Top 20 Metal Albums of 2020 (So Far)

In a year that has taken a heavy toll, music's heaviest genre has come through in a big way

Top 20 Metal Albums of 2020 (So Far)

Welcome to our Mid-Year Report, in which we are sharing the music, movies, and television shows that have helped us survive the tumultuous first six months of 2020. Here, we celebrate the Top 20 Metal Albums of 2020 (So Far).

In a year that has taken a heavy toll on us emotionally, physically, and economically, the heaviest genre of music has come through in a big way. Metal has never avoided dark themes in its subject matter, and this year it is providing a cathartic experience for headbangers all over the world.

While the concert industry is at a standstill, a steady stream of albums continue to be released, and we’ve seen a number of stellar LPs in the first half of 2020. Veterans like Lamb of God, Testament, and Sepultura have delivered albums that rank among their finest, while the unbreakable Ozzy Osbourne soldiered through a series of physical setbacks to release his best solo LP in years.

Code Orange took the next step in their evolution with a genre-defying album, while Body Count came through once again with an LP filled with provocative lyrics and outstanding instrumentation.

Longtime European metal institutions like Katatonia, Paradise Lost, and My Dying Bride showed no signs of rust, offering up efforts that would rank high in each of their discographies.

In a turbulent world, heavy metal remains a steady force. So sit back, take a deep breath, and soak in the Top 20 Metal Albums of 2020 (So Far).

Note: The mid-year list is unranked, listed in reverse chronological order of release date.

–Spencer Kaufman
Managing Editor, Heavy Consequence

Lamb of God – Lamb of God

Lamb of God st

Origin: Richmond, Virginia
Release Date: June 19th

The Gist: Lamb of God possess a knack for churning out the grooviest of heavy metal, coupled with Randy Blythe’s weighty and poetic lyrics, focusing on political and social issues. Getting a new Lamb of God album in the midst of a global pandemic somehow seems appropriate, and the band delivers, with a hard-charging set featuring poignant lyrics and topnotch instrumentation.

Why It Rules: The self-titled LP is aggressive, brainy, fist-pumping heavy metal at its best. Now, more than 20 years into their career, Lamb of God’s consistency is impressive. From addressing school shootings in “Reality Bath” to condemning the treatment of immigrants in “New Colossal Hate”, Blythe delivers a scathing yet important examination of the state of the nation, and the world, for that matter. With its strong songwriting and presentation, Lamb of God stands out as one of the finest metal releases of the first half of 2020, and one of the band’s best albums ever. —Anne Erickson

Pick up Lamb of God’s self-titled album here

The Ghost Inside – The Ghost Inside

The Ghost Inside st

Origin: Los Angeles
Release Date: June 5th

The Gist: The Ghost Inside have truly triumphed over tragedy with their fifth studio album. The band had to overcome a bus accident that occurred back in of November 2015,  which left vocalist Jonathan Vigil, guitarist Zach Johnson, and drummer Andrew Tkaczyk in critical condition. Tkaczyk lost his right leg in the crash but returned with “The Hammer,” a custom-made drum kit provided by his father. On July 13th, 2019, the band played a “one time only” concert at The Shrine Outdoors in Los Angeles where they hinted about the possibility of new material. This promise has finally come to fruition.

Why It Rules: With their fast paced, aggressive riffage and shouted vocals, it is sometimes easy to miss the band’s uplifting message. On this album, The Ghost Inside don’t dwell on the tragedy but rather bask in positivity on what is musically a logical follow up to 2014’s Dear Youth. This is not to say the band avoids the topic completely on blasting songs like “Still Alive” and “Aftermath”, they simply approach the subject with the same upbeat message for which the band is known. This self-titled album certainly signals the bands rebirth. —Colette Claire

Pick up The Ghost Inside’s self-titled album here

Paradise Lost – Obsidian

Paradise Lost - Obsidian

Origin: Halifax, England
Release Date: May 15th

The Gist: The United Kingdom’s Paradise Lost have mastered a multitude of styles since their inception 30 years ago. From the doomed death metal of their earlier years to the gothic rock experimentations of the late ’90s, Paradise Lost have proven themselves as songwriting adepts over and over. Their latest, Obisidian, touches on every stylistic choice the band’s made while maintaining a core identity all its own.

