Editor’s Note: the man known as FetusGhost decided to hang up his reviewing boots earlier this year, but he has temporarily come out to retirement to make sure our 2020 wrap up wasn’t devoid of bongs.
Here’s another idiot’s list-based opinions on heavy metal albums in the shitty year of 2020.
The First Half…
20. Palaces – Hellas Chasma
Palaces and I are from Atlanta, and that’s at least part of the reason I like them. Support your local scene and all that. But more importantly, they scream and rock and riff and blast like only the best hardcore + noise rock bands do. There are great individual songs here, and a carefully constructed (chaotic) flow to Hellas Chasma that makes the whole thing so damn satisfying. The sooner this pandemic fucks off, the sooner we can all meet in the pit.
19. Barishi – Old Smoke
Old Smoke took a few listens to click. Blame my constantly wandering, quarantine-addled mind for that one. But sludgy, progressive metal is my catnip, and I eventually succumbed. Inhale deeply, friends. There are a lot of juicy leads and hazy riffs here for you.
18. Thætas – Shrines to Absurdity
Kids these days, amirite?? With all their gusto and enthusiasm. With their wonky, playful, heavy-as-shit riffs. For such an unapologetically extreme album, Shrines to Absurdity put a smile on my face with every spin. The kids will indeed be alright.
17. Earthbong – Bong Rites
Bong Metal 4 Life
16. Judicator – Let There Be Nothing
Epic, triumphant, and speedy, with just enough bite. That’s how I likes my power metals. I was late to the John Yelland party, but Dire Peril’s 2018 sci-fi funstravaganza, The Extraterrestrial Compendium, got me hooked on his voice, and Let There Be Nothing is crammed full of even more hooks and bitchin’ riffs.
15. END – Splinters From an Ever-Changing Face
END will beat your ass. You will thank them and ask for another. Mosh the pain away.
14. Wayfarer – A Romance With Violence
I’m a sucker for a well-executed gimmick. Or rather, I’m a sucker for the addition of the thoughtful application of a theme or outside genre that elevates a band beyond the lazy application of the ‘gimmick’ tag. Wayfarer mines the lyrical, visual, and musical themes of the American Southwest and combines it with their considerable black metal chops to create a package that transcends a simple “Western black metal” genre label. Stetsons and corpse paint go together like chocolate and peanut butter, at least in the hands of Wayfarer. And hey, this particular bandwagon is an actual wagon, so climb aboard!
13. Ritual Dictates – Give in to Despair
Much like their origins in Revocation and 3 Inches of Blood, Ritual Dictates is fun as hell. High energy, genre-splicing fun. Tell despair to kiss your grits.
12. Fuck the Facts – Pleine Noirceur
Grindcore is truly bastardized when nu-metal is the first genre mixed in, on opener “Fear, Doubt, Neglect.” Fear not, for Fuck the Facts have only just begun to splice and dice, and the effortless excellence of their erudite experience is evident in the entirety of this awesome album.
11. Ripped to Shreds – 亂 (Luan)
There was no shortage of rippin’ death metal this year, but Luan stood out amongst the shredding masses.
THE SECOND HALF!
10. Marrasmieli – Between Land and Sky
Riffs, baby! Atmospheric, folky, woodsy, etc black metal is all fine and good, but it don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got bangin’ riffs. (I think that’s how the song goes?) Marrasmieli scratches a similar itch as Lunar Strain does (and it’s In Flames’ best: fight me). It’s probably the strings, and also the bitchin’ riffage. I kept returning to Between Land and Sky throughout the year, which is a testament to the rock solid riffs and excellent compositions.
9. Thy Catafalque – Naiv
Plenty has been written about Naiv, especially on these very digital pages, and those words are all correct, and likely still insufficient. It’s a weird, only marginally heavy metal album, but it’s undeniably unique and so well executed.
8. Vous Autres – Sel de Pierre
More black metal, but this time with a harsh, mechanical drive. Vous Autres create a crushing, bleak atmosphere, with drums leading the riff assaults, and calm ambient passages that provide excellent counterweight to the sludge. I loved 2019’s Champ du Sang, and was excited to see such a quick follow up. The excitement continued when I heard the music and confirmed Vous Autres had another winner on their hands. This French duo has mastered the crescendos and dynamics that lead to epic moment after epic moment.
7. Sweven – The Eternal Resonance
RIP Morbus Chron, but long live Sweven! (and Tøronto!) The Eternal Resonance is exactly the fantastic voyage my mind needed on many occasions this year. To dip my feet in the ocean, and gaze across the horizon into the wormhole. To ponder my existence and place in the universe. I still don’t know if Sweven is better than Sweven (or vice versa), and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter.
6. Afterbirth – Four Dimensional Flesh
Wompitty skronks, chonking wheedilies, and gurgle-gurgle-BLEUAGHGHHHs. Four Dimensional Flesh has it all. Honestly, the cover should give all the preview you need. They’re called Afterbirth and have a cute lil fetus guy in the logo, but the art is a detailed, trippy sci-fi scene. So naturally the music is gross, intelligent, ignorant, slick, technical, and just damn fantastic.
5. Wake – Devouring Ruin
Wake was bursting at the seams on 2018’s Misery Rites. Their grindcore was damn near perfected, and you could hear an evolution just scratching at the shell, demanding release. Devouring Ruin hatched, sprawling between grind and sludge and post-metal, elevating itself beyond the sum of its parts. The energy was clearly electric enough to birth the Confluence EP this year as well, which builds a blackened edifice around those new ideas. It’s as exciting to blast their current catalogue as it is to speculate about where they will go next. Shine on, you crazy Canadians!
4. Ulthar – Providence
Ulthar wants you to get fucked. Not in a mean way. In a distorted, wild way. Like a skeleton hanging from the tip of your dick on the Fucktree, like the little fellow on the right side of Providence’s glorious cover. And like that disorientingly sexy scene, riffs fold through riffs like a skeleton orgy on acid. It’s awesome, A+ death metal is what I am saying. Get. Fucked.
3. Oranssi Pazuzu – Mestarin kynsi
Oranssi Pazuzu rules. It is known. The band is moving away from black metal, and deeper into synth-driven, psychedelic madness. I honestly don’t know how the band can top their last three albums, but I’m absolutely excited to see where they go next. Good thing Mestarin kynsi, along with Värähtelijä and Valonielu, can be dissected and endlessly experienced anew while we wait. Time is a flat circle, after all.
2. Fluisteraars – Bloem
Say hello to gorgeous black metal. Not overly made-up or dressed in the latest runway fashion. But just smoking hot, natural beauty. Real, human, and willing to get silly or crack a few jokes. The kind of effortless sexy that makes you forget they’re out of your league. Amos Burton or Inara Serra, if you will. Unfairly attractive, mysterious but approachable, and just delightful. The kind of black metal that surprises you by writing songs that are completely fresh and exactly what you needed. Don’t make it weird, just put on Bloem and tell me I’m wrong.
1. REZN – Chaotic Divine
Infatuation, or as close as a jaded mid-30s asshole like myself can muster, is actually kinda fun now. In exploring all things Bong Metal related, I ran across REZN last year. The spacy, psychedelic rock elements, blended with stoner metal and just a dash of pizzaz (that’s the technical term for the addition of non-standard instrumentation) were exactly what I needed. And once I got familiar with their catalogue, a pandemic hit, and all I wanted were a few comfort riffs to soothe the anxiety. And there was REZN, patiently holding my hand, taking me across the desert, through the ocean depths, and beyond. To see how seriously the band takes their craft, whether it’s dedication to the highest quality recording, or using local companies for merch and hand packing shipments themselves, is a delight. Even more delightful is how prolific they’ve been over the last few years, which bodes well for more uplifting music and exciting collaborations in the near future. Once touring returns, you’ll find me right up front, singing and swaying along in my new REZN shirt like a dork. Thanks for the excellent tunes to soothe a shitty year, fellas.
Now it’s time for a few EPs that rustled my jimmies this year. As with full lengths, there was so much excellence to choose from, and I’ve only just begun to explore the EPs I missed. So here’s the finest of what I heard and what stuck with me.
6. Misanthropic Aggression – Alcoholic Polyneuropathic Freaks in Hell
“Companion, open that beer,” ends the introductory sample on APFiH, and then out charges buzzsaw punk riffage and hateful snarls. Don’t mind if I do, reverend, don’t mind if I do. Another Atlanta band to start another list? You betcha! They opened for Sanguisugabogg and Graveview at the last live show I saw in March, and dammit, it was great. But then Tom Hanks announces he’s got the dang ‘rona, and the world goes to shit. Good thing Misanthropic Aggression are already pissed as hell and (mal)content to crank out EPs and shift along the grimy powerviolence/punk/metal spectrum. Since this EP dropped in April, the band is back to their core duo and released another EP with covers and demos that’s also worth your time. So set aside less than 30 mins to blast through their catalogue, and meet you in the fucking pit (eventually).
5. Goblinsmoker – A Throne in Haze, A World Ablaze
I got a little carried away with the story behind Goblinsmoker (a Toad King that smokes his goblin subjects! Awesome!!) in my review of part two of this epic tale. I’ve since explored the lore and learned my version diverges a bit from canon, but here’s hoping that the final EP will inspire more fanfiction. Worship him.
4. Resin Tomb – Resin Tomb
It’s dissonant, grindy death metal, a heck of a debut, and a great way to start your exploration of the Brisbane underground. Not really sure what else you could possibly need? A cold beer maybe? The end of the pandemic? I’m not a magician, just an idiot with incredible taste and endless recommendations.
3. Vital Spirit – In the Faith That Looks Through Death
Spoiler alert: 2020 was a great year for debut EPs. As with Wayfarer, there’s plenty of room on the ol’ bandwagon for fans of Western Metal, and Vital Spirit’s debut is both vital and spirited, taking a slightly different angle to reach the same great heights. I originally wished there was more blackened cowboy music out there, but there’s a lot to be said for niche genres that contain only earnest quality.
2. Lamentari – Missa Pro Defunctis
“Holy shit.” That’s what I said to myself at least thrice while listening to this magnificent symphonic black metal gem. It’s epic, perfectly composed, and a hell of a debut (have you discovered the theme of this section?).
1. Fleshvessel – Bile of Man Reborn
Set aside 25 minutes, remove distractions, and just listen to this damn thing. Debut EPs of a single long song with programmed drums and unusual instruments should not be this good. It’s gurgly death metal until it’s not. Bile of Man Reborn does exactly what an EP should: introduce something fresh that leaves the listener craving more. Fleshvessel, please continue to experiment with your death metal, and your flutes and strings, and your programming, and your formats. I get the feeling our minds aren’t done being blown.
There was plenty of non-metal that I dug this year, but I’m much less list-oriented outside of the heavy stuff, so I’ll spare y’all a half-assed list. However, I do need to mention that King Buffalo is the finest stoner rock band in the business right now, and Dead Star is my #1 non-metal album of the year by a mile.
Thanks for reading, and here’s to a better 2021 for us all.