It’s officially 2021 and you made it!
Dear reader, please take a moment to yourself to appreciate the fact that you survived one of the toughest years in modern history. In a time where simply breathing in a grocery store could’ve killed you, you’re still here. Beyond the physical threats that existed, the mental ones were certainly just as challenging. In trying times, we generally turn to our friends and family for comfort, but to do so in 2020 was to put those most important to us at risk and that was probably the biggest head trip of all. The new year is here and at least it is offering slim glimmers of hope that we desperately need, so cheers to you for persevering. I am genuinely glad you’re here and I sincerely hope all those you hold dear are as well.
Since I’m the new guy around these parts, I’ll give you a brief history of how I got here. I have been an avid reader of this very site since I was in high school. I can recall many an afternoon sitting in the school computer lab shirking my responsibilities as a student to instead search for as many review sites as I could. Inevitably with every band or album I searched, I kept landing back on the brilliantly titled Metal Reviews that so adeptly worked for those more basic search engines back in the day. Fast forward about 18 years or so and after another site I wrote for shut down, I thought to myself “Fuck it, why not just message them and see if something happens?” Much to my surprise, I received a response and a test at the foot of the Bridge of Death to cross the Gorge of Eternal Peril. Luckily, I remembered my name, my quest and a complicated answer about olives, so they permitted me into the hallowed halls of the Last Rites Kingdom, and folks, it’s the best thing I did in 2020.
Not only have I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of constantly improving my writing, but the jabronis that are part of this staff have rapidly become great friends. And like any good friendship, it is equal parts supportive words of encouragement and comments about how you would’ve better served as a stain on a mattress than a life grown in your mother because your ranking of Death’s discography clearly shows your brain didn’t really develop anyway.
This group listens to a TON of music and a significant portion of it is outside of the realm of heavy metal. I took deeper dives into prog and jazz while giving power and traditional metal a listen with more open-minded ears (hello, Judicator!). In fact, several of the albums on the lists below would never have found their way to me without messages and excited words from these lovely weirdos. Plus, we’ve had several drunken Zoom chats that go into the wee hours of the night that have easily been some of the most fun video conversations I had all year.
My hope for you is that if you didn’t find a hobby or group of folks that gave you something extra to keep going in 2020, that you will be lucky enough in 2021 to do so. If there was something you hesitated trying, I say shoot your shot; You never know what might happen.
The other thing I spent a lot of time doing in quarantine was watching horror movies with my partner. Since I’m new and you’re surely only reading this to tell me how wrong I am, I’ve decided to double down and give my top-20 a horror theme. This way you have at least two reasons to tell me why I’m an inept twit with dysfunctional ears.
(Warning: Since there are movies/shows attached to each album, there is a risk of spoilers in the descriptions. I guess don’t read that blurb if you’re worried about it, but be sure to still check out the band simply on the merit of making the list.)
THE HORROR BEGINS
20. Xazraug – Unsympathetic Empyrean
Midsommar drew critical acclaim by being less overt in its horror and relying instead on a brightly lit, psychedelic slow-burn that left viewers more unsettled than outright terrified. Xazraug similarly eschews many of the more typical tropes of its nordic-influenced tunes. The human voices present primarily come from a choral perspective and mostly avoid the typical shrieks, howels or ribbits. This is an hour-long hellscape focused on discordant instruments that are at once hypnotic and upsetting.
19. Imperial Triumphant – Alphaville
When our biggest cities grind the human condition to a vile pulp, you get cerebral and bleak pieces of media. Like David Fincher’s masterpiece, Alphaville knows when to pull back and let the listener stew in tension unsure of when the next strike of detailed, incomprehensible, and vicious rage will come. You’ll find yourself wistfully thinking of time spent with your one true love during moments like the lounge-style piano and trumpet opening of “Transmission to Mercury,” but it doesn’t take long for the music to turn lunatic and leave you afraid you may just find their head in a box on your doorstep.
18. Black Elephant – Seven Swords
Let’s have some fun in the desert! Most of Seven Swords feels like a dreamy cruise through the sand, where you’ll have your hand out the window floating through the wind. Beware, however, because there are some big fat worming riffs that pop in from time to time to keep you on your toes. Black Elephant doesn’t present an overly serious brand of heaviness, but one that’s meant to bring joy through its blues-soaked jams.
17. The Spirit Cabinet – Bloodlines
Horror: Suspiria (2018)
The Spirit Cabinet starts with what was created in the past by NWOBHM and traditional doom bands, but takes it to newer darker places in hell where witch’s spells and Satan’s curses can give it greater power. The grittier tone and black metal elements that are cast into this record make it more powerful than many of its coven’s leaders while Snake McRuffkin’s vocals are weirder than Tilda Swinton convincingly playing an old man psychiatrist.
16. Obscene – The Inhabitable Dark
Horror: Ready or Not
Listening to OSDM is like playing a good game of hide-and-seek as you try to pin down exactly which bands from the past they love most. In the case of Obscene: Asphyx, Bolt Thrower and the slime-era of Morbid Angel get the call. While no one is going to confuse Obscene vocalist Kyle Shaw with Samara Weaving, the strength of the performance from these two leading people is really what sells it. Shaw’s larynx-shredding howl is a nice change of pace from the typical gutturals. The Inhabitable Dark is armed with sharpened riffs and varied drum patterns that will take you on a delightful death hunt and might just leave your little satanic head exploded in the dining room.
15. Cytotoxin – Nuklearth
Horror: Godzilla (1954)
After decades of stomping around in a goofy rubber suit, it’s easy to forget that Godzilla was actually meant to be a metaphor for the indescribable and long-lasting damage done to Japan by nuclear war. Cytotoxin’s fourth full-length similarly rails against the impact of nuclear waste, but focuses instead on the fallout of Chernobyl. Their use of sweeps brings a searing blue flame of bright energy to their technical riffs and every time they drop into a slam, it’s like getting stomped on by a giant radioactive lizard. Your sturdiest of buildings will be left in shambles when Nuklearth blows through the speakers.
14. Depravity – Grand Malevolence
On their sophomore album, Grand Malevolence, Australia’s Depravity follows suit with the jump from Alien to Aliens: Take everything you did in the first one and do a shit ton more of it with an unbelievable amount of extra firepower. Evil Upheaval saw them worship at the altar of Suffocation, but they are further cementing their own sound on this one. The technicality has jumped up by offering more flow and less chop, while the leads are shooting off with the power of 50 space-marine guns rather than one measly flamethrower.
13. Sweven – The Eternal Resonance
The Eternal Resonance is awash in a beautiful shimmering production that was well established on Morbus Chron’s swansong Sweven. But, as Morbus Chron disappeared into the bottom of a lighthouse, Robert Andersson returned as a stronger hybrid creature with key changes is in his DNA to form Sweven the band. For as much beauty and awe as this album offers, there are mutated death metal creatures lying in wait making an album that’s never quite what you expect and feels like a glorious fever dream.
12. Black Curse – Endless Wound
Horror: Silent Hill
The members of Black Curse spend most of their time in the realms of other well-known Denver bands. For this debut collaboration, however, they transported themselves to the living hell of Silent Hill. This is 38 minutes of blast furnace death metal that burns, batters and drags the listener through barbed wire while the wails of the damned echo over top. Any one of these songs could rip all the skin off your body in one swift move.
• Hopefully, the band won’t be endlessly wounded by the fact that we didn’t review this one
11. Autonoesis – Autonoesis
Horror: Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
The third installment of the Nightmare on Elm Street series certainly had its flaws, but there is no denying the seemingly ceaseless amount of creativity that went into making it; especially for the most important aspect of horror – the kills! Luckily, Autonoesis present no serious glaring flaws on their debut album, but they do offer unrivaled creativity in their lead work. Quality guitar play is essential in the world of metal and no band seemed to do it better than this mysterious Canadian project. Welcome to metal primetime, you unknown bitch(es)!
THE HORROR INTENSIFIES
10. LUNA’S CALL – VOID
Horror: The Abominable Dr. Phibes
“WhY cAn’T oPeTh StIlL dO dEaTh MeTaL?!?” says the silly chud that can’t appreciate the impeccable prog tunes they’re kicking out now. Don’t worry you sad sap, Luna’s Call has the perfect album for you. This U.K. quartet blends modern Opeth’s penchant for ’70s prog with a more technical brand of death metal that hints at the likes of Spawn of Possession. The similarity to Opeth is so strong during their cleaner stretches that you could be forgiven for listening to the start of “Locus” and thinking you missed an announcement about the Swede’s new album coming out. Fret not though, Luna’s Call is no simple clone and knows how to make an album all their own.
Dr. Phibes created elaborate and complicated traps to exact his revenge on his enemies. Luna’s Call takes a similar approach to separate themselves from the pack. They create the bright and colorful vibe of the ’70s and funnel it into varied complicated traps of technical death metal that Opeth never quite aimed for even in their prime. Hit play on this and leave Mikael Åkerfeldt alone!
• I guess there’s a void in our coverage of this one
9. PHARMACIST – MEDICAL RENDITIONS OF GRINDING DECOMPOSITION
Horror: The Fly (1986)
Pharmacist’s debut is the auditory equivalent of body horror. You can easily picture pus flowing from the vocalist’s mouth during every line; boils popping on the guitar strings; rotted flesh flopping onto the drum heads; or vomit flowing into the mixing board to create the absolutely disgusting sound they achieved.
This is the closest any band has come to creating a true sequel to Carcass’ Symphonies of Sickness. The best part is that the riffs are even more infectious than the source material for the lyrics and this Japanese crew knows how to write a damn good song.
Note: According to the band’s Facebook page, they plan to flog our beloved Ryan for leaving them out of the top-10 on his list. Since Pharmacist made it into the top-10 on mine, can I request that you use pictures of Ryan’s flogged body as the next album cover? Thanks in advance!
8. HAVUKRUUNU – UINUOS SYÖMEIN SOTA
Horror: Train to Busan
While Havukruunu’s third album doesn’t present a sense of modernity applicable to a ceaselessly running bullet train, it does offer the sense of battles on snow-capped mountains and the triumph of the human spirit over the things that oppress us most. There’s ugliness involved, but the uplifting elements throughout overcome and shine through to make you want to stand tall over your enemies.
Havukruunu may not sound like Iron Maiden, but they play off of a similar sense of galloping triumph. Listen to a song like “Kunnes Varjot Saa,” and tell me you can’t picture vocalist Stefan running across a stage with a giant Finnish flag while a few thousand Wacken attendees drunkenly slur all the words in a singalong and pump their fists in the air. Listening to Uinuos Syömein Sota will make you want to fight a bear, turn it into armor, and ride a horse into your workplace while brandishing a sword at your boss until you get the raise you know you deserve.
7. CHEPANG – CHATTA
Horror: Cabin in the Woods
On their sophomore effort, CHATTA, Nepalese quintet Chepang continues its desire to throw everything and the kitchen sink into grindcore. They have two drummers, two vocalists and no bassist, so you already know this is a band that prefers experimentation in a genre known for being restrictive.
Just as the Cabin in the Woods whiteboard offered a variety of classic, and spoofy, death sentences that included dismemberment goblins, merman, unicorn, wraiths, dolls and even Kevin, Chepang attack grind from numerous, and often non-traditional, angles. While they blast songs to smithereens, they also incorporate squalls of brass instruments and even four electronic remixes that close out these 17 wild grinding bursts of music.
6. THY CATAFALQUE – NAIV
Horror: Stranger Things
Some creations have a unique ability to transcend the genre they were designed for. We all have that friend that simply cannot handle horror movies in any capacity, but somehow loves Stranger Things. The reason for that is likely that the horror aspects were never the main mission of the story, but rather a vehicle to tell the tales of the characters involved. It is as much about coming of age, changing relationships, parental fears, strained friendships, feeling alone and so much more that we all experience. With Naiv, Thy Catafalque goes well beyond simply being a heavy metal album.
Sure, there are some harsh vocals and wild guitars on the opening and closing tracks, but Tamás Kátai also brings in moments that will make you think of The Cranberries (“Embersólyom”), late-era Satyricon (“A valóság kazamatái”), a funky bass and trumpet soundtrack to a ’70s action movie (“Tsitsushka”), or even send you off to a baseball game with the mellotron in (“Vető”). Naiv offers just enough heaviness to belong on this list, but also so many more other incredible elements that you could offer it as proof to doubters that metal is so much more than screaming and distorted noise.
5. STILLBIRTH – REVIVE THE THRONE
If you aren’t going to do something original, then you better do what you do really damn well. Slashers are horror’s slam bands: No need to be particularly clever, simply kill in gruesome fashion and keep the body count high. Hatchet borrows from the Friday the 13th series so much that they even hired Kane Hodder (who was Jason Voorhees in several films) to play their overgrown ugly killer, Victor Crowley. Based on where I have Stillbirth’s seventh album on this list, I’m technically saying it’s the best death metal album of 2020. That’s sort of an absurd claim and I get it. Was Hatchet the best horror movie of 2006? No, but it was really damn fun and so is Revive the Throne.
This is the type of album that will land you in jail. By the time the first slam hits in the title track, you’ll inexplicably have a metal chair in your hands and find yourself jumping off a fence to hit someone with it. The production is hefty, the slams hit hard, and the vocals roar, gurgle, squeal and make all your other favorite zoo animal noises with gusto. This is simply the best kind of turn-your-brain-off death metal ignorance that I needed on repeat all throughout a shit year that all too often had my mind racing.
4. ICARE – KHAOS
Horror: Martyrs (2008, the American remake can fuck off!)
Before the accusations fly, NO, I did not select Martyrs for this album just because both are in French. Icare is a Swiss band anyway, ya jerks. The similarity is that anytime you think you have Martyrs or Khaos figured out, they take a sharp turn in a new direction leaving you muttering “what the fuck is going on here?” And I mean that as a compliment.
Icare start this one-hour journey with 30 seconds of grindcore, but end it with a 20-minute post-metal exploration. In a truly impressive feat, the seven other tracks in between somehow manage to have that make sense while including melodic elements and black metal throughout. This battering of immersive and engaging music may not leave you on death’s door able to see god, but it will keep you completely engrossed and questioning how they pulled it off.
3. MALOKARPATAN – KRUPINSKÉ OHNE
Horror: The Wicker Man (1973)
Just as Nicolas Cage’s screams about bees made many people forget that a better version of The Wicker Man exists, Krupinské Ohne‘s March release date may have some of you forgetting about it. Surely a folksy black metal album this good required a cult somewhere to sacrifice a virgin and Krupinské Ohne often sounds like they are playing music to that very scene. The album opens with crackling fire and guitars echoing like they are flying from atop a U.K. isle on “V brezových hájech poblíž Babinej zjavoval sa nám podsvetný velmož.”
Malokarpatan breaks from the icy expectations of traditional black metal for the warmth of a campfire similar to fellow modern black metal practitioners Funereal Presence, who tip their cap more to Mercyful Fate’s brand of proto-black. These five lengthy tracks offer driving riffs, woodland atmosphere, rocking leads, warm acoustic passages, flute, and even a little woodblock tapping. Get yourself a couple friends, some Slovakian brandy and a pine tree to rest against, then crank this one out of an old boombox while you share stories over a well-controlled blaze.
2. ORANSSI PAZUZU – MESTARIN KYNSI
Oranssi Pazuzu’s last few albums have focused on a Floydian space trip riding on a ship made of black metal, but there was always a certain brightness to it. They brought in the type of light and communicative music that felt more like Close Encounters of the Third Kind in that we weren’t sure what they were trying to tell us, but there didn’t seem to be any reason to be afraid.
Mestarin Kynsi has changed that; there’s a reason to scream now, but no one will hear you. These songs have facehuggers lurking within them and xenomorphs crawling through their ducts. The intermittently warped lines during the repeated opening section of “Oikeamielisten sali” are the soundtrack of your mind slowly slipping into madness as you know you’re trapped alone with a perfect killing machine just trying to survive. Oranssi Pazuzu found a new gear of darkness and intensity that makes for a nighttime listen that could leave you looking for an escape pod.
