Δευτέρα 20 Ιανουαρίου 2020

The albums we enjoyed most in 2019... And beyond.

The usual prologue would be that no one can say that have listened to almost everything that was released during 2019. Everyone who claims that is wrong, so we will speak just for our favourite releases and the albums we enjoyed most in 2019. The "best" albums of 2019 according to Crystal Logic.

Everything you will read below, are releases that can be found in physical format. "Releases" that were available only online, are not included. LORD OF LIGHT's "Morningstar" is going to be released physically in 2020 and the Spotify or YouTube tracks won't be added as an album in 2019. When this amazing album will be released, it will definitely be among the best of the year, but we're going to talk about it shortly...

There were few more great "releases" that can be found online but cannot considered "equal" to what we are talking about. For example, you can find on YouTube only (not even bandcamp) SMITH & SWANSON "Sanctuaries" that consists of three amazing songs in the vein of SEAMOUNT, HOUR OF 13 and BLACK SABBATH, while there is also the case of HRMÜLJA and MAGNABOLT, but as mentioned, let's just stick to what we're talking about. 
I believe that you need to check the physical format so you will have the complete experience of an album, and not just having a quick listen on social networks, downloads or whatever. We love that. And we love lists. Any kind of lists. We are posting later than most media and websites our list, because there were so many great albums released during December or even November and we needed to have a proper listening. 2019 was not just more interesting than 2018 but it was probably one of the best years of the decade. Especially for fans of Doom Metal.

1. CRYPT SERMON "The Ruins of Fading Light"
(Dark Descent Records)

We have a winner. Along with their previous album ("Out of the Garden", 2015) we have the greatest epic doom metal albums of the decade. That's a bold statement, I know it, but that's already a classic. Nothing more to add. Number 1 is number 1. Pure perfection. Black iron gnosis.
Check also: SMOULDER "Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring". The Canadians fronted by sword woman Sarah Kitteringham, nailed it with an album that is balanced between epic metal, doom metal and pure passion. Sometimes, being a fan yourself, is the greatest element to create and perform passionate music.

2. ATLANTEAN KODEX "The Course of Empire"
(Ván Records)

We've been there for ATLANTEAN KODEX since day one; the very beginning. The first time I saw them live was at Up The Hammers festival 2010 and since then, many more times followed in Greece and Germany.
The first time I did an interview with the band was in 2011, before the second ATLANTEAN KODEX show in Athens, organized by No Remorse Records and Iron on Iron. That interview was done with Manuel Trummer for Cloak & Dagger 'zine (that exists no more, and was operated by Elina Kefala, that became one of the biggest supporters and friends of KODEX, "who reads the pathways of the stars").
Since that old interview can't be found anywhere anymore (online or printed) allow me to bring on surface a short part:
A.A.: Distant echoes from early MANOWAR, the Asatru period of BATHORY and writings of R.E. Howard, bound among others, the ATLANTEAN KODEX ethos. All this concept that steams from the Hidden Folk, is something that is part of your personality and your beliefs? How do you see the modern man?
M.T.: Well, I actually sometimes feel a little lost in this modern world. I often think that this isn‘t really my time and place. There‘s a huge lack of spirituality, of traditional ways of living and of identity in the modern world. Everything has to be as efficient and fast as possible. But this also makes things very superficial. "The Hidden Folk" is actually a very romantic song in a way. The longing for a better and distant past (which probably never existed) and the will to leave this world behind can be a huge emotional and atmospheric force, which can really take you away to a distant place, away from modernity‘s shackles.
A.A.: You believe that the history of Europe, is a history of immigration, right? So, there has to be a cultural diffusion of many different ideas and diversity. An acceptance for all the different people of Europe of today. So how important are the roots and the traditions for the man of 2011? And where do you draw a line of where these roots start?
M.T.: This is an interesting, but also a very difficult question. Where to draw the line? Let me start like this: yes, the history of Europe is of course a history of immigration. Everyone but the Basques, who were the first modern humans to conquer Europe, 35.000 years ago, is an immigrant in these lands. Speaking of Germany, the last 4000 years saw the last Stone Age people, they were driven to the hills and forests by the Indo-European Celtic tribes. The Celts were conquered by Roman troops, who dominated German lands from the Alps to the North Sea coast for almost 300 years. Then again the Romans were driven back by the barbarous Germanic tribes. Of course there were also the Slavs, who played a lead role in medieval times in eastern Germany... Each of these tribes left their marks on us as modern Germans, as well genetically, but most of all culturally. I guess this shows how shallow and how short-sighted concepts like "nation" or "race" really are. I consider myself a European, looking back on 10000 years of European heritage, sharing history, culture, genes and religion with my fellow Europeans from the boiling geysers of Thule to the walls of Hagar Q‘im, from Albion‘s shores to Attica‘s white temples. In a globalizing age, traditions are more important than ever. They provide us with a means of orientation in these fast-moving and confusing times. Family, home region ("Heimat" in German) and our European heritage is what defines us, tradition is what unites us.
Manuel visited more times Athens, not only for live shows. "The White Goddess" was released, more live shows followed, Europe and society changes and eight years later from that interview, I reached one more time Manuel and ATLANTEAN KODEX, this time for an interview for Metal Hammer magazine (Greece). It is always a pleasure to listen and read what bands like ATLANTEAN KODEX have to say about a new album, music, the lack of knowledge in modern society, social media, and tradition.
"The Course of Empire" is a triumph. A classic album. And ATLANTEAN KODEX is a unique band. It is not just about the music, but also the lyrics, the artworks, the aesthetics, the atmosphere, the symbols and metaphors they use to transmute the world.

3. IDLE HANDS "Mana"

From the first moment I listened to IDLE HANDS when they privately released "Don't Waste Your Time" EP, I was sure that this band is going to be huge. It is still early, but after their first full-length album "Mana", it seems that they can DO IT. They played nearly 100 gigs since the release of that EP and that's a huge achievement. Actually it is a miracle, if you will think about it deeper. "Mana" is a diverse album that sounds addictive, fresh and original. A highlight of 2019. A highlight of the decade. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a legend. Gabriel, prove me right!

Check also: LUNAR SHADOW "The Smokeless Fires", ENFORCER "Zenith", TANITH "In Another Time" and MOON CHAMBER "Lore of the Land".
Diversity is the magic word for the latest albums of LUNAR SHADOW and ENFORCER, but both of them combine different elements.
Three years ago, I did an interview with Max, guitarist and main composer of LUNAR SHADOW for Iron Fist (UK) and he said, "We play epic and melancholic heavy metal with tons of twin guitar leads. A strange amalgam of DISSECTION, WISHBONE ASH, old IN FLAMES and JUDAS PRIEST", when he was asked to describe his music to someone that is not familiar with the band. But his music is more than that. JUDAS PRIEST brought him into heavy metal, but his music is something more, something more personal. Loss, struggle, downfall... And then, you have the new album.
"The Smokeless Fires are our passions. The things that drive us one, deep within ourselves. All the love, hate, ambition, sorrow, joy and despair. That’s what all the songs on this album are about, in one way or another. It’s up to you to find out in which ways", said Max at Metal Squadron (an excellent interview you can read HERE). "The Smokeless Fires" is a personal album, created at a period where Max was looking for something else than "traditional heavy metal" and he came up with a diverse, emotional and great album. And even if he doesn't really like IDLE HANDS, "Roses" might be a song that connects these bands.
ENFORCER did something different. They added more melody in their traditional heavy metal and that worked really great. However, it seems that many fans didn't accept that change, but the album has few amazing songs like "Zenith of the Black Sun" (reminding Dio-era BLACK SABBATH), "The End of the Universe" and "Forever We Worship the Dark". You can't write similar songs every day...
MOON CHAMBER's debut album was created by Marta Gabriel of CRYSTAL VIPER on vocals (and bass on recordings) and Rob Bendelow of SARACEN on guitar and songwriting. In addition to Marta and Rob, keyboard duties are handled by Paul Bradder of SARACEN, and the driving percussion comes courtesy of PAGAN ALTAR’s Andy Green. In "Lore of the Land", you can listen 10 songs deeply rooted in the classic rock and heavy metal of the '70s and '80s, whilst drawing inspiration from the wealth of English folklore, history and legend. "Only" is probably the most beautiful song of 2019, while "Knight Errant (My Son)" is an amazing epic track.
As for TANITH, their debut album "In Another Time" is a passionate vintage hard rock that harks back to the glory days of THIN LIZZY and URIAH HEEP. However, while such influences resonate through the band’s music, TANITH never derivative, having a strong musical identity and forging their own sound.

4. ARCH / MATHEOS "Winter Ethereal"
(Metal Blade Records)

Oh that voice! When I saw for the first time John Arch performing live at the stage of Keep It True festival in 2012, I couldn’t believe that this guy hasn’t sung live since ages and yet, he nailed it! What a performance! Eight years since the debut ARCH / MATHEOS album “Sympathetic Resonance”, the guys we love returned with an even better album! Can you imagine that? Songs like "Wanderlust ", "Pitch Black Prism" and "Kindred Spirits" are standing among the highlights of the FATES WARNING legacy & "family". Soul, passion, variety and very well-written lyrics (something that is missing from metal nowadays). As for Jim Matheos, I can’t really add much about his amazing songwriting skills, and while we are waiting for the next FATES WARNING album, I hope there will be also another ARCH / MATHEOS album in the future…
Check also: HORIZON'S END "Skeleton Keys", ZONDER / WEHRKAMP "If It's Real".

5. RIOT CITY "Burn the Night"
(No Remorse Records)

Screaming heavy metal from Canada cannot fail. Album of the month in Deaf Forever magazine from Germany and one of the absolute highlights of 2019. These guys combine all the elements we love and they definitely "play on 10". Just imagine the most important influences a new traditional metal band must have and add the energy of passionate fans and professional musicians. Then you have “Burn the Night”. And the best is yet to come… 

Check also: HAUNT "If Icarus Could Fly", SABÏRE "Gates Ajar", TRAVELER "Traveler".
Singer and guitarist Trevor William Church, does something really amazing with HAUNT. He has worked on 3 albums and few EPs in just 3 years and looks unstoppable! On the other hand, Scarlett Monastyrski of SABÏRE was creating his acid metal slowly over the years, until that day of late December 2018 where he unleashed those songs on bandcamp. It was a matter of time for a proper release and shortly, the sound of true resistance was properly available on CD (via Skol Records) and vinyl (via No Remorse Records). SABÏRE from Australia, were also invited to perform few shows in Europe during 2019 and "Rise to the Top" sounds like the ultimate ‘80s retro metal song! And then, you have TRAVELER, the mates of RIOT CITY from Canada, releasing their debut album, full of anthemic songs, metal passion, blazing riffs and one of the best voices of our times. JUDAS PRIEST must be proud of their legacy.
6. GÉVAUDAN "Iter"
(Private release)

Privately released, this came to my attention by luck, but thank God it did! You need to be patient with music, so while the first 10-minute track was OK, someone who listens to music like visiting a burger house fast food could switch to something else. I didn’t. And then, you have two of the best doom metal tracks of 2019: "Maelstrom" and "The Great Heathen Army". CANDLEMASS might have Astorolus, the Great Octopus, but GÉVAUDAN have the Lords of the ocean, the Great Demons of the sea. So, who do you think will swallow the Earth? This private release is amazing and having Mike Exeter producing, is another highlight since Mike has worked with Tony Iommi and BLACK SABBATH, and that huge sound is present.
Check also: ALUNAH from England released their fifth album, "Violet Hour". Mesmerized performance by singer Siân Greenaway, hypnotized and heavy, this is definitely an album under the spell of the Iommic Magick.
It’s been a while since the mighty "Epicurean Mass" album of 2003 and ORODRUIN from the United States returned with "Ruins of Eternity", a bold statement in the current traditional doom metal scene. Solid, heavy and emotional, I only hope the next album won’t be released around 2035.
DOOMSTRESS hailing also from the United States and the album "Sleep Among the Dead" has "Your God Is Blind", one of the most catchy and addictive songs of 2019; one of the best songs of the year.

7. GOTHIC STONE "Haereticus Empyreum"
(Black Widow Records)

The voice of DOOMSWORD’s debut album, Italy, spooky atmosphere and organs, epic doom metal, and a lyric "You will die in the eve of Candlemass". You had me from "hello". GOTHIC STONE’s debut album passed unnoticed but do yourself a favor and check it as soon as possible. These guys managed to mix things that can sound familiar, with a very inspired way.  
Check also: IRON GRIFFIN "Curse of the Sky", THE LORD WEIRD SLOUGH FEG "New Organon"

8. CHEMIKILL "Edge of Wasteland"
(Tonalite Records)

Formed in late ‘80s, it took them "a while" to release an album, but CHEMIKILL did everything on their own and finally, an album titled “Edge of Wasteland” reached us! Somewhere between myth and reality, the album was recorded sometime in the ‘00s but the master tapes were lost and no recordings were saved. So here, you have all those tracks finally recorded and released. Classic US power metal with solid riffs and everything you love from American power metal.
Check also: ASSASSIN'S BLADE "Gather Darkness", QUEENSRŸCHE "The Verdict"

9. FVNERAL FVKK "Carnal Confessions"
(Solitude Productions / Bleeding Heart Nihilist)

You might laugh with the band’s name but you won’t laugh with the music itself. And you will definitely won’t laugh with the concept and imagery of FVNERAL FVKK’s ideas and songs. If you are into doom metal, here you have your next obsession. A dark doomy gospel forged in the crimes and atrocities of the people of the church. A bold and sinister album that cannot have commercial success. But who cares? Just listen to those carnal confessions.
Check also: LORD VICAR returned with "The Black Powder", so doom metal is alive and well, even if it smells rotten at times. Featuring members that performed or performing with bands like REVEREND BIZARRE, COUNT RAVEN and ORNE, this is pure traditional doom metal, dark, magickal and… slow. Just like it should be. And next to that, THRONEHAMMER released "Usurper of the Oaken Throne". These albums are not for the faint of heart. Enter the cave of doom metal with your own will, but be sure that if the demon of doom will possess you, it will be with you forever.

10. TWISTED TOWER DIRE "Wars in the Unknown"
(No Remorse Records)

This is a great comeback! We were expecting a new TWISTED TOWER DIRE album for a long time and they didn't fail us. Actually they never did, but their last studio album "Make It Dark" (2011) was considered as a disappointment by many, that also didn't really like WALYPRGUS' "Walpyrgus Nights", released in 2017 featuring TWISTED TOWER DIRE members. We like all of them, but "Wars in the Unknown" stands above them. This band is a true legend of the '90s and '00s underground metal and stood on their feet despite difficult times.

Check also: RAVENSIRE "A Stone Engraved in Red", TERMINUS "A Single Point of Light", WARRIOR PATH "Warrior Path".
RAVENSIRE hold the banner of underground metal high. And they will do until the end of times. TERMINUS are no longer a live act and their debut album, "The Reaper's Spiral" (2015) was a masterpiece. The latest album, "A Single Point of Light", is a grower and in the times of fast food, fast posts on social media and fast forward "listening" to an album, you really need to LISTEN. 

The Best, the Rest and More - 2019 Unmasked

Heavy, Epic, Power Metal Rites: ANCIENT EMPIRE "Wings of the Fallen", BLAZON STONE "Hymns of Triumph and Death", CHEVALIER "Destiny Calls", DARKLON "Rise from Death", GATEKEEPER "Grey Maiden", GRAND MAGUS "Wolf God", IRONSWORD "In The Coils Of Set", LEGENDRY "The Wizard and the Tower Keep", MANOWAR "The Final Battle I", MIRROR "Pyramid of Terror", MYSTIK "Mystik", RHODIUM "Sea of the Dead", SANHEDRIN "The Poisoner", SANGREAL "Sangreal", SAVAGE MASTER "Myth, Magic and Steel", SKELATOR "Cyber Metal", SOLICITOR "Sölicitör", STARBORN "Savage Peace", STORMBURNER "Shadow Rising", THE NIGHT ETERNAL "The Night Eternal", VULTURE "Ghastly Waves & Battered Graves", VULTURES VENGEANCE "The Knightlore".
Under the Sabbathian Spell and the Iommic Magick: ALTAR OF OBLIVION "The Seven Spirits", CANDLEMASS "The Door to Doom", CAPILLA ARDIENTE "The Siege", CARONTE "Wolves of Thelema", GREEN LUNG "Woodland Rites", IN AEVUM AGERE "Canto III", ISOLE "Dystopia", OGRE "Thrice as Strong", MAGIC CIRCLE "Departed Souls", MONASTERIUM "Church of Bones", SCARECROW "Scarecrow", SPIRIT ADRIFT "Divided By Darkness", THE SABBATHIAN "Latum Alterum", TROLL "Legend Master".
Melodic Lines: ECLIPSE "Paradigm", FOREVER "Forever", FORTUNE "II", GATHERING OF KINGS "First Mission", WHITESNAKE "Flesh & Blood", WORK OF ART "Exhibits".
Thrashing Maniacs and Screams from Hell: ACID DEATH "Primal Energies", AGGRESSIVE PERFECTOR "Havoc at the Midnight Hour", BLOOD INCANTATION "Hidden History of the Human Race", DEATH ANGEL "Humanicide", DIABOLIC NIGHT "Beyond the Realm", EXUMER "Hostile Defiance", FLOTSAM & JETSAM "The Age of Chaos", NILE "Vile Nilotic Rites", POSSESSED "Revelations of Oblivion", SACRED REICH "Awakening", SUICIDAL ANGELS "Years of Aggression", TOMB MOLD "Planetary Clairvoyance", WHITE WARD "Love Exchange Failure", XENTRIX "Bury the Pain".

What do we expect from 2020? 
The studio return of KING DIAMOND with the album "The Institute" is something we're looking forward to! That's a huge thing and King never dissapoints.
2020 will be the year of Epic Metal since DOOMSWORD might be back and ETERNAL CHAMPION will unleash their second, mythical, studio album. And if "mythical" is something that sounds "too much" for a new release, then an official release by the underground Epic Metal legend of BLACK SWORD THUNDER ATTACK, will shake the depths of underground metal.
If you want to go to the "surface", PSYCHOTIC WALTZ are already on the way, ERIC CLAYTON AND THE NINE are currently in the studio recording the album "A Thousand Scars" with Devon Graves of PSYCHOTIC WALTZ producing, SUMERLANDS are working on new songs, and HITTMAN will finally return with a new album.
In few days, we will have in our hands OZZY OSBOURNE's new album, "Ordinary Man", and even if you find it too mainstream or modern, OZZY will always be the Prince of Darkness.

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