Much like last year, the majority of all the music I listened to this year fell into what I call heavy genres. These include heavy metal and all of its sub-genres as well as other stuff that might not necessarily be considered “metal” but is still heavy. Examples would be things like hardcore, industrial, the black metal inspired electronic of Gost, and the brutal experimental noise of Lingua Ignota. This year, heavy music accounted for over 40% of everything I listened to, which translates to over 400 albums. It didn’t seem fair to limit this to what managed to make it to my overall favorites list, so here are ten other heavy albums that I believe are worth your time.
COFFINS – BEYOND THE CIRCULAR DEMISE–Death/doom metal is a genre I’m pretty new to, so my enjoyment of death/doom albums pretty much comes down to the sound and how well it can keep my interest. This Coffins album does a very good job combining the brutality of death metal and the crushing heaviness of doom. They know when to take it slow and when to speed things up, and they choose their riffs wisely for each case. There’s also this weird sound that I’m not sure if it’s some instrument or some kind of vocal processing, but it works and it’s one of the ways Coffins is setting themselves apart.
DREAM THEATER – DISTANCE OVER TIME–The prog metal pioneers return yet again with their 14th album. It also happens to be one of their shortest with the standard version clocking under an hour of run time. Despite the length, there’s no shortage of impressive musicianship to be found, as can be expected from Petrucci and company. What’s most impressive is that they avoid a lot of excessive self gratification and give us some very tight and focused metal performances instead. And this one gets nice and heavy with some decent riffs and solid grooves on some passages. They’re among the best and this album just continues to prove that. Watch my full review here (yes I know the intro is creepy).
FEVER 333 – STRENGTH IN NUMB333RS–I’m not sure why, but nu-metal is trying to make a comeback. But if it means we get more bands like Fever 333, it might not be such a terrible thing. This is a very angry and visceral brand of rap metal that I can’t help but compare to Rage Against the Machine at times. Not just in sound, but also in message. Instead of shallow, tough-guy bravado, Jason Aalon Butler sings of the injustices and difficulties he’s witnessed and experienced as a person of mixed race. This album will really get your blood pumping in more than one way.
GYGAX – HIGH FANTASY–As this band’s name implies, they are heavily inspired by tabletop RPGs like D&D. While that sounds supremely nerdy, even to me, these guys are just about the best old-school hard rock band I’ve heard this year. They’re so old school that I almost wouldn’t consider them heavy metal, but some of their riffs push it just over that line. For a little more reference, they give off some heavy Thin Lizzy and Blue Oyster Cult vibes at times with their rhythms, guitar tones, and dual guitar leads. So if you’re itching for something new in that wheelhouse, give Gygax a try.
HIGH COMMAND – BEYOND THE WALL OF DESOLATION–This decade has seen a bit of a renaissance of crossover thrash come bubbling up from the underground. The success of bands like Power Trip has allowed more great bands to come into the spotlight. High Command is one of those bands. Despite the name and album art seeming more appropriate for epic metal or stoner rock, they deliver some wonderfully punishing thrash riffage. The lyrics however have more in common with bands like Iron Maiden or Sabaton, telling stories of medieval fantasy battles. Look no further for good thrashy fun.
I BUILT THE SKY – THE ZENITH RISE–I know I literally just talked about this one at the end of November, but as far as instrumental guitar music goes, it really is the best of the year. This is a genre that is really difficult to stand out in, especially now that the internet has been flooded with bedroom musicians and producers. Rohan Stevenson excels because he holds to the guitar philosophy that man cannot survive on shredding alone. Yes, he’s very talented and his shredding is impressive, but what really impresses me are the hooks and melodies between the solos. I Built The Sky is one to watch in the new school of instrumental metal music.
KING GIZZARD & THE LIZARD WIZARD – INFEST THE RATS’ NEST–One of two albums released by King Gizzard in 2019, and the better of the two in my opinion. This album finds the psych rock chameleons trying their hand at thrash metal, and they do a pretty dang good job. Keeping with their psychedelic foundations, this album is produced to sound more like an early thrash album from the late ’70s with heavy Motörhead influences. The lyrics tell an apocalyptic sci-fi story of life after the Earth’s climate collapses and how the same greedy practices exist even after they’ve caused irreparable damage. Not every King Gizzard experiment lands, but this one certainly does.
LITURGY – H.A.Q.Q.–Yes, it’s another album I just covered in November, but this thing made a big splash when it landed. With H.A.Q.Q. Liturgy continues to push the boundaries of what black metal can do. Depending on who you ask, that’s a really good or really bad thing. Either way, you can’t deny how brutal and heavy these tracks are, using their musical heft to emphasize the emotional weight of Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’ lyrics. The way they incorporate classical instruments like chimes, glockenspiel, and harp is genius, and piano interludes serve as nice little retreats from the insanity before diving back in. Overall it’s just a very satisfying and cathartic experience. Read my full review here.
POUND – ••–This is easily one of the most unique releases that I heard all year. Pound is a guitar and drums duo who play what they call “experimental, instrumental grind, math, dbeat, and sludge.” But hints of prog and djent show up from time to time. Guitarist Ryan Schutte plays a 9-string baritone, so there’s no lack of low end. Riffs zig and zag all over this album, but it’s not all prog weirdness. There’s a bit of melodic structure here too. You won’t find them on Spotify, but if you’re looking for something different, the whole album is on their YouTube channel, or find them on Bandcamp.
SUNN O))) – LIFE METAL–This wasn’t a particularly fantastic year for slow metal, but we did get not one, but two Sunn O))) albums this year. Of the two, I prefer Life Metal. I know a lot of purists aren’t big fans of it because it’s less experimental than their previous work, but I personally love it for being a more back-to-basics approach. It’s also about as positive or uplifting as a Sunn O))) album can be. The second album, Pyroclasts is also very good, but it’s more meditative and improvisational. If you like your metal slow, it doesn’t get much slower than this.