There isn't much to say about this year that hasn't been said already. I feel thankful to remain healthy, employed, and surrounded by family and friends (in a socially distant manner). I also am thankful for the embarrassment of riches that was music in 2020. It's always a good problem to have when there is too much to pick from for these year-end lists. Yet, this year had many personal ups and downs—as I am certain is the case for many other individuals. I implore you all to take every step necessary to ensure that everyone around you stays safe and healthy. When I'm not an editor for Metal Injection, I'm a doctor.
COVID-19 is affecting everyone in more ways than just as a physical illness. Please wear a mask and respect guidelines from scientists and doctors. The amount of evidence and data exploding from this pandemic is a lot to collect and analyze. Good evidence and research take time and as a consequence, please understand the guidelines coming from the top minds in the world will change—it's the nature of good science.
The mental and emotional impact of COVID-19 may be as detrimental as it is physically. With social isolation imperative to stop the spread of this virus, the effects these measures have on someone's mental wellbeing cannot be stated enough. Again, I implore you all to take every step necessary to ensure that everyone around you stays safe and healthy—this also means mental and emotional health. Check-in with your friends and loved ones. Send care packages, letters, texts, emails, anything that shows someone you're thinking of them. You may not know who is struggling more than normal during these times until it is too late.
Take care and stay healthy through the holiday season. If you have extra funds available, please consider donating to a cause that is very important to me and many people who Brandon Gay had an impact on.
Here are my picks for the best (metal) albums of 2020.
Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress
Closed Casket Activities
19. HERETICAL SECT
Rapturous Flesh Consumed
Disco4 :: Part I
Loma Vista Recordings
16. GLORIOUS DEPRAVITY
Translation Loss Records
14. FORMER WORLDS
Iterations of Time
13. BELL WITCH & AERIAL RUIN
Stygian Bough Volume I
Profound Lore Records
20 Buck Spin
11. THOU & EMMA RUTH RUNDLE
May Our Chambers Be Full
Sacred Bones Records
10. KILLER BE KILLED
Nuclear Blast Records
From Cody's interview with Troy Sanders:
"While the members of Killer Be Killed require no introduction—they're pieces of storied and decorated bands that have shaped heavy music for decades—the egoless friendship of the four members retain the band's exciting, "first band" ethos. After more than five years of silence and hardly a mention of the band after their electric self-titled debut in 2014, Killer Be Killed returns with little warning for their second full-length album, Reluctant Hero.
The band's newest effort showcases a greater affinity for experimentation and penchant for catchy songwriting—even in the face of distance and all of their busy touring schedules between records. Reluctant Hero slowly came to fruition over the course of five years, ultimately taking tangible shape in 2019 and the earliest parts of this year.
Ultimately, Reluctant Hero is a remarkable follow-up to Killer Be Killed's debut record. It accomplishes what any great record should, a clear and exciting progression of a band's vision. For the star-studded cast that comprises this band, they successfully achieve the energy that comes from four friends coming together to create music they love."
Listen to Reluctant Hero in its entirety here.
9. STEVE VON TILL
No Wilderness Deep Enough
From Cody's interview with Steve Von Till:
"Von Till's newest effort came completely out of thin air. There was no formal consideration, no dedicated construct to arrangements. In fact, it came from sleepless nights in Germany—the familial ghosts of his wife's homeland fueled early ideas and piano chords. From the strokes of those keys, the six songs of No Wilderness Deep Enough slowly took shape. It's an ambient record in its own right. Layers of mellotron, cello, and French horn create textured nuance to his keys. However, as Von Till details later, the album almost remained instrumental.
A nudge from his friend and producer, Randall Dunn, brought Von Till's signature rasp out and built a dark folk and Americana record that's drawn comparisons to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Brian Eno. Songs like "The Old Straight Track" and "Shadows on the Run" exemplify this emotive blend. The minimalism—both in musical and lyrical arrangements—carries an equivocal emotional weight to some of Neurosis's biggest moments.
The approach to the album isn't the only new creative development for Von Till. Accompanying No Wilderness Deep Enough is a new collection of untitled poems and a compilation of his lyrics from his solo albums entitled Harvestman: 23 Untitled Poems and Collected Lyrics. Poetry has always been a creative outlet for Von Till, but it's never left his personal journals. The unorthodox formation of his newest record coincidentally inspired him to craft new lines, unbound to musical arrangements. This culmination of new music and poetry amounts to one of the most radiant exhibits of artistic talent in recent years. As Von Till puts it, in summary, it came from honoring the muse."
Listen to No Wilderness Deep Enough in its entirety here.
