Riley’s Top 20 Albums of 2020

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Alright, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, cats and dogs, and anyone else who is beautiful enough to click on this album of the year list article… let’s get the cliches and rules out of the way:

  • 2020 was awful, but as always, I’m grateful that music exists and many talented musicians put out new albums to keep us from succumbing to the anxiety apocalypse of pandemics, politics, and plenty more
  • the choices below are my opinion and if you disagree with my choices, that’s the beauty of freewill, kids
  • memorability, musical innovation, lyrical relatability, and overall impact are the usual factors that influence who ends up on my list
  • my human ears and brain can only absorb so much music in so much time, so it’s absolutely possible I did not hear a certain album and if so, feel free to comment your worthy recommendations
  • shameless plug time, but I edited a bunch of music videos for my band Kinkshamer from our debut EP, which you can watch here
  • if you’re more the listen-instead-of-read type of person, you can hear all my choices on Spotify and Apple Music

Now, behold… my list!


Greg Puciato20. Greg Puciato – Child Soldier: Creator of God

Nearly all post-band breakup solo projects shiver in the cold shadow of the artist’s previous output regarding both quality and attention. As Puciato’s legacy will be firmly tied to the energetic innovation of The Dillinger Escape Plan, he has nonetheless proven his creativity in this eponymous release. The name of the game within Child Soldier: Creator of God is the severe abundance of variety. The material’s style is sometimes expected such as the experimental and dark synth-driven sessions in the vein of The Black Queen or metallic punching pieces akin to late TDEP and Killer Be Killed, yet there are some left-field 90’s alternative/grunge influences that surface. I can strongly assume that the masses would wish instead for another Dillinger album, but I’m definitely more inspired by the diversity conjured and talent shown in Puciato’s vocal and instrumental performances here.

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Released via Federal Prisoner / Review / Listen to “Do You Need Me to Remind You?” below:


19. Melted Bodies – Enjoy Yourself

In my recent review of this avant-garde unit where 90’s alternative metal, indie rock, and mathcore are aggressively married, I openly admitted that Enjoy Yourself was easily the most fun music listening and analyzing experience I’ve had in too long. My brain tingled as elements of System of a Down, Faith No More, The Dillinger Escape Plan, and Dog Fashion Disco emerged in conjunction with obtuse sociopolitical commentary. I sense this is only the beginning of a wacky and forever envelope-pushing career path for this band and I stand fully behind it.

Released via Plastic Smiles / Review / Listen to “Ad People” below:


White Stones18. White Stones – Kuarahy

One of the great debates of modern metal concerns a new Opeth era with the legendary Swedes shedding their progressive death metal roots to a heavy, yet clean 70’s prog rock identity. I fall in the demographic of moderately enjoying the band’s past few releases, but like many, yearn for the previous more metal leanings. Luckily, long-time Opeth bassist Martin Mendez, indulged and granted our wish for such in this new side project. While occasionally meandering in favor of Mendez’s songwriting style, this record is pretty par for the classic death metal Opeth course and perfect for your Deliverance, My Arms, Your Hearse, or Ghost Reveries cravings.

Released via Nuclear Blast / Listen to “Rusty Shell” below:


Higher-Power

17. Higher Power – 27 Miles Underwater

Although I strive to be constantly expanding my musical palette with new styles and artists, there’s an inevitable tendency to revisit the music I cranked up in my highschool years. Listening to this group’s sophomoric release transports me back to initial discoveries of acts like Deftones, Smashing Pumpkins, or Taproot. Their blend of nu metal, grunge, and post-hardcore conveys a powerful urgency of both today’s youth and nostalgia for late 90’s/early 2000’s.

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Released via Roadrunner Records / Listen to “Seamless” below:


Kvelertak16. Kvelertak – Splid

While metal has the ability to convey a bundle of emotions, the connotation of the genre is usually to express anger. On the other hand, Kvelertak is pulling the underdog weight by representing a feel good happy metal delivery. It is understood that the Norwegian masters of black ‘n’ roll have been putting out solid, energetic albums for a decade, but they most definitely hit the nail on the head with Splid. It’s hard to pinpoint if the leap in quality is due to new members vocalist Ivar Nikolaisen and drummer Håvard Takle Ohr or if the band as an entity has simply perfected their kick-ass heavy metal to an even greater impact on this LP. Throughout the record, you can find classic rock bliss, upbeat headbangers, and everything in between.

