Top 25 Albums of the Year

Top 25 Albums of the Year

By Punktastic

Dec 4, 2020 15:19

The last thing we need to talk about is just how tragic 2020 has been. We get it, we really do. But it’s only by acknowledging the tragedies that have enveloped this year that allows us to really appreciate the incredible music that's carried us through it to the other side. With pretty much no live music at all to drive our lust for life, we’ve had to make do with streaming on Spotify, spinning vinyls, or cranking CDs in our cars, and despite never being able to scream along to our favourite new tracks with total strangers, the impact of these tunes cannot be overlooked. So without further hesitation, here are the 25 albums that have propelled the Punktastic team through this mess of a year and into 2021.

25. Hot Mulligan – ‘you’ll be fine’

In 2018, Hot Mulligan released an exceptional debut brimming with emotion, hooks and above all, promise of a band who meant business. Creating a second album off the back of such a successful one isn’t an easy feat, but this year Hot Mulligan put their heart in soul into ‘you’ll be fine’ and by refining their sound, have created something special. There are odes to ‘Pilot’ in the aggressive emo screams and twinkly mathy riffs, but it does seem more grown up. They’ve tamed the pop punk of their first album to be a beast more akin to the indie rock of bands like The Hotelier and Into It. Over It. If The Wonder Years and American Football teamed up for a supergroup (yes please) then it wouldn’t be far from what Hot Mulligan have managed to pull off with ‘you’ll be fine’. There’s a lot to love here; experimentation, an understanding of writing songs well, skilled musicianship and incredible vocals, but above all, it’s the fact that the album speaks, it connects and makes you feel. [Renette van der Merwe]

24. Bury Tomorrow – ‘Cannibal’

As British metalcore continues to go from strength to strength, watching Bury Tomorrow grow into a band that now play a huge role in pushing the scene forward has been truly exciting for fans of heavy music, and with sixth album ‘Cannibal’, their place as one of our greatest has surely been cemented. With a focus on mental health – a topic they have, and continue to be, incredibly and powerfully open about – and a perfect balance of classic and modern sounds, ‘Cannibal’ is devastating in every possible way, with riffs that could bring down a skyscraper framing an emotional impact that is simply unrivalled. This is an album that brings release and relief to anyone who has experienced battles with their own mind, and it is utterly captivating from start to finish . We are phenomenally lucky to have a band like Bury Tomorrow, and ‘Cannibal’ is all the proof we need that they are one to be treasured. [Gem Rogers]

Read our full review of ‘Cannibal’ 
Read our live review of Bury Tomorrow at Academy 1, Manchester

23. Gold Key – ‘Panic Machine’

Imagine, if you will, an alternative future where Muse are still a good band. I know this may be difficult, but please try your best. Imagine if, instead of getting progressively more bland and shaving off all their edges until they became perfectly spherical, they had continued to innovate from those first couple of records and added elements of Pink Floyd, Deftones, Queens Of The Stone Age and Reuben to their expansive yet incredibly accessible sound. Sounds great, right? Well, imagine no more, because Gold Key’s incredible sophomore album ‘Panic Machine’ delivers all that and more. From the infectious stomp of ‘Don’t Sleep’ to the sweeping, cinematic scale of ‘Trick Of The Light’ and everything in between, this record is an absolutely faultless follow up to their excellent debut ‘Hello, Phantom.’ The Watford-based supergroup, made up of members of Gallows and Sikth, among other notable UK acts, have gathered a vast array of influences and expertly blended them together to create what may well be the best straight-up “rock” record of 2020. [Liam Knowles]


22. Lizzy Farrall – ‘Bruise’

Some albums are designed to be listened to over and over (and over) again, stealing your heart in an instant and carrying it on a journey of sounds and emotions. Lizzy Farrall created just that with debut full-length ‘Bruise’ back in March, and though the nine months since then have been quite possibly the longest ever, it still feels as fresh and invigorating as it did on the day of release. Full to the brim with immensely memorable melodies and a casual approach to the idea of genre, Farrall’s sound is unique, telling stories that are addictively engaging and unashamedly honest. 2020 may not have provided the start she hoped for with touring off the table, but ‘Bruise’ is the kind of album that simply doesn’t grow old, and time has only made the prospect of hearing these songs played live more exciting. If Lizzy Farrall isn’t a name you’re familiar with yet, it’s time to change that – she is, without question, one of the brightest lights in UK alternative music, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds. [Gem Rogers]

