Best Of 2020 – Zach Duvall: Life’s A Binge

Hi, friends. Hope you’ve made it through 2020 with minimal suffering. In lieu of regurgitating a bunch of negativity, I’m going to discuss one of the ways in which I coped and kept myself looking forward: I started doing binges of entire discographies. Often massive discographies.

Part of the reason was the free time, and another was we Last Rites nerds like to rank just about everything. But the biggest reason was some curiosity that formed way back in May of 2019 after reading Stereogum’s The Black Market, in which Aaron Lariviere described something very interesting about this compressed library digestion:

“…it’s the flattening effect that makes it so interesting — you’re hearing progression and decline across a span of hours rather than years. Played back to back, albums display minor differences in a strange light.”

He had just done the full catalogs of Immolation, Incantation, and Gorguts, and was following it up with Cannibal Corpse. That’s a lot of death metal. That’s a lot of foundational and legendary death metal. That also sounds pretty exhausting.

It made me curious to see how differently I might hear albums I’ve known for ages, and in the spirit of Aaron’s exercise, I didn’t exactly go with small catalogs. Krallice, Pink Floyd, Godflesh, and The Gathering were a few of my choices. Also Autopsy, Nevermore, Katatonia, The Cult, and Dream Theater. Even Ulver, which was kinda bonkers. Every experience was different, and although I didn’t always follow Aaron’s rule of going in order without splitting it up, when I started, I made sure to finish within a day or two.

A few observations from these deep dives:

    • Each experience was wildly different, and not just because of the differences in the music, but because I chose each band for different reasons. Maybe I was curious to revisit a certain album or two but needed context, or maybe I simply wanted to listen to a ton of a particular band and decided to go the long haul.
    • Albums often take on a different nature in such a context. For example, a couple of Krallice’s longer albums used to feel unnecessarily draining to me, but when listening within the whole catalog, they merely felt like part of the greater journey because I really got in the zone.
    • Similarly, albums that I think of as the weaker links didn’t feel as weak when part of the whole. Katatonia’s Dead End Kings, for example, is typically the album I’d list as their worst. But it’s more than perfectly enjoyable and actually seemed less weak compared to other albums when spun in this binge context, surprisingly.
    • Bands like Godflesh and Nevermore really showed what Aaron spoke of above, hearing tiny changes between albums that actually took the bands years to manifest.
    • Related: listening to this much Godflesh at one time was the most exhausting, both because of the music’s repetitive nature, and also because they often felt the need to extend their albums with some 20-minute noise nonsense at the end. And in contrast to the Katatonia point about weaker albums, Us and Them sounded worse in this context.
    • These binges also led to some albums I’ve long owned and enjoyed growing in my mind like never before. Both The Gathering’s and Dream Theater’s debuts fit this.

Anyhoo, these are the types of mad exercises a guy can do when 1. He has a work-from-home desk job during a pandemic that rarely requires him to be on the phone, and 2. He has headphones so his wife doesn’t get annoyed. But man, I enjoyed each and every one of these little adventures, and I find myself looking forward to which band I might choose next.

Thanks for reading, and cheers to you and yours.

LET’S GET VISUAL! VISUAL!

Ye olde Honorable Mention Logo Cloud for numbers 21 to 50, as is tradition:

BEST OF THE HEFTY CALORIC INTAKE

20. Katatonia – City Burials

Whatever R&R the Katatonia boys got on their very short-lived hiatus must have been worth it, because this is yet another stunning and complex record in a long career filled with them. Both a call back to every record they’ve done since they dropped the extreme metal and a fresh look forward.

Last Rites review
Homepage

19. Khthoniik Cerviiks – Æequiizoiikum

They contiinue to siimultaneously be one of the nerdiiest and most devastatiing bands in metal. Æequiizoiikum ups the Voiivod and progressiive black/death viibes even more, proviidiing yet another wiild, hyper-aggressiive, and constantly surpriisiing riide. One miinute they’re eviiscerating your face with blasts, the next they’re yelliing about ΔT. II don’t get iit either, but iit rocks.

Album at Iron Bonehead Productions Bandcamp

18. Demoniac – So It Goes

From my review: “…there’s one huge reason to listen to this record: the leads. So It Goes is absolutely overflowing with soloing and dual leads that fly, soar, shred, blaze, dodge, duck, dive, dip, dodge, and everything in between.” A super fun album from a wacky band.