Released via Rise Records / Review / Listen to “Crack of Doom” below:


Vulkan15. Vulkan – Technatura

There’s plenty of reasons to wander down the prog path and the most appealing aspect of yours truly is the abundance of open-mindedness. There’s not only a willingness, but a full-fledged push to far experimentation. From the thumpy virtuosity of Animals as Leaders to the scattershot of various styles presented by Between the Buried and Me, progressive artists have proven that there simply are no rules. My recent discovery of Vulkan alongside their third LP adds further evidence to this claim with the record’s overflowing quantity of atypical musical advancements. Regardless of the over-an-hour album length, Technatura deserves to belong in the big leagues aside Porcupine Tree or Haken by fully keeping my attention the entire ride.

Self-Released / Listen to “This Visual Hex” below:


Emmure14. Emmure – Hindsight

Throughout their career, Emmure and perhaps more-so vocalist Frankie Palmieri in particular has had quite the negative connotation from the metal community due to a pompous personality and less than ideal business antics. Coming to terms with his past of tasteless merch designs and a fishy paid fan club controversy, I feel that Palmieri is a growing individual who has made mistakes and is learning to evolve out of the rockstar attitude towards a more matured frontman. As for the band’s actual music, their lineup shift allowed the act to flourish for the incredibly solid Look at Yourself. While Emmure‘s tumultuous history is still present, it seems apparent that they are at a turning point and Hindsight is also reflective of such. Embracing more of their experimental nu-metal influences, this record was honestly a bona fide blast to crank up every time.

Released via Sharptone Records / Listen to “Thunder Mouth” below:


Binary Code13. Binary Code – Memento Mori

Being previously floored by their last album, Moonblood, I had certain high expectations for this follow-up. Although I was anticipating a similar dynamic and melodic identity, Memento Mori actually delivered a far more mature and delicate approach to the band’s prog metal. Focusing on orchestral instrumentation, dark moods, and a penetrating emotional impact, Binary Code were able to successfully evolve their style with grace. For me, it took many listens to finally sink into the immersion the group provides, yet it was well worth the wait once I found myself in the center of their cinematic heavy atmosphere. Also, that Mazzy Star cover was heartbreakingly beautiful.

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Released via Memory Facility / Review / Listen to “Into the Maw” below:


City of Souls12. City of Souls – Synaesthesia

Hailing from New Zealand, this project caught my attention and reeled me in with their mish-mash of catchy alt-rock, ambient post-hardcore, and djenty prog. Immediately, you’ll notice the range and lush timbre of the vocalist, however with further listens, the intricacies of synth lines and layered guitars allow for the most compelling, immersive listening experience. If you’re a fan of the likes of Karnivool or Tesseract, this definitely will be up your alley. I applaud this up-and-coming act for a very solid debut record.

Self-released / Listen to “Water” below:


Mora Prokaza11. Mora Prokaza – By Chance

There’s many artists on this list that I’d consider inventive, yet Mora Prokaza could debatably be deemed the most. Black metal isn’t usually my cup of tea, nonetheless this Belarusian project has presented the abrasive subgenre in a incredibly attractive way. With symphonic movements, experimental folk passages, unclean rapping, and an all in all forward-thinking perspective on songwriting, By Chance expanded the parameters of musical exploration. Alike other groups defined by innovation, it may take a few tries to fully embrace and enjoy the eccentricity.

Released via Season of Mist / Listen to “WIMG” below:


Deftones10. Deftones – Ohms

I’ve always been a fairly huge fan of Deftones, but Gore was super underwhelming and disappointing to the point where I somewhat lost faith in them as a growing band. However, Ohms completely changed my mind as they seem to be back on track. The group always have brandished their unique identity, focusing on the duality of lush atmospheres and chunky riffs. Although that dynamic was severely missing on Gore, it is back in abundance here as shown immediately on “Urantia” or the contrast between the chorus and verse in “Pompeji.” From the welcomed synth usage to the killer ability to cause musical tension and resolution, Deftones show that they are able to equally evolve and stay in touch with their roots, which I fully am on board with.

Released via Reprise Records / Review / Listen to “Genesis” below:


Bear9. Bear – Propaganda

I never fully submerged my head into the murky waters of the hardcore scene, but when a hardcore act reaches across the table and shakes hands with metal subgenres, I’m all ears. In Bear‘s Propaganda, their hardcore foundation layers on progressive, mathcore, post-metal, and djent musicalities with authority. The brick-hard grooves hit as hard as the crisp vocal deliveries, working their way to the center of your brain to viciously repeat all day. While you could pull influences from the likes of Deftones, Isis, or Lamb of God, it’s clear that this group’s distinct style is like no other.

