No matter how you look at it, 2020 is going to go down as one of the most dismal years in modern history. And the music industry, unfortunately, took a massive hit with the shutdown of all touring and live performances across the globe. With that being said, however, there have been some incredible records that were released in 2020 and here are my Top 5 for the first half of this year:
01) Ihsahn – Telemark (Candlelight Records)
Ihsahn has spent a career putting his own unique stamp on black and avant-garde metal going back to his days in Emperor. His solo work has always turned heads, but in my opinion, his 2020 EP Telemark, with a nod to his home in Northern Norway, is the pinnacle of his solo career. Black metal through and through but with Ihsahn’s signature jazz influence, Telemark takes us to another time and place; that being his native land. His choice to record the lyrics in Norwegian only – and with no clean vocals at all – adds to the Nordic authenticity.
The horns are so smooth – warm at times; cold when they need to be – and the variedly complex guitar work demonstrates just how far Ihsahn has mastered this instrument over the past number of years. It’s not just the musicianship but also the arranging that makes this stand out. I don’t think I’ve listened to a record more than this one from start to finish in 2020. His Lenny Kravitz(!) cover of “Rock N Roll is Dead” is merely the icing on the cake, but reason alone to buy this outstanding record.
02) Paradise Lost – Obsidian (Nuclear Blast)
The first three tracks on this record, “Darker Thoughts,” “Fall From Grace,” and “Ghosts” are so expertly written and performed that it’s almost too easy to forget that there’s an entire record’s worth of what will be classics on this flawless LP.
Moody, dark, emotional, this record really hits you and doesn’t let up. Nick Holmes’ voice is in top form and that guitar tone is so biting. In fact, the musicianship and the recording quality is one of the best I’ve listened to this year. You’ll listen to the record and then need time to reflect on what you just listened to. Just packed with depth and emotion.
Keep in mind the last bonus track, “Defiler.” It comes 50 minutes into the record and has this main riff that rattles your speakers just the right way. I also need to mention my deep love of the track “Ghosts” that brings me to the 80’s every time I hear. How I yearn to be back in that decade right now.
03) Taake and Whoredom Rife (split) – Pakt – ( Svartekunst Productions)
We reviewed this MLP earlier this year. I loved it when I first heard it and I still love it now. Taake’s use of the 12 string and steel string guitars shows just how gifted Hoest is at songcraft. And you will never hear a Sisters of Mercy cover like how Taake treats “Heartland.”
Whoredom Rife crushes with “From Nameless Pagan Graves” and also shows us they can slow things down just a bit and still bring the blackness with emotion in “En Lenke Smidd I Blod.” Whoredom Rife is so quickly making their mark in the Norwegian scene. I only wish I able to be back in Bergen to go see them.
04) Abysmal Dawn – Phylogenesis (Season of Mist)
Look, Phylogenesis is Abysmal Dawn’s greatest record to date.
The hooks, the riffs, the amazing leads… this record has it all and it just has so much appeal to a wide variety of listeners. There is so much to love here and the care and craft that Charles Elliott and mates put into this release comes out shining brilliantly. The six years between this record and the previous was definitely worth the wait.
Also check out our recent interview with Charles Elliott here.
05) Behemoth – A Forest – (EP – Metal Blade)
Folks in the living cesspool known as Facebook seem to be split about the Behemoth + Niklas Kvarforth take on the Cure classic. But this isn’t surprising because few in the realm of today’s anti-social media don’t even bother listening to tracks before commenting on them. Niklas Kvarforth is, perhaps, one of the most misunderstood artists in metal and his heartfelt genuine vocal on the track is completely on point. The other tracks on this EP, “Shadows ov Ea Cast Upon Golgotha” and “Evoe” could have easily landed on I Loved You at Your Darkest.