Brandon Corsair’s Top Albums of 2020
Brandon Corsair is the mastermind behind death metal acts Draghkar and Azath plus a host of other projects, the owner of Nameless Grave Records, and a prolific interviewer/reviewer (he also operates his own self-published 'zine). We interviewed him about Draghkar's killer 2020 album At the Crossroads of Infinity earlier this year, and he's penned a few pieces of his own on Invisible Oranges in the last few months. With deep ties to underground heavy metal and its history, his picks for 2020's best span both globe and genre.
It’s been a long goddamn year in so many ways. There’s not even a single big elephant in the room to ignore -- California, where I live, was on fire for half of 2020, the pandemic fucked absolutely everything up and since we’re talking music it pushed back some cool releases to 2021 on top of all of the ways it disrupted everything else, there was tense American election uncertainty and even fears of a war between the United States and Iran (remember that? Feels like an eternity ago, but that was this year!), and... life went on. Yes, everything sucked, many of us lost our jobs, or our friends, or our family, or all of the above -- but we’re here still, and a lot of music came out, and with the year coming to an end it’s time to talk about all the sick stuff that still managed to happen despite 2020’s best efforts.
This is my first end of year list for Invisible Oranges and I guess I should talk about that, but fuck it, I won’t waste a bunch of your time waffling. There was a lot of great music that dropped this year, and some of my favorites are below. Bias is impossible to escape and I mostly didn’t bother trying, but I do play in bands and run a small record label, so I left off anything I released or that a bandmate played on just to try and be a little more fair. The honorable mentions list doesn’t have any particular order; if it’s on there, it’s worthy. Go check out some names you haven’t heard, and leave stuff you think I’d like that’s not on here in the comments. Hope the music brings some joy to this bleak, shitty year.
-- Brandon Corsair
20. Stygian Crown – Stygian Crown (Cruz del Sur Music, USA)
19. Ljosazabojstwa – Głoryja śmierci (Godz ov War Productions, Belarus)
18. Question – Reflections of the Void (Chaos Records, Mexico)
17. Funeral Leech – Death Meditation (Carbonized Records, USA)
16. Black Sword Thunder Attack – March of the Damned (No Remorse Records, Greece)
15. Necrot – Mortal (Tankcrimes, USA)
14. Smoulder – Dream Quest Ends (Cruz del Sur Music, Canada)
13. Obscene – The Inhabitable Dark (Blood Harvest Records, USA)
12. Omegavortex – Black Abomination Spawn (lnvictus Productions, Germany)
11. Purification – Perfect Doctrine (Rafchild Records, USA)
Havukruunu play a brand rousing, folk-tinged and heavy metal influenced black metal, and hail from Finland. Though their last two albums are perfectly good, this new one has taken the underground by storm with its great balance of chest-thumping anthemic shouts, epic melodies, and Bathory-inspired folky black metal magic, coming across almost as a Finnish response to what Macabre Omen has been doing. If you want Judas Priest riffs in your cold black metal, don’t sleep on these guys. For fans of Bathory, Moonsorrow, and Immortal.
Tough heavy metal from a bunch of Aussie maniacs that channels the best of the more grizzled side of ‘80s power metal -- what more can you ask for? Road Warrior is Denny from StarGazer and Ben from Mournful Congregation making some of the best heavy metal you can find, and it’s criminal that the band doesn’t get more love. Weird melodies, simple-but-huge riffs, and warbling vocals are the name of the day here, and Road Warriors are the masters of their chosen style. The band’s debut, Power, is pretty much on constantly over here and the new record is just as good. For fans of Griffin, Jag Panzer, and Stormtrooper.
Almost all modern “old school” death metal falls into a handful of boxes that’s much narrower than death metal actually was back in the 1980s and 1990s. Entire regional scenes had sounds that are more or less completely dead now, plus or minus maybe a handful of old farts that never stopped doing what they do. Soulskinner falls into that special category of band that never abandoned their dreams even when the scene moved away, when label support favored trendier movements, or even when they’d become the last of their kind.
What Soulskinner play on Seven Bowls of Wrath is something best compared to the Hellenic death metal of old such as was played on Septic Flesh’s Mystic Places of Dawn or Horrified’s In the Garden of the Unearthly Delights. Deeply personal, melodic, atmospheric, and yet still heavy, Soulskinner are relics of an age long gone and are still putting out godly material even decades later. I can’t say enough good things about this band or the direction they’ve taken with these last three albums, and Seven Bowls of Wrath has captured my heart much as Descent to Abaddon did before it. For fans of Horrified, the oldest Septic Flesh material, and Deathevokation.
Malokarpatan has spent the last few years proving that the old sounds of Tormentor, Mortuary Drape, and Root are far from gone. Their new album is more of the same general sense of archaic rural black metal madness, but as with each album before it, Malokarpatan are unwilling to retread old ground and have once again reworked their signature sound into something fresh and interesting. Longer, weirder songs, an influx of Bathory influence, and a full conceptual storyline show the band at their most creative and serious yet; when I sat down to talk to band founder AS about it, he confirmed that the band was trying to do more than ever before, and it shows with the breadth and depth of covered ground on Krupinské ohne. It’s not an album for the faint of heart, but it is one of the true of spirit, and it deserves your attention. For fans of Negative Plane, Tormentor, and Master’s Hammer.
Most reunions suck. That’s just a fact. I was at Cirith Ungol’s first reformation show, and I remember the anticipation and nervousness as everyone waited to see if they’d suck, and the overwhelming joy and excitement in the crowd when it turned out that they still had it (one of the best shows I’ve ever been to, by the way). I felt that same sense of conflict between my excitement and fear when Ungol dropped their first single in decades, and that one, Witches Game, ended up being tremendous, so I had few reservations left when Cirith Ungol announced that they’d be releasing their fourth studio album some thirty years after their third one.
Forever Black completely delivers, and is more of the Cirith Ungol I already knew and loved without being a rehash of any of the previous albums. It gets a bit self-referential at times, sure, but Tim Baker sounds better than ever, the riffs are all there, and the songwriting is way tighter than we could have hoped for. Gun to my head, I like Forever Black more than Frost and Fire, and that’s something I never expected to say of a new Ungol album in 2020. Go buy it and see for yourself -- and grab their live album from last year while you’re at it. For fans of Manilla Road, Trouble, and Cloven Hoof.
Hellenic black metal is pretty much my favorite type, and Katavasia are better at it than most. Glorious melodies, great songwriting, and more personal sections of atmosphere and lead guitars come together to form one of the most memorable albums of the year, and certainly the black metal album that hits the most directly at my taste. Read my article on the new album and interview with guitarist/bassist Achilleas here. For fans of Rotting Christ, Varathron, and Necromantia.
The best death metal of the year? The best death metal of the year. Siege Column are primitive, evil, and don’t care what’s “in” or what’ll sell ‘em records- they just want to make primordial, fast metal that draws from all of their influences from Vulcano to Bathory to Possessed. Don’t miss this one! Longer writeup in my review of the album, which you can find here. For fans of Pentacle, Repulsion, and Sarcofago.
I already covered this one some months ago for Toilet ov Hell, so I’ll keep this brief -- Will Fried has become my doom metal hero, and as with everything else he’s dropped these last seven or so years, Subterranean Exile is nearly perfect and is shockingly good. For fans of Pagan Altar, Tarot, and Witchfinder General.
Two of my favorite things out there are weird and maniacal heavy metal, and 1970s hard rock. White Magician adeptly merges the two to play something that their label described as a combination of Blue Öyster Cult and Mercyful Fate. They absolutely had something there with that, but there’s so much more to White Magician’s music, and alongside their other band Demon Bitch these mad Detroit maniacs are some of the most promising younger musicians in all of metal right now. Dealers of Divinity is deeply personal, extremely catchy, and has more than enough going on for listeners to find new details even after dozens of listens. For fans of Demon Bitch, Blue Öyster Cult, and Mercyful Fate.
As with some of the others above, I’m not going to bother going into heavy detail about this album because I already wrote a rather long review for Invisible Oranges that you can find here. To make a long story short, Eternal Champion makes almost everyone look bad, and if you’re going to buy only a single album this year, it should be this one. For fans of Omen, Doomsword, and Wrathblade.