By Nathanas Trismegistus
For me, 2019, in black metal (and the multitude of sub-sub-genres contained therein), was a year of spectacular triumphs and disappointments. Now, there were hundreds, if not thousands, of black metal albums released this year so, obviously, I didn’t listen to them all. There’s a lot that I missed that I would have liked to include in this list, like the Reek of the Unzen Gas Fumes self-titled full length, which had an extremely limited release and a very narrow window of availability (which I missed). Some of them, like the latest 1349 and Darkthrone releases, I couldn’t be bothered to give a fuck about. I realize that Darkthrone is a classic band, but I didn’t know which Darkthrone (they’ve changed musical styles throughout their career) was releasing an album this year and, therefore, whether it was appropriate for this list or not. At least with the new Mayhem album (see below), I knew it would be black metal. Also, I will not be addressing EPs, splits, or compilations, so I cannot, unfortunately, include the Tetragrammacide “Third World Esoterrorism” compilation (which was excellent), the “Scorn Coalescence” four-way split (does anybody even care about splits?), or the Death Worship “End Times” EP (which was underwhelming).
Despite 2019 being an incredibly busy year for me, I managed to catch a total of sixty black metal, black/death, and war/bestial black metal albums, not all of which I own and not all of which I can perfectly and specifically recall. Nevertheless, I would like to give my honest thoughts on this, subjectively, small sample (in order of release date) which will serve as a reflection on the black metal community’s total offerings for the year. Consider this article a year in review – with the blinding, tremendous caveat – of the albums I actually managed to catch and can, sort of, remember.
Barshasketh – “Barshasketh”; released January 15, 2019 by World Terror Committee. More of the occult black metal that W. T. C. is known for. I liked their 2015 release, “Ophidian Henosis”, and this album measures up just fine. Might even be better. What I don’t understand is this trend of bands releasing a self-titled album when it’s the third or fourth album in their discography. If I could commend this band for anything it is their thematic consistency. It reminds me a lot of Svartidaudi in how they constantly build tension, through dissonance, in a way that doesn’t seem gratuitous or redundant. They seem to know how to take these menacing musical themes and develop them properly. It is occult black metal. I would compare it to bands like Acherontas and Nightbringer; bands that are influenced by the likes of Ondskapt, Malign, Svartsyn, or Watain. They all basically follow that dark, esoteric Swedish schematic. The best of them, though, manage to find their own voice, which, I think, this band does adequately enough. Incidentally, the front man for this Barshasketh is in another band, called Nadsvest, which put out an exemplary EP this year, which you should definitely check it out if you’re into exotic Eastern European-sounding, dark folkloric concept albums. Well executed. Strong start to the year. Recommended for fans of occult black metal. Not essential, though. I have not yet bought this album, as W. T. C. albums are notoriously difficult to procure in the US (there aren’t very many authorized dealers here), but I do plan on buying it, eventually. If you also live in the US and are interested in buying this album, it might actually be easier (and quicker) to purchase it directly from the label and have it shipped from Germany than to wait for it become available stateside. I’ve done it before and it’s not as big of an inconvenience as you might think. The German postal service is incredibly fast and reliable, and DHL (which ships globally) is generally reliable, too.
Ormagna – “Ormagna”; released February 1, 2019 by Signal Rex. Possibly one of the strangest releases this year. Of course, the lyrics are all in Icelandic. So, I have no idea what this album’s about. Therefore, I can only judge it solely on a musical basis. Heavy, melancholic riffs – well synchronized with the drums – with the occasional dissonant passage. Fairly standard affair as far Icelandic black metal goes. Depressing and, unfortunately, rather boring. It started strong, but, after the second or third track it just collapsed on the ground, dead. This album is the auricular application of valium. Not recommended, not essential.
Vehemence – “Par le sang verse”; released February 15, 2019 by Antiq Records. Epic Medieval Black Metal; now that’s a tall order. This band does not make dungeon synth or dark ambient music, as one might expect. In fact, there are no synth elements in this album at all; though, I highly doubt all the acoustic elements (classical guitar, tambourine, violins, flutes, etc.) are real. This album reminds me a lot of Volahn’s “Aq’Ab’Al”, and not just because both have colorful album artwork. Musically, they’re not very similar; but, thematically and tonally, there’s an upbeat traditionalist, almost folkish, attitude present throughout, interpreted through a vaguely black metal lens (blast beats; harsh vocals; and tremolo-picked 16th, shifting-root-and-fifth power chord abuse). The melodies are, mostly, diabetes-inducing optimistic; a heavy emphasis on major tonalities. What’s different here are the more classic, heavy metal lead passages and the sparse, masculine-sounding, clean vocal choruses. What are they singing about? I haven’t the foggiest idea. The lyrics are all in French. Would I recommend it? Well, not for myself or anyone with similar musical tastes. It’s just too saccharine for me to appreciate it. Definitely not essential.
Grafvitnir – “Venenum Scorpionis”; released February 22, 2019 by Carnal Records, to whom I would like to address a formal complaint. This is the problem with kvlt followings and obscure label releases: this album came out in February, and I didn’t even know of its existence until October. Regardless, I really enjoyed this album, as I have enjoyed every Grafvitnir album. I would go so far as to say that they are what Watain pretend to be: the true successors to Dissection. These riffs are sickening, in the best way possible. Sinister, serpentine melodies furtively braided into a cosmic noose; the silhouette of a hanged man against the moonlit sky. Vocals are like an agonal, raspy whispers of suggestion and temptation conveyed on cold mountain winds at midnight. There’s nothing that this album does that no other Grafvitnir release accomplishes (aside from maybe a little classical guitar number towards the end). Consequently, I would not designate this album as essential. I would designate their 2016 release, “Obeisance to a Witch Moon”, as essential. It is markedly superior to their 2017 release, “Keys to the Mysteries Beyond”. I would recommend “Venenum Scorpionis”, though. Above average melodic black metal.
Basmu – “Enshrined in Eternity”; released March 6, 2019 independently on Bandcamp and physically – on cassette – by Malum Arcana. This is one of those rare Bandcamp bands that isn’t entirely worthless. It isn’t just a cheaply produced bedroom solo project. I really liked their previous album, Infernal Circles of the Sabbat. This one continues in the same vein, in the tradition of Burzum and Satanic Warmaster: raw and solo. Not for the uninitiated, it has that muffled, tinny, lo-fi sound that black metal is known for, but I hesitate to call it “trve kvlt” (whatever that means). Would not recommend for anyone who wasn’t already a fan of raw black metal or of Basmu and his various other side projects. Though I did enjoy it, nothing spectacular, not essential. If you’ve listened to one of his albums you’ve pretty much listened to them all. Probably better as background music than anything, no offence to the artist, of course. This is just the sort of thing I would listen to while studying or reading a book.
Sinmara – “Hvisl Stjarnanna”; released March 8, 2019 by Van Records. This is an album I changed my mind months after its release. At first listen, I found the atmosphere it builds rather obnoxious. However, it definitely drew me in after repeat listens. The atmosphere it builds is not “obnoxious”, but rather “noxious”. Poisonous, intoxicant. Like wandering deep into the woods and stumbling upon this dark corner of an ancient forest, forgotten, populated by these colossal, prehistoric mushrooms; their stalks towering above you, foreboding, and their spores filling the air with an obfuscating, hallucinogenic fume. You get lost. You get trapped. And, ultimately, you die. Your corpse now belongs to the forest depths. Can’t pick a favorite track (not that I could remember any of their Icelandic song titles). You’ve got to listen to the whole album to truly appreciate any single track. The album only gets better as it progresses. Essential if you like discordant Icelandic black metal.
