For the first time in several years, 2019 will not see your inboxes and social media timelines spammed by my epic and rather foolhardy top 20 or top 30 countdown series. I’ve simply not listened to, or reviewed, anywhere near enough music this year to make this a viable possibility.
Long-term readers of manofmuchmetal.com will know that 2019 has been notable for my absence. I’ve written openly and candidly elsewhere about the reasons for this, so I won’t do that again here. But suffice to say that there’s a big yawning gap between the end of January and the beginning of October, where there was nothing. No album reviews, no live reviews, no commentary. Nothing.
During this period, I did still listen to music and I bought a few albums along the way. But the promos that bombarded my inbox largely remained untouched; I couldn’t in all good conscience download them and listen for free, knowing full well that I’d not publish a review. I have ethics and morals after all.
So, whilst I have spent the last couple of months doing my best to catch up on the cream of the crop, reviewing as much as I have been able, a Top 30 of 2019 is way out of reach. Instead, I bring you this: a single post containing a brief overview of my favourite ten albums of the year.
I hope you enjoy it!
Number 10 =
Insomnium – ‘Heart Like A Grave’
I tried to keep my top 10 to ten choices, I really did. However, in the past couple of days, whilst penning most recent review for manofmuchmetal.com, something clicked. And it was the realisation of just how much I now like ‘Heart Like A Grave’, the new opus from Finland’s Insimnium.
Despite purchasing the expensive mediabook version (it is a thing of beauty after all), it has been something of a slow burner for me. I immediately liked the music on the record, because who doesn’t enjoy a bit of epic Finnish melodeath? Especially at wintertime when the nights are long and cold. But it took until the last week or so to ascend that cliff and stand proudly at the summit. Eventually, the energy, the sense of the epic and the melodies become too damn good to ignore and the music really gets under your skin. A worthy addition to the list, even if their inclusion did lead to a bending of the rules!
To quote my review:
“There can be no argument…that the material on this album is of a very high standard, with professionalism oozing from every corner of the band.
The longer you listen, the better ‘Heart Like A Grave’ gets, to the point where it is impossible not to get swept up in its grandiosity and brutal, bitter beauty. Insomnium have, right here, produced the best album of their career as far as I’m concerned. If you’re a fan of melodic death metal done the right way, ensure that you find a space in your collection for ‘Heart Like A Grave’. You’ll not regret it.”
Number 10 =
Avatarium – ‘The Fire I Long For’
This was one of the biggest surprises for me this year, in a year full of big surprises. I wasn’t shocked at the quality of the music on offer from Avatarium because, being familiar with their past output, I knew that these guys could write and perform quality music. However, I wasn’t expecting to like ‘The Fire I Long For’ quite as much as I did, because of all the talk about a lessening of the heaviness, less in the way of thunderous riffs, and a greater 70s rock influence. For my tastes, this was all bad news.
But I was wrong. I put off listening to it for as long as I could but when I eventually caved, I realised my reticence was a big mistake. It has been a constant companion over the past couple of weeks, with new things coming to the fore with each listen. It was at this point where I realised I had to find a place in this list for such a strong and engaging record.
To quote my review:
“Greatness and class will always shine through. And if ever there was an example of this, it’s Avatarium.
… the songwriting is incredibly strong. Whatever guise the compositions take, be it heavier or softer and more subtly nuanced, they just work.
…if quality music is what you crave, then make Avatarium’s ‘The Fire I long For’ the next addition to your collection. Immediately.”
Mother Of Millions – ‘Artifacts’
An unknown entity prior to arriving at this record, I wasn’t sure what to expect. And, had it not been for the announcement that this Greek band would be gracing the ProgPower Europe stage in 2020, I’d probably still be blissfully unaware of their existence. But ‘blissfully’ is the wrong word because where Mother Of Millions are concerned, ignorance is definitely not bliss. On the evidence of ‘Artifacts’, this band deserves much more exposure and success than they currently enjoy.
Unusually for a progressive band, I was impressed from the very first listen. It was one of those experiences where I knew that I’d like it and like it more as time went by. The subtlety I knew, would eventually reveal itself and open up before me and by heavens was I right. And now, after further listens, it is unequivocally one of the best and most mature releases of 2019.
Note: since writing the review, I have found out that keyboardist Makis Tsamkosoglou has tragically passed away. A fitting tribute then, that his final recorded performance should be on such a fantastic album. He will live on through his music for decades to come. RIP.
