Heavy music had another banner year in 2019, with some highly anticipated releases living up to the hype, and rising acts continuing to make their mark.
No album was more anticipated than Tool’s Fear Inoculum, which marked the progressive metal band’s first LP in 13 years. The disc proved to be worth the wait, earning high praise from critics and fans alike. Meanwhile, other major acts like Rammstein, Slipknot, Korn, Killswitch Engage, and Dream Theater also released stellar albums in 2019.
Black metal was well represented with epic albums from Mayhem and Darkthrone, among others, while punk and hardcore saw strong efforts from Refused, The Damned Things, Knocked Loose, and more.
Elsewhere, acts like Blood Incantation, Tomb Mold, and Lingua Ignota emerged from the underground to break through in 2019.
The strong output from heavy music acts this year made it difficult to narrow down the best of the year. With nearly 100 LPs suggested by our writing staff, and a few heated arguments, we here at Heavy Consequence finally came up with our picks for the Top 30 Metal + Hard Rock Albums of 2019. Dive in below.
— Spencer Kaufman
30. Carnifex – World War X
Origin: San Diego, California
The Gist: Over the course of their career, Carnifex have pushed their craft to deliver devastating material that’s brimming with haunting flair and poeticism. Their 2016 LP, Slow Death, was a strong success and further elevated their artistry. The San Diego deathcore band’s seventh studio LP, World War X makes for another worthy addition to their discography.
Why It Rules: Carnifex are all about brutal presentation; each release of theirs promises all-out adrenaline and heaviness. The opening title track plays out in typical Carnifex fashion — unleashing a blend of crunchy and melodic guitar playing, blast beats, and growling vocals, helping to establish the album’s overall atmosphere. Overall, World War X is an absolute rush. The band’s ability to blend feeling and raw heaviness once again allows them to release a work of awesome brutality. With World War X, Carnifex continue to prove themselves as one of deathcore’s leading acts. — Michael Pementel
Essential Tracks: “Visions of the End”, “Eyes of the Executioner”, “All Roads Lead to Hell”
29. Tomb Mold – Planetary Clairvoyance
Origin: Toronto, Canada
The Gist: After a series of well-received demos and an even more beloved debut record, Canadian death metal duo Tomb Mold expanded into a full band and, less than a year later, returned with Planetary Clairvoyance, a concise, groove-oriented slab of sci-fi themed old-school death metal indebted to the genre’s eccentric Finnish roots.
Why it Rules: The unlikely return of death metal’s primal roots into metal’s mainstream comes thanks to innumerable acts, but two bands in 2019 harnessed the Old School Death Metal revival’s full power: Blood Incantation and Tomb Mold. The former’s technicality is surgical, but Tomb Mold wield riffs like meteor hammers. Their fat rhythmic attack is musical ferocity for the working class, totally fixated on one goal: massive killing capacity. — Joseph Schafer
Essential Tracks: “Accelerative Phenomenae”, “Infinite Resurrection”, “Planetary Clairvoyance (They Grow Inside Pt. 2)”
28. 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
Essential Tracks: “Cells”, “Carry a Brick”, “Young Hearts”, “Keep Crawling”, “Storm Charmer”
27. Inter Arma – Sulphur English
Origin: Richmond, Virginia
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
Essential Tracks: “Howling Lands”, “Stillness”, “The Atavist’s Meridian”
26. Exhumed – Horror
The Gist: During a career that started nearly 30 years ago, Exhumed have continuously brought joy to death metal fans. From their savage instrumentation to their horror-inspired lyricism, Exhumed proudly embrace all that is terrifying and sinister. The deathgrind band continues its passion for the gruesome and chilling on its ninth studio album, appropriately titled Horror.
Why It Rules: Horror is pure death metal and crossover insanity. Including three bonus tracks, the album contains 18 songs, and only one goes over the 3-minute mark. Horror has no warnings, it just goes full throttle. Horror easily makes for some of the best fun to be had in death metal this year. You won’t find anything overly technical or avant-garde, but Exhumed isn’t here for that; instead, they want to get your blood pumping. They want to send chills down your spine with thrilling instrumentation, creepy vocals, and gruesome lyrics. With Horror, Exhumed have crafted an incredible love letter to the horror genre. — Michael Pementel
Essential Tracks: “Ravenous Cadavers”, “Ripping Death”, “Naked, Screaming, and Covered In Blood”
25. 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
Essential Tracks: “Mjölner, Hammer of Thor”, “Valkyria”, “The Berserker at Stamford Bridge”
24. Rival Sons – Feral Roots
Origin: Long Beach, California
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
Essential Tracks: “Do Your Worst”, “Feral Roots”, “Stood By Me”
23. Whitechapel – The Valley
Origin: Knoxville, Tennessee
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
Essential Tracks: “When a Demon Defiles a Witch”, “Hickory Creek”, “The Other Side”
22. Knocked Loose – A Different Shade of Blue
Origin: Oldham County, Kentucky
The Gist: Knocked Loose rode the sleeper success of their debut album, Laugh Tracks, for almost three years, bringing their mosh-inducing take on metallic hardcore to Warped Tour, This is Hardcore, and other notable stages. All that experience shows on their much-evolved sophomore LP, A Different Shade of Blue, which doubled down on Knocked Loose’s mix of cathartic, emotional songwriting and ultra-heavy staccato grooves, immaculately produced by Fit for an Autopsy’s Will Putney.
Why It Rules: At its best (and it’s often at its best), A Different Shade of Blue reconciles the differences between the various strains of metallic hardcore that characterized the previous decades. Vocalist Bryan Garriss’ piercing delivery and emotionally forthright lyrics recall apparent influences like The Warriors and Converge, but Cole Crutchfield and Isaac Hale’s riffs (not to mention the unmistakable death metal backup vocals) recall more macho breakdown-oriented affairs. In Knocked Loose, the two styles exist in perfect equilibrium, at last. — Joseph Schafer
Essential Tracks: “… And Still I Wander South”, “Mistakes Like Fractures”, “Trapped in the Grasp of a Memory”
21. Death Angel – Humanicide
Origin: Daly City, California
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
Essential Tracks: “Humanicide”, “I Came for Blood”, “Immortal Behated”
20. Alcest – Spiritual Instinct
Origin: Paris, France
The Gist: Atmospheric black metal innovators Alcest laid down the template for some of the most popular metal of the last decade. With Spiritual Instinct, guitarist/vocalist Neige and drummer Winterhalter reassert their importance with their best-sounding and possibly most accessible record to date.
Why It Rules: Neige has written increasingly ornate material in the past decade, including folkloric explorations of Japanese folklore and a full-on shoegaze album. Spiritual Instinct, his most straightforward LP maybe ever, distills the band’s appeal to its molten core: indelible melodies and a transcendent, optimistic attitude. The band’s thickest guitar tone in years only adds to the appeal. — Joseph Schafer
Essential Tracks: “Protection”, “Sapphire”, “Spiritual Instinct”
19. Sunn O))) – Life Metal
Origin: Seattle, Washington
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
Essential Tracks: “Between Sleipnir’s Breaths”, “Troubled Air”
18. Spirit Adrift – Divided by Darkness
Origin: Phoenix, Arizona
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
Essential Tracks: “Hear Her”, “Tortured by Time”, “Angel & Abyss”
17. Possessed – Revelations of Oblivion
Origin: San Francisco, California
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
Essential Tracks: “No More Room in Hell”, “Graven”, “Demon”
16. Rammstein – Untitled
The Gist: Ten years after their last album, 2009’s Liebe ist für alle da, German industrial metal powerhouses Rammstein returned 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
Essential Tracks: “Deutschland”, “Zeig Dich”, “Ausländer”
15. Life of Agony – The Sounds of Scars
Origin: Brooklyn, New York
The Gist: The Sound of Scars serves as a sequel to Life of Agony’s classic 1993 debut, River Runs Red — an alt-metal concept album about a troubled Brooklyn teenager who attempts suicide to escape the pain of his existence. Turns out, it was actually a cliffhanger. Twenty-six years later, Life of Agony’s sixth album, The Sounds of Scars, picks up where River Runs Red left off, returning to the scene of the apparent suicide.