Read our full review of ‘Bruise’
Read our interview with Lizzy Farrall

21. PVRIS – ‘Use Me’

With the release of their third album, PVRIS have revealed themselves to have expertly built on their guitar-driven foundations, pulling from a number of contrasting genres and refining their signature sound to absolute perfection. With powerhouse vocals of front woman Lynn Gunn leading the charge, this record combines dancey synths, fierce percussion, and sometimes subtle yet always divine riffs to form what is undoubtedly PVRIS’ most satisfying album yet. Lending itself perfectly to a cathartic cry (or scream – whatever works best for you), this album is made for those of us who have some buried pain to deal with and given the year we’ve just had, that probably includes just about everybody. [Yasmin Brown]

Read our full review of ‘Use Me’
Read our live review of PVRIS at Electric Brixton

20. Four Year Strong – ‘Brain Pain’

Back with the same size beards but bigger hooks than ever before, Four Year Strong returned with their first new album in five years. Making up for lost time, ‘Brain Pain’ is wrapped in soaring choruses and the meatiest of breakdowns; the band have matured with age and grown lyrically over the years, and as the album focuses on their difficulties with adulthood, it forms some of their finest work since ‘Enemy of The World’. Touching on their struggles with self-doubt, ‘Get Out of My Head’ is an infectious shower singalong, while ‘Learn to Love the Lie’ is full of honesty, with a message that will hit home and some of their most developed guitar work to date (not to mention the title track’s headbanging hard as nails riff). All grown up now with some new scars to show, ‘Brain Pain’ cements Four Year Strong as true pop punk veterans who know who they are. [Louis Kerry]

Read our full review of ‘Brain Pain’

19. END – ‘Splinters From An Ever-Changing Face’

Will Putney has become a powerhouse in the studio world in the last few years. Producing landmark records by bands like Knocked Loose, Every Time I Die, Body Count, and a litany of others, it’s easy to forget that he’s also an incredibly prolific musician in his own right. As well as being the driving creative force behind Fit For An Autopsy, since 2017’s harrowing ‘The Unforgiving Arms Of God’ EP he’s also been furrowing a darker musical path with the blistering, uncompromising sonic battering ram that is END. Accompanied by Brendan Murphy of Canadian melodic hardcore stalwarts Counterparts, END began life as something of a ‘weekend’ project that this year blossomed horrifically into a very serious proposition with the brutal and unrelenting full-length ‘Splinters From An Ever Changing Face’. A molten concoction that takes the face-peeling aggression of Nails, the queasy and haunting atmosphere of Cult Leader and the mind-scrambling technicality of Frontierer, strips them down to their bare bones and rebuilds them into a new beast with an identity all of its own, ‘Splinters…’ is one of the most emotionally and physically devastating hardcore records to drop in years, every gut-wrenching second feeling like a shot of pure snake venom straight to the heart. In years to come this album will be held up next to classics by bands like Cursed and Trap Them as the absolute pinnacle of blackened hardcore. If this truly was the END of heavy music, it would make a fine full stop. [James Lee]

Read our live review of ‘Splinters From An Ever-Changing Face’

18. All Time Low – ‘Wake Up Sunshine’

17 years into their career, All Time Low have come back with their most stacked album yet. Following on from the moodier Last Young Renegade, ATL have brought the sunshine – literally. ‘Wake Up, Sunshine’ takes the things that made each of their previous albums great and throws it all into a blender, giving us 15 tracks of the band at their absolute best. Released just before this summer, the album is perfect for sunny road trips with pure bouncy pop-punk in the form of ‘Sleeping In’ and ‘Getaway Green’, while also proving the band are unafraid to experiment as they invited a number of collaborations, resulting in the chart topping and genre splitting ‘Monsters’. An album that is begging to be played live and loud, the skilled musicianship of the band is on full display, and nowhere is this more evident than on stand out track ‘Melancholy Kaleidoscope’. ATL have given us an album of 15 singles, and it’s their best work to date. [Glen Bollard]

