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.

Obsidian Kingdom – Meat Machine Review

Meat Machine is the newest album by Spanish progressive metal act Obsidian Kingdom, and comes to us courtesy of the ever prolific Season of Mist, as it is as gloriously fragmented, crazy and diverse as you could ever dream of.

With a record label that primarily focuses on black and death metal artists such as: Tsjuder, Rotting Christ, Carach Angren, Urns, Saor, Solstafir etc. It’s a nice change of pace to experience something as vividly lucid and violently resistant to categorization. Obsidian Kingdom have always been a band that refuse to play into genre conventions and confine themselves to any one aspect of metal music, and I feel that on Meat Machine, they have perhaps hit the full apex of their stride.

In other words, this album is gleefully all over the place, in the best way possible. Upon first viewing, tracks such as The Pump and Mr Pan stuck out for their gorgeous amalgamation of harsh and clean vocals coupled with thick industrial guitars that are reminiscent of acts like Deftones and Voivod in their experimental nature and precipice cascading between the mellow and the verbose.

Obsidian Kingdom – Meat Star

Post-rock elements and extensive use of moody synthesizers are everywhere on tracks such as Flesh World and Naked Politics. The former continuing with stunning female clean vocals performed by Jade Riot Cul as the soft nature of her almost angelic highs recede into a thick Spanish accent as dreamlike shoegaze inspired guitars rise and fall over alternating low toms and punchy snare drums. It is unlike anything I have ever heard before, but it’s safe to say that after a few listens of being outside of my comfort zone here, I found myself unable to escape the entrancing force of all these different moving parts colliding together.

Not to say that there are no moments of heaviness on display here. Meat Star melds the aforementioned post-rock elements with groovy screaming lead and powerful screams by guitarist/vocalist Rider G Omega. There are moments on this release that call my mind recent efforts by Japanese metal band Dir En Grey, their prowess in genre-melding and abstract attitude to making music.

Production wise this record is an audible marvel. It is extremely clean sounding with the percussion being a particular strong point here. The drums sound powerful and are used just the right amount to accent the eccentricities of the guitars, whilst also allowing space for the soaring male/female vocals to weave in as and when necessary. It is without a doubt one of the nicest sounding albums I have heard in a long time in terms of clarity.

Obsidian Kingdom – The Pump.

My favourite song from the record is A Foe. It is a slow yet building ballad of singing and spoken word over beautiful acoustic guitar and dynamic piano that help the listener reflect on everything they have just bore witness to. Without mincing words or wasting time, it is an alluring few minutes that culminate into an eerie atmosphere as low toms belt out heavy as earthquakes. This was the moment I fell in love with the release.

The weirder parts of Meat Machine are going to be what keep people coming back to this album. It would be amiss of me to openly divulge everything in a written review though. This is a record that you need to hear yourself to truly appreciate it. I think it is going to be one that people either love or may get lost within, in my opinion, it is well worth the risk either way. This album was my introduction to the band, and I can confidently say that not only will I be experiencing their back catalogue as soon as possible, but actively listening out to what they do next in the future.