Why It Rules: Like River Runs Red, the use of storytelling devices creates a compelling sense of forward motion across The Sound of Scars. Life of Agony string their riffs together to fit the plot arc of their story, dabbling equally in elements of grunge, groove metal, and the hardcore punk of their native New York. The Sound of Scars is the best Life of Agony album since River Runs Red and a worthy sequel. It’s combination of subtle storytelling, via Mina Caputo’s impeccable vocal performances, and riff-hitting grooves make it rewarding for both the passing headbanger and astute album listener. — Jon Hadusek
Essential Tracks: “Scars”, “Stone”, “Weight of the World”
14. Korn – The Nothing
The Gist: Over the past quarter century, nu-metal pioneers Korn have remained one of the more popular acts in mainstream heavy music. With their 13th studio album, The Nothing, the band offers strong instrumentation, intriguing vocals and heart-wrenching lyrics.
Why It Rules: Since the return of guitarist Brian “Head” Welch, there has been a tremendous revitalization in the band’s sound. Along with their slapping, groove-driven rhythms, Korn have elevated their use of melody, bringing an added vibrancy to their material. The Nothing is full of these qualities, providing a mix of aggressive flows and ominous auras. Singer Jonathan Davis delivers some incredibly emotional moments throughout the record, really driving the anger and sadness of the music. Overall, The Nothing is a potent experience that longtime fans of Korn will enjoy. — Michael Pementel
Essential Tracks: “Cold”, “Gravity of Discomfort”, “H@rd3r”
13. Lingua Ignota – Caligula
Origin: Del Mar, California
The Gist: After self-releasing a pair of acclaimed albums and collaborating with fellow musical death dealers The Body and The Rita, Kristin Hayter, the interdisciplinary artist who records under the name Lingua Ignota, found a welcome home with a huge metal imprint (Profound Lore) and scaled back each song to its essential elements, leaving listeners nowhere to hide from her unholy wailing and uncompromising lyrics.
Why It Rules: Hayter is upfront about the catharsis that her music provides, and how every note she has sung and played since 2017 has been a response to the years of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse she endured at the hands of a prominent noise musician. Her damnatory approach is given its strongest platform on Caligula. She doesn’t let anyone within earshot off the hook by letting her furious messages and memories go down easy. Every note and moan and screech and rumble feels like swallowing a handful of nettles. Let it tear you up inside. Hayter deserves that and more. — Robert Ham
12. Dream Theater – Distance Over Time
Origin: Long Island, New York
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
Essential Tracks: “Untethered Angel”, “Paralyzed”, “Barstool Warrior”
11. Blood Incantation – Hidden History of the Human Race
Origin: Denver, Colorado
The Gist: Over the past few years, Denver’s Blood Incantation gathered a cult following for their technical death metal that looks toward the extraterrestrial for inspiration. But their alliterative sophomore album, Hidden History of the Human Race, was simply too good to stay underground. The band became a household name in extreme metal circles seemingly overnight, and despite arriving late in the year, the album demanded a place in our rankings.
