2020 Best of Metal: #15 Kirk Windstein-Dream in Motion

Release date: January 24, 2020

Origin: New Orleans, Louisiana

Personnel: Kirk Windstein-vox/guitar/bass, Duane Simoneaux-drums

I’ll admit that I was one of the dudes who was kind of upset when Kirk decided to leave Down and go back fulltime to Crowbar. But, looking back, he’s really kicked ass on the Crowbar albums he’s released since then. When I first heard that he was releasing a solo album, I kind of wondered what the point would be. Crowbar is his baby, after all. Does he get all of his creative energy out through that entity? I guess not. Because this solo album has a distinctive sound all it’s own. Sure, it’s still the same voice and guitar sound. But, this is more introspective and gentler Kirk than what gets presented in Crowbar. This is just a wonderfully melancholy release. Cheer to Kirk for continually pushing himself into these new areas.

4 flip flops out of 5

The list so far:
15. Kirk Windstein-Dream in Motion
16. Oranssi Pazuzu-Mestarin Kynsi
17. Forming the Void-Reverie
18. Lamb of God-Lamb of God
19. Demons and Wizards-III
20. Killer Be Killed-Reluctant Hero

2020 Best of Metal: #16 Oranssi Pazuzu-Mestarin Kynsi

Release Date: February 7, 2020

Origin: Tampere, Finland

Personnel: Jun-His-vox/guitar, Ikon-guitar, Ontto-bass, Evil-percussion/keyboards, Korjak-drums

This one is nightmare fuel. I think my original review said that this one should be the soundtrack to 2020 because it is just so dark and messed up. The fact that this opaque slab of noise makes the Best-of list really speaks more to the ambition pulled off by these Finns rather than the actual listenability of this album. I’m serious. I’m not entirely sure how often I’m actually going to pull this thing out to listen to on a regular basis. But, man, what a fucking artistic statement. I really don’t know how one goes about creating something this abstract and creepy and still manage to somehow make it a little bit accessible. I just think this is a brilliant piece of art, even though it’s one that is hard to digest. In some respects, this feels like something Trent Reznor would create if he tried his hand at black metal.

4 flip flops out of 5

The list so far:

16. Oranssi Pazuzu-Mestarin Kynsi
17. Forming the Void-Reverie
18. Lamb of God-Lamb of God
19. Demons and Wizards-III
20. Killer Be Killed-Reluctant Hero

2020 Best of Metal: #17 Forming the Void-Reverie

Release Date: 5/8/2020

Origin: Lafayette, Louisiana

Personnel: James Marshall-vox/guitar, Shadi Omar Al Khansa-guitar, Luke Baker-bass, Thomas Colley-drums

Fuzzy sludge metal from the swamps of Louisiana comes in at #17 this year. These guys also win best album cover artwork for 2020. Just a glorious album cover. These guys have been around for a few years now and, sadly, this latest album is my first exposure to them. They remind me in many respects of Monolord. Extreme fuzzed out sound that is buffered by some delicate Middle-Eastern flavored textures. Just a blissfully stoned out album. Let the fuzz and distortion just wash over you.

4 flip flops out of 5

The list so far:

17. Forming the Void-Reverie
18. Lamb of God-Lamb of God
19. Demons and Wizards-III
20. Killer Be Killed-Reluctant Hero

2020 Best of Metal: #18 Lamb of God-Lamb of God

Release Date: June 19, 2020

Origin: Richmond-Motherfucking-Virginia

Personnel: D. Randall Blythe-Vox, Mark Morton-guitar, Willie Adler-guitar, John Campbell-bass, Art Cruz-drums

So, this one makes the best-of list even though it commits the mortal sin of being a self-titled album that isn’t the band’s debut. I don’t know why that always bugs me so much, but it just does. Anyway, I love these guys so much that they get a pass on that breach of etiquette. First album minus Chris Adler. Big shoes to fill for Art Cruz and he pulls off the feat quite nicely. This album feels more like a standard straight-ahead Lamb of God release. Mark Morton and Willie Adler just kind of pound you into submission with the massive riffs on here. The band goes for a more angry political stance lyrically and hit on quite a few hot-button issues. Biggest weak point is that there isn’t a whole lot of diversity amongst the song types. It’s just a massive musical pummeling.

4 flip flops out of 5

The list so far:
18. Lamb of God-Lamb of God
19. Demons and Wizards-III
20. Killer Be Killed-Reluctant Hero

2020 Best of Metal: #19 Demons and Wizards-III

Release Date: February 21, 2020

Origin: United States/Germany

Personnel: Hansi Kursch-vox, Jon Schaffer-guitar, Jake Dreyer-guitar, Ruben Drake-bass, Brent Smedley-drums

Album number two in the year-end countdown is yet another supergroup. This is the third collaboration album from the masterminds of Iced Earth (Schaffer) and Blind Guardian (Kursch) and it continues the trend of outstanding traditional/power metal these guys have laid down in the past. This side project’s output is starting to outpace both guys’ main gigs in terms of quality of late, in my opinion. Both Iced Earth and Blind Guardian seem to be stuck in creative ruts. Maybe they are just saving their best ideas for Demons and Wizards. Maybe these guys just click creatively. I don’t know the answer, but I really hope to see more output in the future from this entity.

4 flip flops out of 5

The list so far:
19. Demons and Wizards-III
20. Killer Be Killed-Reluctant Hero

2020 Best of Metal: #20 Killer Be Killed-Reluctant Hero

Release date: November 20, 2020

Origin: United States/Brazil

Personnel: Greg Puciato-vox/guitars, Max Cavalera-vox/guitars, Troy Sanders-vox/bass, Ben Koller-drums

This is one of those supergroups in which you can really feel each individual’s parent band’s influence in the construction of each song. There are Dillinger moments, Sepultura/Soulfly moments, Mastodon moments and Converge moments. And, strangely, even though the individual parts are easy to pick out, the thing still coalesces into a unique whole. Their whole approach to switching vocalists mid-song really has kind of a hip-hop feel in a way where one vocalist starts a verse and another finishes it. That style happens a lot on here. I’ll admit it was kind of a surprise to see that Killer Be Killed (still hate the name) survived past their debut and led to this sophomore release. I really enjoyed the debut quite a lot and if you did as well, you will probably like this one. I don’t feel it is quite as strong as a whole as the debut, but there is still enough quality on here for it to earn the #20 spot for 2020.

4 flip flops out of 5

Thoughts on 2020

Well, we’re almost done with this shit show. Man, I look back at us bitching about how crappy 2019 was and it just feels so quaint and naïve. Thousands of people unnecessarily dead and countless others infected. Civil unrest. Climate completely in the toilet. The States are more and more becoming a state of oligarchs and kleptocrats. But hey, on the bright side, we got to officially tell Trump to go fuck himself. On the shit side, things are still going to probably suck pretty hard in 2021. So, we’ve got that going for us.

On the metal side of the world, things were kind of weird and off-kilter as well. Concerts became a distant memory. I only made it to three shows this year before everything came to a screeching halt (Lucifer in January, Cult of Luna/Emma Ruth Rundle/Intronaut and Opeth/Graveyard in February). I fear for the future of many small and mid-size bands with no one being able to tour. I also fear for many of the smaller venues and their ability to survive with no government fiscal intervention. Lots of bands postponed releasing albums due to the lack of touring. Many bands tried to do virtual concerts to recoup some expenses. Some of these were cool, but they still didn’t quite bring the same sort of magic of being in a dark and sweaty venue. It will be interesting to see how next year plays out for live music.

The releases that came out this year were all over the map. We had some legendary bands like AC/DC and Ozzy release new material and there were a ton of new bands putting out very impressive debut material. Taken as a whole, the quality of the material for 2020 kind of matched the feel of the year. There were good moments, but it kind of felt like overall something was just off. It’s almost as if the uncertainty of the world bled into the art produced during this time.

Lastly, a heartfelt goodbye to those we lost along the way. 2020 was especially brutal on this front. Losing Neil Peart and Eddie Van Halen in the same year was particularly painful. Others that were lost and should be celebrated are: Sean Reinert (Cynic/Death), Reed Mullin (Corrosion of Conformity), Paul Chapman (UFO/Lone Star), Martin Birch (producer extraordinaire of Maiden, Sabbath, Deep Purple), Pete Way (UFO), Frankie Banali (Quiet Riot/WASP), Riley Gale (Power Trip), Lee Kerslake (Uriah Heep/Ozzy), Ken Hensley (Uriah Heep) and Sean Malone (Cynic/Gordian Knot). I’m sure there are others that I’m forgetting.

Tomorrow starts the big Top 20 countdown of the Best of Metal for 2020, culminating in the awarding of the Golden Flip Flop on New Year’s Eve. I know tonight is going to be one of great excitement for all you little metalheads out there.

AC/DC-PWR UP

POWER UP

To say that I was conflicted about seeing this one pop up on the release calendar would be a bit of an understatement. Skeptical would probably better a better way to characterize my reaction. Look, AC/DC was a huge influence on my early headbanging days. Highway to Hell and Back in Black are two of the definitive hard rock/metal albums of all time. Their legacy is just solid and they are a very important band to me. However, let’s face it: modern day AC/DC has been a bit of a shitshow for quite some time. The creative force of the band, Malcolm, has died. Lead singer Brian Johnson lost his hearing. Drummer Phil Rudd was arrested for attempting to hire a hit man to kill a dude who used to work for him. Bassist Cliff Williams retired. And then the band went through this weird phase touring with Axl fucking Rose on vocals. Such a fucking abomination. I figured AC/DC was simply destined to end its long career as a circus sideshow.

Well, some good things did manage to fall into place prior to this album being produced. First of all, Axl Rose does not sing on this album. So, already off to a positive start. Johnson had some sort of successful treatment on his hearing which led him back into the fold. Phil Rudd cleared up his legal issues and Cliff came out of retirement. Stevie Young, nephew to Malcolm and Angus, has taken over on rhythm guitar. So, we’re pretty close to having the Back in Black lineup intact. And that’s cool. But, it’s still not like these guys have put out anything decent or relevant in decades. I was still pretty skeptical about this album being anything decent. But, in light of the many deaths we’ve suffered in the metal world in 2020 (especially Eddie Van Halen), I really wanted to have this be a cool piece of nostalgia.

And you know what? It is. Sure, this is nothing approaching Highway to Hell or Back in Black. Hell, I’m not even sure it approaches Flick of the Switch. But, it fucking rocks. It’s fucking catchy. I found myself repeatedly jumping up during the playing of it and doing a mock Angus goose-step around the room. It’s not groundbreaking (this is AC/DC we’re talking about…kind of goes without saying), but it’s a damn fun album. Another bonus is that a good chunk of the riffs on here were written by Malcolm before his death.

I don’t know. In light of all the bullshit of this bullshit year, it’s kind of nice to finish it out with a solid fist-in-the-air rockin’ album by one of the best bands to ever do it. The old guys made me feel a little less cynical about things. And that’s no small feat.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

Mors Principium Est-Seven

Mors Principium Est is out with what I’m thinking might be their seventh album. Not entirely sure. It’s a little unclear from the album title.

So, these guys are basically down to two permanent dudes in the band at this point. They are listed as a Finnish band and they may have started out that way, but I think it’s one Finnish dude and one English dude left. At any rate, you’ve got a European hard driving melodic death metal duet at this point, I guess.

So, in a way, it’s kind of hard to slag on this one. Technically and professionally, this one shines. The issue with this album is that there isn’t anything that distinguishes it as being memorable at all. As I said, it is a very hard driving album. Heavy on the speed and lots of flourishing guitar and keyboard fills throughout. But it just never stops. Every song on here seems to have the same tempo, structure and flares. I can’t tell where one song ends and another begins. The entire thing just runs together in my mind when I try to think back on individual songs.

Ultimately, this is kind of the issue with Mors’ entire career up to this point. Their output isn’t bad by any stretch. These guys are fine musicians, but there’s just nothing special to grab hold of on here. It’s a nice effort, but one relegated to remain amongst the rabble of other melo-death bands.

3 flip flops out of 5

Infera Bruo-Rites of the Nameless

Every time I come across a new black metal band, my first thought is “Well, from which dark corner of Scandinavia is this band crawling?” I sort of feel like a perpetuator of stereotypes every so often when a blackened band comes out of a weird locale. All I really know about today’s featured band is they hail from Boston and they have created a crusty black slab of metal that rivals anything coming out of the Scandinavian north. Hell, I guess Boston could muster up enough of a winter hellscape to inspire this much of a paean of misanthropic desolation as Infera Bruo has produced with Rites of the Nameless. The only other fun fact I found researching these guys is that Infera Bruo means “hellish noise” in Esperanto. At least that’s what the internet tells me. So, you know, obviously a true claim.

This album feels like a bit of a progressive spin on the traditional black metal sound. Sure, there’s your blastbeats and typical black metal guitar stylings, but they include enough interesting atmospheric touches and more melodic sections to keep things from getting too bogged down in the blackness of the thing. Overall, this is really a very enjoyable listen for such a hellish noise. (See how I circled back there)

4 flip flops out of 5