Here is a rundown of the the Albums of 2019, which are so far mostly the Albums of 2018 I should have found last year. Well, I suppose better late than never and all that. Interestingly, most of these finds have popped up in my weekly Spotify Discovery list, so I must be tweaking it right. Yes, the platform comes in for a lot of grief from some of my acquaintances for its pathetically low payouts to artists, and if streaming is your primary listening source then you need a good kick in the ass. However, it has done a pretty good job at turning up music that has led me to buy albums. Some of its suggestions are entirely unexpected given that it is an algorithm, and it is nice to have an alternative source of new music, because quite honestly I think I have exhausted the musical possibilities of most of my FB friends; I can often predict whether their recommendations will work or not, and there is not a lot of convergence any more between their tastes and mine, with one or two exceptions.
As well, I will do a quick run-down of the anticipated releases for this year. If even some of these albums live up to the potential of the last ones the bands released, it could be a pretty mighty year for new music.
So … starting with what came out in 2018 that I didn’t find:
Illusion is a post-punk/grunge metal quartet from Gdańsk, Poland, founded in 1992 and with a rather on-again off-again career; Anhedonia came out early in 2018 and is their sixth album. It is a brief album, a shade over 30 minutes long. The songs are short, straight-up grunge rockers, nice and heavy but still quite melodic; these guys get right to the point without too many frills. This is not intellectual music by any means, but I find myself playing the album quite a bit. I have to say, the vocalist is excellent — some serious chops lurk beneath that gritty grunge style.
Author and Punisher: Beastland
When this one turned up in my Spotify Discovery list, I was a bit surprised. I happen to love drone metal, but admittedly I don’t search it out much in Spotify and as far as I know there is none in my playlists. But for some reason, Spotify suggested a little ditty called “The Speaker is Systematically Blown”… and, well, “brutal” is one of the milder descriptors for what came blasting out of my headphones.
Turns out that Author and Punisher is one Tristan Shone, who has been around for a while, a former mechanical engineer who has designed and made his own industrial musical “instruments”; Beastland was released in October of 2018. It is hard to describe exactly what we have here, except to say … imagine what a dozen drill presses might sound like wired up to a vocoder and run through a MIDI controller, turned up to eleven. Which isn’t to say that it is just noise. It’s not: it is industrial metal, and it sounds exactly like it should — a massive wall of rhythm and melody and a LOT of weighty drone. I love it.
Varous Artists: DC’s Dark Night Metal.
This doesn’t really seem to be an album, strictly speaking. It is a collection of six tracks by folks such as Jerry Cantrell, Chino Moreno, Brann Dailor, et al. that supports a comic book series. Or something. At any rate, the only way to obtain all six songs at once is to buy the vinyl picture disc, which arrives in a heavy plastic sleeve and includes a comic. Otherwise one must buy each track individually. Well, whatever it is … it is pretty damned good. The tracks range from slow metal ballads (“Red Death” by Dailor), standard heavy (“Brief Exchange” — Moreno) to post-punk screamo (“Fact Check” by Jason Aalon Butler), and all of them are eminently listenable. I think “Fact Check” is my favourite though — I have no clue who Butler is, but he sure makes a convincing noise.
Apocalyptica — Plays Metallica by Four Cellos: A Live Performance
I’m not really one for live albums, and even less for live DVDs. I generally tend to prefer studio versions of songs (with few exceptions: I’m not sure 801 Live, classic as it is, counts as a truly live album, after the post-gig tweaking), and I am not particularly interested in watching bands do live stuff on the small screen; I own a whopping 6 DVDs and I have watched 3 of them more than once. So I surprised myself by jumping on the pre-order for this album (which includes a DVD).
But on the other hand, Apocalyptica are one of a small handful of bands I will make a point of seeing live regardless of their setlist, and not just because they are four very hot Finnish men, maybe the easiest band on the eyes I know of. They are consummate entertainers; the first time I went to see them I was prepared for schtick (metal on cellos? Okaaayyy…) but it was so not that. They have the musical skill and the stage-craft — they are enormous fun to watch and to listen to. I saw them on the tour that makes up the recorded gig, and I have no problem watching them again.
Furia — Książyc milczy luty
This album was released in 2016, which as far as I can tell is the most recent one from this Polish outfit. They have very little social media presence, beyond being part of the Pagan Music stable, so it is hard to find much info on them. They were founded back in 2003, are from Katowice, and have a handful of albums and eps which can be found on Bandcamp. They are generally described as black metal or thrash metal, or grindcore; but even a cursory listen demonstrates that they take a rather idiosyncratic approach to their version of “metal” so there really is no good description for what they do. At any rate, their sound is is thick and sludgy and dense, as atmospheric as hell, and I do like it a whole lot.
Clutch — Book of Bad Decisions
One of those well-established outfits that have been around forever (since 1991 and remarkably with almost no lineup changes); I guess you just can’t listen to everything. Well, to be perfectly honest, I’d never heard of these guys before. Even my thrash-head/crust-punk brother was “Yeah, I’ve heard of Clutch!” Oh well.
This is heavy and smart American country/blues based heavy rock, lyrically clever, with shifting musical ideas and a ton of energy; contemplative one moment, hard the next — there are rockers, and there are more bluesy ballads. I think it does run a bit long, after nearly an hour I do find my interest flagging some. However there are some terrific tracks here, enough to compensate for the ones that drag a bit.
Actual Releases of 2019 so far…
While She Sleeps — SO WHAT?
The Sheffield metalcore guys are back with another helping of heavy and melodic goodness. I actually didn’t realize they had a new one out until a track turned up in Spotify. Very similar to the last album, with maybe a layer of nuance and energy added; they still have the Linkin Park vibe but dialed back some, and they remind me a bit of Dead Letter Circus, except for the screamo parts.
Queensrÿche — The Verdict
More old-school metal. The last few years have found me paying more attention to the guys who have been around since the beginning of time but for whom I had very little love back in the day. I can’t say that I have learned to embrace that classic sound, but I have found a place for the recent offerings from Metallica, Judas Priest, and now Queensrÿche (probably the band I am least familiar with). The Verdict is straightforward classic metal, doing exactly what you would expect, no frills or nonsense, but clearly with a ton of experience behind it. The vocalist occasionally creeps into that operatic territory that keeps me away from Iron Maiden and most of Judas Priest (can’t stand that style!) but it is infrequent enough to not really intrude (yeah yeah “it’s not Queensrÿche!!” I’ll let the real fans fight that one out). As I find the prog scene getting more and more clogged with outfits that persist in rehashing the old ideas, I am beginning to appreciate the basics.
Front Line Assembly — Wake Up the Coma
Last year industrial/EBM stalwarts Front Line Assembly released a smooth instrumental soundtrack album for the game WarMech, but Wake Up the Coma represents the first true FLA album since 2013, and includes the return of long-time former member Rhys Fulber. I am not as much a fan of FLA as I am of Leeb’s other project Noise Unit, so this took a bit of adjustment, and I can’t rightly compare it to much else that they have done.
That being said, there is some interesting stuff on this album, not the least of which is a cover of “Rock Me Amadeus” featuring vocalist Jimmy Urine (Mindless Self Indulgence). Clearly the potential for cheese-overload was high, but somehow, this song works. Don’t ask me why. In fact, there are a number of collaborative tracks here, with several industrial notables: Robert Görl, Chris Connelly, the aforementioned Jimmy Urine, and, um — Nick Holmes. Okay maybe not all industrial … but Holmes kills it on the mighty title track. It has taken me a bit to warm up to the album, but at this point I’m liking it a whole lot, and if the anticipated releases are better, it will be a good year for music.
Anticipated Releases of 2019
Jambinai: Onda, release date in June
Okay this is big. Jambinai are a folk metal/crossover outfit from South Korea, and their last album, A Hermitage, was one of the most remarkable musical confections I had heard in years. Combining dense and heavy metal sensibilites with traditional Korean instruments and influences, these guys sound like no-one else.
Teaming up again with producer Jacob Hansen, who essentially reinvented the entire career of these old hard rock/metal pros from Denmark. If the new album continues in the vein of the last four, it could be an Album of the Year contender.
Bloodlust was brutal. Ice-T promises the new one to be a step beyond. I am so looking forward to hearing this.
Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster
The instrumental post-metal outfit who introduced me to that entire genre is overdue for a new one. This year, they say. No pressure, guys.
These French post-metal guys had a killer album a few years back with Here Comes the Sun, and then wandered off into Unplugged Hell. Hopefully the new one gets back to their headbanging proggy goodness.
Two albums already from this unapologetically brutal industrial post-punk California outfit, and a new one on the way. At least I know it’ll be something to play very loud. And maybe I’ll get to see them properly. Last time they headlined was in the middle of an ice storm….
Riverside Unplugged or something
Not that I’m anticipating that, strictly speaking; I am so not a fan of acoustic versions of heavy songs, I don’t care who they are by.