The time has come once again for the yearly tradition of drinking myself into a stupor on julmust and listing the greatest music the past year has had to offer. 2019 has been a punch in the crotch, but it’s also tossed more than a few great albums at us, and plenty of sweet bits to sort out through all the garbage and mediocre drivel. Now you can’t reasonably expect me to write a bunch of stuff here that you won’t read anyway, so these - plain and simple - are Mr. Torture’s picks for the 20 best metal songs of 2019, as experienced by a fan of mainly power metal, prog, progpower, heavy and various melodic styles. If you don’t find your favorite in the list, toss me a comment and let me know how big an idiot I am.
Aloys A. Raven - Omnibus
DNA is the opening track on an otherwise fairly unremarkable album, the second in Aloys A. Raven's discography. But while the album as a whole is forgettable, the same cannot be said for its opening six minutes, which are as good as it gets. DNA never gets in your face and never goes anywhere it's not wanted, but elects a path that rather takes twists and turns through a progressive landscape, remaining fairly rooted in the melodic thanks to intertwining guitars that keep finding new loops throughout the runtime. The guitar lead that fills the second half of the song with a sweet, atmospheric feel is simple, but so efficient because it's done with so much empathy and grace; it's one of those that you don't know exactly how it got there, but that gets stuck with you and you keep coming back for more.
Darkwater - Human
You'll find Darkwater somewhere along the lines of Seventh Wonder meets Evergrey; not carrying the exuberant atmosphere of the former or the melancholy of the latter, but a very well founded mix of the two. Nowhere is this formula better expressed than on Insomnia, perhaps the song most closely akin to power metal on their third full length. It is however still promptly bound to the prog metal ground the band lies on, and as such, with its flourishing vocal lines and melodic yet harshly divined guitar riffing, it presents a well penned, highly catchy and sweetly addictive example of the european progpower style, with a sound that is entirely human. Other songs on the album might have seemed more ambitious, but Insomnia is where the passion and the excellent songwriting really comes to play.
D-A-D - A Prayer for the Loud
I have myself a tiny little sweet spot for D-A-D’s catchy style of dad rock, because when they do it right there’s literally nothing better in the world. There’s nothing really special about this tune, but that right there is the beauty of D-A-D; they make that shit seem simple, efficient and just toe tappingly, head bobbingly awesome. They’ve infused their silly humor with a side of dead seriousness and made a thing of it as per usual, what with Jesper Binzer’s vocals adding the raspy touch on top of his big bro Jacob’s licking hard rock guitar riffing and simple yet mega effective soloing. This is just D-A-D polishing their own status, but as they seem to prove over and over - ain’t nothing wrong with that.
Civil War - Dead Man's Glory
Standalone singles usually don’t count toward the best of lists but Civil War gets a pass, because there was a spot open and Daniel Myhr has a nice beard. In all seriousness, with Dead Man’s Glory Civil War show evolution sorely needed after their first three albums. Not only do they have world class vocalist Kelly Sundown Carpenter bringing a dark twist to a catchy, bombastic power metal bombshell, but they retain the basis of their old sound, adding heaps of anger and power.That old Sabaton pounding is there to set the backdrop, but the folksy keyboards, chanting and layered vocals in the chorus add further dimension to an already big sound. It might just be what Civil War needs to get back on the road to victory.
Carthagods - The Monster In Me
What do you mean cheating? Ok, so Memories of Never Ending Pains was originally released on Carthagods’ debut album, but their sophomore album The Monster in Me made it come back, and in style. A slow, chilling intro set to melodic guitars and a softer side of vocalist Mehdi Khema proves deceptive, as it suddenly bursts forth into a behemoth of weighty riffing, anger and distress. It wants perhaps to be darker than it is, but the way it presents itself and unfolds as the movements become clearer sucks the light out of the room. Artak's soloing burns heavily over mighty rhythms; bombastic bass lines and battling war drums. Khema shows brittleness and despair, his dark voice crooning mercilessly and lonely in the chorus and over heavy verses, showing full power on display. The atmosphere is concluded by keyboards setting an aura of divinity over dark melodic riffs, but the crowning part is the second, instrumental half; a dark solo giving way to immersive melodic trade offs between the guitar and keyboard. By this point there is no turning back; ripping a soul into smithereens.
