The Best Metal Albums of 2020

I’ll be honest, I didn’t listen to nearly enough new material this year. What a god awful twelve months, no festivals, multiple lockdowns and an economy brought down to its knees. It’s fair to say that there was more important things happening in the world than new records, with that said, here are our choices for the best metal albums of the year. Onward 2021!

Paradise Lost – Obsidian

I’ll keep my explanation brief with this one. All you need to know is that it’s one of the band’s best records in a very long time. Obsidian took everything from The Plague Within and Medusa, and injected some of their mid era gothic flair. A masterpiece of death/doom.

Imperial Triumphant – Alphaville

If someone was to tell me that this band would exceed their work on 2018’s Abyssal Gods, I would never have believed you, but the New York City trio did that and more. A mind-altering combination of atmospheric death metal combined with freeform jazz, Alphaville is as heavy as it is unique. One of my most spun albums of the year, one I will remember for a long time to come.

Fluids – Ignorance Exalted

Fluids, thy old-Carcass sound lives on through thee! To be more specific, much like with Pissgrave’s 2019 grind album Posthumous Humiliation, I am in love with the old school Earache Records grind sound. Fluids give their own spin on a long dormant genre, and manage to do it justice whilst adding their own creative spin.

Katatonia – City Burials

One of the only good thing to happen in my life post-lockdown, besides returning to University, was discovering Katatonia. I fell in love with The Fall of Hearts, Tonight’s Decision, and Viva Emptiness and other albums of their later work. City Burials carries on the trend of moody, atmospheric post-rock. It’s beautiful, and exactly what I wanted out of a new album from the band, following a four year hiatus.

My Dying Bride – The Ghost of Orion

Despite my love for death/doom bands, one in particular also from Halifax, my knowledge of My Dying Bride always felt limited. That changed with their last release, Feel the Misery. I was hooked from the first listen, despite some flaws I found in the production. The Ghost of Orion is a return to form, and a much meatier beast overall. Easily a contender with Obsidian for this year’s best doom album.

Solstafir – Endless Twilight of Codependent Love

I’ve been a fan of Solstafir since I first heard Masterpiece of Bitterness. The band changed direction around 15 years ago and have instead shifted towards post-metal, and like Katatonia, a change I think they made for the better. Endless Twilight doesn’t quite have the staying power of 2017’s Berdreyminn, nor the impact of 2014’s Òtta, but it’s another fine example of moody metal from Iceland’s coldest musicians.

Carcass – Despicable (EP)

Again, I’ll keep my notes here brief. What else can I say? I absolutely adore Carcass and have for almost a decade now. It’s been a long time since Surgical Steel, 2013, and whilst this is an incredible EP, my hunger isn’t quite satisfied. Still waiting on that full length follow-up!

Hail Spirit Noir – Eden In Reverse

All hail the 70s? I’m always supportive when a metal band tries something different. I was a big fan of Noir’s previous release, Mayhem in Blue from 2016, but this new album was a big departure from their experimental black metal roots. What remains is a trippy blend of black metal guitar techniques, synths and clean vocals, and it all works very well.

Proscription – Conduit

Like with other entries that I’ve already reviewed this year, I won’t waste much time repeating myself. Conduit is a savage mix of blackened death metal that strikes all the right chords for me. It’s my favourite genre of music, and this band have added to it very well.

Faidra – Six Voices Inside

What a debut! Formed in 2019, this band deliver their take on the black metal genre with a Burzum meets Batushka fusion. The result is very atmosphere, gorgeously produced and utterly unforgettable. Put it this way, this was one of the first albums I heard this year, and one of the first that I shortlisted in consideration. If you’re a fan of black metal, you’re on this site so you should be, spin it at your earliest convenience.

Midnight – Rebirth by Blasphemy

Long live blackened thrash! I’ve been a big fan of bands like Venom since I had my first taste of extreme metal many years ago. Midnight have helped to rekindle my love for proto-black and crossover thrash beautifully. Their single Fucking Speed and Darkness is one that I’ve listened to heavily this year through drinking sessions and parties with friends. It’s gloriously depraved.

Inquisition – Black Mass for a Mass Grave

Say what you will about Dagon and the rumours, I’ve met him after the fact and my mind is made up on that situation, Inquisition return after a four year gap with yet another long form black metal opus. It’s old school to the core, with a frozen edge throughout, and features everything you could ever want from the Columbian duo.

UADA – Djinn

I’ve reviewed this one anyway, so this will be swift. I’m a great lover of everything UADA, and with their third record, the band have finally broken out from the mold of Mgla to deliver something really special. The comparisons may have been warranted when Devoid of Light released, but they haven’t been accurate for a long time. Djinn is brighter and more optimistic, and for the better in my eyes.

Naxen – Towards The Tomb of Times

I think it’s best for an album like this to speak for itself. Words really can’t do it justice. Imagine that you’re immersed in a dark and wet cave with no warmth or light in sight. You keep walking through the dark for solace, but salvation doesn’t arrive. That’s what Naxen have done. It’s utterly miserable, but it’s essential listening as far as I’m concerned. Dark. Cold. Depressing. Everything you want.

Nebula Mori – A Ghost Amongst The Stars

Just with Faidra, another really strong debut album from a very promising band, this time from cosmic black metal duo Nebula Mori. It’s a very underappreciated subgenre of black metal, I can only think of few bands that do it as well, Screaming Savior and Hoth, but Mori are doing something very different. Goes without saying that it’s frostbitten and as bleak and black as the endless void of space. Again, nothing I can say should sway you, give it a listen. You won’t regret it. I promise.

Featured Image made by BigManOrnstein.

The Best Metal Albums of 2019

Rounding out the end of the 2010s in style, 2019 was a monumental year for metal music of all genres and persusations. As such, here at Pit of Plagues, we’ve found that limiting ourselves to ten mere records this year was just too difficult. Without further delay, here’s our extended list totally our picks for the top fifteen metal albums of the year, list is ranked in no particular order. 

Hath – Of Rot and Ruin

An open that will no doubt be heavily featured in many other end of year lists, Of Rot and Ruin is a landmark victory in death metal music and the album stands head and shoulders above a lot of its competition for countless reasons. Taking the lyrics of FromSoftware’s Dark Souls and running with it in the darkest and most sincere fashion possible, Hath combined their love of the series with their unrivalled technical ability and truly a second is not wasted here on a fantastic atmospheric record that will stand the test of time for years to come. 

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Gaahl’s Wyrd – Gastir – Ghosts Invited 

Gaahl is a man that certainly needs no introduction if you’re at all familiar with the black metal scene in recent years. Gaahl’s Wyrd sees the ex-Gorgoroth singer and former Trelldom spearhead use his unique vocal range and creativity to utilise a more matured and slower dark metal album than what he has been traditionally known for in the past. The result is a very cold, moody and artistic expression of possession that gets in your head and refuses to let go. Getting to see many of the songs present on the album, including standout for me, ‘Carving the Voices’ was one of the most intense live performances I have ever seen, and a true testament to the band’s commitment to their pioneering craft.  

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Darkthrone – Old Star

Good old Darkthrone. Heavy, old school and unrelenting in their approach against modern conventions. The duo’s latest effort is a slightly faster and punchier 80s inspired effort consisting of six songs and heavily inspired by the likes of Motorhead, Venom and the like. It may be short but Old Star is certainly sweet, tracks like ‘I Muffle Your Inner Choir’ and ‘The Key is Inside the Wall’ will make any self respecting metalhead want to shred away on their axe to the catchy riffs, and bang their heads until they develop brain damage. In short, It’s Darkthrone. You know exactly what to expect from these guys, they don’t disappoint. 

darkthrone

Green Lung – Woodland Rites

One of the freshest things to happen to the metal genre in a very long time, Green Lung’s debut record Woodland Rites set the world alight with their ritualistic 70s acid rock/doom metal hybrid that’s as infectiously catchy and addictive as the substances available at Woodstock in 1969. Out of everything on this list, Woodland Rites is one of the most listened to albums here. I personally just couldn’t get enough out of tracks like ‘Let the Devil In’ or ‘Templar Dawn’. It’s clear that these guys are inspired by all manor of acid rock and stoner music and the Londoners take full advantage of modern production with that proto metal flair to create something very special here. 

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Insomnium – Heart Like a Grave

Insomnium have been one of my favourite bands of all time for well over five years now. Heart Like a Grave is another solid jewel in the crown of melodic death metal and continues that steady stream of atmospheric, folkish and melancholic melodic death metal that the Finnish rockers are well established for. Heart Like a Grave borrows and adapts from the band’s lengthy back catalogue in the best ways, it’s easy to hear something on this album and get that nostalgic feeling from The Day it All Came Down or One For Sorrow. That’s not to say that plenty of new and exciting things aren’t brought to the table here, because they are. Namely, the addition of Jani Liimatainen (Cain’s Offering) who brings an aura of bright and youthful energy to the guitar work which really works in the band’s favour, most notable on songs such as ‘Valediction’ as well as ‘And Bells They Toll’. Without question, Heart Like a Grave is not only one of Insomnium’s best albums, but also one of melodic death metal’s finest hours also. 

heart like a

Mgla – Age of Excuse

The ultimate criticism of humanity, a depraved and misanthropic account that humanity is a plague that needs to be rid from the earth. True nihilism, true darkness. Age of Excuse is a black hole, a vortex that sinks forever never letting the listener catch a breath or see sunlight again. Powerful atmosphere and technical pounding drums permiate every facet of this modern black metal masterpiece from start to finish. Mgla very much are leading the charge in showcasing the best of atmospheric black metal with their own identity and polish to boot and Age of Excuse may be their best album of their career yet. 

mgla

1349 – The Infernal Pathway

1349 are a band that I feel have never really got their day in the sun alongside their genre contempories. All that has changed with the release of the bleak and blackened The Infernal Pathway with strips back black metal to its raw essentials, relying only on old school blackened shredding and thrash technique and catchiness to spread their message. This record doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but what it does it take you back to the times of the first wave (Bathory especially) and remind us all why we fell in love with black metal in the first place. 

1349

Embrional – Evil Dead

Evil Dead wears its black and dried up heart on its sleeve and is unashamedly primal in execution. It’s a record that isn’t afraid to slow down and let a knuckle-dragging caveman riff or tremolo bridge ride on for a few minutes and let the listener soak in the heavy and overbearing punishing nature of the music before unleashing on songs such as ‘Day of Damnation’. In a year with so many phenomenal death metal records, Evil Dead is one that fans of the genre should not pass up on. 

evil dead

Pissgrave – Posthumous Humiliation

Pissgrave are a band that don’t give a fuck about anything! If that isn’t already self-evident by the album cover or the raw and eerie approach to their simplisitic song writing prowess then I’m not sure honestly how else to convince you. On Posthumous Humiliation, the band boil down death metal to the bone and deliver a wretched abortion of grinding guitars, putrid drums and demented vocals in such a fashion that only they themselves could pull off without it all going to shit. A lesser band with the same parameters would crumble under the circumstances but Pissgrave rise above their unique soundscape and put out one of 2019’s most punishing records without breaking a sweat. 

poss

Absentation – The Intellectual Darkness

One of the most surprising albums of the year for me, Syria’s very own Absentation floored me with their catchy, punchy songwriting and melodic guitar playing. What was especially impressive, I found, was that Absentation is the work of one man, and you would be damned if you knew that from your first few listens. Without a doubt, The Intellectual Darkness has been one of my most spun death metal albums of the year and it’s mostly because I just can’t get enough of the thrashy and in-your-face attitude or catchy death metal riffs that can be found on tracks like ‘Thoughtless Thoughts’ and ‘Endless Insanity’. The man behind the band has promised that 2020 will yield an even bigger and more technically impressive album in the near future so stay tuned to the page people, you never know, this might not be the last time we see Absentation on an end of year list. 

absen

Blood Incantation – Hidden History of the Human Race

I’ve used the term old school a lot in this list so far and no more is it fitting than when describing Blood Incantation’s latest effort, History of the Human Race. Bands like Immolation come to mind in the latter portions of the record and it’s inspiring to see a death metal band in the late 2010s have the guts to throw a near-20 minute epic of a song as a finale to an album. There’s little more that I can add that hasn’t already been said, so I’ll keep it brief. Fearlessly blending psychotic death metal with trippy space-like atmospherics, Hidden History of the Human Race sounds and feels like an album that could have been released thirty years ago, giving it a a timeless feature in the halls of metal history. It’s something brave and exciting that definitely should not be glossed over. 

hidden

Negator – Vnitas Pvritas Existentia

Without question Negator have pumped what is the standout black metal record of the year. Combining the likes of modern Dark Funeral with the straight up and uncomprimising approach of bands like early Behemoth, Negator’s newest album is as fast and as dark as the best that Norway has to offer whilst grinding away at fearsome speeds at times. It might not be the most wholely original effort on the list but Vnitas Pvritas Existentia takes the best of black metal’s recent years and polishes it to a mirror shine.

negat

Deadspace – The Grand Disillusionment 

Is it any surprise to anyone that this record would show up here? I’ll keep this review short as I’ve already written a lengthy review on this very site, link below. However, The Grand Disillusionment is a groundbreaking, bold and modern depressive black metal album that encapsulates the human condition, self-loathing and hatred for all of mankind in a way never done before. Its brazen and unforgiving approach is uncomprimising and the way the album never really slows down in its intensity makes it especially scarring. 

deads

Батюшка – Панихида (Batushka – Panihida) 

Forget the controversies, forget the in-fighting and the meme of a million bands all using the Batushka name and let’s focus on the original and the best for a moment. Derph’s true follow-up to 2015’s Litourgia hits every note that the debut did and more with an album that is darker, edgier and more chaotic in every way. Panihida stands head and shoulders above anything done by Bart’s poor imitation, (If you can call the trainwreck that is Hospodi an imitation and not a complete fucking failure to music) and shows all unequvically that the true king is here to reign forever more. Everything is more developed and more concentrated here than on the debut, such as the chanting and clean vocal passages and the thick blackened tremolo audio assaults. It’s more of something you love.

pani

Inferi – The End of an Era | Rebirth 

It’s hard to exactly pinpoint just what makes Inferi so special on a record such as The End of an Era but any speculation going into the album are quickly washed away by some of the most captivating and spellbounding technical guitar playing to ever grace modern melodic death metal, or modern metal generally speaking. A very tightly focused and incredibly sharply executed release, End of an Era encapsulates the many amazing developments in the way we perceive metal music and how the genre can transcend the boundaries of our known understanding and evolve into something greater of almost indescribable energy and passion. It’s a true marvel to relish in and yet another example of just how talented this band are and how earned their rise through the ranks in recent years has been. 

inferi

Honourable Mentions:

‘I, The Mask’ – In Flames
‘The Heretics’ – Rotting Christ
‘Vale’ – Burden of Sight
‘Entity’ – Nucleas
‘I: Voice’ – Warforged
‘Sulphur English’ – Inter Arma
‘Violently Expunged’ – Disgruntled Anthropophagi
‘Steeping Corporeal Mess’ – Fetid