As the year and the decade draws to a close, it’s time to draft an article of highlights for 2019. We talked about doing a “best of the decade” format, but there’s just too bloody much that it would get silly. 2019 has been bittersweet for me on a personal basis, mainly bitter if I’m completely honest. However, the musical side has definitely helped sweeten things a bit with a couple of events and releases in particular making the year more tolerable for me. So without further ado…
I confess I’ve listened to fewer albums this year than normal, and than I intended to. We receive around 30 to 50 each day, it’s overwhelming. Trying to fit in actually listening to and reviewing albums around the drudge of just going through the mails (while working a full time and then some “real” job) isn’t easy. However, I’ve enjoyed some great new releases from bands I was already a fan of, and a couple new to me.
- Sabaton – The Great War
- The Wildhearts – Renaissance Men
- Hellyeah – Welcome Home
- Royal Republic – Club Majesty
- Wind Rose – Wintersaga
- Ice Nine Kills – The Silver Scream: Final Cut
- Lagerstein – 25/7
- Bloody Hammers – The Summoning
- Footprints in the Custard – A New Low
- Fiddler’s Green – Heyday
There are a couple more I could have included, but wanted to keep it at ten. New to me, and offering two of the best on that list, are Royal Republic and Fiddler’s Green. I caught the former live, too (more later) but missed Fiddler’s Green at Wacken as they clashed with so many other bands. My auntie hated Footprints’ A New Low but I liked it enough to put the band up for the night when they were playing in Glasgow!
Sabaton just can’t do any wrong in my view. They’ve not released a weak album since their very first, and The Great War was even preceded by the superb standalone single “Bismarck”. As for their live show… well, that’s coming up. Sneaking in are Ice Nine Kills with an album that technically came out in 2018, but I didn’t hear it back then. Fortunately it was re-issued so this version classes as 2019 for the purposes of this article. Final Cut is superb, and has so many good tracks on it amongst the extra songs as well as the material from the original release.
First up, the two festivals I went to this year deserve a mention: Bloodstock, as always, and for the first time Wacken. Several bands played both, including Sabaton who are one of the best live acts out there at the moment. Seeing them crush both festivals was a definite highlight of the year. Their co-headliners at both festivals, Parkway Drive, were a revelation. I’ve stated a few times that I’d not buy their albums but bloody hell… one of the best live acts I’ve seen in recent years. They absolutely tore up (and burned down) both events. I saw Bloodywood in London on the way to Germany and again at Wacken. They’re a brilliant live act and I really hope they head back over here in 2020.
When I saw Slayer a year ago in Glasgow, I expected it to be the last time but by being able to manage Wacken I caught them one actual final time and it was one of the many things that made the trip to Germany worthwhile. Absolutely incredible, and they will be sorely missed from the live scene.
On a smaller scale, the first gig that springs to mind over the year is Royal Republic‘s Glasgow show. I reviewed their album and when the tour dates were announced, I jumped on it. They absolutely did not disappoint. Great music and great fun, I would definitely be down for catching them again. Ice Nine Kills also wowed at the same venue.
Top Summer gig, hands down, was seeing Gun, Terrorvision and The Wildhearts rock the Kelvin bandstand. It was the last day of term, my dinner had ended up being several pints with work colleagues and the sun was shining. Glorious. I also finally caught The Dropkick Murphys live for the first time and they were everything I’d heard they would be. Loud, crude and stupidly good fun.
Stretching all the way back to January, Powerwolf finally did a proper UK tour. After trailing all the way to Sweden to see them in 2018, they then announced they were playing on my bloody doorstep. And of course I saw them again at Wacken and Bloodstock. Powerwolf gigs are now officially the buses of the heavy metal world.
As has been mentioned by James (and myself earlier), Slayer’s retirement is a blow. They have said that this isn’t the end of the band – more merch and events are planned – but how much of this will be new music (doubtful) or live shows (maybe) is yet to be seen. The other point it raises is that more of our classic bands are getting on in age. At some point they’ll all either retire or pop their clogs. Sabbath have already hung up their black leather. Who’s the next big name? Priest? Maiden?
There are good bands coming through, but how many of them could draw in the crowds required to fill an arena venue? Or headline something the size of Wacken? There’s a wealth of talent out there, but the industry has shifted massively over the last 10-15 years. Keep supporting your favourite bands, and hopefully we’ll be seeing them play to these huge crowds in the future.
Bloodstock was emotional for me this year. As I mentioned at the start, it’s not been a great year for me personally and I have come close to walking away from this website. I love it, and I love the people I work alongside on it but it’s a huge drain in terms of time and energy. And then I had a couple of people walk up to me at the festival and thank me for what we do. You have no idea what that means.
We’ll continue to focus on the smaller acts and hope they remember us when they hit the big time! We can only do our best to get word out, but without them we are truly nothing.