Riff Eternal – Top Experimental Metal Discoveries Of 2020

January 12, 2021 - Blog

Riff Eternal

2020 was a pretty good year for all that distorted heavy music. Probably all the angst from the shit-show everything relating to politics, environment, pandemics and social issues, right? In the past we used to go gig it out and headbang our way back to sanity when things got tough. This year, to save us from tears (or induce it), we gotta give it to all these special artists who channeled that entropic energy into unique, artful and intense journeys. Strap in, put on a helmet and barge into our wild and chaotic metal selections.

Writings by Baxtak, Rich Hobson, Chad Murray, Reza Mills, Alia O’Brien and Bill H.

Follow Our Playlists incld. our Top Picks & All Time Experimental Favourites

Alternatively, you can find the playlist on YouTube.

Oranssi Pazuzu – Mestarin kynsi [Nuclear Blast] {Psychedelic Folk Black Metal}

Oranssi Pazuzu’s latest one hour plus long EP was one of the most widely praised and crucially acclaimed releases of 2020 all across the metal community. The appropriate genre tag for this album can be subject of a heated debate in itself, but it suffices here to describe it as hypnotic whirling psychedelic folk black metal with elements of jazz, modular electronica and polyrhythmic post-metal. The album utilities element of suspense and dissonance such as purposeful detuning and distortion patterns, juxtaposing them in a subtle yet cinematic and unpredictable manner with soaring and tear-duct drilling emotion. Aesthetically, this could have been created in the 90s with the vintage style it rocks, however, creativity wise, this is 2025 all around. There’s something in this for your fans of creative music behind the metalheads as well.

– Written by Baxtak

Duma – Duma [Nyege Nyege Tapes] {Cybergrind / Tribal Electronicore}

Duma are proof positive that heavy metal is still capable of unearthing hidden gems from every corner of the planet. Hailing from Kenya and pioneering ultra-industrialised grindcore, Duma sound unlike just about every other band professing to explore extremity in its many forms. Single ‘Lionsblood’ set their stall out early in the year, its distinctive visuals and shrieking aurals matched to trippy visuals showing the band weren’t interested in abiding by anybody else’s sense of identity other than their own. Their use of hypnotic loops creates a strange sense of comfort amidst the howling abyss, showing that when its loud enough, great noise transcends all borders.

– Written by Rich Hobson

Clown Core – Van
{Jazz Metal / Mathwave}

The demented genius of this album is likely to go unappreciated by a lot of people, particularly those who are afraid of clowns. However, fellow clown enthusiasts will likely appreciate the visual presentation and the attached surrealism. Their sound varies through noise, metal and circus influences but, realistically they will sonically reward anyone who comes to them expending an album spiritually akin to Killer Klowns from Outer Space.

– Written by Chad Murray

“Clown Core is the most excitingly bizzare thing I’ve heard in avant-garde metal since Igorrr and Ruby My Dear.” – Baxtak

FFO: Barberos, Evil Blizzard, Ruby My Dear, Igorrr

New Age Doom – Himalayan Dream Techno [We Are Busy Bodies] {Free Doom / Noisegaze}

The second album by the Vancouver duo sees them joined by Tim Lefebvre of Bowie’s ‘Blackstar’ band on Analog Synths/Upright Bass. Quite a coup for the young outfit. Highlights include ‘Space for Ghosts’, with off the wall Jazz drumming Buddy Rich style accompanied by early drone era Earth, and the 9-minute ‘Aetheric Avalanche’ with Jean Michel Jarre New Age influences providing light ambience relief to the otherwise cacophonous wall of noise. Like Bohren & der Club of Gore with intense vibes, to paraphrase X Factor, it’s a yes from me.

FFO – Earth, Buddy Rich, Jean Michel Jarre

– Written by Reza Mills

{Eurodance Black Metal / Electronicore}

It’s no surprise to innovative electronic metal music coming out of France, a country that has given us the likes of Igorrr, Ruby My Dear and The Algorithm. McClane takes that crossover energy and applies it to the wild world of black metal, resulting in quite a unique offering that he self-identifies as ‘black synth rave’. That’s the sound of hardcore Eurodance, industrial techno, disgruntled growls and faded blastbeats and guitars meeting in one of the most bizarre melting pots of the year.

