January 1, 2021

Most of last year sure did suck, but fortunately metal did not! Here are my Top 25 Metal Albums of 2020, originally revealed vocally on the Metalheads Podcast! Happy New Year!

25. Morwinyon “Pristine”

Naturmacht Productions

Atmospheric black metal with space-liquid synths that make you long for the stars. “Pristine” is a perfect melding of ambient and black metal, which are two of my most favorite things.

24. Black Royal “Firebride”

Suicide Records

“Firebride” is basically a headbanging battery. Every track is a roar of high voltage riffs. You plug this sucker in and your energy automatically goes up by 666 percent. Guaranteed.

23. Astralborne “Eternity’s End”

Prosthetic Records

Energetic, melodic death that sounds like old school In Flames having hot, casual sex with Amon Amarth.

22. Dawnwalker “Ages”

Self-Released

Prog-folky, post-metal that makes for a perfect, heartfelt goodbye to the world just before the apocalypse comes.

21. Cryptic Shift “Visitations from Enceladus”

Blood Harvest Records

Inventive, interstellar metal that offers a galaxy of shapes and sounds… from dissonant noise, to nebula-size hooks, to space travel passages of tranquility.

20. Vengeful Spectre “Vengeful Spectre”

Pest Productions

A battle sword of riffy black metal mixed with Chinese folk magic… and evil.

19. Gaerea “Limbo”

Season of Mist Records

A huge and menacing black metal album with a great sense of melody and one of the most passionate and emotive, growled vocal performances I’ve ever heard in metal.

18. Wayfarer “A Romance with Violence”

Profound Lore Records

Stirring black metal infused with the outlaw sounds of the Old West. I am your huckleberry, now and forever, Wayfarer.

17. Sons of a Wanted Man “Kenoma”

Les Acteurs De L’Ombre’ Records

Blackened, progressive post-metal that expertly weaves hardcore, shoegaze and other splendid sounds like a sexy game of musical chairs in a dark fortress.

16. Olhava “Ladoga”

Avantgarde Music

Dense, spellbinding soundscapes of melodic black metal ambiance. The musical equivalent of a walk through a cold, winter forest in moonlight.

15. Of Feather and Bone “Sulfuric Disintegration”

Profound Lore Records

“Sulfuric Disintegration” officially makes Of Feather and Bone the most evil, most dangerous sounding death metal band on the planet. Be afraid.

14. Firelink “Firelink”

Self-Released

A blaze of dynamic, progressive black and death metal dedicated to Dark Souls video game lore that effortlessly switches between melodic and seether modes.

13. Dephosphorus “Sublimation”

Nerve Altar Records

A cosmic convergence of grind, progressive metal and hardcore with heavy riffs and vocals that sound like a tortured alien spirit screaming as it’s being ripped away and taken to a galactic netherworld.

12. Witnesses “Doom II”

Self-Released

An incredibly arresting and emotional doom album with passionate, alt-rock vocals and riffs thicker than an oil spill on a sea of bones and gristle.

11. Lascaille’s Shroud “Othercosmic Divinations I

Self-Released

Fantastic, progressive death metal inspired by science fiction stories with a gorgeous blend of heavy riffs and Tron-sensitive synth.

10. Enslaved “Utgard”

Nuclear Blast Records

Take the deliciousness of classic Enslaved, then toss in a heaping spoonful of refined prog and a new box of vocal sugar. Stir and enjoy a delicious new twist on an old favorite! That’s this record. And I can’t stop eating it with my ears.

9. Drown “Subaqueous”

Prophecy Productions

This is the best funeral doom album I’ve heard in some time. If getting lost beneath ocean waves in total darkness sounds like an intriguing experience in musical form, “Subaqueous” is the record for you.

8. Ulcerate “Stare Into Death and Be Still”

Debemur Morti Records

An absolute colossus of inventive death metal delivered with the stark, desolate texture of an atmospheric black metal tundra.

7. Unleash the Archers “Abyss”

Napalm Records

A joyous melding of traditional, power and death metal with folk, rock, 80s pop and synth laser beams into a unique and captivating record that concludes the star-spanning, sci-fi/fantasy saga started on their previous record, “Apex.”

6. Unreqvited “Empathica”

Northern Silence Productions

A sweeping, cinematic epic in album form. “Empathica” is stunning, symphonic black metal that makes me feel like I’m soaring over ancient wonders in a haunted fantasy realm.

5. Incantation “Sect of Vile Divinities”

Relapse Records

A dynamic and brilliantly alive, death metal album from one of the genre’s originators, and one of my all-time favorite bands.

4. Megaton Sword “Blood Hails Steel – Steel Hails Fire”

Dying Victims Productions

“Blood Hails Steel – Steel Hails Fire” is the collection of high-fantasy war anthems I needed this year, with a field commander in Uzzy Unchained who I will follow into battle unquestionably. So, bark your orders and hurl your death curses at me, you tiny, dragon-lunged troubadour! TO ARMS!

3. Convocation “Ashes Coalesce”

Sentient Ruin Records

A titanic and horrifying new standard in death/doom, filled with equal parts blood-cloud thick atmosphere and grand, ethereal scope.

BONUS: The cover for Convocation “Ashes Coalesce” by LL (Lauri Laaksonen) is my favorite metal album art of 2020!

Picture if you will, dear metalheads, a world blanketed in perpetual night under dead stars, where black oceans drank the cities and turned everything to liquid shadow and ink. Only those lucky enough to be carried away from the unrelenting dark to the upper atmosphere by a mysterious crimson scarf can survive. Here, where all hope has nearly been swallowed up by oiled death and darkness, two human survivors make their last leap to the heavens… praying to see the color red and feel the soft fabric of rescue.

2. Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou “May Our Chambers Be Full”

Sacred Bones Records

A glorious marriage of folk-sexy sludge and post-metal with a dollop of MTV’s Alternative Nation from the 90s. One of the very best collaboration records I’ve ever heard. I like both acts on their own, but together they’ve conjured something uniquely magical with this album.

1. WAKE “Devouring Ruin”

Translation Loss Records

I received the promo for this album in February, so it’s repelled attacks for 11 months like a Mandalorian helmet of pure Beskar. It was my top selection at midyear and it remains at the peak of my list at the end of 2020. “Devouring Ruin” is an absolute behemoth of blackened crust, death and grind metal that impressively takes WAKE’s sound to another stratosphere while still retaining the heavy ferociousness of the band. WAKE was already a great grind band before “Devouring Ruin,” but by adding new, dynamic textures and layers to their songs they not only became a phenomenal band, they became one of my very favorites in metal.

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