Κυριακή 3 Ιανουαρίου 2021

The albums we enjoyed most in 2020... And a review of the year's releases.

The usual prologue would be that no one can say that they have listened to almost everything that was released during 2020. Everyone who claims that is wrong, so we will speak just for our favourite releases and the albums we enjoyed mostly in 2020. The "best" albums of 2020 according to Crystal Logic, and a wider review of the covid-year in metal (mainly) music.

Everything you will read below, are releases that can be found in physical format. "Releases" that were available only digitally, are not included. You will read more words and comments, even full new written reviews and opinions related to the music industry that will probably disappoint a few people that can't handle the truth.

2020 was a hard year but at the same time, it was a year with a LOT of music. It was a year with many diverse releases. Epic heavy metal, US power metal, Lovecraftian black metal, retro hard rock, progressive metal, technical death metal, comeback albums of classic '80s bands and anything else you can imagine and we listened to, while we revisited the Rush, Van Halen, UFO, Quiet Riot, Power Trip, Iron Age and Uriah Heep albums when we mourned the passing of Neil Peart, Eddie Van Halen, Pete Way, Frankie Banali, Riley Gale, Wade Allison, Lee Kerslake and Ken Hensley.

Actually, I think that in almost every year we write "... was a difficult year" but honestly, 2020 was probably the shitiest gloryhole someone can force you in, so let's forget for a while everything else and remember the music. And don't forget to read Rob Halford's Confess and Snowy Shaw's The Book of Heavy Metal.

Written by Andreas Andreou

1. ETERNAL CHAMPION - Ravening Iron (No Remorse)

It's been a while since the TOP album of a year was so obvious. Eternal Champion's sophomore album is a force d'être modern traditional metal classic reaching both artistic and commercial success that breaks the boundaries of underground and epic heavy metal, reaching the second position of the 2020 best albums according to Decibel magazine in the USA, the third position of the 2020 best albums according to Metal Archives, and many top lists of media around the globe.

Jason Tarpey, Arthur Rizk and Co. grow so fast that even the 4-year period that separates the new album from the (already) classic debut The Armor of Ire didn't affect anything, just helped the band to raise the metal banners higher. Being the truest, hardest and best of their kind, the legion of Eternal Champion offered a colossal album that just like the debut will grow to a legendary status in the years to come. A grower that with every listen will reveal layered details that are much more than the legacy of the olde.

From the first moment the "Ravening Iron" track was unleashed, many talked about the Warlord vibe (that actually is Lordian Guard/Lordian Winds) but beneath of that touch lies a huge inspiration from Greek music that influenced the band during their visit in Greece with Arthur Rizk staying for more days, visiting different places. Meanwhile, in "Worms of the Earth" you can locate a Mystification-era Manilla Road vibe, in "Banners of Arhai" they revisit "Shade Gate" (the closing instrumental of the debut album) and the "NOW DIE!" part could be a stand-out moment even in the greatest epic heavy metal albums ever.

At the same time, despite being a solid offering of 8 tracks, fans over the world have different preferences revealing a diversity that many won't recognize from the beginning. American fans love mostly the opening cut ("A Face in the Glare'') while in Europe fans mostly prefer other tracks like "Ravening Iron" and "Worms of the Earth''. Production wise, the wizardry of Arthur Rizk, the most important new musician according to the author of this blog, is perfect for the genre and already has established a sound of his own, influencing a huge part of the scene. But what really makes Eternal Champion a groundbreaking band is not only the fact that they have their own distinguished sound, they are the "heavy metal" band that many fans of different (extreme) genres listen, without actually being "metal fans", and we're talking about the crossover and hardcore scene of the United States. "You will be an outcast if you're living in Texas and don't listen to Eternal Champion", could be written in an engraved iron inscription close to Austin, while there could be another similar one somewhere in Philly.

As for the controversial cover art, an album like this needed a legend to visually represent it and the one who was reached is no other than Ken Kelly (Kiss, Rainbow, Manowar). After a few months of work and in close cooperation with the label's executives and band, Kelly managed to capture everything the band wanted (also based in singer's and lyricist's Jason Tarpey story, The Godblade) adding all the elements that made his art recognizable and at the same time representing what sword-and-sorcery visual art was (and is) about over the years.

