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In Review: Top 10 Albums of 2020
My favourite records of the year—with a few honourable mentions to boot.
Despite the unending cavalcade of disappointments this year continued to serve up, week in and week out, 2020 was actually a great year for music. It turns out that forced isolation and quarantine is a boon for artistic focus, creativity and ingenuity. I mean, I did more writing this year than I have in the last few combined. Shit, I even started a blog! And a newsletter! (Crazy, right?) Accordingly, this year’s selection of Top Records features all the albums that yielded the greatest distraction and escapism level.
Whether it was through progressive metalcore heaviness, epic doom soundscapes, or hard-as-nails coke rap from the mean streets of Buffalo, anything that served to make me forget about the raging pandemic and neverending socio-political morass we find ourselves in for 40 minutes or more, was welcome relief indeed. So, throw on some headphones and lose yourself for a little while. Enjoy, and I’ll see you in 2021.
Top 10 Albums of 2020
Misery Signals – Ultraviolet
“With its crashing, warbling bass bends, “Through Vales of Blue Fire” sounds like a Hans Zimmer remix of Explosions in The Sky, projecting glacial post-rock on an epic scale. “Redemption Key” is Ultraviolet’s “Worlds & Dreams” moment, held aloft by shimmering guitars, radiant atmospherics, and Zaraska’s clean vocals—helped in part by long-time friend and collaborator Devin Townsend. Meanwhile, album centrepiece “Old Ghosts” (sharing its namesake with Zaraska’s debut novel) steals the show with the most cathartic performance Misery Signals have created in over a decade.” (New Noise)
Pallbearer – Forgotten Days
“Time is the primary motivator explored on Forgotten Days. It is present in both the album’s title, along with four of the eight tracks on offer, acting as the guiding motif for reflections on family and loss. And, thematically, for a group that rose to prominence throughout the 2010s to dominate the doom metal genre, it’s a handsome fit. By their very nature, doom songs are long, and their riffs are slow; evocative lyrics are often inflected, held, and dilated to emphasize dramatic weight. However, it’s what Pallbearer ultimately decide to do with time that makes Forgotten Days so captivating.” (New Noise)
Eternal Champion – Ravening Iron
“Take one look at the gorgeously illustrated album artwork by master Ken Kelly, with all the heaving bosoms and occult imagery of a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, or the promo photo of vocalist Jason Tarpey (Iron Age) holding his mighty sword aloft, and you just know that you’re in for something delightfully anachronistic. Musically, Ravening Iron will be warm and familiar for any fan of traditional heavy metal. Think Sabbath and Ozzy. Think Mercyful Fate. Think Twilight of the Gods-era Bathory. All you really need to know is that it’s super fun and has bountiful riffs for many, many days. Hails!”(Substack)
Killer Be Killed – Reluctant Hero
“Thankfully, alt-metal quartet Killer Be Killed eschew all doubts I have about the creative reasoning behind their latest collaborative endeavour. Having done time in acclaimed acts like Mastodon, Converge, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Sepultura, among others, the group’s pedigree is already well established. But what makes their sophomore album, Reluctant Hero, so great is how each member ensures that their contribution is unique and cumulatively essential.” (Substack)
Spirit Adrift – Enlightened In Eternity
“Starting as a solo endeavour and passion project for Garrett, Spirit Adrift has become an acclaimed act in traditional metal circles with a patented blend of Sabbathian doom and 80s Metallica thrash-dom off the back of three spectacular albums (2016’s Chained to Oblivion, 2017’s Curse of Conception and 2019’s Divided by Darkness). As the project is thrust into a new decade, Garrett’s fourth LP, Enlightened In Eternity, serves up more of the same: quicksilver leads, iconic melodies, intense drumming from Marcus Bryant, soaring harmonies, and endless points of entry for headbang-induced neck injuries.” (Medium)
Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist – Alfredo
“As the reigning monarch of gangster rap, Freddie Gibbs is all too familiar with the threat of regicide. On Alfredo, his collaborative LP with producer extraordinaire The Alchemist, the MC approaches the exigencies of the rap game like high court drama, detailing the ins and outs of power plays, money moves, and hood existentialism with thick-and-fast bars and a smooth flow that effortlessly rides the Alchemist’s gritty, soulful beats and sinister mafioso samples.” (Exclaim!)
Svalbard – When I Die, Will I Get Better?
“Running at a lean 39-minutes, When I Die, Will I Get Better? (which takes its title from an obscure children’s book about death and grief) presents listeners with a long list of album highlights... Where these elements truly coalesce, however, is on the breathtaking “Silent Restraint”: an absolutely monstrous track that pushes the envelope for what melodic hardcore and post-rock can achieve in concert, delivered with razor-sharp hooks, a relentless tempo, and stellar songwriting. It’s clear that—in a year as deeply miserable as 2020—if one ever needed a reason for living, it would be to see where Svalbard could possibly go from here.” (New Noise)
Elder – Omens
“Sometimes, especially in music journalism, other writers get the drop on you and wrap things up better than you ever could. Writing for Stereogum, Tom Breihan notes that “Elder are still fully capable of coming up with vast elephantine riffs. They just never use those riffs to flatten or punish. Instead, on Omens, Elder use those riffs as parts of a sweeping, comforting blanket of sound. Omens works as headphones-based zone-out music — music for letting your thoughts wander and drift. But it still rocks.” In a year as thoroughly miserable as 2020, we all needed a dose of sonic escapism in one form or another and, thankfully, Elder rose to the occasion.” (Medium)
The Midnight – Monsters
“On their third full-length album, The Midnight expand on their existing songwriting template to ensure that their affection for the transience of things is not mired by stasis. Where previous releases like 2017’s excellent Nocturnal EP and 2018’s restrained follow-up Kids paired a subtle, brooding ambience against a bright, youthful veneer, Monsters tools up for the big messy questions of those tumultuous teenage years.” (Exclaim!)
Drain – California Cursed
“So, there’s this POV scene in Point Break (1991), where rookie FBI agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) is attempting to infiltrate a group of bank-robbing surfers and he gets set upon by a bunch of Bra Boy-looking blokes who want to teach him one of those ‘locals rule’ kind of lessons. These dudes are all muscled up, covered in tattoos, and tanned like belt leather. It’s a scene that’s slick with 90s testosterone and Cali machismo, and also it gave us the beautiful line reading of “Back off, Warchild!” from Patrick Swayze’s Bodhi. California Cursed was one of the best hardcore punk debuts this year and Drain sound exactly like what those dudes would listen to and be totally stoked on.” (Medium)
Crust – ...And a Dirge Becomes An Anthem
Conway The Machine – From A King To A God
Kvelertak – Splid (Killyourstereo)
Skeletal Remains – The Entombment of Chaos (New Noise)
Respire – Black Line (Substack)
Benny The Butcher – Burden of Proof
Nothing – The Great Dismal (Substack)
Black Curse – Endless Wound
Skeleton – S/T (New Noise)
Necrot – Mortal (New Noise)
Check out The Pitch of Discontent Best of 2020 playlist to hear all these albums.