2020 has been quite a challenge -to say the least- for so many people. Unless you are a fat cat getting inexplicably bailed out or the Catholic Church getting relief money (even though they were only in debt from pedo lawsuit settlement payouts), chances are 2020 found you broke, lonely, thirsty and miserable, scared or mourning loved ones. Music was no stranger to this. We lost any certainty of what the future holds in an already difficult industry and even lost Neil Peart, fucking EVH and Riley Gale on top of everything else. But people also made great art that will stand the test of time, profound sacrifices and held fast, rallied for racial justice and so much more. It is an important time to be alive and just as beautiful as it can be painful! And there is still December ahead of us as of this writing. Hope against horror.
The following list of Metal Riot’s top albums of 2020 reflects records that capture excellence, performance, drive, willpower and survival in no uncertain terms. As well as killer tunes, of course! Kudos and thanks to all the bands.We usually post our list just after Thanksgiving but I am gonna be recording that week in the studio with Globelamp and Sean Paul from Nightmares For A Week, so…let’s get started ending the year earlier! Hey Decibel published theirs first, okay?!! Rock the fuck on, lovers and dreamers. Please buy all of these releases or whatever you dig. And remember, dear readers…I came up and so could you…And fuck the boys in blue.
Sepultura’s highest charting album since 1998 (and their best since 2009’s bruising A-Lex, which it surpasses) is nothing short of a monument to a lifetime in metal, the determined triumph of a legacy name never saying die and following their trusted vision over popular opinion. Quadra works on every level. In a year filled with so much death even the band’s name vibrates on some heavy karmic level, but “Isolation” especially resonates deeply in a time of so much social upheaval for justice reform. Each section of the album masterfully represents different styles the group has been known for from classic thrash to tribal groove to slower and grim anthems to technical workouts, but it all works incredibly well. From saving the environment to tackling depression and self destruction, Derrick commands stronger than ever while Eloy Casagrande stakes his claim as the most driven and insane drummer currently active in metal. Jens Bogren brought out the absolute best in this line-up. A+ all the way.
Throw in how during quarantine the band kept morale high across the metal world with interviews and killer jams during their SepulQuarta series with the likes of Scott Ian, Shavo Odadjian, Rob Cavestany and many more, and the band take the cake for our heroes of 2020.
There has been a lot of top notch death metal this year of different sub-genre varieties from Ingested to Necrot to God Dethroned to Abysmal Dawn and others. That said, Skeletal Remains ABSOLUTELY destroyed most of the competition with their latest near perfect death metal monstrosity The Entombment Of Chaos. From the thrilling horror of the Seagrave art to some of the most intense and odds defying music of the band’s tenure, this record offers relentless replay value. From the imposing violence of “Tombs Of Chaos” to the eerie “Enshrined In Agony” to the standout “Dissectasy”, the group have vaulted much closer to the top of the pack.
3. VÖLUR – Death Cult
Arguably the most creative album of 2020 – and with SUCH a timely album title – Death Cult is the intoxicating yet deadly sound of seductive decay and the will to escape empty indoctrination. Gorgeous violin based doom defies expectations at every turn and the band’s singular sense of purpose is thrilling. The Toronto band’s third album is a must hear and will likely cause even the most necessity hardened hearts in 2020 to break into smoldering halves.
Bestial Mouths, Nothing, Ulver and other brave sailors on the seas of sorrow all released truly killer records in 2020 that rank among their best ever, but Soft Kill’s newest is my favorite simultaneously spooky yet painfully real and poetic release of this fucked hellhole of a year. A reminder that even at the lowest low people are still out there worth celebrating and fighting for. A testament to loss, love and possibility in art and community. This band has yet to let me down and their catalogue got me through a lot of depression this year when I was both determined to stay sober but also was reeling from narrowly avoiding a diabetic coma and going into serious medical debt. So glad I snagged this on limited tape release already!
The Chinese Democracy of extreme epic metal albums was released very early in January of one of the most fucked up years in human history and it would be a damn shame if it didn’t get more accolades in the madcap shuffle, especially since we have all lived through quite a fucking ‘storm’ together this year. In limbo for about seven years, you’d never believe this exciting and possibly the most ferocious album of 2020 was recorded by a band burnt out by relentless touring. Storm finds the Canadian underground warriors delivering frenetic and death defying performances, their best songwriting plus cameos from Lindsay Schoolcraft, Morgan Lander and Per fucking Nilsson ! Unleash The Archers, Germany’s Varg and Ensiferum all delivered some exemplary epic records in 2020, but Blackguard’s potential swan song was above the pack and well worth one of the most frustrating waits in metal history. I am beside myself with joy and hails that it finally saw the light of a bleary day.
