So I collect a lot of music. Like, a LOT. I like supporting artists, and I’m a collector at heart. It’s a serious problem of mine, but I do tend to be reasonable.
Or so I think, but looking at all of the albums I picked up this past year will likely tell another story. And I’m only focusing on 2020 releases, at that. If you like metal music, check this out, since you may find some things of interest. If you’re not as into the heavy stuff, still stick around, I listen to just about everything.
ACxDC- Satan is King
Incredible powerviolence, this SoCal band has been on my radar for a while, and this, their second full length (although don’t think they’re not prolific, or you’ll be mistaken) lives up to the hype. One heavy beat after another, there’s a lot to unpack here if you like some good crushing music.
Aesop Rock- Spirit World Field Guide
Aesop really is one of the best in the game, and he sells a great concept here. His delivery is on point, but it’s all about the themes and m
Anaal Nathrakh- Endarkenment
Excellent extreme metal as always, these guys are the best of both world, combining some heavy riffs with Townsend-esq harmonies. You can’t go wrong with any of their releases, really.
…And Oceans- Cosmic World Mother
This great Finnish symphonic black metal band return after a lengthy hiatus and name change to put out a solid return to form. The sound is immaculate, and expertly reproduced here like they haven’t missed a beat.
Some AMAZING funeral doom here. Sometimes (or let’s face it, quite often) the subgenre can drag, but I think this goes quite smooth, and never misses a beat for its running time. I almost want to call it fun, although this is not exactly party music.
Black Crown Initiate- Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape
I think these guys are neat, and have some killer guitar work in here, but I’ll be honest, I don’t think the songwriting is totally there. I don’t regret the purchase, as there’s some nice concepts in here, but this isn’t quite a favorite. Still, if you’re a fan of Blackwater Park-era Opeth or From Mars to Sirius-era Gojira (who isn’t?), this band is totally worth a look.
Phoebe Bridgers- Punisher
My indie girl discovery of the year. Granted, everyone else seems to have discovered her already, but whatever, I really like her songwriting and vocal delivery here. She definitely should stick around.
Caspian- On Circles
The first album I really gelled with this year, this is some pretty damn good post-rock, reminding me of when I was obsessed with Godspeed You! Black Emperor a decade ago. I love the musicianship here, how strong and tight it is, and that every piece falls into place.
Clipping- Visions of Bodies Being Burned
An easy top 10, I love Daveed Diggs’ project, whether he and his crackerjack team of producers touching on sci-fi themes, or enthusing horror elements into their sound. This is an excellent sequel to 2019’s There Existed an Addiction to Blood, and offers a near-equal cavalcade of dread into a shorter timeframe.
Code Orange- Underneath
I liked the band’s earlier stuff, but their previous album, 2017’s Forever, turned me off. The band seemed to believe their own hype too much, and their sound didn’t match their ego. It seems like losing their Grammy nom and aging up a little has helped the Pittsburgh-based rockers though, as this is probably their best to date. They’re still embracing nu metal themes in an increasingly less subtle way, while also adding elements of industrial in, all while still maintaining a raw, hardcore sound. For better or for worse, this is the future of extreme music, and while it still won’t make my top 10, I’m willing to embrace it. Let’s just hope they lose the Grammy again.
I like Elder’s doomier older material just fine, but I think that I do gravitate towards their more rock oriented recent stuff, which surprises me, as I tend to be the reverse. But spinning Omens reminds me that these guys are only getting tighter and more exciting with each release. It’s way better than it has any right to be, basically.
Eminem- Music to Be Murdered By
I don’t know if I’d call Eminem a guilty pleasure, since his music is pretty well beloved by just about every standard, but man, can Slim be corny. Especially with his more recent material, which tends to be loaded with lame dad jokes and references that no one cares about. That said, he can still release some good shit every so often, and this is his best in a while. I like the Hitchcock ties, which is mostly why I bought it, but I do also like some of the tracks here a good deal, primarily the hit singles “Darkness” and “Godzilla”. But there’s some stuff that I can’t abide to, like Em’s insistence on collaborating with Ed Sheeran. Really, Slim? This is the kind of guy you would have been mocking 20 years ago.
But hey, I found this for a good price used, and I don’t mind it being in my collection. Revival will never join, though. Kamikaze probably won’t, either.
End- Splinters from an Ever-Changing Face
A super group that isn’t embarrassing in the slightest, this is among the most ferocious and exciting punk I’ve heard in years. I don’t think more needs to be said, really.
The Norwegian black metal act that keeps giving back, this is another excellent release that tones down their recent prog influences and turns their heavy origins back into the full mix. I can’t wait until it’s safe for live venues again, so I can see some of this played live.
Golden Core- Fimbultyr
A tight doom duo from Norway. This was a last minute purchase, and I’m glad I indulged.
Honey Harper- Starmaker
I like Orville Peck just fine, but this is the LGBTQ-friendly alt country sound of my choice. I like Harper’s silky smooth delivery, and the passionate songwriting portrayed throughout. Looking forward to what he has to offer next.
