2020 saw the surprise returns of Fiona Apple, AC/DC, Deep Purple, Armored Saint, Public Enemy, and the Smashing Pumpkins. We got great new albums by Ozzy, Taylor Swift (yeah I said it), and Testament, among others. But as I say every year, this is not an attempt at listing what I think are the best new albums of the year, but instead the ones that got under my skin and stuck around on repeat for a while.
I do enjoy making this list. I listen to tons of music all year (Spotify tells me that on their platform alone I listened to 423 new artists for 25,914 minutes in 2020!) This list gives me a chance to share albums that might not be more widely known, and also to revisit music I’ve missed, when I take time in early December to look back and catch up. As usual, there’s a few you’ll know, a few you won’t, and a surprise or two!
AMMA by Puta Volcano
Normally I say ‘in no particular order’ but these are a little bit in order. I unashamedly love Athenian rockers Puta Volcano and I had this album on hard repeat on and off all year. AMMA is a little less up front and obvious than Dune, their previous full length, which is one of my all-time favorite albums, but that just means there’s more to grow on here. Dig in!
Refractions by Lowrider
Speaking of surprise returns! After a 20 year break between albums (take that, Tool!), Sweden’s legendary Lowrider dropped this bomb in early 2020, causing shockwaves throughout the heavy music world. Refractions is the awesome follow up to Io, the now-classic debut by these seminal stoner rockers. I expect to see this album on a lot of year-end best-of lists.
Dead Star by King Buffalo
King Buffalo quickly came out of seemingly nowhere to become one of my favorite bands in the last couple of years, and I was really looking forward to seeing them again in SF this past spring, before the world got cancelled. Dead Star is a semi-concept EP bridging the gap between 2018’s critically-acclaimed Longing to be the Mountain and whatever masterpiece they cook up next. Just killer progressive stoner rock that you don’t listen to as much as experience.
Habits by Elephant Tree
Elephant Tree is one of those bands that if you know, you know. Granted, I had never heard of them until Jamie from San Francisco’s Brume told me about them some years ago. But I was hooked instantly on their hypnotic brand of psychedelic space rock, which has one foot in the 60s and one in the future. Habits is the highly anticipated follow up to their 2016 self-titled album, and it definitely doesn’t disappoint.
Acid Communion by Bone Church
Balls out, straight ahead rock and roll, just turn it up and get your headbang on. Heavy 70s style Aussie hard rock in the vein of Sabbath, Deep Purple, Rainbow. It’s just feel good, top down, get your ya-yas out bluesy heavy guitar rock.
Mother by In This Moment
Maria Brink and crew bring their special brand of hair-raising cathartic power and emotion to In This Moment‘s newest release, Mother. With powerful covers of songs like Fly Like an Eagle and We Will Rock You (feat. Lzzy Hale of Halestorm), as well as amazing originals like The In-Between, the latest from In This Moment is a must listen.
Father of all Motherfuckers by Green Day
Part QUOTSA, part early Beatles, all Green Day and a whole lot of fun. A little less cynical, and a little more power pop, Father of all Motherfuckers is an energetic treat, with a lot of nods to early rock and roll in its peppy songs and polished production. I love that these guys just keep on doing their thing and dgaf what anyone thinks of their sonic experimentations.
Ohms by Deftones
Deftones are an acquired taste, and I wonder if people out there who love classic Deftones will feel like this is watered-down, accessible Deftones, but then again who cares, it’s just good. Relentless raw nerve vocals alternated with mellow melodies over staccato beats, Ohms is… well, it’s Deftones.
Casting the Circle by High Priestess
Casting the Circle is the second full length release by LA doom trio High Priestess. If you’re unfamiliar with the psychedelic swirls and melodic mist of High Priestess’ magical brand of doom rock, then now’s your chance to dive in and get caught in their spell.
Reverie by Forming the Void
Somehow, while I was listening to Reverie on repeat, trying to decide if I liked it or not, it wormed its way into my psyche and lodged there for several weeks. The funny thing is that this album sounds very much like it doesn’t care if you like it or not, it is what it is despite it all — crushingly heavy pounding fuzz rock, swirling through time and space and passing through your brain on its way.
Valhalla by Wolftooth
Wolftooth is back and has stepped up their game with their second full length, Valhalla, sounding more like the best of the Sword than they did on their self-titled 2018 debut. just pure riff rock fury in NWOBHM style from these Louisiana metalheads.
The Woes of a Mortal Earth by Brimstone Coven
Wait, another 70s Sabbath-sounding blues rock band? Well, yeah, but it’s, you know, really fucking good so just go listen to it okay? Bonus: cowbell!
Love Like Machines by the Heavy Eyes
Last but not least is the latest from Louisiana rockers The Heavy Eyes, Love Like Machines. Not to be confused with the now-defunct Flying Eyes, who they call to mind on this fuzzed out feast of funky catchy riffs. Fans of Kyuss, Clutch, and Freedom Hawk will dig this one, a future desert rock classic.
Honorable mentions – Ordinary Man by Ozzy, Excruciation by Curse the Son, Cyr by Smashing Pumpkins, Scorpio by Atomic Bitchwax; What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down? by Public Enemy, Si Vis Paceum, Para Bellum by Seether. And honestly I wanted to like Marilyn Manson’s latest We Are Chaos but I didn’t.
Bonus – this year I’ve created a Spotify playlist of selected songs from the albums listed here, enjoy! Micropayments for everyone!
What are your favorite albums of 2020? Comment below or let me know!