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Best of 2020

James' Top 15 Albums of 2020

2020 sucked. End of story. Aside from the deaths, hardships and the basic collapse of society and common sense at large; it was a bad year for the music/metal/entertainment biz ya know?! All the amazing tours and concerts lined up [Rage Against The Machine, System of a Down, Megadeth & Lamb of God, Psycho Las Vegas 2020, etc. etc.] all went up in smoke. Don’t get me wrong, there was a ton of great releases this year, it’s just a shame I couldn’t smash my face into the front of the stage while singing along to songs from my favorite album of the year like I had planned. Also, I for one, enjoy listening to new metal tunes at the gym more than anywhere else. Driving to/from and most of all, during gym sessions is when I’d spend the greatest amount of time zoning out to new records. Not only do I weep for our decaying civilization, but also, for the calories I could have burned listening to some of these insane records on Push day. Covid has darkened everyone's lives this year so it's fitting that most of my favorite [4 of the top 5] records are totally bleak and punishing spins.

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Here are five honorable mentions that would have made a Top 20 if I felt like writing one!
Xibalba – Anos En Infierno [Southern Lord]
Epic beat down riffs alongside chilling introspective moments.

ScourBlack EP [Nuclear Blast]
Disgusting blackened grindcore from Pantera/Misery Index/Pig Destroyer vets. 

IDLESUltra Mono [Partisan Records]
Not exactly metal but it's got punk energy and some heavy magic sprinkled throughout.

HavokV [Century Media Records]
The thrash revival, revival is upon us.

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Destroyed In SecondsDivide and Devour [Warlord Industries]
Infectious, thrash infused d-beat goodness.


15. IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT
Alphaville
Century Media Records

As a fan of weird noisy shit, I had to include the weirdest, noisiest album of the year on my list. Proggy black metal free jazz might sound like an utterly insane concept in theory, but in execution, Imperial Triumphant’s Alphaville just friggin rules. An inter-dimensional, genre bending bukkake of the highest order, get your headphones and your abacus ready for this one.

Listen to Alphaville in its entirety here.

14. ACxDC
Satan Is King
Prosthetic Records
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The long awaited follow up to their 2014 self-titled debut full length, Satan Is King takes Antichrist Demoncore’s infamous power violence attack to pummeling new heights. Kudos to producer Taylor Young [Twitching Tongues/ex-NAILS] for blowing up ACxDC’s sound in a big way and to, ya know, the band for cranking out such vicious tunes. This record is fast, aggressive and capital ‘H’ heavy. Warning, bootlickers and corporate stooges might get TRIGGERED.

Listen to Satan Is King in its entirety here.  

13. THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER
Verminous
Metal Blade Records

History lesson: I graduated from high school the same year The BDM’s debut album Unhallowed hit the shelves [yes physical record store shelves!]. After spending a good portion of my 20’s swapping sweat and stage diving at their gigs, I’ve gradually morphed into a less fanatical, still mildly enthused supporter of Dahlia’s murderous exploits. Then I heard Verminous. Holy shit by the time the second track “Godlessly” ended I was ready to ditch my cane/walker and jump into the nearest pit. This is my favorite BDM record in ages and I can’t wait to throw my back out at their next, post-Covid concert.

Listen to Verminous in its entirety here.

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12. FUCK THE FACTS
Pleine Noirceur
Noise Salvation

It’s been five years since our last serving of Fuck The Facts’ punishing/experimental slice of grindcore. It’s fitting that they’ve returned amidst the nightmare that is 2020, with a mind bending new album called Pleine Noirceur, French for “total darkness.” The band has matured over their recent hiatus, adding new textures and sonic curveballs to their already expansive array of weird ass grindcore tricks. Welcome back Fuck The Facts, now everyone on Earth feels like Mel’s vocals sound!

Listen to Pleine Noirceur in its entirety here.

11. TESTAMENT
Titans Of Creation
Nuclear Blast
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There’s a famous Chris Rock bit where he discusses the old 1980’s rivalry between Michael Jackson and Prince. After more than a decade of scandals and subpar music plaguing the former King of Pop, Rock boldly declares that “Prince won!” Now replace MJ with any of the Big Four thrash bands; and swap Prince with the 21st century workhorse that is Testament, and boom: Testament won. Here’s another killer modern day classic album from these Bay Area legends. It should be the Big Five dammit!

Listen to Titans Of Creation in its entirety here.

10. WAKE
Devouring Ruin
Translation Loss Records

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Talk about an absolutely potent blend of black, death, grind and post metal’s finest elements. Wake’s new album could have easily been called Devouring Subgenres amrite?! No really, this record is a veritable smorgasbord of everything you love about 21st century extreme metal, and everything you hate about 21st century human civilization, all wrapped up into one strangely alluring package. It’s a bleak record, hence the Ruin bit in the title, but the level of complexity in the music and song arrangements, brings an air of sophistication and dare I say, grace, to the album as a whole.

Listen to Devouring Ruin in its entirety here.

9. NECROT
Mortal
Tankcrimes

Necrot crank out that sweet, primordial, early death metal goodness like nobody’s business. Mortal is the perfect follow up to 2017’s superb Blood Offerings. The type of pummeling, yet toe tapping heaviness that would totally motivate my ass at the gym. Alas, this slowly decomposing author hasn’t seen the inside of a gym since March [damn you coronaaaaa], and consequently, Necrot’s gnarly new dose of sonic steroids have yet to be properly utilized.

Listen to Mortal in its entirety here.

