(The time has come for us to again launch the rollout of year-end lists by NCS writers and guests, and as always we begin with Andy Synn‘s lists. As has usually been the case, Andy begins with his personal list of the year’s best EPs. We’ll continue with his other year-end lists every day next week.)
Well, here we are again.
Next week I’ll once again be rolling our my yearly round-ups of the “Great”, Good”, and “Disappointing” albums which I’ve heard this year, culminating, as always, in my attempt to narrow down these literal hundreds of entries into ten “Critical” selections and ten “Personal” favourites.
But, first of all, I want to give a shout-out to the many, many, fantastic, fascinating, sometimes frustrating, EPs which I’ve heard over the course of the last twelve-ish months.
This isn’t, obviously, intended to be in any way comprehensive (I never got round to listening to the new Carcass, for example, and I’m still digesting both the new Nexul and Descend to Acheron EPs), nor is it a definitive statement about which EPs are the year’s “best” (though some of them definitely are) but my hope is you’ll all discover something new in what you’re about to read.
So, with all that out of the way, let’s get started, shall we?
- SENSORY AMUSIA – BEREAVEMENT
Number ten on my list goes to an EP which pulls absolutely zero punches and which goes straight for the jugular almost from the word go (heck, the predictable ambient “Intro” quickly throws a curveball by erupting into furious riffing and full-force blasting after only twenty seconds).
Combining the massive riffs and eye-popping aggression of Aborted with the gargantuan grooves of Dyscarnate and a touch of Man Must Die’s high-velocity melodic malice, Bereavement is just one hit after another, whose sole goal isn’t so much to break the mould as it is break your neck with every propulsive passage of barbaric blastery and every sudden, vertebrae-severing riff-shift.
All meat, no fat. All muscle, no weakness. That’s what you get on this EP. Just over seventeen minutes of it to be precise. Which makes it the perfect size and shape to spin multiple times, back to back, marvelling at how something so relentlessly crushing can also be so constantly compelling.
- SUTRAH – ALETHEIA
When this EP is good, it’s very good indeed. But when it’s great? Then it’s absolutely stunning.
Nowhere is this more obvious than during its almost-sixteen-minute finale, which explores and expands and illuminates so many different facets of the band’s sound without ever feeling like it’s overextending its reach or outstaying its welcome.
That’s not to say the rest of the material isn’t just as vital in its own way though. After all, one stunning track does not a stunning EP make, and ultimately it’s the way these four songs combine and build on one another – from the scene-setting sonic cinematography of “Umwelt”, through the laser-guided riffery and primal energy of “Lethe” and the immersive introspection of “Dwell”, to the titanic title-track – which makes this particular release such a holistic pleasure.
Allow me, if you will, to quote from my own review earlier in the year:
“Mark my words, Aletheia is a stunning piece of work which raises the bar for Technical/Progressive Death Metal in 2020.”
PS: I’ve just found out that Atmospheric Black Metal trio Basalte (whose line-up includes Sutrah/Serocs vocalist Laurent Bellemare) just released a new EP today too, and you can check that out/pick that up here.
- VONLAUS – RÖÐ SLÆMRA ÁKVARÐANA
Sometimes you’ve just got to go with your gut, and my gut is telling me that Röð slæmra ákvarðana is a very special release from a band who are going to go on to do big things.
Unlike the majority of their countrymen and peers in their home-grown scene, this Icelandic quintet don’t focus on scalding dissonance or stargazing atmosphere, but deliver a grittier, groovier, and more grounded take on Black Metal that favours primal fury and spiteful spontaneity.
Of course, Vonlaus aren’t totally divorced from their brothers by any means – comparisons could certainly be made to both Misþyrming and Naðra, for example – but their sound simply has that extra sense of swagger, that greater a focus on cruelly catchy riffs and maliciously infectious, pseudo-psychedelic melodies, that it reminds me most of all of a sharper (and less drug-obsessed) version of Nachtmystium at their best.
Vonlaus have definitely proven that they’re not so much the black sheep of the Icelandic Black Metal scene as they are possibly its golden child, and I can’t wait to hear what they do next.
- EXITIUM SUI – NUCLEAR SUNDOWN
If the previous entry was Black Metal with all the vim and vigour of a cascading magma flow then this one is Blackened Doom that captures the crushing claustrophobia of being entombed alive in the cooling rock it leaves behind.
Equal parts mournful melody and harrowing heaviness, Nuclear Sundown just does not stop plucking at your heartstrings and fraying at your nerves for its entire run-time, embracing and incorporating sombre piano lines, frenzied blasting, and dragging, doom-laden riffage, as well as some of the most anguished and emotionally wrenching vocals I’ve heard all year.
