This list will not contain any hits from the past year, nor will you, the reader, likely recognize any of the artists mentioned here. This is a deep dive into a diverse range of sound from the relaxed to the soul-crushing. Drone, noise, black metal, progressive doom, post-punk, and a healthy dose of grind-core are what you will find here. It’s a look into a world of music you never knew existed. And hopefully, a door into new territories of pleasurable listening. Or, you’ll simply be aghast at the entries here. That’s for you to find out if you have enough interest to continue, there is certainly material enough for both outcomes. So, without farther ado, and in no specific order, here are my top ten albums of 2019.
“Pollinator” by Cloud Rat
“Pollinator” is everything great about grind-core, and then Cloud Rat went a step further and added subtle, meaningful melodies that bubble up within each bombastic track. Never does this album lose its momentum. It’s grooving or lamenting, or both at the same time, in the most violent of fashion, with memorable earworms of riffs rising out of the crashing waves of distortion. This album hits in more than just the one spot grind-core is meant to hit, with feelings of triumph, struggle, victory, anger, and dread. This album stands above and is unique in its genre, and demands listening.
“The Onlooker” by Windswept
Windswept play soaring, racing black metal. Their album “The Onlooker” displays the beauty in both sorrow and struggle through tremolo-picked melodies torn from their guitars. This is delivered with riveting intensity through the ubiquitous use of harsh vocals and unwavering blast-beats. The Onlooker is emotionally powered with the subtlety of melody underneath the overbearing and barreling rhythm guitars, jostling bass, battering drums, and screaming vocals. This dichotomy of intensity and struggling melody serves to make the album doubly affecting. Emotion and struggle are conveyed best with pain and unbridled exertion, as Windswept show us here.
“Pyroclasts” and “Life Metal” by Sunn O)))
Sunn O))) (Pronounced “sun”) released two full length albums this year, both impeccable examples of the power of drone metal. Drone metal involves textured atmospheres created through the sole use of guitars. Played minimally, slowly, with very little variation and sustained tones, the guitars drone on into repetitive, mammoth, glacially paced soundscapes with rattling volume and weight. Here on both “Pyroclasts” and “Life Metal”, this description of the genre is exactly what is present. Drone metal does not need to meddle in reinvention. Both albums, in this sound, are incredibly soothing. Their sound is a constant you can rely on. It’s neutral, not showing or bringing emotion. It equalizes. It is impartial. It’s the sound of life. Uncaring and unstoppable. And so very, very massive.
“Ecosystem” by Botanist
Botanist’s “Ecosystem” bridges succinct folk instrumentation with violent indignation to produce flowering waves of thoughtful black metal. With an eco-centric view and a warning of our continual desecration of Mother Nature, Botanist play black metal not with guitars, but with hammered dulcimer: a stringed instrument you strike with mallets. Gone is the abrasive distorted tremolo picking and in its place is a pleasant, full, and natural tone perpetuating black metal styled melodies and rhythms. Ecosystem is the culmination of Botanist’s continued work on this formula, and it delivers whole heartedly with clean, heavenly vocals and elegant hammered dulcimer compositions that fly from your speakers like doves off green trees. Swiftly and calmly, with deft purpose. Botanist, atop such a graceful instrument and vocals, express coarse anger towards humanity’s disdain for nature through harsh vocals and propelling drums with a raw production. They successfully synthesize the beauty and elegance of nature with the mis-care, destruction, and eventual extinction it faces into a potent force of musicality.
“Sisyphean” by Lamniformes
“Sisyphean’s” sound is the depression of lonely kittens trapped in a frozen house coming to terms with their mortality. Slow, softly plucked melodic passages mark just one of Sisyphean’s strengths. Mirroring are guitars mired in a thick blanket of deep distortion. A comforting, soft distortion. With crooning and emotionally downtrodden clean vocals atop all this, “Sisyphean” becomes a sad, sober, and solemn retreat into spaces of true human melancholy.
“Grasping Time” by Vokonis
“Grasping Time” is progressive, doom and groove-riddled with enticing melody. That’s all there is to it. With the melodic riff interspersed with and used just as much as the heavy doomy grooves this album rocks and touches with a marching confidence.
“Devour” by Pharmakon