Welcome to the big pain in the ass Top 50 of 2020 list! For those unfamiliar, this is my annual post where I put politics and label/band relationships aside. There may be a few weeks left this year, but I have received essentially all of the unreleased discs for the year I’m interested in. I encourage you to take your time with sampling all the music below. I guarantee you missed a few gems along the way. Feedback on the bands you discover is what makes this post worth the agony of putting it together. DISCLAIMER: a. This list caters to my *personal* taste, not the full spectrum of metal genres nor every artist within a genre. Furthermore, I realize there are some major players and sacred cows missing that will send a few into seizures, piss some off, and cause others to question my sanity. Somehow, I will survive. b. I do not rank albums based on pure musical instrumentation ability or sonic clarity alone. While I fully believe technical chops demonstrate musical superiority in many aspects, I also think it is just as hard to write a *good* melodic hook that draws a listener back again and again. Furthermore, a passionate vocal delivery that adds emotional depth to poetic lyrics wins out over power/range every single time. I do not believe music is meant to be analyzed in a cold, sterile lab. You either feel it or you don't. c. There is no right or wrong to this list. Music is a subjective listening experience. My opinion is no more valid than yours if we are on opposite sides of the fence. I'm just fortunate enough to be in a position to have my thoughts read by many over the past 20 years of writing this. d. I do not listen to every single release. If your favorite disc did not make the list, I may simply have not have heard, didn't care for it, or it came in at #51. e. Keep in mind a highly ranked disc in any specific genre may not make the list. For example, the 10th best power metal album of the year is not there. It’s still a record I enjoyed but this is a Top 50 list across multiple genres, not a Top 63+ list so I don't piss off power metal fans. I make no secret of leaning towards prog these days. f. I don't include EPs in the rankings. If every band on the list removed the bottom 5 songs of their full-length release, then it would be a level playing field for all releases. There were several awesome EPs released this year. g. You won't find poetry, scientific analysis, or epic thoughts here. You just need to know what they sound like before your ADHD ass sees a squirrel. Thus, the descriptions are much shorter than 10 years ago. Without further ado…. 50. Chaos Divine- Legacies: Melodic, modern prog with a bit of that djenty core approach that has become the standard of the sub-genre. The clean vocals are absolutely stellar. As the world knows, I'm not much into screaming core vocals (yet no issue with growl, go figure) so that pushed it down the list a bit. It's the same reason I don't enjoy bands like Protest the Hero & Periphery despite the insane musicianship on display. 49. Ambush- Infidel: Traditional metal that all you really old, old fucks can get behind and enjoy. It's Accept meets Dokken. That said, the speedier parts (such as in the video) bring back Saxon and Priest vibes as well. As an added bonus, they are the masters of the choreographed guitar moves and you cannot deny greatness based on that alone. 48. Mysterain- 宋陨星辰 (Fall of the Song Dynasty): It's the Chinese version of Nightwish, although perhaps a bit too close at times *cough*cough.* The album itself is lush and elegant thanks to the heavy use of Chinese folk instruments. Be aware the vocals are all in Chinese. That should not stop you because, let's be honest. Nobody understood Tarja most of the time back in "Oceanborn" days anyways. 47. Electric Mob- Discharge: Catchy as hell bluesy rock from Brazil. Yes, Brazil. The highlights for me are when they venture into Shinedown territory, especially on a few choruses. Instant hook. Rena Zonta is a vocal powerhouse and a rising star that deserves to be on your radar. 46. Distant Dream- Point of View: Poland's answer to God is An Astronaut. However, where GiAA went down the morose and melancholy path, Distant Dream have chosen the opposite road. Their type of instrumental prog is where the focus is not shred, but the flow of the song as a whole. You travel along peaks and valleys, ever building towards emotional crescendos throughout the song. While there is indeed a ton of intricate playing, it’s more about the tone and feel. Despite moments of intense shred, this is recommended if you prefer Gilmour over Malmsteen. 45. Vanishing Point- Dead Elysium: Vanishing Point have always been about the big hook of a chorus for me with Silvio's fantastic voice leading the way. This album is no exception. Melodic & polished…slick as hell. It's bread and butter for prog & power fans. 44. We Sell the Dead- Black Sleep: Need some more Deep Purple or Uriah Heep in your life? Perhaps some early Rainbow? Look no further. Apollo from Spiritual Beggars channels his inner Ronnie James style this release to further add to the flavor. 43. Judicator- Let There Be Nothing: With all due respect to Hansi and Jon, Judicator is what I envisioned Demons & Wizards sounding like when they were first announced. John Yelland's is Hansi Jr. singing over Iced Earth galloping riffs. American power metal is in good hands. 42. Light Field Reverie- Another World: Heike from Draconian joins a few of the guys from Soujourner to create an ethereal, haunting, and beautifully intense atmosphere. It reminds me a bit of the mellow side of early Within Temptation days at times. 41. Pinnacle Point- Symphony of Mind: Kansas clone. Kansas, Jr. Kansas next generation. Kansas successor. Kansas wannabe. Hell, Jerome even sounds like Steve Walsh in his prime. So perhaps you Kansas fans should check it out. 40. Girish and the Chronicles- Rock the Highway: India's rock darlings are the love child of Badlands, Skid, Row, and about 10 other heavier hair bands from the 80's. It's just good old rock/metal that you roll down the windows and crank. Girish, himself, is the star of the show with his incredibly soaring soulful vocals. As witnessed by the band's numerous covers on YouTube, he can sing anything. 39. Vitam Aeternam- The Self-Aware Frequency: Straight up Devil Doll worship. For those unfamiliar with Mr. Doctor, he created his own label mythos back in the 90's for his avante-garde/experimental/weird-ass music that incorporated horror themes in a musical score. Best heard in a dark room and headphones for full effect. 38.Sorcerer- Lamenting of the Innocent: The band continues to move more towards a heavier traditional style than making me suffer an agonizing aural death with slow, sludgy doom. They are closer to Grand Magus now than early Candlemass. Let me add my voice to the masses confirming Andy is an elite vocalist. 37. Brothers of Metal- Emblas Saga: Dorks, nerds, and lovers of big ass Vikings choruses unite! Don't think, just grab the axe and ale. The 40 band members are leading the assault of the next generation of true power metal. (Bonus points to the video director at the 3:21 mark) 36. Psychotic Waltz- The God-Shaped Void: A nice return a to their unique & eclectic form of prog after a 23-year absence. It basically picks up where "Bleeding" leaves off, but also adds elements of Dead Soul Tribe ala's Devon's mature vocal approach. The album is may lack a bit of that off the rails magic from the early days, but no worries. It's still the Waltz. 35. Paralydium- Worlds Beyond: Take elements of Pagan's Mind (replace the crunch with light djenty riffing) and DGM (minus the speed) and you get a nice release somewhere in between. I'm all in on Mikael's smooth vocal delivery as well. 34. Illumishade- Eclyptic: Wake of Shadows: It was a really good year for symphonic metal in my book. This debut album defines what I love of the style. Between the catchy as hell hooks and Fabienne's (of Eluveitie) beautiful and warm performance, they deserve every bit of accolades they get. 33.Quassi- Mareas: The second and last instrumental album to make the list. Argentinian band that travels the path of fusion, prog rock, experimental jazz, and psychedelic trips. You really must listen to a full track before you can even judge a song. You never know where it's going. 32. Vanden Plas- The Ghost Experiment-Illumination: I was going to cut/paste the exact same thing from when Vanden Plas made the last time. You know exactly what to expect as they do not alter the formula any longer. However, I do need to point out that this is my favorite release since "Seraphic Clockwork." "Fatal Arcadia" is Vanden Plas at their crunchy best. The only reason I don't rank this higher is I wish they would keep the tempo up instead of the brooding, mid-tempo pieces. 31.Black Fate- Ithaca: Miss the "old" Conception sound? Look no further. Well, they do that and throw in a bit of tempo ala Kamelot as well. Of course, it helps that you can't tell Vasilis apart from a young Roy. Don't even try and bullshit me and say you can. 30. Royal Hunt-Dystopia: I'm 100% cheating here. I have only heard the single and enjoyed the hell out of it. So I'm placing it here as a placeholder rather than leaving it off when I know it would have made the list. I traditionally post this on Black Friday and didn't want to hold up the list a few more weeks for just a single album. 29. Dynazty- The Dark Delight: I have to give the band a lot of credit. They went from heavy melodic rock to 100 mph metal back to a middle, crunchy ground now. They may vary the melodic style, yet you know exactly what you are getting regardless: kick-ass hooks. This is one of those "crank the windows down and blast it at the red light" albums. I'm also hereby proclaim Nils belongs in the vocal deity pantheon alongside Jorn, Russell, Roy, and the rest. 28. The Night Flight Orchestra- Aeromantic: One of the biggest kick in the balls of my career was the band being forced to withdraw from the roster this year. They remain my #1 priority in the future. No need to review this one. You either love it, prefer Manowar, or have lost your "Get off my lawn!" mind. 27. Ad Infinitum- Chapter 1: Monarchy: The symphonic metal revitalization continues with another wonderful debut. While the focus tends to be on the amazing performance from Melissa, I think the rest of the band does a damn good job as well with a polished performance. Kamelot fans should already own this. They will climb the ladder with touring exposure they were robbed of this year. 26. Amaranthe- Manifest: Nobody comes close to Amaranthe in the world of pop metal. Nobody. They are a polished machine with their claws in a younger demographic who will allow them to continue their career longer than 90% of the bands on this list. As much as think this is their best album in a while, I do have one caveat. I am going to pretend that "Boom1!" doesn't exist. 25. Silent Skies- Satellites: Vik & Tom's stark collaboration combines the melancholy of Evergrey with the somber atmosphere Anathema. The dynamic pairing of Tom's voice and Vik's piano makes for a truly emotive experience during these trying times. On the flip side, I'd like to extend them both the middle finger for taking a song from my happy childhood memories and making me realize it's one of the saddest fucking things ever written. I'll never be able to listen to "Here Comes the Rain Again" the same. 24. Aether Realm- Redneck Vikings from Hell: Finnish band from North Carolina, amirite? The band may have started as a mix of folk and melodic death metal, but they have evolved beyond that. The added a sense of humor appears & genre exploration appears to have mystified more than a few fans of their last album, "Tarot." Amorphis experiments with country? Wintersun relaxes the sphincter for just a second? You get the gist. They win also win quarantine video of the year. 23. Surreal- Starmaps & Constellations: Here is where I lose a lot of you. Surreal are an alternative pop/rock band that dips their toes into prog on occasion. Despite a wonderful 7 minute instrumental that would fit nicely on a Transatlantic album, the band remains closer to a softer Muse in sound & spirit. Corey has a true pop voice and employees a breathy technique that you cretins will compare to LaBrie. He has power, but keeps it reigned in until the song calls for it. Re: link below: Every damn Anathema fan in the world needs to hear this song. I can't give it and the ending crescendo enough praise. The building emotions and gut-wrenching lyrics about letting go of the past bring out the onions. I can only imagine if Lee Douglas sung this as a duet with him. It's that damn good. "Before it's too late…" 22. Scardust- Strangers: A symphonic metal band eschews the norm of the style and goes for the prog metal throat. They are one of the few current bands these days to combine a complex style with a huge flair for the theatrics. Think "Extension of the Wish" Andromeda meets Aryeon. Props to vocalist, Noah for punching you in the face rather than singing you a lullaby to sleep. They are knocking on the door to elite. 21. Perfect Plan- Time for a Miracle: The melodic rock album of the year comes from my fellow senior citizens. Perfect Plan marry the best of Survivor & Foreigner. To make 80's classic rock fans smile even bigger, the big ballad would make Perry and Schon proud. Ken Hilli gives one of the best vocal performances of the year. 20. Allen/Olzon- Worlds Apart: Russell and Annette are two of my favorite vocalists of the past twenty years so this is a no brainer. You are otherwise getting the standard Magnus Karlsson factory album so you know exactly what to expect. My biggest bitch remains the same as it was of Allen/Lande: more duets instead of individual songs. They sound absolutely fantastic together as their voices compliment each other so warmly. 