2019 In Review

The Black Market: The Year In Metal 2019

Welcome to our December Best Of The Rest Blowout. At midnight, 2019 is dead. Let’s remember it one last time before adorable Baby New Year ritualistically stabs it in the heart.

As with our previous year-end purge, this column — that by no means signifies that I’ve shoveled every 2019 promo into a bonfire thus officially kicking off my 5150 “vacation” — is structured to recall the old link-farm Blogspots of yore. You remember, that shitshow of an era when you’d spend four to 24 hours a day pecking through various hubs hoping to find, like, lost Starfighters B-sides? Still, simpler times! Kind of! All you had was a mess of music patiently awaiting to be rediscovered … just sitting there … hidden underneath layers of bad default blog design. And that was … a positive? Sure, maybe in the WoW Classic nostalgia fallacy sense. Anyway, may this old-timey sensory overload and the accompanying permanent eye-bleed take you all the way back. It’s a big ol’ Art Laboe smooch from me to you, reader. Enjoy.

First though, let’s follow up on two items:

Back in January, I wrote about full-length release trends as tracked by Encyclopaedia Metallum. Here’s how 2019 played out:

Number Of Albums Released Per Month
January: 527
February: 613
March: 714
April: 658
May: 675
June: 623
July: 506
August: 521
September: 669
October: 700
November: 639
December: 285
(Info current as of 12/15/2019)

Including the 62 albums that haven’t yet been tagged with a release month, 2019 sports a total of, blastbeat please, 7,192. That’s down a smidge from 2018’s all-time record of 7,860. That said, it’s possible that 2019 will take the crown once its entire slate is tallied. After all, 2018 had 6,899 at this time last year. Why, Marco Di Stasio added one more while you were reading this.

(And yes, to give into my comparative measurement tick, if those 7,192 albums averaged a Reign In Blood runtime of 28:59, it would take you a little over 144 days to listen to them all back-to-back. Metal: There’s a lot of it.)

The other item to report is your Black Market Readers’ Very Right, All The Way Correct Top 10. You posted the lists. I crunched the numbers. Here’s what you preferred:

10. Idle Hands – Mana (Eisenwald)
9. Haunter – Sacramental Death Qualia (I, Voidhanger Records)
8. Baroness – Gold & Grey (Abraxan Hymns)
7. Murk Rider – Exile Of Shadows (self-released)
6. Alcest – Spiritual Instinct (Nuclear Blast)
5. Obsequiae – The Palms Of Sorrowed Kings (20 Buck Spin)
4. Mizmor – Cairn (Gilead Media)
3. Tomb Mold – Planetary Clairvoyance (20 Buck Spin)
2. Inter Arma – Sulphur English (Relapse Records)
1. Blood Incantation – Hidden History Of The Human Race (Dark Descent Records / Century Media Records)

Aw, better luck next year, any band I wrote about. Still, pretty good! It was neat to see what everyone was into, especially all of the left fielders that were drafted. I loved it. Plus, I was able to present the Black Market Best Boy Award Of 2019 to Aaron. He blurbed five of the albums you lurved. He is your new king. Huzzah.

Okay! Enough yapping. Your column makers’ individual lists are below. If you don’t find anything tasty, comment with what you’ve been searching for and maybe another reader will hit you back with the perfect album recommendation. And if you think the world whiffed on something special this year, post that too. See you soon. –Ian Chainey

Wyatt

With a monthly top 10 countdown, we’re in the business of list-making, but that doesn’t make these year-end round-ups any easier. Aaron and I, for one, are out of practice — we’re freeloaders, basically, who leave all the hard work to Ian, who is wholly responsible for keeping the Black Market ship afloat. Ian brings order to the chaos, guiding us as we narrow a monthly pool of hundreds of new tracks into something that is arguably digestible. Ian also lets us tack our blurbs after his thoughtful, elegant essays like a couple of beat up Sea-Doos getting towed behind a Rolls Royce. If you’re a fan of the column, Ian’s the one to thank — along with Doug Moore and Michael Nelson.

I began writing about metal in earnest near the beginning of the decade at the metal blog Invisible Oranges, earning my fair share of bruises (many self-induced from facepalms) early and often. I had the privilege of working with both Ian and Aaron there, both of whom came in as editors-in-chief and both of whom I managed to delude into letting me stick around and write about weird (and in my defense, catchy) black metal, among other things. Doug Moore and Michael Nelson were my EICs there, too, and I’ve learned more from them — about music, writing, you name it — than I realize. Michael is responsible for concocting the idea of the Black Market from scratch and assembling this motley crew way back in 2012. He also gave most of us the chance to write at Invisible Oranges. I’m thankful to him for the opportunities he extended and what he made possible, and I’m thankful to everyone else here for a variety of reasons. Putting this list together as the year, and the 2010s, wind down has brought these thoughts, and their kind, to mind.

As for the music below, this was quietly one of the best years for metal of the entire decade that, looking back on it, offered an embarrassment of riches. If we see a 2020 like 2019 — and a decade like the 2010s in the 2020s — metal has a bright future indeed.

20. Yellow Eyes – Rare Field Ceiling (Gilead Media)
Noisy, dissonant black metal that barely shrouds the intricacies beneath. Regal decay.

19. Obsequiae – The Palms Of Sorrowed Kings (20 Buck Spin)
Medieval wall tapestry metal at its finest. Perfect for touring ruined castles, general roleplaying, as well as rocking out.

18. Ellende – Lebensnehmer (Art Of Propaganda)
Gorgeous, sorrowful mid-tempo atmospheric black metal. Capable of both inducing nostalgic contemplation as well as instilling vigorous hope.

17. Vukari – Aevum (Vendetta Records)
Massive world-tearing atmospheric black metal. Riffs both leap like flames and come crashing down with immeasurable force.

16. Varaha – A Passage For Lost Years (Prosthetic Records)
Pensive, tender metal from Chicago loaded with big mournful riffs that turn hopeful at just the right times. A beautiful album that comes highly recommended from both myself and Michael Nelson.

15. Haunter – Sacramental Death Qualia (I, Voidhanger Records)
Wild twisted death metal that manages to bend time and space and incorporate acoustic passages that quell the tumbling chaos into eerie dreamscapes. A really incredible album the whole Black Market crew agreed upon.

14. Monarque – Jusqu’à la Mort (Sepulchral Productions)
Icy, incredibly catchy metal from one of Québec’s finest and longest running black metal acts. Majestic music that captures both the timeless wonder and unforgiving nature of life in the frigid north.

13. Astronoid – Astronoid (Blood Music)
Buoyant atmospheric metal that blasts above the clouds and soaks up the sun’s dazzling rays. Bright and hopeful, a friendly hand that will pull you out of the darkness or otherwise amplify a beautiful day.

12. Aara – So fallen alle Tempel (Naturmacht Productions)
Haunted castle atmospheric banshee metal loaded with both regal and monastic flourishes that echo across colonnaded courtyards. The title track is one of the best songs of the year, in this newly-invented genre or any other.

11. MURG – Strävan (Nordvis Produktion)
Stomping, wrathful black metal with huge atmosphere from one of Sweden’s finest practitioners. The music of sneering tyrants.

10. Violet Cold – Kosmik (self-released)
Light speed atmospheric black metal from the artist in Azerbaijan who channels cosmic rays into a kaleidoscope of glorious melody. The end of the title track, “Kosmik,” is one of the best moments in metal of the decade.

9. Alcest – Spiritual Instinct (Nuclear Blast)
Blue-hued ethereal wonder that, as in the band’s earlier years, packs an exquisite, energizing punch. Alcest’s best since the door-opening all-time classic Écailles de Lune.

