2020 was a real dumpster fire. But with all of its downs (of which there were many), the ups were definitely all the great records that released in an otherwise terrible year. Now without further ado, I present to you (in my humble opinion of course) my favorite albums of 2020:
20. Cyberpunk 2077 Soundtrack (CD Projekt Red/Lakeshore Records)
New songs by hardcore heavyweights Converge, swampy death-metallers Tomb Mold, and hip hop superduo Run The Jewels, plus an entire EPs’ worth of material by Swedish punk band Refused (under the moniker Samurai). The (No) Future is here – take me to Night City!
19. Poppy – I Disagree (Sumerian Records)
Kawaii metal” queen Poppy’s Sumerian debut, ‘I Disagree,’ is a highly addictive sugary slab of theatrical hard rock that’s soaked in glam and sprinkled with pop. You disagree? As Poppy would say: “doesn’t matter to me.”
18. Eighteen Visions – Inferno (Self-Released)
This is 18V at their heaviest musically, harkening back to 2000’s death metal-tinged fashioncore opus, ‘Until The Ink Runs Out.’ And lyrically, it’s a concept album about Dante’s Inferno. So…enough said? The only reason why this isn’t higher up on the list is because it’s only 18 minutes long (also: putting it at #18 is just cute).
17. Deftones – Ohms (Reprise Records)
At this point in their career, it’s unfair to try and label Deftones’ ninth LP as belonging to any of the genres they’re constantly lumped into: alternative metal, nu metal, shoegaze, etc. They’re just the Deftones, and this is as Deftones as it gets. Sure, it might be “safer” than some of their previous records, but that’s just fine with me. I mean, did you REALLY want any more surprises in 2020?
16. Goo Goo Dolls – It’s Christmas All Over (Warner Records)
I realize I might get major shit for this, but I don’t even care: the Goo Goo Dolls are my favorite band. Whether it’s their early, The Replacements-era punk rock album ‘Superstar Car Wash’ (1993), the alternative rock poster child ‘A Boy Named Goo’ (1995), or the pop rock commercial hits that made up both ‘Dizzy Up The Girl’ (1998) and ‘Gutterflower’ (2002), I’m always all in on anything the Goos release. Yes…even a Christmas album. Besides, did you know that GGD used to be labelmates (on Metal Blade Records) with Cannibal Corpse, and opened for bands like Bad Religion and Motorhead? See, Goo Goo Dolls are cool. Ok…I’ll stop justifying this one now.
15. Trippie Redd – Pegasus (Universal Music Group)
Ohio Rapper Trippie Redd released one of the best “emo rap” (Lil Peep, XXXTENTACION, etc.) albums ever this year, making me feel like I had just heard Post Malone’s ‘Beerbongs & Bentleys’ for the first time all over again.
14. Colter Wall: Western Swing & Waltzes And Other Punchy Songs (La Honda Records)
“I listen to everything but country” is a phrase that is most often said by someone who actually listens to…well, nothing really (aside from what’s mainstream or popular). And it’s a shame too, because not giving an artist like Saskatchewan’s Colter Wall a chance, simply because he’s “country,” is just plain ol’ sad. This is Colter’s third release overall, but the first with an actual backing band. His weathered voice is still the star though (seriously, how is this guy only 25 years old?), and his distinct storytelling is as strong as ever (“Houlihans At The Holiday Inn” anyone?). If you’re a fan of the greats like Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings, Colter Wall should be your new favorite singer.
13. Japandroids – Massey Fucking Hall (ANTI-/Epitaph Records)
t’s hard to believe that since their inception all the way back in 2006, Canada’s alternative grunge duo Japandroids have only released three albums. So although ‘Massey Fucking Hall’ is just a Live LP that consists of no new material, it’s still the fucking Japandroids, so we’ll take what we can get at this point. How they aren’t one of the biggest rock bands in the world, I will never understand. Setlist closer “The House That Heaven Built” is one of the best songs ever written in this genre, and hearing that immensely cathartic and melancholic song live at a time when all music venues have shuttered, was the anthem released in 2012 that you didn’t know you would need in 2020: “When the soul of the city was laid to rest, and the nights forgotten and left for dead…”
12. Brian Fallon – Local Honey (Lesser Known Records)
When Americana punk rock band The Gaslight Anthem broke up in 2015, I was heartbroken. But after lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Brian Fallon went solo almost immediately, I realized we’d hardly miss a beat from my generation’s Bruce Springsteen. 2016’s ‘Painkillers’ and 2018’s ‘Sleepwalkers’ picked up right where TGA left off thankfully, and thus 2020’s ‘Local Honey’ was one of my most anticipated albums as I headed into the New Year. It’s definitely a much mellower Fallon affair than I’m used to though, relying heavily on his alt-country and indie folk influences this time around. Still great of course, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the punky energy. So, ok…maybe he DOES need his E Street Band back after all. But until Gaslight Anthem (hopefully) reforms one day, Fallon’s still The Boss, so just listen to whatever he has to say, alright?
11. The Killers – Imploding The Mirage (Island Records)
Every album by The Killers instantly takes me back to a specific time and place in my life, and their sixth release, ‘Imploding the Mirage,’ will be no different. Huge choruses, soaring guitar solos, 80’s style synth-laden hooks, and the Old Las Vegas vibes that the band is so good at giving; it’s all here, and it’s better than ever. Plus, “Caution” seriously might just be the best song the band has written, period.
10. Nothing – The Great Dismal (Relapse Records)
The synopsis for Nothing’s 4th album reads: “…explores existentialist themes of isolation, extinction, and human behavior of 2020’s vast wasteland.” I can’t really describe it any better than that, so I won’t even try. But for those unfamiliar with the highly underrated post hardcore/noise rock Philadelphia band that is Nothing, don’t let their record label and/or members fool you: sure, this album might be on Relapse, but it has little in common with the typical death metal and grindcore albums that label is best-known for releasing. And yeah, Nothing might contain current and former members of bands like Deafheaven and Jesus Piece, but there is no avant-garde black metal or metalcore here either. Instead, this is a riff heavy, no frills rock band and album for fans of acts like Failure, Helmet and Hum.
9. Kvelertak – Splid (Rise Records)
Armed with a new vocalist and drummer for the first time ever since the band’s formation in 2007, you would think the latest release from Norway’s “black ‘n’ roll” collective Kvelertak would be different, but it’s most definitely signature Kvelertak. Are they a party band? Are they black metal? Viking metal? Rock ‘n’ roll? Hardcore? They’re just Kvelertak, mann.
8. Every Time I Die – A Colossal Wreck / Desperate Pleasures (Epitaph Records)
This is technically cheating, since it’s only two songs in just 6 minutes, but these new ETID tracks are absolutely insane. How this band continually manages to evolve and progress, yet always stays true to their roots no matter what, is just mind-blowing. I also think I just heard my new favorite Every Time I Die lyric (it’s constantly changing): “We’re living in the golden age of bastards.”
7. Refused – The Malignant Fire EP (Spinefarm Records)
It’s hard to remember a world where Refused ceased to exist for 14 years, but that was our reality after the band broke up in 1998, before finally reuniting at 2012’s Coachella. Since their reformation, they’ve released plenty of worthy material as follow-ups to their 1998 swan song, ‘The Shape Of Punk To Come,': the wildly different ‘Freedom’ (2015), the fierce ‘War Music’ (2019), and now the brevity of their new EP: ‘The Malignant Fire.’ Having also just provided all the music to Cyberpunk 2077’s fictional band Samurai (fronted by Keanu Reeves), 2020 was clearly Refused’s year. Please, guys…don’t ever breakup again.
6. Dead And Gone (Podcast)
Ok, this one is REALLY cheating (it’s not even music!). But it’s also a combination of two of my favorite things: true crime and the Grateful Dead. Plus, you do have to listen to it, so…it easily gets a pass. Host Payne Lindsey of the Up And Vanished podcast (seriously one of the best true crime pods out there), teamed up with co-host Jake Brennan (of the Disgraceland podcast), and together, the pair take A Long Strange Deadly Trip down the darker side of deadhead culture. You can easily binge season one in an afternoon, and then like me, you’ll be in for A Long Brutal Wait for season two.
