The Top 20 Albums of May | 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, optimistic exhaustion. In February, early thaw and floods. In March, a cross-species global pandemic cripples and kills our vulnerable. In April, this bleakness and hesitation for hope became a cultural flux in preparation for a new depression. Here at the very end of May, unemployed and watching racial injustice push angered and home-bound citizens to wanton violence I see my fellow man unable to organize, unable to speak with any power or earnest eloquence, unable to reason against violence and toward development of community action. Grass roots are paved over, a coldly observed societal doom. The only resolution available that’ll create change beyond foreseeable damnation is self-education amongst those of us who aren’t so ceaselessly spirited away by self-defeat. “Leaving aside all unreal dreams, consider this world as insincere disbelief.” Austin Osman Spare’s partial aphorism offers my outlook on the actions of those too disillusioned and unfocused to exact change; To see the numbed-over populace feign passionate-yet-toothless protest briefly and in repeatedly weak waves of meaningless online noise without inciting organization is spiritually devastating. Unreal apparitions, conjured delusions from a people incapable of community by way of severe greed and self-involvement make for unwelcome bedfellows. So, I’ve continued to support the people I love most by buying records from them as much as I can reasonably afford. From Sweden, Norway, Finland, Portugal, Mexico, Italy, Brazil, Slovakia, Scotland, Canada and all over these United States the postal services have thankfully kept pushing records on my doorstep and for that I am eternally grateful. The thrill of getting a Reveal! t-shirt, a golden Troll double LP, an incredible zine that took years to produce, a random pack-in 7″, a bunch of fuckin’ stickers all feels life-affirming for the art collector within. Readers, artists, pushers, and writers alike thank you for persisting towards this passion.

May releases still in consideration (or process) for review: Paradise Lost, Armagedda, October Falls, Barren Womb, Odraza, Sparagmos, Brackwasser Knipp, Biesy, Horn, Dining With Dogs, Krypamok, Impiety, Hyems, Omination & a few more. 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. Upcoming An Exhaustive Study features are on hold throughout June due to a lack of free time. Thank you.



Title [Type] Visitations From Enceladus [LP]
Blood Harvest Records FULL REVIEW

Seeking escape by way of lucid astral projection the protagonist of ‘Visitations From Enceladus’ finds himself severing the silver cord and transgressing known dimensional limits only to witness a cosmic apocalyptic battle that’d rip his halved self into many pieces and set upon a journey beyond the ‘self’. Very few records satisfy the need for ‘old school’ progressive death metal and technical thrash metal as fully as Cryptic Shift‘s debut album, which features a full Side A that spins as a single song in six movements. This one really caught on with folks more than I thought it would so the first run vinyl variants are basically all sold out as far as North American distros are concerned, leaving me without a copy until repress. These guys deserve some success as they’ve put in the work over the years and struck gold on this debut. The absolute best release of May by a wide margin and solidly up there in the top releases of 2020.



Artist ARA
Title [Type] Jurisprudence [LP]
Self-Released FULL REVIEW

Though it is no secret I’m not the biggest fan of albums like ‘Obscura’ I’d eventually come to the realization that this was more due to the lackluster bands it’d influenced rather than the record itself. ‘Jurisprudence’, the second independent full-length from Wisconsin-based technical, dissonant and violent death metal band Ara finds the wandering mystic clangor of Gorguts‘ paradigm shift in the late 90’s and applies the off-set melodic/technical interest of Anata to the chaotic fray, centralizing and stabilizing their expressive and ranting style of composition. It isn’t the sort of album I’m prone to fall out of my chair for yet as I spent time with ‘Jurisprudence’ it’d grow more and more engaging where I’d develop an entrancing and bruising tunnel vision as it spun. The digipack is a beautiful sight but man, this one deserves a glossy golden vinyl treatment. Keep in mind that this is a very challenging death metal record, not just for technical flourishes but for its brutally dissonant style. I also think the cover art may be one of my favorite Eliran Kantor pieces to date, perfectly fitting.



