(We’ve now reached Part 3 of the 5-part countdown for DGR’s 2020 year-end list, with the albums he ranked 30-21.)
After the blistering as hell way I sent out the previous edition of this, I felt that a change of musical pace would be nice. It’s right about at this specific grouping that I think my year-end list can be considered a little more formalized. I tend to refer to everything in the higher numbers as being very fluid and kind of anarchic with rankings popping in and out of existence at random. That’s because I enjoy all of those releases, but it isn’t until you hit the lower numbers that we really land on the albums I was listening to constantly.
Hilarious, given that today marks the first appearance – of a handful – of what I refer to as “Abrasive block”, which is the collection of albums that when all grouped together will likely sand your face down to a very smooth surface by the time you’re done listening to them. On top of that, I found room for some real hopeless and melancholy-filled doom, as well as a little black metal and some impressively tight death metal acts.
I even close things out with one of the few releases I genuinely considered ‘fun’ this year, if only to break up the absolute hammering you’re going to absorb by the time you reach twenty-four through twenty-two. You’ll even catch an appearance by albums that made Andy’s “Great” list so I can pretend to be some sort of refined critic instead of my usual surfing the web lookng for a decent big red honking nose that’ll fit my head.
We’ve only got a few days left and, reliably, things will only get nuttier and the writing more navel-gazy from here on out.
30) Volturyon – Xenogenesis
I’ve been more than happy to lead the parade for Volturyon since I really dove in with them via their EP Human Demolition. Since then, they’ve released an excellent followup in Cleansed By Carnage and now we have on our hands the red meat death metal slab of 2020’s Xenogenesis.
While the group have gone through a vocalist change with the addition of Mikko Voutilainen on all things bellow, musically the band are once again angling for the modernized swede-death approach of Cleansed By Carnage. Of course, after the release of the disc the group would see a guitarist and bassist bow out, but during the lead up to Xenogenesis they were at full-weight, and the eleven songs here are just crushing.
Much like Cleansed By Carnage before it, Volutyron pull from a wide swath of lyrical influences, from various ghoulish murders and poisonings, to the occasional philosophical abstraction, and even a song called “World Pandemic” which is about as much as ‘your mileage may vary’ as we can get right now. With this in mind though, picking up right where Cleansed By Carnage left off is basically exactly what I wanted out of Volturyon. And so the late-July release of Xenogenesis has wound up in constant spin because of that, especially when I need something to propel me through work for the night.
I know full well that Volturyon are not a boundary-pushing band, but it’s also not what I come looking to them for. Instead, they’ve gotten frighteningly good at their death metal feast and the constant propulsion forward – sometimes almost completely driven by the rhythm section – is capable of waking the dead. Granted, I appreciate just about any group that gives drummer Christian Netzell the chance to pound a snare drum into the foundation of a building, so getting a little under forty minutes of that is an absolute joy.
My actual favorite songs on Xenogenesis really haven’t changed since my review of it, so if you’re looking for a specific sampler platter I have found that “Void”, “The Demiurge”, and the titular “Xenogenesis” songs have stuck with me quite a bit on the high-speed battering-ram front. Of the slower grooves, “Mother” and its bizarre twists and turns still have proven to be a highlight.
Xenogenesis sort of rebounds off the walls between the modes represented by those songs, so if you’re looking for a beefy slab of death metal that is just dynamic enough to keep you wondering what sort of dense grooves they’ll throw at you next, then Volturyon have had you covered for the better part of five months now. And probably for the next five too….
29) Vader – Solitude In Madness
Speaking of bands that probably don’t need any help getting their name out there, because they’ve already earned it by being one of the most consistent and tight acts out there, Vader managed to hammer out a new disc during the plague years(s) of 2020 in the form of Solitude In Madness.
Vader always tend to land well with me, especially in the years where they favor the ‘death’ side of their death metal/thrash metal hybrid. In fact, I’ve always appreciated Vader’s current tendency to release an EP between each album because they’ve shown themselves to be pretty good previews of where Vader might be looking in the future. In fact during my Thy Messenger review I noted that the death metal side of Vader’s dual-act was gaining a little bit more prominence during this go-around, back when Solitude In Madness existed under the tentative title of …And Then There Will Only Be Pain. It’s nice to be proven right.
And in fact, Solitude In Madness delivers the proof with a fantastic opening salvo, and you’ll maybe get not more than a minute into opener “Shock And Awe” – which Vader released ahead of this album as a single – before it becomes convincing. In that opening segment of the song, before the lyrics kick in, Vader basically deliver the exact object of what the song is, to “Shock And Awe” you with an opening drum and guitar blast from moment one. Vader then continue to construct Solitutde In Madness out of songs just like it for eleven tracks – which could help explain exactly why this album has stuck around with me since its beginning of May release.
In a refreshing change of pace for readers here, this is actually one where I didn’t write the review of the full album. I did find myself agreeing with the points made there though, because I really enjoy when Vader just pick up the machine-guns and start firing musically. That means there are a multitude of songs that are as no bullshit as Vader can make them. In fact it is almost surgical just how precise these songs are in terms of ‘arrive, accomplish objective, get the fuck out’. It’s the only way I can explain how a majority of the songs on Solitude In Madness don’t even bother clearing the three minute mark. It’s eleven songs and under a half hour of music, in fact.
A song like “Despair”, whose minute and eighteen could slot in well within a grindcore tracklist, helps a ton. It’s literally a minute of high-speed circle pitting with one rapid-fire solo and then Vader punch right the fuck out and on to the next song. The sense of urgency with which Vader perform Solitude In Madness is fantastic, and that sort of high-tempo nonsense comprising a majority of the tracks here is wonderful.
Yes, Vader still sound a fuckton like you would expect Vader to sound, but goddamnit do I love me some blast-happy and high-speed Vader, so Solitude In Madness gets the easy nod here.
28) Exgenesis – Solve Et Coagula
But, and here me out on this one because I can see your jaws dropping already, what if we slowed things down a bit? Okay, not quite a bit, but a lot, because now we’re shifting from the deathly assault of a high-speed Vader attack to something far, far slower, in the sort of gorgeous doom that Exgenesis traffic in (and it’s also the second time Christian Netzell gets to make an appearance here).
If you’ve never crossed paths with Exgenesis before you’re forgiven, because up until the mid-May release of this international act’s first full-length Solve Et Coagula, the group only had the EP Aphotic Veil to their name. We’ve loved both of those releases around here, but a five-year gap between them can mean a lot of new people arriving at our internet rest-stop, so Exgenesis might deserve a brief re-introduction.
They are a doom group belonging to Alejandro Lotero and Jari Lindholm, with Christian Netzell joining them on drums in 2017. If that second name sounds familiar it’s possible because you spotted it name popping up in relation to his other, spacier doom project Enshine along with vocalist Sebastien Pierre, or perhaps because of his own work with the group Slumber. Exgenesis are a lot like Enshine in that they play a very particular branch of doom with a heavy focus on melody and melancholic atmosphere and although the music itself is slow the songs tend to be pretty neatly packed around the six-to-seven minute mark. The big difference is that Exgenesis are a lot, lot slower in tempo by comparison, and also really like some backing bombast in their music – if Aphotic Veil was anything to go by – with big, sweeping keywork adding to vocalist Alejandro Lotero‘s deep growls. The prospect of a full album of this in 2020, then, would prove much too hard to deny.
What’s funny about Solve Et Coagula is that they actually do back away from the sweeping keys a bit for this full-length, instead filling songs with a multitude of cold and frosty guitar melodies and, believe it or not, by picking it up a tiny, tiny bit. Exgenesis still remain the slower of the projects Jari Lindholm has going at the moment, but honestly, it’s perfect for the anguished howling that finds itself layered over the top. It does also remain gorgeous and lush in its travels through the musical world, one of those releases where you find the beauty in a destroyed area the same way people might find themselves wandering destroyed and abandoned ruins and remarking on how eerie they are.
That sort of haunting melodic sensibility works its way throughout Solve Et Coagula, even though the band are mostly up-front and center for this release. It’s an aggressive sort of agony as Exgenesis drift from song to song, but one that is well worth experiencing. Even with only two releases to their name so far – and here is where I’d note Enshine also have a five-year gap between releases now – they are both well worth listening to. If you would enjoy a somewhat deeper dive into this release, it made it into a three-part feature right over here.
