In a year which has seen the return of giants, the rise of natural heirs and the odd moment of madness here and there, it's impossible to pinpoint 2019's highlight in to just one round little nutshell for you - so we've smashed it in to generous pieces to give you a rundown of what we've most enjoyed in this final year of the decade. We've had a bit of a quieter one this year, but our ears have remained firmly tied to the ground and we're looking forward to everything 2020 brings, both from our own content side of things and what's brewing in the heavy music sphere. So without any further ado then, we've broken down our 2019 review to cover off huge moments on the festival circuit across the year, to discuss the progress of young artists who have broken through and to give you our top records of the year. Paired alongside this, we will also shortly be posting our 2020 preview feature to give a bit more insight in to what's got our riff spidey-sense flying through the barometer. Written by Tom Donno & Nick Spooner.

The Festivals

As ever, the festival circuit delivered on all manner of important moments across 2019:

Bring Me The Horizon - All Points East Festival

Since Bring Me The Horizon released Sempiternal and the entire conversation around them seemed to shift and alter quite dramatically in another direction, there has been seemingly continual speculation about both their ability to headline a UK festival and also when someone would finally pull the trigger on making it happen. With the Bring Me The Horizon day at All Points East in 2019 what we were able to fully see materialise is the band's readiness to top such bills but also the level of strength throughout the ranks in UK heavy music at the moment as BMTH helped curate a line-up which included the likes of Architects, While She Sleeps, Employed To Serve and Lotus Eater all seamlessly positioned amongst the likes of Run The Jewels and Idles. As far as picking up the mantle and running with it is concerned, Bring Me The Horizon's debut flourish with headlining a UK festival saw them put together a show easily big enough but also one that quite clearly conveyed that the next time they roll with it (and there will be a next time) there is so much for them to still build on. Smashing through a set-list from across their (now vastly different sounding) discography, they dropped crowd pleasers for both new and old fans with great ease and displayed they're more than ready to maintain their status as a headline band.

Tool - Download Festival

There is always a level of anticipation for certain performances at festivals, especially across the headline slots, but when this anticipation is rooted in a band's absence from these shores for a thirteen year spell and a genuine claim that a whole new generation were there and ready to be exposed to the genius of Tool; when it reached early Sunday evening at Download this year there was an almost indescribable level of anxiety flowing over the hills of Donington. At this point, the new record hadn't yet been unleashed on the world (spoiler alert - more of that in our albums of the year list later) but when the band smashed through both of the new additions in the set they received an ovation equal to their classics. The roar that greeted the Californian legends at the start of their set as they threw themselves in to Aenima was absolutely deafening and the level of excitement simply didn't let up once.

Parkway Drive - Bloodstock Festival

When the announcement for Parkway Drive headlining Bloodstock became "official" at the conclusion of their phenomenally powerful performance at Alexandra Palace it was met with feverish madness from their core fans and suspicion from the Bloodstock die-hards in equal measure. Parkway Drive's addition to the bill shouldn't really have come as much of a surprise - the organisers have done brilliantly in recent years to utilise one of their headline slots to bands who cater to a broader and at times younger audience, (ridiculous somewhat when actually dive in to how long some of these bands have been going), with the likes of Gojira, Mastodon, Lamb of God and Ghost all rising to the challenge with aplomb. Parkway have always famously nailed it on the live stage - they don't just bring it musically, they deliver a full scale performance. Theatrically they're absolutely right at home headlining a festival like Bloodstock - and despite the gigantic challenges on the day with the weather they were able to go ALL IN with the pyro. As soon as that riff dropped in Wishing Wells you knew immediately this was going to be something major. The crowd reactions to Prey and Vice Grip early on only cemented this. Special night for a very special band.

Slipknot - Download Festival

A second entry here for Download Festival but we felt this performance in particular needed a special shout-out. Slipknot headlining Download Festival wasn't something new - the band have done it on a plethora of occasions now with each ending up with comments of "it was good, but not quite 2009 good". Now, we're not suggesting that their assault on the Main Stage was as good as what happened ten years prior, but this did have an incredible level of energy that had far superseded some of their shows in the immediate years beforehand. This was the rebirth of a band who are absolutely on fire at the moment. We Are Not Your Kind easily ranks up there as one of the albums of the year and the level of energy and ferocity contained within it came out in spades at Download. We cannot wait for what 2020 brings in the world of the Knot - an arena headline tour and the first ever UK Knotfest? We're in.


The Goodbyes!

The above is plural, but we've saved this spot for one very special goodbye. The legendary SLAYER bowed out with their last ever show towards the back end of this year and already it feels like a gaping void has been left where they once stood. It's unlikely this Slayer sized chasm could ever be filled by anyone else in Heavy Music and that in itself says so much about the importance and power behind the Thrash Metal giants. From Reign In Blood to Seasons In The Abyss to God Hates Us All to Repentless and everything in between, Slayer have always brought it hard, fast and heavy as fuck with little to no compromise. Thank you for the memories!


The Returns!

We've already gone in on Tool (and there's even more to come with that as well) so we'll leave that for the moment, but towards the back-end of this year two absolutely gigantic reunions were announced with so much more promised in 2020 and beyond. First up, after years and years and years of speculation, hope and just outright pleading from some sections of their fans, My Chemical Romance officially announced their return to the fold. The band have thus far only played the one show since the return announcement but with plenty of shows already lined up for next year there's plenty more to come. Fittingly, the band closed that return show with Welcome To The Black Parade, a song that concludes with the words "We'll Carry On".

In the same week MCR announced their return, another absolute GIANT of the game broke the news that they too would be heading out on tour in 2020. Rage Against The Machine last played a show in 2011 and especially with the current political climate this feels like a LONG time coming. In recent years we've of course seen Prophets Of Rage with both B-Real and Chuck D taking the place of Zack de la Rocha but with the original four now reunited and ready to go we simply cannot wait. Easily one of the best live bands heavy music has ever produced - here's hoping we also get some new material as well.


2019 Albums Of The Year

Without any further ado then, henceforth is our top 15 albums of the year! Nod your head in agreement, shake it in disagreement if you really must, but most importantly use this as a tool for discovery. You might not have heard one of the following, but now's your chance to get involved and smash your belongings to the mighty power of the riff.

15 - Venom Prison - Samsara

After the major accomplishment that was debut Animus, Venom Prison probably felt they had two foremost options available to them: either expand on the hardcore moments and potentially court broader appeal, or double-down on the death metal side of their sound and head further into the abyss. They did the latter, and then some. Graced with a dirtier production job and littered with blast beats, gnarled, acidic riffing and throat-shredding vocal lines, this absolutely rules.

14 - Renounced - Beauty Is A Destructive Angel

With a band like Renounced in existence, why would anyone bother listening to Killswitch Engage ever again? Recalling those glory years of Poison The Well and Trustkill Records-era Metalcore, but managing to avoid the obvious pitfall of simply being a nostalgia project, Renounced hit you repeatedly with perfectly crafted sonic scud missiles. Big, anthemic choruses without even a hint of cheesiness perfectly offset the taut, jagged riffing on display here to great effect, and the more progressively-minded In A Statue of Frozen Glass perhaps points the way to more expansive terrain on future releases. Whatever the case, there is a lot to bang your head and pump your fists to here.

13 - Numenorean - Adore

Sounding somewhat akin to Gojira if they made a post-black metal album, albeit one with more ambient and acoustic passages, Numenorean's second full-length shows them to be a class act. Adore is brilliantly paced and expertly balanced, with frantic and ferocious blasts offset by stirring melodies and touching, mournful lyricism. If you're into outright heaviness but also desire more nuance and an explicitly human approach to the genre, then Numenorean should be one of the places you turn to from this year.

12 - Tomb Mold - Planetary Clairvoyance

Tomb Mold's seemingly inexhaustible creative juices just keep flowing, with Planetary Clairvoyance being the band's third full length in as many years (and they've chucked out a few EPs in that time too). This is the band's best album, a barrage of savage death metal riffing and gloomy atmospherics that should cement Tomb Mold's status as a band to be spoken of in any conversation regarding the best the genre has to offer.

11 - Ithaca - The Language of Injury

Charging out on Holy Roar back towards the start of the year, this is an outstanding debut of disorientating and punishing hardcore akin to Botch and Converge, perfectly punctuated by ambient and emotionally charged oases. The stellar vocal performance of Djamila Azzouz, jam-packed with thunderous vitriol but also achingly melancholic at times, elevates this band to another level. Ithaca's star has shone brightly in the UK this year, here's hoping that 2020 brings them further success.

10 - Mispyrming - Algleymi

Iceland continues to pump out great bands in the world of rock and metal, and Mispyrming's second album sees frosty black metal, full of fury and danger, collide with genuinely anthemic passages featuring memorable melodic riffing and big hooks to fantastic effect. This is an album that is both grand and ambitious in terms of its scope and vision, but it easily lives up to both. Algleymi is a diverse black metal record; delivering in the gloomy stakes but also packing plenty of striking moments, drawn from other musical influences, which, when taken together, mark Mispyrming out as being one of the best bands in the genre.

9 - Stray From The Path - Internal Atomics

As the dust continues to settle from the release of Internal Atomics, Stray's 10th studio record, we need to start asking ourselves one fundamental question: how is this band not massive yet? By and large, consistency has been the byword for Stray From The Path's recorded output, and Internal Atomics sees them elevating the quality even further. There's not a dud track on here, and if mammoth grooves (driven by the stellar Craig Reynolds), infectious riffing and rage-fuelled political commentary are your thing then look no further. Oh, and in Fortune Teller, Stray have one of the tracks of the year.

8 - Blood Incantation - Hidden History of The Human Race

One of this year's most anticipated releases in the world of extreme, Hidden History of The Human Race somehow managed to exceed the giddy excitement swirling around it, with Blood Incantation unleashing nothing short of a modern death metal masterpiece, complete with the kind of progressive vision and psychedelic tapestry simply not encountered in the genre. The scale of ideas on display across these four tracks and 37 minutes is astounding, with the album building from pulverising but expansive death metal, through trippy instrumental Inner Paths (To Outer Space), and ending with the frankly outrageous 18-minute album-closer.

