2020: what the hell was that all about? If it was a music festival, it would be that one you went to where it pissed down with rain all weekend, you dropped your phone down a portaloo, then found that somebody had nicked your tent and shat in your wellies. We were going to say we're glad to see the back of it, until we realised the absolute ball of twatknackery that 2021 has gotten off to.
Still, while the world might have stopped in 2020, metal certainly didn’t. Once the initial shock of the COVID pandemic wore off, bands swiftly realised that people needed music more than ever. A trickle of great albums the spring became an absolute avalanche once bands cottoned on to the fact that people were hungrier than ever for brand new noise. The result was 12 months of music that proved the metal scene is stronger, bolder and more exciting that it’s even been.
With many of metal’s old warriors sitting the year out - the notable exception being Ozzy Osbourne, who released a knockout late-career zinger in Ordinary Man – 2020 belong firmly to today’s bands. From 21st century titans such as Deftones, Trivium and Lamb Of God to next-gen heroes like Code Orange, Oceans Of Slumber and Loathe, metal spread its black wings far and wide.
We polled our entire team of critics, and spent hours totting up the results (listen, there are no 'stolen' votes here, buddy). And here are the results: 50 albums that have gone some way to fishing 2020 out of the dumpster.
50. Myrkur – Folkesange
Amalie Bruun’s early black metal proved bitterly divisive among the genre’s elitist gatekeepers, but Folkesange instantly proved that her instinct for a gorgeous Nordic folk ditty is unwaveringly sharp. Be it jaunty campfire dances or hauntingly atmospheric mood pieces, Myrkur breathed new life into ancient folk standards whilst also beautifully nailing the art of writing songs that sounded 1,000 years older than they were.
49. Hellripper – The Affair Of The Poisons
This year, Hellripper’s sole Venom-ous Motörheadbanger, James McBain, joined Midnight and Rebel Wizard at the forefront of modern black-thrash. A rabid, raucous crossbreed of Kill ’Em All, Overkill, Welcome To Hell, Bathory and Filth Hounds Of Hades, The Affair Of The Poisons, with the same force as a bucking kick from the gnarled hooves of Lucifer, knocked out every backpatched and bullet belt-sporting heathen who heard it.
48. Lik – Misanthropic Breed
With Misanthropic Breed, Lik offered up a potent display of proper Swedes playing proper Swedish death metal. The Stockholm band’s third album oozed HM-powered riffing, punk energy and the raging brutality of their forefathers (when they were teenagers, mind). Adding a fine-tuned finesse inspired by Maiden-esque melodies and harmonies, these new-school purveyors delivered a high watermark to the genre’s nation of origin.
47. Triptykon – Requiem (Live At Roadburn 2019)
Completing an orchestral project more than three decades in the making – begun by Thomas G Fischer’s legendary previous band, Celtic Frost, in 1987 – this document of Triptykon’s one-off Roadburn performance balanced its immense heft with moments of tremendous grace and beauty. More than a live album, Requiem demonstrated Fischer’s lifelong commitment to heavy experimentation.
46. All Them Witches – Nothing As The Ideal
Listening to the sixth album from Nashville’s All Them Witches felt like falling down a rabbit hole into a psychedelic backwoods America. Nothing As The Ideal was a post-stoner fever dream populated by homicidal twins and plants with teeth, set to a backdrop of lava lamp riffs that billowed and ebbed rather than thumped and bludgeoned. A monumentally surreal year’s monumentally surreal soundtrack.
45. Greg Puciato – Child Soldier: Creator Of God
No one would have expected anything standard from the former Dillinger Escape Plan frontman’s first solo effort, but no one could have imagined the breadth of Child Soldier. It encapsulated everything from lo-fi singer/songwriting, to shimmering electro-pop, to some of the most scabrous metallic material Greg Puciato has put his name to. It might sound disjointed on paper, but he lovingly stirred his sonic pot and it congealed into a work of eclectic brilliance.
44. Ingested – Where Only Gods May Tread
The UK’s kings of brutal, slam-inclined death metal, Ingested surpassed even the cudgelling majesty of 2018.’s The Level Above Human on their fifth full-length. From the opening seconds of Follow The Deceiver onwards, Where Only Gods May Tread sounds imperious and unstoppable: state-of-the-art death metal with big hooks, colossal grooves and balls the size of Jupiter. When gigs return, these tunes will level venues.
43. Crippled Black Phoenix – Ellengaest
An epic but intimate eruption of dark, post- everything melodrama, Ellengaest was full of stunning moments. With vocal cameos from Gaahl, Tribulation’s Jonathan Hultén and Anathema’s Vincent Cavanagh amongst others, these spacious, sprawling and subtly inventive songs were among the most fascinating and memorable that Crippled Black Phoenix have released. A career highlight from one of the UK’s most consistent but underrated bands.
42. Intronaut – Fluid Existential Inversions
Prog metallers Intronaut always had the potential to reach Mastodon-ian heights but lacked the requisite songwriting memorability to truly break out. Fluid Existential Inversions – produced by Converge’s Kurt Ballou and with Alex Rudinger (The Faceless/Whitechapel) on drums – distinguished itself from past LPs by ramping up the vocal and instrumental melodicism. The Baroness/Ghost-worthy hooks and dazzling, synth-laden prog grandstanding entwined in prodigious ways to constitute a welcome, mainstream-baiting evolution.
41. Cirith Ungol – Forever Black
For decades a byword for true cult epic metal madness, these Tolkien-obsessed Californians resurfaced from the arcane depths after nearly 30 years with a gloriously bonkers monster LP. As well as honouring the band’s 80s legacy, Forever Black found this unique band vigorously revitalised and hungry for fresh blood, with Tim Baker’s rasping holler still sounding like Axl Rose being roasted by dragon’s breath.