8. Arch / Matheos – Winter Ethereal (Metal Blade Records)
Heavy metal heroes martialing all the powers of the genre — unreal tones, riffs, and imagery — to create magic. The essence of heavy metal, eternal in its ability to spark imaginations and quicken pulses.

7. Serpent Column – Mirror In Darkness (Mystískaos)
Artfully corralled chaos that is as thrilling a listen as anything released this year. The aural equivalent of being dropped into a blender along with an assortment of metal objects.

6. Imperium Dekadenz – When We Are Forgotten (Napalm Records)
A colossus of an album, anthems hewn from mountains that are built to last aeons. Huge atmospheric black metal from one of the most underrated bands in the genre.

5. Malist – In The Catacombs Of Time (Northern Silence Productions)
Ice cold, cobweb-covered black metal from the crypts. Something undead has little business being so catchy.

4. Mystagogue – And The Darkness Was Cast Out Into The Wilderness (Vendetta Records)
Turbocharged atmosphere-rich black metal powered by some of the catchiest melancholic riffs out there. From musicians behind Laster and Gnaw Their Tongues, Mystagogue both soars and writhes in the mud.

3. Sadness – Circle Of Veins (self-released)
Immersive, meditative, and enchanting atmospheric black metal that conjures ghosts of memories both real and imagined. Utterly unique vocals that come from across the threshold of a dream.

2. Remete – Into Endless Night (Cold Ways Music)
The most majestic and heroic atmospheric black metal album in a year when atmospheric black metal aimed so very high. Grand, gorgeous melodies that transcend time alongside desperate throaty rasps that bleed with sincerity. One for the ages — past, present, and future.

1. Idle Hands – Mana (Eisenwald)
Stylish, perfectly-crafted night-time rippers with a deadpan baritone that assumes a place alongside goth rock legends living and lost. An album about both love and loss and ravenous hunger that defines whatever season is underway when you chance upon it. –Wyatt Marshall

Aaron

20. Blasphematory – Depths Of The Obscurity (Nihil Verum Nisi Mors)
Of Joe Aversario’s 13 active bands on Metal Archives — including Death Fortress, Massive Retaliation, and Siege Column — his latest might be the sickest. Max stupidity = total putridity.

19. Cerebral Rot – Odious Descent Into Decay (20 Buck Spin)
Like our politics in 2019, Cerebral Rot revels in the stench of decay. A corpse flower in hideous bloom, featuring uncommonly disgusting riffs and the swampiest of swamp-ass tones.

18. Krypts – Cadaver Circulation (Dark Descent Records)
Perhaps the darkest record of the year. A lightless cave filled with shattered bones, dripping water, and an endless sense of weight. Oppressive and majestic.

17. Capilla Ardiente – The Siege (High Roller Records)
Glory unto thee, deathless kings of doom. The air is thick with pungent smoke (you tell me what’s burning), and the riffs flow like half-clotted blood: This is The Siege.

16. Teitanblood – The Baneful Choir (Norma Evangelium Diaboli)
A thousand shades of red. A blast furnace set to incinerate the world. Nothing left but a sea of blood and fire, echoes of kill riffs amid fading screams — butt punishment for all eternity.

15. Blut aus Nord – Hallucinogen (Debemur Morti Productions)
Fine. FINE. It’s not quite the shroomlord vision quest we were promised, but more of a natural successor to the Memoria Vestuta records, which means it rules, and I was a bit hasty in writing it off. A worthy entry in the worthiest of catalogs.

14. Skáphe + Wormlust – Kosmískur hryllingur (Mystískaos)
Two weird tastes come together like a mouthful of vinegar and battery acid — screeching black metal with a dollop of dimensional distension. Like a Molotov cocktail for the mind.

13. Tomb Mold – Planetary Clairvoyance (20 Buck Spin)
What feeds on tomb detritus? Mold, apparently. And what feeds on tomb mold? POTATOES. On their third album, these spuds are especially virulent, chugging across space and time to become the most tubular of tubers, and with them come riffs of infinite sickness.

12. Tanith – In Another Time (Metal Blade Records)
From the mists of memory comes mighty Tanith, blazing like a meteor made of a thousand harmonized leads. Quite possibly the best of the modern trad metal bands, I’ve been in love with this band since their debut 7″, and the full-length lives up to the legend.

11. Slow – VI – Dantalion (Code666)
This year went from a doomless desert to an ocean of endless doom in the last few months, in no small part due to the immensely suffocating and satisfying crush of Dantalion.

10. Alcest – Spiritual Instinct (Nuclear Blast Records)
Picking up where Kodama left off, Alcest made perhaps the second-best shoegaze record this year (after DIIV’s impossibly good and surprisingly heavy Deceiver), but unquestionably the best metalgaze album of the year, possibly their best yet.

9. No One Knows What The Dead Think – No One Knows What The Dead Think (Willowtip Records)
In terms of excellence, two thirds of Discordance Axis works out to about 90 percent more than any other living grind band is capable of. I suspect this was a one-off, but it’ll be a shame if this is the last we hear from Jon Chang and Rob Marton.

8. Profetus – The Sadness Of Time Passing (Avantgarde Music)
Yet another phenomenally sick funeral doom record that landed in our collective lap late in the year. Church organs and megalithic riffs collide to form the saddest thing you’ll ever subject yourself to willingly, repeatedly, endlessly. Funeral doom the Finnish way.

7. Dysrhythmia – Terminal Threshold (Translation Loss Records)
Technical skronk gods delve (or devolve, perhaps) into technical thrash, trotting out Watchtower riffs and Coroner rhythms alongside the usual instrumental zaniness, and the results are somehow so much stronger for their total lack of vocals. More proof that weirdness = strength in 2019.

6. Esoctrilihum – The Telluric Ashes Of The Ö Vrth Immemorial Gods (I, Voidhanger Records)
Eclectic and utterly unclassifiable, Esoctrilihum are the epitome of something, but I’ll be damned if I know what. It’s like This Heat crossbred with Leviathan, before being set on fire and dipped in a vat of molten Sour Patch Kids. Entropic punishment for an undeserving world.

5. Arch / Matheos – Winter Ethereal (Metal Blade Records)
They’ve got no business being this good. Old-man bands are supposed to cater to the lowest denominator of fan, trading on nostalgia and name recognition to deliver unpalatable turds that only satisfy at the shallowest possible level. Instead we get endless depths of invention, a band firing on all cylinders, and an uncanny batch of songs that somehow transcends its old-man origins. Progressive in the best sense.

4. Haunter – Sacramental Death Qualia (I, Voidhanger Records)
Ah, our unheralded, unexpected AOTY. How this became a consensus favorite, I’ll never know, but here we are. Like Esoctrilihum, Skáphe + Wormlust, and Dysrhythmia, this thing drips weirdness like a syphilitic appendage left untreated.

3. Blood Incantation – Hidden History of the Human Race (Dark Descent Records)
Despite the hype, Hidden History is the real thing. Vicious death, searing psychedelia, longform songs, and neck-snapping riffs combine for one of the best and most satisfying death metal albums in years. The fact that it’s reaching a wide audience even beyond the sea of salivating spuds in longsleeves (like me) is a testament to its sickness.

2. Esoteric – A Pyrrhic Existence (Season Of Mist)
A late blooming nightmare of an album spread across two discs, as usual for Esoteric. Where their stateside peers Evoken overreached and faltered on their last album, Esoteric grabbed the dying torch and set the walls on fire. This is everything I love about funeral doom, and nothing I don’t.

