SLEAZE ROXX READERS’ TOP 20 ALBUMS OF 2020
Welcome to the 15th edition of Sleaze Roxx Readers’ Top 20 Albums!
Thank you to all the Sleaze Roxx readers for voting, and all the positive and complimentary comments that you provided once again. I apologize for the delay in releasing the Sleaze Roxx Readers’ Top 20 Albums of 2020 but better late than never!
For the people who enjoy statistics:
• There were 230 different albums that were voted for, up from 220 last year.
• Five of the 10 albums featured on Sleaze Roxx’s Top Ten Albums of 2020 appear on the Sleaze Roxx Readers’ Top 20 Albums of 2020.
• Tough times — two of the 10 albums featured on Sleaze Roxx’s Top Ten Albums of 2020 did not even receive one vote for the Sleaze Roxx Readers’ Top 20 Albums of 2020.
• There were nine bands (including Vandenberg who were only eligible this year since their last album dates back to 1985) appearing for the first time this year on a Sleaze Roxx readers’ year end top album list.
Without further ado, here is the Sleaze Roxx Readers’ Top 20 Albums of 2020!
Stryper have established some new Sleaze Roxx records this year including being the only band to snatch the #1 spot on a Sleaze Roxx Readers’ Top 20 Albums of the Year on two occasions. The Christian rockers took top honours back in 2013 with their very good record No More Hell To Pay. Seven years later and with two albums in between, Stryper took back the Sleaze Roxx readers’ top spot with their latest record Even The Devil Believes. The band had some stiff competition this year as it edged out Australian legends AC/DC by only five first place votes or 25 points. Another Sleaze Roxx record established by Stryper this year is achieving the most points ever with 1,160 which is 10 more than Hardcore Superstar gathered back in 2018 when they landed the #1 spot on the Sleaze Roxx Readers’ Top 20 Albums of 2018. Stryper were also very close to matching the yearly double achieved by KIX back in 2014 when the former’s comeback album Rock Your Face Off landed #1 on both the Sleaze Roxx and Sleaze Roxx readers’ year end lists. As it turns out, Stryper took the #2 spot on the Sleaze Roxx’s Top Ten Albums of 2020. It helps of course that Stryper have been putting out some of the best records of their career in the last eight years or so. Even The Devil Believes is arguably their best album since reforming back in the early 2000s and quite possibly their best ever. Stryper continue to amaze and unlike most of their ’80s contemporaries, their new material is just as good, if not better, than the songs that helped them reach platinum level album sales back in the ’80s.
Stryper‘s“Do Unto Others” video:
With the rather depressing Covid plagued year of 2020 coming to an end, there seemed to be a little light at the end of the tunnel or at the very least a little spark with the release of AC/DC‘s 18th studio album Power Up in mid-November 2020. Amid these crazy times, there was something soothing about having the Australian veteran rockers release their familiar brand of music. As one of the biggest hard rock bands of all-time with arguably the second highest selling album of all-time with Back In Black, it is cause for celebration whenever the Aussie rockers release a new studio album. When AC/DC forged ahead with their Rock Or Bust Tour with Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose on lead vocals, it seemed unfathomable that Brian Johnson, who had been sidelined seemingly permanently with severe hearing issues, would ever make it back to the band’s line-up. The unthinkable occurred when rumours started circulating that AC/DC were working on a new studio album with some very familiar faces including Johnson, bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd. The end result was another batch of very familiar sounding songs from the band that everyone seemingly knows and loves. There’s nothing groundbreaking on Power Up but there’s something to be said for hearing some familiar sounding tunes in a year when the world has seemingly gone upside down.
AC/DC‘s “Shot In The Dark” video:
Italian record label Frontiers Music Srl‘s president and founder Serafino Perugino has made a habit in recent years of putting “super groups” together from his roster of musicians. Sometimes, the results are disappointing while sometimes the results are stupendous. Black Swan consisting of lead vocalist Robin McAuley (Michael Schenker Group), bassist Jeff Pilson (Dokken, Foreigner), guitarist Reb Beach (Winger, Whitesnake, Dokken) and drummer Matt Starr (Ace Frehley, Mr. Big, Faithsedge) fall under the “stupendous” category with their debut album Shake The World. With all of this talent assembled in one group, it shouldn’t be that surprising that the Black Swan band members were able to come up with a fantastic album. The great news is that Beach and Pilson have at least been talking about getting together to write songs for a sophomore album and since the duo wrote the debut album in ten days, I suspect that we will have a second Black Swan record before too long.
Black Swan‘s “Big Disaster” video:
H.E.A.T should be awarded with the comeback album of the year with H.E.A.T II. After landing the #8 spot on the Sleaze Roxx Readers’ Top 20 Albums of 2014 with the very good Tearing Down The Walls, the Swedish rockers could not even crack the Sleaze Roxx Readers’ Top 20 Albums of 2017 with their experimental and heavy on the keyboards record Into The Great Unknown. H.E.A.T‘s frontman at the time, Erik Grönwall, made it known publicly in 2018 that he didn’t like Into The Great Unknown and that the band’s next record would be “hard and heavy.” That was indeed the case as H.E.A.T adopted a harder edged sound or more like a return to past form on H.E.A.T II, which resulted in their highest finish ever on the Sleaze Roxx Readers’ Top 20 Albums of the Year. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of H.E.A.T‘s “comeback” is not that the band was able to come up with a splendid album once again but rather that the energetic Erik Grönwall decided to leave the group as his departure was announced within seven months of H.E.A.T II‘s release. Grönwall has been replaced by H.E.A.T‘s original singer Kenny Leckremo who is back for a second tour of duty. Leckremo has some big shoes to fill. It will be interesting to see in which musical direction that H.E.A.T will take with Leckremo back in the line-up given that Grönwall had seemingly been pushing the band in a heavier direction.
H.E.A.T‘s “Rise” video:
Black Sabbath frontman Ozzy Osbourne could have released an entire rap album and odds are that his record would have made it onto the Sleaze Roxx Readers’ Top 20 Albums of 2020. That’s simply because Osbourne continues to be a very popular, legendary and well known figure so even if his latest musical output isn’t that great, I would expect the Sleaze Roxx readers — and particularly the ones who don’t listen to the younger newer bands featured on Sleaze Roxx — to buy his album and to vote for it as one of the best of the year. I found Ordinary Man to be a real hit and miss album with some very good tracks such as Osbourne‘s duet with Elton John on the title track to some unlistenable crap such as his horrible collaboration with rappers Post Malone and Travis Scott on the closing track “Take What You Want.” As Sleaze Roxx stated for Ozzy‘s previous album Scream, which finished at #15 on the Sleaze Roxx Readers’ Top 20 Albums of 2010, “While we all realize Scream is no Blizzard of Ozz, and while some feel the metal madman should retire before he further drags his name through the mud, Ozzy Osbourne has earned the right to do what he wants… when he wants.” This sentence rings true just as well for Ozzy‘s latest release Ordinary Man.
Ozzy Osbourne‘s “Straight To Hell” video:
Although Thundermother released three great albums — Rock ‘N’ Roll Disaster (2014), Road Fever (2015) and Thundermother (2018) — it always felt like most of the Sleaze Roxx readers had not clued in on how great this band was since the group’s albums would always do quite poorly on the Sleaze Roxx readers’ year top albums list. That changed with the release of Heat Wave, which landed the #1 album on the Sleaze Roxx’s Top 10 Albums of 2020. There seems to have been a real buzz about Thundermother in 2020 and admittedly to my surprise, the Sleaze Roxx readers voted Heat Wave all the way to #6. That is very impressive finish considering how Thundermother couldn’t seem to make any headway among Sleaze Roxx readers in years past. You also have to be impressed with how Thundermother have been able to play some shows, mainly in Germany, in support of their new album. While many bands pretty much abandoned their new releases last year once Covid hit, the Thundermother band members have been like relentless machines promoting Heat Wave and finding ways to overcome whatever restrictions have been imposed on them by the Covid pandemic.
Thundermother‘s “Into The Mud” video:
Armored Saint land the highest finish on the Sleaze Roxx Readers’ Top 20 Albums of 2020 with respect to an album that Sleaze Roxx has not yet reviewed. I must confess that I really liked Armored Saint‘s debut full-length album March of The Saint (1984) and to a lesser extent their follow up Delirious Nomad (1985) when they first came out but I kind of lost track of the band over the years. Many years later, I got into Symbol of Salvation (1991), which is another great record. However, subsequent albums such as Revelation (2000), Win Hands Down (2015) and the new one Punching The Sky (2020) didn’t spur me on into discovering or re-discovering the band’s discography but clearly many Sleaze Roxx readers are digging what Armored Saint have to offer lately. With John Bush‘s ageless vocal delivery and a line-up that’s been together for more than three decades (minus two periods when the group was on hiatus), one can only hope that we don’t have to wait another five years for Armored Saint‘s next studio album. For now, Armored Saint land their highest finish on a Sleaze Roxx readers’ year end list as La Raza didn’t even crack the Top 20 in 2010 while Win Hands Down landed at #11 in 2015.
Armored Saint‘s “Standing On The Shoulders of Giants” video:
Probably the most prominent former L.A. Guns member from 2014 onwards that is not currently playing in either version of the band has to be guitarist Michael Grant. After electing to defect along with singer Phil Lewis from the Steve Riley led version of L.A. Guns to join Tracii Guns‘ version, Grant seemingly got “screwed over” given that he was suddenly out of the band in March 2018. While Guns‘ version of L.A. Guns initially announced that the guitarist had decided to go his own way, the latter revealed that he had been fired out of the blue. This resulted in Grant resurrecting his own band Michael Grant & The Assassins and coming up with a record that has really resonated with Sleaze Roxx readers. Throw in that Grant only seemingly got to play one gig so far (back in October 2020) in support of his new album and has kind of fell off from the grid so to speak, this is an impressive finish. It’s worth noting that Grant‘s new album Always The Villain finished at #8 this year which is one spot higher than his former band L.A. Guns (feat. Lewis and Guns) achieved with their record The Devil You Know last year on the Sleaze Roxx Readers’ Top 20 Albums of 2019.
Michael Grant & The Assassins‘ “Red Light Run” video:
One of the most anticipated albums of 2020 (at least for Sleaze Roxx) was the “debut” album from the new L.A. Guns line-up consisting of drummer Steve Riley, bassist Kelly Nickels, guitarist Scott Griffin and lead vocalist Kurt Frohlich. How would the band’s new material sound like? Could Riley and Nickels rekindle their old magic? Would the band even sound like L.A. Guns with new singer Kurt Frohlich? All these questions seemed to be put to rest once the group’s first few singles (“Crawl”, “Well Oiled Machine” and “Renegades”) were released. Yes. There’s always seems to be a small segment of vocal fans who only want to recognize the L.A. Guns entity spearheaded by Phil Lewis and Tracii Guns, and have been bashing Riley‘s latest incarnation of the band since day one. However, there were obviously many Sleaze Roxx readers that did not feel that way since Renegades finished at a solid #9, which ironically is the same spot that The Devil You Know landed last year on the Sleaze Roxx Readers’ Top 20 Albums of 2019. One distinguishing factor between those two albums is that Renegades also landed in the Sleaze Roxx’s Top 10 Albums of 2020 while The Devil You Know didn’t make Sleaze Roxx‘s year end list in 2019.
L.A. Guns‘ (feat. Riley and Nickels) “Crawl” video:
10. TOKYO MOTOR FIST – Lions – Total points: 290
For many, the band Tokyo Motor Fist essentially consists of Danger Danger frontman Ted Poley and Trixter guitarist Steve Brown. The band surfaced in late 2016 and to likely no one’s surprise, ended up releasing its debut self-titled album via Frontiers Records, who seem to specialize in putting together or at least giving a home to these types of “supergroups.” Tokyo Motor Fist‘s debut album finished at #18 on the Sleaze Roxx Readers’ Top 20 Albums of 2017 and their sophomore album Lions, with seemingly little promotion behind it, fared even better landing in the Sleaze Roxx readers’ top ten albums. One has to wonder just how well Tokyo Motor Fist‘s album Lions could have done with a stronger promotional push. Whatever the case, it’s nice to see Poley and Brown releasing new music together while their respective bands seem to be in limbo (Danger Danger) or disarray (Trixter), and seemingly nowhere close to being able to come up with new material.
Tokyo Motor Fist‘s “Youngblood” video:
11. CONFESS – Burn ‘Em All – Total points: 270
After coming out of the gates rather strongly with the album Jail, which finished at #13 on the Sleaze Roxx Readers’ Top 20 Albums of 2014, Swedish rockers Confess‘ sophomore record — the more polished Haunters — was simply missing in action for the Sleaze Roxx‘ various year end top album lists. Luckily for Confess, their latest album Burn ‘Em All is back on the Sleaze Roxx readers’ year end list figuring at #11 on the Sleaze Roxx Readers’ Top 20 Albums of 2020. Life has not been super easy for Confess as the masters for their latest album were stolen when the recordings were 90% complete forcing the band members to re-record everything. Clearly, Burn ‘Em All took longer to make than expected since Confess were planning on recording later in 2018 earlier that year. Whatever the case, it was great to have a new album from Confess in 2020 but unfortunately, the group was unable to properly promote the record due to the ongoing Covid pandemic.
Confess‘ “Burn ‘Em All” video:
Similar to Thundermother, it seemed that whenever Sleaze Roxx would post about North Carolina, USA rockers Pröwess, the Sleaze Roxx readers were simply not in tune with this band. That changed with the release of Pröwess‘ debut full-length album Blacktop Therapy, which is a rocking album from start to finish. It’s nice to see that Pröwess have caught on with the Sleaze Roxx readers and finished so strongly despite Blacktop Therapy having been released so long ago (back in early January 2020). It’s been an interesting four to five years for Pröwess since after seemingly changing from 21st Century Goliath overnight (back on March 5, 2016, 21st Century Goliath unveiled their new band name at one of their shows), the band members released a couple of EPs before hitting their songwriting stride with the addition of The Biters frontman Tuk Smith who assisted with some of the songwriting and handled the production duties on Blacktop Therapy. The results speak for themselves as Blacktop Therapy is a terrific album that will be hard to top.
Pröwess‘ “Lookin’ For A Bullet” video:
13. HAREM SCAREM – Change The World – Total points: 210
Canadian melodic rockers Harem Scarem continue to be a group that I have never been into or perhaps simply never gave a real chance. Despite having released a slew of studio albums since the inception of the yearly Sleaze Roxx readers’ Top 20 albums list in 2006 consisting of Human Nature (2006), Hope (2008), Mood Swings II (2013), Thirteen (2014) and United (2017), this is the first time that Harem Scarem crack a Sleaze Roxx readers’ year end list and they did so in style taking the #13 spot with Change The World. Regrettably, the Covid pandemic seems to have stymied any sort of promotion for Change The World and one has to wonder how well that the record could have done with some solid promotion and a few Canadian gigs in support of it. The good news is that Harem Scarem‘s core line-up of frontman Harry Hess, guitarist Pete Lesperance and drummer Darren James Smith (with the latter sometimes just contributing background vocals) continue to stay together and earlier this year, they hinted that they are working on studio album #16.
Harem Scarem‘s “The Death of Me” video:
As soon as I heard Girish And The Chronicles‘ single “Rock N’ Roll Is Here To Stay”, I reached out to the band’s frontman Girish Pradhan to interview him and find out more about the group also known simply as GATC. After all, how many great rock ‘n roll bands can you name that emanate from the world’s second biggest country in terms of population (second only behind China and really not far behind)? Girish And The Chronicles‘ second album Rock The Highway was almost like the revelation album of the year. Pradhan has a voice to die for and not surprisingly, has been involved in other projects including Firstborne, which features former White Lion bassist James Lomenzo and ex-Lamb of God drummer Chris Adler. Girish And The Chronicles recently signed with Italian record label Frontiers Music Srl for the release of their third album so one can only assume that this will bring more exposure to the band and perhaps be the catalyst for GATC to get to that next level.
Girish And The Chronicles‘ “Rock N’ Roll Is Here To Stay” video:
15. BLOODY HEELS – Ignite The Sky – Total points: 185
Whenever I think of Bloody Heels, I think likely unfairly back to their debut EP Summer Nights, which was released in early 2014 and that I reviewed in mid-2015. I know that the Latvian rockers have grown through leaps and bounds since that EP with the release of the full-length album Through Mystery (2017) and their latest record Ignite The Sky last year but for whatever reason, I always think back to Summer Nights. While I just haven’t been able to really get into Ignite the Sky, that certainly did not stop the Sleaze Roxx readers from voting the record as one of the top albums of 2020. It’s really a very impressive finish from the Latvian rockers and it will be interesting to see what they come up with on their next record. If anything, I think of Bloody Heels as part of the new breed of “sleaze” rock type bands and just a few levels behind heavyweights such as Crashdïet, Hardcore Superstar and Crazy Lixx. However, if Bloody Heels can release a couple more albums at the quality level of Ignite The Sky, I feel that they may well bridge the gap and be considered at the forefront of The New Wave of Hair Metal movement. Time will tell and I look forward to Bloody Heels‘ next album.
Bloody Heels‘ “Criminal Masterminds” video:
16. BLUE ÖYSTER CULT – The Symbol Remains – Total points: 180
Blue Öyster Cult — never heard of them. OK. That’s not true. In fact, I know some of their classic songs such as “Burnin’ For You” because they are constantly played on classic rock radio stations. But until today, I couldn’t have named you one actual song from the New York rockers. Apparently, that is not the case for Sleaze Roxx readers who have — to my great surprise — voted for Blue Öyster Cult‘s latest studio album The Symbol Remains at #16 on the Sleaze Roxx Readers’ Top 20 Albums of 2020. That is a very impressive finish considering that there have only ever been two posts on Sleaze Roxx where the words “Blue Öyster Cult” were included in the subject heading and the last article on Sleaze Roxx involving the band dates back to 2013. Although I have indicated that I was greatly surprised, in fact I had seen quite a few other online outlets cover Blue Öyster Cult‘s latest studio record and even some people touting it as the “album of the year.” I also didn’t realize until today that this is the band’s first studio album since 2001! Clearly, I need to give this band a chance. Considering that Blue Öyster Cult first formed back in 1967, there seems to be a lot of music to check out! I’ll be looking to the Sleaze Roxx readers to make some recommendations but there seems to be no better place to start than with The Symbol Remains.
Blue Öyster Cult‘s “The Alchemist” video:
Perennial Sleaze Roxx favourites The Wild! are back with their third studio album Still Believe In Rock And Roll. As much as I was surprised to see Blue Öyster Cult in the Sleaze Roxx Readers’ Top 20 Albums of 2020, I was not surprised to see The Wild!‘s latest album on that list. Once again, The Wild! have come up with a great fuckin’ rock n’ roll record! They might be the only band in Sleaze Roxx‘s history to have made at least the top four on Sleaze Roxx‘s year end top albums list for each of their first three albums. Unfortunately for The Wild!, their latest album Still Believe In Rock And Roll was released just as the Covid pandemic seemingly shut down the entire world in March 2020 so I, for one, feel that the record did not get its just due. Funny enough, just as I am wrote those words, I noticed the following Facebook post (in part) back on March 19th from the band: “It’s hard to believe this album came out a year ago today. It’s also incredibly hard to know this album has yet to get the proper shot it deserves to be toured and to be heard by so many more of you all over the world. We really felt that this was going to be the record that could change things for us. It’s got the right songs and coupled with our biggest year on the road to support it, we were all very ready to stand behind it every night no matter what city we were in. Unfortunately things didn’t go as planned. If I’m being honest, that’s been a hell of a hard pill to swallow for us but let me wrap things up by saying this…”
The Wild!‘s “Playing With Fire” video:
18. PHIL CAMPBELL & THE BASTARD SONS – We’re The Bastards – Total points: 170
I have to admit that I thought that once Mötorhead‘s legendary frontman Lemmy Kilmister passed away, the rest of his bandmates would fade into obscurity. That has turned out not to be the case as drummer Mikkey Dee has forged a very nice post-Mötorhead career handling the drums for none other than the Scorpions. You could even say that Dee upgraded his status by moving on to the Scorpions. Guitarist Phil Campbell on the other hand took a different route and instead of joining an already established group, he ended up forming Phil Campbell and The Bastard Sons, which includes the guitarist’s three sons. Although Sleaze Roxx has admittedly not provided that much coverage for Phil Campbell and The Bastard Sons, that clearly has not stopped many Sleaze Roxx readers from really digging that that band has to offer since the group’s latest album We’re The Bastards landed the #18 spot on the Sleaze Roxx Readers’ Top 20 Albums of 2020.
Phil Campbell & The Bastard Sons‘ “Born To Roam” video:
After toying with Vanderberg’s Moonkings for a couple of albums, former Whitesnake guitarist Adrian Vandenberg finally decided to resurrect his band Vandenberg and actually release some new material. The big question of course was who would handle the lead vocals in the resurrected Vandenberg. Given that Adrian Vandenberg had had to fight for control of the band name against his former bandmates including singer Bert Heerink back in 2012, it seemed doubtful that any of the guitarist’s former Vandenberg band members would be part of the new adventure. It appears that Adrian Vandenberg made the right choice as he picked singer Ronnie Romero (Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, The Lords of Black, The Ferrymen, Sunstorm) to handle the lead vocals and the results speak for themselves. With 2020, Vandenberg have come up with a record that is worthy of the band’s legacy and one can only hope that there will be another album from the Adrian Vandenberg / Ronnie Romero led Vandenberg line-up in the future.
Vandenberg‘s “Skyfall” lyric video:
Second only to Blue Öyster Cult‘s entry, One Desire figuring on the Sleaze Roxx Readers’ Top 20 Albums of 2020 is the other big surprise for me this year. I readily admit that I haven’t paid much attention to the Finnish melodic rockers that consist of lead vocalist and guitarist André Linman, bassist Jonas, guitarist Jimmy Westerlund and drummer Ossi Sivula. In fact, Sleaze Roxx‘s coverage of One Desire, prior to this month, was limited to only two news articles and one concert review over a five month period. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop the Sleaze Roxx readers from voting One Desire‘s sophomore album Midnight Empire into their top 20 albums for 2020. One wonders how high that Midnight Empire would have reached in a normal non-Covid year and if One Desire would have been able to properly promote and tour behind their new record. One Desire are part of the new breed of European bands signed to the Italian record label Frontiers Music Srl and if Midnight Empire is any indication, the future is very bright for the Finnish rockers.
One Desire‘s “After You’re Gone” video: