As is SPB tradition, we've gotten together to compile a list of the albums our staff are enjoying most so far this year. Here are 55 records (with a little overlap – spoiler: turns out Run The Jewels just released a pretty good album) that you need to check out this year.
Dennis's top 5 albums of 2020 so far
The Blue And You (Through Love Records/Epidemic Records)
This album surprised me in a positive way. It brought back great memories. By now it has been with me long enough to have its own memories attached to the music. I still come back to this record often. As it is my most played album of this year it deserves the top spot on this list!
666 Goats Carry My Chariot (Osmose Productions)
Bütcher shows us how old-school speed metal can be and perhaps even should be played nowadays. With a crazy amount of energy for one. It is a homage to the golden days of speed metal, but also very much the sound of today. This is my favorite metal record of this year and if you even remotely like metal I think you need to check this out.
Porrima (Sludgelord Records/22 Dicembre Records)
Postvorta shows us how cathartic post-metal can be. This album takes it time, but that is what you expect of the genre, don’t you? Everything on this album clicks, the songs, the production, the lyrics. Porrima takes you on a trip through darkness, but shows you there always is hope.
The Fallen Crimson (Temporary Residence/Pelagic Records)
This is the first Envy record I ever listened to. The way this band plays with darkness and light is amazing. The range goes from almost ethereal to very aggressive and when it is all over it makes sense. This is the type of music you can and need to spin often, there is so much to discover.
High Times In The Dark (Forty Below Records)
If you would have told me I would enjoy something like The Claudettes ten years ago I would have laughed. No way I would listen to music where piano plays such a big role. Musical preferences change, people can grow like that. In fact, I like this record so much it deserves extra attention. This band transport me to a dark and smoke filled bar every time I hear them. My visits have been frequent. I love this band, go check ‘m out!
Cheryl's top 5 albums of 2020 so far
Im Wald (Kunsthall Produktionen)
Paysage d'Hiver may have been active in the underground black metal scene for over two decades, yet Im Wald is still only Wintherr's first official full length. Over the last twenty plus years the enigmatic Swiss artist has released a steady stream of demos and splits,as well as being a member of Darkspace, and Im Wald is the culmination of years of hard, experimental work. The black metal that is put forth here is atmospheric and meditative and the two hour runtime will feel like minutes, such is the power of transformative music like this. It will evoke feelings of isolation and reflection and as soon as the crunching, snow-laden footsteps of "So hallt es wider" fade out, the impulse to lose yourself in the icy forests of Switzerland will take over once again.
Stare Into Death and Be Still (Debemur Morti Productions)
Ulcerate have been evolving their highly technical death metal for a long time (the band formed in 2002) and while 2016s Shrines of Paralysis was a monument to change, the Ulcerate of 2020 is a wholly different beast. Stare Into Death and Be Still doesn’t take any obvious routes to its end goal and while you might spend much of the time feeling a sort of trepidation as to what might unfold, the music takes you on a journey to the centre of catastrophe, to an explosion of near apocalyptic proportions... Stare Into Death and Be Still is an extraordinary feat of musical engineering.
Eternity of Shaog (I, Voidhanger Records)
Black metal is an ever-evolving beast and there are a handful of bands who are consistently pushing the underground of the genre into new territory; generally these bands are one person projects who release music independently or on small labels – for the aesthetic, of course. One such band is France’s Esoctrilihum, who have released four full lengths since 2017 and with Eternity of Shaog – the fifth – the band have pushed themselves once again, a little further out from the underground. Chaos is welcomed in the world of Esoctrilihum and it is worshipped during Eternity of Shaog as a deity – chaos is the ultimate overseer and madness is its twisted soul.
Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm! (Prosthetic Records)
Heavy music is changing, for the better, and one such band using their space for good is Canadian duo Vile Creature. 2018s Cast of Static and Smoke was a science-fiction based narrative that while still rooted in human emotion, contained some more fantastical elements than might usually be found in the doom/sludge scene. The Vile Creature of 2020 are more experienced, even more open to talking about their collective and personal past, and Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm! therefore feels more visceral, raw and more truly honest about oppression and the changes that are already underway in this, our modern and destructive world.
City Burials (Peaceville Records)
The Swedes have been developing their sound since their beginnings thirty years ago and while members have changed over three decades, the main thrust/founders of the band, Renkse and Nyström have kept Katatonia solidly at the forefront of their genre. From doom/death metal to shimmering, progressive heavy rock, the band may have moved on from their origins, but the emotive aspect is still very much present in their music. The final trifecta of songs on City Burials show Katatonia at their most vulnerable and honest and in “Lachesis,” they take a short respite from the pain to collect themselves and begin the final descent into hopelessness. “Untrodden,” then, is the final song and it is the culmination of everything that Katatonia stand for. The vivid pain that is evident is made all the more tangible by Renkse’s voice and its exposing of the inner turmoil that most of us have found ourselves in in life.
Spyros's top 5 albums of 2020 so far
Old Man Gloom
Seminar VIII: Light of Meaning /Seminar IX: Darkness of Being (Profound Lore)
The return of the tricksters in 2020 has been nothing short of spectacular. Carrying down the recent tradition of releasing multiple albums at once, Old Man Gloom return at a tumultuous time following the tragic death of Caleb Scofield and amidst a pandemic that has parallized the entire world. The dual works of Light of Meaning/Darkness of Being sees this extraordinary act pull together their post-extreme music tropes, topped with some unexpected additions in softer applications and retreating distortion. The result is a fantastical work with ample ambition that is clearly fulfilled, regardless of Old Man Gloom’s nonchalant attitude and sardonic intent.
The Soft Pink Truth
Shall We Go on Sinning so that Grace May Increase? (Thrill Jockey)
The project of Drew Daniels, of the famed and revered experimental duo Matmos, may appear sporadically but it always leaves an impression. Back in 2004 with Do You Want New Wave or Do You Want the Soft Pink Truth?, Daniels covered in a dance/electronic fashion, punk and hardcore acts. A decade later with Why Do The Heathen Rage?, Daniels took it a step further and went on the deep end covering black metal artists, going as deep underground to uncover Beherit. While these investigations have been very interesting it is with The Soft Pink Truth’s latest work Shall We Go on Sinning so that Grace May Increase? that Daniels really awes. Through abstract sound design, ambient interludes, hellish jazz lounge atmospherics, The Soft Pink Truth create a feverish work of forward-thinking and introspective, experimental electronica of the highest quality.
Im Wald (Kunsthall Produktionen)
Best known for being a member of the criminally overlooked transcendental Swiss black metal act Darkspace, Tobias Macki has another project lurking in the darkness in Paysage d’Hiver. Originally founded in 1997 the project has unleashed a myriad of demos, yet it is only now that the debut record of the project Im Wald sees the light of day. Where Darkspace weaved ambient and black metal, glimpsing into the beyond, the astral plane and the vast cosmos, Paysage d’Hiver uses the same tools, but it is bound to this earth. The darkness of space is lifted and in its place Im Wald erects a cold, oppressive narrative through snowy mountain passages and dark forests, a perfect introspection masterfully performed through lo-fi production, relentless progressions and an unyielding spirit.
Mestarin Kynsi (Nuclear Blast)
Masters of space and time, experienced psychonauts of the grim and dark, the works of Oranssi Pazuzu have always offered an introverted glimpse into the unknown. Caught between the psychedelic and the extreme, these Finnish masters have been able to awaken once more their trademark mind bending sense with Mestarin Kynsi, their first work through Nuclear Blast. Here, in a strange union of opposites, Oranss Pazuzu combine the relentless repetition in the core of dance music to construct an asphyxiating offering of blackened marvels, once again causing reality to melt into their surrealist ideals.
Heaven to a Tortured Mind (Warp)
It is a rollercoaster ride and right now we are at its peak. That is the best way to describe Yves Tumor evolution through the years. For the talented producer started off in the fringes of experimental music, dealing with sound design and noise creating magnificent sonic collages, building stunning works in When Man Fails You and Serpent Music. The first drastic change appeared in the magnificent Safe In The Hands of Love, with Yves Tumor moving into an off-kilter still, but pop territory. That is now expanded further with Heaven To A Tortured Mind finding Yves Tumor in a rock form, with its experimental overhead of course, and a soul twist. It is a work that completes a long awaited transformation, and propels Yves Tumor within reach of the mainstream in a stellar introduction.
Loren's top 5 albums of 2020 so far
First Kiss (Iron Lung Records)
Bark and bite. This is what hardcore means to me. It’s angry and pummeling, aggressive but without the machismo. Put on the record, flip sides a few minutes later, repeat.
Ditches (Drunken Sailor)
Energetic garage-punk with subtle emotional pull. It covers all the bases and avoids that “samey” trap that so much of its genre succumbs to. This record is alternately high strung, , anxious, angry and beautiful.
L’ennui (Red Scare Industries/Gunner Records)
It translates as “Boredom” (the googler tells me), but it sure ain’t. This is a mishmash of all the good style of punk in one tight package. Angry, singalong, political-but-not-jingoistic…oh yeah. Plus, all the lyrics are in French so you get to make up your own as you singalong.
Terminal Amusements (Dine Alone Records)
Drakulas are a concept band with some spacey and post-apocalyptic urban warrior tones. They also share members with Riverboat Gamblers – which is relevant because Terminal Amusements falls right between all those references. This is the soundtrack to your next bender that ends up at a 24/7 arcade.
Run The Jewels
RTJ4 (Jewel Runners)
I’m still working out where I’d place this record, as a couple close contenders pushed for the #5 spot on my list. The fourth collaboration between Killer Mike and El-P is forceful and opinionated as ever, with killer beats and delivery. Perhaps the most interesting part of RTJ4 to me is that it’s so good, but lacks obvious favorite songs. In other words, it’s damn consistent.