What a fuckin’ year that was! With 2020 here and 2019 moving further away in the rear-view mirror, and in following up from my best releases of the year’s first-half list, here’s the long-awaited, self-indulged second part: featuring the releases dropped between July and December that stuck with me the most. Not all of these well-loved works made it into my top 20, yet these all kept me sane during the second stretch of last year. So here we go!
Sleep Token – ‘Sundowning’
Sleep Token is an enigma, a contradiction. Their members are anonymous yet their lyrical content is scarily personal once you strip away the spiritual and religious metaphors masking a narrative about a former lover. They aren’t afraid of synths, piano, soft moods, pop, and dulcet cleans yet the band employ brilliant prog-metal sections, down-tuned riffs, abrasive screams, and djent-tinged breakdowns better than most other groups. It’s this contrast, that exceptional threading of the needle between music, image, and mysterious aesthetic that makes Sleep Token one of the best.
After literal months of build-up with songs dropping every fortnight until it’s release in November, Sleep Token unveiled one of the most coherent, imaginative, diverse and stunning debuts of the last 12 months. ‘Sundowning‘ happily and confidently mixes progressive, electronica, pop, metalcore, and more altogether into something very special. All of it is influenced and borrowed from other artists, sure, yet once it’s all placed together and masked under the Sleep Token banner, it becomes its own unique thing.
Whether it’s the groovier, heavier Deftones-like feel of the crushing ‘Gods;’ the raw emotion that spills forth in ‘Blood Sport‘; the unnerving powerful refrains that drive ‘Sugar‘; the intimate, heavenly ascension of a hymn, ‘Levitate‘; the brooding, blood-thirsty timbre of ‘The Offering‘; the moody, love-sick trap-pop in ‘Give‘; or the contrastive tones of ‘Higher‘ before a truly wicked breakdown drops – the songwriting is immaculate! Rarely do Sleep Token repeat themselves on this full-length effort, ensuring that their sound, creations, and stories are always moving forward. It is an incredibly crafted and well-curated record from start to end. ‘Sundowning‘ is a way of life. Worship it, or fuck off.
Lingua Ignota – ‘Caligula’
The name “Lingua Ignota” comes from the German mystic Hildegard of Bingen, meaning “unknown language.” Which is what Kristin Hayter’s newest record sounds like: something unknown, something unique. ‘Caligula‘ is Hayter’s most vulnerable and ambitious work, displaying an entirely new level for her vocally, compositionally, and in terms of vivid storytelling. Vast in scope, influences and it’s deeply felt nature and personal authenticity, ‘Caligula‘ is operatic, dramatic, sinister, polyphonic, movingly raw, uncomfortably heavy, and brutally unnerving.
It boldly disregards genre, merging industrial, throat-singing, harsh noise, metal, neo-classical, darkwave, and more into what is a washed-out, reverb-heavy and magnificent beast. One whose sonic hideousness is only deafened by its dire themes and grim lyrics. As this LP is violent and vengeful; discussing the experiences and transformations of an abuse survivor; covering a harrowing narrative about actions that define not only victims of such crimes but the perpetrators too. It’s pure wrath and lamenting musically embodied. It’s a trip into hell; the worst of what people do to others.
Along with religious icons, the broader metaphor about the sadism, perversions, decadence, corruption, and violence of Roman emperor, Caligula, is clear. It’s a commentary about vile abuses of power, in its many twisted forms, and how many people, mostly women and children, are left invalidated and isolated by toxic abusers, men who take the lives and steal the safety of these innocents. It’s a record not necessarily about besting one’s trauma, or smiting past demons, or killing cruel monsters that exist in one’s head. No, it’s more about learning to live with that turmoil; to endure those evils. Which makes this a sobering, realistic portrayal of such horrors.
This isn’t a record that you put on at just anytime. It’s a special listen, something you only partake in once every so often, such is the demanding emotional toll of ‘Caligula.’ And that’s why I love it! It’s a rare, beautiful, and terrifying musical thing where hellish, noisy soundscapes bleed over one another in chaos and clarity. I’ve only listened to this record five times in 2019 since its release in July, yet each time was incredibly compelling, in a way that very few other albums ever are. And even with guest appearances from The Body drummer Lee Buford, Sam McKinlay (THE RITA), percussionist Ted Byrnes, Full of Hell vocalist Dylan Walker, Mike Berdan (Uniform), and Noraa Kaplan (Visibilities), these collaborations only add to the grandeur, never spoiling the soul-piercing personality and in-depth intimacy from Kristin on this LP. ‘Caligula‘ is a dirge unlike anything else in 2019.
