Five For Friday: Black Metal 2020

Greeting, Decibel readers!

Usually, this column focuses on five great new releases for the week. But seeing as 2020 is winding down and we’re in end-of-the-year–list season, it’s a good time to go through five excellent black metal albums that came out over these last 12 months. Of course, this list is not comprehensive. After all, the column isn’t “Fifty For Friday.” But the albums below represent, to me, some of the best selections from that realm of cold, vicious darkness. My taste tends toward the raw and melodic side of things, which will become clear pretty quickly when you press play on the music represented here.

I don’t have any grand, sweeping statement to otherwise sum up 2020. I think we can all do with a little less self-serving, pedantic invective, especially when we’re simply looking to discover some music. Great black metal, like all great music, has a unique power to inspire reflection and excitement — even to the point of self-transcendence. I hope at least one of the albums below does that for you.

All the best-

Genfærd – Blodhævn

The Danish horde in Genfærd is unapologetic in its devotion to straightforward second-wave black metal, and plays it in a particularly mournful and melancholy style. In this way, they most closely resemble peak-era Gorgoroth and bands from other scenes that went in that direction. But the band are still versatile enough as musicians to carve out their own place in the dark pantheon, cutting into the void with a thick and full-bodied sound that provides a backdrop for the all the melodic riffs you could ask for.

Stream: Apple Music

Lamp of Murmuur – Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism

Here’s what I wrote about Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism in Decibel #195 (featuring our top 40 albums of the year, in which Lamp nabbed the #18 spot):

“We don’t know a lot about the man behind Lamp of Murmuur. But we know one thing for sure: His music totally rules. Along with bands like Hulder, Thy Dying Light and Akasha, Lamp of Murmuur represents the new awakening of raw old-school black metal. But the project goes beyond simple ’90s second-wave worship and adds a wave of chorus to the guitars, as well as a stream of death rock and gothic nail polish to the atmosphere. A refreshing breath of cold, haunted air.”

Put the title track on below if you’re in the mood for dancing. But like, in a hair-in-my-face-to-hide-from-the-cruel-world sort of way.

Marrasmieli – Between Land and Sky

Marrasmieli navigate land and sky to guide you to a rousing feast of epic, pagan black metal. Clearly reminiscent of bands like Windir and early Enslaved, the band has studied hard and come out with all aces on songs like the ripping blast of “Embrace the Eternal,” the crushing fun of “Those Who Are Long Gone” and the simply epic closer, “Aallot.” When it comes to blending folk elements into metal, Between Land and Sky should be the new gold standard.

Stream: Apple Music

Mystras – Castles Conquered and Reclaimed

Speaking of epic, this is how you do it with raw black metal. And it should come as no surprise, as the mastermind behind this project is none other than Ayloss from Spectral Lore. This album has everything you’d want in medieval black metal: perfect guitar tone, catchy riffs and tales from the middle ages. However, Ayloss’ goal here was much more Canterbury Tales rather than Le Morte d’Arthur, as it centers its narratives on the common folk rather than the trappings of royalty. True Populist Black Metal? I’m here for it.

Stream: Apple Music

Paysage D’Hiver – Im Wald

The best black metal album of 2020. As my esteemed colleague Jon Rosenthal put it in Decibel #195 (in we placed the album at #4, though it’s #1 in my book): “Two hours of black metal feels like a lot—and, if we’re being completely honest here, it is—but sometimes it can be presented in such a way which makes it just the right amount. This is, without question, such an example.” Yes, Im Wald is a long black metal album packed with very long songs, nearly all the non-interlude tracks being more than 10-minutes long. Usually, I lose patience with this level of largesse. In this case, however, the masterful compositions simply engulf you in their brilliance. The vocals are buried in the mix, but still project an infectious ferocity that matches the blizzard of cold and melodic riffs swirling around you. Each song is packed with more highlights than most bands have on entire albums, especially “Über den Bäumen,” “Alt” and “Le rêve lucide.” While the term “atmospheric black metal” has become harder to define with every iteration of bands who really, really like forests on their album covers, Im Wald represents a culmination and ultimate triumph of the very best of that style, and of Wintherr’s artistic ambitions as well.

Stream: Apple Music