SBR Top 40 Albums of 2020

2020 has been another fantastic year for innovative music with the emergence of exciting new bands and the return of many legends. Prog metal and thrash produced some of the strongest records of the year and the avant-garde played a big part in pushing the darker forms of music further along the line of experimentation, with the likes of Igorrr, Oranssi Pazuzu, Rïcïnn and Triptykon proving once again that the abstract can be just as enthralling.

A select number of legendary bands continue to produce millions of clones, most notably Suffocation in the brutal death metal genre. The likes of Meshuggah, Neurosis, Napalm Death, Periphery, Dream Theater and Tool left their imprint on the work of many artists, and Venom and Voivod also saw their unique sound re-emerge as a definitive inspiration for many groups. And what more can we say about Carcass? Probably fifty percent of everything we review at Scream Blast Repeat draws on the death metal legends in some way or other.

After much wrangling, we produced our final list for the top forty albums of the year. Enjoy!

40. Atavist – III: Absolution

39. Neorhythm – Terrastory

38. Haxon – Wrath of an Era

37. Warkings – Revenge

36. Gridfailure – Sixth Mass-Extinction Skulduggery II

35. Vous Autres – Sel de Pierre

34. Entorx – Faceless Insanity

33. Bleeding Out – Lifelong Death Fantasy

32. Ancient Thrones – The Veil

31. MYNSKH – Chapter 01: Obliterating Perfection

30. Cult of Lilith – Mara

29. Havok – V

28. Macabre – Carnival of Killers

27. The Ocean – Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic

26. Caligula’s Horse – Rise Radiant

25. Protest the Hero – Palimpsest

24. Pain of Salvation – Panther

23. Imperial Triumphant – Alphaville

22. Ad Infinitum – Chapter I: Monarchy

21. Tombs – Under Sullen Skies

20. Svalbard – When I Die, Will I Get Better?

What we said at the time: “But let’s not ignore the unambiguous message: this is a pissed-off album from the human heart, from a band that want to make the world a better place… When you’ve come off a digital detox, it’s the perfect anger outlet. And why should we have reservations about metal bands that use biting social commentary and have the intelligence to disguise it in the language of satire?”

Genre: Post-Hardcore

Country: UK

Released: 25/09/2020

Label: Transition Loss Records

Read the original SBR review of Svalbard’s When I Die, Will I Get better? here.

19. Havukruunu Uinuos Syömein Sota

What we said at the time: “One of Havukrunnu’s most notable departures from its aesthetic and genre, is its gratuitous shredding. The guitar passages in the album are powerful and precise, blooming out of every new progression on the front end of the tracklist… Havukrunnu are not betraying convention, they are showing off how complete their vision is. It is an infectious experience, and every progression into a new song screams: “onwards, onwards!”

Genre: Black Metal

Country: Finland

Released: 17/07/2020

Label: Naturmacht Productions

Read the original SBR review of Havukruunu’s Uinuos Syömein Sota here.

18. Sepultura – Quadra

What we said at the time:Quadra is the type of ambitious and multi-faceted album a legendary metal band of three decades should be leaving for their offspring to create. Instead, the boys from Brazil come racing out of the blocks on opener, ‘Isolation’, as if this is 1991’s Arise all over again. The riffs slice through the speakers like stray blade-cutters while drum supremo, Eloy Casagrande, gives his kit the pounding of its life.”

Genre: Progressive Thrash Metal

Country: Brazil

Released: 07/02/2020

Label: Nuclear Blast

Read the original SBR review of Sepultura’s Quadra here.

17. Kataklysm – Unconquered

What we said at the time: “At nine tracks in length and forty minutes in duration, Unconquered never tires and establishes a favourable response on repeat listens. It’s heavier than the bongs of Big Ben, yet retains an anthemic and, at times, melodic counterbalance to the chaos. Kataklysm have never been an underrated band, but they ought to get the respect they deserve as one of the best metal artists of the twenty-first century.”

Genre: Death Metal

Country: Canada

Released: 25/09/2020

Label: Nuclear Blast

Read the original SBR review of Kataklysm’s Unconquered here.

16. Triptykon with the Metropole Orkest – Requiem (Live At Roadburn 2019)

What we said at the time: “True to form, Triptykon have no interest in delivering a live album to showcase the impressive work from their 2010 and 2014 albums. Instead, they enlist the Metropole Orkest from the Netherlands and deliver an overture, a transition, and a finale over three chapters. Sound baffling? You’re right to scratch your head until you realise the concept. Chapter One is a live performance of the Celtic Frost classic, ‘Rex Irae’, from 1987’s Into The Pandemonium; Chapter Two is a new Triptykon composition of 32 minutes; and the final chapter is a performance of ‘Winter’ from the 2006 Celtic Frost album, Monotheist.”

