The 10 Best Metal Albums Of 2019
Hails, my fellow Black Marketers. Welcome to the inaugural edition of the Black Market Glossary, a reference guide designed to help new readers interpret what the hell we’re writing about.
Oh, I guess I should mention that our top 10 appears at the end of this thing. You might want to read that. Whatever.
And, yes, here are the details for the “Black Market Readers’ Very Right, All The Way Correct Top 10″ that will appear in our December best-of-the-rest wrap-up. If you want to submit — whoa, hey, *snaps fingers* eyes up here — a list of 10 albums that will analyzed and compiled by a very advanced quantum computer, drop it in the comments with “READER LIST TOP 10″ as the header. For your convenience, here’s a template:
READER LIST TOP 10
1. [Band] – [Album Title]
2. Suffocation – Pierced From Within
3. Weeping Sores – False Confession
4. Fatty Carbuncle – Festering Infestations Of Vindictive Raging Readers
5. Sperm Wail – For I Studied The Blade DVD
6. Your List Is Dumb – And Other Seth Putnam-Level Insults I Can’t Wait To Read
7. Tool – This Is Here To Help Our SEO
8. 324 Feat. 13, 16, And 27 – 1349 b/w 35007 (311 Cover)
9. Any Of The Bands I Interviewed Last Year – That Told Me They Were Finally Releasing Their Lost Album
10. Therion Feat. Sunn O))) – Life Metal (18-Disc Deluxe Full-Sized Coffin Boxset)
[Band]? Laughable. Cool? Cool.
1. the time-flattening effect that occurs when binge listening to an artist/band’s entire discography in one sitting.
“The Aaron Effect transforms Cannibal Corpse’s Gallery Of Suicide into a minor classic.”
2. when a binge has the unintended consequence of rewiring your brain.
“Agathocles’s Aaron Effect has borked my head meat. Music is pain. Nothing is real. Hold something over my face until I stop moving.”
1. a juggawugga or big chungus riff that is so spartan and elemental in its chuggery that it can only be derived from the butt.
“But more than anything, it’s an album intro that turns into something else: a slow-burn buttchug of a riff punctuated with drum hits and absurd vocals that ratchets up the tension until it finally explodes into floorpunching crossover madness.”
2. a nothing riff, often associated with a redneck stomp.
“That Oppressor decided to forsake death metal for Soil’s yarling buttchugs is one of metal’s greater mysteries.”
describes metal musicians who buy too heavily into the mystical aspect of the music they’re making.
“Yeesh, this edgelord caught a case of the cloak brain after reading Céline and now has terminal but-the-riffs.”
in conspiracy with (PR slang), turd-ouroboros
collective noun for a group of war metal enthusiasts or those who unironically own decorative gas masks.
“I was about to pay cover, but I took a look inside and it was a total goat festival so I bailed.”
Jawa-looking black metaller
Instagram Death Metal
nowadays old school death metal bands that are extremely online, especially those treating thoroughly pit-stained, hand-me-down death metal aesthetics as ironic/marketable peak experiences.
“Oh, you mean the Instagram death metal band that tried to sell me a limited edition, $20 beer koozie is the opener? Pass.”
the finisher of riffs, one that goes above and beyond to destroy the listener. Never a buttchug, but may be the crescendo in a series of juggawuggas. Always the biggest of the chungus riffs. Some slams are kill riffs, but not all kill riffs are slams.
“Hi, Mrs. Lariviere? We took your husband into custody because he kept yelling ‘kill riffs.’ Yes, ma’am. Yes. He has been listening to a lot of Cannibal Corpse.”
a PR term of art denoting a little-heard demo released 10 or more years before the creators inevitably reformed for the festival circuit and/or reissued their back catalog. Actual legends are rarely recounted to substantiate the descriptor. Also highly likely that the number of vest patches in the wild is higher than the band’s Spotify playcount.
“This legendary demo includes three exclusive bonus tracks that are each members’ authentic answering machine messages, one of which we’re premiering today! Catch lone original member Jim Donkus and three hired guns at Wisconsin Butt Fest next month. Full tour dates below.”
Origin: The Book Of Metal Law, of unknown ancient origins
this is part 3 of a 10,000-part series discussing Metal Law, set to the music of German heavy metal heroes Metal Law. Rule Number Three! The law will set you free! (*lightning strike*)
“Metal Law. Metal LAAAEEEAAAEEEAAEEAAAAAWWWWWWW! YEAOW! YEAOW YEAOW YEAOW!”
1. the beloved former leader of the Black Market. We miss you, man.
“What is this crap? Bring back Nelson!”
2. verb Nelson’d: when you consistently experience bad luck with the music/artists you enjoy.
“I went on a blind date with Ian after reading his intros. He looks like a youth pastor that rolled under a fridge. I really got Nelson’d on that one.”
New School Duck-Walk Shit
1. a style of blasting prevalent in modern death metal.
“He does the single-foot upbeat blast instead of the new school duck-walk shit. I’m very happy to be working with Scotty Fuller. He is a super drummer.”
2. a derogatory description of the type of nowadays tech metal that verges on nothing music due to the way it recycles the tropes of multiple genres instead of attempting a personality.
“Oh cool, more sterile new school duck-walk shit that crash-lands into deathcore djent.”
lifeless music that prioritizes vibe and atmosphere over effective songwriting. Prevalent in late-stage symphonic black metal, gothic metal, and power metal.
“When hairlines recede, nothing music fills the void, forcing zombie follicles to sprout feeble wisps of buttchugs where lush hooks once grew.”
ponytail metal, Anathema
the most common and enduring metal vocal hit. Often traced back to Tom G. Warrior, although antecedents exist. Signals that either a sick riff is imminent or Hells Headbangers signed another Hellhammer clone.
Original usage: “OOGH!”
“The most famous example of the vocal hit is Tom G. Warrior’s iconic ‘OOGH!’, but he’s not the only metal vocalist with a distinctive vocal hit in his repertoire.”
Origin: Moorian by way of Succumbian
Black Market-specific definition: whenever a cloak brain unintentionally breaks kayfabe, usually by displaying ignorance of a band/philosophy that’s a keystone within the dubious metal identity that they’re trying to erect.
“Hold up. Did any of these neckbeards actually read Nietzsche? Pose exposed!”
the shortened form of “potato death metal,” a term that describes a death metal band that is such a death metal band that it is the potato of death metal bands.
Original usage, traced back to the early Doug Days Of Metal Review: “Jungle Rot aren’t meat-and-potatoes death metal so much as they’re just the potato.”
“Profanal: a tasty spud. Not sure I’d take the class they’re teaching, though.”
a sub-200-word Black Market blurb that is perfect, efficiently describing the music without resorting to punishing paragraph breaks. The only thing people actually read in the column.
“Forget a Wyatt bleb, I can’t even write my name without a 2,000-word digression on the origin of the folk melodies in “Black Winter Day.” Just look at this goddamn glossary.” -Ian Chainey
And now, a very special message from Black Market Chief Bleb Officer, Aaron Lariviere.
Caveat of caveats:
As the sacrificial goat chosen to kick this thing off, it is my job to deliver the bad news up front: This list will disappoint you. (Also, ranked year-end lists are dumb, dumber than our usual lists, which is saying something.) Apologies if this sounds familiar. I can’t say this in clearer terms than I did last year, and I won’t try, so let’s go ahead and make your disappointment an annual tradition, like drinking spoiled eggnog and laying waste to a public restroom.
No apologies, however, for the contents of this list, which is objectively perfect to the extent it accurately reflects our collective favorites. (I am told Ian used predictive translation software to decode our appreciative OOGHs, then fed the quantified results through proprietary AI and/or Excel formulas to ensure an accurate distribution of Metal Points; I won’t pretend to understand such wizardry.) Presumably it looks nothing like your personal list, which makes sense because, last we checked and despite our best efforts, we are not you. Unless the things you love happen to perfectly align with the schizoid nonsense we slapped together and labeled “BEST OF 2019,” your thirst for listicular validation shall go unquenched. There will be no Blut Aus Nord. No Inter Arma, Tomb Mold, Tanith, Alcest, Gatecreeper, none of it. For better or worse, just like last year, we made a collective choice to eschew grand narratives and editorial coherence, and instead give you our unvarnished favorites — the things we loved most (or hated least). Life is short, cruel, and full of idiots (like us), so this is what you get. Happy December. –Aaron Lariviere
10 Dysrhythmia – Terminal Threshold (Translation Loss Records)
“I’ll be damned if Terminal Threshold, [Dysrhythmia’s] eighth full-length, isn’t like some lost Paul Gilbert record where he went full Voivod and hooked up with with the Combat Records Ultimate Revenge 2 package tour in 1988.” I wrote that back in September, and I’ll stand by it … in that I believe that’s what I heard at the time. I now recognize that Terminal Threshold is so many things, that even my description that irritatingly cites so many things barely scratches the many-things surface of the many-things metal fractal that’s, in fact, so many things all the way down. Oh yeah, worth mentioning: Kevin Hufnagel (guitar), Colin Marston (bass and guitar), and Jeff Eber (drums) packed all of these many things into 32 minutes. The hell. This some TARDIS-ass shit, my dudes? The necromantic wing theoretical mathematics will be spending a few millennia trying to figure that out. I certainly can’t. My head looks like Terry Grow’s album art whenever I try to conceptualize it. I mean, I still don’t even all-the-way get Terminal Threshold, which is a hell of a thing to write about one of my favorite albums of the year. What I do get is the hold Dysrhythmia has over me; planet-grade gravitational in its strength. As with any enthusiastic Ian blurb, here’s a plaudit that means more to me than it might to you: Terminal Threshold has effortlessly nudged Exivious out of the way and is now my prime zone-out instrumental metal record. Terminal Threshold’s eight songs, none of which eclipse five minutes, are micro prog brain-twisters of the highest order, irresistible puzzles that would put people into a coma if left out in a waiting room. The thing is, all of the players’ inexhaustible shredding is rooted in a thrashy noisiness that rebuffs prog snootiness. Like, you don’t need a ProgArchives grand master account to be on the same page. If you dig the dissonant scream of guitars or the meaty thump of drums, you’re within the covers, at least. I’ll stand by that. For now. Check back with me next decade, maybe. –Ian Chainey
9 Serpent Column – Mirror In Darkness (Mystískaos)
Serpent Column’s Mirror In Darkness is one of the wildest listens of the year, an album that throws you in a blender and varies the blade speed without ever considering the off button. Though chaos is a key element throughout, it is always at the work of a grander scheme — it’s the furious brushstrokes that make up the image of a raging, awesome sea. The musicianship behind this grand cacophony is virtuosic. Blistering guitarwork strains credulity at times, crisp and angry drums hammer points into submission, and a ceaselessly grating scream is of the sort that would make a non-metal fan turn green. That a somewhat linear melody emerges from this contrast of textures — stone grating against stone, metal against metal, stone against metal — is testament to the unique vision of one Theophonos. Some bands, in creating wildly intricate, relentlessly agitated works of metal seem to invoke the animalistic and alien struggles of the insect world, where masses of rigid limb motion evoke living machinery and oily writing suggests biological decay. Serpent Column evokes a similar kind of in-the-mud struggle, but one where the protagonists are human and the thrashing, gnashing violence is even more desperate and doomed. –Wyatt Marshall
8 Remete – Into Endless Night (Cold Ways)
Nothing this year ripped as relentlessly or as majestically as Into Endless Night, the first full-length from the one man band comprised of D., the Australian best known for his work with the mighty Woods Of Desolation. D.’s talent for channeling feelings of loss, nostalgia, and bittersweet triumph into searing, soul-tearing melody is unrivaled, and he’s put the full playbook to work here. Wailing leads aim for the stars, and jangly, stylish, infectious riffs that could go on forever grab you by the lapels. D’s remarkably expressive, desperate rasp is front and center, imploring and demanding. All together, and with deft synth undertones, it’s a unique palette, one that is awash in blues and blacks and deals in feelings and ideas that transcend the boundaries of a life. Into Endless Night is a remarkable, absorbing listen that won’t be forgotten. –Wyatt Marshall
HEAR IT: Bandcamp
7 Blood Incantation – Hidden History Of The Human Race (Century Media / Dark Descent Records)
Step right up for the death metal record of the year, folks, which has become something of an unlikely crossover success. And it deserves all the attention and accolades it’s getting, both on the merits as a pure death metal album, and for employing just enough Floydian melody and excess to trick normal humans into listening. As I wrote way back in … October: “Taken as a whole, Hidden History Of The Human Race goes a step beyond [previous LP] Starspawn … which makes it one of the best records of the year, and in all likelihood, one of the best death metal records of the decade. It’s plenty experimental and obviously audacious (18-minute songs don’t just grow on trees), but this is ripping death first and foremost. All the weirder bits exist to serve the songs, whether it’s a brief synth excursion or acoustic guitar comedown, and they add depth and texture within the broader context of the record. None of this obscures the fact that Blood Incantation are better at death metal than just about anyone. If you need a reference point, think Tucker-era Morbid Angel with a better ear for songcraft and a penchant for off-kilter Immolation grooves, which are often the best part of the song. The band has this recurring trick where they turn on a dime, change rhythm and instantly lock into a violent groove, gnashing back and forth over a queasy Immolation riff, grinding it into space dust before changing tack and finding something new to reinvent, like an unexpected, hyper-melodic Chuck Schuldiner-sounding lead guitar or a controlled burst of death prog that would make Atheist proud. There’s so much here to unpack.” –Aaron Lariviere
6 Idle Hands – Mana (Eisenwald)
In a year loaded with amazing metal albums that dropped listeners in the midst of medieval ruins (Obsequiae) or mid-orbit around Saturn (Blood Incantation), perhaps no work created as distinctive or visceral an atmosphere as Idle Hands’ Mana. At the Pareto optimal point between metal (trad, black, glam, speed) and goth, the album was born of the band’s own version of Portland, Oregon, one where dark streets, rain, and leather are naturally — can only be — expressed in a dual axe-attack, blue-hued magic soundtrack. The five-piece, four of whom previously made up the speed metal band Spellcaster, nail a nostalgic vibe with modern sensibilities, but that nostalgia is born out of deep-felt longing for things gone by — loved ones, an unraveled state of being — rather than era-worship. Loss underscores a number of the album’s absolute best moments, on tender songs like “A Single Solemn Rose,” “Jacky,” and “Double Negative.” But just as often as Idle Hands recalls doomed romance, the band invokes ravenous hunger. Idle Hands masters this balance, setting the scene for the kind of gripping listen that seizes the mind and heart. –Wyatt Marshall
5 Esoteric – A Pyrrhic Existence (Season Of Mist)
As I wrote in November’s column: “Esoteric tend to resurface every few years, typically with an obscenely long monstrosity of a double-disc album.” True to form, their first release in eight years is a casual 98 minutes. Fortunately, it absolutely slays and makes an instant play for AOTY, and easily lands as the best doom record of the year, despite stiff competition. It’s also one of the biggest albums of the year, in a way that’s hard to describe: an overwhelming experience in every sense of the word. It may not have that unbearable sensation of nut-crushing heaviness that was pretty common in funeral doom circles for a while. But every song feels like an impossible journey, a world unto itself, filled