Dec 072020


(We don’t publish a single “official” NCS year-end list of best releases.  Instead, each of our staff members compiles his own individual list. As usual, we have begun this year with a series of lists compiled by Andy Synn. Last Friday we published his list of 2020’s best EPs, and this week we’re rolling out the rest of them, day by day. As in the past we’re starting with an installment that veers off our usual theme of focusing on music we enthusiastically recommend. Feel free to disagree — some of us here may disagree as well — but also feel free to share in the Comments your own thoughts about 2020 albums that disappointed you.)

And so it begins…

Once again I’m starting off my annual week-long listravaganza with a round-up of those albums which I felt ultimately failed to live up to their promise and potential (and, in some cases, hype).

As always, however, I come here today not to praise Caesar… but not to bury him either…. but simply to point out that sometimes, sometimes, the emperor is a little under-dressed.

Of course, if I’m being totally honest, doing this column actually makes me a little sad, as it frequently (including this time) features bands who I consider some of my personal favourites.

But, by the same token, I think it’s important, and necessary, to acknowledge that even the best bands, even the bands we love the most, aren’t perfect, and sometimes come in under the bar.

This is especially relevant to this year’s article, as it contains a number of big/famous/seminal names, all with lengthy careers behind them (and hopefully lengthy careers still before them), who – for various reasons – simply didn’t produce their best work this year.

Chances are you won’t agree with all of my choices here. Some of you may even be upset by them (though you don’t need to be, this won’t harm any of the bands – in fact it might even help them identify some weaknesses in their overall game). But, no matter what, I hope we can all remain civil and polite in the comments.

After all, we’re all here because we love music… even when it sometimes disappoints us.





For the sake of context I should point out that Dark Fortress are one of my favourite bands. I jumped onboard with the release of Eidolon, fell hard for Ylem, and then equally hard for Venereal Dawn, and in the meantime also worked my way back through the band’s impressive discography too.

Unfortunately the sad truth is that Spectres from the Old World just isn’t in the same league as either of its immediate predecessors, although that surely isn’t from lack of trying, as the individual performances are still top-notch (Seraph in particular remains one of the most interesting and underrated drummers in Black Metal).

It’s the structure and flow of the album – or, more accurately, the lack thereof – which really hamstrings it, resulting in a tonally uneven tracklisting that could do with trimming down and tightening up quite a bit.

I wanted to like this. I really did. And although I do like some of it, the whole thing just doesn’t hang together as well as it should.





Now, this is the first entry on today’s list (and probably not the last) that might potentially result in me receiving a few death threats (or at least a few mean comments).

But, then again… maybe not? I feel like Enslaved have a long enough, and rich enough, career by now that maybe people have started to accept that they’re not perfect, and that acknowledging this fact isn’t going to suddenly destroy everything they’ve worked so hard to build?

To get a handle on how/why Utgard ended up on this list I’d like to refer back to my own review, and one key phrase in particular, which stated that this album was/is:

“…a bit of a mixed bag – sometimes fascinating, sometimes frustrating, occasionally phenomenal – which seems, to me at least, to find the band stuck in a transitional form.”

Because I still stand by it. For every bold new step they (tentatively) take towards what might be the next stage of their evolution they take another step back into safe, overly-familiar territory.

There’s still quite a bit to like (even love) here, but it simply doesn’t quite reach far enough.





Now this one hurts. Green Carnation are one of those bands where practically everyone who knows them loves them, myself included. And when it was announced that they would be releasing their first album in almost a decade-and-a-half this year I know I wasn’t alone in practically glowing with excitement and anticipation.

Except, sadly, what we got wasn’t really much of an album, when all is said and done.

Oh, the songs are pretty good, for the most part (though we could argue whether “pretty good” is really “good enough” when it comes to GC), but with only three originals, plus a re-recording and a cover, Leaves of Yesteryear is more of a glorified EP than the true return to glory which we’d all been hoping for.

Not only that, but the group have since released another stand-alone original which clearly could have gone on the album if they’d waited a little, compounding this feeling that, somehow, the band managed to rush this release, even though they’ve had over ten years to patiently prepare!

A missed opportunity, for sure.





