The Top 20 Albums of January | 2020

THE TOP 20 ALBUMS OF THE MONTH is self-explanatory in concept, a grip of twenty albums that’d resonated most powerfully throughout the month. If you’re new to the site, it’ll be about 85-100% metal albums. Choices are selected based on temporal immersion, personal connection, impressive style, and with great consideration for the lasting value of each album. There are several albums that I will have to leave out of this list, but they’ll all still be considered for end of the year lists. Links to full reviews will be provided when applicable. Do not think I’ve overlooked any promotional material, I am but one man and writing about music is a passion I afford as much time as is manageable. I am eternally grateful to have so much to choose from. Thank you.


Changes made this year will roll out slowly as priorities shift towards focused, timely and evenly distributed coverage. January is famously ‘slow’ in terms of releases across all genres of music yet, last year we’d already gotten Top 5 material and this year I’d say the same has más o menos happened. Vengeance, death, apocalyptic times, political corruption, mass hysteria, science fiction epics, ripping old school flair, existential sorrow, Eurocentrism, and psychedelic trips across dismally orange skies… Heavy music is already alight with its disgustingly sorrowful glow in truly grand form this first month of the year and I couldn’t be more appreciative to have witnessed so much of it. I’ll mourn what I’ve missed and use their drying corpses as stairs to elevate towards a starry, chilling February sky.

January releases still in consideration for review: Lesath, Deadspawn, Darktribe, The Janitors (Reissue), Kristian Harting, Death.Void.Terror, E-Musigruppe Lux Ohr, Pantheon of Blood (Compilation), Sammas Equinox / Emanating Void (Split), Krvsade, Folian, Greve, Tzun Tzu, Orochen, Chains & a few more.

Each day I meditate with all-consuming gratitude aimed toward the bands, labels and PR firms who choose to work with me as well as the kind few readers who donate to the site intermittently. The goals and ethos of the site have not changed in 2020 but this year I will focus on more reviews, less features, and keeping up to date with new releases. December was unpleasant to say the least, being so behind beyond summer releases that I’d really missed out on championing the ridiculous glut of November and December records. 2020 won’t suffer the same fate, not for fear of missing out but for the sake of not staring at a beloved pile of distended corpses for months before crowning them with praise. Otherwise, keep an eye out for new irregularly scheduled features next month with the first being An Exhaustive Study: Technical Death Metal Part I: 1988-1992. Also if you have a used copy of the Neat & Tidy: The Story of Neat Records book that you’ll sell to me I need a non-scribbled in copy for a feature I’m writing on the label. After that it will be Baron Records or No Fashion.


1.

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Artist KAWIR
Title [Type] Adrasteia [Full-length]
Iron Bonehead Productions FULL REVIEW

Kawir continues to be one of my all time favorite Greek black metal bands and certainly an inspirational pillar within the realm of melodic pagan/black metal. ‘Adrasteia’ is a bigger, more insistently Greek record from a project that has only improved since forming in the early 90’s, learning new lessons with each shift in line-up or approach. I’ve place this album at the very top of the list for January because it’d illicit a feeling of emotional connection, nigh religious inspiration translated through melodious and ‘epic’ austerity. ‘Isotheos’ (2012) had this much melodic sense and perhaps ‘Exilasmos’ (2017) had this much force but on this record they’ve combined those elements into memorable true heavy metal spirituals in service to a theme of feminine vengeance, think of the phrase “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” and apply it to the ancient Greek religion, classic tragic plays, and other still-resonant literature.


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Artist COFFIN CURSE
Title [Type] Ceased to Be [Full-length]
 Memento Mori FULL REVIEW

Riffs. Yep, when stripped of whatever gilding age brings to my idiotic corporeal form the core of my being is still that kid discovering ‘Dawn of Possession’ and ‘Beneath the Remains’ for the first time in the early 90’s and going wild for the torment of their relentless guitar riffs. ‘Ceased to Be’ is that level of skull-fracturing nightmare, riff-stuffed diabolic metal that thrills the most primal part of my brain to no end. This debut full-length from Coffin Curse has been a long time coming for the Santiago, Chile based band who’re closely associated with the underrated Inanna. Of the two projects this is the more ‘old school’ death metal leaning one with plenty of late 80’s thrash intensity and some mid-to-slow paced Autopsy-esque burners to throw around. I’ll have my thoughts for the full review but… If you were starving for real death metal in January you’ve got to get this record.

