December 21, 2019 Cryptic Rock Presents: The Best Albums of 2019
A year of division and social unrest, 2019 saw many artists utilizing their platforms to speak out on topics such as mental health, peace, love, and those dreaded political affairs. No matter the subject of their lyrics, intent upon composing a soundtrack for the final year of the decade, an elite group of artists dug deep and offered listeners their souls in sonic form—be it Metal or Pop or anything in between. Beloved veterans returned to deliver heartfelt albums that shined bright alongside exceptional offerings from their younger peers, all while music continued to be the unifying language for humanity.
(Click album cover for full review)
Top 5 Alternative Rock Albums:
Badflower – OK, I’M SICK: Things have been going exceedingly well for Los Angeles rockers Badflower, and they delivered their debut album, OK, I’M SICK, back in February. Emotional rage and distinctive storytelling encompass this bold statement that holds the listener captive, and is guaranteed to provide an exceptional catharsis with each listening session.
Purchase OK, I’M SICK:
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Bones UK – Bones UK: These ladies are doing everything right and reminding the world that girls can play guitar! Another killer debut album that arrived in 2019, Bones UK are “Trent Reznor level cool.” Raging against societal beauty standards, toxic masculinity and sexism within the music industry, amongst other topics, this intelligent duo refused to be pigeon-holed on their eponymous disc. Here, infectious choruses dusted with electronic beats made sweet love to smoky, bluesy Rock guitar riffs, all while Vocalist Rosie Bones spat fierce nonconformity. Let’s hear it for the filthy freaks!
Purchase Bones UK:
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The Cranberries – In The End: When Dolores O’Riordan passed away suddenly in the winter of 2018 most thought that was the end of The Cranberries. Fortunately it was not and the band had an album in the works before the tragic turn of events. Twisted on whether they should release the music or not, thank goodness they did because it could be one of their best albums in years. A fitting swan song to O’Riordan and the magical Alternative Rock band The Cranberries, let’s hope this one brings home their first ever Grammy Award come January 2020.
Purchase In The End:
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Liam Gallagher – Why Me? Why Not.: With its infectious hooks, big guitars and signature Liam Gallagher lyrical snarl, Why Me? Why Not. is a triumphant return to the top of the Rock-n-Roll mountain where only Liam Gallagher deserves to be!
Purchase Why Me? Why Not.:
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Pixies – Beneath The Eyrie: Inarguably the best output of Pixies since their resurgence, Beneath the Eyrie could stand at par with its immediate predecessor, Head Carrier, as well as with any of Pixies’ quadrumvirate of iconic, ’90s-released albums. It is definitely a worthy addition to the seminal American band’s discographic legacy.
Purchase Beneath The Eyrie:
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Top 5 Blues/R&B Albums:
Beth Hart – War In My Mind: A well-respected singer and songwriter, Beth Hart has been nominated for and won countless awards throughout the years. That said, War In My Mind could be her most intense and dynamic album to date. It seems like she only gets better with age, and for that we salute her.
Purchase War In My Mind:
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Danny Worsnop – Shades of Blue: This year Asking Alexandria Frontman Danny Worsnop provided us all with a delicious reminder that he’s got the blues deep in his soul. The singer-songwriter and guitarist’s sophomore solo offering, Shades of Blue, crossed genres to draw together Country, Blues Rock, Soul, acoustic ballads, and bold, bluesy stomps. From his phenomenal vocal range to his proven songwriting talents, Worsnop laid his (blue) soul bare with a collection full of personal tales of love, loss, and redemption that proved he is no one-trick pony.
Purchase Shades of Blue:
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Emeli Sandé – Real Life: Painting a beautifully uplifting portrait of Real Life, for 2019 the exceptional Emeli Sandé produced a bold, confident and fearless new collection that once again highlighted her exemplary vocal theatrics. Heartfelt and soulful, the album is full of universal truths that simultaneously provide a glowing ray of hope. Whether this positivity comes in the form of a piano ballad or an upbeat, danceable offering, Sandé rocks it on this collection of radio-ready hits.
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Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band – The Traveler: Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band has really brought a new standard to the Blues scene with The Traveler, an excellent mix of Blues, Rock and Country!
Purchase The Traveler:
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Jessy Wilson – Phase: The average person is more than likely not keen on who exactly Jessy Wilson is, but they should be! An accomplished musician in her own right, Wilson sang off-Broadway, provided background vocals for platinum-selling recording artist Alicia Keys, and later wrote songs with John Legend. Now in 2019 she dishes out her debut solo album Phase and it is a doozy. A delightful mix of Pop, Rock, R&B and Blues, Wilson reminds us why music is good for the soul.
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Top 5 Hard Rock Albums:
Bring Me the Horizon- amo: Whether you love everything they do or hate what they’ve become, everyone was talking about Bring Me the Horizon in January when they dished out some serious Amo. A severely polarizing record that was not easily categorized or defined, one that happily defied their Deathcore roots, Amo is intelligently ironic, emotionally raw, biting and beautiful. Just as love is a many-sided coin, so is its accompanying album!
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Fever 333 – Strength in Numb333rs: Rising from the ashes of beloved bands like letlive. and The Chariot, Fever 333 exploded out of the gate with their debut album that weaves together Hardcore, Rap, and Thrash. Channeling bands like Rage Against the Machine, Strength in Numb333rs is a refreshing album that will no doubt mobilize its listeners. Keep an eye on Fever 333, because they will be taking over the world!
Purchase Strength in Numb333rs:
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Fire From the Gods – American Sun: American Sun does a great job of encapsulating the best parts of Fire From the Gods. The band has definitely hit their stride here and this album has all the pieces needed to quickly become a fan favorite. It’s one part activism and two parts personal journey blended with a myriad of musical skills and acumen to make a captivating and engrossing second act.
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Starset – Divisions: Always experimenting and exploring new galaxies of sound, Starset delivered their latest transmission in September. A visionary media collective that have carved out a distinctive path as part Cinematic Rock band and part conceptual storytellers, simply put, the band’s Divisions is a genre-bending reminder that Starset are truly—pardon the pun—out of this world.
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Toothgrinder – I AM – A band in the game for nearly a decade now, 2019 has been a turning point for Toothgrinder. Unapologetically shifting their style for I AM, they not only put out their best collection of music to date, but they have renewed hope for a stagnant Hard Rock genre. An album full of empowering lyrics, passionate vocals, and great guitar work, it is a must listen.
Purchase I AM:
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Top 5 Hard Rock Albums:
Borknagar – True North: Norwegian veterans once again prove that they have the goods, creating yet another progressive peak of majesty and creativity. With unrivaled vocal performances, emotion, and heaviness, Borknagar have further solidified their place as the cream of the Heavy Metal crop.
Purchase True North:
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Motionless In White – Disguise: A creature in disguise. A headless horseman. A broken relationship. The desperate plea for the voices to simply shut up. All this and more encompassed the highly-anticipated Disguise from Motionless In White, which delivered a more streamlined version of the band’s sound in June. Embracing all the myriad facets of their personality, the album provided heartbreaking vulnerability, frustrated angst, and enough sonic diversity to keep you (and your little dog too!) rocking.
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Whitechapel – The Valley: Whitechapel are certainly known for their dark lyrics and brutal approach, but on The Valley they got grim on a very personal level. The epic result saw the talented quintet working as a fully cohesive unit to explore bold, raw heaviness of true emotion. It’s not easy to wear your torn, black heart on your sleeve in front of a judgmental and hyper-opinionated world, but with The Valley Whitechapel proved that music is catharsis and rules are always meant to be broken.
Purchase The Valley:
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Within Temptation – Resist: In February, the wait was over for new Within Temptation material—and it was totally worth it! Resist took a futuristic approach, one that pushed aside orchestration and classic Metal riffs in favor of expanding the band’s sound profile toward the self-proclaimed “bombastic.” Heavier, dirtier, and definitely exploring a brave new world, the album invited fans to defy the status quo, educate themselves and open their minds, all while meandering through a massively layered soundscape that was a beautifully entrancing epic.
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1349 – The Infernal Pathway: Surviving every trend in Black Metal and coming out stronger on the other side, 1349 once more do things on their own terms, producing a most savory slab of hellish storming glory that neither repeats itself nor hangs itself on tropes.
