The Top 20 Albums of April | 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 just as extreme as intermittent bursts of sunlight. In March a cross-species pandemic sickness from the wet markets in China forced the entire globe’s population indoors to hide our vulnerable from impending death and sickness. As April comes to a close we have no federal initiative to research, develop, and mass produce an effective vaccine for that sickness. Testing is unreliable and unavailable to most, even the symptoms and side-effects are only now coming into focus. After bailing out a multitude of corporate interests the federal government gave each United States citizen two weeks pay, and told us to make it last indefinitely. A couple of weeks later the current federal administration suggested quite publicly that we could inject bleach and/or household cleaner into our veins to treat the illness. Oh, you. Customer service isn’t available, health services aren’t available, grooming services aren’t available, so there is a chance that after a few months of hiding indoors you’ll come out of it with a drained bank account, a shaved head, and a blood clot in your brain the size of a thumbnail. I’m not even trying to be funny, honestly take care of yourself and feel free to contact me if you need someone to talk to, otherwise: Write to your state government with your concerns. Me? I’ve been playing Magic: The Gathering Arena, painting burning bodies cowering under the light of Helios in various poses, learning intermediate calligraphy techniques, reading Oliver Sacks’ Hallucinations, and writing about music. Here are twenty records that inspired the Hell out of me while I was doing that.

April releases still in consideration (or process) for review: Auroch, Kurnugia, Swallow the Rat, Road Warrior, Traveler, Katatonia, Order of Orias, Solicitor, Jarboe, Feed Them Death, Black Magick SS, Aara, Azath, Cosmic Burial, Luctus, Haxanu & a few more. Note that Comaniac‘s release ‘Holodox’ would be on this list but they were forced to postpone it due to plague. 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 (~2-3) weeks my standalone feature on Neat Records (UK) will be published, and I’ll finally begin to post a few 2020 video game related things shortly. Thank you.



Title [Type] Stare Into Death and Be Still [LP]
Debemur Morti Productions FULL REVIEW

Heading into the depths of ‘Stare Into Death and Be Still’ there was no expectation outside of quality, I know Ulcerate well and perhaps better than most folks who’ll casually lump them in with ‘dissonant extreme metal’ bands as if they’d not been innovative on their own merit. I’ll be blunt, the last two Ulcerate records were not exciting for me. I loved the shifts in the render, different production sounds and twinges of atmospheric sludge within but each step forward only reminded me how powerful ‘Everything is Fire’ and ‘The Destroyers of All’ were back when they released. With this sixth release the trio refine their strengths, old and new, dwelling within the waves they’d create and burying all but sea-like movement. As I listened closer and closer it’d start to remind me of the shift felt on Immolation‘s ‘Harnessing Ruin’, an unsung record that did similar things with that band at a similar point of distinctive personality. Artfully liquid death metal, modern but never straying so far into ‘Drought’-era Deathspell Omega charms that they might lose the pounding prowess of death that sustains them. I’ve figured this album scored so highly with me because it created an emotional state that lead to a personal connection with its nigh hour long event. For a double LP it flows incredibly well from song to song but can be taken in doses that might actually be easier to appreciate piecemeal. A triumph and honestly a bit of a surprise on my end as I’d expected good but not great.



Title [Type] Death Meditation [LP]
Carbonized Records FULL REVIEW

You don’t have to be a legacy band, on a famous fuckin’ label, written in the “it” style of the time, or whatever else to really catch my eye, ear, and mind. New York death/doom metal band Funeral Leech caught my eye with their Karmazid illustrated cover art, they caught my ear with an incredible set of ‘old school’ tinged death/doom metal songs, and they hooked into my mind with a true “death is only the beginning…” mindset. ‘Death Meditation’ is a monster of a debut and surprisingly comes from folks who’ve been more tied to crust and hardcore punk related bands in the past. Consider the gigantic impactful rip of bands like Innumerable Forms and Ossuarium with a bit more early Bolt Thrower-isms set in the riffs, think of an even bigger version of ‘…For Victory’ blended with some Slugathor speed and pulled into modern production standards. The main reason I am so in love with this record stems from the care put into each song, sure the riffs fit in well with modern death/doom monsters but in this case each piece feels important and imagined as separate events. It takes me further along than simple associations with other bands and that is a huge achievement for an ‘old school’ styled band on thier debut in this day and age. Absolute love for this one, didn’t hesitate for a second when grabbing the vinyl.