Album at Edged Circle Productions Bandcamp

17. Xazraug – Unsympathetic Empyrean

To tell you the truth, I still haven’t totally figured this record out, I just know that every time I spin it I’m blown away by the combination of extremely Second Wave black metal nods and the skullnuttery of Colin Marston’s other projects. Manages to always demand your attention while maintaining a nice escapist quality.

Last Rites review in Missing Pieces
Bandcamp

16. Dark Quarterer – Pompei

Other than the debut, I’d never given Dark Quarterer a ton of time in the past, and the quality of Pompei is making me realize that decision was a whole handful of whoopsie daisies. The pomp, the epic drama, the sense that the whole thing could be played on the stage of an old and heavily adorned Italian theater. Plus, it’s loaded with a seriously irresistible sense of storytelling (and great tunes). God, what is it with me and Italian lately?

Last Rites review
Bandcamp

15. Worm – Gloomlord

Listen, I love me some lead guitar, and Gloomlord is one of several albums this year that really found favor in part due to its leads. The fact that this is a rather raw, nearly funereal doom/death record only makes those leads that much more valuable. There’s a journey here that most bands of the style never aim for, much less achieve.

Last Rites review
Bandcamp

14. Pyrrhon – Abscess Time

I spent much of 2020 going for warmer, welcoming records, so Pyrrhon’s latest often took a bit of a backburner. But these boys are the kings of multifaceted antagonism, and it turns out a guy needs a multifaceted approach to catharsis, so I was inevitably drawn back to what is their most varied and mature record to date. Who else is turning Swans into progressive metal, or Death into noise rock? Who else views The Hudsucker Proxy as a horror movie?

Last Rites review
Bandcamp

13. Psychotic Waltz – A God-Shaped Void

My 2019 tech and prog binge finally got me to check out the Psychotic Waltz albums after their classic debut, and I dug them all, right in time for their triumphant return. This record picks right up from their 90s progression, delivering a bunch subtly infectious and just-adventurous-enough tunes. Absolutely smooth, this one.

Last Rites review
Homepage

12. …And Oceans – Cosmic World Mother

From my review: “…a blistering slab of extremely blasty, riff-centric symphonic black metal, and a no-brainer for anyone that yearns for a certain era‒it may as well have a 1998 timestamp embedded in it.” Especially welcoming because there just isn’t enough high quality stuff of this style around anymore.

Bandcamp

11. Lamp of Murmuur – Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism

It’s always interesting and weird to see which albums get the major hype stamp, and Lamp of Murmuur’s first full length got a lot of attention. I never realized so many people enjoyed music this raw, aggressive, and inhuman. Well, good for the dude behind the cloak and corpsepaint, because Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism is definitely a-one black metal, especially during its monster opening duo.

Last Rites review in Black, Raw & Bleeding
Bandcamp

BEST OF THE BEST OF THE
HEFTY CALORIC INTAKE

10. DEFEATED SANITY – THE SANGUINARY IMPETUS

Defeated Sanity is the only band that could possibly reduce the overall brutality of their death metal and still remain more devastating than 99 percent of the field. The Sanguinary Impetus is the jazziest and most outright sophisticated material the band has ever done while still maintaining their brutal slamming trudge (so basically, other than Dharmata). All of the insanely sleek playing – Lille Gruber’s deft drumming and twitchy-smooth guitars, Jacob Schmidt’s downright bubbly bass – sometimes belies exactly how much this record wants to do damage (I mean, the title, right?). It’s all widdly meedly tweedly DEEEEEEE and then suddenly one of those three-story-tall Caterpillar dump trucks is driving back and forth over you a hundred times. The degens have invaded high society, and it’s a beautiful thing.

