Dec 132020


As part of our annual NCS LISTMANIA extravaganza we re-publish lists of the year’s best metal that appear on web sites which appeal to vastly larger numbers of readers than we do — not because we believe those readers or the writers have better taste in metal than our community does, but more from a morbid curiosity about what the great unpoisoned masses are being told is best for them. It’s like opening a window that affords an insight into the way the rest of the world outside our own disease-ridden nooks and crannies perceives the music that is our daily sustenance.

One of those sites is PopMatters. It has been in existence since 1999. In its own words the site “is an international magazine of cultural criticism and analysis” with a scope that “is broadly cast on all things pop culture”, including “music, television, films, books, video games, sports, theatre, the visual arts, travel, and the Internet”. PopMatters claims that it is “the largest site that bridges academic and popular writing in the world”.

As in past years, last week PopMatters published a list of “The 20 Best Metal Albums“ of the year, this time under the by-line of Spyros Stasis and Antonio Poscic. You’ll find that list below.

After perusing the 2019 version of this list one of my NCS colleagues remarked, “The PopMatters list feels MUCH more like the author actually cares about what is ‘best’ and not just ‘what our readers want us to choose’”. I thought that was an astute observation last year, and I think it applies again this year.

My instinct, as before, is that this will be one of the most interesting and unpredictable lists we’re likely to see in our growing collection of 2020 lists from print zines and “big platform” web sites. It does cover a range of genres, some of which will not personally appeal to every reader who comes our way, but the list again appears to be the result of genuine effort and honest thought.

Many of the names below are deservedly making the rounds among many lists I’ve seen this year (the more underground ones, including Mr. Synn‘s lists here at NCS last week), and others are interesting surprises. Specifically, the wonderful albums by Neptunian Maximalism and Paysage d’Hiver are especially deep cuts for sites of this one’s size, and it’s especially interesting to see both of them ranked so high. An even deeper cut, rated at No. 4 no less, is the self-titled album by the Kenyan duo Duma, which I coincidentally just discovered and wrote about here one week ago. I confess that the fact they are from Kenya influenced me, and it probably did the writers of the PopMatters list, but the record really is worth checking out (even though I don’t see it as the 4th best metal album of 2020).

The list also reminds me that I still haven’t listened to that Sumac album, even though it’s been out for two months now. Shame on me.

To read the explanations and descriptions for each of these choices at PopMatters, go HERE.


20. Black Curse – Endless Wound (Sepulchral Voice)

19. Megaton Sword – Blood Hails Steel (Dying Victims Productions)

18. Kevel – Mutatis, Mutandis (I, Voidhanger)

17. Spirit Adrift – Enlightened in Eternity (20 Buck Spin)

16. Primitive Man – Immersion (Relapse)

15. Wake – Devouring Ruin (Translation Loss)

14. Pyrrhon – Abscess Time (Willowtip)

13. Haken – Virus (InsideOut Records)

12. Thou and Emma Ruth Randle – May Our Chambers Be Full (Sacred Bones)

11. Faceless Burial – Speciation (Dark Descent Records

10. Wayfarer – A Romance With Violence (Profound Lore)

9. Oranssi Pazuzu – Mestarin kynsi (Nuclear Blast)

8. Expander – Neuropunk Boostergang (Profound Lore)

7. Old Man Gloom – Seminar VIII: Light of Meaning/Seminar IX: Darkness of Being (Profound Lore)

6. Neptunian Maximalism – Éons (I, Voidhanger Records)

5. Ulthar – Providence (20 Buck Spin)

4. Duma – Duma (Nyege Nyege Tapes)

3. Paysage d’Hiver – Im Wald (Kunsthall Produktionen)

2. SUMAC – May You Be Held (Thrill Jockey)

1. Imperial Triumphant – Alphaville (Century Media Records)


  1. While Black Curse and Paysage d’Hiver have been given plenty of word of mouth buzz, it is nice to see a larger platform list give them some actual attention

    • Yeah, that’s really what I was driving at. I think folks like you, me, and the kind of people who visit NCS will know about a lot of these already, but that’s a pretty thin slice of people who are generalluy drawn to obscure bands to begin with. I hope the kind of exposure presented by a list at this site will bring other people to these albums who wouldn’t even know they exist. On the other hand, I have no idea what kind of audience this list will attract. I can only hope for the best — and obviously we’ve done our part to help with that.

      • It’s interesting that you brought this up. While my loathing of Metalsucks knows no bounds, every once in a blue moon they can actually be useful for something. They typically do a user poll for best metal album of the year, and allow submissions from the comment section to be added and voted on…the top five ended up being bands like TBDM, LoG, Trivium, etc.

        As someone pointed out in the comments section, depending on what sites you spend the most time on, it’s sometimes easy to forget that the largest section of the metal fandom is really made up casuals who really barely scratch the surface of what goes on in the metal world. Looking back, it really amazes me where I started with extreme music and where I’m at with it now

  2. Great to see both Kevel and Expander in there. Both albums deserve lots of buzz.

    Not fully convinced Ulthar is a top five (or top 20, to be honest) but still think it’s a good album, and looking forward to seeing them live next year.

  3. Yeah, not bad at all – it is a solid list with some interesting choices. Happy to see both SUMAC and Old Man Gloom included on it.

  4. Ive been talking up that Neptunian Maximalism to anyone who’s interested in darker drone or ambient and especially anyone who likes later works by Sunn O))) or Stephen O’Malley’s collaborations. Pretty cool stuff to do artwork too late at night.

    My fave albums on this list that are more ‘metal’ are Wake – Devouring Ruin and Spirit Adrift – Enlightened In Eternity.

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