By Brandon “B-Mac” McCarthy
Another year has come and gone, and we can all agree, 2020 sucked balls big time. Between a pandemic, businesses shutting their doors, a tumultuous election, shows postponed and/or cancelled, and the losing of legends like Neil Peart, Little Richard, and Eddie Van Halen, this year just threw consistent punches at us. Luckily, for us, the shutdown allowed metal artists to put out new music to help us get through it all. From Lamb of God to Ozzy Osbourne, 2020 produced a bunch of great releases. After much deliberation, Uncivil Revolt have picked 20 hard rock and metal records that we thought kicked 2020 in the balls. Before we get to that list, here is a few honorable mentions that created worthy albums: Sepultura’s Quadra, Katatonia’s City Burial, Poppy’s I Disagree, Kirk Windstein’s Dream in Motion, Cirith Ungol’s Forever Black, Warbringer’s Weapons of Tomorrow, In This Moment’s Mother, August Burns Red’s Guardians, Static-X’s Project: Regeneration Vol. 1, Unleash the Archers’ Abyss, Seether’s Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum, Marilyn Manson’s We Are Chaos, Sevendust’s Blood & Stone, Dark Tranquility’s Moment, and Hatebreed’s Weight of the False Self. Without further ado, here is our Top 20 Hard Rock/Heavy Metal albums of the year.
20. Stitch Up Heart – Darkness: The sophomore album is tough to navigate. If the band’s debut album is a success, the pressure is on for the follow-up to outdo the debut. Well, Mixi and her boys conquered that obstacle. Stitched Up Heart continue to mate alternative and Gothic metal together, but this time have a foursome with hip-hop and electronica that produced hits such as “Warrior” and “My Demon.” Guitarist Merritt Goodwin (Mixi’s husband) ravages the riffs with intensity, while bassist Randy Mathias and drummer James Decker push the band’s rhythmic boundaries. From “This Skin” to “Problems,” “Straitjacket,” “Darkness,” and “Lost” (which features Godsmack’s Sully Erna), Stitched Up Heart opened up to the darkness and embraced it.
19. Orianthi – O: Very few women guitarists not only can bring beauty, but also melodic groove to the rock scene. Orianthi has been in the game for a long time, playing with legends like Carrie Underwood and Alice Cooper. Now, back in the solo circuit, she brings to her fans O. Her fourth release (1st with Frontiers Music) is loaded with catchy hooks and crunchy riffs. Orianthi explores the realms of hard rock and blues rock in this righteous release. She shows no fear in playing different styles that would certainly appease to all rock fans. With songs like “Contagious,” “Rescue Me,” “Crawling Out of the Dark,” “Impulsive,” “Streams of Consciousness,” and “Moonwalker,” O brought the “Oh my God” expression out of me when I first listened to it.
18. Enslaved – Utgard: Progressive black metal rears its ugly face into 2020 with Enslaved’s 15th studio release. Known for their black metal roots, the Norwegian extreme metal outfit continues with their experimentations with the progressive rock sound made famous in the 70s. Bassist and lead singer Grutle Kjellson slays each song with his infectious, guttural voice and unholy bass licks. Guitarist Ivar Bjørnson shreds with concentrated desire along with Ice Dale, while keyboardist Håkon Vinje takes Enslaved into the progressive promise land with his dark melodies. Newcomer Iver Sandøy not only brings steady, heart-pounding drum skills to the mix, he kills it on the mic with his clean singing. From “Fires in the Dark” to “Sequence,” “Homebound,” “Urjotun,” “Flight of Thought and Memory,” and “Distant Seasons,” Enslaved pleases the Viking Gods as well as us with this unholy masterpiece.
17. Pallbearer – Forgotten Days: Doom metal gets a sludgy, progressive makeover thanks to Pallbearer’s fourth album, their first with Nuclear Blast. The Little Rock, Ark., outfit brings new energy and ambiance to the historic metal subgenre. I feel this album bests their predecessor Heartless because it is more accessible and smoother to hear. Produced brilliantly by Randall Dunn, Forgotten Days is 52 minutes of stoner style riffs that Brett Campbell and Devin Holt exquisitely designed. Campbell’s low, somber voice delivers an impactful punch for the band. Drummer Mark Lierly’s swift and steady beats matches with Joseph Rowland’s sluggish bass licks very well. With tunes such as “Forgotten Days,” “Stasis,” “Sliver Wings,” “Vengeance & Ruination,” and the superb “Caledonia,” Pallbearer ushers in a new era of transition for doom metal. It also features one of the best album covers of all time.
