Albums of the Year 2020

Last year, I closed this post by giving a shoutout "that's all folks, see you next year and stay alive". Ironically enough, I should never have opened my mouth and give any kind of wishes on a year that proved to be one hell of an amusement park ride, constantly feeling like a nightmare simulation you can`t wake up from. Misery and existential dread didn`t just knock on our doorsteps, it came in crushing down the house, left everything in splinters and locked down the pandemonium of the century.

It was only unavoidable for this situation to affect our scene as well, as all of touring plans went down the drain because of a global cancellation. However, the music machine never stops and apart from works inspired by these conditions, there were plenty of notable releases regardless, showing how inspiration and creativity can still make steps with the help of the internet, even when life seems to have been brought to a halt. Staying at home challenged everyone’s sanity, which fed fans and artists alike with angst to channel into creation, and happily for me, isolation meant more thorough music listening and meditating, that helped my processing of new albums. 

But that`s trickier than it sounds, as the new age of music creation has made it basically effortless to put out something and release it to the world. Bands have proliferated, with proper intentions but poor execution most of the time. It makes the work of the extreme metal armchair scholar harder and harder, not just because of the increasing number of works, but because of how uninspiring and bland they are. At the same time, running into a visionary artist after a while makes the experience worth it even more. 

This year, a playlist was started on Spotify adding enjoyable tracks from the year, which you can listen to here. As I`m not a fan of picking specific tracks off records and listening to those only (at least not usually), maybe I will not continue this trend for 2021 or I`ll just keep it for myself. We shouldn`t choose the easy way when consuming a band's work, every track has its purpose, go through all of it or begone.  A series of playlists were also made during the first lockdown in spring, focusing mostly on black metal and touching upon specific aspects I had in mind when making them. A follow-up, more diverse playlist was created in the second lockdown during the autumn. In case you have missed them, all can be found by following this link. 

Irrespective of the current year list, throughout the year I finally put together Top 10s for all previous years starting from the late 80s until 2012, it will be a dynamic page adding & updating information as time progresses if I see fit. So now, there is in its completion, a source for striking albums per year, starting from the beginnings of extreme metal until this day. In terms of numbers, I managed to listen to 913 full length albums in 2020 (the day this post was written, Metal Archives had reported 7990 releases for the year) and picked my most-listened 50 out of the ones I enjoyed throughout the year to comprise this list, trying to at least follow with most major band releases and new acts that seemed interesting. 

On the other hand, some of the disappointments (only fitting to add up in this already bleak year) were found in the new albums by Svart Crown, Temple Nightside, Dumal, Enslaved, Uada, Vassafor, Inquisition and Afsky. Instead of focusing on that, check the other smaller posts:


Good albums 

Top 10 Non-Metal 

Top 10 Greek Metal

Top 10 EPs 


Arson Café’s top 50 albums of 2020


50. Skeletal Remains – The Entombment of Chaos

49. T.O.M.B. – Thin the Veil

48. Caustic Womb – Death Posture

47. Kommodus – Kommodus

46. Gorephilia – In the Eye of Nothing

45. Order of Orias – Ablaze

44. Bythos – The Womb of Zero

43. Aversio Humanitatis – Behold the Silent Dwellers

42. Guignol Noir – Mantric Malediction

41. Lamp of Murmuur – Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism

40. Primitive Man - Immersion

39. Katavasia – Magnus Venator

38. Golden Light – Sacred Colour of the Source of Light

37. Okkultokrati – La Ilden Lyse

36. Caverne – Omphalos

35. Sinistral King – Serpent Uncoiling

34. Korgonthurus – Kuolleestasyntynyt

33. Blaze of Perdition – The Harrowing of Hearts

32. Karmacipher – Introspectrum

31. Fawn Limbs – Sleeper Vessels

30. Ebony Pendant – Incantation of Eschatological Mysticism

29. Grafvitnir – Death’s Wings Widespread

28. Terminarch – Anthropocene

27. Utkena – Nex Fornix

26. Of Feather and Bone – Sulfuric Disintegration


Top 25


25. Kawir – Adrasteia

24. Winterfylleth – The Reckoning Dawn

23. Skelethal – Unveiling the Threshold

22. Beneath the Massacre - Fearmonger

21. Imperial Triumphant – Alphaville


~~~~~


20. Blood Red Fog – Fields of Sorrow

Abode of shadows


Long history under their belts, and barely in the company of unsung heroes of their country at least in my opinion, due to the more experimental nature of the band. Blood Red Fog have a series of good albums you can choose from and the latest installment, Fields of Sorrow, emphasizes on a rather quirky approach to black metal, adding extra spacey samples but not in away of other more famous bands that you might imagine. The core is still traditional, more towards the emotional side of the scale than the aggressive, with some Burzum influences and a format that would be enjoyed by fans of atmospheric / depressive black who would endure some unusual twists in the music. Highlighted tracks are “Gallows Poles and Shallow Graves” and “Mustasta Unesta”. [Listen]


19. Sxuperion - Omniscient Pulse

Myopian frequency release 


Pitch black in the labyrinth. That's what it feels to listen to Omniscient Pulse, which expands on the band's previous album Endless Spiritual Embodiment, released just last year. And I understand that Sxuperion's subjects are nothing like that, like the hint that is given from the cover. But in all seriousness, from all the bands that try to adapt the Incantation / Immolation maneuver this time only the music is manages to be original, convincing, bred by scourging riffs, solos, several samples and out worldly melodies. The production is filth, there is some echoing added to the deep growling and the drums sound amazing, especially in the self-titled track, which is also a highlight. Apart from the last long track, most of them are short in duration with massive guitar lines, simple but effective, with very few -but existing- black metal touches. I only caught "cowards die many times before their death" in the narration of that ending track (possible Julius Ceasar reference), but samples like these are used, and in general the atmosphere exerted from Omniscient Pulse is what makes Sxuperion a successful hit for the year. [Listen]


18. Akhlys – Melinoë

Speak now through me


The music of Akhlys can be intimidating if you don`t know what you`re getting yourself into. Personally, I have always found the works of Bestia Arcana the most intense of all when it comes to Naas Alcameth’s involvements, but of course Nightbringer and now Akhlys even further, are powerful entities in the scene. The latter shouldn`t live in the shadow of the former, as both The Dreaming I and now Melinoë are thick, complete chapters, with an entrancing atmosphere that no band outside this collective manages to convey. It also is an improvement of the previous material, the multi-layered compositions have been built even more, melodic parts have been pushed a bit further in the front always by Akhlys standards, and each track is a beast of its own (don`t skip the dark ambient piece “Succubare”). There is new breath from this project at a time when Nightbringer have come close to saturation, and when the result is this adequate, five years between albums is something we should live with. [Listen]


17. Black Curse – Endless Wound

Pour molten gold down my throat


Damn, this is heavy. And it is what happens when members from all the hot extreme metal bands from the US meet and decide on creating music together, namely peeps involved in Blood Incantation, Primitive Man, Khemmis and Spectral Voice. After a demo with the same title last year, the band focuses its effort to bring out a massive death metal album which is a total, bestial stampede. If you think of accurately placed, slower parts here and there, considering the excellent musicianship that fully delivers when it comes to the quality of the compositions and the structural variety, you have yourself a textbook example of the grotesque quality we long for in this music. Even if you’re not in the hype train of the aforementioned tracks, Black Curse might still have something you wouldn`t expect to find. For me, Endless Wound does not have any obvious flaw. [Listen


16. October Falls – A Fall of An Epoch

The flood of drought

This is a band with long history and its roots into ambient / neofolk. A turn towards black metal was made at some point in their second album, but their natural affinity towards these themes never went away, and I really started appreciating it with the second album from 2008, The Womb of Primordial Nature. October Falls never abandoned these roots and it`s clearer than ever in 2020, as the project (led mainly by Mikko Lehto), after seven years of silence, released not one but two albums this year and apart from A Fall of An Epoch, Syys was purely acoustic. While I usually don`t like double releases in one year, when the approach and purpose in each work differ then it only makes sense to go down that path and both works in this case are wonderfully constructed. Another really solid release added to the arsenal of October Falls, a band that's a master in its field by now. [Listen]


15. Mystras – Castles Conquered and Reclaimed

Old dusty books are opened, new ideas fervently discussed


I was anxiously waiting for the release of this album from the moment it was announced, as a side project by one of the most talented musicians from Greece, Spectral Lore’s Ayloss. It turned out to be a more interesting record than expected because of its sensational music, and inordinately interesting concept, which isn`t just about glorious knights and kings if you thought of that. Mystras explores the rebellious stories of figures who stood against the tormenting monarchs of their times, shining light to the real stench of life behind the shiny armors we choose to remember now, traveling around parts of Europe with such examples. This project is as close as you can get to the term medieval black metal, which has been exercised by bands over at the French coast the last few years, but there is a significant difference in the conceptual approach and the music of Mystras, speaks volumes. I loved everything on this album, by far my choice among Ayloss’ other activities this year (Astrology of the Nine and Ontrothon). Highlighted track is “The Murder of Wat Tyler”. [Listen]


14. Sorcier des Glaces - Un Monde de Glace et de Sang

The dust over centuries of treason and gloom


(full post here) It is truly moving to see such long runner bands that have shown their quality for many years and stayed honest to their character no matter how the genre evolved or changed, to keep releasing such amazing material. I’ve said many times that Sorcier des Glaces are underrated, but they are respected among the audience that is aware of their activities over the last couple of decades, and Un Monde de Glace et de Sang is just another powerful record with the band’s best self. Traditional black metal with cold melodies, distant keyboards, a winter / snow fixation, by musicians that in a way pioneered it during the late 90’s. The tracks are mixed in French or English, pick your poison, and the Necromantia cover is the cherry on top. [Listen]


13. Lantern – Dimensions

Shrine of revelation 


The recent years, the industry has developed major signs of nostalgia towards old school death metal, with many bands incorporating such an agenda through the lens of modern sound and time. In such years, it`s literally heartwarming to witness bands that explore the genre in their own way, without giving into extreme experimentation to do it. Such a band is Lantern, whose blend of black / death metal is not made of completely new elements, it maintains the vibes of "cavernous death" but at the same time, blossoms not from replaying but from original songwriting. The last track "Monolithic Abyssal Dimensions", clocking at 14 minutes, is where the real adventure happens. However, tunes like "Strange Nebula" and "Shrine of Revelation" are pure bangers. Just please, do not use the kind of semi-clean vocals like in "Portraits", which was the only misstep in the record. Hopefully, it didn`t ruin the result and I still hold the best opinion on Dimensions, for its numerous memorable moments. [Listen]


12. Arkheron Thodol – Rituals of the Sovereign Heart

Pulling dross from phosphorus 


This band had started well with their debut but I didn`t expect such a big leap forward with the follow-up record, Rituals of the Sovereign Heart. There`s nothing short of epic atmospheric black metal in this album, with impressive complex tracks that build on a great variety of musical ideas as they unfold. It changes form throughout the experience, having powerful moments and concepts strongly related to nature but not as superficially as you might assume. Arkheron Thodol is by now one of the most inspiring bands in this territory for their personal sound and very strong textual background, with an unbelievable ease in making long compositions and provoking all feelings. The music speaks for itself, but it`s the whole essence of the band that takes it to the next level. Listening to Rituals of the Sovereign Heart while hiking is an experience that makes it worth being human. [Listen]


11. Fides Inversa – Historia Nocturna

Tied limbs on the edge of ecstasy


Finally time for the third Fides Inversa album, floating in the same black waters like bands of the Swedish modern black metal scene, thou-shalt-not-be-named French pioneers, brewed through guitar atonality and a new, passionate singer (no other than Wraath of Darvaza / Behexen) to add up in all of that. Historia Nocturna takes glory in its majestic guitar work, full of frenetic and awesome riffs that bang hard, along the pummeling drums and the overall well written musical work that is made of the same elements as these bands you’re already thinking about, but not as mere blind followers. Offering non-stop, visceral entertainment, the record is fueled from the tracks’ prowess in intensity and shows clearly where Fides Inversa stand in 2020, just among the top black metal bands of their kind. [Listen


