This list is not genre or market specific. This list reflects the diversity of my interests. This list is not based on listening to any radio, podcasts, or influencer pundits. My appreciation for music is relatively broad, but you’ll find a heavier edge to recent lists – reflective of the seasons of my life.
This list is the 10th anniversary of my attempt to catalog, track, and recommend the best music of the previous year.
Please spread the word and share this guidance with your network, and pay forward these suggestions of high quality, relatively underrated music and musicians.
Check out my YouTube playlist featuring clips from every album, linked at the end of this list.
And if you’re feeling bold, drop a comment on this blog and let me know what you think. What’s on your list of favorite albums for 2020?
I appreciate your interest in my Art and music opinion. Enjoy!
Removed (20) The Tech Theives, “The Blue EP”; (18) Puscifer “Existential Reckoning”; (13) DevilDriver “Dealing with Demons 1”
Added (20) Sevendust “Blood & Stone”; (18) Missio “Can You Feel the Sun?”; (13) Rabbit Junk “Xenospheres”
Blood & Stone
Late addition to this list: After recent nerd sessions with “Blood & Stone”, I felt compelled to add this album to the list post-publish. While not a classic Sevendust record, it is solid and entertaining. Cover of Soundgarden’s “The Day I Tried to Live” is the main reason this album made the list. Classic cover of a classic song.
I wasn’t greatly impressed with Avatar’s new album altogether, but “Colossus” is a standout tune in their catalog overall. It was one of my most-listened to songs this year, and suggests the awesome potential of this continually entertaining, but somewhat-inconsistent band.
Can You Feel The Sun?
Another late addition to the list post-publish: the more I listened to Missio’s new album, the more it stuck with me. I can’t say the same with Puscifer’s “Existential Reckoning”, which previously held this spot. The title track is heartwarming and pleasant, and the rest of the album is catchy and cool. It was originally on my Top 20 list for 2020, but I pulled it. I’m putting it back where it belongs.
I’ve been a Breaking Benjamin fan since the beginning, and it’s fun to hear stripped-down, acoustic versions of some of the best songs in their catalog. I would’ve chosen some different songs if the list was up to me, but “Failure” turned out to be one of my favorite tunes of their most recent albums and sounds amazing in the “Aurora” format. Sweet team-up with Scooter Ward from Cold. On the other hand, some of their Aurora-fied songs sound a bit too country for this rock fan (duet with Lacey Sturm), which is why it ranks so low on my Top 20. Great musicians, great atmosphere, great chillax music.
An Ohm is a unit used to measure the electrical resistance of a material or an electrical device. How that fits into the sublime art of the Deftones remains to be seen. I respect the music of the Deftones, even if I don’t completely love it or flow with it. Their vibe usually gets through to me in time. I’m certainly not on the same wavelength as band co-founder and Flat Earther Stephen Carpenter.
Long Day Good Night
Last year featured Flotsam & Jetsam as my #1 album of 2019 – a band that has had amazing longevity of almost 40 years on the metal scene. Fates Warning shares that honor, formed in 1982. Long gone are the days of MTV hits, Headbanger’s Ball, and a thriving progressive metal scene. Yet, Fates Warning continues to create amazing music in what should be their twilight years. Not consistent or catchy enough to be a top album of 2020, but still strong enough to best most metal acts in this day and age by sheer musicianship and talent alone.
Project Regeneration (Vol. 1)
A testament to modern technology, Project Regeneration features the voice of Wayne Static years after his death in 2014. Pulled from previously-unreleased material and augmented by rock and metal greats like David Draiman, Dez Fafara, Al Jourgenson, and Edsel Dope, who is the suspected masked lead of the touring band as “Xer0”. If anything, the album and tour reminds us how amazingly talented Wayne Static was. And how much he is missed.
Another late addition to the top 20 of 2020. Sadly, since I was off social media, I didn’t know this band released a new album in October 2020. Once I heard it, I married it hardcore, but it just goes to show how hard it is for lesser known bands to connect with their audience and keep them informed of what’s new. I haven’t been living under a rock. Mostly. An awesome album, but I do miss a little bit of the unpolished, rough experience of Rabbit Junk. I miss the imperfections and edginess of “Reframe”, but “Xenospheres” is still great Junk.
What the Dead Men Say
Matthew Heafy is one of my favorite musicians in metal. His vocal range and musical creativity are inspiring and awesome. For knowing what dead men say, Heafy employs boundless life behind his soaring voice and chords. Trivium is generally underrated by rock and metal, has been for over a decade. Smart metal, edgy arrangements, and echoes of rage, this album plays like an angry elegy.
There’s no denying the beauty in this album. Like Breaking Benjamin’s “Aurora”, “Echo Echo” is an album of all-acoustic, stripped-down covers of songs from IAMX’s catalog. There are extremely powerful and touching acoustic renditions that highlight Chris Corner’s awesome range and style, without the electronic makeup and accoutrements that regularly flesh the tones of IAMX. I appreciate the serendipity of one of my favorite artists releasing such an amazing creation at the same time as I released “Echoprism” in January 2020; a synchronicity of creative echoes, tonal masterpieces in time. Touching, poignant, reverberant.
Bizarre horror electro-rap metal that is crazy infectious.
Titans of Creation
Like Fates Warning and Flotsam & Jetsam, Testament has been cranking out consistently powerful metal since the early 80s. At nearly 60 years old, Frontman Chuck Billy has bested cancer and time to continue his dominance. With no sign of slowing down. Still producing some of the best metal in their catalog, Testament brings the speed and darkness with “WWIII”, “Night of the Witch”, “False Prophet’ and “The Healers”.
Become the Hunter
Brutal as a buzzsaw and violent as a buzzard picking at a corpse, this is deathcore at its finest, most rigorous moment. Brilliantly diabolical vocals with menacing timing and screeching guitars. This silence is ironic, a paradox of the stillness of suicide with guitars that shred and vox that wails.
KILLER BE KILLED
Killer Be Killed is a new supergroup featuring Dillinger Escape Plan frontman Greg Puciato, Sepultura and Soulfly god Max Cavalera, Mastadon viking-for-hire Troy Sanders, and Ben Koller. The convergence of Greg, Max and Troy has led to a marriage of diverse styles and sounds that mix perfectly, truly one of the best ragers of the year.
And now for a sound completely different – electronic music/dubstep master Lorin Ashton. I have a soft spot for electronic music and dubstep, though I listen to it a lot less now than years previous. Lorin grew up playing death metal, and he brings that heavy style to his hypnotic, sonic landscapes and adventures. Sweet team-ups with Blakkamoore, Ashel Seasunz, Rodney P, DJ Pound, and – always my favorite Bassnectar collaborator – Zion I.
Die Die Lullaby
I think gothpop is blissfully entertaining, like a Tim Burton movie set to great music on repeat. Emily Kavanaugh and Mark Brooks have elevated an ironic, necessary genre at a time when our society needs it most. Their musicianship is precise; their ironic videos, messages, and marketing are complementary, honest, and perfect. “Die Die Lullaby” sounds like the background music that I imagine plays at a seedy night club filled with sleazy dudes and scantily-dressed vixens. I wouldn’t know anymore, so it’s fun to live vicariously through the Night Club personas and characters. It’s all just gossip, so shut your dirty mouth.
(plus “Chapters 1 & 2”)
This is an “albums” list, built for acknowledging the full book, not just a page or a chapter. As such, I’ve never had a single song in my Top 20, and don’t plan to make a habit of it. Skynd will be my rare exception, as her 2020 single “Columbine” deserves much attention and high appreciation. Our violence-addicted culture needs to be reminded of dark events like Columbine, as well as the spectres of our many human monsters. I only recently discovered the morbid, macabre, and brilliant artist and musician named Skynd. Like Night Club, Skynd is a mostly-electronic gothrock or pop act fronted by a uber-talented woman and her “gimps”. Little is known about this mysterious band, including where they’re originally from. I couldn’t leave Skynd off my list since it had such a profound impact on me in 2020, from musicianship to video production quality to story content and concepts. “Columbine” features musician Bill $aber and continues Skynd’s trend of cinema-quality movie videos to accompany their music. They have accomplished this feat with each song on their previous two albums (Chapters 1 & 2), and I implore you to check out the other stories captures with their spooky and inspiring work.
Body Count’s message was always necessary and relevant, but even more so in 2020, a year that featured the murder of George Floyd, racial tension, riots, and cultural unrest. “Bum-Rush” was nominated for a 2021 Grammy award for Best Metal Performance, but there are stronger songs on the album worthy of addiction. ICE-T continues to drive culture-challenging, issue-inspired with his collection of metal masters.
“Underneath” was nominated for the same award as Body Count. Code Orange is no stranger to the Grammy nod, as their previous album “Forever” (which I loved) was nominated in 2017/2018. Their music is a frenetic, hyperactive mix of metal, hiphop, industrial, electronic styles with sharp edges, heavy hits, and chilling shrills. The brilliance of Code Orange mostly dwells in their ability to change up their styles based on who is leading the song – frontman Eric or guitarist Reba. As with previous albums, the brightest spots exist when Reba is voxing for Code Orange, providing a dichotomy of darkness and passion not equaled in industrial metal at the present moment.
Death of an Optimist
(plus all of “A Modern Tragedy”, which I just discovered this year)
“Nobody really cared, so it never really mattered
It never really mattered, so it never really happened
What’s the point in fightin’ for a happy ever after?
The past keeps hauntin’ the future I imagine
All I ever wanted was a little peace and quiet
Just color in the lines, and you’ll get it like they promise
If you bite the hand, get louder and defiant
Then you’ll see how quickly they come making a deposit”
Grandson was the soundtrack to my 2020, and reflected what a lot of us experienced this turbulent year. I discovered Grandson earlier this year, and have been addicted to his music ever since. Grandson is a hit machine, not just because he’s a lyrical master or can slay on the guitar or pump out a memorable cover of Linkin Park’s “One Step Closer”, but also because he can articulate the present day with precision, passion, clarity, and raw honesty that is truly lacking in Grammy and radio-friendly music.
Like Body Count, Grandson represents aggressive change and societal upheaval. As a white person completely against white power and white privilege, most notably anti-Trump, he is the rapping, sarcastic voice of the antithesis, and a persona that I can relate to completely. He is clever with his criticism, calculated with his attacks. He is creative with duality of identity (even if the “X” persona is a bit overdone), and is a multimedia and social media master. His cinematic productions are engaging, and his topics are timely and necessary. Singles released during 2020 – “Identity”, “Riptide”, “Dirty”, and “We Did It!” previewed the greatness of “Death of an Optimist” long before its December release and provided perfect commentary for this divisive and difficult election year.
But I’m not notching him number one on my list for “Death of an Optimist” alone. No, I first discovered Grandson via the track “6:00”, which was released a couple of years ago and sounds and plays like a scene pulled from the darkness and chaos of 2020.
“There’s no difference between you and I
We share the same sunshine from the same sky
When it rains, it rains on both you and I
Gotta sink or swim, now it’s do or die
It goes hashtag, bodybag, toe tag
Shot in the chest
It goes hashtag, bodybag
Even when I’m on my last breath”
Grandson would’ve dominated my 2018 and 2019 lists with his release “A Modern Tragedy” if I had known about him. Out of respect for BLM, George Floyd, Breona Taylor, and the countless others that suffered racial injustice in 2020 that led to riots and protests that began in my home area of Minneapolis and spread throughout the world, I give you Grandson, an unassuming, mop-headed voice for unity, truth, and justice.
My optimism is on life support. “Death of an Optimist” is an appropriate biography of how I got to the ER.