Dr. A.N. Grier’s Top Ten(ish) of 2020

Twenty-twenty, right? Oh man, what a ti… oh, fuck this, 2021 is gonna start just as shitty. Deal with it. Instead of that bullshit, let’s talk about something else. Let’s talk about how this year in metal didn’t really blow me away. I scored some high ones, but that’s pretty much my entire list below. I guess I wasn’t wow-ed because some of my most anticipated albums weren’t as good as the albums before. The Ocean and Unleash the Archers, for instance, failed to impress me because neither topped their last release. The result is that they didn’t crack this year’s top ten. That said, they both deserve some credit for still releasing top-tier records.1 Once again, thrash was a letdown this year. No matter how good everyone says the new Testament and Warbringer are, they aren’t. Even my beloved Sodom felt more than comfortable riding the rails of unoriginality.2 Then some say this is the year of death metal. Not so much. And proggy black-metallers argued that Enslaved put out one of their best. But that’s laughable—Utgard is an utter bore. This year had too many swords,3 too much Nightwish, and there was far too much Nazi Watching going on. Not to mention that a few things happened this year that had people at each other’s fucking throats. And fuck having adult conversations. Twenty-twenty is the year of pissing that away while everyone stands back and throws pointless cuntlery at one another. Or, it could be that I’m just a grouch, and this is all in my head.

Regardless, it’s a nice feeling. The Ole Angry Grier is way better than the Debbie Downer Grier of the last few years. I’ve missed the sharp wrinkled lines of my forehead cutting into my skull. In general, I don’t have a lot to complain about. Well, minus everything that pisses me off. Which is… everything. I’ve got a job, a place to live, a truck to hit people with, and I found my glasses. This means I’ll be able to read through my work before submitting it. And, though I don’t wanna do it, I have to thank the AMG crew for all their love and support. Everyone except Kenny. And Cherd. And Holdeneye. Oh, and Huck ‘n’ Suck. Well, fuck, now that I think about it, I don’t wanna thank any of them. Nor do I wanna thank any of you. I’d love to, but, instead, all I’ve got to say is: OFF YOU FUCK, CHIEF.

OK, that might have been aggressively passive-aggressive, but I feel better now. Let me start again. Seriously, I love you all, writers and readers alike. Thanks for letting me tag along on this crazy rollercoaster for so many years, and please never change.4 Here’s to a safe 2021 to you all, and I hope you enjoy the shit show below.

#ish. GOD // IV – Revelation – Since first stepping into the abandoned single-wide known as AMG’s Southwest Headquarters, I’ve used my “ish” votes to give albums a chance that wouldn’t normally break my top ten. Every year, this spot is for that album I’ve listened to almost as much as my #1 choice. If you remember GOD’s IV – Revelation from way back in July, you’d be clapping me on the back for this statement. Yes, I’ve listened to a two-hour, pretentious, vocal-less, progressive tech-death release almost as much as my top pick. You might be asking yourself how that is possible. I haven’t a goddamned clue. The journey this album takes me on is one I can appreciate. The intensity of the first half, the album’s calming turning point, and the back half’s beauty resonate with a listener that appreciates concepts and themes. I’m not asking you to go to church or pray. I just ask that you take a chance and let GOD into your heart and your life.

#10. Rosy Finch // Scarlet – No matter how hard I tried to shake this one, it wouldn’t let go. Maybe it’s because of the pudgy soft spot I have for Kyuss and the Melvins. Grunge is in no way my thing. Yet, like many of you, I grew up with it. When sprinkled with stoner and Dax Riggsling moments, there’s no way for me to escape. It’s driving music if ever there was such a thing. Late at night, on the highway, my lights spot a wooden sign welcoming me to Sky Valley. Along the way, I’ll cross the path of a Stag or (A) Senile Animal. As the road winds down into the swamplands, the Louisianan humidity is almost suffocating. I pull over and make myself a “Gin Fizz,” adding a splash of “Oxblood” to flavor, and all is right in the world. When the album stops spinning, I find myself back in my apartment—the touch lamp stuck on the color red and painting my bedroom in blood. Rolling on my side, I put the needle back to the edge of the record and start again.

#9. Malokarpatan // Krupinské ohne – Three years ago, Malokarpatan blew me away with their Slovakian interpretations of Bathory, Immortal, and Mercyful Fate. Not to mention the weird shit. Shit like introducing Iron Maiden-inspired riffs with bizarre, folky atmospheres. It’s one of the oddest combinations of elements I’ve ever heard. Even weirder than Sigh. The only thing you can expect from Malokarpatan is the unexpected. After absorbing Krupinské ohne, you’ll find it’s nothing like its predecessor Nordkarpatenland. What the band did three years ago confined ten songs in forty-eight minutes. This time, Malokarpatan did it in five songs over forty-five minutes. Nothing makes sense and nothing is rationally cohesive. But, it works; time and time again. Without a doubt, the most satisfyingly oddball album of the year is Krupinské ohne.

#8. Arcade Messiah // The Host – Though it never made it on the list, The Host’s artwork is one of my favorites of the year. And, musically, The Host is also my favorite Arcade Messiah album yet. I’ve been following The Irishman for a long time, and I’m positively astounded at what he’s done here. I knew what was coming. I had seen hints of its manifestations on last year’s Diagnosis. But even I didn’t see the transformation John Bassett would make with his beloved Arcade Messiah project. No stranger to reinvention,5 Bassett let go of The Host. It’s never forced, wildly spontaneous, and has a mind all its own. Though far and away from the other metal inclusions of my list, the songwriting is impossible to ignore. The Host is progressive without being overly progressive, and that’s just the right amount for ole Grier. Bassett did it again and did it best with The Host.

#7. Havukruunu // Uinuos syömein sota – Ahhhh, Havukruunu, we’ve been together for a long time now. The funny part is the last time I had a Havukruunu release in my top ten, I also had Malokarpatan. Huh… funny. As I’ve gushed and proclaimed for so many years, Havukruunu has done a lot to keep the old Bathory sound relevant. Even more so than their previous release. All it took was those gigantic Viking choirs of the opener, and it was over for me. Uinuos syömein sota is a combination of Viking-era Bathatmory, ripping Immortal licks, and the filthy blackness of Darkthrone. Havukruunu is a master of the style, and this new album made me an even stronger believer. I’m not sure how much farther up Havukruunu can go at this point. But if they continue to release album after album at this level, they, like Second to Sun, will keep kicking it on Grier‘s lists.

#6. Afsky // Ofte jeg drømmer mig død – Back-to-back nightmares. If I could tie Holocaust 26:1-46 and Ofte jeg drømmer mig død at fourth place, I would. This album is also proof that even we writers discover something new in the TYMHM articles. While many of you may think the writers are in cahoots, overscoring power metal left and right, you couldn’t be farther from the truth.6 In less than a week after Doom dropped his review, Ofte jeg drømmer mig død scratched and clawed halfway up my list. Mere minutes into opener “Altid Veltilfreds,” there’s no way I could get away from Ofte jeg drømmer mig død. A despicable blackness slowly overwhelming those beautiful acoustic guitars felt like a knife in my heart. And that first scream from Ole Pedersen Luk unleashed a depression I couldn’t find my way home from. This record is devastating in the greatest way possible and can’t be more pleased I found it. Even at the last possible second.

#5. Deliverance // Holocaust 26:1-46 – “I have… crucified my own Father. I have… buried the dying Christ.” That midsection to “Saturnine” is enough to put Deliverance’s sophomore release on my top ten. But the album opener isn’t the only song pulling its weight. Holocaust 26:1-46 is a nightmare of unquestionable angst, pain, and frustration. This new record is a devastating sludge machine coated in Satyricon’s black tar and formed on a rusting frame from the Hammer of Gojira. When the vocals warble and echo across an empty cathedral, loneliness only intensifies. Yet, there’s comfort in those headbangable moments, even if your heart’s broken and your head bobs like a zombie’s. Holocaust 26:1-46 is the closest sludge can get before collapsing into a depressive black metal. 

#4. Second to Sun // Leviathan – As we’ve all come to realize in the last few years, Second to Sun is unstoppable. All their albums are fantastic, but The Walk, Legacy, and Leviathan trifecta is untouchable. So much so that it’s damn-near impossible to decide which is the best. Even with three albums in three years, Vladimir Lehtinen keeps it coming. Each album is full of writing memorable riffs and life-draining darkness. And, no matter if it’s the vocal or instrumental version of the album, it still gets the job done. Some would say the genre calls for vocals. But Syseov’s voice is just icing on the cake. And the same goes for this year’s opus. The more I listened to Leviathan, the more I couldn’t deny it. It’s probably safe to say that as long as the band releases a new album each year, you’ll find it in Grier‘s top ten. 

#3. Black Royal // Firebride – This album was a late addition for me. It wasn’t until right before List Season that I discovered it, even if it’s been out since Valentine’s Day. I remember hearing, and liking, 2018’s Lightbringer. But that album’s got nothing on Firebride. Besides being one of the heaviest fucking albums of the year, Firebride is a badass mix of influences. In “Gods of War,” I can hear old-school Mastodon. In “Hail Yourself,” I can hear Goatwhore. And in “All Them Witches” and “313,” I can hear the heavier and softer sounds of Down. When I first heard “Coven,” my neck hated me for the repeat listens. Then I discovered “Hail Yourself.” Then “Pagan Saviour.” Then “The Reverend” and “Firebride.” “Jesus Christ,” I thought, “it’s one crushing song after another.” Like Anaal Nathrakh’s Endarkenment, Firebride is another relentless bludgeoning. And, being the grumpy anti-Christian that I am, the album’s hateful blasphemy makes it oh-so-good. GOD on one shoulder and Black Royal on the other.

#2. Anaal Nathrakh // Endarkenment – I’d be lying if I said I was a diehard fan of Anaal Nathrakh. So, you can trust that the reason they are so high on my list this year is that Endarkenment is unbelievable. In fewer words than Grymm‘s fantastic review, this album is the audial definition of 2020 CE. No other record this year is as relentless. And though I tried to laugh the album off for the pig-eye-cock fiasco, I couldn’t deny it’s power. The combination of vocal styles and the ability to squeeze every last drop from a song is remarkable. Not a single song lets you down, nor does it let you relax. Even after the title-tracked opener, you think you know what to expect for the rest of the disc. But you don’t—even after the second spin and the third. After a bajillion releases in a small twenty-year window, how Anaal Nathrakh can floor us all the way they did is beyond my comprehension. Maybe we’ll thank them for it next year.

#1. Green Carnation // Leaves of Yesteryear – I’ve been there since the beginning. Since the days when Green Carnation explored orchestrations and guest vocalists. A time when the band was trying to find themselves. I was even there when they released an hour-long song, tinkered with gothy rock, and dropped an acoustic album. I was there when they fell off the face of the earth. But, in seven short years, Green Carnation achieved more than most bands—metal or otherwise. Fourteen years later, Leaves of Yesteryear is the Comeback Album o’ the Year. In five tracks, the band has gone full circle, proving once and for all that they knew what they were doing all along. A claim reinforced by the fact they finally put Nordhus’s voice on their untouchable “My Dark Reflections of Life and Death.” Sometimes it’s hard to return and insist your music is still relevant, but Green Carnation did it. And I, for one, am glad they’re back.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Winterfylleth // The Reckoning Dawn – If 2020 has told me anything, it’s that I needed a Top Fifteen(ish). The power and emotion of The Reckoning Dawn was a huge step forward for Winterfylleth. So far forward that it’ll be hard to beat by this modern-era of the band. Regardless, it’s fantastic and missed a top spot by mere millimeters.

  • The Ocean // Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic – To these ears, Phanerozoic II wasn’t as good as Phanerozoic I. Yet, I can’t deny how great it is. The Ocean always submerses me, and it’s no surprise their new album did it again. It’s placement as an Honorable Mention only proves how strong the releases are in my top ten.

