悟り — Why live without excess? Why not gain more everything, every year? It is a small mind that cannot fathom the limits of its own environment, much less the reality of a woefully crowded planet. The reality of the crowd, the ignorant teeming mass of humanity, a frothy pile of fly-ridden garbage that grows increasingly infectious every year, blight ’em all, eh? This mechanism is self-defeating even with total inaction, no catalyst required, a co-morbid reality shared between living meat and the oxidization of time’ll eventually shake itself out via increasing waves of sickness and inevitable worldwide environmental collapse. Being cooped-up indoors for months on end due to wildfire smoke and wildly contagious viral epidemic isn’t living but… surviving and I’ve nothing but sympathy for folks whose professions, passions, and hobbies were likewise rendered unsafe or unnecessary this year. I’d beg you to soldier on, continuing to survive and serve the arts. Not attending shows (well, the arts in general) means never feeling like I’ve got my own crowd of cool idiots to peer into from the edge and quasi relate to. It is an unfortunate weakness but I’ve managed to ease upon symptomatic restlessness via the thrill of buying physical copies of my favorite records and listening to them. What fuckin’ luck it is that this was an incredible year for heavy music. Yearning to be free of a machine-like society that keeps one safe but suffering is yet a universally dreaded personal psychic death and, conveniently enough, one that we can share remotely; You’ll manage, probably a bit better in the future if you choose to get involved in government oversight, eco-terrorism sects and/or embrace policies that enforce brutal anti-corporate action. Those are still real life things, eh? [“I dunno man, I’ve been sitting at home.”] Also, I gave myself a bit more time to mull over the ordering beyond ~#50 this year so, the experience is marginally more intentional.
Each day I meditate with all-consuming gratitude aimed toward the bands, labels, distros, artists and PR firms who choose to work with me — As well as the kind few readers who donate to the site intermittently. Thank you! This year I’d planned to start a couple of small businesses but it’d have been too risky as I witnessed the steepest yet decline of western civilization in my lifetime. Instead I’ve focused on maintaining strongest efficiency with highest standards in tact, generally keeping up with all new releases received throughout the year. You can decide for yourself if I’d done alright or not, let me know. As for this list, it was prepared from an initial pool of roughly ~200 releases of all genres (selected from roughly ~600-700 positive-leaning reviews) which were ordered by highest general ratings. I then revisited each as needed via criteria that involved my usual metrics of: Temporal immersion, personal connection (bias), impressive style, and with great consideration for the lasting value of each album. I also keep track of the number of listens via automatic data collection, allowing for an objective tiebreaker when needed. The first 50 are listed with links to reviews/streams, the Top 50 feature some summarized thoughts in hindsight. As always, think for yourself and strive to maintain respect for those you disagree with.
100. INEXORUM – Moonlit Navigation (2020) | REVIEW
99. MAGGOT HEART – Mercy Machine (2020) | REVIEW
98. SADISTIC DRIVE – Anthropophagy (2020) | REVIEW
97. OF FEATHER AND BONE – Sulfuric Disintegration (2020) | REVIEW
96. HEADS. – Push (2020) | REVIEW
95. MADROST – Charring the Rotten Earth (2020) | REVIEW
94. Pyre – Chained to Ossuaries (2020) | REVIEW
93. Deconsecration – Demo (2020)
92. My Dying Bride – The Ghost of Orion (2020) | REVIEW
91. VESTAL CLARET – Vestal Claret (2020) | REVIEW
90. Ulthar – Providence (2020) | REVIEW
89. Allelic – À Contre Vent (2020) | REVIEW
88. Disembowel – Echoes of Terror (2020) | REVIEW
87. Worm – Gloomlord (2020) | REVIEW
86. KATAVASIA – Magnus Venator (2020) | REVIEW
85. R.I.P. – Dead End (2020) | REVIEW
84. Monolithe – Okta Khora (2020) | REVIEW
83. Acherontas – Psychic Death-The Shattering of Perceptions (2020) | REVIEW
82. Witches Hammer – Damnation Is My Salvation (2020) | REVIEW
81. DRAGHKAR – At the Crossroads of Infinity (2020) | REVIEW
80. HERETICAL SECT – Rapturous Flesh Consumed (2020) | REVIEW
79. VRENTH – Baptism Death (2020)
78. EVOKE – Seeds of Death (2020) | REVIEW
77. GATES OF TYRANT – Vortex Towards Death (2020) | REVIEW
76. HEXECUTOR – Beyond Any Human Conception of Knowledge… (2020) | REVIEW
75. ILS – Curse (2020) | REVIEW
74. EXPANDER – Neuropunk Boostergang (2020) | REVIEW
73. Armagedda – Svindeldjup Ättestup (2020) | REVIEW
72. NOXIS – Expanse of Hellish Black Mire (2020) | REVIEW
71. WOMBRIPPER – Macabre Melodies (2020) | REVIEW
70. FOUL – Of Serpents (2020) | REVIEW
69. UNDEATH – Lesions of a Different Kind (2020) | REVIEW
68. UNDERGANG – Aldrig i livet (2020) | REVIEW
67. Hexvessel – Kindred (2020) | REVIEW
66. Raspberry Bulbs – Before the Age of Mirrors (2020) | REVIEW
65. SKELETAL REMAINS – The Entombment of Chaos (2020) | REVIEW
64. Pestifer – Expanding Oblivion (2020) | REVIEW
63. Jordablod – The Cabinet of Numinous Song (2020) | REVIEW
62. EASY PREY – Relentless Struggle [Vinyl] (2020) | REVIEW
61. Summon – Helios (2020) | REVIEW
60. Cardinals Folly – Defying the Righteous Way (2020) | REVIEW
59. Funeral Leech – Death Meditation (2020) | REVIEW
58. CONVOCATION – Ashes Coalesce (2020) | REVIEW
57. NECROT – Mortal (2020) | REVIEW
56. EMPRESS – Premonition (2020) | REVIEW
55. LIE IN RUINS – Floating in Timeless Streams (2020) | REVIEW
54. Hail Spirit Noir – Eden in Reverse (2020) | REVIEW
53. Astral Sleep – Astral Doom Musick (2020) | REVIEW
52. Devangelic – Ersetu (2020) | REVIEW
51. ASTRIFEROUS – The Lower Levels of Sentience (2020) | REVIEW
ORANSSI PAZUZU – Mestarin Kynsi (Nuclear Blast)
Pulling from a range of personal hallucinatory experiences I’d at least suggest fear and despair in a ‘poisoned’ state is a great thrill regardless of the damage it does, and probably more memorable for the melting horror the mind produces in response. The intermittent need to return to a psychotic blurred consciousness, a nether-dimensional scrape of terror from the innervation of the senses, is yet well-stated by music that specializes in access to oblivion. Black metal definitely wasn’t anyone’s first choice for the future expansion of dark psychedelia and for years only the deepest heralds of the old underground kept the acid flowing. Yet in the span of this last decade no other path to ego-death has felt so unsatisfyingly on the verge, the very tip of realization than the possibilities of black metal atmosphere and ethos applied to true psychedelia… Well, at least nothing else comes anywhere near what southern Finnish blackened kosmiche psych-metal innovators Oranssi Pazuzu have created and made a name with since forming back in 2007. Their fifth album, ‘Mestarin Kynsi’, comes after nearly four years of consideration and in the hands of arms with great worldwide reach, surely it will be their most accessible piece to date? Although it is undoubtedly their most luxurious and varied production to date, there is no question that the quintet have presented a work still further away from already distant norms with this fifth album. The space rockin’ freak beat of it all was an enormous highlight of the year alongside watching them perform it live via a broadcast online. ‘Kosmonument’ is still one of my favorite black metal records and this evolutionary beast beyond is no less impressive.