Why It Rules: Like Voivod and Vektor before them, Blood Incantation explore an obsession with science fiction through hyper-technical progressive metal (the vinyl LP version even includes their own UFO manifesto). The band’s songcraft is at its peak on Hidden History of the Human Race, as musical passages wind and spiral in a cacophony of the absurd. Blood Incantation truly seek the beyond, testing their musical limits both mentally and physically. The resulting album is one of the finest death metal releases of the year. — Jon Hadusek
Essential Tracks: “Slave Species of the Gods”, “The Giza Power Plant”, “Inner Paths (to Outer Space)”
10. 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, and recently was nominated for a Grammy award. 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
Essential Tracks: “Under the Ocean,” “Astorolus – The Great Octopus,” “House of Doom”
09. Killswitch Engage – Atonement
Origin: Westfield, Massachussetts
The Gist: Since the return of original vocalist Jesse Leach on 2013’s Disarm the Descent, Killswitch Engage have been on an awesome roll. The Massachusetts metal act embrace majestic melodies alongside a hardcore mentality, presenting thrilling works of enlightenment and emotion. Killswitch Engage’s eighth studio LP, Atonement, marks their first album under a new deal with Metal Blade Records.
Why It Rules: While it may not break new ground for the band, Atonement stands among the band’s best albums, offering an array of exhilarating instrumentation and raw emotional lyrics. Killswitch Engage really know how to deliver brutal compositions that hook listeners in with thrilling musicianship. Atonement is an emotionally compelling record that explores concepts of finding strength in one’s being. Between the raw intensity of the instrumentation and vocals, as well as the inspirational elements throughout each song, Killswitch Engage offer a very solid addition to their discography. — Michael Pementel
Essential Tracks: “The Signal Fire”, “I Am Broken Too”, “Ravenous”
08. Opeth – In Cauda Venenum
The Gist: Opeth have been a fascinating gem in the world of metal for the past quarter century. From the death-metal-infused Blackwater Park to the progressive rock sound of Sorceress, the veteran Swedish act has always been bold with its music. With their latest release, In Cauda Venenum, Opeth once again present a brilliant range of captivating tracks.
Why It Rules: Frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt set out to do something a little different with In Cauda Venenum; with the band’s 13th studio LP, he decided to release two versions, one in English and one in Swedish. Instrumentally, In Cauda Venenum is a true delight. When it comes to compositional variety, the album is a nonstop rush of surprises. Not only does the songwriting offer fascinating compositions, but the band sounds amazing. In Cauda Venenum is among Opeth’s strongest albums when it comes to the band’s progressive sensibilities. — Michael Pementel
Essential Tracks: “Svekets prins / Dignity”, “Hjärtat vet vad handen gör / Heart in Hand”, “Minnets yta / Lovelorn Crime”
07. Refused – War Music
The Gist: More than 20 years ago, Sweden’s Refused unleashed one of greatest hardcore-punk albums of all time, The Shape of Punk to Come, only to break up within months of its release. With War Music, frontman Dennis Lyxzén and company have recaptured some of that magic from their iconic 1998 LP.
Why It Rules: The album is a no-holds-barred sociopolitical punch to the face, kicking off with fiery protest song “REV001”. From there, songs like “Violent Reaction” and “Blood Red” launch into full-on rage, showing off the band’s masterful balance of melody and aggression. Throughout the years, the genre’s most powerful music has been borne out of frustration with governmental authority and the status quo. With War Music, Refused have delivered a rousing call to arms, and perhaps a call to their punk-rock peers to join the fight. — Spencer Kaufman
Essential Tracks: “Violent Reaction”, “Blood Red”, “Economy of Death”
06. Baroness – Gold & Grey
Origin: Savannah, Georgia
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
Essential Tracks: “Throw Me an Anchor”, “I’d Do Anything”, “Emmett-Radiating Light”
05. Tool – Fear Inoculum
Origin: Los Angeles
The Gist: Thirteen years in the making, and Tool finally returned with their long-awaited fifth album, Fear Inoculum. Until its release, Fear Inoculum remained an anomaly, creating a fever-pitch of hype in a music industry where few artists can maintain such a sense of mysterious ambiguity.
