While the glut of 2020 “best-of” lists has passed, including Decibel’s own illustrious Top 40 Albums of the Year selections, some notable records have yet to get their due. The COVID-19 epidemic may have curbed the global economy, but it failed to stymie the torrent of 2020’s quality metal releases – some we could not cover in print.
The following records, in alphabetical order, met Decibel’s quality bar but for whatever reason – too much material, too little space, even less time – didn’t make it into the magazine last year (though more than a few made it onto the blog). They were released only on small, independent labels in the United States, or were self-released by enterprising musicians on their own means with one exception.
Too often these releases, especially the totally independent ones, are funded at a loss from the pockets of boutique label curators or the musicians themselves. With that in mind, if you hear something you like, please consider supporting these releases monetarily.
Without further ado, here are 35 great albums from 2020 that you may have missed!
Acerus – The Tertiary Rite
Daniel Corchado from the Chasm’s traditional metal side project finds its hooky groove.
Afterbirth – Four Dimensional Flesh
Members of Artificial Brain, Helmet and more explore proggy, psychedelic slam with mind-flaying delight.
Choke Me – The Cousin of Death
Riot-ready and anthemic deathgrind from L.A. made for a timely release at the height of the George Floyd unrest. More like Netflix and collective upheaval, amirite?
Convulse – Deathstar
Old-school Finnish oddballs drop some of the stoner riffs from their sound in exchange for galactic darkness without sacrificing their unabashed and-roll writing style.
Couch Slut – Take a Chance on Rock ‘n’ Roll
New York noisy sludge merchants Couch Slut continue to deliver feel-bad hits with disturbing and poignant storytelling often drawn from the perilous travails of their members’ lives. Listen with the lyrics open.
DeathCAVE – Smoking Mountain
This mighty power-trio deals deathly stoner jams from the legalized recreational Cannabis Xanadu of Seattle.
Depravity – Grand Malevolence
These Aussies write memorable but brutal death workouts. Sounds like your fingers became hooks and you had to scratch your balls.
Duma – Duma
The rare mystifying hit that hipsters picked up on before heshers. Kenyan experimentalists dabbling in Bloodbath as well as drone.
Dzö-Nga – Thunder in the Mountains
Atmospheric black metal par excellence with literary ambitions and a great mastering job by Dan Swanö.
Ecclesia – De Ecclesiæ Universalis
Andy Synn from astounding completist blog collective No Clean Singing pitched this slept-on masterpiece to me as “Nevermore meets Candlemass” – an accurate description that still doesn’t capture their astounding songwriting.
Exocrine – Maelstrom
The year’s best deathcore release is French and sports a ton of saxophone – improbably, every song works.
Feastem – Graveyard Earth
A fantastic Finnish deathgrind bombing raid to flatten your frontal cortex completely in a quarter hour.
Feminazgul – No Dawn for Men
Think Summoning with a penchant for castrating rapists while cranking gorgeous violin and theremin interstitials.
Freeways – True Bearings
Barely metal, though totally fit for baring down the highway with gritted teeth, these Canucks play old school hard rock with a bit of early Def Leppard grit.
Graceless – Where Vultures Know Your Name
Members of Soulburn executing a Tank-beat land maneuver that would make Bolt Thrower proud.
Hvrt – The Grief That Feeds the Night
With pitch-black conviction these Germans embody everything that made fellow crusty crusaders Vallenfyre and Trap Them so damn satisfying.
Izthmi – The Arrows of our Ways
One good pun deserves another, and this Cascadian black metal quartet hit a bullseye on their first full-length.
Kihalás – Dead Legacy
The first – and posthumous – album release by this noisy and experimental black metal duo from Seattle is a doozy.
Lord Vigo – Danse De Noir
German epic doom with a nose full of … new wave? And Blade Runner references aplenty? Odd as it sounds stylistically, these songs demand repeated listens.
Maggot Heart – Mercy Machine
Linnéa Olsson (ex-the Oath) and Uno Bruniusson (ex-In Solitude) can’t seem to catch a break in America but their latest hit of virulent, sexual and Voivodian post-punk carries more violence in it heart than almost any other record this year.
Mare Cognitum & Spectral Lore – Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine
Spacey and heady atmospheric black metal buddies release a split album overflowing with ideas.
Messiah – Fracmont
Swiss OG’s Messiah come out of the deep freeze with prolonged dose of deathly thrash.
Midnight Dice – Hypnotized
Four-fifths of gone-to-soon Chicago trad crew Satan’s Hallow return with a new name and a faster, meaner sound.
Nero Di Marte – Immoto
Nearly indescribable Italian blackened extremity with a hefty dollop of free-improvisational jazz.
Night Crowned – Impious Viam
Scene vets including former Witchery members unite for the first time and delivery hysterically aggressive melodic black metal.
Nite – Darkness Silence Mirror Flame
Is it black metal with Sunset Strip solos, or hair metal with occultist hissing vocals? Either way, it’s cool.
Obsidian Kingdom – Meat Machine
Beyond genre boundaries, beyond god. Spanish experimentalists melding AmRep noise, Wax Trax industrial and Peaceville gothic doom into arcane and unique shapes.
Old Nick – The Night of the Ambush and the Pillage By the Queen Ann Styl’d Furniture, Animated By One of the Dozen Or So Spells That thee Eastern Vampyre Has Studied (T.N.O.T.A.A.T.P.B.T.Q.A.S.F.A.B.O.O.T.D.O.S.S.T.T.E.V.H.S)
Is one of the most prolific and quirky bands of the year some massive fucking joke? Maybe. But it’s also irrepressible and off-the-wall black metal mixed with (intentionally?) hilarious synth.
Ordraza – Rzeczom
Miserable polish black metal dabbling in dissonance as well as melody though memorable riffs.
Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void
Yes, this technically came out on a large label (InsideOut Music) but the return of one of Florida’s most slept-on progressive metal wunderkinds after 23 years deserves a tip of the hat regardless.
Question – Reflections of the Void
Those seeking the riffiest and most eldritch old school death metal may find their thirst slaked by these Mexican oddballs.
Stoned God – Incorporeal
Be not fooled by the name – these groovy Germans capture the hallucinatory heft of Steve Turcker-era Morbid angel without falling from grace.
Thy Catafalque – Naiv
How does Tomas Katai come up with this stuff? Folk-inflected heavily electronic orchestral metal that circumvents the cliches associated with any adjective you could throw at it. Truly one of a kind.
Vredehammer – Viperous
Pure Norwegian blasting fit to vaporize your brain when the news cycle’s got you feeling particularly bitter and nihilistic.
Wytch Hazel – III: Pentecost
Devout proto-metal from the U.K. with devastating hooks. Is this… Christian rock?