SUTRAH – Aletheia (The Artisan Era)
What compels the worm that feels no pain? Transcendental solar art, apparently. Yes, the urging metaphysical exploration of this Québécois technical/progressive death metal project Sutrah is yet in tact and in finest form on this gem of a 12″ EP. The trio (with session drums from Kevin Paradis) are perhaps one of the most stirringly underrated projects in progressive death metal and I was glad to see them get picked up on The Artisan Era for a reissue of their debut LP ‘Dunes’ (2017) and this EP. Consider that I bought Sadus ‘Elements of Anger’ in 1998 and became that fellow who’d hope extreme metal would pick up and run with more of these prog metal elements while still resembling actual death metal. If you can see the stretch of it, a record like ‘Aletheia’ is a profound realization of that generations-long mutation, even if not directly. “Genèse” is probably the best song the band have written to date and perhaps the first song if this type I’ve heard use a gangsa, unless Rudra might’ve. See also: #5, #39.
ZÖLDÏER NOÏZ – Merci (Ripping Storm)
Since I’m about to hit you with a shitload of death metal records you might want to get as high as possible on the adrenaline of this nuclear crust punk fuming thrash metal record from Montpellier, France’s Zöldier Noiz. ‘Merci’ sounds like Amebix if x-rayed by Dekapitator, a real fuckin’ mean Voivod-pushing punk thrash record with some ‘Morbid Tales’ riffs in its muscle memory. The energy is abrupt and anxietous but the pace relishes in the tension of mid-to-fast movement, its glassy bass tone and shrieking leads firing off one of the heaviest metalpunk records in recent memory.
COSMIC PUTREFACTION – The Horizons Towards Which Splendour Withers (I, Voidhanger)
Milan, Italy astral-projected and multi-talented musician G.G. (Summit, The Clearing Path) snaps out of stasis in doubly determined and violently rapturous spirits with this exceptionally crafted second full-length from his solo death metal project Cosmic Putrefaction. Witnessing the macrocosmic horror of the universe and microcosmic Hell developing on Earth at once strengthens the cosmos-sized expansion of his ever-studied ear for cutting edge yet tastefully depicted death metal aggression. The unreal pitch-black worlds conjured within the unregulated swarming of ‘The Horizons Towards Which Splendour Withers’ represent true maniac forms, brutal and impressive mutant death metal blasts. A freshly achieved ‘next level’ for the project to be sure, and an interesting science fiction narrative informing the lyrics. This time around we’re still getting that blasting, brutal Timeghoul-esque sound but I’m hearing slightly more Ulcerate and (earlier) Blood Incantation alongside various other brutal and technical death metal influences. Well, influences aren’t the point here but rather the leap in quality of Cosmic Putrefaction‘s focused and stylized sound beyond the first album which was also pretty solid work. All of the things folks had written while hyped up for ‘Hidden History of the Human Race’ last year kinda apply to ‘The Horizons Towards Which Splendour Withers’ too and honestly I kinda prefer this record as a listening experience.
OMEGAVORTEX – Black Abomination Spawn (Invictus Productions)
Best riffing this year is strictly tied between this album and #32. Getting to interview Omegavortex‘ bandleader and premiere this album’s promotional stream was an honor for me since I’ve been a fan of their work in this project, as well as other classic German underground death metal bands, for many years. No goddamn question I knew I would like the album based off of the pre-production demos and previous shorter releases and the big reveal of ‘Black Abomination Spawn’ did not disappoint. Don’t let me understate it, few bands were pushing out riffs half as ripping as these in 2020. What’d struck me upon first listen was that they’d clearly put time into incorporating black metal in for effect, enhancing the severity of a distinctly frantic bestial blast of complex high-speed riffs. Much of the album lands as severely as a nuclear event, or a murderous knocking at the door, where all motion is at full force. The effect upon my mind was terminal velocity, a slipstream of hallucinatory hypergrinding death/thrash riffs that trail into the darkest, blackest corners of each phrase — Animalistic and hateful in spirit but only for the sake of truly damaging chaos. See also: Beyond (Germany), Verberis, #34.
TRANSCENDENCE – Towards Obscurities Beyond (Blood Harvest)
On their debut full-length Los Angeles, Californians Transcendence sport a style of blackened death metal that resembles the peak Slayer-ized stomp of early Necrophobic and Unanimated on ‘Towards Obscurities Beyond’. The atmosphere flits between a funereal Wagnerian spirit and bestial depictions of Hell where the leitmotif aren’t so pronounced or intentioned as such but the progression from piece to piece reveals a an order deliberately exhausts a corridor of riff phrases; The second half of the record begins opening into more grand structures and sentimental melodic phrases while still keeping its grip upon this early melodic black/death metal style. See also: Unceremonial, Necrowretch,
UADA – Djinn (Eisenwald)
Though their earlier releases were often plainly lumped into conversations surrounding Mgła‘s greater influence I’d always heard a much more sophisticated idea behind pacific northwest quartet Uada‘s atmospheric melodic black metal sound. That sophistication is best realized here on ‘Djinn’, a veritable revelation of modern rock influences (and even some melodic doom metal peaks) which Uada capitalize upon in reaching toward an untouchable occult austerity. It is a massive hour spanning six songs and a beautiful double LP set. When “No Place Here” hits its A Canorous Quintet-esque starting point I collapse under it, I’m not sure how they’ve managed to write catchy 14 minute pieces but this should be celebrated. To be fair ‘Djinn’ is excessive at times but, endearingly so, the experience is an achievement of modern melodic black metal all the same. See also: Interview with Jake Superchi (for Ceremonial Castings ‘Salem 1692 [MMXX]’)
ROPE SECT – The Great Flood (Iron Bonehead Productions)
There is a frightening forest-eyed spirit haunting the reverb-dogged halls of German gothic rock/post-punk phenom Rope Sect, a desperate grit in the creases of the face that comes from an ascetic’s understanding of the world. The outsider, a man apart or away from the willful stench of the world seeks no remorseful licking of wounds, only a personal sort of “blues” that is ethereal, hallucinogenic, and somehow so inviting. ‘The Great Flood’ is a statement of Śūnyatā that is yet difficult to hand to the unknowing public with some deeper disclaimer of antisocial doom in mind, it feels as if I’ve handed the end of the world to someone who’d never thought of it and potentially crushed their spirit. It is a purest head-hanging joy to spread its curse. This album became a complete obsession along with new ones from Hexvessel (Mat McNerny is featured on a few pieces here) and Wailin Storms this year, definitely found me exploring all manner of this swaggering apocalyptic post-punk more often than usual. You should not exit 2020 in reflection without hearing “Hiraeth” first. See also: Rumours ‘Neither Innocent Nor Wavering’, #30, #67.
