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The Best Records by Year: The 2020s


My fourth decade of keeping track of this shit! Read on!

2023


Noteworthy Releases Katatonia ends with some catchy songs, now likely a full album worth of material Iíd listen to repeatedly. KKís Priest has a pair Iíll revisit on the sophomore outing and Kalmah - well, I canít name a single song and sadly wonít put this on very often at all.

Immortal is good, especially in a post-Abbath and post-Horgh world. Godflesh has a few songs Iíve found myself returning to and Ghostís EP of covers continues their excellence in that field.

Others I should also utter: Non Est Deus, Imperium Dekadenz, October Tide and Shylmagoghnar, as well as 1863, Loud As Giants, Overkill, a Wintersun single I canít purchase and a few more.

#9) Sulphur Aeon: Seven Crowns And Seven Seals (Germany)
There was no way this could live up to the surprise AotY showing back in 2018 but I canít help but feel disappointed with the outfitís fourth LP. A memorable title track outstayed its welcome while others felt far-less memorable. Despite my efforts to temper expectations, this just felt far-less impressive than its predecessor.

#8) Blackbraid: Blackbraid II (USA)
Iíd heard the name, but never listened to this projectís first album but found myself quite enamored with the second for a short while. I think the record is a bit uneven, flying rather high on its best parts and sounding repetitive and rehashed in its worst. Still, it's something to return to and I enjoy it every time I do.

#7) Insomnium: Anno 1696 (Finland)
There is nothing wrong with this record. It has the trademark Insomnium sound, with some impressive hooks and memorable parts. The added EP afterwards is solid as well. Comparing anything against Winterís Gate is unfair, but even putting this up against its follow-up Heart Like A Grave results in a tinge of disappointment.

Itís hard to find fault in their successful formula, but this doesnít do much to make me yearn to put it back on.

#6) Metallica: 72 Seasons (USA)
Not as good as Death Magnetic but better than Hardwired, this record surprised me consistently throughout and some sections stick with me. It continues the trend of excellent final tracks, despite nothing living up to the four first records or even Spit Out The Bone (the best song since the '80s). Flipping that on its head, if DM was the best since Justice, then this is the bandís second-best output in 30+ years. Sure, thatís not saying much, but I quite like the record.

The record continues the tradition of excellent outro songs with Inamorata, hitting all the notes of what I love about this band. While there are a few missteps, but the highs really soar, in terms of 2020s Metallica - but thatís not only OK, thatís fucking fantastic.

#5) Krigsgrav: Fires In The Fall (USA)
One of several new names to my list, this Texas-based band sounds fucking spectacular and mixes all the genres of metal that I love. It's super heavy, got melodic moments and some hooks to keep me humming as I walk down the hall. I've yet to delve farther into their back catalogue, but this record is simply fantastic.

#4) Wayfarer: American Gothic (USA)
This record has a sound that is both familiar in its roots but new in its delivery. For all I know, there could be a hundred of these types of mixes, but for me, itís something Iíve never witnessed before.

Like Leiþa higher up on this list, the recordís latter half underwhelms compared to its initial offerings, but it never truly falters and that first half is good enough to carry it all. I simply love this sound and the texture it weaves.

#3) In Flames: Foregone (Sweden)
This is the best album the band's done in 20 years. With each subsequent early Ď00s record I lost interest, playing a new output for a few days before abandoning forever. The first single, Foregone, Pt. 1 simply blew my mind, displaying everything I loved about In Flames in years past. The real surprise was that this wasnít a one-off, despite still being the best track on the album. Catchy choruses, heavy, riffy segments and great production make this, hands down, the best since Clayman and way better than the re-recording of that album. Itís memorable and I have gone back to it frequently as the year continued and passed by.

#2) Rodrigo Y Gabriela: In Between Thoughts...A New World (Mexico)
This is likely the duo's most-cohesive and consistent effort. After a fantastic eponymous record and its 11:11 follow-up, I only enjoyed certain tracks from the next decade. This yearís LP, on the other hand, is simply phenomenal and has no lulls like other albums. The second track is slow, but then moves into kick-ass territory and the final tracks are among the best the duo has ever produced. #2 is the highest any band south of the American border has ever placed.

