At the start of last year, the Astral Noize team sat down and discussed which bands we thought were worth keeping an eye on in 2018. The result was a detailed list of bands who were (or we hoped might be) gearing up to release something incredible or do something exciting that year, and being the clairvoyant we are, we were largely right. So, we decided to do the same for 2019. As terrible as it often is to live through a time so full of political tension and ecological disaster, last year was, music-wise, phenomenal. 2018 will be hard to top, but looking through the bands below, as well as those we’ve forgotten and those who will undoubtedly emerge out of nowhere as the year progresses, perhaps we can top it and ensure that 2019 isn’t all bad. We’ll see. For now, here are Astral Noize’s tips for artists to look out for over the next twelve months.
Full Of Hell
Modern standard bearers for all things grind-fuelled and sonically freewheeling, Full Of Hell‘s fearlessly creative approach has seen them recognised by many as the left-field connoisseur’s band of choice. And indeed, whilst collaborative efforts with Japanese noise legend Merzbow and experimental Portland duo The Body do point to a surplus of sonic curiosity and experimental enthusiasm, it is worth noting that through this the Maryland quartet reveal themselves as one of the few bands upholding grindcore’s true original spirit, boasting the thirst for noisy sonic exploration that defined the early works of Napalm Death and Extreme Noise Terror. It also helps that the band’s 2017 LP Trumpeting Ecstasy was one of the most vicious, unpleasant and unpredictable records in recent memory, and with the news that they have lately wrapped up recording with mixing board wizard Kurt Ballou, another dose of ultra-hostile socio-political fury is surely on the horizon.
Redbait’s scathing dual vocal attack and stomp-inducing riffs are the perfect partners for their politically-charged lyrics and social activism. Last year saw the release of their urgent self-titled cassette that was equal parts ’80s hardcore punk energy, ’90s hardcore swagger, and a confident helping of raging crust that set the groundwork for the year to come with aplomb. Without bands like Redbait, ones so confident of their proletarian message and social goals, hardcore would be a lot less exciting, and considering the current apocalyptic conditions swirling around humanity like a hungry shark, Redbait are exactly the band we need for 2019; giving us a glimmer of hope and confidence to battle what may come. With a 7” due in the first quarter of the year via the always reliable New Age Records, a pivotal role in organisation of the upcoming Kitty Fest in St. Louis (a stunning lineup including Closet Witch, Terminal Nation, and more), and the word ‘compromise’ firmly banished from their lexicon, Redbait are a menacing weapon indeed.
If you were anywhere near the planet Earth in 2017, the chances are you probably caught wind of Hallas’ splendid single ‘Star Rider’. One of two singles from their second full-length Excerpts From A Future Past (the other being ‘The Astral Seer’), ‘Star Rider’ casually laid waste to anything else that year, and the Swedish ancient-schooler’s devotion to real songcraft and massed vocal melody made the idea of digging out old prog records and taking them seriously a fantastically relieving prospect. The heavy scene – especially when it comes to doom – has always paid lip service to the likes of Vertigo Records, Blue Cheer, Caravan and Hawkwind, but Hallas really went there. With their self-titled EP coming out in 2015 and Excerpts… manifesting in 2017, if 2019 doesn’t birth a new Hallas album, this writer will be very upset. Gloriously restrained and heaving with storied charm. “Closer, we’re getting closer my friend – you guide me on my way”.
Hilariously intense and unrelaxing, Closet Witch are not a band who need to know how you’re doing tonight. Their self-titled full-length very rightly made its way into our top 100 releases of the year, and boy-howdy is it a paint-stripper. Aside from being stupidly tight and heavier than the news, this quartet of Iowan weapons don’t seem to have a shred of mercy in them, with even their slower, “cleaner” sections being fraught with unbearable rage and tension. While their contemporaries have embraced their abstract, esoteric side, become more metally or clatteringly punk, Closet Witch have taken the unyielding bile of their boundless furnace to the gym, emerging from each release a leaner, more aggressive, more pointed, dangerous-sounding band. It’s hard to capture the real ferocity of grind on record, but this band does exactly that. Unrepentant and prolific enough to (we hope) have another record out this year, if you don’t keep an eye on this band, you need your head looked at. Genuinely thrilling, and fierce enough to boil water.
Sleeping Witch And Saturn
Murkily spiralling out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the telescoping, collapsing sounds of post-punk/goth quartet Sleeping Witch & Saturn might not be the shrieking, lunatic fare that we normally cover here at Astral Noize, but if you’ve got even the mildest, faintest interest in quality band activity that tips its hat to a different, slightly more innocent time in musical history, there’s a lot to be had out of this lot. With only one three-track demo and a handful of gigs to their name, this is still very early days for SW&S, but there’s an urgency to their work that makes this writer want to get behind them in a big way. Not being afraid to strip back to a Joy Division-y skeleton or lay on a dusky melody, the genuine nature of three tracks presented hints that their next EP will be something quite special. Taking a properly old-ways look at this, a couple of records from now, Sleeping Witch & Saturn could be a band that sound like secrets, and that’s a magical thing.
Hull’s Mastiff ain’t nothing new. In fact, the five-piece have been around for over four years now, but on the back of what was a great year for uber-heavy metal in 2018, they’re set to make waves in 2019. The band caught the attention of the UK scene in 2017 with their insatiable EP Bork (and the accompanying dark ambient piece Krob), which left us thirsting for more of the same, and Plague, set for release at the start of February, certainly delivers. It’s not their first album, but it is certainly their most accomplished. We’ll undoubtedly talk more about this fantastically miserable release nearer the time, but for now let us assure you that the band have lost none of their rabble-rousing potency. The album drifts from one chaotic assault on the senses to the next, building on the established foundation without altering it beyond what longer-term fans have come to expect.
A few weeks back you’d have been considered greedy for expecting new material from Toronto’s premier death metal outlet so soon after 2018’s Manor Of Infinite Forms (not to mention November’s Cerulean Salvation), but a mere four days before Christmas, 20 Buck Spin announced a new album from the band coming in 2019. Details so far are scarce, obviously, but excitement remains high nonetheless. The resoundingly positive response to Manor Of Infinite Forms took Tomb Mold by surprise last year, but it was certainly deserved, even in a year so overwhelmingly packed with top-notch death metal releases. ‘Manor took everything that excited fans of the genre in the first place, sprinkled in some subterranean Finnish deformity and merged the result with a surrealist edge to appease fans of new and old schools alike. The result was so brilliant that we put the album in our top 5 of the year. No pressure, guys.
After 2015’s Purple, Baroness’ name wasn’t just in the mouth of metal fans, but in the mouth of radio fans, mainstream music magazines like Rolling Stone, and even the Academy of the Grammys when ‘Shock Me’ was nominated for Best Metal Performance. They are no longer the cult riff lords who put out Red and Blue. Instead, they’re joining the likes of Mastodon and Gojira on the precipice of huge metal acts who are pushing their sound further and permeating the establishment without sacrificing their identity as a heavy outfit. This isn’t a surprising trajectory though, ever since the earth-shaking chorus of ‘Take My Bones Away’ opened Purple’s predecessor, Yellow & Green, it felt like Baroness were shaking the underground cage they were confined in. The huge choruses, progressive elements, and John Dyer Blazley’s brilliant songwriting on Purple blasted that cage door wide open. Now, it’s extremely exciting to anticipate what Baroness might do with their freedom.
If you are not familiar with Kapil Seshasayee’s brand of ultra-intense-outsider-electronic-skronk-rock then 2019 is the year to start learning. Admittedly, saying “brand of” suggests that there are other artists that sit in the same genre or ballpark but honestly, there aren’t. With the release of debut album A Sacred Bore at the end of 2018, Kapil shared a document of complex musical layers; frenetic wonky guitar, emotive lilting vocals, stiff electronic beats, and eerie soundscape embellishments that set a dizzying precedent before one even begins to tackle the dense lyrical subject matter of the Indian caste system. A truly unique experience from beginning to end, A Sacred Bore is an incredible launchpad for the year ahead, which will see appearances at SXSW, Cardiff Psych Festival, and Solas Festival, amongst others. We’re also due a second album in the last quarter of the year tackling misogyny and anti-blackness in the South Asian Community and a fascinating web project focusing on Desi-Futurism. Do yourselves a favour and get educated in 2019.
Employed To Serve
The aural equivalent to having your eye bitten out by rabid wolves, Employed To Serve are a seriously savage proposition. Melding extreme metal intensity with twisted, slab-heavy hardcore, their Botch-inspired contortions have seen the Woking-based quintet hailed as perhaps the most explosive young band in the contemporary underground. As innovative as it was ferocious, 2017’s The Warmth Of A Dying Sun was met with wholesale critical acclaim. Its mangled post-‘Dillinger intensity and the thudding, tectonic heaviness of Gojira at their most clinical retained that basement show aesthetic, and were set against an astute lyrical backdrop of mental health concerns and sociopolitical anxieties which are sure to resonate with the disheartened youth of modern Britain. Now signed to Spinefarm Records and with the promise of a third full-length this year (recent online whispers suggest that a new cut aired live is the band’s most teeth-shatteringly heavy track to date), Employed To Serve remain the most exciting of our fair isles brand new heavies.
So, we got this one wrong last year. However, the band themselves have been hyping-up a new release set for this year, so our excitement is yet to wane. We’ve been championing Newport’s Haast’s Eagled since our very first issue, due mainly to the impressive strain of doom showcased on 2016’s II: For Mankind, the excellent follow-up to their self-titled 2013 debut. The trio boast a sound with resounding depth and some stunning experimentation, standing out amongst a crowded doom scene as one of most creative projects going. When we spoke to them back in our first issue, the band promised “the best stuff we’ve ever written,” also nothing that they’ll be “more technicality with less repetition.” The wait has been long, but the reward will be worth it. We’re sure of it. In the meantime, stick on II: For Mankind and whet your appetite.
Although the release of their stunning Interdimensional Extinction EP in 2015 captured the hearts of underground devotees stateside and beyond, Blood Incantation‘s debut LP Starspawn the following year was a remarkable leap forward, its tumultuous prog-death netherworld amounting to something as cosmically, cerebrally compelling as it was disembowellingly brutal. Indeed, even given the teeming hoards of contemporary death metal bands conjuring a glorious genre rebirth of late, Blood Incantation’s new-school supremacy is still unchallenged, and with an opening spot on the Decibel Magazine Tour 2019 featuring the god-tier likes of Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel and Immolation, their reactivity (following members focus on doom/death side project Spectral Voice) comes with the mouth-watering prospect of new material and perhaps some prolonged international touring.
Following an affecting guest spot on Deafheaven‘s Ordinary Corrupt Human Love in 2018, as well as a recent tour with A Perfect Circle, chamber-doom songstress Chelsea Wolfe is ready to shed some of the heavier layers that appeared on 2017’s Hiss Spun in favour of an acoustic album in the vein of 2012’s Unknown Rooms. The singer’s career has seemed like a gradual incline towards heavier textures, a fact which was cemented when Aaron Turner lent some demonic growls to ‘Vex’, but this new album promises something different. That’s no bad thing. Those who have heard Unknown Rooms know just how well Wolfe’s hair-raising, atmospheric compositions translate to the acoustic approach. Besides, even the burliest metalhead needs to relax sometime.
Hailed as the last word in forward-thinking, 21st-century hardcore, Pittsburgh-based wrecking crew Code Orange delivered a uniquely breathless experience with 2017’s Forever. Resolutely punk in both aesthetic and spirit, the band’s third full-length was both a rage rush of spittle-flecked ultra-violence and one of the most boundary-vaulting records in recent memory, with glimpses of Nine Inch Nails, Killing Joke, Neurosis, eighties horror synth and prime-era Seattle grunge all sitting comfortably amidst a Madball/Converge inspired assault. Now, following a Grammy nod, the release of three-track EP The Hunt (the title-track featuring a furious guest performance from Slipknot/Stone Sour main man Corey Taylor) and a globe-conquering live circuit, just how Code Orange look to surpass Forever is anyone’s guess, yet given their barefaced ambition and lust for blueprint mangling, we can be sure that album four will not see this enterprising five piece standing still.
One of the most thrillingly inventive releases of 2016, Virginia band Inter Arma‘s Paradise Gallows was a thoroughly intriguing and artistic approach to ultra heavy music. Whilst the band’s approach to extreme metal remains direct, their music is remarkably nuanced in spite of this, taking touches of funereal sludge, dynamic post-metal, foreboding black metal and ruthless death metal and warping them into an avant-garde monstrosity that’s as epic as it is vibrant. Managing to traverse these varying styles with ease, Paradise Gallows clocked in at 71 minutes, so expect something lengthy, sweeping and creative but also volatile, ominous and heavy as fuck. With the likes of 2013’s Sky Burial and 45-minute track ‘The Cavern’ also in their discography, you can always count on Inter Arma for a bout of creative extremity.
Ithaca hit a sweet spot between technicality, heaviness and seamless transitions on their two EPs Narrow The Way and Trespassers, so the forthcoming release of their debut album The Language Of Injury is an exciting one for anyone who likes busy, off–kilter metallic hardcore in the vein of Botch or Kerouac.
The two singles released so far, the titular ‘The Language Of Injury’ and ‘Slow Negative Order’, suggest a refinement of what Ithaca can already call their signature sound – a combination of math–y and inventive melodic guitar lines, a dual vocal attack and a watertight rhythm section dealing out crazy changes in feel, now with a more melodic vocal approach. Both of these tracks still vary this melodicism bar–by–bar with riffs that could strip paint, so it’s going to be gripping to see whether The Language Of Injury will run with this melodicism, maybe double down on the aggression elsewhere, or do what they’ve already proved they can do and not just excite but also surprise.
