Articles : Metal Obsession’s Best Albums of 2019
Here we are again, folks. As the earth nears its complete orbit around the sun, metalheads around the world share their insight and knowledge into what they believe is the best album of the year.
We asked some of our writers to put together a list of their top albums of the year with the end result being what you see below.
2019 has been another great year for new releases. As usual, my list contains a mixed bag – there’s some long-time favourites, new discoveries, Australian and International bands. Enjoy!
Devin Townsend – Empath
I’ll admit that I had become a little jaded by the number of releases that HevyDevy had churned out since 2011’s Ghost. EMPATH took a little longer to release than some of the albums that have been churned out in that time, and the result is a refreshingly complex record. The word Genius can’t be used lightly but I think the word can apply to Devin Townsend. Previous albums like Terria, Alien, Ocean Machine: Biomech, Accelerated Evolution and others have all hit on elements of Devin’s creativity which I will always enjoy, however in a lot of ways EMPATH is the album I’ve always been wanting Devin Townsend to write and record. EMPATH is heavy, complex, progressive, creative, and my album of the year.
Krypts – Cadaver Circulation
Krypts from Finland have released arguably my favourite Death metal releases of 2019. “Death Doom” is a term that gets thrown around these days, but for me, it’s just slow menacing death metal – Krypts play a really slow and sinister, filthy brand of death metal which really hits the spot.
Hath – Of Rot and Ruin
Progressive Blackened Death metal? Whatever the case Of Rot and Ruin is a fantastic album and arguably the best example of this sort of album that I’ve come across for some time. The album is even more impressive when you consider that this is Hath’s debut album – No doubt the band have spent their time honing their craft before putting their music on tape. Fantastic album, with quite a wide range of moods.
Horror God – Cursed Seeds
Cursed Seeds is the third full-length from Russian band Horror God. Cursed Seeds is dissonant-prog-tech-death metal in the vein of Gorguts and Ulcerate – not a lot else needs to be said if you know these bands. This is a damn good release and Horror God are one of my favourite finds of 2019.
Dream Theater – Distance over Time
Distance Over Time sounds like Dream Theater doing what they do best. The irony of the matter is that jaded fans, and especially those still observing candlelight vigils over Mike Portnoy’s self-inflicted departure will lament this very fact. Whilst it’s true that over the course of the most recent 9 releases the pairing of Petrucci and Rudess (& Co) have clearly found a comfortable compositional style, I prefer to view this air of familiarity as a hallmark of a truly classic musical act. Distance Over Time is a great album and is more than worthy of its place in the Dream Theater discography.
Voyager – Colours In the Sun
Colours In The Sun is a damn good album. It picks up nicely from where Ghost Mile left off and reinforces the standing of Voyager as a real force in modern Progressive music. Each track revolves around great vocal melodies and for that reason you don’t need to ‘be in the mood’ for it like perhaps you might need to be for the more abrasive styles of metal – it’s the sort of album which you could have stuck in your car’s stereo for a decade and not get sick of it.
Blood Incantation – Hidden History of the Human Race
This album dropped so late in the year that I had to re-do my list just to make room. Blood Incantation has created an amazing progressive death metal album with HHotHR. The album consists of just 4 tracks but has an ample run time, assisted by the closer being a dead set epic with a run time of 18:02. Blood Incantation has an old school sound to my ears – flirting with sounds which hark back to Florida Death metal and some of the early progressive death metal from Sweeden. But whilst the analogue production might be a little nostalgic, there’s no doubt that they’re forging new paths with their songwriting. Extra marks for the Alien theme and rad album art.
Jasad – 5
It’s not often that a 5 track EP will make it onto my end of the year list, but Jasad has put out a 5 track smorgasbord of top quality brutal death metal riffing and groove on ‘5’. Part Suffocation worship, part modern slam, Jasad have created a really enjoyable release and cement their standing a force to be reckoned with from Indonesia.
Opeth – In Cauda Venenum
I became an Opeth fan in the early 2000s when I discovered Blackwater Park. I was hooked by the interesting guitar lines, the strong vocals (both growled and clean) and ultimately the juxtaposition of light and dark moods (at that stage I’d been unable to find such an array of moods delivered by a single band elsewhere). Whilst the growls seem to have been retired from studio recordings, on In Cauda Venenum Opeth have achieved a staggering array of moods and feelings without the presence of Akerfeldt’s heavy vocal style. The juxtaposition of Light and Dark which originally drew me into Opeth is alive and well on this release. Whilst I’ll probably always prefer pre-Heritage era Opeth, this album is clearly their best release for over a decade, and immediately demands repeat listens which is surely a sign of a very strong album.
Lord – Fallen Idols
Has LORD done anything wildly innovative or genre-defying with Fallen Idols? Probably not, and to some extent you wouldn’t want that form these veterans anyway. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay is that after decades of quality releases I’m struggling to put my finger on an album in the collective back catalogue which I’d say is better than this one, such as the strength of Fallen Idols – it’s certainly been worth the wait.
Dysrhythmia – Terminal Threshold
Paladin – Ascension
9 Foot Super Soldier – Party Violence
Devin Townsend – Empath
The great Canadian’s new albums tend to come out to generally positive acclaim. This one, however, has been a little divisive. I know people who absolutely love it and think it’s one the of the best things he’s ever done. Then there are others with whom it just didn’t seem to connect at all. Part of this may be the fact that he ended his long run with the Devin Townsend Project and went completely solo on this one, and produced a truly wacked-out, idiosyncratic insight into his warped genius mind and creative process. He eschewed the regular-ish song structures that characterised much of the likes of Addicted, Epicloud, Sky Blue etc, and threw everything including the kitchen sink at it. Myself, I fall into the former category, and it’s my album of 2019.
Thornhill – The Dark Pool
It was an excruciatingly tough choice, there were some stunning albums released this year, but I had to go for Melbourne’s Thornhill. There is some real hype around this band, and this is one of those occasions where that hype is absolutely justified. The Dark Pool is superb, putting a dark and dynamic twist on the Aussie metalcore/post-hardcore sound that has been so popular, so consistent and had such longevity. It is a scene that just keeps throwing up fabulous new bands who release excellent, riveting albums, and Thornhill is the latest to step forward and make their mark.
Periphery – Periphery IV: Hail Stan
The title counts this as this band’s fourth album, but including the double conceptual piece Juggernaut from 2015, it is actually their sixth. The consistency this band has found is stunning, every album they’ve released is a monumental slab of dynamic molten melodic prog metal, and Hail Stan is no exception. Very much hoping for a tour from these guys in 2020.
Diamond Construct – Diamond Construct
You could put this Taree, New South Wales-based band loosely in the same category as Thornhill above, if such things are needed, they’re just a gnarlier, nastier version. As I sit here typing this, I have been utterly obsessed with this album for about the last three weeks since a friend recommended it to me. The songs are strong as hell, the production is sharp as a brand new axe and the delivery of it all is just devastating. And, like Thornhill, this is just their debut. Breathless with anticipation as to what both bands will come up with next.
Voyager – Colours in the Sun
You know it’s a mindboggling year when the mighty and magnificent Voyager get shunted to ‘only’ fifth! Colours in the Sun is another wondrously inventive, catchy and enthralling release from these Perth legends, an ultra-fun thrill ride of proggy pop, rock and metal. Like Periphery, this band can do no wrong, everything they touch is pure gold.
Gravemind – Conduit
More Aussie heavy goodness. Another relatively new band who have produced an absolute cracker of a debut. Heavy, verging on brutal at times but managing to be interesting and forward-thinking at the same time. The maturity being displayed by Aussie heavy bands on their debuts at the moment is astonishing, and Gravemind adds to that lustre.
Uneven Structure – Paragon
French heavy music is stunning, and this band, now on their third record, is a massive part of that. While they haven’t quite matched the magnificence of their 2011 debut Februus, both subsequent albums have still been extremely strong. Paragon is still a compelling entry into their own canon and that of the illustrious French contribution to heavy music.
Shadow of Intent – Melancholy
Heavy and symphonic music always combine beautifully, whether it’s Deep Purple, Nightwish, Dimmu Borgir or Fleshgod Apocalypse, and America’s Shadow of Intent do it as well as anyone on the planet right now. The overriding vibe is that of brutal deathcore/death metal, with the orchestral elements adding bombast and atmosphere to proceedings. The end result is one of the most over the top aural assaults you will hear.
Klone – Le Grand Voyage
More French beauty. This band has become less and less heavy over the years, to the point where they can scarcely be called ‘metal’ any more, but lost none of their relevance whatsoever. Le Grand Voyage lives up to its name, it is a wondrous journey across ambient soundscapes. This truly is a band to discover if you haven’t already.