10. Sunken – Livslede


A dream hidden behind haze and fog 

(full post here) I'm glad I decided to listen to Sunken's debut Departure in 2017, which was an astonishing effort that caught me off-guard at the time. With Livslede, I was aware of the band's capabilities and welcomed this atmospheric black metal brilliancy with open arms, a record that shows that the Sunken's first steps (including the fine 2013 demo) are no accident, but instead we have a case of an impressive project that is emotionally fueled and almost flirts with DSBM but without the pretentious life loathing. Livslede is comfortable with long compositions, ethereal keyboards, painful vocals, and deep enough musical variety to keep you hooked without getting boring. Highlighted track is "Foragt". [Listen]


9. Ondskapt - Grimoire Ordo Devus

Old and hideous 

I still remember the impact Ondskapt’s second album Arisen from the Ashes had on me in 2010, and how it redirected my attention towards a certain craft of Scandinavian black metal, and not only. Since then, I never thought the band would return to action, but I have been surprised many times in the past. It feels like not a day has passed, and they are not even a little bit rusty. On the contrary, Grimoire Ordo Devus is top-notch Swedish black metal that overthrows most of its contemporaries, with a plethoric, massive sound and furious compositions of endless energy and efficiency. It`s also quite a long release, almost up to an hour, and climbed up the 2020 very rapidly only after a few listens, as I absolutely adore Ondskapt’s talent in composing their characteristic, infectious guitar melodies, and this album is full of them. [Listen]


8. Oldowan Gash – Hubris Unchained

Let's poison the air with our breath

It might be my most exciting discovery for the year, Oldowan Gash is a one-man project from the US by a man nicknamed Forlorn Spirit, who also has another band named Desert Eagle that released a great demo just a couple of months ago. Hubris Unchained had me stuck at the speakers literally from the very first riff, and the interest didn't go away as the album progressed. While based on simple black metal principles, the necessary filthiness is well distributed and it's not too repetitive or dull, mixing elements from US raw black metal and melodic patterns found in Finnish black metal. Oldowan Gash succeed in creating compelling tracks with scathing riffology and enough rhythmic variety, making Hubris Unchained a pleasing album that you can easily listen to all day. I like how he doesn`t hide behind saturated black and white covers and beyond recognition lo-fi production, instead the music is the protagonist and the parts laid out on the table clearly. If you skip it, you`re missing out. [Listen]


7. Malokarpatan – Krupinské Ohne

Followers of an ancient faith, hidden among common folk


Right here, we have album of the year material. In fact, we have a band that should orbit and be remembered among the most dynamic and competent acts of the last years. Many times, artists try to fuse heavy and black metal. The two genres are strongly linked with substyles sharing a lot of common things, as well as early influences and directions. But today, it is mostly just metallers trying this mixture of heavy black metal, and often it sounds like an uninspired mash up. Finally, a savior has come to uplift this sound into new heavens, coming from passionate followers with an extreme capability in songwriting and storytelling. Krupinské Ohne goes on like a magical dream, with strong heavy metal parts of perfect riffs, solos and tempos, a playful fairytale-like attitude, at times intense Bathory nuances but above all, its own language, and own lyrical subjects to share. Reading and listening to this adds to the experience, I loved the process, and the cover art is dazzling. Malokarpatan had shook the scene with their previous two releases, and already won the hearts of many heavy metal fans out there. The latest record stayed in my playlist longer than their previous stuff, but that does not say anything. This is just impressive, fresh and traditional at the same time, and its own sense, one of a kind. [Listen]

6. Ripped to Shreds – 亂 (Luan)

Perilous paths lay ahead

You're late to the Ripped to Shreds wagon if you discovered them with 亂 (Luan). The band's second full length album sounds fresh, chaotic and has perfected all the slight flaws of previous material. It is more mature, well written and full of interesting ideas, it is far from typical death metal boredom and thrives on its destructive riffs and solos. Equally adequate either when it's melodic or aggressive, in the hands of an extremely juicy line up and interesting lyrics to go along with it: the Chinese character means chaos, and it was the same that was used in Akira Kurosawa's film Ran from 1985, both war-related pieces in their own way. Ripped to Shreds refer to Chinese folk tales but also to more modern social issues of their origins, as a band that currently exists at two spots in the world, which makes this overly high-level death metal work even more unique. Finally, Luan might have my favorite cover art of the year.  [Listen]

5. Fluisteraars – Bloem

Ash swirls around the room

(review here) In a sense, Fluisteraars grew with solid influences are guidelines, and finally reached the point to release their most personal and intriguing album. Bloem isn`t by any means an average atmospheric black metal album and showcases a palette of brilliant ideas expressed through various instruments that could be considered unusual, while everything is played in perfect harmony. Its five tracks are all wonderful, if you want the intensity of "Nasleep", or the calmer, climatic ending of "Maanruïne", the elegant guitar lines of "Tere Muur", when at the same time taking an arguably rough language and make it sound like speech of the angels. The Dutch scene is growing, with many quality bands in the underground scene, and a very talented duo fronting the wave, Fluisteraars is on the rise and only the sky is the limit now. [Listen]

4. Precambrian – Tectonics 

Volcanic winter 

(full post here) If you told me some months ago that Precambrian would not only return, but they would release a full-length album, I would have laughed. I expressed how their compilation Glaciology summed up the band's short discography, but I thought it was an ending chapter and not a hint that completely new material was on the way. And Tectonics is exactly what you think it is. Relentlessly heavy, in pure hatred, violent hard hitting black metal that doesn't stop for a breath, with immense guitar riffs and gruesome vocals, for geology enthusiasts and Hate Forest nostalgics. Among the million directions of experimentation within extreme metal, it's phenomenal when more phenomenal / stripped down albums exert that much brutality, and yes, the sudden endings in the tracks are exactly how things should be with this band. A Precambrian record was a wish that I never thought would solidify, and it's better than I imagined. [Listen]

3. Panzerfaust - The Suns of Perdition – Chapter II: Render Unto Eden


The tree of knowledge is not that of life 

(full post here) Panzerfaust started something interesting last year in a new, planned conceptual trilogy, but I have a feeling it was now with the second album that they got significant exposure. Undoubtedly, Render Unto Eden features elements of the modern black metal wave reproduced very efficiently, and each track proves to be extremely powerful, as the band seems to be on a great trajectory when it comes to inspiration in this time period. Well-rounded and several steps ahead than previous their previous material, the album achieves consistency and makes up a memorable experience in a direction that could be worshipped by fans of Mgła (and by the way, please avoid all the copycats of the Polish masters). Atmospheric and heavy from start to finish, Render Unto Eden is Panzerfaust's bold attempt to elevate higher, only time will tell. [Listen]

2. Skáphe – Skáphe³  

A spiritual bypass

If you also noticed how the red colors of the artwork of Skáphe³ became more vivid and vibrant compared to their two previous albums, then you surely also noticed that the same happened with their music. I have deep admiration for the approach of Skáphe as a project, as well as huge respect for the two individuals who are involved, but their compositional mastery under the touch of Midas in Necromorbus Studios boosted this piece into new, uncharted territories of next level black metal. Through loose, paranoid songwriting, the band scratches away the real world as the record is unfolding, maintaining straightforward intensity and non-conventional patterns that are fierce, and highly addictive. Listening to only one track off Skáphe³ would be absurd, but when you listen to it as a whole, it demonstrates its dominance as maybe the peak of the band's discography so far. By far one of the most memorable black metal releases I have heard in a while, very focused and unique, coming from sincere and hardworking musicians of the scene. [Listen]

1. Ulcerate – Stare Into Death and Be Still

Idle as it burns to ember

Ulcerate reside in an alternate universe. To fathom their musical soundscape is very difficult, and the fact that they are merely labeled "technical death metal" is way to limiting to describe their endeavor. They have been on a spree with their last few albums, but what happened in Stare Into Death and Be Still surpassed all expectations and wiped off the table of competition leaving only their stamp. It is a massive album with an inconceivable flow, deep textual branches, crushing musicianship and even more crushing compositions. The band doesn`t go full bore onto intensity, it slightly explores more atmospheric elements (distant connections to popular post-metal from the last two decades) but every single note still screams of Ulcerate, this is what the band has come to now. Records like Stare Into Death and Be Still depict the colossal dimensions death metal can overtake, it is an absolute masterpiece of sheer brilliance from whatever angle you approach it. The perfect soundtrack for the year, I bow to the best -nontraditional- death metal band on the planet. [Listen]


~~~~~


Every time the procedure proves to be more and more exhausting, and the last days of 2020 are meant for asceticism and recovery. I'm not giving out any prediction for next year, only that I hope it will be as boring as possible. Below is the visual sum-up of these last twelve months, with most of the music that kept us good company in this long period:


F.T.W.

Comments

  1. As every year, always sharp bro :) Thanks for the effort and for sharing. Greetings from TJ, México.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular Posts