1. A Pregnant Light – Broken Play (Colloquial Sound Recordings)
What to say about this that hasn’t already been said? It’s as close to perfect as anything I heard this year, a straight-up ripper loaded with hooks and heart, with a soft spot only eclipsed by its unexpected mean streak. It’s the kind of record you play for yourself on repeat for weeks, an object of quiet obsession, until you realize it’s too good to be kept under wraps and you need to force these songs on unsuspecting ears, so you make your friends listen, and they walk away just as torn up and dumbstruck as you. It’s that kind of record. The kind you look for but rarely find. The kind that gets you through some shit, that gives enough of itself to keep me doing this even when logic and my feeble sense of self-preservation screams out that it’s time to stop. It’s good enough to give meaning to the game, to make all the rest of it worth something more, to bring about change. What else is there to say? –Aaron Lariviere

Ian

Just a reminder that, as a listener, I see no reasonable distinction between release types this century. Let singles stand with albums. I am a monster. Maximum output, maximum chaos.

20. Sulfuric Cautery – Chainsaws Clogged With The Underdeveloped Brain Matter Of Xenophobes (Goatgrind Records)
Yeah, that’s a title. You will not evade me, LDOH worshiper. A little punkier, but still a gooey splatter platter.

19. Meathook – Crypts, Coffins, Corpses (Unmatched Brutality Records)
Solid year for BDM. I hung around with Meathook for the full 365. Vox is a graduate from Steve Austin’s Technical Night School of “A Lot.”

18. Funereal Presence – Achatius (Sepulchral Voice Records)
Wherein Funereal Presence uncovers a haunted spell scroll. Casts WEIRDNESS. Rolls a nat 20.

17. Pharmakeia – Pharmakeia (Amor Fati Productions)
Probably the noisiest of the Prava Kollektiv crew. Shit-your-pants black metal squall. Appropriate BH album art.

16. Saqra’s Cult – The 9th King (Amor Fati Productions)
Lone rule for black metal: Riffs must compel me to make a claw hand at passing motorists. Box checked.

15. Darkthrone – Old Star (Peaceville Records)
I will follow Darkthrone anywhere. Fenriz and Ted have earned it. The riff is still strong here. Tell me which bridge to jump off of.

14. Esoteric – A Pyrrhic Existence (Season of Mist)
I miss the old heft, the rando death metal tracks. Still, a lovely downer. For connoisseurs of sadness.

13. Source – Spelling Swords (High Roller Records)
Catchier than a communicable disease in an anti-vaxxer carpool. Embedded forevermore in my dumb head.

12. Andavald – Undir skyggoarhaldi (Mystískaos)
Kind of one note, but it’s a thrillingly dolorous note. Works because it keeps moving. Like if DSBM went to motorik driving school.

11. Child Abuse – Imaginary Enemy (SKiN GRAFT Records)
A deep, immersive listen that will evaporate your friendship with any normo who hears it. Damaged in the best ways.

10. fluoride – disentanglement (React With Protest / Nerve Altar)
As pissed as I was on the inside all year. Cathartic. Made mean faces at a lot of clouds to this.

9. Lurid Panacea – The Insidious Poisons (P2)
Is it grind? Is it brutal death metal? Oh, it’s over? That was quick.

8. Wormed – Metaportal (Season Of Mist)
I mean, it’s Wormed.

7. Psudoku / Parlamentarisk Sodomi – Report From The 10th Dimension (Selfmadegod Records)
Dude just gets me. Steinar plays with himself on another gonzo ripper. Nuttiest Psudoku has ever been. The crusty grind side is good, too.

6. No One Knows What The Dead Think – No One Knows What The Dead Think (Willowtip Records)
Marton’s riffs raised me. Felt right hearing them again.

5. Serpent Column – Mirror In Darkness (Mystískaos)
Death by a million riffs. Sounds like a four-lane pileup.

4. Haunter – Sacramental Death Qualia (I, Voidhanger Records)
Oh hey, it’s the Opeth album people have wanted since Deliverance. So stoked to see where this band goes next.

