Jeff Treppel’s Top Fifteen Metal Albums of 2019
Looking over my list, I notice that a lot of my choices are “old-school” or “traditional” type bands — and I’ve realized that’s okay. As a music writer, I’m constantly listening to new albums, searching for that spark of inspiration that’ll bring me back to my adolescent days of discovery. Just one fix. But it’s not likely to happen. Advances in music happen because of several factors: technology, genre-mixing, taboo-breaking. Otherwise, it’s just people expressing themselves using the tools they have at their disposal. Despite the mythology we’re fed, new music styles don’t just spring unbidden from the minds of geniuses — popular music is part of a continuum that’s stretched back through the entire of human civilization. In 2019, it’s technology that’s made the big difference. There’s a reason we’ve had such an explosion of great OSDM acts recently: as charming as the Sunlight Studios or Morrisound production was, recording techniques have advanced to the point where canny producers can capture that vibe while still making the music listenable to people that don’t fetishize fifth-generation cassette tape demos. This year saw newer bands taking the music they loved and imbuing it with their passion, and older artists embracing evolution. 2019 was a good year for metal. Here are my Top 15 metal-ish albums!
15. Beast In Black – From Hell With Love (NB)
This year’s Night Flight Orchestra? I’m glad I don’t have a record player — the grooves of this vinyl would be worn flat by now. If Accept collaborated with Pat Benatar’s songwriters, it might sound something like this slice of Finnish pop-metal glory. You’ll be singing the chorus “Fight until you die by the blade of the one you hate” until you die by the blade of the one you love to hate.
14. Midnight Odyssey – Biolume Part 1 – In Tartarean Chains (I, Voidhanger)
New age ambient black metal from a one-man Australian band. It should be awful! Midnight Odyssey evokes an emotional reaction unlike any other band I’ve encountered, an all-encompassing cocoon that makes me feel both insignificant in the face of the vast universe and simultaneously comforted by the fact. Dis Pater’s latest clocks in at a relatively brisk (for him) 72 minutes, making it the perfect starting point.
13. Bewitcher – Under the Witching Cross (Shadow Kingdom)
Eff yeah Satanic Motörmetal! Also stupid, but in a completely different way than Beast In Black. Ripping four-minute odes to the occult from a Portland-based power trio — nothing we haven’t heard before, including the equally Portland-based Toxic Holocaust, but Bewitcher light their pyres with a certain panache. Breakneck tempo changes and Mateo Von Bewitcher’s sinister snarl make this a keeper.
12. Devil Master – Satan Spits On Children of Light (Relapse)
Devil Master seem to have too many members for their primitive death goth, but you can never have too many members in a cult. Although there ain’t much in the way of variety, they possess an off-kilter charm that makes their horror schlock more Italo than Hammer. Underneath the dark cloaks, Devil Master hide multitudes — they contain Legion.
11. Mega Drive – 19XXAD (FiXT)
Bursting into the future of the 1990s, darksynth progenitor Mega Drive transforms cyberpunk into cyber metal. Befitting the titular decade, MD brings in techno and industrial influences to give the sequel to 2014’s 198XAD a different feel from its predecessor. And that feel takes you right into the middle of the Sprawl, battling against megacorp samurai for your life.
10. Obsequiae – The Palms of Sorrowed Kings (20 Buck Spin)
Obsequiae’s cover art makes them look like they’re gonna be shitty dungeon synth, but that commitment to the aesthetic imbues their blackened Renaissance metal with exactly the moldering vibe they need. The Palms of Sorrowed Kings paints gorgeous pictures of the ruined past. Spirits haunt these crumbling castles, and Obsequiae tell their stories in an emotionally affecting way.
9. Crypt Sermon – The Ruins of Fading Light (Dark Descent)
Crypt Sermon unabashedly pull threads from metal’s past to weave their tapestry. The pattern they create from those threads makes them special. While they work with a base of Candlemass-style doom, they work in neoclassical guitar runs or black metal ice slashes to keep things exciting. As devout students of the genre’s history, they also know what makes this stuff satisfying. These tunes exhume the corpses of the past and make them mosh.
8. Astronoid – Astronoid (Blood Music)
Astronoid received a lot of hype around their debut, Air, but something about it didn’t quite connect with me. I’d always kinda wanted to know what Deafheaven without the screaming would sound like, and they delivered on that. It just felt nascent. Well, on their self-titled, they delivered on their promise with breathtakingly lovely harsh shoegaze. Simultaneously ethereal and crushing, it sweeps you up into its world of aching beauty.
7. Tanith – In Another Time (Metal Blade)
Tanith had me at the 70s-fantasy-novel cover art and their moniker, a nod to my favorite Hammer horror flick. They kept me through their fantastic fantasy metal that harkens back to Blue Oyster Cult, Thin Lizzy, and Slough Feg. Dual-guitar melodies and traded-off male/female vocals always appeal. I’m easy that way. Sometimes you just need musical accompaniment in your search for Tanelorn, and Tanith deliver.
6. Blood Incantation – Hidden History of the Human Race (Dark Descent)
If you’d told me my favorite death metal album of the year would be a concept record about extraterrestrial manipulation of human evolution with an 18-minute song at the end, I would’ve been amazed I even had a favorite death metal album of the year. But Blood Incantation come by the title honestly, with insanely ambitious songwriting and out-of-this-world riffs.
5. Babymetal – Metal Galaxy (Babymetal)
Like this wasn’t gonna be on here. While I acknowledge that Babymetal play J-pop with metal elements, their metal elements still kick the shit out of 95% of the troo metal releases this year. The rest of it ain’t half-bad, either. If anything, Babymetal prove just how much metal rules — the blast beats and guitar shredding still shine amidst the Indian dance numbers and EDM parts. Plus the dude from Sabaton guests on this, and you don’t get much truer than that band.
4. Opeth – In Cauda Venenum (Swedish version) (NB)
Opeth occupy a pretty unique position in the world of metal. For one thing, they aren’t all that metal anymore — at least as far as heaviness goes. The atmosphere and vibe are 100% metal, from the King Diamond-esque spooky house on the cover to the melancholy darkness conjured by the Swedish prog wizards. In Cauda Venenum lets Mikael Akerfeldt sing in his native language, and it makes all the difference — it’s their strongest work of this dying decade.
3. Haunt – If Icarus Could Fly (Shadow Kingdom)
Trevor Church put out approximately 300 releases this year between Haunt, Hysteria, and Beast Maker. Haunt still remains the crown jewel in his one-man roster. If Icarus Could Fly improves on nearly everything about last year’s excellent Burst Into Flame, upping the emotional stakes, the songwriting, and Church’s singing. The emotional component really separates this from other, similarly accomplished trad metal acts. It really sounds like he means it.
2. Spirit Adrift – Divided By Darkness (20 Buck Spin)
You know what I like about Spirit Adrift? If you stuck everything I like about metal into a sausage grinder and turned the crank, you’d wind up with this. It’s as simple as that. They have doom parts that don’t forget to swing, they have epic guitar solos, they have fist-pumping choruses. Also amp-crushing riffs. It makes for an album that’s the opposite of divisive — everyone can find something to love.
1. Devin Townsend – Empath (HevyDevy / Inside Out)
I wrote a bunch of words on this already, but when Devin Townsend decides he’s gonna go for something, he really goes for it. If you thought his previous releases were epic and/or loud, this one hits peak Devin less than five minutes in and never looks back. His canny intermixing of entirely unconnected genres provide the closest look to his inner workings yet — a scream of consciousness, if you will. A singular work.