SBR Top 7 Musicians of 2020

At Scream Blast Repeat we make no secret of our admiration for virtuoso musicianship and supreme song-writing ability. Music is a language in itself and can often reach a level of intoxication beyond the intelligibility of words.

The extreme metal and prog spheres are famous for producing exquisite musicians and should continue to influence a new generation of gifted multi instrumentalists. It may change in the future, but we live in an age where technical ability usurps attitude and lyrical poignancy.

Devin Townsend, Ihsahn and Mikael Åkerfeldt are three of the finest musicians around and would make our celebrated list every year if they had a new studio album on the shelves. But 2020 also saw the emergence of some new faces who will be around for many years to come. Not all of them made this list but honourable mentions go to James McBain (Hellripper), Evgeny Zhytnyuk (Ignea), Astaroth Merc (Raventale), Nick Shellenberger (Underer), Laure Le Prunenec (Rïcïnn) and Dan Weiss (Dan Weiss Starebaby). We also take some of the veterans for granted these days. Step forward and take a bow, Oli Beaudoin (Kataklysm) and Topon Das (Fuck the Facts). You deserve it!

Ladies and gentlemen, we present you with our top seven musicians of 2020.

7. Jasper Barendregt (Dialogia)

Former Death/Cynic drummer, Sean Reinert, passed away in January this year leaving behind a legacy of metallic jazz-fusion that is still mind-blowing to this day. Few can take on the mantle of his great work, but Dialogia’s Jasper Barendregt is the best candidate to continue progressive metal’s journey into new dimensions of rhythmic innovation. His loose style and ability to accent the guitars in the strangest of places is phenomenal. Few metal bands attempt to use free-form improvisation in the studio, but the members of Dialogia are good enough to trust their instincts and the telepathy of their drummer. If the name rings a bell, that’s because Barendregt used to drum for Dutch avant-garde black metal band, Dodecahedron, from 2011 to their split in 2019.

6. Robin Staps (The Ocean)

German art-metallers, The Ocean (also known as The Ocean Collective), are the darlings of the avant-garde/post-metal/prog metal scene, thanks mainly to founder and sole surviving member, Robin Staps. As guitarist and composer, Staps is also adept at electronic arrangements and music production. The Ocean’s latest album is yet another masterpiece of sophisticated aggression and intricate expression that pulsates with the mind of a restless creator-destructor. You’ll find no self-indulgence in Staps’ compositions but many subtle layers built on grinding bass lines and synth arpeggiators. Pain of Salvation’s Daniel Gildenlöw would make a perfect song-writing partner for a future side project. Now there’s something worth crowdfunding…

5. Eloy Casagrande (Sepultura)

Eloy Casagrande joining Sepultura in 2013 breathed new life into the band. It’s no coincidence that Andreas Kisser started to expand his chops when he realised the new colossus he had behind him. Is there a harder hitting drummer in the world than this beast of a musician? Watching Kisser tease him during the making of the band’s latest Quadra record is revealing. “I’ve finally found something he can’t play,” says the Sepultura guitarist with a smirk on his face. Naturally, Casagrande rose to the challenge and turned many of the new songs into his own personal drum workshop. Five minutes of an Eloy Casagrande live performance is enough to brighten the mid-life crisis of many a man and woman who need a new hobby and will no doubt provide the inspiration for countless kids to pick up the drum sticks in the future.

4. Andy Thomas – Black Crown Initiate

Andy Thomas is a guitar virtuoso, but, like all great musicians, keeps pushing himself to get better. It’s somewhat surprising, then, that he spent the last four years working on his vocal harmonies and clean rock voice. The result is a remarkable performance on the latest Black Crown Initiate album to juxtapose the fierce death metal abrasions of frontman, James Dorton. Every song on Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape is nuanced with style and finesse and delivered in a maelstrom of progressive death metal grooves few can hope to achieve. We’re in for great things to come if BCI’s chief song-writer continues on his current path of creativity.

3. Rae Amitay (Errant/Immortal Bird)

2020 saw Immortal Bird singer and composer, Rae Amitay, release the debut EP of her Errant project, and what a superb effort she produced. As a Berklee College of Music graduate in drums, Amitay is already a top-notch musician, but her guitar and bass work on the debut Errant EP is as impressive as her new found vocal melodies. The avant-garde black metal of Immortal Bird is already proof of her talent, but the fragile emotional flavouring of her solo material suggests she will only get better as a composer in the future. Buy her CDs and vinyl now before they become cherished rarities for serious record collectors. The next decade is hers for the taking.

2. Daniel Þór Hannesson (Cult of Lilith)

It was a big moment for Daniel Þór Hannesson to hand over his songs to other musicians in 2016. As a multi-instrumentalist hellbent on writing the most complex arrangements with guitars, keyboards, bass and a drum machine he imagined a new genre of music called ‘necro mechanical baroque metal’. He soon realised this could never be achieved in his bedroom or without recruiting a live band. With Mario Infantes Ávalos now fronting the group on vocals, Daniel can sit back in the knowledge his hard work and perfection paid off. The musicians he has around him are world class and their contribution to the next chapter of Cult of Lilith should continue to expand the band’s sound and push his skills even further. Daniel has already hinted that he wants more choral work and symphonic instruments on the next record. It seems nothing is off limits for this man’s musical imagination.

1. Misha Mansoor (Bulb/Periphery)

Who else could qualify for the number one spot other than the multi-skilled Periphery guitarist and djent pioneer? Though Periphery released only a live album this year, Misha tops this list for his ten-volume series of Bulb demos curated for the first time as a commercial release in 2020 through his record label, 3Dot Recordings. Though composed in the period 2005-2008, his collection of 108 Bulb songs show a level of musical brilliance unsurpassed by any other artist this year and enhance his credentials as the most influential metal guitarist of the last decade. The standard of composition on his Symphonic volume of the Bulb demos is incredible for a bedroom musician with only synthetic MIDI instruments. Whether mastering a synthesizer, gracing a piano, shredding a seven-string guitar or playing drums – yes, he plays drums to a high standard – the Washington DC native continues to set the bar for other multi-instrumentalists in the rock and metal world. Look out for his debut studio album in 2021.