I had a harder time than usual making this list. I mostly attribute it to the fact that there were so many labels and artists who were both prolific and at the top of their game and I didn’t want to clog the list with the same artists and labels. So I held back on Gilead Media (as usual), Mystískaos/Amor Fati, Sentient Ruin/Cyclic Law, Eisenwald Tonschmiede, Knife Vision… in order to keep the list fair and interesting.
Instead of uploading a song for each record like I’ve done in the past, I made sure the album title links to a stream (all but one go to Bandcamp).
Let me know what I missed and what some of your favorites of the year were.
As always: Thanks for reading. Thanks for listening. Thanks for making incredible music.
Serpent Column, who previously found his home at Fallen Empire, continues to be one of my favorites from that realm (which has now morphed into Mystískaos). His black metal is far more intense and chaotic than most of his peers and his newest effort, Mirror In Darkness, brings the song lengths down to a more digestible size (the longest is only 7.5 minutes and the shortest is just under 2) which makes things feel more claustrophobic and frenzied. This is noisy and bleak, just the way I like it.
I love Liturgy. I don’t care what genre you want to use to categorize the music, it’s phenomenal, dizzyingly precise, and fucking peerless. This certainly isn’t going to win any back any fans who left after Renihilation, it does harken back to the Aesthetica sound but still a super fresh experience and will probably please whoever didn’t enjoy The Ark Work (no friends of mine let me tell you). I can’t get enough of their sound, especially those killer breakdowns like 3/4s of the way through the intro song “HAJJ,” in fact give me an entire record of Liturgy breakdowns and I’ll just listen to that until the end of my days.
25. Crawl – Necrotic Fear (self released)
2019 was the year I returned to Crawl. I listened to his first (?) demo years ago and was enthralled but for some reason never kept up with his output and eventually just kinda forgot about him. I came across a copy of All Who Oppose Me at Armageddon Records this past summer and was instantly teleported back to his decrepit doom noise. Cue Necrotic Fear‘s release and here we are with some seriously disgusting black sludge that serves no other purpose than to remind you of life’s tragedies.
24. Brutalism – The Charged Void (Annihilvs Power Electronix / Cloister)
The endlessly prolific Terence Hannum (aka Axebreaker, part of Locrian and The Holy Circle, and an accomplished visual artist and author) is always working on some new awesome thing, and this year it was his “brutalist black metal” project, Brutalism. Brutalism is only slightly more black metal than Locrian is, which is: not much. Hannum weaves dark ambient and industrial power electronics into his repertoire, ending up with a thick atmosphere that’s both black and metal, so all of you black metal fans who like your black metal as fringe as possible, get your fill here. Hannum never disappoints and The Charged Void is no exception.
23. Olhava – Olhava (self released)
Two side-long pieces from an atmospheric post black metal solo project out of Russia and it’s easily one of my favorite debut full lengths this year. Self-described as “blackgaze” (which I withhold for a different kind of post black metal found later on this list) this has some excellent shoegazey riffs, soaring, angelic, and bittersweet. Not the most original stuff in the world but it’s really well executed and an absolute fucking pleasure to listen to. Also, a few days ago they released a drone version of this record called Never Leave Me Alone which is awesome.
22. Slow – Dantalion (Aural Music / Code666)
At last count, Déhà put out 7 solo records of new music in 2019 under different aliases. It felt a bit unfair to have too many of them on one list, so I did my best to choose one. Here it is: Slow’s Dantalion, the sixth Slow record of torturous Belgian funeral doom, clocking in just under 80 minutes, this is some of my favorite in the genre, the weight of this music is painful but I just want to crank the volume and I feel like Giles Corey, just fucking crush me. And if funeral doom isn’t your thing, the 16-minute instrumental closer is mostly just acoustic guitar & pianos that will tenderly tear your heart out. Who doesn’t love that?
21. Night’s Threshold – Deep Within The Night (Altare / Perverse Homage / Temple Of Wounds)
Here’s the one you can’t stream officially anywhere (that YT link is from a fan I think) and I actually can’t find out a fuckin thing about this guy. All I know is that Deep Within The Night is the first Night’s Threshold record and it fucking rules. Raw black metal like the good ol days where it sounds like it was recorded at the bottom of a well with the world’s shittiest TalkBoy. This is the kind of raw black metal that sounds like it could have been a Rhinocervs release, tortured howls, blown out drums, and murky shredding that all smears into a soupy plague of pain.
20. Nasheim – Jord Och Aska (Northern Silence)
I didn’t know about their 2014 debut Solens Vemod, so this record is the first I’ve heard of Nasheim (aka Erik Grahn) and holy hell this is some special stuff. He’s got all sorts of unexpected genres wrapped up in the Swedish black metal sound, like folk metal’s elegiac strings, doom’s plodding rhythms, post metal’s hypnotic and climactic riffs, making for two long songs (and a short one) that expand and collapse with ease, reaching for the skies in their grandeur and forging new paths in the expanse of the wild. This record is a fuckin journey and I don’t think there’s anything you can do to prepare for it.
19. Nusquama – Horizon Ontheemt (Eisenwald Tonschmiede / Haeresis Noviomagi)
This is Nusquama’s debut record, made up of people from Laster, Fluisteraars, and Turia. Their name is “derived from Latin and was initially used by Thomas More to refer to the necessity and impossibility of a hopeful alternative” and honestly that quote does more to describe this black metal than I could ever hope to. It’s perfect atmospheric black metal that does all the right things.
18. Black Earth – Gnawed Ritual Of Self Annihilation (Cyclic Law / Sentient Ruin)
This record almost doesn’t belong on this list because it’s so fucking ridiculous, the noise almost but not quite outweighs the metal in a WOLD-ian way, the Spanish trio enlisted over a dozen collaborators to come on board with strings and synths and saxes and make the most obscene noise metal imaginable, this is the sound of abject horror, sheer & utter chaos that threatens to destroy your speakers and/or ears if you turn away.
17. Tvar – Tvar (Anthrazite)
A killer debut out of Ukraine that’s far too short but seriously fucking good, blending post-hardcore, black metal, powerviolence, sludge, and everything else, Tvar rips out your throat and sets fire to your bleeding husk, this is fast and furious with blown out vocals, nonstop pummeling drums, and a wall of buzzing guitars, so so fucking good.
16. Dreadnought – Emergence (Profound Lore)
I stayed away from Dreadnought for years because their name and visual aesthetic didn’t appeal to me. Then I was listening to that Adult Swim metal compilation without really paying attention to who or what was playing. Then this one song came on and it immediately caught my ear, turns out it was Dreadnought. Then I sought out their new record, Emergence and was floored at how amazing and complex it was. Then I saw them open for Big Brave and was double floored because they were just incredible (just a small example: the drummer was playing saxophone and drums at the same time). So yeah, consider myself a fan. If you’ve stayed away like me and are into multi-genre extreme metal with proggy rhythms, non-traditional instruments (flute, mandolin, etc), both clean and growly female vocals, psych freakouts, doomed imagery, and the kitchen sink, then you definitely need this.
15. Borda’s Rope – Across The Black Deltaruin (Knife Vision)
One of two short sub-20-minute EPs of malefic raw black metal released by Borda’s Rope this year. No idea who they are but they’ve got this sound down pat, reminds me a bit of Sandworm where it’s not complicated, it’s some killer riffs that are occasionally melodic, straightforward rhythms that alternate between a basic kick/snare and a blastbeat kick/snare, and excruciatingly acidic vocals. This is the polar opposite of the previous record in this list (Dreadnought’s Emergence), everything stripped down to the bare essentials, then infused with pure misery and scorched to oblivion.
14. Profetus – The Sadness Of Time Passing (Avantgarde Music)
I can’t believe I’ve been missing out on the fantastic Finnish funeral doom of Profetus for the past decade. The Sadness Of Time Passing is their newest and the first time I’ve listened to them and dear lord this is the kind of doom I’ve been needing in my life to fill the void when I need something to supplement Bell Witch. This is massive and epic with an impeccable balance between depressive and bittersweet vibes, with organs galore, clean vocals, and side-long tracks that don’t overstay their welcome, this is everything I want from a funeral doom record.
