Riley's Top 20 Albums of 2019
Hoorah, one more year down the drain and fifty flippin' music releases have been chosen by yours truly! Despite listening to and whittling down my favorites out of a heck ton of full-length albums, EPs, and non-metal releases, there still is music that I’m just now catching up on (Cattle Decapitation, Cult of Luna, Diamond Construct, etc.) and wishing I could squeeze in here without disrupting the harmony and order that I methodically tinkered on for too long.
Regardless of the inevitable inability to hear everything that came out in 2019, the below choices should provide good listening for any metalhead. Although my tastes are slightly biased towards prog and metalcore/deathcore, we have releases below in styles of post-hardcore, folk metal, jazz fusion, alternative, some blackened metal here and there, and more. Hope you discover something new you enjoy and here's to a metal-tastic 2020!
P.S. My band, Kinkshamer, released our debut EP this year! If you're a fan of progressive metalcore with some naughty themes, we're on all streaming services.
20. Uneven Structure – Paragon
A couple years ago, Uneven Structure's La Partition almost made my top albums list and as we arrive now at Paragon, they have made enough notable steps forward to start this countdown off. Despite a few vanilla tracks, there are some glorious moments on here that provoke the smooth, sharp attributes of Tesseract or Monuments. Even though the immediate, hard-hitting pieces like "Outlaw," "Jester," and "Hero" will be my go-to songs, consuming all twelve songs consecutively provided the mesmerizing experience that I have missed from the aforementioned acts as of late. Lastly, the archetypes and characters listed throughout the tracklisting struck a chord with me and allowed each piece to have purpose.
Released via Long Branch Records / Listen to "Outlaw" below:
19. The Last Ten Seconds of Life – Machina Non Grata
In the first phase of the deathcore era, many of the groups were at a competition to become the most heavy and extreme amalgamation of death metal and hardcore, which was impressive at the time. Nowadays, the novelty of that shtick has worn off and bands in this subgenre need to follow more experimental paths and dedicate time towards stronger songwriting. The Last Ten Seconds of Life is a solid example of gradually increasing the quality of their music with each release, Machina Non Grata being the clear pinnacle so far. At times, the act is relentlessly brutal with pounding snare beats and discordant riffs creating an undeniably intimidating metallic barrage. On the other hand, we see The Last Ten Seconds of Life understanding the give and take relationship in the dynamics of music with pregnant pauses, samples, and actually catchy vocal melodies establishing tension and release.
Self-released / Listen to "Sweet Chin Music" below:
18. Leprous – Pitfalls
Admittedly, I wasn't initially sold on the metal-absent direction the band has been heading in since Malina. While I do long for the guitar-driven riffs and patterns from Coal and The Congregation, the trail they're currently sauntering down has actually shaped up to be far more interesting. Focusing further on Einar Solberg's stellar vocal range and synth build-ups, Pitfalls is even more calming than Malina, yet is twice as striking. Moody zen-like themes and momentous musical peaks are particularly shown on "Alleviate" and "The Sky is Red."
Released via InsideOutMusic / Review / Listen to "Alleviate" below:
17. Walkways – Bleed Out, Heal Out
From Israel, Walkways is an alternative/progressive metalcore act that truly caught me off guard and constantly kept dragging me back to listen to the infectious tracks off their latest LP. Catchy singles like "Despair (For Heaven's Sake)" and "Half the Man I Am" fill the charming chorus-laden metalcore void that Bring Me the Horizon left behind since they recently went pop. As you continue through Bleed Out, Heal Out more layers of this monstrous project are unveiled with influences coming from djenty technicality of Periphery and atmospheric elements alike Textures. I will say that this record isn't exactly captivating from front-to-end, however a large majority of these tracks are meritable enough to deserve high praise and an inclusion on this list. In addition, I foresee this as just the beginning of a successful future in the modern core scene.
Released via Nuclear Blast / Listen to "Bleed Out, Heal Out" below:
16. Humanity's Last Breath – Abyssal
Last year, Black Tongue landed on my best albums of year list and was easily the heaviest of 2018, if not all time. This year though, Humanity's Last Breath squashes the competition and earned acclaim through the absolute sheer heaviness on Abyssal. Their previous material was effortlessly crushing, but the band didn't rest on their laurels as their recipe of deathcore, djent, and black metal expanded. Inevitably, these styles forged together to create an immense beast of a record. Opener "Bursting Bowel of Tellus" and "Fradga" may be the highlights of the record, but the amount of experimentation in vocal effects, guitar noises, and rhythmic syncopation is constant and vast.
