Wow, 2019 has been a great year to be a metalhead. Great moments, great concerts, and most importantly, great albums. There has been an excessive amount of quality releases this, but unfortunately, I could only pick twenty. To go along with the quality, there’s been a lot of variety. Without further ado, I present my picks for the top twenty metal albums of 2019.
- Seer: Vol. 6
In addition to being one of 2019’s first great albums, Volume 6 is extremely vicarious in its emphasis on being a life or death situation. The latest chapter in Seer’s millennial long saga, the fate of humanity is at stake, and there’s not much hope to be had. “Iron Worth Striking” pulls no punches in elaborating that the task at hand is near insurmountable but must be undertaken. If “As the Light Fades” is any indication, this story doesn’t have a happy ending. Nonetheless, Volume 6 is as epic as it is ferocious. Bonus points go to “Seven Stars, Seven Stones” for being a great road song.
2. Frosthelm: Pyrrhic
Frosthelm returned in 2019 with their second slab of tough as tundra blackened thrash, and if their goal was to give their listener’s soul frostbite, they succeeded. Their mix of blackened vocals, glacial low ends, and mournful guitar riffs on “A Gift of Razors,” “The Sorceress” and “Immortal Nightfall (A Dreamless Lust)” is not only brilliant but also unique. At least, as unique as the blackened thrash label can get. When I reviewed Pyrrhic earlier this year I did make an observation that it had a gothic element. I still feel this is a fair assessment, and this is where Pyrrhic stands out the most. It also doesn’t hurt that “Pisslord” is a grade-A rager. Perfect music to listen for when you want to sit on your throne of frozen skulls and brood about lost love.
3. Coffin Rot: A Monument to the Dead
Ah, good old intestine shredding death metal, how we can always depend on you. In a year that’s literally seen the death metal wheel reinvented, Portland’s Coffin Rot showed that there’s still plenty of mileage left in death metal’s base violent urges. Adhering to basic principles is always a hit or miss affair, and A Monument to the Dead not only hits the mark right on the nose, but it also smashes it into gelatinous chunks. For a genre that’s debatably in its thirties, it’s kind of surprising there aren’t already songs entitled “Saw Blade Suicide”, “Forced Self-Consumption” (best death metal song of the year) and “Mechanical Separation”, but every song on A Monument to the Dead feels right on time.
4. Wraith: Absolute Power
And the award for an album that blew its predecessor away with a pipe bomb goes to Wraith’s Absolute Power. As previously mentioned during its premiere here at The Vault, “Devil’s Hour” picks right up where Wraith left off. Literally, every song on Absolute Power is a boost of high octane blackened speed punk fury. There are hooks aplenty on “Acid Mass,” “War of Aggression,” and “Eyes of the Sacred Ram.” They also do a brilliant job making Misfits “Death Comes Ripping” their own song as well as taking some small risks on “Meaningless Planet,” “At the Stake,” and the title track that incorporates nicely into their speed trio dynamic.
5. Euphoria: Nanotech
If face-slamming futuristic thrash is your thing, you’ve come to the right place. Blasting through the cybernetic wastelands of “Electro Hypnosis,” “Labyrinth Online,” and “Mechanical Carnivore,” you can’t help but feel like Euphoria is really onto something. Even when they slow things down on “Neon Dreams,” Nanotech possesses a street cred that just can’t be taught. Nanotech’s incorporation of sound clips from anime titles and video games adds a nice touch to Euphoria’s post-modern zeerust manifesto.
6. Nucleus: Entity
Another concept album, but this time it’s a sci-fi death metal concept album. Imagine, if you will, the future of humanity resting in the stars. Then imagine an extra-dimensional Entity showing up out of nowhere and consuming everything in its path. To call Entity unorthodox would be an understatement, and despite the album’s relatively short duration, every second of every song is crammed with an insane amount of musicianship. Even though Entity is an album that’s best to listen in an entire sitting, “Timechasm” is the album’s highlight and the culmination of everything Nucleus can do. Best I can tell you is start off on “Arrival” and let the Entity consume you.
7. Riot City: Burn the Night
There certainly wasn’t an absence of good old fashioned high energy heavy metal in 2019. The debut album from these Calgary natives isn’t a game-changer, but the good news is that all of your favorite heavy metal tropes are present on Burn the Night. The better news is that they’re executed with laser-like precision. Want some unapologetic headbanging anthems? Riot City has you covered on the title track and “Livin’ Fast.” Maybe looking for something a bit more epic? Album opener “Warrior of Time” and “The Hunter” and “Steel Rider” are all are worth their weight in gold. Even if you’re looking for something a bit slower, you’ll love the opening of “In the Dark.” In conclusion, Burn the Night is a very competent and well rounded album.
8. Vulture: Ghastly Waves & Battered Graves
What more can I say about Ghastly Waves & Battered Graves that I didn’t already say back in the spring? The fact is, all of it still stands as we close out 2019. The only thing I can staple onto that is that Ghastly Waves & Battered Graves is 2019’s best night driving album. The killer on the loose guitar riffs of “The Garotte” and “B.T.B. (Beyond the Blade)” bounce nicely off of the forbidden chill of “Dewer’s Hollow” and the pedal to the metal shrieks of the title track and “Stainless Glare.” There is literally nothing else I can say other than Ghastly Waves & Battered Graves is a great fucking album.
9. Crypt Sermon: The Ruins of Fading Light
Crypt Sermon’s second crusade commenced appropriately on Friday the 13th. The Ruins of Fading Light features a level of aggressiveness that could be best described as relic destroying siege weaponry. The ferocity shown on “The Ninth Templar (Black Candle Flame),” “Key of Solomon” and the rather blunt “Christ Is Dead” is great to hear from such a stellar band. Crypt Sermon also balanced out this newfound fury with somber interludes and supremely epic escalations on side B, most notably between “Beneath the Torchfire Glare” and the title track.
10. Misery Index: Rituals of Power
Let’s face it; we all live in a world that, more often than not, is cruel and stupid, and if there’s any band that’s always understood that sentiment, it’s Misery Index. Whether it’s dressing down solipsism on “Hammering the Nails” or tackling the appropriation of human rights on “They Always Come Back,” Rituals of Power is a no holds barred character study of where we’re at as we close out the decade. As mentioned previously, Rituals of Power is stark and articulate (starkticulate, perhaps?) and the brutal honesty on “New Salem” and “The Choir Invisible” is a message that’s difficult to ignore. Still, just because Misery Index is being honest, there’s never any indication that Misery Index want you to take it personally; maybe they just want humanity to do better????
11. Sacred Reich: Awakening
Veteran thrashers Sacred Reich returned this year, and even though they know a thing or two about life, they can still raze a village. The riffs on “Manifest Reality” are as pummeling as they get and combine greatly with the song’s inspirational subject matter. In addition, Awakening steamrolls right along in true Sacred Reich fashion on “Divide and Conquer” and the rejuvenation not only on the entire album but especially on “Killing Machine” is great to see from a band that was once thought to be extinct. It’s great to have you back Sacred Reich.
12. Savage Master: Myth, Magic and Steel
If there’s any band that’s been causing an uproar in the metal underground, it’s Savage Master. A self-described dark fantasy album, Myth, Magic, and Steel is their tightest offering yet. Throwing doom and epic heavy metal into their witching hour brand of molten metal, Savage Master’s third release offers something for everyone. Whether it’s the slow burn of “The Owl” and “High Priestess,” or hard and heavy ragers “The Devil’s Ecstasy,” “Crystal Gazer,” and “Lady of Steel.” The Louisville based quartet punctuates Myth, Magic, and Steel with the eight-minute “Warrior Vs. Dragon”, a defiant anthem for the ages. Savage Master’s reputation has been built upon their live performances, and with Myth, Magic, and Steel existing, there’s no disputing that Savage Master can back it up in the studio.
13. Xoth: Interdimensional Invocations
Xoth returned in 2019 with a new batch of interstellar horror stories, and wow, they’ve certainly been diligent in mining the death metal cosmos. Whilst “Casting the Sigil” is a great opener and “Back to the Jungle”, “Haruspex” and “Plague Revival 20XX” are the album’s best headbanging songs, the true charm of Interdimensional Invocations lies in the final two songs “The Ghost Hand of God” and “Melted Face of the Soul”. The otherworldly guitars alone are worth it. Needless to say, if you like sci-fi death metal, you didn’t miss out in 2019.
14. Screamer: Highway of Heroes
Let’s not forget that part of the reason that we metalheads do what we do is that sometimes we hear something mind-blowing, but other times we hear something that makes us feel like a million bucks. Such is the case with Highway of Heroes, the fourth release from Sweden’s Screamer. Containing ten songs, there’s plenty of room to move around between the heading out to the highway vigor of “Ride On” and the title track or the always consistent headbanging joy of “Shadow Hunter” and “Rider of Death.” And that’s just four songs. I’d be remiss to end this entry without mentioning that “Towers of Babylon” is the most sublime song on Highway of Heroes.
15. Martyrdöd: Hexhammaren
If getting your face pounded into the pavement is your thing, Martyrdöd’s Hexhammaren is a great place to start. Manic, throat-shredding bi-lingual vocals collide with dissonant tones that have just a touch of elegance. Make no mistake, Hexhammaren is one of 2019’s fiercest albums, but it’s very meticulous fierce. With song titles such as “Rännilar” and “Nästa Syrien,” balancing out more obvious titles like “Cashless Society” and “Pharmacepticon,” Hexhammaren will having you tuning up your foreign language skills in no time. For fans of d-beat savages and book worms alike.
16. Exumer: Hostile Defiance
Veteran Teutonic thrashers Exumer returned to the fold, and I’ll go ahead and say it, “Hostile Defiance” is the year’s best title track. In addition to that, Hostile Defiance is armed to the teeth with unrelenting energy and just by listening to “Carnage Rider,” “King’s End” and “Vertical Violence” you can hear a reinvigorated band thrashing harder and faster than bands twice their age. The best part? Exumer didn’t have to release Hostile Defiance, but they did, and it kicks all kinds of ass.
17. Lord Dying: Mysterium Tremendum
Once again, we have a case of another quality album that’s already been reviewed here at The Vault and adding any more to Mysterium Tremendum would be pure regurgitation. Mysterium Tremendum is a huge leap. From one of metal’s most consistent bands no less. A gargantuan listen that deserves your honest attention, and I promise you can’t go wrong with “Nearing the End of the Curling Worm” and “Freed From the Pressures of Time.” In closing, I don’t want to be “that guy,” but Mysterium Tremendum is high caliber stoner music.
18. Cattle Decapitation: Death Atlas
Considering Cattle Decapitation’s tenure, it’s only natural to ponder whether or not they’re slipping into more of the same territory. Yes, Cattle Decapitation’s sentiment towards humanity remains as disdainful as ever, and they have stumbled onto a formula (the tinkering of clean vocals on “Vulturous” and “Bring Back the Plague”, industrial-esque “The Great Dying” interludes, spoken word penultimate track “The Unerasable Past” preceding epic self-titled album closer “Death Atlas”) that still works. If there’s a more of the same album that came out in 2019, it isn’t Death Atlas. The band’s longest offering to date, Cattle Decapitation expands upon their best tricks as opposed to leaning on them.
19. Blood Incantation: Hidden History of the Human Race
Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way: there’s no way to close out 2019 without mentioning Hidden History of the Human Race. Having been released to near-instant praise by experts more qualified than myself, there’s very little I can add to Blood Incantation’s second release. What I can add is that it deserves the praise it has received and whether or not you’re just curious and want to check “Slave Species of the Gods” or want to have your mind blown away by the hypnotic “Inner Paths (To Outer Space)”, Hidden History of the Human Race will have you on your toes with all four of its tracks, especially eighteen minute long album closer “Awakening from the Dream (Mirror of the Soul)”.
20. Toxic Holocaust: Primal Future: 2019
A recurring theme in 2019 has been bands taking risks and having them pay off. The risk that Toxic Holocaust took was going back to the basics, and yes, it worked. Out of necessity, Primal Future:2019 was produced as a one-man project, and band creator Joel Grind hasn’t forgotten where he came from. The skill in the radioactive riffs on “Chemical Warlords,” “Black Out the Code,” and “New World Beyond” cannot be debated, but what can is whether or not Joel Grind I.S. the thrash riff. Anyway, it’s fucking Toxic Holocaust, crank that shit up and go nuts.