Oddly enough though, it’s the third and final track, “A Thousand Mangled Corpses Line the Riverbed” (which, as far as I know, is only available on the physical edition of the EP) which really put this one over the top and guaranteed it a place on this list, driving home how disgustingly raw and visceral all the emotions driving this project are, and how well Gebauer has been able to translate them into morbid musical form.
But even without this particular track it’s still a striking record, so why not give it a listen and see/hear for yourself?
- MINUALA – ICE
This EP – three tracks of moody melody and primal, punky energy from a band who really deserve to have a much bigger profile than they do – has been on pretty much constant rotation ever since it was released at the start of October, and with good reason.
Mixing the electrifying energy of Darkest Hour with the seething fury of Dödsrit and the moody, enigmatic atmosphere of Downfall of Gaia – along with an added dash of gnarly, crusty attitude – this EP finds the band maturing their sound without losing their edge and, in the process, raising their game to a whole new level.
These guys may be relatively unknown – in fact I think we’re one of the very few sites to have actually written about them, despite the fact that they’ve already got four kick-ass albums under their belt – but I’m hopeful that, if only on the strength of this EP (which doesn’t have an ounce of fat or flab on it), they won’t be unknown for much longer
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (and I’ll keep saying it until it comes true)… someone needs to sign these guys ASAP.
- SEROCS – VORE
Look, we all know that The Phobos/Deimos Suite was one of the best albums of 2018. And one of the best Death Metal albums (“Technical”, “Brutal”, or otherwise) of the last decade.
And we also know that the departure of guitarist Phil Tougas (who still makes a guest appearance and contributed to the writing, so clearly the split was an amicable one) following its release seemed like a worrying portent for the future.
But just one listen to Vore should assuage any and all worries you might have about the band’s future. In fact, it suggests that whatever form the band’s next album takes, it’s likely to be just as good – if not, dare I say it, even better – than their last one!
Just take a listen to the push/pull, piston-powered assault of “Anthropic”, the chattering, contorted Cryptopsy-isms of “Building a Shrine Upon Vanishing Sands”, or the mind-bending riffs and malevolently hypnotic hooks of “To Self Devour” if you don’t believe me.
THAT’S extremity with purpose, THAT’S ferocity with focus, THAT’S technicality with an ear for both brutality and melody… and THAT’S a very good sign of things to come.
- PHALANX – GOLDEN HORDE
Look, I know everyone loves the new Fuming Mouth EP (I do too!) but the fact is I gave my heart away to Phalanx and their debut EP a long, long time ago, and nothing is going to change that.
To once again pull a quote from an earlier version of me:
“…if caustic, punk-encrusted, blast-heavy and d-beat-driven Death Metal sounds like your thing then I can practically guarantee that Golden Horde is quickly going to become one of your favourites too.”
Hell, if anything, this EP actually somehow sounds even wilder and even more aggressive now than the first time I heard it, while the riffs (and there are a lot of killer riffs) just do not let up.
Phalanx are an incredibly young band too, so chances are good that they’ll only get better – and even more belligerent – as they continue to grow and develop, so now is the perfect time to reserve yourself a seat on the bandwagon if you want to be able to tell everyone that you knew about these guys before they got big.
- SERPENT COLUMN – ENDLESS DETAINMENT
For all the praise I heaped on Serpent Column for their latest album, I’m actually even more in love with its immediate predecessor, the utterly terrifying Endless Detainment EP.
Half as long and twice as violent, sometimes barely even coherent yet always disgustingly virulent, the shortness of the tracks and the sheer intensity of their delivery gives much of this EP an almost (Blackened) Grindcore feel, while the sadistic complexity and skin-stripping technicality of the riffs and song-structures errs more towards the chaotic end of the Mathcore spectrum.
But as dissonant, demanding, and demented as it may be, it’s still very much a Black Metal record at heart… just one which has very little time and tolerance for tradition or convention.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I’m actually slightly addicted to this EP, even though I know it’s bad for me. It’s just such a rush – part pleasure, part pain – that I can’t stop listening to it.
- DÖ – BLACK HOLE MASS
Was there every any doubt that this was going to make an appearance here?
It’s not only quite clearly the best thing the band have ever done (and, to be clear, I’m a big fan of their entire back-catalogue) but it’s also one of the best releases of the year, EP or album.
There’s just so many god-damned gnarly riffs and massive hooks crammed into each and every one of these three tracks – whether it’s the titanic grooves and creepy melodic tinges of “Gravity Sacrifice” or the punchy, priapism-inducing guitars and concussive catchiness of “Plasma Psalm” – that it’s just an absolute joy to listen to, start to finish, top to bottom, front to back.
The even more “blackened” feel to the material this time around also gives it even more bite, particularly during titanic closer “Radiation Blessing”, so that the whole thing just hits that much harder, and cuts that much deeper, than ever.
Think of this EP like going to your local Fight Club while higher than a kite… sure, it’s a major thrill in the moment, but it’s the bruises it leaves afterwards that really make you feel alive!
- COSMOVORE – INTO THE NECROSPHERE
If the true measure of an EP is how hungry it leaves you for more… then this one was always destined to be the winner.
Simply put, I am absolutely ravenous to hear whatever comes next from this band.
To quote my own rather effusive write-up:
“Built around a core of dense, down-tuned guitars, and bristling with jagged teeth of discordant anti-melody, these four tracks of abrasive, atmospherically oppressive Death Metal will instantly appeal to old-school aficionados of bands like Incantation and Morbid Angel just as much as new-school disciples who worship at the altar of Ulcerate and Altarage.”
In fact it’s such a menacing, mesmerising, monstrously heavy piece of work – equally capable of conjuring an abyssal atmosphere of absolute dread as it is trepanning your frontal lobe through sheer blunt force trauma – that I’m sightly worried that a full-length version of what they’ve produced here might be too much to bear.
That being said, I’m still going to be first in line to pick up whatever Cosmovore come out with in the future. That’s a guarantee.
And now, if the previous ten selections didn’t satisfy your appetite, here’s a list of everything else (though I’ve probably missed a few things, to be fair) that I’ve been able to listen to (and pass judgement on) this year, with links and a “helpful” description provided for each of them!
Three tracks of technical terrorism from one of Death Metal’s most reliable monsters.
Unpretentious, uncompromising, and unrelentingly aggro d-beat driven metallic Crust Punk.
A welcome return from a band whose Prog/Tech Death talents were always that little bit ahead of the curve.
Apparition – Granular Transformation
Absolutely horrifying Death Metal. It may only be two tracks, but that’s more than enough.
Tongue-twisting, neck-wrecking, gut-churning Technical Death Metal that doesn’t skimp on the complexity or the brutality.
Auroch – Stolen Angelic Tongues
Another nerve-scraping endeavour from the lords of Canadian chaos. Narrowly missed out on my list too.
Tech-Death meets Prog-Thrash meets dreamy melody and ambience. ‘nuff said.
Evocative, enigmatic extremity which we all have to thank Islander for hosting and bringing to our attention.
High quality Deathcore with a heavy emphasis on the “Death” part of the equation, as well as a significant helping of Slam and Black Metal influences.
One of the best EPs of the year (which only narrowly missed out on making my own “Top Ten”). Pure, unapologetic, Melodic Death Metal brilliance. More please.
Decoherence – Formulation and Solution
Post-industrial, post-Blut Aus Nord Black Metal, with a chilling, almost machine-like vibe to it.
Similar to the above (unsurprisingly) but a touch more angular and a touch more abstract overall.
One seriously pissed-off, punked-up, and stripped down debut from this Spanish Blackened Hardcore crew.
Desert-dwelling Black Metal from under a blazing sun.
Something old and something new from the band who produced one of my favourite albums of the last decade (2017’s Asheran).
Seriously heavy and refreshingly hungry sounding new EP from a band who still clearly have a lot of life left in them!
Exitium Sui – The Sinister Business of Selling Hope
Nastiness and nihilism tailor-made for fans of Leviathan and Blut Aus Nord.
Fuming Mouth – Beyond the Tomb
Meaty Death Metal riffs meet the blood-pumping heart of Hardcore. Yes, Fuming Mouth deserve to be a big deal.
Galactic Mechanics – The Ominous Quadrant
The third EP from this Toledo Tech-Death duo is easily their best yet, and bodes well for their future.
High Command – Everlasting Torment
Two bombastic, thrashtastic tracks of classic no frills, no quarter riffage.
Hinayana – Death of the Cosmic
Moody melodic Death/Doom at its finest from this underrated Texan quintet.
Holy Death – Supreme Metaphysical Violence
Ugly, chugly Death Doom makes up the meat of this band’s debut EP.
Holy Death – Celestial Throne of Grief
The group’s second EP errs even more on the doomy side of thing in one colossal, twenty-minute track.
And EP #3 is the best of the bunch, emphasising their deathly aggression without abandoning their doomy roots.
A real blast from the past. And still as obnoxiously off-kilter as ever (in the best possible way).
A frustratingly uneven and surprisingly throwaway effort from one of my favourite artists.
See above entry (and expect to read more about both EPs next week).
Instigate – Echoes of a Dying World
Chunky Technical/Brutal Death Metal for lifting weights and/or crushing cars. Get swole.
Heartwork-era Carcass meets Burn My Eyes period Machine Head. Needs playing LOUD.
Kosmovorous – Glorification Sermons
Alchemical art and aggression. Looking forward to hearing more from Kosmovorous in the future.
Remember when I once said I have a thing for German Black Metal? This is a perfect example why.
An extremely promising debut from this underground, old-school supergroup indulging in some classic Morbid Angel/Suffocation/Dismember worship.
Four tracks of scintillating progressive power that fuse multiple genres into one singular whole.
Dark, dissonant Death Metal that doesn’t necessarily break the mould but still shows a lot of potential for the future.
Mantar – Grungetown Hooligans II
Blistering Blackened Punk-Metal covers of a bunch of 90s Grunge, Alt-Rock and Riot Grrrl “classics”.
A more volatile companion to the band’s latest album of atmospheric, semi-euphoric, space-bound Black Metal.
A tantalising glimpse at a band transitioning away from their Blackened Hardcore roots towards a more malevolently melodic Black Metal sound.
Solid, but not stunning. Several good riffs, but feels less inspired than their previous work(s).
Ninkharsag – Discipline Through Black Sorcery
A kick-ass primer for the group’s new album, with an exclusive track that should really get your blood pumping!
Killer companion EP to the band’s surprisingly good new album, Transmogrification.
Creative, subtly progressive, Black Metal that never fails to entice or beguile, even at its most blistering.
Grindcore cavemen continue to bash in skulls and bludgeon their listeners into submission.
Protest the Hero – Fabula & Sayuzhet
Two pleasingly proggy tracks (one very Leprous-y in fact) as a chaser for one of the best albums of 2020.
Psycroptic – The Watcher of All
A feast of riffs and hooks (especially in “A Fragile Existence”). Psycroptic still rule.
Pure Wrath – The Forlorn Solider
Three spine-tingling tracks of epic metallic melancholy.
Five tracks of big, beefy, moody, groovy, Progressive Stoner Doom.
Similar to its predecessor, but less Black Sabbath and more Pink Floyd.
Ripping Flesh – Conqueror of Cosmos
A swift dose of pure sonic punishment, all topped off with some downright dirty gutturals. Highly recommended.
Sallow Moth – Arcane Treachery
Two tracks of wicked, widescreen Death Metal with an almost Mithras-like sense of eerie atmosphere.
Black Metal that walks the line between atmospheric and progressive, primal and progressive, perfectly.
Soilwork – A Whisp of the Atlantic
Unexpectedly good! Particularly the extravagant title track. Seems like this particular creative engine isn’t out of steam just yet.
Svengahli – Nightmares of Our Own Design
Cerebral strangeness and off-kilter technicality abound on this debut EP from multi-talented multi-instrumentalist Alex Weber.
Throane – Une balle dans le pied
Only a single track, but still one of the year’s most unique and evocative display of Black (Metal) magic.
Probably the band’s most vicious, ferocious, and singularly focussed output yet.
Totalitarian – Kulturkampf / Los Von Rom
Totalitarian have never been ones to pull their punches when it comes to their two favourite topics – the horrors of war and the hypocrisy of religion – and this EP doesn’t either.
Tribe of Pazuzu – King of All Demons
Doesn’t break the mould, but will definitely break a few necks when played at the right volume.
Probably the darkest, as well as one of the best, things the band have ever done. Harrowing stuff.
The two ambitious new tracks definitely show that Venom Prison have their eyes on even bigger things, and even bigger prizes, going forwards.
A perfect companion piece to one of the year’s best album. That’s all you need to know.
I would add A Pregnant Light. Other than that great list.
Oh, there’s LOTS of things I missed out on this year – there simply aren’t enough hours in the day, days in the week, weeks in the year to fit it all in – but that’s one I’ll try my best to check out in the post-list season lull.
Great list, my dude. Finally checked out that Cosmovore EP and now I need to shit.
The one thing that saddens me is that there’s no cd version of the Cosmovore EP, or I’d have snapped that up immediately.
Interesting selection. That Sutrah release is better than their full length IMO. On the topic of EPs though, I found the one from 200 Stab Wounds pretty refreshing. https://200stabwounds-maggotstomp.bandcamp.com/album/piles-of-festering-decomposition
I struggle to say EPs are “better” a lot of the time, as the medium is somewhat different – they don’t have to maintain the same level of quality over the same length/number of tracks – but it definitely indicates they’ve stepped up their game from the first album, and if they can keep it going for a whole album then… well, I think we’d all be very impressed.
This list is unbelievable. In a good way.
Mighty kind of you to say so.
More to come (much more) next week!
Thank you I also have some EP love for Anubis & for Lör – Edge of Eternity tho’ Lör is engorged size of EP, no?
That Dö though, Minuala is stellar, but Serpent Column made me feel like my ears just came back from the dojo.
Yeah, SC do NOT pull any punches.
Well, actually, occasionally they do… but that’s only so they can punch you even harder in the back of the head when you’re not looking.
First time I’ve heard DO. Love everything I’ve heard!!
I think you might enjoy this then:
This indeed is an amazing list. The Do is one of my favorite releases of 2020, period. I forgot about that Serpent Column ep-it is excellent, a total rager. Lots of others to check out now. Don’t know where you find the time, Andy, but thank you!
You’re very welcome!
I’m fortunate in that I can listen to a lot of music while working, while working out, while reading (when I get chance to do that), so can get through a lot of stuff, and then dedicate extra time to the stuff which really catches my ear. But I know that’s not the case for a LOT of our readers, which is kind of why I do these year-end “round-ups” – so that people can go through the list, as and when they do have time, and check stuff out without having to go hunting for it.
That Vonlaus is my fav EP of the year. But that second Narzissus EP that just came out might have something to say about it!!!
This is nice to my ears. Did you guys like that Meslamtaea album that came out this year?
Yeah and the artwork is great too!
Absolutely loved that Sutrah! Made me a believer. Ended up getting the prior album and now Im chomping at the bit for an LP follow up to this new one.
I also dont know if it counts, but Beaten To Death has been releasing their vinyl only LP as digital EPs and the first one, Mastbos, is so sick. Best material from them since the Dodsfest! album.
Sulphur Sun put out an awesome 2-song EP too. Placodermic Heraldry. Dying to hear more dinosaur themed death metal.
Funnily enough I also picked up the album (and the EP) this Friday, as although I thought I already had it… it turned out I was mistaken!
MY FAVE THAT YALL SLEPT ON
Planet Nine (E.P.)
You mean, the Mesarthim EP that’s in the list above AND which I reviewed, along with the accompanying album, in August?
It’s coming out a bit too late to be included on this list, but one EP that I’d absolutely put on my own best of 2020 list is the new one from Engulfed, Vengeance of the Fallen, which was premiered through Decibel a few days ago. Killer OSDM for those into Dead Congregation and the members’ other bands (Burial Invocation and Hyperdontia).
Is there a plan to do a list of non-metal listens or metal-adjacent stuff?
Yes there is. In past years that list has been compiled by ex-NCS writer Joseph Schafer, and I think he’s going to do it again this year.
Amazing list Andy.
Had – Debut MCD
To Dust – Nightmare Cycles
would have made a mention in my top 30 or so… but a fantastic list Andy, there’s a lot here I haven’t given enough attention to or have let pass by when I shouldn’t have.
I would have been tempted to have created room for the Throane and Ultha EPs in my top ten, but what to have removed to make room for them?
I had a very similar dilemma myself, especially with regards to the new Ultha!
So much new stuff to try out! Great write-up. Listening to Minuala now, which sounds absolutely brilliant.
Only thing I could add is ‘The Baring of Shadows’, by Post/Atmospheric Black(?) metallers Kardashev. Really impressive stuff.
Sadly it wasn’t on my radar, though I know for a fact that a couple of the other writers are big fans, so you may well be seeing it get a mention at a later date.
As far as I can see a lot HAS been on your radar, so that’s understandable 😉
Great list – a lot of these I haven’t heard so that will keep me extra busy checking them out. I did scan the lists twice to see if “Gloosh – the river” was on it (which made my very favorite releases of the year list) but I suspect it was just one that you didn;t get time to hear – difficult to listen to everything. But I really would recommend it.
Duly noted, thanks!
That Sutrah EP is so good. Didn’t even know of the band until this write up. As always killer recommendations!
Thanks for collating this list. I am enjoying going through this immensely, and learning a lot. I missed many of these EPs this year.
One EP i would add is the atmospheric black metal of Vital Sprit (“In the Faith That Looks Through Death”).