|Personal Top 30 Albums of 2020|
As I do every year, I abuse this platform to publish my ravings concerning what music enthused me most last year (hopefully, 2021 will be the year where I’ll get some actual reviews done once more). Though 2020 was a quite terrible year for humanity overall, music-wise it delivered. Thereby, it was exceedingly difficult to compile a list of ‘merely’ 30 good albums, because there were many, many more.
I don’t aim to communicate which album I find the ‘best’ objectively, these are simply the records I enjoyed the most. So I’m not trying to convey I find artist A better than artist B, or genre Y is superior to genre Z.
Thank you for reading!
Belgium’s Marche Funebre released the amazing doom-death album Einderlicht. Einderlicht mixes a classic doom-death such as My Dying Bride and Doom:VS with sped-up blackened segments; and the resulting record is beautiful.
Relatos de Angustia
Selbst – hailing from Chile (formerly Venezuela) – produced an impressive black or blackened thrash metal album named Relatos de Augustina. Relatos de Augustina has multi-instrumentalist ‘N’ hit all the right notes for me: emotion, desperation and tremolo guitar picking à la black metal.
Wait 'Til Night
Wait ‘Til Night is a brooding work of postmetal, with heavy doom, indie and gothic influences. Not unlike The Abyss-era Chelsea Wolfe, Chloe’s vocals are unpredictable – deep, mournful singing alternated with sudden screams – and complete this albums unpredictable soundscape perfectly.
|27||Hail Spirit Noir|
Eden In Reverse
Hail Spirit Noir make yet another large change in their sound, eschewing black metal influences almost completely – making way for progressive rock with post-rock and synthwave influences. The end-result Eden in Reverse throws many curveballs throughout its 42 minute runtime – and is all the more enjoyable because of it.
Clouds have been releasing quality atmospheric doom / death metal yearly – like clockwork – since 2014’s Errata. 2020’s Clouds album Durere introduces little innovation to Clouds’ trademark sound, which makes it slightly less enticing than releases such as Destin (2017) and Departe (2016) – but still provides solace for those in need for a melancholic soundtrack to this 2020.
Canada’s Aeternam provide a surprising and extremely fresh mix of (Middle-Eastern) folk, death and symphonic metal. The harsh vocals remind me a lot of Moonspell – and the overall composition has similarities with both Moonspell as well as Septicflesh. Overall an excellent and unique release; one that definitely put Aeternam on my radar.
Cosmic World Mother
Cosmic World Mother is one of the most impressive, unrelenting black metal albums I’ve heard in recent memory. Cosmic World Mother is an ambitious album, that succeeds in every way possible. Highly recommended.
|23||Dawn of Solace|
Tuomas Saukkonen reinvigorated Dawn of Solace this year – one of his musical outlets that did not release new material since 2006. The wait was well worth it – Waves is one of his best pieces of music in recent years. The return of Black Sun Aeon’s Mikko Heikkilä and his amazing, sorrowful vocal performance on this album is in part to thank for this.
Ashtar’s innovative take on sludge / doom metal was a breathe of fresh last year – of course, in the most vicious and unsettling way possible.
Deftones look back in their career and produce an album that could’ve easily been a follow-up to 1997’s Around the Fur. Though not as easily infectious and melodic as its predecessors, Ohms scales up on intensity and overall sonic assault – and is a soothing soundtrack for all those who yearn for simpler times that are now decennia in the past.
Cycle of Suffering
Melodic death metal / metal core outfit Sylosis’ Cycle of Suffering is a record full of hooks, crushing riffs and fist-pumping energy.
Towards the Tomb of Times
Naxen’s Towards the Tomb of Time is an excellent atmospheric black metal album, that at times shows splintering ferocity as well as soothing melody. Despite four track clocking comfortably over 10 minutes, this record feels too short – a good thing, in my book.
Taylor Swift manages something impressive by releasing two amazing pop-folk pieces of work in just one year: Folklore and Evermore. Though both albums are enjoyable to their own right, Folklore – being the first of the series of two – does the best job to manifest the new take on Taylor’s true and tried style. Though slightly on the long side, this album is filled to the brim with soothing melodies, catchy choruses and atmosphere. With Folklore (and to a lesser extent Evermore) Taylor Swift will continue to be among the biggest and most influential artists of today, and rightfully so.
Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic
The Ocean averted expectations by not creating a follow-up that matches the sound of the monumental Phanerozoic I (2018), but instead sees these Germans go back to their –‘Centric era of experimentation. Despite my early disappointment, Phanerozoic stands tall on its own right: and sees The Ocean thrive in experimenting with the genre boundaries of post metal.
|16||Shores of Null|
Beyond the Shores (On Death and Dying)
Shores of Null had a vision with their latest release that was best conveyed in an album that is made out of one, single, cohesive piece. Beyond the Shores (On Death and Dying) manages to do the nigh impossible: remain engaging and enticing over the course its impressive 38 minutes of runtime. With excellent appearances of vocalists from Swallow the Sun, Saturnus and Inno, Beyond the Shores is an outstanding album that has the best of melodic death, doom and black metal.
The Baring of Shadows
The Baring of Shadows EP is an incredible exposition of what progressive/ post-metallers Kardashev have in store musically: a diverse palette of heavy intensity and beautiful melody. If this EP is a measure for their next full-length release: count me interested.
City Burials sees long-time metallers Katatonia shift gears for a more experimental, electronic and withheld sound then former releases. The end result is both daring and enchanting: Jonas Renkse’s sorrowful vocals match this contemplative, melancholic – almost ghostly – soundscape perfectly.