Genocide – “Demonic Rituals in the Shadow of Endless Hellfire”; released March 19, 2019 also by Van Records. Somber, misanthropic black metal from Germany. I’m not going to lie. This album put me to sleep. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t offensive (unlike other albums on this list). It was just boring. Droning, uninspired melodies over incessant blast beats, until track 6 when it’s suddenly atmospheric black metal. Also, the songwriting and composition on this album is, to put it mildly, capricious. Typically, a riff or a passage or a melody is repeated, once or twice, with some minor variation here and there, to maintain thematic consistency; to tie the whole composition up in a nice bow. Well, not here, apparently. There’s absolutely no musical development in this album. The songs just frenetically shift from one riff to the next with no transition or noticeable pattern. Ironically, despite this band’s persistent lack of repetition, this album still manages to be boring. It’s like sitting in a history class taught by an aged, monotone, schizophrenic heroin addict. A soporific exercise in musical apathy which induces a deathlike reverie. Of course, I might have just been tired when I listened to it. I don’t know. Maybe give it a listen. See for yourself. I can’t recommend something this boring, though. Not essential.
Aoratos – “Gods Without Name”; released March 22, 2019 by Debemur Morti Productions. Brought to you by Naas Alcameth, of Nightbringer, Bestia Arcana, and Akhlys fame (all of which I am a huge fan). With a name like Naas Alcameth, it’s no mystery how this guy manages to stay so productive. To be the front man of five different bands/projects without the aid of amphetamines would seem an almost inhuman feat. The musical style of Aoratos retains the same weird, disquieting harmony style and smoky, ritualistic atmosphere of Nightbringer. It’s so similar, in fact, that I am left perplexed as to why this wasn’t just released as another Nightbringer album. Maybe because the subject matter is less esoteric? Maybe to get out of contract with Season of Mist? I don’t know. Regardless, it’s really good. Not much else to say. If you enjoy Naas Alcameth’s other work, you will enjoy this. Recommended. Not essential, though.
Ultra Silvam – “The Spearwound Salvation”; released March 22, 2019 by Shadow Records. Now we have a debut album from a Swedish band. And, for a debut from an unknown band, it’s pretty good. Production is appropriately icy and clear, albeit, raw. Reminds me a lot of Volahn: infectious, high-energy tone; captivating melodies; and decent rhythm. Not your typical black metal affair. Guitars have a wackiness to them. I don’t know why, but at times it reminds me of Looney Toons music (not a criticism). Drums are insanely aggressive. I’m pretty sure I could hear the bass poking through the mix. Execution isn’t perfect, but it’s clearly real, which is a boon to the overall experience. Pace is excellent; Ultra Silvam really knows when to slow down and give the listener time to breathe. This album is being stuck out in the wilderness, lost, miles away from civilization, during a relentless blizzard, several days after your party has run out of food, and you’re hunting them through the mountains in a desperate survival effort. Absolutely refreshing. Held my attention for the entire 28-minute duration. (May I ask why this is considered a full-length LP?) Perhaps the best black metal debut this year. Glad I purchased it. Would recommend to any fan of black metal who’s sick of the genre’s seemingly sempiternal stagnation. Essential.
Aihos – “Havityksen Maa”; released March 29, 2019 by Helter Skelter Productions. Here we have another debut from another novice band. And, boy, do they have a lot to learn (not that I am in any position to judge). This is far from the strongest Finnish offering on this list. This album is, in a word, “banal”. Its guitar melodies are anemic and its drums are catatonic. There is a pagan/folk metal tone to this album, but that’s nothing innovative. The vocals are, at times, interestingly rhythmic and strident and, at other times, full of soaring full-moon, lycanthropic howls; but, that’s about the end of my “praise” for this album. Since this is their first album, one shouldn’t judge them too harshly. There’s undeniably room for improvement. Perhaps their next offering will come closer to the Finnish mark. Only time can tell. For now, this is about as standard as standard gets. Not recommended and not essential. If you’re looking for some fresh material from a newcomer to the Finnish black metal scene, you should check out Phlegein or maybe some of other entrants in this list.
Akrotheism – “Law of Seven Deaths”; released March 29, 2019 by Osmose Productions. Some more decent occult black metal out of Greece. I was a big fan of their first album, “Behold the Son of Plagues”, when it came out. That album was far more rudimentary in its songwriting. This album definitely steps it up in the composition category. Nothing spectacular about the drumming, but there’s some really interesting guitar melodies (or anti-melodies); really dissonant and tense. If I had any complaints, it would be the weird, muffled, fuzzy, distorted, bassy production which just renders some of the otherwise intriguing riffage almost inaudible. I get it’s black metal, but there’s a certain threshold of “raw-ness” or “trve kvlt-ness” that I think you should strive to avoid crossing, and this album comes dangerously close to it. Most raw black metal is shrill and abrasive, but the instruments – particularly in old-school Scandinavian black metal – err on the higher, more trebly side of the spectrum, which helps the instruments and the music to better stand out. Solid follow-up. Unambiguous, on-the-nose vaginal imagery aside, this band has definitely matured. Shame about the production quality, though. I would recommend it to fans of Acherontas, Acrimonious, and Thy Darkened Shade. Not essential, though.
Revenant Marquis – “Polterngeyst”; released March 29, 2019 by Death Kvlt Productions. Revenant Marquis had another album release this year, but I only had a chance to listen to this one. This is probably as raw as it gets. The songwriting is very basic. The sound is incredibly muffled, to the detriment of the listening experience, unfortunately. You really have to struggle to hear the music, and that, to me, is emblematic of raw black metal done wrong. Just like the Basmu release, this might be a record you want to have on in the background while studying or reading. Revenant Marquis actually had another album come out this year, through a different label, which I have not yet had the opportunity to listen to, so I couldn’t tell you if it’s better or not. It has some interesting album art. This one, though, I cannot recommend. Not essential.
Gestapo 666 – “Satanic Shariah”; released April 12, 2019 by legendary Drakkar Productions. It’s raw, hateful French black metal, not unlike Mutiilation, Vlad Tepes, Seigneur Voland, or Kristallnacht. Fuzzy, unbalanced production captures decent, melodic “Darkthrone-esque” guitarwork and dead-flat, dirty mattress drumming (the best kind, really). I’ve listened to their previous albums, but they do get kind of lost in the blur of resemblance. Nothing special here, but nothing horribly offensive either (except maybe the lyrics). Though I enjoyed well enough for what it is, I can’t really give an enthusiastic recommendation to something this average. Not essential, either.
Mephorash – “Shem Ha Mephorash”; released April 18, 2019 by Shadow Records. Here, we have yet another Swedish band. And, this is yet another album I have changed my mind about since giving it a second listen. I’d say it’s an improvement over their last offering, which was itself a vast improvement over earlier offerings. As long as you don’t mind orchaestral/symphonic or choral accompaniments, this will satisfy your esoteric cravings. I didn’t find them irritating or entirely unnecessary, which is what a lot of symphonic components of black metal feel like. Their definitely more integral to this one whereas they felt kind of tacked on with the last. Loses steam towards the very end. Favorite song is “Sanguinem” which had a crazy music video which you should totally check out. Not bad, but not essential either.
