Hard to believe it’s already 2020, right? Seems like not that long ago, everyone was freaking out about Y2K and switching centuries. And yet here we are and I’m wondering how another 20 years has already blown by. Woah. So now is my chance to reflect a bit and celebrate my favorite music from the past year – which if you’re keeping track was 2019;)
By now you’ve probably seen everyone else’s lists from 2019 since we here at Damnation Magazine take our sweet damn time to get anything done. Deadlines mean little to us, so the fact that we might get this posted before summer is an amazing accomplishment. Our fearless leader Nick has beaten me with his list already, but he is our leader and is supposed to set a good example for us to follow. Let me assure you though that THIS is THE LIST you’ve been waiting for;) And I hope you have plenty of air freshener and scented candles nearby because the smell of bs is very prevalent here.
How I compile my list every year follows a very simple guideline. If I like it, it’s probably on the list. If I like it A LOT, it’s definitely on the list. If I listen to it and it makes me smile and gets my head to bang, that’s a good start to getting posted here. I don’t look for music to challenge me or be overly technical or anything crazy. If I like how it sounds and it makes me want to listen to it over and over, you’ll be reading about it come list time. So let me share with you the albums that made my list for 2019.
28) Dream Theater – Distance Over Time – This is the first album from these guys that I really enjoyed for many years now. I fell in love with the band back in the 80s when “Pull Me Under” was wowing the musical world but I never really went gaga over any of their subsequent work. Now don’t get me wrong – I like the band and I’m not gonna be upset if their music is on, but they have not had that “live or die” pull on me that many folks do. But I finally saw the band live for the first time in forever this past year and I really appreciated their professionalism. This new record highlights a lot of the elements of the DT sound that first drew me in. Plenty of heaviness, good memorable choruses and not too much wankery.
27) Amon Amarth – Berserker – It’s no secret that I love Amon Amarth. So anytime they put out new material, I’m a happy man. I don’t know that the band will ever put out a record that just blows me away with every track, but I love their sound and their style and this album is basically what is expected from Amon Amarth. And I’m ok with that. But their live shows keep getting bigger and better and that is great thing. Now let’s get them back to St. Louis asap!!!
26) Gloryhammer – Legends From Beyond The Galactic Terrorvortex – Cheesy power metal is pretty much a black or white thing with most folks. Either you dig it or despise it. For whatever reason, I had never got into Gloryhammer prior to this latest album. But I heard the first single “Gloryhammer” and was instantly smitten. If your band decides to fully immerse you with the Velveeta, they at least need to bring the vocal hooks and heavy guitars. Gloryhammer does this and so now I’m here to tell you about their fabulous album. I’m still bummed I missed their show with Alestorm in KC last year but sometimes life throws you a change-up when you’re expecting a fastball. I’m sure they will come back to the states in the near future – like before I die. I hope…
25) LunarSea – Earthling / Terrestre – I just really like this band’s sound. They play modern melodic death metal with a strong nerdy science vibe. Their previous album Hundred Light Years is a favorite or mine. I haven’t completely warmed up to this latest release just yet and English is definitely NOT their primary language so the lyrics can be a bit grammatically challenged. But I love their guitar sound and I’m sure repeated spins will bring my ears much happiness – the album just came out towards the end of December.
24) Belzebubs – Pantheon of the Nightside Gods – If you skip ahead and take a look at the albums closer to the top of my list, you’ll realize that I’m a rather big fan of Insomnium. So the fact that this album features several members of that band (the actual performers are not listed anywhere in the album credits, but just listen to one song and tell me with a straight face that this is not Insomnium) means I’m gonna like the music produced here. This band and album are from a Finnish cartoon of the same name – sorta like Dethklok but not exactly. And the album is really good if you like melodic death metal – which I most definitely do. 2 albums from one of my favorite bands in the same year??!! Winning!!!
23) Evergrey – The Atlantic – This album came out last January but it has stuck with me all year. Evergrey brings several elements to the table that I really enjoy. Heavy guitar riffing, soulful clean vocals, powerfully emotional arrangements, and an overwhelming feeling of darkness and despair. This album brought back some of the heaviness that I felt was missing from their last 2 previous releases. Some of my absolute favorite songs are featured here such as “Weightless” and “Currents”. More songs like these and this album would have been much further up on this list. But since music is completely subjective, you might be like plenty of others and rank this higher than me. And I’m totally cool with that. You want to play Evergrey? I’ll be right there with you.
