TOP ALBUMS OV 2020 W/ LORD OF BORK, IGOM, AND BMP!
LISTMANIA—day 2. My wallet cowers before the onslaught of siqq recs. Please, Lord of Bork, Iron Goddess of Mercy and Black Metal Porkins, include something besides fire bangers?
Lord of Bork
10. Shards of Humanity – Cold Logic
Unspeakable Axe Records
It can be hard to find new things to say while playing thrash in 2020, but Shards of Humanity managed to at least say the same enjoyable things in new and consistently entertaining ways. Their black/death/thrash stew is fun and vicious by turns, always keeping you on your toes. “Moths of Zeta” is still a fucking jam 8 months after the album premiered, and I’ll be bumping this one for a long time to come.
9. The Spirit – Cosmic Terror
Black metal has never entirely been my bag, baby. However, bands that mine their material from the ore of albums like Storm of the Light’s Bane have tickled my fancy more and more recently, most notably with this release from The Spirit. I haven’t fully explored their back catalogue yet, but if it’s anything like this then they’re definitely a band to watch.
I hadn’t heard of these four Danish maniacs before this year, but their debut Puritan Masochism made me sit up and take notice. There’s not a better death/doom album that I’ve heard this year—let these polite Scandinavians crush your spirit under the weight of those riffs, if you dare.
After the triumph of 2017’s What Passes for Survival, it should come as no surprise that Pyrrhon still brings the heat three years later. Abscess Time is more of what makes Pyrrhon so distinct—the abrasive riffs that spiral and threaten to come undone completely, the rhythms that jerk back and forth like death spasms, the unhinged vocals of Doug Moore. Abscess Time never stops exploding and even after dozens of listens still reveals new facets I hadn’t fully appreciated when first approaching the album.
6. Xibalba – Años en Infierno
Southern Lord Recordings | Review
The aural equivalent of getting run over by a tank, Xibalba isn’t for the faint of heart. Their combination of hardcore and death metal crushes whether they’re moving at a snail’s pace or full speed, and to hear them go from one to another is a joy.
5. Live Burial | Unending Futility
Transcending Obscurity Records | Review
As I said when the album came out, early Death didn’t release a song as good as “Cemetery Fog.” Dispute me if you want (you’ll be wrong), but there’s no disputing that Live Burial turned in the best straight death metal album of the year.
4. Cosmic Putrefaction – The Horizon Toward Which Splendour Withers
I, Voidhanger Records | Review
Cosmic Putrefaction’s debut, At the Threshold of the Greatest Chasm, only came out in 2019. A fantastic record in its own right, it created tough expectations for the follow-up. Coming a mere 13 months later, The Horizon Toward Which Splendour Withers fulfills the promise of the debut while expanding its ambition to the stars. While I class the album firmly in the “cosmic death metal” camp, their sound is still tethered to the death metal essentials and never threatens to float away into the void. They aren’t quite at the level of Blood Incantation, but The Horizon… takes them very close.
Everyone’s favorite Finnish psychedelic black metallers need no introduction at this point. There are some bands that just never stop getting better, and in my estimation Oranssi Pazuzu is exhibit A. Bringing their psychedelic and ambient influences further into the foreground, Mestarin Kynsi is a fascinating listen and rewards frequent return visits. Dive on in, the eyeball water’s fine.
2. Kvaen – The Funeral Pyre
Black Lion Records | Review
Yet another entry in the Dissection-core black metal genre, main man J. Björnfot knocked it out of the park with debut The Funeral Pyre. Razor sharp and packed full of enough riffs to kill a horse, it’s got jams for days. Careful you don’t cut yourself.
1. Thy Catafalque – Naiv
Season of :*( | Review
I had been sleeping on Thy Catafalque before this year, but goddamn am I awake now. Their unlikely mix of black metal, Europop electronics, and ethereal female vocals gets the job done every time, and this is easily my most listened to album on Bandcamp in 2020. If you aren’t listening to them this second, you’re missing out.
Iron Goddess of Mercy
Two rules: (1) each review will be 100 words and (2) I will not have written about the album previously. Well, I did a mini-review of one of these albums, so chuck out Rule #2 already. Are these my absolute 10 favourite albums of 2020? Who knows! Has contributing to Toilet ov Hell in 2020 been something of a dream? You betcha. Will I assiduously break my back on the Wheel of Content so we may all slake ourselves on its succor in 2021? Indubitably. Thanks for letting me write this dumb stuff and be a part of this community.
10. Depravity – Grand Malevolence
Transcending Obscurity Records
Superlative: Best Transcending Obscurity Album of the Year
Honorable Mentions: Atræ Bilis – Divinihility & Jupiterian – Protosapien
Transcending Obscurity released something like 25 albums in 2020, with most of them ranging from good-to-very-good while a not insignificant few were legitimately great and deserving of appearing on any year-end list. Until two weeks ago, Atræ Bilis’s Divinihility was going to receive this superlative, but Depravity’s follow-up to Evil Upheaval is simply too malevolent in its grandeur, too divine in its nihilism, too depraved in its atrabiliousness. A giant standing on the shoulders of giants, Grand Malevolence is everything you love about Morbid Angel, Immolation, and whatever other band you would like to include from the Death Metal Pantheon.
9. Pestifer – Expanding Oblivion
This is the perfect Spear Special: a pedigreed tech death band I’ve never heard gets a sterling write-up and is every bit as good as advertised. Expanding Oblivion’s high-minded, gracefully spacey prog interweaves with the band’s dizzying technical proficiency and is bolstered by relentless heaviness and skull-bashing riffs. “Grey Hosts” left me a grey ghost back in March and is still 9 months later one of my favourite songs of the year. Because of a mix-up owing to a new laptop and a penchant for buying full label discographies for absurdly low prices, I accidently bought this album twice. Well-deserved!
8. Frozen Moon – Legend of East Dan II
Pest Productions | Review
Superlative: Black Metal Porkins-Approved Album of the Year
Honorable Mention: Countless Skies – Glow
I could also give Legend of East Dan II the superlative of “Favourite Black Metal Album of the Year” in a year of great black metal, but we must acknowledge that Black Metal Porkins’s keen taste and dogged intrepidity brought to light one of 2020’s brightest gems. What more to say about an album that is equal parts frigid black metal, ripping 80s arena rock, blooming synths, and traditional northern Chinese folk music? Simply, I’ve never heard anything like it. The one-two punch of squalling opener “Heyday of East Dan” and the uncompromising “Fond Dream” knocks me out every time.
7. Thou & Emma Ruth Rundle – May Our Chambers be Full
Sacred Bones Records
Superlative: Best Thou Album of the Year
Honorable Mention: Everyday, Things are Getting Worse w/ The Body
Those ever-prolific Internet Motherfuckers from Baton Rouge released 4 albums (5 if you count the digital release of Everyday…) in 2020 and none is better than this collaboration with Emma Ruth Rundle that sees ERR at her best with a full backing band and Thou wading ever deeper into the gloomy depths of ’90s grunge. A midnight marriage of Marriages, Alice in Chains, Marissa Nadler, and Eyehategod, May Our Chambers be Full is a wailing, mournful spectre haunting nightmarish bayous and trudging up the fears and anxieties buried in the murk of your unconscious. Plus, the description namedrops Julia Kristeva!
6. Kardashev – The Baring of Shadows
Superlative: Surprise Album of the Year
Honorable Mention: Calyces – Impulse to Soar
Did anyone see this coming? Is there a horde of Kardashev fans that predicted an album this good? This won out over Calyces’s aesthetic masterpiece Impulse to Soar for the superlative in question because Kardashev’s range is so vast. From the vertiginous heights of its wrenching majesty to the unplumbable depths of its roaring despair, this album is the best doom album of 2020. Oh, and lest we forget, when dedicated Toileteer Hazy asked the band for a special shirt design, they actually printed that shit. I am, however, a little worried about how much proggery has infiltrated my list…
5. Change – Closer Still
Superlative – Hardcore Album of the Year
Honorable Mention: Gulch – Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress
I have a lot more than 100 words to say about Closer Still and will do so in an article of appropriate length in 2021. For now, I remain awash in the nostalgic whirlpool of Change’s debut album that makes me stoked to be a vegan and wish that I were still straight edge. Featuring former members of Champion, The First Step, and Betrayed, Change smashes their old bands together to make something at once warmly familiar and refreshingly reimagined. Closer Still is positive, introspective, and cultivated: it is the thrilling, beating heart of hardcore played to impact the world.
4. Ulcerate – Stare into Death and be Still
Debemur Morti Productions
Superlative – Foregone Conclusion of the Year
Honorable Mention: Boris – NO
In 20 years, when an Australian mechano-lizard is compiling the article “List: Your Top Albums ov 2020 Revealed” via stone tablets in the wreckage of state monopoly capitalism, Stare into Death and be Still will, inevitably, receive the most owl-tallied votes—if only because Mastodon’s 2020 album was a somewhat mixed-bag of a rarities collection. The Aucklander’s latest album is as lush as it is sparse, scarring as it is soothing, unhinged as it is coherent. It feels like a festering sore of sprawling pathos on the mucous membrane of your Gorguts, though I advise strongly against operation or removal.
3. William Basinski – Lamentations
Superlative: Ambient Album of the Year
Honorable Mention: Louise Bock – Sketch for Winter VII – Abyss: For Cello
While artists such as Sarah Davachi, Jörgen Kjellgren, and Louise Bock, and labels such as Past Inside the Present released ambient albums that made my year softer, brighter, richer, and less anxiety-drenched, it is Basinski’s third release of 2020 that deserves this superlative. Drawing together the techniques and textures of The Disintegration Loops, the earlier Melancholia and Variations albums, and the more recent Cascade, one can think of Lamentations as a lamination, as a faultless layering together of Basinski’s decades-long career as the preeminent loop artist with the global sorrows and individual griefs we have all experienced together in 2020.