Why It Rules: Obsidian feels like a victory lap after a decade of powerful records representing one of metal’s most remarkable late-career rebounds.Paradise Lost don’t reinvent the wheel, but after experimenting so long, why bother? Each song on Obsidian is a pop-metal confection with pitch-black icing and a little razor hidden inside. —Joseph Schafer

Pick up Paradise Lost’s Obsidian here

Umbra Vitae – Shadow of Life

Umbra Vitae - Shadow of Life

Origin: Multiple cities
Release Date: May 1st

The Gist: Umbra Vitae are a new supergroup from vocalist Jacob Bannon (Converge, Wear Your Wounds). The band also features members of Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Job for a Cowboy, Hatebreed, and others. The group’s debut album, Shadow of Life, promised death metal riffage and a frenetic metalcore atmosphere. The LP was recorded by Bannon’s Converge bandmate Kurt Ballou, so one thing was for certain: the guitars were going to sound massive and remarkably polished.

Why It Rules: If you’re looking for a classic sounding metalcore, Umbra Vitae undoubtedly deliver. This album is bursting with heavy riffs and chugging breakdowns played at a breakneck speed. Shadow of Life is as cathartic and uncompromising as scraping your knee on pavement or sitting down and listening to Converge’s Axe to Fall. “Fear is a Fossil” runs through three different guitar passages in its opening minute alone, and all of them are absurdly catchy for how crushingly heavy they are. —TJ Kliebhan

Pick up Umbra Vitae’s Shadow of Life here.

Vader – Solitude in Madness

Vader - Solitude in Madness

Origin: Olsztyn, Poland
Release Date: May 1st

The Gist: The godfathers of Polish death metal never disappoint, and Vader’s Solitude in Madness is as consistent and satisfying as any of their records, albeit with maybe their fiercest production job yet. If you find comrades Behemoth too heavy on the arty aesthetics and too light on good ol’ fashioned brutality, Vader will scratch that itch. For those never tried Vader before, Solitude in Madness is a great place to start.

Why It Rules: Metal bands are often like military campaigns, requiring sophisticated interlocking maneuvers across multiple fronts to confuse, surprise, and elicit surrender from their listeners. Vader don’t do that. They just send in the bombers and arc-lite their listeners until everything’s blown to smithereens. Solitude in Madness strikes without mercy from go and doesn’t relent until it’s done just about a half hour later. It’s pure mosh fuel with hooks for days and no distractions. I hope you like the smell of napalm in the morning. —Joseph Schafer

Pick up Vader’s Solitude in Madness here

Click ahead for more of the Top 20 Metal Albums of 2020 (So Far) …

Cirith Ungol – Forever Black

Cirith Ungol - Forever Black

Origin: Ventura, California
Release Date: April 24th

The Gist: Twenty-nine long years had passed since veteran metallers Cirith Ungol issued a new full-length studio set. And patient headbangers were most certainly rewarded with the arrival of their fifth offering overall. The band has been back in business since 2016, but live shows were their first focus – resulting in last year’s concert album, I’m Alive. And all the live work seems to have successfully reinvigorated the band, as Forever Black sounds like a metallic time machine set back directly to 1986.

