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The Best Metal of 2020 According to Chris Hawkins

Added 05 January 2021, 7:10 AM

The year 2020 will forever go down as the most tumultuous of any in our collective memory.  With a pandemic shutting down commerce globally, all touring halted for the music industry presenting new issues for musicians seeking to spread their gospel to the masses let alone make money at it.  From Neil Peart to Reed Mullin to Eddie Van Halen, we lost some legends this past year unfortunately adding to the dismal gloom of the pervading mood.  Despite these challenges, though, music, especially Metal, refused to die and as attested to by this list, some truly momentous albums were released this past year.  For brevity, I'm going to limit my commentary for each release to the bare essential details needed to sum up the album.  Read on to find some light in the darkness of 2020.
  No. 20:

Band:  Greg Puciato
Album:  Child Soldier: Creator of God
Genre:  Experimental

General Information:

Year of Formation:  2020
Record Label:  Federal Prison Records

The former singer of pioneering band DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN, Greg Puciato ventured out this past year releasing both a solo album as well as a new release from his other band KILLER BE KILLED.  "Child Soldier: Creator of God" saw the singer incorporate elements from Industrial, Noise, Metal, and all points in between to create one of the most compelling listens of the year.
 No. 19:

Band:  Cult of Lilith
Album:  Mara
Genre:  Death/Black Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  2015
Record Label:  Metal Blade

The frozen shores of Iceland are the home of CULT OF LILITH, a powerfully impressive band that utilizes myriad elements to construct their sound.  Theirs is a sound equally versed in influences as disparate as MORBID ANGEL, FAITH NO MORE, and SEPTIC FLESH.  "Mara" is a pummeling listen showcasing a new edge to Extreme Metal.
 No. 18:

Band:  Armored Saint
Album:  Punching the Sky
Genre:  Heavy Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  1982
Record Label:  Metal Blade

ARMORED SAINT are a resolutely Heavy Metal band, one that has remained true to its original vision of creating an American version of the mainly British-dominated Metal of the classic era predating the 1980s.  Over the years, the band has been no stranger to adversity, and their musical tenacity and proficiency is on full display on "Punching the Sky," a thoroughly Metal adventure!
 No. 17:

Band:  The Ocean
Album:  Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic/Cenozoic
Genre:  Progressive Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  2000
Record Label:  Metal Blade

One of the most rewarding listening experiences of the year came in the form of the new album from Germany's THE OCEAN.  Unlike Progressive bands like DREAM THEATER or OPETH, THE OCEAN prefers to deal in textures rather than flashes of pure technicality.  The end result is a thoroughly immersive experience unlike any other.
 No. 16:

Band:  Svart Crown
Album:  Wolves Among the Ashes
Genre:  Black Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  2004
Record Label:  Century Media

SVART CROWN released a devastatingly lethal album in the form of "Wolves Among the Ashes".  While their French contemporaries tend to represent the more avant garde end of Black Metal, SVART CROWN are unafraid of lacing their toxicity with epic touches of violent Death Metal for an all-out blistering performance.

 No. 15:

Band:  Testament
Album:  Titans of Creation
Genre:  Thrash

General Information:

Year of Formation:  1987
Record Label:  Nuclear Blast

While the Big Four have mainly rested on their laurels satisfied to reap the rewards of past achievements, TESTAMENT has been committed to blazing new paths for their melodically technical Thrash for decades.  Ultimately, as the old guard has faded away, TESTAMENT only became heavier incorporating blast beats, dry lung vocals, and famously intricate riffs along the way.  "Titans of Creation" is a certified Thrash-terpiece and succeeds in interjecting some of the band's previous work such as its classic "New Order" into the songs while still remaining fixated upon the future.
 No. 14:

Band:  Earth Rot
Album:  Black Tides of Obscurity
Genre:  Death Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  2013
Record Label:  Season of Mist

While there is no short supply of bands whose sound rely upon the classic Boss HM-2 tone, EARTH ROT incorporate that tone to create something all their own.  Obviously, DISMEMBER will be a point of reference here, but the band also takes influence from Black Metal as well as sludgier material.  The end result is an infectious sound that somehow smashes ENTOMBED with NAGLFAR coated in a glossy, down-tuned sheen.
  No. 13:

