Our Annual Report looks back upon the strange year that was 2020 and the music, film, and television that came with it. Here, we present our Top 30 Metal + Hard Rock Albums of 2020.

In a year we’d mostly like to forget, the world of heavy music brought us many memorable releases. While we wait for concerts to return, we have a treasure trove of new metal and hard rock albums that amplify the anticipation of seeing our favorite bands return to stages.

2020 has been dominated by a worldwide pandemic, and if anything can provide us with a daily distraction from the suffering and uncertainty, it’s good music. Thankfully, dozens of bands decided to release new albums this year, despite not being able to tour in support of their latest studio efforts.

As a reminder that life is filled with comebacks, the legendary AC/DC returned with a triumphant album after it seemed like the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame band’s days were numbered. With its surviving classic members back in the lineup, the rock icons released their strongest album in 30 years.

Veteran bands like Deftones and Lamb of God returned with stellar albums in 2020 while rising acts like Code Orange and Pallbearer continued to reinforce that heavy music will be in good hands for years to come.

Most of the music that we’re spotlighting in the following list was written before the pandemic, but these albums have become the soundtrack to one of the most difficult periods this world has ever witnessed. We’ll see you in the pit eventually, but for now, check out our picks for the Top 30 Metal + Hard Rock Albums of 2020.

–Spencer Kaufman
Managing Editor, Heavy Consequence

Editor’s Note: If you enjoy this list and our other content, consider supporting Consequence of Sound by purchasing an item at our web store. Additionally, a portion of all proceeds are being donated to MusiCares’ COVID-19 Artist Relief Fund supporting independent musicians.

30. Kvelertak – Splid

Kvelertak - Splid

Origin: Stavanger, Norway

The Gist: Splid is the first Kvelertak studio album to feature singer Ivar Nikolaisen, who took over frontman duties in 2018. The Norwegian “black ‘n roll” band found new life with Nikolaisen following the departure of Erlend Hjelvik after 2016’s Nattesferd. “We felt like we still hadn’t made our best album,” guitarist Vidar Landa said. The band would pursue that goal with its fourth full-length, Splid — its debut on new label home Rise Records.

Why It Rules: After four years of relative silence, Kvelertak roared back. Where a general songwriting malaise and level of comfort brought down Nattesferd, the band sound rejuvenated and inspired on Splid. It’s catchier and more fun than its predecessor, packed with riffs and striking vocal performances from Nikolaisen. Kvelertak prove once again their mastery of combining extreme metal aesthetics with the musical structures of punk rock. —Jon Hadusek

Essential Tracks: “Crack of Doom”, “Bråtebrann”, and “Fanden ta dette hull!”

Pick up the album here

29. Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou – May Our Chambers Be Full

sba007 thouemma LP r0 Top 30 Metal + Hard Rock Albums of 2020

Origin: Louisville, Kentucky, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana

The Gist: Singer-songwriter Emma Ruth Rundle and underground sludge purveyors Thou fused their disparate talents for this collaborative LP. Thou provided the backing of heavy, plodding riffage while Rundle provided vocals and her own distinct guitar playing. The contrast creates an intriguing dissonance that unfurls into a heavy metal grandeur as Rundle’s voice soars over a bed of apocalyptic doom.

Why It Rules: “Melodic sludge metal” might sound like a misnomer, but Emma Ruth Rundle and Thou accomplish the seemingly impossible. May Our Chambers Be Full is the bridge between Rundle’s dark folk and Thou’s crushing harshness. The former’s recent solo material has hinted at more metallic directions, and the Louisiana sludge vets of Thou help to complete the transformation. The artists cited grunge and post-grunge as key influences on the project, and it might be the closest identifier for what they achieved. The raspy howls of Thou trading off with Rundle’s world-class clean singing equally recall Nirvana and a more subdued Evanescence. —Jon Hadusek

Essential Tracks: “Ancestral Recall” and “The Valley”

Pick up the album here

28. Odraza – Rzeczom

a0766348585 10 Top 30 Metal + Hard Rock Albums of 2020

Origin: Kraków, małopolskie, Poland

The Gist: Polish duo Odraza explore the many post-modern pockets of black metal on Rzeczom. The genre has come so very far, endlessly branching into sub-categories of its own — a concept that appears to fascinate Odraza. Ironically, for a genre formed on the intolerance of a “true” sound and attitude — as dictated by Euronymous of Mayhem in the early days of the Norwegian circle — black metal has become arguably the most experimentally inclined styles of heavy metal. As Odraza illustrate with the excellent Rzeczom, even a traditionalist black metal template, if given some leeway, can hold plenty of surprises and still appease the purists.

