GardensTale’s and Ferrous Beuller’s Top Ten(ish) of 2020

GardensTale

This list is wrong. That’s a disclaimer. More than ever, I know for sure that the list below is going to be upended over the course of the next couple of years, as I catch up on releases I missed or initially rebuffed this year. 2020 tripped us all up, and I haven’t been immune to it in the slightest. For some, being stuck at home meant more time to listen and discover music this year. For me, not so much. Having a regular commute and sitting in an office where I was free to ignore my colleagues most of the day with a trusty pair of headphones jammed on my skull was the perfect way to soak in all sorts of releases. Working from home has changed both my taste and thirst for new music and my listening habits and schedules, and everything has turned topsy turvy.

Aside from that, lockdown ennui seems to have drawn up a shell around me that few bands have been able to pierce. I’ve heard plenty of music I’ve enjoyed, but little that I loved, even when I feel like I would have loved it 8 months ago. Some of these I may revisit later, when the world comes back to life. Many I will probably leave by the eternal wayside. I will have to comfort myself with the knowledge that there is so much good music out there, it’s impossible to do all of it justice, listen to all of it as much as it deserves. So we have to pick and choose what to give attention to. Below are the albums I picked to give my attention to during this stupid year, the ones that got in before the shell of ennui was drawn up or that managed to seep in through the cracks.

Oh, and thanks for reading. Y’all are cool.


10. Nawabs of Destruction // Rising Vengeance – TheKenWord could not shut up about this album. Seriously, we tried. I went through three rolls of duct tape. But in the end, I gave in, and what do you know? He was actually right! Rising Vengeance is diverse, inspired, and energetic, and just a whole lot of fun to listen to. There’s not a lot of melodic death metal that still really excites me, but the Bangladesh newbies of destruction topped all expectations. You did good, Kenny.

9. Kvaen // The Funeral Pyre – Some albums, I get sold on the overall sound, or a few select songs. Others, I get sold on one particular moment. The infamous “FIRE, FIRE, FIRE FUCKING FIRE” chorus on this one is what cinched the deal for me, but the whole album is just crammed with great riffs and solos, and an infectious sense of fun. There’s an occasional song that doesn’t hit the mark completely, but to hell with it; Kvaen is a rollicking rollercoaster of melodic black fun.

8. Forlesen // Hierophant Violent – These guys are already winners at the cover art front, but the music is nothing to sniff at either. The name of the game here is patience and build-up. Twice over, in different ways, they take the length of what would ordinarily be centerpiece tracks, just for the composition to have a point of entry. But it absolutely pays off. It’s not an album you play for a quick jaunt to happytown, but it’s a rewarding exercise in long-form songwriting that does justice to the cover art that adorns it.

7. Panzerfaust // The Suns of Perdition – Chapter II: Render Unto Eden – Black metal had a pretty good run this year, but when it comes to the atmospheric variant, none could stand up to Panzerfaust. The drumming alone could implode a German tank, but along with the songwriting that has hooks as well as moods, it’s a devastating force. Panzerfaust oozes war out of its every pore, and it’s as addictive as it is grimy.

6. Melted Bodies // Enjoy Yourself – This is probably the most love-or-hate album on the list. Not everyone can stomach music this hyperactive and this deeply weird. Filled with disdain for modern society, the razor-sharp riffs and barbed hooks of Melted Bodies’ writhing insanity fill one of the only albums that pierced my jaded indifference of the year’s latter half. I love the gleeful sarcasm, the eclecticism, the utterly bizarre inventive idiosyncrasies. And yet it’s so dang catchy I still wake up with “I can’t stay positive when the world is beginning to rot” in my head. I mean, that happened all year but it’s set to actual music now.

5. Gazpacho // Fireworker – I loved Gazpacho when I first heard them on March of Ghosts. I loved them a lot more when their legendary Demon was released. But since then, nothing they released really grabbed me. Until now, because Fireworker is absolutely a return to form. Emotionally engaging even on the nearly 20-minute opener, with beautiful transitions, tremendous vocal work and so many layers of depth, this album finally lives up to the standard the band has set for itself, delivering a dark and alluring journey inward. There are just so many cool, uniquely Gazpacho compositions, like the way the choir is used or the title track flip-flopping between lighthearted indie rock and dramatic symphonics. Welcome back, boys!

4. Black Royal // Firebride – Last year, I had Hollow Leg in my Honorable Mentions for their deliciously blunt caveman stomping. Black Royal has a similar energy, but improves on pretty much every angle. The vocals are ragged and gnarly, the stomps create earthquakes around the globe, the odd insertion of horns or strings accentuates the album perfectly, and it’s so damn fun to bellow along to the lyrics while driving too fast and blowing up your car speakers! Black Royal has become my go-to when the need for sustenance forced me among more people than comfortable, amping up my hatred for people but making it highly enjoyable at the same time.

3. …and Oceans // Cosmic World Mother – …and OceansA.M.G.O.D. was one of those much-loved anomalies in my developing metalhead days, something I just stumbled upon somewhere and adopted into my rotation even though it sounded nothing like anything else I had in there. Since they’d been dormant for so long, I had no idea the band was active again, until I suddenly saw the new album pop up in our promo list. I lost a rock-paper-scissors to review it, but I listened to it more than whatever I did have to review anyway, because fuck me this album is good! Pretty much every track is killer, the perfect balance between glorious hooks, well-implemented electronics, and absolute ball-busting fury. The title track stole riff of the year from Xenobiotic as far as I’m concerned, giving me chills every time it storms in like a barbed-wire hurricane.

2. Xenobiotic // Mordrake – Sheesh, y’all did not let me off easy for loving this one so much, did you? Well, up yours, because I stand by every word I said way back in February. I heard complaints that the style was run-of-the-mill emo deathcore, or even that it was flat-out weepy garbage. Wrong on all accounts. Sure, Xenobiotic don’t innovate immensely on style, but in composition and execution, they get basically everything right. The riffs are complex without sacrificing groove and hooks, the vocals are multi-layered and carry plenty of emotional impact without reverting to one-dimensional sadness, and there is far more variation across the running time than most of their peers can dream about. And there are so many individually kickass moments! Sam’s guest spot on “Saphris,” that riff on “Fractured,” the spine-melting breakdown on “Acedia…” So I reiterate: fuck the haters, Mordrake rules.

1. Protest the Hero // Palimpsest – If you’d said at the start of the year that my favorite album of the year would be best described as technical progressive symphonic post-hardcore with a singer who spends most of his time in falsetto, I’d think you’d gone mental. But here we are, and the fire-red study on the myth of the American dream has rarely left the forefront of my thoughts. This was my first brush with Protest the Hero, and I understood that Palimpsest currently stands at the peak of their discography. I’m not surprised. By all accounts, it’s an enormously accomplished and meticulously crafted album, with technical and songwriting chops through the roof. Yet the performances feel like they buck against the edges, straining the ability of the performers out of sheer passion, and none give more than Rody Walker, whose hysterical style will probably be the most divisive element of the album. I, for one, love it. Few vocalists sound this emotionally invested into their every syllable, whether in derision, condemnation, sorrow or, by the end, hope for the future. I think we can all do with a bit of the latter.

 

Honorable Mentions

  • Anaal Nathrakh // Endarkenment – Endarkenment is like Covid: incredibly catchy, devastating when it hits you hard, and makes you angry at most of humanity.
  • Vredehammer // Viperous and Nexorum // Death Unchained – Two sides of the same coin: burly modern death metal with a blackened edge, chock full of crushing riffs, with Vredehammer employing an electro-edge and Nexorum simply walloping their riffs a little bit harder.
  • Aeternam // Al Qassam – These guys keep refining their formula down to perfection, making for an engaging Middle-Eastern adventure, even though they’re from Canada.

Disappointment o’ the Year

I could be that guy and just say “2020” or refer to all the things that happened or did not happen this year, like the canceled festivals and club shows, including the much anticipated Angry Metal Days. But I’ll stick to the music instead. Which initially left me with a dilemma. Which is a bigger disappointment: the worst album, or the most highly anticipated one? Caligula’s Horse completely failed to live up to In Contact, and that one hurt. But Rise Radiant was still a good album, albeit forgettable. Huntsmen, on the other hand, tumbled from a spot on my 2018 list to a 2.0 with an overlong and incredibly dull follow-up where they seemed to have forgotten everything they did right on their previous effort. Mandala of Fear was not the worst album of the year, but it’s a steep dive down and for that, they get slapped with the DotY sticker. Congratulations.

Songs o’ the Year

  1. …and Oceans – “Cosmic World Mother”
  2. Protest the Hero – “Little Snakes”
  3. Gazpacho – “Fireworker”
  4. Black Royal – “Coven”
  5. Xenobiotic – “Saphris”
  6. Dvne – “Of Blade and Carapace”
  7. Melted Bodies – “Ad People”
  8. Kvaen – “Yee Naaldlooshii”
  9. Anaal Nathrakh – “Endarkenment”
  10. Oceans of Slumber – “A Return to the Earth Below


Ferrous Beuller

2020 has been awful and we all know why so I won’t bore anyone with preamble. Instead, I’ll just say thanks to everyone at AMG. For many of us, myself included, it has been a much-needed refuge this year, and I, for one, am grateful. A hat tip to Dr. Fisting and Eldritch Elitist for keeping me sane throughout my work schedule and indulging my obsession with Cannibal Corpse respectively. Thanks to all the managerial and editing staff for their, not inconsiderable, work. And special thanks to Sentynel for making sure we actually have a website to enjoy. But most of all, thank you to all the readers. Our community remains mostly bearable and even has the audacity to expand. I’m amazed and only a little appalled.

Musically, 2020 has belonged to death metal. Despite the grim irony, I have loved every filthy second of it and you better believe that black-toothed grin is reflected in my incredibly varied and eclectic list. Now, without further ado, bend your mind towards my iron opine.


AddendumFour Dimensional Flesh by Afterbirth should absolutely be on this list. Invent a new number and insert it somewhere between #5 and #1. I won’t tell if you won’t.

#(ish). Lantern // Dimensions – This year, Lantern reminded me what progression in death metal used to sound like, and I fell in love all over again. Dimensions is a huge record that somehow manages to sound intricate yet burly at the same time. I would happily place this much higher up if it wasn’t for the last two tracks, which slightly lose my attention. As it is, this album is a vicious treat. One I’m sure will continue to light my way for some time to come.

#10. Bear Mace // Charred Field of Slaughter – Chicago’s Kodiak crushers have refined their black humor and poured it into a grizzly blast of old school death metal. While the lyrics are novel fun, make no mistake, the riffs fucking crush. If you have even a passing affection for the likes of Death or Cancer then you’ve likely been blasting this all year. And if you don’t enjoy songs about killer bears, then you and I simply can’t be friends. I just fucking love this and you should too.

#9. Defeated Sanity // The Sanguinary Impetus – This year, the ever-excellent Defeated Sanity outdid themselves with a platter of extremity so twisted it stomped my carcass flat. The Sanguinary Impetus issues a cranium-crushing blunt force trauma that belies a worrying capacity to infiltrate (and annihilate) the memory banks with ease. If you missed this one then remedy that immediately. The Brutalitarian Regime always needs new devotees and if any album could sway you to the cause, it’s this one. Brutal death metal was not bettered this year… but it was battered.

#8. Ulcerate // Stare Into Death and Be Still – It’s always interesting when a favorite band adopts a slightly different approach. Stare Into Death and Be Still is proof that Ulcerate‘s dissonant modus operandi is still effective, even within a more accessible compound. This album often feels like an introspective and immersive cerebral map. Although I still consider the sheer negativity of Vermis to be the band’s high-water mark, this album kept me coming back all year, and that can’t be denied. It’s almost impossible to imagine Ulcerate ever truly straying from the path they helped pave. Stare Into Death and Be Still may be less intense, but it deserves your attention none the less.

#7. Svartkonst // Black Waves – A band that powers a Dissection core with an HM-2 engine will always capture my imagination. Especially when it comes complete with such well-developed songs. Big riffs and a doomed sensibility have kept these mountainous tracks resounding by my side all year. If vast choruses delivered with blackened misanthropy don’t set your soul on pale green fire, then nothing will. This one-man act seemingly conjured itself from the sky and spirited me away on those Black torrential Waves. While I’ve been gasping for air ever since, I’m always compelled to go under just one more time…

#6. Omnivortex // Diagrams of Consciousness – These Finns appeared from nowhere and released a stunning debut of crystalline death metal. The progressive intent of these megaton structures has kept me mesmerized from the off. Massive singular rhythms, twisting passages, and blackened melody all have their place within Omnivortex‘s stellar writing. The result is a cohesive, but unique, selection of tracks, which offers something for everyone. If you didn’t like this then I can only assume you don’t like RIFFS. Or metal.

#5. Dearth // To Crown All Befoulment – Another exemplary debut, Dearth ascended from whatever pit they spawned from and set my year on fire. The churning blackened tumult of this album never fails to scorch my grey matter. To Crown All Befoulment is dense, rugged stuff. That palpable texture keeps these molten morsels smoldering throughout each playthrough and I am utterly resigned to burn along with every moment. It’s a testament to the quality of 2020’s release schedule that it doesn’t chart higher. Take a big breath and inhale the embers left behind by one of the ugliest records of 2020.

#4. Anaal Nathrakh // Endarkenment – There are very few bands that can temper their extremity with accessibility without missing a beat. Endarkenment is just packed full of unbelievably listenable songs that drill deep into the marrow. For a band so famed for their unhinged approach, a little melody goes a long way. That grinding element is still recognizable and the tremolos continue to blacken. But Endarkenment is arguably more about making itself heard rather than felt. And it succeeds. This album will darken many a list, and mine is no exception.

#3. Scolopendra // Those of the Catacombs – At its core, death metal should be fucking nasty and Scolopendra peddle filth with extreme prejudice. Those of the Catacombs offends the senses via a vile host of riffs, inhospitable production, and evil atmosphere. Like a drop of poison, I’ve been infected with this record from the off. Bass tone, inhuman hooks, and utterly disgusting vocals make this one of my very favorite releases of the year. It’s death metal like this that always drags me back to the table. Kicking, screaming, and full of septic hooks.

#2. Karmacipher // Introspectrum – Dissonance is either a crutch or an accelerant. With Introspectrum, Karmacipher have built a complex labyrinth that always illuminates with just enough light to take the next step. I have been dipping into Introspectrum all year and, every time, I find something new to obsess over. Jarring rhythms that almost alienate are legion here, but Introspectrum always defines the limit with a flourish of memorability that immaculately transitions and explores new monochromatic depths. Exceptional.

#1. Faceless Burial // Speciation – Without question, Faceless Burial released the best death metal album of 2020. So many bands feel the need to choose a portion of the genre to exercise. Speciation takes a whisper of everything you could possibly love about death metal and reanimates it into something abominable. Complex riffing and dizzying drum work congeal into the most bizarrely memorable songs, all whilst hearding the tenets of the old school. Death metal threw down a barbaric gauntlet this year and many an album met it head on. But none crushed It, rearranged it and then challenged it all over again quite like Speciation. Above all else, this is the record I’ve listened to the most. These predatory prayers beckon to me through wind, rain, and shine and I refuse to ignore the call. A crown of horns for the corpse king.

Honorable Mentions

Disappointments of the Year

  • The Black Dahlia Murder // Verminous – I can’t remember a note of this album. So much so, I actually forgot it came out this year. Sad but true.
  • Temple of Void // The World that Was – This is an objectively good album. Subjectively, it was a long way from what I wanted it to be. Also sad, also true.

Song o’ the Year

Loviatar‘s “Silica” (but secretly Eternal Champion‘s “Worms of the Earth”… shhhh)

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