Often it feels like with each passing year that goes by, the flux of albums coming out always seems to grow more and more, and it’s hard to keep up entirely with all the great music being released. However, usually within the chaos, there are always diamonds in the rough that stick out and make their mainstay known in our minds. Those always happen to fall under the category of “Albums of the Year,” and that usually includes more than one, because as true music lovers, it’s hard to pick just one. The absolute top favorite potentially varies depending on the mood or the mentality of the given day.
While this year has gone by quick, at the same time, it’s also felt like a big and extravagant year for metal, and so much has happened in my personal life throughout the year. It also signifies the end of a decade, which that in itself is monumental. This decade has been incredible for metal music, and it’s safe to say the same for 2019. The following albums have been a vital part of its soundtrack for me. Here is my list of Top 10 albums of 2019 that really stuck with me, with an honorable mention that I’ll get to at the end.
Overkill – The Wings Of War
This is Overkill, once again coming back with a musically consistent album that fails to let down. While it’s not anything groundbreaking for them or even in the genre of Thrash Metal, the beauty of Overkill is simply the fact that they’ve found a formula that they stumbled upon since Ironbound (2010) and they’re aware that they’re pretty good at making a solid Thrash Metal record front to back. With the addition of Jason Bittner on drums, it’s given the band the much-needed fire and ambition that they needed. On 2017’s The Grinding Wheel I felt the group was starting to run its course on the formula and phone it in a bit, but The Wings Of War proves that these 50-something New Jersey boys still have plenty of gas in the tank to kick your ass. Also, Bobby Blitz is singing as vicious as ever. It’s a wonder if anyone has questioned whether or not he’s an alien at this point.
Sacred Reich – Awakening
It’s already been mentioned by a couple of members of the vault, specifically the other two thrashers besides myself, but Awakening is a very strong and welcoming comeback for the boys in Sacred Reich. Recruiting previous member and formerly longtime Machine Head drummer Dave McClain was a smart move. And adding their new and young guitarist, Joey Radziwill, who can shred like the best of them, gave this album a youthful and inspired energy that they probably wouldn’t have otherwise captured under different circumstances. The production being as raw and organic as it is, sets it apart from most other metal releases of today. While the music isn’t entirely flashy in terms of technicality that thrash metal can oftentimes be known for, it’s still very palatable and shows no signs of weakness. My personal favorite off the album is probably ‘Death Valley.’ It’s the most Rock & Roll sounding song on the record and probably the least “Thrashy,” but it’s so damn catchy!
Gone Cosmic – Sideways In Time
I reviewed this album earlier this year, and out of all the reviews I did for this year, this was certainly a highlight and worth mentioning. The band really has themselves figured out when it comes to what they want to achieve musically. For a debut album, this is incredibly strong and one that I highly recommend to fans of 70’s inspired rock music with some atmospheric tinges of the Pink Floyd variety. They also have an underlining theme about space throughout the music and imagery, which, if the title of the band and record didn’t already give that away, then the music certainly will. However, there are plenty of moments where they rock hard, and ultimately for rock fans, there’s a little something for everybody here. On a side note, Abbie Thurgood’s singing top things off nicely, and she has an incredibly good range and variety in her voice.
Cloak – The Burning Dawn
I’ve been following Cloak ever since they got signed to Season Of Mist back in 2017. After releasing their debut album To Venomous Depths that year, which blew me away and left an impact on me musically from there onward, I was more than ecstatic when the news broke that they were finally releasing the follow-up. Part of me was also afraid because it happens a lot to me where I’ll fall in love with a band’s debut record, which in turn sets up high expectations for their second album. Unfortunately, oftentimes, I get let down, but Cloak simply did not let me down one bit and released a more than worthy descendant to the debut. It’s a wonderful mix of Black & Roll with melodic passages and layers rooted in harmonic minor with sprinkled in diminished modes; A wonderful soundtrack to the dark & cold winter about to be bestowed on us here in the midwest.
Essence Of Datum – Spellcrying Machine
This one was a happy accident in terms of discovery. It kinda goes back to that youthful idea of, “Well, the title of this sounds really cool” or “The album artwork is super rad” and simply checking out an album based on those merits. In other words, that was exactly my internal monologue when I began to check out this band. Season Of Mist posted the first single released off of this album called “Spellcryer,” and the music that commenced was incredible. It’s entirely instrumental, and that serves as a nice change of pace. The album is rooted in progressive metal mixed with thrash and black metal, while surprisingly being incredibly melodic and hooky. The musicians REALLY know how to play their instruments, and the arrangements are incredibly inspiring. I pre-ordered the album, and once I received my physical copy, it hasn’t left my car’s CD player. Do yourselves all a favor, and check out this great instrumental band. You’ll thank me later.
