And now, the end is near, and so we face the final curtain. My friends, we’ll say it clear, we’ll state our case, of which we’re certain. We’ve lived a year that’s full, and listened to each and every album (well, a good several hundred, in any case), But more, much more than this, We did it our way…
#Punk #Metal #Alternative #Indie #Hardcore #Riffs #Mosh #Reviews #News #Interviews #Photos #GreatMusic #GhostCult #DeafForever
And as that final curtain falls, it is clear that this year’s stocking has overflowed with inspiring, invigorating music. So, we conclude the rundown of those studio releases from this calendar year that collectively form our favorite albums.
We are Ghost Cult, and this is our list.
In Part 1 we counted you down from 75 to 41, Part 2 brought you 40 to 21, and here, our present to you this Christmas, the gift of riffs – the Ghost Cult Top 20, leading up to our democratically elected Album of the Year for 2019.
Here’s to you all!
20. FEVER 333 Strength In Numb333rs (Roadrunner)
“Following on from Made An America, their never less than intriguing EP, and a series of live shows – or “demonstrations” as the band would have it – a new year starts with a proper, full-length album. Strength In Numb333rs is a veritable smorgasbord of musical styles and influences, effortlessly embracing Rock, Hip-Hop, Pop, Hardcore and Punk. That such diversity works and, for the most part, works effortlessly, is testimony to the creative fecundity at work in Jason Aalon Butler’s mind” Review
19. CAVE IN Final Transmission (Hydra Head)
“If you’re a fan of any music that Caleb Scofield created or played, bring the tissues for this one. Cave In‘s aptly-titled Final Submission (Hydra Head) is a collection of recordings made with the band’s late bassist before his tragic death last year and contains much input from the man himself. It’s a slightly different album than fans might expect, but in many ways, it’s more meaningful for it.” Review
18. BLOOD INCANTATION Hidden History of the Human Race (Dark Descent)
“But fortunately for us, Blood Incantation are benevolent death gods and decided to share tasty treats on this extreme metal feast. The opening minute of ‘Slave Species to the Gods’ alone would have rival death metal outfits looking over their shoulders. While the riffs may be blunt force instruments most of the time, guitarists Morris Kolontyrsky and Paul Riedl make a point to show off their surgical leads on ‘The Giza Power Plant’. What are you still reading this for? Go out there and get your brain broken in the best way possible, too.” Review
17. WHITECHAPEL The Valley (Metal Blade)
“To listen to The Valley is to take a trip through the sometimes extreme personal hell that Bozeman experienced growing up. Whitechapel has seamlessly moved on from the trappings of Deathcore to produce an album full of light and shade without ever having to comprise the groove and heaviness of those seminal early efforts.” Review
16. INTER ARMA Sulphur English (Relapse)
“Despite third album Paradise Gallows establishing Virginian quintet Inter Arma as one of the World’s premier exponents of Harsh Progressive Metal, it’s nevertheless arguable as to whether or not the band remains in the shadow of 2014’s staggering opus The Cavern. Fourth full-length Sulphur English (all Relapse), surely their most brutal yet, will lay such doubts to rest.” Review
15. FULL OF HELL Weeping Choir (Relapse)
“Possibly the most intense half hour of your life. ‘Burning Myrrh’ and ‘Haunted Arches’ rattle off with such torque and greasy blast beats that you may want to stop by the emergency room for concussion-like symptoms. The ever so subtle ‘Thundering Hammers’ gets the lead foot off the gas pedal, but it swings a main riff that tickles like a crowbar. Misery Index, Dying Fetus, Noisem and Full of Hell? Obviously, there’s something in Maryland that takes metal and hardcore and twists it into something much crueler and more unusual.” Review
14. DREAM THEATER Distance Over Time (InsideOut)
“Throughout the record, it feels like the band made a conscious effort to go back through their catalog, take key elements from each release and refine them to fit within a musically concise structure. Distance Over Time ends up sounding reminiscent of everything Dream Theater has ever done without sounding like they are rehashing ideas.The result is their most concise and articulated record in years.” Review
13. BARONESS Gold & Grey (Abraxan Hymns / Sony)
“Feeling almost like a career retrospective, everything great about the band, as well as some new flavors can be found in these tracks. Most bands have hits, but all Baroness songs lately seem to be deep, deep cuts. You can hear threads in each one as a call back to an earlier point in the band, while also tilling new ground. The riffs of Red, the hooks of Blue, the solemn unplugged moments of Yellow and Green, and the blistered heart of Purple all represent. At the same time, Gold & Grey is very unique stylistically and stands apart.” Review
12. ALCEST Spiritual Instinct (Nuclear Blast)
“Alcest makes such a beautiful piece of art with their sixth LP. It has everything, from extreme black metal riffs to shoegaze/post-rock ambiance guitar work; the blast beats that manage their way into the mix create a perfect balance between what’s extreme and what is melodic and atmospheric.” Review
11. KILLSWITCH ENGAGE Atonement (Metal Blade)
“‘Bite the Hand that Feeds’ crackles with an intensity and white-hot riffage I haven’t heard since Alive or Just Breathing. ‘Ravenous’ also makes sure that the guitar work is as impressive and catchy as its chorus is big. Another beer down and I’m in a good mood. Alcohol aside, I’ve got another sweet Killswitch album no matter how much it sticks to convention.” Review
10. CATTLE DECAPITATION Death Atlas (Metal Blade)
“This record takes a bit of a different path. It’s like a story and each song is a chapter making it necessary to listen from beginning to end. The preface, ‘Anthropogenic: End Transmission’ sets the scene and introduces the theme of despair that runs through each number.