Released via Unique Leader Records / Listen to "Fradga" below:
15. Materia – The Rising
As previously stated, these albums are included on this list for a myriad of distinct reasons. Impressively enough though, The Rising ticks off every requirement far beyond what I normally expect. "Rosa Alba" and "Rising" unveil an extremely heavy side in the realm of both Meshuggah and Make Them Suffer. Alternatively, "Shadows" and "Set It Off" have a provocative melodic and lyrical impact that should be viewed as no less than enthralling. Most importantly, there is a shocking abundance of variety showcased in The Rising from the metal-pop-punk fusion in "Splinters" and to 90's prog Porcupine Tree-like nostalgia shown via "Another." All in all, Polish progressive metallers Materia are a fresh and an utterly remarkable act that should be on everyone's radar.
Self-released / Listen to "Rosa Alba" below:
14. Black Passage – The Veil
I was pretty sold from the get-go with a lineup holding members from bands like Fallujah and Wolf King, who previously hit my best albums lists as well as musicians of Wrvth, Anisoptera, and Behold the Desecration. This debut LP blew me away with how it presents a technical death metal ferocity with such grace. The balance between the abrasive, hefty parts against the clean atmospheric moments is astonishing and a real breath of fresh air.
Self-released / Review / Listen to "Left to Waste" below:
13. City State – Equinox
The best part about discovering new bands is you can vividly hear their youthful spirit and abundance of energy through the music. City State contains a heck ton of bombastic metalcore vigor into this debut LP shown via catchy and banging singles "Crooked Walls" and "Wilt." Additionally, I love the range they reveal from the straight-forward moshpit inducer "White Lies" to the melancholic ballad "Reflections."
Released via Famined Records / Listen to "White Lies" below:
12. Motanka – Motanka
I am a huge advocate for the fusion of metal with other country's ethnic folk styles and Motanka's self-titled debut record executes such a unique identity with perfection. Their metal foundation containing prog, sludge, and groove was alluring enough, but once they added the stylistic twist of hammered dulcimer, folk percussion, and soaring melismatic vocals, they reached untouchable heights.
Released via Napalm Records / Listen to "Oy ty moya Zemle" below:
11. AngelMaker – AngelMaker
Not only is this record ridiculously heavy, but it's surprisingly a very fun listen. Most deathcore acts strive to simply grind their listeners eardrums into a fine powder, where Angelmaker succeeds in performing the aforementioned action, yet also elegantly pieces together tasty grooves and energizing death growl melodies. In most albums of this style and intensity, my brain is worn out halfway through, however Angelmaker brings forth steel-strong songwriting and sinister atmosphere a plenty, coaxing me deeper into their menacing realm.
Self-released / Listen to "Hollow Heart" below:
10. Crystal Lake – Helix
These guys seriously blew up this year and they absolutely deserve all the hype they've garnered. Helix is a robust display of this Japanese act's unification of nu metal, djent, and post-hardcore with their metalcore center. And sure, I'm not fully sold on their clean vocal, melodic sections, but Crystal Lake's bold experimentation and understanding of mature song structure already places them on par with other large names in the scene like Northlane or Erra.
Released via SharpTone Records / Listen to "Aeon" below:
9. Slipknot – We Are Not Your Kind
After the flacid non-album single "All Out War" and the cringy new masks reveal, I prematurely pinned this record to likely be a disappointing flop. Once the day of release came, my curiosities caved and I dug right in with the intention of rolling my eyes and smugly being correct in my assumptions that the Slipknot bubble had finally popped. Roughly five songs in and my attitude shifted. Songs like "Solway Firth," "Unsainted," "Birth of the Cruel," and "Orphan" stand out as the hard-hitting radio rotators, yet the most significant elements on here are the cohesion and experimentation. Slow burner "A Liar's Funeral" and piano-based "Spiders" are one of a kind tracks in Slipknot's discography and pinpoints the band stepping out of their comfort zone. While We Are Not Your Kind does not stand toe to toe with the group's first three records, I would take this latest LP over .5: The Gray Chapter and All Hope is Gone any day.