Title [Type] The Horizons Towards Which Splendour Withers [LP]
I, Voidhanger Records FULL REVIEW

Another science fiction themed death metal album that’d use a far-flung cosmic sojourn as the backdrop for their unearthly horrors but, this one is cut from its own cloth. Italian solo artist G.G. (SummitThe Clearing Path) had certainly impressed with the debut of Cosmic Putrefaction‘s modern ‘new old school’ death metal project but this second album offers a brilliant step beyond incorporating more technical moments, more blackened rips, and some stunning experimentation along the way. The cadence of the full listen offers a thrilling ride that feels quite intentionally related to the narrative, an obscure tale of a man witnessing a grand cataclysm and the end of all life or, mankind at least. If you’re not familiar with this project think along the lines of Blood Incantation, Suffering Hour, and Tomb Mold. I’m enjoying the trajectory of this band so far, it’ll be great to see what he does next.



Title [Type] Gates, Doorways, and Endings [Cassette]
Transylvanian Tapes FULL REVIEW

Intoxicating, grave-bursting, doom-sludged and deathly heaviness from this Bay Area wonder, Occlith‘s debut full-length is the sort of release that offers a testimony to remembering to keep tabs on cool labels and their Bandcamp pages in order to catch things that might’ve slipped through the ol’ dirty radar. Heading back to Transylvanian Tapes’ page and seeing what they’ve put out since that fan-freakin’ tastic Chrome Ghost record pointed me directly at ‘Gates, Doorways & Endings’, a release that spoke to me with its mystic artwork and ~10 minute songs. As it turns out my instinct was well served and Occlith definitely land in my ballpark hard along the lines of recent Runemagick and Fórn but with a distant almost Pallbearer-esque psychedelic doom metal tonality. It is haunting, monastic, devotional and wickedly heavy stuff. I’d been really inspired by the atmosphere of this record, sure the riffs are solid and vocalist Karl Cordtz is brilliant on this record but the overall feeling of being in the midst of it all was what’d really stuck with me during the process of review.



Title [Type] Eternity of Shaog [LP]
I, Voidhanger Records FULL REVIEW

One could easily argue that Esoctrilihum had arrived upon grand potential to transcend extreme metal as early as Asthâghul‘s first release back in 2017 but for my own tastes the major point of self-actualization and affirming renderings of this mysterious French musician’s pantheon of the void, these sovereigns of nothingness, arrived with last year’s ‘The Telluric Ashes of the Ö Vrth Immemorial Gods’. This next grand step into the future finds deeper non-traditional instrumentation (kantele, violin) providing an eased and gloriously epic induction into folkish but space-faring melodic interest. ‘Eternity of Shaog’ is a piece of art in every sense, a lovely set of complex and ambitiously realized pieces encased in stunning artwork and extra-mile achieving detail oriented work. The first 4-5 songs (particularly “Aylowenn Aela (3rd Passage: The Undying Citadel)”) each increasingly intensify with their impact upon a full listen, I found it infinitely repeatable and tirelessly exciting to return to. A masterful modern black metal creation.



Title [Type] Ersetu [LP]
Willowtip Records FULL REVIEW

Focused intently on delivering a true staircase down to the Mesopotamian underworld, Italian brutal death metal band Devangelic have followed up a breakthrough album with a stunning master class in hammering and god-sized death metal battering. ‘Eresetu’ is a textural and visceral experience, a merging of intense and masterclass drumming with fire-born classic brutal death metal taste. If you loved Disentomb‘s latest and/or still have a lot of love for bands like Disgorge (US), Deeds of Flesh, and Malignancy you’ll find a chunk of each spirit in the exciting slapping fury of Devangelic‘s latest. This one is the full package between its style, songwriting, artwork, and overall exploration of theme. To think I could stomach this sort of subject matter beyond the 2000’s, when so many attempted to recreate what Nile had influenced them with. In the case of Devangelic you’ll probably hear records like ‘Consume the Forsaken’ in their rhythms but the early 2000’s brutal death soul-hammering lives on here with this band. What makes it special, then? Inventive paths forward forged by way of sharp riffcraft and again, one of the coolest drum performances on this type of record in ages with a solid production sound. A must hear if you’ve ever been big into brutal death.



