Holdeneye and Cherd of Doom’s Top Ten(ish) of 2020

Holdeneye

Before we get started, you’re probably asking yourself who that beautiful man in the black and white photo could possibly be. Well, not long ago, a discussion about perspiration levels materialized within the Angry Metal backchannels, and in an overly eager effort to participate, I unwisely, yet predictably, overshared a sweaty photo of myself with the group. Cherd of Doom, my listmate, the antithesis of my musical taste, and master of the graphic arts that he is, turned the raw materials into a breathtaking work of art. I was beyond pleased with the results and, realizing that this new look perfectly sums up my approach to music journalism, decided that a change in avatar was warranted. So be4.0ld! Gaze upon the new and terrible face of 4.0ldeneye!

I feel guilty reporting that 2020 has been a relative cakewalk for the Holdeneye family compared to its predecessor. Moving twice in 2019 resulted in us having the perfect location to hunker down and isolate, making the stress I disclosed last year more than worth enduring. In fact, other than the loss of my free time, Covid-19 has left my life relatively unscathed. People are losing their loved ones and livelihoods every day, so I’m beyond grateful to have a stable job and a — knock on wood — healthy family.

In such a topsy-turvy year, writing for Angry Metal Guy was the anchor I needed. Although having the family home 24/7 meant I had to struggle for each and every minute of listening, I found the rhythm of producing a weekly review comforting and grounding. 2020 also found Steel and Drs. Wvrm and Grier begrudgingly welcoming me into the editing cadre, mostly because every group needs a dunce to properly function. Time constraints have limited my ability to perform the duties of this role, but what I’ve done so far has only made me appreciate the work these gentlemen do even more. Once again, I’d like to thank Madam X for patiently doling out my weekly promo fix and Sentynel for vigilantly preventing this website from evaporating into nothingness. And thanks to AMG himself for moving past the Skelator incident and naming me next-in-line for the title of Angry Metal Guy.1


(ish). Brothers of Metal // Emblas Saga – Back in January, I predicted that Emblas Saga would be my most-listened-to record of 2020, and yesterday Spotify confirmed the fulfillment of this prophecy by revealing that my top 5 songs of the year were from the album (#6 was Weird Al‘s “White & Nerdy”, in case you were wondering). This was the record I turned to when the stress of the year was overwhelming me, and every time I did, Ylva Eriksson and co. took me on a heroic and humorous journey through the nine realms. Bonus points: the album also boasts the approval of Mrs. Holdeneye and the Holdeneye children, and is the only record on this list that can make such a claim.

#10. Hell:on // Scythian Stamm – This one came out of nowhere in November to narrowly grab a spot on the list. When I took the review for the cool artwork alone, I wasn’t expecting the music to be just as great. The Ukrainian band’s style of ritualistic death metal left me helpless, drawing me in like a Behemoth to a flame. The inclusion of traditional folk instruments gives Scythian Stamm a unique flavor, but the album never once loses focus on death metal’s primary objective: pummeling the listener. I was both shocked and honored to discover that I was the first person to purchase this on Bandcamp. In this one instance, I can rightly claim to be the greatest of all human beings.

#9. Eternal Champion // Ravening Iron – I was a late adopter of Eternal Champion‘s epic heavy metal might. For whatever reason, I didn’t purchase and explore their debut The Armor of Ire until this year, and although I wasn’t totally blown away by that release, it left me hungry to see what the band would do to follow it up. Well, whatever expectations I had were run through and hacked to bits with a broadsword, because Ravening Iron crushed me right out of the gate with its simple, yet perfectly executed, traditional metal campaign of glory. The artwork is rather cringe-worthy for me, since old habits die hard and I’m still a bit of a prude. So I commissioned Cherd to provide me an alternative. I’m not sure what he calls this masterwork, but I like to refer to it as “Prudy Juggliani.”

#8. Necrophobic // Dawn of the Damned – As I stated in my review of Dawn of the Damned, I owe much of my love of black metal to the work of Necrop4.0bic, so it’s fair to say that this list would look a lot different without them. It’s so much fun to hear a band that’s entering its fourth decade of existence firing on all cylinders and kicking this much ass. These guys have mastered the art of loading their blackened death metal with enough melodic hooks to ravage your mind for hours, or even days, after you’ve last heard them. Don’t be scared. Let the “Tartarian Winds” carry you away!

#7. Sölicitör // Spectral Devastation – No Holdeneye list would be complete without some hometown heroes, and Seattle’s Sölicitör have more than earned their place within these hallowed grounds. Sporting a killer olde-school aesthetic and the stratospherically savage vocals of Amy Lee Carlson, Spectral Devastation is a master class in classic speed metal. From the songwriting to the production, everything about this record feels like the genuine article, and I’d like to think that Lemmy smiles down upon me each time I press play on “Leathür Streets.”

#6. Valdrin // Effigy of Nightmares – Okay, I’ve cooled on this one slightly and might be willing to admit that I may have overrated it a tad. Are you happy now? I’d still say Effigy of Nightmares is easily a solid 4.0 and is by far my favorite bang-for-your-buck album in 2020. In a mere 30 minutes, Valdrin takes you on a terrifying, and at times beautiful, melodic black metal journey through a hospice built to house (read: torture) sick and misbehaving gods. The album’s use of piano adds a chilling depth to the proceedings and I’m still amazed at just how unsettled the record’s final moment leaves me each time I listen. I even love the artwork. There’s not enough PPE in the world right now to clean up that bloody mess.

#5. Blackevil // Forever Baptised in Eternal Fire – Apparently, I’m just always going to have awesome blackened speed metal on my list. Last year, Bewitcher garnered a spot on the roster, and I now bestow the honor upon Germany’s Blackevil. Two things separate Forever Baptised from the glut of similar releases that appear every year: the monstrous vocals of Abyss and the prevalence of melodic classic metal guitar. At times sounding like a truly Satanic version of Iron Maiden or Judas Priest, Blackevil has built a sound that should appeal to metal fans olde and young alike. Immerse yourself in the cleansing fire and emerge a new creation!

#4. …and Oceans // Cosmic World Mother – While I initially thought Valdrin had released what was going to be my favorite pure(ish) black metal album of the year, Cosmic World Mother nurtured my heart and eventually stole the spot, if only by a hair. I just love everything about the modern …and Oceans sound. The addition of Finntroll‘s Mathias Lillmåns on vocals, the trace amounts of industrial elements, the symphonic majesty, and the savage riffery — it all results in an extremely rewarding listen and I found myself returning often to enjoy in full or to cherry-pick choice cuts like “Five of Swords” or Song o’ the Year contender “Cosmic World Mother.” Black metal was good to me this year, and thanks to …and Oceans and Valdrin, I made my cosmic world mother proud by becoming back-to-back Record of the Month champion for May and June. Yeah, buddy!

#3. Scardust // Strangers – You guys gave me a megaton sword of shit for this one, but my resolve stands firm. I love that Strangers makes me think of Symphony X, Epica, and even The Offering, and its electric and eclectic package illuminates my eggplant upon each and every listen. Scardust have taken a collection of elements like funk and folk that, on paper at least, I would not normally fall head over heels for, and they’ve used it to craft a record that keeps me coming back to glean its nuggets of brilliance. Singer Noa Gruman has a dizzying portfolio of vocal attacks, and of all the bands featured on this list, I’m probably most excited to see what these guys do next.

#2. Anaal Nathrakh // Enporkenment – I discovered Anaal Nathrakh during list season of 2016 thanks to The Whole of the Law appearing on many an AMG Top Ten that year. The band’s sound was so far out of my wheelhouse that I’d never even given them a chance in the past, but that album won me over immediately — no small feat for such an extreme style. I absolutely loved 2018’s A New Kind of Horror, so it’s not an overstatement to say that Enporkenment was my most-anticipated release of 2020. This record is the sound of pure catharsis, and I’ve partaken of its comforting madness on at least a weekly basis ever since I got my hands on the promo. This record further cements Anaal Nathrakh‘s status as one of the most unique and exciting metal bands currently running.

#1. Earth Rot // Black Tides of Obscurity – I think blackened death metal might officially be my favorite genre now, because this is the third year in a row that the style has snagged the top spot on my list. Where last year’s Wachenfeldt represented a perfect blend of that band’s many influences, Black Tides of Obscurity sounds more like my kids raided my music collection and crudely Young Frankensteined pieces of black metal and death metal classics together into one blasphemous whole — and I couldn’t be more pleased with the results. Literally, every song on this record kills in one way or another, and as violent and nasty as the music may be, you can tell that these guys had a lot of fun making it — just check out the funk jam from Song o’ the Year contender “The Cape of Storms” or the spoon riffage on the odd, unsettling closer “Out in the Cold” to see what I mean. If one band name could sum up 2020, it would be Earth Rot, and the music fits perfectly.

Honorable Mentions

Disappointment of the Year

Jon Schaffer is my favorite rhythm guitarist of all time, but he spent the better part of 2020 screwing pooches. Demons & Wizards III hit me like a generic version of Ambien and Schaffer’s Christmas collaboration with Matt Barlow had me longing for “Last December” and asking questions of heaven. All this from the same man who wrote Night of the Stormrider and Burnt Offerings. I can’t help but think that Jon sold his soul to the devil before Iced Earth began their amazing initial seven-album run, and that, at some point, the devil realized he didn’t want it anymore and asked for a refund. Jon Schaffer’s right hand is a weapon of mass destruction, and seeing it used for these unworthy purposes is akin to seeing Mjölnir being used to lightly drive a nail into some drywall to hang the AMG Staff Calendar™.

Song o’ the Year

Kenneth Copeland‘s “The Judgement of Covid-19 Metal Remix” – Most people — even the mighty Wikipedia — mistakenly think of Kenneth Copeland as just another multimillionaire televangelist, but those of us in the metal underground know better than that. Kenneth’s sermons serve as inspiration for his eponymous spiritual war metal machine, and this little ditty, released during the pandemic’s initial surge, captured the unholy spirit of the times better than any other song this year.


Cherd of Doom

I’ll try not to belabor the point about the year we’ve collectively suffered through. You all deserve gold stars and pats on the back and honorable mentions just for getting through it. For those who didn’t, for their loved ones and for the healthcare workers who work under unbelievable circumstances, especially in my home country, I’m sorry we didn’t do better by you.

In the “small mercies” category, 2020 has been a decent year for metal of the recorded type, even as the Rona robbed us of concert memories and long term ear damage. Beyond my reviewing duties, I spent much of 2020 deep-diving into funeral doom releases and raw black metal in particular, all while working with the Mrs. to transform our half-acre suburban property into a self-sufficient survivalist outpost for the End Times. Yearly disclaimer: if you read my list, or indeed any of the others, and wonder why you don’t see your pet record, remember that I am but one man with but one toddler son who robs me of time and life force. I probably didn’t get to it. Or maybe I did and your taste is just terrible. I’d like to thank Steel Druhm and Madam X for daily leading us into battle against the untrve, AMG for pulling me aside and telling me that I’m his favorite writer and not to tell the other writers, our editors for catching between 20 – 40% of my typos, and of course you for reading. With that, here’s my objectively correct list.


(ish) Kvaen // The Funeral Pyre – Is it both lazy and arrogant to quote oneself? Perhaps for lesser reviewers. “(Kvaen) play throwback melodic black metal with such verve and venom that it sounds as fresh as when it first emerged from the primordial forests…These are the kind of songs that do nothing innovative, but transcend genres and remind you why you got into metal in the first place.” Not to mention the album contains perhaps the simplest, stupidest, most fun chorus of any metal song this year with the subtly layered and artfully delivered “FIRE! FIRE! FIRE, FUCKING FIRE!”

#10. Spectral Lore / Mare Cognitum // Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine – Yes, it’s two hours long. No, it’s not too long. It’s a concept album about a whole gull-dern solar system and mythology thereof for Pete’s sake. And yeah, the collaborators made an aesthetic decision that altered the order of the planets, but you really should get treatment for your OCD anyway. Ayloss and Jacob Buczarski have given us several of this year’s finest and most dramatic atmospheric black metal songs and one hell of an epic journey in Wanderers. Even their ambient woo-woo track makes sense from a conceptual standpoint, which is a rare feat.

#9. Wake // Devouring Ruin – As an insightful, handsome, and humble man once said, “Chaos plus time equals background noise, but there are two options to keep an audience engaged. The first is brevity. This is why hardcore punk albums are traditionally 25-30 mins long. The second is the thoughtful placement of sonic perches to rest upon. Moments that slow things down, switch to a different sound or texture, or even offer overt beauty in the raging din. Brevity is easy. Thoughtfulness isn’t, and yet Calgary, Alberta’s progressive death/grind magicians Wake make it look like second nature on their fourth album Devouring Ruin.”

#8. Havukruunu // Uinuos syömein sota – It’s difficult not to feel trve while listening to Havukruunu. Just looking at their crudely drawn but oddly compelling black and white album covers are enough to put snow in your forest and bullets on your belt, if you know what I mean. I’m a big fan of their previous albums and greatly looked forward to Uinuos syömein sota. I was right to. Everything I liked about their previous efforts, the icy throwback black metal, the epic melodies soaring up to indifferent gods, are still here. But to this template they’ve added a new dedication to classic heavy metal that comes out in one fantastic guitar solo after another. I’ve added this entire album to my “Music to stand resolutely with furrowed brow on windswept peaks to” playlist.

#7. Korgonthurus // Kuolleestasyntynyt – This is no-prefix black metal. It’s not atmo- or disso- or melo-, but it has loads of atmosphere and melody and still manages to be stark and challenging. It has no gimmick or odd instrumentation or high-minded themes. Open up this black package and all you’ll get is Satan and tremolos. Korgonthurus do nothing fancy. What they do do (giggle) is write better riffs than you, your mom, and 90% of all other metal bands. This album flew under the radar ’round these parts but I happily found it through one of the metal Discord servers I frequent full of terrible taste and questionable characters. Thanks guys. You know who you are.

#6. Anaal Nathrakh // Endarkenment – I’ve been aware of Anaal Nathrakh for some time without ever really diving into their idiosyncratic blackened death/grind. I’d heard them here and there in passing but Endarkenment marks the first time I’ve ever spun an entire album of theirs once, let alone several times. As I understand it, I’ve picked an odd one to start with as there is much more melody and traditional song structure, but if that’s a problem for longtime fans, it’s been a major draw for me. The push and pull of chaotic violence and stirring melody is impressive as hell and whether or not their previous albums have the same elements, I’ve earmarked them for a deep dive in the New Year.

#5. Thou / Emma Ruth Rundle // May Your Chambers Be Full – There are others at AMG who enjoy sludge, though it’s safe to say I am the staff apologist, and I’ve made no attempts to hide my significant love of Thou in particular over the years. When this album was first announced I even advocated for a full Thou primer to be published before dropping the unpopular bid. Well to no one’s surprise, this collaborative effort with the gifted Emma Ruth Rundle has been everything I could have hoped for and more. In some ways May Your Chambers Be Full is a love letter to the 90s scene that spawned grunge and other alt and art rock, but there is no mistaking this as not metal, not sludge, and not contemporary. The result of this collaboration is an aching, emphatic statement that is both nostalgic and forward-thinking for all artists involved.

#4. Sightless Pit // Grave of a Dog – Speaking of collaborations, this is one I was absolutely drooling over early in the year. I love the work of Full of Hell, Lingua Ignota, and especially The Body, so seeing members of all three projects who had previously collaborated in different combinations all come together for the first time was thrilling. Grave of a Dog benefits from the familiarity each artist shares. Far from the usual failed “supergroup,” Sightless Pit is a creative lightning strike, blending power electronics, Kristen Hayter’s haunting and earnestly stark vocals and the spirit, if not the form, of both grind and doom. I hope very much that this is not a one-off project, but a new path forward for Hayter, Dylan Walker and Lee Buford.

#3. Ivan // Silver Screens – Again, and I quote, “Though a veteran outfit, this was my first exposure to their truly unique mix of funeral doom, progressive minimalism and jazz, and with each listen I moved from bemused surprise to fervent admiration. Silver Screens is the rare album that generously gives you what you didn’t know you needed…There is something…pleasant about this. Overtly so. Not a word generally associated with the genre, but then as the album unfolds, it’s clear there is little conventional about Ivan. There are big, solemn riffs here befitting the doom label, but their interplay with poignant, uplifting melodies and stark, sometimes angular guitar lines make Silver Screens a complex listen.”

#2. Ulcerate // Stare Into Death and Be Still – Not unlike with Anaal Nathrakh, this is the first time Ulcerate truly clicked with me. However, unlike the former, I’d tried several times to get into these brutal Kiwis. Sometimes it was production issues, sometimes it was an exhausting uniformity that I, and apparently only I heard. So it was with some resigned ambivalence that I gave in to the rabid fawning and pressed play on Stare Into Death and Be Still. And a funny thing happened: it hit me hard, instantly. The swirling death metal compositions are still here, but the melody and atmosphere are turned up significantly. Previous albums struck me as cold and detached, but this is warm and mysterious without sacrificing the daunting complexity Ulcerate are known for. I never liked feeling I was missing out on one of the biggest bands in their genre, and now I don’t need to.

#1. Imperial Triumphant // Alphaville – New York City is tied inextricably to the origins and myths of American empire, from the stolen Lenape land of Manahatta to Columbia, the original human embodiment of the United States, to robber barons and global industry to the re-centering of the art world in the 20th century to mean streets, slums, and projects. If you’ve been there 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, and Alphaville is their most expansive and sophisticated album to date. This was my album of the year, and it wasn’t close.

Honorable Mentions

  • Old Nick // The Night of the Ambush and the Pillage by the Queen Ann Styl’d Furniture, Animated by One of the Dozen or So Spells That Thee Eastern Vampyre Has Studied – In my exploration of raw black metal this year, I delved too greedily and too deep, disturbing this ancient evil with sharp riffs, goofy synths and an inability to stop releasing new music.
  • Convocation // Ashes Coalesce – Death-forward death and funeral doom with a tectonically heavy guitar tone and a top notch vocal performance.
  • Atramentus // Stygian – Big, big funeral doom. Huge. Bigger than you and me. Maybe not as big as a planet. Bigger than most moons tho.
  • Sumac // May You Be Held – The weirder and more minimal they get the more I like them.
  • Hellripper // The Affair of the Poisons Let it not be said that I have no love for the simpler metal pleasures. Blackened thrash with urgency and riffs for days.

Disappointment of the Year

Pallbearer // Forgotten Days – Look, this isn’t a bad album. It’s got a couple songs that I very much enjoy, but when a band’s first two records are in your top ten of all time, a middling effort on their fourth is deflating.

Song(s) o’ the Year

Imperial Triumphant – “Atomic Age” to “Transmission to Mercury” to “Alphaville” – I’m cheating with a three-song sequence from my number-one record, but I think it’s justified because Alphaville is not a place you turn for earworm singles. Rather, it’s a cumulative experience that can best be encapsulated by this incredible mid-album run.

Honorable Mention

Kvaen – “Yee Naaldlooshii” – FIRE, FUCKING FIRE!

Show 1 footnote

  1. Yes, I have photographic evidence to support this claim.
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