BLACK METAL DAILY’S LISTCRUSH 2020: THE GOS EDITION

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For four years in a row now I have developed a list of my favorite albums of the year. One would think that I would have developed some sort of solid format at this point, but strangely, this is not the case. For reasons not entirely clear to me, the way I organize and categories the list changes from year to year. What worked perfectly for 2019 (a tiered selection) did not work at all for me for 2020. I simply could not make sense of it, could not organize releases in a way that seemed coherent using that method. So, I reverted (it almost seemed that I was forced to revert) back to something I did all the way back in 2017, which was to break up selections into some broad and subgenres and categories, which should be fairly self-explanatory, although of course open to interpretation. I also borrowed from what I did in 2018, which was to forgo a solid ranking and to instead place releases according to “quantum” principles, wherein each release (save the AOTY) does not have a solid location, but shifts around in the general vicinity of its placement depending on my mood etc. So, while I have chosen an AOTY, the top few picks in each category might very well be my favorite thing of the year at the moment of any particular time or mood. Am I being wishy-washy? Perhaps a bit. Am I overthinking it? Almost certainly, but I suppose that if this conceptual apparatus is what it takes for me to be satisfied with a summation my assessment of black metal in 2020, then so be it. Of note: the United States KILLED IT this year for me, and that is a first. Thanks for checking this out, and may thy will be done.

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

AKHLYS [United States] – Melinoë

Anyone familiar with Naas Alcameth’s monumental output of immense, perseverant, and absolutely malevolent black metal in the forms of NIGHTBRINGER, BESTIA ARCANA, and AORATOS will immediately recognize the signature auditory maelstrom of perhaps his most notorious project, AKHLYS. A journey inward, a manifestation born of terrifying psychic nightmares, and the dread spirits which inhabit them, the dense murk of harrowing antipathy ascending from the depths with only a futile glimmer of warning before we are consumed in torrents of synth, writhing layers of pitchshifted guitars, measured percussive severity, and the hellish, maniacally spectral voice of Alcameth. The rhythm guitar and bass help to keep everything from tearing itself asunder, and periodically they pull the other instruments into their less frenetic trajectory for powerfully bombastic, cadenced movements across the whole instrumental continuum. Menacing builds towards abrupt eruption in absolute fury and malice. Lavish, orchestrated melody, tragic, compelling, terrible, and beautiful… imposing and utterly demonic black metal terror that is sustained, pensive, ominous, oppressive. {full review and interview}

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HYPERAURAL

(11 selections)

PANZERFAUST [Canada] – Suns of Perdition Pt. 2: Render Unto Eden

Centering on religious and spiritual motifs: humanity’s sin and virtue, suffering and denial, fall from redemption, descent into ruin, and impending judgement, PANZERFAUST continues to dish out monstrous, crushing, black/death with overpowering, uniquely roaring vocals (a standout feature among a litany of compelling characteristics), and an overall sense of progressive, desolating inevitability. The shift in focus from the first Suns of Perdition installment is not only represented with the album title and lyrical themes, but also with the sound itself, which seems overall to be a bit more ritualized and contemplative, borrowing more from progressive blackened doom sensibilities than its predecessor did, and perfected in terms of execution, production, and mix. Render Unto Eden is, overall, a more than adequate follow up to War, Horrid War, a powerful yet reflective specimen of God-tier blackened art, and to no surprise, PANZERFAUST have produced truly one of the best albums that I have heard this year. {full review}

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ANAAL NATHRAKH [United States / England] – Endarkenment

Endarkenment is really damn good, and better than I thought it would be. I’m particularly appreciating the lack of forays into djenty or metalcore territory and it seems like there’s several angles from which NATHRAKH has dialed up the ferocity factor. I’m surprised at the increased transparency that the band is providing, as well as the number of songs that decline to swing into that pattern of melodic chorus with clean vocals. While I frequently like those parts in other albums, I’m finding myself particularly drawn to tracks that don’t do that as much here. Even so, a few of those clean melodic choruses have undeniable hooks which don’t easily leave my head. After A New Kind of Horror (2018) I was pretty concerned that NATHRAKH was going to stray afar from black metal altogether, but I think those concerns have been laid to rest. {collaborative review}

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DECOHERENCE [United Kingdom] – Unitarity

With virtually no introduction, the listener is confronted with a celestial wall of overwhelming cosmic black metal. Where the previous album Ekpyrosis (2019) had room to breathe around a more staggering pace, here much of that space filled with blasting maelstromic percussion, a molten dense core of bass, searing trajectories of guitar dissonance, more sustained cataclysmic ambience and well-embedded vocals that roar through the tracks like some sort of abrasive solar turbulence. While initially more saturated and massive, the journey through Unitarity proves it to be also more epic and nuanced. As the final orbit is traveled it is clear that DECOHERENCE have created an elite, immense constellation of black epic industrial atmospheric insanity, decimating in execution and universally apocalyptic in scope. {full review}

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ABIGOR [Austria] – Totschläger (A Saintslayer’s Songbook)

Well, I guess this one is really a surprise to nobody, except maybe me. Never been into ABIGOR before this for whatever reason. I just found it too… technical? Thin sounding? Just too fucking weird? Yeah, this is different. Came out of nowhere in the final moments of the year but already I have listened to this compulsively more times than many other entries on my lists. Grandiose, varied, aggressive, complex, dynamic… I just don’t have time to do this album justice with words this late in the year. This thing is just a gaddamn masterpiece and we all know it. 

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…AND OCEANS [Finland] – Cosmic World Mother

Well-produced, aggressive, mature, mainstream symphonic/industrial black/death and it is phenomenal. This album has a particular sharpness, crystalline, and pristine quality to the overall production that I think perfectly expresses what the band was trying to achieve. This album got a lot of playtime from me, particularly early in the year. FFO mid-era DIMMU BORGIR, BELPHEGOR, GLORIA MORTI, SHADE EMPIRE, EMPYREAN THRONE, DAWN OF ASHES, ID:VISION

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BORGNE [Switzerland] – Y

Expansive, cosmic, electronic, epic, black madness. Sustained atmospheres and beautiful keys float over a blistering percussive attack and razor-sharp riffing, which in turn radiate from a dense core of bass and ebbing industrial noise effects, all accentuated by mostly frigid vocals with some haunting cleans. This is a perfect follow up to 2017’s [∞], and utilizes much of the same postapocalyptic impressions and melancholic vastness. Herein we may witness the cold, detached power of an ever-expanding universe. 

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MAZIKEEN [Australia] – The Solace of Death

By the time the modest intro of the first song breaks into a well-timed barrage of double kick, cascading piano, shredding riffs, and triumphant roaring, it is readily apparent that every element of Solace of Death is orchestrated with immense, grandiose, overwhelming intensity. Vacillating between charging power and insistent groove, unhinged frenetic pacing, downright assaultive synth progressions, incinerating guitars and almost constant minigun battery on the drums… just as the listener starts to adapt to this exquisite barrage, we are treated to a fucking beautiful acoustic interludes, melody with a tempered intro of acoustic guitar and fantastic piano, grandiose and almost majestic sections. This is nothing short of a symphonic black/death metal masterwork, with complexity, precision, and fire. {full review}

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BELTEZ [Germany] – A Grey Chill And A Whisper

Conceptually, the black spires of a colossal, horrendous evil preside over a helpless, abject populous as a lone individual struggles in desperation against incomprehensible malice and inevitable doom. The sonic representation is an opus of contemporary black metal: persistently massive, forcefully heavy with elements of doom, and almost grandiose in its complex, blackened melancholy. Misery, desperation, hopelessness, and despair find auditory expression through layers of elaborate and epic guitars, a veritable onslaught of vicious percussion, immeasurably dense bass progressions, haunting and mesmeric synth, and varied ferocious vocal manifestations. Yet, amidst this impenetrable darkness, we can find a faintly glimmering ore of heroism, strength, loyalty, hope, love, sacrifice, and tragic beauty. {full review and interview}

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OBSCURAE [United States] – To Walk The Path Of Sorrows

Sort of similar to BORGNE in its expansive, nocturnal cosmic aesthetics, except the atmospheric onslaught is ratcheted up to the highest possible degree. Whereas BORGNE’s cosmicism leaves plenty of room to breathe, OBSCURAE’s layers upon layers of texture and nuance greatest a density which is just absolutely crushing yet profoundly beautiful. It was love at first listen for me, and To Walk The Path Of Sorrows was a late but instant addition to both my end of year list and my vinyl collection. 

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WAKE [Canada] – Devouring Ruin

Pensive yet savage, technical but with no small expression of agony, forceful yet nuanced, Devouring Ruin is a near-perfect example of black/death/grind hybridization, which has been at the forefront of my attention for the majority of the year. FFO (pre SIDABS) ULCERATE, ULSECT, EMBRA, NOCTAMBULIST

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SKÁPHE [United States] – Skáphe³

Skáphe³ manages to ride just on the right side of the very limits of what I’m able to tolerate in terms of unpredictability and erraticism in black metal. And it does so beautifully, each element really standing out as exceptional, and the combination of them is a beautifully psychotic journey to the heart of spiritual abyss.

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ORTHODOX

(11 selections)

KVAEN [Sweden] – The Funeral Pyre

One would be hard-pressed to deny that the modern black metal scene is becoming ever more saturated with an array of musical variations which increasingly depart from the traditional foundations of the orthodox cannon. Thus, for me there is a distinct sense of appreciation when an album comes along that manages to, for a time, sweep all of the frills off the table and demand full attention with pure, austere, straightforward hyperscandinavian fucking excellence. While The Funeral Pyre isn’t breaking new ground, this debut album establishes KVAEN firmly alongside an extremely impressive plethora of god-tier Swedish peers. Every damn song is born a classic, every note is pure gold. {full review}

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GRAVENCHALICE [United States]  – Apparition

Apparition is currently top of my list for most under-recognized masterpiece of the year. They got a bit of recognition in the Order but no label? Someone needs to sign these dudes stat! I mean, give the first track just a few minutes and focus on those layers of guitars. How many do they have simultaneously? Two? Three? That shit is artful as fuck and damn near orgasmic. This reminds me of why I enjoy Si Monvmentvm from DSO, but sort of fell off afterwards. Some amount of atonality with the riffing but the progressions themselves are classically coherent and awesome. And the vocals are awesome. And the cover art is awesome. IT’S ALL AWESOME.

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HORDE OF HEL [Sweden] – Döden Nalkas

Döden Nalkas is not only one of the most unabashedly savage and vehemently apocalyptic albums to be unfurled this year, it is in fact one of the most puritanically decimating traditional black metal offerings of recent memory. The auditory foundation for this maelstrom is an absolutely devastating assault of blistering black metal aggression and aural hatred of the most authentic and blatant variety, reminiscent of pillars of Swedish aggression like 90’s classic DARK FUNERAL and MARDUK, combined with the unbridled, unflinching darkness of FUNERAL MIST. The riffs? Incinerating, burning through the tracks and embedding in the flesh of the psyche like the razor-edged spearhead of death itself. The vocals? unhinged, ragged, varied, powerful, and ruthless. The torrential, relentless ballistic percussion is provided by none other than the ineffable king of artillery Nils ‘Dominator’ Fjellström. But what really pushes HORDE OF HEL to its darkest capacity and solidifies it as unique among a host of impressive peers is the massively effective incorporation of an evil, catastrophic, and inexorable industrial edge to the blasting turmoil. {full review}

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ONDSKAPT [Sweden] – Grimoire Ordo Devus

Not much I can really say about this which hasn’t been said by people who are more familiar and more versed on the history of ONDSKAPT’s discography. Bottom line: its just fucking great. To my ears it basically sounds like top-notch Swedish orthodoxy with furious guitar lead, mixed with that heavier/deathier aspect that Poland often brings to the table. Creative combination and a terrific album. 

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DEVENEROR [United States] – Malleus Philosophorum

Malleus Philosophorum retains many fantastic elements of DEVENEROR’s first album Kenoma (2019): blasting percussion, savage and layered vocals, incinerating guitars, and imperious, fully audible bass, carefully crafted together with just the right amount of dissonance (an element which I have seen highlighted in various descriptions of the album, but which, to me, really shows itself to be only one aspect of a full spectrum of awesomeness) and an impeccable mix. What it does shed is some of the sporadicism and in its place, develops a lot more of everything I really like in black metal. It is more melodic, more structured, more cohesive, more coherent. Less infernal and chaotic perhaps, but certainly more thoughtful and engaging. {full review and interview}

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YMIR [Finand] – Ymir

Punchy, upbeat, aggressive, snowbound fire with plenty of blasting and continuous riffing. That and a combination of really epic elements, overt melodicism, and lots vocal variety which doesn’t overpower the music (as is the case with much Finnish BM) elevates this one above other similar offerings this year for me. This one’s doing for Finland what KVAEN is doing for Sweden in 2020. Perfected classic traditionalism which hits all the right targets.

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NEXION [Iceland] – Seven Oracles

Like ritual artifacts placed purposefully around the perimeter of a prophetic shrine, every title, word, image, note, sound and utterance from Icelandic black metal entity NEXION has been crafted together with a full intention to create a coherent meditation on pursuit of decimating esoteric wisdom. Forgoing the overtly claustrophobic and oppressive signature Icelandic black metal style for one that is more dynamic, aggressive, catchy, melodic and with hints of death metal brutality, while The lyrics articulate the dissolution of human construction and belief from seven perspectives, and tend to revolve around messages of ontological violence, cataclysmic revelation, corrupted sanctity, existential death, cosmic darkness, abyssal wisdom, pestilential chaos and the prophecy of some sort of oblivion messiah. {full review}

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DUMAL [United States] – The Confessor

The much-anticipated follow-up to The Lesser God album (2017). Straight up melodic USBM, which (like a shitload of other similar bands i.e., WORSEN, DEVENEROR, GRAVENCHALICE, VOID OMNIA, INEXORUM) doesn’t get nearly the hype that it deserves and is much better than *other* US bands that get a lot of attention for all the wrong reasons. Uncomplicated, catchy, groovy, accessible… it’s so simple, and so awesome in its simplicity. No synth, basic melody, no massive sound, no ambient textures, vox is nothing radical… no aspect of it is really overbearing, yet when it all comes together it’s just incredibly solid! KVAEN is to Sweden what YMIR is to Finland is what DUMAL is to the US this year.

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THE COMMITTEE [Germany] – Utopian Deception

Proclaiming that “they do not tell the story of the victorious powers, but the story of the forgotten”, Utopian Deception paradoxically takes on the role of the social dystopian Orwellian engineer and propagandist in the lyrics as a criticism in this album. So far, so good. Musically, it seems to be fairly straightforward but well-executed melodic black metal, maybe with a touch of ‘progressive’ thrown in. Nothing particularly mind-blowing but uncannily addictive, and I have come back to it over and over since it dropped.

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KRYPTAMOK [Finland] – Verisaarna

With KRYPTAMOK, speed metal aggression yields to healthy doses of orthodox Finnish melodicism, which in turn pushes the envelope even further towards downright epic horizons. Pace fluctuates between what seems to be a baseline frenetic, driving bloodlust and a more measured predatorial malevolence all driven forward by blistering percussion while spearheaded by riffs to freeze your heart and a poisonous vocal delivery. Verisaarna also throws us an array of fantastic elements to an already accomplished timbre: war-horn brass, vaguely symphonic elements, choirs, bells or chimes, electric organ, etc. It’s not often that a progression can go from stripped-down, galloping, no-shits-given d-beat belligerence to classic Finnish snow-swept frigidity and then to the far battle sagas of Middle-Earth, but KRYPTAMOK pulls it off seamlessly and naturally.

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DOMMEDAG [Sweden / Norway] – Marburg

Man, this is just a hard-hitting, in-your-face, fast, violent, thrashy, riff-centered example of Scandinavian black metal orthodoxy, most comparable I think to the legendary TSJUDER. A clear example of when one should not judge a book by its cover, because I really think that the album suffers quite a lot from the gothic/darkmetal style choice of cover art. Marburg looks like NIGHTWISH, but it does NOT sound like it. At all. Give it a listen if you want a good pummeling for your false assumption. That’s what I did, and I’m happy I did so.

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UNORTHODOX

(11 selections)

INEXORUM [United States] – Moonlit Navigation

Out of all the albums on my list this year, this is the one that probably suffers from the biggest divergence between how much I love it, and how much I have “given” to it in terms of posts, shares, etc. It’s one that I should have done a full review for, but by the time I realized it, I was busy with other reviews, and that ship had sailed. Outstanding USBM which boasts the unorthodox quality of actually being somewhat… well… fun. Borrowing from rock and punk, the upbeat, wind-in-your-hair cadence of the tracks, fueled primarily by persistent and artful percussion,  are augmented by phenomenally enjoyable, often harmonized guitar arrangements. The vocals, with lyrics which focus on struggle and perseverance, are probably the darkest element of the album, and are consistently growly, which is good because the aesthetic overall is so lite that softer vocals might have pushed it too far in that direction. Each track is well-crafted with memorable hooks and fantastic moments. Ha! To be completely honest, relistening to Moonlit Navigation again now at the end of the year, it occurs to me that one could label it as melodic death metal just as easily as unorthodox melodic black metal! Whatever though, this one makes the top of this list either way.

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WAYFARER [United States] – A Romance With Violence

The Colorado black metal cowboys return for a much-anticipated 4th full length! Borrowing heavily from American West folk and country not only in terms of timbre, but also lyrical themes and visual stylization, WAYFARER have practically created a subgenre of their own. A Romance With Violence is noticeably and purposefully more theatrical than World’s Blood (2018) was and some of the latter’s grittiness of the production was dusted off for an album that is overall more elaborate, refined, and epic, much like the excellent earlier album Old Souls (2016). With everything from the saloon waltz of the intro to the melodic black metal riffs of ‘The Iron Horse’ to the doomier psychedelia of the epic closer ‘Vaudeville’, A Romance With Violence has a LOT to offer. {full collaborative review}

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JORDABLOD [Sweden] – The Cabinet of Numinous Song

Joining the growing number of bands who are tapping into what American western and rock can offer to black metal, with this release JORDABLOD is even more upfront about it, and so much the better. The Cabinet of Numinous Song takes these influences and crosses it with somewhat of a semi-claustrophobic and more psychedelically unrestrained of the Icelandic (sounding) sound to fantastic effect. There’s even a track on there (‘The Beauty of Every Wound’) that features almost a dead-on black metal replication of the central riff from STEPPENWOLF’s ‘Born To Be Wild’. Sounds fucking awesome? You bet your ass it does. This was an early 2020 pick for me and hands down my favorite release in January.

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DZÖ-NGA [United States] – Thunder In The Mountains

This is a beautiful, expansive, epic, and accomplished atmospheric post/pseudo black metal opus with a focus on Native American folklore and auditory aesthetics. It features huge number of great highlights: pristine and sorrowful melodies, lots of clean female vocals, acoustic guitar, piano, violin, and amazing solos, while still maintaining more mainline BM elements like harsh vocals, driving percussion, thrashy moments, and hints of folk. FFO SAOR, SOJOURNER, SKYFOREST.

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OVNEV [United States] – Transpiration

While lyrics focus on the synergistic elements of oxygen, water, wind, and mountains, gorgeous acoustic progressions and soaring lead guitar balance out with blustering riffs, scathing vocals, and a stripped-down, tumbling and charging percussive battery. The end result is a beautiful album which intentionally reflects the coherence of nature itself. FFO PANOPTICON, more aggressive AGALLOCH (ie Marrow of the Spirit, Faustian Echoes), ALDA, and NECHOWEN. [interview]

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AMIENSUS [United States] – Abreaction