Preview “Grave Offender” on YouTube


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Artist JORDABLOD
Title [Type] The Cabinet of Numinous Song [Full-length]
Iron Bonehead Productions FULL REVIEW

A vision quest beyond the glowing sea for this inspired and inventive Swedish black metal band, ‘The Cabinet of Numinous Song’ is appreciably modern as it approaches but pours from the chests of old souls. Jordablod‘s debut was among my favorite records of 2017 for its psychedelic black metal with surf guitar tones and the inspired spiral of semi-melodic guitar performances. It was almost appreciably introverted as a piece so it comes as a nice surprise that this second album is introspective in resonance but extroverted in performance. Shades of gothic country, post-punk, melodic black, black n’ roll, call their influences what you will it all works out to a solid and eventful listen. It should feel as if you are witnessing youthful revelry in self-actualization and I find it absolutely inspired.


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Artist AETHYRICK
Title [Type] Gnosis [Full-length]
The Sinister Flame FULL REVIEW

While it would be fair to suggest that mystic atmospheric black metal duo Aethyrick have iterated upon their 2018 debut ‘Praxis’ with ‘Gnosis’ I would suggest that this is a differently emotional experience, a deeper search of the soul and a stab towards greater darkness without any of the expected ugliness. If you’ve no love for Finnish black metal of the last two decades this may just sound like well-balanced measures of atmospheric and melodic black metal, fair enough, though I’d suggest some immersion is in order and with a bit of ritual devotion ‘Gnosis’ carries some deeper meaning beyond regional stylistic indications. It is a redeeming work that I am still absorbing even with two months under my belt.


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Artist MONOLITHE
Title [Type] Okta Khora [Full-length]
Les Acteurs de L’Ombre Productions FULL REVIEW

Although it was daunting in scope and imposing in concept to begin digging into once I’d let Monolithe‘s sci-fi epic sink in a bit the bigger picture was fascinating, heavy, and ruthlessly professional. To create free moving and texturally evolving pieces such as these it took more than ambitious compositions but a crew of many that not only saw the vision but contributed to it. The great success of ‘Okta Khora’ is that its progressive take on melodic death/doom is entirely Monolithe in shape and sound, and I’d realize this as I sat down to suggest “if you like this, you’ll like…” and couldn’t think of another band exactly like this, as earnest and polished and expansive as this Parisian sextet. It’ll please the cross section of fandom shared between the progressive rock edged (but still death metal) era of Opeth and the loose-shouldered bliss of Mournful Congregation but… no comparison can suggest the unique atmosphere and defined sound of Monolithe. They’ve got quite an impressive catalog of brutal and introspective work behind them but ‘Okta Khora’ certainly achieves a new dimension of inspired and beauteous doom music.


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Artist IRONSWORD
Title [Type] Servants of Steel [Full-length]
Alma Mater Records LISTEN ON BANDCAMP

Ironsword began as a traditional heavy metal side-project back in the mid-90’s after João Fonseca (Alastor, Decayed) had left his spot as guitarist for Moonspell. I’d first heard the band back in 2007 for ‘The Riddle Masters – A Tribute to Manilla Road’ compilation and I’d bought ‘Overlords of Chaos’ (2008) as a result, finding it overly long and kind of terrible at the time. In retrospect I was being a bit hasty and the album grew on me but I’d never bought any of thier other records until ‘Servants of Steel’, happy to find they’re still striking upon their own chest-thumping brand of Manilla Road worship, this time with two excellent guest spots from Hellroadie himself. Epic, ethereal, roaring, and hitting just the right mark at about 46 minutes long ‘Servants of Steel’ is a sorely needed kick of pure heavy metal this month.


