Max Heilman’s 50 best metal albums of 2019: 40-31

Sunn O))) Life Metal

Life Metal by Sunn O)))

Back for more, eh? Well, it’s not getting any lighter. We’re going to keep plugging away at my top 50 metal albums of 2019.

I pride myself on listening to all kinds of decadent heaviness, so expect a broad spectrum of punishment.2019 in Review, Best of 2019, best albums of 2019, best concerts of 2019

If this is the first you’ve seen of my list, do yourself a favor and start with part one.

40. Mayhem – Daemon

The release of the film “Lords of Chaos” early this year has helped make Mayhem a household name even though they were already considered the model of  “True Norwegian Black Metal.” It’s as good of a time as any for the band to release one of its better records. Drummer extraordinaire Hellhammer and founding bassist Necrobutcher reprise their roles, along with enigmatic vocalist Attila Csihar. Newcomers Teloch and Ghul hold their own as guitarists. In a lot of ways, Daemon remains business as usual for Norway’s most infamous band, but the songwriting is still lethal. Csihar’s operatic singing and hellish screams are as over-the-top as ever, while the songwriting evokes everything from Deathcrush, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas and more experimental releases.

39. Wolfbrigade – The Enemy: Reality

When it comes to crust punk, it doesn’t get much better than Wolfbrigade. The band does Swedish punk and metal proud on its latest barrage of galloping beats and unforgettable riffs. This newest release has all the grimey anarchist punk you could want, but the production has enough clarity to keep those riffs above water. The band’s style of choice borrows from both thrash metal and old-school U.K. hardcore, providing stuff for fans on both side of the spectrum. Driving grooves, bludgeoning D-beats and guttural singing serve up old school riffs you want to hear again and again. Whether this is the first time you’ve heard the term crust punk, or if you’re a veteran, The Enemy: Reality is the crust you need in your life.

38. Karyn Crisis’ Gospel of the Witches – Covenant

With Chelsea Wolfe exploring her folk side, it’s nice to have Karyn Crisis’ The Gospel of the Witches to carry the torch of heavy occult rock. While fans of Wolfe’s atmospheric leaning will have a lot to appreciate here, vocalist Crisis, multi-instrumentalist Davide Tiso and session drummer Fabian Vestod separate themselves with a prog-metal edge. Crisis’ vocal range has a harsh side to complement punishing riffs, while Fabian Vestod’s dynamic percussion provides syncopation and bombast to the ritualistic ambiance. The musicianship has taken a step up, but the star of the show remains Crisis, whose voice retains the power of her thrash metal past while offering some spellbinding riffs.

37. Downfall of Gaia – Ethic of Radical Finitude

Post-black metal may have left behind its boom in popularity, but albums like this continue to walk that creative path with grace. Germany’s Downfall of Gaia have a more overt influence from the European black metal tradition, with post-hardcore and post-rock adding respective doses of grounded emotion and beautiful melodies. The amount of passion on display in every facet of Ethic of Radical Finitude astounds from start to finish. Anton Lisovoj’s vocals can transfix with overwrought emotion and follow the band down to ethereal passages. While not overly technical, the band doesn’t just fall back on hypnotic repetition. The most frantic portions of this album contrast swimmingly with trickles of demure bliss.

36. Abyssic – High the Memory

Symphonic metal of any kind is hard to pull off, let alone symphonic funeral doom. What Norway’s Abyssic does is use the extended instrumentation to raise the emotion instead of as a corny bid for attention. High the Memory incorporates contrabass, Mellotron and Moog synthesizers into a dense, complex take on monolithic extreme metal. The orchestrations feel authentic and weighty like the guitar tone, adding to the monstrous riffs and thickening the atmosphere. The extra instruments also push the band beyond the resonant growls and crestfallen riffle of most death-doom bands. Expect to hear echoes of prog-rock and classical ambient music amid the crushing procession.

35. Sunn O))) – Life Metal

For a band whose entire career is based on tone, Sunn O))) has never sounded better than this. Steve Albini’s production has given the drone metal duo that extra push to truly reach shaking walls of sound. While it’s not anything anyone wouldn’t expect from the band at this point, it makes sense for Life Metal to refine a gargantuan sound rather than reinvent it. And yet, the album’s overall feel has an elated mood unheard on previous releases. It’s like floating towards heaven, levitated by the low-end thunder of two bastions of ultra-slow doom. The results are so impactful that even the warm-up jams that preceded these sessions resulted in a transcendent experience.

34. Pensées Nocturnes – Grand Guignol Orchestra

Before you laugh, listen. These French eccentrics have the circus metal on lock. While it would be easy, and not exactly incorrect, to label Pensées Nocturnes’s approach as a gimmick, the amount of care and musicality on Grand Guignol Orchestra is hard to ignore. The band’s roots in depressive suicidal black metal predispose it to over-the-top vocal performances, so the clownish timbre works surprisingly naturally with the wails and wretches. Not only that, but the music doesn’t take the easy route with incorporating circus music. The metal aspect is unpredictable and bombastic, and the circus and French folk aspects only add to the beautiful bravado.

33. Possessed – Revelations of Oblivion

The foundation of death metal is nowhere near crumbling, even with an entirely new lineup except for legendary frontman Jeff Becerra. Revelations of Oblivion is deathrash the way it’s meant to be played. The new members are at the top of their game, executing Becerra’s ideas with zeal. Since many death metal bands that Possessed inspired have either called it quits or lost their gusto, it’s incredible to hear the godfather of the entire genre coming through with such a vital sound. From the precise roto-tom rolls to the eviscerating riffs and spirited vocals, this album nowhere near a late-career cash-grab.

32. Saor – Forgotten Paths
Scotland isn’t exactly known for folk metal or atmospheric black metal, but Saor checks both boxes with empowered beauty. Forgotten Paths gushes gorgeous melodies and heartbreaking melancholy, all from the mind of Andy Marshall. The ringleader bolsters his work with an impressive host of session players, including Neie of Alcest. The stylistic lineage between Soar and Alcest is clear, but the Celtic folk element of Forgotten Paths sets it apart from the pack. The thing even ends with a four-minute harp solo, and the violins and bagpipes resound over the massive chords and barbaric growls. It’s this balance of light and dark that makes Forgotten Paths such a worthy addition to the atmospheric black metal chronicles.

31. ENDON – Boy Meets Girl

For whatever reason, it’s always the inclusion of sex in metal that makes people uncomfortable. Maybe it’s the dark, violent nature of the music that makes that train of thought so taboo, but it’s definitely something ENDON revels in on this record. Boy Meets Girl comes as a horror story about love—a compelling one, at that. The band’s combination of sludge metal and noise rock is stripped-down and grating. It’s the perfect backdrop for some of the most insane vocals you’ll hear this year. Taichi Nagura sounds like he’s being subjected to medieval torture throughout the record, but the real nightmare comes at a certain 11-minute disaster-piece. If you haven’t heard it yet, do so… and then check yourself into therapy.

Max Heilman’s 50 best metal albums of 2019: 30-21 >>

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