1- Paradise Lost – Obsidian
2- Mr. Bungle – The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo
3- Katatonia – City Burials
4- The Pineapple Thief – Versions of the Truth
5- The Amity Affliction – Everyone Loves You… Once You Leave Them
6- Scott H. Biram – Fever Dreams
7- Dark Tranquillity – Moment
8- Human Impact – Human Impact
9- Body Count – Carnivore
10- Gangstagrass – No Time for Enemies
For all that was wrong with 2020, and there’s a lot, it was a really good year for new music. Six of the ten bands that are in my Annual Top 10 list are appearing for the first time. I actually gave some consideration to doing a Top 15 for the second time, and I easily could have, but I kept it to a Top 10.
From the moment that I heard the first notes of the first song on Paradise Lost’s Obsidian, I knew it was a special album. That song, “Darker Thoughts” starts off slow with clean vocals and then, at the right time, breaks into a rage with growling vocals. It perfectly set the tone for another great album from a great band with a great legacy. This is actually their second consecutive Album of the Year in my rankings, with this following their 2017 album, Medusa. I joked after that album that they should retire because their sound have gone full circle, and after 30 years and 15 albums, how could they keep going as strong. But, they did.
Not only does “Darker Thoughts” set the tone for their 16th studio album, but it kind of set the tone for 2020 as a whole. In addition to that great song, I also recommend “Fall from Grace,” “the Devil Embraced,” “Ravenghast,” and especially “Forsaken.”
Mr. Bungle broke up in 2000. They reunited in 2020 and released a new album, but in reality that album is their (previously unreleased) 1986 demo tape. I don’t know what type of impact it would have had if it were released in 1986, but in 2020, the Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo, is one of the best records to be (officially) released during the year. I saw Mr. Bungle play this album in its entirety in February. That was actually the last concert that I was able to attend before the pandemic put a stop to that. I knew basically none of the songs that were played that night, but it was still very memorable. The album was released on October 30th and the band did a live streaming concert on Halloween, where they played it again. It’s just a really good 1980s style thrash album released in 2020. In fact, this entire story is a very 2020 thing, and also a very (Mr. Bungle front man) Mike Patton thing to do.
Tracks that I think stand out a bit on the Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo include “Anarchy Up Your Anus,” “Hypocrites / Habla Español O Muere,” “Eracist,” and “Methematics.” In fact, “Methematics” sounded somewhat familiar, because it’s obvious that Mr. Bungle used parts of this unreleased song and used it in their 1991 self-titled (official) first release in the song “Love is a Fist.”
Before Paradise Lost in 2017 and 2020, Katatonia was the only band that got the top spot in my Top 10 list (2009’s Night is the New Day and 2012’s Dead End Kings). Their 2020 release, City Burials is really a great album, and could easily have given Katatonia their third Album of the Year, if it wasn’t for the two albums that I’ve already spoken about. Like Paradise Lost’s Obsidian, this album starts off with a great song, “Heart Sets to Divide,” that sets the tone for the rest of the album.
Other good songs that I like include “Lacquer,” “the Winter of our Passing,” and “Flicker.” I also want to state that “Behind the Blood” is a great song that includes one of the best lines that I’ve head in a long time, “You’re a torch to the temple of depression.” Seriously, that’s a powerful line.
I’ve been aware of Bruce Soord’s The Pineapple Thief since he and Katatonia’s Jonas Renkse collaborated on 2013’s album of the year, Wisdom of Crowds. I’ve heard some stuff from The Pineapple Thief over the past few years, but not much of it really did much for me. That changed with Versions of the Truth. The first track that I heard was the title track from the album and it peaked my interest enough to listen to more, and I’m glad that I did. I think the album is a great combination of what I like from bands like Katatonia, Porcupine Tree, and Anathema. It’s a good album that did not bore me at any point while I was listening to it.
Other tracks that I think stand out a bit include “Demons,” “Too Many Voices” and “Our Mire.”
While six of the ten bands to have albums on this year’s list have never appeared on it before, The Amity Affliction is the only one that I didn’t know of until 2020. I heard their song “Soak Me in Bleach” while I was driving and I really liked it, so I looked into them and saw that they had just released an album, Everyone Loves You… Once You Leave Them. I got a copy of the album and enjoyed it quite a bit. I don’t generally listen to things in the Metalcore genre unless the albums really stand out. This one did.
The first three tracks of the album “Coffin,” “All My Friends Are Dead,” and (the already mentioned) “Soak Me in Bleach” start the album really well. “All I Do is Sink” and “Born to Lose” are also good songs to check out.
Scott H. Biram’s Fever Dreams was released on the day after Thanksgiving. It was basically a surprise. There was no advanced notice. No singles were released. And while, I’ve been listening to Biram for 15 years, and basically knew what I could expect from one of his albums, I still didn’t know what to expect. What I got was one of the most polished, yet still raw sounding, albums that I’ve heard from him. The title track is one his more heartfelt songs in his library and the song “Can’t Stay Long” sounds like it would fit on the Smokey and the Bandit soundtrack, which (to be clear) is complimentary. This is another really good album from “the Dirty Old One Man Band.”
Other great songs from the album include “Single Again” which I would put up against any popular country song and “Drunk Like Me” which has the trademark Biram sound that made me a fan from the start.
