EDITOR’S NOTE: Our annual LISTMANIA series includes re-posts of lists from “big platform” music sites and selected print zines, but we usually don’t re-post lists from other metal blogs because that truly would make this long series virtually endless. But we’ve again made an exception for Brutalitopia, because through a variety of MDF hijinks over the years, the NCS crew have become fast friends with the
miscreants wonderful people behind Brutalitopia — Tom, Mick, and Durf. The following is a Top 10 synthesis they compiled from their individual lists originally published at their site — which you can find HERE.
During this year of years when we needed music most, 2020 delivered in droves. Tons of music that seemed limitless at times; limited only in that there was no live venue for us to enjoy it in. Many bands worked long and hard to ensure their albums during this time of quiet for live venues and we at Brutalitöpia have compiled a Töp 10 from the respective lists (much like we did in 2016 and 2017 and even I did way back in 2011 after the death of The Number of the Blog) of Mick, Durf and myself. Kind of gives you a little bit of what we have been doing this year even if we weren’t writing a ton. Here’s to a better 2021 for all.
10.) Napalm Death – Throes of Joy In the Jaws of Defeatism (Tom #2)
Tom: Throes is the band’s best album since 2009’s Time Waits For No Slave; it certainly wasn’t as though the albums released in between were slouches at all, this one just brings massive variety. Surely you have the oppressive tracks like “Fuck the Factoid” and “Backlash Just Because” but then you get the industrial tinged “Amoral” and the slow and heavy “A Belly Full of Salt and Spleen”. The whole collective of the band sounds spectacular, with each member making their presence felt. Intelligent, pissed, and most importantly, essential.
9.) Psychonaut – Unfold the God Man (Durf #1)
Durf: A complete, out-of-nowhere discovery, Psychonaut’s Unfold the God Man is hands-down my Favorite Album of the Year. Blending Cult of Luna and Intronaut-esque post-metal with the psychedelia of early Pink Floyd, Unfold the God Man is alternately heavy and melodic, driving and distanced, seventy minutes of twists and turns equally suited to spacing out on your couch or going ham at the gym. This album has moments that make you sit up straight and pay attention, moments that blend together and cause time to stand still and move all too quickly, and by the time “Nothing is Consciousless” fades out, you’re left thinking “What the fuck was that?!?!”
8.) Cirith Ungol – Forever Black (Tom #1)
Tom: After releasing four albums from 1981 to 1991 the band split up in 1992 leaving behind them an excellent discography of epic heavy metal tinged with Thin Lizzy love. Nearly 30 years had passed after Paradise Lost by the time Forever Black hit store shelves and the band had officially resurrected their storied career thanks in large part to Night Demon’s Jarvis Leatherby, who now serves as the band’s bassist. Tim Baker‘s vocals are just as weird as you remember them but if you already like the band that is par for the course. The classic heavy metal here is without equal in 2020; riffs for days, excellent drum fills, and fun bass lines make Forever Black an instant classic
7.) Pallbearer – Forgotten Days (Durf #8, Tom Honorable Mention)
Durf: While undeniably heavy and riff-filled, Forgotten Days feels like a bridging album, a watershed moment that fans will look back on and see a “before” phase, and an “after.” Not that this is a bad thing; the band’s songwriting has never been stronger than it is on Forgotten Days. In a genre that often times leans more on guitar tones and pacing to sell its emotion, Brett Campbell and Joseph Rowland have written lyrics that are absolutely gut-wrenching to hear.
Tom: By their 4th album Pallbearer are household names in the modern American doom scene as well as metal in general. Brett Campbell and crew have been an unstoppable force since their Solstice-tinged debut, Sorrow and Extinction, though recently their style has stripped down slightly with a more streamlined sound that was more evident on the uber catchy Heartless. Forgotten Days also make the songs save for ‘Silver Wings’ a bit more bite-sized and easier to digest; since some of those songs are ‘Riverbed’, ‘The Quicksand of Existing’, and ‘Caledonia’, we should be thankful for that.
