(We have reached the end of the 2020 lists prepared by Neill Jameson (Krieg, Poison Blood), and he closes with the cream of the crop, a lucky 13. We’re again very grateful to have had the chance to share these lists with you.)
And now, friends, we’ve come to the end of an unusually (for me) long list of “best of’s”. In any given year I tend to challenge people who post top 40 to see if they actually listen to any of the dreck they swear made their year a few weeks after list season is over, so I guess in twelve months I’ll report back. I stand by my initial assertion that industry types are mostly full of shit and don’t actually pay attention to what they put on these lists, save that they want to promote some (usually awful) record or try to appear important on some esoteric scale.
Which one am I? Probably the latter except I don’t have anything to hock this year. I still think people that do top 50 or more lists each year are fucking liars, though.
Here’s the best of the year:
Carved Cross “Embittered Amidst the Ashes”
Hypnotic and bizarre shamanic black metal. Sure, a lot of people use the “depressive” tag with this band but I don’t see it for this record. This is more of an outsider kind of black metal album than I expected, which is refreshing. There’s just something different here, I can’t put words to it, really, just that it’s worth your time and I don’t know of much else that feels like this record. Brilliant.
Next to the Valac/Kommodus split, the Invunche/Infernach split is one of the best pairings of the year. Both projects are fucking commanding on this well-curated split but the Invunche songs are some of the best this project has recorded yet. Coming in somewhere between the Von demos and “Fire Dances” this project consistently writes songs that stay with you for hours after you’ve finished listening to them. Infernach have a much different approach this time around, sounding closer to the barbaric hardcore punk that find their home on Youth Attack. Definitely not what I expected from the project and I really hope he continues to move in this direction.
Lamp of Murmuur “Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism”
This record was a bit difficult for me to get into, where the other Lamp of Murmuur material really grabbed me from the first listen. I don’t know if I could describe it as a “challenging” record but there’s definitely a lot going on that you might not have expected from his earlier work.Upon repeated listens it finally began to sink in for me. But even if I still remained unconvinced, as I initially was, it only takes a few seconds into the title track to recognize one of the greatest black metal songs to have been recorded in the last ten years. Takes the feeling of the early The Cure records and transposes that into a deadly dose of melancholic black metal. Overall this wasn’t an easy record to approach and I think it’s more rewarding because of it.
The best powerviolence band in the world comes back with their best album, period. This record is fucking crushing. It sounds like Icons of Filth at three times their speed. 2020 was a great year to be a Dropdead fan, with their first new full-length since half of you were alive, a flexi-disc 7” with a fucking Poison Idea cover, and a new collection LP of old demos and splits. Sure there was some initial bitching that they’ve changed their sound a bit but Bob’s vocals sounding clearer gives them more urgency and the riffs have more impact. Worth the wait.
Celestial Season “The Secret Teachings”
One of the first instances where I can remember feeling betrayed by a band was when I bought Celestial Season’s Sonic Orb expecting more of their early UK styled death/doom by way of the Netherlands and getting an EP of Orange amps and grooving riffs. I’d driven over an hour to buy the fucking CD and I think I’ve had better emotional responses to girlfriends cheating on me than this.
Twenty years later I realize how fucking silly that was. but when I heard Celestial Season was doing a new record my old insecurities flared up. I didn’t want to get hurt again. Mercifully it didn’t come to that. The Secret Teachings picks up where the promise of Above Azure Oceans was headed. Gut wrenching, sincerely emotional death/doom with a hint of that Sonic Orb groove for flavor. I haven’t enjoyed a doom record like this in over ten years. An absolutely beautiful return to form and possibly the best record of their career.
Lustre “The Ashes of Light”
Sure, I enjoyed this record when it came out, wrote about it in one of my quarantine pieces, but honestly didn’t think that it was any better than his previous work, maybe even a bit weaker. Then I started noticing that I was listening to this record, a lot. I had it on when I was writing, or if I had a long drive. I would hum the songs when I was at work. It had somehow latched its way into my daily life. I might have listened to this record more than anything else the second half of this year. Flowing, ambient black metal, something about as far from the first wave without being a parody as you can think. Lustre has a large catalog of very thoughtful music and The Ashes of Light might just be the best of it.