1. NAPALM DEATH – THROES OF JOY IN THE JAWS OF DEFEATISM
Horror: Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Inevitably, every year, some well-known older band seems to ride on the coattails of their legacy to the top of year-end lists on the back of a mediocre album. You sit there questioning yourself about that release and keep going back to it to see if you missed something, but no, it’s still just very meh. If you have had that thought about Napalm Death at any point with their last several releases, I kindly invite you to punch yourself in the crotch a minimum of 17 times because you’re an idiot deserving of pain.
Napalm Death has always paired their brand of vicious music with messages about the social ills of the day. Like the original Dawn of the Dead, Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism feels at once classic, fresh and timeless. This is an album you could revisit for years to come and it will never feel outdated or like the messages included don’t still apply to the current day. This is Napalm Death bringing all the best of their grind, punk, industrial and death metal influences into an absolute monster of an album that also happens to feature Barney Greenway at his most feral to-date. In a year like 2020, a decent Napalm Death record would’ve been welcome, but instead, they gifted us an all-time great one.
LOOK AT THESE CUTE LITTLE GREMLINS
The following list of EPs seems to have developed a very unintentional theme – bands that also released excellent full-length albums. For those that have, a link to their other album is also provided. It’s wild how many bands this year churned out extra work and I deeply appreciate them for it!
10. Aspirate Coma – Serene Transcendence through Corporal Disfigurement
When someone says a band is performing Carcass worship, you generally think it’s either Symphonies of Sickness grossness or Heartwork melodeath. Aspirate Coma said, “Fuck that!” and took it all the way back to Reek of Putrefaction with ten raw-as-hell stab wounds of grinding death in 10 minutes.
• There’s nothing serene or transcendent about the corporal disfigurement we deserve for not reviewing this
9. Septage – Septic Decadence
Septage and Aspirate Coma reside in the same sewer Carcass built, but Septage follows the Symphonies blueprint. Septic Decadence has essentially the same runtime as the EP above, but focuses on “longer” song structures that take you down more grey-water filled tunnels clogged with bloated corpses. I’m also pretty sure the vocalist is just a crocodile they found in one of those sewer tunnels too.
8. Lamp of Murmuur – The Burning Spears Of Crimson Agony/
Cursed Deambulations Of The Nocturnal Entities
Lamp of Murmuur’s debut album, Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism, has garnered much attention during list season and rightfully so. The album combines a rawer brand of old-school black metal with some excellent synth work. These two EPs act as source material for the full album. The Burning Spears focuses on just the raw black metal and Cursed Deambulations is all synths. These two EPs show off Lamp of Murmuur’s ability to write quality music in either style before combining them for an even better, more robust experience with Heir.
7. Cyttorak – Simultaneous Invocation Of Apocalyptic Harbingers
These dorks put Galactus on the cover, so you know they’re planning to bring you something as heavy as a planet-devourer. More importantly, they deliver. Cyttorak offer a brand of sludgy doom that owes as much to NOLA as it does to Coffins and Weekend Nachos.
• We were the harbingers of apocalyptic failure for not covering this one
6. Conjureth – Foul Formations
“At The Foot Of Kneeling Worlds” opens with a riff that certainly owes a lot to Butchered at Birth. The remainder of what Conjureth does on this EP treads the line between that era of death metal and dropping just a tinge of the cosmos without letting things get spacey.
• We couldn’t seem to conjureth any words on this one either
5. Stagnater – The Guillotine Demo
Don’t you just love grindcore that has a gritty production, unhinged vocals and drums that are riding off the rails? Of course you do, those are the basic tenants of the genre! Stagnater has put together 11 minutes of gnarly perfection that mixes in enough influences to keep it from being simply a series of one-note attacks.
• The band should probably show us a demo of a guillotine, so we remember to review their next one
4. Sadness – Atna
Sadness’ sole member Damián Antón Ojeda has managed to put out 31 releases since appearing in 2014. As the name would imply, his brand of black metal isn’t based on fiery hostility, but on an introspective depression. This release in particular is a softer, somber affair that finds its comfort in the darkest recesses of the brain. The crying and screaming that occur throughout “How Bright You Shine” are pretty good indicators that this is the music you turn on to commiserate with rather than fix your mood.
3. The Acacia Strain – It Comes In Waves
The Acacia Strain took what they learned making “The Observer”, from 2014’s Coma Witch, and applied it to this release. “The Observer” incorporated doom into their sound by combining lengthy passages of crushing riffs with long introspective quiet sections across its sprawling 28 minutes. It Comes In Waves follows that concept as it is to be heard as a single 30-minute song, but reaches a higher watermark by shoring those elements up into smaller packages that provide a better counterpoint against each other. This isn’t just one of the best releases of the year, but one of the best of the band’s career.
2. Wake – Confluence
Wake happened to release an absolute monster of an album in Devouring Ruin last March, but felt it didn’t capture all the ideas they wanted to try. Confluence continues their experimental trend with a look toward more black and post-metal influences. Don’t sleep on an extra 23 minutes of music from one of modern grindcore’s greatest artists.
1. Old Nick – Haunted Loom
Did you ever wonder what it would sound like if Luigi’s Mansion had a black metal soundtrack? Probably not, but Old Nick has an answer to that unasked question. Quirk, charm and fun are terms rarely used for black metal, but Old Nick exhibits no interest in being part of the standard.
ONE SPLIT FOR YOUR CRACKED SKULL
4 Doors to Death Vol. II
The format of the split doesn’t quite fit into any of the categories we have above, but this release deserves some attention. With all due respect to Spectral Lore and Mare Cognitum’s fantastic Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine, 4 Doors to Death Vol. II is the best split of 2020. You want some tech death? Nucleus has you covered. How about some doom-death? Temple of Void offers up three songs that weren’t included in their 2020 full-length, The World That Was. Do you like your death metal to have a handful of odd elements incorporated? Fetid Zombie will bite some weird into your system (with Kyle Shaw of Obscene as a guest to boot). Naturally, you must enjoy some death that just goes for the throat and doesn’t screw around? Fret not, because Ectoplasma is here to hold it down. Open any of these four doors and find an undeniably great death metal prize.
WELL NOW THAT’S NOT SO SCARY
When it comes to genres outside of the heavies,
With that in mind, what follows are simply five non-heavy albums that I enjoyed a whole hell of a lot and spun more than any others.
5. Deep Purple – Whoosh!
Blue Oyster Cult seems to be getting all the acclaim for the old rockers in 2020, but you shouldn’t overlook Deep Purple. Sure, Whoosh! has a dumb title and some absolutely godawful lyrics (looking at you “No Need to Shout” and “Drop the Weapon”), but what it lacks in quality words, it more than makes up for with excellent rock tunes. You’re a metal fan, so I know you look past stupid lyrics in the name of good songs with a LOT of what you listen to. Give this one a shot!
4. Arabs in Aspic – Madness and Magic
Arabs in Aspic is a band that truly aims to earn the tag of progressive as they incorporate a slew of synths, Hammond organs, mellotrons, and non-traditional acoustics and drums into a heavier brand of rock that owes more to the weird darkness of King Crimson and Pink Floyd than the bubblier side of prog that many might think of. This album and one other a little further down stole the show for prog in 2020.
3. Megan Thee Stallion – Good News
There has been much ado about Megan Thee Stallion’s overtly sexual lyrics, but considering hip hop and rap’s history with such subject matters the “controversy” is a bit baffling. What Ms. Thee Stallion accomplishes here is not meant to tease the brain, but get the bodyodyodyodyodyody moving and she does it exceptionally well. The closing trifecta of “Savage (Remix)”, “Girls in the Hood” and “Don’t Stop” are untouchable in their booty-bouncing quality.
2. Jeremy Cunningham – The Weather Up There
Jeremy Cunningham’s brother was killed during a home invasion in 2008. According to his Bandcamp page, this album was written as a way to musically explore how his death impacted not just Cunningham, but other family and friends as well. Blended into the compositions are audio clips of people talking about various things they experienced as a result of the death or directly tied to the investigation of the crime. Death tends to force us to experience a wide range of emotions and Cunningham’s jazz explores precisely that.
