(Today we present a Top 20 year-end list from long-time NCS contributor Wil Cifer.)
I am sure you have already read enough intros to lists this year where everyone commiserates about how we have made it through 2020 and things are going to be better soon. I am here to offer you no such hope. Whatever you resist persists.
If you read what I typically write you know I am consistent in extolling the virtues of leaning into the darkness, if not hinting that I may or may not worship it. My favorite albums this year supported the grim reality that wishful thinking does nothing. The lack of power metal should not be surprising. I have never wanted to hear metal that has anything to do with happiness, and this year I feel stronger about this sentiment. This is not a list of the albums I felt were coolest so I could get virtual high-fives from my peers. These albums are the best because they inspired me to listen to them the most.
Lots of great music came out this year. I enjoyed albums by Miss Piss, Bestial Mouths, Rope Sect, Nothing, Puscifer, Deftones, and even Run the Jewels. You will not find them here. They are not metal. Yeah, I know they are on some other lists and I am leaving that for the inter-dimensional overlords to deal with when they return for their obelisks.
Metal has always been one of the best forms of therapy for me. This year it provided even more solace as I sorted through all my BDSM gear for when I claim my place as Lord Humungous. My wish for you is for you to find the right album among these that will bring you to a place of acceptance of what is to come. I appreciate that you continue to read my rambling on all things heavy here even as my tolerance for my meds increases and they take a turn to the depressive. With that said, here my top 20 Metal albums of 2020.
20- Kall – ‘Brand”
The Swedish misery merchants Lifelover were one of my favorite bands. This band of former members is not looking to recreate what Lifelover did, but carry on the tradition of darkness and despair while expanding the sonic scope of what they do. They jam out some of the morbid atmosphere they create, making it a great backdrop for gray days.
19- Ilsa – “Preyer”
This album had to grow on me. It finds the sludgelords teetering on the brink of death metal. A concept album of sorts about killer Sean Sellers who claimed to have been demon possessed. With the holidays here I can appreciate an album with riffs so mean they make you want to kill your parents.
18- Forgotten Tomb – “Nihilistic Estrangement”
This is one of those beautiful albums where I go back to listen to it and then think “Shit, I need to put this in my iPod and listen to it more”. Then I finish my coffee, realize what time it is and then go running out the door forgetting to do so. The more melodic elements blend wonderfully with the throb of its hateful mood.
17- Coma Regalia – “Marked”
Ok here is the first of the albums that might fall outside of the metal norms and lean more toward hardcore. It is chaotic and hyper-aggressive in a manner that should appease most metal heads. Even when some of the more post-hardcore riffs creep in, the intensity remains on an emotional level.
16- Fange – “Pudeur”
This French band have created a unique vision of industrial deathsludge. Possessed by a depraved darkness, this band manage to put to music the kind of thoughts I take meds to suppress. So here is a sonic mirror to my soul.
15- Infant Island – “Beneath”
For their second album this band threw all of the coolest sub-genres against their amps. What seems to have stuck is grindcore, black metal and Scream-gaze. Ok I made the last one up, but if the Converse fits…. I love when inner torment is given a fresh coat of atmosphere like it received with this album.
14- Abysmal Dawn – “Phylogenesis”
My rule is always “cool riffs alone do not a good song make”. These guys made riffs cool enough to prove themselves an exception to this rule. If your neck does not at least begin the sway of an incoming head bang when you hear this, then ask if you really like metal or do you just like scowling at a computer screen.
13- Vous Autres – “Sel de Pierre”
This French band pick up where they left off on their first album. Not as dark and more atmospheric, this album still proves to be just as effective. The void they howl into shimmers with mystery.as they refuse to conform to black metal tropes.
12- Kruelty – “A Dying Truth”
Some days I just woke up angry. On those days this was the first album I listened to. This is the heaviest album on the list if we are referring to heavy as a type of crushing weight that death metal promises. These guys also have some hardcore influence in the way they stomp around. This is the album that will still ring true in 2021 when you see things are not getting better.
11- SVNTH – “Spring in Blue”
Perhaps it is the wine, but in Italy when they hear a band like Deafheaven, they do not seek to jump on their bandwagon. Instead they take inspiration and do their own thing. They at times also realize their shoes are untied and stare down at them. In Italy shoes are made with more class and grace.
10- REZN – “Chaotic Divine”
I have not done drugs in 18 years. I keep hearing about how mushrooms are good for treating bi-polar and have begun to consider them. If I do decide to take them this is the album I am going to listen to. They wander off in surreal proggy explorations, but always have a moment of clarity amid them to remember they are a metal band. However they are a metal band that is really fucking high.
9- Igorrr – Spirituality and Distortion”
While Mr Bungle was off remembering the songs they played in high school this band took it upon themselves to fill the void left for those who enjoy the twisted penis of chaos inserted into their brain. This is a heavier phallus to deal with. They also brought Corpsegrinder in when they felt their own growling would not suffice.
8- Witchskull – “A Driftwood Cross”
With the right weed any guitarist can recycle a Black Sabbath riff to call their own. I always like how Trouble did this, but had a hard time with owning any of their albums because they were Christians. This band is helping me make up for what I missed out on by coating it in a darker sheen as they sing out things like “Baphomet’s Child”. They also write groovy songs.
7- Dunwich – “Tail Tied Hearts”
This Russian band stirs ample amounts of goth into their cauldron of blackened doom. One of the more dynamic albums to cement itself into my iPod. This is going to be the best album you did not hear, unless you remedy this by going and listening to it now.
6- Umbra Vitae – “Shadow of Life”
I love Converge. Jacob loves death metal and not just Entombed. He loves death metal so much he assembled his own death metal band to pay homage to it. He did not really change his vocal style a great deal to do so. This still works and keeps this from sounding like a tribute album.
5- Pallbearer – “Forgotten Days”
I know this one is on every publication’s top … whatever number they feel like indulging to give their industry contacts the proper reach-around list. I know it is not their best album, it doesn’t have to be. They have the power to write songs I cannot stop listening to. Plus, why am I justifying it to you, dear reader? While I appreciate you, I do not care about how you feel in regards to my Pallbearer problem. I will go to a meeting for it when I feel like it. You aren’t my Mom.
4- Pulchra Morte – “Ex Rosa Ceremonia”
This and the other albums that follow are all the the number one albums of their respective genres. They are listed in accordance to who my Last FM said I listened to the most. These guys went through line-up changes that shifted their sound and were not really aiming to put out the same record twice. Whatever happened worked, as this is the second year in a row they have put out the best death metal album.
3- Chrome Waves – “Where We Live”
Yeah I know Wayfarer is not on here, because these guys cover a similar sonic spectrum. If you wore a cowboy hat while listening to this you could romance violence all you wanted. Being an OCD crazy person, I averaged out the time they played black metal vs the time noticing their shoes were untied, and the metal side won out 60 to 40 percent of the time. No matter what they are doing it came out great, but it is a metal album more often than not in case you are also confused as to why this made the cut and Nothing did not. We discussed this already.
2-(16) – “Dream Squasher”
Sludge collides with Amp Rep style noise rock to kick your goddamn ear drums in. This album does not just make my neck move it makes my heart bang like a speed ball. I am not your Aunt Kathy who says the banana bread was as good as coke & heroin, I have actually done drugs so can attest to how this album measures up against them. We often say a band has grown, but this is the truth. Play this album at the volume with which your ears ring the longest.
1- Witnesses – “Doom II”
If my mental and emotional state could be encapsulated into an album released this year, this is it. A concept album about sailors lost at sea with a Lovecraftian horror haunting them from the dark waters. The session vocalist who was brought in for this album is not a metal singer. It sounds like he was just handed the lyrics and told to do whatever. This was the best decision they could have made, as it keeps this album from sounding like any other doom album released in the past decade. Dark and moody in a way Katatonia used to be, but moving at a more funeral pace most of the time. It might not be for all of you and that is ok, because really at this rate how many of us are going to be left by 2022? This album rejoices in bleakness. You will need that soon.
I appreciate you for picking out the cream of the crop of a bunch of weird sub-genres I kind of like but don’t have time to keep up with.
That Pulchra Morte is FanFuckingTastic! Thanks!
Greg from Witnesses here. Thank you for this. I’m really blown away to end up on a NCS list like this, for reasons that are I guess fairly obvious, lol. And you are correct on how the vocals were done. I’m very happy you connected with the album.
I am please streaming Doom II by Witnesses now. A provocative inclusion to decent list, yes?
Bloody Fantastic! Cheers to your musical organization.
Hey, Greg. I’m discovering Witnesses and the new album for the first time and I want to share that it is your vocals that have me hooked. Wil is spot on in saying the cleans make this a doom album that is much more memorable than most I listen to. Excellent work to you all!
Glad you like it Garrett! As Wil says, the singer is session (not me). But, good news, I’m recording the follow up with him right now!