2019 was a fantastic year for metalheads. Triumphant returns from awakening giants, a barrage of fresh-faced talent and some more obscure sub-genres to add to the interminable list – here are the very best that this year had to offer.
#10: Grand Magus – Wolf God
As the metal music machine thunders forward it never fails to surprise with hordes of new sub-genres rising from the pits of hell. While it’s refreshing and nuanced to trek into such untred grounds, it’s never a chore to return to metal’s humble beginnings and Grand Magus’ Wolf God is 2019’s perfect embodiment of the genre’s simpler times. Wolf God ticks all the classic metal boxes – we’ve got songs about werewolves and Vikings, ruthlessly catchy riff work and stentorian delivery from vocalist Janne Christoffersson. Elevated by its near-perfect production and surprise sub-genre fusions, Wolf God is a grand testament to the genre’s forefathers.
#9: Rammstein – (Self-titled)
A fittingly eponymous album, this record encapsulates the gritty, taboo-laden but somewhat danceable formula that constructs the very DNA of metal’s infamous Berlin six-piece. Awakening from a 10-year hiatus, Lindemann and co. present no signs of rust or broken axles, thrusting listeners deep into the thudding dread on Deutschland accompanied by their signature electronic earworms that, along with tracks like Radio, match their previous efforts of combining unrestrained brutality with the righteous grooves of an 80’s disco dance hall. Original for their discography it may not be but it’s irrefutably Rammstein – it’s in the name, dammit.
#8: The Hu – The Gereg
Mongolian folk metal? Monologian? Folk metal? Not a concoction that first comes to mind when thinking of… well anything to be honest, but by god have The Hu struck gold. Breaking the mould and ditching the usual line-up of flying-v’s and colossal drum kits, The Gareg presents gorgeous arrangements of Mongolian instrumentation harnessing the native sounds of a Morin Khurr (a Mongolian fiddle), throat-singing, a Jaw Harp and a Tovshuur (a tribal lute) to construct a depth of flavour. Pushing the boundaries of what metal, and music in general, can be, The Hu’s debut release is a seminal spark in what will surely be a fiery career.
#7: Slipknot – We Are Not Your Kind
In much the same vein as Rammstein’s 2019 release, We Are Not Your Kind sees Slipknot returning to the hallowed blueprints that kick-started their bombastic and rampant rise to the top of noughties metal – the masks are back on but the gloves are very much off. Once again unified amidst battles both personal and legal, Slipknot have produced their most ruthless work since 2001’s Iowa, reigniting the lost ferocity missing from their last two releases. WAYNK, besides its questionable interludes, hones in on animosity and vociferous instrumentation that synergises its’ tracklist to embody the very crux of Slipknot – a sound we haven’t heard in a long time.
#6: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Infest the Rats Nest
A psych-rock seven-piece that has dabbled in acid rock, prog rock, folk-rock, electric-boogie music, gave 2019 their shot at thrash metal and, while not quite managing to tackle the genre with a pioneering touch, was a deft display of showboating – King Gizzard’s flexibility is truly an unstoppable force. Across a narrative of a dying Earth, ineradicable superbugs and an overall sense of dread, King Gizz paints a bleak picture, but one characterised in an astonishingly ergonomic fusion of thrash and their own signature eccentricities. It hasn’t reinvented thrash by any means but it’s a piece that deserves credit for recapturing that timeless sound which demands to be replayed.
#5: Gloryhammer – Legends from Beyond the Galactic Terrorvortex
The third instalment in the chronicles of Angus Mcfife and his battle to best the perilous sorcerer Zargothrax is brought to climax in grandiose proportion – power metal is usually silly, but this takes the cake and rightly so. What Gloryhammer construct better than any other power-metal titan is not only the absurdity of their fabled battles but the scale of them too. Awash with orchestral notes and soaring falsettos, tracks like The Siege of Dunkeld or Hootsforce may as well be The Battle of Helm’s Deep on LSD with jet-packs and lasers and big magical hammers. It sounds as ridiculous as it does on paper but also 10x more badass.
#4: Alcest – Spiritual Instinct
Despite the french ‘blackgaze’ duo being no stranger to reflections on spirituality and ‘the self’ it is here, in 2019’s Spiritual Instinct, that Alcest is at their most personal. Refined to a lean six tracks, Spiritual Instinct challenges the listener as it unravels, hurling its multi-faceted soundscape towards you that bobs and weaves in amongst its black metal-orientated howls, seductive melodies and orchestral symphonies. It’s never one to be content with sitting still but what remains present is the LP’s rigid backbone – it’s a tremendous sense of magnitude. Locking you between the spearheads of its’ immense instrumentation and existentially-challenging lyricism, Alcest’s latest work is a thing of colossal beauty.
#3: Dream Theater – Distance Over Time
After the prog metal icon’s last outing spanned 34 songs and surpassed a two-hour run-time, it’s relieving that their latest effort took a more simplistic approach; for their standards anyway. Despite a very brief cameo from Owen Wilson, Distance Over Time is a fulfilling reminder as to why Dream Theater ranks among some of the highest in progressive metal with an exquisite array of epics that harnesses the bands’ adept craft of deft and mechanical songwriting gift-wrapped in an indulgent layer of groove and heart.
#2: Soen – Lotus
Genuinely and preposterously balanced is Lotus, boasting an incredible steadiness between what is technical, what is a joy to the ear and what, in some cases, can move you. From opener Opponent with it’s battering yet fluid intro, Covenant with that intriguing refrain, these are showings of technical profundity that willingly outcast tracks like River and Lotus which shine in their ability to subdue the listener through raw feeling and tone in their own display of musical mastery. Metal doesn’t always have to be skulls and crossbones and Lotus is an irrefutable demonstration of why.
#1: Sermon – Birth of the Marvellous
Music has always thrived in its’ power to make you feel. Emotions of happiness, sadness, motivation and exultance were my expectations for what music can evoke – emotions of awe and wonder never crossed my mind. Birth of the Marvellous creates an impressive first entry from Sermon, it does away with nerdy technicalities that prog metal evokes and instead narrows the focus to the task of entrancing listeners into its’ primal and ecclesiastical nature. The tracklist takes you to The Descend, a sensory bombardment that echoes the perturbing diligence of a chanting cult, to The Chasm where Sermon craft a truly astral experience that hands imagination’s reigns to gorgeous vocal melodies and rippling guitar lines. Put your headphones on, close your eyes, hit play and let Sermon do the rest.
Words by Alex Mace