Remembering The Forgotten-2020
Times flies! This is my fifth consecutive year doing this column. The greatest pleasure I’ve always derived from all this work in the Metal industry is supporting bands and artists. That is why this column has rapidly become one of my favourite to write. As always, I’ve included my same preamble that I publish every year, explaining the reasoning behind this column. Enjoy!
I wrote these introductory comments for this same column four years ago. It still holds true today. The more things change, the more they stay the same. However (!) in a slight improvement, this year seemed to be less of a stampede to be first to publish ‘End of Year lists’. In 2017 I saw my first ‘End of Year’ list hit social media in September! I’d like to think that my comments here and on-line have encouraged some of my colleagues in Metal journalism to be a bit more responsible, but that would be egotistical and I’d be fooling myself!
I’ve often commented that most music industry folks rush to get their ‘year-end lists’ generated and on-line much to the detriment of the bands. In their zeal, many albums, especially from the first half of the year get missed because the albums are not ‘top of mind’ for writers in November. Conversely, some late year albums get missed as many people generate their albums prematurely, before the year is even over. Every year, quality albums are coming out until Dec 31 but these late releases always get the shaft by the ‘mainstream’ metal Media who claim to support Metal.
Magazines and webzines cling to some arbitrary deadline and because those inconvenient releases do not fit into their neat little boxes (driven largely by commerce) those worthy albums get skipped. This year I spoke with a journalist who said he picks his ‘albums of the month’ BEFORE the month has even started! I imagine it must be very hard to choose the ‘album of the month’ from an utterly massive pool of albums you haven’t even heard yet, and aren’t even out yet… even if, as journalists, we do get a tiny percentage of albums in advance.
To summarize; early year releases get forgotten, late year releases get skipped, and this year it was dozens and dozens of November and December releases that got overlooked by organizations that had already published their list. For shame!
I believe some sober reflection would help provide a broader representation of what also happened in Hard Rock and Heavy Metal in 2020. I’ve enjoyed a few quiet days looking back at various releases from 2020 and I’ve cobbled together a little list of albums, EP’s, reissues, covers albums, live albums, re-recordings, live albums, super-groups, and other general weirdness, that I felt deserved more attention than they got. Admittedly, many of these are not ‘brand new, full-length, studio albums of all new material’, so they get left in the dust and ignored by most journalists.
My friend and colleague Adrian BeGrand has so eloquently pointed out, ‘Metal fans love their lists!’ I’m no different so here is one of my lists. (listed alphabetically) I tried to work outside the trendy, hive-mind, group-think box. There is so much more Metal to discover than those mainstream bands that everyone gushes about in their End of Year lists… if you care to look and listen. This is a fun little exercise of no consequence other than maybe someone might check out one of these releases. Enjoy!
ALCATRAZZ-Born Innocent (Silver Lining)
The band had on occasion reformed in one form or another to do gigs in Japan but now this time it is real; a new, full-length, studio album. The first new material from the band in almost 35 years. The band now features their 3rd all-star shredder, Joe Stump. A fine return to form.
ARIA-Baptism By Fire & ARIA-Armageddon (M2BA)
Russia’s biggest Metal band used some downtime to re-record a couple of older albums with their new singer. These are finally available outside of Russia and they sound great!
BLACK SWAN-Shake The World (Frontiers)
This brand new, all-star project came put very early in 2020. It features ex-members of Whitesnake, Dokken, Mr. Big, and most importantly the full-time return of ex-MSG vocalist Robin McAuley who is on fire on this album. His finest vocal performance in decades.
B.P.M.D.-American Made (Napalm)
Kind of a one-off from four dudes (Blitz, Portnoy, Menghi, Demmel) who wanted to bust out some cover tunes of 70’s bands that influenced them. Word on the mean streets is that they ‘might’ do a Part II of European stuff.
BIFF BYFORD-School Of Hard Knocks (Silver Lining)
Its only took 40 years but the signer of Saxon finally did a solo album. This low-key affair, heart-felt affair came out in the the year, finds a pensive Byford after his heart attack scare, reflecting on his past.
