Honourable Mentions of 2019

The best of the rest, in alphabetical order:

2019hm01Abbath, Outstrider (Nuclear Blast)
Splish splash, here comes Abbath! The lovable Norwegian metal icon put out his best work in ages on Outstrider, thanks in large part to a group of supporting musicians who play to the man’s strengths. I always consider Abbath to be closer to KISS than black metal, and indeed this record is at its best when they’re leaning into classic metal grooves. There’s so much fun to be had here. (Spotify)

2019hm02Amon Amarth, Berserker (Metal Blade)
Amon Amarth are incapable of making a bad album, but their 11th record steps it up a notch or two. One one side, the band continues to streamline their sound just enough to emphasize the strong melodies they write. On the other, the aggressive side is particularly strong, as instant classic “Shield Wall” evokes everything that was great about death metal legends Bolt Thrower. Skål, vänner! (Spotify)

2019hm03Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Ghosteen (Ghosteen)
If you thought Skeleton Tree was bleak, brace yourself, because Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ 17th album goes even deeper into the darkness. On this record Cave confronts the death of his teenaged son – which happened while Skeleton Tree was being recorded  – head on, and the grief and sorrow is merciless. It’s not an easy listen by any stretch, but Cave is a masterful poet, and the sombre arrangements he and his band create are heart-wrenching. The 14-minute closing track “Hollywood” is a particular tour de force as he confronts his sadness head on. (Spotify)

2019hm04Leonard Cohen, Thanks For the Dance (Sony)
It shouldn’t be a surprise that a posthumous collection of unused recordings from Leonard Cohen’s gorgeous You Want it Darker is a lot better than anyone else’s leftover compilation, but this wonderful little release feels extra special, a final goodbye from one of the greatest singer-songwriters of my lifetime. Kudos to Adam Cohen for helming this project and creating some beautiful, minimalist arrangements on these tracks. (Spotify)

2019hm05Crypt Sermon, The Ruins of Fading Light (Dark Descent)
America usually isn’t the first place you look for good, old-fashioned, fantasy-themed heavy metal. Normally, it’s Germany or Latin America, because the United States has a bad habit of thumbing its nose at the more operatic side of metal. Crypt Sermon, however, are devoted students of proto-power metal, and their second album is a towering piece of work, gorgeously produced and flamboyant from start to finish. Spotify)

 

2019hm06Holly Herndon, PROTO (4AD)
There’s no one else on modern music like Holly Herndon, whose genius continually astounds with every record she creates. Made in collaboration with an AI she created called Spawn, Herndon combines extremely cutting-edge technology with the most human musical instrument: the voice. What she comes up with would talke me a thousand words to describe, but with its spellbinding balance between unsettling and jaw-droppingly beautiful, I can only see this record growing in stature as the years go on. (Spotify)

2019hm07Idle Hands, Mana (Eisenwald)
Born from the ashes of speed metal band Spellcaster, Portland’s Idle Hands decided to head in a completely different direction, and all that did was yield Mana, one of the most exciting debut albums of 2019. While it is certainly not new to see metal bands dabble in gothic rock sounds, Idle Hands display uncanny expertise when it comes to the vintage goth sounds of the 1980s. Channeling The Cure, Sisters of Mercy, and Fields of the Nephilim and imbuing that mood with muscular metal riffs, it’s a strikingly original sound, one that attracts headbangers who are ready to mosh, but in the end wind up dancing in a gloomy reverie. (Spotify)

2019hm08Bob Mould, Sunshine Rock (Merge)
When Bob Mould is in the mood to make happy music, prepare to have your self-imposed gloominess washed away with the sunniest rock music you’ll ever hear. B;ess the man for making music while in such a good mood, because this is his best work since the Sugar days of 1992-1994, an album packed to the gills with soaring melodies and cathartic, roaring guitars. There would be no Nirvana, no Green Day, no Foo Fighters were it not for Bob Mould, and Sunshine Rock is resounding proof yet again. (Spotify)

2019hm09Smoulder, Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring (Cruz Del Sur)
I’ve been following Toronto-based band Smoulder with keen interest over the past few years, but as promising as their first demo tape was, I was not prepared for the swaggering confidence of their debut full-length. Arguably the only swords-and-sorcery metal band to sing songs exclusively about strong women protagonists, this is equal parts Manowar, Candlemass, and Atlantean Kodex. In other words, great heavy metal of the truly EPIC variety. (Spotify)

2019hm10Sunn O))), Life Metal (Southern Lord)
Avant garde metal kings Sunn O))) returned with their best non-collaborative work since 2009’s Monoliths & Dimensions. This time, they partnered with recording ace Steve Albini and the result is, startlingly, a lot brighter and optimistic than anything they’ve done before. Granted, this is doom/drone we’re talking about, so it’s all about the pentatonic riff, but there are more than a few cracks in the dense, monolithic structure. And as Leonard Cohen said, that’s how the light gets in. (Spotify)