Many years over the past decade, it has been a struggle to find enough albums to round out a satisfying end-of-year list. 2019 bucked that trend in a powerful way, offering up a wide range of outstanding albums in every sub-genre of rock and metal.
One of the most significant trends of 2019 was that of rebirth. Whether it was reunion tours or new albums, the past year saw the return of countless rock and roll legends. It’s a trend that already seems likely to continue into 2020. Another definitive trait of 2019 was the dominance of one veteran label and one new rising star: Tooth & Nail/Solid State and Rockfest Records. A look at the Solid State release lineup for 2019 might have had you questioning if we’d time traveled back to 2009. A listen through the albums Rockfest Records has offered gives us a lot of hope for what the industry could look like in 2029.
Rather than reducing the conversation about such a diverse and important year in heavy music to a “best of” list, this year end round up focuses more on albums that have particular significance: the comebacks, the legends, the new voices, the releases that served as mile markers or game changers in some way. Enjoy revisiting all 2019 had to offer, and leave us your thoughts on what we got right– and what we missed!
Love Letter Kill Shot by Disciple
The past five years have seen Disciple’s latest lineup establishing themselves as an unforgettable chapter in the band’s storied history. Love Letter Kill Shot sees the band owning their own creative process at a deeper level than ever before, with production duties shouldered by guitarist Josiah Prince along with longtime Disciple producer Travis Wyrick. The result is an album that feels distinctly Disciple while also venturing into new territory– especially lyrically. Love Letter Kill Shot takes a visceral and unflinching approach to mental illness and addiction, offering up highlights like “Panic Room” and “Misery” alongside soul-searing confessions of faith like “Fire Away” and “Best Thing Ever.”
This album is also the first since 2012 that sees Disciple in full partnership with a record label. Love Letter Kill Shot released through Tooth & Nail, serving as a flagship album in a year that has undeniably been a win for the veteran label.
Victorious by Skillet
Any year that includes Skillet releasing a new album offers the guarantee that they’ll dominate the radio and awards cycle. 2019 marked a full decade since Skillet really rose to claim the crown as kings and queens of Christian rock with their album Awake. Victorious continued that momentum when it dropped in August.
Victorious saw Skillet beginning to balance the different parts of their identity, neatly blending worshipful songs like “Anchor,” sports-ready pump-up tracks like “You Ain’t Ready” and “Legendary,” and hope-filled messages for the depressed with “Victorious” and “Save Me.”
Skillet seems to have refined their vision of who they want to be and what their fans want to hear. The result is an album that puts the band through their paces, showing off the musical and thematic muscles they’ve built through years as one of the hardest working bands in their genre.
The Act by The Devil Wears Prada
The Devil Wears Prada has been a mainstay in the metalcore genre for 15 years, rising in what many consider to be the glory days when Warped Tour fervor was at its peak. The mid-2010s saw the band undergoing inevitable lineup changes and stop-and-start momentum as the industry shifted and changed around them. After that time, the conversation around TDWP often relegated them to a past era.
A new label partnership with Solid State and a new album titled The Act firmly recentered The Devil Wears Prada in the metalcore conversation. With spine-chilling pseudo-ballads like “Chemical” and “Please Say No” paired with haunting slow-burn bangers like “Numb” and “Lines of Your Hands,” The Act paints a new musical identity for the band while retaining the visceral emotion. Their performance of these tracks on their headlining tour this fall was one of the tightest sets I saw all year as well, proving that they’re still setting the standard in their genre.
Native Tongue by Switchfoot
2018 saw Switchfoot on pause, their first year completely off the touring and release radar in over two decades. Anyone familiar with the band’s prolific creative output was likely not surprised when Switchfoot kicked off 2019 by coming back in a big way with a new album and a supporting tour.
Native Tongue occupies a similar space to Hello Hurricane, both albums that have seen the band rebuilding themselves after a career pause. There is both vibrance and simplicity to the musical palette presented. Electronic elements are more present than ever before (see “The Hardest Art”), but they’re singing alongside guitar tone genius (“Take My Fire”) and signature Switchfoot rock and roll swagger (title track “Native Tongue,” “Voices”). The songwriting is superb, a call towards love, a homecoming to the truest version of ourselves.
War and Peace by Demon Hunter
Demon Hunter is at the stage in their career where it could be easy to rest on their laurels and keep recreating the same album over and over again. Instead, they decided to use the stability of their reputation to try something different: a dual album release.
In a single-driven culture, War and Peace were a gutsy musical endeavor. War flexes all the power and tuned-down distortion that has made the band legends, offering arguably some of the heaviest double kick drum parts we’ve ever heard from them (see radio single “On My Side,” which absolutely refuses to hold back). Peace brings to bear the ballad mastery that has often led Demon Hunter listeners through some of their darkest emotional moments. “More Than Bones” sets the stage with an assurance of the presence of the Holy Spirit.
The duality of War and Peace shows the incredible range of Demon Hunter’s skillset as a band, and also proves that they do nothing halfway. Both albums clock in at 10 full tracks– and you won’t want to skip a single one.
