The Top 20 Albums of March | 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.


In January I was tired yet eager to start anew. In February we’d faced flooding as the rain came as extreme as the intermittent bursts of sunlight. There I saw my own death in my dreams. March finds the world in turmoil despite the luxury that so many of us have, to stay indoors and survive thanks to the convenience our dystopia yet sustains. I have realized so many people that I’d respected from afar, those whom I begin to hate more with each passing day, can neither handle ‘isolation’ nor thier own idle hands. There is no love for neighbor and no respect for community where I live, but we keep our distance. I cannot imagine the dread that so many are feeling, faced with a desperate and out of control ignorance that can so easily spell death for the innocent within widespread plague. If you find yourself sitting and meditating upon anything these days, responsibly confined, I would suggest that this is but one of many extreme events to come that will continue to highlight a lack of sustainability within a corporation-ruled government fed by outsourced laborers; More importantly, future outbreaks will not likely allow us privileged and connected to sit indoors and wait for our fellow man to finish their lowly dying. My fellow sans-culottes, if you are feeling such fear, emptiness, and despair then the hope is that some of the music I’ve chosen to highlight this month will solidify those spiraling out of control and, encourage you all to sharpen your pikes against all gods, against all masters.

March releases still in consideration for review: Membaris, Nekrovault, Demonic Death Judge, Disembowel, Enepsigos, Aodon, Nox Formulae, Arcada, Satan’s Cross, Saltas, Anthropophagous [Vinyl], Serpent Column, Sleepwulf, Witchtrap, Dopelord, Tulus, Telepathy, Fer De Lance & a few more. In this case I intend to review each of these releases excepting a few, some are included on this list and are still in the draft stages of review where noted.

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 continue to focus on more reviews, less features, and keeping up to date with new releases. In the coming weeks a catch-up feature, including short reviews for ~25 overlooked albums released in the first three months of the year, will publish. Thank you.


1.

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Artist SWEVEN
Title [Type] The Eternal Resonance [Full-length]
Ván Records FULL REVIEW

Reflecting upon the first three months of 2020 I can say that no single record has offered as much solace, introspection, self-analysis, frightening mortality, and inspiration of purpose than ‘The Eternal Resonance’. But lets be realistic here, I would not have gotten there so quickly and heartily if Sweven were not the spiritual successor to one of my favorite albums of all time, Morbus Chron‘s ‘Sweven’, an influential masterpiece that is now succeeded and reborn therein. Prior to release I envisioned a much more ecstatic response from fans of Andersson‘s previous work but today, even moreso than 2014, I find so many stupid and impatient children who have nothing but ‘hot takes’ to offer the loads of music they listen to halfway (and once) before discarding it. This is an experience that demands attention, respect, and patience. It communicates wonderfully the language of ‘Sweven’ while expanding it well beyond the limits of death metal. You can call it progressive death metal by virtue of the vocals but this work is not so limited and it’ll be just as hard, if not more difficult, to grasp the expanse. I’d compared the entirety of this record to mid-70’s Yes and early King Crimson for good reason, there are better analogues in metal but there is an old soul within Sweven‘s movements that reaches back (and forth) in time for inspiration. No matter how you’d parse what you’re hearing there is yet nothing else like it.


2.

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Artist CÉNOTAPHE
Title [Type] Monte Verità [Full-length]
Nuclear War Now! Productions FULL REVIEW

Though it was released on cassette, CD and digitally the month prior on Fog‘s own Ossuaire Records, I’d received this fine debut full-length from French black metal duo Cénotaphe by way of the 12″ vinyl LP version through Nuclear War Now! Productions in early March. Whichever month it is placed in, its praises are sung at the same level. That is to say that this is a band that’ve communicated with some brilliant capability from their first public recordings up to and including this generally flawless debut full-length. Virtuously atmospheric and melodically intricate yet raw and human enough to communicate the spirit of black metal, a great feat is apparent enough from a surface level. Attuned to the enlightenment of the natural world, the soul presented on ‘Monte Verità’ is most free as a being away from the decaying stench of civilization, by the conclusion of the album the throes of seclusion resolve in wisdom unmatched. A brilliant conception articulated unto stirring results.


3.

