Before the year even started, 2019 was destined to be a big one for metal and hard rock, with long-awaited releases by major acts coming before the calendar hit 2020. But the best heavy albums of 2019 so far come from a wide range of artists, both mainstream and underground.
With the second half of the year already promising to bring new albums from Tool (finally!), Slipknot, Korn, and more, the first half of 2019 showcased stellar LPs from big acts like Rammstein, Dream Theater, and Amon Amarth, while Baroness delivered yet another superb effort.
That said, a lot of the best albums came from the independent and extreme worlds of heavy music, with veterans like Darkthrone, Death Angel, Possessed, Overkill, and Candlemass unleashing some of their finest works.
While 2019 still has plenty to offer, take a look at the best of the year’s first half in our list of the Top 20 Metal + Hard Rock Albums of 2019 (So Far).
Note: Albums are listed by most recent release first. There’s no ranking.
Baroness – Gold & Grey
Origin: Savannah, Georgia
Release date: June 14th
The Gist: Baroness’ Gold & Grey closes the chapter to the band’s chromatic-themed LPs, and is their most fascinating album to date. From the intriguing approach to songwriting to the record’s atmospheric feel, frontman John Baizley and company have sincerely outdone themselves. The array of instrumentation and emotion throughout not only make Gold & Grey a joy to listen to, but also an achievement of which Baroness can truly be proud.
Why It Rules: The sonic range throughout Gold & Grey explores everything from the radiant twangs on “Tourniquet”, to the uplifting driven “Throw Me an Anchor”, to the resounding guitar and piano work on “I’d Do Anything”. As one continues through Gold & Grey, each new song brings with it a refreshing appeal, providing something different or a spin on a sound heard previously. Not to mention, guitarist Gina Gleason’s addition to the band shines brightly, not only through her playing but also through her complementary vocals. — Michael Pementel
Darkthrone – Old Star
Release date: May 31st
The Gist: At this point, Norwegian black metal stalwarts Darkthrone have reached an artistic autonomy that essentially allows them to make any album they want without the necessity of touring or being anything other than themselves. Old Star is the type of album made by people who live and breath metal, every riff and songwriting turn handpicked and calculated for full impact. As Fenriz told us, he and fellow member Nocturno Culto “never jam,” instead bringing their individual ideas to each song in mutual trust.
Why It Rules: It’s a total riff fest. The riffs on most of these tracks are tight and memorable, creating a nice pace and often thrilling experience when listening to the album as a whole. Produced by Darkthrone at their own studio, the recording itself has a classic analog sound that immediately recalls ’80s thrash and doom. The single “Hardship of the Scots” along with “Alp Man” and closer “The Key Is Inside the Wall” are major highlights and among the best songs of the band’s latter era, which has seen them shift toward a classic heavy metal approach to songwriting and tonality. — Jon Hadusek
Death Angel – Humanicide
Origin: Daly City, California
Release date: May 31st
The Gist: Thrash metal has always had a thematic focus on political, social, and spiritual unrest, so it’s no surprise that the genre feels particularly relevant in our current times. Of the first wave of Bay Area thrash bands, Death Angel have remained vigilant, retaining the original aggression of their sound over the years rather than subverting to groove metal or more accessible sonic territories. Humanicide is as ferocious as anything in their discography.
Why It Rules: This is modern thrash in its purest form. Singer Mark Osegueda’s vocals are laced with vitriol as he spews lyrics centering on nihilism and dark warnings, most notably on the album’s excellent title track. Death Angel rarely stray from their formula of fast riffs and snarling attitude, crafting an unrelenting record that harnesses the frustration and helplessness that have always been at the artistic core of thrash and punk. Sometimes overshadowed by more popular acts from the Bay Area scene, Death Angel rightfully deserve their place in the canon of great thrash bands. — Jon Hadusek
Full of Hell – Weeping Choir
Origin: Maryland and Pennsylvania
Release date: May 17th
The Gist: From noise to grindcore and death metal to powerviolence, Full of Hell have established themselves as one of contemporary metal’s most visceral acts. Their discography makes for a collection of devastating collaborations and splits, with their 2017 LP Trumpeting Ecstasy further elevating the band into the limelight. From the gnarly blends of thrashing guitars, grueling vocal work, and sporadic noise elements, the music of Full of Hell exudes madness.
