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Diamond Oz: My Top Five Albums Of 2019; Best Live Bands And Looking Ahead To 2020

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Band Photo: Rotting Christ (?)

Another year, another welcome barrage of metal albums. After some absolute belters last year from the likes of Judas Priest, Mantar and Primordial, 2019 had a lot to live up to. Fortunately, there were plenty of legends, established artists and fresh faces with new material on offer this year. OK. Obligatory intro out of the way, let's get on with why you'll tell me how wrong I am on Twitter this year...

Best Live Band

Just like last year, I've been a very lucky boy this year in terms of how many bands I've seen. A great live band, in my opinion, is one which can cut it in a large venue as well as a smaller place. Some notable performances this year came from the Graspop Metal Meeting festival in Belgium, where Candlemass, Slayer, Orange Goblin and Discharge, to name but a few, treated fans to unforgettable shows. In fact, I very nearly gave this year's award to Discharge, since they attracted a big number to see them at Graspop, but I've also seen them perform just as sharply in venues the size of bedrooms. However, this year the award goes to...

King Diamond

Anyone who's familiar with the man won't be surprised by this, but finally seeing King Diamond live was a dream come true. Anyone who can get a crowd to go crazy, without playing a note, without saying a word, without even moving, is a born performer. Currently blowing audiences minds in North America, the Danish metal icon opened his set simply by sitting in a chair, before the lights go up and the audiences can be hold the two floor set promoting his new album, "The Institute." The man is sixty three years old and still in phenomenal voice, treating fans to classics and album cuts, King Diamond puts the likes of Alice Cooper and Kiss to shame with his theatrics too. He's still a bucket list artist for many people and I strongly urge everyone to see the King as soon as they can.

Top Five Albums Of The Year

Honourable mentions:
Of course, it's hard narrowing down five albums as the best of the year, so let's give some credit where it's due. As mentioned, we saw some cult favourites return with superb new music this year, with thrash metal being a particular highlight. British veterans Xentrix finally unleashed their long awaited new album, "Bury The Pain," while one of Germany's three kings, Destruction, came storming out of the gates with new members and the fierce record, "Born To Perish." Not to mention, across the pond, Sacred Reich released "Awakening," their first album in twenty three years.

In addition to thrash, there was plenty to enjoy from the world of death metal, as supergroup Memoriam released arguably their best album yet, "Requiem For Mankind," plus Entombed A.D. outdid themselves with "Bowels Of Earth," another ferocious but fun release from the Swedish legends. Elsewhere, Lacuna Coil's "Black Anima" is already being hailed as their best album since "Comalies" and black metal stalwarts Mayhem's new album, "Daemon" is receiving rave reviews from fans. Now let's get down to the main course...

5. Exhorder - Mourn The Southern Skies

Welcome back boys! The metal world had been waiting for a new album from groove metal pioneers Exhorder since 1992 and sure enough, the reactivated unit led by vocalist Kyle Thomas and guitarist Vinnie LaBella proved it was worth the wait. "Mourn The Southern Skies" is a wonderful album, delivering the goods in spades, but providing great variation throughout, with slower, almost blues laden tracks leading into break neck thrash for example. Listening to this album was special because it made me realise that something had been missing in metal for a while; a groovy kind of mosh, to paraphrase Phil Collins. Hopefully this isn't a one off, because Exhorder have finally put themselves into the metal mainstream consciousness with this beast of an album.

4. Life Of Agony - The Sound Of Scars

When it comes to returns, we often think of reunions, or perhaps touring somewhere for the first time in years. For Life Of Agony however, it meant returning to the classic "River Runs Red" album and using their debut to shape their present, in a manner that paid off big time. Now with an incredible new drummer, Veronica Bellino in tow, the band's sixth album, "The Sound Of Scars" has given fans all that they wanted and more. A concept record which follows on from their first release, with brilliant new songs, a vengeful attitude and an emotional core, "The Sound Of Scars" sums up Life Of Agony in 2019 perfectly. It's unquestionably their best album in decades, maybe even since "River Runs Red" itself" and for those of you who like story telling, this is one not to be missed Complete with a cinematic feel and songs which tug at your heart as much as they do bang your head, "The Sound Of Scars" is an essential album from this year.

3. Acid Reign - The Age Of Entitlement

Another long awaited return, Acid Reign finally blessed the ears of listeners this year with "The Age Of Entitlement," which aside from being a great album, may actually be the best in their whole catalogue. Vocalist H leads a new incarnation of the band on a frenzied charge into the modern era, drawing on plenty of old school elements too. It might well be the catchiest thrash album in years and offers some truly memorable songs like "The New Low" and "Ripped Apart," not to mention a fantastic cover of Suzanne Vega's, "Blood Makes Noise." In classic Acid Reign fashion, it's an album with a lot to say about the world as we know it, but with a really fun undercurrent. If you ever wanted to fist fight society with a grin on your face, "The Age Of Entitlement" is the soundtrack you need.

2. Overkill - The Wings Of War

I mentioned what a good year for thrash metal it was and I wasn't lying. One of the earlier releases of 2019, New Jersey veterans Overkill continued their fantastic record of stellar albums in the 21st century which began with "Ironbound" and has now become even stronger with "The Wings Of War." The quintet's nineteenth album is crammed with metal delights that begins with "Last Man Standing" and never stops. Like Acid Reign, Overkill has always had a sense of partying about them, which makes it all the more enjoyable as Bobby Blitz delivers wonderfully written lyrics, perhaps best showcased on "Welcome To The Garden State," in a way which only he can. "The Wings Of War" is the best thrash album of the year, which featured no shortage of quality releases from the sub-genre.

1. Rotting Christ - The Heretics

Metal has always had a dark side. It's as much a part of the genre as black shirts and jeans and has given the world all manner of mythology and occult themes to explore. Armed with all that, Greek extreme metal legends Rotting Christ unleashed "The Heretics" this February, not just the best album of the year (in my opinion anyway,) but their best of the decade. The record is extremely visual, conjuring images of the underworld and the horrors which many who defied religion met with over the history of humanity.

Rotting Christ has always been great at creating an atmosphere, but on "The Heretics," they've crafted a musical masterpiece, which manages to be frantic, groovy and aggressive at the same time, in a Bela Tarr-esque work of suffering. It's not just history and European independent films which appear, if unintentionally, on this album, but the record concludes with a genius adaption of the classic Edgar Allan Poe poem, "The Raven." Essential listening for fans of black metal, or anyone who enjoys their metal on the dark side of life.


I'll spare you the 2020 vision joke, though next year promises to be another interesting one for metal music. We'll be saying goodbye to some of our most beloved names such as Slayer, Kiss and Krokus, while anticipating new music from legends like Ozzy Osbourne, Sepultura, Annihilator and King Diamond. In addition to the old school, up and comers like Mantar and Burning Witches are working on their next albums, while one debut I'm particularly looking forward to Konvent's "Puritan Masochism." There's always surprises too. No doubt some bands we love will call it a day, while others will announce their return (personally I've got all my fingers and toes crossed for a new Triptykon album.) It's an exciting time for metal, one which will no continue into the new decade.

Why not tell us your favourite album of the year, what gig you enjoyed the most and what you're most looking forward to in the comments below?

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Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com since 2007 and a metal fan since 2001, going as far as to travel to other countries and continents for metal gigs.

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1. Dave Hynes writes:

Hey fellas. Having been an unpaid roadie for Diamond Oz, having watched him learn so much about music and having read so much of his work, I'd just like to say that there's nothing wrong with being a proud dad is there?

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