To discuss 2020 as an unprecedented year now seemed cliched. For most of us, the events of the year created a reality that few of, if anyone would’ve ever thought possible. Even now, the world seems a strange iteration of what it once was just 10 months ago… and yet the music still played.
Amid social and political upheaval, crushing economic strain, and the kind of calamitous uncertainty that comes with a world that had to trade in its collective sense of normalcy to navigate a pandemic, people managed to find solace in art.
Slowly watching the ability to tour and live performances move further and further away, bands were faced with the grim reality of putting an album into the world without having the chance to deliver the complete experience. Despite that fact, 2020 was replete with compelling additions to archives of heavy music, establishing an era for the culture of rock and metal that proved its resilience and resourcefulness under the shittiest of circumstances.
In a recent interview with Kerrang! M Shadows of Avenged Sevenfold offered an interesting take on recency as it pertains to music. In addressing how his band is holding off on putting out music until they can tour in support of it, Shadows confided that he feels people won’t care about going to see a band play a record that was released a year prior. “If you look at iTunes or Spotify and see how quickly it all turns over, it’s just weekly onto the next thing and onto the next thing again. If you just imagine putting out a record in August, and then you’re not touring until next August, people don’t want to hear this but they’re not going to care; they’re going to be like, ‘What’s next?’”
Bravely bringing up a polarizing point, Shadows’ concerns and shared by many artists that struggled with their strategy in 2020. In a world where the collective attention span of fans is thin and the prospect of touring continues to be so disconnected from reality, is it smart to put out a record into the world?
Thankfully, there were many artists that opted to take that gamble. It takes a certain kind of perseverance to see an album from concept to execution even in normal circumstances. In 2020, there was an added sense of fortitude necessary to release a record unto audience that can be fickle and quick to move on, especially in a climate ripe with distraction.
There is an old adage that trying times make for timeless art. Under normal circumstances, people might not care about a concert for an album a year or more removed, but 2020 was anything but normal. In a year that saw historic vinyl sales, the birth of the livestream, and the prevalence of the pivot, music seemed to matter more than it ever did - despite it being so far away.
Here are the albums that helped us all get though 2020 and will almost certainly stand the test of time.
Loathe - I Let It In and It Took Everything
The narrative surrounding Liverpool outfit involved many a comparison to Deftones. Adding to that association was some high praise from Deftones’ frontman Chino Moreno himself, who lauded the band for their single, “Two-Way Mirror”. As for the parallels to the Sacto-legends, Loathe manage to articulate heavy music with a level of sophistication that has been the hallmark of Deftones entire career. Less a carbon copy, Loathe lead the latest in a lineage of bands that deliver artistically sound aggression that works outside the lines of conventional genre to create something fresh and fulfilling.
Code Orange - Underneath
There is a reason this album has become such a fixture on “Best of” and “End of the Year” lists. The PA hardcore genre-benders have cemented their reputation as a combustible live band and though many of tried to articulate that same energy on record - few have succeeded the way Code O has. A potent meld of precision and volatility, Underneath was the band’s most anticipated effort to date and delivered on all extractions and then some. Asserting their rank at the top of the heap among crossover artists, whether its five months or five years, the heft of Underneath will assuredly hold up.
Lamb of God - Self-titled
In the five long years since the Virginian titans last unleashed their assault on the world, Lamb of God endured some significant personnel changes and a rigorous touring schedule that saw the band trekking the globe a few times over. Proving to be well worth the wait, the band’s eighth album made sense to as a self-titled record in that was definitive of the band’s sound. Understanding the importance of consistency without growing redundant is an inherent skill that makes Lamb of God both legendary and relevant - OGs of the modern era that needn’t rely on their previous classics because they are still making more.
Ozzy Osbourne - Ordinary Man
The first record back in nearly a decade could have become a cluster, and yet it only served to reiterate the unwavering importance of heavy music’s most enduring voice. Teaming with producers Andrew Watt and Louis Bell, there was an obvious reverence that the production team held for Ozzy that translated well on the record. At 71 years old, Ozzy’s presence on the album was as profound as ever, and the inclusion of luminaries like Slash, Tom Morello, Chad Smith, Duff McKagan, Elton John, Post Malone and even Travis Scott, the album is a glowing testament to Ozzy’s continued relevance on album number 12.
Enter Shikari - Nothing Is True & Everything Is Possible
The band’s sixth studio album is the kind of opus that really can lay claim to redefining the constructs of the rock genre. Nothing Is True & Everything Is Possible is cinematic in its scope and works to create expansive, immersive audio landscapes rather than conventional rock songs. The band utilizes elements from various genres with the kind of fluidity that serves a testament to their skill as songwriters and composers - the compilation of tracks really are a masterclass of versatility regardless of your preference in music. The album’s artistic ambition is such that it only adds to the anticipation in seeing just how well these tracks can be executed live.
Trivium - What The Dead Men Say
Nearly two decades deep and nine albums in, Trivium has the kind of catalog that warrants a cult-like following and yet are only now hitting their stride. The band’s evolution involves more than just their growth as a songwriters but should really include their passionate ambassadorship as pillars of the culture. What The Dead Men Say showcases a fluent meld of metal subgenera in a way that feels genuine, never contrived - a testament to the band’s chemistry and sincerity when it comes to their musical preferences. Arguably one of the band’s best recorded efforts, suffice to say Trivium managed to raise the bar with album number nine.
Power Trip - Live In Seattle 05.28.2018
No one could have known that Power Trip’s release of their Seattle stop at Nuemo’s from 2018 would be frontman Riley Gale’s swan song but that fact makes this album an instant classic. However, even prior to his tragic, untimely passing, the surprise live album from the Texas thrash crossover champions served well in satiating an audience that had long been salivating for something new from the band. As one of aggressive music’s most articulate, assertive frontmen, Gale’s prowess combined with the band’s incendiary stage presence created the kind of visceral experience that made Power Trip prime candidates to carry the torch of heavy music’s next generation. Power Trip hadn’t even begun to scratch the surface in terms of their potential and yet, were still such an undeniable force - Live In Seattle documents that.
Napalm Death - Throes of Joy In the Jaws of Defeatism
Century Media Records
If ever there was a socio-political climate ripe for Napalm Death, 2020 offered an abundance of inspiration for the band’s continued call to action as it pertains to personal responsibility and grim horrors of humanity. Challenging the audience to embrace a new understanding of extremity in music, the band’s translation included more than the requisite grindcore they pioneered. For their 16th album, Napalm Death delivered a collection of tracks that draws parallels with the likes of Killing Joke as much as they do with Terrorizer. In both style and substance, the stalwarts continue to flex their commitment to pushing the envelope and reestablishing a new standard of extremity with each new entry.
Corey Taylor - CMFT
While there was a need for art that tapped into the tumult of 2020, there was an equal need for some distraction. Offering fans a rock n roll respite from the heaviness of the year, Corey Taylor delivered the kind of solo debut that not only reiterated his importance as a definitive voice of a generation but underscored his artistic identity apart from the entities that have made him a household name. Harnessing both spectacle and substance, Taylor’s versatility and range were on full display throughout the ride that is CMFT and the result was an emphatic example of why The Great Big Mouth is more than a frontman but rather an artistic architect.
Mr, Bungle - The Raging Wrath Of The Easter Bunny Demo
If there was one singular album that could best serve as the counter argument to the idea of recency as it pertains to rock music, Mr. Bungle’s more than 20-year hiatus could serve as the example. Rather than rehash their acid-jazz-noise fusion amalgam that made them such a cult champion, they returned to their 1986 demo and managed to achieve one of the best examples of thrash metal in the modern era despite the fact that the music was more than three decades old. Most music doesn’t age this well but then again, most music isn’t made made by such proven technicians. The original members in Mike Patton, Trey Spruance and Trevor Dunn enlisted Scott Ian of Anthrax and Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo and successfully recaptured lightning in a bottle.
Nothing - The Great Dismal
There is a unique complexity to NOTHING that presents itself in the duality of a record that sonically sounds beautiful and optimistic and yet can offers such an embrace of the ominous in a way that the title, Great Dismal makes complete sense. The evolution of frontman and principle songwriter Domenic Palermo is that of an outsider in the universe of heavy music and while that night drive the initial interest In the band, the music is much more than different for the sake of being different. The band’s artistry is advanced in a way that doesn’t need spectacle tor style points to resonate as effective. The music is desolate and dreamy at the same time, a feat that makes Nothing such a necessary contributor to the culture.
Deftones - Ohms
While many albums make claim to be an instant classic, it became very apparent that as the title track from Deftones’ ninth album began making the rounds, the Sacramento trailblazers had in fact, achieved that feat. Not only did the band deliver one of the best albums of the year, there is room to argue that Ohms is one of the best showings of the band’s career. The creative chemistry of the veterans is among the more prominent features of the album, with each member showcasing moments of brilliance that compliment, not outshine one another. It’s not very often that an album exceeds to the hype, however, Ohms is that entry that exceeds superlative and upon it’s release climbed to the top of the heap as an absolute essential.
AC/DC - Power Up
There will always be that asshole that asserts that every AC/DC song sounds the same. During a year of unprecedented uncertainty, we should all be so lucky as to have anything as consistent as an AC/DC album. The reunion of Angus Young, Brian Johnston, Phil Rudd and Cliff Williams offered the kind of familiarity that was so sorely needed - the rasp of Johnson and the run and gun of Angus offered some semblance of normalcy during a year that was anything but. If ever there is an existence where people don’t care about a new AC/DC record, nothing else is worth discussing.
Killer Be Killed - Reluctant Hero
Nuclear Blast Records
Considering the colossal composition of talent that comprises Killer Be Killed, it seems to defy logic that the band’s final product is such a cohesive masterwork. Featuring Greg Puciato formerly of The Dillinger Escape Plan, Max Cavalera, Ben Koller of Converge and Trevor Saunders of Mastodon, the shared dynamic of KBK lives up to its all-star quality and becomes the kind of album that asserts an all new identity as an entity all its own - never needing to rely on the individual accolades of each of its contributors. The collection of tracks functions offers a varied showcase of skill, with each player taking their turn to shine. The chemistry that is evident throughout the record is a testament to the members’ knack for songwriting and disregard for ego. Killer Be Killed rarely surface, but when they do, magic happens.
The Black Dahlia Murder - Verminous
Metal Blade Records
When The Black Dahlia Murder released Nightbringers in 2017, the assumption was that the band had reached their creative pinnacle. The success of the record was such that topping it, was probably too tall a task for any band. With the addition of Brandon Ellis however, The Black Dahlia Murder managed to again prove everyone wrong and delivered a dynamic death metal record that embraces big guitars and the band’s signature brutality. Channeling a classic sound that showcases the band’s influences tastefully, Verminous proves that a band with many years In the game are still capable of flexing evolution without compromising their integrity.