Metal Nation’s Top 50 Hard Rock and Metal Albums of 2020


We at Metal Nation do not think anyone would argue that 2020 has been a complete dumpster fire. The pandemic has altered the landscape of our everyday life around the globe. From lockdowns and supply shortages, to wearing masks and social distancing, to the massive loss of life and abundance of illness, it has been the worst year most of us have ever experienced. For music fans and artists, the loss of live events has been crushing. Touring has long been a primary source of income for the bands and a release for fans. While many artists have pushed back the release of new music until 2021, many have enthralled fans with fantastic new albums in a year where we arguably needed it the most, so for that we thank you all. top 50

After a drunken evening of nerdy debauchery featuring Spinal Tap and D&D, the staff of Metal Nation set to work culling our collective Best of 2020 in heavy music. Our lone elitist snob staffer is still curled up on the linoleum with his head against the cool of the toilet bowl, so we’ll not be hearing from him this year. If we missed your favorite album we’ll blame it on the murder hornets and #fakenews. Please share your thoughts below on albums you think we should have included since even with a staff of writers, some albums will always get missed.

Honorable Mentions:

First we must acknowledge these excellent albums by metal’s legends…

AC/DC – Power Up (Columbia/Sony)

ac/dcWhile fans were not sure if there would ever be another AC/DC album, they have to be thrilled with Power Up, which is likely the quintet’s final installment of feel good riff and roll. Power Up sounds the way a comfortable pair of worn in jeans feels. You just want to put it on, turn off your brain and have a good time. Every track is steeped in AC/DC’s readily identifiable sonic DNA. It’s a sound that’s imminently enjoyable and hard to find fault in, even if they aren’t really giving you anything new. Founder and guitarist Angus Young sounds as hungry as ever, and vocalist Brian Johnson is still in fine form. With 17 albums and over 45-years-worth of foot-tapping rock and roll under its collective belts, AC/DC has nothing to prove and this album is as much a dedication to the late Malcolm Young as it is their fans and to themselves.  There are moments on Power Up that take us all the way back to their debut records, and it makes us feel as if AC/DC could continue for another 20 years. For that reason, and in honor of Malcolm and Angus, I think the album would have better been titled, Forever Young. –Rustyn Rose (RR)

Ozzy Osbourne – Ordinary Man (Epic/Sony)

Perhaps it’s purely nostalgia, but Ozzy Osbourne’s latest (and likely final) studio album is his best work in 20 years. Ordinary Man, now there’s a misnomer if ever there was one, or is it? Not so ordinary Ozzy breaks away from tradition on his latest opus. No guitar virtuoso as his right hand. This time around it’s basically just Ozzy and two producers, Andrew Watt and Louis Bell who also co-wrote the album. Watt also served as guitarist for the album and Bell as keyboardist. Osbourne tapped Guns ‘n’ Roses bassist Duff McKagen to drop the low end, and drummer Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Chickenfoot) to anchor the rhythm section. He invited guests as diverse as Post Malone, Elton John, and rapper Travis Scott, with some guitar solos from Slash and Tom Morello. I would be lying if I said I didn’t approach this album with skepticism, but it’s honestly Osbourne’s best work in years, somehow tying together his Sabbath era, his four decades of solo work, along with modern elements. Now in his 70s, he sounds reinvigorated and he’s having fun again. – RR

Diamond Head – Lightning to the Nations 2020 (Silver Lining)

It seems like cheating a little bit to include a Diamond Head album on this list that originally came out in 1980, but this 2020 re-recording is so far and away stronger and more powerful than the original, it’s basically a brand new record. From the opening riffage of the title cut to the classic metal anthems, “Am I Evil” and “It’s Electric,” I am reminded again of how much this seven-track record altered the landscape of the metal scene at the time of its initial release. Lightning to the Nations 2020, from my perspective, is the best collection of classic metal, yet perfectly relevant today, and with modern production and technology, it has made one of the best albums of 1980 one of the best in 2020. If this were a new album this would be in our Top 10 this year. – RR

50. Nightwish – Human. :ll: Nature (Nuclear Blast)

It is difficult imagine any year in which a new Nightwish album doesn’t end up somewhere on our top albums list. One could listen to Floor Jansen sing names from a phone directory or belt out definitions from a dictionary. Fortuitously, Human. :ll: Nature. is a stunning piece of sonic elegance. Comparative to past works, this is less metal and more emotive and atmospheric, but there are still plenty of heavy moments. “Noise” is prototype Nightwish and there are many elements of the band’s symphonic roots along with folkish and even power metal undercurrents. Toumas Holopainen has penned one of his most introspective records, but I would argue that second disc of instrumentals is a bit detracting and distracting except perhaps for the glory of “Ad Astra”. – RR

49. Mors Prinicipium Est – Seven (AFM Records)

It’s hard to imagine Finland’s Mors Principium Est ever releasing a bad album, and thankfully, Seven will not be the one that brings them down to Earth. While perhaps not quite as impressive as 2017’s Embers of a Dying World, Seven is no melodeath slouch. Band mastermind, Andy Gillion has once again crafted an album filled with lush melodies, cracking fretwork, memorable orchestrations, and banging rhythms. Vocalist Ville Viljanen is at his gruff and gritty best. The entire album is cinematic and massive from top to bottom. While Finnish headbangers are busy bemoaning the end of Children of Bodom, I’m over here reveling in the reign of MPE and Seven. – RR

48. Avatar – Hunter Gatherer (eOne Music)

Avatar has had one hell of a ride since releasing its do or die studio album, Black Waltz in 2012. The band’s shift in direction launched them from semi-obscurity into one of the most exciting breakout bands of the last decade. Now as a new decade dawns, the Swedish quintet is back with what is largely considered its best album since Metal Nation’s 2016 album of the year pick, Feathers & Flesh. Hunter Gatherer is arguably the band’s darkest album since some of their early melodic death metal years, and much of that sound is brought forward and combined with their  more nuanced and genre-bending style they have been building on over the last five records. Lyrically, the band is reaching deeper than perhaps ever before, and sonically the album features plenty of twists and turns for fans old and new. – RR

47. Heathen – Empire of the Blind (Nuclear Blast)

San Francisco’s underrated tech-thrash speedsters, Heathen came back hard and heavy in 2020 with its first studio album in a decade. Guitarist Lee Altus and vocalist David White along with longtime guitarist Kragen Lum, have been joined by bassist Jason Mirza (Psychosis) and drummer Jim DeMaria (Toxic). The sound of Empire of the Blind is pure Heathen if not more contemporary in style. Plenty of relentless thrash, but some nice groove elements are present as well to go along with a ton of heavy riffs, hooks, and catchy melodies. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another decade for the follow-up. Trev McKendry (TM)

46. In This Moment – Mother (Atlantic/Roadrunner)

Where the 2017 predecessor Ritual was a collection of great songs, In This Moment‘s seventh studio album, Mother is definitely more than the sum of its parts. While Ritual still hung together wonderfully, each song could be fully enjoyed in isolation. Of course Mother has its own belters like “Hunting Grounds” (featuring DED vocalist Joe Cotela), “The In-Between,” “As Above, So Below,” and the tremendous novelty of Queen‘s “We Will Rock You featuring three of rock’s finest vocalists in Maria Brink, Lzzy Hale, and Taylor Momsen, but it’s on a full listen that Mother really comes alive. Sonically, it’s like visiting the album cover’s world; an eerie, alien landscape, captivating but pregnant with tension. We’re immediately drawn to the apparently individual spectres, but closer inspection reveals them to be integral parts of their realm and thus each other, and feeding it all lies buried something sinister. RJ Bayley (RJB)

45. Night Crowned – Impius Viam (Noble Demon)

impiusNight Crowned are a new black metal band from Gothenburg, Sweden featuring members from ex-melodic death metal bands including Dark Funeral and Cipher System. This is absolute killer melodic Black Metal! Impius Viam is top notch production of viciously fast with catchy melodies of riffs that will keep you head-banging throughout this record. This is a culmination of everything melodic black metal should be and Night Crowned has brought back what has been missing that bands like Dissection, Dimmu Borgir, and Emperor have left behind. Impius Viam is a tremendous album and proves this band is right there at the top of the genre. –  Brock Briggs (BB)

44. Glacier – The Passing of Time (No Remorse)

It seems somehow poetic that Oregon-based traditional metal quintet, Glacier took 40 years to release its debut full-length record, appropriately titled The Passing of Time. Glacier may have lived up to its name in taking decades to create this gem of an album, but the band delivers in mammoth form. The Passing of Time connects with the ethos of NWOBHM style, in the likes of Iron MaidenSaxon, Grim Reaper, and more. There are also some elements of power metal blended in and some similarities here to NWOTHM bands like Striker and Enforcer, and of course the American masters, Savatage. The album has fantastic continuity and flow. The production is clear and modern yet not overly polished. The songs are well-crafted and highly melodic without losing that metal edge, This is one of 2020’s best debut releases and headbangers around the globe should give it the ear. – RR

43. Shrapnel – Palace of the Insane (Candlelight Records)

The thrash is strong with Shrapnel. The quartet’s third full-length studio offering, Palace for the Insane is an absolute ripper and will satisfy any metalhead’s need for killer riffs, thundering bass and drums, ripping ass solos and classic thrash vocals. Bang your goddamn head! Hailing from Norwich, England, which other than a thriving arts scene also has a very rich and even medieval history, this band seems to have a firm grasp on how to construct a killer song. The album has many different grooves and even time signatures while maintaining a familiar sound on each track. It’s pretty killer and a strong argument can be made for thrash album of the year. Jason Schwartzwalder (JS)

42. Armored Saint – Punching the Sky (Metal Blade)

Armored Saint are sort of like that cute edgy girl who is always overlooked in favor of her gorgeous loud-mouthed best friend. Everyone’s busy ogling the latter, but the real fun and depth is with the former. She’s the freak. The one with substance, yet she quietly stands in the shadows until it’s time to make her presence known. The band did exactly that in 2015 with its monster album, Win Hands Down. 2020 sees the quintet return with the equally laudable, Punching the Sky. The album hooks you right from the cinematic opener, “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants”. In line with the album title, many of the songs are punchier than past efforts. Quick jabs, grooving rhythms, and walloping melodies abound, just check out “End of the Attention Span” for a prime example. Armored Saint are on top of their game almost four decades into the game. – TM

41. Poppy – I Disagree (Sumerian Records)

It feels oddly bizarre to find cult content creator, YouTuber, graphic novelist, and alternative dance pop provocateur, Moriah Rose Pereira aka Poppy, on a Top Metal albums list. Yet here we are. While she doesn’t refer to her music as metal, she was nominated for a Grammy award this year in that genre. Poppy began moving in a more metal direction on the latter half of her 2018 Am I A Girl? album and more fully on her 2019 Choke EP. While her voice and vocal delivery are still very much in the pop niche, the music on I Disagree is certainly within the boundaries of metal. There are plenty of nu-metal, industrial, alt metal, and djenty vibes here, and even some dub-step. I Disagree chronicles Poppy’s personal and artistic transformation and I Disagree is at times upbeat and energetic yet equally dark and foreboding. It is hard to say what direction Poppy might take after this record, but we’ll happily take this iteration in 2020. – RR

  1. D.R. White says

    The cover of Killer Be Killed – Reluctant Hero is virtually the same as In Loving Memory ‎– Negation Of Life from 2011
    Just thought you should know..

  2. John Gallagher says

    You missed Raven “ Metal City”
    Yeah, I’m biased but still …

    1. Rustyn Rose says

      Holy shit. You are right. I didn’t even hear the new Raven this year. Fu@king 2020. I’m off to listen now! Hope all is well!

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