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2020: A Year in Review

My top to bottom list of everything from 2020 I've spent time with and have also purchased either physically or digitally (which is why most of them have high ratings). Releases featured on MS only. Whole number ratings out of 10 and my personal opinions included.

NOTE: I am no longer updating this list. 2020 was a great year for music despite being not a great year in general but I am onto a 2021 list. You can check it out here:

Created by: ProgVet | 27.01.2020

1. Psychonaut - Unfold The God Man
A 70min juggernaut of genera bending metal. Is post progressive sludge even a thing? A near perfect performance; the melodies are infectious, the drops are frequent and ferocious, the atmosphere is excellent, the vocals are outstanding. Also the flow and mixing are both exceptional. Simply phenomenal. 9/10
2. Caligula's Horse - Rise Radiant
'Rise Radiant' has a more "mild" approach, especially compared to the previous two albums, but still manages to be just as excellent. Undulating between heavy prog riffage and soft ballad-like moments allows the album flow seamlessly. Just an outstanding record. I just keep coming back it this one over and over. 9/10
3. Sojourner - Premonitions
This is Sojourner's best album to date. Epic atmospheric black metal with a lot of folk influences. The performance is outstanding. Great pacing with mixes of piano and female vocal passages. The production is very good as well. They have produced just a massive sound here. Awe inspiring and monolithic. 9/10
4. On Thorns I Lay - Threnos
This album crushes. A melodic death/doom album that does not quit. The soft breaks of piano, strings, and spoken word really help the pacing. Not to mention the production is great. Getting major Swallow the Sun vibes. Just an outstanding performance and release. 9/10
5. Elder - Omens
Elder is a band that I had never connected with until now. This album jams man. Something about the keyboards really makes their sound mesh and gives it a nostalgic, familiar, psychedelic feeling. The performance is excellent as is the production. A true sonic experience. Tune in and drop out. 9/10
6. Hail Spirit Noir - Eden In Reverse
Psychedelic, experimental, blackened, and progressive - all some of my favorite adjectives to describe music and this album has it all with an excellent performance to back it up. Interesting, unique, and complex. Those synthesizer tones are something else. Just an all around stunner. 9/10
7. Gaerea - Limbo
Prepare yourself for the nihilistic void that is 'Limbo.' Gaerea's sophomore album is emotionally laden with thematic anguish and melancholy. The performance is heavy and aggressive yet still atmospheric. The production is very good as well. Overall a remarkable piece of black metal that continues to impress. 9/10
8. Esoctrilihum - Eternity Of Shaog
Sit back as the very fabric of your mind is probed into deterioration by this 62 minute venture into the extreme obscure. A unique experience that pushes the boundaries of musical logic. Heavy, methodical, and grandiose; Shaog will leave you questioning what just happened. An amazing avant-garde adventure. 9/10
9. Plini - Impulse Voices
Plini has rapidly became one of my favorite guitarists and composers over the past several years. His music always seems to impress me over and over again and in different ways. His second full length is no exception. Wonderfully constructed, beautifully composed, and performed with expert precision. 9/10
10. Dark Fortress - Spectres From The Old World
Somehow this is my first exposure to Dark Fortress and I must say I really like what I hear. Not overly original for a melodic black metal band but sometimes that doesn't matter when the performance and production is this good. Heavy black metal with great melodic passages and even groovy at times. Yes please! 9/10
11. Winterfylleth - The Reckoning Dawn
Probably Winterfylleth's best release to date (although I am only minimally familiar with their back catalog). This album is loud, atmospheric, epic, and melodic. The performance is excellent and the mix is very solid. Overall easily one of my favorite black metal releases of 2020. 9/10
12. Ulcerate - Stare Into Death And Be Still
This is my first exposure to Ulcerate and man does this album slap. Riffs on top of riffs on top of even more riffs. Very consistent excellence from front to back. Heavy, groovy, a little proggy, and some flat out dirty drumming and cymbal play. This is how you do death metal. Grip it and rip it! 9/10
13. Skyforest - A New Dawn
Wow. What a beautiful release. Excellent atmosphere created by an excellent blend of black metal and folk. The production is great as well. All this from an unsigned, one man project, from Russia. Easily his best release to date. A new dawn is just what we need right now. So glad Skyforest finally has a MS page! 9/10
14. Pure Reason Revolution - Eupnea
Somewhere between Porcupine Tree and Marillion you will fine Pure Reason Revolution. I really enjoy this album a lot. The sound moves between soft rock, hard rock, and even moments that edge towards industrial which all add up to a great performance. An excellent alternative/progressive rock album. 9/10
15. Bell Witch - Stygian Bough: Volume I [Collaboration]
