Jon Rosenthal’s Top Albums of 2019
I suppose this is an opportunity to be introspective, but I've done that so many times that I've simply run out of things to say unless I complain, and I can complain a lot. 2019 sucked for a lot of reasons, but it was excellent for music. This was the first time in a long while where I had to pare down my year-end list more than a few times. Go figure, right? I don't have a lot to say this time around, so feel free to go and complain about my picks and wonder why an album you like isn't there or whatever. It's the most horrible time of the year.
Top Album I Wish I Spent More Time With
Mount Eerie & Julie Doiron - Lost Wisdom, Part 2 (PW Elverum & Sun, USA)
Desert island albums don't get sequels, nor do they get follow ups quite like this one. I got this album when it was released and was very excited for it, but all the music I listen to here let Lost Wisdom, Part 2 slip through the cracks. I feel like a bad Mount Eerie fan, especially since this would likely be an Album of the Year usurper. We'll see how I feel about this in a decade, but I still feel very strongly about its titular predecessor.
Vitriol – To Bathe From The Throat Of Cowardice (Century Media Records, USA)
Timonium – Saenz Audience (Pehr Music, USA)
Mayhem – Daemon (Century Media Records, Norway)
dai-ichi – dai-ichi (Folkvangr Records/Not Kvlt Records, Unknown)
Esoteric – A Pyrrhic Existence (Season of Mist, England)
Witch Trail – The Sun Has Left The Hill (Consouling Sounds/Babylon Doom Cult Records, Belgium)
Blood Incantation – Hidden History of the Human Race (Dark Descent Records, USA)
Obsequiae – The Palms of Sorrowed Kings (20 Buck Spin, USA)
Nusquama – Horizon Ontheemt (Eisenwald, Netherlands)
Bethlehem – Lebe dich Leer (Prophecy Productions, Germany)
This is the ultimate "fuck you" to anyone who does the whole "I listen to everything except rap and country" album. Mystery person Orville Peck's gorgeous, heartfelt country music isn't afraid to dive into the new world of punk and post-hardcore (tell me the end of "Buffalo Run" isn't some lost later Fugazi-ism). Something like that. Either way, Pony is nothing short of brilliant, and a wondrous jumping off point for the fearless who have been meaning to check out country music but were too afraid to ask about it.
Blut aus Nord is… a lot. It really is. With such an exhausting, varied discography, it is impossible to figure out just which album is the right one to listen to or which Blut aus Nord “mood” is most moment-appropriate. Hallucinogen is the answer to that 20+ year problem. Now bifurcated into Yeruselem and Blut aus Nord, Hallucinogen traverses all the melodicisms which made the Memoria Vetusta series so wonderful, but with the psychedelia which made the other side of the coin so unique and perspective-altering. Though many will rightfully argue for The Work Which Transforms God as Blut aus Nord’s crown jewel, it is Hallucinogen‘s melodic near-traditional fare which is the true usurper.
Borknagar is and always has been incredible, but now with vocalist ICS Vortex back at the helm, True North was bound to be one of their best (and it is). Both incredibly progressive as well as featuring some of their most blackened performances in decades, True North's brilliance lies within the details. Though Vintersorg's absence is noted, Borknagar's performance is as strong as ever -- ICS Vortex's first outing as Borknagar's frontman in decades is marked with a noted confidence, especially with his "grim" vocals. Also, Vortex and Lazare harmonies never fail to make me shiver. Read some more of my thoughts, as well as an interview with mastermind Øystein G. Brun, here.
All the guitar harmonies, bouncing rhythms, weird timings, and overall catchiness found within Achiatius results in something strange and new, but also familiar and comforting. Funereal Presence is truly one of the most creative black metal artists of our time, and Achiatius, the unexpected followup to the more traditional fare of The Archer Takes Aim, is one for the record books.
I love strange black metal, this much is true, and French solo artist Dreams of the Drowned wears their love of classic black metal oddity on their sleeve, going so far as to cover a classic Dødheimsgard song (with vocalist Aldrahn) on their long-awaited debut album. Make no mistake, though, as Dreams of the Drowned is not a "cover band," nor are they a "worship artist" -- Dreams of the Drowned I is a singular journey into avant-garde black metal and deathrock fusion and impenetrable atmospheres.
Oh, how I have longed for this album. L'Acéphale has been a part of my life since the release of 2005's Mord und Totschlag, and their martial neofolk/black metal mix has always been nothing short of perfect in my eyes, if even an encapsulation of the two largest parts of my music taste. The decade leading from Stahlhartes Gehäuse to the self-titled album was peppered with experimental EPs and split releases, and this first proper full-length in a decade's time demonstrates all the growth and maturity gathered in that lengthy period of time.
I am obsessed with Rainer Landfermann's musical output -- have been for years. The mysterious one-time Bethlehem frontman, resulting in one of the greatest black metal albums of all time, and incredibly technical Pavor bassist disappeared for nearly a decade and a half before surprise releasing the "Vertieft" single in 2018. The album which followed a year later is a complex, multi-faceted beast, drawing from chamber music, jazz, black metal, and progressive rock to create something new and incredibly idiosyncratic. "Over the top" doesn't even begin to describe this album's wailing, soaring presence, be it Landfermann's incredible vocalisms or his precise musicianship.
How do I describe Haunter? 2016's Thrinodia made it onto my year end list for taking atmospheric black metal and injecting progressive death metal into the mix, making for a unique, memorable listen. Now, three years later, the mix has changed. Haunter is now heavier and more aggressive, taking the atmospheres they once crafted and putting them in the back seat, making way for punctuated riffing and putrid vocals. Sacramental Death Qualia is a strange album, toeing the now ambiguous line between atmospheric death metal and atmospheric black metal, but Haunter's own identity remains resolute. There is no question that this is the same band who made Thrinodia, but, at the same time, this album couldn't be any more different. In the end, this is incredible -- a strange journey into the atmospheric death metal's most blackened peaks and vice versa.
Beautiful, just beautiful. I've been following Nasheim for some time now (at least around when his split with Angantyr was released), and musician Erik Grahn's sense of style has grown immensely with each new release. An ode to the grave and graven ash, Jord och Aska's folk-infused atmospheric black metal weaves tales of death and rebirth from the soil. The meditative music found within is nothing short of breathtaking, and the songs, even at their lengthiest in Grahn's career, remain compelling and interesting, featuring his flowing songwriting at its most cohesive. Lower me in silence, to float across the banks.
What a strange, interesting album. Caught somewhere between mid-'90s Carl-Michael Eide-influenced oddity and '80s gothic rock, Laster's newest album is their most unique by far. Calling themselves "Obscure Dance Music," there is absolutely an element of body movement to Het wassen oog, whose off-kilter rhythms and soaring melodies meet somewhere in a danceable middle ground. It is strange, but it is also fantastic (though both of those are definitely not mutually exclusive in my music taste). Het wassen oog's moody, gliding music is truly creative -- taking something so strange and letting the body react to it with such ease. There is nothing harrowing here, nor is it dark and farfetched -- no, Laster glides.