As we find ourselves plodding, with slow and grim inexorability, into the third month of 2020, our chances of successfully convincing you we'd held off publishing this list in some drastically misplaced attempt at fashionable lateness or 'standing out from the crowd' are looking increasingly dubious and remote. And in this relatively brief but highly eventful window of time, 2020 has already proved itself to be a more than worthy contender to the catastrophic shitshow that was the year 2019, with a life-threatening global epidemic, flooding, forest-ravaging bushfires, Brexit and the new season of Love Island numbering just some of the most notable casualties of this not-so-joyous new year. But despite the present state of things being thoroughly and irrevocably screwed in pretty much every conceivable sense of the word, our beloved metal scene continues to service us with a wondrously brutal and cathartic antidote to these increasingly dark and despondent modern times. So join us, if you will, in celebrating some of the finest extreme metal masterworks that 2019 had to offer...
Faye Coulman, Editor-in-chief
Like some mutated demonic arthropod ripping forth from the viscous membrane of its hibernation, black metal’s most malignant force of nature made a welcome return to form this November, pincers poised and dripping with black, venomous malice. Toiling away in their infernal sweatshop Mayhem reached new levels of hoar-frosted creativity with the befittingly titled Daemon, crafting an epic of debauched, fantastical majesty shot through with lashings of darkest drama and echoing with all the sullied, tortured distortions that characterise the band’s rare aesthetic. After some slightly hit and miss releases, the cloven-footed fiends’ 2019 offering resurrected the serpentine spirit of masterwork De Mysteriis Dom Sathanus and proved a surprisingly spectacular comeback.
'Dawn of Infinite Fire'
Edged Circle Productions
Fresh from setting the underground ablaze with their mesmerising live shows, ethereal black metal banshees Asagraum released their second stunningly crafted opus just as the leaves began to wither on the branches, injecting renewed vigour and fire into a dying year. Paying homage to the second wave with a contemporary urgency and pace, these highly accomplished newcomers fused together layers of steely fretwork, blast-beats that fall like the blows of Thor’s hammer and burnished, Emperor-esque atmospherics to construct a flaming fortress of pure skill. Erupting with all the deadly force of a lava-heated geyser, Asagraum’s new album combines exquisite technical execution with fierce unalloyed passion.
Season of Mist
Summoning the darker side of spiritual ecstasy once again, Greek tour de force Rotting Christ returned with yet another blasphemous meditation on the festering corruption inherent in the mouldering carcass that is organised religion. Reverberating with arcane mystery and intense spiritual rapture, in typical Rotting fashion The Heretics shamelessly plunders the language of prayer, misappropriating it with the rascally vocals of black metal, and combining wind-whipped tempests of heavy riffage with orthodox chanting and choral interludes more commonly heard in church services than grotty live music venues. Worship has never felt this wickedly euphoric.
Old Star, the latest rough diamond from weathered musical veterans Darkthrone, had their legions of fans riveted when it was unleashed back in May. Satisfying old school black metal with a rugged, hard rock edge, the gritty, frost-encrusted chords and dragging, heavy guitar-work of this six-track composition, combined with the raspiest vocals imaginable, harkened back to the era of Venom, Celtic Frost and Bathory – to universal delight. Notable for cover art so absurdly surreal that it seemed carved by a demented otherworld faerie rather than any human artist, the album quickly earned much well-deserved acclaim. Let’s hope that unlike the final work of another legendary genius, Blackstar by David Bowie, this is no swansong - despite the similarly apt title.
Blending together wistful elements of gauzy shoegaze, melodies so exquisite they almost hurt and all the crashing dark epiphanies of post black metal, deeply romantic French artistes Alcest plunged us into yet more oceans of gut-wrenching emotion with their deeply affecting October release, Spiritual Instinct. Aching with dreamy ambience, haunting strings and cascading chords but with all the intense heavy riffage of progressive black, the savage metal edges of Spiritual Instinct are softened by an uncommonly hopeful mood as Alcest continue to exploit unexplored sonic terrain. Unique and original, beautifully imagined and ultimately heart-lifting, Spiritual Instinct acts as a cathartic balm to even the most battered of weary souls, soothing the strains of another fraught year.
'Requiem for Mankind'
Hate-fuelled, raging death metal for the age of austerity, Memoriam drew on the imagery of battle and bloodshed for their latest bone-crushing epic. Focusing on the plight of trauma-filled veterans left behind by a cruel society, Memoriam hammered home the intensity of their justified ire with pounding blast beats that resounded like cannon fire, thudding, angry bursts of melodic drama and Karl Willetts’ signature gritty vocals. Requiem for Mankind is British death metal at its blistering, brutal best, powerfully reminiscent of the genre’s old guard legends, with added pathos in its unflinching vivisection of the human cost of certain controversial political movements. Following this year’s momentous election result, Memoriam must be pissed – let’s hope they channel that aggression into further ferocious releases.
'Vile Nilotic Rites'
Inspired by tales of Ancient Egypt, the fantasy and melodrama of Nile has long divided opinion amidst old school death metal purists. And yet whatever your thoughts on the enthusiastic, myth-obsessed crew, the familiar formula of blast-beat barrage, cataclysmic screeching guitars and mystical, pounding chimes that echo with all the mystery of ruins buried beneath desert sands remains as popular as ever. Their latest gravelly epic doesn’t deviate much from Nile’s established, cinematically intense sound – but is just as brutal and bone-shaking enough to wake the gods and goddesses of antiquity themselves from their millennia long slumbers.
THE GREAT OLD ONES
Season of Mist
Black metal and Lovecraftian lore often go hand in hand. Both contemplate the dark, fathomless depths of infinity and confront the existentially terrifying suspicion of humanity’s insignificance under the cold, uncaring gaze of any cosmic deities that might exist. Taking HP’s singularly strange scribblings as their main inspiration, Bordeaux-based The Great Old Ones continued to ruminate on this discomforting fear of the unknown with the breath-taking, stardust-scattered Cosmicism. The metaphysical crew’s latest journey into madness delves further into the author’s horror-filled universe with thudding, uneasy chords, lonely stretches of tumbling riffage and desperate raw vocals that speak to our most deep-rooted and dreadful imaginings.
Boasting alumni from the likes of Dark Funeral, Ragnorak and Morbid Angel, Nordjevel have been ripping up the rule book with their infernal, thrash-splattered black metal battle engine since 2015. Fast and furious with a rusty blackened edge, latest album Necrogenesis floods the senses with lightning-whipped riffs, Transylvanian Hunger style hailstorms of drums, and maniacal, ripping vocals. Determined to shock and scandalise at any cost, the band blend the brutal imagery of war with an unhealthy dollop of Satanism to jolt us out of our comfort zone in the best tradition of the genre.
German industrial metal trailblazers Rammstein are no strangers to controversy, and their latest boundary-breaking album has certainly raised a few eyebrows with many finding the video for standout single Deutschland - featuring the band frolicking about in Nazi uniforms - in poor taste. Although as fiercely confrontational as ever, listeners couldn’t help but be captivated by the usual hypnotic, fast-paced mix of crackling synthetics, racing techno beats and hot-blooded vocals tempered with more than a touch of tongue-in-cheek irony. Touching on globalization, Germany’s troublesome, second world war legacy and the current rise of the far right, Rammstein’s seductive and powerful new record explores patriotism in all its positive and negative forms and the modern-day dilemma we all face – the deep-seated desire to love one’s country, however problematic that may be.
Entertainment One Music
So heads and shoulders above the competition they can touch the cosmos, the Portland-based songwriters have crafted an album that spans life, death, the epic and the intimate, and the tender and the terrifying. An album that covers all the bases of what metal can do.
A cold and lacerating journey through some of the darker places of the mind, and painted with ever-shifting palette of greys gouged into the canvas with a stiletto blade, Transcending sludge and doom, 'Vore' contorts psychosis into interesting new states.
Post-metal instrumentalists they may be, but they say more with a riff than most bands can say with an entire lyric sheets. A dark foreboding atmosphere and thrilling intensity combine to leave you utterly speechless.
Hands down the most searingly intense record of the year, wrenched kicking and screaming from the bowels of hell itself. A vicious crossbreed of crust punk filth and sludge that's like slowly drowning in gravel.
More voiceless metal but no less potent for it. Ominous rhythms circle around each other with the listener at the epicentre of a storm of swirling knives that's perfectly paced to draw you into its hypnotic embrace.
Another technicolour display of the power of piledriving psychedelia. Warm and fuzzy to the touch and heavy on the ear, it's an amiable bulldozing of the senses from long-standing masters of their own own unique genre.
Raw and primal unplugged; this is an album that steps out of the city and gets us in touch with our roots, both musically and spiritually. A mournful reminder of world we've almost lost, with birdsong and running water equal billing with the lush acoustic melodies.
'Full Upon Her Burning Lips'
There's nothing quite like Earth and this once again proves it. As the world turns at its own pace, so does Earth, evolving at their own pace and at their own speed. Desert dry, utterly patient and utterly mesmerising.
Two veterans prove they're still at the cutting edge. Gloriously yobbish and ramshackle rock 'n' roll that motors with the heart of all that's good in the world of heavy, with a head of steam as they smash through the carcasses of those foolish enough to get in their way.
EMPLOYED TO SERVE
'Eternal Forward Motion'
Utterly modern metal that encompasses the contradictions and uncertainties of modern life. Concentric chaos held together by the sheer power of its own centrifugal force around a solid black heart of pulsing unyielding intensity.