#1) Leiþa: Reue (Germany)
By the middle of track #3 on my first listen, the thought popped into my head. "This is going to be AotY." I was that convinced of this album's excellence. The end of the record doesnít succeed in continuing the fierce pace of the initial tracks, but thatís hardly an attack as the first songs are the yearís best. Production is spectacular and the drums are the highlight of the album - a non-stop affront which makes this AotY claim a no-brainer.

Top 9 of 2022
1. Leiþa: Reue
2. Rodrigo Y Gabriela In Between Thoughts...A New World
3. In Flames Foregone
4. Wayfarer American Gothic
5. Krigsgrav Fires In The Fall
6. Metallica 72 Seasons
7. Insomnium Anno 1696
8. Blackbraid Blackbraid II
9. Sulphur Aeon Seven Crowns And Seven Seals

2022


Noteworthy Releases
2022 was a good year and it contained one of the most impressive two-week schedules in memory. From the 5th until the 19th of August, we got new LPs from Amon Amarth, Arch Enemy, Soilwork, The Halo Effect's debut release (all from Sweden, BTW) and a live album by Einherjer. Two weeks later, Andy Gillion and Megadeth both issued their latest. Six albums - half of the year's best records - were released in a four-week span.

Einherjer's first live album was pretty cool, if a bit heavy on new material, but Eucharist's revival simply did nothing for me, much like Witchery's newest or Blind Guardian's twelfth. For some reason, Kreator suffered the same indifference. Abbath and Alestorm? Meh and eh.

#12) Ghost: Impera (Sweden)
While I didn't get into this band until after their second record's release, I absolutely loved their third and several segments of the fourth. I was interested but cautious when approaching their fifth and latest offering. The end result has a handful of memorable and strong tracks and an equal amount of forgettable and middling others. I liked it more when it came out and found myself not visiting it often. Worth mentioning but not particularly memorable.

#11) Amorphis: Halo (Finland)
For a band with so many ups and downs, Halo, the sextet's 14th record, is a bit generic in both title and material alike. Songs are good but most don't stick with me. It's one I'd like to enjoy more than I do. It's never disappointing, but it also doesn't get me hyped like it should.

#10 Megadeth: The Sick, The Dying... And The Dead! (USA)
The first three tracks of this record are simply phenomenal and some of the band's best material in decades. Unfortunately, a majority of the second half feels like the forgettable 2010s. Despite the shortcomings, it remains a solid record and one I'll revisit more than anything in the last 15 years.

#9) Hšllas: Isle Of Wisdom (Sweden)
After discovering these guys at Sweden Rock 2019, I was hooked. Their debut LP is their high-water mark with the sophomore effort being good-yet-disappointing. This year's entry is better but ultimately a bit forgettable. It's good when I put it on and I do like it, but it suffers from the usual concern: why wouldn't I just put on Excerpts From A Future Past?

#8) Amon Amarth: The Great Heathen Army (Sweden)
Off the top of my head, I can't really name any particular stand-outs on this album. The duo with Biff Byford (Saxon) was cool and unique and a few others were solid bangers. But, like Megadeth, and Hšllas - this hasn't much to inspire me to re-listen. It's good. It's fun.

#7) White Ward: False Light (Ukraine)
I was introduced to this outfit just this year and its first song is easily the record's best. The band's speed, tight riffs and adventurous saxophone influence make for an exotic and entertaining record. It's a bit uneven and after the aforementioned contender to 'song of the year', it never quite sails to the same heights. Certainly a top-10 contender even with those flaws.

#6) Arch Enemy: Deceivers (Sweden)
The Swedes return for LP number 11, almost three decades after beginning. Alissa's third record with the band is a strong one and I prefer it over the last - and maybe even her first. Altogether, it feels a bit formulaic despite the new vocal efforts (on a track I always skip). There aren't too many truly stand-out tracks but it's all consistent and another worthy entry into the band's long-standing catalogue.

#5) Saor: Origins (UK)
Another new band to my ears, this one-man project sounds mature and enormous. It's got the formula of what I love. The tracks are long and they cover a lot of ground. This genre is second to the Gothenburg sound as my favorite. Not a frequent listen, but one I truly enjoy whenever I do.

#4) The Halo Effect: Days Of The Lost (Sweden) Admit it, you were sold on this project the moment it was announced. Jesper joining former In Flames bandmates with Mikael Stanne of IF/Dark Tranquillity fame trying to recapture the early '90s Gothenburg sound. The first single is the album's strongest, but the remainder are all catchy and sound fucking fantastic. A few radio-friendly songs are my least-favorite tracks but from start to finish, it's a promising start to a new-yet-familiar project.

#3) Soilwork: ÷vergivenheten (Sweden)
I was sold on the first two singles, but number 3 was weaker and the final product serves better as passive listening than a traditional, kick-ass Soilwork LP. There are some catchy tracks in the middle, the usual, super-fast offering, a handful of chorus-heavy tracks and the like. A friend of mine is surprised at how high on my list this is, but such is my adoration of this sound that much. However, despite landing at #3, it's leagues behind the top-two.

#2) Andy Gillion: Arcade Metal (UK)
Despite being a fan of Gillion's works in Mors Principium Est, I never listened to his solo work. Something inspired me to check it out this year and I was simply hooked. 2019's Neverafter is one of the best instrumental albums I've ever heard. Coupling that greatness with Gillion's video-game passion lead us to his sophomore release. It doesn't live up to the lofty heights of its predecessor, but it's technically a perfect record.

#1) Svartsot: Kumbl (Denmark)
I got into Svartsot a number of years ago and enjoyed the melodic mix of traditional Viking sounds, deep-grumbly vocals and, of course, that damn pan flute. However, only a few songs from each release truly gripped me. Until Kumbl, that is. It's been a long, 7-year wait and it's been worth it. Start to finish, this is a fantastic record that displays everything the Danish band does well. Catchy, heavy, melodic and fun - this is probably Denmark's first Album of the year in almost 40 years!

Top 12 of 2022
1. Svartsot Kumbl
2. Andy Gillion Arcade Metal
3. Soilwork ÷vergivenheten
4. The Halo Effect Days Of The Lost
5. Saor Origins
6. Arch Enemy Deceivers
7. White Ward False Light
8. Amon Amarth The Great Heathen Army
9. Hšllas Isle Of Wisdom
10. Megadeth The Sick, The Dying... And The Dead!
11. Amorphis Halo
12. Ghost Impera

2021


Noteworthy Omissions:
Once again, there are some major names whose releases were effectively forgotten mere weeks after they dropped. In years or decades past, these would be contenders and here I sit today, without knowledge of a single song title from them.

  • At The Gates
  • Cradle Of Filth
  • Dream Theater
  • Einherjer
  • Fear Factory
  • Iron Maiden
  • LantlŰs

In addition, a number of albums just didn't get enough spins to leave an impression upon me. Are they bad? No...not necessarily. Maybe they're top 10??

  • KK's Priest
  • Khemmis
  • Korpiklaani
  • Enslaved
  • Omnium Gatherum

OK, with the not on the list portion of the list complete, I can say that I genuinely struggled with this year's rankings. My top-3 are set in stone, but the remainder felt very fluid, with certain tracks, my daily moods or the fucking tides changing the order of the remaining nine records at a whim. I very well may revisit this, but for today, let us chronicle the best of 2021 - a strange year, indeed!

#12) Wardruna - Kvitravn
This very well may be top-10, or 8, or 5! As it's not an every-day listen for me, I go in waves. I've no shame in admitting I only learned of Wardruna from the Vikings TV show but it truly hearkens to my Scandinavian "roots" and my heart does go a-flutter upon listening.

#11) Exodus - Persona Non Grata (USA)
I love this band and have since I first heard Fabulous Disaster 30 years ago. Unfortunately, nothing has ever lived up to that record and despite the absolutely-incredible production of Persona Non Grata, I just can't get into a majority of this record. To be clear: it's brutally heavy, Tom's drums are as good as he's ever been and the aforementioned production is a new gold standard. But Dukes was a better voice for this era of Exodus and it lacks a certain punch even some of the Dukes records had. I want to like this album so much more than I actually do - something I truly hate. Certain songs just sound painfully average. The final trio of tracks are wonderful, however, with a nice guest solo from Hunolt. However, none of it's enough to escalate the veteran band into the top-10.

#10) Carcass - Torn Arteries (UK)
It took 18 years for Carcass to put out new music and that release itself was 8 years ago. While last year's Despicable was my #4 pick, the LP just didn't stick in my brain like the luscious riffs of The Long And Winding Bier Road or The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue. This record, recorded at the same time as the EP and delayed for over a year, has all the trademark ingredients of a Carcass LP: tight riffage and drum patterns, Walker's grumbles and excellent production. The cover art is fantastic and the callbacks to old-school Carcass are wonderful. Ultimately, while I'd prefer listen to Surgical Steel, Torn Arteries is certainly a top-10 record.

#9) Helloween - Helloween (Germany)
I only got into the German power-metallers back in college, missing out on the classic days to which everyone compares all newer material. Thus, I have no nostalgia for Kiske or Hansen and I can only really think of one kick-ass song from the band's last decade-and-a-half of output (Nabataea from 2012's Straight Out Of Hell.) So, the band's eponymous 16th LP was just another record from mine ears and it's quite a good one! It's got the standard Helloween cheese, now with dualing vocalists and three guitarists (one of whom is a third singer!) Some songs are the usual forgettable filler, but the good ones are hum-worthy bangers that stick on my tongue for days. The initial single was enough to entice me: the 12-minute Skyfall has utterly terrible lyrics but it has the band doing what it does best: mixing up melodicism, catchy vocals, throwback rhythms and punchy production. You can dissect this album more than ever with vocal harmonies everywhere and an Iron Maiden-like three guitarists' worth of solos but it ends up being exactly what I wanted and the most interesting record by the band in quite some time.

#8) King Of Asgard - Svartrviūr (Sweden)
It's been four years since the post-Mithotyn band released any pagan/viking metal and the new release came and went with little fanfare. I in fact forgot about it for many months. However, upon revisiting the record, I was treated to exactly what I was looking for. That sound that I love so dearly. Rhythmic viking drones, melodic harmonies, raspy vocals and the occasional blast of speed keeping listeners on their toes. I have to be in the mood to listen to Svartrviūr (Black Times) as its long songs are fully appreciated by a loud listening session and dedicated head bobbing and due to this, some days Helloween is a more enjoyable experience. Other days, however, this record moves up to top-5 territory.

#7) Bodom After Midnight - Paint The Sky With Blood (Finland)
I'm certain I'm not the only one who has lost interest with the last five Children Of Bodom records. They peaked with Hatebreeder and Hate Crew Deathroll but there was always a kick-ass track on each record worthy of a few spins. But then the Finnish veterans got into a little kerfuffle and the face of Bodom, Alexi Laiho, was ousted. I'm also certain I'm not the only one with lowly expectations from the band in its post-Laiho years. His riffs, solos and voice were the sound I listened to them for. His post-CoB band, Bodom After Midnight, named for the track from their fourth album, was an exciting prospect cut short by his untimely death. We are all fortunate a trio of songs were completed and in a state befitting release and bestowed upon us. A pair of originals sit alongside a cover of the song that got me into Dissection way back in the day to round out a release called Paint The Sky With Blood with the title track appearing to talk about his ex-bandmates and the internal strife that led to the demise of the its classic lineup.

With only three songs, it's hard to justify a top-five listing despite how good they are. To be honest, I wasn't particularly looking forward to this project given my opinion of the last few COB records, but I'll say, these songs represent everything I loved about Bodom when I first stumbled upon them in the late '90s. What a shame - Alexi Laiho was one of the best. A rare, lead singer/lead guitarist who excelled at both. I can only really think of Mustaine as a contemporary - a genuine sign of how good he was.

#6) 1914 - Where Fear And Weapons Meet (Ukraine)
Judging by this album's best songs - ...And A Cross Now Marks His Place being one of the year's absolute best, by any band - this would be a top contender for AotY. However, so few songs can possibly live up to such grandeur. The whole record, on the other hand, does contain the same fervor: glorifying World War I with punishing riffs, menacing speed and tremendous production. I love the vocals. I love the drums. I love the riffs. I'm not certain if this is as good as the band's 2018 effort, the album that introduced me to the Ukranian outfit. Comparisons aside, this record is fantastic, with not a single shortcoming in the lot. Drums, riffs, vocals, production - this has it all - with the appropriate amount of speed to keep it all interesting.

#5) First Fragment - Gloire …ternelle (Canada)
Oh, my! Towards the end of the year, I was checking out other AotY lists to get a feel for what I may have missed out on and the new Archspire simply blew my mind: what absurd speed and technical marvel! However, it's not something I find myself wanting to revisit. The next day, a friend sends me a link to this Canadian quintet and....holy shit. This is not an every-day listen for me. But whenever I do listen, I'm shocked again at the insanity my ears are taking in. This record has it all: super speed, solos, bass ludicrousness, catchy rhytms, more speed & riff madness - one song alone is a fucking journey around the world and back. Spanish flamenco sound? Groovy jazz? Blast beats & technical riffing? And that fucking fretless bass again? I don't think I can get through one song without grinning.

The remainder of the records on this list are about what you expect. This is unlike anything I've ever heard and that's one of the best compliments I can give any album. But novelty alone does not a top-five make! The whole offering is just impressive and enjoyable and an incredible showing of technical prowess.

#4) Insomnium - Argent Moon (Finland)
Releasing four singles sporadically is nice to keep people on their toes during a pandemic, but gathering them together for an EP is even better. This four-song offering covers all their bases in a traditional-yet-highly-enjoyable package. Track 1 is just classic awesomeness, track 3 is the weakest and the finale is melodic and fantastic. This review may be as by-the-numbers as the EP, but when you're as good as these guys are, that's enough to crack the top-5. I've revisited this aplenty for my frequent dose of Insomnium and haven't grown weary. Sure, Insomnium will never have a release that's not compared to the top-10 ever released Winter's Gate, but that's OK. Argent Moon is still quite good and I couldn't finish writing this without putting on The Wanderer again.

#3) Liquid Tension Experiment - Liquid Tension Experiment 3 (Bonus Disc) (USA)
It's been 22 years between LTE2 and LTE3 but this album finds the members still atop their game, offering technical mastery at each instrument. Riffs, solos, interludes, phenomenal drums, break-downs - you know exactly what you're getting out of a record like this. HOWEVER, it's not the regular disc that appears in my top-3 for 2021. Nay, it's the hour-long, improv bonus disc that tickles my fancy so. The metal jam band builds from modest grooves only to soar to wondrous heights all in an unplanned way, making this the band I always wished I could've been in. Four of the five songs clock in at over 10 minutes and each is an adventure in its own right. This is great for active or passive listening and for a little while was my AotY. I fucking love this stuff and it shows just how good all four of these guys are. What a fantastic release.

#2) Iotunn - Access All Worlds (Denmark)
Not sure how I stumbled upon Iotunn but it took me a little to get into this epic Danish band. In fact, it's probably the highest ranking a Danish band has had since Mercyful Fate's Don't Break The Oath (Svartsot was #3 in 2015.) This band's first LP is just massive with an equal balance of melodic, groovy sections with bellowing vocals and crushing speed and growls. Headphones make things even more enjoyable with a full drum sound and layers of backing vocal tracks, guitars and keyboards. Lengthy songs allow for breathing and that healthy buildup fully appreciated when shit gets fast.

Rhythms are catchy, harmonies soar over them and the drums, while mostly subdued, give it all a phenomenal punch. Track 1 is my least favorite, a fact that may have contributed to it taking me so long to get into this record. However, everything gets better from there and in the end, only Swedes could get in the way of a Danish #1 record. I absolutely love this record and it's one I can easily consume in one sitting - unlike most on this list which are sometimes more enjoyable piecemeal. That is...except for my #1.

