Colin’s BRUTALISM top 2020
Ulcerate – Stare Into Death And Be Still
Ulcerate is probably one of the more unique technical death metal bands out there. Raw, uncompromsing and just a ball of chaotic energy, I haven’t been this floored by a band since I discovered Deathspell Omega. Over the years the group has gotten more refined and the group’s 2020 release of “Stare Into Death And Be Still” is probably their pinnacle of work. It is epic, mind bending, and features some new elements such as groove laden riffs that are extremely catchy versus the unnerving jarring ones that have been present on their previous efforts. With tracks like ‘There is No Horizon’ one can really feel the bleak atmosphere of 2020 in the music, but the plodding, catchy rhythms still indicate hope that somehow we may get out alive. Or not.
Abysmal Dawn – Phylogenesis
Abysmal Dawn has been one of those bands that I originally got into with their debut and then got bored with. If there was ever an album to sucker me back in, this would be it. All I can say for “Phylogenesis” is the drums. The drums here are the greatest thing I’ve heard in death metal ever since “Dechristianize” by Vital Remains. They are thunderous, echoing, and above the norm of the standard technical death drumming that is usually heard. Oddly enough the slower, thunderous tones are much more impactful such as on ‘Coerced Evolution’ versus the usual faster, overdrive drumming that bands like Beneath The Massacre crank out (their 2020 effort was awesome too but this one edged them out). Definitely worth looking into for one who wants well polished brutal death metal with technical elements infused and touches of groove.
Vader – Solitude In Madness
Ah the godfathers of the death thrash hybrid, Vader is one of those groups that can crank out the same album 3 times over and fans will still love them. While I’m more of a fan of their epic, orchestra laden albums, a return to the fold of their earlier work still marks “Solitude In Madness” as a step up from “The Empire” and just a great album to head bang too. Riffs from ‘Dancing In The Slaugtherhouse’ and ‘Sanctification Denied’ are excellent, and while a very basic album compared to their mid era work, still solidify Vader as one of the top sounds in death metal. The only downside is it goes by way to fast but new listeners cannot go wrong with this album as it is a great place to start for the group.
Ad Infinitum – Chapter I
OK so this is one is probably more in the vein of gothic rock or symphonic metal, but the vocal approach from main woman Melissa Bonny is hypnotic and the lush atmosphere created by the guitars and symphonics will make this album one to spin over and over. Tracks like ‘Marching On Versailles’ do feature some harder edges with some snarled vocals here and there but let’s face it, a track like ‘See You In Hell’ is the perfect middle finger to what 2020 has given us (in a sarcastic manner of course). Definitely worth checking out for those who are fans of the softer stuff like Evanescence or even Within Temptation will find this appealing. Also for those looking for something ‘fun’ in metal check out ‘This Is Halloween’ on the digital version of “Chapter 1” from Nightmare Before Christmas – perfection!
Imperial Triumphant – Alphaville
For one looking for a unique, bizzarre sound for their 2020 soundtrack, Imperial Triumphant have created an avant garde black metal album that steps out of the shadow of groups like Deathspell Omega and lean more towards the jazz laden side of groups like Dodheimsgard. Jarring, unpredictable, and so confusing sometimes that one HAS to spin it again just to make sure their heard right, this black metal mash up shows just how impressive and far a 3 piece group can go. Tracks like ‘Atomic Age’ feature everything a black metal fan could want with some thought put into it, and ‘The Greater Good’ is so terrifying that one has to stop half way through to take a breather and then delve back into it. Not for the faint of heart but the complexity of the album will be worth the listen all the way through.
Ingested – Where Only Gods May Tread
2020 was the year I discovered ‘slam metal.’ Big thanks to my fellow BRUTALISM writers who helped get me started on the genre with some of their reviews, and while there were a ton of artists this year who cranked out fantastic slam laden albums like Stillbirth and Katalepsy, Ingested stepped up their game by creating that ‘just right’ balance of death metal and slam with their 2020 effort “Where Only Gods May Tread.” It stomps, it crushes, and doesn’t feel like being drowned in acid when hearing a track like ‘The Burden Of Our Failures.’ However, when one spins a track like ‘Leap Of The Faithless’ it goes to show that slam death metal can be epic and grandiose without being bogged down by orchestra or electronics. A great starting place for newcomers for sure to the genre.
Mushroomhead – A Wonderful Life
Sometimes we need something a little ‘different’ and Mushroomhead has been one of those bands in alternative metal/ nu metal that have always presented something different with each release. Going through line up changes constantly always presents new energy, new ideas for the band, and this time around they incorporated another vocalist – this time female – which adds a whole new dynamic to their music. While not the heaviest thing around, the good old fashion early 2000s will certainly come to mind when hearing a track like ‘Seen it All,’ but it is tracks like ‘The Heresy’ and ‘Pulse’ that really show how much the band has evolved. This is certainly their most diverse effort to date and while controversial due to the changes in direction, certainly worth enjoying for those who like metal mid paced.
Acherontas – Psychic Death: The Shattering Of Perceptions
OK OK I know – another Deathspell Omega alike, right? I know I got a lot of them on this list. Sure, Acherontas has dipped into that pool more than once on their 13 years of existence, but they shift sound a little bit on their effort of “Psychic Death,” stepping away from the Deathspell Omega and Behemoth hybrid of death black metal and pushing more towards a sound akin to Funeral Mist or Marduk. The music is ferocious, intelligent, and very catchy. Tracks like ‘Paradigms Of Nyx’ and ‘Coiled Splendor’ have that mid paced groove without sacrificing any of that ‘evil sound’ and are as addictive as the black metal magic of ‘Imago Mortis’ from “Rom 5:12.” One of the more balanced black metal albums of the year that isn’t too esoteric, but in no way just another standard piece of music.
Dark Tranquillity – Moment
Dark Tranquillity can’t seem to put out a bad album. Their blend of Swedish death metal laced with electronics, clean vocals among the harsh ones, and just a great sense of melody seems to make the perfect balance of ferocity and sorrow with hints of wonder. “Moment” seizes listeners and gives them something that is pretty straightforward (for DT standards) but the emotional impact of the music seems much more present versus their last release with “Atoma.” Powerful tracks like ‘The Dark Unbroken’ and ‘Ego Deception’ showcase the softer side of the group while the opening ‘Phantom Days’ are just anthemic and sure to be a concert staple. While not as mesmerizing as “Fiction,” “Moment” is a great starting place for those who are not used to metal at all and need a gate way band to get situated for the more brutal groups out there.
Katalepsy – Terra Mortuus Est
Originally a slam band, Katalepsy has evolved their sound to a more groove laden death metal with hints of slam, and with “Terra Mortuus Est” is the perfect blend of groove laden death metal. Right from the opening ‘Closer Than Flesh’ one is going to be hooked by the riffs, and then bowled over by the Russian ferocity that these guys create. Unique Leader Records really found a gem when they signed these guys on and ‘Kings of the Underground’ is definitely testimony that Katalepsy is one of the better unknowns out there for the brutal death genre. While older listeners may miss those heavy slams, the fusion of technicality and groove when hearing a track like ‘No Rest, No Peace’ will keep listeners grounded and prevent them from turning away.
Draconian – Under A Godless Veil
One cannot live through 2020 and indulge in some sorrowful, depressive doom to try and purge out their pain. Draconian’s “Under A Godless Veil” was well worth the wait as it stays fast to the melancholic doom with hints of gothic tones that have made them so popular since the early 2000s, but here we see even more room for female vocalist Heike to shine since she was brought in on the last album. Her voice matches the atmosphere of sorrow on tracks like ‘Sorrow Of Sophia’ and ‘Sleepwalkers’ and is the perfect antithesis to the growls provided by Anders Jacobsson. Emotionally powerful would be the best way to describe this album. It forces one to stop and listen with its epic proportions. While Draconian don’t really do anything new here, they expand on their ability to create grandiose atmospheres and scale back just a little bit. One won’t find any ‘Death, Come Near Me,’ epics, but sometimes less is a little better.
Deeds Of Flesh – Nucleus
This one was a surprise for me but I was ecstatic when I heard that Deeds had reunited and were cranking out the final chapter to their “Of What’s To Come…” trilogy. At the same time this album is as much a tribute to their now fallen band member, Erik Lindmark, who passed away in 2018 as it is a last piece of the story’s ‘alien invasion’ puzzle. Even without him though, ‘Nucleus’ is a great follow up to the 2013 effort of “Portals To Canaan” and showcases everything that makes Deeds awesome – speed, brutality, and technicality. The production is a little better too as the vocals felt a little buried with the last effort; here they really shine among the hailfire of guitars and drums. Plus, a plethora of guest vocalists are part of the album so it feels like one big compilation album of people paying tribute to Lindmark. Performances by Obie Flett of Pathology, George Corpsegrinder of Cannibal Corpse, Frank Mullen of Suffocation, and Matti Way of Liturgy make this album a huge stand out in Deeds’ discography and overall a great closing chapter to 2020. Highlight tracks include ‘Races Conjoined’ but there are too many to name due to the diversity of what “Nucleus” presents.