5. King 810 – AK Concerto No. 47, 11th Movement In G Major (King Nation)
Having left Roadrunner Records several years back, Flint, Michigan’s King 810 has consistently been self-releasing new material ever since, without having to answer to anybody. And it makes sense too…I mean, would YOU want to tell King what to do? Exactly. This latest effort might lack the real “grime” found throughout 2014’s ‘Memoirs Of A Murderer,’ and yeah, the spoken word interludes from group mastermind David Gunn are surely missed here as well. But trading in those elements this time around is one of the best nu metal songs ever written (“AK Concerto No. 47”), the insanely catchy “Da Vinci Hands Pinocchio Nose,” the almost outlaw country swagger of “Dukes,” the arena rock stomp of “Suicide Machines,” and the electronic pulsating bounce of “2A.” You never know what you’re going to get from King, and that’s what makes them so exciting (and did we also mention dangerous?).
4. Architects – Live At The Royal Albert Hall (Livestream)
There’s something truly eerie about Architects’ frontman Sam Carter screaming his 2016 lyrics to set opener, “Nihilist,” in front of literally no one inside the prestigious Royal Albert Hall in London: “all our gods have abandoned us!” And it ends in the same apocalyptic fashion, by closing out their breathtaking performance with “Doomsday”: “and when the night gives way, it’s like a brand new doomsday.” Architects are THE best progressive metalcore band in existence, and with their lyrical themes of grief and tragedy, they’re THE band we needed most in 2020.
3. Ghostemane – ANTI-ICON (Blackmage Records)
Produced by none other than THE Ross Robinson (Korn, Limp Bizkit, Slipknot, etc.), everything about rapper/trap metal artist Ghostemane’s ‘ANTI-ICON’ is, ironically, iconic. In fact, if one didn’t know better, ‘ANTI-ICON’ could easily be confused as THE album that started the horrorcore (aka horror rap/death hip hop, etc.) genre. But it’s not – it just completely revolutionized it.
2. Bring Me The Horizon – POST HUMAN: SURVIVAL HORROR (RCA Records/Sony Music)
A concept album about playing survival horror video games in the midst of a global pandemic, BMTH’s newest effort sees them going back to their early deathcore/metalcore roots, while still getting even weirder and more experimental than ever, thanks to the anime soundtrack-sounding duet with Japan’s BABYMETAL (“Kingslayer”), their ballad with Amy Lee of Evanescence (“One Day The Only Butterflies Left Will Be In Your Chest As You March Towards Your Death”), etc. Frontman Oliver Sykes calls their new direction “cyber thrash metal,” and it’s a perfect way to describe the latest album from one of the most interesting and groundbreaking rock bands alive. Always one step ahead of all their peers too, you can surely expect “cyber trash metal” to be the next big thing in 2021, thanks to Oli & co.
1. Code Orange – Underneath (Roadrunner Records)
This is it. This is the one. Years from now, when I look back at 2020, ‘Underneath’ by Code Orange will be THE album that musically defined the entire year for me. Released on Friday, March 13th (i.e.: the day the world literally stopped), the band was last-minute forced to cancel their sold-out album release show in Pittsburgh, which was devastating for a young band whose sophomore album (for Roadrunner) was their make or break moment. But if hindsight is 20/20, then for Code Orange to achieve their current level of greatness, it was the best thing that happened to their career. Because instead of simply just canceling their show (which is what every other artist was doing that same weekend), they opted to play inside of an entirely empty venue, and livestreamed the event via Twitch; a move that was truly unprecedented at the time (how weird does that sound now?). The now infamous set, which was dubbed “Last Ones Left: In Fear Of The End,” wasn’t just watching a band simply run through their soundcheck (what most feared a livestream with no audience would come off as at the time). Instead, what transpired was nothing short of jaw-dropping. It was a full-fledged film, and essentially CREATED the 2020 variant of what the at-home concert experience can and should be. Often duplicated now, but NEVER replicated, alternative/industrial metal hardcore oufit Code Orange were almost born to be a band in this “new world” that was thrust upon us all. And both musically and lyrically speaking, ‘Underneath’ IS 2020 in a nutshell: it’s alien. It’s chaotic. It’s cold. It’s dark. It’s “different.” It’s futuristic. It’s isolating. It’s uncomfortable. It’s unpredictable. And it’s both physically and mentally exhausting. But more than anything, it’s a true work of art that will be revered for years to come. Code Orange Forever.
So there you have it - those are my Top 20 Albums Of 2020. Now what were YOURS? Leave a comment below!
Here’s to a better 2021, and Happy New Year!
-Frankie from Rockabilia