While the Covid Times hung over everything like the darkest pall, the metal world thankfully kept churning out noteworthy albums. What follows below is my personal list of my favorite full-length release from this past calendar year. While I’m loathe to call this a “best of” list simply because I’m one person and can’t possibly listen to everything, I stand by ranking these as albums as a way to behoove you to purchase them as soon as possible.
As always, you can hear selections from the top twenty albums played on our final two episodes of The Metal Dad Radio Show airing this week (December 10/11) and next week (December 17/18). In the meantime click the links below and hopefully you (re)discover your favorite metal releases from 2020.
40. Fires In The Distance – Echoes From Deep November
Love when a new band comes out of the blue to knock it out of the park. Love it even more when that band happens to be from my home state of Connecticut. Here’s what we wrote on another post about this exceptional record: I’m not sure what I was expecting from a band that features multiple members of another Connecticut metal favorite of mine – melodic death metal act Archaic Decapitator. I certainly wasn’t expecting epic, atmospheric death-doom on a similar sonic plane as Paradise Lost, Morgion, and Swallow The Sun. This album had me locked in from the opening track and I sat here with it on headphones, thoroughly entranced for its entirety. It’s a soaring, towering album that has the potential to engulf anyone who happens across it. If I were handing out awards for ‘best new band’ or ‘best debut album’ Fires In the Distance would certainly be in the discussion.
39. Anaal Nathrakh – Endarkenment
Long-running extreme metal act Anaal Nathrakh continued their two-year cycle of releases with their newest slab of blackened sonic mayhem, Endarkenment. This album plays out exactly the way you would expect an Anaal Nathrakh record to – fast and pissed. But there’s a melodic element here as well that adds a certain layer of intrigue from track to track. Another fitting submission to an ever-growing list of killer material in this band’s catalogue.
38. Lesser Glow – Nullity
Boston’s Lesser Glow returned in 2020 with arguably their best material to date. Mixing elements of sludge, doom, and post-metal into a swirling mix of bombast, Nullity is an album that absolutely crushes from note one, yet is also able to set the table for an atmospheric romp through the outer reaches of each genre they abut. It’s a wholly original and engaging album worthy of multiple listens.
37. Foes – American Violence
You may note on the Bandcamp link below that this album’s description states: “This album was created with the intent to make the listener feel constricted, frustrated, and suffocated under the weight of it.” Mission accomplished. Metallic hardcore act Foes have indeed created a record that feels like the world is crashing down around you and you’ve got no way to stop from being suffocated in its ashes. Good luck getting through this record without wanting to smash something in the process.
36. ACxDC – Satan Is King
My absolute strangest wish is that someone out there surfing the web, trying in vain to find a bootleg version of the new AC/DC album accidentally stumbles across this record only to have their proverbial nuts kicked right up into their throat. Actually, I secretly wish something like this every time Antichrist Demoncore releases new material, but with this album being among their best vitriol it would be even more fitting. Grindcore meets crust in the back alleys of the metal underworld and the bloodied end result is Satan Is King.
35. Skaphe – Skaphe³
Very few bands currently existing along the black/death metal pantheon can be as downright terrifying as the multi-national duo known as Skaphe. Mixing swirling, nightmare-inducing atmosphere with a penchant for pure aural destruction, Skaphe albums usually play out like a fever dream from hell. While this album seemingly dials back the sheer brutality ever so slightly from previous efforts, it makes up for it by turning the ethereal elements up a few notches. The end result is equally amazing, if not more so, compared to the remainder of their catalogue.
34. VoidCeremony – Entropic Reflections Continuum
After a series of exceptional EPs, California’s VoidCeremony finally unleashed their debut full-length album in 2020. VoidCeremony’s brand of death metal walks the line between sheer brutality and progressive leanings with aplomb. While fans of the more technical purveyors of the genre will find a lot to love on this record, those who choose to have their death metal simply pummel them into oblivion won’t be disappointed either.
33. Valkyrie – Fear
Five years can be a long time to wait for a new record, but it feels like an eternity when the previous album was one of your personal favorites. Yet more often than not the juice is worth the squeeze and Virginia’s Valkyrie were able to follow up their 2015 Relapse debut with an absolutely brilliant effort. The Brothers Adams and company have once again pieced together a stoner metal heavyweight that deftly hearkens back to metal’s earliest roots. This one is for the kids in the back who like their metal in the ways of old.
32. Wake – Devouring Ruin
Calgary’s Wake has been building to this moment since their inception at the beginning of the last decade. That moment being the release of what has to be considered their to-date magnum opus. Combining their crusty grind roots with churning death metal aesthetics, Devouring Ruin is the brutal actualization of this band’s decade long journey through the seedy underbelly of the extreme metal world. The end result is simply crushing and worthy of multiple spins.
31. Svartkonst – Black Waves
The 2018 debut from this one-man project blew my doors off and we waxed poetic about it more than once in this very space, so it stands to reason that we’d be singing the praises of follow up release Black Waves. Svartkonst play a thrash-infused style of black metal that hearkens back to the days when the first wave of the genre wasn’t even tagged as such yet. It’s ability to combine rich atmospheres with an icy, blackened touch lent it to being a perfect release during the initial wave of worldwide lock downs when hope’s return wasn’t imminent.
30. Sodom – Genesis XIX
Few bands in the metal world can say they are still thrashing as hard on album sixteen as they did in their musical youths. Yet here we are talking about the legendary Sodom and their newest album of blitzing thrash madness, Genesis XIX. If you don’t know the history of Sodom you are missing large chunks of metal knowledge about both the great Teutonic thrash scene of ’80s/’90s Germany, as well as the first wave of black metal. This band’s staying power is built on a foundation of exceptional songwriting and a sound that nearly forty years later still shows no signs of ever growing stale. A worthy addition to one of thrash metal’s greatest discographies.
29. Amiensus – Abreaction
While their first two full-length albums are worthy of a spot in your music collection, Amiensus were another act who took their sound to new and exciting heights in 2020. Abreaction is far and away their best album to date, and a wholly realized vision of atmospheric, blackened post metal. While maintaining a black metal core, Amiensus spends this album taking the genre to its furthest ethereal nether regions. It’s an album worthy of several revisits as the days grow shorter and the nights colder.
28. Enslaved – Utgard
If I have to explain Enslaved to you then you’ve clearly slept on the last thirty or so years of extreme metal. One of the undergrounds most reliable bands, Enslaved returned in 2020 with one of their most melodic and progressive efforts to date. Utgard picks up where previous efforts have left off and continue to take the Enslaved sound on new and unique journeys. Finding a band who can still keep things unpredictable and interesting on album number fifteen is like looking for the proverbially needle in a haystack. Enslaved is without a doubt that needle.
27. Ulcerate – Stare Into Death and Be Still
Ulcerate have easily become one of the most reliable acts in the death metal world. Every record is a sonic adventure, a journey through the pantheon of technical and atmospheric death metal, really unlike any other acts out there today. Stare Into Death and Be Still is one of their more progressive efforts taking their already stellar technicality and ability to create overwhelming atmosphere to new horizons. Another band that continues to grow their sound in brilliant ways.
26. Ulthar – Providence
With a sound as twisted and warped as their album artwork, Ulthar returned in 2020 with another slab of swirling, technical death metal. This Lovecraft-loving trio would do their main inspiration proud with a style that’s as unpredictable as the author’s works. There have been too many metal bands to count who have based material on the stories of H.P. Lovecraft, but few bands can capture the madness of it all in sonic form the way Ulthar has on Providence.
25. Blessed Black – Beyond the Crimson Throne
One of the first truly great records of 2020 was the debut full-length from Cincinnati’s Blessed Black. Taking cues from stoner rock, traditional metal, and doom, Blessed Black have a sound that will appeal to both curmudgeons and new fans alike. Equal parts heavy and melodic, Beyond the Crimson Throne is a highly contagious record that will have you humming these tunes to yourself long after the record has stopped spinning.
24. Izthmi – The Arrow of Our Ways
The debut full-length from Seattle-based atmospheric black metal act Izthmi hit us just before things fell apart and the Covid Times began. Here’s a snippet of what we had to say at the time: Taking cues from various darkened corners of the black metal pantheon, the music of Izthmi is often times boundless in its construction and soaring in its execution. There are post black metal interludes woven among staunch second wave capsules, while various atmospheric and symphonic elements are at play as well. Almost a full year later this album still sounds as fresh and exciting as its first listen. The true testament to this band’s songwriting prowess.
23. Funeral Leech – Death Meditation
New York’s Funeral Leech gifted us one of the year’s heaviest releases with Death Meditation. Here’s some of what we had to say upon its release: Death Meditation is an album that somehow sounds both completely unhinged, yet simultaneously, entirely in iron-fisted control of the madness. Have you ever watched one of those heinous machines that can uproot entire trees and snap them like match sticks? Now take that image of mass destruction in your mind, run it in slow motion in grainy black-and-white stock and you may get some semblance of the heaviness we are dealing with here.
22. Diabolic Oath – Profane Death Exodus
Another album that could rival all-comers for the title of heaviest record in 2020 is the debut long player from Portland trio Diabolic Oath. Profane Death Exodus has the potential to be downright nightmare inducing in its brutality. Weave in some ethereal elements as well and what you are left with is easily one of the best blackened death metal albums released this year.
21. Curse The Son – Excruciation
One of my most anticipated albums of the year came lumbering out of my backyard of Connecticut in the form of Excruciation from stoner masters Curse The Son. Here’s a taste of what we had to say when we reviewed the album over the summer: At times the riffs feel chunkier than ever before, the bottom end feels more thunderous, the hooks dig in even deeper, and the songwriting exceeds even their own high bar. This is an album that will not only rattle your own windows, but everyone in the neighborhood as well. This is nothing short of a triumphant return, and hands down one of the best doom metal albums you are going to hear this year.
20. Mountaineer – Bloodletting
For the third time in four years the Oakland-based collective known as Mountaineer has released one of my top albums of the year. There’s just something about their epic brand of post-metal meets doom that I find so utterly appealing. Perhaps it’s their ability to create an almost cinematic atmosphere with every track, or perhaps it’s their ability to deftly combine crushing heaviness with soaring beauty. Whatever it is I’m completely addicted to this band.
19. Testament – Titans of Creation
Since their triumphant return to the studio in 2008 we are on a pretty steady four-year cycle of thrash legends Testament dropping another sonic bomb on the metal world. Full disclosure here, Testament are one of my all-time favorite bands and I’ve made no bones about how I include them in my own version of thrash metal’s ‘big four’. (See ya, Anthrax…) My 14-year old, and Metal Dad Radio Show co-host, remarked that Testament’s worst efforts would still be better than the average thrash band today. He also noted that, thankfully, we don’t have to worry about that because Testament continue to deliver the goods in ways that only they can. Another thrash masterwork to add to the collection.
18. Deadwood Tree – Mourn
Every single year there is inevitably a band that I had never heard of prior who sneaks onto this list. 2020’s edition is Spain’s Deadwood Tree, who I stumbled upon going down a sludge metal rabbit hole on Bandcamp one day. I loved what I heard enough to give them a spin on The Metal Dad Radio Show, and continued to revisit this album more than I expected to over the last few months. If you’re looking for something that takes the heaviness of sludge and weaves it with the atmospherics of post-metal then you may have also just discovered one of your new favorite bands/albums.
17. Yatra – All Is Lost
We were all better off for being gifted two albums this year from Maryland trio Yatra. As solid an album as Blood of the Night was, it was October’s All Is Lost that absolutely obliterated everything in its path. Taking sludge, stoner rock, and doom metal and running them through a kaleidoscope of blackened influences, Yatra create a sound that’s equal parts groove-laden and pummeling. It’s a distinctive sound that will sit well with fans of any of the above mentioned genres.
16. Pulchra Morte – Ex Rosa Ceremonia
If I told you there was only one band on this list to make it in consecutive years only the most astute observers would have guessed it was Pulchra Morte. For the second year in a row this multi-locale collective blew my doors right off with their brand of blackened death/doom. This second album feels a little more focused than their previous effort and thus the collective musicianship sounds tighter. This is a band that’s clearly establishing themselves as a force to be reckoned with in extreme metal circles.
15. Godthrymm – Reflections
After two fantastic EPs, the UK’s Godthrymm delivered their debut full-length album in 2020. Here’s a little of what we wrote earlier in the year: Reflections is a record that’s maybe not the best choice for anyone already suffering in the throes of social isolation. It’s a powerful record that alternates between crushingly heavy and beautifully expansive. It’s an addictive record you could easily fall into like a black void and truly lose yourself within. Filled with haunting riffs and a sonic backdrop that paints very grim and, at times, despairing pictures, Godthrymm have done their best to truly capture the essence of doom metal.
14. Primitive Man – Immersion
There are few bands in the world that continue to put out releases as caustic and confrontational as Denver’s Primitive Man. All extreme metal has an element of anger and angst to it, but I’m not sure there’s a band out there today whose music embodies that element the way this one does. Immersion is another in a long string of albums that is simply unrelenting in every way imaginable. A truly crushing effort if there ever was one.
13. Cauldron Black Ram – Slaver
It’s been six long years since Australia’s masters of blackened death/doom, Cauldron Black Ram, have bestowed their sonic will upon an unsuspecting populace. Their return from the studio was beyond triumphant as Slaver may very well be their best effort to date. Here’s to hoping we don’t have to wait another six years for this band to tear us a collective new one.
12. Spirit Possession – Spirit Possession
I spent so much time with this album since its release back in July that when I showed this list to my 14-year old his first remark was how shocked he was that this album sat just outside my top ten. (Frankly, so was I which is a testament and compliment to the eleven albums left on here.) Spirit Possession play a truly ‘kvlt’ version of blackened thrash metal that reminds me a lot of so many of the quintessential first and second wave releases. It’s an album that old school fans will find a lot to love, while setting themselves up to be one of the bands that takes all things black metal screaming into the next decade.
11. Necrot – Mortal
After their 2017 debut, Oakland’s Necrot became one of the metal underground’s newest ‘it’ bands, and with good cause. Their highly anticipated follow-up, Mortal, does not disappoint. Death metal has enjoyed a glorious renaissance over the last decade and when the dust settles we’ll most likely be looking back on this time similarly in how we look back on the 1990s now. Some albums and bands will hold higher collective esteem than others, and I have no doubts that Necrot will be one of the bands we elevate to a death metal pedestal, and Mortal will be one of the reasons why.
10. Skeleton – Skeleton
After a barrage of EPs and compilation records, Texas outfit Skeleton finally gifted us their first full-length album in 2020. Taking cues from their hardcore punk roots, Skeleton’s brand of blackened thrash is as fast and pissed as any you’ll hear. It’s a record that’s meant to cause mass destruction in pits and living rooms alike (and with most shows on hiatus for the foreseeable future, living rooms it is). Looking for an album to get your hackles up and your adrenaline flowing, then you’ve come to the right place.
9. Of Feather And Bone – Sulfuric Disintegration
If you broke this list down by genre it looks like I’m calling this the best death metal record of the year (depending on what genre you lump the next record into). With very little hesitation I stand by that assessment. I’d also easily commit to calling Of Feather And Bone one of the best death metal bands in existence. Much like its predecessor, Sulfuric Disintegration is a swirling, cacophonous collection of songs that offer very little in the way of relief once the needle touches down. For the second time in three years Of Feather And Bone have separated themselves from the pack with a truly monstrous effort. I can only imagine the deathly heights this band will continue to attain.
8. Napalm Death – Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism
Since their inception Napalm Death has been genre-hopping all over the extreme metal map. While spending the majority of their days bouncing between grindcore and death metal, their newest album sees them truly spread their wings, often times in ways even long-time fans haven’t witnessed. While death metal and grind elements are still the foundation there are multiple tracks that change lanes into the more melodic end of the extreme pantheon. Yet Napalm Death are still at their very best when they are at their most vitriolic, and there’s plenty of vitriol to be spread forth.
