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The best metal albums of 2020 so far

Umbra Vitae – Shadow Of Life

 The debut album from Converge frontman Jacob Bannon (opens in new tab)’s death metal ‘supergroup’ Umbra Vitae. is a short, sharp shock to the system, with barely any sonic let-up during its running time. As an expulsion of frenetic creativity and explosive ideas, Shadow Of Life is a rip-roaring descent into darkness that is sure to thrill those with a penchant for ferocious noise.

Vader – Solitude In Madness

Cats may have nine lives but Vader probably have more. They’ve had various ups and downs in the past 37 years, but since 2016’s The Empire (opens in new tab) they’ve not only reconnected with their thrash roots, but performed with utmost ferocity.

At the heart of the charge is their UK drummer, James Stewart. His hyper-charged performance complements lead guitarist Spider’s classic and melodic metal leanings perfectly instead of clashing with them. As a result, recorded for the first time in the UK since their 1992 debut, The Ultimate Incantation, and packed with mostly two-minute to-the-point juggernauts, their 12th album of originals is their best in more than a decade.

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Vile Creature – Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm!

Self-identified ‘angry, queer, gloom cult’ experimental sludge duo Vile Creature (opens in new tab) consolidate all of their experiences both positive and negative and regurgitate them in their most cohesive and accessible offering to date. Accessible is, of course, a relative term when talking about the iron-hard, pulsating doom and feral vocals within, but they’re confronting issues of gender, discrimination and self-identity in a manner that gives modern metal a progressive, transgressive edge it too often sorely lacks these days.

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Vampire – Rex

There’s always been a huge misunderstanding behind Vampire (opens in new tab)’s ‘next big thing’ underground status. The timing was perfect for their 2012 demo and it created an instant buzz, suggesting they were the potential heirs to Repugnant’s throne as the new finest dealers of arcane and gnarly death metal (opens in new tab), only to take a more idiosyncrastic path. It’s taken them three albums to set the record straight, with Rex finally bringing all their latent urges to the fore. 

Rex isn’t a Lucio Fulci-like gorefest but rather a slick and gracefully retro Hammer Horror flick - a black/thrash album not filled with booze or cheesy imagery but short, to-the-point proper songs in the purest 80s tradition full of streamlined heavy metal licks, melodic solos and gothic-embossed horror. This is the sound of a nocturnal hunt in deepest Transylvania next to Sir Christopher Lee, yet with a typically Scandinavian flair. Now you know.

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A.A. Williams – Forever Blue

A.A. Williams (opens in new tab)’ majestic debut album isn’t heavy in the traditional sense, but there’s plenty of weight to it. Williams is a multi-talented musician, playing cello, piano and guitar, but it’s her voice that impresses the most, her angelic lilts masking the moribund sentiments brought forth from her psyche. The chances of a more heart-rending and fully formed debut emerging this year are practically zero.

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Winterfylleth – The Reckoning Dawn

Judging by the velocity at which they blast forth on The Reckoning Dawn’s exhilarating opening gambit, Misdeeds Of Faith, though, it appears as if Winterfylleth’s old English folk departure on 2018’s autumnal The Hallowing Of Heirdom (opens in new tab) has rekindled their inner fire. There may be no real surprises on The Reckoning Dawn, nor were any required; Winterfylleth’s strengths have been transcribed to stone at this stage, and it’s just a rush to hear them play at full force again, as highlighted by the title track’s grandiloquent pacing and arcing and how Yielding The March Law elicits an aura of naturalistic vastness that’s worthy of Bathory.

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