1. Seven Spires – EMERALD SEAS
What an ambitious and captivating concept album from this band, anchored by the superb vocals of Adrienne Cowan. Power metal is the name of the game here but without the cheese. Cowan’s vocals run the gamut from operatic soprano to death metal growl and she never falters. Guitarist Jack Kosto unleashes riff after memorable riff. This is truly a big surprise to nestle into my number one spot but it is well-deserved.
2. Black Crown Initiate – VIOLENT PORTRAITS OF DOOMED ESCAPE
Progressive death metal blended with metalcore, Pennsylvania’s Black Crown Initiate continue to defy genres, unleashing a masterpiece with VIOLENT PORTRAITS OF DOOMED ESCAPE.
3. Primal Fear – METAL COMMANDO
METAL COMMANDO does not waver from the Primal Fear formula which has been working well for 22 years. Fans know what they are getting and, as always, the German veterans deliver on all fronts: melodic power metal topped off with the soaring, powerful pipes of Ralf Scheepers. Thirteen studio albums into their career, Primal Fear has yet to falter.
4. Communic – HIDING FROM THE WORLD
Communic is such a good band but never really made it over the wall to become “known.” CONSPIRACY IN MIND remains the Norwegians’ greatest accomplishment but six full-lengths in, Communic is still crafting interesting albums that deserve greater recognition than they get.
5. The Acacia Strain – SLOW DECAY
Spread out over four months, The Acacia Strain quietly released five, two-track “singles,” each with zero notice and each bearing a single letter, eventually spelling out D-E-C-A-Y. A month later, SLOW DECAY was released with two additional tracks forming a cohesive full-length. The band’s signature crushing brutality is on full display with Vincent Bennett’s lyrics outlining the slow death of Earth.
6. Unleash The Archers – ABYSS
7. Burning Witches – DANCE WITH THE DEVIL
8. Dark Tranquillity – MOMENT
9. Archon Angel – FALLEN
10. My Dying Bride – THE GHOST OF ORION
11. Iron Savior – SKYCREST
12. Katatonia – CITY BURIALS
13. Sepultura – QUADRA
14. Onslaught – GENERATION ANTICHRIST
15. Testament – TITANS OF CREATION
16. Vanden Plas – THE GHOST EXPERIMENT (ILLUMINATION)
17. The Black Dahlia Murder – VERMINOUS
18. Draconian – UNDER A GODLESS VEIL
19. Midnight – REBIRTH BY BLASPHEMY
20. Necrophobic – DAWN OF THE DAMNED
Trailight SOPHIA, Persuader NECROMANCY, Winterfylleth THE RECKONING DAWN, Benediction SCRIPTURES, Stryper EVEN THE DEVIL BELIEVES, Annihilator BALLISTIC, SADISTIC, Magnus Karlsson’s Free Fall WE ARE THE NIGHT, Lamb of God LAMB OF GOD, Paradise Lost OBSIDIAN, Serenity THE LAST KNIGHT, Wilderun VEIL OF IMAGINATION, Sons of Apollo MMXX
BEST NEW BAND OF 2020
Formed from the ashes of The Devin Townsend Project, drummer Ryan van Poederooyen and guitarist Brian Waddell hooked up with Threat Signal/Arkaea vocalist Jon Howard for a totally different sound from their usual pedigree on STATE OF BEING.
BEST LIVE ALBUMS OF 2020
Devin Townsend – ORDER OF MAGNITUDE: EMPATH LIVE VOLUME 1
Devin pulls off this ambitious presentation of the EMPATH album cycle—and a few oddities like the 1977 his “Disco Inferno”—perfectly with a full band and backup singers. Hawaiian shirts and just plain oddball tracks really make this a standout live show for fans of Devy past and present.
Triptykon – REQUIEM (LIVE AT ROADBURN 2019)
Tom G. Warrior finally realized his trilogy of Celtic Frost’s “Requiem” tracks by penning the missing second piece (“Grave Eternal”). With the help of the Metropole Orkest and the ethereal vocals of Safa Heraghi, Triptykon unleashes the full suite on the Roadburn Festival crowd for a one-time only performance.
BEST EP OF 2020
Soilwork – A WHISP OF THE ATLANTIC
At 37 minutes, this “EP” is longer than many full-length releases. Soilwork delivers an epic 16-minute title track along with four others that really showcases what this band is capable of so deep into their career.
BEST REISSUES OF 2020
Pantera – REINVENTING THE STEEL (20TH ANNIVERSARY)
The swan song from the band that essentially kept metal alive in the wasteland of the 1990s and 2000s, REINVENTING THE STEEL has always got a raw deal as not being up to snuff to the rest of Pantera’s major label output. Fans of the band get a treat here with studio demos, remixes, covers and rarities alongside a glorious remaster of Pantera’s underappreciated bow out.
Rush – PERMANENT WAVES (40TH ANNIVERSARY)
The death of Neil Peart in January 2020 really hit hard but the 40th anniversary celebration of phase III of Rush shows what a versatile and forward-thinking band Rush was. Front-heavy with the typical “hits” (“The Spirit of Radio” and “Freewill”), the dozen live songs added on to the reissue capture the band segueing from a progressive rock entity into the synth-heavy 80s powerhouse that was as divisive as it was intriguing.
BEST COVERS ALBUM OF 2020
Danzig – DANZIG SINGS ELVIS
Sadly, Glenn Danzig has become a cartoon with his last few releases and a full album of Elvis Presley covers was ripe for criticism, but he does a solid job here. Nothing to go crazy over but this is an ambitious project from “Evil Elvis” bowing down to a major influence on his vocal style.
Ace Frehley – ORIGINS VOL. 2
Ace’s second outing of covers. Some work (“Good Times, Bad Times”) while others fail miserably (“Space Truckin’”) but for someone who was written off as a drunk not that far back, Ace has been the most prolific member of the KISS family over the past decade.
BEST COMEBACK OF 2020
Demons & Wizards
With fifteen years having passed since TOUCHED BY THE CRIMSON KING was released, it was time Jon Schaffer and Hansi Kürsch got down to business again with the long-overdue third D&W record, III.
BEST METAL-RELATED BOOKS OF 2020
JP and I seem to be the resident bibliophiles here at Metal Rules and 2020 gave us a real feast to dive into. Impossible to narrow down to just one title, these are the books that really went above and beyond for me in 2020.
WOLVES WHO ARE MEN: THE HISTORY OF MOONSPELL
Cult Never Dies pulls out all the stops in this fully authorized autobiography to deliver a deep dive into the history of the Portuguese goth/black metal legends.
THE BOOK OF HEAVY METAL by Snowy Shaw
Snowy Shaw (Mercyful Fate, Dream Evil, Therion, Memento Mori) redefines DYI with his self-published autobiography in a massive, hardcover presentation that ups the bar on music books to an unprecedented level.
NO CELEBRATION: THE OFFICIAL STORY OF PARADISE LOST by David E. Gehlke
Incredibly detailed and thorough, this authorized autobiography—published through Decibel—really delivers on all fronts.
THE ESSENCE OF EPICA
Rich in pictures and presentation (and price!), this is the ultimate keepsake for Epica fans from Rocket 88 books.
The prolific Canadian continues to release smartly-written band bios at an alarming rate. A whopping NINE books by Popoff came out in 2020, each one essential reading.
BEST DISCOVERY OF 2020
Equal parts blackened thrash a la Venom and crust punk, Midnight brings the filth in a big way on REBIRTH BY BLASPHEMY, the band’s fourth full-length. Not sure why Midnight finally popped up on my radar but I am glad they did.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS OF 2020
Ozzy Osbourne – ORDINARY MAN
This was an embarrassment, plain and simple. Pandering to remain relevant with not one but TWO tracks featuring modern rappers, Ozzy is really grasping at straws here. Forgettable the second it ended.
U.D.O. – WE ARE ONE
Bombastic and overdone, U.D.O. is a legend but this collaboration with the German armed forces band just did not resonate with me.
Nightwish – HUMAN. :II: NATURE.
The last three albums have been a bloated, pompous, over-the-top mess with more focus on the wow factor than actual good songs. Not sure what Tuomas Holopainen is ultimately building up to but getting through the irritatingly-titled HUMAN. :II: NATURE. even once was an exercise in patience.
Body Count – CARNIVORE
I absolutely LOVED the first Body Count record when it came out in 1992 but despite a late-career renaissance, nothing has even come close to that release. Ice-T seems content with doing cover songs (three covers—including two of his own—in eleven tracks…really??) and collaborations as he sails into his golden years, but it really does not translate into a significant release.
Anvil – LEGAL AT LAST
Anvil’s “legacy” pretty much ended in 1983, yet here we are in 2020 with the band cranking out another insipid collection of poorly written, poorly played and very poorly sung tracks. Lips & Robbo have certainly stayed the course but honestly, who is still excited about a new album anymore?
GREATEST HOPES FOR 2021
1. Despite the hardships and isolation brought on by COVID in 2020, the one positive is that many artists could devote time to writing and recording new material. As a result, 2021 promises a year filled with highly anticipated new albums from Megadeth, Exodus, Anthrax, Devin Townsend, Accept, Fear Factory, Scorpions, Ghost, Carcass, Moonspell, Therion, Meshuggah, Evergrey, Kreator, Epica, At The Gates, Gojira, Cradle of Filth, Times of Grace, Orden Ogan, The Crown, Sirenia, Asphyx, and Crystal Viper, as well as many others sure to be announced.
2. Carried over from the past two years and further stalled by COVID, KISS’ “Farewell” Tour is rumored to have all former members on stage at some point, which will be truly something to see as a lifelong fan.
3. Still nothing new from King Diamond despite an early tease single (“Masquerade of Madness”) which was released way back in November 2019. Hopefully, a long overdue new album will come down the pipe this year from both King and Mercyful Fate.