OBSCENE – The Inhabitable Dark (Blood Harvest)
Not even sure what I was on about with the intro to the review for this fine debut from Indiana’s Obscene but the gist was that these guys represent one of the finest modern examples of pure United States death metal in recent memory. The riffs are certainly important but Side A is all about rhythm and voice — Songs crafted for effect and written without any anxiety for technical or trendy modus. They push out serpentine at times but lay neatly without fail. Letting the unique throated howl of vocalist Kyle Shaw personify their early At the Gates and Asphyx scorched earth sound brings a certain ’91 meanness to ‘The Inhabitable Dark’, a ferality I’d equated with Viogression in my review, though these guys are more sophisticated in terms of technical standards. I like nothing more than to sit down and listen to a damn death metal album that cranks it without losing the plot, serves riffs that matter and vary, and ultimately lands a few hits that I’ll remember. Obscene have given us an exemplar spin through it on this remarkable debut.
SPELL – Opulent Decay (Bad Omen)
I’d spent most of April and May listening to this third album from Vancouver B.C. trio Spell, completely vexed by it for a day and thrilled to death for months. I suppose it was only a matter of time before its majesty sunk in, I’d eventually herald the heavy psychedelic “70’s progressive heavy rock gone 80’s metal” transitional feel of the production and songwriting. ‘Opulent Decay’ has a distinct bitterness to its psychedelic tunefulness, a tone of despair and malaise that is hopeful but ailing. It reads as deadpan for a second and then impassioned and fixated with time. I loved how this album developed in my mind as I sat with it, almost insisting on what it was until my delusions sank away and categorization became a bit needless. It is a personal yet enchanting experience, a classic rock record at heart but with all of the gloomy mastery that only a nowadays ear could imagine up. This might be the one band I have been suffering to experience live this year, I’d love to see how these songs hit the air for real. Also worth noting that Bad Omen did a fantastic job with the vinyl release, I put up with a lot of cheap-ass choices from beloved independent vinyl releases and this one spares nothing in its classic feeling packaging and presentation without overdoing it. Not a shill but, some appreciation for doing things proper. See also: Cauldron, Lunar Shadow, Syrinx.
CEMETERY FILTH – Dominion (Unspeakable Axe)
Between this record, #57, #65, #69, and #42 we can begin to make the case for United States death metal finding its most impressive surge of classics-minded releases even when compared to 2019 and this despite all of the boring jock-core influenced bands out there. ‘Dominion’ is a debut hard fought and well worth waiting for as this Atlanta, Georgia-based group would take several years to hone their sound beyond a more obvious Morbid Angel and Autopsy centric gig, eventually finding a technical but not entirely groove obsessed death metal album in hand. First, the album art is fucking incredible. The details in it are indicative of the detail you’ll find in the riffing, which might push into early Diabolic territory once in a while but generally lands a la early Sinister at its most intense. Riffing is the major draw here, atmosphere is thick and belligerent but the whole thing resounds with some great depth as it spins.
VOIDCEREMONY – Entropic Reflections Continuum: Dimensional Unravel (20 Buck Spin)
When I’d seen San Diego-area blackened death metal band VoidCeremony had signed with 20 Buck Spin my honest reaction was “Sure, but why?”. Ohh! Raw shit, I know, but a passing thought as I didn’t see any indication of major potential in their earlier work. Of course if I’d known ‘Entropic Reflections Continuum: Dimensional Unravel’ was what was being readied on the horizon I’d have been shitting my pants over it. In my review I’d probably fixated a bit too much on the performances of The Great Righteous Destroyer here on bass guitar and the similarity of this band to his band, StarGazer. Yet these thoughts still hold up months later even if VoidCeremony‘s guitarists have approached this breakthrough record with their own sense of progressive death/thrash metal style. At the end of the day I’ll never grow out of a deeply ingrained love for Atheist‘s ‘Piece of Time’ and this leads me to obsess over this much darker and evolved playfulness that gilds the best of this inspired work. See also: StarGazer ‘Psychic Secretions’, Inanna ‘Transfigured in a Thousand Delusions’.
DEPHOSPHORUS – Sublimation (Nerve Altar)
Sporting the most refined vision of their black, death and post-hardcore tinged deathgrind sound to date Athens, Greece spawned quartet Dephosphorus brought a true revelation here with ‘Sublimation’. Themed after Iain M. Banks’ second-to-last novel The Hydrogen Saga (2012) we’re spun into a yarn of mythical transcendence, apocalyptic instrumentation, and frankly the most intensely evolved and captivating deathgrind I’ve heard in a decade. This is one of those record I’d bought during the review process, I’d sat with it enough that it compelled itself onto my shelves. Did anyone else hear a bit of later Snapcase in “Absurd Aftermath”? I’m still in pure awe of this one, love it. See also: Dephosphorus ‘Astralaudioviolence (Live At Temple)’, Wake ‘Devouring Ruin’.
ENSNARED – Inimicus Generis Humani (Invictus Productions)
This second Ensnared record did eventually become buried in the pile of standout death metal releases early in the year but it wheeled back around in my mind when Fall hit. Their debut, ‘Dysangelium’ (2017), remains an nigh incomparable ride but shouldn’t be used as a benchmark for this record which is similar in its basal influences but also entirely different in affect. You’ll hear this incredible incubation of 80’s death metal bludgeoning, Acheron-esque interludes, maze-like riffing and an inexhaustible contempt for mankind driving it all. Death metal rarely feels as serious, scornful and delivered in perpetual defiance of the cheap chunked-out nonsense death bands we’ve run into so often these last few years. See also: Avlivad ‘Demo MMXX’, Degial, Necrovation.
GREY SKIES FALLEN – Cold Dead Lands (Self-Released)
There was some considerable debate in mind between this monumental fifth record from Grey Skies Fallen and #35 as each represents an important take on melodic death/doom metal that I’d connected with immediately. Ultimately the ordering came down to numbers and spins but ‘Cold Dead Lands’ is virtually incomparable to peers for the sake of their marriage of epic doom metal, melodic death/doom metal, and hints of their progressive metal influences that’d been mulled over on previous releases. The best elements of Isole, October Tide, and some solid chunks of Paradise Lost‘s early death metal side are the best way to describe this experience in terms of obvious influences and the sub-genre spectrum they’ve nailed. If you’ve some strong love for epic doom metal from the Candlemass spectrum, the evolution of the Peaceville three, and their Swedish counterparts this gorgeous apocalyptic record lies in wait for you. See also: Reeking Aura ‘Beneath the Canopy of Compost’, Soliloquium ‘Things We Leave Behind’, My Dying Bride ‘The Ghost of Orion’.
PULCHRA MORTE – Ex Rosa Ceremonia (Transcending Records)
To this day the catchy-yet-cathartic melodic death/doom mastery of Pulchra Morte‘s debut record (‘Divina Autem et Aniles‘, 2019) still affects me deeply. If my reaction was eccentric last time around then I’ll have been well satisfied in being the exact right mark for a death/doom record, right? It wasn’t a perfect album, the back half wasn’t as strong, and there was clearly plenty of room to grow as we approach ‘Ex Rosa Ceremonia’, the band’s second album and a small paradigm shift in practical terms. New members, new ideas, freshened sound, and a more dynamic set of moody doom numbers makes this record a joy to dig into. The trade made here, as I see it, sacrifices some of the emotive value of the previous vocalist for the broader emotional spectrum that the uber talented Adam Clemens brings. I suppose you’ll have to be in the right mood for this sort of thing and you’ll know what that mood is just looking at it.
KHTHONIIK CERVIIKS – Æequiizoiikum (Iron Bonehead Productions)
Uniformity is the destruction of the ‘self’ and by extension of nature and life on Earth as this incredibly singular German black/death metal band once again approaches the pulpit to detail our doom. Imagine a sci-fi horror vacuum instilled with the ferocity of Katharsis but enlightened by the jagged bluntness of Sadistik Exekution and scrambled in the brain a la the best of Voivod. Now visualize this recorded live in studio with minimal additional layering and you’ve got perhaps the most adrenaline-sourced and spastic black/death metal album of the year. There is nothing else like Khthoniik Cerviiks and this is by virtue of their doing things the hard way, rehearsing as often as possible for the sake all music being tightly performed both in live and studio presentations. This was a banner (25th) year for Iron Bonehead Productions both in terms of quality and quantity, every month they’d land something superior and you’ll already begin to see this echoed in this list. See also: Zom ‘Flesh Assimilation’, Katharsis ‘Kruzifixxion’.
ARA – Jurisprudence (Self-Released)
The most challenging yet rewarding dissonant death metal record of the year and perhaps also the most underrated, Ara‘s ‘Jurisprudence’ is a mind-shattering hammer of ugliness and hatred that arrives with extremely professional and polished render. This is a work heavily influenced by Gorguts ‘Obscura’ and perhaps the more brutal and angular side of Anata, a mass of discordant and dissolving death metal phrases that sometimes arc into melodic implication. It is such an imposing listen considering how inviting its aesthetic is via perhaps one of my favorite Eliran Kantor paintings to date. Pure class, an album that absolutely deserves a vinyl release. See also: Nucleus ‘Entity’, Replicant ‘Negative Life’.
COFFIN CURSE – Ceased to Be (Memento Mori)
Where were all of the killer riff-obsessed death metal records in 2020? Well, Chilean death metal duo Coffin Curse‘s debut was the one album that really brought a truly impressive display of fuckin’ death by riff. The frantic skull-shocks of Ripping Corpse, the slaughterous blasts of ‘Dawn of Possession’ and guitarist/vocalist/bassist Max Neira‘s impeccable knack for droning and malevolent classic death metal riffing all add up to a captivating and wholly brutal spin. ‘Ceased to Be’ unfolds a discography’s worth of death metal riffs within minutes and I was obsessed with it from the first spin. Also artist/musician Daniel Hermosilla deserves a ton of credit for the amazing album artwork he has produced in the last several years, this one a truly vexing and imaginative example.
AETHYRICK – Gnosis (The Sinister Flame)
There are two ways I could approach a description of Finnish black metal duo Aethyrick. The first would be setting them in place with the more influential acts of the last couple decades in their region: A bit of Satanic Warmaster‘s lovelier side, a slightly less involved anthemic keyboard-tinged Blood Red Fog or, this similar realm of deeply melodic and ethereally resolved black metal. They’ve much broader influences than this and it is a reductive way to approach such thoughtful craft. The second approach would be to juxtapose my perception of their spirituality with personal experience and I’ve essentially done that in the review. These are driven fellows and as I write this they’ve just announced their third album, ‘Apotheosis’, will release this coming January. You might see this at #31 here in my general coffers but this was a Top 10 Black Metal release of 2020, an essential listen. If you’ve not yet engaged with The Sinister Flame magazine and label, make sure you rush towards both if you’ve enjoyed Aethyrick.
WAILIN STORMS – Rattle (Gilead Media)
‘Rattle’ writhes up the ankle and fangs wherever it can ’til the head ain’t right. I’d thought I was ready before going out in the field, I’d been warned, and Wailin Storms‘d bitten me regardless. It was ‘Sick City‘ (2017) that finally struck gold in terms of songwriting and these fully developed vocal performances from Justin Storms’ — ‘Rattle’ manages to ease the peaking emotional release of past works’ noise/garage rock clangor just enough that Storms‘ inspired belting-out howls the bluesy exaggerations just as powerfully as the psychedelic goth-lurching doom punk guitar performances throughout. It is a mystic Nick Cave-esque level of eye-drooping and slumped over possession that drives each tune of bodily horror, tormented personal tales, lovers dead and alive, in revelation of a caterwauling mind that’d never fully understand the cruel mania of its earthly cohabitants. Right. So, what is this then? I’d called it noise rock’d gothic doom-punk and absolutely loved it.
HÄXANU – Snare of All Salvation (Amor Fati)
This solo side-project of Chaos Moon‘s Alex Poole has been described as one of his most ‘straight forward’ releases but, perhaps only for the sake of his work tending towards heavily stylized avant-garde atmospheric black metal. ‘Snare of all Salvation’ is comparably contained and angular, almost entirely consonant in all phrases. Everything I love about later Arckanum and the dream-like side of Blut Aus Nord is essentially here but bottled in elegant melodic black metal skin. The balance is a beautiful stroke of feral reaction, the stinging pain of a tattoo that burns hot but heals in perfect artful form. I imported this one direct from Germany, listened to it to death this year. See also: #6, #31, Skáphe ‘Skáphe³’.
ODIOUS MORTEM – Synesthesia (Willowtip Records)
After about a month of mulling over some of my decisions for this list I’ve decided to make one amendment to the top fifty by replacing a post-hardcore/shoegaze rock album with this returning triumph from technical brutal death metal band Odious Mortem. What for? Well, I put so much effort into removing the “recency bias” from my choices this year that I neglected to dig deep enough into the January and February releases that’d really hit me hardest. Now, despite this southern California band’s status as on of the important Unique Leader OGs who’d introduced me to the new wave of brutal tech-death in the early 2000’s this choice wasn’t for the sake of nostalgia, in fact I think I’d set it out of mind for a while because I was avoiding nostalgia for the purpose of never growing blinders. In truth ‘Synesthesia’ isn’t about nostalgia but persistence, angling their way back into this universe with a sound that is true to their old ways but still representing the path forward. I only allow myself one after thought each year and despite having records from Serpent Column and Esoctrilihum as major oversights, ‘Synesthesia’ is just, my jam. See also: #5, #25, Deeds of Flesh ‘Nucleus’.
