Best of 2019 – Peter Atkinson

Personal Top 20

01. Torche – Admission
The fifth album by Miami’s Torche is a veritable cavalcade of cascading guitar, a wondrous wall of riffage that so many bands boast about or promise, but rarely deliver – at least in the sheer volume, meaning both quantity and decibel level, that Torche offers here.

Not sure just how longtime bassist/producer Jonathan Nuñez’s switch to guitar – following the 2016 departure of Andrew Elster, who was replaced by Wrong bassist Eric Hernandez – played into things here. But everything about Admission is heavier and more thunderous than 2015’s already heavy and thunderous Restarter, as if – with his bassist’s mentality – more bottom end and heft was applied across the board as compensation. Or maybe that’s just me conspiracy theorizing. Whatever. It’s by no means a complaint.

The quartet capture both the majesty and might of, say High On Fire, but bring it with more urgency and verve, swapping the stonery/occultic overtones and progressive sprawl for a hardcore/post-rock/metal punch in the face. That’s not to say there’s anything demonstrably “core” about the album, it’s just got that kind of intensity and heft, a la Helmet in their prime. And as such, it’s pretty goddamn awesome.

02. Opeth – In Cauda Venenum
I’m somewhat astonished that no one saw fit to review the amazing 13th studio album by Sweden’s ever-evolving Opeth on this site – an oversight I intend to rectify in February, so better late than never. In Cauda Venenum is another benchmark release by a band that has a long history of them as their sound has continued to shape shift over the years – from the epic death metal of My Arms, Your Hearse, to the death/prog majesty of Blackwater Park, and the transformative Watershed where the more “extreme” elements made their grand exit.

In Cauda Venenum is the culmination of Opeth’s – and specifically, band leader/guitarist/vocalist Mikael Åkerfeldt’s – long progressive rock/metal metamorphosis, yet is their most immediate, natural sounding work probably since Blackwater Park. The album is challenging but never loses itself in prog pretention. The songs are surprisingly accessible, even downright catchy given their lush melodies and vocal harmonies, yet actually rock pretty hard when they want to – all ably aided by the album’s sterling production.

There’s also an uncharacteristic element of whimsy here in the occasional, but odd voiceovers and sound clips built around the singing and chattering of small children. And of course there’s the matter of the album available being available in Swedish – the initial recording in fact, Åkerfeldt then went back and redid vocals in English. In any language, though, In Cauda Venenum – Latin for “venom in the tail” – is brilliant.

03. Mayhem – Daemon
It has taken quite some time for Mayhem to regain the sonic footing it found with 2004’s propulsive Chimera, where the band’s progressive leanings were tempered by comparatively tight songwriting and more resonant production values, making for a particularly potent album. Lineup changes and creative departures – or a combination thereof – have marked the black metal firebrand’s subsequent work, for better or worse.

Daemon is essentially a contemporary take on traditional black metal played with the guile of a band that’s been there since the beginning. Indeed, in many ways, the album sounds more like a logical follow-up to their legendarily feral debut De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas than anything, which no doubt has something to do with Mayhem having played it in its entirety on tour in recent years.

The bracing trem guitars punctuated by malevolent grooves from Teloch and Ghul, the careening tempos powered as always by drummer Hellhammer and Attila Csihar’s theatrical vocals all work in near perfect harmony here, giving Daemon consistency and purpose. It is not the sound of a band vainly experimenting or grasping for direction, instead it’s the sound of Mayhem playing to its strengths, taking primal inspiration and giving it a fresh boot up the ass.

04. Cult Of Luna – A Dawn To Fear
05. Cattle Decapitation – Death Atlas
06. Inter Arma – Sulphur English
07. Hour of Penance – Misotheism
08. Vitriol – To Bathe from the Throat of Cowardice
09. Vale Of Pnath – Accursed
10. Whitechapel – The Valley
11. Full Of Hell – Weeping Choir
12. Polemicist – Zarathustrian Impressions
13. Devin Townsend – Empath
14. Periphery – Periphery IV: Hail Stan
15. Hath – Of Rot And Ruin
16. Abbath – Outstrider
17. Rotting Christ – The Heretic
18. Hate – Auric Gates Of Veles
19. Micheal Schenker Fest – Revelation
20. Avatarium – The Fire I Long For

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