An interesting year, with the top 10 list populated by entries spanning the genres of metal, and some probably not qualifying according to the more dick-ish of fans. A strong year that perhaps lacks the top-heavy strength of the recent Crypt Sermon and Atlas Moth list-toppers, but has a more consistent emphasis on records that provide some fucking fun. That’s no coincidence with the goddamn year we just had. Check it out, keep your heads up, and don’t let these MAGA fucks scare you.
A return to the self-titled record’s feeling of abandon.
-Dark Forest–Oak, Ash, & Thorn
Just silly enough stay below the Pharaoh/Slough Feg tier, but the riffs and song structures are undeniable–there’s Iron Maiden-worthy material here.
-Xibalba–Anos en Infierno
Beatdowns aren’t really my jam, but when they are married to maybe the best late-era Morbid Angel worship I’ve heard, I’ll forgive some of the machismo nonsense. Turn it on and get your ass beat like you’re 15 in a Slipknot pit all over again.
-Svalbard/Ripped to Shreds/Lamp of Murmuur
These are on me, as I failed once again to complete my homework and have not spun these enough. Suffice to say, what I’ve heard is impressive, and each one is a likely candidate to force their way on to the list. Also, can anyone tell me who Svalbard fucking reminds me of with that shimmer guitar technique? I will be forever indebted. Is it Cave-In? Converge? Explosions in the Sky? Fucked Up? ARGGHHH.
TOP TEN METAL RECORDS OF 2020
10. Sweven–The Eternal Resonance
A blessing of needed meditativeness in this year. Though it is sonically more akin to the Morbus Chron record that coined their name, the vibe I got was something along that woodsy black metal feeling conjured by Agalloch and Panopticon, when you just need to adjust your goddamn brainwaves.
9. Kvaen–The Funeral Pyre
If Kvelertak scratched that peak Turbonegro itch, Kvaen just straight flayed off that skin that’s been bumming out that Destroyer 666…well, you know.
New Wave of North American Death Metal cannot be stopped.
7. Havukruunu–Uinuos Syomein Sota
Havukruunu sheds the Moonsorrow-worship to fully realize a style all their own, somehow melding the epic feel of mid-period Bathory with raw black metal ferocity and a strong link to their folk roots.
An unsurprising return to form after whatever the hell Gore was, Ohms has some of Carpenter’s best 2nd-era riffs and a mature lyrical approach to go with the familiar heavy-verse/soaring-chorus dynamic Deftones mastered on Diamond Eyes. Their reliance on this paradigm is also what keeps Ohms from the top-5, though, as a few more risks structurally would be welcome next time around.
This album is much more accessible than I would’ve expected, with perhaps the most simplistic opening riff of an album I’ve ever heard for a well-regarded extreme metal band. Uada makes it work, with the moments of extremity mostly giving way to create a supremely unsettling yet inviting atmosphere. Unlike Sweven or Agalloch, I reached for this record to provoke existential fears rather than assuaging them. Which, fuck, this is black metal, sometimes that’s the point.
Pair with Gatecreeper and book ’em in Soldier Field, let’s will this stadium death metal thing into existence
just like QAnon willed into existence a new country while we laughed at how stupid Trump supporters were.
3. Paradise Lost–Obsidian
Such is Paradise Lost’s mastery that they followed their heaviest records in decades with their poppiest, and both are amongst the best records anyone released in each year. Not sure it helped my early-quarantine mood to spin this literally every day, but that’s not really this band’s lane, is it? Simply, Mackintosh and Holmes are masters of their craft, and its a privilege to hear them perform it.
2. Spirit Adrift–Enlightened in Eternity
Spirit Adrift achieves their potential and unleashes the album Metallica should have made after …And Justice for All. Hyperbole? You put on Ride Into the Light on a walk home from the bar and see if you don’t nearly fall into the street from jamming too hard. Totally didn’t happen to me. I’m 36.
1. Midnight–Rebirth by Blasphemy
Perhaps the biggest tragedy of 2021 is that the lockdown occurred right before these boys were scheduled to play Empty Bottle. There is one track that isn’t a stone cold classic, and even that tune is about Satan’s fecal matter. The rest? The best NWOBHM/early speed/early black metal album maybe ever.
Venom if they could actually write good songs; Judas Priest dragged through the fire; Motorhead fucking Quorthon.
1. Opeth–February 14, 2020–Riviera Theatre, Chicago, IL
10. The Rental
9. Borat 2
6. Palm Springs
5. Vast of Night
2. Black Bear
1. Bliss (I know it technically came out in 2019, but let me have this)
9. Search Party
8. Bojack Horseman
6. Lovecraft Country
5. Curb Your Enthusiasm
4. Queen’s Gambit
3. The Boys
2. Rick and Morty
1. Better Call Saul