Evergrey - The Atlantic
Never was super into Evergrey. They kinda lack some color. But Currents is fresh as fuck, all the while being exactly what Evergrey always was. It’s a gritty tale set to heavy guitar backdrops, with some dead serious intonations from Tom Englund. Evergrey’s trademark melancholy feel is present, but there’s something eye opening about it as well, Englund doubling as a man forced into the depths of the ocean, but also one on the brink of giving up. The melodic touch at play adds the important difference; the chorus is catchy, the keyboards add subtle depth and the guitar leads trading off (especially in the solo section) manages to take all that Evergrey feel and make something more than the sum of its parts; they’ve done this a few times and when it happens it’s a touch of magic.
Rhapsody of Fire - The Eighth Mountain
Remember how Fabio Lione left Rhapsody after a personal best in Into the Legend (2016)? Well, Rain of Fury is the proof that the Italians can do it without the legendary singer. New vocalist Giacomo Voli belts his guts out on this speedy, epic number that hearkens to Distant Sky from the aforementioned Into the Legend album. An unrelenting, ultra catchy chorus puts the golden touch to a near flawless power metal grandeur. The guitar work from Roberto de Micheli is every bit as close to perfection as could be desired, and the epic touches of Alex Staropoli’s keyboards flutter easily in the melodic dueling. Uplifting, mega catchy, reminiscent of all the old school glory of enchanted lands, Rain of Fury lacks nothing. Except dragons.
Symphonity - Crimson Silk
The newest Symphonity single actually has a way longer title including confusing part numbers (was there ever a part one? Will there be?) but for simplicity’s sake, let’s just call it Crimson Silk. I also had to include it because Civil War got a pass, and this song is plain and simply better. Slightly folksy, slightly symphonic, all out Libor Křivák goodness; even with the massive lineup change he shows nothing will stop Symphonity now. Melodic guitars do battle while new vocalists Mayo Petranin and Antonio Abate lets you know in no small way that they have the competence to carry what Langhans and Hayer left. The chorus is flippin’ massive, and Křivák’s guitar work is just the perfect blend of heavy alongside the oriental inspired keyboards. Křivák isn’t fucking around guys, he knows his way around a catchy, epic power metal tune.
In Mourning - Garden of Storms
I didn't even pick this song among the highlights on Garden of Storms in my initial review, but with its immersive motions and sense of reminiscence it's managed to creep up and stick as the replays have rolled by. Progressive, laden with doom and grinding with crunchy lead guitars guiding pathway through the fall of a drained sky. Mountainous bass lines from Sebastian Svalland bellow neath the mean twin riffing of Tobias Netzell and Björn Pettersson. Striking an emotional chord and carrying riff work in its heavy, doomy parts that hearkens back to the phenomenal Celestial Tear off the first in the trilogy, it's also a rollercoaster of emotions, dark and brooding, and light and airy all at once. Netzell's voice soars seamlessly from the haunted beauty of the billowing calm parts to the thundrous collosus in the harsh parts. Unforgiving and riveting, but beautiful and rhythmic, this journey to the darkness of hearts comes in the shade of magenta.
Age of Artemis - Monomyth
Age of Artemis did something really special on their third album, Monomyth. Closing in on their Angra likeness while staying true to their sound, the love packed album kept glowing all throughout in melodic splendor, and while there were plenty of highlights, no track stands out quite as much as What Really Matters. First of all, newly recruited vocalist Pedro Campo has a great voice to fit the mean, angry parts as well as a soft side, and he belts the emotions out here with both power and restraint to flow alongside Jeff Castro and Gabriel Soto's guitar harmonies. What Really Matters isn't your typical, big, epic choral power metal tune, while perhaps built similarly; its strengths lie in the subtleties - the slow piano intro that soon gives way for rhythmic pounding, Campo’s emotional delivery, and those sweet, sweet guitars; centuries are passing by.
SkeleToon - They Never Say Die
The epitome of all that is fun in power metal, adhering in full to the Helloween and Gamma Ray led school of melodic power metal, packed to One Eyed Willy's eye patch with flashy guitars and over the top, high pitched vocals. Main vocalist Tomi Fooler shares lead vocals with guest Alessandro Conti, both belting their best shrieks in tribute to almighty Kiske, especially in a massively catchy chorus that'll sate every need for power metal at its absolute finest. Davide Piletto and Andrea Cappellari never let up either, their magic lead work and thrifty rhythms setting the stage for the power and glory to flow. This right here is exactly what power metal is and always should be about. SkeleToon grab that old German power metal school adage by the nuts and runs with it, creating an ultra catchy melodic feast of epic, sugary guitars, thunderous bass lines and oh those soaring vocals. It's good enough for me; it's good enough for you.
