It’s that time of year where Limelight Magazine ranks its top 10 albums of the year. We listened to over 250 studio albums that were released in 2019 and these records left the biggest impact on us. We highly recommend checking them out.
1. Korn – The Nothing
If you told me that Korn would release one of the best albums of their career in 2019, I would have likely rolled my eyes. After recording a series of hit or miss albums with The Path of Totality, The Paradigm Shift and The Serenity of Suffering, I had little excitement to buy The Nothing. However, in keeping with a tradition that goes back to 2002 with their Untouchables album, I purchased The Nothing at Newbury Comics on its release day and it’s been playing on repeat ever since. This album fires on all cylinders with every song delivering the goods. This is one of the darkest and heaviest albums of Korn’s 25 year career and it’s my favorite to date. The songs deal with grief, suffering and loss and Jonathan Davis sings them with pure raw emotion, showing some of his best vocal skills on a Korn album. Furthermore, the guitar work of “Head” and “Munky” is top notch and the rhythm section of “Fieldy” on bass and Ray Luzier on drums is some of their most intricate work. It should be noted that while I own every album in Korn’s discography, they are not one of my favorite bands nor would they even rank in my top 25 artists so for this album to top our annual list should tell our readers just how good it is. (Standout Tracks: “Idiosyncrasy” and “H@rd3r”).
- Dream Theater – Distance Over Time
After Dream Theater’s last studio album, The Astonishing, polarized many of its fans, I was curious what direction the band would take on their next release. When I heard the band had decided to record this record in a “farmhouse” studio converted from a barn in upstate New York, my interest piqued even more. The result is the best album Dream Theater recorded since Mike Portnoy left the band. In fact, you could call Distance Over Time a return to form after The Astonishing. The nine songs are more organic and straight forward than anything they’ve recorded in quite some time, allowing the band to showcase their jaw dropping technical skills. To quote one reviewer on Amazon who echoed our sentiments perfectly, Distance Over Time is “heavy, melodic, emotional and goes surprising places musically.” This is a must for any Dream Theater but may appeal to those who want to check out their music for the first time. (Standout Tracks: “Paralyzed” and “Fall Into The Light”).
3. Collective Soul – Blood
If there is one word that can be used to describe Collective Soul, it’s reliable. Over the past 25 years, the Atlanta-based band has consistently released solid albums, pleasing their fanbase in the process. I don’t think Collective Soul knows how to put out a mediocre album. Given that, Blood is arguably the band’s strongest record to date and finest since Youth (2004). All 10 songs are melody driven and contain catchy hooks and nice arrangements. Rather than rest on their laurels, the band also experiments on some tracks. The piano on “Them Blues” is a nice touch, making it one the most unique songs on the entire album. Yet, it works perfectly for them. In this age of social media, you know when a band releases a good album by the fan reaction. The day Blood came out there was near unanimous approval on the band’s Facebook page without the typical snide comments. Congratulations to Collective Soul on their 25th anniversary and for always releasing great music. This is one of the few bands that have never disappointed me. (Standout Tracks: “Crushed” and “Changed”).
- Tool – Fear Inoculum
After 13 years, Tool finally released a new studio album in 2019 and it’s everything I had hoped it would be. While the physical CD only contains seven songs, all of them are over 10 minutes long, with the exception of the short instrumental “Chocolate Chip Trip” that reminded me of something Goblin would have recorded in the 70s. The band, which consists of vocalist Maynard James Keenan., guitarist Adam Jones, bassist Justin Chancellor and drummer Danny Carey, are in fine form, creating some of their most complex, multilayered music to date. Of the four band members, Carey’s drumming truly stands out, showing why many drum and music magazines cite him as one of the greatest modern drummers in progressive rock. Fear Inocolum may not win over any new fans but it is a solid addition to Tool’s discography. I just hope they don’t take so long to record their next album. (Standout Tracks: “Invincible” and “Pneuma”).
- Berlin – Transcendance
Earlier this year, Limelight Magazine counted down its favorite non-metal/hair/progressive rock bands of the ‘80s and Berlin ranked No. 2. The band has released seven studio albums since their debut, Information, in 1980. However, most fans consider the two albums featuring Terri Nunn, John Crawford and David Diamond (Pleasure Victim and Love Life) to be their finest. While I liked their 2013 release Animal very much, I was excited when I heard the core lineup of Nunn, Crawford and Diamond were reuniting to record and release a new album this year. Entitled Transcendance, this marks the first record with the core members in 35 years and it was well worth the wait. The new songs range in style from new wave to electronic pop with some modern twists thrown in. The lyrics are very introspective on Transcendance and Nunn’s vocals are better than ever. Surprisingly, there was a re-recording of their classic “Sex (I’m A…)” and I enjoyed the industrial edge that distinguished it from the original. My only hope is the band stays together and keeps recording in the studio. (Standout Tracks: “Show Me Tonight” and “I Want You”).
6. Queensryche – The Verdict
When The Verdict was released earlier this year, I had no idea what I would think of it. If you had told me that the album would make me review it by saying it was a “razor sharp blend of musicianship and vocal prowess that shows the band at its finest” or that Queensryche was rather “boldly taking a turn for the heavier and darker aspects of their sound and songwriting,” I might’ve thought you were putting me on a little.
As the band has released new material through the years with singer Todd La Torre on vocals, they have steadily gotten better and better. I say this because I have found my own personal fandom had faded more than a little before the epic split of the band. Little by little, that fandom has come back to the point where I was not only eagerly anticipating the release of this album, but wanted to see them in concert again (something I also got to do this year).
When all is said and done with this album, the final judgement will be that The Verdict is an insanely great album that showcases a renewed and refurbished Queensryche that has shaken off their collective demons and put out an album that earns its place as one of their career-defining releases. (Standout Tracks: “Man The Machine” and “Dark Reverie”) – Jay Roberts
- Tesla – Shock
While Tesla’s eighth studio album, Shock, has polarized some fans because it’s much different than what they have done in the past, we actually applaud the band for taking this approach. The 12 songs on Shock were produced and co-written by Phil Collen (of Del Leppard). And yes, many songs have a Def Leppard sound to them, but it is still a Tesla album. Songs such as “The Mission” and “Tied to the Tracks” are gritty and stand alongside anything the band has recorded in the past. The rest of the album is slick and well crafted and would be getting tons of airplay if it were the late 80s or early 90s. Although Shock isn’t as strong as their last release, Simplicity (which was our top album of 2014), it’s still a solid entry in their discography. (Standout Tracks: “The Mission” and “We Can Rule the World”).
- Flower Kings – Waiting for Miracles
Although The Flower Kings formed in 1994, they have kept the spirit of 70s progressive rock music alive for the past 25 years. On this year’s double album, Waiting for Miracles, the band returns with a revamped lineup (Zach Kamins replaces Tomas Bodin on keyboards and Mirko DeMaio replaces Felix Lehrmann on drums) and doesn’t miss a beat. Interestingly, the songs are more concise than in the past with none exceeding 10-minutes. However, the 15 tracks that make up Waiting for Miracles are stellar and remind me of classic Yes material during their peak period in the 70s. While it’s been six year’s since their last release, the time off enabled the band to recharged their creative juices with another epic release that should please their loyal fan base and prog rock listeners. (Standout Tracks: “Miracles for America” and “Ascending to the Stars”).
- Jeff Lynne’s ELO – From Out Of Nowhere
The mastermind behind Electric Light Orchestra returns with his second studio album since resurrecting the ELO moniker. Like the last album, Across the Universe (2015), the insanely talented Lynne plays every instrument on From Out Of Nowhere except piano on the song “One More Time.” Richard Tandy, who is featured on every ELO album except No Answer, handles his duties perfectly on that song. The rest of nine songs are well-crafted and have Lynne’s signature production stamp on them. Although the album is short, clocking in at less than 33 minutes, there is no filler and Lynne shows he hasn’t lost his touch at 71 years old. (Standout Tracks: “From Out Of Nowhere” and “Time Of Our Life”).
10 [tie]. 7 Miles to Pittsburgh – Revolution on Hold
When 7 Miles to Pittsburgh announced they were recording their second studio album, I was wondering how it would compare to their stellar debut in 2017. While I was worried this Dutch-based band would face the so-called “sophomore slump,” Revolution on Hold eased my fears immediately after the first listen. Whereas their debut album was a straight-forward rocker, this album contains hints of progressive rock that would make fans of early Deep Purple proud. Certainly, the band’s expansion from a trio to a quintet impacted their sound on this release, but it helped take 7 Miles to Pittsburgh to soaring new heights on Revolution on Hold’s nine tracks. (Standout Tracks: “Olympus” & “Think”).
10 [tie]. Hammerfall – Dominion
There are two artists on this year’s top 10 list that never disappoint and power metal band Hammerfall is one of them. For over two decades, Hammerfall have consistently recorded solid metal albums from start to finish. Their eleventh studio album, Dominion, is no different. Consisting of 12 tracks, the songs range in style from the hard and heavy (“Bloodline”) to even a power ballad (“And Yet I Smile”). Joacim Cams singing is once again top notch and the guitar solos by Oscar Dronjak and Pontus Norgren are as catchy as ever. In short, there’s something on this album for just about every metal fan. And if you’ve never seen the band in concert, be sure to check them out at The Palladium in Worcester, Mass., on October 16, 2020. (Standout Tracks: “Dominion” & “Testify”).