I Built the Sky – The Zenith Rise
Aussie instrumental beauty, The Zenith Rise manages to make shred guitar fun. Main man Rohan Stevenson does this by putting the actual ‘shred’ secondary to creating memorable tunes that are highly enjoyable to listen to, that sweep you away with the exuberance of their delivery. He can certainly play, but the compositions come first, well before his need to ‘show off’. Several releases in now, I Built the Sky gets better and better.
Black Income – unSOUND
The mastermind behind Danish outfit Black Income is Henrik Thrane. He has formed a remarkable trio who have captured the essence of Alice In Chains, Kyuss, Stone Temple Pilots, and Nirvana, then distilled and reimagined it on the one superb album. An essential release for rock music fans, the best since Weezer’s Pinkerton (’96) and At the Drive-In’s Relationship of Command (’00).
24-7 Spyz – Soundtrack to the Innermost Galaxy
Selling heavy metal soul by the pound has been guitarist/ vocalist Jimi Hazel and bassist Rick Skatore’s trade since the late 80s. Glorious funk metal infused with hefty doses of Marvin Gaye and Sly and the Family Stone. The Soundtrack to the Innermost Galaxy could be the Bronx outfits finest hour. A dense album full of the type of ear candy that’ll make the musicians in the readership giddy. Life-affirming stuff.
Avatarium – The Fire I Long For
Marcus Jidell has written yet another guitar masterwork demonstrating his considerable chops. Techniques developed by Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Lesllie West, Gary Moore, Richie Blackmore and Tony Iommi are all across The Fire I Long For. Possibly the most versatile guitarist in the biz today. If you are a guitar playing aficionado, check this one out.
Rings of Saturn – Gidim
There was a time not long ago where it looked like Lucas Mann was ready to step out of the music biz. He’d had enough of the bullshit. I wouldn’t have blamed him for quitting, but then we’d miss out on his gift for crafting lightspeed ultra-deathcore. Gidim takes us far beyond where previous album Ultu-Ulla (’17) finished. They played the gig of the year at The Brightside in the Valley too. Spectacular.
Tool – Fear Inoculum
Was it worth the wait? Who cares! Fear Inoculum is a great album that continues to reward after many listens. Bassist Justin Chancellor is the hero of the album. He offers plenty of killer bass grooves and still manages to lock down the incredible drumming of Danny Carey and algebraic guitar playing of Adam Jones.
Opeth – In Cauda Venenum
Opeth continues their evolution into a heavy metal response to 70s style stadium prog outfits Rush, King Crimson, Yes and Jethro Tull. And isn’t it sublime! In Cauda Venenum is beautifully contrived music, made by musicians who are approaching expert levels of craftsmanship. Guitarist Fredrik Åkesson continues to impress, offering plenty of tasty licks and guitar hero moments.
Lord – Fallen Idols
I’ve written elsewhere that Lord Tim, Andy Dowling and co. have written an album that bests anything Iron Maiden have done in almost 20 years. I’ll add Judas Priest to that list now, except in their case that’s nearly 30 years. This Broken Hill via Wollongong outfit should be huge in Europe, and they should definitely be performing on those huge northern hemisphere summer festivals. Razor-sharp thrash inspired by traditional heavy metal.
Mayhem – Daemon
I truly enjoyed the film Lords of Chaos; a biopic that explores the circumstances leading to Euronymous’ murder. I cannot understand the hate directed toward the film, and I suspect the neo-kvlt basement-dwellers in the black metal elite will also heap shit on Daemon, an album that hints at the majesty of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (’94). There are plenty of new ideas to keep the band relevant well beyond the protestations of the 4chan brigade.
The Gloom in the Corner – Survivors Guilt
Like clockwork, a world-class band manages to emerge the Victorian capital annually. This year, it’s The Gloom in the Corner. If you can imagine what Korn could sound like if they harnessed the musical violence of Deicide, then this approaches the sounds across Survivors Guilt. Will be interesting to see how they develop in the next few years.
Nocturnus AD – Paradox
The great Mike Browning returns with a worthy follow up to the supreme masterpiece, The Key (Nocturnus– ’90). Browning is an enigma wrapped in a riddle; a key collaborator with a very young Trey Azagthoth in Morbid Angel, his vocals and drum work were crucial in the development of the nascent death metal genre. Paradox proves that Browning is a very relevant and enduring voice in the music biz.
Honourable mentions: Cellar Darling– The Spell; Eluveitie– Ategnatos; Alcest– Spiritual Instinct; Deez Nuts– You Got Me Fucked Up; Adrenaline– Adrenaline; Memoriam– Requiem for Mankind.