Of all the things 2020 was a terrible year for, metal was not one of them. There were countless great releases all across the spectrum of heavy music this year, and even with our weekly metal song roundups, the weekly metal album roundups over at Invisible Oranges, and the several metal albums we reviewed this year in Notable Releases, it can be hard to keep up with all of it. But in order to help narrow things down, we've put together a list of 30 metal albums from 2020 that we highly recommend listening to if you haven't done so already.
In order to shine a light on more stuff, we kept off big crossover albums like Deftones, Hum, and Code Orange (but we do love all three of those and we included them on our top albums of 2020 list), and we also kept off metalcore and metallic hardcore/screamo because we already included a lot of that in our best punk/etc albums of 2020 list. What we did include was a mix of black metal, death metal, post-metal, doom, sludge, and all kinds of hard-to-pin-down stuff in between, with albums by long-running legends and promising newcomers alike.
Narrowing it down to 30 meant still leaving off albums we love, and if your favorite album isn't here, leave it in the comments (maybe we just haven't heard it yet). For much more metal from 2020, check out the series of 'Best of 2020' lists from individual writers (and a few musicians) on Invisible Oranges, and also check out lists we ran by Stephen Brodsky (Cave In, Mutoid Man, Old Man Gloom) Neurosis' Steve Von Till, and members of Thou, Pallbearer, Bell Witch, Inter Arma, Spirit Adrift, Dead to a Dying World, Infant Island, Sharptooth, and BIG | BRAVE.
Read on for our list, unranked, in alphabetical order...
Afterbirth - Four Dimensional Flesh
Langdon Hickman wrote: Normally, my issue with slam is largely one built around songwriting. For me, a song predominantly focused around building up its breakdown and predominantly focusing on making that breakdown simply atom-bomb heavy doesn't quite work for me; it can feel, after a while, like the rest of the song is dead air, a waste of time, something to space out the slams and mosh riffs rather than something designed to be an equal-footed element of the song. Afterbirth, as a band, are smarter than that. These songs are tightly composed prog death, packing tons of twists and turns and plenty of shocking, delightfully strange dissonant chord choices and swirling proggy melodies -- these in turn make those deep, intense slam passages feel deeply earned. You can tell listening to Four Dimensional Flesh that Afterbirth wanted to make a set of songs where neither the neanderthal brutality or the PhD-level avant-riffing felt like the main course; they are synchronous halves of a broader whole.
Atramentus – Stygian
20 Buck Spin
Jon Rosenthal writes: You don't really read much about funeral doom outside of small blogs and Metal-Archives reviews anymore, lest a legend like Skepticism or Esoteric makes an occasional, lengthy statement. Why? Frankly, most newer funeral doom metal sucks: it's a genre where you can be as low-effort as you want if you simply concentrate on the "slow" aspect of the whole thing, and this is what makes Atramentus' debut all the more wondrous. Impeccably composed to the point of being compelling, even at dense lugubre, Canada's Atramentus, the brainchild of Phil Tougas (also of Chthe'ilist, First Fragment, Serocs…) plays the "long game" fairly well with their mammoth debut. It's new funeral doom metal, but it's also really good. Really good. There's always an exception to the rule.
Black Curse - Endless Wound
Jon Rosenthal writes: Holy hell, this is outrageous. I generally know Eli Wendler as a drummer (you can find him kit-fronting Colorado's Spectral Voice), but, as it turns out, he has quite the mastery of black/death metal guitar riffing. Endless Wound is grotesque and chilling, never losing itself in its cavernous qualities, but rather using the spooky ambiance they craft as a means of aggrandizing their already massive music. Also featuring Jonathan Campos of Primitive Man fame and Wendler's Spectral Voice bandmate Morris Kolontyrsky, Black Curse's pedigree is clear, and the talent which comes with it is unreal. One of my favorite death metal albums of 2020 for sure.
Boris - NO
As the world caught on fire, Boris returned with their fastest, most direct album in years. It's almost entirely made up of punk-informed thrash and speed metal, and it's done in a way that's unmistakably Boris. They eschew generic thrash tones and play this stuff with the same thick sludge tones that are more typical of their music, and they work in a handful of snail-paced sludge breakdowns too. It's overflowing with anger, and that anger is channelled in all the right ways. English-speaking listeners may not understand the lyrics, but that was sort of the point. "These shouts that have no proper meaning as words will help release the raw, unshaped emotions within you," Boris said. [Andrew Sacher]