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Artist MALOKARPATAN
Title [Type] Krupinské Ohne [Full-length]
Invictus Productions/The AJNA Offensive FULL REVIEW

When I am ear-to-speaker with a classically attuned band that’ve a lifetime of obscure metal wanderlust under their belts (and… keeping their capes a-flowing) my own critical thought process begins with a fairly challenging question. Where do they differ from their stylistic masters? Many a great band plainly update elements of their heroes as their heroes did before them and the legacy lives on through genetic mutation. The spirited minds of these Slovak fellowes are too keen for plain worship, and these extended and resonant true metal epics are the result of enough insight that does not merely mutilate the past for the sake of strangling out its black juices. ‘Krupinské Ohne’ surely admires some of the things Funereal Presence did last year but this is largely by virtue of shared tastes and an equally capable hand. 80’s black metal extended into grand epics inspired by everything from Maiden to Tormentor writhes beneath a story of persecution, witchery, and defiance. So, what has changed eh? That description sounds like their last record (‘Nordkarpatenland‘, 2017) but the great change is clear just a few minutes into the first song, where speed metal precision trades in for a more mid-paced 80’s metal whip that balances eastern bloc stomps, Bathory-esque grandeur, and progressive rock vaulted Master’s Hammer-esque black metal. So, the answer to the original question is that they’ve brought their own personality by virtue of insanely detailed and memorable pieces, gloriously bloated and immersive ancient black metal class.


4.

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Artist AFTERBIRTH
Title [Type] Four Dimensional Flesh [Full-length]
Unique Leader Records FULL REVIEW

As much as folks would like to see slamming brutal death metal progenitors Afterbirth as ye olde pillar of slam they’ve seemingly evolved just as much (or more) since their debut (‘The Time Traveler’s Dilemma‘, 2016) than they had during their hiatus from ’94 until 2014. Sure, that’ll sound far-fetched at first but you’re likely underselling what a grand extension of their sound ‘Four Dimensional Flesh’ actually is where brutal death metal is still the impetus and backbone of the experience but these songs manifest on a different level, where a new stage is set. There are many smaller successes here that go unnoticed for the sake of their more rapacious moments, such as the incredible use of instrumentals to allow the album to ‘breathe’ and set a deeply considered pace. The most floaty atmospheric nuance eventually meets its cosmic horror, the darkest chugging glass-coughed moment arrives with some purpose and all of it expresses with incredible detail and dynamic. Well, don’t let me prattle on too long. The point here is that I’ve been completely floored by this album since I received it and it earns its place as one of the absolute must have death metal records for the year tenfold.


5.

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Artist BALMOG
Title [Type] Pillars of Salt [EP]
War Anthem Records FULL REVIEW

Spanish black/death metal band had found a meaningful direction for their sound on their second album (‘Svmma Fide‘, 2015) and it is clear to see now that they’ve been working on greater distinction since when approaching their latest EP ‘Pillars of Salt’, a single ~19 minute song that bring an inspired influx of ‘modern’ underground influences to their steadily evolving sound. In my review I’d compared elements of their sound to Svartidauði‘s most recent album where the death metal element scales back and an avant-blackened trip ensues but to be sure Balmog are doing something quite different as they dip into some rock influences and start to enter a realm near that of fellow BlackSeed Productions alumni Mystagos. The song itself is an epic that arrives in three perceived acts that are lightly punctuated by brief reprieve. It feels whole as an experience, a grand display of what Balmog can do on a grand scale and this could easily have been a third of an even bigger full-length. One of the most memorable and infinitely repeatable records of the month.


6.

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Artist MY DYING BRIDE
Title [Type] The Ghost of Orion [Full-length]
Nuclear Blast Records FULL REVIEW

To be frank, I owe no major allegiance to My Dying Bride as a legacy artist who’d not really compelled me toward many of their albums from the late 90’s until the late 2000’s. That isn’t to say that I am one of those “their older stuff is better” folks but that I’d no patience for certain evolution of their core sound beyond 1995. Why does ‘The Ghost of Orion’ connect with me so easily? It might’ve never happened, they were surely despondent and unsure whilst making it, and ultimately those cracks in their armor make for a most ‘real’ performance during difficult times. That new reality coincides with some much needed modernization in their production and overall process. The art is elevated, the sound is forever changed, and Aaron Stainthorpe is the emotional and affected artiste with his vocal direction here. It is hard to not sound like analytical twat in describing those changes but the intent is to illustrate this emotional beast did not come easily from the band and the waves of struggle resonated with me. Fans are split on this one, it seems, all are happy they are back but no doubt the sidereal weirdos aren’t pleased with change. I am, though and I have continued to find challenge and solace within its catchy yet dread-inducing songwriting.