Why It Rules: On Weeping Choir, Full of Hell unleash a tighter, more ravenous delivery of chaos. From the unnerving noise elements on “Rainbow Coil” to the contorting vocals and powerviolence driving drums on “Aria of Jeweled Tears”, Weeping Choir encompasses compositions built on pure ferocity. The band push themselves into other fascinating directions, such as that of the haunting and gothic atmosphere of “Armory of Obsidian Glass”. Given the record’s stellar collection of tracks, Weeping Choir easily stands out as one of 2019’s heaviest records thus far. — Michael Pementel
Lo-Pan – Subtle
The Gist: With Subtle, Lo-Pan manage to roll several different eras of hard rock into a single package that’s at once familiar and yet totally distinctive. Soaring vocals, epic choruses, marching riffs and serpentine song structures all work in tandem for a sound with such transportive power that it almost lends itself to out-of-body sensations. When people who grew up in previous decades wax nostalgic about getting carried away by music, they’re referring to experiences like Subtle — except that Lo-Pan have their feet firmly planted in the now.
Why It Rules: We’re supposed to believe false axioms like “there’s nothing new under the sun,” “it’s the same twelve notes,” and “all artists steal,” but bands like Lo-Pan remind us that there are always new directions to pursue. As long as we have musicians with this kind of imagination, heavy rock will never run out of new expressions. — Saby Reyes-Kulkarni
Rammstein – Untitled
Release date: May 17th
The Gist: Ten years after their last album, 2009’s Liebe ist für alle da, German industrial metal powerhouses Rammstein are back with their untitled seventh album. As guitarist Richard Kruspe told us, part of his motivation heading into the new album was to “balance the popularity of the band as a live act with the actual music”, explaining, “I thought, ‘I don’t want to be another KISS,’ where people talk about makeup and stuff like that and no one talks about the music.”
Why It Rules: After a 10-year recording absence, it was imperative that Rammstein come out swinging, and they do just that with the album’s first single and leadoff track “Deutschland”, complete with an intoxicating guitar riff and chant-along chorus. Overall, Rammstein’s untitled seventh studio album marks a triumphant return, and lives up to Kruspe’s desire to present the band beyond its reputation as a magnificent live act. There is a key focus on melody amid the grandeur and forcefulness of the music. — Spencer Kaufman
Abnormality – Sociopathic Constructs
Origin: Boston, Massachusetts
Release date: May 10th
The Gist: Abnormality have risen over the years to become a prominent name in death metal. Their debut 2012 LP, Contaminating the Hive Mind, made for a strong introduction, while 2016’s Mechanisms of Omniscience provided further evidence of the band’s stellar musicianship. But it is with their third studio album, Sociopathic Constructs, that Abnormality present their best material to date and offer an excellent work of technical death metal.
Why It Rules: One way to think of the album is as a work of well-crafted chaos; for all of the hectic-sounding instrumentation, there’s an overall cohesiveness that keeps the record together. Besides the instrumentals, the vocal presentation of Abnormality has always been a central component in the band’s aggressive sound. Throughout Sociopathic Constructs, vocalist Mallika Sundaramurthy uses her voice to elevate each track’s devastating delivery. The band’s blend of technical death metal feels as ruthless as it is calculated, making for a fascinating record. — Michael Pementel
Possessed – Revelations of Oblivion
The Gist: If you want to get a sense of just how profound a mark Possessed left on metal with their 1985 debut Seven Churches, you’ll have to look elsewhere because the list of musicians who cite the band as an inspiration is just too long to name here. It’s hard to imagine any artist being able to hold a candle to such a towering legacy almost 35 years after its initial impact, particularly with frontman Jeff Becerra being the only holdover from the band’s classic period — but Becerra and his new cohorts certainly give it their all on Revelations of Oblivion.
Why It Rules: Back in the day, Becerra — who says he coined the term “death metal” in 1983 — sought to make music as frightening, abrasive, dark, and ugly as humanly possible. Recently, even one of his own current Possessed bandmates confessed to being scared of the band’s Satanic vibe early on. Of course, Revelations of Oblivion doesn’t come off nearly as grim or creepy as Becerra wanted to be, but it does do a convincing job of recapturing the thrill of that moment just as thrash metal was reflecting the first embryonic stirrings of the more extreme style later brought to fruition by the likes of Morbid Angel and Death. — Saby Reyes-Kulkarni
Spirit Adrift – Divided by Darkness
The Gist: The songwriting vehicle for Nate Garrett, Arizona’s Spirit Adrift has become one of the most exploratory and ambitious metal projects to come out of the past decade. With themes of self-discovery, reflection, and personal strife, his lyrics combine a sincerity and directness akin to the songs of Ozzy Osbourne, while the music floats in a seamless amalgamation of classic rock, doom, and progressive metal. The band tightropes the ever delicate balance of anachronism and modernity with tasteful grace.
