TOP ALBUMS OV 2020 W/ HANS, BEN SERNA-GREY, AND SLNC!
LISTMANIA is here once more, prepare your BC wishlists. Leading the charge, we have the good-good© from Hans, Ben Serna-Grey and SLNC.
10. Megaton Sword – Blood Hails Steel – Steel Hails Fire
Dying Victims | Review
Does your eternal champion wield a megaton sword? Yeah, didn’t think so, bucko.
9. Paralysis – Mob Justice
Independent | Recommendation
Never was much into this particular style of crossover, but Paralysis (and High Command) have breached my defenses somehow. As these songs twist and turn, they maintain a nice level of momentum throughout, making the whole thing extremely fun. Not overdoing the tough guy attitude probably also helps.
8. Wormhole – The Weakest Among Us
Apologies to Afterbirth, but in the end, I had to go with this one. While also prone to occasional flights of fancy (who wouldn’t be, with that gorgeous bass), Wormhole is very capable of getting down to brass tacks and doing all the assignments that the Slam Teacher gave them in Slam School. I respect that, especially because they manage to have a lot of fun while they’re at it.
7. Giver – Sculpture of Violence
Holy Roar | Review
A beautiful album packed to the brim with a desperate aggression aimed at the state of the world. I love that the “gang shouts” aren’t really done justice by calling them that; they sound like choirs of the disparaged and disenfranchised that have found strength in unity. They actually manage to add to the mood rather than just sounding like a bunch of sweaty dudes in a booth barking about backstabbers. Powerful shit.
6. Trvss – New Distances
Cruel Nature Recordings | Review
The jangliest and fuckoffest album I’ve heard all year. It may seem that Trvss have precious little regard for the listener with their noisy, jarring brand of rock – until you realize that there’s actually many a good tune in here and the songwriting never veers off into avant-garde experimental nonsense. A pleasantly unpleasant record.
5. Mustasuo – Katharsis
Off Records | Review
What a wild ride through near-total darkness. Consistently moored to a primal aggression, but trying to reach for the stars. Or, to put it less pompously: a really good mix of aggressive genres that probably deserves to be considered “post-grindcore” or something to that effect and has kept drawing me back in for another go. The sheer ferocity and the refusal to be tied by too many genre constraints reminds me a lot of a young Dephosphorus, actually. Speaking of which…
4. Dephosphorus – Sublimation
Selfmadegod/Nerve Altar/7 Degrees | Review
But don’t think that a smooth segue is the only reason they’ve earned this spot. These guys still play my favourite style of genre-bending, space-exploring grind, and they’ve proven here that they’re not out of new ideas for where to take their particular style. The choirs, more prominent synths, and an EBow are not in themselves earth-shattering innovations, but together push the sound to a new breadth and an otherworldy atmosphere that’s fit to give me chills. Turns out it’s cold among the stars. Speaking of which…
3. Wills Dissolve – Echoes
Hypnotic Dirge | Review
Okay, I’ll stop doing that now. Wills Dissolve gave progressive death metal its own Major Tom, and I’ve been thrilled every time I went along for the journey. But what’s a cool concept without cool music? Luckily, the band took the experience gained on the debut and brought their songcraft to the next level, both in terms of quality and scope. The death metal/death doom is crushing, and the prog is flowery and wistful. Like a hulking ruin covered in ivy. But in space. Also, the use of the vocoder makes for the most charming AI since GLaDOS.
2. Frogg – A Reptilian Dystopia
Independent | Review
And suddenly, tech! I ended up buying several releases from the genre this year, but ultimately, none of them compare to this little marvel. Technically (haha), it does everything I hate about tech death: nervously jumping from part to part, all seemingly unconnected, staunchly refusing to make sense. However, Frogg just so happens to get every part right. Every part is fun, the synths are suberb, and the overall sound is fantastic, reminding me of both Chronologist and Beaten To Death. This EP bats a thousand.
1. Shagor – Sotteklugt
Babylon Doom Cult Records | Review
Had I known about Iskandr‘s Euprosopon back when it came out, it likely would have made my list that year, and for the longest time, I was sure that Dystopia would earn a spot this year. Imagine my bliss when I found a record that combined the best elements of both and threw in a dash of Fluisteraars. It felt like my year-round exploration of Dutch black metal had been heading towards this all along. It’s a splendid conglomeration of everything I loved about the country’s scene and continues to stand head and shoulders above the others for me.
