No chit-chat, no unnecessary intro, let’s spare the rigmarole & dive in!
Svalbard – ‘When I Die, Will I Get Better?’
Having a powerful opener is sometimes all you need. And few opening songs in 2020 come as powerful as ‘Open Wound‘ kicking off Svalbard’s third album. What is overall a familiar, expected and perhaps unadventurous record for this U.K. band still cannot hope to diminish what a solid offering it was. Following an esteemed style of melodic hardcore, shoegaze, black metal and post-metal in the same school of thought as bands like Envy, Oathbreaker, and Alcest, it’s a fucking consistent listen. Generating some of their best songs to date. It’s an impassioned album that can be read as either being about feeling like death might cure one’s own mental anguish; individuals – artists, actors, musicians, celebrities, politicians, your mate down the road – getting placed upon tall golden pedestals once they shuffle off this mortal coil; or the idea of an afterlife awaiting you if you can tick the arbitrary moral boxes assigned by your respective house of worship. No matter how you view it, Svalbard whip up eight emotional songs of feminist ideals, personal turmoil, abuse survivors, self-reflection and external social observations via the multi-faceted lens ‘When I Die, Will I Get Better?‘ sees the world through. When you die, will you feel any better? Dunno, but Svalbard’s latest might offer you some comfort.
Misery Signals – ‘Ultraviolet’
‘Ultraviolet‘ was the feel-good metalcore record of last year. Misery Signals‘ first new record in seven years marked a triumphant studio return with Jesse Zaraska behind the microphone, seeing the band re-enter the scene and fans’ lives with full-on, beautifully crushing force. This album wasn’t about them changing the face of metalcore as it stands today, it was about them as a band, as five different people, realising it was time to finally come back and bring some authentic to the table. A dynamic and melodic metalcore album that’s equal parts bright and grim, it deals with life and death, family and brotherhood, wounds healing, and dreams versus reality. It’s a short listen, but it’s a grand experience that’s as long as it needs to be. This was a great band not phoning it in (drummer Branden Morgan is especially stellar), sounding like where their honest selves should be at this point, with exceptional songs like ‘The Tempest,’ ‘Cascade Locks,’ and ‘Some Dreams.’ We were all lifted again by Misery Signals in 2020.
The Fall Of Troy – ‘Mukiltearth’
Made up of 60% old material from when the band members were in high-school (when they were called The 30 Years War) and 40% new songs, The Fall Of Troy’s sixth LP is a masterclass in both frenetic, turn-of-the-century mathy post-hardcore and lean, mean, modern progressive rock. ‘Mukiltearth‘ (I still don’t know what means or refers to) is a fantastic snapshot of were Thomas Erak, Tim Ward, and Andrew Forsman once were as young men and where they are currently as people and as a unit. One part re-recording redux, one part fresh prog-rock jams, both aspects of this LP feel earnest, punchy, and real. This was a proper moment of genuinely good fan service and a long-awaited follow-up to 2016’s ‘OK.’ I couldn’t have asked for more from a new Fall Of Troy record. Those fucking guitars, man!
Deftones – ‘Ohms’
‘Ohms’ is a super solid, highly confident record that’s pure Deftones down to every fibre of its alt-metal shoegaze being. This was wholly them, a relevant return to form that didn’t feel cheap; the legendary group sounding rejuvenated. Imperfect but nonetheless fantastic – nine great songs out of ten is a sweet ratio – ‘Ohms’ stands as a familiar yet phenomenal listening experience showcasing precisely what makes them so fucking good. The excellent riffs, soaring vocal melodies, air-tight grooves, a dynamic track-listing that ebbs and flows, and that potent blend of alt-metal and nu-metal with shoegaze. ‘Ohms’ makes ‘Gore’ feel like a bad dream, like an apology for it, Deftones being self-aware and informing us that they know they can do better. And do better they most certainly did!
Ulver – ‘Flowers Of Evil’
Ulver’s brand of darkwave synth-pop on ‘Flowers Of Evil‘ follows their 2017 opus perfectly in terms of sound, production, and tone, also going deep lyrically like its predecessor. Whereas this strange, black-metal alumni group often hop genre every record, this is a rare instance of the Norweigan band doubling down heavily on a previous success. A symbolic, moody synth-pop telling of apocalypses, humanism, decadence, naturalism, 18th and 19th literature, post-Cold War European history, and even vampires), Ulver’s latest doesn’t quite match the sheer spell-binding ecstasy of ‘The Assassination Of Julies Caesar.’ However, anything that comes close to that 2017 LP is more than good enough in my books! They somehow made lightning strike twice, generating brilliant new numbers like ‘Russian Doll,’ ‘Nostalgia,’ ‘Hour Of The Wolf,’ ‘Machine Guns And Peacock Feathers‘ to make for a grand sequel to one of their biggest and brightest releases. Sublime.