Translation Loss Records
From Cody's premiere and interview with Wake:
Calgary's Wake has been on a unique path over the last handful of years. The Canadian quintet originally began as a straightforward grind band over ten years ago. In the years since their inception, they've gradually morphed into something, well… amorphous. No longer bound to genre or personal constraints, Rob LaChance (guitar), Kyle Ball (vocals), Ryan Kennedy (bass), Arjun Gill (guitar), and Josh Bueckert (drums) make extreme music that is uniquely theirs. On their newest endeavor—the ruthless Devouring Ruin—they build upon their machinations that have blossomed over their previous couple of records. The result is a masterclass on experimentation and untethered ideation filtered through a prism of extreme metal's most radiant attributes.
Devouring Ruin takes Wake to unexplored territories. Heavier emphasis on doom and sludge, durational droning sections, and long-form tracks are a few of many nuances and ideas that populate the band's finest effort. Help from producer and engineer, Dave Otero, as well as a guest spot on "Mouth of Abolition" from Khemmis/Glacial Tomb vocalist/guitarist, Ben Hutcherson, only heighten the brilliance within Wake's framework—a framework bolstered by exacting focus and a collective headspace. On an individual level, it marked new avenues in writing and musicianship which led to a greater fleshing out of ideas. These collectively emerge in brilliant moments like "Kana Tevoro [Kania! Kania!]," "This Abyssal Plain," and "Torchbearer" among others.
Lachance and Gill lay down numerous, fiery leads and solos while the reconfigured low-end of Kennedy and Bueckert add overwhelming grit and pacing. Ball's intimate and observational lyrics accentuate breakneck shifts in tempo and style throughout Devouring Ruin's ten tracks. Ultimately, Wake's latest display culminates into a manifesto for evolution, not only personally, but sonically. Stagnation means demise and the Calgary natives have no intention of dying out.
Listen to Devouring Ruin (and Wake's EP, Confluence) in its entirety here.
From Cody's premiere and interview with Fluisteraars:
"Through vivid recollection and reimagination of old folklore, Fluisteraars builds a dazzling collection of tracks that showcases a psych/folk-driven black metal. The duo has evolved into one of the staples in a growing surge of non-Scandinavian black metal talent. As they grow, their sound and ideology further bucks the trends the very genre was founded on.
M. Koops and B. Mollema choose to find positivity in the world around them. One of the biggest wells of hope comes from the Veluwe, an area of forests and fields in their native Gelderland in the Netherlands. The Veluwe has stood for years and with its tenure comes its tales. Stories and legends emanate from windswept wildflowers and whispering woods. Koops and Mollema took those tales and molded their own and wove it into beautiful moments like "Nasleep" and "Eeuwige Ram."
Bloem is a further deviation from the raw sound that Fluisteraars was founded on years ago. It's even a drastic stretch from their previous full-length record, Luwte. No track stretches beyond the eight-minute mark, yet each moment yields such poignant depth and stirring imagery. Arrangements as lush and diverse as the natural world in which Koops and Mollema explore make Bloem one of the finest moments in heavy music this year."
Listen to Bloem in its entirety here.
6. OF FEATHER AND BONE
Profound Lore Records
From Cody's premiere and interview with Alvino Salcedo:
"…Salcedo's lyrics lay over one of the year's heaviest and most dynamic displays of death metal this year. Of Feather and Bone's Sulfuric Disintegration marks a vicious leap forward from the trio's last album, Bestial Hymns of Perversion. Their newest album showcases six tracks that tackle religious fanaticism, colonialism, and conquest at the expense of indigenous cultures and their practices—mainly practices of suicide and self-sacrifice—among other ideas.
…These themes alongside Salcedo, Dave Grant (guitar/vocals), and Preston Weippert's (drums) continued growth as musicians highlight a multi-dimensional death metal band that covers a breadth of ideas, including facets of death not often discussed in their genre, like suicide. Ultimately, Sulfuric Disintegration marks a powerful, new benchmark for the trio and a high point for death metal as a whole as the year winds down…"
Listen to Sulfuric Disintegration in its entirety here.
Degen van Licht
From Cody's premiere and interview with Turia:
"Officially their third full-length record, Turia's Degen van Licht is a majestic homage to the Alps along the French and Italian borders as well as the wildlife that inhabits those peaks. The trio has always been adept at crafting an ambiance that draws the listener into their creation. However, Degen van Licht strikes a different chord.
Through equal parts of improved production clarity, heightened complexity, and deliberately diverse songwriting; Turia built a high mark for Dutch (and global) black metal this year. Across seven tracks, reverberating riffs and humming analog synths paint a landscape of the renowned mountain range—and the dangers that emerge as the seasons change and people test their luck.
Vocalist, T, drives the stirring dashes of Turia's music with a unique vocal and lyrical delivery that comes, not from a concrete narrative, but from intangible emotion seeping from the subject matter. O covers the blistering tremolo and lurching dirge that echo like the calls of animals across Mont Blanc. J's maddening blasts build a frenzied meter that seemingly carries the songs up the mountains by themselves. Though their talent is present throughout the album's entirety. There are true standout moments, like in "Met Sterven Beboet," "Storm," and the lengthy finale, "Ossifrage," where the three members truly shine."
Listen to Degen van Licht in its entirety here.
