The Top 20 Albums of September | 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. In Augusteuthymia restored and the mind realigned with natural disorder. Here at the end of September my skin crawls with hatred for humanity, for the burning of my homeland and the wretched governance of cruel stupidity over the world itself. The rains have come to alternate with sunlight, providing some reminder of the natural beauty the pacific northwest yet clings to under duress.

September releases still in consideration (or process) for reviewHexecutor, Infesticide, Rumours, Indoctrinate, Serpent Column & 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.


#1
ARTIST:MESSIAH
TITLE:Fracmont
RECORD LABEL(S):High Roller Records
FULL REVIEW:[CLICK HERE]

Of course it goes without saying that I am perhaps more excited about this new Messiah album coming out two and a half decades beyond the last than some folks might be simply because it has been so long. The history of this band goes as far back as 1984, counting them among the first wave of early extreme metal bands to form beyond the revelation of Hellhammer, Venom, etc. as well as thrash metal in general. This album almost had to be an extension of their old works in some sense to carry any water and thankfully they’ve still got it. In fact ‘Fracmont’ doesn’t even waste time paying tribute to their old songs and it’d seem that they’d just grabbed the Noise Records line-up and banged out an album without overthinking anything too much. The result is a bigger record than anything previous, all of the classic death/thrash spirit they’d brought into the 90’s made into longer pieces that read as “epic heavy metal” as much as they invoke their 80’s death/thrash metal origins. I’m not above sticking a band up at the top of the list for the sake of my own fandom but, ‘Fracmont’ is just an excellent work from a classic band.


#2
ARTIST:SKELETAL REMAINS
TITLE:The Entombment of Chaos
RECORD LABEL(S):Century Media Records
FULL REVIEW:[CLICK HERE]

As much as the ‘trying hard but never truly riffing’ underground circles of old school death metal action hates to admit it, Skeletal Remains are only getting better and better as they iterate. I was absolutely sure this dude would never top ‘Condemned to Misery’ but no doubt he has been chopping away at his riffcraft hard to get ‘The Entombment of Chaos’ to come cracking out. I truly don’t intend any hype in suggesting this is the best thing from the project to date yet it is what it is; Much of my assessment comes from incorporation of a more ‘brutal’ approach to rhythm guitar work, employing Charlie Koryn on drums, and basically hitting notes of ‘Domination’ and ‘Gateways to Annihilation’ along the way. The usual stuff from these guys is there too, they’ve not left behind that mixture of Florida, Quebec, and the Netherlands death behind just yet. This gives their approach a true death metal push beyond a lot of the silly hardcore-driven simplicity of modern ‘new old school’ death metal. This one just punches hardest and might even make it as a contender for pure death metal record of the year.


#3
ARTIST:TRANSCENDENCE
TITLE:Towards Obscurities Beyond
RECORD LABEL(S):Blood Harvest Records
FULL REVIEW:[CLICK HERE]

When I received a copy of ‘Hour of the Summoning’ back in 2018 I distinctly remember thinking “Man, I hope they really push for that melodic black/death angle even more” knowing they were a death/thrash band at one point and not really expecting the Necrophobic-esque debut album to surface with such brilliance. When the riffs change and the bass pounds in mid-“Infernal Resurrection” it gears me up every time, every spin of this record is just murderous melodic intent. If you’re not a fan of early 90’s melodic black metal and its development alongside melodic death metal you might be missing key points of reference that make this such an exciting achievement but the appeal is yet timeless. No doubt having a certain set of influences does go a long way here but considering what Transcendence have done with those influences matches the might and thoughtful verve of the greats is no small accomplishment, it feels like much more than iteration or worship but rather a complete and vital realization right out of the gate.