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Top 5 Electronic/ Synthwave Albums:
Blaqk Audio – Only Things We Love: Davey Havok and Jade Puget continue to be an unstoppable songwriting duo. Only Things We Love melds Electronic with touches of Pop for a collection of infectious tracks that is a diamond in the rough of a saturated genre.
Purchase Only Things We Love:
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Drab Majesty – Modern Mirror: The third offering of Drab Majesty, the eight-track Modern Mirror further cemented the Los Angeles–based band’s role as one of only a handful contemporary purveyors of the Gothic Rock/Darkwave legacy pioneered by the likes of Clan of Xymox, The Danse Society, and Xmal Deutschland.
Purchase Modern Mirror:
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GosT – Valediction: What can possibly be better than mixing Black Metal into a distinct synthwave sound? According to those who are brave enough to dive into the black waters of GosT‘s latest album Valediction, the answer is nothing. This album rises above and beyond any necessary call of duty, and in turn finds itself in a category of its own that impresses listeners across the globe. As GosT exists as primarily a one man solo project, this album resonates heavily inside the souls who breathe its message in the most impressive way.
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KMFDM – Paradise: Loud, proud, and still standing after three and a half decades, in September KMFDM gave the middle finger to 2019 with Paradise. Continuing to defy musical boundaries and embrace their brand of nihilism and counterculture, for their 21st album the band brought back some much beloved, familiar voices to craft an Industrial eargasm. Relevant to our divided times, scathing and confrontational yet fully suitable to a sultry dance number, on Paradise KMFDM spat the most luscious condemnation put to record.
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MARINA – Love + Fear: With diamonds or none at all, Marina’s music remains impassioned and powerful, as every track soars and floats gently and confidently into the listeners’ yearning ears. Love + Fear is definitely a masterpiece, surpassing its predecessors not only in quantity and quantity, but also in accessibility.
Purchase Love + Fear:
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Top 5 Experimental:
Amanda Palmer – There Will Be No Intermission: She’s ferociously female and fabulously flawed: she’s Amanda F*cking Palmer! In March, the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist returned with her third solo album, There Will Be No Intermission, which paired tearjerkers and deeply personal confessions with the universal themes of love and loss. Perfectly imperfect and with a cinematic scope to her work, Palmer is a beautifully askew punk who offers poetic intellect and keen insight with a candid, conversational quality that completely lacks filters—and that is what is so refreshing!
Purchase There Will Be No Intermission:
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Chelsea Wolfe – Birth Of Violence: The darkling darling of beautiful tragedy strikes again with another gem in her career of woeful wonder. Minimal, striking, and superb, Wolfe once more erects a monument to the resplendence of lament.
Purchase Birth of Violence:
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Jaz Coleman & The St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra – Magna Invocatio: For Magna Invocatio, the Killing Joke mastermind has taken a clutch of essential songs and re-imagined them in the Classical medium, resulting in an orchestral masterpiece the likes of which the world has rarely seen. Languid and lovely, epic and grandiose, this is one for the ages.
Purchase Magna Invocatio – A Gnostic Mass For Choir And Orchestra Inspired By The Sublime Music Of Killing Joke:
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LEAH – Ancient Winter: A winter-themed folk fantasy told through original compositions and Medieval hymnals, Symphonic/Celtic vocal goddess and multi-instrumentalist LEAH offered up Ancient Winter in November. Here, apropos snowy landscapes and folk instrumentation joined together to craft a modern fairytale of earthy and vibrant textures. Quite possibly the most beautiful collection that you will hear this year, Ancient Winter is a gift you need to give yourself!
Purchase Ancient Winter:
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Mike Patton & Jean-Claude Vannier – Corpse Flower: Few musicians possess the experimental spirit and endless love of all things music that abound in the heart of Mike Patton. Teaming up with French Composer Jean-Claude Vannier, he unfolded a stinking good album, Corpse Flower, this year. The key to understanding much of the collection is in appreciating the intentionally off-kilter juxtaposition of Patton and Vannier’s musical arrangements with their accompanying lyrical wit; it’s certainly strange and unusual, and there are absolutely no barriers for these exceptional artists.
