This year has been a mixed half musically for me due to a series of life events and the Shaman rising from (or returning to, I’m not sure) slumber this latter half. As such, my listening habits have varied widely from the more underground to the nakedly commercial and this is reflected in the list below.
Relax, I’m not not sticking down waif like, genre ADHD inflicted, Whatever-the-fuck-you-call-twenty-somethings-You-Tube-sensations, latest sexplotiation victim Poppy, but be sure to stick with me for the honourable mentions at the end as there may also be a few gems that were worth your time, which due to circumstances never got long enough spins on the deck or enough attention paid.
10. John Garcia And The Band Of Gold – S/T
My good friend (and former Shaman scribe) Mark pronounced this the album of the year back when it was released. In honesty, I don’t know if he still holds that opinion or if he has listened to any other new music this year, but whilst slightly tempered I will join his enthusiastic championing of the album.
Completing a trilogy for Napalm Records that started with his debut solo album … And The Band Of Gold sees John Garica back with guitarist Ehren Groban, but this time assuming the role of band leader. Back in addition, is Chris Goss whom I shouldn’t need to say, shaped the sound of the original Kyuss albums, helping to bring serious weight and feel to the proceedings. With high quality songs like Popcorn, My Everything and Apache Junction there is a self-referencing side to the album and calls back to material from Hermano and other projects.
As ever, the man’s voice is sublime and the centrepiece round all the goodness revolves. If this truly is to be the last Garcia outing before he rides off into the sunset, it’s one that leaves his legacy spotless.
9. Abigail Williams ‘Walk Beyond The Dark’
Ken Scoceron’s first appearance of two on my list this year comes in the form of his labour of love Abigail Williams. After yet another line up revamp and directional tweak, the fifth outing from the American Black Metal band is a stellar blend of brutality and beauty. Largely eschewing the Nordic symphonic elements of their previous efforts and very different from their early Metalcore influences, Walk Beyond The Dark is an introspective journey that connects on a personal and emotional level.
Atmospheric guitar work and tender strings combine to produce their most forward thinking and accessible album to date, but never does it feel like a compromise as blast beats rain down and the guitar scythes through. In fact, the song writing and musicianship on display is top notch and Scoceron’s poignant lyrics cut deep no matter whether disguised in guttural snarls or sung like a choir. Walk Beyond The Dark is a shining example that the USBM scene has much to offer to the genre.
8. While She Sleeps ‘So What?’
This one can definitely be filed under guilty pleasure. Last time I listened to Sheffield’s While She Sleeps was their bruising debut The North Stands For Nothing which had a distinct hardcore metal flavour that was light on commercial hooks and clean singing. Picking it up from Spotify as a new week release back in the summer, I was shocked at the transformation.
A more straight forward approach in terms of song structure and style So What? rocks with a hard edge, but a far more accessible poppy feel to it with samples, simple gang choruses, vocals you can understand and sing along to, dripping melodies.
If I am honest I would say that the band are clearly going for a US radio appeal with this album. The Metal elitist in me is off shaking its head and tutting about bands compromising for money, but there’s another side of me that says ‘fuck it’ this album is a lot of fun and I’m too damn old to care what anyone else thinks about what I listen to; I’ll play this unashamedly right now if you dare me.
7. Chelsea Wolfe ‘Birth Of Violence’
Having previously dabbled in Industrial, Goth and Doom, this saw the talented singer/songwriter strip her sound back to the core of largely just her and an acoustic guitar. Daring, emotionally raw and bare as a performance this is a collection of folk and country-flavoured detours through her troubled soul.
Heart achingly beautiful, this is a blade so sharp and mesmerising you don’t even know that you have been cut until you’re reeling from blood loss. Wolfe’s velvet smooth voice is haunting and bleak, yet this album isn’t a miserable affair that feels like a trudge to get through, instead it’s an immersive experience that you want to revisit time and again to lose yourself.
I’m not going to re-tread my review here, I’m just going to tell you to go listen to it.
6. Exhorder ‘Mourn The Pale Grey Skies’
I have long been a fan of the work of Kyle Thomas – Exhorder’s revered Slaughter In The Vatican remains one of the most underappreciated gems of the thrash era – and his Southern Rock influenced Floodgate project may have only lasted one album before going on indefinite hiatus back in 1995 but it remains a regularly played disc in my household.
So it came as a bolt from the blue that twenty seven years after Exhorder’s greatest release, they’ve finally united to unleash the follow up that no one expected. Mourn The Pale Grey Skies sounds like nothing has changed in the last two and a half decades, except production values.
The beards may be greyer, the heads may be balder, but Exhorter rage and roar like they did of old, but with an added maturity and a crystal clear sound that makes this album a huge celebration of violence. There’s a doomy Southern edge that creeps in from time to time and the title track is a towering epic that drips with a rueful wisdom that belies their advanced years, but other than that, this is surprising and a welcome old school slap to the face.
5. Life Of Agony ‘Sound Of Scars’
26 years ago, Brooklyn Hardcore band Life Of Agony’s concept debut River Runs Red left us with the protagonist in a bathtub with the ominous drip, drip of a suicide. But what if they survived?
After a similar time period that’s featured break ups, members departing and a singer who has successfully transitioned into a woman, Life Of Agony pick up the tale of a man, no longer young, who has survived the attempt and is still wrestling with how to deal with life.
As a passionate fan of the band, I was unbelievably sceptical. The band has had several albums that have been good, but not wholly convincing and to return to the scene of my youth and try to resurrect this story after everything seemed a little cynical.
However, I was hugely surprised at Sound Of Scars, this is a vibrant album full of heavy riffing, heart wrenching melodies and great tunes. In fact, there is an argument it could be the closest thing to the vision of the band that would keep them all happy. Not hardcore, not soft rock, not the stadium Velvet Revolver-lite rip off of Broken Valley, this album walks all the styles with an emotive self-aware knowing that make it a joy from start to finish.
Having recently witnessed them live, there is plenty to get the old school slamming in the pit, the tender pull of the heartstrings and the unabashed punk rock that originally influenced them. It ‘s the sound of a band finally, after all these years, comfortable in their own skin and it sounds great.
4. Lord Mantis ‘Universal Death Church’
I’ve covered this extensively with a history of Lord Mantis and a review of this album, so rather than merely echo what I have already said I will simply say that whatever is broken inside me loves Lord Mantis. Their twisted sounds, the dark ugly nature of the music they produce brings about a cathartic release that often prompts nervous laughter and sideways exits, but fuck it.
Universal Death Church is no exception. An album that shouldn’t exist, an unlikely comeback, a tribute, call it what you want this album stands toe to toe with the rest of their back catalogue and screams in your face defying you to like it. Darkness and some of the finest works of brutality released this year collide on these ten tracks as the reunited band plumb the depths of deranged depravity that makes them kings amongst the Blackened Sludge scene.
Visceral, nasty and as heavy as a sack full of rhinos, this is an album of Black Metal riffs, blast beats and Charlie Fell and Dylan O’Toole’s blood curdling screams that will claw at your soul if you let it. In any other year, this could well have stopped my list. Nurse the screens!!!
3. Woodhawk ‘Violent Nature’
Rocky Mountain residents Woodhawk have had a banner year in my house. Literally going from a complete unknown punt from the list of promos sent out by Shaman overlord Lee, to one of my most played albums of the year since I was sent the album… In October.
Heavy on the old school rock and metal influences, the trio delivered a masterclass in rock and roll on their second album, that hooked me from the first note. Far from being a one-note stoner band trying to ape the desert rock scene of the early nineties, Woodhawk deliver the sounds of Black Sabbath jamming with Priestess, partying with Thin Lizzy and The Sword, wrapped up in a shining beacon of what it’s like to have raw musical power delivered to your veins.
In a dark personal year for me, this album shone so brightly and made me smile so much, I have head banged in traffic to this album, air drummed at my office desk and sung it at my children on the school run (the poor buggers). Again, I’ve already poured out much hyperbole on this album in my detailed review, but it has to be said again that there are few albums (two in fact with Lord Mantis a close run thing) that I have loved more this year than Violent Nature. In fact, I’ll probably be off to spin it again having written this…
2. Tool ‘Fear Inoculum’
It’s 2019. Yes, I am a Tool fan; yes, I am aware that Tool have many pretentious dickbags as fans. I am aware that just saying that Tool has attracted a lot of elitist, superior, delusion dickbag fans doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m not one of them.
It’s been since May the 5th 2006 since Tool released a new album, granted shorter than ‘Chinese Democracy’ took, shorter than Dr Dre’s Detox (let’s face it, it ain’t coming homes) but finally after all the anguished wait and hope’ it’s finally here.
After that length of time, it was never going to live up to the expectation of many, a generation of people had become metal fans who had never heard, or even got the concept, of Tool between Fear Inoculum and 10,000 Days, and there were always people who were going to overhype it to the skies.
Yet here we are. I love it. To me it ‘s the perfect distillation of everything they’ve done before. A kind of career summation, an end point maybe, given the length and bizarre approach of the band members to this album, but it’s everything I wanted personally – Maynard’s voice is angelic and waif like, woven into the shifting time signatures of the bands rhythm section and Adam Jones’ wandering, mesmerising guitar.
I get why people don’t like it, if I was asked to recommend a Tool album it wouldn’t be this one I would choose as an entry point, but I waited a life time to hear from a band that owed me nothing and they so nearly, so very nearly delivered me my album of the year…
1. Cult Of Luna ‘A Dawn To Fear’
… but instead it came from Sweden’s Cult Of Luna.
Whilst not as jaw dropping in scope and complexity as their collaboration with Julie Christmas in 2016. this is still an incredible album from a band that haven’t missed a step since, maybe 2006 or earlier. I could go on about the epic scale of the album, the crushing weight of Lights On The Hill, the calculated power of The Silent Man or even the atmospherics of Inland Rain, but the fact is this is an album that speaks for itself.
A Dawn To Fear has a warmth that’s thematically the opposite off their astounding Vertikal album, but still managed to conjure bleak moments of mournful isolation that leave you feeling tense, and questioning of the world around you. Walking a path from the lightest of touches, to the most brutal bludgeoning, there is something buried here for everyone to mine. In my review, I likened their creatively superiority to Tool or Neurosis and this album truly delivers them to the same platform for me.
Thronehammer, former Obelyskkah man Stuart West’s new home delivered a brilliant, crushing slice of Doom that was the right blend, but at the wrong time personally for me (sorry dude).
Second part of Sons Of Alpha Centuari’s long awaited new output Buried Memories was a superior slice of instrumental rock and lastly Killswitch Engage’s Atonement is unlikely to win them any new fans, but the two vocalists (current and former) combining together on The Signal Fire is definitely one of my musical highlights of the year.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden