Sonic exploration has never been as exciting as in 2019
This piece here precisely marks a full year of me rocking out with More Fuzz and believe me, it’s been the craziest one to date. Never before has music been as important of a companion as it was during the last year. In many aspects, 2019 was a year of discovery, challenge, pain, bliss, happiness or remorse. All these emotions, however diverse and contradictory, had a huge influence on what I listened to for the past 365 days.
Questioning my comfort zones was an important theme prevailing throughout the whole year. As some of you might already know, my main sonic point of departure is hard rock with all its stoner and psychedelic cousins. Yet, feeling the urge to challenge my usual tastes I found myself exploring some truly intricate places. Post-punk, black metal, industrial heavy metal, shoegaze… they might only be labels in the end but still help navigating through this beautiful yet chaotic world of music. Well anyway, I’d love to show you around the records that were by my side throughout 2019… wish to join?
As a matter of clarification though, I want to add something before we start. The order in which I picked those records is purely driven by subjectivity and the personal experiences I’ve had with them. Each position is backed with some words of explanation so please read them carefully and you’ll learn the reasoning behind my choices. I love you, we depart NOW!
Let the journey through my favorite albums of 2019 begin!
Top 15 Albums of 2019
15 : Pale Grey Lore – Eschatology
Let’s open this list with an American quartet that knows damn well how to handle its sonic tools. Pale Grey Lore have appeared on my radar just recently and all thanks to my friend’s recommendation. Friends are cool, aren’t they? To the point though… This band here blends heavy psych with some raw rock and roll power all to arrive with something as addictive as it is fun.
Eschatology primaraly caught my ear with their sweet riffs that are just irresistable. As for a band’s second record, this production here is highly cohesive and finely-honed. The versatility in tempo, the beauty of vocals, the effort pumped into this album all make for something I just had to surrender myself to.
14 : The Gluts – Dengue Fever Hypnotic Trip
I stumbled upon this band when I randomly walked into the small room in Effenaar at Fuzz Club Eindhoven (report here) earlier in August 2019. Not having a clue about The Gluts and their music, I stood there in front with my camera waiting for the show to enfold. When they started playing though… this was something else. Screams, moshing with the crowd, flying guitars, crowdsurfing… you name it!
Having had my soul obliterated I needed to look into the band and their newest record. Dengue Fever Hypnotic Trip proved to convey similar energy to what I heard live. Sudden outbursts of energy and poisonous grooves are constantly supported by an industrial-like foundation that is so characteristic of their earlier works. This record is an interesting example of a post-punk and noise rock hybrid that just cannot be tamed. Even when things calm down there is always something lurking in the background and patiently waiting for its turn to explode. What a beast.
13 : Nightstalker – Great Hallucinations
Nightstalker have been around for over 25 years now and with Great Hallucinations they showed that they still know how to play the stoner game. Released under the banner of Heavy Psych Sounds, this album holds plenty of captivating tracks that altogether form a tight and uniform creation. I must say, I didn’t expect it to be that good. It took me a couple of takes to get down to its core but it was certainly worth it. Fun, riff-laden and fantastically produced. Party time!
12 : Grotto – Lantern of Gius
No matter what comes out of the premises of Stickman Records, you can be sure about a couple of things. Rich soundscapes, tracks winding into eternity and this sonic depth one can barely comprehend. Grotto joined the ranks of this german record label just earlier this year and put out an artifact of an instrumental album. While consisting of only 2 tracks, Lantern of Gius still perfectly manages to paint a sonic picture so vivid and abundant that there is always something waiting to surprise you. No words, just riffs. Don’t let this put you off though, this album holds many treasures…
Lantern of Gius stole my heart because of its spaciousness, sonic wealth and that it just feels like a story not necessarily an album. It’s this type of a record that when played, takes you places. Thanks Grotto for showing me around your world as it’s been an fantastic adventure.