Band:  Ulcerate
Album:  Stare into Death and Be Still
Genre:  Death Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  2002
Record Label:  Debemur Morti Productions

Who knew New Zealand could produce something so brutal?  ULCERATE have created one of the most intriguing releases of 2020 with "Stare into Death and Be Still," a truly monumental record that blends creativity with dark tonal passages of plodding melancholy.  This is the sound of being truly transfixed with death's stare - brilliant!
 No. 12:

Band:  Vader
Album:  Solitude in Madness
Genre:  Death Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  1982
Record Label:  Nuclear Blast

VADER are the SLAYER of Death Metal, purveyors of tried and true riffs that serve to incite violent outcroppings of circle pits worldwide.  The band does not try to reinvent the wheel on "Solitude in Madness" but instead stay true to their original ethos - meat and potatoes Death Metal composed in the spirit that inspired the genre's inception.  Despite the band's lengthy discography, they do not fail to deliver high quality material truly worthy of inclusion in their most respected catalog.
 No. 11:

Band:  Uada
Album:  Djinn
Genre:  Black Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  2014
Record Label:  Eisenwald

2018's "Cult of the Dying Sun" really put UADA on the map and cementing them as one of the premier acts within USBM.  For their follow-up, "Djinn," though, the band expanded their palette and experimented with myriad new elements.  Among these were solid and timely tips of the hat to classic Metal while other moments saw the inclusion of clean vocals.  "Djinn" is yet another fine offering from these heavyweights from Oregon.
 No. 10:

Band:  Temple of Void
Album:  The World That Was
Genre:  Doom Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  2013
Record Label:  Shadow Kingdom Records

TEMPLE OF VOID revel in the sounds that brought fame to acts like AMORPHIS and PARADISE LOST in their formative careers.  "The World That Was," though shows the band moving their songwriting forward in terms of scope incorporating more classic Metal elements and somehow making the Doom that much more dirty and painful.  These Michigan natives are making a name for themselves are fine purveyors of the most prestigious American Doom Metal.  It does not get more pure than this!
 No. 9:

Band:  Winterfylleth
Album:  The Reckoning Dawn
Genre:  Black Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  2007
Record Label:  Candlelight Records

After a detour with 2018's "The Hallowing of Heirdom," the new album from WINTERFYLLETH sees the band return to their classic Black Metal form and prove why they have been such mainstays within the scene.  Building upon their classic basis of second wave bands such as EMPEROR and DISSECTION, the songs are expertly crafted together and sacrifice no intensity in their pursuit of greater exploration.  Yet again, the Brits prove why their island was the birthplace of our beloved Heavy Metal.
 No. 8:

Band:  Xibalba
Album:  Anos en Infierno
Genre:  Death Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  2007
Record Label:  Southern Lord Recordings

Over the years it has been established that most releases under the Southern Lord label are of the highest quality showcasing bands with an added dimension of character and true grit.  XIBALBA is no exception.  What this band manages to do differently than others who have come before is meld the twin worlds of classic American Death Metal and sludgy CROWBAR-influenced Doom/Hardcore for an overwhelmingly pulverizing sound.  This is the album that will make the most Metal face of 2020, hands down!
 No. 7:

Band:  My Dying Bride
Album:  The Ghost of Orion
Genre:  Doom Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  1990
Record Label:  Nuclear Blast

Of the Peaceville Three, MY DYING BRIDE has remained the truest to its original vision.  "The Ghost of Orion" is an album that shows the band doing what it does best, crafting darkly romantic tales of melancholy and woe best enjoyed with a glass of red wine silhouetted by candlelight.  While PARADISE LOST certainly garnered more attention in 2020 with their release "Obsidian," MY DYING BRIDE absolutely surpassed their compatriots in terms of depth and quality.  After three decades now, these gloomy Brits have not yet sped up, likely never will, and that's the way it should be.
 No. 6:

Band:  Godthrymm
Album:  Reflections
Genre:  Doom Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  2017
Record Label:  Profound Lore Records

