To look for something good in this particular year might be seen as distasteful. But I think that the never-ending pursuit of finding new and exciting music has been in fact one of the few things that not even coronavirus could stop us from doing. Luckily enough, the quality of so many records released in this awful 2020 surpasses the fact that we barely had a couple of months of (proper) live music. If this has been tough to deal with for fans, I cannot even grasp the huge damage that the impossibility of touring has been done to small and medium bands all around the globe. So check out some of these records and, if you enjoy them, try to support their makers by buying some of their stuff in Bandcamp, or wherever else.
Top 20 Albums of 2020
20: Vinnum Sabbathi – Of Dimensions And Theories
Vinnum Sabbathi keep following the space-themed stoner doom of the Almighty Sleep, although applying their own tricks and likes to it. This stoner’s guide to the galaxy grows slow but steady, and only gets interrupted by some vintage sci-fi samples. If that was not cool enough, we are talking about probably the finest physical edition of all the records in this list. Absolute beauty.
19: REZN – Emerging
Chicago-based REZN paint in their 2020 record, “Emerging”, the surface of an alien planet covered in quicksand. One which is the playground of some monstrous cosmic entities, probably the only ones able to power those riffs and then caress the listener with some necessary havens of peace.
18: Acid Mess – Sangre de Otros Mundos
From the North of Spain, but drawing from the huge source of Andalusian rock, Acid Mess has brought to the table one of the latest and most mesmerizing releases of the year. In their previous records, they started in the heavy psych pitch and there they shone. But now that they have been adding drops of garage punk, prog and even Eastern psychedelic to their mix, is when we get to see the true potential of Acid Mess, and how fun is their approach.
17: Psychlona – Venus Skytrip
I have to apologize for this one: in my infinite ignorance, I found the name of the band and the front cover for Psychlona’s releases kinda “cliché”, therefore being late to listen to them properly. However, it has been the supreme tastiness of this second record by these Brits which has made me realize how good this trio is. A proper skytrip, in capital letters.
16: Lowrider – Refractions
No list is complete with a good and unexpected comeback. This year has been the turn of the Swedish Lowrider, spiritual relatives of most of the amazing stoner rock bands that the Scandinavian country keeps delivering, Dozer or Truckfighters being probably the most prominent examples of the common interests of Lowrider. If you want to listen to a pure desert rock record this year, this one is it.
15: Elephant Tree – Habits
Elephant Tree stands among their smoke-friendly peers for a sense of eerie epicness often despised by the average stoner. Their uplifting power (and its awesome front cover) made their eponymous record one of my favorites of their year and probably of the last decade in the stoner category. In their third LP, reviewed in greater depth by Mr. Fuzz, the band stays at a very similar level, balancing the lack of surprise factor with respect to the medusa with an extra degree of experience.
14: Insect Ark – The Vanishing
Insect Ark is a “rara avis” in this list, being probably the most meditative and sleepy record of the bunch (and with the creepiest cover). The music Dana Schechter (ex-Swans) performs, now accompanied on drums by Andy Patterson (ex-SubRosa), is another step forward in her praiseworthy goal of hypnotizing us all and in the darkness bind us.
13: Solar Corona – Saint-Jean-de-Luz
With their two latest records, Solar Corona has joined the elite league of LSD-infused, instrumental titans (thinking of bands like Colour Haze, Causa Sui, Monkey3, or My Sleeping Karma). These Portuguese fellas add a saxophone to their lysergic potion, finishing up their sound and making them stand out. Four tracks, one hour, no rush at all, and the perfect frame for meditation or lighting torches (the choice is yours).
12: Maud the Moth – Orphnē
Disclaimer: you will not find fuzz in this one. Amaya López-Carromero, alma máter of Maud the Moth, feels comfortable going along the frontier between gloomy metal and neoclassical music. Her “Orphnē” sometimes warms you like a fireplace in the worst of the winter, yet sometimes goes down your spine with a freezing finger. That duality and the smooth-as-silk convergence of piano, voice, and ominous percussion are maybe the strongholds of this incredible record.
11: Drown – Subaqueous
If you thought that the entire sub-sub-subgenre of “nautik funeral doom” started and ended with the mighty Ahab, is because you did not know about the existence of the doom adventure of Markov Soroka (better known for his black metal projects like Tchornobog, Aureole, or Krukh). This “Subaqueous” is a continuation of his 2014 record, released under the most appropriate name of Slow. Here, in two long and overwhelming songs, Soroka drags us into the Marianas trench by chaining our ankles to some riffs heavy as lead. Enjoy the sinking.
10: Dopelord – Sign of the Devil
It takes a specially heavy lifting to pull up a band named Dopelord from the mud of their own naming. Too many bands called Stoner Witches, Black Goats, or Weed Wieners to choose from. But in terms of heaviness, the Polish quartet is pretty much unbeatable. So here we have their fourth record, “Sign of the Devil”, proving once again that maybe they are the truly ever chosen by Satan to bring his music to us mortals.