Let me be blunt about this. Ihsahn is one of my favourite artists, and his post-Emperor career has been been one hell of a rollercoaster ride, with several major high points (After and Amr in particular), and a few lows… but even those are usually capable of delivering a good balance of “killer” and “filler”.

Sadly that’s just not the case on either of his latest two EPs, as there’s maybe one song on each that lives up to the man’s previous potential (and standards), while the covers are depressingly generic in both execution and ambition (the one exception being his cover of “Roads” by Portishead) and just blandly reproduce the original without trying to put even the slightest Ihsahn-esque spin on things.

Probably my biggest disappointment(s) of the year, if I’m going to be honest.





And speaking of covers… our old friends Inter Arma decided to put out a covers album this year and it’s kind of… not good.

There’s a couple that pass muster I suppose, but for the most part they’re played generically straight and just lack that spark, that fire, which usually makes Inter Arma such a harrowing joy to listen to.

Swing and a miss, guys.





I don’t usually like to include debut albums in this list. But, sadly, the hype about this straight-to-a-major-label-debut was so overblown (multiple times I was informed that Irist were going to be the next big thing on the block) that the end result was always going to be a bit of a disappointment.

Ultimately Irist are a talented band, but there’s pretty much nothing here you haven’t heard before by other bigger/better bands, and while it does everything it sets out to do, and does it well, it doesn’t do anything great or particularly original with any of it.

That being said, there’s a glimmer of promise and potential in the last two tracks that I’d like to hear more of, and maybe the band’s next release will actually live up to the hype.





The name Kataklysm has been a byword for bull-headed stubbornness and riffy reliability for two solid decades now, and while it’s been quite a while since they produced anything that was a real “must have”, they’ve always been able to mix in a decent amount of “killer” among all the “filler”.

Unfortunately the ratio on their latest album is skewed drastically towards the latter, with song after song stumbling over rough transitions and following aimless melodic passages that don’t really go anywhere, resulting in what is easily some of the most awkward writing of the band’s career.

It’s not ALL bad news, as while the transition to seven strings doesn’t really take advantage of the extended range of the guitars (there’s a lot of sluggish Nu-Metal style riffage going on), there are times (such as the spikey, Slipknot-esque “Stitches”) where you can hear that maybe, just maybe, there’s some life left in the old beast yet.

It’s just that, for the most part, this one is more bark than bite.





Simply put, when this album is on it is on. And when it’s off… hoo boy is it ever off.

It’s not going to be a career-killer by any means (at least I hope not, as I love these guys), it’s just nowhere near the same level as their previous work.

Still, you can’t necessarily knock the band for trying some new things even if, disappointingly, they don’t really work out for the best a lot of the time.





Over the course of their career Sylosis have been a lot of different things to a lot of different people, from up-and-coming Metalcore underdogs, to the “the UK’s answer to Trivium”, to brawny, High On Fire worshipping riff-mongers (their best period, in my opinion), and lots, lots more.

And throughout the years they’ve also been juggling a level of hype and expectations that would have crushed lesser bands. So I’m sure you can imagine the insane levels of anticipation and hyperbole which surrounded the release of their long-awaited “comeback” album… as well as the disappointment of those who discovered it was far from their best work.

To be fair, they’re as technically talented as ever, and there are a few stand-out tracks… but the presence of these songs actually serves to emphasise how underwhelming and relatively middle of the road much of the material is, largely lacking that necessary dynamic spark – several of the choruses, for example, just fall flat, and even some of the solos are surprisingly dull – so that it often feels like they’re just going through the motions.

You know what they say, “with great hype comes great responsibility”, and sadly Cycle of Suffering, for the most part, doesn’t live up to either the hype or its responsibility as the band’s big comeback.





Let me give you a quick history lesson – I loved Uada’s debut album, Devoid of Light, in spite of its slightly rough edges. I loved the band even more when I caught them live at MDF in 2017. I even loved their second album, Cult of a Dying Sun (though I know opinions about that are more mixed).

But Djinn? I don’t love Djinn.

It’s not a bad album, of course. Its cardinal sin is that it’s just a bit… bland. A bit safe. A bit, dare I say it, boring.

What almost makes it worse though is the fact that part way through “Forestless”, the album’s penultimate track, everything suddenly lines up and it’s like the band suddenly come back to life, with the subsequent “Between Two Worlds” being an absolute stunner, from start to finish.

Ah, if only it was all like that!




Obsidian is a perfect example of how great potential doesn’t always translate into great music.

It’s solid, streamlined, and impeccably recorded, and delivered by a bunch of dudes with a wealth of talent and experience among them, but musically the whole thing feels so painfully micromanaged – like it was written by an algorithm designed to calculate out exactly what percentage mix of Death Metal, Metalcore, Djent and Deathcore would appeal to the widest cross-section of listeners – that it often feels very forced and artificial (the calculated/contrived blend of gritty, “tough guy” vocals and smooth, sensitive cleans in particular feels like the product of intensive focus-testing).

To be clear, that’s not a knock on any of the band’s members. It’s just that they appear to have tried to build something here which, as usual, manages to be a jack of all trades and a master of none.


  40 Responses to “2020 – A YEAR IN REVIEW(S): THE DISAPPOINTING”

  1. My unsolicited 2-cents. The only one I disagree with is Sylosis, as to me, they release some wicked riffs and bangers.

    I was so let down by some of my favorites this year, especially Katatonia. After “Fall of Hearts”, I knew they would have a hard time topping it, but man did “City Burials” just seem like a big step backward.

    Add disappointments by The Ocean and O’Brother and I had an off year with some of my favorite bands.
    Enslaved lost me after Riitiir and I’ve found them increasingly meandering, while Ihsahn’s “telemark” was boring. I did enjoy “Pharos” though.

    I may be in the minority, but I liked Green Carnation better in their hard rock, “The Quiet Offspring”/”Blessing in Disguise” days, so the new one was meh, save for the title track.

    • “City Burials” actually was on the initial shortlist for this piece, as it happens, but I went back through ALL the potential candidates VERY carefully this time (even more so than usual), and ultimately concluded that although it was a step down from TFOH it was still a worthy entry in the band’s back-catalogue – so, not their best, but not a “disappointment” as such.

      But, again, it’s all opinions. I’m just appreciative that some people put some value in mine, even if they don’t always agree with them.

    • Agreed upon Sylosis, I really liked their latest album. It’s actually their first that really clicked with me.

      Interestingly, I have the opposite take on Katatonia’s newest – it’s actually their first album I could enjoy from front to back. It’s the kind of band I know I should enjoy, but I could never get into any of their albums fully. City Burials is the first album of them I thoroughly enjoy and one of my favourites of this year in a broad sense.

      Very interesting to see how different the same material can resonate with people 🙂

      • You’re absolutely right. It really is all subjective and quite interesting how people gravitate.

        I’ve been listening to Katatonia since I was in high school (20+years ago) and they’ve been pretty untouchable for me, save for “Dead End Kings” and “City Burials”. Don’t get me wrong, there are some good tracks on the latter, but nothing that compares to their best albums (“The Fall of Hearts” being my personal favorite, which says a lot, for a band that deep into their career). I’ve seen glowing reviews of “City Burials” and seen middling reviews of it. I think, from my perspective, it was set up to fail considering how much I loved “The Fall of Hearts” but I didn’t expect to be so…bored by it.

        Sylosis is another band that I find very little wrong with. They aren’t breaking boundaries but they hit a sweet spot for me between thrash, melodic death metal and metalcore that few bands do. I don’t think it’s their best, but I like it a lot.

  2. ah yes, the yearly preview of some of my top albums, right on time.

    except for solo Ihsahn. He maintains a very consistent hot streak of hit or miss with me since his first.

  3. Svart Crown seemed to try to emulate (old)Gojira and felt very unlike what they gave us before. They are trading brutality for atmosphere. Not bad per se, but it feels they are trying to re-invent themselves in something that has been overdone.

    • “Not bad per se, but it feels they are trying to re-invent themselves in something that has been overdone.”

      That’s not a bad way to put it. I certainly think there’s still some potential for them to do something with it – I do actually quite like the album, for what it’s worth – I just think this one didn’t quite hit the target.

  4. I’ve been feeling crazy seeing all the praise for the new Enslaved and Dark Fortress, so it’s oddly comforting to seem them on here! I even like Enslaved’s previous album a good bit, but I could barely make it through Utgard. Though I do appreciate their willingness to experiment.

    • I feel like Enslaved have reached that “too big to fail” point in their career where it’s very difficult for a lot of people to talk about them objectively – they’re so well-loved, and their catalogue full of so many great albums, that there’s just a general assumption that whatever they do will be great, and so no-one really thinks to question the narrative.

      In the case of “Utgard” in particular, it feels like whereas with “E” they were consciously thinking, ok, we need to think about where we go next… they’re STILL thinking that, and you can see them spinning their wheels a bit (with the occasional tentative experiment with something slightly different).

      Enslaved are one of the bands I’ve seen live the most, and probably/possibly my most listened-to band, so I confess I found it hard to include them here. But, as someone who loves their best work… I could recognise that this really isn’t it.

  5. I totally agree with this list.

    • That’s very nice of you to say.

      I know Islander always approaches the publication of this list with some trepidation – we’re not the sort of site that courts controversy for clicks, for one thing, and he doesn’t generally like us to post anything explicitly negative – so it’s nice to see/read that it’s finding an audience and being appreciated.

  6. Completely agree with this list – especially with UADA and, unfortunately, Enslaved.

    • To build on the response I left above, I think the word “unfortunately” sums up the general tone I’m going for with this list – I’m not looking to attack or hate on ANY of the bands, whether they’re favourites of mine or not, I’m just opening up a space where we can express our disappointment when things don’t turn out quite right!

  7. Enslaved actually is one of my favorite bands, like hands down. And they haven’t released a worthwhile album since 2008. A better track record than say Metallica but still 12 years is a long time. Utgard had a few really cool moments but nothing on that album beats the worst parts of Below the Lights.

    • “…they haven’t released a worthwhile album since 2008.”

      While this is CLEARLY madness, I wholeheartedly support your right to say it (in this instance, at least).

  8. Temple of Void was by far my biggest disappointment this year.

  9. Enslaved is also one of my favorites – and I likewise was disappointed with Utgard. Tbh, I have not really dug their last few releases (everything since RIIITR). Still an all-time favorite for me, but view them as being a bit lost in the wilderness (saying this with all love and affection).

    Also agree with the two Ihsahn eps. I was pretty stoked originally, but left scratching my head at the point of either of them. (The decision to split the songs into two eps probably should have been a good hint….)

    Now I strongly disagree with the inclusion of Green Carnation. It is top 5 on my list, as it really pulls together and distills beautifully the many fascinating phases of the band’s existence. Yes, I have to concede the release is light on originals – but the remake of “My Dark Reflections” is stunning and an actual improvement over an already stellar original track. I don’t know – to me, rushed or not, “Leaves of Yesteryear” was simply perfect for the time – doomy, melancholic, epic, hopeful… Re-count!

    • And, forgot – I would probably have to add Hail Spirit Noir’s Eden in Reverse to the list. Not sure what was going on there (and I do NOT enjoy typing this…).

    • Ah well, there’s always going to be disagreements (that’s the nature of lists, after all).

      While I try to inject at least a sliver of objective analysis into my round-ups each year (though, of course, true objectivity remains forever out of reach) there’s always going to be a subjective basis to what I write. Ultimately I expected better of them – I think a lot of people did – and while I wouldn’t say it’s a Chinese Democracy/Fear Inoculum situation, it still feels like a missed opportunity to me.

  10. Similar to many. I love Enslaved. Utgard is only ok, overall. Some great songs, but otherwise bland.
    This will never change my lifetime fandom though.

    Temple of the Void. Wish it was as thick and in your face as the last. I do love some of the new stylings, but it places them in a camp of “need to be in the mood” where as the previous release put me in the mood no matter what.

    Katavasia. I was enamored with their first. The one felt very rote to me.

    Vassafor. This one hurt a bit. I tried and tried again. Obsidian Kodex was one of my first forays into this style and remains an absolute monolith of abyssal darkness and suffering. The new one felt “Evil”, but it lacks the feral, eldritch quality that I get from Obsidian Codex.

    Ars Magna Umbrae. From the ep to the lp I was floored. I cannot put my finger on whats not doing it for me. Its all the same bits. Its just not there for me this time.

    Defeated Sanity. I find this album impressive in both its musicianship and its ability to make me want to hear 30 other things. Passages To Deformity will always rank as one of tech/brute deaths finest hours.

    Paysage d’Hiver. Das Tor is one of the very best of the style. So are three or four of the other PdH records. The high-water mark for judging wintry atom-black. In pieces, this one is decent, but it never lives up to even a snippet of something like Winterkalte or Das Tor.

    Fluisteraars. I am a major dweeb for this band. A fan of everything. Just not Bloem. It’s not bad, but I really expected another love moment even greater than before.

    • Ah, funny you mention both Vassafor and Defeated Sanity, as they were both on the initial shortlist, however I concluded that it was somewhat unfair to blame “To the Death” for not being “Obsidian Codex” – that’s a once-in-a-lifetime (if you’re lucky) album – and it still holds up on its own (though not as well as the new Temple Nightside, I might add).

      Defeated Sanity I actually feel the same way about, pretty much – but I think I attribute that purely to personal preference than a reflection on the album’s quality (which is still a solid addition to the group’s catalogue, even if it’s not their best).

      I dunno, maybe I should have been more harsh with both of them. Or maybe not. I could have gone round and round editing and tweaking all this week’s lists for another month or more to be honest, so I had to draw the line somewhere!

      • Like you, it feels harsh to point any of these things out. I cannot create a Marshmallow Codex, let alone an obsidian one. I do agree about Temple Nightside coming out peachy in comparison.

        Defeated Sanity, you are absolutely right. The playing is obviously awesome. I love the things they try. I think its mega interesting. I just dont enjoy any of it beyond an appreciation for “whoa, thats interesting”.

        These are just albums I was ultra hyped for. By bands I love. And I ended up barely ever reaching for them.

        Cant wait to see the next few lists!! Thanks for all the writing and consideration Andy!

  11. Good list. Also add new Solstafir

  12. Yeah, I don’t really get all the hype behind the new Enslaved as well as the last one. Honestly I think they’ve been in a bit of a creative decline since Riitir, but I know for as many that will agree, there are probably even more that’ll disagree.

    And you’re dead on about the new Green Carnation. I was super pumped for it but….I think I listened to it once and forgot about it. Oof.

  13. Perhaps because we all respect and love Enslaved so much, the most respectful thing to do is to say: this record was not per se what I/we expected. In other words, I concur with what’s been said here.

    As for the rest, cant say Ive listened to these records. 2020 saw me dive into filthy lowfi black, facilitated by the purchase of a tape deck. Seemed the right thing to do.

  14. Oh, Inter Arma. Easily on my shortlist for most powerful metal bands out there, but such an unnecessary record. Their cover of “Southern Man” is fantastic, the rest is… not fantastic. “Purple Rain” was a struggle to get through. Should have been a fan service release, maybe for one of the many worthy charities this year (though I admittedly don’t know if their deal with Relapse would allow it).

  15. Good list. For Green Carnation I must admit I don’t know their earlier material – what I read in this is that I definitely should check that.

    For me the biggest disappointment is missing though – Aether Realm. Tarot was on my top 10 for the last decade. The new album, well – just a direction I can’t stand. I could as well mention Countless Skies – seem many actually like the new direction, I don’t. Really boring with clean that are just not good for example. First album were in 2016 a better album than their inspiration Be’lakor put out the same year. And for melodeath I put Be’lakor as band in my top three(although Vessels is not my Be’lakor).

  16. Ihsahn is one of the musicians I would die for to work with him. But the two EPs are really disappointing, especially the one they marketed to be more on the “Black Metal”/traditional side. The Enslaved album was a little bit of a letdown too, although there are some good moments on it (like you said).

  17. Great to see Enslaved – Utgard getting other than praise. I thought it was just me, but after 5-6 spins I put it out on Discogs for sale. Nothing really interesting happens during the whole thing. I’ve enjoyed quite a bit of their latter material and was pretty psyched about this one.

  18. I”ll buck the trend here. I love the new Enslaved. There were a few things I found off-putting at first (and I miss Cato’s drums a lot) but somehow it lines up perfectly with what I need from an album right now. It’s become a necessary escape and a source of real joy. It might not have clicked if I hadn’t gone to the woods with headphones on, I needed to find the right mindset.

