Top Ten Of 2020: Mark Hunt-Bryden
Ah, 2020… I personally spent the tail end of 2019 looking forward to New Year’s day and proclaimed (somewhat prematurely it seems) that following a massive traumatic upheaval in my person life ‘Next year will be my year’. If by that I meant sitting at home watching Tiger King and not seeing my friends, then I guess I aced it, congratulations 2020, I have completed Netflix and I’m now bored of Porn…
Still as I type this, I can look back on a year that has produced some awesome music, even if my last gig seeing 3Teeth in Bristol was some nine months ago and feels like something that happened to someone else. Stay safe everyone, keep washing your hands and let’s hope we can all meet again in a sweat filled room with a beer and a band soon.
10. Desert Storm ‘Omens’
It is probably a testament to the quality and sheer volume of music I’ve been able to consume this year that the latest album from Oxford’s hardest hitting stoner metal bruisers Desert Storm is only number ten on my list. By far the best album amongst a series of already good releases, Omens (review) builds on their progression and acclaim of 2015’s Omniscient and 2018’s Sentinels to create what feels like a career defining moment where they’ve captured their vision perfectly. From the knife edge dynamics of Black Bile to the power of Pain, Grief And Suffering and the tenderness of Rebirth, Omens tells a story from start to finish in a most impressive manner.
Label: APF Records
9. Haken ‘Virus’
Last year I got my fix of progressive metal from veteran titans Tool, this year an unexpected recommendation netted one of the quirkiest albums to sink its hooks in and that was the sixth album from British band Haken. Steeped in tech metal flavourings and full of heavy and melodic twists and turns, Virus manages to be both full of straight forward grooves and off kilter rhythmic twists over which Ross Jennings vocals emote in a frail and yet commanding manner. Complex, thematic and walking a line that goes beyond metal, Virus is the culmination of the ground work Haken have been laying down since 2007. Mixed by former Periphery man Adam ‘Nolly’ Getgood, the album sounds fresh, modern and sharp enough to cut yourself on.
Label: Inside Out Music
8. Pallbearer ‘Forgotten Days’
After the heady release of the excellent Sorrow & Extinction (2011) and Foundations Of Burden (2014) albums Pallbearer’s name was on everyone’s lips as the band most worthy of inheriting the doom crown with their stately march. However, personally I never really vibed with the follow up, 2017’s Heartless. This year’s Forgotten Days felt like a welcome return to form. The music is dense and rich with Brett Campbell’s soulful voice soars with tales of triumphant misery. Centrepiece Silver Wings impresses with its massive twelve minute run time and short tracks Stasis and The Quicksand Of Existence prove that not everything has to be a drawn out to deliver the impact. The lyrical subject matter has been carved from loss and the inability to deal with grief, but this album never feels like a wallowing dirge. In fact, it feels like something of a rediscovery and as with the best of their previous work, they strive to challenge the futility of existence into something positive and to be confronted and overcome with hope.
Label: Nuclear Blast
7. Kirk Windstein ‘Dream In Motion’
Some twenty nine years and eleven albums removed from making his Crowbar debut, Kirk Windstein needs no introduction. As a grizzled veteran of the NOLA sludge scene, his riffs have reigned supreme in both his day job, and side project Down, as he has sought to create some of the most powerful and sonically crushing tunes committed to record. January 2020 saw the release of his first solo album, a chance to step beyond the well walked path, Dream In Motion (review) offers ten tracks that give further insight into the mind of the man who has brought the world Obedience Thru Suffering and Bury Me In Smoke. Whilst still providing moments of suffocating sludge, Kirk’s solo album often takes the listener into more introspective and tender moments that exhibits a sense of melody far beyond the hints that have gone before. With more in common to classic American rock of the seventies, there’s a softer approach that even sees him open up on Jethro Tull’s Aqualung in an almost playful manner.
Label: eOne Music
6. Yawning Man ‘Live At Giant Rock’
A late entry to the list and a testament to the lengths bands have gone through to adapt to the pandemic ravaging the planet in 2020, the incredibly talented Gary Arce and his long standing cohorts of Mario Lalli and Gary Stinson realised a 20 year dream of recording a live Yawning Man gig in the desert of California. Five tracks (if you get the CD version) of mesmerising, experimental, instrumental, surf/stoner/space rock this album (review) showcases the incredible talent and vision of the band as they combine in seemingly effortless synergy to create fifty minutes of musical delights. Captured live with no audience at Giant Rock, this album sounds incredible and is augmented by one of the most beautifully captured videos I’ve seen. In a year of constant setbacks and hardship, this is truly a release that allows you to step out of time and exist on another, more mellow, plane.
Label: Heavy Psych Sounds
5. Devil With No Name ‘Devil With No Name’ EP
Last year saw the unexpected comeback of Lord Mantis, this year saw guitarist Andrew Markuszewski reveal his latest project, the mid-western cowboy black metal of Devil With No Name. A short, sharp shock comprising of just four tracks and nineteen minutes worth of music, this self-titled EP (review) is a vicious and very American update on black metal, flavoured with an almost spaghetti western feel of wind whipped desserts and decaying Americana. Oscillating between the breakneck speed riffing of more traditional fair, tracks like Grand Western Apostasy rage and snarl whilst epic closer Monad stomps on a heavy groove until it feels like your skull will break from the weight. We may have to be patient for a full length, but on the strength of this release, it will be more than worth it.
Label: New Density
4. Today Is The Day ‘No Good To Anyone’
The eleventh studio album from Steve Austin’s noise-rock/avant-garde metal icons Today Is The Day arrived predictably following personal hardship that throws a long shadow on the lyrical content and frenetic nature of the music. Downbeat at times and possibly more introspective than previous releases, this album doesn’t often lean into the AmRep era Jesus Lizard moments of schizophrenia that has marked some of their finest moments, but opens up the bands ability to carve out huge slices of doom and spite that still messes with the darkest reaches of your mind. TITD have moved more into the territory that’s occupied by Neurosis, in that they make the music that interests them and the rest of us are along for the ride and whether Austin is crooning in your ear, or shrieking in a vacuum, No Good To Anyone (review) proves that their music is as vital and as creative as ever.
3. Horseneck ‘Fever Dream’
The best thing about reviewing for the Shaman is when you take a punt on an unknown (to you) band and it turns out to be something that stays with you and becomes a firm favourite. Last year it was Woodhawk’s Violent Nature and this year it has very much been Fever Dream (review) by sludge/noise-rock quartet Horseneck. With an incredible pedigree of band members, their sophomore album is a heady blend of post hardcore, catchy stoner rock that dances gleefully between experimental twists and turns and deft melody that evokes a classic rock feel. At times capable of creating Monster Magnet Powertrip era stadium rockers and Melvins style raw punk cacophonies, Fever Dream has something for everyone, including the tender ballad of A Discarded Mess. As I stated in my review, this album is self-released. It shouldn’t be. It should be flying off the shelves making the band, and a label, lots of money. Go make one of those things happen.
2. Sigiriya ‘Maiden Mother Crone’
The last outing for Welsh Stoner crew Sigiriya, 2014’s Darkness Died Today saw vocalist Matt Williams replace Acrimony frontman Dorian Walters in a much more soulful and melodic set of tunes than the 2011 debut of Return To Earth. Now with this settled line up firmly established, their latest release bridges the stylist gap between the two albums. Harder hitting and yet still retaining that rich tuneful edge, Maiden Mother Crone (review) is stuffed to the gills with huge riffs, paeans to the Welsh surrounding that inspire the band. Over the course of the eight tracks, the band carve out grungy, doom, yet uplifting stoner rock that continually sounds fresh and vital. Sigiriya’s third album is an incredibly self-assured, carefully constructive body of music that flies by so fast, you’ll be reaching for the play button almost as soon as you realise the album is over, and in a year that has brought so much stress and angst, this album feels like a triumphant celebration of endurance. Instantly my favourite release from the band, and the beautiful coloured vinyl package was just the icing on the cake.
Label: Burning World Records
1. Sleestak ‘Aeon’
Milwaukee’s prog/doom/stoner Sleestak are, to me at least, one of the most criminally overlooked bands of the last ten years. Absent for nearly seven of those, that didn’t stop me delving back into their previous releases with a mixture of sorrow and elation. One of the high spots of 2020 was the announcement that they were returning with their fourth release, the full length Aeon (review). Blending their usual muscular hard rock with their inimitable take on psychedelic prog and space rock, Sleestak loosened the grip of their previous conceptual leanings to embrace a wider, more universal theme and stretched their wings stylistically, adding extra layers to the rich tapestry of their sound. Dripping with melodies, dancing keyboards, soulful lyrics, hammer blow riffs and other worldly mysticism, it’s difficult listening back critically to single out moments to highlight as it is all so damn good, but The Void and Keepers Of The Illusion are hands down two of my favourite tunes that I’ve heard at least this year. Aoen is a brilliant, brilliant album from a band I never realised just how much I had missed, until they came back to show me why I loved them in the first place.
Ten feels like such an inadequate number to whittle the sheer quality of music down to this year, but I can already feel Shaman boss Lee tutting the more the ‘rambling’ goes on (sorry mate) so I will keep this as short as possible:
Chrome Waves ‘Where We Live’ (review) – Chicago based post black metal. Steve Von Till ‘No Wilderness Deep Enough’ (review) – Neurosis man’s fifth, spectacular solo album. The Brother Keg ‘Folklore, Myths And Legends Of The Brothers Keg’ (review) – bombastic, moody yet upbeat, mad as tits doom out now on APF Records. *Bonus spoiler for 2021 – the upcoming Spider Kitten album is great and should be on this list.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden