The terrible and unholy year of the Dark Lord 2020 was not as fertile as last year’s harvest would suggest. The crop yielded a fair amount of pretty excellent records. Yet, most of them erred on the good to very good territory1) and did not really qualify for that coveted top 10 spot.
After a slow start, things started to look more lively. At first, we thought that the progressive folks would pretty much deliver naught. Yet, suddenly we have a choice, and a difficult one at that.
Then we stumbled across folk pieces where there should be none, and that was truly interesting and worthy of a spot on the top 10. But it is this boatload of Extreme Metal offerings that truly made our walls shake with fury. Something that somewhat soothed our fragile nerves undone by too much lockdown and no live shows.
Interestingly, the floodgates of Symphonic Metal did not quite happen the way we thought. Not too bad, but nothing that shook us all night long neither. With one exception, though, and that one will show up below. As to the rest of them, we’ll wait for Epica in 2021.
So, in short, whilst some excellent bands decided to wait for next year to release their wares, others just went ahead. And some of them were even driven by lockdown despair – and produced something superb.
And that’s the spirit we should all have, right?
Surma – The Light Within
For a long time, the RMR crew had all lookouts manned. They scoured those metal oceans far and wide for a new shiny light on an ever foggier Symphonic Metal horizon. But – nada. Well, when the zone is flooded by posers and wannabes, you know that a genre is in serious peril. But exceptions confirm the rule, right? We knew we had something good once Surma and their latest record crossed our hawse. With some serious and unexpected Island Metal mixed in, this new band proved that Symphonic Metal could still be a thing to hit a top 10. But don’t believe us. Hit up the review and let ‘er roar. It’s a truly tasty chunk of metal.
Carach Angren – Franckensteina Strataemontanus
In late 2020, we explored the beginnings of Carach Angren. The finding? Well, their style never quite changed. And it is only through subtle revamping of age-old traditions that the band managed to hook us over the years. So, indeed, their newest piece truly dazzled us with unexpected richness and – I daresay – a snazzy turn towards the cinematic. That they told a well-worn story, yet – once again – from a totally different angle almost loses it in the fray. A truly remarkable piece of the blackest of Extreme Metal. And one that we relished from start to finish.
Shores of Null – Beyond the Shores
This is one of those records that came in late and waltzed straight onto the top 10. Because if you think that one-track records are a bad idea these days, you may want to think again. Or – maybe – it is the exception confirming the rule all over again. But, wherever the truth may lie, this album definitely is one of the best Doom Metal pieces I had the pleasure to look at in 2020. Once you plunge into its astonishing flow, there will be no escape from that majestic march through soaring soundscapes to those tear-drenched horizons. Oh, and grab some tissues, you will need them.
AC/DC – Power Up
I thought they were dead and buried. But AC/DC just produced the fieriest comeback I have ever seen. And in passing, they delivered one of the best records of their long career as well. Of course, don’t ever expect a different style. It’s in their genes, so they can’t do otherwise. But – boy – this old Australian groove did my soul good. Great, down’n’dirty rock’n’roll, the way it ought to sound. At least from this band, right?
Wobbler – Dwellers of the Deep
If you fancy taking a step back into the proto-progressive past, then there’s Wobbler for ye. This band released a record so full of old prog, it just blew us away. In other words, they till a soundscape that would stand the test of time today, but – more importantly – would not raise any eyebrows back in the ’70s. This is one stellar piece we truly enjoyed. Complete with mellotron, Hammond sounds and all those age-old sound structures we still appreciate today.
Hex A.D. – Astro Tongue in the Electric Garden
This wild mix of Psychedelic, Alternative, and Heavy Rock delivered hot-and-hot to our review pipe took us by storm. This piece feels so retro, it could emerge straight from the ’70s somewhere. Yet, that steaming and totally intense mix of rocky and seemingly known flavors was truly irresistible. This record caught the RMR deck crew hook, line, and sinker. And continues to hold on to us with an iron grip to this day.