Gravemind – ‘Conduit’ (Greyscale)
The best debut record from an Australian band in 2019 came from Gravemind. On ‘Conduit,’ the heaviness wasn’t just a tuning, it was a feeling. When you strip off the sci-fi artwork, the fake-language made for the LP, and their previously conceptual-heavy releases, this was the most real and most direct Gravemind have ever been in songs. This saw a band taking a huge leap, with much to say about fatherhood, mateship, mental health, artistic integrity, the mindset of people, and personal perseverance.
What made ‘Conduit‘ stand out was the Melbourne group’s deeper exploration of new guitar tones and pitched-vocals, along with a stronger melody, dynamism and djenty aggression that made this one seriously impactful album. Gravemind knew precisely when to drop listeners into a ferocious assault of precise drums and razor-sharp guitars, but they also knew right when to open these songs up and have them bloom with larger layers of atmosphere, effects, and emotion. It has its deathcore flexes; such parts come in brutal but well-paced waves, with only two blast beat sections found across the runtime. Mixing in fresher ideas, other heavy subgenres and ensuring each song had a stand-out “moment”, this Gravy train never stops after the double-whammy of ‘The Effigy‘ and ‘Reveal‘ puts you through the goddamn wall.
I’ve said it before: Gravemind doesn’t need deathcore, deathcore needs Gravemind.
Norma Jean – ‘All Hail’ (Solid State)
Eight albums, loads of ex-members, and 18 years in, Norma Jean have never been better than the records they created during the 2010s, with ‘All Hail‘ being some of their greatest. Multi-layered and metaphorical lyrics, angular guitar riffage that cuts deep, a crushing bass-heavy mix that decimates, dense atmosphere, creepy samples, off-kilter drumming, super-charged screaming and singing from Cory Brandan; Norma Jean fired on every cylinder with LP #8.
‘All Hail‘ is as powerful as ‘Polar Similiar‘ (2016) and ‘Wrongdoers‘ (2013), if not more so, feeling like the cap-off to a trilogy that sees Norma Jean hitting a new peak. The sense of emotion and melody bathed over ‘Careen‘ is undeniable; the old-school sounding and odd-time patterns of ‘Safety Last‘ is gnarly; the insane riffs and hectic slides in ‘Landslide Defeater‘ are huge with a capital Y; the jagged assault of the short but fearsome ‘Orphan Twin‘ is an insane opener; on more straight-forward ‘Translational‘ or the groovy ‘Trace Levels Of Dystopia,’ Jeff Hickey’s songwriting shines brightest.
This is a scarily consistent LP. While it doesn’t redefine what we know and expect from them, it’s still an engaging, throttling listen. Everyone knows that older Norma Jean, like ‘O’ God, the Aftermath‘ or ‘Redeemer,’ are great releases, but anyone saying that the band has grown tired, are resting on old glories, or aren’t matching that early output with newer releases is fucking kidding themselves. Norma Jean have never been better than right now.
Fit For An Autopsy – ‘The Sea of Tragic Beasts’ (Nuclear Blast)
If there’s someone you know who wants to get into Fit For An Autopsy but doesn’t know where to begin, start them on ‘The Sea Of Tragic Beasts.’ Because it’s about as complete of a release as one can get for FFAA. ‘The Sea Of Tragic Beasts‘ takes the brutality and heaviness of their deathcore sides, smashes it with steam-rolling hardcore parts, and tops it all off with a deeper, darker sense of melody and atmosphere. It’s everything that’s great and everything that works so well about FFAA’s polished-sounding melo-death style, and then gives you ten of their finest cuts yet. Now five albums down the drain, guitarist/engineer Will Putney, vocalist Joe Badolato, and co. have just created a career-best.
