Onto week three of /Countdown/2019 on amodelofcontrol.com, and this week I’m looking at the best albums of the year. As I’m sure I’ve explained before, I treat the “year” as 01-December to 30-November, to allow me a cut-off point, and to allow this to be done and dusted before Christmas so that I can take the usual break from writing for a couple of weeks over the holiday period..
/2020/I LIKE TRAINS/KOMPROMAT
/2018/Promenade Cinema/Living Ghosts
/2015/Dead When I Found Her/All The Way Down
/2014/3 TEETH/3 TEETH
/2013/Front Line Assembly/Echogenetic
/2011/This Morn’ Omina/L’Unification Des Forces Opposantes
/2010/Edge of Dawn/Anything That Gets You Through The Night
/2009/Alice In Chains/Black Gives Way To Blue
/2008/Aesthetic Perfection/A Violent Emotion
/2006/In Strict Confidence/Exile Paradise
/2004/Rotersand/Truth Is Fanatic
2019 has seen a few trends. One thing, in particular, has been many albums – but by no means all – reducing substantially in length, with many now settling between thirty and forty minutes in length, and often eight tracks at the most. But also, there has been a number of artists that are continuing to blur the lines between styles and indeed finding new ways to interpret old ideas. There were more albums I considered, too. On the final longlist, but didn’t quite make it through to the final fifty, were Body of Light, Interface, Jenny Hval, Lightning Bolt, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, MATT HART, New Model Army, Null Device, Robert Ellis, Stephen Mallinder, The Tiger Lillies, and Wingtips (and a few more too). Sorry if you weren’t included, but I had to stop writing somewhere…
I also did a few stats on gender and location, too. Of the fifty artists featured here, eighteen – and three of the top five – of them are either wholly or partially made up of people who are or identify as women, while the artists come from eleven countries on four continents. I do not aim for any bias in my choices – everything here is on merit – and the stats here perhaps continue to confirm that much of the music that we listen to in the “alternative” side of things is still biased in favour of men, but perhaps not as much as previously. Finally, though, one amusing stat – my wife checked the list last night and admitted she has listened to…four of them.
While I still try and keep the broad focus of the music covered here to the wider sphere of industrial music, I also listen to other music, and thus the spread here is perhaps a bit wider than you might otherwise expect. You know what, though? Try some of this music. Especially the stuff you don’t recognise or don’t know. Go for it – I love hearing new music that someone else has enthused about, trying to understand what’s so awesome about it. Sometimes it is obvious, sometimes it will take days or weeks to click, and hopefully, something here will do that to you.
Time to cue the music. You can listen along on Spotify or Youtube. Links to the right.
Next week: Gigs
/The Comet Line
/Candidates for Love
This London band released a great debut about five years ago – whose taut, wiry indie-rock was made all the better by the bitter recrimination of most of the lyrics and tales told, especially the apparently true story of album highlight Misery Guts, where the protagonist gets wasted at an ex-partner’s wedding and makes quite the scene – and I thought had vanished until this album appeared out of nowhere.
Clearly, life got in the way in the meantime, but it is also obvious that time has not dimmed the bitterness. So this is another nine songs of regret and heartbreak, backed with a solid sound that never intrudes too much into the space of the vocals, which due to the rich detail in the words is absolutely the right call. At points, you shudder at the horror of the awkward interactions, and perhaps there is also the vague feeling of being glad this hasn’t happened to you.
/Anything that moves
This Seattle-based industrial group term itself “Cybernetic Body Music”, and their cyberpunk influences and mechanised style perhaps means that it is a better description for what they do than just calling it EBM. It does have the EBM hallmarks, though – powerful drums and monstrous, stabbing synth leads – that mark the group out as one that has noted what their formative influences did, and want to enhance it further. The album has danceable groove after danceable groove, great hooks, and a general feel of a group of humans in full control of their machines. Very much /amodelofcontrol.com approved.
/Jean-Marc Lederman Experience
/13 Ghost Stories
What an intriguing premise, that Lederman – a veteran of industrial and electronic music – put to the prospective vocalists who joined him for this album: “You can come back to earth for ONE day, as a ghost. What do you do?“. Listening to this album, there would be little in the way of revenge or scaring people, it would be more about writing wrongs…and guilt. Appropriately, then, the music here is often subdued, letting the varied selection of vocalists (from soul singers to prominent synthpop/industrial vocalists) take the spotlight while Lederman works on providing a backing that matches the style of the singer. It’s a fascinating idea, and as a concept, one that I’d like to hear more of, as it would appear that quite a few more singers than are on the album responded to the challenge.
/Cult of Luna
/A Dawn to Fear
If ever you needed proof that post-metal could have emotion within its sound, Cult of Luna is here to provide it. This sprawling, eighty-minute album is mired in darkness, that’s for sure, but it has surprising amounts of tenderness and empathy within. The staggering single Lay Your Head To Rest surges and rolls like a boat in a storm, but amid the harshness, the lyrics are a message of warmth and love, and similar feelings come from other songs on the album, too. This is perhaps what sets them apart from their peers, as there is a lot of post-metal out there, but few that have such conciliatory atmospheres at their heart. Most post-metal – and the related post-rock movement – can often feel cold and unfeeling, but here Cult of Luna seems to have managed the impossible, and it elevates the album to an impressive level.
In a UK industrial scene that often prioritises beats and club-play over experimentation (with a number of admittedly notable examples), beinaheliedenschaftgegenstand remains an intriguing anomaly. Their primarily dark ambient sound perhaps wouldn’t be quite so interesting to these ears were it not for the vocals, but then I only dabble in the realms of dark ambient and am by no means an expert on the subject.