#1) Thyrfing - Vanagandr (Sweden)
It took me a few days to get into Thyrfing's latest, and in the end, I still believe their prior effort may be better. But Vanagandr has everything I love about metal music in one package and it's one I can go back to at any moment and immediately love. The eight tracks, all sung in Swedish, contain the perfect blend of clean and harsh, catchy and riffy, slow and fast. Former Naglfar frontman Jens Rydťn is fantastic and contributes a spectacular voice to match the album's tone - perhaps the band's most varied vocal effort. The album gets better as it goes on and simply crushes. It's not as fast as some prior entries on this list. It doesn't have the production of others. But it brings everything together better than all other 2021 offerings.

It's viking (with Fenrir breaking his bonds on the cover), it's groovy and heavy. It's catchy and rhythmic. With keyboards/horns, layers of vocals and the perfect blend of everything else - Thyrfing has my AotY vote with very little hesitation. What a fantastic record.

Top 12 of 2021
1. Thyrfing Vanagandr
2. Iotunn Access All Worlds
3. Liquid Tension Experiment Liquid Tension Experiment 3 (Bonus Disc)
4. Insomnium Argent Moon
5. First Fragment Gloire …ternelle
6. 1914 Where Fear And Weapons Meet
7. Bodom After Midnight Paint The Sky With Blood
8. King Of Asgard Svartrviūr
9. Helloween Helloween
10. Carcass Torn Arteries
11. Exodus Persona Non Grata
12. Wardruna Kvitravn

2020


2020 may have been a tough year, but it was actually quite good in terms of music. I got into some new bands, which always helps the pool from which to choose and between old and new, I was happily surprised at the outcome.

I'll admit that for some promising releases, I was less than impressed. A pair of My Dying Bride offerings didn't stay on repeat very long at all, Katatonia failed to elate me, Naglfar's first album in eight years wasn't my cup of tea and even the mighty Testament doled out a mediocre effort. The long-awaited third Demons & Wizards was good, but never drew me back to it and even John Petrucci's second solo LP couldn't utilize Mike Portnoy's skills to lift it into the top-10. The aforementioned list all improved as it went on, but I simply didn't love any of them.

Other noteworthy items were a pair of Ihsahn EPs which featured only a few keepers, fellow-Emperor vet Mortiis returning to the music that I loved decades ago and even a Dark Tranquillity that was by no means bad. None beckoned me to return to them, unfortunately, but the top-10 did, and that is where we shall focus - alongside a bonus #11 just because.

#11) Alestorm: Curse Of The Crystal Coconut (UK)
This band consistently ranks pretty high on my lists, but never too high. Curse Of The Crystal Coconutís title alone exemplifies how seriously these guys take things, but make no mistake: the musicianship is stellar and some songs are tremendously catchy. Tortuga may cross genres too much for some people but that breakdown towards the end is legendary! I was set to see these guys in 2020 but Covid put an end to that dream. Just missing the top-10 is nothing to be ashamed of - this album is great for when your mood matches its tone!

#10) Ymir: Ymir (Finland)
A 20-year-old band releases its debut record and lands itself at #10. The Finns may have been dormant for quite some time but this album is a solid, if not predictable affair. This isnít an every-day listen to me, but like Alestorm before it, Ymir scratches an itch that presents itself every so often.

#9) Brothers Of Metal: Emblas Saga (Sweden)
My Sweden Rock 2019 discovery, Brothers Of Metal released their sophomore album filled with a handful of memorable and hum-worthy tunes. The musicianship (and Ylva Erikssonís voice) are brought to a new level, partly as the band actually tried this time around. My kids love this band and the Viking lore that they bring with them which only makes me love this album even more!

#8) En Minor: When The Cold Truth Has Worn Its Miserable Welcome Out (USA)
This one was a sincere surprise. I havenít historically liked any of Philís projects outside of Pantera and Down and even went into this record with hesitation. However, it features a brooding melancholy which is only improved by Philís guttural vocal efforts. There are a few skippable tracks here, but the good ones are simply fantastic and this record was on replay for a few weeks in the latter half of 2020. I donít return to it as much, but when I do, Iím immediately reminded why I love it. It certainly is unique and quite different than most other entries on this list.

