Written by: Ancient Hand
If you passed by these parts 12 months ago (give or take), you would have seen our very own Ancient Hand's eclectic-ass list of year-topping albums. And guess what? We love the guy so damn much that we decided to bring him back for round two.
Ranging from the most extreme to the most ethereal, a wide range of genres are represented--and appreciated--here at the Sleeping Village. In that adventurous spirit, we invite you to cower and/or rejoice. Here are Ancient Hand's top 20 albums of 2019.
20. Tool - Fear Inoculum
Tool’s epic and grandiose return to releasing music was met with the strangest response. Some people seemed to love the single (also the title track), and some hated it. When the album came out, the consensus seems to be that it is an album with incredible musicianship, but the oomph isn’t there. Some also took incredible issue with the album artwork… but I find it to fit this strange and smooth album. The production is “too clean” for some, but I, for one, want to hear Tool with as much clarity as possible. I enjoy being able to hear every aspect of the music with total distinction between instruments and sounds. Some of the songs meander for a bit too long, but I enjoy listening to this album quite a bit. There are some really interesting and intriguing moments on it, specifically “Chocolate Chip Trip,” which is easily my favorite cut off this album. While not as dark and punishing as previous releases, Fear Inoculum feels like it revolves around clarity-- both sonically and lyrically, with the band reflecting on their past, their break, and where they find themselves now. I find that to be a hard thing to adamantly stand against.
19. Saor - Forgotten Paths
Saor’s 2019 Forgotten Paths is a follow-up to what I considered to be the project’s most underwhelming release, Guardians. This new release is beautifully focused on its folk elements, which are beautifully incorporated in the black metal Saor is fantastic at delivering on every release. Forgotten Paths is significantly shorter than many other Saor releases, and this ends up helping the album in the end; the more focused and sharper songwriting creates a much more memorable experience that sticks with you long past your initial listen. Folk black metal is hard to get just right in my opinion, but Saor does it perfectly on this album.
18. Numenorean - Adore
Numenorean’s sophomore outing sees the band creating more consistently engaging material that is simultaneously depressing and a joy to listen to. The band crushes, screeches, and somberly sings their way through pain. The incredible “Portrait of Pieces” stands as one of the bands tightest and most interesting pieces of music; while the title tracks sees a more refined version of the band we have grown to know over time. Overall, Adore is one of 2019’s best when it comes to black metal.
17. La Dispute - Panorama
La Dispute return with yet another heartbreaking album; this time around, though, the band uses synths and indescribably beautiful cover art to grab their listeners for another trip through loss and pain. On Panorama, La Dispute changes up their formula just enough to keep this album engaging for longtime listeners. The opening songs (after a brief instrumental introduction), “FULTON STREET I,” and “FULTON STREET II,” build to stratospheric heights instrumentally, while lyrics surrounding guilt and loss swirl into a colossal mammoth that yanks the tears right out of your eyes and the pain right from your heart. Much of the album continues to follow this formula, but some songs are more effective than others. At the end of the road, however, the final track, “YOU ASCENDENT,” sticks with you. It exists like a broken piece of rib that inches ever closer to your heart, biding its time before it punctures your vital organ and drains you of all the hope you had left.
16. The Cranberries - In The End
The final album from Irish legends, The Cranberries, is 2019’s In The End. Released after the death of vocalist Dolores O’Riordan, this album serves as a final chapter in the long career of a groundbreaking and innovative rock band. The album has some of the most emotional cuts in the band’s entire discography, and while that may be aided by the posthumous nature of the album, it is still a knife to the heart. The strange lyrics that seem to directly reference the vocalist’s future death (“It’s all over now,” “Do you remember?/ Remember the night?/ At a hotel in London”) give off an incredibly eerie feeling, which is directly juxtaposed by the wholesome and pure album cover that sees the band’s likenesses at a younger age, ready to play in a junkyard. The album’s best songs bookend the release, and while the middle does seem some lackluster cuts, the album is undeniably a fitting sendoff to a band we were all lucky to see grow and evolve over the course of multiple decades.
