3. MOLASSESS, ‘Through the Hollow’ (Season of Mist)

The demise of The Devil’s Blood following Selim Lemouchi’s death in 2014 left a huge gap in the world of heavy music, robbing us of their 1970s-fueled proto metal and the remarkable vocals from Farida Lemouchi (she was known as the Mouth of Satan). Their purely devotional music to the darkest forces also were rousing hymns and bombastic displays that, even if you didn’t bow to the devil, you could find a ton to like in the music. Here we are six years later, and the mission has been revived by Molassess on their debut full-length “Through the Hollow.” The band contains former members of the Devil’s Blood including Farida as well as guitarists Oeds Beydals and Ron van Herpen, and bassist Job van de Zande, and they’re joined by drummer Bob Hogenelst and keyboard player Matthijs Stronks on this new project that continues to carry the spiritual mission started by Selim into whatever chaotic future is ahead of us all. The art remains in the same vein but also has changed, as these tracks are more longform doses of psychedelic driving and shadowy seduction that very much eases the blow of losing their original project. This record is that good.

Photo by Ryannevan Dorst

The title track starts with strange noises floating in before guitars spiral, and a trippy feel is achieved quickly. Lemouchi’s unmistakable singing unfurls as a sprawling journey spreads out and carries the bulk of this 11:06-long track. Keys haunt as wordless calls soothe, and the music keeps tunneling as Lemouchi calls, “No more bridges left to burn,” amid a psyche haze that fully intoxicates. “Get Out From Under” has guitars trickling and more exceptional singing straight from Lemouchi’s guts. The chorus is tremendous while the vibe is mesmerizing and driving. “Corpse of Mind” flows in mystically as melodies spread and the vocals float, with Lemouchi commanding, “Break through the eyes of time.” The singing feels otherworldly while the end of the track disappears into a void. “I Am No Longer” melts in with guitars liquifying and dreamy slowness dictating the pace at first. Drums bustle, joined by keys perfect for nighttime as Lemouchi declares, “I am forever haunting.” “The Devil Lives” is the perfect final cut, a 10:33-long anthem that feels like it stitches its path from the last band to this one. “Something’s amiss, and you KNOW it,” Lemouchi stabs with a line that’ll chill your bones while the guitars intoxicate with a mix of blues and psychedelia. Farida’s declaration of, “The devil’s blood is within me,” as the track rounds out is both a pronouncement their message is alive and a promise that the mission will continue to rage with fire as long as they’re all drawing breath. (Oct. 16)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Molassessofficial

To buy the album (North America), go here: https://shopusa.season-of-mist.com/band/molassess/

Or here (International): https://shop.season-of-mist.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.season-of-mist.com/

4. FOLTERKAMMER, ‘Die Lederpredigt’ (Gilead Media)

December records always seem to get the short end of the stick when it comes to making year-end lists because so much stuff gets wrapped up and decided on early, that the later releases never seem to get the respect and love they deserve. Luckily for us, we’re not really forced into a timeframe for making up our top 40, so that’s how “Die Lederpredigt,” the debut record from Swiss-American black metal band Folterkammer, managed to rank so highly. This isn’t a recency thing. We’ve had the music for this record (its title is translated to “The Leather Sermon”) for a few months, and from our first visit with this astonishing display, we were floored. Vocalist Andromeda Anarchia is an absolute force, going operatic and then digging right into guttural growls within moments, her German feeling like its gnashing your wounds. She’s joined by guitarist Zachary Ezrin (of Imperial Triumphant, who also are no strangers to challenging, mind-defying music), bassist Darren Hanson, and drummer Brendan McGowan on a record that conjures the evil spirits of black metal, exposes the abusive nature of religion and authoritative power, and comes from the perspective of a scorned goddess looking to shed blood.

“Die Nänie” dawns with organs swelling and Anarchia’s hushed singing before she goes operatic and tears paint from the walls. Her shrieks cause muscle spasms as the pace goes nuclear, delivering spellbinding madness as the chorus wooshes back for more, and the track ends in a sticky pool. “Die Hymne” arrives with Anarchia going for the stratosphere vocally, as the playing lands heavy punches, and her shrieks are nuanced by her theatrical hacking and splintering, which is just a morbid joy. “Das Gebet” enters the room frantically as Anarchia mixes operatic singing with vile speak-like growl bursts that crawl up your spine. It’s madness. As the song progresses, it actually turns into a really catchy, almost pop-like display that explodes like sugar in your blood, and Anarchia’s playful, manic gush of words is both utterly charming and completely terrifying, calling out for dark forces that likely cannot be controlled. Das Zeugnis” closes this experience with organs signaling doom, and slow, dark tidings bleeding ever so slowly. The singing pushes, starting with a glimmer of hope before turning ugly, and the song unloads with ill will, bringing with it pumps of Gothic soot and black waves of horror. This band is here to scramble your brains and fight back against a power structure that has suffocated too many. The fact they do it in such a savagely gorgeous and spellbinding manner only ups the ante on this great record. (Dec. 11)

For more on the band, go here: facebook.com/folterkammer.music

To buy the album, go here: https://gileadmedia.net/products/folterkammer-die-lederpredigt-lp

For more on the label, go here: https://gileadmedia.net/

5. ATRAMENTUS, ‘Styigian’ (20 Buck Spin)

The first time I saw the Mariusz Lewandowski-created cover art for Atramentus’ debut record “Stygian,” it was a few months before it was released when 20 Buck Spin announced the record, and I immediately got lost in that image, wondering if it would equal the torment and doom that the vision seemed to promise. Turns out, I wasn’t prepared for how dreary and dark this three-track, 45-minute record actually was, as it delivers funeral doom in an extremely slow, Arctic-blasted elegance. It just gushes with frigid drama following the tale of a nameless knight granted immortality through the gift of God’s sword, only to watch the world die all around him, leaving him to wander, unable to perish, in a world of cold and unforgiving blizzards. The band—vocalist/guitarist Phil Tougas, guitarist Claude Leduc, bassist Antoine Daigneault, keyboardist/dark element conjurer François Bilodeau, drummer Xavier Berthiaume—weave their magic in other groups such as Chthe’ilist, Funebrarum, and Gevurah, all mighty and noteworthy, but this band and album could be their collective greatest achievement yet.

“Stygian I: From Tumultuous Heavens… (Descended Forth the Ceaseless Darkness)” opens the record and runs a healthy 16:28, starting with keys chiming and Tougas’ lurching growls boiling over. Guitars drain into a freezing funereal pace as glorious leads flood with light, while deep croons slither into another section of bubbling growls, and keys glimmer and cause you to shield your eyes. “Stygian II: In Ageless Slumber (As I Dream in the Doleful Embrace of the Howling Black Winds)” is a bridging ambient piece where sounds shuffle and float into darkness. Keys create a wall of sound while voices quiver, and the dark ambiance leads us to our final chapter. “Stygian III: Perennial Voyage (Across the Perpetual Planes of Crying Frost & Steel-Eroding Blizzards)” ends the album, a 23:17-long finale that feels like it drips in slowly from the atmosphere, as Tougas’ voice creaks, and strangeness is in the air. Guitars give off a classic psyche haze while deep growls shove along, meeting with an exquisite, alien ambiance that takes over, ushering in moody guitars and beams of light that caress the frosty terrain. This record is a cold soul navigating the night, trying to fend off frostbite and hypothermia, attempting to figure out what actions could justify such a horrible curse. It’s the best funeral doom record not just of the year but in many years. (Aug. 21)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/AtramentusDoom

To buy the album, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/atramentus

For more on the label, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/

BEST OF 2020: 10-6

10. SWEVEN, “The Eternal Resonance” (Ván): The untimely demise of Morbus Chron was a gut punch, as they had just gotten started showing how imaginative and expansive death metal can be when they called it quits after 2014’s landmark “Sweven,” their second record. Six years later, MC’s driving creative force, guitarist/vocalist Robert Andersson, regrouped, named his new band after world-toppling record, and released “The Eternal Resonance,” this project’s first record and one that nobly continues that mission but takes it even further than before. It really ices the blow of losing Morbus Chron because Sweven feel like having them back in spirit.

“The Spark” is the instrumental opener that has clean guitars fluttering before the pace steps up, going into a progressive plunge that pushes into “By Virtue of a Promise,” a 9:21 cut that trickles slowly before things flow eerily into anguish before Andersson’s wails jar. “Reduced to an Ember” has a jazzy start that chills the flesh before the tempo is shredded apart, and riffs spiral into a cascading section that bleeds imagination. Rough wails and exploratory guitars combine and create a chaotic feel before keys and acoustics buff the edges. “Mycelia” plays tricks with your mind, as hand drumming paces, and grim howls fan the flames. The tempo picks up and stomps bones as the vocals rip down your neck, and the playing keeps adding intensity. “Sanctum Sanctorum” closes the record by entering slowly, creating an ambiance before the guts are torn out. The track starts racing hard, making your adrenaline gush before it settles in the clouds and appears ready to drift away. I cannot wait to hear where this band travels from here, as I’m along for the entire ride. (March 20)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/swevenswe/

To buy the album, go here: https://van-records.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/vanrecs/

9. MSW, “Obliviosus” (Gilead Media): The world is suffering right now from a horrible virus that has impacted our everyday lives (even the assholes who refuse to admit this is real), but at some point this will end. But there are other problems that exist that won’t be able to be expunged by a jab in the arm and can’t be avoided with distancing and mask wearing. MSW, the mastermind of doom smashers Hell, tackled one of those head on with his solo debut “Obliviosus,” an album that was inspired by his brother’s addiction problems. The scars are evident, the pain bleeds through these four songs, and your heart just has to go out to him and his family as they navigate this darkness.

“O Brother” starts with guitars clashing and doom falling as sorrowful guitars bleed into the night. Carli McNutt’s vocals immediately haunt as she calls out before the ground breaks, and MSW’s shrieks penetrate. The tempo chugs hard as McNutt’s singing swirls in air, while the playing begins to punish hard. “I will never forgive you,” MSW wails painfully while an angelic haze drops, and guitars rain down like ice daggers. “Funus” is an instrumental bridge that immerses itself in darkness and piano drips like a cold rain, and the strings scrape in and later flood into full body. The title track ends the record and starts with guitars agitating before a doomy storm laps shores, and the leads light up the sky. Strings flood as wordless calls connect, while the music feels like it’s floating along on a clean tide. About 10 minutes into this 19:40-long cut, MSW’s first shrieks tear open as the bass clobbers and the guitars rush. A gazey caterwaul brings added pressure, pounding away as it gusts, as MSW jolts, “Our family destroyed, dragging your fists through the open void, where are you, my brother?” Indescribable pain aside, this is such an immersive, incredible record that is some of MSW’s best work. (July 3)

For more on the band, go here: https://loweryourhead.bandcamp.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://gileadmedia.bandcamp.com/album/obliviosus

Or here: https://loweryourhead.bandcamp.com/album/obliviosus

For more on the label, go here: https://gileadmedia.net/

8. SPIRIT ADRIFT, “Enlightened in Eternity” (20 Buck Spin): It should be no secret that Spirit Adrift are a favorite at this site and have been ever since they arrived four years ago. Nate Garrett and Marcus Bryant have remained busy as they pick up praise along the way and have created some of the best records in all of metal, and that continues on their fourth LP “Enlightened in Eternity,” one of the best sounding and most lively of their stellar run. As luck would have it, the songs were designed to be a positive, uplifting experience, and they succeed at that goal, but tragedy struck both members of the band since with the passing of each of their beloved dogs, who you can see galloping gloriously on the album’s cover art.

“Ride Into the Light” starts the record with the riffs killing and hugely chugging as everything comes to life. “If we make it through the night, we’ll ride into the light,” Garrett declares over the chorus as the track charges, and the soloing catches fire. “Cosmic Conquest” has the bass driving up your blood pressure and more great leads that make your heart surge. Guitars flex before the soloing adds more fire, hitting glorious highs that’ll have your serotonin levels cruising. “Battle High” opens with a bass line that reminds of “Black Velvet,” as everything snakes in around that, with Garrett warning, “Save yourself, war is hell.” The chorus gushes through the center of its rigid body while the music is charred and leaves pockets of smoke behind. Reunited in the Void” is the 10:48-long closer that dawns over the horizon as the guitars lather, and a slower pace is achieved. “Pain is just an inner guide, voices from the other side,” Garrett wails as synth rises, and the emotional toll gets heavier, “you and I will be one eternally.” Spirit Adrift are one of the best bands in any metallic sub-genre, and even bigger things surely are in their future. (Oct. 16)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/SpiritAdrift

To buy the album, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/spiritadrift

For more on the label, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/

7. THOU/EMMA RUTH RUNDLE, “May Our Chambers Be Full” (Sacred Bones): When it comes to dream unions, it’s hard to think of anything more satisfying than putting together doom maulers Thou with bloody-heart-smeared-on-sleeve artist Emma Ruth Rundle. Yet, that doesn’t necessarily mean them making music together was going to be an automatic sure thing, but their first collaboration “May Our Chambers Be Full” alleviated any worries that came along with the idea. This record is so good and so satisfying that it’s hard to put into words, but we’re hoping this is just the first of a fruitful artistic endeavor together (Spoiler! There’s a new EP coming in January!)

Rundle takes the bulk of the lead vocals, with Bryan Funck playing a lot in the background and helping enhance the edges, though KC Stafford also gets a chance to drive, which is always a good choice. “Killing Floor” starts with guitars rising from ashes before the track bursts open, and Rundle’s voice leads the way. Funck plays more of a back-up role here as his growls complement the singing, while the chorus trudges on, and Rundle calls, “Move your body from this place.” “Monolith” is crushing and clobbering from the start as Stafford takes lead, adding their dusky tones to the mix. The pressure keeps building as Stafford’s singing swelters, with the back end picking up filth, and the track mauling on its way out. “Magickal Cost” starts rusty and like something that crawls out of the evening dusk, a track that wouldn’t sound out of place on one of Rundle’s solo albums. Guitars echo and moan as the sun sets and splashes oranges and purples across the sky, and then the ugliness rears its head as Funck digs into the center. “The Valley” ends the album, and it’s a monumental track, an 8:58-long rush of emotion that makes your heart cry out. Strings swell as Rundle’s singing slithers into the murk as she calls, “The fear of giving up is in the valley.” This record is an utter triumph, dark, heavy, vulnerable, and massive to the end. (Oct. 30)

For more on Emma Ruth Rundle, go here: https://www.facebook.com/emmaruthrundle/

For more on Thou, go here: http://noladiy.org/thou.html

To buy the album, go here: https://www.sacredbonesrecords.com/collections/releases/products/sba007-emma-ruth-rundle-thou-may-our-chambers-be-full

For more on the label, go here: https://www.sacredbonesrecords.com/

6. INEXORUM, “Moonlit Navigation” (Gilead Media): Without going into too much detail, it’s been a very dark and depressing year for me, and finding things that truly make me feel good, especially recently, has not been terribly easy to come by. It is what it is. Anyway, one thing that has managed to lift my spirits has been “Moonlit Navigation,” the second album from Minneapolis-based Inexorum, an eight-track, 42-minute exercise in supreme melodic riffing and positive energy. Yeah, yeah, black metal is supposed to be grim, but I don’t remember reading a rule book on the style, and Carl Skildum (guitars/vocals) and Matthew Kirkwold (bass/vocals) refuse to adhere to that standard.

“Ouroboric State” gets things off to a rousing start as the drums come to life, and the riffs start cutting down their path. Right away you get a sense of what’s to come, that being huge riffs and vocals that wrench at you, as the leads blast through, and a sense of delirium strikes. “Dream and Memory” is a massive deluge out front, with punishing roars and a mass of energy creating a great force. The drums decimate bones as a charge jolts your chest, making your blood rush, before the tempo calms and melds into the fog. “Signal Fires” lands punches as everything lights up, while the playing destroys everything in sight. The growls have an added conviction as they jar your ribcage, while the drumming once again rocks your insides. The chorus is powerful as hell, while the back ends trudges before becoming breezy, and all the elements blend into dusk. Closer “In Desperate Times” inflicts damage with a rage of riffs, melodic growls, and razor-sharp guitars that work their magic as Skildum laments “when all is lost and nothing’s left to save.” That isn’t a sign of submission as the battle continues, and a blistering chorus does its best to get you going. I’m not exactly overflowing with positivity right now, but this record always reminds me to refuse to quit and to find the power I have hiding somewhere within me. (June 26)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/inexorum/

To buy the album, go here: https://gileadmedia.net/collections/pre-orders

For more on the label, go here: https://gileadmedia.net/

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)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/couchslut/

To buy the album, go here: https://gileadmedia.bandcamp.com/album/take-a-chance-on-rock-n-roll

For more on the label, go here: https://gileadmedia.net/

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)

or more on the band, go here: https://blackcurse-svr.bandcamp.com/releases

To buy the album, go here: http://www.sepulchralvoice.de/shop/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.sepulchralvoniric Perversions” ice.de/

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)

For more on the band, go here: https://lampofmurmuur.bandcamp.com/releases

To buy the album, go here: https://www.facebook.com/NotKvlt/

For more on the label, go here: https://notkvlt.bigcartel.com/

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)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/allthosewhowanderaredool/

To buy the album, go here: https://prophecy.lnk.to/dool-summerland

For more on the label, go here: https://en.prophecy.de/

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)

For more on Spectral Lore, go here: https://www.facebook.com/spectral.lorebm

For more on Mare Cognitum, go here: https://www.facebook.com/MareCognitumMusic/

To buy the album, go here: http://i-voidhanger.com/shop/

Or here: https://marecognitum.bandcamp.com/album/wanderers-astrology-of-the-nine

For more on the label, go here: http://i-voidhanger.com/

And here: https://www.facebook.com/entropicrecordings/

BEST OF 2020: 20-16

20. NECROT, “Mortal” (Tankcrimes): Death metal is in pretty good health despite its name, and the amount of good newer bands help making it that way is plentiful. No doubt Bay Area maulers Necrot are part of that contingent, and their second record “Mortal” is a huge part of why they’re so highly regarded. This record, which is seven tracks over 38 minutes, is an ideally portioned record that’s incredibly impactful on first listen and then keeps gaining muscle every time you visit.