16. Her Chariot Awaits – Her Chariot Awaits: Shred master Mike Orlando has put together a new group and they debuted their self-titled LP with Frontiers Music. As soon as I heard the first track, “Misery,” they hooked and reeled me in. I was taking back by the combination of that classic hard rock sound with the symphonic metal touch. Singer Ailyn of Sirenia fame joined forces with the Adrenaline Mob riff maestro and they gelled very nicely together. Her operatic style of singing fits in nicely with his iconic speed licks. Drummer Jeff Thal, brother of guitar legend Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, adds in this wicked pulsating beats that gives all of the songs personality. From “Dead & Gone” to “Screaming Misfire,” “Constant Craving,” “Line of Fire,” “Take Me Higher,” and “Forgive Me Dear,” Her Chariot Awaits takes you to a rock ‘n’ roll ball, first class all the way.
15. Nightwish – Human. :II: Nature: This is the second release with current songstress Floor Jansen fronting the famed Finnish symphonic metal syndicate. It also marks their first double album, which ups their game musical. Keyboardist and leader Tuomas Holopainen composes wondrous melodies that compliments Jansen’s impeccable falsetto voice, which is irresistible to ignore. Even bassist Marco Hietala and multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley lent their pipes and they did not disappoint. Emppu Vuorinen is magnificent on the guitar, giving each lead riff a purpose to accompany Holopainen’s orchestral arrangement. Disc 1 sizzles with songs like “Music,” “Noise,” “Shoemaker,” “Harvest,” “How’s the Heart?,” and “Endlessness.” Disc 2 is all-orchestral music, which features breathtaking melodies and harmonies. As they continue to push the boundaries to their musical minds, Nightwish just gets more inspired and whimsical.
14. Amaranthe – Manifest: Like a force of nature, the Swedish metal band known for bringing pop and melodic death metal together return with their 6th album. Joining the Nuclear Blast family, Amaranthe continues to display their brand of metal that captured the world by storm. The combined singing efforts of Elize Ryd, Nils Molin, and Henrik Wilhelmsson show no rust as each vocalist attack the lyrics like a prevailing hurricane, as heard in the first track, “Fearless.” Lead shredder Olof Mörck continues to churn out impassioned riffs that explores the elements of power metal and metalcore. This is a record that wanted and needed to be made to lift our weary spirits during the pandemic. From “Make It Better” to “Scream My Name,” “Viral,” “Strong,” “Boom!1,” “Die and Wake Up,” and “Do or Die” (featuring Arch Enemy’s Jeff Loomis), Amaranthe is spreading a new virus; the metal virus. They are not going down, but taking us up with them.
13. Mr. Bungle – The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo: With all the protesting going on right now, Mr. Bungle feels right at home. It has been 20 years since the North Cali crossover thrash alliance caused any destruction, and this record proves they are just as chaotic as they were in their youth. Razor sharp riffs and bombastic drumming fills the ear canals as frontman Mike Patton demolishes the microphone with his intense screaming. Lead guitarist Trey Spruance grinds out extreme licks and solos, while bassist Trevor Dunn strikes bone-crushing beats to the rhythm. Legendary drummer Dave Lombardo and rhythm guitarist Scott Ian get in on the raging fun. Lombardo is a fucking Tasmanian devil on the kit. Metalheads will break their necks to songs like “Anarchy Up Your Anus,” “Raping Your Mind,” “Bungle Grind,” “Eracist,” “Glutton for Punishment,” and “Sudden Death.” Get in the pits, for Mr. Bungle is back! Chaotic fun is coming for 2021!
12. Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons – We’re the Bastards: Lemmy may be gone, but his longtime guitarist Phil Campbell plays on with his new the group, the Bastard Sons. He and his 3 sons recently dropped their sophomore album, and it is filled with a whole lot of old school, rock ‘n’ roll excitement. Their frontman Neil Starr is the life of the party, full of zest when he starts belting out his hard-edged voice. Phil is smoking hot with his solos, while his sons (Todd, Dane, and Tyla) destroy the beats and melodies with bellicosity on their instruments. We’re the Bastards is an album that is filled with a brilliant mix of metal, punk, hard rock, and Southern rock, giving the fans a little bit of everything they like. They penned a great list of tracks like “We’re the Bastards,” “Son Of a Gun,” “Born to Roam,” “Animals,” “Keep Your Jacket On,” “Riding Straight to Hell,” “Hate Machine,” and “Waves.” They are rock ‘n’ roll bastards, and they prove it right here.
11. Avatar – Hunter Gatherer: After creating a deranged carnival setting in 2018’s Avatar Country, Avatar returns to their melodic death metal roots. The songs are more vicious and determined, featuring shrieking solos and groove-infused ‘chug-a-lug’ riffs by the guitar duo of Jonas ‘Kungen’ Jarlsby and Tim Öhrström. Avatar’s ringleader Johannes Eckerström delivers insane gut-wrenching screams to songs that deal with sorrow and detachment. Hunter Gatherer is a return to basics and heavy metal galore that made them household names on the Gothenburg scene. With tunes such as “Silence in the Age of Apes,” “Colossus,” “God of Sick Dreams,” “Scream Until You Wake,” “Justice,” “Gun,” “When All but Force Has Failed,” “Wormhole,” Avatar can turn a dystopia into a metal utopia. They are hunters on the prowl for fresh meat, and this record is their weapon.
10. Lamb of God – Lamb of God: The pioneers of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal are a fuming force with their 10th studio album. Filled with fury and ruthlessness, Lamb of God is an exhilarating rollercoaster. Randy Blythe constructed clever lyrics that deal with anger, resentment towards systemic abuse, and blind obedience. He is still a brute on the microphone, filling the atmosphere with his wrath. Drummer Art Cruz takes over for Chris Adler, and he is impeccable with his blast beats, showing he belongs with these guys. Mark Morton and Willie Adler charge the guitar riffs with cunning frenzy, while John Campbell is destructive on the bass licks. With songs like “Momento Mori,” “Checkmate,” “Reality Bath,” “New Colossal Hate,” “Poison Dream” (feat. Jamey Jasta), “Routes” (feat. Chuck Billy), and “On the Hook,” time has been extremely good to Lamb of God. Their ire still burns along with the palace and the fire does not seem to be dying any time soon.
9. Body Count – Carnivore: Fuck injustice! That is what Body Count is all about on their 7th album. Ice-T gets in your face with his provoking rapping and nefarious lyrics geared towards political corruption and police brutality. Ever since reforming in 2014, the crossover thrash/rap metal unit have been on a throw down march. Ernie C is super slick on lead guitar, siphoning wicked solos that are just excellent to hear. Carnivore even features cool guest vocal appearances from Hatebreed’s Jamey Jasta, Evanescence’s Amy Lee, and Power Trip’s late Riley Gale. Each song such as “Point the Finger,” “Another Level,” “Colors-2020,” “No Remorse,” “When I’m Gone,” Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades,” and the Grammy nominated “Bum Rush” are adrenaline charged that will cause metalheads to raise their fists in the air, demanding for revolution. Body Count fights the power with fire.
8. Loathe – I Let It In and It Took Everything: Armed with downtuned guitars that have shoegazing textures and low-pitched atmospherics, Loathe’s 2nd release is more ambitious than their debut. The British group out of Liverpool get very romantic with their sound, marrying metalcore with post-metal and djent. The combined clean and unclean vocals of both frontman Kadeem France and lead guitarist Erik Bickerstaffe play off each other pleasantly. Bickerstaffe is extreme and fanatical on the lead riffs, while rhythm player Connor Sweeney gives the main riffs a somewhat black metal alteration. Drummer Sean Radcliffe and bassist Feisal El-Khazragi fuse every known metal subgenre together and it comes out extremely ferocious. Loathe kicks in our skulls with songs such as “Aggressive Evolution,” “Two-Way Mirror,” “New Faces in the Dark,” “Screaming,” “Is It Really You?,” “Gored,” “Heavy is the Head That Falls with the Weight of a Thousand Thoughts,” and “Sad Cartoon. This album takes Loathe into some new territories, but they are not afraid to explore them.
