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Fifteen Of The Most Powerfully Standout Records From Across 2020

Time is relative.

Below, check out 15 particularly standout records from across 2020, including albums by the following artists: Afsky, Alpha Hopper, Body Void/ Keeper (who appear together on the same record), Eyelet, Fluisteraars, Ganser, Kassad, Metz, Mystras, No Man, Nuvolascura, Pyrrhon, Respire, Sprain, and USA Nails.

The list is not ranked, and this list is not to the exclusion of the greatness of any records that do not appear here or anywhere else on this website.

Two-thirds of the entries feature albums for which full reviews or mentions were already on the site; in these cases, the included text is an excerpt from the corresponding article. In every entry, there’s a Bandcamp embed of the music in question. Clicking on the embedded music will lead to pages with more information about the respective artists. If there’s an issue with displaying the music, please refresh the page and/ or wait a moment.

Afsky – Ofte jeg drømmer mig død 

The Danish depressive black metal project Afksy has captured a work of magnificent power on their new album Ofte jeg drømmer mig død, which is available via Vendetta Records.

Turning on the richly engaging, powerful music feels like stepping into the path of a blistering, scorching wind that has been roaring for centuries as a scourge upon the less fortunate who have been left to the elements. The agonizingly bleak, blindingly intense riffing and percussion throughout this album together feel like a stunning portrait of the real-world pain that has been experienced by too many, and the sheer stunning intensity of this album makes the music land with a jarringly grim sense of reality.

The maelstroms of lacerating guitar blasts and devastating drums barely ever let up. There’s no readily apparent light or “solution” to the pained agony, but there’s an essential humanity.

Read a full review at this link.

Alpha Hopper – Alpha Hex Index

On their new album Alpha Hex Index, Buffalo, New York’s Alpha Hopper perform a kind of zany and largely unpredictable punk-leaning noise rock that feels instantly refreshing.

In terms of the overall vibe even if not the actual structural workings of the songs, the album feels as catchy as an arty pop record, even while remaining relentlessly rather abrasive when getting into the teeming thicket of the listening experience.

Fundamentally, the band utilizes a lot of familiar rock music motifs, with strong and propulsive melodies pushing their latest album along and helping to make the listening experience feel inviting. Alpha Hopper build the experience of their music significantly beyond this point, with confrontationally off-kilter song structures that seem to reflect an experience like looking into a mirror and suddenly seeing an alien in place of one’s own face. There’s a surging, free-flowing sense of cathartic nihilism in the songs, as if staring at an incomprehensible otherworldly image straight-on and having a genuinely good time in the process.

The album — from the swaggering basslines to the staggered guitar riffing to the riot grrrl-inspired singing — feels genuinely fun to hear, like a sonic carnival ride through a dilapidated fairgrounds in some largely forgotten woodsy hamlet. Alpha Hex Index is available via Hex Records and Swimming Faith Records, the latter of which is the work of the band’s own John Toohill, who also masterminds the hardcore-leaning noise rock project Science Man.

Body Void/ Keeper – Split

The new split 12″ from the California sludge and doom metal bands Body Void and Keeper packs a stunning, mesmerizing whirlwind of blackened sludge metal fury.

Generally, the release centers on relentless musical agony that the bands have somehow made invigorating with a deranged flair, like the songs represent that point past initial pain when shock sets in and feelings turn to twisted and demented bliss. Thanks to the sheer thundering physical power of all the performances, that pain and subsequent musically expressed intensity can’t help but jump into the psychological realm too.

Body Void open the release with a venomous, almost fifteen-minute long track called “Androgyne,” which ties into the band’s established theme of confronting social pressure on people who are outside of Westernized gender roles. The band begin with surges of misery-drenched sludge metal riffs that methodically repeat over and over in increasingly twisted forms, and in the latter part of their contribution, they majorly spike the energy to the point that wherever you’re listening, raw energy as if feeling this song performed right in front of you shines through.

This split record is available via Roman Numeral Records and Tridroid Records. Read a full review at this link.

Eyelet – The Devil Shining Out Your Eyes

The Baltimore-based screamo group Eyelet sound emotionally pulverizing on their fiery new album The Devil Shining Out Your Eyes, which dropped on New Year’s Eve.

The record feels endlessly scorching. The music quickly proves monumentally heavy, and it’s racked with a very personally accessible tension thanks to the shifting, grueling dynamics. Outside of a selection of slower (although not exactly peaceful) moments like segments of “See How You Writhe” and “Unborn,” Eyelet perform with brisk and propulsive tempos and pretty much constantly sound at least somewhat off-kilter, as if haphazardly stumbling through a burning building on every song.

The rich, world-building dynamic shifts, in a broad sense, feel like the most obviously screamo-oriented element of the band’s instrumentals, as Eyelet keep their energy up and stagger through spiraling musical chaos. Intertwining the band’s crushing post-metal heaviness with these persistent shifts in footing makes the monumental weight feel very personal. The richly intricate songwriting amplifies this feeling, as there’s a sense that the songs reflect surging emotional tidal waves of depressive despair and regret in a very real world and real-time sense. Rather than a vast, expansive world of sound, Eyelet have shaped their earth-rattling post-metal ferocity into an in-your-face jolt.

There’s something communally refreshing about the music, which spirals into its inner world with abandon. The music does not waver — it’s honest, blunt, and powerful, and it feels like a real reflection of shared humanity. The Devil Shining Out Your Eyes is available via Zegema Beach Records, The Ghost Is Clear Records, and i.corrupt Records.

Fluisteraars – Bloem

The new album Bloem from the Dutch post-black metal group Fluisteraars feels absolutely stunning.

The record feels like an entry point to some gloriously blossoming alternate world where chaos and beauty grow right alongside one another with the same bright colors in each, to take a cue from the flowery album art. Occasionally, Bloem even feels startlingly tear-jerking, because the band build up honestly beautiful melodies with the tools of the black metal palette, which amplifies the melodic experience’s impact big time.

Across Bloem, the band find a dizzying array of fresh paths towards making the cacophonous musical storms that they’ve captured more intimate and human-feeling. This feature feels spotlighted on the track “Nasleep,” whose regally persistent, dramatic conclusion feels emotionally gripping.

Within the world of the album, ominous clouds still hang in the visible distance — and Fluisteraars lean into a blast beat melee at points like the opening of “Vlek” — but a comfortably dark familial feeling settles into place.

Bloem by Fluisteraars is available via Eisenwald. Read a full album review at this link.

Ganser – Just Look At That Sky

On their richly dynamic new album Just Look At That Sky, the Chicago noise rock group Ganser have captured a deeply stirring portrait of creeping mental malaise.

The songs feel modern, yet not overly tied to a particular moment in time. The free-flowing melodies that course through the gentle abrasion of the record feel like they’ve encapsulated a timeless musical portrait of facing a void of uncertainty and feeling, perhaps, like there’s not much left to do besides pick up a guitar or sit behind a drum set. After all — just look at that sky!

The record’s tone may feel a bit nihilistic at times, but not in a necessarily depressive way. The lyrics and frequently melancholic, contemplative melodies more feel like they lean towards poignant catharsis.

Just Look At That Sky progresses from the jumpy, angular riffing of album opener “Lucky” to the bright rhythmic tumbles of “Emergency Equipment And Exits” and beyond. Ganser also deal with somewhat more subdued sonic territory — the slower vibe on “Shadowcasting,” for instance, makes the record feel a bit like malaise-driven jazz rock, as if the band are performing in a smoky club that’s somewhere well off the familiar path.

Read an interview with Ganser at this link.

Kassad – London Orbital

Turning on London Orbital, the latest album from the U.K-based post-black metal project Kassad, feels like getting suddenly enveloped in a frigid, shiver-inducing wind.

The album progresses through frequently lengthy, carefully built melodies that are repeatedly punctuated with somber bursts of gut-clenching fury, like the whole piece is soundtracking a solitary journey amidst desolate streets, interrupted by moments of keeling over in anguish.

There’s a remarkable amount of cohesion and forward-moving, searing intensity in the tremolo-picked riffing and repeatedly maniacal drum patterns, and London Orbital grounds these melodies in a kind of gritty, close-to-the-chest realism via the ambiance that frequently pops up on the tracks for extended periods.

The music seems to capture that experience of standing alone with nothing but the wind tunnels of the spaces in between buildings for company. There’s not so much of some kind of otherworldly, over-the-top menace, as the music always stays quite focused on the somberly swaying, melodic core. Instead, there’s the internally stewing emotional crush of chilling loneliness, packing an immersive confrontation with desolation.

