David E. Gehlke Best-of 2020

Monday, 7th December 2020

Look at it this way: The pandemic and subsequent quarantining allowed us to listen to more music than ever before. Such silver linings may be hard to pinpoint in an otherwise unusual year, but that’s where music comes in handy. It is the forever tourniquet during rough times. Next year looks like more of the same will be in tow. May folks make the best of their time and remain safe and vigilant.

On the metal front, 2020 was an otherwise strong year, filled with the usual (and expected) mix of old standbys and newcomers. This particular list leans heavily on doom, which while not a coincidence given the year’s events, but an indication that dark, foreboding music will always resonate. Onward we go!

12. Armored Saint – Punching the Sky (Metal Blade)
While it is now an already fact that John Bush is one of the best singers in metal history (or is that an opinion?), Armored Saint is perhaps more relevant now than in their 1980s heyday. Truth is, 2010’s La Raza, 2015’s Win Hands Down and now Punching the Sky are flat-out superior slabs of true, blue-collar metal…and this accounts for their peers, too.

11. Demons & Wizards – III (Century Media)
What was always a project that looked better on paper than it actually sounded, Demons & Wizards, featuring Blind Guardian singer Hansi Kürsch and Iced Earth guitarist Jon Schaffer, finally put together songs worthy of their reputations. A lot of the tunes on III are heavily orchestrated, but still taut and melodic, and, best of all, very Euro, which is right in Kürsch’s wheelhouse.

10. Ulcerate – Stare into Death and Be Still (Debemur Morti)
As technical and complex Stare into Death and Be Still is, therein lies some gripping compositions amidst the whirling riffs, kamikaze drumbeats and off-the-beaten-path arrangements. Ulcerate has crafted an album that is both challenging and listenable. Fellow tech-death bands take notice.

9. Green Carnation – Leaves of Yesteryear (Season of Mist)
A welcome return from one of Norway’s best acts, Leaves of Yesteryear is Green Carnation’s first studio platter in 14 years. It recalls the harmony and depth of The Quiet Offspring while hugging closely to the ties that forever bind the band through their Light of Day, Day of Darkness magnum opus.

8. Uada – Djinn (Eisenwald)
A USBM band who is now surging past their contemporaries, Djinn catches Uada is a fever dream of melody and palatable black metal songs. Really, when has a black metal album brandished this much melody and gotten away with it? Storm of the Light’s Bane? Bonus points for their obscured and shadowy image.

7. Enslaved – Utgard (Nuclear Blast)
Enslaved remains on the up-and-up well after 2004’s Isa reclamation and course-correction. On Utgard, the Norwegians are once again up to their eyeballs in elongated compositions; i.e. those that other bands wish they could write. Again, the balance between clean vocals (from keyboardist Håkon Vinje and gruff, searing vocals (Grutle Kjellson) remains Enslaved’s bread-and-butter.

6. Napalm Death – Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism (Century Media)
The longest Napalm has gone between studio albums, Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism brought forth the band’s typical vigor and vitriol. However, it’s far from misplaced — Napalm’s aural assault still packs a message that hopefully, we can all get behind: All humans are equal and should be treated as such. Not a different concept to argue with…

5. My Dying Bride – The Ghost of Orion (Nuclear Blast)
Touted as a return to their unbeatable, harmonious days of yore (read: the 1990s), The Ghost of Orion is My Dying Bride at its most melodious and intertwined. The constant push and pull between Andrew Craighan’s guitar harmonies and Aaron Stainthorpe’s touching, heart-wrenching lyrics continue to define a band that remains every bit a doom metal touchstone as they were 20 years ago.

4. Crippled Black Phoenix -Ellengæst (Season of Mist)

Without a proper male lead singer going into its recording, multi-faceted and perpetually intriguing British outfit Crippled Black Phoenix enlisted a score of notable guest singers for Ellengæst. Of particular note is former Gorgoroth frontman Gaahl’s performance on “In the Night,” which is one of the year’s most impactful cuts.

3. Godthrymm – Reflections (Profound Lore)
The product of former My Dying Bride and Vallenfyre guitarist Hamish Glencross, Godthrymm throws it back to Paradise Lost’s Gothic and happily wallow its misery. Glencross — who also doubles on vocals — has, along with his bandmates, assembled a batch of cuts that pay appropriate homage to their countrymen who blazed an indelible path nearly three decades. Hearing it all in updated form makes it all the more sweeter/miserable.

2. Paradise Lost – Obsidian (Nuclear Blast)
“It offers something for everyone.” That was the common refrain from Paradise Lost guitarist and primary songwriter Greg Mackintosh to yours truly during the making of Obsidian. He’s right, of course. The album pilfers from the band’s impeccable golden doom era, then veers into 1980s Goth and Draconian Times territory, making it Paradise Lost’s most varied album, since, well, 2015’s just-as-magnificent The Plague Within.

1. Counting Hours – The Will (The Vinyl Division)
Featuring current and former members of The Chant, Rapture, Impaled Nazarene and Shape of Despair, Counting Hours is the approximation of vintage Katatonia, the aforementioned Rapture and early Anathema. Their debut foray, The Will, is near without flaw, launching melodious, dark odes into the Gothic/gloomy metal stratosphere.

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