The Top 20 Albums of DECEMBER | 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. In September the world was burning its hottest ah via record breaking stupidity. In October the inevitable autumnal grief. In November we embraced doom wholeheartedly. Here in the middle of December the haze of our hall’s glowing lights and rotting feasts now fades from our overflowing tables as they are freshly lain with plans for the coming year and uh, a short list of lists to write. This year’s Top 50 list will be much like last years in the sense that it’ll be a Top 100 with brief thoughts on the Top 50 with 51-100 listed and linked to. Before that arrives there will be a Year in Review column for 2020 where I will detail some successes and failures, and perhaps some thoughts on efficiency versus honorable coverage that will inform 2021 wherein I will continue to hone and reconsider everything.

December releases still in consideration (or process) for reviewDeeds of Flesh, Abigor, Children of Technology, Vrenth, Engulfed, Archaic Thorn, Hate Forest, Briton Rites & 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:Torment Enshrined
RECORD LABEL(S):Self-Released [Digital,Vinyl]
Alone Records [CD]

This record has been an obsession since the first listen. I mean, I’d written briefly about the Vienna, Austria-based duo’s first record last year but it was a bit of a surprise to see a second one so soon and well… Unholy hell, does it riff. If I were to simply call Molten Chains‘ sound “blackened heavy metal” you’d have gotten the wrong idea entirely, in fact they’re playing a blackened death/thrash influenced form of arcane heavy metal that brings the intensity of classic power/thrash metal. The vocals offer a thrilling narrative that is just as vital as the streams of brilliant yet simply achieved riffing, they’ve really found a professional-but-underground tightness within these flowing, impassioned heavy metal songs. It is something that must be heard and perhaps reheard to appreciate the ride that they’ve on offer. As I more-or-less suggest in the review this record blew me away, and I’m sure folks who love traditional heavy metal and extreme metal with equal sentiment will understand why this record is extraordinary.

TITLE:So It Goes
RECORD LABEL(S):Edged Circle Productions,
Dissonant Death,
Suicide Records [Chile]

Perhaps the best thrash metal album of 2020 will likely have to be on your 2021 favorites list because they’ve had delays beyond the original December 11th release date, and the CD/Cassette releases are pretty much sold out or limited to Chile. Yet I am honoring the December release date here for the sake of not holding the review/praise for another month, a matter of posterity for the sake of plague delays that I hope doesn’t become confusing. Anyhow, ‘So It Goes’ is a modern thrash metal classic, an avant-garde thrash metal album that not only goes for several out of this world ideas (such as clarinet riffs) but also sources the spirit of Mekong Delta‘s enlightened-but-raw early years alongside the modern inflections of Hexen‘s now classic ‘Being and Nothingness’. We run into so many young bands proud of themselves just for working up to par yet a band like Demoniac give the impression of some great drive and ambition beyond being just another thrash metal band. As with Molten Chains‘ record, I pre-ordered this as soon as I possibly could.

TITLE:Aldrig I Livet
RECORD LABEL(S):Dark Descent Records,
Me Saco Un Ojo,
Extremely Rotten Productions

Again, Undergang have never put out a bad record. This fifth one is perhaps their most serious effort in terms of maniac levels of detail put into their gore-slobbering form of Danish old school death metal via the musty stench of (early) goregrind (Dead Infection, Impetigo) punching their brutality up while their death/doom influences kinda spark up at the same time. It makes for an exciting aural experience to hear a clarified but still rotten band at their best, for sure these guys’ve spanked around their slop n’ slime for years as inspiration to all the caveman death chugs the world over. “Menneskeæder” is the big event this time around and man, what a beast of a take on the ‘Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious’ mindset. I dunno if I have anything intelligent to say about the record but I hope the full review was at least mildly entertaining.