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Released via Pelagic Records / Listen to “Apollo’s Heist” below:


Dance Gavin Dance8. Dance Gavin Dance – Afterburner

The vast world of Dance Gavin Dance is undoubtedly an interesting one. They have conjured an immensely passionate fanbase, leading even to their own festival, a feat you only see by the likes of Slipknot. I’ll admit, I never was intrigued enough by this band’s output up until their 2016 LP Mothership. Now being a casual fan, I was absolutely mesmerized by this latest release. Afterburner perfects their post-hardcore, melodic clean vocals, and experimental math rock guitar licks. There’s much to say about the intricate, playful music, however the standout element is the vocals. We hear Tilian Pearson’s smooth and infectious hooks combatted by the abrasive barks of Jon Mess to balance melody and heavy. At moments, I have far from any reasonable idea what the lyrics convey, nonetheless they possess a very empowering, poetic quality. For those who are like me and avoided the group because of their not so aesthetically pleasing earlier albums, I strongly suggest giving this a shot.

Released via Rise Records / Listen to “One in a Million” below:


Envy7. Envy – The Fallen Crimson

I’m kicking myself for never discovering this band previously because this record absolutely knocks me out from so many angles. Opening track “Statement of Freedom” cleverly presents every appealing factor that Envy is able to produce. A raw post-hardcore ferocity melds together with post-rock spoken word sentiments with pure excellence. As you travel further through the tracklisting, this relationship blooms to showcase their mastery of both subgenres. The atmospheres evoke an uplifting and nearly tranquil mood while the hardcore moments probe at justified frustration alike Deafheaven. After a complete listen, The Fallen Crimson is guaranteed to bring some form of catharsis through a seemingly oxymoronic bludgeoning, yet nurturing journey.

Released via Temporary Residence Ltd. / Listen to “A Faint New World” below:


Apple Sauce6. Apple Sauce – Apple Sauce

You want more weird? We have plenty more weird for you! Apple Sauce is one bizarre act that I struggle to pigeonhole stylistically considering they’re so all over the place in the best way possible. Experimentally stringing together Sikth-like djent, jazz, Periphery-esque metalcore, and an overall proggy Between the Buried and Me influenced random genre generator, this debut album altogether presents itself as a sublime, engaging mindfuck. Even the band name and track titles like “MIKY MOUSE SLAUGHTERHOUSE” or “Cumblast!” reveal an esoteric and oddly seducing sense of humor. If the group are capable of bewildering me to this extent on their first record, I’m eagerly awaiting what the future holds of such peculiar artistry.

Released via Famined Records / Listen to “That Bird” below:


Takatak5. Takatak – Acrophase

Easily the largest and most recent evolution of metal to branch out to the masses would be the progressive metalcore/djent subgenre. Need evidence? The scene’s giants Periphery, Animals as Leaders, After the Burial, and Born of Osiris continue to grow with packed tours, huge album releases, and not only a household name in the overall metal community, but an emerging legendary status. The subgenre has also reached the country of Pakistan with Takatak’s sensational debut. I’d still consider them an emerging band, yet they still possess the soaring vocal melodies and thumping rhythmic virtuosity held by the aforementioned acts. Fans ranging from modern progcore to more classic progressive metal in the key of Dream Theater will undoubtedly feel appreciation and admiration for this project.

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Released via A for Aleph Records / Listen to “Volition” below:


Igorrr4. Igorrr – Spirituality and Distortion

When initially approaching French avant-garde metal project Igorrr‘s new album, I faced the burdensome situation of his previous release setting a rather high standard. In 2017, mastermind Gautier Serre rattled our brains with the extreme, abrasive experimentation that was Savage Sinusoid. A few years later, Serre has molded his unorthodox foundation into a more succinct package. Spirituality and Distortion still exudes shocking genre-fusion, this time including breakbeat electronica, baroque, death metal, and Eastern folk, yet also manages to intertwine a stronger sense of songwriting. For those who have not ventured into the realm of this extreme experimental artist, the structuring of these tracks allow it to be the easiest pill to swallow within his catalog, but I can also assure familiar fans will be just as intrigued with the ground-breaking efforts.

