(Along with Andy Synn and DGR, TheMadIsraeli has been on the NCS staff the longest, and although a tough year reduced his writing, he didn’t stop listening, and here we have his 2020 year-end lists.)
This year was a tough one for me personally. Quarantine sending the flow of time into a perpetual state of flux, my father passing away this year, and struggling against some tough times that have faced many of us, including threats of eviction, not being able to make bills, etc, this year was a brutal one to say the least. Metal got me through it as always, but I will admit that this year I wasn’t able to be as tuned into the musical landscape as I’d have liked to be. I still managed to encounter some releases though, and I still listened to (by my count) 170+ albums this year, although trust me when I say that for me, Andy, DGR, and Islander, that’s honestly child’s play numbers.
This will, I THINK, change going into 2021. Things have stabilized and I honestly found a refreshed vigor in my life of heavy music with how it helped me survive this year. I have some more ambitious projects planned or in progress, including a new Higher Criticism series set to arrive approximately by late January/early February. Enough about all that though, let’s get to my picks this year.
Top 6 Death Metal Albums
Death metal in 2020 couldn’t have offered you a more diverse palette. Every spin on the style got an all-killer no-filler album, as evidenced by my picks. Cult Of Lilith struck with a very compellingly strong progressive and technical debut with Mara that made them a band to watch, Stoned God with Incorporeal delivered an album of the sort of titanic groove we’re missing from Gojira quite hard right now.
Vader of course delivered, as they always do, with Solitude In Madness, an album that didn’t push their boundaries or anything but didn’t need to. The band’s sound just works for me, always has, always will. If going by the Vader rotation of sound, we should be in for a symphonic blackened death metal record next, and that prospect has me excited. On a similar but different note, LiK proved to me with Misanthropic Breed that since Bloodbath, THIS is the band doing the old school Swedish style of death metal the best. They have the riffs, the passion, and the intensity, and are clearly inspired in a way most bands doing this kind of metal clearly aren’t.
Hemotoxin are a band who I think have been criminally downplayed, but they REALLY delivered this year. An exceptionally well-crafted record of ’90s/early 2000‘s style of technical death metal that is TRULY technical in the all-encompassing sense of the term, virtuoso-tier compositions matched with the literal technical skill at their instruments while also keeping the music compelling. Truly well done technical death metal is a balancing act that I feel has been lost in the last few years, so when a band pulls it off I’m stoked. Restructure The Molded Mind is elite, grotesque death metal at some of its best.
Finally, of course, no end-year list is complete without Exocrine’s Maelstrom on it. I mean it. I legitimately think if this album isn’t on your list then you don’t know who Exocrine is or you didn’t hear this album, or you’re attempting to be contrarian. In a world where we’ve been deprived of the hyper hybridity of Celphalic Carnage for a full decade, Exocrine have been stepping in to rightfully take their throne and maybe out-do them at their own game. Maelstrom is that mix of frantic, frenetic energy, technical precision, avant-garde ambition, and a taste of depravity, that is the kind of thing which defines a lot of what peak extreme metal is. I LOVED this album, love this band, this record got a lot of repeat listens this year since we received the promo.
Top 6 Black Metal Albums
Black metal was for me a more straight-forward affair. All my favorite albums this year kind of all hit the same notes. Riff-oriented, more technical, with an occult/ritualized atmosphere to match. Dark Fortress are of course just about the kings at this. While I do think some of the criticisms levied at Spectres From The Old World have legitimacy, mainly in regard to the arguable flaws in its track-list structure, it’s still Dark Fortress doing what they do best and writing an album that, while it didn’t hit the progressive ambitions of Venereal Dawn, is probably their most focused record on what the sonic identity of Dark Fortress is. For that, I immensely enjoyed it.
Brotthog’s debut The Die Is Cast provided the most compelling more melodically slanted black metal experience for me this year. It’s got some gorgeous melodies but it’s all tied together by this Nidingr-esque unhinged vocal performance and some progressive song writing tendencies to bring about what is probably the most stoic yet aggressive album on my overall list. I similarly interpret Gaerea’s Limbo the same way, although it’s the exact opposite of approaches. It’s such a brooding, violent meditation of a record and hits so much of that dissonant ritual chamber aesthetic that I can’t help but love it. They hit a perfect balance between the atonal and the melancholy that I can’t get enough of.
Cross Bringer and Khors both brought forth a, dare I say, Lovecraftian-lore style of black metal that was just consistently, horrendously, ugly with a side of floating within a perpetual dream state. Not much more to say of these honestly, I just really enjoyed the music.
Naglfar’s Cerecloth is definitely the most-played-straight album on this list. I just love the straight-forward blast-intensive melodic black metal this band plays. There’s an integrity about it that’s timeless.
Top 6 Thrash Metal Albums
This was an INSANELY good year for thrash metal. This is the section I honestly have the least to say about, but if you were fiending for technical and progressive thrash metal excess, this year was right up your alley there. Warfect, Sepultura, and Warbringer were the clear winners for me, but all six of these records were fantastic journeys, whether it was seeing old guard like Sepultura keep proudly producing the music they love to make, or seeing bands like Havok or Warbringer, who frankly started as retro-thrash bandwagon projects, evolve into things completely their own that are both old school and modern simultaneously. This selection of six I picked here I think is the definitive thrash slate of 2020.
And now for my top 10 albums of the whole year, which draws heavily from the lists above but also includes some picks that just didn’t quite fit into those categories.
MyGrain – V
Sepulture – Quadra
Warfect – Spectre of Devastation
Exocrine – Maelstrom
Dark Fortress – Spectres From the Old World
Nonexist – Like the Fearless Hunter
Cult of Lilith – Mara
Luna’s Call – Void
Warbringer – Weapons of Tomorrow
Alarum – Circle’s End
See you all later. I’m especially excited for the upcoming Higher Criticism series. It MIGHT be the most controversial and discussion-heavy one yet? We’ll see. Happy New Year people.
Solid list. Lot of stuff to check out. I’m so behind on new music. I’m just really stuck in classic metal and it’s hard to venture out and try new things, even from older bands. But I’m gonna use these as a jumping off point.