There is a menacing, unsettling feel to what they do, a feeling exacerbated by the clever choice of samples and vocalists, with Tiffanie’s vocals in particular of note thanks to their frank examinations of misogyny and abuse (Stalker, in particular, sees her recounting abusive messages verbatim), behaviour that absolutely needs to be confronted. By its very nature, this is music that isn’t for everyone but is certainly worth exploring if this kind of sound is your thing.
/Eleven Seven Music
In a world that seems to be becoming more insular by the day, the fact that a Mongolian band can become the latest worldwide breakout star is a wonderful demonstration of the openness of music fans, on occasion. Footage of their European shows in the summer, particularly at festivals, showed crowd after crowd of dedicated fans, and a surprised band at their huge, enthusiastic following. Their meshing of hard rock and traditional Mongolian instruments – and sung in their own mother tongue – turned out to be brilliantly accessible, and in the case of songs like the mighty, anthemic Wolf Totem or the bouncing Yuve Yuve Yu, simply brilliant rock tracks. Happily, the whole album delivers on the promise of those first tracks we fell in love with, and thus comes highly recommended as one of the best rock albums of the year.
/Why Aren’t You Laughing?
A band that I’ve had an interest in for a while seemed to fully burst into life this year with this striking album. This Dutch six-piece are something of an anomaly – bridging the gap between goth-influenced rock, progressive sounds and even, maybe symphonic post-rock, but the production on this album glistens like their namesake metal. and gives it a synapse-shattering force. Indeed, their forceful power and seething lyrics – there’s a lot to digest here, although the key tracks are Why Aren’t You Laughing?, which deals with the inane comments men make to women (and need to stop), and the sneering Please Tell Me You’re Not The Future – remind me of rather-missed Swedish band The Provenance, who were even more blunt and direct (and quite a bit heavier, too). There is much to like here, particularly the way that the three guitarists build impressive clouds of noise when required (Taken By Storm especially), and the forceful gender politics that are things that need to be said.
Trying to explain the appeal of Sunn O))) in written form is always a difficult one. How do you dress up the descriptions of a group that basic use guitar chords and drones – and next-to-no percussion – to sound like something you should go away and listen to? Frankly, by this point I’m preaching to the converted, but anyway – this is a great Sunn O))) record. As the in-joke title suggests, this is a brighter, almost positive sounding record from them, but still one best enjoyed at a volume that means it has a physical force. They worked with Steve Albini on this one, which resulted in the first entirely analog recording they’ve done, and while perhaps it is difficult to discern the difference unless you know what you are looking for, it is clear that Albini got something different out of them. The guitars ebb and flow like the washes of the sea, but one with such power that you are still deciding carefully just how deep you want to immerse yourself. Go a few fathoms further here – it’s worth the risk.
/Juice B Crypts
Twelve years on from their still-shocking and brilliant Mirrored, an album that seemed to rewrite the possibilities of a band working with machines, so different did it sound from anyone else, Battles returned this year with their fourth album, and now reduced to a duo. Last album La Di Da Di moved back to being instrumental, and rather lost some of the fun and lightness of touch, and so perhaps it is no surprise to see a host of guests again here to provide vocals. The arrangements are busy, tempos change more often than London traffic lights, and there is a general sense of primary colours and dazzling light (much like their eye-popping album covers, actually). The songs are almost all great, the vocalists all deliver their A-game (especially Sal Principato on surging album highlight Titanium 2 Step), and despite losing members, the vision of this band remains unlike any of their supposed peers. See you back in 2023 for album number five?
/Hell Is Here
Last year’s brutal Castration Anxiety brought HIDE blinking into the industrial mainstream, pretty much – with European and UK dates as well as touring the US, thanks to being signed to the progressive and ever-interesting label DAIS – after a number of experimental releases that, in hindsight, were the duo trying to find a sound that suited them. Dancefloor-led work now discarded (which is interesting, seeing as how good they were at that), Hell Is Here sees them dig deeper into the nastier edges of human nature, most notably on vicious opener Chainsaw, which quotes various cat calls and abuse Heather Gabel and her daughter have been on the end of. Elsewhere on the album, the electronics are jagged and broken, stabbing out of the speakers accordingly, and the bass at points invokes seasickness. A questioning, uncompromising album that continues this group’s laser-sharp focus on behaviours that can and should be confronted.
/VOL. 4 :: SLAVES OF FEAR
/Loma Vista Recordings
HEALTH have long moved on from being the noise-rock band they started out as, the exceptional DEATH MAGIC being a bruising industrial rock album for the most part – but still with the odd reminder of their occasional brutality and volume. This album continues that, but maybe doesn’t quite reach the heights of before. The loss of Jupiter Keyes – reducing the band down to a three-piece – is perhaps part of that, but Jake Duzik’s curiously vulnerable-sounding vocals are still the beating heart of what the band do.
All while the musical chaos rages around him, his voice is an oasis of tremulous calm and helps to make what could otherwise be abrasive songs be quite beautiful. The picks here, though, are the quiet-loud industrial power of the title track, and then the quite gorgeous Strange Days (1999), one of the most elegant songs this band have ever written.
Amnistia is one of those bands that have found their own niche and stuck with it, to their great credit. They call their sound “Bodywave” – which in reality is somewhere between classic electro-industrial and EBM, but critically, is mostly of a style that works for dancing to in sweaty clubs. This new album is their best in some time, with the clean production allowing the density of the compositions to shine through. Layers of synths, sampled guitars and rampaging rhythm patterns all jostle for space, and often the vocals are within the mix rather than floating on top of it, and it all works well.
