There’s been a lot of music released in 2019. As ever, the past 12 months have played host to heroic returns, fresh young contenders, massive successes, cult thrills, and the odd bit of downright weirdness. As varied as it all was, it came together as the soundtrack to 2019. Here, we present the 50 greatest albums of the year…
50. Torche – Admission (Relapse)
For an outfit with such a gleefully neolithic approach to riffs, Florida sludge metal masters Torche have never been shy about evolving their sound. Over the course of their previous four albums, they’ve mastered the art of slow-burn bludgeon, piling on layer after layer of thick sound with limitless patience and unrelenting focus. Everything they do feels machine-tooled to crush and enchant.
With Admission, however, they swerved into more expansive territory, pressing horizons further than ever before and daringly experimenting with elements of shoegaze, ambience and even synth-pop. The title-track sets out the stall stunningly, a four-minute meditation of self-induced isolation swimming in a dreamy electronica far closer to Joy Division than Melvins. Reminder, meanwhile, arrives with a thrilling burst of woozy nostalgia, and brilliant, fuzz-encrusted closer Changes Come is adrift with exquisitely thoughtful melodic intent.
That’s not to say there was any danger of the Miami quartet going soft, of course, and jagged edges, abrasive textures and concussive left-hooks land throughout. From the opening rapid-fire of From Here, through to the lurching doominess of On The Wire, every ounce of grizzled experience is put to work to delirious, speaker-testing effect. Sure, it was hardly a surprise that a record from this band is as good as this, but there’s an unexpected glee in their discovery of new fuel to make the Torche continue to burn brighter still.
49. Ithaca – The Language Of Injury (Holy Roar)
The Language Of Injury is a product of intense pressure and time. Although Ithaca formed on a South London industrial estate in 2012, the years between their critically lauded 2015 EP Trespassers and the release of their debut full-length this February was marked by seismic personal upheavals: family loss, losing jobs, personal relationships turning toxic. Yet from the ashes of all that pain and anger, Ithaca crafted one of the most ingenious and gripping metallic hardcore albums of the year.
From the scree of feedback and nerve-shattering drums that open New Covenant, The Language Of Injury seethes with barely-concealed frustration. Whiplash rhythms and mathy guitar squiggles wind around each other like a deadly game of cat and mouse on Impulse Crush, before coalescing into a hammering beatdown. There is also an unpredictability here that gives Ithaca a twitchy edge. Halfway though, (No Translation) offers a moment of reprieve with ambient guitars suspended over indistinct chatter, yet the air of alienation and doubt is still keenly felt. Similarly, the introduction of clean singing does not soften vocalist Djamila Azzouz’s attack. In fact, her dislocated wails intensify the sense of communication breakdown.
Yet it is precisely these challenging moves that made The Language Of Injury so rewarding. A difficult work, then, but one that announced Ithaca as a powerful voice in British heaviness.
48. Press Club – Wasted Energy (Hassle)
Melbourne garage-rockers Press Club want their records to fully capture the untamed nature and fluid power of their raucous live shows. That intent is so potent on Wasted Energy it’s as if you’ve licked the dancefloor at one of their sweaty basement gigs.
Striving to continue the fuzzy urgency of their Late Teens debut – which, despite coming out in Australia in 2018, only got a UK release in January this year – this second collection was tracked live in one week in the band’s self-built studio underneath Melbourne’s Westgate bridge. It was a move that fully caught the quartet in their element, with the band deliberately leaving in rough edges to dial up the realness.
With a heavier injection of punk in the band’s scuzzy rock this time out, singer Natalie Foster traded in some of her foreboding introspection for a more in-your-face delivery, as she targets social ills with fist-raising force. The defiant Get Better, for example, is a rasping takedown of people that don’t practice what they preach, while Behave finds her exploring the idea of letting go of the unrealistic need to please everyone in her life.
The formidable vocalist still finds the space for personal growth here, too, not least on spellbinding opener Separate Houses. It’s a song that brilliantly meshes grubby grooves with unfiltered soul, and winds up with Natalie repeating the line ‘I keep on pretending that I am getting better’ in a breathless voice.
It’s a moment that sums up the album best: raw, personal, totally heartfelt music that grabs you straight by the heart.
47. Perry Farrell – Kind Heaven (BMG)
Perry Farrell has never been one for following rules or creating music that operates within anything as prosaic as genre boundaries. Jane’s Addiction tore up the rock rulebook in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and Perry’s subsequent ventures in Porno For Pyros, Satellite Party and even his festival lovechild of Lollapalooza have exhibited a similar sense of diversity and stylistic freedom.
It therefore came as absolutely no surprise that Kind Heaven – the singer’s first solo album in 18 years – was a dizzyingly eclectic and creative affair. Just looking at the line-up of guest musicians gives a clue as to the album’s breadth. Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins appears alongside Mötley Crüe’s Tommy Lee, Elliot Easton from new-wave outift The Cars, Jane’s Addiction bassist Chris Chaney, and multi-instrumentalist (and son of Beatles guitarist George) Dhani Harrison. Add the fact that Perry has said the concept for the album came to him in a dream, and the only thing you should be prepared to expect is the unexpected.
Perry certainly didn’t disappoint in that respect. ‘Everyone and everything is way too linear,’ he croons on the wonderfully titled and suitably sinuous Snakes Have Many Hips. Lead single Pirate Punk Politician, meanwhile, may boast a pneumatic, RATM-style riff, but mainly the album trades in day-glo psychedelia, dreamy pop, dance beats and a host of other flavours. It’s a fearlessly inventive album that proved that, even at 60, Perry Farrell remains a vibrant one-of-a-kind.
46. Gatecreeper – Deserted (Relapse)
“I just want to go full force,” Gatecreeper guitarist Eric Wagner told Kerrang! earlier this year, speaking about what it is he gets from his band’s brutal death metal concoction. “Maybe there’ll be a day where we don’t want to feel that [chaos], but I don’t think that day will ever come.”
Such unrelenting attitude runs throughout the Arizona quintet’s relentlessly savage second album. They might be relative newcomers in an increasingly crusty genre, but their greatest strength is that, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel of pain, they simply pour every ounce of energy into a full-frontal attack.
In many ways, Deserted picked up right where 2016’s brilliant Sonoran Depravation debut left off. The imagery of the Sonoran desert – stretching desolately from Arizona across to California and all the way down to Mexico – is once again refracted through a twisted, blood-flecked lens. And once again, they’re elevated by an accessibility that inhabits the sweet-spot between Behemoth’s arena-straddling grandeur and the off-beat gristle of their brutal contemporaries in Blood Incantation and Full Of Hell. Frontman Chase Mason has been known to chuck around the phrase “stadium death metal”, and it’s easy to see why.
Thrashing out old school bangers like From The Ashes and Everlasting while operating with the kind of unapologetic open-mindedness that’s seen them tour with Ghostemane and hang out with Post Malone, surely no band is better-equipped to drag this kind of sonic violence towards the mainstream. If that’s the goal, then Deserted packed more than enough firepower to blow a massive hole in it, should Gatecreeper ever get there.
45. Dawn Ray'd – Behold Sedition Plainsong (Prosthetic)
In a more perfect world, this album wouldn’t exist. In this one, it is a necessary call to arms against corruption, capitalism, racism, fascism and injustice, that’s as angry as it is creative. The clash of gnawing riffs with bursts of violin is impressive, but it’s the fuel in their fire that’s made Dawn Ray’d one of British black metal’s most important outfits.
With a strong, clear message on the need to come together and stop living through systems that are inherently harmful to human beings, the rage in The Smell Of Ancient Dust and Raise The Flails is as constructive as it is incendiary - to become, as the band say themselves, “An inherently positive thing”. “Capitalism is horrendous and despicable and it’s important to be angry about it,” guitarist Fabian Devlin explained to Kerrang!. “But when you start internalising that it’s very easy to become extremely nihilistic – that’s not going to achieve anything. You have to try for something more. You should use that anger and frustration to try to build something.”
Times are challenging. With Behold Sedition Plainsong, Dawn Ray’d built a banner around which concerned folk of all kind can rally.
44. I Prevail – Trauma (Fearless)
Trauma is a triumph on multiple fronts. Not only did it find Michigan metalcore heroes I Prevail making their sharpest album to date, there was every chance it could never have existed.
Thematically, it largely documents vocalist Brian Burkheiser’s battle with a serious vocal cord injury and the struggle with his mental health that ensued. That might be why every song on the record sounds like it’s being delivered by a band fighting for its very existence. Opener Bow Down drops some of the most punishing riffs of the year, while Every Time You Leave sees the band sculpt a track with a monolithic amount of heart. Hurricane is arguably the pinnacle of band’s fusion of all-things-heavy with all-things-catchy, while Gasoline demands to be experienced live.
But what hit hardest was how you can plainly hear their fight to get here and keep everything they’ve built up going screaming through. And it’s paying off. On the back of Trauma, the band were nominated for Best Rock Album and Best Metal Performance at the GRAMMYs. June, meanwhile, saw the band play only their second-ever show in London, at a sold-out Electric Ballroom. It was carnage, and a clear signal that this band, perhaps slightly underrated so far on these shores, are primed for something special.
Sure, metalcore may not be quite the juggernaut it once was, but it’s bands like I Prevail and albums like Trauma that ensure it’s alive and well, and remains a credible threat.
43. Cult Of Luna – A Dawn To Fear (Metal Blade)
In the 21 years since Cult Of Luna emerged from the genteel Swedish university town of Umeå in an apocalyptic haze of sludgy distortion, the post-metal sect have built a considerable legacy of expanding their sonic horizons to incorporate layers of proggy mysticism and bowel-churning industrialism.
Yet embarking upon writing their ninth album, lead songwriter Johannes Persson decided to forego thematic concepts that defined previous efforts in favour of something more vivid, more spontaneous. “[In the past] we’ve known from the start the kind of story we wanted to tell, and I didn’t want that to be the case,” he explained. “I just wanted to see what came out of me.”
You can hear this intuitive approach across the resulting 79 minutes. The Silent Man crashes into view like a rudely awakened giant, before inculcating a sense of stillness with echoing slide and organ that only serves to intensify the guitarmageddon that follows. Elsewhere, Nightwalkers is all God-cursing howls and scowling seriousness before, inexplicably, dropping into a propulsive drum and synths groove that would not have been out of place in a goth nightclub circa 1980. And labyrinthine, 13-minute closer The Fall is both beautiful and terrifying.
A Dawn To Fear saw Cult Of Luna’s light and dark sides in perfect harmony. And it felt like a bold new dawn for this ever-brilliant band.
42. GosT – Valediction (Century Media)
If GosT’s existence to date has been largely spent lurking with sinister intent in the shadows of the darkest bits of synthwave’s club, being almost wilfully unattractive, then 2019 was the year they suddenly burst onto the dancefloor.
One part dance-tastic ’80s synth-pop smoothness, one part scalding black metal annihilation, Valediction is as turbulent, dizzying and evil as a night out with go-faster drugs and a copy of The Satantic Bible. When it’s slinking up to you with lusty eyes, such as on the pulsing Dreadfully Pious, it’s a sleazy shag fest. But the fact that the album opens with the evil, intense noise of Relentless Passing reveals its true, cruel nature. That it was composed and performed entirely on keyboard, without a real guitar in sight, simply adds to the album’s feral, out-of-bounds nature, as mainman Baalberith instead conjures up noises that sound like he’s purposefully trying to create sounds that will break speakers.
In this search for wilful oblivion, GosT also found a wide audience. Those already with their ear to the ground of synthwave naturally celebrated it, but the band’s tour with Norwegian black metal legends Mayhem in November saw them finding shared ground with more traditional musical diabolists. But make no mistake: this wasn’t just black metal done differently, but an entirely new form of musical heresy, existing on its own terms, with a unique black heart all of its own.
41. Killswitch Engage – Atonement (Metal Blade)
At this point, you might expect the business of making an album to be pretty much plain sailing for Killswitch Engage. They’ve already made seven, after all, and are one of the most influential and respected bands of the 21st Century. And yet, this album still stands as a monument to triumph over adversity.
In particular, Atonement serves as frontman Jesse Leach’s symbol of perseverance. As the band’s original singer, he initially walked away in 2002, just as they were set to explode, due largely to mental health issues. That sort of thing rarely goes away entirely, and this album saw the singer baring his soul in a brutally honest fashion. ‘I am broken too / In all the same places as you / If you need proof I’ll reopen my wounds,’ he sings on the deeply personal I Am Broken Too. One of the catalysts for his downward spiral was divorce from his wife of 16 years, and in January he said on social media that he was seeking help to avoid becoming “another statistic of suicide”.
The things with which he was wrestling in the creation of this album were not all internal. Last year he faced surgery on his vocal cords, and at one point feared he might never sing again. This was thus an album that might never have been made, but instead stands as a beacon of hope and endurance. “You go through rough times and you come out the other side like a phoenix rising,” Jesse told us in August. And, of course, it comes with that patented blend of soaring melody and muscular might, bringing Killswitch back with a bang.
40. Yonaka – Don't Wait 'Til Tomorrow (Asylum)
Yonaka’s Theresa Jarvis has always been vocal about what she wants to achieve with her band. Never with any fear that she might get stung by stating her big ambitions, she talks a very big game, indeed. “You’ve got to take control and say what you want and do what you want, because otherwise you will get nowhere and get nothing,” she stated to Kerrang! ahead of the release of the band’s debut.
It’s an attitude and feeling of self-belief that radiates throughout the Brighton quartet’s electric blend of modern pop and vicious rock, even demonstrated in the way they shunned the big-name producers that helped with their preceding EPs to record their debut’s 11 tracks themselves. It’s there in the zig-zagging melodies of Lose Our Heads, the roaring chorus of Creature, and the way that the anthemic Rockstar lays out the band’s bold ambitions.
But the bravado is kept in check by a whole heap of heart and sensitivity, as the record grapples with the uneasy themes of mental health and depression. Theresa exhibits her own experiences with social anxiety on the throbbing darkness of Bad Company, while running through the core of the album’s title-track is a message that encourages anyone who’s struggling with life to reach out and talk about it.
It was this search for genuine connection that meant Don’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow succeeded as it did. It wasn’t just an ambitiously wild ride, but something relatable, too.
39. Sunn O))) – Life Metal (Southern Lord)
As with everything U.S. drone collective Sunn O))) do, Life Metal was a surprise. That is to say: just how much is it possible to do with feedback, endless guitar dirges, no drums, insane amounts of amplifiers, borderline-illegal volume and the odd guest spot? Turns out, it’s a formula with surprisingly varied riches.
The main difference between Life Metal and previous works like Black One from 2005, in which the band recorded the guest vocals of Xasthur frontman Malefic by sealing him in a mic-d up coffin before loading him into a Hearse, is that it feels positive. Full of life, even. A glorious, victorious energy runs throughout, and at times something approaching normal riffs even plough their way out of your speakers, albeit at about three beats per minute.
All of which was unexpected, because with such a seemingly narrow set of tools at their disposal, Sunn O))) remain not only innovative, but prolific as well. Life Metal was the first of two albums they put out this year, both only a few months apart. And where once you could simply look to the band as a good way of wrecking your ears and making yourself feel all weird and dizzy when you see their meditative live show, here they delivered something with surprising nuance that can be properly listened to in its own right. It may be the least commercial album on the whole list, but Life Metal was also one of the most creative works of 2019. And it’s definitely the slowest.
38. Stray From The Path – Internal Atomics (UNFD)
When the news about Rage Against The Machine’s reunion arrived, few had higher hopes for what it all meant than Stray From The Path. “I get chills thinking about it,” frontman Drew York told us when asked about the legendary LA firebrands’ return. “It’s going to be massive for punk and hardcore. I think it’s more of a revolution than a reformation.”
In many ways, Stray From The Path are one of Rage’s few real spiritual successors. Hardcore has always been good at talking about personal politics, and while the Long Island crew are perfectly able to feed those inner flames, they’re not afraid to get specifically political, either. Filled with heart and emotion next to the calls to action, Internal Atomics was a fiery and combative take on the state of the modern world.
Second Death is a swipe at paedophilia in the Church and its culture of cover-ups, while Beneath The Surface takes a more storytelling approach to highlight social issues, and Holding Cells For The Living Hell shines a brutally honest light on mental illness. Fortune Teller is a propulsive call to arms that is musically evocative of their heroes in RATM, both in a touch of their sound, but more importantly, in their enormous middle finger.
It all made Internal Atomics one of the year’s most incendiary releases. Filled with musical and lyrical zeal, it was dynamite from a band who walk the walk with activism and direct action as well as talking the revolutionary talk.
37. American Football – American Football (Big Scary Monsters)
For the longest time, American Football’s legacy was based on just one self-titled EP and a self-titled album. Released in 1998 and 1999 respectively, the twinkly guitars, melancholy lyrics and beautiful melodies found on those two releases helped define the Midwest emo scene, even though the band broke up the year after their full-length came out.
A lot of time came and went, but in 2014, American Football reformed and put out their second self-titled album in 2016. To the surprise of many – more as a result of not daring to hope for something so good than any form of cynicism – it was even better than their first. In March, three years on, the Illinois quartet did it again, and this third self-titled record turned out to be the best album of their career so far.
Its eight beautiful, lilting songs are not just worthy of that legacy, but also move it forward. Yes, those beautiful guitars and frontman Mike Kinsella’s plaintive vocals are still present, but they’re bolstered by layers of lush, widescreen atmospherics that give these songs an impressively epic ambiance, such as on Every Wave To Ever Rise, I Can’t Feel You and Uncomfortably Numb. The guest singer on the latter is Paramore’s Hayley Williams – whose voice sounds positively angelic – showing not only that the band have quality contacts in their phone book, but also just how far their cult influence has spread. Here’s hoping it continues to do so.
36. Ceremony – In The Spirit World Now (Relapse)
Ceremony’s sixth album is the point where the hardcore-turned-art-rock collective introduced bold new colours to their sonic palette. It has been less a case of giant leaps, though, and more a journey of small, progressive steps that have led Ceremony from Rohnert Park – both their California hometown and 2010’s punky breakthrough album of the same name – to the electronic pageantry of In The Spirit World Now.
Stepping forth from the drab post-punk of The L-Shaped Man (2015), Ceremony embraced the quirky danceability and synthesised aesthetic of new-wave. Indeed, the title-track sounds like a jam between dark synth-lord Gary Numan and volatile punk mavericks The Fall. Elsewhere, Say Goodbye To Them is hinged upon a mechanised bass groove, only to be undercut by twitching guitar stabs that threaten to derail the party like a sudden spill of ice on the dancefloor. Yet it is this constant tension between melody and anarchy, sleekness and spikiness which illustrated that Ceremony hadn’t eschewed their past in favour of garish new suits. In fact, within the synths and ticking time bomb drums of Never Gonna Die Now, you can almost hear a hardcore song, were the instruments swapped.
As Ross Farrar so aptly yelps on I Want More, ‘I need a way out / And I still haven’t climbed out,’ disaffection is an intrinsic part of Ceremony’s DNA, no matter how much they tinker. It made In The Spirit World Now as vibrant as its cover art, and twice as likely to leave a lasting impression.
35. Lindemann – F & M (Spinefarm/Vertigo)
Till Lindemann has been a busy boy, hasn’t he? In May, Rammstein finally broke their decade-long album silence, and followed it up by taking over the stadiums of Europe all summer. And with that out of the way, the second album from his Lindemann outfit raised its head.
It was a world away from the nudging and winking of 2015’s smutty Skills In Pills, however. And not just because it was in Till’s mother tongue, rather than English. Having taken root when the singer’s daughter Nele asked her father and co-conspirator Peter Tägtgren (also of Hypocrisy and PAIN) to write some music for a stage production of Hansel & Gretel on which she was working, the tone of F & M is far more in tune with its source than its predecessor. Darker, more serious, and cut from a much more high-brow artistic cloth than the sweaty, metallic disco-inferno of before, here the pair deal in haunting piano, noir poetry, and a sense of mystery around themselves that makes even Rammstein seem like sharers. There is pounding industrial, such as Steh auf and the brilliant Knebel, but Schlaf ein is a mysterious, piano-led ballad, and Ich weiß es nicht is an exercise in soft melancholy. It’s not a miserable album, but a more seriously-minded one than might have been expected. But what all this proves is just what a skilled artist Till Lindemann is, able to pursue multiple visions and bring each to life in its own individual way. (NR)
34. Spielbergs – This Is Not The End (By The Time It Gets Dark)
The members of Oslo trio Spielbergs started the project as one final roll of the dice. Having each knocked about the Norwegian circuit in various bands for years with little to show for it, they didn’t have much great expectation for their new outfit.
But rather than sounding like the bitterness of a final act, this debut instead feels like the band are here simply to have a good time before they’re too old to. The irony, of course, is that such a mentality has struck a chord with similarly-minded folk at life’s crossroads. These songs swim in feelings of lost youth and dreamy escapism, perfectly backed up by a blurry punk-rock atmosphere that fizzes with volatility.
This temperament means every song feels only moments away from collapsing, with tumbling basslines protruding past hazy guitars like they’re out of control, but the band wield this combustible energy as their primary weapon. ‘Now we could be perfect / You could have made me better / And we could be soulmates / If we could find a place to live,’ wails frontman Mads Baklien on Distant Star, tapping into a generational yearning for something more. Elsewhere, Familiar has an emo fragility, while We Are All Going To Die hurtles with a rocky restlessness, but it all hums with urgency. Few records felt more heartfelt and alive this year, proving that age is just a number.
33. The Damned Things – High Crimes (Nuclear Blast)
As supergroups go, The Damned Things are an unlikely one. Currently comprised of Every Time I Die’s Keith Buckley on vocals, Fall Out Boy guitarist Joe Trohman and drummer Andy Hurley, Anthrax axe-legend Scott Ian, and Alkaline Trio bassist Dan Andriano, the surprise isn’t their merging of metal riffs with a sprinkling of peppy peppiness, but that it works.
Coming nine years after their Ironiclast debut – a wait the result of schedule hell and wondering if they’d blown the idea already – it’s a record of many faces. Omen, for instance, is a dark, menacing number that chugs along almost like Marilyn Manson, but it’s followed by the cacophonous, unpredictable Carry A Brick, which sounds like half a dozen songs at once.
Of course, this makes perfect sense. The breadth of talent in the ranks is huge, and from all different corners of the rock world. To that extent, even though the agitated melody of Cells and the tumbling riffs of Let Me Be (Your Girl) are awesome on their own terms, the real beauty of this record is in the unified way that it all flows. On paper, High Crimes shouldn’t work this well. On record, it’s a wonderful reminder of just how well bridges between disparate ports can be built.
32. blink-182 – Nine
It was at the beginning of 2019 when blink-182 bassist Mark Hoppus revealed that the band’s forthcoming record could see the California pop-punk kings taking a step into uncharted territories.
“We want to do with our band what we did in 2003 with Untitled,” he told Kerrang!, “where we take our foundations and go off in completely weird directions.” When Nine, the band’s ninth record (or eighth, depending on whether you count 1994’s Buddha as canon) finally landed in September, not only was it a promise that had been made good on, but it was a change that caught the notoriously fun-loving group in a more pensive and socially conscious mood.
This chasmic shift in tone sticks out from the get-go. Opener The First Time, despite sounding clear-headed and breezy, deals with self-medication. It’s followed by Happy Days, where Mark unspools his private battles with self-doubt – a jarring confession from the guy known for being a pop-punk jester. As the record progresses, these powerful moments of self-reflection mix with the wider social problems hammering at 2019’s door. The gut-stirring Heaven, for instance, is a tribute to the students killed in the Thousand Oaks shooting at a country-western bar a few miles from drummer Travis Barker’s California home.
While these darker tones make this feel like the most meaningful record blink have ever made, the shift only seems to have revitalised their songwriting. Pulling together minimal beats, electronic passages and weightier hooks – a sonic blueprint that makes Mark’s comparison with 2003’s Untitled ring true – its 15 songs are packed with invention, while a more fluid dynamic between Mark’s softer yin and Matt Skiba’s fiery yang seems to be brewing (this being the guitarist’s second album in place of Tom DeLonge). It means that, despite its matured outlook, Nine is blink enjoying a fresh and bold lease of life.
31. Sum 41 – Order In Decline (Hopeless)
It’s been quite the journey from the youthful buffoonery of Fat Lip and In Too Deep to the point at which Sum 41 find themselves at the end of their second decade or so. It’s been perhaps the third most startling pop-punk transformation of all time (hi blink-182, greetings Green Day!), and Order In Decline solidified that ongoing metamorphosis in truly superb style.
They’d already started looking in this direction on 2011’s Screaming Bloody Murder and 2016’s 13 Voices, the latter of which marked their return from the brink after frontman Deryck Whibley’s brush with death via alcohol-related organ failure. This seventh album kicks everything over the line into a properly new era, however. It’s certainly the heaviest album Sum 41 have put their name to, with gigantic riffs and metallic punk grooves making up the lion’s share of its content. It’s not all about aggression, though, as Order In Decline also sees the band at their most inventive, taking in a swathe of musical influences from Muse to Linkin Park.
Lyrically, it’s an album that’s fuelled by bubbling tension and anxiety. Deryck has stressed that it’s not a ‘political’ album as such, despite the Trump-bashing sentiments of 45 (A Matter Of Time), but it reflects his reaction to the current state of play. It also brings in intensely personal themes, like his feelings towards his absent father.
It’s a more mature Sum 41, certainly. But Order In Decline sees them retaining all the energy and excitement that made them their name, too.
30. Dinosaur Pile-Up – Celebrity Mansions (Parlophone)
Spending a decade slogging around the UK and trying to break America can be disheartening. ‘Thrash metal on the stereo / 16 hours a day / Yeah, drivin’ our shit-heap splitter / We got to get to LA,’ sing Dinosaur Pile-Up on the fantastically-titled and cheerleader-infused Thrash Metal Cassette.
If there’s a theme to Celebrity Mansions, then, it’s the ennui and inertia of failing to find fame and fortune in a band. ‘I said Mama, you don’t understand / Cause I’m gonna be stupid famous and rocking in a band / Yeah, you know / Couple years later, here I am,’ they continue on Back Foot.
From great frustration comes even greater songs, however. Celebrity Mansions overflows with brilliant slabs of sugar-rush punk and gravelly grunge anthems, all loaded with cheerful cynicism and self-deprecating humour. Yet while the band focussed on failure on their fourth album, it actually gave them a serious upturn in their fortunes. There was a notable appearance at this year’s Download, the album materialised on a major label (despite being written without any label at all), and the trio recently travelled from home in Leeds to Canada to tour with no less a pair of punk icons than The Offspring and Sum 41. So yeah, the lesson seems to be, ‘kick off and good things will happen’. Well, they might, so long as you can write an album as good as this to back it up. Fortunately, in Celebrity Mansions, Dinosaur Pile-Up have made a beaut.
29. LINGUA IGNOTA – CALIGULA (Profound Lore)
For much of her twenties, LINGUA IGNOTA – the chosen moniker of Kristin Hayter – felt she lacked control, living in Rhode Island, isolated from her family and friends in California, and trapped in physically and emotionally abusive relationships.
Upon extricating herself, Kristin found she could not find justice against her abusers, either from the police or the community that claimed to be her allies. Traditional forms of therapy, meanwhile, would not quell the rage she carried. Instead, Kristin pursued healing through LINGUA IGNOTA, channelling her trauma, classical training and noise-rock knowledge into volatile and cathartic art that refuses to be silenced.
CALIGULA was easily the most abrasive album of 2019. DO YOU DOUBT ME TRAITOR is a crucible of fear, torment and revenge, as sinister piano gives rise to Kristin’s increasingly feverish yells of ‘How do I break you before you break me?’ Elsewhere, she channels the biblical language of her Catholic upbringing, charging CALIGULA with an Old Testament-style reckoning for those who have wronged women. Yet there are hints of solace even in the darkest moments, as Kristin’s voice resonates throughout SORROW! SORROW! SORROW! with harmony and a spirit that, though bowed, refuses to be broken.
An enthralling work of intense brutality and beauty, CALIGULA was simply unlike any other album this year. In making it, Kristin not only found a voice to exorcise her pain, but has also become a beacon for others.
28. BABYMETAL – METAL GALAXY (Ear Music)
BABYMETAL were never exactly going to re-emerge with some introspective rumination on the futility of the human condition. Still, the sheer WTF? brilliance of METAL GALAXY managed to feel unprecedented all the same.
When lead single PA PA YA!! (featuring Thai rapper F.HERO) arrived back in June, we thought we were receiving a full-on indication of where they were headed. In reality, we’d barely even scratched the surface. METAL GALAXY wasn’t a case of a few strands of eccentricity blowing in the solar wind, but a rocket-powered J-metal overload custom-built to transport the listener to some alternate dimension where even the most absurdly overblown expectations can be effortlessly surpassed.
These are the outrageous sounds of a band to whom normal rules do not apply. Nor do any conventional approaches to album construction or career progression. The tragic death of guitarist Mikio Fukioka and the departure of YUIMETAL (one third of the core line-up) in 2018 might have derailed – or at least speedbumped – a lesser outfit. This is a juggernaut, though, that will not be slowed. There’s a layer of defiant glee in that refusal to be knocked off course that simply adds to the nuclear charge powering these songs.
Even now, it feels like we’ve yet to sift through all the strands of bonkers brilliance that make up METAL GALAXY. There is a special thrill, though, in the moment Arch Enemy vocalist Alissa White-Gluz arrives to rough up the hyperactive Distortion. Tim Henson and Scott LePage of Texan prog-rockers Polyphia twisting through the funk-tastic Brand New Day is a treat, too, and Sabaton’s Joakim Brodén even crops up on Oh! MAJINAI, powering through the kind of OTT folk metal chorus that’s frankly so absurd it’s sublime.
Of course, anyone with a dour bone in their body will find the sonic fireworks headache-inducing and the overload of sonic confections sickly-sweet. For the rest of us, its a rare delight to see BABYMETAL’s music maturing every bit as stridently as an exploding gas giant. Be prepared for this most unique of bands to conquer the Metal Universe next…
27. Petrol Girls – Cut & Stitch (Hassle)
For Petrol Girls, calling out injustice wherever they see it and raising funds for grassroots causes is essential to their being. But what happens when fighting the good fight takes its toll on you, mentally and financially?