Even though I usually find pop / R&B records difficult to digest, The Weeknd caught my attention with this years’ release. After Hours has groove, character, emotion and disgustingly infectious tunes. Even though The Weeknd was already a sizeable name in the ‘mainstream’, the incredible ‘hit’ potential of After Hours cannot do otherwise than manifest his status as one of today’s most popular and influential acts.
British metal legends Paradise Lost celebrate the 30th birthday of their debut album by gifting us their 16th full-length release Obsidian. Since 2015’s The Plague Within, Paradise Lost returned to their long-lost death-doom roots, Obsidian now being the third album since this return to form. Moreover, Obsidian attempts to summarize all genres Paradise Lost dipped their toes in over the last decades unto one: death-doom, gothic, alternative and classic heavy influences all find their way into this album. The result is impressively cohesive and – as usually with Paradise Lost – of high quality.
Xenobiotic’s Mordrake caused some commotion in the metal community last year – are they highly innovative or merely derivative? Much like Deafheaven did in 2013, Xenobiotic’s alternative take on extreme metal was divisive. Personally I don’t have a strong opinion in the matter – I simply think Mordrake was an extremely impressive record. Mordrake combines elements of death metal, metalcore, post metal and progressive metal into an emotionally engaging album with tons of variation.
Dutch death metal veterans God Dethroned delivered their tenth studio album Illuminati this year – an album that breaks the mold with their earlier releases by being far more melodic and catchy. For metal bands, usually, ‘catchiness’ is a bad omen – but not here. Somehow God Dethroned managed to overload their newest release with hooks without ever feeling derivate or – Heavens forbid – ‘soft’. A death metal album has no business being fun, but still one still is. Highly recommended.
Under a Godless Veil
Draconian’s highly anticipated Under a Godless Veil deviates slightly from the renewed sound Sovran presented to us, instead returning back to the ‘core’ sound that defined these Swedes (and South African) for most of their career. Despite my early dismay at this change off course (I was very interested to see the route that Sovran steered into further explored), Under a Godless Veil sees Draconian at their best: a stunning display of ethereal symphonic melodic death metal.
Winds Over Ash
Winds Over Ash is an album that excels in a study of the paradox in the dichotomy of ugliness and beauty through music. Musically, the album alternates between quietly unnerving electronics, explosions of distortion and shrieks and excelling guitarwork in between. Utilizing elements of blackened progressive metal, sludge and atmospheric metal – Rotten Monarch produced a unique piece of work with Winds Over Ash.
Livslede – a beautiful Danish expression for “profound and lasting discomfort with existence”. Atmospheric black metallers Sunken are able to give life (or death) and (the absence of) colour to the meaning of this word in a way that conveys both the beauty and horror of existence itself. Livslede is an album that demands full immersion – and I gave just that more times than I can count last year.
There was no way Gothenburg veterans Dark Tranquillity could ever top Atoma, and they didn’t. What Moment does do is continue on the nigh-perfect fundament Atoma built, borrow pieces from the Projector and Haven era and expand. Even though it doesn’t outdo Atoma, the result is impressive. Moment explores the ‘tranquillity’ in Dark Tranquillity much more than its full-length predecessor and – even though seemingly straightforward at first – has a lot of depth that requires repeated spins to unfold its true potential to the uninitiated listener.
A Shadow of Memories
After a long wait of six years, Lethian Dreams finally came to releasing their fifth full-length release – and their best to date. Genre-wise, I’d label A Shadow of Memories as ‘black-gaze’ – think Alcest, yet then dreamier and more immersive. A Shadow of Memories speaks in mournful tunes of bygone times and the merciless decay of time – and couldn’t do so more directly to the heart than it does. Absolutely stunning.
|4||Dawn of Ouroboros|
The Art of Morphology
California’s Dawn of Ouroboros released the most professional and impressive debut album I’ve had the pleasure of listening to last year. Fusing progressive, post, black and death metal unto one unholy amalgam, The Art of Morphology rips and tears through its 42 minutes of runtime – all the while remaining as interesting as it is heavy. An extra shout-out to Chelsea Murphy, who manifested herself immediately as one of the best metal vocalists I know; due to her menacing and yet beautifully emotional delivery that shows an astonishing range. Goosebumps!
USA-based Mountaineer unleashed Bloodletting in May this year, and this piece of art has wormed its way back onto my playlist ever since. Bloodletting is one of the most diverse and impressive progressive/ post-metal albums I’ve heard in recent memory. The patience Mountaineer has to allow it’s individual pieces to ‘breathe’ in quiet passages; the forlorn, dissonant vocals throughout the record; and the sudden impact of heavy segments – these are just some of the elements that make this record amazing.
We Are Chaos
Shock-rocker Manson returns to form with We Are Chaos – an album that sees Manson et al. more introspective and balanced than ever before. For all those who were severely disappointed after Heaven Upside Down (2017) – such as me – it is extremely comforting to observe The Pale Emperor (2015) was not a fluke. I would even go as far as to say that We Are Chaos is easily Marilyn Manson’s strongest output since Holywood (2000). “In the end, we all end up in a garbage dump. But I'll be the one that's holding your hand.” I think so and I hope so, Mr. Manson.
Out from the shadows of their peers Be’lakor came Countless Skies this year with Glow, their definitive album up to this point in their career and a milestone in the genre of melodic death metal as a whole. Glow sees the UK-based quartet find a sound truly their own, one which they’ve been carefully crafting over the last two albums. Glow has all the best tropes in the genre and add some additional bombast, dynamics and careful optimism – a mix that results in the most addictive release of 2020 for undersigned.