CONCEPTION-State Of Deception (Indie)
The return of Roy Khan! After leaving Metal to explore his faith, the one-time Kamelot singer has rejoined his original band Conception. This is their first new album in 23 years. Top notch progressive-Power Metal.
DIAMOND HEAD-Lightning to The Nations 2020 (Silver Lining)
It’s pretty common for bands to re-record album on their anniversary and Diamond Head is no different. For the 40th anniversary edition, the band added four bonus cover tunes, including in a nice ‘tit-for-tat’, a Metallica cover. This features quite a beefy, upgraded sound; a heavier and faster version of this iconic album. It has, yet again, for the fourth or fifth time, new cover art.
DOKKEN-The Lost Songs 1978-1981 (Silver Lining)
Unfortunately, due to health reasons, Dokken is on it’s last legs. The likelihood of a new studio album is slim. Accordingly, the vaults are being raided for content and the fans get a very decent collection of rarity to add to their library. A significant amount of new, rare material.
EASY ACTION-That Makes One (AOR Heaven)
Quite an influential band and a significant one in the early Glam scene, Easy Action’s second album gets the reissue treatment.
EVILDEAD-United States Of Anarchy (Steamhammer)
The return of thrasher Evildead! After 30 years of inactivity they return with a white-hot and politically charged album. It came out too late in the year for many to notice. A welcome return and they haven’t missed a step.
FALCONER-From A Dying Ember (Metal Blade)
The band has stated this is their last album. Many bands have said that same thing and then continued on. As a fan I hope one day this band will continue. If not, at least they ended on a high note. One of the more respected Power Metal bands among non-Power Metal people.
FINNTROLL-Vredesvavd (Century Media)
Seven years between albums but the band has not lost any fire in the belly.
GWAR-Scumdogs Of The Universe (Indie)
GWAR’s sophomore, break-out, album gets reissued and remastered for the 30th anniversary. I know re-mastering doesn’t usually make these sound better but to my ears this sounds fresh and heavy, a big sonic improvement.
HEATHEN-Empire Of The Blind (Nuclear Blast)
Heathen is not very productive or prolific but when they do put out an album it is an event for thrash fans. This one was ten years in the making.
LORDI-Killection (A Fictional compilation album) (AFM)
For their 10th album, Lordi, (as the sub-title suggests) a fictional greatest hits. It is all new material but it pretends to be old songs. Even better, the songs are written and recorded in the style of the age the band is looking back on. It plays out like a bit of a radio play about a radio station. The songs emulate the style of many bands you may recognize. This is actually extremely clever, maybe even a first, and very well-executed. Unfortunately it didn’t get the credit it deserved because the hipsters in the mainstream Metal media usually roll their eyes at Lordi and view them as a novelty.
METAL CHURCH-From The Vault (Rat Pak)
To celebrate the band’s 40th anniversary they released their first rarities compilation. Loaded with lots of cool, live, rare, unreleased tracks and cover tunes, this is a real treat for the fans.
NO RETURN-Live XXX (Mighty Music)
To celebrate an impressive 30 years in the business, perennially French underdogs, No Return release a ripping live album. It is also a milestone, being their first live album ever.
After a very slight misstep with THE FICTION MAZE in 2014, the one true heir to the throne of old Blind Guardian roar back with album # 5. This December release was too late to make the cut of people who publish their premature lists. A superb return to full form.
RIOT-Rock World: Rare and Unreleased ’87-’95.
As Riot near the end of their career arc we are seeing more and more live and rarities collections hit the market and they are always welcome. Since Reale passed away in 2012, a dozen various box-sets and compilations have been issued. This is one of the cooler ones, a 15-track, 78- minute collection of rare and unreleased material.
S.D.I.-80’s Metal Band (MDD)
Well-regarded, but short-lived, thrashing’ crossover act, S.D.I. have returned. Their first album in over 30 years came out very early in 2020 and not many noticed.
