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/

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