2. Plague Organ – Orphan
Sentient Ruin Laboratories
Superlative: Best Absolute Bullshit of the Year
Honorable Mention: N/A
This is a great album. This is my favourite album. This is a great album. This is my favourite album. This is a great album. This is my favourite album. This is a great album. This is my favourite album. This is a great album. This is my favourite album. This is a great album. This is my favourite album. This is a great album. This is my favourite album. This is a great album. This is my favourite album. This is a great album. This is my favourite album. This is a great album. This is my favourite album.
1. WVRM – Colony Collapse
Prosthetic Records | Mini
Superlative: The Year in Pure Sonic Deformity
Honorable Mention: Soul Glo – Songs to Yeet at the Sun
If Basinski captures the unrelenting cycles of pain, agony, loneliness, and beauty of life in a pandemic by layering and looping together warped and disintegrated tape spools, WVRM deathgrinds the bones of 2020 into clouds of carcinogenic dust. I am still entirely freaking out over “Tank Reaper,” “Thorn Palace,” and “My Fucking Dixie,” three unflinchingly feral yet lucid tracks on an album bursting at the seams with political invective and incisive social critique. Colony Collapse is a perfect distillation of our collective rage in the face of power that now takes the form of a doddering old coot in aviators.
Remember to support these artists by
buying their cassettes and tank tops.
Digital downloads and uglysleeves work, too!
Delete your social media accounts
and have a Happy Chanukah.
Black Metal Porkins
Unusual year, unusual list. Indeed, this isn’t much of a list at all. As with many of my brethren and sistren out there, it was a year of making do under less than ideal circumstances. The demands of a heavily modified real life overwhelmed my previous fantasy existence of listening to music all day at the office. The elevated stress also impeded my already frail memory abilities. Combined, I had a year of listening to few albums, fewer times, and with even less recollection of what I had heard. So take this all with a salt mine because, honestly, I have no idea what I’m talking about this time around.
That being said, there are two records I am positive would have made a 2020 Top 10 in any year. So here they are:
Wytch Hazel – III: Pentecost
Bad Omen Records
Existing in that liminal space where hard rock became metal, Wytch Hazel reaches back and pulls one of the purest, most honest and infectious albums I have heard in quite some time. From beginning to end, it is a joyous homage to the Thinnest of Elizabeths, the most Ferrous of Maidens, and it sprinkles in some Blue Öyster Cult with a pinch of Alan Parsons Project (h/t Roldy). The melodies and vocals shine on every track, delivering a cascade of wriggling earworms and unforgettable choruses. While there are no tracks to skip, some of the standouts you shouldn’t miss would be “I Am Redeemed,” “Dry Bones,” and “Spirit and Fire.”
As a side note (and I am slightly annoyed I have to mention this), yes, this is a Christian-themed devotional album. If that is too much for you to handle, you can pass.
In a year that was an unending river of bad news and worse news, I found myself drawn to more uplifting sounds. Since the vast majority of extreme metal is poised to express some version of aggression and anger, I chose other avenues for pleasure most of the time. But Countless Skies bucked that trend. Glow is a balm for the soul with its proggy and lightly post-ed take on melodeath that soars from the perfect opener in “Tempest” all the way to the 20-minute epic eponymous closer. Countless Skies possesses a rare sense of scale that allows the more grandiose passages to stand out in a way that lesser acts could only dream to achieve. In a stagnant melodeath world, Glow is a breath of fresh air.
Two more records stood out that may have made a Top 10 but would have been closer to the bottom if they did:
I’m not much of a Riffz Guy, but sometimes things hit me just right. Firebride is big, thick, and very dumb in its straightforward yet immensely satisfying deathened, sludgeoned, doomened whatever these folks play. Black Royal uses simple ingredients and combines them to make something brimming with vitality. It shouldn’t be this good, but it is. It might even be great.
Frozen Moon – The Legend of East Dan II EP
Pest Productions – Review
It’s just ridiculous and fun black metal with all kinds of things going in including the most perfect terrible clean vocals you will ever hear.
Last thing, here are a couple songs I loved this year from albums that would otherwise fell off (very far off) a Top 10:
End “Pariah” from Splinters from an Ever Changing Face – By far the best songs on the record, “Pariah” is an extinction-level event and one of the hardest tracks on the planet. Blown-out, negative as fuck, crushing core-based madness.
Thou & Emma Ruth Rundle “The Valley” from May Our Chambers be Full – I was really hoping to like this record more than I did but it didn’t end up mattering because “The Valley” made it all worth it. A haunting, sorrowful track I played 23 times in a row one day.
So that’s all I got for this year. Praying for something more in the future.