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Top Ten Albums of 2019 - Chris Hawkins

Added 31 December 2019, 11:38 PM

No. 10:

Band:  MGLA
Album:  Age of Excuse
Genre:  Black Metal

General Info:

Year of Formation:  2000
Label:  Northern Heritage Records

Poland has consistently been fertile land in terms of the bands it produces.  Any fan of Black Metal can appreciate the brilliance of the songwriting and anyone with a pulse will feel the oppressive tightening atmosphere.  Not for casual "Metal' fans, MGLA has steadily progressed further into their own territory, a land of nightmare, discomfort, and fever, a corporeal, stiff bleakness.

No. 9:

Band:  Cult of Luna
Album:  A Dawn to Fear
Genre:  Progressive Post Metal

General Info:

Year of Formation:  1998
Label:  Metal Blade

It is with pride that I attest to being a huge fan of this band since their inception having reviewed their first album when it debuted and later, interviewing them for their second full-length, "The Beyond," which was even more complex in design.  Fast forward almost two full decades and that band I'd spoken with fresh off a tour with ISIS is now the most intriguing of acts to blend Extreme Metal, Prog elements, and a wash of textured guitar that is hypnotic, a trance-inducing medium in the album's core design.

No. 8:

Band:  Darkthrone
Album:  Old Star
Genre:  Black Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  1987
Label:  Peaceville

What can be said of DARKTHRONE that hasn't yet been proclaimed.  Essentially, Nocturno and Fenriz comprise the nucleus of a band that helped define Black Metal.  It has been nothing short of compelling following the band's evolution over the years and even the occasional curve ball is appreciated at the core for intent.  There are elements of various periods of Metal within and in addition to Black Metal sleaze, the band seem to be enjoying the specific flavors these two elder statesmen seek to incorporate, often for the noble cause of shining a light on crucial bands from the past.

No. 7:

Band: Krzysztof Drabikowski
Album:  Panihida
Genre:  Black Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  2018
After the earthquake-induced ground-splitting onslaught of press covering the situation with BATUSHKA last summer, it is assured that even mall kids who wear pants with eighteen different zippers, fish nets, and FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH shirts have an opinion on the debacle.  Anyone who truly listened to the original album, "Litourgiya," though can clearly see that it is Krzysztof who had the vision and songwriting proficiency in the group.  Sadly, though, the weaker version has the record deal with Metal Blade as the creative genius exists with a Bandcamp page yet no label.  Injustice permeates all facets of life.

No. 6:

Band:  Tie:  Crypt Sermon & Spirit Adrift
Albums:  The Ruins of Fading Light & Divided by Darkness
Genre:  Epic Doom/Heavy Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  2013 & 2015
Label:  Dark Descent & 20 Buck Spin

While it seemed like 2018 was more generous with its releases by Doom and Traditional Heavy Metal bands, many of the top spots this year are occupied by similar ones still.  The reason these two albums are tied is because both of these bands can easily be classified as premier representatives of American Doom and Heavy Metal and it was impossible to pick a favorite between the two.  Anomalies as such occur rarely and must be appreciated and celebrated.  Both bands combine majestic riffs into anthems  with certain nods to greats particularly, SOLITUDE AETURNUS, BLACK SABBATH, and CANDLEMASS.  There is a marked divide, though, in the mood of each of these albums as CRYPT SERMON evoke an ethereal, fantasy realm with lush melodies speaking to the hero's journey within us all while SPIRIT ADRIFT is a more driving, aggressive affair closer to the classics of Heavy Metal.  Few albums have I deeply connected with as I have these two for by revering the past they forge their own unique future.

No. 5:

Band:  Blut Aus Nord
Album:  Hallucinogen
Genre:  Atmospheric/Avant-Garde Black Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  1994
Label:  Debemur Morti Productions

The core of W. D. Feld on drums and keys and Vindsval on guitar and vocals have been working hard in this band since its inception a quarter century ago.  France produces some of the most eclectic bands even in Black Metal (compare DEATHSPELL OMEGA to ALCEST) and BLUT AUS NORD is no exception.  The soundscapes created within are truly captivating, inviting one on a journey across the plane where space, matter, and chaos collide.  It is experimental in chord structure and the music, though stacked with myriad layers of guitar tracks, still has ample oxygen to breathe.  Were Syd Barrett-fronted PINK FLOYD to be born as a Black Metal band, this would be it.

No. 4:

Band:  Abigail Williams
Album:  Walk Beyond the Dark
Genre:  Atmospheric Black Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  2004
Label:  Blood Music

Reluctantly, I must admit that I nearly missed this album.  When contemplating such a potential loss, one is lucidly able to determine just how vital the release truly was.  ABIGAIL WILLIAMS play Black Metal but their style is clever and original combining aggression with atmosphere.  No, that is not to say BEHEMOTH meets WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM is the blueprint they use for success.  Rather, there is the most prodigious of wells from which the band draw buckets full of pure, original ideas, the type of riffs that are both catchy and evocative.  The end result is a truly Americanized Black Metal sound without trying to imitate MAYHEM or another staple of Scandinavian Black Metal like EMPEROR.  It is a logical progression of their sound and its subsequent success with them going into their sixteenth year in 2020.