Title [Type] Rattle [LP]
Gilead Media FULL REVIEW

Deathrockin’ Danzig, southern gothic noise rock, noise rock’d doom-punks Wailin Storms are many things to many people yet the Durham, North Carolina-based act is ultimately readable by all as a passionate and gloriously dramatic freakout rock band who manage artful movements amidst their intimately relatable dread. Desert-bound and restless amidst death’s slow decay, ‘Rattle’ uses noise rock’s irreverent boogie to slash out oozing, cathartic and passionately voiced songs each rife with unforgettable hooks. I so love a heavy rock record that manages to make each song an event, not a dry roll through a songbook but a curated experience that allows for each piece to be a production that could hold its own as a single. That’d be the core of why I found this experience vital and redeeming, it is an emotionally connected record that speaks the cryptic tongue of anxiety within my skull.



Title [Type] Hereafter [LP]
Shadow Kingdom Records FULL REVIEW

Pasadena, California late 80’s heavy metal legends Tyrant return with their first album since 1995 and now featuring Rob Lowe (ex-Solitude Aeturnus) beyond his stint in Candlemass. Together they’ve resurrected the spirit of Tyrant‘s sound while twisting it into a fine example of epic heavy metal with a classic mid-80’s United States power metal flair extruded into some epic doom metal structural feats. Maybe I’m making ‘Hereafter’ sound more complicated than it is because what they’ve done here is bring their own invention into the new era of everything, where niches and small communities surround classic music sub-genre and create a fanbase for all manner of glorious relics and modern charms alike. Last month Cirith Ungol‘s return was a massive delight, an album I’ll never forget and here in May I’d had similar feelings about ‘Hereafter’, a sentimental and beautifully epic record performed by true masters of their craft. The great feat here is that this sounds and acts like the band hadn’t ever taken a break beyond 1989 without coming across too orthodox or dated in any sense. Lowe is a real star here and just floors me with his performances across the board, especially Side A‘s material. I’d not seen a great deal of hype for this online but I can heartily endorse this fine record.



Title [Type] Slaver [LP]
 20 Buck Spin FULL REVIEW

As expected, the fourth full-length from South Australian blackened barbarian death looters Cauldron Black Ram is a fantastic riffing machine that manages to be as infectious as a doubled-over, blood-coughing leper. References to Armoured Angel, The Chasm, and Mi’gauss place this in the realm of their previous records but I’d say this one is a bit less chasmic and brutish instead opting for some stunning grinding moments that I’d compared to peak Carcass as well as ‘Dawn of Possession’ on a few pieces. It is a step up for the sake of everything these guys are involved in (Mournful Congregation, Road Warrior, Martire, StarGazer) consistently advancing in technique and timbre over the years. I wouldn’t say ‘Slaver’ is a hugely memorable album but if you’re in the mood for a tightly wound riff-stuffed death metal record this is a fantastic choice to be made.



Title [Type] Life Vapor [LP]
Hypnotic Dirge Records FULL REVIEW

Although I’d fear some uncomfortable paradigm shift would follow this very different looking record from Minneapolis, Minnesota blackened post-metal band Feral Light but in fact they’ve simply followed deeper along the path introduced but last year’s ‘Fear Rides a Shadow’. This third album is far more textural, loose-shouldered riffing that never falls too deeply into post-rock guitar tropes or the plain references of blackgaze. Their black n’ roll charges aren’t completely gone but in general I’d say ‘Life Vapor’ leans into atmosphere and feeling more than ever. Much more depth covered in the full review.



