2020. Unprecedented times. Made us realise what’s really important. Our modern lives really do exist on a knife-edge. Bill Gates now controls my 90-year-old neighbour cos she’s had the vaccine. Etc, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah. One thing I will say without being so facetious is that I’ve probably listened to less heavy and extreme music this year than I have for a long, long time.
I put this down to being at home more, where I’m just as likely to throw on an old Philly soul record as I am to crank out some Napalm Death. That said, I’ve come up with a heavy(ish) top ten for the consideration of the jury.
10. Kirk Windstein ‘Dream In Motion’
I’m a huge fan of Crowbar – indeed I own everything Kirk Windstein has ever played on – so a solo album was a great prospect. I’d expected a more late-70s inspired hard rock affair if I’m honest (see spot #4 on this list), but instead what we got is an album chock-full of the sort of melodic and cathartic tracks that Crowbar records usually have one of. It’s great, and I love it…but it does just make me think, ‘Kirk; Crowbar is your band, so if you wanna put more of this sorta stuff on the records then just do it!’. More recent Crowbar records have become less diverse than the earlier platters, but Dream In Motion shows that Kirk is still writing interesting stuff in spades.
Label: eOne Music
9. Pallbearer ‘Forgotten Days’
I don’t think I’m the only person here who would say that their affection for Pallbearer’s records has waned with each release. I still absolutely love their debut, but by the time Heartless came around I was kind of resigned to diminishing returns. Then Forgotten Days rocks up. I’m not gonna say it goes blow for blow with their debut, but it’s a welcome return to form and keeps Pallbearer on the ‘automatic purchase’ list for at least their next album.
Label: Nuclear Blast
8. Sepultura ‘Quadra’
It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve been disappointed before; the arrival of a new Sepultura album will always bring out an excited 14-year-old David. They were so intrinsic to my early experiences of gigs and festivals (anyone remember the burger van being set on fire during their Donington ’94 set?) that Quadra was anticipated in the same way that I would be excited by the prospect of knowing my first girlfriend had been invited round for tea. I’m happy to report that my first girlfriend is different, but still packs a punch, as does Quadra. Ignore ‘there are four themes running through it’ nonsense – it’s just a really well sequenced record.
Label: Nuclear Blast
7. Yatra ‘All Is Lost’
All Is Lost is an album I reviewed here on The Shaman, and it’s remained on heavy rotation ever since. It’s a glorious disgusting sounding record. There’s just enough variety and subtlety to make it an enjoyable hammer to the head. It’s a ‘lockdown album’ in the truest sense and will always be part of the soundtrack to this year. Yatra are a band I’ll be making a point of following in future, and one that I really hope make it over to the UK sometime soon.
Label: Grimoire Records
6. Sound Of Origin ‘The All Seeing Eye’
Sound Of Origin’s All Seeing Eye is another album that I discussed in these very pages, and again it has stayed with me, so I’m glad I gave it such a strong review at the time. Over time the ‘oh, doesn’t he sound like Layne Staley’ thoughts have completely gone away, but what hasn’t diminished is my love of the riffs. There is so much to appreciate here, and it’s all so well recorded and mixed that it jumps out of your speakers with real heft and energy.
Label: APF Records
5. Deftones ‘Ohms’
To my mind Deftones are the most consistent bands I follow. Whilst I have some clear favourites in their discography, I don’t think they’ve ever made anything less than a solid album, and most are stellar. Ohms is a throwback to their earlier records such as Around The Fur and White Pony, and as a result has been met with open arms in my house. Whilst it’s an immediate album, it also has a clever way of revealing more layers the more you listen to it.
Label: Reprise Records
4. Thin Lizzy ‘Rock Legends’ Box Set
Thin Lizzy’s Rock Legends features so many great demo and alternative versions, and in brilliant sound quality too. Oh, and a hardback book which reproduces all of their tour programmes. I’m a sucker for a good box set! If you’re a fan but missed out on this then be prepared to open your wallet pretty wide…it sold out a couple of weeks after being released.
3. Elder ‘Omens’
I’ve always liked Elder, but none of their previous albums have quite scaled the heights that they might have. Well Omens sorts that out good and proper – it’s a belter of a record (indeed I’m listening to it as I type this piece). It balances the prog elements with massive hooks, and unlike previous albums it maintains the quality throughout. At times it reminds me of Cave-In’s Antenna record, which has always been a favourite of mine (despite proper Cave-In fans disowning it!). It’s also a really positive sounding album, which has been a bit of a blessing at times this year.
2. Thou & Emma Ruth Rundle ‘May Our Chambers Be Full’
This is an album that I was excited about as soon as I heard that the collaboration was happening. I’ve been a fan of Thou for a number of years and Emma Ruth Rundle landed on my radar quite by accident in 2019 and I quickly devoured everything she’d done to that point. May Our Chambers Be Full is a record that could have been released at any point in the last 30 years, and it would sound both fresh and comforting. It’s also a relatively short album….never succumb to the idea that thirty six minutes isn’t enough. Oh, and Ancestral Recall is my song of the year!
Label: Sacred Bones Records
1. ILS ‘Curse’
It’s like Unsane developed a heavy love of Newcastle Brown Ale and as a result started to sound even more pissed off and erratic! I loved the sound of Curse as soon as it first blasted through my office speakers…in fact I had to down-tools and go downstairs to play it through my main system immediately to check ILS were as good as I thought they were…and they were. In the absence of live shows, this is the album that I have most often played loud and bounced off the walls to. It’s also the album I’ve shared with the most people, whether they wanted to hear it or not. If you haven’t heard it, then make it a Christmas present to yourself!
Label: POGO Records
Taylor Swift ‘Folklore’ …seriously, it’s a great record!
Paradise Lost ‘Obsidian’
Black Crown Initiate ‘Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape’
Not albums, but it would be remiss of me not to mention Kadavar who’s free stream early on in lockdown was great, and Down, who’s Nola 25th Anniversary Show was my highlight of the year.
Scribed by: David J McLaren