10. Katatonia – City Burials
Peaceville | Review
I know a lot of folks got turned off from Katatonia when they turned away from metal to become more of a gloomy progressive rock band, but it’s been a long time since I’ve put much stock in heaviness for heaviness’s sake. An album of mourning for what has ended up being a year of endless mourning fit perfectly, and Katatonia’s latest release was a well put together, mature offering.
9. Mamaleek – Come and See
The Flenser | Review
Speaking of a year in mourning, experimental black metal bros Mamaleek released a record with a scathing critique of capitalist and neoliberal policies in a time when the effects of poverty, inequality, and oppression are all coming to a fever pitch. Come & See examines the spaces we take up, and the memories and effects of those spaces, framed around the horrific post-war public housing Cabrini Green projects, where the poor were stacked like sardines out of sight and left to fend for themselves. Furious and full of heartache.
8. Oranssi Pazuzu – Mestarin Kynsi
Nuclear Blast | Review
Oranssi Pazuzu took their brand of psychedelic black metal and recorded an album that heavily used a couple of my favorite compositional techniques—Ostinati and layering—to great, creepy effect. Whenever I spin this album it ends up going around a few times in one big textural smorgasbord that all jell into an overarching trance-like, uneasy mood.
7. Thy Catafalque – Naiv
Season of Mist | Review
I’ve liked Thy Catafalque for years now, but Geometria set a new standard for them in my opinion, and Naiv carried that banner of blackened jazz/europop/experimental rock extremely well. I don’t think Naiv quite reached the level of Geometria, but it’s still a damn fine album.
6. Pallbearer – Forgotten Days
“Ben, Ben, when is your review of the new Pallbearer coming?”
Soon, now be quiet. It’s very good. Bonus points for not being on fucking PL.
5. Adzes – No One Wants to Speak About it
Now, full disclosure I am occasionally chummy with Adzes on Twitter and I’ve got a guest vocal credit for the gang vox on the title track. That being said, damn the progression from the Climate//Capital EP to this full-length is stunning.
4. S H R I E K I N G – Let the Galaxy Burn
Shrieking is cool and you should listen to them. Every release is a little different, and they had several this year, but Let the Galaxy Burn was damn fucking cool, and the ambience and textures are perfect.
3. Otherr – Floating Stones
Otherr is an artist I stumbled upon a few years ago while browsing the electronic/glitch/idm tags on Bandcamp, and I was immediately pulled in and have payed attention ever since. I’m happy to see a full release from him, complete with a cassette edition and everything, and even happier to see that same core of glitch mixed with moody ambience has carried on and matured into something even more enthralling. Floating Stones has an odd, slightly unsettling, almost industrial feel to it and I highly recommend it for any fan of experimental electronic music.
2. Seas of Winter – Forest Aflame
Independent/Akashic Envoy Records
There was a while there where I was just about ready to more or less write off the entirety of black metal, and stick to electronic and funk. That still sort of happened but bands like Seas of Winter and the rest of the antifascist black metal scene made it so I could have some black metal once in a while as a treat. Seas of Winter is especially good for those who crave second wave black metal, but don’t really want to support anyone who is actually a part of that whole mess. Forest Aflame is another record on this roster that is immensely socially conscious– pinning capitalism, climate change, fascism, and more, to the wall.
1. Thundercat – It is What it Is
Brainfeeder | Review
Around the time I tested positive for the funk, I got way, way into Thundercat. Just a short bit before the pandemic shut down everything I got to see him play at the Portland Jazz Festival and it was probably the best concert I’ve been to. Then around my birthday, It Is What It Is dropped. It’s an album equal parts unfettered love and heavy mourning after tragedy. Written after the death of his dear friend Mac Miller, many of the songs are ruminations on the feelings of emptiness after a loss that big, while the rest are affirmations of taking the time to love the friends you do have in your life while you still can. Life is full of moments too large to try and make sense of or rationalize. It is what it is.
So… this year wasn’t that great after all, huh? Except for metal, that is. There have been some really enjoyable releases this year and it was very difficult for me to decide on just 10 albums for this list and, quite honestly, I probably forgot some listens that also would have deserved a place here. It is what it is. I have to rank the albums, but please don’t see this as strict guideline. I recommend every album on this list.
10. Stormkeep – Galdrum
A very late addition to the list, but a good one nonetheless. What immediately hooked me here was the melodic factor and the atmosphere. The production is a bit wonky and thin though, so your mileage may vary. Still, Galdrum is a nice short listen with extraordinarily well-crafted rhythms and riffs.
9. Kvaen – The Funeral Pyre
Black Lion Records | TovH Review
With this one, I was pretty sure early on that it would find a place on my list. Kvaen, the solo-project of Autumn Death guitarist Jakob Björnfot, masterfully blends black and speed metal and is just a joy to listen to. If there is one album this year that I’d describe as genuine fun, it would be The Funeral Pyre.
8. Loviatar – Lightless
Prosthetic Records | TovH Review
One of my first reviews this year and one I look back to with fondness. This album has aged quite well and found its way into my playlist more than once this year. I’m not the biggest doom metal fan, nor a genre expert, but this album has many things going for it. Catchy riffs, melancholic mood, good lyrics. Give Lightless a try when you feel like you need something gloomy.
7. Spectral Lore / Mare Cognitum – Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine
I, Voidhanger Records
I’m a big fan of Spectral Lore’s work and I definitely also enjoyed the odd Mare Cognitum album, but I’ll tell you: this split album needed a bit of steeping time to really click, but it was worth it and it rightfully earned its place on here. Wanderers is a 1 hour and 55 minute-long behemoth and a journey through the solar system, from Mercury to Pluto. Some would call the length decadent, but I think for such a journey, it is warranted. This isn’t easy listening, but a hallmark of the atmospheric black metal genre. And hey, it’s not like most of us lack time these days.
6. Ulcerate – Stare Into Death And Be Still
Debemur Morti Productions
Probably one of the most highly-acclaimed releases in the extreme metal scene this year and with good reason. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with this album and the craftmanship on display here is nothing short of masterful. As usual, I have to highlight the drumming by Jamie Saint Merat. For years now, Ulcerate has stood out for quality and Stare Into Death And Be Still is no exception.
5. Dumal – The Confessor
Vigor Deconstruct / Fólkvangr Records
While I truly enjoyed their 2017 offering, The Lesser God, this album is, in my opinion, even better. With their sophomore album, Dumal have found and carved their niche. Great instrumentation aside, I really have to highlight the vocals here. They’re raw and forceful, just like they should be. Dumal already was one of the finest black metal acts from the United States for me and The Confessor has further solidified that standing.
4. Selbst – Relatos De Angustia
Debemur Morti Productions
When our own resident owl Rolderathis posted the first single of this album, “The Depths of Selfishness”, on the TovH Discord, I immediately was hooked by the sheer power this music evoked all while actually being quite melodic. Luckily, while this track remains my favorite on this album, the rest definitely holds up. A very cohesive listen from start to end, Relatos De Angustia has justifiably earned its place on this list.
3. Mystras – Castles Conquered and Reclaimed
I, Voidhanger Records | TovH Review
Mystras was one of those finds in a compilation, the Cosmic Collective: A Choir For the Dispossessed compilation by Red Nebula to be exact, and after doing some more research, revealing Ayloss of Spectral Lore as the mind behind this project about the downtrodden and their acts of valor in medieval times, my interest was very piqued. This year saw the release of the debut album and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. This is probably going to a controversial pick, because the raw production tends to be very polarizing. Either you love it or you hate it. That being said, there is some seriously good musicianship to be found here and I urge everyone to at least give Castles Conquered and Reclaimed a try, especially the last track, “Wrath and Glory”.
2. Uprising – II
Wolfsgrimm Records/Tridroid Records | TovH Review
Uprising is, well, about rising up against your oppressors, practicing radical decency and, of course, anti-fascism. This is pure, emotional and energetic melodic black metal with amazing lyrics and a resolute musical continuation of what was started with the self-titled first album from 2017, which I also recommend without any reservations. These songs on II are hymns. Especially for the times we’re living in.
1. Panzerfaust – The Suns of Perdition, Chapter II: Render Unto Eden
It should be no surprise that this second chapter of the Suns of Perdition sequence is on this list, considering how much I praised the first chapter, War, Horrid War, last year. Render Unto Eden more or less is a straightforward continuation of that, which is just fine in my book. It is a loud, bold and driving sonic onslaught that doesn’t let you go for the 44 minutes of playing time and I honestly can’t wait to see what Panzerfaust has in store for chapter three. Truly one of the best acts in modern black metal.