Best of 2020

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.

Honorable Mentions:

-Kvelertak–Splid

Kvelertak - Splid (1 Black LP, 1 Gold LP) - Amazon.com Music

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.

8. Ulthar–Providence

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.

6. Deftones–Ohms

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.

5. Uada–Djinn

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.

4. Necrot–Mortal

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.

MIDNIGHT.

Shows–FUCK

1. Opeth–February 14, 2020–Riviera Theatre, Chicago, IL

Movies

10. The Rental

9. Borat 2

8. Possessor

7. Shirley

6. Palm Springs

5. Vast of Night

4. Mangrove

3. Spree

2. Black Bear

1. Bliss (I know it technically came out in 2019, but let me have this)

Television:

10. Devs

9. Search Party

8. Bojack Horseman

7. Ozark

6. Lovecraft Country

5. Curb Your Enthusiasm

4. Queen’s Gambit

3. The Boys

2. Rick and Morty

1. Better Call Saul

Best of 2019

Death metal dominated this year after black was on top for so long. Stellar quality across the board though. I didn’t make it to as many shows as I would have liked, but I did get to see current titans Tomb Mold and Khemmis, so can’t complaint too much. Psycho and Decibel Metal and Beer and Migration next year? Whos with me?

BEST RECORDS OF 2019

Honorable mentions:

-Essence of Datum–Spellcrying Machine

-Immortal Bird–Thrive in Neglect

-Obsequiae–The Palms of Sorrowed Kings

-Tool–Fear Inoculum

10. Blood Incantation–Hidden History of the Human Race

9. Gatecreeper–Deserted

8. Black Sites–Exile

7. Blut Aus Nord–Hallucinogen

6. False–Portent

5. Darkthrone–Old Star

4. Haunt–If Icarus Could Fly

3. Amon Amarth–Berserker

2. Tomb Mold–Planetary Clairvoyance

1. Crypt Sermon–The Ruins of Fading Light

Movies—

  1. Under the Silver Lake
  2. Parasite
  3. Uncut Gems
  4. Ready or Not
  5. Velvet Buzzsaw
  6. Booksmart
  7. Midsommar
  8. The Irishman
  9. The Lighthouse
  10. The Perfection

TV

  1. Watchmen
  2. Succession
  3. Rick and Morty
  4. Fleabag
  5. Mr. Robot
  6. Righteous Gemstones
  7. Stranger Things
  8. Broad City
  9. True Detective
  10. Russian Doll

Shows

  1. Riot Fest
  2. Iron Maiden
  3. Lucifer
  4. Amon Amarth
  5. System of a Down
  6. Baroness and Khemmis week
  7. Tomb Mold
  8. COC
  9. Black Lips
  10. Earthless/Maggot Heart

Best of 2018

I love all the year ends. They always bring new leads for excellent stuff that I missed, and reminds me to give a few additional spins to records I may have neglected for a few months. I got hot takes on all kinds of shit, so let’s go:

MUSIC

Disappointment

Clutch–Book of Bad Decisions

Sucks to put this here, but any Clutch record that isn’t an instant top 10 has to be considered a disappointment. I’m with the people criticizing the production–there’s a song on here called “Weird Times” that sounds like the Black Keys, and the Black Keys have a song called “Strange Times,” and just the prospect of finishing this thought makes me uncomfortable so I’m moving right along.

And you know what was a “Bad Decision”…A crab cake song! Nailed it.

Honorable Mention

Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats–Wasteland

Tomb Mold–Manor of Infinite Forms

Lucifer–II

Scars on Broadway–Dictator

Revocation–The Outer Ones

Top 10

10. At the Gates–To Drink From the Night Itself

Image result for to drink from the night itself

The band doesn’t miss a beat with a new guitar player (somehow–how can there be only one Bjorler in At the Gates?) and picks up the energy from the return album. A savage live show at the Decibel Beer and Metal Festival didn’t hurt either.

