Sleaze Roxx’s Top Ten Albums of 2020
Welcome to the 16th edition of the Sleaze Roxx’s Top Ten Albums of the Year.
There is no doubt that this has been a devastating year for the music industry as a whole and in particular hard rock and heavy metal bands that make most of their money by touring and selling merchandise. The Covid pandemic raged havoc around the world and it does not appear that we are close to being done in that regard. What should have been a blockbuster summer starting with the much anticipated The Stadium Tour featuring Mötley Crüe, Def Leppard, Poison and Joan Jett & The Blackhearts turned out to be a mainly concert-less year starting in mid-March. Many venues didn’t make it during that time or on the verge of closing down. Many people have been without any work including concert promoters, roadies, sound technicians, bar staff, bouncers, ushers, etc.
Although Sleaze Roxx was on pace for another record shattering year in 2020, there ended up being a slowdown in “productivity” due to my own lack of availability during the last three months. Concert reviews were another story altogether. Sure, there were quite a few live stream concerts starting in mid-March 2020 but viewing one of those is simply not the same thing as attending a concert in person. In terms of numbers, Sleaze Roxx posted its fourth highest amount of news articles (currently at 1,697 with the record being 1,881 in 2019), 172 CD/DVD reviews (fourth highest ever), 56 interviews (sixth highest ever), 185 new releases (highest ever) and only 19 concert reviews (with 10 of those consisting of retro concert or live stream reviews).
The only good news is that many musicians had more time to come up with new music so 2021 should be an exciting year in that regard. Just like in previous years, although an album may not have been reviewed (yet) on Sleaze Roxx, it does not mean that it hasn’t been listened to and considered for the Sleaze Roxx’s Top Ten Albums of 2020.
Without further ado, here is the Sleaze Roxx’s Top Ten Albums of 2020.
p.s.: Don’t forget to cast your vote for the Sleaze Roxx Readers’ Top 20 Albums of 2020.
I still remember when the announcement came back in late January 2017 that Thundermother were taking a break to “reconsider where the band is heading.” That didn’t sound promising. At that time, the Swedish rockers had two solid full-length albums — Rock ‘N’ Roll Disaster (2014) and Road Fever (2015) — under their belt. By late March 2017, it was announced that four members of the band had left leaving lead guitarist Filippa Nässil as the lone woman standing. About three weeks later, Nässil had already assembled a formidable new line-up with powerhouse lead vocalist Guernica Mancini, drummer Emlee Johansson and bassist Sara Pettersson. The group’s self-titled third studio album ended up finishing at #6 on the Sleaze Roxx’s Top Ten Albums of 2018. Apparently, that was just the tip of the iceberg as this year’s record Heat Wave (with new bassist Majsan Lindberg) is one rock and rolling affair filled with some really memorable tracks including “Driving In Style”, “Into The Mud” and “Free Ourselves.” Unlike other bands in the second half of 2020, Thundermother have been able to do some limited touring in support of their stellar album Heat Wave mainly throughout Germany but with some social distancing restrictions. The sky is the limit for these female rockers who seem to get better and better with each record.
Thundermother‘s “Driving In Style” video:
No other ’80s era group has made the most out of its “second chance” in terms of continuing its discography legacy as Stryper has with the possible exception of Europe and Accept. After disbanding in 1993 and then reforming in 2000, Stryper released two pretty good albums in Reborn in 2005 and Murder By Pride in 2009 but it wasn’t until No More Hell To Pay in 2013 that they really hit their stride. That latter record ended up at #1 on the Sleaze Roxx Readers’ Top 20 Albums of 2013. Stryper released two more quality albums — Fallen (2015) and God Damn Evil (2018) — but this year’s Even The Devil Believes is simply on another level. Stryper may well have released their best album to date with Even The Devil Believes. Michael Sweet still sings like he’s in his 20s and he has really become a prolific songwriter seemingly saving his best stuff for Stryper. Even The Devil Believes displays Stryper‘s now trademark post-reunion heavier sound. It’s a real shame that the band has not been able to tour to support this gem of a record. I am curious to see whether Stryper will be able to lock the #1 spot on the Sleaze Roxx Readers’ Top 20 Albums of 2020 with Even The Devil Believes because if they do, they’ll be the first band to twice top the Sleaze Roxx Readers’ Top 20 Albums of the Year.
Stryper‘s “Divider” video:
The Dirty Denims proclaim themselves as playing “happy rock” and you’ll likely be hard pressed to find outwardly happier rockers than lead vocalist / guitarist Mirjam Sieben, lead guitarist Jeroen Teunis, bassist Marc Eijkhout and drummer Suzanne Driessen. The Dirty Denims play a brand of rock n’ roll that seems to be a cross between Joan Jett & The Blackhearts and AC/DC. They do it very well and Ready Steady Go! is full of anthemic rockers such as the title track, “Thunder From Down Under” and “Messin’ Around.” After being blown away by Ready Steady Go!, I ended up purchasing most of The Dirty Denims‘ prior discography and I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the band’s previous album Back With A Bang! (2017) was also really good! The Dirty Denims aren’t scared to take some chances when delivering their “happy rock” and it really paid off for them including with the handclaps on “Messin’ Around” and the whistling on their stellar acoustic / hangover version of their track “Last Call For Alcohol.” I don’t know how or why I wasn’t aware of The Dirty Denims until late last year, given that they have been around since 2006, but this is definitely a band that is worth checking out if you’re not familiar with them.
The Dirty Denims‘ “Ready, Steady, Go!” video:
Three for three! Every couple of years, Canadian rockers The Wild! release a new album and every time, it ends up on Sleaze Roxx‘s Year-End Top 10 Albums Chart. Unfortunately, The Wild!‘s latest release may well be a record that seemingly falls through the cracks due to the fall out from the Covid pandemic. The Wild!‘s Still Believe In Rock And Roll was released on March 20th of this year just as a good portion of the first world countries had shut down to try to slow the spread of the deadly Covid virus. Following a few more interviews, a live stream concert and the postponement of their upcoming tours after the release of their new album, The Wild! essentially went into hibernation and we’ve only heard a few drips and drabs from them ever since. That is a real shame since Still Believe In Rock And Roll has some great tunes on it including “Nothin’ Good Comes Easy”, “High Speed” and “Goin’ To Hell.” Time will tell if The Wild! elect to promote their latest album Still Believe In Rock And Roll whenever live concerts eventually make their way back or whether they will have a new record written and ready to go to promote by that time. Whatever the case, The Wild!‘s Still Believe In Rock And Roll is one the best records of the year but perhaps the one that ended up with the least amount of promotion shortly after its release.
The Wild!‘s “King of This Town” (Live at SW Warehouse) video:
Guitarist Scott Roby now has the distinction of being one of the only musicians to have an album “chart” on the Sleaze Roxx’s Top Ten Albums of the Year with two different bands. I think the only other musician might be guitarist Martin Sweet who previously “charted” with both Crashdïet and Sweet Creature. Way back in 2012, Roby‘s 21st Century Goliath landed the #7 spot on the Sleaze Roxx’s Top Ten Albums of 2012 with their debut record Radio Destroyer. Fast forward eight years and Roby‘s “new” band Pröwess finished even higher taking the #5 spot this year with the stellar album Blacktop Therapy. To be honest, I never ever expected the record would be so good! In fact, I had given a lukewarm review of Pröwess‘ debut EP Headfirst back in 2017 so my expectations were rather low. Roby must have also thought that I wouldn’t appreciate how good Blacktop Therapy is since he provided the following comments (in part) in an e-mail to me back in December 2019 while alerting me that a promo copy of the album would be sent my way on the recommendation of a PR company. Roby indicated, “I honestly don’t care what you say about this record… I’m just writing to tell you that I’m sending it. I hope you like it, it is fine if you don’t. I doubt you will.” The seemingly humble guitarist went on to say, “Deep down I know it is good. For me, it is great, and I am confident others will feel the same. If you don’t that is perfectly fine. If you dig it, that’s cool too. Either way it will be yours to hear soon.” Well, I can easily say that Pröwess‘ Blacktop Therapy is a great fuckin’ album and the fact that it is sitting at #5 on the Sleaze Roxx’s Top Ten Albums of 2020 despite being released back in early January 2020 means that it withstood competition from many great records throughout the year. An honourable mention must be given to producer (and former The Biters frontman) Tuk Smith who co-wrote four of the songs and in Roby‘s words, “… he’s got a great ear for pop stuff and he’s really plugged in to what ladies like.” Overall, I think that Pröwess are the most improved band of the year.
Pröwess‘ “Lookin’ For A Bullet” video:
After an eight year absence, German rockers Hardbone are back in the Sleaze Roxx’s Top Ten Albums of the Year with their 2020 offering — the aptly titled No Frills. Hardbone‘s debut album Dirty ‘N’ Young finished at #5 back in 2010 while their sophomore record This Is Rock ‘N’ Roll landed at #3 in 2012. I will take the blame for kind of ignoring Hardbone‘s next two albums Bone Hard (2014) and Tailor-Made (2016). Funny enough, it was Hardbone‘s album title No Frills that really caught my attention. Why you may ask? Well, there’s always something enticing about having a straightforward rocking album in an AC/DC style. Hardbone are usually definitely harder edged and grittier than AC/DC but on No Frills, they seem to have adopted — at times — more melodies (which is a great thing) with tracks such as “Bang Goes The Money” and the Jetboy sounding “Back In The Day.” Whatever the case, it’s great to have Hardbone back where they belong and they can perhaps take over Airbourne‘s mantle as the latter’s last album Boneshaker simply failed to register last year with both Sleaze Roxx and its readers.
Hardbone‘s “Bang Goes The Money” video:
Canadian rockers Boneyard caused a bit of a problem since I wasn’t expecting to hear such a great album so late into the year. B0neyard‘s single “Fates Warning” only came to my attention in mid to late November 2020. By the time I got my copy of Boneyard‘s debut album Oathbreaker and listened to it a few times, I knew that a spot on the Sleaze Roxx’s Top Ten Albums of 2020 likely needed to be made for the record. The question really became where to slot Oathbreaker more than anything else. Powered by the melodic singing of female lead vocalist Pamtera and some solid guitar melodies reminiscent of classic late ’80s era Iron Maiden, Boneyard‘s debut record Oathbreaker is the kind of album that gets a little better each time that you listen to it since the record has so much to offer. Key tracks include the haunting and mesmerizing “Oathbreaker”, the riff based “Gone”, the melody laden “Monster” and the peppy yet groove oriented “Born Again.” Boneyard can also boast about having one of the best album covers that I have seen in some time.
Boneyard‘s “Fates Warning” lyric video:
I didn’t really know what to expect with the L.A. Guns version spearheaded by drummer Steve Riley and bassist Kelly Nickels but to say that I was pleasantly surprised with Renegades would be an understatement. The big unknown was of course lead vocalist Kurt Frohlich. It’s one thing to handle the back catalog of L.A. Guns classics in a live setting, it’s a whole other thing to deliver in a studio fronting essentially a brand new “L.A. Guns” line-up. The first three singles — “Crawl”, “Well Oiled Machine” (although the chorus was quite underwhelming) and “Renegades” — were very promising and the good news turned out to be that there were a few other standouts on the album Renegades. Tracks such as “Why Ask Why” and especially “Lost Boys” helped to push Renegades into the Sleaze Roxx’s Top Ten Albums of 2020. If it wasn’t for one dud track (the ballad “Would”), I would have rated this record even higher. In any case, Riley and Nickels have proven that they are more than capable of upholding the L.A. Guns name in a positive way. One wonders why Riley didn’t want to record a new studio album (which is one of the reasons why Phil Lewis apparently defected to the other L.A. Guns camp led by Tracii Guns in late 2016) when such great songs can be found on Renegades.
L.A. Guns (feat. Riley and Nickels)’s “Crawl” video:
In the last year and a half, Platinum Overdose have released not one but two top notch albums that really capture the ’80s “hair metal” sound. Platinum Overdose‘s debut album Murder In High Heels came close to cracking the Sleaze Roxx’s Top Ten Albums of 2019 and this year, there is simply is no denying the band’s sophomore effort Back For The Thrill. The group is spearheaded by DDR Music Group‘s (formerly Demon Doll Records) principal Lance V. who handled bass and the production duties on both of the band’s albums. Lance V. assembled a formidable cast with lead vocalist Steve Philbrook (Brass Kitten), rhythm guitarist Matt Thorr (Rough Cutt, Jailhouse, Stephen Pearcy) and lead guitarist Rick Mead (Syre) who all really deliver on Back For The Thrill. If two albums in a span of one and a half years is not enough, word on the street is that Platinum Overdose have a third studio album in the works that could see the light of day sooner than you think.
Platinum Overdose‘s “Psycho Suzi” single:
I suspect that many Sleaze Roxx readers are familiar with WildSide and their incredible debut album Under The Influence, which was unfortunately released in 1992 just as grunge (sadly) took off. Clearly, Under The Influence was an album that never got the recognition it deserved but there’s no question that once you hear it, you know you’re hearing something special. FnA Records specializes in unearthing tracks and/or records that never got to see the light of day and the record label really hit the jackpot with WildSide‘s …Formerly Knows as Young Gunns, which consists of early recordings from the band from 1986 to 1990 prior to getting signed to Capitol Records. I really don’t know why these tracks were not used for WildSide‘s sophomore album. Who knows where the band would have ended up if they had stuck to their guns with the material that got them signed in the first place rather than adopt the flavour of the month with their grunge sounding second album? If you are pining for a taste of what ’80s “hair metal” really sounded like back in the glory days of the Sunset Strip, there is no better album released in 2020 than WildSide‘s …Formerly Known As Young Gunns.
WildSide‘s “Easy As 1-2-3” video: