Axl Rosenberg’s Top Fifteen Metal Albums of 2019
You are all garbage people with garbage taste. Now I, The One True Arbiter of Cool™, shall instruct you as to what was actually good in 2019. Dummies.
15. M:40 – Arvsynd (Suicide Records)
What if someone took away all of Kvelertak’s beer? They’d probably sound more like Sweden’s M:40. Which is to say: not just pissed, but super-pissed. The sincerity of the venom spewed forth during Arvsynd might make your muscles tighten and your skin crawl; well-placed, dreamy digressions offer respites which, though brief, are probably necessary so as not to make the recording overwhelming and unbearable. This is blackened, crusty d-beat that’s every bit as lethal as the rifle after which M:40 are named. It will really make you stop and think about how so many other metal bands are terrible.
14. Abbath – Outstrider (SoM)
Abbath hasn’t become metal’s most readily-recognizable representative of black metal just because his corpse paint is fairly easy to replicate and his name readily lends itself to puns. There are artists who, though iconic, are well past their peak, and then there are artists who continue to actually earn their praise. Abbath falls squarely into the latter category; dude has been doing this forever, and Outstrider sounds as relevant as anything he’s ever made. It will really make you stop and think about how so many other metal bands are terrible.
13. No One Knows What the Dead Think – No One Knows What the Dead Think (Willowtip)
“Melodic grindcore” seems like an oxymoron. But between No One Knows What the Dead Think’s self-titled debut and Gridlink’s Longhena, I would now argue that such a genre does indeed exist, and that Jon Chang should be anointed its Supreme Leader. NOKWTDT reunites the vocalist with Discordance Axis guitarist Rob Marton (Cohol’s Kyosuke Nakano slays it on the drums), but over time, it has come to sound more and more to my ears like a continuation of Gridlink. There’s a crisp, bright quality to the music, which is well-served by Kevin Antreassian’s clear-sounding recording — a fairly unusual quality in a grindcore record. The results are corrosive, sure, but there’s a weird sort of beauty to the whole thing, too. It will really make you stop and think about how so many other metal bands are terrible.
12. Devil Master – Satan Spits on Children of Light (Relapse)
How do you make occultist black n’ hardcore exciting when you’re the gajillionth band to take a stab at the genre? As it turns out, giving it an oddly-upbeat surf rock vibe is a great start. Satan Spits on Children of Light has more use of a whammy bar than a child’s birthday piñata, and the band pays active homage to Dick Dale’s “Miserlou” during the song “Black Flame Candle.” It makes me feel like Frankie and Annette are in Hell… but they’re having a rad time surfing a sea of fire and blood. Although it never reaches Sigh levels of glorious weirdness, Satan Spits on Children of Light shows that a little genre-bending goes a long way. It will really make you stop and think about how so many other metal bands are terrible.
11. Allegaeon – Apoptosis (Metal Blade)
The fifth album from Colorado’s Allegaeon (I learned this year that it’s pronounced “Ah-legion”!), Apoptosis is the metal community’s annual reminder that technical, progressive death metal need not be a masturbatory bore. Apoptosis is enthralling from start to finish, both for its musicianship and for how much the songs just plain rock. It will really make you stop and think about how so many other metal bands are terrible.
10. Cult of Luna – A Dawn to Fear (Metal Blade)
Cult of Luna continue to be metal’s foremost creators of the of cinematic — it doesn’t even really matter whether or not there is a narrative to their music, it always feels like there’s a narrative. The albums really almost don’t work as mere songs; they’re too experiential for that. A Dawn to Fear is no different. It is at once thrilling and terrifying; it will lull you into an introspective trance and then crush you like a massive wave. And as a bonus, it will really make you stop and think about how so many other metal bands are terrible.
9. Crypt Sermon – The Ruins of Fading Light (Dark Descent)
There are a LOT of traps into which a melodic doom metal band can fall… and for the second time in as many albums, Crypt Sermon have avoided all of them. The Ruins of Fading Light rarely moves faster than what you’d call “mid-paced,” and yet it somehow has the propulsive energy of the adventure suggested by its lyrics and album art. Given that the band’s debut, Out of the Garden, landed in this same spot on my 2015 list, The Ruins of Fading Light promotes Crypt Sermon to the list of Bands That Are Automatically Considered for All Year-End Lists. It will really make you stop and think about how so many other metal bands are terrible.
8. Devin Townsend – Empath (HevyDevy / Inside Out)
Anyone watch that show The Good Place? If you don’t, you should. It’s a great show. And if it had a metal soundtrack, that would most certainly be Empath, yet another Devin Townsend offering that is at once fearless, unique, catchy, funny, and moving. It might make you wanna be a better person. It might be the Chidi to your Eleanor. It will definitely make you stop and think about how so many other metal bands are terrible.