VOID ROT – Descending Pillars (Sentient Ruin/Everlasting Spew)
‘Descending Pillars’ captures and distills the potent intensity of some of my favorite death metal bands, not yet fully making the venomous rhythmic dance of Krypts their own but nearly outclassing that band in terms of more resonant rendering. They’ve approached this project with excellent taste and this speaks louds through the music itself but also their choice of collaboration with Signaturetone, Timo Ketola (RIP), and such. Not only do we get a sense of what they’re influenced by but we hear it and the result is perhaps the sleeper hit of 2020 for my own taste. Just like #12 and #29 I’d underrated this album to start and it’d muscled its way higher in mind over time. See also: #4, Krypts ‘Remnants of Expansion’, Atavisma / Void Rot split.
BALMOG – Pillars of Salt (War Anthem Records)
This single ~19 minute song is the spectrum of possibilities redefined beyond the breakthrough moment that was this Galicia, Spain-based black metal trio’s third full-length, ‘Vacvvm‘ (2018). All actions were leading up to this new realization and they’d made an incredible first impression upon me here. They’ve achieved a means to realize bigger goals, bigger ideas and more expressive performances while continuing their riff-driven approach to modern black metal exposition. The goal is something gloriously ritualistic while incorporating broadest influences between all three members making for an experience tinged with the suggestion of dark prog rock, post-punk, traditional heavy metal and their own especially dark vision of black/death metal with sparks of dissonance and atmospheric depths. Sublime and forward-thinking black metal acts such as Svartidauði, Acherontas and Mystagos come to mind as ‘Pillars of Salt’ shudders in from ear to ear with some impressive fidelity applied to modern psychedelic rock madness, occult black metal austerity, and guitar techniques that offer newly empowered voice for the project. Easily the best EP of 2020 for my own taste. See also: Mystagos ‘Azoth’, Sartegos ‘O Sangue da Noite’.
DEFEATED SANITY – The Sanguinary Impetus (Willowtip Records)
‘The Sanguinary Impetus’, when viewed as a piece that resembles an improvised progressive death metal eruption honed into one unfathomable chasm of technique, is yet one of the most impressive releases from one the most singular and enduring brutal death metal projects from Germany. If we can consider it emotional music then chaotic anxiety is a major point of tension, if we can consider it machined and calculable music then very little of it relies on more than reactive exercises; Those reactive interactions are the thrill in hand when approaching the full listen. ‘The Sanguinary Impetus’ is ultimately knowable, entertaining, and pure adrenaline as a physical experience but that is going to be the basal depth of it for most listeners. A thrill, an impressive feat, and an endearing entry in an impressive career. Where does the soul of it lie in reflection? The sixth Defeated Sanity record ultimately redeems as a corridor of discovery and fascination, a feat of twists and turns that rewards conscious listening with small-but-consistent doses of opiatic revelation within intuitively carved stream-of-consciousness channels. See also: Their cover of Deeds of Flesh “Hunting Humans” in tribute to Erik Lindmark from the same sessions, see their Bandcamp.
CIRITH UNGOL – Forever Black (Metal Blade Records)
There was this wild couple of years in my early twenties where I became obsessed with Trouble, Manilla Road and Cirith Ungol. I’m still not sure if heavy metal ever truly outshined or, even just lived up to the lasting resonance they’d provided. So few bands sound like ’em because they are/were one of a kind gigs, folks who bear irreplaceable minds and personae. Honestly, these Ventura, California borne fellowes were always justified with the middle finger they’d given the music industry as the 90’s arrived, after twenty years who’d blame ’em? But hey, man is it a gift that they’ve returned in tact. No doubt #14 have managed something similar, a record that might be a bit more buttoned up in terms of aesthetics and presentation but the artist has provided a release that feels like a viable unforced addition to legacy and discography. I’m not pandering, not being a idolatrous fanboy when I say straight up ‘Forever Black’ is Cirith Ungol unquestionably feelin’ it again and I couldn’t be happier with what they’ve done here. Although I suppose this is placed a bit low on the list order than expected it is only because I didn’t pick the album back up for about four months beyond the review. Perhaps because I’d burnt myself out on it via far, far too many repeat listens and I’ve always got a hundred albums to get to every week but it didn’t cut back through the noise. My fault, not theirs, but the objective data gathered factors in at some point.
DEMONIAC – So It Goes (Edged Circle Productions)
Limache, Chile-based progressive thrash metal band Demoniac reach a new peak of existential avant-garde ambition with this second album, a truly unique experience for the sub-genre deserving of some endless praise for its ingenuity and technical prowess. They’ve included a bit of clarinet, some neoclassical hooks, lounging jazz movements, and a 20 minute closing track that makes for one of the most exciting finales on a record I’d heard this year. Compared to the series of tirades that was Cryptic Shift‘s “Moonbelt Immolator”, Demoniac‘s title track for this record treats its two minutes as one giant mountain and conquers it with one of the more self-revelatory pieces on the album. The album released in 2020 via Suicide Records [CD]/Dissonant Death [Cassette], this version from Edged Circle Productions has been postponed until the end of January 2021. I will likely just include it on my best of January as well to avoid confusion. See also: Mekong Delta ‘The Music of Erich Zann’, Hexen ‘Being and Nothingness’.
WAGNER ÖDEGÅRD – Om Kosmos och de Tolv Järtekn (Brugmanziah)
Wagner Ödegård has become an emergent solo project from the central Swedish fellow behind Wulkanaz and Tomhet. The first few tapes and album were in a unique dark ambient style, this gives the impression of a cheaply prolific Bandcamp artist to start but in between four ambient compilations in 2019 he’d release two albums that’d expanded upon the street punk and garage rock influenced raw black metal that his other project has become notable for. We’ve gotten important albums in this style throughout 2020, the biggest visibility probably being Raspberry Bulbs, but we haven’t gotten anything exactly like ‘Om Kosmos och de Tolv Järtekn’. I hear some love for Scandinavian garage punk in some of these rhythms but also melodic German street punk at times, triumphant and raw black metal but delivered via drum performances and melodies deeply pocketed with grungy (but not grunge) hooks. I’ve found this album infinitely listenable, probably some recency bias informing my enthusiasm too but I’ve spent entire days just jamming through it. See also: Wulkanaz ‘Guþlekan Krapft’, Raspberry Bulbs ‘Before the Age of Mirrors’.