with strange corners and unexpected emotions. This is funeral doom, of course, so they hit the expected beats, but they don’t stop there. Low, slow guitars fixate on the crush rather than the grind, and wailing leads share center stage with the guttural croak of a vocal. But they’re not afraid to cast aside the form and chug through several minutes of searing death, and the record rules much harder for every experiment that appears. Keyboards abound, and there’s no shortage of tonal shifts or atmospheric moments to provide a momentary reprieve when you need it. There’s a keen sense of flow throughout the tracks, and even on a 30-minute behemoth like the opening track, the album never drags. Unlike recent undercooked experiments from close competitors — which used similar tools but collapsed under the weight of overwrought keys and clunky clean vocals — everything here works, no matter how far afield they wander. The crush is endless and all-consuming. –Aaron Lariviere
4 No One Knows What The Dead Think – No One Knows What The Dead Think (Willowtip)
Ten tracks, 18 minutes. There’s a ton of backstory behind that runtime, though. At the very least, we’re talking 18 years. The clock starts ticking after Rob Marton left Discordance Axis, the grind band in which he riffed inventively from 1992 to 2001 with Jon Chang (vocals) and Dave Witte (drums) filling out the rest of the “classic” and longest-running iteration of the trio. The reason for Marton’s departure? Serious health issues, career-ender type stuff. That band’s final album, 2000’s the Inalienable Dreamless, became a pillar of the style, clearly hall of fame-bound as soon as its DVD case hit the streets. So, if you’re gonna go out, that ain’t a bad way to do it. You just kind of wish it was on Marton’s terms. Still, the world turned and his bandmates carried on. Witte, as he did throughout his stint, continued to rack up the frequent band member miles. Chang, meanwhile, lent his incandescent scream to Gridlink, a similarly respected band that pushed grind’s boundaries without losing sight of the style’s core identity. (His partner in that project and Hayaino Daisuki, guitarist Takafumi Matsubara, is also making a comeback.) But the grind would catch up to Chang, too. From a post in 2017: “…I was sincere about moving onto other things. Pretty much, the only one I would come back for, was Rob.” Spoiler: He’s back. Crazy thing: No One Knows What The Dead Think are great. Crazier: after an 18-year IR stint! Then again, what 18 years? Marton is still Marton. If anything, his unique approach to melody and rhythm within a grind framework has only deepened, his tone still indefatigably rich, alive, barely contained. Chang’s voice shows little wear, incredible considering how much of his career has been spent in the red. And then there’s the new guy: Kyosuke Nakano on drums. Remember this dude. Expressive and yet incredibly precise, he’s the key to grind’s golden ratio. But, as I asked in my original book of a bleb: Is this it? “The music stops/ The memories end/ The last notes ring out…” Chang howls on “Dagger Before Me.” Hm. It is an awesome, fitting conclusion. But … crazier things have happened, right? Stick around if you want, Marton. You earned the time. –Ian Chainey
3 A Pregnant Light – Broken Play (Colloquial Sound Recordings)
I said it then, I’ll say it now: The latest from APL is too perfect to ignore. It started life as the definitive album of the summer, and in the intervening months it’s grown into something even more resonant, a lasting testament to love and death and the fact that, in metal and life, there are no rules, not really. As I wrote in July: “In turns anthemic, explosive, corrosive, and hopeful, APL’s second full-length is a genreless hybrid with a dash of everything. There’s chiming post-punk and rough-hewn hardcore, hints of speed metal and violent crossover, and of course the emotive black metal that’s been the backbone of APL for the better part of 25 releases. There’s a persistent character that permeates Damian Master’s work with APL: a restless combination of wit, ego, and heartache, given shape by a unifying visual aesthetic that owes more to Factory Records than Deathlike Silence. Despite having wildly different influences, Master’s earnestness and conviction reminds me a bit of some other idiosyncratic visionaries — guys like Chris Black, who puts an intensely personal stamp on his music no matter the subgenre, or even someone way further afield like Lawrence of the cult jangle pop band Felt, who make music that sounds nothing like APL but who I imagine shares a similar vision of what music and clean visuals can do when forced through the lens of a single mind, pretensions be damned. That’s all to say there’s real depth here, real ambition, and real heart, and it manifests in fascinating ways across the new record. It’s an album full of sharp contrasts, where ripping thrash meets heartbroken hardcore and a hundred shades in between, and it’s the emotional and melodic breadth that makes it hit so hard.” –Aaron Lariviere
2 Arch / Matheos – Winter Ethereal (Metal Blade Records)
The neat thing about doing a collaborative list like this one is discovering which albums are sneaky consensus heavyweights. We all have disparate music diets, so the streams rarely cross. When something does, you figure it’s special, like the two-song Fluisteraars / Turia split that we made … album of the year in 2018. Remember that? What are these “rules” you speak of? Anyway, this is a long windup to say I wasn’t expecting the three of us to combine our rings and summon … Arch / Matheos’s Winter Ethereal. To recap, this is the sophomore release by former Fates Warning coworkers John Arch (vocals) and Jim Matheos (guitars) plus a whole phone book of talented friends. The LP they’ve created is a, uh, refined bit of tuneful progressive metal that occasionally dips into InsideOut territory. Another reminder: Wyatt’s the black metal guy, Aaron’s the death metal guy, and I’m a moron. However, it makes a lot of sense that the three of us would be drawn to an album so consistently appealing. When Arch’s voice — I called it a “melismatic novella” in my extremely long blurb and Matheos’ guitar a “latticework of crystalline structures,” how am I still employed — are really cooking together, which is often, Winter Ethereal finds that rare ground between technical achievement and heart-palpitating emotion. I mean, have you watched any dead-eyed shredder’s playthough video recently? Skills to the power of feels is usually a c-c-c-combo breaker. And yet these multifaceted epics hit that mark on the regular. It still doesn’t get much better than the 13-minute “Kindred Spirits,” a song tattooed upon my hippocampus the moment I heard it. Christ, the catharsis; it hurts so good. After each twist and turn, I’m drained. But here I am, playing it again. Glad I’m not alone. –Ian Chainey
1 Haunter – Sacramental Death Qualia (I, Voidhanger Records)
If 2019 has a theme, at least beyond persistent global and domestic decline, “weird ass metal” might be as good a pick as any. The weird-ass-edness might even be a symptom of that decline; as daily life distorts into a funhouse vision of systemic breakdown, and as objective truth melts away like a candle in a microwave, the relative weirdness of a band like Haunter takes on a strangely comforting quality, despite that the music seems custom-built to discomfit and disorient. Up is down, 2+2 is 5, and this is music circa now. In the months since this came out, I’ve come to rely on it, listening as a grounding exercise before facing whatever new horror lurks in the news or elsewhere. As I wrote back in August: “Drawing on a few generations of strangeness from the likes of Krallice, mid-period Blut Aus Nord, Palace Of Worms, and a heap of recent I, Voidhanger bands, Haunter emerge fully formed and insane, a shambling mass of strange turns and weirdly listenable riffs. Given how far black metal has mutated in the last few years, this isn’t as immediately shocking as it might have sounded a decade ago, but Haunter harness the schizophrenic impulses of a band like Esoctrilihum and transmogrify the hideousness into something almost soothing. Songs veer from caterwauling aggression to crystalline clean guitars, and every time the transition feels like slipping between worlds. Like waking from a nightmare of disembodied eyes and gnashing teeth to find yourself floating in a subterranean lake, awash in eerie bioluminescent light from the worms covering the walls. Discursive bursts of nightmare prog intertwine with lunatic death, like an insect molting in time-lapse, until something inevitably rips free from the sonic underbelly, warping songs into something unrecognizable, like a distended limb that takes on a life of its own. There’s a persistent throughline of melody, but the band does everything imaginable to obscure that fact, to bury it and twist it out of shape, only to dig it up and shove it in your face. I don’t know what the hell this is, but it’s great.” –Aaron Lariviere
Listen to a playlist of key tracks from each album available on Spotify.