So here we are again – the threshold of another year ending. From a musical front, it was a pretty fucking great year all around. The second annual Mechanismus Festival was an epic success (which I have finally fully recovered from, in case you were wondering), and the early planning has begun for MECHFEST 2020. However, the festival was only part of the amazing shows that came through Seattle. Here’s hoping you got to catch Velvet Acid Christ, Aesthetic Perfection, Psyclon Nine, Das Ich, Mr. Kitty, Grendel, and a ton of other acts – many of whom put out new music this year!
On that note – welcome to one internet asshole’s opinion on his favorite releases of 2019. I heard some new music this year – and there was a SHIT TON of new records to comb through. There were old bands releasing new stuff, established bands releasing different sounding stuff, and new bands releasing all sorts of new sounding stuff. Bottom line – I listened to some stuff. I liked a lot of what I heard this year – to the point to where I had to change my format this time around; welcome to the Doktor’s FAVE FIVE (then ANOTHER FAVE FIVE on top of that). I guess I could just call it a “Top Ten”? Is that already a thing?
Ok – on to the good stuff. This comes with my yearly disclaimer – these are not necessarily the BEST things that came out this year but are simply releases that I enjoyed and/or felt impressed by. As a scene DJ, I tend to gravitate towards things that can translate on the dance floor, but it’s not a hard rule. I also didn’t listen to EVERYTHING out there, and also likely didn’t give a few releases enough listens to qualify them for this list. But, regardless, I feel all 10 of these albums are worth checking out!
Honorable Mention: Rammstein – Rammstein
So – I know that a lot of folks don’t consider Rammstein to be industrial. Or – at best – industrial rock (which is like the second cousin of industrial music). BUT – as a lifelong Rammstein fan since 1995, it would be completely off brand for me to NOT at least mention that Rammstein put out a new album in 2019 and it was fucking great. OK, we can move on. :-)
10. God Module – The Unsound
It’s tough to call this a ‘return to form’, because I have personally enjoyed each of the God Module records quite a bit. However, what I will say is that this is my favorite God Module record they’ve ever put out. That alone warrants the inclusion on this list. GodMod has never pretended to be anything that they are not, and if you’re a fan of their work you will be a fan of this record. That’s the simplest way I can put it. The biggest compliment I can give this album is that it doesn’t feel like the band is losing their touch, nor becoming stale – which is an easy thing to do within the dark ‘aggrotech’ vein that they tend to fall into. It’s a bit of a double edged sword when you deal with subgenre profiling – you either gamble and change it up and it works out (like Grendel) or doesn’t (like Combichrist), or you stay in your lane too long and end up putting out basically the same record every time you release something to keep your audience happy. GodMod has managed to avoid BOTH paths, releasing albums that are quintessentially them, but don’t feel the same. They remind me of Slayer in a way – Slayer will always write fast songs about Satan and death and violence, and people expect it, but they’re GOOD songs and that fact helped keep their career going for 30 years. GodMod is pushing on 20 years of activity and it’s awesome to see them putting out quality records into 2019 – even if they’re still about horror and darkness.
Standout Track: Hindsight
9. Aesthetic Perfection – Into The Black
This is going to echo a little bit of what I just typed about Rammstein. As a fan of AP since their inception, I can’t put together a ‘top’ list and not include one of my favorite acts of all time. Daniel Graves really embraces his ‘industrial pop’ edge on this release, putting out track after track that seems to defy the industrial ‘norm’ as well as remain within his wheelhouse. It’s far from my favorite record of the year, but it’s everything you’d expect from this band if you’ve been following the trajectory for the last few years. It’s hard to even describe it better than Daniel does himself: Industrial pop. If you can get behind the concept of that, you can get behind this album. It is by far his most ambitious release to date, but only if you haven’t been paying attention to the project as a whole. Each track is a small slice of Daniel; “Wickedness” brings a familiarity that could find a home on any single AP release, while “Mourning Doves” presents a synth-rock ballad and showcases his strong evolution as a vocalist. “Into The Black” is also his first 100% independent full album release after committing to do away with the idea of albums altogether and instead focusing on singles. This release definitely showcases Daniel’s recent attention on making really good individual tracks rather than a collective work of art; that being said, this is a great collection of diverse AP tracks – each different from the last, but all fitting within the wheelhouse of what AP has become.
Standout Track: Gods and Gold (featuring Rammstein’s Richard Z. Kruspe)
8. [SITD] – Stunde X
I just fucking love these guys so much. I don’t even care how much these other bands on this list put out amazing albums that push genre boundaries and programming skills and create new sounds from old sounds and challenge your thinking. Give me two German dudes who make the cleanest electro industrial beats EVER and I will fucking BE THERE. This is totally a personal choice based on a personal attachment, but all my bullshit aside – this is so good. Spoiler alert – this sounds like an SITD record. It’s slick as hell on the production side and could wake the dead with its dance-floor basslines. It’s an extremely accessible album that drops 6 minute grooves in your lap and you don’t even care because you’re just dancing or nodding your head because it’s just fun to listen to. Most of the tracks are standard lower-BPM grooves that SITD has been known for, but one track in particular (“Grenzenlos”) is a nine minute 135 BPM epic that has finally provided me with the ultimate peak-of-the-night DJ piss break song. Thank you for that. Jokes aside – it’s an SITD record and it’s super…if you’re into this sort of thing. If you’ve never been a fan of SITD, “Stunde X” will NOT change your mind, but if you’ve never checked them out before, this is an excellent place to begin.
Standout Track: Sturmlicht
7. Chrome Corpse – Anything That Moves
Switching it up here, we have a release that snuck in at nearly the last minute. Seattle’s own Chrome Corpse blew a lot of people away with their throwback sound and Big Body Music Energy, and this full length release captures that in full. I know for me personally, seeing these 20-somethings on stage doing the best Nitzer Ebb impression I’ve ever seen (which is a compliment) made me want to move my old ass across that dance floor – and that’s worth something for sure. This record is just plain good – the beats are solid, the lyrics are straightforward (and are, at many points, very tongue-in-cheek) - it’s just fun as fuck to listen to. It’s a collection of new tracks and some new versions from previous releases but it flows together so well that if this was your only exposure to the band you’d have a perfect picture of what they are all about. Sometimes you just want to WORK UP A SWEAT WORK WORK and not get caught up in something abstract and wild – enter Chrome Corpse. Now, that’s not to say that this record is just straight up EBM jams – there’s some old school techno vibes and electro industrial influence peppered throughout as well. Overall – this is another fantastic example of making the old sound new and fresh; this is a band worth checking out if you haven’t yet (especially if you’re in the Seattle area and can catch them locally). SWEAT! SWEAT!
Standout Track: Aerobics Team
6. Stoneburner – Technology Implies Belligerence
This release was a slow ‘burn’ for me (HA), but after a couple listens all the way through, I really came around on this record. Stoneburner has always had a unique sound, but the work put into this album has cranked that uniqueness up all the way and created what I believe is their best release to date. Steven Archer comes across like a vessel for his sound – the music is just pouring out of him in a cacophony of samples, tribal noise, Middle Eastern sounds, and electronic dance beats. I think my favorite thing about this album is how a new sound will just creep up on you that you did not expect – it happened to me several times and rewarded me for multiple listens. I compare “Technology” to an indie film created by an extremely talented visionary director – the first time you watch it, you know you should like it but maybe you don’t quite understand parts of it or comprehend how certain themes are explored. Then you watch it again, and understand a little more. And so on. Steven is that director here, and created his masterpiece under the Stoneburner umbrella. On a side note – I just love the lyric “One by one we glitter and disappear”; it’s a line that paints a beautiful visual of mortality. Despite it being extremely deep and robust, this album is also very accessible and easy to listen to on the surface – just make sure you do it more than once!
Standout Track: Shit – it changes every time. We’ll just pick one….Dry Gun
5. Moris Blak – The Irregularity of Being
Another late-in-the-year addition to this list – this record dropped in November – and I’ll just say one thing right away. This fucker SLAPS. SO HARD. I’ve been excited for a full-length release from Moris Blak ever since hearing his remix of “This is America” (a setlist staple of mine) and his collaboration with Slighter “The Hunt”. The self-dubbed ‘industrial bass’ sound that this album brings to the table is exactly that – it is dark and heavy and just kills it on the dance floor. There’s quite a few scene veterans featured on this album who lend vocals to the bass heavy tracks (including Pete Crane of Shiv-R, Amelia Arsenic, and the above mentioned Slighter); this really helps the accessibility and dance floor appeal to the album as a whole. There has been an influx of this style over the last few years, creating a bit of an industrial subgenre that hasn’t really been named (“it sounds like that one Gesaffelstein album” is the generic term for it I’ve heard around), but this doesn’t just rely on those heavy ‘DONK’ noises (DONKDUSTRIAL?) – There’s a lot of soundcraft here that reminds me of Skrillex (which is a good or bad thing depending on your feelings there). Calling this an “Industrial Skrillex” album could divide some folks, but it is a pretty accurate description of what Moris Blak brings to us on his biggest album release to date – right down to the fact that Skrillex was not always just some random dubstep noise guy; he made some extremely catchy dance beats well outside of that realm (the final track on this album will REALLY give you an idea of the scope of Moris Blak’s range). Keep an eye on this dude – I think bigger things are still coming.
Standout Track: Erase Displace (feat. Pete Crane)
4. Romy – Celluloid Self
Here we take another dip into the waters of ‘industrial pop’, but this time from a new face – Romy from Los Angeles. This record grabbed me immediately with the single “Broken Halo”, which preceded the release of this album in the summer, and I was pleasantly surprised when the rest of the album covered so much additional ground, both lyrically and musically. Overall, the theme that Romy portrays on this record is being unapologetically herself, exposing herself in any manner she chooses. The album goes from industrial body music vibes, to lo-fi techno sounds, to catchy hooks, to brassy pop jams reminiscent of Ashbury Heights, and what feels like everything else in between. “Celluloid Self” is a grab bag of multiple things that collectively can be considered industrial music and jumps all over the place during its runtime, but it never feels disjointed or out of place. Her vocals and lyrics also make no apologies – this is especially true on the track “Normal Day” (just give it a listen). Romy also successfully does something many artists can’t pull off – the alteration of her voice and delivery to fit the mood of whichever track she is performing. I’m still blown away at how different each track sounds from the others surrounding it, but how it still feels tied together due to the confidence and personality of the performer. Don’t just sample a track off of this album – they’re like snowflakes; no two are the same!
Standout Track: Normal Day
3. Statiqbloom – Asphyxia
I will admit – I was not very familiar with this band until 2019. This album kept popping up on my social media news and other websites I frequent, so I did what a good steward of industrial music would – checked it out casually. THERE WAS NOTHING CASUAL ABOUT THIS. This is a menacing and angry musical experience. And I don’t use the term ‘experience’ loosely. ‘Asphyxia’ is truly a great ALBUM – hooking you right away with a track echoing old Skinny Puppy jams; it grabs you by the face and screams directly into it, as if to command your attention away from anything else you may be doing at the time (and, whether by design or irony, the opening track is called “Ceaseless” – as if to warn you what you’re in for). It continues to take you on a proverbial ‘dark ride’ throughout, with the tempo and energy fluctuating to keep you on your toes – never knowing what’s around the corner. It never lets you relax – it’s unnerving at times, aggressive at times, and even a little tiny bit catchy in parts. By the time it comes to an end, the final track “Descent” feels like the end credits to one of those ‘what the fuck did I just watch’ psychological thriller movies. It truly feels like a journey into the varying depths of darkness, and in a world where people generally shuffle & stream music ala carte rather than listen to albums I HIGHLY recommend you don’t do that here. I’m guilty as fuck of song picking, and had I done that with this album I would not have experienced this at all. One of the rare times I’m actually HAPPY that I will likely never play any of these tracks at the club, and a not-so-gentle reminder that industrial music can still be scary at times.
