Without world wars or nuclear threats — at least the tensions in Iran had dissipated — 2020 was one of the most violent years in history. After the double or triple lockdown, the millions of deaths around the globe, and the economic devastation caused by an unequal and predatory world that was not prepared to face neither health crises nor natural disasters, the year that is about to end was marked by depression, loss and uncertainty.
However, metal stood up to such complex circumstances; artists from around the world reacted to the pandemic with their most brilliant works, some through transgressive sonic proposals, others returning to the sounds of the golden age of their genres, while veterans of better times came back to offer us a fantastic escape from this dystopia in which we remain.
For many of us, metal was the vehicle that helped us understand and cope with the horrendous reality we live in, the only thing that gave meaning to the aggressive transformation that humanity underwent in a matter of months. It kept us sane, lucid, and resilient: exactly what good art should do.
These are — in my humble opinion — the best albums of 2020.
10. Draconian – Under A Godless Veil
These Swedes possess a prodigious ability to transmit the sound of the transcendent. After the departure of important members and a period of inactivity, the gothic metal stalwarts returned with an album in which, in addition to expanding their characteristic slow and deep sound, they offered an emotional complexity that perfectly expressed the spiritual anguish of their lyrics. In songs like “Sorrow of Sophia”, the single “Sleepwalkers” and the ineffable “Ascend into Darkness”, the melodies take the listener gradually into absolute emptiness. Like the best poisons do.
9. Eternal Champion – Ravening Iron
Eternal Champion is one of those bands that shows you don’t have to sound completely 80s to give us quality, traditional heavy metal. In Ravening Iron, the Texans’ songs don’t complicate things too much and just give us some memorable riffs. There are moments of exploration in the longer tracks, “Coward’s Keep,” and “Banners of Arhai,” but they never lose that cohesive, contagious, and epic sense that characterizes them.
8. Duma – Duma
This year was a revelation when it came to musical discoveries, especially from places where we never suspected extreme metal would even exist, but what is even more surprising is the tremendous quality they brought to the scene. Duma is a duo from Kampala, Uganda, whose sound escapes descriptions. Its superb combination of frenetic electronic rhythms, guitars that oscillate between grindcore and punk, brutal vocals and cold industrial atmospheres represented a breath of fresh air, not only in the global metal scene, but in our perception of what the genre is.
7. Necrot – Mortal
Death Metal is a genre that, even after the stylistic innovations and the genres that have fused with it, will never sound better than in its original form. And if there’s a band that plays that classic stuff better than anyone these days, it’s the Californian outfit Necrot. Mortal is a no-bullshit, direct assault on the senses; seven songs that embody and honor the best elements of the brutal metal tradition; for an enjoyable listening experience from beginning to end.
6. Thy Catafalque – Naiv
At this point, Tamás Katai is at the peak of his creativity; The Hungarian project takes concepts and inspiration from Hungarian folk, the music that came to Eastern Europe from the Middle East, the motorik rhythms of 70s krautrock, the synthwave of the following decade, and the pure genius of Katai himself to create a work that breaks the limits of progressive metal.
5. The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic
Sometimes you need some cheesiness that only hard-rock, poppier heavy metal or even glam offers; sometimes you just want to listen to a fun record, or get lost into a love story. Aeromantic is the ideal answer to those desires, where there is not only a great melodrama at the center, but also contains anthem after anthem of catchy riffs, beautiful melodies and magnificent choruses. This album could be an appropriate introduction to the genre for any youngster, and an extraordinary soundtrack for the holidays.
4. Mr. Bungle – The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo
I really missed Mr. Bungle. The unpredictable band from Los Angeles, led by avant-garde figure Mike Patton, released three masterpieces in the 90s, in which jazz, 1920s chamber music, bizarre metal and references to Morricone coexisted in harmony. However, for their first album in 21 years, the group decided to go back… way back. Patton, along with Trey Spruance and Trevor Dunn, opted to re-record their old 1986 demo. For the job, they recruited the legendary Dave Lombardo and Scott Ian (of Slayer and Anthrax fame, respectively), and the result was the best pure thrash album of the year. But since they are Mr. Bungle, there is no shortage of moments of sheer eccentricity, like their version of “La Cucaracha”, in the middle of their homage to S.O.D, which they appropriately called “Habla Español O Muere”. Pure wonder.
3. Neptunian Maximalism – Éons
The question one must ask about this material is “what does it not contain?” In the universe of Neptunian Maximalism, all forms of extreme metal coexist — drone, spiritual jazz, avant-garde music, tribal percussion and of course, free improvisation. Éons is an exploration of the mystique of cultures, at the same time that it formulates a syncretic vision of the multidimensional forces that define good and evil. At 123 minutes long, Éons is an exuberant world of sound that is easy to get lost in.
2. Napalm Death – Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism
Napalm Death is perhaps the only band that matters in metal today, in the same way that The Clash were during the punk era. After more than 30 years of militancy, and with an absolute commitment to the truth, they released their sixteenth record, where they sound more powerful and more enraged than ever. Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism is, first and foremost, 51 minutes of total aggression, in which the band always shows its best facets, but the most relevant part of the album is its lyrics, where they develop their unique, brilliant analysis of the social and political environment of a planet that suffers and causes all kinds of evils. And in the end, Napalm Death is more punk than The Clash ever were.
1. Paysage d’Hiver – Im Wald
In the midst of a global pandemic that has taken the lives of millions, perhaps black metal is the one form of music that can make sense of these feelings of dread and apocalyptic expectations. Its dark themes and its emphasis of isolation make it the perfect encapsulation of this dumpster-fire of a world we live in. But there’s one record that can truly be considered essential music. Paysage d’Hiver’s Im Wald — officially the Swiss project’s first album, after two decades of legendary demos and splits — offers a new gold standard for extreme metal. Throughout its astounding 120 minutes, the music takes you straight into an endtime scenario, skillfully using black metal’s typical lo-fi, low-tech production to build ambiances of decay, but also taking advantage of digital recording technologies to create a wider sound design space. It feels both anachronistic and otherworldly. Im Wald is an album to get lost in, and its naturalistic, freezing forest approach makes it a perfect refuge in these days of confinement.