Kyle McGinn Best-of 2019

Thursday, 12th December 2019

Narrowing down hundreds of albums that end up getting checked out over the course of a year down to twelve of the best is never an easy thing to do. In fact, 2019 ranks as one of the hardest in recent memory. There were numerous albums that I genuinely loved that got squeezed out of the top spots (and even the top songs). In short, there was a sheer ton of enjoyable music to check out, from hardened veterans churning out some of their best work, to eye-widening debuts from some future favorites.

This year, much like the last few, has been about expanding my own personal music boundaries in an attempt to bolster a wide appreciation of music for my two sons – to not just enjoy a single subgenre, but to even venture beyond metal itself. That said, there’s a little bit of everything listed – from proggy to more straight-forward, and from melodic to extreme. But no matter what it sounds like, each one of these listed below is an absolute gem.

12. We are the Catalyst – Ephemeral (Self-Released)
Ephemeral is addictive, modern metal with a lot of genuine passion to back it up. Plain and simple. Just the right amount of heaviness, along with insidiously catchy melodies that should easily offer the band an audience, not just in metal but all the adjacent spaces as well. The band has so much to offer, it’s a shame they aren’t getting more buzz.

11. Allegaeon – Apoptosis (Metal Blade)
Allegaeon continues to one-up themselves with each new album, as well as attempting to switch things up along the way. No doubt Apoptosis is a heavier beast than their previous album, but there’s also a delight in the band’s ability to consistently pack riff upon killer riff into the mix without overdoing it. Technical yet melodic metal that is bound to stick in your ears for days.

10. Infected Rain – Endorphin (Napalm)
A band that has been building up a name for themselves in recent years, Infected Rain deliver on all of their promise with Endorphin. Straight forward heaviness is balanced out by some hooky melodies and a charismatic vocal lead in Lena Scissorhands. An emotionally rich album that is full of monster grooves as well as some gorgeous atmosphere. This has all the makings of a breakthrough here in the States in the very near future.

9. Red Handed Denial – Redeemer (Self-Released)
I’ve gotten a ton of mileage out of this one, with its uncanny ability to meld some intricate proggy goodness with immediate gratification in the form of pummeling groove and massive hooks. A 14-track concept album that delights in playful guitarwork and some killer vocals by Lauren Babic, the way things move as the album progresses is breathtaking. A must for modern metal fans.

8. Beast in Black – From Hell with Love (Nuclear Blast)
There were few albums that I listened to more over the course of 2019 than From Hell with Love. Why? It’s just so damn fun! The way that they’ve crafted bouncy synth-friendly ‘80s vibes with power metal is bound to make just about anyone sing and dance along. From beginning to end, one of the most infectious and smile-inducing releases you’ll hear. Beyond excited to see this all live in 2020!

7. Hath – Of Rot and Ruin (Willowtip)
Some absolutely scorching material from Hath with this album. There’s a reason they took the extreme metal world by storm with this – it’s so damn heavy, but at the same time it’s so nuanced and progressive in tone. It’s dark and gritty, with just a dash of melancholy added in to break it up a bit. Truly thinking man’s extreme music, but also not forgetting that savagery is what makes death metal potent.

6. Cyhra – No Halos in Hell (Nuclear Blast)
Cyhra had high expectations given the modern metal marvel that was their debut. But they managed to deliver the goods in all possible ways – shifting their sound towards a slightly heavier and more live-driven sound. It fits the band to a tee, with each track having not only memorable vocal lines, but melodies and riffs that stick with you emotionally. It’s got a great message behind it too, which further sweetens the deal.

5. Kaleido – No Rly…I’m Fine (Self-Released)
Breaking the code on this one, as it’s only an EP, No Rly…I’m Fine wins out because it just got played so much. There may only be a few tracks, but each really leaves an impact on the listener. The combination of brass, hard rock attitude (with some metallic undercurrents) with flowing pop hooks, alongside addictive chorus lines and heartfelt lyrics make Kaleido stand out. They’ve paid their underground dues, and hopefully this latest evolution will help them to break through even further.

4. Idle Hands – Mana (Eisenwald)
Last year’s Don’t Waste Your Time was an excellent set-up and introduction, and Mana really knocked it out of the park with style. A triumphant blend of genres, boasting maximum accessibility while showcasing potent songwriting, each track will stick in your head for days as you continue to switch which one is your ‘favorite.’ Righteously celebrated by many at this point, Idle Hands is clearly onto something big.

3. Soilwork – Verkligheten (Nuclear Blast)
Ever the reliable act, one of 2019’s first releases was also one of its strongest. Continuing to build on the last few equally impressive efforts, few can match what Soilwork does in the modern metal department. The blend of darkness and melancholy coupled with usual knack for grooves and speed makes Verkligheten feel like one of the band’s most diverse and mature offerings to date.

2. Cellar Darling – The Spell (Nuclear Blast)
Impressing with their debut, The Spell somehow managed to up the ante even more. A full-blown concept album, featuring one of the best and fully realized stories this scribe has come across in this medium, and just all around striking musicianship. It still manages to tug on the heartstrings almost a year later, and the music really does take you on a journey that is second to none. Utterly breathtaking stuff.

1. Fit for an Autopsy – The Sea of Tragic Beasts (Nuclear Blast)
A great album was to be expected by Fit for an Autopsy, given their evolution with each release. But this simply destroyed expectations and gave me everything that I look for in metal. It absolutely crushes with brutality, doles out notable melodies and riffs in each song (not to mention the persistent groove), and has some insightful lyrics to boot. Equal parts poignant and punishing in tone, they managed to check off all the boxes while providing a fresh and exciting experience that was like any other in 2019.

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