Read a full album review at this link.

Metz – Atlas Vending

Atlas Vending, a spiraling roller coaster of an album from the Toronto noise rockers Metz, rules.

The group utilizes song structure to their advantage. Rather than a consistently verse-chorus-verse vibe, Metz seem to veer wherever the music leads, launching off into a world of simmering, tense musical chaos. As a whole, Atlas Vending feels like a sometimes delirious but always fist-pumping dance through a weighty blanket of metaphorical, metaphysical fog, as if shaking one’s fists at the shadows while a roaring thunderstorm dumps sweeping rain. The album feels inwardly exhilarating, as the band launch into some truly emotionally viscous musical grime and absolutely refuse to stop their relentless movement forward.

Here, the instrumentals really shine, and even without consulting the lyrics, these elements of the record could no doubt aptly communicate the wild emotional journey. Atlas Vending sounds rather thick, as if carrying the spirit of doom and/ or sludge metal, which might be a startling element for a noise rock record, and the frequently rather extended song structures help amplify this immersively doomy feeling.

The songs consistently hit hard — theoretically, one could latch their attention on to any one of the instruments and follow along throughout Atlas Vending, finding a rich and expansive journey. The weighty basslines feel like electrified quicksand, the shredding guitar riffs seem like musical lightning strikes, and the drums hit like waves of ground-rattling thunder — and through the noise, there’s a strange feeling of bliss in the relentless push forward.

Atlas Vending by Metz is available via Sub Pop Records.

Mystras – Castles Conquered and Reclaimed

Castles Conquered and Reclaimed — the new raw black metal album from Mystras, which is a project of Ayloss, who’s also behind Spectral Lore — packs a wellspring of electrifying ferocity.

Seriously: the entire record feels like it’s catapulting a never-ending stream of sounds at the listener that are simultaneously caustic and invigorating, as if the artist has dialed into a stream of freeing energy that runs through even the most torrential onslaughts.

That freeing energy makes quite a prominent appearance across the album. For instance, on the title track, which opens the record, speedy surges of guitar riffing with a war metal-like intensity leap out of the mix towards listeners, as do the bloody hailstorm of consistently ferocious drumming and the lacerating vocals that course through the mix like wind across a field of medieval battle.

The low-fi production does not distract in the slightest from the emotions that are at the core of the record, which feels deathly serious and deeply emotionally compelling.

Castles Conquered and Reclaimed is available via I, Voidhanger Records. Read a full review at this link.

NØ MAN – ERASE

The D.C.-area group NØ MAN has returned with a perfectly crushing new album ERASE, whose eight songs pack a raging brew blending caustic blasts of hardcore ferocity with some off-kilter vibes à la classic-feeling screamo, which help give the record a real kick.

Rather than a birds eye view-oriented perspective of themes like the album’s churning tension, the songs stand right in the emotional trenches. The dynamics swing like a roller coaster, and the album feels like it’s taking listeners on a ride through deep caverns of chaos in which the walls themselves might feel like they’re screaming — even if, physically speaking, nothing’s really there.

ERASE feels exhilarating to listen to, and thanks to the all-around strikingly solid songwriting, there’s something that feels so essential about the album. It’s sincere, and “real” — it’s a ready-made soundtrack for tumbling through the chaos of life.

Read a full review at this link.

Nuvolascura – As We Suffer From Memory and Imagination

The latest album from the L.A,-area screamo group Nuvolascura sounds absolutely ferocious.

The record — called As We Suffer From Memory and Imagination and available via Zegema Beach Records and Dog Knights Productions — packs frantic bursts of energy that sound like a musical portrait of a personal perspective of a world in disarray. The personal perspective part of that equation is important — the group doesn’t just sound like they’re presenting chaos that can be held at arm’s length and observed from a distance. Rather, with the off-kilter, physically ferocious rhythms that pulsate throughout this record, Nuvolascura have delivered an inescapably personal viewpoint of the foreboding hurricane of chaos that hangs like a shadow over the album.

All of the elements of this latest record from Nuvolascura feel perfectly united to deliver the band’s captivatingly intense, musically intricate foray into laceratingly intense chaos.

