Kyle McGinn Best-of 2020

Thursday, 10th December 2020

No doubt, 2020 has been a tough and challenging year. Lots of crazy stuff going on in the world, and a few personal health things too, made the year one that is going to stick with me for quite some time. But here we are at the end of it, and the silver lining is that there’s been an impressive amount of music to take in this year and we all had a lot of extra time in which to consume it. In trying times, that in itself deserves a bit of praise.

Given all of this music to peruse, it was a tall order to cut things down to the twelve below. A number of albums I thought of as being ‘sure things’ in this list were dropped as the year progressed, and a few pleasant surprises also emerged as some tough decisions were made about what to put into the final list. Lots of veteran acts below, dare I say, more than usual but many of these acts put out their best works to date, some of which may end up being definitive releases for the respective fanbases. As always, thanks for reading and supporting. This year, more than ever, the site has been a source of consistency and focus to hone in on, as things seemed to topple all around.

12. Viscera – Obsidian (Unique Leader)
This dark horse has been a constant throughout the year, particularly when exercising. There’s such an immediate feel to it that hits hard, but continues to impress with more listens. It sounds extraordinarily brutal with a blend of different influences and feels remarkably fresh in a genre known for being a tad stale at times.

11. Stitched Up Heart – Darkness (Another Century)
It would have been easy for the band to just retread Never Alone, but instead they really dug deep and went into some exciting directions. More electronics and experimentation, while still keeping that emotional core and heavy groove that made them strong in the first place. Darkness sees the band really sprout their own wings and fly.

10. Deathwhite – Grave Image (Season of Mist)
The gentlemen in Deathwhite hit all of the notes I’m looking for in a doom release. Crushing emotional weight to go along with equally heavy riffs, not to mention a downtrodden yet soothing vocal performance that occasionally veers into ethereal light. They continue to improve with each offering, positioning themselves as one of the best (if not the best) of this generation’s gloomy warriors.

9. Aether Realm – Redneck Vikings from Hell (Napalm)
Aether Realm seems to make huge jumps with each release, and Redneck Vikings sees them come entirely into their own with confidence and glory. One of the most fun albums to listen to in 2020, but still with some genuine emotional impact to boot (“Guardian” is still a big warm hug of a song months later). It’s great to see these guys finally getting the buzz that they’ve always deserved.

8. Fellahin Fall – Tar A-Kan (Self-Released)
After last year’s impressive EP debut, Tar A-Kan fulfilled all promise. Gloomy gothic/doom that is also drenched in interesting and moody synths to create something unique, Fellahin Fall offer a take that is thoroughly downtrodden but retains a certain catchiness to it. It’s a genuinely intriguing formula that more people need to check out.

7. Unleash the Archers – Abyss (Napalm)
Unleash the Archers really seemed to bring themselves to the next level with Abyss. Glorious power metal that instantly sticks with you, there’s nary a moment that you won’t cherish – be it a soaring riff or vocal line. This is an album that should establish UtA as a one of the strongest melodic metal bands out there at the moment.

6. The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic (Nuclear Blast)
Like a fine wine, The Night Flight Orchestra continues to get better with age. Just when you think they can’t top the album before it, they go ahead and bring in some influences and sounds to make their retro rock even stronger and more addictive. Aeromantic is the pillar of their sound to date, and a ‘crank it loud’ look back to the past that truly embraces what it is.

5. Delain – Apocalypse & Chill (Napalm)
Who would have thought that Delain’s album title would have been so timely? Regardless of that, Apocalypse & Chill is Delain’s finest effort. All of the Delain staples are there, but there’s so many new infusions of different ideas, from heavier to more melodic, that really make each song stand out on its own. Immersive, catchy, and full of emotion – all hallmarks that make Delain one of the leaders of this genre.

4. Illumishade – Eclyptic: Wake of Shadows (Self-Released)
There’s always for bands that want to go the extra mile and not create an album, but a true listening experience. Eclyptic is a joy to listen to, but you can get equally immersed in the lore and concept, which extends far beyond the music itself. As for that music, it’s pure whimsy that will put a smile to your face while keeping a hard enough edge for metal fans to enjoy. Illumishade came out of the gates and thoroughly impressed in all facets.

3. Dark Tranquillity – Moment (Century Media)
It was going to be tough to top Atoma, but Moment does just that. An experience dripping with emotion, thunderous riffs, and elegant melodies from beginning to end. It’s a sweeping listen that really pulls you in, and is all the more impressive considering the band has a completely new guitar section. Dark Tranquillity continue to be the torchbearers for the Gothenburg sound, even as they manipulate it into new and exciting territory.

2. Amaranthe – Manifest (Nuclear Blast)
While not exactly a ‘back to the roots’ effort, Manifest takes all of the aspects of Amaranthe’s sound and pushes them up a notch. Massively addictive riffs, danceable electronics, and ‘bore into your skull’ vocal lines, it’s also one of the heaviest albums that they have done. It’ll get you on the first listen, but you’ll keep coming back to it because it’s just pure fun. Bound to pick up some fans who didn’t dig the last two releases, as well as thrust Amaranthe further into the deserved spotlight.

1. Beyond the Black – Horizons (Napalm)
Beyond the Black took some big risks with Horizons, but it all pays off for them in the end. They’ve jettisoned the more traditional symphonic elements and injected it with more modern sensibilities to craft something that feels more personal and engaging. Haben’s vocals are some of the best in the business, and this new approach gives her and the rest of the band plenty of space to be their best, from the moving “Out of the Ashes” to the rumbling and addictive “Paralyzed.” A real masterpiece that blows open the doors for future offerings.

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