After a year mainly focused on her solo shoegazey dream-pop project Miserable, Kristina Esfandiari is ready to get back to doomy business with Californian doomsters King Woman. The band are looking to follow-up 2017’s Created In The Image Of Suffering, which is no easy task, but their 2018 cover of The Stone Roses‘ ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ showed they’ve still got the uncanny ability to offer something both irresistibly heavy and fabulously ethereal. The band’s songs are brooding affairs, often hypnotic even at their heaviest, with breathy and dramatic vocals as well as touches of drone and shoegaze instilling a transcendental form of melancholy that’s richly evocative and more-than-a-little psychedelic. The doom scene has been on brilliant form in recent years, and with acts like King Woman rearing their heads once again, it’s in safe hands in 2019.
Although the announcement of 2013’s Surgical Steel was met with a heady mix of excitement and trepidation, the (without exaggeration) nigh-on flawless record which followed not only represented a return to the standard set by death metal classics Heartwork and ‘Necroticism, but a refined evolution of the Carcass sound. Gloriously infused with a streamlined core of contemporary metallic sheen, Jeff Walker sounded as incensed as ever and the splurging twin-lead talents of Bill Steer remained unchallenged, and much like Judas Priest‘s sonically enormous Firepower last year, the revered Liverpudlians managed to sound both state-of-the-art and traditionally visceral. In other words, Surgical Steel delivered the goods and then some. With murmurings of a recent return to the studio for a long-awaited follow-up, given their latter-day form no-one would bet against these veterans turning in yet another triumphant modern classic.
Although still firmly rooted in traditional deathgrind putridity, Cattle Decapitation have seen themselves as unlikely candidates for clawing their way out of the underground in recent years. Offering up a somewhat startling array of ideas and versatility, the Californian quintet proffered a hellish din with 2012’s Monolith Of Humanity and the incredible The Anthropocene Extinction three years later, which by far outstripped their peers both in dynamic enterprise and monstrous, blood-caked brutality. Indeed, as the band imbue their thoroughly unpleasant tunes with a landslide of swivel-eyed blasting, guttural grotesquery and perverted rhythmic complexities around every corner, they are able to underpin the thematic horror and mutant savagery with a wealth of genuinely infectious hooks by way of Travis Ryan’s vocal histrionics. Ryan is a constantly malodorous foreground menace with his sewer gargling/ear piercing expertise. In the process, the band deliver the kind of cataclysmic stomach-churning malice which never shy’s away from spreading its noxious wings, and makes each new record a genuine event. Cattle Decapitation have already fired a warning shot to all competing death metallers old, new, and the world over, and in 2019 the same still applies. This is what you are competing with.
Amidst an age in which punk-laden black metal (preferably with a dash of politically-charged fury) has once again become a buzzword for vibrant, engaging music. xDryad’s The Silurian Age was one of the most intriguing listens of the past year – creating a bit of a storm in the metal underground (most notably through its inclusion in Noisey’s 100 metal releases of 2018) with it’s d-beating black metal assault, topped off with some of the year’s eeriest sci-fi synths. Whilst the band are very much invested in the smaller, DIY side of things – an essential path for a punk-fuelled black metal act – to see the Iowa forest filth trio’s vibrant fury in the context of a full-length, or to see them bring their black metal storm outside of the US would be a highlight of 2019.
Ragana featured on our Top 100 Albums of 2018 list, and for good reason. Their split with Thou, dropped barely a month ago, and showcased a progression of the sound we’ve come to expect from the underground’s favourite up and coming anarcho-feminist witch doom duo. Formed in 2012, and with a wide-ranging palette of influence, bringing everything from the dusty minimalism of Mount Eerie to the post-metal experimentalisms of Battle Of Mice into an amalgamation of sounds that result in a sound bursting at the seams with righteous fury, Ragana are a prospect that perhaps we’ve all been sleeping on for far too long. The aforementioned split with Thou, a latecomer in it’s mid-December release may well have fallen under the radar of many casual listeners, but its exposition of songwriting chops miles ahead even of 2017’s spectacular You Take Nothing EP showed Ragana as a force to be reckoned with in 2019. Here’s hoping for a full-length.
Sunwatchers wowed last year with their wacky blend of psych, noise rock and jazz with their album II. barely a year later, the group have announced a new offering for release on 22nd February, entitled Illegal Moves and – if the first single off the record ‘Beautiful Crystals’ is anything to go by – the release should be a confounded journey of a record akin to Hunter S Thompson’s lysergic head stuck in a Baritone sax. With the tracklisting posted it has been revealed that the penultimate track is a cover of ‘Ptah, The El Daoud’ by Alice Coltrane. If that doesn’t draw you in like a moth to light then all is lost for you…
Happy new year from everyone at Astral Noize. If you’re reading this, thanks for doing so – it’s our readers that keep us going!
Words: George Parr, Chris ‘Frenchie’ French, Red Sismey, Greg Brooks, John Tron Davidson, Tony Bliss, Richard Lowe, Jack King and Tom Kirby