It’s hard to believe it’s December, isn’t it? It feels both like it’s been so long and no time at all with everything that has been happening outside our doors, on our televisions and phones, and, especially, inside our heads. We have never experienced a time like this for generations, but like saviors from far off to bring us sweet salvation in these dark times, it is music that has carried us through these times like never before. The scene may have taken many heavy hits, but the steady flow of excellence has been more apparent than ever as we’ve been relying on it more than ever. Every name in all of metal and rock that have provided us with relief has been a true godsend with each delivering relief that is more than welcome. And the time has come yet again, for us to reflect and excite over what all we have gorged ourselves with over these last twelve months. Hopefully, my favorites catch the fancy of any of you, and, as always, I implore you to support any of the bands that catch your interest.
This year was a particularly fun one with music for me as I found easily the most diverse collection of records to fall in love with from bands that I’ve been in love with for years now from Countless Skies to Esoctrilihum to Ende as well as new names that rocked my mind from Big Scenic Nowhere to Novarupta. Naturally, I know for a fact that there are thousands of albums out there that are worth mentioning that aren’t on this list purely because I am just one person on this site so that means the great vast majority of what’s out there goes unheard by me, and I only apologize in part for that. But I stand by these albums 100% without an ounce of wavering to be had, and I truly hope that you can come out of this list feeling the same way about a name that is new to your ears.
Feel free to check out my Honorable Mentions of 2020 to see if there’s something you’d suggest, but if not, feel free to yell at me on social media. And also like every year – to listen to the album in question or a song from it click the album and band name and should you want to read my review of the album simply click the cover art. As always, thank you so much to everyone who makes doing this website such an absolute joy for me. It’s all my pleasure, and here’s to brighter horizons in 2021!
This is the band that set a new standard for everything that melodic death metal has become in the modern age, and it is with the time that Countless Skies has become a titanic force that is not only at the forefront of the style but absolute game-changers. “Glow” is something that can only be known as gorgeous, awe-inspiring, and downright soul-touching for every ounce of calculated power and stunning beauty that’s contained in this work is such that it quite literally almost brought a tear to my eye.
As if the legendary musicians behind Big Scenic Nowhere needed to do anything to show us what they were truly capable of when brought together after their staggering debut EP last year under this name, it is single-handedly with “Vision Beyond Horizon” that the style has found a brand new standard like none other in these modern times. It’s extremely rare to come upon albums like this that rock the very foundations of the style like what Big Scenic Nowhere has accomplished here, and it is fitting that “Vision Beyond Horizon” is just the beginning of true mastery upon this new horizon for the style.
As one of the bands that I could make a career out of covering, Esoctrilihum is one of the most reliable bands in the absolute entirety of the voracious underground. Each album has been better than the last despite overwhelming odd, but it is with “Eternity of Shaog” that this French name has somehow conquered last year’s masterpiece to bring us something that’s, somehow, even more grandiose. Everything about this album to be digested in its entirety but with extreme caution for should you find yourself lusting after what Esoctrilihum creates relentlessly, then you’re sure to find yourself in maddening circles trying to unravel the tantalizing lore concealed by undeniable death/black metal that transcends the very notion of genre boundaries.
There were few bands that were as shocking this year in quality or potency in the vast reaches of anything related to Americana, folk rock, and beyond than Lord Buffalo. Despite a staggering split that came later in the year, it is undoubtedly with “Tohu Wa Bohu” has more they come into their own. Their sound was already potent and intoxicating before, but there is true magic in these songs that capture the imagination like nothing else that I’ve ever heard, and I know that the intoxication will not end after 2020 closes.
Neofolk has been a style I’ve always had an interest in, but it is Osi and the Jupiter that has been the one name that I cannot find myself denying. But even then, it is in the slight departure from their typical approach with “Appalachia” that I cannot help but lose myself in. An homage to their home mountains that I have found myself wandering more and more, this is the exact kind of work that doesn’t necessarily go to catch your ear but, rather, your soul. It’s a soothing touch whose potency is not to be denied or ignored in any form for it is far more gorgeous, captivating, and mystical than many might expect much like those very mountains.
There are countless bands that are worthy of much more notoriety than what they receive for many reasons, and for a long time Panzerfaust was undoubtedly one of them despite their immense power. While it was the first edition of “The Suns of Perdition” last year that definitely turned some heads, it is with the second, “Render Unto Eden”, that Panzerfaust’s name is now widespread on a much more deserving scale. An expansive work that encapsulates all things malicious while constantly reeling in fresh meat with its captivating atmospheres and undeniable riffage, there isn’t a single ounce of “Render Unto Eden” that isn’t unworthy of falling into, worshipping, and losing yourself in.
There’s a good number of bands that I always find myself returning to, and Ende is by far one of the very first to be put on that list. Their scathing sense of black metal has been getting better and better slowly over time, and it’s all come to a glorious head with “Mörnöyr”. Taking the best out of everything that this entity has made in the last few years and condensing it all into nine tracks straight from the lands of undeath, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better show of what French black metal is capable of.
With the meteoric rise of technical death metal in recent years, it is only natural that we’re to see new names crawling out of the woodwork, but I feel it is safe to say that no one was expecting what Coexistence brought forth at all! From the very cover art to the godly musicianship, “Collateral Dimension” is a tour de force of the style that shows us not only that the scene has so many more surprises to be had, but that on their very first effort Coexistence is instantly a name that is not to be underestimated. Should you find yourself on the wrong end, don’t be surprised if you find yourself exploding in the colorful cosmos of death that’s painted in every song of this devastatingly gorgeous effort.
Isenmor was the name that I have been looking forward to seeing the most from in the world of folk metal for six years now, and it is with their debut full-length of “Shieldbrother” that Isenmor has more than come into their own! With their dual-violin approach that’s paired with captivating folk metal the likes of which the scene never has enough of, Isenmor conquers the competition with “Shieldbrother” to not only make it an extremely great start to this band’s full-length catalog but a landmark for modern folk metal.
Both of these names have established their claims to the modern landscapes of heavy psych with more than enough talent to back, but I never once dared to imagine what these two were capable of if brought together. The resulting collaboration that is “Masamune and Muramasa” between the rising stars of Howling Giant and Sergeant Thunderhoof is both monolithic and cosmic in even the smallest of moments that we’re graced to throughout the two 20-minute songs that are no less than stunning.
The realm of post-metal is something that doesn’t often have the right times to stand on its own legs with only its own merits being what prevents it from falling. Right from the very beginning, Novarupta makes it clear that it is a name that defies that notion with “Marine Snow” being almost 40 minutes worth of excellence that cannot be denied. There’s no ambiguity here of what Novarupta is capable of for the band lays it all forth. Executed with a menagerie of extremely talented voices of all sorts, all the instrumentation is done masterfully by just one man, and a cohesive wonder that permeates every second of “Marine Snow”, Novarupta instantly becomes a name that absolutely must be known throughout the reaches of this flavorful style.
Ashes surely can birth a phoenix, but tainted ashes can birth something else entirely. In its simplest form, that’s what Herxheim can be summarized as with “Incised Arrival” not being the first that the name has done but absolutely the piece that defines the name right to its very soul. It’s otherworldly death metal that takes the idea of psychedelia to put its own maddening spin to provide us with a riff-drenched creation that’s as voracious in its appetite as it is staggering in its quality.
After last year’s staggering debut album, “Carrier of Weight”, all eyes were on Eremit as they announced this much more humble offering with it having just two tracks and only 20 minutes between the two. And yet, Eremit managed to not only to impress yet again but show us the evolutionary path that they are taking. Riffs, blood, sand, and uncompromising heaviness is what you can be sure to find within the expanse of “Desert of Ghouls”, and it is still a massive work even if its a small piece of the greater tale.
It was with the effort of “Terraforming” three years ago that showed us just what exactly Jupiterian was capable of as they became one of the names to know in the underground, but it is certifiably with “Protosapien” that we see this ambitious and dark Brazilian act come into their own like we weren’t expecting. Sure, we knew that Jupiterian would deliver! But, it is with every single thing that is brought to the table in “Protosapien” is the exact kind of excellence that’s not to be denied its due attention, aggression that cannot be ignored, and shocking musicianship that instantly elevates this record into a higher plane that many of us are constantly searching for.
Havukruunu has been a true gift to black metal ever since their debut not too long ago with their sound getting deadlier with each release, and it is truly with “Uinuos Syömein Sota” that we see the Finnish act rise to become something else entirely. Grandiose atmospheres worthy of a great fantasy epic, black metal that is quite unlike much of what else the scene at large has dared to attempt, and excellence that can only come from the passionate and talented! It’s damn near immaculate! Havukruunu has spun gold with absolute ease for “Uinuos Syömein Sota”, and it’s each song that the gold simply rises higher and higher.
Iku-Turso has been one of the more exciting names that the world of black metal has been graced within the last few years with a new effort of dark glory being delivered from them at least once a year since their debut. It’s with “Pakana”, though, that we see the act come closer to their more pagan side to create an intensely melodic, story-driven album that’s just as devastating as it is gripping. If the story doesn’t have you coming back, then the riffs will make damn sure you do with the vocals sealing your fate.
With the same man who’s behind Tchornobog and Aureloe at the helm again, how could anyone have doubts about this effort? Funeral doom has been getting increasingly more interesting in just the last few years, but it is in one massive fell swoop that Drown makes its claim for the throne with a staggering return with its new name to make “Subaqueous” not only breathtakingly devastating but emotional and mesmerizing on a scale that one cannot get enough of!
It was effortless with their debut that Depravity made their presence more than know, and it is now with “Grand Malevolence” that Depravity makes its claim for not just the throne of Australian brutal death metal, but the throne for the entire scene! Every single thing about this record is meant to coat the expanses of the world in blood and flesh delivered to us by truly uncompromising songs that are exceedingly violent that give bands like Cannibal Corpse for how over the top they are, and it’s much like those legends that Depravity has provided excellence on a scale that cannot be ignored.
