My Top Albums of 2019

And starting off at number fifteen. . .

15. This Winter Machine – A Tower of Clocks

I don’t recall how I came across this album, but I’m glad I did. This neo-classical prog rock band mends a fine line between being a Marillion clone with some, what I’d call Rush influences, to create a transcendental album that stood out among other prog bands this year. While arguably there’s nothing “new” brought to the table, A Tower of Clocks manages to do everything right. The first few tracks build the album up to something wonderful as it ebbs and flows through various feelings throughout. A solid album from a band that’s now going to be on my radar.

Check out the single for “Justified”:

14. Evergrey – The Atlantic

Evergrey are starting to remind me a lot like Amorphis: staying familiar with an evolving sound. While The Atlantic comes across like a traditional prog-power album, there’s still the ever-looming feeling of despair through Tom Englund’s voice and the bands defeating sound, and sometimes heart-breaking lyrics. However, uplifting moments are found such as with the song End of Silence – which still arguably still sounds bleak. Then there’s songs like Weightless where it really showcases some of the band’s metal prowess – the song building to a powerful booming climax near the end. I was super pleased with how The Atlantic turned out and as always, can’t wait to see what else Evergrey have up their sleeve.

Check out the video for “A Silent Arc”:

13. Exhumed – Horror

In 2016, Aborted released the album Retrogore. As the Aborted title suggested, the album was a throwback to older (1980s) horror films. In 2019, Exhumed’s Horror, while not directly associated to particular horror films, is yet another death/grind album with a shtick towards “retro” horror (as the album cover suggests). It’s fast, dirty, and a a schlock-fest of brutality. The fifteen song album is just shy of thirty minutes with most songs under the two-minute mark, leaving them to be easily digested and not over stay their welcome. They’re good “done-in-one” songs that are quick and to the point. The whole album is just a slaughter. It’s fantastic.

Listen to the full album here:

12. Possessed – Revelations of Oblivion

It only took 33 years, but Possessed is back. And damn, it’s great. This death/thrash album is a huge surprise to hear this year. In fact, it sounds as if the band never went anywhere. The soundscape, production, and tones feel straight out of the 80s with pounding aggression in the drums, heft in the rhythm, and an amazing wail with the guitars. Lead singer/songwriter Jeff Becerra writes intelligently with lyrics that feel honest but still radical. An absolute treat for 2019. I hope this is the start of something bigger.

Check out the single, “No More Room in Hell”:

11. Murg – Strävan

The third album of this Swedish black metal band is one of two black metal albums that really blew me away this year. It’s intense at times, but also falls back into somber feelings. The album fluctuates naturally between the two dichotomies which offers the listener breathing room for reflection. The production, on the other hand, has what I love about the genre: it’s dark and feels homemade. Yet there’s obviously quality and an ear behind the studio to give the album the sounds it’s offering. As with most outstanding black metal albums for me, these riffs gave chills.

Check out the awesome single, “Renhet”:

10. Ed Wynne – Shimmer into Nature

The debut solo album from Ozric Tentacles main song writer – Ed Wynne puts together an infectious groovy album with all the fixings of what makes me love his music: brilliant bass licks, incredible soundscapes, and brilliant rises and falls. Shimmer into Nature effectively does what it says, bringing psychedelic tones, synth, and atmosphere to the fray – all with a tremendously calming effect. A terribly underrated musician, this album is quite frankly, absolutely beautiful.

Listen to “Shim”:

9. Darkthrone – Old Star

Every time Darkthrone releases an album, I feel bad for everyone else. The band evolves so much, I never know what to expect. However, the quality of their output has been nothing short of incredible. As such, here is yet another Darkthrone album on my Top 15 list. This crusty, thrashy, doom album is stunning. It has gentle (and some not-so-subtle) nods to classic heavy metal bands and eras, influenced from the decades of the 70s and 80s. The songs on the album feel simple, but come with great care. The single (and my favourite track), “The Hardship of the Scots,” is a great anthem, while songs like “The Key is Inside the Wall” and “I Muffle Your Inner Choir” come with a certain rock n’ roll elements that keep your head pounding throughout. Truly another great album by this great band.

Listen to the wonderful “The Hardship of the Scots”:

8. Masvidal – Mythical

Paul Masvidal is no stranger to prog or heavy metal. After all, he’s the front man and lead songwriter to the legendary band Cynic. But this solo project? This is something different and certainly may be an acquired taste. Mythical, the first of three albums, well, let me just quote the album: “Each song on [the album] uses ‘Isochronic Tones’ designed by Dr. Stephane Pigeon, creator of the Brian Eno-celebrated website MyNoise. The tones are a groundbreaking type of sound therapy for increasing serotonin, alleviating depression and stress, improving focus, and aiding in restful sleep.” – And Masvidal does just that – and lyrically, well, it’s beautiful poetry.

Listen to the whole album here:

7. Blood Incantation – Hidden History of the Human Race

A late-release fpr 2019, Blood Incantation’s Hidden History of the Human Race absolutely knocked it out of the park. The four-song album covers a vast array of death metal styles – from Morbid Angel to Death to Gorguts, then with spacial tones to the likes of Kyuss and Hawkwind. This album delivers the goods with the pulse-pounding first tracks, Slave Species of the Gods and The Giza Power Planet, followed by the two more melodic songs Inner Paths (to Outer Space), and the 18-minute epic, Awakening From The Dream Of Existence To The Multidimensional Nature Of Our Reality (Mirror Of The Soul). While four songs may not seem like much to divulge in with an album, I can guarantee Blood Incantation makes every moment count, and ultimately, brings about one of the most unique, awesome, and most of all – refreshing – albums I’ve heard in recent memory.

Check out the video for “Slave Species of the Gods”:

6. Bent Knee – You Know What They Mean

The year was 2017, and Bent Knee’s “Land Animal” made the third spot on my Top 15 List that year. I feel bad they’re not higher this year, but holy smokes, You Know What They Mean absolutely blows Land Animal out of the water and then some. This album is both a natural evolution for the band, yet is something completely different. It’s heavy, melancholic, moody, rough, loud, subtle, and so many other adjectives I could continue with. There’s a lot of brilliance in this album and I’m so very excited to watch this band explode. Bent Knee will become a household name, not only in the world of progressive music, but beyond. Mark my words, You Know What They Mean has the fixings of bringing Bent Knee to the world.

Watch the video for “Hold Me In”:

5. Wilderun – Veil of Imagination

Opeth and Symphony X had a child and it’s living in Boston. Part of me says “This album shouldn’t be on here because it’s just a clone.” The other part says, “My god, these guys do what Opeth and Symphony X did, but better.” There’s a healthy balance between metal and orchestra. There’s a lack in repetition/recurring riffs, keeping these long songs fresh. It is also very ethereal in many aspects in the production. Readers, I absolutely was taken back by this album. It was as if I was teleported back into 2001/2002 when Opeth’s Blackwater Park and Symphony X’s The Odyssey was released. In fact, if you amalgamate those two specific albums, I’m confident you’ll have Veil of Imagination. It’s certainly fair to bring these strong comparisons to the fold because Wilderun takes the best of both albums and makes it into something new, yet familiar. It’s a hauntingly beautiful, powerful album.

Check out “Far From Where Dreams Unfurl”:

4. Mgła – Age of Excuse

My favourite black metal album of the year, Mgła’s Age of Excuse is stunning. I remember spinning it the first time around while reading. During the track, Age of Excuse III, I paused the album and went “Holy shit, these guitars are riiiiiiiiiiiipping.” I hadn’t been that excited from a black metal album in a long while. But that’s not all! The drums. Oh goodness, the drumming on this album. Age of Excuse II features some extraordinary play with the toms, snare, and various cymbals. But that’s not all! The vocals. The gloom and despair in the voice. The lyrics. The dread and finality of it all. Sure, this album is technically one song at 42 minutes – but it’s such a trip. Give it a listen and learn why Age of Excuse got to be where it is on my list.

Give the full album a listen to:

3. Tomb Mold – Planetary Clairvoyance

Had I not seen these guys open for Pig Destroyer earlier this year, I may not have heard this album at all. Tomb Mold’s Planetary Clairvoyance is hands-down my favourite straight-up death metal album of the year. This Toronto-based band knocked it out of the park with this 38-minute album, featuring some of the best guitar riffs I’ve heard this year. In fact, the way everything is pieced together, you can tell Tomb Mold took their time when writing these songs. Most songs only contain a handful of riffs, yet the band manages to leave nothing stale. Somehow the riffs become elevated the more the band repeats them. It’s intriguing stuff. From the opening track to the end, there’s literally something memorable from each song. The title track has some of the dirtiest riffing by the end of the song. It’s just a headbangers delight. I love this album.

Listen to the track “Infinite Resurrection” here:

2. Immortal Bird – Thrive on Neglect

I don’t even know what to call this one: death metal, crust punk, progressive, sludge, thrash, black, grind, hardcore – whatever it is, it’s an absolute blast to indulge. This second album by the Chicago natives has everything I want in my metal and then some. Songs like Avolition are lengthy and provide a wide gamut of offerings for music listeners – easily one of the greatest songs I’ve heard this year. House of Anhedonia has such an incredible ending and juicy riffs that I keep coming back for more. In fact, with absolutely punishing tracks made with excellent composition, lyrics, and production, easily makes Immortal Bird’s release one of my favourite albums of the year.

Listen to the song, “Vestigial Warnings,” that within seconds had won me over:

1. Devin Townsend – Empath

Devin Townsend has outdone himself. I absolutely adored this album. Throughout its journey, Empath features highs and lows, exceptional musicianship, chaos and beauty, and incredible emotion. I could go on to describe what Empath is. So let me just focus on why it’s my album of the year.

Leaving the Devin Townsend Project and going solo, this dynamic album features a plethora of interesting and daunting ideas that come together so wonderfully. From the intriguing Castaway/Genesis introduction to the playful Sprite, the Disney-inspired Why?, and the epic Singularity, each song on the album has its own bit of flair to make it stand-out, yet still be part of one cohesive unit.

The songs are some of Devin’s most challenging, not only as a musician, but sonically as well. The “wall of sound” that comes along with Empath is incredible. In fact, the production on the album arguably may be its only fault as to how “perfect” everything seems to be. Musicians like Chad Kroeger (Nickelback), Anneke van Giersbergen (ex-The Gathering), and Frank Zappa alums, Steve Vai, Mike Keneally, and Morgan Ågren, as well as a fully-utilized women’s choir, come together to help bring Empath a life which is truly unique and an absolute wonder to behold.

Part of me wants to dig through every single song and explain its purpose, why they are the way they are, and really delve into the complexities of the production and songwriting process. But that’s not what this review is for. I should only tell you that there were many wonderful moments that made me cry (and still do if it gets me right). This is an album you all should sit back and experience for yourselves. Grab your headphones, some hot chocolate, sit back, and relax. (The 5.1 audio mix is coming out soon which I’m absolutely thrilled for).

Without a doubt, Devin Townsend’s Empath will stick with me for the rest of my life. It is easily one of the most memorable albums I have ever graced upon my ears.

Check out the “overture” of the album, “Genesis”:

Then listen to the Disney-inspired metal song, “Why?”:

Honourable Mentions:

Dream Theater – Distance Over Time

Ares Kingdom – By the Light of Their Destruction

Overkill – The Wings of War

Cerebral Rot – Odious Descent into Decay

Torche – Admission

Borknagar – True North

Rotting Christ – The Heretics

Nebula – Holy Shit

Abbath – Outstrider

Ulver – Drone Activity

Most Disappointed:

Tool – Fear Inoculum

Flying Colors – Third Degree

Amon Amarth – Beserker

Blind Guardian – Legacy of the Dark Lands

Questions? Comments? Agree? Disagree? What have you? If you’d like, you can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

My Top Albums of 2017

And starting off at number fifteen. . .

15. Premiata Forneria Marconi – Emotional Tattoos

Starting off the list is a band of which sort of dropped off the radar and really are only mentioned when discussing the their strength of progressive rock albums in the 70s. Premiata Forneria Marconi, or PFM, are an Italian prog rock band that with their new album, Emotional Tattoos, surprised me at its strength. This hefty double-disc album features a great mix of prog rock tunes which feel like they’re from the 70s but with a modern production value. It’s a refreshing album that is unfortunately held back by its song placement (it takes a good four or five songs until the album really begins to kick some butt). Despite that, it’s deserving on a top spot for 2017.

Check out the music video for “The Lesson” here:

14. Blade Runner 2049 Soundtrack

The first time I’ve ever put a soundtrack into my list. The Blade Runner 2049 movie, while visually stunning, was audibly awesome. The cyberpunk/noir feeling originally established by Vangelis back in 1982 gets tastefully expanded upon by composers Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. The soundtrack provides a sweeping landscape of emotions and feelings which can be confusing given its sterile and mechanical sound. It’s completely worth checking out.

Listen to “Flight to LAPD”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EGxyGcZ5jsY

13. Sarkrista – Summoners of the Serpents Wrath

Intense is one way of putting it. Rip-roaring music from the second album of these German black metallers, Sarkrista’s Summoners of the Serpents Wrath is in your face with its blasting beats, screaming vocals, and shredding, ambient guitars. The album rarely lets up, giving you a solid black metal album from front to back.

Listen to the full album here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOz42CgKjks

12. Rude – Remnants…

Rude’s second release, Remnants…, is another great traditional death metal album. Their first album, “Soul Recall,” made my top fifteen back in 2014 and these guys have impressed yet again. The production completely sells me on this album, let alone the songs. This album pounds your ears hard and is yet another exceptional sounding death metal record from these U.S. based metal heads.

See the lyric video for “House of Dust” here:

11. Paradise Lost – Medusa

Pulse-pounding and crushing, the death/doom metallers Paradise Lost release yet another solid album off the back of 2015’s The Plague Within. While there’s nothing surprisingly in terms of riffing or production, the album just keeps its momentum and variety up long enough to be a great album.

Listen to the final track, “Until the Grave” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C2JRD4r4Yuw

10. Dumal – The Lesser God

When I think of American black metal, my first thoughts come to Agalloch. While these guys are no Agalloch, I feel the influence is there. Crisp production is one thing, but Dumal’s incredible sounding riffs create an almost nostalgic feel for me – reminding me of the first time I got into black metal (with Mayhem’s Pagan Fears). Lost Caverns is definitely the track that won me over on this album, but the rest of it is just so, so great. For their impressive debut album, I’ll definitely me following Dumal closely in the coming years.

Check out the full album here (especially “Lost Caverns”): https://dumal.bandcamp.com/album/the-lesser-god

9. Auðn – Farvegir Fyrndar

This Icelandic black metal outfit release a torrent of cold atmosphere with their second album, Farvegir Fyrndar. Melodic riffs are eerie and define the tone of the album. Often dramatic, the album builds momentum, starting from the first track. Crushing through, listeners are given other great glimpses of brilliance through this very bleak sounding album. Easily takes the spot as the best black metal album I’ve listened to this year.

Listen to Skuggar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RkOgY8P4NUY

8. Daniel Cavanagh – Monochrome

Given Anathema just released their newest album this year, I was surprised to see something released from their lead songwriter only a few months later. Daniel Cavanagh’s acoustic album, Monochrome, is brilliant, loving, sad, uplifting, and therapeutic all at the same time. While much can be said about Anathema’s music, Daniel’s own personal flare and attention to detail certainly shines something special here.

Listen to “The Exoricst” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pKGoYUZ_B1c

7. Artificial Brain – Infrared Horizon

If there was one thing I wasn’t expecting from this technical death metal band, it was an incredibly dramatic science fictional album. Much like the title of my favourite track on the record, this album is Estranged from Orbit. It’s different and yet feels familiar. The music is composed to make sense – there’s nothing purposefully flashy on the album. The parts in the songs have purpose and riffs are crafted to build and explode with emphasis. It’s smart, clever, intense, and sounds absolutely different than many death metal albums out there.

Listen to the whole album here (especially “Estranged from Orbit”): https://profoundlorerecords.bandcamp.com/album/infrared-horizon

6. Steven Wilson – To the Bone

Steven Wilson always does something different – not because he has to, but because he can. With this album, Wilson crosses the boundaries of pop rock and prog rock, creating an album that heavily reminds me of Peter Gabriel’s So. Featuring a handful of songs with Ninet Tayeb sharing vocal duties and incredible musicianship, the classic Steven Wilson “sound” makes To The Bone not only a strong album, but somewhat of a “gateway” album to introduce pop fans about prog. With a well-rounded album and even a subtle nod to Porcupine Tree in one of the songs, To the Bone is yet another Steven Wilson album that made my Top 15 list.

Seen the video to the astounding “Pariah” here:

5. Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper

What. A. Heavy. Album. Featuring drums, bass, vocals, and a Hammond, this near hour and a half long song, in my opinion, well-defines funeral doom metal. Dark and dreary, Bell Witch brings the dead to the listeners ears in this haunting slow burn of an album. It’s atmospheric, moody, crushing, and so many other feelings, that “Mirror Reaper” is really something needed to be experienced.

Listen to an excerpt from “Mirror Reaper” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yrc1ch3O9Fs

4. Anathema – The Optimist

One of my favourite bands return with somewhat of a sequel to 2001’s A Fine Day to Exit with their newest release, The Optimist. Smartly crafted, the album begins where their previous album, Distant Satellites left off – with electronic music. However, the band cleverly makes the electronic to real-instrument transition within the first song and continues to put the listener through a literal journey of musical and lyrical emotions and feelings that are purposefully left ambiguous. It’s a damn pretty album. “Wildfires” is my favourite track.

Watch the video for “Springfield” here:

3. Bent Knee – Land Animal

When I first heard Bent Knee, I couldn’t get over how tight the band was. As if they’ve been playing for decades, this American prog rock outfit showcases their songwriting abilities all over this album – and they’re supremely tasteful. Often times prog rock showcases (and can sometimes celebrate) musical wankery. Bent Knee shows restraint and thought behind each note, chord, and lyric. While Land Animal is their fourth album, the band takes nothing for granted with the effort clearly put into this record. What a treat.

Watch the live video of Bent Knee performing “Holy Ghost”:

2. Ulver – The Assassination of Julius Caesar

In The Assassination of Julius Caesar, ex-black metal band Ulver create something that’s dark, experimental, and would appeal to Depeche Mode fans. Upon first listen, I felt engrossed with the production: the synth, reverb; the drama. Like the music, Ulver’s lyrics are also intelligent and deep. Music builds and slows, putting the listener through an interesting journey of sounds which engrossed me like no other album had this year. Ulver’s newest is a gorgeous electronic-feeling album with nothing but respect to its listeners.

Check out the first track of the album, “Nemoralia” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wq0Kb4bFNzg

1. Pain of Salvation – In the Passing Light of Day

When this album came out in the middle of January, I had hoped for another album to be released later in the year that would be better than it. Not because I disliked the album, but because it was so damn good and so early on in the year, I really hoped another album could topple it. Now here we are at the number one spot on my list.

When lead singer/songwriter Daniel Gildenlow went into the hospital a few years back, he discovered he had a life-threatening disease. This album is that story and goes through the emotional trauma and thoughts running through his head while in the hospital. At times uplifting, the album can become sad when you can feel the emotions coming from Gildenlow’s voice. He’s felt the pain he’s singing about and he wants us to experience what he’s experienced.

Tracks like “Silent Gold” and “If This is the End” are both mournful and powerful. “Full Throttle Tribe” is catchy, while “Reasons,” “Meaningless,” and “On a Tuesday” are direct and in your face. However, it’s the final title track which absolutely steals the show. At fifteen minutes in length, “The Passing Light of Day” explains the fears and joys of being in love while given the listener an emotional roller coaster of music to follow suit. Songs are strongly crafted by both Gildenlow and multi-instrumentalist Ragnar Zolberg. Zolberg joined the band in 2011 and co-wrote most of the songs on this album. Now no longer in the band, I can’t help but follow where he goes next to see what he does.

I’ve been a fan of Pain of Salvation since 2002-2003. While I can say with certainty that this is my favourite album of 2017, I can also say that In the Passing Light of Day is Pain of Salvation’s best studio album to-date.

Check out the music video for “Reasons”:

See the music video for “Meaningless” here:

Honourable Mentions:

Barenaked Ladies – Fake Nudes

Threshold – Legends of the Shires

Bison – You Are Not The Ocean You Are The Patient

Ayreon – The Source

Aborted – Bathos EP

Kreator – Gods of Violence

All Pigs Must Die – Hostage Animal

Nordic Giants – Amplify Human Vibration

Most Disappointed:

Electric Wizard – Wizard Bloody Wizard

Cannibal Corpse – Red Before Black

Pallbearer – Heartless

Sólstafir – Berdreyminn

Vuur – In This Moment we are Free – Cities

Sons of Apollo – Psychotic Symphony

Moonspell – 1775

Questions? Comments? Agree? Disagree? What have you?