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Shit. Another year of turmoil and the world seems more divisive than ever. The good news is that metal was as strong as ever and kept us united with top notch releases from every genre and every type of band from new and unsigned to perennial heavyweights. One glance at the staff lists below show the quality and quantity of metal released, as you’d be hard pressed to find a common top album amid the bunch.

Here’s to 2020 (where the fuck are the flying cars and shit??) , and you can look forward to more reviews, and maybe even a fresh coat of paint on the site. Skol!!!!!!

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Jordan Itkowitz

We finished out the decade with a truly excellent and diverse year of metal. Hard to believe, but some of these bands are now veterans with 25+ years under their belts, and they’re still putting out phenomenal work. With excellent quality like that, it’s hard to make room for newcomers – but a few recent bands pushed their way into the list as well. No shortage of amazing stuff out there!

Top 20

  1. SoilworkVerkligheten (Nuclear Blast). No one else unites speed, aggression, melody, and hooks like these guys. The most addictive and satisfying album of the year by far. 
  2. OpethIn Cauda Venenum (Nuclear Blast/Moderbolaget). Opeth’s albums over the last decade have been summed up as “post-Watershed,” but this is their new watershed moment, and the true beginning of a new era for the band.
  3. InsomniumHeart Like a Grave (Century Media). As a single continuous composition, Winter’s Gate was a break from a typical Insomnium album – and it proved to be their magnum opus. Now they’re back to a more traditional album, and it’s their best set of songs yet. “Pale Morning Star” has essentially been on repeat for the whole second half of 2019.
  4. AllegaeonApoptosis (Metal Blade). These Colorado melodic/tech death metallers have always entertained, but this is a quantum leap forward in technicality, groove, and composition. The first two tracks alone are mind-boggling.
  5. Xoth Interdimensional Invocations (Creature of the Northwest). I had never heard of this band until this year, but they blew me away with this collection of catchy, crunchy, and playful tech-death. Highly recommended to fans of Obscura and Gorod.
  6. VukariAevum (Vendetta Records). There’s a lot of post-black metal out there that relies too heavily on mood and atmosphere, but without nailing the frigid melodies or rigid structures that defined the classic black metal sound. Not these guys – their sound pulls from the past while clearly standing apart as something new.
  7. Cattle DecapitationDeath Atlas (Metal Blade). I love how this band has embraced their ‘clean’ vocals to add color and contrast to their unique brand of chaos. It worked for Anaal Nathrakh and Emperor! Their most ambitious, cohesive, and compelling album yet.
  8. ObsequiaeThe Palms of Sorrowed Kings (20 Buck Spin). After their phenomenal debut in 2011, I expected a whole wave of medievally-inspired bands to create a new melodic black metal renaissance – but this Minnesotan duo continues to stand alone as a rare and wondrous gem in the metal underground.
  9. AlcestSpiritual Instinct (Nuclear Blast). My favorite set of Alcest songs since Les voyages de l’ame.
  10. Dream TheaterDistance over Time (Inside Out). The Astonishing was well, astonishingly boring, but this is a true return to form, and their best collection of songs since A Dramatic Turn of Events. And despite its ungainly title, “Barstool Warrior” features the band’s most beautiful melodies since Scenes from a Memory.
  11. Cult of LunaA Dawn to Fear (Metal Blade). A welcome return to the meditative and crushing atmosphere of Vertikal, with a few new sounds and rhythms mixed in.
  12. StormlordFar (Scarlet Records). Italy has seen a swell in symphonic black and death metal this year, but this veteran band is far ahead of the fleet.
  13. Amon AmarthBerserker (Metal Blade). Caught these Viking veterans on tour this year and was wowed by their spectacle and performance – and also how insanely popular and appealing they’ve become over the last two decades. They’ve basically turned into the Iron Maiden of the melodic death scene. Skål! 
  14. Waste of Space OrchestraSyntheosis (Svart Records). A black metal/prog rock opus from members of Oranssi Pazuzu and Dark Buddha Rising. Make the time for this one – and grab your headphones – it’s a bizarre and mesmerizing odyssey.
  15. AbbathOutstrider (Season of Mist). I’ve still been playing Northern Chaos Gods this year, so it’s like we got two great Immortal albums in half the time.
  16. QueensrycheThe Verdict (Century Media). I’ll admit I really haven’t paid much attention to this band since Promised Land, but this was a great collection of songs that I revisited often this year, and holy crap does the new guy sound just like Geoff Tate.
  17. TravelerTraveler (Gates of Hell). I first heard these Canadian speed metallers on the excellent Trapped Under Ice compilation, and their debut does not disappoint. If “Speed Queen” were released in 1982 it would have been covered a thousand times by now.
  18. AdeRise of the Empire (Extreme Metal Music). These guys out-Niled Nile this year for the ancient history death metal award of 2019. Rome if you want to, Rome around the world…
  19. Dauþuz Monvmentvm (Naturmacht Productions). Superb and shrieking old-school melodic black metal with a unique theme: mining. Yes, mining. Now that’s underground.
  20. Rings of SaturnGidim (Nuclear Blast). This whole sub-genre of noodly, spastic tech-death usually plays much better than they write, but this one grabbed me – and it sounds like it truly came from the far reaches of space. Play this for someone who knows nothing about death metal if you want to confuse the hell out of them.

