2020 has been a strange and difficult year for most people, but that hasn’t stopped the release of some truly fantastic music. As we near the close of this tumultuous and trying year, here are the 20 albums that have resonated the most with me in 2020.
It feels rather redundant to preface this year’s celebration of the music that got us through what was annus horribilis maximus unprecedentius with much of a narrative of 2020 because we were all affected. We all lived through it. Some of us in un-splendid isolation. Some of us irreversibly overhauling the way we live, work, and support our dependents. Some of us welcomed changes we had to make while mourning the root cause behind them and that each and every person on this planet we call home was affected, impacted, and touched in a negative way by the events of a global pandemic and high-profile political situations. Continue reading
When Green Carnation, the progressive Norwegian sextet that gave birth to avant-Black pioneers In The Woods, split for the second time in 2007, no-one gave it a cat in hell’s chance of reformation. Yet the green (ahem) shots of recovery spawned with 2018’s live album Last Day of Darkness (Prophecy Productions), and here we are with the band’s sixth album Leaves of Yesteryear (Season of Mist), in what is the 30th anniversary of its formation.Continue reading
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Progressive stoner metal band Green Carnation will enter the studio this month to make their first new album since 2006’s The Acoustic Verses and first new music since The Quiet Offspring in 2005. The music will be released in 2020. The band will be recording what they describe as “a tribute to Green Carnation’s past, present and future”, consisting of three brand new songs, one remake of a song from their debut album and one cover song. The sessions also mark a reunion with Endre Kirkesola (Abbath, In Vain, Solefald), the producer of the band’s legendary Light of Day, Day of Darkness, in DUB Studios in Kristiansand, Norway.Continue reading
Following a few excessively raw and highly abrasive EPs, the UK’s Employed To Serve turned a few heads in 2015 with the release of their hungry—nay, starving and salivating—debut full-length Greyer Than You Remember. Now, with The Warmth Of A Dying Sun (both Holy Roar), they are poised to turn quite a few more. Continue reading
The criminally overlooked Blood Red Throne has been going for 18 years and 7 albums. Initially formed in 1998 by DØD (Satyricon) and Tchort (Satyricon, Emperor, Green Carnation) they are now releasing their 8th studio album Union of flesh and Machine on Spinefarm/Candlelight.
Blood Red Throne’s brand of Norwegian death metal has always been a particularly rewarding listen and Union of Flesh and Machine might just be their best album to date: Whilst tightly following their eponymous 2013 release they do raise the bar both in terms of song writing and crisper production. Right from the outset this beast of an album just hammers it home, within a few seconds of putting this on in my car I was struck with an over whelming urge to start a mosh pit, much to the annoyance of my insurance company.
Fast ultra-precise riffs, pummeling drums barking bellowing interspersed with shrill shrieks to create a dense brutal soundscape which means that even if they were content to just stick to the formula this would be a satisfying listen: they fortunately do so much more than deliver the basics.
Whilst there are most notably token similarities with the guttural stylings of perennial death metal benchmarks Cannibal Corpse, there are a lot more nuances to their sound and enough inventiveness within their rounded death metal sound to keep the listener interested through every single track, and there really isn’t a single weak track on this monster of an album.
Indeed unlike too many bands within the death metal sub-genre they don’t tie their flag to any one mast. This album much like The King is Blind’sOur Father earlier in the year this is a showcase of how great death metal can be when done properly. It encompasses much of the variants of the Floridian, Gothenburg and UK styles of death metal. It’s a celebration of Death Metal brutality with an inventiveness which prevents it from going stale which has been an issue in recent years with death metal.
From the Guttural growling groove of ‘Homicidal ecstasy’, through the proto Slayer feel of the title track, and most notably for me with the head scratching brilliance of the cover of Judas Priest’s ‘Leather Rebel’ sounding in equal parts Amon Amarth and Bolt Thrower this album just keeps delivering in a way which will keep the listener enthralled for many a listen.
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Day three of Blastfest saw a lot of people starting to look slightly more tired, which made sense knowing that some of the many foreigners started partying 3-4 days earlier upon arrival in Bergen, and some of them brought enormous amounts of duty free liquids.
What was more fitting than starting the auditory pleasures with Funeral? They were originally one of the very first funeral doom bands around, and by Norwegian standards they are a somewhat strange occurrence seeing as Norway isn’t exactly renowned for its abundance of doom metal acts. Unlike some of the most extreme bands, Funeral seemed to fit the intimate Studio stage perfectly, in terms of how the room seem to resonate well with the slow doomy bands, just as it has done before with Swallow The Sun and last year with Saturnus. The set flowed seamlessly through songs like ‘This barren Skin’, ‘Vagrant God’, and ‘The Will To Die’. Strangely enough, considering the gloomy atmosphere of both music and lyrics, the band really seemed to enjoy themselves. Although they only got to perform a quite short set due to the time limitations, they managed to put on one of the best performances of the festival.
Djevel delivered a slab of straight-forward bleak black metal. Sadly, as with some of the other bands playing the Studio stage, the sound production sounded a bit off. Although with such an unbalanced and harsh production it ironically fitted both the approach the band has to black metal and their stage performance. As much as the band has a few scene stalwarts in their ranks, it might very well be Erlend Hjelvik of Kvelertak that makes the strongest impression. It’s not just that he delivers a good vocal performance, but just as much the fact that he is usually seen on far bigger stages fronting Kvelertak, making this all the more exotic.