MALOKARPATAN – Krupinské Ohne (The AJNA Offensive)
This third record from Slovakian first wave black/traditional heavy metal act Malokarpatan impressed with its cryptic late 80’s Quorthon-esque reverb’d cacophony of thrashing riffs and carbon-leaking ancient synths but always for the sake of catchy trad metal songwriting. It is more or less an “epic” speed metal album with all of the frightening bleakness of a post-Venom central European tradition. The aura is unsettling, a crossed and sparking conduit between tradition and unorthodoxy that stops short of the truly avant-garde to ensure their craft is readable yet unstable. No doubt we existing fans of the band can at least agree this is as much or more of a leap into freshened arrowheads of identity and a higher quality render the band achieved on their second record a few years ago. We saw far fewer black/heavy metal records this year but even when set side by side with the best of the last few years ‘Krupinské Ohne’ is preferable for the sake of long yet mystifying epic ‘evil’ heavy metal songs that are infectious. See also: Demontage ‘Fire of Iniquity’, Hexenbrett ‘Zweite Beschwörung: Ein Kind zu töten’
FLUISTERAARS – Bloem (Eisenwald)
You might see this as the #20 item on the list and eventually as the #3 best black metal-adjacent record of the year for my taste but don’t let that suggest it is either primarily black metal or undeserving of even higher praise than I can manage, ‘Bloem’ is an incensed bout of genius that the Netherlands based duo tags “blackened psychedelic folk-rock.” That’d more or less fit but delivered from the perspective of folks heavily imbued with the oaken spirits of Sólstafir and Drudkh and thusly driven to experimental and intentionally beauteous pieces. It is a dramatic and heady transformation, just as revelatory as Witch Trails‘ record last year in concept but refined into dramatic modern post-blackened movements with Fluisteraars‘ own folkish melodic language mainlined. I know that’ll sound frighteningly un-heavy to some but ‘Bloem’ is not about cheap or predictable charms, it is beautifully written however you’d describe its sub-genre notions. This album slows time for me or, it consistently feels like a 45 minute record despite being a brisk ~34, not for the sake of being insufferably dreamy but by virtue of the elaborately shimmering yet deeply brooding melodious nature of its five parts. See also: Sólstafir ‘Endless Twilight of Codependent Love’, Solar Temple ‘Fertile Descent’.
GOREPHILIA – In The Eye of Nothing (Dark Descent Records)
Putrid, cadaverine contempt roars from their throats beyond death via this incorruptible Finnish death metal observance, Gorephilia, their third full-length and first as a quartet is keen on slowing down and oozing of its molten death surrealism. Think of ‘In The Eye of Nothing’ as an alternate dimensional follow-up to ‘Gateways of Annihilation’ ah via Diabolic and you’re at least in the right mindset; There is much more to the band’s sound than any comparison would warrant and I’d say they’re quite a bit more effective at varying pace and emanating atmospheric qualities than either comparison might suggest. This album just stuck to me, I’d listen to it for four hours straight and never need to come up for air. There is absolutely something to be said for such listenable, repeatable death metal record that kicks its way through without any needless interruptions. My only complaint is that I’d wanted even more of the slow doomed riffs on “Ark of the Undecipherable”. See also: Morbid Angel ‘Gateways to Annihilation’, Skeletal Remains ‘The Entombment of Chaos’.
METZ – Atlas Vending (Sub Pop)
Fuck off if you’d give me shit for listening to popular noise rock/post-hardcore, man, you are missing out on some of the darkest fuckin’ butt-shakin’ art punk noise music being released today and you’re so damn -soft- for it, bro. Ontario ain’t all speed metal and [search engine]: “maple syrup” but man, Metz‘ve proven themselves a key addition to the greater noise rock paradigm worldwide via a series of well-received grunge-heavy post-hardcore records. ‘Atlas Vending’ is the meanest, grittiest addition to the expanse thus far with a freshly conjured black hole of energy, a dark-sided reflection of the 90’s from a point of sharply angled maturity. This means a stiff-necked, furiously limping record that dodges most of Metz‘ post-punk shoving around fun for the sake of keeping the grind of its weighted task going. The listening experience is a drone at times, incessant with its paranoid tonality and at times too driven by increasingly complex rhythmic play. It was love at first ear, in fact I’d bought the LP before my first stream of it on Bandcamp had even finished. The hammer of it repetition ultimately pays off as ‘Atlas Vending’ manages serious hooks that dig far beyond the usual post-hardcore adjacent grooves. My favorite release from the group thus far. See also: USA Nails ‘Character Stop’, HEADS. ‘Push’, Exhalants ‘Atonement’.
FACELESS BURIAL – Speciation (Me Saco Un Ojo)
Alright then, who in 2020 brought more measurable gains to the tradition of the death metal riff than Australia’s Faceless Burial? Maybe #9 and certainly #32 but few others and certainly not in as finely polished form as ‘Speciation‘. I’ve been a loose-and-hot cheerleader for this band since their first album released in 2017, their style is basically a perfect synthesis of ‘old school’ pure death metal ideals right out of the box; The only thing really missing was a bit cleaner balance on the drum recordings so the riffs had a chance to punch out a bit more. In fact that’d be the main success of ‘Speciation’, the clarity on hand means you’re basically getting a sparkly Immolation level rendering, supreme lucidity with a horrifying precipice to echo into. This makes their ‘Erosion of Sanity’ levels of attack and ingenuity burst from the speakers like a stomped cyst at a most readable level. Much like Undeath’s debut the focus is upon grooves rather than melodies and this means ‘Speciation’ swings hard into its biggest moments, not full-on NYDM-core but definitely leaving a mark. It is an album on par with the best stuff releasing today and should rightfully serve as their breakout, defining record. See also: Tomb Mold, Undeath, Necrot.
SATURNALIA TEMPLE – Gravity (Listenable Records)
In the first half of the year I’d spent much of my free time reading in greater depth on the subject of Satanic (for lack of a better umbrella term) rituals as well as the practice of Chöd (ego severance meditation) rituals for the sake of promoting mental freedom during times where relative isolation seemed to be inflaming folks around me. In fact this celebration of the singularity of nature-observant enlightened men and the resonance of personal gravitas (specifically cultivated independent spiritual energy) seems to have infused into me by the suggestion of black magick after becoming consumed with ‘Gravity’, the third full-length from Swedish psychedelic doom metal band Saturnalia Temple. The album itself is an exercise in regression to the most pure heavy psychedelic rock methodology in terms of recording techniques, opting for a raw and pure evil rendering on vintage gear and ribbon microphones yet the sound is free of the claustrophobic capture and bluesy laze of the mid-70’s. Because of this we’re served the most pure and stripped-open version of the Stockholm doom trio yet, an “evil” psychedelia that entrances, delights, and eventually empowers. Remarkably achieved and absolutely unique doom metal. See also: Dark Buddha Rising ‘Mathreyata’, Head of the Demon ‘Deadly Black Doom’.
LANTERN – Dimensions (Dark Descent Records)
2020 ended up being an intense year for long-standing Dark Descent artists of the Finnish variety (and otherwise, I suppose) but it was Lantern‘s third album, ‘Dimensions’, that sunk into me and immediately began to fester. In my mind this album is an celestial death metal trip from the molten core of Earth through rotten soil and thinning atmosphere towards the frozen crypts of dead space. This wasn’t an album that’d felt life-changing or year defining so much as it was simply among the best death metal listening to be had in 2020. The full spin of ‘Dimensions’ comes and goes with great insight and impressive ease, a flowing and still brutal experience that shows some great wisdom beyond the luminance of ‘II: Morphosis’ (2017). See also: Ghastly (Finland), Mithras ‘On Strange Loops’, Alchemist ‘Jar of Kingdom’.
