Almost every year I think about how challenging it is to compile a definitive best of list, and how subjective it is, etc. Although that’s still true for this collecting of albums, this year, however, has been easier than most. 2020 has been heavy on the black metal for me. It’s been my most reviewed genre, in all its myriad permutations, and this is reflected in the below list.
For the longest of times the bands in positions 5 and 6 vied for top position, but then October and November happened. All of a sudden, unexpectedly, these two months unleashed a wealth of quality, and stole the top four positions in a rampant display of blackened supremacy.
I hope you enjoy the below recommendations of mine and find something new to obsess over. Let me know how you get on.
Let’s dig in…
TOOMS – The Orb Offers Massive Signals
Well, after talking about black metal above, we actually start with something far sludgier. The Orb Offers Massive Signals by TOOMS took me by surprise with its filthy charms. This album grew on me over time like a fungal infection, and I couldn’t have an end of year list without acknowledging it.
Northern Crown – In a Pallid Shadow
The traditional/progressive doom of Northern Crown’s In a Pallid Shadow was very well-received. As the band’s best work to date it’s home to some very endearing and enjoyable songs. It’s classic style is wonderfully wrought, and has clearly been made with love and attention to detail.
Amiensus – Abreaction
If well-crafted, expressive, atmospheric black metal with an aggressively melodic bite is your thing, then look no further than Abreaction by Amiensus. Combining aggression with beauty under a blackened, yet colourful framework, Amiensus produced a corker in 2020.
Hymn – Breach Us
Breach Us is a crushingly heavy album full of the sort of colossal guitars that feel like they’re made of building blocks. Hymn’s sludge metal assault is so flattening that listening to this is like being smushed into a fine paste. There’s heavy, and then there’s Hymn.
Black Curse – Endless Wound
What a sinister amalgamation of ugly death metal and primitive blackened filth Endless Wound is. These are songs powered by malice and driven by sinister malignance. This is not a pleasant album, but it is a damn good one. Check this out at your peril.
Bethmoora – Thresholds
It’s now time for something truly nasty; Bethmoora’s Thresholds. This album is a hideously malignant fusing of foul doom, abrasive sludge, harsh noise, and buckets of hate. This is surely the sound of the end of the world, when humanity is dragged into the abyss by daemons of despair and loathing.
Draghkar – At the Crossroads of Infinity
I’ve been following the work of Draghkar for many years, and it’s been incredibly satisfying to watch the project develop into something so well-formed and so outright good. Debut album At the Crossroads of Infinity is a gripping slab of classic death metal, and I couldn’t be happier with it.
Svnth – Spring in Blue
In 2020 I spent many a happy hour absorbed by Svnth’s wonderful Spring in Blue. The band’s richly captivating post-black metal makes for a highly atmospheric and emotive darkness, and it’s easy to get utterly lost in Spring in Blue‘s expressive twists and turns.
Cabal – Drag Me Down
Blackened deathcore? Surely nobody could pull off such a thing? Well, Cabal have, and Drag Me Down is a triumph. Merging thick heaviness with blackened atmosphere, these songs are incredibly moreish and demand your attention. Dark heaviness has rarely sounded so goo.
Lord Almighty – Wither
Lord Almighty burst into my sphere of awareness in 2020 with the genre-straddling Wither. Throwing progressive metal, thrash, sludge, crust, and rock into a blender and then drowning the resulting concoction in feral black metal, Wither respects no boundaries and is all the better for it.
Subterraen – Rotten Human Kingdom
Subterraen offered up a colossal feast of sludge/doom on Rotten Human Kingdom, and I willingly ate it up. The crushing slabs of distortion on this album have been spiced up with unexpected melody and atmosphere, making for heavy-yet-richly-dark work that made an impression.
Empress – Premonition
I really enjoyed the sludgy doom metal of Premonition by Empress. Well-written and executed, the songs combine sludge’s heaviness with doom metal’s emotive atmosphere, resulting in songs that hit you in the heart and the head. Top work from Empress.
Calligram – The Eye Is the First Circle
Calligram’s blackened hardcore is striking and passionately delivered. The Eye Is the First Circle is an album of harsh aggression, cutting melody, and memorable songs. The intensity of the music is matched only by its skilful execution, and this is a first-rate album all-round.
Oceans of Slumber – Oceans of Slumber
The self titled album from Oceans of Slumber is a rock and sumptuous journey into progressive metal waters. The band have put their best effort into this and have been rewarded with an intoxicating mix of highly enjoyable, well-written molten metal.
Cytotoxin – Nuklearth
Catchy brutality, thy name is Cytotoxin. Nuklearth is the type of brutal death metal album that’s hard to beat. Mixing sheer brutality with intelligent songsmarts HHH is a rarefied HHH treat, and Cytotoxin brutally smash all competitors. Have I mentioned how brutal it is? Well it is. Brutal that is.
