2019 has been the most chaotic year of my life (and I am writing this as someone who has spent multiple years touring with heavy metal bands). It started out with the realization of a dream, and is wrapping up with more of the same, though the two look very different.
At this point last year, I was sharing an expensive apartment in Brooklyn with my beloved friend/coworker and her pets, still working as VICE's heavy metal editor (I had transitioned to part-time a few months prior, following four years on staff full-time) and gearing up for the first edition of Black Flags Over Brooklyn, the U.S.'s first-ever explicitly antifascist metal festival and my pet project for much of 2018. I was recovering from a bad breakup but was cautiously dipping my toes into a promising new relationship. Things were okay, and I was excited about the festival, but I couldn't help feeling trapped. At some point, I'd morphed from a heavy metal writer who sometimes covered politics into a politics writer who was being required to write about heavy metal, and I was miserable.
A year later, I am a full-time freelancer, and live on my own in a house in Philadelphia; my partner is here most of the time, but I have my own space, for the first time ever. The bulk of my work now is focused on labor and politics, with occasional forays back into metal when the mood strikes, and I get the impression that many of my readers aren't familiar with my history as a metal journalist. That is a strange feeling, given how important metal has been and always will be to the core of my being, but is freeing, in a way; it feels like I've started a second career over the past couple of years, and my unceremonious entry into the freelance world has cemented that.
As irritating and destabilizing as it was at the time, being laid off from VICE has made me so much happier in my career. I have less money, less stability, and dearly miss my work friends, but at least I have my freedom, and leaving NYC has given me a chance to live the kind of life I could never afford there. Black Flags Over Brooklyn was a huge success, and my next project after that, the Riffs for Reproductive Justice compilation, has raised thousands for abortion care. In the past six months alone, I have begun working with a number of dream publications, have continued my NO CLASS labor column at Teen Vogue, have launched two new columns at the Baffler and the New Republic, have been invited to speak at several universities and conferences, and (as of last week) finally turned in my first book proposal to my agent. (I've also listened to a lot of Lizzo and Bruce Springsteen alongside my more customary fare).
On the flip side, I have also moved three times in the past year; most of my stuff, including my books and records, are still in storage; I'm constantly on the move; I still haven't figured out how to balance my freelance work schedule without turning myself into a gigantic stressball; one of my close friends was sent to prison in a politically-motivated miscarriage of justice, and living a city away makes it hard to visit him; I keep being targeted by dangerous far-right media figures like Tucker Carlson and Andy Ngo, and have lost work because of their smear campaigns. (The latter is a big part of why I launched this Patreon in the first place—it's pretty scary sometimes to be an independent journalist).
I'm still figuring things out, basically, but hopefully 2020 will make more sense. With the rise of global fascism continuing apace and a truly nightmarish U.S. presidential election ahead, I know better than to wish for peace or calm—but as I've said before, at least we still have heavy metal.
Here, in no particular order, are my favorite albums of 2019. As always, thanks for reading.
Dawn Ray'd - Behold Sedition Plainsong
Urgent and wholly unapologetic anarchist black metal (with violin!) from the industrial North of England. They've become a guiding light for the antifascist heavy metal movement—and for good reason. It's time for new tales of resistance.
Ragana - We Know That The Heavens Are Empty
Gloomy, grungy, shoegazy anarcha-feminist black metal that refuses to mute its own power (and pays tribute to anarchist icon Voltairine De Cleyre).
Bull of Apis Bull of Bronze - Offerings of Flesh and Gold
Stunning, cerebral anti-capitalist black metal for the dissident and downtrodden.
Storm of Sedition - Howl of Dynamite
Anti-civ anarchist black metal/crust that's gunning for the fall of humanity.
Inter Arma - Sulphur English
Cosmically heavy, incomparable sludgy doom that's actually a mix of death metal, black metal, psych rock, prog, and (yes) doom. Words don't do them justice.
High Command - Beyond the Wall of Desolation
Absolutely top-notch crossover-era thrash metal.
Les Chants du Hasard - Livre Second
Elegant, foreboding neoclassical black metal from France.
Caїna - Gentle Illness
Experimental, bleak sonic volley from the UK's original architect of post-black metal that plumbs the darkest nights of mental illness and alien possession, and reaches for the beauty in decay.
Obsequiae - The Palms of Sorrows Kings
Utterly majestic, wholly unique medieval heavy metal with raven-black vocals.
Vastum - Orificial Purge
Blood-glutted, supremely guttural, psychosexual death metal freakery.