7.

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Artist WORM
Title [Type] Gloomlord [Full-length]
Iron Bonehead Productions FULL REVIEW

As much as I’d liked the doom-stained primitivity of Worm‘s black metal demos and debut full-length the Floridian duo have made an impressive paradigm shift into the blackened atmospheric death/doom of ‘Gloomlord’. At some point I have to compliment Iron Bonehead here in their 25th year as a label/distro kicking into 2020 with five full-lengths that all basically kill and ‘Gloomlord’ might be the best surprise overall. The shift towards death/doom is remarkably natural and does actually dip into some straight death metal sections which recall early Esoteric as often as the songwriting aims for Disembowelment‘s unpredictable atmospheric shifts and Goatlord‘s psychedelic hiss. They’ve still got a ton more potential to unravel but I’ve been consistently impressed with how filthy and gloriously atmospheric ‘Gloomlord’ is.


8.

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Artist PROSCRITO
Title [Type] Llagas y Estigmas [Full-length]
Memento Mori FULL REVIEW

An ‘old school’ death/doom record that doesn’t waste time toying with trendiness, ‘Llagas y Estigmas’ lands somewhere in between the Celtic Frost influenced beginnings of death/doom (Winter, Sempiternal Deathreign etc.) and the not-quite-death/note-quite-doom feeling sparked by extreme metal innovators daring to slow down in the late 80’s. I know that description is a bit complex compared to Proscrito‘s actual sound which fits in with plenty of solid modern death/doom acts in terms of sound and pacing, think of Corrupted circa 1995 and some shades of ‘Into Darkness’ and you’re pretty much there. Where this record shines is in variety, moodiness, and uncomplicated expression. The Barcelona area trio have extensive backgrounds in stoner doom, sludge, and death metal that inform the easy grooves with a tonally stark voicing of nihilistic suffering.


9.

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Artist GREY SKIES FALLEN
Title [Type] Cold Dead Lands [Full-length]
 Xanthros Music FULL REVIEW

New York extreme doom metal band Grey Skies Fallen have all but cut the prog metal and keyboards from their sound and focused more intently upon dramatic and effective epic heavy metal pieces that dive heartily into classic melodic death/doom brutality for their fifth album. If you’d have asked me what I’d expected from this band heading into ‘Cold Dead Lands’ my thoughts would’ve focused on a progressive metal direction but they’ve more or less gone the other way. I’m into it and ended up really appreciating this one a great deal. The full review goes into detail, there are some huge songs on ‘Cold Dead Lands’ every melodic death/doom fan needs to jump on right away.


10.

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Artist ELDER DRUID
Title [Type] Golgotha [Full-length]
 Self-Released REVIEW COMING SOON

January was actually a fantastic month for doom metal in general and this second full-length from Northern Irish doom-sludgers Elder Druid is one of the finer non-extreme takes from the month. ‘Golgotha’ may not be revolutionary in terms of sound or style, pretty standard organic-but-powerful sludge sound design overall, it is yet a damn fine listen. I suppose what I’d found striking about this album came from its almost soulless feeling, much of ‘Golgotha’ is cold and damp in spirit until the bigger, warmer grooves hit. Rasped and echoing vocals snarl all over this thing, reminding me how much I miss bands like Grief and Burning Witch. If I was arranging this list in terms of memorability this’d be quite a bit lower but the whole package did eventually grow on me as the effect of the full listen increased over time. 


11.

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Artist DOOMRAISER
Title [Type] The Dark Side of Old Europa [Full-length]
Time to Kill Records FULL REVIEW

Hey, I really like most all of Doomraiser‘s stuff and I don’t want to downplay their prior successes but ‘The Dark Side of Old Europa’ is (for my taste) the best thing the band have put out to date. These Italians have been around for almost two decades and they could’ve just cranked out another jam-heavy soused n’ doomed rocker but their fifth album takes some serious notes and unleashes more succinct, psychedelic, and righteously performed songs than ever before. The theme suggested in the album focuses on the dissonance of a Europe that is today in denial of the colonialism and cultural destruction that made the ‘utopian’ afterthought of today so prevalent. As I suggest in my review it isn’t so much a political statement but a reminder that it took millions of dead bodies, thousands of erased cultures, for mankind to briefly stop fighting and it won’t take much for humanity to destroy itself further. More importantly the album deals with injustice and death as a greater theme and provides an effectively dire existential tone for its heavy psych informed traditional doom metal style.


