Kronos’ and Grymm’s Top Ten(ish) of 2020

Grymm

On September 18th of 2013, my first-ever Angry Metal Guy review of Vattnet Viskar‘s Sky Swallower debuted on this very webpage. As 2020 opened, I promised myself that I would be more prolific, more productive, and more engaged in my writing. You see, September 18th of this year would mark seven full years of writing for the Internet’s best metal review site. It’s a pretty big deal because it would also mark that I have been writing for Angry Metal Guy longer than any day job I’ve ever held at this point. So, I swore that I would up my writing game, dive deeper than I’ve ever dived before into our favorite genre of music, and really pull out all the stops.

But as we all know, 2020 happened.

Many of you folks likely stayed home and tried to ride out the COVID-19 storm as best as you could, as did many of the writers here on this blog. I… didn’t, or rather, I couldn’t. See, I work at a warehouse that fulfills online orders, so my job, as well as people who work retail establishments like grocery and department stores, was considered to be essential. So whereas many of my fellow writers and editors squeezed in some extra listening and writing time while working at home, I spent the majority of 2020 running around an insanely busy warehouse, fulfilling orders, and trying my damnedest to not get sick or run myself down, which I ended up doing on the regular in the case of the latter. In other words, my work exploded with activity. I couldn’t find hardly any time to listen to music, let alone write about it. My priorities shifted from attempting to be more productive as a writer, to making sure I don’t get sick or run down. So this year’s list isn’t so much a “Top Ten of a wide variety of different genres and bands,” and more of a “Top Ten of things I actually had time to listen to and enjoy this year due to exhaustion and an insane work schedule.” As such, it’s not going to be as robust or genre-encompassing as years past, and I do apologize.

I’m thankful, though, that while I knew of a few people I went to elementary school with got sick with the coronavirus (one of whom almost died from it), I’m one of the lucky few that didn’t lose anybody or my job because of it. It’s still disheartening to see people I used to meet at local breweries who work with me now, due to their jobs being misplaced or their businesses closing. Even more so is hearing about some of them losing a parent or relative due to it. I have no patience or time in people who engage in shaming others for having to start over, or what they do for work.1 All of us lost something near and dear to us this year, whether it’s a job, a family member, or even just the sense of normalcy, and I’m hoping that, in 2021, there is some empathy to be had and given, at least more than it was in 2020.

So, I urge all of you to tell those you love that you love them, as many times as you feel necessary, and then some more times just to be sure. Look out for your friends and family members who are most at risk. Above all, take time out for yourself and do things you love. I’ll be doing so after the holidays are over, and I’m hoping that next year I can visit family back up north again, pandemic depending.

Oh, and if you have a retail or warehouse job and someone tells you that you’re not essential, not-so-kindly tell them to fuck right off.

My thanks and gratitude to my family and friends for checking up on me when things went berserk work-wise. To all the editors and writers here at Angry Metal Guy for being understanding of my absence and sporadic writing schedules. To my partner of 11 years for working through things together, no matter how hard it got. And finally, to you, the readers, for your continued patronage, recommendations on new bands to check out, hilarious and/or insightful comments, and for your understanding and patience in what was a horrifically bad year.

If any of you lost a loved one, a job, a business, or even a favorite hangout this year due to the coronavirus, I offer nothing but my utmost support and condolences. For those of you continuing to put yourselves at risk, whether you work in the fields of healthcare, retail, or warehouse work, keep fighting the good fight, and know that I’m right there alongside you. Here’s hoping that 2021 ends up being less of a shitstorm than this year was. Fuck this year. Fuck this year so goddamn much.

Onward…


#ish. Eternal Champion // Ravening Iron – Only an “ish” in that I’ve spent precious little time with it, but the first few listens were enough to impress the hell out of me. It’s not easy to channel the heart that’s prominent in classic heavy metal, and these Texans have that in spades. A tremendous album that sticks with you long after it dies out.

#10. 殞煞 Vengeful Spectre // 殞煞 Vengeful Spectre – Back in January,2 Chinese black metal upstarts 殞煞 Vengeful Spectre put forth an impressive debut, teeming with the same impressive atmosphere that recalls early Chthonic and Spectre‘s countrymates Black Kirin. Solid, if a bit too short, debut from a promising new band.

#9. Nug // Alter Ego – Another impressive debut, this time from the Ukraine, Nug took post metal, a genre that’s become a shambling corpse for the most part, and made it vital by going hard on the riffs and rhythms, eschewing clean, shimmery vocals that populate modern-day post metal, and basically reminding all of us why we fell in love with the genre in the first place. A grower that keeps blossoming with each successive listen.