15. White Ward - Love Exchange Failure
My first experience with White Ward was Love Exchange Failure. I tried to listen to the album a couple of times, but the runtime ended up working against me. I loved what I heard, but it was hard for a bit to find time to sit and soak this release in. When I finally did, though… boy did it hit me. I love this album. It is expertly played, beautifully written, and fully realized in its vision from the album cover, the vibe, and the beautiful introduction in the first few minutes of the first track, “Love Exchange Failure.” The album continues to surprise with its inventive incorporation of saxophone and clean vocals. The pacing of the album is very interesting, with it seeming to slowly wind down before a final hurrah at the track list’s end, and it is certainly one of the more memorable releases of the year for its interesting structure.
14. Cattle Decapitation - Death Atlas
Cattle Decapitation’s new release is probably the most hotly debated album of the year. Despite both sides of the argument-- those for it because of its epic scope and sound, and those against it because of its reliance on clean vocals and lack of cutting-edge instrumentation-- I still thoroughly enjoy this thing. I find myself to be an outlier because while I’m not obsessed with this album and don’t think its the best album of the year, I find it to be damn enjoyable! The crushing riffs and hellish vocals of “The Geocide” lead the death march to utter destruction. “Bring Back The Plague” is probably the catchiest metal song of the year, and the title track is a harrowing journey through the apocalypse Cattle Decapitation builds up over the course of the record. A little bloated? Sure! But all the songs are good, and I don’t always believe in too much of a good thing. And, at the same time, some songs break the adjective of “good” and dive headfirst into “great”! All in all, it’s an enjoyable record.
13. Hildur Guðnadóttir - Joker (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
The soundtrack to the most controversial film of the year, Joker (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack), is one of the most moving pieces of music I have heard in a very long time. Even if this album were detached from the amazing film it is tied to, it would still stand on its own as a fantastic piece of music. The mournful strings sound bleak and dissonant alongside the faster cuts on the album, which showcase furious drum rhythms and quickening paces. The entire endeavor soon crescendos into the track “Call Me Joker,” which is bone-chillingly epic in its grandiose presentation, giving beautiful center-stage to a deranged madman that epitomizes the enemies our current society has helped create. Real-world implications and idealizations aside, this album is beautifully composed by Hildur Guðnadóttir, who packs a serious punch on this collection of songs.
12. Motionless in White - Disguise
Motionless in White’s newest album, Disguise, is also their strangest. It was made rather quickly compared to the band’s last couple of LP’s. On this record, Motionless in White works with their central metalcore sound and uses it to push in multiple different directions. The Korn-inspired “Headache” paired with the Linkin-Park-worship of “</c0de>” places the album in a strangely nostalgic late-90s, early-2000s timeframe, but the album doesn’t stop there. The band goes on to create a sequel to their amazing 2010 song “Undead Ahead” with “Undead Ahead 2: The Tale of the Midnight Ride,” which is a phenomenal track featuring some of the filthiest screams and finest singing found on any Motionless in White song. Conversely, the album does fall a little short on the ‘fun’ track, “Broadcasting from Beyond the Grave: Death Inc.” This is most likely due to the fact that their previous ‘fun’ track off 2017’s Graveyard Shift, “Dead as Fuck 2: Not My Type” was a fun gothic tune that would make Danny Elfman jealous. Where this album really shines, though, is on its melodic cuts. “Holding on to Smoke” and “Another Life” let the intensity ring from Chris Motionless’s emotions. His pained singing is an icicle to the heart, and the lyrics of losing a love that was great and hoping to find the person in another life hit almost as hard as his delivery.
11. Whitechapel - The Valley
Whitechapel is a band that has always bored me. I found the formula of their songs to be too repetitive, the vocals lines too indistinguishable from one another, the breakdowns formulaic, and the songwriting to be less-than-memorable. This only grew worse with age, as the early albums at least had a heavy amount of grime to them, but with The Valley, Whitechapel have chosen to change for the better. This album’s ominous tone (made even more sinister with the fantastic artwork and the real-life story this album’s concept derives from), phenomenal production, and willingness to change up the formula made for what is probably the second biggest surprise of the year. The cuts “Hickory Creek” and “Third Depth” see vocalist Phil Bozeman at his most vulnerable with soft clean vocals that continue to evolve the ominous mood of this record. I hope to see continued evolution from this band in this softer direction with a maintaining of the terrifying energy these songs give off.