7. Killer Be Killed – Reluctant Hero: It has been six long years since the supergroup’s monstrous self-titled debut. This vicious group have now come back for Round 2, ready to fight. Killer Be Killed’s sophomore effort is more rancorous than the first, armed to the teeth with venomous hooks, ear-splitting vocals, and skull-crushing riffs. Greg Puciato, Troy Sanders, and Max Cavalera each grabbed the words by the throat and squeezed them until every drop of heavy metal juice came out, besieging the lyrics perfectly. Drummer Ben Koller of Converge makes his debut, and he is an earth-shattering might behind the drum kit. The hybrid mixture of thrash and groove makes Reluctant Hero an astute album by the veteran metal heroes. From “Deconstructing Self-Destruction” to “Dream Gone Bad,” “Inner Calm From Outer Storms,” “From a Crowded Wound,” “The Great Purge,” “Animus,” and “Dead Limbs,” the different personalities make this sophomore album a smashing success. Killer Be Killed are no longer just a supergroup…they are the supergroup.
6. Ozzy Osbourne – Ordinary Man: 50 years ago, the Godfather of Metal shook the world up when he and Black Sabbath invaded the radio waves. Since then, Ozzy Osbourne has shown us that age is only a state of mind, and the fruit is riper with age. This album is a big improvement over 2010’s Scream, with the songwriting much more diverse and robust. He aligns himself with the best of rock heroes in drummer Chad Smith, bassist Duff McKagan, and guitarist/producer Andrew Watt. Ordinary Man is a reflection of the famed frontman’s legacy and journey in the world of heavy metal as well as a tribute to the fans who have been loyal to him for half a century. From “Under the Graveyard” to “All My Life,” “Straight to Hell,” “Ordinary Man” (duet with Elton John), “Eat Me,” “Today is the End,” “Holy for Tonight,” and “It’s a Raid” (featuring singer Post Malone), this record is just as sinister as his previous releases. The Devil beware, for Ozzy is still the Prince of Darkness.
5. Code Orange – Underneath: This Pittsburgh group made a huge splash by being the first hardcore punk band nominated for a Grammy. Continuing their ruthless reputation, their 4th studio album sees Code Orange expanding beyond their hardcore style with electronics and industrial. Drummer Jami Morgan, keyboardist/guitarist Eric ‘Shade’ Balderose, and guitarist Reba Meyers were fierce with their voices as well as their instruments. Morgan continues to evolve as a singer, becoming more excruciating and brutish. Bassist Joe Goldman and guitarist Dominic Landolina are vicious with the beatdown riffs and harmonies. The combination of metalcore, hardcore, industrial, and alternative makes Underneath a special treat for all metalheads to savor. From “Swallowing the Rabbit Whole” to “In Fear,” “You and You Alone,” “Cold Metal Place,” “The Easy Way,” “Erasure Scan,” “Last Ones Left,” “Back Inside the Glass,” “A Sliver,” and “Underneath,” Code Orange followed the white rabbit down the hole, only to beat the holy hell out of it, emerging more devious and tougher than before. Underneath it all, this album is brutal as well as ingenious.
4. Greg Puciato – Child Soldier: Creator of God: Arguably, one of the best voices in modern metal, Dillinger Escape Plan’s frontman Greg Puciato highlights his talents as a musician with his debut solo record. What makes Child Soldier: Creator of God unique is Puciato’s ability to look beyond the scope of the metal sound and evolve it. From industrial metal to alternative, synthwave, and grunge, he balances out each style perfectly. He masterfully handles all the instrumentation, with the exception of drumming, but had great help with that from Chris Hornbrook, Ben Koller, and Chris Pennie. The vocal range goes into different specters of rage and amusement. Each song is distinctive and rocks heavily, such as “Creator of God,” “Fire for Water,” “Deep Set,” “Fireflies,” “Do You Need Me To Remind You,” “Down When I’m Not,” “Evacuation,” and “September City.” Puciato is the creator of his own musical destiny, putting together one of the finest and deadliest metal debut albums of all time.
