Luke Nuttall (Editor / Writer)
10. Dream State – Primrose Path
The continued growth of Dream State has been impressive to watch, though it’s often seemed like the greatness they were capable of was in arm’s reach and never grasped. Fortunately Primrose Path took the jump and grabbed it with both hands, fine-tuning an already impressive post-hardcore formula to make it even bigger and more bombastic, and its grapple with mental health have even more poignancy. The end result is a true monster of a rock album, firmly planted in modernity but never losing sight of the heft and weight it clearly wants to convey. It’s very telling that Dream State already feel like the big-budget rock band they’re being tipped towards, and it’s an album like this that’s the most crucial push to date in getting them there.
9. Slipknot – We Are Not Your Kind
Whenever Slipknot release an album, it feels like an event, but We Are Not Your Kind is the first time in a while where that’s been an almost unanimous judgement. It’s not hard to see why either, with this being another premier example of why they’re among modern metal’s highest fliers in an expansive, progressive and generally devastating listen. An absence of true, golden standouts is rectified by remarkably high consistency, with enough in the way of experimentation to keep that momentum surging forward among the depression-soaked lyrics which feel among this band’s most real in years. As much as it might not feel like it on the first few goes, it’s an album whose impact and resonance only seems to increase exponentially, to the point where We Are Not Your Kind reveals itself as one of Slipknot’s best.
8. Issues – Beautiful Oblivion
After a period that could’ve seen them fully collapse in on themselves, Issues’ return with Beautiful Oblivion not only felt like a mission statement of how giving up isn’t an option, but it serves as a reminder of how great this band can be. The genre-clash elements feel a lot smoother and more realised, while the baseline of hyper-polished metalcore taps into a much more precise, focused and colourful source than ever before. The result is an album that feels contemporary in both execution and vision, all while having real meat behind it and the tightness that’s only become more lean and versatile over time. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel that was desperately needed but seldom predicted, and that might have just been enough to push Beautiful Oblivion over the line.
7. Cultdreams – Things That Hurt
Coming off the back of a major overhaul, both in sound and with a new name, Things That Hurt represents the genesis of Cultdreams metamorphosing from an act with lots of potential to one that could be truly incredible with just a bit more time. It’s not even like that’s too far off, either; Things That Hurt already feels like an opus with its red-raw lyrical broadsides and confessionalism, wrapped in a shoegaze / emo shell that’s every bit as capable of lush, gorgeous atmosphere as it is tremendous power. The dynamics on this album really are something to behold, the work of a band with abilities far surpassing their years for whom the best still feels yet to come. The quality has always been there, but now there really is no excuse to sleep on Cultdreams.
6. The Menzingers – Hello Exile
Topping this list in 2017 with After The Party left a bar that The Menzingers were always going to struggle to match, and even if Hello Exile somewhat expectedly doesn’t, the fact that this is still another fantastic album from effectively the best punk band around is nothing to sniff at. It’s just as replete with earthy, homegrown texture as ever, with the customary sprucing up of The Menzingers’ lyrical bent of love, loss and growing up keeping things surprisingly fresh and spry even after all this time. And of course, the soaring, heart-swelling anthems that form the bulk of everything here will slot seamlessly into any live set for years to come, such is the level of quality control that this band have become so known for. It might be just another Menzingers album, but that’s still good enough to vault clean over almost everyone else.
5. Marianas Trench – Phantoms
While Paramore and Panic! At The Disco have been pretty much the only bands to do the rock-to-pop transition justice, in a fashion that couldn’t be more typical of them, Marianas Trench have come crashing out of nowhere with Phantoms to show everyone else how it’s done. Beyond simply being insanely catchy with a polish and theatricality that’s actually used to its benefit instead of a mandatory crutch, the emotional core and ruminations on a dead relationship are sold by Josh Ramsey’s consistently tremendous vocal performance with ease, hitting peaks of true transcendence when everything comes together for pop-rock moments that scant few have been able to best this year. Even for a band as notoriously under-appreciated as Marianas Trench are, Phantoms feels like another defining moment in a career that’s had no short supply of them, and while they’ll inevitably continue to fly under the radar, those in the know have yet another gem to dig into.