I remember seeing Arcturus twice about ten years back, and I wrote them off as a live ensemble. It was just chaotic, and the songs that sounded amazing on record were lost in second-rate live performances, a lot of theatrics, and awful sound productions. Seeing them live from Maryland Deathfest was an eye-opener. Could they actually pull it off these days? Well, the answer, as given at Blastfest, was a clear and resounding yes!. Except ICS Vortex sitting while performing vocals on some of the tracks it was a band showcasing their musicianship fully, and playing a selection of songs spanning their entire career. All the way from ‘To Thou Who Dwellest In The Night’, via Master of Disguise, to ‘Arcturian Sign’ this was a remarkably good performance from the all-star cast.
1349 has been drummer Frost’s more extreme black metal outlet, and despite some later albums not living up to the standards set by their 2005 release Hellfire, the band continues to be relentless in a live setting. And so they were at Blastfest. Set opener was none other than ‘I Am Abomination’, and it was succeeded by none other than the brilliant two songs ‘Nathicana’, and ‘Sculptor of Flesh’, all off of the aforementioned Hellfire album. Until the very closing number ‘Cauldron’ the band were simply amazing, providing the proper Norwegian black metal alibi of the evening.
Ihsahn seems like somewhat strange headliner material. Or, at least if you consider the fact that he was part of Emperor, but that his solo project seems somewhat in that band’s very shadow. Not that there are that many similarities except both bands being extreme metal and with Ihsahn’s characteristic voice spearheading them. As far as musicianship goes it’s stellar stuff, but in terms of musical expression. Well, it seemed like half the audience really enjoyed, me probably being amongst those who think it best to let prog be prog and metal be metal, being more fond of the 70s when it comes to the progressive side of things.
Einherjer are purveyors of the craft known as viking metal. Unlike most folk-/viking metal acts of latter years they are not overly jolly, and neither are they sporting costumes more fit for role play. They are about the music, and the viking image is mostly channeled through the lyrics and artwork, not through helmets and horns – noting that viking helmets didn’t actually historically have any horns. With last year’s well-crafted ‘Av Oss, For Oss’ in their belts they delivered a stunning set of just as many old songs as new ones. Einherjer is also one of the bands that have recorded in the now defunct yet infamous Grieghallen studio, and introduced their song ‘Dragons Of The North”\’ by mentioning that very fact.
Sahg never ceases to amaze. What an incredible live band! And not just are they an incredible live band, but their song material is of the kind that leaves whoever lends them an ear with a newfound favourite. The Sardinen stage downstairs main venue was pretty packed for this show, and as mentioned, it’s easy to see why considering their performance.
The contrast was huge to what was going on as Red Harvest took to the main stage for a reunion show. The industrial extreme metallers … Well, where black metal has this little hopeful spark to it, Red Harvest is a descent into a hopeless dark abyss. There’s no light, there’s no hope, it’s mechanistic, it’s industrial. It’s truly as their song ‘Cold Dark Matter’. Except some small things to complain about in terms of sound production, their set was one that made me simply want to catch them again as soon as possible.
Green Carnation disbanded at some point in 2007, leaving Tchort as the band’s sole member. Their return as a unified whole would be marked by their appearance at Blastfest 2016, and what a grand return it was. Ancient has been around since the early 90’s, but hasn’t played in their hometown of Bergen for something like 20 years. This time around mainman Aphazel, now residing in Southern Europe, brought none other than Nicholas Barker of Cradle Of Filth and Dimmu Borgir fame on drums. Little did that help the fact that their sound was way too loud, and so dense that it was difficult to hear those good riffs. As for the guitar solos, they completely drowned in all the rest that was going on. A wall of guitar noise, drums, and vocals, an unpenetrable wall. Sadly this ruined what could have been a most memorable experience. For their closing act they invited local sticksman Kjetil Grønvigh to play “Lilith’s Embrace” together with them, as he was the original drummer on the 1996 recording nothing seemed more fitting as a celebration of that very era, the one when Ancient was most relevant in the scene.
Abbath shouldn’t be in need of much of an introduction, not after fronting Immortal for two decades. However, this was his first show on home turf where he flew under the new moniker. With his larger-than-life on-stage persona he and his minions presented us with a set covering most of his career. There was some Immortal songs, some songs from the I record, and of course songs from the newly released Abbath album. The audience seemed ecstatic, and especially so as the band played the hits from Immortal’sSons Of Northern Darkness; ‘Tyrants’ and ‘One By One’. With a show like this comes the usual theatrics, and if there’s one thing Abbath knows it’s how to keep an audience engaged throughout a concert. There’s never a dull moment. So once again he delivered a great show, with good sound, a great performance, and he and his comrades put a worthy end to four days of metal bliss in the lovely and scenic Bergen. And as this is being written the bands for the 2017 edition are already being booked. See you all next year!
WORDS BY PAL LYSTRUP
Roadburn Festival has added some more stellar names to the bill with Amenra, The Skull, Green Carnation, La Muerte, Der Blutharsch And The Infinite Church Of The Leading Hand, Of The Wand And The Moon, Lychgate, and Chaos Echoes now added. Also renowned comic book illustrator and artist Becky Cloonan is the official Roadburn poster artist for 2016.
This announcement follows the previous one, naming Lee Dorian as the curator, and Neurosis and Paradise Lost in two of the headline slots.
Roadburn takes place between 14 – 17 April 2016 at the 013, in Tilburg, The Netherlands. Tickets go on sale October 2nd.
Three-day (Thursday – Saturday) and four-day (Thursday-Sunday) will be available to purchase from 9pm CET via Ticketmaster.nl for €165 and €185 respectively. Day tickets for Sunday only will be available, priced at €39. A limited number of individual day tickets for the remaining days will be released for sale at a later date.