The ills of humans in our Anthropocene makes for great heavy music, and FFAA deliver that. This was simultaneously the U.S. band’s most poignant and political record. As ‘The Sea Of Tragic Beasts‘ is a cold reflection of our world; one whose musical heaviness is only matched by its tone of hopelessness and depression; one whose resonate emotional weight hangs in the air for a species whose actions and trajectory are often questionable and lethal. You hear this in the palpable suffering detailed in ‘Mirrors,’ and you can feel that desperation in the exhausted dread and melancholia spread over album ender, ‘Napalm Dreams.’ Our modern mistakes make for wicked modern metal, so plunge yourself into this ocean of killer riffs, mighty breakdowns, indomitable vocals, and urgently relevant lyricism.
Hashshashin – ‘Badakhshan’ (Art As Catharsis)
As some know, I’m straight edge, but by my non-existent-god, this wondrous new epic from Hashshashin makes me want to align my chakras and open my third-eye as someone plays a setor right next to my head. With no words, Hashshashin say so much on their latest spiritual journey through Eastern cultures and landscapes viewed via the eyes of Western agnosticism and skepticism.
Ancient ruins, old shrines, expansive mountains, tiny villages, and vast deserts (like the Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Chinese crossing desert this album is named after) are the detailed environments that this progressive Sydney three-piece conjures up with ‘Badakhshan.’ Just like the lengthy Middle-Eastern traveling that songwriter and stringed-instrumentalist, Lachlan R. Dale embarked upon, this sonically tells you the story of that time abroad, the glorious sights witnessed, and the rich musical history behind the most breath-taking, historical and isolated places on the planet. With psychedelic movements, dense compositions, earthy tones, math rhythms, traditional eastern instrumentation, and some subtle prog-metal sensibilities, Hashshashin masterfully creates a rich, textured tapestry of different sounds.
Go and culture yourself, you philistine.
Strawberry Girls – ‘Tasmanian Glow’ (Tragic Hero)
With Strawberry Girls‘ bubbly, feel-good new record, ‘Tasmanian Glow,’ post-instrumental-progressive-funk-jazz-pop became a thing and I fucking love it! They say that a picture says a thousand words. Well, so too can an incredibly well-voiced chord on a six-string over the top of a sick bass-line and some funky-as-fuck drumming. With minor vocal samples and overdubs, this American trio plucks the best parts of contemporary prog-rock, funk, jazz, and pop to make something super tasteful, tonally colorful, and perhaps most importantly, something wonderfully vibrant and dynamic. Technical, intricate but still artsy and hooky, you aren’t too cool to jam this new 13-track bop from Strawberry Girls.
SeeYouSpaceCowboy – ‘The Correlation Between Entry and Exit Wounds’ (Pure Noise)
When many metalcore bands refused to change in meaningful ways, there was an amusing irony in a nostalgic, throwback-sounding band like SeeYouSpaceCowboy actually growing last year.
On ‘The Correlation Between Entry and Exit Wounds,’ their heaviness and dissonant, abrasive qualities remained but were now better paced and well-delivered alongside slight tweaks to their formula. Song titles were no longer jokes, guitars took on melodic metal ideas, songwriting became more dynamic, everything was tonally darker and more serious, we got instrumental tracks for the first time, and the emotional impact of the lyricism was ramped up significantly. SYSC are one of the best current examples of a band proving you don’t need to change the paradigms of the genre(s) you exist within, you only need to change yourself. And ‘The Correlation…‘ is a phenomenal forward for these underground stalwarts.
SYSC are harnessing what made the 90’s and 2000’s metalcore/hardcore scenes so great. They’re giving it a new lease on life, a new sense of burning passion and burning rage alike that it hasn’t had in years. 2009 has never felt more alive than what it did in 2019 with exceptional records like this. Sometimes the past must be left behind in order to move on, but other times, the past can be an informing guide for the future. No truer is that than with this powerhouse LP. You had me at ‘dun-dun-daaaaa.’
Greet Death – ‘New Hell’ (Deathwish)
People who make their AOTY lists in November are of the weakest bloodlines. Because those individuals completely wall themselves off to late-game gems, records like Greet Death’s excellent new dive into personal pains – ‘New Hell.’ Greet Death are like a modern-day Smashing Pumpkins but if they were a newish band on the block, didn’t have to deal with Billy Corgan’s bullshit, and had the thick distortion and shoegaze element turned right up to 11. ‘New Hell‘ sounds like taking a long drive alone; like a red, pinkish sunset bleeding over summer skies; like loneliness sent you a post-card; like the nagging thoughts in the darkest recesses of your skull got together to record nine-songs about you.