Gloryhammer - Legends from Beyond the Galactic Terrorvortex
And as if SkeleToon was not enough, in comes the ancient holy tragic raging power metal force that is Gloryhammer and the ultimate furious force that is the ultra catchy Power of the Laser Dragon Fire. Sure, their third full length Legends From Beyond the Galactic Terrorvortex had its moments doing lots of new and exciting things, but sticking with the tried and true power metal formula really lets the kings of Dundee shine like a burning unicorn star; the song is all the power gathered through decades of power metal. Furious drum lines lay the battleground for melodic guitars and hyper catchy keyboards to swirl in a veritable terrorvortex; epic battle is fight as the forces of Angus McFife’s mighty vocals deliver the hoots throughout the song in melodic fashion. Over the top, fun and packed with the musical chops to back all that cheese up.
Lance King - ReProgram
Lance King had a couple of missed swings on his comeback solo album, but he also did lots of things damn right. Opening with - and titling the album after - filler belongs to the first category, but boy does A Mind at War belong to the latter. The closing track is a ten minute melodic progpower anthem that gets the very best out of King and his assembly of guest musicians. Built slowly and progressing through alternating big choruses and flawless verses, it sees Kim Olesen’s and Fred Colombo’s guitars and keyboards respectively swirl around each other in controlled atmosphere, while Morten Gade Sørensen’s drum lines build the big sounding backdrop for King’s theatrical vocals to soar. It’s subtle, but it’s also epic, a perfect (and probably nonsensical put in words) blend King masters with a precision striking between the beauty of darkness and light.
Noveria - Aequilibrium
The opening track to Noveria’s third full length, Waves wastes no time letting lose a barrage of pent up anger, distress and not least heavy, massive riff work; unleashing full magnitude, striking like an earthquake screaming with power and devastatingly massive melodic leads from Francesco Mattei and Julien Spreutels (guitars and keyboards respectively). Drums pounding like heartbeats as the fear sets in, Francesco Corigliano's soulful vocals soaring with chanting choirs subtly adding a grandiosity over the scene. The chorus is slow and devastating, big sounding with Corigliano's lone voice shouting in despair over some of Mattei's meanest sounding riffs to date. The song paints a soundscape where hope and light dies, but does so with the utmost respect for the subject matter (the song is based on the August 2016 earthquake that devastated central Italy) and in the process becomes a powerful, memorable testament to the overwhelming fear and anxiety therein involved; over and over again, the waves are taking over.
Eternity’s End - Unyielding
Nothing else was possible. Eternity’s End did heaps of things hella right on their Unyielding album, but the opener takes the cake and speeds off with it in supersonic speed; this complete speedfest of fury is a joyride on adrenaline, jet fuel riffing and vocals soaring laser eagles. Setting up a theme with cheesy lyrics that fit the adrenalie fueled tempo like a thousand gloves of neon fire, there’s more than just speed to about here. The riffing from Christian Muenzner and Phil Tougas, coupled with super catchy keyboards from Jimmy Pitts, makes the ride a thrill of cheesy powery speed, while Iuri Sanson shows massive power reining the speed and fury far beyond the realms of eternity!
The Spectre Beneath - The Downfall of Judith King
And if speed isn’t the only necessary ingredient, have a taste of Mrs. Lovett’s delicious pies, from The Spectre Beneath’s debut full length; it’s not only fast, aggressive and shreddy, but also crammed to the crust with atmosphere, darkness and eerie, subtly passionate vocals from L Lockser. The album in its entirety had lots of things going for it, with some absolute bombs unleashing raw power and fury upon you, but these five minutes are the culmination, what with the heavy atmosphere set by the brooding guitar work that proves never to relent as solo battling ensues alongside super swift lead work. It’s also super catchy, thrashy as hell, and heavier than anything, all adding up to a furiously enormous listen all capped up in five minutes. You know, delicious pie filling.