13. Body Void – You Will Know The Fear You Forced Upon Us (Crown & Throne / Dry Cough)
Nothing is heavier than Body Void. This is a record that, when you put it on, Satan’s like “damn dude chill out.” Crushing, monolithic, colossal, mammoth, these words piss their pants in fear when Body Void comes to town. And this is fucking angry music. Angry at garbage humans who treat other people and the planet alike as if they’re superior. “Everything is yours / Toxic, entitled / Raised with / Transparent obstructions / Keep us out with male violence / You’re not the default human / Waiting for appeasement / This is old / You think you’re owed / Fuck that shit / The bodies of others / Aren’t yours by right / Leave us alone / Castrate rapists / Instead of putting / Everything on women / We need to believe / We would rather abuse victims / Than risk a man’s reputation / We are done.” The world will burn and Body Void will be the soundtrack.
12. Sadness – I Want To Be There (Avantgarde Music / Flowing Downward)
The super prolific Sadness gives us another dose of his DSBM brilliance. This definitely isn’t for everyone since I’m sure some may find the vocals obnoxious, but I fuckin love em, they’re exactly what this brand of blackgaze needs, tortured and true, and the sound is full of that majestic Sunbather euphoria, an aesthetic I can always get behind. I’ll take this sad bastard screamo bliss over Blood Incantation any day of the week.
11. HWWAUOCH – Into The Labyrinth Of Consciousness (Amor Fati)
Hands down my favorite band in the Prava Kollektiv, the insanity of HWWAUOCH knows no bounds, they make wholly unique black metal that’s cacophonic, a dizzying maelstrom of wrath that’s noisy as fuck and absolutely insane, this is the stuff you listen to when you’re dulled by even the weirdest of the weird black metal, HWWAUOCH probably knew what black metal meant at some point in their lives but have since circled down a pit so perverted and depraved that the phrase no longer holds any meaning to them.
10. L’Acephale – L’Acephale (Eisenwald Tonschmiede)
It’s been 10 goddamn years since these twisted geniuses have put out a full length record and while we’ve have a smattering of EPs and splits since 2009, none of that compares to this epic monstrosity, 70+ minutes of bizarre black metal that is unequaled in sound and scope, they’ve brought in a lot more elements this time (spoken word, black folk) and take their already unreasonably awesome music to a whole new level of perfection.
9. Bull Of Apis, Bull Of Bronze – Offerings Of Flesh And Gold (A Moment Of Clarity)
Here we fucking go, the debut for the history books, incredible black metal that’s full of righteous hatred toward “those that only know how to consume and those that live off the backs of the downtrodden.” Three long songs of full on fury, the first two with lengthy Phurpa-esque dark ambient intros and outros, the last a 22-minute masterpiece that lets Bull Of Apis showcase their versatility, bringing in a cascading ominous riff around 75% in that sounds like its straight out of an NES boss lair, highly appropriate considering some of the lyrics: “A funeral for all these gods. / Set the fires, hear the screams. / Applewood, ash, and flesh. / The pyres will burn forever. / We will melt the thrones to cast bowls and spears. / So man may know the true god, themselves. / And none shall ever go hungry again.”
8. Sutekh Hexen – Sutekh Hexen (Cyclic Law / Sentient Ruin)
With their last full lengths being a live record in 2017 and a live collaboration in 2014, this their first normal record in 7 years and honestly it’s my favorite thing they’ve done since their first two LPs Luciform and Larvae where they had an almost entirely different lineup. These guys do black noise like no one else and this new self-titled record lets them unleash their power unbridled, unlimited, a new world of torment that’s as raw and tumultuous as their best work, delving deep into the black ambient abyss and exploding holes in the fabric of the universe with pandemoniac lamentations. If you loved Sutekh Hexen’s early work but stopped caring after 2012 or so, then this is where you return and rekindle that devotion. If this is your first experience, I envy you.