With simple guitar parts that switch between chorus-pedal magic and saturated walls of distortion, fuzzy bass lines that ground these towering volumes, softly drifting vocals that move between low baritones and borderline-falsettos, amps that sound kicked-in, and lively, roomy drumming, ‘New Hell‘ is a rock LP informed by what many other indie, emo, and shoegaze bands did before them. Great Death know their stuff, and it shows in the jaw-dropping song-writing quality that boroughs into the pores of ‘Do You Feel Nothing?,’ ‘Entertainment,’ ‘Strange Days,’ ‘Circles Of Nothing,’ and the eight-minute, life-flashing-before-your-eyes sound ritual of ‘You’re Gonna Hate What You’ve Done.’
On ‘New Hell,’ Greet Death don’t plummet into murky depths; they shoot into the heavens with some of the best shoegaze/indie/alternative that I’ve heard in literal years. This LP shows the simple yet sheer strength of what happens when three like-minded dudes get in a room with a guitar, bass, drum set, two vocal mics, and just pour their fuckin’ souls out for us. Guess you’d better update your end-of-year-list pronto.
Frail Body – ‘A Brief Memoriam’ (Deathwish)
Frail Body’s vicious new EP sounds like the first two Pianos Become The Teeth records but if they were on crack; ‘A Brief Memoriam‘ sounds like an old screamo house show in America’s mid-west that’s gotten out of control. Packed with immense feelings of grief and loss that rush out almost uncontrollably, with rapid instrumentals matching that hyper-intensity, this will break your heart before taking your head clean off when tracks like ‘Pastel‘ and ‘Your Death Makes Me Wish Heaven Was Real‘ kick in. Dry, punchy guitar tones throttle you with staccato riffs, as a frenzied rhythm section and feral screams guide these eight songs between outright carnage and light, instrumental calmness; an array of emotions that capture the uncertainty of personal bereavements.
Here, Frail Body takes a crystal ball and shoots us all back to the days of late 90’s and early 2000’s screamo; never thinly nostalgic, just brutally honest and raw, capturing the sounds and music that this American trio clearly loves dearly in an authentic, engaging manner. This spot was either going to this or the new Shin Gaurd, but I settled on Frail Body due to the savagery, pain, and consistency of this EP. (You should also check out that Shin Guard release, ‘2020,’ as an honorable mention.)
Issues – ‘Beautiful Oblivion’ (Rise)
I stand by everything stated in my review of ‘Beautiful Oblivion‘: it ain’t perfect and it’s not Issues‘ best, but the good FAR outweighs any of the (at worst) “dud” moments. Because I frequently returned to Issues‘ third effort so often following its release, such is the utterly addictive quality of its creative flourishes, immensely hooky arrangements, and super satisfying refrains. That, and providing plenty of red-hot bangers like ‘Drink About It,’ ‘Find Forever,’ ‘Downfall,’ and the song, ‘Beautiful Oblivion.’
Moving away from their metalcore/post-hardcore roots, but still retaining them where needed and keeping rare some nu-metal aspects, this saw the band having more in common with the likes of Don Broco and Emarosa as opposed to Amity Affliction or Memphis May Fire. The deliciously funky guitar tones, stylish vocal melodies, the inclusion of soul vocals, their sound being creatively pushed further with new instrumentation like horns, cheeky guest appearances (like Rou from Enter Shikari providing that drum-and-bass part in ‘Downfall‘), and the kinda-flawed-yet-highly-noble imagination of its experimentation saw a band spreading their wings wide.
There may have been some uncertainty about where Issues would head as a band after ditching Michael Bohn, but honestly, after this thing dropped, their future has probably never looked brighter. If only so many other bands were as brave in taking new, fresher strides with their music as Issues were in 2019.
Liturgy – ‘H.A.Q.Q.’
After Liturgy’s ‘Aesthethica‘ (2011) merged black metal and art-rock, and ‘The Ark Work‘ (2015) incorporated trap and IDM into that paradigm, guessing where guitarist/vocalist Hunter Hunt-Hendrix (the best name in all of black metal) and his three bandmates would go next would be impossible. In many ways, the direction of fourth album, ‘H.A.Q.Q.,’ couldn’t have been predicted. As it’s a bewildering mess yet that’s why it’s good!