Last Rites review
Bandcamp

9. ARMORED SAINT – PUNCHING THE SKY

Do you know how much Armored Saint rules? Do you know how much it rules that they still rule so hard and put out records that rule as hard as Punching the Sky rules in 2020? Do you have any idea how amazing John Bush is in everything he’s ever done? He even made late 90s Anthrax moderately tolerable. Do you know how great of a drummer Gonzo Sandoval is? I mean, damn folks, this band is a force. With instant Saint winners like “End of the Attention Span,” “Missile to Gun,” and closer “Never You Fret,” Punching the Sky is wall-to-wall gems, defying conventional wisdom that a verse-chorus-verse band like this shouldn’t push the length of an album over 50 minutes. If anything, this record is lean, man. A non stop thrill ride. I dare you to resist its charms. I dare you. An instant de-grump-ifier, this one.

Last Rites review
Bandcamp

8. MALOKARPATAN – KRUPINSKÉ OHNE

From my review: “Malokarpatan’s obvious reverence for their influences made it necessary to use a lot of band names as adjectives, but they have the skills to pull off anything they choose, and the personality to assure that nothing ever feels like copied. Krupinské ohne is a rather diverse record made whole and thrilling through the band’s songcraft and talents, and one that keeps revealing secrets – of both the enchanting and downright fun varieties – many spins in. At this point, it is clear that Malokarpatan is not a band content on ever sitting still, but like many of their influences, they’re great not just because they keep evolving, but because they can surprise while somehow delivering just what the doctor ordered.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Except that I said it myself.

Album at Invictus Productions Bandcamp

7. FATES WARNING – LONG DAY GOOD NIGHT

Long Day Good Night – which is possibly but hopefully not Fates Warning’s final album – was not as immediate as its predecessor Theories of Flight. Once the newest record sank in, it was clear that this was by design. Long Day is probably the most varied record of their long career, and never have they put so much emphasis on mood. As has been explained by both Captain in his review of the record and Lone in our cover art feature, the art here really gives you a hint at what you’re going to get. There is darkness, and quite a bit of it, but there is always hope, even if it’s the tiniest sliver. More than just the inspired and diverse songs, however, the individuals went all out on the record. Ray Alder somehow sounds as great now as he did over 30 years ago, despite living in the upper registers most of the time, and the soloing of “live” guitarist Mike Abdow is given a ton of room to breathe and stretch out, adding yet another expressive voice to the total. If this is their finale (please no), it’s a glorious way to close a recording career.

Homepage

6. MY DYING BRIDE – THE GHOST OF ORION

From my review: “The Ghost of Orion also probably isn’t destined to become another late-career classic like its predecessor Feel the Misery, but that’s a-okay. There’s plenty of room in the world for more very good My Dying Bride records. After all, for young Bobby Neverdoomed, out there just dipping his toes into The Pool of Countless Tears, The Ghost of Orion might end up being that Very Special Record that can never quite be replaced in his heart. That this band can still pull that off after three decades is downright incredible.”

In truth, that was a little premature. The Ghost of Orion is simply stunning, and I’ve liked it more and more with each spin as the year has gone on. Maybe a slow burn band needs more time to percolate, or maybe the whole idea of doing snap judgment reviews doesn’t always reveal the most solid of takes (critics bashed John Carpenter’s The Thing when it came out, if you can believe it). Another warm embrace from the lords of grief and sadness.

Homepage

5. SACRED OUTCRY – DAMNED FOR ALL TIME

From my review: “The nearly 15-minute title track, meanwhile, manages to do it all. It transforms from a soft beginning of acoustic guitars and choirs into a sprawling and epic sound that manages both the Blind Guardian drive and the proggy Long Iron Maiden Song feel, and then just keeps on building. (Also keep an ear out for Apalodimas’ relentless bass during all of this; dude is a beast.) The drop into nothing but violins ‒ and the eventual, inevitable rebuild ‒ feels like the album reflecting back on itself. Once it gets to the kind of nutty, intense theatricality that Iced Earth achieved at their peak (which ironically was about when this material was written), the listener ought to be completely rapt. There’s another (very good) song that follows, but ‘Damned For All Time’ ices it.”

A stunning and holistic album with both dynamic depth and huge thrills. Captain already told you that it’s the best power metal album of 2020. Reward this band for their long-gestating gem so that maybe they’ll make some more.

Bandcamp

4. ORANSSI PAZUZU – MESTARIN KYNSI

In comparison to 2016’s widely lauded Värähtelijä, Oranssi Pazuzu’s fifth album was a bit of a grower, not a shower. It took far longer to really sink in despite being almost 20 minutes shorter than its predecessor, but it also feels a bit like a reflection of that album. Whereas Värähtelijä expanded the band’s black/prog/kraut/industrial/etc freakouts to longer jams that allowed listeners to get into a groove and get down with the material, Mestarin kynsi allows no such comfort. The album twists, twitches, and turns at every opportunity, tricking the listener into thinking a long, dance-ready groove is coming before delivering something ultra dissonant, really unsettling, or just downright weird. In that way, it calls back a bit to sophomore outing Kosmonument, but Mestarin kynsi is a much more successful and efficient version of Maximum Strange Pazuzu. Because it condenses the oddities and creates a bit of a claustrophobic setting, it’s that much more unnerving. Oranssi Pazuzu continues to operate at another level from almost every other band out there, and the fact that it seems to come so naturally to them is a little bit scary.

Last Rites review in Missing Pieces
Bandcamp

3. AUTONOESIS – AUTONOESIS

Earlier this year I kept seeing this unknown band popping up in LR team conversations, and kept looking at its simple but fun cover art of towers and mountains but kind of ignoring it because “black” and “thrash” are both in the genre descriptor at Metal-Archives, and I’m a bit worn on the bigger names of the style (“melodic” and “death” are also there, so I was probably just being a dick about it). But then I listened, and then I heard all the deft, infectious riffage and rickety but kind of endearing programmed drum sound, and decided that the whole thing was worth a good listen.

Then I got to that first solo in “Nightfall.” The person or people behind Autonoesis saw the “Always Be Closing” part of Glengarry Glen Ross and took it to heart. They saw all the times someone says “shit just got real” in an action movie and decided to turn it into a singular moment on a heavy metal album. After that, the rest almost feels like a bonus, but nonetheless delivers oodles of wicked great riffs, melody, and (yes) way more solos. There’s even a prog sensibility to some of the song structures, an ambition seen far too rarely in such a style. Great leads are strewn throughout so many of my favorites of 2020, but nowhere did they play such an important role. I can’t wait for more.

Last Rites review
Bandcamp

2. MYSTRAS – CASTLES CONQUERED AND RECLAIMED

From my review: “…The lyrical message, songwriting, impassioned performances, and perfect(ly raw) production combine to make Castles Conquered and Reclaimed a spirited and extremely refreshing black metal record. Mystras celebrates freedom fighters from centuries past while delivering a bit of a timely reminder that current battles are not new battles. It might appear to be a direct subversion of black metal tropes, but it still manages to sound like and be about thee ways ov olde, so feel free to don your tunic.”

Ayloss was one of many Very Busy Workers both before and during the pandemic, and while his insanely ambitious Spectral Lore split/collab with Mare Cognitum seemed to garner more attention than his other works (not without reason; it’s great), his debut as Mystras hit me hardest. Maybe it’s the righteousness behind the lyrics, maybe it’s his always-golden lead work, or maybe it was the comforting rawness of it, but Castles Conquered has grown to be one of my favorite things he’s ever done. Now onto whatever 10 new things he has planned for us in 2021.

Bandcamp

1. THY CATAFALQUE – NAIV

From my review: “Kátai is simply playing with a loaded deck at this point. In terms of his fearlessness, deft touch for the widely varying material, and his choices in collaborators, he has never been achieving at a higher level. Naiv manages to be incredibly wild and diverse without losing even one iota of flow or cohesion, and Thy Catafalque remains one of the most adventurous, thrilling, and mesmerizing acts in all of music, not to mention a sure-fire path to a good mood.”

That whole “never achieving at a higher level” thing seems truer now than it did upon the record’s release. With respect to his increasingly voluminous number of great records, at this point it’s impossible to view Naiv as anything but Tamás Kátai’s greatest achievement… at least until he undoubtedly tops it. From the time that former MetalReview/Last Rites writer Ian Chainey told us to check out Róka hasa rádió over 10 years ago, Thy Catafalque has been one of my favorite acts in all of metal. Considering how countless promos are dropped in my inbox in any given week, it’s easy to get jaded and lose that youthful sense of looking forward to something new, but each new release from Kátai gives me the excitement that I used to get going to the record store on release day for a favorite’s latest album. The man sits at that glorious crossroads of brilliance and fearlessness, and Naiv is the type of record that manages to sound eternally fresh but also like it’s been part of my life for years. Thy Catafalque is my most trusted travel guide.