“Your Hell” churns open and begins pounding away heavily, as Luca Indrio’s growl’s open lacerations, and the drums mash your life into pieces. “Dying Life” thrashes away as the growls lean in and start bruising, and the guitar work takes off and leads to rapid-fire dizziness. “Asleep Forever” starts in a vicious spiral as the guitars encircle, and gruff growls up the ante on the sickness. Guitars light up and rip out guts along with the chorus where Indrio howls, “Everything leads to the end when we’ll be asleep forever.” The record ends with the 8:33-long title track that explodes from the gates with riffs menacing and raw growls choking as Indrio howls, “Mortal dies, lost, carried away, mortal dies, everything fades away.” Great, timeless death metal album that’ll be remembered as one of the era’s best. (Aug. 28)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/cyclesofpain

To buy the album, go here: https://tankcrimes.merchtable.com/?

For more on the label, go here: http://www.tankcrimes.com/

19. VÖLUR, “Death Cult” (Prophecy Productions): Creativity and imagination certainly are two things not devoid in metal, but some bands have it in greater numbers than others. As for Toronto-based trio Völur, they bring something entirely new to the heavy music world and always have, and that explodes through the roof on their amazing third album “Death Cult.” The record was partially inspired by Germanic tribes near the Baltic Sea in the earliest days of A.D. sacrificing slaves via drowning to their goddess Nertha, and it’s a dramatic, sweeping album that sounds like no others.

“Inviolate Grove” begins with electric violinist Laura Bates’ strings sweltering as the playing begins to pump, and melodies enrapture. Both Bates and bassist Lucas Gadke sing (they trade off throughout the record) as the violin makes inroads into your soul. Dead Moon” simmers in eerie choral circles and a bed of strings. The first portion is rather calming, with the violin quietly shuffling like a ghost before they begin to soar and ache. Bates’ shrieks then strike and tear through flesh as the playing is utterly gut wrenching. “Reverend Queen” is your closer, bathing in feedback before the strings loop in, and a choral section opens its jaws. Things turn ugly as the growls hammer, melodies stir, and Bates’ violin strikes back and blares with agitation. No one sounds like Völur, and no one should really try. They’re that special. (Nov. 13)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/VolurDoom

To buy the album, go here: https://prophecy.lnk.to/voelur-death-cult

For more on the label, go here: https://en.prophecy.de/

18. SVALBARD, “When I Die, Will It Get Better?” (Translation Loss/Church Road): Svalbard’s second record is one of the most necessary listens of the entire year for two reasons, one good and one bad. First, their fresh and enthralling mix of metal and hardcore found another level on “When I Die…” as it just explodes with energy and power. The negative is the album highlights so many societal issues (sexism, abuse, people ignoring others’ mental wounds) we still are battling and apparently always will be that it makes it feel like pure darkness to realize these problems never seem to get proper attention. Hopefully Svalbard’s messages can wake people up, while their raucous music aims to soothe the soul and light fires among those who hurt along with them.

“Clickbait” opens in moodiness as darkness spreads, and then the whole thing explodes as guitarist Serena Cherry’s voice smashes over the verses, leading into the venomous, “We are used as fodder to generate comments, because the presence of a woman is apparently reactive, fuck off!” “Listen to Someone” is one of the most important tracks here lyrically, as it conveys the hurt and confusion of mental illness coupled with people who just won’t absorb their words. “Silent Restraint” quakes the ground as Cherry’s voice blasts holes in the earth, and guitarist Liam Phelan joins in with his melodic, powerful singing, as both trade back and forth. “I’m sick of feeling like a burden, I’m sick of having no control.” “The Currency of Beauty” pours open as Cherry immediately stabs into the scene, calling, “I am not your trophy, I am more than my body,” while the track gears up and crushes everything in front of it. This band is on fire through this entire record both musically and emotionally, and hopefully they can help break into people’s black hearts and give them a much-needed slap to the face. (Sept. 25)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/svalbarduk/

To buy the album (US), go here: https://translationloss.com/collections/pre-orders

Or here (UK): https://churchroadrecords.limitedrun.com/categories/pre-order

Or here (Japan): http://store.tokyojupiterrecords.com/#_=_

For more on the label, go here: https://translationloss.com/

And here: https://churchroadrecords.limitedrun.com/

And here: https://tokyojupiterrecords.com/

17. BEDSORE, “Hypnagogic Hallucinations” (20 Buck Spin): We just got done talking about the embarrassing riches of death metal we have right now, and Italian weirdos Bedsore also are a major reason for that, as their bizarre debut “Hypnagogic Hallucinations” can attest. This was one of those records I liked from the first time I heard it, but the more I took on this seven-track, 40-minute album, the pathways into its psychosis and the bizarre ferocity truly took hold, making it one of my favorites of the year.

“The Gate, Disclosure (Intro)” opens the record with organs sweltering and the drums awakening before a synth fog hovers over the area. Things feel proggy and weird before elegant guitars unfurl, and we float into a psychedelic dream and toward “The Gate, Closure (Sarcoptes Obitus)” where guitars heat up and enter a death spiral. “Deathgazer” has riffs electrifying as the tempo stomps guts, and the playing stymies. Animalistic howls jab into your sides while the pace chews up again, leads boil and moisten your skin, and then things start to rip apart again before ending abruptly. “Disembowelment of the Souls (Tabanidae)” aggravates blues strains again, floating in your head, then guitars burn, and the screams become acidic. The playing feels like a slow-droning crash for a stretch as guitars light up again, and the ground rumbles. Closer “Brains on the Tarmac” then lurches forward as things begin reflectively as cold guitars slowly awaken into a dark noir and things gallop open, as maniacal devastation sets its trap. This is devious and ugly and will leave chills down your spine that refuse to relinquish their grip. (July 24)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/bedsoredeath

To buy the album, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/bedsore

For more on the label, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/

16. VILE CREATURE, “Glory, Glory! Apathy Took the Helm!” (Prosthetic): Hamilton, Ontario, duo Vile Creature always have filled their apocalyptic doom with heavy shadows and darkness, something so impenetrable that it weighs you down while destroying you. Yet, on their awesome third record “Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm!” they aim for something different, that being lighting the fires of human compassion and refusing to de drubbed into malaise when things seem to be too much. Vic (drums, vocals) and KW (guitars, vocals, percussion) still find darkness, but they work their hardest to make sure they don’t give in.