Glitchy electronics mash against piercing screams, sweeping guitar harmonies and flurries of bright melodic leads with busy, crackhead-energy drum performances running underneath, sounding like The Armed replaced their hardcore-punk parts with more caustic black metal. Yet the chaotic dissonance and oddly strange blissfulness of these erratically structured songs don’t end there. Because ‘H.A.Q.Q.‘ then boils everything to the top with the addition of harps, piano passages, a goddamn gagaku ensemble featuring traditional Japanese instrumentals like hichiriki and ryuteki, vibraphones and glockenspiels, strings, and shit loads of added digital manipulation that propels these songs forward.
It’s all built around two artistic concepts: where Liturgy traveled musically in the first half of the 2010s and being able to then move all of those sounds forward into something furious, beautiful, and interesting. Which this inane album achieves in droves. Composed and arranged by Hunter, and with a physical release coming in 2020, this is easily Liturgy’s most vulnerable record for the band leader, addressing ideas of anger, mental health struggles, as well as sexuality, religion and their Marxist, psychoanalytic perspectives on God. This is a cacophonic yet spiritual experience and it shows that time hasn’t lessened the originality, creativity nor ambition of Hunter and Liturgy as a whole. Honestly, I don’t fully grasp the deeper themes of this LP or this band’s weird Christian-but-occultist views, but I kinda don’t care as I just really bloody like how this thing sounds. I’ve no doubt that their next LP will be as baffling.
Voyager – ‘Colours in the Sun’ (Season Of Mist)
‘Colours in the Sun‘ is just that: colourful. It’s Voyager’s own loving rainbow infused with prog-metal, djenty tones, huge love for the 80s, myriad of synths, keytars, and some giant-ass vocal hooks from frontman Danny Estrin. It’s a glittering and vibrant prog-metal-meets-synthwave record, one where a down-tuned metal riff is just as necessary as a reverb-heavy synth pad. Often both running at the same time! Rhythmic, angular, heavy yet melodic and chirpy, this is one of Voyager’s biggest achievements as a band. Jump headfirst into ‘Sign of the Times,’ ‘Severomance,’ ‘Brightstar,’ and you’ll see what I mean. Hooks for days, synths for years!
Car Bomb – ‘Modial’
Sometimes when I hear Car Bomb, I think that the only way such an extreme math-metal band can exist is if they’d literally never heard any other music in their lives. Such is the intensity, insanity, and experimental quality of their newest work. On ‘Modial,’ you get the kind of monstrous, deformed metal that made Meshuggah a household name. And yet you also find these brief melodic respites as if a Deftones chorus was suddenly spliced in, and the pacing and vision of Car Bomb’s latest begin to reveal itself. Yet that cursory description scratches the surface on the kinds of glitchy sounds and demented heaviness this beast of a new record offers.
With the gnarliest pick scrapes this side of Gojira, and with whammy pedal fun that would make Frontierer cheer with joy, ‘Modial‘ is a towering groove giant before you and you’re the ant below, scouring to get the fuck out of its path of annihilation. Deep death metal grunts and coarse screams punch through this album’s dry-wall, as crazy odd-timed rhythms abound, set over a variety of time signature patters mixing 8 and 16, and a multitude of polyrhythms leading the charge. This band thrives in the digital realm, yet the songs and individual members’ performances never feel dishonest in delivery – you can tell that Car Bomb can pull this off live.
These are songs that if you were to put the whole band in a room and set them to a single click track and said “play,” it’d all go off the rails in about two seconds. That’s the kind of trust, chemistry, skill, and larger-thinking songwriting and crazed composition that this U.K. band exudes on their fourth record. There’s a method to their madness. Unlike say, Rings Of Saturn, Car Bomb’s technicality never over-shadows their creativity or their artistry. Now, is this as good as 2016’s ‘Meta‘? Maybe not, but it comes close!
Chelsea Wolfe – ‘Birth Of Violence’ (Sargents House)
On ‘Birth Of Violence,’ Chelsea Wolfe only needed three things working in tandem in order to blow me away: her voice, guitar, and soul. No doubt, these three crucial aspects absolutely define her latest LP – an eerie, honest, folky singer-songwriter acoustic departure from the heavy-rock and darkwave/electronica of her last few albums. But that’s not all that makes up her sixth record, as subtle usage of light percussion, foreboding strings, and nuanced production edits all aid in crafting an incredibly engrossing gothic mood.
Chelsea has a unique ability in making her songs feel heavier and darker in feel with just an acoustic guitar and her singing than what most do with down-tuned seven-strings and a screamer who wants to be the next Dickie Allen or Ben Duerr. The LP’s powerful first-half (complimented by a solid Side-B) places you under the bask of soft sunlight, yet the ghostly folk-Americana style makes it all seem overcast – like a bone-chilling eclipse is about to begin. She’s always been a talented singer but ‘Birth Of Violence‘ pushes her rich voice to the front: her timbre never fails to pull at my heart-strings.
‘Birth Of Violence‘ sees an incredibly talented artist growing further, trying new things, and never really resting on older laurels. It’s almost like a re-birth for Chelsea. It is somewhat remiss of her earlier works but it ain’t a cheap knock-off nor is it a safe revisit of those efforts, either. What comes next will most likely differ greatly in theme, genre, and mood to this beautifully bleak chapter. Chelsea Wolfe is one of a kind and ‘Birth…‘ sees her at her best.
We Lost The Sea – ‘Triump & Disaster’ (Holy Roar)
So much art and media focus on how the world, or more specifically, how we as a species, will come to end. People just have such a fascination with the death of mankind, for the challenges it brings, for the stirring emotions it evokes, and that’s true of We Lost The Sea’s newest post-rock odyssey. One which sees the band exploring new tones and textures, once again nailing their instrumental songwriting, bringing in new jazzier and progressive styles, and even bucking the odd post-rock trend in order to better expand their tastes and make for a sublime, diverse listening experience. The gargantuan 15-minute opener, ‘Towers,’ is a sprawling piece, one of WLTS’s best. Yet the jazzy, low-key moods of ‘Dust‘ and summery bliss of the slide-guitars in ‘Distant Shores‘ contrast one such epic opening act, as do they also oppose the twisting, dissonant haze of ‘The Last Sun‘ or the surprisingly vocal-driven closer, the beautiful post-rock ballad that is ‘Mother’s Hymn.’
The Aussie band’s first album in four years since the gut-punching ‘Departure Songs‘, ‘Triumph & Disaster‘ is a story about destruction and hope, death and life, the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end. Exceptionally written and brilliantly illustrated, ‘Triumph & Disaster‘ is a haunting post-apocalyptic musical perspective about the fall of us, told via an innocent, child-like story following a mother and her son as they spend a final day on Earth together. It’s touching stuff, a story that WLTS plot out with barely any words, letting these thoughtful, detailed scores do all the talking. It was lovely to have We Lost The Sea back in 2019.
The Devil Wears Prada – ‘The Act’ (Solid State)
When you see the artwork for The Devil Wears Prada’s new LP, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it doesn’t look like what you’d expect the front cover for one of their releases to be. That’s by design, as ‘The Act‘ also doesn’t sound like what many would perceive a new Devil Wears Prade album to be.
‘The Act‘ is a true act of progression, seeing the group mix their love of pop, electronica, alternative, and metalcore into subversive, experimental new grounds. Plotting their trajectory over the last ten years is so interesting, watching TDWP grow from a cleanly produced, Myspace-era metalcore band into this mature, dynamic and weirdly alternative-metalcore-electro band that clearly doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. Albums like this don’t come from new bands; they come from those that have been around for yonks, learning from their older works. And so ‘The Act‘ stands tall as the boldest, darkest, heaviest and most artistic record to come from The Devil Wears Prada. It’s raw in tone and feel, it’s real in production and performance, and it’s so unexpected in its variety of styles. Once the shock wears off, you’re still left with one incredibly brave and well-written, narrative-driven record. Any preconceived notions about this band because of stuff like ‘Plagues‘ need to be checked at the door.
Husbandry – ‘A Port in a Storm’ (Independent)
New York City’s Husbandry were one of my favourite new discoveries in 2019. This underground act, driven by the impressive range, presence, and flexibility of adept vocalist, Carina Zachary – who steals the show with some of the best vocal performances of the year- is a love-child band of many. A single listen to the enigmatic ‘Smile With Teeth‘ or the evolving sights and sounds of ‘Your Weight In Gold‘ tells you they grew up on a lean diet of post-hardcore, prog, R&B, soul, alternative, funk, math-core, soul, and jazz. This is the thinking person’s punk; the “musician’s” alternative album.
