2020 wasn’t a great year by most standards. Live music venues shut down around the world as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This had a hugely negative effect on the music industry as a whole because many bands held off releasing new material until they can tour behind it and many had to work around unusual situations just to record or finish recording songs and albums. So it’s no surprise that we have a few more box sets, live albums, and previously unreleased vault material. Despite all of the adversity, there have been some really incredible albums released in 2020 that absolutely deserve the attention of the metalhead community. Therefore we present to you XS ROCK’s picks for the best 20 Classic Metal albums of 2020:
01 Black Swan – Shake the World (Frontiers)
This new supergroup featuring Robin McAuley, Jeff Pilson, Reb Beach, and Mike Starr came out of nowhere to claim our top spot. A truly incredible album of classic sounding melodic metal that delivers on every count. The songwriting is incredible and the musicianship is as good as it gets. McAuley’s voice sounds better than it ever on this powerful album. Superb from beginning to end, don’t overlook this album simply because it’s a new name that you haven’t heard of before. With key players from Whitesnake, Dokken, and MSG this is easily the best classic metal of the year.
02 Dirty Shirley – Dirty Shirley (Frontiers)
Stupid album cover and stupid band name….but believe me when I say this is one of the best albums that George Lynch has done in years! I mean, I can’t get over how fantastic this album truly is. This is a must-have for any fan of Lynch’s work in Dokken and Lynch Mob. This is obviously another one of Frontiers Music’s band projects, but damn if it’s not a perfect fit in every way. The addition of Dino Jelusic on vocals just lifts this right over the top of most of these types of projects. Jelusic sounds at times like Ronnie James Dio and Ray Gillen at others. George Lynch’s playing on this album is off the charts. Soulful, bluesy and pretty damn heavy throughout. This is the Lynch album that I’ve been wanting for so long. In style and intensity, it reminds me of Lynch Mob’s debut album. The opening track “Here Comes The King” grabs you by the throat and is simply relentless. It even has some Tony Iommi, Black Sabbath overtones in it. “Dirty Blues” sounds like it belongs on a Lynch Mob release with it’s bluesy, rocking vibe. Other standout songs are “Voice Of A Soul”, “Cold” and “Siren Song”. Lynch sounds like a man possessed on this outing with some simply incredible solos that have to be heard to be believed. Dirty Shirley may be a silly name for this project, but the music is dirty, gritty, nasty and bluesy….everything you could want from a great rock album and more! Don’t judge a book (or this album) by its cover because “Dirty Shirley” contains an untamed beast just waiting to pounce. George Lynch at his best with a vocalist that can bring down the house.
03 AC/DC – Power Up (Columbia)
AC/DC return in 2020 to help save the day with another dose of classic AC/DC riffs and memorable Brian Johnson growls. You know what you’re going to get from AC/DC before you buy it, but it’s always AC/DC in sound and style. The band seemed a bit refreshed from the long break and we found this far superior to AC/DC’s last album “Rock Or Bust”.
04 Armored Saint – Punching The Sky (Metal Blade)
2020 has been one hell of a year so far. But if you’re looking for something positive to help get through the madness, Armored Saint’s latest album “Punching The Sky” is exactly what the doctor ordered. The band has unleashed some serious metal fury with this album. With the opening track “Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants”, John Bush and company are making sure that you know this is an “in your face” kind of album. The album covers a lot of territories lyrically including the first single “End of the Attention Span”, which laments the fact that people are in such a hurry that they can’t enjoy things thoroughly. The thrashy “Do Wrong To None” explores mankind’s treatment of one another and “Unfair” which adequately describes the shortness of one’s life and the feeling of loss that comes with its end. Armored Saint is on top of their game musically. With crushing drums by Gonzo Sandoval and ultra-heavy bass by Joey Vera the rhythmic backbone is more solid than ever. And the guitar duo of Jeff Duncan and Phil Sandoval is just spectacular on this album. Punching The Sky is a riff-heavy monster that only lets up briefly during “Unfair”, only to return and pummel you senseless again.
05 Stryper – Even The Devil Believes (Frontiers)
We had Satan himself review the new Stryper album and surprisingly…Even the Devil believes in Stryper’s ability to rock. Check out what the Prince of Darkness had to say about the Christian rockers’ new outing: Just freakin’ great…these guys again? They never give up! I am just about at the end of my rope. I mean, let’s face it, I’ve done a lot of work to thwart these guys and their agenda. I mean, I’ve caused turmoil within the band, leading to one band member being replaced. I’ve even inflicted one of them with a serious illness and now he’s recorded some of his best guitar work since the beginning of the band. Don’t forget I’m still ticked off about how this whole thing went down from the beginning. If we go way back to the beginning, these guys were all set to break out as a secular metal band. They weren’t exactly angels at this point…but then, poof! They betray me at the last minute with this whole Jesus thing and become a sheep in wolf’s clothing. I mean they actually went out and threw bibles into the audience at a rock concert. Who does that? I admit though, I was able to mess up their aim sometimes and caused the bibles to smack some of the fans upside the head…ha ha ha, that was great! Heavy Metal music was my baby from the beginning and to have someone twist it all around like this is a serious low-blow! But now, they’ve put out their new album “Even The Devil Believes” and everyone wants my opinion on it. I guess because it mentions me by name. First of all, I wasn’t expecting to be called out on this question, but if you want the truth, here it is…Yes! I believe in God! Duh, it’s just common sense. If people don’t believe there’s a God, then they have no reason to believe in me. I mean, I wouldn’t really serve a purpose, now would I. God and I are two polar opposites, like hot and cold, light and dark and, of course, good and evil. You can’t understand the difference without the presence of the other.
06 Bloody Heels – Ignite The Sky (Frontiers)
After the band released their first single “Criminal Masterminds” several months ago, I have been eagerly awaiting this release. The album kicks off with the title track which is a high-energy rocker with a melodic chorus. It’s a great track to start off the album and it’s also one of the stand-out tracks. However, nothing on this album is better than “Criminal Masterminds”. It’s simply a modern classic and one of the best hair metal anthems that I’ve heard in years. It’s worth the price of admission (or the price of the album) just to get “Criminal Masterminds”. The band slows it down a little with the beginning of “No Matter”, but it kicks it up and rocks hard as it builds. “Sugar & Spice” is probably my second favorite song on the album. It has a great heavy metal swagger to it. It reminds me of the classic hair metal days of the 80s! Farewell To Yesterday is a little more melodic with a sing-along chorus. While not quite a ballad, “Black Swan” goes for a lighter sound with a darker vibe to it. “Stand Your Ground” is another great mid-tempo rocker along with the following song “Thin Line”. Silhouette” has a bit of radio ballad feel to it and finally the band winds things up with another rocker called “Healing Waters”. All in all, this a really great album. It’s a solid album with great songwriting. And yes, the band’s sound does harken back to the 80s metal scene, but it’s also got a modern edge to it that helps it sound fresh and yet familiar enough to please the fans of bands like Warrant, Ratt, Motley Crue, and so many others. If you haven’t heard The Bloody Heels, I highly recommend this album as a great place to start your journey. It’s great fun, sounds incredible, and is a cohesive, album that shows the band’s maturity. For Melodic rock fans this simply a must-have album!
07 Testament – Titans Of Creation (Nuclear Blast)
Testament has been a huge thrash influence since their exception in the early 80s and nothing has slowed them down. The bands’ latest album Titans Of Creations is just as heavy and bone-crunching as you’d expect. Like the AC/DC of Thrash metal, you kind of know what to expect from Testament with each album release, but when it’s this damn good, why screw with perfection.
08 Dokken – The Lost Songs: 1978-1981 (Silver Linings)
While the quality of the material varies a little, there are some real gems in this album release of previously unreleased Dokken material. The sheer historical value of this album which covers the early days of the band up through their record deal with Elektra records is pretty damn cool. Yes, some of it sounds a little rough, but some of it sounds incredible too. I actually don’t mind listening to something with a slightly diminished sound if it’s rare songs like these. Overall, it’s all listenable and much better than you might think for something recording on tapes that long ago.
09 Doro – Magic Diamonds: Best Of Rock, Ballads & Rare Treasures (Rare Diamonds)
Metal fans have a new must-have item to add to their Christmas list this year with the release of Doro’s Magic Diamonds Box Set. This incredible career-spanning set is almost too good to be true. When I spoke with Doro recently she explained how she painstakingly hand-picked all of the tracks for this set. It’s a Warlock/Doro fan’s dream come true. While covering some of the greatest hits of her career she also gives us some rare unheard gems that are out of this world. Filled with great live tracks and some truly fascinating cover songs and alternate versions of her songs. Usually, with these box sets, I’m left wishing the artist would have added this track or that one to make it feel complete, but this set is damn near perfect. This a great retrospective of Doro’s career thus far and shows that she has plenty of greatness left to come. True metal fans should push this to the front of their music want list and soon as it releases on November 13th, 2020. It’s one of the best things to happen for music fans in this crazy, tumultuous year.
