Top Ten Metal of 2019
1.) Hellripper - Black Arts and Alchemy.
This was a late discovery for me, but it absolutely blew me away. Fast, evil, nasty, smoldering badness. And, it’s only an E.P. So, I cheated. So what?! James McBain is a one-man wrecking crew from Scotland, in the vein of Joel Grind, and holy CRAP is this guy talented!? Give this a listen and realize that ONE guy played all this, along with all his other releases. A full-length Hellripper offering is coming soon, and I have no doubt it will be extremely high on many 2020 lists. I would crawl over broken glass to see these guys live (he has a touring band, and they recently annihilated London with some blazing shows.) One thing to know about me: if I like your band, I’m buying merch. I have already bought three Hellripper shirts and this c.d. off Bandcamp, haha.
2.) High Command - Beyond the Wall of Desolation.
I have a type, o.k? Some guys dig redheads. Some like blondes. I swoon over crossover thrash. If a band blends an unrelenting thrash assault with hardcore energy and rage, I’m in. High Command just happens to also drop in some of the epic-ness that’s going on with Power Metal and “blackened” thrash (whatever that is). It’s thrash with epic vocals. I listened to it early on and liked it, but one night I put on the headphones and really let it rip with a few beers, and it shot up the list to #2 just like that! This album is a slab of everything that’s good in metal right now.
3.) Wraith - Absolute Power
I felt real, actual guilt for placing this album at #3, above Toxic Holocaust. I recently met Joel Grind at a show, and he was extremely nice to me. That only amplifies the guilt! However, these young lads from Indiana have taken the Joel Grind/Toxic Holocaust formula, and have absolutely PERFECTED it on this album. I love TH and, full disclosure: I actually blackballed another band from my year-end list for doing this exact same thing to another band that I really, really love. In spite of any kvlt reservations on my part, these guys have turned out one of the most ripping albums I have ever heard. The fact that it sounds note-for-note like TH is just a bonus. If Joel had released this, it might have been my #1 overall. Maybe that’s shallow. Maybe I don’t care. Either way, it f***ing RIPS!
This is another hardcore/thrashover fest (I know, my whole list looks like a comp. I like what I like.) These guys sound a lot like Power Trip, without being a ripoff. They are also fellow Texans, and are friends and contemporaries of that band. A whole lot of hoarsely articulated rage on this one, but replete with kick ass riffs. I had a chance to see these guys live on a work-week-night recently, and didn’t go. I’m still kicking myself. This album makes me want to stomp some holes in the nearest sidewalk.
The one-man-band MASTER, Joel Grind, gave us Primal Future this year. For this one, he went back to his roots and played every instrument and did all the vox. It’s a fantastic album with surprising depth. It’s an ambitious record with a pretty focused dystopian-future theme. On first listen, I kind of thought it fell a tad short of previous TH releases. After a long road trip where I gave it several listens, I realized how dumb I was. It’s really great. The song “Iron Cage” is as classic as anything Joel has ever done, and is my fave on the album. There are quite a few other gems as well, including some songs that are real innovations for TH. And if you just want to thrash, nobody plays the riffs for that pastime quite like JG.
6.) Creeping Death - Wretched Illusions
This is my nod to death metal. Just so happens, this Dallas, TX band injected that DM with a lethal dose of thrash riffs. If you’re gonna name yourself after a classic Metallica song, you should probably do that. The results are spectacular. These guys are absolutely kick ass live, and also happen to be extremely nice guys as well. None of that gets you on a year-end album list, though. Your music has to crush as well, and these guys pulverize. It’s a really interesting time right now for genre-bending bands. A lot of groups are taking the best of several types of metal and creating killer amalgams. Creeping Death have done an excellent job of that on this album.
7.) Diabolic Night - Beyond the Realm Here’s one for the speed freaks. The riffs on this make me want to judo chop the microwave clean off the kitchen counter. Throw in some classic Venom-inspired vox, and you got yourself a good, raunchy time. This is the only album on my list that has that “European” flavor, but boy does DN represent it well. You can almost smell one of Cronos’s sweaty old kuttes whilst jamming to this. Next time I feel like mainlining some trucker speed, this album will be the soundtrack for it.
8.) Oozing Wound - High Anxiety
Noise? Punk? Thrash? Massive amounts of anger spilling into song titles like “Surrounded by Fucking Idiots” and “Tween Shitbag”? Oh, and massive bong rips punctuating it all? Yep. It’s gotta be Oozing Wound. These guys are not your typical stoners. Yeah, their lyrics are funny as hell, but they play with a ferocity that most cannot muster from inside a bag of Cheetos. Nihilistic, angry, funny, fast and furious. This is my nod to a rollicking punk/metal mashup that’s frequently missing from most playlists, and frankly doesn’t always work. (Bonus: for another excellent example, see Chicago’s own Child Bite.)
9.) Gatecreeper – Deserted
Much more straight-up Death Metal than anything else on my list, Gatecreeper put out a true rager this year, chock full of absolutely KILLER riffage, fronted with the good ol’ growling vocals you know and love. This album probably could have been ranked a little higher, and I suspect it will be for those of you who typically take your metal death-y. One of several bands on my list that I was lucky enough to have seen live this year, Gatecreeper really bring it in-person too. This Arizona band is flying the flag for classic death metal, and they bring the best of Florida and Sweden on Deserted .
10.) Green Lung - Woodland Rites
I occasionally deviate from my tried-and-true, and dally with some doom/stoner metal (who DOESN’T love Sabbath?) There were some good ones this year (Crypt Sermon), but my nod goes to Green Lung. Sounds trite, but they really seem to have captured the very best magical essence of both Sabbath and Zeppelin, without sounding like a hackneyed ripoff (Greta Van Fleet, anyone?) “Let the Devil In” is one of the single best new songs I heard this year. Liked it so much, I bought the shirt (Bandcamp, if you’re looking. Killer shirt).
So, that’s the list. It is admittedly crossover-thrash heavy, due to my own proclivities. And there are TONS of honorable mentions (Magic Circle, Crypt Sermon) and bands that I straight-up left off, and others I completely missed (Inculter. Man, FML. Totally whiffed on them). The only way to rectify anything you might have missed is to listen MORE, so get to it!
Also, 2020 is setting up to likely be the most massive year of new releases in memory (Power Trip, Warbringer, Carcass and many others are slated to drop new slabs). Start thrashing early, my friends!
Bonus: Top song of the year - “Hornet's Nest” - Power Trip. I am an unapologetic, huge fan of this band. I started out as just an overwhelmed newbie, when I first saw them open for Lamb of God, with Anthrax and Deafheaven in 2016. I have since gotten to know them personally and have become real friends with these guys. They are hardworking, constantly-touring, and put everything they have into their music and shows. None of that would mean a hill of shit, of course, if their music wasn’t good too. Shocker, but nothing sets of the ol’ brain synapses on fire for me like thrash and hardcore, and these guys marry them in a way that’s not entirely new, not entirely original, but is undeniably ferocious, intelligent, and sincere. “Hornet’s Nest’ is the only new song they released this year, and I think it kicks total ass. No other song simultaneously pummeled me and made me completely happy as this one, so it’s my pick.
(by Johnny K)
Johnny K was raised in the skateparks and on the beach strip of South Mississippi. He cut his teeth on the punk and metal of the early '80s and continues to fly the flag over the current metal universe. He is a middle school science teacher in Alabama by trade, but still strays into the pit as often as he can.