Max Heilman’s 60 best metal albums of 2020: 50-41

The 60 best metal albums of 2020 include (clockwise from top left): The Black Dahlia Murder, Elder, Sumac, Botanist, Vile Creature, Today is the Day, Cult of Fire, Mare Cognitum & Spectral Lore, End and Reverorum ib Malacht.

Welcome to the second beatdown in a six-part beatdown series counting down the 60 best metal albums of the year. Check out 60-51 if you haven’t already. I’ve exposed myself to many shades of pitch-black evil this year and my list reflects a diverse array of unholy noise. We’re just getting started. This time, we’ll subject ourselves to melo-death stalwarts The Black Dahlia Murder, quieter stoner prog of Elder and Cult of Fire’s epic Hindu black metal.

2020 in Review, Best of 2020, best albums of 2020, best concerts of 2020, 2020 in review, The Most OK of 2020

Illustration: Skott Bennett/STAFF.

50. EndSplinters from an Ever-Changing Face — In some ways, End epitomizes the darker, more chaotic learning of modern metalcore. For context, the band’s associated acts—Misery Signals and Structures—tend toward a more positive approach to the style, while End is all about being as mean and vicious as possible. Splinters from an Ever-Changing Face takes things in a more sinister direction without forsaking the hard-hitting breakdowns of the band’s previous material. Those who like their hardcore dark and hateful need look no further.

49. Mare Cognitum & Spectral LoreWanderers: Astrology of the Nine — Cosmic black metal has its ultimate opus with this collaborative effort. Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine is two hours of solar-system-spanning black metal, with one track centered on each of our neighboring planets. The songs are massive, dense and incredibly engaging. To create an album this long that still remains interesting is a feat by itself. It really shouldn’t be that surprising, considering the respective illustrious back catalog of Mare Cognitum and Spectral Lore. At this point, they should just start a band!

48. Reverorum ib MalachtVad Är Inte Sju Huvud? — The longest and most impenetrable Malacht album yet, Vad Är Inte Sju Huvud? doubles down on the band’s most impenetrable aspects. These 90 minutes feature some of the most twisted sonics ever produced in any genre. Even stranger is that they come from a Roman Catholic black metal band. These guys take the basic tenets of black metal, feeding them through a wormhole and then putting a bunch of modular synth madness on top. The results may never be considered pleasant, but there is an undeniable spiritual presence to be found within the blackened murk.

47. ElderOmens — After releasing some of the best albums of progressive stoner metal, Elder dialed things back considerably for Omens. It’s actually closer to Midwest emo than anything remotely doom-related, down to vocalist Nick DiSalvo, whose singing is a lot more demure than before. The virtuosity is still there, and there’s more keyboard layers to chew on. It goes to show that a band can take things down a few notches without sacrificing credibility or musicality.

46. SumacMay You Be Held — If 2016’s What One Becomes was the apex of Sumac’s initial run of records, then this is the product of its love affair with Keiji Haino crossing into its non-collaborative albums. The album polarizes the band’s recent trend toward nonlinear experimentation with some of its most straightforward sludge metal riffing. Considering the raw talent of guitarist-vocalist Aaron Turner (Isis, Old Man Gloom), Brian Cook (Russian Circles, ex-Botch) and drummer Nick Yacyshyn, it’s fair to say any direction they go in will be awesome in some way. Even if most of this is more heavy on the experimentation than metal, it’s still a rewarding listen.

45. Cult of FireMoksha/Nirvana — This Prague, Czech Republic band presents another milestone of black metal transcending its roots. This double album uses epic, melodic black metal to explore Hinduism and Vedic rituals—and it works extremely well. The riffs absolutely hit, and the choral and orchestral elements sport authenticity comparable to the Nordic elete, but the overall atmosphere paints a very different picture. Field recordings and non-Western instrumentation embody a soundscape appropriate for the band’s spiritual orientation. It’s hard to think of many recent bands that achieve this kind of creative thrust while honoring the timeless tenets of black metal proper.

44. Vile CreatureGlory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm — In many ways, Vile Creature resembles fellow forward-thinking sludge act The Body. Two people, heavy riffs and weird songwriting choices galore become the framework of this album. It also becomes an invaluable statement for the nonbinary community—a woefully underrepresented, and often unaccepted, demographic in extreme metal. With a few well-placed choral arrangements, Vile Creature’s style mixes together the slow-motion anarch punk of bands like Ragana with a distinct funeral doom edge.

43. The Black Dahlia MurderVerminous — The Black Dahlia Murder has yet to release a bad album. It’s almost unfair, but hey, someone’s got to bring melodic death metal to the core kids. The riffs are killer and the vocals have more energy than bands half age of The Black Dahlia Murder. Some bands just have the “it” factor when it comes to making awesome metal, which would explain why this band can essentially write the same album over and over again and no one seems to mind. They’re like the Slayer of American melo-death!

42. BotanistPhotosynthesis — Everyone’s favorite dulcimer-driven plant metal band is back and more potent than ever. Botanist’s unique instrumentation (no guitars, only hammered dulcimers) automatically makes it interesting. As weird as it sounds, the instrumentation has gotten so dialed in that you could trick an unsuspecting listener into thinking the tiny resonance of the dulcimer is actually a guitar. The band perfectly synthesizes new age atmospheres and fervent singing with Burzum-esque screams and impressive drumming. This projects environmentalist message is needed more than ever, and it comes through on one of Botanist’s best releases.

41. Today Is the DayNo Good To Anyone — Noisecore legends Today Is the Day come back rawer and darker than ever. On the surface, No Good To Anyone should easily appeal to fans of Neurosis or Isis, but there’s something more sullen and misanthropic about this band’s approach that has always set it apart. There’s even a depressive black metal element to some cuts. There’s more trippy jam sections to contrast with the crushing heaviness, giving this album an appeal similar to the alt-metal titans of the mid-’90s. There’s something about the hypnotic evil that keeps you coming back, from the simple, ear-worm riffs to the maniacal vocalizations.

The 60 best metal albums of 2020: 40-31

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