Albums of the Year 2020

Well, what a year that was… Trying for all, but at least music is always there for us. We’ve picked some of our personal favourites from 2020 below, with a track from each in the Spotify playlist, too. Please enjoy this – it was painful.

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Nick – Guitar

It was very considerate of music to continue being excellent in spite of that bug that’s been going round. I managed quite a lot of new albums this year and found making this list as difficult as ever. As such this isn’t a definitive top 10 for me, and many are interchangeable with others that I haven’t mentioned, but I wanted to include some albums that maybe didn’t get as much recognition as they deserved alongside some albums which definitely got plenty of recognition.

10. Respire – Black Line

Respire – 'Black Line'

A late cat thrown amongst the pigeons. Having pretty much decided on the ten albums I wanted to talk about, I then listened to this album in mid-December and had to reconsider my decision. This is what post-metal is all about. It sounds like absolutely nothing else, the use of orchestral instrumentation is inspired and a driving aspect of their songwriting, and the emotional rawness is truly biting. A one of a kind album.

9. Loathe – I Let It In And It Took Everything

Loathe: I Let It In and It Took Everything Album Review | Pitchfork

Without doubt my most repeated album of the year. This record combines the best of noisy prog-metalcore and passive, post-Deftones daydreaming. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the future belongs to bands like this, and I will be dumbfounded if we don’t see them at forefront of modern metal in years to come.

8. Charli XCX – How I’m Feeling Now

Charli XCX: How I'm Feeling Now – Review Corner

It’s like she somehow distilled the very essence of insomnia and cabin fever into a neon-pop wonderland. I’ve loved everything Charli has released since Pop2 and as far as I’m concerned, she is going from strength to strength.

7. clipping. – Visions of Bodies Being Burned

clipping.: Visions of Bodies Being Burned Album Review | Pitchfork

I listened to this album twice in a row and I think I’m going to go and listen to it now. In fact I think I’ve listened to this album nearly every time I’ve been reminded of its existence. Their brand of experimental hip-hop is dark, scary, and magnetically illustrative, and each track feels like you’re trapped in a short horror film.

6. Envy – The Fallen Crimson

The Fallen Crimson | Envy

This is an album that brought me back to emo. Emotionally devastating, The Fallen Crimson is a panoramic collection of angst, wistful rumination, aggressive noise, and some of the best riffs to come out of this sordid year.

5. Motorpsycho – The All Is One

All Is One: Amazon.co.uk: Music

What a journey this album is. It truly fits the stereotype of psychedelic prog that rapidly gets out of hand to the point at which you don’t know how long you’ve been listening to it or indeed what day it is. I mean that in the best possible way. Having only begun listening to this band earlier this year, I was simultaneously ecstatic and horrified to discover how much excellent music this band has released that I’m now going to have to listen to. Having too much good music really is the best problem one can have.

4. Relic Point – Self Punishment

Oh boy, if someone asked me what an amalgamation of Primitive Man and Car Bomb would sound like I couldn’t tell them, but I would want to know, and now I do know, and it is good.

3. Demersal – Less

My chaotic, sludgy screamo album of the year. It’s the sound of grief in a hornets nest. It’s the sound of death made of out of a thousand broken bottles. It makes me feel cold and empty and like I want to attack things with sandpaper.

2. Run The Jewels – RTJ4

Run The Jewels - RTJ4 Lyrics and Tracklist | Genius

What can I say about this album that hasn’t already been said? This is a defining album, perhaps THE defining album of modern solidarity. History will remember it as a phenomenal hip-hop album, and a tragic commentary on 21st century racism.

1. Oranssi Pazuzu – Mestarin Kynsi

Oranssi Pazuzu, “Mestarin Kynsi” | Bandcamp Daily

I echo the sentiment I previously made regarding the Motorpsycho album. By the end I had little memory of the past hour beyond a hazy black void that felt like the fabric of the universe was being fed through a paper shredder. But again, in a good way.

richard-influences

Richard – Bass

In 2020 I listened to 77 new albums, which is a record for me and one I’m pretty proud of, especially as someone who doesn’t really use streaming services. Of that number, there are honestly about 30 that could have made my top ten, but the ones that came closest were Kelly Lee Owens, Craven Faults, Sunken, Purity Ring, Calligram, Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou, Sons of a Wanted Man, Hum, Ocoeur, naisian and Bosphorous. Yes, I am aware that list itself is more than ten – I am an indecisive bastard.

10. Julianna Barwick – Healing is a Miracle

Julianna Barwick: Healing Is a Miracle Album Review | Pitchfork

The first of several artists in my top ten who were actually new to me in 2020 entirely, Barwick’s trade is in reverb-soaked, ambient-adjacent chamber folk, and this new album is rife with gorgeous atmosphere and an enveloping lushness that is truly beautiful. There are even a few electronic beats this time round, and it’s all otherworldly.

9. clipping. – Visions of Bodies Being Burned

clipping.: Visions of Bodies Being Burned Album Review | Pitchfork

clipping. are now an unstoppable force in experimental hip-hop, and their rising status among music fans of all stripes could hardly be more deserved. Probably more abrasive and built on more disturbing and noisy samples than 2019’s equally brilliant outing, this is hip-hop pushed to its outer limits whilst still heaping on loads of dark grooves and sick flows.

8. Wren – Groundswells

GROUNDSWELLS | Wren

Despite being aware of them for ages, 2020 was the first year I invested any time into listening to Wren, following our gig with them in January and then them signing with our friends Gizeh Records. Their sound comes largely from the doomiest pages of the Cult of Luna post metal playbook, but they’re driven forwards by powerful (and audible) basslines and inventive drumming, plus a deadly crush of tone.

7. A.A. Williams – Forever Blue

Forever Blue | A.A. Williams

Whilst I enjoyed the 2019 self-titled EP, this album really surprised me with how much I loved it. It takes the despondent singer-songwriter-meets-shoegazey-post-rock vibe from that first release and adds some climactic moments of truly dense metal weight, some subtle Radiohead-like moments of sparse and beguiling melody, and wraps it all up with a wonderful ear for a downbeat but catchy hook.

6. Vile Creature – Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm!

Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm! | Vile Creature

Vile Creature are another band I took a long overdue first dive into during 2020, and even in my limited experience this feels like their crowning achievement to date. They already had their suffocatingly heavy, tectonic doom groove nailed before this record, but the inclusion of choral vocals in the latter half and more guitar layers than you can shake a stick at lend this a much more majestic and even liturgical feel.

5. Grimes – Miss Anthropocene

Miss Anthropocene - Wikipedia

Combining the more overtly pop-focused sounds of the still admittedly offbeat Art Angels album and reintroducing more of the trademark idiosyncrasies from her previous work, Grimes managed to put out one of her finest works whilst also taking up a lot of space in the music press for many reasons over the course of the year. The biggest bangers here have her cleanest production yet, but it’s all shot through with endearing darkness and a sense of the futility of fighting our technocratic future.

4. Kairon; IRSE! – Polysomn

KAIRON; IRSE! Polysomn reviews

Spoiler: the Oranssi Pazuzu camp really knocked it out of the park in 2020. Kairon; IRSE!, their prog/psych/shoegaze offshoot, seemed to come back to earth at least little bit after the exuberant 70s worship of their previous album. The heavier, more dense guitar layers from their earlier work are back, combining with some continuing joyful experimentation and a dizzying world of sound that is all their own.

3. Svalbard – When I Die, Will I Get Better?

ALBUM REVIEW: When I Die, Will I Get Better? - Svalbard - Distorted Sound  Magazine

Svalbard are another band I shamefully only paid proper attention to in 2020, despite having seen them live twice at festivals – I know, what was I thinking? Still based in the mixed hardcore, black metal and post metal elements they were already known for, this new album sees a marked increase in dreamy, melodic post rock passages a-la Alcest, which suits them perfectly and adds an almost regal quality to these already powerful songs. Add that to a reliably direct and wholly justified lyrical vitriol towards misogyny and other social injustice and you have a guaranteed winner that will get you riled for all the right reasons.

2. Oranssi Pazuzu – Mestarin Kynsi

Oranssi Pazuzu, “Mestarin Kynsi” | Bandcamp Daily

A lot has been said about this album since it’s release, but it’s all true – it really is that good. They’ve pushed all their psychedelic and kraut-y tendencies to new extremes and their patented vortex of swirling black metal and bad trip vibes has never been so compelling.

1. Farer – Monad

Monad | Farer | Tartarus Records

A very late surprise discovery for me, thanks to a post from our friends at 9hz, I only listened to this album just before Christmas when I thought I had my list near completion. After two spins, however, this shook me to the core and felt custom made for me. With no guitars and two basses, this is a slow motion, molten creation of low-end rumble, filthy noise, and building-levelling riffs. Topped off with a harrowing shriek, it’s like someone injected Amenra with heroin and stole all their ‘clean’ channel switches. Utterly devastating and a new favourite band.

luke-influences

Luke – Drums

So my list might be a bit different to Nick and Richard’s because after going through my music I can only find 7 albums which I’ve listened to which came out this year, so clearly I need to up my game next year but I still probably won’t! I’ve given a nice big blurb for the top 3 and then a smaller bleugh for the other 4. ENJOY!

7. Nightwish – Human. :||: Nature

Album: Nightwish – Human II: Nature

I do have a soft spot for Nightwish and orchestral music in general and this was their release this year. It doesn’t quite tickle the spot that Imaginareum, Dark Passion Play, or Endless Forms Most Beautiful did, but it is still a beautifully composed bit of orchestral metal.

6. Ensiferum – Thalassic

Ensiferum reveals details for new album, 'Thalassic' | Metal Blade Records

This is a great album which honestly I haven’t given the amount of time it deserves. Ensiferum have come back with an absolute belter of heavy, Finnish Folk metal.

5. Jack Gardiner – Escapades

Escapades | Jack Gardiner

Similar to Plini this is another vituosic guitar player writing groovy, funky, instrumental tracks which I am just totally down with.

4. Plini – Impulse Voices

Impulse Voices | Plini

This album is relatively new for me so I’m still absorbing it but Plini is just incredible and this album continues to prove it.

3. Arch Echo – Story I

Story I | Arch Echo

Arch Echo also happen to be one of the last bands I saw live in the ‘before time’…. and over lockdown I even bagged myself a spot on one of the drummers masterclass sessions! But to get to the point: this EP is just what I’d expect from Arch Echo. Another amazing selection of instrumental, djenty, groovy, funky-ass tracks (not to be confused with funky ass-tracks). This band have never disappointed me since I discovered them at TechFest many years ago now and immediately fell in love with them. Their music, talent, joy, and energy is so palpable and I just can’t get enough of it.

2. Dirty Loops – Phoenix

Dirty Loops - "Phoenix"

Again, this band have come up for me in the Ba’al monthly musings very frequently, and deservingly. With this EP the trio yet again manage to blow my mind with musicianship and pure talent. In particular, the track “World on Fire” has what I would be confident to describe as the best bass solo I’ve ever heard in a song. But the other aspects of the music are by no means overshadowed by this, and they all pull together to create the incredible jazz, fusion, pop sound that just will not let you be sad!

1. Igorrr – Spirituality and Distortion

Spirituality and Distortion | Igorrr

Honestly I’ve listened through this album so much and know it so well by now that I was shocked to be reminded that it only came out this March. I’ve also been blabbering on about it on the Ba’al Monthly listenings! But this album is such an amazing musical journey through varying tones, timbres, and time signatures. For me it contains some of the best elements of djent, orchestral, electronic, operatic, and progressive music in a continuously evolving and flowing masterpiece.

Albums of the Year 2019

Last year was a big one for music, sounds and noises. Below you’ll find Nick, Richard, Tom and Joe’s picks of the bunch, after hours and hours of pain in stripping the lists down to a measly 5. We’ve also got one track on from each release in a handy little Spotify playlist…

Mirror attempt 1 bw

Nick – Guitar

This was a very strong year and putting this list together was very difficult (isn’t it always?). I only undertook the voyage into 2019’s back catalogue in mid-November, so I’m pleased I managed to squeeze around 140 in before the year was out. Several honourable mentions this year including Alcest, Cult of Luna, Cranial, Violet Cold, Mizmor, Ultar, Oh Sees, The Grey, Skepta, Seizures, Rorcal, Anderson Paak, Billie Eilish, Boris, Charli XCX, Hannah Diamond, Herod, Hobo Johnson and the list goes on and on. Here’s the five I wanted to mention in particular.

5. Norma Jean – All Hail

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A slightly tongue in cheek album title perhaps? Regardless of intention, it’s an apt name for a now legendary metalcore band showing us how it’s done.

4. James Blake – Assume Form

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A typically strong outing from the James the Blake with consistently compelling features. Considerably more pastel coloured than his previous releases (he’s not miserable as fuck anymore) and with that it’s one of the most interesting alt-pop records of recent years.

3. Sūrya – Solastalgia

Image result for surya solastalgia

This one took pole in my very tight post-metal round-up. Cult of Luna, Alcest and Cranial all came close but none of them drew my undivided attention quite like this. Essential listening for any fan of the aforementioned bands and the wider post-metal world.

2. 65daysofstatic – replicr, 2019

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A bleak Orwellian nightmare is the perfect soundtrack for the future, now that we live in a bleak Orwellian nightmare under the fat blonde goblin.

1. Lankum – The Livelong Day

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Incredible follow up to their similarly incredible second album. It’s difficult for me to describe this album, as I make no claim to being a connoisseur of Irish folk. What I can say is that there is a brooding intensity to this album, a grim foreboding the likes of which you might otherwise hear on a Sunn O))) album. In a pinch I’d say this is my album of the year.

Mirror attempt 3 bw

Richard – Bass

I’m notoriously useless at keeping up with new music, and spend far more of my time digging into old things I’ve missed over the years, but this list was a fun excercise in trying to catch up. Although it’s nothing on Nick’s total, I managed 30 albums from 2019, which is loads for me. About 15-20 of them could have made the top 5, but ones that came especially close were Cult of Luna, HANA, Max Cooper, N/UM, New Ghost, Earth & Pillars, A-Sun Amissa, Mic Reckless and White Ward.

5. Earth Moves – Human Intricacy

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Ever since I first saw them in 2017, Earth Moves have been one of my favourite UK heavy bands, and their second album near enough manages the seemingly impossible task of matching the quality of their first. No one else dares to get so rawly emotional and dynamic with post metal, and if anything there’s more variety and power this time around.

4. Archivist – Triumvirate

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A massive step up from the second record which was a bit of a mis-step in my opinion, Archivist have returned to doing post-black metal better than almost anyone else. Two vocalists (with both clean and harsh vocals), lush chord progressions and, crucially, plenty of straight-up battery, all topped off with frontman Alex CF’s brilliant artwork. In truth, you need to check out the full trilogy.

3. FKA Twigs – Magdalene

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It took me ages to get around to this one after both Nick and my girlfriend told me for months that I’d love it – they weren’t wrong. This is pop music twisted into bizarre shapes, retaining the hooks and beats that keep you plugged in. It’s one of those records that reveals more every time. Highly recommended.

2. Lingua Ignota – Caligula

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Speaking of twisting things into painful shapes, Lingua Ignota’s voice is just something else. There’s a lot more to digest here than on her first outing, but once you put in the time, it’s incredibly powerful. Classical meets noise meets drone meets metal meets liturgical music meets abject pain meets fear of god meets brutal revenge on all those who have wronged you. See her live, you won’t be the same afterwards.

1. Dizraeli – The Unmaster

Image result for dizraeli the unmaster

Continuing to prove himself a totally unique voice in UK hip-hop (/folk/experimental/spoken word/something/everything), this one caught me totally by surprise with how much I loved it. It’s so eclectic, personal and powerful, whilst also being full of danceable bangers. Dizraeli’s own flow is only getting stronger with time, and it sits at the centre of a wild symphony of electronic and acoustic instruments, plus some totally out there vocal performances.

Mirror attempt 2 bw

Tom – Guitar

There were many that could have been on this list and a few that were very close, including Cave In… As much as I love ‘Final Transmission’, you can’t help the feeling that it could have been so much more if it wasn’t for the sad passing of Caleb. Russian Circles, Torche, Iggy Pop and A-Sun Amissa were all standouts and in that order would round out a top 10, but these are the 5 that really grabbed me this time round.

5. Boris – LφVE & EVφL

Image result for boris love and evol

Walls of fuzz and noise collide with a surprising dash of calm and quiet. What’s not to love.

4. Cult of Luna – A Dawn to Fear

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Monolithic riffs combine with atmospheric passages in ways nobody else can manage.

3. Mono – Nowhere Now Here

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A masterpiece of soundscape, texture and expression, with a depth lost on so many other bands of their ilk over the years. Spanning fragile to bombastic walls of sound effortlessly.

2. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Ghosteen

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Stripped bare compared to early Bad Seeds material and continuing on from the last couple of releases this is as beautiful as it is dark and haunted by loss. Was my album of the year for a long time until…

1 . 65daysofstatic – Replicr, 2019

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I don’t really know how to describe this record. Each and every time it gives up a bit more from the vast soundscapes within that feel more like one vast piece than individual tracks. Just stunning.

Mirror attempt 4 bw

Joe – Vocals

I’ve been a bit out of the loop on newer music this year; most of what I’ve heard has been random bits of obscure black metal performed in deep, dark Siberian woodland, recorded onto a potato by hedgehogs that probably have unconfirmed but potentially troubling political ideaologies…. So instead of trawling through reems of spikey logo’d bands that sound like dense atmospheres within a tub of particularly evil marmalade, I’ve picked out the stuff that others may have actually heard of. Honourable mentions go to Mayhem’s album ‘Daemon’ for being better than expected and Slipknot’s ‘We Are Not Your Kind’ for it’s grade D at GCSE graphics artwork and, despite being aggravatingly underwhelming, still supplying me with an adequate coaster for my mug of fancy pants coffee.

5. Cattle Decapitation – Death Atlas
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The best album since the game changing Monolith of Inhumanity. Further experimentation, diversity and even a sense of emotion rarely experienced in tech death.

4. Mgla – Age of Excuse
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Released to almost zero fanfare this album just turned up one day. A powerful follow up the the masterpiece that was “Exercises in Futility”.

3. Veldes – Flameless
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More spectacular atmosphere from Slovenias workhorse black metallers.

2. Blut Aus Nord – Hallucinogen
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Coming somewhat out of left field this album is a mind bending experience that demonstrates Blut Aus Nords progression along with their spacey cosmic trademark.

1. Grima – Will of the Primordial

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Extremely cold atmospheric black metal that truly resonates a sense of eternal winter.