2020 was a tough year for the metal world for obvious reasons. It’s now more important than ever to BUY the albums you enjoy – if you steal the music you love, you kill the music you love.
I didn’t get to listen to nearly as much metal as I wanted to in 2020 due to the whirlwind of chaos that the pandemic brought into my life, but here’s some albums that I enjoyed:
01. TESTAMENT – Titans of Creation
Perseverance and resilience are common themes in this year’s list. Practice What You Preach is one of my top 10 favorites of all time, and 30+ years later Testament has persevered through the ups and downs in the music business and delivered a killer album.
02. PARADISE IN FLAMES – Devils Collection
This one came as a surprise, even to me. Black metal is not my strongest area, but something about the raw sound with operatic backing vocals really caught my ear. Not a bunch of studio tricks or overproduction – what you hear here is what you hear live.
03. DEMONS & WIZARDS – III
Waited a long time for this one… Jon Schaffer said that he and Hansi Kursch would not do this record unless they could sit down together and do it right. The result is everything I love about Iced Earth and Blind Guardian – 20 years after the first Demons & Wizards album.
04. ENSLAVED – Utgard
Enslaved sure have evolved a lot over their almost 30 year career, including becoming a two-vocalist band somewhere along the way. This is a band that is in a class by themselves, and continue to evolve without ever putting the same album out twice.
05. FATES WARNING – Long Day Good Night
Listening to “Silent Cries” on my cassette walkman in the late eighties blew me away, and was probably my first exposure to power metal. Now, 30+ years later, Ray Adler and crew sound as good as ever. A lot of bands took a chance with late releases this year – instead of playing it safe and waiting for Covid to pass – and I hope support from the fans has been worth it.
06. PERSUADER – Necromancy
Another one released late in the year, but I’m glad Persuader put their 5th album out there – 20 years after their debut album The Hunter. This album sounds like the cover looks – dark and powerful. Jens Carlsson is very underrated as vocalist.
07. KILLER BE KILLED – Reluctant Hero
I’m really not into Dillinger Escape Plan, and I think Mastodon’s sound is simply too big to capture on CD – but man do these guys sound awesome together. They really played off of one-another’s strengths on this one and it shows in the songwriting. Early Sepultura albums just go without saying.
08. SOJOURNER – Premonitions
Atmospheric, epic, male and female vocals… The latest from New Zealand’s Sojourner is the kind of disc that you put in and let your mind drift away. Some people mistakenly call this ‘Atmospheric Black Metal’ – ignore that label, of course it’s nothing like black metal – it’s more like early Sirenia. I hate the term ‘shoegaze’ too, for the record.
09. DRACONIAN – Under a Godless Veil
Some Draconian records are hard for me to get into because of the overall slower tempo. This one is a slab of dark, heavy, doomy goodness. Another band that has persevered for 25+ years.
10. UADA – Djinn
60 minutes worth of top quality modern black metal. Lots of structure changes within the songs, and the signature howling vocals of Jake Superchi.
11. HEATHEN – Empire of the Blind
Heathen hasn’t been consistently active for the last couple decades, but here they are almost 30 years after the release of Victims of Deception (an early thrash classic) with a fresh, aggressive thrash album.
12. GOD DETHRONED – Illuminati
God Dethroned has had the resilience to make it through a lot of creative differences and changes over their long career. This is an aggressive concept album, and Henri Sattler sounds particularly venemous.
13. KATATONIA – City Burials
Another band that sure has evolved over the last three decades. Jonas Renkse sounds awesome here, and I especially like “Behind the Blood”. This would rank higher if more of the songs weren’t on the mellow side.
14. ONSLAUGHT – Generation Antichrist
My first exposure to Onslaught was when Steve Grimmett joined the band way back when. They had a lengthy hiatus after that, but these days they are arguably as good as they’ve ever been. New vocalist Dave Garnett sounds absolutely vicious.
15. ARMORED SAINT – Punching the Sky
How underrated and under-appreciated is John Bush? Almost 30 years after the magnificent Symbol of Salvation album he still sounds this good. Kudos to the rest of the band of course for putting out such a catchy album.
16. KATAKLYSM – Unconquered
After close to three decades as a band Montreal powerhouse Kataklysm delivers a killer record. You can always count on Maurizio Iacono and crew to serve up some brutality. The thing I’ve noticed about Kataklysm albums is that if you play them loud enough they will knock you right out of your chair.
17. UNLEASH THE ARCHERS – Abyss
The follow up to Apex is Abyss – the latest from the ultra-technically proficient Canadian power-thrashers UTA. I’d rank this one higher if Brittney’s vocals weren’t layered so much in the production. They won’t be able to do that live, though I guess that’s not much of an issue these days.
18. WOLFHEART – Wolves of Karelia
I’ve been following Tuomas Saukkonen’s work since discovering Dawn of Solace. This record is a step up in aggression from the last couple. Side note: check out “Wings of Darkness Attached on the Children of Light” if you want to get an idea of his roots.
19. NIGHTWISH: Human. :II: Nature.
Nightwish is another band that is in a class by themselves. Each album seems to have its own identity, and this one is no exception. Floor Jansen is a class act and continues to be a perfect fit for the band.
20. STRYPER – Even The Devil Believes
One year I asked my mother for a Slayer cassette for my birthday, and she accidentally came home with Stryper – how’s that for irony? Could she have screwed that up any worse? That was Soldiers Under Command – an album I still listen to. Now all these years later here they are putting out quality music… Perseverance. Don’t let the ‘Christian Metal’ label stop you from listening to the album – I don’t believe in Thor or Valhalla either but it doesn’t make me enjoy Amon Amarth any less.
I enjoyed the mid-nineties radio sound Ozzy has in the mid-nineties, but not so much now. I love that the Prince of Darkness is still at it after all these years though. Hearing Ozzy’s first couple solo albums when I was a kid in the early eighties changed my life – and is the reason you’re reading this.
I appreciate the creativity and passion that went into this album, I just wish it were heavier. Maria Brink sounds great, and In This Moment go out of their way to put on a memorable show for the fans during their live performances.
Best Comeback Album:
…AND OCEANS – Cosmic World Mother
Not 5, not 10, but 17 years after their last release comes the new album from Finland’s …And Oceans. Heavy, melodic, symphonic – this one could easily be up in my top 20.
LUTHARO: Wings of Agony
I discovered this band from Ontario, CA by accident when I came across a Wacken Metal Battle Canada sampler on Bandcamp. Lutharo has tons of energy and Krista Shipperbottom has some mean growls to complement her singing. I might have to make the trip to Canada next time they’re on tour.
Best Live Album:
TRIPTYKON: Requiem – Live at Roadburn 2019 with the Metropole Orkest
I love it when metal bands team up with orchestras, and here we get some classic Celtic Frost too. Were there bigger, flashier, longer live albums out this year? Sure, but how much more live Kreator and Iron Maiden do we need.
Best Discovery of 2020:
QUO VADIS – Live in Montreal
No live music for me in 2020, but this helped make up for it. I somehow missed out on Quo Vadis when they were active, but they sound awesome live – including a young Yanic Bercier on drums.
Best Covers Album:
BPMD – American Made
Blitz, Portnoy, Menghi, and Demmel – A supergroup of sorts giving songs that influenced them a proper metal treatment.
Best Local Band: Temple of Void
The heyday of the Detroit club scene is long gone, but there’s still some good metal coming out of Michigan USA. Detroit’s Temple of Void offer up a blend of death and doom with some synth elements – well worth checking out if you like Novembers Doom.
Biggest Disappointments (Besides Covid):
Losing more of our metal brethren, most notably Eddie Van Halen and Neil Peart. I don’t need constant reminders that getting old sucks – I get it. I really don’t listen to much Van Halen or Rush, but both bands helped steer me towards hard rock when I was a kid, and their legacies speak for themselves.
The final nail in the coffin of Fear Factory. At least we have Demanufacture and Obsolete to remember.
Hopes For 2021:
The same as everyone else’s – some return to normalcy for the metal world, though I think the damage is already done for much of 2021. Timo Tolkki: don’t judge crowdfunding response as a lack of interest in your newest project – this is just the worst possible time for such a campaign.
New Coroner!! Some more new stuff from Cadaveria. Maybe we’ll get some new King Diamond too. New Therion sounds good so far.
A speedy recovery for L.G. Petrov.
A grisly end for all of the Youtube “reactors” that are using Floor Jansen and Tatiana Shmayluk to drive traffic to their channel.
The CD manufacturers of the world will band together and stop producing digi-packs. I HATE DIGI-PACKS!!
A winning lottery ticket so I can start collecting vinyl.