TOP ALBUMS OV 2020 W/ 365, MCNULTY, AND EMESTER!

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Day 4 of LISTMANIA (a.k.a. As My BofA Lay Dying) is here. We’ve got GOLDEN BOY 365, McNulty and Emester on tap for you.

365 Days of Horror

10. Dark TranquillityMoment
Century Media Records

Dark Tranquillity returns for another welcome dose of melodic death metal. This time, though, they’re doing it without original guitarist and occasional lyricist Niklas Sundin. Almost impossible to replace, the band recruited Christopher Amott (Arch Enemy) and Johan Reinholdz (Skyfire) to fill Sundin’s shoes and they’ve done an excellent job. The classic Gothenburg Sound remains with catchy metallic riffs, Mikael Stanne’s unwavering vocals, and an aggressive drive that has carried Dark Tranquillity to their third decade of existence. The spark still remains in Dark Tranquillity as Moment burns bright from beginning to end.

9. Fires In The DistanceEchoes From Deep November
Prosthetic Records | Mini

Picking up the viscera-soaked torch left by bands like Swallow The Sun and Amorphis, Fires In The Distance burst forth this year with Echoes From Deep November. Devastating in every sense of the word, the band creates an atmosphere that slowly suffocates the listener with long-suppressed thoughts and feelings. An incredibly mature release for a debut album, each song is thoughtfully crafted and laid out. No riff or beat or throaty yell is wasted as every part has its place.  It’s heavy, bummer music for those of us that feel bad and want to continue to feel bad for a long time.

8. An Autumn For Crippled ChildrenAll Fell Silent, Everything Went Quiet
Prosthetic Records | Review

Back in April, I reviewed An Autumn For Crippled Children’s All Fell Silent, Everything Went Quiet. It was written in a dark room early in the morning during a lockdown. In many ways, it feels like I’m still in that darkened room, surrounded by the tortured screams and raging instrumentations of this album. Raw and unflinchingly honest, this album is the frustrated rage we all have inside us. We may not be able to scream from the rooftops or shake the uncaring incompetents that have driven us to our breaking points. What we can do, though, is put on our headphones and crank this album to 11. It’s a small but powerful respite from this cruel world.

7. Mitochondrial SunMitochondrial Sun
Argonauta Records

Speaking of Dark Tranquillity, Niklas Sundin forged his own path with the release of Mitochondrial Sun’s self-titled debut album. An atmospheric instrumental album that blends multiple instruments, sounds, and genres, Mitochondrial Sun delves into various soundscapes. Many songs would actually fit in perfectly as the soundtrack for a sci-fi or even horror movie. This album is wonderous audio adventure that goes above, below, beyond, and between space. Really cool stuff for those looking for something a little different.

6. UnreqvitedEmpathica
Prophecy Productions

A solo dynamo, Unreqvited continues to put out albums that are soaring in their beauty and crushing in their despair. Both styles give and take throughout Empathica, playing off each other, and creating an atmosphere of hope mired in the depths of uncertainty. Or, depending on your mindset, Empathica is the hopeless hands of depression gripping the ankles of dreams and desires and dragging them down into the emotional mire. The album is a journey that can mean many things to many people. There are depths and layers that can be explored and revealed upon each listen. Rich in sound and feelings, Empathica can guide you to unknown heights or squash you down to the deepest lows.

5. The White SwanNocturnal Transmission
War Crime Recordings

The White Swan’s Nocturnal Transmission is the definition of my favorite new subgenre, Passion Doom: slow, low, and achingly beautiful. Guided by Mercedes Lander (Kittie) each song cascades through a swamp of gliding vocals, fuzzy guitars, twinkling keys, and forceful drums. The EP features three originals and a cover of Tracy Bonham‘s ‘Tell It To The Sky’. Did I ever think I would be walking around singing a Tracy Bonham song to myself? No. No, I did not, but here we are, and really, it fits in perfectly with The White Swan’s dreamy dirges. I really look forward to The White Swan spreading their wings (no, I will not apologize for that word play) on future albums.