Featuring former members of MY DYING BRIDE, ANATHEMA, and SOLSTICE, GODTHRYMM released what was effectively the very best Doom Metal album of the year early on in 2020.  The songs are penned in the tradition of the aforementioned bands yet there is a breath of fresh air in the material attributable to the pervading excitement of such an auspicious new beginning.  "Reflections" is an amalgamation of that time-honored British Doom tradition that tips its hat to early purveyors of the sound such as perennial favorites like BLACK SABBATH and PENTAGRAM.  This is absolutely not to be missed!
 No. 5:

Band:  Obsidian Tongue
Album:  Volume III
Genre:  Black Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  2009
Record Label:  Bindrune Recordings

OBSIDIAN TONGUE first saw the light of day in 2009 as a one-man Black Metal project.  Now, having added a drummer, the band have released their third full-length titled simply "Volume III," a fiercely adventurous collection of Progressively-tinged, Atmospheric Black Metal.  The songs contained within touch upon a wide variety of influences from "Eternity"-era ANATHEMA to the prodigious efforts of AGALLOCH.  OBSIDIAN TONGUE have really jumped ahead of the game creating their own succinct space within the genre, one only a force as formidable as themselves could occupy.
 No. 4:

Band:  Gaerea
Album:  Limbo
Genre:  Black Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:
Label:  Season of Mist

From the coastal nation of Portugal, GAEREA, with just their second full-length, "Limbo," have released a tour de force.  The album is a delicate balance between haunting, chilling melodies and lush textures that create the most palpable of atmospheres.  This is truly immersive music.  The melodic ideas are fresh as is the arranging and with such landmark songwriting, the band will remain a constant in Black Metal for some time to come.
 No. 3:

Band:  Mr. Bungle
Album:  The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny
Genre:  Avant Garde/Thrash/Hardcore

General Information:

Year of Formation:  1985
Record Label:  Ipecac Recordings

The only news more shocking than MR. BUNGLE reforming to re-record their demo was that they had added SCOTT IAN and DAVE LOMBARDO to the lineup.  Instant supergroup.  Unlike the other material released by the band, this is from its early era and as such, reflects the pervasive Thrash of the era.  One has to wonder, though, how much of a part the new members played in the arranging and such as some moments sound eerily similar to "Speak English Or Die".  Regardless, this album was the surprise hit of the year and now forever solidified as a legendary release.
 No. 2:

Band:  Tombs
Album:  Under Sullen Skies
Genre:  Black/Doom/Post Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  2007
Record Label:  Season of Mist

After releasing a powerfully recorded EP in the form of "Monarchy of Shadows" in the Spring, TOMBS dropped a full-length this fall with "Under Sullen Skies".  With this release, the band took up where their previous release left off with a collection of diverse songs conjuring up myriad images.  At times, the band can be as grim as the blackest of Metal while at others they prefer to linger in the down-trodden Doom purveyed by bands like MY DYING BRIDE.  Interjecting glimpses of textural Post Metal throughout, the band does not forget the primacy of the riff in Metal.  "Under Sullen Skies" is proof that a band can deal in deadly riffs as well as intoxicating atmosphere.
 No. 1:

Band:  Caskets Open
Album:  Concrete Realms of Pain
Genre:  Doom Metal/Punk/Hardcore

General Information:

Year of Formation:  2007
Record Label:  Independent

There is just something about Finland.  Many of the bands from there are simply at the forefront of their perspective genres such as AMORPHIS, SWALLOW THE SUN, and classics like DEMILICH.  Enter CASKETS OPEN.  In all the years that I've been compiling end-of-year lists, this is the first that my list has been topped by an unsigned band.  Let me restate that:  criminally unsigned band.  CASKETS OPEN send the listener back to the prolific years of Glenn Danzig's career with the MISFITS and SAMHAIN combined with a healthy dose of classic TYPE O NEGATIVE.  The end result is a combination of scenes that simply works, though CASKETS OPEN are no mere copycats.  Rather, the band have taken these influences into a new direction and breathed new life into memories that now seem somehow less distant.  Somebody sign this band!

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