Demons & Wizards – III
Blind Guardian mastermind Hansi Kürsch and Iced Earth founder Jon Schaffer (opens in new tab)’s first collaboration since 2016 is the strongest Demons & Wizards albums to date. Technology’s onward march over the last 14 years ensures that everything sounds even bigger and more overpowering in 2020 than was even conceivable the first time around, and you can sense Kürsch and Schaffer’s elation as their shared vision edges ever closer to the majestic music in their heads. The wizards’ return is pure magic.
Five Finger Death Punch - F8
With upheaval plaguing them over the last three or four years, and with the band seemingly plateauing in their quest for festival headlining status in the UK during that period, a lot was riding on Five Finger Death Punch (opens in new tab)’s eighth album. Thankfully, they’ve pulled it off: at its best, F8 (opens in new tab) stands as the finest thing they’ve released – grander, more ambitious and, in the case of A Little Bit Off, more radio-friendly then they’ve ever been before. Their future is secure.
Jonathan Hultén – Chants From Another Place
The maverick Swedish guitarist follows his 2017 EP with this magnificent collection of acoustic reveries. Stepping even further away from his regular gig with Tribulation (opens in new tab), he taps into the wistful solemnity of old choral traditions, suffused with more modern elements from the folk movement of the late 60s. The result is 12 hypnotically immersive tracks composed largely of just acoustic guitar, a bit of piano and Hultén’s lustrous vocal harmonies. Throw on some headphones and take these songs out for a long walk in the woods, where they belong.
Igorrr – Spirituality And Distortion
Gautier Serre’s previous efforts as Igorrr (opens in new tab) could be fairly dismissed as too random – his concoction of punishing metal, Baroque and electronica often sacrificed quality for weirdness. Not here. Vaguely rooted in the organic, metal-leaning bedrock of 2017’s Savage Sinusoid, this record is an aural journey across the planet. Engaging, congruous, steeped in mysticism and utterly unique, Igorrr’s greatest achievement. And it ends with funky bass. And a bleating sheep. Why? Because it’s Igorrr.
Ihsahn – Telemark
The man responsible for most eloquently articulating black metal (opens in new tab)’s majestic progressive potential in the early 90s went back to the beginning with this EP. Named after his home county, with lyrics sung in his native Norwegian, it stripped back the experimentalism of his post-Emperor (opens in new tab) years to deliver something primal, swinging between stabbing guitars, magisterial BM and folk textures, then throwing covers of Iron Maiden (opens in new tab)’s Wrathchild and Lenny Kravitz’s Rock And Roll Is Dead on the end. There’s still no one else like him.
Imperial Triumphant – Alphaville
E (opens in new tab)xtreme metal long ago showed it could hold its own in terms of boundary-pushing noise, and NYC avant-black/death metallers Imperial Triumphant (opens in new tab) are pushing things even further forward with their magnficent fourth album.
Named after Jean-Luc Godard’s 1965 dystopian future- world sci-fi film, it mixes music that swings, blasts and morphs through a dizzying range of genres and styles from jazz and soundtrack music to the unlikely sound of a barbershop quartet, while keeping its feet planted in the world of metal.
This exquisite record is rife with atypical ideas and moments of groundbreaking extremity, making Alphaville not only the finest, most daring and accomplished Imperial Triumphant LP to date, but also a benchmark for metal’s avant-extreme sect to outdo going forward.
In This Moment – Mother
On this seventh album, Maria Brink (opens in new tab) and co expand on the sonic sorcery of their past material, attempting to cast a heavier spell via 14 mantra-centric songs. Mother couldn’t be further from their melodic metalcore (opens in new tab) beginnings, having flourished into hard rock provocateurs fronted by a dark Lady Gaga. They dust down unexpected covers of classic rock chestnuts Fly Like An Eagle and We Will Rock You, but it’s their own songs that truly soar. With Mother, In This Moment have entered the next stage of their evolution.
Katatonia – City Burials
For those who came to Katatonia via their scrupulously uncluttered late 90s work, the layers of detail in their modern sound might feel overstated, like they’ve been visited by the ghost of George Martin. Songs like Flicker, Winter Of Our Passing and City Glaciers would be equally powerful without all the keys, synths, strings and effects, but here’s where Katatonia nail that sumptuous, cinematic dynamism. Feeling like the album Tool might have made if they’d remembered what actual human emotions were, City Burials is arguably Katatonia’s strongest album for 20 years.
Kvelertak – Splid
Losing their singer hasn’t slowed Norway’s finest punk-metal loons down. With new boy Ivar Nikolaisen onboard, in Splid (opens in new tab) they’ve served up an album that pinballs between classic rock, thrash metal, goth-punk and any other genre they damn well please. One minute they’re unapologetically shimmying like Soundgarden taking on a biker gang in a bar fight, the next they're teaming up with Mastodon's Troy Sanders for a walloping anthem. The sound of a band carving out their own niche within their own niche.
Lamb Of God – Lamb Of God
Call it a rebirth, a coronation or just a fantastic goddamned album, but it’s clear that with with their eighth album, Lamb Of God (opens in new tab) have just notched an exhilarating new high point. All of those groove/death/thrash underpinnings of the classic LOG sound abound, while Randy Blythe (opens in new tab) is fully enraged, casting his lacerating attentions upon the splintered political landscape and all of its inherent hypocrisies. But the album is anchored in great songwriting, stupidly addictive hooks and lyrics that resonate on a cellular level. It adds up the point where Lamb Of God realise the potential they showed all those years ago and join the pantheon of metal’s greats.