Max Heilman’s 60 best metal albums of 2020: 30-21

Deftones, Tallah, Loathe, Ulthar, Pyrrhon, Bedsore, Orthodox, Katla, -(16)-, Boris, Allt tetta helvitis myrkur, Ohms, Let It Take Its Course, Abscess Time, Dream Squasher, Hypnagogic Hallucinations, I Let It In and It Took Everything, Matriphagy

The 60 best metal albums of 2020 include (clockwise from top left): Deftones, Tallah, Loathe, Ulthar, Pyrrhon, Bedsore, Orthodox, Katla, -(16)- and Boris.

Thirty down, 30 to go! We’re in the thick of our journey through metal in 2020. This is really where the true standouts start to come out. It’s also where my personal enjoyment starts to factor in more. Let me explain why Deftones make the list!

These are the kind of records that consistently gave me chills while I was listening, or made me spontaneously head-bang while listening to them in the car.

Be sure to check out parts one (60-51), two (50-41) and three (40-31) if you haven’t already!

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.

30. Katla Allt tetta helvitis myrkur — I’m not sure why people aren’t talking about these guys more. They have everything a doom band could want and then some. It’s definitely slow and morrose, but there’s some fantastic progressive flourishes within the gloom. Katla is also intent on bringing doom metal back to a focus on vocalists. Singer and multi-instrumentalist Einar Thorberg Gu∂mundsson comes through with countless amazing melodies. Add to that some tasteful synth ambience and drummer Gu∂mundur Óli Pálmason’s cataclysmic rhythm breaks. It’s almost too complex for doom, but the vibe is too crushingly depressed to be described any other way.

29. Deftones Ohms — “But Max, Deftones aren’t metal!” First of all, shut up. Second of all, don’t lie to my face and say these grooves don’t absolutely HIT. In fact, they hit so hard that it’s possible to look past guitarist Stephen Carpenter’s conspiracy theorist political views and just enjoy the simple, catchy nine-string guitar riffs. Chino Moreno is truly a river of melody—extracting sensual, passionate motifs from the most unlikely of textures. Those who prefer Deftones’ ‘90s material will find a lot to appreciate here, but Ohms has an air of experience from true veterans in alt-metal prestige. Deftones carved out their niche early on, and that’s a gift that keeps on giving.

28. Orthodox Let It Take Its Course — You could describe this album as a straight-edge hardcore take on System of a Down and Slipknot. It’s also one of the most unique statements hardcore music has offered in recent years. Backed by a decimating guitar tone and creative grooves, Let It Take Its Course features some incredible riff ideas, along with some very unique and genuinely creepy vocals. The band knows how to build tension, but instead of cutting it with a knife, it smashes it with a sledgehammer. Also, once shows come back, put these guys at the top of your to-watch list. They absolutely destroy.

27. Pyrrhon Abscess Time — Pyrrhon’s discography centers on combining alien tech-death and noisecore, and this album runs with the latter genre more than ever. This makes for some truly twisted songwriting more suited for fans of Unsane or The Jesus Lizard. Granted, when the technical death metal shows up, it’s absolutely killer as well. As vocalist Doug Moore progresses from gurgling growls to deranged screams, the musicians naturally switch from disorienting feedback to dexterous extremity. You could call these guys the Converge of death metal, in that they’re always trying to get away from their root genre and dive into descendant madness.

26. Ulthar Providence — The term blackened death metal is pretty well-worn at this point, but Ulthar knows how to embody the foundational elements of the crossover while remaining distinctly, unnervingly creative. You could compare them to legends like Mayhem, in that they encapsulate everything that makes their genre great but simultaneously sound alien and unpredictable. What results is Providence, an album full of ambience and melody, filthy chugs and all types of vocal depravity. The artwork is a great summation of what you’ll find here. It’s detailed and brilliant, but on closer examination you realize the weird phallic imagery. Hit play for the awesome songwriting, but stick around for the dark underbelly.

25. -(16)- Dream Squasher — Though without their longtime vocalist, -(16)-’s latest album further establishes them as one of the most underrated bands in sludge metal. The California band’s particular take on the genre contains a few distinct nods to alt-metal acts like Helmet. There’s less bluesy groove and more gnarled aggression. The faster cuts are plenty exciting, but the real showstoppers are the lumbering dirges. It’s a perfect example of sludge metal distinguishing itself from doom by embracing nihilism instead of melancholy. That’s really what makes this thing memorable. It sounds as unfriendly as it does infectious.

24. Bedsore Hypnagogic Hallucinations — Psychedelia and death metal aren’t usually joined at the hip, but Bedsore puts this combo on the map with some Lovecraftian imagery to boot. The best part comes down to the solid metallic foundation from which the outside elements branch out. The psychedelia never feels like a crutch or a distraction from boring songwriting. The death metal element will absolutely appease fans of the old-school approach, with the weird ambience occurring as tasteful ornamentation. It also gives the album room to shift its tempo and atmosphere without becoming jarring.

23. Boris NO — In a year full of terrible surprises, 2020 can at least be the year where a Japanese drone metal band released the best punk album ever. Well, maybe not the best ever, but certainly the best hardcore punk to drop in ages. Boris’ raw energy is unparalleled not only within its catalog but also in the modern punk scene as a whole. Complete with covers of obscure Japanese punk songs, No is very much Boris’ love letter to the band’s local punk scene. There’s a few more traditional sludge songs to round things off, but this is music made for slamming and stage-driving.

22. LoatheI Let It In and It Took Everything — Getting called the “Deftones of metalcore” is certainly enough to turn heads, but Loathe’s concept goes farther than that comparison. The breakdowns hit insanely hard and the skronky chaos makes the heavy parts satisfying to begin with, but those dreamy melodies bring a whole new dimension to the proceedings. There’s also a conceptual angle that might recall art-rock bands like Radiohead, which brings a lot more dimension to the arrangements and the emotional impact of I Let It In and It Took Everything. Metalcore has been doing a lot to shed its generic trend, and Loathe plays a big part in leading the charge.

21. Tallah Matriphagy — Remember when bands like Sworn In tried to make metalcore nu-metal? Back then, it only kind of worked—but Tallah shows how this new crop of nucore is changing the game for the better. The internet popularity of vocalist Justin Bonitz and having Mike Portnoy’s son Max behind the drum kit did a lot for the band’s rise within the underground. It didn’t take long for everyone to notice the similarities to Slipknot, Korn and Linkin Park, but Tallah takes everything good about nu-metal (emotion and catchiness) and replaces everything bad with the best elements of metalcore (heaviness and technicality). Add a surprisingly compelling concept (look up the word “matriphagy” to get a feel for the horrific story), and Matriphagy solidifies nu-metal’s rebirth as a positive development.

The 60 best metal albums of 2020: 20-11 >>

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