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Top 30 Metal + Hard Rock Albums of 2020

In a year filled with uncertainty and despair, heavy music provided a welcome diversion

Top Heavy Albums 2020
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Our Annual Report looks back upon the strange year that was 2020 and the music, film, and television that came with it. Here, we present our Top 30 Metal + Hard Rock Albums of 2020.

In a year we’d mostly like to forget, the world of heavy music brought us many memorable releases. While we wait for concerts to return, we have a treasure trove of new metal and hard rock albums that amplify the anticipation of seeing our favorite bands return to stages.

2020 has been dominated by a worldwide pandemic, and if anything can provide us with a daily distraction from the suffering and uncertainty, it’s good music. Thankfully, dozens of bands decided to release new albums this year, despite not being able to tour in support of their latest studio efforts.

As a reminder that life is filled with comebacks, the legendary AC/DC returned with a triumphant album after it seemed like the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame band’s days were numbered. With its surviving classic members back in the lineup, the rock icons released their strongest album in 30 years.

Veteran bands like Deftones and Lamb of God returned with stellar albums in 2020 while rising acts like Code Orange and Pallbearer continued to reinforce that heavy music will be in good hands for years to come.

Most of the music that we’re spotlighting in the following list was written before the pandemic, but these albums have become the soundtrack to one of the most difficult periods this world has ever witnessed. We’ll see you in the pit eventually, but for now, check out our picks for the Top 30 Metal + Hard Rock Albums of 2020.

–Spencer Kaufman
Managing Editor, Heavy Consequence

Editor’s Note: If you enjoy this list and our other content, consider supporting Consequence of Sound by purchasing an item at our web store. Additionally, a portion of all proceeds are being donated to MusiCares’ COVID-19 Artist Relief Fund supporting independent musicians.


30. Kvelertak – Splid

Kvelertak - Splid

Origin: Stavanger, Norway

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 — its 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

Essential Tracks: “Crack of Doom”, “Bråtebrann”, and “Fanden ta dette hull!”

Pick up the album here


29. Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou – May Our Chambers Be Full

sba007 thouemma LP r0 Top 30 Metal + Hard Rock Albums of 2020

Origin: Louisville, Kentucky, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana

The Gist: Singer-songwriter Emma Ruth Rundle and underground sludge purveyors Thou fused their disparate talents for this collaborative LP. Thou provided the backing of heavy, plodding riffage while Rundle provided vocals and her own distinct guitar playing. The contrast creates an intriguing dissonance that unfurls into a heavy metal grandeur as Rundle’s voice soars over a bed of apocalyptic doom.

Why It Rules: “Melodic sludge metal” might sound like a misnomer, but Emma Ruth Rundle and Thou accomplish the seemingly impossible. May Our Chambers Be Full is the bridge between Rundle’s dark folk and Thou’s crushing harshness. The former’s recent solo material has hinted at more metallic directions, and the Louisiana sludge vets of Thou help to complete the transformation. The artists cited grunge and post-grunge as key influences on the project, and it might be the closest identifier for what they achieved. The raspy howls of Thou trading off with Rundle’s world-class clean singing equally recall Nirvana and a more subdued Evanescence. —Jon Hadusek

Essential Tracks: “Ancestral Recall” and “The Valley”

Pick up the album here


28. Odraza – Rzeczom

a0766348585 10 Top 30 Metal + Hard Rock Albums of 2020

Origin: Kraków, małopolskie, Poland

The Gist: Polish duo Odraza explore the many post-modern pockets of black metal on Rzeczom. The genre has come so very far, endlessly branching into sub-categories of its own — a concept that appears to fascinate Odraza. Ironically, for a genre formed on the intolerance of a “true” sound and attitude — as dictated by Euronymous of Mayhem in the early days of the Norwegian circle — black metal has become arguably the most experimentally inclined styles of heavy metal. As Odraza illustrate with the excellent Rzeczom, even a traditionalist black metal template, if given some leeway, can hold plenty of surprises and still appease the purists.

