- Sanhedrin – The Poisoner
While there are countless bands out there who seek by divination to discover the sacred flame kindled by Iommi, Blackmore, and stoked by Randy Rhoads and Andy LaRocque, few are preordained by the titans holding the Earth together like Sanhedrin. Discovering the band just last year, it is impossible not to be held under the sway of this project by members of Black Anvil and Amber Asylum. Theirs is a future destined for greatness.
- Baroness – Gold and Grey
Baroness is a band that dictates the pulse for their contemporaries. The guitar interplay alone is of the highest caliber, but the rhythm section is also full of surprises. As an instrumental unit, the band are in the top tier but combined with a prodigious knack for writing killer songs, the band stands as one of the most dangerous.
- Lunar Shadow – The Smokeless Fires
This is a band that has developed the rare talent of assembling songs with the spirit of the most classic Heavy Metal but the atmosphere of Black Metal favorites like DISSECTION. Never has Traditional Heavy Metal felt so cold!
- Blood Red Throne – Fit to Kill
With their latest, Blood Red Throne bargain with the Dark Lord himself as these nine songs all display the most elite riff-building techniques. Of all the releases this year, this is the favorite of those seeking to elicit simple brutality.
- Imperium Dekadenz – When We are Forgotten
Germany seemed to be the hotbed from which many of the best bands this year hail from. Not even out of the top 20-25, this is already the second example. Atmospheric Black Metal is the means by which this duo conveys their ideas, and this is a rich, diverse offering sure to conjure feelings of dread and trepidation.
- Stellar Master Elite – Hologram Temple
This is an album full of cleverly crafted songs unified by a theme of exploration. An inventory taken after listening leads to shades of Satyricon, Ulver, and even Deafheaven as the world of Black Metal becomes ever more inclusive.
- Seer – Volume Six
These Canadians use Doom/Sludge as a jumping-off point for their musical exploration. In developing their own sound, though, the band have broken any chains of genre-limitation as they have forged one of the more promising sounds this year.
- Torche – Admission
Hearing the new record from Torche is to share in the band’s vision for modern heavy music. This is a sound that, while immensely heavy, can be both accessible and catchy in the most unique of ways. It became the perfect soundtrack for humid summer nights when suffering from restless insomnia. That is not to say it coaxes sleep but rather opens the third eye to the real world surrounding us.
- Windswept – The Onlooker
This extremely cathartic spellbinding opus was nearly missed this year. Thankfully, just before the advent of winter, I was exposed to its dark charm. A side project from members of Ukraine’s Drudkh, Windswept may be easier to pronounce but is no less epic than their main band.
- Swallow the Sun – When a Shadow is Forced into the Light
This is the album that finally fully ensnared me as an official fan of this band. Theirs is a gift for stringing together the best of Euro Doom and Death Metal formats and injecting soundtrack qualities. The music, with its cinematic flair, causes the mind to become yet more alive as an active participant in the ceremony.
- Krypts – Cadaver Circulation
Krypts is yet another band to appear on the scene and blur the lines between Death/Doom/Black Metal. Comprised of members bred on Celtic Frost and Candlemass, the band blend elements of crushing impact bludgeoning the listener with their endeavor.
- Venom Prison – Samsara
Of all twenty-five of these albums, “Samsara” is the singular most brutal of the bunch. From its opening moments to the last, the listener is treated to brutality created by insane riffs and one insane frontwoman. Visceral.
- Downfall of Gaia – Ethic of Radical Finitude
One cannot help but wonder if this album had been released at a time other than the black hole of the post-Holiday season, it would have done better. Successfully, elements of Sludge, Hardcore, Crust, Black Metal, and Post Metal have been combined for a challenging sound that has earned them the distinction as Europe’s version of Deafheaven.
- Flesh of the Stars – Mercy
Just four years into their existence, this Chicago band already sound as though they are in their contemplative period. Taking influence from the more melodically adventurous offerings from the Peaceville-Three, they prove there are still many stories to be woven from the fabric of the early to mid-’90s.
- Idle Hands – Mana
Idle Hands, in the band’s short span of existence, have formulated a deadly sound capable of inspiring fist-pumping and chills in the dark. Combining equal parts Traditional Heavy Metal with Goth Rock sensibilities, the band earned a hard-won spot opening for King Diamond on his fall U.S. tour. That is just a sign of things to come for a band destined to be a top-performing powerhouse.
- Mgła – Age of Excuse
It must be bitingly, unholy cold in Poland. Some of the world’s most poignant dark side-dwelling bands call the country home and Mgla is no exception. With Age of Excuse, though, the band have outdone themselves creating a twisted menagerie of dark hymns.
- Cult of Luna – A Dawn to Fear
I have a long history with this band going back to reviewing their debut and interviewing them for their follow-up. In their now-over-two-decades of existence, they have repeatedly smashed the barriers separating genres and sub-genres. Easily, this is Europe’s best candidate to stand up to Neurosis.
- Darkthrone – Old Star
After leaving Death Metal behind to help carve the beginning blueprints of Scandinavian Black Metal, Darkthrone have a wealth of material in their legacy. Old Star proved worth the wait as they further expanded their sound with influences from the nether-corners of Metal. Old Star is the soundtrack to modern Extreme Metal.
- Kryzysztof Drabikowski – Panihida
Citizens around the world joined in the great Bathuska debate this year and the consensus overwhelmingly favors Kryzysztof over the “Batushka” signed to Metal Blade. Clearly, this is where the songwriting talents of the band lie proven by the stark testament to the eastern mystery and Black Metal.
- Tie: Crypt Sermon & Spirit Adrift – The Ruins of Fading Light & Divided by Darkness
These two bands tie for the sixth position because of their given strengths at creating some of the most compelling Doom and Heavy Metal out there. While Crypt Sermon are more on the Fantasy side of things, Spirit Adrift crank it up with more drive and aggression. It is simply impossible to top either in new and upcoming American bands.
- Blut Aus Nord – Hallucinogen
Listening to this record is much like waiting for a hallucinogen to take effect. Before knowing it, one is transported to an entirely different realm, one of cosmic intrigue. If there are Black Metal fans in space, they are doubtless into Blut Aus Nord.
- Abigail Williams – Walk Beyond the Dark
Nearly missing out on this release, I am thus more excited for its sheer lethal brand of Black Metal. Over the years Abigail Williams is a band that have refined their sound becoming the heroes they once looked up to. This is Black Metal with American determinism: brutal and thought-inspiring all the while.
- Devin Townsend – Empath
Of all the releases this year, it was for this that I was most excited. With every Devin Townsend album, the scope widens. This go-round included Pop and Island music influences. Devin Townsend weaves his spell, though, as a Metal fan creating hymns that celebrate life while closely examining some of our most deep-seated questions. The fire and fury contained within are unmatched within modern music.
- Mayhem – Daemon
It would be possible for any of the top three to occupy my top spot. There is no doubt, though, who the most dangerous Black Metal band of 2019 was: Mayhem. With unequaled camaraderie, the songs were crafted from a band that has never been hungrier. The riffs are simply light years ahead of rivals and with Attila behind the microphone, a cerebral, dark experience is in the works for any listener.
- Candlemass – The Door to Doom
Like 2018 when Judas Priest won out for Firepower, this year is ruled over by an established band: Candlemass. With Black Sabbath now retired, the number two band is now staking its claim to the top and deservingly so. The maturity and inherent craftsmanship at work here is staggering and the proof is in the gargantuan riffs and thunderous bass lines. Recruiting the singer for their debut also aided in the magic of this best album of 2019.