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Top 5 Pop Rock Albums:
Bishop Briggs – Champion: A name which is slowly building a good deal of clout in Pop music, Bishop Briggs should and will be heard. An artist who stretches far beyond the title of Pop, she has a blissfully soulful voice and songwriting chops to match it. With Champion ,she offers up an album that is all killer and no filler from start to finish.
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Joe Jackson – Fool: Joe Jackson’s twentieth album, Fool, is a solid, tight, and lush batch of eight well-written tracks that take the proficient, prolific, and enduring singer-songwriter back to his trademark style—soulful and engaging songs oozing with Pop sensibilities yet lengthy enough to assert the meticulous composer’s musical indulgence.
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Lindsey Stirling – Artemis: Magical, mystical, a storyteller who works in sounds, acclaimed Violinist Lindsey Stirling issued Artemis in September and embraced her inner-goddess. Turning toward Greek mythology for inspiration, the preternaturally talented Stirling invited her listeners to sleepwalk through a fairy tale dream full of exceptional string work that beautifully wept both struggle and hope.
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Norah Jones – Begin Again: Nine-time Grammy Award-winner Norah Jones knows a little something about making amazing music. On Begin Again, she crafted a diverse little collection that experimented with some new sounds while having fun in the studio. Exploring this new sonic territory with a little help from her friends, Jones always maintained her beautifully soft, fine wine vocal approach and shone brilliantly on her most eclectic album to date.
Purchase Begin Again:
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PVRIS – Hallucinations: Life has not been too shabby for PVRIS, who offered up their Hallucinations EP in October. Riding high on their success, this time around the Massachusetts trio opted to explore a more EDM-heavy sound that, paired with Vocalist Lynn Gunn’s always sincere and confessional lyrics, maintains the spirit of PVRIS but infuses their lush Pop-dusted melodies with a heavier electronic backbone, expanding their already diverse sound profile. The end result is danceable, delicious, and infectious—the perfect soundtrack to your next party.
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Top 5 Post-Rock/ Post-Metal Albums:
Brutus – Nest: A three-piece act out of Belgium, Brutus are on the verge of a major breakthrough. A combination of styles that sees them dangling between Shoegaze, Rock, and Metal, Nest is a fine piece of art. Creating a wall of sound that is intense and real, the heart of it all is brought to life by Singer-Drummer Stefanie Mannaerts. For this, Nest is an absolute must listen for anyone looking for something different.
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MONO – Nowhere Now Here: The conflict inherent between darkness and light is a timeless and universal theme, artistically speaking. Japan’s MONO know this fact all too well, and have their own relationship with the concept, one that they danced macabrely with on Nowhere Now Here. This rich, storytelling soundscape arrived in January, and the heavy-hearted aural tale of loss saw the band toying heavily with despairing emotions, haunting intensity and an apocalyptic landscape that incorporated synths, horns, strings, and more. It is powerful, it is bold, and it is entirely MONO!
Purchase Nowhere Now Here:
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Pelican – Nighttime Stories: Teased by the single “Midnight and Mescaline,” Pelican released their sixth album, Nighttime Stories, after a long gap laden with personal and professional tragedy. On the album, the band sticks to a familiar formula for songs like “Arteries of Blacktop” and “Full Moon, Black Water,” while expanding into new horizons with denser material such as “Cold Hope” and “Darkness.”
Purchase Nighttime Stories:
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Russian Circles – Blood Year: A band at the forefront of the Post-Rock scene for 15 years now, Russian Circles is in a league of their own. Returning in 2019 with their seventh overall album, Blood Year continues the band’s streak of creating irresistibly melodic soundscapes. As always, never requiring any words, the music does all the walking.
Purchase Blood Year:
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Inter Arma – Sulphur English: Effortlessly weaving the slow march of “Citadel,” the violent emotion of “Howling Lands,” and airy landscapes of “Blood on the Lupines” and “Restless,” Sulphur English comes to a close with a brutal title track aimed at detractors and doubters. The band is just as impressive live, combining their varied collection of genres and influences for a truly talent-laden experience. In this, Sulphur English follows Inter Arma to redefine not only their own sound but that of Metal (and its future) as a whole.