11 : Valley of the Sun – Old Gods
It’s no secret that I have a thing for the desert. Though I haven’t had the honour of physically roaming one yet, in my mind I’m a frequent visitor. With Old Gods there is no way around it, you WILL end up there. Released under the famous Fuzzorama Records (Truckfighters, Asteroid anyone?) this album here is wholeheartedly drenched in fuzz, sand, sunrays and loads of energy. Basically all components you need for piloting the dune… Anyway! Valley Of The Sun went to great lenghts here when producing this album. Crunchy riffs, tribal drumbeats and this perfect balance between the fast and the slow. Pure sonic bliss.
I picked this album for my top as I have great memories with it and I deem it as a solid tribute to the archetype of stoner/desert rock. Old Gods hold key to many contagious riffs, moments of respite and sonic blows that can feed even the hungriest of riff maniacs. Give it a spin and hold fast as this will be one hell of a ride.
10 : Bölzer – Lese Majesty
My friends have fallen but I remain. With axe in hand I plow through hordes of invaders that storm my motherland. I shall keep on slaying them until the last drop of intruder blood feeds this soil. While blasting Bölzer in the background of course…
Lese Majesty was this record that somehow made its way to my mind and while lingering around there, it gradually made more and more mess. I can fairly say that it was by far the most enjoyable and well-crafted black metal albums I’ve heard in 2019. The brutal force with which Bölzer presses on here is remarkable and deserves recognition. Yet it’s not only about being merely heavy and barbarous. Lese Majesty goes as far as to creating a whole setting for perceiving its sonic substance. The finely-honed production is jacked with all sorts of tiny details that send shivers down your spine and make you feel as if you’re stranded somewhere you shouldn’t be. Not to mention the instruments and vocals sounding just so malignant and unforgiving that I could literally feel them tightening around my neck… Sometimes you just need to surrender yourself to the darkness.
9 : GOLD – Why Aren’t You Laughing?
I stumbled upon GOLD when checking out bands that played Roadburn 2019. The moment I laid my hands on Why Aren’t You Laughing I already knew this was a special record. At least to me personally. Its release date collided with a time where I was constantly undergoing contrasting emotions and this album here appeared to understand me on multiple levels.
The fragile voice of Milena combined with intricate yet somewhat blackened instrumental work made for a perfect combination. Why Aren’t You Laughing pierces deep and hard, requiring attention yet promising an unforgettable experience. It’s a tense trip deep into the realm of emotions where you dictate the rules and the album provides you with the tools. What are you waiting for?
8 : King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Infest The Rats’ Nest
The King treated us with 2 albums in 2019 of which the second one truly made it for me. In stark contrast with the earlier Fishing For Fishies , Infest The Rats’ Nest instrumentally revolves around the realm of thrash metal and lyrically touches on topics like societal cataclysms, environmental breakdowns and some weird sci-fi concepts. King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard reached back to the thrashy past, sucked all the best from it, topped it with their unique oddity and threw it at our feet. Sending a message while breaking any remaining conventions on what constitutes a ‘rock’ band.
Overall, the album is powerful, consistent and filled with bangers to the brim. The trash aesthetics isn’t just a smoke screen here but a full-on embracement of the genre and a tool with which the guys convey their opinions on issues that can no longer be neglected. Excellent production, a robust concept and balls of steel. The King never disappoints.
7 : The Pilgrim – Walking Into The Forest
You probably know this feeling when you hear something and it immediately bypasses anything that stands on the way to your heart. It happened to me when spinning Walking Into The Forest for the first time. Fully acoustic and released at the end of April 2019, this gem right here has a charm to it like no other. The blissfully gentle guitar strokes and mind-soothing vocals of Gabriele act in perfect symbiosis with each other, tickling both the mind and the heart. Track by track we follow the mysterious persona on the album cover (designed by the impeccable Maarten Donders) who leads us further down his world of peace, joy and love.