Very few bands that I listen to are as consistent as Dark Tranquillity. They put out quality album after quality album, and Moment is another example of that. Like Mr. Bungle, Dark Tranquillity had a streaming concert where they played their new album in its entirety on the day after it was released. I made it a point to listen to the album one time before seeing the show. The songs that I liked upon the first listen were great during their live performance. The song “Identical to None” IMMEDIATELY stood out to me and quickly became one of my favorite songs from Dark Tranquillity’s entire 30 year career.
“The Dark Unbroken,” “Empires Lost to Time,” and “Phantom Days” are some of my other favorite songs from Moment.
Human Impact is considered to be an “American Noise Rock supergroup.” I don’t quite know what “American Noise Rock” is, but I know that I like Human Impact’s self-titled debut album. They are on Mike Patton’s Ipecac Records label and I’m pretty sure that I discovered them through a YouTube suggestion. The video that I saw on YouTube was for their song “Cause.” I really liked that song and searched for more. I liked that and got a copy of their album. Just like Amity Affliction, I was thrilled to find another new good band that I liked to listen to.
If you’re inclined to listen to songs from this album to check them out, in addition to “Cause,” I like “E605,” “Respirator,” and “Protestor.”
If you’re surprised to see Body Count in my Top 10 Albums of the Year list, so am I. I’ve listened to them on and off since their 1990 debut. Over the past few years, I’ve really liked some of their newer songs, but I didn’t go out of my way to get any of their albums. Then I heard the title track from their 2020 album, Carnivore. I liked the song. I also noticed that they were going to be playing in my area not long after that. In order to get myself up to speed on their newer stuff, I bought a few albums, including Carnivore. Unfortunately, the pandemic happened and the show was canceled. But, that didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the album. It’s a really good, aggressive, hardcore style album.
My favorite tracks from Carnivore include the already mentioned title track, “Another Level,” “Thee Critical Beatdown,” and the updated version of “Colors.”
A found out about Gangstagrass just a few years ago. They’re a bluegrass/hip hop band. Yeah, you read that correctly. I saw them in concert shortly after first discovering them and I had a great time. I got a bunch of their albums and became familiar with some of their back catalog. 2020’s No Time for Enemies is their 6th studio album and the first one that they’ve released since I’ve known of them. It’s the 10th Best Album of 2020, as far as I’m concerned. I’m also pretty sure that some of their other releases could have made my lists if I had known about them earlier.
Some of the songs that I like the most from No Time for Enemies include “Freedom,” “Do Better,” and especially “Nickel and Dime Blues.”
As I stated at the beginning of this post, there were a lot of good albums in 2020. Here is a listing of other albums that came out during the year (in alphabetical order by artist):
– The Allman Betts Band – Bless Your Heart. This is a good album, but it just missed the list.
– Blackfield – For the Music. Blackfield without Steven Wilson as a main song writer is just boring.
– Corey Taylor – CMFT. This record has some good stuff on it, but it’s a bit disjointed with different styles of songs on it.
– Dion – Blues with Friends. In my opinion, this is the best album that Dion has put out since 1989’s Yo Frankie.
– Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters. A good album with some good songs.
– Hatebreed – Weight of the False Self. This was a Hatebreed album. I got what I expected.
– Heaven Shall Burn –Of Truth and Sacrifice. This was a double album that had a few good songs, but of the 19 tracks on the album, the good ones were lost in the shuffle.
– Lamb of God – Lamb of God. There’s some good stuff on here and in a year that was stacked with GREAT albums, it may have made the Top 10.
– Lonesome Wyatt and the Holy Spooks – Dream Curse. Lonesome Wyatt puts out good stuff, but I think he’s better when he’s with Those Poor Bastards.
– Mina Caputo – The Mones. There are some wonderfully poetic songs on here.
– Mushroomhead – A Wonderful Life. This is first Mushroomhead album without their founder Jeffrey Nothing, who left in 2018. His replacement sounds a lot like him, but it’s not the same.
– Spy Machines – Spy Machines. This is a jam group consisting of Clutch’s JP Gaster and some people that Clutch has toured with. It’s a fun album, but I don’t see myself listening to it often.
– Tetema – necroscape. This is one of those “I don’t know what I’m listening to” Mike Patton projects.
– Trivium – What the Dead Men Say. See Lamb of God.
– White Stones – Kuarahy. White Stones was founded by Opeth’s bass player, Martin Mendez. Their debut album sounds like Opeth demo tapes and songs that didn’t make the cut with Opeth.
– William Elliot Whitmore – I’m With You. A solid folk/blues album.
I’ve enjoyed listening to all of these albums this year, and all of them did get a full listen.
I know that (2009 Album of the Year winner) Moonspell and Steven Wilson (2007 winner, as part of Porcupine Tree) have new albums coming out in 2021. I’m not sure about other acts. I know some bands are holding off on releasing new material until that they can properly tour for it. I’m hoping to have a list half as good as this one when I start compiling my 2021 Top 10 about a year from now.
A note about eligibility for my 2020 Album of the Year:
– the album must have had a United States release date in 2020.
– the album must be new material (for the band or artist).
– live albums are only eligible if they’re new material.