Tales Of 2020 / Rotting, Festering (Garrett’s Tale)

This year has been a rupture like no other. Plague and politics have beset the world in truly shocking fashion whilst They In Power have seized their moment to encroach further on our collective wellbeing, privacy and freedom. Rather than presenting a (rockist, “definitive”) selection of Albums of The Year, we asked our writers to tell us their stories of this annus horribilis, using their favourite releases as anchors. We offer tours of intensities, auditory navigations, ways of hearing and being.

As a living being of this planet we have dubbed Earth, 2020 has eclipsed a certain aggravating feeling of angst that I had not thought possible. Specifically as a citizen of the United States, it’s been that while riding a farce train carrying glass-panelled cars that just doesn’t end, and the whole world is laughing at our lives that exist within said see-through cars. The politics mimic a flaming bag full of human excrement that you find at 8:32AM on a Tuesday morning on your stoop. I have been, and still am, in many ways especially ashamed to be a citizen of the United States of America. The US feels like an apple that looks pristine on the outside. However, when cut in half the fruit’s innards secrete a black pitch that reeks a vile odour of decay, the seeds stunted from poor care.

It’s a pathetic sight. The “greatest” country in the world unable to effectively and efficiently help its own people through policy and a pandemic, only caring about posturing in the end.

Yet, beneath all that muck, was a cornucopia of new and exciting music that has invigorated my brain, and galvanized my musical being. So, before my brow becomes further furrowed by reflection upon how much 2020 has fantastically fried the concept of normalcy…

Here are some of the albums released this godforsaken year that I thought were damn solid, and got me through these trying times:

Shabaka and the Ancestors / We Are Sent Here By History

If you told me one of the most significant innovators of the past 5 years would include a saxophonist, I’d have chuckled. However, as a saxophonist myself I am beyond elated that the King himself, Shabaka Hutchings, has asserted himself as on of the top artists in the world. Of course there have been horn players of immense, musically imposing stature over the years, past and present; however, few enter a realm of spiritual power and grace that elevates their playing to a transcendental plane of understanding that John Coltrane or Pharoah Sanders championed. Furthermore, few have assumed an aural plane of occupation that ‘attacks’ as a horn player since the likes of Fela Kuti. Shabaka and the Ancestors have not only channeled the angst-ridden disgust for the ills of society and history, but also sharpened and fashioned them into a sonic broad heads while firing them directly into the heart of humanity. The music created is meant to teach, to empower, to drag humanity up from our stygian societal oppressiveness. It is one of the most compassionate albums to rise above this complete dumpster fire of a year, and it burns so hot you can feel it in your core. Absolutely pristine.

Imperial Triumphant / Alphaville

I have to admit that I was not privy to much of Imperial Triumphant’s material prior to the release of Alphaville this past July. When their previous record, Vile Luxury, came out, I spun ‘Cosmopolis’ quite a bit, but I was not ravenously drawn into their strange world. A world forged of mystery, vintage science fiction, and political intrigue as if torn straight from the landmark film Metropolis (1927). Admittedly, I didn’t even know they released an album until I read an interview with them in Decibel Magazine. My mind buzzed like a bee around a hive at the thought of experiencing something so adventurously galant, but equal parts decimating. I was absolutely blown away by the entire musical product of Alphaville. The use of samples to juxtapose sonic characters in a manner of which that is only akin to BioShock slowly warped the gold and faceted utopian ideals into what they truly were — an exploitative, blood soaked facade. ‘Transmission to Mercury’ from 3’18” to the end is some of the most beautifully brilliant textural construction I’ve heard come from metal in my entire life. A trombone solo supported by choir and brass mid track, which then spirals into a delirium befitting of a fight between Big-O and another mech. It’s absolutely spellbinding. Go listen this record, immediately.

Cryptic Shift / Visions from Enceladus

Some good old-fashioned sci-fi death metal. Not to say there hasn’t been a bountiful feast for the ears with this particular sub-genre of metal over the years, but it’s always nice to hear when it bubbles up to the surface. Last year Tomb Mold, Fetid, Wallowing,and Blood Incantation graced us with a bumper crop of inter dimensional wizardry. The sounds leach into the brain like a sentient, malevolent slime hellbent on corruption. I even got to see Tomb Mold live at Maryland Deathfest in 2019, and they basically opened a sonic portal to the beyond on stage. It was glorious; however, that was 2019. 2020 has been an even more abyssal experience, and holy Hoth does Cryptic Shift ram a noxiously beautiful atmosphere home with Visions from Enceladus heightening the harrowing nature of this year. The first track, ‘Moonbelt Immolator’, and it’s approximately 26 minutes in length. If that isn’t a clear indication that you’re going to get sucked into a wormhole, and spat out on another planet, when you push play I don’t know what is. Good grief, ‘The Arctic Chasm’ makes the virtual pitfalls of pod-racing on Ando Prime seem like a walk in the park. The album construction from the artwork to masterful musicianship is absolutely stunning, and I cannot recommend spinning it enough.

FLUIDS / Ignorance Exalted

FLUIDS. In all caps. A moniker that elicits a vast array of graphic imagery. The first track I ever heard by them was ‘Caught’ from their 2019 release Exploitative Practices. I was hooked by the blistering, down-tuned chugging coupled with guttural lyrics belted forth like some festering swamp beast. But that’s not all! The samples are a bewildering selection of snippets that will screw your mind into a pulp. Then, sling it onto a plastic tray as mush. 2020, however, didn’t stop these Arizona arbiters of aural atrociousness from putting forth their second full length offering. Released via Maggot Stomp, Ignorance Exalted delivers skull grinding sensations from the depths of some mephitic ooze. The opening track, ‘Extorted’, solidly sums up the less conservative feelings towards the revolving door of law enforcement issues throughout the year in the United States. I also enjoy the fact they continually make references about how to order hash browns at Waffle House with some of their song titles. It’s a ride that is not for the faint of heart. Nevertheless, if you’re into the sonic version of the Blob consuming you in a filthy gas station bathroom, being digested for 27 minutes, and then puked back up onto the grimy, cold tiled floor you’ll love Ignorance Exalted.

Garrett’s 2020 Top 10:

Anna von Hausswolff / All Thoughts Fly

NDR Choir, The Raschèr Saxophone Quartet, Philipp Ahmann / Nine(Birds)Here

Liturgy / Origin of the Anomalies

WOORMS / Twitching, As Prey

Shabaka and the Ancestors / We Are Sent Here By History

Boris / NO

SUMAC / May You Be Held

Emma Ruth Rundle + Thou / May Our Chambers Be Full

Imperial Triumphant / Alphaville

Ben Harper / Winter Is For Lovers

Garrett’s 2020 Regional Picks — Eastern Midwest, USA*


Freight Street / Freight Street

Fistula / The Process of Opting Out

Weed Demon / Crater Maker


200 Stab Wounds / Piles of Festering Decomposition

Wasteland Coven / Ruined

Whitephosphorous / Cruel and Unusual Punishment


ROVR / War (A Cultural Exorcism)


Nunslaughter + Master / Split

[* = Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin]

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