While the established giants of the genre remained largely silent in 2020 – you’ll notice a lack of Norwegian acts on this list – the global black metal scene proved remarkably fruitful this year.
The diversity and sheer quality of releases was something to behold… as was the strength of the underground across Europe and the US.
So prepare to embrace the darkness – and delve into our top 10 black metal albums of 2020.
10. Naglfar – Cerecloth (Century Media)
Eight years after they unleashed the superb Téras, Naglfar finally returned with this spectral shard of melodic BM – and it was worth the wait.
The Swedes’ seventh album – concluded by the illustrious mini-epic, Last Breath Of Yggdrasil – showed that the band’s icy blades hadn’t dulled since they last ventured into the fray.
Indeed, in songs like Vortex of Negativity and The Dagger In Creation, Naglfar carved out some of their finest work to date.
Check out our review of Cerecloth here.
9. Regarde Les Hommes Tomber – Ascension (Season Of Mist)
Regarde Les Hommes Tomber completed their first trilogy of albums with Ascension, a dramatic record or starlit grandeur, mystical catharsis and deep anguish.
This mysterious act deftly balanced BM ferocity and transcendental atmospherics across the record’s seven songs – with closer Au Bord Du Gouffre a particularly fine example of the quintet’s approach.
One of the most exciting French extreme metal outfits of the last decade, Regarde Les Hommes Tomber built on their early promise with Ascension – and then some.
8. Häxanu – Snare Of All Salvation (Amor Fati Productions)
Ripping the earth asunder with barrages of fire and ice riffery, Häxanu’s debut made a lasting impression on anyone lucky enough to hear it.
Sharing space with some of the finest USBM releases of recent years, Snare Of All Salvation was a lightning strike of rhythmic dexterity and electrifying axework.
And it was a complex, clever release too, with subtle layers and melodic interjections creating a spectrum of dark dimensions.
One hell of a start, then, for Häxanu.
7. Uprising – II (Tridroid Records)
Probably the only black metal album ever to feature a Jeremy Corbyn speech, II was a fierce call to arms against corporate greed and injustice, and a record which showed Uprising’s mastery of BM dynamics.
Surging, barbed wire riffs splintered across post-rock landscapes on There’s No Such Thing As Hope, and A Lesson In Basic Human Empathy brought the Germans’ invective to bear in a near-crust onslaught.
A burst of pure adrenaline, II threatened to boil over with rage – and was a powerful statement of intent from Uprising.
6. Twilight Fauna – Foundations (Independently Released)
Tennessee’s Twilight Fauna have been entrancing us with their rustic mix of low-fi BM, folk and bluegrass for years.
But Foundations was a landmark record, even for this very special act.
The ghosts of Appalachia seemed woven into the fabric of the band’s ninth album, the echoes of times long past reverberating around every note.
And you can almost smell the woodsmoke and pine trees as Tavern Hill and A Voice In The Wilderness drift into your subconscious…
5. The Infernal Sea – Negotium Crucis (Apocalyptic Witchcraft Recordings)
Based on the rise and fall of The Knights Templar – and spattered with tales of torture and atrocity – Negotium Crucis saw The Infernal Sea embrace a rawer, more black ‘n’ roll approach than they did on its 2016 predecessor, The Great Mortality.
And it suited the mysterious East Anglians well.
Tales of mediaeval carnage such as Destruction of Shum and Unholy Crusade swaggered to an infernal groove, and the likes of Devoid Of Fear attacked like monstrous siege engines hellbent on total destruction.
Another nightmare born in England’s fens…
Check out the full review here.
Read our interview with The Infernal Sea here.
4. Golden Ashes – In The Lugubrious Ashes Of Silent Night (Oaken Palace Records)
Born of the ingenious mind of Gnaw Their Tongues’ Maurice de Jong, In The Lugubrious Ashes Of Silent Night turned symphonic black metal completely on its head.
A torrent of blastbeats underscored layers of technicolour synths, and the album’s melodies touched the sun and plunged into darkness with equal abandon to create stratospheric moments like Death Came With The Golden Dusk.
A mind-expanding, immersive experience, this opus was yet more proof of de Jong’s unearthly talents.
3. Havukruunu – Uinuos syömein sota (Naturmacht Productions)
The Finns’ third album shone like the blade of Quorthon and bristled with rousing, pagan black metal anthems like Kunnes Varjot Saa.
Using classic Bathory (think Hammerheart and Twilight Of The Gods) as their blueprint, Havukruunu built a record of thunderous riffery and heroic leadwork, an opus that embraced classic metal as much as Norse BM – and glistened with spine tingling moments.
An album as majestic and awe-inspiring as the land of a thousand lakes itself, Uinuos syömein sota touched the very soul of heavy metal.
2. Lamp Of Murmuur – Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism (Death Kvlt Productions)
After a series of demos, splits and EPs, much was expected of Lamp Of Murmuur’s debut album.
And it delivered.
The Olympia act’s first full length was a work of warped imagination and kaleidoscopic melodies, with an otherworldly beauty shining through the necro mist.
From the mesmerising title track to the second wave worship of The Scent Of Torture, Conquering All and the cover of Dead Can Dance’s In The Wake Of Adversity, Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism was a masterpiece of underground black metal.
1. Winterfylleth – The Reckoning Dawn (Candlelight)
So, to number one in our best black metal albums of 2020 list…
Arguably the finest album of Winterfylleth’s career, The Reckoning Dawn cascaded over ancient England’s ancient fells and plunged into its oak-filled valleys, sweeping all before it.
Since 2008’s debut, The Ghost Of Heritage, the band have dedicated themselves to honing their songcraft and musicianship, and this opus showed just how far Chris Naughton and co. have come since then.
The arrangements were bold and brave, the writing razor sharp… and songs like Yielding The March Law and Absolved In Fire rose like titans to stride across Albion’s windswept hills.
Winterfylleth will have to work hard to top The Reckoning Dawn, that’s for sure.
Like our best black metal albums of 2020 list? You might want to check out our top 10 death metal albums of 2020 here.