Why It Rules: No matter what Odraza incorporate into their black metal assault, it’s executed flawlessly. The classic blast beat/tremolo picking serves as the basis for a variety of experiments as intense, extreme metal is juxtaposed against radio-ready segments, such as the nod-worthy break in “Ja nie stąd” and prog-jazz freak-outs — all in a measured hi-fi recording that’s mixed to emphasize the instrumental interplay. There’s a lot to discover here, making multiple listens rewarding. Odraza have created something that can easily appeal to fans of black metal (classic or modern), prog, and avant heavy music in general. —Jon Hadusek

Essential Tracks: “Rzeczom” and “Ja nie stąd”

Pick up the album here

27. Puscifer – Existential Reckoning

Puscifer - Existential Reckoning

Origin: Los Angeles, California

The Gist: The fourth studio album from Puscifer sees the enigmatic vocalist Maynard James Keenan (Tool, A Perfect Circle) joined once more by core members Mat Mitchell (guitar/production) and Carina Round (vocals/songwriting), among others. Existential Reckoning marked their first LP in five years. On the new effort, Puscifer offer up another go-round of electro-arty rock tunes, which deal with alien abduction and other mysterious topics.

Why It Rules: It’s a testament to Maynard’s talents that he does not spread himself too thin amongst his projects, as they’re always inspired affairs. The past two and a half years have been quite prolific for Keenan, as we’ve been treated to new albums from A Perfect Circle, Tool, and Puscifer — and Existential Reckoning is certainly another worthwhile effort from the acclaimed singer and his ever-revolving musical collaborators. His vocal harmonies with Carina Round are breathtaking at times, as Mat Mitchel’s instrumentation provides a new wave-inspired soundtrack. –Greg Prato

Essential Tracks: “Bread and Circus”, “Apocalyptical”, and “The Underwhelming”

Pick up the album here

26. Vader – Solitude in Madness

Vader Solitude in Madness

Origin: Olsztyn, Poland

The Gist: The godfathers of Polish death metal never disappoint, and Vader’s Solitude in Madness is as consistent and satisfying as any of their records, albeit with maybe their fiercest production job yet. If you find comrades Behemoth too heavy on the arty aesthetics and too light on good ol’ fashioned brutality, Vader will scratch that itch. For those who’ve never tried Vader before, Solitude in Madness is a great place to start.

Why It Rules: Metal bands are often like military campaigns, requiring sophisticated interlocking maneuvers across multiple fronts to confuse, surprise, and elicit surrender from their listeners. Vader don’t do that. They just send in the bombers and arc-lite their listeners until everything’s blown to smithereens. Solitude in Madness strikes without mercy from go and doesn’t relent until it’s done just about a half-hour later. It’s pure mosh fuel with hooks for days and no distractions. I hope you like the smell of napalm in the morning. —Joseph Schafer

Essential Tracks: “into Oblivion” and “Bones”

Pick up the album here

25. Uniform – Shame

Uniform - Shame

Origin: New York, New York

The Gist: Uniform didn’t set out to record the soundtrack to a pandemic. But it’s not difficult to see the connections between singer Michael Berdan, when discussing the bruising “Life in Remission”, saying, “It’s about seeing those around me suffer and die and knowing all too well that it just as easily could have been me a million times over,” and the sight of refrigerated trucks serving as makeshift morgues for coronavirus victims. Shame is the dark, roiling expression of our collective fury and desperate confusion as we watched a disease ravage our entire way of life.

Why It Rules: Expanded just so with the addition of drummer Mike Sharp, Uniform found their missing limb, and with it, a strengthening and toning of their already muscular take on industrial/darkwave-inspired heavy rock. If the despair and fury coursing through every last moment of this noisy, abrasive assault isn’t touching a nerve deep within, the sheer volume and rumbling low end of these eight songs should be enough to wake you the f**k up to reality. –Robert Ham

Essential Tracks: “This Won’t End Well”, “I Am the Cancer”, and “Life in Remission”

Pick up the album here.

24. Testament – Titans of Creation

Testament - Titans of Creation

Origin: Berkeley, California

The Gist: Few old-school thrash bands have been at it longer – and have admirably refused to deviate far from the stylistic script – as Testament, who returned this year with their 13th studio effort overall, Titans of Creation. Still led by singer Chuck Billy and guitarists Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick, the album is the group’s first in four years (2016’s Brotherhood of the Snake being its predecessor).

Why It Rules: You can probably use the following phrase to describe every single Testament album after the arrival of their debut in 1987: “the band offers up another serving of straight-ahead, hard-hitting metal.” And that’s not meant as a dig. They’re pros at their craft, and they continue to thrash mightily on the album opener “Children of the Next Level”, provide surprising boogie riffing with “Dream Deceiver” and a tune that shows the many facets of vocalist Chuck Billy, “Night of the Witch”. Three decades into their career, and Testament continue on the thrash path throughout Titans of Creation. —Greg Prato

Essential Tracks: “Night of the Witch” and “Children of the Next Level”

Pick up the album here

23. Oranssi Pazuzu – Mestarin Kynsi

Oranssi Pazuzu - Mestarin Kynsi

Origin: Tampere, Finland

The Gist: Oranssi Pazuzu exploded into the metal spotlight in 2016 with their album Värähtelijä. The band seamlessly blended black metal, adventurous psychedelic rock, and shoegaze, proving they can create a unique masterclass atmosphere that can best be described as haunting. Oranssi Pazuzu seem to effortlessly possess some of metal’s most coveted traits: adventurous, sinister, eerie, and heavy while still being calculated and germane. After spending four years on their follow-up, Mestarin Kynsi, it’s safe to say this was one of underground metal’s most anticipated releases of the year.

Why it Rules: Värähtelijä always sounded like a black metal album with psychedelic elements. Mestarin Kynsi flipped that formula and became the most adventurous and winding album of the band’s career by honing in on expansive psych-rock song structures. The sprawling ambition and scope of these tracks is evident of a mature band with no fear of taking risks. Every track is a monumental psychedelic trip through dark progressive buildups with pummeling post-rock climaxes. Mestarin Kynsi is controlled chaos executed at the highest level. This release is going to divide the band’s fans when litigating Oranssi Pazuzu’s best album. Thankfully when picking between Värähtelijä and Mestarin Kynsi there is no wrong choice. —TJ Kliebhan

Essential Tracks: “Uusi teknokratia” and “Ilmestys”

Pick up the album here

22. Katatonia – City Burials

Katatonia - City Burials

Origin: Stockholm, Sweden

The Gist: Sweden’s most sophisticated goth metallers, Katatonia, have been on hiatus for four years, focusing on their death metal revival side project, Bloodbath, with such intensity that their 11th album, City Burials, came as almost a surprise. The long pause seems to have done the band some good — after a string of somewhat repetitive records, their latest hits with uncommon energy and personality.

Why It Rules: Katatonia always excelled at mid-paced, crooning sing-alongs and there’s plenty of those to be had here, but they also turn up the heat a few times to great effect. Lead single “Lacquer” finds them incorporating trip-hop elements with aplomb while on the arena-ready “Winter of our Passing”, singer Jonas Renske delivers maybe his most expressive performance in a decade. Don’t skip their climate dysphoria-inspired tour-de-force, “Flicker”, either. —Joseph Schafer

Essential Tracks: “Lacquer”, “Winter of our Passing”, and “Flicker”

Pick up the album here

21. Killer Be Killed – Reluctant Hero

Killer Be Killed

Origin: Various locations

The Gist: The term “Supergroup” is thrown around quite a bit, but in the case of Killer Be Killed, this truly is a super group.  Comprised of members Greg Puciato (ex-Dillinger Escape Plan), Max Cavalera (Soulfly, ex-Sepultura), Troy Sanders (Mastodon), and Ben Koller (Converge), Killer Be Killed returned six years after their self-titled debut with a sophomore offering this year, Reluctant Hero.

Why It Rules: It’s not common that you have a band comprised of four personalities as strong as Killer Be Killed (and also, three strong and distinguishable vocalists working together under the same banner), but Reluctant Hero shows a surprising chemistry between the noteworthy musicians. Case in point, the track “Dream Gone Bad”, packed with rage n’ riffs from beginning to end (the verses), but also, melodic morsels sprinkled throughout (the chorus). Killer Be Killed most certainly avoided the dreaded “sophomore jinx” with the arrival of Reluctant Hero. —Greg Prato

Essential Tracks: “Dream Gone Bad”, “Deconstructing Self-Destruction”, and “Inner Calm from Outer Storms”

Pick up the album here


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