Ria is a musician as well as an illustrator and game developer. You can follow her on Twitter to find out more about her bands Oriza and Karnstein as well as check out their new game Destroy The Shogun on Steam!
Pupil Slicer – Mirrors
Well what can I really say about this album that hasn’t been said already. These 38 minutes of music turned Pupil Slicer from ‘that cool band that my friend Luke is in’ to ‘the biggest thing in Metal right now’ basically overnight, and despite being an early year release, it’s a testament to how good this album is that it is frequently popping up in all manner of AOTY lists already. If you’ve somehow missed it, this album is an utterly uncompromising blend of mathcore and deathgrind, blending odd time signatures with furious blasts and vocals, all topped off with very technical guitar work. Throw in very socially conscious lyrics, dealing with (among other topics) escalating transphobia in modern media and you’re onto a winner.
Epica – Omega
Symphonic metal can be very hit or miss for me. For every Within Temptation or Nightwish there is a few dozen bland rip offs (arguably including the modern incarnations of Within Temptation and Nightwish also). But Epica have always been something a bit special on the scene and this release is no exception. While they contain all the same elements as your average Symphonic Metal band, with massive keyboards and soaring vocals courtesy of Simone Simmons, they do it much bigger and better while also pulling in a not insubstantial amount of Death and Prog Metal influence (in fact the first vocals you hear on the album are the death growls of lead songwriter Mark). You can really tell just how much fun the band had putting this together, especially during the pre-release press events, where they uploaded a video of themselves socially distanced headbanging to their own album during a listening event for journalists. A must for any fan of the genre.
Evanescence – The Bitter Truth
When their first single, Wasted on You, released last year during the early days of lockdown, I can’t pretend I wasn’t somewhat disappointed. Despite being quite different from most of what I listen to, Evanescence has remained firmly in my top 5 bands of all time for quite a while now, but this latest single wasn’t really getting me excited. Sure, I enjoyed it, but it needed time to grow on me instead of hooking me immediately like many previous singles. The 2nd single ‘The Game is Over’ however, grabbed my attention immediately and has become the single most played song on my laptop of all time. And while I can be critical of this album enough to say that it’s probably the weakest of their 4, the second songs like Broken Pieces Shine, Better Without You and Blind Belief come on, I go right back to being that 15-year-old who would belt out every word of the lyrics with barely concealed tears. While I do think these songs need several listens to grow on you more so than the bands early material, grow on you they shall.
Exanimis – Marionnettiste
I love Symphonic Metal, and I love Death Metal, so naturally I love Symphonic Death Metal. Sitting somewhere between the technicality and over the top opera influence of Fleshgod Apocalypse and the gloomy mid-paced sounds of Septicflesh, this debut really manages to hold its own and stand out against the rest of this year’s Death Metal releases. The fact that this is a debut is what truly blows my mind. Without so much as a short EP or demo under their belt, this French outfit managed to create a 66 minute long belter that blitz’s past as if it was only half that length. Stampede of the 10’000 is a definite stand out thanks to its constant chugging march that also lets the symphonics take center stage.
pink suits – Political Child
This may well be one of the queerest albums ever put to record, created by two of the queerest people I’ve ever met. For a two piece pink suits manage to create a ton of noise out of just a drums and guitar set up, standing head and shoulders above a wave of bland samey punk bands that have come out of the local scene and surrounding areas in the last few years. If any album embodies the spirit of gay chaos, it’s this one. There aren’t many things from my home town that I can honestly say I love, but this band is definitely one of them.
Backxwash – I LIE HERE BURIED WITH MY RINGS AND DRESSES
If you had told me any other year that an Industrial Hip-hop album would make my album of the year list without question, I would’ve laughed in your face. Surely not? I don’t listen to that much Industrial and I don’t like rap and hip-hop at all, how could that possibly happen? And yet it has, I am so in love with this album that it radically changed my targeted ads for a few months thinking I had gotten massively into rap music. It certainly helps that this album is blistering political and absolutely furious in its delivery, often becoming so harsh that it does actually verge on being a straight up metal album at times. But make no mistake, this isn’t easily comparable to anything else you’ve ever heard and it’s absolutely the better for it. Most metal wishes it could be even half as heavy as this.
Powerwolf – Call of the Wild
Power Metal has never been my deal. Lyrics about cheesy fantasy topics and/or uncomfortable obsession with war, knock off Iron Maiden vocals and every ‘Dad Rock’ cliché turned up to 11 makes up an awful lot of the genre, and that is not my jam. Powerwolf however, is extremely my jam. Attila’s vocals come from a musical theater background and rise well above basically everyone else in the genre, crafting endlessly catchy hooks about far more gothic topics such as Werewolves and Vampires. Keyboards are also far more prominent than many other power metal bands, and rather than the fantasy inspired synth hits that are the norm, Powerwolf opt for a heavy amount of moody organ music, making the whole sound like Erik from the Phantom of the Opera discovered a bunch of Judas Priest albums one day and crafted this. Quality and theatricality oozes out of this album, making it their best one to date.
Lamp of Murmuur – Submission and Slavery
Lamp of Murmuur rose to prominence last year with the defining vampyric black metal album Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism, topping many a Black Metal fans AOTY lists. So how do you follow that? Well as you may have seen in the album name, Lamp decided to get horny for this one with song titles like ‘Dominatrix’s Call’ and ‘Deformed Erotic Visage’. Not only that but the raw stylings have evolved to include a much more overt influence of the jangly guitars, spooky synths and danceable rhythm sections of classic 80’s goth in the vein of Siouxie Sous or Christian Death, and it works so damn well. Even if you’re not a fan of the more traditional style of gothic/symphonic black metal such as the early works of Moonspell or Cradle of Filth, this may well still be for you given the sheer quality and originality on offer. They didn’t become the biggest new name in Black Metal without a reason.
Cradle of Filth – Existence is Futile
There was never any chance that the newest Cradle release wasn’t going to make this list. They’ve been on a real roll with the last few albums and this one is no exception. Every member is on top form, including new vocalist/keyboardist Annabelle and recurring guest narrator Doug Bradley, who both do some outstanding vocal work on this release (and you better believe I did a little squeal of delight when I heard Doug doing Hellraiser quotes in Sisters of The Mist). While the name may be a play on the famous Star Trek quote, this album definitely plays upon themes of existential dread, even going so far as to have a song about climate change featuring lyrics such as “Inhuman kind now drives mass extinction, No escape from an enemy of billions, Pity the poor creatures that suffer our dominion” alongside opening narration expertly delivered by Doug. But don’t worry, this isn’t a hopelessly bleak Funeral Doom record, this album is an effortlessly catchy CoF classic, with every track being a dark ear worm worthy of their back catalogue.
Gonemage – Mystical Extraction
I had a hard time deciding which of Garry’s many releases from various projects truly deserved a spot on this list, as there has been about 8 or 9 of them so far. But with the bands seamless blending of Black Metal, Chiptune, Punk/Screamo and even Pop, it had to be Gonemage. While it was the later album Sudden Deluge that introduced me to the band (igniting a fire within me to create my own Black Metal meets 8-bit chiptune songs) I went with Mystical Extraction based purely on the quality of the albums 2nd track, Chained Castle. The music, just like the song title, conjures up images of every final world or difficult boss battle I ever encountered back in the days of the NES and Gameboy, meshed with the harshness of Black Metal, and for me it is truly a match made in 8-bit hell. And that’s just a single song, the whole album (alongside it’s sequel Sudden Deluge) is absolutely worth your time.
Theatres Des Vampires – In Nomine Sanguinis
Even a cursory glance at any of my social media reveals quite clearly that vampires are ‘a thing’ for me, and Italy based Gothic Metal band Theatres Des Vampires has soundtracked many a readthrough of vampire fiction, perfectly matching the horror and romance of the creature. So it was a surprise to me to discover that there was a new album from them this year that I had somehow completely missed hearing about until a month after release. Surely this meant it was another dud like 2016’s Candyland right? WRONG! This album is a total return to form, shredding most of the industrial/nu metal influence of the last one to bring back that heavy goth sound, with some occasional glimpses of the bands early Black Metal days. Lady Bathory in particular is a stand out track that is constantly stuck in my head, but it’s the closer, a re-recording of Till The Last Drop of Blood that vastly improves on the already great original, that really solidifies this as one of the bands top releases.