Musically, for me 2019 has been a year of both discovery and nostalgia. As the start of the year found me back up on the Central Coast, I revisited my love of punk, spending some time checking out the local bands feeding the scene around the Newcastle area, where I found a lively community and became a new fan of some talented acts.
The genre of Hardcore reared its head as well, thanks to Browny sending me down to Sydney to check out US legends Stick To Your Guns and Terror, and like I mentioned in my review I came away from that show impressed by a genre that deserves more credit for helping some folks through some tough times in their lives.
My festival fix this year came from both Download, where the teenage Simon from 1999 would be chuffed at finally seeing skate punk legends Pennywise, along with the recent Good Things Festival, getting my ska on with Reel Big Fish, seeing Trivium properly for the first time since Soundwave, and of course, being blown away by Parkway Drive’s theatrics.
Another highlight I’d be nuts for not mentioning was getting to chat to the mighty Devin Townsend, who was a delight to talk to and nerd out about creativity and audio production for a bit. His acoustic set later in the year was one for the fans, and I look forward to seeing his full band down here soon.
My discoveries in the world of music lie outside the world of heavy, but were cool, nonetheless. Unveiling my recent Spotify Wrapped I found one of my top genres was ‘Otacore,’ which is basically anime and japan-inspired music. In fact, Japanese EDM and Rock have been dominating my Spotify of late, including my favourite band of the year, BAND-MAID, along with my new genre find, Chiptune, with bands like Anamanaguchi and Gaming soundtracks now featuring heavily in my online library (for those interested, my most played album of the decade according to Spotify is the soundtrack to Undertale.)
And, of course, I’ve found a heap of new music in the world of Japanese rock, which I’ll get into a bit more in the moment. For now, let’s kick off my top albums of the year.
(Before anyone asks – the new Tool album isn’t here because I haven’t gotten around to it yet. If I do. You really need to be in a mood for Tool.)
Top 5 Albums of 2019
5. Slipknot – We Are Not Your Kind
This is only number five on my list because I’ve only heard a few tracks from it. But from what I’ve heard Slipknot are back in fine form, with every member firing on all cylinders. Drummer Jay Weinberg has proved himself to be a worthy replacement for the legendary Joey Jordison, earning numerous ‘drummer of the year’ awards with high merit. Sadly, their joint Australian tour with Metallica was cancelled, but no doubt they’re on their way in 2020 to make up for it in spades.
4. BAND-MAID – CONQUEROR
Admittedly this has literally only just been released, but having discovered these five amazing Japanese rockers during the year, last year’s album World Domination has been in my car nonstop since I got it only a few months ago. Having heard a handful of songs off CONQUEROR already BAND-MAID show no signs of slowing down in 2020, and hopefully we see these talented women head down here for some shows.
3. Reel Big Fish – Life Sucks…So Let’s Dance
I’m bending the rules a bit for this one – Life Sucks… came out very late in 2018 (like, the last week of December) and I didn’t get to hear it until early 2019. So, I’m calling Reel Big Fish’s uplifting album one of this year’s solid releases, proving without a doubt that the Ska-Punk genre still has some fuel in the tank – it might even be making a comeback! Their set at Good Things Festival was a bundle of fun and had the whole crowd skanking along to their entire setlist.
2. BABYMETAL – METAL GALAXY
BabyMetal have gone through some tough times in recent years, not only losing Yuimetal last year, but also the death of one of their founding guitarists, Mikio Fujioka. But the band have prevailed, finding their way to Australia last year, and releasing their third album, Metal Galaxy in October. With standout tracks including Elevator Girl, PA PA YA and my favorite of the album, Shine, BabyMetal continue to front Japan’s domination of Rock and Heavy Music (I’m getting to that bold claim in a sec…)
1. Devin Townsend – Empath
Of course, this was going to be my album of the year! Dev’s multi-versed brain delivered a stellar album that covered a wide range of styles, wrapping you in a warm hug one moment, the next offloading some technical prog-metal with orchestral soundscapes worthy of cinema use. In the lead up to Empath’s release, Devin, like most artists, displayed a somewhat heightened sense of apprehension as to how an audience would receive (in his own words) a risky project that began with blowing up his main band of the last decade, The Devin Townsend Project. I don’t think he has much to worry about – his dedicated fanbase (including myself) appreciates the experimentation he puts into his music, and I’m sure he’ll head into the 2020’s with great success in his shows.
Top 5 Songs Of 2019 (and their videos)
(Mind you, with the amount of new songs I enjoyed this year, this list is more a ‘what I can remember’ rather than my absolute top picks.)
5. MxPx – ‘San Dimas High School Football Rules’
Yeah, it’s a cover. But Mike Herrera’s anniversary gift to his wife was pretty heartwarming, and a great take on a punk classic.
4. Scandal – ‘Fuzzy’
Uh-huh. Another J-Rock belter. I’m having a rant in a moment…
3. Trashed Again – ‘Long Way Home’
Gotta give a shout out to some Newcastle bands doing the scene proud. Trashed Again are punk to the bone, and their video for Long Way Home is a cool little snapshot of the Newy punk folk.
