My Top 20 Albums of 2020


A bit late, but I’ll never forget about you Shattered Lens. Happy New Year. 🙂

20. Paysage d’Hiver – Im Wald

black metal

Sample track: Alt

Like every Paysage d’Hiver album I’ve heard, Im Wald is a meaty grind that I never fully internalized. At over two hours, this one was especially difficult to soak in. So why include it? I think Wintherr is a very consistent artist. At least, he sets an atmosphere that jives well with me and achieves roughly the same mood from one release to the next, whether he’s plodding out black metal or toying around with ambient noise. I’ve got nearly his entire discography sitting around and have yet to hear something I didn’t enjoy. Das Tor was the closest I came to really appreciating one on an individual track level, but… when in doubt looking for some relatively classic BM sounds to binge in October, Paysage d’Hiver is always a good fallback, and Im Wald sustained that expectation.

I gave this entry a last second bump over Nine Altars by Primeval Mass, which deserves an honorable mention. When it comes to albums I enjoyed a lot in passing but never fully committed to, black metal is going to win me over before thrash most of the time. But my 20th slot was a bit of a toss-up.

19. Krallice – Mass Cathexis

experimental metal

Sample track: Mass Cathexis

An honorary placement perhaps? I’m not sure how deep my bias runs here. I have a lot of respect for what Krallice does, and they have written some of my all time favorite music. Mass Cathexis is a very experimental piece prone to meandering chaos that doesn’t always resolve in a holistically satisfying composition for me, but just seeing them continue to create interesting things gives me a lot of satisfaction. There are a lot of albums I could have put into the low end of my top 20. The positive association I have with the band beyond this particular album gave it the edge over releases in a similar boat of enjoyable but not particularly memorable to me. And the title track featuring Dave Edwardson of Neurosis is pretty sick.

18. Enslaved – Utgard

progressive metal

Sample track: Homebound

I binged Enslaved pretty hard this year, not just this album but in general. Utgard is definitely one of their least interesting releases to me, but as I slowly approach old fart status, it becomes increasingly more appealing to hear old bands I’ve loved for a very long time continue to release music that doesn’t suck. And this is good, so I enjoyed it, and here we are.

17. Funeral Leech – Death Meditation

death metal

Sample track: Morbid Transcendence

I have no recollection of what lead me to pick this up on bandcamp earlier this year, and it hasn’t made any big waves in the metal universe that I know of. It’s a slightly doomy death metal grinder that has never leapt out at me as bearing any particularly unique qualities, but this sort of sound has an occasional home in my play list, and for whatever imperceptible reason, this is the album I was most inclined to put on when that mood struck.

16. Emyn Muil – Afar Angathfark

basically Summoning

Sample track: Arise in Gondolin (extended)

When you base your sound around one of the most unique bands in metal, I suppose the parallels are unavoidable, but Emyn Muil doesn’t seem to care about any sense of originality. The homage here goes a bit beyond copying a style. Black Shining Crown, for instance, directly lifts its melody from The Glory Disappears off Stronghold, and it borderline qualifies as a cover song. …Giving it a new name rather than acknowledging it as such is at least a bit awkward, but honestly, I don’t really care. Summoning is sitting pretty at my #3 most listened-to band ever, and I’ll gladly indulge a group that goes out of their way to sound exactly like them. I haven’t actually heard their earlier albums yet, but given that my favorite track on this is a reworking of Arise in Gondolin from their 2013 debut, I’m pretty optimistic. Afar Angathfark is fun and highly attuned to my tastes, if entirely unoriginal, and despite a fairly late discovery, I ended up listening to it quite a lot this year.

15. Black Sky Giant – Orbiter

spacey rock

Sample track: The Phobos Rider

This is the only album that made my list that I wouldn’t really classify as metal. It’s a smooth, spacey jam that gets a bit heavy at times, a bit rock and roll at others, but definitely aims for chill vibes throughout. I have no idea how I even stumbled onto it, I really never dug in to learn much about it, and the artist seems to be pretty obscure. But it’s a great night mood when I want a pulse without an edge, and it’s kept me company a fair bit in recent months.

14. Imperial Triumphant – Alphaville

avantgarde metal

Sample track: City Swine

I gave Vile Luxury second place in 2018, and I don’t regret it. What made Alphaville a bit harder to process was, well, Imperial Triumphant aren’t a novelty to me anymore. That what the hell am I listening to thrill is numbed, and we’re meandering eclectic through a chaotic scene I’ve seen before. Imperial Triumphant don’t write memorable, catchy riffs. They don’t conjure a contemplative atmosphere to focus my senses and drive me along from the background. This is a barely-hanging-on jumble of harsh contrasts, discordant noise, and patchworked transitions, all quite well suited and effective for capturing their sinister portrayal of urban opulence. If I was still in hobby of writing proper album reviews, I could conjure a pretty gushing one here, but when it comes to just ranking what I’ve enjoyed listening to the most, well, there are only so many undistracted hours I can devote to one album, and that’s what Alphaville demands. In the absence of that initial novelty of their sound I experienced two years ago, I do still love this, just not quite as replayably.

13. Havukruunu – Uinuos Syömein Sota

pagan black metal

Sample track: Uinuos Syömein Sota

First impressions are misleading, and that’s why this album stands where it does. I only discovered it sorting through other people’s year end lists, and while my initial impression was very positive, it never got the time to grow or fade on me. It was really exciting to hear something fresh within the pagan bm spectrum, and I wanted to bump this up really high, but lack of an opportunity to see how it stands for me over time held it back a bit. And unlike another album I stumbled into in the closing week of December, the growth didn’t force itself on me organically through a compulsion to just keep listening to it over and over again. I suspect this will move up, but this is the spot it’s earned for me so far.

