Matt Coe Best-of 2020

Monday, 14th December 2020

2020 will go down as a year in history humanity will not soon forget. Unlike events that only affected a small part of the world, COVID-19 has infiltrated all parts of the globe – causing deaths well over a million at this point in time. Many record labels and bands postponed and pushed back releases, scrambling to get back to their homelands while out on tour as cancellations came swiftly and borders closed. We at Dead Rhetoric probably consumed more music than ever before – as we had plenty of downtime even from our regular work to digest material and do our best to provide the knowledgeable, in-depth coverage that has been a staple of the site since the very beginning.

Once again variety reigns supreme when it comes to my lists: doom, progressive, power, thrash, melodic death all staples along with traditional metal for this scribe. Metal is vital to my identity, breathing life into a world that can be harsh and cruel at times. Day by day the strength of these records proves that the genre cannot and will not die. Here are my top twelve albums of the year. They received plenty of airings to digest, provide that proverbial pick me up when necessary, and remind me that this genre now at fifty years old still has enough left in the tank to remain vital for at least fifty more.

12. Oceans of Slumber – Oceans of Slumber (Century Media)
The third album from this Texas act continues to explore the depths of progressive metal with their own brand of atmospheric melancholy in shades of doom, rock, and extreme angles. Surrender to the soulful voice of Cammie Gilbert as drummer Dobber Beverly can go from slow tempos to blast beats in subsequent measures. Between mesmerizing originals like “Pray for Fire” and “To the Sea” as well as their interpretation of “Wolfmoon” from Type O Negative, the sextet position themselves as the future torchbearers in quality US progressive metal.

11. DGM – Tragic Separation (Frontiers Music)
Balancing out their expected intricacies a la Symphony X with some smoother melodic hard rock/AOR influences, DGM continue to amaze this deep into their career. The conceptual storyline of a new beginning in one’s life based on previous choices, consequences, and unanswered questions has a similar emotional roller coaster ride when taking in the songs track by track musically. Tragic Separation should keep these Italians near the top of their tier based on this effort top to bottom.

10. Cirith Ungol – Forever Black (Metal Blade)
Back again with their first studio album in 29 years, Forever Black keeps the focus on heavy metal with the right throwback and doom elements that made them a cult favorite. March to the galloping riffs of “Legions Arise” and succumb to the Tim Baker screams and twin axe harmonies of Greg Lindstrom and Jim Barraza during “Nightmare” – two of many favorites that should delight all headbangers. No sense in rewriting the wheel, classic bands can do justice to their legacy if willing to write and deliver material from the heart as you’ll experience here.

9. Heathen – Empire of the Blind (Nuclear Blast)
Ten years removed from their last effort, Heathen may not necessarily release material quickly, but when a new studio record hits the streets, most people leave pleased. Incorporating thick rhythms, guitar harmonies and lead breaks that are worth studying, and the unique, melodic capabilities of David R. White – the band can go from heads down speed/thrash for “The Blight” into quieter, more serene terrain within “Shrine of Apathy” quite unlike most Bay Area acts. Victims of Deception is the pinnacle Heathen studio record, but Empire of the Blind could be a close second.

8. Dark Tranquillity – Moment (Century Media)
Even with major lineup changes (welcome guitarists Chris Amott and Johan Reinholdz), these Swedes continue to excel in their melodic death style for Moment. Between the haunting growls/clean melodies and stirring guitar work for “Eyes of the World” to the Damage Done-like vibes for “Identical to None”, there’s an infectious delight in where Dark Tranqullity are at in this point in their career. Never content to rest on past accomplishments, enjoy these veteran groups who pump out stellar work.

7. Dynazty – The Dark Delight (AFM Records)
Consistently evolving and transforming from a sleaze metal sound to more melodic and power-oriented, Dynazty are never afraid to tinker with their songwriting to make things memorable and modern. The Dark Delight finds them firing right on all fronts vocally and musically – executing songs that are addictive, catchy, and diverse from front to back. From the mid-tempo call to arms opener “Presence of Mind” to the haunting Swedish acoustic folk touches during “The Road to Redemption”, it’s a record hard to forget, proving this band should be rising in the ranks.

6. The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic (Nuclear Blast)
Once again, the masters of feel good melodic, classic hard rock with that 70’s/80’s touch ride supreme again. Catchy songwriting, sincere emotion, and paying homage to an era long forgotten – climb aboard for another safe ride into outer space with delectable material such as “Servants of the Air”, “Sister Mercurial” and the glistening, ABBA meets yacht rock-like edges for “If Tonight Is Our Only Chance”. The only struggle for many of the members of TNFO is balancing out their work with their main metal duties in Soilwork and Arch Enemy – but the productivity hasn’t waned as of yet, so it’s a welcome bonus.

5. Paradise Lost – Obsidian (Nuclear Blast)
UK veterans Paradise Lost at this point in their career can take themselves wherever their heads and hearts desire. For Obsidian, it’s as if they really assessed their best work in the death, doom, and gothic templates and blended them together for a strong set of songs with depth, character, and vitality. Embodying their metal instincts, cuts like “Forsaken”, “Ghosts” and the crushing doom of “Ravenghast” will hold up well in the ledger of their recorded history.

4. Unleash the Archers – Abyss (Napalm Records)
Canadian force Unleash the Archers have been hitting home runs in the power world for years – Abyss aligns well with widening the fringes of their sound. Sometimes much heavier, sometimes a bit more commercial – never letting go of their love for traditional and power metal continues to pay dividends for their appeal to the underground and above. They are creatively hitting 80’s Queensryche/ Iron Maiden strides – shining bright with no burnout in sight.

3. Eternal Champion – Ravening Iron (No Remorse Records)
Texas is home to the epic heavy metal band Eternal Champion. With Ravening Iron, the band strides confidently into aspects of Manilla Road, Cirith Ungol, Omen, as well as a healthy dose of Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus ( insert “Skullseeker” here) for good measure as far as their influences – yet somehow makes it their own. Sword maker/vocalist Jason Tarpey unmistakable delivery and haunting melodies match the driving nature of the music. We welcome Eternal Champion with open arms as the future of the genre is in great hands here.

2. Armored Saint – Punching the Sky (Metal Blade)
We may not get a new Armored Saint record on a two to three-year basis like other artists, but you can always know that quality is a guarantee when these California gentlemen have something to say. Punching the Sky jabs, uppercuts, and delivers great songwriting and a killer performance from one of the best vocalists in the business with John Bush. Hard to dispute the master class execution of “Bark, No Bite” and “End of the Attention Span”, while a bit of the rhythm and blues/funk aspects kick in on “My Jurisdiction”.

1. Sorcerer – Lamenting of the Innocent (Metal Blade)
It’s never easy to top yourselves, especially when you’ve released two critically praised albums over your last two efforts. But Swedish doom metal purveyors Sorcerer stepped things up again for Lamenting of the Innocent. Mesmerizing riffs, stunning lead breaks, solid rhythm section work, and the impressive, melodic and majestic vocals carry all this material to the stratosphere. Slower or mid-tempo, tracks like “When Spirits Die” and “Dance With the Devil” keep your attention from initial exposure into the most recent aural engagement – ideal for cementing classic status.

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