As the sun begins to set on the smoldering ruins of 2020, there is still light to be found in the legacy crafted by the year’s best metal releases. From the heaviest strains of extreme metal to the unstoppable new wave of old-school thrash, metalheads have been treated to a scene standing steadfast despite the challenges in its path. In doing so there has been an open embrace of the new and experimental as much as there has been comfort found in tradition. Longstanding genre titans have continued to hold their ground as eager newcomers flaunt their prowess, and more bands still have come crawling out from the woodwork with the first taste of new music in a decade or more.
Be it in the form of a stunning debut, a rip-roaring comeback, or simply an unexpected evolution from a familiar name, there has been no shortage of sonic excitement as of late. In times filled with turmoil and uncertainty, the unwavering thrills of heavy music continue to encourage and revitalize. The Sonic Perspectives contributors team has waded through bountiful Fridays packed with non-stop shredding to shed light on the brightest stars in yet another year chock-full of strong releases, resulting in hundreds of album reviews and numerous interviews with the artists responsible for the magic.
The following list is a comprehensive look at the most spectacular metal releases from this year, excluding the subgenres of power metal and progressive metal. This divide allows for the deep throes of doom and furious tensions of thrash to be weighed fairly against their counterparts, rather than brought head-to-head with soaring orchestras and prog’s eclectic edge. Keep an eye out for those lists, each of which will be published in the coming week.
As for the rankings that follow, we at Sonic Perspectives understand that the experience of music is highly subjective, particularly in a genre as stylistically and thematically diverse as metal. This list is not an attempt to quantify any particular quality about an album, but rather approach the wide pool of talent with holistic measures to determine its greatness. Considerations include factors of production, musicianship, originality, technicality, and the innate values that keep listeners coming back again and again. If compiling this list has taught us anything, it is that metal is stronger than ever. We can only hope that you enjoy our judgements as much as we enjoyed listening to the following releases.
TOP 15 METAL ALBUMS OF 2020
15. Havok – V (Century Media Records)
Coming off what could be best described as one of their most musically adventurous and lyrically controversial outings in 2017’s “Conformicide,” this frenetic quartet have opted to shift things in a slightly more conventional direction, all the while still offering up a host of intricate twists and turns to sate the hunger of those looking for more than just another Slayer imitation. “V” has something for both extreme thrash junkies and tech nerds, and those who question authority in voices as loud as humanly possible. Crushing speed and breakneck riffage are just part of the full package Havok delivers in a year full of noteworthy extremity. Once more, Havok prove that they are not just strong enough to stand on their own, but they are prepared to bear the full weight of thrash’s revival with untempered abandon. Check out our review here.
14. Alcatrazz – Born Innocent (Silver Lining Music)
here.Our take on this album can be appreciated
13. Annihilator – Ballistic, Sadistic (Silver Lining Music)
12. Sorcerer – Lamenting of the Innocent (Metal Blade Records)
here.The last five years have seen three solid offerings from the band, and “Lamenting of the Innocent” is charismatic proof Sorcerer doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon. Want to know more? Read
11. Finntroll – Vredesvävd (Century Media Records)
here.Each track is fully realized in its potential, paying care to both speed and composition for an experience which is as engaging as enthralling for new and old listeners alike. Not balanced only in instrumentation, this album strikes a clean equilibrium between speed and a more patient discovery, much akin to the conceptual journeys contained thematically. Swelling cinematic heights polish the heavens beneath which the album lies, and with it Finntroll rings in a new era of folk metal to kickstart the coming decade. Our full review is
10. Warbringer – Weapons of Tomorrow (Napalm Records)
One of thrash revival’s most impactful and intricate purveyors rains down mayhem like it’s going out of style, unleashing a volley of precision weaponry that merges raw fury with vintage melodic sensibility. The real genius behind “Weapons of Tomorrow,” however, is its ability to step away from the mass execution of aligned spinal columns and present something that is more stylistically complex, all but to the point of challenging the conventions of this band’s adoptive movement. Warbringer‘s union between old school and new school coalesce brilliantly with an album as intense as it is breathtaking. Our full review at this location.
9. Dark Tranquility – Moment (Century Media Records)
8. Avatar – Hunter Gatherer (Entertainment One)
7. Armored Saint – Punching the Sky (Metal Blade Records)
6. Black Crown Initiate – Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape (Century Media Records)
here.Skillfully crossing the boundaries of that which is epic and aggressive, Black Crown Initiate offer up an album with timeless and tantalizing appeal. Read our review
5. Apocalyptica – Cell-0 (Silver Lining Music)
4. Sepultura – Quadra (Nuclear Blast Records)
3. Testament – Titans of Creation (Nuclear Blast Records)
2. Paradise Lost – Obsidian (Nuclear Blast Records)
Paradise Lost have created a masterpiece of an album with “Obsidian”. The gothic metal sound is back, but this time death and doom are swirled throughout rather than abandoned. The result is absolutely brilliant, and for many will stand as the career pinnacle of one of metal’s most storied acts. at this location.Read our full review of “Obsidian”
1. Trivium – What the Dead Men Say (Roadrunner Records)
here.Listeners can expect to hear a refined, more bold approach to songwriting that doesn’t shy away from embracing longer tracks, dynamic song structures, and a more integrated percussion. Read our metal album of the year full review
COMEBACK METAL ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
With sonic resonance to fill the space where there had once been silence, the following comeback albums see bands return to full force following a lengthy absence. Bringing with them both ghosts and traditions, their roots and hunger for revival shine through in an undoubted love for the art.