SIREN-Back From The Dead (Battle Cry Records)
31 years later the boys from Florida reform. After a very brief flirtation with fame and a signing to a Germany label, they never capitalized. Now they have another chance. Clever album cover too and it features the long overdue return of ex-Mekong Delta singer, Doug Lee. Watch for the documentary, “I’m Too Old for This Shit!” that chronicles their return, coming in early 2021.
STEELER-Come Hell Or Hollywood (F’n’A)
F ‘n’ A is one of the best, if not the best labels at finding old melodic 80’s stuff and giving it the deluxe reissue treatment. This time we are treated to a 16 tracks of old rare Steeler. this stuff predates their 1983 debut album.
SUIDAKRA-Lupine Essence (MDD)
The band seems to have been on a bit of a downward slide. Their last study album REALMS OF ODORIC from 2016 wasn’t that well received. The they did an acoustic album in 2018, then issued a remake album in 2019. Now they have reissued their debut, it is beginning to feel like they are trying to buy time while they figure out what to do next. However, reissuing their very rare, indie debut is a smart move. They have remastered it, revamped the cover art and added a couple of bonus tracks. All this reminds us of what they band was and hope can be again.
11 years since the reunion album, DARK SINNER, which didn’t light the world on fire, Sweden’s Torch successfully reignite their career with this cleverly titled comeback album. Pretty heavy for a band this long in the tooth.
TYRANT-Hereafter (Shadow Kingdom)
Very few saw this coming. A quarter of a century since their last album, America’s Tyrant return to reign in power. The band now has Rob Lowe (ex-Solitude Aeturnus, ex-Candlemass) on vocals giving this a whole new level of respect and legitimacy.
U.D.O.-We Are 1
The bands second foray into symphonic realms, this time a true song-writing collaboration of all new studio tracks with the German Military Concert Band aka Musikkorps der Bundeswehr. As of time of writing there is no live version but I can almost guarantee a live CD/DVD of some sort will be coming soon. He did a live album with the Navy orchestra, (2015) now the Army, (2020) so logically next he has to do an album with the German Air Force orchestra to complete the trilogy.
VELVET VIPER-From Over Yonder & Pilgrimage (Massacre)
This is a really neat scenario. Jutta Weinhold has released two old Zed Yago albums under the Velvet Viper banner. Each album is remixed, and re-mastered and has enhanced features and cover art. These are big improvements in sound, bonus tracks and a neat symmetry in presentation. 30+ years later these gems can be heard the way they were intended to be heard.
Despite a rather uninspired album title, this is the first Vandenberg album in 34 years! People got all excited about Petrucci’s new solo album (which is very cool too) but not many noticed this one. It is too bad because Vandenberg recruited Ronnie Romero, one of the hottest vocalists in Metal these days to lay down the vocals.
WALLOP-Alps On Fire (Pure Steel)
Not many people know of this band, who only did one album (METALLIC ALPS) back in 1985. Well, they are back! Nice to see the original line-up fully intact and this album includes a cover of (naturally) Raven’s ‘Crash, Bang Wallop’. Don’t expect to see Wallop on the cover of Decibel, Kerrang or Metal Hammer any time soon. This kind of traditional, classic Metal just isn’t popular by the tastemakers these days; it gets relegated to second class status, despite being the core of the very genre.
WIND OF THE BLACK MOUNTAINS-Summoned By Shadows (Moribund)
One of the earlier examples of USBM, Summoned by Shadows in a monster 24 track collection of rare, demo, unreleased songs. It also includes covers of Beherit and Bathory. Unfortunately many USBM bands decided to follow the hippie, tree-hugging, environmental, socially conscious right hand path, so it is nice to hear a primal example of the style done well. All this rare stuff is now available again.
WOMBBATH- Choir of The Fallen & Tales Of Madness (Transcendity Obscurity)
This early-era Swedish Death Metal band has been going, on and off for decades but were never very prolific. Until 2020. They released a new studio album in 2020 called CHOIRS OF THE FALLEN and to celebrate 30 years in the business of dealing death they have re-recorded a bunch of older songs, TALES OF MADNESS. Double your pleasure.
Thanks to all the bands, thank you for reading, and most for all for your continuing to support Metal and Metal-Rules.com.