2019. The year of the Pig — an animal marked, according to the Chinese zodiac, with good fortune. Heavy-music fans were similarly marked over the last 11 months, blessed with an unholy bounty of headbanging offerings from artists young and old. Two of the biggest rock bands in the world released their first new albums in a decade and more. A masked metal juggernaut reconfirmed what we always knew: They are not of our kind. Death-metal, hardcore, grindcore, goth and industrial insurgents stakes their claim to the respective thrones. Here are the 25 best albums of 2019.
After leaving emo hotshots Tigers Jaw, singer Adam McIlwee took a hard turn into the world of dark alternative hip-hop, blending emo and goth's heavy melodrama with rap's production and vibrancy to create his project Wicca Phase Springs Eternal. With Suffer On, Wicca's first official full-length, McIlwee distilled this novel approach into an LP filled with acoustic-guitar soliloquies crushed under 808 percussion that spoke to his own heartbreak in the most catchy-as-fuck way possible. John Hill
Metalcore stalwarts the Devil Wears Prada have been consistently evolving what's possible in their lane since the beginning, but their latest LP, The Act, may represent the group's biggest step forward. Genre staples like breakdowns and electronic interludes are at their weirdest and most experimental here, twisting into unfamiliar forms as in the emotional crush of "Spiderhead." As always, frontman Mike Hranica brings the heavy, but it's guitarist and clean vocalist Jeremy DePoyster who really adds new shades and colors, nowhere more so than on album standout "Chemical." J.H.
Self-described "sasscore" outfit SeeYouSpaceCowboy have quickly made a name for themselves with knotty, Dillinger Escape Plan–esque contortions that are both politically charged and full of sardonic swagger, but on the group's proper Pure Noise debut, The Correlation Between Entrance and Exit Wounds, the Oakland squad pushes into rawer and more personal territory, with powerful results. The centerpiece is "Last December," an initially mellow and introspective spoken-word piece on which trans singer Connie Sgarbossa bravely shows her scars, leading the song — and album — to an explosive, shrieking apex. Will Navidson
Los Angeles-based 3TEETH take industrial-strength agit-pop to new extremes on Metawar, with furious apocalyptic tales of societal rot in our present and near-future ("President X," "Affluenza"). Amid the relentless grind and gloom are brutal melodies from Alexis Mincolla, singing of the transnational and psychosexual. With an album cover featuring a metallic hand clutching a blood-red earth, Metawar is never more uplifting and disturbed as on an album-closing cover of Foster the People's bouncy "Pumped Up Kicks," exploring the frayed mind of a school shooter and tapping into the real-life horror of a world unhinged. Steve Appleford
The debut full-length from London's Ithaca already feels like a moment in time — in the best way possible. The Language of Injury spin-kicks in the crossroads between progressive metalcore, beefy melodic hardcore, chaotic mathcore and OG screamo. Led by charismatic vocalist Djamilia Azzouz, it's an incredibly listenable moshfest that couldn't be a better encapsulation of the current era's ardent aversion to genre boundaries. Eli Enis
The songs on Fury's second album, Failed Entertainment, sound as good in a scrum of stage-divers as they do coming out of a home stereo. The Cali melodic hardcore troupe mustered a rallying energy in the studio that's hard not to twirl along with. But it's the production of Jack Endino (Nirvana, Skeletonwitch, Seaweed) that makes Failed Entertainment not just a great hardcore album, but an all-around fantastic rock record. It already sounds like a classic. E.E.
Part of the Turnstile/Trapped Under Ice family tree of Baltimorean hardcore punk, Angel Du$t dropped one of the year's most unabashedly positive records in Pretty Buff. Coming from a different group of musicians, the album could've been totally corny, and yet, as delivered by singer Justice Tripp and Co. with unabashed sincerity and not a drop of self-consciousness, songs like "Big Ass Love" serve as undeniably infectious anthems of having a good time and caring about your pals. J.H.
Rising U.K. firebrands Venom Prison showed major promise on their 2016 debut, Animus; with its follow-up, Samsara, they've cemented themselves as one of extreme metal's most exciting voices, delivering absolutely crushing songs while flipping the genre's legacy of misogyny on its head. On harrowing cuts such as "Uterine Industrialisation," vocalist/activist Larissa Stupar pulls no punches in describing the horrors women endure, and the savage riffage behind her — far from just being brutal for the sake of brutality — eloquently underscores her message. J.H.
The first full-length release by this mighty Icelandic metallic hardcore sextet more than fulfills the brutal promise of their scarifying 2018 single, "Wounds." Desolate, devastating and deeply cathartic cuts like "Sin & Guilt," "Beaten" and "Voiceless" sound like Pantera or Gojira might have, if only they had been raised by Vikings on a sunless glacier, and the entire album proves that the self-proclaimed "heaviest band in Iceland" can out-heavy most bands everywhere else, as well. Dan Epstein
Korn have always found their most brilliant moments when drawing on real-life trauma and pain, so it makes a certain sense that out of the tragic death of frontman Jonathan Davis' wife Deven, they would emerge with their finest album in a decade. Challenged to write music worthy of Davis' grief, the band stepped up, crafting some of their hookiest ("Can You Hear Me") and heaviest ("Cold") songs in years. But ultimately, it's the singer who takes center stage, delivering heart-wrenching vocal performances throughout, culminating in The Nothing's closing cut and emotional climax "Surrender to Failure." W.N.
Chicago-based instrumental post-everything powerhouse Russian Circles just keep getting better and better — and on their seventh album, Blood Year, heavier, too. Jaw-clenched psychedelic bombast is seemingly the name of the game here, yet the trio — which notably features ex-Botch/These Arms Are Snakes bassist Brian Cook — never sacrifices subtlety and dynamics, pulling the rapt listener through dramatic swells and cataclysmic crashes. F.P.
Of course an artist with the fearless range of Chelsea Wolfe would follow up her darkest and gnarliest work to date, 2017's Hiss Spun, with an introspective, stripped down and mostly acoustic album. Yet, don't think for a second that Birth of Violence lacks for intensity. To contrary, this seething American-gothic folk opus still bites, even if it lacks obvious bark, confirming in its own, quieter way, that Wolfe is very much "deranged for rock & roll," as the LP's standout single goes. W.N.
Since cutting his teeth with U.K. hardcore riot-starters Gallows, Frank Carter has undergone a serious transformation not far flung from Nick Cave's shift from the Birthday Party to the Bad Seeds. On End of Suffering — the self-described "tattooed motherfucker"'s latest with his band the Rattlesnakes — Carter leans into the bluesier, more vulnerable side of its excellent predecessor, Modern Ruin. "Crowbar" and "Tyrant Lizard King" (featuring guest guitar work from Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello) rock hard with filthy riffs and woozy hooks, but the best moments are when the singer bears his soul over chill grooves, as on "Love Games" and the painfully poignant title track. W.N.
The hype building around Ukrainian prog-metal crew Jinjer throughout 2019 has been nothing short of incredible, and the band passionately tangle with their mixed feeling towards it and its costs on the knotty and emotive Macro. "On the Top" questions the price of the "rat race" for "success," while "Retrospection," which singer Tatiana Shmayluk opens in native tongue, bristles with homesickness from life on the road. The instrumentalists' virtuosic precision and djenty polyrhythms astound, but the show belongs to Shmayluk, who roars and croons from deep within herself, providing the heart to this rising beast. Kelsey Chapstick
Tool isn't the only band on this list that made their fans wait forever for a new album. Coming a decade after 2009's Liebe ist für alle da, the latest from the controversy-courting Germans is an industrial-strength triumph of electronic riffery, block-rocking beats and droll socio-political commentary. As usual, it doesn't matter that the lyrics aren't in English: Rammstein's music — and message — transcends language. J. Bennett
Spirit Adrift — led by Nate Garrett, also of death dealers Gatecreeper (see No. 3 on this list) — staked their claim to the head of the trad-metal pack this year. Their stunning sophomore full-length, Divided by Darkness, the follow-up to 2017's Curse of Conception, is an instant classic full of dueling leads, chunky yet galloping riffery and heavy nods to NWOBHM heroes, from Maiden to Priest, all executed with tons of distinctive and modern flair. F.P.
As one of the most unique and meticulously composed records of 2019, Nest caught the ear of many a music fan when the Belgian post-hardcore trio dropped a live video for "War" earlier this year. Hearing (and seeing) singer-drummer Stefanie Mannaerts soar while beating the hell out of her kit — as her bandmates unleashed total sonic grandeur — was enough to induce goose bumps. But an entire album of this stuff? Unreal. J.B.
