Mojo’s Favorite Albums of 2020

Vinyl RecordWhatever else happened this year — and it was a lot — it was still a very good year for music.

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

In This Moment - Mother

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!

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Mojo’s Pick of the Week – AMMA by Puta Volcano

Puta Volcano AmmaI can’t express how excited I am that those crazy groovy Greeks in Puta Volcano have delivered another syncopated, riff-heavy album of killer tracks with their latest release AMMA, out everywhere now. With their third solid release, Puta Volcano has planted its flag in the sand and saying ‘we are here, motherfuckers.’

The tighter-than-ever quartet has refined its sound from a raw, gritty energy into a restrained, slightly understated but confident power, more like muscles flexing and less like a punch to the face. The rhythm section of Bookies on bass and
Steve Stefanidistill on drums lays a heavy groove and Alex Pi’s guitars go from mean, tight riffs to warm fuzz shower with ease. Anna Papathanasiou’s powerful, husky vocals still raise the hair on the back of my neck. Fans of Tool will dig the latest from these rising stars.

Standout tracks: Venus Lullaby, Black Box

Puta Volcano on the web:

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Mojo’s Favorite Albums of 2019

Vinyl RecordWhatever else happened this year, 2019 was another great year for heavy music. Maybe because of everything else that happened. At any rate, more good music came out than I had time to listen to, but the music that I did was often excellent. Some bands made quantum leaps with their music and simply leveled up everything, which was amazing to see and hear, in some cases live in person, and for that I am very thankful.

I’ll start with my usual disclaimer that the idea of “best” is subjective and in my mind ridiculous, no one with a “best of” list could have listened to everything available even if the person were the critical yardstick by which all music is measured. What I present here is a list of my favorite albums that came out in 2019, the ones that got under my skin and got the most repeat listens and deserve to be celebrated and shared.

Without further ado, in almost no particular order, here are my favorite albums of 2019. Some you may know, some you are about to discover!

Rabbits by Brume

I’m not going to hesitate to call this a masterpiece. I don’t know the last time I heard an album that made me feel as much as this one does. Brume is one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s semi-secret treasures, an eclectic heavy rock trio that’s become a cornerstone of the local metal scene. And their latest release, Rabbits, is nothing less than a bold leap beyond their previous work. This is simply a fully realized emotional and sonic landscape that you experience as much as listen to. I highly encourage you to put this album on, lie back, and let it wash over you.

Fear Inoculum by Tool
Tool - Fear Inoculum
I was too busy digesting this album when it came out to even post about it. Tool has been my favorite band since someone handed me their worn out copy of Undertow in the early 90s. To wait 13 years since 10,000 Days seems cruel and bound to subvert expectations, but the wait was worth it. What we got was not the fire of young Tool but the studied, evolved musicianship of mature Tool and a worthy entry into the canon of progressive rock. So masterfully produced it’s like melted butter for your ears. Fear Inoculum sounds like the natural progression from 10,000 Days with a little Lateralus thrown in.
Standout tracks: Pneuma, Fear Inoculum

Coven of the Snake by Arrowhead

Australia’s Arrowhead have released a banger that has all the confidence and swagger of a band that have shared the stage with Monster Magnet, Earthless, Acid King, and Sasquatch, to name a few. Fans of Black Sabbath, Corrosion of Conformity, Alice and Chains will dig this fuzzed out heavy record full of catchy grooves and riffs. One of my top listens for the year.
Standout tracks: Coven of the Snake, Root of Evil, March of the Reptiles

The Road by Acid Alice

Excellent fuzzy bluesy guitar rock from Mexico City! Sounding like a hybrid between Big Brother & the Holding Company, Black Sabbath, and the Doors, the very talented Acid Alice has knocked it out of the park with their debut album The Road. Put it on, put the top down and go for a ride!
Standout tracks: Destroy Me, Wolf, Broken Man

Flames Arise by Lowcaster

San Francisco’s Lowcaster have arisen from their own ashes to produce a complex and emotionally mature sophomore effort, Flames Arise. A quantum leap above their rollicking 2016 debut, Flames Arise is born from “two years of tragedy and loss”, according to the band. A guest visit from Susie McMullan of Brume helps send this one over the top.
Standout Tracks: Flames Bemoan the Tide, Shore up the Ashes

Forever, Never or Whenever by Devil to Pay

You can never have enough head-banging fuzzy guitar rock, and this groovy album is a gym favorite for me lately. Fans of Corrosion of Conformity and Mos Generator will dig the gritty grooves of Indianapolis’ Devil to Pay. Really digging this one.
Standout tracks: Heave Ho, The Devil’s Barking Up Your Tree, 37 Trillion

Supercluster by Salem’s Bend

This quirky eclectic electric trio from Los Angeles is out with a new full length, Supercluster. Give it time and let it grow on you, and you too will be infected with their brand of offbeat bluesy rock. There’s something special about Salem’s Bend that I can’t quite put my finger on, but nods to Frank Zappa and other odd influences are hinted at in their groovy sound. See them live if you can, they’re not to be missed.
Standout tracks: Spaceduster, Heavenly Manna, Show Me the Witch

Age of Aquarius by Villagers of Ioannina City

Self-described as ‘post-rock with a dose of Greek folk traditional music’, Villagers of Ioannina City have delivered a masterful opus of sweeping rock soundscapes that subtly incorporates elements of traditional Greek folk music into its heavy tales of gods and the grandeur of nature and history. If you like epic, majestic rock, give this a spin. Also, I love how the singer gives the word “aquarius” five syllables.
Standout tracks: Welcome, Age of Aquarius, Father Sun

Awakened From the Tomb by Witchers Creed

Was sad to see that this was a one-and-done by the darkly fun Witcher’s Creed, calling it quits in mid-2019 after releasing this solid full length on the heels of a few demos and a single. Awakened from the Tomb is an album steeped in the proto-metal tradition of 1970s Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, and it quickly grew on me to become one of my most played albums of the year.
Standout tracks: Witcher’s Creed, Depths of the Black Void, Larissa

Volume by Zed

Another band that leveled up this year is San Francisco Bay Area heavy hitters Zed, local favorites who are gaining international attention with their appearances at festivals like the Maryland Doom Fest and London’s Desertfest. Volume is their best work to date, oozing with the maturity of a hard working band running on all cylinders. All killer, no filler!
Standout tracks: The Other Kind, Chingus, Time and Space

Honorable Mention

Albums that came out this year that I thought were amazing but didn’t make it into my ‘can’t stop playing this’ criteria included Lana Del Rey‘s beautiful Norman Fucking Rockwell; When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? by Billie Eilish; and the surprisingly good The Answer is None by The Answer is None, 3 guys who met over the internet and made a melodic hard rock album that sounds like Alice in Chains met Van Halen:

The Answer is None Cover

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