Listen to ‘The Ghost of Orion’ on Spotify


7.

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Artist SUTRAH
Title [Type] Aletheia [EP]
The Artisan Era FULL REVIEW

When it comes to modern progressive/technical death metal of course I lean towards the more classically derived forms, not for the sake of familiarity but for the cohesive sense of song that usually results. This Québec based progressive death band bring their own spiritual quest that resembles the basal inspiration of Cynic and Gorguts generally speaking, in the sense that Sutrah bring fairly technical arrangements that still breathe and wobble with a human spirit while following an intentional structure. On ‘Aletheia’ they lean their style further towards later Anata and some of the less ‘brutal’ edges of Lykathea Aflame. Thoughtful and intricate death metal that’d create a stabilizing glow rather than a ruinous rip of hatred or anxiety. They’ve also reissued their 2017 debut full-length, ‘Dunes’, on vinyl through The Artisan Era and I would very highly recommend that release as well.


8.

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Artist DISEMBOWEL
Title [Type] Echoes of Terror [Full-length]
Maggot Stomp Review coming soon…

Portland, Oregon’s Disembowel are an incredible addition to Maggot Stomp‘s growing roster of fresh-assed ‘old school’ minded death metal bands and ‘Echoes of Terror’ might be my favorite release on the label to date. Slap the skin off your friends pretty ‘lil face if they can’t hear it: Those drums are Reifert levels of kill. The rest of the trio manages a brick shit-house solid crossing of ’91 NYDM riffs (“Chuffed”) and ’89 storage locker death metal sounds. Some of it moshes hard but think, pre-hardcore dancing era mosh. I mean, I’ll try to be entertaining on the full review when it is ready but, the appeal of this record couldn’t be more clear. They’re heavy as hell, menacing, crank out tons of riffs, and put together an excellent 35 minute death metal record.


9.

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Artist SOLOTHUS
Title [Type] Realm of Ash and Blood [Full-length]
 20 Buck Spin FULL REVIEW

Solothus make it into the top ten best releases this month for the sake of how memorable this finely crafted no-nonsense death/doom metal album is. Their second time around (‘No King Reigns Eternal‘, 2016) was more or less the true arrival of the bands greater strengths, realizing the value of sound design as much as providing dynamic beyond the powerful riffs they are so clearly capable of. There they became a notable band but here on ‘Realm of Ash and Blood’ they take one more commanding step towards a classic in the well-stocked Finnish death/doom pantheon. The vocals were the first thing to jump out at me, not only for the variation expressed but the sheer guttural power they hurl across the record. The hooks come by way of the guitars and they are subtle but moving, in my review I compared this knack for slick and understated pieces to Amorphis‘ first album and I mean that as one of the highest compliments possible for a band of this style. I certainly had to put in some time for every bit of the album to stick, the second half is initially redundant here and there but the grand closing track seals the deal for the better.


10.

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Artist MEMBARIS
Title [Type] Misanthrosophie [Full-length]
 W.T.C. Productions REVIEW coming soon…

Membaris is one of the earliest projects from German musician Obscurus who is best known for his contributions to avant-black band Porta Nigra, who released a very fine album earlier this year, and stints in other notable projects Chaos Invocation and Obscure Infinity. It has been a good eight years of time spent on other projects before the artist would return to work on ‘Misanthrosophie’, perhaps the greatest work of Membaris‘ already impressive five album discography. Melodic, atmospheric, raw, brutal, occult, progressive but not devoted solely to any of these elements and ultimately serving the craft of black metal first and foremost — This is an unforgettable and completely unleashed experience that I cannot get enough of. I’ll save the pouring for the full review, for now I can only say that you must sit with this entire record and let it unveil its inventive cosmic horrors.


11.

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Artist WAKE
Title [Type] Devouring Ruin [Full-length]
Translation Loss Records FULL REVIEW

There are no shortages of bands in the history of heavy metal that have shifted style over the years and most of these occurrences come by way of restaffed or resurrected bands which merely serve as branding at some point. Alberta, Canada blackened deathgrind band Wake on the other hand have evolved together in the space of  just over a decade, beginning as a crust influenced grindcore band that’d advance unto chaotic realms towards deathgrind and now this latest evolution that features avant-blackened rhythms and ‘modern’ underground black/death currents driving its surreal celestial freakery. ‘Devouring Ruin’ is a refined and gorgeous beast that might feel a little bit self-conscious when a song calls for full extreme metal fanaticism but they own it and earn this new station in the span of the album. The bigger story really isn’t so much the stylistic changes made in the space of the last decade but how they’ve manage to keep a thread of personal but painful growth extending within their themes these last few albums. This makes the change all the more meaningful as they’ve narrated the record while expressing the evolving point of view that’d coincide with that triumphant transformation. Plus uh, its heavy and has a bunch of great riffs amongst the tripped-out wilderness of it all.