There is also a distinct feeling of distaste with the world that they see at present – a common theme in a lot of music in 2019, that’s for sure – with songs tearing into demagoguery, Trump, and misogyny to name just three of the subjects. Socially aware, high-quality German industrial.
/Cold In Berlin
/Rituals of Surrender
/New Heavy Sounds
It is remarkable how much Cold in Berlin have changed since their striking debut Give Me Walls less than a decade ago. That first album was – broadly – searing goth-leaning post-punk, but there were elements of the doomy sounds that the band have gradually taken on since, and now, on this fourth album, they are entirely a gothic doom band now. I wasn’t especially keen on their third album – The Comfort of Loss and Dust had its moments but felt like a band that hadn’t quite got their sound right, but that is all sorted here. This is a formidable sounding band again now, the whole band like a coiled spring that suddenly releases on almost every song, with anvil-heavy riffage and characteristic vocal intensity from Maya – but critically the songs are also great. They may not have kept all the goth fans from the start, but this stylish album should see them get a whole load of new fans.
/Rough Trade Records
This young band dropped out of nowhere – at least to me – this year, and delivered a head-spinning debut album that I guess would be classed under that helpful catch-all of “Noise Rock” if you were to try to file it, but really it’s much more than that. Take the outstanding opener 953, which seems to switch tempo and style every twenty seconds or so, from a drum-led cacophony to moments of near-existential calm (and vocals take the best part of 100 seconds to even make their presence known, and they never really dominate). But beyond that are more tracks of restless invention, nods to various styles here and there, and a sense that this is a band with almost unlimited scope. If they can make 80s synth, funk bass, jazz drumming and blistering rock all work at the same time, who knows what they might do next.
/Tides From Nebula
/From Voodoo To Zen
/Long Branch Records
Nominally post-rock bands that have moved towards electronic sounds are not unusual these days – almost everyone has experimented at some point with such concepts – but few have used them in the way that Tides From Nebula do on this album. Used to bolster their sound and expand it somewhat, the best songs here sound absolutely huge with the electronic assistance, particularly The New Delta and Dopamine, both of which have a mighty stomp to their rhythms, and have jaw-dropping guitar-led climaxes that must make their live sound quite the show. But on the flip side, they are also capable of moments of exquisite tenderness, where the electronics are used almost as a comfort blanket, and the fact that the band are capable of both sides only enhances the impact of this impressive album.
Thirty-five years young – and indeed nearly two decades into their most recent incarnation – KMFDM appear to have shaken off the complacency that has perhaps dulled the impact of their past few albums. Those recent albums were often kinda predictable, perhaps – you knew you’d get the usual sloganeering, and broadly, an album that sounded much like the last. So I’ll admit surprise at how HELL YEAH and now this album have shown the band with a revitalised sound and feel. The big thing about PARADISE is that variety – going from hip-hop to dub reggae via industrial rock and a whole lot more, complete with the return of Raymond Watts and a seething political fire, too. A hugely enjoyable album that was not what I expected at all.
/No Treasure But Hope
Unaffected by time or changes in taste in the wider musical world, Tindersticks continue with their own take of love, heartbreak and loss in another quite wonderful album. Ok, so it is more subdued and laid-back than even they usually are – and certainly doesn’t have the dramatic emotional hits of the glorious predecessor The Waiting Room – but the band remain unique in their continued exploration of the human condition by way of orchestral “chamber pop”. They sound like no one else these days, Stuart Staples continues to sound like he is on the verge of a catastrophic breakdown, but somehow delivers every devastating line like it is the most profound thing you will ever hear. There is more to treasure than hope – they are called Tindersticks.
/All Of My Dreams Are Of This Place
/Negative Gain Productions
After a couple of years of personal upheaval, this second FIRES album feels like a literal and metaphorical shedding of skin. Red Goes Grey was a great industrial pop album, but this is even better, as it moves towards an electro-rock sound that sizzles with energy. The upbeat, dancefloor-bound tracks would likely sound as great on the dancefloor as they might live, while the ballads at the heart of the album roll forward with a sense of purpose and, yes, fire, that never tips over into schmaltz (some feat on Inside Her Lungs in particular). They even manage to dip their toes into industrial-tinged pop-punk (the rollicking Best Made Plans) and come up smelling of roses. I don’t know how FIRES are managing this high-wire act, as others would make a dogs-breakfast of it, but manage they do, and the result is a hugely enjoyable album.
IRIS returned this year after what felt like a lengthy absence (five years, in fact), with another album of solid, emotional synthpop. I recall some criticism of the last album (although not from this corner) that it was a little too laid-back, with a lot of ballads that for some dragged it down a bit. This album perhaps has a better balance, and a whole lot more energy in it, too. That said, IRIS, as I’ve noted before, have a lot in common with Seabound these days – a distinct feeling of a band that is aiming for the head and heart, rather than simply going to the feet to make them dance. And this suits them well, as these, as ever, are intelligent, fascinatingly detailed synthpop songs from a band who have long been masters of the craft.
Yes, it’s a mini-album, but it’s the first new Cubanate material in two decades, aside from a track or two. Do you really think this site wasn’t going to include it? The thing is, it has very much earned its place on this list, as it is an older, wiser Cubanate. Not everything has to be at a background-blurring, exhausting pace, but the raw power of what the band were has been retained. The title track is a slower-paced monster that rises out of the darkness impressively, but all the better is what follows. Split Second has a huge, guitar-assisted chorus and a nagging rhythm that makes me want to flail around the room and start a moshpit with non-existent others, and Missing Persons and Pattern Recognition are the kind of breakbeat-led ragers that made Interference so much fun, while the thumping Vortex is a club-ready banger The takeaway, though, is that Cubanate have lost none of their power and style after all these years – it’s like they’ve never been away, and it’s fantastic to have them releasing new music again. Even the remixes here are absolutely worth your time.
Nearly a decade on from Liebe ist für alle da, R+ delivered a new album at long last, and it was outstanding. From the reports of inter-band issues over that decade – and the band continued to tour over that period, of course – just how good and coherent the album is, is perhaps the biggest surprise. There are shit-kicking Neue Deutsche Härte tracks, delicate ballads, and also the distinct feeling of Till Lindemann really pushing himself vocally, too. But as well as that, there was the unusually direct political commentary that the album had, most notably on the outstanding singles Deutschland and Radio, where they dug into their German heritage and identity and found their homeland wanting while leaving their own politics in this context very clear. Rammstein have, in the past, been accused of ambiguity which has left them with songs and imagery very much misinterpreted – and even when they were considerably more clear here, they were still victims of sensationalist headlines – especially in the case of the event that was the release of comeback single Deutschland, where one moment was blown out of proportion without considering the wider context. Get past the ever-present language barrier, though (everything is in German, naturally), if you’re an English speaker, and look behind the thumping riffs. There’s much to take in, and much to enjoy in their best album in nearly two decades.
Margaret Chardiet’s work under the name of Pharmakon continues to ratchet up the intensity album-by-album, although I have to wonder how on earth she will follow this. Apparently an allegory for the self-destructive nature of humanity, it rather goes without saying that this is not a happy, or positive album. This album glowers with rage from the off, rumbling electronics and piercing synths providing an ever-shifting base that is occasionally torn open by tinnitus-inducing sheets of noise and Chardiet’s treated and delayed vocals (the lyrics are often almost entirely obscured by this avalanche of effects). I remember seeing Pharmakon live at Brixton Academy, of all places, supporting Godspeed You! Black Emperor and she was a terrifying presence there – this is that, times ten. By a nose the most extreme album I heard all year.
Six years on from the OHM debut (and with a subtle name change, presumably as there have been quite a few artists with the name OHM in the past, it seems), their follow-up saw a notable change in style, too. This is a viciously aggressive industrial album – very much rooted in the ideals of the Vancouver sound (and something in which both group members have history in, of course), the songs spark and seethe, as does Craig Huxtable’s vocals as he rages against humanity, war and politics in particular. An entire album at that setting would be draining, though, and it is notable that there are moments where the focus changes, which makes the album all the better. With, in particular, which is a brilliant nod to Cabaret Voltaire, and the soaring techno of Decline too. An excellent return.
/Season of Mist
I’ve still not managed to see this most visual of bands live, but hopefully, my time will come next time around. They first came to prominence thanks to an extraordinary live show at Castlefest a few years back, footage of which quickly went viral (in particular the spectacular rhythmic power of opener In Maidjan) – and their first album was basically that live set on record. They work with what they call “Amplified History”, using bones, skin drums, other interesting instruments and a whole army of voices to provide a sound that at least partly harks back to Viking and Celtic origins (even if, as was pointed out during my talk at Nine Worlds, we know little – if anything – about their music).
No matter the provenance, though, their sound and live show have become a hell of a draw, and their second album turned out to be, at first listen, rather different to the first. Rather more restrained in some ways – the tribal fury does come, but it is applied in different ways – the whole album seems to build towards the last two tracks, a titanic twenty-three minutes that begins with the ominous, almost-alien chanting of Eldansurrin, before the staggering, sprawling Hamrer Hippyer builds like a gigantic storm. Whether they are historically accurate is irrelevant, to my ears, when they make music as awe-inspiring as this.
/Uniform / The Body
/Everything That Dies Someday Comes Back
I can’t imagine anyone was expecting an ambient, or folk (or suchlike) album from this pairing by now, but I have to confess that even I was shocked at the intensity of this album. Everything here hits like hammer-blows as if every element in the mix has been adjusted for maximum impact, and the result is a scorching album that broadly sits within the realm of industrial, but certainly not aimed at the dancefloor. Well, aside from the thundering bulk of Penance, which kinda sounds like The Young Gods discovering LSD and sludge metal at the same time. The most remarkable moment, though, comes at the one point where they let the light into their pitch-dark cellar – SRSQ guests on Patron Saint of Regret, and it is a brilliant cleansing ritual that gives what is an utterly relentless album otherwise another dimension.
/The Twilight Sad
/It Won/t Be Like This All The Time
I’ve followed The Twilight Sad for quite some time now, although this is just their fifth album since 2007 (I have followed for about a decade now). They’ve changed, they’ve moved on in that time – as I would expect most bands to do – but they’ve successfully pivoted their sound without losing any of the emotional force of their songs. Their first album, in particular, was an extraordinary release, as vocalist James Graham seemed to unleash every single demon from his childhood into songs of loss, innocence and growing up that almost anyone who listened to them – and paid attention – could see parallels with instantly. Fast forward to 2019, and the band are on the up again – an extended break since their previous album, touring with The Cure and other bands, and their sound has lessened the wall of guitars, increased the electronics and resulted in a dense, sloshing sea of sound that Graham’s vocals soar over – his impassioned vocals are the elements that tie everything else together, and sells the whole thing. Their best songs – and album – in a decade.