#4
ARTIST:SERPENT COLUMN
TITLE:Kathodos
RECORD LABEL(S):Mystískaos
FULL REVIEW:Coming Soon

The third full-length from anonymous and accomplished avant-garde black metal project Serpent Column begins shuddering under the weight of the second, some of the prior ballistic eruption remains at heart yet this is not a being to leave repetitive marks upon whatever (or whomever) it touches. Schizophonic is a term unfortunately used by pop musicians to adorn their attempts to cover as many popular bases as possible, to please everyone with what is essentially legs spread wide enough to juice the biggest audience. In the case of Serpent Column I’d use the word to describe the eclectic blast of attacks that ensue when the artist simple leans back and cranks upon riff-after-riff, categorizing them into fluid pieces marked by stoic peaks and jangling, ornate respite. The influences are myriad and often just partially discernable, dissected if you please but conjoined without assigned conveyance. Before I begin to fully presage a review of the album I would encourage listeners to allow the album to develop as a whole, consider it as a whole, and make no fast decisions about it. I’ve long suggested that you need to be at least ten listens deep and five sessions wide within each Serpent Column release to truly grasp it. You will feel darkness and dissolution long before the chest puffs up and the heart begins to swell. I find it transformative and rate the experience highly when, and only if, I’ve found that dimension within myself. This time around I am only just shaking off blindness, just now rising with fermentation, and a full review will arrive when ready.


#5
ARTIST:UADA
TITLE:Djinn
RECORD LABEL(S):Eisenwald
FULL REVIEW:[CLICK HERE]

Uada are a project I’ve followed since their inception in hoping to find a way forward with melodic black metal on “modern” atmospheric black metal terms and with ‘Djinn’ it appears the Portland, Oregon-based act have finally loosed free an experience that is their own wrought-iron clad visage. Slickly melodic, full of rock hooks, easing from moment to moment with knowable yet quite extended pieces much of ‘Djinn’ intends irreconcilable immersion, a captivity of forms illustrating visions of dark spirits and apocalyptic visions at a cosmic scale. Melodic phrasing that is extensive and varied is the key ingredient here that was only just forming on previous releases, sure you could argue that ‘Cult of a Dying Sun’ had the lilt and ingredients for the most part but ‘Djinn’ is a stream, a massive flow that is a pleasure to listen to. If you find yourself pushing back on it I would suggest that it’d be for the sake of how ‘pretty’ it can be, a subversive feeling when seeking black metal furor but letting go should eventually find similar goal downstream. “The Great Mirage” is a wonderful piece to introduce the album with, start there if you’ve yet unsure.


#6
ARTIST:DEPHOSPHOROUS
TITLE:Sublimation
RECORD LABEL(S):Nerve Altar / 7 Degrees / Selfmadegod
FULL REVIEW:[CLICK HERE]

There is the sense that years of work has lead up to this succinct, powerful moment of breakthrough for Greek astral deathgrinders Dephosphorous as they bend black/death metal to their own will with such ebullient mastery. ‘Sublimation’ is certainly the sort of record one could dance around, the album art is lovely and most underground attuned extreme metal fans couldn’t have missed ‘Impossible Orbits’ a few years ago, yet I’d felt no trepidation diving into its innards. The science fiction themes aren’t mere dressing, they’ve embodied this mood and modus with spacey synth, dark ambient touches, haunting space-cult chanting, and all manner of post-hardcore tinged screaming hot deathgrind with blackened slashes throughout. If you’d gone wild over that last Wake album, this one is very easy to recommend. As I suggest in the review, I was about halfway through the full listen before I began slamming the “buy now” button. They’ve nailed it but like a cunning sci-fi novelist, they’ve left some room to grow and expand their universe unto greater dimensionality.


#7
ARTIST:NUBIVAGANT
TITLE:Roaring Eye
RECORD LABEL(S):Amor Fati Productions
FULL REVIEW:[CLICK HERE]

A solo project from Omega, current Blut Aus Nord drummer who has been active in notable black metal projects for the last couple of decades, Nubivagant is the most against the grain moment from the artist’s own personal oeuvre to date. A rib pulled from the body of his Darvaza project, much of ‘Roaring Eye’ is concurrent and steadily sung clean. “Atmospheric” black metal on an quasi-epic scale without any of the tropes associated which moves at a general mid-pace. I’ve likened the experience to Quorthon‘s true viking era as well as Urfaust, perhaps largely because of the use of clean vocals in a ranting, death’s spell casting fashion where a measure of death worship both adds to the black metal spiritus of the performance as well as the sense involved in labeled it as such. Whatever you can imagine it’d sound like, a solemn and mournful experience with an steadfast and dedicated series of movements is where it ends up. You’ll really have to give the entire thing a spin or two before grasping the feeling of it and this is partially due to it being almost entirely unique in motion.