12. Finntroll – Vredesvävd

folk metal

Sample track: Mask

Yep. It’s been seven years, but Finntroll have a new album, and unlike quite a few gimmicky folk metal bands of their era, they’re still pretty damn good. If you’re familiar with anything this band’s released since Visor om slutet, you won’t be in for any surprises. If you like your metal with heavy synth and a side of polka, you won’t be in for any disappointments either.

11. Cénotaphe – Monte Verità

black metal

Sample track: Aux cieux antérieurs

An energized, driving debut full length out of the black metal powerhouse that is France, Monte Verità offers a hint of viking metal and some pretty catchy riffs. Cénotaphe keep it dark but vibrant, setting a mood that has stood the test of time well for me as a background piece that keeps me energized without getting in the way. I was surprised by just how many times I’d actually listened to this when I was going through my year end options. The numbers don’t lie. This was one of my most listened to BM albums of 2020 and still feels fresh as I’m writing this.

10. Primitive Man – Immersion

drone/doom metal

Sample track: The Lifer

This was my first time hearing Primitive Man. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Caustic, but I came into Immersion with a blank slate, and I have to say I enjoyed it quite a lot. The Lifer is an awesome opening track that just instantly crushes you under the weight of this band’s sound… and then not terribly much happens for the next 36 minutes. I think you either vibe with it or you don’t. These guys drag everything out at such lengths that it sometimes feels more like a very brutalized Sunn O))) album than something in the traditional doom metal sphere. The sheer weight of their sound is unmatched by anything I’ve heard personally, and at just over half an hour, it manages to compress a slow roll into a sufficiently brief package to still have identifiable songs without requiring too attentive of a listen to process. I actually preordered this based on a few samples, and that initial appeal has managed to sustain through to the end of the year. Definitely a band I’ll continue to keep tabs on. I also stumbled into the Sweet Leaf cover of my dreams along the way.

9. Wayfarer – A Romance with Violence

atmospheric black/folk metal

Sample track: Masquerade Of The Gunslingers

It’s hard to say how much Wayfarer’s open embrace of the American west in theme and imagery preemptively colors my perception of their sound. The acoustic guitar passages certainly carry it deep into the music, but there’s something very compelling in their full package. I often find their drudging mood highly reminiscent of Drudkh from an inattentive distance–a band that similarly captures a specific folk aesthetic with fairly minimal open deference to musical tradition. Much like World’s Blood, which also finished high for me when I first discovered the band in 2018, A Romance with Violence is a difficult album for me to sit down and focus on. It’s a mood piece in which I find few memorable passages but a steady progression that can keep me passively engaged as I go about my work and let its ambience fill the void around me. It’s been one of my go-to defaults to put on when nothing else is immediately drawing me, and in that distanced capacity it has managed to rack up more plays than most this year despite an October release.

8. VoidCeremony – Entropic Reflections Continuum: Dimensional Unravel

progressive death metal

Sample track: Sacrosanct Delusions

It’s rare for a death metal album to sit this well with me in terms of plain old repeatable enjoyment, but this one really hits a sweet spot. Loaded with complex but catchy hooks and outstanding bass runs, it manages to merge brutal intensity and enough oddly timed noodling to keep my brain occupied while still feeling smooth on the edges. As someone who doesn’t listen to much death metal, it’s hard for me to make a direct comparison. The bass here sort of reminds me of Opeth’s Morningrise, not in tone but in the way it tends to flare up into a second lead adding another layer of life to the sound, making otherwise generically harsh passages feel vibrant and alluring.

7. Boris – NO

punk, doom

Sample track: Anti-Gone

What a triumph. I’m always hesitant to label anything my unconditional “favorite” in music. These lists are just a silly excuse to double down on exploring and sharing what I’ve enjoyed most throughout the year. But let’s be real. I’ve been doing this for two decades now, and there’s only one name that has never faded out of top ten contention into obscurity through those years. Boris is my favorite band by so many objective measures that there’s really no point in pretending they’re anything less or putting on a facade of unbiased scrutiny towards their eternal onslaught of new releases.

NO leaves its mark in their discography in the form of unrelenting energy, and that’s a pretty unusual statement for a band to make nearly 30 years into their history. It’s a sound that’s been fundamental in their repertoire from the get-go and frequently reared its head for a track or two up through Pink, but it wasn’t what made them great. Ibitsu and Furi felt like filler tracks on Akuma no Uta. There’s a lengthy stretch between Heavy Friends and Kane the Bell Tower of a Sign that I barely remember on Heavy Rocks. Boris were killing it on post-rock and doom metal and bluesy 60s rock anthems in a way that I felt overshadowed their punk inclinations before eventually branching out in every direction imaginable. NO takes it back to the punk roots hard, but with no strings attached. Especially in that post-Flood era of rock cuts, I feel like they were writing songs that built on the ideas of their predecessors. There was a sort of formula to it all, that over-the-top-distorted 60s blues aesthetic cut loose into rock and roll. By 2020, there’s really no point in comparing Boris to anyone but Boris. NO is 40 minutes of doing that thing they do with an intensity they haven’t approached in ages, and their sound has expanded so much in the interim that all of their previous punk inclinations pale in comparison.

6. Velnias – Scion of Aether

folk post-metal

Sample track: Supernal Emergent

I saw Velnias live in 2010 opening for Alcest and was impressed enough by the performance to pick up their then only release, Sovereign Nocturnal, but I dropped the ball on ever giving it a proper listen. When Scion of Aether dropped on Bandcamp this year, something triggered a recommendation ping, and it took 30 seconds of sampling to convince me to grab a copy. They tend to be labeled folk metal of that American sort, and I definitely picked up on vibes reminiscent of Wolves in the Throne Room and Agalloch in their performance a decade ago. But this is something a bit more polished than those bands, with a grooving progressive aesthetic sometimes reminiscent of Russian Circles adorned by earthy organic tones. This album offers immersion in a primitive natural setting through the smooth brain massage of post-metal.