Read our full review of ‘Wake Up, Sunshine’
Read our live review of All Time Low at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds

17. Run The Jewels – ‘RTJ4’

Okay look, we know what you’re thinking. Hiphop superstars Run The Jewels on Punktastic’s Album Of The Year list? Hear us out on this. Few bands are at the forefront of their genre in the same way Run The Jewels are. We’ve always believed there’s a cross-reference between punk and hiphop, from the social commentary to the no-fucks-given delivery of lyrics. For Run The Jewels, their latest album touches heavily on the social disarray from the beginning of the year and their messages of injustice and the treatment of the Black community are echoed throughout the record, particularly in the abrasive and hard hitting ‘walking in the snow’. While it’s easy to assume this record comes across as somewhat preachy, it isn’t. It’s an educational manifesto, a guidebook for the naïve from two seasoned veterans in the rap game that encourages you to wake up and smell the cesspool. With beats that could puncture an eardrum and flows from Killer Mike and El P that meander with aimless precision, ‘RTJ4’ is an album that should resonate with anyone who’s into clever wordplay, searing world commentary, and dexterous instrumentation. If Dead Kennedys and Bad Religion were the political observationists of the ‘80s, Run The Jewels surely hold that role for the ‘10s. The beats and delivery may be different to what we normally cover, but the ethos, the passion, and the message are the same. And in a year that’s been truly terrible, nothing is more punk than that. [Andy Joice]

16. Pillow Queens – ‘In Waiting’

Like the divine black nectar of their homeland, waiting for the arrival of Pillow Queens’ debut album has been an exercise in patient anticipation, and ‘In Waiting’ is an absolute triumph from the new darlings of the Irish indie scene. Each track is etched in the trademark reverence, humour and affection that Pillow Queens have been slowly crafting since their emergence in 2016. ‘In Waiting’ is the culmination of four years’ hard work, a collection of songs that range from atmospheric powerhouses (‘Donaghmede’), instant pop hits (‘HowDoILook’), anthemic singalongs (‘Gay Girls’), to tender lullabies that pull hard on the heartstrings (‘Harvey’). It’s the debut all fans and onlookers had been hoping for, and Pillow Queens deliver in spades, laying down a marker for big things to come. [Tom Walsh]

Read our full review of ‘In Waiting’

15. Movements – ‘No Good Left To Give’

As if we needed another excuse to have a good cry in 2020, Movements deliver blow after blow with this devastatingly stunning record. From sex to suicide and everything in between, ‘No Good Left to Give’ truly delivers everything we’ve needed from this California four-piece and then some. It’s a record that demands to be felt from deep within your soul; your chest will tighten and the tears will flow before you fully understand why. This is Movements at their most haunting and most beautiful, and we will remain completely obsessed well into 2021. [Yasmin Brown]

Read our full review of ‘No Good Left To Give’

14. Bring Me The Horizon – ‘Survival Horror’

If you had told anyone three years ago that Oli Sykes would scream himself hoarse on the first track of a new Bring Me The Horizon record, you’d probably have been slapped right out of your vintage Warped Tour t-shirt. ‘Survival Horror’ was a surprise to be sure, but it’s a welcome one. There’s a huge array of callbacks to the previous styles the band have toyed with, from the ethereal dreamscapes of ‘amo’ to their metalcore roots in ‘Suicide Season’, all of it polished to fit the band in 2020. With DOOM composer Mick Gordon at the helm of production, the video game influences are strong in its electronic elements, bubbling violently around the more traditionally heavy instrumentation in a grand display of style fusion. And yes, Oli returning to that deliciously barbaric metalcore screaming is truly a sound to behold. Coupled with some incredibly fun guest features (Nova Twins and Babymetal sound perfectly at home in this wildcard record), ‘Survival Horror’ is a cathartic screech in a year that deserves one. You’ll think it’s a breath of fresh air in BMTH’s discography, but be careful – its sharp and sudden heaviness may catch you off guard and knock the wind out of you first… but really, who calls a record with nine tracks an EP? [Fiachra Johnston]

