Heavy music had another banner year in 2019, with some highly anticipated releases living up to the hype, and rising acts continuing to make their mark.
No album was more anticipated than Tool’s Fear Inoculum, which marked the progressive metal band’s first LP in 13 years. The disc proved to be worth the wait, earning high praise from critics and fans alike. Meanwhile, other major acts like Rammstein, Slipknot, Korn, Killswitch Engage, and Dream Theater also released stellar albums in 2019.
Black metal was well represented with epic albums from Mayhem and Darkthrone, among others, while punk and hardcore saw strong efforts from Refused, The Damned Things, Knocked Loose, and more.
Elsewhere, acts like Blood Incantation, Tomb Mold, and Lingua Ignota emerged from the underground to break through in 2019.
The strong output from heavy music acts this year made it difficult to narrow down the best of the year. With nearly 100 LPs suggested by our writing staff, and a few heated arguments, we here at Heavy Consequence finally came up with our picks for the Top 30 Metal + Hard Rock Albums of 2019. Dive in below.
— Spencer Kaufman
30. Carnifex – World War X
Origin: San Diego, California
The Gist: Over the course of their career, Carnifex have pushed their craft to deliver devastating material that’s brimming with haunting flair and poeticism. Their 2016 LP, Slow Death, was a strong success and further elevated their artistry. The San Diego deathcore band’s seventh studio LP, World War X makes for another worthy addition to their discography.
Why It Rules: Carnifex are all about brutal presentation; each release of theirs promises all-out adrenaline and heaviness. The opening title track plays out in typical Carnifex fashion — unleashing a blend of crunchy and melodic guitar playing, blast beats, and growling vocals, helping to establish the album’s overall atmosphere. Overall, World War X is an absolute rush. The band’s ability to blend feeling and raw heaviness once again allows them to release a work of awesome brutality. With World War X, Carnifex continue to prove themselves as one of deathcore’s leading acts. — Michael Pementel
Essential Tracks: “Visions of the End”, “Eyes of the Executioner”, “All Roads Lead to Hell”
29. Tomb Mold – Planetary Clairvoyance
Origin: Toronto, Canada
The Gist: After a series of well-received demos and an even more beloved debut record, Canadian death metal duo Tomb Mold expanded into a full band and, less than a year later, returned with Planetary Clairvoyance, a concise, groove-oriented slab of sci-fi themed old-school death metal indebted to the genre’s eccentric Finnish roots.
Why it Rules: The unlikely return of death metal’s primal roots into metal’s mainstream comes thanks to innumerable acts, but two bands in 2019 harnessed the Old School Death Metal revival’s full power: Blood Incantation and Tomb Mold. The former’s technicality is surgical, but Tomb Mold wield riffs like meteor hammers. Their fat rhythmic attack is musical ferocity for the working class, totally fixated on one goal: massive killing capacity. — Joseph Schafer
Essential Tracks: “Accelerative Phenomenae”, “Infinite Resurrection”, “Planetary Clairvoyance (They Grow Inside Pt. 2)”
28. The Damned Things – High Crimes
The Gist: On paper, the combination of Anthrax-style thrash metal with Fall Out Boy’s brand of pop-punk looks as mismatched as an orange juice and anchovy smoothie. We never find out what that shake would taste like, though, as The Damned Things — Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian, Fall Out Boy’s Joe Trohman and Andy Hurley, Every Time I Die’s Keith Buckley, and Alkaline Trio bassist Dan Andriano — pursue a less predictable course on High Crimes.
