15. Wake – Devouring Ruin (Translation Loss)
While Calgary’s Wake started as a pretty accomplished grindcore band about a decade ago, it was 2018’s Misery Rites that redefined their style into something special. Suddenly, there were elements of death, black, and doom metal breaking up grindcore attacks, orchestrated in interesting but never tedious ways that underlined their heavy themes and lyricism.
Devouring Ruin moves even further in the direction hinted at by the previous record, as strains of various extreme metal subgenres become more prominent and important in their music. Bouts of blazing grindcore and death metal blasts make way for sonically spacier, yet emotionally rousing segments of doom metal, before finally launching into twin-guitar harmonies that leave traces of hope behind. While occasionally overwhelming, this fusion of styles is compact and executed impeccably, and always with a holistic approach in mind. This holds true even as “Torchbearer”—one of the best metal songs of the year—spends ten minutes shuffling from style to style and delivering blow after blow of mind-crushing riffs, drum hits, and growls, only to go up in flames of hardcore furor. – Antonio Poscic
14. Pyrrhon – Abscess Time (Willowtip)
One of the iconoclasts, New York’s Pyrrhon have always defied guidelines and norms, instead chose to bend the rules and always pave their own path towards the technical death metal pantheon. An Excellent Servant But a Terrible Master, The Mother of Virtues and the insane What Passes for Survival, have all highlighted the unconventional methodology of Pyrrhon. Technical death metal for them is not defined by strict instructions regarding technical aptitude and endless aggression; it is about experimentation and openness. That remains true for their latest offering in Abscess Time.
The title track immediately presents Pyrrhon’s deconstructed view. The pace is glacial, slower than death itself. Yet, all the ideas remain extremely complex, the beat constantly eluding, the guitars spiraling out of control with their dissonant touch. It is almost as if Pyrrhon are moving towards a strange drone trajectory before they unleash something more in-your-face with “Down at Liberty Ashes”. A meticulous progression that constantly twists and turns in unpredictable fashion while the cacophony of the guitar solos creates pure havoc. No matter the state, be it slow and epic, fast and unforgiving, or taking on heavier groove elements, Abscess Time does not hinder any domain. It is the accumulation of all elements that make forward-thinking and innovative death metal so thrilling and intoxicating. – Spyros Stasis
13. Haken – Virus (InsideOut Records)
One of the defining characteristics of Haken’s flavor of prog metal has always been the ability to combine progressive metal’s technical prowess and compositional meanderings with harder metallic attacks and the effervescence of art-pop. While the DNA of these elements has changed over time as their sound adopted an edgier attack, the relationship between individual stylistic strains has remained in balance.
In the context of the London group’s career, Virus continues where Vector left off, fully immersed in djent but completely aware of the road that brought them where they are today. Simultaneously complex and tuneful, the album moves elegantly and imperceptibly from grooves to soaring choruses, and from surprisingly heavy, chugging sections to balladry that feels earned and essential, not a shoehorned filler.
Thanks to the brilliant songwriting and musical inventiveness that glues all of these elements together, Virus becomes a nearly flawless record. A harmonious work of prog metal that is also wickedly smart in its use of extra-musical elements, self-references, and ties to earlier recordings, but one that thrives on advancing both sonic and lyrical narratives. The bottom line is straightforward: Haken have crafted not only the best prog metal album of 2020 but the most well-rounded album of their already magnificent career. – Antonio Poscic
12. Thou and Emma Ruth Randle – May Our Chambers Be Full (Sacred Bones)
Some might think that combining these two forces would be like trying to mix oil and water, the elements failing to coalesce pushing away from one another. Yet, May Our Chambers Be Full is nothing if not cohesive, without either Rundle or Thou having to sacrifice part of their identity. Finding a common denominator, indulging for the psychedelic, “The Killing Floor” expands through clouds of surrounding feedback, subtle melodies rising through its mists. Yet, it is when Rundle’s melodic delivery combines with Bryan Funck’s subliminal growls that everything falls into place. Dissonance and harmony meet in this strange place, both persisting, neither shying away from its counterpart and combining to a stunning emotive peak.
The heavy grooves build a monumental pace with “Out of Existence” before the progression takes a turn for the subtler, sparse leads paving the way for Rundle’s epic conclusion. More impressive is the complete coalition of these two worlds with “Ancestral Recall”, contrasting moments of sludge superiority in “Monolith” and “Magickal Cost”. Yet, it is the closer, “The Valley”, that perfectly encapsulates this work. It brings a strong ending with Rundle beautifully dominating for most of its duration in an emotive ballad-inspired approach, before Thou’s heavy onslaught abruptly concludes this work. In this aftermath, the idea of Emma Ruth Rundle collaborating with Thou doesn’t sound bizarre; it like the most obvious thought anyone has ever had. – Spyros Stasis
11. Faceless Burial – Speciation (Dark Descent Records)
If Incantation’s excellent Sect of Vile Divinities represented death metal’s still vibrant old guard in 2020, then Faceless Burial emerged as their rightful heirs with Speciation, a sonic monument built in the honor and written in the image of all strains of death metal that came before. Incredibly varied and technically complex, the Melbourne trio’s second LP sheds tempos and riffs continually, slithering and tempting like a snake on desert sand, combining visceral brutality with magnificent virtuosity.
One needs to look no further than the opening “Worship”, where they traverse the space between Dying Fetus’s impactful grindcore and Gorguts inspired chaos of discord in a matter of seconds, breaking everything up with chunks of Cryptopsy’s brutal technical death metal. With nearly no peers, apart from equally inventive groups like Blood Incantation and Tomb Mold, Faceless Burial have created a masterpiece of death metal and one of the best death metal records of the year. – Antonio Poscic