The Top 20 Albums of August | 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. In July total self-preservation, sloth and escapism. Here at the end of August thumos and nous are in better harmony, closer to Democritus’ steadiness (euthymia) where an incomplete isolation is peaceful practice for more impactful presence. The windows are frequently closed at night due to the smoke from ever intensifying forest fires that travel up to the pacific northwest from California, every summer it seems I’m coughing more and more of the world’s burning death in the evenings. So be it Death, your acrid taste is as acquired as a sour ale or, an awkward seasoning upon daily living. Beyond the meditative spirit and nightly choking… and looking ahead, September will be a lot of black metal, some pretty smokin’ thrash, and a casual, story focused playthrough of The Last of Us Part II. I am also looking to do as many interviews as possible lately, so if you’ve got something to talk about and promote don’t hesitate.

August releases still in consideration (or process) for reviewPlague Organ, Ominous Resurrection, Soulcaster, Blood Red Fog, Svederna, Frostvore, Ages, Prosanctus Inferi, Batushka, Reverorom Ib Malacht, Grim Earth, Svnth, Cancerfaust, Intoxicated, Flame, Crucifixion, Black Elephant, & 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.

RECORD LABEL(S):Dark Descent Records,
Me Saco Un Ojo

When you carry an intense passion for something ultimately you also hold the strongest potential for reductive thought via the perspective gained via obsession. This natural ability to reduce to wet ashes the thing you love the most is really the perfect slice of true human nature. What I’m getting at here is that No attempt to cut down Faceless Burial into parts or to hold it up against the heaviest early 90’s death metal classics breaks it down into component parts or any sense of weakness, their second full-length ‘Speciation’ cannot be set up next to a lamp and made translucent or chopped n’ screwed… It just rules, like on the level of an ‘Erosion of Sanity’ or even ‘Imperial Doom’-level pure death metal peak nightmare form. Absolutely the first and most enthusiastic recommendation this month, you’ve got to dig into it if you’re as much of a death metal spastic as I am.

RECORD LABEL(S):Tankcrimes

Yet another death metal band that folks tend to qualify or reduce with self-conscious reviews that degrade death metal as an artform for the sake of currency, Necrot are yet a shining example of the sub-genre at its most exemplar point of entry that yet maintains its pure underground depth. Beyond that, this second full-length ‘Mortal’ is an incredibly effective polishing of the Bay Area death metal trio’s sound and simple-but-effective songwriting. They’ve push the overall quality level up towards ‘Human’ without approaching any sense of progressive or technical death metal ideals, still musing over death and purpose but not gearing into fiddly, masturbatory numbers. I appreciate ‘Mortal’ for what it is and where it aims, my love for that ’91-’92 sound from death metal where the perfect balance of extreme thrash influence and the arguable peak of pure death metal’s extremity collide in good spirits. The zeitgeist achieved between Death, Autopsy and Sepultura (among others) at the time was being boiled down to primordial gold via albums like ‘War Master’, ‘Cross the Styx’ and particularly ‘Abject Offerings’. This quality of rhythm guitar phrasing is employed by Necrot on this album and it is something special. I guess if you’re looking for another endorsement, I just started writing a second glowing review right here as I muse over ‘Mortal’ in reflection. It riffs and punches hard yet has a purpose and attainable structure that is heavily repeatable down to the last riff.

TITLE:The Great Flood
RECORD LABEL(S):Iron Bonehead Productions

Though I’m nowhere near an expert student in the arena of post-punk, depressive rock, and any number of goth-attuned rock influences German band Rope Sect have on offer for this their second full-length it is most certainly easy to connect with and understand on a fundamental level. There is some strong beauty in the movement of this album which comes first by way of the warbling gorge of layered vocal gloom and then gets its extra push forth and down the abysm by way of guitar performances that are wondrously over-thought. The springing, mid-90’s alt rock sized production with its spacious and crashing drum hits and the glossy crunch of very lightly distortion-dusted guitars do not collide but rather mesh into bouts of downward pouring mood and flashy, chest-clawing pain. The full listen is an ecstatic ‘hurt’ that I’d equate with 90’s Death in June as much as a modern contemporary like Grave Pleasures. I am not immune to catchy ‘pop’ music and I’d say depressive tone paired with mystic nihilism and nature-rescinded notions make this record even harder to resist.

TITLE:Neuropunk Boostergang
RECORD LABEL(S):Profound Lore Records

As I was preparing for the review of this second and truly marvelous Voivodian hardcore punk n’ thrash rollin’ cyberpunk record from Austin, Texas-based quartet Expander I went back to Neuromancer for a quick quote and basically read the book all over again. William Gibson’s highly influential book is actually pretty short and a very quick read around ~300 pages yet it almost demands several reads due to the language he creates, which isn’t as dense in lore as that of say… the Foundation series but it requires that the reader sits and picks up a sense of true globalization via corporation-fused government through inventive language meant to categorize and dehumanize. The use of thick bouts of unique slang are inspiring to me for the wild language they create where pockets of genius put to test all that you’ve learned and come express something compacted and fucking spectacular once you can know them by sight. This is the exact right analogue for what Expander have done with their second album, the language developed is their own and it says so much more now that I know what each piece means. Beyond this detailed sense of uniquely formed musical language there is an inherent “detailed simplicity” to ‘Neuropunk Boostergang’ that is approachable and depthy at once. Sure, it is psychedelic fever-dream hardcore punk at the end of the day and I’m still eternally on board for all of it. Not sure about it? Crank up “Loyalty Illusion (R.A.T.)” and fuckin’ cyber-surf that corridor of a riff.

TITLE:Sepulchral Demons
RECORD LABEL(S):High Roller Records,
Dying Victims Productions

You could easily see this fine Norwegian blackened thrash metal band’s return after countless years of development, and a nigh full reset of their previous line-up, as a triumph of true metal willpower yet it seems most folks skimmed right past its potent ~34 minute length. For my own taste ‘Sepulchral Demons’ isn’t a skull-slammer for its provenance nor is it my gig simply because it sounds quite a bit like Fusa-furioso Inculter but the main reason I’m on board is because the riffs kill. Thrash metal is still my blood and my bones and I am starving in 2020! Consider this album a feast of gory marrow for my brain where wild streaks of German, Brazilian, and modern generations beyond collide into one shredding n’ violent thrash metal record. Not only does it feel like they’ve never played more tightly on record but this album sounds like a stab back at their core reason for existence, the riffs and that ’86 underground Satanic speed metal-fed ripping pulse. The spirit of ‘Schizophrenia’ and ‘Pleasure to Kill’ informs several of these songs but again the sound of this record is much closer to that of modern Norwegian black/thrash leadership so honestly this record should appeal to thrash classicists and ‘new old schoolers’ just as well. The only criticism I’ve seen from folks that I’d agree on is that the drumming could kick it up a bit more a la Nocturnal Witch.

TITLE:The Lower Levels of Sentience
RECORD LABEL(S):Me Saco Un Ojo [Vinyl],
Pulverised Records
Desert Wastelands

The first official widespread release from Costa Rican death metal quartet Astriferous has floored me with each listen thanks to their ornately woven (but very slight) war metallic bursts and a ripping Finnish death metal sound, which can kick-flip it’s heave between Abhorrence-esque death/doom to grinding Crematory style technical riffcraft in a matter of seconds. This essentially distills unto work on par with ‘Unholy Domain’-era Demigod. Think of it as an old school death metal EP with a hint of Black Curse or Swallowed. Each of the four songs on this record showcase their own remarkable tributaries of aggressive, attack heavy death metal that speak great potential and worlds beyond when they’ve reached readiness for a full-length. It might take a couple of listens to fully sink in how badass some of these riffing runs and subtle dynamic shifts are but once you’ve got it grasped there are some very sophisticated rhythmic ideas on this EP which I hope they’ll keep up with. If you don’t know band member’s other projects, Umbra Conscienta and Bloodsoaked Necrovoid, absolutely make sure you support their releases as well.

RECORD LABEL(S):Terratur Possessions

You could assume this band caught my ear due to Ignotus aka D.G.‘s involvement in Negative Plane and Agrath, two of the more remarkable black metal acts from New York’s underground spheres this last decade but to be honest I’d previewed it initially without reading the press release. It’d be fair to link the dysangelic sonic finesse and dirging qualities of ‘Judgement’ to those band’s greater reach and I’d likewise encourage fans of Funereal Presence and Spite to pay close attention to this yet underrated band. The run of three seven minute songs that kicks off the album is true occult magic, ranting and buzzing its electricity through flair-heavy guitar work with a unique signature lilt. Think of Rotting Christ circa 1994 where a bit of naivete for the engineering side of things met with some very hard work put into the guitar arrangements and personal style of performances. This equates quite well with what ‘Judgement’ brings and if you’re already familiar with their first album (which has just been reissued by their current label) ‘Omniscient’ is a very related and complimentary threat. Raw, high-brained, and intensely performed obscure black metal. Full review will be up next week.

RECORD LABEL(S):20 Buck Spin

A potent funeral doom metal entry that embodies modern sleekness and ancient idiosyncratic practices, when ‘Stygian’ is taken as a fledgling debut it is nothing short of a masterful presentation of high sub-genre standards and a distinct connection between the eldest and the newest aspects of the craft. The gothic, reaching soul of Thergothon is there just as much as the tragically despondent water marshes of Tyranny yet a touch of the ethereal hand combined with pitch-modulated roaring makes for a truly ‘classic’ feeling record. And it comes from an unlikely place, the mind of musician Phil Tougas who I know from Zealotry and of course Chthe’ilist among others. The Québec-based musician brings in former band-mates and various allies for this affecting and stately record which had been written back in 2012 or so and then finally realized by a full band in studio circa 2018/2019 or so. The full review suggests the greater theme of the album and ponders just where it might fit in the great pantheon of funeral doom meta; A highlight for the sub-genre this year no doubt.

TITLE:The Body
RECORD LABEL(S):Self-Released

I’ve not forgotten about modern sludge metal entirely this year but as my taste shifts more and more towards noise rock and sludge/noise rock hybridization in the 90’s I find the classic sludge stuff more vital for contrast than the modernist, crunched-out hardcore/sludge side of things. Radiant Knife are something else entirely, where the most reduced quip on my end would be a combination of classic prog rock feeling and math rock techniques used to elevate a classic grey area between emergent sludge and aging noise rock. That should sound very mid-90’s by description but the result is something like a distillation of progressive sludge to its sharpest, fast-pushed post-hardcore tinged potency. ‘The Body’ and its upcoming counterpart ‘The Ghost’ is a remarkably polished extension of the style they’d found on ‘Science Fiction’ (2018) but split into two extremes. ‘The Body’ itself is the hard-driving technical attack of the band at its heaviest and ‘The Ghost’ is a floaty head trip you’ll catch more about in October. I go into more depth in the full review, a quick and charming release with plenty of spiritual energy and memorable hooks.

RECORD LABEL(S):La Caverna Records,
Headsplit Records

Formed between Coffincraft‘s Niklas Heiskanen and Bloodscape honcho Jusa Janhonen just a couple of years ago, Sadistic Drive are in the grand earliest traditions of extreme metal in Finland whether they’ve intended it or not. Sparks of Protected Illusion‘s hardcore punk-to-death/thrash evolution and Xysma‘s earliest all-in post-‘Reek of Putrefaction’ mutations inform their grimy, high-energy gait but, this could just be the result of the two founding member’s involvement in the Joensuu-area metalpunk & hardcore punk spheres between Joukkohauta and Obduktio. None of this context was readily evident when picking up their demo/rehearsal compilation ‘Street Cannibal Gluttony / Rehearsal 05/2019‘ last year which was probably more likely to ring a bell with fans of early Carbonized (see: ‘For the Security’) or fellow Finns such as Helsinki’s Cadaveric Incubator and Laitila-grinders Galvanizer. These folks have their own rhythmic sensibilities in hand and couldn’t be too closely compared to nearby friends, often swinging into mid-80’s hardcore bops between their crawling death metal stabs (see: “Acid Vomit”) without losing that sense of pure n’ filth-ridden garage death that makes their sound so endearingly trashed.

RECORD LABEL(S):Sentient Ruin Laboratories

Looking back on 2020 I most definitely haven’t been digging into my love of experimental extreme music often enough, and you won’t find me recommending a ton of music requiring eternal patience to understand. So, ‘Orphan’, the first album from avant-garde mystic droning black-blasted sensorial corridor Plague Organ. The incredible Stefan Thanneur artwork on the cover offer some prescience for the ~40 minute song but doesn’t fully indicate the eternity of the stasis-like grip experienced as it plays. I find myself possessed by this piece simply because the atmospheric black metal beat does not stop or waver beyond very slight modulation for its entirety. The result is a vortex of monastic moaning, tribalistic surges of primitive instrumental tones, bellowing pitch-shifted hurls, all of it representing a fall from a high place and the sting of the air in lungs at terminal velocity. Oddly enough this sense of continual rebirth experienced in descent is not anxietous from my own point of view, death growls and beautifully round didgeridoo-esque blooms provide a level of comfort and imposing station as the album plays. I knew this would be different due to membership from folks in Cryptae, Imperial Cult, and Dead Neanderthals but this music isn’t effective because it is ‘different’ but for the simultaneous feeling of motion and mediation it creates at once. It is pure levitation and I cannot get enough of it. Full review coming soon.

TITLE:Fatal Grotesque Symbols – Darken Universe
RECORD LABEL(S):High Roller Records

No doubt I am a complete Messiah fanatic and have been for at least the last two decades. Albums like ‘Choir of Horrors’ (1991) and ‘Hymn to Abramelin’ (1986) are analogous to releases from legendary bands like Sepultura and Kreator those same years. To get an early listen to both this EP and the new LP is a major highlight for the time I’ve spent doing the site and I’m not kissing ass, I’m just an unabashed die-hard supporter and collector of all things Messiah. As I’d suggested in the review these songs appear to be extras from the sessions for their upcoming album ‘Fracmont’ (September 11th, High Roller Records) and you will understand why these were set as an separate thing once you’ve heard both releases. These songs are much more in the style of Messiah‘s earlier evolution, touching upon references to the first two albums and bearing that kind of Hellhammer-esque quality but updated to ‘Rotten Perish’ (1992) levels of heavy. Also, they’ve literally covered songs from their 80’s extreme thrash era, so it fits quite well as they cover some of their most beloved early classics and live staples. I so greatly appreciate that the new releases from the band are fitting in so well with their legacy, it is all so pristine and well-crafted without being terminally overthought or modernized. Definitely support this band if you can, they’d pretty much made these releases to support big tours/festivals this year and it doesn’t look like those tours will happen until next year.

TITLE:Onwards the Mystic Paths of the Dead
RECORD LABEL(S):Witching Hour Productions

Truly underground for decades and a bit lost in the greater ‘old school’ pantheon of Greek death metal in recent years Obsecration have been around since roughly 1989 and in the works in formative versions of that self a few years prior. Their first full-length wouldn’t come until 1996 where its heavy use of keyboards and interludes would set it off in many folks mind as a sort of death metal version of classic Greek black metal ideas, bearing a death/thrash spiritus but full of eerie sounds and tons of experimental atmosphere. ‘Onwards the Mystic Paths of the Dead’ isn’t a throwback to that style but rather the years before, setting their minds back to the late 80’s and taking inspiration from the ’85-’91 era of extreme thrash and death metal. A solid riff album that doesn’t mess around with plenty of Kreator-esque hits and stuff that culminates to an ‘The Ultimate Incantation’ level of attack. Really solid and straight forward death/thrashing record with a compelling lyrical style sourced from stuff actually written in the late 80’s.

TITLE:Maelstrom of Death and Steel
RECORD LABEL(S):Dying Victims Productions

One of the more authentic and spirited captures of epic heavy metal’s most fiery spirit so far this year, Belgium’s Soulcaster present speed metallic galloping sword n’ sorcery heavy metal for a post-‘Crystal Logic’ world on their debut EP. I wouldn’t say this is just dryly sourced and mangled from the 80’s beyond the all consuming early power metal jog of it all, yes this band belongs at Keep it True for sure but they’ve got a bit of that ‘new old school’ feeling. I would compare this record to Jewel‘s album from the early 90’s, the Netherlands-based band, lots of early power metal spirit, heavy use of reverb for drum presence and this hall-filling smokey haze of steed-riding and guitar slinging pure metal wallop. The vocals are distant, I believe he could belt it out more but the style indicated here offers a taste of obscure epic heavy metal circa ’84 with a slight accent and lots of up front guitar solo trade-off. The rhythm guitar work is just perfect here for my taste, not heavily reliant on NWOBHM (or Maiden-isms) for every movement and always delivered with a finesse’d feel that is just ballsy enough to keep things pushing forth. Clearly I’m over the moon for it but I’ve taken a bit longer to pick through some relevant albums to talk about in a review. Love it, will snap it up if/when I see it hit US distros.

RECORD LABEL(S):Carnal Records

Without being reductive of their own strong Swedish spirit the best way to “sell” Svederna to most black metal fans who’d be receptive to their style would basically be to suggest they are a very Swedish take on Taake. For their third album the band have secured their own identity even more, writing songs as a full four piece band and keeping the percussive excitement of their second album ‘Svedjeland’ (which I’d loved) alive. I really appreciate the unique middle ground that Svederna represent somewhere in between the glorious overburdened melodic soul of classic Swedish black metal in the mid-90’s and the more accessible rock n’ roll kicks out of Norway via Tulus and Taake. ‘Härd’ is intent on hypnotizing the listener within an album that might feel claustrophobic as variations on a theme but once you’ve let it stew a bit the experience is quite vast, aggressive and almost requires a bit of mental pushback — A ‘sizing up’ of the listener meant to achieve rapt attention for those serious enough to approach its guile. That isn’t to say this music isn’t meant to lull and entrance the listener but more that it doesn’t leave room for the mind to wander or escape from their moonlit spell. I’d describe it as taxing but redeeming thus far, the full review will come shortly.

TITLE:The Mother of All Plagues

Most of the fealty I have for French death metal band Mercyless stems from their early 90’s albums ‘Abject Offerings’ (1992) and ‘Coloured Funeral’ (1993), these releases only appear to be seen as obscure due to their shift towards groove metal in the mid-90’s but much of the ‘new old school’ death metal today pulls from the same influences and worldview that Mercyless did back in the day. You’ll hear a bit of Pestilence and Bolt Thrower in some of their movements then and now but Mercyless are unique for the sake of the rhythm guitar phrases they typically achieve in full. Much of today’s death metal riff ideas are poetic in the sense that semi-complete “musical” sentences often have no structure or simply never… complete. Max Otero is a talent in this sense as even now after the band has reformed and put out three albums since his riff style is still intact. Today bands like Necrot ultimately arrive at similarly full statements within simple song structures and the only reason I wouldn’t rocket this album up to the top of this list is basically the association with those early 90’s albums where Mercyless were frankly competing alongside the best out there with big brassy Colin Richardson production but ‘The Mother of All Plagues’ is still quite good and a solid pure death metal album with very satisfying irreligious themes.

TITLE:Fields of Sorrow
RECORD LABEL(S):Deviant Records

There are certainly echelons, movements, and typified traits amongst the more adventurous and melodic spheres of Finnish black metal but too often the crowd loses its outliers for the sake of lumping together spirit rather than style. As such it makes sense to set Blood Red Fog next to an artist like Cosmic Church or perhaps even Horna at a certain point but these are all artists achieving drastically different emotional experiences, sonic textures, and sourced melodic inspiration. The fifth album from the duo won’t escape those suggestions of likeness yet it feels quite different than even ‘Thanatotic Supremacy’ with its slapping insistence and almost traditionally leaning composure. ‘Fields of Sorrow’ hits a bit more like a Forteresse or Spectral Wound record in that its violence is pure sorrow and not necessarily actual mayhem, a wreckless drapery of gloom and reared-up hatred without a muscle flexed. Well, I’ll make a bit more sense when I write a full review but this showed up quite late in the month and it needs a bit more time.

RECORD LABEL(S):Black Lodge Records

If you’ve some lasting love for Thyrfing‘s later stuff or you’re currently obsessed with Havukruunu‘s well-received ‘Uinuos Syömein Sota’ this month there is some appreciable middle ground achieved on Falun, Sweden-based melodic black metal band Ages‘ second full-length. ‘Uncrown’ isn’t necessarily Bathory-esque or full-on viking black metal but the ‘epic’ spirit is certainly there as is the warming, affirming melodic guitar work. Peak Swedish melodic black metal is on order here, it isn’t exactly Dissection (though bassist Brice Leclercq did literally play on ‘Reinkaos’) or Dawn in terms of riff structure but the spirit of that ’93-’98 peak movement is absolutely there. This record has pretty broad appeal due to how simply presented their melodies are, it is surely a step beyond even peak Amon Amarth in terms of engagement and straight-to-the-hook songwriting but they seem more interested in meaningfully presented melodicism rather than plainly performative stuff that implies depth or fills space. The review for this is finished but I’m dragging on the edit, coming soon.

RECORD LABEL(S):Unique Leader Records

German technical/brutal death metal quartet Cytotoxin aren’t necessarily my usual digs bit ‘Nuklearth’ stood out this month in my mind for its sheer bombast, nods to early 2000’s brutal death, and appreciable uptick in quality across the board. In the space of three years the ambitious level of self-improvement and dogged seriousness applied to what is essentially pretty ‘fun’ brutal death is hard to miss as spirited and actually pretty meaningful stuff presented in a non-pretentious way. If you’ve got bands like Origin, Benighted, and Spawn of Possession in your collection this band will fit in pretty well and they’ve really hit the mark this time around between a more detailed vocal performance, brilliant drumming and probably the most solid bass tone in their discography. If you enjoyed that Disavowed record earlier this year this has the same high production value, clear and present but still warm enough that it doesn’t end up claustrophobic or dried up.

RECORD LABEL(S):Self-Released

A quick blast of pure hardcore punk from Calgary, Ontario-based quartet Desgraciados who haven’t been all that active since 2015 or so in terms of recordings. This is pretty much just a promo tape of well-rendered ideas from an upcoming album via their spirited take on classic hardcore punk and some UK82 kicks here and there. Exactly my taste in hardcore punk on a plate and with lyrics in Spanish, nothing too complex to pick up if you made it through first year lessons. Maybe it is the language or the ‘old school’ feel of the tape but I get a hint of Los Huaycos here and there, minus the metallic hits. I spent a lot of time digging through Bandcamp for hardcore punk this month and this is hands down the strongest stuff for my taste.


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