Sacred Son - Arthurian Catacombs
Grand, ferocious UK black metal devoid of pretension or affectation. Don't be fooled by the album cover.
False - Portent
An American black metal masterpiece.
A Pregnant Light - Broken Play
Aggressive, seductive post-black metal with hardcore roots.
Teitanblood - The Baneful Choir
The Spanish gods of war metal have returned—and the result is more black thrash than Blasphemy.
Tovarish - If the War Comes Tomorrow
Excruciating and unsettling anti-capitalist dark ambient/power electronics abyss.
House and Land - Across the Field
New life breathed into age-old Appalachian folk songs, via rippling vocal harmonies, sprightly fiddle, gentle banjo picking, and a subversively psychedelic mindset. Beautiful, beautiful.
Tomb Mold - Planetary Clairvoyance
Fuck yeah, knuckle-dragging alien death metal.
Redbait - Cages
Ripping proletarian crust for a new dark age. As I said on Pitchfork, " Not only is Cages grounded in radical working-class politics, it’s also alive with the clang of machinery, the screech of grinding metal, and the smell of blood on the factory floor."
Brutalism - The Charged Void
Noisy, architecturally-minded atmospheric black metal from Locrian's frightfully prolific Terence Hannum.
Superstition - The Anatomy of Unholy Transformation
Dark, deranged Rust Belt death metal perfection.
Amygdala - Our Voices Will Soar Forever
Anti-colonial Texas hardcore punk for the ages.
Aboricidio - What We Leave Behind
Brilliant London-based green anarchist neo-crust concern.
Mariassunta - Unbound
Mar frontperson Kay Belardinelli's experimental pop/noise project is he loveliest piece of music I have heard all year.
Haram - وين كنيت بي ١١/٩؟? / Where Were You on 9/11?
Electrifying hardcore agitpunk. As I wrote in Pitchfork, "In just under eight minutes, Haram do more for the cause of righteously political punk than performative pretenders have in three decades, and with “Where Were You on 9/11?” they’ve sounded the alarm for all of us to keep waking the fuck up."
Adzes - Climate / Capital
Anti-capitalist sludge for a burning world.
Huldrekall - What Else Will Fade?
Anti-fascist Cascadian black metal with a heady crust influence.
Ossuarium - Living Tomb
Gleefully regressive, atmospheric old school death. As I opined at Pitchfork, "Living Tomb is a tight 40 minutes of ugly, bottom-scraping death and doom, firmly rooted in the past but cognizant of the need to evolve."
Cloak - The Burning Dawn
Vampiric, shape-shifting extreme metal that's Southern Gothic in every sense of the word.
Blood Incantation - Hidden History of the Human Race
Galactic lords of death. As I wrote for the AV Club, "While most bands of its ilk concern themselves with the brutal realities of our dying planet, Blood Incantation’s eyes remain fixed on the stars."
Putrescine - The One Reborn
Old-school gory death with an antifascist twist.
Devil Master - Satan Spits on Children of Light
I've previously described these Philly freaks as "a sort of arcane, eyeliner-smeared mixture of Mortuary Drape, Tribulation, and Judas Priest," and that holds true on their rollicking debut.
Crypt Sermon - The Ruins of Fading Light
Triumphal old-school heavy metal with a deft doomed touch.
Mar - Pressed in the Earth
Raw, emotional, perpetually shifting New England doom.
Dispossessed - War Never Ended
Vengeful Aboriginal blackened death metal at war with the forces of white supremacy, colonialism, racism, capitalism, and patriarchy.
Darkthrone - Old Star
Nowadays, the black metal legends seem happier churning out wickedly catchy, Cro Magnon heavy metal. As I wrote for Pitchfork, Old Star "shows an impressive commitment to both their friendship and to rock’n’roll, and, for all their warts and spikes and grunts, there’s something almost sweet about that."
Fishslaughter - Morfar
Otherworldly, octave mandolin-powered aquatic-themed black metal.
Moros - Weapon
Philadelphia filth sludge.
Pessimista - split w/ Noctilium
Desolate Brazilian atmospheric RABM from members of Tiffo.
Bellrope - You Must Relax
Fucked up German amplifier worship that blew my face clean off at Roadburn this year.
Neckbeard Deathcamp - So Much for the Tolerant Left
If Dawn Ray'd are antifascist metal's standard-bearers, NBDC are its war metal shock troops, cracking skulls with riffs and fists and cracking jokes through bared, bloody teeth.
I'm sure I missed some things, but in fairness, it's not my job to keep track of these things anymore!
Love you, mean it,