Taking on the Herculean effort to decide my 100 favourite albums was no easy feat. Over many weeks, I forced myself to write out my favourite albums of all time. I wanted to see what really inspired me through the years by sorting and ranking everything that has touched my life in some way.
The original list ended up being 115 albums. As I sorted through everything, albums got pulled away, other albums I forgot were added – I wanted to take my time with this.
I should also state these albums are my personal favourite – not what I consider to be the “best” albums. Trust me, that list would look entirely different than what I have here.
The only “rule” for myself was to not have more than three albums from one band.
This will probably be one of the most eclectic mix of albums you’ll ever see together – so enjoy!
Blessed by Perversion – Remnants of Existence Iron, Blood and Death Corporation
Brutally intense with some pulse-pounding riffs and beats, Blessed by Perversion’s second album, Remnants of Existence, is a thrilling album for death metal fans to really engage with.
Ironically (or coincidentally) the Greek band released their album on Christmas Day in 2020. Their six-track album hits the ground running and setting a mood of what they’re trying to accomplish. The intro track, Descending into the Catacombs, is a slow minute-fifteen-long burn as the listener becomes surrounded by the sounds and sights the music creates in their mind. Then come the double kicks and Gallery of Bones picks the album up.
Flowing with mid-paced and rhythmic chugging for a short while, a sudden change in structure is where Hell breaks loose. Guitar and bass change – the tempo picks up and the listener is slammed with a wall of brutality. With an impressive guitar solo and well-placed, almost groovy riffs near the end of the track, the song ends only to be carried by an even heavier track, Atonement Refused.
Feeling more in-place with mid-90s death metal, Atonement Refused rips through with blistering speed. The hefty chugs within the chorus, followed by its technical bridge – and well-placed bass groove – changes up with moments of a Phrygian scale and mirrors something sounding almost from Nile. However, it doesn’t come across like a “copy” as the ideas fits within the atmosphere and feeling Remnants of Existence is aiming to create.
Within Among the Tombs of Absent Gods, the crushing riffs don’t stop. Feeling even darker than the last track, the album continues its descent for the listener. With layered vocals, the growls become more sinister and absorb the listener down the band’s dark path.
In Caverns of Torture, there’s a Cannibal Corpse-y feel to the song with its finger tapping intro and addition to more treble on bass guitar. The pounding chorus with pinched harmonics, along with the slamming snare adds some interesting colour to the already impressive track. After a bit of a break down, the song resets itself with the finger tapping intro and descends into madness with a dark guitar solo and filthy riffs that really pushes out the aggression.
The anthem-like Within Monumental Chaos concludes the album with probably the more memorable chorus on the album. The song features a descending scale with a technical breakdown which, in my opinion, really encapsulates the songwriting prowess of Blessed by Perversion. With a sweeping guitar solo, the song begins its double-kick conclusion as it wraps up the album with an epic, yet dark feeling.
Every song on the album was an impressive feat. While bass could been louder in some moments and kick drums may feel over-processed in some parts, Remnants of Existence floored me with quality in both production and song-writing capability. Rarely do I get to review albums from independent bands that really knock me off my feet.
A technically brilliant and dark, haunting journey, Blessed by Perversion’s Remnants of Existence is an album within the death metal realm that should not be missed.
An audible experience is what I wanted to do with Vehemence. With varied approaches, the songs are hopefully able to really encapsulate the listener with the mood and atmosphere. The song titles, especially with the final track, Exhaustion, I hope, personifies what I was trying to accomplish.
The goal is to ultimately have you throw on your headphones and enjoy the 35-minute excursion.
“With looming shutdowns in February 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the final few recordings for Optional’s debut LP could not be completed. Shuttered inside, Vehemence was born.
Named after the desire to produce more music, Vehemence is a teaser of things to come: ideas which could not be fully realized in the upcoming LP.
Put some headphones on, increase the bass, sit back and relax. You’re going on a journey.”
15. Acid Mammoth – Under Acid Hoof (Greece – Heavy Psych Sounds)
For their second album, Acid Mammoth comes across like an even stonier version of Black Sabbath with some hints of Kyuss. With a healthy mix of psychedelia and metal, Under Acid Hoof jives and weighs heavily. With pounding bass tones and wailing guitars, Acid Mammoth delivers a hefty dose of doom and stoner metal to appease the senses.
14. John Petrucci – Terminal Velocity (United States – Sound Mind Media)
A household name in both heavy and progressive metal, Dream Theater’s lead guitarist’s highly anticipated second solo album is everything you’d want not only as a guitarist, but as a Dream Theater fan as well. Reuiniting with long-time friend and drummer Mike Portnoy, there’s something familiar sounding within Terminal Velocity. I wrote extensively on the album, which you can read about here. Certainly one of the biggest surprises from this year.
Something sinister from the Middle East, Al-Namrood’s seventh release, Wala’at was another album I tackled earlier this year. With incredibly jarring vocal arrangements from singer Humbaba, I became an instant fan. While I do not understand the literal lyrics, I understand the meaning behind them – thanks to the incredible emotion poured into this impressive black metal album.
12. Shezmu – À Travers Les Lambeaux (Canada – Krucyator Productions)
Out of Quebec, Canada, comes one of the more extreme albums from this year. Shezmu’s debut, À Travers Les Lambeaux, combines black, death, and doom metal into a conglomerate of sound. With vocal harmonies that feature both guttural and frightened shouts, the uneasiness from Shezmu’s music is chilling to the bone. As debuts go, nothing can be more impactful than this.
11. Proscription – Conduit (Finland – Dark Descent Records)
A newcomer in the blackened death metal scene is Proscription’s debut, Conduit. With extreme tendencies, the album provides a look into the depths of Hell with its bleak resonance outpouring from the screams and tones from many of the moods in each song. With crunches and reverb in songs like Red Sacrament Black Communion, one can hear and appreciate how Proscription can sink one into the macabre.
10. Ulthar – Providence (United States – 20 Buck Spin)
I’ve reviewed a lot of albums this year, and Ultar’s Providence is one of them. While their first album made my Honourable Mentions in 2018, Providence ups the ante in every possible way, creating a sonic cacophony of beautiful, technical chaos. The clean production of the album stands out as a highlight: where most death metal becomes muddled (for good reason), Ulthar shines. With a bright pop in its insanity, Providence is yet another brilliant album in the band’s arsenal.
9. Malokarpatan – Krupinské Ohne (Slovakia – Invictus Productions)
Into the band’s fourth album, prepared to be floored. With influences and genres coming from all over, on paper, one would expect a mess. Yet in Krupinské Ohne, cohesive arrangements come about in what I can only compare as Fantômas meets modern Darkthrone. Traditional heavy metal blends with black metal, meets with strange production and song samples, mixing the atmosphere of the album into something. . . strange. With delicious riffs all over, Krupinské Ohne is a real treat.
8. Ulver – Flowers of Evil (Norway – House of Mythology)
With their last album reaching #2 on my favourite albums in 2017, Ulver continues to work on – and arguably perfect – their sound, which comes across like a darker version of Depeche Mode. Unlike the last album, however, Ulver’s song writing tightens up even greater. While it initially took some time to grow, Flowers of Evil is clearly a stronger leap forward to the band’s ever-progressing soundscape.
7. Fellwarden – Wreathed in Mourncloud (England – Eisenwald)
Into their second album, Fellwarden’s Wreathed in Mourncloud is a moody beast of an album. As I mentioned in my review of the album earlier this year, the natural feeling and tones within the album are truly epic and still filled with sorrow. To sum my review: “Passionate, intense, brutal, and with a ton of heart, Fellwarden’s Wreathed in Mourncloud is an outstanding album that delivers on every level.”