Released via Roadrunner Records / Review / Listen to "Solway Firth" below:
8. Myrath – Shehili
Alike Motanka, Myrath's strengths lay in their ethnic fusion. Their layering of chanted vocals, lush string orchestration, and grandiose production teleports you to their fantastical world. I found many similarities to Orphaned Land's Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs within Shehili, however Myrath is still very much so capable of maintaining a unique style shown by their biting vocal hooks and gut-punching riffs. The compositional expertise displayed throughout this record had my attention grabbed the whole time.
Released via earMusic / Listen to "No Holding Back" below:
7. Born of Osiris – The Simulation
Born of Osiris' debut EP The New Reign will always remain my all-time favorite release by the band as well as a monument in the Sumerian-core/progressive metalcore scene. With each release, the band strayed from the creative qualities shown on that EP, yet on this mini-album, they find their footing once again. While there is comparability to the previously mentioned EP on The Simulation, this album is overall a best of both worlds for all Born of Osiris fans, shown in the duality of the catchy singles "The Accursed" or Under the Gun" akin to Tomorrow We Die Alive or Soul Sphere paired with the experimental and beefed up tracks "Disconnectome," "Analogs in a Cell," or "Silence the Echo" that harken The New Reign or The Discovery likeness.
Released via Sumerian Records / Review / Listen to "Silence the Echo" below:
6. Thank You Scientist – Terraformer
The past couple Thank You Scientist albums have been pretty impressive, but never engaged me enough to warrant becoming a full-fledged fan. Terraformer completely changed my outlook on this project however. For starters, the songwriting was stepped up ten whole notches on this record, with hooks never ceasing to bounce around my head all day. The choruses of "FXMLDR" or "Everyday Ghosts" were pure earworms. Simultaenously, the songs are capable of building up tension through varied rhythms and boisterous horn sections. If you're keen on jazz-fusion, prog rock, and falsetto vocal styles all packed together in a very cinematic and explosive package, this LP is perfect for you.
Released via Evil Ink Records / Review / Listen to "Swarm" below:
5. Moon Tooth – Crux
With the band's debut record, Chromaparagon, being an excellent execution of lively and unconventional clash of progressive metal and alternative rock, I was a bit concerned that this follow-up wouldn't be as capable of possessing such playful and bewildering artistic leaps. Luckily, I was proven wrong. All eleven songs on here show Moon Tooth exploring new territory in heavy strides from the galloping hard rock speed of "Omega Days" and "Awe at all Angles" to the climactic and crushing outro of the ballad-esque title track. In the past, comparisons of Mastodon or Mars Volta arose for this band, but Crux is concrete evidence that Moon Tooth are now in a league of their own.
Released via Pure Noise Records / Review / Listen to "Musketeers" below:
4. Devin Townsend – Empath
With the dissolution of the Devin Townsend Project, I had some worries about the direction of Devy's next release considering those members have been seemingly crucial in his recent output. More-so though, I was head over heels curious about what was in store with all the hype and mystery that surrounded Empath prior to any material surfacing. Once the "Genesis" single emerged, I was convinced this would be a magnificent record and upon taking the full album in, I was even more overwhelmed by the wide stylistic spectrum squeezed inside, shown mostly by the aforementioned genre stew "Genesis" as well as the intense Strapping Young Lad-esque "Hear Me" contrasting with the ambient-electronic rock piece "Sprite." It's safe to say that a large majority of Devin's discography has an emotional element attached, even if disguised behind layers of faux-machismo or humor, yet Empath feels to be his most vulnerable and mature through lyrical content within "Spirits Will Collide" or "Why?" Empath is without a doubt a new chapter in the dynamic timeline that is Devin Townsend and I stay true with other prog fans when I say this is an exceptionally exciting new step.
Released via HevyDevy Records, InsideOutMusic / Review / Listen to "Genesis" below:
3. Car Bomb – Mordial
I'd consider it common knowledge throughout the metal world that Meshuggah is one of the most impactful and influential giants of modern extreme metal. Yet, there comes a time where a ruler must fall and is replaced with a more apt and powerful force. With past releases, I've viewed Car Bomb as a Meshuggah-lite, however, considering the lackluster previous release of Meshuggah and the emergence of such a catastrophically heavy and breathtaking beast that is Mordial, it is clear that Car Bomb just took the gold medal. This LP shows the band taking their style to a bold new level, conjuring up an insane concoction of sporadic Deftones-meets-The Dillinger Escape Plan compositions. Mordial is a landmark in the metal genre, pushing forward experimentation, heaviness, and cohesion to the new extreme.