4. Stabbing WestwardDead & Gone
Self-Released

It’s been 19 years since Stabbing Westward’s last release and, incredibly, they haven’t lost a single, solitary step. Although it’s only a 3-song EP, Dead & Gone picks up right where the band left off two decades prior. Catchy hooks, dancey electronics, and Christopher Hall’s distinctive voice and, most importantly, the angst are still there. Every time I hear these songs, I’m transferred back into a moody teenager, writing bad poetry about how nobody understands me. Released just days into 2020, I can’t help but smile every time I hear Dead & Gone. A rare feat even in the best of times. My fingers are crossed for a full-length in the near future.

3. CavernPowdered
Self-Released | Mini

I said it before and I’ll say it again: Wow. Cavern’s Powdered is a powerful album that is equal parts indie rock, post-rock, and whatever other subgenres you want to namedrop. Every song is extremely catchy and instantly memorable. In a more rock-friendly time, this album would be receiving praise from all the top music magazines and tastemakers. Until that happens, we can love them and call them our own. Raise your hands and sway along to some of the best alt rock to come out in years.

2. AleahAleah
Svart Records

2020 has been a year of pain, anguish, and loss. Not a single person in the entire world has escaped the pandemic. We’ve all been touched and effected, not just in the present, but, most likely, the rest of our lives. Aleah’s posthumous self-titled album is the soundtrack for this unforgiving year. This multi-disc is a collection of her works recorded before her passing. Her beautiful, ethereal voice cuts through me like the sharpest blade. Each soft whisper and tender melody forces the tears from my eyes in a year awash in a tidal wave of anxiety, fear, and desperation. It’s in this beautiful agony that moments of emotional release can be found and a modicum of peace can be achieved.

1. Shades ApartEternal Echo
Hellminded Records

In my younger and more formative years (hat tip to F. Scott Fitzgerald), I had a local alternative rock radio station that opened up a new world of music to me. This station, 106.3 WHTG, was an institution on the Jersey Shore that introduced me to lots of great alt rock bands of the late ’90s and early ’00s. Beyond the usual bands of the time, the station would also play local bands coming up in the world. One of those bands was Shades Apart. Active since the late ’80s in the NJ punk scene, Shades Apart’s sound had shifted by the time I discovered them to a more alternative/punk rock sound full of hooks, leads, and catchy choruses. They were really one of the first bands I discovered on my own and I completely fell in love. I have since picked up all of their older material (check out Neon) and completely love all of it, but to this day, their albums Eyewitness and Sonic Boom receive constant play. Unfortunately, the band went on hiatus and were quiet for 19 years. Until now.

Eternal Echo picks up right where Sonic Boom left off. There’s always that undying hope that one of your favorite bands gets back together, but a little nagging fear in the back of your mind that if they do, they’ll have lost a step. Memories and nostalgia are almost always seen through rose-colored classes. Two decades is a long time to go without a new album. Voices can change, lyrics may no longer reflect what once was, and sometimes the body can no longer keep up with the head and the heart. Amazingly, Shades Apart has not lost a single step.

Eternal Echo sounds like it was ripped straight from the early 2000s and I couldn’t be happier. Every song makes me feel like I’m a teenager again, excited to hang out with my friends, see my crush at school, and go to the Birch Hill Nite Club on a Friday night. It’s the sound of summer romances and laughter with your family. Everything about this album brings a smile to my face. Relentlessly catchy and endlessly fun, Eternal Echo is the shot in the arm for a style of rock that has gone quiet over the past decade or so. Here’s hoping that with Shades Apart’s return also comes some more guitar-driven rock that can be enjoyed by large swaths of people. Let’s also hope they don’t want another 20 years to put out another album.

Jimmy McNulty

10. Warbringer – Weapons of Tomorrow
Napalm Records [but good] | Review

For my money, Warbringer is the best thrash band of all time. Accuse me of blasphemy if you must, but I think modern bands have the opportunity to seize upon the works of the past and improve upon them. This band’s career output is extremely consistent, never dipping too low; this is one of their better albums IMHO.

9. Kairon; IRSE! – Polysomn
Svart Records | Review

While this album is not my favorite by the band, it still makes the top 10. Sometimes our subjective tastes overrule any flaming toilet rating system, ya know? Roughly 3/4ths of the songs on here are totally rad, and that makes for a pleasurable listening experience.