Whether its the LP’s killer vocal runs or murky harmonies (‘Smile With Teeth‘), its sharp left turns into dissonant mathcore territories (‘Ghostload‘), the sparring but solid use of saxophones (‘Woke Dreams‘), to the sheer intricacy of the complex songwriting and odd experimental flourishes (‘Bête Noire‘), there’s so much to soak up on ‘A Port in A Storm‘; so much to learn and extract from its puzzle pieces. There’s HEAPS going on with this band and this eight-track stunner; here’s the best place to start:
Knocked Loose – ‘A Different Shade Of Blue’ (Pure Noise)
The only thing that hits harder than a discordant metallic hardcore breakdown whilst the guitarist grunts into the mic is losing those closest to you. In the case of Knocked Loose’s sophomore LP, both are applicable to one of hardcore’s biggest releases in 2019. After laughter comes mourning, and from those losses, was born Knocked Loose’s best: ‘A Different Shade Of Blue.’
Here, vocalist Bryan Garris is as charged and volatile as ever, with guitarist Isaac Hale also having more vocal input, making this new batch of tracks heavier, strongly adding to the deeper thrash and death metal undertones present on this second effort. And the off-kilter riffs, esteemed guest vocal features, dissonant pinches, and wickedly moshable breakdowns tie everything together so well. There ain’t any shred of originality to what ‘A Different Shade Of Blue‘ does, but that’s okay. As Knocked Loose upped the ante more than enough from their 2016 debut LP, amplifying and tightening every corner of their sound, keeping you coming back for more.
Those who strongly disliked Knocked Loose before won’t change their tune now, and that’s fine, but it’s hard to understand what they’re sooking about over these skitz riffs and breakdowns.
Nova Charisma – ‘Exposition 1’ / ‘Exposition II’ (Equal Vision)
Dance Gavin Dance, A Lot Like Birds, Stolas, Royal Coda, Hail The Sun, and Sianvar are all incestuous bands whose members have crossed paths many times. Yet the crossover doesn’t just end at the faces behind the music, but the music itself. This is where Hail The Sun’s Donovan Melero and Stolas‘ Sergio Medina come in with their new project together, Nova Charisma. In many ways, if you’ve heard these bands, then you’ll be perched on some very familiar footing with Nova Charisma before even hearing a single note off either of their two 2019 EPs.
Donovan never held himself back within his honest lyrics in Hail The Sun, and he doesn’t start to now in Nova Charisma. His high-pitched voice carries these songs beautifully, complimenting the textured, proggy post-hardcore compositions, his vocals and words breathing with as much personality and honesty as ever. As for Sergio, if you pay attention to his exceptional playing in Royal Coda, Stolas, or Sianvar, then you know what you’re in for. Yet that never diminishes his skill or taste as a guitarist, as he flexes his riffy, well-voiced, string-skipping muscles over these seven tunes.
Bangin’ ‘Exposition I‘ opener, ‘Lies Animals Tell,’ is the core musical mission statement of Nova Charisma’s soul-searching, charismatic post-hardcore sound, whereas ‘Exposition II‘ highlight, ‘Sonya,’ has an -earthshattering chorus to rival that of the high heavens themselves. Everything off these mini-releases shows the musical feats and storied experience that Donovan and Sergio have acquired with their other bands, making Nova Charisma all the stronger for it. Here’s to the band’s new LP in 2020!
Press Club – ‘Wasted Energy’ (Hassle Records)
Press Club is a punk rock band. There’s zero bells and whistles, no overblown production, and nothing gimmicky. They turn up, play their songs, and then fuck off. They’re a band who leave it all up on-stage, putting their all into these songs they care about labour over. Something that’s present all over ‘Wasted Energy,’ which came hot off the heels of 2018’s wonderful debut, ‘Late Teens.’
Funnily enough, this sophomore doesn’t waste your time and is energetic as all get out! This LP bursting with punk rock charm isn’t the only thing that’s great about it. Like it’s predecessor, its the unflinching honesty in which singer Natalie Foster belts out these sentiments that make it so captivating. Everything about Press Club is authentic: the buzz-sawing guitars, the garage-punk production, the vocals and stories they share. Press Club can’t be stopped, not when armed with punk bangers like ‘Separate Houses,’ ‘Get Better,’ ‘Thinking Of You,’ and ‘I’m In Hell.’
