Rustyn’s Top 10 Hard Rock and Metal Albums of 2020


It seems like we reach this point every year and we say, I can’t believe another year has gone by so quickly. That’s clearly rubbish in 2020. This year has gone by with the traumatizing pain and sluggishness of a root canal without anesthesia. Many bands postponed new releases for months and many into next year. Despite the Covid and political insanity, fear and fatigue most of us have been enduring for months, there were a great many excellent metal albums that did find their way to release this year. We are certainly thankful for these gifts as I know they helped many of us push through some dark days and give us hope and strength heading into the unknown ahead. Below is my personal Top 10 for 2020. Keep in mind as always that I do not include cover or live albums or EPs, and that my personal tastes lean toward traditional and classic metal with some progressive and power leanings, as well as some thrash. Keep an eye our for our full Top 50 list soon that encompasses the breadth of metal.

Honorable Mention: 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. Read my review here. rustyn rustyn

10. 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. rustyn rustyn

9. Cirith Ungol – Forever Black (Metal Blade)

cirithCirith Ungol’s style and approach to metal has always been idiosyncratic and nuanced and that is fully on display across the nine tracks on Forever Black. The album is a faithful representation of the band’s sonic DNA. Tim Baker’s voice has retained its demonic flair and the fretwork from Jim Barazza and Greg Lindstrom recalls the likes of Iommi and Schenker in its depth and originality. Fans have waited so long for this record that it would be easy to either overstate its impact due to nostalgia or disregard its epicness due to grand expectations built over three decades. Ultimately, Forever Black is a fantastic journey back in time yet equally relevant today. The album has plenty of anthemic highs alongside darkly foreboding moments. It all comes together quite nicely and it not just a gift for long-suffering fans, but a grand return to form for a tragically overlooked band. Read my full review here.

8. Trivium – What Dead Men Say (Roadrunner)

Three years afterThe Sin and the Sentence, Florida’s Trivium return with what is arguably the band’s heaviest and most progressive offering in its 20-year career. On What the Dead Men Say, they have celebrated their influences while simultaneously cementing their own signature. One senses on What the Dead Men Say that the band is comfortable in its own skin at this point. They understand who they are and emphasize their strengths. This is the culmination of the band’s experience writing and touring, plus the addition of drummer Alex Bent’s raw vigor into the creative process. This is a statement album; “This is Trivium. This is who we are.” In that declaration, they have freed themselves of outside expectation and leaned into what they do best. That is why this album and this band are among the best that modern metal has to offer, and why Trivium is poised to be a dominating force for at least another decade. Read my full review here. rustyn rustyn

7. Burning Witches – Dance with the Devil (Nuclear Blast)

Album Review: BURNING WITCHES - Dance with the DevilI was admittedly apprehensive when I sat down with the third studio album from Switzerland’s Burning Witches. Their sophomore album, Hexenhammer was among my Top 5 albums of 2018. Dance with the Devil  would mark a change at lead vocals, and that left me pretty skeptical. A dozen songs after I hit play on this record I am sold on Laura Guldemond’s vocals, and I’m thrilled to find this is Burning Witches’ best overall effort to date. Guitarist/composer Romana Kalkuhl continues to write riffs and melodies that embrace and celebrate our 80s metal heroes while remaining vital and credible in a sea of retro wannabes. The ladies have managed to switch vocalists without losing a step and have put together another ensemble cast of memorable headbangers and visceral performances. They may not be reinventing the wheel, but Burning Witches sure make you wanna go along for the ride. Read my full review here.

6. Helion Prime – Question Everything (Saibot Reigns)

Helion Prime returned in 2020 with its third studio album, the conceptual, Question Everything. The evolution of the band over the last half decade has been a roller coaster for fans and the band, but at the heart of it all is a pure love for authentic European-inspired power metal. After three records, it feels like the quintet has finally found the right mix of elements to take it all to the next level, and Question Everything is that first major step forward. This is a fantastic record for any power metal fan to delve into, and it’s a wonderful introduction to the vocal prowess of Mary Zimmer, and a reawakening of the Jason Ashcraft/Heather Michele magic factory. Beyond the addictive sonic treats throughout this album, there is a wealth of inspired and engaging lyrical and thematic content for the cerebral headbangers out there as well. Read the full review here. rustyn rustyn

