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Blazin's Top Albums of 2020

Over 10,000 words later and my obligatory year-end lists are finally coming to a close. Since there weren't close to 40 albums at an 8/10 or above, I changed the format a little bit this time around, but I think it'll give good attention to some great records that came close. Anyways, continue on with the happy holidays!
33Crippled Black Phoenix

Notable Honorable Mentions:

Hail Spirit Noir – Eden in Reverse 7.5/10
Perfume Genius – Set My Heart on Fire Immediately 7.5/10
R. A. P. Ferriera – Purple Moonlight Pages 7.5/10
Everything Everything – RE-ANIMATOR 7.5/10
Boris – NO 7.5/10
Honey Harper – Starmaker 7.5/10
Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher 7.5/10
GoGo Penguin – GoGo Penguin 7.5/10
Solstafir – Endless Twilight of Codependent Love 7.5/10
Envy – The Fallen Crimson 7.5/10
The Reticent – The Oubliette 7.5/10
Lunatic Soul – Through Shaded Woods 7.5/10
The Strokes – The New Abnormal 7.5/10
Crippled Black Phoenix – Ellengaest 7.5/10

8/10: Kicking off the main list is one of the sillier albums here, but don’t assume that silliness can’t make for a lot of fun. Finntroll’s “folk” in its folk metal has a strong Scandinavian cultural presence, which fits appropriately with the band’s black metal passages. Vredesvavd is a nicely structured where the band’s thematic consistencies seem to have good diversity from track to track. I also have to give props to the penultimate track “Ylaren” for primarily capping off the album on its most Opethian note complete with, you guessed it, accordions. It’s all really campy, but I can’t deny that it’s one of the more fun metal albums this year.
31Black Crown Initiate
Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape

8/10: This was a huge surprise of a success for me. These modern tech deathy prog metal acts aren't quite as enjoyable as they used to be, but Black Crown Initiate have made solid ground with their new release. The riffs are gripping, the songwriting is surprisingly strong, and the vocals have an impressive range of moods and styles. The album has plenty of memorable highlights, too, from the Mastodon-like cleans on “Trauma Bonds”, the intro to “Sun of War” that sounds close enough to Radiohead’s “Let Down” to cause significant emotional manipulation, and the excellent “Years in Frigid Light” with its earwormy chorus.

8/10: This may be a controversial take for some, but I think this is Enslaved’s best work since RIITIIR. Much like that album, Utgard has magnificent pacing, which makes even a passive listen feel like you’re getting the most out of the album’s enjoyment. There’s an impressive amount of experimental passages and decisions that work out in Utgard’s favor like the electronic intro of “Urjotun” and the brief organ feature on “Jettegryta” during its old-school prog passage. Many of the main riffs on this are satisfying and are reminders of why I’ve been happy to jam this band’s catalog in the past.
29Tigran Hamasyan
The Call Within

8/10: It took me a little bit to reach the Armenian-born jazzist’s newest work. This was also my first listen from the guy, so I came in expecting something a little more classical in form. While The Call Within does show some classical features, especially in its quieter parts, this is ultimately an excellent and highly enjoyable jazz fusion record. While Hamasyan likes to test the limits of melodic complexity, there are also plenty of times where he lays out some beautiful work that’s somewhat less dizzying (think of the more mellow Kamasi Washington passages). I also find the bass-piano syncopation to be a humorous consistency where it often works a song’s jam section.
28Nero di Marte

8/10: This Italian post-metal group released one of my early favorites in Immoto. Immoto is a slow, yet explosive listen that rewards paying close attention to how each buildup is paced and how it translates to each payoff. Nero di Marte’s sludge edge gives a bit of a Neurosis impression, but they’ve definitely forged their own modern deviation of that brand of post-metal. Here, the climaxes are more jam-like, allowing the instruments to play off each other to an effective degree. Even then, however, this album has it’s own versions of those awesome tribal passage like on “L’Arca”. For a change of pace, “La Fuga” works as a whirlpool of a short closer.
Spirituality and Distortion

8/10: Igorrr continues to establish themselves as one of the best avant-garde metal acts in modern times. They’ve been at the top of their game for two albums in a row with this new release in Spirituality and Distortion. Igorrr continues to master the balancing act between breakcore, avant-garde metal, and baroque music with great efficiency. This album is full of good jams with plenty of strength in the instrumentals. Igorrr seem to be heading in a good direction with their material, which can show promise for progression in future releases considering how varied the band’s sound is.
26Empty Country
Empty Country