RECORD LABEL(S):Svart Records

Sami Hynninen (TähtiporttiReverend Bizarre, ex-Spiritus Mortis) and his idiosyncratic vision of doom within Opium Warlords‘ fifth full-length ‘Nembutal’ presents a 70+ minute droning, dirge-riffing subversion named for the generic branding of pentobarbital yet it isn’t necessarily meant to put you to sleep, or death for that matter. Instead it seems to be an awakening, a peek outside the curtains to make sure the world is still ending and a hearty laugh at the fate of the world. A sizable psychedelic/experimental doom metal record to celebrate the dreamlike ebbing forth of the anthropocene. Of course fans of Reverend Bizarre should know this project, if not you’d do best to start here because this one is perhaps the most steady collection of vibes, vignettes, freakouts, and gigantic hits of psychedelic Finnish doom n’ drone.

TITLE:Kuoleman Kirjo
RECORD LABEL(S):W.T.C. Productions

Suffice to say that these were inspired sessions brimming with freely woven ideas and ever-solidifying ideals, yet Horna‘s vast discography remains a bit unconquerable in terms of summary and I’d be blustering a bit if I said this album collects the “best” of traits expressed since ~’94. If anything they’ve demonstrated proper linkage between the progenitors of second wave black metal in connection with some of the key ideas we find in Finnish black metal supremacy today. Because of this I’d suggest ‘Kuoleman kirjo’ is informative as it is artistic, an unholy revelation that justifies this sense that Horna have outlasted others by virtue of remaining curious of the great beyond, unafraid to peer through any darkest doorway ahead.

TITLE:Baptism Death
RECORD LABEL(S):Rotted Life Records

Now that I’ve taken some time to dig through Rotted Life‘s catalog a bit I’d say they’ve been on the pulse of the right shit across the board so far, especially in terms of United States death metal. Vrenth only strengthens this case on their debut full-length ‘Baptism Death’, easily one of the best death metal albums you’ll probably regret hearing after you’ve written up your ‘best of 2020’ in death metal favorites. This record basically hits upon heavier Funebrarum and Morpheus Descends notes of brutality early on and then slowly eases into a sort of death/doom sound of its own, settling into a mid-pace and puking but somehow catchy-as-fuck aria of gore and mayhemic cruelty. Definitely check this out of you love Ruin and Foul since these puked vocals from Mike Abominator (Ruin, ex-Gravehill) are an important distinctive trait as he weaves his guttural inhales and growls through the albums slower burning songs. I can’t think of a more unassuming beast that’d landed in 2020.

TITLE:Rapturous Flesh Consumed
RECORD LABEL(S):Gilead Media,
Redefining Darkness Records

Between their debut EP and this first full-length Santa Fe, New Mexico’s Heretical Sect have dropped some of their traditional/stoner doom metal riffing for the sake of a sound that now aligns a bit closer with the Necros Christos or, the blackened death/doom atmospheric surrealism shared between several German death/doom bands in recent decades. Don’t think they’ve lost their own sound, the creeping smoke of doom is a major feature of this release despite my review largely focusing on the lyrical themes, which are suggested rather than flatly narrated. The songs themselves aren’t all that memorable to start but the experience is. Wielding atmosphere as a weapon, the guitar work caught my ear first and the greater progressions revealed themselves in time. Many more thoughts in the full review.

TITLE:Exponential Decay
RECORD LABEL(S):Chaos Records

Ontario, Canada-based death metal duo Perilaxe Occlusion begin thier already remarkable sojourn between two ephemeral machined worlds with ‘Exponential Decay’, a fantastic demo tape that introduces their prowess for the complex-yet-catchy take on classic Finnish death metal riffing as well as an exploration of the complex plane of three dimensional artistic realization. If that wasn’t clear enough, they are a death metal band themed after three dimensional modeling and video game development vernacular from the perspective of a deranged renderer of death. I really liked this idea the more I’d thought about how they could layer reality, simulation, and brutality into something pretty cool. And of course these 6-8 minute death metal songs rip, definitely grab this if you like earlier Tomb Mold and Phobophilic‘s tape from last year.

TITLE:Totschläger (A Saintslayer’s Songbook)
RECORD LABEL(S):W.T.C. Productions

No doubt many folks initially missed the surprise release of the twelfth full-length from Austria’s Abigor and likely because its physical release was likely affected by the plague year. ‘Totschläger (A Saintslayer’s Songbook)’ is the next step beyond a regressive womb, hearkening back to an era specific traits while introducing new stylistic adornment alongside audio-visual innovations. Every copy of this record is essentially a special edition, a book with a CD in side or a vinyl with an extensive booklet and packaging. What I’m getting from this elaborate visual presentation is that this is an important record for Abigor, a reinforcement of the most classic points of excess they’ve long stood for. This means the occasionally prominent keyboards are devolved away from true symphony towards Casio keyboard hunched black metal majesty. It is a brilliant record to say the very least and I’ll have more to say when reviewing it, I’ll wait until I can figure how much the visual impact of the record factors into its experience since they’ve deliberately released this record with elaborate book-like binding.

TITLE:Written Destiny
RECORD LABEL(S):Hell’s Headbangers Records

This third full-length from Italy’s apocalyptic nuclear metalpunk crew Children of Technology stuck on me pretty quick by virtue of its ’85 speed metal production sound which you’d find in a lot of the ’86 style crossover thrash and first wave black metal nearby. Heavy metal is suppose to have a big personality, and metalpunk should be even bigger by definition so I’ve always appreciated how fuckin’ charged these guys sound. ‘Written Destiny’ is over the top for its bravado and less for its fairly traditional approach to riffing, think along the lines of Inepsy motörpunk n’ speed metal but with some Hellhammer in there too. Will have more thoughts in the full review when it is ready.

RECORD LABEL(S):Unique Leader Records

I’ll have to assume ‘Nucleus’ will be the final release from brutal death metal legends Deeds of Flesh since Erik Lindmark‘s passing in 2018 and with that in mind it is strong closure to an impressive legacy. There is a lot to unpack into one review, especially considering how important the band is for the sub-genre niche and its viability for the last two decades; I’ll save my own nostalgia for that review when it is ready. ‘Nucleus’ represents the completion of a science fiction trilogy started with 2008’s ‘Of What’s To Come’, a major point of reset for the band after their longtime co-vocalist/bassist had retired. The concept of the album literally explains itself as it plays, you can’t miss it since they’ve articulated it so well. It’d been written and recorded by Lindmark, Craig Peters, Ivan Munguia and drummer Darren Cesca a few years ago but without vocal arrangements or performances. By virtue of the songwriting and the addition of vocalist Jacoby Kingston the completed ‘Nucleus’ is not only a concept album but a career-spanning progressive brutal death metal album with a couple hits of deathcore. Kingston‘s vocals are very distinct, the perfect over the top narration of a wild story, in addition to his central role there are roughly eleven guests who appear on the album so, it’ll take a while to discern who is who and why the vocals have this wildly idiosyncratic range represented but it all adds a great deal to the experience. I’ll probably just wax nostalgic in the review, I’m a die-hard fan of their discography and its exemplary mutations, but you get the idea all positive thoughts on this one.

TITLE:De Zoute Kwel
RECORD LABEL(S):Folter Records

What makes Grafjammer special isn’t that they’ve needled out the right balance of stylistic indication but that they’ve kept the fiery songwriting of their black metal, black n’ roll and hardcore punk influences intact while wearing their own bloody skin stretched over it. Their third album, ‘De Zoute Kwel’, is the seepage of the night across the city where the zealous, the criminal, the suicidal and the misanthropic come out to slink in the shadows of Amsterdam and some memorable and mayhemic black metal results. They’ve become more distinct with each release and ‘De Zoute Kwel’ feels like a fresh high point for their approach. Slightly more coherent thoughts in the review.

TITLE:Vengeance of the Fallen
RECORD LABEL(S):Dark Descent Records,
Me Saco Un Ojo

At some point I’d read a review of Turkish death metal trio Engulfed‘s 2017 full-length debut where it was described as ‘Diabolical Conquest’ taken to task without the usual caverncore haziness. I’d say they’ve evolved beyond the resemblance of that statement and without a doubt their latest EP is destined to be another brutally underrated release from these guys. Consider their sound along the lines of Drawn and Quartered in the late 2000’s, easing up on the brutal death and sometimes edging towards Finnish death and Morbid Angel depending what mood strikes ’em in any given song. Also, a smaller side note that I believe this’ll be one of the last Timo Ketola (RIP) paintings commissioned for an album cover since he’d passed along with Aethyrick‘s upcoming record, this one is especially detailed, vivid and chaotic movement.

TITLE:Occulte Fantastique
RECORD LABEL(S):Echoes of Crom Records

Getting solid long-awaited records from Cirith Ungol and Vestal Claret this year was rewarding enough but we’ve one more major surprise here in the twilight hours of 2020 with this second full-length from this underground doom metal legendry Briton Rites. If you’re old enough to recall the return of Brocas Helm with ‘Defender of the Crown’ no doubt this’ll be just as big a deal, and a satisfying resurrection of the throne for folks who hold ‘For Mircalla’ up on a pedestal. Consider their sound a bit of 70’s occult heavy rock set to traditional doom metal sound cranked to the sonic lustre of peak Cathedral in terms of production sound and guitar launch. They’ve their own sound though you’ll recall this is one of the best doom metal acts to feature vocalist Phil Swanson, whom has appeared on some of the finest doom/heavy rock ever recorded. I’ll have a full review up for it soon enough.

RECORD LABEL(S):Into Endless Chaos Records

Into Endless Chaos continues to be one of the strongest “quality over quantity” extreme metal imprints out of Germany in recent years and this year they released quite a few strong albums. The latest Evil Warriors was incredible and this unique debut from Lichtenstein-based death metal trio Archaic Thorn was a huge surprise. You’ll get hints of Chilean blackened death/thrash acts and atmospheric death metal that eventually sprawls into a riff record as we reach the second half. As much as I like their more chaotic, surprising side their more straight forward Protector-esque numbers (“Extraterrestrial Blood”) are the best pieces for my own taste; When they’re death-thrashing Archaic Thorn sound their most “natural” and impressive. It might look unassuming but this record has held up to countless listens thus far and it should appeal to folks who run the spectrum of black/thrash, death/thrash, and old school death metal alike.

TITLE:Hour of the Centaur
RECORD LABEL(S):Osmose Productions

Ukrainian black metal musician Roman Saenko (Drudkh, Precambrian, Windswept, et al.) should perhaps rightfully be considered one of the more tenacious and talented musicians metal has received from his region, ever. No doubt the constant comparisons to his eldest project, Hate Forest, could’ve become frustrating since Blood of Kingu and Precambrian were occasionally spitting images of certain Hate Forest classics. Nobody really cares what reductive amateur music journalism has to say about black metal, honestly, but it does seem like returning to this project after dissolving it sixteen years ago is due to some old fire reigniting. As I listen to ‘Hour of the Centaur’ under somewhat rushed circumstances, wanting to make sure it is included here but that I’ve also thoroughly heard and considered its key events, it reveals to me a need to carve with greater detail a similar work of art. That is to say Saenko has revised the melodic language of Hate Forest so that the differences between his other work are even more pronounced even if the same rawness and riveting performances are nearby related. I hear a strong reaction here, a fiery response, a fed up sickness churning due to black metal’s awful deconstruction into popular music. A fine record, a stream to race along towards the smell of death, and a brutal rush throughout.

TITLE:Of Atavistic Fury & Visions
RECORD LABEL(S):Soulseller Records

Yet another unassuming debut, this time a Finnish pagan black metal band with a triumphant melodic stature lands upon me like a ton of bricks. Simple as the appeal of this band is via a clear love for long and involved melodic black metal riff development they’ve kept the imagery of their craft quite unique, colorful and visceral to pair with fairly typical tales of Scandinavian mythology, paganistic lore, and naturalism. No doubt ‘Of Atavistic Fury & Visions’ intends to shake their most vibrant crossing of malevolence and melodicism here, making for an aggressive yet often “pretty” listening experience and it makes a strong first impression. What this means for the full listen is a certain sense of accessibility gracing their aggressive and quite driven paganistic spirit. It’ll be interesting to see how they develop on future releases as I think they’re on the verge of something impactful and memorable.

