Over the last 13 years, Divertida Devotchka has been a fixture of the Dallas burlesque scene. Based in Denton, Texas, where she got her start, Ms. Devotchka has also performed on stages throughout the state, including Austin, Houston, and Corpus Christi. She previously served as the production manager of Viva Dallas Burlesque (2011 to 2015) and as Editor of Pin Curl Magazine (2011 to 2013). Best known for bringing a touch of evil to any show, it’s no surprise that her passion and knowledge of the deepest, darkest depths of heavy metal is boundless.
She told us, “I have several character-based acts and the song choices for those were immediately obvious for the mood I wanted to create (the Wicked Witch, Metallica’s “Am I Evil,” the Red Queen, the Cramps “Queen of Pain,” etc.), but others were chosen for reasons as simple as I loved the song and always wanted to dance to them, like Danzig’s “Heart of the Devil,” Black Sabbath’s “N.I.B,” and even Slayer’s “Raining Blood.” Naturally, it made sense for us to get her list of favorite metal albums of 2019.
As this year comes to a close, I find myself reflecting on all the incredible music I’ve had the immense pleasure of enjoying in 2019. I had the privilege of attending countless live shows, discovering hundreds of new artists and every day I am excited about what lies ahead.
With great difficulty, I narrowed down my 10 favorite metal albums released this year, listed below in alphabetical order, because I find ranking to be arbitrary and frankly, it was challenging enough just to choose only 10 albums, let alone worry with rankings.
– Divertida Devotchka
There was a significant amount of hype around Blood Incantation’s sophomore album, Hidden History of the Human Race, released in late November, and for some reason I waited to listen to it. I kept hearing quips like “death metal meets Pink Floyd!” and it left me feeling somewhat apprehensive, but I’m so incredibly thankful I listened when I did, because this album is a masterpiece.
Brutal and precise, they have mastered their unique fusion of dreamy, psychedelic technical death metal and I didn’t know how much I needed such a thing in my life until I heard it. I can honestly say this album has me excited about the future of death metal and I can’t wait to hear what the band releases next.
Body Void continues to impress me with every release; I have 2018’s I Live Inside a Burning House and Ruins (2017) on frequent rotation, and their EP You Will Know The Fear You Forced Upon Us, released this March, has been a more-than-welcome addition to my frequently played list. With just two tracks at almost twenty minutes each, Body Void manages to create a searing combination of crusty sludge wrapped up in a heavy doom package that takes the listener on one hell of a ride.
Starting with the pummeling intensity of the intro to “Die Off,” Body Void immediately let you know they are not fucking around, and they don’t let up for the duration of the track, carrying the anguish and tension throughout and creating a chaotic whirlwind of violence. Vocalist and guitarist Will Ryan’s brutal shrieking is a thing of wonder; his vocals sound like hate, almost like he is spitting out every word in disgust. “Fascist Cancer” is equally as punishing and rounds out the EP perfectly, with Ryan’s vocals eventually bringing the track to a literal screeching halt. Body Void’s long-form style may not be for everyone, but it’s rewarding as hell for those who are willing to buy the ticket and take the ride.
For 2018, I would have easily put Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean’s EP I Carry My Awareness of Defeat like a Banner of Victory near the top of my list of my favorite metal releases, and it’s no surprise that this year I had their new release on rotation just as frequently. “Tell Me What You See Vanishing and I Will Tell You Who You Are” absolutely crushes. CTTBOTO’s brand of blackened sludgy doom stands apart from their peers to me because amidst all the filth and grime (and believe you me, there is plenty!) there are these breaks where they just JAM. The transitions between chugging filthy sludge and groovy, almost funky breaks are smooth, never choppy, as one might expect from description alone.
Also, it’s worth mentioning that they cover Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Possess Your Heart” on this EP, and I personally always found the lyrics to that song to be hilariously creepy and literal. When one hears the words “I WILL POSSESS YOUR HEART” bellowing forth in the context of some truly dreadful-sounding sludge, the connotation becomes much darker and I find it infinitely more enjoyable than the original version.
Young and technically proficient Philadelphia musicians, Devil Master, have captured the attention of many in recent years and I can’t help but be taken with their ability to effortlessly blend black metal, thrashy, crusty punk and death rock into an amalgam of evil, epic proportions.
Manifestations, released last November, was a compilation of the band’s demos, but Satan Spits on Children of Light (released in March) is their full-length debut. Their tone is raw and stripped down, giving everything an almost sleazy 80’s feel, and they execute their frequent time changes with precision and apparent ease. If you’re on the fence about Devil Master, catch a live show. You’ll either decide they’re not for you, or it’s possible that seeing the full effect, furiously fast in a blaze of cobwebs and corpsepaint, may be all the convincing you need.
St. Louis sludge masters Fister released Decade of Depression this year to commemorate their 10-year anniversary. An obvious play on Slayer’s double live album title Decade of Aggression, the album features all cover songs, with the exception of one track, “The Failure,” a re-recording. The entire work is solid but there are definite standouts; Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” becomes even more sinister when played at a doom pace and layered with gritty sludgy textures, as does Slayer’s “Mandatory Suicide,” clocking in at almost double the length of the original.