Heathen – Empire of the Blind (Nuclear Blast Records)
One of the most iconic figures of the Bay Area thrash metal scene scored another studio win, proving that while prolific output can be a blessing, it’s no substitute for an intricate, expansive and melodically satisfying take on the style. This is an album that no self-respecting thrash metal fan should go without hearing, and most will want to spend the coming weeks playing it to death given the brilliant balance of impact-based aggression and smooth melodic swagger. Though “Empire of the Blind” is the band’s first studio album in a decade, they come roaring out of the gates just as fierce as ever. This is unapologetic, hook-laden thrash metal at its best. Read more here.
Cirith Ungol – Forever Black (Metal Blade Records)
The murky abode of the long dormant queen of spiders has once more become active, ushering in a crushing old school blend of Black Sabbath sensibilities, 70s progressive and hard rock swagger and early 80s epic splendor to put the younger generation on notice. review!Here’s our
METAL EPS OF THE YEAR
Carcass – Despicable (Nuclear Blast Records)
Though having ground their once grinding ways to a halt long ago, Liverpool’s famous prognosticators of the once putrid offer plenty of aggression on this tasty appetizer for their next grand auditory feast of elaborate death metal with a melody. Every instrumentalist involved displays a level of technical competency that could rival the most insane adherents of the modern tech death style, but the songwriting on display here proves to be more nuanced and deep. There.Check out our full take on the EP
Candlemass – The Pendulum (Napalm Records)
Following hot on the heels of their 2019 stunner “The Door to Doom,” Candlemass’ EP “The Pendulum” serves up more of the magic which made their comeback so noteworthy. “The Pendulum” includes the vibrant creative spillover from “The Door to Doom,” and reads cohesively as a strong EP for a small taste of the band’s full potential. Packing variety and excitement in just six tracks, Candlemass runs the gamut from instrumental interludes to tempo-varying full-length songs without stopping for breath. The interludes interspersed throughout allow for a flavor that stands apart from the band’s past full-lengths while still delivering unmistakable Candlemass goodness. Dive more in depth with our review here.
METAL LIVE ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
In a year where live music was largely put on hold, livestreams and live albums have stepped up to sate the appetites of metalheads hungry for the concert experience. The following three albums are those which prove the most spectacular showcases of live music brought directly to the listener, and all prove to be more than simply echoes of a splendor long past.
Jinjer – Alive in Melbourne (Napalm Records)
Capturing one of the last live shows before the music industry faced a global pause, “Alive in Melbourne” shows Jinjer storming the stage of Australia’s Max Watt’s House of Music with calculated fury, blissfully unaware of the year to come. The setlist heavily favors the band’s latest release balanced against longtime fan-favorites for a show that harnesses the band’s energy in bright lights and the thunderous roar of the audience in the background. An atmosphere which shifts fluidly between the ominous and the ecstatic is the perfect backdrop for the diverse discography backing Jinjer as they own the stage, met by the warmth of an equally eager crowd.
Kreator – London Apocalypticon: Live at The Roundhouse (Nuclear Blast Records)
Centuries after the Saxons invaded the shores of southern England, one of Germany’s most formidable folds of extreme thrashing warriors set the air of London ablaze with a fiery rendition of new and old favorites. In keeping with their largely consistent qualitative output over their near 4 decade career, this quartet makes a good show of representing every era contained in their past; from the early speed/thrashing mayhem of their seminal mid-80s studio work to their more melodic death metal-infused present day sound, taking some additional time to explore the tech thrashing days of the early 90s and the slower vibes that came in by the middle of said decade. It is nothing short of amazing that in spite of a long career of punishing themselves on the road and the lion’s share of this fold either flirting with or surpassing the 50 year old mark, Kreator sound like they haven’t aged a day. Check out a full review at this location.
Septicflesh – Infernus Sinfonica MMXIX (Season of Mist)
Between a successful balance in the final mix and just enough genuine banter with the crowd to prove immersive, “Infernus Sinfonica MMXIX” shows its colors as a recording which captured a night to remember. Decades of experience as musicians and performers are apparent in airtight musicianship alongside audience engagement and the record ensuresSepticflesh have a fitting live album for their long-lasting brand of musical brutality. From the rolling depths of an enthusiastic orchestra to the touching notes of an almost angelic choir, the brightest moments of a live ensemble elevate this live album from enjoyable to something worth remembering. Read our review here.