MESSIAH – Fracmont (High Roller Records)
When I sit and consider my enduring obsession with heavy metal each year, unreasonable as it is, I cannot turn away from this exploration because of the ‘storm within’ created by the classic works of bands like (and well, specifically from) Messiah. Perhaps it was ‘Choir of Horrors’ that’d made me a “death/thrash guy” and an obscure thrash metal obsessive in general. Who’d have guessed they would put out a sixth album ~26 years after the last? Well, to be fair this sort of brilliant comeback isn’t rare anymore these days but the quality of the releases from classic (obscure or not) bands is often quite terrible. Not in this case, they’ve still got it. Forgetting the whole idea of a “comeback” and instead viewing it from the eyes and ears of a longtime fan ‘Fracmont’ is a great death/thrash metal album that showcases the ever ambitious spirit of a band that’d evolved with every release back in the day, honing in on the best traits of their Noise Records era. I’ve considered it epic death/thrash metal via a healthy emphasis on groove within Brögi‘s unique riffing style which recalls the earliest days of extreme metal as much as it does the peak of death/thrash metal circa 1991. The most expensive imported LP I’d pick up this year, due to shipping, but still very much worth it.
ELDER – Omens (Armageddon Label)
If you don’t mind me labeling it as such, the non-metal album of the year is certainly ‘Omens’, a mine wall-to-walled with blissful bloodstones charged with the alien resonance of progressive heavy psychedelic rock only Elder can create. It is a difficult personal choice to make between relaying the catharsis of this record and praising the ‘intellectual ease’ of classic progressive rock that studs this tastefully adorned experience, yet the reality is that both are important arguments to make for it. Enriched, I feel monumentally enriched and invigorated anytime I’ve steeped my self within ‘Omens’ and I’ll no doubt continue to cherish it for years to come. If you’re concerned they’re not “metal” enough this time around, I don’t believe any reasonable fellow who’d like the last few albums would dislike this one.
CRYPTIC SHIFT – Visitations From Enceladus (Blood Harvest Records)
Cryptic Shift are a cosmic-brained mash up of sorts, a quartet of thrash obsessed fellows from Leeds, England who’ve found meaningful self introduction via their linkage of technical thrash metal and steadily applied ancient progressive death metal. Think of ‘A Vision of Misery’ were it elevated to Vektor ‘Terminal Redux’ levels of blustering advent but sharing equal time between spider-legged thrashing and astral death metal highs. Fair enough if that doesn’t sound above average on paper but in this case presentation has gone a long way in making ‘Visitations From Enceladus’ a memorable gig. To start we’re served the entirety of Side A as one ~26 minute track, “Moonbelt Immolator”, which could fairly be compared to Blood Incantation‘s Side B last year in terms of modus but perhaps not style at all. As we move on to the three 5-7 minute pieces we see more clearly what the band is about and their influences are most obvious. Still, they’ve managed an endearing experience that shouldn’t be denied considerable praise. A rare case where I’d end up buying the CD and LP for a record due to sheer self-hyped frenzy. See also: Teleport, Horrendous.
MONGREL’S CROSS – Arcana, Scrying and Revelation (Hell’s Headbangers Records)
Does “riveting” appear too proud a superlative in description of this third full-length from Brisbane, Australia’s Mongrel’s Cross? I don’t think so, in fact it is inadequate as just one phase of appreciation I’d felt for its mountainous melodious arcane heavy metal album. I’ve been on board with the evolution of this band since their first black-thrashing album ‘The Sins of Aquarius’ in 2012 although I’d not expected ‘Arcana, Scrying and Revelation’ to be a third epiphany beyond the already pristine ‘Psalter of the Royal Dragon Court’ just two years ago. Euterpe, Polyhymnia and Calliope alight in mind as this fusion of early 90’s melodic black/death metal and thrashing epic heavy metal persists as a complete and redolent wine distilled from the darkest of muse’s blood. To top it all off we’re harassed by occult metal magus Proscriptor (Absu) himself on vocals, a contribution that sets an already over the top album soaring. See also: Dark Tranquillity ‘SkyDancer’, Varathron ‘Stygian Forces of Scorn’.
BEDSORE – Hypnagogic Hallucinations (20 Buck Spin)
The early conversation on Italian progressive death metal band Bedsore had folks going as far as blacklisting the band on Metal-Archives, it’d been such a forward-thinking demo tape that few could agree that it was metal at all. Of course this speaks to the odd tunnel vision a “metal or nothing” obsession creates and yet more importantly it prefaces beautifully the imaginative wonder that ‘Hypnagogic Hallucinations’ presents to the listener. Now that it has wormed into the minds of so many, we can all agree now that this is a death metal band with heavily atmospheric, cinematic intent as the Roman quartet clearly have some great love for both current and classics be it Death or Morbus Chron. Despite my better judgement, I’ll use the term post-death metal to describe this style because it both transcends a lot of the most typical death metal ideas without losing the plot… while also incorporating touches of post-rock/post-metal as they push into frequent atmospheric tangents and ‘breakthroughs’. If you’d felt like #2 on this list wasn’t “death metal” enough for your taste then Bedsore‘s debut certainly will be. Brilliant folks, I can’t wait to see what they’ll do next. Make sure you check out the interview I did with the band earlier this year.
QUESTION – Reflections of the Void (Chaos Records)
This long-awaited second full-length from Mexican ‘old school’ death metal band Question makes the best case for the continued evolution and expansion of the classic sub-genre form this year. That is to say, if we must compartmentalize mindset via genre tags, early 90’s progressive death metal influences have warmed the Querétaro-based quartet’s Finnish death metal sound in the six years since ‘Doomed Passages’ and they’ve hit upon their best material to date. That’ll read as pretty standard in description for nowadays top tier 90’s leaning death metal sounds but Question have their own long developed rhythmic texture in hand, a springing and oft-thrashing reap fully capable of severe brutality or clever atmospheric twists. I’d spent a few months collecting up all of their CD releases — Hoping more of their stuff hits vinyl eventually, Shoggoth Kinetics‘ stunning use of high contrast colors for the artwork certainly deserves a big gatefold showcase. See also: Demigod, Mercyless, Resurgency.
