|The Ham photo via @djmlysmn
Simple as it may seem, early on in the year I started a note on my phone to chronicle every album that blew me away. Sure enough, I amassed 10 that really moved and inspired me without much browbeating about rounding out the list.
What’s notable is that several of the top records were created by politically aware bands I loved throughout high school and college, who returned to the stage seemingly as a direct reaction to America’s (and the world’s, really) farcical political regime in the only way they knew how. Randy Blythe once said something about shitty politics making for great protest records, and 2019 certainly proved that theory to be true.
This year has also been a boon for extreme music, especially in the realm of death metal, which historically has not been my favorite subgenre. But there’s no denying Blood Incantation’s Hidden History of the Human Race will go down as a classic; the same can be said for Gatecreeper’s Deserted. And at this point, it's safe to say we are all down with Lizzo.
A few other adaptive behaviors I picked up this year included thinking one day at a time in hopes of staying in the present moment (ie: not habitually thinking of to-do items three days ahead), and avoiding upsetting triggers that might pull me into a depressive funk. Unfortunately, that means I haven’t really given Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ Ghosteen a proper listen, nor have I been able to get through Dead to a Dying World’s Elegy in full. Surely, there’s still time to discover them along with many new artists and songs.
On that melancholic note, the below are my favorite albums of 2019, as well as the most outstanding metal releases to have come out during the past 12 months.
My Favorite Records of 2019 (in no particular order):
Though I’m still discovering the majority of Mary Timony’s musical output, this sophomore release from Ex Hex features some of the best production I’ve heard in ages, bursting with harmony-filled power pop tracks polished to a slick sheen.
Key Track: “Another Dimension”
I’ve wanted to make out with this record since first discovering it last summer. Unabashed in its classic and power metal worship, there is not a single weak link among the 10 bombastic tracks from the Swedish quartet (who also recorded the entire album with Spanish vocals!).
Key Track: “Die for the Devil”
Like a Molotov cocktail comprised of stark electronica, austere noise, and punishing performance art, this latest release from the Chicago duo pushes the listener’s comfort level far more than last year’s Castration Anxiety in the best way possible.
Key Track: “SSSD”
Not only did the recently reunited L7 tour throughout 2019, they also put out one of the best records of their career. Chock-full of their signature surf-rock-meets-pissed-punk riffs and politically venomous lyrics, Scatter the Rats was a most welcomed return.
Key Track: “Fighting the Crave”
Feral; primal; blistering. These are a few of the words that come to mind when considering the Welsh crew’s latest offering. Samsara taps into a primeval energy that’s meticulously refined into adept technical death metal compositions guaranteed to inspire involuntary desk moshing.
Key Track: “Uterine Industrialisation”
Peck’s unique shoegaze via Roy Orbison sound is about as alt-country and sublime as it gets, eclipsed only by his fringed mask signature aesthetic. From behind this disguise, Peck churns out haunting and intimate ballads to drink and sway to.
Key Track: “Buffalo Run”
Eilish’s rise to fame has been inspiring to watch: a young and talented self-taught musician who eschews sexually explicit imagery, letting her electronic-tinged pop tracks do the talking instead. The result is a debut full-length that’s as exhilarating as it is relatable at any age.
Key Track: “Bury a Friend”
Truth be told, I found out about this band after admiring the singer’s dog* on Twitter. But I’m really glad to have discovered these British metalcore bashers and their chugging debut—filled with angular breakdowns and banshee wails—that never fails to make my heart race when used as a cardio soundtrack.
Key Track: “The Language of Injury”
Atmospheric noise rock has always been like catnip for my ears, yet the only album this year to come close to emulating that intoxicating effect was this fourth release from the Southern Lord artists. Raw, expansive and hypnotic, it’s really easy to get lost in this Gaze.
Key Track: “Holding Pattern”
This solo effort from The Sword guitarist was a passion project in many ways. Not only was it completely crowdfunded, but Shutt also played every single instrument therein, as well as sang on every track, and produced it himself. Though there is a shared DNA with his stoner rock roots, the debut leans towards warm-toned, fuzzy garage rock with whimsical tangents built in. Plus, it’s catchy as shit.
Key Track: “Set You All On Fire”
*See photo above
Outstanding Metal Records (in no particular order):
Blood Incantation - Hidden History of the Human Race
Cult of Luna – A Dawn to Fear
Big Business – The Beast You Are
Ringworm – Death Becomes My Voice
Death Angel – Humanicide
Demon Hunter – War and Peace
Russian Circles – Blood Year
Sacred Reich – Awakening
Gatecreeper – Deserted
Tomb Mold – Planetary Clairvoyance
Haven’t listened to yet: Slipknot, Chelsea Wolfe, Possessed, Cattle Decapitation, Obsequiae.