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.

UADA – Djinn Review

It has been a very long time since a piece of music has left me completely speechless. On their third record, UADA return to make what is not only likely to be album of the year, but potentially one of the most important records that the genre has ever been graced.

Across six songs, at just over an hour in length, the band have evolved their formula and expanded their musical horizons to include influences from all over the metal spectrum, and Djinn is all the better for it. It’s easy to see the comparisons to bands such as Mgla and Dissection in UADA’s history, and whilst that is an unfair and not entirely accurate depiction of their influences, it is overt to see that the band have far transcended their inspirations and ascended passed their aspirations totally.

UADA – Djinn (Title Track)

Djinn is a much brighter release as opposed to the duology that preceded it. Not only in the production, in which this is hands down the most well recorded and most grandiose sounding music to date, but in the song writing across the board too. Melody is the key phrase that spills out of every pinhole on this release. So many of the guitar riffs on offer here, courtesy of virtuosos Jack Superchi and Jake Sloan, are as haunting as they are gorgeously moving, in a way rarely heard in the genre.

The percussion on display largely takes a back seat with genre-staple blast beats put on the back burner in favour of a more straightforward, and climatic, mix of rock patterns, double kicks and crash/ride sequences. In the same vein, the vocals are less prominent on the record than they were on the previous instalment, though they are no less haunting, just not the main focus to building an oppressive and aggressive nature any longer.

Passionate screaming leads take centre stage across monolithic triumphs of audio, known on the record as the 13-minute epics No Place Here and, the life-affirming closing track, Between Two Worlds. The compositions throughout this hour-long experience simply defy reality and challenge the listener in more ways than one. One minute there are beautiful chorus passages, as found in abundance on The Great Mirage (particularly towards the end), and the next, haunting and pounding fierce six-string black metal brutality as demonstrated in every second of Forestless, passed a stellar dark-ambient intro.

UADA – No Place Here (One of the singles dropped before release)

When comparing Djinn to prior efforts, Devoid of Light and Cult of a Dying Sun, the changes in musical direction are night and day, but in a positive way. If UADA’s first release represents darkness as hopelessness and fear creeps in, and their sophomore effort resembles desperation and desperately clawing into that goodnight, then Djinn embodies a shred of hopefulness and optimism that pierces through the shades of blackened veil.

In other words, instrumentally this album is ever so slightly softer and less intense when compared to what came before, but I believe that this more melodic change was ultimately for the better, as the band were able to completely outshine their contemporaries and carve out a new niche to create something far more impactful, striking and important than I ever believed could come out of black metal in the modern day.

The similarities found between light and dark. A comparison of covers from UADA’s prior two albums.

In some ways the development of UADA parallels that of other American black metal bands such as Ghost Bath. The Dakota-based blackgazers started as straight forward DSBM on Funeral and then went beyond genre conventions with their darker follow up, Moonlover, much like how Cult of a Dying Sun evolved from the grimness of Devoid of Light. Ghost Bath’s third release Starmourner progressed their sound into the ethereal and the melodic in the best move they could have made at the time. So too do UADA realise their full potential on album no. 3 and it is a complete and total masterpiece in every single way. 2020 has been redeemed with the release of Djinn and I feel so fortunate to exist in a time where I can bear witness to incredible music by such talented minds.

The Best Metal Albums of 2018

The previous year brought us some outstanding releases from bands old and new, especially in the field of extreme metal, which is largely what we will be focusing on tonight.

It’s taken a long time for me to compile my thoughts and reign in what I believe to be the best of the year, with that said and in no particular order; Pit of Plagues presents the best metal albums of 2018.

jord

Mol – Jord

In April, Mol finally released their debut album Jord, a crushing mix of black metal riffs and atmospheric beauty, in the vein of bands such as Deafheaven and Alcest. However, what sets them apart is the emotional range of vocalist Kim and his unique approach to extreme vocals. The swelling depth to the masterful guitar work which weaves so eloquently in with the powerful reverb-heavy double kicks and blast beats, all culminates into a truly moving and beautiful experience unlike any other. I also had the pleasure to meet the band after their set performance at Damnation Festival which is what truly sold me on their style. Do not miss out on this band, they are something special.

uada

Uada – Cult of a Dying Sun

Melodic black metal newcomers Uada return with an astounding second album, Cult of a Dying Sun. This release is something which genuinely caught me off-guard as before Cult, I never knew of the band and quickly fell in love. Dripping with punishing choking melodies, brutal rhythms and a horrific blackened demonic vocal performance. The album has elements of latter-era Paradise Lost with the slow-winding lead playing coupled with the edge of Dissection and technicality of Emperor. For fans of melodic metal, this is for you. For people who enjoy their metal black, this is for you. It is almost transcendental of genre due to the magnitude and scope of the release and should not be skipped over.

vasen

Gra – Vasen

Over the last year or two Gra have genuinely become one of my favourite bands and their brand of cold old-school black metal is something that I cannot get enough of. Known as the vocalist of Dark Funeral, Heljarmadr’s guitar playing and outstanding voice lend itself beautifully to a vicious attack on the senses. It is a little more melodic, tamer and composed than Ending but the Norse blood runs cold in these veins. It will not re-invent the wheel but it just might set the world alight.

drink

At The Gates – To Drink From The Night Itself

The masters of Melodic Death Metal return. Gothenburg’s lasting legacy is safe in the hands of At The Gates and on album six they prove it with flying colours. Following up on 2014’s comeback album, At War With Reality, Drink has more of a sharp edge to it. The refined old-school riffs are reminiscent of The Red in the Sky is Ours especially but with the benefits of time and modern production. It’s fierce and does not sacrifice what made them the monumental name in death metal that they became. It’s everything you could ever want from them perfected to a tee.

dilv

Obscura – Diluvium

The level of technicality and in-your-face guitar riffs make this album a stand out in and of itself. As far as technical death metal goes, of recent years many bands in that genre have began to sound so similar. Where the level of playing and showman performance outshines and washes out the potential for strong songwriting. Obscura have managed once again to write a catchy, heavy and impressive album that empowers the listener like few other albums I heard last year. Immense would be the best way to describe the layers and depth to what Obscura have dropped.

1914

1914 – Blind Leading The Blind

Horrifying. That’s the only way to accurately try to summarise my thoughts on 1914’s latest album. It’s a release that has genuinely haunted me since I first heard it months ago, and this is due largely in part to the brutal riffs, the hollow agonised screams and the expert use of sampling that features throughout. This album tells a grand story on both sides, the futility of The Great War as pictured for both the Axis and the Allies. I can’t say I enjoyed every moment of it, I think enjoyment is not the right word. It’s an experience, it’s visceral. As dark and savage in tone as subject matter, this is essential listening.

loves

Behemoth – I Loved You At Your Darkest

I still cannot put into words what this album means to me. From the album title itself, the fact I have their symbols inked on my arms, and the overall message is clear to me. As Nergal said once, they couldn’t top The Satanist, at least in terms of the title and its impact, so they went a different direction. Darkest is tamer in places and features acoustic guitar parts, clean singing in choruses and less sharpness when it comes to guitar tone and production. However, all of these artistic choices culminate together for a more refined, mature and artistic album as a result. It is catchy, It is memorable and it gets their new message across. The Satanist was the band proving they were back after Nergal was diagnosed with Leukemia, that they were defiantly taking a stand. Darkest is more comfortable, Behemoth are back on top and more free with nothing to prove anymore.

cold

Sargeist – Unbound

The best that Finland has to offer, a band which has never done any wrong. Sargeist have never strayed far from their roots of second-wave black metal but have become masters of the craft. At the end of the night, it’s all about the riffs, blastbeats and shrieking vocals. Unbound is the latest step closer towards perfecting their sound and coming into their own. They haven’t done anything to massively shake the foundations of the genre, but they will never have to. Hail Sargeist!

dir

Dir En Grey – The Insulated World

Perhaps Japan’s greatest and most diverse metal band, Dir En Grey’s latest offering following up 2014’s Arche, is a triumphant return to their older style met with the grandiose scale of their last two albums. This album pulls its influences from all over the place, It’s impossible to nail down and pin point exactly what and who they are. Same time, Dir En Grey’s versatile approach to music is as fascinating now, ten albums in, as it was when they first hit the scene and all that they achieved throughout. The production is so off-kilter in an interesting way, Kyo has never sounded better, the guitar work is so varied and emotes so powerfully. It’s an album you have to hear to believe and its up there with Withering To Death, Gauze and The Marrow of Bone as their best. I had the pleasure to finally see them live back in October and they truly are one of the best bands in the world. Long may their chaos reign.

plags

When Plagues Collide – Tutor of the Dying

Melodic, symphonic, brutal and overall heavy as fuck. When Plagues Collide’s debut album is absolutely outstanding. It’s dark and disgustingly gritty, paired with the violent vocal performances, pounding drums and savage guitar riffs. It’s modern, if this is the new age of Deathcore then I am fully supportive of a new rising blend of darkness.

abls

Abandoned By Light – Our Fortress is the Rain – The Angel Experiment Part II

An outstanding masterclass in melancholic black metal from one of England’s most prolific creators of the cold and the dark. Not too much I can say on this one here as to not repeat myself but full review available on the site here: https://pitofplagues.wordpress.com/2018/11/16/abandoned-by-light-our-fortress-is-the-rain-the-angel-experiment-part-ii-album-review/

Honourable Mentions:

Ghost – Prequelle
Megaherz – Komet
Abigor – Hollenzwang
Bloodbath – The Arrow of Satan is Drawn
Korpiklaani – Kulkija
Aborted – Terrorvision
Groza – Unified in Void
Watain – Wolf Trident Eclipse
Cryogenic Defilement – Worldwide Extermination