The Klown’s Note: If you are reading this, sincerely, thank you. We know we are a virtually unknown metal e-zine and we haven’t kept up as we’d hoped we would. The fact is when life threw lemons we were ready to make lemonade. Those lemons ended up being sliced thin or dried up. As some people complained over their social lives coming to a halt because health officials took away their “dining experience,” others lamented a legitimate concern which was their well-being. Whether we talk about health and living circumstances, it’s all one in the same. The Klown doesn’t want to dwell on this further because we all lost something far more valuable than monetary expenditures we call experiences. All things considered, we like to believe that we all learned something about ourselves and that some positivity came out of that year. Positives like these albums on this article. To put it kindly, last year was interesting. Harshly and truthfully speaking, FUCK 2020… for the most part!

The Klown’s Picks

Honorable Mentions: Redneck Vikings from Hell – Aether Realm; Kooky Spooky… In Stereo! – The Aquabats!; Epicedios – Inclaustro; California Cursed – Drain; Carnivore  – Bodycount; Beer and Loathing – The Real McKenzies; Splinters from an Ever Changing Face – End; Haunted – The Other; The Curse of the Crystal Coconut – Alestorm; Grandpa Metal – Posehn; The Inevitable Return – Mythraeum; Folkesange – Myrkur; Firstborne EP– Firstborne; Sect of Vile Divinities – Incantation; Squalor EP – Trash Talk ft. Kenny Beats; Despicable – Carcass; Wake of a Nation EP – Zeal and Ardor; Titans of Creation – Testament; Djinn – Uada; Solitude in Madness – Vader; À Feu et À Sang – Tagada Jones; What The Dead Men Say – Trivium; Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism – Napalm Death; Thalassic – Ensiferum; Limbo – Gaerea

6. Mushroomhead – A Wonderful Life (June 19, 2020; Napalm Records)

After much indecisiveness, the Klown can not deny Mushroomhead’s place in the Klown’s list. The Cleveland masked savants returned to prominence and welcomed their latest member Jackie Laponza of Unsaid Fate as a permanent member giving the band the feminine touch that they didn’t know they needed. Since their last album and the departures of Jeffrey Hatrix and Tommy Church, the collective kicked off this masterpiece’s process when the band announced their new record deal to Napalm Records on April 2019. In addition to this new deal they welcomed Steve Rauckhorst, who is Hatrix’s influence and bestie, and Tommy “Tankx” Shaffner. The Klown will admit that when he first hit “play” he had some skepticism due to their last album which wasn’t so great. The Klown was ecstatic to put that skepticism to rest once “A Requiem for Tomorrow” commenced.  The operatic overture immediately set the tone and was reminiscent of the XIII album.

“Madness Within” featured Ms. Jackie in backup vocals as well as “Carry On” which was more like a ballad from Beautiful Stories For Ugly Children but with an Electro-Industrial influence. Ms. Jackie impressed the Klown especially when she took the helm in the hit “The Heresy,” it was such a great concept song and had a visually splendid video to go along with it. 

One of the Klown’s favorite songs is “I Am the One” because it felt like a personal anthem for the Klown, and showed a great range of melody and tempo. Meanwhile, “To The Front” and “Sound of Destruction” make a good run towards the nostalgia train as the combo sounds like something that came from the XX album. To wrap this up, this album was just simply great combining nostalgia with a new ensemble, and concept. This album will hook the new fans and leave a smile to established ones such as the Klown.

5. Dark Fortress – Spectres from the Old World (February 28, 2020; Century Media Records)

The Klown has brought up this band many a-times mainly as a reference point. Now the chance arose to actually talk about this German black metal powerhouse and their return to the land of the living. The last time this Teutonic quintet graced the world with an album was six years ago. This latest album felt like a rehashed throwback to Ylem and Venereal Dawn, and both “Nascence (Intro)” and “Coalescence” would best exemplify this claim. Dark Fortress continued to wow after their long slumber with their first hit, “Spider in the Web.” 

The Klown also felt like this album was a testament to their craft which demonstrated how underrated and overlooked Dark Fortress is when it comes to listing black metal bands as either favorites or a must-hear band. As far as black metal goes, let’s face it we either assume that it’s Scandinavian or Polish… for the most part. Just to sign off on this entry, if you have yet to listen to anything Dark Fortress expect this album to get you to start clamoring for more and have the desire to dive deeper into their discography. Even if you don’t take that excessive step, just listening to this album will spark interest and entice you to keep an eye out on this band for future releases and even live shows when they return.

4. Warbringer – Weapons of Tomorrow (April 24, 2020; Napalm Records)

The Klown’s not gonna lie, he has no idea where to begin. One thing that’s for sure is that this album had some more gusto and showcased narratives in their songs. The album began strongly with “Firepower Kills,” “Unraveling” and “Power Unsurpassed” supporting the Klown’s gusto claim. As far as the storytelling aspect of that album is concerned two particular tracks stood out. The first one was “Notre Dame (King of Fools)” which was Adam Kevill’s rendition of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. If you didn’t catch on nor looked into it, the song is about the aftermath from the Feast of Fools set through the eyes of the eponymous character, Quasimodo. Take that Disney! The second track that stood out, and also one of the Klown’s favorite songs is “Glorious End.” It was not only a great song but also masterfully portrays the glorified and antiquated concept wartime propaganda that was typically used to motivate young, and newly enlisted cadre of soldiers and civilians. The song takes place during WWI and focus on an exchange between a father and a son, with the father motivating their son and the latter assuring the former of their bravery and confidence over their enlisting with assurance of honoring the family and country. 

Another track that surrounds WWI is “The Black Hand Reaches Out.” For those who don’t know the Black Hand was an organization which harbored the would-be assassin of Archduke Franz Ferdinand whose death created a chain of events that led to the initiation of WWI. Lead guitarist Chase Becker stood out more than usual with his awesome solos without disregarding skinsman Carlos Ruiz, Adam Carroll’s guitar, and Chase Bryant’s powerful bass support. The Klown can confidently say that the future will keep getting brighter with this quintet if their follow ups exude as much power, energy, and creativity as this album.

3. Havok – V (May 1, 2020; Century Media Records)

Havok has made it to the Klown’s list. This Colorado based thrash band has had a special place in the Klown’s grease clogged heart, after all thrash metal was the Klown’s strongest lure into our beloved genre starting with Megadeth and Slayer. This album’s existence was first announced back in the pre-rona year of 2018, and had everything gone according to plan it would have been out in 2019. Sure Conformicide may not have made it in the Klown’s top 6 in 2017 but that was then and this is now. 

V kicks off with “Post Truth Era” which starts off slow but then explodes thanks to Reece Scraggs, and vox David Sanchez with their solos which crossover and transition to “Fear Campaign.” One of the Klown personal favorites of this album was “Ritual of the Mind,” although not the fastest song of this album, the lyrical content was powerful. Another one was “Betrayed by Technology” which also had powerful lyrics but had a much faster and harder disposition and prominently highlights Brandon Bruce’s skill on the bass. But if the Klown is in the need for thrashy speed, there’s plenty to choose from starting with “Phantom Force,” “Cosmetic Surgery” and “Merchants of Death.” 

But more impressive to the Klown was that the band took a backseat from politics and address the very real issue of suicide with “Don’t Do It.” The song starts off slow and features a very clear chorus from Scruggs to convey the message and slowly builds up till it becomes a speedy thrash track ultimately closing with an acoustic guitar. As the Klown mentioned, Sanchez announced in a July 2018 interview that the band planned to originally release this album in 2019. Perhaps it was the metal gods’ way of telling the Denverites that it wasn’t meant to be out too soon. If that were the case, it was a good thing because the Klown doesn’t know if it were going to be this refined and great. Not only did it feel appropriate for the times we are living in but it felt like a much needed escape given that it came out during the height of the pandemic. Whatever else the Klown can keep adding, this album was great and the Klown found himself returning back to this album more frequently than first realized. But not as much as…

2. Code Orange – Underneath (March 13, 2020; Roadrunner Records)

This was a tough one. The Klown wishes that he was joking. It was even tougher than the previous entries to choose a winner for that losing year. Alas, this album didn’t get the gold but silver is just as valuable. This album took the world by storm in the beginning of the year… before the globe went upside down. The title track kicked off the promotion of this album in January, and WWE even jumped in and made this song the promotional theme song of their NXT “In Your House” pay-per-view event where they also performed. As we all went for a full blown shut down, Code Orange went ahead and treated everyone with a live performance of the album in its entirety via Twitch. 

Even though “Underneath” was the catalyst of this album’s existence it was “Swallowing the Rabbit Whole” that was the real hook, line, and sinker of the album. The song had everything you could possibly squeeze into a single song from electronics, noise, keyboards, and a chorus line while still incorporating a strong Hardcore overtone. Speaking of the chorus bits, this album features its guitar master, Reba Meyer, at the helm more so than the previous album. Other notable songs that showcased Meyer’s vocal work are the hits “Who I Am,” “Sulfur Surrounding,” and “Autumn and Carbine.” 

Although this record seemed to be all over the place, the collective proves once more that within chaos, you can create something organized and stupendous. This album also managed to top their previous one. Not saying that it isn’t a possibility but if there’s anything we’ve all seen time and time again is that a follow up after a breakthrough  rarely supersedes or equates to the former. This is a feat not many artists have been able to do without having its detractors. Whatever the case, this album was just too good to overlook and further elevates the band’s already growing popularity and status. After this album, the Klown can’t help but wonder how Code Orange will top it. Either way their future looks brighter than before and can’t wait to hear what they’ll bring to the table next.

1. Vredehammer – Viperous (March 6, 2020; Indie Recordings)

As the Klown explained in the previous entry, it was pretty hard to choose a winner in this losing year. Plain and simple, this album was just great. From the moment “Aggressor” slid into the Klown’s DMs, the Klown was hooked and wanted more. Of course, the Klown got to digest this unholy union of industrial and black metal. Just hearing the album in its entirety, the opening synth for “Winds of Dysphoria” are intriguing enough to briefly throw you off because you may be expecting some sort of industrial-EDM (think of Samael) which then explodes into full blown Norwegian black metal. This ride intensifies more when “Aggressor” follows up which then mostly sticks with some rapid fire black metal. “Viperous” begins with synths but then strictly remains metal and with a killer guitar solo. 

“Skinwalker” is another similar track but sprinkles in electronic bits in the middle rather than the beginning. Although the album heavily leans more towards black metal, the industrial metal undertones and influence can’t be overlooked which compliments this album really well. The album wraps up with “From A Spark to a Withering Flame,” which is more of a traditional black metal that features some keys to maintain the tone. 

Although their previous album sounds about the same to an untrained ear, this trio has proven once again that their music was going to be adaptable and good since they’ve adopted this mix. But this time it turned out much better, in the Klown’s opinion. Even as the Klown’s typed this out, he was listening to this very album. With that said, the Klown can’t wait for Vredehammer’s next album and hopes that it will be another grand opus to their growing repertoire.