Title [Type] Under Siege [EP]
Dying Victims Productions FULL REVIEW

Heading into the fourth year of their retro speed metal-glazed gig, Sweden’s Tøronto have found strengthened identity in devolution or, what many fans would see as a reversion to proto-speed metal and primal pre-crossover hardcore punk influences. Comprised of ex-Morbus Chron and current Lethal Steelers the quartet have found themselves taking a hard turn away from the fairly typical and glossy retro speed metal style of their first demo (‘Tøronto‘, 2017) and transitioning into grittier street punk rabidity a la UK82. Those formative motions saw the band spike n’ chug their way from near-poodle status to snarling, beer-spanking bulldogs whilst finding the right tone on their ‘Nocturnal High‘ (2018) demo. A couple years beyond they’ve dialed their riffing back to circa ’86 Motörpunk, bristling their manes even higher on this first official EP, ‘Under Siege’. More in the full review.



Title [Type] Años en Infierno [LP]
Southern Lord Recordings FULL REVIEW

Pomona, California-based death metal/hardcore punk standouts Xibalba are back after a long wait with their third album and it is undoubtedly their finest work to date. Huge production from Arthur Rizk, a wild emphasis on death metal and doomed moments, and the most stunning piece Dan Seagrave has done for the band to date all make for one of the most exciting and empowered heavy records of May. Is it just Hatebreed riffs with death metal production? Nah, I mean the crossing of tough-as-nails hardcore songs with a few death/doom sections and a huge death metal sound isn’t a brand new invention but I’d still say Xibalba do it best as this record is just impossibly heavy.



Title [Type] Astral Doom Musick [LP]
Saarni Records FULL REVIEW

An interesting experimental outlier in the Finnish doom metal spectrum, Tampere’s Astral Sleep would begin as an unorthodox and entirely special death/doom metal band back in 2004 with their minds already set far in the clouds. As time went on they’d become more typical in some ways and yet even more bizarre in others as they made small tweaks to their sound and vision. That’d reach a breaking point by 2015 when an improvised psychedelic jam of an EP felt like the result of needing change but not fully getting there. Well, ‘Astral Doom Musick’ took some time to materialize but it feels like they are there, that point of distinction that moves from death/doom typical to Finland towards psychedelic doom metal with an unusual vocal affect and mystic themes. Not only is it a fine record but it comes with a fuckin’ board game, wild. Can’t afford to import it just yet but I can’t wait to check out the game. This album proves a meaningful triumph for the band, a defining moment deserving of your time.




Artist VADER
Title [Type] Solitude in Madness [LP]
Nuclear Blast FULL REVIEW

Polish death metal legends Vader have returned with an eleventh full-length that maintains their crown as one of the most consistent death/thrash metal bands of all time. They’ve moved on to a new recording studio and warmed up their sound a bit, showcasing their excellent drummer’s work alongside their usual memorable and high-energy death metal sound. ‘Solitude in Madness’ appeals to me as a lifelong fan of Vader who doesn’t hold onto nostalgia with any real strangling force, this is just good solid thrashing death metal. I think re-listening to the entire Vader discography and catching up with newer releases helped me to realize how important this band is to inspiring my love of death/thrash forms beyond the better known stuff. Again they’ve just been such a consistent fixture for so long I couldn’t help but muse over the value in that. More thoughts in the full review.



Title [Type] Body of Light [LP]
Listenable Records FULL REVIEW

The second album from Scottish stoner/doom metal band King Witch pushes forward in iteration of their stellarly 2018 debut ‘Under the Mountain’, improving the render of their studio capture whilst giving their ideas a bit more room to smoke and thunder about. Vocalist Laura Donnelly continues to be one of the most compelling singers in her lane belting out these intricate and groove-heavy doom rock songs shes graced with lyrics pertaining to ancient pre-Christian legends and such; Fables, aphorisms and ironies alike. ‘Body of Light’ is a fine follow up in every sense, a catchy but also a bit long-winded listening experience. Not perfect but still packed with character from each participant.



