Greetings, understandably excited Abyss reader!
And who can blame you? With baited breath you've been waiting, knowing that the authorities (we're using that term loosely) in the metal media are preparing to coronate this year's Album of the Year picks; after which you can utterly eviscerate us on RedditBook or InstaTube and (correctly) proclaim that as a group, we have no idea what we're talking about.
I won't argue that. The only difference between you and me and anyone else in the metal press is that MA's editor continues to publish my inane ramblings. Foolish man and unlucky you, I guess.
And what a wonderful segue into my Death Metal Album of the Year pick. We're going to forego the reading of the charges against 2020 and stipulate to the fact that this has largely been a flaming diaper of a year. That's true in many respects, but is completely inaccurate insofar as metal is concerned. Beginning with the major label/established acts, we've had very, very strong records from both Lamb of God and Trivium. Deftones released their heaviest and most addictive record in several years with 'Ohms' and are dropping the 20th anniversary 2 disc set of the inspired White Pony later this week. Speaking of aging legends, a reformed and thrashed out Mr. Bungle came back just in time to get quarantined and re-record the best 80's thrash album you've never heard, the Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny. And if you haven't yet experienced Reluctant Hero from Max Cavalera and Killer Be Killed, stop reading this swill and go do that right now. Go. I'll be here when you get back.
But those bands need the spotlight of Metal Abyss like I need to be more long-winded. The simple fact is that if you're willing to dig just a bit beneath the surface, the best albums of 2020 are ones that will be lucky to sell a few thousand copies. Austin Texas' Skeleton's self-titled debut LP is the heaviest album that Motorhead never recorded. Faceless Burial released yet another mind-bending triumph in Speciation. Countless Skies return with perhaps the biggest surprise of 2020, Glow- a gorgeous, symphonic and melodic death metal record that in every possible way outshines its predecessor. Want a healthy dose of humor with your genius level tech death? Reinventing the Eel by California's Vampire Squid has you covered on both fronts. Old school death metal your thing? There was literally no end to great OSDM releases this year, including great records from veterans Temple of Void (The World That Was) and more veteran veterans, Death Courier (Necrotic Verses). If I were just awarding AOTY to a band that embraces the old school, the audible energy drink that is Bear Mace's Charred Fields of Sorrow would unequivocally be my pick.
But I'm not. The reality is that if we were to single out every sub-genre of death metal to hand out our imaginary awards to I'd never get anything else done. My wife would say that's nothing new, and she's not wrong. No, in order to be considered for our vaunted 2020 Death Metal AOTY award a band must have done two things: 1. Record a death metal album. 2. Release it in 2020. That means every subgenre is pitted against every other one in a battle royale to regale us on a chilly December afternoon.
Does that mean that I've heard every DM album that has dropped this year? Of course not. It's one of the reasons why these lists and picks are so silly to begin with. Have I heard a bunch? Yeppers, and none of them do quite what my AOTY pick does.
Germany's Cytotoxin didn't invent anything, but they may have perfected it with their 2020 album and my pick for Death Metal Album of the Year, Nuklearth. Here again I'll encourage you to stop reading, go to Bandcamp, and listen to this juggernaut for yourself. Nuklearth, the band's fourth LP, might not even be the best brutal death metal album I heard this year (that distinction falls to France's Benighted and their twisted, extraordinary creation Obscene Repressed). What Cytotoxin have done, however, is craft an album that does not simply appeal to the brutal faithful; with every engaging riff that takes a shocking yet rewarding left turn; and every drum roll that feels necessarily complex without ever sounding self-indulgent, Nuklearth is the new gateway album into the world of brutal death metal.
I think back on the albums that welcomed me into their respective subgenres. Gojira's L'Enfant Sauvage opened the flood gates for me almost 10 years ago. From that album I discovered Be'Lakor's Stone's Reach, which served as my introduction to melodic death. Others would follow. Emergence from Shylmagoghnar, Devour the Sun from Vvilderness and of course the best metal album I've heard in at least the past ten years, An Abstract Illusion's Illuminate the Path. Cytotxon might not be my introduction to a more brutal world, but this album will most certainly be that for many metal heads.
5 seconds into the opening track, Atomb, the band established exactly what this album is going to be: an uncompromising and inspired ride through contaminated lands. With the tragedy of Chernobyl and the specter of nuclear and chemical warfare as the backdrop, Cytotoxin have crafted an album filled with as many time changes as undeniably addictive riffs. Lupus Aurora's brief intro is overwhelmed by a barrage of surgically precise blast beats and staccato vocal assaults. After several deft time changes the track twists its way to an amazing accessible series of breakdowns, only to close on a crafty variation of its intro.
Really, you could both perform a critical measure-by-measure analysis of every track on Nuklearth and just close your eyes and enjoy the ride. To me, an album that equally rewards both the engaged and casual listener is a rare thing, and one of my qualifiers for consideration of AOTY. Cytotoxin wisely walk that line between the technical and, for lack of a better word, the pleasing. There's any number of super human players and bands who can record a quadrillion note opus that isn't engaging in the least. What Nuklearth is, then, is an album that satisfies the technically conscious without leaving behind those who want, you know, a SONG to listen to and enjoy. Regardless of what type of music you listen to, I believe that an album should do that. Nuklearth does it better than anything else I've heard this year.
So I think I'll end with that. You don't need a line by line exegesis of the lyrics or three more paragraphs on which classical composer was directly responsible for the scale used in my favorite track, Quarantine Fortress ( I wouldn't be fooling anyone if I took a shot at that one, let's be honest). All I can do is encourage you to give Nuklearth a shot and see if it does for you what it's done for me. I think Cytotoxin got absolutely everything right here, and regardless of whether or not you agree, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Did I knock this one out of the park? Did I really, really miss the mark? Drop us a line in the comments, we'd love to hear your thoughts!
And stay tuned. If you think I'm not qualified to write about death metal, wait until you see my pick for Black Metal Albvm of the Year.