Standout Track: Possession
2. Boy Harsher – Careful
Boy Harsher – it took me awhile to understand this band and why they were so appealing yet sinister, and as it turns out – that’s the reason right there. They have mastered the marriage of catchy yet creepy; almost like they are tricking you into falling under their spell so you become cursed by their message. This album is the most refined and defined example of Boy Harsher as a band – mysterious, shrouded in smoke, unnerving, and intoxicating. They are another example of a band who has mastered that ‘something old is now something new’ approach to their music – using retro-tinged sounds to create a familiarity, and then drastically switching up the formula from there. From the first tracks “Face the Fire” and “Fate”, you know exactly what you’re in for and feel everything this band is about. They are unafraid to completely alter the way you’re experiencing their songs with an unsettling pitch bend or out-of-nowhere shriek from vocalist Jae Matthews, who brings her trademark moaning and almost disinterested delivery to every song – it’s almost as if she’s saying ‘why does anything matter’ with every word she speaks. At times this band sounds so simplistic that you wonder why it’s so good – but that’s the brilliance of “Careful” – they nail you with that ‘hook’ and then weave you into their web. It’s as if the album title acts as a warning – be “Careful” or you’ll be trapped. There are definitely worse fates (see what I did there).
Standout Track: LA
1. Mr. Kitty – Ephemeral
Right in the fucking feels. The second I heard this extremely ambitious work of art from Forrest LeMaire (a 30 TRACK double album MONSTER), I was hooked. Literally. It felt like a hook directly into my heart. Mr. Kitty has always been excellent at conveying emotion – whether it be pain, happiness, sorrow, guilt, depression, or anything – and “Ephemeral” is a masterclass in feeling all of the feelings. This album took me on a ride I was not prepared for, and is one of only a tiny handful of records I have EVER listened to THREE consecutive times in a row. Musically this album showcases the entire spectrum of what Mr. Kitty has become known for: dreamy electropop blended with witch house aesthetics, with a large handful of ambitious reaches peppered throughout (to be expected when you give yourself this much room to work with). Where this record really sticks with you is lyrically; as anyone familiar with Mr. Kitty can tell you, he never shies away from the pressure and pain emotions can cause; “Ephemeral” actually made me openly shed tears a couple of times. The opening track “Wait”, telling the story of someone who always had a person there for them, but when that person needed someone they weren’t there (which contains the lyric “Didn’t know you were this unhappy, when you broke, what could I do”) is a gut-punch right away and reminds you that you’re in for quite the roller coaster. Another highlight is the track “I Want to Hurt Myself”, which sounds like a club track from 5 years ago, but lyrically it’s about suicide – a perfect example of the intentional contrasting that has been associated with Mr. Kitty. The album visits many other waves on the emotional spectrum and weaves the themes within the music in a way that never makes you feel like you’re listening to over two hours of an album (even though by the time it’s done, you definitely FEEL it – especially with the haunting closing track “I Did It All For You”, during which I actually felt like I was listening to Forrest’s last words). This album got in me deep – more so than all of Mr. Kitty’s previous work (which is a compliment considering the quality of material he’s released over the years), and more so than anything else I heard all year. The ultimate irony here is that Mr. Kitty’s longest album by far was called ‘ephemeral’; the word itself meaning ‘lasting for a short time’ (which is clearly a reference to mortality – in case it wasn’t obvious enough with the ‘hugging the Grim Reaper’ album cover), but also another perfect example of the dichotomy of Mr. Kitty – in the light there is darkness, and in the darkness there is light.
Standout Track: I Want To Hurt Myself
Thank you all for reading – here’s hoping you found a nugget or two for your earholes! See you at MECHFEST 2020!