27) Tombs – Under Sullen Skies/Monarchy Of Shadows
Considering that the black metal act Tombs arrives fresh off of a pretty hefty lineup change since their previous release, I had not expected the band to bash out not only a pretty lengthy EP early on in the year but also to then put out an equally jam-packed – and guest-filled – full-length on top of it.
If you’re a fan of the group, this year has been absolutely tremendous for you. If you’re newer to the group or, like myself, a passive appreciator, it’s hard to deny that whatever happened with the current heavy-hitter crew that Mike Hill has surrounded himself with this time, the group are on an undeniable hot streak. Wil Cifer picked up the review for the group’s most recent release, Under Sullen Skies, whereas I offered my take on Monarchy Of Shadows as part of a much wider-reaching and multi-group-covering EP review party. While I’m making no effort to distinguish between the two in my year-end archiving, in favor of just celebrating the grander body of work, Monarchy Of Shadows and Under Sullen Skies actually do manage to differentiate themselves enough so that one doesn’t feel like an advanced preview of the other. What the two did give us was a very large buffet of music to carry us throughout the year.
Tombs were likely to make it somewhere on my year-end release based on Monarchy Of Shadows alone. The somewhat angular dissonance and heavy death influence that worked their way into the world of black metal that Tombs inhabits went over particularly well with me. The combination of shrieking into the void and music rumbling behind it made Tombs feel like they had found a new font of life – and this may be the case.
Then they ratcheted things up with Under Sullen Skies. While it’s a little more traditional in its black metal flavorings, it still carries over quite a bit of what the band had begun to play with on Monarchy Of Shadows. Even though it arrived later into the year, it already found itself being combined with the EP for some very long listening sessions. Even though they may have shifted lineups, at the very least you can rely on Tombs not surrendering all of their excesses.
With a 2020 release slate as packed as this, and admittedly based on the strength of how much I have listened to Monarchy Of Shadows on its own, it would’ve felt wrong to deny Tombs a place within these hallowed halls. If you’ve been enjoying the ‘hard swings’ genre-wise that I’ve been throwing out so far, with how crazed this list has gotten, maybe you’ll enjoy the shift from the doom above, to the fiery black metal here, to the group that follows.
26) My Dying Bride – The Ghost Of Orion/Macabre Cabaret
My Dying Bride have long been an institution in heavy metal. There are good reasons why the band have had such a lengthy career; their unwavering dedication to the soul-crushing melodrama of their branch of the doom tree is a huge part of that. Although not everything the band have done has stuck with me – in recent years especially – there was something different about The Ghost Of Orion that told me it was going to be special. Or, maybe it was just one of those times where the stars aligned just right as the slow, sweeping movements of a My Dying Bride album landed with me once again.
The Ghost Of Orion was released in early March and it’s a disc that I got to cover in one of my rare ventures outside of the world of drumming death and destruction. I found it to be a fantastic and atmospheric record and one that made an hour disappear like nothing, often leaving me to immediately loop back around to the opening song. And to be fair, “Your Broken Shore” is something of a show-stopper right up front, and thus very easy to return to.
That My Dying Bride would then add to their collection of releases with three more songs on Macabre Cabaret (and hopefully I haven’t mistyped it as Macabre Cabinet for the thirtieth time) only makes the package that much better. That release seemed like the band trading the slow dramatics for sweeping hysteria in the opening song, just to change things up from the overwhelming depression that weaves its way throughout The Ghost Of Orion.
The Ghost Of Orion was inspired partially by private and personal events happening behind the scenes of the band. Vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe has been very open about what had caused the group to suddenly go quiet in the lead-up to last year and how that affected the band overall – which is something I certainly couldn’t do given the gravitas of what had happened – but treating it as if it were some plus that we get to benefit from because it resulted in an album that I enjoy tremendously just feels weird.
It is one of those things that needs to be known, because if it seems like lyrically the band have somehow found a new vein to mine that is even more suffocating, then I suspect that was a large part of the reason. A song like “Tired Of Tears” rarely stealths its way into a tracklist like this without someone wondering what might’ve happened behind the scenes to inspire it. Macabre Cabaret pulls away from this somewhat.
The late-November-released EP adds another twenty minutes of music to the group’s overall output this year, and it has an opening song where the mid-section sounds like the entirety of the band came crashing down around them. After that ten-minute journey the EP includes two more songs that would’ve slotted perfectly into the main Ghost Of Orion release. One could credit that to My Dying Bride grabbing hold of some new life and coming out the other side somewhat rejuvenated. Either way, it resulted in one more of a few proper doom albums making it into my year-end listening habits, and The Ghost Of Orion is a highlight among them.
