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Top 20 Albums of 2020

26 December 2020 xdementia No Comment

Welp, here we are at the end of what we all pretty much collectively agree is maybe THE shittiest year in modern memory. The year was mostly defined by the covid pandemic and when I came to the full realization of what this would actually mean for us as a society I also realized how there would be some absolute incredible music that would come out of this experience.

Sadly the pandemic has crippled live music events to the point where they are basically nonexistent which means I will not be publishing my top 10 live performances of 2020. But in an effort to stay positive, succinct, and also support the artists who have really gone above and beyond this year I’ve decided to extend my usual Top 10 albums to Top 20 albums. Having a lot of time working from home and being unemployed this year also helped me keep my ear on the pulse of new music a bit more closely then I have been able to do in the past.

20. Crooked Mouth – Earth Becomes Sun [ Self Released ]

Typically a neofolk outfit for Earth Becomes Sun Crooked Mouth presents a more ritual ambience with folk leanings. A loosely woven mix of various organic sound sources converge to form a truly radiant sound. The album even includes a cover of a Kinit Her song (an artist who has graced this list in previous years). One particularly enjoyable experience I can recall this year is lying under the clear desert sky looking up at the constellations while listening to Earth Becomes Sun and what a celestial experience that was.

19. Gnawed – Subterranean Rites [ Cloister Recordings/Malignant Records ]

In recent years Gnawed has slowly transitioned from a blistering death industrial sound to a project that blurs the lines between the aforementioned, dark ambient, and power electronics. Subterranean Rites is a refining of the more dark ambient side of the project but some elements of the old Gnawed still remain. With this latest effort Grant Richardson has put to work his interest in exploring the depths of sewer systems with field recordings and source material to inject into his pieces. Expect an extremely dark journey through the nether regions of the earth with this organic offering of textured dark ambient and death industrial.

18. Eye of Nix – Ligeia [ Prophecy Productions ]

What if I told you there’s a band that adeptly melds atmospheric gothic overtones with technical death metal and some progressive and doom influence as well? Well I hope you’d be impressed because Ligeia, Eye Of Nix’s latest effort is nothing short of impressive. Between the obliterating percussion section and a vocalist that can transition from soothing soprano to bone shaking death rattles in the blink of an eye the band never fails to amaze. For Ligeia the musicianship has just become all the much more tighter, the songwriting more focused, and the atmosphere more consistent as to create one hell of a record.

17. Julianna Barwick – Healing Is A Miracle [ Ninja Tune ]

Ambient music as healing music is not exactly a new idea, more of an ancient idea explored anew by artist Julianna Barwick. A composer and vocalist who has crafted a beautiful specimen on Healing Is A Miracle. Slowly drifting ethereal synths and vocal performances combine to form a haunting but more peaceful lullaby of an album.

16. Rome – The Lone Furrow [ Trisol ]

Another year and – thankfully – another album from Rome. This time featuring a few guest appearances and a few more of Jerome Reuter’s martial industrial tracks. The Lone Furrow is not quite the album that last year’s Le Ceneri Di Heliodoro was, but it’s a solid offering and the high points still soar far above most artist’s best moments. I actually had a moment over the summer where one of the songs was haunting my dreams so much that my sleep suffered for it.

15. Haus Arafna – Asche [ Galakthorroe ]

If ever a power electronics anthem could be club friendly I am sure it will be written by Haus Arafna. Delivering a fully rhythmic industrial affair with Asche; the project proceeds to expand on their dark electro-tinged power electronics sound. While the duo present mostly crawling industrial dirges the more energetic pulsating assaults are sprinkled among them as well.

14. King Dude – Full Virgo Moon [ Not Just Religious Music ]

King Dude has grown to be one of my favorite artists with his adept fusion of neofolk, country, goth and indie rock. On Full Virgo Moon TJ Cowgill delivers more slow ballads than melodic bangers but the atmosphere is fully intact here and the album scratches that itch that can only be satiated by the project’s work.

13. Headless Horseman – Inhabited Shadows [ Self Released ]

The only proper techno album on this list and it’s mostly because Headless Horseman just does what they do on Inhabited Shadows. This is industrial-tinged techno on a grand cinematic scale. There’s simply nothing like it and if you are a fan of either genre you need to check it out.

12. Riki – Riki [ Dias Records ]

As far as I can tell Riki’s debut and self titled album was released in early 2020 to little fanfare. I really don’t know why because Riki has crafted a sublime synth pop album capturing some of my favorite characteristics of 80s music production and atmosphere. Adding to that a more modern, sleek feel and it creates an album that is quite timeless.

11. Gorrch – Introvertere [ Duplicate Records ]

Gorrch deliver blazingly fast technical black metal with an avant garde touch. The instrumentation on their latest EP Introvertere is simply pristine. With small gestures they create grand movements.

10. Sutcliffe Jugend – The Deluge [ 4iB Records ]

Even from beyond the grave the specter of Sutcliffe Jugend remains cowering over us like never-ending night. For The Deluge the project follows the style of it’s preceding albums with a more refined touch. Drone, ambient, and noise combine to form a warm and emotional bed of sound which is often joined by spoken word that – in the past – used to be a wailing cacophony of tortured screams but has now slowly evolved into a performance that lies somewhere between speaking and singing. It’s difficult to put into words but most ecstatic when heard.

9. Burial Hex – Nightfall [ Self Released ]

An album 10 years in the making! I’ve taken some time to binge listen to the discography of Burial Hex this year and the project goes through a gamut of styles. Yet I find myself always being most impressed with the ritual ambient work presented. Nightfall is probably the project’s crowning achievement in that realm. Spanning 4 cassette tapes this was a specially limited edition of 19 which I am proud to say I was able to procure one. A chronicle of epic proportions I simply could not overlook it in this most cursed of years.

8. Ryan McGuire – Lessness [ Painted Throat Music ]

Drone isn’t a genre that does a lot for me these days. Despite that Ryan McGuire’s Lessness may appear as a drone album on it’s surface in fact it is a spectre of a doom metal album. Summoning the spirit of Ligeti, McGuire creates a wailing miasma of writhing layers constantly struggling for supremacy. It’s detailed and organic and manages to capture a macro scale of sound and a maxilimalist approach to minimalist music.

7. Falgar – Atavismo solariego [ Latinus Productions ]

Little did I know that the one of the best neofolk records to come out this year would be from Puerto Rico; namely because I have never heard any neofolk from Puerto Rico! But I’m certainly lucky to have been exposed to Falgar’s Atavismo solariego because it is a beautiful melancholic and peaceful affair. Carefully tempered acoustic classical-style guitar combined with softly spoken vocals create a most treasured atmosphere that helped me endure some of the more abrasive moments of 2020. As a bonus the project’s history – which includes historic releases that lie in the metal genre – is quite an impressive listen as well.

6. Nation of Language – Introduction, Presence [ Self Released ]

Nation of Language’s Introduction, Presence grew on me for about 6-9 months before it finally won me over. It was the album’s opening track “Tournament” that kept me coming back to the album when finally on about the 3rd or 4th listen over several months I was 5-6 songs deep and just noticed that the bangers kept coming.

I often describe the band as sounding like if The National decided to do a synth pop album.

5. Wilt/En Nihil – Death Psychosis [ Annihilvs ]

Death Psychosis is a split record from these two noise/industrial heavyweights and the follow up to their previous joint effort Psychic Constellation. Both artists deliver some of their best material here to show the current generation what true death industrial sounds like.

4. Esoctrillium – Eternity of Shoag [ I, Voidhanger ]

The discovery of I, Voidhanger records was a revelation for me this year as it greatly contributed to rebooting my interest in metal and it was through the album Eternity of Shoag which did so. Esoctrillium is a band I was previously unfamiliar with but was instantly blown away by upon first listen of this landmark release and needless to say it stuck upon many subsequent listens.

The style is somewhere between death and black metal but with a wide variety of instrumentation not frequently heard in either genre. The arrangements and layers are something to behold and raise the stakes with each new song. With seething discontent Esoctrillium lashes out again and again with even more grandiose material on Eternity of Shoag, never letting the listener just settle but always challenging to the next apex. Through this method the band reaches great heights transcending the genre like very few metal bands do.

3. Final Machine – Remora [ Flag Day Recordings ]

I spent much of early 2020 exploring the extensive discography of the excellent Final Machine; an Ohio-based project that fuses industrial and noise in the most excellent of ways. The sound is dirty, rough, textured, and lo-fi while managing to not reduce the impact of aggression or atmosphere but rather enhance it through these techniques. This is pitch-black industrial music.

To boot, the project released no less than three, yes THREE full-length albums this year so it was hard to choose which one I would feature here as they all have their own unique stand-out characteristics. But it is Remora that stands just a head above the rest with it’s more minimal atmosphere and death industrial leanings. This is bleak, heavy industrial in the purest sense. It’s lack of defining characteristics is also it’s triumph, this is music that will allow you to leave your earthly vessel and become one with the decaying sludge we are slowing building around ourselves.

2. Blood & Sun – Love & Ashes [ Nordvis ]

You could argue many of the stalwarts of neofolk are at this time waning but making way for – only a few – new artists, one of which is New York’s Blood & Sun. On his sophomore effort the artist delivers a more refined sound but keeps the epic driving force that so defines the project. Densely layered tapestries all center around simple but profound song writing to create the beautifully crafted album that is equally tempered joy and sadness.

1. Oranssi Pazuzu – Mestarin Kynsi [ Nuclear Blast ]

If Fabio Frizzi and Philip Glass eloped to Finland and made a black metal album it would probably sound something like this. Mestarin Kynsi and the subsequent back catalog of Oranssi Pazuzu very much rekindled my waning interest in metal. Described by many as “psychedelic black metal” I’d have to throw the descriptor “progressive” in there as well but rest assured that latter element is quite tasteful.

Mestarin Kynsi is perfectly what I look for in an album; it’s a journey. Synth arpeggios cascade along with driving riffs and gurgling almost over-the-top vocal deliveries fit for a metal band from Finland; in fact, I’m pretty sure they got a troll to fill in for a few lines.

Rest assured Oranssi Pazuzu is my most treasured discovery of 2020 and to join them at the exact time they are presenting – what I believe to be – their pinnacle album has been a bright star in an otherwise bleak year.

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