Elvenking - Reader of the Runes - Divination
Reader of the Runes: Book I has all the makings of an epic. Closing a surprisingly enchanting album, it is Elvenking's most immersive song to date, all the while forsaking many of the band's flashier elements in favor of atmosphere and a dark, eerie feel. Mid paced throughout it builds slowly, with massive verses and an even bigger chorus. Towards the second half, the bombastic tone fades out in favor of a subdued, skin crawling section that recalls some eerie lines from the original Runereader track from the Red Silent Tides (2010) album. Damnagoras closes out the song in dramatic fashon, eerily chanting the chorus on floating mists. The folk elements brought by Lethien's violin set a deathly theme in motion, accentuated heavily in booming riffing and swift, fretblazing leads from Aydan and Rafahael, and choirs backing Damnagoras mighty vocals in the chorus. The song carries all the power Elvenking have mede themselves known for, all the while keeping the elements closely knitted and the eerie theme sets the stage for Book II.
Tanagra - Meridiem
Self indulgent on the border of wankery, Witness is nevertheless a magnificent show of top tier musicianship and clever, epic songwriting. A fourteen minute behemoth, Witness is the closing act on Tanagra's second album; Meridiem. Clearly American in style, the progressive build leans on groove and hefty riffs from guitarists Josh Kay and Steven Soderberg, as well as a massive, towering bass care of Erich Ulmer. That's not to say the song doesn't get heavily melodic at times, the power metal elements coming through in a triumphant chorus and the rifflicious, lead blazing third act of the song, all backed up by a symphonic backdrop of subtly infused keyboards in the more theatrical parts. Yet there is despair and melancholy to the grandeur; like a medieval castle looking over its own withering walls as the centuries turn to dust.
Dimhav - The Boreal Flame
For such a long time Witness was the song to beat, then Star and Crescent swept in on the northern lights and made that look easy. Closing out a phenomenal debut album in Dimhav's The Boreal Flame, Star and Crescent has all the magic and majesty of the album entire, wondrously woven into a ten minute progpower epic. The chorus and the melodies are catchy as all fuck, the guitar harmonies on silver moonlight dance triumphant with emphatic keys. Daniel Heiman makes the vocal performance of his life (yes.) especially in the very finale, taking his high register into overdrive and belting it like never before. Alongside him the blazing frets and shimmering keys of Staffan Lindroth and the towering drum lines of Olle Lindroth make for an epic journey, soaring upon melodic wings of the blazing aurora.
Avantasia - Moonglow
It really could be no other. This is one of Tobias Sammet’s greatest moments, working as he does with giants. While the album it came from lacked heaps of luster, the same cannot be said for this behemoth of a tune. A continuation on the Scarecrow concept, it envelops folk elements to a massive, symphonic backdrop, as well as some progressive elements in Felix Bohnke’s drum lines. While the common adage is that Hansi Kürsch makes the song great, the great Jørn Lande takes the second half of the song to new heights and alongside Sammet himself turns epic into mountainous in the grand finale. That’s not to say Kürsch isn’t equally magnificent in the first half; his deep, layered vocals add that glimmering essence Avantasia has always needed, and he gets every heartfelt, folk inspired moment right. Add to all that how the song builds from a slowly enveloping tune to big and orchestral, with some of Sascha Paeth’s greatest guitars ever, especially the blaring solo section. The Raven Child is likely Tobias Sammet’s greatest achievement to date; melodic, epic, dangerously close to perfection.
The other Rhapsody nearly made the list, but just missed it. We've also seen releases from Paladin, Orion Child, Avandra and most notably Divided Multitude that could well have been on here. The most notable release however is perhaps Degrees of Truth; one that was great as a whole but plucked apart didn't make as much sense. Another favorite was the political stance that was Mind Key's Hands Off Cain, both emotional and powerful all at once. There was lots of great stuff released this year. Check a bunch of them out:
Disappointment of the year
I guess it's not really a disappointment if you hope for nothing, but after hearing the title track there was some slight hope that Sabaton might not entirely screw up their latest album, Great War. But boy did they. In fact, the standalone single Bismarck, released earlier this year, that is unrelated to the album kicks the entire Great War album's butt. Twice. But the real disappointment must be Sonata Arctica... man how they have fallen. The Ninth Hour was great, but holy dang, Talviyö was suckfest 2019.
Comeback of the year
Got to go to my boy Lance King. He was nowhere to be seen for years save for the occasional guest spot. Then suddenly he (and Matt Barlow) joins Pyramaze on stage and slaps the crap out of all disbelievers. Comeback album ReProgram had its flaws, but also showed once and for all the King is going nowhere.
Let's just say next years "comeback of the year" will read Demons & Wizards *pees pants*
Great. Now I have to change pants.