If this is your first time visiting one of my annual "Best of Lists", thanks for stopping by and checking out what I have deemed "listen-worthy" for the previous year. If you're a repeat visitor, I deeply appreciate your continued interest in my musical opinion.
I publish this to give you recommendations of what to check out, and to remind myself of what was my favorite for a given year. Every year is different, and some years have stronger lists than others - especially as my tastes vary and change with the trends in my life. For instance, while my dubstep phase may be eclipsed by a renewed appreciation for metal (see my #metalmorphosis), I still feel the undercurrents of techno, industrial, ambient, electronica and various other styles of edgy music.
My tastes have generally drifted from "rock", and I now find it somewhat difficult to go backwards into my hairband past. "The Dirt" - the retelling of the life of Motley Crue - made me more ashamed of my history with some types of music, and forced me to reconsider my perspective of much of my music background.
As my #1 album of 2019 anthemically reminds, "Don't be a prisoner of time".
As I have matured, so has my taste -- not just in music content, but the artist behind the creation. They are inseparable, as politicians are from their history. While everyone deserves redemption, attonement for the past is necessary. Politics have greatly changed my approach to art and artists, and I no longer stand for hypocrisy of message. If you're a bigot, liar, ignoramus, bully or abuser as an artist, I'm not a big fan of you as a human.
And I'm #humanfirst.
Art imitates life, and I want my artistic connections and recommendations to reflect a certain integrity (eg. let's put the "rock star" concept to death).
I'm sure your list would be different than mine if you created one, and I'm energetically interested in what would be on your list. I've been compiling annual "Best of" lists since 2010, and these lists have created powerful sonic footprints in my past. Each of our influences are individual and reflect our personalities and human stories, often intersecting in the music that we listen to and share.
In 2020, we need a common platform upon which we can all stand for civility. In Art I trust.
Some unique traits of my "Best Albums" list:
- These are generally not radio-friendly albums. While I certainly embrace all music, I no longer listen to the radio. At all. Satellite or broadcast or otherwise. My influences come from personal research, network suggestions and historical influences. The labels I support aren't usually big-ticket Corporations, and the bands I listen to are rarely traveling around on lux buses paid for by big budgets, unless they've earned it through surviving the gauntlet of being a changemaker and a road warrior.
- I listen to everything from Slayer to Enya (minus country music) and bands from all over the planet. I'd like to think my music ear is diverse, but I gravitate toward my sonic staples: industrial/ambient/electronica and/or dubstep, hard rock, machine rock, heavy metal, and hybrids of all. My list of 20 is an intersection of a variety of styles and sounds, and is not specific to a single genre (or from a single geographic location). While my list is relatively gender-balanced, I have recognized that this list lacks ethnic diversity; I promise to find a way to include more ethnic diversity in future lists (eg. Body Count's new album is already on the top of my charts for 2020).
- My list DOES NOT reflect socially-"popular music", chart-friendly creations or trendy music personalities that walk red carpets, troll headlines, plastic their person, twerk in public, release pandering albums praising Jesus with primary intent to enter into the prosperty gospel racket, and/or enjoy E! spats with other artists.
- This list is subject to change. For a few years, I was publishing "Respun" music blogs in the middle of the year to tap the pulse of what I'm listening to that isn't on the "new albums" list. This gave me the ability to revise my Top 20 for the previous year, and add albums that I may have missed. For example, one of my favorite albums of last year was was from one of my favorite artists: IAMX's "Alive in New Light". It was released in 2018 and somehow I missed it. If i were to rewrite my Best of List for 2018, it would have prominent placement. My point: I'm always coming across great music that I missed during the previous year. This list is a snapshot in time, but has been a great playlist picture for me every year.
Please spread the word and share this guidance with your network, pay forward these suggestions of high quality music.
Check out my YouTube playlist featuring clips from every album. And if you're feeling bold, drop a comment on this blog and let me know what you think. What's on your list of favorite albums for 2019?
I appreciate your interest in my Art. Enjoy!
If heavy metal met Disney with Hevy Devy at the helm.
Insert angelic chorus and acid trip here.
All Shall Burn (EP)
A pretty band with a pretty sound with some pretty Lacuna Coil-esque looks and hooks. I give them much credit for their spot-on cover of Rammstein's "Mein Herz Brennt" and well-placed tattoos. An intriguing mix of Within Temptation, Evanescence, In This Moment and Huntress (lightspeed, Jill Janus), though lacking much differentiating personality beyond the sweet ink, growls and bodices. Continues my frustration with EPs - if you're going to put out an album, do better than a few songs. Two original songs and a good cover are not enough to get a solid read on a band.
