David E. Gehlke Best-of 2020

Monday, 7th December 2020

Surely there will be numerous pandemic-related song lists to describe the year that was, but the below compendium zigs and zags across non-virus related topics. Of particular note are the bands who go out on a limb and try new things (Katatonia, Crippled Black Phoenix) while others stick to the script and reinforce their long-standing sound (My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost). Either way, narrowing this list down was harder than normal which says something — there’s still plenty of good tunes to harvest.

10. Katatonia – Lacquer (from City Burials)
Jonas Renkse has turned into quite the singer/songwriter.

9. Uada – No Place Here (from Djinn)
Epic, melodic black metal has a new face.

8. Godthrymm – Among the Exalted (from Reflections)
Gregor Mackintosh would be proud.

7. My Dying Bride – To Outlive the Gods (from The Ghost of Orion)
Such golden harmonies of doom.

6. Fluisteraars – Vlek (from Bloem)
The back-end of this song is without equal.

5. Demons & Wizards – Wolves in Winter (from III)
Hansi Kursh rarely sounds so frothy and aggressive.

4. Paradise Lost – The Devil Embraced (from Obsidian)
There are several worthy jams from Obsidian, but “The Devil Embraced” covers all the bases.

3. Napalm Death – That Curse in Being Thrall (from Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism)
Aging grindsters? Hardly.

2. Crippled Black Phoenix – In the Night (from Ellengæst)
Who knew Gaahl possessed such emotion?

1. Counting Hours – Blank Sunrise (from The Will)
Carried by a singular guitar melody, “Blank Sunrise” is Finnish dark metal glory through-and-through.

Biggest surprise of the year: The re-emergence of classic metal. Haunt, Spirit Adrift, any number of the excellent bands on Cruz Del Sur Music — it’s obvious that what music-goers crave is metal that reverts to its purest form.

Best newcomer of the year: Counting Hours. Rare that the #1 album spot and best newcomer of the year go to one band, but Counting Hours is such a band for their glistening, yet sorrowful debut The Will. It’s like everything you could have asked for from Katatonia and Rapture rolled into one.

Biggest disappointment of the year: No live shows = gigantic loss of revenue. Touring and selling merchandise is the only way for most underground metal bands to make any money. Without it, these bands face a perilous situation — and it doesn’t appear like there is an end in sight. Rumblings of a 2022 return to live show activity will make the coming 12 months very difficult financially for many bands.

Best cover art. My Dying Bride – The Ghost of Orion. Created by the in-demand Eliran Kantor, the cover art for My Dying Bride’s The Ghost of Orion depicts a mysterious woman in a state of reflection. You may be unaware of her class status, but her forlorn, longing expression suits the music inside perfectly.

Best video of the year: Nightwish – “Noise.” An indictment of our phone screen-loving, me-first, shallow culture, Nightwish previewed a world that is likely not too far away. Human interaction may eventually go the way of the dinosaur.

Most anticipated album of 2021: Carcass. The four-song Despicable EP was a nice appetizer but methinks the esteemed Jeff Walker and Bill Steer saved the cream of the crop for a full-length, which, was supposed to see the light of day in 2020 but was another victim of the pandemic.

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