2019 has been a pretty stacked year for heavy music. Sure, two of rock's most celebrated acts, Tool and Rammstein, re-emerged after a decade with crazy good albums, and Slipknot took their signature aggression to the next level. But dig deeper into the genre and you'll find that big names and up-and-comers alike have put up some banging songs across a host of styles: from old-school death metal, retro-modern doom and volatile metalcore to haunting goth, hardcore hip-hop and post-millennial genre-busters that defy any easy categorization. Here are our picks for the 25 best songs of the year.
Texas' Creeping Death stepped into the fray of the ongoing resurgence in old-school death metal this year and spiced it all up with a raw brutality lacking in some of their more polished peers. "Bloodlust Contamination," a standout cut off their debut LP, Wretched Illusions, is a filthy, fast, vile and raucous anthem for the extreme underground and exactly what metal needs to stay fresh and exciting.
Spirit Adrift — featuring Gatecreeper's Nate Garrett and Chase Mason — may have started out as a doom band, but they've left that categorization in the dust as they've evolved and expanded their vision of retro-modern classic metal. "Angel & Abyss" is a perfect example of their ambitions. Garrett and Co. transformed this introspective heavy-metal ballad into a righteous, fist-pumping riff-fest bursting with killer melodic twin-guitar harmonies, anthemic Eighties-style choruses and sublime face-melting solos.
"Māori Thrash" isn't just a label Alien Weaponry throws over their music, it truly represents the band's culture and the fierce struggle their ancestors have endured. "Ahi Kā" tells a story many people are probably unaware of: that the Auckland government voted to burn down a Māori village in advance of Queen Elizabeth II's 1954 visit. Inspired by this injustice and channeling the spirit of the protests against it, Alien Weaponry created an absolutely angry-as-fuck song that sounds like a true battle cry.
Ozzy Osbourne is still the Prince of Fucking Darkness, and his first single in nearly a decade, "Under the Graveyard," is one of 2019's legit must-hears. Opening with a slow-burn acoustic intro and draped in morbid subject matter, the grim, gorgeous song seems to draw on the singer's recent real-life brushes with mortality. But if it begins like a downer, it ultimately opens up into a triumphant finale with Ozzy's voice soaring high like a defiant middle finger flipped at death.
Delivering tried and true yet fresh sounding melodic hardcore, Counterparts' "Wings of Nightmares" showcases the kind of infectious hooks and anthemic vocals that get the Canadian crew's growing legion of fans moshing in camaraderie. Special shout out to the China cymbal in the breakdown, which conjures a certain nostalgia for anyone who fell in love with the genre during its most emo-adjacent heyday.
Ho99o9 and Ghostemane are such a perfect pairing that we're surprised it took them this long to collaborate. But we're glad they finally got together for their ripping tour-tie-in single "Twist of Fate/Cobra," an exercise in extremity that showcases the wide range of all involved. Kicking off with some hardcore mosh shit, Ghoste, Eady and theOGM all take turns yelling over the heavy metal–meets-punk chaos. Midway through, though, it turns into straight hip-hop, as Ghostemane delivers a verse that feels like a throwback to his older material while Ho99o9 stay venomous as hell. Simply put, the track crushes.
Korn's The Nothing is their finest album in over 10 years, an emotional roller coaster that captures their signature sound while also showing off a few new tricks. The LP's second single "Cold" knocked us all on our asses when we first heard it, and it still packs that same punch months later. As heavy as anything they've ever recorded, the cut sees the Californian alt-metal stalwarts move from shredding faces with a blackened hellish assault into exuberant lightness in the flick of a switch throughout this captivatingly bipolar banger.
