Atramentus - Stygian
Untouchable at number 1

 

By Sandre the Giant

An end of the year list is always a struggle round my parts, when you get so much great music to hear how can you narrow it down to ‘just’ 20 or ‘just’ 10? Well I managed to get to 20, and my top 2 have been set for months. It’ll be no surprise to those of you who read my Atramentus and Jupiterian reviews that I gushed hard for them, and they were always going to be tough to beat.

I’ve had a very doom and death metal heavy year, and that is reflected below. Black metal is featured but it just hasn’t done much for me this year. Sometimes that just happens I suppose. My record label of the year goes to Transcending Obscurity with ZERO doubts, as they have four of my top ten and eight of my top 20. Kunal and team have one of the best eyes for extremity in the world, and the label drops masterpiece after masterpiece. If I’d done a top fifty, it’d probably have including most of their releases. Anyway, enjoy the list!

20. Revolting – The Shadow at the World’s End: Possibly the finest slab of merciless Swedeath worship this year, very tight with everything else Rogga Johansson worked on to be honest. How does this man create so much good death metal!? Terrifying, much like the rabid chainsawing death contained here!

19. Oak – Lone: the solemn march of loneliness inspires the gloom of Oak and ‘Lone’ was a tour de force of majestic death/doom. If this year hadn’t produced so many iconic records in this genre they’d have been much higher on my list, but they shouldn’t be forgotten. This is massive.

18. Worm – Gloomlord: a vast swamp of foul, filthy sludge doom that cast a reeking cloud over the rest of the year when it came out in January. Poisonous in tone, perhaps we should’ve taken its warning and sunk back into the murky depths ourselves.

17. Defeated Sanity – The Sanguinary Impetus: Nothing unexpected but then again, why would you change the imperious brutal death maelstorm that creates stuff like this? Unfathomably complex and heavy at times, this was an absolute head caver.

16. Bezwerung – Aan de wormen overgeleverd: an album that shows how shapeshifting black metal can be at times, and why all the influences on show here from Emperor to Deathspell Omega can somehow work in one place. A challenging but thoroughly worthwhile listen.

15. Atrae Bilis – Divinihility: Somehow feeling a little short just made me play this more. ‘Divinihility’ is a true exercise in technical mastery, and it may be a little wanky for some the sheer magic wrought from those frets is music to my damaged ears. Also, the only EP to make my list so that counts for something.

14. Shrines of Dying Light – Sadness: ‘Sadness’ is an apt title, for this is mournful doom at a real high point. The riffs are huge, the misery is real and the pain is endless.  A record of shimmering darkness.

13. Astral Sleep – Astral Doom Musick: a doom record that dares to yearn for a better place for us all, a happier ending to the sadness of life? ‘Astral Doom Musick’ has you covered, and weaves sinewy riffs of gloom through a psychedelic filter. Plus that vinyl is a thing of beauty.

12. Depravity – Grand Malevolence: A late addition to the list, and the sheer ferocity of this Australian bulldozer of death charged it to just outside the top ten. Spiralling guitar riffs coupled with powerhouse low end and a battery of drumming mean that Depravity had the tools, and they also had the writing skills. Devastating.

11. Old Corpse Road – On Ghastly Shores Lays the Wreckage of Our Lore: A welcome return to the more visceral of the UK’s black metal atmospherics, as this record manages to capture both the icy winds of our cold north but also the gentle and mystic folklore buried in these lonely hills. Sweeping majesty.

10. Dopelord – The Sign of the Devil: I begged Lee at Sleeping Shaman to let me review this for them, as I was captivated on first listen. Pure Electric Wizard fuzz throughout, and probably my favourite traditional doom record of the year. This gets spun all the time.

9. Paradise Lost – Obsidian: an album that hits on all of Paradise Lost’s career, from gothic misery to striding Yorkshire doom and makes most others sound like complete pretenders. A mighty return from one of the UK’s most important institutions.

8. Sad – Misty Breath of Ancient Forests: a tightly traditional slab of second wave black metal worship, but Sad breathe plenty of life into that frost bitten corpse. The scale is vast, the riffing frigid and the atmosphere colder than a driven snow. THE black metal album of 2020 for me.

7. Incantation – Sect of Vile Divinities: An album where the death metal legends cleaned it up a little, and all the better for it. I miss the murk but when a band who have kicked out classic after classic decide to change it up a little, I’d say just go with it. Every hallmark of Incantation’s legendary career collide into a monolithic slab of death

6. Death Courier – Necrotic Verses: a record that is simply FUN to listen to on repeat, over and over. Death metal can be utterly spellbinding when it is simple and straightforward, and ‘Necrotic Verses’ doesn’t fuck about. This is as straight as they come, and it is glorious for it!

5. Poema Arcanus – Stardust Solitude: These Chileans manage to out-Paradise Lost Paradise Lost this year, and considering how good ‘Obsidian’ was (see above) that is impressive. With versatile vocals, riffs for days and a grandiosity that would make My Dying Bride weep, this was glorious in its misery.

4. Undeath – Lesions of a Different Kind: probably the best of the oldest of old school death to come out this year, Undeath just get IT when it comes to this classic sound. This record is only half an hour long but when it is this filthy, that’s maybe all you can handle.

3. Subterraen – Rotten Human Kingdom: a latecomer to my list but the mix of blackened sludge and miasmic doom led Subterraen on the endless quest up the list. ‘Rotten Human Kingdom’ is the sound of a planet laying waste to us pitiful humans, and the lack of mercy is scary.

2. Jupiterian – Protosapien: Pipped at the last to second, nevertheless ‘Protosapien’ took everything Jupiterian created on ‘Terraforming’ and cranked it up. Crushing in its heaviness and so powerful in execution, this was a tour de force in heavy music for 2020 and is a worthy second place.

1. Atramentus – Stygian: It’s difficult to find any more words than I already did for this record, but this sits peerlessly alone at the top of my list. A creation of staggering bleakness and misery, and I’ll maybe never stop listening to it. It is hard to describe without hearing it, but I think this is the actual sound of the endless screaming void of space. An essential, iconic piece.

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