If I could compare this album to anything, it would most probably be Spring itself. A time where nature awakes, where spirits are lifted and where hope emerges. I went for Walking Into The Forest here as I rarely hear such complete and organic albums that achieve so much with so little. The Pilgrim has been a great companion so far and I’m glad I stumbled upon him. Farewell my friend, till next time!
6 : Alcest – Spiritual Instinct
Alcest is one of many bands I discovered last year but one of few that left a lasting impression. Spiritual Instinct has caused plenty of turmoil on the heavy music scene which shouldn’t come as a surprise once you get to hear it. Being the progenitors of Blackgaze, Alcest is by default one of a kind with a sound that has been forged since almost 20 years now. Dyads meeting collosal walls of sounds, shattered with both growls and fragile chanting… Immense power I’m telling you. Even though I’d consider the album’s general vibe as heavy it still has something of a fairy tale to it. Lightness in heaviness. You know what I mean right?
I highly recommend Spiritual Instinct to anyone wishing to venture further into unknown territories and seeking music of individual character. Alcest have been developing in a tremendous fashion over the course of two decades and their newest release showcases just that and much more.
5 : Red Scalp – The Great Chase In The Sky
Red Scalp returned after two full years of studio work, touring and dealing with earthly matters. And in what grand a manner! The Great Chase In The Sky is the 3rd LP delievered by our Polish space Indians who seem to have taken that nickname quite seriously. Their recent record dropped just at the beginning of December but when preparing my review (read here) I already knew I was dealing with some cosmic entity.
The composition here plays a huge role as balance between riff-laden madness and ethereal synth and sax work has never felt more addictive. Add to that crisp production, clean and dynamic vocals and you get an album holding power to make one both dance and long for what’s above. An absolute killer of a record that I had continously blasted for a straight month until I finally made it to the riff orbit. A place inhabited by Iommic acolytes, Indians and other Hashishians. I truly hope to see you there. Be sure to bring some munchies though…
4 : Green Lung – Woodland Rites
What you got here is a record outstanding in many ways! The way Woodland Rites snatches your attention and turns you to its side is highly impressive. Simply put, it’s Black Sabbath worship with a twist so contagious you can’t resisting playing it on repeat. The tracks are stellar in themselves but it’s the overall flow and structure of the record that makes it all feel as lively as it is. Seemingly effortless songwriting adds great value to the instrumental finesse which together take both your hands and invite you for an unholy ritual. Guided by the riff, you simply let go…
The fact that Green Lung reached this level in just two years makes my head spin. I’m crossing my fingers for this band’s rapid development and I hope the guys keep that spirit up. You don’t want to know how many times I air-guitared or danced my way through Woodland Rites. I’ll give you a hint… A LOT!
3 : Lingua Ignota – Caligula
Unlike all other albums on my list, Caligula by Lingua Ignota is an album I feel strongely perplexed about. It’s something that has driven a wedge in my heart and with every listen, it sinks deeper causing more and more chaos. For those who don’t know, Lingua Ignota (translating from Latin to ‘Unknown Language’) is a musical project ran by Kristen Hayter who… well, how to put it… has gone through some serious shit. I won’t elaborate. Look it up yourself.
Revolving somewhere around noise, industrial, classical and extreme, her music is soaking in pain, grief, agression and a range of emotions that words can’t describe. It simply fucks with your head. I feel that there is so much depth to Caligula that I barely scratched its surface. Never before has an album crushed me to the size of a grain of sand and never before has it left me all hollow and speechless. The constant battle between paralyzing yells, this depressing lyricism and the sacral-like side of it all often becomes unbearable for the listener. But that is perhaps the greatest virtue of this Caligula. This internal fight of Kristen put to life by her instrumental talent and enchanting voice that can stirr even the sturdiest of hearts.