Eternal Champion's Ravening Iron is history in the making. Be part of it.

Check also: While Eternal Champion raised their banner higher than everyone, IRONSWORD with Servants of Steel confused most of the lists since their album has "2019" written on the CD format but it was available mainly in the first days of 2020. In 2020 though, the year of great comeback albums, CIRITH UNGOL's Forever Black got a huge anticipated exposure. Some people loved it, others expected more but with a total duration less than 40 minutes Forever Black has a nice flow including excellent tracks like "Stormbringer" while the band tried to capture vibes from all of their albums.

An enjoyable album we loved listening to, is definitely THRONE OF IRON's Adventure One. Real victims of Covid-19, they were trapped in the air, flying from the United States to Greece in order to perform at the last-minute postponed Up the Hammers festival. Their first adventure is a dungeons-and-dragons metal album created with pure passion and fun with the video of "Lichspire" makes you just wanna love them. Do you lift?

2. HITTMAN - Destroy All Humans (No Remorse)

Hittman managed to come full circle returning to the days of great songwriting and sounded fresh at the same time. Catchy, melodic, powerful and inspired, with 8 tracks in the spirit of the best albums of US metal, the guitar duo of Jim Bacchi and John Inglima offers everything that their same titled debut album also did 32 years ago. Singer Dirk Kennedy sounds better than ever in the comeback album that starts with the Savatage -"The Dungeons Are Calling"- similar opening track (using a similar skull-cover), moving to the total US power metal riffing worship of "Breathe", the melodic "The Ledge" and closing with the Queensrÿche vibes of "Love, The Assassin" and those excellent guitar solo parts. How many times have you listened to a new album with excellent guitar solo parts? They're getting less over the years but this is not the case; Destroy All Humans is an album full of inspired and greatly performed guitar parts. The best comeback album of 2020 by a band that returned and is here to stay with more new music and not moving on as a legacy act.

More classic US metal to check: What a refreshing heavy metal sound ARMORED SAINT have in Punching the Sky! And they definitely have one of the best drum sounds you can get out there today. Armored Saint is one of the most confident and solid heavy metal bands, a monster on stage and in the latest album you still get "punches" of great heavy metal. Working again with producer Bill Metoyer, TYRANT added Robert Lowe in vocals and returned with Hereafter, a magnificent album including killer tracks like "Dancing on Graves" and "Pieces of Mine".

3. PSYCHOTIC WALTZ - The God-Shaped Void (InsideOut)

It's like not a day passed since Bleeding, the fourth album of Psychotic Waltz, released in 1996. Just like pure artists, Devon Graves, Brian McAlpin, Dan Rock, Ward Evans and Norm Leggio, didn't try to recreate what they did with A Social Grace or Into the Everflow. The latest album is a progressive metal redemption full with exceptional melodies, one of the best guitar performances of 2020, a singer that deserves a place among the greatest ones and the best lyrics of any album during that year. You just have to FEEL the album in its entirety.

The modern-age social-media passion of "stuck like flies, this web worldwide will swallow, make hollow" is an important element of the album. How the world has been evolved with each individual self-committed to digital institution through his cell-phone and the world-wide-web, just like a few of the patients of Miloš Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest film, that could leave at any time, but are too afraid to do so. Addiction is the disguised fear of the modern world, where each individual has a different presence in reality (looks afraid) and another one in the digital world (looks dominant).

The actual songwriting and performance is not complex and poly-rhythmic, you still get vibes from Jethro Tull, Black Sabbath and the early Ozzy years plus everything the band members have done since 1996. The melodies are addictive and songs like "Sisters of the Dawn" stand at the top of 2020. And if you will FEEL the album, you will get answers to unanswered questions while at the same time, you will have questions even for simple things like, why "Sisters of the Dawn" got that title and not "Fathers of Creation", "Children of the Fallen", or "Children of the One"? In the end, we're just spellbound by that album and that word never sounded better.