7. Il’Ithil – On This Day We Were Reborn In A Shroud Of Light And Shadow (Vendetta)
I’m kinda surprised I only discovered Il’Ithil this year. It’s Blake Green’s (Wolvserpent) black metal solo project (not his other solo project, the drone-focused Aelter). I love Wolvserpent and their previous incarnation Pussygutt, and somehow the 2015 Il’Ithil release Ia’Winde escaped me. So here’s On This Day… and here’s me freaking out because this sounds like if Wolverspent were just black metal instead of experimental blacked doom drone etc. Two side-long pieces of breathtaking atmospheric black metal, bleak and cold, weird and calamitous. I think everything Green touches is gold, but even if I try not to be biased here, this is fucking phenomenal.
6. Dead To A Dying World – Elegy (Profound Lore)
I’ve got a big soft spot for dramatic doom with violins (RIP SubRosa), although Dead To A Dying World are way more than just doom with violins, their aesthetic is more of a blackened sludgy doom with heavy post metal elements and this time they’ve brought in a few pals like Jarboe and Dylan Desmond (Bell Witch) on vocals, Thor Harris for additional percussion, and some cello courtesy of Tim Duffield. Elegy is a huge fucking record with an emotional and sonic weight that defies its mere sub-50-minute running time, DTADW are masters at conjuring all sorts of sublimity and melancholy through blistering blast beats and False-ian growls, Tolkien folk metal interludes and crushing crescendoes. I can’t not love this.
5. Clouds Collide – They Don’t Sleep Anymore (War Crime)
Here’s some of that amazing shoegazey post metal that almost but not quite belongs in the black metal or shoegaze categories. Clouds Collide (aka Chris Pandolfo) rides that line and somehow manages to stay away from the blackgaze tag. There’s some wobbly guitars that remind me a lot of Asobi Seksu and then it effortlessly wraps in turn-of-the-century emo and again some Russian Circles with blast beats. Even though this is clearly an intensely personal record for Pandolfo, it’s endlessly enjoyable with bittersweet melodies, pained post hardcore vocals, and song lengths that offer just the right amount of growing room.
4. Big Brave – A Gaze Among Them (Southern Lord)
Everyone’s gotten on the Big Brave train now and I couldn’t be happier. The new drummer (Loel Campbell) hasn’t changed their sound much, with Robin’s & Mathieu’s apocalyptic and impossible guitar explosions alternating front seat with Robin’s shouting wail, which just fucking crushes me. It feels like there’s less breathing room on this record compared to their previous ones, just as massive but a little more dense, which is fine by me. There’s no other band that sounds remotely like Big Brave, so comparisons don’t matter, they’re inimitable and fucking perfect.
3. Astronoid – Astronoid (Blood Music)
Just because this isn’t at the number one spot like their debut Air was in 2016 doesn’t mean this record doesn’t kick all the asses. Like some heavenly collaboration between Alcest and Mew (neither of whom I really care about), this is the least black black metal you’ll ever hear with soaring falsetto vocals, infinite layers of harmonic bliss, and the most shreddingest riffs, I can and have listened to this on repeat for hours upon hours. Astronoid are taking metal to unseen heights and eschewing every pigeonhole known to man.
2. Ragana – We Know That The Heavens Are Empty (self released)
The shortest record on this list at just over 14 minutes, but it’s Ragana so it’s gonna be on my list. I can’t love Ragana any more, the tragedy and anger, the anguished screams alongside distorted riffs, the thick silence between doomed resonating tears. The all-too-short moments you spend listening will expose you to both frenzied dirges and elegiac black metal. I almost can’t handle how good this is. My body would crumble if it were any better.
Side note: if you’re like me and can never get enough Ragana, check out their split with Thou, their side is even longer than 14 minutes.
1. Mizmor – Cairn (Gilead Media)
I don’t think there’s anything that can be said about Cairn that hasn’t already been said by Liam (Mizmor), critics, or other fans. I can only say that Mizmor resonates with me so much more than any other music. This sound is in my core.