Hyper-literate and socially conscious "sasscore" rising stars SeeYouSpaceCowboy crashed the gates in 2019 with the ultra-heavy "Armed With Their Teeth, the lead single off their first proper LP, The Correlation Between Entrance and Exit Wounds. A gnashing, raging sub-two-minute sprint, it's not for the faint of heart or those seeking easy listening, but anyone comforted by the more abrasive sounds in life (or, specifically, the raucous metalcore of Every Time I Die and Blood Brothers) is sure to take solace inside the tune's razor-sharp edges.
Brutus' 2019 album Nest is full of great songs, but our favorite is "Cemetery," a combative yet progressively beautiful cut that explores the band's commitment to blending aggression and ethereality in fine-tuned harmony. Building massive walls of sound that support the stunning vocals of drummer and singer Stefanie Mannaerts as she flows impeccably from uncompromising shouts to shimmering, lush crooning, the band creates a rich bed of sound in which to disappear and meditate for four glorious minutes.
The folk standard "God's Gonna Cut You Down" has been recorded by Elvis Presley (as "Run On") and Johnny Cash, weighty footsteps to follow in, but if anyone is up to the task, it's the Antichrist Superstar himself, Marilyn Manson. In a long career built on snarling transgression, Manson's most surprising move might be the one where he takes on the new outlaw cowboy persona heard here (and seen in the single's stark music video), and does so with grace, passion and a talent few were likely expecting.
Greyhaven are a rising underground force to be reckoned with, and the Kentucky metalcore band's 2019 standalone single "A Match Where Great Fire Should Be" is a testament to their growing abilities. As unpredictable as it is catchy, the song blends numerous styles with a progressive stop-and-start approach that explores spastic, tense movements alongside spacious weightlessness with equal grace and surefooted swagger.
Goth songstress Chelsea Wolfe is, indeed, deranged for rock & roll — thought her insanity takes on a quieter, more subdued form than most rock & roll madness on this 2019 standout. Wolfe delivers her ethereal vocals with a doll-like, subtly maniacal quiver in certain sections before she leans deeper into the woeful atmospherics where her best work lives. Possibly the best cut on her mostly acoustic album Birth of Violence, the song is a gorgeously dark anthem for those, like Wolfe, are possessed by the power of music.
Cold Cave's Wes Eisold has spent years constructing his vision for the very best that goth and synthwave can be, and "Promised Land" is a closer step to that perfect (under)world. Eisold combines elements of the past (see Sisters of Mercy, in particular) and present, running retro synths through a modern mindset to create a larger sense of dread. Vocally, he sounds more comfortable than ever, slinking and crooning in the vein of Depeche Mode's David Gahan for a subtly emotive and extremely deep performance.
A harrowing tale of a small kid traumatized by listening to an older sister's sex-work exploits before seeing her murdered body through a keyhole, "Puppe" begins innocuously enough until the chorus barges in with singer Till Lindemann delivering maybe the most unhinged performance of his career. The gripping, tumultuous mood continuously builds throughout the waves of grief and despair, and what started off sounding like a sinister lullaby ends on a violently cathartic explosion. Not only the most powerful cut on Rammstein's untitled album, "Puppe" may be the most impactful song in the group's entire catalog.
Since embracing heavy metal's destructive pummel on Am I a Girl? closer "X," Poppy has leaned ever more into the cacophonous dark side, with many of her singles since veering quirkily in sharp zigzags from sugary pop to chunky nu-metal. But on "BLOODMONEY," her flirtation with heavy music takes a very different and more cohesive and compelling form as she conjures an aggressively dystopian soundscape spiked with stomping industrial metal over which she chant-raps and sings. "Your soul can't be saved for all the sins you've ignored," she intones at one point; for her part, Poppy has become impossible to ignore.
It's one of Killswitch Engage's heaviest songs ever. It features Testament's Chuck Billy guesting with his best death growls (KsE frontman Jesse Leach told Revolver that Billy's appearance on the band's new album, Atonement, is "a nod to people who started this shit"). It's got more Swedish melodic-death-metal riffage than you can handle. Need we say more? Crank it and just try not to start headbanging.
Lamb of God guitarist Mark Morton grabbed a slew of huge guests for his first solo record, Anesthetic, but none cast a shadow over the project like the late, great Chester Bennington. The Linkin Park singer offered up some of the most vicious vocals he'd ever recorded for "Cross Off," resulting in a perfect match for Morton's characteristically aggro riffery. With the song released posthumously, Bennington's voice from the grave hit even harder.
Ghost leaned in hard to their psychedelic pop sensibilities with the retro-danceable "Mary on a Cross," the even-stronger B-side to the occult rockers' "Kiss the Go-Goat" single. Still flavored with enough outré Satanism to make Anton LaVey blush and highlighting the kitschy charisma of Tobias Forge in his role as bandleader, the tune is about as far from heavy as the band's gone yet, but it's also an unadulterated good time.
Sometimes a song can get so heavy it becomes an overwhelming assault on the senses — Nails' 2019 single "I Don't Want to Know You" is a perfect example of that chaotic, furious beauty. Singer Todd Jones sounds beyond pissed, while the band pulls out a complete barrage of blackened, thrashing viciousness. The chaos eventually settles into a completely sick riff that slows down just enough for a truly crushing breakdown. Nails are talented as hell, firing on all cylinders and clearly ready to take on all comers.
Gatecreeper made good on their mission to create what they've dubbed "stadium death metal" — i.e. death metal with the infectious hooks and pop crispness to win over the masses — on the Arizona's extremists' latest album, Deserted. Standout single "From the Ashes" evokes trailblazers such as Bolt Thrower and Dismember, while its soaring leads take the cut from merciless bludgeon to subtle yet enthralling melody, striking the fine balance that's a specialty of these modern masters.
Based on their excellent 2017 debut full-length, Soul Structure, we knew that U.K. melodic hardcore upstarts Higher Power had serious potential, but we couldn't have imagined the evolutionary leap they would take with its follow-up, the forthcoming 27 Miles Underwater. Lead single "Seamless" speaks volumes to that growth, displaying all the off-kilter, groove-heavy, sing/shriek power of an early Deftones classic, but injected with an extra dose of spacey, nasally Jane's Addiction weirdness.
Slipknot is always pretty damn brutal, but We Are Not Your Kind highlight "Solway Firth" is an uncompromising blast of fury even by the Nine's high standards. Once it kicks in, the song grips the listener by the throat and refuses to let go of the chokehold for six punishing death-metal minutes. There's a reason the 'Knot are one of the biggest heavy bands in the world, and this ripper shows exactly why.
The most important thing to a Knocked Loose song is its heaviness, and their 2019 single "Mistakes Like Fractures" is an anvil of a song. The band leveled up their guitar work on the cut, conjuring a kind of tone that transcends hardcore and goes full-on metal — and leaves every other "metallic hardcore" band in the dust. It all culminates, of course, in an absolutely insane breakdown that just begs for people to destroy everything when it goes off live.
Deafheaven may liberally work in moments of overt beauty and shoegaze into their brand of black metal, but it's clear the members all have deep love for the genre's grimmest musical aspects. A leftover cut from the Ordinary Corrupt Human Love sessions, the single "Black Brick" sort of sounds like a mix between their early material and New Bermuda, but taken to a considerably heavier, darker place. Drums thunder while more traditional swarming black-metal riffs back them up, propelling the song ever forward without letting a moment of light leak in.
At nearly 16 minutes, Fear Inoculum's final proper song, "7empest," is undeniably progressive in structure and instrumentation, featuring Adam Jones' most crazed solo and an array of shifting suites. But in tone, it calls back to the raw, unfiltered vitriol of Tool's debut EP Opiate or even Ænima's "Hooker With a Penis." "Acting all surprised when you're caught in a lie," Maynard James Keenan spits. "We know better ... We know your nature!" Tool may have headier aspirations these days, but they can still rage, and us with them.