Let’s be honest: 2020 was absolute dogshit. You know it, I know it, and the music community knows it acutely. However, it is thought by some that pain and suffering can often yield some of the highest art, which is already evident in many of the albums recorded and released this year, so here’s to hoping that 2021 is the angriest year yet for underground music. I’m a silver lining kind of guy, ya know?
Initially I had an extremely difficult time narrowing it down to just 10 and even more so picking my #1, but thanks to a combination of Last.fm, my Bandcamp collection, and yes, even the hucksters at Spotify, I was able to distil my list of 70+ albums down to just 10 full-lengths (and a cursory list of honorable mentions and EPs). Also, full disclosure: I helped release some of these albums, so if you have a problem with that, you are welcome to take what follows with a grain of salt. Here we go.
10) End – “Splinters From an Ever-Changing Face”
As far as aggressive, extreme, and utterly abrasive underground music goes, it really does not get much better than End. Given the project is comprised of former and current members of The Dillinger Escape Plan, Counterparts, Fit For an Autopsy, Misery Signals, and more, some have described this as a “super group,” but regardless of what you’d like to call it, one cannot argue with that sort of pedigree. The album was also produced, mixed, and mastered by their very own Will Putney, you know it’s gonna sound outrageously good. HM2 lovers, get in here, but bring a mouth guard, because this album will kick your fucking teeth in.
9) Cryptodira – “The Angel of History”
I was caught off guard by the amount of quality, late arrivals in 2020, as the months of November and December brought us albums such as Cryptodira’s 2nd full-length effort. “The Angel of History” is an expansive, melodic, and versatile display of quality progressive metal songwriting, which takes you in all sorts of directions with notably better execution than previous records and a notable air of maturation. The band also played our very first year of our now annual fest back in 2018 at Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn, alongside their labelmates in Yashira, who released my #8 album.
8) Yashira – “Fail to Be”
Good Fight Music knew exactly what they were doing when they signed both Crytodira and Yashira, 2 incredible bands they then so graciously dropped in our laps for Mathcore Index Fest 2018. Despite enduring the tragic loss of their drummer, Seth Howard, I am so happy the band managed push forward and deliver another hard-to-define yet vastly improved effort of post-metal and aggressive, dissonant hardcore. Another late arrival along with “The Angel of History,” “Fail to Be” is an angular, dark, dissonant, and genre-spanning effort that will please fans of post-metal and chaotic metalcore alike.
7) 156/Silence – “Irrational Pull”
Not everything needs to be noodly tech metal for me to enjoy it or embrace it. 156/Silence’s newest full-length effort is full of earwig riffs, infectious hooks, and the raw and unhinged vocal performance of Jack Murray, who snarls his way through this record like some rabid dog, barking very memorable and mosh inspiring lyrics. Full of crushing breakdowns, screeching pitch shifters, and primal rhythms, “Irrational Pull” is an addicting listen that is guaranteed to inspire one to mosh.
6) Fawn Limbs – “Sleeper Vessels”
Transatlantic mathcore / grindcore trio Fawn Limbs are easily one of the most prolific and noteworthy artists in underground music of the past few years, delivering a salvo of EPs and full-lengths since 2018, each one better than the last. Last year’s “Harm Remissions” was a boundary pushing effort and ahead of the curve in terms of more modern qualities such as “glitch” or electronic elements, and excitingly features Lee Fisher, formerly of Commit Suicide and Psyopus, and more recently Sam Smith of Artificial Brain. Lead songwriter, guitarist, vocalist, and project mastermind Eeli Helin, who is somewhat of an extreme music visionary, this time recruited Pedram Valliani (Frontierer, Sectioned) for mixing at Outlier Sound and Simon Hawemann (War From a Harlots Mouth, Nightmarer) for mastering at Sludge Studios, and if that combination of names doesn’t just absolutely make you tumescent, you’re probably fucked.
5) Femur – “For the Love of It”
Femur’s newest full-length effort came almost entirely unannounced and unexpected, and despite being released in late November, quickly worked its way into my usual rotation. The band are well versed in the art of the buildup, the process of taking a part and gradually adding intensity, until your ear is practically begging for the expected sequence, and expertly build and release tension throughout the record’s appreciable 43 minute runtime. With its angular and dissonant riffs, raw and desperate vocal performances, excellent pacing, dynamic song-writing, and live sounding production, “For the Love of It” is one of the most intimate and visceral listens of 2020.
4) Under the Pier – “Puff Pieces”
As I’ve mentioned in previous writeups, Baltimore has become somewhat of a hub for mathcore bands in the past few years, with some talented bands popping out of the woodwork. Under the Pier are one such band, and their nuanced approach to combining technical deathcore and mathcore is both nostalgia inducing and forward thinking its arrangement of catchy yet technical riffs and savage breakdowns, a hard balance to strike. The progression between their debut EP and this is absolutely massive as well: everything has improved, from the vocals and lyrics, to the guitar work, the drumming, and most importantly the song writing. They also put out 2 of my favorite music videos of the year, both simple and effective, and both filmed by the talented Shane K Gardner. “Puff Pieces,” although short, is a highly memorable release with high replay value that reinvents and reinvigorates the sounds of many the genre’s progenitors and is sure be regarded as an essential addition to canon.
3) The God Awful Truth – “Memory Palace”
Off-kilter grooves interspersed with breakneck staccato flurries, dissonant guitar lines, and absolutely crushing breakdowns, fans of The Dillinger Escape Plan, The Tony Tapdance Extravaganza, and Frontierer should certainly appreciate the sheer aggression and technical intensity of the The God Awful Truth’s full-length debut. “Memory Palace” is chock full of insanely good breakdowns of endless variation, riffs that are both technical and catchy, organic and live sounding drums, memorable lyrics, and I shit you not, I literally cannot sit still when this album is playing. There’s just something so fun about every song, with plenty of mosh inspiring moments, lyrical callouts, thunderous percussion, and disgusting half-step guitar harmonies, but also includes breathers that allow the band room for plenty of experimentation on the album’s 28 minute runtime.
2) Methwitch – “Indwell”
When people ask me what is the most extreme thing I can think of in underground music, my first response is almost always Methwitch. The absolute pinnacle of what is possible for a one person project, Cameron McBride has steadily made a name for himself over the past few years with a staggering number of high quality full-lengths and EPs of the most overt-the-top, beatdown-laden, glitch-injected combination of grindcore, heavy hardcore, mathcore, and even nu-metal that truly overwhelms the senses. “Indwell” is almost futuristic in its inclusion of glitching electronic elements and its constant redefining of itself with every track, ranging from the absolute wall-of-sound to the more accessible and melodic. Insane vocal acrobatics are a major highlight of the release, ranging from tunnel throating demon low growls and gurgles to pterodactyl like high shrieks, and even includes some brief singing that cannot help but recall the heyday of the 90’s grunge movement (eat your heart out, Code Orange). Essentially, if you consider yourself a fan of extreme music and you’re not already well aware of this project, you’ve got some serious homework to do and one of the most consistent catalogs of any solo metal artist.
1) Floral – “Floral LP”
You might be saying to yourself, “wait a minute, Christian, isn’t this an instrumental math rock album?” Well, friends, you’d be right, and although it might be a little off-brand to be heavily endorsing a release that is only adjacent via its math prefix, I assure you Floral are making history here. I am not exaggerating when I say this: I think Floral may have written the greatest math rock album of all time.
There is something so emotionally stirring about each and every song, and from the moment the guitars fade in on “2015,” it’s basically all goosebumps. It’s just really clear they are onto something special, and the song writing strikes this perfect mixture of over the top rhythmic wizardry laced with these subtle, almost pop like hooks, giving it that perfect balance of technicality and memorability, especially on tracks like “The Good Song” (very aptly named), which I heard them play for the first time at a house show in 2019 with fellow two handed tapping math rock duo, Rob Ford Explorer, and it honestly took my breath away.
It just has this very powerful introduction that just grabs you right away, and it also showcases the guitar playing of the drummer, Ty Mayer, who’s quite accomplished on both instruments, and it moves from one incredibly interesting part to next, until it finally hits this bridge of all finger tapping, which then just explodes into this fucking joyous crescendo, it’s feels like a religious experience. The first time I heard this song, I’m pretty sure I looked down and saw I was floating off the ground. Then the song just wraps up perfectly with this perfect recapitulate cadence of the main motif, and it’s just so satisfying. This is by far the best song they have ever written, and what makes it even more special is the fact that it’s the first track that really showcases Ty on guitar in this band, who also plays guitar in Elaine the Singer, a similar project which also includes Floral guitarist Nate Sherman on bass.
“Saturday Night,” the album’s closer, gives you that feeling of nostalgia, and really sounds like what a Saturday night feels like. It reminds me of being with my friends and just hanging out and struggling with my feelings as a teenager and young person (a lot to infer from instrumental music), it really just takes you through this whole range of emotions before giving way to this glorious dual guitar only harmony which brings the album to a close.
Independent label / entity, Choke Artist, who released the album on 12″ vinyl along with a plethora of good records this year, have been championing the highest level of talent present in the genre for many years, including artists like Standards, Snooze, Invalids, and many others, so it is no surprise that they have been working with the band since their inception.
We also had the distinct pleasure of hosting the band at our 2nd annual fest, Mathcore Index Fest 2019, which took place July 13th at Oakland Metro Opera House, an enchanting and wholesome performance which you can watch below.
The “Floral LP” is a long awaited full-length effort from arguably one of the most seminal and influential bands in modern math rock, inspiring legions of best-friends guitarist / drummer duos to pick up their instruments and take a crack at writing an EP of the nostalgia inducing combination of twinkly two handed guitar tapping and snappy percussion over endlessly complex time signatures.
Some EPs I loved:
Levi & Screamo Index’s Best of 2020
10) The Sound That Ends Creation – “Memes, Dreams, and Flying Machines”
Solo project bringing a mathgrind monster of a release. Chris Dearing layers numerous instruments through this chaotic release. This not only adds spice to the intensity, it really separates itself from other releases this year.
9) Crowning – “Survival/Sicnkess”
This is emoviolence on steroids. Heavy and pummeling with moments of pure beauty. This is an updated version of screamo. This full length tears thru in around 18 minutes leaving me with goosebumps. This group grabs me the way Envy did in the early 2000’s.
8) Fawn Limbs – “Sleeper Vessels”
Discordant mathgrind with mind bending technicality and angularity. These guys have yet again produced a skin tearing release. Sleeper Vessels seems to hit me in two separate parts. The first part of the album is anxiety inducing brutality. The album then seems to even take a darker turn with tracks like “Ruiner” and “Photovoltaic Hum”. Give this album numerous listens to absorb truly what Fawn Limbs have packed into each track.
7) The God Awful Truth – “Memory Palace”
An impressive, catchy and off kilter full length release from this Texas group. The tracks throughout this album are filled with controlled chaos, groove and heavy breakdowns. After watching the premiere for “Granny Killer,” I knew were we in for a technical mathcore release. Don’t mess with Texas.
6) Methwitch – “Indwell”
If you told me you were into “heavy and dark” music, I would immediately ask you about Methwitch. This solo artist once again has created the most dark and discordant album of 2020. This album is filled with chugs, blasts, screeches, feedback and unorthodox rhythm changes. Cameron also brings a solid vocal assault. The lows, lower lows and eagle like screams he sprinkles in adds yet another level to this disgusting album.
5) Frail Hands – “parted/departed/apart”
This is the band’s first release as a four-piece since the departure of vocalist Dawn Almeda. I would say they have adjusted just fine. This is arguably the band’s best material to date and is still the same chaotic and raw sound. Frail Hands are another perfect example of newer screamo. parted/departed/apart has everything from chaotic, pulverizing screamo to post-rocky passages.
4) The Most – “Of What We Have”
If you are ever trying to convince someone on the brilliance of math rock, please show this album. There is a little bit of something for everyone in this album. The Most blends emo, fusion and jazz. Forever impressing me track by track and album by album. Track 1 “First Frost” will grab you immediately. This group plays a refreshing full sound of math rock with the addition of horns throughout the 11 tracks.
3) Nuvolascura – “As We Suffer From Memory and Imagination”
Screamo album of the year, that’s all you need to know!
2) Wvrm – “Colony Collapse Syndrome”
Released in the earlier part of 2020, this album has done nothing but wear on me and my soul more and more. WVRM bring complete filth, darkness and technicality in their style of grind. The vocals approach and lyrics match the complete chaos that is WVRM. Tracks like “Thorn Palace” and “Colony Collapse” are some of my favorites. Really hoping that these guys utilized this year by writing even more scathing tracks to treat us with a 2021-22 album.
1) 156/Silence – “Irrational Pull”
This group has progressed the most out of all the bands we have focused on in Mathcore Index and Mathcast podcast in recent years. Irrational Pull is the fruit of 156/Silence’s labor. I made this my top album for their sheer progression in making some amazing metalcore and mathcore. This group channels the early days of Converge and Drowningman. Favorite tracks are actually the first two openers to the album “High Dive In a Low Well” and “God’s Departure”. This is the most played album in its entirety of 2020 for myself. Thanks for helping through the trash fire of a year 156/Silence!