BEST OF 2020: 15-11

15. COUCH SLUT, “Take a Chance on Rock ‘n’ Roll” (Gilead Media): Absolutely, 100 percent don’t be fooled by the title of Couch Slut’s third record “Take a Chance on Rock ‘n’ Roll” as some sort of record blasting good time jams you’d want to hear during your big summer BBQs. OK, well, I’d actually play these tracks at mine, but I have no regard for anyone’s feelings, but this shit is dark and scaly and filthy and, at times, really fucking scary. Their blistering mix of noise, metal, punk, and just a little jazz (that sax!) actually is a blast to hear, and it’s infectious as hell. But it has an utterly diseased heart based on the horrible experiences that went toward informing these songs.

“The Mouthwash Years” kicks off with the band’s trademark noise and trudging guitars as things get whipped into a frenzy in a hurry, and Megan O’s vocals start peeling at your skin. The pace pummels as she sneers, ” Now you’re dried out, what do you want for it?” “All the Way Down” charges up with the bass leading the way and the guitars sweating up a nasty swagger. The tale is horrifying, complete with blood in a sink and terrible events going on behind a bathroom door. “In a Pig’s Eye” already is relentless when it starts as hard shrieks pulsate, and the story is one where the woman, having been assaulted, is questioned about her motives. “They wanna know, they asked if I’m a whore,” Meg howls as the cops search her car and basically provide no help, only adding to the vitriol in the song. Closer “Someplace Cheap” that is a true story that happened to Meg and her previous bandmates when they decided to tour and ended up in Ohio. It’s a breathtaking and inexplicably true tale about being drugged and used, having some dude jerk off over you, and ending with a vow by one of the abused to finish it on their terms by inviting the culprits to find them at a LensCrafters where he worked. It’s a mind-spinning finish to a record that will leave you forever scarred mentally. (May 1)

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14. BLACK CURSE, “Endless Void” (Sepulchral Curse): We spent time yesterday talking about how much great death metal is out there in the world, and black metal has that same quality, though it’s not as easy to find due to the glut of music blocking up this subgenre. Leave it to some metal veterans and members of other acts such as Blood Incantation, Spectral Voice, Khemmis, and Primitive Man to do it right on Black Curse’s massive debut record “Endless Void.” The record is dark and blistering but also delves deep into outer space as well as your crumbling psyche.

“Charnel Rift” tears the lid off the thing and immediately sends you into the mouth of hell. Fiery shrieks echo while the pace hammers away relentlessly. “Enraptured By Decay” has a huge open before everything builds into a massive assault, and wild shrieks rain down like shrapnel. Blackened doom blood flows and congeals as hypnotic chugs have their way, and the playing makes your brain swim in its own chemicals. “Seared Eyes” knifes through your guts as demolition is carries out, and death growls gurgle in blood. Deranged wails and strange gasps add to the horror while the playing continues to lay waste to your physical and mental state. “Finality I Behold” closes the album, and it starts by wrecking shit, crushing wills as the fire blast ravages everything in front of it. Growls and shrieks mix, bombarding as eerie doom clouds descend, trudging in mud before the vocals destroy. Absolutely killer stuff. (April 2)

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13. LAMP OF MURMUUR, “Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism” (Death Kvlt Productions): Olympia, Washington, based project Lamp of Murmuur has had a fairly prolific year with an EP, split, and demo, all preceding enthralling debut LP offering “Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism,” a record that’s gotten a lot of attention as of late, which it absolutely deserves. Helmed by sole musician M, who we know next to nothing about, this band revisits the raw elements of ’90s black metal, the rise of solo black metal artists that came to prominence a decade or so ago, and an onslaught of melody, riffs, and gothic darkness that put this band in a group all its own.

It doesn’t take long into opener “Of Infernal Passion and Aberrations” to understand you’re dealing with something a step above what every highly polished and forgettable black metal band tried to pull off this year by instantly showing its heart and violent ambition that’s just a rush. That continues on “Bathing in Cascades of Caustic Hypnotism” and its riffs that grab you from the start and make you its captive. The raw howls from M and the relentless pace race through this 9:45 monster that is completely impossible to ignore. If black metal can make you move, this song is the epitome of that. “Chalice of Oniric Perversions” keeps piling fuel on the fire as the track completely bludgeons, with a mid section coming to life like an early Immortal track. Just when you think you can’t be surprised more, the record ends with a cover of Dead Can Dance’s “In the Wake of Adversity” that sounds almost like it was a black metal stunner from its inception as M owns every moment and puts his own stamp on it, complete with bellowing clean vocals. Great fucking record. Let the label bidding war for their services begin. (Oct. 2)

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12. DOØL, “Summerland” (Prophecy Productions): Doøl’s second record definitely is the only one on our list that is fueled by contemplating where we go when we die (the title “Summerland” is a pagan reference to the afterlife), and it also takes inspiration from the Richard Matheson novel “What Dreams May Come” that tackles the Biblical visions of hell. Vocalist/guitarist Ryanne von Dorst, who absolutely exudes charisma on this album, used that to add more emotion and dramatic bombast to these songs that are incredibly infectious with adrenaline gushing despite its dark subject matter.

“Sulphur & Starlight” opens the record with guitars chiming as van Dorst’s velvety voice booms, especially over the chorus when she calls, “When will you stop pouring starlight over me?” before later noting, “I’ve never seen fortune in your flames.” “Wolf Moon” has a tempered start, pushing through with another great chorus that follows mesmerizing verses. Keys drip in later while the singing remains top notch before bowing out on the chorus. The title track follows, running over 8:25, slipping into gothy waters, as van Dorst delivers higher-register singing than usual. “The Well’s Run Dry” bursts in as van Dorst delivers deeper singing before the playing heads off to the sun. A wave of eerie speaking flows into mind-altering soloing as the playing spreads out, intoxicating before fading into chills. “Dust & Shadow” ends the record, pulling from “What Dreams May Come,” shimmering and floating off into the cosmos. “I stand before infinity, it calls to me,” van Dorst wails as the playing continues to gain momentum, the volume floods, and the track disappears into a black hole. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve listened to this record, and its heavy rotation won’t end any time soon. (April 10)

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11. MARE COGNITUM/SPECTRAL LORE, “Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine” (Entropic Recordings/I, Voidhanger): Every year, this one included, we do a feature on the best EPs and split efforts of the previous 12 months because they generally don’t qualify for the album of the year list. But we make exceptions, and Mare Cognitum and Spectral Lore absolutely forced our hand with their incredible joint effort “Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine,” that pays homage to the planets of our home galaxy. The album is a total beast at an hour and 55 minutes (falling five minutes short of the longest album on our list), and every chapter is a master class in atmospheric black metal and spacious power.

“Mercury (The Virtuous)” has Spectral Lore starting off the collection with a storm whipping, which very well could be solar, before the track builds and colors rush. Finally, the playing begins to ravage as Ayloss’ screams destroy, and the pace is relentless. Mare Cognitum deliver “Venus (The Priestess),” a 12:27-long track that greets you with elegant playing and a breath of calm before a huge deluge lands, and Jacob Buczarski’s vocals cut through that. Heat melts into the fog and mist, as a freezing gaze pushes through smashing and smearing, and the playing wells up. He follows that with rousing “Jupiter (The Giant), a 15:05-long cosmic storm, while Spectral Lore have another powerful highlight in “Saturn (The Rebel)” and envelopes you in shadowy darkness. The two units unite at the end of the collection with collaborative cuts “Pluto (The Gatekeeper)” parts 1 and 2, the first an instrumental, the second a full-bore excursion to the galaxy’s edge. This record is a monster, but you should carve out the time to experience it front to back for maximum effect. (March 13)

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