12.

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Artist CARDINALS FOLLY
Title [Type] Defying the Righteous Way [Full-length]
Rafchild Records FULL REVIEW

One of the finest Finnish doom metal bands ever to record, Cardinals Folly are still standing where so many of their peers have lost interest or moved on. A honed and personal sound developed through a taste for classic heavy metal, black metal, and even some punk influences. There is no denying ‘Defying the Righteous Way’ resembles a distinct vision that still fits neatly within people’s expectations of a Finnish doom metal sound. ‘Deranged Pagan Sons‘ (2017) was one of the very best records of that year so I approached this one with caution and sure enough it took a while before I stopped judging this new album against my enduring love for the prior. Anyhow, I wrote like a 1600 word review for the damn thing, you can sift through the details there. The gist is that this is a fantastic doom metal record, the best songs are on the first half, and they’re still an awesome doom metal band.


13.

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Artist ENEPSIGOS
Title [Type] Wrath of Wraths [Full-length]
 Osmose Productions Review coming soon…

The second album from Norwegian black metal project Enepsigos could be heralded for its unique thunder, almost certainly using the infamous Boss HM-2 distortion for one layer of its brilliant twist upon modern black metal dissonance and occult majesty. It could be heralded for its staff, which includes indomitable drummer Thorns (Blut Aus Nord, Frostmoon Eclipse, etc.) and maestro V.I.T.H.R. aka Doedsadmiral (Nordjevel, Svartelder). It could be heralded for its glorious album art and evocative lyrics. It could be heralded for the fine render and mix, a surely difficult balance of rage and graceful destructive power. It could be heralded for the grand progression beyond their debut (‘Plague of Plagues‘, 2017). It could be heralded for its Satanic majesty and that’d be enough to set my eyes and ears spiraling in ecstasy… And it will be heralded, once the full review is drafted.


14.

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Artist VELNIAS
Title [Type] Scion of Aether [Full-length]
Eisenwald FULL REVIEW

Although their musical lineage stems from a past steeped in a post-Agalloch world of earthen black metal that’d ease into doom metal influenced drainage here and there, the long awaited return of Velnias should be seen as more than fresh skin. A rebirth and a bit of redemption for a band that many would overlook in the past, now achieving something uniquely theirs within their admittedly fragmented discography thus far — ‘Scion of Aether’ is a grand experience that builds as if it were a post-rock record and releases into intensely wrangled guitar driven pieces. In my review I’d compared the album to The Flight of Sleipnir and Maestus for good reason, although the doom elements aren’t as pronounced as their peers much of their sound hits upon similar emotional and naturalistic threads with grand pools of ecstasy forming great peaks in the experience. I don’t think this will be an impressive album if you’ve no patience but the more time I invested into Velnias’ return the more lucid and redeeming its bigger picture became.


15.

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Artist Thanatos
Title [Type] Violent Death Rituals [Full-length]
Listenable Records FULL REVIEW

Not only do I include Thanatos‘ latest album on this list because I have been a fan as long as I can remember but because they’re still one of the best at what they do. An old school spirited death/thrash metal sound that is forceful, violent and always in service to the attack of the riff. ‘Violent Death Rituals’ isn’t a comeback record, they already came back in 2000 with ‘Angelic Encounters’ and have been absolutely consistent ever since. I do enjoy the bands early history as one of the earliest extreme metal bands in the Netherlands but more importantly, their whole discography is above average stuff and I think many would agree that several of their post-2000 albums are even better realized than their late 80’s/early 90’s shift from death/thrash towards death metal. Take my recommendation as you see fit, I’ve been a fan of this band for two decades so I’m going to be eternally biased towards their sharply delivered death/thrash sound.


16.