Why It Rules: Because this is a 100-percent pure, good old fashioned metal album! In other words, old school, old school, old school. And props need to be given to the album’s producers – the band and Armand John Anthony – for offering up an organic and decidedly vintage sound… in other words, the perfect antidote to today’s popular Protools and studio-spliced approach by most rock bands. From the get-go (and never relenting), Cirith Ungol offer the perfect soundtrack to a fierce Viking battle – particularly such delightful toe-tapping ditties as “The Call,” “Legions Arise,” and the slow-building epic, “Stormbringer” (not to be confused with the Deep Purple classic of the same name).  —Greg Prato

Pick up Cirith Ungol’s Forever Black here

Katatonia – City Burials

Katatonia - City Burials

Origin: Stockholm, Sweden
Release Date: April 24th

The Gist: Sweden’s most sophisticated goth metallers, Katatonia, have been on hiatus for four years, focusing on their death metal revival side project Bloodbath with such intensity that their 11th album, City Burials, came as almost a surprise. The long pause seems to have done the band some good — after a string of somewhat repetitive records, their latest hits with uncommon energy and personality.

Why It Rules: Katatonia always excelled at mid-paced, crooning sing-alongs and there’s plenty of those to be had here, but they also turn up the heat a few times to great effect. Lead single “Lacquer” finds them incorporating trip-hop elements with aplomb, while on the arena-ready “Winter of our Passing”, singer Jonas Renske delivers maybe his most expressive performance in a decade. Don’t skip their climate dysphoria-inspired tour-de-force, “Flicker’, either. —Joseph Schafer

Pick up Katatonia’s City Burials here

Ulcerate – Stare Into Death and Be Still

Ulcerate - Stare Into Death and Be Still

Origin: Aukland, New Zealand
Release Date: April 24th

The Gist: In the realm of technical death metal, New Zealand’s Ulcerate have become an institution. The band can always be relied on for odd time signatures, mathematically intense rhythms, and bewildering instrumental virtuosity. Ulcerate can open worlds with their compositions, which are almost abstract in their complexity. In this way, Stare Into Death and Be Still is Ulcerate’s definitive statement.

Why It Rules: Sometimes an artist spends so much time in their own universe, their own talents, already idiosyncratic, begin to evolve and taken on even more grotesque forms of creation. Stare Into Death and Be Still is that evolutionary moment for Ulcerate. Their sixth and greatest LP is their most exploratory and uncompromising, eight tracks that each run nearly six minutes or more, carving hallucinatory patterns of dark, cosmic atmosphere. The album’s title track is perhaps its most bewitching, its eponymous phrase offering an ominous suggestion that lingers, suspended in the unsettling unknown, much like Ulcerate’s metaphysical music. —Jon Hadusek

Pick up Ulcerate’s Stare Into Death and Be Still here

Warbringer – Weapons of Tomorrow

Warbringer - Weapons of Tomorrow

Origin: Los Angeles
Release Date: April 24th

The Gist: One of modern thrash metal’s most consistent and prolific acts, Warbringer are good for a new LP every few years, and they rarely disappoint. The techno-militaristic cover art for their 2020 LP, Weapons of Tomorrow, evokes German thrash legends Sodom — perhaps purposefully, given the Sodom-esque speed assault of tracks like “Firepower Kills” and “Power Unsurpassed”.

Why It Rules: Subtle black metal influences make these songs a triple-threat: blackened thrash that’s carnal, triumphant, and slightly evil. Warbringer stray just enough from the sound of past albums as to keep things fresh without obscuring their particular brand of aggression. Always a difficult balance, Weapons of Tomorrow offers just enough variation to keep it from feeling an extension of past works. Yet, it remains thoroughly Warbringer, in all their destructive glory. –-Jon Hadusek

Pick up Warbringer’s Weapons of Tomorrow here.

Oranssi Pazuzu – Mestarin Kynsi

Oranssi Pazuzu - Mestarin Kynsi

Origin: Tampere, Finland
Release Date: April 17th

The Gist: Oranssi Pazuzu exploded into the metal spotlight in 2016 with their album Värähtelijä. The band seamlessly blended black metal, adventurous psychedelic rock, and shoegaze, proving they can create a unique masterclass atmosphere that can best be described as haunting. Oranssi Pazuzu seem to effortlessly possess some of metal’s most coveted traits: adventurous, sinister, eerie, and heavy while still being calculated and germane. After spending four years on their follow-up, Mestarin Kynsi, it’s safe to say this was one of underground metal’s most anticipated releases of the year.

Why it Rules: Värähtelijä always sounded like a black metal album with psychedelic elements. Mestarin Kynsi flipped that formula and became the most adventurous and winding album of the band’s career by honing in on expansive psych-rock song structures. The sprawling ambition and scope of these tracks is evident of a mature band with no fear of taking risks. Every track is a monumental psychedelic trip through dark progressive buildups with pummeling post-rock climaxes. Mestarin Kynsi is controlled chaos executed at the highest level. This release is going to divide the band’s fans when litigating Oranssi Pazuzu’s best album-thankfully when picking between Värähtelijä and Mestarin Kynsi there is no wrong choice. —TJ Kliebhan

Pick up Oranssi Pazuzu’s Mestarin Kynsi here

Click ahead for more of the Top 20 Metal Albums of 2020 (So Far) …

Testament – Titans of Creation

Testament - Titans of Creation

Origin: Berkeley, California
Release Date: April 3rd

The Gist: Few old-school thrash bands have been at it longer – and have admirably refused to deviate far from the stylistic script – as Testament, who returned this year with their 13th studio effort overall, Titans of Creation. Still led by singer Chuck Billy and guitarists Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick, the album is the group’s first in four years (2016’s Brotherhood of the Snake being its predecessor).

Why It Rules: You can probably use the following phrase to describe every single Testament album after the arrival of their debut in 1987 – “the band offers up another serving of straight-ahead, hard-hitting metal.” And that’s not meant as a dig. They’re pros at their craft, and they continue to thrash mightily on the album opener “Children of the Next Level”, provide surprising boogie riffing with “Dream Deceiver”, and a tune that shows the many facets of vocalist Chuck Billy, “Night of the Witch.” Three decades into their career, and Testament continue on the thrash path throughout Titans of Creation. —Greg Prato

Pick up Testament’s Titans of Creation here

Mamaleek – Come & See

Mamaleek - Come and See

Origin: San Francisco
Release Date: March 27th

The Gist: Mamaleek are an anonymous duo of brothers from San Francisco making one of a kind experimental heavy music. Their sound is typically a melding black metal and power electronics into something brutal and barely classifiable. The band’s 2011 release Kurdaitcha put the band on the map for listeners who crave heavy music that is stripped entirely of conventionality, but packs serious melodic and emotional power.

Why It Rules: Come & See is more heavily rooted in blues music than any of the band’s previous albums which makes this new release a great jumping off point for new listeners because it is fairly accessible (by Mamaleek standards anyway). Still, Mamaleek have not sacrificed any of the eccentricities they are known for, such as on “Whites of the Eyes (Cowards)” when the band transitions from downright mayhem to a silky groovable passage fit for the darkest grimiest basement dance floor. If you stripped the Nine Inch Nails of everything that made them radio friendly, it would start to resemble Come & See. —TJ Kliebhan

Pick up Mamaleek’s Come & See here

Lucifer – Lucifer III

Lucifer - III

Origin: Berlin, Germany
Release Date: March 20th

The Gist: Johanna Sadonis, former lead vocalist for The Oath, formed Lucifer in 2014 and with it created an intriguing  fusion of contemporary and classic hard rock and metal. Fans of Ghost’s early work especially should check out Lucifer’s dark but melodic Black Sabbath-influenced sound. The current lineup is also comprised of a litany of talented musicians including Martin Nordin, who also plays with Dead Lord, and drummer Nicke Andersson, who also plays with The Hellacopters, Imperial State Electric, Death Breath, and Entombed.

Why It Rules: Sadonis describes Lucifer III as being “in the vein of Lucifer II sonically” but taking it “up another notch”, and this would be an accurate description. The opening seconds of Lucifer III immediately recall images of crushed velvet, pot smoke and sideburns, as it hooks you in with the groovy 1970s style hard rock riffage of “Ghosts”.  While not completely returning to the doomier sound of the band’s debut album, Lucifer III is darker and less poppy than Lucifer II, which is a welcome change. —Colette Claire

Pick up Lucifer’s Lucifer III here.

Code Orange – Underneath

Code Orange - Underneat

Origin: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Release Date: March 13th

The Gist: One of the year’s most hyped releases, Underneath is a rebirth of sorts for Code Orange. Far from their underground origins and its past as the Code Orange Kids, the band now had Grammy nomination and the full attention of the heavy music scene. A crossover hit with a WWE intro song propelled them even further. They might’ve taken some heat for looking like extras from The Matrix on the red carpet, but it was clear that Code Orange were progressing in a new artistic direction and they weren’t afraid to show it.

Why It Rules: Underneath is a “kitchen sink” album for Code Orange. They throw everything on it: industrial, hardcore, glitch, nu metal. No song promises any one direction, as the band claw through tracks using any means of production necessary. This might frustrate listeners who gravitate toward a particular style, but in another sense, the album’s rampant chaos lends to the overall message of bleak nihilism. If not cohesive sonically, Underneath is held together by its pervading mood of dread, which Code Orange conjure with their most experimental production to date. —Jon Hadusek

Pick up Code Orange’s Underneath here.

Body Count – Carnivore

Body Count - Carnivore

Origin: Los Angeles
Release Date: March 6th

The Gist: Body Count, the thrash metal band fronted by actor and rapper Ice-T, have never avoided controversial topics. From their 1992 song “Cop Killer” to songs like 2014’s “Manslaughter” and 2017’s “No Lives Matter”, Ice-T and company are never shy about declaring strong political opinions.  Carnivore is no exception with songs like the title track and “Point the Finger” exploring topics like violence, police brutality, racism and poverty.

Why It Rules: Not only are the lyrics thought-provoking, but the musicianship is top quality. Carnivore features a well-executed amalgamation of hardcore and thrash metal with just a dash of a more modern experimentation with dissonance and dynamics. The album also has some cool guest appearances from Power Trip’s Riley Gale, Hatebreed’s Jamey Jasta, and Evanescence’s Amy Lee. The collaboration with Lee, “When I’m gone,” inspired by the murder of Nipsey Hussle, is a standout track that takes the idea of a ballad and flips it in reverse. —Colette Claire

Pick up Body Count’s Carnivore here

Click ahead for more of the Top 20 Metal Albums of 2020 (So Far) …

My Dying Bride – The Ghost of Orion

My Dying Bride - The Ghost of Orion

Origin: Bradford, England
Release Date: March 6th

The Gist: Pioneers of melodic gothic doom metal My Dying Bride’s 13th studio album, The Ghost of Orion, is one of their most solid efforts to date in their 30-year career. This is especially triumphant after a five-year hiatus due to personal issues and band turmoil. While founding member and vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe’s 5-year-old daughter fought cancer and, thankfully, survived, he and guitarist Andrew Craighan had to carefully reconstruct My Dying Bride after the departure of guitarist Calvin Robertshaw and drummer Shaun Taylor-Steels.

Why It Rules: While still capturing the essence of classics like 1995’s The Angel and the Dark River, the band is tighter and more progressive on songs like “Your Broken Shore”. Darkness and melancholy still prevails, but the band does not languish in slow melodic melodies, instead masterfully punctuating the moods on tracks like “Tired of Tears.” A standout is ancient folk opus “The Solace” with guest vocals provided by Wardruna’s Lindy Fay Hella. —Colette Claire

Pick up My Dying Bride’s The Ghost of Orion here

Ozzy Osbourne – Ordinary Man

Ozzy Osbourne - Ordinary Man

Origin: Birmingham, England
Release Date: February 21st

The Gist: With health troubles hindering the Prince of Darkness in recent times, the chances of a twelfth solo studio full-length arriving at all seemed like a long shot. But Ozzy Osbourne miraculously delivered a surprisingly inspired and focused follow-up to 2010’s Scream this year. Despite no input from long-time guitarist Zakk Wylde (in neither the songwriting nor playing departments), Osbourne is supported by a star-studded cast – including cameos by Elton John, Post Malone, and Tom Morello, as well as a backing band featuring Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith.

