It’s an understatement that 2020 was a pretty fucked up year, right? Machine Head was the last live band I saw back in February and a few days after that I found myself in an emergency room with some unexpected surgery to be had (Don’t worry, I’m fine now!) followed by the shutdown across the country. There’ve been ups, downs, and everything in between in 2020 but one constant has been the music. Artists have adapted with some keeping those schedules and releasing new albums despite not being able to tour behind them while others are holding off altogether. Some have done well with the new norm of livestreamed concerts and while I’ve checked out a few, personally they’re just not my cuppa.
I will say that the music that HAS entered our collective consciousnesses this year has been some of the best in quite some time. In fact, this has been one of the hardest lists to shrink down to a manageable twenty (And we still found ways around that…) and while we wished this could be a monster list of “The Albums That Brought Light To The Dark” and include everything that made us smile, we simply don’t have the mental bandwidth to create such a huge list at this time….so we’re gonna go ahead and honorable mention a bunch (The first of our expanding the list cheats) to make us feel better:
The Brains’ Satana Tarantula followed Bat Music For Bat People by offshoot Bat! in 2019 and increased our growing love for Psychobilly immensely especially when songs are as raucous and as infectious as the title track and “Hell” to name just a few. Poppy released yet another genre-defying record with I Disagree followed by a graphic novel and a deluxe version of said genre-defying record and capped it all off with a Christmas single. So, helluva year amirite?
Elsewhere, Cavern’s Powdered was grand, gorgeous, and the most epic Indie Rawk opus you still need to hear while War On Women made a triumphant return with the incendiary Wonderful Hell with Shawna Potter’s biting words as relevant as ever. Melbourne’s Foot captured all the Nu-Grunge vibes on The Balance of Nature Shifted and Wailin’ Storms managed to get more haunted on larger than life Rawker Rattle.
And who knew that Sepultura could still rip but that’s exactly what they did when it came to Quadra which released on the day of my last show of 2020!
A Driftwood Cross is the name of the Doom-laden banger Witchskull released in 2020 and Puta Volcano gave us a sonic bludgeoning with their AMMA. And finally, here’s a pair of the real sleepers (Meaning the records we didn’t review but definitely should’ve) to finish this overlong prelude. First, there’s the New England-centric Tell Your God to Ready for Blood by Bloodwitch featuring artists currently in or formerly from Kilgore, Seemless, Overcast, and more which we actually drafted some words for back in May but never finished. And then there’s Habits by Elephant Tree which is like Desert Rawk Moody Blues and legitimately fell through the cracks until I rediscovered it thanks to the Day Of Doom live set we recently reviewed (Read that here).
Now onto the big list, links to relevant reviews included where applicable in the header:
20. Ron Killings, “Set It Off”: Did you know that The WWE superstar, and current 24/7 champion R-Truth is also an accomplished Hip-Hop artist? Because he is! Following his full-length in 2016 (#Killingit) and various tracks dropped since, this year found Killings releasing his most potent batch of songs yet beginning with the fiery “Set It Off” and rounded out by “Hit Em Up” and “We Got All The Power”. Oh, and he’s STILL the 24/7 champion.
19. AC/DC-Power Up: Did 2020 need a new record by these legends or what? “Realize” and “Code Red” bookend a collection of 12 iconic tracks that are heaven sent by the Rock and/or Roll by the masters.
18. Higher Power-27 Miles Underwater: Combining the frenetic energy of Glassjaw, the depth of deftones and the landmark feel of Jane’s Addiction, Higher Power managed to create some new noise that really stood out from the rest. If I was still working in a record store, this record would easily be in my regular rotation of comfort albums on any given long day.
17. Ascension Of The Watchers-Apocrypha: While vocalist Burton C Bell may have announced his departure from Fear Factory this year, he also resurrected his Electro/Ambient-tinged Ascension Of The Watchers project and released their first new album in almost 12 years. Exploring new soundscapes on a record that’s their most broad yet, Apocrypha may also prove to be their most important as Bell forges a new path without Fear Factory.
16. Kirk Windstein-Dream In Motion: The first record to make this list after constant repeated listens since it arrived all the way back in January, the debut solo record from the Crowbar commander-in-chief still sounds as fresh and as energized as the day it dropped almost 12 months ago while also being a completely different aural experience than what his day job sounds like with the NOLA Sludge merchants.