Firstly, do not compare this to Mirror Reaper - you will be disappointed. This collaboration is in a different league of aching melancholy altogether. The crushing sounds of Bell Witch match almost perfectly with the eerily haunting dark folk styles of Erik Moggridge. Emotional, immersive and grandiose. 9/10
16. Vader - Solitude In Madness
This album rips front to back. Vader have created an 11 track, 30 minute punch to the face. There is no fluff, no filler, no wasted time to be found. It is unapologetically short. Fast, heavy, aggressive, and groovy - everything you'd look for in a death metal album all with Vader's unique sound. 8/10
17. Thou - May Our Chambers Be Full [Collaboration]
A true collaboration w/ Emma Ruth Rundle. The sludgy doom groove of Thou matches up incredibly well with the ethereal vocalizations of ERR. Who would have thought? The entire package just works especially on the final track 'The Valley' were there is such sadness and hope intertwined. 8/10
18. Necrophobic - Dawn Of The Damned
Necrophobic have picked up right where they left off from "Mark of the Necrogram" in 2018. "Dawn of the Damned" is a very similar album in composition, style, and production with an equally great performance. Ten tracks of high quality melodic blackened death metal that just flat out rip. 8/10
19. Akhlys - Melinoë
Just an absolute monster of a black metal album. A total of four tracks with an ambient filler in the middle (that I'm not sure is entirely needed). These songs are fast and aggressive but still with an excellent depth of atmosphere. The production is outstanding too - there is a very dense feeling to the whole album. 8/10
20. Regarde Les Hommes Tomber - Ascension
I got into these guys with their debut album back in 2013. After a 5 year gap, RLHT return with their unique blend of black, death, and sludge and man does it hit hard. A very heavy album front to back and even a bit groovy at times. Solid pacing. Great performance. Great production. 8/10
21. Katatonia - City Burials
I have spent more time with this album than any other in 2020 as I wasn't sure what to make of it. After countless spins I have decided that it is quite a good album, especially the first half. Each listen I find more depth and intricacies that were not apparent at first. Jonas' voice is absolutely gorgeous as always. 8/10
22. Ulver - Flowers Of Evil
A follow up to 2018's "AoJC," Ulver present a similar album stylistically with "Flowers of Evil." Perhaps a bit heavier with more prominent guitar work but overall a comparable record that can be considered somewhat of a sequel. Dark synth-pop, doom dance, electronic avantgarde; whatever you call it, it's just good. 8/10
23. Mors Principium Est - Seven
This album is a riff factory. An onslaught of technical skill and precision song after song after song. Mors Principium Est have a tried and true formula that they do not deviate from with "Seven." Excellent performance with great production. My only criticism is the overall feel is a little homogenous. 8/10
24. Atramentus - Stygian
Perhaps the only high quality funeral doom release this year and man does it crush. The album undulates with heaviness and melancholy. The sound is deeply complex and the pacing is excellent. Slowly building into the crescendo of "Perennial Voyage" that might be the best funeral doom song since Mirror Reaper. 8/10
25. Pallbearer - Forgotten Days
Once again Pallbearer take a slightly different approach on their newest album, taking a step towards more straightforward song structures and more "radio friendly" tracks. Is this a step backwards? Perhaps, but for me just a small one. Overall I do enjoy this album front to back. 8/10
26. Stormkeep - Galdrum
Well this album was a nice find. A true hidden gem. Gritty melodic black metal with an excellent incorporation of dungeon synth. The album's atmosphere gives it a mystical vibe. The performance is great as is the production (for the style of music). Don your helm, grab your sword, and enter the battle! 8/10
27. Finntroll - Vredesvävd
The mighty Finntroll have returned after seven years with ten tracks of high octane, pure blooded, folk metal. This release is a perfect example of why Finntroll has endured as one of the top folk metal bands around and why they will continue to do so no matter how much time goes on between releases. 8/10
28. Havukruunu - Uinuos Syömein Sota
Epic black metal in the same vein as Moonsorrow and Bathory but with enough energy and conviction that it easily avoids being labeled as a "rip off." While perhaps lacking some originality the performance and songwriting hold this album well above other recent efforts in this folk/viking-esque style of black metal. 8/10
29. Thy Catafalque - Naiv
I got into Thy Catafalque with the releases of Meta and Geometria (which I loved). Naiv is a very solid album, however there are moments that lose me a bit on the arrangements. That being said those moments are scarce. Overall an enjoyable and fun release that may be on the weirder side of the spectrum. 8/10
30. Carnosus - Dogma Of The Deceased
Damn. What a debut album. A very good thrashy technical death metal performance. Groovy, heavy, melodic, and technically sound. The vocals are on point. Some outstanding production too. It drags a little in the middle with some repetitiveness but overall just a great release. 8/10
31. The Ocean - Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic / Cenozoic