Genre: Avant-Garde Metal

Country: Switzerland/Germany

Released: 15/05/2020

Label: Century Media

Read the original SBR review of Triptykon’s Requiem here.

15. Aether Realm – Redneck Vikings From Hell

What we said at the time: “As an album, Redneck Vikings from Hell, moves the band further onward from the clear Ensiferum and Children of Bodom influences of yore. It’s still melodeath at its core, but additional speed metal, thrash, sunset strip sounds, and power ballad elements are now part of the melting pot… Aether Realm are never hindered by self-doubt, nor do they play to a specific crowd. The strength of the record is within its diversity and genre hopping.”

Genre: Folk Metal

Country: USA

Released: 01/05/2020

Label: Napalm Records

Read the original SBR review of Aether Realm’s Redneck Vikings from Hell here.

14. Shrapnel – Palace for the Insane

What we said at the time:Palace For The Insane is their third album for Candlelight and a record that seems locked in a battle with Havok’s V for the 2020 thrash crown. Like their American counterparts, Shrapnel seem incapable of writing a mediocre song. Every ounce of energy, every strike of the double-kick drum, every alternate pick of the guitar packs a punch that would floor Mike Tyson… The thirteen cuts here could all be contenders for singles, not that any of them would enter the mainstream charts due to their utter savagery.”

Genre: Thrash Metal

Country: UK

Released: 15/05/2020

Label: Candlielight/Spinefarm

Read the original SBR review of Shrapnel’s Palace for the Insane here.

13. Carach Angren – Franckensteina Strataemontanus

What we said at the time: “They may look like Dimmu Borgir and vocalist, Dennis ‘Seregor’ Droomers, sounds at times like a black metal pastiche, but they are firmly in the symphonic death metal territory of label mates Septicflesh and Italian peers, Fleshgod Apocalypse… Franckensteina Strataemontanus is a triumph of chauvinistic metal at its unapologetic best. Not many will dislike this effort, nor will they hesitate to give it numerous repeat listens. This album aims for the stars and almost succeeds in rearranging the metal galaxy.”

Genre: Symphonic Death Metal

Country: Netherlands

Released: 26/06/2020

Label: Season of Mist

Read the original SBR review of Carach Angren’s Franckensteina Strataemontanus here.

12. Napalm Death – Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism

What we said at the time: “Those who feared the band might slow down and embrace a more manageable groove need not worry… No two songs are the same, yet all are coated in the foam of Barney Greenway’s furious vocal assault… Napalm Death are as vital as ever and just as innovative these days as they were in 1987.”

Genre: Experimental Grindcore

Country: UK

Released: 18/09/2020

Label: Century Media

Read the original review of Napalm Death’s Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism here.

11. Obsidian Kingdom – Meat Machine

What we said at the time: “Obsidian Kingdom are the name you can offer as a retort to those who say the rock and metal genres no longer innovate. How about a quintet that embraces post metal, alt rock and art school leanings in a prog metal format? And, no, it’s not pretentious nonsense, either. Think Faith No More, but with Neurosis, rather than Slayer, as the inspiration for the heavier moments.”

Genre: Experimental Post-Metal

Country: Spain

Released: 25/09/2020

Label: Season of Mist

Read the original review of Obsidian Kingdom’s Meat Machine here.

10. Oranssi Pazuzu – Mestarin Kynsi

What we said at the time: “Though effortless, Oranssi Pazuzu’s foray into avant-garde metal is an instant classic, using challenging and unconventional instruments in a black metal ensemble that ebb and flow throughout the track list and add a cinematic elegance to Mestarin Kynsi’s grim future. The electronic and psychedelic parts of this album might vex black metal purists, but this is an album that looks to the future both in concept and sound and executes this prognostication with grace.”

Genre: Avant-Garde Metal

Country: Finland

Released: 17/04/2020

Label: Nuclear Blast

Read the original review of Oranssi Pazuzu’s Mestarin Kynsi here.

9. Cauldron Black Ram – Slaver

What we said at the time: “Extreme music hasn’t sounded this malevolent since the Peaceville years of the early 90s when Paradise Lost and Autopsy were putting out genre-defining classics on England’s finest label. The parallels are a good omen if 20 Buck Spin continue their current trajectory of finding bands as vital as this. Make no mistake: Slaver deserves to stand as a masterpiece of its time and take its place next to the legendary Carcass opus, Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious.”

