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, and now presented here in this digital printy version. Click on each album cover to listen on bandcamp. Happy New Year!
25. MORWINYON “PRISTINE”
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”
“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”
Energetic, melodic death that sounds like old school In Flames having hot, casual sex with Amon Amarth.
22. DAWNWALKER “AGES”
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”
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.
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’ Recor
Blackened, progressive post-metal that expertly weaves hardcore, shoegaze and other splendid sounds like a game of musical chairs in a dark fortress.
16. OLHAVA “LADOGA”
Dense, spellbinding soundscapes of melodic black metal ambiance. The musical equivalent of walking through a winter forest in faint 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. Hide your children.
14. FIRELINK “FIRELINK”
A blaze of dynamic, progressive black and death metal dedicated to Dark Souls video game lore that effortlessly switches between melodic mode and beast mode.
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”
An incredibly arresting and emotional doom album with passionate, alt-rock vocals and riffs thicker than an oil spill on a sea of bones.
11. LASCAILLE’S SHROUD “OTHERCOSMIC DIVINATIONS I”
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”
This is the best funeral doom album I’ve heard in some time. If diving beneath dark ocean waves to discover the mysteries of the deep 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”
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”
New death metal bands have gotten a lot of attention over the last few years, so it’s amazing to hear an album this dynamic and brilliantly alive from one of the genre’s originators (and one of my all-time favorites).
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: “Ashes Coalesce” by Lauri Laaksonen is my favorite album cover 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 AND 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 “Devouring Ruin” in February and it instantly became the album to beat in 2020. Eleven months later it has repelled all attacks on it’s #1 position like a Mandalorian helmet of pure beskar. This record 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 act 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 favorite bands in metal.