Doom_et_Al’s and Dear Hollow’s Top Ten(ish) of 2020


Metal kept me sane in 2020. No kidding. As a healthcare worker, my days were (are) a blur of stress, fear, and sheer exhaustion. The suffering and sadness I witnessed are something I won’t forget anytime soon. On a personal level, I haven’t seen my family in a year and I honestly have no idea when it will be safe enough to travel to see them again.

The only real constant of 2020 was this genre of music we all love. I listened to more metal this year than any other I can remember, and it provided the relief and joy which were in such short supply elsewhere. None of my friends like it, so I have to share my passion with the folk on this site, and your enthusiasm and comments (even when you disagree) make it all worthwhile. Without you, the best metal community on the internet, the site as we know it doesn’t exist.

A special thanks to the entire oddball team at AMG. They may not always have great taste, but a better, more passionate, more knowledgeable group of metalheads you simply will not find. They’re also a really solid bunch of human beings. Hours and hours go into every lovingly crafted review, and we absolutely obsess over our words, scores, and lists. Thanks to Steel for being the glue that holds this whole enterprise together, ably assisted by Wvrm and Grier. Gratitude to fellow South African Madam X, the undisputed brains behind this operation, and to Dear Hollow for all the support. Love and respect to Carcharodon for being a top bloke I now think of as a friend. Also to Holdeneye, perhaps the funniest chap you’ll ever (virtually) meet. Finally, special gratitude to the artists who put the time and effort into this music that allowed me to get through 2020. There is no way to adequately express my thanks, except to say that I will never pass up a killer live show, or a merch station, ever again.

I tried not to overthink the list below, but there were so many amazing albums and artists that I (sadly) had to omit. It seemed like a year dominated by so much amazing death metal, such that I, not well-versed in this sub-genre, was forced to admire it. My criteria were clear: I selected the albums that gave me the most joy and that stayed on my playlist the longest. Enjoy!

PS: When it’s your turn: GET VACCINATED!

(ish). Gaerea // Limbo Intensity. Overwhelming intensity. Whenever I listen to Limbo, that’s the impression I get. The lead singer sounds absolutely desperate at times, and, honestly, I can’t blame him. Gaerea embraces emotions so powerful they have to be howled into the abyss. But beyond the intensity, what Gaerea have managed with Limbo should not be underestimated: this is modern, smart black metal, utilizing every trick in the book to create music both claustrophobic and deeply personal. No sophomore slump detected here. Limbo is the sound of walls inexorably closing in.

#10. Dark Forest // Oak, Ash & Thorn – Talk about a surprise! Twee songs about forest folk and spirits with a lead singer clearly an octave out of his depth. And yet, the tracks on Oak, Ash & Thorn are ear-worms of the highest order. I simply defy you not to hum along with these guys. Yet the real heroes are those guitars. I mean, damn, the solo on “Relics” may be the best two minutes of metal this year. I usually leave the old-person metal to Steel and Huck, but I’m glad I made an exception here. 2020 was grim but Dark Forest made me smile every time I put this on. It stayed on rotation all year.

#9. Wayfarer // A Romance with Violence – Restless US black metal band, Wayfarer, has been building to this throughout its career. With every release, its atmospheric brand of music has been looking for focus. Well, the Wild West theme tentatively explored on their three previous albums has found complete expression on A Romance with Violence. It fearlessly examines the violent, genocidal, whitewashed history of a bloody nation using harsh black metal as a base camp. It sounds so natural it makes you wonder why more bands haven’t explored this concept. Catchy but brutal songs, surprisingly complex themes… oh, and you can almost taste the cheap saloon whiskey, mingled with the dust and blood on your tongue. It’s delicious.

Afterbirth - Four Dimensional Flesh album cover#8. Afterbirth // Four Dimensional Flesh – Sci-fi as death metal. Expansive. Mind-bending. Perhaps most impressively of all, it manages to sound absolutely great at the same time. The riffs contort and twist as if warped by a malevolent wormhole, with slams that seem to smash from all directions. Yet the gentler, more experimental moments are what really set it apart. It simultaneously looks forwards and backwards for inspiration, resulting in a progressive experience rooted in what has worked in the past. This is the true soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

#7. Velnias // Scion of Aether – The Rocky Mountains of Colorado are known for their lonely beauty. Velnias uses this desolation as inspiration to construct mighty songs about time, nature and the eternal. What makes Scion of Aether special is how Velnias uses its influences—doom, sludge, black metal—to create a cavernous sound every bit as massive as its themes. Over the course of four songs proper, Scion of Aether jumps from prog to black metal to death doom, while sounding unique in the process. Majestic, dark and meditative. Imagine Elder but with real bite. One of the most underrated gems of 2020.

#6. Panzerfaust // The Suns of Perdition II: Render Unto EdenCarcharodon is usually a fairly measured chap, so it was unusual to see him reduced to a slobbering fanboy, giving The Suns of Perdition II a thorough tongue-bathing on the day of its release. Seriously, he still goes on about it and I’m not sure he’ll ever get over its omission for RotM. Yet the Shark Guy was (disappointingly) right: this is just top black metal: intense, frightening, catchy and focused. Panzerfaust are on a winning streak at the moment with the Suns of Perdition series, and you should be there, cheering them on.

#5. Cytotoxin // Nuklearth – One of my favorite reviews on this site is Kronos’ of Cytotoxin’s Gammageddon. Niche death metal is not usually my thing, but Kronos managed to sell it on brutality mixed with actual solid song writing. What do you know? It was a blast of crushing yet catchy technical death metal. Well, the follow-up, Nuklearth, arrived and it was weird as hell, but worth the wait. Ridiculously complex guitar work, some of the best drumming of the year, thundering vocals, and a pong drum that will melt your face. Perhaps most impressively, what started off as cheap schtick (the explosion at Chernobyl) has now become a far more weighty and serious meditation on humanity’s obsession with self-destruction. Brainy and brawny.

#4. Spectral Lore/Mare Cognitum // Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine – This album made me incredibly angry. Just look at the absurd length of this thing: the wrong side of 2 hours. How do you even begin assessing this? Should an album always be listened to in its entirety? If it needs to be broken up into smaller chunks, is that a fault of the album or the listener? And yet… and yet… Channeling the spirit of Michael Gira and Swans, creating lengthy epics worth the journey, this is some of the best black metal you’ll hear. Period. The songs dip and dance together, alternating between brutal (particularly the Mare Cognitum tracks) and meditative. The duality of the artists is embraced, forming a constant to-and-fro that is never less than compelling. Due to its length, I still puzzle philosophically over whether this is a good album. But one thing that’s not in doubt is that it is outstanding black metal.

#3. Havukruunu // Uinuos syömein sota Following up Kelle Surut Soi (one of my favorite albums from 2017) was never going to be an easy task. Expectations were sky-high. Yet Havukruunu 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? You know those movies where you start watching, and then can’t stop until they’re finished? This was the black metal equivalent.

#2. Afsky // Ofte Jeg Drømmer Mig Død – A textbook example of something very ugly illuminating beautiful truths. Afsky managed to make screeching, vicious black metal sound raw and vulnerable. The best albums take you on a journey, and Ofte Jeg Drømmer Mig Død, by combining old-school riffs with a modern sensibility, was one hell of a ride. This was not just a collection of songs, but an experience that conveyed real, earned emotion. My heart breaks a little every time I listen to it. The best album of the year by someone you’ve never heard of.

#1. Ulcerate // Stare into Death and Be Still – Where Shrines of Paralysis laid waste to everything in its path with unrelenting fire, Stare into Death and Be Still surveys the ash and carnage and wonders: is anything salvageable? 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 the best band in metal has never sounded so cohesive and focused. I still can’t believe this extraordinary, cavernous art was created by just three men. Nothing this year sounded quite like it, and I simply could not stop staring into death in slack-jawed awe. If I reviewed it today, it would breeze a 5.0/5.0.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Faceless Burial // SpeciationOld-school death metal played with a distinctly modern sensibility. More riffs in each song than in the entirety of St. Anger
  • Defeated Sanity // The Sanguinary ImpetusA strange and difficult beast that divided the staff. It’s wildly experimental and spiky, but inventive in a way that brings to mind None So Vile. For the bold.
  • Exgenesis // Solve et Coagula Sadboi death-doom done right. Hits right in the feels with an unusually melodic approach.
  • Dynfari // Myrkurs er þörf Post-metal album of the year, edging out Nug and The Ocean. Less experimental than previous releases, but more emotionally impactful.
  • Kvaen // Funeral PyreApart from being the source of endless memes among the staff, this was also the most pure fun I had with a black metal album this year. Whizzes by on boundless energy and catchy tracks.
  • Vredehammer // ViperousThe album to lift to. Or run to. Or whatever it is that gets your heart rate up. Pummeling, thunderous, awesome death metal. RIP your personal best.
  • Paradise Lost // ObsidianRock-solid (ha!) doom offering from one of the most dependable bands in metal. So workmanlike in its excellence that it flew under many radars. Doom done right by the masters.
  • Convocation // Ashes CoalesceFuneral doom with an unhinged edge. A slightly meandering final quarter is the only thing costing it a spot in the top 10.
  • …and Oceans // Cosmic World MotherBlack metal legends return to form with an outstanding release that perfectly straddled the line between brvtal and melodic.

Disappointment of the Year:

Pallbearer // Forgotten Days – I love Pallbearer. Foundations of Burden is one of my favorite doom albums of all time. But something has happened to my beloved band. Maybe it’s a desire to explore a more proggy path. Maybe a lurch towards being more listener-friendly. Or maybe it’s simply the AMG Law of Diminishing ReturnsTM. Regardless, the downward trend begun by Heartless is continued with the anemic Forgotten Days. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t terrible… it’s just completely unremarkable. And for Pallbearer, that is profoundly disappointing.

Song o’ the Year:

Loviatar – “Silica”

Dear Hollow

We made it, Al! We got a list, so we’ve officially graduated from insufferably overrating n00bs to insufferably overrating contributors! Three cheers for mediocrity!

It’s year-end, so while we all hope that 2021 offers a tad more optimism than 2020, it’s still prime time for reflection and wonder. Can we all just breathe a sigh of relief that we made it to the end? As a teacher, it’s been an absolute dumpster fire picking up after the shutdown, good and bad: from picking up bad work ethic to giving kids a safe place to go, it’s just great to see shining faces alight with new knowledge and mischief even if they’re covered in masks.

Good or bad, it’s been a year of self-discovery and learning what really matters. My wife and I bought our first house in February and have had extra time to really enjoy it, thanks to the shutdown. I got to decorate our house with icy blue Christmas lights, nearly plummeting to my death in the process, as well as discovering the never-ending stream of breaking appliances, like blowing several fuses of said Christmas lights and realizing that you shouldn’t try to put three pounds of cooked chicken down the garbage disposal. My point is, it’s been a year to remember.

I’ve had a blast writing reviews for AMG, so thanks to everyone I write with and for, as it truly is a community that supports and empowers. A special shoutout to Carcharodon, Holdeneye, Doom_et_Al, and TheKenWord for the fantastic conversation and venting sessions. Big thanks to Madam X, Steel Druhm, and the good doctors Grier and Wvrm for putting up with me when I’m lost and have way too many overly specific questions. Finally, thanks to you guys, the readers, who offer insights and snark, praise and criticism—it makes us all better writers and better people. I hope the end of 2020 offers you a lovely holiday season with family and friends (social distanced, of course), and I pray that your hearts be filled with peace during this time.

2020’s music has been on a roll this year, offering respite for a year on a roll with shitty circumstances. I’ve felt it necessary to focus on the blackened arts this year, which has been a roller coaster of the good, the bad, and the ugly. But we’ve been shredding along, rolling with the punches. If you’ve followed my reviews, I haven’t exactly been the most thrilled with the year at large,1 so below you’ll find some things that tickled my dear ol’ antlers.

Without further ado, onto metal, ye noise-mongering fuckwads!

#(ish). Dkharmakhaoz // Proclamation ov the Black Suns – While Belarus’ Dkharmakhaoz does little to challenge black metal, they’re armed with their extremely unique, nearly industrial guitar tone and obsidian dissonance. A debut doesn’t get much better than this: a pitch-black album that never compromises its atmosphere for the strength of its individual pieces. Tracks like the title track and “Ascension” showcase the range of their songwriting, doomy and atmospheric with experimental flourishes keeping things interesting, and always unsettling.

#10. Neck of the Woods // The Annex of Ire – Deemed “progressive death metal,” these Canadians fuse accessibility with mind-bending technicality with an absolute beast behind the mic. Conjuring the likes of Between the Buried and Me and Gojira, The Annex of Ire is worth a golf clap for its admirable technical leads and mathy rhythms, but a blasting hoot ‘n holler for its ability to be listenable. Tracks like “Skin Your Teeth” and “Ambivalence” are absolutely relentless, packed wall to wall with pummeling riffs, while the opening title track and closer “The Tower” showcase proggy serenity in bass solos and mesmerizing repetition. A true genre-bending beast with tons of replay value. Crank it up, eh?

#9. Death. Void. Terror. // To the Great Monolith II – While 2018’s To the Great Monolith was truly a terrifying and fantastic piece of music, its successor incorporates much more dynamic songwriting and restraint. While still rumbling murkily about in the background with chaotic black/doom shenanigans, the newfound choral textures and passages of stillness offer a sense of blasphemy and menace its predecessor merely hinted at. With a feasible runtime split up into even more feasible pieces, To the Great Monolith II sees Swiss enigma Death. Void. Terror. on the up and up.

#8. Wayfarer // A Romance with Violence – It’s rare to have stunning black metal paired with such a visceral and engaging story, but Wayfarer’s tale of American westward expansion drives A Romance with Violence with grace and purpose. While its blackened tropes offer little variation to the scene, the purpose with which it’s guided, its western atmosphere, and the patient execution of its formidable assets make tracks like “The Crimson Rider (Gallows Frontier, Act I)” and “Vaudeville” some of the year’s best tracks. Punctuated by tasteful interludes, blasts of fury, and distinctly American musical trademarks, it’s an evocative listen and easily the band’s best.

#7. Igorrr // Spirituality and Distortion – Up to this point, Igorrr’s releases have had some dimension of novelty. Frankly, baroque freakouts over breakcore with an “everything and the kitchen sink” aesthetic doesn’t have much staying power, but Spirituality and Distortion finds songwriting muscle in restraint and subtlety. Don’t get me wrong, this Frenchman’s fourth full-length is still weird as shit, but the abrasive electronics in tracks like “Very Noise” and “Downgrade Desert” keep the album grounded, while “Parpaing” and “Himalaya Massive Ritual” are fully realized death metal beatdowns. The result is a more accessible album with more than enough dynamic to justify its length.

#6. Calligram // The Eye is the First Circle – While black metal and hardcore fusions are nothing new, they’re seldom this immaculate. International collective Calligram snuck into my life for a tour-de-force of sinister and crushing proportions, featuring first and foremost a pristinely executed atmosphere of dread. Executed with flourishes of sludge and doom, its bulletproof songwriting traipses genre trappings: black enough for dread, punk without the tackiness, and doom without the drudgery. A near perfectly balanced album of blackened fury and dread.

#5. Gaerea // Limbo – A range of emotions, textures, and flavors greet your ears as Limbo lands gracefully upon your psyche. While previous efforts were certainly darker and bleaker than Limbo, Gaerea has accomplished a range across its sophomore effort, making it an extremely balanced and menacingly blacked affair. While resorting to all-out assaults in tracks like “To Ain” or “Conspiranoia,” they nonetheless always seem to have something up their sleeve at their most violent, making tracks like “Null” or “Mare” tantalizingly complex. Another win in a series of victories for these Portuguese.

#4. Ulcerate // Stare Into Death and Be Still – Combining the patience of The Destroyers of All with the fury of Everything is Fire and a newfound element of melody hinted in Shrines of Paralysis, Ulcerate offers a step forward in quality and variety. While “Drawn Into the Next Void” and “Lifeless Advance” are blasters reminiscent of Everything is Fire, the title track and closer “Dissolved Orders” display a humanity in crystalline melody that emerges from the dissonant depths in stunning clarity. Through Stare Into Death and Be Still, these New Zealanders take a step forward while never forsaking what we love and adore about them.

#3. Paysage d’Hiver // Im Wald – Wintry black metal its best, from one of the most consistent black metal musicians out there. In their “first” full-length, don’t expect another Winterkälte or Kristal und Isa, as sole member Wintherr accomplishes a massive step up in a sprawling two-hour long trip through icy forests. While its tracks of trademark blistering iciness and intertwined ambiance is the centerpiece of Im Wald, Paysage d’Hiver also creates evocative ambient interludes, providing brief respites that make its massive runtime more feasible. A true monument from one of black metal’s most consistent.

#2. Neptunian Maximalism // Éons A sprawling and intense listen that spans nearly every breed of music there is. Easily the most perplexing piece of maybe-metal I’ve perhaps ever experienced, this Belgian collective takes listeners on a trip through the geological timeline of earth from creation to destruction. Utilizing traditional folk, free jazz, drone, and blackened doom while taking advantage of every member’s formidable talents, Éons is easily one of the most challenging pieces of music in recent memory, but also one of the most rewarding. From ritualistic pulsating percussion to swaths of warm drone, this wildly unique three-disc odyssey through space and time is both captivating and haunting.

#1. Imperial Triumphant // Alphaville – Compared to the sprawling Vile Luxury, Alphaville’s more streamlined approach has certainly been a point of contention at the office, but your favorite New Yorkers channel meticulous chaos in ways few can. Instead of scattering its formidable assets across its runtime, Imperial Triumphant channels them all simultaneously, as dissonance, free jazz, and off-kilter rhythms collide in menacing black/death space. The result is something menacingly deliberate by contrast to its splattering predecessors: simultaneously more listenable and more challenging, it requires multiple listens to unearth its bounties. True to the project’s concept, Alphaville is a soundtrack to the Big Apple’s regality and dereliction, a sinister game of contradictions that speaks beyond Times Square and underneath the skin of anyone who dares to listen. A whimpering and roaring success, and the best of the year.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Svalbard // When I Die, Will I Get Better? Melodic hardcore/screamo with post- and black-metal tendencies, its heart-on-the-sleeve approach offers a refreshingly straightforward listen with gut-punching vulnerability and head-banging energy.
  • Ulthar // Providence – Lovecraftian blackened death metal with a lovely blend of cavernous riffs and dissonant technicality for Cthulhu to, as the kids say, 720 quickscope your ass. Probably.
  • Dark Buddha Rising // Mathreyata – While drone-meisters like Sunn O))) rumble along like stampeding sloths on Prozac, these Finns’ adherence to dynamics and growth gives their seventh full-length an organic breathing quality alongside its trademark brooding menace.
  • Orbit Culture // Nija – An epitome of modern death metal in a simultaneously catchy and crushing execution of death, melodeath, groove, thrash, and a healthy dose of atmospherics.
  • Atramentus // Stygian – The year’s finest funeral doom that doesn’t reinvent a divisive style but instead creates colossal atmosphere of melancholia, bleakness, and dread. After all, what else could you possibly want?
  • Hwwauoch // Protest Against Sanity – Continuing a tradition of being as goddamn unlistenable and visceral as possible in their third release, the onomatopoeic Hwwauoch offers the band name to get hit by baseball bats to2 and a dense soundtrack to insanity.
  • Cryptic Shift // Visitations from Enceladus – Twisty and dense, thrashy and brutal, it’s death metal that fuses boundless energy with a cohesive narrative. A fantastic death metal release: technical, ambitious, and just plain fun.
  • The Acacia Strain // Slow Decay – While last year’s It Comes in Waves was a surprisingly restrained and post- influenced effort from one of the least restrained deathcore bands to ever deathcore, Slow Decay instead channels fury into a lurching doom influence that reflects the menace of its title. Huge, uncompromising, and unbelievably pissed off.
  • Old Growth // Mossweaver – While atmoblack is a tried and tired group of pretty sounds, this German exploration of the organic and natural fills the Agalloch-shaped hole with an evocative blend of ritualism and ambiance through patient songwriting and folk melodies.

Disappointments o’ the Year:

  • Huntsmen // Mandala of FearAmerican Scrap was a fantastically solid listen of dynamic doom with sludge and post-metal. Mandala of Fear decided to put it on the torture rack, eschewing subtlety and good songwriting in favor of stretching its runtime to “epic” proportions. The result is a stretchy noodly doom monster that can’t hold itself up.
  • Vassafor // To the Death – Certainly not a bad album, to be sure, but its riff-centered structure paired with its bloated runtime alienates fans of both the balanced The Obsidian Codex and the doomy snoozer Malediction. Fans of the riff will drool over To the Death, but the rest of us just wanna go home by the end of its hour-plus runtime.

Song o’ the Year:

The Ruins of Beverast’s “The Grand Nebula Pulse” – While 2020 has yielded little of our favorite German blackened doomster, this gem from the split with the Icelandic Almyrkvi was truly a diamond in the rough. A summation of The Ruins of Beverast’s career, it channels the ritualism of contemporary releases and the rawness of earlier work, as well as the project’s trademark haunting songwriting. Truly the best song of the year, and hopefully a sign of things to come in the forthcoming The Thule Grimoires.

Show 2 footnotes

  1. My average rating has been 2.7.
  2. Thanks, Cherd.
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