4. Bring Me The Horizon – amo
At this point, Bring Me The Horizon’s contentiousness really does know no bounds, but on the album which could’ve seen them go further off the rails than ever before, amo presents a band looking to make their name known more than ever. With a genre-bending ethos that never felt overwhelming and a beating melodic rock heart driving one of their most sonically distinct albums to date, amo feels like the sort of mission statement that could only come from a band with nothing left to prove, doubly so in an examination and evisceration of the concept of love that made for equal parts scathing rage and arms-aloft power. It’s the work of a truly unique band laying waste to boundaries that were already nonexistent at this point, but making their own defiance and potential as clear as ever.
3. Telethon – Hard Pop
An outside perspective might view Telethon’s Hard Pop this high on a list of the year’s best albums with intense skepticism, but it really, truly deserves to be here. Taking a classic power-pop ethos and melding it with modern indie-punk’s humanity and the flagrant theatricality of a mid-period Fall Out Boy album, Hard Pop feels as much of a defining statement of where Telethon are as it’s possible to get, and when that coalesces into a truly joyous listen that, as well as the weapons-grade hooks that are irrepressible in every way, is still able to pull out smartness and wit, stretching the band’s preconceived boundaries in ways that do make the hit come so much more potently. Even for an album as deeply-rooted in indie-punk’s familiar youthful territory, Hard Pop transcends the vast majority of expectations for a stellar listen across the board, and one that deserves a far bigger stage than what it’s already been offered.
2. Nervus – Tough Crowd
The turbulence, turmoil and generally shit time that everyone’s been having recently has provided the perfect breeding ground for Nervus, a band who’ve never shied away from making their voice heard in whatever way necessary. And while there was never any doubt that Tough Crowd would be another example of that, mixing it with impossibly rousing alt-rock and their most wide-reaching sonic palette to date only reveals Tough Crowd as more of a gem with every listen. For as fiercely political and galvanised as it is, the power and populism are overflowing from almost every note, and in a package as tight as this where no resource is wasted or mismanaged, it makes for a highlight of British rock in 2019 that only feels more relevant and enrapturing.
1. Puppy – The Goat
An ongoing theme with a lot of music this year is that there’s been so much great stuff, but not a lot of it has really stood out amongst everything else. There are undoubtedly worse problems to have, but when it comes to narrowing down the very best of the best, it makes things pretty difficult on the whole. So it says a lot that the album to take that top spot is one that released all the way back in January, but has withstood in a way that so few others have. That’s more praise towards Puppy themselves than anything else, the sort of band capable of packing in a breadth of sounds ranging from metal to grunge to indie and have it sound totally cohesive, but The Goat takes what was already a great formula and turbocharges it like no other. The riffs are bigger; the choruses have more power and earth-shaking potential; and the equilibrium between unfettered uniqueness and the most accessible, enjoyable thing in the world remains perfect throughout. The first true essential release of 2019 remains its most essential, and for the distances that Puppy continue to go, that feels wholly justified.
Georgia Jackson (Deputy Editor / Writer)
10. The Menzingers – Hello Exile
Top ten spots are almost a given with every new Menzingers record – they’re one of the most consistent bands in rock, and their earnest, optimistic punk that voices the relatable limbo of growing up is something that’s been all too easy to fall in love with for a long time. This time around, Will Yip’s expansive production (most notably the echoey feel around Greg Barnett and Tom May’s vocals) could feel at home at either a rowdy dive bar or on an arena stage. Hello Exile feels bigger on other levels too, seeing some uncharacteristically open addressing of socio-political issues (climate change on Strawberry Mansion and the current political climate in their home country with America (You’re Freaking Me Out), one of their most underrated singles in recent years). At its core though, Hello Exile is just another example of The Menzingers doing what they do best, and long may it continue into the 2020s.
9. Bastille – Doom Days
The Bastille of 2019 aren’t the beacon of optimism they were in the past, and the thematic nosedive about the state of the world on this year’s Doom Days has suited them (even though ideally such hopelessness wouldn’t even exist). Each song on the record takes you through the timeline of one wild house party while the world goes to pot outside – although conceptually simple, the thought that’s been put into it on this album cycle from promotion, stage design, lyrics and artwork is far beyond what most of their peers in pop are doing right now. It’s Bastille’s most sonically consistent record thus far but still feels adventurous, with some of the musical switch-ups surprisingly making for the least instantaneous connection they’ve ever had on an album too. But it’s rewarding when songs like Another Place and Nocturnal Creatures click alongside the infectious pop of Quarter Past Midnight and Joy or EDM-influenced Million Pieces. As we steel ourselves for an uncertain 2020 current affairs-wise, Doom Days is the perfect slice of pop to do it to.
8. Foals – Everything Not Lost Will Be Saved – Part 1
Part 1 of Foals’ Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost project was the dreamy, synth-heavy counterpart to Part 2’s more beefy, standard take, and while Part Two housed the more guitar-led Foals tracks that would appease fans, Part 1 was by far the more compelling of the two. Part 1 feels like its own little experience, combining the thunder and intricacies that are part and parcel of the Foals sound with more interesting electronic choices that add depth and show off the best of the band as musicians. Standout On The Luna has a synergy between members most bands would sell their best guitars to have, while the gorgeous Sunday and disco jam In Degrees showcase a versatility that never falters. On Everything Not Saved…Part 1, Foals have mastered the concoction that has put them in the highest of leagues in the 2010s while still managing to keep it fresh, and it’s bound to be an underrated favourite of their discography for years to come.
7. Betty Who – Betty
Finding a gem before they blow up worldwide always feels special, and Australian songstress Betty Who’s third album feels like just that. The songs on Betty are exquisitely crafted pop bangers, packed with personality and instantly loveable. Betty herself is a star, carrying off sweet and vulnerable before pivoting to sultry scene stealer without breaking a sweat, showing off her rich voice and impressive range all the way. Above all though, Betty is a refreshing, sassy helping of fun in an increasingly serious pop scene. Here, there are self-love anthems like Old Me, an early-2000s Britney throwback just for the sheer hell of it (The One) and the best euphoric cheesy love song you’ve ever heard in Marry Me. This record is an example of how rewarding it can be to dig around for new artists in pop – the strength of this material has to get Betty Who places soon.
6. Harry Styles – Fine Line
Fine Line’s mid-December release wouldn’t have given it as much time to settle as the other records on this list before publication, but its instant likeability and loftiness alongside the lasting effects in the time it’s had to settle simply have to put it on this list. Influences from classic artists like Fleetwood Mac, David Bowie and The Beatles are more obvious than on his debut but clearly woven into Styles’ own sound rather than blatantly copied, carried effortlessly by the singer’s personality and talent throughout. Some of the lyricism on Fine Line is stunning (comparisons to Liam Payne’s “I’d do you in the parking lot” poetry can’t help but be drawn) – Cherry is an absolutely beautiful confessional love song, Lights Up is a mellow rally cry with its slightly unconventional pop structure while She is pure ambitious rockstar. Not only is Styles annihilating his One Direction peers in the solo career stakes, but he has the charisma, scope and songs to be able to continue a viable and impressive music career entirely off his own back. His debut planted a seed, but Fine Line is the real statement. It’ll be exciting to see how this album feels when we’ve had even more time with it.
5. Taylor Swift – Lover
Fans of Taylor Swift know of her chequered history with choosing singles all too well – they often don’t represent her projects as a whole, and as misguided the flashy bubblegum of ME! and You Need To Calm Down were as tasters for Lover, they showed off her prowess for crafting vibrant chart catnip. Cruel Summer, Paper Rings and London Boy are some of the best pop songs Swift has ever written, but it’s not the more exuberant tracks that are the best part of this album. The serenity in the more introspective songs on Lover is glorious, so obvious even non-fans of Swift can detect it, and for fans who’ve followed the ups and downs of her career for years it’s a truly rewarding thing to be able to hear. The warm glow of the stunning title track and Cornelia Street, heart laid bare on Afterglow and the audible sense of inner peace of closer Daylight are truly touching. Not only is this one of the best pop albums of the year, it allowed us to get to know one of the most confessional songwriters of the decade even more personally.
4. Bring Me The Horizon – amo
Has a better, more loaded line than “a kid on the ‘gram in a Black Dahlia tank says it ain’t heavy metal” been spoken in 2019? Bring Me The Horizon’s dive into more experimental pop and electronic-led waters has been polarising to say the least, and their self-awareness of such discourse on their furthest ever step away from the deathcore, then metalcore of old just shows how few fucks they give about what people think of them. Creatively, amo is Bring Me at the top of their game, returning to the thematic consistency that they’d executed so perfectly on the likes of Sempiternal. While songs like MANTRA and sugar honey ice & tea prove their rock chops in their own way, their more pop rock-leaning tracks often overshadow such moments (namely in the dark and the anthemic medicine and mother tongue), and even then, it’s actually when they step outside the box so many listeners have tried to keep them in that amo does best. Underground rave track nihilist blues featuring Grimes is the most exciting they’ve sounded in years, while interludes ouch and fresh bruises are pure dramatic freedom. A move into ambient music maybe isn’t the most logical next step for Bring Me The Horizon (as they tried at the very end of this year) but the sound they’ve worked out for themselves on amo has more than enough to be impressed by.
3. Ariana Grande – thank u, next
While last year’s sweetener would’ve done a solid enough job at moving Ariana Grande’s career forward by itself, her dropping of thank u, next was not only unprecedented for messing with the template of a traditional pop album cycle, but for the sheer quality. This shouldn’t have been Grande’s best record to date with only six months breathing space between it and her last project, but thank u, next knocked all expectations out of the park. It’s her most consistent record to date with no features or really any smoke and mirrors to overcrowd the tracklist. It’s Grande’s famously showstopping voice (and now-trademark “yuh”) front and centre, singing about the nuances of her relationships on say, the cutesy NASA or make up, her emotional issues and hard times on needy (the turbulence of her last couple of years doesn’t need to be rehashed), and often a combination of the two, culminating on the raw ghostin or anthemic in my head. But it’s the megawatt title track and its more toned down counterpart fake smile that sum up thank u, next in its entirety – it’s a near-flawless album about coming out on the other side of trauma triumphantly.
2. Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated
Usually there’s intense pressure on artists to follow up their acclaimed records with something even better, but the release of Carly Rae Jepsen’s Dedicated, her first record since 2015’s surprise hit Emotion, was just met with elation that she was back. Luckily, there’s been next to no dip in quality with this record – while Emotion conveyed a wide-eyed, lovesick Carly, Dedicated is a mature, confident person in her place with absolute bops to boot. More ground is covered on this record too. There’s radio-pop jam Now That I Found You and Emotion 2.0 on Happy Not Knowing, but songs like Julien, Feels Right and Want You In My Room are grown-up, funky and delivered with a wink, but then packing real ambition with the extended cheerleader chants of For Sure and soaring dance break in Real Love. It’s not as in-your-face infectious as its predecessor, but Dedicated’s maturity and scaling up ambition, identity and creativity-wise without compromising any of the fun. It feels like a perfect evolution that’s just as irresistible and filler-less as the album people have come to know her for – she’s definitely no fluke.
1. PUP – Morbid Stuff
It’s so satisfying when a band who’ve had a good thing going for some time finally smooth out all the kinks and get it perfect, and plenty of people have noticed that happen with PUP on Morbid Stuff, which is not only the best album of the year, but of theirs so far. Their “life sucks, ah well” outlook in their lyrics topped off by Stefan Babcock’s always loveable delivery (which is particularly outstanding on lead single Kids where he totally hams up the dramatics in his almost spoken-word verses) feels sharpened to absolute perfection on Morbid Stuff. The joy that PUP seem to bring out of the most hopeless situations is so infectious, so combining such an untouchable quality with the camaraderie-inciting blueprint of gang chants and shoutalong choruses felt like a special thing indeed already. Top such an already wonderful musical atmosphere with some of the Canadian quartet’s most ambitious songwriting to date on Scorpion Hill and album closer City with absolutely no duds to be found and you have the most depressing yet tongue-in-cheek and oodles of fun thirty-five minutes of 2019. Long live PUP.
Holly Royle (Writer)
10. Rammstein – Rammstein
It’s no secret that a new release from Rammstein has been awaited eagerly by fans for years and years. But with time swiftly passing and no new music, would a new release from the German metallers ever live up to growing expectations? It’s safe to say that the reaction to their lead single Deutschland summed up the incredible response to their theatrics, heavy tones and catchy choruses. Rammstein have maintained their original sound and song writing style in this latest album. Their signature approach to song writing, keeping it simple but powerful, has proven to still be very effective despite the metal genre seeing so much complex experimentation from other artists.
9. New Years Day – Unbreakable
The LA metallers really stepped up their game with this album by merging pop and metal elements they produced incredibly energetic tracks. Experimentation and a desire to push forward with their music really comes through. The punchy power of Come For Me feels very different to the creepy nature of Nocturnal but both work incredibly well and suit the distinctive New Years Day sound. One or two tracks felt a bit lacking; Skeletons is a good pop style track but is missing something. However, New Years Day have come far in their evolution and they’re definitely heading in the right direction.
8. Anavae – 45
Anavae have a natural flair at producing immersive sounds combining layered synths with soaring vocals and rock hooks. This year saw the release of their debut album 45 which fully explores the diverse nature of their sound throughout the tracks with real strength and ease. They experiment with entwining melodies between instruments and the vocals, and the addition of heavy guitars brings an extra level of depth to their sound to enhance the drama of their music. All of this forms a unique sound that crosses genre boundaries and captivates their fans, something which 45 has no problems at constantly delivering.
7. Within Temptation – Resist
January 2019 now feels a very long time ago however, the latest album from symphonic metallers Within Temptation has remained strong throughout the year. Resist saw Within Temptation renew themselves as a band and in their music. They have retained their symphonic roots whilst evolving their sound to produce a powerful and atmospheric feel. The album contains a mixture of tracks, many with catchy chorus hooks along with heavy guitars and orchestral sections. There is a significant amount of genre mixing but it works. Everything feels well balanced and the sound is suitably epic.
6. Rendezvous Point – Universal Chaos
2019 saw the Norwegian progressive metal quintet return with their new album Universal Chaos which followed the release of their debut album, Solar Storm, in 2015. The progressive metallers incorporated a range of styles and influences throughout the tracks. Atmospheric synths created a dramatic soundscape in Apollo, whilst Universal Chaos had a far more haunting sound with dissonant guitars. Even funk influences fed into the album; Pressure has a funk feel with the manipulation of time signatures and focus on the percussion. And, not unexpectedly, some Leprous influences can be heard from drummer Baard Kolstad who is involved in both bands.
5. Infant Annihilator – The Battle Of Yaldabaoth
Once again, Infant Annihilator have delivered a ridiculously heavy album that breaks the laws of physics with machine-gun drumming, ludicrously technical guitar riffs, motifs and licks and soul wrenching harsh vocals. Their music knows no bounds. The shrieking vocals are powerful enough to wake the dead. This is why it’s so popular amongst fans of technical death metal, metalcore and, well, the heavier metal sub-genres in general. The breakdown of Three Bastards is beyond belief, and the drum solo is somewhat unexpected but fits perfectly. It’s quirks like this throughout their tracks that makes the chaos so enjoyable.
4. Valis Ablaze – Render
Valis Ablaze have grown from strength to strength with a number of increasingly high-profile and acclaimed releases over the past few years. Their technical prowess and talent has secured them as favourites among the tech-metal scene and has led to frequent performances at UK Tech-Metal Fest. Render demonstrates the development and experimentation of their songwriting. Unafraid of experimentation and pushing boundaries, they continue to seamless join ludicrously intricate guitar melodies, powerful bass lines and soaring vocals. It all comes together to make a truly fantastic listening experience.
3. Fit For An Autopsy – The Sea Of Tragic Beasts
This year saw the release of Fit For An Autopsy’s fifth studio album. The emotional force behind this album is incredibly strong and comes through on every track. Current affairs significantly influenced the songwriting notably the lyrics, and there is a sense of desperation, fear and anger – intense emotions which are felt by many in relation to the topics explored in this album. Despite the dystopian and dark themes, this album has been artistically moulded into a fantastic display of musical talent from Fit For An Autopsy, with talent and technicality significantly shining through.
2. Eluveitie – Ategnatos
Folk-metallers Eluveitie released an incredible album this year, arguably one of the best releases of this metal subgenre. They expertly combine traditional folk instruments with heavy guitars and harsh vocals; notably tracks Ategnatos and Ambiramus are incredibly powerful. The heavy undertones bring power and drama, whilst the higher melodies played on the folk instruments and soaring female vocals create a fantasy feel to the music. There is a wonderful sense of the ethereal that runs through Eluveitie’s music. They are a truly enchanting band and this album is a fantastic demonstration of their abilities.
1. Lacuna Coil – Black Anima
Lacuna Coil have seen a change in their sound for the heavier over recent years. It’s not only the heavier guitars that have changed, this album illustrates their development in song writing and in Cristina and Andreas’ vocals. The operatic style from Cristina in Veneficium is incredibly atmospheric (and astonishing in their live performances!), while the lead single Layers Of Time sees Andreas’ harsh vocals pack and even greater punch. The evolution of the Italian gothic metallers is an interesting one with such a varied discography clearly, they have no intention of slowing down or stagnating their sound.
Words by Luke Nuttall, Georgia Jackson and Holly Royle