’s Aggregated Top 10 of 2020: Thus Spake the Plebeians

Heavy metal. Lists. Math. These are three of my favorite things. It’s for this reason that the Meta List is the article for which I feel the most excitement every year. Personally representing the best year for metal in several, I have been especially delighted to be a part of this community this year.1 I noted in my personal list that 2020 saw a booming trade in death metal, a fact brought home by our final aggregation here. Three albums in our collective top ten suckle at the teat of the corpse (Afterbirth, Faceless Burial, Ulcerate),2 with another two at least fondling that teat among others (Imperial Triumphant, Anaal Nathrakh).3 I’m pleased to report that each of them delivers a distinct whiff of that death-like stench.

However, I am disappointed to find several selections on this list fall into typical “critics’ consensus” picks. You’ll see a number of these albums sitting pretty atop other year-end lists you’ll have read. I enjoy that does not usually single out trendy albums but that’s not the case for 2020. Does this demonstrate that these records were truly the best of the year? That we didn’t listen to as much music this year? That we’re hiring more posers by the day? This is a question we can’t satisfactorily answer but I’m minded to go with the latter. Let’s raze it to the ground and restart from August 2014 (completely coincidentally, the month my watch here began).4

Like last year, I also feel compelled to shout-out those bands which accrued a respectable number of votes but which fell short of the aggregated list on account of their low voting points not amounting to much. This includes Kvaen (six votes), Eternal Champion (five votes) and Black Royal (five votes). Compared with Protest the Hero which only hit three lists, it feels like these records were shafted but such are the mechanics of our sophisticated algorithm.5

El Cuervo

10. Protest the Hero // Palimpsest – [#1, #1, #1] – Protest the Hero and their fifth album, Palimpsest, is unquestionably the most divisive entry in the history of this feature. The detractors note “God, the fucking vocals” (Doc Grier), that it’s “like mall kids trying to be oh-so-serious about historical events for some class project” (Steel Druhm), and “this is a situation similar to in hockey when the fans get together and vote the worst player onto the all-star team” (Huck ‘n Roll, purveyor of objectively sick burns). Nonetheless, its supporters scraped Palimpsest on to this list by virtue of just three list entries, all of which were AotY picks. Dr. The Wvrm earnestly muses on the record’s timely social commentary which “reflects all the glory, pain, and hope⁠—past, present, and future⁠—incumbent in the American experience,” while Kronos enthuses that “every single song is an absolute banger.” The ever-eloquent GardensTale summarizes it thus: “it’s an enormously accomplished and meticulously crafted album, with technical and songwriting chops through the roof.” Love it or hate it, there’s little doubt that any record could capture the zeitgeist as well as this one does.

9. Lör // Edge of Eternity – [#1, #2, #5, #7] – Is it a full-length? Maybe. Is it an EP? Perhaps. [Is it a Mini-LP? Yes, that’s exactly what it is. – AMG] Is it worth your time? Definitely. Lör achieves this through “a combination of speed, thrash, power metal, with splashes of techy and melodic death and a can-do attitude.” Bestowing his AotY award and eternal adoration, AMG elucidates that “the band excels at writing and arranging songs, creatively utilizing transitions and harmonies in ways that evoke the great orchestral bands.” Though the record boasts expert arrangements and genre splicing, Dr. Wvrm’s neanderthal brain notes Edge of Eternity’s “thrashy punch” and that it features “arguably the five best songs of the year.” It’s tough to dispute a release featuring five of the best of anything in any given year, and he closes that “this is the record Lör should be known for. This is the power metal we need in our lives.”

8. Haken // VIrus – [#2, #2, #5, #6, #HM] – Bridging the old and the new, VIrus finds Haken once again in that sweet spot of catchy and proggy: “Haken never lets its technical tendencies distract from writing good, memorable and engaging songs. VIrus exhibits time and again the sweet balance between technical and progressive considerations and the benefits of just writing a catchy song” (Angry Metal Guy). Ruck n’ Holl, as one of the other prog weenies, also approves, though adopts a different tack by focusing on the considerable vocal prowess of the group. “What puts Haken over the top in this genre isn’t [just] the complex arrangements, the technical aptitude, or the Rush-like musicianship. It’s Ross Jennings’ vocal melodies, which make every song far catchier than it should be.” Catchy prog and sweet vocals? Count me in.6

7. Havukruunu // Uinuos syömein sota – [#3, #4, #6, #7, #8, #ish] – Representing their first entry into this hallowed list, longboat-lovers Havukruunu and their third record snappily entitled Uinuos syömein sota caused quite the Angry Metal Buzz this year. Contextualizing the band, Grymm notes that “Havukruunu captures the spirit of Quorthon and company incredibly well, and they delivered big on the anthemic Viking chants, icy tremolo riffs, and earworm-level songwriting here.” As if all this wasn’t enough, Doom et Al compares it with its predecessor, stating that it “delivered with aplomb. The same urgent riffs, the same sense of fun, the same eminently head-bangable moments. There was no attempt to reinvent the wheel here, with obvious homage to Immortal, but when it’s done this well, who cares?” Who indeed?

Afterbirth - Four Dimensional Flesh album cover6. Afterbirth // Four Dimensional Flesh – [#2, #3, #4, #8, #8] – Offering, for my money, the most creative death metal of the year, Afterbirth finally rewarded their fans’ patience with what may be their crowning glory: Four Dimensional Flesh. Sir Kenneth attributes this to the mix, which is “thick and muscular, but also expansive and remarkably clear [which] launches the record from an excellent musical experiment to an essential record for the genre.” Likewise, L. Saunders describes it as “a cosmic delight of uncompromising, exploratory and intelligent brutal death. Progressive, complex, infectious, slammy, and a downright inspired album.” It’s tough to argue with such a glowing reception and I sincerely doubt I’ll ever be so fascinated by a brutal death metal record again.

5. Faceless Burial // Speciation – [#1, #2, #5, #7, #9, #HM, #HM] – Every year, there’s one record uniting our resident death metal connoisseurs. With one a grouchy British Northerner and the other a grouchy American Northerner, it’s unsurprising that they have music about death and violence in common. 2020’s cooperative selection is Australia’s Faceless Burial and their blistering sophomore album. Ferris Beuller graced Speciation with his top award, highlighting how the “complex riffing and dizzying drum work congeal into the most bizarrely memorable songs, all whilst herding the tenets of the old school.” Meanwhile, his star-spangled colleague ruminates that “in between splintered reflections of the greats, Faceless Burial build the foundations of greatness for themselves, delivering astronomic solos and glistening riffs that shine through their own cave-dweller production” (Kronos). You’d be a fool to miss this, even in a year replete with excellent death metal.

4. The Ocean // Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic I Cenozoic – [#1, #2, #5, #7, #7, #10, #HM] – Taking the top spot for most uses of “ozoic” on a musical album in the history of the world, Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic I Cenozoic is a confidentozoic and sophisticatedozoic step onwards from its predecessorozoic. IT nerd Sentynel lists its admirable qualities (“the band’s progressive writing and changeable moods, the dense, complex composition, Middle Eastern influences, and more varied vocals”), while OAP Huck n’ Roll gushes that “The Ocean have pushed themselves further compositionally than ever before, and the vocal performances are home runs. The opening and closing trios of songs are the epitomai of progressive metal. Aside from a brief and somewhat directionless lull in the middle, Phanerozoic II is a near-perfect album.” The Ocean are a perennial favorite around these parts and Phanerozoic II once more comes with our official Stamp ov Approvalozoic.

3. Imperial Triumphant // Alphaville – [#1, #1, #1, #4, #5, #HM] – Topping more lists than the two records ahead of it, Alphaville was loved by a number of writers. Cherdy Boi describes the record by its origins: “If you’ve been [to New York City] for any amount of time you know it’s both the most sublime and disgusting city in the world, at once futuristic and horribly dilapidated, elegant and claustrophobic. Imperial Triumphant is the full width and breadth of this history and experience in avant blackened death form.” Meanwhile, Akerblogger comments that “it’s a record that turned up the theatrics and stagecraft by infinity,” highlighting “the bounteous basslines, the diverse vocal transformations, the fluid transitions.” Its final enthusiast, Dear Hollow, summarizes the record as “something menacingly deliberate by contrast to its splattering predecessors: simultaneously more listenable and more challenging.” The door to the warped world is here, folks.

2. Ulcerate // Stare into Death and Be Still – [#1, #2, #2, #3, #4, #4, #5, #8, #HM] – Resolutely refusing to offer anything short of the spectacular, Ulcerate’s Stare into Death and Be Still still finds these Kiwi innovators at the top of the game they invented. Doomy Al bestowed on them his top award, noting that “the dissonant, twisting, sinuous riffs, entwined with Jamie St. Merat’s frankly astonishing drumming, resulted in a crushing, dystopian nightmare that remains a perfect allegory for the nightmare landscape of 2020.” Arguably its greatest quality is its enrapturing atmosphere, a point accentuated by Carcharodon: “this is still brvtal, dissonant death metal, drenched—one could say “drowning”—in atmosphere and is utterly captivating as the violence ebbs and flows”. An unimaginative pick though this may be, it utterly deserves its accolades.

1. Anaal Nathrakh // Endarkenment – [#1, #1, #2, #2, #4, #4, #4, #6, #7, #9, #HM, #HM] – “That AN really is posercore. Like the second you’ve got every rando on staff, including me, rating it high, you know they sold out.” (Lil Wvrm) While this take may be a little hot, Brother Grymm recognizes this hooky quality by questioning: “Is it their most accessible album? Yes. Is it still visceral, unflinching, and unmistakingly Anaal Nathrakh? Also yes, to all three.” Similarly, Messr. Saunders comments that Endarkenment is “an expert soldering of epic, fist-pumping hooks with extreme urges, covering black, grind, industrial, death, and power, that finds Dave Hunt and Mick Kenney keeping their well-established formula fresh and compelling.” Emphasizing its most important contribution to the world, Dr. Anal Gruyere comments that “though [we] tried to laugh the album off for the pig-eye-cock fiasco, [we] couldn’t deny its power.” Reviewing metal in 2020, it’s tough to argue that Anaal Nathrakh doesn’t deserve to be our collective favorite; the 12 writers who picked it on their lists, plus 7 slots in the top 4, can’t all be wrong. ’nuff said.

I have very little to add except that it’s been a lot of fun doing playlists this last year. The primer feature is the only way I’d ever have been exposed to a lot of bands this year—I’m still mad I actually enjoyed the Alestorm feature⁠—and everyone’s Songs o’ the Year lists have been a nice treat this holiday season, when no one really wants to listen to review copy anyway. I hope you enjoyed them as much as I did.

Oh, and Protest the Hero officially has the most unique choices on this list. Every Haken song was listed under one entry on AMG‘s list; they’re all one entry on this list. Weenies win again.

– Dr. Wvrm

Show 6 footnotes

  1. Notwithstanding the fact that I overlapped very little with the aggregated list this year!
  2. Ew… wtf? – Ed.
  3. I’m going to get HR involved if you don’t calm down. – Ed.
  4. What, are we firing people? I knew investing in this AMG Signal would be useful… – AMG
  5. By-hand tallying
  6. I actually don’t love this record but don’t find it as aggressively annoying as Vector so that’s a win.
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