Best of 2020: Marko Syrjälä

Spread the metal:

1. AC/DC: Power Up

Who could have believed that after all the changes and difficulties the band went through in recent years, we would still see a new AC / DC record? And what kind of record? POWER UP is simply the band’s best release since 1990’s RAZOR’S EDGE. The album is full of simple but catchy songs that sound like they should, AC / DC. “Realize,” “Demon Fire,” and “Through the Mists of Time,” are the band’s best songs in a long time, and Brian Johnson sounds fantastic. Overall, this record is great, and the album of the year on my own charts.

2. Ozzy Osbourne: Ordinary Man

I don’t think that many people had any expectations of this album, neither did I, but after I heard the first album single, “Straight To Hell,” it was obvious that this album will be a great one. The album sound is not great (it’s too modern), there’s a load of auto-tune used on vocals, but the fact is that Ozzy hasn’t’ released anything this fresh and strong material since 1996’s “Ozzmosis.”  If this album remains the swansong of Ozzy’s recording career, then it can’t be said that he quit with the boots on.

3. Testament: Titans of Creation

Testament was kind of reborn in  2008 when Alex Skolnick returned to the band and released the brilliant record “The Formation of Damnation.” “Titans of Creation” continues the series of powerful and high-quality albums the band has released since then. Long live and hail to Testament!


4. Armored Saint: Punching the Sky

Armored Saint is definitely one of the most underrated bands in the world. The band releases albums very seldom, but the quality is always on the highest level. Vocalist John Bush literally KILLS on this album. Hopefully, it won’t take another five years to get the next Saint album out of the oven.

5. Annihilator: Sadistic Ballistic

SADISTIC BALLISTIC the seventeenth studio album from the Canadian thrash metal legend Annihilator. The band’s back catalog can be described by the word uneven. There are plenty of highlights, such as ALICE IN HELL, THE KING OF THE CASE, and WAKING THE FURY, but several weak and forgettable records also exist. SADISTIC BALLISTIC ranks somewhere in the middle in this comparison but is also the band’s best album in fifteen years.

6. Alcatrazz: Born Innocent

Hands up! Was someone really expecting to hear new music from Alcatrazz in 2020? 36 years after somewhat disappointing DANGEROUS GAMES, the band now returns with BORN INNOCENT, and it’s a damn good record. The band now consists of the original members; Graham Bonnet (Rainbow, MSG, Impellitteri) in vocals, Jimmy Waldo (New England, Blackthorne, Quiet Riot, etc.) in keyboards, Gary Shea (New England) in bass plus the new members; drummer Mark Benquechea, and guitarist Joe Stump. The new Alcatrazz sounds maybe heavier than ever, but without losing the elements which made the original band famous. Bonnet’s high notch vocals, Stump’s neoclassical guitar playing (without forgetting the Allstar guest players), fit together perfectly, and as a result, BORN INNOCENT is a brilliant hard rock album.

7. Vandenberg: 2020

It’s a pity that Adrian Vandenberg’s previous band Moonkings didn’t last longer than it did. I really loved the two albums the band did, but now the former Whitesnake guitarist is back with his “old band” Vandenberg. It’s sometimes strange, why these long-term musicians dig up some old names from the bands, even there are just one or two members left from the original line-up.  However, Vandenberg was always Adrian’s baby, and he has, of course, all the rights to use the name if he wants to. The new incarnation of the band on the album consists of Adrian, vocalist Ronnie Romero (Rainbow, Lords of Black, etc.), bassist Randy van der Elsen (Tank), and drummer Koen Herfst (Armin van Buuren), How is the album then? I would say that it sounds almost nothing like the original band. But it’s a really good old school hard rock from start to finish. Producer Bob Marlette has made great work, and the sound of the band is really 80’s. There are a lot of elements that could have been used on Whitesnake albums. Romero is a good, and versatile vocalist, and in addition to the new songs, he also sings a remarkable version of the band’s old hit “Burning Heart”. In brief, 2020 is one of the best hard rock albums released in 2020.

8. Primal Fear: Metal Commando

Primal Fear is a strange animal. The band has been around for decades, it doesn’t make many headlines, it doesn’t sell a crazy amount of albums, but it still keeps on releasing these high qualities almost annually. Ralph Scheepers is one of the best “screamers” out there, and the band’s heavily Judas Priest influenced music just always works. This needs no much more arguments. Despite its horrible cover art, METAL COMMANDO is the best power metal\tradiotional metal album of 2020.

9. Deep Purple: Whoosh!

10. U.D.O: We Are One

It was big news in the metal community in 1987 when it was announced that  Udo Dirkschnaider’s services were no longer needed in the band Accept, and American vocalist David Reece then replaced him. Udo then formed his own band, U.D.O, which became quite successful, but although Accept, later on, got together several times during the following decades, there was always a lot of tension in the air on both sides. What my point is here is that now that tension level has raised totally new heights. Joining Udo on this album are his own backing band, but also the original Accept members Stefan Kauffmann (guitar) and bassist Peter Baltes who had just quit with Accept after forty years. This, of course, means that now Wolf Hoffmann to be the only member left from the band’s classic lineup. Well, that’s about it.  So, it’s not surprising that WE ARE ONE now sounds pretty much like Accept in the ’80s—big hooks and melodies in the German style. Satisfaction guaranteed. I don’t like this much on this album because of some of the orchestration parts/arrangements. Those sound just totally useless and meanless, and a few songs could have sounded much better if those parts could have played just with guitars, bass, and a drum combination. However, the songs are overall strong, and for sure, the old school metal fans love this album. Wolf and the boys, be aware.