10 John Petrucci – Terminal Velocity (Sound Mind)
While John Petrucci is best known as one of the founding members of the band Dream Theater, his instrumental skill is on full display in his second solo album Terminal Velocity. If you haven’t already, now would be the time for you to list his name among guitar greats like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert, and more. The material throughout the album never fails to impress. Even if you’re just a casual music lover, it’s not hard to understand or hear the brilliance in Petrucci’s playing. While everything is still rocking along with some incredible solos, there are moments of heartfelt emotion and spiritual connection. When you combine the technical ability with fluid-like playing, it’s hard not to be amazed at this album. Of course, guitar players will love this album, but more importantly, I think, is the fact that it’s a musical masterpiece that can be enjoyed for the music’s sake, rather than just for a guitarist showing off. John Petrucci has shown that he’s as good as anyone out there with this fantastic album called “Terminal Velocity”.
11 Shark Island – Bloodline (Self)
Shark Island has been on the scene since the 80s glam metal scene was in full force. The band disappeared for a while and released a new album here and there, but Bloodline is the one that we’ve all been waiting for. It ranks with the best of their career and has some real quality songs on it. Shark Island has found their mojo again and you simply don’t want to miss this album. A really cool release that hearkens back to the bands’ early sound.
12 Firewind – Firewind (AFM)
Firewind has always been an underrated act if you ask me. But this time around the band has delivered an album that takes them to a whole other level of brilliance. The addition of new vocalist Herbie Langhans lifts these songs to a new place altogether. Guitar virtuoso Gus G. simply shreds throughout this outing and should place him the realm of guitar hero to many who have overlooked his skill thus far. While he’s been known more as Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist for a brief period, all of the Firewind albums have been excellent. Kicking off with the outstanding “Welcome To The Empire”, you’re in for a spectacular treat of musical prowess and a classic metal that brings the heat. Firewind is definitely a contender for metal album of the year with this brilliant masterpiece of metal. One listen to Gus G’s fluid playing and it’s easy to see what guitarists worldwide have celebrated his ability. Hopefully, this self-titled gem will help Firewind reach a larger audience of people outside of guitar fans and critics. If you’ve ever wondered what Firewind was all about, start with this album. This is an instant classic from start to finish with epic level songs of a band that has reached maturity and is ready to prove itself to the world.
13 Iron Maiden – Nights Of The Dead, Legacy Of The Beast: Live In Mexico City (BMG)
Throughout the performance, the band effortlessly brings new energy to even the most classic of their catalog – Trooper, Revelations, Wickerman, Flight of Icarus, Fear of the Dark, Number of the Beast, Iron Maiden, etc. There are some cool historic elements to their new release. This was the first tour since 2000/2001 that included two songs from the Blaze era (Sign of the Cross and The Clansman). This release also marks the first time a live recording of any song off of A Matter of Life and Death has been released (For the Greater Good of God). And Flight of Icarus hasn’t been played since the 86/87 Somewhere on Tour tour.
14 Ozzy Osbourne – Ordinary Man (Epic)
While this is easily Ozzy’s worst solo album, Ozzy’s worst still makes our list in 2020. There are a few good rockers on this album, but it, unfortunately, pales in comparison to the rest of Ozzy’s previous albums. This one’s worth getting for the tracks “Straight To Hell” and “Under The Graveyard” but don’t expect the rest to rise above average.
15 U.D.O. – We Are One (AFM)
Well, I have to hand it to Udo Dirkschneider. He’s managed to create a totally unique concept in metal music after being in the business for over 40 years! So a lot of metal bands have tried making albums with an orchestra backing them, but Udo has the full concert band of the German armed forces backing him up here. I’m not going to lie to you. When I heard about the concept of this album, I though it sounded like a horrible idea. But color me wrong. Udo pulls this off and it’s actually quite interesting. It has a sense of charm to it while still being full-on metal at the same time. Not only is this a complete surprise to me, but I think it proves that an almost 70-year-old rocker may be more creative and open-minded when it comes to making new music than most of the new generation is. The best way I can describe this album is that it sounds like a heavy metal movie soundtrack. Udo still has his menacing vocal snarl but it’s now mixed with a unique background. There isn’t a bad song on this entire album. Fans of Accept and Udo’s work in his solo band should really appreciate this album for its unique qualities. Check this out if you’re a metalhead and looking to try something different. “We Are One” is simply a masterpiece.
16 Pretty Maids – Maid In Japan: Future World Live 30th Anniversary DVD/CD (Frontiers)
The Pretty Maids prove that they still have it with this live release more than 30 years after their iconic Future World album was released. This is simply an incredible live performance from start to finish as the band plays the entire Future World album in its entirety, plus a set of extra songs that showcase the bands’ later songs. Future World was the album that made me originally take notice of Pretty Maids. Afterward, I was hooked as a fan and bought all of the band’s previous albums and have continued to purchase each successive album ever since. The sound quality of this live recording is simply outstanding. While many live concert recordings sound muddled, the clarity of this one is amazing. Vocalist Ronnie Atkins can still deliver these songs almost exactly as they were on the originals. Future World is one of those albums that you can listen to over and over again and that’s definitely the case with the live version as well. The crowd is enthusiastic and the interaction between the band and the crowd gives these songs an extra punch that provides freshness to material that was written more than 30 years ago. The band is simply on fire throughout this performance. If you buy the set, it comes with a DVD/Blu-Ray of the concert that is equally as impressive and also adds a tremendous amount of extra content, including extra songs and behind the scenes interviews with the band. If you’re a fan of the band, you’re going to love this. And normally, I wouldn’t suggest someone who hasn’t heard a band before starting with a live album, Maid In Japan – Back To The Future World is the exception to that rule. I can’t imagine that someone hearing the band for the first time on this album wouldn’t instantly become a fan. This album is an instant classic and very welcome addition to any melodic metal fans collection
17 Ron Keel Band – South X South Dakota (HighVol)
Ron Keel is practically metal royalty at this point. This album of metal-ish covers of mostly Southern Rock bands is pretty damn good. Ron Keel still has the pipes and the “Right To Rock” and this album proves it. Covers by bands like Molly Hatchet, 38 Special, and more get a more heavy-handed sound with these metalized versions. It’s all good stuff and Ron Keel sounds like he’s still enjoying himself with his personal spin on these Southern-fried favorites.
18 Grave Digger – Fields Of Blood (Napalm)
German band Grave Digger has returned with another great album that unfortunately will be overlooked by a lot of metalheads. Don’t miss your chance to hear the band rip through these great songs in one of their best albums in years. Grave Digger has always been one of those bands that have flown under the radar, but to those who know, these guys bring the noise with a classic metal sound that’s heavy and aggressive.
19 Anvil – Legal at Last (AFM)
Anvil has returned with another great album called “Legal At Last”. While you don’t have to be Einstein to figure out what they’re referring to, Anvil also has some poignant and timely lyrics about various subjects that the occasional listener and metalhead might actually miss. The band covers some deeper topics about society other than just the legalization of marijuana. Tracks like Chemtrails, Gasoline, and Plastic In Paradise venture outside typical metal lyrics and show that the band is way more than just stoners and loud musicians. Although, thankfully they are loud. Anvil has never pulled any punches. With Anvil, what you see is what you get. Now that Motorhead is gone, Anvil survives as one of the few, raw, straight-ahead metal bands out there. Fans of the band will no doubt absolutely love this album. With Anvil, you know what it’s going to sound like before you buy it. You buy it because it’s that same dependable brand of metal that they’ve been delivering since Hard N’ Heavy in 1981! While the whole album is a slab of metal goodness, my favorite tracks are “I’m Alive”, “Legal At Last” “Food For The Vulture” and “Gasoline”. Glad to see the boys in Anvil still making metal the old fashioned way. “Legal At Last” is an enjoyable, solid metal album from beginning to end.
20 Enuff Z’Nuff – Brainwashed Generation (Frontiers)
Okay, Enuff Z’Nuff isn’t exactly metal, but they are classic rock with a heavy edge. They’ve been unfairly lumped into the glam metal scene of the 1980s for years. I mean if you look at the band, they look like an 80s glam metal band, but there’s actually a lot more to the band than meets the eye. Crafty melodies and generally catchy songs make this album of intoxicating songs stick in your head, long after listening to it. The fact that they are still forging ahead and creating quality songs is a testament to their longevity.