Artist ELDER
Title [Type] Omens [LP]
Armageddon Label FULL REVIEW

Spending time with Elder‘s entire discography in order reveals a stoner/doom metal project that’d mature out of its original limited intent to invoke a certain style. They’d began simply compartmentalizing attempts at different sub-genres in different bands and eventually decided upon Elder as not only the one that showed the most promise and interest but the right one to expand upon in meaningful, redeeming ways. As such Elder had peeled away every old layer of skin on their entire body by the time ‘Lore’ released as perhaps the bands first original masterpiece. I don’t use that word lightly, yet I cannot sit with any of Elder‘s last three albums (‘Omens’ included) and not feel I am in the midst of a masterful work. ‘Reflections of a Floating World’ had already been found keying into my soul back in 2017 but as I listened to ‘Omens’ it merged with me more and more, creating an entire choreographed musical-emotional experience each time it played. Returning to it just to inspire a blurb here finds me reeling, bristling with chills, tearing up, yearning for that next run of riffs and the strike of certain lyrics. Soul-stirring and absolutely inspiring music, an absolute must for 2020.



Title [Type] Dominion [LP]
Unspeakable Axe Records FULL REVIEW

The moment ‘Dominion’ rips into its first riffs it takes me back a couple of decades ago discovering bands like Adramelech and finding some early inspiration to start collecting classic death metal demo tapes. Of course this well-considered and tasteful debut from Atlanta, Georgia based Cemetery Filth didn’t stick around by way of pure nostalgia but instead because they can write a mean song. I say song because they consider far more than just a wicked guitar sound and a bunch of clever riffs, they have that and more. I can’t remember the last time a band channeled Ripping Corpse and Demilich with such fluidity and that is only -one- of the tricks these guys have in their repertoire, which generally pulls from a love of classic Florida death metal as a point of origin. Definitely a die-hard death metal fan’s death metal record and easily one of the best albums of the sort this year.



Title [Type] Forever Black [LP]
Metal Blade Records FULL REVIEW

When Cirith Ungol had officially reformed and headlined several festivals and shows, including Northwest Terror Fest ’19 where I’d seen them recently, there was some linger sense in the back of my mind preparing me for a grand disappointment and the style of ‘Witch’s Game’ back in 2018 reinforced this thought that they’d come back with a different sound and evolved style in mind. ‘Forever Black’ never once threatens to break the mold set back in the 80’s and by the time the incredible screaming glory of the album closer and title track sends the album off I relaxed my shoulders, and felt a hundred percent relieved that they didn’t mess with their legacy. Shitty thought, right? Yeah, I mean I get that not wanting a band to change is a turd’s perspective but that doesn’t change the fact that ‘Forever Black’ sounds like a true follow-up to ‘One Foot In Hell’ and as such it ends up being a record that I’ll hold onto for the rest of my life. This is the sort of band that’ll remind you what heavy metal is all about every time you put ’em on spin: Defiance and the enduring power of the individual. No need for an asterisk next to their name in the heavy metal history books, Cirith Ungol have pulled a Satan here and made official their return is an inspiring and empowering moment rather than a weird stain that so many classic heavy metal bands come back with.



Title [Type] Mestarin Kynsi [LP]
Nuclear Blast Records FULL REVIEW

No doubt my review for this record was odd to start but, really the gist of it is that the post-millennium’s only truly validated ‘psychedelic black metal’ band has finally arrived on an indisputably big label and instead of going ‘commercial’ they’ve created something innovative and frankly transcendent of expectations and norms. The sheer complexity of layers within aren’t so much a spectacle as their artful release is, where Jun-His‘ vision for the band leans heavier in all directions while creating something transgressive of black metal that doesn’t rely on extreme signifiers to pull in a larger crowd. It is Finnish art metal pulling from grand traditions of suomi prog music (perhaps not the symphonic prog side…) as well as kosmiche musik and impossible to divine black metal influences. Thrilling, bewildering, complex and powerfully delivered ominous cosmic horror that acts as a new and unimaginable peak without peer. An instant classic that’ll defy categorization and surely be difficult to top.



Title [Type] Kindred [LP]
Svart Records FULL REVIEW

Although Finn-English psychedelic forest folk rock band Hexvessel‘s debut for Century Media, ‘All Tree’ didn’t score particularly high marks from me last year it was undoubtedly one of the most memorable records of that year, pulling me back toward Mat McNerny‘s personal project after some lax fandom on my part beyond ‘No Holier Temple’. If anything ‘Kindred’ is both a return to the warmth and occult daring of their first two albums with the professionalism of their voyage beyond in tact. To start, McNerny‘s voice is crystalline and beautifully nuanced throughout and some of the biggest thrills for the ear within come from his range expressing beyond the usual earthen neo-folkish timbre assigned to this project. It is undoubtedly the vibe of the record as a whole that touches me. The range of what I’d consider both clever-yet-ominous moods skulking between knowing doom and soulful contemplation throughout makes for an unforgettable crossing of classic psychedelic folk, folk rock, and neofolk that shares a gorgeously blended worldview between Scandinavian and Irish-English affect. Easily one of my most listened to and mulled-over records this year.



Title [Type] Subterranean Exile [LP]
Cruz Del Sur Music FULL REVIEW

Eight years in the works and yet not tortured or toiled over in practice this latest album from Tasmanian heavy/doom metal band The Wizar’d is a brilliant addition to the timeless pantheon of its intended craft. ‘Subterranean Exile’ will thrill the ears off of folks who live for spinning Pagan Altar records ad infinitum, it’ll beguile the lobes of Manilla Road fans and Witchfinder General apologists alike. Though they were born as more of a Saint Vitus-esque celebrant of the emergent forms of occult rock influenced doom metal in the 2000’s today The Wizar’d picks up where they left off back in 2013 with their own take on what I’d long called ‘adventure metal’, the sort of narrative and dark high fantasy brilliance of old that I’d uh, just call epic heavy/doom metal today. If you’re picking up on what I’m trying to say is that this is the sort of band you’re likely going to be torso deep into classic forms of heavy metal to ‘get’ and love. If you’re familiar with Tarot (the Australian one) you’ll no doubt hear some of that melodic sense creeping into The Wizar’d‘s sound but more often than not this expresses as a fine and upstanding tower built on (or, in a bunker below) the foundations of their previous record.



Title [Type] Leaving Room [LP]
 Shifting Sounds Swallow the Rat on Facebook

When taking stock of my most listened, most loved, and the most impactful exposures of this very ‘within four walls’ April no doubt I’m as surprised as you are that this somewhat random shoegaze influenced post-punk record from US/New Zealand based quartet Swallow The Rat ended up being a huge favorite for the month. ‘Leaving Room’ is a jangling, tuneful record awash with dreamy guitar ooze and a droning sort of emotionally driven internalization that has its own emotive appeal during uncertain times. I’m not a big shoegazer by anyone’s standard and have no sense for those influences beyond a certain sound, but it is clear those influences lend an incredible hand to the syncopated rhythmic repetition of the post-punk within. Think of a completely depressed Unwound, asking questions in the dark after a six hour bout with mushrooms and a lot of body aches. A dreary, lush, tripped kind of record that I really connected with. If you’re curious definitely check out “Chromos” and “Echoes of a Tide” back to back, it’ll click if it is meant to be.