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Top 5 Punk Rock Albums:
Bad Religion – Age of Unreason: The perennial heartbeat of melodic Punk Rock, Bad Religion once again shows that the spirit of rebellion, channeled through their high-speed anthems, is going full steam ahead more than thirty years since their inception. Age of Unreason tries to make sense of the chaos of modern life, and the polarized American political landscape, with both scathing honesty and unparalleled emotion.
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Blood Command – Return of the Arsonist: If Katniss Everdeen was a girl on fire, then Blood Command are somehow her sonic counterpart: a band on fire and poised to explode. The eclectic Norwegians issued their latest EP, Return of The Arsonist, in April, and it is chock full of a frenetic energy that cannot be tamed. Although, here they manage to corral their ferocity into a cohesive sound that contains the anthemic qualities of Pop Punk, the in-your-face attitude of Punk and Hardcore, along with a dab of 1990s Alternative Rock girl grit. They call themselves Death Pop, and we fully approve!
Purchase Return of the Arsonist:
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Doll Skin – Love Is Dead and We Killed Her: Riot Grrrl band Doll Skin returned in the summer of 2019 with the brave new album Love Is Dead and We Killed Her. In a poetic depiction of anger, Love Is Dead and We Killed Her proves to be Doll Skin’s most mature and telling album to date, shining as a cathartic expression of pain and personal growth.
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Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes – End of Suffering: Raw emotion, amalgamated sounds, and a penchant for brutal honesty: Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes’ End of Suffering is absolutely all of these things. A 40-minute Rock-n-Roller-coaster of molten hot bangers, soulful ballads and Grunge lullabies laced through with a lacerating lyrical honesty, the collection never conforms. There’s a beauty to the uncensored honesty of Carter’s lyrics that, coupled with the panache of the band, makes for a truly impressive collection. Gritty enough to get you rocking but soft enough to tug at your heartstrings, End of Suffering is no-holds-barred music-making.
Purchase End of Suffering:
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Frank Iero and the Future Violents – Barriers: The other guy promised that he was not okay, but Frank Iero is doing just fine—as is evidenced by his latest, Barriers. The eclectic collection of melancholia and upbeat regrets arrived in late May, and placed its focus on the moments inspired by emotional vulnerability, existential uncertainty, and optimistic dread. Raw, emotional, and honest, never overproduced or scripted, Barriers pushed aside all expectations to lose itself in the creative process.
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Top 5 Rock Albums:
Alter Bridge – Walk The Sky: This fall, modern day Rock warriors Alter Bridge dropped their new album, Walk The Sky, landing in the top fifteen of the Billboard 200. As Alter Bridge’s sixth studio release, Walk The Sky is a fantastic collection of inspiring tunes that should easily be regarded as Alter Bridge’s best work.
Purchase Walk The Sky:
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Crobot – Motherbrain: On August 23rd, Pennsylvania-based rockers Crobot released their fourth studio LP entitled Motherbrain. In the true spirit of Rock-n-Roll, Motherbrain exemplifies what it means to be a down and dirty, loud and crazy, kick ass band. Just what the doctor ordered, Crobot gave 2019 a real shot of adrenaline via Motherbrain.
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Highly Suspect – MCID: This album is a long, strange, and sometimes heartbreaking trip. Johnny Stevens cracks open his head and chest to give listeners a raw and beautifully composed look into his core and the path that led him here. Whether it was paved with heartbreak or a foundation laid as a catalyst for social change, the road laid bare by Highly Suspect on MCID is enthralling and occasionally breathtaking.
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The Raconteurs – Help Us Stranger: After a decade-long hiatus Jack White and The Raconteurs returned with arguably the most ambitious, creative release of 2019: Help Us Stranger. Not another cut-and-paste musical production, the album is certain to see The Raconteurs usher us into a new era of musical possibilities. Something that should put them in the running to win a Grammy, this is an album that pushes the genre, industry, and art as a whole.
Purchase Help Us Stranger:
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Rival Sons – Feral Roots: Long Beach, California’s Rival Sons made a splash in January 2019 with the release of their new album, Feral Roots. Nominated for two Grammy Awards in 2020, Feral Roots is an outstanding Rock album, full of musical diversity, bluesy riffs, and emotional ecstasy.