9: Pallbearer – Forgotten Days
There are more and more people who claim that Pallbearer is the biggest, most innovative, and, overall, greatest doom metal band of the last decade. These people justify this opinion by saying that they have released an exquisite collection of records, have never stopped growing, and mixing in new textures and influences to their music. And they add that the massive “Forgotten Days” just underpins this statement. (Yes, I am one of those people).
8: Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou – May Our Chambers Be Full
It could look like Emma Ruth Rundle (doomy folk singer-songwriter) and Thou (sludge metal champions) don’t have lots of things in common, at least musically. But when you dig a bit in their respective careers, you find out a shared interest in darkness and beauty, taken from very different approaches. They really take advantage of those common grounds in this collaborative record, which feels like a breath of fresh air in metal, yet eerily familiar.
7: Neptunian Maximalism – Éons
Please, skip this one if you want to hold on to your comfort zone. I hate that concept, but it really takes a conscious effort to step up and listen to this behemoth of a record. “Éons” is a sonic voyage of drone and jazz exploring new territories in psychedelics. More than two hours of tribal descent into madness accompanied by the imaginary proto-languages of Pierre Lanchantin, chanting about intelligent elephants ruling the Earth after the end of humanity. Definitely, not for everybody.
6: Thy Catafalque – Naiv
Here again, I stray from the path of doom and related stuff to recommend one of the most original records of the year. Maybe if I describe this record as avant-garde metal from Hungary, some of you will run away. For your own good, give “Naiv” a chance. Its patchwork of folk, black metal, prog and even electronics turns out a record as weird as fun.
5: Fuzz – III
It is not easy to pinpoint what exactly makes Fuzz differentiate from the hordes of sabbathian copycats out there. The fact that the trio combines all the classic elements of the genre in such a fun way is probably just because of the genius of their members: Charles Moothart, Ty Segall, and Chad Ubovich. Or maybe the truth is, as they sing, that “there is no sum greater than one” which, in their case, means that the sum of their elements is way bigger than those separately.
4: SUMAC – May You Be Held
The harshest choice of this list. All the rest of them, even the scary stuff like Oranssi or Drown, keeps an eye on melody even when making the most ominous of the music. SUMAC, on the other hand, are not intimidated by stray further away from it and focus on hitting you as hard as possible with an immense wrecking ball of noise. Or in developing a song for long minutes with minimum sounds, in order to make the impact even heavier when it arrives.
3: Bell Witch & Aerial Ruin – Stygian Bough Vol. I
Funeral doom stars (what a concept) Bell Witch and dark druid Aerial Ruin join forces again in one of the most beautiful records of the year, after having already done it in all Bell Witch’s previous records, and especially the groundbreaking “Mirror Reaper”. In this Stygian Bough, Erik Moggridge’s folk side has a more important role in the collaboration, but the record still feels slow and anchored in the mastodontic pace of Jesse Shreibman. Which makes it feel like the most sublime musical handshake of the year.
2: SLIFT – Ummon
There is so much awesomeness in Slift’s last record, “Ummon”, that it becomes almost insulting to summarize it in three or four lines (there you have the full review to repair that). From the astonishing artwork or the titles of the tracks to the greatness of songs like “Thousand Helmets of Gold” or “Lions, Tigers and Bears”, everything here is a highlight. The easiest album to listen to of this whole list, making its one-hour length perhaps the most solid evidence of time relativity up to date. This is what heavy psych should sound like.
1: Oranssi Pazuzu – Mestarin kynsi
Oranssi Pazuzu should ring a bell (a solid gold one, weighing a couple of tons) for every metalhead with an interest in the contemporary heavy music out there. The career of these Finns is rarely flawless, but this “Mestarin kynsi” is probably their opus magna. A true masterpiece of dark music beyond tags and genres, that includes in its mix the decadence of doom, black metal growls, and an unhealthy, psychedelic twist that will make your hair stand on end even a while after it finished. On top of that, everything was live recorded, because if there is anything more insane than this record, that is the talent of these guys. A proper album of the year for a horrific 2020.
By Fat Level
Dark Buddha Rising – “Mathreyata”
Elder – “Omens”
Crippled Black Phoenix – “Ellengæst”
Vile Creature – “Glory! Glory! Apathy Took Helm!”
Jupiterian – “Protosapien”
By Purple Haze Level
By Temperature Level
Osees – “Protean Threat”
R.I.P. – “Dead End”
Disastroid – “Mortal Fools”
Rosy Finch– “Scarlet”
Black Curse – “Endless Wound”
Top Concerts of 2020 (sic)
Big Thief @Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow, UK
Explosions in the Sky @La Riviera, Madrid, SP
Oranssi Pazuzu @YouTube
Ithaca @Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow, UK
Dragunov @Wurlitzer Ballroom, Madrid, SP
DIIV @QMU, Glasgow, UK