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8. SPIRIT ADRIFT
Enlightened In Eternity
20 Buck Spin/C
entury Media

Ladies and gents, allow me to introduce one of the few respites from the shittiness that was 2020, Spirit Adrift’s aptly titled new album, Enlightened In Eternity. From the monster choruses, the wailing air guitars, that crackin’ bell/ride cymbal, to the overall joy this celebration of all classic metal musters throughout every second of its runtime; Spirit Adrift’s latest record is definitely enlightening.

Listen to Enlightened In Eternity in its entirety here. 

7. SKELETAL REMAINS
The Entombment Of Chaos
Century Media Records
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Yes. YES. This new Skeletal Remains record will definitely scratch that death metal itch you’ve been longing to satisfy. If you ever wondered what early 90’s Florida death metal would sound like if it was filtered through the minds of amped up, 21st century California [Whittier represent!] shredders, then look no further. This sucker is a literal swarm of riffs and blast beats; a delightful barrage of brutality.

Listen to The Entombment Of Chaos in its entirety here.

Deftones

6. DEFTONES
Ohms
Reprise Records

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Deftones have been doing whatever the hell they wanted [inb4 “Back To School” fiasco haha] for a long time now. That’s largely why they’re one of the few bands from ‘that era’ that still matters. Most of the time they’re a heavy band that likes to trip the fuck out, other times it’s the inverse, but it always still feels like Deftones. With Ohms, I loved hearing those heavy Stephen Carpenter riffs back in the forefront of tracks like “The Spell of Mathematics” and “Urantia,” along with the usual atmospheric brilliance the band seemingly conjures on command.

Listen to Ohms in its entirety here.

5. AKHLYS
Melinoë
Debemur Morti Productions

Warning, Naas Alcameth goes fucking HARD on this record. The man behind Akhlys' new black metal masterpiece, has cranked out a lot of cool [re: evil] shit over the years but Melinoë takes the goddamn cake. This record is a whirlwind of tremolo picking, arduous shrieks, and mesmerizing synths/atmospherics. Shout out to Eoghan for blasting like a MF on this album as well. Named after the ancient Greek underworld nymph who brought nightmares and madness, Melinoë hits extra close to home given the shit show that is 2020.

Listen to Melinoë in its entirety here.

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4. ULCERATE
Stand Into Death And Be Still

Debemur Morti Productions

This album just completely engulfed my speakers/psyche this year, much like the cloud of the pandemic seeped into every aspect of our lives. Dark, lumbering, chaotic, refined, haunting, borderline cinematic. You could throw a million adjectives at Ulcerate’s new record and none of them will do it justice. Clocking in at just under one hour, Stare Into Death And Be Still feels like a lifetime of anguish crashing against a wave of double bass drums, discordant guitars and raging/sorrowful howls. Imagine David, the android from the film Prometheus, watching ancient Rome burn, while listening to Immolation, and you’ll get what this album is all about.

Listen to Stand Into Death And Be Still in its entirety here.

3. KILLER BE KILLED
Reluctant Hero
Nuclear Blast
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Full disclosure, The Dillinger Escape Plan [RIP] was my favorite band. I could listen to ex-DEP frontman Greg Puciato scream the phonebook and I’d probably have a good time. Thankfully it hasn’t come to that, instead Puciato is working with his all-star homies from Sepultura/Soulfly/Mastodon/Converge in their stunning super group, Killer Be Killed, and they’ve crafted the musical equivalent of crack cocaine. No joke, “Dream Gone Bad” is the most infectious fucking song of the year. I was lucky enough to interview Troy Sanders before Reluctant Hero dropped and he shared that everyone in the band was proud that this new record can stand up with the best of today’s modern “full time” metal bands, and you know what…they’re 100% correct.

Listen to Reluctant Hero in its entirety here.

2. ANAAL NATHRAKH
Endarkenment
Century Media Records

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Anaal Naathrakh continues defying expectations. You’re not supposed to mix such insane sonic extremities with absolutely soaring hooks as successfully as they do. Mick Kenney is an absolute wizard with his production and uh, literal one man band skills in the studio. Dave Hunt, aka V.I.T.R.I.O.L. is exactly that; the most tortured but captivating vocalist in the game. If you want to jump down the existential rabbit hole the band launches their musical attacks from, or you just want to bang your head and smash shit, Anaal Nathrakh’s latest opus, Endarkenment, will not disappoint. 

Listen to Endarkenment in its entirety here.

1. BENEATH THE MASSACRE
Fearmonger
Century Media Records

After eight long years of waiting, my favorite left wing cybernetic cave men in all of metaldom returned with Fearmonger; my favorite album of the year. This record was everything I wanted and more. Inhuman tech death proficiency meets very human rage & disgust with our ludicrously corrupt [crony capitalist] society and the vile, reactionary greed merchants who run it. Covid may have scrapped Beneath The Massacre’s [holy shit is this real life?!] North America dream tour with Origin, but like Loki said in Infinity War, “the sun will shine on us again brother,” because I will be spinning Fearmonger in perpetuity. Beneath The Massacre's gloriously heavy return was one of the only bright spots of this otherwise miserable year. How these French Canadians understand the sinkhole of America's socio-political landscape is beyond me. Like vocalist Elliot Desgagnés screams during the breakdown to end all breakdowns on "Treacherous"


no justice
no peace
no freedom without equity

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America/humanity had better heed their warning in 2021. "Not to listen, it would be treacherous."

Listen to Fearmonger in its entirety here.



Vote for your favorite album of 2020 here. See more of our Best of 2020 here.

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