11. Fates Warning – Long Day Good Night

Forget Dream Theater and Mike Portnoy’s million projects. The best progressive metal band at the moment is definitely Fates Warning. Unlike many other names mentioned one sentence before, Fates Warning doesn’t suffer from a mammoth disease. Instead, the band sounds fresh, creative, and the song material is overall strong and interesting from start to finish. Excellent stuff!

12. Blue Öyster Cult: The Symbol Remains

Here’s one band I wasn’t expecting to release new music ever again. The last time Blue Öyster Cult put out an album in 2001, they have constantly been touring year after year. After such a long recording break and not having too many original members left, it’s astounding how this album still sounds nothing else but Blue Öyster Cult. Eric Bloom’s delicate and recognizable voice sounds as good as ever, and the lead guitarist Buck Dharma still has the pipes in his playing.  This album could have been released thirty or forty years ago, and I still think it would have sounded pretty much like this. Impressing work by the veterans.

13. Paradise Lost: Obsidian

Dark, strong, powerful, and definitely gothic. That’s how you can describe Paradise Lost in the year 2020. Obsidian is even more brutal than its predecessor MEDUSA (2017), but at the same time, it’s another step in a heavier direction. This might be the band’s heaviest album to date.

14. Magnum: The Serpent Rings

Magnum returns with their 21’st studio album, THE SERPENT RINGS. The new lineup up, which now includes the former Pink Cream 69/Unisonic bassist Dennis Ward, drummer Lee Morris (Paradise Lost), keyboardist Rick Benton, plus the original members Tony Clarke (guitar) and Bob Catley, have created another strong Magnum album with no weak links or anything negative to say. Despite all the line-up changes, the band still sounds brilliant, but perhaps a little bit heavier than ever before.

15. Stryper: Even The Devil Believes

EVEN THE DEVIL BELIEVES Another decent album from Stryper. No surprises, but no disappointing either. Stryper might not be able to create albums like YELLOW AND BLACK ATTACK or TO HELL WITH THE DEVIL anymore, but they’re able to release solid stuff year after year. Michael Sweet is still one of the best vocalists of the hard rock genre.

16. Sodom:  Genesis XIX

A couple of years ago, the classic Sodom era guitarist Frank Blackfire returned in the band’s rank. Since then, Sodom has released a couple of EP’s, which have been “ok.” However, I had high hopes for this because when Frank last time was in the band, it released the album AGENT ORANGE and PERSECUTION MANIA, which are timeless thrash metal classics. This album is not definitely on the same level as the ones mentioned, but it’s still the best album the band has released since the early 2000s. Compared to the early material, the sound of the band is now more hardcore or even punky (and less thrash), but basically, the songs still sound like Motörhead on steroids, and that’s just a positive thing. Tom Angelripper never let his fans down.

17. L.A. Guns: Renegades

RENEGADES is a surprisingly good record with plenty of catchy hard rock songs. Steve Riley fronted version of L.A. Guns is one of the very few bands left who still write and release this type of “Hollywood Strip” stuff, but it’s good that they do that. It’s good to have Kelly Nickels finally back in action. By the way.  We’ll see how the situation develops, but this album is currently better than Tracii Guns/Phil Lewis L.A. Guns’ latest releases.

18. Black Swan: Shake The World

If you look at the band members in Black Swan, your expectations will probably be very high. Robin McAuley (MSG), Reb Beach (Whitesnake, Winger), Jeff Pilson (Dokken, Foreigner), and Matt Starr (Ace Frehley Band, Mr.Big) are names everyone should know or at least heard at some point if they have been listening to hard rock during the last three decades. There’s no denying that the band sounds fantastic, especially McAuley’s vocals, but unfortunately, the song material is not very strong on this album. If the band keeps working together more, maybe the next album will reach the goal everyone hopes. Now Black Swan is still on its way there. In brief, this is a typical Frontiers release that has been put together way too fast. And it shows.

19. Nightwish: Human:II: Nature

Nightwish is one of the best and most successful bands ever coming from Finland. Unfortunately, everyone can’t succeed every time, and now the band has got almost completely lost. Despite the many band lineup changes, not much is left from the past glory days musically either. The band mastermind Tuomas Holopainen is clearly suffering from the mammoth disease. Everything on this album is trying to be larger than life, starting from the lyrical side (everyone can check the story of the concept). The song structures are massive and often very complex, with tons of choirs and orchestra arrangements. And the list goes on and on. Everything sounds good on paper, but the more you listen to this album, it becomes evident that HUMAN:II: NATURE is a giant dull album, which doesn’t shine at any point. However, this is not a bad album. Floor Jansen sounds amazing, but excluding the first album single, “Noise,” there’s nothing to remember on this album. A huge disappointment.

20. Demons & Wizards – III