/Laylet El Booree
A friend mentioned this group a little while ago, and I was intrigued enough to keep tabs until a new album arrived this year, and the result sounds like nothing I’ve heard before. A French-Tunisian group that have indulged their twin interests of “modern” electronic music and also the ancient tribal music of the Tunisian southern deserts (apparently called Banga). When you think about it, there’s an obvious link, between the tribal power of repetitive beats, and chants and devotional singing, but the way they allow the two disparate styles to entwine make for astounding peaks. The drums are thunderous, the layered voices dense, and the melodies and rhythms familiar and not-so at the same time, and at points goes full-on industrial metal, which is more than a bit of a shock in the circumstances. A reminder, once again, that staggering things are being done with music we know in parts of the world that we maybe don’t know so well, and I can only imagine how amazing this might sound live.
/Heavy Water Factory
Almost exactly two decades have passed since Jesse McClear’s last album under the HWF name (the excellent Translucent Amber), and despite an interview with him on this site a few years back – after which everything went quiet again – I have to confess that I wasn’t expecting new material. So I was happily proven wrong in mid-November, when Spillage arrived – and picked up the line from previous albums of continuous evolution. The work of HWF in the nineties was often shadowy, quasi-experimental industrial music, making smart use of samples and often guest vocalists, but just as happy to make instrumental tracks. Much of the latter is still the case, but what is interesting is how the production has come on in leaps and bounds, resulting in a more confrontational, punchier sound, and also a continuing willingness to take in the influences of other strains of electronic music. A welcome, and most enjoyable return.
Russian Circles continue to go from strength to strength. This is their seventh album in a series that has rarely ever dipped in quality, but this album burns with vitality. Part of that is down to the muscular, powerful drumming from Dave Turncrantz, who very much takes centre-stage on the album as his work powers the songs forward. Theirs is a post-metal that rides the crests of waves, has melody, power and memorable, impressive songs that are managed without vocals at all. Obviously, your mileage may vary with your views on post-metal – some may see it one-paced and with far too much navel-gazing – but Russian Circles have so much energy that, as I mentioned to a friend a few months ago, listening to them makes me feel so alive. Something rammed home by the spectacular, pummelling closing track here, Quartered – the best Russian Circles track in years.
Previous album Erode made it into this list two years ago, and this striking release takes the concepts explored there some way further. This is industrial by way of deep, bass-heavy trip-hop and cerebral ambient techno, one thus fashioned from rather different raw materials to many of Slighter’s peers. It’s an intriguing album as a result, and one that is difficult to listen to as “background music” as it demands your attention to uncover the detail (it also requires a good volume, too!), but it is very much time well spent immersing yourself in it for an hour or so. The production is exquisite, with dreamy synths and vocal samples coiling like smoke around the punchy beats, and long instrumental stretches are no issue whatsoever. The pick of the guests is Craig Huxtable from OHMelectronic, who delivers an impassioned, searing vocal on the crackling Give Me, but really, this album is all about the dark recesses of the mind Slighter takes you to.
/You May Feel Some Pressure
/aufnahme + wiedergabe
One of the more striking shows I saw this year was the unrestrained fury and nastiness of Spit Mask, who was playing, appropriately enough, in what might well have passed for a dim-lit, er, dungeon. This was no dungeon synth group, thankfully, instead a teeth-bared EBM duo who have a grimy, beat-heavy sound and a distinct tilt into BDSM as their core subject matter. Subtle they aren’t, but their first full-length album on aufnahme + weidergabe was every bit as full-on as I’d hoped. No shitty production here, it’s loud and vicious, and just as au fait with noisy industrial electronics as it is with pounding, club-bound EBM. I might as well get it out of the way, too – sure, there is a nod to what Youth Code have been doing, in that they turn up the savagery and the punkish elements of EBM, but this is a whole lot nastier and more aggressive. In fact, it’s relentless, and quite, quite brilliant.
/Agent Side Grinder
I was rather concerned when three members of Agent Side Grinder left at once after the excellent Alkimia, leaving just Peter Fristedt, Johan Lange and new vocalist Emanuel Åström to continue. Of the two initial singles released in the latter half of last year, the skyscraping synth sounds of Stripdown was the pick (#16 in /Countdown/2018/Tracks on this site), but it turns out that the quality of the singles carried over to the album. The new line-up has undoubtedly changed their sound somewhat – it’s almost entirely electronic now, rather than the brooding post-punk and introspection that characterised much of Alkimia – but Åström, in particular, adds new vitality to their sound, his delivery and style quite different to Kristoffer Grip. The album is filled with great songs from front to back, songs that have been in my head for much of the year and have given me much to ponder over. Long live ASG.
In retrospect, I didn’t love the second 3TEETH album like I did the first. I couldn’t really put my finger on why, but perhaps it was simply down to the band moving in a direction that didn’t quite appeal as the first one did. So, as they’ve now made the move up to the big leagues (signing with Century Media), have they “sold out” on their third album? Interestingly, absolutely not. The sound feels more balanced than the second – it’s still metal, it’s still industrial at points too, but this time the armoury of tunes has been upgraded, with the album – particularly the front half – stuffed with outstanding songs. Especially the bruising EXXXIT and the already fan-favourite President X (which sounds, in a good way, like Marilyn Manson used to do – monstrous hooks and all – back in the mid-nineties when he was scaring the bejesus out of middle America), both of which sound absolutely huge, and have rather led as the vanguard into the mainstream. But elsewhere is also great, particularly where Lex pushes his vocals on some of the more thoughtful tracks, and none more so than on the astonishing final track, a take on the Foster The People track Pumped Up Kicks that blows the original out of the water, in a heartfelt tilt against gun-use in schools and the unnecessary terror kids are put through every day in the US.