Boreal “The Battle of VOSAD”
I like to think that I have somewhat good taste (at least I enjoy it, fuck cares what anyone else has to say about it), so it (still) surprised me that not more people were talking about Boreal this year. This is the sort of natural progression from albums like Ancient Wisdom‘s For Snow Covered the Northland or the black metal cousin to the early Jaaportit demos. Dense, wintery atmospheric black metal begins to describe it but doesn’t do it justice. This is a special record and there’s no reason there’s still copies available when so much other bullshit sells out instantly.
Old Tower “The Last Eidolon”
It’s been a busy year for the Spectre, with multiple releases across multiple projects (some of which have been covered in the previous editions of this series) but his greatest achievement this year is The Last Eidolon, which takes from the best moments of his previous three full-lengths and crafts a sonic journey that, while obviously retaining his fingerprints, is fresh and entrancing. This is the perfect way to tell your friends who say dungeon synth is nothing but albums’ worth of intros and outros to fuck off.
Serment “Chant O Flamme de la Liberte”
This is easily one of the most powerful expressions of black metal in the genre’s history. I was only vaguely aware of Serment earlier this year but decided to give it a listen because I was drawn to the cover art but I was not expecting what I heard at all. As I said, this is a powerful record. Every second of it is proud and defiant and the synths never stop but are a weapon unto themselves. Serment remind me a lot of one of my favorite projects of the ’90s, Parnassus, who also had a similar approach with layer upon layer of synthwork at the front of the mix. I’ve listed several excellent atmospheric black metal records in these lists but this is the one out of all of them you need to listen to.
Circle of Ouroborus “Viimeinen Juoksu”
Circle of Ouroborus are a frustrating band to keep up with if you lose track of them for a year or two, because there’s at least a dozen releases that have already come and gone, all different and all excellent. Viimeinen Juoksu is the first time I’ve listened to them in a few years and, like every CoO release, it’s different than what I expected and mindbendingly brilliant. They just manage to capture some essence that is unique to themselves and constantly shed their skins. Like I said earlier with Carved Cross, there is nothing like Circle of Ouroborus, never has or will be. Beautifully unique.
Nyredolk are responsible for most of my musical exploration and obsession into Denmark this year thanks to their first demo, a masterful razor of black metal punk, a recording that caused quite a stir in the underground. That demo does nothing to prepare you for IndeBraendt. There’s a lot that can be said about this record, from its obvious experimental leanings to its use of various sounds to create a nastier creature than its predecessor, but the single most important thing to recognize is the absolute maliciousness, the sheer fucking malice in the riffs on this release. I’ve been listening to black metal for over twenty-five years and I cannot think of any other band that gives me this feeling of absolute punishment, maybe early Beherit, but there are moments (especially the closing song) that you can just feel how much hate is in their hearts and how that transposes to music. Sheer fucking genius, every moment of it.
Fanebaerer “Den Forste Ild”
I’ve spent most of the year musically in Denmark so it’s only appropriate that one of my two favorite records this year would originate there. I wrote earlier in the year that Fanebaerer were the (pre-Blue Monday) New Order to the Korpsand Circle’s Joy Division, which still feels apt. There’s something proud, almost joyful about their music. Den Forste Ild is a perfect continuation from their first full-length with a confident performance and some of the best vocals in black metal. I’ll be listening to this record for decades to come.
It’s a natural step from having the best split of 2020 to releasing the best record of the year so it should come as a surprise to fucking no one that I’ve chosen Kommodus’ self-titled full-length as the best record of 2020. Just listen to it, there’s not a second wasted, not a moment second-guessed, and nothing that comes close to this record in its intensity, violence, and madness. I’ve said it elsewhere, Kommodus is THE best band in black metal today. HAIL KOMMODUS.
And so 2020 comes to an end. I don’t really have any kind of ending to talk about things we should have learned in 2020 because frankly it’s not worth it. We’ve learned exactly fucking nothing out of this experience, for the most part, and I’d like to say it shed light on the more self-absorbed and book-averse part of the population but let’s face it: we knew who they were well before early March. They’ll continue to be the same slow-witted, shit-hearted, loudest asshole in the room type regardless of who’s in office or if we’re wearing a mask to buy groceries.
I’ve enjoyed being able to throw together lists for this site over the last six or seven years, not just at the end of the year but whenever I have some kind of idea I want to follow through on and will always appreciate the opportunity to have a platform to do it. Will I have more in 2021? Probably, but who’s to say?
I will stand on the tradition of saying I’m excited for (the Infamous) Gehenna to release Negative Hardcore next year, though.