8/10: I’ve had to bump this album up several times after “Chance” and “Swim” climbed higher and higher on my list. Even if I find most of the surrounding songs significantly weaker, I’ve gotten to know them better as well. One thing I can tell from repeated listens is that D’Agostino’s storytelling ability is pretty amazing. Pairing Americana-flavored indie rock with grounded familial narratives and civilian struggles has boded wonderfully for Empty Country’s success. I also appreciate how surprisingly diverse the instrumental leads are, as well, from the keyboard-led tracks like “Chance” and “Clearing” to the more conventional guitar-led tracks like “Marian” and “Swim”.
A Romance With Violence

8/10: I honestly had no idea how well Wild West black metal would pan out after hearing about it for the first time. I suppose I can put aside that skepticism now, however, because Wayfarer has made it sound like a heck of a time. It’s evident from the first full track, “The Crimson Rider (Gallows Frontier, Act 1)”, that what you’re getting with this are massive riffs with fitting songwriting themes. There’s hardly a weak moment on the album as each song has a healthy variety of high-quality entertainment. The production and mixing on this is also fantastic as the drums sound bursting with energy and the vocals and guitars are able to play off of each other when needed.
24Dan Deacon
Mystic Familiar

8/10: Another one of my earlier favorites for the year, Dan Deacon has proven to be one of the best upcoming neo-psychedelia artists around and Mystic Familiar has only boosted his status in that territory. It especially helps when you’re immediately sucked into the void with the magical opener “Become the Mountain”. The “Arp” series later on is a good showcase of fun electronic passages and a healthy divvy of psychedelic noodling. However, I prefer the one-two punch of the following two tracks at hand in “Weeping Birch” and “Fell Into the Ocean”, the former of which is a beautiful collage of synth flourishes and the latter of which is a ritualistic dive into the album’s familiar psychedelia.

8/10: Despite a relatively weak black metal scene with its Scandinavian counterparts, Polish black metal has been steadily climbing in relevancy over the past decade or so with the likes of Behemoth and Mgla. We can now safely add Odraza to that category. Odraza can be considered a quirkier Mgla, but by no means does that prevent them from writing heavy and hard-hitting moments into the album. I love the gravity blast-infused madness of the last two minutes of “Bempo” and the post-metal-influenced instrumentals on the vocalless closer. The album hits its highest peak on “W Godzinie Wilka”, which one can tell that a lot of jams are to be had from the disco beat after the first verse on.
Ultimate Success Today

8/10: Much like Igorr, Protomartyr are building a strong reputation for themselves in their own genre of post-punk. Although I think the songwriting is slightly stronger in Relatives in Descent than it is on here, I think Ultimate Success Today is a little stronger in its pacing and replayability. This album is compositionally very good, as well, with a plethora of top-tier post-punk instrumental work from everyone involved. “Processed by the Boys” and “Michigan Hammers” are the most obvious results of these improvements, but one of my favorite examples is the relativeness heaviness of “The Aphorist”.
21Pure Reason Revolution

8/10: This album is proof that I need to go back and listen to The Dark Third because Eupnea was a pretty awesome release. Its approach to prog rock sounds mature and veteran, yet it contains a fresh sense of direction with its alternative rock motifs and occasional electronic blemishes. The vocals also work fabulously into the instrumental’s alternative rock stylings.“Silent Genesis” and “Ghosts and Tycoons” are my favorite examples of these qualities, but the whole album is a solid ride all the way through. As one of my favorite comeback records of the year, Pure Reason Revolution are still hitting the mark after all these years.
20Thy Catafalque

8/10: Although I once had Naiv rated even higher earlier in the year, I can’t deny that I’ve had a ton of fun with this campy album throughout the year. Although Thy Catafalque’s recent experience in the avant-garde metal genre might be reminiscent of something like Igorrr, the project’s psychedelic atmosphere and usage of traditional electronics (including synthetic instruments such as the drums) is quite unique to them. Pretty much every song on Naiv is a blast of a listen in the right mood and each individual passage sounds relevantly memorable in their own rights. Good examples are stuff like the bass picking in “A Valosag Kazamatai” and the second half of “Kek Madar”, the latter of which sounds like the soundtrack for a vintage video game lobby.
19Nord (FRA)
The Only Way To Reach The Surface

8/10: I’m not sure if Nord can technically classify as swancore, but if it does, the French band’s new release might be the best of that genre in quite a long time. Nord delicately mixes post-hardcore, math rock, and progressive rock into a refreshing package. The production is top-notch, providing a spotless listen while keeping everything as authentic-sounding as possible. Many will likely talk about the 15-minute behemoth of a closer that towers over the rest of the album, but I think many of my favorite highlights lie in the album’s middle few songs. Desire Le Goff’s feature on “The Unstoppable” was excellent, the Mars Volta-like first verse of “Anger Management” brought some nostalgic chills down my spine, and “We Need to Burn Down This Submarine” is just straight up awesome.
18Elder (USA-MA)

8/10: On Omens, Elder sees what’s likely the largest shift in musical direction out of any of their LP releases. Many fans were predictably disappointed in this particular shift, but I think Omens stands with even the best of Elder’s past work. In the process of replacing a lot of their sludge sound with a more progressive rock feel, Elder have done a fantastic job in making sure none of the songwriting quality was lost along the way. I already talked about the incredible title track in my previous list, but other high points like “In Procession” are no laughing matter either. Maybe one could say that I’m only happy with this album’s existence due to its similarity with one of my favorite bands of recent years, Motorpsycho. I don’t think that’s the case, but if it was, Elder are doing a mighty fine imitation act.
17Run the Jewels

8/10: Fiona Apple’s lockdown dominance had to end at some point, so only naturally does a project come in a couple months later to do the deed. Granted, the nationwide protests in the United States acted as effective catalysts for RTJ4’s skyrocketing relevance, but this album’s witty commentary and careful songwriting only supported that rise. There’s no shortage of good beats to be found and the chemistry between El-P and Killer Mike continue to make these guys one of the most entertaining duos in the hip-hop scene. Here’s the thing, I don’t want another album like this to be released in the further future. It’s an odd sentiment, but I’m hoping, even if not in our lifetimes, we don’t need a respondent album like this or TPAB to get our prejudicial acts together. For the time being, however, RTJ4 is quite the necessary listen.
The All Is One

8/10: Motorpsycho have seemed unstoppable within the last several years. They’ve just released one excellent-to-spectacular record after another. The All is One is just another one in the warehouse. This time, they’ve gone back to the longer album structure of The Tower without as many of the slower, brooding passages as that album had. This leads to stuff like “The Magpie”, an uptempo, King Gizzard-ish banger that presents a psychedelic riff-driven side of Motorpsycho not really seen since Here Be Monsters. The jazzy N.O.X. series is as dizzying as it is enticing and the closer “The Chrome” features a cluster of guitar sound styles that carefully tiptoe around the current segment’s atmosphere.
15The Ocean
Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic

8/10: The first time sitting through “Triassic” had me thinking that this was going to undoubtedly be The Ocean’s best record yet. While that’s not quite the case (second place to Pelagial), I found this to be one of the best post-metal records 2020 has had to offer. The musicianship just seems to keep getting better and better with each release as mostly displayed with the epic “Jurassic/Cretaceous”. The Ocean have also implemented intriguing features such as the stunning black metal passage on “Pleistocene” and the artsy progressive rock nature of “Holocene”. I understand why this wouldn’t necessarily be an older fan’s cup of tea due to the emphasis on a great album-long listen rather than having as many songs that are strong individually. To me, however, this difference makes this project all the more respectable.
14Cosmic Putrefaction
The Horizons Towards Which Splendour Withers

8.5/10: Cosmic Putrefaction are a weird case. I’m normally not into this more traditional brand of death metal, but this Italian group managed to pull off that sound in a totally satisfying way and they’ve showed unique strengths along the way. In terms of song-to-song transitioning and pacing, this album is at the top of its game. The entire second half really feels like one huge dm epic. I love how each track carefully balances its thrashy death metal parts with the more atmospheric death doom segments. I don’t know if this relatively new band will keep up its current consistency for too long, but they’ve managed to create the best death metal records of 2020, so that’ll probably be enough to put valuable “hype stock” in the group.
Devouring Ruin

8.5/10: Apparently this record is classified as “sludgy black metal”, so the Cosmic Putrefaction’s hold on 2020’s top death metal album is still there. However, Devouring Ruin is an unmistakably fun album with plenty of jams to be had. “Kana Tevoro (Kania! Kania!)” and “This Abyssal Pain” are probably the most popular tracks here in which the latter features an awesome sludge metal section in its second half. “Mouth of Abolition” has some of my favorite pinch harmonic uses in a while, but I suppose that’s to be expected from an album with spectacular guitar playing in general. “Torchbearer” is a daunting 10+ minute epic that has many of the band’s best qualities. However, my favorite song of the bunch is probably “Monuments of Impiety”, which be the most chaotic four minutes I’ve heard this year.