Why It Rules: Any new music from Ozzy should be appreciated and celebrated at this stage of his career. But besides that, let’s give credit where credit is due – Ordinary Man is his best solo outing in a long time. And he continues to rock — especially on the album opener, “Straight to Hell”, featuring Slash. Heck…even the tune that you’d expect to not rock (“It’s A Raid,” which features Post Malone), in fact does…hard! And if any unenlightened listeners are tempted to complain about the ballady moments on the album — this is a side to Ozzy that has always been exposed (“Changes”, “Goodbye to Romance”, “So Tired”, etc.), remember? —Greg Prato

Pick up Ozzy Osbourne’s Ordinary Man here.

Kvelertak – Splid

Kvelertak - Splid

Origin: Stavanger, Norway
Release Date: February 14th

The Gist: Splid is the first Kvelertak studio album to feature singer Ivar Nikolaisen, who took over frontman duties in 2018. The Norwegian “black ‘n roll” band found new life with Nikolaisen following the departure of Erlend Hjelvik after 2016’s Nattesferd. “We felt like we still hadn’t made our best album,” guitarist Vidar Landa said. The band would pursue that goal with its fourth full-length, Splid — it’s debut on new label home Rise Records.

Why It Rules: After four years of relative silence, Kvelertak roared back. Where a general songwriting malaise and level of comfort brought down Nattesferd, the band sound rejuvenated and inspired on Splid. It’s catchier and more fun than its predecessor, packed with riffs and striking vocal performances from Nikolaisen. Kvelertak prove once again their mastery of combining extreme metal aesthetics with the musical structures of punk rock. —Jon Hadusek

Pick up Kvelertak’s Splid here

Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void

Psychotic Waltz - The God-Shaped Void

Origin: El Cajon, California
Release Date: February 14th

The Gist: Psychotic Waltz never got their day in the sun, but in the late ’80s and early ’90s they churned out four remarkable albums of prog metal goodness, at their best splitting the difference between Faith No More and Queensryche with extra twin-guitar shredding for good measure. Their unexpected comeback nearly three decades later shows a different, more mature, and altogether subtle band.

Why It Rules: Fans expecting the fret pyrotechnics and vocal acrobatics of earlier records may be thrown by The God-Shaped Void’s understated tones and altogether more deliberate pace. Have patience and expect more of a dissociative tango. With repeat listens songs like “While the Spiders Spin” unfold with lotus blossom beauty. Prog-metal fans seeking another sweet hit of last year’s Arch/Matheos album need look no further than Psychotic Waltz’s strange brew. —Joseph Schafer

Pick up Psychotic Waltz’s The God-Shaped Void here.

Sepultura – Quadra

Sepultura - Quadra

Origin: Brazil
Release Date: February 7th

The Gist: Legendary Brazilian trash metallers Sepultura are as strong and vital as ever on their latest record, Quadra, which is not easy for a band that’s been around more than three decades. The album’s instrumentation is a major point of praise, featuring blistering guitar work from Andreas Kisser and booming rhythms from drummer Eloy Casagrande.

Why It Rules: Formed around the theme of numerology and the number four, Quadra is a dramatic album that delivers a variety of styles and sonic textures. Divided into four sections, Quadra shows that even long into their career, Sepultura can create something fresh and dynamic, from the blazing, thrash of “Isolation” to the memorizing instrumental “The Pentagram.” Quadra is a powerful release that should appease longtime Sepultura fans and newbies. —Anne Erickson

Pick up Sepultura’s Quadra here