, Amorphis, Soilwork and Nailed to Obscurity were three of the hottest bands around. Amorphis was riding high off the amazing Queen of Time, while the other two were on the cusp of releasing the magnificent Verkligheten and Black Frost respectively. So, as you’d expect, the trio brought the thunder when they graced London’s Electric Ballroom back in February. The crowd were red-hot for the Nuclear Blast Records darlings from the get-go, swooning to Nailed to Obscurity’s progressive death/doom before feeling their hearts aflutter at Soilwork’s harmonic genius. Amorphis subsequently stole the show, with their blend of catchiness, extremity and prog proving inimitable.
1) Russian Circles & A.A. Williams – EartH, London, 14/8/2019: Superb post-metal with an awe-inspiring light show
2) Gojira, Rolo Tomassi & Dead Label – O2 Academy Brixton, London, 30/6/2019: The best death metal band on Earth prove why they’re just that
3) Behemoth, At the Gates & Wolves in the Throne Room – O2 Forum Kentish Town, London, 8/2/2019: Theatrical black metal heathens lead a captivating triple threat
4) Rivers of Nihil, Black Crown Initiate & MØL – The Dome, London, 2/10/2019: Playing Where Owls Know My Name in full just isn’t fair on everyone else
Best New Band of the Year: Ithaca
What with their first EP dropping all the way back in 2014, some would consider it a stretch to dub Ithaca a “new” band. However, shortly after first arriving in the UK hardcore scene, Ithaca entered something of an involuntary hiatus, resulting in a three-year dry spell of new music that ended in February 2019 with The Language of Injury. Both their debut album and a rebirth, Language… was the first exposure many had to this rowdy quartet, and what a first impression to make! Whirring guitars, raging rhythms and significant messages against inequality and injustice made this a bonafide career-kickstarter. In the year since Language…’s release, Ithaca have played a slew of headline shows, not to mention performed with such heroes as Bleeding Through and Jamie Lenman. Mental!
1) Holding Absence: Magnificently melodic hardcore for emos, metalheads and arena rock fans alike
2) A.A. Williams: She’s uniting the seemingly incompatible worlds of pop and metal
3) Phoxjaw: Indie rock meets metal – these guys are just weird!
4) Exploring Birdsong: Much-hyped pop/prog youngsters finally release their amazing debut EP
Music Video of the Year: Rammstein – “Deutschland”
In hindsight, one of the of the biggest takeaways from 2019 will be how it marked the return of so many classic bands, including, of course, Rammstein. In March, the German industrial metal specialists ended an eight-year dry spell of new music with “Deutschland”, the lead single of their untitled album. The single’s nine-minute video is an eye-exhausting spectacle, masterfully shot with amazing sets and costumes. The clip depicts violent acts in periods from the Roman era to World War II, allegedly as a metaphor for their homeland’s continued fascination with war and conflict. Love Rammstein or hate them, this concept and its execution are both amazing!
1) Whitechapel – “When a Demon Defiles a Witch”: A powerfully-shot horror film disguised as a music video
2) Fleshgod Apocalypse – “Sugar”: Water, water everywhere, yet not a drop to drink
3) Alcest – “Protection”: Wow, she’s flexible…
4) Une Misère – “Damages”: A bleak horror setup juxtaposed by a gorgeous Icelandic backdrop
Most Disappointing Album of the Year: Savage Messiah – Demons
Ten years ago, the UK’s underground metal scene was caught up in a new wave of revitalised, melodic thrash. At the time, the hotly-tipped players of the day included Evile, Reign of Fury, Gama Bomb, Sylosis and, of course, Savage Messiah. On their first three albums – Insurrection Rising, Plague of Conscience and The Fateful Dark – Savage Messiah were unstoppable, mixing the drama of the NWOBHM with the speed of thrash to great effect. The riffs were as mighty as the choruses and metalheads fell for them fast. Not even their 2017 offering, Hand of Fate – which upped the catchiness to arena rock levels – could falter them. However, 2019’s Demons definitely did. This mess was, seemingly, the sound of Dave Silver and co. wanting to have their cake and eat it too. They sounded somewhere between radio-friendly rock stars and speed freaks with underground cred. As a result, this album made them neither, and is just a disjointed dud.
1) Sleep Token – Sundowning: The hotly-tipped prog metal enigmas fail to refresh their formula
2) Mark Morton – Anesthetic: A long-awaited solo album that sounds like rejected Lamb of God riffs
3) Darkthrone – Old Star: The Norwegian black metal duo seem a shell of their former selves
4) Voyager – Colours in the Sun: Melodic prog rock favourites create Eurovision-friendly silliness
Band of the Year: Employed to Serve
“There is no time to worship yesterday,” Employed to Serve frontwoman Justine Jones roars during the first chorus of her band’s 2019 album, Eternal Forward Motion. It’s an appropriate refrain for an album that discusses the pressures of being a millennial: constant stress, rent costs, the inability to buy a house, being unable to afford having a family. As such, Eternal Forward Motion is a disc with a hugely important yet rare message regarding the state of this generation. Combine this with a consistent touring schedule and a major-label breakthrough, and there’s no way Employed to Serve aren’t the hottest alternative band of 2019.
1) Conjurer: US tours, Curse These Metal Hands and a headlining EU run – this lot are unstoppable!
2) Slipknot: A highly-anticipated comeback that actually lives up to the buzz? Bloody hell!
3) Devin Townsend: Ditching the ‘Project’ has set this prog metal icon free of his creative shackles
4) Dawn Ray’d: All the raw brutality of classic Norwegian black metal, without the worry of whether they’re bigots
While you’re at it, you can also check out End Of Year Awards from some of our other team members: