Once again I was so, so close to passing on putting this list together. I guess I just don't "feel it" toward the end of the year, but I posted a little less than once a week throughout all of 2019, so apparently I've been struggling with that lack of motivation to varying degrees all year. One contributing factor, however, was that there are tons of releases that I still haven't heard, or haven't bought yet and therefore haven't heard enough for them to sink in as being potential contenders—for example, a number of excellent releases from Triple-B Records (notably the Magnitude LP), the Envision LP, the new Giant's Chair, No One Knows What the Dead Think, the latest from The Wraith, etc.—some of which should probably be included herein. The same could be true for all of the cool music from 2019 that I've still been stumbling onto in the days leading up to this. So, as always, I won't label these "the best," just "my favorites," in alphabetical order...
Altitudes & Attitude, Get it Out (Megaforce Records)
Look, I know that a rock-based side project from Frank Bello (Anthrax) and David Ellefson (Megadeth) in 2019 doesn't sound all that enticing, but I'm a fan. I loved their debut EP in 2014, and I've quite enjoyed this full-length—which includes the 2014 EP as bonus tracks—all year. Had this project come together around, say, 1993 - 1996, it would've made a hell of a lot of sense. I would've absolutely hated it back then, but 20+ years later I'd have come around and kicked myself in the ass for having been such a stubborn little shit. If you like good hard rock songs with tasteful vocals and a hint of an alt.-grunge aesthetic, just shut the fuck up and admit that this is a damn fine set of tracks, alright? Stream it on Spotify or grab a CD/LP from, well... I guess Amazon or whatever?
Blink-182, Nine (Viking Wizard Eyes/Columbia Records)
I fully realize that it's ridiculous for Blink-182 to be on this list—especially given how few high-profile hardcore/metal releases I've even heard this year—but the facts are the facts. I had nothing good to say about most of the pre-release singles from Nine—quite the opposite, in fact, as I felt most of the tracks were slickly-produced pop trash—and had no intention of buying the album. But, completist OCD got the best of me and I picked up the disc anyway, and—in its entirety—damnit, I enjoyed the hell out of it. There are definitely moments here and there that are a little hard to stomach, but I found more pros than cons. What can I say? I'm still a sucker for catchy-ass tunes. I actually dig this material quite a bit more than 2016's California. I'll go ahead and include the Spotify link in the off chance that even one person will give 0.04 shits.
In Cold Blood, Legion of Angels (Fast Break! Records)
Total no-brainer for a longtime Clevo-worshipper such as myself. This darker, meaner, Blaze Tishko-led incarnation of In Cold Blood pulls no punches on the nonstop pummeling riffs and scorching leads. Blaze probably doesn't get the full credit he deserves for his continuing contributions to a form of metalcore that so many listeners know and love. Hopefully that will start to change moving forward. Cross your fingers that this embodiment of In Cold Blood can stick around and dish out some more new jams in 2020! Pick up Legion of Angels on CD or LP through Fast Break! Records, or hit up Spotify.
Lacing, Without (Elder Magick Records/Handstand Records)
I'm pretty picky when it comes to shoegaze-type stuff, but Without is seriously one of the best albums I've ever heard from within that realm. Take plenty of the genre's staple droning/swirling cascades of effects and combine them with a far more memorable and energetic side—as well as some grungy, Smashing Pumpkins-esque textures—and you've got yourself a winner. This release really should go down as an all-time classic of the style—underground or otherwise. Grab an LP from Elder Magick Records, a CD from Handstand Records (recommended for the impeccable bonus track), or be all modern and find it on Spotify 'n' shit.
Low Dose, Low Dose (Knife Hits)
As promised last year, I knew all along that this album would make the cut. I haven't written nearly enough about Low Dose considering how eagerly I was anticipating this release based on the absolute brilliance of "For Sure," which made its way online last year. Masterful noise rock with its own unique identity and a lot of variety to the songwriting, from somber/sinister vibes to energetic hooks that retain plenty of grit. Gorgeous production/mix, too. Seriously excellent all-around. So good, in fact, that I shelled out for the CD and a test pressing of the vinyl (and I'm pretty anti-vinyl). I believe the LPs are all sold out now, but you can still grab a CD or cassette, and there's always Spotify if you're one o' them streamin' types.
The Northern Skulls, The Northern Skulls (Self-Released)
Another high-level favorite that I haven't covered enough on the site, because I suck. Apparently I'm not alone, though, as I haven't seen this EP mentioned very often at all!? That being said, this must easily be the most slept-on release of the year: the debut 12" EP (limited to 500 copies) from the latest outfit to feature prolific frontman Jonah Jenkins (Only Living Witness, Miltown, Milligram, etc.). The early singles from The Northern Skulls took some time to sink in, but once it all clicks? Game over. Amazing. Only four songs are streaming, but the vinyl (and—I think—the Bandcamp downloads) includes fantastic covers of Hüsker Dü ("The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill") and Miltown ("8.6.45"). Hit up the band on Facebook or Instagram about getting your hands on a physical copy. I must additionally commend them on the most reasonably-priced new vinyl I've encountered in years—so much so that I even paid extra out of respect!
Skitzo, Skitzo (Divebomb Records)
I love me some reissues, to the point where this entire list could be nothing but reissues if I didn't police myself. However, my single favorite reissue of 2019 would almost have to be this eight-song discography from these progressive thrashers out of New Jersey. I conducted the retrospective interview with the band for the CD booklet and I have to say, I was completely blown away that I had never heard their music before!? We're talkin' top-shelf technical yet melodic and well-composed early-'90s thrash—the kind of stuff I've been devouring since I was a kid, and totally the type of band that I would've gushed about on the ol' "blahg" 10+ years ago had their tunes ever crossed my path. This is a huge part of why I find these types of releases to be of such great importance in keeping music alive and helping it reach a wider scope of listeners than ever before. Skitzo still deserves to be heard, and should be championed alongside other demo-only tech-thrash legends such as Sindrome, etc. No streaming! Buy the damn CD!
Smash Your Enemies, Become Death (Upstate Records)
This slot came down to a tough choice between Smash Your Enemies, Hell of Self, and Contrast of Sin, but at the end of the day, Smash Your Enemies is the one I've jammed the most, and Upstate Records—my favorite active hardcore label—has been absolutely killing it all year, so it's an added bonus to be able to give them a shout as well. I've somehow managed to miss out on Smash Your Enemies in the past, but this six-song, 14-minute EP is essentially flawless meat and potatoes metallic hardcore with two vocalists—one of whom is current Cold as Life frontman Jesse Adkins, so that oughta catch your attention at least a little! Stream Become Death on Bandcamp or Spotify, or pick it up as a pro-duped CD-R straight from the label.
Think Machine, This Machine Makes Noise (Impetus Records)
I just discussed this little gem a couple of weeks ago, so I'll be lazy and reiterate: "Think Machine presents a peculiarly inventive form of angular indie rock/emo-punk with an almost jazzy, lush/chill undercurrent. It's also a little folksy or math rock-ish at times, too!? So, yeah, a lot to unpack, but in a very good way—and with a wonderful balance of the rugged D.I.Y. aesthetic alongside fluid, intelligent musicianship. I don't know, it's really interesting and uncommon..." The first two songs on this thing are so damn cool, I can't wait to hear some more new material. Pick up a pro-duped CD-R from the band or the label, or look to Spotify and stream away.
Wire Lines, Terminal/Demo (Self-Released)
Wire Lines released two absolutely awesome EPs of punk-infused post-hardcore with an angular indie edge this year, so to have them both compiled onto a single pro-duped CD-R was an easy choice for me—especially with its super fair $8 price tag (including shipping within the U.S.). I've played the hell out of both sets of tunes and am very much looking forward to hearing more. You can download everything via Bandcamp, where you also have the option to scoop up a CD-R. And, yes, there's Spotify, too.
- 6th Circle's The Third Estate came damn, damn close to making the Top 10. Dark and gritty industrial with an EBM twist. Top-shelf execution across the board. (Also check out 6th Circle's appearance on the killer Autonomous Strangling Machine compilation, released earlier this month.)
- Another nod to Upstate Records for their reissue of a long-lost 1994 EP from underrated NY thrash act Attica. Right behind Skitzo in terms of my favorite reissues of the year. Now if only a complete Attica discography could come together...
- Detroit power poppers Extra Arms released a great new EP this year, too. I still need to buy it, actually. I think I've just been a little bummed that there's no CD(-R) option this time around...
- Eyebawl's Never Again EP shows a ton of promise. Looking forward to seeing where they'll take their grungy brand of punk-pop next.
- Cave Painting, by Hex Machine, almost made the Top 10, too. Certainly one of the most intriguing releases of the year, with some of the coolest cover art. If you enjoy twisted and warped math-metal-noise-rock that sounds like no other, dive on in!
- Howling Sycamore's Seven Pathways to Annihilation isn't necessarily the most memorable album, but damn is it an interesting spin. Despite their lineup featuring Davide Tiso (Ephel Duath, etc.) and Jason McMaster (Watchtower, Dangerous Toys, etc.), I had somehow never even heard of them before. Why!?!?
- Moonflower absolutely could've made the Top 10. As long as they retain the emphatic energy of masterful cuts like "Philip Morris U.S.A." moving forward, I really think this band is going to start making some waves.
- Another great release that I never got around to properly covering on the site (sorry!) is The Burden, by Room 101. Mandatory listening for fans of doom 'n' gloom in the vein of Mindrot and such!
- The latest Streetlights EP is such a killer set of polished emo/indie tunes that deserves so much more attention. This is another band that I could see having some serious potential for success with a wider, borderline "mainstream" audience.
- Last but far from least, I've not forgotten the debut full-length from Albany, NY's Violent by Design, released all the way back in January. Probably the most underrated metalcore album of 2019. If you dig Neglect and the more obscure side of '90s hardcore compilation contributors, you need to hear this shit, and now.