#8. Leeched // To Dull the Blades of Your Abuse – I’ve never been so happily disgusted by how grimy and chunky Leeched‘s organic and all-too-real take on industrialized hardcore, and on their second album, they upped the ante by… well, not doing anything different except make things somehow more grotesque while becoming more face-melting and head-crushing in their songwriting approach. Easy recommendation for those who wish Godflesh would become more of a hardcore act.

#7. Lör // Edge of Eternity – Earlier this year, I was wondering whatever the hell happened to Pennsylvanian folkers Lör after their debut, In Forgotten Sleep, made permanent residence in my brain over the last couple of years. Turns out, they surprised all of us with this amazing EP, showcasing not only tighter musicianship above and beyond their already awesome display on the debut, but making the vast majority of AMG writers excited for their second full-length. One of the shiniest diamonds in all of American metal.

#6. Shores of Null // Beyond the Shores (On Death and Dying) – If you’re gonna make your third album a single 39-minute song, you better bring your A-game. Shores of Null not only brought it, but made those 39 minutes almost fly by, not only displaying impressive growth from their amazing debut, Quiescence, but also giving glimpses as to what would happen if Shores of Null decided to go all funeral doom on us. The answer? Good things. Good things, indeed.

#5. Imperial Triumphant // Alphaville – Label me as a hipster all you want, I don’t give a fuck. I don’t spin Alphaville all that often, but when I do, it takes me to places that are simultaneously regal and pristine while also being grimy and disgusting. Imperial Triumphant‘s continued progression as musicians no longer pushes the envelope so much as redefines what the envelope is. Further listens uncover even more grotesque layers, making Alphaville the ugly gift that keeps on giving.

#4. Havukruunu // Uinuos syömein sota – Like the vast majority of you, I miss Bathory a lot. Like, a lot. Thankfully, 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. Havukruunu, in the short time I’ve been familiar with their music, have quickly turned into a new favorite band for me, and I hope Uinuos syömein sota does the same for you.

Vredehammer - Viperous 01#3. Vredehammer // Viperous – Do you like RIFFS? I mean, sure, we all like riffs, but there’s a difference between riffs and RIFFS. Viperous has RIFFS. Immeasurable amounts of them, almost to the point where it borders on the realm of the ridiculous just how many there are, and just how fucking remarkably potent each of them are delivered by the gifted hands of Per Valla. It’s borderline illegal how fucking lethal Valla’s RIFF-flinging ability is exhibited on Viperous.

#2. Godthrymm // Reflections – When not one, but two former My Dying Bride members join forces to bring back the early days of the Peaceville Three (namely Paradise Lost), you know only remarkable things will happen. Those remarkable things coalesced into Reflections, their first full-length, and a masterclass in all things doom and gloom.

#1. Anaal Nathrakh // Endarkenment – I will start this off by saying that AMG Himself was right: I underscored this album. I felt a 4.0 was a good score for a tremendous return-to-form after a shaky detour in 2018’s A New Kind of Horror. Fact of the matter is I’ve listened to Endarkenment almost on a daily basis: on the way to/from work, at the gym, when I’m home gaming, etc. And it rarely feels old or tired. Is it their most accessible album? Yes. Is it still visceral, unflinching, and unmistakingly Anaal Nathrakh? Also yes, to all three. Besides, Endarkenment expertly encapsulated just what I felt about what’s going on in the world better than I could ever put to words. That, and it brings me unbridled joy through catharsis. That’s more than enough to make this vital, as well as soundly place it as my Record o’ the Year.

 

Honorable Mention

Heaven Shall Burn // Of Truth & Sacrifice – Again, I didn’t get a chance to listen to much music outside of stuff I’ve reviewed this year, due to working so much and the burnout that came with it, as well as trying to exhibit some massive self-care via eating right, exercising when I can squeeze it in, and knocking down my gaming list piece by piece. That said, even with the unevenness of their second disc, Of Truth & Sacrifice was a solid outing that brought me back to choice cuts off of Antigone, Deaf to Our Prayers, and even a little bit of Whatever It May Take in terms of hooks and ferocity. It also took me back to younger, happier years when there wasn’t a pandemic, nor there were people who openly acted like complete and utter assholes. Which leads me to…

