This list is always impossible to decide, with some (minor) arguing between Sean and I about what goes on a genre list and what goes on our overall best album list. In the end what you get is a mixed bag of genres that will give you a broad overview of the amazing music that came out of the underground this year. Listen to them all, and support the ones you love!
FIFTEEN – WURVE, Memory Bleach
WURVE makes the happiest, bubbliest, most tripped-out shoegaze psych. As soon as we heard it we loved it. This is music for when you’re not having a dark night of the soul!
FOURTEEN – DEAD TO A DYING WORLD, Elegy
When you do enter your dark night of the soul, and you need music that will reflect your deep melancholy but also uplift you from it, put on Dead to a Dying World’s gorgeous, transformative album Elegy.
THIRTEEN – SCHACKE, Welcome To The Pleasure Dome
SCHACKE’s Welcome to the Pleasure Dome feels like it’s plugged into your brain and is playing the sounds that course through your veins and burst through your synapses. It’s dark and twisted techno that makes you feel enlightened.
TWELVE – TOXIC HOLOCAUST, Primal Future: 2019
Toxic Holocaust just makes me want to party as soon as I hit play on their album Primal Future: 2019. Even the most meek among us will be screaming out the hooks on these catchy thrashy tracks!
ELEVEN – EARTH, Full Upon Her Burning Lips
In this too often self-obsessed superficial age when the trivial and the frivolous frequently take precedence over more intimate and meaningful things, how wonderful it is that we have at least got Earth to elevate us above the slime. Full Upon Her Burning Lips is Earth’s latest full length release, Carlson again pairing up with his partner in musical harmony, Adrienne Davies. Earth’s ninth studio album opens with ‘Datura’s Crimson Veils’, a wonderfully delicate lilt that lures you sumptuously inwards with Carlson’s delicate Bakersfield Sound guitar riff, slowly rising and falling. The 12-minute ethereal masterpiece is supplemented by sparse and selective drum taps from Adrienne with a cursory stroke of a cymbal to add a final sprinkling of gold dust.
– Paul Castles, CVLT Nation
TEN – GATECREEPER, Deserted
Deserted gussies up the vicious immediacy of its predecessor with howling divebombs and those aforementioned splendid melodies. Boy do those melodies hit. That’s not to say Gatecreeper’s songs were bereft melodious standouts prior, with the absolutely perfect “Patriarchal Grip” notwithstanding, but Deserted makes a lucrative war economy of it all. The album’s best track “From the Ashes” is exemplary of this progression. The brooding heft of the faultless IVth Crusade is referenced throughout Deserted, with “From the Ashes” part the former’s victorious menace. Elsewhere on the track, the creeping divebombs of Symphonies of Sickness explode into flourishes of arabesque melodeath akin to Intestine Baalism. Towards its end the melodies rain like silken blood on the otherwise maximum brutality at play. It’s a grandiose show-stopping moment commanding the listener to consider the beauty in an album brimming with bloodthirst. Deserted is rife with such moments, these expanses of guitar dominion that you could imagine some pagan war god toasting with a pouring of Olde English.
– Bruce, CVLT Nation
NINE – WICCA PHASE SPRINGS ETERNAL, Suffer On
While you may associate enchantment with the occult and a preference for social isolation with extreme metal, alternative hip-hop’s Wicca Phase Springs Eternal suggests that darkness can be translated through the beat of a different drum. Branching off from indie rock’s more conventionally alternative route (a truthful oxymoron), the man behind it all, Adam McIlwee has dedicated the past few years to exploring a synth-y path of solitude while simultaneously serving as the most muted member of emo-rap collective GothBoiClique.
– Jenna, CVLT Nation
EIGHT – WOOLWORM, Awe
My whole job is to recommend music to people. So much music comes across my desk every day. One of the things Sean and I crack up about is how almost every time someone asks me for new music recommendations, I only have one – WOOLWORM. You like hardcore? Woolworm! You’re into doom? Listen to Woolworm! You listen to post punk? Have you heard Woolworm? My favorite Vancouver band has a new album called Awe, and if you’ve never listened to this band before, you’re in for a real treat. They make grungy dream pop, melancholy and uplifting heavy rock punk, and music you want to sing along to no matter how fucking cool you are.
SEVEN – MIZMOR מזמור, Cairn
A departure in some ways from his established style, Cairn is a landmark in the discography of Mizmor, furthering the established motifs of tragic acoustic backdrops, vocal screeches and howls, and the delicate dance of plodding slow movements contrast to blast beat filled insanity. Not only are these motifs improved upon but a new bright and sweltering aura is granted due to a new exploration in guitar tones, unfamiliar to Mizmor’s established sound, creating an experience full of heat and exhaustion. This shows a new side to the project’s mentality while still remaining deeply personal.
– Colin Scott, CVLT Nation
SIX – FULL OF HELL, Weeping Choir
Everything Full of Hell touches goes straight to fucking Hell. Weeping Choir is so brutal and horrific, it makes me want to dig a fucking pit in my backyard until I reach the gates of Hades. I’ll play this album on repeat until they let me in.
FIVE – CHELSEA WOLFE, Birth of Violence
I have chills just seeing the gorgeous Nona Limmen cover for Birth of Violence. And then I hit play on her single “The Mother Road,” and I’m floating away on the beautiful tones of her voice and every hair on my body is standing on end. Once again, she is transforming her sound, but creating the same epic audioscapes she’s known for.
FOUR – THOM YORKE, Anima
Thom so killed it with this album! No more words needed!
THREE – LINGUA IGNOTA, Caligula
There are very few artists whose music can reach into my chest like an 80s movie shaman and pull my beating, bleeding heart out of it. I have witnessed LINGUA IGNOTA live, and I can confirm that she had me in tears; my whole body in chills; my ribcage crushed with the power of her voice. She opened the black void where I push all my pain and released it to the universe. This is the catharsis I need.
TWO – HEALTH, Vol. 4: Slaves of Fear
HEALTH is a very interesting alternative rock/noise rock band from Los Angeles, which has been exploring the more direct and melodic intersections between electronic and rock music. Since the mid ‘00s this band has been investigating this concept, resulting in a series of intriguing releases. From their indie rock beginnings, to toying around with noise rock in Get Color and their self-titled album, to full remix albums featuring synth pop and IDM ideas, HEALTH has displayed an excellent ability of crafting catchy and immediate music. That vision however came to complete fruition with their latter work in Death Magic, which found them incorporating an industrial touch to their noise rock core. With their new album, Slaves of Fear, the band carries down this path, but at the same time is able to move into an amorphous place where genres begin to dissipate.
– Spyros, CVLT Nation
ONE – DARKTHRONE, Old Star
Old Star is the 17th studio album from the titans of black metal once again showcasing why they are such a strong presence in the metal community. Darkthrone from its inception was never focused on the violent, primitive drama that the other bands in the scene seemed to focus on. Instead they focused on their sound which melded frigid tremolos, and wretched howls make each release ooze evil. There is so much going on in this album and I love every minute of it. Smatterings of black metal, doom, death, classic heavy metal, and crust punk flawlessly come together to form a fun, brutal, melancholic slab of metal.
– Mike Johnson, CVLT Nation