Forgjord – “Ilmestykset”; released April 19, 2019 by Werewolf Records. The Finnish black metal scene is alive and well with these next two entries. Another solid addition to an already solid discography. Forgjord exemplifies the Finnish black metal spirit (or how I interpret it): proud, unapologetic, and austere. The production on this album is perfectly raw and exceptionally brutal. Composition is fascinating, captivating. I would recommend it, though I may have liked their last album, “Uhripuu”, more. (That may change over time.) Not much else to say; just really good black metal, but not essential. There was an EP, also released this year with two original tracks and two covers (one of which is a bizarre cover of the ubiquitous “Requiem for a Dream” movie theme which I’m sure a lot of people are familiar with). I’m not sure why they didn’t just include the two new tracks on this album. “Ilmestykset”, unfortunately, wasn’t released on vinyl, so, the temporal limitations of the medium obviously wasn’t the issue. The CD even has one additional track that the digital Bandcamp version does not. Strange.
Sielunvihollinen – “Kuolonkylvaja”; released April 19, 2019 by Kvlt. Just Kvlt. This is the third album in their discography, and a strong, Heraclean follow-up to 2017’s “Ruhonkantaja”, which is, itself, essential listening; although, I do consider this release to be superior. Very melodic, very catchy. Guitars and drums fit resplendently well together. Production quality may not be the best, but, still, an easy listen, despite its hostile and hateful disposition. As proud and unapologetic as they come. Favorite track is “Uusi Kurja Maailma”. Highly recommended. Buy it and watch helplessly as it stampedes through its 34-and-a-half minute running time.
Vargrav – “Reign in Supreme Darkness”; released April 26, 2019 also by Werewolf Records. It’s symphonic black metal, it’s not for everyone. It’s not even for me, even though I like Satanic Warmaster which, at times flirts rather generously with the keyboard. The symphonic elements don’t seem as prominent or as important with Satanic Warmaster. Werwolf seems to strike a balance that most other bands seem to struggle with. I almost have to be in the right mood to even want to listen to symphonic black metal bands like Emperor or Limbonic Art. Same goes with this band. I will say this, the symphonic elements are well done with this album. They sound phenomenal in this album, not cheap or hollow as with other bands. The other aspects – guitars, drums, vocals – are uninspired, so, I can’t really recommend it. Not essential, either.
Deiphago – “I, the Devil”; released April 30, 2019 by Hells Headbangers Records. Of all their albums released through Hells Headbangers Records, this is definitely the best one. They have a very distinct sound, distinct style, which helps them stand out amongst the blur of the oversaturated black metal market. I loved “Satanik Eon”, but for some reason they fail to reach that same level of relentless savagery. This one comes pretty close. The production quality is good—really good—for no reason. The sound is soft and warm, like they used one of those $4000 tube compressors (or, at least, a very good emulator). It sounds really good. The bass stands out prominent in the mix, which is very unusual. Same with the drums and vocals. Not that the guitars are poorly mixed, everything else is just so well blended that they’re kind of just hidden in plain sight. Everything sounds massive. It’s all very well produced. This album must have been well-funded. Overall, solid album. Favorite tracks: “Quantum Death” and “Deus Alienus”. Would recommend, but not essential.
Deathspell Omega – “The Furnaces of Palingenesia”; released May 24, 2019 by Norma Evangelium Diaboli. May 24 was a good day for black metal. Following a monumental disappointment – at least for me, personally – Deathspell Omega comes back with this masterful work. All is forgiven. Faith is restored. It plays almost as a synthesis of FAS and Paracletus: dizzying frenetic, yet refined, dissonance with a smattering of a harsh, oppressive atmosphere. What it brings new is militant rhythmic passages, almost like that of military parade, but in like a dystopian, authoritarian future where the sky is irreversibly blackened by billowing pillars of smoke from endless bombardment, endless mass weapons production, and endless mechanized warfare. I know this release has been marred by some controversy. It is the first time this band has gotten even vaguely political. Just know, it’s all bullshit. People who say it’s all nonsense and drivel or it’s poor quality output from an otherwise exemplary band—they’re lying. I dare you to listen to it, and I mean really listen to it. Absorb it. Don’t let the supercilious, moralizing, opportunistic, ideologically-driven, perpetually-outraged, virtue-signaling, offense-capitalist bullshit merchants tell you what you should and should not listen to. Most of these hypocrites praised the band back when it was popular to do so, and now they condemn the band because it is politically expedient to do so. They had every chance – in fifteen years! – to criticize the band or the views of its members, but they didn’t. And, I’d argue, there’s a reason for that. Listen to the album for yourself (it’s streaming for free on YouTube and Bandcamp). Decide for yourself. But I digress. The lyrics sheet is like a novel, so good luck parsing through all of that. Perhaps in the coming days I’ll do a more thorough review where I’ll have the time to better explore the lyrics. Though there are a couple of redundant songs (tracks 9 and 10 come to mind), absolutely essential listening! A worthy successor to 2010’s masterpiece Paracletus. Album of the year contender. Favorite track? Impossible to decide. Maybe “The Fires of Frustration”, maybe “Sacrificial Theopathy”.
Esoctrilihum – “The Telluric Ashes of the O Vrth Immemorial Gods”; released May 24, 2019 by I, Voidhanger Records. One of the few bands that manages to consistently top itself, again and again. I’ve followed Esoctrilihum ever since their, or his (there is only one listed band member), second album, “Pandaemorthium” and each subsequent release supersedes the last. This is their best album and their first to be released on vinyl (which I don’t have, yet). It’s dark, it’s strange, it’s atmospheric, it’s thrashy, it’s brutal, it’s exotic, it’s hypnotic, but all of these elements in deftly measured portion. I can’t wait for their next album. My only complaint is that there is a cheap, bedroom studio, digital quality to the sound (the mix is shallow and compressed), but that may just be the CD version. Incredibly unique and inventive band. Favorite track is “Invisible Manifestation of Delirium God”. Highly recommended. Essential. Contender for album of the year.
Misthyrming – “Algleymi”; released May 24, 2019 by Norma Evangelium Diaboli. A stark contrast from Sinmara’s psychotropic nightmare excursion, this album plays like a very real, very tangible excursion into a cold, brutal, and unforgiving unknown land. Brisk both in pace and atmosphere. The album art rather fittingly embodies its musical tone. A fantastic follow-up to their 2015 release “Songvar elds og oreithu”. It retains the chaotic, dissonant elements of its predecessor, yet possesses this air of hopefulness, potentiality and triumph, despite its lyrical content. If I ever travel to Iceland, this is the album I want playing while traipsing across the frozen mountains and tundra plains. Probably the best of the Iceland-based black metal releases this year. Highly recommended. Essential.
(The True / Krzysztof) Batushka – “Panihida”; released May 26, 2019 on Bandcamp and, officially, December 4, 2019 on CD by Sphieratz Productions. After the Great Schism, in which fat, greedy, treacherous sellout fuck Bart completely (allegedly) stole the band from Krzysztof – laying siege to its various social media platforms – and sold its hollowed corpse off to mainstream sewage deposit Metal Blade Records, it was a veritable arms race to release the follow-up to Batushka’s acclaimed 2015 debut “Litourgiya”. Not only did Krzysztof more accurately capture the sound and style of Batushka, he beat megaschlomo Bart by releasing his version nearly 7 weeks earlier, all without sounding rushed. Diet Batushka’s (it’s ironic because Bart is a disgusting, bloated colostomy bag) release “Hospodi” does not even come close to the style of “Litourgiya” and I refuse to even dignify it with a review. They might still wear the Bulgarian orthodox robes, but they’re nothing more than a shallow imitation. “Panihida”, on the other hand, is numinous, inspired, reverent, retributive, haunting, infinitely mysterious, melodic, and memorable. The production is a little thin and has that obvious digital-sounding resonance to it, but that is completely forgivable given the circumstances. Naturally, since this initially released on Bandcamp (and the official, physical release did not drop until many months later) and since there was a lot of hype and controversy surrounding this album, there is a surfeit of bootlegs out there. If you can manage to find a genuine copy of the Sphieratz CD release, buy it. Support Krzysztof. Summa laude. Absolutely essential and strongly recommended. Death to Bart. Death to Metal Blade Records. And DEATH TO FALSE BATUSHKA.
Malum – “Legion”; released May 31, 2019 by Purity Through Fire. More great black metal from the taiga and fens of Finland. I swear—I don’t know what it is about that place, but – even newer bands like this and Phlegein (who, again, you should totally check out) – they consistently produce top quality metal, in general. Not much to say here except, much like Sielunvihollinen, very melodic, very catchy, somewhat standard affair. A brisk 38 minutes of pure, unfettered perkele palvonta. I would recommend this as a sufficient hold-over until the next Horna release, whenever that will be. Really good, just not essential.
Panzerfaust – “The Suns of Perdition – Chapter I: War, Horrid War”; released June 14, 2019 by Eisenwald. I heard their previous album, “Jehovah-Jireh” and I really liked it. This album’s lyrical content seems to take on less occult and religious or abstract topics and more particular historical and bellicose topics; though, I would not consider it “war metal”. Stylistically, there is also a slight shift, away from occult black metal and more towards dark industrial black metal. There’s a lot of repetitious accents and clean passages over various types of samples. Drums are very different from your standard black metal affair. It’s all very good, it’s very palatable for any kind of metal listener, and I would recommend it as such. But it’s not essential.
The Meads of Asphodel – “Running Out of Time Doing Nothing”; released June 21, 2019 by Godreah Records. I can’t critique this album. I listened to it. I don’t understand it. It’s unique even among TMoA albums. It is probably the least “black metal” of TMoA albums. It exists, seemingly, to solely call into question, to subvert, the meaning of black metal. The question of whether or not this is even black metal and, therefore, appropriate for this list is still open. I’ll actually expand on this subject in another article. (So, look out for that.) For now, I’ll say, I am ambivalent towards this album. I don’t love it. I don’t hate it. I can’t recommend it, to anybody. I wouldn’t even know who to recommend it to. Not essential, even for fans of The Meads of Asphodel.
Ammanas – “Omen Ex Tenebrosum”; released August 6, 2019 by Heerwegen Tod Production. Another debut album, except, this time, by a Russian band. Unlike Finland, Russia isn’t very well known for quality black metal (Pseudogod, Blackdeath, and BBH affiliates are exceptions), at least, in my opinion. Production is good. It’s a very easy listen. Vocals are very deep, which is, unconventional. Guitar melodies are uninspired, lifeless, and cliché as are the drums. Overall, mediocre. Give it a pass. Not recommended and not essential.
Nocturnal Departure – “Cathartic Black Rituals”; released August 7, 2019 independently on Bandcamp, and then physically by Les Fleur du Mal Productions on cassette, Redefining Darkness Records on CD, and Death Kvlt Productions on vinyl. I have the CD. Another debut and another Canadian band. Just like Basmu, it’s raw, but not quite as raw. It’s far more aggressive though. Other than the weird techno elements, it’s pretty standard, honestly. Clearly inspired by Striborg. Really drags towards the end. Enjoyable enough, I guess. But I can’t really recommend it. Not a bad start for a band, though. Not essential.
Totenwache – “Der Schwarze Hort”; released August 11, 2019 independently on CD and Bandcamp. The phrase “identity crisis” comes to mind. Totewache is a German band that seems to be emulating Finnish bands like Goatmoon, Satanic Warmaster, and White Death. Or maybe they’re more influenced by Moonblood? Overall, I liked the album, but I cannot recommend it to somebody looking for anything new or innovative or original. Maybe if you’re just looking for something to fill the silent void between Satanic Warmaster releases. Not essential.
Abysmal Lord – “Exaltation of the Infernal Cabal”; released August 16, 2019 by Hells Headbangers Records. These next three albums were also, all released on the same day. The first, unfortunately, is not much more than an echo of their previous offering, except with more delay on the vocals. I was really looking forward to this release, especially since I enjoyed their previous album, “Disciples of the Inferno” and I really enjoyed their EP “Storms of Unholy Black Mass”. I’m by no means disappointed. It’s basically what I expected, what I signed up for. It’s bestial, it’s ominous, it’s ferocious, it’s extreme, fast, and blasphemous. It’s a feral, emaciated, rabid, three-headed dog stampeding towards you, leaping viciously towards your jugular. Some good breaks, decent grindy riffs, and some face-ripping solos. Nothing complicated or revolutionary here, but it’s by no means an easy listen. They, unashamedly, brandish their influences. It’s almost pure in its simplicity and honesty. I would recommend it, but it’s not essential.
Diocletian – “Amongst the Flames of a Burning God”; released August 16, 2019 by Profound Lore Records. I bought this album. I listened to it, at least once, I’m pretty sure I did. But I don’t remember a single, solitary note from this album. Forgettable. Give it a miss. Not essential. *Addendum: I did remember to give this album a second listen and, yeah, it is as mediocre and forgettable as I gathered from my first impression. Nothing about this album works. It’s white noise. It’s a flatline on an EKG. It’s “where was I the last 27 minutes” mind-numbingly boring. “Repel the Attack” was okay. Is Diocletian the most overrated on this list? Maybe. Don’t waste your money or your time. If you’re a fan of war metal, listen to the Sammath album instead.
Hellvetron – “Trident of Tartarean Gateways”; released August 16, 2019 by Iron Bonehead Productions who may be singlehandedly responsible for cluttering my Facebook feed with announcements for their inordinate releases. Now, if we’re talking about albums that did not disappoint, that absolutely lived up to the hype, we’re talking about this album. Holy shit! This album is EVIL—plain and simple! Whereas I thought their last album was just passable, and outshined by their demo material, this album exceeded any and all expectations. I don’t even know where to begin. Not only does this album feel evil, it feels very real, production-wise; the sort of album that sounds like all instruments were present and being performed in the same room with one another throughout each song, almost like a live album. I could be completely wrong about that, but that’s what it sounds like to me. Somewhat slow to mid-paced doom tempos dripping with a dark, dank, cavernous atmosphere. Imagine Grave Upheaval with a pulse above dead. Echoey guitars, bizarre samples, and haunting instrumentations all lending to the overwhelming sense of dread elicited by this album. Only gets better and more terrifying as it goes along. This album is sleepless, nameless – yet familiar – evil stalking you through a dark, inescapable forest. Best track? Fuck you, listen to the whole album. Possibly album of the year. Summa laude. Essential. Another limited release, so, get it while you can.
Antichrist Siege Machine – “Schism Perpetration”; released August 26, 2019 on vinyl by Stygian Black Hand and on CD by Krucyator Productions. Some great US black/death metal here. It’s extremely brutal. Just like the Hellvetron album, it sounds real. Competently produced. Deftly executed. Just like the Abysmal Lord release, it has the same kind of insane, discordant, face-ripping solos and relentless, skull-pounding drums you’d expect from a Blasphemy-influenced band, except I may have enjoyed this one a little more. It’s kind of short (doesn’t even last 30 minutes), but that’s to be expected for faster tempo albums, and, I think, more forgivable as a result. If you like Black Witchery, Caveman Cult, Nigrummagia, you’ll probably love this. I’d keep an eye on these guys. This album sets a markedly high standard, so I expect nothing but excellence from their next album. Definitely recommended, definitely worth a listen for any fans of black/death or bestial black or war metal. Is it essential, though? It’s close, but it doesn’t quite meet the stringent qualifications (sarcasm).
Slaughtbbath – “Alchemical Warfare”; released August 26, 2019 by Hells Headbangers Records. It’s Chilean black metal. It’s fast, it’s aggressive, it’s diabolical. A solid, long-overdue follow-up to their last album, “Hail to Fire”. “Relentless” is a perfect word to describe this album. Monstrous—once it sinks its claws into your flesh, the only escape is to sacrifice that flesh to its voracious appetite. Highly recommended, but not essential.
Mgla – “Age of Excuse”; released September 2, 2019 by Northern Heritage. Should have just titled it, “Exercises in Futility” 2. I did not like this album very much, and it’s difficult to pin down exactly why. The word “formulaic” comes to mind. I didn’t hate it. This is the exact same album as their previous, which was exceptional. It’s melodic, melancholic, drums are great, guitars are great, vocals are okay. It’s all good, but it’s just not as good. They released a preview track – track 2 – prior to the album’s release and it’s definitely the standout track. Although, tracks 3, 4, and 6 are also good. The lyrical content is different only in that the topics which they broach take on a broader, more socially-oriented application. I want to say, they do cynical, nihilistic, Nietzschean subjects right, but, honestly, I’m not sure that they do. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all good, it’s all well written. But, I think this is the album that made me realize just how overdone it is and how mopey and melodramatic it can all sound. To be fair, though. Expectations were stratospheric. Mgla’s last album is so revered, so critically-acclaimed and well-received that it even managed to make its way into the mainstream metal consciousness. A bit disappointing, not essential unless you’re just a big fan of Mgla. I may do a more in-depth review in the future to maybe better explain why this album did not work for me and why I think it is inferior to “Exercises in Futility”.
Arnaut Pavle – “Arnaut Pavle”; released September 9, 2019 by Mystiskaos. Here we have another debut album, and yet another Finnish band. A bit on the raw side. Frenetic, catchy; definitely a headbanger. Heavily influenced by the Norwegian scene, I guess they just thought the Finnish style was overplayed in their home country. Reminds me a lot of Darkthrone, Tsjuder, or Urgehal. Really good album. I would recommend to fans of the more classic, “second wave” black metal sound. Not essential, though.
Serpent Column – “Mirror in Darkness”; released September 9, 2019 also by Mystiskaos. This band is probably the single brightest, rarest jewel you will find in the endless rough of Bandcamp. Their debut album, “Ornuthi Thalassa”, is one of my all-time essential albums. It was like if the guitarist of Arghoslent and Grand Belial’s Key (Gelal Necrosodomy; who is now, apparently, in Absurd) took his idiosyncratic guitar playing style and joined Deathspell Omega. Hell, it may even be the same guy. Who knows, the artist is anonymous. The result was, in a word, mythical. I didn’t much care for the EP they released, “Invicta”, in between. It was alright. Had one good song. This album, however. Holy shit. It’s their first album but longer, more original, more varied, and more focused. Basically, a comprehensive improvement. If I had one complaint, it is this: there is way too compression on the mix of this album. Dial it back next time, please. Favorite track: (while I recommend you listen to the whole album) “Ausweg” or maybe “Warlords of the World to Come”. Released by Mystiskaos so it’s only available, physically, on vinyl. I may have to buy a second copy as I will probably wear mine out. Give this a spin and strap in, cause this album will take you places. Definitely recommended. Summa laude. Essential. In fact, not just essential—mandatory.
Ancient Moon – “Benedictus Diabolica, Gloria Patri”; released September 20, 2019 by Iron Bonehead Productions. I first heard about this band from a split they did with another band called Prosternatur. They had one track on the split, but it was over 18 minutes long. It was very interesting, though. Lyrics were entirely in Latin and some other language. Which is a word I would also use to describe this album. Interesting. It’s basically just two excessively long (almost 20 minutes) songs, a la Abruptum, written entirely in Latin. This band is really just quite the oddity. It’s rife with very atmospheric, symphonic drone, to which the guitars respond well. The drums, of course, do their job. All in all, a fascinating album, but it really was meant for people with godlike attention spans. Like the Basmu album, I would recommend it more as background music. Not a glowing review, surely. But this is an intriguing piece. Not essential, though.
Blut aus Nord – “Hallucinogen”; released September 20, 2019 by Debemur Morti Productions. From what I can remember of this bands earlier work, their music has always gone back and forth between proggy-industrial, dissonant black metal and straight-up, slightly unconventional, off-beat atmospheric black metal. With this album, their back to the atmospheric tone, which really isn’t my thing. It’s really good atmospheric black metal, with some smatterings of the more experimental, dissonant stuff. It strikes a good balance, I think. Very easy listen. Can’t really recommend it, cause, again, it’s not my cup of tea. I didn’t buy it and I probably won’t, but it is good. Not essential.
Druadan Forest – “Dismal Spells from the Dragonrealm”; released September 27, 2019 by Werewolf Productions. Why did I buy this? From the same asshole who brought us Vargrav, in his endless quest to lull us all to sleep, now comes Druadan Forest. If Vargrav was V-Khaoz trying his hand at Emperor, than Druadan Forest is V-Khaoz trying his hand at Summoning, or Mortiis. Really, this is better than Ambien. I would recommend this to insomniacs. Not essential.
Dead Reptile Shrine – “Tales of the Unknown”; released September 27, 2019 by Bestial Burst. This album, or any other DRS album, is not for the uninitiated. This band is amorphous, anomalous. It’s like Nokturnal Mortum on a meth-fueled vision quest through perilous, uncharted Finnish swamplands. I listened to Rauta’s review of this album and he mentioned that their music sounds improvised, unrehearsed. I don’t know if it’s all done completely off the cuff or if it’s just rough, sloppy, unpolished, not unlike a lot of classic, raw black metal bands. If it is all just improvised, they’re good improvisations. I’d be interested in visiting a Guitar Center with these guys (or this guy) and just listen to them (or him) noodle aimlessly on cheap, shitty guitars. But I’m a little skeptical because some of these arrangements are extremely complicated. And if it’s all just one guy playing every instrument, as the MA/liner notes suggest, then that would be damn near impossible. This album runs the gambit of dark, disorienting extradimensional hellscape to funky psychedelic jam to serene pastoral panorama at dawn. It’s really strange and it’s really hard to judge something this bizarre. If you want to experience the furthest reaches of black metal, where conventional boundaries simply fail to coherently contain the elusive strangeness of these really bizarre bands, I would recommend it. Of course, if you’re already a fan of DRS, this is a solid addition to their discography. Of the ones that I’ve listened to, this is probably their most digestible album. Not essential, though.
Venereal Baptism – “Repugnant Coronation of the Beast”; released September 27, 2019 by Osmose Records. I don’t really consider this band black metal. It sounds more like modern, post-Necrophagist technical death metal (without any of the technical prowess). The shouted vocals sound like Archspire. Constant, repetitive blast beats; sampled film audio; grindy, sometimes groovy, low-frequency-emphasized guitars vaguely reminiscent of superior black/death bands. Overall an unpleasant listen. Mediocre. Avoid it like an ex-girlfriend. Not recommended. Not essential.
Sammath – “Across the Rhine Is Only Death”; released October 7, 2019 by Hammerheart Records. This album, it seems, was praised endlessly, and I’m not entirely sure why. I wasn’t familiar with this band before I listened to this album. Like a lot of war metal, the constant barrage of blast beasts, punctuated by transient drum rolls, and can kind of blend together, you get kind of numb to it as the albums progress. This band does manage to mix it up occasionally. Drums and guitar are all expertly performed. The vocals are strangely devoid of any kind of effect or processing, which renders them kind of weak in the mix. It sounds very honest, though, which I can appreciate. Much like the Deiphago album, it’s very well produced, more so than it needs to be; though, this album is notably grittier. Easy enough listen. Does it live up to the hype? Yeah, I’d say it does. Recommended, but no essential. If you like this style of war metal, I would also recommend the Complot! Compilation that was also released this year.
