Top Albums of 2020

And starting off at number fifteen. . .

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.

Check out Acid Mammoth’s Bandcamp:
https://acidmammoth.bandcamp.com/album/under-acid-hoof

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.

Click here to Watch the official music video to the title track

13. Al-Namrood – Wala’at (Saudi Arabia – Shaytan Productions)

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.

Head to Shaytan Production’s Bandcamp page and check out Wala’at here:
https://shaytanproductions.bandcamp.com/album/walaat

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.

Check out Shezmu’s Bandcamp here:
https://shezmu.bandcamp.com/album/travers-les-lambeaux

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.

Listen to the entire album here:
https://darkdescentrecords.bandcamp.com/album/conduit

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.

Listen to the whole album here:
https://listen.20buckspin.com/album/providence

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.

Listen to Krupinské Ohne in its entirety here:
https://invictusproductions666.bandcamp.com/album/krupinsk-ohne

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.

Listen to Flowers of Evil here:
https://ulver.bandcamp.com/album/flowers-of-evil

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.”

Check out the entire album here:
https://fellwarden.bandcamp.com/album/wreathed-in-mourncloud

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.

Check out the entire album here:
https://audnofficial.bandcamp.com/album/v-kudraumsins-fangi

5. Núll – Entity (Iceland – Ván Records)

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.

Listen to Entity in its entirety here:
https://0000000.bandcamp.com/album/entity

4. Atramentus – Stygian (Canada – 20 Buck Spin)

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.

Check out the album here:
https://listen.20buckspin.com/album/stygian

3. Nyrst – Orsök (Iceland – Dark Essence Records)

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.

Check out Orsök here:
https://nyrst.bandcamp.com/album/ors-k

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.

Pick up Green Carnation’s latest here:
https://greencarnationsom.bandcamp.com/album/leaves-of-yesteryear

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.

Listen to my Album of the Year here:
https://naturmachtproductions.bandcamp.com/album/uinuos-sy-mein-sota

 

Honourable Mentions:

Afksy – Ofte jeg drømmer mig død

Solothus – Realm of Ash and Blood

Fates Warning – Long Day Goodnight

My Dying Bride – The Ghost of Orion

Ciel Nordique – II EP

Ihsahn – Pharos EP

Precambrian -Tectonics

Triptykon – Requiem

Sinira – The Everlorn

Ulcerate – Stare Into Death And Be Still

Dunwich – Tail-Tied Hearts

 

Most Disappointed:

UADA – Djinn

Thy Catafalque – Naiv

Testament – Titans of Creation

Dynfari – Myrkurs er þörf

Falconer – From a Dying Ember

Questions? Comments? Agree? Disagree? What have you? If you’d like, you can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Have You Heard? The Top 10 Death Metal Albums of the Past Five Years

2020 has been one helluva year so far with new releases (not to mention other global issues). We wanted to go back and look at what really impressed us over the past five years – reminding us of easier, pre-COVID times. Given the vast nature of the death metal genre, we wanted to highlight some of what we felt were stand-out releases from 2015-2019. If you feel we missed anything, let us know in the comments below!


Outre-Tomb – Répurgation
HSP Productions, 2015

From Quebec, Canada, Outre-Tomb slam you down in their first track, L’antre de l’horreur and keep the pace up all the way to the end. Crisp production with an old-school vibe, Outre-Tombe’s debut establishes the band as a brutal force to be reckoned with. With incredible tempo-changing tracks like Psychose Toxique and thrash-influenced tunes like Mutation, Répurgation stands out as not only a solid debut but a must-listen to. Their 2018 album, Nécrovortex, should also be looked at (and spun regularly).



Aborted – Retrogore
Century Media, 2016

Seasoned musicians Aborted came out with a refreshing, almost up-beat album in Retrogore. With lyrical content based on the vibes the album cover gives, Retrogore is filled with blast beats, filth, and ripping guitars that makes us want to go back and listen to it again and again. Sven de Caluwé’s vocal versatility gives the impression there’s more than one singer on the album – and truly livens up the music. With its technical prowess and often-catchy hooks, Retrogore is hands-down one of Aborted’s best albums.



Gorguts – Pleiades’ Dust
Season of Mist, 2016

Our second band from Quebec, Gorguts’ follow up from 2013’s Colored Sands is vastly different than anything the band has released before. This 33-minute behemoth speaks about the fall of the House of Wisdom. While both historical and introspective in narrative, the music is beyond outstanding. With ebbs and flows, peaks and falls, each movement in the song speaks for itself. This is also the first album where Gorguts leader Luc Lemay allowed creative input from the rest of the band. The song speaks for itself.



Rude – Remnants…
F.D.A. Rekotz, 2017

The second album from the California death heads, Rude’s Remnants… is a reminder of what got us here regarding death metal in the first place. With production strongly resembling early-Morbid Angel, the songs are fresh and the riffs are heavy. Songs like Blood Sucker and Sanctuary are real bangers, while Fracturing the Gates of Truth really encompasses everything the band has to offer. Their 2014 album Soul Recall may have established the band to many, but it’s with Remnants… that Rude really blew us away.



Artificial Brain – Infrared Horizon
Profound Lore Records, 2017

The more this album is listened to the more there is to take away. Using technology to their advantage, there is always something that feels different on an Artificial Brain album. Bright, clean guitar tones mixed with a treble-laden bass guitar gives the band a truly unique feel. Their dissonant, diminished chords and song structures add a brilliant sense of drama to their music that is rarely encapsulated in the death metal genre. The beautifully sinister chorus from Estranged in Orbit is a testament to that. This is an album you must check out.



Ulthar – Cosmovore
20 Buck Spin, 2018

While we have just reviewed their 2020 release Providence, Ulthar’s debut Cosmovore is really something else. Ulthar manages to merge different genres together seamlessly on Cosmovore. The second track, Solitarian blends both screams and guttural vocals to give a wild impression to the music. The cool pacing of Infinite Cold Distance gives a plethora of different riffs and many crazy moments that absolutely impress. A debut album you definitely do not want to miss.



Augury – Illusive Golden Age
The Artisan Era, 2018

Yet another Quebecois metal band (believe us, the amount of bands from Quebec was unintentional), Augury returned from their nine year hiatus and did not disappoint. Incredibly brutal at times while still operatic during others, Augury provides a little bit of everything in their third album. Ripping scales and tempo changes galore, Augury still remind us on what Atheist would sound like if they upped the ante. With their mechanical prowess as strong as ever, The Illusive Golden Age is a triumph in technical death metal.



Ares Kingdom – By the Light of Their Destruction
Nuclear War Now! Productions, 2019

Intense and thrashing, Ares Kingdom’s fourth album hits the mark with their blazing solos and thudding percussion. It’s a rough sounding album which offers the raw feeling you’d want in a death metal album. The Hydra Void kicks off a brilliant start to the album with the pounding drums on the low toms and double-kick. Burn, Antares (Scorpius Diadem) comes with incredibly catchy riffs, while The Bones of All Men is just a magnificent ride into what death metal has to offer as a genre with its ungodly chugging. Ares Kingdom proves that four albums in, bands can still release their best material (see Aborted – Retrogore).



Tomb Mold – Planetary Clairvoyance
20 Buck Spin, 2019

While Manor of Infinite Forms put them on the map, Planetary Clairvoyance, Tomb Mold’s third album, is just brutally enjoyable. The horror from their previous two albums bleeds into the science-fiction and alien-filled world of this release. The real charm from the band was arguably how simple everything sounds, yet comes together cohesively as a technical achievement. While songs like Beg For Life and Heat Death may only offer a handful of riffs, vocalist/drummer Max Klebanoff keeps things fresh with his variations in percussion. The old school death metal sound with modern production doesn’t get any better than it does with Tomb Mold.



Blood Incantation – Hidden History of the Human Race
Dark Descent, 2019

As most bands honor the legacies of the bands who came before them, Blood Incantation celebrates them. From Death and Gorguts to Pink Floyd and King Crimson – Hidden History of the Human Race comes with a plethora of new ideas and an unfathomably brilliant atmosphere to make an outstanding record to end 2019 with. The band’s thought provoking and technically savvy songs are intense, ambient, and most importantly, heavy as all hell. Unlike many death metal albums, there’s groove and feel that comes with many of the songs, such as the stoner-riffic Inner Paths (to Outer Space). There’s many incredible moments on this album. It’s not only a must-listen, but a must-own.

Review: Ulthar – Providence

Ulthar – Providence
20 Buck Spin

After the debut and well-deserved praise of their 2018 release Cosmovore, Providence ups the ante and solidifies Ulthar as a force of brutality to be reckoned with.

Swirling with a healthy mix of blackened death metal, Ulthar doesn’t just stop there: mingling with doom, thrash, and some psychedelic ambiance crafted seamlessly together forms an incredibly devastating album which makes the listener ask, “How can Ulthar think of this stuff?”

The opening song Churn hits the listener with full-force and keeps itself just around two-minutes, establishing the sound and feel of the music Ultar provides. Yet within the mere first moments of the second track, Undying Spear, everything previously listened to is turned on its head as a haunting ambient guitar medley plays before blasting the listener back into the chaos. And is it ever beautiful chaos.

Both vocalists, Steve Peacock and Shelby Lermo trade between two screaming styles which compliment each other well – similar to a call and response from early blues music. The riffage between the two is simply outstanding. The unison between both guitar and bass throughout most songs keeps the sound sharp and subtly emphasizes the complexity of the music. With so many variations in each song, the synchronization of instruments keeps the listener anticipating Ulthar’s next transition in the song or are made to hear the emphasis the musicians want to put on a particular riff. The bass and guitar will subtly rise and fall in the mix when there’s a transition to be listened to. It’s a clever way to make the listener focus on something distinctly.

Naturally, drummer Justin Ennis absolutely pounds the hell out of the kit. Keeping up with the variety of music styles throughout the album, one could assume they had a different drummer on different tracks. In a song like Through Downward Dynasties, the variations and subtle fills from Ennis are outstanding and really elevate an already crushing song.

One of the more noticeable things about the album is its production. Not only does it feel good, but the songs sound great. It’s not under produced like black metal or can be compared to muddy death metal. Nor is the album overly produced like some thrash or death albums. The sound of Providence is still havoc, but smart production makes it both clear and concise. As a result, the listener can appreciate the influences which came before the band while still absorbing something new and fresh from the genre(s).

Ulthar’s Providence is a complete package for anyone into the extreme. Providence comes with weight, brilliant songwriting, and production that should be envied. An absolutely solid second album by the Oakland, California band.

With newly established bands like Spirit Adrift and Tomb Mold, adding Ulthar to the mix, 20 Buck Spin have really solidified themselves as the go-to indie label for guaranteed up and coming bands in the metal scene.

Ulthar on Bandcamp