It was interesting finding myself placing this album so close to Wayfarer. I suspect on a superficial level they may feel very similar, but the holistic experience is completely different for me. A Romance with Violence is ideal in the background, setting the mood without getting in the way. Scion of Aether is distracting, frequently gripping my attention. A Romance with Violence is grounded and bleak. Scion of Aether is, well, a bit aethereal.

5. Ulcerate – Stare Into Death and Be Still

atmospheric death metal

Sample track: Drawn Into the Next Void

I am very hesitant to put late discoveries in my top 10. I’ve been there and laughed at myself for it enough before. First impressions can be pretty slanted, and albums with a lot of catchy riffs especially start out higher than they often end up. But this isn’t that kind of album. This is a slow grower that hooked me so fast it has accumulated a month’s worth of plays in the past seven days. I knew I was in for something special the first run through by the way its mood resonated with me. When absolutely nothing specific stands out but I still walk away feeling incredible, an album is destined to hold up well, because the familiarity will establish itself in an already highly positive context. I’ve been listening to this obsessively ever since, and every time I notice more and more detail fleshing out the massive if morbid world of sound they’re presenting. Drawn Into the Next Void’s crushing waltz is the highlight for me so far, but I don’t think I am anywhere near done exploring this album yet, and I won’t be surprised if 5th place feels too low when all is said and done.

4. Lure – Morbid Funeral

black metal

Sample track: La danse du pendu

What a find. I’ve never heard a single band on Amor Fati and stumbled into this debut demo on a lark clicking through fairly random recommendations. I think the post-black metal tag is beginning to feel dull in an era where bands that don’t take the genre some place unexpected rarely get mentioned. Fifteen years ago, I might have used it here. It’s noteworthy because Morbid Funeral has a lot of the trappings of a conventional black metal album. It’s as brilliantly raw as its French origin promises and definitely sustained by perpetual blast beats, tremolo, and unearthly howls. But it is intensely emotionally evocative in a way that characterization fails to imply. It’s a constant onslaught of gut-wrenching chord progressions paced to feel like absolute desperation which, despite the shortest track clocking at over 12 minutes, rarely breaks into anything that could be perceived as fill. The album descends down a rabbit hole of rapid-fire despair that climaxes 7 minutes into the closing track in reverse form, slamming on the breaks for the first time in half an hour to slow roll out a death knell broken bittersweet melody while B.F.S. coughs and chokes and loses his freaking mind on the microphone. La danse du pendu will inevitably be overlooked in most metal circles in 2020, but to call Lure the most promising new artist I’ve heard in a few years would be a disservice; he offered a masterpiece out the gate.

3. Liturgy – Origin of the Alimonies

post-black metal

Sample track: SIHEYMN’s Lament

Where do you even begin with a Liturgy album? A big step up from H.A.Q.Q. for me, which I nevertheless enjoyed, Origin of the Alimonies is yet another unique and inspired installment in a discography that’s been so persistently ahead of its time I think more people will respect this 20 years from now than do today. H.A.Q.Q. was, for all its oddities, at least a slight return to form in reinviting the project’s black metal roots into the framework. Origin of the Alimonies reaches back into the unknown, but not with the bold curiosity I adore on The Ark Work. This is a highly refined album, carried along by a narrative orchestration, the intensity flaring up in fits and starts as movements within Hunter’s esoteric tale. It’s some sort of black metal opera.

I can listen to this all day and never [i”>feel[/i”> like I’m listening to a metal album. For all its intense drumming and screams and tremolo guitar, the mood is almost intellectual. Hunter’s a pretty rare gem impervious to conformity and brilliant at articulating the the unique musical ideas in her mind, and I can easily call this my second favorite album in her discography.

2. Oranssi Pazuzu – Mestarin kynsi

psychedelic black metal

Sample 1: Kuulen ääniä maan alta
Sample 2: Taivaan portti

I picked up the new Oranssi Pazuzu almost as a matter of policy. I’ve known about them since their debut and have every full length album. After a certain amount of accumulation, a band just becomes automatic. But honestly, I couldn’t have told you anything about them. I never really [i”>listened[/i”> to them, not even as a passive background piece. I dimly acknowledged that they were doing creative original things within the sphere of my metal interests, and that was good enough for me, but every release to this point was one spin and done. Going back and briefly sampling their older albums, I’m not convinced that I was missing out. Their sound is distinct, but not the sort that instantly compels me to relisten. I don’t think I’ve given their past releases enough of a fair chance to say that Mestarin kynsi is different, but my goodness did it strike me differently from the get-go.

The album kicks off with a seven minute brooding introduction that builds up an eerie mood for things to come and ultimately climaxes into a pretty groovy but still restrained dark jam that’s driven as much by electronic tones as anything conventionally metal. The restraint is key, because each track takes this same approach while growing just a little bit more unhinged. It’s a masterfully planned collective work in terms of persistently evolving through levels of linear progression. Tyhjyyden sakramentti starts off as brooding as Ilmestys, but now a bit jazzed up, with a climax that’s more intense and a further progression out of that mid-track explosion into a warped psychedelic nightmare.

This progression through levels of increasing intensity and weirdness sort of maxes out near the end of Uusi teknokratia, roughly half way through the album, and you get a sort of soft reset with its outro and the subsequent Oikeamielisten sali, which feels entirely tame after where the album had gone before. A bit of a let down at first, but it came to feel like an integral part of the journey as I grew more familiar with the album, because we’re segueing into the two most wild tracks in the mix to close things out. Kuulen ääniä maan alta is a beat-driven electronic trip that takes the album to, if not its most intense moment thus far, certainly its most bizarre and satisfying. And the closer Taivaan portti is one of those grand finales that start at 11 and cram more and more and more into a sound space that was maxed out from the get-go until it finally just collapses into nothing. That’s a whole lot of hype words that don’t really say much of anything. Just go listen to it. I also found this fantastic live performance of the album. Taivaan portti is the sort of track that’s made to be experienced live, and the video does not disappoint.