In Flames have had a long, strange road. A fan since "Clayman", I've seen this band go through many changes in sound and approach. They've produced some great music, and this album has shades of that greatness, but never achieves it fully. I'd love to see them get back to a rugged edge and spit shine. This mask doesn't suit them well, but perhaps there's no way to reroute to remain in flames.
I love K.Flay's chilltastic style and flow. A sweet voice in a bitter year, a breath of fresh, sarcastic air. K. Flay should own any popularity that Billie Eilish has. K. Flay and Dessa Darling would be a sweet team-up.
"Rammstein" is a good example of an album that I don't love, but like a lot, and give Rammstein complete respect and apprecation for the strange, sarcastic, shocking, and sometimes divisive music they continue to pump out. As an artist who often crosses the line into activism, I can appreciate the challenging themes they tackle, the stark visuals they employ, and the lengths they go to tell their stories. Having lived in Deutschland for most of my youth, I have a soft spot for German artists, the stout culture and the difficult history they've endured (admittedly, much of their own making). Cheers to freedom of expression!
Echoes (EP) & Dawn (EP)
Two EPs don't equal a full album, but I applaud the differences in contrast between these two bombastic releases and am including them both on my lsit. There are still echoes of Dubstep in my veins, and Modestep was of the first bands that got me dropping. Great to hear them still making music.
A dreamy, harmonious reality.
The Door to Doom
Candlemass went back to its roots with Door to Doom, and brought back their very first vocalist, Johan Längqvist (32 years after their first album). I'll always prefer Messiah Marcolin and Robert Lowe, but this album is solid and sounds great with Johan. With legend Tony Iommi adding guitars, Candlemass is as doomy and gloomy as ever.
For their first album in 13 years, I give Tool props - they're still engaging, exploratory and effective. This isn't the Tool I grew up with, though; this isn't the band with the hooks and punching power of "Sober" or "Aenima". This tool is a slow-speed drill to lobotomize. Their sound now dwells somewhere between Opeth and A Perfect Circle - contemplative and brooding, progressive and puzzling, like the duality of their new logo. I contend that Maynard is nearing creative exhaustion and overexposure, much like another artist on this list (Corey Taylor, Slipknot). Still, one must appreciate the art that Tool creates. I certainly still do, and hope they continue to explore the boundaries of sound.
In Cauda Venenum
It's hard for me to put my finger on what I find lacking in latest creations of Opeth. From 2000-2010, I loved just about everything they created. Now, I'm not on the same vibe, even though their talent continues to amaze. While they still create deep, gloomy and brooding work, the formula seems a bit repetitive now. If the dose makes the poison, methinks they need to reduce the dosage a bit. Despite my misgivings, this is a complex, chaotic trip and represents some of the best music Opeth has to offer. I will always love Akerfeldt's voice and vocal range, and their progressive use of various instruments. As with most Opeth albums, I'm sure it will grow on me with time and require higher placement in this list.
We Are Not Your Kind
This is the first Slipknot album in their storied legacy that bored me. Even now, I have a hard time picking a song on the album that really stands out, that has character and presence to stand above the rest. It's not a bad album, and Slipknot's style and talent are always welcomed and appreciated, but in years past, like Opeth, this troupe would be top of the list. Like Maynard James Kennan of Tool who also runs the successful groups A Perfect Circle and Puscifer, Corey Taylor has kept himself very busy with Stone Sour and endless slate of guest spots with other bands. I contend this overloaded creative schedule has affected the quality of Slipknot's album. I have a difficult time now distinguishing between the Stone Sour and Slipknot sounds, which is both a compliment and a criticism, considering both bands rock. However, the fact that I still have Slipknot in my Top 10 is a testament to how talented this band is, even when their art sometimes seems a bit trite and tired.
Reminiscent of old Solitude Aeturnus, Candlemass, Helloween and other great European Doom bands that built great albums around myths of their land, this Viking metal band has created a rousing and powerful piece of art. Tight guitars, solid mythos, anthemic tunes. Yes, the vocals are distinctly European, and sometimes sound like emanating from a Mead Hall, but are catchy nonetheless.
AFTER THE BURIAL
I saw After the Burial open for Parkway Drive and Killswitch Engage in 2019, and they almost stole the show. If I wasn't so enamored with Parkway Drive's "Reverence" album, I would've recognized their true brilliance right away. This Minneapolis ragecore act has some serious power, angst and awesomeness, a brilliant mix of 36 Crazyfists and Demon Hunter.
DEAD TO A
More death metal bands should feature violins. Seriously. The perfect marriage of gloom moods.