7 - Knocked Loose - A Different Shade of Blue

Few records have sent adrenaline and heart rates spiking this year as much as Knocked Loose's second full length. A Different Shade of Blue is, by every measure, a massive improvement on 2016's Laugh Tracks. And considering the buzz that grew following that release, this is cause for excitement. The songs are better-crafted, the performances are improved, the production job is richer, the riffing and mosh calls are catchier and those beatdowns hit even harder. Some bands second-guess themselves after a successful debut, but Knocked Loose have channelled any trepidation they may have had into a triumphant assault on the senses.

6 - Periphery - Periphery IV: HAIL STAN

It takes a special type of band to opt to split from their label, launch their own and then self-release a record with a close-to-17-minutes opening track on it, but then Periphery have always done things their own way. Never ones to be constrained by seemingly anything, Periphery have been at the forefront of the tech metal scene for close to a decade, and HAIL STAN sees them pushing the envelope further on what is, arguably, their best album to date. Blending a progressive mindset and out-of-this-world instrumentals with huge hooks is no easy task, and yet Periphery achieve it again and again here.

5 - Schammasch - Hearts Of No Light

Another band for whom genre boundaries mean very little, on Hearts Of No Light Schammasch have melded the blistering drama of black metal with lavish and bombastic extravagance, unsettling atmospherics, prog and, on A Paradigm Of Beauty, even goth rock. As that list demonstrates, Hearts Of No Light is full of surprises, but for a complete listening experience, not many records have surpassed this one in 2019. Few bands also have a grasp on how to construct a sense of theatre like Schammasch, and as the closing moments of the album closer, the 15-minute Innermost, Lowermost Abyss - a truly nightmarish descent - ring in your ears, it's clear that this is a show that has worked its magic.

4 - Alcest - Spiritual Instinct

Generally credited with the invention of the post-black metal (or "blackgaze") genre, Alcest's influence on the world of heavy music has gifted us some other remarkable bands in their wake. But Alcest remain the godfathers, and Spiritual Instinct, the follow-up to the hugely acclaimed Kodama, is another beautiful, soul-stirring exploration into the mind of founder and frontman, Neige. From the haunting L'Ile Des Morts through to the driving Sapphire and Protection, surely a perfect encapsulation of this genre, not a moment is wasted in exploring the breadths of human emotion on this truly poignant record.

3 - Employed To Serve - Eternal Forward Motion

A band which can really do no wrong at the moment, Employed To Serve unleashed another monster onto the world in 2019. Eternal Forward Motion sees the band tweak a few components of their sound here and there; reducing some of the more progressive stylings found on In The Warmth Of A Dying Sun for a focus both on groove and riffs that will continue to turn venues into warzones without fail as they have done this year. The results are immense, resulting in an aural jackhammer of a record which, without question, should be in the collection of any self-respecting metal fan.

2 - Cult of Luna - A Dawn To Fear

Legendary post-metal act Cult of Luna simply do not make bad albums, and the 80-minute A Dawn To Fear is another certified classic in their collection. Possibly their heaviest record to date, A Dawn To Fear showcases the band's extraordinary talents for creating dense, foreboding and sombre arrangements which never fail to be both gripping and dramatic. This is a superb album, one that ought to be consumed in its entirety, and one which packs an emotionally devastating punch. To highlight one of a panoply of startling moments: coming halfway through the record, Nightwalkers is a perfect exercise in building tension around a light and dark dichotomy. A gloomy 2-minute intro gives way to an onslaught, before a shimming guitar line drags the listener back from the abyss, only to fall into it headlong as the song's crescendo delivers the deathly blow. A Dawn To Fear is another amazing achievement from possibly the best band in their field.

1 - Tool - Fear Inoculum

Arguably the most anticipated rock release of all time (maybe only Chinese Democracy truly comes close in terms of expectation), the 13 year wait for new Tool material finally ended this year with the stunning Fear Inoculum. That Tool delivered an album at all is one thing, but the fact they presented us with one of such extraordinary quality is nothing short of remarkable. Tool are a one-off, a truly unique proposition with a back catalogue of unparalleled quality. And in the age of the Spotify playlist where "the album" seems, sadly, to be diminishing in importance, releasing an almost 90-minute record in which the 6 tracks proper all run over 10 minutes, displays the kind of attitude towards popular trends that we have come to expect from Tool. As with other Tool releases, although probably more so than on any other, this is a record that requires time to allow for these songs to soak into the listener. Whether it be on the likes of the ethereal title track, the brooding Pneuma, the nostalgic brilliance of Invincible or the rambunctious 7empest, each of the tracks has its own distinct flavour, but blended together they produce a mature display of Tool's consummate talents. Yes, there is a question mark about whether the interludes here (not including the Danny Carey drum solo Chocolate Chip Trip) add to the album in any meaningful way, but it would be a curmudgeon of gigantic proportions who would hold that against this magnificent return from one of the greatest bands in the history of rock music.

Stay tuned for our big 2020 Preview coming soon! SLAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRRRR!