The Top 20 Albums of July | 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 are provided. 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, cultural flux mounted in preparation for a new depression. In May, protest and outrage. In June, sanity’s grip begins to falter en masse. Here at the end of July I’ll admit to self-preservation, sloth and escapism between working far less, sitting in the air conditioning and playing so much Magic: The Gathering Arena that I placed in the top 1500. It all dies today as August marks the third year anniversary for the site which has allowed me to reminisce and rethink all strategy going forth. I’ve detailed upcoming (2021) Spirit Coffin Publishing distro/etc. and Mystification zine already, stuff that has been in the works for years, and I won’t likely mention them again outside of launches. I’ll be doing more with physical media and less with digital over time but will continue as usual throughout the rest of 2020.

July releases still in consideration (or process) for reviewDefeated Sanity, The Funeral Orchestra, Sepulchral Curse, Foul, Purification, Unruly, Ysengrin, Pazuzu, Ascendency, Nekus, & a few more. I intend to review each of these releases, 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. Thank you.

TITLE:Reflections of the Void
RECORD LABEL(S):Chaos Records

Querétaro, Mexico-based death metal band Question have long been processing their next move within a frankly flawless discography that’ll impress anyone attuned to ‘old school’ death metal in its most evolved form. One could draw lines back and forth through death metal’s most refined history between early Anata, Demigod, and Execration where the next logical road is certainly Question‘s ‘Reflections of the Void’. It is a brilliant record that grows more luminant and chest-hammering with each listen. I thought I’d had the last word with it when reviewing it but frankly I’ve not been able to stop listening beyond that point. It is indisputably one of my favorite death metal records this year and within a fantastic month for death metal releases.

RECORD LABEL(S):Dark Descent Records

I’d definitely felt some grief for losing sight of Lantern over the years, missing the ramp up to this incredible fourth album where they’ve taken a flying leap beyond their 2017 album ‘II: Morphosis’ and fully landed in outer space. Intelligible, violent, riff-oriented, spaced-out, and still hitting with a brutal hand ‘Dimensions’ reminded me of early Alchemist (Australia) and more recent Mithras records which I suggest as a very high compliment. Beyond that, I think my recommendation boils down to the fact that I pre-ordered the vinyl and rated it as essential listening for the year. I don’t think Lantern‘s style will land for everyone as immediately as those who know what to expect, nor will provide an entirely expected experience but for those who give it time to breathe and boil it should prove unforgettable.

TITLE:Hypnagogic Hallucinations
RECORD LABEL(S):20 Buck Spin

Intended as a personal window into the dread and delirium of pre-sleep hallucinatory experiences the dream-like night terrors that Roman psychedelic death metal band Bedsore provides on their stellarly debut land in substantive transcendental form. ‘Hypnagogic Hallucinations’ is one of the most impressive death metal trips we’ve gotten this year, nudging up against Sweven‘s debut in spirit while making it clear they’ve got their own point of view and voice in hand. The sensation that you are along for the ride, taking a trip that is lush yet terrifyingly blurred by the intangible sensation of dreaming. A stunning debut from a band with unlimited potential and fine taste.

TITLE:Perfect Doctrine
RECORD LABEL(S):Self-Released

Idolatrous! Scandalous! Consider this is a warning of Danger! Steer clear of my demolished hometown Portland, Oregon my fellow flummoxed detainees of His glorious light: Purification are effectively a cult at this point (‘God’ save us, kill us first!), blood-pact’d rites between three members of various devilish candor serve only ruthless immortal Hellion and their hearts are set upon Doom! ‘Perfect Doctrine’ is the poison from the penis of Lucifer, one taste and you’re Hooked and Damned by the sadomystique–evil of it all! Call me an exorcist, a phlebotomist, any sort of bonesaw who will cut this stained flesh out of me! I grow sick under the weight of its heaviest riffs, its foul psychedelic splatters… and the sermons, how His sermons plague my mind, my ‘God’-damned mind! I am weakened by it, collapsed at the knees before their castle built overnight. “Crondor, into your hands I commend my spirit.

TITLE:Ashes Coalesce
RECORD LABEL(S):Sentient Ruin/Everlasting Spew

This second album from Convocation is no less of a revelation than ‘Scars Across’ was back in 2018 as the band leans deeper into atmospheric death/doom territory without losing sight of their funeral doom metal spirit. The riffs are bigger, the sound of the damn thing is intoxicating, and ‘Ashes Coalesce’ has been a completely joy (er, misery) to return to these last few months. The use of keyboards is especially of note here, catching a bit of a Profetus vibe beyond their circling-our-prey riffs and early Esoteric-isms. “Martyrise” is such a powerful entrance, a simple but undeniable effective blast of doom that sold me on a pre-order right away. Very underrated record, I cannot imagine how enormous the next Desolate Shrine record will be! Vinyl shipments have been brutally delayed, so we won’t get our hands on ’em just yet. Suffer!

TITLE:At the Crossroads of Infinity
RECORD LABEL(S):Unspeakable Axe Records

Traditional 80’s heavy metal rhythms applied to 90’s blackened death metal’s sonic excess and aggression is a feat only a handful of projects ever pull off, in the case of southern California’s Draghkar not only is the marriage of two ‘old school’ methodologies successful but they’ve managed to craft a trademark sound from it. The analogues are few and far between depending who you’d ask, certain The Chasm and Mi’gauss records have married that ‘The Nocturnal Silence’ bite with speed metal candor and obscure groups like Sacriphyx and Hacavitz have pulled in swamp-haunting black metal beyond that point yet ‘At the Crossroads of Infinity’ is clued into the spirit of 80’s trad metal in a broader sense than usual. It reads as a dynamic and intense step beyond most references and makes for a solid spin. The sheer density of sharp ideas within just the first few tracks should make this an easy grab for most.

TITLE:Ultimate Success Today
RECORD LABEL(S):Domino Recording Co.

When I sat down to reflect upon the month and boiled it down to the albums I’d listened to the most or, gotten the most out of, I couldn’t help but feel my mind drawn towards ‘Ultimate Success Today’; Not necessarily for the nostalgic return the album makes to their earlier days… I didn’t know the band existed with any importance until ‘Relatives in Descent’ made my best of year list in 2017. No, I think this one resounds with me simply for being a solid artsy post-punk album a la Viagra Boys and The Men at their best, well in this case better by a half-league but you get my drift. Not into modern post-punk hipster shit? Hey I’m usually there with you but this band has always had something extra in the songwriting department that deserves a nod or two.

RECORD LABEL(S):Iron Bonehead Productions

German black/death metal band Khthoniik Cerviiks are phenomenally practical and tangibly ‘real’ for an act that’ve spent their years crafting unthinkable horrors that mirror the backwards world we’re all set within. Few extreme metal bands deserve much highlight for their modus because so much of it is studio trickery to sound bigger, sound better and appeal to the lowest common denominator yet this trio spend their time writing in the rehearsal studio, recording live in studio, and presenting a real act that can be replicated as effectively in person. Should this matter in 2020? Yes, now more than ever we should be praising artists who deal in technique and do not mask reality, Khthoniik Cerviiks unmask the illness of uniformity and complacency, warning the listener that following in line means you’re the easiest to manipulate. “Ok dude, cool. Riffs?” Yes, tons of riffs! Nobody does it like these guys, I’ve been on board since pretty much the first demo and would encourage others to get with it already.

RECORD LABEL(S):Self-Released/P.O.G.O. Records

They finally went and done it! Portland, Oregon noise rock/post-hardcore and heavy rock band ILS make good use of the good faith their ‘Pain Don’t Hurt’ EP from last year with this stunningly rendered and highly infectious debut full-length. You could reference everything from Quicksand to Unsane and Child Bite in description of their sound, which doesn’t fit any sub-genre mold too neatly and leans towards even more aggression than their EP suggested. I jumped at the chance to pre-order the first run of the LP and though it is still in manufacture, delayed by several months due to… well, you know, I’ve been overjoyed to spend a couple months listening to it. Efficient, effective, expressive and exactly the sort of noise rock-adjacent record I get a kick out of these days.

RECORD LABEL(S):Memento Mori

Long-running Italian death metal band Valgrind have gone ‘epic’ on this latest full-length (their fourth) for the sake of illustrating themes of mythic proportions and this turns out to be refreshingly different than most of their previous work. Goddesses of great destructive, vengeful power are often discussed in terms of gory deeds and grand events and this fits perfectly the tone of the album which leans a bit towards Pestilence and Sinister‘s early works at times while still keeping a thread of austere, ‘epic’ feeling going. There were hints of this tonality that you could find on the second half of their last album ‘Blackest Horizon’ and I am glad that they’ve really gone for it this time without losing their classic death metal edges. Definitely the sort of record that will only suffer if you try to box it in with expectations, just let it riff and repeat.

RECORD LABEL(S):Relapse Records

Virginian doom rock band Valkyrie‘s fourth album comes from a similar place as their prior record ‘Shadows’ with a heavier focus on classic 70’s heavy rock spirit, harmonized solos and their gloomy yet soulful (see: peak Thin Lizzy) songwriting. This moves ‘Fear’ away from 80’s heavy metal references a bit, much like The Sword these days we’re getting a focus on the old ways without any purely aggressive twist and much of the modernity of the full listen comes simply from the impressive production values and very relevant “downtrodden but not out” feeling of the spin. I think if you could hang with my recommendation of Pale Divine or Vestal Claret recently you should find yourself on board with Valkyrie, and really if you don’t know this band their discography has long been underrated.

TITLE:Negative Evocation Rites
RECORD LABEL(S):Nuclear War Now! Productions

Time is pure death in the back of my mind as I sit down and try to analyze funeral doom metal releases in any case, the patience and immersion required is something that doesn’t come easy without drugs or meditation and I’m light on both lately. Excuses, right? Agreed and The Funeral Orchestra deserves that time and energy having earned it with intermittent, brutally droning death/doom metal releases over the years, most notably their debut full-length ‘Feeding the Abyss’ from back in 2003. ‘Negative Evocation Rites’ is truly extreme, it isn’t just about mood or gloomy unnamed characters in black robes carrying these motions out but the music itself pushes and tests the limits of the user in a bold way. Too many artists are afraid of taxing, mutilating the mind of the listener but The Funeral Orchestra seeks to wipe clean the mind to weeping tabula rasa and dump impossibly putrid darkness back in. The release may appear indomitable to start but, perhaps because your mind has been wrapped up in the conflict of living too long. Embrace death, enter void.

TITLE:Revocation of the Fallen

Disavowed were a gateway band for brutal death metal fandom in the early 2000’s one of those bands folks showed you to try and get you into the stuff beyond Suffocation and most definitely a band you needed to hear if you liked Defeated Sanity, Deeds of Flesh, and Severe Torture. I couldn’t avoid ’em back in the day and always appreciated how hard they hit without ever following trends, sure they changed with the times a bit on their second album but, this third one (which comes thirteen years later) reminds us these guys still have it, they still get it and man does it rip! Sharp modern production, a bit more bonk on the bass, and a generally more technical approach make this the finest production from the project to date without a doubt. I’m in it for the guitar work and always came away from this album impressed at the ferocity of it. Back in the day everyone expected sledgehammers from dutch brutal death metal bands and here Disavowed get it exactly right.

RECORD LABEL(S):Edged Circle Productions

Hell it might just be a few songs and more of a collector’s item but you can’t spin this EP and deny Taake still have it, that sense of self and style that has kept his output golden for decades. The Darkthrone cover is perfect and Deathcult‘s pieces are fittingly raw and antisocial as intended. Few black metal records hit me with any greater meaning this month so, this split helped to keep my mind sharp and readied.

TITLE:That Which Speaks
RECORD LABEL(S):Self-Released/Wandering Reliq

A sludgy psychedelic stoner/heavy metal hybrid form that manages to sound like nothing else, Merlock press beyond their self-titled EP from a few years back with something entirely fresh and unexpected. There are no barriers, no self-conscious style guide as they might plow through a screaming sludge burner, a bounding stoner rock trot, a ‘bottom of the ocean’ doom plunge, and most of the time they circle back around to traditional heavy metal expression. Nothing too swords n’ sorcery but epic and ever-climbing. Love the artwork too, just a sharp deal on all levels and I love an artist who comes with a full-ranged piece and delivers it without fear.

