1. MIZMOR, ‘Cairn’ (Gilead Media)

Picking a no. 1 record each year isn’t always easy. This year was one of those because there were so many great releases that meant something to me and resonated that isolating just one proved more difficult than I imagined. At the same time, when it became clear to me that “Cairn,” the third long player from Mizmor, was that choice, it seemed like all the mental wrestling I had done to come up with what record should stand out front was actually obvious from the start. So, here we are, and Mizmor is in its rightful place as our favorite metal record of 2019, the final year of this decade.

There are many reasons why “Cairn” sits in the top spot. First, the music on this four-track, hourlong album are some of the most devastating of sole creator A.L.N.’s run under this banner, which is a weighty statement. He’s also been a master of spilling black metal and doom into a melting pot and adding his own personal chaos, which has kept his music important and core-shaking, which you can’t shake after spending time with “Cairn.” The second reason this was such a massively vital record is from the psychological torment that went into the lyrics: the struggling for meaning of one’s existence, the crisis of faith, both things with which I’ve personally struggled. These songs touched on a lot of that, as I was able to identify with a so much of what went into informing these songs, making it feel like I had a sort of musical companion to my own torment. I can’t stress enough how huge that is for me.

“Desert of Absurdity” starts with acoustic waves before the track tears open, and the waves begin to lap violently. A.L.N.’s growls penetrate the surface as melody swims, and elegant doom crashes to the ground in drops of acid. The screams lurch and the sounds echo and sting, meanwhile the surface of the Earth is scorched, guitars well, and then coldness reigns, with the final moments feeling utterly sorrowful. “Cairn to God” runs a mammoth 18:03, the longest track on here, and things unfurl with noise flooding, all elements rising up, and shrieks tearing the walls apart. Doomy stomping is mixed with mystical sounds, while raw growls scrape at open wounds, and the track moves into slow-boiling hell. “Cairn to Suicide” goes right for the throat with devastating playing and vicious growls bruising bodies. A heavy cloud cover threatens with darkness, and a low rumble makes it feel like you’re being dragged through a dank basement toward whatever that dripping sound is. As the song moves on, acoustics mix into the fray and spread before another explosion that spits ore and bones, causing pain and confusion before the final moments bring crashes and acoustic blur. “The Narrowing Way” closes the record, pushing over 16:40 and opening with an air rush and quiet trickling. The playing builds into a deluge complete with slithering pacing and growls crushing and slowly working to cut off air supplies. The playing pounds away and fills your head with noise, while drone rolls through, and jarring shrieks rob you of any sense of solace. Strange chants pass through ghoulishly, the vocals turn to death growls, and the leads glimmer and scream.

Mizmor’s power and meaning cannot be understated, and “Cairn” is a masterful record that accomplishes its musical blackness and hammers home its philosophical tones perfectly. This record gnaws at me, lives with me, and continually takes up space in my mind as I battle with the same forces that occupied A.L.N.’s thinking. This is an album that’ll take time for some to fully engage and absorb what’s going on, but once that happens, your brain is imprinted with this music for good. (Sept. 6)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/whollydoomedblackmetal/

To buy the album or for more on the label, go here: https://gileadmedia.net/

2. WHITE WARD, ‘Love Exchange Failure’ (Debemur Morti)

Deep relationships with black metal albums largely don’t start by letting them sink in while you’re staring at the Atlantic Ocean while sitting on a beach in nearly perfect weather. But that’s our story with “Love Exchange Failure,” the second album from Ukrainian black metal band White Ward, who inject a world of musical texture and emotion into a genre that used to scoff at such things (well, some aspects of the listener base still feel this way, having not grown up). It was in late August, while vacationing in Delaware that I spent my initial time with this album, and it washed over me mentally and physically, as I sat and listened over and over, once on a very early morning sojourn to just reflect.

In creating the thematics for the record, the band thought about how involved our lives have become, how many people have lost the ability to love (not sexually, necessarily) other people, and how that affects us mentally. It’s a heavy thing to mull, and when you think of how our lives have devolved, especially socially, the idea is worth considering because we’re likely all guilty. That is why they named the record “Love Exchange Failure” because it observes people using more hatred than love when dealing with other people. Using this record, that is a seven track, 67-minute epic, lets the band apply different sounds and textures to their atmospheric black metal, another way in which they—vocalist Andrii Mai, guitarists Yuriy Kazaryan and Mykola Jack, bassist Andrey Pechatkin, drummer Yevhenii Karamushko—dig into your mind and make you think of things in ways you maybe haven’t before.

The title track starts the album with the sounds of urban life as sirens cry in the distance before keys and sax meet up to add to the ambiance. Three minutes in, the song explodes as Mai’s vocals rip out, and emotional trauma is spread heavily. Calm later returns as the music breezes and keys drop, and then the fires ignite anew, with wrenching vocals and pulsing drums. The track continues to punish as guitars and drums charge, but then things are swallowed into a jazzy mist as the song fades into the night. “Poisonous Flowers of Violence” has gazey dripping that sets the mood before things fully erupt. Melodic riffs and spiraling playing join with Mai’s harsh cries, with the song utterly waylaying with power. Gruff growls give off a guttural jolt before rain picks up, and the soft sax arrives again. “No Cure for Pain” revels with delicacy as the track takes time to get moving as a mood is established, and at about 3:35, the playing get shredded with growls smashing and the tempo destroying. Sounds mash into an epic solo that again brings back the feelings of metal’s glory years before the hammers drop all over again, and the vocals pelt the flesh. Sax playing mixes in with the thrashing as the group joins up in rousing “ah-ah” calls, and deep crooning from Vitality Gavrilenko goes for the chest before the shrapnel is spewed all over again. Closer “Uncanny Delusions” also brings different winds, as clean guitars flow generously, and vocals from Ivan Kozakevych (with his thick Ukrainian accent) add a brassy, elegant feel to the song. Eventually things blow apart, and the metallic attack arrives, complete with Mai’s wrenching screams. The meaty mashing always melds back with shadowy playing, feeling like a fog is taking you to a haunted place. This is a mesmerizing experience, a true example of how elegant and emotionally devastating a black metal record can be here at the end of the decade. (Sept. 20)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/whitewardofficial

To buy the album (North America), go here: https://debemurmorti.aisamerch.com/

Or here (Europe): https://debemurmorti.aisamerch.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.debemur-morti.com/en/

3. TOMB MOLD, “Planetary Clairvoyance’ (20 Buck Spin)

Does death metal exist in space? I’m not really sure. I’ve never been there before. But if it does and it spirals its way across the galaxy, it’s likely being carried there by Toronto beasts Tomb Mold, who blasted back at us this year with their third full-length album “Planetary Clairvoyance.” Their profile has been building for a few years now, and if you’ve ever seen them live, you know they are devastating. This record continues the power they’ve been building, and what’s even more impressive is that it feels like these guys never take a break.

Tomb Mold are on an impressive clip, delivering three devastating records in as many years, the latest, obviously, this seven-track, 38-minute record. Here, they generously deliver more smothering goodness from a band that has justifiably been referred to as pone of death metal’s finest forces. The power is relentless, and the twists and turns on this album could jerk your neck out of place. The band—vocalist/drummer Max Klebanoff, guitarists Derrick Vella and Payson Power, and bassist Steve Musgrave—has truly come into their own as a unit, and the display they unleash on this beast is overwhelming and so goddamn infectious you can’t help but keep coming back.

“Beg for Life” starts the record in a cloud of space haze before the guitars light up, smashing bodies and letting riffs devour everything. The playing is spindly and savage, as the drumming begins to decimate, and the guitars chug through the gates. The track halts as classic acoustic guitars slip in, and as the song rambles back to life, things crush anew. The drums destroy bones, the growls scar, and the guitars shoot off into space. The title cut rips through as riffs play tricks on you, and filthy guitars spread soot over the chorus. The leads chew while the growls boil, sending the track into dust. But wait! A fucking nasty new riff comes in and lays waste to everything, killing as the track comes to its end. “Infinite Resurrection” utterly wrecks shit as massive, nasty growls pummel the earth, and the band starts to decimate everything. The pace thrashes and stomps violently, while the guitars melt through rock, the drumming crushes wills, and everything ends in a delirious assault. “Accelerative Phenomenae” smashes bodies when it starts its run downhill, as the growls suffocate, and mean thrashing eats away at your rib cage. Closer “Heat Death” does a good job living up to its name with its melodic violence as the guitars go for the jugular, and gruff growls hulk their way toward you. The guitars twist and shift, the playing rearranges faces, and the song is sucked into a gross vortex of sound. “Planetary Clairvoyance” is the best death metal album of the year, and it’s actually not even close. (July 19)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/tombmold/

To buy the album, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/planetaryclairvoyance

For more on the label, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/

4. CULT OF LUNA, ‘A Dawn to Fear’ (Metal Blade)

At some point in 2004, Cult of Luna’s “Salvation” came into my life and destroyed it. In a very good way. Funny, but I didn’t own that record on vinyl until a couple months ago when I found a pristine used copy at a local record shop, and I’ve been re-indulging ever since. That all leads to the band’s seventh album (well, eighth if you include their awesome collaboration with Julie Christmas “Mariner” in 2016) “A Dawn to Fear,” which worked its way into my bloodstream from the moment I first heard it. This album has utterly arrested me, in a way a CoL record hasn’t since “Salvation” and “Somewhere Along the Highway,” and they’ve had really great stuff since then. That’s how good this is.

“A Dawn to Fear” is an absolute mammoth at eight tracks and 79 minutes. If you don’t have the patience and willingness to immerse yourself in something that demands that long, you’re going to miss one of the most fascinating and crushing records of the year, one that belongs next to Cult of Luna’s finest moments. The band—vocalist/guitarist Johannes Persson, guitarist/vocalist Fredrik Kihlberg, keyboardist/vocalist Kristian Karlsson, bassist Andreas Johansson, drummer/percussionist Thomas Hedlund, drummer/studio engineer Magnus Lindberg—didn’t set out to create a straight narrative and instead let things be looser when creating what you hear, and the result is fiery, fluid, and kinetic, an album that doesn’t feel as long as it is.

“The Silent Man” opens the record with noise swelling before the music begins pounding, and Persson’s growls start to settle in. The keys leave a strange film as the journey whirs along, unloading chaos before things get equally mesmerizing and crunchy. “Nightwalkers” trickles as the bass begins to plod, sprawling and mashing with growls scarring. Strange keys wash in and make your mind feel strange with the growls returning, the pace boiling and steaming, and the organs acting like a slow-release drug. “Lights on the Hill” is the longest track here, clocking in at 15:07, and each second is well spent. The front end has a psychedelic Pink Floyd feel, with the song slowly unfurling, bleeding and crawling into an extended instrumental section. The vocals finally rip in about six and a half minutes into the song, and from there the monstrous theatrics continue to pile on. “The Fall” is the closer, opening slowly and letting the first section of its 13:13 get settled. Finally, the track bursts with the growls scraping, as the wrenching pace and the hammering music batters everything. Melody slides into fog, washing through the unknown, and then the song explodes dangerously again. Cult of Luna remain an amazing entity that has the energy and ambition to keep redefining themselves as long as they need to do so. (Sept 20)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/cultoflunamusic/

To buy the album, go here: https://www.indiemerch.com/metalbladerecords

For more on the label, go here: https://www.metalblade.com/us/

5. BULL OF APIS BULL OF BRONZE, ‘Offerings of Flesh and Gold’ (Tridroid/A Moment of Clarity)

I realized this year that I hadn’t done enough work here to celebrate the work Tridroid Records has done, but I realized part of that reason is their cassette releases often drop after I’ve written up a record after it had been released on other formats elsewhere. Luckily, they snuck one up on me with “Offerings of Flesh and Gold,” the debut from Colorado/Washington black metal monsters Bull of Apis Bull of Bronze, and it absolutely floored me. It still does some months after absorbing the promo they sent my way and the Bandcamp version I immediately purchased so I could have it with me anywhere I went. This is a revelatory experience that, if you haven’t visited with it yet, stop and do that now.

This album is three tracks spread out over 46 minutes that seem to go flying by, and the experience you will have will be unlike anything else you took on this year. That’s how confident I am that once more people hear this record, it’ll be a watershed moment. The band—vocalist/synth player Achaierai, guitarist/bassist Athshean, drummer Yaeth—without question embrace anti-fascist and anti-capitalist thinking and urge listeners to look within themselves for power when battling against such insurmountable odds. It’s a noble stand, and even though that’ll grate at some people, good. Not like those folks are having a banner year with credibility and humility anyway.

“O! Smile of Blood” starts the record with noise pounding, the spirit spreading quietly and dangerously, and an ambient haze washing itself over everything, as throaty buzzes emerge and terrify. About 4:30 into the 13:10 mauler, the first words are uttered as Achaierai warbles, “From the cacophonous roar, beauty springs, a blood-streaked rose rising from a pile of shit.” The track then catches fire as the growls blaze, the guitars go into tornadic convulsions, and maniacal lurching keeps the assault bloody and real. “What Awaits Us (A Void Is But an Open Mouth)” starts with clean guitars trickling, light drums tapping, and then a sudden opening into crazed shrieks and guitars beginning to stampede. The track encircles you and easily could bring on panic when serenity sets in for a moment, letting the wounds heal before the pace jolts again. The howls hover like a hungry vulture, the feeling is menace and torture, and the track ends in a smoking pile. “Bull of Apis Bull of Bronze” ends the record and is a mammoth at 22:13, of which each second is used wisely. Sounds pulsate, clean guitars bleed, and the first lines are spoken with Achaierai pointing, “We cover our heads in reverence, and so our station is known, what we do today will reverberate throughout eternity.” Once its mercy is delivered much later, you’ll be devastated emotionally and mentally, and you’ll also realize you’ve witnessed one of the best black metal records of the entire calendar year. All hail Bull of Apis Bull of Bronze, and here’s to much more. (June 21)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/BullOfApisCO/

To buy the album, go here: https://bullofapisbullofbronze.bandcamp.com/album/offerings-of-flesh-and-gold

Or here (CD): https://amomentofclarityrecordings.bandcamp.com/album/offerings-of-flesh-and-gold

Or here (cassette): https://tridroid.bandcamp.com/album/offerings-of-flesh-and-gold

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/amomentofclaritymusic

And here: https://www.facebook.com/TridroidRecords/

BEST OF 2019: 10-6

10. VASTUM, “Orificial Purge” (20 Buck Spin): Vastum’s death metal consistently has been centered on sex, but not in a sleazy way. Instead, they’ve always centered on the psychological angles, the damage many people face, and the perversion, and that obviously resurfaces all over on their fourth LP “Orificial Purge.” You could simply put this album on, forget the words you’re hearing, and enjoy it for a vicious, pounding slab of dark death metal it is. But spend time with the words, and you might not sleep at night. Not because of some boogeyman or monster tale, but because of the acts and ideas you hear conveyed in their lyrics. They’re real. They happen.

“Dispossessed in Rapture (First Wound)” kicks off the record with strange, pained moans in the background before things comes to, um, life. Riffs pummel while the dual vocals work from Daniel Butler and Leila Abdul-Rauf act as a vicious tag team to batter you around. “I on the Knife (Second Wound)” is bloody and devastating, as the words describe endless self-inflicted injuries with a blade, as the instructional lyrics practically taunt to derive obedience. “This wound is your life, knowing, cutting, sever your head, now you sit on the knife, burning pleasure, unknowing death,” is a horrifying wake-up call. “Reveries in Autophagia” has growls menacing, while the words come at you directly and in sobering tone, while the band causes your bones to crumble. “Whittling down my flesh to the most vile of excretions, dining on my psychesoma, I serve up another limb,” is enough to make anyone shudder with dread. “His Sapphic Longing” mercifully ends the record as strings moan, riffs slowly fold in, and then the animal is on two feet, walking upright toward hell. The vocals trade off, describing unfathomable situations, ending with, “Reach beneath the cloth (slip inside me), nobody will save you (from this rapture), his sapphic longings gagged and bound, inside the phallic tomb his father gave unto him.” Yeah. It’s upsetting shit, and Vastum remain one of death metal’s most provocative forces. (Oct. 25)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Vastum/440192535391

To buy the album, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/collections/vastum

For more on the label, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com

9. FALSE, “Portent” (Gilead Media): If Minnesota-based black metal crusher FALSE release a record sometime during a calendar year, there’s an excellent chance it’s ending up high on our year-end list. Not because we pre-ordain their music. It’s because anything they put out won’t reach people’s ears until the six lights making up this band are wholly satisfied it suits their vision like their massive second LP “Portent.” Once again, the band poured everything they have into their record, with Rachel’s snarling growls even taking on a new dimension.

“A Victual to Our Dead Selves” begins the record with a haze settling, creating a sound well, and a tension you just know is about to burst. Then it does as the song begins to clobber, albeit with an atmospheric glow, as Rachel’s snarls begin to bite as she wails, “Have you ever felt the pain of possession, of self-worthless obsession? Of your heart being siphoned through the mouth of Beleth at his best, white horse and trumpets blaring and all?” “Rime on the Song of Returning” tears open as harshness spreads and Rachel’s vocals rip through a chasm of mystical chaos. Guitars soar and surge, as Rachel snarls, “Your ego dripping around my thighs, send the darkness, eyes smelling the wooded path, hands slipping in and out, feet boiling with blisters in the rain, if only the rain would wash away your sin, you are sin.” Synth melody emerges and embraces the shadows while the drums begin an assault, and everything else goes for broke. “The Serpent Sting, the Smell of Goat” slowly reveals itself, as the music uncurls, letting proggy beams into the room as the playing begins to boil. The guitars go on an exciting run, ferocity spreads, and the scathing violence extends its reach. Guitars crush through the crust, chugging hard, with synth mixing in and the vocals leaving welts. “Postlude” is a keys-driven conclusion to a record that strengthens the band’s union and their dark powers, making them unlike any other black metal force in existence. (July 1)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/falseofficial/

To buy the album or more on the label, go here: https://gileadmedia.net/

8. CRYPT SERMON, “The Ruins of Fading Light” (Dark Descent): Crypt Sermon’s epic doom falls into the league of bands such as Candlemass, Solitude Aeturnus, and even Dio-era Black Sabbath and Fates Warning (I know they’re not a doom band…), and their Biblically influenced storytelling centered on life, loss, and limits of faith as well as their absolute command of their style are astonishing. It also should be noted that singer Brooks Wilson is an absolute revelation here. As good as he was on their debut, he’s absolute world league here, one of the best voices in metal now and one of the record’s main events. The rest of the band—guitarists Steve Jannson and James Lipczynski, bassist Frank Chin, and drummer Enrique Sagarnaga—are stellar as fuck as well.

“The Ninth Templar (Black Candle Flame)” starts with eerie sounds and hoofs pounding the ground before the song opens in full, trudging away. “For every kink in our armor there is a notch in my hilt,” Wilson declares, before going into a simple chorus that’s easy to call back and is infectious. A huge solo kicks out as Wilson wails, “Burn!” with the track coming to a rousing end. “Key of Solomon” has a great riff and a pace that chews bone with Wilson in command, calling about “signs and sigils painted on the floor.” Another great chorus strikes, which is another that gets into your chest, as the guitars go off and spill into chaos, bringing the track to a burning end. “Christ is Dead” is a stone-cold classic. Everything about the song is massive, from the guitars to the singing to the drama, and the chorus absolutely puts it over the top. Closer “The Ruins of Fading Light” is a disarming ballad that plays like a warning to life’s dangerous twists and turns. “Life is a foolish game we play, o, child,” Wilson warns, as the track delves deeper into life, loss, and failure. Amazing work from a band that’ll never forget their roots. (Sept. 13)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/CryptSermon/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.darkdescentrecords.com/store/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.darkdescentrecords.com/

7. IMMORTAL BIRD, “Thrive on Neglect” (20 Buck Spin): You know how sometimes you put on a record and it feels like you practically experienced the pain and anger, it’s that well conveyed? Immortal Bird’s second long player “Thrive on Neglect” is one of those, as it’s apparent pretty much from the get-go that you aren’t going to be comfortable, things are not going to be sugar coated, and you’re going be left to wither in the ruins along with them. On top of that, the music just crushes, as this record is one that took them from a band with a world of promise to one calling their shots and delivering death blows with insane precision.

“Anger Breeds Contempt” kicks off the record and drills you intensely, with the bass thickening, and Rae Amitay’s vocals scraping old wounds. “I, I am, I am not, lost, I am, not a lost, cause,” she phrases deliberately and ferociously. Guitars stream clean for a stretch, even getting jazzy, before the blows land again. “House of Anhedonia” begins with Amitay declaring, “We are cursed!” before guitars loop around and bring disorientation, the band pushes back with gale force, and the drums splatter the senses. “Avolition” is a firestarter that gets off to a calculated start before it begins tearing down walls. Riffs pile on as the intensity builds, with the vocals absolutely crushing bodies, the music cutting you down, and Amitay calling, “You will assume I let you go, but I jumped right after you fell.” “Stumbling Toward Catharsis” finishes the album by fading in before the savagery erupts and mixes with ethereal dreams. The track begins to thrash you alive, with Amitay admitting, “I saw my years without you as ruined hollow shells,” before the track kicks speed into high gear. The playing gets impossibly heavy, destroying what’s in front of it. This is their finest hour, a record that’ll etch out their future and swell further their base of followers. (July 5)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/immortalbirdband

To buy the album, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/immortalbird

For more on the label, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/

6. OBSEQUIAE, “The Palms of Sorrowed Kings” (20 Buck Spin): Not many records make think of ripping out my old Masters of the Universe action figures and creating bizarre battles for Castle Grayskull, but Obsequiae’s third record “The Psalms of Sorrowed Kings” sure got me close. Silly as that sounds, it’s a huge compliment, as the band again unleashes their Medieval-style black metal for another round with castle-storming goodness that sounds like no other band out there. Or that ever walked the earth. I’m getting fired up just writing this.

The album has harp passages performed by Vicente la Camera Mariño woven throughout, and one of those, “L’autrier M’en Aloie,” opens the record. “Ceres in Emerald Streams” brings glorious leads that emerge from the mists, while melodic shrieks set the tone, and the intensity is multiplied. Leads burn and sprawl, unleashing a chugging fury that ends in a fiery burst. “In the Garden of Hyacinths” comes out of a smokescreen while cool riffs and bustling drums team up and begin the march. The pace is punchy for the most part, while the chorus is swelling and energetic, bleeding into rushing terrain. Shrieks compound while the soling goes off, leaving a trail of ash behind. “Morrígan” begins with birds chirping before the riffs awaken, bringing burly playing and gruff shrieks. The leads feel like they soar over the mountaintops, with savagery cutting in and a glorious haze putting over the final attack that makes up the  finish. “Lone Isle” blasts open as the guitars flow like lava. Shrieks rain down as the molten playing keeps raging forward, as the drums take their turn dealing shots. The playing just surges from there, bringing the track to a smoldering end. “Asleep in the Bracken” reveals gothy synth sheets, intricate leads, and a folkish vibe amid a pool of heaviness. “Emanations Before the Pythia” slowly dawns as a dialog begins to show itself, feeling dreamlike, before a burly riffs flexes and shrieks scrape your skin. The track is both melodic and aggressive, fiery and combustible. Get your sword, baby. We’re storming the gates, and only the good guys will come out alive. (Nov. 22)

To buy the album, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/20buckspin

BEST OF 2019: 15-11

15. LINGUA IGNOTA, “CALIGULA” (Profound Lore): Kristin Hayter’s art has reflected some of the abuse and pain she has experienced in her life and has become a torch of sorts for those who has experienced sexual assault and abuse and refuse to shut up about it. That was the focus of her debut full-length “All Bitches Die,” but on her second record under the Lingua Ignota name, “Caligula,” she takes on that idea of power. On these 11 tracks that span about 66 minutes, Hayter pours her rage, disgust, sorrow, and fire into every ounce of this album, and it’s impossible to turn away. This is a declaration of war, one Hayter will wage with words and fire, and while it’s not as abrasive from a noise standpoint as her debut, it’s a scathing shot to the top.

“DO YOU DOUBT ME TRAITOR” has keys dropping and Hayter asking, “How can you doubt me now?” The corrosion comes fast, as she wails, “Every vein of every leaf of every tree is slaked with poison,” as the bloodbath flows, and the psyche of the song is damaged further, with Hayter insisting, “I don’t eat, I don’t sleep,” as a way of breaking down. “BUTCHER OF THE WORLD” continues her aim to melt power, as out of eeriness Hayter cries, “Rise up, and I’ll cut you down.” “FRAGRANT IS MY MANY FLOWER’D CROWN” has keys pounding, as Hayter examines the compassion shown by men toward each other and wonders why that doesn’t carry over elsewhere. “IF THE POISON WON’T TAKE YOU MY DOGS WILL” is ominous and scary from the start, as it is influenced by Jim Jones’ death tape, and the journey is harrowing as expected. Piano quivers, as Hayter sings, “If you lay your life down, no man can take it, will you join me?” This is a mere taste of this psychological test this record encourages you to endure, and for those abusing their power, she knows where you sleep. (July 19)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/linguaignotamusic/

To buy the album, go here: https://www.hellomerch.com/collections/lingua-ignota?fbclid=IwAR2xdNgH3XPbeQ676LgMFUz3QGM17kkqrgoZRDQ2lS9E_4AbhELOZ2bgag8

For more on the label, go here: https://profoundlorerecords.com/

14. YELLOW EYES, “Rare Field Ceiling” (Gilead Media): “Rare Field Ceiling,” the fifth full-length record from Yellow Eyes, is one of the most perplexing, alluring, and truly unique entities in the entire sub-genre this year, which isn’t a shock. No one sounds like Yellow Eyes, and they sound like no one else, even if you can touch upon some influences, and buried in this six-track album is a journey that feels like one you’ve had before. But when you look closer, this is altogether new to you. You’ll recognize some of the colors, but they’re distributed far differently than before.

“Warmth Trance Revival” starts with the windy chimes slowly bleeding in, synth rising, and a piercing shriek breaking into the night sky with sounds swirling and the elements forming a tornado. Guitars cut down into a proggy burst, wild cries erupt, and melodies roll into a powerful bassline. “Light Delusion Curtain” and its swelling riffs attack as the guitars release random colors as shrieks scrape skin, and a volcanic explosion spits out the earth. “Nutrient Painting” is a total swarm before the song erupts, and tricky guitars twist the brain wiring before echoed screaming bounces off cave walls. Fierce chaos strips away flesh, while disorienting guitars play tricks with your mind, and the track keeps driving downward with emotional waves before ringing out into a thick haze. Final cut “Maritime Flame” that has the choral section returning and haunting, with shrieks and drone stepping in and overwhelming, and bizarre ambiance flooding the senses. Feral howls combine with cleanly dripping guitars, disarming solemnity floats like a ghost, and static chews as the song trails away. (July 1)

For more on the band, go here: https://yelloweyes.bandcamp.com/

To buy the album or for more on the label, go here: https://gileadmedia.net/

13. BLOOD INCANTATION, “Hidden History of the Human Race” (Dark Descent): Denver death metal alchemists Blood Incantation have had the cosmos in their DNA, and I’m not talking about the physical makeup as humans. Their music is consumed with and powered by what lies in the great unknown beyond our world, and they unravel even more of those mysteries on their mind-tangling second record “Hidden History of the Human Race.” Their debut “Starspawn” was a high-water mark in forward-thinking death metal, an album that established them as one of the sub-genre’s mightiest acts. That and their powerful live show led to a lathering of delirium for “Hidden History…” based largely on wondering where they’d go next and how their sound would expand. We have our answer.

“Slave Species of the Gods” starts the record by tearing the lid off everything with massive riffs sweeping, the growls setting in, and everything coming to a splatter. The guitars shift and crush as the vocals continue to rage, and delirious leads light everything on fire. The soloing ignites and explores while raspy wails strike, and the track spirals out into echo. “The Giza Power Plant” lathers with loopy guitar squeals and a mauling bass leaving facial bruising. The track then shifts to thrashiness before a Middle Eastern-style melody calms and sweeps, mentally stimulating the darkest regions of your mind, as the drums proceed to powder bones. “Awakening From the Dream of Existence to the Multidimensional Nature of Our Reality (Mirror of the Soul)” is the mammoth closer, an 18:02-long smasher that takes up half the album’s running time. Cymbals crash before the track begins to trudge, the guitars twist and confound, and the growls dice flesh. The guitars go off as the tempo gets more aggressive, spitting speedy trickery that turns into savage chaos. This is the future of death metal, and like our potential seeds, it comes from the stars. (Nov. 22)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/astralnecrosis/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.darkdescentrecords.com/store/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.darkdescentrecords.com/

12. SPIRIT ADRIFT, “Divided By Darkness” (20 Buck Spin): We’re not going to lie; we have our favorites around here. One of those is Spirit Adrift, who delivered “Divided By Darkness,” their excellent third platter of doom-influenced classic metal. This is another impressive display by this band and one that pulls them mostly out of doom metal waters and safely lands them in classic metal territory, the place it always seemed they were headed. At eight tracks and 41 minutes, it’s the leanest Spirit Adrift record yet, but it’s also the one that’s bound to break them to more people.

“We Will Not Die” gets the record off to a ripping start as the track builds up majestically, with drums erupting and the fire beginning to rage. Things finally kick into high gear and we’re off, and the chorus just swells with Nate Garrett wailing, “Shatter reality, sever our ties, invisible war being waged in our minds.” Angel and Abyss” is a goddamn treat. It’s a soft-loud ballad that pulls on metal’s roots, while the verses are icier and the chorus thunders up. “Losing sight of what I’m searching for, is this the end or the beginning?” Garrett calls, as the emotions run high. Later, the track goes off, the guitars chug like a monster, and an echoed cackle that just reeks of Ozzy (in the best way possible) sends a chill up your spine before stampeding out. “Tortured By Time” has solid singing, riffs that spiral, and an approach that sets you up for being trampled. Closer “The Way of Return” is a spacey instrumental that ends the record, built by cosmic keys, guitars that light up the night sky, and an ascension into the stratosphere closing the album on a breath-taking note. There’s a reason we adore this band, and a record like “Divided By Darkness” is why. (May 10)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/SpiritAdrift

To buy the album, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/20buckspin

11. CLOUD RAT, “Pollinator” (Artoffact): Michigan grind beasts Cloud Rat have been one of those bands that have fought for the oppressed and those who need a scene with which to align, and over the past decade, they’ve backed that up with some of the most volcanic creations in heavy music. Now comes their explosive new full-length “Pollinator,” a 14-track barrage that isn’t just brutality for the sake of it. Their music never is that way. Hidden beneath all the trauma are messages of hope in a world full of hell.

Losing Weight” starts the record as a blast that lasts less than 2 minutes and is a volcanic burst as Madison Marshall’s vocals strip away at muscle, with the song grinding you down into “Delayed Grief // Farmhouse Red” that utterly goes off. Murky synth gives off clouds while the vocals snarl and crush, the band hits a thrashy fury, and shrapnel piles up at a sludgy end. “Wonder” has guitars flush with color and mangling vocals as Marshall admits, “My brain never shuts off!” That continues to pile into fury, rushing into “The Mad”  that opens into slowly mauling anguish and emotional leads before the song opens up. Webspinner” is a piledriver, bending your neck, smearing soot in your face as Marshall accuses, “You would do anything,” as the music swims into hell. “Luminescent Cellar” slows things down, allowing reflection, slowly buzzing into your brain. The dreamy sequence is then torn to shreds as guitars gurgle, with everything ending in guttural wails. “Marionettes” has a melodic open before Armageddon lands and blackens the earth. The storm rips through, sending mud and trees flying before things drip into dreams. Their passion is undeniable, and the fact that they’re fighting the good fight makes them all the more worthy of your heart. (Sept. 13)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/cloudratgrind/

To buy the album, go here: https://cloudrat.bandcamp.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://artoffact.com/

BEST OF 2019: 20-16

20. SAVAGE MASTER, “Myth, Magic, and Steel” (Shadow Kingdom): Heavy metal’s foundations are built on myths, legends, demons, wizards, and all kinds of fantastical creatures. Following in the path blazed by bands including Iron Maiden, Dio, Warlock, Judas Priest and so many others come Savage Master, who not only pay homage to classic sounds but also make their own mark in metallic glory. Proof of that is on their third full-length “Myth, Magic & Steel,” their first for Shadow Kingdom and one hell of a blast of vintage glory in a modern world. This record is a nine-track, 40-minute blast that’ll make hearts soar of anyone who has followed metal’s story the past five decades or so, and it brings back to the forefront the foundation.

The title track gets things started with a killer riff driving the excitement and vocalist Stacy Savage’s direct shouts spreading blood over the verses. The chorus is a killer with the whole band howling, “A world of fantasy revealed!” along with Savage, making it meatier and even catchier. “The Owl” has ominous tones as it begins, as the tale slowly unfurls and also leaves some bruising. “I see hell fire burning even higher,” Savage calls on the chorus, as the soloing takes off and rules, and the band returns to the refrain before punching out. “Lady of Steel” is a blast, and it features three verses, one taken by Savage, one by Deborah Levine from Lady Beast, and one by Sandy Kruger of Sacred Few. It’s a tremendous cut that gets your blood surging as these three awesome vocalists show their absolute grip over metal’s forces. Epic closer “Warrior vs. Dragon” runs a healthy 8:24, and it tells the story of a hunter tracking down its fire-breathing prey. The first half of the song is calculated, as Savage vows, “In death you know you will be set free, Dragon, let the wind carry you home.” (Oct. 25)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/savagemasterofficial/

To buy the album, go here: https://www.shadowkingdomrecords.com/searchadvanced.asp?searchfor=savage+master

For more on the label, go here: https://www.shadowkingdomrecords.com/

19. SUNN 0))), “Life Metal” (Southern Lord): It’s not common to look at long-running doom drone kings Sunn 0))) and talk about their lighter elements, yet those come to the forefront on “Life Metal,” their first of two records they released this year (“Pyroclasts” came later on). Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley have created some of the densest, loudest, most fearsome heavy music known to humankind, yet there’s truly nothing in the band’s catalog quite like “Life Metal.” Recorded over two weeks with producer Steve Albini, these four tracks maintain the group’s dense black backbone, but there also are some of their most vibrant, even positive sounds ever captured before.

“Between Sleipnir’s Breaths” begins with a wild horse whinnying before the drone curtain drops heavily, and the riffs begin to scrape away at the earth. Weird rays of light poke through the thick surface, as Hildur Guðnadóttir’s voice settles in, singing verses culled from ancient poetry, giving the track an added dose of haunting secrecy. “Aurora” runs a healthy 19 minutes and opens with deranged moans that give way to the guitars entering and centering the body. The riffs apply abrasion and add to the grimy boil that’s slowly collecting, while the doom laps in waves, noises pierce the flesh, and impossible weight gathers on your chest, making breathing an anxiety-ridden chore. Monstrous 25:22 “Novae” closes the proceedings as the ignition charges and Tim Midyett’s bass coils and strikes, lurching underneath the punishment. Riffs then lap and threaten safety as the weather system gets gnarlier, and a black storm rains down with merciless fury. It’s a new horizon for Sunn, and it’s a total revelation. (April 13)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/SUNNthebandOfficial/

To buy the album, go here: https://southernlord.com/store/

For more on the label, go here: https://southernlord.com/

18. VENOM PRISON, “Samsara” (Prosthetic): “Samsara” is the name of Venom Prison’s destructive second record, and it also happens to be a Buddhist concept of being reborn into an endless cycle of punishment and pain. For people who constantly have to fear who they are, face unnecessary hurdles in life, or simply struggle for the betterment of society, life can be samsara every single day. Venom Prison have taken up for the those suffering in society and especially for women who are in a non-stop battle for respect and equality. This time around, the songs have turned more inward, while also keeping in mind the battles that remain, and musically, the band has heavily amped up the hellish death metal proponents of their music.

“Matriphagy” opens the record with wails that collide with a death crunch, vicious cries and growls from Larissa Stupar, and an assault that’s skull-dragging. The track settles some for a moment before screams rip over the top, and things comes to a fiery end. “Megillus & Leana” has shrieks and growls trading off as a death-thrash pace unleashes and overwhelms whatever is in front of it. “Self-Inflicted Violence” has drums pounding relentlessly, Stupar’s growls turning raspier, and the pace driving terror into the hearts of the oppressors. “Sadistic Rituals” is punchy as hell as the drums spill pain, the pace swelters, and the track speeds up before leaning back into the heat; Naraka” ends the record with gazey guitars that hypnotize before the hammers drop, and the band takes on a hardcore edge. This is a band taking a bloody, devastating step forward and doing it with poise, razor-sharp violence, piss, and vinegar. (March 15)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/venomprison

To buy the album or for more on the label, go here: https://shop.prostheticrecords.com/

17. ELIZABETH COLOUR WHEEL, “Nocebo” (The Flenser): Approaching heavy music with an open mind is not something that happens all the time, yet Boston-based Elizabeth Colour Wheel decided to do just that when they formed five years ago, and now we have “Nocebo,” their first full-length that finds the perfect home on equally free-thinking The Flenser. The band—vocalist Lane Shi (she is an utter revelation whose work can’t really be justified in writing), guitarists Alice Jackson and Emmett Palaima, bassist Bill Cunningham, and drummer Connor Devito—named their record after something that has a detrimental effect on health produced by psychological or psychosomatic factors such as negative expectations of treatment or prognosis, itself a terrifying subject, one that might poke at your brain wiring as you work your way through these eight songs.

“Pink Palm” starts the record in a calm, chilled ambiance before Shi’s singing floats as she calls, “Hide in your shallow,” as the tempo kicks up and gets more aggressive. The song rattles and surges, with the drums blistering, the vocals stretching out, and the vibes easing while Shi wails away. “23″ that lets guitars chug and kick up dust as Shi calls, “Wake up light a cigarette, restart all over, it’s all over,” accentuating her great vocal delivery. “Hide Behind (Emmett’s Song)” has a total 90s college rock vibe, which gives me the nostalgia, though it later calms and sounds drip. The singing slowly drizzles over the song before Shi’s words turn to stabbing screams, and the song disappears into the cold. “Head Home” ends the record with noise spiraling and a moody, dark adventure being unfurled before you. The track gets grittier later with calculated pounding and Shi singing, “See birds fly, see the sky rise on a tide over my hope.” This is one of my favorite new bands of the entire year. (March 15)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/elizabethcolourwheel/

To buy the album, go here: https://nowflensing.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://theflenser.com/

16. SCHAMMASCH, “Hearts of No Light” (Prosthetic): Swiss burners Schammasch haven’t gotten their accolades in the United States, but considering the powerful nature of their catalog strictly based on how great it is, they really should be a bigger deal. Their fourth record “Hearts of No Light” is another gigantic leap into the future for this group that keeps shapeshifting with each release. The band delves into gothic darkness, strange horrorscapes, and even some post-metal fog to color their amalgamation of black and death metal. It’s a chilling, sweeping record that never relents and always pays off with twists and turns that should enthrall you.

“Ego Sum Omega” bursts immediately and spews fire through cracks in the earth. Cavernous growls drive while daring playing sprawls all over, with a thunderous pace setting the tone and making the world fall apart. “Qadmon‘s Heir” feels like it rips right through the universe. Growls strike as riffs maul, with the verses blasting, and guitarist/vocalist C.S.R. wailing, “We are indeed dead but breathing,” before the track goes for broke. “We did come to defile the temple, for our reign is resort,” C.S.R. howls with authority as riffs swirls and chants are embedded into the crazed ending. “A Paradigm Of Beauty” has guitars slicing amid strange echoes, while creaking vocals make their way into the picture. A proggy segment comes in and makes things even more adventurous, later ushering in a rock n roll-style rampage that feels jangly and edgy with sharp leads. Singing darkens everything, though it also results in a catchy pocket, while C.S.R. calls, “You gave me everything and more,” as the song ends. Tremendous new chapter for this band that never stops advancing. (Nov. 8)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/SCHAMMASCH

To buy the album or for more on the label, go here: https://shop.prostheticrecords.com/

BEST OF 2019: 30-21

30. WASTE OF SPACE ORCHESTRA, “Syntheosis” (Svart): What started as a one-time collaboration for Roadburn in 2018 pitting members of Oranssi Pazuzu and Dark Buddha Rising instead ballooned into something even bigger, that being a project that rounded into their imaginative and thunderous debut album “Syntheosis.” What resulted is a nine-track, 64-minute opus that feels like a psychedelic head rush, with the songs focused on the Shaman, the Seeker, and the Possessor, all voiced by different vocalists on a record that definitely will take a few visits to fully absorb. It’s a massive undertaking by some of the world’s most ambitious musicians, and hopefully it has a next chapter.  (April 4)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/wasteofspaceorchestra/

To buy the album, go here: https://svartrecords.com/?show=all_items

For more on the label, go here: https://svartrecords.com/

29. PELICAN, “Nighttime Stories” (Southern Lord): Instrumental beasts Pelican had left us waiting six long years for new music, and with the arrival of “Nighttime Stories,” we got just what we wanted. This is as aggressive as the band has sounded in some time, as these songs rage from their instruments as they take you down on this 8-track, 44-minute album. Actually, if you caught the band at Migration Fest in 2018, you got an early preview of these songs that sound just as volcanic and volatile as they did on that night. Tracks such as “Midnight and Mescaline,” “Abyssal Plain,” “Full Moon, Black Water,” and the riveting title track punch a blow back against a society that is ill and need of repair. (June 7)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pelicansong

To buy the album, go here: https://southernlord.com/store/

For more on the label, go here: https://southernlord.com/

28. DEAD TO A DYING WORLD, “Elegy” (Profound Lore): Dallas-based apocalyptic metal band Dead to a Dying World didn’t just claim that moniker because it sounded good. There’s far more to it, as they’ve demonstrated over a trio of records that leads us to “Elegy.” This album draws closed a triptych of albums that would cover the sixth extinction of the Anthropocene, the one that would claim us all. On this chapter, we see a post-human world and a story that revolves around loss and grief as a new ecological system takes form and life begins again. That story plays out over six tracks and 49 minutes, with the plot unraveling over “The Seer’s Embrace,” “Empty Hands, Hollow Hymns,” and closer “Of Moss and Stone.” This is a sweeping, dramatic stunner.  (April 19)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/DeadToADyingWorld

To buy the album, go here: https://profoundlorerecords.merchtable.com/?

For more on the label, go here: https://www.profoundlorerecords.com/

27. CAINA, “Gentle Illness” (Apocalyptic Witchcraft): Andrew Curtis-Brignell seemed content to leave Caina behind him, with a strong back catalog he could put up and be proud of any day he wanted. But that itch returned, which was immense pain and the heaviness of psychological pressure, which resulted in “Gentle Illness,” a bleak, crushing statement that brings the band into a new era. This also is one of the most diverse records in the Caina catalog as this eight-track, nearly 38-minute album still simmers in black metal, but it adds more abrasive noise, jazz, and spacey visions to its palate, which adds interesting textures to a collection that’s steeped in pain. The bleakness of suffering has ways of constantly beating you down, but Curtis-Brignell used his misery to fuel his creative fires. (Nov. 1)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/cainaband

To buy the album, go here: https://apocalypticwitchcraft.bandcamp.com/album/gentle-illness

For more on the label, go here: https://apocalypticwitchcraft.co.uk/

26. BIG ‡ BRAVE, “A Gaze Among Them” (Southern Lord): Montreal trio Big ‡ Brave has mastered the power of delivering quaking noise with minimalist compositions, their latest display being “A Gaze Among Them.” The band has been on a fairly prolific clip the past few years, and as new music has arrived, they have morphed into a stronger, more confident machine that travels the edges of the metal world, looking in ominously. The band sets moods in which they mix themselves, while guitarist Robin Wattie’s singing floats through the atmosphere, charging, sometimes letting you dream as she and the band push through “Muted Shifting of Space,” “Holding Pattern,” and “Sibling,” letting their drone and doom soak in their own juices.  (May 10)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/bigbravemusic/

To buy the album, go here: https://southernlord.com/store/

For more on the label, go here: https://southernlord.com/

25. THE GREAT OLD ONES, “Cosmicism” (Season of Mist): HP Lovecraft was a master of morbid horrors (as well as a world-league piece of shit), and his terrible creations live long past his death, where he never knew that his work took on such a huge life of its own. The French black metal ghouls The Great Old Ones (deities in the author’s bizarre universe of characters) have latched themselves into these stories and used them to inform their horrific music ever since forming a decade ago. “Cosmicism” is the band’s fourth record and second for Season of Mist, and it’s a total beast, battering you over “Cosmic Deaths,” “The Omniscient,” “A Thousand Young,” and “Dreams of the Nuclear Chaos.” This band keeps getting darker and more aggressive, which makes the album such a monster. (Oct. 22)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/thegreatoldones

To buy the album, go here: https://shopusa.season-of-mist.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.season-of-mist.com/

24. BRUTUS, “Nest” (Sargent House): Belgian trio Brutus served a useful reminder that music can be heavy and catchy without compromising a thing, which they proved on second record “Nest.” Energy and passion overflow on this follow-up to 2017’s “Burst” as the band tears though 11 songs that’ll demand their way into your head and never leave again. Drummer Stefanie Mannaerts does the singer behind the kit thing as well as anyone, as her booming voice creates surges, while the rest of the band backs her up as they wail you on “Fire,” “Django,” epic, heartfelt closer “Sugar Dragon,” and impossibly catchy “Techno.” This album is still exciting nine months later. (March 29)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/wearebrutus/

To buy the album, go here: https://www.hellomerch.com/collections/sargent-house

For more on the label, go here: https://sargenthouse.com/

23. DAWN RAY’D, “Behold Sedition Plainsong” (Prosthetic): Despite the views of some people who choose to keep their heads buried in the ground permanently, heavy metal does have an issue with dangerous right-wing ideologies, so any group that can battle back is always appreciated. When that band is UK black metal titans Dawn Ray’d, who can bring the heavy lumber with both music and message, it’s not just resistance, it’s a full-blown punch in the mouth to anti-fascist poisons. Their music is undeniably heavy and passionate, and with the violin playing of vocalist Simon B., it adds a churning texture to their music that stands up for the downtrodden with a goddamn huge fiery torch. (Oct. 25)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/dawnrayd

To buy the album or for more on the label, go here: https://shop.prostheticrecords.com/

22. FALLS OF RAUROS, “Patterns in Mythology” (Gilead Media): Hailing from Maine, Falls of Rauros have spent a career making majestic black metal about their home state and the wondrous dose of nature one can enjoy in mass quantities when making a visit there. “Patterns in Mythology” is the band’s first record for Gilead Media, and it finds a perfect home there (not that Bindrune wasn’t a great setting) as they unleash six tracks over 42 minutes on their fifth album overall. There is a lot in which to bathe your soul and mind as they batter you with atmosphere on “Weapons of Refusal,” “New Inertia,” and swelling closer “Memory at Night” that puts a cap on another rousing record from this thought-provoking band. These guys never offer up anything but crushers, and this record is no different. (July 19)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/fallsofraurosOfficial/

To buy the album, go here: https://gileadmedia.bandcamp.com/album/patterns-in-mythology

For more on the label, go here: https://gileadmedia.net/

21. DREADNOUGHT, “Emergence” (Profound Lore): There has been a nice helping of bands lately that have pushed the understanding and possibilities of heavy metal, and one of those is Colorado-based progressive unit Dreadnought, who returned with one hell of a record with “Emergence.” The word prog gets thrown around a lot, and we’re not innocent in that regard, but this band makes you feel like going and digging out Kansas and Yes records as their strings and flutes spiral different textures into this music that truly sets it apart from pretty much every heavy music band. “Emergence” is their “fire album,” and they unleash plenty of adventurous heat on “Besieged,” “Pestilent,” and awesome closing epic “The Waking Realm.” This band continues to remain one of our favorites for very good reason.  (May 10)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/dreadnoughtband/

To buy the album, go here: https://profoundlorerecords.merchtable.com/?

For more on the label, go here: https://www.profoundlorerecords.com/

Best of 2019: 40-31

40. FLESH OF THE STARS, “Mercy” (self-released): Chicago doom band Flesh of the Stars went strangely under the radar for a lot of people this year, which is a real shame because their fourth record “Mercy” is one of the more imaginative slabs of this stuff that was released in 2019. Self-released and crawling under everyone’s cloud cover comes this impressive five-track, nearly 48-minute album that starts off with the 22-minute title track that is one of the most stunning songs of the entire year, as Rachel Rustemeyer adds her vocals to the song (she also appeared on 2015’s “Hide”) which just helps push that epic over the top. The rest of the record ain’t half bad either, friend. Check it out. (June 21)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/fleshofthestarsdoom/

To buy the album, go here: https://fleshofthestars.bandcamp.com/

39. LUNGS, “Estuary” (self-released): Minnesota sludge doom dreamers Lungs always wear their gigantic imaginations on their sleeves, which they do again on their second record “Estuary” that helped make our autumn that much more intriguing. The band has their moments when they can be heavy as all hell, but they’re not afraid of melody, vocal harmonizing, and beauty, which makes their material stand out among a field that’s fairly saturated. Tracks such as “Matriarch,” “Oak,” and the monstrous “At the Estuary” made for some enthralling listening and also kind of slipped under some folks’ awareness this year. Luckily there’s no time limit for falling deep into their clutches. (Oct. 18)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/lungsmusic/

To buy the album, go here: https://lungsmetal.bandcamp.com/

38. CHEVALIER, “Destiny Calls” (Gates of Hell): Wrap your arms in spikes, grab whatever Medieval weapon you have at your disposal, and ride into relentless battle with Finnish classic speed metal freaks Chevalier, who will be waiting for you with instructions. Led by hellfire-raising singer Emma Grönqvist (surely she makes Doro Pesch proud), the band stomps guts and brings the spirit of the early 1980s along with them on this 10-track, 46-minute record that has tons of blazing high points from “The Immurement,” “The Curse of the Dead Star,” “Stormbringer,” and “A Warrior’s Lament.” This band is a mighty force just getting started. (April 26)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Chevaliermetal/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.cruzdelsurmusic.com/store/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.gatesofhellrecords.com/

37. BLUT AUS NORD, “Hallucinogen” (Debemur Morti): French black metal (I guess!) experimenters Blut Aus Nord are not likely to ever take a rest or fail to challenge themselves when it comes to making music, which is obvious from their 13th record “Hallucinogen.” The title tells you everything you need to know, as your mind will be sent into the cosmos to roll around and explore outer worlds. The band never has been more trancey than they are here, and the music simply follows them on this intellectual journey that runs over seven tracks and 49 immersive minutes.  Everything feels weird, and savagely so on “Nomos Nebulean,” “Sybelius,” and weird closer “Cosma Procyiris.” Starting to think the alien god promo photo might be more real than we know. (Sept. 20)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Vindsval.official/

To buy the album, go here: https://www.debemur-morti.com/en/12-eshop

For more on the label, go here: https://www.debemur-morti.com/en/

36. EXHUMED, “Horror” (Relapse): “Horror” might be the most well, duh album title of the year, but it does fit this long-running death-grind band since that’s what they’ve basically bathed in for years and years now. Their ninth record is a 15-track, 26-minute demolition derby of terror where the blood is splattered liberally, and you can’t get too comfortable in one spot before you’re neck jerked into something totally different. From “Unsound” to “Scream Out in Fright” to “Naked, Screaming, and Covered in Blood” to “In the Mouth of Hell,” these guys set fire to you and laugh while they watch you burn. (Oct. 4)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/ExhumedOfficial/

To buy the album or for more on the label, go here: https://store.relapse.com/

35. ATLANTEAN KODEX, “The Course of Empire” (Van)”: Heavy metal can be a glorious, epic thing, though for a long time, it felt like bands were just growling and growling, pushing to the backburner the idea that strong singing can be just as effective. German metal titans Atlantean Kodex take things back to the time when Maiden and Priest ruled the Earth, and their great third record “The Course of Empire” delivers jolt after massive jolt of history and fantasy on this 10-track, 62-minute opus. You have to be clinically dead not to feel the enormous rush this band supplies, and if you find yourself swept off to an imaginative adventure taking on this record, there’s no way you’re alone on that one. (Sept. 2)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Musician-Band/Atlantean-Kodex-187524197964771/

To buy the album or for more on the label, go here: https://www.van-records.de/index.php?language=en

34. IN HUMAN FORM, “III” (I, Voidhanger): Massachusetts-based progressive black metal band In Human Form never seem to have a hard time twisting our brains up and giving us mental meltdowns as they do on their devastating third album “III.” At three tracks and 47 minutes (um, the songs are long, in case you didn’t figure that out), the band goes all out with mixing all kinds of metallic psychosis into this stunning display, and their use of straightforward sax as a major factor in their music is an extra ripple that feels a little strange at first but totally makes sense as these songs work their way into your brain. Honestly, if I had more time with this record, this might have landed higher on the list. (Dec. 13)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/inhumanformihf/

To buy the album, go here: http://i-voidhanger.com/shop/

For more on the label, go here: http://i-voidhanger.com/

33. ASHBRINGER, “Absolution” (Prosthetic): Putting on a record and hearing the band’s passion and energy pour right out of the speakers and into your own heart is a massive experience that helps you connect to the creators. That’s long been a trait for atmospheric black metal force Ashbringer, and that’s all over their tremendous third record “Absolution,” their debut for Prosthetic Records. There’s not a moment of the record that doesn’t flood with power, but a personal favorite for me is second track “Wilderness Walk” that captures their allegiance to nature and their surroundings in such an honest, genuine manner, you can’t help but get caught up in the emotion. The seven other tracks are great, too, but this is one of my favorite songs of any genre this year. (June 28)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/ashbringermusic/

To buy the album or for more on the label, go here: https://shop.prostheticrecords.com/

32. VALE, “Burden of Sight” (The Flenser): Metal’s supposed to be heavy and aggressive, and so much of it is, but then there are bands and records that make it feel like you’ve been flattened by a dump truck moments into the thing. Vale’s debut “Burden of Sight” is one of those albums, as this black metal/crust unit has complete destruction in mind on this six-track, 33-minute pounder, with vocalist Kate Coysh out front unapologetically destroying you. “Final Flesh” is an ideal opener as it sets the stage early about the carnage you’re about to witness, and they never relent over “Guilt Among the Dead,” “Starvation Eternal,” and “Grief Undone.” You’ll feel the effects of this thing long after it’s done, so ice down those muscles. (May 24)

For more on the band, go here: https://valeoakland.bandcamp.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://nowflensing.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://theflenser.com/

31. L’ACEPHALE, self-titled (Eisenwald): Long-running, Oregon-based black metal unit L’Acephale almost killed us on a long drive back from NYC during the spring. Let me explain. Second track “Gloria in Excelsis Mihi” came on, and the hypnotic singing from Geneviève Beaulieu (Menace Ruine) had us in such a deep, meditative trance, we thought we were going to drive off the road to our demise. That track, though, is a testament to how this band can get into your mind and alter what you’re seeing and hearing, setting you on a strange adventure that’ll devastate and entrance you along the way. I always have a hard time encapsulating L’Acephale’s vibe, so is that good enough? (April 19)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/lacephale/

To buy the album, go here: https://www.store.eisenton.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.eisenton.de/label/