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Artist ANGEROT
Title [Type] The Divine Apostate [Full-length]
Redefining Darkness Records FULL REVIEW

‘The Divine Apostate’ represents a meaningful paradigm shift beyond Sioux Falls, South Dakota death metal quartet Angerot‘s first album towards greater ambition, slick sound design, and all things considered their best album yet. The first two records that came to mind as I took a closer listen were Edge of Sanity‘s second record ‘Unorthodox’, as it carried similar hints of ‘progressive’ thought in its rafters, as well as Intestine Baalism‘s underrated ‘Ultimate Instinct’ for its light use of melody and a similar balance of influences. Harrowing death metal epics, haunted chorales, blackened rasps, and rushes of nigh progressive death metal style all inform this entertaining but perhaps not ‘catchy’ death metal record. No longer the band “to watch” but now one to align with and enjoy where they go from here.


17.

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Artist SERPENT COLUMN
Title [Type] Endless Detainment [EP]
Mystískaos Review coming soon…

If ‘Mirror in Darkness’ wasn’t clear enough of a breakthrough, then I suppose ‘Endless Detainment’ will cement the notion that Serpent Column‘s vision is not only fluid but currently intent on finding remarkable threads within chaotic rhythmic excess. This translates by way of challenging bursts of technical black metal that approaches each storm like a mathcore band might. Not even the classic mathcore bands suffice as a comparison anymore though, think of the fiddly modern stuff that is far more extreme and outrageous. Forward-thinking kids have finally picked up on this and the project becomes more popular with each release. It isn’t as easily parsed as the ordered strokes of Thantifaxath any more, nor does ‘Endless Detainment’ even contain itself as much as Pyrrhon‘s more recent mania. The do-it-yourself approach continues to be admirable though I grow tired of seeing first time listeners focus so heavily upon the artists intended balance. Let it be imbalanced and be itself, sores and all. I’ve arrived upon this one a bit late so the review will come this week or next and it sounds like third full-length might come before the end of the year.


18.

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Artist ANCIENT CRYPTS
Title [Type] Inhaling the Fumes of a Burning Carcass [EP]
Burning Coffin Records FULL REVIEW

Chilean death metal band Ancient Crypts have finally returned beyond their 2013 ‘Devoured by Serpents’ demo tape with an even stronger blend of Asphyx and Incantation-esque death metal. In my review I point towards Vanhelgd, Morgoth and even early Ataraxy in description of what the band have done with their latest EP. This is an exceptional work of death metal art that is as brutal, mysterious, and engrossing as you’d expect from a Santiago area death metal band. Easily one of the finest death metal releases of the month.


19.

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Artist DEMONIC DEATH JUDGE
Title [Type] The Trail [Full-length]
Suicide Records Click HERE to read the Full REVIEW

There are a few notable sludge metal records I’ve fawned over these last few years but that doesn’t help me to escape the feeling that the sub-genre eludes my own tastes with some greater frequency since about 2015. The main reason? Well, it isn’t a fundamentalist attitude as I’ll go for the progressive accessible stuff as often as the true blue 90’s styled punk n’ Sabbath grinders. The fourth full-length from Finnish sludge/stoner metal band Demonic Death Judge, ‘The Trail’, provides that exact something missing from so much modern sludge today: The doomed goddamn soul inherent. The strife of caste, inequality, dissolving habitat, all of it leads itself along ‘The Trail’ suggested towards the oblivion ahead for mankind. Anyhow I’ll go into more detail on the full review but the gist is that I so enjoyed this record beyond any sludge metal I’ve heard in ages.


20.

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Artist DEATH THE LEVELLER
Title [Type] II [Full-length]
Cruz Del Sur Music FULL REVIEW

Dublin, Ireland based epic heavy/doom metal band Death the Leveller offer the spiritual successor to the folkish grandeur of Mael Mórdha, a band they’ve put to rest as they move on with a different vocalist and a somewhat new stylistic direction. ‘II’ is more extensive, more complex and even more bold in its design than its predecessor ‘I’, and in this sense a progression is perceived and Death the Leveller grows more clever and expressive with each release. Where I am most impressed is the serious pipes of Denis Dowling who goes over the top but never overboard with his very pronounced and commanding vocals. Comparisons are of course difficult as only recent Primordial, Apostle of Solitude and the last Mael Mórdha record come close in style but much of what the band does on ‘II’ is only similar in tone and mood rather than directly comparable in style. It is epic doom metal nonetheless and perhaps an acquired taste in the long run.


Honorable mentions


Did I miss your favorite metal/rock/whatever album released in February? 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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