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2019 and Growing Old

I’ve been doing this since 2007 and I’ve watched as members have come and gone (some departures way more welcome than others). I’ve also watched as my personal musical tastes have slowly separated from the Sputnik collective (they were never entirely in line to begin with), and that is no where more apparent than on this years’ list. As I created this list I noticed a lot of the albums I really enjoyed this year either garnered very little interest or were straight shit on by the Sput masses. It doesn’t really bother me because I’m always going to enjoy listening to what I’m going to enjoy listening to regardless of public opinion, but this list was just a confirmation that I’m rapidly aging out of the music scene. This was made more obvious by the fact that a vast majority of what did make the list was by bands and genres I grew up on, with only a handful of brand new artists.

In order to confirm this, I went back through previous lists and found an obvious trend where each passing year seemed to feature fewer and fewer new artists on my personal lists (a fact backed up by Last.fm listening statistics). Music was still interesting to me, but I was returning to familiar bands and familiar albums… so, I took a break. I didn’t actually participate on Sputnik Music for a majority of 2019 in any obvious way, instead taking more of an occasional behind the scenes role that was minimal and unreliable, at best. I also allowed myself for the first time ever to simply go back to those old familiar releases, and not really dive into new music unless I actually wanted to — another fact that ended up affecting what actually made this final list since I didn’t really ‘get back into music’ until some time around September. Just to be clear, this isn’t a “I’m leaving the site” letter to Sputnik. If I go again it will be the same way as last time, quietly and uneventfully… no lists or blog posts. For now, though, I am enjoying the site again and I am enjoying the effort of trying to find new music again and as long as it stays that way, I’ll be here.

This year’s list uses the same criteria as every other year-end list I’ve created. How much did I enjoy it and how often did I come back to it? Those were the  only questions that mattered. These albums aren’t listed for their affect on any genre or for their originality or even for their overall popularity. The only criteria that mattered was enjoyment.

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30 – 21

30. Flotsam and Jetsam – The End of Chaos

30_Flotsam and Jetsam_The End of Chaos (Final)
Genre: Thrash // Review // Listen

** Don’t be fooled by the awful cover art, this is top level Flotsam and Jetsam. They’re not really moving out of their comfort zone a lot, but expand on their sound and bring some new elements to the table. Sounds like a solid mix of Thrash, heavy metal and some power metal with very catchy choruses and great instrumental work. — vermillionZ

** These guys have always had garbage album art tbh — bloc

— I’m not going to lie, my favorite Flotsam releases are When the Storm Comes Down, Cuatro, Drift, and The Cold. I’ve never thought their thrash stuff was all that great, but when they cut the fat and move into a more mainstream metal sound I generally love it. Having said that, this album definitely isn’t bad even though they’ve gone back to a straight-ahead thrash sound. The production on The End of Chaos is impeccable and the riffs, solos, and drums are much better than almost anything else they’ve done on one of their thrash-oriented releases. Eric A.K.’s vocals are still the coolest thing about this release, as is the case on most Flotsam releases… and, yes, the album cover is terrible 

29. Velvet Acid Christ – Ora Oblivionis

29_Velvet Acid Christ_Ora Oblivionis (final)
Genre: Electro/Industrial // Album Page // Listen

— This album really plays like a ‘best of’ release. There’s some dance floor-friendly old school electro-industrial, there’s guitar driven tracks, and there’s some of the more melodic atmospheric stuff. Essentially, Ora Oblivionis covers Velvet Acid Christ’s entire discography and should be a welcome addition for any fan. The best track on here is easily “Adventures In Babysitting The Antichrist”, but the collection of more melodic stuff (“The Colors Of My Sadness” and “Trash”) are definitely close seconds. 

28. Mayhem – Daemon

28_Mayhem_Daemon (final)
Genre: Black Metal // Review // Listen

** Boy if two people with “666” in their names give this a 4 then you know it’s quality! — Xenophanes

** Among Daemon’s many virtues is its high repeat value, like an old house, where every corner has a story to tell and small details that we only notice when we look more closely. — TheNotrap

— My favorite Mayhem album is Grand Declaration of War and my favorite Mayhem guitarist was Blasphemer. He always seemed to throw at least a little bit of a curveball into Mayhem’s ‘true’ black metal sound. Teloch and Ghul seem more inclined to play no-frills old school black metal, but if Daemon is any indication, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Daemon is almost entirely no-frills black metal, but the atmosphere that’s created along with the few bits of outside-the-box ideas are enough to keep this interesting from beginning to end, even after multiple listens.

27. Lacuna Coil – Black Anima

27_Lacuna Coil_Black Anima (Final)
Genre: Modern Metal // Album Page // Listen

** There are some nice highlight tracks and there is definitely some energy there, but I have to agree with those who say that it suffers from a lot of trudging sameness throughout. — CriticalMyth

— I’m a big fan of Lacuna Coil, but there’s no denying the fact that they’ve always seemed to chase the trends, and they’ve always been just a little late to the party. This time, though, it feels like they’re almost on time. This time the trend Lacuna Coil are following is djent-influenced metal with their own twist. The male vocals are almost entirely growled, the riffs are easily some of the heaviest of the band’s career, and the rhythm section is dominating. Of course, the main draw is still the vocals of Cristina Scabbia, which are excellent as usual. If there’s a drawback to Black Anima it’s that the band are pretty much a one-trick pony which causes the album to sound pretty damn similar from start to finish.

26. Aenimus – Dreamcatcher

26_Aenimus_Dream Catcher (final)
Genre: Technical Death Metal // Album Page // Listen

** This is some great progressive deathcore right here. It reminds me of heavy Contortionist level quality, but less spacey, and with more riffs and tasty shredding. — Dmax28

— This is a shredfest from the first notes of “Before The Eons” to the final moments of moments of “Dreamcatcher.” Despite the chaotic riffs and rhythms, Dreamcatcher stands out for being super memorable thanks to some well-done dynamic shifts as well as variety well-crafted melodies. The bass player is worth mentioning on this, as well.