Honorable Mentions

DrudkhA Few Lines in Archaic Ukrainian. The Great Old OnesCosmicism. Idle HandsMana. Cave InFinal Transmission. RammsteinRammstein. SaorForgotten Paths. In MourningGarden of Storms. MerrowReading the Bones. Infant AnnihilatorThe Battle of Yaldabaoth.

Disappointments

  1. NileVile Nilotic Rites. People have been saying this is their best album since Annihilation of the Wicked, or maybe even Shrines (one of my favorite metal albums, period). I don’t get that at all – I thought this was a mess. I’ll be waiting to hear what Dallas does in the next Narcotic Wasteland instead.
  2. Blut Aus NordHallucinogen. Okay, it contains a lot of the DNA of one of my favorite albums of all-time – Memoria Vetusta II – but the heavy metal swagger just annoyed me.
  3. Tool Fear Inoculum. Bloated, overlong, and often boring. I did like many passages of the songs here – and “7empest” is the single best thing they’ve done since Lateralus – but the album needed more editing and decision making and less navel-gazing. Also, I really wish lazy mainstream reviewers would stop referring to these guys as “thinking man’s metal” – the genre is full of bands who are more innovative, layered, and challenging than this.
  4. MyrathShehili. It’s a very catchy and pleasing album, but in their quest for a greater global audience, Tunisia’s Myrath has scaled way back on the power-progressive elements that made them such a wonderful find in the first place. I still love Tales from the Sands – one of my top albums of the decade.

Best Remaster

Cradle of FilthCruelty and the Beast Re-Mistressed. One of the few examples of a remaster that is actually better than the original – and the original was already my #1 CoF release.

Best Compilation

Trapped Under Ice Vol 1 (Temple of Mystery Records). Okay, it was pretty much the only comp I listened to all year, but man, is it excellent. All new Canadian speed and heavy metal bands – with some black metal influence frozen throughout. If you’re not familiar with Starlight Ritual, Occult Burial, Traveler, Metalian, or Freeways (who I was lucky enough to see live as well), head North, young man!

Best Discovery

I have been listening to metal for 30 years and somehow have never dug into the Scorpions‘ back catalog – particularly their 70’s stuff, which is far more diverse, creative, and exciting than their few radio hits. Lovedrive and Taken by Force got tons of playtime from me this year, with In Trance and Blackout right behind. I think “Sails of Charon” might have been my most-played song of 2019. Thanks Chad Larsen for the push!

Most Insane

PissgravePosthumous Humiliation. Caught these guys this summer at a death metal festival and I can’t remember being so hypnotized by a band or vocalist. Their sound is pure corrosive cacophony yet it’s almost geometric in its precision. 

Anticipating for 2020

Looking forward to new releases from Carcass, Enslaved, Ihsahn, Faith No More, Gojira, Mastodon, Anaal Nathrakh, and Black Crown Initiate.      

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Comments

  1. Commented by: Nick Taxidermy

    Man, nobody liked the new Devil Master?


  2. Commented by: M Budziszewski

    Surprised to see Planetary Clairvoyance on just a few lists. I really thought I’d be the only list without it. Same for Blood Incantation. In a way It’s nice to see.


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