Historians will likely look back on 2020 as one of the worst years ever. Luckily, metal and hardcore excels in expressing all kinds of negative emotion.
Some may never see this music as more than mindless noise, but if you’re like me, this music has gotten me through the trials of this unsavory start to the decade. I’ve listened to so much heavy, dark, angry music over the course of this year that I couldn’t resist tailoring a top 60 list just for those records.
If you don’t see some of your favorites in the mix, feel free to let me know so I can give them a listen and face-palm myself.
There’s 10 more albums than the last edition, mainly because I spent a lot of this year with way too much time on my hands, but also because there was a wealth of quality albums ripe for listening!
Our first wave of earsplitting madness includes Primitive Man, Behold The Arctopus and My Dying Bride.
60. Behold The Arctopus – Hapeleptic Overtrove — Let’s start off by throwing a bone to the nerds. Behold The Arctipus has always represented the threshold between tech-death and a music major’s pipe dream, but Hapeleptic Overtrove is the metal equivalent of a jury performance at a prestigious conservatory. Jason Bauers doesn’t even sound like he’s playing a drum kit, choosing instead to become a one-man classical percussion ensemble. You know things are getting out there when Colin Marston’s 14-string Warr guitar seems like an appropriate instrument. He and Mike Lerner double down on approaching harmony and melody like mad scientists, completing the nerdist album from extreme music’s nerdiest band.
59. Boundaries – Your Receding Warmth — This style of metalcore isn’t anything new, but few bands have been playing it with this much spirit. Within 10 seconds, Boundaries locks in its chokehold and won’t let go. There’s just enough melody and actual chord progressions to let things breathe, but holy crap do those breakdowns hit. It’s the perfect middle ground between the fight music of the East Coast and the skronky dissonance reminiscent of Norma Jean or Cave In. The real deciding factor here remains the genuine anger in the vocals, along with some incredibly catchy guitar licks.
58. Primitive Man – Immersion — After releasing the mammoth album Caustic, Primitive Man comes through with decidedly more of the same. That’s just fine, however, because these guys’ brand of pitch-black doom is a hellish gift that keeps on giving. Everything about this music is harsh, miserable and misanthropic, achieving a similar effect as that of frontman Ethan McCarthy’s noise projects by way of cavernous drones and slow-motion percussion. Primitive Man is the sonic equivalent of two planets colliding, with a melancholic undertone to embody the resulting mass extinction.
57. O Zorn – Your Killer — After slugging it out in the Long Beach underground for a decade, O Zorn’s experience is very noticeable on their newest LP. With obliterating riffs, stomping groves and pissed-off vocals, let this be a reminder of sludge metal’s roots in hateful, apocalyptic blues. If you took the sludge element out, you’d have some solid rock and roll, but that low-end crunch is just too satisfying to ignore. Long Beach has a rather underappreciated musical tradition, so it’s nice to have a solid album like this to spotlight SoCal sludge.
56. Malokarpatan – Krupinské ohne — A bit of trad metal, a bit of first wave black metal and a lot of “Dungeons & Dragons” makes this one of the most strangely compelling releases. Hailing from Slovakia, Malokarpatan deeply incorporates its homeland’s mythology and occultism into its artistry. Melodic and campy, yet atmospheric and dark, the album seems to revel in its brazen obscurity. Don’t even try to get these riffs out of your head.
55. Obsidian Kingdom – Meat Machine — Spain isn’t exactly known for metal, which automatically causes Obsidian Kingdom to stand out. Their musical progression has remained interesting as well, from eclectic beginnings to a more streamlined mid period. In many ways, Meat Machine represents the culmination of what the band was pushing for on 2016’s A Year with No Summer. At times the vocals come off like Deftones, but the overall instrumentation is like an industrial take on the alternative metal acts of the mid-’90s. It’s best just to sit back and let Obsidian Kingdom do what it will. As unpredictable as it is, the music’s always good.
54. My Dying Bride – Ghost of Orion — One of the three kings of death doom is back and more crestfallen than ever. Ghost of Orion is a pretty straightforward album by My Dying Bride standards, but the band’s emotional undercurrent retains too much potency for that to matter. Of special note is single “Tired of Tears,” which singer Aaron Staithorpe wrote as a plea to God not to take his daughter, who battles cancer. Chock-full of mournful guitar harmonies, emotive singing, deathly growls and some tasteful orchestration, Ghost of Orion is a solid reminder of why the Peaceville Records doom sound has remained so relevant in the underground.
53. Azusa – Loop of Yesterdays — Some might call this a supergroup, if they know their prog metal. With associated acts including Extol and Dillinger Escape Plan, Azusa’s real spotlight musician is vocalist Eleni Zafiriadou. Her pop sensibilities bring the music in directions that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. This certainly made their 2018 debut, Heavy Yoke, worth a listen. But Loop of Yesterdays is really where the band’s songwriting chops come into their own. It’s prog metal you sing along to, with as many infectious hooks as weird riff changes.
52. Great American Ghost – Power Through Terror — In the world of hardcore vocalists fronting metal bands, this Boston beatdown crew knows what’s up. With riffs reminiscent of Gojira and Meshuggah, and screams that point back to the HxCx underground, this band also knows how to use breakdowns tastefully. Not only that, but I challenge anyone to find a riff on this album that isn’t dynamite. Sure, the style doesn’t break out of the metallic hardcore mold of the past 15 years, but come on, seriously, listen to those riffs.
51. Oranssi Pazuzu – Mestarin kynsi — This Finnish black metal act has always had an affinity for psychedelia, but Mestarin kynsi takes it farther than ever. Think the alien vibes of Havohej, with a bit more melody to grab onto. This album mostly resembles a gurgling cauldron of swirling dissonance. But there’s plenty of dynamism and intricacy to appreciate as the songs drift from kaleidoscopic ambiance to skronky rhythm breaks. It’s almost like a black metal take on krautrock, and that’s awesome!