25) Fawn Limbs – Sleeper Vessels
It’s about here in the list that you’ll notice a sudden shift in the artists and the music. I won’t testify to the validity of that statement as far as the whole event is concerned, but I will say that the next handful of bands are abrasive as hell and perfect for how this year went.
We begin with an opening salvo from Fawn Limbs and their latest album Sleeper Vessels, a release I will wholly credit to this site for alerting me to. While Andy and my tastes may not line up 1000% of the time, when he comes barging into staff threads or constantly references a review like this in his own year-end roundups then I have to concede the possibility that he may have figured something out. Plus, I’ll likely always have a soft spot for the sort of chaotic madness that Fawn Limbs consider their art – like packing all the different genres of metal and hardcore, plus a few outsiders, into a bus and then sending it at high speed into a wall and considering the sound it made on impact to be your music.
Then again, you could also argue that with appearances from groups like Sectioned and Car Bomb making it onto this listener’s year-end lists in previous years, Sleeper Vessels was basically a guarantee to begin with, just as long as I had heard it. You wouldn’t be wrong.
Fawn Limbs have constructed here one of a small handful of discs that are perfect for 2020, a near incomprehensible mess of sound that basically shatters genre barriers in favor of anything that could make noise as loud and heavy as possible. Thirteen songs, the great majority of which don’t even bother clearing the three-minute mark, constructed in favor of every track becoming an all-out assault by the end of it.
I love that they opened it with “The Irrelevance Of An Exorcism”, which is one of the few slow-building moments on the album before spending the next few songs completely immolating the listener. It’s like hearing a pin drop that somehow sets the world on fire the moment “Metrae” fires up, and Fawn Limbs never really let off of that accelerator for the next five or six songs. It’s just constant guitar torture meant to run the listener over and then drag them for miles behind them. The minute-thirty of “Trespasser” and its wall-to-wall vocal attack really sends that message home, and even then you still have another five or six batterings to go before Fawn Limbs wrap up Sleeper Vessels.
Fawn Limbs‘ release of Sleeper Vessels in the year in which time seemed to stretch forever didn’t happen until mid-September, but like many others here, when I needed something to just power me through the day while I was dragging, something to shock me awake like taking a cattle prod to the base of the neck, Sleeper Vessels was there for me, and for that you find them in this year-end archive.
24) Leeched – To Dull The Blades Of Your Abuse
While we’re in the land of all things abrasive it would feel downright criminal to not touch base with Leeched and their album To Dull The Blades Of Your Abuse. Leeched’s late-January release would’ve been impressive in its own right – an abrasive hybridizing of far too many genres to count in order to unleash a rage-fueled destruction usually reserved for the angriest and most anguished amongst us – yet this album, much like Calligram’s The Eye Is The First Circle and Fawn Limbs’ Sleeper Vessels is a disc that is absolutely perfect for this year. If we make it through all of this without an arm growing out of our heads, those three albums are likely going to be historical artifacts, something I can hand over to younger generations and say ‘hey, you want to hear what 2020 sounded like for a lot of us? it sounded like this’, with an extra emphasis on To Dull The Blades Of Your Abuse.
This is the sort of release that is meant for maximum-volume listening and maximum volume listening only. It’s like an unspoken contract with Leeched: they throw every fucking thing they could possibly think of your way in order to overwhelm you and wrap you up in the existential anguish powering the album, and you turn the volume all the way up and drown in it. I’d hazard to say that if you don’t walk away feeling like you’ve been in a fight then something went wrong along the way. (I will continue to find it funny that we actually had the balls to open our first GimmeMetal guest-DJ show with the song “I, Flatline” from this album, as if we were also using it as a weapon to be unleashed upon people.)
To Dull The Blades Of Your Abuse is just a constant hammering, one hit after another for ten songs. I still remember the first time listening to it and being somewhere in the midst of the hurricane that is “The Grey Tide” and thinking, ‘wow, I must be deep into this one already, things are getting rough here’, only to then discover that I was on the album’s second song and that it had been about six minutes since “The Hound’s Jaw” had steamrolled the ground in front of it.
