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The Didact’s Best Albums of 2020

by | Dec 31, 2020 | Das Beste Aus | 0 comments

Despite the massive interruptions caused by the Kung Flu, 2020 was a pretty good year for metal. I listened to a number of truly great albums this year, starting with a follow-up to my favourite album of 2017 which managed the rare feat of exceeding its predecessor. There was definitely some dreck in the pack too, which I ignored. But, if you get the albums listed below, you’ll have plenty of fun material to keep your head banging and your neck sore for months.

1. UNLEASH THE ARCHERS – Abyss

Abyss

Back in 2017, Canada’s UtA released Apex, and I absolutely loved it. The combination of progressive metal elements, the epic singing of Brittany Slayes, and the superb songwriting, all sold me instantly. That became my favourite album of the year. The follow-up, Abyss, is even better. All of the stuff that made the original album so great is back – and gone is the stuff that weighed down Apex. This album continues the story of The Immortal, the great warrior enslaved by The Matriarch and commanded to find and bring her four sons to her. The album starts with The Immortal waking up on a starship, disoriented and confused, wondering where he is. He wanders around this enormous spaceship and finds an unexpected presence – the son of the one good son that he captured and brought to The Matriarch. The Son tells him that he will set The Immortal free and together they will destroy the now immortal evil Matriarch. The whole album is full of everything that makes UtA so great. The songwriting has improved a notch; I can’t think of a single weak track on it. This is essential listening for 2020.

Killer Kuts: The whole damn thing is amazing, but my favourite track is definitely “The Wind that Shapes the Land”, followed closely by “Legacy”.

2. DYNAZTY – The Dark Delight

The Dark Delight

DYNAZTY is a Swedish melodic metal band that features Nils Molin on vocals. I came across his work because of Sweden’s other pop-metal export, AMARANTHE, which is seriously one of the cheesiest and silliest bands out there today. They USED to make a lot of good stuff, but these days their albums SUCK. No such problem exists for Nils Molin’s other band, DYNAZTY, though. Their previous album, Firesign, was my album of choice for 2018. And with good reason. This band knows how to craft great melodic riffs with solid lyrics and powerful performances, particularly from the singer. The solos are superb, the drumming is terrific, and overall the album is just a great slab of melodic power metal with lots of great songs. This album really has no weak points, just a few songs that aren’t as good as the rest. Definitely a worthy album release in 2020.

Killer Kuts: “Presence of Mind”, “Paradise of the Architect”, “Hologram”, “Heartless Madness”, “Waterfall”, “The Road to Redemption”

3. AEPHANEMER – Prokopton

Prokopton (2CD Digipak)

As you probably know quite well by now, I don’t like the French. I’m not a big fan of female-fronted metal bands in general (with a few exceptions). And while I love progressive melodic death metal, I don’t listen to a whole lot of it outside of old-school IN FLAMES and CHILDREN OF BODOM. So the fact that I’ve ranked a French female-led melodic progressive death metal band this high on my list, should tell you just how good they really are. And they are excellent. AEPHANEMER’s latest album, Prokopton, is not quite a masterpiece – there are some weaker tracks on it. But it is very, very, very good. The sound is aggressive and brutal. The instrumental work is superb. And the songwriting and lyrics are both top-notch (for death metal, anyway). If you want an album that will get you in the right mood to go lift some heavy shit in the gym, this is easily the most aggressive album in this list to help you do precisely that.

Killer Kuts: “The Sovereign”, “Dissonance Within”, “Bloodline”

4. VIRGIN STEELE – The Marriage of Heaven and Hell Pt. 1 & 2

Marriage of Heaven & Hell I+Ii

No one in his right mind will ever argue that David DeFeis of VIRGIN STEELE is easy or simple to work with. The guy has a reputation for being a roaring asshole, worse in some ways even than Joey DeMaio from MANOWAR. The comparison with MANOWAR is one that VIRGIN STEELE has suffered for virtually its entire existence. And, honestly, it’s an unfair comparison. Whereas MANOWAR is almost cartoonishly stupid at times, VIRGIN STEELE is progressive and heavily influenced by a number of mythological sources and ideas. This album is a conceptual work that weaves together ideas from Gnostic heretical texts and ideas, Jewish apocrypha, Norse mythology, and the fertile imagination of David DeFeis. The result is a dense, complex, challenging, rewarding work of musical brilliance. Its major problem is, of course, the sheer length of the damned thing. This is a difficult album to listen to while working on something – it’s not really something you can play in the background. The album demands attention because of the density of its lyrics and concepts. The musicianship is superb, particularly the drumming. And it features some of VS’s best ever tracks – which, given its storied history, is saying something. The two best tracks, “Crown of Glory (Unscarred)” and “Emalaith”, are honestly two of the best heavy metal songs ever recorded.

Killer Kuts: “I Will Come For You”, “Blood and Gasoline”, “Forever I Will Roam”, “I Wake Up Screaming”, “A Symphony of Steele”, “Crown of Glory (Unscarred)”, “Twilight of the Gods”, “Emalaith”

5. FREEDOM CALL – M.E.T.A.L.

M.E.T.A.L.

Now this one actually came out last year, but I only listened to it this year. FREEDOM CALL are possibly the happiest, cheesiest, silliest power metal band in the world, and I absolutely love them for that. Admittedly they’ve gone downhill a bit since the days when the inimitable Dan Zimmerman was their skinbeater on the drums, but they can still produce a great fun silly album anytime they want. This is the kind of album that you want to listen to when you need a quick pick-me-up. It will put a big goofy grin on your face. And it will make you happy. That’s the point of real power metal – it’s just fun.

Killer Kuts: “Spirit of Daedalus”, “M.E.T.A.L.”, “Wheel of Time”, “Ronin”

HONOURABLE MENTION: INSOMNIUM – Winter’s Gate

Winter's Gate

This album is something of a classic within the black and death metal scene. INSOMNIUM’s output is sporadic and spaced out over years, but boy do they deliver whenever they drop a new album. Winter’s Gate is a concept album about a group of Vikings that sets out across the North Sea to find a fabled island west of Ireland, despite the rapidly nearing onset of winter. This is an extremely dense and difficult album to listen to – like an old-school OPETH album (Blackwater Park, anyone?), this one unfolds in “movements” across one single 40-minute song. You cannot use this as “lazy background music” – this is music designed to make you think, and rewards you for taking the time to listen to it carefully.

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