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The 10 Best Metal Albums of 2019

Nu-metal mainstays, rulers of the underground, style-smashing upstarts, and more

Metal, in all its various guises and subgenres, “turned and faced the strange” this year, to steal a quote from one of Metallica’s inspirations, David Bowie. In 2019, Slipknot spaced out their onslaughts with ambient psychodramas, Opeth embraced their inner darkness, Aussie psych-rockers King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard finally thrashed out with a spacey, authentic metal LP, and Rammstein let their freak flag fly in ways we don’t even want to know. Elsewhere, Tool finally released their fifth LP after a 13-year wait and fan favorites from Dream Theater to Mayhem played to their bases with solid new efforts. But when we tallied up our critics’ votes, the 10 records that followed were the ones that made the strongest showings.


Alcest, ‘Spiritual Instinct’

French blackgazers Alcest let in the light for their sixth LP. “These two extremes [are] fighting inside me,” singer-guitarist Neige said in Spotify’s Metal Talks series. “I have flaws, I have a dark side … and it’s a part of the spiritual path. You have to live with it and to accept it.” The exhilarating build of “Protection” pairs drummer Winterhalter’s relentless, battering-ram charge with Neige’s accelerating shivers of tremolo; and in “Sapphire,” the guitarist stealthily integrates a glowing post-punk riff into the fray. Waiting in the wings is Norwegian artist Kathrine Shepard, better known as Sylvaine, who shares an operatic serenade with Neige amid the thrash of “L’Île des Morts.” The beauty of Alcest hinges on such stark contrasts: Peeking out from beneath the blanket of noise lives something incandescent and sublime. S.E.


Gaahls Wyrd, ‘Gastir — Ghosts Invited’

There’s so much that the world already knows about Gaahl, the forbidding Norwegian black-metal singer who has fronted Trelldom, Gorgoroth, and God Seed over the years: He’s openly gay, a vegetarian, and a visual artist. But for as revealing as he’s been about his life, he somehow remains one of the most enigmatic figures in metal, keeping his motives a secret. That mystery is what made Gastir — Ghosts Invited, the debut full-length by his latest group, Gaahls Wyrd so bewitching. In between all of the cranium-rattling metal riffing, the album is full of shadowy guitar breaks (check the eerie “Ek Erilar”), whispered lyrics (just try to decipher “From the Spear”), Bowie-esque drama (“Ghosts Invited”), and discordant arrangements that might make more sense in an Igor Stravinsky symphony (“Through the Past and Past”). It’s music that sounds possessed, and you can’t help but want to let it take you over, too. K.G.


Moon Tooth, ‘Crux’

An album that can remind you of Converge one minute and John Mayer the next? Bear with us. There’s something alchemical at work on the second LP by Long Island outfit Moon Tooth that turns what could be a scatterbrained genre mashup into an ingenious hybrid. There’s no channel-changing evident on songs like “Omega Days” and “Motionless in Sky,” just a harmonious mesh of prog-metal fury and R&B poignancy. And while we never envisioned that power-ballad crooning could flow naturally into beast-mode blitz, it now seems like pure wish fulfillment, thanks to Crux’s awe-inspiring title track. Not since the early days of the Mars Volta has a rock band managed to sound so wildly adventurous while delivering such unshakable hooks. H.S.


Slipknot, ‘We Are Not Your Kind’

Five years after they mourned the death of bassist Paul Gray on .5: The Gray Chapter, Slipknot returned with more breakneck anthems for malcontents on their sixth LP. A collection of songs for “the bitter, the maladjusted and the wise, fighting off a generation too uptight,” as Corey Taylor spits in “Birth of the Cruel,” We Are Not Your Kind discovers a reinvigorated Slipknot sounding more like themselves this go-round — which is to say, like a rambling horror show. Contrasting gruff rock-rap with dark pop harmonies, Taylor adds levity to vulnerable moments with sneering braggadocio on the Clown-devised skirmish “Nero Forte”; and on the catch-and-release melody of “Critical Darling,” Taylor calls to mind the human-spurred apocalypse, as foretold by both evangelists and climate scientists. “What is coming has begun,” warns Taylor. “An ending I won’t live to see/We tell ourselves it can’t be hell if there’s no heaven.” Said Taylor in May, “You want a villain, I will give you a fucking villain” — but as in most Slipknot songs, there’s no villain more disquieting than the one who lives in every one of us. S.E.