I genuinely love the fact that they named the fourth song “Now It Ends”, becasue then you still have six more to have to fight your way through as the group throw every instrumental act of violence they could possibly conceive of at you. “Praise Your Blades” is an almost endless percussive attack whose guitar part probably reads like ‘now break all your strings’ for the main noise bit. “Burn With Me” finds itself in a strong group of songs I’ve mentioned on this year-end archive that is a minute and thirty seconds of just nightmarish yelling, the grindcore length highlighting just how explosive the song is meant to be.
To save myself from just falling into an inescapable vortex of tackling how every song flayed me down to a skeleton, I’ll instead point you to our review here which thankfully I did not do, because I got to spend the whole of my listening time just getting immolated by it instead.
23) Fuck The Facts – Pleine noirceur
Even though this was a very late-in-the-year release, I figured Fuck The Facts would easily find themselves a spot in the unintentional abrasive block of my year-end list. Of course, it was highly likely they were going to fight their way on here somehow as I personally love this group. I have to mention that you’re reading someone who considers “A Cowards Existence” to be a completely unfuckwithable song and one of the most raw lyrical things out there, so I was incredibly excited to hear we’d be getting something new from them this year.
Five years having passed between the group’s newest album Pleine Noiceur and 2015’s Desire Will Rot probably also had a ton to do with it. Either way, we actually got the opportunity to premiere a song from it in the lead up to Pleine Noiceur‘s full release, but I don’t think we’ve been able to touch base with it since as Listmania has completely enveloped the site in its clutches. I’ll have to rectify that some day, but until then consider this segment and its placement as the short and condensed version of why I think Pleine Noirceur is worthy of a listen if you haven’t gotten the chance.
Fuck The Facts are one of those groups that one could consistently point to as carving a throughline into the current underground scene. Their take on grindcore is exceedingly noisy and abrasive, written to sound like it is hanging on to a controlled chaos. Up until Desire Will Rot in 2015, they had developed their own sort of amorphous death metal infusion alongside it in order to – like much of this chunk of my list – completely blow your hair back. They have always been terrifyingly good at sounding like ‘now’ in terms of urgency, and even though it’s been five years since the group’s last release, Pleine Noirceur continues every single one of these trends.
It manages to sound like it was built for ‘right now’, manages to still keep in touch with all of its peers in that sort of abrasive, underground grind scene, and still manages to be about as fucking heavy as anything else that has hit this year. One thing that managed to help it stand out vs. some of its fellow genre-peers is that Pleine Noirceur has a few moments of calm silence in between every couple of sonic assassinations. When they aren’t lulling you into a false sense of security though, Fuck The Facts are tossing you back and forth like a ragdoll through music that is very at home for them: mostly grind heavy, a surprising amount of circle pit riffage with three or four popping up throughout, some hefty doom overtones, and a healthy amount of everything at one million decibels at all times.
Pleine Noirceur isn’t as overwhelming as some of the other more abrasive records I’ve jammed into this here list, but there’s no point trying to compete in a musical arms race like that. You make what you feel like you must make, and in Fuck The Fact‘s case the band still manage to hammer out something that sounds just as urgent and skin-tearing as everything else they’ve done.
22) Beneath The Massacre – Fearmonger
A question was once posited to me – and I have no idea where they got it from – about whether it would be possible that an album could be so tech, yet so stupid, that it sort of wrapped its way back around again to becoming something brilliant? To that I would submit to you Fearmonger, Beneath The Massacre‘s return to the music scene after eight years.
At ten songs and almost thirty minutes of music, Fearmonger never shifts from its initial stated goal. Beneath The Massacre find one very specific rage-filled groove on their opening song and then spend the next half hour hammering on it over and over in a veritable maelstrom of endless walls of guitar and drumming while vocalist Elliot Desgagnés screams over the whole thing. The man could’ve been yelling his shopping list at me during the course of Fearmonger and I’d still have been just as shaken as I was after the first couple of spins with this thing. When I talk about needing albums to basically power me through the day by the force of dumb – that magical rock-hitting-rock style of music – Fearmonger is the sort of disc I am referring to. There is no ‘get out of the way’ option when it comes to an album like this: “Rise Of The Fearmonger” starts things up and your only option is to shut the hell up and move.
Since they’ve both been around for some time, I’ve always held Beneath The Massacre and Brain Drill in a similar mental space. That was reserved for the sorts of bands whose music was meant to be a gigantic brick wall you essentially had to ram yourself through. The only difference between the two that I’ve found was where I fell on that spectrum. I found myself favoring the Beneath The Massacre crew just a bit more since it seemed like they had some semblance of musicality left in them when it wasn’t just brutalizing chugging until the end of time.
Fearmonger tosses a lot of that to the side in favor of becoming the whirlwind. It seems like a million miles an hour throughout the whole of its time, and drummer Anthony Barone deserves some commendation for that because some of the stuff being flung out here is just exhausting to listen to, much less imagining being behind the kit for the average of about three minutes that Beneath The Massacre use to grind you into dust with each song.
You could pick just about any song off of Fearmonger and wind up a smear on the wall by the time you’re done – which of course is a double-edged sword because Fearmonger does get a little faceless at times. But by that same token since Fearmonger is constantly moving at light-speed it seems to loop around and around and around before you notice that you’re on your third or fourth repeat with it. I usually wound up noticing around the time the band were yelling “No Justice, No Peace” during “Treacherous”, which is the shortest song here at 2:22.
Fearmonger is the sort of album that I listened to because I needed it, which is why it shows up in the midst of the increasingly abrasive segment of my year-end list. It really did push me forward if for some reason I felt like I was dragging. Even though it hit at the very tail end of February, it felt like a shoe-in to make it here. It’s a lot of known quantity and brutality for sure, but Beneath The Massacre execute it with such efficiency that you can’t help but marvel at what they’ve done.
21) Destroyed In Seconds – Divide And Devour
And now for something completely different (*tm)!
The first time I ever crossed paths with Destroyed In Seconds was seeing them live on the top floor of a bar/venue opening for Darkest Hour in downtown Sacramento back in ye olden days when live music was a thing. Clearly the result of two shows being smashed into one gigantic lineup. I think that was a seven- or eight-band show when all was said and done. I want to say Tombs was actually on that bill as well. Destroyed In Seconds wound up going on early, but they were a band who were clearly going to win me over. During that brief d-beat revival period sort of driven by the success of Martyrdöd’s List, Destroyed In Seconds spoke a common language. I didn’t have to know what the band were going to sound like ahead of time, I just had to see the bass rig lugged up to the stage and hear the opening few notes before vocalist Jon Tomala started yelling at me to have a sense of exactly what I would be in for.
I’ve been banging the drum for the band ever since, partially because it’s nice knowing that a group like this is just a few hours away in Southern California but also because I think a lot of people are fucking up by letting them slip by their radar. I’ve seen them live a few times since, including the hilarious act of flying across the country to Maryland Deathfest and dragging as many of the entourage as I could to see them go on early at Soundstage. Which is why I was very excited for the eventual release of their third disc Divide And Devour, which hit in late April.
Divide And Devour is a great album, and if you don’t believe me, why not just check out this deep dive of their discography and then come back. In large part, Destroyed In Seconds have captured that sort of undeniable groove in this style of music where you can completely understand it in the opening few segments. Pulling in various metal influences alongside the group’s hard-driving core is a great idea, so when Destroyed In Seconds deviate and get a little thrashy it’s an exciting experience. Shifting themselves back to the punk-side of things is also great.
But their core foundation remains unchanged throughout Divide And Devour‘s run, which means you end up with a half hour of solid-as-hell circle pit music that is super easy to headbang along to. Other than the opening and closing songs here, nothing clears the three-minute mark; it’s just one rumbling movement after another. Destroyed In Seconds clock in, shake the Earth for a little bit, yell at me about the ills of society – see “World War When”, “Disarm”, “The Badge”, “The Tower”….you get the idea – and then punch right the fuck back out.
It’s striking that Destroyed In Seconds wound up being one of my go-to’s for a change of pace this year, but the familiarity of the musical language they speak is one that is meant to be understood instantly, so that you’ll just as easily be headbanging along to it in the sort of idiotic way we try to show off that we to can keep track of a tempo. Destroyed In Seconds have been fighting it out with some real heavyweights on this section, but as ever-present as Divide And Devour has become in my listening habits in between my usual sonic self flaggelations, I couldn’t help but give them a spot here.