Simon’s Top Releases Of 2020

Simon’s Top Releases Of 2020
By Simon Black

Hi Everyone, It’s Rick

Before I hand you over to Simon for his Top Ten list and extras, I just wanted to thank him for putting this together so quickly. He is our newest writer so we are forgiving him for not ranking these in a particular order, we will make sure he does that next year 😊. Enjoy.

OK, so some statistics for 2020 first:

Albums Reviewed: 153
Web Sites Contributed To: 2
Live Gigs / Festivals Attended: 1 (Sob!)
Live Streams Watched: 6
Pints of Beer Consumed: I couldn’t possibly comment.
It has been a really odd year.

Having only got back into this whole reviewing thing at the start of this year, I was looking forward to catching a few more gigs along with the normal stuff, but the curse of 2020 meant that album reviews are all I have done so far. Not that I am ungrateful at the chance, as quite frankly this year seems to have been an absolute blinder for new music. The start of the year less so perhaps, as bands released material they already largely had in the can, but as the year wore on and musicians started adapting to the changes Covid-19 has wreaked upon the industry, the bands well and truly stepped up to the mark.

The albums that followed that turning point all seemed to step up a notch for me, as musicians rose to the challenge, worked out how to write, rehearse and record (sometimes with whole countries between the different members and indeed their producers). They turned that frustration and need to do something into a flurry of creative enthusiasm the likes of which I have not seen since the 1980’s. Some established acts chose to take a break during this – well, you snooze; you lose – plenty of new acts have stolen the thunder and they predominate in my top list this year.

So, a little about the methodology I have employed for my highlights.

The Top Of The Crop – Although I have reviewed over 150 releases this year, not all the items here are ones I had the opportunity to review at the time. There are three on here that I have discovered (either from other reviewers recommendation or blind chance), but if they are here it is because they are recordings that I have returned to a lot throughout the year when I perhaps should have been listening to new stuff from the review pile.

It was painful enough getting down to these albums, so deciding on any kind of pecking order was just too hard, which is why they are in alphabetical by band order.

Notable Mentions are largely records I gave a strongly favourable review to at the time, but which have not stayed on the platter for so long. Again, cracking albums in their own right, but up against tough competition, I have stuck with my consistency of a high volume of re-listens as being the deciding factor.

And then there’s the Should Have Known Better category. Well it only has one entry this year and this speaks for itself. It’s the only 1 out of 10 score I have given all year and that’s only because I wasn’t allowed to give it a zero.

Top Albums:

Dynazty  – The Dark Delight (April 2020)

These young Swedish Melodic High Octane Metallers have been at it a while, but having had the chance now to peruse the back catalogue, this is so far their magnum opus. From the catching refrains of Presence of Mind this album hooks you in – astounding vocals, catchy hooks and beautiful production, this album is a blast from start to finish. It was my first ten out of ten this year, and I stand by that decision:

Highlights:
Presence of Mind
From Sound To Silence
The Man And The Elements

www.facebook.com/dynaztyband


Damnation Angels – Fiber Of Our Being (July 2020)

If someone had told me at the start of this year that one of the best Symphonic Metal records I was likely to ever hear hailed from Doncaster I would have raised more than a sardonic eyebrow (especially as Brits I would have expected them to spell ‘Fibre’ correctly). When that’s the only complaint you have about a record, you know you are onto a winner. Revitalised by the addition of new lungsman and multi-instrumentalist Iggy Rodriguez, who has well and truly pulled them out of the doldrums after a five-year break, with one of the most amazing records I have ever had the privilege to review.

Highlights:
Railrunner
Fiber Of Our Being
Remnants of a Dying Star

www.facebook.com/damnationangels


Incinery – Hollow Earth Theory (October 2020)

I’ve been seeing a lot about these guys on my social media feed (who hail from my home town of Nottingham) for a while. And quite deservedly too. They’ve been at it for a decade, having produced a couple of EP’s and an LP up to this point, with plenty of buzz on their live shows, athough it’s been a few years since that first full record was released. At this point, many bands start to lose their mojo, but Incinery are absolutely flying on all cylinders for this album. It’s clearly born from a love of 80’s Thrash, but it’s also as modern as hell and straddles those forty years effortlessly, bringing the same breathless energy that made me start listening to that stuff all those decades ago. Both pure Underground, but crisp with the richness that maturity brings, this album is an absolute triumph.

Highlights:
Hollow Earth
Savage Lands

www.facebook.com/incinery


Nightwish – Human :||: Nature (April 2020)

I’m going to say this again and damn the abuse. Nightwish sound at their best with Floor Jansen on the mike. I missed the whole Tarja Turunen period, and whilst I don’t deny that her replacement was somewhat lacking in the delivery department, Jansen is another kettle of fish entirely. Her sheer power, range and eclectic delivery are way above and beyond what has gone before, and on this release she is absolutely allowed to shine. But this whole album feels like one where all the other members seem to have been allowed to show their wares and showcase their abilities, whilst still sounding like a cohesive whole. Well, when bandleader and keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen has been allowed to indulge himself with a whole second disk of progressive and largely instrumental experimentation, then letting the others have a little more free reign was inevitable. And wasn’t it worth letting Troy Donockley fly in The Harvest, which feels like the distillation of Levellers in a pint jar of Nightwish mead. The consequence is what feels like Nightwish’s strongest album to date.

Highlights:
Noise
Shoemaker
Harvest

www.facebook.com/nightwish


Six Foot Six – End Of All (December 2020)

This one may have landed the most recently, but judging from the complaints from my family to please play something different, this Swedish bunch of Melo-Rockers are here to stay. The dark cover of a plague masked medieval medic and the gloomy title coming at the end of a year of pandemic belies what is actually an incredible uplifting album. This year seems to have been a great one for Swedish bands, and this piece absolutely deserves a wider audience. It’s catchy, it’s lively, it’s quirky, it has some blistering guitar work hidden away in there and one of the most charismatic frontmen I’ve heard in a while. It’s also a consistently good record, and one that I can listen to throughout, effortlessly. My only regret was only giving them a nine out of ten on initial review, as I think it really deserved top marks.

Highlights:
End Of All
In God We Trust

www.facebook.com/SixFootSixTheBand


Sole Syndicate – Last Days Of Eden (November 2020)

Another band who absolutely get the balance between Retro and Modern are Sweden’s Sole Syndicate. My, that country is riding consistently high in my top ten this year. This is a thoroughly on-target slab of Modern Melodic Metal, with enough of a Hard Rock groove to make it accessible to the ‘Not We’. It’s open, free and has an effortless groove and some of the catchier tracks to make my top spot, judging by the fact that two of them found their way to the top of my Spotify playlist this year as well. These guys really deserve a wider audience, so go on, you know what to do.

Highlights:
Glory Days
We Came To Rock
When Darkness Calls

www.facebook.com/solesyndicatemusic


Static-X – Project Regeneration Vol. 1 (July 2020)

If you know me, you know that with one or two notable exceptions, I hate, loath and detest the vast majority of anything associated with the Nu-Metal movement. I spent most of that decade in denial with my fingers in my ears waiting for the likes of Priest and Maiden to swallow their collective pride and reform, and Static-X consequently passed me by. Which is a shame, as the Industrial Metal hybrid would probably have caught me ear had I heard it. So, with some trepidation that the surviving members of the band (even though they had been kicked out in the past) had raided the archive for unreleased material, and rustled up a stand-in, in a dead skin mask of Wayne Static, I gave it a go. …And promptly found that they had produced what could be their greatest recording, which like everything else about this incarnation of the band is downright bizarre. But it works.

Highlights:
Worth Dying For
All These Years
Bring You Down

www.facebook.com/staticx


Unleash The Archers – Abyss @August 2020)

These Canadian Power Metallers were the unexpected highlight of this year’s European Metal Festival Alliance / Bloodstock Substitute and despite having the least impressive performance space to work from in the form of somebody’s rather cluttered garage, went on to give the stand out performance of the whole event for me. The album followed shortly after, and has been consistently played throughout the rest of the year. Epic, powerful, moody, occasionally technically outstanding and downright brilliant, these guys (and gal) have gone from this year’s ‘unexpected item in the bagging area’ to a top-notch bone fide hit.

Highlights:
Abyss
Faster Than Light
The Wind That Shapes The Land

www.facebook.com/UnleashTheArchers


Ward XVI – Metamorphosis (September 2020)

One of the things I love about the Bloodstock Festival is the New Blood Stage. For those outside of the UK, this is the culmination of a year’s worth of regional competition for a slot on the bill at this prestigious event – in a tent entirely dedicated to the winners. Sadly, for many, this becomes the pinnacle of their career. Dozens of bands have earned that slot, had a blast on the day and then faded away. A few use it for what it is intended to be – an opportunity, to be taken and run with, and Ward XVI have definitely done that. Having stormed the UK with their insanely avant-garde stage shows, this Preston-based bunch of shock rockers have well and truly delivered with this, their second LP – a powerful and disturbing concept piece on the singer’s alter ego – Psychoberrie (think Alice Cooper with corpse paint). It’s simultaneously dark, disturbing, accessible and fun, and four months in I still absolutely love it.

Highlights:
Broken Toys
Imago
Catch Me If You Can
Shadows

www.facebook.com/WardXVI


Notable Mentions:

As I have said, it has been a really good year for music. So much so that I could not let the following go without worthy mentions:

AC/DC – Power Up
Annihilator – Ballistic Sadistic
Avatar – Hunter Gatherer
Cats In Space – Atlantis
Onslaught – Generation Antichrist
Ozzy Osborne – Ordinary Man
Primal Fear – Metal Commando
Scarlet – Obey The Queen
Smackbound – 20/20
Twister – Cursed & Corrected


Should Have Known Better:

Danzig – Sings Elvis
And don’t we wish that he hadn’t…


To read the original reviews, where available, follow these links:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

Unleash the Archers – Abyss

Unleash the Archers – Abyss
Napalm Records
Release Date: 21/08/20
Running Time: 55:56
Review by Steven Hooke
8/10

Look deep inside yourself and you’ll know, no matter how much you try to deny it and pretend you’re better than it, you bloody love some power metal. Whether it’s the searing melodies, ludicrous bombasticities, or you just have a thing for loin cloths, power metal is the delicious camembert accoutrement to your otherwise super, well-metal normality.