Disappointment of 2020

An Overwhelming Majority of the Human Race (Well, at least online) – Buckle up, this will be a long, bumpy ride. Look, I completely understand all the discomforts levied this year. I’ve avoided gatherings, miss concerts with a great passion, and my hands have seen way more alcohol than either my mouth or liver. Masks are uncomfortable. Keeping at least six feet away from people is daunting, if sometimes impossible, especially in a work environment. But good fucking god, there is no reason to be an asshole to people, whether online or in person, when it’s not even remotely justified. None. Especially when that person’s lost a business, a job or career, or even a family member or a dear friend. Nowhere is this readily apparent than on that cesspool of unwanted opinions, readily-available misinformation, and ultra-wet-and-slimy hot-takes, Facebook. I’d been teetering with deleting my account before 2020 took root and became the epic shitshow we all know and loathe, but seeing “friends” use FB as a vehicle to either shame workers like me for “not being essential enough,” or seeing Canadian friends use it as a joke to ridicule Americans for what’s been happening to them, or even cracking jokes at the expense of those who’ve lost anything they value this year was enough for me to pull the plug entirely on my being there. People who act like that aren’t enlightened, or charming, or funny. They’re assholes, and assholery knows no creed, religion, political affiliation, sexual orientation, race, or economic background. While I miss the few people I can legitimately call a friend on there, as well as having handy access to music, gaming, and movie news, I don’t miss  the constant mudslinging without self-reflection or the massive hit on my sanity I took while standing by and watching all this shit go down. This isn’t a Republican or Democrat problem, and it’s gonna take a lot more than some celebrities who are several tax brackets above me, banding together online for a sing-along to John Lennon’s “Imagine” to fix.

Song(s) o’ the Year

  1. Anaal Nathrakh // “Endarkenment” – Fucking hell, this song… Upon first hearing this, it just hit. Without seeing the video, or reading the lyrics, or even knowing what the song’s about, the combination of Mick Kenney’s razor-sharp tremolo melodies, frantic riffing, and programmed drumming, along with a jaw-droppingly epic chorus by Dave Hunt, “Endarkenment” flew against the song’s title and meaning to blaze with such a white-hot intensity and fiery truth in the lyrics that, whether intentional or not, fully summed up what a garbage heap 2020 became. That, and it easily ranks as one of Anaal Nathrakh‘s best songs put to tape.3
  2. Godthrymm – “Cursed Are the Many”
  3. My Dying Bride – “Your Broken Shore”
  4. Vredehammer – “Aggressor”
  5. Anaal Nathrakh – “Age of Starlight Ends

Kronos

You don’t want to read about my life and I have no intention of writing about it. At this point in list season, you’re probably done with the whole recap thing; I’ll spare you that as well. If it’s true efficiency you seek, I would advise you skip all of my writing below and proceed straight to yelling at me in the comments. There is nothing here for you. In fact, this sentence is totally useless. I’m just using it to push the first record on the list down below my headshot there. Our editorial team have enough shit to shovel without me throwing formatting to the wind for the sake of my own terseness.4 These five lines go out to them, and to the ever-thoughtful and open Grymm above. Truly, thanks.

But, hey, maybe you’re not choosing to read this. If you have any sense of how your life should be run, you’re on the shitter right now. The wi-fi is bad in there, and the comments aren’t loading. Solidarity requires me to provide the content you need right now. So read on, comrade.


#ish. Intercepting Pattern // The Encounter – It’s djent, it’s jazz fusion, and, shockingly, it’s great. Perhaps that’s because it’s made by a bunch of brutal death metal nerds in their spare time. Regardless of the reason, The Encounter‘s single slick song pulses with paranoia drenched in deceit. Sure, it’s a sappy love letter to Special Defects, but I don’t see Fredrik Thordendal complaining, so I won’t either. Intercepting Pattern‘s combined talents and clear passion are more than enough to pull off this weird but engaging record that doesn’t quite fit in to the metal scene.

#10. Black Curse // Endless Wound – Old School Death Metal is over. It no longer exists because it has destroyed the opposition that gave it shape. It’s just death metal now. Endless Wound is its fanfare, a carol for death metal’s feast upon its own amputated excesses. Greasy, glassy-eyed, and reeking, Black Curse drunkenly dance in the sputtering ashes of death metal as it was.

#9. Loviatar // Lightless – Doom is for old men. I really like this doom record. But I am not yet an old man. Not being old men themselves, Loviatar rejuvenated their doom with a healthy injection of post-metal, pulling the style forward into, well, at least the ‘90s. A small jump, perhaps, but if that’s not current enough for you, I cannot fathom why you would visit this website. Rosy-cheeked doom skeptics are encouraged to take a shot in the dark on this one.

#8. Defeated Sanity // The Sanguinary Impetus – Defeated Sanity peaked with Passages, but they’re taking their sweet time on the descent. And being Germans, they’re hell-bent on exploring every nook and cranny of the spot they find themselves in. Gruber et. al use The Sanguinary Impetus as a vessel for both experimentation and mastery, delivering a few memorable oddities (“Phytodigestion”) alongside some of their best material ever (“Propelled into Sacrilege”). Throw in lyrics on the subject of carnivorous plants, parasitoid wasps, Komodo dragons, and other ecological oddities, and you’ve got a record more than worthy of the world’s foremost brutalizers.

 #7. Aseitas // False Peace – Aseitas have enough ideas to supply three or four bands. That surplus makes for fascinating albums, but it’s their skill in arrangement that provides gripping songs. False Peace manifests a kaleidoscopic future death metal in crackling embers and magmatic torrents, bending and melting the bedrock of tempo and tonality. But it’s kinda long, so, you know. Could be better.

#6. Lord Buffalo // Tohu Wa Bohu – This is the album (or at least one of the albums) you’re meant to yell at me for liking. Having this weird-ass folk-rock album here makes me a massive poseur. But check this out: you could be a poseur, too. It’s fun. All you have to do is listen to Tohu Wa Bohu all the time instead of the much cooler death metal records that you keep passing on for no reason.

#5. Calligram // The Eye is the First Circle – Absolutely nasty. The hardcore/black metal intersection has produced many violent collisions before, but The Eye is the First Circle is particularly gruesome among them. Calligram’s caustic wreckage forgoes the oppression of a group like Plebeian Grandstand for the immediacy of razor-wire black metal riffing and inhuman screams. Matteo Rizzardo’s electric retches melt through the chaos with a caustic imperative that demands not just attention, but transfixion.

#4. Ulcerate // Stare into Death and Be Still – I would be annoyed were I not so infatuated. I keep expecting Ulcerate to cool off a bit, but more than a decade after Everything is Fire completely upended death metal, the kiwis are still so far ahead of the curve it’s almost comical. Stare into Death is unmistakably both an Ulcerate record and a new record. The band’s compositions are as impenetrable and expansive as ever, but by God does this record have hooks. The Ulcerate riff is now so integral to death metal that it can be simultaneously unapproachable and catchy, and every song on Stare into Death uses this fact to its utmost advantage.

Afterbirth - Four Dimensional Flesh album cover#3. Afterbirth // Four Dimensional Flesh – You simply love to see it. After decades spent marking time and a shaky debut, Afterbirth delivered. Four Dimensional Flesh has the valence of an undiscovered classic, something buried by history that, in different circumstances, could have helped shape the course of a quarter century of death metal. Afterbirth use grunge and post-rock to plot out a retrofuturist alternative history for brutality, one that’s colorful and adventurous rather than drab and foreboding. Plus, listening for all of that can help you develop an appreciation for guttural vocals. That way you won’t have to whine about them in the future. Imagine how nice that would feel.

#2. Faceless Burial // Speciation – I’m generally more of a macroevolution guy, but in the competition of “best death metal records named after evolutionary process (reason unclear)” I have to disappoint Abysmal Dawn. Speciation is a saltatory change for Faceless Burial, applying the trio’s clear chemistry and sharp writing to material an order of magnitude more ambitious than their debut. 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. Just like For Dimensional Flesh, Speciation proves that greatness requires no novelty; only a vision and the skill to pull it off.

#1. Protest the Hero // Palimpsest – More than a poser, I am a big weenie now. I am listening to a prog metal/post-hardcore album about American myth-making written and performed entirely by Canadians. It is a bit incoherent. But the music is tech death for the beardless; Rody Walker sounds like mallcore’s Rob Halford. He’s crying his lungs out about Amelia Earhart and industrial sugar accidents.5 He’s belting out the most beautiful lyrics ever written on the topics of covered wagons and burning zeppelins. I am tearing up a little bit. I am screaming in the shower about Lester Gills. Every single song is an absolute banger. I am a big, big weenie now.6

 

Honorable Mentions:

  • End // Splinters from an Ever-Changing Face
  • Fawn Limbs // Sleeper Vessels
  • Sweven // The Eternal Resonance

Songs o’ the year

Calligram/Lord Buffalo // “Kenosis”


Show 6 footnotes

  1. Though, if you want to see me unload, skip ahead to my Disappointment o’ the Year.
  2. Remember how things weren’t as fucking apeshit insane as they are now? Me neither.
  3. Or hard drive, whatever.
  4. I’m so tired. – Dr. Wvrm
  5. Molasses, actually. – Dr. Wvrm
  6. Welcome.Dr. Wvrm
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