Viscera – Obsidian
Ahhh, Obsidian. Viscera’s debut album powered many a gym session in 2020. This is a modern metalcore/deathcore hybrid, but without the hyper-polish. Instead we get a thunderous mix of brutal heaviness, powerful vocals, and infections hooks. Obsidian is the prefect album to pump iron to.
Void Paradigm – Ultime Pulsation | Demain Brûle
Ultime Pulsation | Demain Brûle by Void Paradigm contains but two black metal songs, but each of them are darkly inventive marvels. The well-trodden path is not for this band; Void Paradigm have their own way of doing things, and it’s a joy to experience. Full of great ideas and non-standard black metal creativity, this is exceptional.
Fornicus – Sulphuric Omnipotence
Prepare to take a real battering, as now it’s Fornicus’ time to shine. Sulphuric Omnipotence is the sort of hideous and unholy black/death hybrid that serrates you with sharpened blackened riffs while also pummelling you with death-dealing brutality. I’ve admired Fornicus’ work for a while, and this is their most accomplished yet.
Ba’al – Ellipsism
Ba’al’s Ellipsism was somewhat of a revelation. Although I’ve enjoyed their previous work, Ellipsism is on another level entirely. Existing somewhere at the intersection between post-metal and black metal, Ba’al’s powers are very much in the ascendant here, and this is a triumphant example of how good modern extreme metal can be.
Bait – Revelation of the Pure
Bait’s Revelation of the Pure effortlessly fuses post-black metal, sludge, and hardcore into a blackened pile of grim mood-driven aggression. This album moves and hunts like an apex predator, and its malevolent intent is never far from your throat. Menacingly brutal, but with atmospheric depth that’s surprising.
Ulthar – Providence
When I first heard Ulthar, I knew that Providence was something special. This is an exceptional brand of esoteric death metal, drawing together a variety of deathly styles and distilling them into songs that just tear your face off. Very satisfying and highly rewarding brutality.
Bell Witch and Aerial Ruin – Stygian Bough Volume 1
Stygian Bough Volume 1 by Bell Witch and Aerial Ruin was somewhat of a slow burning hit with me. Combining delicate acoustic softness with funeral doom dirge, this collaborative effort gradually kept insisting upon itself over the course of the year, moving up this list the more I listened to it.
Akurion – Come Forth to Me
Words like intelligent and emotive are not commonly associated with death metal, but they are entirely appropriate for Akurion’s superlative Come Forth to Me. This is a wide-ranging technical and melodic death metal extravaganza, and it doesn’t stop delivering the goods no matter how much you may want it to.
Spectral Lore/Mare Cognitum – Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine
Despite its imposing duration the Spectral Lore/Mare Cognitum collaboration Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine really struck a chord with me. It’s an incredibly rewarding journey through the cosmos, and masterclass in atmospheric black metal. Both bands deliver excellence, but Mare Cognitum’s material is especially good.
Wake – Devouring Ruin
Having already proven to be adept at gritty grindcore aggression with past releases, I certainly wasn’t expecting the massive black doom grind masterpiece that was Wake’s latest album Devouring Ruin. Wake pushed the boat out with this release, and then swamped it with such dark nightmares that it sank. Don’t go into this monstrosity unprepared.
Vile Creature – Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm!
Vile Creature’s striking and individual brand of sludge/doom metal reached its apex in Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm! This album is exceptional in its dense malevolent delivery, and contains some truly awe-inspiring moments. A formidable achievement from a band at the height of their powers.
Wayfarer – A Romance with Violence
A Romance with Violence is everything I wanted from a new Wayfarer release and more. Gripping and fiercely independent, this is an album that I’m now convinced is the best Wayfarer work so far. This is a thoroughly compelling piece of brutal black metal mixed with atmospheric folk, and the record is just spectacular.
Isolert – World in Ruins
Isolert’s World in Ruins combines venomous black metal with the sort of emotive leads and melodies that can cause a rush of all sorts of feelings in the listener. On their latest album Isolert really have mastered their style and produced an exemplary album that I can’t stop listening to. It’s that good.
Anaal Nathrakh – Endarkenment
Anaal Nathrakh’s Endarkenment offers perhaps the perfect symbiosis of brain-numbing brutality and massive catchy-as-all-Hell power metal choruses. Nobody sounds quite like Anaal Nathrakh. This is ugly, hateful black metal that’s been weaponised and somehow disguised as the most extreme pop songs you’ll ever hear. So, so good.
Beltez – A Grey Chill and a Whisper
Bow down to your new masters. This is just excellent. Beltez play their own emotive and evocative supreme black metal art, and A Grey Chill and a Whisper is nothing short of a masterpiece. I fell hard for this album. Each song feels like a world in its own right. Highly immersive and utterly compelling, A Grey Chill and a Whisper is a more than worthy winner of the much-coveted top slot.