12.

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Artist HAZZERD
Title [Type] Delirium [Full-length]
M-Theory Audio FULL REVIEW

Alberta, Canada shred-thrashers Hazzerd cranked the skill level and general intensity for their second full-length, ‘Delirium’, to great effect. They’re pretty young and surely having fun with the project but Hazzerd sound serious and professional on this Megadeth and Overkill-esque ripper of a follow-up. Drummer/vocalist Dylan Westendorp clearly puts in the work and provides a brassy shrieking personality to ‘Delirium’ that I found infectious and inspired. Folks who’re still in love with ‘Rust in Peace’ and that shreddy, high energy but still rock-focused songwriting will find some of that same spirit within this band. It was a pretty light month for thrash so this one stuck out way more than it might’ve mid-year, I was grateful to get to spend lots of time with it and really soak up its frantic, moderately technical thrash metal style.


13.

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Artist ODIOUS MORTEM
Title [Type] Synesthesia [Full-length]
 Willowtip FULL REVIEW

It wasn’t as if Odious Mortem had dropped off the face of the Earth but after most of the band jumped over to Decrepit Birth for a couple of albums it’d seemed like a third album was never going to happen. ‘Cryptic Implosion’ was actually a turning point for me as a fan of brutal/technical death because I’d felt like the obsession had lost its lustre as technical death metal had become too trendy and deathcore was becoming increasingly tasteless by 2007 or so. ‘Synesthesia’ appears to have been a hard fought battle against time, inspiration and the general logistics of making an album after a hiatus. It was all worth it, though, thanks to organic production and the most refined songwriting from the band to date. ‘Synesthesia’ appealed to me because Odious Mortem didn’t really mess with the cheap trends of  modern technical death metal. Their focus on the classic early 2000’s peaks of technical/brutal death metal makes for a pure and effective burst of Odious Mortem‘s essence.


14.

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Artist YATRA
Title [Type] Blood of the Night [Full-length]
STB Records FULL REVIEW

Dropping the more typical stoner/doom metal production of their 2019 debut Maryland doom trio Yatra craft a unique thread of extreme psychedelic dread on their sophomore full-length. The gnawing rasp and Sabbath groove of ‘Blood of the Night’ work quite well together, resembling a middle ground between the horror of Warhorse and the meditative lilt of Windhand. Road-tested and kind infused, Yatra have really taken a meaningful stride here and I’d find myself totally sucked into their void this time around.


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Artist ANDROID
Title [Type] Chapter 001 [EP]
Self-Released LISTEN on BANDCAMP

This year I’m not going to be so lazy about dusting up some love for classic 80’s hardcore punk and the first band I’ve gotten the shakes over is this Florida crew. Android have a bit of a cyberpunk-shocked look on this apocalyptic rager but beyond the industrial squirt of the intro track ‘Chapter 001’ focuses on shocks of pure early 80’s hardcore punk. The riffs are pure T.S.O.L. in my mind but they’ve managed to punch up the manic personality of these songs just enough that it all hits hard and fast enough. I don’t know shit about the band, just loved this EP after randomly finding it on Bandcamp.


16.