4. PRIMITIVE MAN
From Cody's interview with Ethan McCarthy of Primitive Man:
"I will adamantly attest that Denver’s Primitive Man is the heaviest band on the planet. The sludge-ridden doom trio expertly blankets their compositions in dense walls of noise and reverb crafting and measuring out an oppressive, soul-crushing atmosphere. Their sound—coupled with an utterly visceral take on socioeconomic, political, individual, and internal conflict—has made the band a pivotal soundtrack and coping mechanism for existential crises…
On Immersion, McCarthy, along with Jonathan Campos (bass) and Joe Linden (drums), is a long way away from the anger and hate on Scorn. McCarthy describes the album as a means to embed himself in the world around him and to help tackle the mental illness he grapples with. Musically, the trio crafts their most incisive and efficient full-length record to date. McCarthy, Campos, and Linden fit all of the existential anguish that Primitive Man has historically fleshed out or around the hour mark into about 36 minutes—nearly half the length of their previous full-length, Caustic.
Moments like “The Lifer,” “Menacing,” and “Foul” stretch to the seven- or eight-minute mark and showcase the band’s knack for calculated tension, but Immersion as a whole is more complete and much more furious than any previous Primitive Man release. There is not a wasted moment. Every towering cymbal crash and bass line, every riff, every ounce of feedback, and bellowed word molds one of the year’s most honest and brutal releases."
Listen to Immersion in its entirety here.
3. SPIRIT ADRIFT
Enlightened in Eternity
20 Buck Spin/Century Media
From Cody's premiere and interview with Nate Garrett:
The evolution of Spirit Adrift over the last five years has been an electrifying transformation. Nate Garrett has turned his once doom-centric project into one of the brightest examples of neo-classical metal. He goes toe-to-toe with timeless bands' discographies these days. Spirit Adrift has been a vessel for Garrett to perfect his songwriting. Over the years as albums have dropped annually, every effort becomes a timestamp in Garrett's progression—an increase in his vocal range here, a new way to layer harmonies there. As expected, the evidence of dedication to his craft and development as a musician is at its peak once more on Enlightened in Eternity.
Garrett and drummer, Marcus Bryant, team up to construct eight soaring tracks of classic heavy metal thunder and empowering messages of hope and resilience. There are too many great moments to count—the opening salvo on "Harmony of the Spheres," the punchy grit of "Stronger Than Your Pain," or literally every second of "Cosmic Conquest"—but every single moment lands with fervent intensity.
Listen to Enlightened In Eternity in its entirety here.
A Romance With Violence
Profound Lore Records
From Cody's premiere and interview with Wayfarer:
"Blood soaks the soil of the American West. It's seeped through generations of clay and the dust of mountains and plains. The blood spilled from indigenous people at the hands of American colonizers turned the West red. It was not wild or a destiny manifested through brilliance, but a ruthless slaughter of ancient cultures and lands. A century and a half have passed since America's westward expansion. In that relatively brief time, efforts to mask and whitewash these events continue to intensify. For Denver, Colorado's Wayfarer, their extreme metal—dusted in Americana and Western Folk—stands to resist the dissolution of their land's history.
On their newest full-length record, A Romance With Violence, the quartet doubles down on their stylings and message. 2018's World's Blood saw the band evolve into what was billed as "High Plains Black Metal." Their newest effort blows away any sort of classification—it's a fully realized, dramatic, and cinema-like exploration of the American West's bloody history and a scathing exposé of efforts to bury its truth.
Listen to A Romance With Violence in its entirety here.
1. BLACK CURSE
Sepulchral Voice Records
From Cody's premiere and interview with Black Curse:
"It's primordial darkness that Colorado's Black Curse siphons from. A kind of darkness that compounds the incorporeal matter of humanity and the sonic intensity of the earliest black and death metal. This kind of fusion is the foundation for what this trio has been looking to achieve for years. Endless Wound, the band's proper debut, represents over five years of work meticulously crafting and refining that sinister darkness.
Endless Wound is vicious; it does not quit. Moments like "Enraptured by Decay" and "Seared Eyes" showcase some of the more feral tendencies of the band. Guttural noises and spitting vocals over fiery, shifting riffs accentuate those and other tracks on the record. There are also some more metered and nuanced instances like "Lifeless Sanctum" and portions of the title track. They employ tense, building moments of volcanic proportions that erupt. It all sounds so chaotic and unruly on a recording, but truthfully, it feels tame when witnessing the band play live.
Recorded videos don't seem to do it justice. The band prides itself on taking this atmosphere of destruction to the stage on rare occurrences. They've built an aesthetic that mirrors and magnifies the essence of their vision and extreme music. It helps to build a bridge between not only themselves and their music, but they and their fans. All of this to ultimately build an idiosyncratic sound and unique identity. Black Curse is a culmination of talented musicians coming together to explore some of the darker facets of life and music."
Listen to Endless Wound in its entirety here.