2020 has been a terrible year for most of the world. No good dwelling on it, but it has also brought joyous new releases from many different rocking rollers. Decibel Geek recently asked its Facebook readers to pick their top albums of the year to date. I thought it would be fun to highlight the top picks for those who are looking to find new music.
BLACK SWAN – Shake The World
More supergroup magic from Frontiers Records, putting together the collective talents of vocalist Robin McAuley (McAuley Schenker Group), guitarist Reb Beach (Winger, Whitesnake), bassist Jeff Pilson (Foreigner, The End Machine, ex-Dokken), and drummer Matt Starr (Ace Frehley, Mr. Big).
This album strides into the rock arena like a pro-baseball batter, confident in its experience and having all the right moves in 2020.
There is exceptional talent on show, but the strength is in the tunes that will swim around your ears and lodge themselves in your brain.
My favorite cut is the amazing “Immortal Souls“. The music is melodic and muscular, harking back to the halcyon days of the 1980’s, but with the new modern sheen of wonderful production, courtesy of Pilson. He also comments, “it’s amazing, incredible music…Wait until you hear everybody’s playing and singing. It’s beyond — way beyond.“
Framing Hanley – Envy
I had never heard of this band until they were suggested by the Facebook group, but this is a bit special.
Lead singer & songwriter Kenneth Nixon, guitarists Tim Huskinson and Brandon Wooten, bassist Luke McDuffee and drummer Chris Vest came together in Nashville. They were discovered by Brett Hestla, former Creed bassist, who helped them record a demo.
In 2008, Tim left the band. He was replaced by a friend of the band, guitarist Ryan Belcher. They developed their sound over albums such as “The Sum Of Who We Are” and “A Promise To Burn“.
Envy shows a band unafraid of experimentation. Their sound is emo-tinged rock with a great sense of melody. The best song is the heavy and emotive “Bubbles“.
H.E.A.T. – II
The boys from Sweden formed in 2007. H.E.A.T II is confusingly enough, not their second album. The 2020 release is actually their sixth record since the debut in 2008.
The band’s sound is a blend of European and US rock, with a keen eye on the melody button. The songs burst out with energy and the sound is a pulsating barometer of heat beats.
“Come Clean” is a storming blast of steaming rock. “We Are Gods” challenges all to a back alley brawl and “Nothing To Say” tastes the salty bitterness of doomed romance.
Overall, a tasty hot treat!
DRAMARAMA – Color TV
Dramarama is a New Jersey-based alternative rock/power pop band, who later moved to Los Angeles. The band was formed in New Jersey in 1982 and disbanded in 1994. The band formally reunited in 2003 following an appearance on VH1’s Bands Reunited reality show.
Since 1996, an evolving lineup of the band, always fronted by singer/songwriter John Easdale, has been performing in one incarnation or another. However, amid renewed interest, Dramarama then toured nationally and released a record called Everybody Dies on October 25, 2005. Fifteen years later, they released their seventh album: Color TV.
This is an organic grower of a record, with a classic pop rock feel that shows itself on the epic “Swamp Song”.
TESTAMENT – Titans of Creation
Thrash Metal stalwarts Testament are still going strong, 30 plus years after their formation. This latest album shows a consistency of purpose with the formula spiced up with more melody and a modern production sound.
Chuck Billy leads the troops through the battlefield of riffing. Behind him are the Howling Furies of Alex Scholnick, Eric Peterson, Steve Di Giorgio and Gene Hoglan.
The songs are still aggressive vignettes of modern challenges, but the main thing I liked is the bass tone of Di Giorgio – he is an absolute beast on the release. Geddy Lee on steroids?
Titans of Creation absolutely blasts away, but takes those unexpected turns that you may expect from seasoned veterans.
CANEDY – Warrior
Carl Canedy is widely known as being the drummer of The Rods, but he has now released his solo album Warrior.
His band shows how modern metal should be produced. Mike Santarsiero shows great strength in the vocals.
The album takes you on a journey across some fantastic sonic landscapes with tracks such as “Not Even Love” giving a new twist on a standard formula.