  • Undergang // Aldrig i livet – Everyone’s told me 2020 was the year for death metal. I didn’t hear it. But every time someone references Morbid Angel, I’m bound to tune out. But when you throw fistfuls of slop at me akin to Autopsy and Obituary, you’ll get my attention. Though Aldrig i livet feels like a tribute album, it nails the style. The guitar tone is gross, the production is disgusting, and the vocalist sounds like he’s singing with a mouthful of blood.

  • Vous Autres // Sel de PierreVous Autres is another one of those bands that never gets past me—like Second to Sun. Last year, their massive debut, Chang du Sang, climbed high on my prestigious list. Sel de Pierre was so damn close, but that doesn’t matter. These Frenchmen are still incredible and highly underrated.

  • Bear Mace // Charred Field of Slaughter – You can never have enough Bear Mace in these wintery months. You can never protect yourself enough from four legs of devastation, wrapped up in snuggly fur and sporting the same frame as a refrigerator. Stay low, shake well, and spray Pooh bear in the eyes with Death, Massacre, and Bolt Thrower.

  • Them // Return to Hemmersmoor – The third installment of The Crimson Corpse story came and went, and we almost missed it. Thankfully, I’m here to help you get your Them kick. This time around, there’s more riffing, more insanity, and more twists. The suspense!

  • Unleash the Archers // Abyss – A few years ago, Unleash the Archers’s released their Apex. It jumped to the top of my list in the blink of an eye. While still one of the best albums of the year, Abyss couldn’t quite touch its predecessor. Even so, Unleash the Archers are a force to reckoned with and show no signs of slowing down.

  • Heathen // Empire of the Blind – Like Green Carnation, Heathen is an old-time favorite. And 2020 saw Heathen release another comeback-ish album. Unlike Green Carnation, though, this is only Heathen’s fourth full-length in over thirty years. Heathen only seems to be around when time permits, but these thrashers are still giants.

  • October Falls // Syys – Earlier, we had an instrumental tech-death album. Now it’s an instrumental acoustic one. One a fine day it is in the world of Grier. After almost twenty years of existence, October Falls has come full circle. Though they released a heavier black metal release at the beginning of the year, it’s this nostalgic record that makes my list.

  • Onirik // The Fire Cult Beyond Eternity – To most, Onirik is a nobody black metal act from Portugal. In 2015, they were a nobody band for me too. But, after improving above and beyond since Casket Dream Veneration, Onirik is very much on my radar. If, for no other reason, listen to The Fire Cult Beyond Eternity for the mfing bass.

Disappointment o’ the Year:

  • Enslaved // Utgard – Here’s one that few will agree with me on. Especially because I’ve seen Utgard posted on so many lists this year. But, no matter how I try, this album is horribly boring. Compared to previous efforts, it does diddly-squat to strengthen the last twenty years of Enslaved releases.

Songs o’ the Year:

The Father

  • Green Carnation’s “My Dark Reflections of Life and Death” – For those that didn’t know, this song came out twenty years ago. It’s one of my favorite songs by the band. And, now, it’s even better.

The Son

  • Deliverance’s “Saturnine” – This song is like a nightmare made real in the middle of the night. You keep slapping your face to fight it off, not knowing you’ve actually brought it out with you.

The Holy Spirit

  • Them’s “The Tumultuous Voyage to Hemmersmoor” – The chorus of this song is the reason I love this band so much. It’s also the reason I can’t let the King Diamond copycatting get me down. I’ve never used the word “tumultuous” in my life, but I bet you’ll keep singing it even after the song is over.

Show 6 footnotes

  1. Yes, 3.5/5.0 is top-tier.
  2. Which is still better than 95% of the rethrashers in 2020.
  3. Lies of steel! – Steel
  4. Well, unless you’re a dick, then seriously off the fuck you should fuck.
  5. Hell, he has more than one of his own bands.
  6. That’s just Holdy.
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