Check also: LEVIATHAN Words Waging War.

4. LORD OF LIGHT - Morningstar (No Remorse)

In the end of 2019, multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter Nicklas Kirkevall from Sweden uploaded his music on a few digital platforms introducing Morningstar and not later than a few days, it reached a few record labels and fans with an enormous positive response. A multi-record deal was offered and Morningstar was officially released a few months later in 2020 getting excellent reviews. With the idea to continue as a full band, Lord of Light's music is heavy metal, it is progressive metal, it is prog power and everything in-between having a strong melodic approach. It will bring in mind '90s prog metal, late-Savatage, even Royal Hunt, and yet you can feel that there are elements that have a certain uniqueness. "I think there is much to be done within the world of metal that hasn’t been done already", Nicklas said to Crystal Logic. "Sometimes it can feel like there aren’t any more uncharted waters to explore, but I sincerely hope we get the opportunity to prove otherwise in the coming years. I know we’re not the only ones, but I think we have the chance to contribute something really meaningful." Just listen to this beautiful album.

Check also: MASTER MASSIVE Black Feathers on Their Graves.

5. FATES WARNING - Long Day Good Night (Metal Blade)

How can they ever fail? It just can't happen. Fates Warning's music is like an old friend that grows with us and even if at the first listen Ray Alder's voice sounded "tired" to our poor ears, we just didn't properly listen to what he said, or we mistakenly tried to compare the album with past FW releases. Alder is not tired, he is just performing sad and bittersweet lyrics in a very mature way. Home, changes, regrets and sorrow. The rain and the sun, scars, new beginnings and altered pages.

Fates Warning's music is a huge book where every album is a chapter that's re-written over the years, while we revisit every album in a different age and era. Most of the reviews written in just a few days (even hours for unprofessional "critics") after a new FW album fail to catch the essence of it. Albums like Long Day Good Night are albums we're going to stay with for a long, long time.

Jim Matheos wanted to leave behind all of the pages with a handful of doubts but we're still following him even if he asked us not to, three decades ago. We never kept that distance. Thank you Fates Warning for always being there, and through the change we still remain after the rain, because deep inside we know YOU wait for us under the sun.


6. ERIC CLAYTON - A Thousand Scars (Independent)

What a story! Eric Clayton's life is a life full of scars and those scars are the wounds that have been finally healed. This album is his confession, his revelation, his scars. Eric Clayton and the Nine create melancholic and spiritual music based on the scars of a man who found again his soul through music and love. A deeply personal album, a narrative where you can't really personally relate with just like other albums but you can FEEL it just like watching an emotional film if you will give your full attention. An album, a story and a spiritual journey that deserves your attention.

In the music industry part, a part that has left a few scars in Eric Clayton's life, Eric Clayton and the Nine decided to release A Thousand Scars independently starting a fund campaign with an overpriced album pre-order many months before its release. Fans that wanted to support directly the artists pre-ordered and pre-paid for music that wasn't even recorded; a sign of the times. However, not all pre-orders were finally delivered including the author of this blog. There might be scars from the music industry but sometimes the industry knows better how to handle a release.  

In the end, this is Eric's redemption and maybe this is the only thing that matters for the man but also the people that were always supporting and thinking of him even when he was lost between the darkness and the night. We embraced his return and now we are waiting for the future.

Check also: If Saviour Machine's Legend (unfinished) trilogy is the soundtrack to the Apocalypse, ANAAL NATHRAKH's Endarkenment is the soundtrack to the sickest ending of the world. An experimental pig hybrid with cocks in its eyes, industrial metal in its heart, black metal in its soul, grindcore in its mind and a diverse vocal delivery. It has nothing to do with A Thousand Scars but its wound is always open because every listen is a razor coming back to flesh.

