(Holy hell, it has been 10 years. For the 10th year in a row, our friend Johan Huldtgren of the Swedish black metal band Obitus — whose 2017 album Slaves of the Vast Machine (reviewed and premiered here) is their latest release — has again allowed us to share with you his year-end list, which originally appeared on Johan’s own blog.)
This marks the tenth year in a row I get to share a few albums I’ve enjoyed this past year. So as it’s a double-digit anniversary ending in zero I’m going to do something I’ve not done before and expand on my own published list with a couple of very personal albums which I think deserve some added attention. I say personal because these are all made by close friends of many years, but don’t let that deter you, because these are amazing albums in their own right. In alphabetical order:
Kall – Brand
This is a band that falls quite a bit outside my normal comfort zone, it’s more of dark, depressive rock than my usual straight-up blackmetal fare. That said, it’s hard not to just get swallowed up in this; in a year as dark as 2020 this album is an almost perfect soundtrack. It’s cold (no pun intended), dark, and depressive, and with no track shorter than six minutes and the longest clocking in at close to twenty you need to invest some time here, and if you do it’s worth it.
Ov Shadows – I Djävulens Avbild
Our favourite Jungians return with another album of dreaming psychoanalysis. Blasting second-wave blackmetal with a modern tinge. For each listen the insidious melodies burn into your skull, making them hard to forget. The guitars are cold, simplistic and hypnotic, the vocals are as tortured as ever. Strong, infections songs which will burrow deep in your head. Do yourself a favour and pick this up.
Puteraeon – The Cthulhian Pulse: Call from the Dead City
Puteraeon has been putting out old school Swedish deathmetal with a Lovecraftian twist for a few years now. Simply put, if you like early Entombed, Nihilist, and Grave, this should be your cup of tea. They are by definition not bringing anything new to the table; this is straight-up first generation Swedish deathmetal worship. But sometimes just doing that better than anyone else is enough. Get your HM2 ready and bow down to this.
Now without much ado, back to our regularly scheduled programming.
10: Antzaat – For You Men Who Gaze Into the Sun
For lack of better words, party blackmetal. There is nothing complicated here, drink a few beers, crush the cans against your skull, and rock out. This is solid and utterly enjoyable.
9: Lamp of Murmuur – Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism
They may be one of 2020’s most hyped bands, but that doesn’t mean it’s not excellent. With not so subtle homages to Les Légions Noires and the Burzumesque vocals there is little to not love here. Add to that some strong songwriting which stays with you and you’ve got a winner.
8: Afsky – Ofte Jeg Drømmer Mig Død
Afsky might be one of my favourite finds of 2020. Having dived into their discography I’m only disappointed I didn’t discover them earlier, as their Sorg album from 2018 is an absolute masterpiece. Hard to not recommend this in stronger terms.
7: Dumal – The Confessor
On these seven tracks we tread well worn tracks, but their mix of Scandinavian and US ’90s blackmetal is well-executed and the songs are catchy as hell. The Confessor ticks all the boxes for a solid album and I’ve found myself coming back to it over and over again.
6: Cénotaphe – Monte Verità
I was a big fan of last year’s EP, and sound-wise there are few changes here — it’s just as raging and ravenous as I remember Empyrée being. In many ways Cénotaphe sound more like they were from Québec than from France proper. If I hadn’t known better in a blind test I’m pretty sure I’d have said this was straight outa Québec City.
5: Blaze of Perdition – The Harrowing of Hearts
The album swaggers heavily on goth rock but mixes in the required blackmetal tropes. There is tremolo picking and blastbeats galore, but intertwined with just blackened rock. Normally this would mean my interest would be limited at best, but here’s the rub: there are just enough remnants of blackmetal left that this album is not just interesting but quite enjoyable. So in some sense this leaves us where we were before: Blaze of Perdition has released an interesting album, not necessarily a groundbreaking or great one, but whatever comes next it will undoubtedly be worth checking out.
4: Selbst – Relatos De Angustia
I was a fan of Selbst’s self-titled debut back in 2017, and since then they’ve just gotten better. The production has gotten a strong push and is fuller and sharper, yet with that black metal rawness that keeps it from sounding overly polished. With Relatos De Angustia Selbst has exceeded my wildest expectations from their debut and crafted a truly masterful follow-up. As with many bands we can only wait and hopefully get to catch them live sometime in the future.
3: Gaerea – Limbo
Limbo rather aptly comes slithering at us with opener “To Ain”, but once it finally bursts out fully is when you perhaps appreciate the richness of the modern and punchy production. This is an album which feels planned-out to the nth degree. While the guitars are generally front and center in the first track there is a part where they drop off deep into the background with just varied vocals, before slowly phasing themselves and the rest of the instruments back in on the back of some lead work. The vocals in general are varied, ranging from the suitably agonized to the shrill and piercing to the lower barking and then further to almost a monkish chant. All this ensures your mind never wanders but you’re constantly kept guessing what’s coming next. Probably why I’ve been unable to put this down since I got it.
2: Porta Nigra – Schöpfungswut
As Schöpfungswut came out way back on January 17th, a time when most of us had only heard rumours of a new cough spreading in Asia, it’s not hard to believe this is my most-listened-to album of 2020. So while there is no doubt that with Schöpfungswut Porta Nigra have clearly taken a step into the blackmetal mainstream, I don’t necessarily mourn too much of the old ultra avant-garde. Sure, it made albums like Kaiserschnitt and even more so Fin de Siècle artistically interesting, but I do feel that the music is more well put-together these days. The production is also warmer and more well-rounded, whereas on the previous albums especially the vocals had a habit of sticking out just a bit too much. In short, this is a great album of solid second-wave blackmetal, highly recommended.
1: Akhlys – Melinoë
In 2020 an album dealing solely with your nightmares; it could hardly seem more apt. Naas Alcameth returns with his most personal project, all based around his dreams. When it comes to contemporary blackmetal of the last 15 or so years it’s hard to understate the influence Naas has had, whether through Nightbringer, Bestia Arcana, Akhlys, or Aoratos, he’s been there and has developed and refined a sound that is immediately recognizable. However, while picking up any album he’s been involved in (and if he’s “involved” it probably means he’s written it) you know it’s of his making, you can also see how he’s progressed both as a musician and in his cooperation with the producers and studio engineers to strive for that elusively perfect sound. Every album he’s involved in just get that bit sharper, that bit better. As anyone who’s followed my lists in the past knows, this blackmetal is right in my wheelhouse, and for each iteration it just gets better and better. So as this annus horribilis comes to an end, do yourself a favour and crank this to the max and drive your nightmares to Naas in the hopes that it results in more albums like this.