Title [Type] Evil Torment [EP]
Blood Harvest Records FULL REVIEW

Firing off their second warning shot prior to the realization of their first full-length later this year Melbourne, Australia-based 80’s death metal trio Evoker bring an intense and violently decerebrated first official release with ‘Evil Torment’, a blackened death/thrash metal EP hearkening back to a primal age where extreme thrash variants were appearing too quick and far too underground to be neatly defined. Evoker aren’t taking any wild risks while gnashing and blasting their way through these six evil thrashers, inspiring some great confidence in their collective ability to capture classic underground death metal spirit but doing so without providing any major suggestion of their own point of view beyond tasteful sorceries of old. That is to say that they rule but they’re not entirely doing their own thing at a hundred percent, which is totally fine in my book. I really enjoyed this EP and can’t wait for their full-length. Think along the lines of early Merciless, Sadistic Intent, and Imperator.



Title [Type] A Fall of an Epoch [LP]
Purity Through Fire Review coming soon…

Although I’m a bit more prone to run back to their early days of acoustic neofolk EPs and a king-like record in the style of early Ulver this latest and long-awaited fifth album from Finnish naturalists October Falls finds the band expressing both melodic black metal and the folkish Agalloch-esque range we’ve come to expect from them. I think I’ve taken so long to do the full review for this because it isn’t all that catchy and the album art is horrendously cheap but I’ve come around on it recently and the full review will post soon. The gist of it is that it doesn’t seem that October Falls need to remind folks who they are with a ‘retrospective’ record but rather they capture their minds as they present themselves today, current and free of trendiness while still sounding wholly Finnish.



Title [Type] Svindeldjup Ättestup [LP]
 Nordvis Produktion Review coming soon…

A brilliant comeback record from one of Sweden’s long-forgotten greats who’d split up back in 2004 or so, this fourth full-length from Armagedda has righteous sense enough to return to their core sound and expand upon it towards the modern day. I’ve admittedly not had this one long enough to write a longform review but I’ve found the vocals and riffing strong enough that I’d have to make a case for it being included. Much more to say in the full review next week.



Title [Type] Lizard Lounge [LP]
Loyal Blood Records Review coming soon…

Finnish/Norwegian freak rock duo Barren Womb have moved far from their churlish tongue-in-cheek goof rocking country punk’d alt rock sound and now feature as an idiosyncratic noise rock band with a White Stripes-sized maw spewing things along. They write big, ingenious rock songs that still feel personal, singular in their affected anti-social criticism of absurd existence. Lots of political and socio-political skewering, lots of sarcasm and snark, the whole thing is great fun. Depressing in its severity but light and power-punched noise rock all the same. There are some references you’ll hear pretty quick, such as the Kvelertak-esque raw roll of “Smokes, Let’s Go”, but they write ’em catchy enough that you’ll go back for Barren Womb and not whomever they sound like. I’ve had it on repeat for the whole month and found it a satisfying burst of memorable sing-along cynicism crossed with some real earnest hope for the future.



Title [Type] Obsidian [LP]
Nuclear Blast Review coming soon…

The first several albums from Paradise Lost were not only vital to the development of death/doom metal in its modern form but also gothic metal, melodic death/doom, and perhaps even stoner metal to some degree. Huh? Well, I won’t downplay the importance of ‘Gothic’ and ‘Lost Paradise’ but their early Music For Nations run (‘Shades of God’, ‘Icon’) are two of my favorite records from that era and there is just nothing else like ’em. So? Well, ‘Obsidian’ is a record of nostalgia and reflection upon the sordid past and dark future ahead of humanity which is appropriate for a record that intends a strong display of personality via nods to their long history — Risen to electro-gothic rock from extreme metal and back again with certain growing pains and commercial triumphs in between; The last few records convinced me to listen to Paradise Lost again and I think ‘Obsidian’ is the first one to ease my mind of the disturbance that ‘Draconian Times’ had been back in the day. It is unmercifully catchy, slicked by sharp guitar hooks and warmed by a devastating lyric sheet from Nick Holmes. I don’t think I’m as blown away by this as I was for My Dying Bride‘s latest but it certainly hasn’t given me a reason to stop listening.

Honorable mentions

Did I miss your favorite metal/rock/whatever album released in 2020? 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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