Brian O’Neill’s Top Albums of 2019
Female-fronted is not a genre. Nevermind the misogynistic dismissiveness of the statement, it’s just factually incorrect: given the diversity of creativity that was churned out by women, it would be a fool’s errand to try and shoehorn all of them under a single umbrella -- the outliers would get soaked in the rain.
That said, another catchphrase that made the rounds the past few years was, “Listen to women.” It’s a good policy for a lot of things, but that includes heavy music because any time previously marginalized voices are able to step to the mic, they add unique perspectives which is always a good prerequisite for great art.
This year, those vastly different perspectives made for some of my favorite albums. But don’t worry, there are still plenty of hairy dudes on my list as well.
Magic Circle – Departed Souls (20 Buck Spin, USA)
Iron Kingdom – On the Hunt (Iron Kingdom, Canada)
Venom Prison – Samsara (Prosthetic Records, United Kingdom)
Die Klute – Planet Fear (Cleopatra Records, USA)
L'Acéphale – L' Acéphale (Eisenwald, USA)
Buck Gooter – Finer Thorns (Ramp Local, USA)
Gorgon – Veil of Darkness (Osmose Productions, France)
Warish – Down In Flames (RidingEasy Records, USA)
Hot Lunch – Seconds (Tee Pee Records, USA)
Titus Andronicus – An Obelisk (Merge Records, USA)
Whereupon Mike Scalzi sets the Introduction to Philosophy 101 syllabus to some of the most dramatic, powerful, churning traditional metal since it was just called metal. It’s the strongest Slough Feg release in some time, possibly ever, which is saying a lot.
Bonus: read my interview with Mike Scalzi.
In some ways, A Gaze Among Them is the most accessible album yet from the post-rock trio, I said in my Upcoming Metal Releases blurb. All of it is a vehicle for Robin Wattie’s distinctive, plaintive wail that makes her simultaneously seem vulnerable, yet someone not to be trifled with. She adds a very human element that artsy metal is sorely lacking.
The second album from the band that began life as a Refused cover band lacks the immediacy and overwhelming charm of their debut, but Nest makes up for that with a more sophisticated sound. Fortunately this growth does nothing to mute the band’s penchant for furious pop-infused songcraft while it helps drummer/vocalist Stefanie Mannaerts deliver her most confident performance to date.
The City of Angels has another band that dwells in darkness to call its own. On the debut album from The Wraith, the group take Killing Joke’s death disco blueprint (see “Wing of Night”) and add touches of synth-punk, 1980s New Romanticism, old school goth-rock, and the deathrock that crawled from their adopted city’s streets decades ago. It makes me want to drink absinthe in a punk squat.
Her show that I reviewed earlier this year was performance art unlike any show I have ever seen, but all of the drama comes from Caligula. Song titles such as “If the poison won’t take you my dogs will,” sentiments such as “Who will love you if I don’t? Who will fuck you if I won’t,” and bloodcurdling screams during “Do you doubt me Traitor” all add up to an intensity that could kill at 20 paces.
The sixth album from The Coathangers proves that you can take the band out of the garage but you can’t take the garage out of the band. Sometimes quirky, sometimes heavy, a lot of times making points that need to be made (“Fuck the NRA”), the band kicks ass but have a lot of fun doing it.
An album rooted in the past -- the late Polystyrene of X-Ray Spex is sampled and an overall feel of early punk rock’s naive hopefulness abounds -- also manages to be completely forward-thinking as well. Vocalist Ren Aldridge transforms the band with her personalized look at the world around her and her place in it. In a perfect world “No Love for a Nation” would be an alternative radio smash across the world.
Imagine a parallel universe where Cliff Burton didn’t die in that bus crash. In it, he crashes into the room, throws out the therapists, and slams this album down on the table.
“This,” he says with a scowl, “is what we need to get back to.”
One month later, Metallica emerges with the best album they’ve made in years.
Not many bands have the audacity to ape Queen, let alone make that fact so obvious it’s in the title of their damn album, but not many bands are The Neptune Power Federation. Glammy riffs skyrocket from left to right in your speakers and emerging from them are the ghosts of Bowie and Marc Bolan. It’s grandiose and glittery and a hell of a lot of fun.
Although this album is a throwback to Wolfe’s coffeehouse dark folk genesis, a conscious effort to back away from the more metallic heft of her last couple of records, in every way it’s even heavier. Birth of Violence is sparse, allowing the listener to fill in the expanses, as she reclaims not only her past but her present and future as well.