25. The Future Sound of London – Yage 2019

25_The Future Sound Of London_Yage 2019 (Final)
Genre: Electronic/Ambient // Album Page // Listen

— The original song, “Yage,” was a part of The Future Sound of London’s breakout release Dead Cities. It was a near-perfect soundscape that told part of a larger story throughout the album’s runtime. While I don’t know what prompted the guys to craft an entire album around the twenty-three year old song, I’m glad they did. The album takes everything that was good about Dead Cities and creates a near-perfect sequel. The feeling of traveling desolate, almost haunted, alien landscapes has returned for the new millennium making Yage 2019 the best thing the band have done in decades. —

24. Vintersea – Illuminated

24_Vintersea_Illuminated (final)
Genre: Progressive Death Metal // Album Page // Listen

** This can no longer be labeled as plain old soft melodeath, this is an extreme form of progressive metal with black and death metal elements. Just take the opening track. When it starts, you are under the impression that you listen to a black metal album. You only realize that this is more than that when you reach the the short, slow keyboard part. Avienne Low is a terrific vocalist. Her clean vocals are good, reminiscent of Aleah Starbridge (particularly her lower range) but her harsh vocals are the real highlight. — ManiacBlasphemer

— At its core, Illuminated is a mixture of black metal and melodic death metal featuring the beautiful Avienne in vocals (seriously, go check her out), but it’s also more than that. Interspersed through out the death and black metal are elements of progressive metal, post metal, and post black metal, to name a few. Avienne capably handles every genre shift with black metal rasps, death metal growls, and even ethereal clean singing. Illuminated also benefits from a collection of songs that never really start to feel familiar, with each kind of having its own personality. Definitely worth a listen. —

23. BATS – Alter Nature

23_Bats_Alter Nature (final)
Genre: Post Hardcore/Alt. Prog // Review // Listen

** Definitely feels like the weakest of the 3 bats albums we have now buy its still a great record Call of cthulhu and Dyson sphere are highlights for me — Morpha

** thats a fucking sick helmet, i could definitely see some of the users around here being prescribed one of those badboys — Lord(e)Po)))ts

— I’m a huge fan of BATS and their quirky alt. prog sound. To me they’ve always reminded me of what Voivod could have done if they had retained their balls after Nothingface instead of releasing the streamlined and neutered Angel Rat. Alter Nature seems to pick up where The Sleep of Reason left off except it is even more abrasive and less catchy. Granted, that means Alter Nature is going to take longer to finally click, but it is well worth the effort. Underneath all the angular rhythms, screamed vocals, and abrasive sounds is another excellent BATS release. —

22. Russian Circles – Blood Year

22_Russian Circles_Blood Year (Final)
Genre: Post Rock/Instrumental Metal // Review // Listen

** These guys are stuck on autopilot. It sounds good, they have tight formulas, but I feel like I’m listening to the same songs every 3 years lately — Raul Stanciu

** Not bad, well-written and well produced, the blast beats and blackened feel do add a nice touch, but overall they did not wow me this time. — dedex

— I’ve never really bothered with Russian Circles before. I mean, I’ve definitely listened to their previous albums a few times, but I’ve never come back to them like I have this one. That means, the complaints about these guys being on autopilot or whatever don’t really affect me because I don’t really have anything to compare this to. What I do know is these guys make memorable post rock that really is more metal than rock and they definitely bring some black metal influence too. The thing is, despite Blood Year being entirely instrumental, it still manages to be memorable and entertaining, something most post rock does not do for me. —

21. Infected Rain – Endorphin

21_Infected Rain_Endorphin (Final)
Genre: Metalcore/Extreme Metal // Album Page // Listen

** I hated the first single. — BallsToTheWall

— These guys get a lot of hate on this site. I’m not going to lie and say I don’t see where it comes from, but I will say I don’t agree with it. Infected Rain plays a kind of metalcore that borrows liberally from Nu Metal (although not so much on this release), featuring angsty lyrics, and raspy female shouts that really are an acquired taste (along with excellent clean singing). The thing is, if you can get past the raspy vocals (it did take me awhile) and just accept the lyrics for what they are, Endorphin is actually pretty damn good; even if it’s nothing original or special. Lena’s clean singing is powerful and makes from some really catchy choruses, and the band’s use of electronics and keyboards help to set them apart from bands like The Agonist or Jinjer. —

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20 – 11

20. Killswitch Engage – Atonement

20_Killswitch Engage_Atonement (Final)
Genre: Metalcore // Review // Listen

** Solid, dependable, relatable core which plays safely to the bands strengths. I really enjoy it — Gfunk839

** The Signal Fire and The Crownless King are cool jams but almost everything else is just been-there-done-that metalcore. Nothing awful other than the fact that KSE are stuck in their own complacency — Toondude

— I’ve always been a fan of Jesse Leech-fronted Killswitch Engage. What people seem to forget is that Alive or Just Breathing was pretty ground breaking when it came out way back in 2002. Granted, the band have evolved very little since those initial steps, but they’ve always been excellent (With Jesse, at least). To me, Atonement almost reminds me of a collection of metalcore power ballads. Every song is dominated by clean vocals, epic choruses, and melodic guitar leads which makes the album feel more accessible and tame than it actually is. There are still guttural growls and piercing shrieks as well as fast-paced tempos and shredding riffs, but at the end of the day the most memorable thing is all the melody and clean singing. While not exactly a new direction for the band, they’re actually doing it better than ever before. —

19. Hypno5e – A Distant (Dark) Source

19_Hypno5e_A Distant (Dark) Source (Final)
Genre: Prog/Post Metal // Album Page // Listen

— Hypno5e are frustrating for a few different reasons. Their brand of epic, atmospheric, post metal/djent/prog is so damn good as well as pretty unique, but they’ve been doing the same thing for multiple albums with little change. Rather than make any kind of huge musical leap, Hypno5e are content to just keep making minor incremental changes, which makes every one of their albums simply sound like upgrades to the previous ones. Worse, the few things they should drop (such as all the spoken word sections) just keep getting dragged back into every new release. Having said that, A Distant (Dark) Source is definitely their best release. Its production is better, the songs are more memorable, the melodies are better crafted, the effects are more tastefully done, and the spoken word sections have been drawn down a little. On its own, A Distant (Dark) Source is an excellent release… I only wish they’d start to diversify a little more. —