Why It Rules: Fear Inoculum is a vast work of highly conceptualized progressive rock, fitting snuggly in Tool’s canon of similarly exploratory works. The album lives up to its daunting expectations with songs that showcase Tool in peak performance as musicians and compositional arrangers. For the diehard fan, there’s a lot to consume here. Likewise, the LP offers little respite for the uninitiated; its accessibility comes in the form of its vastness and eerie psychedelia. This is deep prog-rock as only Tool can create it, holding steadfast to the concept of the recorded album as a seamless listening experience. — Jon Hadusek
Essential Tracks: “Pneuma”, “Descending”, “7empest”
04. Darkthrone – Old Star
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
Essential Tracks: “The Hardship of the Scots”, “Alp Man”, “The Key Is Inside the Wall”
03. Slipknot – We Are Not Your Kind
Origin: Des Moines, Iowa
The Gist: When it comes to a long career in any art form, growth is a necessity. Since 2004’s Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses), Slipknot has incorporated a mix of heavy aggression alongside that of clean singing and minimal, atmospheric cuts. This duality of tone and energy of course has made listeners divided; yet, the effort that Slipknot have put into expanding their craft is commendable. With that said, what Slipknot have done on their newest album, We Are Not Your Kind, is truly awesome.
Why It Rules: We Are Not Your Kind not only displays strong craftsmanship from the band, but sees Slipknot calling back to their old material, while further evolving their artistry. Unlike their recent LPs, We Are Not Your Kind doesn’t drag on, nor does it dwell too long in one particular sound or style. There’s a terrific balance of aggression and emotion within the work; on We Are Not Your Kind, Slipknot really bring home excellent blends of melancholy and anger. — Michael Pementel
Essential Tracks: “Spiders”, “Solway Firth”, “Orphan”
02. Cattle Decapitation – Death Atlas
Origin: San Diego, California
The Gist: Over the past two decades, Cattle Decapitation have continuously built upon their craft; from their brutal technicality to the theatrical elements of their work, the band has been nothing short of thrilling. Now, the death-grind outfit is back with its new studio LP, Death Atlas. Longtime frontman Travis Ryan leads a revamped lineup that presents a brilliant thematic record with exhilarating compositions.
Why It Rules: Cattle Decapitation have released one of the most thrilling and heaviest records of 2019. The level of technicality displayed throughout Death Atlas is incredible; with plenty of balance between annihilating beat downs and atmospheric sequences, the record is an excellent representation of the band’s artistry. Along with the overall thematic presentation, Death Atlas is a remarkable work of death metal devastation and emotion. — Michael Pementel
Essential Tracks: “The Geocide”, “One Day Closer to the End of the World”, “Time’s Cruel Curtain”
01. Mayhem – Daemon
The Gist: Norwegian black metal pioneers Mayhem have had an eventful album cycle for their sixth full-length, Daemon. The recent film Lords of Chaos depicted the band’s tumultuous and tragic past, while bassist Necrobutcher recently confessed to Heavy Consequence his intent to murder Euronymous before Varg Vikernes got there first. Thus, the new album arrived on the threshold of further revelations for a band that’s already written its fair share of black-metal lore.
Why It Rules: Compositionally, Mayhem have outdone themselves on Daemon, crafting a Kafka-esque collection of intensity that sees the band pushing themselves conceptually and instrumentally. From the opening blast beats of “The Dying False King”, the record casts a bleak atmosphere of impressionistic evil and never relents. Daemon is a definitive return to form for Mayhem. Whatever aligned in the studio and writing process — perhaps some artistic hyper-awareness following their visibility in Lords of Chaos — the band return with a record worthy of their already legendary canon of genre-defining works. Mayhem treat each song as an evil spectacle, pushing it to its most absurd and dissonant limits. There’s no respite here, and it’s one of Mayhem’s best albums because of it. — Jon Hadusek
Essential Tracks: “The Dying False King”, “Worthless Abominations Destroyed”, “Of Worms and Ruins”