No. 3:

Band:  Devin Townsend
Album:  Empath
Genre:  Progressive Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  1997
Label:  Hevy Devy

To be honest, I lost count of how many times I've covered something Devin has been involved in over the years, and I've been a fan since he sang for VAIOCEAN MACHINE was one of his most epic moments if not the most epic for his work up to and including that point.  Over the years, it has been fascinating following his myriad, often erratic projects incorporating a vast amount of Chi or soul energy - or the Force if we can forget that new film.  Devin's mind is like a cavernous labyrinth of leaps, ducks, and secret passages to sacred or irreverent rooms depending on the dice roll.  "Empath" is overwhelming at firs.  When I received the album to cover it, I listened to it three times in a row which is odd for me.  Dozens of listens later, this opus is consistently providing new, fully illustrated vantage points, a plethora of planets, as well as countless dimensions of both Modern and Classical music.  Indeed, there is that much going on, way beyond Metal but still framed of Metal components as the music then meanders into uncharted waters in this context, combination, and structure of the assembled genres which range from Pop to Island music and like ZAPPA, it may be an eternity before anyone comes close to catching up or even getting a true grasp on the music.  On the other hand, he is a damn fine guitarist, someone like ROBIN TROWER, whose soul is laid bare on the fretboard.  When it gets heavy, it is truly brutal with the intensity at certain points akin to ANAAL NATHRAKH.  The leads scattered throughout are the best of any band in 209 as each has a distinct, often other-worldly character.  Listening to Devin's music is like closing your eyes for a proper journey through the machinations of imagination, a challenge to keep up with his maniacal bliss and tender rage.  Any of my top three could be number one for me.  I truly believe this album is an experience and a road map to the future.

No. 2:

Band:  Mayhem
Album:  Demon
Genre:  Black Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  1984
Label:  Century Media

Sympathetically stated, MAYHEM's career overall has been erratic at best.  For example, their magnum opus "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas" is also their debut full-length released in 1994, a decade after forming.  many of the most gifted artists in their medium have had inconsistent out put such as the master filmmaker Stanley Kubrick.  To their credit, though, it must be mentioned that after releasing their debut, the band consistently released material in alternative formats such as splits and E.P.s to fill in the gaps between studio albums.  Personally, their debut was the standard for Black Metal, but I did and do still have a strong affinity for the band's 1997 E.P. "Wolf's Lair Abyss".  It has been five years now since the band's last full-length "Esoteric Warfare".  While the band's last few albums were good, "Daemon" is monumental, a triumphant victory in forging the genre further ahead yet again.  this was achieved by the cohesion between the musicians demonstrating that old football adage that if everyone is helping someone else, the team advances closer to their goal quicker and with much more success!  Necrobutcher put his stamp all over the place laying down some twisted, distorted bass lines that both contributed to the overall melodic statement and created many counter melodies.  With that floor-rumbling, chest-rattling, distorted bass growl, the mood can be darkened more and more as is explored throughout the album.  The riffs are scorching, expanding the Black Metal palette the band helped create three-plus decades ago.  Atilla as well has honed in on his craft finely tuning it to embody the specter of unchained malevolence and cursed duty to the forces of darkness to hypnotize listeners and audience members alike.  Hellhammer sounds tremendously thunderous as is to be expected.  For Black Metal, this is the trophy winner for 2019, the band who were kids in 1984 idolizing HELLHAMMER and VENOM before going on to write the rule book on Norwegian Black Metal, the most notorious branch of the Metal tree.  Again, it could have been number one.

No. 1:

Band:  Candlemass
Album:  The Door to Doom
Genre:  Doom

General Information:

Year of Formation:1984
Label:  Napalm

Reviewing this for,I took advantage of the decimal system to give this album a near-perfect 9.5.  Full disclosure:  I have reviewed three album in total deserving a perfect score in the twenty-two years since I started writing.  This is an album literally clawing its way to the top of the pile.  Catalyzing the band was the return of Johan Landquist, the original singer for the band on their seminal debut full-length "Epicus Doomicus Metallicus".  Listening to the band's gargantuan guitar sound is hearing the sound of a perpetual torch passed to the band by Iommi.  With BLACK SABBATH retired, this band rules the Kingdom of Doom with vassal states throughout the voluminous world of Heavy Metal.  this is undoubtedly one of the best modern albums to be released in the past two decades  Check out "Astorolus" which features a guest appearance from Mr. Iommi himself!

Honorable Mentions:

Bands with excellent E.P.s this year:


Bands I wish I'd spent more time with:


Live album of the year:


Edited 13 August 2020

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Yiannis Mitsakos

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