TITLE:Ascension Catalyst
RECORD LABEL(S):7 Degrees Records

Evisorax are a trio of death-grinders from the Greater Manchester, England area who dabble in (what I’d call) power violence, harsh noise, grindcore, deathgrind and even some mutant-assed screaming late 90’s style sludge metal here and there. Think of it as the deeper underground component of grindcore that’d amplified in the late 90’s/early 2000’s when bands like Benümb and Soilent Green hit mainstream distribution channels; Not that they sound like those bands but, grind was reaching its all-time high in a multitude of forms at the time. Bad examples maybe but expect blasts, shattered noise walls, pained screeching vocals, constant machine-like blasting and a few pretty sharp hits of hardcore punk here and there. “Fall Into Satori” is probably the most full-ranged song to show off the album’s perks but man, Side A has its own murderous energy you shouldn’t miss. Technically speaking this was independently released digitally in late April but, only vinyl is real and thankfully the good folks at 7 Degrees picked this one up. Keep an ear on the band and an eye on their label if you’re big into intelligent grind that isn’t pretentious or coyly commercial.

TITLE:Split 7″
RECORD LABEL(S):Self-Released

Seum are one of my favorite independent bands I’d bumped into this year so, I was stoked the Montreal, Québec bass-driven sludge (they call it “doom n’ bass”) trio announced they were putting out one more record before 2020 is over. This’ll be a split vinyl 7″ with grunged-out French doom rockers Fátima, an independent and limited release which will include a handmade cover that opens into a 3D “pop-up” which was designed by brilliant comic artist/illustrator Gorka Uztarroz. Seum‘s track, “Saliva Bath”, is only a glimpse of their action, a chest-kicked bout of pure gloom. This was my introduction to Fátima, who represent a line one can draw between grungy desert rock, stoner metal, and doom. They’ve picked the perfect place to start with this infectious-but-disaffected piece “Raining Bricks”. What makes this worth a mention in my mind? I guess the fact that these are two distinct bands covering each others recent songs, a pretty wild and inventive impetus to pick up and check out each band. It is a quick listen but I’m feeling both sides of this one. You’ll have to wait ’til it releases on Bandcamp to grab it.

TITLE:Unhallowed Death Triumph
RECORD LABEL(S):Iron Bonehead Productions

Three renowned drummers long-active in the Swedish extreme metal underground making arcane, belligerent and evil death metal? Of course it ends up leaning towards blackened death metal on some level which seems inevitable between members of Kill, Necrocurse, and Karnarium. Though this might suggest we should be looking to the early greats in Scandinavian black/death metal I’d say the riffs just aren’t there yet for this band; Some of the lead melodies and black metal rhythmic phrasing is pure evil atmosphere, and in that sense the record is a success. I mean, even if that sounds harsh I’d still end up coming back to ‘Unhallowed Death Triumph’ a handful of times for the sinister sound they’ve managed. “Carnage Into Dimensional Oblivion” is the major cut here, and the main reason Gravfraktal stuck in my head well enough to land on this list.


  • BAXAXAXA – Devoted to HIM [December 7th, Iron Bonehead Productions]
  • PILLORY – Scourge on Humanity [December 18th, Unique Leader Records]
  • EVANGELIST – Ad Mortem Fetinamus [December 18th, Nine Records]
  • EOS – The Great Ascension [December 18th, Brilliant Emperor Records]
  • NEXUL – Scythed Wings of Poisonous Decay [December 4th, Iron Bonehead Productions]
  • DIRA MORTIS – Ancient Breath of Forgotten Misanthropy [December 25th, Selfmadegod Records]
  • COFFINS / DEPRESSION – Split [December 30th, Hell’s Headbangers Records]
  • DEPRESSION – Ära der Finsternis [December 31st, Murder Records]

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