That was the question the Brit punks – singer Ren Aldridge in particular – had to face while recording their second album. Yet these difficult seeds bore explosive fruit. Cut & Stitch was incendiary and political, but the band also made space for the personal amid the chaos. So while Tangle Of Lives speaks of the aggressive global market forces that link one person’s cheap T-shirt purchase to another’s suffering, by contrast, Skye focusses on the very personal pain of losing a beloved pet.
The act of cutting and stitching – applied to national flags and concepts of identity in No Love For A Nation – refers to the music, too. Angular punk is interspersed with intimate indie-rock and hushed spoken word, like an emotional cross-section of someone navigating a confusing, often contradictory world. Yet in Ren’s words on Naive, ‘In the darkness we see constellations / We will not be silenced,’ there is hope, too. In the face of inequalities that require real and collective effort to change, Cut & Stitch urged us all to see what we can do better.
26. Dream State – Primrose Path (UNFD)
Having long showed promise, even scooping Best British Breakthrough at the 2018 Kerrang! Awards, 2019 was the year in which Welsh alt-rock quartet Dream State fully delivered.
Arriving after a revelatory festival season that saw them deliver a pair of staggering sets at Reading & Leeds among others, Primrose Path felt like a thrilling distillation of what got us so excited about Dream State in the first place. Heartfelt, multifaceted, and addressing important points so loudly they couldn’t be ignored, it was a record that announced not just the proper arrival of a bright new force in British rock with an excellent mix of riffs and electronics, but also one with a voice that needed to be heard.
Central to it all was CJ Gilpin. Both survivor and saviour, the singer has grown into a quietly commanding personality, drawing attention not just through her magnetic onstage charisma and energy, but also through her genuine openness, honesty and accessibility. In the truest sense of the phrase, she really is one of us. She pours her heart out on these songs, and with that comes a feeling of deep catharsis. Demons are exposed and explored with sensitivity, dexterity and defiance, while the scars of trauma, depression and addiction are worked over and expunged to leave behind a feeling of clarity and life-affirming euphoria.
‘Is it just my perception?’ she asks on Made Up Smile, one of the album’s most uplifting moments. ‘I’m stuck with this question / Is there more to life than what meets my eyes?’ Accordingly, Primrose Path volunteered itself as the perfect soundtrack for people who want to overcome what’s keeping them down and take life back into their own hands. Dream State created the sound of a better tomorrow.
25. Refused – War Music (Spinefarm)
War Music opens with a simple declaration: ‘One more revolution, my love / One more time through the fire.’ It might not seem a radical sentiment from Refused, a band who, in their ’90s adolescence, were hellbent on the overthrow of capitalism, but the riot shield-clattering drums and mobilising choruses that follow in REV001 burn with the same insurrectionary furore. And if revolution is the theme of their life, War Music was their rallying call to arms.
Refused’s first post-reformation album Freedom (2015) was not without merit, but by its creators’ own estimation failed on the frontlines of their live shows. As a result, War Music is stripped to the wire and revels in kinetic energy. Turn The Cross smashes with a reckless groove, while Malfire twitches to David Sandström’s simmering beat. Yet amid the lashings of ferocity, I Wanna Watch The World Burn and Death In Vännäs are velvety post-punk bangers that slither rather than strike.
Of course, War Music’s lyrics could pepper several manifestos, but one particular couplet leaps from Economy Of Death: ‘Lapdogs of tyrants collude to further their fucking greed / You sit at home refreshing the end of history feed.’ So, the more things change, the more they stay the same? Perhaps, but Refused are not going anywhere and their music is as necessary as ever in the coming decade.
24. The Regrettes – How Do You Love? (Warner Bros)
‘Are you in love?’ asks Lydia Night on the spoken-word opener to The Regrettes second album. ‘Do you feel it in your stomach? / Does it twist and turn and scream and burn / And start to make you cry, but you like it?’
It’s a smart introduction to a record that studies the ‘L’-word in a very real way: as something that can be remedying and all-consuming or weird and inconvenient, with songs moving from the wide-eyed rush of a crush to the despair of a bad break-up.
‘I used to think that Romeo was full of shit / And The Notebook was just my favourite chick flick,’ Lydia laments across the dreamy doo-wop of Pumpkin, possessing a style and attitude that comes across like Brody Dalle raised on pop-rock. The Los Angeles band’s musicianship, too, seems wiser than their young years, with the punk of tracks like California Friends owing much to the riot grrrl muscle of Bikini Kill.
Elsewhere, they mixed brittle garage-rock with propulsive pop, like on Dead Wrong, as Lydia battles the sickly suffocation of something long-term, while I Dare You is a day-dreaming highlight.
At once spellbindingly simple and emotionally packed, How Do You Love? was an incredible introduction to a new, vital punk force.
23. While She Sleeps – SO WHAT? (Sleeps Brothers)
SO WHAT? isn’t just an album; it’s a belief-system. Seven years on from grandstanding debut This Is The Six, the wide world may have opened up for While She Sleeps, but so too have the stresses and strains of adulthood and life on the road.
“Growing up is wank,” guitarist Sean Long explained back in January. “A lot of shitty real-life, grown-up things have been grabbing us by the feet.” Indeed, it seemed like life was conspiring against the Sheffield quintet for almost all of last year. First, frontman Loz Taylor found another vocal polyp on his chords. Surgery – his third – would put him out of action. “Two months silence. Six months recovery,” guitarist Mat Welsh would reflect. “But we realised that maybe it wasn’t the worst thing in the world; maybe these things happen for a reason. Maybe it was just a case of servicing the vehicle.”
As they hit the studio, though, the trouble was just getting started. Drummer Adam ‘Sav’ Savage suffered from a flare-up of tendinitis. Sean suffered the breakdown of a long-term relationship. Mat found himself in hospital with appendicitis – then potentially-fatal sepsis.
That adversity bred brilliance, though. From the barks that open proceedings, to the defiant gang-vocals that draw them to a close, every beat feels lean, streamlined, full of ravenous, metallic purpose. “When things start falling apart, it makes you realise how much you need this shit,” said Mat. How right he was.
22. PUP – Morbid Stuff (Rise)
During the song Scorpion Hill, PUP vocalist Stefan Babcock admits that he’s had things on his mind. Dark thoughts. But, he admits, ‘I like them a lot.’
Dark. But what else did you expect from a record entitled Morbid Stuff? The Toronto quartet’s previous two albums of scrappy punk rock may have brought them success, yet their ascent has also brought internal pressure and encounters with people living in bleak circumstances. Rather than finding reasons to despair, though, on their third album PUP looked the abyss dead in the eye and used that existential angst to fuel their most cathartic work to date.
The hooks are as barbed as ever, yet there are also new tricks throughout. Scorpion Hill hurtles from Steve Sladkowski’s guitar gymnastics into a campfire sing-along powered solely by wheezy accordion. Elsewhere, Full Blown Meltdown revels in chaos as Stefan unleashes a splenetic torrent of self-loathing. But, crucially, there is also a self-awareness embodied in the most peculiar chorus of the year: ‘Just ‘cause you’re sad again / It doesn’t make you special at all,’ Stefan sings on Free At Last. As he explained to Kerrang!, it became both a self-targeted critique for “using your personal pain as a crutch, or an excuse for being an asshole”, and also a liberating realisation that, actually, everybody hurts. No other record in 2019 channelled that pain into such inviting, effusive music, and it is what made Morbid Stuff so special.
21. Chelsea Wolfe – Birth Of Violence (Sargent House)
When you’re inside the machine, it can take a while to realise that what you really need is to step out of it for a moment. After eight years of almost constant touring and recording, life on the road began to catch up with Chelsea Wolfe.
Having made a name for herself as an artist and cult figure with a truly masterful grasp on smouldering musical darkness across her five previous albums, pressure began to build up. Retreating into isolation in rural California, more than making another album, what she wanted was to unplug and gather her thoughts, to remember who she was and get a grasp on her life again. It was in this slow-moving environment that Birth Of Violence was born, however, and a warm comfort and genuinely shut-off vibe is firmly embedded in every beautiful note.
The Mother Road, with its eerie feeling of endless highways and haunting ‘Guess I needed something to break me,’ refrain, and the way Deranged For Rock And Roll is something of a love letter to the life of a musical nomad, sound as though they’re being played just for you on your sofa. American Darkness and When Anger Turns To Honey, meanwhile, are as reflective as they are darkly frail.
Rather than breaking, this most brilliant of artists instead returned reset and more in love with her passion than ever before. And with it, she created perhaps her most personal and revealing, not to mention brilliant, work to date.
20. Titus Andronicus – An Obelisk (Merge)
Titus Andronicus are a band who have switched up their sound a lot since forming in 2005. Led by the inimitable Patrick Stickles (the only remaining founding member), they can veer from classic rock to anthemic punk to epic rock opera – as they did with 2015’s The Most Lamentable Tragedy. An Obelisk, their sixth album, added yet more strings to the New Jersey band’s bow.
Taking its cues from British punk bands like Cock Sparrer and Sham 69, it was a furious barrage of politically-inspired punk rock that’s primitive but also – like everything that comes from Patrick’s brain – incredibly cerebral. Fast and frenzied, unruly and untamed, its 10 songs are catchy but barbed, as Patrick’s unhinged snarl runs rambunctiously and out of control over the top of the deliberately simple compositions.
The words he sings are a scathing indictment of society, late-stage capitalism, and the vapidity of modern culture. Lyrically and thematically, it’s one of Titus Andronicus’ most uncomplicated records, but this also makes it one of their most direct and aggressive. Just listen to the vitriol of (I Blame) Society or the blistering, anarchic one-two sucker punch of Beneath The Boot and On The Street, which clock in at 88 and 68 seconds respectively.
And yet, An Obelisk – which, according to Patrick, is a visual representation of how, in a capitalist system, most of the wealth collects at the very top – was much more than just a very honest tribute to the venerable style of punk that inspired it. Rather, it was an absolutely thrilling, exciting and important record that captured the absurdity of the world as it is these days, but which in years to come will also serve as a timeless piece of political punk art.
Waterparks – Fandom (Hopeless)
Having rushed the band back into the studio to create what would eventually become the final product, those things turned out to be a scintillating, attitude-packed skewering of fan culture and modern heartbreak. As such, confessional songs like Dream Boy and Zone Out found Awsten grappling with the pressure put on him by Waterparks super-fans, while the turbo-charged Watch What Happens Next took a bazooka to the idea that bands shouldn’t be allowed to change their style or want to make decent money off their music. ‘I wanna be a millionaire before I’m 30 / But saying that out loud is probably gonna hurt me,’ he taunts in the song’s opening lines. Elsewhere, he zips between toxic break-ups (Turbulent), sad-lad heartache (Never Bloom Again), and stupid in-jokes (Group Chat), but always with a big dose of innate cleverness.revealed back in spring that he had scrapped a full album of songs intended to be the Texan trio’s third full-length, wiping them off his laptop because he had “different things to say now”.
Then there’s the record’s sound. While a song like the bitter Easy To Hate might share the most obvious genetic material with the group’s pop-punk roots, other songs drift into weird and wonderful spaces. High Definition dresses insecurity up with floaty electronics, while Awsten actually raps a few lines on the futuristic [Reboot].
It was impressive. Not least because it all held together under their own umbrella, marking Waterparks out as leaders in a field of one.
18. Frank Iero And The Future Violents – Barriers (UNFD)
When Kerrang! sat down with Frank Iero right before the release of Barriers, his third album under his own name, albeit with a different band each time, he told us that it would be his last record. He has been known to say that before, but his future looks like it could be decidedly busier now that My Chemical Romance have begun to stir again. If he’s right this time, though, it would be a massive shame, because Barriers is as compelling as it is heartfelt.
The album served as a form of therapy for Frank, a way for him to address the trauma of the terrifying incident he and his band suffered while on tour in Australia in October 2016 when a bus hit their van as they were unloading. It also led the guitarist to wonder whether he cheated death and slipped onto a different plane of existence – a question which has deeply affected his life. ‘There’s a part of me that’s not sure if I’m here,’ he sings on Six Feet Down Under. ‘There’s a definite part of me that don’t believe in the now.’
Clearly, this is music that stems from all-too-real source material, and as a result, the lo-fi, hand-on-heart songs drip with texture and colour. But the introspection doesn’t end with the songs and their lyrics. The ‘Future Violents’ element of the band’s name is a reference to Frank’s musings on the butterfly effect and the impact that everything, from his accident, to the release of the album, has on the world around him. The title, meanwhile, is a reference to overcoming barriers, delivering first-after-first – from the bluesy lullaby of A New Day’s Coming, to the the doomy and bruising riffs of Medicine Square Garden.
Whether this is Frank’s farewell or not remains to be seen. But Barriers was without a doubt the most experimental music he’s ever released, and comfortably one of the most real records of the year.
17. Alcest – Spiritual Instinct (Nuclear Blast)
Introspection has always been at the heart of Alcest’s dark, soulful blackgaze. As of late, however – on 2016’s Kodama, in particular – the French duo have grown more open and dextrous in incorporating the most personal depths of feeling into their fathomless sound.
Still, Spiritual Instinct, the band’s aptly-titled sixth album, unfolds as an unprecedented gaze into the psyche of frontman Stéphane ‘Neige’ Paut. “This time I had something urgent to put on the table,” he explained to Kerrang!. “It is a very cathartic record – something I needed to get out of me.”
Neige’s childhood visions of alternative, heavenly planes have always provided the ambient blueprint for Alcest’s sound, but here that imagery has increased in potency by being refracted through the feelings of alienation that come with skirting genre boundaries. Their music remains too beauteous for the black metal scene, yet too tenebrous to really fit in with the shoegaze set, and this is a darkness all of Neige’s own. ‘Je me débats / Je me débats, contre les ombres,’ he begs on Protection. ‘I’m struggling / I’m struggling against the shadows.’
Across a magnificent six-song arc, Spiritual Instinct delivers both reckoning and something like resolution. The serrated black metal edge is allowed to re-emerge on tracks like Les Jardins De Minuit (The Midnight Gardens), but – particularly from pivotal epic L’Île Des Morts (Isle Of The Dead) – it is married to an uplifting sense of light on the horizon. At other times, like on Sapphire, there are even gothic textures at play, with deep echoes of The Cure, whose frontman Robert Smith personally selected the band to play at Meltdown festival last year.
Alcest understand that there is beauty in duality, and in the refusal to simply fit in. Much like the sphinx on the artwork, Spiritual Instinct was a timeless exploration of opposites set to music; of the heavenly and the primal, the savage and the beautiful – and the ultimate mysteries of human experience.
16. Amyl And The Sniffers – Amyl And The Sniffers (Rough Trade)
Their raucous, riotous, no-holds-barred live shows have helped Melbourne’s Amyl And The Sniffers become one of the most talked about bands on the planet. Somehow, their self-titled debut managed to catch that wild energy in the confines of a record without losing a single bit of bite or sweaty thrust.
Crashing through 11 songs in 29 minutes, they served up a frenetic whirlwind of debauched, sloppy punk that doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘calm’. It starts with the punchy Starfire 500 – a rollicking number that chugs along boisterously before frontwoman Amy Taylor’s abrasive and very Australian vocals kick in. It’s this element that makes these songs so effective. Take, for example, Gacked On Anger, a furious garage-rock tirade about barely scraping by in the modern world, or the belligerent Cup Of Destiny, which is a hyperactive burst of restless vitality.