One of my favorite finds of 2019. Wednesday 13 sounds and feels like a throwback to one of the true masters of metal horror, Alice Cooper. In fact, Alice Cooper is featured in the title track, adding legitimacy to Wednesday 13's horror atmosphere that Rob Zombie seldom channels well these days. Features a fun duet with Christina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil) and tracks about popular serial killers (eg. Zodiac). Bring Your Own Blood.
Everytime I listen to the intro of "Time Slave", I get chills. Metawar is the perfect album for our present day, like "Eat the Elephant" from A Perfect Circle last year. A gritty statement on greed, corruption, and consumerism, it reflects and represents all of the present ills of the United States of Affluenza. Any American that listens to "American Landfill" or "President X" and doesn't feel something lost their soul to the machine a long time ago. In that case, this album will probably be your poison. Drink up.
If you've made it this far, you know my opinion about EPs. Overall, I'm not a fan. I give a pass to Rabbit Junk, one of my long-time faves, because no matter what the depth and breadth of content, they always deliver powerful music. Released on the heels of my #1 album of 2018 "Meditations on Mortality", their new EP continues their distinct techno-pop-rock-metal flow. With four original songs, instrumentals, remixes, and a couple of covers (Smashing Pumpkins "Zero", theme to "Dune"), the EP feels like a full album. Admittedly, I'm still drunk from last year's tall glass of meditation, so I'm fully down with short shot of JP Anderson, Sum Grrrl and friends.
The Trigger Effect
Cyanotic is the glitchy, twitchy echo you hear in your head when you're unable to fall asleep, the brain in a state of dysfunction from our daily digital cycles. The resonant white noise repeating in the twilight din of blue light and blurry vision, like a nightmare dreamscape of stress hammers, soundbytes, bullet spins and Power Point slide clicks. "The Trigger Effect" is a complex album is only fully appreciated when unpacked meticulously. Layered with shrewd movie quotes, transhumanist wisdom and statements on our society, it is a necessary soundtrack to this brave new decade. My only wish is that the "Effect" was longer; Tool doesn't know when to stop a song, and Cyanotic needs to extend their trippy atmospheres into longer experiences (not just in follow-up remix albums).
It's no surprise that I married this album hardcore. Every one of Within Temptation's albums of the last decade have made it on my lists, with "The Unforgiving" being my #3 album of 2011. Their following album, "Hydra", was a strange intersection of styles and personalities, very different and less consistent than the great concept album that preceded it. After "Hydra", I wasn't sure what to expect from the band featuring my favorite female vocalist, Sharon den Adel. Thus, I was reluctant to give "Resist" its due. But it truly deserves it. This album kept me company in dark times over 2019, and screams with vengeance and resistance. "The Reckoning" features Papa Roach vocalist Jacoby Shaddix, and is one of only a few vocal duets on the album - unlike Hydra, which was awash with big-name vocalist team-ups. As a result, Sharon shines brighter than she has in previous albums. "Resist" is their tightest, most adventurous album since "The Unforgiving", and is pretty spectacular from start to finish, a message of beautiful, resonant resistance that should be bannered by all. Even the weak songs are great on repeat, mainly because of Sharon's broad vocal landscape and sonic creativity. I cannot resist, and I cannot lie: "Resist" was my most-played album of 2019, and "Firelight" was my most-played tune, the theme song of my darkest year.
FLOTSAM & JETSAM
The End of Chaos
I've been listening to Flotsam & Jetsam since high school, and "The End of Chaos" is the best, most complete, most balanced and brutal album that they've released in their catalog, and that's saying a lot. I wore my original "No Place for Disgrace" (1988) shirt to see them this year for the first time. They were one of my first metal loves, and I've been tracking them for over three decades, even though I never had the opportunity to see them live until 2019.
Radio is filled with forgettable, passable and snoozeworthy rock and metal music made for masses that are used to throwing away the past - or at least appreciating the past via samples or duets with pseudo-talented artists like Post Malone. Flotsam & Jetsam were some of the original kings of Headbangers Ball, mostly forgotten fifty-year olds with no current relevance on rock radio.
Fuck that. This was the best metal album of 2019. Chances are good that you've never listened to it, probably never heard Flotsam & Jetsam growing up, or knew that Jason Newsted of Metallica fame was originally in Flotsam & Jetsam. Here's your chance to end the chaos.
The tuneage is powerful; the lyrics are catchy; the concept is fully relevant. In 2021, Flotsam & Jetsam will celebrate their 40-year anniversary, and they haven't lost a step, and are still cranking out some of their best music in their history, despite popular metal trends and detractors.
Don't be a prisoner of time; check out this future classic today. And thank you for spending your time with my Top 20 Albums of 2019.