6. Auðn – Vökudraumsins Fangi (Iceland – Season of Mist)
I’ve listened to a lot of incredible Icelandic black metal this year. When I heard Auðn was releasing a follow up to their second album Farvegir Fyrndar (my #9 in 2017), I couldn’t have been more excited. Auðn’s fresh and evolving sound keeps me wanting to go back for more. I don’t think there’s a better example of how what this band is trying to accomplish than the second track of their album, Eldborg – as it brings you something familiar, yet something dark and sinister at the same time.
Featuring members from the Icelandic black metal band Misþyrming, 0 or “Núll” released this depressive blackish doom metal album which is filled with absolute agony and sorrow. A bleak and mournful album, Núll’s tones are intense and yet also very atmospheric while still being bitterly cold. A standout album for for reaching deep into your soul and taking your heart and leaving you to freeze.
The debut album of this funeral doom outfit from Quebec, Stygian slowly creeps its way into your mind with cathartic releases sprawled along its slow, 44-minute burn. The album’s three movements are intense with weight. It’s slow burn also acts as a slow build, with the final climax making the experience worthwhile as it pays in dividends. An absolutely brilliant, gorgeous album that has me excited to see what Atramentus will bring to the table next.
Hands-down my favourite Icelandic black metal album of the year, but what makes it so different? The cold of the atmosphere? The frightening and chilling raspy vocals screaming into my essence? The fact that there’s been a permanent link on my desktop to play the album from my computer since its release? Nyrst keeps pulling me back in to its clutches with its encapsulating sounds and terrifying tones. I’ll be listening to this one for years to come.
2. Green Carnation – Leaves of Yesteryear (Norway – Season of Mist)
The distance between this album and my favourite album of the year is actually pretty close. After 14 years, Green Carnation returned with something familiar, yet different. These progressive metal titans have always stood out separate from other progressive metal bands as they created substance over flash – structure over solos. The result? Probably their best album and one of the greatest things to grace my ears in 2020. When the title track was released, I shed tears of joy. Green Carnation are back.
1. Havukruunu – Uinuos Syömein Sota (Finland – Naturmacht Productions)
What else can I say that I already haven’t? The melodically blazing third album from Finland’s Havukruunu takes Album of the Year because of everything it has to offer in an album and then some.
As one of the greatest pagan black metal albums I’ve heard in recent years, Uinuos Syömein Sota combines elements of guitar virtuoso with thrash and modern production to create a stark experience from traditional pagan albums. While heavyweights like Moonsorrow and Borknagar helped establish the scene by the early 2000s, Uinuos Syömein Sota is a clear and direct evolution from them as they create something different, sharper, and arguably cleaner, than anything else in the genre.
With each song managing to stand out a bit different from the last, each one still manages to have standout moments. From the battery of percussion in Ja Viimein On Yö, to the ripping melodic guitar solos in Vähiin Päivät Käy, the ambient electronic atmosphere in the finale of Tähti-Yö Ja Hevoiset, or the chilling vocal harmonies within the title track, there’s a lot of variety packed within the 46-minute album.
Nothing is overplayed nor is anything overdone. The album is paced brilliantly and it does not overstay its welcome. Uinuos Syömein Sota’s sounds are heavy and harmonious – a perfect concoction for what is, in my opinion, the best album to come out of 2020.
Bloodfeast Ritual – Altars of Sacrifice Self-release
In their debut EP Altars of Sacrifice, Los Angeles band Bloodfeast Ritual serve up the guts and glory of old school death metal alongside a variety of death metal styles.
With relentless energy throughout each song, the 20-minute EP perseveres with a battery of brutality mixed in with many melodic moments. In the opening track Grave Fodder, the very-Swedish death metal influence shines through. Many unison riffs in the higher register initially present the band similar to one like Arch Enemy – with epic choruses and bright solos – the song provides a lot of heft among the beauty.
That beauty, however, somewhat disappears within the next song title: Eternally Molested By The One Most Foul. With the band still reeling Swedish death influences, the song itself begins to show a different sound the band is going for. With an influence more similar to the band Death, the song features lots guitar prowess while still being a cohesive song. Riffs and chugging dominate the majority of the song with more-shredding than melodic solos in-between.
And yet, the style changes yet again, rather smoothly into classic death metal with No More Room in Hell. Featuring some of the more guttural vocals on the album, the music also feels heavier. The layered vocals hearken to Aborted, but the music to something like Cannibal Corpse. Fast and devastating, the lyrics even evoke the scenes from Dawn of the Dead: “Eat them one by one / Feast upon the intestines / Smell of death fills the air.”
The heaviest song on the album, Chopped Up and Burned, is the song with the most weight. Blast beats abound, the darkest lyrics, the dirtiest riffs: the song has it all. The very traditional death metal sound is the clear inspiration for the song, with some of the more fast and intense solos the album has to offer.
Concluding the EP with the shortest track, Fetid Offering is the “newest-sounding” song on the album, with melody similar to the first track and guttural vocals reaching some of the higher registers, almost becoming screams. The song ends the EP on a high note with a steady growing, epic-feeling conclusion which somewhat contrasts the rest of the album.
With plenty of ideas mixed together as an EP, it shows many different avenues Bloodfeast Ritual can take. Although each song is brilliantly constructed, as a cohesive whole, the listener may get mixed messages to what the sound the band really wants to achieve.
Consistently brutal and relentlessly thrashy, Bloodfeast Ritual’s Altars of Sacrifice is an impressive and intense debut showcasing the many musical influences and songwriting prowess the band has to offer.
Saudi Arabia is not well-known for black metal, yet the country is a muse for what the genre is about: religion, monarchy, paganism, and suppression – just a handful of topics which black metal relates in. Tackling these topics head-on with their seventh album, Al-Namrood’s newest release, Wala’at (“Loyalties” in English) continues stoking the flames of anger and disgust the band feels towards their government and the religion that surrounds it.
The anti-Islamic and anti-fascist themes of Al-Namrood’s music is both intense and dramatic. Mixing musical styles of both Western and Middle Eastern instruments, the band brings a familiarly dissonant style of black metal with the rather sharp contrast with harmonic Middle Eastern scales and tones. The two cultures blend together and create a hauntingly different feeling and mood to the genre.
While the band members remain anonymous due to the potential of the death penalty for performing their music, the three musicians aptly show their musical competency with melodies among the chaos and the foresight on when to change arrangements in their songs.
Standing out foremost in Wala’at is singer Humbaba, who alone brings a huge energetic performance to the music. Between the grunts, screams, and cries, Humbaba’s vocals are flexible and offer an incredible range and dynamic to the music. In fact, his enthusiasm comes together as one of the biggest triumphs on the album. Confident and devastating, his and stanzas are chilling at times while encouraging and uplifting in others. Without always understanding the lyrics, one can still get a feeling for what the band wants to portray. The pain, frustration, and demands for reform are obvious to the listener: Al-Namrood wants the listener to experience what they feel – and successfully does so with each performance.
In tracks like Kail Be Mekialain, musicians Mephisto and Ostron synchronize riffs together to create hauntingly eerie tones – even more so with the reverb cranked up on the drum samples in each song. Linked with Humbaba, there’s a common chemistry between the trio that energizes the music, elevating it beyond what most bands with decades of history are unable achieve.
In another track, Aar Al Estibad, the riffs are thrash-y and come with a punk-ish feel until the Arabian instruments join in. Those instruments ultimately change the feel of the song and move expectations from “just another black metal track” to something different. While the song itself technically doesn’t set new standards or heights in black metal, it’s still a powerful song which sticks with the listener for its almost hypnotic melodies and grinding vocal hums.
With all songs staying under the five minute mark, the near-forty minute album is an intense feast on the ears. Perhaps too overwhelming at first, the second, third, and multiple spins after will continue to bring the listener back to absorb the beauty and raw power Al-Namrood offer with Wala’at.