Eclipse by Wolves at the Gate
Wolves at the Gate has been a personal favorite in the metalcore arena since “Dead Man” first captured my attention in 2012. Each release has continued to build maturity and complexity into their sound while they consistently deliver more theology-heavy lyrics than most of their peers. Eclipse shows that growth, presenting a maelstrom of clean and unclean vocals paired with thundering guitars and eerie electronic arrangements.
“Voice in the Violence” leads the album as one of the band’s strongest cuts yet. It’s backed up by bangers like “Drifter” and “The Cure.” In an era where metalcore has managed to maintain more of a consistent draw than almost any other rock subgenre, Wolves at the Gate is one of the frontrunners.
Tension by Random Hero
The process of discovering and landing on your ideal sound as a band is often fraught with difficulty, especially when success as a rock band can be elusive and lonely work. Random Hero has persevered through the challenges of a long stint as an independent rock band, creating music and touring relentlessly. The blood, sweat, and tears invested over more than a decade came back around with interest on Tension, the band’s Rockfest Records debut.
Tension is marked with the angst of a band in transition, the questions and self-doubt that come with struggle. The band presents hope in the midst of that struggle, offered with melodies and musical arrangements that see Random Hero’s musical identity falling perfectly into place. The title track, “Tension,” is easily the best song the band has ever released, and one of the best of the year.
Void by War of Ages
War of Ages has been a slow-burn-into-a-bonfire type of story for 17 years now, a Facedown Records band that has toured with heavy music legends like Underoath and As I Lay Dying. Although historically their fanbase has largely been in mainstream markets and found at club shows, their lyrics have always been firmly fixed on the touchstones of spiritual redemption and hope. 2019 saw them bringing their brutal sound to more major Christian market gigs than ever before.
That move accompanied the album Void, a heavy hitter that offers circle pit worthy tracks like “Sulphur and Salt” as well as moments of broken worship like “Miles Apart.” With Void, War of Ages proves that they are one of post-hardcore’s best offerings of the past decade, enjoying a well-earned place as one of Facedown’s flagship bands.
Dawn of Destruction by The Persuaded
One of the things that marked 2019 was the arrival of several new voices. One of those voices was The Persuaded, who released their Rockfest Records debut Dawn of Destruction early in the year. The Nashville area band has been honing their skills with local shows and opening slots, and that effort pays off with an album that feels far more polished than your average debut.
“Wolves” is an earworm likely to stay with you long after your first listen. “Unashamed” is a song that harkens back to some of the declaration-centered lyrics of classic Christian rock, presented in slick, modern metalcore form. Dawn of Destruction establishes The Persuaded firmly as a force in their genre.
Fear Caller by The Almost
As the music industry stabilizes after the streaming upset, we’re seeing more and more reunions and comeback stories. One of those stories has been Underoath, legends in their genre. Drummer and vocalist Aaron Gillespie’s side project The Almost has left a mark on the alt rock genre in its own right, and 2019 saw The Almost returning as well.
Fear Caller is stark, vibrant, and as full of contrast as life itself. From the melancholy “Chokehold” to the playful riot of sound in “Tame A Lion,” this album offers a dynamic experience stemming from a true rock and roll DIY ethic. Fear Caller proved to be one of the best surprise releases of the year, introducing us to a new era of songwriting from Gillespie– an era that promises great things to come.
The Space Between the Shadows by Scott Stapp
Another 2019 comeback story is captured by The Space Between the Shadows by Scott Stapp. The former Creed vocalist has lived the highs and lows of mental illness and addiction very publicly, and with The Space Between the Shadows he continues to live his unashamed redemption story equally publicly. The enduring grit of a rock vocalist that defined the post-grunge era is all over these tracks, lending them all the ferocity of a man who has been through hell– more than once.
This album is a pure rock experience like we rarely see in 2019. “Purpose for Pain” is a heartfelt anthem. “Face of the Sun” is a scorching guitar-driven rocker. “Gone Too Soon” brings to bear all the emotional weight of a classic rock ballad. These are richly arranged songs that feel incredibly satisfying as a rock consumer, but more importantly are driven by a story of Stapp’s personal restoration.
Closer to Chaos by Seventh Day Slumber
Given that Seventh Day Slumber lead singer Joseph Rojas helms Nashville Label Group (including Rockfest Records) as well as developing a range of unique and innovative touring events while guitarist Jeremy Holderfield is a sought-after producer in his own right, it would be easy to let Seventh Day Slumber’s music take a backseat. Closer to Chaos shows that the band has no intention of taking the easy road, committed to excellence in every one of their endeavors.
Lead single “Alive Again” is everything that listeners love about Seventh Day Slumber with hooky guitar riffs and lyrics that center firmly on a life remade by the intervention of God’s love. The album continues to spin out that collision of chaos and divine light. “The Letter” offers hope to the suicidal, “Sober” takes a hard look about recovery from addiction, and “Still Breathing” offers a soaring affirmation of God’s presence through it all.
All Hail by Norma Jean
This Is Not the End by Manafest
I Didn’t Come Here to Die by White Collar Sideshow
Voices by Death Therapy
Hope and the Loss Of It by Empty
Above the Ashes by Living Scars
Liquid Exorcist by Rusty Shipp
In the Dark by Silversyde
Sweet Shivers by The Rocket Summer
For the purposes of this editorial, I chose not to include EPs. However, there were so many noteworthy 2019 EPs and mini albums that left their mark on this year too.