/Chase the Setting Sun
Not the most prolific band – this is only their fourth album, and their debut was released in 1986 – but what it does mean is that their quality control is oh-so-high. Maybe, just maybe, the globe-travelling sounds of previous albums have been toned down that bit more, but what it does here is to reveal the elegant simplicity of their songcraft. Most of the album is acoustic-based – but that doesn’t mean entirely stripped down – and the songs are gentler in many cases, which could also mean older and wiser. But Simon Toulson-Clarke and his band also sound more content now, as if they aren’t having to fight tooth and nail for every moment that they are making music – and this shows in some of the songs. Lead tracks Chase the Setting Sun and This Is What We Came For in particular are positive, bright anthems that have been stuck in my head for months now, especially after finally seeing them live in September. A worthwhile, hugely enjoyable return.
/My War Is Your War
/Xtra Mile Recordings
I noted last week – in my praise of Let Them Burn – that this album sees maybe a little positivity come in, and the more I think about it, if you’re fighting a system and agitating for change, you have to have some positivity. Sure, everything might be shit and getting you down, but to fight back, you have to have some positivity somewhere in yourself. Even so, once again this album is angry. Angry at the indiscriminate bombing, benefit sanctions, unnecessary deaths, lying Governments, homelessness, even Brexit (the latter being the searing Give Me The Rope). But most of all, there is a sense of anger that many of us feel – that somehow, even together those of us trying to fight back in whatever way we can isn’t enough. The odds seem stacked against us, but all the while that we have blistering soundtracks like this to inspire us, maybe, just maybe, we can make some kind of difference. As their high-profile new labelmate Frank Turner said last year, it’s about making “Little Changes”. This is less of a tiny change, more a molotov cocktail through the door.
/In Search Of The Miraculous
A sense of drama permeates all of this album, Desperate Journalist’s third and best album yet. Loosely themed around later work by Dutch conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader – who was lost at sea while attempting to row the Atlantic single-handed, and the title of the album refers to the work he completed in Los Angeles before his ill-fated voyage – this is an album of difficult themes and a deep sense of loss and disconnection. Jo Bevan’s impassioned vocals steal the show, frankly, but the rest of the band all have moments to shine and provide a solid, striking backing to this band who seem to surge forward with every release. This is, I guess, melodic indie rock, but with post-punk’s coldness and distinctive guitar tones that make them stand out amid a crowded field. It is always great to see bands that you saw when they were playing tiny venues doing so well, and the success here is greatly deserved.
The return of Refused seven or eight years ago – and the success of the reunion tour that followed – was a confirmation of a band that wrote an album so far ahead of its time that it took everyone else fifteen years to catch up. They perhaps dropped the ball a bit with the comeback album Freedom, though, which while it had some great ideas, seemed rather bogged down by them trying to use them all at once. No such problem here, though, as the band retreated to Sweden and sorted the album out for themselves, and this absolutely seethes. As they noted in interviews around the time of release, it isn’t enough to want to end current systems, it is important to stand for something, and that is abundantly clear here. This is a left-wing punk band with clear views, clear aims, and critically music that erupts like a stream of firebombs out of the speakers. What it isn’t is another The Shape of Punk To Come – what could be – but what it is, is a brilliant album of searing hardcore punk that once again is still trying to push the envelope and make listeners think.
/Randolph & Mortimer
/Manifesto for a Modern World
I’m far from the only one to ask this, but how are R&M still not a major thing in what we do? They’ve been steadily releasing top-quality industrial music for six years or so now, and perhaps why they haven’t quite blown up as they perhaps should have done is because this is their debut album. I say debut – it’s partly a “best of – so far”, padded out by some new songs, but you know, I’ve no issue with this. It gives a clear view of the progression of the group so far, and concentrates on the thumping dancefloor workouts that R&M do so well – indeed so well that the best of the remixes simply tease out the finest bits and give them even more power (see the belting Schwefelgelb remix of Citizens for the best example. But even as R&M have made a clearer aim at the dancefloor, they’ve lost none of their political edges, with smartly-used samples abounding here to provide the hooks that the songs hang from. Indeed, too, it is such a well-sequenced album that it’s difficult to tell that some songs are much older than the others, such is the conceptual continuity used here to great effect. Seriously, if you’ve not heard this, go and listen now, then come back to the rest of this list.
I’ve written before about how it took me some time to get into Drab Majesty in the first place, such was my dislike of their first live show that I saw a few years back. But, as with everything, we can change our minds, and a closer listen at their first album A Demonstration was enough to have me intrigued, and this follow-up is even better. Remarkably, it’s loosely based around the idea of a modern reinterpretation of Ovid’s Narcissus, and thus is an album that is also broadly about the idea of identity – something that Drab Majesty continue within their live shows, with almost any concept of their actual identities obscured by striking, retro-futurist costumes.
And so it loops back – the music is also something of a retro-futurist joy, too, as modern concepts and approaches pull in the goth, post-punk and progressive rock of the past into the orbit, too. If this all sounds a bit, arch, a bit too high art, ignore the fucking concept and listen to the songs. Even without the conceptual depth, these are songs of extraordinary empathy and dimension, the first glorious hit of which is the staggering The Other Side, which probably contains the best chorus I’ve heard anywhere in 2019. But it’s not about one single song – this is about an exceptional album that challenges preconceptions about how we see ourselves, and how others see us – an instructive lesson that many would do well heeding in a year that has seen a lot of sniping without a lot of positive action in almost all walks of life.