Sharptooth – ‘Transitional Forms’
The only thing Sharptooth loathe more than vapid pop is empty hardcore. On second record, ‘Transitional Forms,’ Sharptooth transition into something more, something better. Cranking the fight riffs well past ten, with tighter production that never dulls their edges, and vocalist Lauren Kashan improving her technique ten-fold, this ain’t your daddy’s Sharptooth. Across this pummeling LP, the band make it abundantly clear that they will stand firmly behind what they believe. That they will always practice what they preach, holding themselves and others to a higher standard. This is unapologetically leftist, feminist hardcore demanding open discussions about honest art, abuse survivors, politics and mental health matters, and it will tear your fucking head off in one go. ‘Say Nothing (In The Absence Of Content‘ is also the best music video of 2020, nuff said.
Alpha Wolf – ‘a quiet place to die’
Alpha Wolf were anything but carrion with their polished, blood-thirsty and fantastic second LP. ‘a quiet place to die’ isn’t just Alpha Wolf’s best body of work, it marked of the finest Aussie heavy releases in 2020. It dethrones their previous best release in my mind, 2019’s ‘Fault‘ EP, usurps it with more venomous lyricism, gnarlier riffs, heavier breakdowns, and stands atop a corpse pile of carbon-copy records and initiating bands attempting this same nu-metalcore sound. This sucker is a cold-blooded expression of frustration, rage, pain, and bitterness, carrying a massive chip on its creators robust, chugging shoulders. Alpha’s latest drags tough topics, ugly memories, and uncomfortable experiences alike out under the cover of an exposing naked light to address it all head-on. There’s no rest for the wicked, let alone for the new pack-leaders for this style of heavy music in not only Australia but the world.
Phoxjaw – ‘Royal Swan’
Phoxjaw’s debut record, ‘Royal Swan,’ came out of nowhere but rose as one of 2020’s finest rock records. Because it does everything from dissonant baritone noise jams, riff-heavy British rock and roll, post-rock heights, radio-ready rock-revival hits, to melodic and synth-laden indie anthems, and everything in between. It’s a weirdly jarring but charming and characterful record (and that golden cover is so wonderfully gross) that shows a talented band being creatively free. Phoxjaw pieced this stellar release together through forced isolation, physically writing and recording in separate rooms from one another, yet they still made it come together cohesively. Phoxjaw’s glorious reign begins right now. Whether you’re from England or not, you need to know about them. They’ve already won.
Anaal Nathrakh – ‘Endarkenment’
What British duo Anaal Nathrakh lack in variety on ‘Endarkenment,’ opting for wild unrelenting sonic brutality and razor-sharp performances held captive by some quite repetitive songwriting, they make up for with poignant political expressions and blackened, technical death metal punishment front to end. Presented with a gruesome cover of a decapitated pig with cocks for eyes, ‘Endarkenment‘ is a commentary on the current climate, one that’s the opposite of the Age of Enlightenment, in the age of people not trusting experts, instead going with their incorrect gut-feelings. No matter how wrong they are. This record is all about the dangers that that possesses. It’s dark music for dark times; extreme music made to combat extreme moments that are becoming increasingly normalised; confronting metal for the ugliness of false-truths, misinformation, and ignorance that confronts us every day now. If only conservatives could be won over by sick blast beats and dope power metal choruses.
DVSR – ‘West Technique’
Five years since their world-class self-titled debut album, Western Sydney’s finest brought the ruckus on their anticipated second LP. Blending metalcore, fast rapping, hip-hop beats, nu-metal bounces and tight tech together once again, DVSR have rarely sounded as fired up, as aggressive, or as on-point as they did on ‘West Technique.’ This was some of the bounciest, punchiest metal to be released last year, and DVSR turned up the heat without ever breaking a sweat. Like, really, who the hell gave them permission to go that hard? This was so worth the wait.
Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou – ‘May Our Chambers Be Full’
‘May Our Chambers Be Full‘ is the greatest example in recent memory of how a full album collaboration between two very different but equally passionate artists can be carried out. How the duties should be shared. How careful the blending of the pair’s differing sounds and tones can be married. At no point on this doomy, sludgy and eerie folk-laden, heavy-as-shit metal record does Emma Ruth Rundle or her partners in anarchistic crime in Thou overpower one another. Emma’s (obviously) never sounded this heavy, and Thou have never sounded so heartfelt. What an experience! Hopefully, this won’t be the last we see of such a collab.
Nothing – ‘The Great Dismal’
Every record of Nothing’s sounds like it could be their last. Maybe it’s something to do with their larger-than-life, hazy brand of shoegaze hardcore or maybe it’s got something to do with the various health problems of founder and frontman Domenic Palermo (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). Either way, ‘The Great Dismal‘ might just be the perfect description for the year that was 2020. Nothing’s fourth album is as depressive, as expansive, as emotionally draining, and as loud as you can imagine based on their acclaimed other records, one that’s filled with as much despair as it is hopeful.
