Crushingly excellent metal albums from 2020

After the year we've had, I'll happily be pummeled into mist by these high quality metal records

This year saw the release of a ton of standout metal albums, so if you spent your quarantine growing out your hair, now’s the time to start headbanging.

Bütcher – 666 Goats Carry My Chariot

Bütcher’s 666 Goats Carry My Chariot is possibly 2020’s most FUN metal album. While ostensibly a speed-metal album, the Belgian band expertly pays tribute to almost every sub-genre of metal you can imagine, and does so astonishingly well. On top of it all, vocalist R Hellshrieker is an outright monster behind the microphone, giving us arguably the best vocal performance on a metal album this year.


Ulcerate – Stare Into Death And Be Still

You’ll find Ulcerate’s Stare Into Death And Be Still on many best-of lists this year for good reason. This is the New Zealand-based trio’s sixth studio album, and it absolutely crushes. The crystal sharp production binds together a gloomy brooding atmosphere with relentlessly battering riffs and a surprisingly high dose of anthemic melody.


Eternal Champion – Ravening Iron

Alright, since I already declared 666 Goats Carry My Chariot the most fun metal record of 2020, Ravening Iron would be the next in line to earn that completely arbitrary title. If you’re wondering what the album sounds like, just take a look at its cover (illustrated by veteran artist Ken Kelly who created iconic cover art for Kiss and Manowar) depicting a flaming dragon head wrapped around a serpentine-coiled altar piled high with skulls, upon which is seated a busty goddess wearing metallic underwear. It’s exactly that but in audio form.


Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou – May Our Chambers Be Full

After Emma Ruth Rundle and Thou performed together for a Misfits tribute set in 2019, audiences were salivating at the idea of further partnership. Luckily, this year the eclectic songwriter and stoner/sludge metal noisemakers connected to create one of the most interesting and haunting releases of 2020. While both acts are fantastic in their own right, they definitely come together to enhance the best qualities in each other’s work on this album.


Necrot – Mortal

After Oakland-based Death metal trio Necrot exploded onto the scene with their 2017 breakout record Blood Offerings, they returned this year with an explosively heavy and relentless thirty-eight minutes that manages to push boundaries while remaining rooted in raw, classic death metal.


Skeleton – Skeleton

Expertly combining black metal and trash, the debut LP from Austin, Texas-based black/death/speed trio Skeleton expeditiously sunders the flesh from your paltry bones (which afterwards will wander the planet professing to everyone how good this album is).


Oranssi Pazuzu – Mestarin kynsi

Genre-defying Oranssi Pazuzu returned in 2020 with their fifth studio album Mestarin kynsi. The Finnish-based band weaves black metal, psychedelic rock, space rock, and progressive metal into densely layered trancelike ruminations.


Havukruunu – Uinuos Syömein Sota

Havukruunu has been around since 2005 but they surely cultivated a swarm of new fans this year after their third full-length album Uinuos Syömein Sota turned out to be a overwhelmingly highly-regarded masterpiece.


Code Orange – Underneath

As COVID-19 put the kibosh on concerts, many artists turned to livestreaming their performances, and few did them as well as Pittsburgh’s Code Orange. Their 2020 sophomore release Underneath showcases the band seamlessly incorporating an even heavier dose of industrial metal into their hardcore sound. During the two years spent obsessively creating this record, the band reached out to artists like Grammy-winning producer Chris Venna (who worked previously as a long-time drummer for Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson) and metalcore veteran Greg Puciato of the Dillinger Escape Plan to help nail down the sound they were going for.


Black Curse – Endless Wound

Another great band out of Denver, Black Curse features members from the city’s brilliant metal scene, including Khemmis, Spectral Voice and Blood Incantation (who released one of last year’s best death metal records.) A blistering journey into death, Endless Wound is going to make you feel exactly like the poor schmuck on the album cover.


The Ocean – Phanerozoic II

The highly anticipated sequel to 2018’s Phanerozoic I, Germany’s The Ocean returned this year to finish their sprawling scientific concept album. The album series chronicles the history of Earth from the Cambrian Explosion to present day, with each song diving into a different geological period.


