I don’t have to tell you why 2020 was such an awful year for everyone. On the bright side of things…as far as traditional heavy metal goes, 2020 has given us some exceptional releases. Let’s look back at some of Ride into Glory’s favorite traditional heavy metal releases from the past year!
This year I also made a YouTube video to cover the top 10 releases, so if you prefer to watch a video instead of or in accompaniment with the article take a look here:
The Top Trad Metal Albums of 2020
(15) Dexter Ward – III
Dexter Ward are a band that have no problem wearing their influences on their sleeves. Their latest album III is a very open love letter to classic US power metal and epic heavy metal. It’s nothing revolutionary, but like comfort food this is just solid and familiar heavy metal. When asked about the album, Dexter Ward’s guitarist Manolis Karazeris mentions “We’re not following any specific plan. We keep making the music we love and this specific style is something that always had a special place in our heart”.
Three years ago a German trio by the name of Old Mother Hell released their self-titled debut album seemingly out of nowhere. It caught the attention of the underground and eventually led them to be signed to Cruz Del Sur. Their self-titled album brought us a crushing style of epic doom metal, but Old Mother Hell change things up a bit with their sophomore album Lords of Demise. The pace is generally faster and veers more into heavy metal territory than before and the songwriting demonstrates a certain maturity and growth.
Sölicitör made waves in the underground in 2019 by releasing a vicious 2 song demo initially described as “Chastain but faster”, which is a winning combo if I’ve ever heard one. Sölicitör followed up this demo with a 4 song EP in the same year, measurably developing and polishing their sound within the span of a year. Sölicitör have done well to follow up on this wealth of potential with their 2020 debut album Spectral Devastation. This debut delivers on the promise of Sölicitör’s earlier material by giving us uncompromising speed metal with a hint of that early US power metal edge.
(12) Chalice (FI) – Trembling Crown
Catchy, dark, melancholic, epic, and moody… Finland’s Chalice certainly gave us a complex and memorable debut album with Trembling Crown. There’s a lot to unpack here and with an average track length of over seven minutes it’s not the easiest listen in the world, but Trembling Crown is a must for fans of In Solitude.
(11) Purification – Perfect Doctrine
Purification are one of the more interesting doom metal bands to pop up in the last couple of years and to be quite honest, I’m not entirely sure what to make of them. One thing is clear to me though – these guys can fucking jam. Last year’s Destruction of the Wicked was a very interesting, but inconsistent debut. Purification have tightened things up this time around with Perfect Doctrine and the album is much smoother and features a greater use of melody than before.
(10) Acerus – The Tertiary Rites
Acerus have been around since 2012 and they’ve always flown a bit under the radar. The primary songwriter of Acerus is Daniel Corchado known for his work with Mexican death metal greats The Chasm and that’s exactly what Acerus sound like – The Chasm playing traditional heavy metal. Their sound is incredibly unique and there’s no other traditional metal band you can really draw a direct line to, but that’s a big part of Acerus’s charm. This year’s The Tertiary Rites is one of the band’s best efforts to date.
California’s Stygian Crown are hands down one of the year’s best debuts. Most of the band’s line up has some form of extreme metal background and this is made clear in the band’s crunchy riffing doom metal riffing style that they have dubbed “Candlethrower” (Candlemass meets Bolt Thrower). However, the real highlight of Stygian Crown are Melissa Pinion’s tremendous pipes – her massive vocals put most to shame. If you’re a fan of the likes of Candlemass, Solitude Aeturnus, and Capilla Ardiente then Stygian Crown’s debut album is a must listen!
Megaton Sword burst onto the scene seemingly out of nowhere in 2019 with the release of Niralet. This EP gave us a glimpse into a new, young band inspired by epic metal champions like Manowar and Manilla Road. Niralet was more than enough to know that this was a band to watch and just one year later Megaton Sword graced us with their debut album Blood Hails Steel – Steel Hails Fire. With this debut, they’ve firmly positioned themselves as one of the scene’s premier newcomers.
Cirith Ungol are one of heavy metal’s original underground legends. We barely heard anything from them since 1991’s Paradise Lost, but in 2015 these cult heroes reformed and started playing live again. In 2018, they dropped an absolute bomb of a single titled “Witches Game” which gave us all hope that a new album was in the realm of possibility. Fast forward to 2020 and our hopes for Cirith Ungol were realized with Forever Black. The album doesn’t quite live up to the monumental standards set by the band’s classics, but it’s still an incredible comeback by any metric. Forever Black is quintessentially Cirith Ungol right down to the Elric-themed Michael Whelan album art – there’s no other band in the world that sounds like them and it’s a very good thing that they’re still around!
(6) Briton Rites – Occulte Fantastique
It’s been 10 years since we’ve heard anything at all from Briton Rites and for pretty much all of those 10 years it was safe to assume that the band was done. Yet band mastermind Howie Bentley shocked us all by releasing Occulte Fantastique late in the year. Despite the 10 year gap, Briton Rites haven’t missed a beat as the riffs are just as great as ever. Occulte Fantastique is a perfect album for scratching that classic Black Sabbath or Witchfinder General itch.
Possessed Steel are a four-piece traditional heavy metal band hailing from Toronto, Canada. They’ve been toiling away in the underground since 2010 and two EPs and one band break-up later, their debut album is finally here. Aedris is a concept album that takes us across a prophetic journey, which unfolds into a succession of mystical songs taking place in an enchanted world. Musically, this debut is epic heavy metal filled to the brim with interesting riffs, vocals, and acoustics. Possessed Steel aren’t afraid to put their own spin on it as they draw influence from multiple places.
Wytch Hazel have established themselves in recent years as one of traditional metal’s most consistently excellent bands. It is not easy to follow up a release like II: Sojourn and yet Wytch Hazel did it with grace. III: Pentecost is a beautiful, triumphant, and warm album – a quality that is very fitting with the earnest Christian beliefs expressed in the lyrics. It is not coercing, it is inviting you on a journey that is well-worth experiencing, regardless of your religious convictions.
After seven long years since the excellent Ancient Tome of Arcane Knowledge, The Wizar’d is finally back with Subterranean Exile. It’s everything you’d expect from them – slow paced heavy metal wrapped up in a mystical and strange package ala Pagan Altar. This year’s effort is a little less doomy and a little more lead guitar driven. Admittedly, The Wizar’d are a bit of a love them or hate them kind of band and well given the praise that we’ve heaped on them, it’s safe to say that we’re very much in the first camp.
The Blue Oyster Cult inspired cover art does a good job of prepping you for what you’re in for; the album is very much an exploration of occult rock being approached from a heavy metal background. We first got a taste of White Magician’s brand of heavy metal back in 2016 with the release of The Pledge EP, and while that was solid enough, Dealers of Divinity is something else all together. It’s a masterwork in lead guitar and songwriting that deserves far more attention than it’s gotten so far.
Without a doubt Eternal Champion’s Ravening Iron was the single most anticipated traditional metal release of the year – that’s only expected given how tremendous the reception was for Armor of Ire. It’s no easy feat following up one of the best epic heavy metal albums of modern times, but Eternal Champion have done it exceptionally well. Ravening Iron isn’t simply a rehash of Armor of Ire, instead the band explores different song structures and styles, leaning more into their thrash and doom metal influences resulting in a different, but harder hitting album. Eternal Champion are one of the best active bands in traditional metal right now and this is simply another testament why.
The Top Trad Metal EPs of 2020
Greece’s Black Sword Thunder Attack have been releasing demos since the early 2000s. Let that sink in for a bit. It’s been a Herculean journey to arrive at the March of the Damned EP, but it was well worth the wait. Channeling an atmospheric sound that can really only be described as “ancient” epic heavy metal, Black Sword Thunder Attack carry on the spirit of Warlord and Lordian Guard.
Hailing from Lyon, France, Meurtrières delivers a compact package of hard-rocking medieval themed heavy metal that checks every box there is to check. Given the band’s punk roots, it’s no surprise at all that their music is a tad unconventional and full of an energy reminiscent of Iron Maiden’s first two albums. A must listen EP!
Chevalier – Life and Death
With at least one release a year since 2016, Chevalier have yet to disappoint. They play a frantic, unfettered style of speed metal that is some unholy Finnish amalgamation of Brocas Helm, Omen, ADX, and Holy Terror. Every Chevalier release has brought something new and excellent from the band and their latest EP Life and Death is no exception to this.
Satan’s Hallow made quite a mark in the underground with their blistering speed metal anthems, but sadly was put to rest after only one album. Chicago’s Midnight Dice are the spiritual successors to Satan’s Hallow and although their style is deliberately more mid-paced, they live up to the legacy quite well! Midnight Dice only seem to improve with each and every release as they find their footing and that trend continues with this year’s Hypnotized EP.
Night Cobra – In Praise of the Shadow
Texas newcomers Night Cobra aren’t here to reinvent the wheel, but they sure as hell can riff. In Praise of the Shadow is a perfectly compact 15 minute EP that showcases the band’s high-energy, punk influenced style, vaguely reminiscent of early Iron Maiden and Angel Witch. Despite the fact that the band is new to the scene, they’ve managed to absolutely nail their production and guitar tone – a feat that’s rare these days.
Smoulder – Dream Quest Ends
Smoulder made a splash in the metal scene last year with the release of their debut album Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring and ever since then, they’ve fully captured the attention of the underground. It’s no secret why either – Smoulder’s brand of epic heavy metal makes for an engaging listen when paired with their fantastic lyrics and aesthetic. This year’s Dream Quest Ends EP has the band experimenting a bit with differing song structures and features one of the best Manilla Road covers around with their passionate rendition of “Cage of Mirrors”.
Phaëthon – Sacrifice Doth Call
Phaëthon came out of nowhere as they released their first official offering, a 30+ minute EP titled Sacrifice Doth Call, late in November with little to no promotion and no prior history. The band claims that they were formed “with the distinct goal of delivering ripping old school heavy metal of the epic persuasion” and that’s exactly what you get with them. It’s rough-around-the-edges epic heavy metal, but there’s clearly some potential here as Phaëthon features Vrath, an accomplished musician known for his work with extreme metal outfits Scythian and Craven Idol, on guitars, vocals, and primary songwriting duties.
Transparency: How This List Was Decided
Most of Ride into Glory’s active authors and editors at the time participated in last year’s Best of 2019 article. Each of us rated albums/releases from the year and assigned them a numerical rating and then the releases with the highest averages deemed our best of the year. This was great in theory, but in reality it was very challenging. It forced authors to assign numbers to release they might have barely listened to and it put a huge pressure on some of them to catch up on albums that they might have missed.
I didn’t want to repeat that again and effectively force authors to catch up on albums, especially in such an awful year where we’re all going through shit. This year, the list was entirely decided by myself and therefore it reflects my personal taste more than previous years. However, I did open it up to discussion with the team and everyone had a chance to weigh in with what some of their favorites were and this helped form exact rankings, especially when it came down to the very top albums.