OK, hands up who genuinely ever expected another Numb album? Even with the rumours that had swirled around for a year or two prior to release, I have to confess that I was still sceptical until it actually got announced earlier in the summer. I can’t help but feel that it was buried a bit in the rush of releases that also happened over the summer, but if that did happen an awful lot of people slept on a release that was vastly better than I ever thought it could be. Don Gordon delivers an at-points brutal industrial release here – some tracks, Complicit Silence and When Gravity Fails especially, absolutely roar out of the traps – but elsewhere Gordon eschews vocals. Thus much as on previous Numb releases, there are lots of instrumentals without any detriment to the overall feel, and the album is best listened to as a whole, as it flows so brilliantly. As a result, it still sounds like Numb, but there are distinct points where the sound palette is expanded and taken into new realms, too. Quite whether this is a one-off return or not is unclear, but it’s great to have Numb back regardless – one of the bands that really did help push industrial music forward in the nineties, and very much didn’t get the respect they perhaps deserved in retrospect, at least in the wider industrial world. This album is a first step to righting that wrong.
/Misery Loves Co.
/Black Lodge Records
The news that Misery Loves Co. had reactivated came a few years back – and indeed I interviewed Patrik Wirén on /Talk Show Host/021 back in 2016 – and there has been a slow drip-feed of new songs that have finally culminated in their first new album since Your Vision Was Never Mine to Share. Initial songs from this new one – particularly the brooding glory of Would You? – suggested that it was to be more of the same, but the reality is more complex. This is MLC looking at their past anew and taking their sound further forward. The production is exceptional, for a start, with the synths and programming prominent in almost every song (and providing a hell of a kick at points, too), but equally the songcraft continues the band’s delving into the darker edges of human emotion – of failure, of despair and loss of hope. One of the strongest songs on the album, the opener Suburban Breakdown, has the relative mundanity of familial troubles as the subject but is made all the more interesting by the industrial-rock backing and a mighty, soaring chorus. Equally, the fabulous title track is underpinned by a stuttering rhythm and furiously heavy bassline, and they even get away with a relatively faithful take on the much-loved Garbage song Only Happy When It Rains. A triumphant, and brilliant, return, that sees a band who perhaps were never fully understood before make an irresistible statement.
/One Little Independent
“A fist in the face of rapacious greed“, the key hook from lead single Landlord, sums up neatly the first new Test Dept. album in twenty-one years. I saw their actual return as long ago as 2012, when as Test Dept. Redux the two core members re-presented their older material in an electronic sense – which while impressive at points (especially the brilliantly updated Fuckhead), seemed to miss something. More recent shows, as the full band have reconvened, have shown them returning to the furious percussive power onstage (their Cold Waves appearance in particular getting rave reviews back in September), and this album makes it clear that their political ire and industrial power are absolutely undimmed. This is a left-wing band coming back swinging, disgusted with the present, the Government, the apathy, and the suffering. Maybe they can’t do much themselves, but as part of a wider movement, their music becomes an agitator of change, and fucking hell, how we need that right now. Political music can be excellent, and this thunderous rallying call is proof.
/The Young Gods
/Data Mirage Tangram
The Young Gods haven’t really been away, as such, across the past decade – they’ve just been busy doing other things. They’ve toured relatively regularly, they’ve continued their occasional collaborations and we’ve all rediscovered their early material anew. But even so, the first new album proper from The Young Gods in nine years was worth the wait. Like almost every album they’ve done, they’ve moved on from where they were before, this time back towards the heavily-electronic, quasi-ambient industrial of their late-nineties period, but with a particular change – the increased use of guitars. They provide additional texture, and for a band that was always about samplers, it’s not exactly Dylan going electric (and indeed, they used them here and there on Everybody Knows, too).
But like all of the best TYG material, this album sounds absolutely huge. Tear Up The Red Sky hits that chorus and absolutely explodes out of the speakers, while the languid Figure Sans Nom has a feel of elegant mystery – and of distinctly industrial prog, too – about it. The truly staggering moment, though, comes with the battery of drums and howling guitar solos on the eleven-minute All My Skin Standing, and it has to be heard live to be believed. Into their fourth decade, The Young Gods continue to be one of the most fascinating, unique trailblazers in music.
/The Trigger Effect
/Glitch Mode Recordings
Sean Payne and his Cyanotic project appear to have moved, like so many others nowadays, to shorter albums (eight tracks and thirty minutes is becoming a norm), but here it just increases the impact. This is the best Cyanotic album in years, a thumping power permeates it that relishes pushing the dial into the red, as it deals with a subject Cyanotic are the specialists on – dealing with the saturation of information, as well as over-consumption, in the internet age. The songs are accordingly dense, dancefloor-friendly monsters in many cases, eschewing some of the experiments with ambient sounds that have preoccupied the latter parts of some Cyanotic releases of late, and the impact, as a result, is striking. Strap in and prepare for the (excellent) onslaught of bass, tech-synths and industrial.
/Young God Records
Another year, another sprawling Swans double-album? Well, yes and no. Michael Gira ended the last phase of Swans a couple of years ago, presumably wondering where exactly he could take them along the route he’d chosen (which had got to the point of half-hour long songs and punishing live shows). Fast-forward two years, and he’s back, leading a veritable army of contributors – indeed at points, Gira is barely involved with some songs – but it certainly still sounds like Swans. But this is the darker, more contemplative Swans of the early nineties, in many respects, with some gorgeous laments and ballads, but these are juxtaposed with some of the brutal rhythmic repetition of recent times, too. As we near forty years since Swans first emerged from the mire of the early-eighties New York scene, it is remarkable that Gira still has so much to say – and so much still worth listening to. Probably my favourite Swans album since The Great Annihilator.
