Andrew Lee’s Top Albums of 2020 (NSFW)
Andrew Lee is the creative force behind the old-school death metal band Ripped to Shreds as well as anime goregrind project Houkago Grind Time and much more. Here's his blast-obsessed best-of list for 2020.
This year was pretty tough for music discovery. After being forced to do remote work, the lack of a commute severely hampered my usual way of exploring records, which is blasting them at max volume while stuck in traffic. Rolling out of bed and logging into the company VPN, being “plugged in” to work 24/7, didn’t leave me much mental headspace for jamming records. Despite that, I still managed to listen to a fair number and here are twenty of my personal favorites.
20. Nucleus/Ectoplasma/Fetid Zombie/Temple of Void – 4 Doors to Death II (Unspeakable Axe, USA/France)
19. Invincible Force – Decomposed Sacramentum (Dark Descent, Chile)
18. Encenathrakh – Thraakethraaeate Thraithraake (P2, USA)
17. Sweven – The Eternal Resonance (Van, Sweden)
16. Bastard Priest – Vengeance... of the Damned (Electric Assault, Sweden)
15. Solothus – Realm Of Ash And Blood (20 Buck Spin, Finland)
14. Rawhead/Raw Addict/Blue Holocaust/Active Stenosis – 4 way split (Goatgrind, USA/Canada/Austria/France/Russia)
13. Stygian Crown – Stygian Crown (Cruz del Sur, USA)
12. Terminal Nation – Holocene Extinction (20 Buck Spin, USA)
11. Siege Column – Darkside Legions (Nuclear War Now! Productions, USA)
Blast beats are the lifeblood of any grind band. If the blasts are lackluster, even the best riffs are unable to carry an album for the whole runtime. Fortunately, Aspirate Coma features a humdinger of a blaster: Brennan of Human Effluence and Infernal Coil, whose sharp blasting deftly weaves together masterful gore guitar wizardry. Harlan's riffing is far more melodic than typical gore or grind bands: many of the riffs are even singable. Tied together by murky production and hoarse vocals, Serene Transcendence offers a breath of rank air in the modern gore swamp of LDOH worship.
Carcass put out a new record this year, but does it actually sound like Carcass? Pharmacist plays a throwback goregrind death metal hybrid that hearkens back to Carcass' gory days circa Symphonies of Sickness via drum machine blasting, pitch shifters, and classic Steer riffing. It's not remotely original or inventive, and some parts are plainly rearranged Symphonies riffs, but it's exactly what the doctor prescribed to cure a fever for more pathological gore sickness.
Gloomier, murkier, and doomier, Undergang's fifth offering finds them returning to a death metal scene overtaken by grimy "caveman" riffing bands reinterpreting the Killtown sewer sound through brutal death metal. And how does Aldrig I Livet stack up to its imitators? David Torturdod's phlegmy burps and gurgles are at their filthiest ever. The drumming is precise, punctuating start-stop riffing with staccato accents and hammer blasts. The riffs are a tad moodier than Misantropologi, but they never lose the groove that makes every Undergang tune so damn enjoyable. In short, hail to the king, baby.
Grieving Birth immediately comes swinging out of the gate with drummer Christoph Winkler's unmistakeable single footed blast. Eschewing the high tuned snare common in modern grind, the mix is dense with crusty Excruciating Terror-esque guitars, a massive low tuned snare, and a vocalist whose deep bellows occasionally turn to high screams. Some powerviolence sludge creeps in here and there as well as the odd d-beat, but for the most part the record relies on ultrafast blasting, and Internal Rot are world class at playing fast.
/ɡəlCH/ noun: a San Jose based bootleg hoodie company. Massive undeniable hardcore riffing. For 15 minutes, groovy drums hammer out a dark backdrop to vocalist Eliot’s tortured screeches, steeped in his lived pain. Gulch isn’t afraid to get fast or momentarily drop down into a half time breakdown, but mostly canters along in a brisk two-step, before finally coming to a melancholic denouement. It’s real bay shit motherfuckers.
Expertly straddling the line between beatdown hardcore and death/doom, Tokyo’s Kruelty takes more than a few musical cues from Cianide’s The Dying Truth, including the clangy high pitched snare, but mix engineer Taylor Young’s (Twitching Tongues, ex-Nails) dense and immediate production dials the aggression up several notches. Most of the runtime finds Kruelty trundling along in grooves that are as much Madball as Bolt Thrower, but the low vocals are pure death metal. There aren’t as many pit ninja mosh sections as one might expect from a band with this much beatdown DNA, which only makes each breakdown hit that much harder. Not a single minute is wasted here.
Ecchymosis is a brutal death metal band hailing from Thailand featuring an absolutely ludicrous drummer named Polwach. Yes, there are riffs, as well as brutal toneless gutturals, but the most important part of this record is incredibly fast blast beats, because Polwach blasts faster than anyone should be legally allowed to. Hammer blasts, traditional blasts, and gravity blasts all fly by at light speed, with chunky groovy riffs breaking up the pummeling blast sections. Ritualistic Intercourse isn’t concerned with constant slamming, and what slams there are tend to be more mid-paced rather than crawling. Although the album is suffocating and relentless, I think this particular release should be fairly accessible to listeners that aren’t normally fans of brutal death metal due to the lack of pig squeals and slams.
The first time I saw Of Feather and Bone was with Horrendous at the Elbo Room. I wasn’t a fan of the record they’d just put out, but they blew me away with their intense live performance. Bestial Hymns struck me as highly black metal influenced in the riffing, but Sulfuric Disintegration pulls from their hardcore past during the chaotic dissonant parts, which I prefer. The guitars are also more defined, rendering the riffs intelligible. The drumming relies heavily on rolling double bass for the first half of the album, before bringing in war metal-esque blasting sections. There are no pick scrapes or blur riffs here though; every guitar riff is meticulously written. Easily my favorite straight death metal album this year.
The absolute pinnacle of gorenoise absurdity. This is the second time Polwach pops up on this list, and for good reason. His tin can snare doesn't let up for a single second as the duo blast their way through 20 minutes of harsh static and toilet bowl vox. Noise not music. Not safe for cowards.
Funnily enough, the drumming on this record might be the most restrained out of every one I’ve listed so far. The drummer is certainly a capable blaster, but tempos stay in a relatively sedate 200-210 bpm range, rather than blowing past 270. Why place Apex Profane at the top spot then? Because it doesn’t need insane drumming to carry any minor shortcomings. The mix is clear and ballsy, as polished as goregrind can be without being overly produced, allowing every riff to breathe. Pitchshifted gurgles cut through without masking the drums or guitarwork. And the blast beats! My personal pet peeve when it comes to grindcore are snares that totally disappear during blasts, either because the drummer is a tapper or the engineer fucked something up, but every snare hit is thick and punchy at both skank and blast tempos. Chewy Carcass and Dead Infection style riffs demand headbanging during the groovy d-beats and skanks, and frenzied handchopping during the blasts, even sitting by yourself in your bedroom. Although it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, Apex Profane is simply a masterfully crafted album from start to finish.