No summer doldrums in July, with a strong crop of new metal releases. Here are our choices for July 2020’s best new heavy metal albums.
1. Haken – Virus (InsideOut)
Much of Virus harkens back to Affinity and The Mountain, two albums fans would rightly consider the band’s high points. And there’s a story to this. Virus, and to an extent Vector, further the storyline from The Mountain of who the Cockroach King is. That story arc extends across both albums, and in fact listening to them back to back makes for a long but totally engrossing and unified play. Let’s be honest, though: storylines don’t matter if songwriting can’t hold up its end of the bargain. Luckily, Haken are gifted in this regard.
Haken have taken the heavy, at times djent-like attack of Vector and tempered the edges, bringing back more of their renowned melodicism and of course Ross Jennings’ trademark vocals. The integration of themes and styles from Affinity and The Mountain make Virus a truly special release, and one that will most definitely earn a place in 2020’s upper echelon of stellar albums.
2. Imperial Triumphant – Alphaville (Century Media)
After an array of EPs and three full-length albums, avant-garde trio Imperial Triumphant issue their first release through Century Media and fourth overall, Alphaville. There is nothing normal about the album, but some of the musical themes include atmosphere, orchestration, jazz components and tech-death brutality.
Eerie sci-fi noises usher in the album on “Rotted Futures.” These noises shimmer but progressively become louder before the clunk of the bass and drums come in. The rhythm section is very important on Alphaville. The bass is upfront and often takes lead, cutting through the chaotic din of the drums. Organs and other orchestral elements create twisted interludes as heard on the end of “Rotted Futures.” “Transmission to Mercury” features a jazz opening with brass that appears during the death metal moments. The Voivod cover “Experiment” fits well for the band’s technical style. Whether it’s bewildering fast crescendos, chunky grooves, trippy effects, oddly timed death metal or peculiar orchestrations, Alphaville will keep listeners guessing what comes next.
3. High Spirits – Hard To Stop (High Roller)
These are strange times, and let’s face it, we could all use a lift now and again these days. That’s where High Spirits come in. If there is one thing High Spirits have a knack for, it is crafting earworm hard rock, and Hard To Stop is no exception. Eight of the nine songs on this album have a timeless, almost instantly-recognizable feel to them, allowing one to hum along knowingly on the first listen.
Heavy music doesn’t always have to be breaking boundaries and pushing the limits of extremity. There’s something deeply satisfying in listening to music of any sub-genre that is well-written, performed, and produced, and that’s just what High Spirits have delivered once again. Hard To Stop will go down as the top retro hard rock album of the year. Go listen to it, and let it lighten up your mood in these dark times.
4. Gaerea – Limbo (Season Of Mist)
After issuing their full-length debut in 2018, the Portuguese black metal troupe Gaerea have signed with Season Of Mist for their sophomore effort Limbo.
Lengthy compositions are the rule in the self described “cathartic black metal” songs on Limbo. Opener “To Ain” clocks in at over 11 minutes while the closer “Mare” is more than 13 minutes long. That gives the band plenty of room to explore various intensities and textures. They go from stifling black metal to ambient sections to regal mid-paced sections and back again, having no problem keeping the listener engaged throughout. They are also able to shift the emotional timbre of the songs from menacing to melancholy, making for an engaging release.
5. Ensiferum – Thalassic (Metal Blade)
Finnish folksters Ensiferum have been around for more than two decades, but there is one thing they haven’t done until now: release an album built around a theme. Their eighth full-length revolves around the sea and water, with the title Thalassic an ancient Greek word meaning “of or related to seas.”
The album opens with an orchestral instrumental, but the album overall doesn’t have quite as many symphonic elements as their previous work. The most notable symphonic-based song is the epic “Cold Northland (Vainamoinen Part III).” What it does have is rousing, folk-tinged melodic death anthem like “Andromeda” and “Run From The Crushing Tide.” Those are balanced with mellower tracks like “One With The Sea” that relies exclusively on melodic vocals and “Midsummer Magic” that’s the folkiest song on the album. Thalassic is another varied release from Ensiferum that follows their traditional template while still forging ahead.
6. Boris – NO (Self)
The prolific and eclectic Japanese band Boris generally have multiple releases per year, whether it be standalone full-lengths, collaborations or live albums. After a collaboration with Z.O.A. earlier this year following three albums an EP and a compilation in 2019, they are self-releasing NO.
The album kicks off with the relatively straightforward instrumental “Genesis” before launching into a diverse collection of songs from the punk-influenced “Anti-Gone” to the noisey “Temple Of Hatred” to the chaotic “Fundamental Error,” a cover of a song from Japanese hardcore punk legends Gudon. There are a lot of blazing fast tracks along with glacially slow numbers like “Zerkalo.” Boris’ music is always interesting, pushing boundaries and constantly shifting, and no matter how many albums they release per year the quality always remains high.
Other 2020 Monthly Best Metal Albums Lists
January 2020 Best Heavy Metal Albums
February 2020 Best Heavy Metal Albums
March 2020 Best Heavy Metal Albums
April 2020 Best Heavy Metal Albums
May 2020 Best Heavy Metal Albums
June 2020 Best Heavy Metal Albums