Why It Rules: Scott Ian is no stranger to the power of the riff. In The Damned Things, he and Joe Trohman find common ground in their shared love for classic rock acts like Thin Lizzy but then expand their reach from there. Buckley follows their lead, showing more range than he normally gets to display, as the space and dynamics in the music give his lyrical wit room to shine more than ever before. Calling this outfit a “supergroup” is, for lack of a better word, a crime, as The Damned Things exist as a cohesive, captivating, and current hard-rock band. — Saby Reyes-Kulkarni
Essential Tracks: “Cells”, “Carry a Brick”, “Young Hearts”, “Keep Crawling”, “Storm Charmer”
27. Inter Arma – Sulphur English
Origin: Richmond, Virginia
The Gist: With every album that Inter Arma have released, they have shown a deeper bag of tricks. The chameleon metal act consistently delivers crushing riffs and booming drums, but have yet to offer similarly sounding consecutive packages. When Inter Arma step behind the curtain of the studio, the only guarantee is that when they reemerge, the band will not quite sound the same as before
Why It Rules: Inter Arma do not present any shocking new elements to their sound on Sulphur English. Rather, this album finds the band creating a much darker dynamic and cohesive sound out of their previous sonic pursuits. Sulphur English is proof that they can execute most subgenres better than plenty of one-tracked bands. With Sulphur English, Inter Arma’s wizardry has never been executed more cleanly and effectively. — TJ Kliebhan
Essential Tracks: “Howling Lands”, “Stillness”, “The Atavist’s Meridian”
26. Exhumed – Horror
The Gist: During a career that started nearly 30 years ago, Exhumed have continuously brought joy to death metal fans. From their savage instrumentation to their horror-inspired lyricism, Exhumed proudly embrace all that is terrifying and sinister. The deathgrind band continues its passion for the gruesome and chilling on its ninth studio album, appropriately titled Horror.
Why It Rules: Horror is pure death metal and crossover insanity. Including three bonus tracks, the album contains 18 songs, and only one goes over the 3-minute mark. Horror has no warnings, it just goes full throttle. Horror easily makes for some of the best fun to be had in death metal this year. You won’t find anything overly technical or avant-garde, but Exhumed isn’t here for that; instead, they want to get your blood pumping. They want to send chills down your spine with thrilling instrumentation, creepy vocals, and gruesome lyrics. With Horror, Exhumed have crafted an incredible love letter to the horror genre. — Michael Pementel
Essential Tracks: “Ravenous Cadavers”, “Ripping Death”, “Naked, Screaming, and Covered In Blood”
25. Amon Amarth – Berserker
The Gist: Eleven albums into their career, Amon Amarth continue to be a powerhouse of heavy metal. The veteran Swedish melodic death metal act returns with Berserker, a ferocious collection of brutality and melody. From the adrenaline-fueling drum work to the shredding guitars to singer Johan Hegg’s growling vocals, Berserker is an excellent addition to the band’s extensive discography.
Why It Rules: “Fafner’s Gold” makes for a stellar opening to the album, while “Mjölner, Hammer of Thor” is a thrilling track, displaying an incredible balance in the composition that allows the song to be both brutal and catchy. Thanks to unique touches of emotion and exhilarating brutal melodies, Berserker makes for an absolute blast of a time. From the start, the record loops you in, setting you on a path of wild headbanging. — Michael Pementel
Essential Tracks: “Mjölner, Hammer of Thor”, “Valkyria”, “The Berserker at Stamford Bridge”
24. Rival Sons – Feral Roots
Origin: Long Beach, California
The Gist: Nearly 10 years after their debut album’s release, Rival Sons deliver their sixth studio album with Feral Roots. The tracks throughout Feral Roots show off the California band’s range in performing bluesy rock ‘n’ roll; with high energy riffs and slow melancholy rhythms, the music offers a variety of emotional tones for listeners to absorb.
Why It Rules: If you’re brand new to Rival Sons, then Feral Roots is an excellent place to start. Across 11 tracks, the band keeps listeners engaged thanks to a spread of bluesy rock. Electric rhythms intertwine with warm vocals and glowing melodies throughout Feral Roots, making for an experience where listeners will find something different to enjoy in each track. — Michael Pementel
Essential Tracks: “Do Your Worst”, “Feral Roots”, “Stood By Me”
23. Whitechapel – The Valley
Origin: Knoxville, Tennessee
The Gist: Thirteen years and seven albums into their career, Whitechapel have crafted one of their most fascinating works with The Valley. The album is the furthest departure the band has ever taken from that deathcore sound, but more fascinating, however, is the emotional depths in which The Valley explores, and how brilliantly that emotion intertwines with equally brutal and passionate instrumentals.
Why It Rules: Throughout Whitechapel’s career, they’ve built constantly upon their sound; it’s with The Valley that Whitechapel not only provide their best work in years but take the next step up in their artistry. Thanks to a unique blend of instrumentation, excellent vocal talent, and poetic lyricism, Whitechapel’s The Valley takes its place among the upper ranks of the band’s discography. — Michael Pementel
Essential Tracks: “When a Demon Defiles a Witch”, “Hickory Creek”, “The Other Side”
22. Knocked Loose – A Different Shade of Blue
Origin: Oldham County, Kentucky
The Gist: Knocked Loose rode the sleeper success of their debut album, Laugh Tracks, for almost three years, bringing their mosh-inducing take on metallic hardcore to Warped Tour, This is Hardcore, and other notable stages. All that experience shows on their much-evolved sophomore LP, A Different Shade of Blue, which doubled down on Knocked Loose’s mix of cathartic, emotional songwriting and ultra-heavy staccato grooves, immaculately produced by Fit for an Autopsy’s Will Putney.
Why It Rules: At its best (and it’s often at its best), A Different Shade of Blue reconciles the differences between the various strains of metallic hardcore that characterized the previous decades. Vocalist Bryan Garriss’ piercing delivery and emotionally forthright lyrics recall apparent influences like The Warriors and Converge, but Cole Crutchfield and Isaac Hale’s riffs (not to mention the unmistakable death metal backup vocals) recall more macho breakdown-oriented affairs. In Knocked Loose, the two styles exist in perfect equilibrium, at last. — Joseph Schafer
Essential Tracks: “… And Still I Wander South”, “Mistakes Like Fractures”, “Trapped in the Grasp of a Memory”
21. Death Angel – Humanicide
Origin: Daly City, California
The Gist: Thrash metal has always had a thematic focus on political, social, and spiritual unrest, so it’s no surprise that the genre feels particularly relevant in our current times. Of the first wave of Bay Area thrash bands, Death Angel have remained vigilant, retaining the original aggression of their sound over the years rather than subverting to groove metal or more accessible sonic territories. Humanicide is as ferocious as anything in their discography.
Why It Rules: This is modern thrash in its purest form. Singer Mark Osegueda’s vocals are laced with vitriol as he spews lyrics centering on nihilism and dark warnings, most notably on the album’s excellent title track. Death Angel rarely stray from their formula of fast riffs and snarling attitude, crafting an unrelenting record that harnesses the frustration and helplessness that have always been at the artistic core of thrash and punk. Sometimes overshadowed by more popular acts from the Bay Area scene, Death Angel rightfully deserve their place in the canon of great thrash bands. — Jon Hadusek
Essential Tracks: “Humanicide”, “I Came for Blood”, “Immortal Behated”
20. Alcest – Spiritual Instinct
Origin: Paris, France
The Gist: Atmospheric black metal innovators Alcest laid down the template for some of the most popular metal of the last decade. With Spiritual Instinct, guitarist/vocalist Neige and drummer Winterhalter reassert their importance with their best-sounding and possibly most accessible record to date.
Why It Rules: Neige has written increasingly ornate material in the past decade, including folkloric explorations of Japanese folklore and a full-on shoegaze album. Spiritual Instinct, his most straightforward LP maybe ever, distills the band’s appeal to its molten core: indelible melodies and a transcendent, optimistic attitude. The band’s thickest guitar tone in years only adds to the appeal. — Joseph Schafer
Essential Tracks: “Protection”, “Sapphire”, “Spiritual Instinct”
19. Sunn O))) – Life Metal
Origin: Seattle, Washington
The Gist: Since their debut LP back in 2000, Sunn O))) have easily been recognized as one of the most unique voices in metal. The band’s experimental use of drone music has elevated the idea of what heavy instrumentation is capable of, allowing for immersive and intimate works. From 2005’s Black One to 2015’s Kannon, the avant-garde act use their instrumentation to capture the minds of listeners, establishing a profound sensation of emotions throughout their material.
Why It Rules: Building upon their use of ambiance, Sunn O)))’s Life Metal is a shift in emotional presentation. The music of Life Metal exudes brightness; from the warm guitar distortion on “Between Sleipnir’s Breaths” to the chimes and radiant tones of “Troubled Air”, the record provides a wondrous aura of serenity. Not only have Sunn O))) presented another solid addition to their discography, but they’ve also made a work capable of tremendous meditative power. — Michael Pementel
Essential Tracks: “Between Sleipnir’s Breaths”, “Troubled Air”
18. Spirit Adrift – Divided by Darkness
Origin: Phoenix, Arizona
The Gist: The songwriting vehicle for Nate Garrett, Arizona’s Spirit Adrift has become one of the most exploratory and ambitious metal projects to come out of the past decade. With themes of self-discovery, reflection, and personal strife, his lyrics combine a sincerity and directness akin to the songs of Ozzy Osbourne, while the music floats in a seamless amalgamation of classic rock, doom, and progressive metal. The band tightropes the ever delicate balance of anachronism and modernity with tasteful grace.
Why It Rules: Compared to past Spirit Adrift albums, Divided By Darkness has a sweeping grandeur and virtuosity that recalls conceptual masterpieces like Metallica’s Ride the Lightning and Manilla Road’s Crystal Logic. The arrangements are intricate and dynamic, from flowing acoustic passages to soaring melodic riffage. It’s an exercise in songcraft from front to back, with Garrett’s emotional voice at the core. His vulnerability and openness — often eschewed in heavy metal — is a welcome trait. — Jon Hadusek
Essential Tracks: “Hear Her”, “Tortured by Time”, “Angel & Abyss”
17. Possessed – Revelations of Oblivion
Origin: San Francisco, California
The Gist: If you want to get a sense of just how profound a mark Possessed left on metal with their 1985 debut Seven Churches, you’ll have to look elsewhere because the list of musicians who cite the band as an inspiration is just too long to name here. It’s hard to imagine any artist being able to hold a candle to such a towering legacy almost 35 years after its initial impact, particularly with frontman Jeff Becerra being the only holdover from the band’s classic period — but Becerra and his new cohorts certainly give it their all on Revelations of Oblivion.
Why It Rules: Back in the day, Becerra — who says he coined the term “death metal” in 1983 — sought to make music as frightening, abrasive, dark, and ugly as humanly possible. Recently, even one of his own current Possessed bandmates confessed to being scared of the band’s Satanic vibe early on. Of course, Revelations of Oblivion doesn’t come off nearly as grim or creepy as Becerra wanted to be, but it does do a convincing job of recapturing the thrill of that moment just as thrash metal was reflecting the first embryonic stirrings of the more extreme style later brought to fruition by the likes of Morbid Angel and Death. — Saby Reyes-Kulkarni
Essential Tracks: “No More Room in Hell”, “Graven”, “Demon”
16. Rammstein – Untitled
The Gist: Ten years after their last album, 2009’s Liebe ist für alle da, German industrial metal powerhouses Rammstein returned with their untitled seventh album. As guitarist Richard Kruspe told us, part of his motivation heading into the new album was to “balance the popularity of the band as a live act with the actual music”, explaining, “I thought, ‘I don’t want to be another KISS,’ where people talk about makeup and stuff like that and no one talks about the music.”
Why It Rules: After a 10-year recording absence, it was imperative that Rammstein come out swinging, and they do just that with the album’s first single and leadoff track “Deutschland”, complete with an intoxicating guitar riff and chant-along chorus. Overall, Rammstein’s untitled seventh studio album marks a triumphant return, and lives up to Kruspe’s desire to present the band beyond its reputation as a magnificent live act. There is a key focus on melody amid the grandeur and forcefulness of the music. — Spencer Kaufman
Essential Tracks: “Deutschland”, “Zeig Dich”, “Ausländer”