I’ve been making a Best Metal Albums of the Year list for nearly two decades, but 2019 is the 1st time I’ve done so as an official member of the METALHEADS Podcast. Last year the boys gave me a chance to share my top picks as a guest, and this year I was invited to be a permanent part of the show. It’s been an honor and a blast to discuss metal, interview musicians, and throw a few beers back every month with George, Jay, Will, John and Matt.
2019 was an incredible year for metal. We all spent a lot of time listening to hundreds of albums, honing our lists and cursing the metal gods every time a great contender had to be cut. But when we finally put down our scalpel blades and wiped away the blood, some damn selections were revealed.
You can listen to me and the boys count down ALL 40 of our favorite LPs here: METALHEADS Ep. 96 “Top 40 Metal Albums of 2019”
The ultra-talented Trevor Portz plays all the instruments and sings on this excellent mix of black, death and prog that will fill your veins with venom and dread. Along with “Fallen Cathedrals,” Ashen Horde dropped an impressive EP late this year.
This doom ripper ranked low on my Top 25 at mid-year and I really thought it might drop off my year-end list entirely. But doing a Top 40 gives this album new life at #39. And that’s appropriate, because “The Door to Doom” is itself a re-invigoration for doom legends, Candlemass.
38. Mizmor “Cairn”
The album title, “Cairn,” means a ceremonial piles of stones that serve as landmarks. When I listen to this album, I feel the weight of a road traveled and every way point along the path. It may be a challenging LP for some, given its four, very long songs, but “Cairn” is a rewarding, introspective listen if you immerse yourself in it.
This is harrowing, old school death with lots of murky, swirling guitars. Sinister and essential.
Alcest is poem metal to me. They make avant-garde art in musical form and “Spiritual Instinct” is a dazzling continuation of their lifelong epos.
Mortiferum is Latin for “death bringing.” That’s exactly what this album does. And it does it with living vigor and titanic axe work.
This album blisters through its 8 tracks with searing, explosive riffs, like a squadron of fighter jets dropping bombs on enemy targets below.
If you need to get fired up, this Herculean, face-smashing death from Ireland will do the job.
Feast of Tentacles
Do you enjoy riff-splosive metal that blows your face skin back and makes you punch the sky in bloody-knuckled glee? Yes. Yes, you fucking do. Ball up your mitts and give this a spin.
A thick and meaty, old school death sandwich. You’ll want to devour the whole thing immediately after your first bite.
30. Vukari “Aevum”
Doomy atmospheric black metal that’s both elegant and brutal, often at the same time.
“Rare Field Ceiling” continues to cement Yellow Eyes’ standing as one of the most innovative black metal bands around. This LP is a dense and desolate triumph.
This is Pelican’s heaviest album in years with big, sludgy riffs that feel like they were extracted from a prehistoric tar pit.
Just when you start to think the best days are behind these death metal legends, they deliver one of their best albums in years. This LP is a savage and crushing return to form.
Translation Loss Records
We got some excellent instrumental metal albums this year from Pelican, Labirinto and Russian Circles, but this is easily my favorite. It’s the heaviest, but also the most beautiful, with fluid tonal shifts and gorgeous textures that ebb and flow like ocean waves.
This is a great, blackened death album that’s less concerned about pummeling your face with big riffs and more focused on delivering depth, atmosphere and mood. And it does that in spades with dark and crafty musicianship.
This album covers a lot of sonic territory from energetic rippers to somber, contemplative instrumentals. It’s a long LP at 79 minutes but incredibly well paced and captivating all the way through. “A Dawn to Fear” firmly solidifies Cult of Luna at post-metal’s elite level.
This was one of the first great black metal albums I heard this year and it’s a scorcher. “Ageless Fire” is a staggering, elemental firestorm of tension and texture.
It’s been a while since I really enjoyed a really good melodic death album. This one is just about perfect. It’s dynamic and uplifting with masterful execution.
This album really surprised me. It’s a complete reinvention of the band toward a much more progressive sound, and they are better off for it. “Mysterium Tremendum” sounds new and fresh, even though the band clearly time-warped back to the 70s to grab some guitar licks and melodies.
This album is musical imagination science. Intricate. Breathtaking. It truly feels like the next evolutionary step in progressive metal.
Moment of Collapse
An absolutely monstrous and aggressive sludge and post-metal album that occasionally dips its toe into sci-fi synth waters. One of the biggest sounding LPs I’ve heard this year.
Season of Mist
I’ve enjoyed The Great Old Ones for a while now, but this album takes their sound to a grand cosmic level. As immersive and visceral as the H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos it’s based on.
20 Buck Spin
Brilliant, melodic black metal mixed with the sounds of the Renaissance Faire on a summer day. This is classic, medieval literature in musical form and it’s glorious.
Edged Circle Productions
I found this sinister thrash album a few weeks before the end of 2019 and it quickly left the other speed metal competitors in its blood-soaked wake. I didn’t hear this kind of malevolence in another trash band this year. And I very much dig malevolence.
15. Adrift “Pure”
Temple of Torturous
An absolutely thunderous, progressive metal album, propelled by a jet-fuel fired bass sound, vicious black metal vocals and colossal riffs. A street painter in Madrid told me about this band several years ago and I’ve been thankful ever since.
This is exemplary, modern death metal with merciless, unrelenting riffs, savage breakdowns and tremolo-picking tendrils that will wrap around your ear drums like a constrictor snake.
20 Buck Spin
No other band sounds like Immortal Bird. “Thrive on Neglect” is a soaring statement of pummeling death, black and grind metal, mixed with complex hardcore and progressive elements. An amalgamate maelstrom not to be missed.
12. False “Portent”
This album is pain and loss in musical form. Engrossing black metal with scope, skill, and gorgeously constructed songs that pour out aggression and emotion like blood from an open wound.
In a recent issue of Decibel Magazine, Gatecreeper referred to their sound as “Stadium Death Metal” and that’s an apt characterization of the band’s sound. They focus on writing huge, catchy hooks that audiences will remember. Mission accomplished.
This is amazing, black and post-metal alchemy with a big, cinematic feel. Gorgeous melodies, folk atmospherics and masterful riffs make “Patterns in Mythology” mesmerizing from start to finish.
“Hidden History of the Human Race” is a cosmic roar of destruction that takes death metal to places it hasn’t been before. You’ll feel like you’re seeking out new life and new civilizations with every spin.
If you asked me to describe the kind of music Weeping Sores plays, I’d tell you progressive death-doom with violin. But that label falls way short of capturing the dynamic and colorfully devastating experiment of “False Confession.” Surprising and phenomenal.
20 Buck Spin
The cover to “Planetary Clairvoyance” features a bio-engineered alien cyclops gestating in an otherworldly basement of sludge and stardust. The music sounds pretty much exactly like that description. This album also solidifies Tomb Mold as one of the best metal bands on our planet.
Dedicated to a beloved cat who passed away last year, “Kindred Spirits” is a stunning and emotional metal experience. In addition to the gorgeous, arresting music that deftly mixes doom, post-metal, ambient and a 90s rock sound that reminds me of Hum, Kieth D’s lyrics tug hard on my heart strings every time I listen. RIP Yoda.
20 Buck Spin
“Orificial Purge” is brutal with some of the most memorable, galloping riffs of 2019 and a triumphal, modern aura to it that makes it stand apart in the thriving death metal field. I’ve plunged into this orifice often.
“The Ruins of Fading Light” is an album that has one boot in traditional metal and the other in doom. And both of those boots kick you in the gut with super-heavy impact. This album is thick with hooks, grooves and bombastic lead guitar solos, and the dynamic vocals by Brooks Wilson fill “The Ruins of Fading Light” with iron and emotion.
“III” is a sensory spice blend of sludgy black metal, noise, shoegaze and electronica that feels like it was mixed inside a dark and dangerous heart. A truly unique and special album.
“Death Atlas” is an apocalyptic masterpiece, featuring some of the sharpest and most sophisticated songwriting in 2019. The tracks are remarkably varied, delivering brutal riffs, theatrical and infectious vocals, and a real progressive sense of adventure. It’s also catchy as hell. “Death Atlas” demands repeat spins until you sing along and smile as the world ends.
A long while ago, my friend Garrett played the first Atlantean Kodex album, “The Golden Bough,” for me in his metal basement because he thought I’d like it. He was right, as G often is about the kind of metal that speaks to me. The band followed that album with “The White Goddess,” which was a critically-acclaimed, grand triumph. It took another six years for Atlantean Kodex to release their third LP because the band is so meticulous about the way they make music. To tell you it was was worth the long wait is an enormous understatement. “The Course of Empire” is one of the greatest, epic metal albums of all time. If Iron Maiden and Manowar were magically merged inside a medieval cauldron during the Battle of Helms Deep this would be the result. It’s an exceptionally crafted collection of songs, featuring mountainous guitar riffs, soaring choruses and some of the best vocals and lyrics in metal this year from Markus Becker. “The Course of Empire” has the kind of breadth and scope that make me feel like the ancient worlds of my dreams – worlds forged by blood and steel – are calling for me to pick up my sword and make them real once more.