Hello, heavy legion. Today I offer you a rare glimpse into the metal-obsessed mind of the Gorn. I could go on about how terrible of a year 2020 was, but there’s no sense in beating a dead hog, so let’s get it going.

10. Cycle of Suffering, Sylosis (Nuclear Blast)

SYLOSIS is a band I had not checked out prior to the release of this album. In the early days of the summer I was on somewhat of a NWOAHM binge wherein I was constantly listening to bands such as TRIVIUM, DARKEST HOUR and MACHINE HEAD. Although the band hails from the UK, SYLOSIS very much fit into the same style of metal as do so many NWOAHM bands, blending melodic thrash with metalcore breakdowns for a nice and heavy listening experience. Cycle of Suffering inches its way into my top ten because of its rather large list of memorable tracks that are sure to become mosh pit favorites after concerts return to our world.

9. Where Death Lies, Carnation (Season of Mist)

Straight from the Kingdom of Belgium, CARNATION is another band I was lucky enough to discover this year. CARNATION is death metal in its purest form. From the moment I heard the first notes of the album opener Iron Discipline I knew I was in for a treat. Like a household dog begging for a biscuit I found myself salivating to the sounds of tracks such as Malformed Regrowth and Sepulcher of Alteration (hit that play button if you haven’t yet), but it’s not all pit starters throughout the album. The final two songs, Reincarnation and In Chains Abysmal, see the band playing a slower, almost death/doom sound. The MVP of this album has to be Simon Duson for his powerhouse vocal performance that would make even WHITECHAPEL’s Phil Bozeman’s gut contort and buttocks clench. For fans of Sweden’s BLOODBATH and USA’s all-mighty CANNIBAL CORPSE, Where Death Lies is a must-have album.

8. Monarchy of Shadows, Tombs (Season of Mist)

Blackened metal project TOMBS was kind enough to bless us with not one but two new and fantastic albums this year. With all due respect to TOMBS’ 2020 full length album, Under Sullen Skies, it is their relatively long EP Monarchy of Shadows which sits in the eight-hole of this list (clocking in at exactly 13 seconds short of 35 minutes, I feel it is fair to rank this EP among 2020 full lengths, whether the band agrees or not). The Brooklyn, NY band is known for its signature blackened sludge sound which was notoriously showcased on their 2017 album The Grand Annihilation (my personal favorite release from that year and my introduction to the band). However, because of songs like Once Falls the Guillotine and Necro Alchemy, Monarchy is best described as blackened death metal, reminiscent of BEHEMOTH’s The Satanist and its follow-up I Loved You at Your Darkest. I, being a huge BEHEMOTH fan, absolutely loved the direction TOMBS went with Monarchy. If you want some good old-fashioned TOMBS then check out Under Sullen Skies. If you want to hear what could be their most exciting release to date, this is it.

7. Utgard, Enslaved (Nuclear Blast)

ENSLAVED has been one of my favorite bands for a few years now. The first time I was exposed to my Norwegian metal heroes was in a live setting, opening for AMON AMARTH in the frozen February of 2014 in downtown Lawrence, KS. SKELETONWITCH also played at that show. AMON was great to see live. At the time it was the heaviest show I had been to and I had no idea what to expect from the openers. I remember the speed of SKELETONWITCH and the mosh pits that followed were a frightening sight and sound for the young Gorn to behold. Keeping a good distance from the action, I eagerly awaited the Swedish headliner, but ENSLAVED was up next. I was intrigued by the diverse sounds of the progressive black/viking metal group; their performance basically put black metal on my radar, though I wouldn’t get deep into the genre for a few more years. Being a big prog fan in the middle years of the 2010s, I thoroughly got into ENSLAVED with their 2015 album In Times and 2017’s E (later on I got into their back catalogue as well). This brings me to the crux of this review. Like In Times and E, Utgard falls on the progressive metal side of ENSLAVED. I view Utgard as the finalized sound ENSLAVED has been going for with these last three albums. The songs aren’t too long but still have a lot of depth to them. Utgard is kind of like RUSH’s Moving Pictures in that it is prog without being too pretentious or self-indulging. The leading single Homebound is without question the best track on the album. It features soaring clean vocals from drummer Iver Sandøy (the newest musician to enter the band’s lineup) as well as surprisingly moving lyrics. Before I finish up this long entry, I’d like to give a shout out to the song Flight of Thought and Memory; a song named for Odin’s ravens Huginn and Muninn from Norse mythology. This song title blew my mind since I have a tattoo of two ravens on my right oblique honoring my Norwegian ancestors. The fact that one of my favorite bands has a song title like that is gravy on the turkey. Am I biased towards ENSLAVED? Hell yeah I am!

6. Reluctant Hero, Killer Be Killed (Nuclear Blast)

One perk of taking a college summer class in 2015 was that I got to drive my mom’s minivan to campus five days a week. In those days I was still getting into metal so I cherished the twelve-month SiriusXM subscription that came with the car. This is how I discovered KILLER BE KILLED. I am a big fan of the three-headed dragon vocal approach the band takes. MASTODON’s Troy Sanders’ soaring sludge cleans, DEP’s Greg Puciato’s metalcore yells and heavy metal cleans, and the legendary Max Cavalera’s raspy shouts give this band an arsenal of talent to work with. Not to mention the gnarly drumming of Ben Koller (CONVERGE). After six years of no new music, the supergroup has triumphantly returned. Reluctant Hero is a heavy/groove metal instant classic. The album kicks off with Deconstructing Self-Destruction which is probably the band’s best song yet. Onward from there Reluctant Hero continues with sing-along, high energy, headbangers up until the title track ballad that closes the door on 2020’s catchiest metal album. It’s heavy metal, it’s groove metal, it’s thrash metal and it’s everything you would hope for from a band with this much star power.

5. Where Vultures Know Your Name, Graceless (Raw Skull Recordz)

GRACELESS is a death/doom band from the Netherlands. This is the only GRACELESS album I’ve checked out and that is because of how listenable it is. Time and time again I return to Where Vultures Know Your Name. At just 46 minutes in length, the album is a great way to start your day or fuel your workout. The album is chocked full of fast, simple songs such as Warpath as well as slower, doomier tracks like Commander of Christ and Embrace the Rain. The comparisons to ASPHYX seem inevitable for this band, and that’s not a bad thing. Smash that play button above because Retaliation of the Wicked is a killer death metal jam with a main riff that shouts “get out of my way.” The only downside of the album is the simple drumming and lack of fills; other than that it’s a great record. Brutal, brooding and big are the best three words to describe Where Vultures Know Your Name. After hearing this album, Gorn has jumped on the GRACELESS train.

4. Forgotten Days, Pallbearer (Nuclear Blast)

PALLBEARER has to be my favorite doom metal band at this point. Forgotten Days is a slightly better album than the band’s 2017 full length Heartless. They are very similar sounding albums, and this one is clear evidence of PALLBEARER continuing with their spacey, atmospheric sound in the front seat. There are more straightforward rock songs on here (like the one posted above) but for the most part it is good ole’ emotional vocals doom. A bit of a slow burn. I’d call it my third favorite doom metal album of all time, behind the best PALLBEARER album Foundations of Burden and WARNING’s Watching from a Distance. I recommend at least checking out the song Silver Wings, and do so with the lyric booklet in hand.

3. Solitude in Madness, Vader (Nuclear Blast)

Polish metal legends VADER strikes back with a near 30-minute all out assault on your eardrums and heart rate. Solitude in Madness is exactly the kind of death/thrash album I so often crave. Since their career spans all the way back to the early 80s and this is their sixteenth full length album, it’s unlikely Solitude in Madness is the best VADER record. Regardless, it’s damn good. Every track is solid and the band’s playing is as tight as ever. On a side note, I was lucky enough to see VADER perform in Kansas City in February 2020 and they can still bring it live. That concert definitely got me excited for this album and that excitement was met with a satisfying addition to the band’s impressive canon. VADER is living proof that metal is not just a young person’s genre.

2. The Funeral Pyre, Kvaen (Black Lion Records)

From the mind of Jakob Björnfot, the one-man black metal band KVAEN unleashes the stellar debut album The Funeral Pyre. Every time I listen to this album I feel as if I am on a righteous journey through the frozen vastness of the arctic circle. KVAEN does a great job adding pagan/viking elements to melodic black metal. I am excited to see what the future holds for this up-and-coming force of nature. The Funeral Pyre is like DISSECTION meets BATHORY but with the speed of MARDUK ready to pounce at any moment. All of those bands hail from Sweden so I guess that makes KVAEN the Voltron of Swedish black metal. The album starts with the almost speed metal track Revenged by Fire and pulls no punches from there. Other standout tracks are just about all of them but particularly Septem Peccata Mortalia and The Wolves Throne. This album is very deserving of its placement on this list, but there can only be one number one…

1. Djinn, Uada (Eisenwald)

UADA has been one of the most exciting bands for the last three years. I first heard their debut album Devoid of Light in the early days of 2018. A few months later they released their second album Cult of a Dying Sun which I really got into in the fall of 2019. I was super ready to hear what the northwestern US band had in store for 2020. Released on September 25th, 2020, initially Djinn took a few listens for me to really appreciate it. Nonetheless I found myself listening to it again and again in October and November and by the beginning of December it was without a doubt my favorite album of 2020 and my favorite UADA album overall. On Djinn UADA brings more atmosphere to their melodic black metal sound. The lengthier songs, which there are a lot of, don’t seem to drag on; rather, they build up and are necessarily long to fit the lyrics, especially in the case of No Place Here which narrowly tops PALLBEARER’s Silver Wings as Gorn’s song of the year. Another key element of the album is the abundance of guitar solos. All of the guitar solos come at the right moment and that is another reason Djinn hits a little differently. This album is great for long walks, relaxing in the tub, staring at the night sky or doing cardio.

There you have it! I hope you enjoyed the list. Let’s make 2021 metal as f***!

Honorable Mentions

Dream in Motion, Kirk Windstein (eOne)
Fedraminne, Varde (Nordvis Produktion)
Invictus Mortem, Smouldering in Forgotten (Unsigned/Independent)
Under His Sway, Yoth Iria (Pagan Records)
Terra Mortuus Est, Katalepsy (Unique Leader Records)
Joris (A Hardcore Opera), The Hell (Black Mist Records)
Under Sullen Skies, Tombs (Season of Mist)