7. Lune, “Ghost”
“Ghost” is the most face-contorting track on this list. The guitars sound like their strings are made from industrial cables, so low that the human ear is probably a subpar vehicle through which to hear them. They alternate cleverly from Djenting to simpler passages, snowballing into oblivion. And that’s when the magic happens: “Ghost” sets one up for a mirthless, speedy breakdown and then completely pulls out the rug. Lune chooses the least reasonable approach — slowing down and simply wallowing in the distortion. The shock of this moment, despite how often I listen to “Ghost,” always gets to me.
6. Spiritbox, “Holy Roller”
“Holy Roller” is probably the most frightening song of 2020. Despite being a departure from the typically intricate songwriting of Spiritbox, it’s a demonstration of their sheer chutzpah. Spiritbox’s tools on the track are crude and effective: ghostly ambience, a techno-chanted chorus and a muscular rhythm section. It’s so straightforward that it’s almost humorous. And yet, for all of the obvious avenues it takes, “Holy Roller” is beyond refreshing. Vocalist Courtney Laplante’s screams are inimitable and have never shone so brutally on a Spiritbox song before. Though “Holy Roller” is not as progressive as the band’s EP, Singles Collection, it doesn’t need to be.
5. Phoebe Bridgers, “I Know the End”
Now, I know what you’re thinking: Why isn’t this song higher on the list? The truth is, it’s uncanny how heavy “I Know the End” actually is. Sure, much of its bludgeoning power comes as a surprise. While initially a quiet song, its extended instrumental build-up is something like happy incineration. Not exactly morbid, but patiently feral and oh-such-a-sternum-punch at its climax. One guttural scream. A darker melody and crashing drum symbols. More screaming. Jaws hitting, hitting the floor. (Not part of the song, but the audience. Namely, me). Bridgers’s heavy breath simply reverberating in the air to close Punisher. It’s a sonic riptide.
4. Veil of Maya, “Outsider”
Of all the songs on this list, Veil of Maya’s “Outsider” most explicitly tackles the COVID-19 crisis. Its album art is a disturbing, sickly green cloud swirling its way into a blue globe. The track itself is a fitting encapsulation of what living in a global pandemic can feel like: a creeping sense of emotional dread mirroring the physical manifestations of sickness. “Outsider” offers some of the band’s most groovy, Djenting, show-stopping orchestral moments, and even more proof that Veil of Maya’s strength is in writing melody better than anyone else can. It is an example of well-rounded, god-tier songwriting that only seems to be improving with time.
3. Make Them Suffer, “How to Survive a Funeral”
Picking a single track to highlight from Make Them Suffer’s 2020 masterpiece How to Survive a Funeral is impossible. I settled on the title track because it was the one that happened to be stuck in my head this particular morning. The track is clean vocalist and keyboardist Booka Nile’s strongest chorus on the whole album. “You barely knew us / You were out of touch / Out of touch for so long,” she sings over a warm piano melody and distant screaming. I never quite know where the emotional beats of the song land: certainly melancholic, but inexplicably warm and empathic as well. And while Nile’s notes are often too high for most to sing along to, she makes them grounded and sweet here. I’m not going to pretend that I completely understand the murky ambiguity of “How to Survive a Funeral.” But the song is always teaching me more.
2. Loathe, “Screaming”
A narrow but honest interpretation of Loathe’s I Let It in and It Took Everything is that for the first time in over 20 years, a band besides Deftones can fulfillingly sound like Deftones. Of course, the album is so much more than that. But with “Screaming,” Loathe elevates this particular notion to its height — they can do Deftones better than Deftones can. Vocalist Kadeem France puts out some of his most sentimental croons here, though the extent of his talents lurks elsewhere in the record. The rhythm guitar riffs in the song are haunting and melodic without sacrificing a modicum of heaviness. The final minute of “Screaming” is more than just seismically complex. It’s a finale that effortlessly conceals its own intricacies and rewards an eager ear.
1. ERRA, “Snowblood”
ERRA’s departure from Sumerian Records was a welcome one. The news would have been exciting in and of itself, but it was merely the cherry on top of the scrumptious sundae of their August 2020 single “Snowblood.” The track packs enough breakdowns, screams, cleans, animal drumming, soloing and sheer whopping riffage into its curt four minutes and 14 seconds to fill all of 2020. It’s the kind of wonder that makes me do a double take every listen. “Crawling out of the crypt to bleed the living dry / In this fantasy, the villains win, the heroes die,” JT Cavey bellows. I can’t help but grin, grimace, explode every listen.
Daily Film Beat Editor Anish Tamhaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.