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Best of 2020

Chris Luedtke's Top 20 Albums of 2020

Well, that was a year. Debatably. Metal and hardcore-wise some fantastic albums came out this year. It’s just a shame that we aren’t going to be able to see these things get performed live until 2024. I half kid. There is not much to say about this year though beyond talking about how utterly sucky it has been for the world as a whole.

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Hopefully throughout this, if you have not been on the frontlines and been in the fortunate enough position to work from home, you were able to make the most of that time. Personally speaking, I have been using the time to learn hacking, software engineering, and Ultimate Doom speedrunning. Maybe you got through a stack of books you wanted to read, picked up an instrument, started a band, finished a game, or just in general learned a new skill. Maybe you became a professional couch burrito. Whatever you did, I hope you are safe. It is an even more bizarre world now.

And if you need more to do, below you will find my favorite metal/hardcore releases of the year. As a general disclaimer, I’d like to point out that if you were to ask me for a 2020 best of list in, say, April next year, you’ll likely find that my ordering changed. It is always difficult to speculate between something I’ve had for two weeks and something I’ve had for eight months. But I do my best. Also, if something is not on the list that you wanted on the list then I recommend making your own list. It will suite your tastes well. Take care and enjoy.

RIP to Riley Gale, Michael Brooks, and Wade Allison.

20. FOCUSRIGHTS
Ew, Music!
Independent

There is no better straightjacket experience this year than Focusrights debut Ew, Music!. One of the most diverse records of the year while also being one of the most chaotic and insane. There is, of course, nothing wrong with that. What Focusrights has accomplished with this record is stunning beyond any blurb I can churn out. The Russian duo has bottled lightning with this release. It is an album that goes all over the place but ultimately roots itself in mathgrind, more or less. It is an experience not to be missed but just understand that if you have not heard this already, you are not ready for it.

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Listen to Ew, Music! in its entirety here.

19. FUCK THE FACTS
Pleine Noirceur
Noise Salvation

It has been a little too long since we last heard from Fuck The Facts. The Canadian grindcore force has been a mainstay in my rotation for years. And despite the band usually punching out a bunch of releases in between full lengths, they have been quiet these past five years. But if Pleine Noirceur was the culmination of that silence then it was worth it. Fuck The Facts has always been a grind band that puts more into their sound than most. And this is no different. Lots of progressive passages, moody build ups, and instrumental sections little this record. Plenty of pure aggressive knocks to the teeth do as well. Fuck The Facts is great at balancing their sound and keeping their craft unpredictable. This is no different, and might be their best record yet.

Listen to Pleine Noirceur in its entirety here.

18. ATRAMENTUS
Stygian
20 Buck Spin

I suck at listening to slow music; I have no time for it. So, this should surprise everyone. Usually if I am going to queue up some doom, it is going to sound like Eyehategod. But here we are. This is the best epic/funeral doom record I have heard since Bell Witch. Playing slow and keeping things interesting is difficult. But Atramentus pull it off with every second of their run time. It is like a cold day on a lake at a funeral. Something that feels at home amongst Nordic mythology. It is as epic and moving as a glacier that is going to run the listener over. Beautiful, heavy, and moving. Even if you don’t like funeral doom, this is highly recommended.

Listen to Stygian in its entirety here

17. ULTHAR
Providence
20 Buck Spin

Ulthar’s last album flew under my radar in 2018. No reason, but I came to appreciate it more in 2019. So, when the band announced Providence I was ready for more chaotic blacked death metal. Ulthar has something special going on. They are not afraid to mess with their sound or reel in some weird passages/guitar work. They sound like a black metal band playing death metal, and sometimes like a death metal band playing black metal. Goes well with the phallic artwork as well. This is a difficult band to describe. One could say they are kind of like Demilich and that is kind of accurate. But it is better to just listen and let their weirdness consume you.

Listen to Providence in its entirety here

16. CAUSTIC WOUND
Death Posture
Profound Lore Records

Everybody is doing old school these days. Some are just doing a damn fine job at it. Caustic Wound’s 80s approach to death metal/grindcore sounds like a record of the era. Total raw death worship. The whole production sounds stripped down to scrap metal. It is the audio equivalent of being attacked with a broken, rusty knife. And with a line-up featuring members of Magrudergrind, Mortiferum, Fetid, and Cerebral Rot it is not surprising that this came out the way it did.

