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Loud Times: The Metal Bands Who Made 2019 A Year To Savour

Thursday, 12 December 2019 Written by Matt Mills

This year was an enormous one for heavy metal. From fresh-faced upstarts making names for themselves to classic heroes making long-awaited comebacks, it has been a jam-packed 12 months for fans of all things face-melting. So, who better to review the state of the metal nation than the artists themselves?

We spoke with some of the most important musicians of 2019 to discover insights into their years, including their game-changing albums, important messages and earth-shakingly gigantic tours. Read on, headbangers.

Ithaca

“If people don’t like our ethics and values, they can fuck off,” proclaims Djamila Azzouz, the lead singer of London hardcore heroes Ithaca. It’s not a surprising statement when you consider she’s the frontwoman of one of the genre’s most outspoken and righteous bands. Whether it’s through their music, live shows or social media, Ithaca have set about standing up against bigotry of all forms. “I’m glad that issues like this are being discussed more openly,” she says. “But our work will never be done.”

Maybe not. But ‘The Language of Injury’ is an excellent step in the right direction. Ithaca’s debut album is a half-hour slab of whirring guitars and impassioned wails, conveying both vulnerability and a strong fuck you to those who victimise the people around them. “We will never stop campaigning for equality and visibility,” Djamila promises. “People who like our music know we’re on their side. Talking about misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia and fatphobia within metal and hardcore is the only way to eliminate it.”

If their music and messages alone weren’t enough to make Ithaca one of 2019’s defining heavy bands, their schedule certainly was. Over the past 12 months, they’ve toured the UK multiple times, as well as performing at many of the country’s best festivals. “We played a sold-out show with Bleeding Through and I cried like a little baby,” Djamila remembers. “I think one of our favourites, however, was ArcTanGent festival. Seeing the whole tent singing along and moshing was so wonderful.”

Misery Index

Although they’ve been barrelling out concise, hardcore-tinged death metal jams for almost two decades, Misery Index’s 2019 offering, ‘Rituals of Power’, was their best album to date. Consistently fast, angry and abrasively melodic, it’s a 36-minute assault that picks up where genre-defining masterworks such as At The Gates’ ‘Slaughter of the Soul’ once left off, melding simplicity with creativity.

“We’re a crossover band,” says singer and guitarist Mark Kloeppel. “So, while we enjoy certain death metal bands, we are also living in the grindcore, punk and hardcore worlds. That helps keep things interesting.” 

“Our lyrics are reality-based,” he continues, explaining why Misery Index felt more fresh and vital in 2019 than ever before. “There's no vikings or ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ or science fiction. ‘Rituals of Power’ is all about the urgent issues of now, which seem to be perpetuated by the current manifestations of old tyrannical forces. It embeds itself in the present by talking about history repeating itself.”

Misery Index will kick-start 2020 by bringing ‘Rituals…’ on tour to Europe and the UK in February, supporting the almighty Napalm Death and Eyehategod. “Expect to see people in plain black jeans and shirts getting really visceral and pissed off onstage,” Mark smirks.

Sunn O)))

“There have been no shadows for Sunn O))) in 2019,” beams the band’s synth player, Tos Nieuwenhuizen. And he has absolutely hit the nail on the head. The esoteric, drone-inspired metal outfit first began working together in 1998 and, while most bands over two decades old would rightfully begin to slow down and relish in their hard-earned legacy, 2019 has been their busiest year yet.

“We toured the US and Europe twice this year,” Tos recalls. “Standout moments included playing in a cave in Tennessee in April. Touring France was great, as well, and so was the BBC live session we did at the end of our last European run.”

While that schedule of touring the western world twice over would be enough to fill most bands' calendars, Sunn O))) also found time to release not one, but two new full-length albums: April’s ‘Life Metal’ and August’s ‘Pyroclasts’.

“‘Life Metal’ was the four songs we had worked on beforehand—the main course, so to say,” Nieuwenhuizen says. “What ended up as ‘Pyroclasts’ was just morning exercises, fresh-out-of-bed improvisations. At the end of the ‘Life Metal’ session, we had six reels of two-inch tape with improvs all over the place. The purest of pure.”

The two albums are clearly twins, each mixing the patience and freedom of ambient music with the dark, distorted crunch of metal. Their guitar-led ambiguity stands tall among the rest of Sunn O)))’s packed discography.

Possessed

“Death metal fans are amazingly loyal,” begins Possessed’s founder and frontman, Jeff Becerra, as he examines the subgenre that his band defined with their 1985 debut, ‘Seven Churches’. “Death metal is more of a lifestyle than other forms of music. Pop fans are more like weekend warriors. If a pop artist doesn’t put out an album a year, they will fade, but death metal fans will wait until an album achieves cult status.”

That patience is great news for Possessed, whose 2019 album, ‘Revelations of Oblivion’, was their first full-length in 33 years. “It felt like a victory,” Jeff says of ending that decades-long dry spell. And his followers seem to agree. ‘Revelations…’ was heaped with praise when it finally arrived, as its Satanic, to-the-point ferocity picked up right where Possessed left off. 

The raucous batterings of No More Room In Hell, Shadowcult and Demon served as reminders of the brutality of ‘80s metal, without reducing the veterans to a self-parodying nostalgia act. “I was really overwhelmed by how much people like ‘Revelations…’,” Jeff beams. “This album is something I’d been working towards for all those years. It makes me want to keep writing and make another!”

Immortal Bird

‘Thrive on Neglect’ is a miserable metal album, driven home by brutal metallic riffs and subgenre-hopping intrigue. The second full-length from American troupe Immortal Bird, is equal parts hardcore, black metal and death metal, as well as being a consistently embittered experience. “I think it takes time for any band to develop consistency, and I'm honestly thrilled we've been able to achieve some semblance of that,” says drummer and singer Rae Amitay.