#7) Soilwork: A Whisp Of The Atlantic (Sweden)
After releasing three "singles" following the somewhat-disappointing Verkligheten in 2019, news broke of an EP collecting those alongside a 16-minute Soilwork song. As odd as that sounded, and my initial listens didnít give me reason to believe it worked well, the track eventually grew on me. As a whole, this EP does feel a bit scattered and less cohesive. But such is my love of this group that mediocre Soilwork is better than most bands on a good day. (to be clear, bad Soilwork is particularly bad!) Now I enjoy this release as if it werenít a compilation of singles...but not enough for it to warrant anything above #7 on my 2020 list.

#6) XIV Dark Centuries: Waldvolk (Germany)
Categorized as German, pagan metal, just the genre itself gives you a sense of what to expect. While this hardly pushes any boundaries and is really middle-of-the-line heathen music - itís the best new stuff Iíve heard in a while and I thoroughly enjoyed my time listening this past year. Good enough for this list, at least!

#5) Hšllas: Conundrum (Sweden)
One of my most-anticipated releases of the year, Hšllas is like Brothers Of Metal in that I discovered them at the Sweden Rock 2019 Festival. So enamored I became with their sound that I counted the days until Conundrumís release. Unfortunately, there was no way this could live up to their debut LP. Several songs are quite catchy including the albumís finale, but it's a more uneven album, a plight which their first record didn't suffer. The highs soar indeed but are held back by a few "just ok" songs.

#4) Carcass: Despicable (UK)
The follow-up to 2013ís #3 album, Surgical Steel was another of my highly-anticipated 2020 releases. Unfortunately, that damn Covid messed with plans and instead we only got an EP by the legendary UK band. The four-song offering was exactly what I yearned for with the initial two tracks being simply incredible. Riffs, drums, production, complexity - this EP has everything I love about the band - except more tracks. Simple and to the point, just like this review. I just want moar.

#3) Skyforest: A New Dawn (Russia)
Never has a Russian band placed in the top of my lists, so a #3 showing by newcomer Skyforest is surprising indeed! Atmospheric/post-black metal? Genre tags donít always convey things perfectly, but neither the category nor the country of origin matter when listening to this vast, sprawling, epic music. Itís droning and emotional even if itís not incredibly ambitious. Another band Iíd never heard prior, this one-man project (with an extra member just for clean vocals) produced a spectacular entry that was entirely fitting for my feelings in 2020 - half hopeful, half bleak and hopeless. I love this album.

#2) Mors Principium Est: Seven (Finland) Another band Iíd never heard before (this is the 5th on this yearís list!), my friend mentioned how Iíd probably like this veteran Finnish group. He was right. While the only real member appears to be from the U.K. and not Finland itself, the music has Scandinavian roots and sounds positively incredible. From the riffs to the production, this is the whole package and really represents everything I love about metal music. Unfortunately, thereís always another pesky Finnish band standing in the way of AotY contenders.

#1) Havukruunu: Uinuos SyŲmein Sota (Finland) Iím not entirely sure how I came across Havukruunu but the country + genre tag probably helped pique my interest. It took virtually no time for this band (along with their back catalogue) to become one of my favorite of recent time. Moonsorrow they are not (is anyone?) but the sheer magnitude of their sound is hard to match. Fast, raw, raspy, melodic, chunky, epic and entirely Finnish, the only real downside to Uinos SyŲmein Sota is the fact that their prior album, 2017ís Kelle Surut Sot is superior to this entry. Damn, just thinking about this band makes me want to turn it on and turn it up. Theyíve got thrashy parts, super fast sections and vocals that I simply love, despite not having a clue WTF theyíre saying. Par for the course for us metal folk, I know. Easy AotY crown this year. I knew within a day or two that this would win. Fuck yeah!

Top 11 of 2020
1. Havukruunu Uinuos SyŲmein Sota
2. Mors Principium Est Seven
3. Skyforest A New Dawn
4. Carcass Despicable
5. Hšllas Conundrum
6. XIV Dark Centuries Waldvolk
7. Soilwork A Whisp Of The Atlantic
8. En Minor When The Cold Truth Has Worn Its Miserable Welcome Out
9. Brothers Of Metal Emblas Saga
10. Ymir Ymir
11. Alestorm Curse Of The Crystal Coconut