The 10 best EPs of 2020

From Bring Me The Horizon to Pig Destroyer, we run down the best short, sharp shocks bands threw up in 2020…

The 10 best EPs of 2020
Nick Ruskell

So, you've seen our 50 greatest albums of 2020 countdown and seen all the killer records released this year. But bands got bizzay delivering shorter treats as well. And unlike most of the albums that came out this year, loads of these EPs were done as the world went on pause and bands kept their hearts beating by making something more compact during this enforced interval. Some were straight bangers, others used the opportunity to try something a little different. Some specifically reflected the times, others actively ignored them.

Here, we count down the 10 best – and remember once more that, although everything else stopped, the need to create music remains as strong as ever. And that's something worth celebrating on its own…

10. Pig Destroyer – The Octagonal Stairway (Relapse)

Mixing their usual grinding fury with something altogether more experimental but no less threatening, this EP from U.S. noise terrorists Pig Destroyer brought together a couple of old cuts, mixed in some new ones, and split the whole thing into two halves that made a compelling, complete whole. It was as brutal as it was unsettling, and compelling at every turn.

9. Jamie Lenman – King Of Clubs (Big Scary Monsters)

It was good to hear Jamie Lenman back doing heavier, angrier stuff again. In fact, he hasn’t sounded like this since his Muscle Memory debut. And that was just grand. As ever, King Of Clubs didn’t exactly walk a straight line, itching and twitching its way through Summer Of Discontent (The Future Is Dead), Sleep Mission and I Don’t Wanna Be Your Friend, or else taking in a sort of Nine Inch Nails vibe, unexpectedly going down a road we’d not really expected from him before.

8. Ihsahn – Pharos (Candlelight)

Back in February, Emperor frontman Ihsahn released the Telemark EP, named in honour of the area of Norway he calls home, which paid heavy musical tribute to the imposing, mountainous geography that surrounds him. On part two, Pharos, he delved into the calm flip-side of his personality, with vast, proggy vibes tempered with a sense of autumnal stillness. The title-track and Losing Altitude showed what a massive musical brain the man has, but was his takes on a-ha’s Manhattan Skyline and (especially) Roads by Bristol trip-hop legends Portishead that took the silverware here. Proof that, whether going full-steam ahead or gently, steadily moving forward, Ihsahn is still a genius with no real equal.

7. Halestorm – Reimagined (Atlantic)

Stripping back a few of their old favourites, Halestorm here showed that the heart of their songs is just as charming acoustic as it is when belted out at full-power. The cover of I Will Always Love You remains an acquired taste, but these versions of Mz. Hyde and I Miss The Misery were fantastic, carrying each song’s spirit brilliantly in their new shapes. And even better news: they’ve been in the studio most of the year, banging a new album into shape. Here’s hoping some of what they’ve learned here makes it on there.

6. Can’t Swim – Someone Who Isn’t Me (Pure Noise)

What New Jersey punks have spent lockdown doing is: trying out loads of stuff they don’t normally do. To wit, Foreign Language was something far, far different than what they stamped on 2018’s This Too Won’t Pass. This wasn’t even the only EP they put out in 2020, having already reimagined tracks for the When The Dust Settles offering that saw them toning things down and exploring a more mellow side. Someone Who Isn’t Me (acronym alert) and its quiet experimentation wasn’t their usual wheelhouse, but whatever they were doing, they were making a good job of it. And if it was any sign of things to come, Can't Swim's next album will be something even bolder than this.

5. PUP – This Place Sucks Ass (Rise)

This one from Canadian punks PUP was actually one new tune, a cover, and unheard cuts from the sessions for last year’s excellent Morbid Stuff album, wrapped up in a funny title. The new-new track, Rot, was classic PUP, all scruffy melodic punk stuff with downer-buzzkill lyrics, while the Morbid Stuff, uh, stuff was a ragged look back at the loose ends of a truly exciting record that put PUP on the ladder to bigger, better things. Their cover of Grandaddy’s AM 180 (the theme from Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe to you), meanwhile, was a goof. Now, hopefully we get to see them live again next year…

4. Refused – The Malignant Fire (Spinefarm)

In a quarter of an hour, Refused delivered a short, sharp blast of sonic catharsis that still managed to take in why they’re still one of the most forward-thinking bands ever to be dubbed ‘hardcore’, as well as deliver a scathing attack on the wrongs of late-stage capitalism. It was angry, it was exciting, it was brutal, it was a bit funky, it was basically everything you love about Refused super-compressed down into an EP that only burned for a short time, but was bright as hell.

3. Salem – Salem (Roadrunner)

(Adopts mocking voice) “Ooh look, I’m Will Gould, and it’s not enough for me to have made one of the Albums Of The Year with Creeper, I have to start a new band and knock out a blinding EP as well. Hark at me.” We’re allowed to take the piss because it’s a friendly little upward punch at the annoyingly talented frontman. And yeah, tell you what, Salem’s self-titled debut EP was a total cracker, harking back to the flick-knife horror-punk of his early days, while still having a spooky identity all of its own.

2. FEVER 333 – WRONG GENERATION (333 Wreckords Crew/Roadrunner)

Being angry is one thing. Focusing that anger articulately and intelligently so that it hits the right targets is something else entirely. Having spent 13 days on the streets of LA protesting following the death of George Floyd on May 25, FEVER 333 frontman Jason Aalon Butler was, understandably, pissed off. But while it would have been easy to turn that energy into a negative, bilious set of songs, WRONG GENERATION actually punched through the negatives to rail against specific targets, but also call for unity and change. Articulate, explosive, cathartic and forward-looking, here FEVER 333 unleashed a lot of anger, but also made steps to plant seeds for essential change.

1. Bring Me The Horizon – Post Human: Survival Horror (RCA)

Exactly 14 years to the day that they released their Count Your Blessings debut, Bring Me The Horizon dropped an EP that, to the delight of many fans, was packed full of riffs. But rather than a back-step from the experimental vibes of amo, Post Human: Survival Horror found the Sheffield crew, as ever, forging ahead in yet another direction, using tools with which they’re already highly skilled, and seeing what can be done with new ones. And into this new world, they brought a few fresh voices, namely Amy Lee from Evanescence, YUNGBLUD, BABYMETAL and Nova Twins. Even under weird circumstances, Horizon proved they can bring something unique, and as the first instalment of an intended series of EPs, this was only the beginning of their new chapter.

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