5. Ambush – Infidel (High Roller)

rustynThe Swedish metal traditionalists made fans wait five long years for the follow up to 2015’s amazing Desecrator record. Infidel is the band’s third full-length effort. The album is packed with a shit ton of fist-in-the-air metal anthems, big hooks, memorable riffs, gang chant choruses, and propulsive rhythms. It takes me back to my favorite 80s metals bands like Judas Priest, Saxon, and Accept. The band’s unapologetic and unrestrained love of vintage metal is on full energetic display, even reveling in some of the bombastic, over-the-top cheese of the era.  Every track is a worthy headbanger. There are a lot of newer bands reviving what I consider the strongest era and genre of metal, but few do it as well as Ambush. Give me a record that hits my ears like a good beer and the feel of my favorite jeans, and I’m a happy headbanging camper. All that’s old is new again, and Ambush is at the top of its game in delivering the old school goods. Read my full review here. rustyn rustyn

4. Lovebites – Electric Pentagram (Nuclear Blast)

rustynJapan has been building a booming metal scene for years, and what may astonish some is how many of these bands are all-female. I’ve been a fan of Tokyo’s Lovebites almost since its 2016 inception. Electric Pentagram is the band’s strongest effort to date and represents its third full-length studio album. The prolific quintet continues to grow and evolve its unique blend of traditional and power metal elements. The quintet is quickly proving to be a modern metal force and Electric Pentagram boldly declares its collective intent. The musicianship is exceptional, the songwriting speaks for itself, and Asami’s vocals continue to improve with each record as well. From the crushing opener, “Thunder Vengeance” to the anthemic “Raise Some Hell,” to the energetic and aggressive, “Swan Song”, Lovebites deliver almost an hour of riveting headbangers. Read my full review here. rustyn rustyn

3. Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void (InsideOut Music)

San Diego’s architects of progressive metal, Psychotic Waltz dropped four albums in the 90s before disappearing until 2010. It then took the band a full decade to deliver its first album in almost a quarter century.The God-Shaped Void is the most cohesive and diverse of the group’s five records released to date. The sometimes chaotic energy of A Social Grace and Into the Everflow have given way to somber focus and emotive exploration found here. Where youth provided the band a visceral and aggressive abandon, maturity has gifted the group with wisdom and concise songcraft. Each end of this spectrum makes for creative ingenuity, and The God-Shaped Void is arguably better for the depth that the perspective of time and experience brought to the process. There are no weak tracks on this record, and while the listener may find some that stand out for them more than others, The God-Shaped Void should be taken as whole to be fully appreciated. Read my full review here.

2. Spirit Adrift – Enlightened in Eternity (20 Buck Spin/Century Media)

adrift rustynWhile Spirit Adrift’s first three albums were all critically lauded and solid affairs, they leaned heavily into doom, which I only listen to in small doses. However, with Enlightened in Eternity, the duo of multi-instrumentalist Nate Garrett and drummer Marcus Bryant, embrace more of their traditional metal influences. This makes for an exceptional album that blends inspirations as vast as Sabbath, Priest, Maiden, Mastodon, The Sword, and even some Americana. Lyrically, Garrett comes up for air from his typical somber tropes and crafts a record with remarkably more optimism and, dare I say hopefulness. Every track on this record crackles with power and the performances are all on point. Read my review here.

1. Unleash the Archers – Abyss (Napalm Records)

rustynVancouver’s Unleash the Archers have always been a dynamic band, but they certainly stepped up their game with 2017’s masterful, Apex. The album truly saw the band come into its own, with elevated and exceptional songwriting. This year they doubled down with a sequel to Apex in Abyss. While some fans argue that it is not quite as strong as Apex, I would disagree. I believe it’s equally as impressive, and perhaps even more so. The band continues to push its own boundaries while also demonstrating that Apex was no fluke. Brittney Slayes vocal melodies continue to get better with each record, and there are more infectious and addictive earworms on this album than even its predecessor. No album has spent more time renting space in my head in 2020 than Abyss and for that reason it is easily my album of the year. Simply put, this is an exceptional piece of work. Read my review here.

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