Artist PYRE
Title [Type] Chained to Ossuaries [LP]
Memento Mori FULL REVIEW

Known for their Swedish buzzsaw sound and intuitive grasp of Dismember and Autopsy flavored pure ‘old school’ death metal Saint Petersburg Russia-based trio Pyre have finally managed the follow up to their brilliant and underrated debut, ‘Human Hecatomb’. The second time around leans towards Autopsy a bit more and cools the Boss HM-2‘s jets a bit, leaning more towards the Repugnant school of thrashing death with some serious ‘Mental Funeral’ killers along the way. Admittedly the major bulk of the appeal here is the riffs and that ‘just right’ sweet spot between thrashing death metal and a Stockholm circa ’89 feeling to their songwriting, big buzzing numbers that just fuckin’ rip front to back. If you’re already well in tune with the band I think the most important note here is that these rhythms point towards early 90’s Autopsy and Unleashed more than old comparisons might have and in that sense ‘Chained to Ossuaries’ should pique the ears of fans of bands like Vanhelgd a bit more this time around since they’re leaning into some doomed territory along the way. These guys definitely don’t get enough love and I’d really hoped to see more buzz around this in the open, no doubt those in the know are going apeshit otherwise.



Title [Type] À Contre Vent [LP]
The Green Man Label FULL REVIEW

You won’t find a ton of black/folk metal on my docket these days as a lot of the leading bands from the 2000’s became shit-tier Wacken metal memes in the 2010’s but when the right band hits in an earnest way I remember all of the years spent fawning over the greats. I hadn’t necessarily heard of Montréal, Quebec based solo act Allelic prior to receiving ‘À Contre Vent’ so before I’d approach it I decided to listen to his first album (‘The Smoke of Atavistic Fires’, 2018) once to familiarize myself. That’d somehow lead to a full weekend of nothing but that album, stewing with it and marveling at its do-it-yourself feeling crossed with all sorts of beauteous and dark black/folk metal ideals. Some of it clashed or stepped on its own toes while other moments were purely exuberant — It was inspiring and thus when it was time for ‘À Contre Vent’ it hit quite hard how the second time around was less pessimistic and instead full of powerful resolve and emotional weight. Ambitious but earthen, all-feeling and yet the voice of an inspired lifetime student communicating as righteously as possible, this isn’t just another black/folk record. Definitely pick it up if you’re drawn to classic Windir, Nechochwen, and some of the lead-driven neoclassical/medieval black metal coming out of France and Quebec of late.



Title [Type] Damnation Is My Salvation [LP]
Nuclear War Now! Productions FULL REVIEW

One of the better ‘comeback’ records from a band that was never fully there beyond a few demos in the late 80’s (and even those didn’t fully release) this debut from Vancouver, British Colombia area extreme thrashers Witches Hammer feels as if it were pulled directly from 1989 or so, where these guys kinda belonged in history all of these years. Consider the violence and mayhemic strength of bands like Sacrifice, Armoros, and Infernäl Mäjesty around that time and this album kinda proves that if these guys had managed a full-length back in the day they’d be remembered just as well. ‘Damnation is my Salvation’ is a true thrash metal album in the sense that it is an extreme take on speed metal just as valid and violent as the death/thrashers of the late 80’s as well as the black/thrashers of today the major difference being Witches Hammer have some true connection to the spirit of classic speed metal. Simple enough appeal here: I put it on, I hear riffs, and I’m happy.



Title [Type] Postnihilera [LP]
 Nomad Sky Diaries SHORT REVIEW

‘Postnihilera’ is a pure black metal album in motion. A raw and clangorous event in the true spirit of the sub-genre but also completely willing to take the rhythms of pagan black metal and shatter them into compelling, mind-expanding tirades. By the time “Starec, ktorý zabudol…” rings out its last few chords I feel I’ve peeled only one layer of paint from an old artifact, that there is something golden and truly transgressive beneath if I keep listening. No doubt others might’ve seen an artifact as a curio that needed modernization or retooling yet I’d strip it back to bareness and enjoy the burl of the original wood. What some might see as quirky or deranged in spirit I found moving, vibrant and restless in response to the stimulus of today. Porenut also notably feature artwork and drumming from Ceremony of Silence‘s Svjatogor, who brings a lot to this fine piece of work. If you’re a stickler who is disturbed by ‘mistakes’ in performances or doesn’t deal with chaotic rawness I could see some points of ‘Postnihilera’ being irksome but I actually love some of the stumbling parts, when the guitars slip out the wrong note it feels like a true live experience and there I’d felt the humanity of Porenut‘s work was reflected. A truly fine work that I hope more people will come to appreciate for its charming spirit and intelligent discourse.



Title [Type] 亂 [Luan] [LP]
Pulverised Records FULL REVIEW

Hey! Two classic Swedish death metal attuned records hitting top spots in the same month is a rare lapse of judgement on my part but between Pyre and this second full-length from Bay Area death metal musician Andrew Lee‘s Ripped to Shreds, we’re treated to some of the finest in their respective niche today. Despite a lot of the overthinking I did in my review of this relatively straightforward death metal album the gist of it was that ‘亂 [Luan]’ delivers the finest traits expressed on his first album and brings all of it up to a higher professional standard. This album notably features Trenchrot‘s drummer who I’d felt like really brings some life-like dimension that was missing from the first album. Scaling back the guitar sound and generally re-balancing the sound design might’ve actually made this one too ‘up to par’ and polished for some folks taste but I only say that because the hype for this fine record just wasn’t as pronounced (online) as the first one. Either way this guy seems to really understand classic death metal forms and though the songwriting sometimes lapses away from the more fresh-assed moments I’d really enjoyed spinning this one throughout the month.



Title [Type] Deadly Black Doom [LP]
Invictus Productions FULL REVIEW

Atmospheric, esoteric, repetitive, ritualistic, sensorial, aesthetic, and not all that wildly divergent in expression from the prior Satanic majesty of their second full-length this third record from Sweden’s most obsidian occult doom project Head of the Demon is an incredible thing to behold and a rare treat for the lover of doom metal oddity. If I am referencing Saturnalia Temple, Occultation, The Black and the maestros in Dolorian in reference to a record that should indicate how much I appreciate its dark and ancient doomed tones so, ‘Deadly Black Doom’ couldn’t be a more appropriately descriptive title for the work therein. I’m not sure that this is the sort of record that will impress folks who look for massive change or innovation from album to album in a discography as Head of the Demon are more an expansion of a unifying mood as they explore increasingly atmospheric climes (and themes). It surely isn’t a modern trendseeker’s jolly but it is yet a fantastic full listen that has proven even stronger when revisited.



Title [Type] Endless Wound [Full-length]
Sepulchral Voice Records FULL REVIEW

After these last three years the fellows in Blood Incantation, Spectral Voice, and Khemmis could make a goregrind album full of mouthed fart noises and still sell thousands of copies to the masses who’d perked up for their most recent records. I’d say they deserve that buzz yet I was increasingly wary of the public response to ‘Endless Wound’, knowing that a lot of that freakout came from fans who were frankly new to the underground death metal world. Hold on now, by all means this record an impressive ripper of a black/death metal album with some prime war metal influences but no doubt it is also a record that plays it by the book. I’ve not wanted to downplay the whole “Yeah, uh, are you new?” reaction to excited fans because I am not at all a detractor of anything that brings more people into the fold. See, man, there is no way I can avoid sounding like a dick and the last thing I’d ever do is suggest Black Curse‘s debut is anything less than stunning from start to finish. In fact when I first heard it my head exploded, every second of this thing is a mad blurring of bestial death metal’s oft-too orthodox proportions and the polish n’ power applied is unquestionably fucking ace. The more I spun ‘Endless Wound’ I didn’t see massive depth beyond its nuanced compositions and sheer energetic delivery, hell the vocalist must’ve popped a lung at some point to make those noises, so it didn’t make it onto my ‘Best of All Time’ list like a few uh, enthusiastic writers, but it certainly belongs on high mention in the first half of this year even without any nepotism or hyperbole applied. Also I have to mention that Denis Forkas‘ artwork on the cover is among the best of the year, hands down.



Title [Type] Spectral Devastation [LP]
Gates of Hell Records Review coming soon…

Yep, I’m still dragging my ass on traditional heavy metal reviews lately but I couldn’t let April tick by without glorifying one of our very finest Seattle area heavy metal bands, Sölicitör. They’ve only been around for a couple of years but they’d played like 4-5 shows in the area before multiple people had recommended ’em to me for their live presence and massive heavy/speed metal style. Their self-titled EP was already bonkers heavy when I’d gotten the Gates of Hell version of it at the end of 2019 but man did this record click with me even more. Vocalist Amy Lee Carlson definitely has a bit of a Michael Jackson-esque affect, no not that one — the guy from Satan/Pariah, in her diction and placement of vibrato for effect and it is pure class on this record. This one had me thinking of early Artillery and Agent Steel upon initial previews but you could also point nearby to labelmates Traveler for comparison. Lots of riffs and plenty of melody pushing around some fantastic thrashing heavy/speed metal songs. I’ll write a more thoughtful review for it soon.



Title [Type] Unending Futility [LP]
Transcending Obscurity Records FULL REVIEW

Dunno how necessary my ranting opening to the review for ‘Unending Futility’ was but when I did get to the point the gist was that British ‘old school’ death metal band Live Burial offer a rotten punch of classic death on this second full-length, undoubtedly their best work to date. A healthy dose of Asphyx and Autopsy influence is all it takes to get me on board but to keep me there Live Burial employ some fine prog-death worthy bass guitar sounds, plenty of nigh death-thrashing riffs, and a polished but never sterile rendering. The way I described this album to a close friend was nuclear waste fueled ‘Consuming Impulse’ and I’d still stand behind that. I’d gotten the sense that this record was in one ear, out the other since April was so packed with death metal but don’t sleep on ‘Unending Futility’ just because it’d gotten lost in the shuffle.



Title [Type] Panopticism: Belong/Be Lost [LP]
I, Voidhanger Records Review coming soon…

If you were already familiar with England by way of Italy deathgrind solo project Feed Them Death based on ‘No Solution/Dissolution’ back in 2018 you’ll likely not be prepared for the incredibly twisted and technical ruptures of this follow-up. I’d already noted that Void‘s mind was intricate in arranging for impact but had no clue that first album was leading into the avant-death blasted mental storm that is ‘Panopticism: Belong/Be Lost’. On one hand this is obviously the work of one man and with a do-it-yourself mindset guiding the artwork, production sound, and the choice to use programmed drums but much of that thought melts away when you are in the midst of its insane rip. “Scar?” is probably the most frightening blur of technical death riff and atonal surges that I’ve heard in quite some time, feeling like a deathgrind version of Ghoulgotha during its most intense throngs of riff and theremin guided mutations. Lyrics influenced by Foucault are perhaps the main reason I’ve dragging my ass on the review as I’d like to read each of the books he’s mentioned to get the full sense of where the album is coming from. Get weird with it in the meantime.



Title [Type] How Long Have I Been On Fire? [LP]
Hex Records Review coming soon…

What’d be the best way to describe Portland, Oregon’s Gaytheist? Jane’s Addiction circa 1990 being forced to perform ‘What Makes a Man Start Fires?’ at gunpoint. Otherwise I’d say post-hardcore with a sense of gleeful power-punk rocked flamboyance, a supportive hug of a rock album that goes a little bit metallic keeping the energy up. These guys are always on point live, high energy and loud as hell stuff and here it feels like they’ve finally gotten that across appropriately on a record. I’d never gotten around to finishing the draft of this review before I was hit with a bunch of other records but I’ve been listening to it at least once a day for the last two months, it is only a half hour and the whole thing is a wild trip with a brutally wry sense of humor. This’ll appeal to a pretty wide range of music listeners but probably not so much the serious-assed metalhead as much, still I’d recommend it to post-punk, stoner rock, post-hardcore, noise rock, and adjacent heads.

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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