8. Sturgill Simpson – Cuttin’ Grass Vol. 1 (The Butcher Shoppe Sessions)
Independent

Bluegrass and heavy metal share so much in common. If you don’t get it, go watch some bluegrass playthrough videos on Youtube. Sturgill is one of those young, modern country stars who doesn’t conform to the pop bullshit and also incorporates tons of hard rock and heavy metal into his normal style. Plus, he likes drugs (the good ones).

7. Faceless Burial – Speciation
Dark Descent

Unfortunately I haven’t had very many listens to this one, but its high quality is obvious from the first listen. This death metal album kicks so much rear end, yet I do not know precisely how to describe it. Forward thinking. Progressive. Riffs and solos. Great production. Shit kicks butt.

6. WobblerDwellers of the Deep
Karisma Records | {Still waiting on the vinyl}

Anyone else familiar with this Norwegian progressive rock band? They sound just like Peter Gabriel-era Genesis and maybe a little Yes and early Uriah Heep thrown in for good measure. Oh yeah, and Deep Purple‘s Hammond organ. Wobbler writes the occasional 10-20 minute long track, carrying the torch for those drugged-up ’70s prog rock bands of yore.

5. Depravity – Grand Malevolence
Transcending Obscurity | The Dumb Idiots at AMG Reviewed This But Were Right

Heckin’ death metal done rite. I haven’t fully absorbed this one, but I don’t need to. I just have to wait until the weather warms up a little and blast this motherfvcker from the speakers of the stock Bose system from the ’08 Altima with the windows down and scare passers-by. Hail TO!

4. Ulcerate – Stare Into Death and Be Still
Debemur Morti Productions

Ulcerate’s best album since The Destroyers of All. Which says a lot because the albums since then are also very good. This one occupies a strange spot where some music critics are calling it “their most accessible album to date” and in this rare occasion, it’s not an insult. Paid lots for the vinyl, and regret none of it. Amazing record.

3. Oranssi Pazuzu Mestarin kynsi
Svart Records

I never got my Oranssi Pazuzu tattoo, but it’s never too late. Who’s with me? This is one of my favorite bands of all time, and this album is…p gud. 6 long tracks and the first 4 are amazing. #5 is very good. #6 is filler. What that means is that I never have to play the third side of the vinyl release, I can just tell people that it’s a short album.

2. Cryptic Shift Visitations from Enchiladas
Blood Harvest Records | Review

The first song is a 25-minute progressive death/thrash song. QED. Read Sep’s billion word review if you need more 🙂

1. Mr. Bungle – The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo
Ipecac Records | Review (even though it’s hosted by our arch-nemesis)

I like a few songs by Mr. Bungle. I like tons of songs by Faith No More. But nothing prepared me for this absolute show-stopping thrash release. Hell, I didn’t even know they had a demo from ’86. But sure enough this surprise album wormed its way into my top 10. Not just that, it’s my #1. Not just that, I consider this to be my favorite thrash album ever. That is not a typo, my friends. The band’s sense of humor, talent, technical skill (those solos), and exciting songwriting place it above any shitty-ass record from early Metallica, Kreator, Sepultura, whatever.

Emester

I hate to beat a dead, COVID-ridden horse, but it goes without saying that 2020 has made for a dumpster-fire of a year. No, scratch that: it was closer to the whole god damn landfill being set ablaze. But, hey while your local venue may be shutting down due to Congress’ pathetic failure to provide any substantial stimulus relief for families and businesses that need them the most, at least we got a really good share of solid new releases from over the course of the year! So all’s good right?

10. Sweven The Eternal Resonance
Ván Records

While Sweven’s debut album may not match the same highs as the psychedelic death metal masterpiece from which its namesake is from, The Eternal Resonance still makes for a damn solid record. It becomes immediately evident in just the LP’s first moments that this three-piece spawned from the ashes of Morbus Chron is leaning even more into its prog-rooted, psychedelic sensibilities this time around.

Yes, it’s a change of pace that those expecting Morbus Chron again are going to easily acclimate to (if at all), but even on a cursory listen, one can make out the beloved songwriting sensibilities that made 2014’s Sweven a modern classic reemerge in The Eternal Resonance. And goddamn; it was a dream come true to finally hear that signature sound again after over more than half a decade. Welcome back, friends. 

9. DunwichTail Tied Hearts
Caligari Records

I hate progressive metal. Like a LOT. Which is why I’m so surprised that not only two of my favorite metal records from the year fall under this rancid nerd musk of a subgenre, but that one of them is by a far margin what I would consider the most exciting new project I’ve come across in 2020. Meet Dunwich. 

Equal parts Candlelight-era Opeth and gothic doom metal circa the ’90s,  Tail Tied Hearts, the debut LP from this rising Russian trio, plays with a sound and style that you could swear has been done a million times before. In reality, Tail Tied Hearts (and Dunwich itself) takes elements of the familiar such as romantic guitar noodling and eerie (i.e., charmingly cheesy) synth passages and mashes them together to create a record oozing in character and creativity. And of course, I have to make specific note of Margarita Dunwich’s phenomenal vocals on this thing as she simply is on a whole other level when it comes to performance ability, with her gorgeous cleans being complimented by genuinely sinister harsh growls. 

8. Emma Ruth Rundle and ThouMay Our Chambers Be Full
Sacred Bones Records

If you think about it for a second, the proposition of a collaboration LP between NOLA sludge GOATs Thou and renowned singer-songwriter and Marriages vocalist Emma Ruth Rundle isn’t just a genius idea but one that I’m surprised it took until 2020 to finally happen. Simply put, May Our Chambers Be Full absolutely rips. 

For one, ERR’s signature shoegaze-meets-doom metal-meets-folk sound in her solo work makes for a perfect complement to the dreamy and atmospheric passages that interlace their otherwise gnarly sludge metal beatdown of Thou. And on the flipside, Thou’s extreme metal sensibilities reinvigorate and bring to the forefront again ERR’s post-metal roots after years of dormancy since the last Marriages LP. Hand in hand with one another, both ERR and Thou bring to the forefront lesser appreciated but equally essential traits of their respective sounds as their most renowned stylings waltz and complement one another through the duration of May Our Chambers Be Full. 

If what ERR and Thou have crafted here is any indication of what their future material will sound like, then I think we have some of their best works yet to come. 

7. UndeathLesions of Another Kind
Prosthetic Records

As a born and raised New Yorker, I guess you can say that I have a bit of a love for the state’s death metal scene, like stop by the Artificial Brain merch table and talk about Pyrexia with Big Will for 15 minutes love. So it really did warm my heart to see New York just knock it out of the park this year when it came to new death metal releases. Afterbirth, Edenic Past and Funeral Leech put out some truly killer material this year more than worthy of your time alone, but with Lesions of a Different Kind, I think Undeath has finally asserted themselves at the highest echelons of the state’s current metal scene and in books of the New York Death Metal landscape as a whole. 

Through and through, Lesions is a nasty, raucous rager of a record, ripping through its 35-minute run time in a cavernous wave of viscera soaked carnage, like many a review or pull quote may tell you to some degree. And yeah, the record is damn superb in that regard, topping the already pristine works of putridity they put out with Caligari over the past handful of years. But where Lesions hits me the hardest is on a more sentimental level, as it absolutely PAINS me to know that this record won’t be played live anytime soon. In my book, Lesions of a Different Kind is everything and more one could want in a death metal record calibrated to bring across the most kick-ass live set one can fathom. And while this ideal way to experience Undeath’s latest is still a ways away, it speaks numbers of the sheer quality of Lesions of a Different Kind that even over a dozen listens later that I still can’t get enough of it. 

6. Defeated SanityThe Sanguinary Impetus
Willowtip Records | Review

Defeated Sanity has always sat somewhere along the more cerebral side of brutal death metal, managing to always squeeze in some semblance or flavor of tech-death or even prog sensibilities into each of their otherwise relentless works of brutal death metal mastery (Case in point, look no further than that self split concept record they put out a couple of years back. Side 2 is the epitome of ’90s progressive death metal worship in the vein of Cynic, Atheist, and mid’90s Death). And while The Sanguinary Impetus is no exception to this trend, this latest outing from Defeated Sanity showcases their talents in the most technically cohesive and fully realized manner yet among an already prolific resume.  

In the past, the works of Defeated Sanity sought to pummel a listener with booming, bone-crushing abandon. Whether it was due to enlisting the production talents of Colin Marston this time around or not, The Sanguinary Impetus immediately comes off as dizzyingly complex and bestially intense without either of those otherwise muddying the music as a whole. To depict this degree of nuance in an LP as gnarly as this is one hell of an achievement and, in retrospect, appears to be a culmination of Defeated Sanity’s discography so far. In summation: The Sanguinary Impetus is an undeniably brilliant slice of brutal death metal exuding Defeated Sanity’s technical and songwriting talents with such clarity that nothing is lost amongst its onslaught of slamming chaos. 

5. HaxanuSnare of All Salvation
Amor Fati Productions

Honestly, this year was pretty damn weak in terms of more traditional black metal releases. Sure, Paysage dHiver was fine, and I guess Oranssi Pazuzu made one of the year’s best records full stop, but what else was there really save for some absolute clown shit like Uada or whatever? 

The one real exception I can think of is this debut record from the duo Haxanu, titled Snare of All Salvation. And for an exception to this drought of otherwise good 2020 black metal releases, I would have never guessed in my wildest dreams that it would be one of a more melodic variety to do the trick for me. Truth be told, Snare of All Salvation sits somewhere between the epic melody-propelled works of classic ’90s acts such as Dissection and mid to late ’00s atmo-black, dressed with a decidedly punky gusto to drive it all home. In turn, Haxanu’s sound on Snare of All Salvation makes a very compelling case for itself: Vintage-spirited black metal that excels at pushing the more tried and trve aspects of the genre into fresh frontiers. As familiar as its stylistic components may seem in isolation from one another, together, they each coalesce to create a truly refreshing slice of black metal goodness in an otherwise pretty damn meh year for the genre. 

And that’s all without heaving the massive amounts of praise that A.P.’s instrumental performances and L.C.’s vocals are worthy of. By far and away the best I’ve heard this year, if not in several. Truly excited for whatever these two collaborate on next.

4. Couch SlutTake a Chance on Rock’ n’ Roll
Gilead Media

Regardless of how much shit genre purists would like to give me for including the latest thrashing of a record from Brooklyn noise rock/sludge metal quartet Couch Slut, Take A Chance On Rock ‘N’ Roll is, without a doubt, the angriest and heaviest record I’ve heard in all of 2020. And when most of the said year had me listening to hundreds of new records while on the work from home grind, that’s saying something. 

Unlike most metal acts who adopt nihilist aesthetics for the sake of posturing, following trends, or just fellating their own ego, Couch Slut’s anger and primal rage is one that is genuine and unfiltered. Megan O.’s vocal talents are unmatched in their intensity, impacting with the force of an icepick to a cop’s throat. And while Take A Chance On Rock n Roll sees Couch Slut take their sound down a sludgier, more mid-tempo course than albums past, this choice pays major dividends in driving home the real, lived-through horrors and systemic evils that the band’s lyrics depict. I think the best distinction one can make is that while most heavy music sounds angry and aggressive as a result of genre conventions, Take A Chance On Rock n Roll isn’t a vicious record just for the sake of sounding so. What Couch Slut has unleashed here is an exercise in genuine, ugly, and fully realized rage at the world we live in. And you should be angry, too.

3. Oranssi PazuzuMestarin Kynsi
Nuclear Blast

I honestly never thought all that much of Oranssi Pazuzu for the longest time. Couldn’t put my finger on it but something, for whatever reason, just wasn’t clicking. Then I saw the band perform live in 2019 and was fucking sold on them from that day forward. Calling Oranssi Pazuzu a black metal band buries the lede of the group’s krautrock-esque philosophy to songwriting: outwardly complex yet upon further inspection it’s marked by a level of conceptual insanity that it’s hard to fathom another musician being able to follow along (let alone five in this case). 