“Harbinger of Nothing” opens the record in the midst of a crushing storm as doom lands, and burly riffs flex their muscles. The track then settles into a mid-tempo bashing that hints at calm but quivers on its edges as Vic wails, “Tell me who I am, if you’re all knowing, the arbiter of moral purity.” “When the Path Is Unclear” has guitars awakening as things slip into a trippy vibe, and melodies drip into space buzz. Vic speaks the words, “The champions of your past conquered nothing, and neither will you.” A two-headed beast “Glory, Glory!” and “Apathy Took the Helm!” closes off the record with some of the most emotionally heavy playing of the entire year, as they’re joined by Laurel Minnes with her band and choir Miniscule, and they make it feel like the world is beginning again, like drops of sky are falling. On the second half, Vic’s vicious shrieks rain down as they also mutilate behind the kit, thickening the doom waters with blood. Angelic hell rises to the surface and seems to quell the fires before everything kicks back in again. Vile Creature followed this great record with spending 2020 giving their fans fun surprises at every turn, making this terrible time a little more bearable.  (June 19)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/vilecreature

To buy the album, go here: https://shop.prostheticrecords.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.prostheticrecords.com/

BEST OF 2020: 30-21

30. PAYSAGE D’HIVER, “Im Wald” (Kunsthall Produktionen): Swiss black metal project Paysage D’Hiver has been in existence since 1997, but 2020 finally brought us the band’s first full-length “Im Wald,” a 13-track, TWO-HOUR display of wintry, noise-scuffed black metal that really is quite the handful. Yes, taking on this entire record at once isn’t a wise choice based on the sheer girth of this thing, but however you take it on, you’ll find wondrous, nightmarish, freezing black metal that sole creator Wintherr has been dreaming about for years. (Jan. 25)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/PaysagedHiver.Official/

To buy the album, go here: https://en.kunsthall.spkr.media/

For more on the label, go here: https://kunsthall.ch/

29. DRAINBOW, “The Tower of Flints” (self-released): Nicholas Sarcophagus, why are you trying to destroy us? “The Tower of Flints,” his debut record under the Drainbow moniker, isn’t just one of the most batshit insane metal records of 2020, it’s one of craziest things I ever heard. And it’s a wonder to behold and experience, which you’ll likely do with cocked head the whole time, as tracks including “Funeral for an Imaginary Rabbit,” “The Death Owl in the Tower of Flints,” and “Callipygian Hunger” callously poke you in the eyes and insult your panic attack. (July 7)

For more on the band or to buy the album, go here: https://drainbow1.bandcamp.com/

28. ORANSSI PAZUZU, “Mestarin Kynsi” (Nuclear Blast): Finnish wonders Oranssi Pazuzu brought some maniacal psychedelic trauma into our world with their fifth album “Mestarin Kynsi,” their first for giant Nuclear Blast. Yet, the new, larger label didn’t impact their creativity or Krautrock-fueled weirdness as they continue to push into alien terrain on this six-track, 50-minute record that further solidifies this band as one of the most imaginative and entrancing in all of metal. Oh, and when you can again, see them live and be blow away. (April 17)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/oranssipazuzuband/

To buy the album, go here: https://shop.nuclearblast.com/en/shop/index.html

For more on the label, go here: https://www.nuclearblast.com/en/label/

27. ULTHAR, “Providence” (20 Buck Spin): These Bay Area brawlers upped the ante on their second album “Providence,” an eight-track, 37-minute piledriver of a display that never relents. The band piles layers of vicious, pointed destruction that digs inside your nerves and chews them up so you can feel the same horrors that punish every corner of the world in which this record inhabits on tracks such as “Undying Spear,” the tumultuous title track, and “Narcissus Drowning.” Just a killer record.  (June 12)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Ulthar-386850314846106/

To buy the album, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/collections/ulthar

For more on the label, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/

26. FORMER WORLDS, “Iterations of Time” (Init): Former Worlds make music that you can get inside of psychologically and take the emotional journey along with the band, as their great debut “Iterations of Time” will make clear right away. Combining vocals from Erin Severson and a session vocalist brought in for the vocal tradeoff, the band creates music that can align with your blood cells and grow in light and dark such “Spectre,” “Variations on a Cave,” and epic closer “Widow Moon” that’s treated with their brand of sludgy doom.  (Jan. 31)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/formerworldsband/

To buy the album, go here: http://initrecords.corecommerce.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.initrecords.net/

25. CANIS DIRUS, “Independence to the Beast” (Bindrune Recordings): Minnesota black metal duo Canis Dirus hadn’t released a new album in eight long years, but “Independence to the Beast” ended that string, and the world is better for it. This six-track crusher feels explosive and raw at the same time, a new blast of fury from two guys (vocalist Rob Hames, multi-instrumentalist Todd Paulson) who take their time and craft their work to their own specifications. This is forestal black metal designed to bring out the wolf that lives within you. (March 6)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/CanisDirusOfficial/

To buy the album, go here: https://shop.bindrunerecordings.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://bindrunerecordings.com/

24. WAR ON WOMEN, “Wonderful Hell” (Bridge 9): Punk/metal firebreathers War on Women have been battling against injustice, sexism, and abuse for years, and they keep bringing that fight on “Wonderful Hell,” their best record so far. As much as this album revels in the hell the Trump admin created, it also infuses the music with hope and a stuff kick in the ass to keep working and never forget what dragged us here so we can ensure it never happens again, with a blistering vocal performance delivered by the great Shawna Potter. Highlights are opener “Aqua Tofana” “This Stolen Land,” justified punch back “Her?” and dark closer “Demon.” (Oct. 30)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/WarOnWomen/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.b9store.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.bridge9.com/

23. EYE OF NIX, “Ligeia” (Prophecy Productions): “Ligeia,” the third full-length from mind-warping progressive metal machine Eye of Nix, is almost like standing in the eye of the storm, trying to figure out which way you’ll be forced. Named after one of the sirens in Greek mythology that lured sailors to their demise, the record has its moments of dark seduction that pull you into devastating waves. Joy Von Spain is spellbinding as always going from beastly to angelic, and the stirring progressive doom the band creates just keeps getting more immersive and wondrous. This is ideal music to take on when you’re in the midst of heavy storming. (June 19)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/EYEOFNIX/

To buy the album, go here: https://prophecy.lnk.to/eye-of-nix-ligeia

For more on the label, go here: https://en.prophecy.de/

22. AARA, “En Ergô Einia” (Debemur Morti): The first thing that really struck me about Swiss black metal duo Aara’s second record is the total wave of melodies that lap up and practically pull you under. “En Ergô Einia” delivers five tracks in about 33 minutes and adds a sense of effusive power into what’s otherwise a sub-genre that revels in utter negativity. Vocalist Fluss and multi-instrumentalist Berg soar on imaginative, crushing tracks such as “Arkanum,” “Stein Auf Stein,” and bursting closer “Telôs,” which brings to an end a record that won’t let you drown in the shadows. (April 3)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Aara-941630312665011/

To buy the album (North America), go here: https://debemurmorti.aisamerch.com/

Or here (Europe): https://www.debemur-morti.com/en/12-eshop

For more on the label, go here: https://www.debemur-morti.com/

21. FEMINAZGUL, “No Dawn for Men” (self-released): The incel babies have had a real fit with this record, which we absolutely fucking love, because anything that upsets those weaklings pleases us. But “No Dawn for Men” also packs passionate, destructive moments as trio of lead vocalist Laura Beach, multi-instrumentalist Margaret Killjoy, and violinist/theremin player/vocalist Meredith Yayanos packs savagery, sorrow, and ridiculous amounts of melody into their ashy black metal that refused to let a virus prevent its entry into the world. We just love “Illa, Mother of Death,” “Bury the Antler With the Stag” and “Forgiver, I Am Not Yours,” though every track kills. (March 17)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/FeminazgulBand/

To buy the album, go here: https://feminazgul.bandcamp.com/album/no-dawn-for-men

Or here (vinyl): https://tridroid.bandcamp.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/tridroidrecords

BEST OF 2020: 40-31

40. SKELETAL REMAINS, “The Entombment of Chaos” (Century Media): California death metal squad made their full Century Media debut with “The Entombment of Chaos,” a skull splitter of a record that is the most cohesive of the band’s four albums. Everything on here screams true death as they pound out 11 tracks in 48 minutes, one of those an Disincarnate cover. They rip through “Illusive Divinity,” “Tombs of Chaos,” “Enshrined in Agony,” and “Eternal Hatred” on this complete monster of a record that effectively cracks skulls. (Sept. 11)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/SkeletalRemainsDeathMetal

To buy the album, go here: http://www.cmdistro.com/

or more on the label, go here: https://www.centurymedia.com/

39. LOTUS THIEF, “Oresteia” (Prophecy Productions): This year has been so long and bizarre that it feels like Lotus Thief’s wondrous “Oresteia” came out five years ago rather than one. That said, the Bezaelith-led band added more male vocals to their mix, bringing multiple perspectives to this progressive and spellbinding music that retells the Greek tragedy of the album’s namesake that tackles issues such as the ethics of killing to the emphasis of gender roles. As always, the music is heavy, stirring, and wonderfully atmospheric, and it deserves another trip if you haven’t been in a while. (Jan. 10)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.lotusthief.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://prophecy.lnk.to/lotus-thief-oresteia-rervm

or more on the label, go here: https://en.prophecy.de/

38. WAYFARER, “A Romance With Violence” (Profound Lore): Hailing from Denver, cinematic black metal machine Wayfarer dug even deeper into the Old West and cowboy mythos on their great fourth record. The two “Gallows Frontier” sections make up the bulk of the record’s first half and leaves you choking with dust before they round to “Fire and Gold” and the sprawling closer “Vaudeville” that puts a bloody dagger into the record’s soul. Awesome display by a great band. (Oct. 16)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/wayfarercolorado/

To buy the album, go here: https://profoundlorerecords.merchtable.com/?

For more on the label, go here: https://www.profoundlorerecords.com/

37. PYRRHON, “Abscess Time” (Willowtip): When Clark Griswold demands Tylenol after his raged rant on “Christmas Vacation,” it sort of reminds me of how I felt after tackling Pyrrhon’s insane new album “Abscess Time.” Look, this band isn’t for the faint of heart and never has been, but holy shit do they ever turn up the psychological torture on this 12-track, 58-minute monster that lays waste to you. “Down at Liberty Ashes,” “The Lean Years,” “Cornered Animal” and “Rat King Lifecycle” are absolutely what you need if you’re trying to turn that panic attack up to full blast. (June 26)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pyrrhonband

To buy the album, go here: https://www.willowtip.com/bands/details/pyrrhon.aspx

For more on the label, go here: https://www.willowtip.com/home.aspx

36. LIE IN RUINS, “Floating in Timeless Streams” (Dark Descent): Finnish death squad Lie in Ruins pulled back from the extra generous serving they offered on “Towards Divine Death” with a slim, trim, utterly devastating new record “Floating in Timeless Streams.” While the record is shorter, they don’t skimp on the brutality as they put you to the test on 10 tracks that run an economical 42 minutes, every second of which is spent battering you. (Nov. 20)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/lieinruins

To buy the album, go here: http://www.darkdescentrecords.com/store/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.darkdescentrecords.com/

35. FUCK THE FACTS, “Pleine Noirceur” (Noise Salvation): Canadian grinders Fuck the Facts never really stayed in their lane when it comes to their sound, and that’s made the band one of the more interesting and inventive in all of heavy music. The band’s 10th full-length album and first in five years expanded their sound even further, keeping their roots in place but liberally branching out on these 12 tracks and 42 minutes. The trio rips a hole in time, they show ferocious dexterity, and vocalist Mel Mongeon sounds as beastly as ever. (Nov. 20)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/FuckTheFacts/

To buy the album, go here: https://www.fuckthefacts.com/

34. SUMOKEM, “Prajnaparadha” (self-released): In Sanskrit, “Prajnaparadha,” means a crime against wisdom, something that prevents us from achieving enlightenment, and it’s the title of and thematic element woven in Sumokem’s excellent third record. The songs here really soar, taking your emotions and spirit along with them as they bring their stoner-friendly doom to new heights on “Nihang,” Sadhu” and closer “Khizer.” This is their best record in an already stellar collection, so get on this if you haven’t and get ready for an adventure. (Sept. 4)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/SUMOKEM

To buy the album, go here: https://sumokem.bandcamp.com/

33. ADZES, “No One Wants to Speak About It” (Tridroid): Forest Bohrer is fighting the good battle against issues such as human and environmental issues as well as the thrust of capitalism that has crushed so many, and he’s doing so with his project Adzes, whose debut full-length “No One Wants to Speak About It” dealt a massive offensive. He blends all sorts of sounds here from black metal to noise to punk to doom on this heavily enriching record that’ll fan the flames of frustration in your heart and mind as you battle along with this heavily righteous eight-track, 50-minute mauler. (May 29)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Adzesband/

To buy the album, go here: https://tridroid.bandcamp.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/tridroidrecords

32. ETERNAL CHAMPION, “Ravening Iron” (No Remorse): Austin’s Eternal Champion practically are the living embodiment of heavy metal glory, drawing back to the years when this style of music was still bubbling liquid waiting to be poured. On their masterful second record, the band blasts out anthem after anthem from amazing opener “A Face in the Glare,” “War at the Edge of the End,” “The Godblade,” and the smoldering title track. This band has created their own fantastical world, and they’re handing you the sword to battle alongside them. (Nov. 6)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/eternalchampion

To buy the album, go here: https://www.noremorse.gr/products?searching=eternal%20champion%20ravening

For more on the label, go here: https://www.noremorse.gr/

31. KAATAYRA, “Toda História pela Frente” (self-released): Brazilian musician Caio Lemos has done the unthinkable, which is create a black metal record that can take you away into the world of maximum meditation. But just calling this album, one of two Kaatayra for the year, black metal is selling it too short as he also works in psychedelics, Brazilian folk, and tribal melodies into something that feels more like an excursion into a plane beyond your own on one of the most immersive metal albums of the year. Turn this on, turn off the lights, and get lost in your dreams. (Aug. 18)

For more on the band, go here: https://kaatayra.bandcamp.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://kaatayra.bandcamp.com/album/toda-hist-ria-pela-frente

BEST OF 2020: Splits and EPs

KHEMMIS, “Doomed Heavy Metal” (20 Buck Spin): You’ve got to be a real son of a bitch to cover Dio’s all-time classic “Rainbow in the Dark” and think you’re going to do it justice, but damnit if Khemmis didn’t pull it off expertly. That’s just the opening track on their Record Store Day release “Doomed Heavy Metal” (which was pushed back due to you know what), and elsewhere they add their own glorious fingertips to “A Conversation With Death” and include their Decibel flexi single “Empty Throne” as well as three great live cuts on their 20 Buck Spin swan song. (April 17)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/khemmisdoom/

To buy the album, go here: https://listen.20buckspin.com/album/doomed-heavy-metal

For more on the label, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/

ANHEDONIST/SPECTRAL VOICE, split (Dark Descent): Combining a band we lost too soon with one of the best death metal bands on the planet, this split brought together sinister power and unrelenting darkness. Anhedonist bowed out in 2014 after one record, and sadly, guitarist Kim Harrington passed away this year, but they left us “Abject Darkness” that reminded of their coal-black power. Spectral Voice take you right into the heart of cosmic violence on “Ineffable Winds,” a reminder that they remain one of the sub-genre’s heaviest hitters. (Feb. 12)

For more on Anhedonist, go here: https://anhedonist.blogspot.com/

For more on Spectral Voice, go here:  https://www.facebook.com/Necroticdoom/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.darkdescentrecords.com/store/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.darkdescentrecords.com/

VULGARITE, “Fear Not the Dark Nor the Sun’s Return” (self-released): Margaret Killjoy had quite the productive year, first with this pitch-black nightmare “Fear Not the Dark…,” as well as her work with Feminazgul, who we’ll visit again in a few days. But this EP that struck at the turn of the year actually ideally encapsulated the hell we were about to endure with tracks such as ghostly opener “What Curse Comes This Way,” the strange miasma of “His Words Are a Void,” and atmospheric closer “A Decade, a Prophecy” that’ll chill you to the bone. (Jan. 6)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/vulgaarite/ To buy the album, go here: https://vulgarite.bandcamp.com/releases

MORTIFERUM/HYPERDONTIA, split (Carbonized Records/Me Saco Un Ojo): This destroyer is still fresh in our memories as we just talked about this devastating split pitting Washington’s Mortiferum against international destroyers Hyperdontia. The bands bring their best, splattering you with relentless death that simmers in doomy waters as far as Mortiferum is concerned and absolute hell when it comes to Hyperdontia. Two tracks and a little more than 13 minutes are all you need to have your face bruised and your psyche permanently scarred. (Dec. 7)

For more on Hyperdontia, go here: https://www.facebook.com/hyperdontia

For more on Mortiferum, go here: https://mortiferum.bandcamp.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://carbonizedrecords.bandcamp.com/album/mortiferum-hyperdontia

Or here: https://mesacounojo.bandcamp.com/album/split-7-3

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/carbonizedrecords

And here: https://www.mesacounojo.com/

LYCHGATE, “Also Sprach Futura” (Debemur Morti): Taking breaks between full-length efforts, the strange and enigmatic Lychgate pulled into Debemur Morti’s shores and delivered this spellbinding four-track EP that’s equal mix black metal horror and organ-driven insanity. Nothing this band does ever comes free of musical drama, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. They chill and splatter on imaginative songs such as deadly opener “Incarnate,” mind-bending “Simulacrum,” and rushing closer “Vanity Ablaze” that might as well soundtrack a real-life haunted house. (March 13)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Lychgate

To buy the album (North America), go here: https://debemurmorti.aisamerch.com/

Or here (Europe): https://www.debemur-morti.com/en/12-eshop

For more on the label, go here: https://www.debemur-morti.com/en/

Other EPs and splits we loved: Auroch, “Stolen Angelic Tongues”; Body Void/Keeper split; Carcass, “Despicable”; High Command, “Everlasting Torment”; Old Nick, “Witch of the Northern Vill” and “No Solace in Sunlight”; Putrescine, “Devourer of Gods” and “Reek of Putrescine”; Throane, “Une Balle Dans le Pied”

Best of 2020: Non-metal releases

We’ve said it from the start that though this is a site dedicated to heavy metal, to only immerse yourself in that type of music would be incredibly boring. There’s a lot going on outside of that massive realm, and we wanted to highlight some of the records we really loved this year that deserve praise. There are a few albums I want to mention that we didn’t write up below—Fiona Apple’s “Fetch the Bolt Cutters,” Waxahatchee’s “Saint Cloud,” Phoebe Bridgers’ “Punisher”—that we just adored, but they’ve been written about in pretty much every publications’ lists. So, yes, we love and own them, but let’s look at 10 other records that are absolute must haves as well. These are listed alphabetically.