22) Borknagar – True North – Borknagar graces us with new music maybe twice a decade so it’s always a big deal when they give us another record. And it’s a really big deal when the album is as good as this one is. Vocal duties in the band have officially been handed over from to Mr I.C.S. Vortex and he really puts his stamp all over this here. If you have ever considered yourself a fan of this band, there is a lot to love on display with True North.
21) Sacred Reich – Awakening – It’s hard to survive as an underground thrash band. Just ask the mighty Sacred Belch – I mean – Sacred Reich. Inside joke from some of my school friends because I used to sport a t-shirt of the band and the logo seriously looks like it says Sacred Belch. And who hasn’t released at least a few of those monsters after chugging a carbonated beverage? But anyways – this band was active in the metal scene in the late 80’s through the end of the 90s but then interest in the whole metal scene kinda waned so the band took a long hiatus. A few successful festival runs within the past several years brought the band back together and here they are now with their first album of new tunes in over 20 years. To show they really mean business, they brought back drummer Dave McClain from Machine Head fame. He helps give this new music a serious kick in the hind quarters. Oh yes!!!
20) Liv Sin – Burning Sermons – How about some Black album era Metallica mixed with some modern metal and a big dollop of Judas Priest? Oh – and a seriously angry woman singing. That should give you an idea of what you’re in for when you check out Liv Sin. And I’m pretty happy with what I have heard. I think you might feel the same.
19) Cattle Decapitation – Death Atlas – I’m not always in the mood for complete sonic destruction, but when my angst has reached a certain level, Cattle Decapitation is always a solid choice to blast my brain into oblivion. Vocalist Travis Ryan is just a beast behind the microphone and he sets the perfect tone for the aural assault the band is unleashing.
18) Crypt Sermon – The Ruins of Fading Light – Give me some doomy power chords, sad and melodic vocals and some memorable choruses and my ears are gonna perk up. Crypt Sermon know how to catch my attention. If you enjoy Khemmis and Paradise Lost, this is a band that needs to be on your radar.
17) Brymir – Wings of Fire – The artwork for this album instantly drew me in. Thankfully the music contained within is just as interesting. These guys mix that symphonic black metal vibe of Dimmu Borgir with plenty of melodic death metal like Children of Bodom, In Flames, Whispered and Kalmah. This is a great album to get introduced to Brymir.
16) Kobra And The Lotus – Evolution – Canadians Kobra And The Lotus have put out several decent records in the past decade, but none have been as complete as this latest one appropriately titled Evolution. The band has always integrated both pop and heavier music elements into their sound. But this time they have blended all of these ingredients into an irresistible creation. Definitely my favorite album from this band by far.
15) Finsterforst – Zerfall – You like long songs? How about lyrics only in German? And plenty of folk metal thrown into songs about nature and forests? Finsterforst has got you covered. If you still are like me and own physical cds, the digipak version of Zerfall is beautiful and a great addition to anyone’s metal collection.
14) Obsidian Tide – Pillars of Creation – here is some progressive metal from Israel that reminds me of Tool, Voyager, Source and Symphony X. A stunning debut album which you should definitely not miss! I like the heavier stuff at the beginning of the album, but the whole record is an enjoyable listen and if you like any progressive metal, this is worth the time to give it a spin or 6.
13) Wormwitch – Heaven That Dwells Within – This is some solid black n’ roll right here, boys & girls. These Canucks know just how I like it too. Not too harsh, not too soft, plenty of atmosphere and some serious head-banging riffs. I love me some Wormwitch – yes I do.
12) Diviner – Realms of Time – There is nothing quite like some good heavy power metal. Crank up the crunch in the guitars, lay down some serious head-banging riffs, thunderous drumming and throw in some powerful yet catchy vocals and I’m a happy camper. Diviner from Greece know exactly how to get me ready to pitch a tent. Their last record Fallen Empires was quite solid and Realms of Time continues down that same path but with even better songwriting and riffs. We need to get this band over to the USA for a tour. Here’s to hoping some promoters feel the same as I do.
11) Meshiaak – Mask Of All Misery – This band hails from Australia and their debut album Alliance of Thieves graced my list for 2016. This new album almost did not happen at all. The band had drummer Jon Dette play on the first record, but the logistics of him being from the US and the rest of the band located several thousand miles away proved to be a huge obstacle. The band really didn’t tour to promote the record and it seemed like the inspirational fire among the band members slowly dissipated. Thankfully primary songwriters Dean Wells (also of Teramaze) and Danny Camilleri kept the embers stoked enough to make the decision to continue the band with a drummer closer to home. This new record shows plenty of thrashiness and aggression and I’m grateful the guys persevered and created this
10) Lacuna Coil – Black Anima – I’ve been in love with this album ever since the first single “Layers Of Time” was released last summer. It was about all I could do to wait to hear the rest of the album. My feelings about the record have cooled a bit since its release but it is still a favorite of mine and deserves to be in my top 10 for 2019. Bands that keep getting heavier as the years go by make me happy and with their past 2 albums, Lacuna Coil has definitely brought the heaviness and a big smile to my face. No one is going to accuse them of being death metal, but they sure evoke the darkness and get my booty to bounce along with their jams. Try not to visualize that.
9) Arch-Matheos – Winter Ethereal – Either you like John Arch as a singer or you don’t. There really is no middle ground. I happen to fall in the former camp so this second album from these 2 Fates Warning characters is welcome music to my ears. Definitely a bit heavier than their first album, but I love it when progressive musicians decide to crank up the metal. This probably would have made my top 10 just from the opening track alone, but the rest of the material is equally as strong and this got a lot of airplay in the Nordahl household in 2019.
8) Xaon – Solipsis – A definite “Oh wow!” moment for me this past year was discovering Xaon. They feature symphonics like Dimmu Borgir, Epica and Nightwish but then they bring some aggressive drumming and plenty of progressive power like Wilderun and even Fleshgod Apocalypse. This is an amazingly strong record and I find myself returning to it frequently. I’m still debating with myself on pushing this even higher up my list, but alas – it will remain here at number 8.
7) The Raven Age – Conspiracy – This album represents the longest time I have ever waited to receive a cd after ordering it. I can’t even remember how I first heard of this band, but they hail from the UK and feature the son of Steve Harris, the legendary bass player from Iron Maiden. His son plays guitar and because of that connection, the band ended up opening for on their entire world tour this past year. Because of this, the cd was only available at shows or from the band’s website for like $30. Now I’m willing to fork out a lot of dinero for cds, but that seemed pretty steep to me. I found another supplier that had the disc available to pre-order for half of that, so I jumped on that deal. However, as the band continued to remain out on tour, they were not releasing the physical album to any other distributors until they were done with the tour. This ended up dragging on for over 6 months! And then the distributor I had purchased the pre-order from went out of business. Yeah – I had a few moments of panic. Thankfully I was able to contact the distributor and get things reconciled, and so I finally had to bite the bullet and buy the cd directly from the band. Since it was coming from the UK, it still took over a month to finally arrive. Hopefully I do not ever have to deal with another situation like this again. But I can assure you that the album itself was worth the wait. The Raven Age play a modern style of metal, not unlike Trivium, Killswitch Engage, or even All That Remains, but only clean vocals and very catchy choruses. I love the whole album and I hope you give these guys a chance to win you over too.
6) Pectora – Untaken – I had never heard of this band until I read a review on my favorite metal website besides Damnation magazine – angrymetalguy.com. The reviewer gave a decent rating to Untaken and painted a nice enough picture of the band to make me check out the album online. This resulted in another “Oh wow!” moment for me. The music is not crushingly heavy, but it’s got enough metallic bite to keep my interest. I think the band sounds like modern Metallica with a healthy dose of Volbeat and some very unique vocals. And then to top it off, the album was produced by Sebastian “Seeb” Levermann from another favorite band of mine Orden Ogan. Winner! But these guys sound nothing like Orden Ogan in the least. Unfortunately there is also some really sad recent news from the band. Just within the past few weeks, they posted that their singer Kenneth Steen Jacobsen has left the band. I personally think his vocals are a true highlight of the album, so I hope the band is able to find a suitable replacement and soldier on. But at least we have this fantastic debut to enjoy forever regardless of what the future holds for these lads.
5) Fvneral Fvkk – Carnal Confessions – So right off the bat – worst band name ever! I mean sure – it’s certainly metal and all that, but really??!! No way I’m gonna be wearing any of their t-shirts, and honestly their name almost meant I missed out on this doomy gem. But somehow I still gave these guys a chance and my ears are so happy that I did. This band is the perfect combo blend of Paradise Lost, Solitude Aeturnus and Candlemass. If you like any doom metal at all, hearing those 3 names should instantly hook you in. The perfect gothy and crunchy guitar tone blended with an amazing singer just really pushes all of my “I love this” buttons. It’s certainly a disturbing band name and album theme of church abuse, but man is it so good. I’m so sorry God – please forgive me! And let me just hit the play button again…
4) Noveria – Aequilibrium – Here is some first class progressive power metal from Italy This band has been around for over 7 years now, but this is the first album of theirs that really grabbed me. And boy did it grab me! Do you like Symphony X, Pagan’s Mind or Michael Romeo’s solo stuff? Then you absolutely need to give this record a listen asap. Another album on my list that features some rather unique vocals but once they work their way under your skin and wrap around your ear drums, you will be playing this record plenty. These guys really took a giant step forward here in songwriting and hooks and I’m ready to hear where they go to next.
3) Soen – Lotus – Our webzine leader Nick has always liked this band from Sweden lots. I liked a few songs from their previous albums, but I still needed to be wooed a little more. And then there was Lotus. I swooned upon hearing the track “Rival” for the first time and suddenly I was caught up in all the beauty this flower had on display. Soen shares a lot of similarities to Tool in their sound at times, but unlike the the guys from LA on their latest platter, they can write concise and cohesive songs. I’m so bummed I was unable to attend 70K Tons of Metal this year because Soen was there and who knows if they will actually make it back to the US for a proper tour. Here’s to hoping because Lotus is fantastic and deserves to be heard live.
2) Insomnium – Heart Like A Grave – It’s basically common knowledge that one of my all-time favorite bands is Insomnium. So if they are scheduled to release an album, there is a really good chance it’s going to be placed high on my list. Over the past few years, I had the opportunity to finally see the band perform live twice: my first experience at the very intimate Riot Room in Kansas City and then I saw their headlining performance on day 1 of Progpower in Atlanta for 2019. Both shows were fantastic and caused my metal heart to beat just a bit hotter and stronger. This new album is just about quintessential Insomnium material. It brings all the coldness, the bleakness, the melancholy and the morose yet still beautiful melody as well. It had to take a pretty amazing record to keep this from my top spot, that I can assure you.
1) Wilderun – Veil Of Imagination – And here is that amazing record that earned my top perch for 2019. And keep in mind that this is the best “album” and not necessarily a collection of the best songs. Several other bands wrote songs that I like more than what Wilderun has created for us. But, no other album this year in its entirety is more cohesive and complete. My first experience with this record was on my headphones while working outside doing yardwork. Being outside and having an interaction with nature while absorbing Veil of Imagination heightening my initial encounter to this masterpiece. For those of you unfamiliar with Wilderun, they play progressive metal but they bring plenty of orchestration and death metal to the party. They are not unlike Opeth back around Blackwater Park or Ghost Reveries but with a little more folk and a lot more big choruses and orchestra. These guys made an amazing album in 2015 called Sleep at the Edge of the Earth and they for sure continued the momentum from that opus and surpassed it with an album truly breathtaking to behold. Now let’s get the band back to St. Louis for another live show and all will be well in my world of metal. For the moment.
And for some other albums that I spent some time with this past year, here’s yet another list:
Not Quite Cool Enough To Earn A Number But Still Pretty Cool:
Murderbird – Pillars of Creation
Shadow of Intent – Melancholy
Aephanemer – Prokopton
Children of Bodom – Hexed
In Mourning – Garden of Storms
In Flames – I The Mask
Kampfar – Ofidians Manifest
Flotsam And Jetsam – The End Of Chaos
Vanden Plas – The Ghost Experiment – Awakening
Disillusion – The Liberation
Teramaze – Are We Soldiers
Killswitch Engage – Atonement
Paladin – Ascension
Misery Index – Rituals of Power
Eternal Storm – Come The Tide
Sinheresy – Out of Connection
Soilwork – Verkligheten
Voyager – Colours In The Sun
Silver Bullet – Mooncult
Rifftera – Across The Acheron
Death Angel – Humanicide