My top ten albums of 2019
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
Hell is the most accurate description of this album. A mechanical, lifeless, empty hell. There is no rhythm or melody. Just pounding, pulsing, grating noises. A mix of feedback, and god-forsaken electronic abominations of sounds is all the music you will find on this album. Random, off-kilter, and unhinged screaming accompanies the already brutally violent noisescape to add yet another layer of inhuman terror. Catharsis is the prevailing feeling this work of art evokes. The music is so unrelentingly abrasive and caustic it helps to wash away all the hurt you hold inside. You don’t have to feel pain anymore while listening to “Devour”. It is the pain. It hurts and screams so you don’t have to. Not many albums hit on such a mentally and emotionally freeing level as this album does. “Devour” is rewarding if you have the resolve to subject yourself to it, but for most, this experience will be nothing but horrifying.
“Weeping Choir” by Full of Hell
“Weeping Choir” is a noisy brutalizer of death metal and grind-core, delivering ravaging riffs that tear down all semblance of peace and order. Frantic but not frenzied, meticulous but not nearly under control, Full of Hell deliver exactly the lacerating and riving death-grind you ordered. Amidst the full throttle violence, Full of Hell uncharacteristically slows down for track “Armory of Obsidian Glass” and proves that even on a death-grind album, there is plenty of space for an expertly crafted, nearly 7-minute drone and doom song.
“Sea of Worry” by Have A Nice Life
“Sea of Worry” is that feeling of looking out into the ocean, seeing the sun setting, hearing the seagulls caw, and knowing that regardless of everything else going on in your life, that in this moment, everything is good. Everything is right. Everything is ok. And you are happy. Peaceful. Satisfied. Post-punk, atmospheric, and goth influenced, “Sea of Worry” cites a number of musical influences throughout its runtime. Its greatest strength: how relaxing it is. This is a very simple album, with simple drum beats, soft guitar tones, and soothing vocals (with occasional punk inflections). Opening with a chilled, surf-influenced track, “Sea of Worry” progresses out of a rock-centered beginning few tracks into a subtler, atmospheric realm by the end. With this, it feels as if “Sea of Worry” catches the energy still within you late at night, dissolves it, and lays you down straight into the arms of sleep.