Greg’s Top 20 of 2020 Part 2

As promised in Part 1, I am offering you my personal best of the best in this

second part of my top 20 albums of 2020. If you are looking for a mainstream list,

this isn’t the review for you. There is so much more music out there in the world

that many people have no clue about. Songs and albums that are written by some

of the most talented artists to walk this fine place that we call Earth. So, without

further ado, here are my top 10 album picks of this not so great year. The music

has made it somewhat bearable.


10. Black Fate

Ithaca

Rockshots Records

October 23, 2020




Coming in at number 10, and hailing from Larissa, Greece, are a progressive,

power metal band known as Black Fate. Black Fate formed way back in 1990. Why

did I not discover them until 2020? Ithaca is the 4 th full length release and the

bands first album since 2016’s Deliverance of Soul. In addition, Black Fate have

released several demos and promo albums in their early years. The album kicks

off with a symphonic intro titled “From Ashes to Dust.” The album quickly takes

off with some serious melody and technical musicianship with title track “Ithaca.”

Crisp vocals shine atop the heavy, yet melodic arrangement. As the album moves

forward with single “Maze,” Black Fate continues to impress with heavy, catchy

riffs, string arrangements, amazing solos, and powerful vocals. Mixed in with the

heavy is the subtle ballad, “Rainbow’s End.” With acoustic guitars, a perfectly

arranged string section, and beautifully written vocal harmonies, this track stands

on its own. I’m a sucker for a slow song. Every album should have at least one,

right? If this review was based solely on technical ability alone, I would rank this

album much higher. However, there is much more to an album. I look forward to

learning more about these guys. They’re definitely on my radar.




9. Fates Warning

Long Day Good Night

Metal Blade Records

November 6, 2020




More Progressive Metal come in at number 9. Fates Warning, one of the

innovators of progressive metal, return with their 13 th release, Long Day Good

Night. Fates Warning having been offering fans their technical prowess since

1984. The follow up to 2016’s Theories of Flight gives you exactly what you’d

expect from these seasoned veterans. Time signature and tempo changes

throughout along with endless riffs and melodies, with Ray Alder’s powerful

vocals sprinkled on top. What more could you ask for? Long Day Good Night is

my favorite Fates Warning album since Parallels, which says a lot because the 6

albums released in between, are all top notch recording as well. Fates Warning

never disappoints. This is a must have album for any and all fans of metal.



8. Armored Saint

Punching the Sky

Metal Blade Records

October 23, 2020




Back to back albums courtesy of Metal Blade records. Back to back albums

featuring bassist extraordinaire, Joey Vera. Armored Saint return with their classic

metal sound on their 10 th full length effort, Punching the Sky. One of the most

underrated bands of all time, Armored Saint offer no frills, true heavy metal. In

fact, they are one of the few true metal bands to emerge from the historic Sunset

Strip in the early/mid 80’s. Armored Saint have never deviated from their roots

and stand apart from the rest. Even after nearly 30 years, with a break in between

while vocal powerhouse, John Bush, fronted Anthrax in the 90s, you can still hear

the NWOBHM influence in their music. True to form, Armored Saint does not

disappoint on this latest release. Each and every song has the key components to

making a great song. A solid rhythm section, catchy riffs, powerful vocals, and the

ever-important hook. Thank you for continuing to stick to your roots and not

giving in to the mainstream hype.



7. Thundermother

Heat Wave

AFM Records

July 31, 2020




Coming at you from Stockholm, Sweden at number 7 is Thundermother with their

4 th release Heat Wave. The album features mainstay, founding member, and lead

guitarist Filippa Näsill, vocalist Guernica Mancini, drummer Emlee Johansson, and

newcomer Majsan Lindberg on bass, who replaces the departed Sara Pettersson.

For those you that are not familiar with Thundermother, the band originally

formed in 2009. In 2017, the other 4 original members departed the band leaving

Näsill to recruit new member to continue moving forward. On to the album. Heat

Wave is an in your face rock n roll album. The music remains similar to the

original lineup, but with the blues infused vocals of Mancini, and the steady

rhythm section of Johansson and Lindberg, Thundermother is now a rock n roll

powerhouse and if they have their way, they will be a force to be reckoned with in

the world of rock n roll for years to come. I highly recommend that you check this

album out if you haven’t done so already.



6. Vhäldemar

Straight to Hell

Fighter Records

October 6, 2020




Next up on the list is another “Why did I not discover these guys sooner?” Formed

in the late 90’s and hailing from Biscay (Basque Country, Spain), I present to you,

Vhäldemar and their 6 th opus, Straight to Hell. Upon discovering the singles “Hell

IS on Fire” and “Afterlife” on Spotify, I quickly checked out their previous works of

art and then eagerly anticipated this record. Released on October 6 th , Straight to

Hell quickly became one of my go to albums over the last two months of 2020.

This is pure heavy metal at its finest. From beginning to end, the heavy riffs, bone

crushing drums, and powerful vocals take control of your soul. I urge everyone to

check these guys out. Until the 7 th opus, give your earholes the pleasure of

soaking in the epic catalogue of gems provided by Vhäldemar.



5. Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons

We’re the Bastards

Nuclear Blast

November 13, 2020




Following the death of Motörhead frontman/bassist Lemmy in 2015, guitarist Phil

Campbell announced a solo project with various artists. Around the same time in

2016, he also from a new project featuring his three sons; guitarist Todd, bassist

Tyla, and drummer Dane, along with former Attack! Attack! vocalist Neil Starr.

The band, Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons. We’re the Bastards is another

album released late in 2020 that quickly garnered my attention. These guys are

straight forward rock n roll. Bluesy oriented riffs, thunderous drums, bass that

makes you groove, and crisp, strong vocals, and a hook that will suck you into

every song. I can’t get enough of this album. 13 songs. 13 earworms.



4. Shok Paris

Full Metal Jacket

No Remorse Records

July 7, 2020




Way back in the late 1980’’s, classic Ohio power metal band, Shok Paris, were on

the top of their game. They were signed to the now defunct IRS record label and

toured with the likes of the iconic Savatage. Fast forward 31 years from the

release of their last album, Concrete Killers, Shok Paris made their return in 2020

with an album that has a sound that would fit perfectly around the recordings of

Steel and Starlight and the aforementioned Concrete Killers. First things first, you

can’t name an album Full Metal Jacket without a movie reference. Cue Vincent

D’Onofrio… “Are those live rounds? 7-6-2 millimeter. Full Metal Jacket…” The

intro, “The Creed” incorporates lines from the infamous movie with the same

name, Full Metal Jacket. On to the actual music. After 31 years away from the

music world, you might wonder if a band or artist still has what it takes and bring

the same energy that they did in the past. No need to wonder here, Ken Erb, Vic

Hix, and company brought their A-Game for this effort. Power metal at its finest.

Another no frills, in your face, metal album. Vic Hix’s vocals are as powerful as

ever. The guitar playing of Ken Erb and John Korzewka is top notch. Add Ed


Stephens’ phenomenal bass wizardry, and Dono on Drums and you get a classic

metal album that was well worth the 31-year wait.



3. Smackbound

20/20

Frontiers Records

June 12, 2020




So, we’ve already covered bands from the USA, Italy, Wales, Sweden, Spain, and

Greece. We now move to Finland. Germany is coming later. Newcomers

Smackbound make a surprising appearance as the #3 album of 2020 with their

debut 20/20. Smackbound was formed in 2015 by vocalist Netta Laurenne.

