The Soundshark’s Top 10 Albums of 2019

I feel like I go through the motions every year, repeating the same diatribe, but this time, there is a minor change of circumstances, and even a little bit of excitement. After all, who knows what can happen next in this crazy time we live in? As the site, and ourselves by extension, enter a new decade, one that hopefully that leads to plenty of promise, and one that can only dismay us from the gradual doomsday scenario that the planet seems to be sliding into of late, we glance back one final time into the 2010s (the tenties?) and upon the last year’s worth of music. Compiling this list was somewhat difficult this time around, as I appear to have forgotten more incredible albums than I remember listening to. Even then, to get to the point of narrowing down a contendership of just ten albums, the list was very much disputed the entire time. Alas, the list was finally cemented, and here’s what delights 2019 provided my, and now potentially your, earholes.

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Track of the Week: Johnny Deathshadow – Sugar Like Salt

The debate between what constitutes the difference between a Neue Deutsche Härte band and an industrial metal band is a fascinating one. In fact, that debate is so passionate and hotly contested in certain pockets of the internet, it’s recommended reading perhaps along side this piece. For anyone not versed on their musical history, in its crudest definition, Neue Deutsche Härte tends to describe any German metal band, that sings almost exclusively in German and follows a musical template akin to Rammstein and Oomph! as the foundation of their sound. The label itself could be argued to be a product of its time, grouping the sounds of the emerging bands in the late 90’s/early 00’s with a media umbrella term, but its use is still insisted upon by not only German bands, but recent international ones too, inspired by the enduring legacy of those bands. Where Johnny Deathshadow enters this conversation, acknowledging that their vocals are predominantly in English, is that they are a German industrial band, with similar electronic flourishes to the genre’s progenitors, yet are not considered a Neue Deutsche Härte band despite Umbra et Imago being allowed a pass, carrying on their larger gothic roots and undertone in tandem. Start a petition if you must. Joking aside, and whatever your opinion on this argument is, it is this rich cultural phenomenon that Johnny Deathshadow both carries on, and sheds itself of, creating their own enticing sonic universe that wider Europe is starting to take notice of.


Though the band’s roots actually lay more in the Misfits and horrorpunk covers of pop songs, earning them the moniker of the ‘Hollywood Death Cult’, a decision mid-decade to incorporate larger industrial elements into their compositions, caused the band’s popularity to erupt in their native Germany. Bleed With Me, their first full-length album adorning gothic industrial metal was a huge success, swiftly taking them overseas in the process, but while the album was excellent overall, their vision still seemed somewhat in utero, and restrained. Three years later, that worry is completely eradicated. D.R.E.A.M. is a seminal work, refining a tremendous formula, but scaling the production to a grandiose stage that benefits vastly, and reintroducing elements of their punk and hardcore backgrounds to electric effect. Sugar Like Salt pips many of the album’s highlights as D.R.E.A.M’s finest moment, and showcases why this band could slowly take over the world.

A muscular synth arpeggio throbs and winds at the inset, with strokes of strings and distorted thumps programmed, lurking within reaching distance behind, prodding at the nerves of its listener but also cranking energy levels to a feverous intensity. As the drum sequence beats its last, live drums pounding a mesmerising groove ,and the heavy chugging of down-tuned guitar, mimicking that of an engine, break forth with the synth, a stampede of a rhythm that will fuel metalheads and dancers alike. Monotone vocals shortly strip out the guitar, a hint of malice gleaming in every syllable recited from the morose prose, yet it carries a certain infectiousness that you visualise crowds repeating. No sooner you absorb those biting words, a brief blasting of relentless, hell-for-leather hardcore style beats suddenly smacks you in the head, ferocious growls scratching at your eardrums, this unforseen display of attitude neatly opening up for the chorus vocal melody that bursts as a wave of elation. Reminiscent of Candyass-era Orgy hooks, this is an earworm with such a latch, you’ll be fighting it for days for a release, and D.R.E.A.M. is absolutely infested with them. Interplaying perhaps as the titular sugar like salt, this sweet-stung moment in a realm of obsidian cynicism brings out the best in the track’s often energetic dynamics. Tailor made for fetish clubs and mosh pits, Johnny Deathshadow’s crossover appeal has scarcely begun to be realised, with a unique appearance and a fearsome live and recorded repetoire in tow, these gentlemen have a scene firmly in the palm of their hands, and it’s only a matter of time before they put the squeeze on it.


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Universal Theory

I don’t really remember to what sort of length I’ve discussed goth on this blog before. I know the extent of which I have discussed subculture, but not actually empathising or focusing on one particular culture. Anyway, I’m already heading for a tangent here, but if you have any cultural knowledge of the 1980’s, you’ll understand the significance of the goth movement from the latter half of the decade, seeping into the early 1990’s. It still exists in society very much today, but in more of a translucent, subdued kinda way I feel. Their echoes do resonate through some modern artists nowadays, but so few and far between occurrences, that to me the scene appears to lurk in a tomb of its own gloominess, so far underground you’d need to ask Shell to borrow a drill to start digging with. In my eyes though, goth rock encountered an identity crisis because media mouthpieces started flinging labels at bands like Type O Negative, whose noticeable gloomy aesthetic and occasional playing at the pace of barely breathing gained far more publicity, than their recognition of having more musically in common with Black Sabbath or The Beatles. Those seeds were very much sown and a new translation of the phrase was born. So we stand here with Universal Theory, a Spanish duo whose music flows with a similar lifeblood that once filled Type O Negative, but are very much their own artefact of intrigue. Between just two of them, to construct a record with an eruption and outpouring of atmosphere and sombre yet infatuating tones is outright astonishing. Guitars billow with distortion, heavy enough to cause bleeding from the ears, with a vintage monotone but strangely appealing male set of vocals and a luscious siren’s sigh of female vocals to accompany it. Together they are backed by an army of trance-inducing synthesisers, drums purpose built to direct chaos or compassion and a stunning hand-stitched orchestral tapestry that enhances their gothic overtones far beyond just an icy chill in the air. While tracks like Before Sunrise showcase their vicious streak, the second part of Romance demonstrates a deeper emotional personality in their music. Almost waltzing with a saddened violinist through a downpour to begin with, guitars carve their mark into the mix quickly but settle in as an additional atmospheric marker wonderfully, that extra texture serving the melancholy very well. There is an instance of a riff interjecting every so often that threatens to topple the beautiful score in progress, instead serving as an impactful footnote in the otherwise well-realised atmosphere. The last minute or so of the song culminates in the escalation of this emotion, into an intense but moving whirlwind of strings moistening your eyes while drums cause calamity at the final stretch, and vocals calmly bring the proceedings to a halt. This is just one highlight of a terrifically formulated project. The Most Attractive Force couldn’t be more correct of an album name if they’d had it tattooed on their retinas. It sounds like a prog rock burial if one came across, but is without a doubt, one of the most beautifully involving, emotively stirring albums to emerge from the nether this year. Goth called, they say they’re doing pretty well. That should be the universal theory.

Both The Most Attractive Force and their earlier Mystery Timeline can be bought from Metal Hell Records’ Bandcamp page, whereas Mystery Timeline can be bought in a physical or digital capacity from most respectable music retailers. They also have a website you should be looking at. Just saying.

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