Released via Metal Blade Records / Review / Listen to “Parpaing” below:


Code Orange3. Code Orange – Underneath

My eyes have been open towards the visceral and increasingly experimental metallic hardcore thinners of the herd, Code Orange, since their sophomoric release I Am King in 2014. As I trace their career path, it is undeniable that they have pursued the route of impressively gentle evolution. With their early records flaunting chaotic hardcore and hinting at bouts of melodic, industrial features, the band has now flourished to fully represent an entity of all alluded components: raw hardcore energy, gorgeous earworm melodies, jarringly immersive noise, and an ability to harness all together in such a clean, dynamic manner.

Released via Roadrunner Records / Listen to “Swallowing the Rabbit Whole” below:


Ignea2. Ignea – The Realms of Fire and Death

It truly feels that Ukraine is exploding with metallic talent lately and Ignea is the next in line to boast their aptitude and diversity towards heavy music. Rooted in prog and folk metal, the band holds an impressively immense sense of range with additional elements of melodic death metal, electronic and industrial music, black metal, symphonic metal, and various ethnic influences present. Such a variety guarantees never a dull moment, however there are more crucial factors that allow for The Realms of Fire and Death to be so captivating. The dynamic songwriting paired together with breathtaking vocals pave the way for absolute excellence. Ignea won my heart over with this LP and I give them full praise for a spectacular record.

Self-Released / Listen to “Disenchantment” below:


Poppy1. Poppy – I Disagree

This record dropped in early January and I’m still constantly revisiting this tenacious collection of creativity. I have plenty of “weird albums” previously showcased on this list, however Poppy embodies the term not only musically, but also as an overall aesthetic from personality to visuals. Bringing together influences of the most forward-thinking modern metal artists such as Between the Buried and Me, Nine Inch Nails, and Babymetal, while also filtering through a strangely radio-friendly package is no easy feat. Nonetheless, I Disagree can’t be simply glossed over as a strange and somewhat accessible experiment. This album brings forth the new reign of ‘post-genre,’ a term deemed by Poppy herself, yet extremely apt considering her music blurs the lines between pop, metal, electronic, and avant-garde. Some tracks are absolute mosh-pit fuel, while others embrace a somber pop-tinged therapy session. On paper, one could assume this contrast in styles and moods would collide unfavorably, even so Poppy is able to congeal the cacophony of genres and emotions into a cohesive musical utopia. I love the range and tone of the vocals, the genre fusion, the vulnerability, and the absurdity of it all. I Disagree is a critical point in experimental music and artistry and I urge all to bravely venture down a path that they may not usually.

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Released via Sumerian Records / Listen to “Concrete” below:


HONORABLE MENTIONS:

15. Our Frankenstein – A Pale Horse (keeping the experimental/industrial spirit alive with an old school Skinny Puppy delivery and modern production)

Self-Released / Listen to “Adrestia”

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14. Clown Core – Van (easily more entertaining through their absurd video performances, this strange industrial grindcore jazz fusion project takes the cake for being simultaneously ludicrous and wildly impressive)

Released via 8===D / Listen to “Computers”

13. Lost Conduit – Astral (an abundance of guest features, djenty rhythms, and synth lines will fulfill your Born of Osiris cravings)

Self-Released / Listen to “Astral”

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12. Suntorn – The First Covenant (look no further for a devastating, yet well-composed dose of brutal death metal)

Released via Willowtip Records / Review / Listen to “Body Pile”

11. Molitoth – The Tribunal (serving up a more meditative and introspective take on prog/post-metal, we see the frontman of )

Self-Released / Listen to “Confessional Lock”

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10. Scardust – Strangers (alluring vocal melodies push the captivating prog/symphonic compositions from this Israeli group)

Released via M-Theory Audio / Listen to “Tantibus II”

9. Horseneck – Fever Dream (with early Mastodon and Eyehategod nostalgia provoked, the sludge spirit is strong here)

Released via Worried Bird / Listen to “Matt Lauer’s Secret Button”

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8. Antagonist – Gone is the Light (with metalcore branching out into a myriad of various directions, this act keeps the subgenre strong to its roots with pounding riffs and face-squinting growls)

Released via Infinite Strength Records / Listen to “My Ghosts”

7. Big Scenic Nowhere – Vision Beyond Horizon (regardless of the stoner rock and palm desert scene being on life support now, this group brings modern production and variety to rekindle the life of the fuzzy subgenre)

Released via Satin Records / Listen to “The Glim”