#8
ARTIST:PRIMAL BRAIN
TITLE:It’s All a Game
RECORD LABEL(S):O.D.D. Tapes
BANDCAMP:[CLICK HERE]

A screaming loud hardcore punk tape from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma quartet Primal Brain. Societal harass, banging and catchy pieces, unmercifully static-crashing moderately thrashed out punk. Nothing more, nothing less. This was something I’d discovered during my monthly scrape of hardcore punk and noise rock from Bandcamp and though there were about five tapes I really loved, this one really stuck with me. It just seethes in the most satisfying way. Definitely at least hit “Dagger + Cloak”.


#9
ARTIST:PROSCRIPTION
TITLE:Conduit
RECORD LABEL(S):Dark Descent Records
FULL REVIEW:[CLICK HERE]

I’ve seen a lot of pretty confused takes on this record labeling it a take on ‘old school’ Finnish death metal, a bit of death/doom etc. When in reality it is a continuation of the blackened death metal sound Christbutcher (Excommunion) had created with Maveth earlier last decade. Back then the production was geared towards Dead Congregation a bit but this band has a different sound and line-up with some pieces co-written with Lantern maestro Cruciatus whose fine lead guitar work is all over this thing. The overall effect still resembles Desolate Shrine, Maveth, and Lie in Ruins, the sort of bands that were looking past caverncore in the 2010’s but still touching upon Morbid Angel and Incantation as they edged in bits of black metal and extreme doom into their lunges. It is definitely more of an ‘in the moment’ record to start but there are several memorable pieces that will appeal to the die-hard blackened death metal heads. A totally solid debut, everything these guys touch is sharp and buttoned up to the nth degree.


#10
ARTIST:KATAVASIA
TITLE:Magnus Venator
RECORD LABEL(S):Floga Records
FULL REVIEW:[CLICK HERE]

On ‘Magnus Venator’ Katavasia embodies that classic early-to-mid 90’s Greek black metal sound I adore and worship while pushing it to its loudest, biggest, and most theatrically melodic depths. They’ve done a wondrous thing in adding Melan Selas maestro Dimitris K. into the fold, bringing classic ‘epic’ heavy metal stomp to their keyboard-driven anthemic sound. Too often extreme metal’s take on the Greek sound is pure nuance, fumbling bits meant to sound naïve and mystic without understanding how big and bold the original Athens underground was beyond their modest recording budgets. In this sense ‘Magnus Venator’ is exciting, instantly gratifying melodic black metal music that demands a wild imagination to keep up with its gigantic personality and vibrant incantations. As I suggest in the review, it is the Greek black metal lover’s sort of Greek black metal made by multi-generational masters of the craft. An inspiring work for its bold heavy metal attack fashioned in the right spirit.


#11
ARTIST:EVOKE
TITLE:Seeds of Death
RECORD LABEL(S):Pulverised Records
FULL REVIEW:[CLICK HERE]

A fresh and long awaited addition to the new pantheon of Norwegian black/death thrash metal aggressors, Evoke‘s debut full-length delivers exquisitely upon the promise of their demo tape. ‘Seeds of Death’ soldiers quite hard in pushing the core speed metal attack they’d developed years ago and giving it a brutal thrash metal gnash to match its high-functioning production values. Just as Töxik Death seemed to have found a new, more powerful voice on ‘Sepulchral Demons’ so does Evoke match this mix of black/speed metal and brutal thrash. Think of Inculter, Deathhammer and you’re in the right mindset. It is albums like this that help to keep my faith for pure thrash metal alive, next to nothing else satisfies.


#12
ARTIST:INDOCTRINATE
TITLE:Antilogos: Arcane Transmutation In the Temple of Flesh
RECORD LABEL(S):Unholy Prophecies
FULL REVIEW:[CLICK HERE]

In morphing from Sadistik Goathammer unto Indoctrinate this Chilean black/death metal band make a similar transition that Embrace of Thorns did with ‘Praying For Absolution’. Losing the flightless furious attack of war metal for a violent form of blackened death metal that is yet barbaric but mystic in approach. I’d set their sound along the lines of Wrathprayer or Pseudogod, just on the verge of war but creating death metal throughout. I’d had the chance to premiere the full album earlier this month and found myself listening to the record constantly during and after the process.


#13
ARTIST:EXHALANTS
TITLE:Atonement
RECORD LABEL(S):Hex Records
FULL REVIEW:[CLICK HERE]

Of course the dark and spiked metal universe I typically plaster the site with wasn’t prepared for this post-hardcore/noise rock record out of the blue but I find I am only drawn to certain records in this style despite searching far-and-wide for the good stuff every year. In the case of Austin, Texas trio Exhalants I’d already known this band ruled thanks to their self-titled debut a couple of years ago. ‘Atonement’ is a cleaner, more thought out and road-tested affair that is as polished and profound as the best acts around today. Think of this as a fair dose of Unsane‘s heavier hits, the spacey drive of Unwound and (later) Quicksand coalescing into something Cherubs-esque. They’ve their own sound, driven by a godly bass guitar tone, but all is delivered without fiddly excess or any overworked or overthought pieces. Sure, I complained about the cover art in the review but this will definitely be one to look for on my end of the year list.


#14
ARTIST:ORDINANCE
TITLE:In Purge There is No Remission
RECORD LABEL(S):The Sinister Flame
FULL REVIEW:[CLICK HERE]

Finnish black metal project Ordinance act without boundaries, scenes, or periods of artistry to constrict their central vision. ‘In Purge There is No Remission’ is alchemical in nature and perhaps Satanic in spirit yet there is some love for black metal as an artform that bleeds throughout the experience that reads joyous and grinning. The guitar is the central actor and as such its traversal of forms is the centerpiece of the full listen, taking bits of orthodox black metal of the last two decades and easing into different melodic straits and valleys that delight in what warping they’ve done of auld rigidity. The outcome is brilliant if not a bit scatter shot and like all great lessons I’d found it’d take some study to know and appreciate what Ordinance have brought with devotion and perseverance. If black metal must adhere to the independence of the artist accepting the interconnectedness of the universe then this fellow has the upper hand and the right idea.


#15
ARTIST:EMYN MUIL
TITLE:Afar Angathfark
RECORD LABEL(S):Northern Silence
BANDCAMP:[CLICK HERE]

Am I so desperate for a new Summoning album that I’d settle for, nay, indulge completely into an imitation? Well, yeah. I suppose I’m just being edgy in using the word “imitation” when in reality the influence is just quite obvious with the pacing and style that Emyn Muil brings to their blend of dungeon synth and slow-but-sure Tolkien themed black metal. This is a not-so guilty pleasure and a pure bout of fucking nerd metal that I am so willing to fall into. Is it all that repeatable? Well, as with the other two records from the Italian solo act it is important to enjoy this type of music in moderation. Beyond the suggestion that it is a gem and a curio I would note that this is the best, most full and enchanting production value brought by the project to date and might be the best album to start with if curious or, a huge Summoning fan.