13. Machine Gun Kelly  – ‘Tickets To My Downfall’

Who would’ve thought at the start of 2020, the biggest pop punk record of the year would come from an artist outside of the scene? That’s exactly what happened when Machine Gun Kelly released ‘Tickets to My Downfall’, firmly thrusting rock music into the mainstream once again, landing at number one in the American charts. It’s easy to see why, with ‘Bloody Valentine’ leading the charge and bringing with it a nostalgia for the early 2000s pop punk sound. Working with Travis Barker, there’s a lot of blink-182 influence on the record, which isn’t a bad thing – these are some of the best songs Barker has been involved with in years. Kelly mixes his hip-hop style into the songs, with Trippie Red and blackbear features to straddle his two worlds spectacularly.  Kelly has spoken already about a follow up, and if this is his debut in the scene, it’ll have a lot to live up to. [Adam Rosario]

12. Biffy Clyro – ‘A Celebration Of Endings’

What is there to be said about Scotland’s finest that hasn’t been already? From math rock masterpieces to concept albums, and even a stunning double record, Biffy Clyro have nothing to prove to anyone. ‘A Celebration of Endings’ is their eighth release, and an experimental one at that.|
The record contains some of the best songs of Biffy’s career, with ‘The Champ’ and ‘End Of’ being standouts. They even experiment with EDM influences on the divisive ‘Instant History’, but there’s more than enough for traditional fans to love, with ‘North of No South’ and ‘Weird Leisure’ keeping up appearances. Then there’s the finale, ‘Cop Syrup’, which is surely one of the songs of the year. Biffy start by doing their best Nirvana impression for three minutes with Simon Neil yelping down the microphone, before it segues into a dreamlike orchestral middle, coming to a close as it started. It has to be heard to be believed. ‘A Celebration of Endings’ cements Biffy Clyro as one of Britain’s best bands, and well deserving of their festival headline status. [Adam Rosario]

11. Deftones – ‘Ohms’

Not ones to live off past glories, Deftones’ ninth studio effort ‘Ohms’ is a welcome addition to an already stellar discography. Sonically rich and executed with renewed focus, its 10 songs weave in what we have come to expect from the Sacremento band and take it to the next level.
Want Chino Moreno’s distorted shrieks? Love Stephen Carpenter machine gun riffs? Can’t get enough of bassist Sergio Vega and drummer Abe Cunningham’s dense rhythmic blasts, while keyboardist Frank Delgado adds a majestic layer to proceedings? Then ‘Ohms’ ticks all those boxes.
From the sludgy ‘Genesis’, to alluring moments such as ‘The Spell of Mathematics’ and ‘Headless’, to venomous explosions like ‘Pompeji’, ‘Radiant City’ and ‘Error’, Deftones deliver a record that radiates confidence. The end result is an enthralling record that is cathartic and full of rage in equal measure. Considerably one of their best albums to date. [Sean Reid]

Read our full review of ‘Ohms’

10. Enter Shikari – ‘Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible’

Enter Shikari’s creative hunger has always put them at the forefront of the scene as pioneers, going from strength to strength with every album and continuously breaking ground with their eclectic discography and faultless technical ability. ‘Nothing Is True & Everything Is Possible’ feels like a culmination of the band’s incredible journey thus far; tracks scattered across time like precious memories, gathered together to showcase everything that was and remains brilliant about this band. It’s mature, it’s technical and showcases some of Rou Reynolds’ greatest lyricism and vocal range, but above all, it’s captivating. Every song is audacious, evocative and, in true Shikari style, contains a message to stimulate and inspire. The use of string and horn instruments, and the usual synthesizer, add a lovely warmth throughout an album bursting with apathy and love. A masterpiece, ‘Nothing is True & Everything is Possible’ is a light in the dark that is 2020.[Renette van der Mewre]

Read our full review of ‘Nothing Is True & Everything Is Possible’

9. Black Foxxes – ‘Black Foxxes’

One could be forgiven for feeling slight trepidation in the lead up to the release of Black Foxxes’ self-titled third record after a major line up shift; after all, the raw and unedited lead single ‘Badlands’ (at a mere nine minutes in length) was a definite deviation from the path Black Foxxes had previously trodden. No such fear needed prevail though, as while calling this their magnum opus may seem a tad dismissive of their previous material (it’s not), ‘Black Foxxes’ is a master stroke of pure brilliance and an unflinching statement of intent. From the spiking animus of ‘Badlands’ to the calming seas of ‘Panic’, the varying dynamics of Black Foxxes on show here are as well woven into the fabric of the record as the expansive varieties of musical influences. Journeying through 90s alt rock (it would be remiss to not mention the brazen nod to Nirvana in ‘The Diving Bell’) to the subtle electronica of artists such as Bon Iver and the sprawling brass of ‘Pacific’, the course of the record surprises and delights at its every twist. And to speak nothing of the lyrics would be criminal, with Mark Holley at his most vulnerable in lines such as “my mind attacks itself when I’m low” and “this limbo state is drowning me”; he turns personal suffering into a release for all to commune in. If this is just the start of a new chapter for Black Foxxes, you can only wonder what dizzying heights the future holds. [Romy Gregory]

Read our full review of ‘Black Foxxes’

8. Creeper – ‘Sex, Death & The Infinite Void’

Overblown, bombastic, camp as hell, and absolutely glorious. Did you expect anything else from Creeper? Everyone’s favourite cult band have completely outdone themselves with sophomore album ‘Sex, Death & the Infinite Void’. It’s a hugely ambitious record which carries on the morbid pantomime that is the norm for this incredibly innovative and fearless band. There are nods to David Bowie, ‘Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness’-era Smashing Pumpkins, and ‘Black Parade’-era My Chemical Romance, all with that oh-so-Creeper flavour. It’s an eclectic record filled with the fast, three-chord ragers of their earlier EPs (‘Napalm Girls’ and ‘Annabelle’), the Phantom of the Opera-style ballads (‘Cyanide’), the crooning lounge tracks (‘Poisoned Heart’ and ‘Four Years Ago’), and the downright beautifully ridiculous (‘Thorns of Love’). In Will Gould, you have an enigmatic front man with a startling vocal range and a knack for spellbinding lyrics, and when you place that alongside the encapsulating riffs of Ian Miles and the soothing tones of Hannah Greenwood, you have the perfect mix to revive the emo-goth genre all by themselves. A truly stunning effort from one of the most exciting and enticing bands on the scene at the moment. [Tom Walsh]

Read our full review of ‘Sex, Death & The Infinite Void’

7. Loathe – ‘I Let It In And It Took Everything’

Switching between beautiful melody and red hot brutality, laced with electronic interludes that sound like they’re straight out of a science fiction movie, Loathe’s latest effort cements their place as one of the UK’s best and most exciting bands. The Liverpudlian five-piece’s wide variety of influences is on show for all to see on an album that’s almost impossible to definitively label as any one genre. While on the face of it this is a metalcore album, Loathe blend in elements of extreme metal, shoegaze, emo, and glitchy electronics but despite this variety, the album holds together as a cohesive and satisfying whole, and the quality is sky-high throughout. ‘I Let It In And It Took Everything’ is the sound of a band who are ambitious, supremely confident, and have one hell of a bright future ahead of them. [Ash Bebbington]

Read our full review of ‘I Let It In And It Took Everything’
Read our interview with Loathe
Read our live review of Loathe at Omeara, London