8.5/10: There seems to be an even split on the battle between Makkuro and 10 for Tricot’s best 2020 record, so I’ll go ahead and get on the 10 train. I think a lot of my difference in preference boils down to major improvements in the band’s more upbeat moments along with more memorable instrumentals and catchier choruses. 10 just can’t seem to whiff with its nostalgically fun songwriting and jazzy playfulness. Tricot’s not afraid to change up the mathy pop rock formula on this project either such as the very distinct bass pedal effects and hip-hop flows on “WARP”, the congo inclusion on the fourth track, or the awesome Queens of a Stone Age-esque intro of the closer. I have a feeling it’s safe to place this band on the growing list of acts that have significant “hype stock” to them.
11Kashiwa Daisuke
Program Music III

8.5/10: It was probably a sin to only give myself enough time to the third Program Music installment, but I got a tremendous first impression from the end-of-year release. The album seems to function as a celebration of an insanely high amount of genres. From beginning to end of “sons” we’ve got classical, post-rock, jazz fusion, trip hop, dubstep, progressive house, more classical, drum and bass, folk, symphonic rock, IDM, hip hop, glitch, ambient, and then into a melting pot of a finish. I probably missed some inclusions along the way, but the way this guy makes all these genres mesh together and flow is almost unprecedented. Apart from the more melancholic “talion”, this was one of the most daring and experimental works of 2020, and the overwhelming majority of ideas were nothing short of home runs.
Unfold the God Man

8.5/10: Someone in the comments can correct me if I’m wrong, but the 2020 Unfold the God Man seems like a re-release of the 2018 version. If that’s the case, this album can be treated similarly to Car Seat Headrest’s Twin Fantasy from a couple years ago in that it can be considered a separate 2020 release. That part’s somewhat of a big deal because this is a spectacular post-metal album. Much of the project has this distinct psychedelic edge to it in a similar manner to how Waste of Space Orchestra worked that edge in their black metal album. “Halls of Amenti” and “Sananda” are probably my favorite examples of this stylistic direction as both song’s tribal sections are done masterfully. Psychonaut’s not short on good ol’ fashioned metal riffs either like those heard on “Kabbudah”. Unfold the God Man is certainly a lengthy journey of a listen, but it’s only half the journey (literally) compared to our next spot.
9Neptunian Maximalism

8.5/10: This Belgian jazz ensemble just up and decided one day to make their own version of At the Mountain of Madness. While Eons doesn’t have the mind-blowing craziness of that album, it’s still pretty bizarre in its own lovable way. As an album that’s very tribal in nature, Eons naturally has a very heavy focus on rhythm. Its pots-and-pans percussion style has a similar gratuitous appeal to Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters. Also like that album, the production does a magnificent job at making that style shine in the best ways possible. I also love the massive bass presence throughout the album, giving many of the songs a fittingly haunting atmosphere to pair with its oddball instrumentation. I’m aware that drony metal-infused avant-garde jazz is not the newest thing on the block, but I can’t of a recent album in that category better than this. Well, kind of…
8Oranssi Pazuzu
Mestarin Kynsi

8.5/10: …because this album also came out this year. Riding off my most underrated album of last year, Oranssi Pazuzu of Waste of Space Orchestra was certain to get my attention after making an album even more well-received than Syntheosis. Although I still slightly prefer Syntheosis’ even more extensive genre-bending, Mestarin Kynsi is no less of a blast. It’s yet another trip into this group’s dementedly magnificent atmosphere full of anxious tone setting and frightening explosions of energy. I love how progressively more orchestral the instrumentation gets as the album progresses, almost as if to signify a similar progression in epicness as the journey gets closer to its final moments. This thing’s hit top 10 on RYM’s year-end list, so there aren’t many excuses to miss out on it.

8.5/10: Fireworker has shown me beyond enough reason to one day dig through the band’s discography after hearing about them for so long through their referred similarities to Porcupine Tree. As I’ve heard out of Demon and this album, they seem to embrace much more neo-prog motifs than the aforementioned band. Nonetheless, Gazpacho seem to be in their creative prime with Fireworker, an album brimming with creativity and shockingly emotional lyrics at the helm. The production value on this album is utterly fantastic, somehow taking familiar neo-prog instrumental ideas from the early 2000’s and making them sound refreshing and new. “Sapien” is a masterpiece of a closer, of course, but the title track shouldn’t be slept on as another wonderful highlight full of great theatrical melodies and a wonderful vocal performance.
6The Microphones
Microphones in 2020