Joining her in the band are guitarist Teemu Mäntysaari (Wintersun), drummer

Rolf Pilve (Stratovarius & Wintersun), bassist Tuomas Yli-Jaskari (Tracedawn) and

keyboardist Vili Itäpelto (also of Tracedawn). Smackbound is another band that I

discovered on Spotify. Say what you will, but the amount of new music that I

discover daily is absolutely insane. Upon hearing a few songs, I was instantly

hooked. Rockers like “Run,” “Wall of Silence,” and “Hey Motherfuckers,” to the

subtlety of “Close to Sober,” “Wind and Water,” and “The Game,” Smackbound

offer a unique blend of songs that are guaranteed to having you throwing the

horns up high. Asked how to explain their sound, I put it to you like this- If

Halestorm was more technically sound and Lzzy’s vocal range reached a few more

octaves, you have Smackbound. Big things are in store in the future for this band.

Hey Motherfuckers! Do yourselves a favor and pick up this album.



2. Archon Angel

Fallen

Frontiers Records

February 14, 2020




Toward the end of 2019, I discovered that Zak Stevens (Savatage, TSO, Circle II

Circle, Machines of Grace) had a new project, Archon Angel. Being a huge fan of

Savatage, this was the most exciting music news I had heard in quite some time.

The band quickly released a couple singles, “Fallen” and “Rise.” Hearing these two


songs had me instantly hooked. It was like listening to the Zak Stevens era of

Savatage all over again. I couldn’t wait to hear the entire album. This is by far

Zak’s best vocal performance since “The Wake of Magellan” in 1997. He brings

the iconic vocal melodies that he is greatly known for and has also brought back

his infamous counterpoint vocals, both of which made his time in Savatage stand

apart from his counterpart and predecessor Jon Oliva. This album is also packed

full of blistering guitars, a tight rhythm section, and Savatage feeling keyboards

throughout. Yet somehow, an album topped this 50-minute epic musical journey

at number 1. Who could it be?

Oh, you think I’m going to number 1 just like that? Not quite. I have to list a few

other categories in my best of 2020:


Songs of the Year:


5. Waves- Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons

4. Neon Diamonds- U.D.O

3. Brought to The Edge- Archon Angel

2. Maze- Black Fate

1. I Will Be Gone- Primal Fear


Best Debut:

Smackbound- 20/20


Top Labels of the Year:

Frontiers

Nuclear Blast

Metal Blade

Century Media

Rockshots


Comeback Artist of the Year:

Shok Paris



1. Primal Fear

Metal Commando

Nuclear Blast

July 24, 2020




Coming in at number 1 is none other than German Power Metal icons, Primal

Fear, returned with their 13 th studio album, Metal Commando. Primal Fear was

formed in 1997 by former Gamma Ray vocalist Ralf Scheepers and bassist/vocalist

Mat Sinner (Sinner) after Scheepers was not hired to replace Rob Halford in Judas

Priest. Joining Scheepers and Sinner for the latest effort are original guitarist Tom

Naumann, guitarist Alex Beyrodt, drummer Michael Ehré, and session guitarist

Magnus Karlsson.


Metal Commando is power metal at its best. The heavy riffs, melodies, and

scorching guitar solos combined with a rhythm section of steady bass and bone

crushing drums that hit you in the chest like a ton of bricks, and some of the most

powerful vocals in the history of metal. Each song on this album are absolutely

amazing. From the heaviness of tracks like “Along Came The Devil” and “Howl of

the Banshee” to the ballad and song of the year “I will Be Gone” and the epic 13

minute plus closing track “Infinity,” there are absolutely no weak/filler tracks on

this album, which is absolutely remarkable. In my honest opinion, Metal

Commando features Scheepers’ best vocal performance EVER and has quickly

become my favorite Primal Fear album to date.


This concludes my Top 20 of 2020. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed the new music of the

year as much as I have. Music is more than just an art form. It is a way of life. It is

your therapist. It gets you through the day. It’s there for you when no one else is.

Without it, life would be so much harder than it needs to be. Here’s to more great

music in 2021.

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