15. Julien-K-Harmonic Disruptor: If ever there was an album that epitomized the WTF aesthetic of 2020 it was this one by Julen-K. An outlier of an album yet so in tune with what was happening, Julien-K went back to their Electro-Industrial roots yet still managed to capture the modern New Wave aesthetic that’s become synonymous with their sound on a record that just might be their best yet.
14. Static-X-Project Regeneration, Vol. 1: Who’d have thunk that a post-RIP Wayne Static record would be their best since Wisconsin Death Trip? And that’s not discounting what’s come in between (Although the last two Static-X records were definitely not their most solid) but whatever the reason, the OG crew reunited to honor their fallen comrade with a blistering regeneration of the “Evil Disco” sound.
13. Eldridge Rodriguez-Slightest of Treason: The long-awaited new record from Boston’s Eldridge Rodriguez is like an Alt-Rawk comfort blanket. From the minute “Country And Western” kicks it all off, it’s everything you loved about ’90’s Rawk combined with this stirring sense of present-day Americana and then Cameron Keiber opens his maw and sounds like a modern Lou Reed delivering haunting lows and huge highs to create this sonic field of sheer bliss. And that’s just the first track, people!
12. hum-Inlet: Holy shit! Did hum surprise release a new record, their first in 12 years, amidst a pandemic? They did! And it easily blew away their entire discography. It’s grounded yet glorious and everything that fans could’ve wanted out of a comeback from these Alternative veterans.
11. Loviatar-Lightless: It’s not often we bring out the “Untitled Metal Column” to highlight an album and artist but when we do, believe it’s something special! Like the gargantuan debut full-length from Loviatar which exceeded all of our expectations and then some with an album that’ just as Heavy as it is Heavenly.
10. Bush-The Kingdom: I really enjoy Bush. And not just the Sixteen Stone nostalgia crap. Like, I’ve followed them through everything. Institute was phenomenal and their The Science Of Things record was probably my most favorite…until now. The closing credits of John Wick: Chapter 3 gave fans a taste with “Bullet Holes” but nothing could truly prepare fans for the sonic overload that was the most solid record since the band reunited in 2010. Opener “Flowers On A Grave” provides exquisite electricity and that fire continues through to the guitar-heavy title track as well as the ten tracks that follow that beginning salvo.
9. Old Man Gloom: Seminar IX & Seminar VIII: Only Old Man Gloom could still manage to surprise fans at the height of a pandemic. Released back in May, it was already announced that the first post-Caleb Scofield recordings were going to be two separate recordings entitled Seminar VIII and Seminar IX. What wasn’t announced was that OMG was going to surprise drop IX to streaming services BEFORE both were initially scheduled to be released. Cave In and Mutoid Man’s Stephen Brodsky filled the big shoes left by the tragic passing of Scofield and the resulting two albums are monstrous. For us, the Brodsky-led eleven minute behemoth “Calling You Home” off Seminar VIII is worth the price of admission alone with Aaron Turner’s pained screams echoing in the background, Santos Montano’s subtle pounding and Nate Newton’s guitar accents all adding to one of the most dense, diverse, and complex OMG tracks and releases to date.
8. ESA-Burial 10: Electronic Substance Abuse’s latest is the Industrial album we ALL need in 2020. Hearkening back to early Skinny Puppy while sharing similarities with current beasts like Youth Code and 3Teeth, ESA’s latest is a visceral, militaristic stomp to the finish. “Relapse” might be a call to arms to start but it’s the rest of Burial 10 that really solidifies Jamie Blacker’s place in the upper echelons of the Electro Elite. Oh yeah, and then ESA released another slab of awesome with the Eat Their Young/The Scorn EP barely six months after Burial 10!
7. Armored Saint-Punching the Sky: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again now because it’s relevant: John Bush Anthrax is the Anthrax that I grew up with and, while I’ve come to love and respect Belladonna-era, Bush will ALWAYS be my guy. Before that, though, there was Armored Saint who put out one of the FINEST slabs of Metal in 2020 that’s downright legendary with its’ excellence.
6. Tairrie B-Feminenergy/The Cathartic Collection: Not necessarily a comeback so much as a refreshing return, former Manhole/Tura Satana, My Ruin vocalist Tairrie B showed up in a big way late in the year with a new solo record that embraced her Hip-Hop roots and continued to poke the bear and speak out about the current dumpster fire of an administration. With partner-in-crime and partner-in-life Mick Murphy handling the instrumentation, Feminenergy has a live feel that sounds fresh and ferocious. And if that wasn’t enough Miss B for you then you’re in luck because 2020 ALSO delivered the mega My Ruin compilation, The Cathartic Collection, featuring 40 tracks culled from the entire My Ruin catalog as well as a brand new song to serve as a reintroduction and, to an extent, a coda to the book of My Ruin.