TITLE:Of Serpents
RECORD LABEL(S):Self-Released/Vermignosis

Lurking as the deepest pile of grime the Seattle, Washington area has to offer for just a few years now, the sludge-thick, guttural bursts of death/doom dementia Foul bring on their debut full-length ‘Of Serpents’ offers an admirable do it yourself ethos devoid of hype or any other nonsense. As often as we are graced with fine ‘old school’-minded death/doom it is rare that we’ll hear something pushing those limits with any character, Foul are able to use the murkiness of their sound as tall grass to strike from often working up into Desecresy-esque barreling stabs and howling vocals that break through the guttural worm-puking tone that has grown even more extreme beyond the ‘Of Worms’ EP. Argue with me on the release date if I’m wrong… the digital, tape and CD versions came out this month as far as I know and despite being marked as April on Bandcamp. If you’re not sure what to make of their scum-level, bass worming sound, don’t move on from this record until you’ve heard both “Sybil of Serpents” songs!

TITLE:Historia Nocturna
RECORD LABEL(S):W.T.C. Productions

The third time is the charm for Italian musician Void A.D. whose orthodox black metal project Fides Inversa has long been heralded for its steadfast approach, now subverted by broader influence and much more inventive guitar work for ‘Historia Nocturna’. The performers, artists, and engineers that worked on this album’s realization are among the very best around today as I flip through the details and the innards live up to the pile of resumes around them. I could prattle on about the men involved but the music itself is where the important praise lies, landing somewhere between the bending whips of peak Inquisition and the liminal subversion of Funeral Mist. Flavors of Swedish and French orthodoxy are still an important part of the themes and sound of Fides Inversa but this time around feels much more natural, less suffocatingly staunch and perhaps that fluidity of forms and movement is what drew me in so quickly. Without disrespect to past works this is the finest work from the project to date.

TITLE:Doom Spirit Emanation
RECORD LABEL(S):Godz ov War Productions

Although it is likely destined to be one of the more overlooked releases from July this year the debut full-length from Polish atmospheric death/doom metal band Rites of Daath deserves some emphatic mention for folks who’ve evolved with the atmospheric side of death metal beyond the ‘caverncore’ days. The first primal suggestion here would be groups like Necros Christos and Grave Miasma for a bit of early Incantation-esque movement and occult black/death metal adjacency. Style is a reason to check this album out for sure but it is the intensifying effect of the full listen that makes it something special where the second half picks up increasingly intense ideas that’ve been built up towards along the way. A fine balance of chaos, control, and compelling guitar work for a death/doom metal album.

TITLE:The Sanguinary Impetus
RECORD LABEL(S):Willowtip Records

I’ve been with Defeated Sanity since their first album released back in 2004, just as my interest in brutal death metal began to wane their evolution became a sort of lifeline to that realm. Their progression towards this satisfying blend of over-the-top pure brutal death metal and brilliant technical death metal composition isn’t subtle and for sure the previous album was their biggest departure from original intent to date but ‘The Sanguinary Impetus’ is what I’d call a slight return, a refrain that is both back towards known realms and skyrocketing beyond most recent displays of skill. Much more to say about this one in a full review, I’ve just needed more time with their whole discography.

TITLE:Mercy Machine
RECORD LABEL(S):Rapid Eye Records

Maggot Heart had been due for a breakthrough beyond their first album, a gnashing deadpan debut that’d been strong but nothing’d really leapt at me with claws like ‘Mercy Machine’ does. Misanthropic, independent, and burning with this punk-spirited art/noise rock clang this record is a meaningful step above and beyond for Linnéa Olsson as a strong, self-powered voice and her songwriting/production continues to benefit from Gottfrid Åhman‘s (Reveal!, ex-In Solitude) involvement. More angular, revelatory, jaded, and steeped in deeper metaphor this is the right way to ‘progress’ with a rock band, always against the grain.


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