Myrkur – Folkesange
More Black Metal? And of THAT Myrkur kind to boot? Hehe, nope. Ms. Bruun here slammed a true folk platter onto the market, and we would not have thought that possible. It’s exceedingly well done, too. Frugal to a point, but with mischievous and menacing devilry inside that never quite shows the tips of its horns. But you always know that it is there, lurking somewhere beyond those crystal clear melodies. Even if the fraulein on the cover is a red-head and the waters behind her pure. Or are they really? Because, you know, the leopard never changes its spots. Ever.
Scardust – Strangers
True passion breeds great records. That is what comes to mind when Noa Gruman and her squad let loose on Strangers. An exquisitely complex yet technically outstanding record that will do Progressive Metal proud. It indeed needs finely honed songwriting skills to create such a delicious mix of symphonics, progressive turns, and pretty hefty metal. That they made their concoction look easy, truly is that proverbial proof of the pudding. And it’s the second time that this band features on our top 10. And that’s remarkable in and by itself.
Anaal Nathrakh – Endarkenment
This is a piece of high-octane metal that feels like a bunch of B-52s just dropped a load on you. Throughout 2020, I have not heard one band that even comes remotely close to these two metallists. A somewhat bizarre ballet of clear voice passages and down-in-the-pit, exceedingly brutal Extreme Metal. Screeched at you with a ferocity that – so far – remains unequaled. A delight for the trve metalhead only. All others should better abstain. Lest they will be burned to a crisp on that bleach-soaked altar by an army of pigs with cocks in their eyes. You get my drift, right?
Haken – Virus
Already their earlier piece – Vector – garnered a ton of attention in the RMR crew quarters. But it’s the 2020 piece – Virus – that truly drove the mastery home that this band is capable of. They didn’t even try to innovate, but just demonstrated how good, traditional prog ought to sound. And that is a friggin’ tour-de-force, something not many bands are able to pull off in this genre. A truly stellar piece of Progressive Metal that we will fondly remember and celebrate for a long time.
Holy Metal Cow, as we say!
As always, there is a small number of bands that almost made it onto the top 10. And often by a slight margin only. Yet, it is this small number that finally delivered this vibe that will push our review jockeys here over the edge and propose bands that may otherwise remain unnamed. And those still deserve to be mentioned.
Here they are.
Aleynmord – The Blinding Light
This is one of the most unlikely candidates for a spot on RMR Top 10 list – even for the honor section. An Extreme Metal record that’s almost devoid of vocals that comes with a short airtime of 35 minutes only2). Well, it better be good, we thought. And it turned out to be an excellent piece of alloy. Atmospheric with real instruments to put the term Post Black Metal to shame. A truly darkened soundscape filled with almost atomic energy that reached us right from the Pacific Northwest.
Black Trillium – The Fatal Shore
In a way, Black Trillium was one of the surprises of 2020. Their weird doomy mix of Death Metal and clears is surely no new invention. But by Jove, their mid-tempo crushing brand of extremes together with those airy and ambient soundscapes really sold us. A powerful reminder that not only big names churn out good metal.
Kvaen – The Funeral Pyre
Fancy your Scandinavian Black Metal hotter than the fieriest curry you can find? Well, then you need to try some of Kvaen‘s newest piece. Speedy to make Dee Snider pale with envy3), this record ground us through the mill and spit us out again in bits and pieces. This is some intense slab of lava-hot metal. And we relished every part of it.
Who impressed us the most?
Thanks to Covid, the unholy year of 2020 has been an unmitigated disaster for the music industry. Some bands like Anathema gave up the ghost, and I don’t blame them. Yet others used that negative energy to create something truly remarkable. Dirty Sound Magnet released a live show from their studio. A real one, no holds barred. Authenticity truly speaks, and that’s why Live Alert really impressed us.
Alright, the top 10 are over and we’re already sailing along most promising currents for 2021. It will – we are sure – be yet another stellar year for music. And – hopefully – a better one for the industry as a whole.