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The 50 best metal albums of 2020

30. Sepultura – Quadra

Sepultura have come a long way since Chaos A.D., with variety and transformation featuring heavily in their playbook. Quadra furthered the Brazilians’ growth and experimentation as stomp-heavy, speed- racing thrashers like Isolation were belted out, while the likes of Capital Enslavement and Autem tapped a multi-faceted progressive/world music reservoir, adding crowning jewels to their storied career.

29. The Ocean – Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic

Phanerozoic II completed a trilogy that prog metal mavens The Ocean began in 2007. Despite facing immense pressure in following favourites Precambrian and Phanerozoic I, Robin Staps and co saved this saga’s most eclectic and dynamic entry for last. The album tangibly evolved, from the harsh post-metal of Triassic to the goth rock of Holocene, making for a ceaselessly engaging and fascinating journey.

28. Winterfylleth – The Reckoning Dawn

Winterfylleth scaled new heights with this masterful showcase of blackened brutality that critics hailed among the band’s best. Clocking in at nearly an hour, the Mancunians eviscerated any concerns that they might be mellowing with age, balancing stunning acoustic melodies with blistering waves of speed-picking, blastbeats and taut, icy riffage. A dazzling showcase of beauty and force, The Reckoning Dawn unveiled their most ambitious statement yet.

27. Backxwash – God Has Nothing To Do With This, Leave Him Out Of It

The second album from Canada-based Zambian MC Ashanti Mutinta, aka Backxwash, was a masterpiece of witch-haunted metallic hip hop. Opening with an artfully turned Black Sabbath sample and proceeding into a hugely affecting examination of abjection and redemption, God Has Nothing To Do With This, Leave Him Out Of It hailed the definitive arrival of a truly formidable musical force.

26. Kevelertak – Splid

Norwegian punk-metal terrors Kvelertak have spent their career half a beat out of step with everything else going on around them, and a change of singers wasn’t going to alter that. Their first album in four years wasn’t so much a rebirth as a doubling down on the no-fucks attitude that made them so great in the first place. From Bråtebrann’s Queen-goes-punk epicness to a killer Troy Sanders collab, all life truly was here.

25. Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou – May Our Chambers Be Full

2020’s strangest union was also its best. This stellar collaboration between post-metal traveller Emma Ruth Rundle and Louisiana sludge monsters Thou could easily have hammered the musical beauty-and-the-beasts card, but May Our Chambers Be Full was smarter, deeper and ultimately more fulfilling than that, its two diametrically opposed approaches dovetailing into one stately yet abrasive whole.

24. Midnight – Rebirth By Blasphemy

With upstarts like Hellripper and Wraith snapping at his heels, Midnight’s Athenar risked losing his blackened thrash crown. Album number four renovated his heretical halfway house between Venom and Disfear: more evil, more ludicrously rock’n’roll. Songs called Devil’s Excrement and Rising Scum shouldn’t sound so anthemic, but Athenar’s gang-vocal choruses, solos and top-tier throwback riffs didn’t just warrant attention – they demanded it.

23. Paysage D’Hiver – Im Wald

After releasing a steady stream of excellent, evocative demos over the past 20 years, Swiss solo outfit Paysage d’Hiver’s humongous two-hour-long debut album could well have buckled under the weight of expectation. Thankfully, visionary Wintherr crafted an absolute masterclass in hypnotic, atmospheric and enveloping black metal: an epic voyage that never lost focus during its gargantuan run time. An ideal soundtrack for self-isolation.

22. Jonathan Hultén – Chants From Another Place

Even dedicated followers of Swedish goth metal outliers Tribulation would have been hard-pushed to predict the direction guitarist Jonathan Hultén would take on his debut solo album. Presenting as a cross between a 1920s silent movie actress and a spectral funeral widow, Jonathan funnelled his love of doomed 70s folk icon Nick Drake and 16th-century Norwegian choral music into an album that favoured otherworldly beauty over heaviness. Stark and haunting, it sounded like nothing else this year.

21. Touché Amoré – Lament  

Five studio albums deep and this distinctive post-hardcore band’s ability to deliver evocative music and emotive storytelling proved still exceptional. Using crafty song structures and atmospheric fretwork to fuse cleans and screams, vulnerability and confidence, and resignation and fury, Lament was still intrinsically Touché Amoré while also taking a more hopeful, triumphant turn, and it was just the uncomfortably cathartic experience that 2020 needed.