10. Tyler, the Creator - IGOR
Tyler, the Creator dropped one of the most refreshing and invigorating hip-hop albums of the 2010’s in the decade’s final year. IGOR is an experimental LP that sees Tyler at his most sorrowful and his most free. Despite taking on the persona of this colorful character “Igor,” this seems to be Tyler’s most honest. “IGOR’S THEME” is a foreboding and groovy intro to the album, with ominous lyrics describing how “They gonna feel this one,” and feel it we do.
The catchy chorus of instant-hit “EARFQUAKE” is still stuck in my head months later, and the venomous end to “A BOY IS A GUN” with Tyler telling someone he once loved to “Stay the fuck away from me,” show that the shape-shifting rapper is capable of delivering an album with heart and spitfire.
9. M00DRING - The Mirror
M00DRING is a side project of the 2 members of Now, Now, who were featured on my best of 2018 list and my decade-end list. On The Mirror, the duo dive into 1980’s synth thriller soundtracks headfirst-- without even having a movie to accompany this collection of songs! The duo constructed a story then scored it, and the results are phenomenal. The album is equal parts horrifying (“The Contact”), beautiful (“Ellandra’s Theme (Reprise)”), and tense [“I Saw It Too (The Origin)”]. Even without a film to go along with it, The Mirror manages to follow a terrifying story that plays out in an old decapitated movie theater in the darkest recesses of your mind.
8. Cigarettes After Sex - Cry
Cigarettes After Sex’s sophomore LP, Cry, is a continuation of the band’s self-titled debut album. On this album, the band offers an equally soft and dreamy experience. The vocals are softer than many of the songs off the debut, but there seems to be more control over them. Look no further than “Falling In Love” to see someone be shockingly soft and beautiful. The small runs on the chorus elevate the song to heavenly heights. At the end of it all, Cigarettes After Sex manage to be just as beautiful but also ominously dark as their debut. The album cover perfectly conveys this rainy beauty in black-and-white perfection.
7. Jay Som - Anak Ko
Anak Ko is Jay Som’s most recent release, and on this LP, Jay Som shows us the prettiest music that dream pop has to offer. The melodies are gorgeous and heartwarming, the dreamy guitars feel like a warm summer sun shining on your happiest memories. Anak Ko manages to make you feel incredibly happy and devastatingly nostalgic, and it is worthy of being experienced well past the end of this year.
6. Those Poor Bastards - Evil Seeds
Those Poor Bastard’s 2019 LP Evil Seeds is an amazing way to end their second decade as a band. It is significantly better than the band’s previous release, Inhuman Nature, which was already a fantastic album. This album features so many harsh yet beautiful moments. It is sombre and fun in its presentation, and it fills me with just as much joy as it does sorrow. Evil Seeds feels like an interesting counterpart to 2016’s Sing It Ugly. While Sing It Ugly is intensely harsh and dizzying, and Evil Seeds is more sombre and calm, both albums have an aura of the true wild west about them. They feel like you’re in an old town with a couple of drinks in your belly, fighting off something. While the fight on Sing It Ugly was against the rising mechanical head of the industrial age, Evil Seeds’s fight is against the demons inside yourself. Cuts like “Every Lonesome Song,” “Just Tonight,” and “Sick Sick” feed on your insecurities and regrets, and the album refuses to let go on the faster, more intense cuts like “One Of Us,” which sinks its fangs in and refuses to let go, lest you pay the viper with your soul.
5. Full of Hell - Weeping Choir
This year’s most brutal release is one of my absolute favorite albums of the year. After rapidly building themselves to “iconic” status with numerous releases, including full-lengths, splits, and collaborations, Full of Hell released Weeping Choir, one of the most brutal and punishing releases I have heard in years. The animalistic ferocity of this album is as catchy as it is terrifying. With incorporations of harsh noise and screeching guitars, Full of Hell emulate exactly what this album title evokes: something terrifyingly beautiful. The track “Ygramul the Many” features one of my favorite moments in music this year with the rhythmic and hellish chant of “Your heart/ Is a/ Wellspring/ Of hatred,” and boy is that just the tip of the iceberg. This album features so many moments that would be horrifically magical to experience in a live setting. Here’s to hoping this band never slows down!
4. Billie Eilish - WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?
OOOOOOOH boy I love this album. Billie Eilish’s approach to dark pop is one of the most commanding and fascinating things to happen to music in the last few years. I became a fan of hers with her ice cold delivery on her instrumentally anthemic, “you should see me in a crown” in 2018. Since then, Eilish has only shot off into space with her popularity. Her debut album, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?, is an incredible piece of art. The flow of the album is one of this year’s best, with Eilish shape-shifting before our eyes with intimidatingly powerful verses (“bad guy”), soft croons (“xanny”), and heart-wrenching honesty (“listen before i go”). With her brutal matter-of-fact delivery, immaculate insight, and incredible skill, Eilish shows that age is not a factor when it comes to creating an amazing album.
3. BROCKHAMPTON - GINGER
BROCKHAMPTON’s newest album is a clear and definitive statement. It clearly shows what the band now is without their former member that was kicked out for assaulting a woman. GINGER is a melodic and meticulous self-examination. It is partly petty (“I BEEN BORN AGAIN”), partly reflective (“DEARLY DEPARTED”), partly lovestruck (“SUGAR”), and all pained. I’ve reviewed this album and discussed it in my decade-end list, so I feel there is not much else to say other than a general summary. The fantastic flows, transformative lyrics, and heavy bass all culminate into a fantastic hip-hop record from America’s best boy band. I hope that they continue to see success and find incredible happiness in future endeavors.
2. Bring Me the Horizon - amo
amo by Bring Me The Horizon was this year’s biggest surprise for me. I was not a fan of the band’s sound on their last album, That’s the Spirit, and I was incredibly nervous of the direction they were heading in. That’s the Spirit felt like a tepid and half-assed attempt at making the band’s sound more masses-friendly. I wanted the band to commit; either be a badass and epic metalcore band, or make pop music! But the one foot in hard rock and the other foot in pop led to an album that felt like it was only a sliver of what it could have been. And what it could have been… was amo. amo is an incredible showcasing of this band’s immense talents. Moody cuts like “nihilist blues” pair shockingly well alongside pop ballads like “in the dark.” BMTH also shows off their knack for heavier sounds with songs like “wonderful life” and “heavy metal,” the latter of which manages to feature beatboxing from Rahzel, which… works. This is a recurring theme on this album; things that shouldn’t work… work perfectly. The jazzy drumming and whiny vocals of the amazing interlude “ouch” pair perfectly together; the string sections and epic guitar solo of “i don’t know what to say” allow the album to end on an epic note as vocalist Oli Sykes sings about smuggling a dear friend of his into heaven. amo is a beautiful dark pop album brought to us by one of metalcore’s most polarizing bands, and it is an incredible achievement.
1. Sadness - I want to be there
And here we are, the number 1 spot on my year-end list. This should come as a surprise to nobody, as my review of Sadness’s new record, I want to be there, was incredibly positive and practically glowing with praise; it placed at number 6 on my decade-end list, and it has been praised nearly every time I discuss 2019 releases. This one record is one of the most magical pieces of music I have ever heard. It draws on Sunbather’s template, but it adds so much more unique personality to it. The sombre tone, the synth work, the singing, all of it culminates in one of the finest releases black metal has ever seen. This album is just what its cover conveys: a defiant spin against the anger and hatred that permeates every corner of our modern world. Painful love fills me every time I listen to this. It is both heart-wrenching and heartwarming every time I hear the beautiful chorally sung vocals of this year’s best song with “I want to be with you.” I hope this album finds its way into your ears and hearts soon… because I cannot think of a 2019 release that is more moving, more impactful, and more heartfelt.
Providing thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy, and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a groggy-eyed, highfalutin peasantry.