2. The Amity Affliction – ‘All My Friends Are Dead’
No idea why I’ve been avoiding Amity until the last year or so. Maybe some misplaced sense of snobbery over the metalcore/hardcore genre. That attitude changes as you as get older. Sorry Joel and gang – you guys are one of Australia’s best rock acts right now.
1. Radwimps – ‘Is There Still Anything That Love Can Do’
This is probably my sneaky way of declaring Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering With You my top movie of 2019 (This song being the film’s signature track.) RADWIMPS are another of my great J-Rock finds of the year, with such an emotional song. Check out this video. Roll over. Try not cry. Cry a lot.
Top 5 Gigs Of 2019
5. Bodyjar/28 Days @ The Entrance Leagues Club, Central Coast
There’s nothing like catching your favorite Aussie punk bands and not having to make the trek to Sydney for the occasion. Bodyjar’s regional tour with 28 Days gave us kids from the 90’s/00’s a night of singalongs and shenanigans.
(Although it must be said, 28 Days: if you’re reading this – let’s have a new album already!)
4. Stick To Your Guns/Terror @ Crowbar, Sydney
This experience on a rainy January night cleansed me of my bad experience with a shirtless bro in a Hatebreed crowd over a decade ago – Hardcore is a friendly community, and I might even be back to see Terror when they come back in the next few months. Gig Review & Photo Gallery here
3. The Amity Affliction/Underoath/Crossfaith/Pagan @ Hordern Pavilion
The start of an epic music weekend in September. The highlight for me was Crossfaith’s hyperactive outing, but Amity gave the audience a show to remember. Again – sorry I got on board so late, fellas. It was probably that whole ‘tight jeans’ period back in the 00’s. Gig Review & Photo Gallery here
2. Devin Townsend @ The Seymour Centre
Sitting in a University concert theatre with nothing but the Dev, his acoustic, and his signature brand of wit. A great night was had by all who went. Gig Review & Photo Gallery here
1. Parkway Drive @ Good Things Festival
Finding myself DIRECTLY in the path of Parkway’s crowd entrance was a great start to a show I’ve been waiting 18 months to see. On a side note – I thought it was hilarious seeing Winston McCall crack his big ‘serious metal singer’ poker face as he made his way amongst the crowd of festival-goers and their very Australian greetings.
(Welcome home, guys – enjoy your xmas break!)
Next Big Band Musical Movement To Watch in 2020
Okay, here’s my bold rant – and call me a little biased because of my love for all things Japan – but I think Japanese Rock/Metal is about to dominate the mainstream over the next decade in a big way. We’ve already seen a taste with the success of BabyMetal, but other acts are starting to take their place among a western audience – BAND-MAID have been touring this year to sold out shows in both the US and UK. We’ve seen Crossfaith provide a solid support with Amity’s tour this year, and no doubt when they next headline shows here, they’ll pull a massive crowd. One Ok Rock are on their way here early in the new year, while upcoming acts Lovebites and Iron Bunny are establishing themselves within the metal world.
It’s also worth pointing out – in terms of the ongoing issue around equality in the music industry and having more women-fronted acts, Japan is streets ahead at the moment, not just with some of the above, but other bands like Scandal, Shishamo, Fern Planet and Girlfriend (just to name a few.) Some immensely talented Women are definitely leading Japan’s charge, and I’ll be very surprised if the west isn’t talking more about the J-Rock/Metal movement by the middle of next decade.
Favorite Band You Discovered In 2019
I’m actually going to go incredibly local for this one – I discovered Newcastle lads Hack The Mainframe at the start of the year, and I’ve since caught them live a few times. A fun band to watch, and mad respect to them for a year that’s involved a change in vocalist and (last I heard) are still on the hunt for a new drummer. Such a dramatic switch in members would cause most bands at their level to throw in the towel, but Hack The Mainframe have stuck it out, and they’re capping of the year playing with Frenzal Rhomb at their Newcastle Christmas show. Well done, fellas, look forward to new tunes next year!
What Are You Most Looking Forward To In 2020
Eternal youth, but failing that, I’m working at putting out a podcast or two in the new year, along with some music of my own, along with trying to get moderately healthier. Hopefully we see some of the big reunion shows that’s been announced (Rage Against The Machine, Faith No More) make their way down here, along with some other favorites – would love to see MxPx finally make their way back down here.
There’s some big movies to look forward to as well, and I’m sure I’ll be glued to my new Nintendo Switch early in the new year along with some other solid games on the way, plus the PS5 is due to be announced at some point.
Of course, I’m always looking forward to discovering some new music, which is what WoS has enabled me to do. Massive thanks to Browny for his hard work with this site in 2019, and can’t wait to see how we do in 2020.
Happy New Year all!
Written by Simon Valentine (@SimonValentine1)