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Justin "Witty City" Wittenmeier's Top 30 Albums of 2020.

Added 01 January 2021, 7:48 PM

2020 had some obvious rough moments but it also the kind of environment that music like metal thrives in—despite not have much in the way of touring, so many bands kept the flames alive with a ton of masterful albums.  So here are my top thirty of the year—I wanted to include more but there just isn’t time. The number one and two albums are in order—after that, just enjoy the list!

No. 30.

Band: Rise To The Sky
Album: Death Will Not Keep Us Apart
Genre: Melodic Death/Doom Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation: 2019
Record Label:  GS Productions

This album a rather heartfelt story about the power of love, the fear of death, and the overcoming of that fear to face it head on on your own terms.  These are powerful subjects and elements that really translate well to the music contained in the nine tracks. With the multi layered, lush melodies presented within the album, the songs could be seen as both hopeless and yet hopeful.  In essence, life and death is explored in this musical realm and I really felt like I got to know these characters as the album went through.  In many ways, this album can apply to everyday situations for a lot of people—myself included.  How many of us sacrifice a part of ourselves every day? For a families or jobs?   We each of us make a choice and, for most people, hope things are better after we are gone. As for facing death…that something we too must all come to terms with but so few get to do it by choice. With “Death Will Not Keep Us Apart,” RISE TO THE SKY have created a very impactful and emotional doom metal album that cannot be missed.

No. 29:

Band:  Shallow Waters
Album: Bed of Snakes
Genre: Post/Doom Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  2018
Record Label:  Independent

SHALLOW WATERS have crafted a truly special album with “Bed of Snake,” and an unforgettable journey that I will not likely forget for years to come.  They have raised the bar impossibly high for themselves considering their first album is this good but I think they have it in them to continuously amaze.  I’m definitely looking forward to their journey in doing so.

No. 28:

Band: Shores Of Null
Album:  Beyond The Shores (On Death and Dying)
Genre:  Melodic Death/Doom

General Information:

Year of Formation: 2013
Record Label: Spikerot Records

And why not? There is just so much content within the time frame to enjoy. I simply didn't want to skip around because the entire experience in insanely engrossing. I have a decent length commute to and from work, which affords me a lot of music listening. My black player has given me the statistic that I jammed this beast of a record 14 times before I wrote this review. And you know what? With all the time I've got out of this album, I am still finding new things that catch my ear. Boredom or weariness are things that have not set in while listening. In short, SHORES OF NULL's "Beyond The Shores (On Death and Life)” is a near perfect, monumental achievement of doom.  I can't imagine any fan of the style not finding something here to enjoy.

No. 27:

Band:  Sunset Forsaken
Album:  85 Nerves
Genre: Melodic Death/Doom

General Information:

Year of Formation:  2018
Record Label:  Independent

SUNSET FORSAKEN’s  “85 Nerves” is a well done album that combines doom, gothic and melodic death into a potent tapestry full of melodies and harmonies all held together by great writing and musicianship.

No. 26:

Band:  Naxen
Album:  Towards The Tomb of Times
Genre: Black Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation: 2018
Record Label: Vendetta Records

NAXEN’s “Towards The Tomb Of Times” is an unbridled example how to keep black metal raw without sacrificing song writing or emotional elements.  This album is one that doesn’t overdo any one element, instead placing everything where it needs to be for the song to work. If you want a meaty black metal experience that goes against the grain, honoring the style while pushing its own sound forward, this one is it.

No. 25:

Band:  Kaunis Kuolematon
Album: Syttyköön toinen aurinko
Genre:  Melodic Death/Doom

General Information:

Year of Formation:  2012
Record Label:  Noble Demon
I'm going to go ahead and spoil this review a bit: I have discovered "Syttyköön Toinen Aurinko" to be an absolutely incredible album. The melancholy that Finland's metal scene is so well known for is masterfully captured, well taught, and released into the beckoning wilds that make up this album's nine track, 52 minute run time. There is so much depth contained among these beautiful but broke ruins of songs. This is an album that completely absorbs you, an icy touch that never feels too far away. It is also music that you'll want to listen to over and over again. Not only because it is a great ride but also because you will discover something new each time.

No. 24:

Band: Fires In The Distance
Album: Echoes From Deep November
Genre: Melodic Death/Doom

General Information:

Year of Formation: 2016
Record Label:  Prosthetic Records

FIRES IN THE DISTANCE is a Progressive Melodic Death/Doom band from Connecticut and “Echoes From Deep November,” is their debut full length.  The most striking aspect of the album is the key/synths.  These elements are no strangers to the Metal of course but I thought I had heard it all.  After all, even the best has been done before, right?  Nothing new under the sun, I say.  I was wrong—the keyboards on FIRES IN THE DISTANCE are unlike anything I’ve heard before.  Even if the other aspects of this album sucked, it will still be worth a listen because of the keyboards and synths. All in all, FIRES IN THE DISTANCE have crafted a strong first outing and they definitely will be something special within the genre as they get more and more experience—I will be keeping them on my radar for sure.

No. 23:

Band: Esoctrilihum
Album:   Eternity Of Shaog
Genre: Black Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  Unknown
Record Label: I, Voidhanger Records

I’ve never heard this band/project before but I’ll be damned if ASTHAGHUL didn’t write a spectacular black metal work of art that takes a different approach than most. “Eternity of Shaog,” is an album filled to the brim with great ideas and the talent behind it to make them work.

No. 22:

Band:  Coexistence
Album: Collateral Dimension
Genre: Progressive Death

General Information:

Year of Formation:  2015
Record Label: Transcending Obscurity Records

I honestly cannot find one damn thing wrong with this album.  As far as I’m concerned COEXISTENCE just wrote an album that should define tech and prog death from here on out.  An absolutely stunning album that is beautiful in parts, brutal in others, and never prizes musicianship over song writing.

No. 21:

Band: Inno
Album: The Rain Under
Genre:  Gothic/Doom

General Information:

Year of Formation:  2018
Record Label: Time To Kill Records

The lush vocals of Elisabetta tug on the heart strings while also being memorizing and a tour de force. The musicians involved are all from other more extreme bands but I’ll be damned if they didn’t come together to form one hell of a doom album that is as immense as it is catchy.

No. 20:

Band: Soliloquium
Album: Things We Leave Behind
Genre: Death/Doom metal

General Information:

Year of Formation: 2011
Record Label:  Rain Without End Records

The final track, “The Recluse,” is perhaps the best song on the album.  It just straight up nails the elements between Doom, Death, and Melody.  The instrumentation paints a picture of a struggling individual who wants to come out of his or her shell but just can’t seem to come to terms with the battle within.  Perhaps that is not what the song is about but the beauty of this album is that it can put thoughts and entire scenarios into your head.  There are several quiet, more introspective moments within the song, a reason to learn to listen to the silence because, perhaps, that is when emotions, and life itself, are the loudest.

No. 19:

Band:  Silvered
Album: Six Hours
Genre: Progressive/Death/Doom

General Information:

Year of Formation:  2007
Record Label:  Solitude Productions

The second part is a moving instrumental that caps off this incredible journey. The hour-long session was worth the effort and this final act is our reward. It’s a well composed song with sweeping orchestration, piano, and keys that highlight all of it exceptionally well. 2019 was an amazing year for Doom but albums like this might just end up making 2020 an even better year. If you like MY DYING BRIDE, SWALLOW THE SUN, and KATATONIA you need to stop reading this and purchase the album immediately.

No. 18:

Band: Ashes Of Life
Album:  Seasons Within
Genre:  Gothic/Post/Death/Doom

General Information:

Year of Formation: 2016
Record Label:  Independent

I was really impressed with this debut and don’t have a lot of negative things to say about it. But just calling them Gothic/Doom wouldn’t completely describe the sound presented on this album.  Don’t misunderstand—this is definitely a Doom album through and through but Post-Meta/Rock is also incorporated.  I found the inclusion of these elements to be a breathe of fresh air for Doom and it gives the band a unique sound.  Doom, including its many subgenres, is my favorite type of music but even I can admit that it can be hard to find something truly unique.  So even if I didn’t like this album, I’d still give it high marks for actually stepping outside the box. But no worries because I enjoyed the hell out of this release. There is nothing here that isn’t great and every song is a treasure and its own little story.   Highly recommended.

No. 17:

Band:  Valgrind
Album:  Condemnation
Genre: Death Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  1996
Record Label:  Memento Mori

The final track, “Goddess of the Salt Sea,” is a burner of track, very frantic with unlimited energy to back it up. The guitar and bass twist and turn, moving through the meat of the song like a snake stalking its prey.  The drums highlight the bits of melody that spark little explosions throughout the song.  The ending of the song feels like the entire album has been leading to this moment, the chaos filled to the brim and shot up so high it has no where to go but into an upward explosion. VALGRIND’s “Condemnation,” is a whirlwind of a death metal album and a blast of fresh air for the scene.  It has a lot of ideas and pulls them off without the album losing focus or sounding like it has too much going on at once. Highly recommended.

No. 16:

Band:  The Holy Flesh
Album:  Emissary and Vessel
Genre: Black/Post/Doom metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  2019
Record Label:  Caligari Records

The Holy Flesh have crafted an album that is mysterious, dangerous, creepy yet epic and engrossing.  “Emissary and Vessel” is an album that mixed in various styles of metal while still having its own unique identity.

No. 15:

Band:  Wombbath
Album: Choirs Of The Fallen
Genre: Death Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  1988
Record Label:  Soulseller REcords

The title track is exactly what I wanted to hear in an album of this caliber and mood: a culmination of the entire album’s ideas, approach, and emotion.  They really go all out on this track, a beastly raging monster that is easily one of the best tracks they have ever written. Despite its name, the Death Metal genre doesn’t often scare or unnerve me but with “Choirs of the Fallen,” WOMBBATH have crafted a horror drenched, serial killer soundtrack of nightmares.  And I couldn’t enjoy it more.  This is the first perfect score I have given in a while and the boys have earned it with every bloody step.

No. 14:

Band:  Nawabs Of Destruction
Album:  Rising Vengeance
Genre: Progressive Death Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation: 2019
Record Label: Pathologically Explicit Recordings

With “Rising Vengeance,” NAWABS OF DESTRUCTION have written a truly stunning debut that proves that even the most extreme Metal can still make you think and pull on emotional strings.  The band weaves in and out of various sounds, creating a rich atmosphere that retains all the qualities of the heaviest extreme metal.

No. 13:

Band: Black Void Cult
Album:  Dysphoria
Genre: Black Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  2017
Record Label: Independent

Everything about this album is well produced and solid as hell.  The vocals, instrumentation…it is all just on point.  The song writing is clever, punishing, and the songs hold a lot of energy.  I didn’t review this but if I had, then “Dysphoria,” is an album that would have received very high marks.  There isn’t one element here that doesn’t kick ass.

No. 12:

Band:  Tethra
Album: Empire of the Void
Genre: Melodic Death/Doom Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  2008
Record Label: Black Lion Records

The last track, “Ison,” caps off the whole space adventure in grand fashion.  The clean intro prepares this Doom ship for launch—and once it takes off, it all comes together.  If someone asked me for a good example of this album’s style, I would probably play this track first.  All the elements that make the album so special are presented here and the ending moment with the melodic guitar and Death Metal vocals working together is rather emotional. I really enjoyed listening to this album and I’m ashamed I haven’t heard of them before. Fans of Melodic Death, Doom, and Gothic Metal (or any combination of the three) and need to give this album a go.  Highly recommended.

No. 11:

Band: Jupiterian
Album: Protosapien
Genre:  Atmospheric sludge/death/doom

General Information:

Year of Formation:  2013
Record Label: Transcending Obscurity Records

Now I’m utterly lost in this unending darkness.  The things I am experiencing are not on my own terms—although I am approaching them, I am not doing so with a mind of clarity but rather confusion and discomfort as I stumble around in the dark.  I do not know what is behind the next corner or what is under the next pool of water my feet step into it.  My sense of adventure and wonderment has been replaced with sheer terror and a constant nervous tick. It isn’t all mental and emotional though; “Protosapien,” has a very physical presence.  This album is just so goddamn HEAVY.  I always expect music of this nature to bring about a certain element of metal dissonance but this…this is different.  This album takes doom/sludge/death metal into a special dimension of weight that couldn’t even be measured in tons.

No. 10:

Band:  Convocation
Album: Ashes Coalesce
Genre: Death/Doom

General Information:

Year of Formation: 2013
Record Label:  Everlasting Spew Records

Convocation managed to up their already strong death/doom game from their precious effort, “Scars Across.”  The duo’s compositional skill manage to make “Ashes Coalesce” an album that is dark and destitute yet one that can also be melancholic and ambient.

No. 9:

Band:  Draconian
Album:  Under A Godless Veil
Genre: Gothic death/Doom metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  1994
Record Label:  Napalm Records

The five long years in between albums really did Draconian some good because they come roaring back with quite possibly their best album, and that is really saying something considering how solid their discography is. A perfect example of gothic death/doom metal and near the top of the year’s very best doom metal albums.

No. 8:

Band: Katatonia
Album:  City Burials
Genre:  Doom/Progressive/Alternative/Gothic/Metal

General Information:

Year of Formation: 1987
Record Label:  Peaceville Recoreds

Other reviews have stated this is their best album in 20 years. They are certainly entitled to their opinion and there is no doubt this album, and the band itself, deserves such praise. However for me personally, is there much of a point in ranking such a long running bands catalog? I can tell you my personal favorite from KATATONIA is “Night Is The New Day” but is it their best? Is “City Burials?” or any one of their other albums?  I'd say it doesn't matter. What matters is that KATATONIA have once again pulled off another masterful representation of our hopes, fears, dreams, and just all the shit that comes with life.

No. 7:

Band:  Void Rot
Album:  Descending Pillars
Genre: Death/Doom metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  2017
Record Label: Everlasting Spew Records

After incredible an incredible EP and Split, Void Rot show the underground what they can do with a full-length album.  “Descending Pillars” exceeded all expectations because it is one the darkest and hopeless extreme doom albums this year that is held together by exceptional songwriting.

No. 6:

Band: Aphonic Threnody
Album: The Great Hatred
Genre: Atmospheric Gothic Death/Doom metal

General Information:

Year of Formation: 2012
Record Label:  Transcending Obscurity Records

The year is almost over and what a year it has been.  But it has also been a hell of a year for doom as well.  With an album like APHONIC THRENODY’s “The Great Hatred,” I am reminded that good things are still out there and the genre isn’t done yet.  There are so many things to love about this album that I’m afraid that my review can’t even explain it correctly.  An absolutely must have doom metal album that encompasses everything that makes the genre so great and once again shows me why it is my favorite style.

No. 5:

Band:  Poema Arcanvs
Album: Stardust Solitude
Genre: Gothic death/doom metal

General Information:
Year of Formation:  1992
Record Label:  Soulseller REcords

Considering this is my first experience with them, I have been highly impressed by “Stardust Solitude,” for it is an incredibly emotional, melancholy drench Gothic doom album that deserves a spot among the year’s best doom.  As their first album in years, it also serves as a comeback album for their old fans but will no doubt gain them even more new ones.

No. 4:

Band: Vessel of Light
Album: Last Ride
Genre: Doom/Sludge/Groove/ metal

General Information:

Year of Formation: 2017
Record Label:  Nomad Eel Record

I just love an album that is full of deep cuts and isn’t front loaded— “Last Ride,” is that album that just continues to get better. For such a young band, VESSEL OF LIGHT continue to produce both quantity and quality with their music.   “Last Ride,” is their magnum opus so far not only because of it being their best work but because it solidifies their sound and ushers them forward.

No. 3:

Band: Gaerea
Album:  Limbo
Genre:  Black metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  2016
Record Label: Season Of Mist

GAEREA pulled out all the stops for “Limbo” and the payoff is incredible.  They have now cemented their place in the annals of extreme metal while also setting the stage for whatever they decide to do in the future. If you only have the time/money to hear one extreme metal album this year, blackened or otherwise, it must be “Limbo.”  As far as I’m concerned, all other releases are playing catch up this year.

No. 2:

Band:  My Dying Bride
Album: The Ghost Of Orion
Genre: Gothic/Doom metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  1990
Record Label: Nuclear Blast

The Ghost Of Orion,” is an expertly crafted album that was created under such stressful conditions that lesser bands would had imploded.  For MY DYING BRIDE and their fans, it is another step in an already long, glorious journey that hopefully won’t end anytime soon.  The godfathers of doom remain on their throne—not that there was ever any doubt.

No. 1 (Album of the Year 2020):

Band: Dark Tranquillity
Album: Moment
Genre:  Melodic Death metal

General Information:

Year of Formation:  1989
Record Label: Century Media Records

DARK TRANQUILLITY's "Moment" is the album I need this year.  Hell ,we all need it. Listening to this album is like coming home or seeing a friend that you haven’t crossed path with for years. Is it their best album? Of course not. DARK TRANQUILLITY are the innovators of their style, the first of their kind. As such, their classic albums have long since been cemented in the annals of time. But "Moment" is yet again another modern masterful example of not only melodic death metal itself but also a band that is able to push their sound into new dimensions while still sticking to their roots.

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