7. SACRED OUTCRY - Damned for All Time (No Remorse)

The best power metal album of Europe for 2020 came from Greece and has a long history behind it. 20 years ago, Sacred Outcry was formed with influences vast and passion great, inspired by artists like Manowar, Warlord, Domine and Basil Poledouris. The first recordings took place in 2001-2003 but not a voice was heard since then. Still though, that album never left the mind of the band members, especially bassist's George Apalodimas who never gave up his dream to finally see that album finished and released. The recordings were completed between 2015-2018, orchestral arrangements were added, editing, mixing and mastering was finished in 2019 and Sacred Outcry finally presented us the first chapter in The Sacred Chronicles under the title Damned for All Time.

Every instrument sounds crystal clear, the bass sound is beyond awesome, guest vocalist Yannis Papadopoulos (ex-Wardrum, Beast in Black) is at the top of his game and every detail seems to have been perfectly arranged in order to complete an album that will be a modern reference for its style. Songs like "Where Ancient Gods Are Still Hailed" and "Damned For All Time" are up there, in the top of the best European power metal tracks of this millennium.

Check also: It seems that Greece and Cyprus did it very well in 2020. DEXTER WARD returned in the days of Epic Metal with the third full-length album simply entitled III, a massive statement of pure epic heavy metal worship from fans for fans. In the same attitude, SOLITARY SABRED released By Fire & Brimstone the best US power metal album that hasn't been released by an American US power metal since Solitary Sabred's previous offering to the altar of the metal gods.

8. WYTCH HAZEL - III: Pentecost (Bad Omen)

Colin Hendra and Co. did it again, just two years after the magnificent II: Sojourn. An album like this one can only come from England and Ireland, nowhere else. No one can write and perform this kind of epic hard rock better than the places of Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, Wishbone Ash and Thin Lizzy.

Do you believe that this would sound better with a singer that has a wider range? Do you find a few of the lyrics cringy? Well, lines like "Why should that demon have all the glory? He was only Archangel at the start of the story" lack the depth of "the Gods are crying bombs" and what Psychotic Waltz did, while they are probably closer to Stryper's "Jesus makes me want to sing" since Wytch Hazel are devoted to the Light and Christianity. And if these are disadvantages, at the same time these are advantages since the "better" vocalist couldn't perform better in those songs. This is not a comparison as strong as Ozzy's vocals are in his songs since no "better" singer can replace him but you know what I mean. As for the lyrics, Wytch Hazel's music sounds very positive, so simple and catchy lines like "Spirit and fire show me the way" is all that is needed in this feel-good daddy-rock that's beautiful and catchy, sounds honest and humble and at the same time as epic as it needs with medieval themes, and inspiration from the British music legends.

In the next mixtape you're going to make, add "Sonata" after Fates Warning's "Under the Sun".

Check also: HIGH SPIRITS' Hard to Stop is probably their best album since 2011's Another Night and one of the most feel-good and enjoyable albums of 2020. Let your spirit shine!

9. OPIUM WARLORDS - Nembutal (Svart)

There aren't (true) doom metal fans who don't know who Sami Albert Hynninen is. The Witchfinder of many diverse projects and bands returned in the roots of Reverend Bizarre's doom metal with the nearly 20-minute opening track of Nembutal entitled "A Heavy Heart" but other than that and the closing track "Xanadu", everything in-between is abstract and disturbing. In the end, the complete album is nothing else than a droned apocalyptic offering of a "yellow jacket'd" hypnotic memoir about death.

This not-easy accessible and grotesque album demands your full attention, just like many forms of art. Each side of the vinyl version is a separate entity and in the end they all make sense, even if in the beginning I was listening only to Side A until I moved forward... in Hell. When Sami sings "The silent pilot comes at last: death!" you get that heavy Thomas Gabriel Fischer vibe; an artist who built his career in the meaning of death, and total darkness where there is no hope and everything ceases to exist. From the first cut's line "there is cancer in the wind" to the closing's cut line "breathe / breathe / breath / death", the lungs are filled with the smoke of wisdom and death at the same time.

Check also: ATRAMENTUS' Stygian is a haunted album created from misery, anger and anxiety. It dwells in bad mentality and depression, drowning in an infinite void, having also one of the best cover arts for 2020.

10. OZZY OSBOURNE - Ordinary Man (Epic)

Anything you will say about this not-so-ordinary-man will never justify his real personality, his persona, the music, his legacy and his acts. He is anything you believe for him and everything you don't know about him. Right or wrong, Ozzy's music will always remain in eternity while all opinions will fade like footsteps in the sand. And that's the most important and only thing that really matters.

When Tony Iommi and Bill Ward reached the guy who put that famous advert, "Ozzy Zig requires gig, owns his own PA", things didn't even look good. Later Ozzy and Geezer Butler visited Bill Ward asking him to join them in a new band but Bill wanted to stick with Tony. Then, they all decided to try to work together. That's how it all began and more or less, you all know a part of the story that followed; the story those four created. Together. No one crossed the other's way by luck. Fact.

While history roller-coasters on, Ozzy started his successful solo career using his talent to find the most talented partners and new musicians in the likes of Randy Rhoads, Jake E. Lee and Zakk Wylde that became legendary after working with Oz. With the music industry adding its hand, the madness and talent surrounding Ozzy's band in the '80s, created a heavy metal prototype as iconic as the other four-or-five most important acts of metal music.

When the '90s entered, Ozzy kept the '80s flame with No More Tears, a multi-platinum commercial success while other metal monsters were lost under the new era. And from that point on, with the exception of Ozzmosis, one of his most personal albums, Ozzy was laid completely in the hands of the industry. When we reached 2020, Ozzy returned to an early era of "everything can happen just for music". Ordinary Man is an album created because Ozzy just wanted to perform again without any rush or forced to offer something "specific". He just happened to be in the studio with good company and respected musicians (not new talents he found), including friends and people who respect him from different generations, like Andrew Watt (producer and guitarist), Duff McKagan (bass), Chad Smith (drums) and guests like Slash, even Sir Elton John, creating a few beautiful songs like "Under the Graveyard" and "Ordinary Man", songs we're going to listen more often than songs from better records released the covid-year.

In the end, Ordinary Man is an emotional album of an "old-man" that grabs his harmonica again, joined by people of different ages, generations and genres, feeling again just like a boy but at the same moment he understands time goes by. "Don't forget me as the colours fade". How could we, Ozzάκλα μου?

Check also (the legends): AC/DC returned with Power Up (or PWR/UP), recorded in mid 2018 to early 2019, paying tribute to Malcolm Young and bringing back those rhythms that make you shake your body and feel like a kid again. At the same time, BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, the boss of American classic rock writes a Letter to You, a sad and gray album, an emotional reflection of the past.

11. GLACIER - The Passing of Time (No Remorse)

This is actually the first full-length of Glacier and it is as close to the band's underground classic same-titled 1985 EP, as close was the 8-track demo tape that followed in 1988. In the end, Glacier is a name of many people who used it over the years with one common result: Awesome Metal. In The Passing of Time you will find singer Michael Podrybau of the 1985 EP along with new musicians who know very well their craft and also original members of the band adding their contribution connecting Glacier with their past and all eras, offering an album that balances between US and European heavy / power metal.

Check also: FIREWIND Firewind, SATAN'S FALL Final Day.

12. STYGIAN CROWN - Stygian Crown (Cruz Del Sur)

Doom Metal suffered in 2020. Very few releases and even fewer that deserved our attention but the debut album of the US-based pact of Stygian Crown came forth offering salvation to our doomed souls.

Check also: BLACK REVELATION Demon, BRITON RITES Occulte Fantastique, GODTHRYMM Reflections.

13. ESOCTRILIHUM - Eternity of Shaog (I, Voidhanger)

Esoctrilihum's mastermind, Asthâghul, did it again. This is an intense black metal album with a variety of influences, from obvious ones (death metal) to a diversity of soundscapes (psychedelia, prog-rock, folk) that complete the Lovecraftian soundtrack of god Shaog who is imprisoned in a parallel universe.

2020 Black Metal highlights: ABIGOR Totschläger (A Saintslayer's Songbook), AKHLYS Melinoë, HAVUKRUUNU Uinuos Syömein Sota, HORN Mohngang, ODRAZA Rzeczom, STORMKEEP Galdrum, UADA Djinn.

14. CREATURE - Ex Cathedra (I, Voidhanger)

Raphaël Fournier is the closest thing to a genius I can think for 2020. Ex Cathedra is an ambitious and thrilling album of progressive black metal with a completely out-of-the-box songwriting that is a combination of early Covenant music with a Dødheimsgard approach (in lack of a better description).

Check also: ULCERATE's Stare into Death and Be Still will probably dominate many TOP lists for 2020 just like the album of Eternal Champion and this diversity in various TOP lists is an example that there are many different listeners all over the world, and a few of those albums can change the face of the current scene. Unlistenable for a few, unpredictable for others, Ulcerate is here to destroy the norm. However, you can't even imagine what you're going to hear in NEPTUNIAN MAXIMALISM's Éons.

15. HAIL SPIRIT NOIR - Eden in Reverse (Agonia)

Hail Spirit Noir's evolution (progress) is mesmerizing and you don't know what to expect with every album. The black metal themes are nearly audible in the latest album that has the futuristic sound of the past. Are you confused? Just imagine the Blade Runner movie that was filmed in 1982 with a plot based in 2019 but in the real-life-2020, it is now a (retro) film in the past with a (retro) futuristic world that has nothing to do with the current reality. Sharp creativity in reverse with a surrealistic aura.

Check also: HUNTSMEN's Mandala of Fear is a post-whatever-metal-sludge-thing with a post-apocalyptic concept, an ol' prog touch and Hulk-strength riffing. Excellent!

16. WHITE CRONE - The Poisoner (Independent)

There are always times when out of nowhere appears a heavy metal album that sounds fresh, inspired and addictive, with excellent songwriting and performance. White Crone’s debut album is one of those, composed and arranged by the super talented Lisa Mann. Inspired by '80s Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, combined with Lisa's musical background, Bruce Dickinson-like female vocals, excellent dual guitar parts and ideas, prog elements, a powerful rhythm section with bass guitar dominating the record, a doom-y and mystical aura, a short visit at the Seven Gates of Hell and a guest appearance of legendary drummer Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath, Dio), make this album one of the most refreshing traditional metal releases of 2020.

Check also: We've missed Ol' Rusty even if we had his Hermit alter ego offering music we never stopped to listen. THE WIZAR'D's Subterranean Exile is a magnificent piece of Arcane Metal that is labeled as heavy or doom or Pagan Altar-inspired by many others.

Breaking the borders of black metal, MALOKARPATAN from Slovakia released Krupinské Ohne mixing Master's Hammer, Bathory, "proto-black" and heavy riffing, acoustic parts and stories from forgotten woodlands.

17. KING WITCH - Body of Light (Listenable)

Mix Black Sabbath, ol' blues and an ol' Motörhead vibe, the heaviest of heavy metal, British and early US doom metal when Doom Metal wasn't even a name for the genre, adding a powerful female voice and you have the Body of Light; A perfect blend of Sabbathian heavy and doom metal. Obey the Riff.

Check also: WOLFTOOTH's Valhalla is the last album of the Sabbathian pact before entering a major label and we will just wait for what's next. Meanwhile, as we wrote again two years ago for the tattooed bearded Richmond wolves: this is too groovy for the regressive doom metal fan, too epic for the stoner fan, too awesome for the rest.

18. SPIRIT ADRIFT - Enlightened in Eternity (Century Media)

You gotta love Nate Garrett. Nate loves heavy metal. And Spirit Adrift's latest album is a pure love for all-things-heavy-metal; The doom-y heavy metal. And "Astral Levitation" is the best tribute you can offer to '80s Black Sabbath.

Check also: LORD VIGO's Danse de Noir, the fourth album of the German doom metal band, is a step forward. And just like Spirit Adrift, "At the Verge of Time" is another great track-tribute to '80s Black Sabbath. We all love '80s Sabbath, don't we?

19. BIFF BYFORD - School of Hard Knocks (Silver Lining)

It's Biff. There is only one Biff. Of course and there are many moments that bring to mind Saxon. It could be a late '80s - early '90s Saxon album and there is nothing wrong with this. Because it's Biff. We love Biff. We love Saxon. And you can't really beat nostalgia and a feel-good album.

Check also: Trevor William Church's HAUNT released two albums in 2020. In the vein of the early '80s heavy metal bands, both Mind Freeze and Flashback sound fresh with the same-titled track of each album being a hit reminding glorious '80s Ozzy commercial moments.

20. ECCLESIA - De Ecclesiae Universalis (Aural)

This heavy / power metal album with those doom metal vibes brings upfront the aura of Tad Morose and Swedish power power metal, plus the power metal moments of doom bands like Candlemass and Memory Garden. Enjoyable and heavy, with a great sound and a pure power metal voice that's extremely suitable, it reminded me that we need a new Fvneral Fvkk album, since their carnal confessions are the true dark gospels of the church.

Check also: SORCERER returned with Lamenting of the Innocent, remembering once again the Tony-Martin-Sabbath-era and adding neoclassical guitar solos in their happier-than-others epic doom metal.

Best EP of 2020:

BLACK SWORD THUNDER ATTACK - March of the Damned (No Remorse)

At last. One of the most cult and obscure acts of underground epic metal finally made it to an official release... Even if it is a 4-track EP. We've been waiting for many years, so I guess it's better than nothing! Despite the obvious Warlord / Lordian Guard worship that is stated in every review I've read, the band with one of the most cult epic metal names offers the most addictive music you're going to listen in 2020 and yes, behind Bill Tsamis' influence, I personally can locate a spectacular and distinguished style that is just BLACK SWORD THUNDER ATTACK. March of the Damned could be the best underground metal release of 2020.

About EPs: From the music industry side, an EP is a kind of release that most record labels avoid in the recent years. A record label will pay the same amount of money for a CD or vinyl, either it is 15 minutes long, or 45 minutes long, but they definitely can't easily sell the EP with the same price as an album. And if they will (because they actually paid the same manufacturing cost, let aside any additional royalties), a few fans will complain for the price, adding many more marketing, promotional and distribution issues, a regular fan can't understand.

A band might say that EPs are "rounded well" and that's not always a lie, but mostly if you want to sell one hundred copies to your friends and a specific underground circle of fans, and get a few reviews from specific online media that's also running from people you're familiar with. Under these circumstances, you can easily release it on your own or find a one-person label that's running his business from his home. But that will never take a band to the next level, unless the band just wants to keep moving like this.

Quality is always better than quantity but since there are people who complain for 35-minute albums, I can't imagine what they will think of EPs, especially when retail prices are close. The music will always reach those who will like it and if a band wants to release music just for a few people it is OK to do it through EPs if their artistic expression is limited to 15 minutes. But if a band wants to keep moving and reach the "next" level, it would be better to present a full album and maybe they will escape the "15 minutes of fame" in a specific underground metal scene. It might take longer to complete it but it will be for the better. For everyone: The band, the record company, the fans.

Off to more albums now, since they were so many in 2020, and there is a huge list of notable mentions.

Best Live Album of 2020:

TRIPTYKON with the Metropole Orkest - Requiem (Live at Roadburn 2019) (Century Media)

Risen from the ashes of Celtic Frost, Thomas Gabriel Fischer comes full circle releasing Requiem (Live at Roadburn 2019) including "Rex Irae (Requiem, Chapter One: Overture)", "Grave Eternal (Requiem, Chapter Two: Transition)" and "Winter (Requiem, Chapter Three: Finale)". Celtic Frost's requiem was originally begun in autumn of 1986 and its first part, "Rex Irae", originally appeared on Into the Pandemonium album. "Winter" originally appeared on Monotheist album and Fischer started writing it in 2001. It was supposed that the requiem should be concluded once Celtic Frost recorded the second part but in the end, requiem was presented in its entirety by Triptykon with the Metropole Orkest.

