5. Pallbearer – Forgotten Days [Nuclear Blast]
Say what you will about doom metal and its inclination to stay rooted in its origins, but Arkansas’ Pallbearer remain at the forefront of contemporary bands practicing this particular metal craft. A sharp and focused effort,
Forgotten Days has all the hallmarks of an ace outing. For instance, the songs take their time, winding their way to a conclusion only as they see fit. Furthermore, the lyrics are more emotionally driven and better crafted than virtually any other band since Black Sabbath. The guitar lines will surely send a new generation of kids to the local music shop for their first six-string. “Silver Wings” stands as a high-water mark not only on this album but within Pallbearer’s entire output. – Jedd Beaudoin
4. Wobbler – Dwellers of the Deep [Karisma]
Wobbler don’t make bad albums, and this latest effort is as strong as anything else in the Norwegian group’s discography. Warmly rich tones that call to mind the sounds of classic-era Yes and Genesis dominate the LP, with the opening 13-minute “By the Banks” serving as an ornately enticing and purifying bit of music. Likewise, closer “Merry Macabre” is a masterclass in progressive compositions that rewards the listener for deep and repeated listens. Doubtlessly, many listeners could see Wobbler as blatant retromaniacs, but there’s just something so stunning and beautiful about their penchant for the past and commitment to their music’s future. – Jedd Beaudoin
3. Haken – Virus [Inside Out Music]
A continuation of both 2018’s Vector (hence the cover) and the “Cockroach King” storyline from 2013’s The Mountain, Virus is a wonderful mixture of the British troupe’s soft and heavy sides. They tackle mental illness and abuse with trademark heft, eccentricity, fluidity, and hookiness. “Prosthetic” is a clear standout, as it kickstarts the sequence with that infectious intricacy, dynamic aggression, and sing-along verses that only Haken could provide. In contrast, “Carousel” and “Canary Yellow” invoke their gentler and more spacey persona, while the lengthy “Messiah Complex” is a chameleonic beast that yields one hell of a finale. In a way, Virus is the culmination of Haken’s sundry style, so it’s both a strong entry point for newcomers and a gratifying treat for devotees. – Jordan Blum
2. Imperial Triumphant – Alphaville [Century Media]
New York City’s Imperial Triumphant have ascended to new heights of avant-garde black metal, creating the soundtrack to a barren wasteland that the Big Apple trio could not have predicted in the hours during which they wrote the album. Not since Voivod burst onto the scene in the early 1980s has a metal act advanced the genre with such confidence, defiance, and unapologetic exploration. Jarring and harrowing, it’s required listening for anyone who loves heavy music, with Alphaville‘s best moments including “Rotted Futures”, “Atomic Age”, and “Transmission to Mercury”. Overall, the LP is the new standard by which we judge cutting-edge metal for some time to come. – Jedd Beaudoin
1. Gazpacho – Fireworker [Kscope]
The kings of Norwegian art rock, Gazpacho have made a career out of entwining abstract and affective concepts with gorgeously heartbreaking yet cathartic compositions. Their latest, Fireworker, is among the most outstanding examples of that blend. Broken into five tracks, its concept—in a fundamental sense—revolves around the notion that an ageless and all-powerful entity unknowingly controls humans. Expectedly, the sextet expresses that narrative with an impactful fusion of poignant baroque tragedy and aggressively catchy intensity. From the epic splendor of opener “Space Cowboy” (a masterful side-long suite) to the enigmatic malevolence of closer “Sapien”, Fireworker is a gem. In fact, it ranks alongside Night and March of Ghosts as a tour-de-force of everything that makes Gazpacho exceptional. – Jordan Blum
It’s no exaggeration to say that 2020 has been a devastating year, with myriad people and businesses negatively impacted temporarily or permanently due to COVID-19. Of course, the music industry was no exception, with virtually every facet—artists, venues, publications, labels, etc.—hit hard by abrupt and prolonged setbacks regarding hosting live shows, producing/promoting new music, and the like. As a result, people turned to new methods of survival and interaction (such as streamed concerts, Patreon, and AMA virtual gatherings) to sustain their stature and bond with fans.
Therefore, 2020 has also been a year of remarkable resilience, humility, and connection for musicians, fans, and everyone else involved. In particular, the progressive rock and progressive metal subgenres have—as usual—proved to be among the most prolific and encouraging parts of the industry. Rather than succumb to the difficulties of the epoch, many creators doubled down on their artistry and amicability to produce some of their best work and tighten their relationships with their admirers. Perhaps more than ever, their records offered glimpses of hope and happiness amid such an uncertain and foreboding time.
The following ten LPs represent the best that 2020 had to offer in those respects, and we’d love to know how you feel about our choices (as well as which releases you enjoyed most).
* Naturally, narrowing down our final picks was no easy process; so many other albums are deserving of honorable mentions. Specifically, the newest LPs from Igorrr, Death, Arabs in Aspic, Soulburn, Rikard Sjöblom, Spirit Adrift, Neal Morse, Ayreon, McStine & Minnemann, the Pineapple Thief, Pendragon, and Hallas are superb entries in their creators’ catalogs. If you haven’t heard them yet, you definitely should.