3. AC/DC – Power Up: Five decades of high voltage rock ‘n’ roll, and the bad boys of Australia are still on top of the world. For those who thought they were through, AC/DC proves everybody wrong with their 17th release. Power Up is a celebration of what rock ‘n’ roll stands for: simple beats that are entertaining and never get old. Vocalist Brian Johnson still has his screaming prowess and Angus Young can riff out monstrous solos. It is the band’s first album without Angus’ brother Malcolm as the rhythmic shredder (having passed away in 2017), but the songs he co-wrote with his young brother is his swan song to fans old and new. Cliff Williams and Phil Rudd are still an effective, thunderous pair on the bass and drums, while Angus’s nephew Stevie riffs solidly on the rhythm parts, which should please Malcom from Heaven. All their scream hard rock fun like “Realize,” “Shot in the Dark,” “Through the Mists of Time,” “Kick You When You’re Down,” “Demon Fire,” “No Man’s Land,” “Systems Down,” and “Code Red.” Fire the guns, for AC/DC have returned stronger than before, looking to shoot to thrill.
2. Deftones – Ohms: When it comes to alternative and nu metal experimentation, Deftones are the overlords. After exploring space rock and post-metal with 2016’s Gore, they have returned to their alternative metal roots while still surveying the possibilities of emerging shoegazing with it. Frontman Chino Moreno is like a volcano that is peaceful on one song, and then explodes hellacious screams on the next. Lead guitarist Stephen Carpenter gets even more complex, hard rocking, and melodic while performing on a nine-string guitar, first time using one. Ohms is hard-hitting, cutting-edge, and combative in ways that reminds me of their earlier albums such as Around the Fur (1996) and White Pony (2000). Their hardcore followers will dig the new songs like “Genesis,” “Ceremony,” “Error,” “The Spirit of Mathematics,” “This Link is Dead,” “Radiant City,” “Headless,” and the title track. Ever since exploding onto the scene during the 90s, the Deftones continue to shock and mesmerize us with their sound.
1. Trivium – What the Dead Men Say: When you think of metalcore and thrash metal coming together, you tend to gravitate towards Trivium. The metal heroes of Orlando return with their 9th studio, and it is arguably one of their greatest achievements since 2005’s Ascendancy or 2008’s Shogun. Frontman and guitarist Matt Heafy continues to advance his melodic singing, which keeps getting better, but he still roars with tenacity and conviction. Between him and Corey Beaulieu, they both convey killer riffs and crushing solos that can cut through ear canals like butter. This is the second release with drummer Alex Bent, and he is a wailing machine on the kit. Bassist Paolo Gregoletto thrashes away on the bass licks, bringing much emotion and drive to the sound. I connected a lot to What the Dead Men Say on an emotional level because it dealt with the pain of loss and finding the resolve to keep going, which is what I was dealing with in 2020. From “What the Dead Men Say” to “Catastrophist,” “Amongst the Shadows and the Stone,” “Bleed Into Me,” “Sickness Unto You,” “Scattering the Ashes,” and “The Ones We Leave Behind,” this album has it all. Trivium keeps progressing on each new record, and this one is a testament to how far they have come. Dead men have spoken, and it speaks to me.
This is Uncivil Revolt’s Top 20 picks of 2020. One of the more eclectic lists put together, I am extremely pleased with the choices made. The experimentation shown in the music on some of these albums were inspiring. Legends returning stronger than ever, newcomers coming into their own, and modern metal groups of today are realizing their full potential. 2020 may not have been too kind on the live shows, but it did produce some stellar records any metalhead would be proud to own. Cannot wait to hear these masterful tunes live in 2021, for metal will be screaming for vengeance. This is our list, and we stick by it. To all the artists of this year, I salute you. Horns up!!!