“A Lesson in basic human Empathy” has my favorite lyrics of 2020 (I mean, besides “High Road” by Kesha) and even more wonderful that it comes from a black metal project, a genre often known for apathy and heartless cruelty.
Judgment based on action not on colour, race or sex no harming of sentient beings but respecting life help where help is needed No condemnation of the innocent take responsibility for your wealth that is built on the backs of others
Talk about something we sorely needed this year! And lest you think I am only swayed by lefty ideology to get on this list, the album features many of the best riffs and arrangements and startlingly emotional playing of the year. This album is a refuge and a reminder that work still needs to be done.
7. -(16)- – Dream Squasher
It says something about 2020 that several albums – Bleakheart’s also brilliant and gothy Dream Griever comes to mind – had titles that reflected the thwarting of dreams. “Ride The Waves” is about as perfect a punk metal mash as you’ll ever here. Dropping like a piano from a skyscraper onto our heads during the mid point of 2020 when things couldn’t seem bleaker, veteran sludge band -(16)- delivered the most clobbering album of recent memory. There is also the best anthem to loving your dog since Wisdom In Chains penned “Girls Lie, Cops Lie, Dogs Love”. And we all dealt with some ‘harvesters of fabrication’ this year. Bobby Ferry is a champion on this album, which crushed everything else Relapse (and most other labels) released this year.
8. Spirit Adrift – Enlightened In Eternity
Speaking of dogs, epic metal pitties (we have to stan)! This has to be the best album cover maybe…ever? Nathan Garrett makes us all proud to be metalheads yet again with another brilliant album from the guy in metal who possibly plays with the most heart. “Ride into the Light” is the best Snakes For The Divine song High On Fire never wrote and “if we make it through the night we will ride into the light” is major 2020 vibes. COC influences abound, while “Screaming From Beyond” reveres classic metal through and through and yet feels current and connective to this moment. “Stronger Than Your Pain” is my favorite of the bunch, a pressing reminder to keep heart as hypnotic and melodic riffage brings to the forefont a will to carry on from the murk of doubts.
Cammie Gilbert gave the best vocal performance in all of metal throughout the jaw dropping self-titled Oceans Of Slumber release (don’t even get me started on how good the band’s arguably best ever Type O Negative cover of “Wolf Moon” is). Oceans Of Slumber is a self-titled album that lives up to the underscored nature of self-titled albums, which can run the risk of not living up to the hype but in this case leaps galaxies to defy even the loftiest expectations. This is not just ‘prog metal’ that is annoyingly obtuse for the sake of being brainy. This is a soulful and heavy merger of so many genres into a seamless whole that it is a world unto itself yet full of the very best connective tissue to deeper realizations that make the human experience worth living.
Santa Cruz hardcore band Drain supplied the illest crossover record of 2020 (even stacked up with the also amazing Mr. Bungle frantic freak thrash record). Revelation Records did the world a big favor in backing this band, one of the most high energy groups in hardcore right now. It is almost impossible to turn this off before listening all the way through or at the very least flipping over a table.
11. Vile Creature – Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm!
Much like Canada’s Wolverine, doom duo Vile Creature keep unwittingly revealing they are the best there is at what they do. Everything about this release is amazing, from the most ambitious and full payoff compositions of the group’s career, to the support they are getting (well deserved) in the scene, to the already basically iconic art. The 3rd pressing is even on trans flag colored vinyl. Adam Tucker’s mix and master sounds better than anything they have released to date and really brings all their brilliance to the forefront without killing the furrowed brow vibes. The doom and gloom also has celestial level vibes on this record that add some very unique listening textures and feel larger than life, a friction of glory and gore.
It is fitting to include a Texas based punk/metal hybrid band on here in closing in a year where the loss of Riley from Power Trip brought huge attention to the impact the Lone Star state has had on the modern scene. By far the nastiest and filthiest riffs of the year (Worm Moon Offerings a close second), this record is in the Bane Give Blood and Slayer Reign In Blood tradition of blink and you’ll miss it, all killer/ no filler, wham bam thank you, etc. over and done leave ’em scorched and wanting more albums. Super stoked to see where this band goes in the future. Then you also have a song like “Catacombs” with some brief atmospheric intro perfection before the proceedings battle to a fiery finale.