2019 was a good year for heavy music, one that saw big-name acts like Slipknot, Korn, Rammstein and Tool busting out of the gate with the kind of powerful, boundary-pushing records that elevated them to the top of the metal food chain in the first place.
But beyond the marquee acts, this year also gave us exciting releases by emerging artists that have been capturing audiences' attention with their relentless albums, singles, videos, and remarkable stage shows. The explosive energy of bands like 3Teeth, Knocked Loose and Jinjer was lauded by fans earlier this year when they made the cut for our "Bands Most Likely To Breakout" poll way back in April, and they delivered the goods that kept them on the minds of listeners in the months since.
All said, there were a lot of noteworthy records released in 2019 — read on to find out which one you chose as the best of the bunch.
No one does it quite like Rammstein, whether it's audacious videos, fire-fueled live shows, or smartly subversive lyricism contained in their highly contagious, danceable German industrial metal. With their untitled album making its world debut earlier this year – their first in a decade – Rammstein once again proved their longevity and worldwide reach is well-earned, and cemented their place among the cache of great records in 2019.
Despite baseless criticism from geezers waxing bitter on the lack of originality they hear in Knocked Loose, no one can deny the inertia they've picked up since forming more than six years ago in Oldham County, Kentucky. 2019 was a breakout year for the boisterous wrecking crew, and their latest full-length A Different Shade of Blue helped cement them as a prominent force in the current hardcore scene while simultaneously expanding their reputation beyond the confines of the genre and into the ears of metalheads, punks, and anyone else with a taste for the fuck-you brand of noise they churn out.
There's something special to 3TEETH that makes them an excellent entry for lists like this: intention. Creating, writing, styling and performing with an exact goal in mind is something these L.A. industrial-metal masters do to perfection, and it's evident in every aspect of their existence such as in the stunning aesthetics of videos like "EXXXIT" and "President X," two tracks that showed the world what the band were capable of pulling off — and did pull off — with their best record yet, Metawar.
Baroness continued the "color" theme with Gold & Grey this year, but little else was left to formula. Their first album with new guitarist Gina Gleason saw the quartet move into tripped-out experimentation built on progressive loops and atmospheric whimsy, sounding more like something dreamed up on a retro acid trip than the material they've churned out in the past. The results of this fearlessness were stunning, and fans bought in wholesale to the updated sound.
Ukrainian prog-metal crew Jinjer have been gaining serious hype over the last couple years, which they made good on in 2019 with their first headlining North American tour and the knotty and emotive nine-song release Macro. Live and on record, singer Tatiana Shmayluk is a force of nature — effortlessly switching up her style between beautiful croons and ear-splitting roars as her virtuosic band throws down astounding precise djenty polyrhythms and straight-up pit-inducing grooves.
Love 'em or hate 'em — Babymetal are making waves. The Japanese kawaii-metal leaders — fronted by Moametal and Su-metal — have survived the departure and death of band members, played to captivated audience around the world, performed with Rob Halford, "amazed" Corey Taylor, became viral video stars and, most recently, released a No.1 album with this year's Galaxy (which also earned them the distinction of being the first Asian artist to ever summit Billboard's Top Rock Albums chart). Boasting a captivatingly weird, infectious sound and a far-out creative vision, it's no wonder the metal world fell further under their spell with Metal Galaxy.
An extended break in recording aside, Killswitch Engage seem to have hit a stable, productive stride with their most recent LP Atonement. Tackling challenging subject matter like mental illness with grace and expert dynamism, the Massachusetts metalcore progenitors produced one of the heaviest collections of work in their 20-year career and deepened their hold on a legacy that promises to see the band stay high in the game for the long haul.
Korn created nu-metal — a genre with mixed reviews and a spotted history, but undeniably influence — over 25 years ago when they switched up the game on their self-titled debut. Their best material has always come from a place of deep, ferocious pain, and with Jonathan Davis' wife tragically dying in 2018, they had plenty to work through and the tools of seasoned camaraderie with which to do it on their fantastic 2019 album The Nothing. A record that reaches down into the pits of despair and still manages to pull out shreds of healing and triumph, it propelled them to the top of the hard-rock pack once more this year.
There was never any question Slipknot would come close to the top with this one. Building incredible hype with the surprise-drop stand-alone single "All Out Life" on Halloween 2018, Slipknot surpassed expectations with their sixth chart-busting album, We Are Not Your Kind. The Iowa madmen's latest full-length offering explores all the shades and colors of their past and then some, as Corey Taylor, Clown and Co. pulled new tricks — from trip-hop vibes and horror-movie synthwave to the choirs of the inescapable "Unsainted" — out of their jumpsuit sleeves.
Tool followers are among the most dedicated, passionate and long-suffering people in music fandom. For 13 long years they endured while Maynard James Keenan, Adam Jones, Justin Chancellor and Danny Carey slow-cooked the follow-up to 2006's 10,000 Days. So, to say anticipation was high when the band dropped this summer's Fear Inoculum is a severe understatement. But when it did hit, all was forgiven. Tool defied the odds in 2019 — not only is the sprawling, 90-minute record arguably the finest album of the year, but it stands toe to toe with the veteran alt-prog-metal quartet's classic work.