Why It Rules: No matter what Odraza incorporate into their black metal assault, it’s executed flawlessly. The classic blast beat/tremolo picking serves as the basis for a variety of experiments as intense, extreme metal is juxtaposed against radio-ready segments, such as the nod-worthy break in “Ja nie stąd” and prog-jazz freak-outs — all in a measured hi-fi recording that’s mixed to emphasize the instrumental interplay. There’s a lot to discover here, making multiple listens rewarding. Odraza have created something that can easily appeal to fans of black metal (classic or modern), prog, and avant heavy music in general. —Jon Hadusek

Essential Tracks: “Rzeczom” and “Ja nie stąd”

Pick up the album here


27. Puscifer – Existential Reckoning

Puscifer - Existential Reckoning

Origin: Los Angeles, California

The Gist: The fourth studio album from Puscifer sees the enigmatic vocalist Maynard James Keenan (Tool, A Perfect Circle) joined once more by core members Mat Mitchell (guitar/production) and Carina Round (vocals/songwriting), among others. Existential Reckoning marked their first LP in five years. On the new effort, Puscifer offer up another go-round of electro-arty rock tunes, which deal with alien abduction and other mysterious topics.

Why It Rules: It’s a testament to Maynard’s talents that he does not spread himself too thin amongst his projects, as they’re always inspired affairs. The past two and a half years have been quite prolific for Keenan, as we’ve been treated to new albums from A Perfect Circle, Tool, and Puscifer — and Existential Reckoning is certainly another worthwhile effort from the acclaimed singer and his ever-revolving musical collaborators. His vocal harmonies with Carina Round are breathtaking at times, as Mat Mitchel’s instrumentation provides a new wave-inspired soundtrack. –Greg Prato

Essential Tracks: “Bread and Circus”, “Apocalyptical”, and “The Underwhelming”

Pick up the album here


26. Vader – Solitude in Madness

Vader Solitude in Madness

Origin: Olsztyn, Poland

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 who’ve 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

Essential Tracks: “into Oblivion” and “Bones”

Pick up the album here


25. Uniform – Shame

Uniform - Shame

Origin: New York, New York

The Gist: Uniform didn’t set out to record the soundtrack to a pandemic. But it’s not difficult to see the connections between singer Michael Berdan, when discussing the bruising “Life in Remission”, saying, “It’s about seeing those around me suffer and die and knowing all too well that it just as easily could have been me a million times over,” and the sight of refrigerated trucks serving as makeshift morgues for coronavirus victims. Shame is the dark, roiling expression of our collective fury and desperate confusion as we watched a disease ravage our entire way of life.

Why It Rules: Expanded just so with the addition of drummer Mike Sharp, Uniform found their missing limb, and with it, a strengthening and toning of their already muscular take on industrial/darkwave-inspired heavy rock. If the despair and fury coursing through every last moment of this noisy, abrasive assault isn’t touching a nerve deep within, the sheer volume and rumbling low end of these eight songs should be enough to wake you the f**k up to reality. –Robert Ham

Essential Tracks: “This Won’t End Well”, “I Am the Cancer”, and “Life in Remission”

Pick up the album here.


24. Testament – Titans of Creation

Testament - Titans of Creation

Origin: Berkeley, California

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

Essential Tracks: “Night of the Witch” and “Children of the Next Level”

Pick up the album here


23. Oranssi Pazuzu – Mestarin Kynsi

Oranssi Pazuzu - Mestarin Kynsi

Origin: Tampere, Finland

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

Essential Tracks: “Uusi teknokratia” and “Ilmestys”

Pick up the album here


22. Katatonia – City Burials

Katatonia - City Burials

Origin: Stockholm, Sweden

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

Essential Tracks: “Lacquer”, “Winter of our Passing”, and “Flicker”

Pick up the album here


21. Killer Be Killed – Reluctant Hero

Killer Be Killed

Origin: Various locations

The Gist: The term “Supergroup” is thrown around quite a bit, but in the case of Killer Be Killed, this truly is a super group.  Comprised of members Greg Puciato (ex-Dillinger Escape Plan), Max Cavalera (Soulfly, ex-Sepultura), Troy Sanders (Mastodon), and Ben Koller (Converge), Killer Be Killed returned six years after their self-titled debut with a sophomore offering this year, Reluctant Hero.

