What a year…
Does a Top 5̶ 10 Albums of 2020 list even matter this year?
I will answer with a resounding YES…! Yes it does! Because out of everything that happened and everything that changed this year, the one constant; the one saving grace for a lot of people…was music.
Musicians/Bands/Artists had (are still having!) a ROUGH Time out there. Albums were released, but touring ceased. Musicians had to find other ways to make ends meet. We were gifted livestreams and artist collaborations that we may not have otherwise seen. We had charity singles and a lot of us bought a ton of online merch., trying to do what we could to support the bands we love. (My t-shirt drawers have reached max capacity).
Yes, 2020 by all standards was a shitshow. But as long as people are still out there creating music for us masses, there will always be some hope. With that said, there was NO chance that I could contain this list to just 5 albums. I’m going full Top 10 for 2020. There were just too many worthy Titles that needed to be included.
Yes, I know.. BUT (Insert band/album name here) wasn’t included!!! How could you?!?! Well, that’s why it’s MY list and not yours. Feel free to throw in some Titles in the comments of some of the albums that you believe absolutely should have been included.
Here are WILL’s Top F̶i̶v̶e̶ 10 Albums of 2020.
10. The Struts – “Strange Days”
The Struts and the rest of us are living through “Strange Days” indeed. The third outing from the lads from Derby didn’t initially grab me as quickly as their first two releases. This one was written and recorded in the wake of the pandemic and came about rather quickly (written and recorded in 10 days) and in places it shows. It’s an album that definitely had to grow on me.
Although it currently sits as my 3rd favorite Struts album, it does have some great highlights. Standouts include “Wild Child” with guest guitarist, Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine), I dig The Black Crowes sounding, “Burn It Down” and I’ve actually grown quite fond of the Robbie Williams’ duet with Luke on the title track. But the pièce de résistance for me is my new FAVORITE Struts song… “Am I Talking To The Champagne (Or Talking To You)“… I’m a sucker for a killer saxophone solo. The legend of the band will grow and I’m sure hearing some of these songs live in the future will elevate them even higher in my esteem.
9. AC/DC – “Power Up”
Thank you AC/DC for giving us exactly what was needed for 2020. A pure, unabashed, comfortable and familiar, AC/DC Album. “Power Up” isn’t breaking any molds. Matter of fact, you could insert any one of these 12 songs into any other AC/DC album and not blink an eye. But collectively, this album is a step above their last few releases and the band, (outside of Nephew Stevie Young handling Mal’s parts) is the same lineup that brought you the classic “Back in Black“. Yes, Angus, Brian, Cliff and Phil have delivered an amazing entry into an already legendary discography.
This is one of the last batches of songs that was written by Malcolm Young and his spirit is firmly branded on every track here within.
8. Magnum – “The Serpent Rings”
Not well known in the U.S., British Rock band, Magnum have been a staple in my life since the mid 80’s. Reaching their creative peak with the albums, “On a Storytellers’s Night“, “Vigilante” and “Wings Of Heaven“; their amazing melodies, crunching guitar and orchestral keyboards have weaved stories of serpents, wizards as well as modern tales of love and war.
Founded by guitarist Tony Clarkin and singer, Bob Catley in 1972 (!!), Magnum have been consistent in releasing an album every few years, but not always at the same quality as those groundbreaking albums mentioned above.
Until now… It once again all came together for their 21st album, “The Serpent Rings“. From start to finish the songs on this disc are like a rebirth of the band. Tony and Bob (at 74 and 73 years old respectively) aren’t spring chickens, and if it weren’t for a little gruffness in Bob’s vocals, you’d think that this was a release from some upstart young guns. All the aspects that made Magnum great back in the days of yore are up front and center. I highly recommend you check out this band and all the albums I’ve mentioned above.
7. British Lion – “The Burning”
And sticking with the Brits…How about British Lion!? Once you get past the fact that Steve Harris didn’t duplicate his efforts with an Iron Maiden knock-off side band, the quicker you’re going to be able to be captivated by British Lion’s, “The Burning“.
This is one REALLY great, melodic rock album. Released in January of 2020, it’s easy to let this album slip past an “End Of Year Best of” List…but it is such a powerful collection of songs. Let’s be real, Steve Harris probably got you in the door (And his signature bass chug is very apparent here and there), but there’s really so much more. The incredibly emotion tinged vocals from Richie Taylor as well as the quality of these songs are what will keep you coming back again and again.
6. Testament – “Titans of Creation”
Testament continue to weave their wickedness with their (lucky) 13th release, “Titans Of Creation“. There is no respite for the ears on this release. Plenty of Pit Fodder here when these gems are unleashed live on U.S. soil. The album’s content touches on Suicide Cults, Serial Killers, Nuclear War and Hell & Beyond, offering a comforting audio experience for those connoisseurs of deep, dark, wholesome, old-school thrash metal.
Chuck Billy channels all the darkness available for his growling vocals while Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson turn “Titans…” into a blitzkrieg of shred! Rounded out by amazing gut busting rhythmic pounding from bassist Steve Di Gorgio and drummer, Gene Hoglan, Testament have again reinforced their claim as the number 1 Thrash Metal Band! (After the Big 4, of course).
Just dawned on me with the sound of death and destruction still ringing in my ears, that if you can remember back to what seemed a lifetime ago, Chuck Billy was one of the first big names in rock to come forward announcing that he had the Coronavirus. Contracted on a European tour that also affected some of their crew as well as members of Exodus and Death Angel. Can you imagine the themes and lyrics we’re going to get on the NEXT Testament release?!
Also, the band has never looked better than in this awesome animated video for their “Heaven’s Gate” themed, “Children Of The Next Level“
5. Gary Moore – “Live From London”
I don’t usually like to add Best Of’s or Collections, but I’ll make an exception for this man. Gary Moore was my favorite rock guitarist. He had a feel and emotion and a familiar phrasing that so many rock guitarists just don’t. His voice echoed this and it was only natural that once he was all rocked out…he went back to his first love, The Blues.
It’s here that I lost touch with him minus a few of his Greatest Hits Blues albums. But for this last release, “Live In London”, a concert recorded in a small club in London’s Islington Academy, I threw on a pair of headphones and was once again mesmerized by every note; every lyric. Listening to him sing and play his heart out on “Still Got The Blues” is enough to bring a tear to your eye. It’s been 9 years since the former Thin Lizzy guitarist from Northern Ireland died and I will rue every day that us fans don’t get to hear him rock out one more time. But for now, I’ll do him the honor of following him down the path he chose.
4. Richie Kotzen – “50 for 50”
And what better way to follow up from my favorite guitarist of the past to my favorite guitarist of the present. One of the most talented and creative mofo’s out there, Richie Kotzen. This man does not, can not, WILL NOT stop working and we are all better off for it!
“50 for 50” is Richie’s 50th Birthday present to all of us. A TRIPLE Album of 50 brand new songs that run the gamut of his talent: Rock, soul, funk and beyond… His exquisite guitarwork and vocals are on full display and nary a clunker to be found. I’d dive into each track and give you a brief highlight from each, but as I mentioned.. HE GAVE US 50!!! So you’ll just have to do your own research. Check out the homemade, (kitchenmade?) quarantine video of “As You Are” below for a glimpse into Richie’s madness. Nothing keeps a good entertainer down.
As a side note, if the opening single from his new collaboration with Adrian Smith (Iron Maiden) is any indication of what’s to come in 2021…You can bet money you’re going to see his name here again on this list next year.
3. One Desire – “Midnight Empire”
What a killer find this was! A Saturday evening headed down one of my usual YouTube rabbit holes, I run into One Desire and “Shadowman“, and further on down the hole I went and discovered “Heroes“… Damn, I miss this type of an album that makes you want to skip ahead, not because any songs are bad, but you just want to get to the next awesome track.
“Midnight Empire” is the second album from this rock band from Finland and it is chock full of killer guitar riffs, extravagant keyboards, crisp vocals, all with a hint of prog. thrown into the mix here and there for good measure.
One Desire allows these songs all the time they need to progress instead of the usual 3 minute hit it and quit it songs that a lot of their contemporaries are adhering to. This is an album that I keep returning to which is a reason I’ve made it my 3rd favorite album of the year. I invite you take a trip down the rabbit hole with me. You won’t be disappointed.
2. Neon Coven – “Future Postponed”
Speaking of trips… wanna take a great one that only costs you the price of a download? You can thank Neon Coven, because the future has indeed been postponed and it stopped in the mid 80’s. And if you have this album you’ll know what a great trip back in time it is. This is synth, dance, pop, rock, goth brilliance! All the best things taken from days gone by and launched into the now with a great modern take on songs laced with angst, melancholy and a shit ton of fun. It’s brand new, but yet oh so familiar. The band, Anthony Montemarano (vocals), Ace Von Johnson (guitar), Jacob Bunton (bass), and Kyle Cunningham (drums), smash this one out of the park.
Anthony’s vocals are pitch perfect for every genre touched upon. And the guitarwork from AVJ on this album is incredible. With the leash taken off from playing other people’s hits (in Faster Pussycat and L.A. Guns), Ace is able to showcase what a truly incredible talent he is. This is an album I didn’t know I needed. I wasn’t sure what to expect and I couldn’t have been happier with what was delivered.
Which leads me to my Album Of the Year…
1. Armored Saint – “Punching The Sky”
Damn, Armored Saint! You had no right to go and release THIS album after all this time as a band. Their last studio release, “Win Hands Down” had some really great tracks and, as with a lot of artists from this time, some fillers that fit in well enough to make it a decent enough album. That is NOT the case with “Punching The Sky“. There is no filler here. From the opening Uillean Pipes on “Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants” to the Indian Flute that kicks off album closer and shredfest, “Never You Fret“, it’s just hooks galore, left right and center.
Look, I’m not going to re-review the album, you can read my original write up HERE, to understand why I continue to gush about it. This is an album that strikes you right out of the gate and yet STILL continues to get better.
Congratulations to John Bush (vocals), Phil Sandoval (guitar), Jeff Duncan (guitar), Joey Vera (bass) and Gonzo Sandoval (drums) on releasing such a quality album after almost 40 yeas in the biz that has rightly landed on many 2020 “Best Of” Lists.
My Plus-One-For-The-Road… (And because all good 10’s should go to 11)
Whitney Tai – “Apogee”
This is NOT a Rock album. This is pure ethereal, dreamy pop. But the quality of the music and lyrics on Whitney Tai’s sophomore album deserve to be heard. Whitney and Producer Tim Janssens have created a dreamlike piece of art that is worthy of a mention on any 2020 “Best Of” List.
Whitney is an artist through and through who’s vision is expressed through her music, lyrics and videos. It’s obvious to see that she wears her heart and soul on her sleeve as is expressed in the emotion on display in this collection of songs. This album is a MOOD and hopefully should elevate Whitney to the much higher levels of recognition that she deserves.
And that’s a wrap!
Also, as I mentioned, there are a lot of people struggling these days in the music industry, not just the bands, but all the crew members that keep the machines rolling.
Buy directly from the bands when you can and if you get a chance check out MusicCares.Org for more information about supporting the music industry during these times.
Peace and Love to All!