Why It Rules: Compared to past Spirit Adrift albums, Divided By Darkness has a sweeping grandeur and virtuosity that recalls conceptual masterpieces like Metallica’s Ride the Lightning and Manilla Road’s Crystal Logic. The arrangements are intricate and dynamic, from flowing acoustic passages to soaring melodic riffage. It’s an exercise in songcraft from front to back, with Garrett’s emotional voice at the core. His vulnerability and openness — often eschewed in heavy metal — is a welcome trait. — Jon Hadusek
Amon Amarth – Berserker
The Gist: Eleven albums into their career, Amon Amarth continue to be a powerhouse of heavy metal. The veteran Swedish melodic death metal act returns with Berserker, a ferocious collection of brutality and melody. From the adrenaline-fueling drum work to the shredding guitars to singer Johan Hegg’s growling vocals, Berserker is an excellent addition to the band’s extensive discography.
Why It Rules: Fafner’s Gold” makes for a stellar opening to the album, while “Mjölner, Hammer of Thor” is a thrilling track, displaying an incredible balance in the composition that allows the song to be both brutal and catchy. Thanks to unique touches of emotion and exhilarating brutal melodies, Berserker makes for an absolute blast of a time. From the start, the record loops you in, setting you on a path of wild headbanging. — Michael Pementel
Sunn O))) – Life Metal
The Gist: Since their debut LP back in 2000, Sunn O))) have easily been recognized as one of the most unique voices in metal. The band’s experimental use of drone music has elevated the idea of what heavy instrumentation is capable of, allowing for immersive and intimate works. From 2005’s Black One to 2015’s Kannon, the avant-garde act use their instrumentation to capture the minds of listeners, establishing a profound sensation of emotions throughout their material.
Why It Rules: Building upon their use of ambiance, Sunn O)))’s Life Metal is a shift in emotional presentation. The music of Life Metal exudes brightness; from the warm guitar distortion on “Between Sleipnir’s Breaths” to the chimes and radiant tones of “Troubled Air”, the record provides a wondrous aura of serenity. Not only have Sunn O))) presented another solid addition to their discography, but they’ve also made a work capable of tremendous meditative power. — Michael Pementel
The Damned Things – High Crimes
The Gist: On paper, the combination of Anthrax-style thrash metal with Fall Out Boy’s brand of pop-punk looks as mismatched as an orange juice and anchovy smoothie. We never find out what that shake would taste like, though, as The Damned Things — Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian, Fall Out Boy’s Joe Trohman and Andy Hurley, Every Time I Die’s Keith Buckley, and Alkaline Trio bassist Dan Andriano — pursue a less predictable course on High Crimes.
Why It Rules: Scott Ian is no stranger to the power of the riff. In The Damned Things, he and Joe Trohman find common ground in their shared love for classic rock acts like Thin Lizzy but then expand their reach from there. Buckley follows their lead, showing more range than he normally gets to display, as the space and dynamics in the music give his lyrical wit room to shine more than ever before. Calling this outfit a “supergroup” is, for lack of a better word, a crime, as The Damned Things exist as a cohesive, captivating, and current hard-rock band. — Saby Reyes-Kulkarni
Inter Arma – Sulphur
The Gist: With every album that Inter Arma have released, they have shown a deeper bag of tricks. The chameleon metal act consistently delivers crushing riffs and booming drums, but have yet to offer similarly sounding consecutive packages. When Inter Arma step behind the curtain of the studio, the only guarantee is that when they reemerge, the band will not quite sound the same as before
Why It Rules: Inter Arma do not present any shocking new elements to their sound on Sulphur English. Rather, this album finds the band creating a much darker dynamic and cohesive sound out of their previous sonic pursuits. Sulphur English is proof that they can execute most subgenres better than plenty of one-tracked bands. With Sulphur English, Inter Arma’s wizardry has never been executed more cleanly and effectively. — TJ Kliebhan
Vltimas – Something Wicked Marches In
Release date: March 29th
The Gist: Whether a band fits the label of “supergroup” is certainly up for debate, but in the world of extreme metal, there’s not much doubt that a band with a lineup including David Vincent (Morbid Angel), Rune “Blasphemer” Eriksen (Mayhem, Aura Noir) and Flo Mounier (Cryptopsy) deserves that moniker. While you can hear influences of Mayhem and Morbid Angel on their debut album, Something Wicked Marches In, Vltimas have developed their own sound.
Why It Rules: Each member brings a lot to the table. Eriksen’s versatile guitar work is sometimes icy and straightforward, other times groovy, while Mounier’s punishing style is delivered with technical prowess. Vincent’s distinctive vocals are as harsh and intense as you’d expect, and even does some melodic singing on “Diabolus Est Sanguis.” From the moderately paced “Monolith” to the uptempo “Total Destroy,” Vltimas provide ample variety. It takes some bands a long time to develop chemistry, but Vltimas have managed to do so right out of the gate on Something Wicked Marches In. — Chad Bowar
Whitechapel – The Valley
Origin: Knoxville, Tennessee
Release date: March 29th
The Gist: Thirteen years and seven albums into their career, Whitechapel have crafted one of their most fascinating works with The Valley. The album is the furthest departure the band has ever taken from that deathcore sound, but more fascinating, however, is the emotional depths in which The Valley explores, and how brilliantly that emotion intertwines with equally brutal and passionate instrumentals.
Why It Rules: Throughout Whitechapel’s career, they’ve built constantly upon their sound; it’s with The Valley that Whitechapel not only provide their best work in years but take the next step up in their artistry. Thanks to a unique blend of instrumentation, excellent vocal talent, and poetic lyricism, Whitechapel’s The Valley takes its place among the upper ranks of the band’s discography. — Michael Pementel
Candlemass – The Door to Doom
The Gist: As one of the biggest names in doom metal, Candlemass demonstrate their mastery over the genre on their latest LP, The Door to Doom. With their original vocalist Johan Längqvist making a return to the band, the album makes for a stellar work of ominous atmosphere and delicious riffs. As the band’s first release in almost seven years, saying that The Door to Doom is a strong return for Candlemass would be somewhat of an understatement.
Why It Rules: “Astorolus – The Great Octopus” features a prominent guest appearance by none other than legendary Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi. Beginning with some isolated drumming to get the blood pumping, the song opens up to guitar riffs that drive the adrenaline forward. Saying that The Door to Doom is a strong return for Candlemass would be somewhat of an understatement. The band makes sure to offer a variety of exciting compositions, maintaining their iconic doom core, while providing enough dynamic instrumentation to keep their material consistently engaging. — Michael Pementel
Dream Theater – Distance Over Time
Origin: Long Island, New York
Release date: February 22nd
The Gist: Calling an hourlong album streamlined might seem strange, but that’s exactly what Distance Over Time is compared to Dream Theater’s last release, 2016’s two hour and ten minute opus The Astonishing. Though the length is certainly shorter this time around, Dream Theater’s expansive arrangements and complex songwriting haven’t been scaled back on their 14th studio album.
Why It Rules: The album flow is really smooth, as focused and catchy tracks like “Paralyzed” co-exist well with songs that take longer to unfold and have lengthier progressive sections, such as “Fall Into the Light” and “Pale Blue Dot”. The musicianship is flawless, with guitarist John Petrucci really on his game with creative riffs and some top-notch solos. After how polarizing previous album The Astonishing was, Distance Over Time should have a much more universal appreciation among the DT faithful. — Chad Bowar
Overkill – The Wings of War
Origin: New Jersey
Release date: February 22nd
The Gist: New Jersey’s premiere thrash metal outfit Overkill don’t mess with their sound much. Like a prehistoric crocodile, they’re evolutionarily perfect in every era because they only do a handful of things but do so with tactical precision. It’s no surprise, then, that their 19th album, The Wings of War is 50 minutes of pure mosh without any bells or whistles.
Why It Rules: Vocalist Bobby Blitz lays the attitude on thicker this time around, and bassist D.D. Verni has written shorter songs to match, making The Wings of War — slightly! — more exciting than the last two Overkill albums, The Grinding Wheel and White Devil Armory.The Wings of War continues Overkill’s nearly decade-long winning streak, and further cements their reputation among those in the know as one of the most consistent bands in metal. — Joseph Schafer
Soen – Lotus
Release date: February 1st
The Gist: Swedish progsters Soen have been together for nearly a decade, and their lineup includes drummer Martin Lopez (ex-Opeth, ex-Amon Amarth). This time around they have a new guitarist, Cody Ford, who replaced Marcus Jidell. After recording in analog for their previous album, they used modern production for their fourth album Lotus, which results in a bigger sound.
Why It Rules: With bands like Tool and Opeth in their DNA, Soen write arrangements that give their music time to breathe and develop. That’s the case on heavy tracks like “Rival” and “Covenant” as well as more subdued songs such as “Lotus” or “Martyrs.” Add Joel Ekeloff’s expressive vocals on top of the band’s dynamic music, and you have all the ingredients for an engrossing and engaging listen. With each album they’ve impressed, and Lotus could be Soen’s best yet. — Chad Bowar
Rival Sons – Feral Roots
Origin: Long Beach, California
Release date: January 25th
The Gist: Nearly 10 years after their debut album’s release, Rival Sons deliver their sixth studio album with Feral Roots. The tracks throughout Feral Roots show off the California band’s range in performing bluesy rock ‘n’ roll; with high energy riffs and slow melancholy rhythms, the music offers a variety of emotional tones for listeners to absorb.
Why It Rules: If you’re brand new to Rival Sons, then Feral Roots is an excellent place to start. Across 11 tracks, the band keeps listeners engaged thanks to a spread of bluesy rock. Electric rhythms intertwine with warm vocals and glowing melodies throughout Feral Roots, making for an experience where listeners will find something different to enjoy in each track. — Michael Pementel