Beneath the land of warriors and magicians where Marco resides and compiles best of traditional heavy metal releases of the past, are the moldy catacombs where darker parts of Ride Into Glory dwell and the occult tunes echo. Here in our coven, we wanted to make a list of best releases of the year of the plague.
Note that the following list is not necessarily “my favourite extreme metal releases of 2020” but more about the bands that I think fit the scope of our Into the Coven segment – be it bands who play black metal with a heavy dose of traditional metal sound, bands who have an emphasis on the occult sound, or bands who follow the old school path of Bathory, ignoring all the modern trends. There is actually a good amount of variety in sound below.
Top 20 Into the Coven Releases of 2020
(20) Reaper “Unholy Nordic Noise”
“Unholy Nordic Noise” came very early at the beginning of the year. In fact, if Reaper keep the pace and their new album will come out early in 2021 in the same fashion. Their debut full-length continued where their demo from a year ago left off and delivered a great hit of Bathory worshipping old school black metal. This one is for those times when you want nothing but to the point, simple, speedy metal just like Quorthon in the 80s would have liked.
(19) Hexenbrett “Zweite Beschwörung: Ein Kind zu töten”
Hexenbrett’s demo from 2018 was one of the most promising metal debuts of recent times for me – quirky, weird, even funny in a way, but somehow it never felt gimmicky and had very solid song writing. One year later, this time we have their debut full-length, with a very confusing album cover which, for the better or worse, does an excellent job of representing their style. A good description for this band is, half in jest, “Malokarpatan if they watched Suspiria instead of reading old folk tales”.
(18) Sodality “Gothic”
This one is here as a tribute to Timo Ketola, the Finnish artist who passed away in 2020. Originally planned to come out of his label, Dauthus, “Gothic” is a very dark, simplistic yet elegant statement. Featuring Mark of the Devil (Cultes des Ghoules) on vocals and T. Kaos (Death Like Mass, Lvcifyre) on instruments, and mastered by Old Coffin Spirit (Doombringer, Bestial Raids) this album is worth hearing even without the story behind it if you are a fan of occult, evil black metal sound of Cultes des Ghoules, Doombringer or other similar bands. Mark of the Devil’s unique vocals are one of the strongest aspects as expected.
(17) Ljosazabojstwa “Głoryja Śmierci”
Obsessed with darkness and death, Ljosazabojstwa from Belarus released their full-length this year after several EPs. With a healthy bit of death metal as the driving force, their sound is still rooted in a lot of old school influences. Mortuary Drape’s occult black metal sound shines through the more aggressive parts. They do a very good job of songwriting when it comes to long structured tracks as well.
(16) Ominous Resurrection “Judgement”
The never ending wait for the third Negative Plane album continues… In the meantime, we have new releases from their side projects: last year had Funereal Presence’s second full length, and this year followed suit with the second album of Ominous Resurrection. I think the main reason this one didn’t gain traction as much as Funereal Presence’s “Achaitus” did is the production and the sound. It definitely makes the album harder to listen to and makes great details harder to pick up on. But if you give “Judgement” a chance it deserves, it unravels a lot of brilliant riffs and songwriting.
(15) The Spirit Cabinet “Bloodlines”
The Spirit Cabinet are probably one of the most surprising secrets of heavy metal, mainly because they sound quite different than what you would expect upon seeing the black metal background of the members: Urfaust, Cirith Gorgor, or Zwartketterij amongst others. Some of them admittedly have a past in more traditional side of metal in Hooded Priest but even then, The Spirit Cabinet is its own thing and a pretty good one at that. Somewhere between Mercyful Fate and doom metal, very “warm” sounding mid-paced heavy metal to drift you away, but this time with a little bit more black metal in the sound compared to their debut from five years ago.