Dysangelium – “Death Leading”; released October 8, 2019 by World Terror Committee. I didn’t get a chance to listen to this album in its entirety, but, considering it’s a W. T. C. release, I’m pretty sure I know what to expect. I did listen to their 2014 release, “Thanatos Askesis”, and I didn’t really like it; just like Barshasketh, it’s Watain-influenced occult black metal with some vaguely progressive, dissonant elements. I can’t imagine this one’s very different. Obviously, since I didn’t listen to it, I can’t praise it. But I also can’t disparage it. Maybe it’s great. I don’t know.
Profanatica – “Rotting Incarnation of God” by Season of Mist Underground Activists; released October 11, 2019. It’s standard bestial black metal doing what standard bestial black metal does, albeit very well. Not terrible, not great. I listened to it, but I didn’t buy it, and I probably won’t. Although, I will say, it was pretty ballsy of a big label like Season of Mist publishing an album with a song titled “Broken Jew”. But what’s with the “Underground Activists” moniker. Don’t you know how gay that sounds?
Shrine of Insanabilis – “Vast Vortex Litanies”;
released October 17, 2019 by World Terror Committee (delayed until late November). Another W. T. C. release, another one I don’t have yet in my possession. I did manage to stream it on Bandcamp. It’s occult black metal, just like Dysangelium and Barshasketh, which I genuinely do enjoy when it’s not retreading the same ground as bands like Watain or Acherontas or Nightbringer. This band, I think, has a signature, it has a unique voice that I don’t think the other two bands have. Shrine of Insanabilis’s first album, “Disciples of the Void” is essential listening; it captures, it raptures the listener, through inventive, otherworldly, creative composition and excellent execution with all instruments. I would compare this band to A. M. S. G. and Funeral Mist, both are similarly unique and unconventional in their songwriting, if that even makes sense. They all have their own artistic approach. This new album is good, it has all the same hallmarks, but it’s just not as good, as original, or as memorable. I will eventually buy this album (again, it’s a W. T. C. release), and I would recommend it, but it’s not essential.
Teitanblood – “The Baneful Choir”; released October 18, 2019 by Norma Evangelium Diaboli. This… this is a tough one. I love this band—one of my favorites. Everything they’ve put out – their LPs and their Eps – is pure gold. It was released with almost nothing in the way of hype or fanfare. Noevdia just quietly released this album, like literally almost two weeks after announcing it (a practice which I fully support as it tempers expectations). I had been holding out for a new Teitanblood release for a while (their last, full-length release was in 2014), although, I, like most people, didn’t expect it. It was a nice little surprise. And, while two weeks are enough to build up one’s expectations, when the album finally released, well, I can’t say my expectations weren’t met. They were simply subverted. It’s a weird anomaly, actually. This album doesn’t just launch into an audial onslaught immediately; it earns it. The slower, more subdued sections gradually build to the impending fusillade. It’s kind of a slow burn, until it isn’t. All of this tension beautifully climaxes into fast-tempo, down-tuned, grindy, whirlwind affairs. And this progression occurs multiple times throughout the album. I’ll tell you what though, if you ever wanted to time travel, give this record a spin and watch helplessly as time and matter bends arounds and ultimately evaporates into a star-devouring super massive blackhole. This album is like a category 666 tornado, fraught with lightning and razor-sharp debris, tearing through a blood-soaked slaughterhouse. The tracks are noticeably shorter on this offering, although, this is probably deliberate. “The Baneful Choir” is certainly the best paced and probably most evenly balanced Teitanblood album. No 10-to-15-minute tracks here. There are some quasi-industrial noise elements scattered throughout, which were present in 2014’s “Death”, but I think are more fitting and used to better effect here. I will always prefer the more devilish operatic and haunting atmospheric numbers of “Seven Chalices”, though. The majority of solos are no longer the chaotic, Kerry King-esque chromatic flurries. Instead, they’re mostly more classic, harmonic zephyrs, which is probably the most noteworthy difference among Teitanblood’s albums. (The former, in this case, I think is more fitting for this style of music.) Also, the lyrical content (which is, strangely, present in the CD release but not the vinyl release), from what I could glean (good luck reading this shit), seems to have taken a shift away from the spiritual and occult to the more eldritch and Lovecraftian. This may be explained by the apparent line-up change. I don’t remember Teitanblood having four members. Maybe they will start performing live? Overall, I really enjoyed it. Favorite track? “Leprous Fire”, “The Baneful Choir”, “Verdict of the Dead”? Much like their other albums, you really do need to listen to the album in its entirety to do it any justice. Would highly recommend. Is it essential, though? “Seven Chalices” is essential. Still—a strong contender for album of the year.
Kosmokrator – “Through Ruin… Behold”; released October 31, 2019 by Van Records. Naturally, many albums were released on Halloween. Varied, interesting vocals, at times sounds like Bolzer (who released a rather underwhelming EP this year). Eerie guitar harmonies. Eerie atmosphere. Strange composition. Reminds me a lot of Sinmara’s album, except, rather than a dense, psychotropic mist, it’s more of a smoky, sulfurous abyss. I’ve actually been following this band since their demo. Their guitarist’s riff craft is not just unconventional, but also memorable. Not much else to say about this. Strong debut album. Solid black/death metal. Would recommend, but not essential.
Nachtig – “Nachtig”; released October 31, 2019 by Purity Through Fire. It’s atmospheric black metal, so, not really my thing. It’s good atmospheric black metal, has a nice classical quality to it. Good production; but, overall, forgettable. Not recommended. Not essential.
Qayin Regis – “Doctrine”; released October 31, 2019 by BlackSeed Productions. Here we have some occult black metal, amid a sea of occult black metal releases. Like a lot of the other releases this year, this accomplishes what it sets out to do. It creates a ritualistic atmosphere for meditation and/or worship. Spooky enough that you could play it in the background at a children’s Halloween party. There are only four tracks but, just like the Ancient Moon release, they are lengthy tracks. What this one does differently is lack of emphasis on dissonance and its heavier emphasis on rhythm and these weird, arpeggiated, chorused delay guitar passages, which I’ve heard somewhere else, but I can’t quite place. The third track has an interesting acoustic intro. That’s about all I can say positively about this album. Overall fairly average, fairly standard, probably not even in the top ten of occult black metal releases this year. Again, I would recommend it solely to fans of the sub-sub-genre. Not essential.
Valosta Varjoon – “Oberpfalzer Wald”; released October 31, 2019 by Purity Through Fire. Another German band with an identity crisis. I don’t understand why all these German bands are trying to sound Finnish (the bands name is in Finnish) or Polish or Czech or Latvian or whatever. Are they ashamed of the German black metal sound? A lot of great bands have come out Germany: Moonblood, Katharsis, Pest, not Dysangelium. Are they ashamed to be German? What is the deal? Is this a trend? Regardless, there is some “interesting” composition going on (“interesting” if you’re a big fan of Liturgy). Some typical black metal tropes were subverted. Although, other tropes were simply observed. I did not see that twist in the black metal formula on track 2 coming, even though it was preceded by a very familiar-sounding intro melody. There were a couple of times (I’m not lying, two tracks had the exact same opening chord progression) I thought the band were about to break out into a cover of Satanic Warmaster’s “The Wampyric Tyrant”. The drums sound, I’m not going to say they sound “cheap”, but they definitely don’t sound real. The sound is so poorly mixed to the point that it’s obvious (and, therefore, distracting) that the drums are clearly not in the same room as the other instruments. I would recommend it to the curious or the discriminating listener (faggots), if you can tolerate obvious programmed, plug-in drums. There is something unique going on here (I’m lying this album is a “scam” they literally misappropriated every single individual riff off of Satanic Warmaster’s “The Wampyric Tyrant” and stretched it across its 50 minutes runtime). I would not deem it essential, however.
Mayhem – “Daemon”; released November 8, 2019 by Century Media Records. Mayhem is back… again. Although, it’s difficult to say that “Mayhem” is back, because this band, like a teenager, has gone through many phases. In all seriousness, though, this album is pretty damn good. It was not a worthless abomination like “Grand Declaration of War”, definitely more of a return to form. Even better than “Esoteric Warfare”, which had a few good songs on it. That’s the problem with “new” Mayhem. Their albums usually have only two or three good songs and the rest are just boring nonsense. This is definitely an improvement. Plenty of variation track for track, especially with the vocals, which are almost operatic at times. Attila really outdid himself. Riffs are solid, although there’s still plenty of that tremolo-picked minor chord abuse that Mayhem and Scandinavian black metal in general are known for. The lyrics are quite weak, although, they always have been. There’s a little bit of old Mayhem, little bit of new; and, really, that’s really about all you could say about this album. It’s rock solid, but is it really befitting of a band as legendary as Mayhem? Maybe. I would definitely recommend it as above average Scandinavian black metal, but I’m not ready to call it essential, yet; again, unless you’re just a big fan of Mayhem. (Which, personally, I’m not.) Stand out tracks: “Agenda Ignis”, “Bad Blood”, “Aeon Daemonium”, and “Worthless Abominations Destroyed”.
Havohej – “Table of Uncreation”; released November 15, 2019 by Hells Headbangers Records. This album proves that the word “experimental” can be attributed to literally anything. Havohej—this project was conceived by the drummer of Profanatica, and it plays exactly how I would imagine a drummer’s solo project would. There are no guitars; just drums, vocals, and ambient noise. Is it devoid of any value? Couldn’t say without giving it a second listen, which I don’t really plan on doing. I did not buy this album. Rather, I streamed it online. Not recommended, not essential.
Krater – “Venenare”; released November 15, 2019 by Eisenwald. What a fascinating album. Here we have a German band actually doing something original. How about that? This album has a really nice flow to it. It’s a very easy listen. The leads are progressive and the melodies and chord progressions are unnerving, yet hypnotic. Weird, chanty vocals. Misanthropic themes. The drums suck; definitely, the weakest aspect of the songwriting. I’m not even really sure I would classify this as black metal. (Then again, what even is black metal anymore?) This feels more like prog-rock with raspy, shouted chants as vocals. I might actually need more time to digest this album. It certainly warrants a second listen. Would I recommend it? Not to die-hard fans of “trve kvlt” black metal. Not essential, though.
Ragnarok – “Non Debellicata”; released November 15, 2019 by Agonia Records. Classic Norwegian Black Metal from a somewhat underrated band. Not a band I’ve really followed closely. I’ve listened to a couple of their older albums, but it’s been so long that I can’t really remember if they were any good or not. This one is good. Just good. The hallmarks of that classic Norwegian black metal (closer to the Immortal side than the superior old-school Darkthrone side) style are all present and performed satisfactorily. And if you’re a fan of and listen exclusively to “Trve Kvlt Norwegian Black Metal”, you’ll probably enjoy this. And that is exactly who I would recommend this album to. Definitely not essential, though.
Serpens Luminis – “Bright Euphoria”; released November 15, 2019 by Goathorned Productions. More dissonant black/death metal similar to Malthusian, Kosmokrator, and Antiversum, Antediluvian, Mitochondrion, Grave Upheaval, Irkallian Oracle. These bands all really start to blur together after a while. They all seem to want to be Immolation or Portal but lack the originality or the sheer veteran status. Nothing new here other than maybe the schizophrenic vocals. This album is also very short, just over twenty-seven minutes—three songs. Does this even qualify as a full-length album? Does it even belong on this list? I don’t know. Regardless, bland and unoriginal. Would not recommend it unless you’re just a big fan of the dissonant black/death metal style which has, even in a short period of time, been done to death. Not essential.
Nexwomb – “Exegesis of Nihility”; released November 29, 2019 by Nihilistic Noise Propaganda. This one was a real wild card. Late release from an unknown band from an obscure label. Like a lot of the other debuts on this list, this album is very short, made even shorter by the excellent quality. The 30 minutes spent listening to this album flashed by almost as fast a work break. Musically, I’m not entirely sure how to describe it. When you first start listening to it, you think it’s going to be your average dissonant black/death metal album, but it has a cavernous tone similar to Grave Upheaval and, of course, the Hellvetron release. But it’s much faster paced, like Black Witchery and its numerous clones. Your typical sinister, descending riffs are here, but they sometimes accompany a somewhat welcoming, somewhat twisted major tonality. It’s like visiting your hometown – the place where you grew up as a child – where you have fond memories of laughing and playing in the park with your friends and taking long Sunday trips to downtown restaurants with your parents. But everything’s changed. The park is full vagrants shooting up heroine in their shabby tents. Downtown is crumbling, decayed, polluted. The windows of once family-owned, small businesses are boarded up. Wasters, suspicious youths, and prostitutes wander the desolate, colorless streets creeping with rifts of nature’s reclamation. It’s that moment in which youthful optimism and nostalgic delusion dissolves away to reveal the true horror. This isn’t where you grew up. This place is as foreign to you and you are foreign to it. Guitars are dense, warm, and saturated. Drums aren’t just a constant barrage of blast beats. There’s actually some creativity in the percussive department. The bass is actually audible and thunders through the mix. Production quality isn’t unnecessarily good and it isn’t so bad that any specific element of the composition is inaudible; it sits nicely in that raw sweet spot between Deiphago and Revenant Marquis. They didn’t spend all their money in the studio with the $3000 condenser microphones and the $6000 compressors but they definitely bought adequate hardware, knew exactly how and where to place their mics, and competently mixed every audial component. I would absolutely recommend it, but good luck getting a hold of a copy. This was an extremely limited release (50 copies on cassette). So, if you don’t already have it, then it won’t matter whether you like it or not because you can now only purchase digital copies. Just like the Reek of the Unzen Gas Fumes album, it unfortunately sold out before I even got a chance to listen to it. With any luck, there will be a repress or it will be reissued on CD or vinyl in the near future because I want this album—damn it! If you have a copy of the cassette and are willing to sell it, message me. Possibly the best debut this year, it’s definitely between this and Ultra Silvam’s, even though they aren’t remotely comparable. Summa laude! Essential.
Arkona – “Age of Capricorn”; released December 13, 2019 by Debemur Morti Productions. Legendary Polish band release yet another legendary album. This band’s themes deal in very pagan topics, but their music isn’t folk-style metal. This isn’t Enslaved. This isn’t Windir. This is Arkona. This is black metal. Their music is simultaneously melodic and dissonant. Much like Graveland or Goatmoon, there are symphonic keyboard elements scattered throughout, but they aren’t obnoxious or excessive as with Vargav. The production quality of this album is excellent, which one would come to expect from a Debemur Morti release. The guitar work is all very traditional and well executed. The drums are traditional black metal drums. The bass is audible. The most noteworthy element of this album would probably be the songwriting and the riff-craft. It isn’t spectacular or groundbreaking, but it is certainly serviceable, which I don’t mean as a criticism. It accomplishes what it sets out to achieve – which is to create a haunting, yet familiar (as in reliving a past incarnation) atmosphere – and it does so with elegance. I would recommend it to fans of Drudkh, Graveland, Goatmoon, and Nokturnal Mortum, but I would also recommend it to members of the broader metal community as it is highly accessible and doesn’t have some of the baggage associated with the aforementioned bands. Not essential, but their 1994 demo, which was recently reissued through White Wolf Productions, is essential. Go listen to it. It’s really good and, as of writing this review, still available.
Halphas – “The Infernal Path into Oblivion”; released December 13, 2019 by Folter Records. Here we have, yet another, German band, masquerading as a Finnish band. Seriously, what is the deal, Germany? However! This one is actually good and actually manages to write original music. Whereas Totenwache was very obviously influenced by Goatmoon and Valosta Varjoon was shamelessly ripping off Satanic Warmaster, Halphas is more on the mysterious, occult, (late career) Behexen side of the Finnish musical landscape. The guitar melodies are quite delightful. The drums are mindlessly hammering on with seemingly interminable blast beats broken only by the occasional drum roll (though I’m not one to judge). I do hear bass buried deep in the mix. The production is very warm, albeit thin, and excessively compressed but, again, complaining about production quality in black metal is like complaining about being bound and gagged at an S&M orgy. That’s kind of the point. What did you expect? This is only their second album (I’ll have to check out their first) and it is genuinely decent. Decent enough that I might actually consider buying it. I don’t know. I would recommend it to fans of Behexen and to fans of digital compression. Not essential, though.
Trajeto de Cabra – “Supreme Command of Satanic Will”; released December 13, 2019 by Iron Bonehead Productions. Despite being from Canada, their band name is Portuguese for “goat path”. I’ll bet they thought they were really subverting expectations by having a band name in Portuguese. They didn’t. This album is about as pedestrian as their band name suggests. Guitars are nominally interesting, just a short step beyond standard affair: some creeping, dissonant flourishes over brutal, low-tuned grinds. Drums, conversely, are an endless procession of mind-numbing blast beats. Reminds me a lot of other Canadian bestial black/death metal bands like Adversarial and Antediluvian. Not essential. Not recommended.
Now, here’s where things get complicated. When deciding which album I believe to be album of the year, right from the outset, I reach an impasse. It’s impossible to pick just one fairly. This selection of bands draws from a vast pool of diverse styles and hail from disparate geographical regions. Few of them are even comparable. Abysmal Lord may be broadly similar in style to Profanatica, but they are nothing like, say, Mgla. Blasphemy-style war metal has little in common with occult or melodic black metal, but, superficially, it’s fairly similar in sound to Incantation-influenced black/death. Misthyrming, Sinmara, and Ormagna are all dissonant and have progressive elements; but, really, they all belong in their own separate category (as branches of the Svartidaudi lineage). Most of the occult bands incorporate dissonance in their tense, ritualistic atmospheres; but, thematically, they all share a common purpose and use similar imagery. Even though Grafvitnir also incorporates occult and esoteric themes in their lyrics, they’re undoubtedly a melodic black metal band. (This isn’t confusing at all.) And while Arnaut Pavle is both raw and traditional in style, it is a Finnish band. Totenwache, Valosta Varjoon, Halphas are all imitating various Finnish styles, but they are all German bands. Druadan Forest probably doesn’t even belong in any category but, again, it’s a Finnish group. Same with Dead Reptile Shrine. Of course, I’m confounded by what to even do with The Meads of Asphodel. My solution is to put each bad into one of nine classifications and evaluate each element by their respective subset. I’ll do what I can to judge them fairly (and in no particular order).
Here’s how I have decided to categorize them:
Among the Icelandic bands, Misthyrming’s release is definitely my pick for “album of the year” (which means nothing coming from me); though, I would give the strongest and most enthusiastic recommendation to Sinmara’s.
Among the Finnish bands, which is a little tougher, my pick has to be Sielunvihollinen’s. I simply preferred it over Forgjord’s. Forgjord probably deserves it more (I think it is technically their album is better), but I got more personal enjoyment form Sielunvihollinen’s release. I don’t need to explain myself. Fuck you.
Deathspell Omega, Esoctrilihum, and Serpent Column are all dissonant, at times experimental and progressive, black metal bands. While I want to give it to all of them – and as much as I praised Serpent Column’s release – I have to give it to Deathspell Omega, for one simple reason: the leap in quality from DsO’s previous album to this one is far greater than the leap between Serpent Column’s. The same goes with Esoctrilihum. “The Furnaces of Palingenesia” was a much-needed, restitutive comeback.
None of the Occult black metal releases really stood out to me. A lot of these bands sound the same. Shrine of Insanabilis is probably my favorite band among them, but Akrotheism, Aoratos, and Mephorash’s albums were probably the most varied and interesting ones. I’d give it to either one of them (three-way tie), with maybe the slightest preference to Akrotheism.
The Melodic/Traditional category is probably the broadest and most diverse. There were a lot of decent albums (and a lot of complete wastes of time) to release this year that really didn’t fit in any other category. I want to give it to Ultra Silvam’s, but it was just so short I don’t even consider it a full-length album. Slaughtbbath’s was really good, but, really, it belongs on a category all its own. Mgla’s was just frustrating and, I think, inferior to their previous album. In the end, it’s a deadlock tie between Arkona and (the True) Batushka. I think they perfectly rivalled one another in terms of quality.
Hellvetron and Teitanblood were the only two strong contenders for Black/Death. If my protracted, effusive approbation wasn’t evident enough, my pick has to be Hellvetron’s. In fact, I’m just going to say, before I even finish bestowing meaningless, non-existent awards to the other winners, of all nine categories – Icelandic, Finnish, Dissonant/Experimental/Progressive, Occult, Melodic/Traditional, Black/Death, War/Bestial Black, Raw, and the uncategorizable orphans – Hellvetron surpasses all other entrants. It is the best album of 2019.
War/Bestial Black Metal probably saw the biggest disappointments this year. Diocletian’s was a complete and utter failure. Deiphago’s was just above average, though, better than their last three albums. I was really looking forward to Abysmal Lord’s new album, Nexwomb’s just, unexpectedly, came out of nowhere and stole the crown. Really impressive debut.
For Raw, it’s really just a question of which album I think would make for the best background music. Gestapo 666’s album is objectively the better album, but their music louder and more abrasive. I wouldn’t be able to study or read a book while listening to it, so I’m giving it to Basmu’s.
Between Dead Reptile Shrine’s and The Meads of Asphodel’s, I probably could just flip a coin, but I genuinely enjoy Dead Reptile Shrine’s meth-fueled hellscape musical style. I own several of their albums. I’ve listened to this one a couple of times and will probably listen to it again, unlike The Meads of Asphodel’s. It’s a solid addition to the collection, so I’m giving it to Dead Reptile Shrine.
And, thus, concludes my Black Metal 2019 year review. Some of these albums probably deserve more attention than I can give in a broad, annual overview, so (if anyone even reads this article) feel free to comment which, if any, you think I should give a more in-depth analysis.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Nathanas, you fool! That was only fifty-nine albums! I counted! How could you make such an obvious mistake and post it to the internet for all to see? You’re practically inviting the ridicule!” Well, the truth is, the sixtieth album was released later in the year than the rest. I had initially intended to include it in this article, but I didn’t want to wait for it in order to listen to it and include it in this list. It will get its own dedicated review article; really, it deserves it. So, stay tuned as I close out the decade with my review of Nyogthaeblisz’s long-awaited “Abrahamic Godhead Besieged by Adversarial Usurpation”.