(After a hiatus, we welcome back our old friend Professor D. Grover the XIIIth (founder of The Number of the Blog, which helped spawn NCS so many years ago), who again brings us his year-end lists of favorite releases, both metal and not. Today the focus is EPs and singles, and tomorrow it’s albums.)
Greetings and salutations, friends. It’s been a bit since I’ve done a year-end list, but to be fair 2020 has not been your average year. Now, at this particular moment while I’m writing this introduction, I have not actually decided on my album of the year, which is a rarity for me. Ordinarily there is an album that, at some point during the year, asserts itself as the favorite and maintains that position for the remainder of the year, but in the true spirit of 2020, there hasn’t been a specific release that has distanced itself from the pack.
Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t any releases worthy of the top spot; honestly, there are a number of albums in the list to come that have made a case for number one at various points throughout the year. I assume that by the time I finish this list, I will have decided on one. But we’ll see.
As with any of my previous lists, for some familiar with them, there are a few things to bear in mind. First, this list is entirely my own opinion and my favorite releases of the year, regardless of genre. While the majority of what I listen to is metal, not everything is, and my list will reflect that. Second, I listen to and enjoy a lot of music throughout the year, but to include it all on the list would be impractical at best. In years past I’ve included a list of honorable mentions, but those lists always ended up being stupidly long and ain’t no one got time for that.
If you’re curious about the ins and outs of my musical taste, I will direct you to my last.fm profile, which has for the past 14 years or so tracked the majority of what I’ve been listening to. It’s kind of fascinating to look back and see the evolution of my musical taste and the trends that I went through, from metalcore to stoner rock to psychobilly and beyond, as well as the bands and albums that have stood the test of age.
Anyway, now that you know what you’re getting into, here’s the list. I’m actually going to start with a shorter list of my favorite EPs/singles before jumping into the album list. Let’s begin.
- Inferi – Of Sunless Realms
There have been a surfeit of quality tech-death releases in the last few years, to the point that possessing dizzying musical skills is not enough in itself to distinguish a band from its peers. Inferi have the songwriting chops to elevate themselves in a crowded subgenre.
- HORSE the band – Your Fault
It’s been 11 years since HORSE the band released Desperate Living following their infamous Earth Tour that left them in a significant amount of debt. Aside from sporadic tours here and there, the band had mostly maintained radio silence until releasing this EP last month. It contains two new(ish) tracks, but for me the highlight is their cover of the Nine Inch Nails classic ‘March Of The Pigs’.
- Serocs – Vore
I was pleasantly surprised by 2018’s The Phobos/Demos Suite, a blisteringly heavy bit of technically-oriented brutal death metal that reminded me of early Cryptopsy in all the right ways. Vore is more of that, plus a couple early demos (‘Anthropic’ was also re-recorded for this release, while ‘Nihilus’ was updated for Phobos/Deimos), and should hopefully serve to tide us over until their next release.
- Rodrigo y Gabriela – Mettal
Rodrigo y Gabriela may do their shredding on acoustic guitars, but they cut their teeth in thrash metal a long time ago, and it’s clear from some of the various covers they’ve done and guest musicians they’ve hosted throughout the years that they’re still metalheads at heart. Mettal, then, is an entirely logical release, finding the duo ably covering Slayer, Megadeth, and Metallica in their distinctive style.
- Ihsahn – Telemark / Pharos
Released as separate EPs but conceived together, Telemark and Pharos are like the two sides of the coin that is Ihsahn’s brilliant musical mind. Telemark represents the heavier side of Ihsahn’s music, while Pharos is the lighter, more progressive side. Each features a pair of cover songs, and while Pharos is arguably the superior release, they go together like, well, heads and tails.
- Zeal & Ardor – Wake Of A Nation
I have to admit, this is a difficult EP to listen to. Mind you, when I say that it’s difficult to listen to, it’s not meant as a detriment; the music is excellently written and performed. What I mean is that, due to the subject matter of the songs here, racism and police brutality, the emotion present makes this EP a heavy, exhausting listen. It’s not something that I can listen to “just for fun”, but it’s an incredibly affecting recording that really deserves wider recognition.
- Midnight Dice – Hypnotized
Formed after the demise of the short-lived Satan’s Hallow, Midnight Dice is basically Satan’s Hallow minus a guitarist, and they play a very similar style of classic metal. Some of the former band’s speed and heaviness have been scaled back a little, but Mandy Martillo’s vocals still serve to separate the band from their peers.
- The Troops Of Doom – The Rise Of Heresy
Sepultura hasn’t been classic Sepultura for a good long time, but for fans of the band’s early thrash records (especially Bestial Devastation and Morbid Visions), The Troops Of Doom fills that void nicely, primarily because this band is fronted by Jairo “Tormentor” Guedz, who played lead guitar and bass on both of the aforementioned Sepultura releases. For a 2020 release, The Rise Of Heresy does an excellent job of capturing the rawness of early Sepultura.
- Allegaeon – Roundabout
It’s pretty impressive for a single track to make it all the way to the top of this list, but Allegaeon’s cover of the YES classic ‘Roundabout’ is unspeakably good. There’s a strong adherence to the structure and technicality of the original, but it’s augmented with Allegaeon’s distinctively heavy tone, brilliant guitar pyrotechnics, and Riley McShane’s dynamic vocals. It’s incredibly catchy, blisteringly heavy, and I can’t stop listening to it.
- Nuclear Power Trio – A Clear And Present Rager
Speaking of Allegaeon… This was a very late addition to this list, given that I first heard it about a week ago. I’ve listened to it in that time no fewer than five times, and I keep coming back for more. This instrumental metal/prog/fusion trio features the talents of Allegaeon guitarist Greg Burgess, Job For A Cowboy bassist Nick Schendzielos, and Havok drummer Pete Webber, and the musical talent on display is patently absurd. Add to this the band’s gimmick (their videos feature the band members performing in disturbingly lifelike Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and Kim Jong Un masks), and you’ve got a recipe for entertainment.