by Raph al Guul
Each year I try to listen to between 60 and 100 newly released albums in hopes of hearing some outstanding new music. I consider it my contribution to dispelling the silly notion that music used to be much better in the past. Not every band that made great music in the 80s is gone or washed up today. And there is also plenty of fresh talent that rises to excellence these days.
2019 was a great year in music to close out the 2010s. We’ve had plenty of excellent songs from all corners of the industry. When it comes to albums, it was the stalwarts in particular that came through again. The following five records are particularly dear to my heart. I consider them to be the best albums to have come out this year – at least when taking into account a hefty dose of genre bias.
5. Sabaton: The Great War
Sabaton are history buffs and power metal nerds – and I doubt this will ever get old. Sure, The Great War sounds extremely familiar if you’ve ever heard even a single Sabaton song. This is a turn-off for many. It is easy to forget a great band continues to make great music if their style is set in marble and their discography is vast. But in revisiting the releases of the year, I couldn’t help but rock out to this excellent record from start to finish (we’ll ignore “In Flanders Fields”). With their veteran craftsmanship Sabaton eek out an advantage over this year’s competition and just about make it to spot number five. You can read my full review here.
Favorites: “Devil Dogs”, “The Red Baron”, “A Ghost in the Trenches”
4. Royal Republic: Club Majesty
My esteem for this album has only grown since it came out. It lends itself particularly well to working out (pshh, like I work out) because Royal Republic never stop on this record. They will pound out the rhythms for as long as you’ll let them. I will say this, though: Club Majesty could have been even higher up on the list if its variance wasn’t so high. There are some absolute gems on here. Unfortunately, there are also one or two songs that should have just been plain cut. But as it stands, the good still far outweighs the ugly. Not a perfect album, but the number of excellent songs earns it a spot among the top five anyway.
Favorites: “Can’t Fight the Disco”, “Fortune Favors”, “Anna-Leigh”
3. Freedom Call: M.E.T.A.L.
My favorite band puts out a new record – I put it on my list. I know that’s very predictable, but Freedom Call are on a roll. The spot is well earned, even though I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the album’s dumb name. The German metalheads are celebrating their 20th anniversary in their own, charming style: If you’re even just a little bit into the idea of happy metal music, you’re sure to rock out to this one. Read my full review here. On a sidenote: I went to see Freedom Call live this year and they pretty much played half of the new record. Bold move, but it made me very happy.
Favorites: “The Ace of the Unicorn”, “Fly With Us”, “One Step Into Wonderland”
2. Beast In Black: From Hell With Love
When From Hell With Love came out in February, I already knew it was one of the best albums of the year. Music this good just doesn’t come along often enough. Beast In Black are a razor-sharp bunch and no one delivered a more explosive 50 minutes of pure joy this year. Not only that, they also outdid themselves, topping their already excellent inaugural record. That bodes well for the Finns. I bet we’ll hear more great things from them in the decades to come. If you haven’t, I implore you to give these crazy motherfuckers at least a listen.
Favorites: “Cry out for a Hero”, “Unlimited Sin”, “No Surrender”
1. Avantasia: Moonglow
Exactly as I predicted when Moonglow was released, this record continued to grow on me all throughout the year and it is now my favorite of 2019. I guess Tobias Sammet’s metal opera project has an easier time making it onto these kinds of lists than most other bands. This is due to just how much the Avantasia records offer. It’s not just meticulously crafted power metal. Each one of these albums is a grand opus, melding wonderful compositions with a ridiculous amount of fan service (I do not think that the term “fan service” has inherently negative connotations, in case you were wondering). Not even present-day Helloween exudes the spirit and history of German power metal as thoroughly as Avantasia. Perhaps the most absurd aspect of this whole thing: Moonglow isn’t even Avantasia’s best record to have come out this decade.
Favorites: “Ghost in the Moon”, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn”, “Lavender”
If you’re more interested in individual songs from 2019, I have made a selection for that too.
Where are the other records I anticipated?
Well, let’s be honest, four of the five records above are albums I was already looking forward to at the beginning of the year. So my expectations were largely met in 2019 – I consider that a good thing. However, there were a few disappointments along the way. These are the records I expected to turn out great, but didn’t make it onto this year’s list:
Dragonforce: Extreme Power Metal
While the album was an improvement over the more disappointing records of the decade, it didn’t cut the mustard. Read my full opinion here.
Simple Plan: Untitled
Still without an official title, this album is now slated to be released in 2020. Here’s hoping.
Skid Row: United World Rebellion: Chapter Three
Another record that was pushed to 2020. And according to reports, not even that’s a certainty.
Within Temptation: Resist
Resist felt almost bland. I think after My Indigo and “Isle of Evermore” I was too excited for another record featuring Sharon den Adel, I forgot that Within Temptation has never really appealed to me in the first place.
What to look forward to in 2020
Let’s go 2020! Plenty of exciting records have been pushed and a few big names are working on new material. So I am optimistic for the coming year. Not much has been confirmed just yet, but here’s some of the music I am looking forward to:
Maybe it’s a little much to expect a full album from the 70s pop icons. However, it has been confirmed that the recently reunited band has produced at least five new songs. Whether they’ll eventually be published as an album or just as a series of singles, I’ll be listening.
Die Ärzte: Untitled
Pretty much everyone expects the new album to drop in 2020. I haven’t found an official confirmation for that just yet, though.
Recording should be done by summer, maybe the album makes it out in 2020 as well. We’ll see. It’s been nine years since the excellent Under the Grey Banner, so color me excited.
Green Day: Father of all Motherfuckers
Green Day still got it and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The lead single off this album isn’t the most exciting song ever, but I could see this working out nicely anyway. Father of all Motherfuckers is slated for release in February, so the wait won’t even be all that long.
Scheduled to arrive this year, the new Helloween record might become the biggest moment in German power metal history. Founding members Kiske and Hansen are back and according to the band, they’re even recording the new material on legacy gear such as Ingo Schwichtenberg’s original drum kit. Plenty of reasons to be hyped. I do fear that there’s a good chance that this album will be pushed further and might not make it into my collection this year.
Recordings are done and Nightwish aim for a spring release. While I have never been the biggest fan, Nightwish have yet to make a bad album. So I’ll definitely check this one out.
Simple Plan: Untitled
I was actually expecting this one to drop in 2019, but alas, no such luck. The first single has been very underwhelming, but we’ll have to wait and see. Simple Plan have been surprisingly steady in the last few years. Taking One for the Team was actually a top 5 contender in 2016. Maybe the Canadian pop rockers will have better luck this year. All it might take is another “Summer Paradise”.
Skid Row: United World Rebellion: Chapter Three
This one was pushed to 2020. I am mostly looking forward to Skid Row recording an album with ZP Theart. I really miss the former Dragonforce singer’s voice.
The Killers: Imploding the Mirage
The Killers have been quite hit-and-miss, so this could either turn out great or be a total waste of time. Or something in between.
The Struts: Untitled
The Struts could have new songs ready. They might not be released as an album at all, though. That’s fine, I just want more of their music – in whichever form. Here‘s what I had to say about their previous record.