Mare Cognitum & Spectral Lore – Wanderers: Astrology of The Nine

In case an entire album about geological eras wasn’t nerdy enough for you, here’s a cosmic black metal ode to the planets of our solar system. A joint effort between Spectral Lore’s Ayloss and Mare Cognitum’s Jacob Buczarski, this monumental album is a sprawling two-hour journey through space as each track offers a stunning interpretation of each planet from Mercury to Pluto.


Gulch – Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress

Somewhere on the list of Things To Do When This Pandemic Has Been Conquered must include attending a live Gulch performance and subjecting one’s self to the guaranteed harm that comes along with entering the pit. The Santa Cruz, California-based outfit churned out the year’s best hardcore album, which has also received a great deal of praise in metal circles. Find me another “full-length” album under 16 minutes that will compel you to toss your own body down a staircase? I’ll wait. – Scott Lewis

Deftones – Ohms

The Deftones have been straddling a fine line between metal and melody for over 20 years now, and Chino Moreno and Co. have finally delivered the album that pulls from the finest moments in the entire catalogue. The soft-loud approach is hardly new, but with Ohms it’s never sounded so of-the-moment. – Scott

Terminal Nation – Holocene Extinction

So often, metal songwriters turn to fantasy to depict shockingly grim and awfully brutal concepts. But not Terminal Nation, who for inspiration look at the current state of our planet’s health (which is, to put it quite strongly, not good.) Doom, death metal and hardcore sounds swirl together to embody the utter hopelessness felt watching man-made climate change slowly destroy us in real time.


Napalm Death – Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism

It’s Napalm Death! There’s a reason these lads are a household name, and on this record they give you what you’ve come to expect from the band while simultaneously experimenting boldly with their sound. This is their SIXTEENTH album, but following their 2015 record Apex Predator, it comes after the longest gap between albums in the grindcore gods’ sprawling discography. The band continues their campaign to shed light on social and political injustices, of which there was no shortage of inspiration this year.


Primitive Man – Immersion

Primitive Man made a ton of best-of lists back in 2017 with their album Caustic. This year the Denver trio followed-up with the relentlessly smothering, nihilistic album Immersion, honing their signature mix of death metal, blackened noise and doom.


Esoctrilihum – Eternity Of Shaog (I, Voidhanger)

I think if the guy on this cover art listened to music it would actually be this album. Esoctrilihum is a solo project created by French musician Asthâghul, a “reluctant messenger of astral worlds beyond human comprehension.” The avant garde black metal sound on Eternity Of Shaog pairs well with its themes of demonic possession and deranged Lovecraftian gods, and is hands down one of the most unique metal albums this year.


Elder – Omens

Elder followed up their highly-acclaimed 2017 album Reflections of a Floating World with their proggiest record yet (the shortest song on this five-track record is over nine minutes long!) They remain steeped in their heavy stoner-metal sound while toeing the line of progressive rock with psychedelic grooves and mindbending synthesizers.


Hellripper – The Affair of the Poisons

An unrelenting, heart-palpitating experience from front to back, Hellripper’s The Affair of the Poisons is a black/speed/thrash metal masterpiece. Based out of Scotland, Hellripper is the creation of multiinstrumentalist James McBain, who wrote and recorded the entire album at his home in Aberdeen.


Krallice – Mass Cathexis

One of the year’s biggest surprises was the return of avant-garde black metal supergroup Krallice, dropping their latest album out of nowhere as they continue their journey into experimental, technical black metal. Comprised of members of legendary bands like Neurosis and Gorguts, Krallice is chalk full of musical talent, and paired with the production of Colin Marston they’ve once again released a decidedly killer sounding album.


Old Man Gloom – Seminar IX: Darkness of Being

Old Man Gloom, co-founded by Aaron Turner of Isis back in 2000, were prolific this year, releasing two new albums in their ongoing Seminar series. The Massachusetts-based post/sludge-metal act gifted us an early release of Seminar IX: Darkness of Being ahead of schedule due to the coronavirus lockdown. The record came together amidst the emotional turmoil surrounding the sudden tragic death of band member Caleb Scofield in 2018, and it seems evident that the band poured a ton of their raw grief and suffering into its creation.