    • I couldn’t agree more with you. Granted I only started listening to them during the RIITIIR era. “Utgard” is one of my personal top 10-15 albums of this year. I’ve listened to many of the albums on Andy’s “Good” and “Great” lists, too, and have found many of them to be worthy of being on THIS list if I were making a disappointment list – which just continues to go to show us that there is no accounting for taste.

  19. Oh man, you mentioned my favorite album of 2020, Leaves of Yesteryear, and my third favorite album, Utgard. I listened to LoY every day for over a month, bought the CD, bought a shirt, bought the livestream of their show during quarantine, the whole nine yards. Its still a complete emotional journey every time I listen to it. But I digress.

    Disappointments for me were My Dying Bride and Katatonia. Don’t know what I expected. Its been eight years since either band produced an album I loved.

    • Bless you. Leaves of Yesteryear was top five for me. To my ears, it was a perfect distillation of their career, as well as an album that was tailor made for the moment/year (I also have listened to it repeatedly). Very surprised by the lack of love for it. Oh well…

  20. I really like Uada’s previous two albums, but Djinn is by far my favourite of theirs… And I think my favourite album of the year! Damn that one hurts, but to each their own! 😉

    • Every year I find things on this list by Andy that I disagree with, but this year it’s hard for me to argue. Especially in the case of Djinn, I had to think. To me, “disappointment” is a feeling you can have only if you first have an expectation. For an album of music, that means an expectation born of experience with previous releases or current hype for a band that’s new to me. I enjoyed Djinn a lot, but as I thought about it more, I did feel a sense of disappointment – the kind based on the experience of their previous releases, because my expectations were high. I think if this had been their first album, the first music by Uada I had ever heard, I wouldn’t be writing this. I’d simply be grateful.

  21. I agree with this list (mostly). As I scrolled down, I was wondering if the new Uada would be there, and yes it is. It was surprisingly bland. When I first heard the intro to the first couple songs I had to check I was listening to the correct album and not a pop music record. But, that Uada album isn’t half as bad as the new Enslaved album. I hate to say this because Enslaved is one of my favorite bands. Specifically, it is the aimless, tuneless, tinkling keyboard sections, combined with the forced and clunky transitions within songs, that really sink this album. Much of it is literally unlistenable to me because of this. As for Kataklysm, I cannot get through this album either due to what appears to be a rapping nu-metal influence that infects many of the songs. What the hell happened here?

    The only one that probably should NOT be on the disappointing list is Dark Fortress. It is true their new record is not as killer as their past records (Venereal Dawn and Ylem were awesome), but Spectres from the Old World is still a good album with tons of heavy blackened riffs flowing throughout. This album has a more experimental feel than past albums, taking them into some un explored territory, but I think it largely pays off. There are many good songs on this album: “Coalescence”, the unexpectedly rocking “Spider in the web”, the raging “Spectres from the old world” with its beautiful outro, the stomping melodic “Pali Aike”, “Pulling at threads” which incorporates clean singing and ironically reminded me a bit of Enslaved. Even the strange plodding “Isa” is pretty good. But the final 2 songs could’ve been cut; these weren’t good and do pull the album down. Finally, I can’t overlook the cool lyrics in this album, which seem to be about natural forces beyond the control of humanity (maybe) and the demise of civilization. Overall, a pretty good album.

  22. I actually really like the Inter Arma album. It’s not original, but it sounds what it is: a good, talented band having fun playing some surprising artists who influenced them. Some of the covers are better than others (Scarecrow, Southern Man), but all are enjoyable enough. Kind of like Slayer’s much-maligned Undisputed Attitude.

  23. I usually find some of my most favorite albums of the perspective year in your list of disappointments, but this time, I agree with almost all of the selections. Although, Uada’s album did make it decently high on my top 100 list, I would declare it a step down from “Cult of a Dying Sun” for sure.
    I thought Sylosis’s album was good, but definitely lacks the same fire as some of their previous works (namely Conclusion of Age).

    On an unrelated note, when I was reading “(We don’t publish a single “official” NCS year-end list of best releases.  Instead, each of our staff members compiles his own individual list,” I thought, you know, as a reader, I would find it cool if all of you guys compiled a group list, as some of the other publications you have shared throughout the years have done. It would just be interesting, considering the differences in interests among you, what albums you all could agree to disagree to be reflected in a somewhat representative list. Perhaps a new feature to this new decade we have just commenced.

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