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Listen to Death Posture in its entirety here

15. PRIMITIVE MAN
Immersion
Relapse Records

Some have complained about Primitive Man not making Caustic part two, but I think they knocked it out of the park with Immersion. Still donning a trench coat of hate, the band scaled back their sound with this record and locked in a disgusting record. The result is still a noisy and heavy enough to crack concrete. Immersion is a simpler record more reminisce of Scorn but with the anger levels cranked up higher. It opens with the classic Primitive Man feedback and moves like a goddamn kaiju through a major metropolitan city. Every second of this record is like a vice grips on the senses. Tense and disorienting doom that is furiously honed.

Listen to Immersion in its entirety here.

14. SKÁPHE
Skáphe³
Mystiskaos

One of the more dissonant bands in black metal is back with their latest opus. Skáphe has a talent for producing uncomfortable soundscapes. A feeling that is reminisce of something crawling in the shadows. Or like something one might see out of the corner of their eye shaking, joints hanging. Their third full-length is no different in this regard. The band has gotten more calculated. These tracks are still plenty cold and eerie, but the band’s sound has grown. The album flows one track after the other and evokes a strong Tod Huetet Uebel feel. There is a stream of consciousness to the writing in a lot of spots, the drum fills, or some sudden guitar melodies will hit. It is an album that needs to be experienced in one sitting. Harrowing black metal.

Listen to Skáphe³ in its entirety here

13. PAYSAGE D'HIVER
Im Wald
Kunsthall

I do not think anyone is surprised that Paysage D’hiver’s full-length stretches across four LPs and clocks in at two hours. If it were anything less, I think we would be surprised. It is also no surprise that this is one of the coldest sounding records on this list. The Swiss one-man atmospheric black metal machine has been active since ’97 and Im Wald is one of the project’s latest releases. Considered the first full-length, all thirteen tracks start out with the sounds of winter winds. The sheer size and scope of this record is like the longest, most scenic blizzard ever put to sound. The album is simply majestic. Instrumentally, everything feels like it is being buried under snow. But never in a bad way. It is what brings out the winter feeling. It might be a lot for some, perhaps even atonal, but if ambient or atmospheric black metal is something you love, this band is probably already in your earmuffs.

Listen to Im Wald in its entirety here

12. BLACK CURSE
Endless Wound
Sepulchral Voice Records

I have to extend a thanks to the vinyl community on Instagram, as without them this album might have slid past me and that would have been a shame. When something gets posted by like twenty people in the same day, that is a clear sign I need to check it out. So, I bought the record outright. Didn’t look anything up, just opened the wallet and waited. A week or so later I understood why people were hyped on this. It’s like Teitanblood and Infernal Coil came together with a dash of Vermin Womb. Endless Wound is a largely a death metal record with some doom and war thrown in there. The dissonance is heavy, and the tracks are furious. Featuring members of Blood Incantation, Spectral Voice, Primitive Man, and Khemmis, it is hard to see how this could go wrong. It is an alchemy of dark arts ala death metal. A truly brutal experience.

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Listen to Endless Wound in its enitrety here

11. WAKE
Devouring Ruin
Translation Loss Records

Watching Wake become what they are today has been a journey. From grind, to deathgrind, to progressive deathgrind with a blackened feel is a lot, but for the band also seamless. Devouring Ruin is the kind of album that is a logical step for Wake. In fact, it is a lot like Misery Index’s discography, where they morph from blazing grind to death metal. Wake’s deathgrind roots are still here on tracks like “In The Lair of Rats” but when one looks at songs like “Kana Tevoro (Kania! Kania!)” one can see them incorporating both sounds. And other tracks like “Torchbearer” see the band delving even more into progressive and ambient elements. Growth and all, this is a fantastic release from Wake.

Listen to Devouring Ruin in its entirety here

10. NAPALM DEATH
Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism
Century Media

It was a good year for another page in the Napalm Death catalog. Following up from 2015’s Apex Predator – Easy Meat, the Birmingham, UK’s latest release is one of their strongest. Some have called this one of the most experimental albums in the band’s history and that is true. The likes of post punk and industrial get shoved into Napalm Death’s grind-scope this time. The band is knowingly fans of Killing Joke and the influence comes through. A lot of this record is grind as usual until “Joie De Ne Pas Vivre” hits. The mood changes and things get a lot more sinister. Napalm Death flipping on the post punk switch works for them well. “Amoral” shows a similar attitude and is incredibly catchy. This is, though, first and foremost a grindcore record. But it is nice to see Napalm Death throw some curveballs.

Listen to Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism in its entirety here

9. REALIZE
Machine Violence
Relapse Records

Leave it to members of Sex Prisoner and Languish to unleash a crushing dystopian slab of industrial aggression. Machine Violence is the band’s debut album. Programmed drums, digital amps, and digital pedals—an album that is meant to be electronic but seemingly with a hint of humanity. Realize not only…realize…this but have also crafted one of this year’s loudest, heaviest records. Machine Violence takes cues from other industrial acts like Godflesh, Fear Factory, and Nailbomb and runs it through a Ghost In The Shell lens. It is a lyrically cold record that sounds like it is flirting with the singularity.

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Listen to Machine Violence in its enitrety here

8. LAMP OF MURMUUR
Heir Of Ecliptical Romanticism
Death Kvlt Productions

Hard to believe that Lamp of Murmuur has only been around for a year and is already putting out some of the most desired tapes and vinyl out there in the black metal community. But rest assured, if a copy is still desired, represses are coming. That being said, Heir Of Ecliptical Romanticism is the first official full-length from the one man band out of Olympia, WA and it is the best thing in black metal this year. The band gained a lot of buzz last year but here it culminates into one epic, ghostly manifestation. The album opens with a ten-minute burner and keeps the momentum. At times it is hauntingly beautiful, at others it sounds like it is going to go full raw black metal. Sole member M has a great handle on songwriting and recording. Proving that you don’t need to record inside of a 1940s toaster to sound raw and bitter as hell.

Listen to Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism in its entirety here

7. NECROT
Mortal
Tankcrimes

Whole lotta death metal on this list and we are not done yet. Necrot’s latest dab of death metal is a doozy of a record. It isn’t blisteringly fast or technical, but damn if it isn’t some of the best composed death metal out there. Mortal is a record that feels like it is harkening back to early Death records. Throughout seven tracks in about forty minutes, Necrot lays waste. Their sound from Blood Offerings has strengthened, which is quite something because that was a fantastic record too. Mortal feels like a complete experience. It is hard to start this record and not finish it.

Listen to Mortal in its entirety here

6. OF FEATHER AND BONE
Sulfuric Disintegration
Profound Lore Records

It does not matter that it is six tracks. That might seem like small potatoes usually, but for Of Feather and Bone, this is the most intense six tracks they have ever written. Though Bestial Hymns of Perversion was not my forte, previous works of theirs were strong when they were still a hardcore band. Sulfuric Disintegration is a full realization of this band and their sound. The album is as huge as a python dislocating its jaw to swallow its prey whole. Every track is a heavy, unrelenting banger. The mixing/mastering fully realizes the band’s savage sound.

Listen to Sulfuric Disintegration in its entirety here

5. TERMINAL NATION
Holocene Extinction
20 Buck Spin

I have been hyped on Terminal Nation for a few years now. Some years ago, I was asked to help promote their Absolute Control EP on my Monday Grind column. And I was blown away by the sound, passion, and aggression. Hardcore/powerviolence nestled into a “fuck around and find out” package that has evolved into a merciless, vicious death metal/hardcore/grind/doom amalgamation that is ready to rip someone’s spine out. Holocene Extinction is an angry, unrelenting record and for good reason. Unafraid of its leftist stances and anxious in its ire, Holocene Extinction delivers blows in droves. Not a single track on this record is contrived or pandering. It is pure passion distilled into some of the heaviest metal/hardcore one is likely to hear for a long time. It is rightfully cynical, pissed, and ready to fight.

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Listen to Holocene Extinction in its entirety here

4. INTERNAL ROT
Grieving Birth
Iron Lung Records

I do not give a hecking crap-diddly if this is in any way predictable coming from me. Internal Rot has been a top performing band for a while now in the grindcore genre. They do not do anything new or special. So, why the high rating? It all comes down to execution. And Internal Rot were born to grind. Grieving Birth is their follow-up to 2014’s Mental Hygiene and holy hell does it improve on its predecessor. Track to track, this record is a wrecker. The riffs, drums and vocals are all as uncompromising as possible. Additionally, like previous releases, the band switches up riffs and beats so quickly, tracks become a blur. That is not a knock against them though. Far from it. Grieving Birth tightens what Mental Hygiene started and comes out with sharper teeth and riffs.

Listen to Grieving Birth in its entirety here

3. THE SOUND THAT ENDS CREATION
Memes, Dreams, and Flying Machines
Dark Trail Records

I did not hear a more fun record this year than this latest mathgrind monolith. Mathcore is on the rise big time and it is only going to get bigger in the next two years. Do not be surprised when math bands start popping up like death metal bands are now. I also will not be surprised when Chris Dearing’s project has a scope like a philharmonic orchestra about to be Semtex’d. One could rightfully call the project loony, and it is, but Dearing has a real knack for honing his chaos. I actually went back and listened to the project’s full discography in one go. And it is incredible how fast the sound of this band has grown. Memes, Dreams, and Flying Machines is a culmination of the ridiculous put to sound. Tracks are frantic, heavy, and biting. Like mathcore in the past the tracks all have ridiculous names, though they mimic the lyrical nature on some layer or another.

Listen to Memes, Dreams, and Flying Machines in its entirety here

2. UNDEATH
Lesions of a Different Kind
Prosthetic Records/Maggot Stomp

The best riffs in death are here. Lesions of a Different Kind is a record that one can listen to over and over and over and over and catch something new every time. The amount of work that was put into this record is crazy. There was a lot of hype leading up to this release but Undeath out did themselves here. Not only that, but this is also the most old school sounding record that came out this year. The production is so 80s that it may as well have come from the 80s. The riffs are insane, bordering on mathcore flirtations. Things switch up constantly and it only makes the album more addictive. This is peak death metal. Super filthy, technical, and gory. Exactly the way death metal was meant to be played.

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Listen to Lesions of a Different Kind in its entirety here

Code Orange

1. CODE ORANGE
Underneath
Roadrunner Records

If you would have told me last year, I would be handing Code Orange an album of the year nod I would have told you to shut up and fuck off. I have been listening to Code Orange releases since Embrace Me//Erase Me and at first, I thought they had potential, but it felt squashed by the time their Cycles EP released. Why? Because it felt like they just wanted to do breakdowns, ultimately. Now that is not to say that they were not already incorporating a lot of sounds into their music, they were. It just felt like it fell to the wayside. Industrial, post punk, rock? Yeah, it might be there, but a breakdown was imminent and was likely to dominate the track to the point of ad nauseum and sheer boredom. I became a kind of hate listener in that if they released something, I would begrudgingly listen.

Underneath was a surprise. A massive surprise. Why? Because it is a culmination of Code Orange’s strengths finally realized. There are still breakdowns, but they are not so focal. The band goes hard on every track here, opening with an ambient track gone violent like a knife attack. If “Swallowing the Rabbit Whole” does not put your head to a cheese grater, this record is already hopeless for you. I have maintained that the band can hold a threatening demeanor, but Underneath takes it a step further, practically mocking the listener. Themes of self-reflection/introspection dominate the album, and exposure of the true self. It is a lyrical “can you really face you?” kind of question.

It is not a perfect record. Not even close. The radio rock songs like “Sulfur Surrounding” and “Autumn and Carbine” are hokey and detract from the overall experience. In sticking with the knife metaphor here, one might say it is not double-edged. Others like “The Easy Way” or “Underneath” serve the album well and create a sort of self-defensive approach. The thing about the rock songs, or metal-lite, or whatever you wanna call them, is that they do serve as a gateway to drawn people into the record’s harsher moments. Metal and hardcore are gatekeep-y enough as is. Hardcore being an especially two-faced offender here, projecting a, “Everyone is welcome. Except you.” attitude amongst its worst listeners. So, if this record gets more ears on metallic material, good.

The hard songs on here are some of the hardest in metal and hardcore. Tracks like “In Fear”, “Cold.Metal.Place” and “Erasure Scan” are relentless. The riffage is amazing and the vocals are harsh. The recording at times even messes with the listener, swelling until it sounds like it is going to explode. The songs are lyrically confrontational as well. Code Orange is no stranger to calling bullshit on people, and right they are to do so. “You And You Alone” and the aforementioned “Cold.Metal.Place” are tracks of total mockery, but still contain that self-reflection that is rampant throughout. Calling people easy to control, weak, or lacking substance to the point that the outside laughs at them. Harsh? Yeah, but the band has never played nice.

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Underneath is just an incredible record. The amount of hours I spent with this album far outweighs anything else on this list. Underneath is not perfect, but its strongest moments are better than any of the aforementioned albums on this list. If you, like I was, were not sold on Code Orange beforehand, this might be the one that changes your mind. It is 2020 after all, only weird shit happens this year.

Listen to Underneath in its entirety here

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