Satanic blackened-punk cosplay warriors Devil Master more than delivered on the promise of their previous short-form releases and their insane live show with the group's revelatory debut LP, Satan Spits on Children of Light. Recorded, mixed and mastered by Arthur Rizk (Code Orange, Power Trip), the album has an eerie, shadowy sound that helps make it both a captivating creep-out and the perfect representation of an utterly original young band. F.P.
With their third album since the band's reunion with original singer Jesse Leach — and the first since Leach's 2018 vocal cord surgery — metalcore pioneers Killswitch Engage have dropped what may stand as the heaviest offering of their 20-year career. The wildly dynamic range that has characterized KsE's patented sound is on full display, from the Scandinavian melodic-death-metal-style riffery to the old-school breakdowns to the soaring triumph of the clean-sung passages from Leach, who has never sounded better. But the heaviness is not just sonic, as the band takes on weighty topics, such as mental health, on "I Am Broken Too," and manages do so with poignancy, not preachiness. K.C.
The fifth chromatically-themed opus from John Baizley's intrepid prog-sludge quartet — and their first featuring guitarist Gina Gleason — turned out to be their trippiest, most adventurous and most unusual yet. A double-length album comprised of 17 tracks, Gold & Grey showed Baizley and Co. aggressively pushing the boundaries of their songwriting and sonic approaches, while still coming up with glorious hard-rock anthems like "Borderlines" and "Throw Me an Anchor." Baroness may have run out of colors to call their next album, but they seem in little danger of running out of ideas. D.E.
It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that Kentucky hardcore upstarts Knocked Loose have changed the landscape of heavy music, with an oncoming cavalcade of breakdown-crazed young bands following in their weighty footsteps. But, like leaders not followers, they've swerved the competition on A Different Shade of Blue, embellishing and deepening their brand of mosh-driving heaviness with a throwback to gritty death metal à la Wolverine Blues–era Entombed and blistering thrash à la Seasons in the Abyss–era Slayer. J.H.
On Arizona death-metal phenoms Gatecreeper's hook-laden second album, Deserted, the rightly lauded extremists upped the ante and blazed their own left hand path. Shiny, pop-style production punctuates their stellar songwriting, which channels elements of Bolt Thrower, Obituary, Crowbar and other far-beyond-crushing influences. Frontman Chase Mason has called their approach "stadium death metal," and while Gatecreeper may never play venues that big, they whole-heartedly deserve to reach the masses. F.P.
Slipknot's 2014 album, .5: The Gray Chapter, saw the band in transition, reeling after the death of bassist Paul Gray and the group's split with drummer Joey Jordison, and solid as the LP is, it sounded like it. On the album's follow-up, We Are Not Your Kind, the Nine have found themselves again — and then some. Everything their loyal Maggots have come to love — gritty guitar riffs, unorthodox percussion and electronics, Corey Taylor's voice — is present and maximized. What takes the album next level, however, are the new tricks up the 'Knot's jumpsuit sleeves, from John Carpenter–esque synths to trip-hop vibes to the choir on "Unsainted." It's the sound of a band comfortable with their new members and in their new masks, unafraid to take risks and reaping great rewards. J.H.
The finest album of 2019 is a collection of epics, stretched out and miles deep, each composition controlled or crazed, recorded by a veteran alt-prog-metal quartet at the height of their powers. Tool fans suffered for 13 long years between albums before Fear Inoculum was unfurled this summer, coming in at nearly 90 minutes in its full, digital version, with all "segues" included. Months later, its mysteries and satisfactions only seem more pronounced, rewarding repeat listening as songs (mostly over 10 minutes long) shift from the meditative to bone crushing. At its core is "7empest," leaping from a cascading guitar intro and into attack mode, as Maynard James Keenan snarls at his angriest and Adam Jones solos at his most crazed. Drummer Danny Carey, meanwhile, crafts an accelerating rhythmic masterwork on "Chocolate Chip Trip," stacking beats, chimes and electronics. In all, Fear Inoculum is a testament to a band reaching beyond its early successes for something heavier, deeper. Not fashionable but eternal. S.A.