Albums of the Year 2019

And so we round off another year. 2019 was good to us metalheads. That being said, it’s surprising how easily this top 11 coalesced.

Despite having a bumper year, full of great albums, I am but one man, so I’m going to miss things. Of the albums I definitely know I missed, these are probably my biggest laments:

Children of Bodom – Hexed
Fleshgod Apocalypse – Valeno
Insomnium – Heart Like a Grave
Leprous – Pitfalls
Mayhem – Daemon
Nile – Vile Nilotic Rites
Queensryche – The Verdict
Tool – Fear Inoculum
Torche – Admission
Chelsea Wolfe – Birth of Violence

And so, without further adieu, here’s the best damn eleven albums from 2019.

11) Nocturnus AD – Paradox

Profound Lore – 2019/05/24

What I said then: The band has lost absolutely nothing over the years; absolutely killer, high-octane death metal.
What I say now: I love the sci-fi vibe on Paradox. It doesn’t just sound technical; it sounds weird. That healthy dose of the bizarre gives the familiar Florida sound a vibrancy it sorely needs.

10) Pseudcommando – A Home Beneath the Floorboards

Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2019/08/23

What I said then: It fills your reality with noise to the point that even the air starts to feel heavy.
What I say now: Alienating and discomforting, this remains one of the year’s toughest listens. But in the hidden depths of noise are secret whispers of melody. Of songs so bleak they must remain obscured for our sanity.

The Prurient Award for Best Album that Doesn’t Lend Itself to Easy Reviewing
Miscarriage – Imminent Horror
(Atmospheric Sludge – United States of America/Sweden)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2019/02/22

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Bit of a cheat as it was self-released in late 2018, but Sentient Ruin brought this nightmare to the surface. Hateful and misanthropic, this is a masterpiece of sonic horror.

9) Slipknot – We Are Not Your Kind

Roadrunner Records – 2019/08/09

What I said then: The band’s sound has matured, maintaining a familiar level of vitriol but has become more expansive, as befits their status as one of metal’s most bankable acts.
What I say now: The depth of talent that Slipknot have dared to incorporate is remarkable. They’ve given a sophistication to their sound without sacrificing the venom their performances are best known for.

8) Mgła – Age of Excuse

Northern Heritage – 2019/09/02

What I said then: Age of Excuse sounds as fresh and intimidating as Groza did ten years ago.
What I say now: In a year that saw merely acceptable releases from multiple black metal icons, it took these Poles to show how venomous and furious the genre can still be. They are a mighty tempest of darkness.

7) Alcest – Spiritual Instinct

Nuclear Blast -2019/10/25

What I said then: This isn’t some fae trickster or changeling; this is the wild hunt, riding high in saddle, their doomed quarry hounded by spirit and mist alike.
What I say now: There’s a fine balancing act on display here. It is undoubtedly more aggressive, but it still retains the warming dreamlike quality that makes Alcest so charming. It’s a malicious beauty.

Mariusz Lewandowski Award for Best Art
John Dyer Baizley for Gold & Grey by Baroness

I’ve always had a deep and abiding affection for Baizley’s art, but the work he put into Gold & Grey is absolutely stunning. I could look at it for hours and still find something new.

6) Death Angel – Humanicide

Nuclear Blast – 2019/05/31

What I said then: They have penned an album of thrash anthems that will absolutely stay fresh and loud in your mind.
What I say now: It’s mind-boggling how consistently fantastic Death Angel have been. You absolutely cannot complain about more of the same when everything they do is so damn good.

5) Esoteric – A Pyrrhic Existence

Season of Mist – 2019/11/08

What I said then: They’ve created a swirling void of utter despair that threatens to suck all life into its infinite depths.
What I say now: Esoteric have that wonderful ability to make funeral doom so much more than low, slow, and miserable. There is a richness of tone and a warmth to their delivery, which gives it soul.

4) Pissgrave – Posthumous Humiliation

Profound Lore – 2019/03/04

What I said then: The vocals are akin to someone drowning in acid, the guitars are like a frenzied ice-pick attack, the drums might as well be hammers swung at your joints, and the solos are like the gears of a horrifying trap grinding into action.
What I say now: These depraved degenerates can seriously play. As straight up hostile as this is, it’s only as effective as it is because they’ve honed their monstrous craft to a razor’s edge.

The Dillinger Escape Plan Memorial Award for Most Kick Ass Live Act
Behemoth

In a year with ample competition, Behemoth stood taller than all the others. They have a flair for the dramatic, blast harder than they do on wax, and and curate a fantastic live set. It’s metal maximised to the limit.

3) Cloud Rat – Pollinator

Gilead Media – 2019/09/13

What I said then: It’s the vast vista of humanity with all its foibles and tumults, but sped up to the bpm of a stressed hummingbird’s heartbeat and viewed through an obscuring heat shimmer of pure ferocity.
What I say now: Cloud Rat have always been building to something. All that energy. All that drive. All that passion. It all led to this: a humanity affirmation wrapped in a blistering assault.

2) Spirit Adrift – Divided by Darkness

20 Buck Spin – 2019/05/10

What I said then: They’ve forged a path to greatness and paved it with talent.
What I say now: Spirit Adrift tap into the same heavy metal wellspring that made Sabbath essential. Heavy and melodic with bone-shaking rhythms, but done in a way that’s 100% fresh. Old school remade anew.

1) Devin Townsend – Empath

InsideOut – 2019/03/29

What I said then: Proving that any emotion delivered stridently enough can provide an intense experience, Empath is a manic blast of over-the-top positivity.
What I say now: I reckon it’s impossible to not love this. It radiates an aura of chaos that in no way diminishes the pulsating good vibes. To be so unabashedly in your face but with all smiles is unique.

Buy Me Caffeine at ko-fi.com

So that was 2019. Stay tuned for my Top 100 of the past decade.

November 2019 Review Round Up

It’s almost the end of the year and I figured, as a treat to myself, I’d break the mold a little bit and do a label spotlight.

It didn’t really take a lot of mulling over for me to settle on Sentient Ruin Laboratories. They were the first label to ever reach out to me and request I look at their material, so I really do consider them friends of Metalshopped (despite never having met anyone at the label and living on opposite sides of the planet). It also helps that they maintain an excellent standard for their releases. Abstracter, Altarage, Atrament, Friendship, and 夢遊病者 are all amazing bands that I only know about because of Sentient Ruin. And they keep finding bands of similar calibre. It’s uncanny.

So read on and discover some of the best releases from one of metal’s foremost vanguard labels.

As always, I can be contacted via Facebook.

See everyone next month. It’ll be the new year, so it will be best of season.

Buy me a coffee

Album of the Month
Pseudocommando – A Home Beneath the Floorboards
(Harsh Noise – United States of America)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2019/08/23

I’m normally able to use harsh noise as a way to meditate, to scrub the mind of consciousness and simply be. Pseudcommando don’t allow me that luxury. Their take on noise is so aggressive that you can’t escape it. It fills your reality with noise to the point that even the air starts to feel heavy. Embrace your masochism and listen.

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Black Earth – Gnarled Ritual of Self Annihilation
(Black Ambient – Spain)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2019/09/27

It took me a long time to wrap my head around this. It initially sounds like an impenetrable wall of cold metal. But it clicked. I got it. This is ritual. The album unfolds in movements, but it is all one hadal ritual. The sorcery at its core is dark and this is reflected in its horrific ambience. Brilliant, but not for the faint of heart.

Cthonica – Typhomanteia: Sacred Triarchy of Spiritual Putrefaction
(Blackened Death Doom – Venezuela)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2019/10/25

Blackened death doom should sound like a band is bringing hell with them, as it combines three distinct shades of evil. Cthonica absolutely live up to this, while adding a certain earthiness that all too appropriately goes with their name. This is an album of suffocating weight and lightless depths. It’s music for the damned and rotting.

Hold Me Down – Hold Me Down
(Industrial Metal – United States of America)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2019/04/05

Don’t for one second think this is KMFDM, Ministry, or Rammstein. Hold Me Down do oppressive, anti-human noise and they do it so well. Evocative is what I look for in an album, and this does it in spades. Sure, the image is an infernal, planet-wide factory where humans sweat, toil, and die at the hands of malevolent ai, but it’s very well done.

Imperial Cult – Spasm of Light
(Black Metal – Netherlands)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2019/08/23

I love bands that experiment with form and Imperial Cult is no exception. Spasm of Light is one track of blasting raw black metal stretched out over thirty-odd minutes. The warping effect the persistent assault has on the senses is something worth experiencing. It sucks you in and traps you. Time distorts and leaves you gasping.

Nightfucker – Nightfucker
(Sludge – Canada)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2019/07/12

This is a miserable dirge, suitable for playing at an open casket funeral for someone who died alone and had mostly liquified before being found. It’s real noisome, fetid stuff. Slow and tortuous too. It really puts the sludge back into sludge. Each note is mired in viscous, enervating grime that constantly threatens to envelop you.

Suspiral – Chasm
(Black Metal – Spain)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2019/05/10

Symbolism is one of black metal’s best friends. Why beat the listener over the head, when you can let them beat themselves. Suspiral gets this. Chasm is a yawning lightless abyss of an album; you can plumb its depths, searching but never finding meaning. But that futility is meaningful in and of itself. Purpose and hope are the enemy here.

Sutekh Hexen – Sutekh Hexen
(Black Ambient – United States of America)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2019/03/29

Ominous and unsettling, Sutekh Hexen have put their name to an album that uses ambience as a weapon. It conjures images of howling winds, cutting sleet, sheer crags, and unrelenting bleakness. Otherworldly and esoteric, but still terrifyingly coherent, it’s a madman’s vision of hell put to music. Sends shivers down the spine.

Sutekh Hexen/夢遊病者 – Split

I don’t cover a lot of splits, but when they’re done as well as this, they’re worth a mention. Sutekh Hexen sounds like they’ve taken field recordings from Venus then incorporated them into black metal.夢遊病者 are malevolent and creeping, like they plan violence and it might come soon. Combined, the two tracks come together as one cohesive nightmare.

Previously Reviewed But Worth A Revisit Since It’s A Label Spotlight
Miscarriage – Imminent Horror
(Atmospheric Sludge – United States of America/Sweden)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2019/02/22

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I know what they were attempting. I know they succeeded. But it’s way outside my comfort levels. It’s the fetishisation of suffering. It’s a perverse, transgressive ritual that starts with erotic vivisection and culminates in a noisome, necrophillic hatefuck. It’s definitely not my sonic kink, but if it’s yours listen to it, watch some Salo, and leave me alone.

夢遊病者 – Ѫ
(Avantgarde Black Metal – Japan)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2019/04/26

Discordant and dissonant, 夢遊病者 have produced an ep that is overwhelming in its auditory assault. It’s a serenade and a lullaby and howl of rage and scream of madness all at once. Schizophrenic in its delivery of a spectrum of emotions, the end result are two tracks of harrowing, terrifying, captivating grandeur.