Why It Rules: It’s not common that you have a band comprised of four personalities as strong as Killer Be Killed (and also, three strong and distinguishable vocalists working together under the same banner), but Reluctant Hero shows a surprising chemistry between the noteworthy musicians. Case in point, the track “Dream Gone Bad”, packed with rage n’ riffs from beginning to end (the verses), but also, melodic morsels sprinkled throughout (the chorus). Killer Be Killed most certainly avoided the dreaded “sophomore jinx” with the arrival of Reluctant Hero. —Greg Prato

Essential Tracks: “Dream Gone Bad”, “Deconstructing Self-Destruction”, and “Inner Calm from Outer Storms”

Pick up the album here


20. Elder – Omens

Elder - Omens

Origin: Boston, Massachusetts

The Gist: Elder have spent the past decade slowly but surely building a dedicated fan base with their unique brand of adventurous doom metal. The band’s 2011 effort, Dead Roots Stirring, has been worshipped as an underrated doom metal classic while 2017’s Reflections of a Floating World gave Elder a sizable jolt in popularity due to its winding blend of psychedelic and progressive rock passages in addition to the band’s heavy material. Make no mistake, Elder are coming off their best record, but with a new drummer and guitarist in tow, it was unclear what fans were in store for.

Why It Rules: Elder absolutely refuse to rest on their laurels. The once centerstage heavy riffs feel like a lifetime ago for a band that currently has more in common with Rush than Black Sabbath. Elder once again prove they don’t need any gimmicks such as tone or even a single nasty riff to hide behind. Across the five tracks on Omens, Elder employ dazzling dual guitars, glitzy Pink Floyd-ian synths, and lead singer Nick DiSalvo’s brawny howl to weave through passage after passage of cohesive and downright fun rock music. This band continues to soar further and further from their original doom metal style into possibly the most no-frills progressive rock band going. Elder drop all the pretension of the genre and offer a record that makes it easy to weave back and forth between feelings of appreciation for its musicianship and childlike joy of rediscovering just how fun rock music can be. –TJ Kliebhan

Essential Tracks: “Omens” and “Halcyon”

Pick up the album here.


19. Body Count – Carnivore

Body Count - Carnivore

Origin: Los Angeles, California

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” (featuring late Power Trip singer Riley Gale) 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 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

Essential Tracks: “Bum-Rush”, “Point the Finger”, and “When I’m Gone”

Pick up the album here


18. Dark Tranquillity – Moment

Dark Tranquillity - Moment

Origin: Billdal, Gothenburg, Sweden

The Gist: Dark Tranquillity are one of the most distinguished melodic death metal bands out of Sweden, and their influence can be heard in metal music spanning the generations. Their 1993 debut, Skydancer, was a strong statement, and each subsequent release has offered an unparalleled blend of death metal’s intense, gothic textures with catchy, melodic riffs and grooves.

Why It Rules: On Moment, Dark Tranquillity’s 12th studio album, the band maintains their core sound while adding fresh inspiration from new guitarists Johan Reinholdz and Christopher Amott. While adding a new guitar section could have easily hindered the album, instead, Reinholdz and Amott fit right in, helping Dark Tranquillity gel as a cohesive unit with a slightly new texture. From thrash to progressive to power metal, the new album doesn’t want for variety, making Moment an exciting listen from start to finish. –Anne Erickson

Essential Tracks: “Phantom Days”, “Identical to None”, and “Eyes of the World”

Pick up the album here.


17. Necrot – Mortal

Necrot Mortal

Origin: Oakland, California

The Gist: Death metal power trio Necrot step up their punky, old-school songwriting on an expansive and imaginative sophomore LP that scratches the itch left by Entombed and Dismember while adding subtle social commentary that their early 90’s forerunners missed. Always moshy, surprisingly catchy and never pretentious, Mortal is the strongest no-frills death metal record of 2020.

Why It Rules: Bassist-vocalist Luca Indrio and drummer Chad Gailey might as well be the wrecking crew of the small-but-scrappy Bay Area death metal scene, both having cut their teeth in beloved acts like Vastum, Acephalix and Mortutous. United with former Saviours guitarist sonny Reinhardt, Necrot step into the light with consistently crusty and pit-ready tunes that pack a few surprises – like protracted and punishing album closer and title track. Indrio in particular shines as a vocalist with something to say about the crushing weight of American capitalism – always through the filter of death’s ever-present shadow. — Joseph Schafer

Essential Tracks: “Stench of Decay”, “Sinsiter Will”, “Mortal”

Pick up the album here.


16. Greg Puciato – Child Soldier: Creator of God

Greg Puciato Child Soldier

Origin: Baltimore, Maryland

The Gist: The second appearance of Greg Puciato on our list comes via the singer’s own solo album, Child Soldier: Creator of God. It’s a remarkable amalgamation of genres and styles that showcases Puciato’s versatility as a singer and songwriter. As we’ve seen, Puciato’s participation in different projects, mainly as a vocalist, has perhaps led to a desire to experiment on his own. Sadly, the release of the album was marred by an online leak, apparently uploaded by a “dipshit reviewer,” according to Puciato, who reacted by dropping the album a month early.

Why It Rules: Puciato’s musical playground is a fun one. Tracks like the astounding grunge-meets-hardcore beast “Deep Set” will satiate fans pining for the days of The Dillinger Escape Plan. These more tangible rock tracks are placed against bouts of harsh noise, spacey ballads, and straight-up electronic pop. Hearing Puciato’s voice applied to these different styles is addictive listening as each new track offers another wildcard of musical expression. Here’s hoping this is the beginning of a long and successful solo career for Puciato, who has been as prolific as ever in 2020. –Jon Hadusek

Essential Tracks: “Deep Set”, “Fire for Water”, and “Do You Need Me to Remind You?”

Pick up the album here.


15. Anaal Nathrakh – Endarkenment

Anaal Nathrakh - Endarkenment

Origin: Birmingham, England/Orange County, California

The Gist: Impossibly angry and surprisingly melodic, Anaal Nathrakh have been cruising on their still-unique blend of industrial, grindcore, and black metal for a while, reliably releasing great but mostly interchangeable albums every two years. Endarkenment stands out in their discography as uncommonly nasty. Plus, it has their strongest songs in years.

Why It Rules: Anaal Nathrakh have a formula all their own: blistering drums, shrieking vocals, and warp-speed riffs that give way into surprisingly sweet melodies and catchy, operatic choruses. They don’t mess with that formula here, but songs like “The Age of Starlight Ends” and “Feeding the Death Machine” have a vigor and memorability to them that stands out even in the band’s unique discography. Close your ears during the title track and you might hear a chorus hooky enough for a Disney animated musical if it weren’t for its acid wit and ferocious attitude … plus, you know, the album cover. –Joseph Scafer

Essential Tracks: “Endarkenment”, “The Age of Starlight Ends”, and “Feeding the Death Machine”

Pick up the album here.


14. Boris – NO

boris NO album art

Origin: Tokyo, Japan

The Gist: The Japanese metal chameleons Boris are known for two things: playing ridiculously loud concerts and being remarkably prolific in the studio. Over the past decade alone, the band have released 12 albums (let’s not get into EPs, splits, and singles) mostly lying somewhere on the drone and doom spectrum of metal. While the band has excelled at making punishingly heavy and noisy music for over 30 years, it seemed as though they had left their hardcore punk roots and the sounds of their blisteringly speedy classics such as 2005’s Pink behind.

Why It Rules: NO is the band’s most frenetic release in decades. Speedy punk riffs push the pace of the foundation for this release, but in classic Boris fashion, the band still take opportunities to drift into a crushing doom passage or the occasional noise rock dirge. Still, the band never hesitate to bring the track back to a no-holds-barred sprint such as on “Loveless”, where the band opens with a slower, plodding riff before an aggressive chorus and absolutely ripping guitar solo from Wata strikes and disappears as quickly as lightning. NO flies by in 40 minutes, faster than many of the band’s drifting 10-plus-minute drones, and is a much needed breath of fresh air for an act that most thought had permanently left urgency for meditation. –TJ Kliebhan

Essential Tracks: “Genesis”, “Lust”, and “Loveless”

Pick up the album here.


13. Ulcerate – Stare into Death and Be Still

Ulcerate - Stare Into Death and Be Still

Origin: Aukland, New Zealand

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

Essential Tracks: “Stare into Death and Be Still” and “Dissolved Orders”

Pick up the album here


12. Mr. Bungle – The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo

Mr Bungle Raging Wrath

Origin: Los Angeles, California

The Gist: Original Mr. Bungle members Mike Patton, Trey Spruance, and Trevor Dunn enlisted ex-Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo and Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian to celebrate their early thrash and hardcore years. Along with the brief tour in February 2020, the same lineup went into the studio to re-record the band’s 1986 demo, The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny.