/The Golden Age of Nothing
/Ten Thousand Hours
/Three Witches Recordings
While I liked Monuments – and indeed it took me a while to fully appreciate it – it was clear from the first time I heard some of these songs (live at Goth City late in 2018) that the band’s new album was going to be something special, and so it proved. Not especially long – thirty-six minutes, eight songs – what it has in brevity it makes up for in exceptional quality. Their gloomy, mostly slow-paced songs certainly continue to set them apart from their goth peers, the near-funereal atmosphere at points is ideal for songs of failure and lost love. There is a song that nods to the troubled (and late) Rowland S. Howard, there is the savage, ripping power of Whip, the previously featured – and quite, quite brilliant The Fall Down, and even a lengthy closer in the form of Tiny Failures, where lead singer Graeme Wilkinson appears to fully let rip on everything that has held him back and fucked up his life. A singular talent, this band, and one I’ll continue to shout from the rooftops about.
A notable statement from Kristin Hayter – who is LINGUA IGNOTA – came in her interview with The Guardian earlier this year: “A lot of my work comes out of extreme music and heavy music that’s in a misogynist context…I’m trying to re-contextualise that phallocentric format for people who need it.” Sadly she is right – there is a problem with male dominance in extreme music generally, and there have been a number of uncomfortable stories over time about a number of people within it. This, then, is a riposte to that problem and is an extraordinary, attention-grabbing one. The music balances between operatic drama and shredding, mostly beatless industrial noise, but the star of the show is unquestionably Hayter’s incredible voice. She moves between spoken word and astonishing, primal howls – not to mention multi-tracking her voice at points to provide a terrifying, shocking choral effect. This is not easy music to listen to – and rather loses something of an impact if you don’t play it loud enough, not to mention that this is impossible to play as background music – but then that’s the point. This is music that is grabbing you by the throat, and making you listen and be confronted, and it is fucking amazing.
/Any Human Friend
Apparently billed as a break-up album, in reality, this rather carries on from where Marika Hackman left off with I’m Not Your Man. Clearly, she’s rather out of fucks in dealing with ex-partners, men, and herself, all of whom come under fire at different points on this brilliantly witty, enjoyable album that has moments of darkness and introspection, but also moments of joyous abandon. There are highlights all over the place – the salacious All Night, the needle-sharp take on being a “unicorn” on Conventional Ride, the wandering eye of being just three – but more importantly, this is a strong, forceful female voice writing great music and being unafraid to say the unsayable. Sure, it is perhaps darker and at points pointedly nastier than the excellent I’m Not Your Man was, but perhaps this album just reflects the times and life that it was made in. Either way, her star keeps rising, that’s for sure.
/Teeth of the Sea
Teeth of the Sea are no strangers to the upper echelons of this list – the exceptional MASTER back in 2013 was also #2 that year – and this year they came within a whisker of the top spot. The band have reduced to a three-piece since the Highly Deadly Black Tarantula, a somewhat uneven album that was let down by meandering elements that made it drag a bit, and the change has perhaps done them good. This album saw them look outwards a bit, with a handful of guest musicians and Erol Alkan offering his production skills on the head-cracking techno of opener I’d Rather, Jack. Whatever has happened, too, saw them refocus their sound. The core is still there – psychedelic electronics and jazzy post-rock gloriously intertwining – but it’s where they take these sounds that make this album so fascinating. HIRAETH, with the growing dread and titanic levels of bass, feels like some kind of ghostly possession, and the treated vocals of the otherwise gentle Fortean Steed are never allowed to snap into focus, with unsettling results. Those tracks that bookend the album, though, are the real stars – I’d Rather, Jack is relentless, while closer Gladiators Ready, as featured last week, is every bit as awesome as that title. Teeth of the Sea have advanced yet further, and in doing so have released their best album yet.
Released just weeks apart in February 2019, the albums from Teeth of the Sea and Boy Harsher have basically been the two frontrunners for the Album of the Year title since then, and indeed I had to take unusual steps to separate them in the end, as I simply couldn’t decide. My wife took one more listen to both albums, and then gave me her view on which she preferred (and she liked both) – in effect, she helped with the casting vote and the only time I’ve ever asked for outside help in making this decision. This album, though, has been one of the sensations of the year, and not just in what we call industrial music. Their breakthrough track Pain – now a few years old – seems to pop up in DJ sets everywhere now and fill dancefloors doing so, and they’ve been playing vastly bigger venues live than maybe we would have expected them to.
But the big step up came with the album itself. Their commitment to eighties-influenced electro – or minimal wave, or whatever it’s called this week – remains, but everything here feels turbocharged, and the first half of the album, comprising an extraordinary run of back-to-back dancefloor bangers, is exceptional. It isn’t just about looking back, though, as they use current technology to hone sleek, enjoyable songs that are as sensuous as they are relentless. The sensuality is down to two things – the washes of synths that sweep and swoon around the hard-edged beats, but also Jae Matthews’ blurry vocals, that are delivered in a voice that is deliberately drawling words and obscuring meaning, but the yearning and feelings of love and loss are obvious. That mystery, though, may well be the group’s trump card. This is by turns exhilarating and dreamy, and by managing to make that work, Boy Harsher delivered the best album of 2019.