In what was obviously a tumultuous and unprecedented year for many including Your Grouchy Friend, so many of our taken-for-granted lifestyles, institutions and general modes of operation were decimated in the face of civil unrest, violence, socio-political disintegration and of course a global pandemic. So much has been and will be written about each and every lumbering, catastrophic step and misstep and although this is probably not the forum, it must be said that deep division and the erosion of interpersonal trust and meaningful discourses of disagreement are the true pandemic. A pandemic for which there is no rushed vaccination, only the individual and collective self-determination to truly know and communicate outside of a black/white, red/blue, left/right echo chamber. In the Venn Diagram of humanity the grand mass of similitude is being eschewed for the leveraging of comparatively minute areas of difference.
With that out of the way, the thing that truly got many of us out of 2020 alive was music more generally and Metal specifically. In April Your Grouchy Friend was asked aboard the good ship Wanderlust by scurvy sea dog The Great Mackintosh. Pen and paper tamed unforgiving seas through the deep exploration of some of the best music released throughout the year and interviews with 5 of the artists on this top ten list (click the Your Grouchy Friend author link to find them). This top ten serves as document for a year both memorable and worth forgetting.
The best of everything to you all in 2021.
10. Depravity – “Grand Malevolence”
Your Grouchy Friend’s hometown boys waited right until the end of 2020 to unleash their incredible follow up to 2018’s “Evil Upheaval.” This album is an incredibly well worked piece of technical mastery, bringing a range of styles and techniques to the orbit of their Death Metal locus. Truly a brilliant work and a signal to the planet that when the viral smoke clears there is every chance Depravity will plunder foreign shores.
9. Graceless – “Where Vultures Know Your Name”
The rollicking glory of “Warpath” alone is enough to propel this album to great heights, the near perfect “Nine Days of Mourning” takes it to the stratosphere. Talk of Dutch masters calls to mind Vermeer, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, and in modern times Mondriaan: Graceless have emerged as the modern Dutch masters of Death Metal with “Where Vultures Know Your Name.” Replete with sufficient complexity for those technically inclined, and a sense of energy and immediacy for those desirous of emotional movement, this album hit the sweet spot for Your Grouchy Friend.
8. Paradise Lost – “Obsidian”
As stated in the enormous group review of this album, Your Grouchy Friend has never been a big Paradise Lost Fan. They’ve released a plethora of quality albums over their long career and deserve their accolades and clear station as one of the greats in Metal history – they just never quite gelled for this writer… until now. In what turned out to be a feature for several bands of 2020 Paradise Lost released arguably their greatest work yet. The maturity of the song writing, arrangement and musicianship is startlingly apparent, and the feeling of authenticity the album engenders is testament to the unwavering and deep love Holmes and Mackintosh hold for their craft. “Ending Days” was a song that struck a chord with Your Grouchy Friend in a big way and was played over and over in 2020 – a masterful and bombastic earworm of a track. If you haven’t already, you really must. “Obsidian” is pure black gold.
7. Code Orange – “Underneath”
After two (omitting their 2012 Code Orange Kids release) increasingly brilliant albums: 2014’s “I Am King” and arguably 2017’s album of the year “Forever,” expectations were high for Pittsburgh’s Code Orange… in 2020 the band did not disappoint. “Underneath” is an untamable, future-gazing, genre-bending masterpiece of an album that leaves the listener feeling the same as “Forever” did – Code Orange are like an incredible lover, they try amazing new things and still hit all the right spots each and every time leaving you desperate for more as soon as you can get it. With their sublime streamed album launch and inventive acoustic set “Under the Skin” they’ve already kept their fans in raptures in the months since the album’s release. Cannot wait for what’s next from this band.
6. Killer Be Killed – “Reluctant Hero”
This is the first artist on the list Your Grouchy Friend was lucky enough to interview in 2020 (Greg Puciato is a bit of a two-for – see below). A stellar collective of artists, three of whom share vocal duties, Killer Be Killed are a bit of a rare beast. Rare in that although the parts are there, the sum of groups such as these often fail to live up to potential. Puciato, Sanders and anointed “riff pisser” Max Cavalera weave their talents together brilliantly on “Reluctant Hero,” an album that easily surpasses the excellence of 2014’s eponymous release. The final ingredient, Converge drummer Ben Koller, brings thunder and importantly a keen sense of sectional demarcation to each song – complementing perfectly the melody and vocal arrangements of the other three. Killer.
5. LIK – “Misanthropic Breed”
Swedish death metal is dear to the hearts of many and very difficult to execute in a fresh and modern manner – particularly the Stockholm variant. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the best example in 2020 came from Stockholm, and LIK absolutely nail their sound to the wall. The ferocity of this album quickly strikes home, and stylistically it drips the addictive and immediate enjoyment engendered by its forefathers. It bears repeating from the Grouchy review that vocally LIK are on a different level to those that have come before them – rose coloured glasses and music of one’s youth aside, Tomas Åkvik is superior in all facets of his craft – sound, delivery and phrasing. Crank “Morbid Fascination” at high volume and if you’re not taken in, then perhaps you need to check your pulse.
4. GRIND – “Songs of Blood and Liberation”
For quite some months this album was number one. Like the eventual number one below, it may not appear on the end of year lists of many but “Songs of Blood and Liberation” was and remains on high listening rotation in Fort Grouch. There is something so fresh, so urgent, so authentic about this album and speaking with them on The Darkest Corners of the World podcast gave a great sense why. It brings a spectacular collision of heavy genres that function seamlessly because the album seems written with a disregard for any particular delineations of that nature. A formidable dual vocal assault ensure that the listener is under ceaseless attack. This is one entry where repetition of an earlier Grouchy description is absolutely necessary – The album we had to have in 2020. A crushing mix of heavy styles delivered with passion and authenticity. The bastard child of Refused and Morgoth that ran away and shacked up with all manner of street depravity.
3. Mr Bungle – “The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny”
Thrash Metal. Purely. Simply. Thrash Metal. The advent of a “new” Bungle album was sure to get a rabid legion of fanatical fans champing at the bit. It certainly did but in some uninformed quarters of that fandom this grade-A Thrash tour de force was rejected as somehow not Bungle enough. Others in the Metal world may not have given it a spin due to their preconceptions of the band as avant-savants. The level of excellence of the source material is plainly obvious, and the lift in quality proffered by Big-4 ring-ins Scott Ian (Anthrax) and Dave Lombardo (Slayer) is palpable. Speaking to Scott Ian revealed a deep mutual respect between all the protagonists and a sheer lust for the unleashing of this time-capsule onto 2020. This album is truly must listen, and you are implored to do so with the purist of Thrash Metal mindsets.
2. Greg Puciato – “Child Soldier: Creator of God”
Where to begin with this masterpiece? It’s palette is so broad that it transcends Metal and may have detractors arguing it shouldn’t be on a list such as this one… but Puciato is capable of imparting a viciousness in his delivery that few can rival. With Dillinger Escape Plan he established himself as one of the greatest frontmen in modern metal and with The Black Queen he leapt into an electronic beauty that showed a side only glimpsed with Dillinger. To limit description of the sonic miasma that is “Child Soldier: Creator of God” to simply a blend of the two would be lazy and not come close to capturing its essence. As a self-titled solo project this is Puciato unveiled, unfiltered and in places typically unhinged. Interviewing the man at the peak of his powers was a blessing: feeling his emotion, verve and hunger for creative expression was without hyperbole inspirational. It also provided a connection to where all this is heading… a future already evidenced by December’s ambitious streaming event and companion album “Fuck Content.” There is so much about all of this output that was essentially 2020 and but for number one on this list would have been easily album of the year.
- (0) – “Skamhan”
Every list of this nature is by definition highly subjective. For Your Grouchy Friend, the aim of reading the lists of others is to discover those missed gems, rediscover the forgotten, and share in salutation of those loved – gleaning perspectives outside one’s own. This album seems strangely absent from almost every list to be found in this wild, wide, wondrous world of Metal and you, the reader are therefore in all likelihood presented with option A and possibly B – a gem that has been missed or is deserving of rediscovery. (0)‘s debut album “Skamhan” was on constant rotation for Your Grouchy Friend in 2020 and still is – it was statistically his second most listened to album of the year. There is something so richly authentic, so atmospheric, and so musically profound about this album, striking a very deliberate ambience and displaying a range of emotions throughout its journey. The inflections of post-rock, post-metal and even very old Cure stylings in a progressive blackened setting round out a delicious treat of wide open, reverberated soundscapes shimmering with carefully crafted tones. Then there are the vocals – two songs in particular, “Skarntyder” and “Rød Glorie” exemplify the incredible control and delivery of frontman (FJ): the former a perfectly phrased, heavily hooked exercise in brutal assault, the latter an exquisitely controlled paean to despair. A good friend commented “I can’t tell if he’s angry or not.” An interview with the band on Darkest Corners confirmed not. Each song is a subtle shift in direction and tone, dripping in a darkness that feels so bare for the sonic palette from which it is depicted. Please check out the original review: after returning to it for this piece it does capture “Skamhan” in words Your Grouchy Friend is unlikely to better here. (0) produced a debut album that moved this author in a way that few albums do – there must be countless other humans who will feel the same and this band are deserving of their work reaching a far wider audience. Undoubtedly album of the year.