18. Hatchie – Keepsake

18_Hatchie_Keepsake (Final)
Genre: Indie Pop // Review // Listen

** Like Cocteau Twins, Mazzy Star, Ride, and Galaxie 500 decided to have an orgy in 2019 — AmericanFlagAsh

** Initially had it at 3.5 but after a few more listens, it’s definitely worthy of (at least) 4.0. The run of the first four tracks is insanely good — tectactoe

— On Keepsake, Hatchie delivers a nice hybrid of indie pop and dream pop, but with enough energy to keep her listeners from falling asleep. Also, the choruses on Keepsake are super catchy and capably delivered in a layered, harmonized, way making them sound bigger than they actually are. I hear a lot of Chapterhouse’s breakout release Blood Music on this album despite Chapterhouse being fronted by a dude. They both dabble with danceable beats and energetic tempos while still maintaining a nice dream pop undercurrent. —

17. New Model Army – From Here

17_New Model Army_From Here (Final)
Genre: Post Punk/Alternative // Album Page // Listen

— Raise your hand if you only know who New Model Army are because of Anacrusis’ cover of their song “I Love the World”. Now raise your hand if you don’t know who either of those bands are. If you are in that boat, I’ll save Anacrusis for another time, but we’ll hit up New Model Army now. New Model Army have always reminded me of a nice hybrid of Wish-era The Cure and the self titled 1980 Killing Joke release. Ever since New Model Army started in 1984, the band have delivered rhythmic protest anthems that are driven by cyclical bass guitar rhythms and folky, almost spoken-word, vocals. The problem is they kind of lost their way somewhere around the late 90s. That’s what makes From Here so special, because the band have come from out of nowhere with their best release since Thunder and Consolation in 1989. The bass guitar-driven songs are back and better than ever, and the accompanying music is the best it’s been in a decade or more. The vocals are more urgent and memorable than they’ve been in a long time, too. —

16. Allegaeon – Apoptosis

16_Allegaeon_Apoptosis (Final)
Genre: Technical Death Metal // Review // Listen

** Apoptosis is all that can be expected from Allegaeon, a tech grooving death metal assault, which rests on the same rather distinctive well-known formula of the band’s previous albums, and although the band never really get out of their comfort zone, Apoptosis is more stimulating and less exhausting than Proponent For Sentience, despite having 11 songs and more than 55 minutes, revealing a more focused and effective songwriting. Personal highlights: Extremophiles (B and A), Metaphobia, Stellar Tidal Disruption and the title track. — TheNotrap

— That fucking bass player. His performance is probably one of my favorite things about this album, but he isn’t on his own here. Allegaeon deliver a relentless collection of riffs, shredding solos, and guttural growls that also have just enough melody and groove to stick in your head, even on first listen. This is what technical death metal should sound like. —

15. Babymetal – Metal Galaxy

15_Babymetal_Metal Galaxy
Genre: Metal/J-Pop/Electronic // Review // Listen

** I don’t like it as much as Metal Resistance, but they manage to pack so much weird shit in here that I can forgive it. — Mitch

** How about DA DA DO — Max Pigott

** How about DA DA DON’T — Doofy

— Babymetal were supposed to fade away as quickly as they arrived on the scene. Their blend of J-pop, electronics, thrash, death metal, and power metal was never meant to last. Once the novelty wore off, the band were supposed to be through. Instead, Babymetal have toured the world and sold out stadiums everywhere they’ve gone, and they’re also on their third release, Metal Galaxy. If their debut was a hodge-podge of different sounds and ideas without any clear direction, and their second release was the band playing it safe and homogenous, Metal Galaxy is Babymetal doing whatever the hell they want with confidence. There’s djent, power metal, hip-hop, J-pop, salsa, and even shitty pirate metal… and it all sounds like it belongs on the same album. Metal Galaxy is easily the band’s most diverse and confident release so far. I personally can’t wait to see what comes next. —

14. Bat For Lashes – Lost Girls

14_Bat For Lashes_Lost Girls (Final)
Genre: Indie Pop // Review // Listen

** Moments of brilliance, but a lot of songs don’t know when to end. Makes the moments a whole lot less memorable. Opening and closing tracks are great though — Mathias

— Bat For Lashes’ lush, chill, electronic pop has always caught my attention. Of course, the star of the show is Natasha Khan and her breathy expressive vocals. It feels like this time she has really stepped up the lush atmospheres while dialing down the tempos and placing more emphasis on memorable choruses. On the other hand, it feels like each song is a little more ‘musical’ than in the past. It’s kind of strange, and I’m not really too sure how to explain it… I only know it’s really good. —

13. Astronoid – Astronoid

13_Astronoid_Astronoid (Final)
Genre: Post Black Metal/Alternative // Review // Listen

** I don’t know what the fuck dream thrash is, but I know this album slaps, Early contender for AOTY — ExhaleTheLight

** musical asexuality…Barbie/Ken metal: music that’s smooth down there… — Der Geist, der stets verneint

— The criticism I’ve seen of this album is that the everything starts to sound the same by the mid-point of the album, and that despite the tempos, double bass, and black metal influences, Astronoid’s second release has no balls. The first issue I don’t agree with, but the second one I do. Astronoid is absolutely the most neutered post black metal release I’ve ever heard, which is kind of crazy because it also has plenty of black metal/metal influences floating around. It’s also one of the big reasons I like it. The shoegazey ethereal vocals floating over galloping drum beats and black metal-ish leads are an awesome contrast, and it doesn’t matter that somehow they’ve managed to remove any hint of aggression from the music. It’s actually kind of impressive that they did. —

12. Pine – Pine

12_Pine_Pine (Final)
Genre: Indie Pop // Album Page // Listen

— Pine remind me of a mixture of classic Slowdive mixed with a little bit of The Cure and a modern alternative rock edge. The music itself runs between riffy alt. rock and mellow ethereal melodies and features the capable vocals of Darlene Deschamps. It almost reminds me of what modern Tonight Alive might sound like with an ethereal edge, and more of a morose outlook on life. —

11. Cult of Luna – A Dawn to Fear

11_Cult of Luna_A Dawn to Fear (Final)
Genre: Post Metal // Review // Listen

** Dense and crushing while maintaining the smoggy sensibilities I loved so much on Vertikal, this record is one mind-blowing crescendo after the other. — ellagos

** the moon cult writes an album about fearing the dawn? shocker — i want to mort.

— Most post metal drives me crazy because there are parts that are so good, but they’re separated by large sections of plodding minimalism. A Dawn to Fear cuts out a vast majority of the sparse post metal influences and just consistently jumps right into what makes post metal so damn good; epic crushing crescendos, visceral vocals, abrasive melodies, and oppressive atmospheres. Even the longer songs such as “The Silent Man,” “Lights on the Hill,” and “The Fall” manage to keep the momentum going, and they don’t waste any portion of their extended runtimes. —

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10 – 1

10. Periphery – Periphery IV: Hail Stan

10_Periphery_Periphery IV Hail Stan (Final)
Genre: Progressive Metal/Metalcore // Review // Listen

** they really fucking made this the album title jesus christbands that are not music l a dis pool ute

** If Periphery III and “The Walk” brutally hate-fucked behind a dumpster at Hooters with no protection.Scott

— I’m only vaguely familiar with Periphery’s discography. I’ve heard the Juggernaut releases and Select Difficulty, but the only songs I really bothered to come back to were “22 Faces” and “Marigolds”… until this album. Despite another stupid album title, the music on Hail Stan is the best I’ve ever heard from the band. The first three tracks are simply amazing. From the 16-minute opener to the aggressive “Blood Eagle” to the even more aggressive “CHVRCH BVRNER” it’s a phenomenal way to open the album. After that, the quality is dialed down a little as they kind of go in a few different directions, but overall this is one awesome release. —

9. Aurora – A Different Kind Of Human – Step 2

9_Aurora_A Different Kind of Human (Step II) (Final)
Genre: Eccentric Indie Pop // Album Page // Listen

** “Daydreamer” is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard this year or any recent year in memory. The album is pretty uplifting and beautiful overall, it’s striving for greatness but misses the mark just a bit with a few lackluster tracks. However, nothing on this album is “bad” by any means, just some average tracks that pull the album down a peg or two. — TheForbiddenFool

— Is Aurora the Norwegian version of Bjork? I think it might be a little too soon to brand her with that honor, and her quirkiness seems a little too forced at times, but there’s no doubt she delivers a pretty unique brand of electronic pop. While her debut album was more of a moody collection of indie/electronic songs, A Different Kind of Human – Step 2 is a super uplifting collection of songs that are almost entirely driven by electronics and programmed beats. This, of course, takes the edge off Aurora’s music and makes it a little less challenging to get into, but there’s no doubt the quality is still just as high as always. —

8. Sadistik – Haunted Gardens

8_Sadistik_Haunted Gardens (Final)
Genre: Hip-Hop // Album Page // Listen

** Very well rapped and emotionally resonate with some beautiful instrumentals. I’ve probably listened to this album more than anything else this year. — klondikethebear

** This album is a nice experience, because although the atmosphere is quite dark and sad as we often find in this style, sadistik has a particular way of making it feel and live differently. On the other hand, despite the’ short format, although the album keeps a super homogeneity, we sometimes have the impression that it repeats itself — Doublez38

— I’ve been a fan of Sadistik’s brand of chill, atmospheric hip-hop since The Balancing Act, but it wasn’t until Altars that a full album of his really grabbed me. I loved the dark, moody sounds that came from the album, and how he jumped fully into the twisted atmospheres that were only hinted at before. Haunted Gardens drops a lot of the dark musical shades, but otherwise picks up where Altars left off. It’s still a super chill hip hop release that is simply buried in atmosphere, over which Sadistik delivers his unique vocal take on the genre with his acrobatic word play. —

7. Hope Drone – Void Lustre

7_Hope Drone_Void Lustre (Final)
Genre: Doom/Black Metal // Review // Listen

** this rules albeit it’s lacking standout moments like their last album — trilo

** Really liked some of this/was just totally indifferent to some of thisSlex

— There are definitely bands that do more with an extended runtime; more ideas, more dynamics, more styles… but that’s not Hope Drone’s thing. Hope Drone basically work within a limited formula consisting of raw black metal, funeral doom (or drone… I’m not familiar with drone, so I hear doom), and crushingly oppressive atmospheres. The thing is, they use this formula to great effect. Every track is an epic journey through morose atmospheres, throat-shredding rasps (reminds me of old school At the Gates), blistering black metal leads/melodies, and two basic tempos: really fast and really slow. Also, despite the extended song lengths, each track seems to end so quick, never outstaying its welcome. —

6. Queensryche – The Verdict

6_Queensryche_The Verdict (Final)
Genre: Progressive Metal // Review // Listen

** With the third attempt the new Queensryche gets closer to a classic Ryche swagger, but something is still missing and that thing is classy songwriting. It would however be impossible to negate the efforts presented. The singles were not particularly promising, but as it turns out this really is the most interesting “Toddryche” album yet, as the band promised. Extended melodic soloing, more urgent vocal delivery and proggier structures make this a short and sweet album that for now doesn’t tire me even after a few complete listens.rSongs like Inside Out (urgent chorus a la NM 156), Bent / Launder the Conscience (not linear in structure) and the closer Portrait (more laid back and with somewhat of a Chasing Blue Sky feel) make for valid additions to the Queensryche canon. — Sabrutin

— It wasn’t too long ago when it looked like Queensryche were through. If their plodding releases didn’t kill them, Geoff’s shitty interactions with both fans and the other band members would. Even after the band cut out the cancer, their success was anything but assured. Replacing a vocalist is never a sure thing, and replacing an icon like Geoff Tate is even more precarious. Somehow it ended up working out for them. It has to be noted that, at this point, there are only two original members left in the band, but other than Chris Degarmo’s classy songwriting, nothing feels out of place. The Verdict is easily Queensryche’s most progressive and metal release featuring riff after riff, harmonized guitar solos, and pounding percussion. Really, the only thing that might stop a Queensryche fan from enjoying the band’s resurgence is an inability to accept that sometimes band members change. Dude, daddy isn’t coming back and projecting your baggage onto your favorite bands won’t change that. —

5. Soen – Lotus

5_Soen_Lotus (Final)
Genre: Progressive Metal // Review // Listen

** This band has the recurring habit of creating good songs and, as expected, Lotus keeps the tradition alive. It’s true that they rarely get out of their comfort zone, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. — TheNotrap

** Apparently 2019 is the year of boring progressive dad metalbutt.

— Looking at this feature, it’s hard to deny the fact that I have more than a few bands that could fall under the description of ‘dad prog’, especially in my top 10, but I wouldn’t call them boring (obviously). Maybe it’s my age showing, but to me it feels like quite a few of these bands are releasing some of their best work or at least making a pretty compelling resurgence. Soen falls into that first category. It has taken multiple albums, but Lotus finally finds the band dropping the overt reliance on their influences and delivering the most original (and best sounding) release of their career. Whether that makes it their best release is up to individual interpretation, but I’d say it does. Lotus features some of the band’s catchiest songs as well as some of my favorite Soen riffs, along with the always exceptional rhythm section. The standout track is definitely “Martyrs” featuring an awesome opening riff, a powerful harmonized chorus, a chill mellow breakdown in the middle, and some great vocals through the verses. —

4. Leprous – Pitfalls

4_Leprous_Pitfalls (Final)
Genre: Progressive Metal // Review // Listen

** Einar Solberg’s leading role in Pitfalls is all too evident, to the point that it can almost be considered a solo album. This is usually a sign that the band may be reaching a breaking point, but if we ignore the touchy issues between musicians, Pitfalls’ artistic quality is undeniable. — TheNotrap

— Pitfalls took me a long time to get into. When I first received the promo, I wasn’t sure I even liked it enough to write something about it. I wasn’t a fan of the overwhelming amount of Einar Solberg at the expense of the rest of the band, but I kept listening. Eventually, something strange started to happen. The things that made me want to initially reject Pitfalls became the strongest and most compelling selling points. Einar’s emotive and powerful vocals dominate every track, as does his keys, programming, and electronics. On top of that, just about every song is built on some sort of dance/pop undercurrent (and often it’s not just an undercurrent). This is a pretty drastic change from previous albums, but one that makes this one of my favorites due to just how different and well-executed the ideas are; you just have to give the album a chance. It doesn’t hurt that Einar’s vocals are positively massive and flawless, as should be expected. —

3. Medeia – Xenosis

3_Medeia_Xenosis (Final)
Genre: Semi-Technical Atmospheric Death Metal // Album Page // Listen

— Why is this band so unknown? Maybe it’s because Medeia sit in a grey kind of middle ground between technical death metal, atmospheric metal, and even a little bit of metalcore without fully committing to one style that makes them not really appeal to a larger crowd. Yes, there are definitely technical death metal aspects to the album, and it really is the dominating feature, but they never really take the technicality or chaos to the level of some of their peers. There’s also a strong undercurrent of atmospheric metal in the subtle use of keyboards, some of the slower tempos, and the overall feel of just about every song, but again, they don’t fully commit to that being their thing. The Metalcore, that’s more of a minor influence in some of the riffs and leads as well as the occasional shouted vocal delivery, and I’m glad they haven’t decided to commit to that style because while working in small doses, it’s not what makes the band or this album so great. Personally, though, I love the fact that Xenosis (and the band’s discography, in general) doesn’t commit to one style or even let one aspect overwhelm any of the others. Doing that leaves an album that takes the best of both worlds, doing both styles really well. If you watch the video linked above, you’ll also see they don’t take themselves too seriously despite the serious and aggressive nature of the music. —

2. Dream Theater – Distance Over Time

2_Dream Theater_Distance Over Time (Final)
Genre: Progressive Metal // Review // Listen

** If all the Dream Theater albums from the past 15 or so years had a big orgy, fused into one, cloned itself, screwed the clone and made a single entity, this would be it. — Xenorazr

** This has the same amount of cheese as riffs and tight execution. — DDDeftoneDDD

— Dream Theater without Mike Portnoy has been a directionless mess. It really felt like all the personality left with Mike and what we were left with was a group of music nerds that could craft a nice term paper on the nuances of musical masturbation, but that couldn’t write an interesting song if their virginity depended on it. It didn’t help that new drummer Mike Mangini’s was as boring and uninteresting as I’ve ever seen from a prog band; almost like the Shawn Drover of the progressive metal world. That’s why Distance Over Time is such a surprise, because they’ve somehow managed to release one their best and most consistent albums since Scenes From a Memory. Easily shitting all over any other post-Mike Portnoy release, Distance Over Time not only manages to make Dream Theater interesting, it also manages to make the songs themselves the main focus with musicianship being a secondary driver (while still abundantly present). This results in an entire album full of actual songs that just so happens to feature some phenomenal musicianship. The only thing it couldn’t do is make Mike Mangini’s playing interesting. —

1. Borknagar – True North

1_Borknagar_True North (Final)
Genre: Progressive Metal/Black Metal // Review // Listen

** Really, really enjoyed this. Has way more staying power than the last album, which I lost interest in after a few listens — Essence

** Still loving this. Favorite Borknagar since Olden. The weird thing is that a ton of the melodies and vocal hooks and whatnot are really sticking with me on this album, which wasn’t the case with plenty of the previous records. — Thalassic

— Almost as equally surprising as Dream Theater’s latest release was the release of True North by Borknagar. Even with Vintersorg on vocals, Borknagar have never really made a spectacular album that had any real staying power, but with ICS Vortex their albums were even less convincing. That’s why this album is such a surprise. Instead of delivering another album of black metal with occasional prog influences, but with ICS Vortex’s questionable vocals, True North is essentially a Prog album with a strong black metal foundation — and ICS Vortex and Lars Nedland both deliver career defining vocals. Not only that but True North also features some of the strongest and most diverse music of the band’s career, delivering an awesome blend of progressive metal and black metal without letting either genre overwhelm the other. Perhaps most surprising, though, are the powerful vocal melodies that dominate just about every song. Each track features an abundance of memorable and well-done clean singing with ICS and Lars often trading vocal parts and even harmonizing together with the black metal vocals used sparingly. The band definitely stepped outside their comfort zone on this one and they managed to hit a home run. —

—————————————————————–

Honorable Mentions

Honorable Mention

Apple Music Playlist: https://music.apple.com/us/playlist/2019-best-of/pl.u-vkx3UA9qJJ





Willie
11.27.19
I wasn't nearly as involved in music this year as I normally am. It is what it is...

WatchItExplode
11.27.19
Well, Pitfalls and True North are two of my favorites this year so thanks for that. And also for just being consistently awesome in general.

Relinquished
11.27.19
I hit 30 this year and I'm listening to more than ever. Life slowed down thankfully with everything under control. Aging gracefully is my neverending goal.

SowingSeason
11.27.19
I've been glad to see you back more lately. I haven't listened to most of these, but there are a few I'm interested in (namely DT). The write-ups are excellent as always and one of my favorite aspects of your features (the user excerpts) make a triumphant return. "Boy if two people with 666 in their names give this a 4 then you know it's quality!" lmao. Nice work, as always.

Nocte
11.27.19
Willie has some NoTrap love going on here. Pleasant touches throwing the users thoughts on this. I forgot what a Trey end of year list looked like.

Willie
11.27.19
--Well, Pitfalls and True North are two of my favorites this year so thanks for that. And also for just being consistently awesome in general.--

Haha. Well, no problem.

--I hit 30 this year and I'm listening to more than ever. Life slowed down thankfully with everything under control. Aging gracefully is my neverending goal.--

I have the same goal. Most of the time it works... sometimes, not so much.

--I've been glad to see you back more lately. I haven't listened to most of these, but there are a few I'm interested in (namely DT). The write-ups are excellent as always and one of my favorite aspects of your features (the user excerpts) make a triumphant return. "Boy if two people with 666 in their names give this a 4 then you know it's quality!" lmao. Nice work, as always.--

Well, I'm glad to be back. I could see you liking a few of these. Maybe Aurora and Pine. If you get a minute, click the 'listen' link on the Pine album (number 12). Yeah, I like using the user blurbs in my end of year thing. It makes it almost feel less self indulgent.

--Willie has some NoTrap love going on here. Pleasant touches throwing the users thoughts on this. I forgot what a Trey end of year list looked like. --

Ha ha. Well, we apparently share some of the same musical interests. Do Trey end of year lists have a distinct look?

TheNotrap
11.27.19
Having the recurring habit of returning to familiar places/music is in fact a sign that we're getting old, but aging isn't necessarily synonymous with wear and tear or apathy. Fortunately I've always had a voracious appetite for new things, but people aren't the same and have different comfort zones. It's nice to see some thoughts of mine here, thanks, I really appreciate it. Keep rocking Willie.

Sniff
11.27.19
Shit gotta get on that Future Sound of London.

Also that Hope Drone was surprisingly good

Voivod
11.27.19
First of all great list, for one, I didn’t know that The Future Sound of London have a new album out this year.

Also, many, many, many kudos for Flotsam and Jetsam.

In principle, your introductory paragraph is what many describe as “musical paralysis”, a controversial term per se, because while many live and die for discovering obscure stuff, others either just don’t feel like exploring stuff all along, or their taste is gradually crystallized around a defined set of beloved outfits/albums, because eras come and go, cycles open and close.

I felt such a closure this year, with the new Mayhem album, in contrast to all its predecessors. I have many examples analogous to Mayhem (Ulver for sure...).

What saves the day, is the hunt for outfits raging on from the underground which replenish my interest, the same way senile DNA timely gives way to new life, although progressively, “musical paralysis” becomes the new normal.

The above said, all aforementioned behaviors are perfectly fine, because as you said, what comes above all is enjoyment.

Nocte
11.27.19
"Do Trey end of year lists have a distinct look?"

Apart from the introspective introduction explaining a semi natural shift/streamlined approach to your tastes they are similar - but not same. I don't know man, this site probably missed you as much as Dev

Divaman
11.28.19
It always strikes me when I start to read these end of the year lists not only how different everyone's taste is, but how different their years are. Not only do I tend not to have the majority of most people's list, but many of my favorites have been listened to by hardly anyone else (or sometimes by no one else). I have listened to a few of these, though, and of the albums you listed, I probably liked the Soen the best (although Dream Theater, Saor and Blink-182 were decent as well).

Green Baron
11.28.19
I really wish more people liked Keepsake

Dewinged
11.28.19
Always happy of seeing you around Willie. "True North" is a great pick, really amazing album. And I totally feel your introduction man, just a couple of months back I started re-jamming my 5s and going through old albums instead of just absorbing new releases like a madman. I guess that's the 40s sinking in.

Willie
11.28.19
--Having the recurring habit of returning to familiar places/music is in fact a sign that we're getting old, but aging isn't necessarily synonymous with wear and tear or apathy.--

I totally agree. I think I was just burned out on music and the site. We get so many promos, and then the constant access to new releases every Friday through Apple Music streaming. I think I finally just went too far. Ha ha. After about a year of mostly just the classics (as well as new albums by old bands), I've got my drive back.

--In principle, your introductory paragraph is what many describe as “musical paralysis”, a controversial term per se, because while many live and die for discovering obscure stuff, others either just don’t feel like exploring stuff all along, or their taste is gradually crystallized around a defined set of beloved outfits/albums, because eras come and go, cycles open and close.--

Yeah, I've seen the 'listening to what's familiar' thing happen with a lot of my friends, but I had always avoided it before this year. I'm back, though. Ha ha. Digging through all the new releases.

--I don't know man, this site probably missed you as much as Dev--

Thanks. Dev is back, too, by the way.

--It always strikes me when I start to read these end of the year lists not only how different everyone's taste is, but how different their years are. --

It keeps the older users in the know about new music, and gives the younger users some insight on the 'classics'. It's a great dynamic.

--I really wish more people liked Keepsake--

Yeah. It makes no sense to me either. It feels like people are being to harsh or just expecting something more from what is generally a pretty simple genre.

--Always happy of seeing you around Willie. "True North" is a great pick, really amazing album. And I totally feel your introduction man, just a couple of months back I started re-jamming my 5s and going through old albums instead of just absorbing new releases like a madman. I guess that's the 40s sinking in--

Right there with you.


SitarHero
11.28.19
Great list! I feel ya on the getting old and on many of the selections on the list.

garas
11.28.19
Void Lustre by Hope Drone was great, but not even close to be on a year end list, imo. (That 7th place is way too generous!)

Willie
11.28.19
--Great list! I feel ya on the getting old and on many of the selections on the list.--

I thought there might be at least a few people around that feel what I was feeling from time to time.

--Void Lustre by Hope Drone was great, but not even close to be on a year end list, imo. (That 7th place is way too generous!)--

I thought so too, but every time I went back and listened to it again thinking this was the time it would get lowered, I would be sucked right back in.

garas
11.28.19
Hmmm, interesting. But I'm glad at least you enjoyed it that much, Willie!
Oh and I was so sure about True North will be your No.1, haha! I'm still not sure who will be the winner for me...

Willie
11.28.19
I would have never thought a Borknagar release would ever be in my top 10 let alone number one. Any ideas who your number one might be?

garas
11.28.19
Then it was a surprise win, haha!
I have three 5.0s SO FAR, so I have to choose from them. ("Mayhem - Henhouse Recordings", "Vää - Ur sägen och hävd", "Andavald - Undir skyggðarhaldi"). But I'll see, there are a few releases I'm still waiting for.

garas
11.28.19
Ah fuck, I forgot the blog annihilates some characthers in the comments...
Here is the most butchered one, I think you can recognize the rest: https://www.sputnikmusic.com/soundoff.php?albumid=337322

Willie
11.28.19
Neo Classical dungeon synth... so, like the original Mortiis releases?

garas
11.28.19
Hmmm, yeah, something like those. Cinematic stuff.

Willie
11.28.19
Ha ha. Mortiis is my only reference for that genre, and that was only by accident. I couldn't get into his attempt at it.

garas
11.28.19
It's not for everyone, I guess. But maybe in the future check out that album - it is more close to cinematic classical music than DS, and the average score on that is not an accident~
But I don't want to "steal the show" from you, haha (noone cares about stupid garas's favs, eh),

garas
11.28.19
I shall check No. 25 sometime soon.

Willie
11.28.19
Ha ha. There's no 'show' here. Besides, any bump is still a bump; right? I'll throw that album on my itunes (if it's on Apple Music) and check it out. Yeah, that Future Sound of London came out of nowhere. It was an awesome surprise, though.

Voivod
11.28.19
— Any ideas who your number one might be?

A serious contender is Infrared album from Minuit Machine.

Willie
11.28.19
Never even heard it. Will have to throw it on a playlist... too late for it to go on this feature, but not too late to make a staff list if it hits me.

Voivod
11.28.19
^^I didn’t know them either, I stumbled onto the album by accident and it stuck with me.

Willie
11.28.19
Those are the best kind of finds...

Demon of the Fall
11.29.19
Nice write up, I am almost pleasantly surprised to see CoL here, unexpected.

Recently I have been leaning towards a 'more new stuff is better' approach, so in essence I have the opposite issue to you (if you want to call it an 'issue' that is). Next year I hope to get a better balance whilst still retaining the desire to seek out new things, just hopefully leaning more towards past releases rather than whatever Sput is hyping that particular week. I actually went through the whole 'comfortable with my old music' -like tendencies in my late 20s and now in my 30s am branching out once again.

TheNotrap
11.29.19
After checking Avienne, Vintersea immediately became a mandatory jam.

Willie
11.29.19
--Recently I have been leaning towards a 'more new stuff is better' approach, so in essence I have the opposite issue to you (if you want to call it an 'issue' that is). Next year I hope to get a better balance whilst still retaining the desire to seek out new things, just hopefully leaning more towards past releases rather than whatever Sput is hyping that particular week. I actually went through the whole 'comfortable with my old music' -like tendencies in my late 20s and now in my 30s am branching out once again.--

I've always been more about trying to find new music... until this year. I'm back into it now, though. I think I finally just took it too far. There were so many new releases being added every week, and I was trying to assembly line through them 8 hours a day five days a week (at work) and I think I started to lose appreciation for the actual music.

--After checking Avienne, Vintersea immediately became a mandatory jam.--

Yeah, no shit. Check out this music video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZV2cUAyQBfo -- Even if you don't end up liking the song, you still won't be sorry. Ha ha.

Source
11.29.19
don't go willie, the site doesn't have enough fates warning fans as it is

DoctorSpaghetti0
11.29.19
22 Faces slaps and is one of periphery's best, i think it's awesome that that's one of the songs you gravitated towards.

Demon of the Fall
11.29.19
Yes Willie, you can totally go too far with the constant need for digesting new things, you have to know when less is more, or to take a break... it also helps when you know which hype trains to avoid boarding (not always great at this myself, lol).

TheNotrap
11.29.19
If my wife catches me watching this, I get my ass kicked.

Willie
11.29.19
--don't go willie, the site doesn't have enough fates warning fans as it is--

I'm back again. Can't abandoned the other Fates fan(s). Ha ha.

--22 Faces slaps and is one of periphery's best, i think it's awesome that that's one of the songs you gravitated towards. --

I definitely agree about it being one of their best.

--Yes Willie, you can totally go too far with the constant need for digesting new things, you have to know when less is more, or to take a break... it also helps when you know which hype trains to avoid boarding (not always great at this myself, lol).--

I try to avoid fake hype. I try to avoid overhyping things myself, too. I've been known to fail at that from time to time.

--If my wife catches me watching this, I get my ass kicked.--

Ha ha. But so fucking worth it...

Jom
11.30.19
We're going to have some overlap, which is obviously a delightful thing. Definitely appreciate the meta-ness in your intro as well. I think it's safe to say you've accomplished a lot more with your time on Earth than I have, so I'm glad that you're sticking around for the long haul (or whenever we have another systemic power failure and we all agree that it's not worth it anymore, ha!).

I also love how you incorporate user sound-offs/comments into your feature. Potsy's BATS one is iconic.

Only question I have: were you not super keen on 'Winter Ethereal'? I figured that would be in your Honorable Mention collage.

Willie
11.30.19
Yes, overlap is a good thing ;) I think we can agree, as well, that it will most likely be another giant site outage that causes more people to reconsider their priorities. I know it definitely reinforced my decision at the time.

I don't remember when or why I started using user soundoffs on my personal end of year things, but I am glad I did. I think it adds another dimension. Especially when they're wittier or more insightful than what I can have done on my own. Ha ha.

I wasn't keen on Winter Ethereal. It was kind of a disappointment, TBH. I love John Arch's vocals, but it felt like he kind of simplified everything on that release. Also, the music seemed simplified, too, compared to the last album. It just didn't have the energy or creativity.

DaveyBoy
12.01.19
Boy, that 1st paragraph could've come straight out of my mouth/keyboard... Except pretty much all the stuff I like is shat on by the Sput masses!

Great read Trey. Well done on realising that you had to take a step back to move forward.

BallsToTheWall
12.01.19
Dope list brother.

Willie
12.02.19
--Boy, that 1st paragraph could've come straight out of my mouth/keyboard... Except pretty much all the stuff I like is shat on by the Sput masses!--

Yeah, but you need to stick around anyway. Glad to see you're at least here for the end of year thing.... you ARE here for the end of year thing; right?

--Dope list brother.--

Thanks.

BladeRunner
12.02.19
"Dude, daddy isn’t coming back and projecting your baggage onto your favorite bands won’t change that."

Lulz for truth...

el_newg
12.03.19
Love your work Willie

Poet
12.03.19
"In order to confirm this, I went back through previous lists and found an obvious trend where each passing year seemed to feature fewer and fewer new artists on my personal lists . I didn’t actually participate on Sputnik Music for a majority of 2019 in any obvious way, instead taking more of an occasional behind the scenes role that was minimal and unreliable, at best."

This has pretty much been me since 2013 or so. I've commented on things way more this year than I previously have done for the past 6 years, but I've really only kept listening to what I found through here from 2007-2011(ish). While I've listened to more albums this year than the past five or so years, none of them actually came from any new bands that I found on here.


Poet
12.03.19
Additionally, I get the "growing old" sentiment. I started coming on this website when I was 16 and I turned 29 last month. I really don't know the majority of the users anymore on here and
combine writing my dissertation for my PhD with teaching 30 college freshmen every semester, I haven't had the time to discuss music with anyone......except Balls. We still kick it on Facebook.

Willie
12.05.19
--Lulz for truth...--

Ha ha. I just don't get it. If the music is good, who cares if some of the members have come and gone. Slayer is doing a farewell concert with 50% of the band missing. Megadeth has spent more time without all their original members than with them. Metallica has kept Lars for over 30 years... what I'm saying is sometimes change is good.

--This has pretty much been me since 2013 or so. I've commented on things way more this year than I previously have done for the past 6 years, but I've really only kept listening to what I found through here from 2007-2011(ish). While I've listened to more albums this year than the past five or so years, none of them actually came from any new bands that I found on here. --

Damn. That long? There's a new Nightwish next year, so you can keep sticking with what works ;)

--Additionally, I get the "growing old" sentiment. I started coming on this website when I was 16 and I turned 29 last month. I really don't know the majority of the users anymore on here and combine writing my dissertation for my PhD with teaching 30 college freshmen every semester, I haven't had the time to discuss music with anyone......except Balls. We still kick it on Facebook. --

Yeah. That's my thing, too. I started coming to the site when music was basically my life, and now I have to fight to squeeze it in. If you can discuss music with someone, Balls is probably a good someone, at least. Almost no one I know IRL listens to what I listen to. Ha ha. My wife listens to mainstream country and mainstream pop.

GhostB1rd
12.05.19
Thought Relinquished was at least foh-ty.

Willie
12.05.19
Ha ha. Don't add a decade to him. That's just wrong.

GhostB1rd
12.05.19
Man's gonna be back in diapers soon enough.

Willie
12.07.19
That's at least a few decades away, I hope.

Poet
12.08.19
"Damn. That long? There's a new Nightwish next year, so you can keep sticking with what works ;)"

Oh yeah, I can't wait for that to come out!

"My wife listens to mainstream country and mainstream pop."

I'm sorry. Haha

Willie
12.09.19
I have a feeling it's going to be good, as long as they use Floor to her full potential. The previous release with her was a bit lacking (minus the epic closing song, of course). Did you see all her solo performances on that Belgian TV show?

--I'm sorry. Haha--

It's a trade off, I guess. Ha ha.

SowingSeason
12.10.19
Been meaning to spin Cult of Luna if only because of all the hype

Willie
12.11.19
It's not too late ;)

Nocte
12.11.19
[2]
Going straight to the trophy room.

Poet
12.11.19
"I have a feeling it's going to be good, as long as they use Floor to her full potential. The previous release with her was a bit lacking (minus the epic closing song, of course). Did you see all her solo performances on that Belgian TV show?"

YES! Beste Zangers was unbelievable. I've listened to Floor since she was in After Forever, but had no idea how diverse she actually was. Every song she sang was amazing.

Willie
12.12.19
I've actually never bothered with Floor in either of her previous bands, other than passing listens, and I've never really been a Nightwish fan either (even thought I always check out every new release, it's always been half-assed). I started kind of giving them more time after the Beste Zangers show. The Showtime, Storytime live album with Floor is easily the best and most essential Nightwish album, IMO. She make every song on there better than the studio version. As far as studio albums, I'm partial to the two with Anette, actually.

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