Best of 2020: Erich Heintzelman

Spread the metal:

Erich’s Top 20 Metal Albums 2020

There is no way to talk about metal in 2020 without mentioning the pandemic. Bands delayed albums, were unable to tour, and for people the world over it has been a miserable year. For those bands that did release albums, these are the soundtracks that helped us to cope with an endless and depressing year. They might become bittersweet one day, as upon hearing them will trigger memories of a mostly crappy year, but also remind us of the power music has to uplift and inspire in tough times. Below, are the albums that helped me make it through this year.

1. Fates Warning – Long Day Good Night

Album cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thirty-six years since their debut album, Fates Warning are as strong as ever. LONG DAY GOOD NIGHT is the band’s thirteenth album and is also their first with their original label Metal Blade in sixteen years. The album has some of the best balance between accessibility and complexity of the band’s career. Ray Alder’s vocal melodies and choruses are among his most inspired. Releasing three albums in seven years, the band is unquestionably motivated, and this album is the best of the three, which is high praise. Ultimately, LONG DAY GOOD NIGHT hearkens back to many bright moments of the past while still focusing on the present and future.

 

2. Demons & Wizards – III

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was pleasantly surprised when this album dropped back in February, having given up on the idea that another Demons & Wizards album would ever be released. After the mixed reviews of TOUCHED BY THE CRIMSON KING, Hansi Kürsch and Jon Schaffer have delivered what might be the best of the band’s three albums. The song writing, melodies and pacing are presented with painstaking attention to detail and a commitment to excellence. The band has embraced their strongest qualities: mid-paced and melodic songs delivered with big, chunky riffs and Kürsch’s inventive vocal melodies. A personal affirmation of the strength of this album was that it was enough to overcome my bias and annoyance with Schaffer’s increasingly unhinged political views and let the music do the talking instead. Addendum: Jan. 7.  I hesitate to leave this album here after Schaffer’s apparent role in attacking the U.S. Capital Building yesterday. It is a shame because I loved Iced Earth and I feel for Hansi Kursch, Stu Block and all the other extended people impacted by Schaffer’s treasonous actions. I am not going to punish Kursch and all the people involved besides Schaffer by removing this album, but I will not be giving my money, interviews, or reviews to any more projects or bands that include Jon Schaffer going forward.

3. Testament – Titans of Creation

Testament - Titans Of Creation

TITANS OF CREATION demonstrates the remarkable consistency the band has maintained since the thrash revival began in the early 2000’s. Perhaps only Kreator can claim a better resume of the big ten of thrash over that period, with Overkill close behind. The new album has everything you could ask for from the band. Great riffs, pounding drums, soul searing solos, and the forceful presence of front man Chuck Billy. “Symptoms” is a perfect microcosm of the album, a technical and complex song with a simple and majestic main riff that rears its head after the introduction and again during the chorus. This is probably my favorite Testament song of the past twenty years, which is saying something.

 

4. Harem Scarem – Change The World

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Some metal fans require only heavy, brutal and uncompromising music for nourishment. Nothing wrong with that, but I need a bit more variety, so I reach for Harem Scarem for my fix of upbeat melodic metal. CHANGE THE WORLD is another in a growing line of quality releases from the band who is among the best at this style of metal/hard rock hybrid that is the specialty of Frontiers Records. Captivating choruses, memorable guitars and inspired song craft highlight the new album. CHANGE THE WORLD is not an expansion of the band’s sound, but rather a continuation of an already winning formula.

5. Stryper – Even The Devil Believes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can make the case that Stryper is the heaviest artist on Frontiers Records. They have been remarkably consistent over the past 3 albums, but due to their being a “Christian Metal” band, the press often overlooks or dismisses them as unworthy. While I do not personally share Stryper’s rosy outlook, much like I do not buy into the death and occult themes of other bands, I do enjoy the music. It is all entertainment, and EVEN THE DEVIL BELIEVES delivers in that department. The riffs and songs are all quite decent, but the star is Michael Sweet, proving that vocally, he continues to defy his age.

6. Tokyo Motor Fist – Lions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I must be getting old, as another lighter metal album has made it to the top of my list. TMF’s brand of hard rock/lite metal is slightly inferior to HAREM SCAREM’s but still very catchy. I consider LIONS to be the perfect foil to brutal metal fatigue that eventually happens to many of us. Steve Brown has developed into a great song writer and versatile guitarist, and he is the weapon that helps propel these songs above other similar, but lesser bands.

7. Communic – Hiding From The World

Seemingly destined to be under the radar for most metal fans, Communic is a heavy progressive band. Yes, this means the songs are long, and require some investment of time. HIDING FROM THE WORLD is the band’s 7th album and perhaps their most diverse and introspective effort. Once considered the heir apparent to Nevermore, the band has completely forged their own style. HIDING FROM THE WORLD’S blend of melancholy progressive metal delivered with a punch is perfectly suited to the depressing times brought on by the pandemic.

8. Cirith Ungol – Forever Black

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is always inspiring when an influential band among insiders, but a virtual unknown to many metal fans has a reunion that leads to an album as solid as FOREVER BLACK. Riffs, Bakker’s shredding vocals and attitude are still here, nearly fifty years since the band formed in 1972. There is hope for us aging bangers after all if these guys can still provide this kind of statement.

9. Eternal Champion – Ravening Iron

Speaking of Cirith Ungol, their influence on Eternal Champion is immediately visible in the band’s album art. The music confirms it, and I am a bit ashamed that I only discovered the band this year, though they have been wreaking havoc since 2013. Their debut in 2016 apparently created a buzz in traditional metal circles similar to the enthusiasm Hammerfall’s GLORY TO THE BRAVE generated in 1997. An album that reaffirms what is great about traditional metal.

10. Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE GOD-SHAPED VOID is the first album from this band in twenty-four years, but like Cirith Ungol they knocked it out of the park. Having been through accidents, lawsuits and changing music interests within the band, they managed to reform and release an album that is diverse, mature, and fulfills the promise and excitement of their early albums.

11. Delain – Apocalypse And Chill
12. Burning Witches – Dance With The Devil
13. Armored Saint – Punching The Sky
14. Pyramaze – Epitaph
15. Blue Oyster Cult – The Symbol Remains
16. Iron Savior – Skycrest
17. Raven – Metal City
18. Primal Fear – Metal Commando
19. Alcatrazz – Born Innocent
20. Vandenberg- 2020

Best EP

My Dying Bride- Macabre Cabaret

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best Live Release

Destruction – Born To Thrash (Live In Germany)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Honorable Mention: Best Hard Rock Albums

1. Enuff Z’Nuff – Brainwashed Generation
2. AC/DC – Power Up

Best Special Compilation

Metal Church – From The Vault

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best New Band

Butterfly

Butterfly album cover

Best New Discovery

Eternal Champion

Best Covers Album

There were a few notable covers albums this year, from Jorn to David Ellefson of Megadeth. Each had their moments, but it was the Space Ace’s Origins Vol. 2 that felt the most authentic and passionate.

Biggest Disappointments

Paradise Lost – Obsidian – I gather I am in the minority, but I have not been a fan of the band’s last three albums that saw the return of Nick Holmes’s death vox deliveries about fifty percent of the time, the other half being his deeper clean vocals. OBSIDIAN unfortunately continued that trend, though musically it is still respectable and inspired. Just not what I wanted vocally.

Ozzy Osbourne – Ordinary Man – I cannot really call it a huge disappointment, because I do not expect Ozzy to release enjoyable albums at this point in his career. ORDINARY MAN, like the last few Ozzy albums seems more concerned with trends rather than good metal songs. I am still glad he is out there making music, but it is not the music I want him to make.

Death of Eddie Van Halen, Neil Peart, & many Others – Every year brings the loss of great musicians, but 2020 saw the death of some absolute legends. The influence that Eddie Van Halen and Neil Peart had on metal and bands that followed them is difficult to even begin to estimate, but it is safe to say that it was huge.

Hopes for 2021

A Return To Live Shows – Obviously, everyone wants this, and if it happens it means that a COVID-19 vaccine was made widely available and effective. That is a win for musicians and fans everywhere.

KK’s Priest Releases A Great Album – With KK unlikely to ever play in Judas Priest again, hearing he had formed a band with former Priest vocalist Tim “Ripper” Owens and former drummer Les Binks was exciting news. When Ozzy left Sabbath, fans got great albums from the solo Oz and his former band. Here is to KK’s Priest delivering the goods and equaling the last two Priest albums.

New Albums From…– Vio-lence, Lake Of Tears, Bloody Hammers & Accept that all vie for album of the year.

 

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