I didn’t realize how much music from this year I enjoyed until I sat down to list these albums. It was hard to narrow it down to even this set. This list comprises only full-length albums. I’ve added another post for EPs.
Album(s) of the Year
Any one of the albums of this list is a contender and my “top” pick will change on a daily or even hourly basis. Right now it’s these.
Kvelertak - Splid
Of all the albums I’ve been spinning repeatedly throughout 2020, this one has probably gotten the most play time. No matter what I’m feeling, this album always lifts my spirits. Kvelertak has always had a punk influence but it’s so much more up-front on this album. The band’s livestream from April (which is still up!) was such a blast I think I watched it at least three times. Splid is just a rollicking good time.
Oceans of Slumber - Oceans of Slumber
(Okay maybe one more). I can’t get enough of Oceans of Slumber’s latest, self-titled record. Cammie Gilbert’s vocals is probably the biggest reason for that. Her voice is beautiful and she is backed up by some fantastic instrumentals that remind me a lot of Evergrey’s “sad progressive metal”.
Despite everything, so much awesome music was released this year. These are some of my favourites in no particular order.
Bone Church - Acid Communion
One of the first albums I got into this year. Bone Church’s brand of moody occult/stoner metal really hit the spot for me and it’s an album I continue to replay over and over.
Yatra - Blood of the Night
This album delivers crushing stoner riffs along with some great solos. I’ve played through this album many nights while staying up to bottle-feed a newborn. This is the first of two full-length albums that Yatra released in 2020 and they’re both worth checking out.
On Thorns I Lay - Threnos
Melodic death-doom with a kind of gothy vibe. I dig the guitar harmonies under beastly growls that gives me a sort-of Theatre of Tragedy vibe.
Elden - Nostromo
No, this is not “Elder” (whose much-lauded latest album I couldn’t really get into). Elden is a Swedish melodic metal band infused with elements of hard rock and psychedelic rock. Two-faced Wizard has a great earworm of a chorus.
Thormesis - The Sixth
One of the first black metal albums of year that really stood out to me and I kept playing it over and over again. It gives off an atmospheric and melancholic feel while remaining up-tempo and engaging. It’s really damn great.
Warbringer - Weapons of Tomorrow
I first heard Warbringer when I saw them supporting Nevermore during the Obsidian Conspiracy tour. I remember being blown away by “this awesome young retro-thrash” group and picked up their first two albums. Since then Warbringer’s sound has evolved tremendously and I think Weapons of Tomorrow is their best album yet. Chase Becker’s solos are face-melting and John Kevill gives a phenomenal vocal performance. Defiance of Fate is a ballad that shouldn’t work with his harsh vocals, but it does - and it’s fantastic.
Hellripper - The Affair of the Poisons
Hellripper has been a perennial favourite of mine since I first heard the Black Arts & Alchemy EP last year. All Hail The Goat remains one of my most-played songs. The Affair of the Poisons is the second full-length LP from this blackened speed one-man metal band and it absolutely rips. Banger TV recently had video on how to get into black metal and described Hellripper’s James McBain as one of the best riff writers of the present day. I tend to agree.
Lowrider - Refractions
Lowrider’s excellent Refractions hits me with chugging, hooky riffs and a mellow groove. It’s like a catchier Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats. This album is just such a satisfying listen over and over again.
Kvaen - The Funeral Pyre
Another one-man blackened speed metal band - this time from Sweden. Kvaen leans more heavily into the pagan black metal style than the aforementioned Hellripper with lots of tremolo-picked leads carrying the melody.
Havukruunu - Uinos Syömein Sota
One notch further on the pagan black metal spectrum from Kvaen is this Finnish group. This album reminds me of viking-metal-era Bathory. What really puts it over the top for me is the guitar work. The solos and leads on this album seal the deal for me.
Spirit Adrift - Enlightened In Eternity
It was bound to happen eventually, and this was the year that Spirit Adrift’s Nate Garrett finally left Gatecreeper to focus full time on this project. Leaving behind a lot of the doomier influence, Enlightened In Eternity sounds closer to contemporaries Haunt than earlier Spirit Adrift records. Each song is upbeat and fun as hell, full of great hooks.
Haunt - Flashback
I had received my preorder of Mind Freeze early in January and I thoroughly enjoy that album. However, it was Haunt’s second LP of the year, Flashback, that really did it for me. This record exudes positivity and just makes me feel good.
ACxDC - Satan Is King
Self-described as “Latinx queer-fronted west cost powerviolence”, Antichrist Demoncore’s Satan Is King is the soundtrack that 2020 deserves. Brutal, unrelenting, and pissed-off as fuck. When I’m in the mood to play through this album, it’s 23 minutes of catharsis.
Dzö-nga - Thunder in the Mountains
I picked up this album on the first Bandcamp Friday and it’s been getting heavy play ever since. Atmospheric folk/pagan black metal that I wouldn’t have guessed came from Boston. The harshness is balanced out by pleasing violin melodies and female vocals. At times this reminds me of Ensiferum, and at others of Seattle’s own Isenordal.
Napalm Death - Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism
Napalm Death’s latest is an album made for 2020. The rage at the injustices of conservatism and capitalism are as relevant as ever and certainly old-hat for this group. What’s novel here is how the band’s sound has modernized. The riffs make the anger palpable.
Necrot - Mortal
Necrot is a band that I had to witness live in order to truly appreciate. The last concert I attended pre-pandemic was, in fact, Gatecreeper & Exhumed with Necrot supporting. The live show made appreciate the first LP, Blood Offerings, even after I’d originally written it off as “not my thing”. Mortal, on the other hand, has been very much my thing since I first played it. The riffs are more memorable off-the-bat and the solos on this album are excellent.
Anaal Nathrakh - Endarkment
For some reason this is the first album from Anaal Nathrakh that I’ve checked out. I’ll need to start digging into the back catalog because their brand of blackened death metal really appeals to me. More melodic than, say, Napalm Death but with the same brand of anger.
Abysmal Dawn - Phylogenesis
I remember when this album came on while I was driving and I was compelled to headbang while stopped at a red light. Absymal Dawn plays deathgrind akin to Misery Index. Simultaneously catchy and brutal.
Venom Prison - Primeval
Last year’s Samsara was my introduction to Venom Prison and it led me to rabidly consume the bands earlier efforts including the two EPs Defy The Tyrant and The Primal Chaos. Primeval is a re-recording of those EPs plus two new tracks. Brutal, angry and violently progressive both musically and politically. I’m excited to see what their third full-length will bring in 2021.
Contrarian - Only Time Will Tell
I enjoyed last year’s Their Worm Never Dies quite a bit, but this latest effort steps it up a notch. It’s extremely difficult to meld elements of melody and song structure with technical virtuosity. Contrarian does it well enough to remind me of Death and that’s saying a lot.