Look, fuck intros, let’s just get on with it. The only things that you need to know about the year are that REVEAL‘s incredible Scissorgod was originally number one on this list, until I realised that it was actually released in December 2019! And that the sheer volume of music I’m interested in released this year, and still catching up with, is such that I estimate it could be 2023 by the time I’ve heard everything from 2020 I want to. I’m going all albums here because, frankly, I had to limit myself somehow.
10. Alison Cotton ‘Only Darkness Now’
I’ve not long reviewed this so I won’t go over it again, other than to repeat that it’s truly mesmerising and beautiful, and if anyone wants to flog me Alison Cotton‘s first LP, All Is Quiet At The Ancient Theatre, on vinyl, for non Discogs prices, you might please drop me a line. I’ll be here listening to this and re-reading Hellebore zine. Ta.
9. Henrik Palm ‘Poverty Metal’
I could honestly have put any of the projects by dark hearts of the Unearthed Mirrors alumni here – but young Henrik Palm‘s sophomore effort Poverty Metal was the one that really dug itself into my brain. Angst ridden and catchy in equal measure, sitting between grandiose rock and brooding tension, this is an album I find I have to listen to on repeat whenever I put it on. Those CopShotCop keyboards on Bully alone merit a top ten position and that’s just the opener.
Label: Svart Records
8. Melkbelly ‘PITH’
If Kairon; IRSE! provided comfort this year, Melkbelly provided fun. A mischievous, spiky little imp of a record, I fell in love with this Chicago mob’s debut a few years back and PITH did nothing to change that. If you’ve never heard Melkbelly, the best way I can explain them is that they’re the answer to the question ‘What would it be like if The Breeders had been on Load Records?’. If that doesn’t immediately make you want to hear them, well…your loss.
Label: Wax Nine Records
7. Jaye Jayle ‘An Alcoholic Blue Bird’ & ‘Prisyn’
Evan Patterson released two records in 2020, one a brief digital release, one the more widespread album via Sargeant House. While very different, I find it impossible here to separate them. Billed as a collection of acoustic demos, Blue Bird shows a side of him that clearly cares for the darker end of blues and folk, specks of both glinting through the songs, meshed within his own musical lexicon. Prisyn on the other hand, is the manifestation of a side of him that is in awe of Hansa studios classic and modern technology, a freewheeling, and admittedly Bowie inspired, album length view of what feels like the quiet descent, into nervous mania via a series of synthetic musical vignettes. Patterson is the David Lynch of underground American rock music and these two albums show a fascinating ability to work in different forms, without forgoing personality.
6. The Heliocentrics ‘Infinity Of Now’
I don’t feel like I have the accurate language to describe Infinity Of Now, but I’ll try. It appeals to the same part of my brain that loves Portishead, and if their take on music was filtering hip hop and vintage library/soundtrack music into something darker, I guess the The Heliocentrics do the same thing with jazz and krautrock? No, that still doesn’t explain it. Imagine some sort of massive groove driven jam session between Annette Peacock, Can and Sun Ra’s Arkestra. Only it’s taking place on the surface of some enormous asteroid that’s hurtling towards earth on a path for destruction. Does that help? No? Oh well. The complimentary Telemetric Sounds that followed shortly after won’t help you either, but it’s also well worth a listen. And speaking of artists who put out two albums this year…
Label: Madlib Invazion
5. Exhalants ‘Atonement’
I’ve very much been enjoying the renaissance of noise-rock creeping out of the US on labels like Learning Curve, Hex and Reptilian over the last few years and there were some gems this year from that quarter, but this here Exhalants album was the ace in the pack. Rather than just bludgeon, Atonement carried an emotional weight, and a slightly more mature approach than many of their volume dealing peers, immediately putting them to the front as a force to be reckoned with. If any band were to break out from this scene into wider acclaim, my money would be on these guys.
Label: Hex Records
4. Herxheim ‘Incised Arrival’
I heard a lot of good metal this year but very little great metal. Herxheim is exceptional .The wild gothic pomposity and spectral dread that bleeds from this record is something special. Incised Arrival is riddled with the Old Coffin Spirit. I described this elsewhere as sounding like it was recorded during a séance in a haunted castle, and that still sums it up – lo-fi spooky doom/death/black metal with horror soundtrack and goth rock influences creeping in. It’s original, it’s occasionally campy and it’s heavy as fuck. The musical equivalent of a Coffin Joe film. Highly, highly recommended.
Label: I Voidhanger Records
3. FACS ‘Void Moments’
A glacial, nocturnal record by FACS, a trio who I often see referred to as post-punk, but that term seems to sell them short. It’s a claustrophobic, paranoid thing that morphs clanging guitars into liquid and has a rhythm section that seems like it was grafted out of marble and telephone wires. There’s something surreal about Void Moments and it often feels like a dream that’s about to turn bad. Probably more sinister than a thousand metal records that came out this year. And a whole lot more addictive for that matter.
Label: Trouble In Mind Records
2. Oranssi Pazuzu ‘Mestarin Kynsi’
If Polysomn (see below) was an exploration of a vivid universe, this album by their countrymen explored the more vibrant colours at the darker end of the spectrum, and both bands share a fearless disregard for musical tradition as well as a nationality. Oranssi Pazuzu have always been a unique beast but this one really did ram home just how ‘out there’ they are. They may be rooted in black metal, but they’ve long outgrown that tag, touching on everything from krautrock, to minimalism, to whatever it is that’s going on at the start of Kuulen ääniä maan alta. Absolutely unlike anything else I heard this year and I feel like I’m still hearing new things every time I listen. Exhilarating.
Label: Nuclear Blast
1. Kairon; IRSE! ‘Polysomn’
Polysomn really was a ray of sunshine and a form of comfort in a lightless tunnel of a year. An uplifting and colourful collection filled with a strange cosmic joy. Easily my most listened to record from this year and my favourite release of 2020 by some distance. An incredible step forward from a band whose blend of heavy prog, psychedelia and shoegaze has no right to work as well as it does. In a year where travel was pretty much impossible, Kairon; IRSE! give us the luxury of feeling like we’re exploring other worlds.
Label: Svart Records
Let’s pretend this was a top twenty, in which case the 11-20 are albums by Venus Star, Napalm Death, Wax Chattels, Maggot Heart, Worm, Baxaxaxa, JG Thirlwell & Simon Steensland, Third Island, Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou andthe magnificent PAGA
Lingua Ignota’s O Ruthless Great Divine Director easily takes honours as the song of the year for me, probably the finest five or so minutes of music I heard in 2020 and as powerful on the 100th listen as the first. On the other end of the spectrum, Australian duo Chimers dropped a debut 7″, Mono, that was a glorious garage pop explosion which hasn’t been out of my head since first hearing it. Permission, Thin, GELD and Gumming vaguely rekindled my interest in hardcore punk, by not just staying within the genre parameters but warping them ever so slightly. And yes, like seemingly anyone with even a vague interest in black metal, I loved those Lamp Of Murmurr and Stormkeep releases too, and Exaugurate’s Chasm Of Rapturous Delirium EP and Apparition’s 7″were cream of the death metal crop for me.
I heard quite a pile of good demos. There are two I really feel strongly need a mention: Ireland’s own Procession Of Spectres whose expansive and atmospheric death/black metal was seriously impressive and will turn many a head in the years to come, and Dridge whose transformation from generic doom/death band into sounding like some lost collaboration between Rozz Williams and Stephen O’Malley on the three song Ruby release in January was nothing short of staggering. Demos by Chat Pile received the vinyl treatment this year and narrowly missed my top ten for the same ‘they didn’t originally come out in 2020’ reason as Reveal.
I could go on but look, we’d be here all day. If it was on Flenser, Amor Fati, 20 Buck Spin, Svart or Box Records you can take that I liked it. If it involved members of Full of Hell or was a hip-hop record produced by Wolfagram, I probably liked it. If it was on Cruel Nature, Total Black, Outsider Art, Bloxham Tapes or Rotted Life it’s probably in my to listen to pile along with the new Anna Von Hauswolff, Urfaust and Neubauten albums I still haven’t gotten to yet.
Scribed by: Jamie Grimes