As a whole, As We Suffer From Memory and Imagination by Nuvolascura packs a powerful mixture of chaotic intensity and propulsive energy, and the emotional connection provided by the raw melodies coursing through the mix makes the album hit even harder.

Read a full album review at this link.

Pyrrhon – Abscess Time

The New York City-area band Pyrrhon deliver an uncompromising, immersive whirlwind of lacerating avant-garde death metal on their new album Abscess Time, which is available via Willowtip Records.

Abscess Time features a straightforward helping of brutality with frequently wildly off-kilter rhythms running through the mix, and the physical heaviness and the technical prowess frequently run right alongside one another, with little sense of any element dialing down.

The elements of this album feed nicely into one another, to the point that the album feels rather organic, even if twisted. The contortion of the rhythms gives a kind of ghoulishly “real” face to the fiery chaos that sits at the center of the album, as if peering at some kind of metaphysically incomprehensible portrait of connective tissue of our reality.

Read an interview with Pyrrhon at this link. Vocalist Doug Moore offered a poignant observation, noting that “it’s no secret that underground metal isn’t going to save the world, but at least it shows that we still have a fucking pulse.”

Respire – Black Line

The Toronto group Respire sound inescapably compelling on their scorching new album Black Line, which is available now via Church Road Records.

The band mix a vibrant array of styles, from post-metal to screamo to orchestral music, and their creation feels strikingly organic. The components of Black Line don’t feel haphazardly pasted together in the slightest. Instead, the progressions and movements between styles across this album feel startlingly smooth, like a fine-tuned funnel for the emotional fire that sits at the core.

Although Respire sound undeniably physically intense, and their instrumentals feel rather staggeringly formidable in isolation, the group molds these elements into a searing exploration of what feels like metaphysical heartache.

Read a full album review at this link.

Sprain – As Lost Through Collision

As Lost Through Collision — the latest record from the L.A. group Sprain, which is available via The Flenser — feels simultaneously majestic and crushing.

On their latest effort, Sprain perform a kind of expanded slowcore. Foundationally, their music features extended, pensive, and rather atmospheric indie rock melodies, and Sprain amplify the extremes of their sound to a startling and consistently fresh-feeling degree. The softest moment appears on “My Way Out,” when Sprain dial their music down to a sonic whisper — before the song suddenly bursts into far more intense territory, like a wall of water breaching the top of a dam.

Across As Lost Through Collision, Sprain consistently veer back and forth across the sonic spectrum, alternating between blistering post-metal and wispy, gentler melodies that feel like sonic encapsulations of a kind of emotional nausea. Sprain’s melodies consistently feel strikingly gaunt and twisted, as if the group’s new record captures an experience of pushing ahead through an emotional ocean while getting dragged down by growing currents pulling the opposite direction.

Tension seems to define much of the music, with an apparent focus on the process of build and release above some kind of conclusive relief. In a way, the record — with its expansive soundscape-like songs and consistent undertow of sometimes grueling tension — feels like a soundtrack for the mundane machinations of day-to-day life, and the honesty and abandon with which Sprain approach their craft feels refreshing. Thanks to the sometimes lengthy songs and richly wavering dynamics, As Lost Through Collision feels like an enriching, all-encompassing experience.

USA Nails – Character Stop

On Character Stop, the U.K. noise rockers in USA Nails perform compellingly exuberant tunes that seem to rattle with punk-infused, psychedelic-leaning intensity.

Overall, this recent USA Nails effort features a lot of energy, as if immersively reflecting the experience of a gleefully harried live performance like those that so many folks missed throughout 2020 and its aftermath. The vibrant songs pop like oil on a hot stove, with a grounding focus in the mix that makes the journey feel accessible, even if sometimes intensely off-kilter.

The restraint at moments like the track “How Was Your Weekend?”, which features tense but less overtly thick rhythms and a kind of morbid, spoken word-inspired singing, gives the album a bit of a chest-thumping and subtly soulful edge — and combined with the streaks of overt intensity and finely tuned chaos that run through the record, Character Stop ends up feeling like a full-fledged immersion into a world of mental malaise.

Feelings like impostor syndrome, a clash between grim reality and desired success, and a determined lurch forward, even in the face of adversity — all of these mental images seem to swirl around within the world of Character Stop, and the exuberant abandon with which USA Nails have dived into this emotional territory makes the album feel remarkably freeing. Character Stop is available via Hex Records.