The Best, the Rest and More - 2020 Unmasked

The Heavy, the Epic, the Power [and a touch of Prog], the Speed Metal Rites:

AMBUSH Infidel, BLACK SOUL HORDE Land of Demise, BLAZING RUST Line of Danger, CLOVEN HOOF Age of Steel, DARK FOREST Oak, Ash & Thorn, DEATH DEALER Conquered Lands, ECHOSOUL The End of Darkness, FORTRESS UNDER SIEGE Atlantis, FURY The Grand Prize, GREYHAWK Keepers of the Flame, HROM Legends of Powerheart: Part II, IRONFLAME Blood Red Victory, KRAMP Gods of Death, MEGATON SWORD Blood Hails Steel - Steel Hails Fire, OLD MOTHER HELL Lord of Demise, POSSESSED STEEL Aedris, RAVEN Metal City, ROADWOLF Unchain the Wolf, SHOK PARIS Full Metal Jacket, SÖLICITÖR Spectral Devastation, STÄLKER Black Majik Terror, TRAVELER Termination Shock, WHITE MAGICIAN Dealers of Divinity, WOLF Feeding the Machine.

Melodic, rockin', hard 'n' heavy metal:

ALCATRAZZ Born Innocent, ARCHON ANGEL Fallen, BADD KHARMA On Fire, BLUE ÖYSTER CULT The Symbol Remains, STAN BUSH Dare to Dream, FM Synchronized, H.E.A.T. II, MAGNUM The Serpent Rings, NORTHWIND History, PERFECT PLAN Time for a Miracle, PRIDE OF LIONS Lion Heart.

and retro heavy rockin' attitude from the heart of the olde:

DEAD LORD Surrender, FREEWAYS True Bearings, LUCIFER III, NIGHT High Tides - Distant Skies, REZN Chaotic Divine, SPELL Opulent Decay, VESTAL CLARET Vestal Claret.

Under the Sabbathian Spell and the Iommic Magick:

ANCHORITE Further from Eternity, MOUNTAIN WITCH Extinct Cults, PALE DIVINE Consequence of Time, PALLBEARER Forgotten Days.

The "Black Sabbath" of 2020: V.A. Vol. 4 (Redux), V.A. Best of Black Sabbath (Redux), ZAKK SABBATH Vertigo.

Magnetic Eye Records' redux series gathered a pact of Sabbathian artists including EARTHLESS, HIPPIE DEATH CULT, THOU, GREEN LUNG, SPIRIT ADRIFT, THE OBSESSED, HIGH REEPER and more, covering Black Sabbath, while Zakk Wylde with ZAKK SABBATH covered the album that started everything in its entirety, celebrating Black Sabbath's debut album 50th anniversary.

Thrashing maniacs and screams from beyond:

BÜTCHER 666 Goats Carry My Chariot, DEATH COURIER Necrotic Verses, EVILDEAD United $tate$ of Anarchy, EXARSIS Sentenced to Life, HEATHEN Empire of the Blind, HELLSPIKE Lords of War, INCANTATION Sect of Vile Divinities, MIDNIGHT Rebirth by Blasphemy, NAPALM DEATH Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism, NECROPHOBIC Dawn of the Damned, SODOM Genesis XIX, TEMPLE OF VOID The World That Was, TESTAMENT Titans of Creation.

The rest, the ethereal, the prog, the black, the sick, the soul of the outcast:

ARS MAGNA UMBRAE Apotheosis, AT THE ALTAR OF THE HORNED GOD Through Doors of Moonlight , EMYN MUIL Afar Angathfark, ENSLAVED Utgard, MY DYING BRIDE The Ghost of Orion, MYSTRAS Castles Conquered and Reclaimed, ORANSSI PAZUZU Mestarin Kynsi, HENRIK PALM Poverty Metal, PANZERFAUST The Suns of Perdition - Chapter II: Render unto Eden, PARADISE LOST Obsidian, PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS Viscerals, EMMA RUTH RUNDLE & THOU May Our Chambers Be Full, KARI RUESLATTEN Sørgekåpe, THY CATAFALQUE Naiv, WAYFARER A Romance With Violence.


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