To quote my review:
“It is quite tricky to liken Mother Of Millions to their contemporaries, but certainly the likes of Leprous and Karnivool are useful reference points, but I do also hear whispers of other influences throughout. What I’d rather tell you is that this record is big on atmosphere, emotion, melody and it has a huge cinematic feel to it.
There is also a wonderful flow to the record, meaning that it feels smooth and enjoyable to listen to despite the darkness, sorrow, depth and subtle complexities that lie within the forty-odd minute run-time.
If you are looking for an album that provides intelligence, subtlety, emotion and power, ‘Artifacts’ from Mother Of Millions is the record that you need. Right now.”
Big Big Train – ‘Grand Tour’
This is the only album that features in my Top 10 that I have not reviewed this year. I was fortunate enough to receive a review copy and I really wanted this to be the album that released me from my writing block. So I listened to it time and again, enjoying it more and more with each spin. However, every time I came to write my thoughts down on paper, I drew a blank. I hope to review it in the fullness of time, but the fact that it features in my Top 10 should persuade you that this is an album out of the top drawer. Not that this is any real surprise because Big Big Train are incapable of creating anything less than excellent.
Their pastoral progressive rock blueprint remains largely untouched but the talented group of musicians seem able to create something new and exciting each and every time. I adore the upbeat positivity of ‘Alive’, a message that I needed this year and duly took on board. It’s a vibrant and gorgeous track that sets the tone for another superb record.
However, it is the two epics towards the end of the album that remain my favourites to this day and are the songs that elevate ‘Grand Tour’ into my top 10 for 2019. The sea shanty intro to ‘Ariel’ is ominous and captivating, whilst the final few minutes is pure theatre, as it drives with inexorable force to a stunning crescendo. ‘Voyager’ on the other hand contains the kind of central ‘chorus’ melody that rivals the best of the Big Big Train discography – this is a stunning track from start to finish and it gets more and more moving and powerful as time goes on.
Without doubt, this truly inspired record deserved a place in the top 10 and I just hope I get the time to give it the proper review it so richly deserves before too long. Big Big Train are easily my favourite progressive rock band around at the current time, they are truly that good.
Our Destiny – ‘Awakening’
What happens when you combine one of the best pianists I’ve ever heard with a beautiful voice? You get Our Destiny, a duo comprised of Vikram Shankar (Redemption, Silent Skies) and his significant other, Lauren Nolen. This isn’t metal, it isn’t even rock and so its appearance in my Top 10 should not have happened. And yet, it has and I’m delighted that it has because it demonstrates that I can appreciate music that doesn’t just bludgeon the listener to death.
There is a beauty in the simplicity of the material, allowing real depth of emotion and sincerity to shine through, as well as an all-too-obvious vulnerability and fragility. It is this latter quality that captivates me so much if I’m honest. There’s an incredible bravery from both Shankar and Nolan that puts most of us to shame as they lay themselves open for the world to hear. And yet, I adore the way in which there’s a sense of positivity and hope to the music that ultimately leaves me feeling uplifted and energised. If you’ve not already, take a listen and prepare to be as impressed as I am.
To quote my review:
“What it is, is a beautiful collection of songs that are part acoustic, part pop, part ambient, but completely seductive.
What I love about ‘Awakening’ is the purity of it. Every note is carefully thought-out yet organic-sounding at the same time. The rich melodies both wash over you and burrow deep within your soul to never let go. The atmosphere is bitter-sweet in that the music feels uplifting and warm, yet strangely poignant, almost melancholy in places.
When all around me is frenetic, full-throttle and largely fake, ‘Awakening’ is the soundtrack to keep me calm, grounded and focused on those things that matter most: human contact, relationships and pure, unadulterated love.”
Odd Logic – ‘Last Watch Of The Nightingale’
The release of new Odd Logic material is always a cause for excitement in the Mansion of Much Metal. How on earth they can be so criminally overlooked remains a mystery, because over the course of the past three albums at least, the American outfit, spearheaded by Sean Thompson, has delivered some of the best and most refreshing progressive metal I’ve heard.
The brand of progressive metal that Odd Logic serve up is both familiar and original, with many unique embellishments and influences blending with a kind of ‘classic’ prog metal core. It is also properly heavy, with some chunky riffs, nice lead guitar work and some thunderous drumming at times. A worthy addition to my top 10 and all the sweeter because they deserve greater success.
To quote my review:
“It’s likely that Odd Logic will never take over the world, but regardless, they continue to make the music that they want. It’s a labour of love and I love this philosophy.
In simple terms, based on the quality of music on offer here, Odd Logic remain criminally unknown and underrated. Despite all of the considerable challenges they have had to hurdle, Thompson and Hanson have produced an album every bit as good as ‘Effigy’ or ‘Penny For Your Thoughts’. As previously stated, if I had to put my neck on the block, I’d say that this is their best release yet. And the even better news is that ‘Last Watch of the Nightingale’ is available on CD. I shall therefore be ordering mine…if you’re a progressive metal fan with any kind of taste at all, you’ll be doing the same. This is quite brilliant stuff!”
Klone – ‘Le Grand Voyage’
The emotion and the authenticity of this release saw it sail into my top 10 for 2019. I’d liked previous efforts by the French outfit, but the sheer power and strength of ‘Le Grand Voyage’ very nearly floored me. The more I listen to it, and believe me, I’ve listened to it a lot, the more I fall for its abundant charms.
The choruses are, by and large, things of enormous beauty. The vocals are magical; packed with emotion, melody and sincerity, Yann Ligner’s gravelly grunge tone strikes a surprising chord with me. I simply can’t get enough of the intensity and darkness of the record, both of which clash brilliantly with the brief moments of hope and the waves of melody that hit at just the right time to briefly expunge the despondency.
I’m also a fan of the organic-sounding production that breathes life into the songs. When I reviewed ‘Le Grand Voyage’, I knew it would be high in my end-of-year list and now that I am writing it, I have been proved correct.
To quote my review:
“Do you know the feeling you get when an album just clicks? You know, that feeling that is accompanied by goosebumps, where your hairs stand on end, where you try to take the album out of the stereo or off the record player, only to fail miserably and press play again? Well that’s how I’m currently feeling about ‘Le Grand Voyage’ by Klone.
It never ceases to excite me when a band comes out of the shadows to blow me away; it is the magic of music and the thrill of a new discovery combining to dizzying effect. And, with ‘Le Grand Voyage’, Klone have created the album of their career to date and have made a very persuasive case for featuring in many an end-of-year ‘best of’ list.”
Leprous – ‘Pitfalls’
Leprous are one of those bands that will find their way into an enormous amount of end-of-year ‘best of’ lists. But that’s because of one important thing: they are an exceptional band. Exceptionally talented musicians, exceptionally gifted songwriters and exceptionally brave when it comes to following their own convictions, and not giving a damn about what the outside world thinks. The proof? ‘Pitfalls’.
I’ve yet to hear a non-committal opinion of this record, as fans, critics and casual bystanders appear to be completely divided over this release. Some think it is sensational, others think it is awful. Or at least, not what they wanted to hear from a new Leprous album. I fall into the former category because I have no hesitation as I sit here now, to declare ‘Pitfalls’ easily the best record of the Norwegian prog band’s career.
I have always preferred it when Leprous allow some melody into their writing and with ‘Pitfalls’, you get plenty of melody to enjoy. Much of the album may not veer anywhere near traditional metal territory but, with vocalist/keyboardist Einer Solberg opening his heart and soul to reveal his inner mental demons, it is still an intensely heavy and dark collection of songs. I love the sincerity, the honesty and the willingness to try something new. To me, this is Leprous firing on all cylinders and I love it more with each passing day.
To quote my review:
“Challenging, heartbreaking, honest, deliberate, unique, individual, pure, anguish, mesmeric, enveloping, odd, unexpected, wonderful.
I shall declare that ‘Pitfalls’ is not a metal album. There are metal traits, accents, and there are a couple of songs that remain within the broad ‘metal’ framework. But ‘Pitfalls’ is, to my mind…different…
I’m drawn like a moth to a flame to this music; to Einar’s brutally honest subject…to the way the rest of the band are talented enough to know when to be restrained and when to unleash more flamboyance or raw power, so that the songs just work. I am certain that I will look back on ‘Pitfalls’ at a time of greater clarity and judge it to be a classic, a masterpiece.”
Voyager – ‘Colours In The Sun’
Ah, Voyager. There’s no-one out there quite like them is there? By now, I’d hope that every reader of manofmuchmetal.com would be very familiar with Voyager, seeing as how I bang on about them with scary frequency. But I have reason to. It’s because this Aussie band are fair dinkum musicians and songwriters. Ever since I heard ‘The Meaning Of I’ a few years ago, I have followed their career with interest and can safely say that they have yet to release anything short of excellent.
‘Colours In The Sun’ is no different and, although it was a little more of a slow burner for me than past albums, it is now one of my very favourites. The blend of progressive metal with 80s synth pop works incredibly well, ably assisted by some professional and astute songwriting and an all-important sense of humour. When you refer you yourselves as “epic electro progressive power pop metal”, you can’t really take life too seriously can you?
But ultimately, it is the combination of fun, melody and positive atmosphere, coupled with an undeniably high level of professionalism and passion that makes ‘Colours In The Sun’ so superb. I cannot listen to this album without jumping up with a big smile on my face and dancing around the house. Voyager make me feel happy and you can’t put a price on that.
To quote my review:
“They have proved over the course of the past six albums that they are incapable of writing substandard material and the same can be said of this, their seventh studio release…
Every time ‘Colours In The Sun’ ends, I find myself thinking ‘what? Already?’
Every time I listen, time seems to speed up and before I know it, the better part of 45 minutes has passed. But more importantly, it has passed in a blur of utter enjoyment, of gratification and in the company of some of the best music I have heard this year.”
Soen – ‘Lotus’
Had it not been for the release of a stupendous album from my all-time favourite band, ‘Lotus’ would have taken the album of the year title. And justifiably so, because it is a wonderfully entertaining and thoroughly professional record that delights and intrigues at almost every turn.
I have had the record in my collection for over six months and without a shadow of doubt, it is better now than it has ever been. It has taken a while but everything now just clicks into place and sounds incredible. It is the kind of album that you can play over and over again without getting bored – trust me, I know!
The melodies are so unbelievably strong and resonant; the pacing and flow of the record is just about perfect; the blend of intricacy and prog metal exactness, with the more organic elements is inspired and the whole album feels stronger for these pronounced differences that are merged so smoothly into a cohesive whole. ‘Lotus’ is a cracking album and thoroughly deserves it lofty position in my end-of-year list. Very nicely done indeed.
To quote my review:
“…alongside the very intricate progressive aspects, we’re treated to a greater dose of melody throughout, as well as an even more pronounced amount of ebb and flow, light and shade, and plenty of interesting textures, many of which take many listens to either hear or fully appreciate. Put simply, ‘Lotus’ is a sophisticated beast that benefits from the influences of old but manages to blend them into a final product that demonstrates an overall increase in their own identity.
And you’d think that by now, with so many repeated listens under my belt, I’d be getting bored of the nine compositions that comprise ‘Lotus’. Well you’d be wrong; if anything, I’m more beguiled and impressed than ever. I’m not sure that this record will ever lose its magic and that, right there, is a sign that I am listening to a very special album.
Poignant, melodic, technical, sublime. There’s no other way in which to sum up such an incredible album. Listening to ‘Lotus’ is like being in the presence of musical greatness.”
Evergrey – ‘The Atlantic’
This has to be the worst-kept secret on the Internet as well as the most widely expected result of any competition or election this year. However, I make no apologies for this decision. There is a reason why Evergrey are my favourite band in the entire universe: they just write the kind of music that I love and I want to hear. And, when Tom Englund and Co. are on fire, they are really on fire.
With ‘The Atlantic’, they have delivered an album that is heavy, incredibly emotional, cathartic, memorable and utterly jaw-dropping. It seems like forever since it was released but I never tire of listening to it. At the time, it was the soundtrack to an intensely difficult period in my personal life and, because the subject matter echoed much of what I was going through, it really resonated with me, giving me strength when I felt like giving up.
To quote my review:
“For someone who considers ‘In Search of Truth’ the greatest album of all time, it says something when I happily declare that the opening trio of songs on this disc are three of the bands’ best ever. Truly world class, they simply leave me speechless and in awe.
You can always tell when Evergrey are firing on all cylinders, with one such indicator being the opening track to an album. In the past, we’ve had ‘The Masterplan’, ‘A Touch Of Blessing’ and ‘King Of Errors’ – all killer opening salvos. And with ‘The Atlantic’, we have the stupendous ‘The Silent Arc’.
For me though, it is the peerless ‘All I have’ that screams out to me as the very best six minutes on the album, maybe even in the entire career of Evergrey. This song is, put simply, utter genius.
…it isn’t just another Evergrey album. This is ‘The Atlantic’, arguably the very best of their career…I say this now without any fear of being proved wrong: ‘The Atlantic’ will not be beaten in 2019. It is utter, unequivocal and peerless genius.”
And, for once, I wasn’t wrong. There really was no other result possible. Ladies and Gentlemen – listen to ‘The Atlantic’, and bask in the aural delights of the best album of 2019, possibly of the decade…