Genre: Death Metal

Country: Australia

Released: 22/05/2020

Label: 20 Buck Spin

Read the original review of Cauldron Black Ram’s Slaver here.

8. Igorrr – Spirituality and Distortion

What we said at the time: “Fans of the 1995 Mr Bungle classic, Disco Volante, will lap this up. It’s the type of opus we hope Devin Townsend will embrace on his next project. John Zorn should be arranging a collaboration as we speak. Anyone with an interest in extreme metal is dutybound to buy this masterpiece. Dissecting it through repeat listens is a challenge you must not shirk.”

Genre: Avant-Garde Metal

Country: France

Released: 27/03/2020

Label: Metal Blade

Read the original review of Igorrr’s Spirituality and Distortion here.

7. Code Orange – Underneath

What we said at the time: “Fear Factory might have their successors to chart the coming decades when the machines take over and become self-aware… Code Orange are ramping up the juggernaut by drawing upon the past as inspiration for the future. Join them on the journey before they leave you behind.”

Genre: Industrial Metalcore

Country: USA

Released: 13/03/2020

Label: Roadrunner Records

Read the original review of Code Orange’s Underneath here.

6. Paradise Lost – Obsidian

What we said at the time: “Few metal acts can claim such a distinct sound and influential legacy like these Yorkshiremen. And how many bands can boast four out of five musicians as original members after thirty years?… Once again, the boys from Halifax pull off a triumphant compromise between the extreme and the maudlin, and appeal to the death metal crowd and the goths in one masterstroke. Buy this album!”

Genre: Gothic Death-Doom Metal

Country: UK

Released: 15/05/2020

Label: Nuclear Blast

Read the original review of Paradise Lost’s Obsidian here.

5. Anaal Nathrakh – Endarkenment

What we said at the time: “Fans of the last album will feel their eyes bulge after ten seconds of the opening title track. This is Anaal Nathrakh at their psychopathic best with layers of ear-piercing fry screams atop a cacophony of blast beats, double-bass kicks and rapid grind riffs. And, of course, they don’t disappoint with the triumphant power metal chorus that is now part of their trademark sound.”

Genre: Blackened Death Grind

Country: UK

Released: 02/10/2020

Label: Metal Blade

Read the original review of Anaal Nathrakh’s Endarkenment here.

4. Black Crown Initiate – Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape

What we said at the time: “If Black Crown Initiate did not exist, you would need to invent them. Imagine taking the rhythmic precision of Gojira, the low-tuned riffs of Meshuggah and the bewildering invention of Mastodon and combining these components in a science lab… Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape is a magnificent work of art that deserves to reverberate far beyond the world of extreme metal. A Grammy nomination surely awaits this Pennsylvania quartet after this effort.”

Genre: Progressive Death Metal

Country: USA

Released: 07/08/2020

Label: Century Media

Read the original review of Black Crown Initiate’s Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape here.

3. Pure Reason Revolution – Eupnea

What we said at the time: “Metal bands the world over can finally look beyond Radiohead’s Ok Computer as a reference point for incorporating more colourful and abstract landscapes into their bleak and angry sound. Eupnea is the album they should explore. We can only hope The Cure’s next album is this good and ask why Anathema cannot create something as monumental.”

Genre: Progressive Rock

Country: UK

Released: 03/04/2020

Label: InsideOut Music

Read the original review of Pure Reason Revolution’s Eupnea here.

2. Unleash the Archers – Abyss

What we said at the time: “These Vancouver natives would have been millionaires in the era when CD sales were the dominant model. But this is the age of streaming and few people buy albums, which is a shame because Abyss is a record everybody should own in a physical format. Each note in Brittney Hayes’ four-octave range between C#3 and D6 emerges like the last one she’ll deliver… Yet if you think Abyss is all about Brittney, think again. This is a METAL record.”

Genre: Power Metal

Country: Canada

Released: 21/08/2020

Label: Napalm Records

Read the original review of Unleash the Archers’ Abyss here.

1. Haken – Virus

What we said at the time: “Looking ahead to the future is what prog-metal does best and Haken remind us that Tool’s pedestal is not insurmountable. You’ll listen to this record as if searching for the secret to the meaning of life and will memorise every note after three spins. There is no doubt Virus is an instant classic and sets a new benchmark in musicianship. Any band that puts out a better effort in 2020 will win album of the year.”

Genre: Prog Metal

Country: UK

Released: 24/07/2020

Label: InsideOut Music

Read the original review of Haken’s Virus here.