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Artist AD VITAM INFERNAL
Title [Type] Infernal Comedy [Full-length]
Lavadome Productions FULL REVIEW

French death metal band Ad Vitam Infernal materialize as the very bricks in the walls of Dis, tormenting their captors with fire and great arcs of sulfuric riffs. Their style is not full on brutal death metal but still very violent and fast, much in the style of AngelcorpseCenturian or Spearhead. This is another album that’d tapped into my love of pure death metal and the riffing resultant while the inverted suggestion of a Divine Comedy theme isn’t unique Ad Vitam Infernal‘s vocalist does an amazing job standing out by way of verse from the great poem, embodying a character in ‘cleaner’ style while seamlessly diving into savage death metal bellows. Plenty of viable personality for a brand new band and a really enjoyable full listen. Definitely the sort of record that will please true death metal folks first and foremost.


17.

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Artist EMPIRE OF THE MOON
Title [Type] ΕΚΛΕΙΨΙΣ [Full-length]
Iron Bonehead Productions FULL REVIEW

Greek black metal band Empire of the Moon offer an inspired and consuming fire by way of a very classic sound that reaches beyond their countrymen for influence, pulling in the late second wave black metal spiritus of their first album and amplifying the ferocity. I’d come across a comment comparing one of the riffs to a classic Mayhem song and I had to laugh, if we’re going to be policing bands for taking influence from ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’ black metal might as well collapse right now under the weight of that absurdity. Besides, ‘ΕΚΛΕΙΨΙΣ’ (‘Eclipse’, more or less) has more in common with mid-to-late 90’s Rotting Christ first and foremost, though it is less directly melodic. Sorry for the rant, anyhow. I found the full listen vibrant, enthusiastic, and wholly electric thanks to smart use of keyboards and aggressive guitar performances.


18.

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Artist THE CULT OF DOM KELLER
Title [Type] Ascend! [Full-length]
Cardinal Fuzz SHORT REVIEW

Lately I’ve been doing my best to catch up with the world of experimental psychedelic rock, neo-psych, and psychedelic doom and ‘Ascend!’ has really been an inspiring piece of slaughterhouse fuzz to keep me going. Devonshire, England area psychic mages The Cult of Dom Keller bring basement doom vibes, garagey kosmische wonder, and wailing strands of electric excess throughout this fantastic overdriven psychedelic rock record. A beautifully wailing cyclone of fuzzy feedback and syncopated bass riff that centers my mind like nothing else. This one grew on me like fungus.


19.

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Artist MAVORIM
Title [Type] Axis Mundi [Full-length]
Purity Through Fire REVIEW COMING SOON

Mavorim is the sole vision of German musician P. who’d concieved the project in 2014 but really worked into gear around 2018 with and EP, debut full-length, and split with Totenwache that year. Heavily melodic with some mild use of keyboards, you could have convinced me that ‘Axis Mundi’ had come from a Finnish act despite those melodic sensibilites being a bit more austere than average. It is a fairly long and intense listen at a full hour and though I think 45 minutes is a better goal for this style all of ‘Axis Mundi’ bring substantial quality to its classic melodic modus.

PREVIEW “Königsjäger” on YouTube


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Artist ACID MAMMOTH
Title [Type] Under Acid Hoof [Full-length]
 Heavy Psych Sounds REVIEW COMING SOON

Athens, Greece bound psychedelic doom metal band Acid Mammoth get it right on their second album ‘Under Acid Hoof’. I don’t stick around for a ton of records in this style, just for the sake of having heard so many that do so very little but these guys have fully trimmed the fat of their hour-long debut and bring a compact but doubly effective second album at just over 35 minutes. There were several albums I’d really debated to fill the last position on this list and Acid Mammoth made it by sheer compelling listenability, I kept picking this record up and listening to it over and over again when left to my own devices. The production leans somewhere in the middle of stoner/doom and retro heavy psych sounds, sort of like Alastor or early Witchcraft. Infectious traditional doom metal.


Honorable mentions


Did I miss your favorite metal/rock/whatever album released in January? Tell me about it, send it to me, I know I missed a lot! There are hundreds more releases from the month and I might have overlooked something amazing, let me know. This list is representative of one dude’s opinions and you really shouldn’t get bent out of shape over it. Again I want to thank the bands, labels, hardworking PR folks, and donors for their support and contributions! This is a dream for a lifelong fan and collector like me.

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