7. Spirit Adrift – Divided by Darkness (20 Buck Spin)
Spirit Adrift’s Divided by Darkness is an easy listen. I don’t mean that as an insult. It’s heavy, but it’s also warm and catchy and concordant. It’s not gonna give you a panic attack, but it might make you wanna run to your computer’s visualizer. I mean, look at that cover. Think about the band’s name. You think this shit doesn’t pair well with weed? Divided by Darkness will wrap itself around you like a soft blanket while allowing you to stay metal AF. It will really make you stop and think about how so many other metal bands are terrible.
6. Cerebral Rot – Odious Descent into Decay (20 Buck Spin)
Odious Descent into Decay is 45 straight minutes of squishy, slow-moving, carnivorous, contagious death metal riffs that are completely lacking in any kind of sophistication, but in the best possible way. Like, you can pretty much drop the needle at any given point and you’ll land on something that sounds kick-assedly bestial. In a genre full of bands that love zombies, Odious Descent into Decay stands out as sounding like it actually has given aural form to the undead. It will really make you stop and think about how so many other metal bands are terrible.
5. Smoulder – Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring (Cruz Del Sur)
Since MetalSucks’ Jeff Treppel first sang this album’s praises back in April, comparing them to bands like Khemmis and Gates of Slumber, not a single day has gone by that I didn’t get at least one song from this album stuck in my head, regardless of whether or not I’d actually listened to it. Not. One. Single. Day. And it doesn’t hurt that Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring‘s cover art, by Michael Whelan, is the best of the year. But it’s truly the music that will make you stop and think about how so many other metal bands are terrible.
4. Wormwitch – Heaven That Dwells Within (Prosthetic)
Like a certain other Prosthetic band bearing the word “witch” in their name, Wormwitch make blackened deathrash powered by riffs so strong they practically have their own center of gravity. What sets Heaven That Dwells Within apart from the pack — besides expert songwriting, duh — is their use of groove, which is just, mwah!, perfectly placed for maximum head bangage. It makes all the vitriol spewed forth feel not just cathartic, but fun. Plus, Heaven That Dwells Within has some of the year’s best guitar solos. It will really make you do what the woman on the cover is doing, which is stopping to think about how so many other metal bands are terrible.
3. Gatecreeper – Deserted (Relapse)
Gatecreeper are one of those bands that seem to have a direct line to my brain’s fun button (brains have those, right?). They write feel-good death metal riffs, a phrase which sounds as oxymoronic as “melodic grindcore,” but applies nonetheless. Deserted is empowering the way I imagine driving over a traffic jam in a monster truck would be empowering. It’s almost impossible to listen to this album and not feel somehow elevated above everyone else, like you’re ten feet tall, like you’re a unfuckwithable ruler atop his throne. It will really make you stop and think about how so many other metal bands are terrible.
2. Batushka (Krzysztof Drabikowski) – Панихида/Panihida
Epic, funereal black metal simply does not get better than Панихида. This shit sounds like a gremlin kidnapped a Gregorian choir and set them to work helping him to raise the Antichrist. But maybe sometimes the gremlin is kinda sad about what he’s doing? I’m saying Панихида has textures. If A Dawn to Fear is a great film, Панихида is a great novel, complete with chapter breaks. You can pore over every note and analyze it from dusk ’til dawn, or you can just enjoy it as a pleasurable work of art — it works just as well both ways. It will really make you stop and think about how so many other metal Batushkas are terrible.
1. Cattle Decapitation – Death Atlas (Metal Blade)
Some bands can weather creative evolution; others, not so much. The more-melodious (relatively speaking) nature of Death Atlas makes it a risky move, even for a band as consistently excellent as Cattle Decap. But holy shit, did they ever pull it off! Travis Ryan has long been one of death metal’s most expressive vocalists. On Death Atlas, he’s got the music to match, courtesy of top-notch work by longtime bandmates Josh Elmore (guitars) and Dave McGraw (drums), along with new additions Belisario Dimuzio (guitar) and Olivier Pinard (bass). The record never stalls or plateaus; from the anthemic nihilism of “The Geocide” to the technical grindcore of “Absolute Destitute” to the elephants marching riff of “Finish Them” to the elegiac, resigned conclusion of its closing title track, Death Atlas is a rollercoaster ride from start to finish.
It’s also the defining album of 2019. Cattle Decapitation’s apocalyptic vision of humanity’s extinction has never felt more relevant than it does now. That extra dose of relevancy further elevates the already-stellar work on Death Atlas. It’s full of rage, sure, but it’s haunting to boot. This is the album that our kids will listen to when cursing us for bequeathing them with a world that is just so totally and completely fucked.
Death Atlas is the best metal album of 2019. It will really make you stop and think about how so many other metal bands are terrible.