Bandcamp

BEST OF THE SMALL BITES

10. Wretched Inferno – Fester

Considering their youth (the bassist is barely old enough to drive), this band already has an uncanny knack for meat-and-potatoes death metal. Make it riff, make it rude, and make it heavy. These dudes also really get how to construct The Mosh Part, and thankfully go to that well early and often.

Bandcamp

9. Anubis – Anubis

This LA act swims in the thrasher end of the power metal pool, but their penchant for Big Vocals, Big Leads, and Big Bombast ought to have your fists raised in triumph for the entirety of these 11 and a half minutes. Just the vocal ascents in “Sin for Me” ought to be a guaranteed hook.

Bandcamp

8. Fleshvessel – Bile of Man Reborn

If this is what it meant to be “symphonic death metal,” I’d be more on board with the style. Largely a churning, demented, slightly techy beast, Bile of Man Reborn also has passages of strings, flute, and piano adding to the overall pomp and theatricality. Dramatic, sophisticated, and way cool.

Bandcamp

7. Aspirate Coma – Serene Transcendence through Corporal Disfigurement

In a year loaded with great goregrind and Carcass worship, the 9.5 minutes of Aspirate Coma’s debut demo were some of the best. Oddly enough, despite sounding as if it’s being played from behind a foot-thick wall of mucus, this little slab of splattery fun is actually a perfect way to clear your sinuses.

Bandcamp

6. Molde Volhal – Into the Cave of Ordeals…

Another debut that blew my socks off, probably because this is black metal of the Quebecois, windswept variety… only it’s actually from Norway. Gorgeous, piercing tremolo melodies ride high over a near-constant barrage of blasting, occasionally giving way to some equally gorgeous leads. Pretty stunning throughout.

Last Rites review in Black, Raw & Bleeding
Bandcamp

5. Old Nick – Haunted Loom!!

The consensus best of Old Nick’s many 2020 releases (at least according to us), and an unabashedly fun raw ride. A song title like “Banishêd from Thine Chamber Pot” might make this band seem very tongue-in-cheek (they are), but they pair their goofiness with some seriously catchy riffs and keys.

Last Rites review in Black, Raw & Bleeding
EP at Grimestone Records Bandcamp

4. Atræ Bilis – Divinihility

From my review: “…a death metal fan’s death metal record, almost leaving easter eggs to discover as you’re busy enjoying all the skronk, snark, technicality, brutality, and infectiousness. It’s also a damn fine and sleek introduction to an obviously very talented band.”

Bandcamp

3. Septage – Septic Decadence

From my review: “In 12 minutes Septage delivers some of the most intense, revolting, and downright smartly written gory death/grind in recent memory. Not much else to say about it. Buy this EP and gain the displeasure of your neighbors.”

Bandcamp

2. Lamentari – Missa Pro Defunctis

From my blurb in Missing Pieces: “There’s a true ‘more of everything!’ vibe to the EP, but nothing ever feels frivolous. Missa Pro Defunctis is one of the finest examples of truly grandiose symphonic black metal since Death Cult Armageddon, and it’s a damn debut EP.”

Bandcamp

1. Lör– Edge of Eternity

It’s easy enough to just describe Edge of Eternity as a masterclass in power/prog/folk metal, but it’s so much more than that. There’s no way to properly convey the amount of fire, emotional depth, vitality, and sheer zest for life exhibited across these 30 minutes. The songwriting and performances are nothing short of impeccable, and the tiny touches of extremity expand the dynamic breadth just so. This EP is so damn great that had the band chosen to call it a full length it would have been in the top five of the big list above. Like a Power Star for the emotional Mario in your brain that lasts a half hour.

Last Rites review
Bandcamp

BEST OF THE LIGHTER BITES

The non-metal top 12, or 13. Basically, the number of albums I wanted to feature. Could also call this the “Mostly Prog Rock and Electronic List,” because I definitely don’t pay as much attention to a lot of other styles as some other members of the crew. Too busy trying to catch up on all those years I ignored foundational classics in favor of listening to Exodus’ seventh-best album. Always a journey, this music stuff. And ain’t that grand?

12. Arabs in Aspic – Madness and Magic

This M.O. of this group of playful Norwegian proggers seems to be simply “The 70s: all of it, please.” While they are primarily indebted to several prog greats, it’s also possible to hear everything from Sabbath’s fuzz and Uriah Heep’s folksier side to Alice Cooper’s showmanship. In other words, Madness and Magic isn’t remotely lacking in musical thrills, emotion, or personality.

Bandcamp

11. AC/DC – Power Up

It’s hard to tell how this will rank in their career in a few years, but the narrative surrounding it, plus the absolute freshness of it, makes it so feel-good. AC/DC hasn’t had anything to prove in 40 years, but this is one of the few albums where they seem to realize it, sounding perfectly at ease with being a bunch of grizzled old guys playing no-frills rock and roll.

Hompage

10. Blue Öyster Cult – The Symbol Remains

It might have a bit of filler (few albums over an hour don’t), but the best 45 minutes here rival several of their middle-tier-but-still-very-good albums. That’s both more than we expected from them at this point and a real treat. They also just seem like they’re having an absolute blast throughout, playing a good variety of styles and offering ample highlights, the greatest of which is an instant BÖC classic in “The Alchemist.”

Homepage

9. Kairon; IRSE! – Polysomn

After two albums that were equal parts dreamy space rock soundscapes and prog-psych freakout, Kairon; IRSE! decided to lean more to their whimsical and shoegazing side… which admittedly felt like a letdown at first. Once I gave into the shift I found Polysomn to be as expertly crafted as the earlier albums, not to mention a wonderfully escapist and delightfully relaxing journey. Svart win #1.

Bandcamp

8. Polymoon – Caterpillars of Creation

The ethereal psych/post/gaze of Polymoon makes for a great companion to the previous album on this list, and not just because they’re both on Svart (Svart win #2). More because they both appear to be such mood albums on initial spins before eventually revealing more complex backdrops. From the slightly MBV-y wash of noise to the bright leads, everything about Caterpillars of Creation is 100 percent pleasant.

Bandcamp

7. E-Musikgruppe Lux Ohr – Non Plus Ultra

Hey look, Svart win #3. Ambient, slow burn soundscape electronic. But wait, there’s more! E-Musikgruppe Lux Ohr blends a largely IDM base sound with kosmische, space, prog, and post rocks, resulting in a vast sound that is at times as alarming as it is relaxing and trippy. That glorious soundtrack quality, but you provide the imagery.

Bandcamp

6. Ulver – Flowers of Evil

This is one of the few times that Ulver ever repeated a style for two albums in their very long career, sticking with the synthpop vibes of The Assassination of Julius Caesar. To my ears it isn’t quite up to the quality of its predecessor, but it still rules a ton and separates itself ever-so-slightly by being a touch more rock. Most important: it’s still insanely infectious.

Bandcamp

5. Autechre – SIGN & PLUS

Autechre obviously saw the mere 65 minutes of SIGN and realized that just wouldn’t do after their previous three full length sets added to about 14 hours, so they almost immediately released a second 2020 album. Both are (relatively) less experimental than many of their other post-2000 works, with SIGN leaning a bit more to the ambient and drifty side and PLUS a touch more glitchy and weirdly danceable. Most importantly, both offer a futuristic vision that is warm and welcoming, as opposed to all the typical existential terror. Comfort is good.

Autechre at Warp Records

4. Hällas – Conundrum

Hällas call their fresh brand of classic/prog music “adventure rock,” and it’s hard to disagree. That is, if the adventure in question is riding down a neon-lit highway in your t-top. Not since High Spirits’ debut has an album seemed as ready for driving fast under the stars during the 80s. The band’s folksier melodies and organ tie them to older prog and a bit of a swords and sorcery vibe, but the very 80s synth sections pull them back to the neon, like Dolph Lundgren’s He-Man being pulled into California in the Masters of the Universe movie. Only a lot better than that.

[Yes, I realize that Conundrum is on the team’s Top 25 metal albums list, but both the sound and the experience I get from it is something else entirely, so I left it here.]

Last Rites review
Bandcamp

3. Wobbler – Dwellers of the Deep

You’ll notice that this list has as much Norwegian prog on Karisma Records as it does Svart acts. All of these bands were new to me in 2020, and it was some other folks’ excitement for this new Wobbler that helped introduce me to the label and their ridiculously good roster. But independent of all that, Dwellers of the Deep is an absolute gem of prog. The Yes comparisons are apt as an entry point for new listeners, but the band absolutely deserves such a comp not just in terms of style but quality. Also that uncanny ability to weave a gripping story and nail the biggest, most thrilling moments.

Last Rites review
Bandcamp

2. Neil Young – Homegrown

An instant classic in the loosest use of the term “instant,” as Neil had this one shelved since 1975. The songs here that we already knew tend to make more sense in their originally intended context, and those we didn’t – the soothing country rock of “Try,” the drunken warble of “”We Don’t Smoke It No More,” the reserved grunge rollick of “Vacancy” – are of such high quality that it leaves one wondering how they remained hidden so long. This feels like the missing piece between the pain and anguish of The Ditch Trilogy and the sense of moving forward on albums like Zuma and Comes a Time. I figured that Homegrown would yield a couple nice treasures. I didn’t expect it to feel like this much of a gift to massive fans.

Neil Young Archives

1. Airbag – A Day at the Beach

You’d have to drop a pretty magical album to top a long-missing classic-era Neil Young record in my eyes, and with A Day at the Beach, that’s exactly what Airbag delivered. A masterpiece of understated neo-progressive rock, this record holds strong comparisons to the haunting (but not metal) side of Anathema, with shades of synth rock and darker new wave washing over all the melancholy. A Day at the Beach wants you to fully embrace a sense of sorrow so that relief washes over you with every electronic pulse, leading bass line, subtly captivating vocal melody, Gilmour-y lead, or dynamic swell. If there was a more achingly beautiful rock song than “Sunsets” in 2020, I didn’t hear it.

Bandcamp

2020 SUPERLATIVES

PRO-EST Bass Player of 2020: the one and only Joey Vera. With top notch work on two albums in my top 10, this one was a pretty easy decision. Vera has sneakily carved out a hall of fame career as one of the most dependable and hardworking providers of low end in the business.

FUNNEST Trend of 2020: bands that aren’t Carcass being Carcass better than 2020 Carcass can be Carcass. Septage, Pharmacist, Houkago Grind Time, Aspirate Coma, Miasmatic Necrosis, and probably others ground their gore with the best of them.

BUSIEST Pandemic Worker: Colin Marston. With respect to other very busy 2020 musicians, check out what Mr. Menegroth did this year:

    • New albums from Behold the Arctopus, Krallice, Hathenar, and Encenathrakh
    • Debuts from Xazraug, Edenic Past, and Rejoice! The Light Has Come
    • THREE new Indricothere albums
    • Compiling a lot of older recordings including three symphonic releases and a Glyptoglossio album
    • Guest spots on the new Defeated Sanity, Imperial Triumphant, SVNTH, and Wayfarer records
    • Production/mastering/engineering jobs on about 20 or so records beyond his own

REALEST Shit Just Got Real Moment: The aforementioned first solo on “Nightfall” on the Autonoesis debut.

EXTRA-EST Band of 2020: Old Nick. It isn’t just the output (seven EPs, two splits, and two full lengths) and the hilarious song titles (“Bedeviled by the Ghost of Your Mother’s Father’s Mother’s Aunt”) but also how they went about it. Their deceptively smart black metal showed serious growth within less than a single calendar year. Also, one of their albums is named The Night of the Ambush and the Pillage by the Queen Ann Styl’d Furniture, Animated by One of the Dozen or So Spells That Thee Eastern Vampyre Has Studied. Come on.

GREATEST Deep Dive: Scandinavian prog rock. In addition to the Wobbler, Airbag, and Arabs in Aspic up there, I dove into Anekdoten, Shaman Elephant, and several others, both thanks to the discovery of a couple new labels and the help of some other LR proglodytes.

FAREWELLS

Impossible to overstate how much these two men will be missed or how much they enriched my life through their music. Farewell and eternal thanks.

Posted by Zach Duvall

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; Obnoxious overuser of baseball metaphors.

  1. This list is going to have me busy for a long time to come. Thank you.

    Reply

Leave a Reply to Amjad Faur Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.