1. Wobbler – Dwellers of the Deep
In Captain’s review below he calls out the 30-somethings who don’t have much of a reference point for this kind of prog past the band Yes. Well, I’m one of those 30-somethings and I’ll stand by Yes as a very reasonable starting reference point for this ebullient release. Luckily, our very own Lone Watie has since pointed me to the likes of Caravan, Camel and Gentle Giant, whose influence certainly plays into what Wobbler does. Whether it’s when they let songs go wild, lull you into a trance with acoustic guitars, or simply let their instruments meander and simmer, if Wobbler existed in the ’70s, they’d be talked about as legends of the genre to this day.
HORRORS FROM THE PAST
If you’re like me, you weren’t born in 1860 at the advent of recorded music nor are you an omnipotent being that can ignore the rules of space and time. Unfortunately, that leaves you unable to hear every piece of the roughly 666 billion pieces of music that already exist in the world or the 1 billion new ones that seem to come out each year.
What follows are five albums from the past that caught my attention in 2020. I am not adhering to any specific genre and am generally trying to avoid obvious bigger names (at least in the categories of rock and metal). For example, I listened to Incantation’s Mortal Throne of the Nazarene for the first time this year and loved it, but you all know that band, so it seems silly to include them here.
5. Unholy – From the Shadows (1993)
Slow, plodding death-doom with a classic 90s sound and wide-open production that offers an excellently chilling atmosphere. People into the history of death-doom will surely be familiar with this group, but for those less initiated, this is an essential classic listen. Gothic keys, synths and acoustic guitar are involved throughout to give those slow repetitive guitar notes some extra life while Pasi Äijö offers up a wild vocal performance that hits pained screams, deranged cleans and a wild death style that’s reminiscent of Luc Lemay.
4. Soup – Remedies (2017)
Remedies is one of those albums that seems so perfectly summed up by its cover art. It is at once colorful, but dark while providing an undercurrent of hope. Never straying to the point of feeling like pure beauty or down into endless black, but residing somewhere in the middle with their brand of alternative/progressive rock. With guitarist Hans Magnus “Snah” Ryan in tow, you’ll get glimmers of Porcupine Tree in there too.
3. Quo Vadis – Defiant Imagination (2004)
The LR crew regularly likes to incite one another into creating rankings of all different groups and styles of music. At one point during the summer, we randomly decided to rank our favorite tech-death records. Quo Vadis came up and I had never even heard of them. Well kids, I’m sure glad they’ve been brought to my attention now! Another stellar member of the Quebec death metal scene that deserves as much attention as the stalwarts of the area that we all laud. Defiant Imagination opens with martial drumming and a 15-second roar before going on to absolutely decimate your brain for another 39 minutes. oh and holy shit that bass!
2. Khan – Space Shanty (1972)
I mentioned above in my blurb about Wobbler that this was a year of going backward for prog rock explorations. Discordant notes, bopping bass, spacey keys, guitars that explore and interplay with every other instrument, playful vocals and so much more make this one of the greatest prog-rock albums ever. Period. I don’t understand how this album isn’t talked about more for people that love that era of music. Trust me when I tell you Space Shanty is a ride you want to take.
1. Kamasi Washington – The Epic (2015)
Introspective, contemplative, uplifting, joyful, reserved, exploratory, grandiose, driven, loose and who knows how many other endless streams of adjectives you could apply to this incredible album. Despite a nearly 3-hour runtime, The Epic never fails to keep your attention while letting every instrument involved have its time to shine. The scope of the jazz that Kamasi Washington has assembled here is jaw-dropping. If I were to make a top-20 list of the best albums I heard in 2020 regardless of genre or release date, Space Shanty and The Epic would be numbers two and one respectively, and the competition wouldn’t even be remotely close.
NO MORE HORRORS PLEASE
Here’s to hoping 2021 has a lot less real-life horrors to offer us all. Cheers to you all and thanks for sticking it out to the end of all my blathering!