Amyl wrote and recorded their 2016 debut EP, Giddy Up, in the space of 12 hours. This full-length doesn’t sound like it took much longer – it’s urgent and intense, visceral and wild, pummelling you in the head and the stomach from the moment you press ‘play’.
That the band’s image is as rough and tumble as their music only adds to their (anti-)charm – these songs don’t just sound like the band want to start a fight with you, but, with their mullets and crust-punk clothes, they look like they probably would, too. It’s easy to make an affected version of this kind of scuzzed-up, fucked-up punk – and many have – but Amyl And The Sniffers proved they absolutely meant it here.
15. Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes – End Of Suffering (International Death Cult)
Despite being armed with all the ambition in the world, even Frank Carter must have had a moment when he heard the final playback of Tyrant Lizard King. That blistering guitar solo? Just Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello. No biggie.
But this wasn’t the highlight of Frank’s third album with The Rattlesnakes. End Of Suffering is as inventive as it is fulfilling – the themes tackled throughout, from relationships, to anxiety, to hatred, are reflective of the frontman’s introspective passage through adulthood so far, as the Watford Wolf held his flaws up to the light for all to see.
At times furious and scathing, at others more subtle and emotionally open, it’s the honesty at its heart that made End Of Suffering such a compelling record. The soulful depths of Anxiety and Angel Wings found Frank and his sparring partner, guitarist Dean Richardson, pushing their sound into more sobering territory. Love Games and Supervillain, meanwhile, both creep along before erupting into Technicolor choruses, while the rumbling Crowbar and Kitty Sucker deliver the obnoxious pit-starters in which the more familiar, angry face of Frank returns.
Despite being involved in a serious car crash in September resulting in the cancellation of the band’s U.S. tour (“I crawled out of the wreck with some cuts and scrapes, a kneecap in the wrong place,” the singer wrote on Instagram), it’s going to take more than that to stop him. Not just because of the enormous wind he’s currently got in his sails from touring with Foo Fighters, knockout sets at Reading & Leeds, and a gig at Alexandra Palace on the horizon, but because when it comes to taking life’s knocks, few can get up again as strongly as Frank. Here was perfect proof.
14. Korn – The Nothing (Roadrunner)
There is a startling darkness at the heart of Korn’s 13th album. It’s there like a shadowy giant in the background from the very first listen.
Frontman Jonathan Davis has stated that The Nothing is the Bakersfield giants’ most emotionally heavy record ever. But given the tragedy that unfolded last August – when the singer’s wife Deven passed away from an accidental drug overdose, leaving him alone and his sons without their mother – it hardly needs to be said that what followed reflects it in sometimes harrowing detail.
There is a helplessness about grief, one that drags you down like quicksand, and here it is daubed throughout. The record opens with the sound of Jonathan screaming ‘Why?’ and sobbing openly into his microphone on The End Begins, and his pain continues on This Loss: ‘I am just a shadow of a man I once used to be / Everything I ever loved is always taken back from me’.
Brilliantly, however, it proved less concerned with a downward spiral than with the battle against it. Instead of drowning in melancholia, these songs came overloaded with attitude and determination. Beyond the existential angst, there is anger. If on 2016’s The Serenity Of Suffering Korn reconnected to their roots and rediscovered that trademark sound, this is them plumbing back into the vitriol that made them essential in the first place.
At this stage in their careers, of course, Korn can legitimately be regarded as one of the Monsters Of Rock, and beyond catharsis these songs are purpose-built with arenas in mind, jam-packed with catchy choruses and defiant attitude. This band have always been about struggling through life’s darkest adversities. And here, they emerged from one of their darkest chapters with one of their most defiantly brilliant albums. From that nothingness, they conjured a new landscape of texture and feeling, and a refusal to surrender to the swirling blackness life can sometimes give us.
13. Jimmy Eat World – Surviving (RCA)
‘They say a diamond grows with time / I believe it / Cause I’ve seen it with my eyes,’ sings Jim Adkins on Diamond, one of Surviving’s highlights. He could not have summed up Jimmy Eat World’s position in 2019 any better.
Despite the band being underdogs for life, Surviving heralds some of the most upbeat and optimistic songs they have ever committed to record. Delivery, Criminal Energy and One Mil all simmer with the songcraft and confidence you’d expect from a band 25 years in, while the brooding 555 and sprawling six-minute album closer Congratulations showed that they’re still big on experimentation. And what’s that cutting through the warm guitars and Americana of All The Way (Stay)? A sax? Wicked.
Where its predecessor, 2016’s Integrity Blues, saw the band reigniting a flame last seen a decade ago, on Surviving they increased its potency. It should even be noted that their 10th album is already beginning to be spoken of as one of their best.
And in 2019, love for the Arizona emo quartet has also been higher than it has been in years. First there was You Me At Six inviting them to come and play with them at their knockout Gunnersville performance in September, and then Biffy Clyro gave them the call to support them at London’s Roundhouse the following month. They’ve also just been announced as headliners for next year’s 2000trees festival. And whether they bring a saxophone with them or not, it’ll still be a triumph for this most beloved of bands. Surviving will be held up as a shining example of everything they still have left to give.
12. SWMRS – Berkeley's On Fire (Fueled By Ramen)
Context can, and will, change an album. 2019 was the best of times and the worst of times for SWMRS. They came straight out of the gates with Berkeley’s On Fire back in February, tore across the globe on tour, and stormed the Main Stages at Reading & Leeds. Oh yeah, and they also bagged themselves the Best International Breakthrough Act title at the Kerrang! Awards in June.
But you can’t account for life’s twists and turns. Sadly, countering all these highs, a devastating van crash at the end of October saw members of the band and their crew hospitalised. And yet somehow, the album has something to offer both sets of events. Berkeley’s On Fire is a record bursting at the seams with life, packed with disarming charm and contagious energy that leaks from every song. Frontman Cole Becker even told Kerrang! that the album has an “everything’s gonna be okay” message.
The title-track is infectious, while Trashbag Baby and Lose Lose Lose are possibly the best songs the band have ever written. Hellboy is a party-starting shitkicker of a tune, and even left-field, oddball closer Steve Got Robbed is at least wholly original. The album is the soundtrack to a house party. It’s what you need on your headphones at the skate park. It’s a good time.
Ultimately none of us know what life holds for us, so shouldn’t we just stick on Berkeley’s On Fire’s carefree jams and enjoy ourselves while we can? Sounds pretty good to us.
11. The Menzingers – Hello Exile (Epitaph)
Following near-perfection is no easy task. Following it twice – as The Menzingers were faced with after On The Impossible Past and romantic punk opus After The Party kicked open new doors for them – is nearly impossible. Yet on Hello Exile, the Pennsylvania gang brought their songwriting talents to the fore, packing their sixth album with sparkling melodies, raucous energy and instantly catchy refrains.
America (You’re Freaking Me Out) howls in a whirl of confusion and stomping guitars, as Greg Barnett swipes at shortcomings both personal and political. Elsewhere, the infectious buzzsaw guitars pinging back and forth on Strangers Forever show that their formative love of Rancid is never far away. On both counts The Menzingers benefit from a shrewd, measured confidence. No longer the underdogs with something to prove, they instead focus on layering parts so that when they do let rip on the ecological disaster prophecy Strawberry Mansion, it hits with the force of a meteorite.
Of course, it’s The Menzingers’ cocktail of perceptive emotional observations and communal choruses that makes Hello Exile so perfect. The first flush of adolescence meets last rites in closing number Farewell Youth, as Greg details a whiskey-soused funeral with friends turned acquaintances. It ranks among the finest songs they have ever written. Far from an exile, here The Menzingers made their most welcoming and relatable work to date.
10. Employed To Serve – Eternal Forward Motion (Spinefarm)
Justine Jones (vocals): “Why do you give a fuck what people think of you? It’s ridiculous when you think about it, isn’t it? I think what’s really important is that you’ve got to care what your younger self thinks of you. You’ve got to stay true to your 13-year-old self, thinking, ‘Would I be proud of myself right now?’”
“While Eternal Forward Motion is most definitely a record that sounds like it would spit in your face before punching you, this isn’t simply moping around. These lyrics have a very real meaning, written for the voiceless millions of disenfranchised youths, growing up into a shitshow of someone else’s making.” Read full review.
The Fans Said…
Adam Thomas: “I love how heavy this album is. It’s like Slipknot meets Converge or something – really heavy and techy, but totally moshy as well. Employed To Serve just don’t write bad riffs, either, and there’s no end of them on here. They’re one of the best metal bands in Britain right now, and this properly proved why.”
9. FIDLAR – Almost Free (Mom + Pop)
Zac Carper (vocals): “We’re growing and changing as time goes on. We still keep that punk rock attitude in our music and the way we operate in our band. But punk rock doesn’t have to be a genre anymore – it’s more of an attitude or a lifestyle that we’ve adopted.”
“The hedonistic, party-all-the-time abandon of their youth is still in evidence, but consequence and doom are never far behind. There’s scar tissue to show for all the damage done, and the hangovers are getting harder to shift, but it still sounds like a total riot.” Read full review.
The Fans Said…
Laura Wright: “I didn’t know FIDLAR before, but a friend played me this and I thought it was awesome. I like party music, so it’s good for that, but it also makes you think, which is cool. My favourite song on it is Get Off My Rock – it’s got such a groove!”
8. Rammstein – (untitled) (Spinefarm)
Richard Z. Kruspe (guitar): “I want people to think, ‘Wow, they’re great songwriters.’ [The album] has more dimension. Rammstein 3D has finally arrived!”
“Rammstein could have released anything and it would sell. It speaks not only to their integrity but also to the mastery of their art that, from its forehead-slappingly simple cover to its most OTT moments that will scorch the skies live, this is a record made with care, craft, and nothing allowed in that isn’t just-so.” Read full review.
The Fans Said…
Coral Boleyn: “It’s an enigma from beginning to end, and it blew my mind. They have unlocked yet another level of unparalleled boundary pushing, it’s in-your-face and catchy as fuck: quintessential Rammstein.”
7. Venom Prison – Samsara (Prosthetic)
Larissa Stupar (vocals): “A lot of people, like myself in the past, if they find something that they can relate to, it might help them deal with things. If they can’t relate personally, they might know someone who can, and be able to understand them better. Or just think, ‘This is fucking brutal and it slams!’”
“Venom Prison have humanised this music by holding up a mirror to a cruel world and viewing people as more than simply walking dummies full of guts, but sentient beings worthy of life, rather than a grisly, gory death.” Read full review.
The Fans Said…
Beth Avison: “Samsara is really heavy, and the amount of emotion in it is really refreshing for death metal. They’re brilliant.”
6. FEVER 333 – STRENGTH IN NUMB333RS (Roadrunner)
Jason Aalon Butler (vocals): “It’s not my job to worry about what people are thinking or what they’re thinking about us – it’s my job to illustrate the truth and a perspective that could be helpful to the greater conversation.”
“STRENGTH IN NUMB333RS sizzles with invention, crossing genres with a funky spring in its step. But where it truly succeeds is in its enormous heart, and its desire for inclusivity, community and simply for people to be better.” Read full review.
The Fans Said…
Charlie Hill: “A brilliant, politically-driven album drawing from numerous sources. Songs like COUP D’ÉTALK are powerful and clearly come from a heartfelt place.”
5. Knocked Loose – A Different Shade Of Blue (Pure Noise)
Bryan Garris (vocals): “The record deals with loss. I feel like I’m at an age now where relatives are passing. You’re losing friends to addiction. I’ve felt for a long time that loss is a part of life I can’t shake. I think these feelings will be relatable to a lot of people in their mid-20s.”
“That Knocked Loose are out for blood here is evident from the moment opener Belleville comes screaming out of the traps. It is 100 per cent attack. What follows is a masterclass in unrepentant brutality, smashing through genre boundaries without flinching.” Read full review.
The Fans Said…
Tom Stockel: “Knocked Loose are really doing something special in hardcore. This album hits so hard, but it’s pushing the boundaries as well. There’s riffs in it that are almost death metal, which is really cool. Bryan Garris’ lyrics are great as well.”
4. Baroness – Gold & Grey (Abraxan Hymns)
John Dyer Baizley (vocals): “This band has always been about being able to improve, adapt, get better, evolve. That could mean taking the house you’ve built and burning it down to rebuild it.”
“By trying to annihilate what’s gone before and truly raise themselves higher, Baroness have created a special record, with a depth that will still have you under its spell a decade from now.” Read full review.
The Fans Said…
John Barrett: “It has some of Baroness’ most complex songwriting to date, without sacrificing anything in the way of emotional impact.”
3. Bring Me The Horizon – amo (RCA)
Oli Sykes (vocals): “I was like, ‘I really want to do all these hard-hitting things, but in different ways.’ If we’re going to do a breakdown, we can still do one, but it can’t be a guitar just going juh-jun. It’s got to be a different instrument, a different way. I want to hit people just as hard, but we can’t rest on the things that have made us successful.”
“amo’s ability to be so many things to so many people is what truly impresses throughout. In less skilled hands, this hopping between genres and experiments with style could have come across as an attempt to fit into worlds beyond rock, magpie-ing outside elements into a populist whole. Nothing could be further from the truth.” Read full review.
The Fans Said…
Dani Collette-Bruce: “amo was a change of pace, but it worked really well. I thought it was cool that they carried on exploring the more electronic parts of their sound, and got guests like Grimes on it. And getting Dani Filth involved was a genius idea. It was a risk to do something like this, but it paid off.”
2. Tool – Fear Inoculum (Music For Nations/Sony Music)
Danny Carey (drums): “All these other bands are writing songs to do this or that, but our only concern is where we meet. When we get in that room, where it takes us, that’s where it goes. Four years ago when we were looking at this, I wanted to try to do a record that was one giant song.”
“Appearing complex is actually easy. But to explore and find something worth listening to in a fiddly idea, and then craft something that feels naturally grand from it without becoming conceited, is a talent and a skill of which Tool are true masters.” Read full review.
The Fans Said…
Kevin Davidson: “Fear Inoculum is the album of 2019 for me, because it was nice to not be disappointed by something I’d waited for with such high anticipation for such a long time. And just listen to 7empest – I mean, come on! It’s amazing!”
1. Slipknot – We Are Not Your Kind (Roadrunner)
Corey Taylor (vocals): “That emotion that you hear in this album is very real: that angst, that aggression, that depression and that manic frenzy to get away from that pain. I’ve always been the guy that can only really write from the standpoint of things that I understand because I’ve gone through them…”
“[There is a lot of] delicate, personal subject matter here. This album serves as a welcome reminder that this is a band who can still shatter confines and do whatever the fuck they want. And that also sums up We Are Not Your Kind perfectly: 20 years since their debut, Slipknot are as bold, fearless and exhilarating as ever.” Read full review.
The Fans Said…
Brad Holsworth: “Corey’s vocals are lethal on this album. It’s been a while since Slipknot have shown this side to their music, I’d probably say since Iowa or All Hope Is Gone. The lyrics are a mix of so many emotions from anger, sadness, and a feeling of chaos. It’s just a freakin’ masterpiece in the way the band put it together.”