Whatever else happened this year, 2019 was another great year for heavy music. Maybe because of everything else that happened. At any rate, more good music came out than I had time to listen to, but the music that I did was often excellent. Some bands made quantum leaps with their music and simply leveled up everything, which was amazing to see and hear, in some cases live in person, and for that I am very thankful.
I’ll start with my usual disclaimer that the idea of “best” is subjective and in my mind ridiculous, no one with a “best of” list could have listened to everything available even if the person were the critical yardstick by which all music is measured. What I present here is a list of my favorite albums that came out in 2019, the ones that got under my skin and got the most repeat listens and deserve to be celebrated and shared.
Without further ado, in almost no particular order, here are my favorite albums of 2019. Some you may know, some you are about to discover!
Rabbits by Brume
I’m not going to hesitate to call this a masterpiece. I don’t know the last time I heard an album that made me feel as much as this one does. Brume is one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s semi-secret treasures, an eclectic heavy rock trio that’s become a cornerstone of the local metal scene. And their latest release, Rabbits, is nothing less than a bold leap beyond their previous work. This is simply a fully realized emotional and sonic landscape that you experience as much as listen to. I highly encourage you to put this album on, lie back, and let it wash over you.
Fear Inoculum by Tool
I was too busy digesting this album when it came out to even post about it. Tool has been my favorite band since someone handed me their worn out copy of Undertow in the early 90s. To wait 13 years since 10,000 Days seems cruel and bound to subvert expectations, but the wait was worth it. What we got was not the fire of young Tool but the studied, evolved musicianship of mature Tool and a worthy entry into the canon of progressive rock. So masterfully produced it’s like melted butter for your ears. Fear Inoculum sounds like the natural progression from 10,000 Days with a little Lateralus thrown in.
Standout tracks: Pneuma, Fear Inoculum
Coven of the Snake by Arrowhead
Australia’s Arrowhead have released a banger that has all the confidence and swagger of a band that have shared the stage with Monster Magnet, Earthless, Acid King, and Sasquatch, to name a few. Fans of Black Sabbath, Corrosion of Conformity, Alice and Chains will dig this fuzzed out heavy record full of catchy grooves and riffs. One of my top listens for the year.
Standout tracks: Coven of the Snake, Root of Evil, March of the Reptiles
The Road by Acid Alice
Excellent fuzzy bluesy guitar rock from Mexico City! Sounding like a hybrid between Big Brother & the Holding Company, Black Sabbath, and the Doors, the very talented Acid Alice has knocked it out of the park with their debut album The Road. Put it on, put the top down and go for a ride!
Standout tracks: Destroy Me, Wolf, Broken Man
Flames Arise by Lowcaster
San Francisco’s Lowcaster have arisen from their own ashes to produce a complex and emotionally mature sophomore effort, Flames Arise. A quantum leap above their rollicking 2016 debut, Flames Arise is born from “two years of tragedy and loss”, according to the band. A guest visit from Susie McMullan of Brume helps send this one over the top.
Standout Tracks: Flames Bemoan the Tide, Shore up the Ashes
Forever, Never or Whenever by Devil to Pay
You can never have enough head-banging fuzzy guitar rock, and this groovy album is a gym favorite for me lately. Fans of Corrosion of Conformity and Mos Generator will dig the gritty grooves of Indianapolis’ Devil to Pay. Really digging this one.
Standout tracks: Heave Ho, The Devil’s Barking Up Your Tree, 37 Trillion
Supercluster by Salem’s Bend
This quirky eclectic electric trio from Los Angeles is out with a new full length, Supercluster. Give it time and let it grow on you, and you too will be infected with their brand of offbeat bluesy rock. There’s something special about Salem’s Bend that I can’t quite put my finger on, but nods to Frank Zappa and other odd influences are hinted at in their groovy sound. See them live if you can, they’re not to be missed.
Standout tracks: Spaceduster, Heavenly Manna, Show Me the Witch
Age of Aquarius by Villagers of Ioannina City
Self-described as ‘post-rock with a dose of Greek folk traditional music’, Villagers of Ioannina City have delivered a masterful opus of sweeping rock soundscapes that subtly incorporates elements of traditional Greek folk music into its heavy tales of gods and the grandeur of nature and history. If you like epic, majestic rock, give this a spin. Also, I love how the singer gives the word “aquarius” five syllables.
Standout tracks: Welcome, Age of Aquarius, Father Sun
Awakened From the Tomb by Witchers Creed
Was sad to see that this was a one-and-done by the darkly fun Witcher’s Creed, calling it quits in mid-2019 after releasing this solid full length on the heels of a few demos and a single. Awakened from the Tomb is an album steeped in the proto-metal tradition of 1970s Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, and it quickly grew on me to become one of my most played albums of the year.
Standout tracks: Witcher’s Creed, Depths of the Black Void, Larissa
Volume by Zed
Another band that leveled up this year is San Francisco Bay Area heavy hitters Zed, local favorites who are gaining international attention with their appearances at festivals like the Maryland Doom Fest and London’s Desertfest. Volume is their best work to date, oozing with the maturity of a hard working band running on all cylinders. All killer, no filler!
Standout tracks: The Other Kind, Chingus, Time and Space
Albums that came out this year that I thought were amazing but didn’t make it into my ‘can’t stop playing this’ criteria included Lana Del Rey‘s beautiful Norman Fucking Rockwell; When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? by Billie Eilish; and the surprisingly good The Answer is None by The Answer is None, 3 guys who met over the internet and made a melodic hard rock album that sounds like Alice in Chains met Van Halen: