10. Periphery – Periphery IV: Hail Stan
Whether you love Periphery or hate them, you can’t ignore them. Well, you can, but where’s the fun in that? 2019 was a pretty huge year for the shitposting meme-lords of the progressive metal world. They started their own record label and released Hail Stan, which is somehow simultaneously their most ambitious, cohesive, diverse, mature, and meme-y record yet. If you don’t believe me just look at the evidence: they named the album Hail Stan [sic]; opening track “Reptile” is an impressively epic and surprisingly engaging seventeen minutes long; they raised the heaviness bar with “Blood Eagle”; they raised the saccharine pop-savviness bar with “It’s Only Smiles”; they threw in a shockingly catchy industrial/synthwave track in “Crush”; and they capped an incredible Spencer Sotelo vocal performance on “Satellites” — Jesus, can that guy hit the notes or what? — the album, and hell, their entire decade, with an impersonation of Eric Cartman saying, “Suck my balls.”
I mean, if you can’t appreciate any of that, it probably means you’re a human being with taste, but it also probably means that you’re more than just a little dead on the inside. –SitarHero
9. Blood Incantation – Hidden History of the Human Race
Hype. Sweet mother of unholy hype. When I heard that Blood Incantation were releasing a follow-up to Starspawn I couldn’t help (like many others) but wait impatiently for a teaser, single, or anything else that relates to Hidden History of the Human Race for that matter. Given the sheer dominance Blood Incantation’s debut full-length had in terms of this decade’s more extreme albums, the sophomore was either going to fall disappointingly flat or smash topical hype succinctly out of the park. I realise now just how much I shouldn’t have doubted Hidden History of the Human Race‘s death metal magnificence or just how much staying power the album would have when it was finally released in the year’s second half.
With the added polarity of the band’s more ‘progressive’ tropes hitting longer bursts of death metal carnage, Blood Incantation take the foundations of ’90s-inspired death metal and build it on the foundations of something unmistakably modern. Filled with moments of psychedelia, Blood Incantation’s sophomore is an intrinsic addition to 2019’s (and the decade’s) better albums. –Nocte
8. Copeland – Blushing
From the first gleaming of opener “Pope”, it’s evident that Blushing represents a deep dive into all things dream-like. It’s a hazy shimmer of an album, which detractors have not-wrongly called out as “hollow.” It’s a hug from a ghost. The emotion is present, but somewhat distant. Its closeness is fleeting; love that can be taken away in a moment. These cloudy aspects of the music are hardly original, as the genres of dream-pop and vaporwave have made leaps and bounds in using these elements to put an emotional distance between the audience and the musicians for ironic effect, but here, in my opinion, it does the opposite.
Rather than obfuscating the point of the record, these opaque sounds highlight the emotional distance but profound beauty of a love on the rocks due to factors outside of both lovers’ control. Album highlights “As Above So Alone” and “On Your Worst Day” emphasize the struggles of loving someone with depression, crooning, “I know you love me / Even when you can’t say it like you mean it.” There’s a featherweight to the vocals that could detract by sounding bored, but instead echoes a sense of acceptance and fatigue. The music is slathered with a moody pleasantness, toyish keys, string/synth accompaniments for emotional earnestness, and an emphasis on deep soundscapes thanks to large helpings of space and reverb. Essentially, everything that could be construed as a positive here could be tedious or hollow to others — just as with any album I suppose. But goddamn if I don’t get swept away into the dream every time I throw it on. –neekafat
7. clipping. – There Existed an Addiction to Blood
If you’ll permit me a bit of an egotistical indulgence, I’d just like to say: I fucking called it. I was one of only a handful of people in 2016 preaching the brilliance of Splendor & Misery, which otherwise received a positive but lukewarm reception. Then, in 2017, the album received a Hugo nomination for Best Dramatic Presentation, the first album of music to do so since 1972. Since then, the album and its fans have slowly been receiving vindication. Finally, in 2019, clipping.’s follow-up album There Existed an Addiction to Blood cemented the group’s growing reputation as some of the best storytellers currently working in music.
It’s not just that clipping. choose immensely compelling stories to tell, although that certainly helps. There Existed an Addiction to Blood, like Splendor & Misery before it, tells familiar stories in unfamiliar, subversive ways — in this case, narrating horrorcore tropes at a distance to place the fantasy of violence in conversation with the reality. But no, clipping.’s real strength is their complete commitment to the craft of musical storytelling, their careful selection of sounds and techniques to tell the stories they’ve chosen. Daveed Diggs makes full use of his remarkable versatility as an MC, switching his flow from restrained and precise (“Nothing Is Safe”) to lax and sardonic (“La Mala Ordina”) to sharp and aggressive (“Club Down”) depending on the tone of the story. William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes pull from a library of horrific (or at least horror-associated) sounds, including John Carpenter-esque synths, harrowingly dissonant drones, and samples of panicked breathing, and arrange them with surgical precision into songs that both embody and deconstruct horror.
It may seem a bizarre choice to end There Existed an Addiction to Blood with an 18-minute rendition of Annea Lockwood’s “Piano Burning”, but in many ways, this performance is a perfect distillation of clipping.’s musical ethos. The piece contains no lyrics and no melody — just the audio record of a simple act of destruction — but it nonetheless tells a vivid story. If you listen closely enough, you can start to envision the upright piano ablaze and slowly falling apart, just as you can envision the fear and agony of victims being hacked to death throughout the rest of the album — again, if you listen closely. –hesperus
6. Tool – Fear Inoculum
Whichever way you look at it – and good Lord has there been an abundance of perspectives on this one! – you’ll have a tough time arguing that anything other than Tool’s long-awaited, long-memed and long-runtimed comeback album was among the biggest musical events of 2019. Tool have always had a knack for epitomising the most stubborn, recalcitrant tenets of metal subculture and drawing them unapologetically into the mainstream, and in this regard Fear Inoculum‘s legendary thirteen years of hype were a time bomb ready to blur these lines beyond recognition. Needless to say, there was clamour, mostly of a somewhat predictable tone: Tool fans lost their shit with such ubiquitous zeal that it’s almost a shock to realise these guys had been literally everywhere all along, and familiar battle lines were drawn up (stoners vs. squares, spiritualists vs. materialists, metal vs. pop, good against evil, etc.). September was ruined for Taylor Swift fans of the hairbrush-karaoke strain the world over, and, having read up on the frankly tedious number of sales records Lover apparently broke, you have to hand it to them: if your heroine was on top of a supposed paradigm of success, only to end up playing second fiddle to a bunch of old guys with a bunch of protracted Sabbath riffs singing hippie bullshit, you’d likely feel more than a little cheap, too.
Anyhow, now that the dust has settled, it would seem that Fear Inoculum‘s most remarkable quality lies less in whether it lived up to this or that dimension of the hypestorm, and more in how it was actively resistant to the whole affair. The album shrugs off thirteen years of hyperbole with such indifference that Tool’s purported antidote to the age of instant gratification would seem to extend to Fear Inoculum‘s epimusical scheme of conjecture and commotion. Devotees and haters alike have levelled their superlatives at the moot point of moot points: that this new Tool album sure sounds a whole lot like whatever you would expect a Tool album to sound like. Accordingly, most positive reviews have read as wearying eulogies; most negative ones as over-incensed cheap shots. There are a few obligatory comments to be made, all of which are junior moot points in and of themselves at this stage: yes, this album leans more on long-form jams than past Tool output; yes, this is absolutely Danny Carey’s album through and through; yes, “Pneuma” plays like a redux of (and, for my money, decent improvement upon) “Schism”; yes, it’s nice to hear Adam Jones whip out a guitar solo in “Tempest” with enough flashy modulation to bring Tool’s 2007 stint with Melt-Banana to mind (you bet they’ll never play this live); yes, “Chocolate Chip Trip” is a fun meme song that probably doesn’t belong here but is very welcome regardless (not solely because the [proper] tracklist wouldn’t add up to Tool’s current number-of-destiny seven otherwise!); yes, the warrior – struggling – to remain – relevant line in “Invincible” is likely placed as a means to beat the Tool parody squad at their own game. These are all small fry compared to the key takeaway here, an apartisan point that more or less counts as the Tool-niverse’s version of enlightened centrism: that this band’s brand of artistry is so unaging, so integral and cohesive, and so utterly theirs that they are largely unbeholden to the real world at this point (I guess the spiritualists win this one). You can take this or leave it, but the net outcome for Tool is the same: these guys have the luxury of playing their own game and reaping the benefit regardless of reception, and you’d be hard-pressed to find another band in their position who’d play on with such loyalty to their own craft. –JohnnyoftheWell
5. Norma Jean – All Hail
When it comes to consistency in the metal genre, Norma Jean are one of the few groups that manage to make it look easy. Unlike some of their contemporaries who have turned stale within the past couple of albums (looking at you, Killswitch Engage), the Georgia-based collective have remained one of the most consistent groups of the decade, starting with 2010’s Meridional and ending it with this year’s All Hail. If anything, this record in general is a statement that proves Norma Jean have become a phenomenal defining example of metal during the decade. It’s certainly an incredible feat for a group that not only have been around for 20+ years, but also for a group whose lineup has constantly shifted throughout the years, most recently being the unfortunate departure of guitarist Jeff Hickey.
Following up from the epic and ambitious Polar Similar, All Hail is by far the fiercest, most ferocious Norma Jean record to date. Throughout the album’s 45-minute runtime, we’re greeted by loud, crushing breakdowns, immense bass grooves, phenomenal drumming, and arguably Cory Brandon Putman’s best vocal performance to date. Even some of the album’s slower moments in “/with errors” and “Translational” refuse to pull any punches. Overall, the entire album continues Norma Jean’s dominating reign of terror throughout the decade, ending off with “Anna”, which in my opinion will be one of the greatest career-defining songs for Norma Jean in the years to come. With the decade all over and done with, I’ll be looking forward to what these guys have in store for us within the next 10 years, assuming they’ll last another 10 years. Here’s hoping they will.
All Hail Norma Jean. –Toondude
4. Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising
Could you really tell the age of water just by looking at it? Exactly, me neither. That was my impression back in 2014 when I first came in touch with the music of that time-travelling prodigy known as Weyes Blood. The Innocents is an album that could have been made 50 years ago as well as yesterday. Her latest release, Titanic Rising, arrived five years later, just a few days into January, and captivated critics and fans all over the globe with a refined version of her anachronous formula, this time under the auspice of no other than Sub Pop Records, and with names like Brian D’Addario, from NY revival pop rock outfit The Lemon Twigs, and Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado credited as producers. Despite all this commotion, the reactionist in me didn’t allow for more than a superficial, protocolary listen. Consequentially, the album never made it to my best 100 albums of the year. Days were going fast, releases were starting to pile up, and Titanic Rising just passed me by like a chill in the air, forever lost to the wind.
2019 came to an end. It was a bad time, personally, and I was looking at the calendar counting the days left, so I could finally send the woeful year into oblivion. “Titanic Rising…” the title echoed in my head like never before. I suddenly felt the unprecedented urge to go back to it. “A Lot’s Gonna Change” is the ominous title of the opening track, and after the first verses started to pour out, Weyes Blood fulfilled her promise. I’ve never felt so fooled and puzzled. This time, every note, every word shaped by Natalia Mering’s bewitching voice had a deeper, meaningful impact in relation to the events that had unfolded in my life in the following months after its release, and when the final strings of “Nearer to Thee” died out, I was left in a state that I guess I could say felt like… healing?
Titanic Rising is a slow burn. Like the colossal ship it references to, it cruises through your skepticism like the infamous ship did through icebergs and frozen water, until at one point, it sinks in you. I watched the world spin out of control in the rush of a new decade, I weathered a storm of events and Christmas catastrophes through social media as December waned, I skimmed through literally a hundred of albums a day to finish that old self-imposed homework… and at the end of it all, all that was left was Titanic Rising. Weyes Blood, singing a song like “Mirror Forever”, completely impervious to this era, oblivious to these convoluted times, almost like a ghost from days past, inviting me to a nurturing journey through words I needed to hear. She is like a catalyst, of voices, of sounds, of songs that seem to not belong to this age anymore, but that somehow still feel like they do. Come next year, next decade or next century, Titanic Rising will always defy the laws of time, like the ocean, retaining its everlasting beauty. –Dewinged
3. State Faults – Clairvoyant
I don’t think anyone could have seen this coming a year ago.
Any of it, really. Not State Faults’ comeback, which was announced in April after a six-year hiatus and just two months before the release of Clairvoyant. Not the musical landscape they made their reentry into, in which screamo is experiencing something of a revival. But more than anything, I don’t think anyone could have predicted just how much we would all adore Clairvoyant. State Faults have been a talented and promising band ever since they were called Brother Bear, improving themselves dramatically with each release, but somehow, Clairvoyant still exceeded all my expectations of how great the band could be. I consider myself lucky if a song has one moment that gives me chills; “Dreamcatcher Pt. II” has half a dozen in the span of two minutes. The desperate cacophony of “Sleeplessness” giving way to the somber dirge of “I don’t know, I don’t know where my spirit goes” breaks my heart time and time again. The title track’s explosive declaration to “Let the old wounds bleed” is likely the most impactful musical statement I’ve heard all year, made all the more effective by the slow post-metal crescendo that precedes it.
I could go on, rave about every track on the album, but Clairvoyant has had so many evangelists on this site and beyond that you likely already know how great they all are. In a year when bands like Shin Guard and Portrayal of Guilt took screamo to new territories, State Faults took inspiration from the best of the genre’s history and elevated it to a point of transcendence. Forget screamo, Clairvoyant is a demonstration of just how great music can be — how it can instill in us anger, sadness, desperation, nostalgia, and above all, love and hope. None of us saw this coming, but thank God it did. –hesperus
2. Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell!
This decade, I learned to surround myself with more people than ever, but I felt constantly alone. I’m always trying to find excuses, reasons for the emptiness. Today, I’m lying next to someone who loves me and desperately needs the sleep, but I can’t stop wanting to wake them up so they can replace my restless thoughts with loving ones just one more time, to tell me I’m as beautiful to them as they are to me. It’s mostly just projection, but Lana seems to have similar problems. We’ve both got this baggage about abandonment, gender, trust, sexuality, and most of all, depression. What helps most is feeling the care and attention, but it’s so hard to feel it, unless it’s sprayed directly in front of you in bold, exclamation-pointed font. Enter Norman Fucking Rockwell!. For years, she’s been circling around hard feelings, generalized digs at men who hurt her without ever actually calling them out, a dark spiral not quite finished, a romantic note that negates the “love you” at the end. Finally, she says it all, forget the subtlety. It’s the “man-child” that gets eviscerated in full in the final track, the twirling guitar that explodes and concludes the longest song of her career, the reflective messages in “Fuck It, I Love You” and “Love Song”. It’s comforting, and this record has done more to persuade me to be open about how I feel than any other. From someone who has spent her whole career fighting simultaneously for (Born To Die, Ultraviolence) and against (Lust For Life, Honeymoon) authenticity, it’s clear that honesty begets honesty. This is Lana, finally, at the peak of her songwriting talent, letting everything flood out. And for 67 precious, too-short minutes, I can use her voice to feel better about my own, no matter how much I love it or hate it at that time. I can listen, and heed her advice: “There’s things I want to say to you, but I’ll just let you live,” and I can trust her because it’s obvious, for the first time, that she really means it. Does it mean I do, that I really am okay on my own, that I don’t have to wake them up to survive? I don’t know. But when I listen to NFR! I feel like I do, and I think that’s what she’s been trying to tell us. The effort, the meaning, the lessons — it’s all personal. That’s where beauty comes from: the eye of the beholder. Look in the mirror and see for yourself. –granitenotebook
1. Cult of Luna – A Dawn to Fear
The six year wait (and collaborative efforts) from Cult of Luna has done a world a good for a band that rarely left music fans’ discussions this year. Sure, there may have been some hesitations in what defines Cult of Luna post-Julie Christmas, but the band’s 2019 effort has sat firmly atop a pile of post-metal heavyweights. A Dawn to Fear is awash with the typical Cult of Luna sound, built from a foundation planted firmly in their 2013 effort, but there’s a contrast in their music’s weight that gives and takes in equal measures, stopping just short of overbearing saturation. This contrast, the light with the dark, meets the band’s well-versed songwriting practices and lifts moods in the shapes of crescendo and soft falling climax.
Despite Cult of Luna’s tendency to latch onto the ebb and flow of titular builds, there’s more on offer here. When compared to the likes of Vertikal, A Dawn to Fear lives through melody, combined with harsh vocals and lush cleaner phases. These moments complement, rather than simply sit next to each other, the slow-burning melancholic moods and frantic rushing sections. A Dawn to Fear has largely been at the apex of 2019’s release schedule and for good reason. These Swedes have proved that flamboyance doesn’t need to be shown in technical ability or overwrought singular music. Instead, A Dawn to Fear is a showcase of mood, atmosphere, and all examples of excellent songwriting. –Nocte
Acknowledgments and thank-yous
Participating contributor writers: Conmaniac, Dewinged, granitenotebook, hesperus, JohnnyoftheWell, neekafat, Nocte, SitarHero, Slex, TheSpirit
Participating users: dmathias52, JayEnder, JesperL, TheNotrap, Toondude, WatchItExplode
Thank you to Willie for letting me recycle some album art for the Global feature.
Sincere gratitude and appreciation to SandwichBubble for creating 36 new album art files for the Global feature.
Many thanks to all users who submitted a ballot this year (122)! Thank you as well to those who volunteered their services to write blurbs.
Lastly, thank you, the reader (whether you’re an active user or guest, we appreciate it). Wishing you all good luck and good health in the New Year!