#16
ARTIST:DESOLATOR
TITLE:Sermon of Apathy
RECORD LABEL(S):Black Lion Records
FULL REVIEW:[CLICK HERE]

Embracing the brutality of the early 2000’s, the ornate moshable structures and groove-driven sparks of life from that era has afforded Desolator a more meaningful second wind since their Immolation-esque ‘Spawn of Misanthropy‘ EP in 2016. If you’d missed out on the age of bands like Nile, Aeon, Anata and Bloodbath this record could provide a textural gateway to some gracefully aging greats. These influences begin to show up more and more as ‘Sermon of Apathy’ pushes well into its deeper cuts on Side B where hints of Anata‘s ‘The Infernal Depths of Hatred‘, the slicker and oddly moshable reap of Yyrkoon‘s ‘Occult Medicine‘ (alternately, early Blood Red Throne) set a grand window into the evolving taste and core influences of the band. They are yet a mixture of modern and ‘old school’ feeling, not unlike a technical group (see: Sectu) without desire for tasteless modern glossiness. Maintaining that organic, pure death metal edge makes for a grand and appreciable record that is just packed with strong details.


#17
ARTIST:MADROST
TITLE:Charring the Rotten Earth
RECORD LABEL(S):No Life ‘Til Metal Records
FULL REVIEW:[CLICK HERE]

Progressive death/thrash metal band Madrost have gone through some appreciable evolution over the years as they’ve blended classic early 90’s progressive death and thrash metal influences with modern rhythmic ideas via Revocation and the sort. This fourth album is both their most accomplished and surprisingly succinct statement to date, cutting back some of the excess of ‘The Essence of Time Matches No Flesh’ (2017) and delivering something with a bit of a surprising edge to it. As I’d stated in the review: Madrost have pushed into some brilliant and self-refreshing territory on this fourth full-length without leaving behind the accomplished selves that’d been so relevant on ‘The Essence of Time Matches No Flesh’ and this makes for a charming and often lyrically savage modern thrash metal record. At times it appears they’re about to fly too close to the sun but at this point they’re pros and handle the heat with professional grace.


#18
ARTIST:DROPDEAD
TITLE:Dropdead
RECORD LABEL(S):Armageddon Label
FULL REVIEW:[CLICK HERE]

Timely, pissed as ever and now a bit easier to understand what they’re saying this third self-titled full-length from Rhode Islanders Dropdead since they’d officially formed in 1991 finds the band leaning towards the barking mad spectrum of early 80’s Boston hardcore punk more than ever. These guys are probably best known for their contributions to the concept of powerviolence as classic hardcore punk folks tried to push the sound further without going metal and that distinction and its alignment with early grindcore is yet incredibly valuable. The best way I could describe this album is basically how I’d always described Dropdead, that sweet spot where 80’s hardcore punk went double speed but hadn’t lost the nuance and catchiness of the riffing to rabid dog barks and blasters.


#19
ARTIST:HEXECUTOR
TITLE:Beyond any Human Conception of Knowledge​.​.​.
RECORD LABEL(S):Dying Victims Productions
FULL REVIEW:[CLICK HERE]

I haven’t yet finished the full review of this album yet but French speed/thrash metal band Hexecutor are among my favorites taking elements of early (pre-1988) Destruction and pure ’83 thrash metal records and distilling them into wild and ripping epics. This second full-length from the band is essentially still locked into that ‘Infernal Overkill’-meets-ADX kind of spirited sound but they’ve doubled their efforts with some more technique and more extensive song structures. The effect is a true metal leaning thrasher that never dissolves into riff salad, the sort of album that catches off guard with how catchy it is. More to say about it soon in the full review.


#20
ARTIST:SAMMAS’ EQUINOX
TITLE:Tulikehrät
RECORD LABEL(S):Signal Rex
BANDCAMP:[CLICK HERE]

Just a month beyond the latest Blood Red Fog album we’re treated to another one of their brilliant projects Sammas Equinox. This release is resonant for the reasons you’d expect, the unique use of synth and the vitally raw guitar sound that just screams of its distortion. Yet there is some patent sense of sojourn and longing throughout ‘Tulikehrät’ that speaks to spirituality and mythos becoming aligned. It is unique in its development yet still vitally Finnish in expression, dour and dirging. I’m yet undecided if I’ll do a review for this record but I can suggest it as one of the best this month. “Northern Gate of the Sun” is the song that’d planted this one in my head, I’d suggest starting there.


HONORABLE MENTIONS


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