Sadly, it is not a genre that has aged well. Relying way too much on the attributes that made it such a success in the 80’s and 90’s, modern power metal flag-bearers either rehash the ideas of their predecessors, carry an outrageous gimmick, or are literal carbon copies of themselves (looking at you here Helloween and Rhapsody of Fire / Turilli/Leone Rhapsody). It is then refreshing to see the rise of an ambitious, hard-working troupe such as Unleash the Archers grinding their way to album five, being driven by their own unwavering vision of modern power metal.

The Vancouver band formed in 2007 operating on the heavier end of the power metal spectrum, blending the genre with lashings of melodic death metal. In the years since, Unleash the Archers have found their sweet spot in style, keeping the harsh melodeath growled vocals in reserve, but keeping the pace and riffs, and allowing frontwoman Brittney Slayes to prosper as a vocalist. Unlike her contemporaries, Slayes does not possess the high-pitched wails of Power Quest or Kiske-fronted Helloween, she does have the gravelly tones of Rage and she does not sound like a knock-off Tarja Turunen.

Brittney Slayes sounds like Brittney fucking Slayes.

In a sea of some of the most impressive vocalists in all of heavy metal, Slayes is able to stand out from the pack with her immense range and pure power in her delivery. She sounds like a confident performer throughout the album, and when she is backed by those fleeting growls of guitarists Andrew Kingsley and Grant Truesdell, it only seems to amalgamate together to create a hugely dramatic soundscape, and add some much-missed bite back into power metal.

“Abyss” opens with the immensely powerful and mood-setting ‘Waking Dream’, and whilst it does get you in the right mindset for the album, it then takes nearly a minute and a half for the album to get going proper, with the intro partially overlapping into the title-track. Intro tracks may be all the rage these days, but nearly 5 minutes of table-setting before the banquet makes for a slightly unnerving feeling about Abyss’ pacing.

The album did not take too long to redeem itself. The song ‘Abyss’ slowly turns into a strong outing for all involved, with Slayes’ vocal flexes underlined by Scott Buchanon’s brutal drum patterns and guitar work that feels somewhere between ravaging the streets of Gothenburg and lashings of glitter. The follow-up ‘Through Stars’ is the album’s first truly great song, opting to change out the pace of the opening sequence, with a bounty of beautiful melodies, alongside riffs and vocal harmonies blending together so effortlessly to create a shimmering masterwork of a song.

This collaboration between harmony and aggression is what really sets Unleash the Archers apart, feeling so comfortable on either side of the coin and not needing to go all the way into an orchestral-acoustic ballad to invoke melody and emotion from the listener. Equally, while there are windows into their melodic death metal past, the album never reaches overt levels of aggression. The growls on tracks like ‘Return to Me’, ‘The Wind That Shapes The Land’ and ‘Afterlife’ never feel like they’re outstaying their welcome, and on the whole add to the album’s narrative.

That is not to say “Abyss” doesn’t come without its experimental moments. Penultimate song ‘Carry The Flame’, a self-contained duet between Slayes and Kingsley, could easily out-class most pop rock acts filling up the charts today. Summery riffs leading into a classic power metal chorus, as the two singers trade-off their stoic voices; on paper it sounds like a nightmare but darn it all if it doesn’t come out sounding like an absolute bop. It’s a similar story with the song ‘Legacy’. Probably the closest thing the album has to a ballad, it’s an emotional and searing piece of music that is sometimes interjected with a barrage of blast beats and guitar widdling wankery. Again, sounds like an absolute fustercluck when analysed, but it somehow comes out sounding absolutely sensational.

For the long-term power metal fans who have been desperate for a refreshing new look to the genre, Unleash the Archers’ new album needs to be part of your essential listening. Whilst the pacing does take some getting used to, it doesn’t just copy what was good from years gone by, it identifies what made those things good in the first place and turns it into ideas that work for today, finished off with a Herculean production job by that man again Andrew Kingsley.

Assemble your chainmail and battle axes lads, we reconvene at dawn.

TRACKLISTING:
01. Waking Dream
02. Abyss
03. Through Stars
04. Legacy
05. Return To Me
06. Soulbound
07. Faster Than Light
08. The Wind That Shapes The Land
09. Carry The Flame
10. Afterlife (ft. Francesco Ferrini of Fleshgod Apocalypse)

LINE-UP:
Brittney Slayes – Lead Vocals
Andrew Kingsley – Guitars, Synthesizer, Vocals
Grant Truesdell – Guitars, Vocals
Scott Buchanan – Drums
Benjamin Arscott – Bass (session)

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Steven Hooke and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.