From this thematic intro, which sounds like the beginning of a Michael Bay film, we shift to the second track, ‘The Geocide’ which instantly slams into you with Travis Ryan’s signature scream. Within seconds you are submerged in the sound of sinister defiance and dejection. The rumble of the guitars sounds like an evil buzz of bees which pairs well with the versatile vocals. The melodies in each song are stark and catchy, yet carry a very foreboding weight.” Review
9. DEVIN TOWNSEND Empath (InsideOut)
“As eclectic as it is ambitious, Empath is a mesmerizing jigsaw puzzle of musical contortion that will live long in the memory whether you want it to or not. However, such as its heterogeneous nature suggests, it’s also prone to occasionally tripping itself up in fleeting moments of puppy-like excitability. For the long-time listener, this will merely be brushed aside with a casual hand movement and “It’s Devin. What do you expect?” For the first time listener, however, this way lies madness.
Featuring guests such as Anneke Van Giersbergen and Ché Aimee Dorval, plus the aforementioned Steve Vai, and Chad Kroeger from Nickelback, there is simply no earthly way to absorb everything you hear on just a couple of listens, so don’t even try.” Review
8. FIT FOR AN AUTOPSY The Sea of Tragic Beasts (Nuclear Blast)
The fact that Fit For An Autopsy coalesced everything in their arsenal on the sonically brutal The Sea of Tragic Beasts (Nuclear Blast) album is not a surprise. The New Jersey six-piece of Death Metal master killers have always had the goods in terms of strong albums, crushing vocals, and tight production thanks to guitarist and in-demand sonic reducer Will Putney. The band will never be cool enough for elitist metal tastemakers, true, However, by staying true to themselves and improving every element of their sound and songwriting, they made an album that serves as a wake-up call to anyone who ever slept on them and a straight-up fuck you to all doubters. The Sea of Tragic Beasts squarely puts them into a higher echelon than before as a band in this scene as we move into 2020.
7. SLIPKNOT We Are Not Your Kind (Roadrunner)
“For the band’s latest release, We Are Not Your Kind, darkness is firmly back on the menu, just not as you might imagine. Although clearly created from a place of pain and darkness, this isn’t a depressing or maudlin collection of songs, and it certainly isn’t dwelling on the past.
Having used the catharsis of .5: The Gray Chapter to help them through their grief, the band have stayed fairly close to that place (and with other recent events, that’s hardly surprising), but have also managed to channel it into something more positive. Most of the time, anyway.” Review
6. KNOCKED LOOSE A Different Shade of Blue (Deathwish Inc / Pure Noise)
“Not familiar with Knocked Loose? Well, just know that in the span of two LPs and a handful of splits and EPs they’ve secured themselves a plum spot in the modern Hardcore pecking order. Let’s skip the formalities, A Different Shade of Blue (Pure Noise) is only going to further entrench these gentlemen into the hearts of slam dancers and tough guys alike.
You see, what Knocked Loose excels at is creating the type of ligament tearing, kneecap busting Metallic Hardcore sounds we’ve come to associate with primarily with east coast hubs like Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey or New York. On ‘Belleville’ and ‘A Serpent’s Touch’ these young Kentuckians crack so hard you’d think they had gained access to Martyr A.D.‘s secret riff and breakdown stash that had been neatly stored under the Area 51 floorboards.” Review
5. SOILWORK Verkligheten (Nuclear Blast)
“Swedish Melodeath purveyors Soilwork are a staple of the scene. Despite never having the commercial success of In Flames nor the critical acclaim that At The Gates garnered, the band is a reliable ever-present, delivering solid albums on a regular basis.
With Verkligheten, the band’s eleventh album, Soilwork deliver another exactly what they’re good at; a mix of shredding riffs, machine gun drumming, and a penchant for bombastic clean vocals.” Review
4. TOOL Fear Innoculum (Volcano / RCA)
“Lyrically this album is quite different than 10,000 Days, Undertow or any album the band has made. If there is a unifying theme here, it’s in the lyrics of ‘Invincible’, which is about knowing one is surely not in this world. When MJK sings “a warrior, struggling to remain, relevant”, he’s not just talking about himself, but the band as well. And it hits quite hard to this listener as well.
You will need several listens to really “get” this one. It’s diverse, complex, and challenging to the ear. Masterful music made by masters. The band left everything on the table, and nothing used feels cheap. This Tool album is destined to be praised by fans, hated by trolls, studied, copied, and followed, forever. Every word and note here has a purpose. In the end, this can be a lesson to fanboys and haters of all stripes. Let artists work things out at their own pace. You may be surprised at the results. It’s a helluva ride!” Review
3. RAMMSTEIN untitled (Universal)
“With so much time having passed, and with the band almost calling it quits with two key members becoming successful artists in their own right, you could be forgiven for asking if Rammstein are even relevant any more. Well, judging by the reactions to the band’s first two singles in eight years, it appears that would be a very silly question indeed. Yes, coming as a surprise to absolutely no-one, the band’s new album, is a colossal fucking juggernaut.
Another solid gold triumph for the band who simply don’t understand the concept of writing a bad album, Rammstein is sure to become a fan favourite in no time at all. Let’s not leave it ten years until the next one though, eh chaps?” Review
2. CULT OF LUNA A Dawn To Fear (Metal Blade)
“Yes, Tool‘s Fear Inoculum is the talk of the metal and hard rock town these days so bear with me as we’re going to be using that album as a comparison point. Think of A Dawn to Fear as the underground’s formal response to Tool’s latest opus. Much like Fear Inoculum, A Dawn to Fear has something to get of its chest and it’ll take as long as it pleases so take a seat.
Some will argue that Cult of Luna isn’t underappreciated – just look at their critical reception for fuck’s sake – but why aren’t more of the water cooler discussions on the genre not revolving around these dudes? The answer: cowards.” Review
1. OPETH In Cauda Venenum (Nuclear Blast)
By the slimmest of margins in Ghost Cult’s seven-year history, Opeth’s In Cauda Venenum (Nuclear Blast Records/Moderbolaget) is Ghost Cult’s Album of the Year. Sure, Opeth is far from the band everyone got into yadda, yadda, yadda. If that is you, stop reading as you are likely already pissed some band that slows their songs down to shred on them, then speeds them up for the finished album didn’t make it in our poll. For the rest of you, read on!
Sure this is their thirteenth album in their twenty-five plus year career, and the fourth since they went “all-prog – all the time” on Heritage. There are a lot of commonalities between this proggy Opeth opus and their last three in terms of genre preference, lots of Hammond organ, and a distinct lack of growled vocals. The growled vocals would be out-of-place on these albums since they are not remotely the Blackened Death Metal the band became known for on genre-shattering classics such as Orchid, Morning Rise, Blackwater Park, Deliverance and more. You can still get your fix of those songs at every Opeth show, show quit your bitching. Why is In Cauda Veneum not only the best prog album the band has ever made, but among the greatest albums of their career?
As Mikael Åkerfeldt told us in his interview with us that the album had some loose concepts, but not a concept album in the traditional sense. What guided him from that obscure Latin title, and not unlike the parable of the Scorpion and the Frog, Mikael said
“…It fits with my view of how I approach a new album these days, which is kind of like, it might be the last album. I’m not saying it is, but I want to approach each new album as if it could be my last to keep me on my toes. I don’t want to get flat when I’m writing. Just in case this would happen to be the final Opeth album, I want to make sure that my house is clean… and write the absolute best music I can at the time and not be lazy.”
What he meant was we wanted to step up every level of his game. Not just write great, deeply layered prog songs, but add elements that help develop a storytelling aspect in a way his heroes have done, but he hadn’t yet attempted. This is not even close to the level of quality in the tracks from earlier Opeth albums, most of which are regarded extremely well by press and fans. Scoring like a movie soundtrack, orchestrations for choir, Gregorian Chant, obtuse movie samples and other passages are woven throughout the songs instead of interludes or tacked on sloppily. This is the highest level of songcraft.
Lyrically the older, wiser Mikael shared some of his most deeply personal lyrics ever too, which considering his output is saying something. Are their other bands that have attempted to put out an album so grandiose musically, in two languages, this good, in recent memory? While the English language version is more understandable to this writer, something keeps bringing us back to the poetic sadness of the Swedish version, which is the version that was intended all along.
In closing, our scribe Gary Alcock wrote it best in his 9/10 review of the album:
The best parts of In Cauda Venenum (Latin for “sting in the tail” or “poison in the tail”) arrive rather appropriately in the record’s tail end. ‘Universal Truth’ features more Mellotron, strings, bluesy licks, and another wonderful guitar solo, all topped off by some incredible drumming courtesy of Martin Axenrot.
With echoes of cult TV show Twin Peaks, stunning penultimate track ‘The Garroter’ uses its dark jazz melodies to creep insidiously into your subconscious while gliding elegantly towards its offbeat Lynchian conclusion. Ending the album in style is the eight and a half-minute monster ‘Continuum’. A perfect way to bring the curtain down on one of the best releases of the year.
Elegant and tranquil, uplifting and poetic, but with a pervasive sense of loneliness and disquiet (the strange samples scattered throughout the album add to the unease), In Cauda Venenum is perfectly balanced and consistently absorbing. On this, their thirteenth album, Opeth have taken another bold and determined step forward. Unlucky for some? Not a chance.