Tycho – ‘Weather’ (Mom+Pop / Ninja Tune)
There is a giddy excitement when you find out that, months previously, an artist you quite like put out a new record that just completely passed you by. This exact thing happened to me in November when I found out Tycho had put out a new LP, ‘Weather.’ Ooooh, baby!
Taking dance, pop, R&B, electronica, synth-wave, and post-rock, ‘Weather‘ is a gorgeous ride. It’s the sexy R&B mood of ‘Pink & Blue‘; the sensual nature that abounds on ‘Japan‘; the ear-worming hooks and deceptive simplicity heard in ‘No Stress‘ that makes this shine brightly. It’s full of lush emotion, glorious heart, beautiful textures, and forward-thinking production and engineering, one that brings together where so many of Tycho’s artistic visions have been moving in for the last few years. It’s a whole new creative vibe for Tycho as not only a producer but as a musician.
The biggest difference between this record and the “trilogy” releases from Tycho – ‘Dive,’ ‘Awake,’ ‘Epoch‘ – is the inclusion of vocals. Whilst not the first time he’s worked with singers, this goes the full mile, for as Tycho (Scott Hansen) put it, this is a “vocal record.” They’re the “main event” as he says in the album’s making-of video. Enter Hannah Cottrell. Her soothing vocals elevate the production of Tycho to a brand new plane. Her melodies and harmonies are simple yet so effective for the overall mood of any given song here. Hannah makes these songs her own, and I hope this isn’t the last we see the pair working together. ‘Weather‘ is Tycho’s best work since ‘Dive‘; a dreamy LP for any hour of any day.
aswekeepsearching – ‘Rooh’
While India’s aswekeepsearching nab the award for the most-generic post-rock band name – next to sleepmakeswaves – this third LP from the Hindi-singing group wins another category: one of the genre’s most magical releases for 2019. Romantic lyrics, yearning vocal melodies, soft keys, striking strings, traditional Indian instrumentation, soothing synths, gorgeous guitar leads, heart-warming tones, and prog vibes all scored a wondrous post-rock tear-jerker. ‘Chasing Light,’ ‘Green and Blue,’ the title track, and ‘A Night in Zottegem‘ stand proud as some of aswekeepsearching’s best compositions to date. ‘Rooh‘ wasn’t quite on par with 2017’s ‘Zia,’ but it never needed to be for it to still be a dazzling listen.
Northlane – ‘Alien’ (UNFD)
In a year that saw metal’s biggest acts – like Tool, Slipknot, and Korn – release records that ranged from subpar, decent, and forgettable, one of Australia’s biggest heavy acts changed the game with an incredible magnum opus. Taking their usual djenty, prog-metalcore roots and blending them with darker, rave industrial synths, this is a polished, cutting-edge LP, both in sonics and songwriting characteristics. Five albums in and Northlane’s finest work shows that it’s never too late to grow; never too late to push your art forward; never too late to be open about your past. It’s their boldest and most unique album – from how it sounds, its instrumentation, its tone, and in what it shares. These changes are for the better, creating a near-perfect record for the five-piece.
Despite the title, this is Northlane’s most-grounded work, with these songs detailing the difficult and traumatic childhood of frontman Marcus Bridge. It’s an album filled with hope, painful memories, perseverance, and confronting one’s demons in order to hopefully start to heal. To at least accept and live with it. It’s uncompromising in musical strides and in the hard-hitting lyrics that detail Marcus’s childhood experiences with substance abuse, loss, and escaping the hell he was raised in.
Guitarists Josh Smith and Jon Deiley swing hard with slicing riffs and insanely low pitch-shifted rhythmic chugs, as the latter pulls out all the stops with his leading synth programming. Drummer Nic Petterson plays at his tightest and most imaginative, and new bassist Brendon Padjasek comes into his own with subtle backing vocals and a monstrous bass tone that blends right in with the bassy synths. Then there’s Marcus, who has honestly never sounded better; from the high notes he nails, to the power and rawness of his screams that project for miles, to the brutal emotion heard in these stunning performances.
‘Alien‘ arrived in August yet I’ve listened to it more times than any of the previous four Northlane releases; more so than any most records released this year, barring only a select few from this list. It’s not an album, it’s a fuckin’ record, and it’s my 2019 AOTY.