With a potentially fatal virus sweeping across the planet, causing a global pandemic, the year 2020 collectively challenged people around the world in one way or another. With our daily attention being demanded and our thought process completely consumed, we’ve all been drained and exhausted to some extent.

While this pandemic exposed new ways for people to separate from one another, both physically and ideologically, businesses and people have suffered severely. Many of our beloved music venues have been at risk of closing their doors, with some already facing that unfortunate fate.

A lot of people chose to come together (from a distance) and took opportunities to help each other, donate (Save Our Stages), purchase music directly (shoutout to Bandcamp), appreciate loved ones, and strengthen the communities of music which we all love dearly. Others unfortunately got sucked into the rat race of politics, negativity, and other tomfoolery.

For me, I connected to music in a whole, new way this year, and all I can say is, I continue to be proud of the metal community for keeping their heads above water. I’ve witnessed such an amazing level of adaptation, perseverance, creativity, and utilization of technology among so many talented musicians and individuals.

Personally, I’d say the genre of death metal took on a whole, new meaning for me this year, coincidentally mirroring the state of the world and providing a soundtrack to humanity’s collective mindset of dread and fear, including my own.

Once again, I am grateful for the musicians around the world in hardcore, death metal, black metal, grindcore, thrash, hard rock, and genres beyond for producing these soundtracks that continually enrich my existence and many other people’s as well. With that said, here are five (of many) albums that I found to be exceptional this year: 

5. Disavowed- Revocation Of The Fallen

I received the promo for Revocation Of The Fallen and opened it up for a listen with no idea what I was about to embark on. Disavowed are no spring chickens, and the group out of the Netherlands take their brutality, speed, and aggression to new heights on their latest.

The combination of turbo-drumming and spine-chilling gutturals is enough to make any fan of death metal weak at the knees. The core of the group that has been playing together for over two decades (and added company) shows a professional level of precision, high-speed riffing, blasting, and “mindful” lyrics.

In the year 2020, Disavowed display a masterful level of musicianship for the genre of brutal death metal. See also Arsebreed- Butoh (released October 13), another great release from this year featuring members of Disavowed.

Get Revocation Of The Fallen here.

4. Skeletal Remains- The Entombment Of Chaos

I discovered these guys trough their 2018 release Devouring Mortality, which not only turned out to be my AOTY for that year, but also became what I consider to be the new standard for American death metal. Coming up on the traditions carved into the halls of death metal history by the likes of Death, Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, Pestilence, and Obituary, I can’t help but be enamored by the utter, sonic force Skeletal Remains not only honors, but completely intensifies.

Elevating the old-school inspired components from their album prior, Skeletal Remains channels a cosmic initiation, clean guitar passages and an overall haunting atmosphere on their latest, The Entombment Of Chaos, the bands explosive instrumental delivery and blasting tendencies not only remain fully intact, but are revitalized by the addition of psychotic percussionist Charlie Koryn (Ascended Dead, VoidCeremony).

Tormenting expressions come to life through the festering, yet technical show of dark riffing and shredding that thrives throughout this entire record, from the beginning of “Illusive Divinity,” all the way through to the chaotic and thundering “Unfurling The Casket.”

The group continues to keep me engaged through their traditionally inspired roots and technical application, always looking for ways to make the music hit harder and sound heavier. With The Entombment Of Chaos, Skeletal Remains continues to personify well-rounded death metal, executing audible obliteration for fans of both the old and new school to fully appreciate.

Get The Entombment Of Chaos here.

3. Code Orange- Underneath

Up front and at first listen, in my opinion, this album immediately smashes through any possible limitations that could be set in place by a listener’s expectations or standards. There is unquestionably a remarkable execution of experimentation that collides a healthy dose of the more psychologically disorienting components of industrial music (something the band have been developing way prior to this release), at full force with the aggressive emotion displayed in hardcore music.

For this release, Code Orange have temporarily settled into a transcended form of themselves, in which they’ve managed to package the innovative nature of earlier works from bands like Slipknot and NIN, creating a new form of heavy music that sets the bar to a new level for them personally, the genre of metallic-hardcore, and music in general.

On top of that, they’ve taken on risks as far as trying out new singing styles and incorporating a wider range of musical inspiration without compromising one, single ounce of heaviness. With the current state of the world, listening to the track “Sulfur Surrounding” has become more of a method of survival for me, while “Cold.Metal.Place” has become an intense release.

A reflection of this band’s diligence, innovation, and constant evolution is apparent within their abilities to live stream their performances on Twitch and set new standards for live entertainment and streaming in general. That level of perseverance and quick reaction is something that I really appreciate. Congratulations to them for smashing through boundaries and making it to Forbes, GQ, and Time Magazine.

Get Underneath here.

2. Defeated Sanity- The Sanguinary Impetus

Core member and drummer Lille Gruber formed the band with his father Wolfgang Teske nearly three decades ago, and has been using his drums to warp the fundamentals of brutal death metal ever since. The German act remain in a league of their own with the techniques they explore on The Sanguinary Impetus.

Yes, it is technical; yes, it slams, but it’s the bands instrumental ability to distort and break apart song structure that is most impressive. An imposing-yet-nonchalant delivery of subtle, jazz mechanics, erupt into utter barbarity, using a variety of blasting speeds and slamming heaviness.

Enunciated vocal gutturals (if that makes any sense), work alongside calculated bass tapping and a percussive frenzy to create a musical landscape that is all their own. Where my number-five pick Disavowed excel in speed, tightness, and structure, Defeated Sanity continue to unorthodoxly twist ‘n’ bend their way through uninhabited, BDM territory.

Get The Sanguinary Impetus here.

1. Ulcerate- Stare Into Death And Be Still

Oddly enough, no other Ulcerate album sold me on this band more than their latest, Stare Into Death And Be Still. But not only did this album open the doors to the true greatness that is Ulcerate, I’ll go further and say that the sound of this album has brought a whole new meaning and expectation to extreme music entirely.

My limited vocabulary and writing capabilities will not allow me to properly express the complexities of sound that this band explores on their latest, but plain and simple, this album grabbed a tight hold of me. The trio out of New Zealand continue to play with ferocity and aggression, but gut the more claustrophobic qualities out of their core sound and to introduce more open space.

This, in turn, created a much more desolate atmosphere, garnished with soul-stirring melodies, and highly effective nuanced-riffing. These open spaces allowed for the groups heavier parts to strike with more power, while simultaneously transporting your mind to a whole other state of consciousness.

Through a spectacular show of artistry, Ulcerate develop an ethereal atmosphere and meaningful depth that reveals the poignant aspects surrounding the idea of death. Truly a transforming experience for the band, genre, and listener.

Get Stare Into Death And Be Still here.

Click here for complete AOTY list.

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