Released via Holy Roar Records, Solid Grey Publishing / Listen to "Scattered Sprites" below:
2. Avandra – Descender
Modern prog rock/metal can be a hit or miss with all the experimental elements and unconventionality at play. On Descender though, Puerto Rican act Avandra hits a clear homerun with every musical characteristic meshing together in such beautiful unison. There is melodic mastery at play in vocalist Christian Ayala's deliveries allowing for the most uplifting and emotionally moving crescendos. On top of that, the guitar and piano work resembles that of Porcupine Tree and Dream Theater in an equally nostalgic and virtuosic fashion. Every single note in this LP serves a purpose, lulling you down into the melancholic depths before boosting you to the astounding heights in an overall mesmerizing journey. Clearly this album is far from being one of the heaviest releases of the year, but Avandra proves that a unique and clever approach to songwriting, phrasing, and atmosphere can be far more stunning and significant.
Released via Blood Music / Listen to "Even//You" below:
1. Sleep Token – Sundowning
I recall discovering this project a couple years ago from their "Nazareth" music video and being absolutely blown away by the vocalist's angelic croons that perfectly complimented the pop and electronic rock soundscapes. But the eruptive climax that truly hammered the nail in the coffin of my obsession was of course the djent-y and down-tuned breakdown finale. Although "Nazareth" continues to be one of my favorite tracks by Sleep Token, Sundowning is proof of an even sleeker and more varied collection of heavenly, yet heavy compositions. Granted, this isn't 100% a metal album considering a chunk of these tracks stick to musical traits of ambient, indie, pop, electronic, etc., but to an extent, that's the beauty and appeal of Sleep Token. Songs like "Levitate" and "Sugar" will harness the somber energy of Bon Iver or Hozier where "Gods," "Higher," and "The Offering" can slam as hard as Deftones' Diamond Eyes era or even Vildhjarta. If that contrast isn't the embodiment of ground-breaking progression within not only the metal genre, but music as a whole, than I don't know what is. Treat yourself by giving this full record an immersive listen and be blessed by Sundowning. Join the worshippers, you won't regret it.
Released via Silent Room Recordings, Spinefarm Records / Listen to "The Offering" below:
15. With Our Arms to the Sun – The Mogollon Monster (a bit softer and more meandering than its predecessor, yet nonetheless a meaty continuation of their previous post-metal masterpiece Orenda)
Self-released / Listen to "Rebirth"
14. Vintersea – Illuminated (one of the most endearing aspects of metal is the aspect of contrast and the cold black metal movements side by side with truly beautifully melodic, prog metal parts is certainly commendable on this six-song record)
Released via M-Theory Audio / Listen to "Old Ones"
13. Raiju – Non Sequitur (one must give praise to a band that crams hardcore, prog, pop punk, and death metal together into one Coheed and Cambria reminiscent record)
12. Artificial Language – Now We Sleep (I'd predict that this band's best material is ahead of them, but for now, their proggy Tesseract-like djent tendencies had some serious eyebrow-raising moments within this LP)
11. Cemican – In Ohtli Teoyohtica in Miquiztli (if you're a fan of the "tribal" energy that Sepultura brought to death metal in their earlier years, you'll dig this Mexican act for their folk metal fusion)
Released via M-Theory Audio / Listen to "Guerreros de Cemican"
10. Babymetal – Metal Galaxy (while maybe not as consistent as their two previous records, this new album's most interesting endeavors is the cultural diversity with themes of jazz, Indian, and Latin music thrown into the compositional process of stand-out songs)
9. Shredhead – Live Unholy (based out of Israel, this record redefined modern thrash for me, as if Slayer was actually exciting in 2019)
Released via Legend Recordings / Listen to "Overshadows"
8. Arctic Sleep – Kindred Spirits (holding the same chugging and lulling energy as their past output, this new material is perfect for long road trips)
Self-released / Listen to "Meadows"
7. Revillusion – Heart(less) (holding nostalgia to industrial big names like Marilyn Manson and Ministry as well as holding an A-team of guest musicians, this project was thoroughly solid and overlooked)