Respire – ‘Black Line’
Respire piece together an overwhelming, cacophonous sound of blackgaze, post-rock, screamo, metalcore, synthesisers and trumpets. They make these awesomely bewildering compositions that are matched with emotionally deep lyricism of loss. On this dynamic and seriously intense nine-song record, Respire cross beyond that thin black line into creating something so much bigger than themselves. There’s so much going on, so many layers to unfold, but an album like this, from a band like this, is so worth your time to unpack. One of the best underground surprises of 2020.
IDLES – ‘Ultra Mono’
Back with another careening, off-the-walls post-punk record last year, IDLES were at it again on ‘Ultra Mono.’ Full of joyful resistance anthems, their third record had its eyes firmly set on small-town racism, pro-feminism, class struggles, mental health, toxic masculinity, and fame. Seeing the U.K. group fight the good fight with kinetic guitar riffs, the unmistakable voice of Joe Talbot, rapid punk drumming, it’s a call-to-arms to reject apathy and embrace yourself.
Shackles – ‘Hatred’s Reservoir’
One of the sickest, heaviest records to come out of Australia during 2020, ‘Hatred’s Reservoir‘ sees Shackles take what international heavy-weights like Nails, Weekend Nachos, and Harm’s Way package, and try their own hands at this brand of grinding, technical, buzzing riffage. And they nail(s) it! The result is a short but sweet physical matter that’s vying for the heaviest thing in the universe. A grinding, droning and head-crushing affair, Shackles have never sounded better.
Zeal & Ardor – ‘Wake Of A Nation’ EP
‘Wake Of A Nation‘ is a political six-song EP that sees leading man Manuel Gagneux no longer being subtle about his band’s underlying racial commentary that propels their potent mixture of black metal and blues. Their masterful second LP, ‘Stranger Fruit‘ (2018), was all an allegory for race; its name inspired by a 1930s Billie Holiday song, ‘Strange Fruit,’ about the lynching of blacks in the South during the ’20s and ’30s. This time, this aggro EP is the musical hope that a nation (and the world) is finally waking up to the very real, very current racism that’s alive and festering today. It’s a sign of the times. The tragic opener ‘Vigil‘ makes this abundantly clear as Manuel softly but powerfully sings: “I can’t breathe, it’s a cellphone, please don’t shoot.” ‘I Can’t Breathe‘ samples news reports and footage of the countless times that black men in America were killed on the street in broad daylight by police. Other times, on the huge-sounding ‘Tuskegee‘, it’s an invitation to learn about one of the grossest human rights violations towards African-Americans in modern U.S. history, the horrific Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. Given everything that happened in American in 2020 regarding protests, racial injustice, police officers being acquitted for their actions, and cops acting as judge, jury and executioner, an EP like this isn’t only direly relevant, it’s sorely needed.
Greg Puciato – ‘Child Soldier: Creator Of God’
Pooling his Dillinger Escape Plan chaos, synth movements akin to The Black Queen, his deep love of Nine Inch Nails, and some well-intended ’90s grunge-rock moments amongst all of the experimental noise, ‘Child Soldier: Creator Of God‘ sees the one true Greg walking us listeners through a vast sonic library of his own interests and tastes. The bands and records that he loves, the sounds and styles that he wished to emulate and try on with this batshit, eclectic 15-song record. In a post-Dillinger world, Greg is only getting started.
Gulch – ‘Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress’
San Jose’s Gulch really were underground heroes in 2020 off the back of the impressive, dissonant and fiendish old-school sounds of ‘Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress.’ Gulch doesn’t do anything new here, sure, but they do bring hardcore, thrash, grind, powerviolence, and all that other good heavy shit together in a purely distilled, untamed manner spanning roughly 15-minutes. One that’s as skilful as it is in-your-face. And then it ends with their own hectic rendition of Siouxsie and the Banshees‘ 1981 post-punk track, ‘Sin In My Heart‘? Dope.
Good Tiger – ‘Raised In A Doomsday Cult’
Good Tiger were born out of the prog-metal scene, but they clearly don’t wish to spend their entire time there. Enter ‘Raised In A Doomsday Cult,’ a colourful and weird psychedelic prog-rock record full of dizzying vocal performances, rich guitar tones, plenty of dynamic space, and songs that play out like a slick acid trip. Never losing their technicality, but still embracing a whole new level of artistry, I don’t think Good Tiger have sounded this good before.
Health – ‘Disco4 :: Part 1’
The strongest compilation release Health have to their names, ‘Disco4‘ is the electronic-industrial noise masters back on their bullshit with a great follow-up to 2019’s ‘Slaves Of Fear‘ LP. Over-flowing with awesome collaborations with Petrubator, Purity Ring, 100 Gecs, Ghostemane and JPEGMAFIA, to name a few, and having the crushing atmosphere of ‘Cyberpunk 126.96.36.199‘ begin the release – a stunning electronic noise-scape about the dystopian future that edges closer and closer every day – this is a great showcase about why Health are, quite frankly, one of the 21st century’s best acts.