(14) Nite “Darkness Silence Mirror Flame”
With Scott Hoffman from Dawnbringer on guitars, you can more or less expect the type of melodic heavy metal to hear on this Nite album. What they do extra is, however, throw in some extreme metal touches and vocals, resulting in one of the smoothest listens of the year. “Darkness Silence Mirror Flame” is worth hearing once and going back for more especially if you like your mix of heavy and black metal more on the traditional heavy metal side.
(13) Tok Yathraa “Chapter: Pocong”
This solo project from Singapore has a very unique approach to heavy metal: strong Mercyful Fate and Death SS influences in music, vocals that sound like clean version of Inquisition vocals – and maybe most importantly local folk tales of ghosts, evil spirits, and demons. Even though a lot of lyrics are in English, this album (as well as other releases) does a great job of creating a very unique “local feeling” atmosphere. If you have to check out one album from this list that you weren’t familiar with, I would recommend prioritizing this one very high! If you want more than the album, he also released some other songs on EPs and has a new album coming out in February 2021.
(12) Draghkar “At the Crossroads of Infinity”
One of the two albums on this list rooted in death metal sound instead of black is “At the Crossroads of Infinity”. It does not only pay the due respect to old, forgotten styles of melodic death metal but it also does it in a very “heavy metal” way. This album also made Draghkar one of those bands who improved massively from demos to the debut album for me.
(11) Midnight “Rebirth by Blasphemy”
While getting a surprising amount of popularity, Midnight still do what they are supposed to do when it comes to the music: simple, straightforward, pure heavy metal. Their new material maybe loses the “dirt” of the earliest releases a bit, but still they keep releasing some of the best sleazy black and heavy metal. Their previous album had two longer (6+ min) tracks with a mid-paced heavy metal sound and I actually wanted to see Athenar explore that even further in “Rebirth by Blasphemy” – this one is more about short, to-the-point bangers but still there is nothing to complain about. 30 minutes of pure heavy metal in sleaze and blasphemy.
(10) Markgraf “Markgraf“
I wonder if Ódio of Markgraf realised he could do the perfect Tim Baker impression right before deciding to form this band or he had known all along. Markgraf released one death/black metal song and a Cirith Ungol cover digitally a while ago and from that moment, the selling point was plain simple: extreme metal with Cirith Ungol vocals. That song made me ponder – was it going to be a one time gimmick or could he write a full album this way? Their full-length came out this year, with a magnificent cover artwork by Dávid Glomba, and sure the vocals might still be “the thing” about it but album itself is much better and much more serious than I expected. With song titles in German, album is about old folkloric tales in the true spirit of occult black/heavy metal and it is worth hearing even after the novelty of vocals wears off.
(9) Head of the Demon “Deadly Black Doom”
A much more serious approach to the subject, Head of the Demon keeps studying the occult and their third full-length is another great musical piece of hypnotising, ritualistic, doomy black metal. In the correct mood and setting, Head of the Demon’s music grabs you till the end like not many others can. Sparse lyrics add the final touch to the music to create the full atmosphere for “Deadly Black Doom” just like previous two full-lengths.
(8) Katavasia “Magnus Venator”
There seems to be a certain modern sound approach to Hellenic black metal, somehow circling around Stefan Necroabyssious. Varathron’s last album, “Patriarchs of Evil”, was not only one of the best releases of recent times, but also it was a great modern expression of the old, occult Hellas sound. Other bands Necroabyssious is involved in seem to carry this same sound at varying degrees, first Funeral Storm from last year and now Katavasia’s new album. “Magnus Venator” is what happens when you add Katavasia’s folky sound to “Patriarchs of Evil”.
(7) Doomentor “Altars of Resurrection”
Ever since their first demo in 2014, Doomentor release one of the most unique blends of different influences, very quietly, far away from the attention they deserve. Their sound is somewhere between Mortuary Drape’s occult black metal, early Samael’s doomy black, early Katatonia’s gothic touches, and Italian violet doom influences – all with their own characteristic approach. Especially after their previous album in 2018, “Opus Diabolae”, they also started using clean vocals here and there, and this made their sound even more unique and recognisable. “Altars of Resurrection” follows the style of the previous album while Doomentor keep flying under the radar for many people.
(6) Transilvania “Of Sleep And Death”
In a (probably) unintentional attempt to deny “best of the year” lists, Transilvania’s second full-length came out around New Years Eve, linking the past year to the current one. Even though it is officially out for a couple of days, I will take the liberty to include them in 2020 releases, also as one of the best of those. When I heard their debut in 2017, when they were criminally overlooked, their style of riffing and songwriting blew my mind – their thrashy but melodic black metal was such a breath of fresh air to me. This time, knowing what to expect generally, their new album might hit less impressive than blindly walking into debut, but still in some ways it’s even better than the debut. With more Dissection thrown in compared to the Mercyful Fate/Desaster sound of debut, their unique twirly riffing style is still very prominent and the album comes with one of the best artworks I’ve seen, by Jaime Pascual Sanz.
(5) Ysengrin “Initiatio”
“Initiato” is the farewell full-length album of Ysengrin, if you don’t count their upcoming split to finalise the series of occult metal splits they have been doing. This one features the band’s sound in its most stripped-down, barebones form. Completely driven by bass guitar, the album creates an extremely warm atmosphere. Even with the stripped-down sound with the lack of death metal which used to exist on their older albums, there isn’t anything missing. Here you can also see the main man behind the band, Guido’s notes on every single song on “Initiatio”.
(4) Macabre Omen “Anamneses”
Macabre Omen have always been a very “sentimental” band in the sphere of extreme metal – and this aspect was one of many that made the latest album “Gods of War – At War” one of the most powerful and heavy hitting music releases of the modern times. In the same sentimental manner, Alexandros of Macabre Omen released “Anamneses” this year, a bridge between past and present. It is a 15-minute-long epic that takes the past of the band and leads the way to the present and future. You can read our extensive conversation with Alexandros here.
(3) Havukruunu “Uinuos Syömein Sota”
“Triumphant black metal” is not an uncommon concept for Finland. The country’s more traditional black metal sound is full of bands writing triumphant and militant black metal. Havukruunu’s approach to this epic sound is, however, more rooted in Bathory’s epic era rather than the raw, up tempo black metal more associated with Finnish scene. Their new album, “Uinuos Syömein Sota“, continues this sound but in my opinion even better guitar leads and melodies than before. This album also has their most heavy metal sounding moments, even though it’s never a prominent thing in the sound.
(2) Molten Chains “Torment Enshrined”
Molten Chains from Austria released their debut full-length last year quietly, it was one of the best debuts I’ve heard in recent times: dark and loose heavy metal, unhinged just like Demon Bitch or Borrowed Time; also with a great sense of melody similar to Twisted Tower Dire or Hellenic black metal bands. Just one year later they released their sophomore album, “Torment Enshrined“, and this time they let loose different influences even further. Their writing is pretty much “anything goes” but anything they throw in mixes so well and it resulted in one of my favourite albums from this year. This one has a lot: smooth heavy metal leads, thrashing riffs, melodic black metal passages…
(1) Malokarpatan “Krupinské ohne”
When I started the Into the Coven segment for Ride Into Glory, Malokarpatan’s “Nordkarpatenland”, was the first modern black metal album I covered after some classics of 90s. For me, they are simply one of the three best black metal acts of this side of 2000, together with Negative Plane and Cultes des Ghoules. Naturally I had high expectations for their third album “Krupinské ohne”. I knew it was going to be somewhat different (just like every one of their full-lengths is…) – even more epic, also with some old school progressive rock flourishes. Ever since hearing it for the first time, I am glad that it did not disappoint me in the slightest. It has fewer “catchy banger metal” moments than “Nordkarpatenland”, it does not have the dirty, fuzzy guitar tone of “Stridžie dni”, but like I said this is all as intended as all albums are something on their own – while keeping the underlying sound of the band. “Krupinské ohne” was definitely the soundtrack of first months of 2020 for me, right before all with the world went to hell.