The guitar work on this release is also like Ritchie Blackmore at his best – plenty of classical licks for shredheads.
Overall, the album smokes. Excuse me, gotta go bang my head once more.
POPPY – I Disagree
I Disagree is the third studio album by American singer and YouTuber Poppy. It was released via Sumerian Records.
The record is a real melting pot of molten metal and pop and alternative rock. It is hard to pigeonhole and moves through a lot of distorted phases. He vocals are strong and she brings brutality as well.
It does have some less successful tracks like “Sick of the Sun“. However, it also rocks on the majority of the songs.
“Fill The Crown” is really cool with its mixture of pop and some more blackened metal.
A real leftfield entry for 2020 – very apt for such a leftfield year!
HAREM SCAREM – Change The World
The melodic rockers from Canada continue their fine run of albums with this powerhouse.
There is plenty to admire in the vocal harmonies and gritty guitar work.
“Aftershock” scorches the eardrums and there is a Foreigner feel to some of the material – no bad thing in my book.
Few bands make me smile as much as these guys do. They are really good, but fly under many people’s radar. You should do yourselves a favor and check out this release.
Summer is coming and Harem Scarem could just be the soundtrack to take you away from all the drama of 2020. Very highly recommended.
RON KEEL BAND – South X South Dakota
Decibel Geek loves Ron Keel. The amazing singer and songwriter was a real hit at last year’s Rock n Pod and has appeared on numerous podcasts where he demonstrated how to be a rock star and a human being.
This record is of cover songs that Ron has picked to put a Keel twist on. Among the wonderful tunes are Molly Hatchet’s “Flirtin’ With Disaster” and The Allman Brother Band’s ‘Ramblin’ Man’. My personal favorite is Rossington Collins Band‘s “Don’t Misunderstand Me” (a duet with Jasmin Cain) and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Red White and Blue“.
Whilst I would love to hear more Keel originals, I dig this album a lot and feel that it is a strong release for Ron in 2020.
SPELL – Opulent Decay
Another leftfield release that you picked for 2020.
The pace on Spell’s third record is a bit more laid back than on previous releases.
“Psychic Death” opens the record running through a Blue Oyster Cult playbook. This Canadian band knows its history and has a production that envelops you in its warmth.
There is a smattering of Ozzy era Sabbath too with “Sybil Vane” and the chopping chords and jazzy drumming. The bassline on this is insane.
The likes of “Primrose Path” are chocked full of great guitar work and menacing atmosphere. There is also a nod towards Merciful Fate and King Diamond.
SONS OF APOLLO – MMXX
Another supergroup on our list. Sons of Apollo released their first album Psychotic Symphony in 2017 to positive responses from fans and critics. With an all-star line-up of industry veterans, they’re back with their second outing.
Soto, Portnoy, Sherinian, Bumblefoot and Sheehan have produced a monster release.
The band has grown its sound since their first outing.
“Wither to Black” pounds out the energy. “Desolate July” is strangely prophetic when you think about everything going on this year.
My favorite tune of the release is the aching brilliant “Resurrection Day” where the full Dream Theater vibe is unleashed and Bumblefoot goes full guitar hero.
HAUNT – Mind Freeze
I thought that Haunt would be some kind of Black Metal or Death release, but it has its feet firmly in more traditional Metal. It is like a speedier version of Sabbath with a nod to Iron Maiden.
“Hearts on Fire” has absolutely nothing to do with Bryan Adams and is a good example of the speed contained in these grooves.
Haunt are breathing new life into more traditional Metal, not unlike Night Demon. This is aimed at fans of the old school, but it is vibrant and refined to keep modern listeners engaged, like Ghost did.
My only reservation about this record is the drum sound, which is a bit too muffled for my liking. Leaving that aside, songs such as “Divide and Conquer” eat into your consciousness nicely.
TRIVIUM – What The Deadmen Say
I was a huge fan of Trivium’s take on old school Metal with Silence in the Snow, where Matt Heafy sang like he was Dio. This is more of return to the modern sounds with gutteral vocals mixed with the clean singing. However, it has some explosiveness that can be addictive.