This is, essentially, my idea of a perfectly crafted album, stringing together six independently grand tracks into a master work with clear flow and vision. It’s the sort of album I can easily give 1st place to and not feel silly about later, because it appeals to me both innately and as a piece of auditory art.

1. Mystras – Castles Conquered and Reclaimed

medieval black metal

Sample track: The Zealots of Thessaloniki

Relegating Spectral Lore’s III to second place on my 2014 list was a pretty boneheaded mistake, and after a great deal of consideration, I’m going to do it again. I’m not sure why Ayloss released this under a different name, but after half a decade of ambient and electronic pieces, this is absolutely the heir to III. Years later, when I’m still listening to it regularly and have long forgotten the winner, I will once again ask myself, why necromoonyeti? Why do you botch the list every single time?

…At least, that’s where my write-up sat for the past month. Relistening to everything one last time as I prepare to post this, I’m going with the switch. I do feel Oranssi Pazuzu delivered the most complete package I heard in 2020–a visionary work that I both enjoyed tremendously and admired for its sustained attention to how each piece weaves into the album as a whole. But if the question boils down to what I loved listening to the most in 2020, there’s just no debate to be had here.

Ayloss has an absolutely unmistakable guitar style that lead me to instantly identify him in this before I realized what I’d clicked on, and the fuzzy ear candy tones he employs lend to endless repeatability. If you can imagine Ulver’s Nattens Madrigal but rounded on the edges, Ayloss’s finished products are something closer to melodic white noise than metal. It’s downright soothing, and I don’t think I’ve ever found an artist with more background play equity for me personally.

Castles Conquered and Reclaimed might be my favorite Ayloss release to date. It’s hard to say. I’ll have to see what I’m queuing first another year from now. But there is a thematic difference going on, at least to my ears, that projects this album into a medieval sphere dominated lately by Obsequiae, where III felt very other-worldly and earlier Spectral Lore albums tended to give me nature vibes. Evoking the spirits of ancient battles and temples in ruin, ghosts echoing their glory across some sunlit plain. That’s how this album translates into my brain. And if I’m getting pretty far afield in fantasy land here, it must be a pretty unique composition to be able to take me there.

Previous years on Shattered Lens:

2011 / 2012 / 2013 / 2014 / 2015 / 2016 / 2017 / 2018 / 2019

My Top 15 Albums of 2017


Hi! Still existing and loving my family, hope the same goes for all of you. I may be retired from all else in the music world, but the year end list is eternal.

Sample size: I have 83 albums released in 2017 at the time of writing this. Can’t promise I actually listened to all of them.

Surgeon General’s Warning: Ranking music is silly and I generally discourage it.  (But I do it once a year anyway…….)

15. Chinese Man – Shikantaza

trip hop/hip hop

Sample track: Liar

fun French hip hop/trip hop album that seems to have gotten overlooked a lot. I listened to it a ton earlier this year. It’s not something I’ll remember years down the road, but it certainly earned a spot for as much as I played it.


14. Elder – Reflections of a Floating World

stoner prog

Sample track: Sanctuary

For me personally, this is probably the most unorthodox pick on my list, because it is heavily rock-centric in all the ways that typically turn me off. God but something about rock and roll has always felt absolutely soulless to me in a way that few genres can match at their worst. But Elder just do what they do so damn well that it’s impossible to hate this opus. An endless onslaught of prog ingenuity with a nice stoner rock crunch that keeps it driving from start to finish. It’s 64 straight minutes of ear candy without a dull note in the mix, and I have a world of respect for how flawlessly these guys accomplished what they set out to do.


13. Krallice – Go Be Forgotten

post-black metal

Sample track: This Forest For Which We Have Killed

Krallice are responsible for a lot of the best music to come out this decade, and in 2017 they pumped out two new ones (both painfully late into the year for a band that requires a lot of repetition to fully appreciate). While I haven’t actually read anything about either of these yet, the distinctly different styles between them have me pretty convinced that Mick Barr wrote the bulk of this one and Colin Marston took charge on the other. Go Be Forgotten gets off to a glorious start with its opening track, but the remainder has so far failed to really captivate me to the extent that most of their previous works did. It doesn’t raise the bar (or if it does, it hasn’t sunk in yet), but it’s still a fascinating exploration of highly complex soundscapes that few other artists have the technical precision to delve. And god that opening riff is sick. Krallice will be a perpetual year end contender as long they keep doing what they do.


12. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

folk rock

Sample track: When The God Of Love Returns There’ll Be Hell To Pay

I have mixed feelings about this album, and my inclination is to point out the negative; suffice to say, it’s not lacking in universal praise. It wouldn’t be on my list if I didn’t love it. The reason it’s not higher is that, as I see it, Tillman too often defaults to rather throw-away lines. That’s not inherently problematic (see: my #1 pick), but I think it clashes with the more refined, theatrical vibe of the sound around them. Simple case in point: Total Entertainment Forever kicks off with an absolutely delicious line–Bedding Taylor Swift every night inside the Oculus Rift–and follows it up with something so generic that I feel it only exists to achieve a rhyme–after mister and the missus finish dinner and the dishes. Sometimes gentle flaws make a work all the more endearing, but Pure Comedy goes too big and refined to get away with it for me. I feel like he aimed extraordinarily high and almost got there.


11. Tchornobog – Tchornobog

blackened death metal

Sample track: II: Hallucinatory Black Breath Of Possession (Mountain-Eye Amalgamation)

A landscape album as only blackened death metal can paint one. Tchornobog takes you on a 64 minute journey across an entirely unpleasant and stomach-turning waste of all purpose ugliness that really reflected how I’ve felt about the world this year any time I let my attention range beyond my immediate household. We’re talking death metal aesthetics here so yes, that can be a compliment. And while the visions are certainly exotic, there’s not much surrealism of the lofty, artistic sort you find on say, a Blut Aus Nord album. It’s just leaves you feeling kind of dirty. It hit a note I could appreciate while maintaining enough melody and progression to avoid succumbing to redundancy.


10. Hell – Hell

doom sludge

Sample track: Machitikos

Ridiculously heavy slow-rolled sludge that shouldn’t require any genre appreciation to crush your skull. At its peek on “Machitikos”, the quality of this album is unreal. Unfortunately I was pretty late to the ballgame, and their more ambient moments are going to take more than a sporadic month to leave a lasting impression or definitively fail to. Nowhere to move but further up the charts for this one.


9. Nokturnal Mortum – Істина

pagan metal

Sample track: Дика Вира

We’ve certainly come a long way from Knjaz Varggoth screaming hateful nonsense to crackling cassette recordings of Dollar General synth, and as endearing as Nokturnal Mortum’s early works may be, you can’t deny that he has matured (both musically and intellectually) substantially over the years. This album thoroughly lacks the trademark Eastern European folk metal execution that Knjaz inspired more than perhaps anyone else: brutally hammered folk jingles lashing out violently from beneath a wall of modern noise. Істина is a lot more even keel, to such an extent that its metal elements almost feel unnecessary at times. It fully embraces the more cerebral, orchestral sound we began to hear on Weltanschauung and leaves most else behind, achieving a new height in terms of orchestration. I do miss Knjaz’s more passionate explosions, but I don’t consider that a flaw. The real down side to the album for me stems from the studio. For all of its grand instrumental diversity, the complete package is a bit washed out. Everything feels like it’s playing in the background as a supporting element to a non-existent centerpiece. It’s something I’m certainly used to–Nokturnal Mortum have always struggled a bit on the finer finishing touches of sound production–but it’s still a fault that’s hard to ignore. An incredibly solid album that could have been even better.


8. Riivaus – Lyoden Taudein Ja Kirouksin

black metal

Sample track: Vihan Temppeli

This is probably the most unknown album on my list. It’s just straight-up black metal. No frills. No novelties. Really it’s the sort of thing I rarely listen to these days, because most great bm artists have moved on to more experimental fronts. But this is tight as fuck. The riffs are great and it’s got a nice punchy pace and a crisp tone that suits the mood perfectly. Outstanding debut from an unheard of artist. Hoping he sticks around for many years to come.


7. Thundercat – Drunk

funk/jazz

Sample track: Bus in These Streets

A tongue-in-cheek dreamfunk fantasy. Artists who can let a cheesy sound be cheesy often accidentally stumble into brilliance. This guy makes some of the goofiest sounds that funk and jazz have ever imagined somehow feel endearing. I’m also pretty impressed by how distinct his sound is. I mean, considering how radically uninformed on this sort of style I am, it kind of blew my mind that I could instantly go “this guy must have wrote the bass lines to Wesley’s Theory“. I think Drunk is an incredibly well-craft work masked behind a delicious veil of comedy. And it’s given us such eloquent 21st century mottos as “thank god for technology, because where would we be if we couldn’t tweet our thoughts?”


6. Krallice – Loüm

post-black metal

Sample track: Etemenanki

If Go Be Forgotten offered Krallice’s most deranged opening melody to date, Loüm might take the prize for their heaviest boot in the ass. Etemenanki hammers down all the brutality of a headbanger’s wet dream from the first note without budging an inch on Krallice’s classic eclectic tremolo noodling. I don’t think I’ve wanted to just open my mouth and shout “fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck” to a Krallice song this bad since Inhume. As with Go Be Forgotten, there’s a serious question of whether the album as a whole is really that great or if the opening song just carries it, and that’s not to knock the rest so much as to say that by Krallice’s ridiculously high standards I think it might have some mediocrity. You can never really tell with most Krallice songs until you’ve heard them four dozen times. It’s complicated, intricate shit that your brain doesn’t instinctively unravel. My gut tells me that Loüm will keep on growing on me in a way that Go Be Forgotten may struggle to, and I was right about that with Prelapsarian’s incredibly late release last year. (Yes, it is amazing.) The only lasting down point about Loüm for me is, surprisingly, the addition of Dave Edwardson (Neurosis, Tribes of Neurot) on vocals. He does a killer job, but I am shamelessly in love with Nick McMaster’s vox and can’t help but miss them.


5. Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked at Me

folk

Sample track: Crow

Phil Elverum’s wife died last year, and he wrote this album. It’s artistically significant for reasons that are pointless to explain, because I think you will either already get it or it will fundamentally conflict with whatever life coping mechanism you personally subscribe to, and both are fine. It matters to me more than other albums about death because we appear to share roughly the same world view. It isn’t my favorite album of the year because it can’t be.


4. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers

post-rock

Sample track: Bosses Hang

I somehow managed to ignore the rebirth of GY!BE in spite of being entirely aware of it, and this is the first album I’ve listened to by them since Yanqui U.X.O. fifteen years ago. In the meantime, I’ve become an avid consumer of Silver Mt Zion, and after that long of a break it’s easy to forget just how different the two projects were. I’m at a loss for words to properly describe how I feel about Luciferian Towers because I have nothing remotely current and similar to compare it to. “Bosses Hang” and “Anthem For No State” are both absolutely mind blowing, and I usually skip the first and third tracks and don’t even care. This is the greatest band in post-rock being exactly that.


3. Kendrick Lamar – Damn

hip hop

Sample track: DNA

Every time I saw this album top another year-end list, I wanted to move it further down mine. It doesn’t move me on an emotional level like To Pimp a Butterfly. It’s not Kendrick’s greatest work. Can it really be the best of 2017? But every time I revised my year-end list, it just kept moving up instead. Everything he touches has a subtle finesse to it. I love the sound of his voice. I love the way he weaves it into the instrumentation flawlessly. I love how every aspect of each song seems painstakingly tailored to suit the intended vibe. I can just really get into this from start to finish time after time with zero effort. It was my 2017 fallback the grand bulk of the times I wasn’t in the mood for something dark or heavy. This album makes me feel empowered every time I put it on with no cheap sense of escapism attached, and god did I need something like that.


2. Boris – Dear

drone/doom/psych/post-rock

Sample track: Dystopia (Vanishing Point)

Wow. This is 16th year that I’ve compiled a year-end list. For the grand majority of that time, I would have named Boris in my top 5 favorite bands if you asked me. During that time, they’ve put out 53 releases just that I have managed to acquire. And not one has earned my #1 slot. Smile came so close. So close. And now I’m saying it again. I almost feel guilty leaving Dear at #2. It was never dropping any lower. But if you’re at all familiar with it, this might sound generous. Dear is nowhere near their most well-received album. It is absolutely nowhere near their most accessible. Doom and drone at its core, it’s a slow drip grind that will leave all but the most steadfast fans bored out of their minds on first encounter. Yet I somehow managed to listen to it close to 50 freaking times. It wasn’t that I liked it at first. I kind of didn’t. But the mood was right. It hit that sweet spot between ambience and melody that made it never quite dull enough to bore inherently but never quite memorable enough to bore through familiarity. It was dark but it wasn’t morbid. It was just the right sort of fuzz to make me feel more alert without distracting me. And it was through that extremely passive but relentless pattern of listening that its finest moments slowly revealed themselves to me, raising the bar higher and higher, until now it blows my mind that a track like Dystopia (Vanishing Point) could have failed to sweep me off my feet on first encounter. It certainly manages to every time now, on take number one hundred and god knows what. This isn’t my favorite Boris album, but I suspect it’s much higher up there for me than for most fans, and after a very great deal of consideration it only failed to take the title by a fraction of a hair. Oh, I also got to watch them play it live in its entirety. 😀


1. Sun Kil Moon – Common as Light and Love are Red Valleys of Blood

Americana

Sample track: Lone Star

The grand prize goes to Sun Kil Moon. I think this might be for me what Pure Comedy has been for a lot of other people this year. It just speaks to so much I’ve been feeling in 2017 in a way I can completely relate to. Mark Kozelek takes half of the stuff I’ve been making enemies spouting all year and sets it to solid American folk music. He has a blue collar political perspective that offers no compromise for our “total fucking asshole” President but takes far more cutting hits at liberal America’s zero-attention-span reaction-click-and-move-on culture for allowing the country to fall into this state. The album is a two hours and ten minutes meandering disjointed travel through personal stories and monologues that reach all over the place, but underneath it all is a consistent love and appreciation for the bonds we share in our meager little lives, and an intense compassion for those who have permanently lost them. If he comes across as cranky, he’s just pissed at how many Americans have lost sight of this.

Previous years on Shattered Lens:

2011 / 2012 / 2013 / 2014 / 2015 / 2016

My Top 10 Albums of 2016


*taps the mic*

This thing still work?

Hi! Yeah, I exist. It’s been a busy year.

For one thing, the lovely Ms. Phoebe Lucille was born on June 29th. 🙂

A two year old and a six month old do not make for many leisurely afternoons exploring new music, and besides that, my competing addictions to Forum Mafia and Overwatch have consumed virtually all of what little free time I have. Suffice to say, I’m not exactly well informed on music in 2016. In fact, I can’t name 10 metal albums that came out last year off the top of my head, so my traditional top metal list just isn’t going to happen.

But I’ve been posting some sort of year-end music list every year since 2002, and I’ll be damned if I let ignorance stop me. So here goes nothing:

10. Krallice – Prelapsarian

Prelapsarian was released on December 21st. I didn’t find out about its existence until quite recently, and like every Krallice albums, it’s going to take a good 30 listens to fully appreciate. But after a few early spins I can confidently say that it’s good, and because it’s Krallice, that probably means I’ll be kicking myself half a year from now for not giving it my #1 slot. My initial take-away is that the band has continued to pursue the more mathy/avant-garde approach they took on Ygg Huur in place of the progressive opuses of their first four albums, and while that might not make for the same degree of eternal replay value, they’re still the best in the business at what they do. I could argue that I liked the Hyperion EP released earlier this year more, but that’s hardly fair given the amount of time I’ve had to listen to Prelapsarian. I’m going to err on the side of reason here and say this album will be firmly cemented in my top 10 of 2016 a month from now.

9. Martröð – Transmutation of Wounds

Is it another cop out to include a 16 minute EP in my year end list? Maybe. Whatever the play time limits, Transmutation of Wounds takes me on a pretty diverse and chaotic ride. In a lot of ways it felt like a more complete work to me than many full length black metal albums I heard this year, because it’s always going somewhere. The destinations aren’t particularly inviting, but they’re consistently fascinating. A solid debut from a band that could really kill it if they put together a full length album.

8. Skáphe – Skáphe²

This one is a brilliantly discordant and meandering take on black metal. It borders on unlistenable for all the right reasons, and leaves me feeling a little sick to my stomach every time I give it a spin. I suppose that doesn’t sound like a compliment, but it’s an artistic accomplishment that really very few bands out there can pull off. I mutually adore and abhor it. On an amusing note, I just realized as I was writing this that the line-up includes members of Misþyrming and Martröð. Misþyrming’s Söngvar elds og óreiðu would have easily made my 2015 list if I hadn’t only discovered it this past January, and I placed Martröð one slot up, so at least my tastes are consistent. <_<

7. Sumac – What One Becomes

I need to get off my ass and buy a physical copy of this album. Post-metal god Aaron Turner finally found a worthy follow-up to Isis when he joined forces in 2015 with Nick Yacyshyn and Brian Cook to create The Deal, a sludgy masterpiece that might be what Isis would have sounded like had they tied a brick to every guitar string. The Deal has been my go-to album for car rides for quite a while now, and it’s hard for me to compare its quality to What One Becomes because I’ve only ever listened to the latter at home. But I’ve heard it enough to know it’s excellent, and it’s only going to keep on growing on me in years to come.

6. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

I don’t suppose this needs much explanation. Half a year ago, I might have considered it for my top choice of the year. Sitting here right now, I can’t honest remember any of the songs besides “Burn the Witch” and the absolutely beautiful revision of “True Love Waits” without putting the album on to remind myself. That’s been the simple difference for me between post-Hail to the Thief Radiohead and all that came before. I love it when I’m experiencing it; I can’t really remember it a few weeks removed. But it’s more a testimony to Thom and company’s longevity that the music they released in 2016 still earns an easy placement in my top 10 of the year.

5. Run the Jewels – 3

This is where my list is going to start getting a little unconventional to people who’ve known me for a long time. I was really into Anticon back in the early 2000s (I gave Buck 65’s Secret House Against the World my #1 slot in 2005), but by and large hip hop has remained one of those genres I massively respected but never really got around to expansively engaging. Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly in 2015 hit me hard enough to affect a more lasting change in my listening habits. I listened to more hip hop than metal in 2016. So there’s the preface.

When I say I don’t know hip hop though, I mean it. El-P and Killer Mike were nothing to me but names I’d heard people mention a million times before I picked up this album. I can’t compare this to their past albums. I can’t speak from experience. I can’t even talk about its appeal over time, because this album just dropped on Christmas Eve. But it hit me for all the reasons I was digging Aesop Rock this time 15 years ago, and in a year when hip hop was my go-to genre it was the perfect album to close things out.

4. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition

That was the easy part. Now it gets hard. The rest of these could go in any order. They’re so mutually different that I don’t really know where to begin in ranking them. So I’m going to do the stupid thing and put the album I’m most likely to love longest at the bottom of the pile.

Is this the most intelligent album of 2016? Probably. I don’t have to be well versed in a genre to recognize a piece of art when I see it. Atrocity Exhibition shows extreme attention to lyrical and musical detail in crafting its grim cautionary descent into drug abuse and street violence. Brown pulled together a collection of sounds that projected his vision in astoundingly visual ways. No one should ever realistically be able to rap to this, but he managed to lay his eccentric and expressive voice over top of it anyway. It’s one of those packages that takes extreme care to ensure that it’s barely holding itself together at any given moment. If I was strictly picking the “best” album of 2016, Brown would be my boy, but what good is a year end list if I can’t kick myself for how stupid my ordering was afterwards?

3. Deathspell Omega – The Synarchy of Molten Bones

Besides, metal has always hit closest to home for me. It’s the sound I find easiest to embrace, whatever its abrasiveness, and once again France has served as the source of its finest cuts. For better than a decade, friends whose tastes I trust have been praising Deathspell Omega, but I could never quite catch the hype. That changed this year. Far and away my favorite metal album of 2016, The Synarchy of Molten Bones is a complex and captivating black metal masterpiece that’s really perfectly mixed to bring out the robustness of their sound in a full and fleshy way. The song progression is delightfully abstract without ever teetering into the abyss of wankery. A lot of its success stands on their ability to remain relentlessly aggressive no matter how far they delve into experimentation. Too obscure for me to ever fully wrap my head around, I’ve put it on more than 50 times expecting the sort of bore that excessively abstract metal tends to convey on me, and every time I’m just immediately swept away, not fully cognizant of what my ears are hearing but thoroughly in love. These guys crafted an exceptional album on their own, but they owe their studio staff a lot of respect for delicious production too.

2. Bon Iver – 22, A Million

From here I’ve got to vote with my heart, and that begins with the 34 minute heartbreak that is 22, A Million. This album reminds me more of Lost in Translation than of any particular album. It’s packed with disjointed vignettes that don’t serve an apparent purpose towards progressing the album. They often start or end abruptly. It almost comes off as a compilation of half-finished works that got mashed together in an abbreviated 34 minute package with all the meat left behind, but I think it works well that way. Fleeting moments of digital indie folk that always manage to feel simultaneously depressed and comforting–the end result is something beautiful. I put my kids to sleep with it at night.

1. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book

I’ve been trying my hardest to overplay this album for ten months now, but it just won’t grow old. I don’t know if past artists have incorporated gospel into hip hop to this extent or not, but if they’re half as effective at it, lead the way. I don’t have to share Chance’s religious beliefs to find this album entirely uplifting from start to finish. It beams positivity from end to end without any of the pop sunshine and flowers that turn me off to the vast majority of “happy” music. Chance is at his best when he’s passionately and arrogantly busting out religious lines (and he kills it just as hard on Kanye’s “Ultralight Beam”, whatever I think of the rest of that album). That’s the focus for the grand bulk of this work. It’s not perfect by a long shot. Where he diverts to more worldly themes, he’s often shallow and cliche. “All Night” for instance is really fun to jam along to but leaves me feeling more than modestly cheated on the lyrical front.

But I don’t really care. I fell in love with the spirituality of this album right from the get-go, and close to a year later it still brightens me up every time I put it on. It won’t go down among my top albums of all time, but it earned its place as my favorite of 2016.

Previous years on Shattered Lens:

2011 / 2012 / 2013 / 2014 / 2015

Previous Entries In The Best of 2016:

  1. TFG’s 2016 Comics Year In Review : Top Tens, Worsts, And Everything In Between
  2. Anime of the Year: 2016
  3. 25 Best, Worst, and Gems I Saw In 2016
  4. 2016 in Review: The Best of SyFy
  5. 2016 in Review: The Best of Lifetime
  6. 2016 in Review: Lisa Picks the 16 Worst Films of 2016!

October Music Series: Dissection – Where Dead Angels Lie


My music series this year fell victim to a game of forum mafia that’s eaten up every ounce of my free time (and a little more I couldn’t really afford to lose <_<) but I wanted to share one last song here before we lay the Halloween season to rest. Dissection are one of the more notorious black metal bands of the 90s, embroiled in murder and occult suicide and all sorts of trouble. Generally, bands in that ballpark produced the more deranged, off-kilter songs that granted 90s black metal such a strong air of the sincerely sinister. But Dissection was a bit different. For all of Jon Nödtveidt's faults, he was a really brilliant songwriter in a surprisingly traditional sense. The band's most famous song–"Where Dead Angels Lie", off Storm of the Light’s Bane (1995)–is a masterful six minute progression of beautiful melodies that would not be out of place on an early In Flames album. (Is it a mere coincidence that the band’s home town of Strömstad is not terribly far north of the melodic death metal capital of the world: Gothenburg, Sweden?) It is sinister in a theatrical sort of way, quite different from the traditional roots of the genre and quite better than the few ‘mainstream’ bm bands, who are generally more willing to take this approach.

Hope you enjoy, and Happy Halloween!

October Music Series: Векша – Царство снега


The short-lived, Yaroslavl-based band Векша (Veksha) offer a look at that strange world of ultra-nationalistic, rabidly pagan Slavic metal that began to emerge shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union. I love the awkward juxtaposition (by 1998 standards) of black metal and this anonymous woman’s clean, almost childish singing in the environment of absolutely rock-bottom recording quality. The aesthetic consequence is spooky–a sort of half-formed ghost of a demo tape that dares you to shut off your speakers and see if it continues to play.

But the appeal that keeps me listening to На пороге ночи (Na Poroge Nochi) might not have been the band’s intent. Believe it or not they actually had a website, on which they greet all Aryan brothers with pastel flowers and rotating heart gifs.

umm…

But creepy by accident is always more effective than creepy by intent, right? The bizarrely pervasive fixation on race throughout a lot of early Slavic pagan metal bands probably has an interesting historical explanation that is well beyond the scope of my knowledge, and the explicitly sinister intent of a few prominent bad apples in that bunch might cast the rest a little out of context, but at any rate it’s another off-kilter factor in rendering Veksha’s lone release just a wee bit disturbing for reasons the band probably never intended. They’ve definitely earned a spot in my Halloween playlist.

True Slavonic Romantic Pagan Metal ?

October Music Series: Falkenbach – Heathen Foray


If there is one artist I have consistently returned to every October for the 15 or so years that I’ve had a clue what I’m talking about, it’s Vratyas Vakyas. I first discovered Falkenbach via Audiogalaxy–a long forgotten site that stood out back in the Napster days for a design which allowed users to easily explore non-mainstream genres. I had never heard anything remotely similar to Falkenbach at the time, and I fell in love with the plodding hymns that seemed to turn black metal on its head and generate a spirit of reverence rather than darkness.

Of course, in hindsight Falkenbach fits into a broader historical progression, but his sound is still entirely unmistakable. Vratyas Vakyas was one of the earliest artists to really latch on to the ‘viking metal’ ideal that Bathory began in the late 80s, before too many stylistic norms were standardized, and the sound he landed on has never ceased to captivate me. “Heathen Foray” is the opening track to his fourth studio album, Heralding – The Fireblade (2005), and it also makes an appearance in somewhat grimmer form on his second album, …Magni blandinn ok megintiri… (1998). How far back the basic idea of the song dates is hard to say; there is a ton of earlier demo material available going as far back as 1989. I could have chosen any of dozens of stand-out songs to showcase here without any reservations, but this one has been speaking to me lately. Enjoy!

October Music Series: Gorgoroth – Procreating Satan


Part of the ‘appeal’ of the second wave of black metal as it manifested in Norway is the feeling that you are listening to a product of truly deranged minds. Granted most of the artists in the scene were fairly normal kids who matured and went on to enjoy long-term musical success, the genre’s focus on the occult, Satanism, and all things traditionally “evil” brought a few real wackos into the fold. Most of them wound up dead and behind bars. Gorgoroth pressed on.

This is a band that continues to project itself as dead-serious Satan-worshiping masochists long after their peers evolved away from the genre’s early image or else dropped sufficient hints to be recast as a sort of warm cuddly metal-spiked parody. Does their sound reflect this? I like to believe it does. “Procreating Satan” is the opening track to Twilight of the Idols, the band’s sixth studio album, released in 2003. It features the most notorious of the many vocalists the band has had over the years: Gaahl.

October Music Series: Myrkgrav – Endetoner


Lars Jensen has been working on his solo project, Myrkgrav, since 2003, but his discography is pretty brief. Trollskau, skrømt og kølabrenning (2006) is his only full-length album, and it’s a pretty solid entry into the annals of pagan metal. The album is a bit brooding overall, with a lot of slower tempo black metal-infused hymns, but the optimistic closing track has always stood out to me the most.

“Endetoner” feels like a victory anthem–a celebration of Norse history and tradition that honors those old gods who always seem to make a brief return to Midgard around this time of the year.

October Music Series: Månegarm – Ur själslig död


If I asked a random metal fan to name ten folk/viking metal bands, chances are they wouldn’t drop Sweden’s Månegarm among the contenders. It’s a bit odd, considering they’ve been around since 1995. But besides having a name that isn’t entirely easy to reproduce on a standard keyboard, there’s no reason to leave “Månegarm” off the list. Their ability to fly under the radar is something I don’t really understand; this band has definitely drawn less attention than they deserve over the years.

I am guilty to an extent, with nothing prior to Vargstenen–their 2007 release–in my collection, but I was still a little surprised to realize I had never featured this band before let alone this song. Following a brief intro track, “Ur själslig död” kicks off Vargstenen with epic bombast and a creative progression that avoids the easy temptation to repeat the track’s catchy main melody in excess. One thing that always stood out to me on this song was the vocals. Erik Grawsiö demonstrates a level of diversity I’m more accustomed to out of Slavic metal bands than their Germanic counterparts, and I absolutely love how he transitions back and forth between guttural singing and atonal growls. I couldn’t resist the urge to belt out a death metal roar of my own at the 40 second mark when I was listening to this in my car earlier today. So much for not scaring the new neighbors. <_<