The end of 2020 is finally here. It’s been a challenging year for sure. In some ways it’s been flat out ridiculous. Many have had their lives turned upside down. Some lost their jobs and livelihoods while others suffered devastating losses from the unfortunate occurrences of this year. It’s been interesting to observe how these occurrences inevitably brought out some of the best, and a lot of the worst in humanity. Thankfully, the year hasn’t been entirely bad. Some of the 2020 perks included less traffic, more time at home, alcoholic drinks with carryout, no contact delivery, and less hectic holidays. The plague and the riots also couldn’t stop Heavy Metal from producing some excellent new music.
In an attempt to stay brief I’m limiting this to 10 albums. Of course, this was difficult because there were lots of great releases this year. Every album I bothered to write about so far is worthy of being on this list, but not all of them are. Many came out before this blog started and were not reviewed, and I want to include some of them as well. Unfortunately, there are also some great albums that got left out entirely. This may change next year, but for now here are my top 10 albums of 2020, and their order may or may not be arbitrary.
10. CARACH ANGREN Frankensteina Strataemontanus
I like the concept behind this band, but at the same time I’m not sure they’ve ever fully captured me. With that said, I really enjoyed the Gothic German Frankenstein inspired atmosphere of this album. Musically, the riffing is still razor sharp, the symphonic elements are on point, and this is also the last album to feature their original drummer, Namtar. Based on the story of Johann Dippel, this will take you through the graveyard, the mad scientist’s laboratory, the streets of Nuremburg, WWII, and beyond.
9. ULCERATE Stare into Death and be Still
ULCERATE continues with their style of blackened technical Death Metal. Somehow this album seemed more accessible than some of their previous efforts. It’s equally dense, but I had an easier time working through all the brooding guitar layers and time changes on here. The musicianship is carried out with surgical precision while creating a dreary and dissonant atmosphere.
8. NYRST Orsӧk
These Icelanders immediately caught my attention with the music video they premiered for the title track of this debut album. The music sounds as cold and dark as you’d expect coming from a band in their climate, and its full of classic memorable riffs. The vocalist also uses harsh screams along with a unique clean style which adds to the epic energy they project throughout each track. I definitely look forward to hearing more from these guys.
7. ACHERONTAS Psychic Death-The Shattering of Perceptions
These Greek warlocks know how to create a truly arcane atmosphere with their music, and each album is its own spiritual journey. This new occult venture delivers more dark and vibrant melodies along with some new additions to their continually expanding sound. They really get into the philosophical side of their art and leave you with something to explore on a deeper level beyond the music.
6. DARK FORTRESS Spectres from the Old World
One of the earliest albums of the year, this new offering from DARK FORTRESS is full of catchy riffs and guitar solos. It has the familiar cold melodic Black Metal sound along with their own progressive edge. “Pali Aike” is one of the more interesting songs I’ve heard in a while, and there are also moments that take me back to the days of their classic material. I also love the Science and Outer Space themes they explore here.
5. DARKENHÖLD Arcanes & Sortilèges
Who doesn’t love an epic medieval adventure? DARKENHÖLD specializes in using music to create just that, and while keyboards and effects surely contribute it’s the guitar songwriting that uniquely brings the Dark Ages back to life. This album manages to sound fresh while using the 90’s Black Metal blueprints, and I still can’t get over that cover art!
4. SORCIER DES GLACES Un Monde de Glace et de Sang
This album does just about everything while staying true to the old Black Metal style. It manages to sound raw, cold, grim, and beautiful all at once. SORCIER DES GLACES really succeeded in creating a magical and hateful atmospheric album with music conjuring the soundscape of “ice and blood” described in its title.
3. INQUISITION Black Mass for a Mass Grave
This album shows that INQUISITION are still masters at expressing the essence of Black Metal through a mass of driving riffs and epic hooks. Here they also stepped up the hypnotic element of their style with more of those clinging notes, slower tempos, and some new effects that add a fresh dynamic without taking away from their signature sound. I also love the cosmic philosophical themes that INQUISITION explores on their albums.
2. Enslaved Utgard
These Norwegians rarely disappoint, and this year they delivered another epic experimental journey that was a bit challenging at first. I had to sit and devote my full attention to this one before fully appreciating it, but albums that require more effort are usually the ones that pay off the most. I really like how they explored the subconscious through the lens of Norse Mythology. I’ve also been in more of a Viking state of mind lately thanks to the new Assassins Creed: Valhalla game.
And Finally, MARILYN MANSON We are Chaos
This may seem like an odd choice, but 2020 has been an odd year and calls for a different kind of album. I think the title accurately sums up the 2020 experience based on what’s transpired, and peoples’ resulting behavior. I’ve also listened to MARILYN MANSON longer than any other band on this list, and so a new MANSON album especially speaks to my inner youth. He still has that iconic voice while the music combines new experimentation with his more classic elements to create a fresh and diverse experience. I also feel that some of the lyrics are words that really needed spoken in today’s world. I just wish more people would listen.
So ends my list of top albums for 2020. It pained me to leave some others out, and I see no point in doing “honorable mentions,” but there should be enough variety and adventure within these 10 to keep the Metal explorer in escape mode while venturing into 2021. If you care to share your own top albums of the year, please feel free to list them in the comments. Also, I know my reviews have lagged behind considerably so far, and that’s mostly due to my own time constraints at the moment. In the coming months I plan to devote more time here and stay as current or ahead as possible while also introducing some new ideas. I hope you will join me for what should be an upswing of a year in 2021. Hails until then.