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Modtoid Man’s Top Fifteen Metal Albums of 2020

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I have nothing profound to say about 2020 that isn’t already obvious or better said by others, suffice it to say while this year was rough for all of us, our problems stretch far beyond a single calendar year.

That’s why we like music, right? A reprieve from reality, a chance to escape our problems, maybe leave our corporeal forms for a time (shoutout to you astral projectors out there). No matter what, I always like talking shit about awesome music and that’s why I’m glad to be included in these types of articles. I hope you find something truly enjoyable here and in other people’s lists. :)

15. Fawn Limbs – Sleeper Vessels (Roman Numeral Records/Wolves and Vibrancy Records)

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am pals with the lead singer and guitarist for this band, but that honestly doesn’t change the fact that this album rips absolute shit in its own right and is totally my thing regardless. Fawn Limbs are a transatlantic trio built to destroy with blackened grindcore that feels dirty and violent. They deliver a raucous stampede of hypersensory assault only capable of the most dedicated dealers of sonic darkness. Mix in some noise elements and light industrial experimentation in tracks like “Photovoltaic Hum”, and Sleeper Vessels becomes a nightmarish endeavor only outdone by our own cold, unfeeling reality. What I’m trying to say is, it’s great!

14. Obsidian Kingdom – Meat Machine (SoM)

Progressive/post-metal from Spain probably sounds like a shoo-in for a list like this, provided you like that kind of thing, but Meat Machine is a bit of a hard sell for the traditionalist metalhead. Obsidian Kingdom are kind of all over the place on this record in the best way possible. Two vocalists using a mixture of clean and harsh styles, some alt metal accoutrements, sparse electronics, and a more open atmosphere are all things you can look to encounter. Between all the things you would expect and wouldn’t though, is an overwhelming sense of power, and an elegant one at that. This album is a marvel of songwriting and detail, sweeping you up in its macabre, tempestuous execution that feels genuinely pragmatic in subtle ways. It’s also one of two albums on this list that uses raw meat on its cover art.

13. Cryptic Shift – Visitations From Enceladus (Blood Harvest)

Cryptic Shift fill the void for those of us looking for supremely entertaining, conceptually progressive thrash/death metal with a cosmic slant. It’s atmospheric, mechanical, extraterrestrial, and a ton of fun to nod your head to. The evocation of legends like Death and Cynic (even some very subtle Satriani with the solos) is very real, but the English quartet retain an identity as imposing as an intergalactic dreadnought ship. And just so you know they ain’t fucking around, the album starts with a mammoth 26-minute song. It’s all built on the framework of a dense science-fiction narrative too, so pull up the lyrics and get ready to dig in!

12. Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou – May Our Chambers Be Full (Sacred Bones Records)

So… this kind of came out of nowhere. I mean, the album was announced and hyped well ahead of release, but I just didn’t expect for it to hit so hard. Maybe I was misled by the seemingly odd pairing – a dark folk singer from Louisville and a sludge metal band from Baton Rouge linking up isn’t the most likely of things, but their genre-spanning work that places their strengths first and foremost is quite the winner. Forming something of an amalgamation of doom metal, folk, and grunge, May Our Chambers Be Full is a wildly affective, magical purge of all the woes that irk us to the core, known or not. It’s genuine, sullen, and raw.  Collab of the year, easily.

11. REZN – Chaotic Divine (Independent)

Speaking of doomy stuff, holy shit – REZN came through recently with the best doom/psychedelic metal album I’ve heard in a while. Masterful writing, awesome atmosphere, and just the right amount of reverb waviness to give you that washed-out psych feeling. Chaotic Divine may play fast and loose with the chaos, but the divine is ever present through the hour-plus runtime. There’s saxophone too! Just an absolutely massive and adventurous take on this type of music that feels interdimensional and serene. “Waves of Sand” is one of the most finely crafted tracks I’ve heard this year.

10. Avandra – Skylighting (Layered Reality Productions)

Them Puerto Rican proggers did it again! Skylighting is a more fleshed out, mature take on their philosophical progressive metal that makes some neat turns with their formula and gets more explicitly topical. It’s better in a few ways than their last album – which was on my list from last year – and shows them heading in a good direction with their top-notch songwriting and stellar performances that never get overly noodly and showy to detract from the cohesion and introspective tone. Great vocals too, as always! Avandra have this extra fine balance of feeling larger-than-life and calming, expertly displayed on songs like “Life Is Not a Circle, but a Sphere.”

9. PYRE – Come Home (Independent)

With no Mutoid Man album this year, I had to get my kicks elsewhere and let me tell you, PYRE come damn close to delivering the same high energy dick-kickery. Made of punk-infused thrashy greatness, Come Home is a concept album following someone known only as the Hero and his dog, the Goodest Boy. It’s a veritable journey, action packed with monstrous melodies, breakneck speed, and the right amount of everything else made of octane and adrenaline. It starts and never stops, that is until the records ends. Unless you hit that loop button which you’ll definitely wanna do after you hear the sheer punch in songs like “Smite with Hex” and “The Bummer of ‘69.”

8. King Witch- Body of Light (Listenable Records)

Real talk: Laura Donnelly is probably the best metal singer out right now. I dare you to listen to “Of Rock and Stone” and not be impressed by the sheer dominance of her craft. Ever since their 2018 Under the Mountain LP, I’ve been utterly enthralled with the Scottish band’s brand of heavy/classic doom metal, flying high on the epic tone that was so prominently used by many classic bands. I still get chills listening to Body of Light and the numerous setpieces it houses throughout. It’s a surprisingly graceful take on the genre, but one that doesn’t compromise any of the capital-H Heavy aspects that make it a force to be reckoned with. King Witch would be a household name were they active decades ago – it’s never too late to rise to the top though.