5. The Greg Puciato trifecta: The former Dillinger Escape Plane front man had a phenomenal year. Launching this solo thang (Child Soldier: Creator of God) to the surprise return of Killer Be Killed (Reluctant Hero) and then capped off with a livestreamed event and accompanying live album featuring four MORE new solo tracks (The lovely Fuck Content), Puciato kind of owned this shit year. And honestly, how can anyone not love the weird union of Puciato, Mastodon’s Troy Sanders, the legendary Max Cavalera, and Ben Koller of Converge/Mutoid Man? But for me, it wasn’t until Fuck Content dropped that I truly appreciated the majesty and scope of what Puciato brought to the big kids table. “Evacuation” live and on record is a master class in modern Reznor-isms so by all means, Trent, go do your film scores because Mr. Puciato is ready to teach us all a thing or two.
4. The Network-Money Money 2020 Pt II: We Told Ya So!: This is the kind of band that is the reason folks like me have to wait until almost the last minute to finish this kind of list. The original mini-album was a blast, a HOOT even but the full-length that arrived some sixteen years after the og is a sight to behold…or the equivalent of a listen to be listened to….which is a lot because the thing is 25 tracks for chrissakes! It’s the kind of throwback futuristic album that causes uncontrollable shit-eatin’ grins to appear on this reviewer too many times during a playthrough. And it’s definitely not Green Day. Nope, not at all.
3. Hinayana-Death of the Cosmic: This EP came out of nowhere for me and just shreds and grinds and rises above all. It’s atmospheric Death/Black Metal on the surface but that’s the most basic of descriptors as there’s just so many more layers within Hinayana. The most compelling aspect here is that this EP is just the prelude to an upcoming full-length. If the title track and the bludgeoning “Cold Conception” are but a snapshot, can you IMAGINE what’s coming next? We can’t wait either.
2. Irist-Order Of The Mind: Irist’s debut is a beast. And definitely our top pick for heavy album of the year. The Atlanta-based quartet slay in an otherworldly way combining the fury of early Sepultura with the modern aesthetic of Gojira. Again I say: What. A. Debut. From the glow of “Eons” straight through to the moody/somber/sobering pangs of “Nerve”, there’s not a track here that isn’t mesmerizing.
And then I got to the end and thought “Oh, right! This is my site and I can order this thing however I want! 3-way tie for the top spot because I can’t make up my mind? Sure!” So I managed to find yet ANOTHER way to sneak more titles on here as well. It’s really just more work for me.
But I digress!
Here’s the Rock And Roll Fables triple threat batch of albums that got us through this awful year. Hopefully you’ll find a new favorite somewhere in here, too:
1. Spice-S/T: This album came out of left field and just floored us. We were drawn to the sounds of “All My Best Shit” but even that track barely scratched the surface of what was to come. Like later Bob Mould/Sugar mixed with Handsome and barely 26 minutes long, Spice isn’t just one of the best _________ (Insert whatever genre you think they are here) records of 2020 but closer to just one of the best records overall, regardless of genre. People who live and die by the sword of Dave Grohl should pay attention to Spice.
1. Forming The Void-Reverie: Easily a favorite of ours, Forming The Void captured a sound that was epic, iconic, and loud. The second “Sage” grinds its’ way into yer earholes you’ll be hooked and from there it’s the bee’s knees and then some. “Trace the Omen”, “Manifest”, and “Electric Hive” are the best back-to-back-to-back onslaught of Rawk on this entire list and the only thing negative I can say about this album is that eventually it ends.
1. Corlyx-Together Apart: This album is so divine that it should come with a warning label to inform listeners of the potential heavenly experiences they might have while it plays. When Caitlin Stokes delivers lines like “Night fades into the eyes of the White Wolf” with Brandon Ashley providing back up it’s like you’re there, you’re one with the sounds…..it’s so beautiful, so harmonious….and yet there’s so much more yet to come!!!! “We See Red” is another religious experience as is “Porcelain Skin”. It’s like they say: the hits just keep coming. As an old Goth, I especially miss the nights of release on the dancefloor while wearing all black that have been taken away during the pandemic but it’s albums like this, which cause me to dance uncontrollably in my kitchen while doing dishes instead, that give me hope that eventually we’ll get back to those sacred spaces.