9. Horrendous–Idol

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They seem to keep pumping them out. A little concerned that nothing has topped Ecdysis for me, but that’s like saying I’m concerned that Covenant and Domination aren’t quite as good as Blessed are the Sick. These guys are reaching that pantheon, and they are still early in their career. An Enslaved-like trajectory towards a decade of brilliance (say, Isa through RIITIR?) is not out of the question.

8. High on Fire–Electric Messiah

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Thunderous return to form. Fuck that Sleep record, fuckin HIGH ON FIRE!!! (not really, but kinda).

7. Skeletonwitch–Devouring Radiant Light

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The initial reviews were confusing for this one because I just did not see a legit black metal turn for this band–maybe because my favorite record of their’s, Breathing the Fire, is basically a Kreator record. But damned if they didn’t go from Kreator to almost Memoria Vetusta-style Blut Aus Nord. Very impressive.

6. Agrimonia–Awaken

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This sounds like Opeth if Opeth still sounded like Opeth. I see sludge and post monikers when looking at reviews of this. Don’t believe it. If you want to hear some mid-period Opeth type shit, look no further. Those sludge and hardcore tinges help keep Agrimonia just original enough. But again. Opeth.

5. Judas Priest–Firepower

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WAITING FOR LIGHTNING TO STRIKE

4. Khemmis–Desolation

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Could have been the best record if not for the opener Bloodletting, which I still can’t figure out after dozens of spins. I have no idea what that song is supposed to be. But Isolation and Flesh to Nothing? Crystal clear on those–trademark Khemmis epics. Also, any takedowns regarding the alleged quality of the sparse harsh vocals should be dismissed immediately. Its just someone trying to find a reason to be contrarian. Khemmis rules, jump aboard.

3. Amorphis–Queen of Time

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Maybe their two best records back to back roughly 30 years into their career. Stunning…but not number 1 because nothing here quite reached the heights of something like the The Four Wise Ones from Red Cloud. But still better than almost anything else out there, and The Golden Elk comes close.

2. Zeal and Ardor–Stranger Fruit

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I thought Devil is Fine was an interesting curiosity and nothing more. If you had a similar impression of this band overall, divest your self of it immediately and check this out. If you like rock, you’ll like a lot of blues. And if you like the blues and black metal, this shit will blow you away.

1. The Atlas Moth–Coma Noir

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The Atlas Moth has had many great qualities across their first few albums, but straight up metal was not amongst them. Not anymore–the title song rips your face off in the middle (and the beginning, and the end), and there is somehow no let down as the record continues. Each song has an aspect that grabs you and makes you excited for the next track as the current one before it is winding down. That is the core quality of a great record, not just a record with some great songs on it. Coma Noir works as a whole (even when you can’t tell what Stavros is shrieking about). I had no idea they were capable of this.

Just for fun, here are my best of lists for TV, live shows and movies from this year as well:

TV:

10. Altered Carbon

9. Atlanta

8. Sharp Objects

7. Killing Eve

6. The Americans

5. Haunting of Hill House

4. Big Mouth

3. Bojack Horseman

2. Better Call Saul

1. Succession

Shows

10. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Live–April 4–Vic Theater

9. How Did this Get Made?–June 2 and 3–Athenaeum Theater

8. Judas Priest–April 6–The Venue

7. Yeah Yeah Yeahs–May 29–Aragon

6. The Chasm–August 16–Reggies

5. Zeal and Ardor–September 29–Subterranean

4. Decibel Beer and Metal Festival–March 31 and April 1–Philadelphia

3. Primus and Mastodon–June 6–Northerly Island

2. Pearl Jam–August 18 and 20–Wrigley FIeld

1. Nine Inch Nails–October 27–Aragon

Movies

*Shit, I forgot Sorry to Bother You–Let’s say #5*

10. Bad Times at the El Royale

9. Cam

8. Roma

7. Searching

6. Black Panther

5. Death of Stalin

4. Hereditary

3. Widows

2. A Star is Born

1. Annihilation