– Written by Baxtak

On the track: “Crackhedbang”:

Wow. This is fucking nuts. Straight off the bat it sounds like The Body covering the Mortal Kombat theme, the beats are relentless, the screaming is piercing. There’s also kind of bizarre pig-squeals in the background that seems not inconsequential but, purely textural. The impression I get is that this band is all about whacking you over the head with as much shit as possible. This is what I think would emerge if Carpenter Brut remixed The Body. Fair play to these guys, they make a very intriguing racket.

– Written by Chad Murray

Fire-Toolz – Rainbow Bridge
{Midi Black Metal / Vaporwave}

Accompanied by a vapour-wave-esque, technicolour music video, ‘Rainbow ∞ Bridge’ showcases an artist with a rare talent for wielding genre as a collection of easily malleable tools rather than a prison for inspiration to die in. In the single alone, Fire-Toolz effortlessly traverses death/black metal vocals with ambient soundscapes, psychedelic interludes and even intersperses some breakbeat, noise and blasting power-metal drums for good measure. Outside of the title track there are moments that sound like Aphex Twin or Trentemøller or even something on the spectrum of 80s pop music but, most consistently Rainbow ∞ Bridge as a whole is like listening to a 2020 equivalent of Ed Wynne/Ozric Tentacles touching on an ever-wider array of influences (as we can expect in a post-internet world) and with a clear love for metal at the core. One of our most anticipated, breakout artists of the year.

– Written by Chad Murray

Igorrr – Spirituality and Destruction [Metal Blade] {Avant-Garde Metal / IDM}

Do yourself a favour; go out and find the video for ‘Very Noise’. Two-and-a-half minutes of hyperactive noise and nightmare inducing visuals that are somehow also incredibly addictive, the song is an encapsulation Igorrr’s enduring, unexplainable appeal. Sub-Saharan instrumentals meet driving prog metal riffs, operatic histrionics meet death metal snarls and throughout it all genius can be seen in the hyperactive workings poured into each individual note. You’ll seldom hear records as simultaneously baroque and haphazardly frenetic as Spirituality and Distortion, the French maverick’s fourth outing still every bit as unhinged as he was a decade ago on debut Nostil.

– Written by Rich Hobson

Völur – Death Cult [Prophecy Productions] {Folk Doom / Stoner Jazz}

Prepare to be crushed under the weight of metal violin, harmonium, and bass clarinet. Death Cult, the latest full-length release by Toronto’s Völur, was recorded in the flesh, prior to 2020’s lockdown onslaught. According to bassist Lucas Gadke, this album takes a critical look at ritual sacrifice, a topic that constitutes a rich and broad-reaching field of historical inquiry. However, Death Cult also ended up unintentionally foreshadowing the amplified destruction, chaos, and painful revelation that the year that followed its recording would bring. It is, thus, both timeless and timely.

Völur is a guitar-free metal band, and all the heavier for it: in Death Cult, electric violinist Laura C. Bates realizes the full extreme potential of her instrument, gliding between smooth serenades, gritty dirges, and unrestrained harsh noise. The sound of Death Cult is cohesive, but in listening carefully, its expansive influences begin to reveal themselves: it combines death, doom, and black metal with nods to Qawwali, free jazz, and the Second Viennese School. From the catastrophic opening shot in “Inviolate Grove” to the final, lushly-composed outro in “Reverend Queen” (a title that pays homage to John and Alice Coltrane’s “Reverend King”), Death Cult synthesizes a smörgåsbord of musical styles into a singular, monolithic sonority.

– Written by Alia O’Brien

Lucid Planet – II [Self-released] {Prog Metal / Psychedelic}

You can’t help but wonder, hearing Australian prog troupe Lucid Planet’s numerically titled second record, if the band haven’t spent the past five years since releasing their debut floating endlessly in the void. That’s certainly what comes across in their enormously atmospheric second outing, taking the very best of cosmic-minded stoner instrumentation and long-form, prog structures with more than a shade of Asian influence (think late-60s Beatles material, sitars and all) and even pulsing electronica to create something otherworldly. A musical cross-section between Neurosis and Tool (with shades of everything from Mastodon to Puscifer in between), II is evocative of the very best of those worlds whilst forging its own distinct sonic identity.

– Written by Rich Hobson

“This is Ozric Tentacles for the current post-Tool generation and it’s desperately needed music.”

– Baxtak

Imperial Triumphant – Alphaville [Century Media Records] {Black Jazz Metal}

Disorientating, at times terrifying and at other times bizarrely serene, often just seconds apart, Imperial Triumphant have fully incorporated the vicious nihilism of black metal into their jazz palette and succeeded where many others have failed. Many metal bands attempt genre fusion on a purely aesthetic basis but this exercise rarely leaves a mark on ones psyche; IT’s vision of New York as a debauched post-capitalist badlands offers a palpable reality for their fusing of influences. A well-needed kick up the arse for a once radical genre that is at risk of being lost to the sorts of people that think that having 3% Scandinavian DNA is a substitute for a personality.

– Written by Bill H

Neptunian Maximalism – Éons [I, Voidhanger Records] {Cinematic Doom / Folk Metal}

Browsing I, Voidhanger’s discography on Bandcamp is like peering through the curtain into an occult boutique where only a few of the objects for sale seem to have originated on Earth. Eons is no exception to this. The band’s name adequately summarises their approach to music, with a daunting abundance of instruments run through what sounds like an even larger abundance of amps and effects pedals. For all its jammy experimentation, Eons does a wonderful job of staying in a plausible space and remaining intact enough for one to stay immersed in their world (a world ruled by hyper-intelligent elephants, according to the album notes). I am thankful for this, as it is a vivid and enticing world indeed.

– Written by Bill H

Torrential Downpour – TwentyTwentyTwenty
{Mathcore / Electrodeath}

For their percussive fourth outing, New Jersey tech terrors Torrential Downpour opted to distil the essence of their sound into an ambitious five track package. Within those five tracks all is permitted – from djent-ish tones delivered with the organic feel for songwriting more recognisable within groove metal, right up to stunning piano solos and industrialised, electro-friendly notes. Emblematic of a shift within tech circles towards wildly creative songwriting that still delivers anthemic enjoyment (see also: latter-day Rolo Tomassi, The Erkonauts, Moon Tooth), Torrential Downpour rang in their 20th year by releasing their most expansive record to date, with a great production job to boot.

– Written by Rich Hobson

Omni Express – Florida Man
{Deathcore / Synthwave}

As the debate still rages as to exactly how tied in synthwave is to heavy metal, Omni Express leave absolutely no room for speculation, their music coming across as a head-on collision between shrieking deathcore and synthwave’s most 80s arcade-friendly tones. It’s a mix that will act as marmite to most listeners, but for those seeking out shades of brutality that haven’t been done to death, Omni Express present an iconoclastic vision of heaviness that – given time to mature and build – can provide a creative lifeline to death metal’s most notoriously close-minded avenues.

– Written by Rich Hobson

The Ocean – Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic [Metal Blade Records] {Post Metal}

Grasping for the future whilst simultaneously digging up the (far) distant past – with themes often exploring the history of the planet billions of years ago – Germany’s The Ocean have crafted a career on transforming the scope of sludge-covered post-metal. Unlike its predecessor, Phanerozoic II placed much more emphasis on the band’s melodic chops, emerging from the murk like heavy metal’s own titanic tetrapods determined to walk where no beast has before. Their expert blend of rich ethereal atmospherics and seismic instrumentals lends almost cosmic overtones to the record, each song evocative of watching a natural wonder in full splendour.

– Written by Rich Hobson

Code Orange – Underneath [Roadrunner] {Post-Hardcore / Industrial Mathcore}

Code Orange weren’t just the sound of the future in 2020; they were a model of it. Between iconic livestream performances (ahead of many of their peers and with cinematic quality visuals) and a surprise-hit acoustic EP, it’s easy to forget that released the kind of record that will continue to shape both hardcore and metal for years to come. If Forever opened the floodgates for imitators, Underneath was the moment the band threw down the gauntlet and said “cool, copy this”. Few bands can match CO for mixing pummelling beatdowns and anthemic sing-alongs, a sure-fire indicator that something very special is happening here.

– Written by Rich Hobson

Beneath the Massacare – Fearmonger [Century Media Records] {Tech Death / Deathcore}

Is it real? Can a human play that fast? These are the first questions that pop to most people’s heads when they hear Beneath the Massacre. For me, for the purpose of home-listening, it’s irrelevant. Very few artists can deliver this absolute drilling version of technical deathcore metal like Beneath the Massacre, and for all their fans, Fearmonger did not hold back one bit. Being their first album in 8 years, the band pummel their dark and gruesome sound at the usual +500bpm constant blastbeats, dropping into quarter time, halftime, and arguably double time with some elements of the music at different points of the song. Not to be forgotten are the riffs, and dense lyrical topics, i.e. likening of over-individualism and lack of intellectual nuance in a black and white culture to Manichaeism, the religion created the Third Century Persian prophet who mainly communicated via illustration. There is a lot to unpack lyrically and adds a thick layer of intrigue to this wild body of work.

– Written by Baxtak

Sumac – May You Be Held [Thrill Jockey] {Progressive Doom / Drone}

I never engaged with Isis but enjoy former members projects, such as Michael Gallagher’s Mustard Gas and Roses and Aaron Turner’s recent collaboration with Pharaoh Overlord, so what of Sumac?

A big standout is the nearly epic 20-minute title track which conjures images of Gorgut’s twisted Prog-Metal with added Death Metal vocals and ambient Noise. The Free Jazz Metal dissonance of The Iron Chair is intriguing and another highlight. One review on Bandcamp stated it was ‘music not for a short attention span or instant gratification’ and that sums up my sentiments to a tee.

– Written by Reza Mills

FFO: Gorguts, Swans, Peter Brotzmann

Shrine Maiden – …And I Rise [San Diego Underground Arts] {Dronegaze / Tribal Doom}

Mele Oli (Hawaiian Chant) Doomgaze exists in the form of Shrine Maiden, an LA based duo and ‘And I Rise’ is their sophomore album. Standouts include ‘A Collection of Attempts in Astral Travel’, reminding me of Ornette Coleman’s foray into world music on Midnight Sunrise and the terrifying title track which sees harsh vocals layered over ethereal Shoegaze. Discordant yet beautiful. If you ever wondered what Diamanda Galas singing in a Drone Metal band sounded like, you’re about to find out.

– Written by Reza Mills

FFO – Diamanda Galas, My Bloody Valentine, Thorr’s Hammer

Intronaut – Fluid Existential Inversions [Metal Blade Records] {Prog Metal}

Trying to sum up Intronaut’s music in a couple of hundred words is not a trivial task. Vast in scope, experimental in nature, Fluid Existential Inversions draws from many corners of rock & metal and does so with great dexterity. Intriguingly, the heavier sections are often more reminiscent of grunge than they are of modern metal, with the explicit virtuosity & technicality confined primarily to the interludes and breaks. This is an unusual but rewarding approach; in the quiet sections you are encouraged to focus in on the weirdness, to engage your brain, but there is always a moment just round the corner where the analysing stops and you start using your head in a rather more physical manner.

Anaal Nathrakh – Endarkenment [Metal Blade] {Blackened Death / Power Metal}

50 years ago Birmingham gave birth to heavy metal in the form of Black Sabbath, but no less impressive is the Midlands’ rich legacy of innovative metal acts that have shaped the genre in everything from doom to NWOBHM and industrial. You need look for no further proof than the fact two of the region’s favourite extreme iconoclasts released career highlights in 2020; but while Napalm Death take supremacy on a global consciousness scale no band can top Anaal Nathrakh for extreme metal insanity. Ever-evolving, the band’s incorporation of power metal choruses into some of the most furious blast-beats ton the planet shows just how unpredictable this band are, even twenty years on from inception.

– Written by Rich Hobson

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