It’s oftentimes from the bubbling floor of the underground that we find the most striking acts that are damned to the curse of being forgotten, and so far that has afflicted the likes of Ljosazabojstwa whose mastery over their dark craft is on full display for all of “Głoryja Śmierci”. A true tour de force of what black/death metal is capable of in unbridled ferocity, calculated madness, and a damn good sense of the style and all that can be done with it, Ljosazabojstwa brings that and so much more to the table for this release to make it a find in the underground that is an absolute boon to those who find it.
To see the pioneers of a sound come back decades later to deliver a fresh performance is something that we simply don’t get often whatsoever, but one that comes back to do no less than dominate everything else with almost no effort is even rarer. The name of Lowrider was already legendary in their respective corners of music, but it’s with “Refractions” that they’ve elevated themselves to mythical status. The riffs, the attitude, the passion, the talent; it’s all there! In every single way imaginable, rock fans of all creeds cannot go wrong when diving into “Refractions”.
Black metal has become a true breeding ground for all sorts of innovation the likes of which you’d be hard-pressed to find in any other style, and no band encapsulates that better than Creature and what’s been creating with “Ex Cathedra”. Even now, months later, it’s hard for me to describe this massive work for it never once lingers the same place as Creature is constantly daring itself to go into territories metal rarely goes to with such passion and talent, and that instantly makes it a unique piece the like none other.
Tolkien has always had a place in metal for a very long time now, and it’s in recent years that we’ve been seeing more names have the capability to do his rich lore and awesome stories proper justice, and Dwarrowdelf is easily at the forefront of that. Turning away from the epic tales and instead focusing on a much more humble tale that still contains great power, “Estel” brings forth everything that Dwarrowdelf has been excelling at for years now with the melody, unparalleled instrumentation, and untouchable musicianship coming to a head for these seven tracks to make for something truly special.
The name of Sojourner has been on a meteoric rise recently with good reason as their sound has become a true pillar of a unique corner of metal that few can make a proper claim in, and it’s with their third effort of “Premonitions” that their claim to greatness is cemented even more. The next natural step for their sound, everything feels so much more refined, efficient, emotional, and sleek than previous works even if its only by a little to make it the third great album out of three that Sojourner has made with true mastery.
Drawn out black metal that’s heavily influenced by the likes of funeral doom is something that we just don’t see often by any means as it’s a sound only for the most ambitious musicians, and that’s just a hint of what Great Cold Emptiness is. A deeply personal record that’s as massive it is deep, soul-wrenching, and musically awe-inspiring, “Death Gifted A Bouquet” is a massive work that becomes such a black hole of sorts the likes of which is not easy to climb out of for once the glory of Great Cold Emptiness captures you, it’s a Herculean task to escape.
The new name on the block for funeral doom, Atramentus instantly captures the imagination with that ever-godly Lewandowski art with its truly massive brand of the sound being all but masterful even in its smallest moments. “Stygian” provides everything that funeral doom has been promising for the last few years now with a little more being added in to not just allow Atramentus to stand out, but shine amongst an ocean of stars to make this an essential listen by all accounts.
Of all the names that heavy psych has become associated with over the years, King Buffalo is undeniably one of those that are at the absolute top and it’s with good reason. Even with it “just” being an EP, “Dead Star” has all the merits of a truly stupendous act that’s not only talented and eclectic, but godly in their musicianship that ties everything together so beautifully from the psychedelic riffage, flavorful synths, intoxicating guitarwork, hypnotic vocals, and everything else in between.
Scathing black metal has never been more at home than in the modern climate that we find ourselves in for the style as a whole, and bands like Wardaemonic are capitalizing on that to a tremendous degree. Just five tracks but an attitude that is no less than bloodthirsty at virtually every turn, “Acts of Repentance” is far too fitting a name for something like this that actually feels like it’s making the listener atone for their crimes through the constant assault that Wardaemonic is expertly waging at all times.
When it comes to splits that reverberated across the entire scene, no one can touch was Mare Cognitum and Spectral Lore accomplished with “Sol” seven years ago. At least, that is until the same two came back together for an arguably greater work that stretches over two hours to become one of the premier works of the style that the year had seen by all accounts that only further the immaculate reputations of both names where many of us were certain that such a collaboration like “Sol” could not only be recreated but topped, yet it’s clear that “Wanderers” is far from our typical split.
As one of the biggest breakout bands to have come out in just the last few years, Gaerea has already made their claim in the burgeoning sound that they are helping to bring to a wider audience, and it is with “Limbo” that their crusade to crush the life out of the entire universe that we see them climb a step higher towards utter glory. It’s the natural evolution of what they laid down on their previous album, and it is within the entirety of “Limbo” that any listener can be sure that they’re only to find greatness once they dive in.
When a band as transformative and spectacular as Elder comes around, change is only natural for us to expect after the amount of pure mastery that they’ve put out before. “Omens” was a massive shift for many, but Elder proved themselves to still be masters despite a more progressive-centric performance that likely sees a new horizon for the band. Still filled with riffs and psychedelia, Elder’s shift is something that is felt more than heard, and it is in every single track that Elder continuously shows us just how they deliver the goods even in the face of great adversity.