Ghost Cult stalwart, mainstay, and truly valued senior writer Mat Davies blesses us with his top twenty albums of the year, plus some thoughts on the year that has been, and that which is still to come…
Convention would suggest that any review of the preceding 12 months should prefix itself with the following adages:
The worst year ever
The longest year ever
2020 can get in the bin
2020 saw the world on fire
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic (which remains a constant in our western world) cannot be overstated; its devastation on families and communities significant and harrowing. Four our part of the musical world, it has had a profound impact on artists and those that support artists- gigs and festivals cancelled, incomes decimated, uncertainty reigning. It has been a year of challenge, pain, and, at times, deep and unsettling anguish. And yet. They often say that the best art comes from suffering. I am not sure whether I wholly subscribe to this view but the response of musicians to the challenges of 2020 have been innovative, creative, and, at times, revolutionary.
We have changed. Whilst 2020 has given pause for reflection and thought, there has also been an acceleration in new ideas, creativity and products for us to consider. Within the maelstrom of the pandemic, artists have through necessity needed to adapt and reflect the changing circumstances. In the mainstream, who would have thought that two septuagenarians (Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, respectively) would have delivered two works that worked as comfort blankets, genuine statements of artistry, and pillars of hope and anticipation for how we might survive beyond the chaos of the pandemic. In Dylan’s case, the coming to terms with his own mythology has finally been settled and for Springsteen, his understanding of the importance of his relationship with his audience has rarely been more pronounced.
The welcome return of the greatest one-trick pony band on the planet- the estimable AC/DC– also added to the sense that we needed comfort and certainty in a world struggling to provide any. With such uncertainty, bands and artists trying new ways to reach their audiences have been manifold. The most obvious manifestation of this has been the livestream. Not always entirely successful, it has demonstrated that technology can connect bands and fan bases. But it needs effort and imagination to truly work. Metallica (of course) provided a set text in how to do this but notable mentions for Trivium, Enslaved, and the spectacular and stunning Code Orange for having not just the confidence and innovation to pull off proper shows but to imbue them with imagination, guile and ideas that resonated long after the shows had aired.
2020 also saw a change in how people listened. The absence of that commute to work, or to the gig, brushing up on who you are about to see or who you should be listening to, has meant that some great records emerged and disappeared from the consciousness much faster than was fair to them; equally, as your Spotify Wrapped data will tell you, you pretty much listened to the same bands and artists this year as you did last, even though you had the musical world at your fingertips. This is entirely understandable: we seek comfort in the familiar, the known. Despite this, 2020 has seen some truly brilliant music, a year when we have genuinely been spoilt for choice, a year when artists have stretched themselves and blessed us with resonant, long-lasting pieces of art and creativity.
What has truly surprised has been the diversity of the music and ideas made available to us as listeners. By way of obvious examples; consider the hardcore malevolence of Code Orange‘s Underneath, Trivium‘s metallic symphony of What The Dead Men Say, Enslaved‘s magisterial Utgard, and Deftones Ohms, and you have a genuinely diverse proposition where artists have challenged themselves and us to the art of possibility. We are so much better for all of this and, in time, we will recognise it properly and meaningfully. 2020 will be a banner year for all sorts of horrible reasons. For us in Ghost Cult world, for all the challenges there remains light at the end of the tunnel and hope for the coming year. We need to dig deep in our support for our bands and know that once this pain passes, we have a world of passion and imagination to savour and covet.
Happy New Year!
20. Taylor Swift folklore (Republic)
19. Code Orange Underneath (Roadrunner)
18. Metallica S&M 2 (Blackened)
17. Kvelerak Splid (Rise)
16. Black Crown Initiate – Violent Portfolio of Doomed Escape (Century Media)
15. Fontaines D.C. A Hero’s Death (Partisan)
14. Lamb of God Lamb of God (Epic / Sony)
13. Svalbard When I Die, WIll I Get Better (Church Road)
12. Irist Order of the Mind (Nuclear Blast)
11. Mastodon Medium Rarities (Warner / BMI)
10. Bruce Springsteen Letter To You (Columbia)
9. AC/DC Power Up (Columbia)
8. Pearl Jam Gigaton (Republic)
7. Spanish Love Songs Brave Faces Everyone (Pure Noise)
6. Motorpsycho The All Is One (Rune Grammofon)
5. Killer Be Killed Reluctant Hero (Nuclear Blast)
4. Elder Omens (Stickman)
3. Enslaved Urgard (Nuclear Blast)
2. Nick Cave Idiot Prayer (Bad Seed ltd)
1. Deftones Ohms (Reprise)