6. Spanish Love Songs – ‘Brave Faces Everyone’

Having set the bar high with 2018’s ‘Schmaltz’, it was always going to be difficult for Spanish Love Songs to match its importance. With personal songs that ache with angst, ‘Schmaltz’ became the soundtrack for sad 20-somethings who were coming to grips with adulthood. With ‘Brave Faces Everyone’, their craft for telling homespun stories in an evocative way is back, featuring more heart breaking narratives than whatever the saddest Pixar film is (it’s ‘Up’, surely). Tackling drug and alcohol abuse, loss, the general shit state of the world and the monotony of life, there’s a potential for the overarching feel of the record to be overwhelmingly depressing – and yet, it never feels like that. Lines like “half my friends are dead / the other half are depressed” from ‘Generation Loss’ should build a tidal wave of anxiety inducing sadness, but vocalist Dylan Slocum manages to wrangle it all together into a call to arms instead of a cry for help. With his distinctive vibrato voice and the rousing instrumentation, there’s a sincerity that’s ever present. It’s infinitely relatable, almost painfully so, but that’s what makes it memorable. It’s the sort of album you could blast out with the car windows down, or quietly whilst you’re hiding under the covers – every listen will bring something new to the forefront; a hook, a phrase, a feeling that will stick in your mind like PVA glue. This isn’t a perfect album by any stretch, but it’s damn close. For those who appreciate poetic storytelling to compelling music, ‘Brave Faces Everyone’ is one for you. [Andy Joice]

Read our full review of ‘Brave Faces Everyone’

5. Boston Manor – ‘GLUE’

Boston Manor were one of the many bands expecting to tour in support of a new record this year, and one of the many who have been left unable to do so for the best part of a year. By no means, however, did this limit the record’s ability to pack a punch. Potentially a little polarising at first, ‘GLUE’ saw Boston Manor colouring so far out of the lines that they ventured into a new colouring book altogether. Themes of self-doubt, depression and anger are delivered through the use of synths and autotune, building on the band’s pop-punk foundations. Raising goosebumps aplenty, this record leaves no doubt in our minds that Boston Manor will be assaulting our eardrums in the best way possible for years to come. [Yasmin Brown]

Read our full review of ‘GLUE’
Read our review of Boston Manor’s livestreamed show at Blackpool Tower

4. Palm Reader – ‘Sleepless’

‘Sleepless’ sees Palm Reader operating at their absolute finest, introducing a treasure trove of atmospheric sounds and cinematic expansiveness to their already powerful formula. A band that were once frequently compared to The Dillinger Escape Plan for both their seething material and chaotic live show, this record definitively shakes off all those comparisons and sees them stand confidently on their own feet as a band that have come into their own.
The ferocious and punishing side of their sound hasn’t disappeared, which songs like ‘Stay Down’ make crystal clear, but they’ve revealed a very raw vulnerability that displays them in a whole new light. The captivating melodies of ‘Hold/Release’, the pained ode to motherly strength in ‘Willow’, the haunting allure of ‘A Bird and Its Feathers’, the dreamy ‘False Thirst’, the goosebump-inducing ‘Both Ends Of The Rope’ – it all comes together to create an emotionally charged journey that you won’t get tired of embarking on. An utterly enchanting release from one of the UK’s finest bands. [Dave Stewart]

Read our full review of ‘Sleepless’
Read our live review of Palm Reader’s support slot with Employed To Serve

3. Svalbard – ‘When I Die, Will I Get Better?’

In 2018 Svalbard released the impressive sophomore album ‘It’s Hard to Have Hope’, an angry mix of abrasive punk fused with metal and melodic guitar lines. It would’ve been easy for the band to just repeat the formula for their new album, but they haven’t – on ‘When I Die, Will I Get Better?’ they’ve expanded on everything that came before to create an experience that’s more intense in every possible way. Put simply, they’ve melded the vicious and expansive sound that defined their previous work with a greater focus on shoegazing and clean singing, but it’s far more than that. Their music has become a study in mood and atmosphere, be it spacious or crushing, and it doesn’t make for an easy listen. With lyrics directly addressing issues like misogyny and the discourse on mental health, you’re forced to confront their frightening power head on, and that’s the album’s greatest strength – it doesn’t shy away from its aims. Crammed with evocative soundscapes that flow gracefully between angry, furious and achingly beautiful, ‘When I Die, Will I Get Better?’ is one of the year’s fiercest and most striking records. [Ian Kenworthy]

Read our full review of ‘When I Die, Will I Get Better’

2. Touché Amoré – ‘Lament’

It was always going to be a difficult task for Touché Amoré to follow up 2016’s devastating modern classic ‘Stage Four’, but with ‘Lament’ the band came close to matching their previous album’s intensity – all while expanding their horizons further than ever before. The band have added in new musical textures, unexpected influences, and even their version of a piano ballad, making it a dynamic and fascinating listen. Vocalist Jeremy Bolm puts in another heart-on-his sleeve performance, screaming intensely personal stories about loss, love, and the pressure on his shoulders after Stage Four’ resonated with so many. Is ‘Lament’ as good as that record? Not quite, but it is a brilliant follow up, and an album that cements Touché Amoré as one of the best post-hardcore bands around. [James Lillywhite]

Read our full review of ‘Lament’

1. Code Orange – ‘Underneath’

There isn’t a band that can hold a candle to Code Orange. Not even one. Even if there was, they’d find that candle getting promptly ripped from their hands and stomped out, manically smashed with steel toe-capped boots into a shape that doesn’t even mildly resemble its original form. The sonically terrifying, boundary pushing Pennsylvanians have been building a staggering arsenal of weaponry for over a decade, bursting from the underground metal and hardcore scenes in 2014 with their furious sophomore record ‘I Am King’. Ever since that moment they’ve been taking leap after leap, and 2020 saw them take their biggest one yet.

After the critical and commercial success of 2017’s ‘Forever’ – an album that rocketed past all chart expectations and clocked a Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance along the way – all eyes were on them to deliver another jaw-dropping album that was just as feral, shocking, and unpredictable. If you’ve heard ‘Underneath’, then you’re already aware that they delivered a record that ticks all of those boxes and many, many more.

Code Orange went into their arsenal (aforementioned), looked at their weapons and decided they could do with getting a few more. So they did exactly that, using the new album as a shooting range to let loose upon and hone their skills. The new toys? A hefty, ominous and often frightening collection of industrial tones and horror-like samples that weave in and out of the record, the band leaning heavily into the electronic side of their sound to devastating effect.

There were worries leading up to this release that the electronic edge they’d been playing around with would soften their impact. In typical Code Orange fashion, they proved everybody wrong. From the guitar-driven, glass smashing onslaught of ‘Swallowing The Rabbit Whole’ to the discordant stabs and shrieks of ‘In Fear’, the menacing and relentless ‘Cold.Metal.Place’ to the rabid, energetic ‘Back Inside The Glass’, the anger doesn’t let off and the punches just don’t stop coming. Not only that, but those songs represent just a margin of the punishment on offer. You find your heart racing, your eyes widening, a sense of fear bubbling below the surface as you attempt to anticipate what lurks around the next corner.

Beyond the edge-of-your-seat chaos and strangely alluring uncertainty of what comes next, the more melodic side to the record and its ability to stir a cocktail of emotions from deep within is stunning. The melodic prowess wasn’t a complete surprise, as it’s a vibe they’ve hinted at in the past with tracks like ‘Bleeding Into The Blur’ and ‘Dream2’, but expanding their sonic palette allowed them to delve deeper and find some gold buried within the void. There’s the dark hook-laden ‘Sulfur Surrounding’, the expansive synth-infused ‘A Sliver’, the distress-ridden rock-styled ‘Autumn and Carbine’ and the unnerving, undeniably captivating title track, all bursting streams of light through the tempestuous black cloud that is the rest of the record.

‘Underneath’ is, for want of a better word, a masterpiece. It’s ambitious, bold, brash, crushing, horrifying, endearing – it’s everything that you could’ve wanted and more. It’s a gigantic step forwards from what they did on ‘Forever’, but it’s not such a departure that it sounds like a different band. It completely sounds like them, and that’s a feat in itself. To be able to creatively push all the boundaries and keep a tight grip on your identity isn’t easy, but Code Orange have made it look like it is. An intense spectacle of heavy music mastery, fully deserving of the top spot on this list. [Dave Stewart]

Read our full review of ‘Underneath’