7. Cursed Mantis – Cursed Mantis, or: The Search for Cheese in Space (Independent)

This is definitely my ‘what the fuck?’ pick of the year. Made up of synth/electronic artist Gloom Influx, noise artist/actual human pig The Toilet, and alt-pop singer Alojla, Cursed Mantis present a synthgrind opera for the ages. A curse has befallen a race of alien mantises (mantii?) and now the only food that will sustain them is… cheese. Informed by Ziltoid-era Devin Townsend shenanigans, the story is fit for a classic 2000s Newgrounds Flash cartoon, but the music, which warps from thrashy breakbeats to synthy symphonic chiptune ballads, is made for… no one in particular. Except me – I love it. Weird, fun, and truly different. Can’t wait for the sequel where they fight the race of space otters for cheesy domination (this is speculative).

6. Volcanova – Radical Waves (The Sign Records)

It’s not hard to get me interested in some stoner rock or metal. I love it – I love the dedication to riffs, the catchiness, and the often fun and cushy (or should I say ‘kushy’) beanbag-esque vibes that come with it all. Volcanova went above and beyond by not taking themselves at all serious while demonstrating some serious musicianship and a knack for writing that really drove them to the top of the pile in the genre this year. And they’re from Iceland?! Don’t see that too often. Get a dimebag from your pal Sushi Sam, blaze it, and prepare for some real succulent, spreadable jams.

5. SUNDR – Solar Ships (Crucible)

Delving into SUNDR’s bleak, unforgiving space trek was one of the most affecting experiences I had with music this year. Setting itself apart from other cosmically-oriented albums on this list, Solar Ships basks in abstract darkness, loneliness, and the inability to come to terms with a fate worse than death. It’s essentially the soundtrack to being marooned in a sea of stars with no hope of rescue, dwindling resources, and no one to keep you company except your own decaying sanity. Some of the finest post-metal available in 2020, or otherwise.

4. Terminal Nation – Holocene Extinction (20 Buck Spin)

When I first heard Holocene Extinction, I was preeeetty certain I wouldn’t hear anything more pissed off this year in music – I was right. The Arkansas band revel in the muck of contemporary sociopolitics in America just long enough to fling it right back in its face with death-laden hardcore that is among the feircest I’ve heard all year. With this debut album, Stan Liszewski became one of my favorite vocalists in recent memory because of how he channels the righteous anger so many of us feel with unyielding fervor. Terminal Nation isn’t just a band, but a diagnosis for us all, and the clock is fucking ticking away.

3. Xythlia – Immortality Through Quantum Suicide (Independent)

Xythlia took my ass by storm this year. Out of nowhere, here was this new galaxy-sized project from Nick Stanger (Ashbringer, Wishfield), who is the only person to be heard on this album – impressive right out the gate. Ceaseless and spurning, this is not for the light of heart. Around every corner is a planet-sized fist ready to pulverize you in the form of technical, grinding death metal that only has two speeds: fast and faster. This is no pretentious guitar wankfest though, rather a weapons-grade trip through a brutal transcendence that harbors no quarter. Immortality Through Quantum Suicide is the eulogy for someone who will die a thousand cosmic deaths, doomed to be repeated until the end of all time.

2. The Chemical Mind – That Benign Terror (Independent)

Those that read last year’s list of mine probably saw this coming. I was very happy to introduce some of you to The Chemical Mind’s magical, acerbic take on atmospheric black metal. This year, I’m happier, yet also confounded, to report that the man behind the project, Nick Krueger, has outdone himself with That Benign Terror. With a darker, more mature structure and execution, Krueger delivered an outstanding follow up to Beneath the Shadow It Casts’ more  whimsical take that somehow manages to look sophomoric in comparison. 

There’s truly frightening moments on here, where you can’t help but feel caught in a vortex of vantablack atmosphere and gnashing instrumentation the likes of which I haven’t encountered since Thantifaxath was around. I recommend listening along with the lyrics. Try your best to put a name to the eponymous terror, but regardless of your success in doing so, your soul feels heavier after the experience, as if burdened by something unseen and vaguely threatening.

1. Melted Bodies – Enjoy Yourself (Plastic Smiles)

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d find a band that so expertly captures the elated feeling I got from music when I was younger and still discovering so many new corners of the medium. The unchained and erratic approach to alternative, heavy music from Melted Bodies never gets easier to explain even though I’ve tried multiple times since their debut dropped in September. From predatory, for-profit insurance companies and anxiety, to pedophiles and rampant consumerism, absolutely nothing is safe from complete atomization by the LA quartet who sound like the soundtrack for the sickest Adult Swim cartoon you’ve never seen, with vocals that embody the entropic energy of some of my faves like Mike Patton, Jello Biafra, and Serj Tankian.

I feel so understood by this album, like it was made for me. It checks nearly all my boxes. This is one of those once-in-a-generation bands that pull in influences from all directions with an oversized tractor beam only to blend them all together into a tasty mush with a lot of heart and nary a fuck to give with regards to conventions, and none of that flair stops at their music – check their videos for similar secretions of wild, vivid, and downright gross art. We don’t deserve Melted Bodies.

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