Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Tom's Töp 15 Albums of 2020

In a year that has by all accounts been an absolute disaster, 2020 has some silver lining moments. Both of my boys started school (Pre-K and Kindergarten), the wife and I are still gainfully employed as teachers and just recently I am officially qualified as a Special Education teacher. I haven't seen a live show since March 5th but have managed to fill the void of camaraderie with a weekly Zoom call that I titled "Heavy Metal Happy Hour". If any of that crowd reads this just know that you have all helped me get through this year in particular, I can only hope for the same for the rest of you. There were also some totally kick ass albums released this year and considering the lack of live events to take some of that in, this needs to be celebrated. In many ways music was more important to me this year than in recent years all of my writing notwithstanding. 


Here is to 2021 and hoping it will be better than this eternal shit show, but now for some honorable mentions:

Godthrymm - Reflections
Pallbearer - Forgotten Days
Plague Years - Circle of Darkness

15. ACxDC - Satan Is King
For the uninitiated, much like myself Antichrist Demoncore (ACxDC) was a band I had seldom listened to but in the year that 2020 was; pissed off powerviolence seems to be just the off kilter chaos that we collectively needed, especially in the earlier months. Over 6 months later, this fills in that hardcore void in your soul that you didn't know you needed, but desperately pined for. 

14. Havukruunu - Uinuos Syömein Sota
Epic swirling black metal with plenty of bombast and Pagan dirges, bring this Havukruunu release to life. Moving at a midtempo throughout most of the album, the scope of Uinuos Syömein Sota brings an air of grandiosity to it that few albums were able to achieve this year. This is the ride into battle we all needed as we end the year and look towards a future that hopefully shines as bright as this Finnish foursome's third full-length foray. 

13. Lucifer - Lucifer III
Does anybody remember being able to responsibly take a road trip and blast music out the window? Well Lucifer clearly do, and their third full length is another rocking kick of adrenaline that was sorely missed this year. Employing nearly the same lineup as Lucifer II, Lucifer III is again fronted by the multi-talented Johanna Sadonis and her real-life partner and rock legend Nicke Andersson to help complete another great retro rock fest with riffs for days. 

12. Svalbard - When I Die, Will I Get Better?
British based hardcore unit Svalbard are a tough group to pin down. Vocalist Serena Cherry unleashes her outrage in a way that I haven't heard since Landmine Marathon's Grace Perry first graced my ears. To play in a hardcore and even crust way with lots of chaotic atmosphere going on in the background is truly a unique sound and one that feels inspired in an Alcest, meets Isis, meets Oathbreaker kind of way. If you need more fuel for your hatred and also a little hope this year, Svalbard delivers in droves.

11. Lamp of Murmuur - Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism
Black metal with a ton of melody, but raw black metal? I know I wasn't exactly sure what this would sound like before I heard it either but one man weapon M. is a force to be reckoned with. This album has all the hallmarks of '90s melodeath, Disecction, and Darkthrone all in one. This is one of the easiest listening experiences to this style of music I have ever come across and for a genre that this is not known for that, this surely stands out. Easily one of the best black metal releases of the year. 

10. Skeleton - Skeleton
Austin Texas based black metal meets hardcore in a raw way, Skeleton's self-titled debut was a great shot in the arm, in a way only bands like Midnight have seemed to do competently. 11 songs in 28 minutes is short form to get your point across but on Skeleton that is ample time. The title track covers all the bases for you in terms of their melding of styles and this eventually becomes one of the most fun listening experiences of the year. I'm looking forward to see what the future holds for them.

9. Nothing - The Great Dismal
Now for something completely different. A powerful shoegaze album that is downright beautiful in the vein of the classic My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive way of old and the Soft Kill sound of the new, Nothing's 4th proper album hits all the right negativity that 2020 invokes, but leans in with gorgeous soundscapes and atmosphere. Domenic Palermo and company might have released their very best album when we needed it most with strings adorning various passages, interspersed with great riffs and Palermo's vocals. Perhaps Nothing reaches its peak form on the ever-moving "Say Less". All I know is The Great Dismal is perfect for a moonlit walk under the stars; an album to help contemplate all that is life. 

8. Midnight - Rebirth By Blasphemy
Chaotic metal with Satanic intent is Midnight's ultimate goal and on album number four they bring back some of the bloodshed from previous releases for perhaps their best since their powerful debut Satanic Royalty. Venom was always at the heart of Athenar's sound and it is even more solidified here. Few bands evoke the rawness of the roots of black metal combined with a vile tone and Motorhead panache like Midnight consistently do. The title track, "Devil's Excrement," and "Raw Attack" are just some highlights from the ever-present sleaze that Midnight will continue to represent until they breathe their last breath. 

7. Eternal Champion - Ravening Iron
Moving from the vile to the victorious we have Ravening Iron, the sophomore release from Texas based epic metal band Eternal Champion. Frontman Jason Tarpey is a tour de force between his swirling melodies and even his chant-like "AH" which breaks up the fracas is a welcome return from their excellent debut The Armor of Ire. The guitars gallop along on "Worms of the Earth" occasionally picking up the pace during the chorus and breaking down into a combination of Manilla Road and Slough Feg; exactly what fans of epic heavy metal need in their lives. Bring your gauntlets folks, they already got all the girls.

6. Deftones - Ohms
In a year unlike any other I have looked beyond simplicity in some of my music and an overarching theme to this list has to be emotion and atmosphere, Ohms is no exception. Love them or hate them Deftones' contributions to heavy music are among some of the most important that I can think of over the last 25 years. Always hard to pigeonhole as strictly metal, but their level of heaviness transcends labels at this point. Ohms might be their best since Diamond Eyes showed that the band wasn't done releasing career defining albums after White Pony. "Ceremony" is a new classic and I can't wait to see how their excellent live show gets transformed with this new output. Essential heavy listening for any fan of alternative rock music.

5. Kvelertak - Splid
For a raucous party band, Kvelertak have rarely disappointed on their previous LPs, but after their last one they were down a vocalist and a drummer. Splid was the response and it stands next to their debut as one of their best albums. Fun is something we need in 2020 and Kvelertak provide that in droves. A slow intro on "Rogaland" gives way to new vocalist Ivar Nikolaisen whose pipes fit the punk element that Kvelertak represent with plenty of group chants to get the fans involved with the music on multiple levels. Melodic hardcore shouldn't be this heavy and also this much fun, but these Norwegians have always tended to balance these things out better than most. If you ever need a kick in the ass to motivate yourself to do just about anything Splid should be the go to move to push things in the right direction.

4. Malokarpatan - Krupinské ohne
More epics and atmosphere than you can shake a Master's Hammer at, these Slovaks write music that feels as though it is shouted from the mountaintops and fits the theme of a deep adventure. Krupinské ohne is their third proper full length and another set of songs that I have more trouble deciphering than Obituary lyrics, but the song structure here is the major draw. Every song is at least seven minutes in length and they really seem to have clearly defined movements, creating a sense of self that is nearly unmatched in terms of overall scale in 2020. Make sure to spin these five tracks as often as possible for maximum effect, you'll likely hear something new each and every time. Black metal with as epic a feel as you can imagine. 

3. Sweven - The Eternal Dissonance
With the demise of Morbus Chron back in 2015 and their excellent progressive second opus Sweven, a void was left in the death metal community. Founding Morbus Chron member Robert Andersson brings in two new members to form the band named after their ultimate album. The Eternal Dissonance is truly the follow up album that was needed as it fits the progressive hallmarks that the original Sweven did and at times might reach for greater heights. "By Virtue of a Promise" is the first fully fleshed out song, it undulates like a wave over the course of its nine minute run time with enough variety to keep it powerful for the duration. A deep death metal album with for fans of deeper and heavy albums with a sound somewhere between Horrendous and their former selves.

2. Napalm Death - Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism
Napalm Death are extreme metal legends, no one will debate this fact, yet for them to release a varied of the highest quality nearly 40 years into their storied career is a unique accomplishment unto themselves. Throes is the band's best album since 2009's Time Waits For No Slave; it certainly wasn't as though the albums released in between were slouches at all, this one just brings massive variety. Surely you have the oppressive tracks like "Fuck the Factoid" and "Backlash Just Because" but then you get the industrial tinged "Amoral" and the slow and heavy "A Belly Full of Salt and Spleen". The whole collective of the band sounds spectacular, with each member making their presence felt. Intelligent, pissed, and most importantly essential. This is a top five Barney Greenway album for sure.

1. Cirith Ungol - Forever Black
Back in the early 1970's a band formed in Ventura California and decided to name themselves after Tolkien lore by using Cirith Ungol as their moniker. After releasing four albums from 1981 to 1991 the band split up in 1992 leaving behind them an excellent discography of epic heavy metal tinged with Thin Lizzy love. Nearly 30 years had passed after Paradise Lost by the time Forever Black hit store shelves and the band had officially resurrected their storied career thanks in large part to Night Demon's Jarvis Leatherby who now serves as the band's bassist. Tim Baker's vocals are just as weird as you remember them but if you already like the band that is par for the course. The classic heavy metal here is without equal in 2020, riffs for days, excellent drum fills and fun bass lines make Forever Black an instant classic. Too many tracks to name here but plenty to solidify it as my #1 album of 2020. 

- Tom

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