“For a while, three of us were living together,” she continues. “I think spending so much time with one another must have affected how we’re able to collaborate. I think [debut album] ‘Empress/Abscess’ was a good indication of where we were headed, but ‘Thrive on Neglect’ seems like a more complete realisation.”

In just a few short months, ‘Thrive on Neglect’ has made Immortal Bird one of the most talked-about extreme acts in the American underground. It also serves as a feather in the cap of the band’s home label, 20 Buck Spin, who have also been responsible for such glorious heaviness as Nightfell’s ‘A Sanity Deranged’ and Tomb Mold’s ‘Planetary Clairvoyance’ this year. 

“Tomb Mold are awesome!” says Rae. “So are [fellow labelmates] Cerebral Rot, Fetid and Witch Vomit. And those are just off the top of my head.” ‘Thrive on Neglect’ is great music released by a great label, showing how far both good business and good songwriting can get you.

Curse These Metal Hands

At 2018’s ArcTanGent festival, Pijn and Conjurer—two of the UK’s most beloved underground bands—played an impromptu set together to form an all-new project, Curse These Metal Hands. What was initially meant to be a jovial one-off exploded this August, when the five-man alliance released their self-titled debut album. “We wanted to do something neither of our day-job bands could get away with,” Conjurer’s Dan Nightingale says of the exciting collaboration. “We soon figured out that something was ‘being happy’.”

Pijn and Conjurer, individually, specialise in majorly forlorn heaviness. However, without dulling those bands’ intensity, ‘Curse…’ is a happy-go-lucky dance of uplifting, guitar-driven post-metal. “I brought in this little acoustic ditty I’d had lying around,” Dan remembers. “And we all just built and built on it, making it riffier and more triumphant. That cemented the idea of, ‘We’re gonna make this as silly and glorious a record as possible.’”

The album is a must-listen for those infatuated with the sludgy grooves of Mastodon and Isis, but who are also seeking some more joyous relief. “At last, I’ve learned to live inside all this beauty,” Dan exclaims during the opening song, High Spirits. “We didn’t put things under the microscope as much as with Conjurer or Pijn,” Dan says. “We just brought in riffs and jammed them out. Bada-bing bada-boom!”

As a result, for both bands, ‘Curse These Metal Hands’ marks a refreshing change of methodology—not to mention a nice break from the consistent touring that otherwise dominated their 2019s.

Car Bomb

For Car Bomb, the road to success has been long and arduous. Despite being active for two decades, the Long Island-based quartet are only now finally reaping the acclaim that they deserve, with many a head being turned in 2019 by September’s ‘Mordial’. It’s an album equal parts intellectual prog, pulse-pounding metal and awe-inspiring alt-rock, taking all the extremity of Meshuggah and transporting it into unforeseen territory.

“I’ve always been a fan of ‘90s rock bands like My Bloody Valentine, Radiohead and Hum,” explains guitarist Greg Kubacki. “On our last record, ‘Meta’, we explored some of those vibes and were surprised by how positive the reception was.  From there, it just made sense to explore that sound further.”

Songs such as Scattered Sprites and Dissect Yourself are grinding, cosmic journeys, consistently brutal yet always generating intrigue with their metamorphosing riffs and alien time signatures. “There’s always some sort of musical theme or ‘skeleton rhythm’ to each song,” says Greg. “Most of the other ideas in the song grow from that initial backbone. From there, it’s all about trying to get a sense of where the song wants to go and creating contrasting parts to move things along.”

Dawn Ray’d

“We are anarchist. We oppose all governments and oppressive hierarchies, advocate for the end of capitalism and, as a part of that, are also staunchly anti-fascist.”

With that sort of an introduction, it’s fair to say that Dawn Ray’d aren’t shy when it comes to sharing their politics. And, in this instance, this can only be a good thing. The black metal power trio’s outlook is a welcome change from the far-right extremism many usually associate with their genre. However, this isn’t the only thing to love about the band, nor their 2019 album, ‘Behold Sedition Plainsong’.

“I guess the lyrics and the politics are important to people for definite,” singer Simon Barr continues. “But we also get praise for how raw it is, how harsh the guitar tone is, how good the drums are—I've even seen Nazis talking about online about enjoying the music but hating the politics!”

‘Behold Sedition Plainsong’ is the sound of traditional black metal reinvigorated, not to mention removed from the bigotry and vandalism that ran rife throughout its original scene. In their place is a drive for positive change, dreaming of a liberal and egalitarian world devoid of corruption. “All borders should be destroyed and no one should be able to have the power to exploit other people,” says Simon.

Amen.

Perihelion

Throughout the history of rock, there have been bands—from Kiss to Metallica—that have just had that innate understanding of how to market themselves to the mainstream. Perihelion are absolutely not one of them.

Hailing from Hungary, this quartet meld the infamously un-commercial genres of black metal and prog rock, while also writing lyrics exclusively in their mother tongue. Then, like the cherry on top of this cake, they released their latest album, ‘Agg’, in December—a rarity in the music industry. “It was originally scheduled to be released in October,” singer and guitarist Gyula Vasvári reveals. “But we went through a ton of difficulties and this was the date we ended up with. We spent lots of time tweaking these songs.”

‘Agg’ may have dropped in the lead-up to Christmas, but the album feels anything but festive. It carries the forlorn spirit of heroes such as Alcest, but imbues them with a more psychedelic and, ultimately, cataclysmic edge. Entries like Parázs and lead single Erdő are slow yet gigantic opuses, setting the stage for a potentially monumental 2020. “We’re not sure what the metal world is going to be like next year, but as long as we’re able to reach people who are into our stuff, we’ll be happy,” smiles Gyula.





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