3. Arch / Matheos – Winter Ethereal (Metal Blade Records)
Dad metal to the extreme. No-scoped me right in the feels every time, though.

2. Dysrhythmia – Terminal Threshold (Translation Loss Records)
Sneaks up on you. “Yeah, this is good,” you think. Weeks later, still on repeat. Heady. The album to play if you want to ace your math final.

1. Jute Gyte – Birefringence (self-released)
Nothing twisted up my brain meat more. Dude has made some gems, but this is something else. A feast of dissonance.

Alright, award time. These stupid things now have a deep history that rivals baseball’s. Also, like baseball, no one cares.

OUT OF STEP
Awarded to my favorite punk record that could’ve conceivably made the column. Fight me at a show

Protocol – Bloodsport (Dynastic Yellow Star Label / 11 PM Records)
Absolutely ruthless hardcore that flexes fiercely while sneaking in a devastating lyrical payload.

SLAMZ, DA DA DA
Awarded to my favorite degenerate goo record that I didn’t force upon you this year, you’re welcome

Despondency – Excruciating Metamorphosis (Permeated Records)
Ten-year layoff. Took two tracks to prove that Despondency has still got it. God’s acid flashbacks.

KAIRON; IRSE! AWARD
Awarded to my favorite metal-adjacent rock album that I couldn’t shoehorn into the column this year, my bad

Helium Horse Fly – Hollowed (Dipole Experiment Records)
I actually done did a good because this one made the column. Worth highlighting again. Nightmare prog that tick-tick-ticks unnervingly.

SPUD
Awarded to the quality death metal record that I failed to put into the column this year, my bad

Kataplexia – The Rise Of The Unknown (Rotten Music / Guttural Brutality Productions / Brutal Mind)
Stretching the “spud” definition here. Think Dying Fetus, but far more reliable. Just bangs, don’t overthink it.

DOOM OR BE DOOMED
Awarded to the doom album I loved that I whiffed on this year, my bad

Disrotted – Cryogenics (Nerve Altar)
If I can’t cram Coltsblood and Hell into a make-ur-own-split, this is the one. An exercise in sound maximalism. Destroyed my clock radio.

GAINZZZ
Awarded to the best workout album

Pool – Pool (Skeletal Lightning)
Twinkle-shred band does an April Fools goof and turns in the beatdown single of the year.

THAT’S, LIKE, WORK AND STUFF
Awarded to the band least interested in promoting its good album

Abort Mastication – Dogmas (Obliteration Records)
I’m still not even sure where to buy this Stateside, thus my terminal FOMO tells me this must be the best album ever.

SON OF A
Awarded to the best non-Death Fortress album that I found in 2019 that wasn’t released this year

Voice Coils – Heaven’s Sense (Shatter Your Leaves)
Did … you know that indie darling Mitski previously sang on a dark, labyrinthine prog record? Now you do.

I’LL HOLD YOUR BEER
Awarded to the biggest swing for the fences

!T.O.O.H.! – Komouš (self-released)
Still a band! An odd little NSFW EP, but the guitars sound like guitars again. Your move, Duobetic Homunkulus.

SHOWER BEER
Awarded to the best album to throw on during the weekend

Smoulder – Times of Obscene Evil (Cruz del Sur Music)
Singalong AOTY. Would’ve made the regular list in most years.

Aight. If you read this far, note: Weeping Sores would’ve made the top five pretty easily. Alas, I know the guy. To that end, if you’re curious about all of the stuff I thought was good, you can peep that list here. It runs about 120 releases. Have fun.

And that’s a wrap. Shout out to all the peeps who make this possible. Shout out to the readers who have turned this little patch of blog into an oasis. If you’re new to metal, let me roll some logs and point you towards some other junk I wrote this year about Obituary, Napalm Death, and Deicide. I can’t wait to show you more music you won’t like next year. –Ian Chainey