Why It Rules: The core of the original Mr. Bungle along with Lombardo and Ian makes for an all-star team that sounds as good as you’d expect, if not better. Fresh off the reunion tour, they entered the studio as a well-oiled thrash metal machine and delivered the goods. Recorded pre-pandemic, the joy and enthusiasm of the reunion tour is captured here and the results are immensely entertaining. If you like thrash, then The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo is mandatory listening. —Jon Hadusek

Essential Tracks: “Bungle Grind”, “Eracist”, and “Sudden Death”

Pick up the album here


11. Hum – Inlet

Hum - Inlet

Origin: Champaign, Illinois

The Gist: One of the most unexpected pleasures of 2020 was Hum’s long-awaited fourth studio album, Inlet. The band nonchalantly launched the record into existence back in June via an email to fans. There were no singles or PR buildups. The Illinois group are best known for their classic hit “Stars”, but Hum enjoys a devout cult following that’s only grown during their two-decade hiatus. A post on the website for Hum singer-guitarist Matt Talbott’s Earth Analog studios near Champaign, Illinois, was dated February 8th, 2017: “Working on a new Hum record.” More than three years later, and they followed through, though they kept quiet throughout the process. Except for some low-key DIY solo bedroom tours and a laboriously thorough repress of 1998’s Downward Is Heavenward, Talbott kept the new project under wraps.

Why It Rules: Hum’s emotional post-hardcore has become more post-metal over the years, but as Inlet proves, that’s not a bad thing. Four of the tracks each top eight minutes in duration, with Hum coming close to full-blown stoner doom on the riff-laden “In the Den” and the spacious “Desert Rambler”. Smoldering tones and wall-of-sound shoegaze accentuate the band’s expanse toward these new sonic territories; yet, the words and sincere delivery of Talbott hold everything in place, as they always did. Inlet is as poetic as past Hum albums and a touch heavier — truly a fine comeback, indeed. —Jon Hadusek

Essential Tracks: “In the Den”, “Desert Rambler”, and “Cloud City”

Pick up the album here


10. Touché Amoré – Lament

Touche Amore Lament
Origin: Los Angeles, California

The Gist: Melodic hardcore quintet Touché Amoré knew that signing on to record with producer Ross Robinson — the man behind the boards for everything from Limp Bizkit’s Three Dollar Bill, Y’all to The Cure’s 2004 self-titled album — was akin to willingly entering a lion’s den. As singer Jeremy Bolm put it in a recent interview, “When it was suggested, I was like, ‘Ross is known for two things, getting a drummer replaced or kicked out and making the singer cry.’” But if Touché Amoré were going to push themselves after exposing multiple emotional open wounds with 2016’s Stage Four, facing the metaphorical claws and fangs of the notoriously intense Robinson must have felt like the next logical step forward for Bolm and the band.

Why It Rules: Touché Amoré have always played music as if under the executioner’s axe, wanting to squeeze every last emotion out of themselves before the blade falls. Somehow they’ve never played with as much urgency and ardor as they do on Lament. They dare to shapeshift multiple times over the course of a single song — from neck-snapping punk to fist-pumping hardcore to skyscraping post-punk — and continue morphing and adapting to meet the needs of Bolm as he cracks open his ribs to let us see every single beat of his aching heart. —Robert Ham

Essential Tracks: “Limelight”, “Reminders”, “A Forecast”, and “Lament”

Pick up the album here


09. Spirit Adrift – Enlightened in Eternity

Spirit Adrift

Origin: Phoenix, Arizona

The Gist: Picking up where they left off with last year’s Divided by Darkness — an album that made our 2019 best-of list — Spirit Adrift delivered another riff-filled heavy ripper with Enlightened in Eternity. Evoking vintage Ozzy and Priest, singer-guitarist Nathan Garrett continues to get stronger with each release, his vocals more confident and his guitar playing as piercing and tight as ever. All kinds of influences come to mind, like Angel Witch, Pentagram, but it’s Garrett’s personality that shines through Spirit Adrift. One senses that the musician has seeped countless physical and spiritual energy into his work — his press statements about the album revealing as much — and that hand-crafted feel sets Enlightened in Eternity apart from other traditional metal records.

Why It Rules: The band’s ability to fuse melody with elements of speed metal and doom makes their songs particularly memorable, namely the chosen singles “Harmony of the Spheres” and “Astral Levitation”. It’s a more detailed and ambitious record than Divided by Darkness, but the immediacy of the latter wasn’t sacrificed for complexity. You could compare it to the growth between Metallica’s Master of Puppets and Ride the Lightning. Spirit Adrift have become one of the most visible modern acts to carry the torch of vintage metal and for good reason. The epic fantasy cover art, the spiritual and philosophical lyricism, the riffs and solos: This is what it’s all about. —Jon Hadusek

Essential Tracks: “Harmony of the Spheres” and “Astral Levitation”

Pick up the album here


08. Marilyn Manson – WE ARE CHAOS

Marilyn Manson We Are Chaos

Origin: Los Angeles, California

The Gist: Marilyn Manson returned with his 11th album, WE ARE CHAOS, and he recruited Shooter Jennings — son of legendary country artists Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter — as his new musical compatriot. The two met when Manson was working on the TV show Sons of Anarchy and, according to Manson, have wanted to work together for a while.

Why It Rules: The myriad of varying musical influences on WE ARE CHAOS makes for an intriguing mix. It still has the quintessential Manson sound with his low, growling croon and goth rock tendencies, but the guitar and piano work definitely send it in a more rock ‘n’ roll and less industrial direction. Every song on WE ARE CHAOS feels like a climactic scene in an epic film and gives the listener a sense that they are a part of the saga. Overall, the production, musicianship, and songwriting are among the best of Manson’s career. –Colette Claire

Essential Tracks: “WE ARE CHAOS”, “DON’T CHASE THE DEAD”, and “SOLVE COAGULA”

Pick up the album here


07. Code Orange – Underneath

Code Orange - Underneat

Origin: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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 past as the Code Orange Kids, the band now had a 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

Essential Tracks: “Swallowing the Rabbit Whole”, “You and You Alone”, and “Sulfur Surrounding”

Pick up the album here.


06. Paradise Lost – Obsidian

Paradise Lost - Obsidian

Origin: Halifax, England

The Gist: The UK’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, Obsidian, touches on every stylistic choice the band’s made while maintaining a core identity all their 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? Three albums into their come-to-death-growl-Jesus career phase, Paradise Lost have found an almost ideal balance between grit, atmosphere, and songcraft. Each song on Obsidian is a pop-metal confection with pitch-black icing and a little razor hidden inside. —Joseph Schafer

Essential Tracks: “Darker Thoughts”, “Fall from Grace”, “Ghosts”, and “Ending Days”

Pick up the album here


05. AC/DC – Power Up

AC/DC Power Up

Origin: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

The Gist: This year AC/DC celebrated the 40th anniversary of Back in Black. Little did we know that the hard rock legends were poised to unleash another classic record in the bleak year of 2020. The band’s 17th studio album, Power Up, arrives like an antidote to the malaise and a triumphant statement that rock ‘n’ roll knows no time and no age. AC/DC have a new set of anthems for a vastly different world.

Why It Rules: The album sees the return of classic members Brian Johnson, Phil Rudd, and Cliff Williams — all of whom had been out of the band by the time AC/DC’s last tour wrapped up in 2016 — alongside ever-present guitarist Angus Young. Guitarist Stevie Young rounds out the lineup, replacing the late great Malcolm Young, who shares a songwriting credit on every track on Power Up. As Angus tells it, Power Up is a tribute to his brother Malcolm, just like Back in Black was a tribute to Bon Scott. When it comes to hard rock, nobody does it better. AC/DC have once again proven that they’re masters of their craft. Not that they needed to; it’s just inherent in the band to produce epic riffs and huge anthemic hooks, which Power Up has in abundance. Simply put, AC/DC went in and kicked out the proverbial jams, crafting their best album in years and igniting a spark of joy into the stark timeline that is 2020. –Jon Hadusek

Essential Tracks: “Shot in the Dark”, “Kick You When You’re Down”, and “Systems Down”

Pick up the album here


04. Pallbearer – Forgotten Days

Pallbearer - Forgotten Days

Origin: Little Rock, Arkansas

The Gist: Pallbearer have ascended the arduous music industry ladder like many metal bands before them. They released a strong demo in 2010, got indie label attention, and released a string of successful underground doom albums. Now, the band are freshly signed to storied metal label Nuclear Blast Records for their fourth studio LP, Forgotten Days. The album marks that proverbial turning point in their career. There are expectations from thousands of fans the band have built over a decade of touring and releasing music — much of it among the finest doom metal money can buy. Not to mention Forgotten Days arrives amidst a global pandemic that delayed the album’s release for months and renders it currently un-tourable. As Pallbearer bassist Joseph D. Roland told Heavy Consequence, a world without new music is bleak indeed, and new Pallbearer seem like just the cure for dark days. Despite the sense that there was added pressure on the band surrounding their fourth album and Nuclear Blast debut, you can’t tell from hearing it.

Why It Rules: Forgotten Days is arguably the best doom metal album of 2020 and an impressive label debut. Thanks to Dunn’s minimalist production, the album is a sonic pleasure, and it’s instantly more listenable and accessible than Heartless. The new songs have that soaring emotional quality that’s patently Pallbearer, and the band sounds unfazed by any new distractions or expectations introduced by the increased exposure of being a successful band. Most importantly, the album offers 53 minutes of reprieve for a deprived fan base that can only watch, listen, and wait as the pandemic tragically keeps bands like Pallbearer off the live stage. –Jon Hadusek

Essential Tracks: “Forgotten Days”, “Riverbed”, and “Rite of Passage”

Pick up the album here.


03. Deftones – Ohms

Deftones Ohms - album artwork

Origin: Sacramento, California

The Gist: Sacramento alt-metallers Deftones tend to transform at the turns of decades. In 2000, they released their conceptual high-water mark White Pony while 2010’s Diamond Eyes is a stellar collection of catchy-but-clever skate rock tracks. On the other hand, 2020’s Ohms isn’t a radical reinvention, but it’s a solid addition to their legacy — a surprisingly heavy one at that.

Why It Rules: Deftones have only ever produced good albums, but they’ve also spent the decade since Diamond Eyes exploring textures and soundscapes, sometimes at the expense of songcraft. Ohms breaks that trend, with more focused songs, and a renewed love of hard-rocking guitar riffs that may rekindle the band’s relationship with fans that jumped ship after White Pony. It’s a record that hints at a purified blend of their contrasting influences in its finest moments, like the ecstatic crescendo in “Error”, the hyperactive, fuzzed-out bass riff that anchors “Radiant City”, the melodic glory of the title track, and every single second of “The Spell of Mathematics”. But as revitalized as Deftones sound in 2020, it’s tempting to imagine their next album building off of these ideas and taking a few more risks along the way. –Joseph Schafer

Essential Tracks: “Ceremony”, “Error”, and “The Spell of Mathematics”

Pick up the album here.


02. Napalm Death – Throes in the Joy of Defeatism

Napalm Death Throes of Joy in the Hands of Defeatism

Origin: West Midlands, England

The Gist: UK grindcore pioneers Napalm Death have managed to deliver ferocious, politically charged music with consistency for over 30 years. What’s more: they’ve done so despite numerous lineup changes and shifting trends. Now, after a five-year break, the longest in their career, they’ve delivered one of their most experimental releases without sacrificing identity or integrity.

Why It Rules: Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism is a beautiful jackknife. Bassist Shane Embury wrote the vast majority of the music as long-time guitarist Mitch Harris has stepped away from day-to-day duties with the band, including touring. Together with Greenway’s thought-provoking lyrics, Embury delivered a set of songs so good that they made the band’s recent victories seem conservative in retrospect. Even the bonus tracks course with vitality. In 2020, Napalm Death remain — to quote one their series of cover albums — leaders not followers. –Joseph Schafer

Essential Tracks: “F**k the Factoid”, “Backlash Just Because”, and “Contagion”

Pick up the album here.


01. Lamb of God – Lamb of God

Lamb of God st

Origin: Richmond, Virginia

The Gist: Along with bringing in the New Wave of American Heavy Metal, Lamb of God have been one of music’s most important acts over the past 20 years. From their phenomenal instrumentation to the potency of their sociopolitical lyricism, they remain titans of the genre, continuing to craft remarkable works of thrilling and captivating adrenaline. Not only is Lamb of God’s self-titled album an amazing addition to the band’s discography, but it also proves to be a profound work of heavy metal.

Why It Rules: The album Lamb of God is a fantastic mesh of hard-hitting metal meets insightful depth. The exploration and craft put into singer Randy Blythe’s words, along with the stunning musicianship of each member, allows for an exhilarating work of pure heavy metal. Blythe poetically addresses sociopolitical topics like immigration reform, mass shootings, environmental concerns, and more, making it perhaps the most important metal album of 2020. It’s not only the album of Lamb of God’s career, but the heavy album of the year. –Michael Pementel

Essential Tracks: “Memento Mori”, “Reality Bath”, “New Colossal Hate”, and “Bloodshot Eyes”

Pick up the album here.

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