However, for me, the highlight of the album is Fister’s cover of Danzig’s “How the Gods Kill.” Featuring guest vocals by Eva Rose (Chrch), the opening is moody and daunting with clean guitars, gradually building tension until the break at 4:15 and the transition is simply devastating. The balance between Rose’s shrieking and the deep guttural growls gives the song a new dimension of heaviness that I never thought possible until now. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a Danzig superfan and I was elated when I heard this track was to be included on this album. I’m delighted that their cover exceeded my expectations in every way and has been one of my most frequently played tracks this year.
Full of Hell are known to defy genre and throughout the course of the last decade have perfected a sound all their own – a mix comprising grindcore, death metal, sludge and powerviolence, all tied together with a layer of harsh noise. Weeping Choir is a flawless accompaniment to 2017’s Trumpeting Ecstasy, and the new release certainly sounds like an album ten years in the making.
The track “Armory of Obsidian Glass” is a definite standout; the haunting backing vocals by Lingua Ignota work perfectly in building tension. The hellish wailing creates a growing sense of dread and panic alongside the deepest bellowing growls and the harshest screeching shrieks. The tension finally breaks at 4:30, then builds again for a full minute until an explosive outro that I immediately repeated no less than 5 times upon my first listen to this album. It’s intense, chilling, and powerful; it’s Full of Hell at their very best.
On their fourth full-length album, Sulphur English, Inter Arma continue to demonstrate their seemingly innate sense of musical balance, mastering the contrast between the quiet and slow crescendo and the violent and volcanic, doom and death metal, and everything (and I do mean everything!) in between.
Tracks like “Citadel” and “Sulphur English” will decimate you in ways you never thought possible, while “Howling Lands” progressively builds tension throughout, further developing the album’s mood as it leads into “Stillness,” featuring an acoustic-driven melody which slowly develops into an explosive ending. “Observances of the Path” brings a piano interlude, which serves as the transition into the complex “The Atavist’s Meridian,” which is possibly my favorite track on the album. Inter Arma skillfully meld a multitude of metal sub-genres and their ability to continue to make music that feels fresh makes them a formidable force.
Mizmor is the one-person project created by A.L.N. (of the band Hell) as a means to work through his depression, grief and explore existentialism. In Mizmor’s latest release, Cairn, existentialism, more specifically absurdism, is the conceptual thread tying the album together. You can expect themes from the works of Albert Camus, (The Stranger, The Myth of Sisyphus, Caligula) most notably the idea that despite the fact that life is ultimately without meaning, humans continue to seek value and meaning where there is none.
Mizmor makes well-produced, well-written blackened doom, thoughtfully combining the fearsome, frantic intensity of black metal with doom metal gut punches. Cairn isn’t rigid in its structure or style; the opening track “Desert of Absurdity” is a prime example of this versatility. His vocal range from deep guttural growls to piercing, almost inhuman screeching conveys the depth of his feelings; his emotion is palpable, raw and absolutely crushing, and I cannot recommend Cairn enough.
I’ve been thoroughly impressed by Mountain of Smoke each time I’ve seen them live and I really enjoyed their first album Gods of Biomechanics. I eagerly anticipated this release with the addition of Kyle Shutt (formerly of The Sword) and looked forward to hearing how that would affect the dynamic of the group. Their sound is simply fuller and more complete; it’s richer and the textures blend so perfectly that it’s easy to forget that they haven’t always been a four-piece band, or even a three-piece for that matter!
I’ve enjoyed every iteration Mountain of Smoke has had to offer and if Future Sins is a sign of what is to come, then sign me up, gentlemen! Tracks like “The Barrens” and “Trashcastle” are definite highlights, but the entire album is a crusher. This album was released just over two weeks ago (December 13) and it has already bumped some other albums off my list that I’ve been playing all year, because it’s just that solid. If you’re not familiar with Mountain of Smoke, do yourself a favor and go listen to them. Now. Thank me later.
This is not a feel-good listen, but you already know that if you’re a fan of Primitive Man and/or Hell. Rather, this is a relentless assault, and though the pace may be slow for the most part, the attack is devastating and the damage is permanent. If there is elevator music on the descent to Hell, this album may very well be playing.
Denver death-doom pros Primitive Man continue to do what they do best on this split with Hell. Trudging forward at a funereal pace, vocalist Ethan McCarthy violently bellowing and growling, his tormented screams backed by a powerhouse of noisy sludge that hits so hard it takes your breath away and kicks you in the head while you’re down. They make clever use of layers of fuzz and noise to create tension and cultivate a sense of dread prior to drastic tempo changes, switching from doom to death metal and back again.
The overall sense of uneasiness carries on into the final track, “Nuumen,” by Hell (Salem, Oregon) and it never dissipates. Originally a one-person project by multi-instrumentalist M.S.W., Hell has expanded its ranks over the years, evolving into a full touring band. As the name would suggest, the themes are bleak, no hope is offered and the listener should not expect a happy ending. Instead, expect pummeling, filthy doom focused on exploring one’s own personal hell and torment in the form of grief as opposed to religious themes.