It’s obviously tricky to do a snappy write up of 2020 without sounding morose, so I’ll stick with some positives. Before the end of live music I managed to see some outstanding UK bands who do our scene proud, Bismuth in the Black Heart on a sunny January Saturday afternoon, Leeched leading a savage triple header with Geist and Tuskar and a trip to Bristol to see Torpor slay with the sadly now departed Surya and Sonance.
We’ll miss them both but the quality of music produced this year, both within and without our shores, suggests the scene will be back in rude health when more than two of us can be in a room together. It seems some of the gap left by live creativity was replaced with studio work as the recorded output from the sludge, doom and post-metal scenes this year was fantastic. Regardless, here’s a top ten….
10. Causa Sui ‘Szabodelico’
Causa Sui return with another slab of gorgeous summer time psychadelia. The record is a tribute to legendary jazz guitarist Gabor Szabo while also fitting coherently into the Causa Sui back catalogue. From the catchy Under the Spell to the more free-form title track this is a wonderful album, if more suited to long sunny days than mid -winter lockdowns. Perhaps it is exactly the right thing to shift some moods!
Label: El Paraiso Records
9. Orsak:Oslo ‘Skimmer’
A brief three track EP Skimmer showcases Orsak:Oslo’s warm and pleasing form of psychedelic rock. With a gorgeous guitar tone and a rhythm section that is reminiscent of Yawning Man, this is a band that all fans of instrumental rock should get involved with. Beautiful melodies and excellent progressions along with a mournful guitar tone on Cloudburst make this 16 minutes of unbridled psych fun. A longer release would doubtlessly have ranked higher.
Label: Mulletproof Records
8. King Buffalo ‘Dead Star’
A strange, if ultimately pleasing release from the grooviest band to have come out of Rochester, NY. This record is more eclectic in influences than the excellent Longing To Be The Mountain, with King Buffalo incorporating both harder, more metallic sections and poppier segments. Points for artwork, the vinyl is accompanied by an illustration evocative of 80s pulp and pinball culture.
7. Mountain Caller ‘Chronicles I: The Truthseeker’
The Truthseeker is an ambitious debut from Mountain Caller encompassing prog, stoner, psych and math rock influences. This is brave songwriting with a cinematic feel equal to the best post-rock while maintaining a warm aesthetic, in part due to the excellent production. A band to watch out for, easily showing potential to go on to be one of the most important UK underground acts.
Label: New Heavy Sounds
6. Elder ‘Omens’
Yet more proggy goodness from the guys in Elder. Keys higher in the mix, ever improving vocals from frontman Nick DiSalvo, crunching basslines and enlightened percussion from new drummer Georg Edert. It’s not clear whether a band can be both progressive and classical, but on this record Elder get pretty damn close. Whatever, all of their releases since Dead Roots Stirring will be seen as classics a decade from now. The only negative about Omens is it is so inevitable that it will end up in top 10s all over. Great work from the most important band in psychedelic rock right now.
5. Leeched ‘To Dull The Blades Of Your Abuse’
A brutally nihilistic album. Incorporating more industrial sounds than previously has made Leeched even heavier than before. With occasional slower tempo forays into doom and sludge seeming to increase the visceral impact of the blast beats and howled vocals when they return, To Dull The Blades Of Your Abuse is an album entirely devoid of niceties or compromise. These songs were outstanding live in January. Highly recommended.
Label: Prosthetic Records
4. Vile Creature ‘Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm!’
Previous release Cast Of Static And Smoke confirmed Vile Creature’s place as one of the most vital bands in sludge and the follow up, Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm!, has shown they’ve used the time to add more range to their sound. Less nihilistic that its predecessor and featuring sections of choral vocals to add light, this is a much less oppressive release than expected. When they cut loose this drum and guitar duo remain totally savage, particularly on album stand out You Who Has Never Slept.
Label: Prosthetic Records
3. Insect Ark ‘The Vanishing’
Experimental drone from Dana Schechter and Andy Patterson of Insect Ark. Hints of Americana creep in throughout The Vanishing which, alongside the vast and cinematic sound, gives the impression of the soundtrack to a doomed journey. Lush lap guitar, synth, bass and drums roll and crash over each other on long droning songs. This now feels like music from another era as their 12th March London show was my last. A fitting record for a condemned year.
Label: Profound Lore Records
= 1. Sumac ‘May You be Held’
With a natural successor to the wonderful Love In Shadow, Sumac return with more crushingly heavy noodlings. Brian Cook and Nick Yacyshyn on bass and percussion provide some anchor to Aaron Turner’s muscular yet progressive post metal riffing, but not much. The time spent in Japan with Keiji Haino is bearing remarkable fruit for Sumac as they seem now totally unencumbered by any restrictions inherent in our definitions of heavy and metal. This feels like free form doom, and while not immediate and probably not for many, it’s another remarkable release in the canon of Mr A Turner.
Label: Thrill Jockey Records
= 1. Bell Witch And Aerial Ruin ‘Stygian Bough Volume I’
A truly remarkable record and one that was always destined to be a top pick of the year. Building upon their collaboration on the landmark Mirror Reaper album Stygian Bough Volume I sees Erik Muggridge of Aerial Ruin further embedded in the deathly realm of Bell Witch. The incredible tone of Dylan Desmond’s 6 string bass brings the crushing heavy sections that long time fans will appreciate, while the mournful contributions of Muggridge allow enough light to balance the shade. Stand out moments include the two-part Heaven Torn Low and beautifully lush progressive doom section towards the end of The Unbodied Air. A triumph of a record by a band at the peak of its powers.
Label: Profound Lore Records
Notable mentions go to Lowrider, Yuri Gagarin and IAH for excellent stoner/psych records this year, providing some light hearted relief amongst 2020’s ongoing strop. Antethic for a great album of stripped down and synth led post something, and Hundred Year Old Man for their fantastic Live At Epic Fest release. Wren in particular were very unlucky to not make this list with their June release Groundswells, a swirling cacophony of post-metal riffage.
Scribed by: Ian M