And yeah, as good as their last LP was, Mestarin Kynsi made for a listening experience on a whole other level. Building on the krautrock-heavy foundations of their previous outing, Oranssi Pazuzu utilizes its collective proficiency as performers and songwriters to create a cerebral, spiraling black metal nightmare that wields a sort of sonic suspense, unlike anything I have heard before. There’s a certain kaleidoscopic nature to Mestarin Kynsi, as its spiraling cosmic madness of eerie synths and atonal, bordering on noise rock passages of dissonant guitars hops from glitchy ambiance to sheer nightmare fuel at the drop of a pin and as clean as a scalding knife through a stick of butter. 

But what excites me the most about Mestarin Kynsi is not that it’s a goddamn superb record in its own right, but the implications it brings to the table for what Oranssi Pazuzu have in store for the future. Having proved their unparalleled cohesiveness as a unit with Mestarin Kynsi, whatever Oranssi Pazuzu are planning to follow up their 2020 outing with is going either blow minds or warp the damn fabric of time itself. 

2. Internal RotGrieving Birth
625 Thrashcore | B’n’G

Recent years have been very good to grindcore methinks, as modern acts such as Cloud Rat, Crisis Sigil and Duma have all put out some truly trailblazing material for the genre in the past half-decade. But I’ll be honest: sometimes I really yearn for a killer slice of no-frills grind to come to my attention. And after over a half-decade of dormancy, the boys in Internal Rot have straight up spoiled us with just how fundamentally superb of a job they did with 2020’s Grieving Birth.

All killer and no filler, this is the good shit that you honestly never see these days, let alone in a package as poignantly pummeling as to what Internal Rot have cooked up here in terms of nasty and gnarly grindcore goodness. All due respect to Jon Chang and whatnot, but without the extra layers of conceptual bloat obfuscating the degree of sheer aggression and infectious grooves on display throughout Grieving Birth, we’re left with a product that not only hits harder than its contemporaries but even more so than its predecessor, a record that many (including myself) consider a modern classic. Sure, this essentially means that Internal Rot more or less stuck to their guns but the degree of firepower they packed this time around is just damn colossal. 

1. Black CurseEndless Wound
Sepulchral Voice Records | MiniPoop Pee

Since the debut of Blood Incantation‘s phenomenal 4-track demo in 2015, the state of Colorado has found itself to be the ground zero of some of the most outstanding metal records of the 2010’s. StarspawnEroded Corridors of Unbeing. Hidden History of the Human Race. The list goes on and on. Continuing this trend into the next decade with bestial blackened death metal quartet is Black Curse, leading the charge with their absolutely outstanding debut LP, Endless Wound. 

Endless Wound is a fucking phenomenal record by its own merit, going for the throat right out of the gate with an infernal, animalistic fury. And yeah, that sounds par for the course when talking about the components of what makes an excellent blackened death metal record in general, which, as mentioned, this is. So what’s the catch, then (aside from Poop Pee)?

From its very first moments, Black Curse isn’t coy about their aim to achieve with Endless Wound both the most blistering savagery and most fully realized slice of black/death to be unleashed upon my earholes in years. I hate to be hyperbolic but what Black Curse have crafted on this record is nothing short of the golden ratio for blackened death metal. Like “Fibonacci Spiral around the Blasphemy archer” level shit. Rather than taking turns in the spotlight with one other, the occult and atmospheric sensibilities of Endless Wound exhibit a seamless degree of parity with its bestial assault of buzzsaw guitars, thunderous percussion, and dynamic vocals that runs the gamut of what one would consider demonic.

Call this conjecture (as it probably is), but considering how Black Curse shares members with acts regarded among the highest echelons of Colorado’s extreme metal scene, such as Spectral Voice and Blood Incantation, the band’s tendency to take an otherwise unsubtly relentless subgenre though a distinctly nuanced lens honestly seems like less of a surprise than initially perceived. But the way Black Curse pulled it off with such efficacy and attention to detail is truly remarkable in its own right, arguably spawning what may be the new gold standard for the genre for the years to come. Y’know similar to what Starspawn did back in 2016 and that ended up being my favorite metal record, if not my favorite record overall to be released in the ’10s.

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