Usually, these articles start with a “Wow, is it that time again?” But this year, it feels like it’s been a marathon to get to this point, rather than a sprint. Probably because, well…y’know. While the bottom may have dropped out the live music industry in a momentous fashion, we’ve still had the opportunity to revel in some amazing music. Indeed, if this is the quality of music to expect in the rest of the 2020s, it’ll easily rival the 2010s. So forget all those annoying buzzwords and phrases we’ve had funnelled into our ears and eyes for the majority of the year and let’s look back at one constant – great music!
There wasn’t even a slim chance of Anchor Lane being topped by another band. I can’t say enough good things about it. As a peak behind the curtain, we received this album in late 2019, and it was better than anything released that year, too. That’s how good this album is. I knew it when I first heard it and it’s still true, over a year later. It’s everything a hard rock album should be in 2020 – paying homage to influences whilst being forward-facing, comfortable yet boundary-pushing. Song-writing and instrumentation which belies their youth, wrapped together with palpable passion and Toby Jepson’s masterful production hand – it’s simply one of the best albums in years. Some bands never release an album in their entire career which matches this, much less as their debut. It’ll be a long time before we hear an album this good again.
Top Albums (alphabetical order):
- A. Swayze & the Ghosts – Paid Salvation. Grimy old-fashioned punk with modern sensibilities and lyrics. Not. quite the heaviest band you’ll hear but they’re a band with something to say and the fact they’re from Australia just adds credence to their themes that these issues are universal.
- Oli Brown – Unleashed. An EP which theoretically shouldn’t exist. However, that DNA of those early RavenEye songss are written all over these four gems. And if you prefer Brown in his rockier moments than his blues efforts, this will tide you over until we finally get album two from RavenEye.
- God Damn – God Damn. This album was very much a grower. Noisier and filthier than they’ve ever been, the duo put their recent trio to record to develop a guttural wall of noise laden with their special brand of aggression. While there’s a dollop of melody in there for good measure, everything is crafted to precision without losing the heart and soul of what makes God Damn uniquely them.
- Haggard Cat – Common Sense Holiday. One which sadly slipped through the review net because real life decided it would get in the way – how selfish, right? Nevertheless, it’s the unbridled fury and noise which marries blues and punk together to make a monstrously filthy and enjoyable listen.
- Häxan – White Noise. Seriously, what are they putting in the water in Wales? So many great bands are coming out of there in recent years. Whilst Haxan have been on the go for some time now, this was their introduction to myself (and likely many others). As power trios go for hard rock acts, it doesn’t get much better than this and a stark reminder of why the genre is just so bloody good.
- IDLES – Ultra Mono. Whilst the initial singles left a lot to be desired and indeed, planted a seed of worry that it may not live up to the first two albums, all those fears were displaced after one listen of this. Like an unstoppable force of nature, this planted its flag as one of the best albums of the year and if it wasn’t for Anchor Lane, it likely would have taken the top spot. More relevant and direct than ever, IDLES continue to their campaign to be one of the 21st century’s most vital bands.
- Lamb of God – Lamb of God. Taking this long into a career to make a self-titled album isn’t exactly the norm but here, it’s perfect. Much like God Damn’s third as their self-titled, here, it’s because it’s the most Lamb of God they’ve ever sounded. Taking you by the scruff of the neck and refusing to let go, this may be more Lamb of God and nothing’s really changed but it’s in the best sense. If the next album is Lamb of God II, I won’t quibble in the slightest.
- Phoxjaw – Royal Swan. A touch more avant-garde than my usual listening habits but it has all the hallmarks of everything I enjoy rolled into one album. It’s dark, grungy and rough in places yet bright, pristine and heavy in others.
- Naked Six – Lost Art of Conversation. Another that real life prevented a review from but as another band to develop from a duo to a trio, the growth is justified and features some of the best saxophone usage since “Careless Whisper”. Mixing blues with grunge and rock creates a dynamic listen, keeping things fresh and layered to ensure you hear something new every time.
- Dee Snider – For the Love of Metal Live. Because it’s Dee fucking Snider. Seriously though, this mixed the best of Twisted Sister’s back catalogue and his 2018 album of the same name. And most of the tracks come from his 2019 Bloodstock appearance, complete with his hilarious crowd banter as a reminder of just how good that set was.
- Toby and the Whole Truth – Ignorance is Bliss. This is kind of cheating since the album is 25 years old but it was re-released this year. It feels like a fish out of water, sonically more relevant in 2020, and lyrically, it’s still bang up-to-date as Toby Jepson works through personal issues and looks at the injustices of modern living.
- Tomorrow is Lost – Therapy. If ever there was a more apt title for an album this year, I’ve not heard it. Much like their mates in Anchor Lane, to have a debut album this strong isn’t a given. Yet, when it came to this lot, anything less would have been a surprise given how closely we’ve followed them since the start. As wide and varied as they could manage, there’s metal, punk, big ballads and rock cannily assembled to make a tremendous debut album which is completely them but once again, forward-facing.
Best Live Shows (in chronological order):
Yeah, I actually got to some!
- Slipknot / Behemoth – SSE Hydro, Glasgow (18th January). What a way to start off the year with a bang. Going left-field and omitting a few of the staples from their live shows, Slipknot ensured they were as potent as they ever were in the live arena, even if their most recent album, We Are Not Your Kind, was the furthest thing from that.
- Slipknot / Behemoth – Arena Birmingham (24th January). Twice in one tour? Greedy, yes. Worth it? Even more so. A week later and towards the tail end of the tour, it was on another level and the best I’d seen Slipknot since Download 2013. Originally, this was the only one I was going to but a last-minute Glasgow ticket came up and I was hardly likely to refuse so that was the warm-up for this. Plus, in tow with our Rach and her better half, Glen, they got to witness their first metal gig, it made for a rather memorable evening.
- Steel Panther / Wayward Sons – O2 Academy, Glasgow (11th February). Steel Panther were very much still Steel Panther. Continually proving despite the parody and comedy, they’re great musicians and know how to put on a great show. Add in Wayward Sons who may not have been a perfect fit, they worked their arse off to win over the audience.
- Frank Carter & the Rattlesnakes – Barrowland Ballroom (13th February). Frank Carter and the Barras is pretty much a match made in heaven. As the floor bounced the entire night, most recent album, End of Suffering, may have been a touch poppier but it translated well into a live environment to the point where the vast majority of it was performed.
- Anchor Lane – Dreadnought Rock, Bathgate (15th February). Riding high on the recent release of Casino, the quartet went above and beyond to deliver a tremendous performance with gusto. Plus, any excuse to get to the Dreadnought is always guaranteed to be a good night.
- Joe Talbot in Coversation – Barras Art and Design, Glasgow (29th February). Not a band performance but fuck it, it’s my list and I’ll do what I want. With an extra dose of hypocrisy because I’ve yet to actually witness IDLES perform. Hosted by Alan McGee and audience participation encouraged, it was an insightful evening, full of inspiration. You can even hear the second half (the audience Q&A half) here.
- IDLES – Abbey Road Lock-in Sessions. Again, not technically a live show (see above my line of thinking in the Joe Talbot entry) but instead, IDLES decamped to Abbey Road Studios to perform three completely different live sets and streamed the results out into the world. Each set as memorable and fun as the next, variation was the over-arching theme before the release of Ultra Mono with no song appearing twice. Both reverent and irreverent to the trend and style we currently find ourselves in whilst ensuring that while it may be some time until it happens for real and you can’t get ahold of their Glastonbury set on YouTube anymore, this filled the void nicely.
Best New Band I Discovered:
This could actually go to a number of different bands this year, some of whom have already been mentioned but it has to be Heads. Sure, the payouts provided by DSPs may not equal fair remuneration for the time, effort and money to create music but the up-side is the recommendations based on your listening and you can discover so many more bands than ever. Which is where Heads. factor in. A listen to Collider when I’d been listening to something else and I was in.
Moody, oppressive and leaning far more into the indie stakes than I’m used to. But it was such an enjoyable listen regardless and whilst this year’s Push may not hit as hard, it’s still a brilliant piece of work. For what I usually listen to, it’s left-field but for others, it’s bread and butter. Far from being landfill indie, the grim and grimy feeling which pervades ensures that it still works and crosses the aisle to grab my attention and show me another branch of this massive tree we find ourselves on.
Best Thing That Happened:
Worst Thing That Happened:
Most looking forward to in 2021:
The obvious would be the return of live music in late 2021 – anything earlier than that is looking increasingly unlikely and it wouldn’t be a surprise if another year without summer festivals comes to pass. But I’m all for being proven wrong – there has to be a first time for everything, right?
Other than that, I simply don’t know and not only is that ok but it’s also exciting. I’m sure there’s albums that will be announced that would easily fill this void. And for sure there would be tours and festivals that I’d normally be looking forward to but we’re still quite a way off from that slice of normality returning to our lives.
Overall view of the year:
There’s the incredibly obvious reaction to this. Sure, I got out to a few gigs and indeed, those that appeared on the above were the entirety of the year – which is roughly the average month, not an entire calendar year. If you’d told me that a few years back, I’d have been beside myself. But honestly, I’m content enough without them because they’ll be back when it’s safe to do so – again, if you’re hoping for anything earlier than late 2021, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Proof of that can be seen as tours far into 2021 move into 2022.
With that being said, there’s been a number of great albums this year and at the risk of sounding like a broken record like I say most years, rock and metal is in a healthier place than we realise. When giants like AC/DC, Ozzy Osbourne and Bruce Springsteen are releasing albums and they don’t feature on a year-end list, the newer bands must be doing something right.
Whilst the lack of gigs meant we weren’t as productive as a site, we were still as productive as ever and were still inundated with as many emails and opportunities as we would have been in a non-pandemic year. But this year has also shown the creativity and co-operation which runs not only through the genre but the entire music industry. From endless covers, videos and live streams and trying to iterate on the latter – in the face of adversity, art prevails.
- Mosh – first and foremost as always. He’s kept the site running more or less single-handedly this year whilst I’ve been buried in other matters.
- Rob Town for a wealth of reasons
- Cosa Nostra PR
- Valeria at Duff Press
- Rage PR
- SaN PR
- You – as is the custom, last but by no means least. Mainly because if it wasn’t for people reading and bands sharing these ramblings, we’d just be shouting into the void like some internet troll.