19. Pyramid Theorem- Beyond the Exosphere: This release may have the most crossover appeal of any prog metal band on the list. Their influences are deeply rooted, specifically Dream Theater and Rush. Hell, that drummer even gets a chance to shine and show his chops. Tip of the hat for a big step up on this release. 18. Black Painted Moon- Personæ: Haken and Dream Theater fans should take note. This is right up your alley with exactly the type of melodic prog you crave. It's complex and jazzy. However, the kicker is the vocalist has a smooth and sultry delivery that contrasts the music wonderfully. Honestly, she sounds like Nora Jones. 17. Alestorm- Curse of the Crystal Coconut- I cannot help but grin at Christopher Bowe's continued middle finger to the old Alestorm fans that bitch and moan about the old power metal days. The band's "fuck it and fuck everyone that doesn’t like it" attitude has endeared them to me and their legion of fans that just want to have a good time. That and the goofy ass anthems. 16. Conception- State of Deception: Conception are one of my all-time favorite bands. They released one of the best albums ever in "Flow." That makes them the unfortunate victim of me pining for yesteryear instead of embracing their progression as they grow old. The crunch is gone, but the smooth-ass songwriting and melodies are still there. Roy's voice has matured with style and grace. I will still own up to what I said when I first heard it. I can live without the repeated riff in "Of Raven and Pigs." 15. Course of Fate- Mindweaver: Norwegian band that delivers the concept album of the year. They sound like a combination of Queensryche (Empire/Promised Land era) and Tomorrow's Eve. All the fans of those two bands need is to sample a couple of minutes from the video and your ass will be purchasing instantly. 14. Sons of Apollo- MMXX: You forgot this came out this year, didn't you? They are a true super group that harkens back to the monster lineups from the golden age of jazz. Each are allowed to show off their chops within the context of the song, but the song remains priority above all. And some dude named Soto does all right for himself as well. 13. Fates Warning- Long Day Good Night: Fates are a vintage wine. The earlier version was more robust and in your face. Now, they have become subtle and more nuanced to the palette. It truly feels this is a graceful swan song from Jim and company. Regardless, Ray is going out on top as his vocals are phenomenal, even by his lofty standard. 12. Nightwish- Human :iI: Nature- Look, I agree with everyone else. That last sprawling track is bloated and just a huge let down when comparing to "The Greatest Show on Earth." So how does it still rank this high? Because I think of the rest as the real album and it kicks all sorts of ass. Floor sounds phenomenal, the production remains the best in metal, and the bombast is second to none. I'm also a sucker for everything Troy brings to the table. The crunch of "Tribal" makes my subwoofer beg for mercy. 11. Caligula's Horse- Rise Radiant: The Horse have always had far more depth to me than other modern prog bands of this style. This album continues their growth and maturity. They have traded some of their early assertive hooks for an emotional discourse in songwriting. That sounds fancy as hell, eh? Well, so does this album. Props to Jim Grey for his dynamic vocal performance as well. 10. DGM- Tragic Separation: Welcome back, boys! It's been too long since the band unleashed their "prog/power" style on the world. Not many bands can go from the Symphony X speed to the melodic rock style and be world class in both. Simone is a monster and can riff on par with Mr. Romeo. That's a hill I will die on. Mark still has the powerful grit in his voice. Emanuele is a beast on the board. Andrea and Fabio still pound the rhythm sections. Everything I love about DGM is on full display here. 9. Delain- Apocalypse & Chill: This has to be the most pleasant surprise of the year. I have enjoyed every Delain release, but this one may just be their best. The heaviness took it right past "April Rain." They are just on another level in the symphonic class in terms of songwriting. Of course, Charlotte being one of the best in the business only cements their status. 8. Wobbler- Dwellers of the Deep: Retro 70's style prog rock that destroys all their current competition. Their style fits right in along ide Yes, Genesis, Gentle Giant, and all the greats. They were just born 40 years too late. They have an official video I would normally post, but you really get a better idea of their greatness with the 19-minute epic, "Merry Macabre." Hammond & Mellotron fans, you have no excuse not to check them out. 7. Haken- Virus: I'm not sure if the band will ever live down the bad luck of naming their album "Virus" heading into 2020. The album really does sound like an extension of "Vector" and that is just fine with me. If they can bring the intensity of "Prosthetic" on more songs on the next album, they will find themselves at #1 with a bullet. 6. Unleash the Archers- Abyss: Power metal album of the year. It's not even close. All it is going to take is one good tour as direct support for a big name around the world and folks will see what we saw a few years ago in Atlanta. A band that is ready to join the headliner ranks. 5. Kansas- The Absence of Presence: After almost 50 years, the band is still kicking all sorts of ass on stage and in the studio. The first three tracks are a knockout punch and they keep the momentum rolling till the end. We really have to thank Zak Rizvi and Tom Brislin for breathing new life into the songwriting department. The rest of the band didn't let their egos get in the way of what's good for the overall product. It's a lesson a lot of the classic bands should have learned. Kansas is still here and the rest have faded into retirement. 4. Green Carnation- Leaves of Yesteryear: I was really hesitant to finally listen to this record. Green Carnation was one of those bands that could do no wrong from back in the day. It had been almost 20 years since the last album and I read two of five tracks were covers. Needless to say, my worries were overblown. The overall tone and feel reflect back to their masterpiece, "Light of Day, Day of Darkness." The finale of Black Sabbath's "Solitude" was an inspired choice and fits perfectly. 3. Katatonia- City Burials: It's hard to call Katatonia gloom & doom now. They are more of a beautiful view of morose melancholia. This may not make much sense, but the album is both dynamic and minimalist at the same time. The atmosphere is only intensified by possibly Jonas's best vocal performance to date. A beautiful album that doesn't overwhelm you and begs for repeated listens for full immersion. 2.Cryptex- Once Upon Time A Time: "They sound like a really weird Queen." "That part would have fit on a Supertramp album." "I really like it, but Meatloaf?" "Ok, now that is a Savatage melody." All of those are quotes from friends that I have introduced to the band this year. I think Prog Magazine put it best when they said, "They are a rock band described as prog, but on a metal label." That is the beautiful conundrum of Cryptex. They wear their influences on their sleeve, but twist them and the songs into some of the most delightfully odd and infectious melodies ever. Those melodies never arrive the same way. The song structures zig, when you expect them to zag. And it so fucking works! The Queen choirs, the Meatloaf cheese, the Supertramp rock hooks, the Oliva piano melodies…it's all there in spades. In fact, I cannot help but think of vocalist and pianist, Simon Schroder, as the little brother of the Mountain King himself. In addition to the madman charisma, he also has unique vocal cadence he uses from time to time to give it an added flair. This is my favorite video of the year: NSFW as demons like to writhe around in ecstasy while wearing pasties in hell: Bonus- Old track that I can't help but throw in to illustrate the comparison: 1.. Orbit Culture- Nija: The darkest, heaviest, intense, bone-crushing album of the year. Melodic death metal that combines Gojira, Metallica, & Behemoth with the shotgun riffing of old Mercenary & Evergrey. That guitar tone is unreal. All of you wusses that read "death metal" and run for the hills fear not…sort of. The vocals alternate between some of the most ferocious growling since the early days of Opeth and the clean tone of James Hetfield. The drummer is a machine that pounds the skins into oblivion with both precision and power. While the band can pummel you with 100mph blast beats & insane riffing, they can also bring the chills with well placed acoustics and atmospheric interludes scattered throughout. This is the disc I needed when the anger and frustration over all things 2020 boiled over this year. Orbit Culture is the band 2020 needed. I also want to add a couple of words about the "Nensha" trilogy that I am posting in full below. The witch is a metaphor for anxiety and depression per mainman, Niklas Karlsson. The video visualizes his own struggles within a horror themed concept. The climax of "The Shadowing" is majestic not only for the trilogy, but for the album, and the entire damn year as well. PICK UP THE BONES!!: NSFW due to violent imagery: The perfect ending with chills hitting at the 2:47 mark: See you next year.