KAWIR – Adrasteia (Iron Bonehead Productions)
The eighth album from legendary Hellenic pagan black metal artist Kawir is the third and last release to feature this particular line-up (second guitarist Melanaegis since left) and ‘Αδράστεια’ may very well be the most grand melodic statement from the long-standing Athens institution to date. This is enough of an argument for this album in 2020, their legacy is already immense and this latest record is exceptional. Though I’d equated the impact of this album’s lofty, triumphant and folkish lean with ‘Ισόθεος’ back in January at this point I see it as more than an exploration of melodic black metal in general from a distinct pagan/black point of view which only Kawir can provide. See also: Katavasia ‘Magnus Venator’, Macabre Omen ‘Anamneses’. Φ
MOLTEN CHAINS – Torment Enshrined (Self-Released)
By the Fates this record found its zealot in me and now it manifests its terrifying vice, from which I cannot escape. ‘Torment Enshrined‘ is not only the second full-length from Vienna, Austria-based heavy metal duo Molten Chains but it is the catalyst or, key to breaking the wizarded shackle upon my mind. I am inverted by its sorcery, frozen and mortified by the clench of its grip yet I believe, through rapt study, that it will eventually free the mind far beyond bodily limits. Sit with this album long enough and you’ll understand its clinging momentum, a mid-to-fast paced technical power-thrash metal record at heart but also willing to dabble into some menacing death and black metal influences as they write these, catchy but deeply involved narrative pieces. The twists and turns of ‘Torment Enshrined’ become intoxicating with familiarity and in anticipation, truly knowing this record inside and out is somehow still a joy despite daily spins for months. Brenton Weir‘s vocals are just right for the death/thrash intensity of the guitar work, theatrical and unique enough that they allow Molten Chains to flit between epic doom, blackened power-thrash, and pure heavy metal jogs without missing a beat. There just isn’t anything that hits exactly like these guys do, a gem of a record.
CÉNOTAPHE – Monte Verità (Nuclear War Now! Productions)
Strike out on your own, sport this independence with vigor but, do not lose what plasticity allows you passion. If I am a fool for living under this then I’ll happily die ignorant and high upon the drugged joy of answering only to my body and its carapace, uncaring mother nature. Wave your hand at it if you will, say “Oh, yes -that- kind of French black metal.” but you’re despicable for it. O’ liber! The mind is anew, flexing with fresh capacity for pleasure when this rolling storm of melodic, screaming rapture spills into my brains — These are the sort of melodies one leans into, embraces with a neediness for ambition without cloy. If not for music such as this I’d believe my ears were vestigial, uselessly slow adaptations. Assuredly the black metal album of the year.
AFTERBIRTH – Four Dimensional Flesh (Unique Leader Records)
Is ‘Four Dimensional Flesh‘ the perfect technical/progressive brutal death album or, a freakish outlier so idiosyncratic that its defiance overstates to the point of indomitable presence? A loaded question, sure, but however you’d shake it out of your head this second full-length from Afterbirth is a fuckin’ masterpiece. The choice to revive a seminal mid-90’s Long Island, New York slamming brutal death metal ‘demo famous’ band in 2013 was astute and has thus far lead to two full-lengths of considerable value, this one finds the band launched into cosmic anti-spiritual horror via beauteous prog-death interludes and crushing (technical) brutality. ‘Four Dimensional Flesh’ is probably rightfully my death metal album of the year, I’d simply listened to #1 quite a few more times over the course of the year. Best album cover of the year, for sure. See also: #25.
BLOODSOAKED NECROVOID – Expelled into the Unknown Depths of the Unfathomable (Iron Bonehead Productions)
Remember when I named Krypts‘ album of the year in 2019 and had this shit paragraph under it, fumbling with a few comparisons? That sort of thing happens when I am too busy loving an album to think about it with any certain depth, some music just naturally appeals to me and fits into a certain realm of acquired taste and appreciation of traditional craft. Admittedly this debut full-length from Bloodsoaked Necrovoid socked me so hard in the AOTY guts this year because it absolutely nails its crossing of wires between the primitive death/doom musculature of the late 80’s and transcendental atmospheric extreme doom metal of the early 90’s. You might find it reductive that Rippikoulu and Disembowelment are all I feel like I need to say, well, read the interview I did with the band for more of their influences… but you get the idea of what makes this special: Maddening atmosphere courtesy of VK (Vassafor), twisted and raucous death metal riffing, and harrowing thousand mile deep vocal work. A flawless introduction yet tons of potential for future releases. See also: #23 and #51.
PALE DIVINE – Consequence of Time (Cruz Del Sur Music)
To be fair Glen Mills, Pennsylvania traditional doom metal band Pale Divine had already perfected this whole “doom” thing as early as 2007 and everything beyond had been a devout pilgrimage back to that grand point of transcendence. I did not think they could take my mind to a higher place, cut deeper, roll heavier, and oh man is ‘Consequence of Time‘ up for it. I say this with reverence for their self-titled record from a few years back, which’d felt like a “this is us, this is what we’re all about” statement and an album that I enjoy even more now but, yeah this is something above and beyond. Adding Dana Ortt (ex-Beezlefuzz) as a second vocalist/guitarist means he not only shares the lead with Greg Diener but harmonizes naturally with him in this uncannily perfect fit of two very different registers. Seriously though, I so rarely run into a heavy rock/doom metal album that has me lookin’ at my copies of ‘Die Healing’ and ‘Alkahest’ thinking they might not be enough anymore. Histrionics aside, this is the album I connected with most on a personal level all year. Pure inspiration.
SWEVEN – The Eternal Resonance (Ván Records)
This was to be the year of redemption, return, and breakthrough for so many artists and none came as more of a surprise than Swedish musician Robert Andersson‘s Sweven, a reprisal of the genius swansong from his prior band Morbus Chron. This time he is joined by members of Speglas for the realization of an hour long progressive metal opus writ, shelved and needled ’til agonizing birth years later. ‘The Eternal Resonance’ ensures we get every last detail in mind via a pristine rendering that helps illustrate this one of a kind album’s style a flowing and indulgent blend of indie rock, post-rock, progressive death metal and even a bit of theatric 70’s prog rock. If you’re curious why this once in a lifetime kind of album isn’t in the number one spot, well, when it came time to reflect upon the year I’d simply been compelled to pick up #1 more often than #2. It’d be a disservice to compare this to anything else, it is singular and glorious inspiration.
ULCERATE – Stare Into Death and Be Still (Debemur Morti Productions)
Why is New Zealand avant-technical death metal trio Ulcerate‘s latest album the best thing released this year? They’ve found a way to be post-death metal without actually being labeled as such, and when I’d reflected upon their back catalogue it dawned upon me that ‘Stare Into Death and Be Still‘ is the epiphany, the ol’ orchestra of inspiration coming together for a defining great work that is so spark-laden that its realization would burn down the biggest hall imagined. After ‘Everything is Fire’ (2009) we’d gotten several attempts (by this band and others) at a new dawn of technical death metal via atmospheric sludge metal influenced awakenings and while those were pretty good Ulcerate records… this one manages to transcend via the razor cut paths it takes through the obsidian storm the experience comes to represent. If the future of death metal can only be more brutal, then you’ll have lost sight of music, favoring noise. If the future of death metal can only be more regressive ‘old school’ cave-gang, then you’ve lost hope in youthful ambition and the pursuit of originality. If the future of death metal must be this much of a symphony of ill tides and dissolving spirits, a marriage of technical, brutal, melodious, graceful, and terrifying ruin then we don’t deserve its intoxicating mastery. I suppose this record is #1 for the sake of it being the album I listened to most often, always a brilliant fixation to return to even if I favor it just as much as the fifty other records I’d listed prior — It beckoned most.
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