6.) Svalbard – When I Die, Will I Get Better? (Tom #12, Mick #8)
Tom: British hardcore unit Svalbard are a tough group to pin down. Vocalist Serena Cherry unleashes her outrage in a way that I haven’t heard since Landmine Marathon’s Grace Perry first graced my ears. To play in a hardcore and even crust way with lots of chaotic atmosphere going on in the background creates a truly a unique sound and one that feels inspired in an Alcest-meets-Isis-meets-Oathbreaker kind of way. If you need more fuel for your hatred and also a little hope this year, Svalbard delivers in droves.
Mick: A cross between the likes of Alcest and Oathbreaker, Svalbard’s third outing bridges the sedative nature of shoegaze with the aggression of hardcore. It’s an emotionally charged album, one that draws the listener into topics as raw as sexism and mental health. The vocals, much like the instrumentation, play with varying levels of volume and intensity, going from soft, lullaby-esque singing to passionate screams with excellent balance in building up the transitions to and from those extremes. When I Die streams by at a pace that gives it a dreamlike quality where you might not remember all the specifics after it’s over, but the message being conveyed will remain crystal clear. It’s an album that wears its emotions on its sleeve and is impossible not to be drawn into by its earnestness.
5.) Lamp of Murmuur – Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism (Mick #4, Tom #11)
Mick: It’s an album where, after listening to for the first time, I felt it had no business being as catchy as it was. But there’s no going back now. This is the new standard that I will be holding black metal to going forward. Production-wise, this album is raw, lo-fi black metal to a T. The sinister shrieks of the vocals have this echoing, buried-beneath-the-surface feel while everything else in general sounds like it was recorded in the bottom of a well. However, while maintaining that cold abrasiveness of black metal, each of the tracks that go by prop up these riffs that are so easy to get into that it’s, for lack of a better word, staggering. Between the compositional melodies and the overall caustic presentation, there’s something here for every walk of metal fan.
Tom: Black metal with a ton of melody, but raw black metal? I know I wasn’t exactly sure what this would sound like before I heard it either, but one man weapon M. is a force to be reckoned with. This album has all the hallmarks of ’90s melodeath, Dissection, and Darkthrone all in one. This is one of the easiest listening experiences for this style of music I have ever come across, and for a genre that this is not known for, this surely stands out. Easily one of the best black metal releases of the year.
4.) Ulcerate – Stare Into Death and Be Still (Durf #4, Mick #3)
Durf: Ulcerate have been around for so long, and been so consistently fantastic, that I’ve absolutely begun to take them for granted. Their brutal, dissonant take on death metal is primally ferocious while also being undeniably catchy, and Stare Into Death and Be Still is the apex of their sound. The title track is as pummeling as you want it to be, while elsewhere the band slow down to almost a doomy crawl to let the dissonance take the wheel (the stellar “Visceral Ends”). Stare Into Death and Be Still is a revelation, a notice from a band that’s been so good for so long that they deserve to be appreciated and not taken for granted.
Mick: Though “melodic” is still a relative term in this case. Ulcerate’s patented brand of dissonant death metal is still very much intact here but the melody is more apparent in the album’s pacing. One moment may feature lightly tapped cymbals and lingering, soft guitar notes while the next can turn on a dime into a flurry of dizzying drum work, swirling guitar distortion, and cavernous growls. Stare Into Death and Be Still is a true masterclass in building and releasing aural tension, making it one of the most cathartic listens of the year. It’s also a landmark album for Ulcerate, perhaps only second to The Destroyers of All.
3.) Wayfarer – A Romance With Violence (Mick #1, Durf #2)
Mick: The violent myths of the American Wild West might not seem like the most likely theme for a metal album, but Denver’s Wayfarer knocked it out of the park with A Romance With Violence. What makes this album feel complete is that the album is not only on-theme lyrically but sonically as well, right down to the twangy guitars you would imagine hearing around a campfire while looking up at the starry night sky. Filled with vigorous growls, folksy signing, vibrant riffs, and impenetrable walls of epic guitar distortion, Wayfarer take the listener on a journey that hits plenty of emotional highs and lows that resonate deeply. In a year where escapism was a necessity, A Romance With Violence is that perfect retreat. You’ll also come to realize that it’s the best metal soundtrack for the Red Dead Redemption games that never materialized.
Durf: Much like the top prospect whose talents get lost in the shuffle of bigger stars before breaking out to the general public in a big way, Wayfarer announced themselves to the metal world at large this year with A Romance With Violence. And it’s about time, as the Colorado band have been among the upper echelon of American black metal for three albums now, and somehow continue to get better. While much has been made (rightfully so) of the cinematic bombast and explosive nature of “Masquerade of the Gunslingers” and “Vaudeville,” to me it’s the smaller, more intimate “Fire & Gold” that truly showcases the band’s growth and ties the album together. That said, the dizzying opening riff to “Vaudeville” is probably my favorite musical moment of the year, so maybe I’m just trying to find a different piece of this gem to shine. Truly compelling music that exceeds everything you’ve read about it.
2.) Deftones – Ohms (Tom #6, Durf #3, Mick #6)
Tom: In a year unlike any other I have looked beyond simplicity in some of my music, and an overarching theme for me has to be emotion and atmosphere, Ohms is no exception. Love them or hate them, Deftones‘ contributions to heavy music are among some of the most important that I can think of over the last 25 years. Always hard to pigeonhole as strictly metal, but their level of heaviness transcends labels at this point. Ohms might be their best since Diamond Eyes showed that the band wasn’t done releasing career defining albums after White Pony. “Ceremony” is a new classic and I can’t wait to see how their excellent live show gets transformed with this new output. Essential heavy listening for any fan of alternative rock music.
Durf: Eventually, I’ll stop being surprised that Deftones are the undisputed winners of the nü-metal era; much in the same way it took me three seasons to realize that Adam Scott and Rob Lowe weren’t just guest stars on Parks and Recreation, it’s taken me a full decade to realize “Huh, yeah, the White Pony guys aren’t slowing down anytime soon.” Ohms is without a doubt the band’s best work since White Pony (which just turned 20), and if I’m being honest, it definitely hits harder and resonates more with me than White Pony did with 13-year-old Durf. The band sounds energized, excited, and like they’re tired of people being surprised they’re still around.
Mick: As Durf already mentioned, Deftones are clearly a cut above all their peers of the nu metal movement. This is also a realization I have every time I click the “Fans also like” section of their Spotify page. Reflecting on it, you have to attribute Deftones‘ impressive staying-power with how they continue to organically evolve while staying true to the foundations laid out by every prior album. Ohms continues in this now 25-year tradition. The 8-string guitars, the hypnotic vocals and screaming outbursts of Chino Moreno, and the soaring melodies are all still the primary drivers here, so I wouldn’t go as far to say they introduced something drastically new to the formula. Rather, Ohms is more about a reshuffling of how those familiar elements play off each other. This album gets better with each listen by slowly sorting out that reshuffling.
1.) Skeleton – Skeleton (Durf #7, Tom #10, Mick #2)
Durf: I’ve been working out in my garage every morning, since *you know, 2020,* and Skeleton has been in heavy rotation. Usually when Tom or Mick tell me to listen to something and can only describe it as “metal,” it’s not usually my thing. But Skeleton? Skeleton is absolutely my fucking jam. Some parts thrashy, some parts deathy, some parts hardcorey, Skeleton gets right to the fucking point on each song and that point is always to rock out as hard as possible.
Tom: Austin, Texas based black metal meets hardcore in a raw way, Skeleton’s self-titled debut was a great shot in the arm, in a way only bands like Midnight have seemed to do competently. Eleven songs in 28 minutes is short form to get your point across, but on Skeleton that is ample time. The title track covers all the bases for you in terms of their melding of styles, and this eventually becomes one of the most fun listening experiences of the year. I’m looking forward to see what the future holds for them.
Mick: A common feeling that I’ve felt myself and have heard others express numerous times is how a great album that may lean on the lengthier side seemed like it flew by in a heartbeat. The full-length debut from Austin’s Skeleton is a rare case where the flip-side is also true. With only two of 11 tracks that surpass three minutes, this album actually does end in a heartbeat. Despite that, your ears will be brimming with some of the tastiest riffs of the year. “Blackened Punk” is the most common descriptor I’ve seen thrown around to categorize this, and while genre descriptors can be fairly subjective, this one is pretty spot-on. Gravely vocals, steady drumbeats, and grungy, phaser-infused guitar tones culminate into a never ending riff fest that is intoxicating. This is hands-down the most fun album of the year.