8.5/10: I won’t mince words here, unless I have a lot of time combined with a really specific mood, this album/song is emotionally and mentally difficult to sit through. When I have experienced it, however, it still strikes me as one of Elvrum’s best works since The Glow Pt. 2. It’s seven-minute guitar chord loop pretty much tells you all you need to know about this thing’s nature: nostalgic, sentimental, and heavily introspective. In a way, this project is a recollection of Elvrum’s entire career, containing seemingly endless amounts of references to his prior works and his own most memorable quotes. The project gets better as it goes along, too, especially with the second half displaying some truly incredible moments.
5Young Jesus
Welcome to Conceptual Beach

9/10: And here we are: my most underrated album of the year. Over the last few years, Young Jesus has been an indie act steadily growing in popularity. Welcome to Conceptual Beach is arguably their most successful release yet, and rightfully so. Pretty much everything they out on here works like a charm. On the lengthier cuts, the free-range percussion brings a defining presence to the ambient sections. The singer has a powerful vocal style, which, between that and the post rock-influenced cuts of the last two tracks, has Young Jesus being compared to the likes of the renowned Talk Talk. Each song ranges from great to fantastic in its own way and is significant lyrically and thematically. I’ll just say that this is the third band on the list to join the “hype stock” group.
4Lianne La Havas
Lianne La Havas

9/10: Despite the decent praise this album gets, I’m still not convinced that’s currently enough. Even when repeatedly hearing about its success from critics and online communities alike, this self-titled album was one of the year’s biggest surprises. Firstly, Lianne La Havas is probably one of the most promising modern soul singers in that scene. She absolutely nails the poppier nature of her lyrics and sells them in the sweetest way possible. Dynamically, there was a critic that once described this album as having a “live” feel to it, which probably explains why I find the production so captivating. Like how I described many of the songs on my last list, this entire album perfectly rides the fine line between authentic and clean. Every song here is pretty much a bop, so this’ll be my go-to feel-good album for quite a while.
3Fiona Apple
Fetch The Bolt Cutters

9.5/10: Fetch the Bolt Cutters feels like a perfect showcasing of personality. Even an unsuspecting newcomer can undeniably feel that this work is of Fiona Apple’s finesse, but it’s still remarkably an album that can thematically apply to anyone. It’s true that this album’s style or “way of putting things” is a required taste, but I will stunningly say that several publications’ early worship of this project was about as valid as you can get. This album never really gets old to listen to as each song has its own key role to latch onto with a full listen. Catchier cuts “Heavy Balloon” and “Shameika” perfectly display Fiona Apple’s pop skills, “Relay”, “Newspaper”, and “On I Go” are like ritualistic stylings of thematic reprises, and “Under the Table” and “Cosmonauts” act as effective tension builders. This record’s like a celebration of Fiona’s career in piano rock, cabaret, and art-pop, and it’s a record that won over my full attention for six months until…
Visions of Bodies Being Burned

9.5/10: …this was released. Much like Cult of Luna last year, clipping. is a group that improves significantly with each subsequent release. Although I thought it was almost a pipe dream to release something better than their “Part 1” release last year, Visions of Bodies Being Burned is clipping.’s best project yet. Nearly every instrumental sounds like a collage of different horror movie samples, and somehow this combination of samples sounds even scarier than the samples themselves. In fact, the whole album is like a reimagining of those movies, fixed up by Daveed Diggs’ sharp wordplay and diverse flows. If Fetch the Bolt Cutters was an accurate representation of isolation during the international lockdowns and RTJ4 was an accurate representation of frustration towards the lack of progress in American injustice, then Visions of Bodies Being Burned is a haunting allegory of the two combined. Now that this record exists, how could this endeavor be done any other way?
1Ichiko Aoba
Windswept Adan


10/10: Here it is: the best album in ten years. It’s funny, really; I’ve enjoyed a lot of Ichiko’s past material, but it took until her chamber folk album to really fall in love with her. This album’s basically heaven in a handbasket. It’s borderline manipulative how much the instrumentals tug at the heartstrings. In a surreal way, I vaguely remember hearing much of this album’s sound from a collection of my own past memories. My point is that the album’s like an auditory dream of mine, and it represents an atmosphere I wouldn’t mind staying in forever, or at least for the rest of 2020. I suppose part of the power in Ichiko’s “world building” is how seamlessly each track feeds into one another, but, just like with Empty Country’s “Swim”, that construction has to be explained by something otherworldly. Windswept Adan’s overwhelming beauty just washes over any negatives I have to say about it, if any really exist. Thank you, Ichiko Aoba, sincerely.
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