6. Bent Knee – You Know What They Mean (seeing them perform live while opening for Thank You Scientist this year was what really hooked me on this act and even though the material might be a tad bit more kick-ass on stage than on record, this LP still packs a wildly progressive punch)
Released via InsideOutMusic / Listen to "Bone Rage"
5. Sitar Metal – Sitar Metal (a bit self-explanatory, this sitar-driven six-song release breaks boundaries between the Western and Eastern world and I'm excited for what will now come forth with the floodgates open)
Self-released / Listen to "When Time Stands Still"
4. Antagony – Ashes (I unfortunately missed out when these guys were active in the scene over a decade ago, but this sporadic material proves that they haven't aged in either intensity or songwriting abilities one bit)
3. Helms Alee – Noctiluca (ever since the Sleepwalking Sailors record, I've been hooked on their Mastodon-like prog/sludge sound and they continue to impress, expanding their vocal harmonies and melodies)
Released via Sargent House / Listen to "Interachnid"
2. Porn – The Darkest of Human Desires, Act II (the longer I listened to this record, the more I realized how layered and diverse this band had from radio-friendly industrial Marilyn Manson tunes to slow-paced Type O Negative grooves)
1. The Odious – Vesica Piscis (my gut feeling says to compare this act to Between the Buried and Me for their weird factor taking the front of the stage, but at the end of the day, this album exemplifies their experimental, yet unique identity)
Self-released / Listen to "Repugnant"
10. Dealer – Soulburn (a real strong djenty metalcore debut from a band that's definitely heading places)
Released via Stay Sick Recordings / Listen to "Pretty Stupid"
9. Landless – Moonflower (this Slovakian post-hardcore act evokes the quirks and hooks of Dance Gavin Dance)
Released via Famined Records / Listen to "Blooming Mind"
8. Abyss Above – Doombound (also from Slovakia, this group's mesh of black metal and deathcore is undoubtedly slamming and memorable)
Self-released / Listen to "Flesh Exposed"
7. Muldrotha – Where Terror Thrives (with members from The Zenith Passage, Fallujah, Decrepit Birth, etc., this short, but sweet deathcore release has my appetite ready for more)
Self-released / Listen to "Sanctum"
6. Somewhere to Call Home – Panic Disorder (I'm pretty excited to see what this band will evolve into considering their current nu-metalcore style may not be exactly groundbreaking, but is certainly solid)
Self-released / Listen to "Leech"
5. To Be Gentle – L'autre Cote de Peur (if you ever felt like your relaxing post-rock jams needed a bit more of a raw, hardcore edge, this band found the perfect dynamic balance between the two seemingly contradictory subgenres)
Released via Gamut Records / Listen to "Flesh and Blood, Bone and Dream"
4. Treehouse Burning – Suffering (harnessing the electronicore energy of older Enter Shikari and the zaniness of Sikth, this South African act's EP is a far more engaging metalcore execution)
Self-released / Listen to "Krasitam"
3. The Contortionist – Our Bones (with their somewhat lackluster Clairvoyant album, I started to be a bit concerned about the future of this band, but these three tracks and a cover genuinely revived my perspective of The Contortionist)
2. Jinjer – Micro (not to infer that this Ukranian progcore's Macro LP that just recently came out was a complete disappointment, but this EP was far superior and consistently enjoyable with catchy djent tunes on full display)
1. Hive – The Mirthless Kind (I previously mentioned Humanity's Last Breath being the heaviest LP of the year, but this massive beast is granted heaviest EP of 2019)
Self-released / Listen to "Bellow"
5. Clipping – There Existed an Addiction to Blood (experimental rap)
Released via Sub Pop Records / Listen to "Blood of the Fang"
4. Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross – Watchmen (soundtrack score)
Released via The Null Corporation / Listen to "Nun with a Motherfucking Gun"
3. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana (experimental hip hop/rap)
Released via Keep Cool, RCA Records / Listen to "Crime Pays"
2. Cheekface – Therapy Island (alternative)
Released via New Professor Music / Listen to "I Only Say I'm Sorry When I'm Wrong Now"
1. Hobo Johnson – The Fall of Hobo Johnson (alternative/rap)
Released via Reprise Records / Listen to "Subaru Crosstrek XV"