Trevor William Church, son of Montrose bassist Bill Church, is no slouch. His solo band Haunt has released two albums, and a compilations of rerecordings of two earlier EPs just in 2020, and doubtlessly should put out more content this year. I’ve personally liked his band Haunt in theory more than practice, but this release really won me over. I think it’s tighter and better paced than most of his other material, enough so that I had no problem ordering it for Bandcamp Friday. If you like good traditional metal (think Maiden, Priest, Dio), you should very likely check his stuff out.
Imperial Triumphant- Alphaville
I’ll admit it, I was a skeptic about Imperial Triumphant. Their previous releases were fine, but I wasn’t in love, and found their stage costumes silly. And I wasn’t super jazzed about what I first heard from Alphaville. But it didn’t take long for it to live up to the hype for me, and I’m here to say that I was wrong. This is the best use of jazz in heavy music that I’ve heard in ages, and it doesn’t let go throughout. I’m really hoping I can see some of it, if not the whole thing, played live in a safer world.
Incantation- Sect of Vile Divinities
Another confession- I used to (and sometimes still do) get Incantation and Immolation confused. I like what I heard from both, but I’d sometimes forget who is who if I wasn’t putting one of their music on shuffle, and just remember that they’re both elder statesmen of death metal. But damn, I really liked both of their most recent LPs (Immolation’s is a little less new, however). I gotta thank Gimme Radio for this one; hearing some of it on the station got me impressed enough to check the full thing out, and now I get it.
Insect Ark- The Vanishing
I liked their previous album a lot, but The Vanishing is easily of equal to greater status. Dana Schechter has a strong vision for psych doom, and you can determine it quickly from what makes it on the slab.
Kansas- The Absence of Presence
I’ve never been a big fan of the band, but I was told that their most recent releases have been quite good, and after seeing their newest available for dirt cheap, I took it up. “Carry On Wayward Son” this is not, but man, is it passionate and clever. I’m glad to have picked it up.
Katatonia- City Burials
The Swedish legends have been making what’s more or less metal-oriented Cure albums for a while now, and I like most of those albums just fine, but something about this one clicked with me in a way their others haven’t nearly as much. This is easily one of their strongest, possibly ever.
Marcus King- El Dorado
I’ve heard some of King’s earlier group projects, which were mostly fine, but his first solo LP is one of my favorite blues releases in a while. It’s a little more eclectic and loose than his band’s stuff, which is probably what does the extra trick for me. I’d recommend it if you want to hear some good modern blues, and Joe Bonamassa also does little for you.
Macabre- Carnival of Killers
Think I’m being too positive? Well, this one rubbed me the wrong way, despite liking the band’s earlier stuff. The carnival theme is solid, but it’s full of lame, amateurish jokes that never land, and so-so musicianship. Although going back to Macabre’s earlier stuff again, a lot of it is like that, so I may have just made a mistake here.
Molasses- Through the Hollow
I was lukewarm on The Devil’s Blood take on occult metal when they were around, but this new project from most of the band fits the psychedelic vibe I’ve been looking for lately. The music is tastefully elongated, but never overstays its welcome, and sounds surprisingly fresh while staying reverent to the 60’s.
Napalm Death- Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism
I’ll never forget my first time seeing Napalm Death. I was more of an admirer than a fan, and went to their co-headlining show mainly for Melvins. King Buzzo put on a good show, but the moment Shane, Barney, and co came on, there was no contest who won the night. Although Melt-Banana put on a terrific opening set themselves. But going back to Napalm’s other records show me how wrong I was for doubting them- they’ve always been great, and never missed.
Their most recent is no exception, either. The band has more energy and anger in their 50ish-year-old bodies than bands a third of their age do. This is what I want my extreme metal to sound like, and I hope this sound never goes entirely away.
Narrow Head- 12th House Rock
Do you like 90’s alt rock? Think less grunge, more Hum, Failure, or even early Smashing Pumpkins. If so, this band is well worth checking out, their sound perfected to a T.
I really liked the band’s debut, Blood Offerings, but Mortal really shook things up by sticking to the band’s core while perfecting their sound and musical connection to each other. There is great death metal all over, but they may be the best out there by sheer willpower alone.
Nothing- The Great Dismal
I love good shoegaze, and Nothing does it pretty damn well. Adding in heavier elements does help to make them sound out, but I’d say that they skip definition as a metal band, fitting in a good line for those who want something in between. I think I may have preferred their previous LP, Dance on the Blacktop, but you can’t go wrong with any of their stuff.
Of Feather and Bone- Sulfuric Disintegration
Amazingly tight death metal. I loved every second, enough to put it in my top 10.
Oranssi Pazuzu- Mestarin kyni
I love these avant-garde metallers, and this newest did not disappoint in the slightest. It only just missed my top 10.
Pallbearer- Forgotten Days
This is an album where I can say every song has some incredible elements, but no song is especially incredible. I like Pallbearer’s progressive turn well enough, but I’ll always prefer the more traditional prog of the first two albums. Ah well, I’ll still be first up by the stage to see them when they can tour again.
Paradise Lost- Obsidian
I was slightly turned off with this one during the initial press rounds. Seeing the band go back from their solid return to form death-doom releases to reintegrating the new wavey sounds that alienated fans in the past reminded me of similar moves artists do after they reclaim their fanbase following a mediocrely received change of form. Fortunately, that didn’t pan out that way, as not only is this pretty doomy, but I think a lot of this sounds quite strong! I do prefer their previous few releases, but I don’t regret giving the boys a shot here. I should probably check out their recent book, as well…
Perfume Genius- Set My Heart on Fire Immediately
Okay, I get it, he does make some damn fine pop rock. I liked what I heard of his other material, but this one blew me away, and now I need to get to his other stuff ASAP.
Primitive Man- Immersion
These guys do not disappoint. They just put out some of the best extreme music, full stop. This is an excellent compliment to previous LP Caustic, and fits as much dread as that contained with about half the running time. An instant top 10.
Run the Jewels- RTJ4
My AOTY. Mike and El-P have the best chemistry this side of 3000 and Big Boi, and each song blows up bigger than the last. Even if they couldn’t get the rights to “Never Tear Us Apart” at the end, they make that last track explode with such purpose that it doesn’t matter.
Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou- May Our Chambers Be Full
This may be a strange choice of collaboration on paper, but it makes a lot of sense. Rundle toys with heavier music a lot in her previous releases, and has successfully covered Misfits with Thou in the past. Her cutting voice fits well with Thou’s depressive sludge, and makes each track memorable. I can’t wait to check out their following EP.
Sodom- Genesis XIX
I like Sodom as much as the next, but haven’t super kept up with their most recent stuff. I’m just not much for modern thrash, really. I heard good things about their newest release, and saw it for a good price at the record store, so I decided to hit it up. They weren’t kidding, this slaps!
Svalbard- When I Die, Will I Get Better?
This album shot me from a casual fan of the band to a true believer, being full of tight instrumental breaks and cutting lyrics. The combination of male and female vocals really help to make it soar, and leave it as an indispensable hallmark of 2020.
Terminal Nation- Holocene Extinction
I had heard good things about this release, and I’m glad that I took the risk of diving in, since this is some great, timely hardcore. Looking forward to seeing where they go from here.
These Roman death metallers blew me away, and I’m glad that I picked their debut album on a whim on the last Bandcamp Friday. Well worth the look if that’s your scene.
Tombs- Under Sullen Skies
I like much of what I’ve heard from the band before, and enjoyed seeing them at the 2019 Decibel Metal & Beer fest, but this blows everything else way. It’s crushing extreme metal from beginning to end, to the point that I don’t even mind it being over an hour in length. And I’m a strong believer of albums being best around the 40 minute mark! Cannot wait to see what Mike Hill and co do next.
This some of my favorite black metal out there, but it’s really meant to be seen live. I’ve seen them twice, and they crush most everyone they’re up against. But if you can’t, check ‘em out anyway. Melodic black metal at its finest.
Ulcerate- Stare Into Death and Be Still
I remember when Decibel magazine released their top 40 of 2020, the one missing album I saw commenters bring up the most was this. To be fair, the mag has always had some issues over tech death for whatever reason, but it is kind of whack that this didn’t appear at all (nor did Primitive Man, for that matter). This gives you an hour of punishment in 40 minutes or less.
Vader- Solitude in Madness
As mentioned earlier, I’m usually pretty wary of thrash, particularly modern thrash, but Vader’s latest was offered to me for a good price in another order, so I took it. This is fine, but it’s not one that I’ll go back to regularly, like much of their other stuff. But hey, if you’re a fan of Vader and their sound, this is worth a look regardless.
Video Nasties- Dominion
The band already won me over with their name, but hearing their brand of brutal death metal sealed the deal. I’m hoping for a bright future for these guys.
Vile Creature- Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm!
This Ontario-based drone duo lives up to their name, with a crushing new release that I love, but can’t go back to too often unless I want to hurt myself. Great stuff all over.
Kirk Windstein- Dream in Motion
The Crowbar founder’s debut solo album doesn’t disappoint, and it fits the perfect middle ground between fitting the band’s ticks for the loyals, and sounding unique enough to stand on its own. Even the Jethro Tull cover isn’t nearly as embarrassing as other boomer-oriented covers tend to be. And hey Kirk, if you’re reading this, I’ll gladly join you for a Coors Lite the next time you’re town.
Year of the Knife- Internal Incarceration
More really good punk! I’m new to these guys, but I dig their sound and hope to discover more soon!
So that makes 49 releases, total. And I’m about to order another couple, which will bump this to 51. Long live metal! And other good music, too.