“Bleed Into Me” is a banger in its own right. I love the singing melody on this one. “Sickness Unto You” also is a highlight with that classic solo making you want to reach for the air guitar.
However, this album is not even near to the greatness of Silence and is generally solid rather than spectacular. I always expect more from Trivium, but this is a band that needs to make a real statement on their next record.
MYRKUR – Folkesange
Not your usual Black Metal fare from Myrkur. This is a folk album with beautiful beyond power.
The Guardian describes the album as “Clannad on speed“. They go on with “nervous souls should persevere with opening tracks Ella and Fager Som en Ros.”
Myrkur’s vocals are stunning, especially on Harpens Kraft.
Elsewhere, the music is an evocative love letter to the spirits of the world. This is no rock record, but a folk homage that is deeply European.
Listen to the album to take away the stress of the world. Immerse yourself in the fragile beauty and recognize that bands don’t always conform to stereotypes.
KHYMERA – Master Of Illusions
The Eighties were a brilliant time for music and bands such as Khymera recognize and channel that era for their music.
Trevor “Psychoone” McDougall of our buddies at CGCM Podcast website made the very valid point “Khymera isn’t carving any new roads that haven’t already been made, but they do have a lane of all their own.”
I agreed also with Trev that this album will grow on you. It has fantastic melodies and is absolutely rocking. One thing that sells it for me is that it passes the Coxy Driving Test – if you enjoy it whilst driving, it rocks!
It has made me delve into their back catalog and it takes a lot to get me to do that – check it out!
DELANEY – A Small Remaining Quantity of Something
I recently reviewed this E.P. on Metal Nexus from the New Hampshire newcomers and I absolutely vote for it as one of the records of 2020.
Delaney is a four-piece pop rock/alternative rock band hailing from southern NH. They were my choice for the last NH State of the Art and I have continued to follow their fortunes closely since then.
Their music is a cathedral of the caustic, combined with the sweet dew of self-awareness. Consisting of members Matt (lead vocals/guitar/piano), Kurt (drums), Andy (bass/backing vocals) and Derek (guitar), Delaney draws much of their influences from early 2000’s rock/emo bands such as Jimmy Eat World.
This release is absolutely epic and you will be hard pushed to find a better song of 2020 than the “The Ghost of Better Times” – very much an anthem for this year.
Your Facebook Selections (exluding those reviewed)
Butch Walker – American Love Story
The Darkness – Easter is Cancelled
Framing Hanley – Envy
Jeff Caudill – STAY HOME – The Quarantine Editions
Sapphire Eyes – Magic Moments
In the Company of Serpents – Lux
Polaris – The Death of Me
Archon Angel – Fallen
The Wild! – Still Believe in Rock and Roll
Joe Satriani – Shape Shifting
Shakra – Mad World
Wyldlife – Year of the Snake
Dennis DeYoung – 26 East Vol. 1
Ozzy – Ordinary Man
LIT – Live in NY, ’99
Revolution Saints – Rise
FM – Synchronized
One Desire – Midnight Empire
Passion – Passion
Vulcano – Eye in Hell
Sass Jordan – Rebel Moon Blues
Bonded -Rest In Violence
Melody – Teacher’s Pet
Havok – V
Shok Paris – Full Metal Jacket
Moron Police – A Boat at Sea
Gathering Of Kings- Discovery
The Night Flight Orchestra- Aeromantic
Green Carnation- Leaves Of Yesteryear
Silverthorne – Tear the Sky Wide Open
Kale – Backbone
Buffalo Summer- Desolation Blue
The Sword- Conquest of Kingdoms
The Record Company- All of this Life
Pearl Jam- Gigaton
StormForce – Age Of Fear
Lamb Of God – Self Titled
Body Count – Carnivore
Vega – Grit Your Teeth
Wolf – Feeding the Machine
Confess – Burn ‘em All
Ambush – Infidel
Thanks for everyone who suggested albums! You rock!