From nature-based, blackened melodic pseudo-folk aspects of first album Restoration (2012), to the more progressive, epic sound of Ascension (2015), to more traditional synthphonic black metal aggression of All Paths Lead to Death (2017) AMIENSUS have consistently refined their sound. Abreaction takes all of these styles and combines them into a cohesive unity, pulling the listener through an elaborate, seamless gambit of sonic and affective approaches, from the full-on post-rock/alternative intro to the epic, roaring and heavy black/death/doom closing track. Here we find layered harmonizing electric and acoustic guitars, an array of vocal approaches including plenty of cleans, a variety of keyboard additions from orchestra to organ to piano to brass, and soaring cello mixed perfectly into what was already an eclectic musical template. FFO IHSAHN, XANTHOCHROID, WILDERUN {full review and interview}

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DISMALIMERENCE [United States] – Tome:1

This debut album is a beautiful and haunting account of memory and dysphoria, frequently rooting sorrow and reminiscence in natural metaphors such as the moon, lakes, rivers, gardens and wind, and while it generally has black metal as its foundation, it sits on the fringes and defies many expectations of the genre. Musically DISMALIMERENCE proves to be a harmonious mix between the naturalist tendencies of Cascadian black metal, the warmly radiating melodicism of atmospheric post-black, and the raw emotional content and impact of DSBM. Clean production finds soaring guitar lead and rasping vocals taking center stage over full bass and driving percussion, accentuated by synth; a near perfect balance of musical aggression and tenderness as meandering, pensive, sometimes apprehensive sensitivity repeatedly succumbs to distorted anguish and/or rage and vice versa. {full review}

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UNREQVITED [Canada] – Empathica

UNREQVITED consistently pushes the boundaries of what can be considered black metal proper, and typical descriptors such as “melodic” do not even begin to describe the immaculate, celestial magnificence of the project’s God-tier blackened cinematic atmosphere. Melancholic acoustic guitar, lofty choruses, and easy percussion repeatedly building skyward towards precipices and then cascade over into characteristically massive, widescreen waves of brilliantly layered synth, soaring guitar lead and distinctive, dejected screams, often with perfectly utilized double kick. The harsh vocals are characteristically removed from the forefront of the mix, distant, as if echoing from aloof vistas. Empathica is an exercise in radiant winter surrealism, a display of shimmering, brilliant soundscapes both pristine and vast, harnessing the particular elevating, epiphanic sorrow that only UNREQVITED can materialize. {full review}

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OSSAERT [Netherlands] – Bedehuis

Bedehuis starts off with some straightforward melodic riffs which begin to lift, careen and sway before the powerful, shouting vocals begin to push the listener under. Soon the beauty of the depths become evident as the vocals explore a variety of different modes, and aggressive punk-laced beats sustain even as the song evolves back to blacker melodic riffing. Bass is audible throughout, which provides a nice strong undertow to the swirling, churning currents which plunge into post-black melodic progressions, intoxicating vocals soaring above the surges. The closing track hits like a flood, a veritable torrent of massive, ambitious, beautiful waves of sublime, epic black metal reckoning. Bedehuis is a rich, fluid, roiling offering with a myriad of complimenting, varied features that are just as apt to overwhelm you under the crushing tide as they are to hold you buoyant above the eddies. {full review}

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CORPS FLEUR [United Kingdom] – Corps Fleur

Corps Fleur is a combination of traditional melodic black metal and more atmospheric post-black, but it would be more accurate to describe the album as starting out in the sunnier realm of the latter and moving towards the darker, more assertive edge of the former. The aggression is definitely kicked up with “Solace” and “Lament” (my two favorite tracks), and although it is perhaps most readily noticeable in the percussion, it’s really due to the overall songwriting. It is worth noting that it is not just the amalgamation of DSBM, post-black, and more classic BM rancor which makes the album stand out… equally important is the tight musicianship, skilled and effective technique exhibited by all involved, and also an incredible production and mix. {full review}

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MINI ALBUMS / EPs / SPLITS

(11 selections)

STORMKEEP [United States] – Galdrum

Galdrum is a blatant, unashamed ode to the 90’s era of symphonic black metal both visually and musically. The cover art is fucking stunning, but also have you seen the band’s promo photo and art? Candles, swords, dragons, spikes, axes… it’s just perfectly quintessential. Would almost be cringy if it didn’t seem so fucking authentic, and now that I can really comprehend the music, they hold their own in that department too. STORMKEEP taps into that Scandinavian nostalgia while still maintaining an identity of its own and stands well above most relevant contemporary acts, and alongside THE KRYPTIK and VARGRAV. Everything is top-notch, every element crafted together in such a way that I think Galdrum achieves exactly what it is trying to achieve: classic symphonic black metal euphoria. {full collaborative review}

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ALMYRKVI [Iceland] / THE RUINS OF BEVERAST [Germany] – (split)

ALMYRKVI marches forward like the steady, otherworldly stride of some planetary giant, footfalls heavy enough to shake the earth but with a crown amongst the stars. There is a measured and incredibly effective industrial aspect threaded throughout, giving the Icelandic contribution a sense of posthuman aloofness. Layers of dense melodies, grandiose to the point of celestial, creates a sense of being helplessly witness to something that is both cosmically transcendent and vaguely technological, with the gravitational inexorability of blackened monolithic power, a God of such prowess that humanity cannot help but plunge into the hypnotic depths of reverence and worship. Enter THE RUINS OF BEVERAST. The increasingly ecstatic chanting and steady pseudotribal cadence fantastically captures a tranced veneration encircling the deific monument which ALMYRKVI introduced. The impenetrable, crepitus bass seems to crackle like the black energy of a central locum of power while the rest of the elements meditatively, intoxicatingly, ritualistically cavort ‘round in a possessed doom orbit. The devotion to dark idols develops towards an increased tempo, enthusiastic groove, and soaring two-minute guitar lead, impressing concluding notions of a more elated yet violent elevation… rapture. {full review}

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MAQUAHUITL [United States] – Con Su Pistola en La Mano

Hard-hitting, galloping, cutthroat southwestern bandido black metal. It’s practically impossible to not mention WAYFARER (since they too put out a release this year), but best as a contrast: Con Su Pistola en La Mano is faster, harder, more focused, more aggressive, and more *black metal*, and would be better compared to something more orthodox like SKAN or GLORIOR BELLI, yet allowing an even more cross-cultural elements to permeate the music, with Latin guitars, wind instrumentation, and cumbia percussion!  The burn through three tracks on this EP with reckless abandon, leaving me wanting mucho, mucho mas. 

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SOUL DISSOLUTION [Belgium] – Winter Contemplations

Eschewing the pitch black, frigid, subzero atmospherics harnessed by a plethora of typically Scandinavian acts, Winter Contemplations adopts a more overtly post-black sunniness while still projecting distinct wintertide. The album eases in with the whistling wind before settling into an easy pace of plodding percussion, thick melodic strings, and somewhat monotonic yelling vocals. Soon we see where SOUL DISSOLUTION shines: when those elements are combined with warm, almost bluesy guitar lead which twirls and plays amongst the other instruments, mid-paced cadence, and lovely acoustic guitar progressions. Majestic synth puts on a pristine display as electric lead guitar foretells the heaviness of the nevertheless casual percussion. We catch the full cascade towards the end, all musical grandeur ecstatically conjoining atop torrents of rapid double kick before the album concludes in epic fashion. {full review}

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ANCIENT HOSTILITY [Ukraine/United States] – Anthropophagy

Comprised of efforts from the hyper prolific SadVoice (INNER SUFFERING) on music and the vocals of Imber (ALUDRA, ex-SYNODIC, PALUS SOMNI [tba]), ANCIENT HOSTILITY specializes in mid-paced, ruminating, slow-churning black metal. The music has a slight industrial edge, as well as an element of unnerving, almost haunting dissonance, while the scathing vocals convey unbridled, red-hot hatred. Anthropophagy succeeds in transmitting a sense of dread with tracks of haunting, anxiety provoking, smoldering malice. 

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THE KRYPTIK [Brazil] – Behold Fortress Inferno

Surprisingly good old-school symphonic black metal! The simplicity and earnestness of the 2nd wave, with sustained orchestral synth atmospheres, scathing vocals, sufficient drumming, and some solid guitar solos. This sounds perfect alongside early EMPEROR, EVILFEAST, VARGRAV, KATAXU, and perhaps this year’s ELFFOR.

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TENEBRAE AETERNUM [Switzerland] – Embraced By The Damned One

Heavy, thickened, black, almost meditative ritualism with hints of death metal, done extremely well and fully developed in every respect. I have been following this project for a while and every release just gets better and better. Blazing and monstrous, even for an EP. FFO (and I’m just gonna go a little crazy with the comparisons here because I love this particular sound so much): SCHAMMASCH, MEPHORASH, ORDER OF APPOLYON, GLORIA MORTI, THEURGIA, MESZAROTH, ANIMUS MORTIS, AVERSIO HUMANITATIS, TEMPLE OF BAAL, the newest PANZERFAUST, TEMPLE OF PERDITION.

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VITAL SPIRIT [Canada] – In The Face That Looks Through Death

A very cool combination of melodic black / post-black metal and, like several other releases this year (WAYFARER, MAQUAHUITL) Western/American folk aspects. VITAL SPIRIT centers their theme around Native American motifs, and although the cross-cultural aspect is a bit more subdued than those mentioned above, there are distinct moments where it really shines through.

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TÓMARÚM [United States] – Wounds Ever Expanding

There’s not much which I think can be legitimately called “technical black metal” but I think that TÓMARÚM fit the bill perfectly. Complex, melodic, and without the techdeath tropes that many bands try to pass off as “blackened”, Wounds Ever Expanding also includes some interesting things like clean vocals and keys. But, most importantly are the FUCKING AMAZING guitar leads. I’m extremely interested to see where TÓMARÚM goes from here and hopefully we will find out in 2021!

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ENTROPY CREATED CONSCIOUSNESS [unknown] – Innocence and Experience

Ok ok, I know this was technically a 2019 release – but because it dropped on December 31, there’s no way that it could have made it onto my list in 2019, and it really deserves it. Also, I checked my posts, and I first listened to it on January 1, 2020, so it is certainly the very first list-worthy thing I heard in 2020! This is an addendum EP to the Impressions of the Morning Star (2018) album and has a similar timbre: an avant garde, blistering, murky, almost droning onslaught broken up by epic splendor… inhumanly aggressive and impossibly beautiful at the same time. ECC also came out with the Antica Memoria di Dis double EP this year, and that’s growing on me (Lethe particularly) but the sound changed somewhat, and although Innocence and Experience is somewhat of a bridge between Morning Star and Memoria, I just like the earlier style better.

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ORCHESTRA OF THE DROWNED [Russia] – Northern Aurora

Alright, so the little-known one-man act ORCHESTRA OF THE DROWNED put out an album in 2018 called Revealing the Arcane, which I immediately associated as somewhat of a lighter, more psychedelic variant of BLUT AUS NORD… essentially, it sounds more like BAN’s Hallucinogen than anything else I can find, except it came out *before* Hallucinogen did. Northern Aurora, on the other hand, steps a bit away from the more programmed/industrial aspect and moves more towards melody and folky epic composition, with the vocals reminding me a bit of Dani Filth. Its pretty damn good and great wintertime music!

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HONORABLE MENTION

ULCERATE [New Zealand] – Stare Into Death And Be Still

I won’t dwell too much on this because although it has some blackish elements, it’s really atmospheric death metal… buuuut although I didn’t really rank my list this year, but this would be somewhere in the top 5. Maybe top 3. Also, it’s sort of a situation wherein if you know, you know. Superior and absolutely compelling musicianship creates an impossibly complex, crushing hypnotism which does it’s best to achieve complete spiritual annihilation, both ruinous and transcendent. I can usually only handle one or two songs at a time but each time it is more and more devastatingly euphoric.  

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1 Comment

  1. Nice job with this list. Some cracking releases here. I do enjoy reading your reviews, so keep it up.

    Like

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