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6. Jazz Sabbath – Jazz Sabbath (Black Sabbath classics jammed out in delectable jazz renditions *chefs kiss*)

Self-Released / Listen to “Rat Salad”

5. Alizarin – The Last Semblance (if you yearn for that classic prog sound and compositional excellence, this record is absolutely what you’re looking for)

Self-Released / Review / Listen to “Elegy Simulacra”

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4. Neurotic Machinery – Nocturnal Machinery (exhilarating and gorgeous progressive death metal in the vein of Fallujah or Gojira from a tight Czech act)

Self-Released / Listen to “Nocturnal”

3. Let Us Prey – Virtues of the Vicious (without certainty on whether to focus on the power metal vocal range, melodic death/thrash riffage, or early metalcore meets industrial tight production, it’s clear that this LP conveys plenty to sink your teeth into)

Released via M-Theory Audio / Listen to “Above the Vaulted Sky”

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2. Vampire Squid – Reinventing the Eel (an immensely ambitious and extremely impressively composed take on the progressive/technical death aquatic pun metal subgenre driven by Andrew Viruetta known more-so for The Faceless)

Self-Released / Listen to “Silence of the Clams”

1. The Reticent – The Oubliette (boldly presenting a prog metal concept album revolving around the struggles of Alzheimers, I was honestly moved by both the emotional tension conveyed through such complex music)

Self-Released / Listen to “Stage 2: The Captive”

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EPs:

10.  Make Way for Man – Rites (a shotgun blast of metalcore bullets piercing everything under the subgenre’s umbrella)

Self-Released / Review / Listen to “Ideations”

9. Demigod – Whiplash Motif (firmly grasping the intricacies of classic prog metal and early metalcore, this Indian group conveys a promising future)

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Self-Released / Listen to “Whiplash Motif”

8.The Arson Choir – Invisible Monsters (the perfect mathcore appetizer to give you the strength for toppling sociopolitical atrocities)

Released via War Against Records / Listen to “Revenge, My Love”

7. Goat Necropsy – Bloody and Fresh (a savory appetizer with flavors of equal Cattle Decapitation and Whitechapel by this Brazilian duo)

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Self-Released / Listen to “The Collector”

6. Zeal & Ardor – Wake of a Nation (with their previous Stranger Fruit LP showcasing perfection of the Spiritual folk-meets-black metal fusion and songwriting, this EP strengthens an ability for powerful lyrics and storytelling)

Self-Released / Listen to “Tuskegee”

5. Bring Me the Horizon – Post Human: Survival Horror (although I’ve never been convinced enough to sit through a full BMTH release, this eccentric, yet accessible Mick Gordon-produced album-long EP is pushing me to reconsider giving the debatably largest fluctuating metalcore act a second chance)

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Released via Sony Music / Listen to “Parasite Eve”

4. Within Ceres – Skyless (balancing out just the right amount of growl to clean vocal ratio, this Indian metal project is exactly what I needed when in search for new progressive metalcore)

Self-Released / Listen to “Terminal”

3. Toothless – Misinformed (with an abundance of harnessed energy, the three tracks in this EP hits unbelievably hard and is indicative of inevitable success in the hardcore/mathcore scene)

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Self-Released / Listen to “Grinner”

2. Luck Won’t Save You – Sail into the Abyss (genuinely in awe of the musical craftsmanship on here from the varied guitar mastery, gorgeous piano embellishments, and overall sheer zany heaviness)

Self-Released / Listen to “I, Abomination”

1. The End of an Age – Recurrence (ever since hearing the infectious vocal melodies and impactful progcore riffs, I’ve had this release on repeat leading to not only a top-notch debut EP, yet also my favorite EP of the year)

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Self-Released / Listen to “Visions”


NON-METAL:

5. Joji – Nectar (R&B/pop)

Released via 12Tone Music, 88rising Records / Listen to “Sanctuary”

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4. Awolnation – Angel Miners & The Lightning Riders (alternative)

Released via Better Noise Music / Listen to “Mayday!!! Fiesta Fever”

3. Run the Jewels – RTJ4 (experimental hip hop/rap)

Released via BMG, Jewel Runners / Listen to “Ooh La La”

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2. Idles – Ultra Mono (post-punk)

Released via Partisan Records / Listen to “Grounds”

1. Clipping – Visions of Bodies Being Burned (experimental hip hop/rap)

Released via Sub Pop Records / Listen to “Say the Name”

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