7. Black Royal – Firebride
Sometimes I can just tell right away upon first listen that an album is going to wind up somewhere on this list. Such is the case with the sophomore album from Finland’s Black Royal. Combining stoner rock and trad metal riffing with various blackened metal elements, Firebride is the type of album that snatches you away from note one and never really lets you go. It’s an addictive album that I’ve found myself going back to time and again since its release back in February and one I’ll continue to dig into well into the future.
6. Pallbearer – Forgotten Days
As the top quarter of this list will attest, it was once again an exceptional year for all things doom-related. One of doom’s brightest moments (or gloomiest depending on your take) was the return of the mighty Pallbearer. Chock full of amazing riffs, soaring clean vocals, and enough low-end to rattle the foundations, Forgotten Days quickly became one of the year’s best doom releases. Pallbearer’s brand of epic traditional doom seems almost too perfect for the times, and we are certainly better off for having them around to help mitigate the chaos.
5. Bone Church – Acid Communion
There are probably going to be a lot of people asking who this relative unknown is sitting among a top ten filled with legacy acts and underground heavyweights. Trust when I tell you that Connecticut’s Bone Church absolutely delivered one of the top albums of the year. Here’s a snippet from the review we wrote earlier in the year: This album is chock full of memorable tunes that linger with you long after the record has come to a stop. Taking cues from various corners of stoner rock’s vast history and throwing a complex bluesy edge into the mix, Bone Church are able to get heavy as a sack of hammers while also laying down more groove than your average heavy band could dare to handle.
4. Cirith Ungol – Forever Black
It’s been almost thirty years since one of America’s original answers to NWOBHM had released a studio album of all new material. Yet here we sit in 2020 talking about a new Cirith Ungol record, and frankly they picked the perfect time for it. Their brand of fantasy inspired traditional metal is the perfect distraction as the world seemingly crumbles around you. Forever Black is more than a worthy addition to one of the most underrated back catalogues in metal history. Mount your steeds metal warriors. It’s time to ride!
3. Paradise Lost – Obsidian
Anyone who really knows me knows my undying love for Paradise Lost. They’ve been one of my favorite metal bands dating back to the early ’90s and their musical path taking several twists and turns never deterred me in my adoration. Obsidian is the band’s sixteenth full-length album, and one that continues where its predecessors The Plague Within and Medusa left off. The biggest difference is a subtle one to long-time fans as Obsidian sees the band drift back towards the Gothic metal/rock elements they were so thoroughly embracing by the late ’90s. While not a complete transition back to their One Second era, there’s definitely a dark wave element present, sometimes strongly. Regardless, the end result is still quintessential Paradise Lost and easily one of my favorite albums of the year.
2. Celestial Season – The Secret Teachings
Speaking of artists making monster comebacks this year, Dutch doom metal masters Celestial Season released their first full-length album in twenty years at the beginning of October. I remarked on a recent episode of The Metal Dad Radio Show that I almost missed that this album had even surfaced. From nearly forgotten to the number two album of the year? Such is the digital age when making up for lost time and lost albums is so much easier than my pre-internet youth. Celestial Season’s sound has always been one where they take the foundations of doom metal and build a truly unique house upon it, eventually drifting completely into stoner rock territory. The Secret Teachings carries their collective doom torch to aplomb, complete with the band’s patented string accompaniments and epic trad doom riffing, among other riveting elements. This album plays out like the soundtrack to a very sorrowful, yet very beautiful film, and even includes my favorite cover song of the year – their version of Type O Negative’s “Red Water”.
1. My Dying Bride – The Ghost of Orion
Another band that I’ve been following intently for close to thirty years now, and a band whose back catalogue is one of my all-time favorites is My Dying Bride. While each and every album they release is something of a magnum opus, it was safe to say almost immediately upon its release that The Ghost of Orion is one of My Dying Bride’s best offerings. The personal struggles that went into the making of this record, and some of its lyrical content are well documented. A quick Google search for some of the more in-depth album reviews will do a better job in documenting it then I can here. Needless to say the emotional toll and cruel challenges that life can present are all on display. The album is shrouded in turmoil, yet the band were able to channel it all directly into their brand of epic, Gothic doom metal. I fell in love with this album upon first listen and almost ten months later its grip hasn’t loosened. A pure and unfettered triumph from start to finish.