2 : The Devil and the Almighty Blues – Tre
Cold wind penetrating your bones, howl of the wolf and dead trees staring as you trudge through the trail. No humans in sight, just nature roaming free of any societal clenches. Tre is that and a thousand of other concepts.
This recent record by The Devil and the Almighty Blues is a work of art reaching beyond the invisible realm of music. Always when I listen to Tre, various landscapes stretch in front of my eyes and I just can’t help but explore them. For those who are not familiar with the band, TDATAB are masters of painting sonic scapes and Tre is perhaps their crowning achievement in this craft. On one hand the tracks here are rather versatile in terms of lyrics, tempo and mood but on the other they are all so impressivly cohesive! The band’s distinctive sound and style of playing has reached yet another level of maturity on Tre and I still can’t get enough of it. Instrumental work drawn from some top shelves, Arnt’s voice as bone-piercing as it can possibly get and highly skillfull songwriting that lifts the whole experience to some unthinkable heights. What a rich record, oh my…
1 : John Garcia And The Band Of Gold – Selftitled
Garcia’s solo album dropped at the very beginning of 2019 and it got my attention right away. Don’t necessarily know why as the ‘Chicken Delight’ single released 2 months before the album premiere felt just okay. Yet after just a few initial listens to the full release I started noticing all the little treasures hiding in this selftitled record. The crisp and catchy riffs, top-notch production and the ever-beautiful voice of John Garcia made up for a deadly combo.
But why so high you might ask. Primarely because everything here seems to be on its place. For instance, the various songs seamlessly flow through each other which makes it easy to go through the whole length on one go without feeling bored or annoyed with some odd additions. What’s more, both lyrically and musically this album draws inspiration from all the other projects John has sang in yet still maintaining a character of its own. The album is playful, skillfully delivered and most importantly it feels as the place where it comes from. The desert.
Well that’s it regarding last year folks. Even though I actively pushed myself to discovering new music every day, I obviously missed plenty of albums that might have ended up here. Yet I must admit that never before have I listened to as much music as in 2019. Spotify alone recorded over 90,000 minutes, add to that Youtube, Bandcamp and the various concerts… You get quite some time right there!
But that’s the way we live, don’t we? Fueled by the riff and always on the sonic run.
Honourable Mentions by Atmosphere Levels
By Fat Level
Monolord – No Comfort
The Well – Death and Consolation
High n’ Heavy – Warrior Queen
Slomatics – Canyons
Ruff Majik – Tårn
Crypt Witch – Bad Trip
Torche – Admission
By Purple Haze Level
10,000 Russos – Kompromat
Villagers of Ioannita City – Age of Aquarius
Monomyth – Orbis Quadrantis
Elder – The Gold & Silver Sessions
Spaceslug – Reign of the Orion
Mote – Samalas
The Dead Ends – Distant Shores
Esctatic Vision – For the Masses
By Temperature Level
Taraban – How The East Was Lost
Deaf Radio – Modern Panic
Kaleidobolt – Bitter
Diuna – Golem
Hazemaze – Hymns of the Damned
Iguana Death Cult – Nude Casino
Nebula – Holy Shit
Top Concerts of 2019
Anna Von Hauswolff @ Roadburn Festival 2019
The Great Machine @ Red Smoke Festival 2019
Sunnata @ Desertfest Antwerp 2019
Bongripper @Desertfest Antwerp 2019
Sleep @ Roadburn Festival 2019
Alcest @ Eindhoven Metal Meeting 2019
The Gluts @ Fuzz Club Eindhoven 2019
Mythic Sunship @ Roadburn Festival 2019
The Shrine @ Desertfest Berlin 2019
Electric Moon @ Freak Valley Festival 2019
A Place To Bury Strangers @ Freak Valley Festival 2019
Graveyard @ Soulstone Gathering Festival 2019
Windhand @ Effenaar / Eindhoven 20.03.2019
John Garcia And The Band Of Gold @ 013 Poppodium / Tilburg 22.02.2019