Vltimas – Something Wicked Marches In
Continuing onward into the trend of mentioning Season Of Mist, here is yet another mention of a band on their roster. However, for those unaware, this is the first major project David Vincent of Morbid Angel fame has been a part of since his exit from that band. Now, I’m sure a lot of people were in a similar boat as me that when this band and eventually this album got announced, I was skeptical. Why, you ask? Simply because I ignorantly felt as a Morbid Angel fan that David Vincent was mostly responsible for the absolute dog-pile that was Illud Divinum Insanus (2011) which was the first and last album he was on with Morbid Angel after his reunion with the band in 2006. So going in, I had very little expectations of this album being decent and even ignored it for a while. One day I decided to give it a chance, and honestly, I’ll be damned if it’s not one of the best Death Metal albums I’ve heard in a long time, and David Vincent’s vocals are still all the more potent. I strongly urge fans to forget the past completely and give Something Wicked Marches In, a formidable chance. A quick realization will lead to the fact that David is not the one to blame for Morbid Angel’s failure, and he’s still got it. I even like this album better than Morbid Angel’s recent comeback record Kingdoms Disdained (2017) with Steve Tucker! Which says quite a bit, I must say. The line-up for Vltimas’s debut is impressive and carries some of the genre’s heavyweights from Mayhem and Cryptopsy. Convinced yet? Take a listen below:
Exhorder – Mourn The Southern Skies
Talk about a comeback for the ages! There seems to be an ongoing trend in Thrash Metal these days of bands from the ’80s and early ’90s who were absent for 25+ years, but all the while were dearly beloved are making comebacks in the last couple of years to prove that they can capture that same fire they had all those years ago. It’s safe to say that with this record, Exhorder have more than proven that they’re back with a vengeance and here to stay. After various reunion attempts, this time they were determined more than ever to get a proper line-up and resurrect the brutal intensity that the band is known for. You can read my full album review here for details that I won’t cover here. Nevertheless, Mourn The Southern Skies is a tremendous follow-up and I feel sits right at home alongside Slaughter In The Vatican (1989) and The Law (1992) while still carving its own path to the future. A good buddy of mine once said that this is exactly how he could’ve imagined the band sounding today even after all the years of absence, and I can’t help but fully agree with his sentiment.
Nile – Vile Nilotic Rites
What can I say, really? It’s Nile, and it freaking rules. This is the first album to feature Brian Kingsland on guitars and vocals alongside Nile’s mastermind, the legendary Karl Sanders. This is also the first album after the departure of longtime Nile guitarist and vocalist Dallas Toller-Wade who was beloved by many fans. Admittedly, while I was also bummed about Dallas’s departure and questioned the future of the band, all fears were put to rest with Vile Nilotic Rites, and this is arguably the most inspired the band has sounded since For Whom The Gods Detest (2009). There’s a clear fire being lit under the band’s tail with the addition of Brian into the fold. They had a lot to prove on this record, and the group knew they had to release nothing less than a stellar album. As far as I’m concerned, they did. An aspect of the record I noticed over time is that musically, it’s very lean, and more to the point than perhaps the last few, but it’s one of their most technically proficient. Karl & Co. are on one for this record! I do slightly miss those super long, clever, and identifiable song titles that Karl is notable of coming up with. However, for a record such as this, the shorter song titles seem far more appropriate. I know that may seem silly to some, but Nile fans will know exactly what I’m talking about. This makes me more than excited for what Nile cooks up next, now that they’ve captured the band’s rejuvenated spirit.
Blood Incantation – Hidden History Of The Human Race
Continuing the voyage into the death metal realm, this is more than likely on a lot of people’s album of the year lists. However, there’s a really good reason for it, and that reason is simply why it’s on mine as well. One of the biggest aspects of why I love this record is that it appeals both to old school and new school death metal fans. The production is raw and recorded with real guitar amp tones and drums, which give it that old school 90’s death metal feel, but with the complexity, brutality, and atmosphere that you find in a lot of the bands coming out today. It’s simply an incredible combination. So far, I haven’t heard many other groups capture that nearly as much as Blood Incantation has.
Furthermore, it has elastic songwriting, but it never entices boredom. As an avid Death Metal fan, I didn’t find it very difficult at all to get into this record, and it pretty much hooked me right away. It also wasn’t a task in itself to listen through the 18-minute opus of album closer “Awakening From the Dream of Existence to the Multidimensional Nature of Our Reality (Mirror of the Soul)” – MAN! What a title! Though I have to say, my favorite song is probably “Inner Paths (To Outer Space),” but all the songs are great. The hype around this record is most certainly real, and VERY much deserved! They’re also an incredible band to see live.
Opeth – In Cauda Venenum
You can read my fully comprehensive album review here, but this was the record that really warranted the idea of what my personal “Album Of The Year” would be. At some point, I was beginning to worry about that, but then this record came along and pretty much took that particular throne. After the honeymoon phase, it’s safe to say that it’s probably still true. It can be challenging being an Opeth fan, depending on which particular era of the band you either grew up with or got into first. I am one of the few lucky ones that don’t get stuck into the stigma that Opeth should continue to release Black Water Park (2001) and Deliverance (2002) for their entire career. Instead, I appreciate and love those records, as well as Opeth’s more recent prog-rock direction, because I enjoy both death metal and prog-rock. Out of all the Opeth records released during their recent prog-rock phase that started with Heritage (2011), this is definitely my favorite and arguably the most cohesive of the bunch. They finally got a grasp on the style and found their groove with it. A cool bonus is that two versions were recorded. There’s an English version as well as a Swedish version. The Swedish version is certainly the superior one, even according to Opeth mastermind Mikael Åkerfeldt. Still, I won’t judge anyone if they gravitate towards the English version instead of comprehension’s sake. It doesn’t matter; they’re the same album regardless. My advice? Put it on a good sound system and enjoy your favorite beverage of choice and sail away.
Numenorean – Adore (Honorable Mention)
Last but certainly not least. This was supposed to be a Top 10 list, but I’d be doing myself a disservice if I left this record out. While I must admit that I have to be in a particular mood to put this album on, Adore really has one vibe, and it captures it quite well, which is despair. It’s melodic but heavy, both musically and emotionally. It easily paints a picture of what sadness sounds like. The music is like if Gojira had black metal elements, and it serves as a very palatable listen. I also feel that this is a MAJOR step up from their debut album. The production is well done, and the tones of this record really successfully capture the sound the band is clearly going for. The whole time I happen to ask figuratively, “Who hurt you?” because this is a good of example of what a portrait of pain would look like in audible form. When it’s cold and gloomy or when there is a downpour of rain, and I can guarantee Adore would perfectly compliment the inevitable aura associated.