MOANING, “Uneasy Laughter” (Sub Pop): The icy, synthy, sometimes claustrophobic music made by this LA-based trio really peaked on “Uneasy Laughter,” their great second record. The music also is driving and impossibly catchy quite often as songs such as “Ego,” “Fall in Love,” and “Connect the Dots” can attest. You get the feeling a lot is going on in their psyches, much of it dark, and it came across brilliantly on this album. (March 20)  

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/moaningmusic/

To buy the album, go here: https://megamart.subpop.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.subpop.com/

MIDWIFE, “Forever” (Flenser Records): Madeline Johnson terms her music as “heaven metal,” and while it’s not particularly loud, it can definitely make you feel like you’re existing on a different plane. This record, her second under the Midwife banner, was written in remembrance of her friend and creative partner Colin Ward, and it’s gripping, emotional, and devastating front to back. (April 10)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Midwife-1544620965823272/

To buy the album, go here: https://nowflensing.com/collections/flenser-releases

For more on the label, go here: https://nowflensing.com/

MRS PISS, “Self-Surgery” (Sargent House): It’s not like Chelsea Wolfe and Jess Gowrie make easy-to-digest music for the most part, but their alliance here on noise-mashed “Self-Surgery” is the most abrasive work of either of their careers. It could have been at home on the metal list, but we felt it belonged better here. It’s a blast that’s over fast, but you pay the price over and over again on “Downer Surrounded by Uppers,” “Knelt,” and the title cut. (May 29)

For more on the band, go here: https://sargenthouse.com/mrs-piss

To buy the album, go here: https://www.hellomerch.com/collections/sargent-house

For more on the label, go here: https://sargenthouse.com/

MARGO PRICE, “That’s How Rumors Get Started” (Loma Vista): Whatever the fuck most people call country music is about the worst shit ever, but there are great artists operating away from the influence of the CMA who are making fantastic art. Margo Price is one of them, and her awesome third record is the portrait of a bad-ass woman battling broken heart, pain, assholes, and misunderstandings, coming out of it bruised but tougher than ever. (July 10)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/MargoAndThePriceTags/

To buy the album, go here: https://bodega.lomavistarecordings.com/collections/margo-price

For more on the label, go here: https://www.lomavistarecordings.com/

PURITY RING, “Womb” (4AD): I admittedly was kind of worried about Canadian electro pop duo Purity Ring after their second record “Another Eternity” fell really flat for me five years ago. “Womb” is more of the alien fog weirdness and psychedelic sugar they introduced on “Shrines” but worlds apart, as they just shine on “rubyinsides,” “peacefall,” “silkspun,” and “stardew,” one of the best album closers of the year. Also, Megan James could sing the back of a cereal box and be absolutely otherworldly. (April 3):

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/purityringmusic/

To buy the album, go here: https://4ad.com/store

For more on the label, go here: https://4ad.com/

ULVER, “Flowers of Evil” (House of Mythology): It’s still funny putting Ulver on a non-metal list, but the days of their black metal trilogy are way behind us, and we’re solidly entrenched in their synth-driven rock, which again just nails it on “Flowers of Evil.” There is darkness, death, cults, and even a dream into their past on this incredibly infectious record, peaking on “Russian Doll,” “Hour of the Wolf,” “Apocalypse 1993,” and pain-drenched closer “A Thousand Cuts.” (Aug. 28)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/ulverofficial

To buy the album, go here: https://store.houseofmythology.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.houseofmythology.com/

US GIRLS, “Heavy Light” (4AD): Meg Remy has that rare gift of being able to put out an entire album of songs that all have distinct personalities and sound nothing like each other, yet they work so perfectly as a whole. This is her finest moment yet, and “4 America Dollars” is in the conversation for one of the best songs of the entire year. But there’s plenty of good stuff here including hot “Overtime,” “Born to Lose,” and “The Quiver to the Bomb” that’ll get you moving and then gut you. (March 6):

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/yousgirls/

To buy the album, go here: https://4ad.com/store

For more on the label, go here: https://4ad.com/

KATIE VON SCHLEICHER, “Consummation” (Ba Da Bing): Immersing yourself in Katie Von Schleicher’s world demands a commitment to her psychedelic darkness and allowing yourself to be washed away by her alluring voice and wonderfully dreamy music. “Consummation” is loosely based on an alternative version of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, and it has so many arresting moments including “You Remind Me,” “Loud,” “Brutality,” and “Nowhere,” which is one of my favorite songs of the entire year. (May 22)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/KatieVonSchleicher/

To buy the album, go here: https://www.badabingrecords.com/store

For more on the label, go here: http://www.badabingrecords.com/

WAILING STORMS, “Rattle” (Gilead Media): This band is here to shake your cages, which “Rattle” does over and over again. In fact, if the title track doesn’t grab you and hold you under, then I wonder about your ability to feel emotion because it’s a pounder. The band claims they jammed grunge, doom, rock, and blues into their mix, and you can hear that on every bursting edge of “Rope,” “Grass,” “Teeth,” and “Crow.” This is a record you’re required to play on whatever top volume you can achieve, other people’s feelings be damned. (May 15)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/wailinstorms/

To buy the album, go here: https://gileadmedia.bandcamp.com/album/rattle

For more on the label, go here: https://gileadmedia.net/

JESS WILLIAMSON, “Sorceress” (Mexican Summer): Jess Williamson’s great fourth record “Sorceress” was a revelation to me. I didn’t know much about her before this album came out, and I was pulled right in by the woodsy title track, complete with her pantomiming whip sounds and ending with an exhilarated “wooo!” Elsewhere, there are country-flavored folk tracks such as “Wind on Tin,” “How Ya Lonesome,” breezy “As the Birds Are,” and “Smoke,” where she drops, “Every couple months, I like to be bad,” as she saunters off to break you. (May 15)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/jesswilliamsonmusic/

To buy the album, go here: https://shop.mexicansummer.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.mexicansummer.com/