The follow up to Phanerozoic I is a worthy sequel. A slightly different approach by incorporating industrial elements is a nice change of pace. The first two songs are the highlights as the rest feel a bit like song fragments. It's still a very good release that I have come to enjoy especially after several play throughs. 8/10
32. Psychonaut 4 - Beautyfall
A very interesting black metal album with a heavy dose of the avantgarde and splashes of post-rock/metal. All of the tracks are fairly different from one another but there are diffuse emotional themes of sadness, depression, and melancholy. 8/10
33. Odraza - Rzeczom
Welcome to the bizarre. 'Rzeczom' is Polish black metal at the core with avant-garde and even jazz like influences. Remarkably unique with a great performance to back it up. It took me a few plays to connect with it but once I did I found myself really enjoying it. 8/10
34. Aeternam - Al Qassam
Comparing Aeternam to Orphaned Land is obvious but on 'Al Qassam' there are splashes of Nile like riffage and general heaviness that allow it to stand alone. The mix of melodic guitar work, progressive rhythms, and symphonic passages are well balanced leaving a very enjoyable release. 8/10
35. Misertus - Earthlight
A very good shoegaze/blackgaze album. An abrasive wall of sound throughout with an incredible amount of depth that gives a significant amount of atmosphere and even melody. All this from a one man project makes it even more impressive. Easily his best work to date. 8/10
36. Vredehammer - Viperous
Despite the lame album cover this album is in fact not lame. A blackened death/thrash metal album loaded with riffs that make you subconsciously bang you head. The retro synthesizers add a much needed depth that a lot of releases in this genera are missing. Great performance, solid production. 8/10
37. Them Moose Rush - Dancing Maze
This is the party you didn't know you wanted to get invited to. Progressive noise rock from somewhere beyond left field. The performance is flat out belligerent but in a remarkably fun kind of way. A truly unique experience that I find myself consistently coming back to. Much love to these mad lads from Croatia. 8/10
38. The Night Flight Orchestra - Aeromantic
This album is a party straight out of the 80's from start to finish. One contagious song after another that just make you want to move. Maybe a little cheesy but when a release is this authentically fun the cheese seems to fall away. This is music that anyone can enjoy. 8/10
39. Zeal & Ardor - Wake Of A Nation
I typically don't like it when the bands I enjoy have political material however this EP is an absolute exception. Zeal & Ardor have captured the political injustices and turmoil that took place in the USA during 2020 in just 6 songs without coming off overly preachy. Great music with an important message. 8/10
40. Yoth Iria - Under His Sway
Ritualistic black metal from ex Rotting Christ members. This EP jams. Heavy, galloping riffs. Melodies that stick. Sinister choir work. Can't wait for them to flush their sound out a little bit, tweak the production, and release a full length. Excellent teaser EP. 8/10
41. Testament - Titans Of Creation
This is a journey of ups and downs. The first 4 tracks on the album rip hard. Most of the other tracks are solid/agreeable but there are a couple I just flat out don't like (Ishtar's Gate might be the worst Testament song I've ever heard). I think overall this is a good album with a solid performance and great production. 7/10
42. Uada - Djinn
A solid black metal release somewhere between Inquisition and Mgła. For me this one is a little weaker than their previous releases mainly because of the title track that I don't really care for. The mix could be better too. Otherwise it's pretty good stuff. 7/10
43. Árstíðir Lífsins - Saga Á Tveim Tungum II: Eigi Fjǫll Né Firðir
Epic, grandiose, viking, folk, atmospheric; all words that can easily be used to describe this behemoth of a black metal album. The performance is outstanding, everything you'd want from this style of music. However there are a lot of ambient, spoken-word tracks that just slows it all down a bit too much for me. 7/10
44. Dark Tranquillity - Moment
Dark Tranquillity's newest offering is most certainly not a bad album, but it is definitely lacking. To me the songwriting is pretty run-of-the-mill and the clean vocals come off a bit weak; however the performance and the production are both solid. This album kind of just makes me want to go listen to Insomnium. 7/10
45. Kvaen - The Funeral Pyre
A one-man black metal band/album that is carried by a great performance. Black metal through and through with thrash elements as well as some great melodies and even symphonics. I'm just not a giant fan of the mixing/production on this one. That begin said it's a great debut performance. 7/10
46. Graceless - Where Vultures Know Your Name
Classic, straightforward, death metal with heavy doom influences. The riffs are crushing, the vocals are deep, and the drums are pummeling. This album is loud in all the right ways. Overall a very solid album that is well executed but could just use a little more variation. Call me a fan. 7/10
47. Turia - Degen Van Licht
Atmospheric black metal. Straight up. Don't think I would be able to blindly pick Turia's sound out of a crowed but that doesn't mean this is a bad release in any means. It's very solid. The production is great especially for the style of music and the performance follows suit. Simply an enjoyable release. 7/10
48. Mesarthim - The Degenerate Era
Space metal or metal is space? How about both! Atmospheric black metal at it's core but with an excellent addition of synthesizer effects and keyboards to give a cosmic melody that is present throughout the album. Some shorter songs on this album compared to previous that make it a bit more approachable. 7/10
49. Master Boot Record - Floppy Disk Overdrive
This album is my first exposure to MASTER BOOT RECORD and it is nuts. Super fun album front to back. Unique and epic. A true breath of fresh air. The mixing is great too, you can really feel the bass. It's just a bit too long but otherwise I would recommend this album to pretty much anyone. 7/10
50. Night Crowned - Impius Viam
A pretty straight forward melodic/symphonic black metal album that is thoroughly enjoyable. Perhaps a bit unoriginal but the performance is good enough that it doesn't bother me. My only gripes are a homogeneous feel and an inconsistent production. That being said it's a great debut and I look forward to their future. 7/10
51. Kawir - Adrasteia
A heavy, melodic, bang your head, all gas, no breaks kind of album. Kawir do a great job blending blackened death metal with more folk-like passages of acoustic guitar and a hymn-like choir. A very solid listen front to back. The only criticism I have is that the production could be better as it feels a little flat. 7/10
52. Lotus Thief - Oresteia
This album is driven by the female vocals and atmospheric passages. The blending of heavy moments cut well to keep the album from dragging too much. However, every other track is a short instrumental ambient piece that slows the flow of the album down a little too much. Overall a good and interesting release. 7/10
53. Violet Cold - Noir Kid
Another year, another new Violet Cold release. On 'Noir Kid' the signature atmosphere and blasting shoegaze mix is ever present with added electronic and synth-wave influences. These more electronic passages lose me a bit. I do appreciate the slight change in direction and enjoy the album well enough. 7/10
54. Occlith - Gates, Doorways, And Endings
Occlith have released a fairly straightforward, very approachable doom album. There is a great amount of variation which is always nice to see in the genera. The clean vocals are my only real criticism as they are a bit monotone and generally weak compared to the rest of the performance. 7/10
55. Huntsmen - Mandala Of Fear
Huntsmen present a pretty straight forward sludge sound that is absolutely enjoyable. The performance is solid and the production is above average in my opinion. This album, however, suffers majorly from lack of editing and refinement. It's way too long. Most of the tracks are solid but overall there is too much fluff. 7/10
56. Bríi - Entre Tudo Que É Visto E Oculto
Atmospheric black metal with abundant but appropriate use of electronic/industrial sounds. This complex layering of genera gives depth and allows the album to breath with authenticity. Recommended if you are searching for music that is "between everything that is seen and hidden." 7/10
57. Carcass - Despicable
Four solid new Carcass songs and that's about it. The songs are good but don't stand out too terribly much especially compared to 'Surgical Steel.' Not sure why they didn't just do a full release but whatever. Also the production could be a little better for me - the vocals are a little quite. 7/10
58. Amiensus - Abreaction
Amiensus' newest effort is not bad in any means but for me, overall just an OK release. There aren't any particularly bad songs or moments however there is something missing that would grab my attention more fully. As always there is a great blend of genera with string instruments for added depth. 6/10
59. Alestorm - Curse Of The Crystal Coconut
Just when I thought Alestorm couldn't get more ridiculous. I've been a fan of these guys from the beginning and have always loved their absurdity but this album is just a bit too over the top for me. There are songs that I enjoy and others I don't like much. Just a middle of the road album that has some really fun moments. 6/10
60. Aseitas - False Peace
Chaotic, avant-garde death metal with splashes of too many other styles to list. I think these guys transcribed music off a Jackson Pollock painting. A very ambitious album; absolute insanity. I prefer the early shorter songs but overall it's a bit too much for me. I can absolutely appreciate the performance though! 6/10
61. Joe Satriani - Shapeshifting
Satriani is one of my favorite guitarist. I will admit I have not been a loyal fan as I have not checked out a new release of his since 2005 or so. His latest effort, 'Shapeshifting,' has that unmistakable Satriani guitar tone however the album as a whole is fairly slow and uninspiring. Not a bad album, just a boring one. 6/10
62. Lamb Of God - Lamb Of God
LoG is one of the bands that got me into metal so I will always be a fan. That being said I am disappointed in this release. I was expecting a drop with departure of Chris Adler but my gripes are not with the drumming, it's with the safe and boring song structures and the cringe worthy lyrical content. Overall... whatever. 6/10

Disclaimer: All top lists are unofficial and do not represent the point of view of the MS Staff.
[ More lists by ProgVet ]

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