Welcome to the final instalment of my 2020 ‘Album of the Year Top 30 countdown’. That means that I’m about to reveal the winning album in this year’s list.
2020 has been a bad year. Yes, there have been some bright moments, a few silver linings. But, as I sit here alone on Christmas Eve, writing this, I realise that there have been very few years amongst the forty I’ve experienced, that have been as difficult as this. A global pandemic which has seen us locked in our homes like prisoners for months on end, cut off from the physical contact of loved ones that us humans so firmly rely upon. Loneliness, self-doubt, boredom, fear; just a few of the negative emotions that many of us have felt over the past ten months or so.
So I can only thank my lucky stars that I’m a fan of the best music on Earth, Music that is comforting, diverting, immersive, beautiful, challenging, and above all else, a source of great comfort. We may not have been able to go to live gigs, but in spite of the challenging circumstances for us all, we have enjoyed a succession of incredible music. Sitting at home day after day, reduced to two-dimensional human contact over video-conferencing software, I’d be a mess without the undoubted enrichment of my soul, provided by music.
So thank you to every musician, artist, and band that has released something during the year; you’ve helped me more than you’ll ever know.
And thank you again to the readers of my website, to you all for supporting me over the past year. The better part of 150 reviews, and a smattering of interviews and live reviews before the pandemic struck. Without all the comments and banter, I don’t think I would have seen it through this year. And that’s all I want to say, except…
…There’s just time for the usual reminder to anyone new to this series, to check out the links at the bottom of the post to find out who made the cut, from 30 down to 3, as well as my lists from previous years too.
And now, onto the winners for 2020…
Score Of Much Metal: 98%
It seems entirely fitting that the best album from my point of view in 2020 is this, an album entitled ‘Virus’.
In 2018, I awarded ‘Vector’ the number 3 spot in my end-of-year top 30 countdown. It was a great album but, in hindsight, not the best from the mighty Haken. It was heavy and aggressive, but it was too short and didn’t feature the Haken ‘epic’. Fast forward two years and we’ve been treated to ‘Virus’, the partner record to ‘Vector’. And it’s everything you could possibly want if you’re a prog fan, or a fan of this incredible band.
Yes, I have followed Haken pretty much since the beginning. Yes, they’ve been number one in previous countdowns. And yes, I’m a fanboy. But I am a fanboy with good reason, as ‘Virus’ so eloquently justifies. I love their earlier, more ‘bonkers’ material and, if you put a gun to my head, I’d vote for ‘Visions’ as my favourite album by Haken. But those days have gone; the band has grown, expanded musically, and taken their signature sound in different directions. It took a while, but I am fully on board with what they are doing. ‘Virus’ is the current culmination of this, and it is brilliant.
‘Virus’ was brilliant when I listened to it at the time when I reviewed it. It is even more brilliant now. There feels like a million things going on within each composition and, with time, they have become more overt, more enjoyable, and more impressive. The variety is marvellous too, another aspect that was a little missing from ‘Vector’, with some genuinely heavy material juxtaposed with softer, quieter, more introspective sections.
And that brings me on to the crowning glory of ‘Virus’, which isn’t the glorious return of an ‘epic’ in the form of the five-part ‘The Messiah Complex’, featuring a nod and reprise of ‘Cockroach King’ within it. Instead, it is the composition entitled ‘Canary Yellow’. It is, quite possibly, my favourite individual song of the entire year; quiet, atmospheric, moody, and explosive, it offers my favourite melody on the album too. It’s so beautiful, almost perfect in every way.
It wasn’t a foregone conclusion, but I knew that ‘Virus’ would be somewhere near the top of my list. As the year developed and my listening time increased, however, by the time I came to write this series, I knew who would win. Haken have crafted a magical album here, and in spite of some really high quality music released in 2020, ‘Virus’ is my favourite. A worthy winner.
What I wrote at the time:
“The other comment I made about ‘Vector’ at the time I reviewed it, was much more positive. I suggested that, despite being a heavy record, it was their most immediate, at least as far as I was concerned. If anything, ‘Virus’ is even better on that score, as well. I cannot tell you how quickly it made an impact because it was an almost instantaneous thing; I press play and I’m in love. It is by no means a ‘simple’ album, because Haken never write simple music. But there is something about ‘Virus’ that I like even more strongly than it’s partner-in-crime.
…‘Virus’ is a much more nuanced and arguably more varied a listening experience to ‘Vector’.
Seeing as it is the opening track, let’s turn to ‘Prosthetic’ first. The opening few seconds had me wondering if I was listening to early Fear Factory initially, given the machine-gun style of riffing with matching drumming from Ray Hearne, as well as the overt heaviness of the music. In fact, I’d put forward a passionate argument to say that this might be one of, if not THE heaviest composition of the band’s career to date. The riffs from Richard Henshall and Charlie Griffiths are simply enormous, groovy in places, and meaty as hell, whilst Conner Green’s bass commands respect from the outset, sounding like an angry beast when the song deigns to quieten from its general mode of attack. Diego Tejeida is his usual flamboyant self, but constrained slightly by the sheer brute force of the music that surrounds him.
At the other end of the spectrum, there’s ‘Canary Yellow’, currently occupying top spot as my favourite song on ‘Virus’.
But the more I listen, the more evident it is that the greater variation is not just between different individual songs; the variety also occurs within the tracks themselves.
I could go on, but I’ll conclude this review by saying the following: modern progressive music rarely sounds this good; ‘Virus’ is quite simply a stunning body of work, maybe their best yet.”
Read the full review here.
The list this year so far…
If you’ve missed my lists from previous years, you can check them out here: